Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rhubarb Apricot Jam: Our New Favorite

When Sebastian was first eating "solid foods" all his favorites were orange. He realized this as well and started to look at the spoon as it came towards his mouth to check and make sure we were not trying to slip another color past him. He loved carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash as well as the combination purees that included any of these foods. The only orange baby food he did not like was apricots.

However I continued to buy him apricots, feeding him sample bites of every new jar. Every jar of apricots I would open he would take a small taste make a face and demand a different orange food. Once Sebastian refused apricots again I would gleefully take the jar for myself. You didn't think I was buying all those jars because I was committed to him loving him apricots did you? You see I had discovered the first time he rejected the apricot puree that it was delicious, especially delicious in fact when spread on a slice of challah french toast. It was tart and sweet and balanced the eggy richness of the french toast.

Last week I created a new jam and it is just as good as the apricot puree was, actually it is even better. I combined dried California apricots with rhubarb from my garden. The rhubarb added a bright tartness, helping to make the apricot flavor more true. Some jams are mostly sweet, this one tastes of ripe fruit. Since first making it this jam has become the whole families favorite. The day after I made it I was compelled to bake challah so I could make french toast for breakfast. We all agreed it was perfect, a flavor combination we would not grow tired of, (after trying apricot puree so often as a baby Sebastian now loves apricots).

As the jam maker in my family for me it is truly perfect because of how easy it is to make. The rhubarb macerates overnight in the fridge with sugar and lemon juice while the chopped dried apricots soak in water. The next day (or night as I prefer to make jam when my boys are sleeping), The apricots and any remaining water are combined, brought up to a boil and then you immersion blend them. "Immersion blend" is Julian's verb for pureeing something using an immersion blender.

After immersion blending the hot mixture it is now ready to ladle into jars. The apricots do not fully hydrate when soaking so it becomes jam right away, no need to spend hours over a boiling pot worrying about whether you will have jam or syrup when you are done. Although I don't understand the problem if you accidentally make syrup. Fruit syrup can be drizzled on ice cream, waffles, pancakes, cake or really anywhere.

Rhubarb Apricot Jam

500 grams chopped rhubarb (about 4 cups chopped into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces)
700 grams (3 cups) sugar
juice of 1 lemon
250 grams dried California apricots (about 2 cups chopped into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces). Please only try this with California dried apricots, the regular ones really taste like noting when they are rehydrated
2 cups water (460 grams)

Chop the rhubarb and place in a non reactive pot large enough to make the jam in or a non reactive bowl. Add the sugar and lemon juice and mix well. Cover with pot lid or saran wrap and place in the fridge to allow the rhubarb to macerate at least overnight, I let mine sit 24 hours. Chop the dried apricots and place in a non reactive bowl with the 2 cups of water, cover with saran wrap and soak in the fridge as long as the rhubarb macerates.

Begin the next day by prepping your jars, lids and rings and heating the jars in your water bath canner. You can also just freeze the jam or seal by putting the hot jam in a jar and sealing. There is no risk of botulism with this jam as it is high in acid, however if you do not water bath can it there is a risk that it will mold and you will lose some of your work. I know I would hate to lose my jam mid winter so I use the water bath canning method.

Add the apricot and any remaining liquid in the bowl to the rhubarb in a preserving pan and bring to a boil. Once the jam comes up to a boil immersion blend the mixture until it is the consistency you want (I left some whole pieces of rhubarb and apricot in mine). If you do not have an immersion blender you can use a food processor or blender, just take care when pureeing the hot jam.

Ladle the hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace, wipe the jar lids with a damp cloth or paper towel and place on the lids and rings until fingertip tight. Place the filled jars in a boiling water bath canner filled with water at around 180°, make sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 to 2 inches. Place the canner cover on and heat on high until the water comes to a vigorous boil. Once boiling vigorously set the timer for 10 minutes for unsterilized jars and 5 for sterilized (to sterilize jars place in a boiling water bath canner with the water boiling for 10 minutes). The canner must remain covered for the entire time it is being processed, the heat can be lowered as long as the water in the canner continues to be at a full boil for the entire processing time.

Once the process time is complete turn off the heat, remove the lid and allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing the jars. Remove the jars using a jar lifter to a counter that has a clean towel, cooling rack or receiving blanket placed on it. Make sure there is at least 1 inch between all the jars while cooling.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Vermont Food Bloggers Article

I was going to write a long post about my crazy week, about Lewis' hip surgery, Sebastian's well visit at his pediatrician and his overall refusal to do any homework. But you know what, for now I am just going to give you a link to the Burlington Free Press and the article about Vermont food bloggers, an article that features Hippo Flambé.

Unfortunately the Free Press does not archive its stories forever, so I cannot provide you with a link to the article.  I can however fix a typo in the article.  I was asked for a list of food blogs I would recommend as part of the interview. I answered mostly with blog titles, and in several instances the url listed in the article is not the correct one. Below are the correct links to those blogs.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oatmeal Lace Cookies: Gluten Free

When Sebastian began preschool I could only send in treats that were peanut free, when he entered kindergarten I had to avoid apples when baking for his class. The following year the list of allergies, food intolerances and chosen eating requirements meant any treats for all his classmates needed to be vegan, gluten free, with no nuts and no citrus.

I have a memory of being in the kitchen of my friend Cheryl's house shortly after her oldest sons birthday. She offered me a taste of the gluten free vegan "goodies" she had sent in to preschool to celebrate his birthday. Perhaps I should have been wary when she mentioned that the previous year (when there were no restrictions on what she created) there were no leftovers to come home while this year she received a whole tray back. I took a bite and swallowed the whole chalky mess before asking, "Do you really hate me that much?" From previous experiences in her kitchen I knew it wasn't her cooking ability.

With that memory in my mind I discussed our options with Sebastian. Sebastian's teacher told me I could make what I wanted because she kept a stash of treats for the children with eating restrictions. However my son really wanted to share with everyone, and he wanted brownies. So I followed a friends vegan no gluten brownie recipe. She has a lot of experience with cooking with food restrictions and promised it would be wonderful. After I baked them my whole family agreed, they would have been great, IF I had used wheat flour, eggs and butter. I sent in my regular brownies and the teacher had candy for 2 students.

This year I was going to make brownies again, that is until I tried the Oatmeal Lace Cookies from Dinner with Julie. Sebastian took one bite, asked for another cookie and promptly decided he wanted to bring them into school for his birthday. I loved the recipe the first time I made them but they were a little fragile for bringing to school. I had visions of arriving at Sebastian's classroom with a container full of crumbs and suggesting the teacher give everyone a spoon. So I played with the recipe until they had the same flavor profile but held together better. While I was experimenting I tried substituting rice flour for the wheat flour to make them gluten free. The only problem I had when I made these was sending almost all of them away.

Gluten Free Oatmeal Lace Cookies
Adapted from Dinner with Julie

1 cup (2 sticks) of butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 cps gluten free rolled oats
1/4 cup rice flour (If you don't need them to be gluten free you can substitute white whole wheat or all purpose flour)
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 350° Melt the butter, brown sugar, vanilla and salt in a medium pot over low heat. Turn off the heat and add the flour and oats to the butter sugar mixture in the pot and mix well. Allow the batter to cool for a few minutes before adding the egg to prevent cooking the egg. Add the egg and stir well to combine.

Prepare baking sheets either by spraying with cooking spray or lining with parchment of a silpat. Drop 1.5 - 2 tsps of batter 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. This goes much faster if you use a cookie scoop*. Use the back of a spatula to flatten each cookie out to a diameter of approximately 2 inches.

Bake for 10 to 18 minutes, rotating tray positions midway through baking, until the cookies are golden brown and look set. The original recipe says to allow cookies to cool completely on the cookie sheets, I needed to reuse the sheets so I waited a minute or so to allow the cookies to set and then slid the parchment onto cooling racks and then gently transferring the cookies to cooling racks from the parchment so I could reuse the parchment.

*If you buy a scoop, or anything else, from Amazon through the link provided I get a tiny credit to use at Amazon.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Asparagus Cooked in Brown Butter, Again...

We have been back from NYC for a week and back to our Vermont routine. I love the rituals we do once or twice a year as they give me a chance to see how much my boys have grown and matured since the last time. Ever since Julian stopped napping visiting New York has gotten better and better. When everyone still needed to nap, it felt like the whole day was spent either getting people to sleep or figuring out how to feed them. Now we can have breakfast in the morning and spend the whole day exploring without racing the clock to fit in a nap. Both boys are more interested in the places we visit now as well.

On this trip we had dumplings in the village, went to the Museum of Natural History twice, once to visit the butterfly conservatory and once just to explore. We also went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the "Bambu" exhibit on the roof. Perhaps the boys favorite was just playing in as many of Central Parks playgrounds as we could. If you go to New York with children you can spend your whole visit playing on the playgrounds. For the record, playgrounds were nowhere near this great when I was growing up in New York.

While we were in the village for Dumplings we went to the Union Square farmer's market. I got 3 bunches of asparagus. Buying asparagus that early in spring felt like an illicit pleasure to my Vermont eating sensibilities. When we are at home I often grill asparagus, however having a grill indoors in an apartment is generally frowned upon, something about fire risks. So I made another favorite, asparagus cooked in brown butter. I shared this recipe here last spring as well, it is delicious enough that it bears a revisit.

Like grilling and roasting this recipe caramelizes some of the sugars, resulting in a sweeter flavor. It also retains some of the crisp tender quality that my children require, or to be more precise is not stringy. In addition the brown butter melds with the asparagus and makes the flavor smoother, silkier and richer. When I make grilled and roasted asparagus Sebastian will not eat the tips and I get extra of my favorite part. With this recipe the sumptuous flavor is the most perfect in the tips and Sebastian eats the whole thing. I have noticed he even saves the tips for last. (This year he has begun shunning the tips in all recipes, yeah I get them!)

Pan Browned Asparagus with Browned Butter
From Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop

2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds thin or medium asparagus, ends snapped off where they naturally break
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. Place the asparagus in the skillet in a single layer (I don't always have the space for a single layer, if so shake the pan occasionally to rearrange the asparagus). Season with kosher salt to taste. Cover the pan and cook until crisp tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove the cover, raise the heat to medium high and cook, shaking the pan occasionally to turn them, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a serving platter with a slotted spoon or tongs. Season with pepper and serve immediately. (or, you can tell your family to wait while you just take 30 photos of the finished dish for your blog.)