Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chocolate Marmalade Sandwich Cookies

I think as I was making these cookies I began to wish they would just taste average when they were done.  It's not that any of the steps are overly complicated, but they did require more then the usual mix, scoop, and bake.  So as a result I was not looking for a cookie that would make people stop after one taste and slow down, so they could savor every bite.  If I was only hoping for okay, these cookies landed about as far from that as they could.  These cookies combine a crumbly, tender, lemon scented cookie, with complex, tart, sweet, marmalade filling and then a dip in rich dark chocolate.  Trust me, this is a cookie that is worth the extra time.  They are even worth tempering the chocolate to dip them in.  Although as you may notice, I need to work on my chocolate tempering, and I know just the cookie I will practice on.  If it tastes this good with a failed tempering job...

Julian knew right away how special the cookies were, and so he counted how many there were before he ever got to taste one.  It often amazes me that my children can do division so quickly when cookies are involved.  "Eighteen cookies mama.  That means we each get four and a half cookies.  Four and a half cookies if mama had not decided to give a few away.  Every person who tried one had the same eye rolling, slow savoring response.  I can see why Sarabeth's Kitchen sells them for $25 a dozen. 

I have been sitting here trying to think of a transition between these cookies and a story of my boys during the holidays.  I finally decided the link is I wanted to share both the cookies and the story because both are helping me to enjoy the season.

Yesterday my boys each received $50 from relatives in England. In previous years I have bought a membership to a local science center with the money and told them the membership was a gift from Grandpa Stuart and Grandma Phyl.   But this year I thought the boys were old enough to choose this themselves (plus, the cards the money came in mentioned the checks enclosed).  So I told the boys our membership would expire at the end of this month and suggested they use their money to buy a new membership to The Echo Center.  When both boys hesitated and made a face I feared it was greed so I quickly mentioned they still would have the $20 a piece from their Gruncle and Graunty to spend on whatever they wanted.

Sebastian replied, "But I wanted to use the money to buy you a Christmas gift.  Is twenty dollars enough money for me to buy you something?  Something for you to cook with."

"Me too," said Julian, my 6 year old, "I want to buy you another thing to go on your KitchenAid mixer."

In most years Lewis and I do not receive gifts at Christmas, only the kids do.  I never seems like there is  enough money and so we have made it a kids holiday.  I guess the boys have noticed and decided they need to be my Santa.  The best gift I could ever receive is signs of my children's generosity.  (Don't worry, there are also stories of their seasonal greed for my to share on another post!)

Chocolate Marmalade Sandwich Cookies
From Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours (This book is rapidly becoming a favorite)

I used Tomato Orange Marmalade as the filling in these and it was perfect.  You can substitute any favorite marmalade or even a jam that would pair well with the bittersweet chocolate, such as raspberry or apricot.  If you have a quart of home canned tomatoes that were acidified with citric acid or lemon juice you can use that to make Tomato Orange Marmalade.

The cookies need to be baked and filled a day before dipping in the chocolate to allow the cookie to soften and marmalade to set the sandwich.  If you try to dip them on the first day they are filled they will slide apart when you dip them.

The recipe calls for tempering 12 ounces of chocolate because tempering less is difficult.  When you have finished dipping the cookies spread the remaining chocolate on a sheet of parchment paper to set it can be retempered and reused another time.

Made 20 sandwich cookies for me (2 were eaten before being dipped in chocolate)

10 Tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/2 inch cubes  (I cut mine into tablespoons and just beat it for a tiny bit longer)
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or kosher salt
3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cups plus 1 Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat
1/2 cup of your favorite marmalade, I used Tomato Orange Marmalade
12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, divided

Put the butter in the bowl of a stander mixer and beat it on high speed with the flat beater blade until smooth (about 1 minute).  If you have a self scraping beater blade for your mixer use that instead of the plain one.  Slowly add the sugar while continuing to beat the butter on high speed.  Scrape the sides of the bowl down occasionally until the sugar is fully incorporated and the mixture s light in both color and texture.  It should take about 3 minutes.  Add the egg yolks, lemon zest and salt and mix until it is well mixed.  Reduce the speed to low before adding the flours a third at a time.  Mix on low speed just until the dough comes together and the sides of the bowl are almost clean.  If there is unmixed dry, crumbly dough at the bottom of the bowl turn the mixer off and stir well from the bottom before continuing to mix.

(Sarabeth has you carefully form the dough into a log before chilling and then slicing into rounds.  My dough was not a perfectly round log and so my cookies were flat on one side.  Next time I am going to experiment with rolling the dough out and then cutting square shaped cookies.  Even slightly misshapen they are still the most amazing cookie.)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Make the dough into a smooth ball before rolling it out into a 14 inch log that is about 1 1/2 inch in diameter.  Place the dough log on an 18 by 13 inch piece of parchment paper (here may be the first problem with my log rolling technique.  I only have Half Sheet Pan Precut Parchment Paper Sheets - 12 × 16½), with the long side of the paper and the log facing you.  Fold the parchment paper over the dough log.

Hold the edge of a yardstick securely along the long side of the log, pull the top layer of the parchment paper under the yardstick to tighten the paper and lightly compress the log. The log should now be 16 inches long. Unwrap the log. (Technique number 2, I did not have a yardstick so instead of wrapping the log up with a yardstick I carefully rolled my log until it was 16 inches long).  The dough will have a seam on it,  roll the log lightly on the paper to smooth out the seam out.  Reroll the paper around the log. Do not twist the ends closed, as this dough is soft. Refrigerate until the dough is chilled and firm, at least 1 hour.

Position the racks in the center and top third of the oven before preheating to 350°F.  Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper (which is much easier with my Half Sheet Pan Precut Parchment Paper Sheets - 12 × 16½).

Unwrap the dough log and use a thin sharp knife to cut 3/8 inch thick circles of dough.  (I marked 3/8 of an inch on a small piece of paper to use as a guide for cutting).  Keep the circles of dough in order when placing on the parchment paper.  It is easier to form sandwiches later with the circles that were next to each other on the log.  Place the cookies about 1 inch apart on the sheets while making it clear which circles are pairs.

Bake the cookies, switching the position of the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking, until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Cool completely on the baking pans.

Once cooled turn all the cookies over so the undersides face up. Spoon a rounded 1/2 teaspoon of marmalade onto one of each pair of cookies, and sandwich the flat sides together. Let the cookies stand overnight at room temperature to set the marmalade and soften the cookie.

(I followed all of Sarabeth's tempering instructions perfectly but my chocolate still bloomed.  I realized later that part of the problem might have been the frigid temperature of my house.  Chocolate tempering expects a room temerature of 68° to 72°.  Next time I am going to try David Lebovitz's instructions for tempering chocolate.)

To temper the chocolate, bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to very low. Place 8 ounces of the chocolate in a wide, heatproof bowl. Place the bowl on top of the saucepan, being careful not to touch the bottom of the bowl to the water. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate reaches 110° to 112°F on a thermometer. Remove the bowl from the heat and place on a kitchen towel. Add the remaining 4 ounces of chocolate and stir until melted. Let stand, stirring every minute or so, until the chocolate reaches 88°F.

Line a half-sheet pan with fresh parchment paper. One at a time, dip a cookie in the chocolate, letting the chocolate come about one-third up the sides of the cookie (I dipped half of the cookies in the chocolate and see no reason to change next time.  Who doesn't want more chocolate?)  Shake the cookie gently to remove excess chocolate before carefully placing on the pan. Push each cookie with your finger to move just 1/8 inch from its original position.  This dislodges and removes the “foot” the chocolate has formed. Let the cookies stand until the chocolate sets. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container, with the layers separated by parchment paper, for up to 5 days.  (I stored mine on a covered cookie sheet for a week with no loss of quality)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Canning Jar Lid Ornaments

In the past few months I have been engrossed with The Intervale Farmers' Recovery Fund Cookbook.  I am not sure I realized how much work was involved when I started this project, contacting folks and to ask them to participate,  standardizing the format on the recipes, creating new recipes for the vegetables that were overlooked by everyone else, testing many recipes, following up with contributors with questions, etc.  Even with the amount of work involved I am excited and amazed at the wealth of recipes I have received.  There are new approaches to produce I already loved as well as delicious recipes for produce I had previously avoided.  I find myself craving these new recipes again and again.

 Last night I prepared a turnip dish to accompany a dinner of dumplings, in the end the turnips were so good I ate a dinner of mostly turnips and only a few dumplings.  All of this cooking for the cookbook means I don't have any recipes to share on my blog right now, however in the spring you can buy a cookbook that can answer the question, "What the %*&* do I do with all this produce?"

So instead of a new recipe, today I am going to share another thing I have been obsessed with this season.  It began when I was cleaning my house for Thanksgiving and emptied out my utensil drawer.  In the drawer was my collection of used canning jar lids.  I was saving them to use for jars I wanted to store things in without sealing, but really I was saving them because I hate the waste of throwing them away, (even though I am really recycling them).

So I started to spend any time away from the cookbook trying to come up with a legitimate use for them. I did not want to make something that was just fancy trash, something that would still be thrown away in the next year, just now with other things glued on.  I think these ornaments are cool enough that I will not be throwing them out any time soon, plus they take advantage of the concave well in the center of the lid.

Supplies you will need:


Used small mouth canning jar lids

Card Stock

2 inch circle cutter

Craft Glue Stick

Non Toxic Metal and Paper Glue

Canning Jar Lid Ornament Instructions:

Put glue on the rim of the lid

Spread the glue so it is even layer

Sprinkle glitter on the glued edge before
tapping off the excess

Use the circle cutter to cut three
2 inch circles from card stock

Carefully fold each circle of card stock in half

Apply glue to the sides of the card stock

Glue card stock circles together

Apply metal and paper glue to the
center of the lid and glue down the card stock

Finished Ornament
(Attach a hanger with a hot glue gun)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cranberry Port Sauce

My aunt has always made the cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.  Ever since I was three she has made a reduced sugar version because my brother had recently been diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes.  Her cranberry sauce is still sweet but it retains some of the tartness of the cranberries.  When you eat it paired with turkey you understand why cranberry sauce traditionally accompanies turkey, the bright tartness really balances the flavor of the meat.

I have tried on several occasions to recreate her recipe.  The first time she gave me a very general list of what was in it.  The sauce I made that time was not sweet or tart enough.  Last year I made the cranberry sauce with her, watching carefully as she pulled out her old newspaper clipping and adjusted the recipe to our tastes.  I tried again to recreate her version, although I did not have the original recipe as a guide.  In the end I think I did not have the right type of citrus, or I was just too heavy handed with it.  Whatever the reason, my latest attempt was too orangey and not balanced.

So I went a different route, finally trying a recipe a friend had mentioned years ago.  I lowered the sugar, replacing it with golden raisins, a trick I picked up from making cranberry sauce with my aunt.  The finished sauce is complex, tart enough to balance the turkey, but after a day or so sweet enough that I loved it spread on a crepe.  If you make it now you can freeze it until Thanksgiving.  Just pull it out to defrost one to two days before the big day.

Cranberry Port Sauce
adapted from Gourmet

This sauce can be made weeks or months ahead of time and frozen until 1 to 2 days before serving.   When it is first cooked it will still be very tart, as it sits the flavors blend and the raisins impart more sweetness to the sauce.  Do not add more sugar until it has rested for several days.  I have made it with lemon and also with tangerines, clementines and tangelos would also be good.

12 ounces cranberries, rinsed and picked over
3/4 cups brown sugar
3/4 cups golden raisins
1 cup Port (Choose Tawny or Ruby, either is fine)
1 tsp freshly grated lemon or tangerine zest (don't worry if you have slightly less)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon or tangerine juice (don't worry if you have slightly less)
1 cup water

Combine all the ingredients in a medium pan and simmer until the berries have all burst and the mixture has gelled.  Allow to cool before placing in a container in the refrigerator, or freezer for longer term storage.  Alternatively you can can it.  Follow the canning directions here.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tuscan Cannellini Beans with Sage and Onions

With the end of Halloween I can begin obsessively planning Thanksgiving dinner.  Although I must confess, I started planning the menu for Thanksgiving long before October 31st.  Even before I became excited about costumes by realizing Lewis and I could join our chimney sweep and chimney as Mary Poppins and her umbrella, I was testing recipes for the end of Novemebr.  This is the first year Thanksgiving will be in Vermont, moving north from New York City.  With this change of state I decided it is time to change the menu as well to one that is local and seasonal with a protein for my vegetarian sister-in-law.  So this year there will be no ratatouille or string beans on the table.  Instead I will be serving Savoy Cabbage Gratin made with St Andre cheese, a vegetable dish I have not yet settled on, and these savory, sensuous, cannellini beans.

I make cannellini beans with escarole and my boys always love it, however they only tolerate the escarole, eating just a token amount. The part they love and happily devour is the beans.  This dish is more layered with flavor then the beans alone from beans and escarole, rich and full of flavor.  Cooking the sage in the oil before adding the beans makes the sage richer and softer and its flavor more nuanced in the finished dish.  This will be served here often, not just for Thanksgiving.

From Scratch Cannellini Beans (Think of this as a blank canvas for many meals)

I always soak my beans because I prefer to spend less time waiting for them to cook with the burner on.  If you forget to soak them or just prefer not to it will take longer to cook your beans but they will still cook.  If not soaking your beans start the cooking with 2 minutes of a hard boil before turning down to a simmer.

3 cups dried cannellini beans, rinsed and picked over
Water for pre soaking plus 6 cups water for cooking
1 fresh bay laurel leaf (if unavailable use dried)
2 tsp kosher salt (If you do not cook the beans with salt they can be salted later but they will never be seasoned all the way through)

Put the rinsed beans in a large pot and cover with 9 cups water.  Bring the pot to the boil and boil hard for 2 minutes.  Turn the heat off under the beans and cover the pot.  Leave out at room temperature for 2 or more hours.  I often soak my beans after boiling for longer with no ill effects.  Alternatively you can soak the beans at room temperature in cold water for 6 to 8 hours before cooking.

 After soaking drain and rinse the beans and place back in the stock pot.  Cover with 6 cups of water (You will need more water if you never soaked them) and add the bay laurel leaf and salt.  Bring to the boil over high heat, lower to a simmer and cooked partially covered until tender.  My beans cooked in around 45 minutes to an hour.  If you did not soak your beans first expect them to take longer to cook, also if your beans are not fresh they will take longer to cook.

Tuscan Beans with Garlic and Sage
Adapted from Rose Elliot's New Complete Vegetarian

3 small to medium onions chopped (or 1 large and 1 small)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp fresh sage chopped fine
1 recipe From Scratch Cannellini beans with liquid or 6 14 oz cans cannellini beans
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
lemon for serving

Saute the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent, add the garlic and chopped sage and cook until both the sage and garlic are fragrant, a few minutes.  Add the beans and their liquid and stir well before covering and cooking over a very slow simmer for with the lid on for about an hour.  f you are pressed for time you can cook the beans for less time but the flavor will not be as complex.

Season the dish with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste before serving.  Delicious when first made but even better after the flavors have mellowed in the fridge overnight in the fridge.  We enjoyed it hot, warm and cold (well, Sebastian did not like it cold).  My plan is to make it a day or two ahead of time and serve it at room temperature for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Steakhouse-Style Sear Roasted Strip Steak

If my boys had their way I would spend the week focusing all my energy on Halloween costumes.  They have been planning possible costumes since this summer, including one complicated plan that involved about eleven springs with pies on the end.  I would do my best to explain that one, if I had any idea what it was supposed to be.  They assured me it would be simple, once we had constructed the door mechanisms and hidden switches.  Happily we have moved on from that idea and have settled on a chimney sweep and a chimney.  Since the decision was made Sebastian has suggested every day that Lewis make a list of what we need for the costume so the boys and I can buy everything while he is at work.  Given that most of the more over the top costumes and their execution came from me I don't know why he thinks Lewis needs to complete this step.

As far as working on Halloween costumes my newest obsession is getting in the way.  I have been far too preoccupied with my newest cookbook to make costumes.  Last week I received a review copy of All About Roasting: A New Approach to a Classic Art by Molly Stevens.  Ever since I have been plotting meals or cooking from it.  I didn't want to let Lewis being sick get in the way of my dinner plans, so on Friday night I made Quick Roasted Scallops with Sriracha and Lime, Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Brussels Sprouts Chips Garnish, and Butter Roasted Cabbage Strips with Caraway and Mustard Seeds for my father, my children, and Nana Diane while Lewis slept.  Really it was the perfect opportunity for this menu, because Lewis does not like scallops.  The whole meal was delicious, the highlight being a new favorite recipe for preparing cabbage, a vegetable I know I will see a lot of every winter.

I realize many of you do not share my obsession with cabbage recipes, so instead I am going to share Molly's Sear-Roasted Strip Steak.  We eat a lot of steak here because I split half a cow with friends every year.  Now I have my go to recipe for strip steak.  Lewis emphatically agreed, declaring this the best steak he ever ate.  It might not be a fair comparison to all the steaks he has eaten before as I topped this one with her recipe for Blue Cheese and Chive Butter.  To make the butter I used my latest installment of cheese I am testing for Point Reyes Farmstead.  The Blue Cheese Chive Butter recipe as well as my assessment of the blue cheese they just sent me to sample can be found on Culture Magazines blog.

Steakhouse-Style Sear Roasted Strip Steak
From All About Roasting by Molly Stevens, a book you really want to own.

Serves 2 to 4
Method: Combination sear and moderate heat
Roasting Time" 6 to 10 minutes (plus 2 minutes to sear)
Wine: Strip steak and Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic combination.  Look for good bottles from California's Napa and Alexander Valleys or Washington State.

Two 12 to 14 ounce New York strip steaks, 1 to 1 1/2 inches {I used 2 beef loin sirloin steaks that weighed about 8 ounces each}
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp peanut oil, grapeseed oil, or other neutral flavored oil {I used 1 1/2 Tbsp, next time I will use 1 Tbsp}
1 to 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened (the range is dependent on how decadent you want to be)

1 HEAT THE OVEN.  Position a rack near the center of the oven and heat to 375 degrees (350 degrees convection).  Let the steaks sit at room temperature while the oven heats.

2 HEAT THE SKILLET.  Place a large cast-iron or black metal skillet (a 12 inch skillet will hold two steaks nicely {for my smaller steaks I used a 10 inch skillet}) over medium heat and heat the skillet while you season the steaks.  {Walking away from the heating skillet to attend to squabbling children and getting vegetables from the basement may cause the smoke alarm to go off and alert the neighborhood to the fact you are cooking again.  However in my experience it does not adversely affect the end result.}

3 SEASON THE STEAKS.  Sprinkle each steak aggressively all over with salt and pepper, turning the steak and pressing all sides down onto the seasonings that fall onto the work surface.  you want the entire surface to be seasoned.  If you prefer to measure use 1/2 to 3/4 tsp salt and 3/4 to 1 tsp pepper per steak.

4 SEAR THE STEAKS.  Once the pan is hot, increase the heat to high and add the oil to the pan, tilting to coat.  When the oil begins to shimmer, after about 30 seconds, place the steaks side by side in the skillet.  Let them sear without disturbing; nudging the steaks will interfere with the browning.  After 2 minutes, lift the edge of one of the steaks to check whether it is well seared.  If so immediately flip both steaks and smear the tops with butter, diving it equally.  (If the steak isn't brown yet, continue to sear for another 45 seconds and check again.)

5 ROAST.  Immediately transfer the skillet to the oven.  After 6 minutes, start checking for doneness either by touching the meat (the steak firms up as it cooks) or by taking the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer.  Baste the steaks with pan juices each time you open the oven, and check again every 2 minutes until the steaks are done to your liking.  Depending on what degree of doneness you're after and how often you open the oven to check in them, expect them to roast for 6 to 10 minutes, or until they reach 115 to 120 degrees internal temperature for rare, 120 to 125 degrees for medium-rare and 125 to 13 degrees for medium.

6 REST AND SERVE.  Immediately transfer the steaks to a cutting board, preferably one with a trough - to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.  Serve on individual plates if serving 1 per person, or cut in half to share.  Pour the pan drippings and any juices from the cutting board over the tops of the steaks and serve.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Green Tomato Beef Stew with Jamaican Spices

I spent last week in New York City moving my father out of his apartment.  The week was supposed to end with the sale of his apartment and him moving to Vermont to live in a retirement home.  I spent a week sorting through vast piles of books covered in dust, throwing out clothing that was not even good enough to be used as a rag, and throwing away mattress after mattress.  A the end of the week the apartment was miraculously empty, most of the clothing we were keeping was being shipped to Vermont, and the closing on the apartment did not happen.  So when he flew here to Burlington it was not to move in to a retirement community, instead he has been staying with a really good friend of mine who lives 15 miles away.  Every day when she drives in to work she has been dropping him off at my house for "daddy daycare".  Then she comes to my house after work and we all have dinner before they drive back to Jericho.  However guests for dinner every night does not mean I stay away from experiments in the kitchen, instead there are more tasters for new dishes.

At this time of the year I look at the green tomatoes on the vines thinking about ways to use them.  I could just can several batches of green tomato salsa and be done, but I enjoy the challenge of discovering how different flavors can be used.  One friend stays away from most green tomato recipes, saying they all smack of end of the garden desperation.  However I think green tomatoes have a role in the kitchen, one that works to highlight and balance their flavor instead of using them in an attempt to mask their presence and use them up.  Used correctly they are as much end of the garden desperation as rhubarb recipes are end of the winter desperation for something, anything, fresh. (I am not saying there are no desperation recipes for both vegetables).

When I first went in the kitchen I was planning on doing a stew with the last of the rhubarb that would be a riff on Molly Stevens' Pot Roasted Brisket with Rhubarb and Honey from All About Braising.  As I rubbed the beef with freshly ground allspice, coriander, pepper and salt I realized I could substitute green tomatoes for the rhubarb as an early fall substitution.  I used maple syrup instead of honey and added garlic and fresh thyme as my usual alterations to the regular recipe.  I replaced the golden raisins with dried apricots because they were the only dried fruit I had.  Now dried Califonia apricots will be my go-to in this recipe, any other dried fruit will be a substitution, because their tangy, sour, sweetness added just the right note.

This stew was enjoyed by all 6 people at the dinner table, from age 6 to 81.  My children even clamored over how good it was.  All the flavors came together as a cohesive whole, not a touch of end of the garden desperation, instead a new use for a unique vegetable.  It was tasty enough I think I won't wait to the end of the season to make it next year, instead I will pick some green tomatoes in the late spring.

Everyone was eating the stew so fast I couldn't get a good photo!

Green Tomato Beef Stew with Jamaican Spices
Serves 6
Serve this stew with mashed potatoes.  The amount of meat in this dish was enough to serve 6 with plenty of mashed potatoes and carrots on the side.  I prefer to serve a modest amount of meat but you can easily increase the amount of meat to suit your preferences.

1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/8+ tsp allspice berries
1/2 tsp kosher salt or other coarse salt

1 1/4 lbs beef stew meat (you can change the quantity as you like, if you go up to 2 lbs I would double everything else)

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions or 1 medium one Chop the onion into 1/2 inch pieces or slice thinly (I did a mix because slicing was easier and both were fine in the final dish.  Next time I will slice all of them).
2 large garlic cloves or 3 to 4 small ones chopped finely
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 - 2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger (I used about 1 Tbsp)
1/3 cup California Dried Apricots, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces (sorry, the California ones really are that much better!)
1 cup riesling or other favorite white wine
1 cup water
1 lb green tomatoes, cored and chopped into 1/2 to 1 inch pieces (do not peel)
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
1 small bunch of thyme with the leaves stripped off (about 1/2 tsp leaves)
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup (I used Grade B)

Grind the coriander, peppercorns, allspice, and salt in a coffee grinder until finely ground.  You will have to stop and shake the spices down in the grinder a few times because this is a minimal amount.  Dry the stew meat with paper towels before rubbing the spice mixture on the meat.  Set aside while you prep the other ingredients.

In a medium sized dutch oven or heavy lidded pot heat the oil over medium high heat and add then onions.  Cook the onions, stirring frequently until they are softened and starting to caramelize (while they were cooking I prepped the ginger, apricots and tomatoes).  Add the garlic, salt and pepper, ginger and chopped apricots.  Saute for about one minute until the ginger is fragrant.

Remove the onions and other aromatics from the pan and return to medium high heat.  There should still be a thin layer of oil in the bottom of the pan, if it is not enough to keep the meat from sticking add a little more oil and then brown the meat in small batches on all sides.  As the meat is browned add it to the onions.

Once all the meat is browned set the meat and aromatics aside and add the white wine to the pan.  Cook over high heat for about 5 minutes until the volume is decreased by three quarters, while it is cooking scrape the sides to remove all the flavorful caramelized drippings from the beef and aromatics..  Once the wine is reduced add the water,green tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme leaves, and 1 Tbsp maple syrup.  Bring to a boil and allow to boil for a minute or 2 before adding the meat and onion mixture back to the pan.

Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook, covered, at a slow simmer until the meat is tender and the green tomatoes have mostly slumped into the sauce, (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours).   After about 5 minutes check the stew to make sure the stew is simmering quietly.  If it is too vigorous use a heat tamer under the pan.

Once the meat is tender remove the lid, increase the heat to medium high and reduce the sauce (however I suggest you do not go to check email while reducing the sauce.  If you do not listen and become distracted you may need to add some water to the pan because you reduced it too much).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Preserving Tomatoes: Freezing

Every summer I can an obscene amount of crushed tomatoes.  I make deals with farmers for the tomatoes that are too ugly to sell, harvest flats of them from my plants and keep some out from my CSA share.  As tomato season progresses I begin to panic, fearing that I will never preserve enough to last until the following summer.  Until one day I look at the jars lined up in the basement and I decide I can stop.  Then, as long as I have made enough salsa, and tomato orange marmalade, I freeze the rest.  In addition I freeze any smaller tomatoes throughout the season, because I learned the hard way, canning small tomatoes is time consuming, overly fiddly, and frustrating.

I know many folks who prefer the ease of freezing tomatoes and preserve all of their harvest without canning.  For the bulk of my tomatoes I prefer to spend more time on them in the summer months so I can use them more easily in the winter.  With a quart of crushed tomatoes I can make pasta sauce, soup, or chili easily enough that I think of them as convenience food.  In addition, if the power goes out, or my freezer dies, I won't lose my entire tomato stash.

However frozen tomatoes do have a purpose that goes beyond preserving the tomatoes I can't or don't want to can.  I will admit their primary use is running out of tomatoes too early insurance.  However they are also perfect for recipes that call for just a few tomatoes.  Many times I use part of a quart of tomatoes assuring myself that I will find a use for them in the next few days.  However many times the jar gets lost in the back of my fridge until it resurfaces in scary new colors.  Instead of using a partial quart I take a few tomatoes out of the freezer, rub the skins under running water to remove the skins, cut out the core and proceed with my recipe.  For a small number of tomatoes you can even do this without getting frostbite.

Frozen Tomatoes
I hope it doesn't insult any ones intelligence to write this in recipe format.  I just know some folks skip the blog chatter and scroll down to the recipe.

Tomatoes, local vine ripened flavorful ones
Zip top bags or Pyrex dishes with lids or plastic storage containers

Place the tomatoes in the bags or containers and close.  Place in the freezer.  To use just remove the tomatoes from the storage container or bag, reseal, and return the remaining tomatoes to the fridge.  Rub the tomato under running water while rubbing the skin.  The skin will rub right off.  Cut the core out with a knife.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Baked Tomatoes with Cheese

Yesterday Lewis returned to work, officially ending our vacation.  A vacation that began with 2 days of  tantrums and whining, causing the adults to grumble, often loud enough for the children to hear, about why we go away on vacation anyway.  However then we settled in and had an amazing time.  Sometimes I feel we go away on vacation so we can really notice how the boys have grown and changed in the previous year.  It takes something that only happens once a year to really step back and witness who they are.  This year they are far more independent and confident; as a major vacation milestone they know agree to use all public restrooms, even the ones with auto flush toilets.

Every year they return with memories of the previous years and expectations of what they want to do.  At low tide Julian can often be found building a massive castle with a moat that can be taken by the ocean as the tide comes in.  As the water begins to lap at the sides he starts to scrape at them with a shovel and kicking the tops of the towers.  Unable to let the ocean complete the destruction without his help.  Sebastian often helps Julian to build the castle, but more often he spends his time collecting minnows and hermit crabs.  This year he did not collect them all himself and instead trained other children on the beach.  Once the tide starts to come in he unceremoniously dumps them all back in the water.

This year the WiFi on vacation was not strong enough to reach our cottage.  I could only check my email when we went out for homemade ice cream.  Which of course means it became even easier to convince me we all needed a treat, (that and discovering the amazing expresso ice cream that Lewis and I could not stop ourselves from ordering, even if it did cause me to lie in bed staring at the ceiling).  However no WiFi helped to make us less distracted.

Not having access to the internet also meant I had to wait to share this tomato dish with you.  Every year I bring the vegetables from my CSA share and my garden with us on vacation.  This year that meant I had an entire flat of tomatoes for the week.  I love being able to walk past the produce in the grocery store, smugly thinking of the produce I already have.  At the local farm stands heirloom tomatoes are $7.99 a pound.  As their value went up so did the responsibility.  Just eating all of them on sandwiches or on a salad was not enough, neither was allowing them to go bad.

The baked tomato dish I prepared was simple, peeling them being the most complicated step.  However the end result could be the center of your table, the main dish with a loaf of crusty bread and another vegetable.  The flavor of the mayonnaise becomes more subtle and balanced after baking.  It was subtle enough that Sebastian was happily eating the dish until Lewis said, "Mayonnaise as an ingredient.  Who would have guessed." At which point Sebastian put down his fork and decided he was done with tomatoes and I of course glared at Lewis.

I added fresh thyme to the chopped scallions but you can play with the herbs you add.  At home I would have baked it in a casserole dish, but there wasn't one in the cottage, so I used a cast iron pan.  Now that I am at home I think I will use a casserole dish.

Baked Tomatoes with Cheese
Adapted from Too Many Tomatoes, Squash, Beans, and Other Good Things: A Cookbook for When Your Garden Explodes

4 peeled tomatoes, or more or less depending on how many you want to serve (how to peel tomatoes)
1/2 to 1 Tbsp high quality mayonnaise per tomato half
1/2 to 1 tsp chopped scallions per tomato half (or more to taste)
fresh chopped thyme to taste
1 to 2 Tbsp grated sharp cheddar per tomato half

The amounts of toping are given as a range because tomatoes vary so much in size.  Also, this is an easy rustic recipe, to your taste.

Preheat the oven to 325° and butter a casserole dish or cast iron skillet that will fit all the tomato halves.

Halve the tomatoes from top to bottom. Cut off a thin slice from rounded side of the tomato halves so the tomatoes will stand up better in the dish.  remove the cores.  Place the tomato halves in the buttered dish.  Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on each tomato half, sprinkle with scallions, thyme and freshly grated black pepper before topping each tomato with 1 to 2 Tbsp grated cheddar cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.  When serving do not tell children about any ingredient they claim to dislike unless they ask a direct question.  If your spouse spontaneously offers this information glare hard at him or her to bore a hole through their head.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sour Cherry Petit Petit Jam (Apple and Lemon Pectin)

It doesn't matter if I don't have a decent photo of this jam yet (I can always edit the post later) or if I have other things I should be doing other then try to come up with adjectives that describe why you should make this jam.  I need to post the jam recipe before I lose my notes on it again.  This recipe has already moved up to the must have jams category, so I need to preserve it here.  It really is a miracle I found my notes at all, after all they were tucked into my favorite jam cookbook, a place so sensible I I surprised I thought to look there.

When I was first planning on what to do with all my sour cherries I had no plans on incorporating wine.  I knew I would make one with raspberries and after that I had several other combinations I was imagining.  However after spending the morning picking 10 pounds of sour cherries, I took a moment before melting in the kitchen to post about my haul and dreams of flavor combinations on Hippo Flambé's Facebook page.   One reader was reminded of an ice cream topping she loved and wrote, "There is an ice cream shop on Cape Cod I used to frequent when I lived there and they cooked down sour cherries with balsamic vinegar, bordeaux, and sugar, and drizzled it over vanilla ice cream. It was my kind of heaven."  I could immediately taste the sauce in my head and it sounded like my kind of heaven as well.  So I quickly updated my plans to include a jam with similar ingredients.

I didn't have any bordeaux in the house but I did have Michael David's Petit Petit which has the rich flavor of ripe cherries when you drink it.  So I rushed to the kitchen and started a batch of sour cherry jam with a cup of petit petit wine.  I had every intention of adding balsamic vinegar at the end but I tasted the jam first and could not bring myself to change anything.  Just to be sure, I served the foam over a bowl of vanilla ice cream and further sampled its flavor before happily sealing the jam in jars.

The jam has a richness, intensity and depth that reminds me of chocolate.  It is the perfect topping for vanilla ice cream but is equally at home on a slice of toast.  I imagine this winter I will drizzle it on cheesecake and layer it with poached pears and whipped cream.  I also know next summer I will be back in the kitchen making more.  Like my other sour cherry jams this one does not use any commercial pectin.  It relies on apple and lemon pectin instead and so has less sugar to mask the flavor then would be needed with commercial pectin.  I used apples from the orchard where I picked the sour cherries.  In early July they are completely unripe and full of natural pectin.  If you don't have access to unripe apples you can use granny smith apples or crab apples.  The apple pectin combined with the pectin in the lemon peels makes this jam set up beautifully.

Sour Cherry Petit Petit Jam
If you need detailed canning instructions they can be found on last summers sour cherry jam recipe.  I also have a recipe for sour cherry raspberry lime jam.

1 kilogram (2 1/4 lb) pitted sour cherries (1.25 kg or 2 3/4 lb unpitted)
800 grams sugar (3 3/4 cups)
1 cup Michael David Petit Petit Wine (or substitute another rich, fruit forward red wine)
150 grams unripe apples (3-4 small apples) or 300 grams granny smith apple (1-2 granny smith apple)
Peels and pits from the apple placed in a large tea ball or muslim bag
Juice of 1 lemon (1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp)
rinds from the lemon

Place a small saucer in the freezer for testing the jams set.  Combine all ingredients except the lemon rinds and the apple peels and pits.  Puree the ingredients in a large pot with an immersion blender or in a blender.  Add the spent lemon rinds and the peels and pits of the apples (apple pieces placed in a large tea ball) in a large pot and bring to a simmer.  Simmer gently, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves.  Increase the heat to high and boil the jam, stirring frequently at first and as it cooks down stirring more and more to prevent scorching.  The jam is done when it is 220° on a thermometer and it passes the cold plate test.

To test the jams set with a plate, turn off the heat under the jam.  Remove the saucer from the freezer and place a small dollop of jam on the plate.  Return the plate to the freezer and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.  If the jam is set it will wrinkle on the surface when you push the dollop with your finger.  The jam will still be a liquid in the pot when it is set.  Jam becomes runny again when it is heated so do not expect it to look like jam in the pot.

Ladle hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace and seal in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pea Shell Cooler and Eastside Fizz

I have another sour cherry jam recipe to share with all of you.  It is sour cherry and petit petit wine and the combination is rich and deep.  Spooned over ice cream it reminds me of the deep, intense flavor of hot fudge.  The wine brings out the flavor of the cherries, making them more complex.  However as much as I love eating this new jam drizzled over a bowl of ice cream, even talking about making jam seems like too much for this hot humid dead air day.  So instead let me share some cocktails with you.  These cocktails are easy to make and do not rely on store bought mixes, but rather on fresh produce (and a modest amount of sugar).

Several years ago we were stopped at a rest stop in New Hampshire shopping for alcohol for our week on the Cape.  There is no tax on alcohol in New Hampshire so several of their rest stops have liquor stores with giant shopping carts, mega sized bottles of spirits, and "Don't Drink and Drive" signs on the way out of the parking lot.  Lewis looked dubiously at the large bottle of gin in our cart and told me I was on my own when it came time to drinking the gin.  More gin and tonics for me did not seem like a problem.

I have loved gin and tonics since I was six and my family went on vacation to Barbados.  There was a lime tree in the back yard of the house we were staying at and my parents felt it was important to use as much of the fruit as they could.  They would let my brother and I to take a sip of their drink, and I quickly began turning my back to them when I was taking my sip.  I hoped that they might not notice how much I was drinking if my back was turned.  So even if Lewis did not want any I would happily drink as many sips as I wanted on my own.

When I made myself a Gin and Tonic on vacation Lewis took a taste, and then turned his back so I would not see how much he was drinking.  After that he was a devoted lover of Gin and Tonics, the first one to speak up when we needed to restock any of the ingredients.  The only problem with them is the tonic, with an ingredient list that makes me shudder with its high fructose corn syrup.  I have found a homemade tonic recipe online but have not tracked down all the ingredients.  Enter the East Side Fizz and the Pea Shoot cooler, both made with fresh ingredients and a wonderful way to use some of the mint threatening to take over your yard.

The Eastside Fizz was in July's issue of Bon Appetit's.  The original recipe calls for seltzer water but I did not have any in the house, plus my frugal nature balked at paying money for bubbles.  I love it made with just plain water but you should spring for the seltzer if you would prefer.  One of my favorite parts of this cocktail is eating the gin and lime infused cucumbers at the end.  The pea shell cooler came about as we were all enjoying a bowl full of shelling peas.  I looked at the pile of empty shells and wondered what I could do to utilize their sweet flavor without having it masked by their tough stringiness.  So I tried them in place of the cucumbers in the Eastside Fizz, adding the prosescco to lighten it and play up the citrus.

Eastside Fizz
Adapted from Bon Appetit

10 large fresh mint leaves
5 thin slices of peeled cucumber
1 1/2 Tbsp simple syrup (recipe is at the bottom of the post)
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup gin
seltzer or water

Muddle mint, cucumber slices and simple syrup in a tall glass.  (Muddling means you squish the ingredients up with a muddling stick in the bottom of the glass.  This bruises the ingredients and releases the oils so the flavors infuse the simple syrup).  Add the lime juice, gin, ice and water or seltzer to fill the glass.  Stir well, allowing the ice a chance to cool down the drink.  When you are done drinking don't forget to eat the cucumber slices.

Pea Shoot Cooler
My own invention dreamed up as a use for the pea shells I hated feeding to my chickens

15 pea shells from fresh peas torn up
10 large fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 Tbsp Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/4 cup gin
1/4 - 1/2 cup prosecco
seltzer or water

Muddle the pea shells, mint leaves and simple syrup in a glass.  (Muddling means you squish the ingredients up with a muddling stick in the bottom of the glass.  This bruises the ingredients and releases the oils so the flavors infuse the simple syrup).  Strain the liquid into another tall glass and add lime juice, gin, prosecco, ice and water or seltzer water to fill the glass.  Stir well and allow to chill for a moment before serving or drinking.

Simple Syrup

1 part water
1 part sugar

If you have a cup off water you would use a cup of sugar.  Add the sugar to the water in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.  Turn off the heat.  Now you have simple syrup!