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.