Sunday, August 30, 2009

True Blue

Last year I submitted my Rhubarb Raspberry Jam to the Minnesota State Fair and won a blue ribbon. This was my first time submitting anything so not only was this unexpected, it turned out to be fun as hell. Gabbing with the veteran canners, receiving my prize money in the mail ($12-ha!), and of course, going and seeing my jam displayed behind the glass case makes me happy to think about even now.

Since then I have been both slightly terrified and more determined about this year's fair. The prospect of not winning, which in my mind would have made last year's win a wretched fluke drove me to stack the competition deck and submit 7 entries this year. I canned and canned and canned, hoping not for a blue ribbon, but for any ribbon - red, white or pink would suit me just fine.

The morning of the first day of the fair, The Chef and I were up early, continuously refreshing the Fair's canning results page. When it finally posted I was ecstatic and relieved to see I had won a blue ribbon for my Blueberry Jam. As we scrolled through the rest of the results, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw I had won a second blue ribbon for my Peach Jam. The Chef and I did a little victory dance in the living room which got the dogs barking and I couldn't help but think to myself - I might actually be good at this.

Over the years I have had varying degrees of success with the jams, fruit butters, fruit syrups, and marmalades I have canned. Fortunately I have a close group of friends that I can hand a jar of something to with the warning "this isn't that awesome but you should eat it anyway" or "this was supposed to be marmalade but now I'm calling it sauce." These friends have loyally brought the questionable items home and reported back with gratifying tales of sauce-as-cake filling, sauce-as-pancake syrup, sauce-as-ice cream topping, etc.

I still can't say I love canning - the mess, the heat, the mountains of dirty dishes - but when I'm down in the basement and see a row of jars on the shelf, waiting to be eaten, or gifted, or submitted to the Fair, I'm happy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Roasted Anise Plums

After I made this recipe, I scooped a couple of warm plum slices into a small bowl and splashed them with some cream. I couldn't believe how fantastic they tasted and found myself drinking the plum syrup from the bottom of the bowl like a lunatic. I was really pleased that I was all alone in the house and confess this only to convey the goodness that is Roasted Anise Plums.

I should mention that I like plums just fine but they certainly aren't my fruit of choice. I suspect I only bought them on a whim due to their eye-catching purple exterior. Hankering for a dessert the other evening, I decided to give them the Honey Vanilla Rhubarb treatment. I adjusted the proportions and ingredients a bit and thought about putting some fennel seeds in but decided to go for anise instead. The plums were transformed - tender, richly flavored, very fragrant.

Serve them with cold or whipped cream, over pancakes or waffles, over ice cream, or stirred into yogurt. I also envision these making a perfect pavlova topping.

For about 3-4 servings:

  • 4 large firm plums
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seed, lightly crushed with a mortar & pestle

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a medium-sized baking dish with cooking spray. Cut the plums into thick slices and add to the dish. Add the sugar, honey, vanilla bean and anise seed and toss to combine.

Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Depending on the ripeness of the plums and your preference, they may need to cook for a bit longer. I ended up at around the 35 minute mark. Serve warm, or let cool, transfer to a container and refrigerate. They will keep for several days.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Quick Cucumber Pickles with Tarragon

I have only recently begun making my own pickles from cucumbers in our garden and since I eat so many, I haven't bothered going through the trouble of actually canning them. These pickles last for about 3 weeks in the refrigerator but I would bet, if you're like me, they don't make it that long.

A mandoline is essential in getting perfect, thin slices of cucumber. I always look for reasons to use mine because as I slice away, I can't help but imagine one or several of my fingers getting shaved off which brings an exciting bit of drama to the whole process.

After the slicing adventure is over, all that's left to do is let the cucumbers soak in a bit of salt, boil the brine ingredients together, and combine it all in a couple of glass pint jars. A warning: the first time I made these I didn't rinse the salt off the cucumbers thoroughly enough and man, they were SALTy. Luckily I have good friends who ate them anyway.

For about 2 pints:
  • 1½ pounds cucumbers, ends trimmed (I use pickling cucumbers)
  • ¼ cup pickling salt
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1½ cups white vinegar
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 4 sprigs of tarragon

Thinly slice the cucumbers, place them in a colander and gently toss them with the salt. Cover the colander with plastic wrap and set it over a bowl. Let the cucumbers drain for one hour.

Meanwhile, bring the water, vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, bay leaves, celery seed and peppercorns to a boil in a saucepan. Allow to boil for 2-3 minutes, turn the heat off and transfer to a large measuring cup. Set aside to cool.

After the cucumbers are done draining, rinse them under cool water and gently toss them under the water to thoroughly remove the salt. Spread them out on several paper towels. Place more paper towels on top and press down to blot off the water. Sterilize 2 glass pint jars (I just run mine through the dishwasher). Divide the cucumbers between both jars. Nestle 2 sprigs of tarragon in each jar.

Most of the brine ingredients will have settled to the bottom of the measuring cup. This is fine. I just pour the brine into the jars and discard whatever brine ingredients remain. Once the cucumbers are covered with the brine, poke around the jars a bit with a knife to get rid of any air bubbles. Pour additional brine to cover, leaving ½-inch headspace. Screw the lids on and place in the refrigerator.

The pickles will be ready to eat in a day and are good for about 3 weeks.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Garden Lasagna

This lasagna was a 3-day affair: I made the ricotta one night, the sauce the next night and the lasagna the third night. I realize this seems like a ridiculous amount of effort but allow me to convince you that it was both practical and worthwhile.

For one thing, after I made the lasagna I had leftover ricotta which I combined with chopped tarragon and shallots and used as an omelet filling for Sunday brunch. So delectable. I also love sweetening the ricotta and serving it with fruit as I did in this Peaches recipe.

Secondly, for the sauce, I froze about half of it which will be handy to have at the ready to defrost and serve over pasta for a quick, healthy weeknight dinner.

And lastly, this lasagna came together in a snap since I had all the components ready. The ricotta filling took a few minutes to whip together and all that was left to do was grate some cheese, assemble and bake. It reheated quite well and if it wasn't so tasty, I would have froze the leftovers.

For one pan of lasagna:

  • 2 cups Fresh Ricotta
  • Generous pinch of kosher salt
  • 1½ cups roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 1 large egg
  • 4½ cups Bountiful Garden Sauce
  • 9 oven-ready lasagna noodles
  • 1½ cups mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor combine ricotta, salt, basil and egg. Process until uniformly smooth. Taste and add more salt if necessary.

In a 9 x 13-inch pan coated with cooking spray, spread a 1/2 cup of garden sauce in the bottom. Lay 3 lasagna noodles in the pan. Spread a third of the ricotta over the noodles, then a third of the sauce, and a third of the mozzarella. Repeat two more times. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top and cover the pan tightly with foil.

Bake for 45 minutes. Take the foil off the pan and bake for 15 minutes more until lightly browned on top. Allow it to cool for 5 minutes or so before slicing and serving.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Zucchini Soda Bread

My zucchini plant is looking downright tired. Its leaves are laying limply on the grass, it has very few blossoms, and the plant's hue has faded to a sad brown-green. I do not mourn this transformation. I thought that in its haggard state it would not be capable of producing more zucchini. I was wrong. I lugged in a giant the other day, hacked off a big hunk of it and proceeded to grate away, turning it into two loaves of delicious soda bread. I froze one and am currently eating the other slathered with honey butter.

Soda bread is one of those useful things to have in your baking repertoire as there is no rising required and it all comes together in one bowl. Sometimes soda bread can have a tough, dry quality. I've found that you need a light touch to avoid that. Don't overwork the dough, don't overbake it and things should work out fine.

For two loaves:

  • 3½ cups White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • ½ cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups finely grated zucchini

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together flours, cornmeal, seeds, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add buttermilk, egg and zucchini. Stir together until just moistened.

Spoon half the dough in a mound on one side of a greased baking pan. Repeat with remaining dough on the other side. Flour hands and gently pat dough into two 8-inch rounds. With a serrated knife, cut an X on the top of each loaf, ½-inch deep.

Bake for 23-25 minutes in the center of the oven. Cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bountiful Garden Sauce

August is one of those months where the garden is overflowing with produce and the heat and humidity is at its peak. Although I do not enjoy sweating over the stove, I do appreciate opening up my freezer and seeing all the soups, vegetables and sauces I have stocked it with. I set to work on this sauce the other night after the sun went down and was quite pleased with how many vegetables I was able to use up.

My tomatoes have been green for a seemingly endless amount of time so I became impatient and used canned ones in this recipe. However, I did use high quality canned San Marzano's which cost a bit more but are oh so delicious and make the most vibrant tasting sauces. I would guess that about 4 pounds of fresh Roma tomatoes could be substituted here, peeled and seeded.

The pancetta, the wine and the varying textures and flavors from the vegetables combine to make a zesty, fresh, summery sauce that I look forward to eating now and in the cooler months.

For about 8 cups of sauce:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 pound Pancetta, diced
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 large bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large zucchini, diced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 28-ounce cans whole San Marzano Tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring frequently for 3 minutes. Add the onion and cook for 5-6 minutes more until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and zucchini and cook, stirring frequently for 5 more minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the wine and allow to boil until the liquid is reduced slightly, about 5 minutes.

Turn the heat down to medium. Crush the whole tomatoes with your hands over the pot. Pour in the remaining juices. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and a generous pinch of salt. Stir together. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally until the sauce has thickened. Taste and add more salt if required.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Deviled Ham

I live in a hot old house. In the summer months it can be stifling and often, instead of sweating over the stove, I just make a pretty little plate of this and that from whatever resides in the fridge or the pantry: pickles, almonds, berries, honey-drizzled cheese, olives, crackers, etc. This deviled ham spread is the perfect thing to add to my hot weather plate for it only requires the use of a food processor to make it.

The Chef can eat a scary amount of deviled ham. While I spread a dainty amount on my cracker, topping it neatly with a cornichon, he utilizes the cracker as a shovel, scooping up unseemly gobs of it. This tarnishes my vision of us as a retro, refined couple in the 1950's eating our ham canapés while sipping ice cold martinis but, a girl can still dream, can't she?

For about 2 cups of spread:
  • 2 cups cooked, smoked ham, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup Dijon Mustard
  • 1/3 cup Major Grey's Chutney
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise

Add the ham to the food processor and give it a whirl until very finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and pulse until smooth. Add to the ham and mix well. Serve with crackers and cornichons. The spread will keep, refrigerated, for several days.

Adapted from a recipe in the Gourmet Cookbook.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ginger & Mary Ann Cocktails

After lazing about on a picnic blanket at the lake with one of these devilishly delicious cocktails in my hand, I convinced Guestblogger Eric M to share the recipe with all of us. A special note to those out there not certain they like the "dark" liquors: I am more of a vodka/rum/gin kind of a gal but trust me, this bourbon infused drink is not to be missed. --A Crafty Lass

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale: a tale of a delicious drink.

This tale didn’t start on a desert isle, but rather in the backyard of a friend’s house at a summer party 6 or 7 years ago. My friend, Ben, served delicious cocktails that were perfect for the hot weather: refreshing and light. They were the kind of drink that disappeared from your glass before you knew it. I blamed evaporation as I kept asking for refills.

What appeals to me personally about this drink is that it combines two of my favorite flavors (and I’ll thank everyone to refrain from the obvious joke--I’m more of a Professor fan): ginger and lime. The tartness of the lime is offset by the brightness of the ginger and the sweetness of the ginger ale. It’s great for a (small) party because you can prepare the mix in advance making bartending at the event easy (I emphasize “small” because you have to juice quite a few limes for this drink, so I wouldn’t want to make it for a huge crowd unless you have Popeye forearms).

My version is a variation on Ben’s recipe that substitutes fresh ginger and a less-sweet simple syrup to make for a crisp summer cocktail. I’ve also reduced the amount of alcohol so that you can have two or three of them and still keep up with the witty repartee of your friends.

To send eight people on a 3-hour tour:
  • 3 cups Ginger Simple Syrup (recipe below)
  • 2 cups Bourbon
  • 2.5 cups Lime Juice (about 9 or 10 limes)
  • 1 quart Ginger Ale
  • Lime slices for garnish

Combine the first three ingredients and refrigerate. To serve, fill a lowball glass with ice. Pour equal parts mix and ginger ale into the glass and stir. Garnish with a slice of lime. This should be enough for 8 people to have 2 to 3 drinks each.

Ginger Simple Syrup

  • 3 cups Water
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1.5 cups sliced ginger

Combine ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to make sure all the sugar dissolves. Turn off heat and cover, allowing mixture to steep for 45 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth and let cool before using. I set the bowl of strained syrup inside a larger bowl that was filled with ice to speed the process.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Smoky Baba Ghanoush

Years ago, The Chef and I lived in an apartment in a different area of Minneapolis. Just down the street there was a little Middle Eastern restaurant that had a small, inconspicuous storefront called Sinbad's. We would sit at one of the few tables and eat baklava, drink Turkish coffee, and soak in the hospitality from the pleasant owner (Sinbad?). Oftentimes we would leave with a pint of their extremely delicious Baba Ghanoush and would devour it with fresh pita bread. What set their eggplant spread apart from any others was its deep smokiness. Any other Baba Ghanoush I have had before or since hasn't contained even a hint of smoke to it and consequently, was never as delicious.

This story has a happy ending for barbecue extraordinaire Steven Raichlen has shown me the way. I was tuned into this show, Primal Grill, the other morning and there he was giving me step-by-step instructions on how to achieve the elusive smokiness. It's a genius, easy trick really: the whole eggplant is placed directly on top of fiery embers in the bottom of a grill. We made it ourselves and it was easy as can be. In about 15 minutes, The Chef brought in charred, softened eggplants, mixed the pulp with tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil and whipped it altogether in the food processor. Pure smoky goodness!

I can say that in the years when we participated in a CSA, I was always a little worried about how to tackle the eating of the eggplant when they would appear in our farm share boxes. The truth of the matter is, I don't exactly LOVE eggplant. I want to, I really do. As an on-the-fence eggplant eater, I would be surprised if anyone didn't enjoy this recipe.

We followed Mr. Raichlen's directions to a tee and found that getting the perfect mix of ingredients is a matter of taste--we added a little more tahini and lemon juice to suit our preference and sprinkled the spread with pimenton (smoked paprika) instead of hot paprika as specified. I found that an additional squeeze of fresh lemon juice truly added just the right astringency so absolutely serve it with lemon wedges.

For the recipe, click here.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Vegetable Slaw with Creamy Cashew Dressing

This slaw was going to start out as something totally different--an all kale slaw. I have had kale on the brain you see, because each time I look out my kitchen window I see my kale plants looking back at me. I received my latest issue of Martha Stewart Living which had a recipe for Kale Slaw in it. I loved the idea of using up so much of it. I was a bit worried at the idea of shoving mouthfuls of raw kale in my mouth so I asked The Chef what he thought. He raised an eyebrow and said, yeah, I don't know about that.

So! With that, I took the concept behind Matha's Kale Slaw and morped it into a more traditional cabbage slaw, adding blanched chopped kale, faintly spicy peppers, zippy garden carrots and a very delicious cashew dressing. For good measure, I garnished the slaw with some quick candied cashews.

To serve 6-8 as a side dish:

  • 1 small head green cabbage, cored and sliced into thin ribbons
  • 7-8 large leaves kale, center ribs discarded
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 red jalapenos, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup salted cashews
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup candied cashews*

Place the cabbage in a large bowl along with the carrots and jalapenos.

Fill a bowl with ice and water and set aside. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the kale, and blanch for one minute. Transfer the kale to the ice water to cool. Squeeze dry, chop, and add to the bowl of cabbage. Mix the ingredients together thoroughly.

In a blender add the oil, vinegar, salted cashews, heavy cream, brown sugar and salt. Blend until emulsified and smooth.

*To make the candied cashews, heat a skillet to medium-high and add 2 tablespoons of white sugar and 1 cup of salted cashews. Stir constantly until the sugar melts and the cashews turn golden. Be careful as the cashews will go from golden to burnt in the blink of an eye. Spread the cashews out on a sheet of wax paper to cool.

Before serving, pour the dressing over the slaw and mix thoroughly, adding more dressing if desired (I usually end up using all of it). Sprinkle the candied cashews over the top and serve.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Root Beer Ice Cream

This was my first foray into ice cream making. Success! Success! This admittedly doesn't speak to my special skills but is more of an indicator that making ice cream is super easy.

I have had a bottle of Zatarain's Root Beer Extract in my pantry for a year or so now. I had read about it in Saveur and bought it to make this delicious sounding Root Beer Cake. I haven't quite got around to baking that yet but The Chef did make his own root beer with it and yum, that was good, especially when we laced it with bourbon.

I was daydreaming about a root beer float the other day and somehow decided that root beer ice cream might be delicious. I started with David Lebovitz's Vanilla Ice Cream recipe as a base and then added my flavorings from there. If you like a root beer float, then this is ice cream heaven.

For about a quart of ice cream:
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Zatarain's Root Beer Extract
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • Pinch of ground cloves

Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Place a smaller bowl inside and pour the heavy cream into it. Set aside.

In a saucepan, stir together the sugar and milk over medium heat until heated but not boiling, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Turn the heat to low. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Whisk a small amount of the heated milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks and then gradually whisk the yolk mixture into the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the back of a spoon.

Pour the custard through a sieve into the heavy cream and whisk together until cooled. Stir in the extract, bourbon and cloves. Place the mixture, covered, into the refrigerator and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

Pour the cold custard into an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer's directions. Scoop the ice cream into a quart-sized container and freeze until firm.