Friday, December 25, 2009
My hope is that we can all navigate through this world with the grace and integrity of those who most need our protection.
May we have the sense of humor and liveliness of the goats, the maternal instincts and protective nature of the hens, and the sassiness of the roosters. May we have the gentleness and strength of the cattle, the wisdom, serenity and humility of the donkeys. May we appreciate the need for community as do the sheep and choose our companions as carefully as do the rabbits. May we have the faithfulness and commitment to family of the geese and the adaptability and affability of the ducks. May we have the intelligence, loyalty and affection of the pigs and the inquisitiveness, sensitivity, and playfulness of the turkeys.
May we learn from the animals what we need to become better people.
Monday, December 21, 2009
I was really surprised because six pounds of apples (which really seems like a lot) cooked down to about 3.5 8-ounce jars... which means, a whole lot of work and very little to show for it. A word to the wise (from the wise?): this will take you all day. And halfway through, you'll probably wonder why you're going to so much effort. Well, friends, the answer is because 1) it's the holidays, and 2) because it's delicious and you'll feel so much better when you're eating it than if you'd just bought an $8 jar at the store.
A few notes: I don't have a slow-cooker, so this is a stove + food processor method. You can, alternatively, throw everything together in a slow-cooker and let it go for a good 8 to 10 hours, then strain it and process it. I also strain by hand, with a fine mesh strainer, but if you have a food mill, you should use that because it's way easier. All spice measurements are approximate. You should adjust them to your taste. Finally, please do not take my processing times as gospel. You can consult a canning guide, like the ones here and here.
6 lbs apples, cored and wedged (*do not peel)
3 c apple cider
3 tbs cinnamon
1 - 2 tbs allspice
1 - 2 tbs ground cloves
1 tsp star anise (optional)
1/2c to 3c sugar
juice and zest of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Put all the apples and the cider in a very large pot and cook it over medium heat until the apples are tender and falling apart (about 15 - 20 minutes). Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. In batches, put the apple mixture in a food processor and blend until smooth.
Pour the blended apples into a large, oven-safe dish or pot. (I actually used my cast-iron skillet and it fit perfectly.) Add the cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and anise to the apples and adjust to taste. Stir well and add the lemon juice and zest. Put the pot in the oven and let it cook, uncovered for at least 45 minutes. As the apples cook down, they will become sweeter, so I recommend waiting at least this long before adding the sugar, which you should add to taste. I used about 3/4c total. Stir well, and return to the oven for 3 hours, checking and stirring occasionally. The butter is done when it is a spreadable consistency, and there are no pools of water on the top after it's stirred.
Once the butter has cooked down completely, remove it from the oven. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a large pot and, using the back of a spoon, press the butter through the strainer. You'll need to clean off the strainer every so often and, I found, that working in smaller batches was the easiest and most successful. Keep the leftovers (what wouldn't press through the strainer) in a bowl nearby. I recommend, if you have the time, straining the leftovers a second time. I got another 50% of butter the second time around.
If you aren't canning, either freeze the apple butter, or refrigerate it for up to a week.
If you're canning, heat the apple butter until boiling, fill 8-ounce jars and process each one for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. If your jars don't seal, you can re-process them with new lids within 24 hours, or just refrigerate the jar and use it soon.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
On Friday night, G. and I were lured to midtown by a Mexican restaurant advertising a Hanukkah menu. Being two very enthusiastic Mexican food lovers, we bundled up and headed north. The menu featured a Mexican latke trio, brisket tacos, and a jelly donut with dulce de leche dessert. The latkes were thin and crispy, and were paired with Mexican dipping sauces (cilantro and lime, chipotle, and I think the last one was some sort of horseradish cream). G. loved the brisket tacos (I ordered mushroom), and we opted for churros over the jelly donut, which, while not traditional holiday fare, were delicious nonetheless.
Saturday was spent prepping for our party, and preparing a menu of our own: applesauce, jelly donut cupcakes (which I think were the crowd favorite), latkes, and mulled wine.
My applesauce is essentially a non-recipe. I used six pounds of apples (mix varieties), peeled them, chopped them, tossed them in a soup pot and cooked it all down over medium-low heat for about three hours. The longer you cook the sauce, the more the apples will break down, so just remove it from heat whenever you like the consistency. Normally, I like it with chunks of apples, but I let this batch cook down further because it was going with latkes. You can also easily add any spices you like: cinnamon, cloves, allspice. If your apples start to stick to the bottom, or if the applesauce gets too thick as it cooks down, add water about ¼ c at a time, stirring as you go. The water will keep cooking off, so check it occasionally and give it a stir to prevent sticking.
For the latkes, we’d planned to do two batches, one vegan and one with eggs, but the vegan ones were such a hit that we just went with it. In place of eggs, the thickening/sticking agent is cornstarch (you could also use potato starch), and they are seasoned simply with salt and pepper. To make these gluten-free, you can substitute an alternative flour, though I haven’t tried it, so I can’t vouch for their texture.
3 lbs potatoes, peeled and shredded
1 medium white or yellow onion
¼ c cornstarch
about 1 c flour
salt and pepper
If you have a food processor, fit it with the grating disc and shred all the potatoes and the onion. If you’re hand-grating, grate the potatoes, then dice the onion as small as you can get it. Rinse the potato shreds well, then squeeze out as much liquid as possible. (This step is important, and will keep your latkes crispy and not soggy.) Mix together the potato and onion and add the cornstarch. Mix well and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper. Add flour gradually until the mixture becomes sticky and holds together.
Heat a cast-iron skillet with vegetable oil over high heat. You want the pan and oil to be hot, but not smoking. Form small balls of the potato mixture and press them very flat. (You want them pretty thin, or else they’ll be doughy and mushy on the inside.) Fry the pancake on both sides until golden and crispy, adding oil as necessary. Drain latkes on brown paper bags (they hold more oil than paper towels). Sprinkle with additional salt to taste.
Serve hot with sour cream and applesauce.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Stainless steel straws from Brook Farm General
These clever and good-looking straws would make a nice hostess gift
A subscription to Ed Behr's The Art of Eating
This magazine would make a great gift for any travel-loving, food enthusiast.
Useful Towel from Bailey Doesn't Bark
I'll never learn conversions, and this beautiful towel would keep me from running to Google each time I encounter grams!
How to Pick a Peach by Russ Parsons
This book should be in absolutely everyone's arsenal. You'll know how to pick fresh produce, and, more importantly, how to store it. (Keep broccoli tightly wrapped; cut the tops off of carrots to keep them from dehydrating; never refrigerate a tomato.) I reference this book at least once a week, and I learn something new each time.
Himalayan Salt Slab from Sur La Tabla
I'm intrigued! You can use this brick of salt directly on the stove or grill, as it heats slowly without melting, salting your food as it cooks.
G. told me that the trick to latkes is to rinse away the starch after you've shredded the potatoes. (I never knew this and G. has funny story about an aunt who makes famously-grey potato pancakes.) I'll post the full recipe and report after the weekend. Until then, Happy Hanukkah, everyone!
Monday, December 7, 2009
A DIY herb garden! Not only is this a great idea all on its own, but I think it would be made even better alongside any number of canned items. (My list, as it stands: apple butter, applesauce, pickled beets, roasted red peppers, and vanilla syrup.) Recipes to come!
I'd never made dough from scratch before, but knew that the dough was simple: flour, yeast, water, salt. (Olive oil for flavor.) If I've learned anything in the past few months, it's that the simplest things are often the most difficult to execute, as they rely on a perfected balance of few elements. Case and point: my crust. The flavor was amazing; I used Mark Bittman's basic dough recipe, and added fresh garlic, thyme, basil and rosemary. The herbs grounded the more robust and earthy flavors of the toppings: eggplant, squash, and roasted red peppers. The sauce was one I'd canned a few weeks ago, and was spicy with chili and slightly sweet from reduced balsamic.
The texture of the crust was less successful, and the whole thing stuck to the pizza stone. The edges of the crust came out fully baked, crispy on the bottom and doughy on top. The center, however, was too wet, and didn't brown on the bottom. In the future, I would pre-bake the crust for at least 5 minutes, and I would well-oil the baking surface. I'd also pat all the vegetables dry.
Here's to hoping for future success:
basic pizza dough
1 tsp (1/2 packet) active dry yeast
3 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 to 1 1/4 c water
2 tbs olive oil
fresh thyme, oregano, garlic (1 clove), basil
Add the yeast, flour, and salt to the food processor and process for a minute until well-mixed. Add the herbs, and process again. With the machine on, add the 1 c water and 2 tbs of oil through the feed tube.
Process for about 30 seconds, adding more water, a little at a time, until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If it is dry, add another tablespoon of water and process for another 10 seconds. (In the unlikely event that the mixture is too sticky, add flour, a tablespoon at a time.)
Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for a few seconds to form a smooth, round dough ball. Grease a bowl with the remaining olive oil, and place the dough in it. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let rise in a warm area until the dough doubles in size. (*You can cut this time short, if you like and are in a hurry, or slow it down by placing the bowl in the refrigerator.)
Once risen, place the dough on a well-oiled baking surface and, working from the center, push the dough out to form the crust to the thickness of your liking. Brush the edges with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake, with toppings, for 10 - 15 minutes (or to your desired crispness).
Friday, December 4, 2009
Soda bread is so-called because it uses baking soda as a leavening agent, in place of yeast. The key ingredient in the fairly simple recipe is buttermilk, which contains the lactic acid needed to react with the baking soda. While you can curdle soymilk to emulate the tang of buttermilk, I admittedly have reservations about messing with such simple chemistry. But, I love it and I miss it, so I'm going to give it a shot.
My mom's recipe also uses raisins and a to-be-omitted egg wash. Many recipes call for caraway, which we've never used, making our bread more sweet than savory. The dough is traditionally shaped into a ball and baked on a sheet or stone, with a cross sliced into the top. Stay tuned for the adaptation, and cross your fingers for success!
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
While I love cider, hot or cold, all on its own, it also makes for some of the year's most remarkable (and remarkably simple) libations.
apple brandy and cider
1/2 c apple cider
1/2 c apple brandy (preferably Laird's Applejack*)
2 tbs dry vermouth
Few dashes bitters
orange twists for garnish
Combine all ingredients, divide between two glasses, and garnish with orange.
sparkling cider and cognac
2 tbs cognac (we like Remy Martin)
1 c chilled hard apple cider (the better the cider, the better the end result, but we've used Woodchuck in a pinch)
Pour the cognac into the bottom of two glasses (1 tbs each), and top with hard cider. Finish with a dash of bitters, if you like.
*Laird's is America's oldest family of distillers and their Applejack isn't actually straight apple brandy (which is distilled from concentrated hard cider). It's blended with 65% whiskey: unique and delicious.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
I had even let this one butternut squash sit in a basket on the counter for two weeks. Lucky for me, the squashes are resilient and long-lasting, and it in all probability would have made it through the entire winter. Nonetheless, for produce in my kitchen, two weeks is a long time. This recipe was an on-the-spot improvisation, inspired mostly by the new sage plant I'd picked up. I've often cooked this squash with sage, but it was always dried, and I was excited to try it fresh. This dish is really easy to throw together, and I lad all the ingredients on-hand. If you have a gluten allergy/intolerance, you can easily substitute any grain you prefer. (Same goes for the walnuts.)
butternut squash stuffed with toasted couscous, cranberries and walnuts
1 medium-sized butternut squash
1.5 c couscous (or one box)
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1.5 c vegetable broth
handful dried cranberries
1/4 - 1/2 c chopped, fresh parsley
7 - 10 leaves fresh sage
handful chopped walnuts
Slice the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and roast for about 30 minutes until just tender. While the squash is roasting, prepare the couscous.
In a medium-sized saucepan (with a lid), saute the onion and celery in some olive oil with a little salt and pepper. Add about half of the fresh parsley and stir. Add the dry couscous and toast for about 3 - 4 minutes, until it begins to brown. Add the vegetable broth, the cranberries and the rest of the parsley, and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat, stir, and cover until all the water is absorbed.
When the squash is tender, scoop out the flesh, leaving about a 1/4" wall. Add the scooped squash to a skillet with some oil, salt, pepper, and the sage. Saute over medium heat for a minute or two. Add the cooked couscous and stir well to combine. Turn the heat to high and let it cook for a few minutes while the flavors incorporate, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
Stuff the mixture into the squash and finish in the broiler for about two minutes (watch carefully so it doesn't burn). Top with some fresh sage leaves and the chopped walnuts, and serve.