Nectarine Jam

Chunky Necctarine Jam

So I had adjusted to the fact that summer has left us.  No, really I had, until … I walked into my supermarket and saw the last of the nectarines.  Sigh. In my opinion, there are few things more delicious than a ripe, juicy, in-season, nectarine.  And these are it – the last of them.  What’s a girl to do?  Yup, I bought a ton.  In fact, I bought too many.  Even I couldn’t eat them all, so I decided to put up a small batch of jam before they went bad.

Once I made that decision, I had a few more to make.  Skin or no skin?  I’m firmly in the “leave the skin on” camp for two reasons.  First, I’m lazy.  Second, I like the texture of the skin after it’s been cooked down in the jam.  Chunky or smooth?  I went with chunky, but you could easily make it smoother by chopping the nectarines more finely or even whirring them around in the food processor a bit before combining with the sugar.  Lastly, do I want to add some other flavors?  Looking around the garden, I saw some lemon verbena that looked like a good idea.  Feel free to omit it if you don’t have any or you don’t like it.  I also love a bit of vanilla in my jams – I think it helps temper the slightly sour edge some fruits have, even when sweetened with sugar.  It doesn’t make things too sweet, it just rounds them out.

On a final note, this recipe makes about 6 cups of jam, enough to have a nice jar in your fridge and either give some to friends right away (refrigerate it) or can the rest.  I processed mine in half-pint canning jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes, and then let them cool in the bath for a couple of minutes more before taking them out and letting them cool down and seal completely.  If you’re interested in canning, there are many sites with specific information about safe canning on the web (such as Ball canning jar’s site and and the University of Georgia’s cooperative extension’s site). Take a look around for information about safe canning procedures and any equipment you may need.

CHUNKY NECTARINE JAM

  • 3 ½ pounds nectarines TIP:  Don’t use overripe fruit for making jam – it has lower pectin content, making it more difficult to reach the jam stage. In fact, it’s even better if a bit of the fruit is underripe.
  • 3 cups sugar (I used plain old granulated, white, sugar)
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 3 large sprigs of lemon verbena
  • Juice of one half lemon

 

Prepare The Fruit

  1. Pit and slice the nectarines.
  2. Place the fruit in a non-reactive bowl and add the sugar.
  3. Stir and put in the fridge overnight (or for few hours) to macerate.

Make The Jam

  1. Place a glass dish in the freezer (you’ll use this later to test the jam).
  2. When the fruit’s macerated, put the mixture in a large, heavy pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  3. Reduce the heat and skim off any foam that’s accumulated on the top, then add the vanilla bean, lemon verbena and lemon juice.
  4. Simmer on a low heat, stirring frequently, until it begins to thicken.  When it starts to thicken, remove the vanilla bean (gently rinse it off and save it to make vanilla sugar) and, if you like, the lemon verbena.
  5. Keep simmering the fruit until it’s jammy.  You can tell you getting close by lifting the stirring spoon out of the fruit and seeing how it falls off the spoon.  If it’s liquid and drippy, you’re not there yet.  If it has started to thicken up, and drops off in larger “flakes” you’re there.
  6. When you think it looks like jam, it’s time to test it.  Take the glass plate out of the freezer and plop a teaspoonful of the jam on the plate.  Put it back in the freezer for a half a minute.  Take out the plate and tilt it.  Did the jam run down the plate like a liquid?  If yes, keep simmering.  If the spoonful seemed to solidify, you can draw a line through it and it didn’t run right back together, or it just plain looks like jam, you’re probably done.
  7. If you’re done, put the jam into clean jars and either can or refrigerate them.

TIP :  Don’t even try to clean the pot in which you cooked the jam with cold water – you’ll have a sticky and annoying mess on your hands.  That stuff’s only coming off with hot water.  A few minutes hot soak and the jam should clean right off.  If you hot water canned your jam, you can use that water to soak the pot after you’re done canning.

Yield:  About 6 cups.

 

 

 

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S’mores Sundae

S'Mores Sundae

School has started and fall decorations are sprouting up all over the neighborhood, so I guess I have to admit that summer is over.  I think, however, that there’s still time for one more summer 2013 inspired recipe.

I mentioned in a recent post that I was trying to come up with a s’mores related recipe to welcome my son – the s’mores expert – home this summer.  Actually, my son is the inventor of ‘s’moreos’ a concept he came up with when he was about 6 years old around a bonfire upstate.  What is s’moreo?  Open up an Oreo, throw a piece of chocolate and a melty marshmallow on one side, top it with the other side, and you have a s’moreo.  He was even credited with it on Wikipedia for about one day, until the editors removed him citing potential copyright difficulties with a certain sandwich cookie.  You can imagine his horror when, several years later, a news organization’s blogger claimed credit for creating a s’moreo.  What’s an 11 year old chef to do?

The answer, unfortunately, is nothing.  He is working on letting it go and moving on.  Perhaps this sundae helped a little.

When I was trying to come up with a s’more-related treat, I started thinking about what makes a s’more yummy.  I like the bitter/sweetness of a burnt marshmallow, the creaminess of the chocolate and the crunch and nuttiness of the graham cracker.  I also wanted to be able to make all the components ahead of time – so I was leery of using a melted marshmallow sauce.  My solution was a toasted marshmallow ice cream (for marshmallow-y bitter/sweetness), milk chocolate sauce (creamy chocolate), and graham cracker crumbs toasted in butter and brown sugar (crunchy nuttiness).

S’MORES SUNDAE

  • Toasted marshmallow ice cream (or store bought marshmallow or vanilla ice cream)
  • Graham Cracker Crumbles (recipe, below)
  • Milk Chocolate Sauce (recipe, below)
  1. Put a few scoops of ice cream into a bowl.
  2. Pour on some milk chocolate sauce.
  3. Sprinkle graham cracker crumbles on the sundae.
  4. Dig in!

 

GRAHAM CRACKER CRUMBLES

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups crumbled graham cracker
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small saute pan.
  2. Let the butter cook for just a bit after it finishes foaming until it just barely starts to brown.  Add the crumbled graham crackers and stir.
  3. Sprinkle the crown sugar and the cinnamon over the crumbs.
  4. Cook, stirring, until the crumbles are browned and crispy – the sugar should be a bit melted onto them.
  5. Let cool.

Tip:  You can make the crumbles ahead of time.  Store them in an airtight container in the fridge and they will keep for quite a while.  If they’re not crisp enough for you when you want to use them, spread them in a single layer on a pan or on some tin foil and lightly toast them and they’ll crunch back up.

 

 

MILK CHOCOLATE SAUCE

  • 2 cups chopped milk chocolate (approx. 12 ounces)
  • 1 cup cream
  1. In a small pot, warm cream over medium heat until it’s  almost at a boil.
  2. Remove cream from heat and add chocolate.
  3. Stir until chocolate melts and the sauce is smooth.
  4. If the cream cools before the chocolate is completely melted, warm the sauce gently over a low heat, stirring continuously, until it melts completely.

Tip:  The sauce can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.  You can reheat it in the microwave – just nuke it for 30 seconds at 50 percent power.  Stir it up until it’s melted and smooth. Then nuke it for 30 seconds at 50 percent power again and stir it up.  If it’s still not completely melted, repeat for 10 seconds at 50 percent power until it’s melted and smooth.

 

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Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream

Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream

I’ve been playing around with making a toasted marshmallow ice cream as the base for a s’mores sundae (more on the sundae in a later post), and, although it took a few tries, I finally came up with one I liked.

Why a few tries?  Well, first of all I didn’t want it too sweet, and I wanted it to taste like toasted marshmallows.  Also, since I’m having problems accessing pasteurized whole eggs, I didn’t want to go the barely-cooked-egg-yolks-in-the-ice-cream route.

First I tried a cornstarch thickened base and lightly toasted marshmallows. It was nice, but just nice.  For the second batch I steeped graham cracker in the milk (a la the cereal milk from Momofuku Milk Bar), which was an improvement, but not fabulous.  The third batch used really charred marshmallows and the graham-cracker milk.  Also, I decided not to use any additional thickener, figuring that the gelatin in the marshmallows and the starch from the graham crackers might do the trick.  Although it’s a cliche, the third time was the charm.

TOASTED MARSHMALLOW ICE CREAM

Make The Graham Cracker Milk

  • 3 cups crumbled graham crackers TIP :  I tried using fancy graham crackers and using Nabisco graham crackers and I liked the Nabisco ones better for this recipe because they dissolved more in the milk and were a bit sweeter.
  • Generous pinch of cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons, packed, light brown sugar, divided
  • 1 quart whole milk
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees (F).
  2. Spread the graham cracker pieces on a rimmed cookie sheet.
  3. Sprinkle the cinnamon on the pieces, toss to combine and spread out in a single layer.
  4. Toast the crumbs for about 15 minutes.
  5. Cool the crumbs.
  6. Place the crumbs in a container and pour in the milk.
  7. Let the milk steep for about 30 minutes – the crackers should be very soft.
  8. Drain the milk through a fine meshed strainer, pressing down a bit to get all the liquid out.

Make The Ice Cream

  • 32 large marshmallows
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
  • 3 cups graham cracker milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  1. Toast the marshmallows so they’re really on the burned side.  TIP :  I tried toasting mine indoors over a gas stove (make sure the melted marshmallow doesn’t get on your burners – it’s tough to get off) and flaming them with a kitchen torch. The torch was faster.  I’ve read about people putting them on a silpat mat and broiling them, but never tried it myself.
  2. Put the marshmallows in a tall, heat proof container.
  3. Heat up 2 cups of the milk, stirring frequently, over medium until it’s almost boiling.
  4. Reduce the heat and add the brown sugar and vanilla.  Cook, stirring, until the brown sugar has dissolved.
  5. Let the warm milk cool for a bit, then add it to the container with the marshmallows.
  6. Blend the mixture with a hand blender (or in a blender).
  7. Mix in the remaining one cup milk.
  8. Chill the base in the refrigerator until it’s cold.  This could take a few hours.  TIP :  If you want to speed up the process a bit, put the ice cream base in a heavy duty resealable plastic bag, seal it and put it in an ice bath in your fridge.  I would actually put the bag with the base inside a second bag and seal them both up just in case of a leak.
  9. When the mixture is chilled, process it in an ice cream maker according to your machine’s instructions.

You can make the ice cream ahead of time and keep it in the freezer.

You may notice that you’ll have a cup of graham cracker milk left over. Might I suggest mixing some up with Amaretto over ice?  For a non-alcoholic drink, try using it to make hot chocolate – and don’t forget the marshmallow!

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Grilled Those String Beans!

Grilled String Beans

Yes, I know it sounds nuts to throw string beans on the grill, but hear me out.  Our vegetable garden is recovering from heavy rains early in the season, and the string beans we planted are finally starting to earn their keep.  Which is great, but what to do with the beans?  They’re so fresh that I don’t want to just boil or steam them, but some are large enough that they’re too tough to eat raw.  Besides that, it’s been hot, and I don’t want to heat up the kitchen any more than I have to.

Then it occurred to me that grilling string beans is really no different than grilling asparagus, and I love grilled asparagus.  I grilled a few handfuls of beans and they were immediately declared a success by everyone around the table.  I think the idea is a winner of a summer treatment (it’s really too simple to call it a recipe).  After all, quick, simple and highlighting the flavors of very fresh produce is really what summer cooking is all about.

GRILLED STRING BEANS

  • A few handfuls of fresh string beans
  • Olive oil
  • A clove or two of chopped garlic (optional)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Coarse salt
  • Lemon zest (optional)
  • Walnut, almond or sesame oil (optional)

Equipment

  • Gas or charcoal grill
  • Grill pan, grill basket or fine grill grate (optional, but it will keep your veggies from falling through the grill)
  • Tongs

Prepare The Beans

  1. Rinse and dry the beans.
  2. Trim the the stem end.
  3. Put the beans in a resealable plastic bag.
  4. Drizzle them, in the bag, with the olive oil.  You only need enough to coat them lightly.
  5. Throw a few grinds of fresh pepper, a pinch of salt and, if you’re so inclined, the chopped garlic in the bag with the beans and shake the bag to distribute the oil, salt and pepper (and optional garlic) over the beans.
  6. You can immediately grill the beans or throw the bag in the fridge for a couple of hours until you’re ready to grill them.

Prepare The Grill

  1. Preheat the grill to “high”.
  2. Oil the grill basket, pan or grate and place it on the grill to pre-heat.  You want everything very hot before you add the beans.

Grill The Beans

  1. Throw the beans on the prepared grill in a single layer.  TIP :  Don’t dump them out of the bag onto the grill, because any extra oil in the bag will cause flare ups when it’s poured on the grill.
  2. Close the lid of the grill and cook for a couple of minutes, until there are a few char marks on the beans.
  3. Shake the basket (or pan, or grate), then close the lid again and cook for another minute or two until the beans have gotten a little wrinkly or softer.
  4. Remove the beans from the grill and put on a platter.

Finishing The Beans

  1. Sprinkle the coarse salt and, if desired, lemon zest on the greens.  You can drizzle a bit more olive oil on top as well.  If you have any fancy nut oil (e.g., toasted walnut), now’s a good time to use it.

Tip:  You can serve these alone as a side dish, or cut them up and add to salad or to roasted (or grilled) potatoes.  Also, they’re delicious warm or at room temperature, so they’re a nice make-ahead for a cook out.

Yield:  As many string beans as you grilled, you’ll get.

String Beans

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Cold Corn Salad (or how to handle leftovers in a heat wave)

Cold Corn Salad

Well, we’re in the middle of another heat wave here on Long Island or, as the weatherman said today “It’s only going to be in the 90s for the next week, but it will feel like triple digits.”  Only the 90s?  I’m not even going to go into the humidity, except to say it just ain’t right.

Which brings me to dinnertime.  Obviously too hot to cook inside.  It was even too hot to cook outside on the grill.  I had leftover smoked brisket from a dinner we made for friends last night, and a bunch of leftover grilled corn on the cob.  The brisket part was easy – brisket sandwiches.  What to do with the corn?  I wasn’t about to fry corn fritters, and the thought of creamed anything made me want to turn up the AC a few notches.  As I pondered the question, I watered our veggie garden and thought how nice the yellow corn would look with the purple scallions I planted  … and the red cherry tomatoes that were just ripe … and that shiny green basil … and a side dish appeared – cold corn salad.

The key to this salad is keeping it simple.  Ripe, fresh vegetables, corn dressed with just a little salt, pepper and olive oil, and you really can’t go wrong.

On another note, this side becomes a main course easily with the addition of some cold poached shrimp or shredded chicken.  I mixed the leftovers with some hot sauce into scrambled eggs the next morning for a lovely breakfast.  I’m also planning on using the salad as a base for seared sea scallops as soon as the weather cools down enough to think about searing anything without needing a fan.

COLD CORN SALAD

  • 5 medium ears of grilled corn (or about 3 cups cooked corn kernels)
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 2 scallions (whites and several inches of green), thinly sliced
  • A handful of basil leaves
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of good olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sherry vinegar (optional)

Prep The Corn – You’re going to need to get those kernels off the cob. There are gizmos and fancy techniques for doing so, but here’s how I do it.

  1. Cut each cob in half.
  2. Stand a cob half  up, with the flat side against the cutting board (so you have a stable base).  If possible, use a flexible cutting board – they may make it easier to transfer the corn into a bowl without losing any kernels.
  3. Hold your knife at the base of the kernels, and slice them off by cutting vertically down the cob, separating the kernels from the cob.
  4. Rotate the cob and continue doing this until you’ve done it all the way around.
  5. The cob shouldn’t have any kernels left on it.  If you feel like you weren’t close enough to the cob when you starting slicing and that the bottom half of the kernels were left on the cob, you can scrape the bottoms of those remaining kernels off with the edge of your knife.
  6. Transfer the kernels to a bowl and continue with the rest of the cobs.
  7. TIP:  When you’re done, you’ll have a bunch of naked corn cobs.  Don’t throw them out!!!  Toss them in a resealable plastic bag and pop them in your freezer.  Next time you’re making chicken, shrimp or veggie stock throw in some of the cobs and they’ll add some very nice, subtle sweetness.

Make The Salad

  1. Mix together the corn kernels, tomatoes, and scallions.
  2. Tear or finely slice the basil and add it to the corn.
  3. Drizzle 2 – 3 tablespoons of olive oil onto the corn salad.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste
  5. Mix the salad gently to combine all the ingredients and taste it.  If it seems flat, add a splash of vinegar.

Yield:  About 4 cups

Variations

  • Add a quarter teaspoon of smoked paprika for some smoky flavor.
  • For a spicier salad – substitute fresh cilantro for the basil and add a generous pinch of ground cumin, along with some lime juice and minced red pepper and jalapeno pepper.
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Ginger “+” Biscotti

Ginger + Biscotti

Ideas for things to bake (or cook) are born from different sparks.  Sometimes it’s figuring out how to combine some great farmer’s market finds into a cohesive meal.  Sometimes it’s trying to recreate a dish, or a specific flavor, that you’ve enjoyed (or improve on something you didn’t enjoy).  Sometimes you’re trying to take a new spin on a classic, or figure out how to best sate a loved ones specific type of sweet tooth.  And sometimes, it’s because you just found a cool new ingredient and want to explore the best way to use it.

Recently I found myself in possession of a jar of soft diced ginger, which I scored during a King Arthur free-shipping promotion.  While playing around with a biscotti recipe similar to the cantuccini in Baking with Julia, I decided to add a scoopful.   I added some candied nuts and cinnamon chips, and voila – a cookie was born.  If you don’t have candied nuts, cinnamon chips or soft ginger, don’t worry.  The recipe lends itself to lots of improvisation.  You can easily substitute 1/4 cup of chopped crystallized ginger for the soft ginger.  I’ve used plain toasted nuts instead of candied nuts, used all chocolate chips instead of cinnamon chips, and thrown in dried cranberries too.  My suggestion, keep the volume of the non-ginger add-ins about the same – 2 cups overall.  Also, as noted in the recipe, if you’re using the soft ginger, mix it up with the wet ingredients.  If using chopped crystallized ginger, combine it with the rest of the dry add ins before adding it to the flour mixture.

GINGER + BISCOTTI

  • 2 cups all purpose flour (you can also use 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cups white whole wheat or whole wheat flour)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (preferably homemade baking powder)
  •  Generous 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  •  3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (increase to 1 teaspoon if you’re not using cinnamon chips)
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup soft ginger, or 1/4 cup finely diced crystallized ginger
  •  1 cup chopped candied walnuts or toasted walnuts
  •  1/2 cup cinnamon chips or dried cranberries
  •  1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten (you can also use 3/4 cup egg whites)
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract

GET READY

  1. Place a rack in the center of your oven.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
  3. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.

MAKE THE DOUGH

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour(s), sugar, salt, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  2. Combine the nuts, chips and, if using, chopped crystallized ginger.
  3. Add the nut mixture to the flour mixture.  Stir to combine.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, vanilla and, if using, soft ginger.
  5. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, and stir to combine.  Once you’ve incorporated most of the dry ingredients, you may have to knead the dough a few times in the bowl to get the rest of the flour mixture completely incorporated.

SHAPING AND FIRST BAKING

  1. Divide the dough in half.
  2. Place one half on the cookie sheet, and shape it into a log about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide and 12 to 14 inches long.
  3. Do the same with the other half.
  4. Space the two logs at least 7 inches apart.  You can also place them on two cookie sheets.
  5. Use a dull knife or a bench scrape to score a shallow line down the middle of each log, lengthwise.  I’ve found that this keeps the logs from cracking badly during the first baking.
  6. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until the logs are firm on top and very lightly colored.  Start checking for firmness at about 20 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.  TIP: You can also cool the logs and wrap them up and divide them for the second baking later.  The logs keep, frozen, very nicely.

SLICING AND SECOND BAKING

  1. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees (F) or, if you’re using logs that were baked at an earlier time, preheat the oven to 325 degrees (F).
  2. Cut each log into 1/4 inch slices.  The Cookie Police will not come and get you if the slices aren’t 1/4 inch, but if they’re too thick, they won’t get crisp, if they’re too thin, they’ll get too crisp, and if they’re not uniform you’ll wind up with some burnt cookies and some that aren’t crispy enough.
  3. Lay the slices flat on the cookie sheets.
  4. Bake for a total of 12-15 minutes, flipping slices over at about 7 minutes.  You may need to bake them in batches if your oven isn’t large enough to accommodate two sheets in the middle of the oven at the same time.
  5. When they’re done, the biscotti should be lightly toasted, and just barely crisp.  If you bake them until they’re completely crisped, they’ll be too hard after they cool down.
  6. Slide the cookies, on the parchment paper, off the cookie sheets to cool.
Yield:  Between 6 and 7 dozen cookies.  
Cookies keep very nicely in an airtight container.  If they lose their crispness, you can place them in a 325 degree oven for a minute to re-crisp.  They also freeze beautifully at either the log or cookie stage.
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The Trouble With Fads…

Mocha Hazelnut Macaron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, something really great gets taken up as a fad … and that’s terrible.  Yes, terrible, because, as we all know, fads follow the law of gravity – what comes up, comes down.  Just as soon as something is taken up as the latest and greatest, it’s dropped as trite, old hat, and boring, which can really be a shame.  Take, as a case in point, macarons, those lovely french sandwich cookies.

Last year you could not swing a bakery bag without hitting a macaron.  And they definitely deserved the popularity.  They are, after all, fabulous.  Aesthetically they have an adorable shape and come in all the colors of the rainbow.  Taste-wise, they’re open to just as many interpretations, running the gamut from chocolate, to nut, to fruit and back again.  I loved this fad, but even as I was cramming them into my mouth (ever so delicately of course), I knew that this, like all good fads, could not last.

I say, let’s buck the trend in fads.  Macarons deserve a fan base more loyal than adolescent girls pining after the latest boy band.  They hit all they high points – pleasing to the eye and the palette, adaptable to individual preferences and (despite what you may have heard), easy for the home baker to prepare.  They are also better if made ahead of time and frozen, a definite boon for anyone entertaining guests or who wants a constant stash in the freezer.

So let’s show our loyalty by preparing them often.  A couple of notes before you start – there are a few attributes that macaron fans look for in their cookies.  The texture of the cookie wafers should have a crunch, but also be lightly chewy inside.  Each wafer should be glossy, evenly colored and have a ruffled “foot”.  The filling shouldn’t be too gushy or dry.  Don’t worry – none of these are a problem with a little advanced planning.

For example, most recipes I’ve read call for aging the egg whites.  I’ve found this helps, so I separate the eggs a couple of days ahead of when I plan on baking and put them in a covered container in my fridge.  I’ve left them in there for as long as a week and still found the results after using them to be fine.  Also, don’t skimp on the grinding and sieving of the nut/powdered sugar mixture.  Getting the grit out really does help improve the texture.  If possible, bake and fill the macarons a day or two before serving them – you can even wrap them well and freeze them.  Allowing the filled cookies to age a bit helps keep them from being too crunchy.  Another tip to try to get a good texture and foot is banging the cookie sheet on the counter a few times after you pipe out the circles of batter to get rid of any large air bubbles.  Try some of these out yourself and see if they help you too.

The recipe below is based on the fantastic chocolate macarons on David Lebovitz’ blog and his book, my My Sweet Life In Paris. My current favorite spin is this mocha and hazelnut version.

Macarons

MOCHA HAZELNUT MACARONS

For The Cookie (TIP:  If possible, try to weigh the ingredients for the cookie – you’ll get more consistent results.  Since some of the amounts are rather small, I usually do so in grams instead of fractions of ounces.  I’ve added measurements in all variations here).  (TIP:  You can also change the proportion of almond to hazelnut.  Using all hazelnut was a bit overpowering, but this ratio or 50:50 works very nicely.  Just make sure you have 50 grams or about 2 ounces altogether.)

  • 2 days before baking, separate the whites from 2 large eggs.  Put the egg whites in a covered container in your fridge until ready to bake.
  • 1/3 cup or 33 grams or 1.3 ounces almond flour (ground almonds)
  • 1/6 cup or 17 grams or .7 ounces hazelnut flour (ground hazelnuts)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (about 100 grams)
  • 3 tablespoons/25 grams natural cocoa powder (about .9 grams)
  • 5 tablespoons/65 grams granulated white sugar  (about 2.3 grams)

For The Filling

  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup ground hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped
  • 10 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 generous teaspoon instant espresso powder

Getting Ready

  1. Take four cookie sheets, and stack one on top of the other so you have two doubled-up sheets.
  2. Line top two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Place a rack in the middle of your oven.

Make The Batter

  1. Grind the nuts, powdered sugar and cocoa powder in a food processor until it is finely ground.
  2. Pass the mixture through a sieve several times. Set it aside.  TIP: If the mixture was too coarse, try grinding it a bit more and then passing it through the sieve again.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the egg whites until they get foamy and then start to fluff up.  While the mixer is running, gradually add the granulated sugar to the egg whites.  Beat until the whites are stiff and firm.  (How can you tell if they’re done?  If you take the beater out of the whites, and hold it upside down, the whites should hold their shape.)
  4. Using a rubber spatula, fold the nut mixture into the whites.  Gently fold it in and then, when it’s incorporated, spread the batter against one side of the bowl and fold it over on itself.  Do this several times until the batter is smooth and a bit runny. (See picture below)
  5. Put the batter in a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip.  If you don’t have one, make an impromptu bag by snipping off the corner of a resealable plastic bag.

Macaron batter should be smooth and a bit runny


Form The Wafers

  1. Pipe the mixture onto the parchment paper in circles that are about 1 inch.
  2. Slap the cookie sheet (with the parchment paper and batter on it) against a table or counter top several times to get the air bubbles out.
  3. Let the wafers sit for about half an hour until the tops are dry to the touch.

Baking The Wafers

  1. While the wafers are drying, preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F).
  2. When the wafers are dry, bake them for about 15 minutes.  If the tops seem to be browning too quickly, lay a sheet of tin foil on top of them.
  3. If your oven cannot accommodate baking both sheets in the middle of the oven at one time, bake off the second sheet when the first is done.
  4. Slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheets, and let the cookies cool on the paper.

Make The Filling

  1. Heat the cream in a small to medium sized microwave safe bowl.
  2. Add the espresso powder and stir until it combines with the cream.
  3. While the cream is still hot, add the white chocolate and stir until it melts into the cream.  If necessary, put the bowl back into the microwave for 10 seconds to finish melting the chocolate and stir until it is combined with the cream.
  4. Let the mixture cool until it has thickened, then whisk it a bit to lighten it up.

Assemble The Macaron

  1. Place the toasted hazelnuts on a small plate.
  2. Use an offset spatula to spread a dollop of filling on the flat side of one wafer.  You want between 1 and 2 teaspoons, enough that some peeks out between the two wafers, but not so much that it gets messy.
  3. Top the filling with another wafer, making a cookie sandwich.
  4. After filling each cookie, roll the sides of it in the toasted hazelnuts, so they adhere to the filling between the two wafers.

Serving:  The cookies are best after they’ve “aged” a bit.  Either put them in an airtight bag or wrap them in plastic wrap for a day or so before serving them.  Alternatively, you can wrap them well in plastic wrap and freeze them in resealable freezer bags.  If you freeze them, leave the plastic wrap on them when they defrost so that condensation collects on the outside of the wrap instead of on the surface of the cookie.

Posted in Baking, Cookie Recipes, Desserts, Desserts, In The Kitchen, Make Ahead-able, Recipes | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

It’s Sprung!! (Spring Green Soup)

Pea sprouts

Spring has finally come to Long Island!!  We have daffodils, and cherry blossoms, and all sorts of green things are starting to spring up – both in our gardens and in our markets.  Actually, I was lucky enough to be at the Union Square Greenmarket last weekend and I came across one of my favorite harbingers of spring – pea shoots (aka pea sprouts).  Pea shoots look like exactly what they are – baby pea plants.  They taste delicious – like the most tender raw baby peas, and you can eat them cooked or raw.  In their honor, here’s a spring-green pea soup.

SPRING GREEN SOUP

  • 2 leeks
  • 2 yellow potatoes
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons of butter
  • Salt
  • 7 cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock TIP:  If you’re using store-bought stock, I recommend 3 cups of stock mixed with 4 cups of water so you don’t overwhelm the taste of the vegetables.  ANOTHER TIP:  Keep another cup of stock (or half stock/half water) in reserve in case you want to thin out the soup.
  • 6 cups fresh peas or frozen petite peas
  • 1 tablespoon or more of dried thyme – lemon thyme if you can get it.
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • A few handfuls of pea sprouts, rinsed and dried
  • Optional garnishes:  chopped fresh mint, lemon, yogurt and/or cream

Make The Soup

  1. Trim the tough, dark green leaves from the leeks, wash them well and roughly chop them.  TIP:  Leeks are filthy!!! My two favorite ways of washing them are to either split them lengthwise, leaving each half attached at the roots, and rinse them under running water or to fill up a large bowl with water, slice the leeks and swish them around in the water, draining and repeating until there’s no grit in the bottom of the bowl.
  2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan or pot over medium heat.
  3. When the butter finishes foaming, lower the heat a bit and add the leeks and a pinch of salt.  Cover the leeks and cook, stirring occassionaly until the leeks are very soft but not browned – it should take about 15 minutes.
  4. While the leeks are cooking, peel and roughly chop the potatoes.
  5. Add the potatoes and cook for a few more minutes, stirring until the potatoes are coated with the butter.
  6. Add the stock and thyme and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes.
  7. Add the peas and cook about 5 minutes until they’ve softened a bit.
  8. Puree the stock with a hand blender.  Unless you have incredibly tender peas, or like your soup to have a lot of body, put the soup through a food mill set with a fine blade. TIP:  If you’re using a food mill, you can probably skip the hand blender, but I find the process goes quicker if the soup is already pureed before running it through the mill.
  9. Add some more stock to get the soup the consistency you like.

GARNISHES

  1. If using pea sprouts as a garnish, heat the olive oil in a small sautee pan.
  2. Add the garlic and cook until it just starts to color.
  3. Add the the pea sprouts, and saute till they’re wilted, drain them on a paper towel, then chop them up.
  • If not using pea sprouts, the sweetness of the soup plays really well with mint, some lemon or a dollop of yogurt.

Spring Green Soup

TIP:  The soup is best served, either hot or cold, the day it’s made.  It will keep for another day, but after that loses flavor.

TIP:  If you would like a richer soup, add cream after the soup is pureed and run through the food mill.

YIELD:  2 1/2 quarts of soup.

Posted in First Place Recipes, In The Kitchen, Make Ahead-able, Recipes, Soups, Vegetables | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Stocking Up

Chicken Stock

 

There are few things a person can do where a minimal input of effort and resources yields an undeservedly fabulous output.  Chicken stock is one of those things.

Basic chicken stock only requires some leftover chicken bones and some water – add nothing else and it’s still worlds better than the sodium soaked stuff you can get in a can from the grocery store.  Kick in a few veggies and add-ins and you’ve got a stock that will make you kick yourself for not trying it sooner.

NOTE:  No matter how you go about it, chicken stock is going to require chicken.  A tiny bit of planning ahead here will pay off. When you roast a chicken, save the carcass (and if possible the roasting juices, although more about that later).  Throw it all in a resealable plastic bag and toss it in the freezer.  Roast another chicken?  Throw its carcass in the bag too.  You don’t like to cook chicken, but you get rotisserie chicken all the time?  No problem.  Chicken stock does not discriminate between home cooked bones and store bought ones.  You don’t cook a lot but you eat out all the time?  I have been known to ask a waiter to pack up the bones so I could make stock, and they have complied without batting an eye.

CHICKEN STOCK 101 – THE ABSOLUTE, BARE-BONES (NO PUN INTENDED) BASICS

  • Bones from 2 to 3 chickens
  • Clean, room temperature, water – about 5 to 7 quarts (If your tap water tastes like chemicals or you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it.  If necessary, buy some tasty filtered water and use that instead).
  • A pot
  • A spoon
  1. Put the bones in a pot and cover them with water. You need enough water to cover the bones by a good few inches.  You may also want enough water to top off the stock as it cooks if you need to skim off the top often.
  2. Cook over medium heat until it barely starts to boil. As soon as it starts to bubble, turn it down so that it is barely simmering.  You want to see just a few bubbles rise to the surface now and then.  NOTE: This is important!  If you boil the bones, the soup will look cloudy and won’t have a nice, clean, chicken taste.  (I’ve heard it has something to do with the higher heat causing the proteins to bind in an unhelpful way, but don’t quote me on that).  That’s also why you start off with cool water instead of hot water.
  3. After half an hour, skim off any scum or fat that’s floated to the top.
  4. Keep the stock at that barely-simmering level and let it cook for a couple of hours, until it tastes like chicken stock.  If necessary, skim off the top occasionally.
  5. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer and refrigerate.
  6. The next morning, remove any fat that’s congealed on top, and use or freeze the stock.

Yield:  About 4 – 5 quarts depending on how much water you start with and how long you cook down the stock.

That’s it – six steps and you have a perfectly delicious chicken stock ready to be used or frozen.  If, however, you want to get an even better return on your investment I suggest …

CHICKEN STOCK 102

  •  Carcasses of 3 chickens, or carcass of one chicken and a couple of pounds of chicken wings, or any combination of bones and chicken wings.  NOTE:  Adding chicken wings will give your stock a fuller flavor and a silky texture from the gelatin in the wings, but you will also have more fat to skim off than if you use bones alone.  Don’t forget to rinse the raw chicken wings before adding them to the stock.
  • 5 to 8 quarts of clean, room temperature water
  • An onion, washed and quartered through the stem end.
  • A stalk or two of celery, washed, leaves trimmed off, and cut in half
  • 6 cloves of garlic, rinsed but not peeled
  • A few scallions, washed and cut in half
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • One strip of lemon zest
  • Several sprigs of flat-leafed parsley, washed
  1. Put the bones, and wings if you’re using them, in a pot.
  2. Cover bones (and/or wings) with water by several inches.
  3. Barely bring the pot to a boil over medium heat.  As soon as it starts bubbling, reduce the heat so it is barely simmering.  (See the notes to the Chicken Stock 101 for information about why you want only a low simmer).
  4. After half an hour, skim off any fat or scum that’s risen to the surface.  If you took off a lot of the liquid along with the fat or scum, you can add a couple of cups of water.
  5. Add the vegetables, peppercorns and parsley. Why don’t you add the vegetables at the beginning?  They’ll bob to the surface and make skimming the soup more difficult.  Since most of the scum will rise the surface during the first half hour of simmering, wait until you’ve skimmed it off to add the vegetables.
  6. Bring it back to that very low simmer, and cook the stock a couple of hours.  I usually simmer it for between one and a half and two and a half hours.
  7. Let it cool a bit and then strain it through a fine mesh strainer.  Many recipes suggest pressing down on the solids so you can get all the flavor out.  It’s a good idea, but be aware that it may cause a cloudier stock.
  8. Refrigerate the stock.
  9. The next morning, remove any fat that’s congealed on top of the stock.
  10. Strain the stock again through a fine mesh strainer – if possible line the strainer with dampened cheese cloth.  The stock’s ready to use, refrigerate for later, or freeze.

Yield:  About 6 quarts of stock, depending on how much water you start with and how long you simmer the stock.

ADD-INS

-When I make stock, I try to make it as simple as possible if I don’t know how I’ll be using it.  There are, however, lots of add-ins that are fantastic.  For example:

  • If I cook leeks, I freeze the tough outer leaves instead of discarding them and add them to stock when I cook it.
  • If I know I’m using the stock for a dish with Asian flavors, I’ll use more scallions and add a slice or two of ginger.
  • Dried or fresh herbs such as thyme or marjoram help make a delicious stock.  Be careful of stronger herbs like rosemary or sage because they can overpower the finished stock.
  • Other vegetables can be added.  Mushrooms (fresh or dried) deepen the flavor of stock and a tomato or two can brighten it up.  Lots of people like to add a scrubbed carrot or two.
  • One of my favorite things to add to stock is the leftover pan juices from roasting the chicken.  They add concentrated chicken flavor and a lovely smooth texture to the stock.

-You may notice that I don’t add salt.  You’re right – I don’t. I don’t think you need to.  First of all, the chickens were probably seasoned with salt when they were originally cooked, so the bones may have some residual salt still on them.  Secondly, I may want to reduce the stock later to concentrate its flavor – if I’ve already added salt, the concentrated stock may be too salty.  Also, I’ll taste the finished soup, stew or sauce in which I use the stock, and, if necessary, salt it then.  If the stock already has salt in it, I lose some control over how much there is in the finished product.

CONTROL THE FLAVOR:  Sometimes you want a light stock to provide a subtle background flavor.  Other times, you want a stronger, more assertive flavor.  If you want a deeply flavored stock, you have a couple of options.  The first is to reduce the stock after the final straining by putting it back in the pot and cooking it at a low simmer so that some of the water evaporates.  The second method is to roast the bones before putting them in the soup pot.  To roast the bones, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Put the bones in a roasting pan that will hold them in a single layer.  Roast the bones, checking them and shaking pan to move them around a bit every 10 minutes, until they’re nicely browned.  It may take 30 – 45 minutes.  When they’re roasted, you place them in the pot and continue with the recipe.  You can even deglaze the roasting pan with a little water and add that to the stock as well.

STORING:  If you won’t be using the stock right away, you can store it.  My own rule of thumb is that if I think I’ll be using it within a week, I’ll store it in a covered container in the fridge. You can also freeze stock for longer storage in ice cube trays or in resealable plastic bags.  If you’re freezing in bags, I strongly suggest labeling the bag (including the date) and laying them flat on a cookie sheet in the freezer until they’re frozen solid so that the bags don’t adhere to whatever ice cream you’ve got in there.

Application:  So now that you have this fabulous stock, what can you make with it?  Add it to sauces or poaching liquids.  Cook your rice or your pasta in stock instead of water.  Speaking of rice, if you’ve never made risotto with homemade stock you’re in for a treat.  Use it as a base for stews or, of course, get out your pots and start making soup.  Try substituting stock for water in black bean soup, vegetable soup and butternut squash soup - enjoy!

 

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Ice Cubes, Hold The Water

Coffee CubesHave I mentioned how much I hate my ice maker?  My husband likes ice, and his one big request when we were planning kitchen appliances was that the fridge have an automatic ice maker.  Words cannot begin to describe the twisted relationship I have with that thing.  Every expensive repair that the fridge has required has somehow involved the ice maker.  A few months ago, when the digital display showed that fridge temperature was rising, I just turned off the ice maker and voila, the fridge and freezer went back to the correct temperature.  It’s stayed off since.

We still need some ice, however, even if it’s just for the occasional glass of ice water, so I dug out my old ice cube trays and started putting them to use.  Once they were out, I realized that they were an under-utilized kitchen resource – there are lots of liquids that could be frozen in the trays and come in handy later.  Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Coffee  - I am a die hard coffee fan, so the question often arises of what to do with coffee leftover in the maker after I know I’ve reached my limit.  Freeze the leftover as ice cubes and your iced coffee will never be diluted again.

2.  Stock – Homemade stock is a wonderful thing to have around the house.  The problem is, if you’ve gone to trouble of making a batch of stock and freezing it, you probably don’t want to defrost a whole quart or gallon just to get a few spoonfuls.  The solution?  Freeze some in ice cube trays and pop them out as needed – you generally won’t need to defrost them, just add them to the pot or pan.

3.  Chipotle Chilis in Adobo Sauce – Chipotle chilis are delicious, especially when canned in adobo sauce.  Usually, however, I open a can, use a few and have half a can of chilis and sauce left over.  Freeze them in trays and you’re ready to go next time you crave that smoky-spiciness.

4.  Tomato Paste – Let me state flat out that you should try to get tomato paste in tubes.  You squeeze out what you need and the rest stays fresh much longer than in cans or jars because there’s less exposure to air.  That said, sometimes you have an open can or jar of tomato paste that you just don’t know what to do with.  Freeze the paste in ice cube trays and you’ll have perfect portions ready to go whenever you need them.

5. Herb Pastes – I know I’ve mentioned herb pastes before.  If you find yourself with leftover herb paste with no plans to use it in the near future – freeze it in ice cube trays.  The portions will be useful for adding to soups, sauces or stews and they’ll stay fresh longer than in the fridge.  I mention labeling below, but let me emphasize that you must label herb pastes, otherwise you won’t know if you’re adding mint or parsley.

6.  Juice  - Anyone else spend some time in the early 1970′s watching Saturday morning TV? Along with the other Schoolhouse Rock classics (I know, now you’re all humming “Conjunction Junction” as you read – sorry), there was “Time for Timer” featuring a little guy who tried to get kids to eat healthy.  One of his suggestions was “Sunshine on a Stick” – orange juice, frozen in ice cube trays, with a toothpick added as a handle.  Incredibly unsatisfactory.  The cube kept spinning around the toothpick and the whole thing started to melt into stickiness before you could finish it.  The basic idea is a good one though.  Freeze juice in the trays and pop it out when you want flavored ice water, undiluted cold juice or you want to keep a smoothie cold.

7.  Leftover lemon juice – Your recipe calls for one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.  No problem, you say, I’ve got a lemon in the fridge.  You squeeze it, use it, and you’re left with another tablespoon or more of juice leftover.  No problem – freeze it.

8.  Leftover wine – What’s leftover wine, you ask?  Legend has it that occasionally it has been known for there to be an ounce or two left in the bottle that no one’s up for drinking.  No – really – it happens.  If it happens to you, freeze it.  It will come in handy to brighten up a dish that just needs a little bit of acidity and may keep you from having to make that last minute trip to the liquor store when you realize the chicken dish that you’re making calls for a quarter cup of white wine and you only have red.

THE PROCEDURE

  1. Line the tray with plastic wrap before adding your liquid, and, even more importantly, cover with plastic wrap until frozen.  Doing so prevents the cubes from sticking to the trays and limits exposure to air.
  2. Lay the trays flat in the freezer until the liquid is frozen solid.
  3. Pop out the cubes and place in resealable, plastic freezer bags and put them back in the freezer.  TIP:  Very important – don’t forget to label the bags!  Everyone thinks they’ll remember that those are beef stock cubes, but you don’t want to mistake them for coffee cubes and wind up with a nasty glass of iced coffee.

TIP:  It’s not strictly necessary if you line the trays, but try to use separate ice cube trays for sweet cubes, savory cubes and for plain water.  The flavors can be hard to eradicate and you don’t necessarily wanting your wine cubes tasting like coffee grounds.

More Coffee Cubes

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