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

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.
Posted in Baking, Baking, Cookie Recipes, Desserts, Desserts, First Place Recipes, Make Ahead-able, Recipes | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

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.

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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.

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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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Strawberry Pate de Fruit

Strawberry Pate de Fruit

 

Want to make your family happy?  Get a copy of The Culinary Institute of America’s Chocolates and Confections and start playing around. My kids were very encouraging – they were happy to support me by taste testing all the sponge candy, fudge and chocolate t’ings I made.

There was one recipe that I was interested in but hadn’t gotten around to making yet – Fruit de Pate or, to us more homespun types, fruit jellies.  The reason I hadn’t tried it yet was simple – one of the ingredients (liquid pectin) wasn’t available at any of the stores I usually go to.  I found lots of powdered pectin, but a few searches online led me to believe that substituting one for the other could lead to iffy results.

This week I finally got my hands on some liquid pectin and I decided it was time to try making some pate de fruit.  Although you can use most fruits, I set my sights on strawberries.  I made a few cups of strawberry puree and got down to business.  This dish hit all the high points – relatively few ingredients, relatively easy to make (if you have a candy or instant read thermometer), quite pretty to look at when completed, and delicious.  I’m definitely adding it to my regulars.

STRAWBERRY PATE DE FRUIT (based on the pectin jellies in Chocolates and Confections)

  • 2 pounds ripe strawberries
  • 24 ounces (about 3 cups) granulated white sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
  • 6 ounces liquid pectin
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Additional granulated white sugar for dredging the finished jellies

Make The Puree

  1. Clean and trim the strawberries and roughly chop them.
  2. Puree the strawberries in a food processor fit with a steel blade (or a blender).
  3. 2 pounds of strawberries yielded me just about 3 cups of puree.  Reserve 2 cups of the puree.  You can freeze the remainder for another use (like strawberry daiquiris, but I’ll leave that choice up to you).

Get Prepared (Get a few things ready because when you need them later, you’ll need them immediately)

  1. Prepare the pan – Spray a 9 by 9 baking pan with oil, and lay plastic wrap in it – the oil will help it stick to the pan.  Make sure there are no air bubbles and that the wrap hugs the corners tightly.  Lightly spray the wrap with oil too.
  2. Prepare the pectin – sit the pouches up in a glass and cut them open so that when you hit the right temperature, you can squeeze the pectin in right away.

Make The Pate de Fruit

  1. Mix the 2 cups of puree and 3 cups of sugar in a saucepan that has a volume of least 2 quarts.  As the mixture reaches it’s gelling temperature, it bubbles up, and you’ll need a pot that is at least that large to avoid it bubbling over.
  2. Bring the mixture to 238 degrees (F) over medium to high heat, stirring it constantly.  In my experience it reaches a temperature of about 220 pretty quickly, and then plateaus for a while before moving up again – be patient and don’t stop stirring.
  3. Stir in the pectin and bring to a boil.  Boil for one minute.
  4. Stir in the lemon juice and remove it from the heat.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle lightly with some of the additional sugar.  Don’t move the pan until it has set up a bit or the pate will have some waves on the top.
  6. Let the pan sit for several hours until it fully sets up.  I let mine sit overnight in a cold oven.

Finish The Pate de Fruit

  1. When the pate de fruit has fully set, invert the pan onto a cutting board.
  2. Cut the pate into whatever shape you like.  I cut squares and triangles, but I can’t see any reason to limit yourself.  I’m planning on breaking out my heart-shaped cookie cutters (I must have a thousand of them) and making strawberry hearts for Valentine’s Day.
  3. Put about a cup of white granulated sugar in a small pan.
  4. Dredge the shapes in the sugar until they’re lightly covered all over.
  5. Set the shapes on a cooling rack set over a baking pan or cookie sheet (to catch whatever sugar falls off).  Let them set out until they are dry to the touch.


Storage:  I stored them at room temperature in air tight containers (tins and zipper-lock bags).

 

 

 

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It’s Not Too Late For Kitchen Resolutions, Is It?

Kitchen Resolutions

 

I’m taking the position that it’s never too late to make resolutions.  Here are some of my kitchen resolutions for 2013 – habits and patterns I’d like to become firmly entrenched.

 

  1. CLEAR STUFF OUT.  After the hurricane and the power outages, we were among the many people tossing everything out of our fridge.  When the power came back on and I started restocking it, I noticed what a pleasure it was to be able to actually find things!  Taking my cue from that, I’m moving on to the pantry and clearing out the old and dusty.  Now the challenge will be to avoid unnecessary stockpiling and keep the food storage clutter free.
  2. LIKE GOES WITH LIKE, AND IN THE RIGHT PLACE. I’m shocked by how much time I spend just looking for stuff that I know I have somewhere.  This year, I will organize by function, and keep things near where I use them.  Baking ingredients will go with baking ingredients.  Coffee will be kept with coffee makers.  Flours will live together.  I’m also planning on ignoring the pantry space v. storage space distinction – there’s no reason (in my kitchen) why I can’t keep the baking ingredients in or near the baking pans instead of in the pantry next to my pastas and cans of beans.
  3. SEGREGATE THE SINGLE-TASKERS.  My kids love ebelskivers (those little puffed pancake balls) so, in a moment of weakness, I got an ebelskiver pan.  I only use it a couple of times a year, yet it continues to suck up prime drawer space in the drawer where I keep the pans I use every day.  It, along with the roasting pans that I only use when cooking for a crowd and other seldom used cookware, is going to be cleaned, wrapped up, labeled, and stored out of the way. I’ll know where it is when I need it, but in the meantime I won’t have to grapple with my kitchen drawers just to close or open them.
  4. DEVELOP MORE QUICK STAND-BYS.  I admit it, between time constraints and trying to cater to everyone’s food preferences, I’m in a rut.  One of my resolutions is to push everyone’s envelope a bit and branch out to find some quick weeknight meals that I enjoy making and everyone else can enjoy eating.  The last one I tried (fresh bread, hummus, a big salad, and some hard boiled eggs) wound up being a hit.  I just have to remember to schedule in trying some new things so I don’t fall back into that rut.
  5. USE THE FREEZER FOR MEALS.  My freezer is crammed with all sorts of interesting stuff.  Right now, a brief inventory includes flax seed meal, toasted nuts and whole wheat flours (freezing them helps keep them from going rancid), loaves of bread and biscotti in hibernation, homemade stocks and lots of spices.  What’s missing are the items that actually would help me get dinner on the table in half an hour on a week night. I want to continue eating good food, but have some quick options.  I need some meals cooked almost to completion, and then frozen so I can tweak them a bit and get dinner on the table when time is tight.  I’m thinking a few containers of tomato sauce, a ziploc bag or two of meatballs and maybe some beef stew or vegetable soup might be just the ticket.
Now if I could only get up the nerve to make some “unorganized bedroom closet resolutions” I might start getting somewhere …
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Happy New Year (or What I Learned From An Emu Egg)

EggsI was walking through my local Whole Foods recently.  As I strolled through the produce section, I caught sight of what, at first glance, seemed to be avocados.  Then I noticed the sign –  ”Emu Eggs”.  What the …?

Yes.  Emu eggs.  The sign also provided the information that one emu egg was the equivalent of about 10 hen eggs, which apparently justified the crazy expensive price.  I began to walk away and then I stopped.  ”When,” I asked myself “am I going to have another chance to cook an emu egg?”  Into the cart went one emu egg.

I brought it home, showed it to my kids and informed them that it was dinner tonight.  Their logical next question was “How do you cook an emu egg?”  Hunh.  I hadn’t really thought about that.

My son briefly lobbied for a giant deviled egg, but I couldn’t imagine how long it would take to hard boil it.  A giant Spanish potato tortilla was also suggested, which I nixed.  Instead, I decided a plain omelette with a few herbs was the way to go.  I figured that, since we wanted to know what it tasted like, the plainer the better was the way to go.

Although I had been treating it with kid gloves, afraid that it would break before we had a chance to cook it, I was surprised about how difficult it was to crack.  It took several tries, concluding with me smashing it on the bottom of the bowl, to open it.  When we finally cracked it, we were surprised by the size of the yolk (huge) and it’s color (lighter than a hen egg).

I think the listed emu to hen egg ration was just about right.  With a salad and some bread, that egg produced an omelette that fed 4 for dinner, with leftovers.  If you’re wondering, it got rave reviews.  The taste seemed to me to be similar to a chicken egg, but it was, unexpectedly, more delicate.

So what, you may ask, does an emu egg have to do with beginning a new year?  Well, thanks to that egg,  I plan to incorporate the following into my overall resolutions:

  1. Don’t judge – just because it looks like a duck (or in this case an avocado), doesn’t mean it is one.
  2. Grab onto opportunities, even (or especially) the little ones.
  3. Don’t be overwhelmed by something’s size and don’t confuse size with strength.  The flavor of a little hen egg was stronger than that giant emu one.
  4. Keep an eye out for the oddities – they make the routine interesting.
  5. When you do find something interesting share it – eating an emu egg was fun, sharing the experience of trying something outside our normal routine with my family made it memorable.
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Maple-Apple Butter

Maple-Apple ButterIn last week’s post about holiday gift giving I mentioned that this year my gift baskets have a jar of apple butter tucked in with the baked goods.  I hadn’t originally planned on including apple butter for one reason – although I love eating it, I hate(d) making it.  It felt like it took forever.  First you peel, core and chop all those apples.  Then you carefully tend it for what felt like hours, making sure that it was simmering away so the flavors would meld and the texture would thicken, but stirring it all the time so that the bottom wouldn’t scorch.  Then, of course, you had to get down to actually canning the stuff.

All that changed when I finally paid attention to all of the online recipes I’ve been seeing for apple butter that was cooked in a crock pot for 8 hours.  I gave some a try and voila, those hours of anxiously tending a hot spluttering pot disappeared.  Then I took it a few steps further.  First I cooked some up without peeling the apples, I just pureed them after they cooked down.  I used apple cider instead of water, and switched out maple sugar for some of the white sugar.  So far, so good.

Then I turned my attention towards timing.  I didn’t have time to prep the apples, have them cook for eight hours on low, thicken up, and can them in one long stretch.  First I tried shortening the initial cooking time by cooking them on a “high” setting for six hours and that worked fine.  Lastly, I broke up the time – one day I cooked the apples and let them thicken up.  On another day, I reheated the apple butter and canned it.  Finally, a tasty apple butter that didn’t seem like drudgery and that fit in my schedule (and just in time to slip in holiday baskets)!

MAPLE-APPLE BUTTER

  • 6 pounds of apples (I used different types, including Jonagold, Fiji and Gala)
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup maple sugar
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3/4 – 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)

Make The Apple Butter

  1. Put the cider in the crock pot, covered, while you’re chopping up the apples and turn it to “high”.
  2. Core and roughly chop the apples.  You want to wind up with about 4 pounds of apples (approximately 16 cups).
  3. Split the vanilla bean pod down the middle lengthwise and use your knife to scrape out the little black seeds from inside the pod.  Place the seeds and the pod in the crock pot.
  4. Add the apples and the rest of the ingredients to the crock pot and return the cover to the pot.
  5. You can either set the pot at “high” for six hours or “low” for eight hours.
  6. Let the apples cook down.  Stir it two or three times at the most during the cooking period.
  7. After it’s done cooking, the apples should be completely soft.  Remove the vanilla bean pod and use an immersion blender to puree the apples.  (You can also puree it in a food processor or food mill and return it to the crock pot).  If you want a very smooth apple butter, you can put it through a strainer. At this point, you can continue with the recipe or refrigerate the mixture until you’re ready to move on.
  8. Put a small plate in the freezer.
  9. Return the mixture to the crock pot if you’ve taken it out and set the pot to high. Let it cook for another hour or two until it thickens up.  You can also put the puree in a pot and move it to the stove and simmer it, uncovered, for an hour or two.
  10. When it’s thickened up and gotten a bit darker, test it by placing a teaspoonful on the cold plate.  After 30 seconds tilt the plate a bit.  If it’s thickened up enough that it holds its shape instead of running off the plate, you’re ready to can it.
  11. You can either keep the apple butter hot and proceed to canning now, or refrigerate it until you’re ready to can.

Canning The Apple Butter

I can the apple butter using a hot water bath method.  What this means, in a nutshell, is that you fill sterilized canning jars (I use Ball half pint or 4 ounce canning jars) with the hot apple butter, seal the jars with their lids and rims, and submerge them in boiling water and process them in it for a period of time.  When you remove the jars from the hot water bath and let them cool a bit, the jars should be sealed.

Hot water canning is easy, but you must make sure that your jars are properly processed and sealed to keep your preserves from spoiling or harboring dangerous bacteria.  For more information on hot water bath canning, check out Ball’s site or, even better, get one of the Ball Blue Books, fantastic guides for canning and preserving.  Mine, from 2003, is a great resource.  Although it is not at all difficult to do, I cannot stress too much how important it is that you make sure you’re canning correctly so you don’t make anyone ill.  You can contact Jarden Home Brands/Ball directly with canning questions at 800-240-3340. In a very general sense, however, the process is basically:

  1. Your preserves should be hot when you can them.  If you’ve previously refrigerated the apple butter, bring it to a simmer before canning it.
  2. Place a rack in the bottom of a large pot, fill it with water and bring it to a boil.  Your pot needs to be large and tall enough so that you can place your jars in the pot (on the rack) and be able to keep them covered with boiling water by at least an inch or two.
  3. Clean your canning jars and their rims in hot soapy water.
  4. Sterilize the jars, rims, and lids.  Check the Ball guides or your jar manufacturer for appropriate sterilizing methods and times.  I also sterilize the funnel I use to put the preserves in the jars.
  5. Fill the jars, leaving an appropriate amount of headspace (space between the preserves and the top of the jar).  My Blue Book specifies a 1/4 inch headspace in its apple butter recipe.
  6. Run a clean knife along the inside of the jar to get rid of any air bubbles, and wipe the rims of the jars.
  7. Place the lids on the jars and tighten the rims.
  8. Place the jars on the rack, submerged in the boiling water, and make sure they are covered by 1-2 inches of boiling water.  The jars should not touch.
  9. Keep the water at a rolling boil for the appropriate processing time.  My Blue Book specifies 10 minutes as an appropriate time for apple butter, but I’ve seen recipes that specify 15 minutes as well.  Processing times can change depending on the item processed, your altitude and the type of jar.  Check to make sure that this is an appropriate time for your altitude and jar.
  10. After the processing time has finished, I turn off the heat and let the jars sit for 5 minutes or so in the hot water.
  11. Remove the jars from the water and let them sit on a rack to cool.  If you are lucky, you will hear a lovely “ping” and the tops of the jars will not move when you press down on them, indicating that the jars have sealed.  Before putting them away, remove the rims and check that the lids are in fact sealed to the jars.  If they are, you can put the rims back on and put them away.  If not, you have to reheat the apple butter, clean and sterilize the jars again, and reprocess the apple butter until you obtain a proper seal.

NOTE:  Don’t have a crock pot?  No problem.  You can cook this on the stove over a low heat, stirring often to break up the apples and keep it from scorching on the bottom.

YIELD:  I canned about 52 ounces of Maple-Apple Butter, and still had another few ounces that I refrigerated for us to eat over the next week.

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