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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Winter Jams

Even though it's winter, you can still play with fruit! At my new job, I get to do all sorts of fun projects. My current new favorite task is making the jams and jellies we serve with our breakfasts. Now, this will probably get even better in the spring when my palette of seasonal ingredients expands, but for now I am finding all kinds of great recipes to explore. We use them up so fast that I do not have to get involved in the canning process so I have not included it in the instructions, but it's not that complex and you can find excellent instructions elsewhere online. Here are 4 to try at home:

Grapefruit and Campari Marmalade

6 pink grapefruits (or Ugli Fruit, which I used)
2/3 cup Campari
5-6 cups sugar (the amount is based on volume of prepared fruit)
Peel the grapefruit, remove the white pith, and cut the rinds into 2-inch pieces. Bring some water to a boil in a small pot. Drop in the rinds and boil for 1 minute. Drain and discard the water. Repeat two more times using fresh water each time.  When done drain the rinds well. Chop the peeled grapefruit flesh into chunks and pick out the seeds (or just use seedless ones, d'oh!). Discard the seeds. Place the chopped fruit and accumulated juices into a food processor fitted with a cutting blade and process for 1 minute, until the mixture is well-chopped and frothy. Measure the amount of chopped fruit and juice. Return 1 cup of the fruit to the food processor. and process with the rinds till they are in small bits. Now use the same amount of sugar as the total amount of the fruit and juice mixture. Place the sugar in the pot with the fruit. Stir the chopped rinds into the fruit and sugar mixture in the large heavy pot. Stir in the Campari. Bring to a boil, stirring, and reduce heat to maintain a constant simmer. Cook for 25 minutes, stirring gently to prevent scorching and boil-overs. The color will darken as the marmalade thickens.

If you have any doubts, you can test the marmalade: put a tablespoon on a small plate, put the plate in the freezer for three minutes. The marmalade is ready if it no longer is runny. Note: it's a traditional marmalade in the sense that it's a bit bitter — much like myself. This recipe makes about 12 half-pint jars.

Grilled Anjou Pear Butter

3 pounds ripe Anjou pears quartered, seeded, skin on
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 cup water

Take your quartered pears and brown them on a grill (or in the broiler). Combine the charred pears with all the ingredients in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until very tender. Run the mixture through a food mill, which will remove the peels (and any seeds you missed) and leave you with a lovely purée. Pour the purée into a pot and simmer on the stove till thickened, about 1 hour on a very low flame. Or you can roast in at 300 degree oven for about 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes so it won't stick, until it reaches the consistency you like.

Red Grape and Cassis Jelly

3 pounds (about 2 quarts) of flavorful grapes, Concord are best, but ruby red work well, too
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup Cassis black currant liqueur
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons apple pectin
1/4 cup lemon juice

Wash and stem grapes — don't worry if small stems remain on the fruit, since they will be strained out along with the seeds. In a nonreactive, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring grapes, water, and Cassis to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer grapes, periodically stirring and crushing, until they've begun to lose their shape, you can see their color changing, and the liquid increases — about ten minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Set a food mill (with the smallest sieve in place) over a large, heatproof bowl or pitcher, and pour grapes and cooking liquid through. Mill until all that remains are the seeds, skins, and stems. You will have about 4 cups (32 ounces) of grape pulp. In the same nonreactive saucepan, stir grape pulp together with sugar, pectin, and citrus juice and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture registers 220 degrees on a candy or instant read thermometer. Turn off heat and skim any foam with a spoon. This will gel as it cools.

Strawberry and Vanilla Preserves with Balsamic Reduction

Yes, yes, I know strawberries are not a winter fruit, but they are really cheap right now, and sometimes only a berry jam will do!

2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in quarters
5 cups sugar
1 tablespoon Balsamic Reduction (see below)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch salt

In a pot, combine the strawberries and sugar. Bring to a rolling boil and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the berries start to fall apart and temperature of the mixture has reached 220 degrees, which means it will be nice and thick and set. Now stir in the balsamic reduction and the vanilla. Wasn't that was easy?

balsamic reduction

What's Balsamic reduction? Just what it sounds like, you take Balsamic vinegar and cook it down until the volume is reduced, and the flavor is concentrated. In a medium-sized, nonreactive saucepan bring 1 cup of vinegar to a simmer over medium-high heat, and then turn down to low. Simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes to thicken and reduce. Keep an eye on it — you don't want it to burn. When it coats the back of a spoon, you're good to go.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Hello My People, Meet My New People!

I am now part of a great new team! For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, you know I have moved back home to New York. The whole experience has been quite a comedy of errors. Basically everything that could go wrong did, but fortunately we are now all settled and happy (if only the black ice would disappear). I have found my new home at Neuman's Kitchen on the Lower East Side and I am loving it! I hope to be be posting some photos and recipes of the cool projects I am working on there soon!

Here's a lovely note from my dear friend Diane;
As my mother used to say "If the road didn't have bends and twists, we would fall asleep at the wheel." So pleased that your road has taken you to a good place.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Favorite Stuff

Discoveries and things I have learned lately I would like to share with you some of my new favorite food things. Since returning to the kitchens of NYC, I have encountered many new ingredients to add to my bag of tricks.

Elderflower presse

Elderflower Presse is something I originally tried in London. It’s a popular children’s drink, usually diluted with water, sometimes with seltzer. It is very refreshing and fragrant. It is made with Carbonated Spring Water, Sugar, Fresh Elderflowers, Fresh Lemon Juice, and Citric Acid. I like to mix it into my Lilet or some vodka. Or sometimes I just take a swig from the bottle. You can also reduce it and use it in a sauce for grilled peaches or pears. If you want the same flavor in an alcoholic base, try Saint Germain liqueur. The liqueur is made from the same elderflower, which blooms through the spring and summer. Still produced in an artisanal manner, the liqueur is made from flowers that are gathered from the hillsides in the French Alps during a short four- to-six-week period in spring. According to the company's website, the picked flowers are bicycled to a collection depot (really?) where they are immediately macerated to preserve the fresh flavors of the bloom. Extracting the flavors of this flower is not an easy process, and the Saint Germain company keeps theirs a family secret. Each bottle of Saint Germain ($33.09 for 25 oz) is individually numbered which says classy to me!

Chianti Vinegar

This is a much more flavorful and a less overused choice than Balsamic. The benefit of creating a wine vinegar from a single grape variety, is that the character of the grape is retained in the final vinegar. That means that Chianti’s rosy-purple hue and bright flavor shines through. This elegantly crisp, robust, and well balanced vinegar (taken from their advertisement) is the culmination of a centuries old Italian winemaking tradition. It reminds me of cherry and plum. Use it anywhere you want to add the flavor of Chianti. It can add complexity to marinades and pasta sauces, or reduce it to make a killer glaze for grilled meats.

Aleppo Pepper

This beautiful pepper is also known as the Halaby pepper. It starts as pods which ripen to a burgundy color and is then semi-dried, de-seeded, then crushed or coarsely ground. The pepper is named after Aleppo, a long-inhabited city along the Silk Road in northern Syria, and is grown in Syria and Turkey. It is excellent at added a little heat to meat, chicken and fish. Great on some nice homemade pizza. Kind of reminds me of Ancho chile, but more interesting.

Xanthan Gum

My first encounter with Xanthan gum was when I was experimenting with Gluten-free baking. It is often added to improve texture and make a better crumb. You must use it very sparingly, about 1/8 of a teaspoon to about 3 cups of batter but it does do the trick. It is an ingredient which has been on the industrial market forever. It is commonly used as a food thickening agent and a stabilizer (in cosmetic products, for example, to prevent ingredients from separating). All weird science to me! But now I have discovered it is the bomb when it comes to emulsifying sauces. I always used dijon to keep my salad dressings in suspension but it adds a flavor I don’t always want. Using Xanthan gum I can achieve a perfect texture and it never separates! Home made ice cream also benefits from a pinch (but do your research first to see the most effective way to incorporate it).

Vadouvan Curry

Vadouvan is a ready-to-use blend of spices that is a French derivative of a masala. It is an Indian curry blend with added aromatics such as shallots and garlic. The spice blend is thought to have originated from French colonial influence in the Puducherry region of India. Indian recipes for Vandovan blends vary but most contain at minimum, pounded onion, garlic, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and fenugreek. The mixture is dried in the sun and then crushed, but still has large bits in it. (thanks Wiki). Vadouvan is sweet and just a tad smoky and is not heavy on cumin which I think can be overpowering. Great on roasted veggies like butternut squash, or in grains. Chicken loves it! Blend it into some butter to spread on your French radishes.

Malt Vinegar powder

This ingredient could change your world. One of the problems I have when trying to up the acidity in a mayo or aioli is it gets too thin. In catering, that can be an issue because when making elegant little hors d’oeuvres we try to put our sauces in squeeze bottles or pasty bags for fast delivery at on site events, so viscosity is an issue. Malt powder does the job and actually acts as a thickening agent. Besides sauces, it can add a nice tangy, vinegary flavor to your snacks and dishes. Use it on vegetables, salad dressings, chicken wings, pork, fish, popcorn & potato chips! Use it for to add a salt & vinegar flavor to your fish & chips. Add to your fish prior to breading to infuse the flavor into the fish without making it soggy. Careful when opening the package as the powder will go right up your nose like Wasabi!

Calamondin Marmalade

I first had Calamondin jam when my parents brought home small jars of it from their adventures on the Jewish Riviera, Miami Beach. It was like orange marmalade but better and more interesting. Then I never saw it again. Recently my friends were in Florida and asked if I wanted anything and it hit me! Bring me the jam. Calamondin oranges originated as a cross between a tangerine and a kumquat and they grow in the South. They smell sweet, but are surprisingly tart. Despite its outer appearance and its aroma, the taste of the fruit itself is quite sour, although the peel is sweet. Calamondin marmalade can be made in the same way as orange marmalade. Like other citrus fruits, the calamondin is high in vitamin C. The fruit can be frozen whole and used as ice cubes in beverages such as tea, soft drinks, water, and cocktails. The juice can be used in place of lemon juice. It makes a fantastic glaze for ham, and is excellent on duck. You can buy it online. My friends brought me all natural calamondin marmalade made by Pelican Bay Ltd. And of course it’s excellent on toast.

So, what's new with you?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Best Potato Gratine Recipe Ever (and some other stuff)

Seasonal Recipe of the Week
This past week, my family enjoyed a small, intimate Christmas dinner at home. Instead of the usual Chinese food, we decided to go old-school and do ham, green beans, and potatoes gratine. Now I don't know about you guys, but I have found previous attempts at this dish to be always just not right. It's either too fatty, or too dry, or not cooked enough (even after what seems like days in the oven). So I started to do some research and immediately turned to the Food52 website, which has never let me down. And what do you know, their featured recipe was for potato gratine! Fate has handed me a gem, and I am passing it on to you with some options to make it your own. The best part is: it only takes 30 minutes to cook and you can prepare it ahead of time!

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 to 2 garlic cloves
6 large waxy potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds), such as red bliss, peeled and sliced about 1/8-inch thick
2 cups half-and-half
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyère

Preheat oven to 400° F. Rub the inside of an 8 × 8-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Smash the garlic with the side of a knife and sprinkle generously with salt. Chop and scrape the garlic into a mushy paste. Combine garlic paste, potatoes, half-and-half, and remaining 4 tablespoons butter (cut into 1/2-inch pieces) in a pot; stir. Season with salt and pepper and grate in a hint of nutmeg. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat while stirring the mixture with a spoon. After 8 to 10 minutes, the potatoes will be a little tender, and the sauce will thicken. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you like. Dump the mixture into the prepared dish — smooth the top as much as possible. At this point, you can hold the dish until you're ready to bake, even overnight in the refrigerator.

Cover the gratin with Gruyère and bake until deeply golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes (longer if chilled overnight). Let the gratin cool and set a little before serving.

So, this is the basic recipe, now here are some things you can do to customize this dish. Why not use 1/2 sweet potatoes, or add some zucchini, or thin slices of butternut squash? You can also change the cheese — try cheddar, or goat cheese, or Stilton. Rosemary, thyme, or sage would be interesting and you could also take it in another direction with some sautéed mushrooms or a dribble of truffle oil. Go ahead and explore your options but keep the procedure the same.