Sunday, December 30, 2012

NYE: Caprese Bruschetta and a Fizzy Cocktail

Here's a little something simple to treat yourself on New Year's Eve - a delicious appetizer that is deceptively impressive, and a surprising and refreshing cocktail.

Toasted, sliced baguette
Garlic cloves
Grape tomatoes
Pesto sauce

The bruschetta here is made with homemade mozzarella (impressive, but easy), sliced grape tomatoes and pesto sauce. Luckily, Elaine had some frozen from over the summer - but even store bought could suffice in this situation. The real star here is the cheese - I found the recipe here - she provides such great instructions that I'll not repeat them here - I will only say that you NEED TO FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS! For example, when she says to heat the curds until they start to get stringy, you should really do that. Or how she recommends using rubber gloves to handle the hot cheese? YES! Do that! Lastly, you will need some special ingredients, but I had no problem finding them online and they were very inexpensive, so completely worth it.

Elaine and I like to brush our baguette slices with olive oil, toast them, and then rub the cut side of a garlic clove all over them.

Place a slice of mozzarella on your toasts, then top with sliced grape tomatoes. Drizzle pesto over top. Consume with abandon.

Fizzy Cocktail Ingredients:
1 1/2 oz. Campari
Champagne flutes or wine glasses

Campari is a wonderfully bitter apertif with herby citrusy flavors - you will find it most commonly in a Negroni (equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari) or the Americano (equal parts sweet vermouth, Campari and soda water). It pairs wonderfully with a sweet prosecco. Add 1 1/2 ounces of Campari to a champagne flute or wine glass, top with prosecco. So easy!

Happy New Year everyone - we hope you have a safe, peaceful and prosperous 2013!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Roast a Duck for Your Holiday, Serve with Savory Bread Pudding

Recently Jenean and I got together to make a lot of festive food - and when menu planning for it, we decided we wanted to try roasting a duck!  It might be a little late sharing this for you to try this Christmas, but consider it for your next big festive meal.  It's very rich, and a real change from the standard rotation our family tends toward (turkey, ham, lasagna, pork roast - all totally wonderful!  of course!)... one Christmas our dad tried roasting a goose, and truly no one enjoyed it.  But we thought duck was worth a try.

I was on duck duty, and Jenean made a tried-and-true stellar side dish she is known for - a spinach artichoke bread pudding (featuring chunks of brie!).  I'll start with the duck roast, and below that Jenean will tell you about the bread pudding.

It turns out to be relatively simple to roast a duck, and because duck is pretty much all dark meat, it's fairly forgiving as far as cooking time goes.  I used the advice in this article on martha stewart.  The article is very straightforward and helpful, but the only thing that is lame about it is only that it mentions an Orange Marmalade Pan Sauce without any actual recipe anywhere to be found.  I improvised one but I wasn't very happy with it - the fond (the brown bits) were too brown and too greasy to be a good basis for a sauce.  Next time, I will serve my roast duck with my homemade orange marmalade on the side (like cranberry sauce for turkey), or possibly with a mango chutney, or something similar.  The main reason for this is that the duck gives off such an incredible amount of fat during the roasting process that it seems hopeless to me to de-fat it enough to use the browned bits (the fond) to make a not-greasy pan sauce.

Roast Duck

Long Island/Peking Duck (5-6 pounds)
a piece of parchment paper about the size of the top surface of the duck

Remove the duck from its packaging, remove giblets and neck, and rinse with cool water inside and out.  Dry as thoroughly as possible.  If you have time, let the duck air dry, anywhere from an hour to overnight, uncovered in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Cut off the wing tips, and throw them in the roasting pan with the neck (or save both to make stock later).  With a very sharp knife, cut parallel diagonal slits 1 inch apart through the skin and most of the fat on duck breasts, being sure not to cut into the breast meat.  Turn the knife 45 degrees and cut more slits - creating a diamond pattern in the skin which will help the thick layer of fat render off.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper inside and out.  Place it on a rack in a deep roasting pan, breast side up.  To truss the legs without string, cut a small slits in the skin on each side of the cavity opening, and push the end of each drumstick into the slit on the opposite side.  Add about 1 cup of water to the roasting pan to prevent scorching.

Roast for 50 minutes; pull the roasting pan out of the oven and with a wad of paper towels in each hand, pick up the duck and tip it slowly - a lot of liquid will drain out of the cavity of the bird (be careful - it will splatter when it hits the hot duck fat in the roasting pan... use a LOT of paper towels).  Once it's fully drained, place the duck back on the rack, put the piece of parchment paper over the breast, and using the wadded paper towels, flip the bird breast side down on the roasting rack.

Roast for 50 minutes.  Using wadded paper towels or kitchen tongs, flip the duck so it is again breast side up, and roast for a final 50 minutes, or until deep golden brown.

Let it rest briefly before cutting it up and serving.

[To make the gravy (which I didn't love), I strained off as much of the fat as possible, then added finely chopped onion (would have used shallots if I'd had them).  Then I sprinkled in flour and stirred to make a roux with the remaining duck fat.  I added a few tablespoons of sherry, a cup of chicken stock, and water enough to make a good pouring consistency, then added orange marmalade I had made.  I think regular store bought marmalade might have been better in this situation...  I seasoned with salt and pepper.  But it wasn't my favorite pan sauce ever.]

Savory Spinach and Artichoke Bread Pudding:

This is an Emeril Lagasse recipe and will satisfy your starch, veggie and cheese craving - I love it and could eat the whole pan myself.

1 loaf day old French bread, cut into 1 inch cubes (you should have 12-14 cups of cubed bread)
2 8.5 oz cans artichoke hearts - quarter and remove and tough outer leaves
2 packages frozen spinach - you can use fresh, but then you have to add the extra step of blanching the spinach, no thanks.
2 cups chopped onions
1 Tbs chopped garlic
1 Tbs plus 2 tsp Italian seasoning
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
6 eggs
1 lb brie (YES!!)
3 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup minced flat leaf parsley

Begin by heating the olive oil in a large pan and sauteing your onions until they are golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, 2 tsp Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Add the artichokes and saute for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, lemon juice, remaining 1 Tbs of Italian seasoning, 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper. Add the bread cubes, artichoke and onion mixture, cubed brie, 1/4 cup Parmesan and parsley and stir. The original recipe calls for you to take the rind off the brie - I never do and everything is fine. I happen to like the way it tastes and I would eat it if I was just having the cheese as is so I figure it's fine. It you don't like it for any reason, definitely remove it. Allow the bread to absorb most of the liquid - you may have to let it rest for up to 20 minutes for this to happen.

Pour the bread mixture into a greased 9 x 13 dish. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the center is firm and the top is golden brown, about 1 hour.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Cookie Central

Jenean and I have been making a bunch of different kinds of cookies and sweet treats these days, getting ready for various holiday events, and thought we'd share our favorite recipes with you, our two dear readers.

Clockwise from the top around the outside of the plate we have:
A Gingerbread Man, English Toffee,  Cranberry White Chocolate Pecan Cookies, Chocolate Mint Cookies, Black-Bottom Coconut Bites (located at 6 o'clock just above the Chocolate Mint Cookies), Frosted Sugar Cookies, and Dorie Greenspan's Beurre and Sel Jammers.

Gingerbread Cookies:
I make these every year, and I think I make them from a different recipe every year.  This year, I tried the recipe posted on facebook by James Norton, aka's Supertaster.  It's his grandmother's recipe, and I really like it!  Straightforward, very tasty!  He gives baking time in a range from 5-15 minutes - 5 will get you a nice soft and chewy cookie (my preference), 10 was mostly crisp with a little remaining chewiness in the middle, and 15 would be good only for making gingerbread houses, or for a crumble to stir into pumpkin ice cream (i.e. too crispy for eating on their own, in my opinion).  The only change I made was to add more of all the spices, subbing allspice for cloves, and also I added freshly grated nutmeg.  This made two big plastic wrapped rounds that will make more than enough gingerbread for several parties and gift platters (maybe 20-30 men?).  I tried a royal icing recipe this year, but that helped me figure out that I really prefer to just add milk a little at a time to a bunch of powdered sugar until I get the consistency I want - it turns out (and I should probably have known this) royal icing is crazy stiff, best for gluing together gingerbread houses, not so much for using on cookies you want to eat.  I thinned the royal icing with milk, and then it worked fine.

English Toffee:
I got this wonderfully delicious and easy recipe from my friend Emily, who got it from the blog Girls Gone Child.  Scroll down - the toffee recipe appears after a great-looking Yorkshire Pudding recipe.  I made no change to this, except I used more like a heaping 1/2 cup of each kind of nut... I might even use slightly more next time (2/3 cup).  What I love the most about the recipe (aside from how easy and addictively delicious it is, just like Almond Roca!) is how the raw almonds go in with the melted sugar and butter, and the process of caramelization toasts the almonds till they're lovely golden brown inside.

Cranberry White Chocolate Pecan Cookies:
Jenean got these from Bon Appetit, and substituted pecans for the macadamia nuts called for.  I thought it was a lovely change.  These were buttery and not too sweet, with a little tang from the cranberry.  Find the recipe here.

Chocolate Mint Cookies:
Like a super classy girl scout thin mint!  Jenean got these from Bon Appetit as well.  Unlike their version which has only a chocolate drizzle, Jenean really racheted up the festive-factor with a sprinkle of crushed candy canes!  SO delicious, and small enough that you can eat two without feeling bad about it!  It's the kind of dough you roll into logs and slice, which is so nice to have around, for baking up when you need cookies.  Well wrapped, there's no reason the dough can't sit in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer even longer, before slicing and baking.

Black-Bottom Coconut Bites:
Jenean got these from Martha Stewart, where they are Black-Bottom Coconut Bars... she baked them in standard muffin tins to make individual servings.  With a brownie base, and a tender cakey coconut topping, they are remarkably good - moist and chewy, not alarmingly sweet, with a deep chocolatey flavor to balance the coconut.  I had one for breakfast, one for a pre lunch snack, and one as a part of my multi-cookie dessert.  I loved these, if you haven't figured it out yet.

Frosted Sugar Cookies:
I can't resist making a half ton of frosted sugar cookies every Christmas season.  I love all the funny shapes, and coloring them in every which way, and how the frosting seals itself onto the cookie (you have to let the frosting dry a couple hours before you let anyone eat them) and keeps it wonderfully delicious for days (even a week or two, if they last that long!).  The frosting and the cookie together equal far more than the sum of their parts.  I ran out of red food coloring, so I stuck with trees and starts...  I like to use Martha Stewart's simple sugar cookie recipe, and I usually add, in addition to vanilla extract, some finely grated lemon zest.  I used that thinned down royal icing from the gingerbread men for these, but you can make an easy frosting by mixing powdered sugar (start with 2 cups) with tiny amounts of milk slowly until you have a stirrable but not too thin consistency (go 1 teaspoon at a time, because you don't really need much and it's easy to go overboard... but if you do go overboard, fix it by adding more sugar till you like the consistency - not too runny, not too thick.  You'll know it's too thin if it dribbles right off the cookie, and it's too thick if you can't spread it around smoothly).  Add a little vanilla too if you like, though it's not necessary.  Then I divide up the white among a bunch of small bowls and dye each bowl a different color with food coloring.  I use toothpicks to spread the icing onto the cookies - I got this method from my friend Emily's mom, Alice.  It works great, very easy to shape the icing using the tip of the toothpick.

Beurre and Sel Jammers:
These are also from Bon Appetit's cookie slideshow.  From pastry chef Dorie Greenspan, the Beurre and Sel Jammers are 1) super delicious and 2) kind of a lot of steps, and ever so slightly fussy (rolling out the dough for the base of each cookie and freezing the rolled out dough for 2-3 hours seemed like more chilling than truly necessary, especially since you freeze them again after completing construction).  But I got to use my favorite organic raspberry spread in half of them, and my homemade orange marmalade in the other half.  Except for shortening the chill times a bit, I pretty much followed it exactly, and they are delightful.  The crumble firms up on top of the cookie round, and melds with the jam/marmalade in a really nice way, and all the steps seem pretty worth it after all.  They don't keep for very long, maybe a day or two.

That's it for what we've made so far!  Some more treats we like to make at Christmas but haven't gotten around to (yet): Rum Balls and a version of my sugar cookies that ends up similar to Mexican Wedding Cookies - I add chopped walnuts to part of my sugar cookie dough along with orange zest and some orange juice, roll it into balls, bake, and roll in powdered sugar.  I also plan (before the season is out) to try a recipe for classic shortbread given to me by my friend Nina.  What are your favorite holiday treat recipes?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fernando's Whole Orange Marmalade

Axel F and I went to Mexico City for a few days last month, and it was such a great trip in so many ways, too numerous to go into here.  The food of course was particularly thrilling (Tacos al pastor! Horchata!  Mole!), and one thing I ate I instantly resolved to make when we got home - a whole orange marmalade that our host Fernando, at the Hostal del Maria Alma in Coyoacan, had made himself and served at breakfast (along with eggs, toast, guava, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, rich coffee, and very interesting conversation).

I've never had marmalade anything like it - all other marmalades I've had have been sticky, overly sweet but also unpleasantly bitter, with hard bits of orange peel floating in a whole lot of sort of clear sugary stuff.  Fernando's marmalade was juicy, tender, and very orangey, with a bitter and sweet flavor I just loved... Fernando's marmalade is to regular marmalade as homemade strawberry preserves are to strawberry jelly - a real fruit experience, as opposed to fruit flavored candy.  I just wanted to keep loading it onto toast forever.  I asked him what he did to make it so incredibly, addictively delicious.  He said he used agave nectar instead of sugar (which explained why it was juicy and fruity rather than candied), and just cut up whole oranges (commercial marmalades seem to use only the peels, and not the flesh of the orange itself), and cooked it for four hours.  He also spiced it with cinnamon stick and star anise - which is a really... (if I may say) magical flavor with citrus.

Armed with this description, I gave it a try yesterday - and I think I nailed it!  This yielded quite a lot of marmalade, about 1 1/2 quarts.  It is dreamily delicious just spooned on buttered toast, but I'm thinking it would be incredible stuffed into croissants, baked into a tart or thumbprint sugar cookies, or even as an accompaniment or glaze for roasted meats.

Whole Orange Marmalade from Hostal Maria Alma

3 lbs. organic oranges (about 14 medium small oranges.  Fernando said he used Valencia, I used Florida oranges)
2 1/2 cups agave nectar (divided)
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick (mexican canela, if you can get it!)
2 star anise
5-8 whole green cardamom pods

Be sure to wash your oranges thoroughly.  And definitely use organic oranges - it is really necessary for this, since you're cooking and eating the whole thing.  The beauty is that they don't have to be those gorgeous, enormous orange monstrosities that cost an arm and a leg.

To prep the oranges, trim off both ends, and slice in half lengthwise down the middle.  Next time I will cut in half again lengthwise (in other words, cut the oranges into 4 lengthwise wedges instead of just in half) before cutting them into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Remove and discard any seeds as you go.

Very quickly I discovered that a serrated knife and a plastic cutting board to catch the juices were a much better plan and saved me many levels of aggravation.

This is all those oranges (the $5 bag I found at Whole Foods was about 14 small) sliced up.

Cinnamon stick, star anise (don't skip it!), cardamom pods (optional).

 2 cups of agave nectar goes into the pot with the sliced oranges and spices, along with a cup of water.  Bring it all to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally.  When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to very low (though it should be bubbling gently in a couple of places) and cover.  Come back to stir now and then, for about 2 hours.

 After one hour.

After two hours.  At this point, I tasted it, and I felt it needed to be slightly sweeter, so I added another 1/2 cup of agave nectar.  Do this to taste - I think it will always depend on the sweetness of the particular oranges you get.  I was looking for a balance between bitter and sweet and slightly tart.

After three hours.  At this point, the flavor was great, but it was still pretty liquid.  So I removed the lid and upped the heat till it was bubbling a bit more quickly, and let it go one more hour uncovered, stirring often.  This was when I decided next time I'll quarter the oranges before slicing, because as they cooked the strips of peel seemed to get longer and longer, and I spent some time cutting as many in half with my wooden spoon as possible - not a hard task, because they were very tender, but the problem is easily solved with better planning!

After that fourth hour at a slightly higher temp, the marmalade had thickened up nicely, still juicy and lovely, but not runny.

I'm excited to give some as gifts, and have a lot for myself too.  Thank you, Fernando!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Leek and Sweet Potato Soup

This recipe was included in our first winter CSA newsletter. It is actually a great combination (I was happy not to be including any type of squash in this soup, to be honest). I made a couple of adjustments, just to bring down the calories a little bit - butter and cream are great and everything, but maybe not for a soup I wanted to enjoy several weeknights in a row! I love soups like this that get blended because prep is so easy - you don't have to worry about your knife skills, just chop everything up and throw it in the pot!

2 Tbs olive oil (original recipe calls for butter)
2 leeks
1 medium onion
1 Tbs curry powder
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 can coconut milk (I used 'lite', use full strength if you prefer)
~2 cups chicken stock*
2 Tbs hot sauce (your choice, I used sriracha)
1/2 cup cilantro
heavy cream or milk
fresh lime juice

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Wash leeks thoroughly and slice into thin rounds. Add the leeks and roughly diced onion to the pot and season with salt and pepper. While the leeks and onions are sweating, roughly dice your sweet potatoes. I didn't peel mine - you can if you really want, but you don't have to, since this will all be cooked down and then blended. Once the onions and leeks are translucent, add the sweet potatoes and curry powder and stir to combine. Then add your coconut milk and chicken stock. *The reason that I say about 2 cups above, is that you can just rinse out the coconut milk can with the chicken stock and add that to the pot. To make this veggie, just substitute vegetable stock, or water and vegetable stock cubes as called for in the original recipe. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Add chopped cilantro and hot sauce (I used the full 2 tablespoons, be sure to moderate this if you don't like things too spicy) and cook until the sweet potatoes are soft.

Using either an immersion blender or regular blender, blend until smooth. This is where the newsletter instructions got a little vague. It says to blend the soup base with equal quantities of fresh cream and water and that the final texture should be that of runny cream. It doesn't tell us how much water and cream should be used - I ended up using about 3/4 of a cup of milk. The reason I know that was fine is because it tasted GOOD, which should be one of your indications that you are doing something right.

To serve, squeeze fresh lime juice into the bottom of a bowl (I used a half a lime for one serving) and carefully pour soup over the juice. Do not stir. The lime juice is a kick in the pants and I thoroughly enjoyed it! It literally made my mouth water as I was eating it. I can see adding some shredded chicken to this upon serving to up your protein intake, or even topping with additional roasted vegetables or brown rice. Hope you use your in season produce to make this, it was very easy and unexpected!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Apple Digest, or Ways To Use Up a Lot of Apples

Jenean and I went apple picking with our parents this past weekend, a traditional New England fall activity I have actually never done before.  It was fun!  And Seasonally Appropriate!  Festive, even.  The orchard, up in Amesbury MA, is a really beautiful family farm, and seemed to have about 20 varieties of apple tree growing on gorgeous rolling hills. 
Also, they had free range egg-laying chickens, and (heartwarmingly) a hot dog cart!
There were of course delicious apple cider donuts, still hot from the donut-making-fryer (which you could watch in action, plopping rings of batter into the hot fat, and after a brief float, a little metal gate flips them over, and then they float further down to a conveyer belt which dumps them into cinnamon sugar, reminding me of that Homer Price story I loved as a kid).

I went a little nuts in the orchard, and came home with nearly 10 pounds of several kinds of apples.  I assembled a list of recipes I'm going to make to use them all up, and I thought I'd share some here (since this time of year, lots of people might be in my same high-apple-to-human-ratio situation).

My list:
Tarte Tatin (haven't done this yet... I think I might not have the right kind of apples, AND I'd like to use it as an excuse to try making my own puff pastry)
Whole Wheat Apple Muffins (maybe the world's best muffins, see below)
Apple Cheddar Scones (maybe the world's best scones)
Apple Chips (see below)
Apple Brownies
Apple Pie (obviously)
Apple Brandy (My favorite way to make use of the cores and peels and scraps from all my other apple endeavors, see below!)

I think I'll probably run out of apples before I get through all of these.  Incidentally, the first thing on my list should be to eat these raw!  Apples straight from the tree are so juicy and crisp and flavorful, eating them on the spot, in the orchard was maybe the most delicious snack ever.  And slicing them on top of peanut butter toast, with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey seems like an undeniably great breakfast.

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins
(from King Arthur Flour, by way of smitten kitchen)

These are SO MOIST, and so tasty.  And there really isn't too much sugar, and the chunks of apple are big enough that you really get a juicy tart hit from them throughout.  They come together in about 20 minutes of prep time, and bake up in about 15 minutes.  They keep super well, and are nearly as good on the second and third days, especially if you toast them a little to crisp up their tops.

4 oz (1 cup) whole wheat flour
4.5 oz (1 cup) white flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk, sour milk, or a half-and-half mix of yogurt and milk (my go-to)
2 large (or 3 medium) apples, peeled, cored and chopped into chunks (1/2 inch cubes or even a little bigger)

Preheat oven to 450.  Combine and sift or whisk all the dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt).  Cream the butter with the white and brown sugars until fluffy.  Add the egg and beat until combined.  Add the buttermilk/yogurt-and-milk, and mix briefly.  Add the dry ingredients, and mix on low until just combined.

Fold in the apple chunks and scoop into muffin tins (greased, or sprayed with baker's spray, or lined with paper liners).  I got 20 standard muffins from this batch, and filled them right to the top (this batter is thick enough that you can get away with over-filling).

Sprinkle the tops with a little brown sugar (or cinnamon sugar, if you'd rather!).   Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400 and let them go 5-10 minutes more.  7 more minutes was exactly right for me.  Cool briefly in the tin, then turn out to a rack to cool completely.

Apple Chips
(various internet sources)

I was so excited to find out you can make apple chips (or apple rings) without anything at all besides sheet pans and an oven!  You don't need any ingredients except for the apples themselves.  These make a great snack with popcorn and tea.

2 apples

Using a melon baller (or an apple corer, if you have one!) scoop out the core of the apples, but no need to peel them.
Have two sheet pans lined with parchment or silpats.  Slice the apples into rings as thin as possible.  I used a super sharp knife, but if you have a mandoline slicer big enough for your apples, go for it.

Try for about 1/8 of an inch thick.  (The main thing is to try to keep all your slices pretty similar in thickness, but even that isn't too big a deal - you can remove them as they crisp up and leave thicker ones in longer.)

Lay the slices out on the sheet pans so they don't overlap. 
Bake at 225 for 2 hours, flipping after an hour, then reduce the oven to 200, and leave for another 3-4 hours, until they feel dry and crisp (if you underbake them, you might end up with semi chewy apple rings, which isn't the worst thing that could happen).  Alternatively, you can easily get away with slicing these, throwing them in a 200 oven right from the start, and leaving them all day while you're at work, and have beautiful apple chips waiting for you when you get home (I tested it at 8 hours at 200 degrees, no flipping, perfect apple chips).

Let cool before storing in an airtight container.  These keep well, but they're so crispy and delicious (practically potato chip texture!!) and guilt-free as a snack that we haven't been able to keep them around for long.  I've seen some recipes suggest a sprinkle of cinnamon or even sugar, but they're so good without any addition, so I like to keep them simple.

Apple Brandy
(adapted from a recipe in Put 'em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton)

I make this using the saved and frozen scraps from many apples baked into other things.  The freezing step actually aids in releasing more apple juice and flavor into the brandy, I think (I tried it once with unfrozen apples, and it just wasn't as good).

1 quart of frozen apple scraps (OR 3 whole apples, cored and diced, according to Vinton)
1 (750 ml) bottle of brandy (not top quality... not even particularly good!)
1/4 sugar (optional)
1 cinnamon stick (optional)

Combine everything in a large glass bowl or jar (save the brandy bottle for later).  Cover, and stir once a day for 2 weeks.  Strain and funnel back into the bottle.  Delicious as an after dinner sipping drink, but would be a great addition to caramel sauces, whipped cream, chai, a pan sauce for pork chops, etc.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What to do with an excess of CSA Vegetables? Pickles!

I hate to complain at all about the abundance of beautiful fresh vegetables we get in our CSA every week, but sometimes it's all you can do to keep up. Right when you think you're doing a great job of eating everything up, another box comes along and throws another 57 zucchinis into the mix. I was in DIRE straights a few weeks ago - 2 weeks worth of beets, green beans and yellow squash. I knew there was no way for me to eat all of those veggies before a) they went bad and b) I got a new stash of vegetables. What to do in this conundrum? Pickles!

I knew before the summer even started that at some point I wanted to pickle beets and green beans. I never thought of pickling squash, but a quick Internet search showed me that it's been done before! I thought the squash would turn out spongy or mushy, but it is quite crisp and delicious. The great thing about pickles is that you can use any flavors you like and adjust your recipe to suit your taste whether it is for sweeter or more sour pickles, to add spice or interesting flavors like curry or lavender.

*One note - I made these as refrigerator pickles although you could easily go through the canning process to make them shelf stable. If you are going to can them, it's important to remember to use really only the freshest fruits or vegetables - any blemishes or rotting on the food can spoil your whole batch once it's canned.

Pickled Green Beans

2 lbs. fresh green beans, trimmed and cut to fit your jars
1 white onion, peeled and cut into thin slices
Lemon zest, 4 inch piece of peel for each jar
1 Tbs sugar
1/4 cup salt (kosher is fine)
2 cups boiling water
2 cups white vinegar
4 garlic cloves (or more!)
2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Mix the green beans and onions together. Bring water, vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil, making sure the sugar and salt dissolve. In the meantime, assemble your jars - place a piece of lemon peel and a garlic clove in each jar and distribute the mustard seeds and red pepper flakes among the jars. You may want to use more than what is listed above - I did!

Pack the jars tightly with the green beans and onions and then carefully pour the hot water/vinegar mixture into each jar. If you are canning them, you will want to leave about an inch of head room. If you're just putting them in the refrigerator you can fill to the top. This recipe filled 6 8oz jars.

Pickled Beets
*I left my beets raw, although all recipes I saw called for cooking them first. I wanted them to have a crunch, but you do what you think you'd like best.

5 lb beets, cut into quarters or eighths, depending on the size of your beets.
7 peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
3 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 cups sugar

Combine water, vinegar, sugar, peppercorns and cinnamon sticks in a pot and bring to a boil; stir occasionally to ensure the sugar is dissolved. Pour this mixture over your beets in a large bowl and let sit until they cool. I didn't put these in jars right away, instead once they cooled I just put them in a large plastic container and refrigerated for a week. Once they were pickled, I distributed into smaller containers, but again, unless you're going for shelf stable, any air tight container will do in the fridge.

Sweet and Hot Curried Squash Pickles
*From The Splendid Table

3 lbs. yellow squash or zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
2 onions, thinly sliced (recipe called for red, I had white)
3 to 4 hot chiles, whatever you have, thinly sliced into rounds
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 3/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup sherry
1 1/2 cup orange juice
2 cups sugar
2 Tbs curry powder
1 1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp ground allspice (recipe called for whole)
1 tsp ground cloves (recipe called for whole)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

In a large bowl, combine squash, onions, chiles and salt. Let them stand for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Drain and rinse to remove the salt.

In a medium saucepan, bring all the remaining ingredients to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and let simmer for 3 minutes - stir to make sure the sugar is fully dissolved. Pour the hot liquid over the squash and allow it to cool to room temperature. Once these were cool, I transferred to plastic containers to refrigerate. They are good within a few hours but develop a more intense flavor if you can leave them longer. I was highly skeptical that these would be good - but they are! Nice and crisp with a great flavor.

So now instead of drowning in fresh vegetables, I'm drowning in pickles! But I've been able to give a lot away as gifts and the stress of wasting my beautiful veggies was definitely minimized! (Thanks to Lainie for these muy romantica pickle pictures.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Gelato al Limone

Here's a lost post from about a year ago that never made it out of the draft state!  Just as relevant today (though my most recent use of my ice cream maker was mango frozen yogurt, which you can find a recipe for here, if you're so inclined)... but anyway, here's that year-old post:

OMG, You Guys. Lemon gelato.

I don't use my ice cream maker as often as I'd like, in fact I think I didn't even use it once last summer, and I only just brought it out of the freezer this past week, but I intend to make up for lost time and make a lot of gelato for the rest of the summer (also sorbetto). Possibly weekly.

I saw a lot of recipes on the internet (some using just milk, some with egg yolks, various amounts of cream, etc) for lemon gelato (this is the simplest, and it actually seems both amazing and ridiculously effort-free, I might try it next) but I ended up adapting this one

My main change was a kind of chemistry experiment - I know from some sorbet recipes I've made (and from Cook's Illustrated) that adding a little alcohol of some kind keeps frozen desserts from getting too hard once they spend a day in the freezer (a problem I ran into this past weekend making a ricotta gelato recipe from a Mario Batali cookbook, a type of gelato thickened with cornstarch instead of eggs).

Anyway, I didn't have quite as much lemon juice as the recipe called for, and I wanted to see if I could avoid the rock-hard-the-next-day problem, so I filled out my scant lemon juice with some triple sec (a citrusy liqueur, you could use Grand Marnier or Cointreau if you were fancy enough to have it in the house). It worked beautifully! The day I made it, the gelato was almost as soft as soft serve, after the requisite 2 hours in the freezer, and the next day it was totally scoopable, actually legitimately gelato textured like you'd get at a gelateria.

Gelato al limone
makes about 2 quarts
adapted from a recipe on

1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
4 lemons
5 egg yolks
triple sec or any other citrus or lemon flavored alcohol product
2 cups heavy cream
vanilla and lemon extracts (optional)

Using a vegetable peeler, peel zest in big strips (avoiding the white pith) off three of the lemons. Add the zest to a medium-large heavy bottomed pot along with the milk and sugar, and put over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a heat proof spatula to help the sugar dissolve. 
Heat to 175 degrees (if you don't have a thermometer, it should just start to steam on the surface, not bubble or boil at all).

While the milk/zest mixture heats, beat the egg yolks lightly in a 2 quart metal bowl and prepare an ice water bath in another larger bowl (preferably metal, and big enough for the 1st bowl to snug down into later).
Squeeze the 4 lemons of their juice, into a measuring cup* - you should ideally have about 1/2 cup juice. Add triple sec to bring the volume up to 2/3 cup.

When the milk is hot, slowly whisk it into the yolks, a very little bit at a time. If you rush this tempering process, you'll have lemony scrambled eggs, so take your time. Once you've got about half of the milk mixture beaten in, you can go ahead and add the rest more quickly.

Return this milk/egg/zest mixture to the pan, and put it over medium heat, stirring, until it reaches 160 degrees. 
If you don't have a thermometer (get a thermometer!) it should coat the back of a spoon at this point. Pour it back into your smaller metal bowl, and place that bowl in the ice water bath. Stir until fairly cool, if you have time (if you don't, you'll have to leave the finished mixture in the fridge a lot longer before you can put it in your ice cream maker, 6-8 hours, as opposed to the 3 hours I did).

Once cool, I poured the mixture into a bowl with a spout to make adding it to the ice cream maker later a bit easier - I strained out the lemon zest pieces at that point.

Stir in the lemon juice/triple sec, the 2 cups of cream (I think this could be light cream, half and half, or even just more whole milk potentially, I plan to experiment with this more) and the vanilla and lemon extracts (1 tsp of vanilla, 1/8 tsp of lemon only).

Cover and refrigerate until very cold (or else your ice cream maker insert won't have enough cooling power to freeze it all the way). Freeze according to your particular ice cream maker's instructions, and then transfer to a container and put in the freezer for a couple of hours before serving.

Unfortunately, we somehow ate all of this gelato before I managed to take a pretty picture of some of it in a bowl or cone.  I will make more very soon so we can get a picture, just for the sake of thoroughness, of course.

*when I made mine I had only 3 lemons, which produce about 1/3 cup of juice. I had Jenean's bottle of key lime juice in my fridge, so I topped the lemon juice off with key lime juice up to 1/2 cup, and then added triple sec up to 2/3 cup.