Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Spiced Brandy Peach Jam

Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Peach Jam and Blueberries
As summer draws to a close, most of my jam has been made. So far this year I have made strawberry, marionberry, raspberry, and blueberry jams. My job is not yet done, however, for it is now peach season and peach jam is one of our absolute favorites!
Unlike the berry jams, which are all about the flavor of the particular berry being used, my peach jam recipe adds in layers of flavor that work to bring out and highlight the peach flavor. Brandy is exceptional for this purpose, as are spices like cinnamon and allspice. It is important not to overspice the jam as you do not want to cover the taste of the peaches. I also will often use a little bit less pectin than normal so that the jam does not firm up too much. I've found this jam to also make a wonderful sauce for pork or chicken, or to be served over ice cream. Leaving it just a little on the runny side, thick but not too thick, gives the jam an ideal consistency. 
As with most of my jam recipes, there is no predetermined amount of fruit being used. For this batch I had about a half case of peaches, which I allowed to fully ripen. This is important! As the fruit ripens, it develops it's own sugars and becomes sweeter. Allow them to ripen as much as you can, even if you have to cut away parts of a few peaches or even toss a couple out. The sweetness is worth it and allows you to make the jam without adding too much extra sugar.

I begin by taking my largest stock pot and combining in it:
approz. 20-24 ripe peaches (15 c or so), peeled, pitted and chopped
3 c granulated sugar
2 c brown sugar
1 c brandy
1 T cinnamon
2 t ground allspice
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ground clove
2 whole vanilla beans, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out
When halving the vanilla beans, scrape the seeds or they won't all come out. Then add the seeds and the pods to the jam. Bring the combined ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring regularly. Allow the jam to cook for 10-15 minutes to burn off some of the alcohol and give the flavors time to combine. If you feel at this point that the jam is too chunky, you may use a potato masher to mash some of the peach chunks into a smaller size. For this job, I usually use my immersion blender and pulse the jam so as not to overdo it. I like the finished jam to have some chunks left in it. NOTE: If you use an immersion blender, remove the vanilla bean pods first! Believe me, the last thing you want is to have to fish  chunks of tough pod out of your jam! This is generally a good time to remove the vanilla pods anyway, even if you are using a potato masher. Allow the pods to cool a bit and give them one last scraping to remove any leftover seeds and add them to the jam. Discard the pods.
Increase the heat on the stove to high and add in:
4-5 T low or no sugar pectin
Use your own judgement on the best amount to use, based on the amount of fruit used and desired thickness. On this particular batch, I used 4 T and it worked just fine. Stir the jam constantly at a rolling boil for 1-2 minutes, then remove the jam from the heat. Ladle the jam into your jars and process them for 10-15 minutes each. Allow them to cool and you're done! With this batch, I ended up with about 10-1/2 pints of jam. You can also jar them in smaller half pint jars and give them as gifts for the holidays. The spicy flavor of this condiment goes well with any number of holiday dishes and homemade jam makes a wonderful gift!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Low-Sugar Blueberry Jam

I love jam.
If I could fill my basement shelves with delicious sweet jammy goodness, I would! So far this year, I have made strawberry, marionberry and raspberry jams. Later this week, I will make peach jam. Today, I'm going to make blueberry. Did I mention that I love jam?
The thing about jam that has always vexed me, and still does, is the pectin. Pectin has never been my friend. Time and time again I have had my jams come out way too runny. My wife loves this as she prefers jam to be on the runny side. Me, I like a jam that is thick but not too thick, with chunks of fruit. Neither of us likes too much sugar and generally I make my jam with much less than most recipes call for. This, I think, has been one of my issues when making the stuff. Too little sugar, often times coupled with the wrong kind of pectin. What I've ended up with on more than one occasion is little more than syrup. Once I way over-compensated and ended up with something akin to cement. When making low- or no-sugar jams, it is vital to use the correct pectin. Regular pectin is only good for jams that contain lots of sugar. I went through many batches of jam before I figured this one out.
Even with all the jam I've made, I'm still experimenting and every batch of jam is a new adventure. I still haven't gotten it mastered and my pectin still gives me fits on occasion. Today I will boldly try again.
Yesterday, I happened to luck my way into a great deal on a flat of blueberries. I froze a few of them for smoothies and the rest went into the jam pot.

I started by sterilizing my Ball jars. In the biggest pot I have, I boiled the jars for 10-15 minutes. I boiled the lids as well in a separate smaller pan. In my jam pot I combined:
18 c (9 pints) fresh blueberries, washed and picked through
4 c sugar
1/3 c lemon juice
I used a potato masher to mash the berries a bit and heated them over medium-high heat until they began to boil, stirring the pot frequently. By this point, my jars and lids were ready so I removed them from their bath, keeping the large pot of water ready to process the jars. I increased the heat on the jam to high and added:
5 T low or no sugar pectin
I cooked the jam at a rolling boil for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. I then removed the jam from the heat and carefully ladled it into the jars. I covered the jars with their lids and securely tightened them before placing them back into the boiling water, making sure there was enough water to cover the jars by an inch or two. I processed the jars for 10 minutes, then set the jars on a rack to cool completely before storing them.

That's it! The result? This batch came out just a teensy bit runnier than I would have preferred. I think 7 T of pectin might have worked a little better. I should mention here that the pectin container recommended 1-1/2 T of pectin for every 1-1/3 c of fruit - a whopping full cup of pectin! Not wishing to repeat the cement experience again, I chose to use much less. Even though it was a tad runny the flavor was wonderful and the jam wasn't overwhelmingly sweet!
Later this week I'll try my hand at the jam game again with the box of peaches we have. My tummy is giddy with anticipation!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Overcoming Childhood Prejudices - Liver and Onions

Getting kids to eat can be a challenge, as any parent knows. It certainly doesn't help that children are now marketed to by major corporations who make billions of dollars peddling garbage, enticing them to eat chemical filled "non-foods" that do nothing more than cause obesity. Getting kids to eat stuff that is actually good for them can sometimes seem impossible!
It doesn't help when we as adults still carry in our minds the same prejudices we had as children. Who, as a child, liked eating squash, brussel sprouts, spinach, or the all-time worst, liver? Often times we decided we didn't like these and other foods before we even tried them! We would stick our tongues out and timidly touch a small amount of whatever it was our parents were trying to get us to eat and then react as dramatically as we could, acting as though our parents had just tried to feed us raw fish heads! From that moment on we officially "hated" that particular food item, never again allowing it near our plates, much less on our forks! When we become parents, we begin passing these prejudices on to our children, often without even being aware that we are doing so.
It is a proven fact that as we grow older, our taste buds change. As an adult, I have found that I often am forced to re-evaluate my childhood prejudices and try a food that I've always sworn up and down that I would never ever eat again. Squash, for example. As a kid, I utterly loathed this vegetable. As an adult, however, I have had to admit that not only do I not loathe it, I actually rather enjoy it. I like the variety of flavors found in different types of squash and the different ways of cooking it.
Not always have my tastes changed. I still don't like cured ham. Fresh ham, yes, but cured ham has a taste that I just cannot bring myself to like. The same goes with yams. By this, I mean the orange fleshed tuber that is usually finds its way to the Thanksgiving dinner table (though truthfully, they are actually sweet potatoes). Yes, I can already hear many of you saying "But you've never tried my sweet potatoes!" Honestly, I have given this one as many chances to be liked as I possibly can. I've had them with maple syrup, marshmallows and savory. I've had them roasted, baked, in soups and even as sweet potato fries. I still do not like them. I have, however, discovered that the white meat sweet potatoes are quite delicious. Therefore I have partially relinquished my lifelong prejudice against the sweet potato.
Some time back I found myself giving all this some thought and as I reflected on the subject, I began thinking about the King of all hated foods, liver. Most people can't even say the word casually without their faces contorting. As I thought about this much hated organ, I realized that some years back I had actually developed something of a fondness for chicken liver. Could it be that my tastes had changed enough that I might actually like beef liver now? There was only one way to find out!
The absolute key to making decent liver is soaking the meat in milk. Do not skip this step! Liver can often have a bitter flavor caused by impurities in the meat (the purpose of the liver is, after all, to clean the system) and soaking the liver in milk will help get rid of these, giving the liver a much milder and less gamey flavor. The liver should soak for at least 30 minutes but I like to give it a couple hours.

To begin, place in a large shallow dish:
1 - 1-1/2 lbs fresh beef liver
enough milk to cover the meat
Set the dish aside in the refrigerator and allow to soak for at least 1/2 hour, preferably 1-2 hours.
When you're ready to begin cooking, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large pan and add in :
2 sweet Walla Walla onions, sliced thin
a dash of salt and pepper
Saute the onions over low-medium heat until they begin to brown, about 30 minutes or so. While the onions are cooking, prepare your flour dredge with:
1/2 c flour
1 t salt
1/2 t white pepper
1/2 t ground thyme
Mix dry ingredients together well and set aside on a plate. Remove the liver from the fridge. Drain the milk completely. Sprinkle the meat very lightly with:
2 t balsamic or red wine vinegar
Dredge the liver in the flour mixture, coating each piece well. When onions are browned a bit, remove them from the pan and set them aside. Add a little more oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Once the pan has become hot, add the liver and allow it to sear for a minute or two on each side. Reduce the heat back down to low-medium and add the onions back to the pan. Cover and cook until the liver has an even reddish color when you cut into it, about 5 minutes or so. You want to be careful not to overcook it or it will dry out. It should look like a steak cooked medium-rare.
This evening, in the spirit of traumatizing the inner child of some of you, I have decided to serve the liver and onions with a side of brussel sprouts. They are, after all, in season and neither my wife nor I ever had a problem as kids with eating what my siblings and I used to refer to as "baby cabbages." Cooked in melted butter with a light sprinkle of white wine vinegar, we have ourselves a wonderful feast! No munchkins allowed!

Bon Appetit!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Padre Peredur's Pork Chili Verde

It's the end of summer and harvest time is upon us. There are lots of great fruits and vegetables available now which is a stark reminder that I haven't written anything on my blog for months now! I've been so busy with other things for the past several months that I've had almost no time to be in the kitchen. 
Last week, Kat came home with a very large box of fresh tomatillos and I knew that my "vacation" was over! Tomatillos are one of my favorite autumn fruits. Like a little green tomato wrapped in a husk, tomatillos are perfect for both salsa verde and chili verde. Both are welcome in my house anytime! Kat made salsa verde last week for a barbecue we had and it was fantastic! For all the tomatillos she used in that recipe she only put a small dent in our supply, leaving me lots to make chili with.
This is a recipe I came up with a few years ago and has been one of my favorites ever since. I start with a bone-in pork shoulder roast. Of course, this means I have to bone it myself, which can be tricky as the shoulder blade is a rather twisty-curvy bone and can be difficult to get all the meat off of. If you are completely intimidated, ask your butcher to de-bone the roast for you.
I also like to roast my vegetables under the broiler before making the chili. I roast all the tomatillos and fresh chiles that I am putting into the pot. I usually do not use all fresh chiles, however, as roasting and skinning that many peppers can be rather labor intensive. If you wish to put the time into doing this, by all means do so! I usually roast a few peppers and use canned for the rest. Today I have fresh jalapeños, a banana pepper and a poblano pepper that I will be roasting with the tomatillos.
What I have done today is to start with:
1 bone-in pork shoulder roast ("Boston Butt"), approx. 4 lbs
Carefully carve out the bone and trim the meat. Cut the meat into bite sized pieces, season with a small amount of salt and pepper and set aside in the refrigerator for an hour or two. Also make sure to save the bone and any odd bits of meat. Meanwhile, rend the fat over low heat until well liquified. Set this aside as well.
Take a cookie sheet and line it with foil. Wash and halve:
approx. 2-3 lbs of fresh tomatillos (you may substitute up to half of these with green tomatoes, if you choose)
Arrange the tomatillo/tomato halves on the cookie sheet along with:
5 fresh jalapeños
and broil for about 10 minutes or so, flipping the peppers about halfway through. When finished broiling, remove the pan from the oven and dice everything. Do not skin the jalapeños or tomatillos. The charred skins add a nice color to the chili. The tomatillos will let off a bit of their juices while broiling. Do not throw this away! Save the juices and add it to the pot when the time comes!
Using a little of the fat rendered from the pork, brown the pork over medium-high heat. Do this in 2 or even 3 batches if necessary, so as not to overcrowd the pan. Once the pork is browned, set it aside. Add to the pan:
1 large onion, diced
Saute the onion over low heat until soft, scraping up the fond from the bottom of the pot as the onions cook. Add:
7-8 cloves of garlic (roughly 1 small head), finely chopped
Stir until garlic begins to cook, about 1 minute. Add in:
2 T flour
Stir to combine. Add to the pot:
1 qt. chicken stock
2 c water (if needed)
1 large can mild green chilies, drained, sliced
1 large can hominy, white or yellow (optional)
2 T dried oregano
1 T sugar
2 t salt
2 t ground cumin (I prefer to roast and grind my own with a mortar and pestle)
1 t chili powder
juice from 2 limes
Add in the browned pork, along with the pork bits and the bone from the roast. Bring to a near boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. The chili should thicken quite a bit. When the soup is nearly finished, remove the pork bone. Clean off any remaining bits of meat and add them back into the pot with:
1/2 c chopped cilantro
Serve topped with shredded Monterey Jack cheese and a garnishment of fresh cilantro, with either corn chips or corn tortillas on the side.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Food Tour of Portland - N. Mississippi Avenue

Yesterday my wife Kat and I had the opportunity to go on a tour of local restaurants in the Mississippi neighborhood in North Portland. I had encountered Forktown Food Tours through an offer on the internet and thought it would be a good way of sampling some of the many restaurants in the Portland area that I might not get a chance to try otherwise.

The tour was scheduled to take about 3 hours and we were warned to come with our appetites because we would be eating quite a lot as the tour went on. We met up with our guide and 6 other "tourists" at The ReBuilding Center on N. Mississippi Avenue at around 2:00. After brief introductions and a little history of the neighborhood from our tour guide Jessica, we began our walk to the first restaurant.

Cheese Plate at Sidecar 11.
The first stop was Sidecar 11, a quaint little spot that specializes in prohibition-era drinks with a modern twist. The menu consists mainly of smaller, tapas style dishes. The atmosphere was wonderful, the owners going for more of a speakeasy feel. They started us off with samples from their cocktail menu. First a traditional whiskey sour, shaken with egg white to create a frothy head. This was followed by a delicious drink called a Gin & Gin, containing gin and ginger. This one was my favorite. About this time they brought out a plate of local Oregon cheeses, all of which were fantastic! We were each then treated to their house recipe Sangria. We really enjoyed our experience at Sidecar 11. It's a great date bar or place to go for appetizers before heading out to other places. Thumbs up!

Garden State: Portland style Italian street food.
Next, we headed further up the street to N. Mississippi's famous food cart pod. Here we had an opportunity to try one of the top rated food carts in the entire city (which says quite a lot - there are currently over 600 food carts in the city of Portland!), Garden State. Run by Chef Kevin Sandri, Garden State bills itself as "Italian Street Food from Oregon's Willamette Valley" and features wonderful local meats and vegetables. Most of the recipes are from the chef's Sicilian family, however our food was a bit more fusion. We were brought a large platter of grilled basa (catfish) sandwiches with a generous side of chick pea fries. I don't even know where to begin in describing this dish. The sandwich was amazing! The catfish was cooked perfectly, each topped with cabbage, caperberries and an orange slice which turned out the be the ideal flavor compliment. This is one of the tastiest sandwiches I've had in a while! What added to its incredible flavor were the fries, not made of potato, but of finely ground chick peas. They were like hummus fries, if such a thing can be imagined. They were actually creamy when you bit into them! They were a bit more fragile than a regular french fry. Just when we thought it couldn't get any better, we were all given samples of their Italian ice. Made by Oregon Iceworks, this is pure fruity, icy yumminess! I cannot recommend Garden State highly enough. This was the high point of the tour and I will make every effort to return. 
Grilled Basa on Ciabatta with Chick Pea Fries.

Following our feast at Garden State, it was time to walk off the of the food we had gorged on. This part of the tour took us through the local neighborhood where we had a chance to see some of the historic houses that are so common in this part of Portland. Many of the buildings are on the National Historic Register and there are several wonderful examples of Victorian architecture throughout the neighborhood.

Eventually we wound our way to N. Williams Avenue. It was a beautiful day in Portland and by the time we got there, we were hot and thirsty. It was a perfect time to stop at Sidebar (not to be confused with our first stop, Sidecar 11. Just a coincidence.). Sidebar is the official specialty tasting room for Lompoc Brewery and is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Often times the beers and ales found at the Sidebar are brewed in very limited quantities and are available nowhere else. We were offered samples of a few of their current choices, my favorite being a dark ale based on a recipe by Benjamin Franklin called Cider Plank. It had delicious molasses undertones, with hints of coffee and even tobacco. It was a little sweet but not too much and lighter on the hops.

Pix Patisserie
Our next treat came to us courtesy Pix Patisserie. With a team of pastry chefs, Pix makes some of the sweetest and most incredible desserts in town. Seriously, check out their website if you don't believe me! We got to try the pistachio macarons. Unrelated to macaroons, which have coconut, French macarons are an experience for the mouth! Made with ground almonds, they are simultaneously light and fluffy and creamy and crunchy and chewy. Pure happiness!

From here, we walked back through the neighborhood to Mississippi and made our way to the next stop on the tour, Mr. Green Beans. This place is a haven for those who wish to roast their own coffee beans, make their own cheese, learn how to make soap, and many other DIY projects. In other words, this was a store they had to drag me out of! We sampled some of their house roasted coffees, which were delicious.
The Wall of Salt at The Meadow.
Our next stop was a specialty boutique called The Meadow. This store specializes in wine, chocolate and salt. Mainly salt, and they have the largest selection of salts harvested from locations around the world that you are apt to find anywhere. A whole wall of salts of different colors, different mineral makeup and different flavors if your palate is sensitive enough. This was one of the more exotic stops on the tour but also, I felt, the low point. Nothing against the store itself, which was interesting and a great place to stop if you happen to be in the area. I felt, however, that as we were out to sample local cuisine we should have stuck to that. Pointing out the place as we passed as a spot to check out after the tour would have been more appropriate.

Tour guide Jessica serves up ice cream sandwiches.
Our final stop on the tour was the Ruby Jewel Scoop Shop, serving small batch artisan ice cream cones, sundaes and (best of all) ice cream sandwiches - all made fresh with local ingredients. We sampled some of the ice cream sandwiches, each made with homemade cookies. This was the perfect way to finish the tour! Ruby Jewel's ice cream is not only damn tasty, but their recipes are bold and, some might even say, cutting edge. Kat tried a sample of their apricot ginger ice cream which she said packed a punch on the taste buds! I tried a sample of the lavender honey ice cream which was subtle and smooth and left me wanting much, much more!

It was a great day and Kat and I had lots of fun. Out tour guide Jessica was knowledgeable and friendly and did an excellent job of leading the tour. I didn't feel it was the greatest value however, and the stop at two boutique shops in a row definitely detracted from the tour. I was also surprised at the amount of alcohol served. Personally, I enjoyed it but there were people on the tour who did not partake and ended up missing out on quite a bit. We got our tickets at half price and I don't think I would have wanted to pay more for them. But then, we live here and can go do this stuff anytime we like. I would recommend Forktown Tours if you're coming to Portland and would like to sample some of the incredible cuisine this town has to offer. I give Forktown Tours 3-1/2 stars out of 5.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Making Falafel from Scratch

Greetings again, friends and fellow foodies! It seems like forever since I've written a blog post. As they say, "Life happens," and sometimes we get called away. My time in the kitchen has been drastically reduced as of late, due to all of my attention being focused on other things. Now, upon their completion, I find myself a bit peckish and in the mood for something new.

My wife Kat recently purchased a large sack of dried chick peas to make hummus with (for Kat's recipe, click here) and that seemed like a good place to start. One of the earliest cultivated vegetables, these large roundish legumes are also known as garbanzo beans. They are used in a variety of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, and one of the most popular is falafel. 

I have eaten falafel on a few occasions and thought it was okay. Most of the time that I'd tried it, if not every time, it was made from a mix. Now I'm sure that there may be some mixes out there that are good but those that I tried were not that impressive. How hard could it be to make them from scratch? The answer - not hard at if you have a food processor!

Making falafel takes a little time. The end result is worth it, though, so it's best to be patient and not to rush the process. I started by soaking the beans. They must be soaked for at least 8 hours. I used:
2 c dried garbanzo beans
enough water to cover the beans by a couple inches
After 8-10 hours of soaking, I drained the beans real good. Taking out the food processor, I placed in the bowl with the chopper blade the following ingredients:
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
5 - 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 c flat leaf parsley
1 c cilantro leaves
1/2 t red pepper flakes
a squeeze of lemon juice
I processed everything real well, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure the onions and garlic were chopped well. This didn't take anymore than 30 seconds or so. Scraping out the food processor bowl into a large mixing bowl, I returned the bowl to the machine.and added in the garbanzo beans. I processed them until the beans were finely ground, not too fine but fine enough to where there were no large chunks of bean visible when I sifted through it. I added the ground beans to the mixing bowl with the onion/parsley mixture.
I've found that to get the best flavored falafel (or anything else, for that matter), it is best to use whole coriander and cumin seeds. I take a tablespoon of each and toast them in a small cast iron skillet I have. Toasting them only takes a couple minutes - you can hear the seeds crackle when they're done. Using a mortar and pestle, I grind the seeds into powder. Doing this takes a little extra time but the flavor difference is out of this world! It is very definitely worth the effort to do this if you can.
(Note: coriander seeds tend to grind down a bit more than cumin seeds. If you are grinding whole seeds, use a tablespoon of each. If you are using pre-ground spices, use the measurements below.)
In a separate small bowl, I sifted together:
3/4 c flour
2 t baking powder
1 T kosher salt
1 T ground cumin
2 t ground coriander
1 t fresh ground black pepper
I whisked together the flour and spices and added them to the large mixing bowl. I mixed everything in the bowl real well, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl real well to incorporate all the ingredients. Once combined, I covered the bowl and refrigerated it for a few hours. It actually gets better after about 6 hours but it must rest for at least 2 hours! Impatience here is highly imprudent! I find that the falafel mix is best after sitting for at least 12 hours, and have kept it in the fridge for a couple of days.
To cook the falafel, take a large pan and heat a good amount to vegetable oil 350°. It is not recommended to use a deep fryer, as that may cause the falafel to fall apart. Roll the falafel into balls about 1-1/2" in diameter. If the dough is too wet, squeeze out any excess moisture. Flatten each ball slightly and cook in hot oil until dark brown on each side. Drain them on paper towels and NOM!

Falafel is best with a good sauce so in the downtime can be used to make one. Here is Kat's recipe for Tzatziki Sauce. Place in a food processor bowl:
1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded
1/4 c fresh mint leaves (or 2 T dried)
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 t salt
Process until the ingredients are fine. Place in a bowl and stir in:
1-1/2 c plain yogurt
1-1/2 t lemon juice
Mix well and refrigerate until you're ready to eat.

There you have it! Fresh, made from scratch, falafel. One hint to remember, make sure you dry your parsley and cilantro real well after washing it, before you put it in the food processor. You want to be sure to eliminate any excess moisture so your falafel doesn't turn out too watery. Don't forget, this recipe turns out the best if you take your time and let it rest before cooking. I've also discovered that letting it rest reduces and even eliminates any gassy side effects from the chick peas. A reward for your patience!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

How a Real Man Makes Quiche

Quiche. The first time I ever encountered the word, I was told it was something real men didn't eat. I had no clue what it was or why real men didn't eat it, only that it must something gross with lots of vegetables and no meat. The first quiche I ever saw was a runny, undercooked nastiness that did nothing to inspire me to ever want to try a bite. It was not for many years, in fact, that I actually tried quiche and found it to be "not that bad."

Lately, however, I have discovered a new passion for this dish. It's perfect in its simplicity. Eggs, cheese, cream. Add to this base whatever flavor combinations you like. Bake it in a pie shell. Perfect. It's fantastic for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Spinach and Mushroom Quiche with Feta
I have recently taken to making a quiche on Sunday evening and eating it for breakfast all week (though I never seem to get past Wednesday!). The versatility of the dish allows for such a wide variety of flavors and ingredients that I never get sick of it.

Today, I am posting a couple of different quiche recipes. Really, they're the same recipe with different ingredient combinations. I typically use an all butter pie crust, the same one I discussed in my Dec. 19, 2010 post. I will usually cut back a bit on the sugar, though I still add a teaspoon or so. I find it's best to make a double crust and then freeze half of it for later use. If you are going to use the other half in 2 days or so, keep it in the refrigerator. Otherwise, you can freeze it for up to a month, if you wrap it well in plastic wrap and wax paper. If you freeze it, be sure to thaw the crust completely before you try to roll it out. The crust for the quiche is not pre-baked though lately I've considered experimenting with that, just to see what happens.

The quiche recipe I prefer calls for 4 large eggs. There are some recipes I've encountered that only call for 3 but I like the eggier version better. Most recipes call for cream or half-n-half. You may certainly use these ingredients if you choose. Seeing as how I make quiche so frequently, I have substituted these with a combination of evaporated milk and low-fat milk. Okay so it's still got some fat going on, I realize, but cutting out 2 cups of cream is never bad for the waistline!

Southwestern Quiche
Preheat your oven to 425°. Roll out the pie crust and line a 9" pie dish. Cover this with plastic and refrigerate until you're ready to use it.
In a large saute pan, heat
2 T olive oil
until the oil is hot and add:
1/2 onion, diced fine
1-2 red or green jalepeños, seeded and diced
Cook over medium heat until peppers begin to soften, about 5 minutes or so. Add:
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
Stir into onions and peppers and cook for a minute. Remove ingredients from the pan and set aside.
Southwestern Quiche
In a large bowl, mix together:
8-10 oz ground pork
1 t table salt
1/2 t chili powder
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t dried oregano
Return the saute pan to the heat and cook sausage over medium heat until lightly browned. At the last minute, toss in:
1/4 c cilantro leaves
Stir leaves into sausage and remove from heat.
In a large bowl, whisk together:
4 large eggs
1-12 oz can evaporated milk
1/2 c milk
1/2 t salt
1/2 t white pepper
When well combined, stir in onions and peppers along with sausage and
1 c shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Immediately pour into chilled pie crust. Sprinkle the top with:
1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese
Place in 425° oven for 15 minutes. Turn the quiche halfway and lower the temperature to 350°. Bake for another 20-25 minutes, until the quiche has set up but still barely jiggles in the middle. You can also test it by carefully inserting a knife blade in the center. If it comes out clean, it's done.
Allow the quiche to cool for a bit before cutting into it. I usually try to hold myself back for at least a half an hour but an hour is better. The longer the quiche sits, the firmer it will set up.

This recipe obviously makes a spicier quiche, the jalepeños giving it enough of a kick to make any real man proud. Still, sometimes a kinder, gentler approach is best. There's nothing wrong with going meatless on occasion, like for example the quiche I made this evening...

Spinach and Mushroom Quiche with Feta
As before, we begin with the oven at 425° and a pie shell in the fridge. In our saute pan we will combine:
2 T olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
We'll cook this until it softens and add:
1 garlic clove, minced
Stir the garlic into the onions and cook for a minute, then remove from the pan and set aside. Place the pan back on the heat and add:
2 t olive oil
1 c sliced crimini or portobello mushrooms
1/2 t salt
Cook over medium heat until the mushrooms begin to brown. Add:
1-1/2 c baby spinach leaves
Stir and heat until the spinach leaves have wilted. Remove mushrooms and spinach from the pan, leaving behind any liquid.
In a large bowl, whisk together:
4 large eggs
1-12 oz can evaporated milk
1/2 c milk
1-1/2 t dried basil
1/2 t salt
1/2 t white pepper
dash of nutmeg
Whisk until well combined. Stir in onions, peppers, mushrooms and spinach along with:
1 c crumbled feta cheese (about 4-6 oz)
Pour into chilled pie crust and sprinkle the top with:
1/2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
Bake as above, first at 425° for 15 minutes, then at 350° for 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through. Let it cool on a rack for an hour.

So many flavors, so many possibilities! Perhaps next week, I'll do a classic Quiche Lorraine with bacon and swiss cheese. Or maybe a smoked salmon quiche...


Quiche Update

Since writing the above post, I have experimented with a couple of different variations of crusts. I made one quiche with a crust made from whole wheat pastry flour. I used no white flour at all. I found the crust to not hold together quite as well as just using white flour. It was still very tasty but I think next time I'll try half whole wheat flour and half white and see how that works out.

In her comment posted below, The Improbable Farmer says that she fears pie crust and makes her quiche crustless. Kat had also been wanting to try this, not for fear of making the crust but of the calories therein. She decided to try making one with some of the fresh asparagus we have. She sprayed the pie plate with non-stick spray, then poured in the filling. Instead of baking it at 425° for the first 15 minutes, she just baked it at 350° for 40-45 minutes on an insulated baking sheet (to prevent the bottom from overcooking). 

The result was fantastic! The custard was perfectly cooked around the outside and the quiche held its form wonderfully when served. It was every bit as good as a regular quiche without the unnecessary calories. We loved it so much, we may never go back to crusted quiche again!

May 24, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making Yogurt in the Microwave

"Wait! What? Did I read that right?" you ask. Yes, you did. If you have milk, a few glass containers and a microwave, you can make yogurt at home in as little as a few hours!

This is a process my wife Kat learned not long ago. An advocate of what is called "Simple Living" by a growing number of people, she is always looking for ways to create for ourselves what most folks run to the store and spend what is often way too much money to purchase. Yogurt is one of those things.

What is yogurt, really, besides curdled milk? Add some fruit or jam and stir. "But I just don't have the time!" people say. "It takes so much time to do these things!" Does it really? I'm making yogurt right now while I write this. Or rather, the yogurt is making itself!

Here is a list of what you'll need to make 2 quarts of yogurt.
2 quart sized mason jars with tight fitting lids
a large microwave safe bowl (I use a 2-qt. Corningware dish with a lid)
a spoon
a quick read thermometer
2 quarts of milk
6 T plain yogurt with active/live cultures
6 T powdered milk (optional - helps to make the yogurt firmer)
The cultures in the plain yogurt act as the starter. Begin by filling the mason jars to the 'shoulders' of the jar, leaving a good 1" to 1-1/2" space at the top of the jar. Microwave the milk on high heat for 3 minutes, then stir and take the milks temperature. You want the milk to get to 185°, but don't go too fast! Gently heating the milk here is best! After the first 3 minutes, heat it for another 3. When the milk reaches around 115-120°, reduce the heating time to 2 minutes. As you get closer to 185°, reduce the time in the microwave to 1 minute between stirs.
Once the milk reaches 185°, take the jars out of the microwave and set them in a cool place. The milk should be allowed to rest and cool to 115°. In heating the milk, you have killed any airborne yeasts and bacteria that may have gotten to the milk. This also helps to denature the yogurt which prevents clumping.
After the milk has cooled down to 115°, stir in the yogurt and powdered milk (if you choose to use it), 3 T of each per quart of milk. Fill your large microwave safe bowl about 2/3 to 3/4 full of water and microwave it on high until it nears the boiling point. Gently rest the flat part of the mason lid on each jar but do not secure it down with the ring. You do not want the jars to be tightly sealed, you are only trying to keep moisture from dripping in. Leaving the large bowl of water in the microwave, place the covered jars beside it and close the microwave door. Your microwave is well insulated and will hold the heat in. You want the milk to remain between 90° and 110° for about 8-12 hours. Every couple of hours or so, check the temperature of the water and, if you need to, reheat it (just don't forget to take the yogurt out of the microwave while you reheat the water!). If your yogurt drops below 90°, don't panic! It will be fine, it'll just take longer to make! What you absolutely DO NOT want is for it to get warmer that 110-115°! Do that and you will kill the yogurt cultures! After 6 hours or so you will notice that your yogurt has set. Taste it to check its fermentation. It will get tangier as it sits. I like a tangy yogurt so I usually let it sit longer.

And there you have it! Start your yogurt at night and you'll have a fresh, tasty breakfast waiting for you in the morning! The fact that the yogurt takes just as long to make as most of us sleep makes this a perfect overnight activity!

"Hold on a sec," I hear someone saying, "what about botulism?" First of all, botulism has a hard time growing in the highly acidic environment of things like salami, sauerkraut and yogurt. The lactic acid produced by the yogurt cultures prohibit the growth of bad bacteria. But caution never hurt anyone. Make sure your equipment is clean and sterile, making sure to completely clean your microwave before and after use. Also, remember that you are making plain yogurt - do not add fruit or other flavorings until after the yogurt is finished and is about to be served! More information can be found at this website.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review: The Food Substitutions Bible

I have recently acquired a copy of David Joachim's wonderful book, The Food Substitutions Bible and I cannot praise this book enough! Just like The Flavor Bible, this book is an invaluable tool in helping you break the grip of recipe dependency and get on with the business of being creative in the kitchen.

The copy I purchased (pictured to the right) is the second edition of Joachim's book, and contains over 1500 additional substitutions not included in the first edition (with the blue cover). It is also about 25% larger than the first and is expanded throughout.

As the title says, this book is filled with substitution suggestions for just about any ingredient you can name. Anyone who has spent any time in the kitchen has had a time when a recipe called for an item they didn't have. My early days of cooking were filled with these experiences, usually ending up with a phone call to my  mother asking what I should do if I don't have buttermilk or baking powder for the recipe I had already started. Now I don't have to do that anymore. I can pull out the book instead, which is much quicker, and call my mom later to tell her how wonderful the recipe turned out!

There are so many food substitutions in this book, it boggles the mind. Everything from Spam to popcorn, duck eggs to korerima, and a thousand other ingredients that I've never heard of! (FYI, if you do find yourself in need of korerima, you can use an equal amount of ground cardamom in its stead.)

The thing about this book is that it's title is deceptive. It is much more than a food substitution guide. There are also substitution ideas for equipment and even cooking techniques. Say for example you would like to try an Asian recipe that calls for cooking in a clay pot but you don't have one. What to do? Should you run out and buy special cookware? I suppose you could. You could also, according to The Food Substitutions Bible, try using either a deep casserole dish or a dutch oven while reducing the temperature by about 100°F and the cooking time by about a half an hour.

One of the most wonderful things about this book are the Ingredient Guides at the back. Lists of apple varieties (including the flavor and texture of each and the best way to use them), dried beans, chili peppers, grains, honey, mushrooms, pasta, rices, vinegars, etc, etc. What the flavor differences are, what each can be substituted for; these lists are invaluable! In addition, there are measurement equivalents that I've never seen in any other book. If a recipe calls for a cup of evaporated milk, how many cans should you buy? According to the Can and Package Size Equivalents chart in the back of the book, a 6 oz. can of evaporated milk is 2/3 cup, while the 14-1/2 oz can is 1-2/3 cups. A #2 can is 20 oz. or 2-1/2 cups and a great big #10 can is 13 cups. Another interesting table is for Temperature Equivalents. Exactly what temperature is "a moderate oven?" According to this list it is 350°F, 180°C, or gas mark 4. Lukewarm water is 95°F or 35°C.

If you are at all serious about cooking, especially if you are among those who create your own recipes, this book is a must have! This is a book I wished I owned years ago and it is a most welcome addition to my book collection now!

Happy cooking (and don't forget to call your mothers)!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dutch Apple Pie

Apple pie is awesome. There's no getting around it. In whatever form it appears, whether old fashioned double crust American apple pie or German strudel, apples it seems were meant to be baked into a pastry of some sort with cinnamon and sugar.

My wife and I recently obtained an entire box of Granny Smith apples. I feel like a kid at Christmas! Oh the possibilities! One of the first things I wanted to make was an old favorite, Dutch Apple Pie. I've always loved the crumbly top on this classic and it requires the making of one less crust, or gives you an extra crust to make something else - like quiche!
Because I used half the pie dough for a savory quiche, I cut back on the sugar by about half. I used a very basic two-crust recipe. Begin by sifting together:
2-1/2 c all purpose flour
1 T sugar (the normal amount would be 2 T)
1 t salt
In a food processor or by hand, gently mix in:
1/2 c frozen shortening, cut into small pieces
Mix until the flour takes on a grainy texture. Add in:
1-1/2 c frozen butter, cut into small pieces
Gently mix together, being careful not to over handle the dough, as this will make it tough. The flour should take on the texture of small peas. Slowly, a tablespoon at a time, add in:
6-8 T ice water
Gently mix water into the dough until it's just moist enough to stick together when pinched. Split the dough into 2 even pieces and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate the dough for at least 15 minutes or for up to 2 days. It may also be frozen for a week or more, if properly wrapped.

Once the crust is ready, roll it out and line your pie dish. If you like, you can cover this in plastic and put it back in the fridge until you're ready for it.

The filling is real simple. Peel, core and slice enough apples for about 5-6 cups. I used 4 Granny Smiths and a small Fuji. The tarter the apple, the higher the pectin. Pectin is important because, just like in jellies and jams, this is what makes the filling set up and not be too runny. I also add a little flour which, combined with the pectin, helps hold the filling together.

Begin by preheating your oven to 375°. Take a large bowl and combine:
5-6 c sliced apples
1 T lemon juice
Toss together until the apples are well coated, then add:
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 c packed brown sugar
3 T flour
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
Toss apples until they are completely coated with sugar and spices. Pour the apples into the pie crust. In a small bowl, whisk together:
3/4 c flour
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 c packed brown sugar
When combined, add:
1/3 c soft butter
Mix together until the texture is crumbly. Cover the apples with the topping. Bake pie for 50 minutes, turning about halfway through to insure even baking. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Outstanding! Pie that makes you thankful for bad weather - a great excuse for staying inside with a fresh pot of tea. There is nothing better!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chard and Kale Salad

Eating green leafy vegetables is one of the healthiest things you can do. Especially in the wintertime, when your body needs it the most. When it comes to leafy veggies, the darker the leaf the better is is for you. This puts kale and chard, two winter favorites, right at the top of the list.

The thing about kale and chard, however, is that the leaves tend to be much thicker and therefore tougher to chew. They nearly always have to be cooked. Using them in cold salads is usually out of the question. Usually.

Things like citric acid and salt tend to help break down leafy material. By applying these ingredients to the leafs and allowing them to "cook" overnight, a cold kale salad becomes an easy and delicious option to your wintertime menu! Remember, this salad must be made at least one day ahead!

Begin by whisking together in a large bowl:
3/4 c olive oil
1/2 c lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t sea salt
1 t cayenne pepper
1 bunch chard
1 bunch kale
Wash the leaves well and shake off all excess water. Rub the marinade into each leaf real well and set the leaves aside in a large bowl. Do not neglect this step! It is very important to rub the marinade into each leaf! When all the leaves have been marinated, add to them:
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 medium avocados, cubed
1-1/2 c shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
Pour the marinade over the salad and mix well by hand, mashing the avocados into the leaves. When well mixed and thoroughly coated, cover the salad and refrigerate overnight. The leaves will cook in the lemon juice and salt and should be wilted the next day. Garnish with:
seeds from 1 medium pomegranate
toasted walnuts

A tasty side salad any time of year. It's also great on its own, garnished with a piece of salmon or grilled chicken.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Peredur vs Squashzilla

Banana squash - the behemoth of the squash family. Known for taking on entire armies and feeding them all!
Kat and I had a mammoth sized pink banana squash in the basement for the past couple of months and I finally decided that it was time to take up the gauntlet and create a very large pot of squash soup. Besides, I just got all sorts of new kitchen toys - including the top thing on my list, an immersion blender! - and I was dying to use them. 

Squashzilla done been kilt!
The first task at hand was to slay the giant. It put up quite a fight but, in the end, I was able to overpower it. Using a large chef's knife, I kilt the squash!

Secondly, I needed to bake the squash. Oh, I suppose I didn't actually need to bake it but I kind of prefer it to boiling. I hacked the squash, now dead, into 4 (still very large) pieces. I baked them at 350° for about 50 minutes or so, until the meat was tender. I removed it from the oven and cut it into pieces, discarding the skin.

At this point, I decided to roast the seeds. The seeds for this squash are, as you can imagine, huge! They are plump and fat and just screaming out for someone to roast them! I rinsed off the seeds real well, just as I would do with pumpkin seeds. I generously covered them with:
2 T kosher salt
2 t garlic powder
2 t cumin powder
1 t onion powder
1 dried Dundicut chili pepper, ground with a mortar and pestle (I just happened across these little peppers at a store the other day. They are extremely hot. You may use chili powder instead.)
Toss the seeds with the seasonings and bake at 300° for about 45-60 minutes, stirring them every 10 minutes or so. Roast them until they get a nice dark golden color. Yum!

Anyway, back to the soup. I did not use fresh onion or garlic this time because I was using a quart of homemade turkey broth. I usually make my broth rather strongly flavored and didn't think I would need too much more onion or garlic, opting to use a small amount of powdered instead.

Taking out my favorite stock pot (which turned out to be barely big enough to hold the monster), I combined:
1 qt homemade turkey stock
6 c water
about 8-10 c roasted squash meat
1 T ground sage 
1 T brown sugar
2 t kosher salt
2 t allspice
1-1/2 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
1 t thyme
1 t fresh ground black pepper
1 t ground cardamom 
Gently bring the soup to a simmer and cook over low-medium heat for about 20 minutes or so to let the flavors combine. Using an immersion blender, carefully blend the soup until it is creamy and there are no chunks of squash. Reduce the heat to low and add:
1 c white wine
Stir in the wine and then slowly add:
2 c milk or half-and-half
Stir well. Adjust seasonings as desired. Serve topped with:
grated Asiago cheese
chopped parsley (optional)
The soup turned out fabulous, the Asiago really adding a lot of character to the mildly sweet flavor of the squash and spices. If your soup doesn't come out thick enough, for whatever reason, you might also consider mixing the cheese right into the soup!

A tasty New Year to all!