Thursday, September 21, 2017

Blackberry Jam - super easy, perfect for first time preserving.


Blackberry Jam

It doesn't get much easier than this if you want to have a go at making homemade preserves. And please do have a go because you will be astonished at the taste difference from the usual supermarket jarred stuff.


450 grams blackberries
450 grams granulated white sugar
Juice from 1 freshly squeezed lemon
2 glass jars with tops - washed, rinsed well with hot water, then pour boiling water into them for final rinse. (Or run thru the dishwasher.) Set them out upside down on a clean dishtowel.

1. Wash the berries then place in a saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice. Give everything a good stir with a wooden spoon to release the juices from the berries.
2. Begin to cook on a medium heat, stirring constantly until boiling.
3. Now turn the heat down slightly and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every now and again to prevent the jam from sticking to the bottom.
4. After 10 minutes, remove the spoon then turn the heat up to a boil and let the jam cook for a further 5-10 minutes without stirring. Towards the end you will see a change in the size and appearance of the boil/bubbles.
5. The jam is ready when it has reached 105°C. Traditionally, if you haven't got a temperature probe, you can test if the jam is set up by dropping a small blob onto a plate that' has been in the freezer. If the jam forms a skin and ripples after 10 seconds when poked, the jam is ready.
6. Pour into the prepared jars, screw on the lid or clamp down however they work. As they cool, a vacuum forms and you may hear the lid make a pinging sound. The jars should be allowed to fully cool on the counter. The jam will keep for quite a few weeks unopened. We Americans tend to store opened jam jars in the fridge, the Brits and Germans don't. Your mileage may vary.
7. As the jam cools it should firm up. You can use it to slather on toast or bread or waffles or pancakes. You can spread it between cake layers or dollop on your oatmeal.


Notes:
Select your own choice of sweet or tart blackberries (yes it comes in both varieties). You can buy them fresh at the supermarket or pick them yourself from brambles - they grow almost everywhere! Don't worry about the pectin content, they are fine and the lemon will help them jell beautifully. Please don't try to cut back on the sugar because that will unbalance the ratio and you will probably end up with syrup - tasty but not jam. I save old jars like from mustard or jam and reuse them - no need to buy fancy canning jars. I find the smaller table size jars that hold about 10 oz or so most useful.

Friday, August 11, 2017

I was tempted beyond control last week while putting together my weekly Farmdrop order - on the new products page they offered Smoked Brisket (from one of my favorite local slow growth traditional breed all grass fed cattle farmers)! Well, I just had to have it. So here I am today oven- roasting my first brisket. It needs a long, long, low temp roast then a quiet rest overnight and finally a reheat in the fabulous tangy sauce for dinner tomorrow. (Check Smitten Kitchen for my recipe inspiration.)
'In oven 3 hours, 3 more to go...
more to come -

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Chinese five spice recipes

A coworker of mine recently mentioned that her mother had bought her a bunch of Chinese five spice and she hadn't the foggiest what to do with it. Chinese five spice is a really lovely blend, a little sweet, a little savory, a little smokey, you can use it in all kinds of things. Since I don't know her technical level of cooking, I went digging to find two tasty, easy recipes which use Chinese five spice. I've adapted a couple of recipes from SpiceTrekkers, which I give you below:

Before doing these recipes, the first step is to make sure all social media access has been shut down. Don’t post everything you do on there. It’s ridiculous, and it distracts you so you’re more likely to make a mistake. The world will not explode if you can’t post pics of your food, possibly posing while holding it up with duck lips.

Tea Eggs

You’ll need:
1.       Eggs (duh), 4-6
2.       Black tea (I usually use lapsong suchong, but any will do, really. Experiment to find the variety you like! Don't use that Chinese builders tea that tastes literally like mud and looks like mudballs.)
3.       Water
4.       1 Tbsp Chinese five spice
5.       Pinch salt.

A lot of people don’t know how to hard boil an egg, or have all kinds of crazy tricks to hard boiling like “steaming” or whatever. If you already know how to consistently hard boil an egg, do that. If not, here’s how to do so consistently:

Select your eggs. Hard boiled eggs peel more easily when they are a little older. Not OLD, just not super fresh. The fresher they are, the stickier the membrane under the shell is. 

Using a medium-large saucepan (pot with a long handle), place your eggs into the pot and fill with cold water from the tap until it just covers the eggs. Heat on a high heat. Wait for it to begin to boil. Let it boil for ten minutes (that’s ten minutes of boiling, not ten minutes of heating!). Quickly pour out excess boiling water (doesn’t have to be all of it, just as much as you can easily) and then place under stream of cold running water for a minute or so.

You now have hard boiled eggs.

The tea eggs:

Put a small pot of water up to boil- 4-5 cups. Add the tea, the salt, the Chinese five spice. Bring the water up to a low simmer. You want to maintain that temperature as best you can.

Roll the eggs gently on the countertop or on a cutting board with your hands. You want the shells to crack just enough to allow the liquid in, but not so much that you have shell pieces falling off.

Place the eggs in the tea liquid. Simmer minimum 30 minutes. The eggs will get better the longer you simmer them, so if you can for a few hours, that’s even better. If you prefer just a hint of tea egg in your egg, 30 minutes should be fine. If you like something stronger, keep it simmering. Remember that you don’t want a full boil, you’re really looking to keep it hot without it losing too much volume.

Take the eggs out, peel, and enjoy!

Chinese Strudel

I’m going to assume that you really don’t want to make the dough by hand.

You will need:
1.       1 box frozen filo dough
2.       1 cup white sugar
3.       ½ cup chopped walnuts
4.       1 tsp Chinese five spice
5.       ½ cup jam (use a good one) or spreadable fruit preserves. Something with a little sharpness is preferable I think, like raspberry, apricot, or elderberry, rather than something like strawberry.
6.       ½ stick butter cut into 4 Tbsp pieces (roughly). If you aren’t aware, butter sticks usually have markings on the side indicating Tbsp measurements. I distinguish between cooking butter and eating butter, the former the cheapest stuff you find, the latter being something nicer if you can get it. This is a case where you can argue for either.

To do:

Take your filo dough out an hour or two beforehand (the package will usually say how long it takes to thaw, roughly). There may be one or two rolls, depending on brand.

Preheat your oven for 375- yes, you have to use your oven! Clean out the stuff you store in it first!

Pour the sugar into a frying pan and heat on medium-low. Slowly melt the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon. You want the sugar to have just melted and have a kind of golden or slightly brown color. If it’s a little darker, that’s okay too. Once it’s liquid, add the Chinese five spice and 2 Tbsp butter. Toss the walnuts in the mixture until they are evenly coated. Lay them out on a piece of aluminum foil (dull side up) to cool. When cool, chop roughly.

Take your filo dough and roll open onto a baking sheet (a wide, flat pan, like a cookie sheet) with your preferred non-stick intermediate (silicone pad, parchment paper, etc.). Spread the jam on ½ of the dough, leaving ½” space along the edges. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the jam.

Starting at the jam end, gently roll the dough into a cylinder without crushing the dough. Pinch the ends closed.

Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp butter. Generously brush the strudel with melted butter. Cut a few slits along the top of the strudel. Optional: sprinkle a few reserved finely chopped walnuts on top.
Put the strudel in the oven. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Every 7-10 minutes, brush the strudel with the remaining butter.

Remove from the oven, let cool, slice along the short axis into rounds. Serve with strong coffee.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pennsylvania Dutch Style Tapioca Pudding

Tapioca pudding is one of those funny desserts that almost nobody eats anymore. I think the reason has to do with changing tastes in part, but only in part. More likely, anybody who ever enjoyed it homemade has also noticed the world of difference between it and the industrially manufactured sort. Some things survive being made in a factory, and some don't. Tapioca pudding is a simple and flavorful egg custard, and I've simply never seen a good processed egg custard.

Way back when, I lived in Lancaster for three years. When we would drive between there and New York, we would stop by a small roadside restaurant/hotel that was slowly dying since the highway had been moved. They still served a traditional, generous all you could eat breakfast of many small dishes, and we loved it. It was the first time I had ever enjoyed tapioca pudding, and I managed to wheedle the recipe out of them. Here it is for you to enjoy (and a special thanks to Haag's Hotel):

You will need:
1. 1 cup pearl tapioca
2. 1 quart whole milk
3. 1/3 cup sugar
4. 3 eggs
5. Vanilla extract

Pour the tapioca pearls into a mixing bowl and fill with cold water until a couple of inches above the pearls. I am assuming you are using the more generally found tapioca here which doesn't swell to gigantic sizes (~1/2 inch or 1.25 cm in diameter). If you aren't sure, feel free to add more cold water- you can have too little, but you can't have too much. Stick the bowl into your fridge overnight or 12-14 hours.

The next part is traditionally done with a double boiler, but I just use a wide-bottomed 3 qt saucepan over a medium heat. It's up to you. I'm going to assume that you are like me and use a saucepan.

The next day, drain the pearls and set aside. Then crack and whip the three eggs. Combine the eggs, sugar, and milk in your saucepan. Heat over a medium heat and stir with a rubber spatula. Keep stirring until the milk is scalded. Scalded milk is at the point where the temperature is just hot enough to start leaving a thick residue on the sides of the pot- in other words, just below a simmer. Make sure you are always scraping the bottom and sides with your rubber spatula. You stir it constantly, but don't need to go crazy whipping it in a frenzy. This will take ten-fifteen minutes.

Once the milk has scalded, add the pearls. Continue to heat over medium and stirring for another ten minutes or so. The cool tapioca will have cooled the milk, so it takes a while to come up to temperature. The pearls will clarify and begin to float to the top as you stir. The milk will also thicken to a creamy chowder consistency. Once all of the pearls are floating and the sauce has thickened, the sauce will have about reached the boiling point. Decant the pudding into a large bowl. Add vanilla extract to taste.

You can eat it hot, but its nicer if you cover the bowl and let sit in the fridge until cold. Since it takes a long time to make, and is no less effort to make a small amount than a large amount, plus since it keeps for a few days, you often find yourself eating it for a few days. If you can hold off for 1-2 days after sticking it in the fridge, you'll notice the consistency drastically alter from the custard-pudding texture to the more gelatinous treat. It's chunkier and very nice, very different.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Vichyssois

A friend and I were recently chatting about cold soups. Most people immediately think of gaspacho, which I've never really cared for. There are very few soups meant to be enjoyed cold, but vichyssois (vee-she-swah) is in my mind the absolute king. A little bit of history here, but if you aren't interested in that, feel free to skip to the recipe below.

History

Despite what you would think, vichyssois is not, in fact French, but rather an American dish from about a hundred years ago. Back then, more or less any time you invented a new recipe, you would give it a French namesake (whether to honor where you were trained, the tradition you were trained in, to make it sound fancier and let you charge more...well, that's up to you.) if you didn't name it after where the recipe was invented (i.e. the Waldorf salad).

Now, it would be a bit much to claim that we in the US invented potato leek soup, which vichyssois is a varient of, but it is very, very different in character.

 In the 1980's, there was a big case of a couple who died of botulism from consuming canned vichyssois. Botulism toxin is one of the absolute deadliest toxins on earth- it would take about ten grams to kill every human being on the face of the earth. Funny thing is, it's destroyed by heat. So even today, people who hear about the death of this couple are mystified as to why they died. It's a canned soup, the only way it would have killed them were if they just ate it straight from the can.

Well, that's exactly what they did. Why? Because vichyssois is meant to be served cold, a fact which was explained on the label, that it could be enjoyed cold straight from the can.

 Now, I personally am repulsed at the idea of consuming a cold canned soup, but that's because canned soups are generally meant to be served hot and are slimy if they are consumed cold. For all I know, this vichyssois wasn't, but I really don't want to find out.

This does however prompt me to hammer home that vichyssois is as safe as anything else you cook in the kitchen. There aren't any inherent toxins to be destroyed, this was simply a case where the canning process failed and the food was contaminated from outside. So your home made vichyssois should be fine.

 Recipe 

Peel 6-8 large russet potatoes, and cut into quarters (or cut so that the pieces are roughly equal in size). Clean and chop roughly half that amount of leeks (make sure to slice lengthwise and clean out any dirt present). You absolutely can eat most of the green part of the leeks. Dump into a large pot and add water until the vegetables are just covered. Cover the pot and heat on a high heat until the potatoes are tender.

Now, this is a great opportunity to use that stick blender gathering dust in the back of your kitchen. Don't drain the vegetables, but instead blend the contents of the pot with the stick blender. If you do not have a stick blender, you can absolutely do this with a regular blender, but it will be a bigger pain in the butt.

Once the contents are blended, toss a cut up stick of butter in and stir until it has melted. Add salt and pepper to taste, then refrigerate the pot until cold (likely overnight). Once the soup is cold, add cream and stir. The color should be a pale green, which doesn't take all that much cream. Again, check your salt and pepper, and serve with a nice piece of buttered, freshly baked bread. This may be enjoyed for any meal of the day.

A word of caution 

Add the cream after the soup has chilled. Adding the cream and then chilling can promote bacterial growth.

Tips:
I like to transfer the chilled soup into a pitcher to make it easier to dispense, and to take up less space in my fridge, but YMMV.

This is a particularly great use for older potatoes, because the starches in the potato have begun to break down into sugars, producing a slightly sweeter and more flavorful soup.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Upgraded Breakfast - Omelette with Onion Sauce

It's Saturday morning. You were able to sleep in, and you're finally awake enough to want breakfast. You have a little more energy than usual, but not enough that you want to go through some hour-long ritual to make breakfast. But you also want something a little nicer than usual. What to do? Coincidentally, I found myself in just that spot about an hour ago. I would have made bacon and eggs, but the bacon was still frozen. So, omelette. But plain omelettes are kind of boring sometimes. Maybe sauteed onions? I wanted a little texture, and I never mess with the eggs themselves; the more junk you add to the eggs, the more the eggs stick to the pan, and usually the eggs or the other crap drown out the flavor of one another, so instead I will put things like onions in the middle. I wanted a little texture, so I cut the onion lengthwise to make lots of parentheses. If you want to cut them another way, that's up to you. I think having larger pieces makes it a little more pleasant for caramelized onions, but it's entirely up to you. Nice big pan, sautee the onions on medium heat to caramelize with a big pat of butter. I used one small onion and about a tablespoon of butter. Once the onions are sizzling, make sure to turn the heat down to low or medium low. If you leave the heat up, the onions will burn, and we don't want that. You want the heat high enough to cook, but not so high that the outside cooks too much faster than the inside. That's where the shape of the onion you chopped becomes really important, because it changes the ratio of the surface area to the volume, and thus the necessary time and temperature necessary. Once the onions were sauteed, I put them aside and added a pat of butter to the pan. At this point I notticed that the bottom of the pan had nicely browned from the onions, and the wheels in my head began to turn. I thought about how, if this were a roast, I would be deglazing the pan to get all those lovely flavors, but in an omelette they go to waste. What if I could somehow deglaze the pan and get those lovely complex flavors? I made a standard four egg omelette with a nice sharp white cheddar cheese and set that aside. Quickly, add about three tablespoons of butter to the pan and let it melt. Feel free to move it around the pan to melt faster. Once melted, it should be getting pretty warm, add a teaspoon of flour and then mix this in the pan. Let the pan continue to heat to cook the roux, then add a splash of half and half. If you need real measurements, I would guess around 1/3 - 1/2 cup. Whisk or mix this so that it all becomes homogenous and add more half and half as necessary. Once homogenous, add the caramelized onions and stir, stir, stir, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with your spoon or spatula as you go. This is where it gets a little bit tricky. The sauce will thicken, thicken, and then without warning will seize. It's okay- add a little more half and half and whisk it around and it will be okay. Remember what happened so you don't do that again next time though. The omelette by this time will have had a chance to have everything inside nice and fully melted. Pour the onion sauce on top and eat immediately. You get the sweetness from the caramelized onion and the sugars from the half and half beautifully contrasting the sharpness of the cheddar cheese, plus a certain savory complexity from the deglazing. This is a really nice and simple way to nice your next breakfast a little nicer without needing to do much more work. I would add a photo, but the moment I had a taste (ditto my wife) it was inhaled. One interesting variant may be to deconstruct the omelette a little further and make a cheddar sauce to replace the cheddar filling. I think that might be going a little far, but it would be a fun experiment. If you decide to go for it before I do, let me know how it goes!