Friday, December 30, 2011

Holiday Cocktails, Part II


Please, come have a drink with me!

The new year is upon us, and I hope it's not cliché but I'm making quite a few resolutions for the first month of the year. Mostly about cleansing my system: I am giving up alcohol, meat, dairy and sugar for two weeks, and the two following weeks will be a slow re-entry back to those things. I have never, ever given up sugar and to be perfectly frank, I am petrified. I am also working on other things in my life, both physically (be more active in the winter) and emotionally (be more grateful). I often don't give New Year's too much sway in my life, but this year I'm feeling it a bit more. I really, really want to be a better me. There's no quitting involved here, but there is a pause I feel is necessary.

But! I've still got one more day to revel in the indulgent things. And they are really good things. A while back the really great people at No. 3 Gin London Dry Gin sent me a spectacular present. Not only a bottle of No. 3 Gin, but bonus, The King's Ginger, an amazing ginger liqueur. They wanted to know if my Calamondin Cocktail would suit the No. 3 well. I have good news, it did all that and more. The No. 3 Gin is a really fine gin: smooth, herbaceous and warm with a piney juniper bite to it. It makes a mean dry martini, but it also mixes well, which to be honest, I was surprised by.

It really makes you want to kick back...
The King's Ginger is amazing, I was really impressed with it. It would make a great hot toddy, and in all truthiness, the thought did cross my mind that next time I was sick with a cold, I might need a shot of it. It's that good, and I think it even may be good for you. Listen, lest you roll your eyes at me, alcohol is a tonic! I am sure I will be revisiting The King's Ginger in this blog. I think it might figure into some jam recipes down the road.

[Please note:  I loved receiving these gifts, but my opinions are my own. If it wasn't good stuff, I wouldn't be talking about it.]

***

King's Ginger, No. 3 Gin, citrus syrup and a gin cordial*


This is a drink that is sure to satisfy the preserver and drinker alike. After you've made candied citrus peels, you are left with a lot of lovely citrus-y syrup, thick and very sweet. I find it a lovely thing to put in a cocktail, but sparingly. This is not a simple syrup. If you don't have candied citrus syrup (which you may indeed not) use a nice soft marmalade instead. If you have a firm marmalade, heat it up a bit before using it to soften it, and keep the chunks in. The bitter-citrus-sweet of a marmalade added to a drink is a natural! In this situation, it marries well with both the ginger and the gin.


Maybe it's my impending cleanse that's making me think thoughts like this, but I sat down and really thought about how this drink made me feel. This macrobiotic book I like always tells you to be thoughtful about how the food feels or makes you feel. Well, this drink made me feel warm, a swell to the chest, my throat felt warm and my forehead tingly. Isn't that what a cocktail ought to do? (It might have helped that I was watching Ernie Kovacs at the time. Have you ever? Watching even a few minutes will make anyone feel a tad altered. I do think Ernie would have approved.)

The Gin-Gin

1 ounce of No. 3 Gin
1 ounce of The King's Ginger
1 spoonful of candied citrus syrup (between a teaspoon and tablespoon, depending on your tastes) or a simple marmalade
soda water

Mix the gin, the King's Ginger and the syrup in a tall glass of ice and stir well. Strain into a small coupe glass. I like to top it with a splash of soda water, but you could pass on this. Garnish with a piece of candied ginger, candied citrus, both, or just a slice of orange peel. This will make one or two small cocktails, depending on your glass size. Mine are ridiculously small, but I like that. Trying to keep it together here, people.

***



This is a standard Gibson, but I used slices of pickled red onions for it, instead of pearl onions. There are a million recipes for pickled red onions, but here's one from David Lebovitz or Simply Recipes, two fine resources. You should always have them in the fridge. They are a sandwich, and cocktail, staple.

The Preserver's Gibson


1 ounce of gin
a whisper of vermouth
a few thin slices of red onion pickles

Mix gin and vermouth in a large glass of ice. Stir that up! Strain into a nice martini glass, and garnish with some pickle slices. Sometimes I slip in a little bit of the brine.

* Did you see that quart jar of gin cordial? A dear friend with fabulous taste gave that to me for the holidays. It's a gin cordial with clementine, kumquat, coriander and black pepper. Wow! I think she based it on this recipe from the always inspiring Melissa Clark.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bigos, or Polish Hunter's Stew


Winter solstice is here, and the shortest day and longest night is upon us. I love celebrating this event, because it means we are on the way back to longer and warmer days. Even though it won't feel like it's happening for a long time, it's still happening. The days will soon be getting longer.

As we dip into the thick of winter, I have noticed that now is also when the freezer and cupboards start to take a hit. The freezer is already low, and I will have to start looking for good prices on good local meat, in large quantities, which is how I generally work it. I was hoping for a friend to get a doe or two this season, and I was going to help her break it down. I was really excited for this: venison kielbasa, venison salami! But it didn't happen. Deer season came and went. That's when I thought I might make rabbit. I've been thinking of rabbit for a while now. And I searched high and low, but no luck.

What I was looking to make was buttermilk fried rabbit, a recipe from Georgia Pellegrini's new book, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time. An advance copy was recently sent to me by the publisher and I inhaled it, as fast as I could, ready to make one of these recipes.  But, the only place that had rabbit, had it frozen and $10 a pound, and I just couldn't pay $30 for rabbit. It seemed ironic to me that driving home the other day I passed a rabbit on my street that had been hit by a car. It's not a common sighting in my neighborhood, although we do have rabbits around. I couldn't help but to think, as it was quite fresh, hmmm. Is that my rabbit? But, I'm not that hardcore, and I do have a couple of squeamish bones in my body, so I declined the free meat. My fear made me think of Georgia, and her book, and what she does. One of the notes I wrote to myself as I read the sneak peak at her book was this: that woman does not look away. She is incredibly brave. She does it in a very subtle manner, so that you don't notice her grit, but once you start thinking about it you see it everywhere. There's also this: she's a great writer, of stories and recipes.


The book is laid out, somewhat similarly to her first book, Food Heroes, as journeys that focus on a type of game that she learns to hunt. There are colorful characters, mostly men, and Georgia  holds her own among them. It's a gripping and solemn book despite the somewhat tongue-in-cheek title, mostly because she takes it so seriously, both the hunting and the ethics behind what she's doing. There is some fun, a hunt across the pond that sounded like a lot of fun, and lots of whiskey drinking (though it seems no one gets drunk). I did wish I heard about some other women hunters, because they are out there. But, it's not a how-to or an overview, it's one woman's personal foray into the world of hunting,  and how it takes over her life. Let's not forget: there are many fine recipes, both for the game she hunts and their accompaniments, brines and sauces, etc. The last thirty pages or so of the book are really a quite fabulous cookbook.

As I continue to make my way in a life that favors a peasant-y, home made and home grown foods, I have often wondered when I might consider hunting. One of the things I want to start with is fishing. I'll be honest and say that I'm not sure I could be a good hunter. But I do know I am a decent home butcher, so maybe that's a start. Hunting seems to have gotten a bad rap over the past fifty years, and I wish industrialized meat had gotten it instead. Maybe we can work on that.

In the meantime, instead of rabbit or venison, today I'm making Bigos, the Polish hunter's stew, I think it's a fitting meal for a short, cold day and a nod to the hunter. Traditionally, Bigos was a winter dish, sometimes left on the stove to cook for a week, new ingredients added as they were taken out. It was also something served on the 2nd day of Christmas, so I am close. There is no set way to make it, or at least according to me, you may disagree if you are Polish! Lots of meat and lots of cabbage is the general rule. Some folks use tomatoes, I never do. I used only ham hocks for this one, but pork shoulder, sausage (kielbasa, of course) and bacon is the norm. I found that the ham I made over the summer goes very well in this, too, which is good because I've got a ton of ham steaks in the freezer.

Bigos

2 medium onions, chopped coarsely
2 carrots, peeled and chopped in two (go ahead and dice if you like, I prefer large chunks of carrot)
2 medium potatoes, peeled, diced
1 medium head of cabbage, sliced finely for a nice shred
1 to 2 cups of sauerkraut
meat: kielbasa, bacon, ham hock, ham steak, venison, etc., fresh or cooked, chopped how you like it
salt and pepper to taste
secret ingredient: 1-2 tablespoons of candied pickled apples (recipe from Liana Krissoff's wonderful book, Canning for a New Generation. I can't live without this stuff!)

Sauté the onions in olive oil (or bacon fat, if you have it) until golden brown. Add the meat, and brown it. In my case, I used one large ham hock, so I just put it in on top of the onions and started adding everything around it. After browning---less if the meat is cooked already, like ham or kielbasa, a little more if it needs to be cooked---add all the rest of the ingredients. (It will be cooking for an hour or two, so no worries about being cooked through.) At this point you could take the whole shebang to a slow cooker to finish it off, which I sometimes do, with great results. Otherwise, keep it in your pot or Dutch or French oven, and cover it, keeping it at a low simmer. The cabbage will release it's water and create a great broth. You don't want too much liquid, as bigos is a dry-ish stew. Cook it for about an hour and a half. The potatoes and carrots should be tender. If you are willing to last longer, go for three hours. That's why the crock pot is nice.

Traditionally, bigos is served with mashed potatoes. Obviously, I don't do this, and instead put my potatoes right in the stew, making this a one pot (or maybe two) dish. When it's ready, I just serve hot bowls of it, with some warmed rye bread and butter.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sugar Drop Cookies with Cornmeal and Olive Oil


I had high hopes for this holiday season. When I posted about my holiday cocktails, I was just swinging into it. Then I got this miserable cold that clutched my bronchi for two weeks. The whole family got it, of course, and that means no sleep when you most need it. So, boo-hoo, right? I'm better now, but the season seems to have soured for me. I've never been one much for Christmas, to be very honest, and the only reason I am now starting to be swayed by it's glitter and sweets and mystery is that my son is just starting to be enthralled by it. How can I not enjoy that sparkle in his eyes when he sees trees lit up?

What I really do enjoy celebrating now though, is the solstice. It's a quiet celebration, one spent walking one of the nearby preserves. More and more, as I get older and especially now that I get up so early, I look forward to the darkest day with much anticipation. I feel as if there is something to said in that. Welcoming the darkest day, as it slowly creeps towards us, feels like something powerful. To really accept the winter fully and respect it for what it is, the only way we can reach renewal, to return to the green.

It's not that I wasn't deeply affected by Christmas myself as a child. Buying a tree, standing it in the foyer with the old red towel, decorating it. Begging my parents for tinsel which was considered vulgar. Wrapping up sticks I found in the yard for my dog, Moro. We got clementines in our stocking, and pieces of coal, as well, my parents making sure to not let us think we were that good. I think I remember taping a few Christmases, with a tape recorder, then a new-fangled technology for us. We always ate fish on New Year's Eve, smelts and octopus in keeping with the Italian tradition of the feast of seven fishes. Breakfast was usually homemade croissants that I helped form with my mother the day before. We always made gingerbread men, which I never truly loved to eat, but I always enjoyed dressing them with raisin buttons. Anise cookies, Pfeffernüsse and the requisite rolled sugar cookies were also in our cookie rotation.

In keeping with the age old cookie-making tradition, we've been making cookies nearly every day. My son is at the age now that he really loves to measure out the flour and spoonfuls of various leavening and spices. The funny thing is that he rarely eats the cookies we make! I've been bringing them around to friends because otherwise I'll eat them all. These cookies are a riff on the jam-filled thumbkins that folks like me (who have a cupboard full of jams, that is) like to make. They are lightly sweet with a toothsome chew from the cornmeal. Best of all, they are incredibly easy to make!

Sugar Drop Cookies with Cornmeal and Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, not a finely ground one
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt

Mix the dry ingredients. Mix the wet ingredients, below, in a separate bowl.


1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of cherry pit liqueur or almond extract

Add the wet to dry ingredients, as you mix it will change from a smooth thick batter to a somewhat dry dough. Using a measuring tablespoon, scoop out balls of dough, roll them between your palms, roll them in extra sugar, and place them on your parchment paper covered tray. I like to use my measuring teaspoon to indent a bowl shaped pit in the middle of the cookie dough ball. Then I use that spoon to fill with jam. I used a fig fennel vanilla jam, which went amazingly well with the dough, and a raspberry jam, which was pretty but seeped a little. Use a jam that's firm, and not syrupy or it will seep into the cookie and not look as pretty. I covered them with sliced almonds. Bake them for 10 to 12 minutes.

While you are at the cookie thing, check out Tigress' virtual cookie party (tonight!) and cook book giveaway. She is giving away a bunch of amazing books, and there will be cookie camaraderie to boot. You can bet I will be there, with a plate packed with cookies!


Branches from the yard dressed up until we get a tree.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Smoked Deviled Eggs

Nope, I didn't make the salami, but that's next. Photo: Peter Genzer.

This post is a fond farewell to Charcutepalooza, The Year of Meat. You'll remember how back in January a frenzy over all things cured, smoked, brined and stuffed among other things began to bubble over here. Herewith are my posts for 9 months out of 12. It was about August when things started falling apart due to preserving, not to mention starting a small jam company, but there was plenty of good stuff that happened before that.

January: Duck Prosciutto
February: Bacon, Guanciale
March: Corned Beef
April: Smoked Trout and Bluefish
May: Breakfast and Dinner Sausage
June: Sweet, Sweet Italian Sausage
July: Bratwurst
August: Bacon, Smoked Ham, Ham Hocks, Live Paté Even, But No Terrine!
September: Fine Live Paté

The final challenge is to show off, and although I didn't quite do that, I did feel that a small soirée I had recently brought together some of the things I made and learned over the course of the year. I served Fine Liver Paté studded with pistachios, served with pickled red okra and homemade mustard. Smoked bluefish salad. And the center piece was smoked pulled pork, a mash up of Momofuku's pulled pork recipe that Yummy Supper turned me onto and Ruhlman and Polcyn's pulled pork recipe from Charcuterie.

(Notes on the pork: I basically followed the Momofuku recipe, except that I smoked the meat for the first three hours of cooking time using hickory chips, at a temperature of 250 degrees. The liquid left in the pot after the oven roasting time is pure gold, and you can dip bread into it while drunkenly standing around the stovetop, or you can save it. Or both! It will turn into jelly with a layer of fat on top. Scrape the fat off, maybe cook some potatoes in it. The jelly makes an amazing base for a smoky, meaty cauliflower cheddar soup.)

But the revelation was the hickory smoked deviled eggs. While I smoked the meat I tossed in two dozen hard-boiled eggs with the shells removed. Depending on how close they are to the smoke, leave them in around 15 minutes to a half hour. They will be browned, like a tea-stained egg. The filling was pretty standard, except for the spoonful of white miso I put in it. Did I also mention that the eggs are from my own chickens?  I'll bet that this is totally doable on a stovetop smoker, for you urban smokers out there!

So, thank you to Cathy of Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen and Kim of the Yummy Mummy for cooking up this amazing challenge! I've learned so much from this. Reading all of the posts from many amazing people who took it and ran with it is so inspiring. Look at some this particular round up, for starters. Amazing! And I can't wait to see who gets to go to France for the grand prize!

I didn't take pictures. Too busy eating. (And drinking!) Photo: Peter Genzer.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Holiday Cocktails


Today just took a hard turn towards winter. The past few days have been glorious, and I've been basking in them. But today, as I take a long drive to pick up some jars, and lemon juice, I'm reminded it's closer to winter than summer, as huge pearl gray clouds begin to cover the sky, and against them large flocks of starlings switchback to and fro. The traffic lights sway at a red light, and I'm transfixed by the grace of these normally invasive and destructive birds as they dart and race as one huge being under the ever-darkening sky. On the drive home, the bare trees strike me as beautiful but I know all too well how suffocating their starkness will be come February. The oaks have molted, they are usually the last leaves to drop, and the sides of the road glisten with their glossy, tawny shine.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and one of the solaces of chilly nights is a sparkly cocktail, isn't it?  Instead of bemoaning the warmer weather, I'm going to make sure I get a spiffy cocktail once in a while. I'm a lightweight these days, and I'll be honest: these cocktails go down waaaay too easily. But starting the night with a small drink is always special. Then you can switch to a glass of wine or beer. You have to find a way to drink all those lovely infused liqueurs you've made over the summer, don't you? Not to mention the jams, preserves and candied fruits. Drink 'em!

***





I started a few friendly dinners this summer with this cocktail, and it was always a welcome way to start the night. I think it would be perfect for the holidays, too. I used sour cherry preserves, and some black cherry brandy that I had made, but I think this drink can be made with a good many different things. All you need is the bubbles, the St. Germain, a nice soft preserve and a fruit liqueur. (P.S. I tried to make elderflower liqueur once, and I failed miserably. I can't tell you how much I love St. Germain! I'll never try to make it again. It's just one of those things.)

The St. Jam-main

Drop a syrupy preserved cherry into the bottom of a small coupe glass. Add a teaspoon of black cherry liqueur, and a teaspoon of St. Germain. Top with sparkling wine or champagne or prosecco, but please make it a dry one!

***

The other day I had some friends over that I used to work with, and we started the night with these Calamondin Cocktails. Isn't it the nicest thing in the world to not see someone for ten years, and be laughing and talking like that gap of time had never happened? I can't tell you how much I laughed that night! And it wasn't just the cocktails! This drink is made with calamondin gin that I made last winter. To make it: fill a quart jar with calamondins, add one cup of sugar and fill  to the top with gin (conversely you can use vodka, but I like the taste of gin with the small bitter citrus). Let it sit in a dark cupboard for a month, agitating every other day. Click here for the candied calamondin recipe.

Calamondin Cocktail

2 ounces gin or vodka (either works fine, depends on your preference)
1 ounce calamondin gin liqueur
1 ounce or less of calamondin syrup (from the candied calamondins)
juice of half a lime
seltzer to finish
garnish with candied calamondin

Shake the gin/vodka, the calamondin liqueur, syrup and lime juice together with ice. Strain neat, in a small rocks glass and top with seltzer. Let a candied calamondin sink to the bottom.

***

And now that the wood stove is cranking, we might need to have one of these by the fire from time to time. Last year, I packed a quart jar with small crabapples, added a cup of sugar and filled it with spiced rum. Next time I won't add the sugar, as it's very sweet, but it makes a top notch toddy. You really don't need to add a thing, but the lemon and cinnamon are a nice touch.

Crabapple Spiced Rum Toddy, a short poem

One ounce of crabapple spiced rum
four ounces of hot water,
add a squeeze of lemon and
stir with a cinnamon stick.

Of course, I am partial to this article by Melissa Clark from the NY Times for more liqueur and libation recipes. Let me know what you've been sipping lately or making!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cutting a Quince


Can you believe a fruit fly got on my nice picture?

A week or two ago I went for a winding ride, which is always a pleasure this time of year. The clouds were high and puffy, and the sun perfectly warm, the breeze perfectly cool, and best of all, my son, now three years old, fell asleep as we drove. The nap is a rarity these days, but for the most part, it's still very welcome. You know when you are driving and you sort of think you know where you're going, but you couldn't say precisely the way you were going? I knew where I wanted to end up, but I was guessing at the turns I was taking. Well, all the turns I took got me to where I was going in a perfect sort of way, sort of the way you wish life went all the time. I pulled into the driveway that has a small sign saying, Locust Grove Fruit Farm. No one was there, and I was able to get out and take in the view of the Hudson, which stretched out below the fruit tree lined hill. 

I let a few minutes pass before I called the number to reach someone. They answer the phone like it's their home, which it is, and I say I'm down by the barn, to buy quinces. There's some confusion even though I've called ahead, as they're older and the cell phone doesn't have the best sound. "She wants to buy quinces!" I hear the woman say loudly, and I can tell the man, her husband, finally gets it, and says he'll be right there. I've talked to the whole family, but I've talked with her the most, and we've chatted about canning, mostly. "Most people don't want to talk about canning these days," she told me, wistfully, "but I hear it's changing."

I squint in the sun at all the trees around me. When he arrives a few slow minutes later, he leads me into the barn and is quite proud to show me his quinces. "Look at these. Amazing, aren't they?" he asks, and I agree. They are gorgeous, sweet-smelling quinces, covered with a bit of fuzz, half green, a bit of yellow shining through. "People don't realize how hard this all is," he says, waving his hand at the bins of apples and quinces. We talk some more, and he shows me some pears in the large cooler, and we agree we both like Bartletts better than Boscs. I notice a few pints of raspberries off to the side, and ask if there are any more. "Nope," he says, and when I ask to buy them, he says,"they're expensive." I take them anyway, as I never got enough of them this year.

He carries the forty-pound box out to my car, though it's probably not as easy as it once was. He gives me two Bartlett pears to eat. I give him a jar of jam for his wife. As I drive home, my son still sleeping, the smell of the quinces fills the slightly hot car. I think about the quince jam I'm going to make, the jelly, and of course, some membrillo. I think of how long those quince trees have been producing; the farm has been working since 1820! It makes me feel like I've got time in a box, sweet smelling time, and I'm going home to make it last even longer.




I know that lately there is a lot of interest in quinces, although some people never stopped being interested in them. One of the daunting things about quinces is that they are so hard, you sometimes wonder how to approach them. I've been chopping up quite a few of these, and this is how I do it. How much do you love quinces? What are you making with them? Leave a link, or recipe, or both!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Autumn Musings and Lots of Apples



As I walk out of the house the past few mornings, along with a deep lungful of crisp air that smells like melting frost, I hear a lone cicada rasping its mating call. It's a beautifully strong sound, but filled with loss in that I know those final few clicks won't last long. The odds are stacked up against us, the cicada and me, autumn has arrived, and winter is not far off.

Please make some jam out of these Italian prune plums. You'll thank me later.
It's been a strange season ever since the storms Irene and Lee passed through. Aside from the obvious guillotined harvest season, there have been lots of bugs. Merciless mosquitoes, stink bugs aplenty, and now ticks are back in full force. Usually September is the month for festivals and fun, but it was dampened by continuous rain and bugs that kept you inside.  Now, we are noticing a late foliage season. Lots of my sugar maples, often bright yellow and gold, have already dropped their leaves, and those leaves were brown and crunchy from the seemingly endless rain. When I stop at farm stands, it's often the topic of conversation, and with it comes the inevitable long face for this is the season to make some money before the cold comes. People are jubilant that this weekend, touristy Columbus day weekend, is gorgeous. Thank goodness.

One of my favorite grapes: Niagara.
It's still been a busy season for me, making jam after jam after jam. Right now I am still slogging through a lot of apples (like 100 pounds a lot). This week I'll be getting a case of quinces, some concord grapes, and the thought of all this preserving just sends sort of a shiver through my mind. It's the fear of the onslaught, but of course it's exciting nonetheless, with its delicious ideas: conserves, jellies and preserves!

There is something about walking through an apple orchard...
The beginnings of my apples have yielded me applesauce, jelly and a new favorite, Caramel Apple Jam from Linda Ziedrich's Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. My favorite (read: easiest) way to get through a lot of apples is to quarter them, about six pounds at a time, and just barely cover them with water in a large stock pot. Bring them to a boil and let them simmer for about ten minutes. Drain them, reserving the juice for jelly. The cooked part gets put through a food mill, and becomes a jam, butter, or unsweetened applesauce.

If you are familiar with New Paltz, you can make out Mohonk in the distance.
I make sure to cut out the blossom end of the apple before quartering them, to ensure a good jelly. There's an enzyme in that part that inhibits the pectin's strength. To make this little annoying step go quicker, I've found that a teeny tiny melon baller does the trick. Melon ballers seem obscure, but I can't tell you how much they come in handy, and not just for that vodka-soaked watermelon ball boat. (Do you know what I'm talking about?) Regular sized ones are perfect for coring pears.

My teeny-tiny melon baller.

For tons of great info on cooking and preserving apples, take a look at these great links:

Preserving Apples from Local Kitchen (the most recent post of which is Apple Bourbon Butter!)



I'd love to hear what you are preserving this autumn. Leave a comment!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Canning Tomato Sauce with a Vitamix



Do you have a Vitamix? I just was gifted one, and it came at the perfect time: just when I was about to can 150 pounds of tomatoes. Tomato season is about done in my parts, so I could have said this earlier, but for future reference, if you have one of these splendiferous blenders you can cut your tomato saucing time in half. This is starting to sound like a commercial, but...No peeling! No straining!

I chopped my tomatoes into big chunks, and, as you can see below, they were huge. I did chop out some cores that seemed a big woody. Put them all in the blender, seeds, skins and all, and turn it on, quickly go from 1 to 10, and then to high, until all the seeds are gone, about a minute or less. Each batch gets tossed into a big stockpot on a low flame to heat, while you continue the process. Proceed with your usual tomato saucing/canning techniques.

That's how I canned 150 pounds of tomatoes this year by myself!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fine Liver Pâté

Out of the freezer for a photo op.

Well, this is the only picture I have at the moment, so it's not much of a seller, but I can assure you that this pâté will make you the belle of the ball. Maybe for ten minutes. To the one person who is eating it all. But that's okay. I'll take any recognition I can get. But seriously, can you puree something? Well then you can make some excellent pâté. The real question is: can you puree pork liver? Because, you know, some people think they can't. But you can!

I'll be honest, the blubbery mass that is the pig's liver is a bit slippery and a tad smelly, in a fresh liver kind of way. When I received my half of a pig, I had asked for all the organs and I received a huge liver. I think it was more than one liver. So, with two pounds of liver on my hands I made the easiest thing I could find, which was this recipe from The New York Times Cookbook, the original from 1961, edited by Craig Claiborne.

Because no one can eat that much pâté, I wondered and searched for a tip on freezing. And I found it from none other than Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (the tip is the very last sentence of the article!). The trick to freezing pâté is to freeze it before you cook it! Et voila. I did this, and that's why I have one pan waiting for the holidays. The other was unveiled at a friend's birthday party, surrounded by slices of pickled pears, and I can attest, as well as one other party attendee, that it was superb.

Fine Liver Pâté
Adapted from The NYT Cook Book

2 pounds of pork liver, cubed
3 eggs
1/3 cup of pear brandy (or cognac)
1 cup of heavy cream
2/3 cup fresh pork fat
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup flour
5 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
2 teaspoons of fresh ground pepper (I like it coarsely ground, with some sprinkled on top for appearances)

Use some rendered fat to grease two bread pans well. I used ceramic loaf pans. Purée the liver, eggs, brandy and cream. Add the flour, onion and fat a little at a time. It will be quite a lot of pinkish liquid meat. Pour into a bowl and add the seasonings, mix well. Pour into your pan and cover with plastic wrap, so that the wrap clings to the purée. Then cover well with aluminum. Freeze on a level shelf.

When you want to cook it, pull it a good day before you want to cook it. Put it in the fridge and let it thaw slowly. Once fully defrosted pull off the aluminum so you can remove the plastic wrap. Put the aluminum foil back on. Bake in a pan of water in a 325 degree oven for about two hours. There's no toothpick method here, you just have to know what your looking for. I pulled mine when the edges were pulling from the sides and getting dark. Serve on a platter with pickled pears.

This post is for the ninth installment of Charcutepalooza!


Love my CorningWare!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Port in Every Plum Jam


A lot has happened in the last two weeks! Or is it now three? An earthquake followed by a tropical storm, days of power out, major flooding, and now, more rain. It felt like we lost a week with the storm---preparing for it and then getting back to normal. We were left relatively unscathed. I didn't have to kayak to my house, or get my belongings sucked down a river, or see months of tough farming that was just about to pay off get doused in the fires of flooding, like some friends did. The pond was overflowing, many roads were closed, and the neighborhood had a house burn down. Pumpkins bobbed in the nearby Hudson river, a sign of the fields lost to the flooding. We lost our power for only three days, and thankfully our generator kept the chest freezer, which was packed to the gills, nice and cold.

Our street, our stream.
While the power was out, I had a bunch of garden tomatoes waiting to be salsa. Thank goodness I had just finished 150 pounds of tomato sauce the two weeks before. There were also four pounds of black plums macerating in the fridge. And boy, did they macerate. They sat for five days! I was waiting for the storm to pass, then for the power to go back on, then finally, once we got the fridge on the generator, I opened it up to pull the plums. That day I made the jam. That night the power came back on. Figures. I do have a gas stove, so there was no worries there---it was just the lack of water that was stopping me, both for cleaning and canning. Ends up, I never had to go borrow water.

How are you doing? I hope that if you weathered the storm, that you didn't sustain too much damage!

Thank you, Coleman lamp.


A Port in Every Plum Jam

4 pounds of black plums, halved and pits removed
1 1/2 pounds of sugar

Combine and let macerate in a turned off fridge for a few days! Without the storm, I would've let them macerate a day or two in the fridge. But maceration is the boon of the preserver. It always buys you time. These firm plums probably stood up to the sugar bath better than most fruit, though.

Pull the plum mixture and put in your jamming pot. Add:

1 pound of sugar
2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Bring the mixture to a boil, and let it cook at a boil until it reaches the gel stage, or 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. This will take about twenty minutes from the time it starts to boil. When the gel stage has been reached, turn off the heat and add:

two hearty glugs of port wine
a few coarse grinds of fresh black pepper

Stir to combine. Ladle into hot jars and process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes.

Cream cheese pastries.
These cream cheese wafers? cookies? pastries? are super easy to make. I used a 1/2 stick of butter and 6 ounces of cream cheese, pulsing them in the food processor with a quarter teaspoon of salt and a cup of flour, until they were thoroughly combined and looked like coarse gravel. Dumped into a bowl, you can then form the dough with a few kneads of your hands. Let the dough chill for an hour (or a few days, like I did). Roll and cut out circles. I egg washed and topped them with sesame seeds. Bake them for 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Make sure to let them cool well. If you eat them immediately they won't be quite as good---believe me! But do make sure to eat them up right within a day or two. They don't age well. This makes about twenty wafers.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bacon, Smoked Ham, Ham Hocks, Liver Paté even, but no Terrine!

Box one of two.
Many people ask me, "How do you do it all?" Meaning, how do I find the time to do all the things I do, and write about them, and photograph them. Well, I often reply, I don't! Not all of it. There's so much I don't do. Like cleaning. And calling my friends more. And reading. I'd also like to point out that most of the things I do are very easy, once you get them into your routine. Bonus, if you really like making yogurt or bread or jam. Some people don't.

A few weeks ago, I started getting really exhausted. My back started bothering me a lot. Gardening and lifting my thirty-pound toddler had been taking a toll. I took out a few yoga videos from the library because I knew what I needed was some good stretching. As I read the back covers of the DVDs, I thought disdainfully: I don't have time for yoga!

And then I had this second thought: Seriously? I don't have time to not do yoga! It's funny, because I'm talking like some high-powered executive. Well, let's be real, shall we? I happen to be a homesteady-obsessed stay-at-home mommy of one toddler. Not exactly Soulemama, right? Rather rationally, I thought to myself: you need to cut something out. And immediately it came to me, clear as a bell: the blog.

I love the blog. I don't want to kill the blog, I screamed! Let me tell you what the blog does for me. It wraps up a few of my favorite things--writing, photography, food-- in one fell swoop. It also deeply satisfies a few other cravings I have. That of connecting with people who care about similar things, and the documentarian in me, so I can go back and see what I made and how I made it. But the quick and dirty fact about the blog, and it sounds so horrible, but this thing is not a paying gig, you know? And there are some things I need to be focusing on, that take precedence over something that is solely a self-centered pleasure.

Once I stopped obsessing about the blog, I suddenly felt a wave of relief. And then panic. And then a realization that I had been blogging for almost two years with no break! Maybe I'm just tired, I thought. Maybe I need to recharge. I'm not sure I can do this was a thought. Well, I'm not going to end my blog. I actually can't! Not because I think anybody will miss it. But, because I will miss it. Not because it's important to anyone. But because it's important to me. I'm trying to figure out how to make sure it doesn't take over my life, and that means keeping my nose out of Twitter and Facebook, much as I like to socialize. And maybe not posting every little victual I cook up.

And that brings me to this month's Charcutepalooza challenge. One of the things I also realized about having this blog, is that I've become a better cook for it. Joining Tigress' Can Jam and then Charcutepalooza really have pushed me to strive a little; something that's really not in my nature. I'm more of a perservere-er. (Very similar to the word preserver!) But this month's terrine challenge I really had no gumption for, even though I really wanted to make something, perhaps this tomato terrine from Bon Appétit. I was a little too overwhelmed, having ordered a half hog from Meiller's Slaughterhouse in Pine Plains.


After curing and smoking ten pounds of bacon, 3.5 pound of hocks, and a twenty-two pound ham, and making two huge loaves of liver paté, I was sort of exhausted (though it looks like I may be in luck for next month). Maybe that's what tipped me over the edge. That and the heat we were having at the time. Now it's been gorgeous out, the humidity and haze has lifted, and the air is clear and crisp making each leaf on a tree stand out. Every blade of grass looks distinct. The sky is blue with puffy clouds, the trees rustle in the breeze, and it gets cool at night which makes sleeping all that much more sweet. It's a small taste of autumn right around the corner. I'm looking forward to writing about it. Just a little.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wild Raspberry and Blueberry Jam


Getting read to freeze. Checking for bugs is easier at this point.

What I love most about the summer, along with all the other things I’ve been waxing poetic about lately, is picking fruit. Mostly berries. The other day, I went with my husband and son to pick blueberries, and as we drove home I said that it was perfect—the only thing I wanted to do. Steve commented that although it was fun, he could only handle it once or twice a summer. That I could do it all the time was surprising to him. I find it surprising that people don’t want to pick berries all the time. That someone could pass berry bushes filled with ripe red raspberries is unthinkable to me.

Town hall? A cup of tea?

Everybody has a place that they belong in, and mine is the woods, I think. The other morning I got out early to pick in my secret wild raspberry (also called wineberries) patch. This was one of the hottest days of the year, to date, and I appropriately left at 7 a.m. I headed off with my bait bucket—perfect for berry picking. With my smart hiking shoes, I took off along the path and suddenly drifted into my world. Steve is never happier than when body surfing in the ocean. I easily can see it, as I sit on the sand while he's in the surf, by the light in his eye, that he is deeply happy.

A perfect ladder for a squirrel.

For me it’s winding paths in the mountains. It’s rocks and downed trees, seas of fern, and a muted quiet. Soon, I am lost in the berry picking, except for remembering to whistle or sing (this year it was songs from the new Winnie the pooh soundtrack, fittingly enough, and don't laugh-- it's a great album!) in case a bear is somewhere doing the same thing I am. I am happiest when I’m in that dark, green veiled world. A world where I can imagine frogs talking to mice in waistcoats, or a fox smoking a cheroot while he surveys his domain. There are secret little worlds in there, in the hollowed out tree trunks and lily-pad-strewn ponds, with its dark peaty browns and lacy soft greens and dots of ruby red amidst it.

A lovely place to rest for a weary spider.

When I came back, legs scratched and hands sticky with resin, I felt satisfied with my haul, which is good because it was probably my last of the season. I decided to stop this particular moment in time with some blueberries in a small batch jam. The sweetness of the blueberries stand up to the tart wild raspberries. And the pectin of the blues makes for a nice set, easily gained with the acid of both fruit. This recipe made a full pint that I stuck in the fridge and is almost already gone.  You could process two half-pints instead for ten minutes.

1 cup of wild raspberries
1 cup of blueberries (good for you if they're wild too!)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon of lemon juice

Put all ingredients in a pot that looks like it's larger than you need. It's not much fruit, but it will still boil up high, like all jams. I let my fruit macerate with the sugar overnight, just because I was too tired to do it then. Either way, when you are ready, bring the mixture to a boil. Let the little bubbles rise and wave frantically. My jam reached a gel stage after about ten minutes of boiling. I didn't use a freezer test or thermometer, just checked it dripping off my spoon and watched for sheeting. I'll admit, it's easier to recognize when you've made jam a ton of times. Remember, a thin jam is never a problem. A stack of pancakes will always come to the rescue.

Turn off the heat and let the bubbles subside. Ladle the jam into a warmed pint jar--I fill mine with very hot tap water and dump it out right before filling, so that it's not such a shock from boil to bottle. Or, as I mentioned you can process this, following normal canning procedure, for ten minutes in two half-pint jars.

I like this jam on toast, while thinking about chipmunks meeting for tea on a toadstool, or some kind of woodland fiction like that.

A spoonful of jam makes every story better.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Apricots



When you get a huge box of fruit, your mind starts swirling around that particular fruit and it's possibilities, and then, fun things happen. Or at least that's how I feel about it. This is what happened when I picked up a 25-pound box of apricot seconds the other day. 

After I tweeted for apricot inspiration, I got a response from my friend, Sarah (SarahBHood on Twitter or Toronto Tasting Notes). Sarah has a delicious and creative new canning book just out, We Sure Can, that features one or two of my recipes, alongside some stellar jamming company too long to list (the link to the book goes to the publisher, Arsenal Pulp Press, and lists all the bloggers involved.) 

Sarah gave me a few ideas for my apricots--five to be exact-- but the one that stood out for me was rosemary. I never thought to do an apricot rosemary jam, but doesn't that make the best sense in the world? Sarah mentioned her jamming buddy Alec Stockwell says it's a must. Apricot rosemary jam was the first thing I made, and I tell you, Alec was spot on, but then I didn't stop there. An extra sprig of rosemary was sitting on the counter looking to be useful as I was making an apricot pie. While making the crust in a food processor, I pulled the needles off the rosemary stem and tossed them in. The pie crust was flecked with green and added such a wonderfully subtle flavor to my apricot pie. I'm thinking of doing a peach pie next, with a lavender flowers in the crust.



I also really wanted to make the Best of Both Worlds Jam from Mrs. Wheelbarrow's post on apricots four ways. I mean, does this woman keep giving, or what? Apricots, sour cherries and St. Germain. Wait, what?? But I got carried away with so many ideas, and what I did end up doing was making an apricot blueberry, and an apricot vanilla with noyaux (a jam I made last year and was disappointed by at the start, only to open mid-winter and fall in love with it), in addition to the apricot rosemary. 

Instead of a fourth batch, which I was tempted by, I did something new to me and dried a few pounds of apricots. What's really exciting to me about this idea is that I don't have a dehydrator. The best ways to dehydrate food are obvious ones: a dehydrator, the sun, and your oven. I used my cold smoker which is electric. It maintains a temperature of about 120 degrees. I kept it in a sunny spot (I have an outdoor outlet that gets full sun) to increase the heat. (Of course, I didn't put any wood chips in, but I'm seriously considering how wood-smoked fruit must taste like.)

My apricots dried in little over 24 hours. I sprinkled them with lemon juice prior to drying to prevent browning. Now, I know not everyone has a cold smoker just hanging out in their shed, but if you do, you might want to utilize it to dry your excess bounty. In my mind's eye, I already have that thing working overtime this summer!



What are you making with apricots? Here is a look at last year's apricot endeavors:


And an Extension page from Utah University on Apricot Preservation that I consulted for drying apricots.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fresh Fava Bean Dip with Rosemary


Or you could call this a fava bean hummus, as my friend Pete did. Some friends I hadn't seen for a while stopped by the other night, and luckily I had a little bit of this on hand to offer up. I had almost eaten the whole thing for dinner it was so good. But I reigned myself in, even though it was creamy and fresh tasting and an irresistible color. Later on, we were all sitting at our outdoor table, the sun was going down in a magenta blur behind the trees, and the baby was asleep. Perfect timing for a few beers and a light snack with some old friends.

We had all lived together back in the New Paltz college years. It was a very communal time, in which an old house up on a hill on Springtown Road was one of the backdrops for lots of time frittering. Ah, those sweet days of wasting your college education! Long hikes in the mountains and late nights in town. People hanging around playing guitars. Maybe some occasional studying, but a good deal of reading. I lived in a shack (that's what we called it) that had no plumbing. I thought it was a good deal, and it would be very poetic and rustic at the same time. I might have had a little "beat generation" thing going on back then. Thankfully, my friends' house was right next door, and they availed me the use of their bourgeoise indoor plumbing.

Now, we all have families, and jobs, and houses to take care of. And now, we're eating things like fava bean dip and drinking Lagunitas beer. But it was a good life then, actually, as it's a good one now. I think someone might have had a can of Rolling Rock, though, just to keep it real.

Fresh Fava Bean Dip with Rosemary

1. Round up one pound of fresh fava beans. Remove the beans from their soft, cozy pod. I always think I want to curl up in there. No wonder favas are so velvety. They sleep well.

2. Drop them in boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes.

3. Drain and when cooled a little, slip their heavy jackets off to reveal the stunningly emerald beans inside.

4. Put all your beans into a food processor and start it up, while pouring olive oil  slowly in. Add the juice of a medium lemon. Some salt and pepper. Then add stalk of sticky rosemary, needles pulled off the stem and one or two cloves of garlic.

5. No measurements. Make sure it looks dippy, and thick. Taste it to see if it needs anything. Put it in a bowl, serve with pita chopped into eighths. Enjoy with some old pals.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Bratwurst


This month's Charcutepalooza challenge, to me at least, was stuffing my sausages. The real one was emulsification -- the focus of which is blending, which results in a smooth-textured sausage. But for me, I was still concerned about how to actually stuff. Not the how-to, but the actual doing. Last month, I was lucky enough to cross paths with Peter and Winnie, and we got to use Peter's KitchenAid. This month, I went out and finally purchased a meat grinder after deliberating whether or not to finally break down and buy a KitchenAid. It was cheaper to buy the grinder, and with two cars on their way out, I can't be too expansive. I bought this, a Waring Pro MG100, which was about $100:

The culprit.
I can't say I recommend it. The short answer: it's going back to the store. Ends up, the worm, for whatever reason, likes to fall out of the motor housing (did I say that right?), and it just plain doesn't work. On the Amazon page there are a bunch of comments discussing this particular flaw, which I neglected to read before purchasing the machine. I was able to grind the meat, and fill two sausages before it stopped working entirely. Thankfully, my neighbor heard about my troubles and brought over her KitchenAid and meat grinding attachment. Aren't neighbors grand? I might not ever buy anything, but just borrow her KitchenAid every few months. 

Beautiful brats. Only two, but still beautiful.
It did grind the meat though, and much faster and nicer than the hand grinder, which couldn't really chew up the sinewy pork too well. I ate my breakfast sausage the other day, again for breakfast and also dinner, it was so good. I did notice that although it was very tasty, the texture left something to be desired, and it was due to the hand grinding. And that machine did work lovely for the two large sausages I was able to fill.

I served my dinner of bratwurst with some of the first local-ish corn I saw in the market. It was from New Jersey, and I just couldn't resist. It delivered. The corn was sweet and creamy, the perfect addition to the meal. And the bread was homemade sourdough that I toasted in the pan after cooking the brats. But where was the sauerkraut? 

The beginning of lettuce kraut.


Well, a week before I had harvested a huge amount of kale and lettuce from the garden, and I thought: why not kale kraut? Of course, it's not an original thought. I found this post from The Simple Green Frugal Co-Op, which I used as inspiration. And it's such a simple recipe that it would be silly to re-write here. Go and visit! I made a quart of lettuce and a quart of kale. The finished product is a mite salty, but goes well as a condiment. It doesn't have the tartness of cabbage kraut. The kale kraut was lovely alongside the brats. I also made a romaine lettuce kraut, which makes a great sandwich topping. What's wonderful about these ferments, is that they take only a few days. So you will have your sauerkraut just in time for your bratwurst.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Apricot Blueberry Jam



At some point, maybe it's the end of June, summer just hits you like a ton of bricks. Nothing is happening, and the crickets are chirping, and then it happens: fruit starts piling up in your fridge and then you get invited to everything in the world. I am not complaining here, actually, praise be for summer! With its ten pounds of blueberries, and six more weeks in the season. And its 25 pound boxes of apricots from around the corner. Its long drives past corn fields that start to scent the air with a sweet tea smell of new corn. And its cocktails, laughter, kids plastered with sand and ice pop residue.

Who doesn't want to spend a few hours at a blueberry farm?
It's not without it's normal downsides, the inevitable complexities of living. There's the car that died, and the one that's close behind it. There's the cell phone that died. There's a chicken that's not roosting, making you constantly wonder what could be wrong. And there's a meat grinder you bought that is a piece of junk (more on that later). And if you're a gardener, there are the myriad questions that pop up every day: is that leaf roll? Is that blight? Why are her cucumbers ready and mine are only a centimeter?? Endless inequities pile up, as usual, but something about summertime renders them less painful than during the winter. The blue skies stretched with cottony clouds are a palliative for mostly anything that life can throw my way. (I stress the mostly, as I knock on wood.)

Squashed berries happen.
And then there's jam. My routine lately is to make jam at night after my son had gone to sleep, and it's become a nice quiet meditative exercise that prepares me for bed almost as well as yoga. The other day, the confluence of apricots and blueberries in my house encouraged this jam to be. It's truly tart and sweet at the same time, and turned a gorgeous purple magenta color. 



3 pounds of apricots
1 pound of blueberries
2 pounds of sugar

Mix fruit and sugar and let macerate overnight in a glass bowl, or for however long you can stand waiting.

Put the mixture into your jam pot. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. I put in a sack of the apricot pits, for the almond flavor they impart. I don't crack them to release the kernel, like many folks do. I put them in whole because I am lazy. This step is up to you!

Bring everything to a boil and watch for it to foam furiously. Because of the pectin content of the blueberries, this came to the gel stage rather quickly, about fifteen minutes of bubbling ferocity. When it was done, I turned off the heat to let the bubbles subside and added a quarter cup of almond liqueur. You don't have to add anything, and you could use something else that you have on hand. Or pop in some fresh herbs from the garden. I almost put in a dessert wine but went with the almond riff. It's barely detectable, but I do think it smoothed out the tartness. Remove the bag of pits, if you included them.

Ladle into hot jars, seal, and process for ten minutes in a boiling water bath.