Monday, December 20, 2010

DIY Christmas Tree

So, not that bad for a tree I made myself, right? I haven't bought a Christmas tree in years, mostly because I'm sort of a bah humbug-ish type of person. But the past few years I've been making tree-like structures because it's sort of fun. Last year I turned a tomato cage upside down and wrapped grape vines around it. Like this:

I wrapped blue lights around it and called it a day. It was minimalist, but what doesn't look good in the dark wrapped in blue lights? This summer it was a cucumber trellis, and now, it's back to being a Christmas tree. Except this year, what with my two-year old becoming very quickly savvy to what goes on this time of year, I decided to step it up and throw some greens on it. Like this:

I used green wire to attach the boughs to the cage and vines. I scavenged the evergreens from my property.

The cat found it very intriguing. And who knows what will happen next year. Maybe I'll have a big enough tree to cut down from my property. I do know this: throw some lights and fun ornaments on anything, and you will have a little boy's eyes all aglow. And maybe a cat's, too.

Tonight is a lunar eclipse, along with a full moon and the winter solstice. Peace out!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vegan Chocolate Cake

I should call this Ridiculously Easy Vegan Chocolate Cake. That you don't need much on hand to make. No milk? Eggs? Butter? No problem. It's a tasty, moist cake that will not disappoint! Even if you're not vegan. With all the holiday tasks to finish, sometimes you have to take care of yourself. That means that dinner last night was steamed veggies over brown rice. That also means beet carrot ginger juice. But it also means a little cake. And this is a nice way to indulge lightly.

I used a recipe from the Joy of Cooking called Dairy-Free Chocolate Cake, but I've also seen it on the internet in many places and variations.

Oven preheated to 375 degrees. Square 8" pan greased and ready to go.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup of cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Mix together in a bowl. Add to the dry these mixed wet ingredients:

1 cup of water
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of white vinegar
2 teaspoons of vanilla

Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool in the pan for ten minutes, then removed from the pan to cool on a rack.

This cake gets that reddish tinge from the cocoa powder, where red velvet cake possibly originated from. The baking soda and the vinegar react to form this great squishy cake. You need the vinegar to activate the baking soda. You won't taste it!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Egg Nog Smoothie

I've been thinking about an egg nog smoothie for a few days now. When I googled it I found tons of recipes, not surprisingly, but they all used boughten egg nog. Well, duh! But I was looking for something that didn't want me to go out an buy some gross eggnog. (Just curious, do you prefer to spell it "egg nog" or "eggnog?") I know there's organic, awesome egg nog to buy out there, but you know me, I don't want to buy it, I want to make it. And of course, I'm not talking real egg nog here, I just want a little seasonal smoothie to enjoy with my little boy when he wakes up from his nap.

Now, you want to talk real egg nog? When I was a kid my Dad made the most spectacular, pull-out-all-the-stops egg nog. It was thick and foamy and warming, filled with cream, eggs and brandy, like a good egg nog should. That was the special thing that my dad would make for Christmas. We got a small mug-full, each of us three children, and savored every last bit. (No one was afraid to dole out a little booze to kids back in the seventies.)

So here it 'tis:

Egg Nog Smoothie (doesn't egg nog start to look weird since I wrote it so many times?)

1 cup of full fat yogurt (can people stop eating fat-free yogurt? It's horrible.)
1/4 cup of cream (that's right. More cream.)
1 teaspoon of good vanilla
a hearty sprinkle of nutmeg
1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar, depending on your taste

Put the yogurt in a pint jar. Pour the cream over it. Add the sugar, nutmeg and vanilla. Put a lid on it and shake the heck out of it for about a minute. This is key. Don't do it in a blender. Shaking it causes the fat to whip up, like whipped cream. What you are left with is a soft, very rich, thick deliciousness. Give this to a cranky toddler when they awake from a nap and they will be putty in your hands. Until it's done.

You could add a banana, but then it just tastes like a banana smoothie to me, and while that's fine, it's just not an egg nog flavor. Do you put bananas in your egg nog? Right.
You could also add honey, but the honey, in my estimation was too strong a taste. Again, in deference to the nog, I say: no honey.
You could also add some booze or boozey extract. I won't mind. Boozey smoothie? Hmmm. That might be my next post.

P.s. The probability is high that you could win a jar of Christmas Jam! Leave a comment on my post for Christmas Jam. The possibilities are finite!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jelly Glazed Roll Cookies

I will admit right off the bat that I'm not a great cookie maker. I am, however, a great cookie admirer and eater. When I was growing up, my mother and I would make cookies: gingerbread men with currants for eyes, roll cookies with colored icing, and Pfeffernüsse. Nothing too overboard. I think maybe a few years we even attempted gingerbread houses. The biggest baking tradition was something I wasn't overly involved in, except for the eating of it, and that was croissants for Christmas morning breakfast. It was probably the only thing that could pull us away from our gifts. Flaky and warm, pull them apart and add more butter, and black cherry Hero jam, which we would always have, our special jam.

For the past fifteen years I have carried my cookie cutters around with me in a slowly deteriorating ziploc bag. I haven't used them much. But now that I have a two-year old who shows interest in baking with me, I've pulled them out from the back of the least used cabinet, high above the fridge, realizing that I had an opportunity to get back into the fun of cookie making for the holidays. I'm not sure if I'll ever be good enough to put together snazzy boxes that some people do, but you've got to start somewhere, right?

I decided to just do some plain roll cookies using those sweet old shapes that I used as a child. I glazed them with quince and apple jelly that had a soft set, and when they dried I sprinkled them with confectioner's sugar. I used a basic roll cookie recipe from The Joy of Cooking.

The only problem? It was hard to get my son to help with making the cookies because all he wanted to do was to eat the dough. I totally understood! I scooted him away until the cookies were done and cooled, and we had a cookie feast at 10 a.m. on this drizzly, cold Sunday morning.

Do you make cookies for the holidays? I'll bet you at least eat them. I'd love to hear what people are making or posting about on cookies. And don't forget to leave a comment on my post for Christmas Jam, for a chance to win a jar of it!

Kate from Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking is also hosting a jam giveaway. You have to come up with a clever name for her marmalade though. This ain't no random generator thang. I'm still trying to think of my entry.

Some inspiring cookie posts I've seen lately:

Mrs. Wheelbarrow's cookie check list. Wow!
The Project Girl's cute little boxes for cookies. I don't think I can make anything that cute.
Shae from Hitchhiking to Heaven's great jam cookie round up. Comprehensive!
Rumballs and Soft Caramels from Rebecca at RCakewalk.
Advanced cookie exchange reading from Ashley at Small Measure, who wrote this last year for Design*Sponge.
And just for fun, here's a recipe for Croissants from Three Clever Sisters, who always seem to have something awesome in the oven. Maybe one day I'll try this!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas Jam - The Final Tigress Can Jam of 2010

For the finale of the Tigress' Can Jam 2010, I decided I needed to jam. No, not to jelly, but to jam. And no, I did not jam econo. I jammed hardcore deluxe. I made a Ferber-inspired Christmas Jam loaded with dried fruits, Tigress' pick for December. I've been eyeing this recipe for a while. Something about so many dried fruits sounded so rich and luxurious, I'm glad I finally had a reason to do it. And of course, it's the holidays, so it's perfect.

But first I have to address this: Oh My Goodness! The end of the Can Jam! I remember way back in November of last year, peeking in Tigress' site and noticing the announcement, and I sent a shy little e-mail, piping up that I'd like to join, please! And twelve months later I feel like I've been part of something big, and met so many wonderful people, and learned so many amazing things. Well, gosh, all I've got to say is that I'm awfully thankful. To all of my fellow jammers, but most of all to Tigress, for bringing this vibrant community together. What fun it's been!!

Because it's been such a special time, I'd love to send one of these jars out into the universe. Please leave me a comment about your favorite holiday treat, and next week I will pick a winner. You have until Wednesday, December 15 by 12 midnight, EST. Make sure you leave me your e-mail address or where you can be reached!! If I can't contact the winner in three days, I'll draw a new number. Many thanks for participating, following along, or just showing up now for the Tigress' Can Jam!

So, now that we have discussed that: back to the jam. This is what it's all about. I riffed, as usual, and did my own thing for this jam. The recipe I poached from is truly stunning, and the book is well worth it just for inspiration. It contained dried pear slices soaked in quince juice, and nuts, too. I left those out. What I put in was super tart tangerine juice and zest, and as mentioned before, a big assortment of dried fruit. It came out very soft and syrupy, which is I think is keeping in the Ferber style. I think I could have took it a few degrees higher, but I didn't want to err on the side of a too hard gel. There's too much in here that spreading would ruin. This is a jam that wants to drape on top of things.

Next time, I might add some vanilla and rum, to add a warmer bottom line. The tangerine juice kept it light, and mixed nicely with the floral notes of the quince. This could be off the hook with a baked brie, or on top of vanilla ice cream. Or on a nice pork loin. Or potato pancakes. Hmmm...

Christmas Jam
adapted from Christine Ferber's Christmas Jam

3 pounds of quinces (should yield about 2 to 2.5 cups of quince juice)

Quarter the quinces, removing the blossom end. Put in a pot, add water to just cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for about an hour. Let it sit for about an hour. Sieve and collect juice in a bowl. (Use the rest for membrillo, or a fruit butter. Or simply put it all through a food mill, add some sugar and spices to taste. Like applesauce, but so special!)

Put the juice in your jamming pot, and add:

2 cups of sugar

juice of two tangerines (about a 1/2 cup)
zest of one tangerine (do this before you juice!)
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup of julienned dried apricots
1/4 cup sultana raisins
1/3 cup of chopped prunes
1/2 cup of chopped dried figs
1/4 cup of candied ginger, chopped finely

pinch of ground cinnamon, nutmeg
one cardamom pod, opened, seeds only
tiniest bit of star anise (tiny!)

(Note on the spices: I questioned using so little, but in the end, I recommend it. The flavoring is subtle, and lets the fruit shine. But, don't let me stop you, if you beg to differ.)

Mix to combine and bring to a boil. Boil for about 10 to twenty minutes. I use a thermometer for guidance, but don't rely on it. I pulled this at 216 degrees. It was doing the double drip, and it was incredibly viscous. I'm not sure if it would have jelled much more firmly. But, in the end, I'd rather have a softer set than a firmer one, in the case of this lovely, packed full of goodies, jam.

Ladle into hot half-pint jars. Process for ten minutes. Joyeux Nöel!

Our new cat is on the windowsill in the background. She tried to pull this jam off the table it's on. She wanted to eat it! Needless to say, she's in the right house.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Quince Candy

I've been quincing out lately, because the case I bought is starting to show signs of age. There are brown blooms on a few of them, so I've decided to begin the quince onslaught and preserve my way through the rest of them. And really, it's a delight to do so. I'm past the preserving craze, well into the winter phase, so I welcome the return to slaving over a hot pot every day.

This quince candy was worth every minute I spent on it. Though it took a few hours to make, it was just to stir it every so often and check up on it. The most work was the peeling and coring. Quinces are hard! And doing this is a chore. And you really want to make sure you do a good job, because if you leave in some core bits they will turn into little piece of gravel once cooked. So be warned.

When folks refer to quince candy they usually mean the cooked paste of the pulp, like membrillo, that has sat and dried. Once dried, you can cut it up and roll it in sugar. It was a traditional Dutch treat that was enjoyed here in the Hudson Valley by the settlers back in the 1700s. It's also a traditional treat all over the world. I made it last year, along with these other jellies. I have a thing for jelly, as you may have noticed. But this candy is a little different, somewhat similar to the quince in red wine and honey that I made a few weeks ago.

The quince is peeled, cored and cut into small, squarish chunks. Then it is simmered in a syrup of sugar and water until all the water has cooked away and the quince chunks have soaked up all the sugar, become soft and chewy, and taken on their trademark rosy hue. I could eat about ten or so pieces of this in a sitting. The texture is just perfectly chewy. The outside gets slightly tough and yields to inner softness once a molar presses it just so. They are very sweet and really are candy, not preserves. They could stay in the fridge a long time, if you could resist them. I would recommend this as a sumptuous addition to a holiday cheese plate. Or as a dessert, served in a bowl alongside some almonds.

Quince Candy

3 large quince, peeled, cored, cut into small, squarish chunks
2 cups of water
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
a few whole cloves

Put everything in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low heat with the lid off, for about two hours. You want this to be a slow process, to ensure that nice color, and so the quince have the proper time to get soft and soak in the sugar. Keep an eye on it, stir it every so often, and make sure it doesn't boil to high or stop simmering. When it's done, let it cool. Store in the fridge in a glass container.

Mine took 2 1/2 hours, but that's because I had the lid on for the first hour. It's better if it's off. Now I know.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Freezer and the Cupboards

I'm thinking about writing a children's book titled "The Freezer and the Cupboards." I think it has a nice ring to it. And of course, to me it's a thrilling subject. Some two-year olds might beg to differ. Come to think of it, most people would beg to differ.

I bought my General Electric 7.0 cubic feet chest freezer with manual defrost this summer and it has been packed to the gills since September. Every time I try to pull something out, it seems that something else is eager to take it's place. It's filled with 40 pounds of chicken thighs from Murray's Chicken, about fifty pounds of a split steer from Moveable Beast that I scored with the help of Hudson Valley Food Network's Split and Share group, lots and lots of fruit, some vegetables, and some stock, both beef and apple! I love my freezer. Combined with the jars in the cupboard, and the Kingston Natural Foods Buying Club, I don't go to the store much any more.

One of the things I freeze with great success is fruit, which I can then make into preserves when it's cold outside and the sun sets at 4:30 and it's dark, really dark, by 5 p.m. In my last post about Paradise Jelly, I mentioned to save all of the pulp leftover from your jelly making in order to make fruit butter. It's not a secret that fruit butter is super easy and has less sugar in it than jams and jellies. The fact that I get to make a beautiful jelly, and some fruit butter from the same batch of fruit tickles my frugal bone. Some may say that after extracting the juices from a fruit that the leftovers are sapped of flavor. I don't particularly notice that it does. I like to eat fruit butter, but I don't always want to lay out the fresh fruit for it. But the leftovers? Why not? It's great on yogurt, and in cakes (both mixed and layered in).

From rhubarb juice I made back in spring, I had frozen a quart of rhubarb pulp. The other day I took it out and mixed it with my quince and crabapple leftovers, following Food In Jars' slow cooker recipe, which I always use now. I just can't get over how easy it is to produce five or six half-pints of fruit butter. And because it seems like a bonus, you can experiment with interesting combos that you might not otherwise try.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Paradise Jelly

This month's Tigress' Can Jam is the second to last month of the year-long jam! Cosmic Cowgirl (also of Confituras fame) gave us the pick of pomes, that is, apples, pears and quinces. Phew! What would the jam be without those guys? And, being both a quince and jelly fanatic, I decided to do a quince jelly. But not just any quince jelly. This is Paradise Jelly, my friends. I've been eyeballing this recipe that I've adapted from the Joy of Cooking for a while now.

Clockwise from top right: crabapple, lingonberry, quince.

It's an old school recipe that combines apples, quinces and cranberries. I used crabapples, quinces and lingonberries, otherwise known as low-bush cranberries—a wild Alaskan gift from the ever-generous Shae of Hitchhiking to Heaven. It's the most beautiful jelly I've ever made, as all three fruit add to the rosy hue, and the name is certainly fitting.

The married juices with some crabapples in the background.

Paradise Jelly
adapted from The Joy of Cooking
makes 4 to 5 half-pint jars

The basic method is to extract the juice from all the fruits separately, because they have such different cooking times.

3 pounds of crabapples
3 cups of water

Cut the crabapples in half, removing the blossom end and stems. Combine with water and bring to a boil, simmering gently for about thirty minutes. Strain. Reserve juice.*

1 1/2 pounds quinces
3 1/2 cups water

Cut the quinces coarsely in chunks. Add water and bring to a boil, simmer for about thirty minutes. The longer you cook them the more pink they will get. Don't use a high heat. Strain. Reserve juice.*

8 ounces of lingonberries (or cranberries)
3/4 cup of water

Bring to a boil, strain and reserve juice.**

*My next post will be about incorporating the pulp of these fruits into a great preserve. Food mill them and stash them in the fridge.

** See this post on what to do with this fruit pulp.

Combine all the juices. You will have about five cups of liquid. Measure four cups of juice, and add three cups of sugar. I froze the last cup for addition into a jam or jelly. It is high in pectin—all three fruits are pectin rich—and will serve well as a pectin stock.

Now proceed as with any jelly. Bring to a boil, and continue at high heat until the jelling point is reached. This is 22o degrees using a candy thermometer. You want to be familiar with the jelling stages though, as the temperature is never a sure indicator of a gel. Jelly is temperamental, but not entirely mysterious. Trying an apple jelly first to see what will happen is always a good starting point. It won't set you back financially, or emotionally!

You should have your jars boiling away in the water bath. Jelly making is an instance where you want the jars sterilized (boiled for at least ten minutes) so you can process them for only five minutes. If you process your jelly for ten minutes, you may lose the set you worked so hard for by cooking it away. That's why processing times are shorter for jelly.

Is there anything better than warm, fresh bread with butter and jelly?

In my opinion, it was so worth the extra work! This would be a gorgeous glaze for turkey or duck, I think. And as a tart glaze, of course, like so many jellies. But we like it straight up on some homemade bread with butter, just fine, thank you very much! (Though I think some little toddlers around here would be fine eating it right off the spoon!)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jelly Roll and Fruit Bars

It's pretty much the most obvious thing ever, isn't it? But a jelly roll is a great way to use up all those jars of jelly I make. However, in this cake I didn't use jelly. I used a great strawberry rhubarb sauce. It was delicious with a dollop of crème fraîche. I used a recipe for angel food cake jelly roll in the Joy of Cooking. I can justify it by all the eggs we get from the chickens. I have to do something with them!

And then there's fruit bars. I don't know about you, but I seem to go through a lot of these. I buy a great deal of them, but that's because I wouldn't be able to keep up with a certain toddler's hunger for them. These are like homemade fig newtons, but the filling is elderberry-apple sauce. The sauce was basically the leftover pulp from elderberry apple jelly I made. I took the pulp, added sugar, and it made a great healthy filling.

The recipe I used was from Linda Ziedrich's The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves. I guess you could say I've got a lot of joy in my kitchen. And you would be right.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Winner and Thanksgiving Pregame

We have a winner of the eBook Hitchhiking to Heaven Prizewinning Recipes 2010! But once again, alas, I have no way to contact this fine person. Will Mary Ann please step forward to claim this prize? She mentioned an amazing preserve called Fire and Ice Jelly that I wanted to contact her about even before I randomly generated her as the winner. That just sounded stellar to me. Please do check back to the comments on the giveaway; I asked people to discuss their favorite jams. There are some mouth-watering responses there! Thank you to everyone who participated!

So, onward ho! Being that this post is about the winner of Shae's eBook, I figured I'd talk about a special jam discovery that involves Shae and her passion for fruit. She spends some time up in Alaska (beautiful post on that here) and while she was there this summer she picked loads of lingonberries, also known as low-bush cranberries. Being the superlative person she is, she sent me a ziploc bag of them. Now do you know anyone who would do that for you? I was so happy! I made some jam of it that was, to be honest, nothing to write home about. It was delish but set a bit firm. My fault, not knowing the lingonberry well enough to be finely attuned to it's quick jelling characteristics. I did, however, hoarder that I am, stow a small bag of them in my freezer. I took a small bit out the other day to make some jelly, which calls for cooking the berries to extract the juice for the jelly, leaving the pulp.

Long story longer, I was making turkey drumsticks to get ready for Thanksgiving. You have to have a bit of turkey before it all comes down, don't you agree? So, while I had this turkey burnishing and some squash roasting, I realized I needed some cranberry sauce. That pulp would be perfect, I thought. But how to dress it up? I went down into my vaults and saw that I had some clementine marmalade left from last winter (which is initially how I met Shae, by the way). I dumped the marmalade into the pulp and made the most gorgeous lingonberry-clementine sauce I've ever had. Truly. It is incroyable!

My point being that if you add a jar of marmalade to some cooked cranberries, you may find a wonderful new friend to invite to your Thanksgiving Day dinner! And yet another way to use up those jars you've been collecting all year.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Preserving Cream

A few months back I was gifted a half-gallon of cream. Which to me is a thrill that borders on the obscene. I can drink heavy cream straight. I don't do that, but I could. It's a little disgusting. Maybe it's because you don't get cream too often. Maybe it makes you a little crazy.

One time, way back in college, a friend of mine and I were back home kicking around one night at her parent's house. Maybe it was around the holidays. It was cold. As we were skulking around, we happened upon a couple of cases of milk sitting outside a school. Must have been an early delivery, as it was about 10 p.m. We noticed there were quarts of heavy cream. Somehow, to us scruffy college kids taking a quart seemed like a good idea. Our idea was to go home and make whipped cream and put it on hot chocolate. Seems innocent enough, right? Her parents were sleeping so we thought it was a good idea to whip said cream closed up in the bathroom, so we would be quieter. Her mom didn't think it was such a good idea when she came downstairs, totally perplexed as to what that noise was in the bathroom. I'll never forget her face when she opened the door, standing there in her slippers and robe, to find us huddled over a bowl of whipped cream.

College exploits aside, last week I was gifted another half gallon of cream. A friend in the food industry gave it to me, as it was about to expire. No worries here, said I. I would just have to move fast. There are a great many uses for cream, and here are some ways to keep it around a little longer. All of these ideas can also be found in the Joy of Cooking, which is what I referenced, or on the internet. Of course, one of the ways to enjoy cream is whipped and dolloped onto nice hot cups of cocoa.

Freeze it: Did you know you can freeze cream? Freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop them out and keep them in a ziploc bag, and pull one out when a gravy needs a rich finishing touch. You cannot whip heavy cream once it's been frozen, but you can freeze whipped cream. Whip it up, then freeze it in dollops on a tray covered with a sheet of parchment paper.

Butter: First off, you could easily make butter of the whole thing in a short period of time. You need a jar and some good pogoing music. It's a serious workout to do it by hand, but if you plan to eat all that butter, then it's probably not a bad idea. I put 1 1/2 cups of cream in a large jar (you want to make sure there's room for shaking--no more than 2/3 full) and shook it till my arm was sore. And then some. It took about a half-hour.

My toddler was very amused by my jumping around. Just when you think you're arm is about to fall off and that all you've made is thick weird whipped cream, thunk! all the fat comes together and the "buttermilk" separates from it. It's the simplest bit of alchemy, and very satisfying. If you're into that kind of thing. And it makes gorgeous butter that you can then freeze. But, even better, bake some bread and slather it on. Oh, that was good. And the buttermilk is quite tasty. Use it like regular milk. I did. Is that weird? Don't answer that.

Crème Fraîche: A dollop of this will make anything better: oatmeal, pasta, borscht. Pie, pudding, fruit preserves. You name it. It will be better. All you do is gently heat a cup of cream to 80 degrees (it happens quickly, use a thermometer!), then add it and two tablespoonfuls of buttermilk (the cultured kind, not what came out of your butter, sadly) to a jar, shake it up good, and let it sit in a warm place from 24 to 48 hours until it sets up nicely. You can use this as the culture for your next batch, if you have one. This should last in the fridge for two weeks. Maybe longer. Maybe shorter. Depends on how you feel about putting it on everything.

Ice Cream: Now, shouldn't it be "iced cream"? I made vanilla ice cream, and it was outrageously good. I think I used about 2 1/2 cups of cream. I had to supplement with milk because the half-gallon was kicked! And still it is the creamiest ice cream I've ever had. Could it be those super fresh eggs from my chickens? It starts with a simple custard, which then sits in the fridge, and then gets the ice cream machine. I don't make ice cream that often, but when I do, I am so happy!

Pot de Créme: This is also a good way to use up those tasty eggs! And is this the cutest thing ever?? Pot de créme served up in a 4 ounce canning jar. I have joined the cute-foods-in-canning-jars craze. But seriously, I had broken all my pudding cups (how? I don't know) and didn't know where all the pot de créme was going to go. And I got this great idea, and my eyebrow went up, and the rest is history. Maybe it would have been cuter if I served them at a party, instead of eating them all by myself, but...Every time I'd eat one, I'd think: so cute!

Here are some things I didn't make, but will next time:

Sour Cream One step easier than crème fraîche. Creme fraiche tolerates cooking at higher temperatures better, and is a bit nuttier than tangy sour cream. You can also whip crème fraîche, but not sour cream.

Cream Cheese You will need rennet.

Clotted Cream While it cultures make jam. Then some scones. Then have high tea.

I'm sure there are many other good ideas out there. I didn't even hit on cheese making. If you have any other ways to preserve cream, please leave me a comment below!

eBook Giveaway: Hitchhiking to Heaven Prizewinning Recipes 2010

There’s a really nice story that I like to remind myself of whenever I wonder why I write this blog. My virtual existential angst usually dissipates when I remember it. Basically, it’s a story about how I have met some incredible people that I probably would have never otherwise met. Like Shae.

It’s nice to know that there’s someone out there who wants to hear you expound on the crisis of a ruined batch of jam. It seems petty or ridiculous, but crap, if you had just let it go for a few more minutes the gel would have set so much better, and jeez, should I reprocess it? Or just call it syrup? Or that someone is totally with you when you gleefully make a new jelly that is just stellar. You just know it is. It’s amazing! Shae cares. Really!

You've probably been to Hitchhiking to Heaven, Shae’s blog. Did you seen all the amazing jam-making resources she has on her sidebar? Did you know how detailed and top-notch every recipe is? (She even has a post to help you find other words than amazing to use!) She is so detailed and thorough. It’s actually generous. So, when I saw her new e-book sitting in my gmail inbox, Hitchhiking to Heaven Prizewinning Recipes 2010, I knew it would be more than just recipes. I am always amazed by her tenacity to make a recipe over and over to get it just perfect. I am the complete and total opposite. I'm not apologizing, but it's true. When you use follow one of Shae's recipes, you can be sure of it. And you can be sure it's going to be delicious.

Case in point: Meyer lemon marmalade. When I tasted her marmalade it was so transcendent that I flew back in time to a seven-years-old me in Los Angeles tasting my aunt’s fresh from the tree Meyer lemonade. The marmalade was so bright and fresh, the sugar never cloying, the gel perfect and soft, just barely holding together the thinly sliced rinds.

If you don't believe me you can ask the Marin County Fair judges. These are prizewinning jams! The Meyer lemon marmalade is in the eBook, among other delicious ones, and loads of wonderfully helpful information. Luckily for me, and you, I get to give away a copy of Shae’s eBook! So: leave me a comment below and tell me what your favorite jam or jelly is, and why it’s transcendent for you. I really, really want to know! And I really really want one of you to win this great little collection of amazing recipes and thoughtful, artful, humorous commentary. You have until next week: Wednesday, November 10 by midnight EST. Go!

Country-Style Lamb Ribs

I didn't see too many recipes out there for this cut of lamb, so I figured I'd post this because it was so incredibly good. (I just wish the photo illustrated that a little more clearly, but I was hungry!) It's pretty intuitive. Lamb loves rosemary and lemon, of course. If you see these ribs for sale: buy them! I used this recipe from The Hungry Mouse as inspiration.

4 or 5 meaty country-style lamb ribs
1/2 cup of red wine
a sprig of fresh rosemary
big fat clove of garlic
lemon zest

Put the ribs in a glass pan, cover them in red wine, add smashed up garlic (use a garlic press to just about liquefy them), lemon zest, salt and pepper. Pull the leaves off the sprig of rosemary and bruise or shred them a little, and sprinkle over the ribs. Turn them around a bit to get covered in all that good stuff. Let them sit for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees at some point. Put the ribs in a new pan, and pour the juices over them. Don't use any oil, because there will be more than enough lamb fat. After an hour, pour off the juices, reserve, and return the ribs to the oven. When they are done let the meat sit and rest.

Meanwhile, I highly recommend putting the hot baking dish on a burner (it should have a little bit of lamb fat in it, if it doesn't, scoop a spoonful off the top of the reserved juices), slicing up some mushrooms, tossing them in and sauteeing them. If it gets dry, add a little of the reserved liquid (at this point, with the fat drained off).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Roasted Tomato and Polenta Soup

It's definitely soup time, even though today was rather balmy. My procedure with soup is to first take a package of chicken from the freezer and let it defrost in the fridge. I keep ziploc bags filled with chicken parts in the freezer to make stock. Lately it's been whole legs, so the meat somehow gets used up too, whether it's in the soup or not. The other day I made chicken pot pie empanadas with the left over chicken.

When the chicken is defrosted I make stock, usually first thing in the morning, so by afternoon it's cool. I strain it and then clean the chicken from the bones. It's a leisurely routine when you can do it here and there between reading The World's Funniest Storybook Ever and singing Airplane of Food for the billionth time.

I saw this recipe for Rustic Spinach and Cornmeal Soup in Bon Appetit and was struck by its amazing simplicity and genius. I like Lidia Bastianich, and I always love what she cooks. My mother-in-law loves watching her because she's "soothing." I totally understand that. She is. And what she cooks is, too. Do you love polenta? I love polenta but it takes some babying. This is a great way to enjoy it in a short amount of time.

Not having an ingredient on hand is never an issue, only a boon! I had no spinach, but I had just roasted off a tray of the last of the tomato harvest. Into the soup it went. Topped with some basil from the garden, and dinner was served. It was so incredibly delicious: creamy and thick, tomato-y and tangy. An teensy bowl was leftover, and it congealed in the fridge. I fried it up in slices for breakfast with some eggs.

Monday, October 18, 2010

October Tigress Can Jam: Marinated Peppers

This month super spicy Kaela at Local Kitchen picked a pepper for the October Tigress Can Jam. I'll admit that I'm a total wimp when it comes to spicy stuff. Add to that a toddler in the house, and it's very rare that I cook with chili peppers. Sweet peppers are nice, but I don't have them all the time. They weren't in my garden this year or last, come to think of it. They don't normally figure into my diet. That's why I love the Can Jam. It makes me think of things I wouldn't normally think of. Like peppers. Next year I'll grow peppers. It was sort of a revelation.

Right after I bought these lovely peppers, I started getting free peppers thrown at me. So, I diced and froze a bunch of green peppers, and have a bunch of little red hot peppers drying (I do use them, sparingly, I just don't like super spicy). I chose these sweet peppers because they were so gorgeous. And so, I happened upon a recipe for marinated peppers in Linda Ziedrich's The Joy of Pickling which sounded perfectly delicious and simple, to boot.

The next day, I opened a fridge jar. They were delicious even though the recipe calls for them to sit for three weeks before eating. Simple, great as antipasto but probably just as good sauteed with some good sausage or on a pizza. And the liquid makes a great salad dressing, Linda says. However, as I stare at them in the cupboard, I keep on wondering about how much oil is in them. The National Center for Preservation has a similar recipe, albeit with a bit more acid (in the form of lemon juice) in it's ratio. I never thought I could can peppers like this, so it seems strange to me. But, this is why I'm growing peppers next year. Have you ever canned peppers this way?

Marinated Sweet Peppers

2 1/4 pounds of bell peppers (cut in thick slices, seeds and membranes removed)
3 cloves of garlic
3 sprigs of fresh herbs, I used lemon thyme
1 cup white vinegar, I used red wine vinegar (7% acidity)
1 1/2 teaspoons of pickling salt
1 cup of olive oil

Put the peppers into a large bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let them stand until they are soft.

Drain the peppers. When they are cool put them into a hot jar, one that you've already place a clove of garlic and a sprig of your herb of choice in.

In a nonreactive pot, heat the vinegar and salt. Once it boils, add the oil. Bring the mixture to a boil again. Pour immediately over peppers to cover. De-bubble, clean and seal lids. Process in boiling water bath for ten minutes. Let sit for three weeks before eating, and once open, store in fridge.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Applesauce Cake

The other day I went apple pickin' with Kaela and Kate and Liz. Not like I need any more apples. I bought a measly nine pounds just because it was crazy not to. We went to Fishkill Farms, which I had been wanting to visit for a long time. What a great place! I will definitely return. It seemed like the place was run by women. I love that.

Apple season is pretty much finished in these parts. Now comes the long, cold winter. The Farmer's Almanac predicts a very cold winter, with little precipitation. I've been seeing tons of wooly caterpillars. Not sure if that's just an old wives tale, but I've never seen so many!

I picked Ida Reds, which are some of my favorite cooking apples. I love to make jelly with them. And the by product of that is lots of applesauce. Thusly, the need for an applesauce cake. My version is lightly sweetened and filled with either raisins, chopped pecans or both, or none. You can really play around with this.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2 cups of flour
1 tsp of baking soda
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 cup of sugar

Mix the dry ingredients together.

1/3 cup of oil
1 cup of unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup of yogurt
1 cup of nuts or raisin or a mix of both

Then mix the oil, applesauce, and yogurt together. Then add wet to dry with brisk strokes, adding the nut/raisins as you do.

Bake in a square pan for an hour. Check it ---it can be tricky!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Quince with Red Wine and Honey

Quinces have me so enrapt, it's a little frightening. I want more already. And I'm also wondering: why did people forsake this wonderful fruit? It's been said the cause was fire blight (a disease that affects pears, apples, quince and crabapples), but I think it's just because you have to work a little harder to prepare them. However, I think the payoff is way more than worth it.

When I finally bought my 1/2 bushel, I knew that I was going to make jelly--that's a no-brainer with quince, the high priestess of pectin. I knew that quinces were good to eat (cooked that is, they're not really edible eaten out of hand) so I was searching for recipes. I found a gem buried on a page about quince at Gluten Free Girl. It was an anonymous comment. In a sentence this person described a beautiful recipe for quinces with red wine and honey. In a crock pot. I was hooked. Not only is this recipe amazingly easy, it's incredibly decadent. I wonder if the canner-ati out there think it's water bath safe. I think so, but didn't can it. It's in the fridge.

4 or 5 medium sized quince, ripe (Often greener quince are good for jelly and preserves because the pectin levels are higher. Here you can use your riper ones.)
8 ounces of honey
3/4 cup of red wine (Use a good wine. I used a lighter Rhone blend, good fruit, a little spicy.)

Peel, core and slice the quinces into wedges. (Save those peelings to throw into the pot for your jelly; posts will follow on this. If you want to save them, put them in a ziploc and freeze them.) Put the slices in your crock pot, cover with the wine and honey. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. The slices will hold their form, be dark burgundy, and feel like silky pudding in your mouth.

Here it is on top of applesauce cake with pecans and currants. No whipped cream necessary.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Winner, and more Fig Jam!

Hey! It took me a few days (due to a blasted cold that just. won't. quit!) but I finally got out the trusty random number generator and found a winner of Food Heroes by Georgia Pellegrini: Christine from Fresh Local and Best! Congratulations, Christine! Big thanks to all who participated. I can't tell you how engaged I was by all of the comments. Being the chatty person I am, I really had to restrain myself from responding to every single one of them. Not only did I glean some good reading ideas from all of the comments, but it also made me think about my food heroes.

There are many, but the first ones that come to mind, and the first ones who made an imprint on my mind, and continue to be my food heroes, are my parents. From day one, I was by my mother's side, cooking, baking, gardening and discovering. She made breakfast, lunch and dinner, almost every day without fail, and had the energy to discover how to make croissants, grow currants and make jelly from them, all the while teaching me endlessly, while continuing to be curious and open to new things. My father, though at work during the week, would cook on the weekends, and alongside him I learned the art of a fine gravy, how to make pasta, and that sitting down to dinner was one of the most important times of the day.

One of the greatest things I learned from my parents about cooking is being creative. They consulted cook books but didn't hover over them. Working with what you have on hand is how some of the best meals have come about. The other day, I had a few figs leftover from my big haul. They weren't in a condition to eat out of hand but certainly not out of service. I threw together a quick compote, and it was amazing on a pork tenderloin the other night. What I love about this one, is that there is no sugar in it. Leave it in the fridge, and it should last a month.

Pint of fresh figs, stemmed and halved

Put in a small pan and almost cover the figs with apple cider. Add a small handful of golden sultana raisins, a half of a handful of crystallized ginger (mine was in slices). Bring to a simmer and keep it there for about ten minutes, or until desired consistency. Store in fridge.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fig Jam with Fennel and Vanilla

Here in the Hudson Valley there are figs growing, but you have to really search them out. These local figs are usually in someone's backyard, attended to with care and dedication by a person who knows just how amazing a fresh fig can be. They usually have to be covered with burlap, or a rug, or newspapers over the long, cold winter. I'm planning on having my own tree one day, but at the moment I have to rely on other devoted fig lovers who might share the bounty. I was looking, but I didn't really expect to find figs this year. It was sort of a little joke I had with myself, that I'd look into someone's yard and see a fig tree. Amazingly, they popped up right under my nose! My local farm market/orchard had some for sale, organic, of course, right off of an aunt's tree. I only found out because I saw a lone price tag for them, but they were all gone.

"Some woman bought them all this morning!" the owner, Peter, said.

"Great," I said, "I'll be that next woman to buy all your figs." I left my number so that when they came in, I would take them all.

Once I came home with the bucket, I ate about ten of them. They were transformational. The perfect size, a fig filled your mouth, soft with some resistance, honeyed and sweet, with a lightly acidic finish. Man, they were good. Peter had asked me what I would do with them. I said I would make jam. He and his father seemed skeptical. "We only eat them fresh off the tree," they said. The older man seemed to think I was nuts to add sugar to these perfect fruits. Maybe they're right, I mused, as I ate my sixth or seventh fig.

But with a bucket of figs, what is one going to do? Eat them all on the spot, and possibly get sick, like a friend of mine once did at his mother's house in France? He had to be admitted to the hospital. (The skin of a fig has a latex-like milky substance in it that some people have allergic reactions to. Especially if you eat a bucket-full.)

I do believe that figs turn into something else when made into jam, and that their delicate, transformative flavor gets lost when cooked. But then you've got to eat that bucket-full pretty dang quick! Here's the jam I made with the bulk of my figs. The rest I ate fresh, out of hand, as they say.

Fig Jam with Fennel and Vanilla

I love figs with fennel and vanilla (see this recipe from last year using dried figs). I used a whole teaspoon in my original recipe, which I thought ended up being too much. I've reduced the amount to 1/2 teaspoon. There is apple pectin stock in here which you can exchange for water. I used it to up the body of the jam. Water is just fine, though you will have a slightly softer set.

2 pounds of fresh figs
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
3 cups of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1/2 cup apple pectin stock
lemon zest

Stem the figs and halve them. If they are large, quarter them. Put them in a pan with the rest of the ingredients and bring them to a boil. Let the mixture boil for about fifteen minutes, or when you think it has set to your liking. This will be a soft, or runny, jam, so don't expect it to set fully. Ladle it into hot jars and process for ten minutes.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sweet Green Bean Quickles

Here's a quick little pickle recipe. I call them "quickles" because they're quick and, well, pickles! They're a perfect snack with drinks. Easy to pick up and munch on. Slightly sweet, with a nice acidic bite, rounded by the warmth of celery seed. They are perfect served with some sharp cheddar, slices of apple and hearty brown bread, accompanied by a nice brown ale.

Or maybe on the side of a super dry, dirty gin martini. Make your martini with a splash of brine and garnish with a pickled green bean!

1 1/2 pounds of green beans, topped not tailed (meaning: remove the stem part and not the tail)


3 cups of white vinegar
1 cup of white wine vinegar
6 tablespoons of sugar
3 teaspoons of pickling spice
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
1 clove of garlic, smashed
1/2 teaspoon of celery seed

Bring the brine to a boil, dissolving the sugar. Let simmer for ten minutes. Depending on how long your beans are use either a pint or quart, wide-mouth variety. Make sure your jars are nice and clean, and hot. You can fill them with boiling water, or super hot tap water. Once the brine is ready, take it off the heat, fill the jars with the beans, and then fill to cover the beans. Seal them, let the jars cool a bit, put them in the fridge. They benefit from a few days, but you can eat them a few hours later, too. Store them in the fridge.

P.S. There's still a few days to leave a comment for a chance to win Food Heroes by Georgia Pellegrini. I've asked folks to tell me who their food heroes are, and the answers are amazing! I am totally enjoying reading everyone of them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Giveaway: Food Heroes by Georgia Pellegrini

Last year, I began a quest for local quinces. They had to be out there. I was sure of it. I asked a local expert for leads, knowing that he owned some trees. "There's one out on Libertyville Road," he said, cryptically. No dice. I did some internet searching. It didn't yield local quinces, but it did garner me a proper jar of local quince butter.

In my internet search, I happened upon Georgia Pellegrini's blog, in particular, a post about her family's quince trees. I commented giddily on her post, and an exchange ensued, first in words and then in preserves. She offered me a jar of her family's quince butter, and I sent her a jar of my earl grey tea jelly. Since then, I've kept tuned in to what she's up to.

Cooking is at the top of the list, as is hunting, foraging, and all the other correspondent good things. In the end, I didn't find my local quinces, but I found something better. A like-minded soul. And one who has found many other like-minded souls in her quest for the tradition and ritual inherent in great food, and the beautiful stories that come with finding passionate people who keep these foods alive.

Food Heroes: 16 Culinary Artisans Preserving Tradition, by Georgia Pellegrini, is a book that profiles sixteen such individuals. One of the best things about this food book is that it's about people. People who care deeply about the food they are preserving, whether it's olive oil, or beer, or butter, or figs. And Georgia seems to, in turn, care deeply about these people.

Not only is this a topic worth your time, but it's a great read, too. It's clear and well-written, and not without its artistic charm. I'm a big fan of short stories, and each one of these artisan's stories is a tidy package of literary prose, painting a beautiful scene, here the south of France, there the Puget Sound. And to top it all off, each story ends with a few lovely recipes!

One of which was Lemon Clouds Cheesecake, which I could not resist making. It's just about the simplest, most decadent little pie you've ever met. You must make this for a special dinner or make sure you have pie-eating people around, otherwise you'll eat the whole thing. Unless your diet requires you to eat a good deal of cream and eggs. Then, by all means, eat the whole thing. A simple mixture of lemon curd, cream cheese, and heavy whipped cream folded and turned into a graham cracker crust seemed so innocent at first...Good thing I have wonderful neighbors to help me out in situations like this.

So, why don't you leave me a comment telling me who your personal food heroes are, and you will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Food Heroes by Georgia Pellegrini. The end date will be Wednesday, September 29 at midnight (EST). Please make sure to leave an e-mail address if you aren't linked to a blog, so I can contact you if you win!