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.