Sunday, January 30, 2011

Duck (Prosciutto) Soup

What I love about things like cured meats and homemade stock, is that when you have those things on hand, simple things become elevated. It doesn't take much to make a five minute soup that is stellar. And I'm not the only one. I had just taken these photos and was eating my soup and reading when I came upon this post by Peter at cookblog who eloquently discusses the merits of having wonderful things like cured meats on hand.

All I did was heat up some chicken stock, throw in some frozen spinach (organic--once the bag is open you can grab a handful and toss it in, not like those big blocks you often find), a handful of frozen scallions (from the garden) and once in a bowl I topped it with a few slices of duck prosciutto. I didn't need to add any salt or flavoring because the duck took care of that. It just takes a few minutes for something amazing once you have a few items on hand.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Meyer Lemon Marmalade Shortbread

Sunny day via Meyer lemon marmalade shortbread.
You know, I really meant to start the new year off by not posting so many sweet baked goods, but it's winter and there's just no way around it. Add to that the meat curing that will be going on here this year, and this will make a very unbalanced blog indeed. I assure you that I do eat some brown rice and vegetables from time to time.

I got bit by the citrus bug a little later than last year's obsession. I think it just clamped down on me last week. Last week I made candied citrus peels, blood orange-clementine-quince marmalade, and I haven't even used up last year's Meyer lemon marmalade. These Meyer lemons were sent to me from Shae from Hitchhiking to Heaven. She makes the best Meyer lemon marmalade I've ever had, and her recipe is in her eBook. I made a big batch and still had a huge pint left that I never canned in the fridge. So, I have been experimenting. And this has been the best experiment so far. And the easiest.

I can eat way too many of these.
 Meyer Lemon Marmalade Shortbread

1 1/2 sticks of butter
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt

1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

1/4 cup of Meyer lemon marmalade (or any other marmalade would work)

Process first four ingredients until creamed in food. Add  flour and pulse so dough comes together a bit; it will still be grainy. Dump it out into a square un-greased pan (8x8), pat it into the pan and smooth it out, then prick with a fork. Bake for about thirty minutes at 300 degrees. At this point the edges should be just starting to get golden, and the top should be firm. Gently smooth the marmalade on the surface. Return the pan to the oven and bake for ten more minutes. Let cool in pan. You could dust it with powdered sugar, but I liked the sunny yellow color. We have enough snow here!

What the reality is. Still tasty, but a little colder.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Raspberry Currant "Pop Tarts" and a Winterlude

Pop tarts. Toast pastries. Jam pies. Whatever. These were emphatically good.

We are now in the deep freeze part of the winter, and the feeling of it is like being in a submarine and slowly dropping lower and lower into the dark ocean. Or what it looks like in the movies when the sonar is going blip blip blip and it gets dark and the actor's brows furrow because they know it is only by some miracle that they are going to escape the deep without the great squid attacking them or something like that. What I'm trying to say, it that it feels pretty bleak right about now, and it's not even February. We've had quite a bit of snow and the cold has been constant and brutal. We had an ice storm this week. Ice storms are completely useless, destructive even, but they are gorgeous when the sun comes out.

This is about as precise as I get.

I'm not trying to complain about the weather here. I know there are colder places, and that there are warmer ones as well. My mother is always telling me how warm it is in Florida (where she is, naturally) when I complain about the cold. But the idea of living in Florida is anathema to me. You see, the cold is horrendous, but winter has its special beauty that I'm not immune to. What I really love, though, is the change of the seasons. There is nothing better in the world than when spring comes. When the wind tosses your hat, and the mud is endless, and thing swell. That, my friends, is what makes winter so tolerable. And honestly, though it feels so far away, it's there. The days are getting longer, have you noticed? We are on our way back to spring.

A crostada for the leftover bits of dough and jam.
A fine thing about winter is the space is allows you to go deep, as it were, into your brain space and try to figure out what all you were chattering on about for the rest of the year. Right now I don't feel an urge towards talking about anything in particular, and a real feeling of hibernation has come over me in which I have taken a few steps back from the computer (just a few, obviously) and returned to the world of books. I'm reading a novel. Gasp! (Cordelia Underwood by Van Reid, if you're curious.) I'm sort of exhausted by cook books, and cooking magazines, and all sorts of cooking things. I like to draw, even if it's silly things that I draw with markers on cardboard. I also like to play guitar and write songs, so I'm doing some of that now too. And going for very cold walks.

Some of my favorite apple trees.

It's not like I'm not cooking, though. These pop tart thingees were amazing. If you google it you'll find a ton of homemade recipes, but I just used pie dough and some raspberry currant jam. I ate them verrrry quickly. And I make a jam or jelly every week. But I'm slowing down a lot. How about you?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Duck Prosciutto

This post is my first installment of the meaty, year-long extravaganza called Charcutepalooza, co-created by the amazingly dedicated and hard-working Cathy Barrow of Mrs. Wheelbarrow and Kim Foster of the Yummy Mummy. There will be monthly postings by over a hundred bloggers on curing, smoking and salting all following recipes from the wonderful book Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Check out the Facebook page for Charcutepalooza and see what others are up to!

I already told myself that this would be the year that I would focus on preserving meat and making cheese, and it looks like I'm certainly not alone in this endeavor. About 90% of the meat our family eats is locally-sourced. And we've worked really hard at cutting down the meat consumption, both in portion size and how many times a week we eat it. Where I live in the Hudson Valley of New York, I find it's been really simple to source great local meat. Fleisher's in Kingston, the Hudson Valley Food Network's Split and Share discussion group, and wonderful farmers and their markets every week have made it easy for me to have amazing quality local meat. (Sadly, due to where I live I can't join the Charcuterie CSA at The Piggery, based in Ithaca, with CSA drop-offs in NYC). 

However, the real reason I want to make charcuterie is because I love it. Like, a lot. I have many fond memories of standing on a chair with an apron wrapped around me twice, the gunmetal-colored meat grinder attached to the sink, a bowl beneath, watching, mesmerized by the meat being forced out the holes. (Best play-doh ever!) My parents always ground their own meat, and made sausages. We always had casings in the fridge. I love this stuff. It's in my blood. Last year I made bacon and gravlax, both amazingly delicious. And let's not forget the cost in purchasing charcuterie. So there you have it. The motivation is there. But sometimes even then I need a little kick in the pants.

Bresaola and duck prosciutto in Peter's kitchen.
Rewind. Back in June, I had the good fortune to attend a meat curing class taught by Peter at cookblog. Aside from learning something every time I read his blog, Peter also writes a great column in the local magazine Chronogram. I was totally excited to be in his gorgeous new kitchen (that he built) among a group of like-minded folks learning about curing whole-muscle cuts. My brain sort of short-circuited when I tasted some of the lovely things he served us, like the duck prosciutto and amazing bread (made by a friend of his, if I recall correctly) or the miso-cured bacon we gorged on at the end of the class. There was a good deal of eye rolling going on, and not in the sarcastic way. In the oh-my-god-did-I-just-eat-some-salty-heaven?? kind of way.

That bacon was dangerously good.
Like the good-natured dork I am, I asked the group (was I on a salt high?) "Who's going right home and making this stuff??" And everyone looked at me like wha? So, yeah, I didn't go right home and make the five things we learned, but I have an excuse. Did you happen to notice what kind of summer it was in my area? Probably not, but it was HOT. So hot that having hanging meat around was probably not the best thing in the world. Add that to the canning frenzy I was in, and I was a goner from the get go. But now it's winter, and I'm ready to make and eat some salty meat. So.

Salt - a player.
A few notes about making the prosciutto itself. First off, do you know Cooking Light has a recipe for this online? I was sort of surprised! It's basically just salt and duck, and some pepper or what have you. I chose black pepper instead of white pepper (um, didn't have white pepper...). I sort of timed this wrong by making it on New Year's Eve while busily preparing for the evening. No cheesecloth? No problem, I used an old linen. (I never buy cheesecloth; instead I use old, worn (clean) linens instead.) I hung them in the basement. Our basement in that corner is consistently 60 degrees. I'm not positive about the humidity, but I'm guessing it's about 60%. I based that on using our de-humidifier to roughly guess. So, I think it's okay barring the two little windows which let in a bit of light. I might need to shade them off if I do any more hanging of meat. (My fig tree is in that area, and it was supposed to be dormant but I just found a shoot coming off of it!)

One of the things I learned was the importance of weighing the meat before you hang it, as you can judge when your meat is done by how much weight it lost during the hanging. You want to look for a 30% weight loss. I didn't weigh the breasts until they were already hanging for two days. And I'll be honest, I'm not too scientific. I pulled them a week and two days after they were hung, and I thought they felt good (not too hard, not too soft). Once unwrapped the outside seemed like it was getting a little "jerked." Once sliced the inside was garnet, and I felt maybe a hair too pink. I think it was done though, and chose not to rehang them and risk drying them too much. I'm still wondering if I pulled them too soon; I've been known to do that. A day in the fridge has toughened them and made them darker. It tastes outrageously good, duck-y, prosciutto-y, and rich. Ta da!

A little bit of jerkification on the fat-less side.

I don't have a recipe with which to showcase this, though I'm sure I'll just invite some friends over and eat it up, tout suite. Maybe with a champagne cocktail with elderberry syrup in it. Or in a risotto. That sounds just perfect.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Kielbasa Potato Soup with Caramelized Onions and Kale Chips

An antidote to winter

I don't think I'm alone in saying that soup is one of winter time's greatest joys. I was visiting friends on a cold winter's day, replete with blue skies, scintillating sun and blustery wind that swept the powdery snow every which way. While riding on a tobbaggan behind their four-year old son, which was being pulled by a snowmobile, I fell off on a fast turn. Not wearing snow pants (like a rube, I might add) I was cold to the bone when I finally got home. No matter. This soup warmed me up in no time at all.

This soup was born out of leftovers, as many good soups are. I've broken it down to be a stand alone recipe. However, you might want to have kielbasa sauteed with onions and boiled potatoes the night before and just make sure you have a good amount of leftovers!

Kielbasa and Potato Soup with Caramelized Onions and Kale Chips
Boil six potatoes in their jackets, peel when cool. Can be done the day before and kept in the fridge. Right before they are to be added to the soup, mash each one with a potato masher squarely, so they are not mashed but instead in nice cubes and chunks.

Make kale chips. Can be done a week beforehand. Keep in an airtight container.
1 large bunch of kale. Stem removed and chopped. Spread out on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for ten or fifteen minutes. Maybe longer. Keep an eye on it! It goes from crisp to burnt in a matter of a minute. I like to salt them when they come out of the oven.

In a large Dutch oven pour one or two tablespoonfuls of olive oil and saute two medium yellow onions and one small red onion until brown and sweet. I like to slice them in thin wedges.

Add in one large red pepper in large dice a little before the onions are done, so they become soft.

Add a large kielbasa in at the same time as the peppers. Cut in slices on the diagonal, cut in half. Let them brown a little as the onions caramelize.

Then add the potatoes and six cups of water, slowly, so that it never gets cold. Add about two cups of water and two potatoes at a time, waiting for it to come to a simmer again, then adding the next batch. When you have them all added, and it's back to a simmer, let the soup cook with the lid partially on for about ten minutes. Then add half the kale chips, which will turn into the kale with the soft consistency of spinach. Reserve the rest of the chips to serve on the table for whoever wants more kale or some crunch.

The kielbasa salts the soup, so you don't really need to add any salt at all. Maybe a few grinds of pepper. Now all you need to do is fall off a speeding snowmobile!

Potatoes, kale, kielbasa, onions- that's it!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Elderberry Syrup

Happy 2011! I don't want to jinx myself by writing this post, but it's been in the hopper since the summer, and I thought January of the new year would be a great time to talk about the health benefits of your own totally local elderberry syrup. I haven't been sick yet, and I'd like to think that it's due to a few tricks to staying healthy. One of them being taking a spoonful of elderberry syrup every now and then when I think I'm running low, or when people around me start to get sick.

This summer I had a bit of an elderberry obsession. I found scraps of time to bike around my neighborhood sussing out where the elderberry bush grows. My own two little sambucus canadensis plants have miserable, and now I know that where I planted them was not optimal. Elderberries like swampy lands, their feet well in the water, face in the sun. Once I started looking, of course, I found them everywhere. Even on my property, on the edge of the pond, being choked out by alder bushes. I've since trimmed the alders back, and come spring I will transplant my two unfortunate troopers to a prime spot all cleared out: nice and wet, super sunny. I hope one day to encourage a whole passel of elderberry bushes down there, but in the meantime they are all over my immediate neighborhood for the picking.

Elderberries are not entirely edible!

The thing you want to be careful with is this: elderberries shouldn't really be eaten raw, and don't eat any of the leaves. And as with all foraging, you want to be sure they are elderberries! Now, what was I going to do with all those elderberries? I did not make wine. But I did make elderflower liqueur. I made elderberry jelly with some wild apples I found; delicious on duck. Elderberries are an acquired taste. They are slightly winey, musty and funky. They are also incredibly healthy. You can find elderberry syrup in health food stores, good for immunity and high in vitamin C. That's what gave me the idea of elderberry syrup. I was sending my friend a bottle of this great elderberry syrup made in Vermont that she swears by (she bought it while we were vacationing, and I sent it to her to lighten her load). I thought, gosh, I must be able to make that. So I did.
Elderberry production line.
 On the porch, I would pull the berries off the stems into a white bowl so I could see the little stems and pull them out. I used a recipe from my trusty Linda Ziedrich Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves (the recipe is called Elderberry Rob). It's basically just elderberries and honey. And of course, you know how good for you honey is. Nice and local, too. I also froze some elderberry juice, should I need to replenish my stock. And, of course, this syrup is great on yogurt or in a glass of champagne, like cassis in a kir royale. Or in a cup of hot water like tea. There was also a recipe for raw elderberry syrup, and I'm sure some may say that cooking it depletes it's store of vitamins but being that I intended it for my two-year old as well, I didn't want to chance it.

Fair warning: they will dye your fingers.
You basically want to juice the elderberries, which you do in a heavy-bottomed pot. One stemmed and washed, put them in a pot and mash them. I chose to add water because mine seemed so un-juicy. Probably due to our very dry and hot summer. Simmer for about fifteen minutes and strain. Because you are making syrup, you can squeeze the jelly bag you strain it in (go ahead, I know you want to do it!) because who cares about the cloudiness? (I saved the pulp and added it to some apple pulp to make some elderberry-applesauce which I then used for fruit bars, but that's me. I can't throw anything out.)

Then take the juice, measure it and add an equal amount of honey. Simmer it until the honey and juice are combined and look syrupy. And that's it. Seal it in a jar, keep it in the fridge. No canning required.

Fave kitchen tool. Potato masher. Or berry masher, depending on the season.

Some other good elderberry posts:

Picking Berries in California, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
Elderberry Jelly, Simply Recipes
Respect Your Elderberries, David Lebovitz

Just a little something to keep under your hat until summer! It's really not that far away.