27 August 2009

Jam, revisited

Could someone please inform me when summer stuck it's foot out the door? Please? Because today is chilly and rainy, and I have less than a week to go until I have to turn up to teach again, and I have a test, that's right--you heard me--a test at school (also) in under a week. Let's not get too carried away: I am in no way mourning the hot humidity, but another week of not doing a whole lot would be nice. Hello? Summer gods? Is there anyone around to listen? Anyone?

Luckily, I received a lagniappe of fresh plums from my CSA this week--since so many people are on vacation, attempting to soak up that last bit of August, there was more fruit left over than you could shake a stick at. So much that each volunteer was able to take home as much fruit as they could carry, which made the guy with the pregnant wife very, very happy. Apparently, she's been craving fruit. Not a terrible craving to have, if you ask me.

So I made jam out of my plums--pretty much a redux of last year's experiment. It's so lovely and beautiful, and a gorgeous shade of pink. This year, I added some ginger, though it didn't come through all that well. But that's OK. Now there's at least a little summer left for the rest of the year to come--a bright reminder of the fleeting pleasures of the market, and of summer at it's peak.

Ginger, Vanilla, and Plum Jam

2-2 1/4 pounds plums
1/3 cup + 1/4 cup tablespoons vanilla sugar, to taste
1/2 vanilla bean
1 two-inch thumb of ginger, peeled and cut into three pieces

1. Cut your fruit into bite-sized pieces and put in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the sugar and the vanilla bean, and cover with a parchment lid, placed right onto the fruit. Let sit 30-45 minutes, to macerate the fruit--some of the liquid will start to leech out and sit at the bottom of the pot.

2. Remove the vanilla bean, and scrape out the seeds from the pod--add them into the plum mixture. Discard pod. Put the pot over high heat, and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature and let lazily simmer until the jam reaches the consistency that you want. (Mine took about 30 minutes.)

3. Pour into jam jars, leaving some space at the top. If you're not going to sterilize your jars, keep the jam in the refrigerator.

24 August 2009

Wait it out

In my life, coffee is non-negotiable. I realize that I am not alone in this, and that the majority of the American population is with me. There is little more pleasurable than waking up to a warm cup in the hand, reading the paper, and suddenly knowing that today is going to be OK. That's what coffee does for me, at least. (Let's not talk about the bad days, though. They are a completely different story. We don't need to elaborate on that today. Or ever.)

On the contrary, breakfast is completely negotiable. I'm not the biggest breakfast fan, unless breakfast comprises some sort of crispy potato, eggs, or cinnamon rolls. Honestly, I could not eat breakfast foods and be happy. Maybe it's the Chinese in me--I'd *almost* always prefer leftovers from last night. But... it all depends, of course.

Yesterday was a non-breakfast day. Jeff had his, but I preferred to wait it out until lunch. (We got up late, so it wasn't that much of a stretch, really.) Lunch! Delicious pasta salad with tomatoes and a lovely, light dressing. It seems so criminal to waste any time not eating tomatoes at present, especially when they're in season, and your CSA delivered, despite the blight. Thanks CSA!

Really, though. Eat this up. You'll be glad you did.

Tomato and Herb Pasta Salad, adapted from Gourmet

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons crème fraîche
1/2 tablespoon (1 1/2 teaspoons) white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 pound mixed tomatoes (preferably heirloom)
1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
1/2 pound curly or curvy pasta
1/2 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs

1. Whisk together oil, crème fraîche, vinegar, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.

2. Coarsely chop tomatoes and toss with shallot and dressing. Marinate until ready to use.

3. While tomatoes stand, cook pasta in a pot of well-salted boiling water until al dente. Drain in a colander and immediately add to tomato mixture, tossing to combine. Cool to warm or room-temperature (do not chill), tossing occasionally; add herbs before serving.

21 August 2009

Tart fever!

It would appear as though tart fever has taken over my life. I go to school, bake a bunch of tarts and cookies. I come home and am supposed to practice said tarts and cookies. (For a visual, check out my Flickr page.) But what happens when the decision is made to branch out and make a different tart? One that has nothing to do with class? And everything to do with the delicious tomatoes that showed up in my CSA this past week? I guess there is also the need to practice making crust. Which is slowly killing me.

However, it should be noted that crust, it should be noted, is waaaaaaay easier when you have a brand spanking new KitchenAid mixer at your disposal.

Yes, it has arrived! And yes, it is my most favorite thing in the apartment. Sorry, Jeff.

So if you're in the mood for making crusts, and savory tarts, this one is a good place to start. It's summery and nice, and with a salad, makes a lovely, light dinner.

Granny's Tomato Tart, adapted from the New York Times

1 recipe pâte brisée, chilled; recipe here

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 pound Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated
4 medium-sized tomatoes, thinly sliced into rounds
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
Freshly ground black pepper
salt, to taste

1. Roll the dough into a round of about 9 inches. Transfer to a baking sheet and crimp edges 1/2-inch hight. Refigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Remove dough round from the refrigerator, and prick all over with a fork. Place parchment paper or foil on top and weigh down with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until lightly browned, 10-15 minutes. Remove paper/foil and weights from dough, and continue to bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Remove from oven and set aside to cool; do not turn off oven.

3. Spread the mustard thinly over bottom of the cooled shell. Scatter evenly with cheese. Arrange tomatoes in even, slightly overlapping rows. Sprinkle with herbes de Provence, and season to taste with pepper. Bake until tomatoes begin to shrivel and cheese melts, 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, and serve either hot or at room temperaure.

15 August 2009

Deb's Best Birthday Cake

Yesterday was a busy baking day--class: two tarts, cookie dough, crème pâtissière, cold custard, flambéed apples in Calvados (YUM--if you've never done this, I HIGHLY SUGGEST doing so, because it makes plain apples into divinity incarnate). Fin bref, there was more butter and sugar than you could shake a stick at.

Then I came home and made a birthday cake.

Not just any birthday cake. Deb's Best Birthday Cake. As we all know by now, Deb is never wrong. She is especially right about everyone deserving a birthday cake, one that's homemade tastes like someone cares for you.

Are you reading this, Jeff?

(OK. Just kidding. Sort of.)

So I made a cake. I won't bore you with the recipe, since it's faithfully reproduced from the Smitten Kitchen, and let me tell you, this may have to go into my permanent repertoire. It's fluffy and light and, importantly, not dry and gross. I attempted Alice Waters' 1-2-3-4 cake from my most favorite of books, but it wasn't what I was hoping it would be. It has the extra, fussy step of whipping the egg whites as a leavener, and it just wasn't worth it. It just wouldn't do.

(Like I said, Deb is never wrong. Trust her.)

10 August 2009

A total and utter wuss

Normally, I wouldn't complain about the weather. Actually, it's something I make a point not to do--for nine months out of the year, I'm surrounded by people who have nothing better to gripe about. See, living for the first 20-something years of my life in the upper Midwest means that weather doesn't really faze me. Rain, snow, heat, cold, whatever. I have students who don't come to school when it rains. Because they don't go outside when it rains. I have a few concerns about them. Life concerns.

New Yorkers don't really get it about the weather. About how cold it can get. About how much snow actually can accumulate.

I will admit this, however: I'm a total and utter wuss when it comes to heat and humidity. I am not above going shopping for hours in order to stay in an air conditioned place. Yesterday, I seriously considered staying on the subway all day. Not that I needed to go anywhere. Just to sit and read in an air-conditioned spot. All day.

Eating? Forget it. I would live on a steady diet of ice cream and sorbet and fresh limeades if I could. But alas, a girl cannot live on ice cream alone. Even if it's Malted Milk Ice Cream with Fudge Ripple. Which may be one of the earth's most perfect foods. Tell me: what do you eat when it's so hot that you lose your appetite?

Malted Milk Ice Cream with Fudge Ripple, adapted from The Perfect Scoop

for the Malted Milk Ice Cream
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup malt powder
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon cornstarch + 1 tablespoon milk, mixed to make a slurry

1. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl; set aside. In a medium pot, warm the milk, sugar, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, vanilla, and malt powder and set a mesh strainer on top.

2. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cornstarch/milk mixture. Temper the eggs--slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly (it helps to have a partner at this stage), then scrape the warmed yolk mixture back into the pot.

3. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and whisk it into the malted milk mixture. Stir until cool over an ice bath.

4. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

for the Fudge Ripple
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
6 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Mix all ingredients except the vanilla in a medium saucepan, and whisk constantly over medium heat, until it starts to bubble at the edges.

2. Allow mixture to simmer for 1 minute, whisking occasionally. Take off the heat, and stir in the vanilla extract. Chill in the refrigerator.

08 August 2009

Hello Fava!

Before last night, I'd never really considered the fava. I know, I know. Fava beans, favorite food of Hannibal Lecter. I'd had them once, in a purée at a fantastic little Italian restaurant in Chicago, but that had been about it. (The purée was good--bright green, sweet and bitter all at once--delicious. It must have been, since that meal was in 2005 and I'm still thinking about it.) But I'd never really given them too much thought otherwise.

Then they started showing up in my CSA. This past Wednesday was the third week in a row that they've poked their stalks through my little bag, and I decided that a cache of three weeks worth of beans would probably be enough to work with. See, you can't treat favas like any other bean. They are sneaky little buggers, hiding under layers of pod and fake bean. Like anything else worth having, favas are more than meets the eye. Even though they fat and heavy, they not only require shelling from the original pod, but then a boiling in their pale green fake bean shells, and then you can slip the fake beany shells off, revealing the tender bean beneath.

Oof. That's a lot of work for a bean, don't you think?

But the end result is beautiful: bright, shiny little pods that are grassy and earthy and slightly bitter. They are better than the best Lima bean in the world. (I don't really like Lima beans, so I guess that's not saying much, but really, they are quite nice.) I put them in at the end of a plain risotto, and they were just lovely. Along with a fresh green bean salad, it made for a light supper that was worth the work.

Fava Bean Risotto

1 1/2 to 2 pounds fava beans, peeled, boiled and shelled again, set aside

1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups risotto rice
1 small onion, finely chopped
4-5 cups stock, either chicken or vegetable, warmed
1/2 cup dry white wine
parmesan cheese, grated

1. In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When it's melted, add the onion and sauté until translucent, not allowing the onions to brown. When they are soft, add the rice, and stir constantly until glistening. Pour in the wine, and let simmer until it's just about gone, stirring constantly.

2. When the pot is almost dry, add 1/2 cup of the stock, and stir in. Let simmer, stirring from time to time, until the pot is almost dry. Repeat this process until the rice is plump and tender, and when you try it, it's just about cooked through, but still has a bite to it. This will take about 4-5 cups of stock or water, and about 15-20 minutes once you start adding the stock.

3. About 15 minutes after you started adding the stock, fold in the prepared fava beans. Add a tablespoon of butter and a handful of grated parmesan cheese, and beat in, to release the starch in the rice. Let sit 2 minutes before serving.

04 August 2009

Make as directed

See that beautiful machine right there? This is my new toy. I love it! I am *sightly* obsessed. You would be, too, if you loved ice cream as much as I do, and now had the opportunity to make it all the time. Let me explain. My dad and I, for some reason that neither of us can properly explain, love ice cream. My mom says that when they were first married, Dad would have some every night, for dessert. Not knowing this, I bought a lot and had it not infrequently, when Jeff and I first moved in. Father and daughter apparently had the same, nasty consequences: cavities. And you know what? Cavities are painful and expensive. So after quite a bit of mouthwork, we cut back.

However, let's remember that ice cream is the perfect summer food. (Let's ignore the butterfat content, shall we? Then we can go on believing that it's the perfect summer food.) I find that I'm often too hot to eat anything much, but ice cream and sorbet always seem to do the trick. So two weeks ago, the day before we had to load up all of our stuff into a truck and haul it to the new place, I took a Craigslist-inspired jaunt up to the Bronx. I mean, who doesn't take a two hour break from packing only to add more last-minute stuff to the already groaning pile of their belongings at the instant before they move?

It was the first thing I unpacked, and definitely the first appliance that I used (besides the stove) in the new house. Here is what I discovered: ice cream makes the unpacking process bearable. And thanks (?) to David Lebovitz, making ice cream is a snap. You should seriously consider an ice cream maker. (It would also make a lot of those food magazine articles more bearable--my pet peeve is when they require some equipment that you don't have and are like, make as directed for your machine! Spare me.)

Chocolate Star-Anise Ice Cream, slightly adapted from Not Eating Out in New York*

1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
8-10 pieces star anise
5 tablespoons dutch-process cocoa powder
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon cornstarch + 1 tablespoon milk, mixed to a slurry
3/4 cup sugar
a pinch of salt

1. Combine the milk, cream, star anise, and cocoa powder in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring, then reduce heat to very low and continue heating for 20 minutes, without boiling. Turn off heat and let stand, covered, another 10 minutes. Remove the star anise pieces from the milk.

2. Beat the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch slurry in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Temper the mixture by adding tablespoonfuls of the hot milk mixture and whisking at the same time--do this nice and slowly as to not make scrambled eggs. Repeat until about half a cup of liquid has been added. Transfer egg mixture to the milk mixture in the saucepan and stir constantly, cooking over medium heat, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. You will know that it's done when you dip a spoon in, coating the back, and can draw a finger down the middle, but the mixture doesn't run or try to go anywhere else. Do not let boil. Chill in an airtight container overnight; churn in the morning.

*It would appear as though this website's domain has "expired", and that the recipe has "disappeared." Thank god for chached websites.

02 August 2009

Like a construction zone

Annnnnnd.... we're back!

Hello everyone, and greetings from the depths of *almost* unpacked boxes and *almost* completed new furniture. It sure does look a lot nicer out there where you are, unless, of course, you happen to live in New York, where it's been raining every other day for weeks on end.

The new apartment is working out just fine, all things considered. It's spent a week looking like a construction zone, and therefore I have felt as though I've been living in one, too. It's been so hectic, even, that I've avoided grocery shopping, because there is no place to put food that isn't a) in the refrigerator, or b) on the floor, in a bunch of grocery bags that are holding all of the groceries from the old place.

Last night, though, was a breakthrough. We put together a new bookshelf, so that my cookbooks no longer feel neglected on the kitchen cart, and have begun to put together a kitchen island, which has loads of shelf space. I was so thrilled that I reached into the refrigerator to make a little more usable space and got out my rain-induced green tomatoes and fried them up.

It's funny sometimes, right? I mean, fried green tomatoes are a part of the American Cultural Identity (also, it was movie way back when), but how many of us, if we didn't grow up in the South, have eaten them? I certainly hadn't, and neither had Jeff. As a confirmed Yankee, I can wholeheartedly recommend them. I cut down the amount of egg, and swapped in panko for the cornmeal called for--also, Aleppo pepper, besides being my favorite, was the only one I had in the house, though cayenne or something else spicy would have worked here, too. They are tangy and sweet and crispy and good. If you are faced with green tomatoes, this is a pretty good way to eat them.

Fried Green Tomatoes, adapted from Epicurious

4 medium green tomatoes
salt and pepper
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1 heaping teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 large egg, beaten and set aside
vegetable oil

1. Slice the tomatoes into 1/4-1/2 inch rounds, and salt and pepper them. Set aside.

2. In a shallow bowl, combine the panko and the Aleppo pepper, set aside.

3. In a large skillet, heat enough oil to liberally coat the bottom of the pan, and heat on medium-high. When the oil is hot, dip the tomato slices in the egg, and then dredge them through the panko mix. Try not to have either coating be too heavy (though you do want the panko to completely coat the tomatoes), or it will be less fun to eat. Fry them until nicely browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Once they're done drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt, and eat!