Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen


Easy Rocky Road Fudge 0

Posted on February 10, 2015 by Sahar

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner (if you’re into that sort of thing), chocolate, while certainly always the culinary rage, takes on a special significance right now for a variety of reasons. So, here is recipe you can make for your beloved (or even just well-liked) that’s easy & quick. Plus, you won’t look like one of those crazed and desperate people rushing around the grocery store picking over the remains at 7pm on The Day.

And, hey, let’s admit it. That resolution to lose weight didn’t last past the 3rd week of January.  If it has, congratulations.  Keep it up.  But let yourself indulge on this one day.

Fudge is an American invention. According to some food historians, the invention of fudge can be dated to February 14, 1886; however, the exact origin and inventor are disputed. Most stories claim that the first batch of fudge resulted from an accident with a bungled (“fudged”) batch of caramels, when the sugar was allowed to recrystallize; hence the name from the interjection, “Oh fudge!”

One of the first documentations of fudge is in a letter written by Emelyn Battersby Hartridge, then a student at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. She wrote that a schoolmate’s cousin made fudge in Baltimore in 1886 and sold it for 40 cents a pound. She obtained the recipe, and in 1888, made 30 pounds of it for the Vassar Senior Auction. Word of the confection spread to other women’s colleges. Wellesley and Smith developed their own versions of this “original” fudge recipe.

The original fudge recipes were famously delicate: Precise measurements, cooking time and constant stirring were crucial for perfect fudge. The recipe looks simple—heat a mixture of sugar, butter and milk or cream to the soft-ball stage (224°-238°F), then beat it to a smooth, creamy consistency while it cools.

The “Original” Fudge Recipe

From Emelyn B. Hartridge of Vassar College:

  • 2 cups granulated white sugar
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Combine sugar and cream and cook over moderate heat. When this becomes very hot, add the chocolate. Stir constantly. Cook until mixture reaches soft-ball stage (234°-238°F). Remove from heat and add butter. Cool slightly, then mix until fudge starts to thicken. Transfer to a buttered tin. Cut into diamond-shaped pieces before fudge hardens completely.

Because of the difficulty and time needed for the “old school” fudge recipes, “foolproof” recipes were developed for the home cook that included corn syrup, which prevents crystallization and produces smooth fudge. Later recipes substituted sweetened condensed milk, marshmallow creme, or other ingredients for the milk/cream that were better guarantees of a perfect fudge texture.

(source: www.thenibble.com Karen Hochman)

I have gone with a simpler, or “new school” recipe here. I know that some of the more traditional candy makers view these types of recipes with no small amount of skepticism, but it is quick & easy and a perfect gateway to the wider world of candy making.

A few notes:

1.  In this post, I used semisweet chocolate chips. Chips save me the hassle of chopping the chocolate and they’re a bit easier to work with.  If you do decide to use regular chopped chocolate, be aware that it will behave differently than the chips.  Because of the way chips are made – with milk and emulsifiers – the fudge won’t harden (it will become firm, just not as firm as if you use chopped chocolate) the same way or as quickly once it’s been taken off the heat after melting as it will with regular chopped chocolate from a bar.  So, there is less room for error if you use chopped semisweet chocolate. Chips are a little more forgiving; which is good if you’ve never made candy before.

2.  You can use milk chocolate chips in this recipe if you like but the fudge will take a little longer to set up.  If you want to use bittersweet, do a mix of semi- and bittersweet.  Bittersweet chocolate will be too dry to use on its own and won’t give you the chewy texture you’re looking for. (Despite the fact chocolate does form a liquid when melted, it is considered a dry ingredient. The higher the cocoa solid content, the drier the chocolate.)

3.  My own personal preference, nut-wise, is for roasted unsalted almonds.  You can use whatever you like or even a variety.  If you like to use salted nuts, go for it.

4.  Sweetened condensed milk: do not use 2%.  With the chocolate, butter, and marshmallows, I don’t know why you would anyway.

5.  Marshmallows.  If you are following either halal (Muslim), kosher (Judaism), or vegetarian diets, there is a marshmallow for you. Otherwise, good old Kraft marshmallows are fine.

6.  Be sure to stir constantly when melting the chocolate.  You don’t want it to sit too long without stirring because it will burn very easily.  Also, make sure the heat stays at medium.  Low and slow is the key here.  You just want to get everything hot enough for the chocolate to melt.  (If you are nervous about melting the chocolate over direct heat, put the chocolate, milk, butter, and salt into a medium bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water to make a double boiler.  Stir frequently just until the chocolate melts.  It will take longer, but the chocolate won’t burn.  Be sure to wipe off the bottom of the bowl as you take it off the boiler so you don’t get any water in the fudge.)

7.  When you take the fudge out of the pan, there may be a thin film of spray on the bottom and on the sides of the edge pieces.  I get rid of that by placing the fudge on paper towels for a few minutes.  Works like a charm.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

12 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips

2 tbsp. butter

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Pinch salt

1 tsp. almond or vanilla extract

1 10-oz. package miniature marshmallows

1 1/2 c. lightly roasted almonds (or any nut you prefer), either left whole or roughly chopped

 

1.  Line a medium baking dish with foil and spray with nonstick spray.  Set aside.  Pour the marshmallows into a large bowl and set aside.  Pour the almonds into a medium bowl and set aside.

Mini marshmallows in the bowl.  You can also find Kosher, Halal, or vegetarian marshmallows if Kraft just won't do.

Mini marshmallows in the bowl. You can also find Kosher, Halal, or vegetarian marshmallows if Kraft just won’t do.

2.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix together the chocolate, condensed milk, butter, and salt.

Chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, butter, and salt.

Chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, butter, and salt ready for glory.

Stir constantly just until the chocolate is melted, the ingredients are well combined, and the mixture is smooth.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the extract.

You just want to heat the ingredients until the choclate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  You don't want the fudge to become too hot or take a chance on the chocolate scorching.

You just want to heat the ingredients until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. You don’t want the fudge to become too hot or take a chance on the chocolate scorching.

3. Pour the fudge into the bowl with the almonds and mix together thoroughly.

Fudge and almonds. I like to mix in the almonds at this stage because they will be more evenly distributed and they help to cool the fudge.

Fudge and almonds. I like to mix in the almonds at this stage because they will be more evenly distributed and they help to cool the fudge.

Continue stirring almost constantly for about 5 minutes.  This will help dissipate the heat and keep the fudge from setting up.  When the bottom of the bowl feels comfortably warm (essentially body temperature), it has cooled sufficiently.

4.  Pour the fudge-almond mixture into the marshmallows and mix thoroughly.

Uh... Yeah.

At this point, the fudge should be cooled enough for the marshmallows to be stirred in but not melted or melting.

Ready for the pan.

Ready for the pan.

5.  Pour the fudge into the prepared baking pan, spread evenly, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.  When the fudge is set, cut into 2″ pieces.  It will keep in an airtight container for about a week.

Uh... Yeah.

Uh… Yeah.

 

Enjoy!

My Eating Locally Project 2015: January 0

Posted on January 30, 2015 by Sahar

Shopping locally at Austin’s farmers markets and farm stands is a project I’ve been telling myself to undertake for quite some time.

I’m doing this for a few “want” reasons:

1.  I want my husband & I to eat healthier.  We’re well into middle age and we need to be more cognizant of what we put into our bodies. It’s not that we eat badly; it’s that we can always eat better. (This is not to say occasional indulgence is off the table.)

2.  I want to teach myself to cook more seasonally. Like most people, I simply go to the store and grab whatever’s there, regardless of the season.  Cooking more seasonally will force me to be more creative in the kitchen.  That’s fine by me.

3.  I want to support local farmers, ranchers, and vendors.  The food is better, safer, you know where it comes from, and shopping locally is good for the environment. Less carbon footprint along with encouraging organically raised produce and meat.

 

This is most definitely a project that will be evolving over the year (and, hopefully, beyond).  Right now, I’ll just visit in-town (Austin) markets and farm stands.  As time goes on, I’ll travel further afoot, but always within a 50-mile radius so I can make meals at home with the largest variety of local options. The exception will be if I am traveling out of town for whatever reason.  I’ll plan on looking around any markets in those towns and posting them as a travelogue.

The other thing (as one of my sisters pointed out to me) is that I should post recipes of everything I make from what I buy. Since I missed the obvious here, I don’t have any recipes for January.  But, I will starting in February.  I did take pictures of some of the meals I made, though.

While thinking about the markets and stands I was going to patronize, I thought about the ones I know best and/or have heard about the most: SFC Market in downtown Austin, Hope Farmers MarketBoggy Creek Farm, and Springdale Farm.  They’re all excellent markets and stands with a wide variety of not just produce, but also locally made baked goods, local artisan products, locally legendary homemade treats, and locally sourced organic meat.  Not all of the places I’ve visited have everything I’ve listed here, but you’ll be happy with what you find.

A note: I decided that when I shop at the markets and stands, I wouldn’t buy any more perishables than I could cook in 2 meals (unless I can freeze them – like meat). Shopping at these markets and stands can cost a little more than the local grocery store (but worth it), so I choose not to buy too much so I can make sure the food doesn’t spoil before I cook it. I’m not too keen on wasting food or money.

SFC Farmers Market, January 3

I went to my first farmers market of the year early (they open at 9).  My general strategy for going early is to avoid the crowds and to potentially get the best of what’s available.

 

Most of my booty from the market. Sourdough Wheat Bread, Turnips, Sorrel, Maroon Carrots, Brussels Sprouts, Comb Honey, Dark Chocolate Salted Amond Bar, Dark Chocolate CinnaNib Bar.  More to come.

Most of my haul from the market. Sourdough Wheat Bread, Turnips, Sorrel, Maroon Carrots, Brussels Sprouts, Comb Honey, Dark Chocolate Salted Almond Bar, Dark Chocolate CinnaNib Bar.

Sourdough wheat from Texas French Bread.

Sourdough wheat from Texas French Bread.

The chocoalte bars came from Cocoa Puro Chocolate. These poor ladies were freezing.

The chocolate bars came from Cocoa Puro. These poor ladies were freezing.

A few of the other early risers.

A few of the other early risers.

Some of the beautiful produce from Tecolote Farm.

Some of the beautiful produce from Tecolote Farm.

Turnips and Sorrel from Tecolote Farm.

Turnips and Sorrel from Tecolote Farm.

Turnips. A most underrated vegetable.

Turnips. A most underrated vegetable.

This stand simply blew me away. Johnson's Backyard Garden.

This stand simply blew me away. Johnson’s Backyard Garden. I only bought two items from them; but I could’ve bought a whole lot more.

Maroon Carrots and Brussels Sprouts from JBG.

Maroon Carrots and Brussels Sprouts from JBG.

Personally, I thought I showed remarkable restraint in the face of temptation.

Personally, I thought I showed remarkable restraint in the face of temptation.

Just... Wow.

Just… Wow.

Comb Honey from Austin Honey Company. As we all know, eating local honey daily will help with allergies. It takes time, but it does work.

Comb Honey from Austin Honey Company. As we all know, eating local honey daily will help with allergies. It takes time, but it does work. Next time, I’ll buy some candles, too.

Whole chicken from Smith & Smith Farms

Whole chicken from Smith & Smith Farms

Here's my chicken. A beautiful 3-pound fryer. It was delicious. And tasted like chicken, not styrofoam.

Here’s my chicken. A beautiful 3-pound fryer. It actually tasted like chicken. Just like Nannie used to cook.

The backdrop.

The backdrop.

The menu at The Zubik House food truck. Amazing artisinal kolaches.

The menu at The Zubik House food truck. Amazing artisanal kolaches.

Breakfast from Zubik House: Apple, Bacon & Brie; Chorizo & Oaxaca Cheese; Boudin

Breakfast from The Zubik House: Apple, Bacon & Brie; Chorizo & Oaxaca Cheese; Boudin. Husband’s only complaint – not enough chorizo.

DInner: Citrus Chicken, Honey Braised Turnips & Carrots, Sauteed Turnip Greens.

Dinner: Citrus Chicken, Honey Braised Turnips & Carrots, Sauteed Turnip Greens.

 

Wednesday, January 7

I went to one of my favorite places in Austin, Springdale Farm. It’s a beautiful place that I just don’t visit often enough. Owners Glenn and Paula Foore are simply great people who have weathered many storms to make their farm a success.

The chicken coop. I could stand there and watch them for hours.

The chicken coop. I could stand there and watch them for hours.

Chickens!

Chickens enjoying their produce.

As I recall, it was going to freeze that night, so the fields are covered as a precaution.

As I recall, it was going to freeze that night, so the fields are covered as a precaution.

When I arrived, there was a large tour at the farm that morning. They bought a lot of produce before I got there, so there wasn’t as much for me to buy. Good for the Foores, not so much for me. But, I still managed to find some wonderful produce.

My haul: Purple Cauliflower, Red Chard, Savoy Cabbage, Grapefruit, Baby Arugula

My haul: Purple Cauliflower, Red Chard, Savoy Cabbage, Grapefruit, Baby Arugula.

Smoked Pepper Blend. Its got a kick.

Smoked Pepper Mix. Its got a kick.

The chalkboard so you can see what's available.

The chalkboard so you can see what’s available.

Cabbage, fennel

Cabbage, fennel, kale, and other assorted greens.

Purple cauliflower.

Purple cauliflower.

FYI...

FYI…

Dinner: Smoked Pepper Mix & Lemon Thyme Pot Roast; Arugula, Spinach & Graprfruit salad, Sauteed Chard

Dinner: Smoked Pepper Mix & Lemon Thyme Rubbed Pot Roast; Arugula, Spinach & Grapefruit Salad, Sauteed Chard

 

Sunday, January 11

Hope Farmers Market is one I have heard about for a long time but never visited.  My friend Phil is a volunteer at the market and has been encouraging me to stop by.  It’s a smaller market at Plaza Saltillo in east Austin with, like the SFC Farmers Market, a variety of vendors.

There weren’t too many people at the market when I arrived.  It was a cold, damp morning; so, that, no doubt, kept many people inside or they waited until later to come out.

A quiet morning a the market.

A quiet morning a the market.

As a bonus that morning, Austin Dog Rescue was having a sort-of open house. Lots of very sweet dogs ready for adoption.  If my husband and I were in the market for a dog, I certainly would’ve taken a closer look.

All kinds of dogs up for adoption.

All kinds of dogs up for adoption.

I didn’t buy too much at Hope.  I still had produce left over from earlier in the week and didn’t want to take a chance on not preparing it before it went bad.

But, I did get some great bread and protein.

My haul: Chorizo, Beef Marrow Butter, Nine-Grain Bread

My haul: Chorizo, Beef Marrow Butter, Nine-Grain Bread

Nine-Grain Bread from Easy Tiger. If you go to their 6th Street Location, they have a great beer garden with an extensive menu.

Nine-Grain Bread from Easy Tiger. If you go to their East 6th Street Location, they have a great beer garden with an extensive menu.

Chorizo and Beef Marrow Butter from Countryside Farm.

Chorizo and Beef Marrow Butter from Countryside Farms.

Fresh Eggs from Countryside Farms. I didn't buy any.  Maybe next time.

Fresh Eggs from Countryside Farms. I didn’t buy any. Maybe next time.

A view down Comal Street.

A view down Plaza Saltillo. Comal Street.

One of my new favorite trucks: Rosarito's

One of my new favorite trucks: Rosarito Taco Truck

The famous Octopork Tacos. I bought 4 for lunch. Total overkill, but I couldn't resist.

The famous Octopork Tacos. I bought 4 for lunch. Total overkill, but I couldn’t resist.

Dinner: Chorizo; Warm Cabbage-Apple Slaw

Dinner: Chorizo; Warm Cabbage-Apple Slaw

 

Wednesday, January 22

After taking off for a few days for teaching and travel, I once again headed towards east Austin to my favorite farm stands: Boggy Creek and Springdale Farms.

Boggy Creek Farm is one of the oldest urban market farms in the country. It was established in 1992 by Carol Ann Sayle and Larry Butler.  They are two of the loveliest people you could ever meet.  Larry’s homemade condiments are legendary in Austin. Especially his Smoked Dried Tomatoes. He can’t keep up with the demand.

Boggy Creek Farm

A small section of Boggy Creek Farm. Gorgeous.

Boggy Creek's chickens. They come to the coop fence to greet you.

Boggy Creek’s chickens. They come to the coop fence to greet you.

This girl decided to sneak out and follow me around.

This girl decided to sneak out and follow me around.

My haul: From Boggy Creek - Purple and Yellow Carrots; Sweet Potatoes; Dino Kale; Maria's Brassica Salad; Larry's Smoked Dried Tomatoes; Pork Loin Chops from Peaceful Pork.  From Springdale Farm - Red Beets; Garlic Chives (I was really excited about those. They're so much better than regular chives.)

My haul: From Boggy Creek – Purple and Yellow Carrots; Sweet Potatoes; Dino Kale; Maria’s Brassica Salad; Larry’s Smoked Dried Tomatoes; Pork Loin Chops from Peaceful Pork. From Springdale Farm – Red Beets; Garlic Chives (I was really excited about those. They’re so much better than regular chives.)

Inside Boggy Creek's farm stand.

Inside Boggy Creek’s farm stand. Greens, root vegetables, salad mixes, and Larry’s treats abound. They also carry meat and dairy products from local vendors as well as eggs from their own chickens. The lady working the stand told me that carrot tops were edible. Honestly, I had never given them any thought. So, when I made dinner that night, I cut off the tips and added them to the salad. Revelation attained.

The bulk salad bins at Boggy Creek.

The bulk salad bins at Boggy Creek.

Boggy Creek Farm Stand on a chilly, damp morning.

Boggy Creek Farm Stand on a chilly, damp morning.

After finishing at Boggy Creek, I headed over to Springdale Farm.  I was there about 5 minutes, so I didn’t take any photos.

Dinner: Cumin Marinated Chicken Breast, Smoked Dried Tomato Rice, Brassica Salad with Bacon and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Dinner: Cumin Marinated Chicken Breast, Smoked Dried Tomato Rice, Brassica Salad with Bacon and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Next night's dinner: Pork Loin Chops (these come from heritage pigs, so they have a substantial amount of fat. But, they also have flavor.), Baked Sweet Potatoes, Sauteed Beet & Dino Kale.

Next night’s dinner: Pork Loin Chops (these come from heritage pigs so they have a substantial amount of fat; they also have substantial flavor), Baked Sweet Potatoes, Sauteed Beet Greens & Dino Kale.

Looking forward to February!

 

 

Vegetable Stock (or Broth) 1

Posted on January 22, 2015 by Sahar

One of my goals for 2015 (I don’t like the word “resolution”) is to keep up with my stock making. So, in the spirit of that goal, I’m sharing with you my own stock recipes.

I’ve already posted (some time ago) a recipe for Chicken Stock,  so I am moving on to the next one on my list, Vegetable Stock.  Next to chicken, it’s the stock I use the most.

 

As a kind of reminder from my Chicken Stock post, here is a little reiteration:

While a good sauce or gravy can cover up many sins in the kitchen, the sauce or gravy needs to taste just that much better.  So, if you’re using bad stock, there is nothing you can do to hide that.

The words “stock” and “broth” are generally used interchangeably. Because, well, they’re almost exactly the same thing.

According to “The New Food Lover’s Companion, 4th Ed.” (Herbst & Herbst, 2007):

“Stock is the strained liquid that comes from cooking meat or fish (with bones), vegetables, and other seasonings in water to extract their flavors.”

“Broth a liquid that comes from cooking vegetables, meat or fish, and seasonings in water.”

Basically, the difference between the two is one of use or intent. “Broth” is what you end up with at the end of cooking the ingredients; “Stock” is what you use to cook with.  Other definitions will say that a “Stock” is always made with bones while a “Broth” isn’t.  And, indeed, there is a very different “mouth feel “(a technical term used by chefs to describe taste and texture of an ingredient) between the two.

But, again, whatever you term it, a stock or broth can make or break a recipe.  A good stock will enhance; a bad stock will ruin.  There’s no hiding it.

 

There are a few rules when making vegetable stock:

1.  Don’t use potatoes.  They will make the stock starchy and cloudy.

2. Don’t use cruciferous vegetables (i.e. cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts). They will be too strong.

3. Don’t use artichokes or rosemary.  See above.

4.  Don’t use bitter greens (i.e. dandelion, mustard).  Again, see above.

5.  Don’t use vegetables where the color can leach out (i.e. beets).  They will, of course, color the stock.

6.  Do use seasonal vegetables.  Depending on the season, you can have a stock that is more savory or sweet.

7.  You can use scraps.  Just save them in a large zip bag and keep them in the refrigerator or freezer (depending on how quickly you think you’ll fill the bag).

8.  Make sure your produce, whether you use fresh or scraps, is clean.  This should be common sense, but, sometimes, common sense tends to take a vacation.

9.  You don’t need to peel your vegetables. You’d be surprised how much flavor they add.

10.  Always be sure to add some extra seasonings.  The most common is a “Bouquet Garni”: parsley, thyme, bay leaves.

11.  If you can, use filtered water.  If not, at least make sure you start with cold water from the tap.

 

This stock recipe is a very basic stock that I use frequently.  Depending on the season, or my mood, I’ll add different vegetables like corn, kale, fennel, or tomatillo (yes, I know, it’s technically a fruit).  Instead of leeks, I’ll add onions instead.

While I don’t add salt to my recipe, many people do.  If you decide to add salt, be careful with the quantity.  I’ve seen some recipes where people will also add wine and/or Parmesan rinds.  It is completely up to you what you’d like to add.

If you like, you can also brown your vegetables either by roasting or sauteing with a little pure olive oil (not extra virgin – too strong) or an unflavored oil (canola, grapeseed) before adding the water.  I’ve done this a few times, and it’s great.  It gives the stock a deeper, almost sweeter, flavor.  However, I didn’t brown the vegetables for this post.

 

Again, here is what I typically use as a base stock.  You can add, substitute, or subtract as you prefer.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The seasonings: Parsley, dried bay leaves, fresh thyme, black peppercorns

The seasonings: parsley, dried bay leaves, fresh thyme, black peppercorns

 

2 large leeks, white and green parts

Bringing home the fact that you must clean the vegetables. Leeks are notorious for hidden dirt.

Bringing home the fact that you must clean the vegetables. Leeks are notorious for hidden dirt.

The many layers of leeks. Cut these down and wash them thoroughly.

The many layers of leeks. Cut these down and wash them thoroughly.

1 lb. tomatoes, seeded

1 lb. carrots

1 lb. parsnips or turnips (if you do use turnips, be sure to peel them; the peels can be bitter)

3 stalks celery (leaves and all)

1 green bell pepper, seeded

2 red bell peppers, seeded

6 cloves garlic, crushed

Leave the skin on the garlic. You're going to strain the stock anyway.

Leave the skin on the garlic. You’re going to strain the stock anyway.

15 whole black peppercorns

3 bay leaves, either fresh or dried

6 – 8 sprigs thyme

1/2 bunch parsley, curly or flat

The bouquet garni. This is the old-school way of making one: wrapping the parsley, bay leaves, and thyme in 2 leek leaves.  You can also tie the bouquet garni into a cheesecloth or just add the ingredients to the stock without tying.

The bouquet garni. This is the old-school way of making one: wrapping the parsley, bay leaves, and thyme in 2 leek leaves. You can also tie the bouquet garni into a cheesecloth or just add the ingredients to the stock without tying at all; leave them loose.

 

1.  Prepare the vegetables by cleaning, peeling (if needed), seeding, and cutting down into large pieces.  (If you are using scraps, skip this step; except for the cleaning part).

The vegetables ready for the stockpot.

The vegetables ready for the stockpot.

2.  Put the vegetables in a large stockpot (at least 3-gallon), add the bouquet garni ingredients and the peppercorns, and 2 gallons (32 cups) water.

Vegetables in the stockpot.

Vegetables in the stockpot.

3.  Cover the stockpot and bring the water to a boil over high heat.  Then, remove the lid, turn the heat down to low, and let the stock simmer for 3 – 4 hours.  Add water as needed if it gets too low. (Generally with 2 gallons starting volume, I almost never need to add water; but, it does depend on your preference and how fast your stove cooks.)

The stock simmering.

The stock simmering.

4.  After 3 – 4 hours, take the stockpot off the heat and let it cool a bit before straining.  Alternately, if you have the space (my husband and I have a refrigerator in our outbuilding), cover the stockpot and place it in your refrigerator overnight.  The stock will get cold and the vegetables will steep a little longer.  Then, you can strain it the next day.

The stock and vegetables after sitting overnight in the refrigerator. Whether you do this or not is up to you.

The stock and vegetables after sitting overnight in the refrigerator. Whether you do this or not is up to you.

5.  Place a large colander over a larger bowl (or a large saucepan or stockpot).  Very carefully pour the stock and vegetables out of the stockpot into the colander (pour carefully and slowly; you don’t want to lose any stock through spillage or overflow).  Use a second bowl if necessary.

Press down on the vegetables to extract as much of the liquid as possible.  However, don’t press so hard that you end up pressing vegetables through the colander (they’ll be very soft) and making the stock cloudy.

The pressed vegetables. They have nothing left to give except to my compost.

The drained and pressed vegetables. They have nothing left to give except to my compost.

At this point, you can strain the stock a second time by passing it though a fine strainer to catch anything that passed through the colander. (I always do so I can have as clear a stock as possible.)

The finished stock.

The finished stock.

 

You can (and I generally do) place the stock back on the stove and cook it down even more to concentrate the flavors.  So, for example, I start off with 2 gallons of water and end up with 1 gallon of finished stock.

I will store/freeze the stock in quart-sized zip bags (I usually use 4 cups at a time).  However, use whatever size bag or storage container you prefer.  Remember, however, do not fill your storage container or bag to the brim.  Liquid expands as it freezes; so, if you fill it to the brim, either the bag will burst or the lid will come off the container and you’ll end up with a mess.

Oh yeah, be sure that the bags are completely zipped closed and/or the lids are tight on the storage containers. I’ve made that mistake before.

If you have the room in your freezer, lay the bags of stock on a sheet pan and place it on one of the racks.  When the stock is frozen, take the bags off the sheet pan and stack them.  Don't freeze the bags directly on the racks; you run the risk of the bags freezing around the racks and making them difficult to remove later.

If you have the room in your freezer, lay the bags of stock on a sheet pan and place it on one of the racks. When the stock is frozen, take the bags off the sheet pan and stack them. Don’t freeze the bags directly on the racks; you run the risk of the bags freezing around the racks and making them difficult to remove later.  Of course, if you are using rigid containers instead, just be sure they are stacked on a flat, even surface.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Lemon Curd 0

Posted on January 13, 2015 by Sahar

For me, winter is the best time of the year to make Lemon Curd. Why? you ask? Because winter is when I can find Meyer Lemons at the store. While I can certainly make lemon curd with regular lemons, I find Meyer Lemons have just the right mix of tart and sweet that take this lovely confectionary spread to the next level.

Meyer Lemons were grown in China for centuries and were introduced in the US in 1908 by F.N. Meyer.  Botanists believe it is a cross between a lemon and an orange.  It is generally larger, juicier, and less acidic than regular lemons.  They are usually available from fall through early spring, with their peak season during the winter.

A Meyer Lemon (l) and a standard lemon (r).

A Meyer Lemon (l) and a standard lemon (r).

IMG_2863

Regular Lemon (l) and Meyer Lemon (r)

 

Now, wait, you may be saying. What is exactly Lemon Curd?

First, there are two types of curd:

1.  Curd solids from milk.  These solids are formed when rennet (or another acid) is used to separate the milk solids from the liquid (whey) during the cheese making process.

2.  A sweet creamy spread that consists of (usually) citrus juice, egg yolks, sugar, and butter.  It can be made with other fruit such as berries.

 

A curd is a type of sauce called an emulsion.  The simplest explanation for this comes from The New Food Lover’s Companion:  “A mixture of one liquid with another with which it cannot normally combine smoothly. Emulsifying is done by slowly adding one ingredient to another while at the same time mixing rapidly (usually whisking). This disperses and suspends tiny droplets of one liquid throughout the other.  Emulsified mixtures are usually thick and satiny in texture.”  Mayonnaise, vinaigrette, hollandaise, and bearnaise are all examples of emulsion sauces.

 

A few notes:

1.  You can make this with regular lemons.  Find lemons that feel heavy for their size.  The final product will be more tart, but you can add some sugar to taste if you like after the curd is finished.

2.  The best way to go about this is low and slow.  If you show any impatience or lack of attention, you could easily over cook the curd and end up with sweet scrambled eggs.

3.  Always have extra bowls on the side in case you need to move your curd to a cool, clean bowl.

4.  Having an instant-read thermometer will come in handy.  You want the curd to come to about 160F.  It will be fully cooked at this point without scrambling the eggs (that is, if you are careful).

5.  When using the double-boiler, the boiling water should never touch the bottom of the bowl.  This will cause the eggs to cook too quickly.

6.  You can make lemon curd into a preserve: Fill a half-pint jar with a 1/2″ head space and process the jars for 15 minutes.  Take the canning pot off the heat and leave the jars in the hot water for a further 10 minutes, then take the jars out of the water, and place them on racks to cool and seal. Because of the nature of the curd, however, the texture will change during the processing, and it will only have a shelf life of 2 – 3 months because of the high dairy content.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The lemon zest. I sue a Microplane for mine. If you don't have a Microplane, just very finely mince the zest.

The lemon zest. I use a Microplane for mine. If you don’t have a Microplane, just very finely mince the zest.

 

3 egg yolks, room temperature

1 whole egg, room temperature

3/4 c. sugar

1/2 c. lemon juice (preferably Meyer Lemons)

Zest from juiced lemons

6 oz (10 tbsp.) butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes, softened

 

 

1.  Combine the egg whites, whole egg, and sugar in a medium stainless steel bowl with either a whisk (if you have a lot of upper body strength) or a beater starting on medium-low speed and gradually increasing the speed and mix until the mixture becomes light, thick, and falls into a ribbon when the whisk or beaters are lifted from the bowl. (Doing this will help to begin the emulsion process, start dissolving the sugar, and begin to chemically cook the eggs.)

Early in the process.  The mixture is still dripping unevenly. I kinda cheated here and used the electric beaters.

Early in the process. The mixture is still dripping unevenly. I kinda cheated here and used the electric beaters.

About 10 minutes later.  The mixture is thickened and is falling much more smoothly from the beaters.  If it doesn't fall  in a ribbon, you want the mixture to at least leave a "trail" in the bowl as it falls back in.

About 10 minutes later. The mixture is thickened and is falling much more smoothly from the beaters. If it doesn’t fall in a ribbon, you want the mixture to at least leave a “trail” in the bowl as it falls back in.

 

2.  Carefully mix in the lemon juice and zest.

Adding the zest and juice.

Adding the zest and juice.

3.  Have a saucepan about 1/4 full of simmering water ready on the stove.  Place the bowl with the lemon mixture on top. (You just want the bottom of the bowl to sit over the water.)

Setting up the double boiler: Fill the saucepan about 1/4 full of water. Make sure that the boiling water never touches the bottom of the bowl.

Setting up the double boiler: Fill the saucepan about 1/4 full of water. Make sure that the boiling water never touches the bottom of the bowl.

Have a second bowl on the side in case the mixture cooks too quickly and begins to curdle (that would be the eggs scrambling).

4.  Stir the lemon mixture with the whisk constantly until the foam subsides and begins to thicken.  Adjust the heat as needed (the easiest way to do this is to take the bowl from off the top of the saucepan, or, if the mixture is cooking too quickly, move the mixture to your second bowl; if you do move to a second bowl, very carefully scrape or do not scrape the original bowl – what’s left in the bowl is more than likely going to be scrambled).

Whisking the mixture. You want to do this fairly constantly until the foam subsides. Once this happens, the eggs will begin cooking much more rapidly.

Whisking the mixture. You want to do this fairly constantly until the foam subsides. Once this happens, the eggs will begin cooking much more rapidly.  Again, remember – low & slow is the key

The foam has pretty much subsided and the mixture is beginning to thicken. If you use an instant-read thermometer, it should read between 155F - 160F.

The foam has pretty much subsided and the mixture is beginning to thicken and look darker. If you use an instant-read thermometer, it should read between 155F – 160F.

5.  Begin to slowly add the softened butter.  Just add 2-3 pieces at a time, still whisking constantly.  You want to incorporate the butter into the lemon mixture.  If you simply add the butter and let it melt without whisking, the fat in the butter will separate and you won’t be able to incorporate it. You’ll simply end up with butterfat floating on top.

Adding the butter. Be sure to whisk constantly to make sure the butter is incorporated evenly into the lemon mixture. Do not let it simply melt on top.

Adding the butter. Be sure to whisk constantly to make sure the butter is incorporated evenly into the lemon mixture. Do not let it simply melt on top.

6.  After you have incorporated the butter, switch to either a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula.  Continue stirring constantly until the curd is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon or spatula.

Stirring the curd after the butter has been incorporated. Again, keep stirring constantly, making sure to keep, especially, the curd on the side and bottom of the bowl moving. That is the curd that will quickly overcook if it isn't constantly stirred.

Stirring the curd after the butter has been incorporated. Again, keep stirring constantly, making sure to keep, especially, the curd on the side and bottom of the bowl moving. That is the curd that will quickly over cook if it isn’t constantly stirred.

Coating the back of a wooden spoon. Running your finger through the curd on the spoon will test if it's ready. If the curd doesn't drip, it's ready. This means that the eggs are cooked and your emulsion was successful.

Coating the back of a wooden spoon. Running your finger through the curd on the spoon will test if it’s ready. If the curd doesn’t drip, it’s ready. This means that the eggs are cooked and your emulsion was successful.

7.  When the curd is done, remove the bowl from the heat and pour into a clean bowl.  Very carefully scrape or do not scrape the sides of the original bowl (it depends on how your final product looks).  You can strain the mixture if you prefer. (Straining is recommended if you have larger pieces of zest or you want to smooth out a slightly lumpy curd.)

If, when you are done cooking, your eggs are curdled or scrambled, or your butter separates out, you can pour the mixture into a blender (not a food processor) and try to make a smooth curd.  However, there’s no guarantee this will work; and if it does, you may still need to strain it to remove any remaining lumps of scrambled egg or the butter may separate out again.

8.  To store, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and place in the refrigerator. Because of the high butter content, it will set up into a fairly firm spread.  It will keep for 4 – 5 days.

A lovely, creamy lemon curd. Sometime, I eat it just like this.

A lovely, creamy lemon curd. Sometime, I eat it just like this.

 

Perfect serving suggestion.

Perfect serving suggestion.

 

Enjoy!

 

Elvis Presley’s Peanut Butter & Banana Sandwich 2

Posted on January 08, 2015 by Sahar

This January marks the 80th year of the King of Rock & Roll’s birth.  I, and no doubt many others, certainly wish Elvis lived to see January 8, 2015.  He probably does, too.

Whether you prefer the pre-Army Elvis (as I do), Movie Elvis, or Vegas Elvis, no one can deny the man’s staying power in pop culture and his profound influence on modern music.

Elvis, believe it or not, has also had an influence, at least in some small part, on American cuisine. People outside of the South became more aware of the cuisine of the region, and just about every diner and restaurant – greasy spoon, fancy, or even sushi –  in the U.S. has some version of something Elvis themed – usually involving bacon, peanut butter, and/or bananas.

And, so, here we are.  The ubiquitous Elvis recipe – Fried Peanut Butter & Banana Sandwich.  This was, by all accounts, his favorite snack.  I recently read an interview with his long-time cook, Mary Jenkins, who said she couldn’t count the number of sandwiches she cooked for him. (Here is a brief glimpse of her in a 1996 BBC Documentary on YouTube. Mary passed away in 2000 at the age of 78.)

A few notes on this recipe:

1. White marshmallow fluff bread is a must (i.e. Mrs. Baird’s, Buttercrust, Wonder).  Period.

2.  A well-speckled banana is best.  You don’t want it too green or too black.

Banana comparison: The left banana is my preferred state of ripeness for eating out-of-hand. In fact, it's almost too ripe for me at this stage. The one on the right is way too ripe for me to eat, but, it's perfect for the sandwich.

Banana comparison: The left banana is my preferred state of ripeness for eating out-of-hand. In fact, it’s almost too ripe for me at this stage. The one on the right is way too ripe for me to eat, but, it’s perfect for the sandwich.

3.  While it appears that Mary used smooth peanut butter in the video, you can use either smooth or crunchy.  It’s your preference.

4.  She also sliced the bananas.  This doesn’t quite match most of the recipes I’ve read, but, if you prefer to slice the banana instead of mashing it, go ahead. Slicing the bananas will make a far less messy sandwich.

5.  Butter. period. That being said, looking at the video, Mary is continuously adding butter to the pan. I simply spread it on the bread. However, if you want to make your sandwich as rich as Elvis liked it, go for it.

Just as a reminder.  There has never been bacon on this sandwich.  Somewhere along the way, someone added it.  Not to say it isn’t delicious (because it is), but bacon is not part of the original recipe.

Second reminder: This isn’t a sandwich that needs to be or should be healthy.  Butter, white bread, and hydrogenated peanut butter (i.e. Peter Pan, Jif) are musts.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

 

2 slices white bread

2-3 tbsp. peanut butter

1 ripe banana, mashed or sliced

Butter

 

1.  Lightly toast the bread and spread butter on one side of each piece.

The buttered toast. Looking at the video, apparently Elvis liked his sandwiches to be fried in about a quarter pound of butter. I love butter, but I just couldn't do it.

The buttered toast. Looking at the video, apparently Elvis liked his sandwiches to be fried in about a quarter pound of butter. I love butter, but I just couldn’t do it. This toast is well-buttered, however.

2.  On the unbuttered side of the bread, spread peanut butter on one slice.  Top with the either sliced or mashed bananas. Place the other slice on top.

The peanut butter and banana. You can spread both on one piece of bread; I just did it this way for illustrative purposes.

The peanut butter and banana. You can spread both on one piece of bread; I just did it this way for illustrative purposes.

3.  In a skillet heated over medium heat, place the sandwich and fry on both sides until dark golden brown.

Frying the sandwich. Because the bread was already toasted a bit, you're basically frying the sandwich to warm up the peanut butter and banana. Plus, Elvis really liked to have his food well done.

Frying the sandwich. Because the bread was already toasted a bit, you’re basically frying the sandwich to toast the bread further and warm up the peanut butter and banana. Plus, Elvis really liked to have his food well done.

4.  Remove the sandwich from the skillet, place it on a plate, cut on the diagonal (that’s the way Mary did it), and serve.

A delicious gooey mess of a sandwich. It will be a whole lot less messy if you use sliced bananas. Also, milk and corn chips are the perfect accompaniments with this sandwich.

A delicious gooey mess of a sandwich. It will be a whole lot less messy if you use sliced bananas. Also, milk and corn chips are the perfect accompaniments.

 

Enjoy!

Elvis

 

Gingersnaps 0

Posted on December 22, 2014 by Sahar

I almost love gingersnaps more than I love a really good chocolate chip cookie. Almost. It’s a photo finish, really.

Just like gingerbread, gingersnaps date back to Medieval England and predate the cake style gingerbread we know today.

Traditionally, “gingersnaps” are a crispy cookie that “snap” when eaten, hence the name.

Gingersnaps have a long history in Europe, especially England and Germany. The cookies were made using molasses as a sweetener rather than refined sugar because it was less expensive and more readily available to the average person. (At this time, white refined sugar was extremely expensive and only available to the very wealthy.) As England expanded its colonial rule, it brought many of its cooking and baking traditions to these colonized countries, including gingersnaps.

European and British food traditions continued even after the American colonies gained their independence. Recipes that had been passed down, such as the traditional molasses and ginger recipe for snaps, still flourished in American kitchens.(information from www.ehow.com)
This recipe makes a lovely crispy yet slightly chewy melt-in-your-mouth cookie. The combination of shortening and butter is what does this. An all-butter cookie would cause the dough to spread quite a bit and make a very crispy cookie. An all-shortening dough would make a more cake-like cookie. I also like to use brown sugar as opposed to white because I find the cookie has a better texture and flavor. However, if you prefer to use or all you have is white (or even light brown) sugar, feel free to use it. Feel free to play with the spices. Of course, ginger should be your main flavor. However, most traditional gingersnap recipes have cloves and cinnamon.  I decided to buck tradition and used allspice as my secondary spice. Most of the sweet spices have an affinity with each other, so I thought, why not allspice? It works well in this recipe.As for the sugar to coat the cookie dough before baking – it’s a traditional addition. If you decide you don’t want the extra sugar, then skip that step.  However, since I wanted to go traditional (sort of), I did that step using turbinado (raw) sugar.If you would like to add even more ginger flavor, you can add grated fresh and/or finely chopped candied ginger.  Add as much or as little as you like.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

From top: molasses, baking soda, ginger, allspice, salt

From top: molasses, baking soda, ginger, allspice, salt

 

1/2 c. butter, room temperature

1/2 shortening, room temperature

1 c. dark brown sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1/4 c. molasses

 

2 1/2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground allspice

 

Extra sugar for rolling

 

 

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2.  In a mixer bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, and brown sugar.

Getting ready to cream the butter, shortening, and brown sugar together.

Getting ready to cream the butter, shortening, and brown sugar together.

After creaming the butter and sugar together. You don't want to beat too much air into the mixture.

After creaming the butter and sugar together. You don’t want to beat too much air into the mixture.

Add the egg and molasses and mix until well combined.

After adding the egg and molasses.

After adding the egg and molasses.

3.  Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and allspice.

Sifted dry ingredients. Kinda like the way it looks.

Sifted dry ingredients. Kinda like the way it looks.

4.  Add the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture 1/3 at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Mixing in the dry ingredients. Be sure to mix well after each addition and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Mixing in the dry ingredients. Be sure to mix well after each addition and scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

The finished dough. Try not to eat it at this stage.

The finished dough. Try not to eat it at this stage.

5.  When the cookie mixture is ready, take a small amount and roll into a ball about 1″ in diameter.  Roll the ball in the extra sugar to coat.

Rolling the cookie dough in sugar. This is a pretty traditional step in making the cookies.  However, if you prefer not to have the extra sugar, you can skip this step.

Rolling the cookie dough in sugar. This is a pretty traditional step in making the cookies. However, if you prefer not to have the extra sugar, you can skip this step.

Place the ball of dough onto a cookie sheet.  Repeat about 4 dozen times. Have no more than 12 per baking sheet because the cookies will spread.

Ready for the oven. The cookies will spread quite a lot, so be sure to have about 2" between each ball of dough.

Ready for the oven. The cookies will spread, so be sure to have about 2″ between each ball of dough.

6.  Bake the cookies for 15 – 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time.

Now your house will smell like the holidays.

Now your house will smell like the holidays.

Enjoy!

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup 0

Posted on December 19, 2014 by Sahar

As I sit here on this rainy & chilly day, my mind and appetite turn to soup.

This recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup is a hearty soup that is quick (especially if you use leftover or store-bought rotisserie chicken) and can be easily be made either ahead or after a day at work. Or, almost better yet, what to feed your family the day before a big holiday (hint, hint); this recipe can easily be doubled.

This soup is certainly a recipe that shouts TexMex at you. It  is certainly more Tex than Mex – mainly because Mexican cuisine doesn’t use blended chili powders. If any chile powders are used at all, they are of a single chile (i.e. ancho, guajillo).

This soup can also easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable broth and omitting the chicken. If you want the added protein, you can add beans, extra-firm tofu, seitan, tempeh, or even simply extra hominy in place of the chicken.

 

The ingredients (chicken broth not shown)

The ingredients (chicken broth not shown)

The hominy. I like to use both yellow and white. It's simply a personal preference. There's absolutely no difference in the flavor.

The hominy. I like to use both yellow and white. It’s simply a personal preference. There’s absolutely no difference in the flavor. For a brief explanation of what exactly hominy is, go here.

From top:

From top: grapeseed oil, cumin, Mexican oregano, black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt, San Antonio chili powder

 

2 tbsp. vegetable oil (you can also use grapeseed or canola oil)

1 small onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small (4 oz.) can diced green chiles (hot or mild)

-or-

1 small  (7 oz.) can salsa verde

1 tbsp. chili powder (I like San Antonio blend)

1 tsp. Mexican oregano

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. cayenne

1 tsp. salt, more to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, more to taste

2 cans hominy, drained

1 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

4 c. chicken broth

4 c. cooked, shredded chicken

Lime juice, to taste

1/2 c. chopped cilantro

 

Vegetable oil for frying

 

The condiments

The condiments

 

Shredded Cabbage

Chopped Green Onion

Crispy Tortilla Strips

Lime Wedges

Sour Cream

 

 

1.  In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is soft, about 3-5 minutes.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Add the chiles or salsa verde and saute for another 2-3 minutes.

Adding the salsa verde. I used salsa in this recipe because it's what I had at home.

Adding the salsa verde. I used salsa in this recipe because it’s what I had at home. if you are using salsa, be sure to let it cook down by at least half.

2.  Add the chili powder, oregano, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper.  Saute for 1-2 minutes or until the fragrance comes up.

Adding the spices. be sure to stir pretty much constantly; you want the spices to have a scent (this means the oils are cooking). You want to take care not to burn them.

Adding the spices. Be sure to stir pretty much constantly; you want the spices to have a scent (this means the oils are cooking). You want to take care not to burn them.

Add the hominy and tomatoes and saute another 2-3 minutes.

Adding the tomatoes and hominy.

Adding the tomatoes and hominy.

3.  Add the chicken broth.

Adding the chicken broth. Once the soup is cooking, be sure to stir frequently to keep the hominy from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Adding the chicken broth. Once the soup is cooking, be sure to stir frequently to keep the hominy from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Cover the saucepan and bring the broth to a boil. Uncover, lower the heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

After 30 minutes. The soup should be somewhat thickened from the hominy.

After 30 minutes. The soup should be somewhat thickened from the hominy.

4.  While the soup is cooking, make the tortilla strips.  Take 6-8 tortillas and cut them into roughly 1/4-inch wide strips.

Tortilla strips. Be sure to use a very sharp knife so you can get even strips without tearing up the tortillas.

Tortilla strips. Be sure to use a very sharp knife so you can get even strips without tearing up the tortillas.

Be sure to separate them.  Heat a medium (9-inch) skillet with about 1/2-inch of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Test the oil by dropping a strip in the oil; it should immediately sizzle. Fry the strips in small batches until they are crispy.

Frying the strips. Be sure to keep them as separated as possible and fry in small batches. Frying the strips should take no more than 60 - 90 seconds per batch.

Frying the strips. Be sure to keep them as separated as possible and fry in small batches. Frying the strips should take no more than 60 – 90 seconds per batch.

Drain the strips on paper towels. (Alternately, you can simply serve the whole tortillas or tortilla chips on the side.)

The finished strips.

The finished strips.

5.  After the initial cooking time, add the chicken, lime juice, and cilantro.  Cook for a further 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice. At this point you're simply heating the chicken through. Be sure to taste for seasoning.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice. At this point you’re simply heating the chicken through. Be sure to taste for seasoning.

6.  Serve the soup with the tortilla strips, cabbage, green onion, extra lime wedges, and sour cream.

The finished soup. Pretty, huh?

The naked finished soup. it’s great just like this.

The fully dressed soup. Perfect for a chilly, rainy night.

The fully dressed soup. Perfect for a chilly, rainy night.

Enjoy!

Reflections and Goals 0

Posted on December 17, 2014 by Sahar

As 2014 comes to a close, I, like no doubt many of you, am beginning to reflect on the year.  What I did and didn’t accomplish, learned, mistakes I made, and victories I achieved.

I know I certainly didn’t accomplish all the goals I set for myself.  I’m still staring at the open patch of grass where I want to build a garden, didn’t teach myself to make corned beef, or make the perfect soft pretzel.

I did manage to teach myself how to skin fish fillets and improved my puff pastry recipe. Small victories; but victories nonetheless.

Will 2015 be better? Who knows. There’s really no crystal ball to see into the future. I know that it is all up to me, however, to make things happen or not.

Some things I would like to accomplish in 2015 are:

1.  Actually starting my garden so maybe, just maybe, I’ll have something to harvest in the summer.

2. Post more often and expand my blog outreach. Get some more media coverage.

3. Post my travel writing in a more timely manner.

4.  Improve my photography skills.

5. Start what I call my “farmer’s market project”.  You’ll see.

6. Again, set my goals to teach myself to make

Corned Beef                                          Pastrami

Shrimp Curry                                       Mansaff (a Bedouin dish)

Consumme                                           The Five Mother Sauces

Doughnuts                                           The perfect hot chocolate

real barbecue brisket                         Confit

cured salmon                                       bagels

pita bread                                             Swiss meringue

strawberry croissants                        ma’amool (date filled cookies)

 

That’s just what I’ve come up with off the top of my head.  I have every confidence that I’ll come up with more as the year progresses.

 

 

IMG_0014IMG_2673IMG_3164IMG_0974

 

Have a great 2015.

Gingerbread 0

Posted on December 12, 2014 by Sahar

More than once when I’ve made gingerbread, my husband will come home and simply say, “It smells like Fall in here.” I take that as a compliment.

Gingerbread is a confectionary that has seemingly always been associated with Autumn and the Holidays.  In Medieval England, the term gingerbread simply meant ‘preserved ginger’. The name wasn’t for the desserts we’re familiar with until the 15th century.

According to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Making Gingerbread Houses, the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread. The hard cookies, sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens, were a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble the dignitaries visiting her court. Over time some of these festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as ‘fairings.’ The shapes of the gingerbread changed with the season, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall. Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. The gold leaf that was often used to decorate gingerbread cookies led to the popular expression ‘to take the gilt off of gingerbread.’ The carved, white architectural details found on many colonial American seaside homes is sometimes referred to as ‘gingerbread work’.

Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. It is unclear whether or not gingerbread houses were a result of the popular fairy tale, or vice versa.

Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists. The cookies were sometimes used to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over another. The first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, has recipes for three types of gingerbread including the soft variety baked in loaves:

Soft gingerbread to be baked in pans.

No. 2. Rub three pounds of sugar, two pounds of butter, into four pounds of flour, add 20 eggs, 4 ounces ginger, 4 spoons rosewater, bake as No. 1.

This softer version of gingerbread was more common in America. George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, served her recipe for gingerbread to the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited her Fredericksburg, Virginia home. Since then it was known as Gingerbread Lafayette. The confection was passed down through generations of Washingtons.

(Source: History of Gingerbread, The History Kitchen, Tori Avey)

**********

A main ingredient in gingerbread is molasses.  It is basically the leftovers of the sugar making process after the sugar crystals have been removed during boiling.

There are several different types of molasses comercially available: Light Molasses, Dark Molasses, Blackstrap Molasses, Sulphured Molasses, and Unsulphured Molasses.

Grandma's is a good, consistent brand of molasses that's readily available at just about every grocery. It's an unsulphured light molasses.

Grandma’s is a good, consistent brand of molasses that’s readily available at just about every grocery. It’s an unsulphured light molasses. Plus, the company sponsors an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. I’m all about that.

You may be asking yourself, what’s the difference? Or, you may not be.  But, I’m going to tell you anyway.

Light Molasses:  This comes from the first boiling of the sugarcane is generally the sweetest of the molasses. it is also known as “Barbados”, “Sweet”, “Mild”, or “First” molasses.  This molasses is generally used in baking, marinades, rubs, and sauces

Dark Molasses: This comes from the second boiling and after more sugar is extracted. It is generally thicker and less sweet.  it can also be called “Full” or “Second” molasses.  It can be used interchangeably with light molasses for most uses.  It is most commonly used in baking.

Blackstrap Molasses: This comes from the third boiling and is very thick and dark in color.  It has the highest mineral content because of its concentration.  While it can be found in grocery stores, it is most commonly found in health food stores. Some people will use blackstrap molasses (especially vegans) as a health food and supplement to their diets because it contains iron, niacin, and B6, among other minerals that wouldn’t necessarily be in or in very low levels in a vegan diet.

Sulphured and Unsulphured Molasses:  Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is sometimes added to molasses as a preservative because molasses can ferment and spoil. It does change the flavor of the molasses making it less sweet. Unsulphured is preferred because it is sweeter and is closer to the original molasses flavor. And, because, well, it doesn’t have sulphur.

(Source: Healthy Eating, SF Gate)

Also, molasses can be distilled to make rum. FYI.

*********************

My inspiration for this recipe came from an old recipe found in a 1965 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book that I received from my mother-in-law not long after I married. As I was flipping through the book, it reminded me of the book my mother had as I was growing up.  I believe hers was the same edition. (She still has it. I think it’s now held together with rubber bands.) I always remember the notes and McCall’s Cooking School recipes she would save in her book.

The BHG Cookbook my mother-in-law gave me. It's a souvenier edition of the 1965 printing celebrating 10 Million copies sold.

The BHG Cookbook my mother-in-law gave me. It’s a souvenir edition of the 1965 printing celebrating 10 Million copies sold.

My 2nd. edition, 1935 printing of the BHG Cookbook. I don't think it's ever been used.

My 2nd. edition, 1935 printing of the BHG Cookbook. I don’t think it’s ever been used.

BHG 1950 printing. This is about the time the now familiar red-and-white cover was first used.

BHG 1950 printing. This is about the time the now familiar red-and-white cover was first used. I bought this off Ebay. It was obviously loved.

Mom said to me as recently as Thanksgiving that the gingerbread recipe in the BHG book is a great recipe.  In fact, she made it for my sisters and I often when we were kids.

 

Here is the ingredient list for the original recipe:

1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. light molasses

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. boiling water

(from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1965 printing)

 

I will say, though, while I love the original recipe, I have changed it up a little:

* I’ve omitted the cinnamon and added quadruple the ginger.  It’s a flavor preference.

*I’ve replaced the white sugar with either dark brown or maple sugar. Again, it’s a flavor preference. The new sugars aren’t as sweet as white sugar.

*I’m using butter flavored shortening. Because I can.

Now, of course,  you can do whatever you like.  Add or subtract as you see fit.  Other sweet spices (i.e. cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, anise) will work well in this recipe, too.  However, you may want to be somewhat conservative on the amount of extra spice you use.  You’re making gingerbread, not a spice cake. Some people will also add a small amount of finely chopped candied ginger to the recipe as well.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The maple sugar. Like most real maple products, it is not inexpensive. But, if you do have some, use it.

The maple sugar. Like most real maple products, it is not inexpensive. But, if you do have some, use it.

Ground Ginger, Salt, Baking Soda

Ground Ginger, Salt, Baking Soda

 

1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. dark brown or maple sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. molasses

 

1 1/2 c. flour

3/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. ground ginger

 

1/2 c. boiling water

 

1.  Preheat your oven to 350F.  Spray or butter & flour a 9″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish.  Set aside.

2.  Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and ginger.  Set aside.

My mom's old sifter that she gifted to me.

My mom’s old sifter that she gifted to me.

Sifted

Sifted. You can, of course, use a small strainer to sift as well.

3.  With either a hand mixer and medium bowl, or a stand mixer, beat the shortening on medium speed until it is softened.

The softened shortening. It helps the process if you have the shortening at room temperature.

The softened shortening. It helps the process if you have the shortening at room temperature.

4.  Lower the speed to low (otherwise you’ll end up with a mess) and gradually add the sugar.  Once the sugar is incorporated with the shortening, turn the speed back up to medium and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.

A fluffy shortening and sugar mix. This process helps to incorporate air into the shortening and make sure the sugar will mix into the rest of the batter thoroughly and not lump up.

A fluffy shortening and sugar mix. This process helps to incorporate air into the shortening and make sure the sugar will mix into the rest of the batter thoroughly and not lump up.

5.  Turn the heat back down to low and add the egg and molasses.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the ingredients are mixed thoroughly.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: always break your eggs into a separate bowl before adding to the rest of your ingredients. Otherwise, you may be sorry.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: always break your eggs into a separate bowl or cup before adding to the rest of your ingredients. Otherwise, you may be full of regret.

Egg and molasses mixed in.

Egg and molasses mixed in.

6.  Keeping the speed on low, alternately add the dry ingredients and the boiling water.  (I generally begin with 1/4 c. of the boiling water, half of the dry ingredients, the other 1/4 c. water, the other half of the dry ingredients.) By adding the ingredient this way, along with scraping down the sides of the bowl, you are ensuring even mixing as well as jump-starting the baking soda.

After adding the first 1/4 cup water. I know it looks strange, but trust me, it's fine.

After adding the first 1/4 cup water. I know it looks strange, but, trust me, it’s fine.

After adding the first half of the dry ingredients.

After adding the first half of the dry ingredients.

7.  Pour the batter into your prepared baking dish and place in the center of the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean when you insert it into the cake.

So, as soon as I tokk this photo, Husband took the piece off the top.

So, as soon as I took this photo, Husband took the piece off the top.

 

Enjoy!

Lime Marmalade 0

Posted on November 18, 2014 by Sahar

When it’s citrus season, my mind turns to making marmalade.  Not so much to eat it all myself (admittedly, it’s not my favorite preserve), but to give way as gifts at the holiday season and for those winter birthdays.

I have written about marmalade before; my recipe for Blood Orange Marmalade shows a less traditional way to make marmalade.  I use fruit juice and honey to sweeten as well as Pomona’s pectin to help set the marmalade up.

A traditional marmalade recipe generally uses equal parts sugar and water with anywhere from 2 – 5 pounds of fruit.  Citrus has lots of natural pectin (in fact, that is what many commercial pectins are made with, along with apple), so, generally, there is no pectin added to marmalade.  Many old-school recipes also require an overnight sit of the fruit in water and cook it the next day with sugar. An example of old-school marmalade can be found here.  A less time-consuming, but still traditional marmalade recipe can be found on the website/blog, Food In Jars.

Since I started posting about preserves – my first one, Classic Strawberry Jam – I’ve certainly learned a lot more.  While that first post is, if I may say so myself, packed with information, there were some things I just didn’t know.  I’ve since learned that 220F is the temperature where optimal jelling happens, and leaving your jars in the hot water for 5 – 10 minutes after they’ve been processed helps to stabilize the pressure in the jars where there is less likelihood of the contents leaking.  Also, Pomona’s Pectin is the only commercial pectin (that I know of) that uses calcium to activate the pectin (because it’s a sugar-free pectin); Low-Sugar Ball Pectin does not.

Pomona's. I usually buy it online, but if you go to the website, it has a list of local vendors.

Pomona’s. I usually buy it online, but if you go to the website, it has a list of local vendors.

 

In this recipe, I have once again used a non-traditional method.  I don’t let the fruit sit overnight, use less sugar, add lime juice instead of water, and I use pectin.  When I do make marmalade, I prefer it to be more on the tart/bitter side than the sweet.

Understand, I have a sweet tooth.  But I have my limits.

This is also a soft-set marmalade.  Most commercial marmalades, or even homemade ones, will be a rather stiff set, mostly due to the amount of sugar used.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The pectin and calcium powder. Because Pomona's is a sugar-free pectin, it needs the calcium to help activate it.

The pectin and calcium powder. Because Pomona’s is a sugar-free pectin, it needs the calcium to help activate it.

Calcium water. To make it, take 1/2 tsp. of the powder and mix it with 1/2 cup water. I like to use a 4-oz jelly jar to keep the water. It will keep in the refrigerator for 2 - 3 months. Just shake to mix.

Calcium water. To make it, take 1/2 tsp. of the calcium powder and mix it with 1/2 cup water. I like to use a 4-oz jelly jar. It will keep in the refrigerator for 2 – 3 months. Just shake to mix.

 

5 lb. limes, washed

4 c. lime juice

3 tbsp. low-sugar pectin (only if using regular commercial pectin, like Ball)

1 tbsp. calcium water (only if using Pomona’s)

2-1/2 c. to 3 c. sugar (18-3/4 oz. to 22-1/2 oz.)  *the amount of sugar is completely dependent on your preference

3 tsp. pectin (only if using Pomona’s)

 

 

1.  Measure out 2 lbs. of limes.  On each lime, cut the ends off down to the pulp.  I like to squeeze any juice off the cut ends into the pot.

Cutting the ends off.

Cutting the ends off.

After you have cut the ends off, cut the limes in halves or quarters and very thinly slice.

This took a while.

This took a while.

Place the limes in a large saucepan.

2.  Take the remaining 3 pounds of limes and peel them.  The easiest way to do this is to cut off the rind.  Cut out the lime segments from between the membranes of the lime. (See my previous marmalade post on how to do this.)  Then, segment the limes. (Ditto.)

Segmenting the limes. If they don't stay together when you cut them out, don't worry.  They'll cook down anyway.

Segmenting the limes. When you segment them, cut between the membranes (the white lines).  If they don’t stay together when you cut them out, don’t worry. They’ll cook down anyway.

Place the segments in the same saucepan as the unpeeled lime pieces. Add the lime juice.

The limes and juice ready to go.

The limes and juice ready to go.

If you are using regular low-sugar pectin (i.e. Ball), add it now.

3.  Bring the limes and juice to a boil over medium heat.  Turn down the heat to medium low and continue cooking until the peels are soft, about 45 – 60 minutes.

You'll know the rids are soft when they can easily be mashed with a fork.  You'll also begin to notice some thickening of the juice.

You’ll know the rids are soft when they can easily be mashed with a fork. You’ll also begin to notice some thickening of the juice.

If you are using the Pomona’s, add the calcium water at this time.

4.  Now, if you are using standard low-sugar pectin (i.e. Ball), add the sugar to the limes.  If you are using Pomona’s, mix the pectin with the sugar and add it to the limes.  Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

It's hard to see, but the Pomona's pectin is mixed in with the sugar. If you try this with regular pectin, it won't work.

It’s hard to see, but the Pomona’s pectin is mixed in with the sugar. Don’t do this with standard pectin; it must activate before you add the sugar.

5.  Continue cooking the marmalade over medium-low heat until it is thickened, about 10 – 15 minutes.  To test the marmalade for its set, you can either place a thermometer and boil it until the liquid hits 220F, or place a small amount on a plate that has been frozen – the set will happen once the liquid is rapid-cooled on the frozen plate. Run your finger through the marmalade once it has cooled.  If you can leave a streak when you run your finger through, the marmalade has set up.

My marmalade once it has set up.  It's a soft set, which is what I wanted.

My marmalade once it has set up. It’s a soft set, which is what I wanted.

6.  Place the marmalade in canning jars leaving 1/4″ headspace, clean the rims and put on the lids and rims.  Place the jars back in the hot water and process for 10 minutes (begin timing when the water comes back to a boil).

After the marmalade has processed, take the canning pot off the heat, remove the lid, and leave the jars in the hot water for an additional 5 minutes.

Take the jars from the hot water and let them cool on racks.  When the jars seal, carefully tighten the rims.  If you can, leave the jars for at least 12 – 24 hours before moving them.

The finished marmalade.

The finished marmalade.

This recipe makes 7 – 8 half-pint jars.

 

 

 

 

 

 



↑ Top