cooking

Winter Harvest Comes Through (Again)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

In the early years of our eating local, when we wanted an antidote to rich, heavy holiday meals and even the local greens were dwindling, we’d have little choice but to buy a giant pack of French green beans from Whole Foods and call it dinner.  No more. 

Winter Harvest is full of opportunities to make a light, refreshing meal that even tastes a bit like summer.  Shore Catch is one of those “never thought I’d see it” items to appear on the Winter Harvest product list - locally and sustainably caught seafood.  It was hard to mess up the beautiful piece of sushi grade Ahi tuna that came in our order this week, but we took no chances and made a simple tartare - hardly a recipe with one pound tuna, three tablespoons each of olive oil and lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.  We added scallions and parsley, also from our order, and ate it with a potato pancake made with Savoie Organic Farm’s wonderful Kennebecs. 

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Posted by Donna on 12/14 at 09:55 AM


A Holiday Fruit Cake (not Fruitcake)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Apple Quince Cake

As should be pretty clear by now, quinces are one of my favorite fall/winter fruits, and since they’re sadly a bit of a luxury to find, I generally mix them with apples to stretch them further, and because they get along so well together, as in this fragrant and holiday-appropriate cake.  If you don’t care for or can’t find quinces, you can make the cake with just apples and apple butter, as the original recipe did, and it will also be great.

If you don’t make your own quince jam, you can often find it in Mediterranean or Middle Eastern markets. More likely, you’ll instead be able to find the dried and pressed Spanish version, dulce de membrillo, at your local cheese shop, which will work just fine once loosened back up with a bit of extra liquid.

Apple-Quince Bundt Cake
(Adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours, 2006)
Serves 12

1 large quince, or 1/2 cup golden raisins
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup quince jam, or quince paste gently heated with enough water to loosen to a jam-like consistency
2 tart-sweet apples, peeled, cored and grated
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and roughly chopped

1/3 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons apple cider or milk

If using the quince, peel and core it, then chop it into four or so large pieces.  Poach the quince in just enough water to cover until it has changed color (anywhere from buttery-yellow to salmon, depending on the variety) and is tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Drain off the liquid, chop the quince into small dice, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F, and butter and flour a large (12-cup) bundt pan.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt.

Place the butter and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream together until smooth and thick.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions, then beat in the quince jam at lower speed.  Mix in the grated apple, followed by the dry ingredients, mixing only until incorporated. Fold in the diced quince or raisins and the hazelnuts.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top is golden and springy, and a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold the cake and cool completely.

To glaze the cake, mix just enough cider or milk into the powdered sugar to make a thick but free-flowing icing.  Drizzle the icing evenly over the cake, letting it run down the sides.  Let the icing firm up before slicing the cake.

Leftovers keep well in an airtight container for 2-3 days, although it’s best to glaze it the same day you serve it.

Posted by Gabriela on 11/30 at 11:08 AM


Native Pears

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Seckel Pear Frangipane

Did you know that Seckel pears are native to Philadelphia?  The story is either that they’re the only native American pear, or that farmers in this area bred them from European varieties, but either way they’re from Philly.

Even without the local connection, these little guys are one of my favorite varieties, since apart from being cute, they’re both firm and flavorful.  That makes them ideal for poaching, although why stop there?  Baked on top of a buttery pastry base and a rich almond cream, Seckel pears make a wonderful cookie or a party-ready tart, and their poaching syrup is a perfect contribution to fall-themed cocktails.

Seckel Pear Frangipane Bars
(Adapted from French Pear Tart in Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours, 2006)
Serves 18-24 as a cookie, 12 as a dessert

For the poached pears:
2 lbs Seckel pears (around a dozen or so)
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups water
3 strips lemon rind
1 vanilla bean, split
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
Pinch of salt

For the pastry base:
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
3/8 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large egg yolks

For the almond cream:
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons ground blanched almonds
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg plus 1 yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat , then lower to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  In the meantime, peel, halve and core the pears.  Add the pears to the pot, along with the lemon, vanilla, peppercorns and salt.  Simmer until the pears are tender, about 15 minutes.  Refrigerate the pears in their syrup until ready to bake.

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar and salt for the base and pulse several times to combine.  Scatter the butter pieces over the top, and pulse again until the largest pieces are the size of peas.  Beat the yolks briefly with a teaspoon or so of water to lighten them, then add to the processor through the feed tube with the motor running.  Stop as soon as the egg is incorporated and small clumps have started to form. 

Line a quarter sheet pan with enough parchment to overhang the sides by a couple of inches, dump the pastry onto the lined sheet, and gently press it into the bottom and up the sides, just until it holds together.  Cover the lined sheet with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F and butter one side of a piece of foil large enough to cover the surface of the dough.  Remove the plastic wrap and replace it with the foil.  Bake in the center of the oven for 25 minutes, until the pastry has set but is not browned.  Remove the foil and cool completely.

Combine the butter and sugar in a food processor and run until a smooth paste forms.  Add the almonds and process again until blended, then repeat with the flour and cornstarch.  Add the egg and yolk and process just until incorporated, then add the vanilla and almond extracts and pulse briefly again. Spread the almond cream evenly over the chilled pastry base.

Preheat oven to 350F. 

Remove the pear halves from the syrup and gently pat dry with paper towels to prevent excess syrup from making the filling soggy.  Slice a pear half thinly, keeping the slices together, then lift the sliced half with a spatula and carefully place onto the almond cream in the bottom left corner of the pan, pressing down just enough to fan out the slices a bit.  Repeat the process with enough pears to mostly cover the cream in evenly spaced rows (around 18 pear halves total).

Bake 50-60 minutes, until the cream has set around the pears and turned deep golden brown.  Cool to at least room temperature before lifting the entire sheet out of its pan by its parchment.  Slice into cookie-sized bars or tart-sized squares according to your preference.  Serve the same day if possible, although they keep well in the refrigerator for a day or so.

Posted by Gabriela on 10/22 at 06:36 PM


August Frozen Treats Challenge: Blackberry-Honey Ice Cream

Monday, August 05, 2013

Blackberry Honey Ice Cream

Apart from potted herbs, there are exactly two crops growing in my garden this year: green zebra tomatoes, because I can’t get enough of them, and a blackberry bush I planted last summer because it was the lowest-effort fruit I could think of.  I just let the bush establish itself last year, not expecting any berries, and as a result it’s now sturdy and has set enough blossoms that I think we’ll get at few small harvests of berries by the time fall rolls around. 

While I knew I wouldn’t be able to rely on homegrown berries for this year’s frozen treat challenge, I still wanted to do something with blackberries, and to get my ice cream maker out of its cupboard.  After some further brainstorming, I came up with this bright magenta, intensely berry-flavored ice cream, which also incorporates locally-produced honey, eggs, and dairy products.  There were even just enough ripe berries on my bush to serve as a garnish!

One bit of advice: because the honey is definitely present after the initial burst of blackberry, the best choice for this recipe is a mild to barely medium honey—ideally a berry honey, but a light wildflower or blossom would be good too.  Don’t use a dark one like buckwheat or one with a lot of herby notes, or the finish of the ice cream will be distractingly medicinal.

Blackberry-Honey Ice Cream
Makes 1 1/2 quarts

3 pints blackberries
1/2 cup plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split
1/3 cup honey
6 large egg yolks
Sea salt

Place the blackberries, 1/2 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt in a non-reactive pan and mash gently with a potato masher to start releasing the juices.  Let sit undisturbed for 45 minutes.

Fill a large bowl with ice water and suspend a slightly smaller bowl lined with a fine mesh strainer within it.  Combine the cream, milk, vanilla bean, honey, and another good pinch of salt in a saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until the milk steams, but don’t bring it to a boil.  Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until the yolks lighten just slightly and the sugar dissolves, then whisk in half the hot milk.  Stir the egg mixture to the milk in the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heat-safe spatula, until the mixture thickens slightly.  (Again, be careful not to bring to a boil or the eggs will curdle.)  As soon as the custard thickens, pour it through the strainer into the bowl over the ice bath, discarding any egg solids that stick to the strainer but hanging on to the vanilla bean.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod with a sharp knife and mix into the custard.  Let the custard come to room temperature, stirring occasionally, while preparing the berries.

Bring the berries to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook for 3 minutes, mashing further as needed to completely break them up.  Run the berries through a strainer, scraping the pulp with a spoon until all the fruit and juice has passed through.  Discard the seeds and hulls.

Once both the custard and the berry mixture have cooled down, cover them both and chill them in the coolest part of the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and up to 24.

When ready to freeze the ice cream, stir the custard and berry mixture together, and pour into your ice cream maker.  Churn until a soft-serve consistency is reached, then transfer to tightly covered containers, pressing plastic wrap against the surface of the ice cream if there’s more than nominal headspace between the ice cream and the container lid.  Let the ice cream firm up and ripen in the freezer for at least two hours before serving.

Posted by Gabriela on 08/05 at 11:48 PM


Eating Local in Italy

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Last week, we made a return visit - and we hope the first of many return visits - to Tenuta di Spannocchia in central Tuscany.  A former estate farmed under the mezzadria system, guests can stay at the main house (the castello) or former farmhouses scattered throughout the property.  The estate produces organic wine (red, white, and rose), olive oil, and cured pork products from the heritage breed Cinta Senese.  The estate also has an extensive garden that produces almost all of the food for the main house and its guests.

The bucolic setting is perfect for hiking, reading, etc., but it’s absolutely inspiring when it comes to cooking.  When we open the door to our farmhouse to find a loaf of tuscan bread, a bottle of vino tavolo rosso, and large crate of produce (onions, garlic, potatoes, zucchini, string beans, tomatoes), it’s difficult to refrain from cooking right then - even if we did just come from a multi-course feast at the main house.

Of course, this was Italy, so we gravitated to pasta dishes that took advantage of the produce, the cured meat, or both.  This carbonara did just that.

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Spannocchia cures a variety of meat products - coppa, salame toscana, prosciutto, lardo, and pancetta.  Using farro pasta purchased at the the Consorizio Agrario (see below), I made this carbonara with the pancetta and the zucchini flowers that the gardeners had kindly left attached to the fruit.  First, I rendered the fat from the pancetta over low heat.  Then, I added the onions and gently sauteed them. (I have found both a long rendering and gentle saute of the onions over low heat to be crucial to good carbonara.)  When the pasta was cooked, I added it to the pan with eggs and grated cheese (an organic pecorino from a nearby farm) and tossed in the zucchini flowers that I had cut in a chiffonade.

Before Spannocchia, we spent several days in Siena.  In anticipation for all of the cooking, we did our grocery shopping at the Consorzio Agrario.  Akin to a boutique grocery store, it sells many prepared foods (and, apparently, excellent pizza) that showcase the farmers and producers from around Siena.  We were lucky to find locally-made ragu made with the local boars, or cinghiale.  For pasta, we made the traditional pici by hand, using only flour (both semolina and white “00”), water, and a little oil.  The thick, chewy pici demands the big, bold flavors of something like boar ragu, and I would hesitate to pair it with anything delicate.

Many traditional Italian recipes are deliberately unspecific when it comes to quantities for ingredients; the preferred phrase is quanto basta, just enough.  In this spirit, and because the farmhouse was totally lacking in measuring cups or spoons, the pici was simply two coffee cups of flour (one literal cup of each type) and just enough water to make it cohere. 

 

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Of course, between the salame toscana, risorgimento, and bistecca fiorentina, we needed a break from all of the meat at some point.  So, a light dinner of several garden-grown vegetables was perfect.

 

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My only regret here was that I didn’t think to roast the beets in the cooling ashes of the wood-fired pizza oven the night before.

The last time we were here, I was amazed at how easy the “00” flour was to work with.  Both my gnocchi and hand-rolled pasta was so easy to work with.  As with the pici, I poured out the flour on the table, added two eggs and one egg yolk, and incorporated just enough flour to make a dough.  Not having my Kitchen Aid attachment from home, I stretched and rolled the dough by hand, stopping when the large disk was transparent enough to see the grain of the marble table beneath.  This was paired with dried porcini mushrooms I picked up on a day trip to Volterra.

 

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One of the highlights of a stay at Spannocchia is the salumi tasting class.  It occurred to me at that moment that my food was never going to be more local than this - eating pork raised several hundred yards away, cured in a room several hundred feet away, washing it down with wine grown and vinted several hundred yards away.

We are very fortunate that we have quality wine, salumi, and flour here.  It won’t taste like Spannochia, but that is exactly the point.   

 

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Posted by Kevin on 08/04 at 09:49 PM


Keeping Your Cool

Thursday, July 11, 2013

White Gazpacho

Gazpacho is one of my main strategies for getting through July and August.  Preparing a big batch on Sunday not only makes wonderful use out of all the seasonal produce pouring into the markets, but also gives you a ready-made, colorful and refreshing dinner to look forward to when you’re slogging home through the sweltering humidity on Monday evening.  It’s also perfect as a festive first course for barbecues and brunches all the way through Labor Day.

While tomato-based red gazpacho is fantastic, especially when made with a mix of heirloom varieties, white gazpacho is an equally traditional way to highlight cucumbers and the fresh garlic now making its first appearance.  The base of almonds and bread creates a soup that’s creamy and silky without being overly rich or heavy.  While the straining step is a bit of extra work, the soup still comes together in minutes (not counting the half hour of chilling in the fridge), and doesn’t raise the temperature of your kitchen by a single degree.

White Gazpacho
(Adapted from Jose Andres, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America)
Serves 4

8 ounces blanched, slivered almonds
1-2 cloves fresh garlic
2 ounces stale French- or Italian-style bread (not whole grain)
1 medium cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
2 1/2 cups filtered or mineral water
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place the almonds and garlic in a large bowl or liquid measuring cup and cover with boiling water.  Let sit for a few minutes, drain, and repeat with more boiling water.  Drain and place in the carafe of a blender.

While the almonds are soaking for the second time, moisten the bread in cold water just long enough to soften.  Squeeze dry and add to the blender, along with the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth. 

Pour the gazpacho through a double layer of cheesecloth in a strainer set over a large bowl.  Once most of the liquid has passed through the cheesecloth, gather up the ends of the cloth to completely enclose the solids, twist the top of the gathered ends tightly, and squeeze to extract the last of the soup.  Discard the solids.

Pour the gazpacho into a pitcher, cover tightly, and chill at least 30 minutes.  It is normal for the gazpacho to separate as it sits; just give it a quick whisk before serving.

Posted by Gabriela on 07/11 at 11:52 PM


A Local Tofu Dish

Sunday, July 07, 2013

If you try to cook locally, cooking with tofu presents two challenges.  The first is finding local tofu; the second is how to make it flavorful.  Thankfully, Allentown’s Fresh Tofu solves the first challenge for me.  The second, however, is all mine to tackle. 

Like pasta, tofu is a thrillingly blank canvas and will take to innumerable uses and flavors.  In fact, I think it is better than meat in certain dishes, as it never descends to the rough, dry texture of overcooked meat. (Anyone who has eaten The Royal Tavern‘s vegan sloppy joe will know exactly what I mean.)  However, such a blank canvas can also be a bit exhausting, particularly when you are not feeling creative. 

This recipe from The Guardian intrigued both for its construction (a stuffed tofu) and for its batter of ginger beer.  After all, when a ginger beer is only half empty, you simply have to make yourself a dark and stormy, don’t you?

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Posted by Kevin on 07/07 at 06:06 PM


Summer Crepes

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Buckwheat Crepes

For some reason, I always associate crepes with colder weather, but the truth is that they’re accommodating all year round, as demonstrated by these vaguely Provencal-style ones filled with zucchini and mushrooms, and topped with a bright, uncooked tomato sauce.  As the summer moves along, you could augment the filling with eggplant, fresh peas, pattypan squashes, etc., and you can make use of the rainbow of heirloom tomatoes that will start showing up in a couple of weeks.

These make a very satisfying dinner as-is, or if you want to serve these for brunch, you could quickly scramble a few eggs and tuck them into the crepes before the vegetable filling.

Zucchini-Mushroom Buckwheat Crepes with Raw Tomato Sauce
(Crepes adapted from Deborah Madison & Edward Espe Brown, The Greens Cookbook, 1987)
Serves 6-8

For crepes:
1 cup water
1 cup milk
3 eggs
3 tablespoons melted butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil for cooking

For sauce:
2 ripe tomatoes
1 small clove garlic
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

For filling:
3 small zucchini, grated
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil for cooking
2 small cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients for the crepe batter except the oil in a tall measuring cup and blend with an immersion blender until smooth.  (Alternately, you can do this in a regular blender.)  Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

To prepare the sauce, halve the tomatoes and grate them, cut side down, on the large side of a box grater set over a bowl.  Discard the skin you’re left with when the flesh has all been grated.  Finely mince the garlic (I just use a microplane grater) and add it to the tomatoes, along with the olive oil and salt to taste.  Let sit at room temperature while making the filling and crepes.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the garlic, sautéing briefly before adding the zucchini.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the zucchini is softened and the liquid has cooked off, then remove from the pan.  Increase the heat to medium-high, and add the rest of the olive oil and the mushrooms, cooking until the edges have browned.  Turn off the heat, return the zucchini to the pan, and season to taste.

Heat a teaspoon of oil in a small nonstick pan or crepe pan over medium heat.  Give the batter a quick whisk before ladling about 1/4 cup of batter into the heated pan and swirling the pan quickly to evenly spread the batter.  Cook until the crepe has set and is beginning to crisp at the edges, then flip and cook the other side briefly.  Remove the crepe to a plate and repeat the process with the remaining batter, adding more oil every three or so crepes, or whenever they show signs of sticking.  Adjust the temperature as necessary to prevent excessive browning.  If the batter is too thick to swirl easily in the pan, whisk in a little more water to thin back to the consistency of heavy cream.

To serve, fill the bottom half of each crepe with a few spoonfuls of filling, flip over the other half of the crepe, and fold in half to get quarters.  Place two or three filled crepes on a plate per person, and top with a generous spoonful of the sauce.

Leftover unfilled crepes, filling and sauce will all keep well for at least a day in the refrigerator, although both the crepes and the sauce are best freshly-made.

Posted by Gabriela on 06/29 at 03:27 PM


Great Summer Salad: Raw Collards in Peanut Vinaigrette

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

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My garden is bursting with collard greens right now. Tons of them, green and sturdy. I tend to eat a lot of collards cooked in the traditional way: cooked down with smoked bacon and lots of vinegar. Last week I went out into the garden, though, and decided I wanted to try something new.

Raw collards don’t seem right to me, probably because I eat them so often when they’re cooked down to almost a mush! I discovered that raw collards make a great salad, though—the leaves are firm and tasty, and you can’t go wrong with a peanut vinaigrette!

This salad can be thrown together really quickly, which makes it even better. Here’s what you need:

Salad
4 oz., raw collard greens (the younger, the better), cut into a medium chiffonade
1 small or medium carrot, peeled and then cut into ribbons with a sharp peeler
1 cup, black eyed peas, cooked
1 jalapeno, diced
1/4 cup, cilantro, chopped

Vinaigrette
1 egg, hard-boiled and chopped
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp. vinegar of your choice (I use champagne vinegar)
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced

Combine all salad ingredients and set aside. Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl with a tight-fitting lid; shake it up well. Okay, now throw the vinaigrette over the salad and toss to coat! This recipe makes two or three servings.

The collards, garlic, and cilantro came from my garden, and the egg came from a local producer. Later in the summer when I make this, I’ll be able to add jalapenos from my garden, too, which is very exciting! All told, you can probably source most of the ingredients for this salad locally. It’s also a great way to use collards, and you don’t even have to turn on your stove (well, except to hard-boil that egg).

 

Posted by Nicole on 06/12 at 06:58 PM


An Easy, Icy Summer Treat

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Rhubarb Granita

This sprightly pink granita is just about the perfect Memorial Day barbecue dessert, since it’s the most refreshing use of the strawberries and rhubarb that are in the market together right now, and also really easy to prepare.  No ice cream makers or other special equipment needed; just a fork and a little patience and time.

I do have to confess that when I made this two weeks ago, I had to use frozen berries, because fresh ones hadn’t arrived yet.  I generally find that the window when both strawberries and rhubarb are available is pretty narrow, so there’s normally only about one magic week or two to make strawberry-rhubarb pie or what have you using both fresh rhubarb and local berries.  This is why I over-buy rhubarb pretty much every time I see it, clean and trim the extra portion as soon as I get home, and throw the sliced rhubarb into bags and freeze for use in July and beyond.

In fact, if you cheat with both frozen rhubarb and frozen berries, you could make this granita all the way into the fall and winter, when, served in little shot or liqueur glasses, it would make a smashing palate-cleanser between courses during your fancy holiday dinner.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Granita
Serves 4-6 as dessert, 8 or more as a palate cleanser

3 cups white wine
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons mild honey
1/4 teaspoon dried orange peel or 1 teaspoon fresh grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
1 12-ounce bag frozen strawberries, or 3 cups fresh, hulled and halved
2 to 2 1/2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 teaspoon orange extract or orange liqueur
Juice of half a lemon

Combine the wine, sugar, honey, orange peel, salt and strawberries in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a strong simmer and cook 10 minutes, then remove the strawberries with a slotted spoon.  Add the rhubarb and return to a simmer, cooking until the rhubarb has softened but before it falls apart, around 5-6 minutes.

Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a large measuring cup or bowl, stirring the rhubarb frequently to remove as much of the glowing magenta liquid as possible.  Stir in the orange extract and lemon and cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until completely chilled.  (The cooked rhubarb can be mixed with the strawberries and used as a topping for yogurt, ice cream, etc.)

When the syrup has chilled, pour it into a 8 x 8 Pyrex baking dish or other similarly sized, shallow, freezer-safe container.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze until the syrup begins to form ice crystals around the edge of the dish, around 40 minutes.  Using a fork, stir and scrape to break up the crystals and distribute throughout the unfrozen syrup, re-cover the dish, and return to the freezer.  Repeat this process every half hour or so until all of the syrup has frozen and formed a fluffy mass of crystals.

Scoop the granita into shot or cordial glasses to serve as a palate cleanser between courses, or into larger glasses for dessert, garnishing with mint or sliced strawberries if desired. 

Leftover granita should keep for a few days in the freezer, although you may need to re-scrape if the crystals have formed larger clumps.  If it completely solidifies, you can either let it melt and repeat the process above, or break it up into large chunks and run it through the blender with more berries and some additional orange juice to serve as a slushie, or with rum or tequila for a frozen cocktail.

Posted by Gabriela on 05/25 at 04:02 PM


Last Year’s Jam

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Walnut-Quince Rugelach

I’m not a super-preserver or anything, but by this point, I’ve established a regular seasonal pattern of jam-making: sour cherry at the beginning of summer, plum at the end of summer, and quince in the late fall.  While I’ve also finally achieved a decent amount of cabinet space in my kitchen, it’s not unlimited, which means right around now I start thinking about clearing out some space to prepare for the cycle to begin again.

I used some of the plum as a cake filling a couple of weeks ago, and this week I rolled a jar of the quince into some buttery, flaky rugelach. (The sour cherry, alas, never seems to make it past a few months, because I love it too much.)  You can use whichever jar is pushing its way to the front of your pantry, or whatever looks good at the market this weekend.

Walnut-Quince Rugelach
(Adapted from Rugelach, Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, 2010)
Makes 48 cookies

For the pastry:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 cubes
8 tablespoons (1 8-ounce block) cold cream cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes

To assemble:
1 cup jam needing to be used up, in this case quince
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Fine sea salt for sprinkling

Combine the flour, sugar and salt for the pastry in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix briefly to blend the dry ingredients, then add the butter and mix on low until mostly broken up and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Mix in the cream cheese just until a damp, shaggy dough forms, then turn out onto a clean countertop and knead briefly to create a mostly cohesive block.  Divide into four equal parts and pat into 4-inch disks, tightly wrapping each individually.  Refrigerate at least two hours and preferably overnight.

When ready to bake, line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners and preheat the oven to 350 F.

Roll one disk of pastry between sheets of parchment paper to a diameter of 12 inches and a thickness of about a quarter inch.  Spread the pastry with a quarter of the jam, and evenly coat with a quarter of the walnuts and a small pinch of salt.  Using a pizza cutter or sharp chef’s knife, slice the pastry into 12 approximately equal wedges.  Starting with the outside edge, roll each wedge toward the point and place, point-side down, on a lined cookie sheet.  Repeat with the remaining wedges, setting the cookies 2 inches apart.  Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator to firm the cookies back up as you repeat the process with the remaining pastry disks, jam and walnuts.

Bake each sheet of cookies on the center rack for 25-28 minutes, until pale gold on top and a slightly darker golden brown at the edges, rotating the pans as necessary for even browning.  Immediately transfer the baked cookies on their parchment to cooling racks and cool completely.

Cookies will keep well in airtight containers for up to 5 days.

Posted by Gabriela on 05/01 at 02:10 AM


Happy Spring?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Butternut

I really hope this is the last of the winter produce recipes until Thanksgiving, not because I don’t love hard squashes, cabbages and brassicas, but because I am really just sick of winter.  My longing for asparagus and rhubarb is starting to become acute, and each of these spring snows is making me despair that tomato season is never coming.

While we’re all cursing the groundhog, this butternut squash spread is at least a bright and sunny color, and warmly spicy enough to maybe convince yourself that you’re in the Mediterranean, if you close your eyes.  It’s adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s beautiful cookbook, Jerusalem, and combines caramelized roasted squash and tahini into a hummus-like dip.  This version has been made vegan by replacing the original yogurt with soft cooked red lentils and a hit of lemon juice, and instead of plain cinnamon I used a Syrian spice mix.  You could use za’atar, ras el hanout, berbere, or any similar blend if you prefer.

Roasted Butternut Spread
(Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Jerusalem: A Cookbook, 2012)
Serves 6-8

For roasting the squash:
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into roughly 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Middle Eastern spice mix of choice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the spread:
1/4 cup red lentils
1/2 cup water
5 tablespoons tahini
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Toss the butternut cubes with the oil, spice mix and salt in a roasting pan.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil and roast the squash until soft all the way through and slightly caramelized on the edges, approximately 1 hour.  Cool completely.

Boil the lentils and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the lentils have completely broken down, adding just as much water as needed to prevent them from drying out until they reach that point. 

Combine the roasted squash, cooked lentils, tahini, garlic and lemon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse just until chunky.  Add more lemon juice and salt as needed, then add the olive oil and pulse a few more times to combine.

Serve in a shallow bowl, garnished with an additional drizzle of olive oil, and with pita chips or crudités on the side.

Posted by Gabriela on 03/28 at 10:27 PM


Winter Harvest Plug: Fresh Seafood

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Not too long ago, I would lament that fish was either sustainably raised/caught or local, but not both.  It may be that I simply wasn’t aware of my options, that those options had expanded, or both.  But this past year I’ve made two very happy discoveries about seafood.  First, there is the peerless Ippolito’s Seafood in South Philly.  I’ve already written about this fantastic fishmonger, and if you haven’t already shopped there, do so.  Second, Farm to City’s Winter Harvest Buying Club, has fresh, flash-frozen seafood by Shore Catch (caught off the coast of New Jersey) available for purchase.  The options include scallops, flounder, cod, tuna, monkfish, and swordfish.  Though I’ve tried them all, this was the latest delivery: sushi-grade tuna.  The original recipe, from Mark Bittman, called for salmon, but any fish steak should work.

crusted_tuna

Spice-Crusted Tuna
Based on Mark Bittman’s Four Spice Salmon
Salt and Pepper
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4 six-ounce tuna steaks brought to room temperature

Grind the coriander and cumin seeds with a mortar and pestle until a coarse powder forms.  (You don’t want too fine a rub, or you will lose the crunch.) Salt and pepper the fish steaks and rub the spice mixture onto both sides.  Film a skillet (I like to use cast iron here) with oil over medium-high heat.  Cook for two minutes and each side. 

Note: If you wish to have the fish fully cooked, you can preheat the oven to 400 and then put the skillet directly into the oven to finish for 4-8 minutes, depending on your preference.

 

Posted by Kevin on 03/02 at 02:54 PM


Vegetarian Carbonara

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Carbonara

Traditional spaghetti carbonara is pasta tossed with crisped pancetta and a mixture of raw eggs and parmesan, which cooks just enough from the heat of the pasta to form a silky, creamy sauce.  It’s not vegetarian-friendly, obviously, which is why when I decided to use the beautifully golden-yolked eggs from the market in a carbonara-esque dish, I had to replace the meat with something sufficiently flavorful and colorful.

The answer was a combination of shredded brussels sprouts and sun-dried tomatoes in the pasta itself, and a topping of fresh breadcrumbs, crisped in olive oil and seasoned with a combination of garlic and Spanish smoked paprika.  Brussels sprouts keep well, stay wonderfully green as long as they’re not overcooked, and add both brightness and a punchy contrast in flavor.  The tomatoes add both a bright pop of color and a slightly chewy texture, and the crumbs add both the missing crunch and the smokiness that comes from the pancetta in the original dish.  The smokiness is further enhanced by a handful of shredded smoked cheese after the pasta is sauced.

This recipe is very, very loosely adapted from one in Deborah Madison & Edward Espe Brown’s The Greens Cookbook (1987).  In theory, you could further adapt it into a still-flavorful and pretty vegan dish by leaving out the eggs and cheese, although you couldn’t really call it carbonara at that point. (Then again, most people wouldn’t consider it carbonara the minute the meat is taken out.)

Spaghetti Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Smoky Breadcrumbs
Serves 4

For breadcrumbs:
3 slices multigrain bread (the heels of the loaf are fine)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, run through a microplane grater or garlic press
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt to taste

For pasta:
8 ounces spaghetti
3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 dry pint brussels sprouts, shredded
1/4 cup dried tomatoes, diced

2 eggs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup grated smoked Gouda or other semi-firm smoked cheese

Roughly tear the bread slices and pulse in a food processor long enough to form medium-sized fresh crumbs.  Warm the garlic in the olive oil in a wide nonstick sauté pan over medium heat just until the garlic begins to release its aroma, then add in the breadcrumbs and toss to evenly coat in the oil.  Continue cooking, tossing or stirring frequently, until the crumbs are well-toasted and crisp, stir in paprika and salt to taste, and remove from the pan.

Boil the spaghetti in well-salted water until al dente, according to the package directions.  Meanwhile, heat the garlic and chili flakes in the remaining oil in the pan until the garlic begins to color lightly.  Add in the brussels sprouts, sun-dried tomatoes and a generous sprinkle of salt, sautéing just until the sprouts have wilted but remain brightly green.  Taste and adjust salt as necessary.

Just before draining the pasta, quickly whisk the eggs and parmesan together in a large bowl.  Drain the pasta and immediately place it into the bowl containing the egg mixture, tossing quickly with tongs to completely coat the spaghetti.  Add the brussels sprouts mixture and smoked cheese and continue tossing until everything is evenly distributed and lightly coated. If the egg mixture appears too raw, return the pasta to the pan and very briefly cook, tossing continuously, to desired doneness.

Serve immediately in warmed pasta bowls, sprinkling generously with the toasted breadcrumbs.

Posted by Gabriela on 02/24 at 08:03 PM


Life Hands You A Dwarf Lemon Tree

Friday, February 08, 2013

It may seem strange to see a blog on local food in and around Philadelphia, PA include a post on lemons, but I can assure you that these lemons were grown right here in Philadelphia.  More specifically, I can assure you that they were grown in my house in Queen Village.  We’ve had a dwarf Meyer Lemon Tree for several years, and we’ve gotten impressive (if intermittent) fruit.  Nonetheless, last Sunday I picked four lemons.

Of course, I was then left with a quandary of what to do with them.  These lemons were far too special (organic! Meyer Lemons! grown in my house!) to just use for their juice or zest.  So, I decided to preserve them according to River Cottage Preserves.  It’s a basic recipe: salt, lemon juice, bay leaves, and black peppercorns. You sterilize a wide-mouth jar, add all of the ingredients, and then wait four weeks for the rinds to soften.  It is probably the easiest preserve recipe I have ever tried. 

And the results?  I’ll let you know in another three weeks, but I generally prefer them diced as a condiment to fish. 

preserved_lemons

Posted by Kevin on 02/08 at 11:03 PM


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