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Monday, August 29, 2011

Well Preserved's Blueberry Maple Jam

Yes, I will admit it. I succumbed to imported blueberries from Costco. I missed the local blueberry season. After I decided to commit to work-week jam making due to the magical appearance of local, organic raspberries at Costco, I thought, "Oh what the heck. I really wanted to try that blueberry/maple jam and this may be my last chance." So, here you have it - 5 half pints of blueberry magic.
Well Preserved has become one of my favorite food blogs. This Blueberry Maple Jam flew through the interwebs, inspiring jammers across the nation. It is well worth trying and would be a great jam for beginners. One of the reason berries are a good mid-week jamming project is that there is very little fruit prep. Wash those berries and mash them around a bit and you are ready to go.

The good folks at Well Preserved mentioned that this jam results in a soft set due the additional liquid provided by the maple syrup. The only change I made to their recipe was to use 2/3 cup of home made apple pectin. (I used these instructions from Tigress and froze the apple pectin in 2/3 cup portions.) Mr. Dwayne says it is nummy.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tonight's Dinner - Refreshing Herb Salad

I've been working on recipes for my office newsletter and I just couldn't wait to share this one. Tonight I had pan seared, wild caught salmon and this yummy salad. I'm also happy to say that I've finally gotten the hang of making my own vinaigrette. Like all salads, this one is up for endless variation and will bend to your tastes with grace and ease. However, this is a pretty spectacular combination and I hope you will try it.

Refreshing Herb Salad
3 cups torn leaf lettuce
1/2 of one fennel bulb, sliced thin
1 small shallot, sliced thin
1/2 of one red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1 cup mandarin orange segments
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
about 6 mint leaves, chopped

Toss all ingredients and a large bowl. Serve with balsamic vinaigrette.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 tsp. coarse French mustard
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. granulated garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a pint jar and shake until it is emulsified. Once refrigerated, the oil may solidify somewhat. Allow to come to room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Focaccia

Who would have guessed that something as simple and ubiquitous as bread could become so fraught? Bread has become complicated. How did that happen? Some folks genuinely are sensitive to gluten or have other health issues that prevent them from enjoying bread, but for the rest of us, why not? We are now seeing the health consequences of the fat-free fad that persisted through the 80's and 90's. I wonder what ailments will be evidenced in the future as a result of people excluding carbs from their diets now. As for me and mine, we choose moderation.

That being said, not all breads are created equal. Our daily bread is brown and chewy. This focaccia is a special treat and is best enjoyed the same day it is prepared in your own kitchen. I recently saw a rerun of Oprah that featured an interview with Michael Pollan. He made an excellent point that there is nothing wrong with French fries, particularly if you go through the whole rigmarole to make them at home. We naturally limit our access to foods that are time consuming and complex to make. What becomes wrong about fries is how easy and cheap it is to eat a tremendous amount of factory processed fries without even getting out of your car. I feel similarly about this bread. The effort used to make it enriches and elevates it. It is made with unbleached all purpose flour and plenty of good olive oil. This is a lovely project for a lazy weekend and really shouldn't hit my table too often. Homemade, special treats have no weirdly engineered food products and they have something no factory can add - love. I mean it. My food is good for your because I love the food and I love you.
I scaled back my baking when Mr. Dwayne and I decided we needed to do a better job controlling our weight. I actually started canning because it is similar to baking in that it is exacting, technical and offers a life-long learning curve with tasty results. Bread is something of a collaborative project because it is a living thing that may grow differently based on flour, water and humidity in addition to flavoring agents. I hope that if you are disappointed in your first attempt at bread, you will try again. Great bread is always worth the effort you've given to achieve it.
Look at all that lovely green olive oil!

This focaccia is a great beginner's bread.
Flat breads are very forgiving and lend themselves to endless variation.

I served this focaccia with basic spaghetti bolognese. Talk about a carb-o-rama! But remember, the Italians, like the French, have that paradox thing - they seem to be able to eat all kinds of yummy foods and be healthier overall than Americans overall. So stop worrying and pass the Parm!
The following day we made these gorgeous focaccia pizzas by spooning some of the leftover sauce onto the focaccia and topping with provolone. We popped them under the broiler until hot and bubbly. Best leftovers EVAH!

Focaccia
For the dough:
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl

For the topping:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Coarse or kosher salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine the flour and the salt. In a smaller bowl, combine the warm water, yeast and sugar. Set aside until the yeast blooms - about 5 minutes. Add the water mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add the olive oil and rosemary and kneed until smooth and elastic. I used my Kitchen Aid with a dough hook for about 7 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl and kneed a couple of times to stretch the outer gluten later around the dough. Place the dough in a large oiled ball, smooth side up. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Wrap in a kitchen towel and allow to rise in at warm room temperature until doubled.

When the dough has doubled, gently press the excess gasses out of the dough, being careful to maintain the smooth gluten layer. (I hate it when recipes instruct to "punch down" the dough! Just too rough and not necessary at all!) Now you have a choice. If you are ready to eat soon, you can proceed to baking it after this one rising time. If you are not ready to eat, you can flatten your dough a few times throughout the day. I often start this on a Saturday morning and end up with three rise times before we're ready for dinner. This improves the flavor of the bread, but is not necessary. It is important to keep pressing down the dough each time it doubles. If you let it go too long the gasses will penetrate the gluten layer and your dough will collapse and loose some of its good texture.

When you are ready to eat, begin by preheating your oven to 500 degrees for at least 10 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl and press out the excess gasses and reshape it into a ball. Let it rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the topping. For the topping, mix the olive oil, rosemary and garlic in a small bowl and set aside. After the dough has rested, place it on a greased cookie sheet and begin to flatten it by working it out with your fingers. The dimples that your fingers make will help hold the topping. This dough should easily stretch to fit a large cookie sheet. Brush the dough with the topping. Drizzle with any remaining topping until it is all on the dough. Sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper to taste. Bake in the very hot, preheated oven for about 10 minutes. The focaccia should be golden brown and hard on the bottom. Remove to a wire wrack to cool or serve warm.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pineapple Tomato Salsa

There comes a time in the life of every blogger when blogging must be cast down several stations on the to-do list. I have been living such a time. It's all pretty good and it's all about family, but even good things can be stressful and time consuming. I'm grateful to have a flexible job and husband. I may share more as I'm permitted. Part of being a good family member and blogger means not blabbing about other people's business.

The good news is, I'm back and I have been cooking and eating and taking photos. I have a little back log that should see me though several Random Food Friday posts. Today I'm sharing a project of moderate success.

I really like Trader Joe's Pineapple Salsa. I kept thinking, I can make this. This wouldn't be hard. Nom. Nom. Nom. I began to search all my many books and the interwebs for a recipe that sounded close. It's weird. I could not find one pineapple salsa recipe that included tomatoes. I ended up faking it with proportions from a peach salsa recipe and by using the ingredients list on the side of the Trader Joe's bottle. Of course, I also used my trusty litmus paper to insure proper acidity.
This came out pretty good, though not a true duplicate of Trader Joe's version. I'm new at salsas and I've learned some things that I would change in the future. One thing I've discovered is the heat may increase over time. This tastes much spicier now than when I was taste-testing during cooking. It's still within a good range for me, but leaves behind my more sensitive family members. I've also noticed that it is missing some richness. During a side-by-side taste test today, I determined what is missing is some garlic, tomato paste and a smokey flavor. I used fresh tomatoes from my garden. They added great flavor and texture, but the sweetness and richness of a good shot of tomato paste would have helped a lot. I also used fresh chopped jalapenos and canned diced green chilies. I think using chipotles and freshly charred and chopped green chilies would have added the smokey taste that is missing. I will include some of these suggestions in the recipe.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy pineapple salsa is as a topping for baked sweet potatoes. Top a perfectly baked sweet potato with some of this salsa, a little grated extra sharp cheddar, a dab of sour cream and a sprinkling of cilantro and you've got a fantastic and colorful meal on your hands.

Pineapple and Tomato Salsa
6 cups peeled and diced tomatoes (plus tomato paste to taste)
1 7 oz. can diced green chilies (or equivalent fresh)
2 diced jalapenos (or diced chipotles to taste)
2 cups diced yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, diced (I would use more)
2 20 oz. cans crushed pineapple with juice
3 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. salt (slightly more if using kosher salt)
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Prepare jars and boiling water bath for canning.

Combine all ingredients except the cilantro in a large sauce pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until desired consistency is reached, stirring frequently. Mine took about 40 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the fresh cilantro and stir through. Carefully ladle into jars leaving 1/2 inch head space. Use a knife or chop stick to poke down into the jar along the edges to release air bubbles. Wipe rims with a damp cloth and cover with lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 15 minutes, beginning timing from when the water returns to a full boil. Turn off heat and allow the jars to remain in the water for 5 minutes before carefully removing to a towel lined tray. Allow the jars to sit undisturbed overnight. Check for seals and label.

Makes about 7 12 oz. jars.

8/25/11 - Update - We had tacos for dinner tonight and I doctored up a jar of this salsa. I added a couple of pinches of salt, a sprinkle of garlic powder and a squirt of GIA Sun Dried Tomato Paste. Voila! Perfecto! Extrapolated for the above recipe, I would say, add another teaspoon of salt, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder and one 2.8 oz. tube of the sun dried tomato paste.

I hope you all learn from and avoid my mistakes! Experimentation is fun!

8/13/13 - Another exciting update! Check this new revised version. Much better!