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Friday, September 30, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Tomato Ricotta Tart from Jesse's Kitchen

I have a hobby shared by thousands of people around the world. Somehow, we've become a loosely related but interactive community. We inspire our friends and family and each other. I am one of many. I am a fan girl - a food blog fan girl - and I participate.

This Friday, I am sharing a recipe from a site I recently found - Jesse's Kitchen. I have half a dozen of her posts bookmarked already. She is enthusiastic and makes all of her recipes seem supremely accessible. Once I found her site, I was captured for hours, pouring over all the yummy possibilities.

I made this Tomato Ricotta Tart for a special lunch when Miss Madelyn was home for a visit. Between the three of us, we devoured it in no time at all. (This is why I never quite believe that number of servings thing.) It was easy, yummy and impressive. Look at how beautifully those lightly roasted tomatoes present themselves! Please tell Jesse I told you to try it!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tonight's Dinner - Walnut and Basil Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta

I knew we were having chicken thighs tonight but not much else. When you take something out of the freezer, you kind of commit. We had a lively discussion on the way home about the fate of said chicken. Mr. Dwayne said, "Didn't you have a plan last night? I thought you said what you were going to make something - something with vegetables." I probably say a lot of things about vegetables, but I had no recollection of a plan. This was almost Easy Mu Shu Chicken. It was almost Chicken with Jam Sauce. Heck, it was almost hot dogs and chips. (Mr. Dwayne's suggestion.) In the end I opted for breaded chicken thighs with a pesto pasta side. My basil went crazy this year and it's time to harvest and make pesto for the freezer. I like walnuts for pesto because of the nutty flavor and texture. If you want to tone down the nuttiness, use pine nuts in half the quantity that I use for walnuts here.  I also think the nuttiness compliments the whole wheat pasta. Because the whole dish was nutty and chewy, Mr. Dwayne did not even notice this was whole wheat pasta until I told him.

This basic pesto recipe can be varied in numerous ways. Add more cheese or different cheese or no cheese at all. Substitute all or part of the basil for other herbs. Use nut oils instead of olive oil. The one thing I would insist upon is a goodly amount of garlic. This recipe makes enough to sauce up to a pound of pasta. It would also be delicious as a pizza topper or sandwich spread. Store left over pesto in the refrigerator in an air-tight container with a layer of olive oil covering the top. The oil will protect the basil and prevent discoloration. I've never frozen pesto before and plan to give this recipe a try. I'll let you know how it freezes once we try it out.

Walnut and Basil Pesto
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup freshly grated cheese (I used a mixture of Parmesan and Romano)
2 cups basil leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place the garlic, nuts and cheese in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely ground. Add the basil leaves and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Close and turn on the food processor and pour the olive oil slowly into the pour spout. Process until a uniform paste forms. Taste and adjust seasoning. (The amount of salt that you need to add with vary depending on the saltiness of the cheese.)

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain well and return to hot pot. Stir in desired amount of pesto and serve immediately.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pear, Lemon and Cardamom Jam

Whenever I'm on my own for a meal, or going out with my best girl friends, I always opt for "Non-Dwayne Foods." This usually means Thai, Vietnamese or Indian food. Mr. Dwayne's palate has stretched considerably in the time we've know each other. Still, most highly flavored ethnic foods are right out.

One of my favorite quick meals is banh mi at Huang Lan Sandwiches in South Sacramento. (#7 - Grilled Pork - $3!) These are the freshest, most flavorful and most affordable sandwiches in town. These sandwiches are the sole reason I learned to eat jalapenos! I've learned to love the heat! They are hot, sweet, sour, creamy, crunchy, fresh and savory - practically every flavor at once. Add a Vietnamese iced coffee and you have a very nearly perfect meal.

Whenever I visit Huang Lan, I check to see if there are bags of produce hanging around. I think that some family members must have fruit trees. They don't usually sell produce, but every now and then there are fruity treasures tied up in plastic bags and sold at rediculous prices. I've scored kumquats, persimmons, Asian pears and now, Bartlett pears. I bought two plastic bags stuffed with pears for $1.75 per bag. I didn't weigh them, but I'm thinking they were close to 8 lbs. total. I can't know how these pears were raised, but they were local and they were bumpy and flawed enough to make me think no one was fussing over them too much.
I've had a recipe for pear and cardamom jam on my favorites list since last year. I figured this was my big chance. As usual, this recipe is a combination of several that I read. My sniffer told me to up the ante on the lemon, and I'm glad I did. The subtle sweetness of the pears is a perfect back drop for the lemon high note. The fragrant cardamom comes through at the finish. It is delicious with mild cheeses such as cottage cheese or ricotta. I think it would make a superb cheese cake topping.

Three out of three tasters agree - eye-rollingly good.*

I'm excited that the pear and apple seasons are just getting started. I have become much more efficient at processing these kinds of fruits. For this jam, I peeled the pears and used my V-Slicer to slice strips of pear right off the core. It went super fast! I then ran my knife through the pear sticks in the opposite direction and came out with a nice uniform dice. I don't think I will core and slice a pear or apple again!

Pear, Lemon and Cardamom Jam
4 lbs. of peeled and chopped pears
1/2 cup lemon juice
zest of one lemon
4 cups sugar
6 cardamom pods

Prepare boiling water bath, jars and lids. Place several spoons on a saucer in the freezer.

Combine the pears, lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar in a large pot. Place the cardamom pods in a mortar and pound them lightly to open the pods and release the seeds. Place the pods and seeds in a wire mesh tea ball or in a sachet made out of cheese cloth. Add the cardamom packet to the fruit. Bring to a boil. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally. When the jam begins to thicken and approach 220 degrees, begin to test by scooping a small amount onto one of the frozen spoons. Place the spoon back in the freezer until no longer hot but not cold. If it mounds up and does not run easily off the spoon, it is done. I've also learned to taste the jam for the mouth feel. I've come to like a softer set and rarely progress to a jam that sets up as a solid.

When the jam has thickened to your liking, remove the cardamom packet. Remove the pot from the heat and skim any foam. Carefully ladle into hot, prepared jars. Leave 1/4 inch head space. Check for bubbles and use a bamboo skewer or chopstick to release the trapped air. Wipe the rims and top with lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the jars to remain in the boiling water bath for 5 minutes then carefully remove to a towel lined tray. Allow to come to cool overnight before labeling for storage.

Makes 3 pints.

*One of the tasters was me.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fig and Balsamic Jam

Ah figs. So expensive to buy, so abundant if you have a tree. Figs are one of those super productive plants that become expensive simply because of the difficulty of handling. Fig trees grow all over California, and I've scoped out many volunteers who grow and produce even without irrigation. I recently found one just a block from my office in an unused and unfenced field. It's loaded with green figs now, so I don't know if birds or people have been plucking the ripe ones as they appear. You can bet I will be watching.

What you see above is a grilled cheese sandwich made with organic sharp white cheddar and some of this figgy jam on Rachelle's fresh baked bread. Heaven. If you want to convince someone that canning is a good idea, break this one out. You will not find this jam on your store's shelf. Sometimes the food fates conspire to provide abundance and excellence and I am lucky enough to be there to stir the pot.

My friends, Paula and Laura, have a fig tree. Whenever I visit, I always check their tree and help myself for snacking. When Laura asked me if I wanted some figs, I said, "Sure!" I was expecting a few pints for snacking but came home from work one night to find four pounds in a brown grocery bag - way too many for me to eat before they went bad. I hadn't made jam with figs and began to search for a good recipe. This recipe is an amalgam of several recipes. The primary inspiration came from Sherri Brooks Vinton's book, Put 'em Up. Her recipe for Sticky Fig jam inspired me to use balsamic vinegar as a flavor enhancer. The proportions come from finding a recipe online that fitted my amount of figs. The addition of half a cup of lemon juice comes from me tasting and adjusting. I can declare this an unmitigated success.

One key to the success of this recipe is the use of an extraordinary balsamic vinegar. We came across this vinegar while visiting the Olivier shop in St. Helena. A wise sales woman urged us to try it. I would not usually spend $16.50 0n a bottle of vinegar, but one taste was all it took. I was hooked and still am. Even a few drops of this magic elixir will enhance and elevate a dish.
Some of the fig jam recipes I read required that the figs be peeled. This really had me scratching my head. Why?Look at the lovely black coats on these mission figs. I used them as is. I simply washed them and cut them into large chunks. I think both the skin and the large size of the chunks have enhanced the final product.
I hope you are in relationship with a fig tree that will contribute to your overall joy. If you ever have an excess of ripe figs, now you know exactly what to do. (Or, you can call me!)

Fig and Balsamic Jam
8 cups chopped figs
4 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup very good balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water

Prepare jars, lids, rings and boiling water bath. Place several spoons on a saucer in the freezer.

Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Continue to boil, reducing heat when the jam starts to thicken. Use a potato masher to break down the figs as they cook. Stir frequently to prevent scorching. When jam begins to reach a desirable thickness, scoop a little out onto one of the spoons from the freezer and place it back in the freezer to cool to room temp. When the jam mounds nicely and does not run quickly off the spoon, it is ready. (My thermometer is broken, so I had to eyeball this one. I expect that it would come just to 220 degrees and be ready immediately.)

Remove the jam from the heat and skim off any foam. (By the time mine was ready, it had no foam at all.) Ladle into hot prepared jars. Wipe the rims and top with prepared lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off the boiling water bath and wait 5 minutes to carefully remove the jars to a towel lined tray. Allow to cool, undisturbed, until room temperature. Wipe off any excess water and label.

Makes 10 half pints.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

My Family's Recipes - Apple Slice

My mother-in-law, Pat, has been making Apple Slice since the 70's. It's weird to think that this means this dessert has been around for over 30 years. It is one of the first desserts I remember having at my new boy friend's house way back when. Mr. Dwayne likes this dessert because the fruit to crust ratio favors the crust. Big time.
All these years later, I am making this dessert for the Covey boys. We now get to make it with Macs from Bill's lovely mature tree. As fall rolls around and you visit Apple Hill or just take advantage of the new crop of apples at the farmers' market, I hope you will try this yummy apple treat.

Apple Slice
For the Crust:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 cup shortening
1 egg (separated)
enough milk added to the egg yolk to make 2/3 cup

For the filling:
2/3 cup corn flakes
5 cups apple slices
1 1/2 cups sugar (I only used one and think 3/4 cup would be plenty)
1 tsp. cinnamon

Combine the flour, sugar and salt. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Whisk the egg yolk and milk together and stir into the flour mixture. Press the dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill if not using right away.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out half the dough and place on a cookie sheet. (Pat used to be able to completely line a jelly roll pan. I had more of an oblong on my cookie sheet.) Layer the corn flakes, apples, sugar and cinnamon on the prepared dough, leaving 1 inch clear along the edges. (There is no indication of dotting with butter in Pat's written recipe, but I think it a good idea.) Combine the egg white with 1 tablespoon water and whisk to combine. Brush the clear area on the edge of the dough with the egg white mixture. Roll out the remaining dough to fit over all. Seal and crimp the edges. Brush top of dough with the remaining egg white mixture. Cut a few slits in top crust to allow steam to escape. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes.

Remove from oven. If desired, drizzle with a glaze made from 1/2 cup powdered sugar combined with 2 teaspoons lemon juice.

Makes 8 servings

Friday, September 2, 2011

Random Food Fridays - Clean-Out-the-Fridge Green Curry

As I enjoyed this spicy and creamy dish, I reflected that coconut milk curry is almost like the cream of mushroom soup of easy Thai cuisine. It really couldn't be any easier. About four cups of random veggies, a blop of Mae Ploy green curry paste and a can of coconut milk and you've got a great dish. I used onion, patty pan squash, eggplant, leftover green beans and some Sungold tomatoes from the garden. I like my curry rich and spicy, so I used about three tablespoons of the curry paste and full fat coconut milk. You can saute the veggies for a bit before adding the curry paste and coconut milk, but it's really ready to eat as soon as it is heated through. Serve with rice, if you wish. I was lazy and had mine with crackers. You could really make this any old way you wish. Yum!