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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cardamom & Pepper Plum Jam plus Almond Jam Tart

Plums of every kind are abundant in California. I have seldom paid for a plum in my life time. My parents have several trees with little wild golden plums. Another friend has a stately Santa Rosa plum that dominates his backyard, and yet another friend has an elderly gentleman neighbor who is very happy to exchange plums for a few jars of jam. Like all stone fruits, plums come in high summer, when the heat is really oppressive and close to dangerous. These plums arrived in the midst of a heat wave a few weeks ago where the indoor temp of the house got up to 93 degrees! We usually do quite well without AC because the Delta breezes come in the evening and cool everything right down. That heat wave was made worse by nighttime temps that stayed in the 80's. All of this is just to explain why I had a freezer full of plums. It was getting pretty ridiculous. We couldn't even get at the ice trays without a major operation. So, while Mr. Dwayne was at Comic Con this week, I planned to cook those plums and make some room in the freezer. It has still been pretty hot, but the pleasant nights have made up for any heat accumulated during the day.

 After three batches (24 half-pint jars!) of my old standby, plum and pineapple, I just had to do something different. I followed my nose to the spice cabinet and found that cardamom and rainbow pepper made a unique and plum-friendly blend. My plan was to take the spices, bash them up a bit and put them in a tea ball to infuse the jam. My plan when awry when the tea ball burst open towards the end of cooking. No one wants to bite into a cardamom pod. I whipped out my handy food mill and put the mixture through, capturing all the bits and pieces. The only disappointment is that this process also removed the skins. But, the beautiful color and tartness of the skins had already been infused into the jam. So, if you choose to do this, you can do it either way - cook and strain or use a strainer that works. A cheese cloth bundle would also work.

 In the finished product, the cardamom is forward in a nice way. The pepper is very subtle. I really wanted that pepper corn aroma more than heat. I used 1 tbsp. of each. I think that next time, I would reduce the cardamom a little and increase the pepper. But, if you want to just flavor with cardamom, 1 tbsp. is a good amount. Please use good green pods and crack them just before cooking. Powder will just not work for this purpose.

As usual, I had a bit left over and I was heading out to a dessert potluck in the evening. This was a very successful experiment. It is puff pastry, an almond paste custard, dollops of jam and then toasted sliced almonds. Very impressive. Not much effort.

You could make this tart with any jam, but be sure to use a very tart jam to offset the rich, sweet custard.

A beautiful reward to share with friends after a long, hot day of jamming!

Cardamom & Pepper Plum Jam
3 1/2 lbs pitted and chopped plums
4 1/2 cups cane sugar
1 tbsp. rainbow or black peppercorns
1 tbsp. whole green cardamom pods
1 pkg. Sure Jell reduced sugar pectin in the pink box

Add the chopped plums to a large pot. Use a mortar and pestle or a heavy pan to bash the peppercorns and cardamom pods. Add the spices to a tea ball or cheese cloth bundle and add to the pot with the plums. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Measure 1/4 of sugar from the 4 1/2 cups sugar and place in a small bowl. Stir the pectin powder into the 1/4 cup sugar. When fruit is boiling, stir in the sugar and pectin mixture. Return to a boil then add the remaining sugar. Stir until dissolved. Bring to a full rolling boil that can't be stirred down. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat. Remove tea ball. (Or, in my case, the contents!) Carefully ladle the jam into prepared jars, wipe the rim, top with lid and ring and finger tighten. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 8 to 9 half-pint jars, plus a little extra.

Almond Jam Tart
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 8 oz can almond paste
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup tart jam, such as the plum jam above
1/4 cup sliced, toasted almonds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly flour a clean surface and roll out the puff pastry. Carefully lift over the rolling pin and place on the parchment paper lined pan. Set aside.

Crumble the almond paste into the bowl of a mixer. Add the eggs and sour cream. Beat with the whisk attachment until the mixture is pretty smooth. Some little lumps are ok. Spread the almond mixture on the pastry dough, leaving a 1 inch border. Stir and dollop the jam on the pastry. Do not blend in, but leave distinct areas of jam. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the sliced toasted almonds in the last 5 minutes. Allow to cool a bit before slicing. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Random Food Fridays - Summer Ratatouille Lasagna

I am currently enjoying my first successful garden. It's great! In fact, I love my happy plants. Each piece of produce is just a bonus. I have healthy soil, healthy plants and gigantic shade trees. Those trees are great for our comfort and budget (no AC) but, they do block the energy of the Sun. My plants get about 6 hours of direct sun a day. They would do much better with 8 or more. Still, I'm getting lots of zucchini. In fact, enough that I am getting busy figuring it out how to use it all.

Eggplant: slice, brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil, 5 minutes per side. Same for the zucchini. This removed the excess moisture and adds flavor.

I was gifted with a gorgeous home-grown eggplant by one of my coworkers. With a pile of zucchini and a big eggplant, I thought, "Hmmm, gluten free lasagna..." I am not living gluten free, but my best friend, Miss Paula is. She has been out of town and missed this experiment, but I promised to make one for her when she returns. This experiment was very successful. Although, with these ingredients, it's hard to know how you could go wrong.

This could easily be a vegetarian lasagna. I made a red sauce with turkey Italian sausages, tomatoes and mushrooms. The middle layer is ricotta mixed with an egg, chopped fresh basil and parm.

 Red sauce on bottom, then the eggplant, more sauce, ricotta and grated cheese.

 Top with zucchini, the remaining sauce and grated cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for abut 20 minutes.

 Mine is a little over browned because I didn't hear the timer go off. Still delicious.

My dinner. So good!

Summer Ratatouille Lasagna
1 tbsp. olive oil, plus additional for brushing the vegetables
1 lb. turkey Italian sausage
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
2 large closed garlic, diced
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz. jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1 pretty big eggplant
1 pretty big zucchini
1 15 oz. container ricotta
1 egg
2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
8 oz. grated cheese (I used an Italian blend)

Preheat your oven's broiler on high. Wash, dry and slice the eggplant and zucchini, long ways, into 1/4 inch slices. Brush the veggies with olive oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper. I had to do the broiling in two steps - one pan of eggplant and one pan of zucchini. I broiled them for about 5 minutes on each side. Because this takes about 20 minutes, you can prepare the sauce while preparing the veggies.

For the sauce, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Remove the sausage from the casing and add to the hot pan. Add the onion, garlic and mushrooms. Cook until the sausage is done. Drain excess liquid. Add the bottled sauce and diced tomatoes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer while finishing the veggies and putting together the ricotta filling.

For the ricotta filling, in a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, chopped fresh basil, egg and 2 tbsp. Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine.

After the broiling is complete, set the oven for 400 degrees on the baking setting. 

To assemble, layer the following:

1.  x 13 inch pan, greased or sprayed
2. A small amount of sauce to cover the bottom of the pan
3. Layer the cooked eggplant slices
4. Spread with the ricotta mixture
5. Spoon over half of remaining sauce
6. Sprinkle with half the grated cheese
7. Layer the cooked zucchini slices
8. Spoon over remaining sauce
9. Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese 
10. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp. Parmesan

Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 8. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Random Food Fridays - Summer Squash and Sausage Saute

It is easy to eat quick, healthy and delicious food in Summer. It's especially easy when you can walk into your backyard garden and pick your dinner. So far, I have only been able to harvest squash and herbs. There are tons of green tomatoes, but nobody is ripe yet. So, for this dish, I have added farmers' market onions, sweet corn and tomatoes on the side. Oh, and there is some fully cooked, organic chicken Italian sausage too.

My backyard garden is very green and happy, but those plants sure have to make some effort to produce. I only get about 6 hours of direct sun per day. This is enough to keep plants healthy and happy, but not enough to have a lot of produce. Therefore, each squash, pumpkin and flower gets a lot of excitement and enthusiasm from me.

Mr. Dwayne enjoyed this dish thoroughly and took some leftovers for lunch. Nothing like a little sausage to help the vegetables go down!

My dinner!

Summer Squash and Sausage Saute
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 of a large yellow onion
1 pretty large zucchini
1 pretty large yellow squash
1 package fully cooked chicken sausage (I used Italian, but any you like will do)
2 ears of sweet corn
hand full of fresh basil
4 large fresh sage leaves
Salt, pepper and garlic/herb seasoning to taste

Cook the ears of sweet corn by your favorite method. I like this and it works every time. I've also done the soaked ears of corn in cold water and then grilled and shucked this way. Easy peasy. When the corn is done, cut the kernels away from the cob and set aside.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, heavy bottomed pan, over a medium flame. Slice the onion and add to the pan. Wash and quarter the squash length-wise then cut into slices. Slice the sausages into bit-size pieces. Add the squash and sausages to the pan. Heat through, stirring occasionally. Add the corn and the chopped herbs. Taste for seasoning. Some sausages are quite salty, spicy and garlicky. It's best to season after the sausages have released some of their flavor. Serves 4.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Random Food Fridays - Macaroni Salad

It has been pretty darn hot. Last night, my instant-read kitchen thermometer said that my living room was 90.8 degrees. That's inside, folks. We are often glad we don't have AC. Our energy bills are next to nothing. This recent heat wave sent us out shopping for a portable room air conditioner. For better or worse, they were sold out all over town. Thank goodness, our over night temps finally came down last night. We were able to cool down the house with our whole-house fan and right now, it is a comfortable 72 degrees.

My cousin, Genny, and her family, have an Independence Day tradition of having a road rally. Usually, folks enjoy driving around with the tops down. This time, not so much. We opted out of the road rally this year but attended the BBQ afterwards. My Aunt Barbara and Uncle Larry are fantastic hosts and we had a great time visiting with friends, old and new. This macaroni salad was our contribution to the pot luck. It is yummy, simple, traditional and always welcome. With potato salad, you can go with the sweet pickle plan or the dill pickle plan. Both are delicious. In fact, Barbara makes a famously delicious potato salad on the dill pickle plan. In my humble opinion, traditional macaroni can only be on the sweet pickle plan. Pick a pickle you like because that is the flavor you will get. I used sweet gherkins. Also - please, no pickle relish. Crunchy chunks of pickle are the way to go.

I used my handy V-slicer to quickly shred the carrot, shallot and celery. Sliced olives are drained and added. The pickles are roughly chopped by hand. Save the pickle juice!

Top with the cooked and drained macaroni. Add the sour cream, mayo, mustard, salt and pepper.

Stir and taste. Go easy on the salt on the first round. Many of the ingredients are salty and very little additional salt is needed. After a few hours in the fridge, you may need to stir in a bit more sour cream or mayo to moisten. Enjoy!

Macaroni Salad
1 lb. dry macaroni
2 small carrots
1 shallot
2 ribs celery
3.8 oz can sliced blacked olives
1 cup coarsely chopped sweet pickles
1/4 cup pickle juice
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp. yellow mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the macaroni in salted boiling water according to package directions. Meanwhile, wash and either grate or chop fine the carrots, shallot and celery. Place in a large bowl. Add the drained olives and the pickles. Once macaroni is cooked, drain and rinse. Add on top of the veggies in the bowl. Pour the pickle juice over the pasta. Add the sour cream, mayo, mustard and salt and pepper. Stir to combine and adjust seasoning. Place in fridge to chill. Fluff the salad before serving. Add more sour cream or mayo if needed.

This makes a lot - enough for a big picnic with some left overs to boot!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Saying Good Bye to Grandma Betty

My Grandma Betty passed on May 27. She was 94 years old. She was a pretty amazing woman. She was the foundation of our family for my whole lifetime. Not many people get to be my age and still have a living grandparent. I have been blessed.

Grandma was both an independent woman and a devoted family member. She moved to Sacramento to open her own beauty shop as a young woman in the late 1930's. A pretty big leap from being a farm girl in Tracy. She was set up on a blind date with my grandpa "Pappy" and they married five weeks later! Pappy passed in 1985, at 72, and Grandma lived on her own until she was 90. For many years, we visited Grandma every Monday and had dinner with her. We made this plan because we found out she had gotten up on her roof to clean the gutters! She was almost 80 at the time! My husband and I agreed that she would not likely ask for help, so our plan was to show up every week until she got used to us. Sure enough, she began to save strenuous chores for us because she knew she could just wait until Monday and we could help. From time to time our visits increased - to keep the yard watered in the heat of summer; to change bandages when she had an injury; to take her to the grocery store. I am so happy that we spent time with Grandma! My other grandparents all passed when I was in the intense times of child rearing. After our little girl launched, we had more time to extend ourselves to our elders.

Grandma Betty cared for her elders most of her adult life. Her parents lived in the house where my family has lived and grown. For over 20 years, she made her way to her parents house to care for them. She also provided care and visits for her brothers-in-law. Both her mother and her brothers-in-law lived longer than her own precious husband. As we remembered her at her memorial, we had some laughs because the big things in life only got her down for a moment. She was a deeply practical woman. But, if you did something the "wrong way" (translation not Grandma Betty's way) you would be educated most vigorously! I think as we get older, we all get more set in our ways. After all, her ways had worked for 90+ years!

Grandma was very proud of our girl, Madelyn. Here are Grandma, my mom, myself and Madelyn at Madelyn's undergrad ceremony in Berkeley. It was unusually hot that day, and we were a bit worried about her, but she did great. At that time, she got around pretty good with a strong arm or the help of her cane, but it was such a long day, we rolled her around in style. When I was a young mom, my parents were still hard at work. Grandma Betty always loved to help out. Madelyn told me that one of her favorite memories was of spinning on her bottom on Grandma Betty's coffee table! Grandma, who had the same exact place for EVERYTHING for my entire living memory, would move her belongings aside for a little girl to spin on her fanny. Sometimes, I think she allowed more spaciousness for others than she did for herself. I will always remember her loving kindness and generosity to us. It is because of her that we were able to raise Madelyn the way we did. Grandma Betty, I thank you!

My parents grew up across the street from each other. This meant that a trip to either Grandma's house included a trip to the other's. During the holidays, we always had Christmas Eve at Grandma's house. We would have dinner, open presents, then we would pack it up and go across the street to Grammy and Pappy's house for dessert and more presents. This was the routine for my childhood and also my girl's childhood. As Grandma became more fragile, we helped her to put up her decorations every year. Her tree had those big snow ball lights. It was always beautiful. In Grandma Betty's world, Christmas went up the weekend after Thanksgiving and came down the weekend after the New Year. Like clock work. I'm so glad we could help her and I treasure those memories. One other Christmas ritual was taking the holiday decorations over to the crypts that house her parents and her husband. As long as she was able, she went with either my mom or me and lovingly communed with her ancestors and made sure they were remembered for the holidays. Her urn has now joined them and I will do my best to keep up her tradition.

Grandma Betty, preparing part of the Christmas Eve meal.

I've shared many of Grandma's recipes on my little blog. There are two things I will always attribute to her and they will always be welcome at our family gatherings - Grandma Betty's Orange Jello and Grandma Betty's Square Bottle Dressing. We will be holding a family reunion later this summer and I have been asked to bring the heirloom recipes I've collected. It should be a lot of fun. Bittersweet, but fun. 

Grandma Betty will be remembered by my descendants. My daughter and I will pass her stories down as best we can. During my last conversation with Grandma, I promised that I would never forget her and I would tell all my grand kids about her. 

Along with all the losses of this Spring, there has also been a lot of sweetness for me. Somehow, I feel more grown up. Not only have I been promoted in the family hierarchy, I've also learned that very important lesson - there is always sweetness. As my grief recedes, I realize how hard it has been to be worried about my elder women all these years. Right now, everyone is in safe hands. What will I do? Time to find out.