Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pickled hot peppers

Just finished a batch of pickled hot peppers -- jalapenos and cherry hots.

I did them with a sweet pickling brine, much like one used for bread and butter pickles.  These will be great on sandwiches, or in a batch of pimento cheese.

Cut up about two pounds of mixed hot peppers.  I used jalapenos, and green and red cherry hots.  Salt them liberally, cover them, and let them sit in the fridge overnight -- about 16 hours.  N.B.  You MUST use rubber gloves when handling this much fruit.  Be careful not to rub your eyes or nose while you're doing this, or you will regret it. 

Drain the brined peppers and rinse them very well under cold, running water.  The ample salt needs to be rinsed off.  Don't worry that you'll be un-salting the peppers -- there will still be plenty absorbed into the peppers. 


Make a brine of equal parts sugar and vinegar.  (I used 5 cups each, so that I'd be sure to have enough pickling liquid.   Add a tablespoon each of peppercorns and mustard seed.

Bring to a boil, then add the raw peppers.  Bring this just back to the boil.  Then cover and get ready to fill your clean jars. 


While your pickling liquid (I hesitate to call it a brine, as there's no salt in it...) is coming to the boil, put on a large pot of water in which you'll eventually process your filled jars.

Sterilize your jars, lids, and bands.  You can boil them, or put them in a hot (375°F) oven for 15-20 minutes.  I ovened the jars and bands, and boiled the lids very gently.

I encourage all readers of Six Degrees of Preparation to consult the National Center for Home Food Preservation, out of the University of Georgia, for details on pickling.  Excellent resource. 


Ladle the peppers into the jars using your canning funnel to keep things neat.  Then ladle pickling liquid to fill to the 1/4-inch mark (that is, the bottom of the canning funnel, conveniently calibrated to that measurement).

Run a knife around the inside of each jar to be sure there are no large air bubbles.  Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean paper towel, put on the sterile lids, lightly screw on the bands, then process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. 


After processing, remove to a clean, dry towel, and wait for the lids to pop.  They should do so quickly.  If not, you can try to reprocess any that haven't popped, or just use those jars right away and store in the fridge.  Keep in mind that this is a potent pickling liquid -- sugar and vinegar -- and the likelihood of anything growing in this medium is remote.  

Let stand at room temperature until well cooled.  Even though these are "put up," I still store them in my basement refrigerator.

Store opened jars in the fridge. 








Sunday, September 28, 2014

Eggplant parmigiana

I would've sworn I posted this recipe a long while ago -- but alas, I have not.  

Eggplant parm is one of those composed dishes that I adore.  It takes a lot of work to assemble -- make no mistake.  So this is something to reserve for a Sunday afternoon. 

Make a few pans, and freeze what you're not going to use.  It takes no more effort to make two pans of parm as it does one.  

Eggplant parm has a thousand variations, and every cook makes it slightly differently, and swears by their own recipe. This recipe recalls the one that my grandmother Catherine would make.  I remember her making it for our annual family picnics in Gladwyne Park. 

Here's what makes my eggplant parm mine:

•  I always peel my eggplant.  Many cooks do not.  
•  After slicing the eggplant, I salt it generously, sit it on paper towels, and let it 'weep' for about an hour, then blot with dry paper towels.  Not only does this soften the eggplant, but it seasons it well; there's nothing worse than bland parm.  Some of the TV chefs insist this removes "bitterness," but I'm not fully convinced of that.  Besides, the bit of bitterness inherent in eggplant gives it its unique and appealing flavor.  
•  I don't coat the eggplant with bread crumbs.  I dredge in flour, then dip in egg, then fry quickly.
•  I use a simple marinara sauce -- oil, garlic, tomato.  No need for anything more.  Yes, you can use a jarred sauce if you'd like.  I promise not to tell.  
•  I love using fontina cheese in this.  I get sliced fontina at Trader Joe's (it's the only place I've every found it).  It's got great flavor, is creamy, and melts well.  I typically don't use mozzarella. If you can't find fontina, deli provolone works well. 
•  And despite the fact that this is called "parmigiana," I also use pecorino romano cheese.  Parmigiana is nuttier and less sharp in character, so feel free to use it if you'd like.  I prefer the sharpness of the pecorino. 
•  I used disposable foil chafing pans (buy them anywhere).  They're deeper than any ceramic baking dish I own -- and I own a LOT of ceramic baking dishes -- and when you've finished enjoying the parm, the pan gets tossed.  
•  I typically use a double foil pan.  Adds sturdiness to the pan, and minimizes the likelihood of pinhole leaks.

Assembling a parm requires a bit of operational organization.  First you have to make the sauce (if you're making your own).  You can make the sauce days in advance, or use jarred.  
Then you have to fry the eggplant, and set that aside.  Then line up your cheeses and pans.  The start the assembly operation.  Consider this an SOP. 

Slice the eggplant.  You'll need at least two large eggplant to make a couple pans of parm.  Use your judgment.  If you have more than you need, serve what's left as a side dish at dinner.

Arrange the slices on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.  Salt liberally on both sides.  Cover with more paper towels.  Let sit an hour or so.  The eggplant will surrender a great deal of liquid.  Pat dry.


Set up your assembly line -- a large bowl with all-purpose flour, and another with beaten eggs.  Probably no need to season either of these, as the eggplant are well seasoned already. 


Dredge the slices in the flour, and then dip into the egg, then right into hot oil, until beautifully golden.  



Drain on paper towels.  Set aside. Again, this is something you can do hours before, and honestly, this is the most onerous of the tasks in making eggplant parm. 


Start the assembly.  Spray a deep foil pan with release spray.  Put a bit of sauce in the bottom, and start lining up the fried eggplant. 


Continue laying in the slices, slightly overlapping, until you have the first layer. 


Cover with sauce.  Pay no attention to that jar of sauce you see in the background that I could not crop out of the photo.


Sprinkle generously with grated pecorino (or parmigiano).


Cover with sliced fontina.  If you cannot get your hands on fontina, deli-style provolone works well.  Again, I don't use mozzarella.  I love mozzarella, but I find it stringy and bland in the layers. 


Repeat two more times.  In these deep foil pans, you should have enough depth for three layers.
After the top layer, strew shredded mozzarella on top.  This is the only place I'd used mozzarella, largely because it will be browned when in the oven. 


If you've just assembled the parm, and are ready to pop it into the over, do so.  First, cover it, ideally with non-stick aluminum foil. ( Reynolds Non-Stick Foil.  Genius product!)  Place it on a baking sheet -- it almost certainly will bubble over -- and into a 325°F oven for about 45 minutes.  It should be fully warmed through.  Remove the foil cover, raise the oven to 375°F, and let the top brown, about 15 minutes.


You MUST let this sit a good 20 minutes or more before you try cutting into it.  This will stay adequately warm for a long time, so don't fret that it will get cold. 


If you happen to have that second pan you made which you covered and froze, and want to cook that, then let it thaw fully before trying to bake it.  Even thawed, it will be cool.  Just as above, cover with non-stick foil, and bake at 325°F.  But you're likely going to have to bake this substantially longer.  Parm is dense, and it takes a long time for heat to penetrate, especially a pan of it that's been frozen.  Be patient.  Use a quick-read thermometer, and poke it into the middle and see what the temp is after it's been in the oven for an hour.  You'll want it to be at least 140°F, and probably as high at 160°F before you remove the foil to brown the top.  This seems like it takes forever, and that's because it does. 


On a Swiss roll: Swiss chard with cannellini beans

More Swiss chard.  This time, stewed chard with cannellini beans, a delicious "minestra" to serve as a first course, a side dish, or a light meal. 

Following up from the last post on Swiss chard. 


Two bunches of Swiss chard, well washed, stems removed, chopped coarsely (about 8 cups loosely packed chopped leaves)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
Olive oil
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 anchovy fillets (optional)

Film a Dutch oven generously with olive oil (you'll probably want about 1/4 - 1/3 cup), and bring to medium heat.  Add sliced garlic and saute it until just barely golden.  Add anchovy fillets and red pepper flakes if desired. 

Add the washed, chopped chard. (It will make a fuss when you add the wet greens to the hot oil, so beware!)

Cover the pot, and let the chard wilt for a few minutes.  Add the rinsed beans, stir well, add about 1/2 water, and bring to a simmer.  Cover, reduce heat to very low, and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the chard is very tender. 

Finish with a drizzle of raw olive oil.

Serve in soup plates with crusty bread.  Once you have this, you'll feel like you need nothing else on your menu that evening. 




Seriously gorgeous steak

The last hurrah of summer -- a thick ribeye steak on the grill.

Get a beautifully marbled steak -- at the minimum, 1 inch thick.  (Go to your butcher and get one.  Most of the pre-cut steaks at the supermarket are far too thin for grilling.)  I got mine at Charlie Giunta's shop in Reading Terminal Market.  The BEST.

Simple is best.  A quick sprinkle of salt, or at most, a mixture of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. 

Onto a VERY hot grill.  6 minutes on the first side.  Turn 90° 3 minutes into it to get the attractive cross-hatch grill marks if you want.  

Turn, and grill 4 minutes on the other side.  Again, turn 90° halfway through to get the cross-hatch. 

You really don't want to cook this steak any more than medium-rare, or you're wasting your good money. 

Pull it off the fire.  Let it rest 10 minutes, and slice it down.  An inch-thick rib steak will easily feed two people for dinner.



Perfectly medium-rare. 

Swiss can't miss

Swiss chard is all over the farmer markets the last couple weeks, and it's a green that I love.

Chard is part of the beet family -- pretty much the same plant, but bred for its leaves rather than its root.  



Its flavor is unique, but close to escarole and spinach, and of course, beet greens.  Swiss chard is wonderful stewed with beans in a "minestra," or just sauteed in olive oil and garlic.  Excellent in soups, too.

I had a couple bunches on hand and decided on a pie -- a quiche, a pita.  My aim was something like spanakopita, but using the chard instead of the spinach, and using a short crust pastry instead of phyllo. 

Several bunches of swiss chard, well washed, stems removed, cut into small pieces.  (You'll have 10-12 cups loosely packed chopped leaves.)
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
~ 1/4 lb salt pork, rind removed, chopped fine

Saute the salt pork in a bit of oil in large Dutch oven until lightly browned.  Remove.

Add onion, garlic.  Saute a few minutes until tender.

Add Swiss chard.  Cover pot, and let it steam and collapse.  Your 12 cups of loosely packed leaves will collapse quickly into a couple cups of cooked chard.

Remove the lid, and stir the chard until it is well wilted.  Let moisture evaporate.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat.  Add 2 Tbp flour, mix well, and let cool.  Transfer to a mixing bowl. 

To the cooled, cooked chard, add:

6 oz ricotta or cottage cheese
~ 1 cup cubed mozzarella
~ 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
 A few grates of nutmeg (~ 1/8 tsp)
Salt and pepper to taste (about 1 tsp each)
2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk
2 Tbp cream
~ 1 cup cooked brown rice (or white rice, or orzo pasta, or similar)

Mix well, and turn into a 9-inch pie plate lined with your favorite pastry crust.  Dot with butter.  Cover with a second crust.  Crimp edges.  Wash surface with egg wash.  Cut steam vents.

Bake at 375°F for 50-60 minutes, until nicely browned. 

Let cool before slicing.  Excellent at room temperature or very slightly warm. 










Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tools of the trade

 All-Clad stainless cookware

 All-Clad stainless cookware and others
 
 
 Spices, dried herbs, seasonings

 
  Tools -- organized by wooden (left), plastic (rear), metal (right), spatulas (foreground).
Knife block to the right. 

 
 Tools --wooden spoons.  And a rubber mallet, one of my favorite tools,
and only $5 at the hardware store.

 Oils, vinegars, food processor

Oils -- corn, olive, peanut.  In re-purposed beverage bottles with bar spouts.

 Kosher salt, ground black pepper and red pepper flakes,
"house seasoning" (salt/black pepper/garlic powder).
 

Garlic and onions. 
And the big Kitchen Aid mixer to the left. 
Cutting boards to the rear.

 Large oak cutting board, being put to good use.
Dad made this for me before I left for graduate school.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Corn fritters -- sweet and savory

It's summer and the corn is everywhere.  On the cob, off the cob, in a chowder, in a quesadilla, in a pudding, on a pizza with pesto.

And in corn fritters. Especially in corn fritters.

My generic (or sweet) fritter batter is a simple flour-baking powder-egg-milk mixture, with a LOT of corn thrown in.

As my grandmother used to say, "The more you put, the more you find."

This recipe should have at a minimum, one cup of corn kernels.  But it will easily accommodate up to 3 cups or more.  The texture and nature of the fritters will be different, of course, but that's part of the pleasure.  The mixtures in which the corn is just barely held together by the batter make the best fritters.  
 
1 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk
1 egg
1 to 3 cups corn kernels (can be raw right off the cob, or cut from leftover steamed or boiled ears, or in a pinch or out of season, frozen or canned)

The batter. 

Combine ingredients.  Mix well.  Spoon or scoop about 1/3 cup for each fritter into shallow oil.  (I use an ice cream scoop.)

Fry in ½ inch of oil over medium heat, turning when brown on one side.  Be careful not to fry in oil that is too hot as the interior will remain uncooked while the exterior is overcooked.  

 Gently frying over moderate heat in shallow oil.

The finished fritters, ready for butter and warm maple syrup. 

For the savory fritters, I use the same base, but add lots of other stuff to enhance the savoriness -- onions, garlic, cheese, cumin, pepper, salt, cilantro. 

1 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup milk (or buttermilk, if you have it)
1 egg
5-6 scallions, chopped (or equivalent finely chopped onion)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
8-10 shots Tabasco or Frank’s Red Hot sauce
1 Tbp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (or 2 tsp ground coriander seeds)
1/2 cup grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese
3 cups corn (about 6 ears)

The final batter will require a bit of your own judgment, so the amount of milk you add can vary according to your own tastes and experience.  A more viscous batter will produce thicker fritters, but ones that will have to fry over more moderate heat so the interiors cook fully.  A less viscous batter will spread in the pan more, producing thinner, crisper fritters.  


If you're so inclined, add 1/2 cup corn meal to the mix, and increase the baking powder by 1 tsp, and milk by about a half cup.  The corn meal will give the fritters a bit more crunch to them and a very pleasing texture.  At this point, you're very close to a hushpuppy, though hushpuppies don't typically contain corn, and are fried in small balls in deep fat.  

If you're the sort who shies away from frying like this, even shallow frying, an option is to add 2 Tbp oil to the batter, then fry the fritters in a pan that has been barely filmed with oil.  The fritters will be less greasy, and more pancake-y, but less crisp.  Still quite good, but different in texture. 


The savory fritters make an excellent side dish, and can be served as-is, or with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.  Mix some finely chopped herbs (basil, parsley, chives, cilantro), a glug of olive oil, salt, and pepper into the yogurt or sour cream.  Or a dollop of pesto.  Or a spoonful of za'atar.  Or, yes, maple syrup.  Very nice.  


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Crabby goodness

Maryland blue crabs, steamed with olive oil, garlic, hot pepper, parsley, white wine.   A much longed-for summertime treat. 

The crabs' watery graveyard.

A dozen-and-a-half feisty crabs were dispatched in a sinkful of hot water. They're gone after about a minute.  Doesn't take long. 

Cleaning the crabs.  


Top shells were pulled off, and the undesirable bits of gut pulled out, and the carcasses brushed under cold running water. I'm not one to start picking guts out of the crabs at the table, though I'm sure some would argue that they bring added flavor.  Let them argue. 

 A cleaned crab, ready for the pot.
The rubber gloves help -- lots of pinchy points on these critters. 

Crabs in their garlicky, winy steambath

A very large pot (this one is the bottom of a big clam steamer) was filmed with olive oil,
half the crabs added, which were then strewn liberally with garlic, chopped parsley,
hot pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and a few more glugs of olive oil.  Repeat with the other half of the crabs.

Half a bottle of white wine (in this case, a pinot grigio from the Veneto), was added, the lid put on, and the crabs steamed over high heat. 

After about 5 minutes, the lot was stirred up, the lid put back on, and the crabs steamed for another 5 minutes.

 Finished crabs, ready for picking.

A pound of linguine were cooked, and the pot liquor, an elixir of olive oil, garlic, parsley, hot pepper, white wine, and crab juices, was poured over them.  

Grated pecorino was passed at the table.  (Shhh!  Don't tell the Italians.  They would not approve!)

Chewy Italian bread was served alongside.  An occasional slice may have accidentally fallen into the juices in the pasta bowl.  

We drank the remainder of the bottle of pinot grigio with our dinner.   

One of my Italian colleagues once told me, "Il pesce nuota tre volte -- primo, nell'acqua; secondo, nell'olio; terzo, nel vino."  Anche i granchi!

Well-picked and well-eaten. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Summer jewel tones

Ruby
Quick raspberry refrigerator jam.

Topaz
Sweet white corn from the cob, slowly simmered in butter.

Emerald
A weekend's harvest of basil for pesto. 

Amethyst
 Blueberry pandowdy, fresh out of the oven, for the 4th of July BBQ.

Gold
Ripe freestone peaches, peeled, pitted, sliced, for jam.