Sunday, February 10, 2013

Marmalade: winter sunshine

It's winter. Lots of citrus. Time for marmalade.

I used this recipe, from the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia, but substituting all oranges for the recipe's mixture of orange, grapefruit, and lemon.  I used seven tennis ball-sized sweet navel oranges.

Traditionally marmalade was made with sour, bitter Seville oranges, but they're nowhere to be found, and I don't miss the aggressive sharpness of such fruit in my marmalade.  I've done pink grapefruit marmalade, which is excellent, but today, grapefruit are very, very sweet, too. 

Fruit is boiled for about an hour to soften the fruit and remove bitterness from the peel, seeded, chopped, mixed with sugar and water, and boiled for about 20 minutes, until the mixture reaches 220°F. It's then put up in sterile jars, though I did this batch as a refrigerator jam, so no boiling water process after jarring.  Once cooled, the jars will go right into the fridge.  Got a bit over a quart of sweet orange marmalade.

Fruit is boiled for an hour to soften the peels, and remove a good deal of the bitterness.

Fruit is cut up, seeded (if necessary), and chopped fine.

 Finely chopped oranges. 


Thursday, February 7, 2013

BBC4: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

I found a great three-part series on YouTube from BBC4 in the UK.  Titled "Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner," and hosted by former "Fat Lady" Clarissa Dickson Wright

Fascinating stuff, an excellent mixture of good history and good food, and wonderfully entertaining.  




You can find all three episodes in their entirety on YouTube

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The vegan challenge

I spent a few days last week with several colleagues at a small trade show in San Francisco.  Two of my colleagues are vegan, which led me to start thinking about vegan food, and cooking it.

Vegans differ from vegetarians in that not only do they eschew meat, but they also avoid any product from animals, which includes dairy, eggs, and honey.  Silk and leather are on the list, too.  I wonder if they avoid carmine (aka cochineal), a common, natural red food coloring, derived from ground-up bugs. 

As you might imagine, I have my opinions about veganism and vegetarianism, but I'll save them for another post.  And don't get me started on the "I'm a vegetarian, but I eat fish" crowd.

I give these folks credit -- it cannot be easy, especially when dining out, and I've had the opportunity to witness how limited a selection there is when a vegan must dine out.   And though I don't see myself adopting that lifestyle, I would be happy -- eager, in fact -- to cook for them. 

Thinking more about this, I realized that vegan cooking is not unlike the old traditions (Italian, for sure, and probably similarly in other European cultures) of the food of Lent -- "la cucina della Quaresima."  These days we think of Lent as a time when we abstain from meat on Fridays.  Time was, not so long ago, that one abstained from meat for the entire 40 days of Lent, and the abstention went beyond just meat, but also included animal fats, so that dairy and eggs ("i latticini") were excluded, too.

6 weeks without meat, milk, cheese, eggs.  No wonder every special Easter dish -- cheese pie, meat pie, dyed eggs, eggy breads -- orgiastically celebrates breaking that fast. 

From a cook's perspective, cooking vegan food is a challenge.  Sort of like driving on the left side of the road. ("Stay on the left, stay on the left, stay on the left.")  Or playing one-handed piano pieces.  Or avoiding using the letter 'e' in any word in an essay.  You have to keep muttering to yourself: "no butter, no eggs, no milk, no butter, no eggs, no milk..."

Plenty in my repertoire is already vegan, or easily adaptable to vegan:
•  Simple pasta sauces made with olive oil -- tomato sauces, with an array of goodies added in -- olives, artichokes, capers (skip the anchovies, which I typically like to add, but can avoid), on dry pasta (have to avoid the fresh egg pastas).
•  Pasta sauces made with vegetable bases -- broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus.  I might miss the cheese to sprinkle over it, but I'll manage.  
•  Pesto, made with basil, nuts, and oil, but leave out the parmigiano.
•  Vegetables of every sort, sauteed in olive oil and garlic, accented with onion, or olives, or raisins, or lemon zest, or balsamic vinegar.
•  Stewed greens -- cabbage, chard, escarole -- with beans or potatoes, with white wine, or cider vinegar, or shredded apples.
•  Potatoes of all sorts, sure, but making mashed with olive oil perhaps. Well, there are always french fries, home fries (done with onion and bits of sweet pepper), or lyonnaise -- a potato casserole with alternating layers of thinly sliced potatoes and sauteed onions, covered in (veggie) stock, and baked with some toasted crumbs on top. 
•  Oven-roasted root vegetables, like rutabagas, turnips, sweet potatoes, parsnips.  Glorious when drizzled with garlic-scented olive oil, coarse salt, a good grind of black pepper, and maybe even a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
•  Salads, of course.
•  Pickled veggies, jazzed up with hot pepper.
•  Simple soups, made with water or veggie broth, lots of aromatics and bits of noodles or rice or greens. 
•  Bread!  As much as I love butter, I'm perfectly happy dipping it in olive oil.  Crostini, made from sourdough bread, schmeared with pesto, and topped with a really, really ripe tomato in September.  I can do that.
•  Mushrooms go a long way to adding much need savoriness to vegetables of any sort.  Heck, just this evening, I did a sauté of green beans and mushrooms.  Who needs meat?
•  Starches of all sorts -- rice, corn and polenta, oatmeal.  
•  Beans -- cannellini baked with onions, sage, and olive oil in the Tuscan fashion (one of the few ways that I enjoy beans), curried chick pea stews, rice and lentils, veggie lentil soup, black beans with garlic, cilantro, cumin in the Cuban style.

One of these days I'm going to prep a whole vegan dinner and serve it to my friends, and see if they notice. 

Ignore the chicken. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Souper Bowl

Lame pun.

Weather's been cold, wet, a bit snowy.  Need soup.  Decided I wanted to make a nice vegetable soup, but bolster it with something like meatballs. I love cabbage in soup, so decided to go in that direction.  And I wanted something more than just veggies, so opted for the meatballs, but thought about poaching them in stock so they're very tender in the soup.  What resulted is a kind of 'stuffed cabbage soup': many of the components that would go into stuffed cabbage, but less tomato-y and lacking the sweet/sour edge typical in its sauce.

I bought 5 lbs chicken bones at Giunta's yesterday, and immediately made a pot of stock when I got home.  Very nice.

For the meatballs:

1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
2 slices soft white bread, cubed
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbp salt
1/2 Tbp black pepper
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Cube the bread, and pour the milk over.  Mash around until a soft paste is formed ("panade").  Add eggs, mix well.  Add meat to the panade, season with salt and pepper.  Add garlic, cheese, parsley.  Mix well.

Form into small meatballs.  (I always use a two-tablespoon ice cream scoop).
Bring 6 cups chicken stock to a simmer.  Add the meatballs, bring the stock back to a simmer, then let the meatballs simmer gently for about 5 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover, and let stand 10 minutes.  The ambient heat will cook the meatballs through without toughening them.  Remove meatballs from the stock and set both the meatballs and stock aside.
Meatballs, after gentle poaching in chicken stock. 

For the soup:
2 large onions, diced
1 shallot, minced
6 cloves garlic, sliced
2 carrots, shredded
1 stalk celery, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbp tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 head Savoy cabbage
1/2 cup chopped parsley

Film a large Dutch oven with the olive oil..  Add onions, shallot, garlic, carrots, celery, and saute gently until softened, about 8 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add tomato paste, stirring throughout, and let it cook about 2 minutes.  Add shredded cabbage.  Toss well with other veggies.  Add about 1/2 cup of the reserved stock, cover, and let the cabbage wilt.  Uncover, stir well,  Season again, to taste.

All the veggies, after cabbage has been added with a bit of stock, then cooked until wilted.

Add reserved stock, bring to a simmer, and let simmer about 15-20 minutes, until the veggies are tender.  Again, taste the soup, especially if you've used unsalted, homemade stock (as I did), and check for seasoning.

Add meatballs back, add chopped parsley, bring to a simmer, and serve.  Or cover and refrigerate to warm up later (even better). 

The finished soup.  The tablespoon of tomato paste gives the soup a rich color, without overpowering the flavor.  You can see a couple of the meatballs bobbing up at the surface.

 A steaming bowlful, with a good sprinkling of grated pecorino.