Monday, December 24, 2012

Calzoniti -- special Christmas Eve treat

I know these confections being made only one day of the year, Christmas Eve.  And I know only one person who ever made them, my grandmother, Louise Cordivari. 

Calzoniti (diminutive of calzone) are quite simply, fried ravioli with a sweet, rather than savory, filling.  They are an Abruzzese specialty, and typical of that, contain a peculiar combination of nuts and fruits.  The colloquial pronunciation of calzoniti is something like “cah-joo-NEET.”  I've also seen them called "caociun" in the Abruzzese dialect, and "calzoncelli" in the Salerno dialect.  However you pronounce it, they’re quite delicious.

One difficulty with these treats is that the dough that Granny made, though very tender, did not stick well to itself.   Sealing the calzoniti after they’ve been filled could be difficult.  My cousin Tom could do an entire comedy routine on how our grandmother sounded when she made these every year: “They’re opening up!  What did I do wrong?  The filling’s too cold!  The filling isn’t cold enough!  The oil’s too hot.  The dough’s too tender!  We didn’t seal them properly!”   The problem with doing something (like making calzoniti) only once a year is that by the time you’re finished making them, and have figured out the tricks about doing them right, you’re done for the year.  And by the time the next year rolls around, you’ve forgotten all the tricks, and end up relearning them year after year, and making the same mistakes year after year.

In the interest of sanity and convenience, I ditched the homemade dough altogether, and substituted Chinese dumpling wrappers.  They work great.

 The filling is simple:

1/2 cup nuts (of any variety, really, though I typically use pecans or almonds; you can also use chestnuts -- buy the cooked, peeled ones at the Korean market when you're picking up the dumpling wrappers)
1/2 cup chocolate (I use milk chocolate, ground up with a few pulses in the food processor)
1/2 cup prune butter (which you can usually find in the baking aisle in your supermarket with the pie fillings; alternately, you can get fig butter at Trader Joe's, if you have one near you)
1/2 cup jam (I make my own, so always have apricot jam on hand; any type will work fine)
1/4 cup raisins (black or golden)

Mix well, and set aside.

Beat an egg with a tablespoon of water to use to seal the dumpling wrappers. Take a dumpling wrapper, put a teaspoon of filling in the middle, wet the edges with the egg wash, and fold the wrapper in half, pressing along the edge well to seal.  Set aside.  Continue until you've used up the wrappers.  Two cups of filling and a package of wrappers will give you about four dozen calzoniti.

It's not a bad idea to let the calzoniti sit for half an hour so that the wet seals dry.

Heat vegetable oil in a skillet or small saucepot.  Fry the calzoniti a few at a time until golden brown, turning to brown each side.  The dumpling wrappers brown QUICKLY -- in about 30 seconds -- so keep an eye on them.  Remove to absorbent paper towels, and let cool completely.

 Dust with powdered sugar, or a combination of powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon just before serving. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Homemade ricotta

Why make ricotta when it's so easy to purchase?  Why indeed?

One taste, and you'll understand -- the homemade stuff has a richness, smoothness, and character not found in commercially produced product.  And, to boot, it's pretty easy to do.

I'd seen it done a couple times in online videos, among them Melissa Clark (New York Times) and Mark Bittman (also New York Times).  Both are similar.

My recipe:

   1 gallon whole milk
   1 quart heavy cream
   1 quart buttermilk
   juice of two lemons
   2 tsp salt

I put all the stuff into an 8-quart stockpot, and brought to a boil, stirring occasionally to be sure there was nothing sticking/burning on the bottom.

As it came to a boil, the curds started forming, and I let it boil for several minutes.  The curds seemed VERY fine, finer than what I was seeing on the instructional videos, possibly the consequence that I added more cream (and thus more fat) than Bittman or Clark.

I ladled the curds and whey into a cheesecloth-lined colander and let it drain.  I was only able to fill the colander up about halfway.  The draining was VERY slow, again, probably the result of my very fine curds.  Coarser curds would have drained more quickly.  I ended up having to line another big strainer with a linen tea towel and drained the other half of the curds in that.  I covered both, and walked away for an hour to let them drain.  Upon returning, most of the liquid was gone, but the collected curds were very fine and very smooth -- and very moist.

I transferred all to a container, and popped it into the fridge.  A couple hours later, I checked on it, and noticed that it was still quite wet, even "soupy."  Not good.  I lined a strainer with a few layers of paper towel, and suspended it over a stainless bowl, dumped the soupy ricotta into it, covered it with plastic wrap, and put it back into the fridge overnight.

Next morning -- a dense, dry ball of ricotta, and about another half-cup of whey drained out below.  Perfect.

Where to use it?  Here, and here, and here, and here, and...

Hot pepper relish and ricotta -- a killer combo

I'm reposting my hot pepper relish recipe because I served it for the Orphan Thanksgiving dinner Saturday night. 

Instead of the typical cream cheese and cracker accompaniment, I served it with homemade ricotta cheese and crostini.  The smoothness and richness of the homemade ricotta against the sharpness and sweetness of the hot pepper relish, along with the crunch of the savory crostini was outstanding, and a huge hit with the guests. 

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving planning and logistics

Getting my act together for the upcoming Thanksgiving meals.  Yes, meal-s.  I'm hosting dinner for the family on Thursday, then hosting my annual "Orphan Thanksgiving" on Saturday for the gang.  

There will be six of us for dinner Thursday -- hardly a huge crowd -- but a nice number to serve for a special, but nonetheless relaxing, family dinner.

Family dinner menu:

Cauliflower fritters

Roast turkey
Buttermilk mashed potatoes
Sauteed Brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar
Apple-nut-cranberry gelatin mold
Rosemary dinner rolls

Iced tea, wine, beer, soda, cocktails

Pumpkin and pecan pies with bourbon whipped cream
Ice cream
Nuts and figs

Working on my logistics.  Ideally I'll prep as much as I can on Wednesday so that Thursday is less of a stroke-inducing rush.  Mom's doing the pies and the cranberries.  Aunt El is bringing the ice cream. 

I'll make my stuffing, and gravy base, boil and rice the potatoes, blanch the Brussels sprouts and the cauliflorets, chop up carrots, onion, and celery to put around the roasting bird, have some peeled garlic and sliced shallots prepped and ready, set the table, and get out the serving pieces.  

Thursday will be for cutting up and roasting the bird, baking the rolls, and making iced tea.  We've already nixed the sweet potatoes -- just way too much food.  

"Orphan Thanksgiving" will be a more casual affair, and with a crowd of 8 to 10, I'll likely be serving it as a buffet.  That way, it also allows me to set up a bar on the dining room table, and gives the gang plenty of time to relax, and munch in the living room.  They seem to like sitting and munching. 

Oh, and there will be a big-ass pitcher of sangria, too.  

I'll be roasting an extra turkey breast Thursday that I'll use for the hot Brown sandwiches Saturday.  

The "Orphan" menu:

Finocchio with olive oil/garlic/anchovy dip (a not so 'caldo' bagna cauda)
Deviled eggs (Chris)
Assorted cheeses and crackers
Another potluck hors d'oeuvres (Bob)

Hot Brown sandwiches
Sauteed Brussels sprouts (yes, same as Thursday)
Buttermilk mashed potatoes (ditto)
Cranberry sauce

Sangria, iced tea, wine, beer, soda

Dessert (Ben's bringing that; it's Mike's birthday)
Ice cream
Nuts and figs

Hot Brown sandwiches, if you've never encountered them, are open face turkey sandwiches.  Sliced white-meat turkey is laid on lightly toasted bread, a couple strips of crisp bacon are draped over, a slice or two of tomato, then the whole napped with a rich cheese sauce, after which they're put under the broiler to brown.  The "Brown" name (capital "B") comes not from the color or the broiling, but from the fact that they originated at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.  They are remarkably good. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Time to make the stock

Thanksgiving approaches, and one of the most important ingredients I must have is stock -- good, rich, homemade turkey stock.

It's the week before the big dinner.  I bought a couple turkey wings and a turkey neck at Giunta's in Reading Terminal Market.  

I filmed an 8-qt stockpot with some peanut oil, added the turkey parts, a couple carrtos, a rib of celery, and a halved, unpeeled onion.  Roasted the meat and veggies at 350°F for about an hour, until the meat was browned.  This is my shortcut -- I just roast the meat in the same pot in which I'm going to make the stock.  All the browned bits and meat juices are captured, and only one thing to clean up. 

You absolutely can make the stock with unbrowned (raw) meat.  The result will be delicious, too, though much lighter in color than this version.  I'm fond of more darkly colored and flavored stocks, even poultry stocks, which are more typically done with raw, rather than roasted, meat.  The vegetables roasted along with the meat add a lot of flavor and color to the stock.  Beef stock is almost always made with roasted beef and beef bones.

Covered the roasted bits with about 10 cups of water, added a couple bay leaves, a generous bunch of parsley, stems and leaves, a teaspoon of dried thyme, and a few garlic cloves, unpeeled and cut in half.  Brought the pot to a boil, lowered the heat to a bare simmer, then let it simmer for about 2 hours, partly covered.  Turned off the heat, and let it sit several hours to cool.  Strained it into a container, and refrigerated it. 

I do NOT season the stock at this point, preferring to season the dish that I'm going to use it in -- the stuffing, the gravy, or as liquid to baste the turkey.  

This is the best, richest, homemade stock ever. 

 Roasted turkey wings and neck, with onion, carrot, celery,
covered with water, and ready to simmer.

Added a couple bay leaves, garlic cloves, parsley, and a teaspoon of dried thyme.
Simmered two hours, then let sit until cooled. 
Strained, and refrigerated.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A bowl of sun on a gray day -- sausage lentil soup

The hurricane here wasn't so bad, but the weather has been gray, gray, gray.  I needed a bowl of something warm and comforting, and made one of my favorites -- sausage lentil soup.

Mom made lentil soup frequently, but always used a ham broth -- almost like a split pea soup.  An excellent way to do it, but I've always preferred this style, which I've seen in Greek diners (do you notice a trend here??).  

There's much variation that can be made -- you could double the tomato, and reduce the amount of stock, you could add some tomato paste while the veggies are sauteing to increase the intensity and color of the tomato, you could omit the tomato altogether, and just go with stock.  You could make it completely vegetarian by using veggie sausage (I don't' recommend it, but it does exist), or nothing at all, and just eliminate it.  Herbs and spices can be changed up -- add some smoked paprika, or a couple chopped sage leaves, or one favorite of mine -- add chopped fennel along with the onion, celery, and carrot. 

1 lb Italian sausage, removed from casings and crumbled
1/4 cup olive oil
3 small onions, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups lentils, washed and picked over
1 28-oz can whole or crushed tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dry thyme, or several sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

Brown the sausage in a Dutch oven, then remove and set aside.  Add oil to the pot.   

Add onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and sauté over moderate heat until softened.   

Add lentils, tomatoes, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and add back the cooked sausage.  

Bring to a simmer, cover, and let simmer over moderate heat for about 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.  

Serve with grated parmigiano or pecorino cheese.  

As with any soup of this kind, it's much better the next day!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pre-Sandy Sunday Supper

I posted yesterday's pre-Sandy Sunday supper on Facebook, and got a few requests for recipes, so here we go.

The menu was penne with golden cauliflower, roasted chicken with shallots and carrots, and Greek-style green beans with tomato.

Penne with cauliflower

I bought a huge golden cauliflower from a farm stand in Lancaster County last weekend -- just a beautiful saffron-colored head.  You certainly don't need the golden variety specifically -- plain white cauliflower will do just fine.  Or green.  Or purple. 

1/4 c olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
2 anchovy fillets (optional, but it adds great flavor)
1 head of cauliflower, washed, and broken into florets
1/2 cup chopped olives (of your choosing -- Spanish olives, Sicilian oil-cured, Kalamata -- they all work fine)
2 Tbp capers
1/2 cup stock or water
Salt and pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 cup chopped parsley

In a large Dutch oven, warm the olive oil.  Add the garlic, and saute until just starting to brown.  Add onions, anchovies, and bell pepper, stirring gently until softened and slightly colored.  Add florets and stir well to coat all with the oil.  Add stock or water, turn heat down, cover, and let steam until the florets are tender, about 10 minutes.  Add olives and capers.  Taste for seasoning, and adjust with salt and pepper as needed.  Add thyme.  Mix well, and bring to a simmer.  Turn off heat.  Add parsley. 

Toss with 1 lb cooked penne pasta, reserving some of the pasta cooking water.  Add cooking water as needed if the mixture is too dry.  Drizzle with additional olive oil and serve immediately.  Pass grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese and hot pepper flakes at the table. 

Greek-style green beans with tomato sauce

A very simple preparation, and reminiscent of the tender, tomato-y beans you get in Greek diners.  First I make a simple marinara sauce.  (I would halve that posted sauce recipe for this one, or make the full recipe, and use just half for the beans.)  I blanch the beans in salted water until tender (about 6-7 minutes), and drain them.  I then combine the marinara sauce with the cooked beans, and bring it up to a simmer, cover it, and put it on the lowest heat, and let it simmer gently for about 15 minutes, until the beans are very, very tender.  If you're one who likes crisp green beans, this is not the recipe for you!

Be sure to sop up the tomato sauce with lots of good bread.  "Zuppa' nu pan!" [Neapolitan dialect -- soak the bread!]

Roasted chicken with shallots

Not much to tell here -- a 4 1/2-lb chicken, seasoned and dusted with herbs from the garden*, in a well-oiled roasting pan surrounded by carrots, celery, and shallots.  Roasted for about an hour at 375°F.  About 20 minutes in, I added a bit of stock to the pan to maintain moisture. 

Out of the oven, let it rest about 20 minutes, cut it up, and arranged the pieces on a serving platter with the roasted veggies.  I drizzled all with the pan juices. 

The leftover carcass will make a nice pot of stock. 

*In the last few weeks, I've harvested all my herbs, and dried them.  I have herbs for the whole of the fall and winter -- thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, sage.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Chicken and waffles

Invited Dewey to Sunday brunch.  I'd originally planned to usher in the fall season with pumpkin waffles, but at last minute, decided to go a different direction -- chicken and waffles.

I'll admit I've never eaten chicken and waffles -- fried chicken on top of crisp waffles, and drizzled with maple syrup or other types of (typically sweet) condiments. 

What the heck.

I have a great basic buttermilk waffle recipe from Saveur magazine.  I doubled that recipe for about 8 waffles total.  I also did NOT separate the eggs -- it's just not necessary for a waffle. 

2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
6 eggs
2 cup buttermilk
4 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled

1. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a large mixing bowl.

2. Beat eggs in a mixing bowl and add buttermilk and butter. Add to flour mixture, stirring until just combined.

3. Spread batter over three-quarters of the surface of a hot, lightly greased waffle iron, close lid, and cook until brown and crisp, about 5 minutes.

On to the chicken.  The idea of a piece of fried chicken, bones and all, on top of a waffle seemed silly.  Why not a boneless breast or thigh??  My preference is for dark meat, so that's what I used.  I soaked 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs in 2 cups buttermilk for 2 hours at room temperature.  Before you react to the room-temperature soaking, keep in mind that the chicken and the buttermilk were at 40°F when combined, and were cooked immediately after soaking.  Bringing the meat to room temperature before frying assists uniform cooking.

I drained the meat, seasoned it well with "house seasoning" (salt, pepper, garlic powder), then sprinkled a mixture of herbs and seasonings liberally on both sides.  My seasoning mixture was homemade (garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, paprika, cayenne, thyme, rosemary -- but no salt in this mixture), but you can certainly use any good commercially available seasoned salt product.  The meat was then dumped into a bowl of all-purpose flour and tossed to coat well.  I let it sit for 10 minutes, then tossed again to assure complete coating.  Some folks double-dip their fried chicken -- flour, then buttermilk, then flour again -- but I find that doing that creates a very thick, unappetizing coating.  Too much "Colonel," not enough chicken.

The coated thighs were fried in about an inch of corn oil at 350°F, about 5 or 6 minutes per side, until brown and crisp, then kept in a 200°F oven until ready to serve.

Pile a few strips of bacon on top of a hot, crisp waffle, top with chicken, then drizzle liberally with maple syrup or homemade jam.  I also served a plum-apple compote alongside -- an excellent alternative to maple syrup. 

 Crisp buttermilk waffle, bacon, fried chicken, just before the syrup gets drizzled all over.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Onion soup gratinée

I wanted a quick dinner last night, and had a container of chicken stock in the freezer I wanted to use up.  French onion soup.

I've posted on this before, so no need to go into fine detail, but I do want to emphasize that this soup does NOT require a big investment in time, provided your pantry is well-stocked.

Variant here is that I used chicken stock.  I prefer a rich beef stock for onion soup, but didn't have any on hand, and chicken stock is fine. The stock I had was not particularly rich, having been made of scraps from roasted chicken breasts, so I needed to jazz up the soup a bit.

As the pot of onions was nearing its ideal caramelized state, I poured in about 1/4 cup sweet red vermouth.  Dry white vermouth would've worked, too, but the sweet red has an almost sherry-like flavor, which enhances the flavor of onion soup.  I then added the stock, and salted liberally, as the stock had not been previously salted.  FWIW, Aunt Millie used to say, "Kissing a man without a mustache is like eating soup without salt." 

I also added a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and a good pinch of Ajinomoto (a.k.a., monosodium glutamate).  Keep your panties on, folks, but it's a useful shortcut to add savor to food (like a wan stock).  And FYI, MSG comes from fermented soybeans.  Not surprisingly, so does Worcestershire sauce. 

I toasted up some excellent Italian bread from Metropolitan Bakery, and arranged the crostini on top of the soup, then covered the top with about 8 oz shredded Gruyere cheese.  Into a 425°F oven for 10 minutes, then under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until the cheese was melted and browned. 

Served a green salad with walnut-oil dressing on the side.  Awesome weeknight treat. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Facebook fig jam, chapter two

I managed to post all this on Facebook -- appropriate, as that's how it all started -- but didn't put it directly into the blog.  That's now remedied. 

August 26, 2012 -- more figs from my high school friend Lisa F., who has a huge backyard fig tree, with more fruit than she can manage.  I stopped by and picked up about 6 pounds of ripe figs. 

As I did last year, I made a nice batch of fig jam -- this year, twelve 8-oz jars.  Lisa got three of them in return for the figs.

I always follow the recipes and directions of the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia.  

  • 2 quarts chopped fresh figs (about 5 pounds)
  • ¾ cup water
  • 6 cups sugar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
Just look at the colors of those figs -- pink and purple and green and white...

The two jars you don't see there were unintended bounty.  I figured I'd get 10 jars, but in fact got 12, so had to quickly clean a couple more, and fill them.  Instead of processing them, I just popped them into the fridge.  They lasted about 3 days -- wiped out by many fig-jam lovers. 

Few things as satisfying as the sound of a big pot of bubbling jam....

Saturday, September 8, 2012

More summertime specialties -- peach jam and cucumber pickle

A quart of peach jam, and cucumber pickle (with red onion, scallion, and jalapeno).

The quart of jam was from 6 large peaches, peeled and chopped, with 3 cups of sugar, juice of a lemon, and a pinch of salt.  Cooked over high heat, with frequent stirring, until it reached 220°F with an immersion thermometer. 

Two 16-oz jars of peach jam, right out of the boiling water process.  

Six Kirby cukes peeled and sliced, with red onion, scallion, and jalapeno. 
Salt (about a tablespoon), sugar (four tablespoons), and cider vinegar (about a half a cup).
Mix well, then refrigerate for a few hours. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Pure and unrefined"

An article in today's New York Times hit a nerve, a chemist's nerve, in particular.

The article relates the delights of sea salt from the west coast of France.  Lovely stuff, for sure, but the understanding of what constitutes "purity" in the author's mind is peculiar.
Every grain, every crystal, is cultivated naturally, harvested by hand and marketed pure and unrefined.
So, if it's unrefined, it cannot be 'pure' salt at all.  The fact that it's unrefined means it's contaminated (and I don't mean that in a bad way) with other compounds.  Good contaminants, tasty contaminants, beneficial contaminants, mind you, but contaminants nonetheless.

 Author Elaine Sciolino then goes on to describe their process for harvesting gray salt:
Every other morning, when the weather is right, they harvest gros sel marin gris, or gray coarse sea salt, a moist and coarse salt that collects on the lining of the clay ponds, gray from the nutrients that sit in the clay.
The combination of a hot sun and a soft dry wind is needed to cause the perfect level of evaporation in the shallow, rectangular artificial clay ponds whose water level they control with a system of pipes leading to the sea. 
Collecting salt water using sea water piped in from the ocean into man-made clay ponds doesn't exactly scream "cultivated naturally."  In fact, it's quite technological in nature.  Picking a piece of fruit from a tree might be "natural."  Setting up a clever system for getting salt out of sea water isn't "natural" in any sense of the word. 

We also find out from the same paragraph that the "nutrients" in the salt that make it gray come from the clay ponds, the man-made clay ponds.  So, the contaminants in this "pure," "natural" salt come from letting sea water extract other salts from the clay in the the man-made clay ponds.  The so-called nutrients aren't even in the sea water to begin with, but in fact are added, albeit passively, to the water.  Natural.  Uh-huh.  

It's this kind of sloppiness in thinking that really pisses me off, and I expect more from a good reporter for a good newspaper.  This is a topic of interest to me because it sits at the intersection of food and chemistry, and it demonstrates profound ignorance on the chemistry side. 

Go head, mention "chemical-free" laundry detergent.  I dare you. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer corn chowder

Bought some excellent sweet corn at the farm stand last weekend, along with some freshly dug potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, wax beans, peaches, plums....a summer bounty.

Decided on a big pot of corn chowder.  I used my Lodge cast iron Dutch oven for this. 

6 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
1 large rib celery, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 large white potatoes, peeled, and cubed
6 ears of corn, kernels cut off, cobs reserved
1 tsp dry thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream

Shucking your corn.  I recently found this YouTube video on shucking corn, and wow, does it work great!  Here's what you get from six ears.

By the way, the sanest way to cut corn off the cob is to lay the ear down on the cutting board, and slice the kernels off one side, then rotate and repeat until all the kernels are removed.  I've seen all sorts of nonsense about how to cut kernels off corncobs, but every one of them keeps the ears standing upright.  Dumbest way to do it!  Rotate the ear and lay it down on the cutting board, for goodness sakes!  A serrated knife works best. 

Cut up the bacon, and saute it in the Dutch oven.  I added a few more tablespoons of bacon fat (which I keep in a tightly closed container in the fridge).  When it's crisp, remove it and set it aside.

Saute the onions, celery, and garlic in the bacon fat until tender. 

 Add cut-up potatoes.

Add the corn.  Mix well.  Add thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper.  Remember, you're seasoning bland potatoes and corn, and you're just about to add water, so taste carefully for seasoning.  I also tend to go heavy on black pepper in chowders -- it always tastes right.

Here's the assembled ingredients, just prior to adding corn stock.  

Yes, you heard me right -- corn stock.  Instead of using just water, or chicken stock (which I think detracts from the corn and bacon flavors), I simmer the trimmed ears of corn in water for about 20 minutes.  You'll need a good 6 cups of stock for this recipe.

Add the stock to the Dutch oven, bring to a simmer, cover, and let simmer slowly for about 45 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and add the cream.  Stir well.  Taste carefully for seasoning.  Serve immediately, or the next day, when it undoubtedly will be much better.

N.B.  This chowder is not wallpaper-paste thick.  In fact, it's rather watery -- which is the way it should be.  You should have no reason to add flour to this soup to thicken it.  The potatoes and corn have enough starch in them to thicken it to the proper consistency.

Variation -- Add a few cans of chopped clams, juice and all, in the last 5 minutes of cooking, and you have clam-corn chowder.  Or add some cooked crab meat.  Crab-corn chowder. 

Variation -- Add a cup of fresh tomatoes (peeled, seeded, diced) towards the end of cooking.  Gives the soup a nice color, and a different, tangy taste.   Not quite Manhattan style, but nice.

Variation -- Make the chowder vegetarian.  Use either butter (or olive oil if you want it vegan)
instead of the bacon.  Omit the cream if you want to keep it vegan.

As you can see from the variations, this recipe is a base upon which many, many kinds of soup can be based.  If you leave out the corn, and add the clams, you have clam chowder.  Add fish in the last few minutes of cooking, and use fish stock or clam juice as your liquid, and you have fish chowder.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia!

Julia Child would have been 100 years old today.  Happy Birthday, Julia!!

Her cookbook "From Julia Child's Kitchen" was one of the first cookbooks I owned, given to me as a birthday gift by my parents.  (Probably my 16th or 17th, if I remember correctly.)

I still own it, along with most -- if not all -- of JC's books. 

I still remember making my first recipe out of it -- chocolate mousse.  Julia's books were always very well written, and went far beyond just a dry collection of recipes.  They were books that could be read.  And read them, I did.  And many others, too.  James Beard was another of my favorites for 'readable' cookbooks.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Peach-plum pandowdy

Today's summer treat!  Peach-plum pandowdy. 

Remember, the best way to avoid a soggy bottom crust is to not have a bottom crust.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tomato salad yesterday, gazpacho today

I made a large platter of tomato salad for my July 4th BBQ, but no one's appetite seemed particularly robust that day, as the temperatures were hovering near 100°F.

Lots of leftovers.

The tomato salad was a combination of sliced tomatoes, arranged on a bed of cucumbers, red bell peppers, and onion (which you cannot see in the photo above), then doused generously with garlic-infused olive oil, and a generous sprinkling of dried oregano (from fresh oregano harvested from my herb garden).  Plenty of salt and pepper, too.  You have all the components of gazpacho on the platter,  with perhaps the exception of stale bread, which is often a component of classic Andalusian gazpacho. 

I was going for the "red, white, and blue" 4th of July theme with the blue platter, but I'm not wholly certain that blue is the best background for many foods....

The leftover salad was augmented with a few more tomatoes (cored and quartered), and pureed with an immersion blender. 

After pureeing, I added a generous glug-glug of good olive oil, some red wine vinegar (or balsamic, or lemon juice, or sherry vinegar if you have it), and adjusted the seasoning -- it's a cold soup, and you need to be a bit more aggressive in your seasoning.   You can also add Tabasco or Sriracha if you like a bit of kick. 

Chill well.  Probably best after a couple hours chilling.

Cauliflower salad

Too damn hot to cook.

I had two small cauliflowers in the fridge.  Cleaned them up, cut them up, and blanched them in salted water for about three minutes.  (Yeah, that's cooking, but not much.)  Drained.


1/2 cup chopped Spanish olives
salt (taste the cooked cauliflower first -- if your cooking water was well salted, you might need no additional salt)
black pepper
red pepper flakes (to your taste)
half an anchovy filet, mashed
1 large clove garlic through the garlic press
1/4 c chopped parsley
1 Tbs capers
generous olive oil
red wine vinegar

Mix well.   Chill.  Or serve at room temperature (my preference).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cucumber quick-pickle or cucumber salad

Call it whatever you like, but this is an easy, satisfying summer preparation.

6 Kirby cucumbers (each about 5" long), or three conventional green cucumbers
1/4 c vinegar (red wine, rice, white, cider -- anything but balsamic)
1 1/2 Tbp sugar
1 Tbp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes
2 scallions (or half a small yellow or red onion), sliced
several cloves of garlic, smashed (optional)

Wash the cukes.  If you're using Kirbys (pickling cukes, unwaxed), then you can either leave the cukes unpeeled, or 'stripe' them.  If you're using conventional green, waxed salad cukes, peel them completely.

I found "salt and pepper" cukes at the farm stand over the weekend.  Never seen them before -- they're yellow-skinned, and the skin is a bit tough.  But they have a beautiful greenish seed core.  Quite attractive.  I 'striped' these cukes, then sliced them in 1/8-inch slices on the mandoline.

Salt the sliced cukes, and mix them well, distributing the salt over all.  Add sugar, vinegar, black and red pepper, and mix well.  Add the scallions or onions.  You can add garlic if you wish -- but leave it in large chunks so that you don't inadvertently eat the cloves.  Though tasty, you'll likely not have many friends afterwards. 

You can eat these pickles immediately, but frankly, they improve immensely upon sitting.  I typically let the mixture sit at room temperature for a couple hours, covered, then pop them into a container in the fridge. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Strawberry refrigerator jam

I bought a few quarts of strawberries on the way home from the shore last weekend.  I cleaned up one quart for a friend in recovery from surgery, and used another to make a quick batch of strawberry jam.  It's 'refrigerator' jam insofar as it's not processed after cooking for long-term storage at room temperature.  This is jam you make and eat.

1 qt ripe strawberries (And apologies, I didn't weigh them.  This is one quart dry measure.)
2 cups sugar
pinch salt
juice of half a lemon

Hull the berries, and halve or slice them, depending on how large they are, and place in a pot -- at least a 4-qt pot -- you need the extra room.  Add the sugar, salt, and lemon juice.

Bring to a boil over high heat, and stir.  As the water in the fruit begins to boil off, the jam mixture will start to bubble up.  You know you've achieved a high enough temperature when your stirring does not knock down the bubbles.  Be very careful not to let it boil over, removing it from the heat and stirring vigorously as necessary. 

Continue to cook the mixture for about 20 minutes until it thickens, and reaches a temperature of 220°F, at which point it's done.

Pour into a clean jar (I used a clean 1-quart mason jar), cover, and let sit at room temperature until it is cool.  You'll see that it sets up nicely when it comes to room temperature.  Tighten the lid, and pop into the fridge.

I really cannot adequately describe how remarkable the taste of homemade strawberry jam is.  Words fail.

By the way, the best resource for jam- and jelly-making is the National Center for Home Food Preservation, based at the University of Georgia. 

 Ruby red jam.  Springtime in a jar. 

And on a cracker with some butter.