Tuesday, July 27, 2010

apricot blueberry thyme jam

apricot blueberry thyme jam

I’ve been a bit of a hypocrite. I’ve encouraged you to go to your kitchens unafraid and undeterred, while I have been harboring a few fears of my own. I suppose it’s only natural to be intimidated by something unfamiliar, to be so wholly overwhelmed you don’t even know where to begin. So while you want to try, you never quite get around to it. Fear wins – you lose. It’s a bit silly, if you ask me.

apricot blueberry thyme jam

But what is it we’re really afraid of? What is the worst possible thing that could happen? Your creation is a fail. An epic, larger-than-life, inedible fail. Well, for those moments, when you have burned your dinner, or under-baked a cake, or overworked you pie crust, or produced the saddest, most deflated meringues the world has ever seen – it’s always good to have the makings of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; some heavy cream, a whisk, a chilled bowl and berries; some frozen puff pasty on hand, and a box of your favorite cookies, to remedy the situation. But failure in the kitchen also lends itself to an opportunity to laugh heartily at what went wrong. Last summer, I served the book club ladies the most vile clafoutis known to man. I, thankfully, had another dessert on hand, but it was quite funny – the clafoutis – it looked liked vomit. Another time, I tried to feed them barely edible bread pudding (again, I had another dessert on hand). That second time, I just showed them the finished product and promptly dumped the whole thing in the garbage.

apricot blueberry thyme jam

And aside from the pie crust fear (a fear I successfully conquered) nothing else has given me anxiety like canning and pickling. And now, I can tell you, this bête noire has, largely, been put to rest. I don’t know what it is about canning that used to (used to! see, past tense!) make me so nervous. Maybe it was just the steps: the hot water (painful burns!); the cans themselves (where to get canning jars?); the receptacle that allows you to easily (and safely!) place and remove the jars from the boiling water; the “do-i-boil-the-tops-of-jars” dilemma (yes!); how much space on top do I need to leave before sealing (about a quarter inch!); is pectin necessary (no, just cook to 220 degrees F); and so on and so forth. For some reason, preserving was my boogey man.

apricot blueberry thyme jam

When I mentioned my preserving anxieties to my friend Jennie, she wasted no time and put me in touch with the lovely folks at Ball jars, who promptly sent me a canning “Discovery” kit. The kit came with 3 jars, a basket in which you place your jars, for easier manipulation, and a recipe booklet. And since I now had all the necessary tools to make jam, all I needed to do was actually just make it. I picked up some blueberries at the farmer’s market and found apricots at my local grocer. I hadn’t intended to put them together, but when I laid out my produce on the counter and was putting everything away, the combination struck me as somewhat curious. What I wanted here was something slightly unusual, surprising even. Thyme seemed like a good addition that would highlight the fragrant fruit and offer an herbal note to a nose full of fruit.

cooking the fruit

Jam-making does not require crazy measuring, and it’s pretty difficult to mess up. You chop up your fruit, sampling here and there along the way. You place everything in a nice heavy bottomed pot. You want your pot to be as wide as possible because larger surface area allows your jam to become more jammy faster. The greater the surface area – the more moisture evaporation taking place. Simple physics, really.

sterilizing...

Once the fruit is in, you add your sugar. Personally, I don’t like to overdo it with sugar. You are, after all, making jam – not candy. At the same time – skimp on the sugar and your jam might not set properly. Add your herbs, or vanilla, or whatever that extra element you want. If you just want fruit and sugar, no problem! If you want to add a little lemon juice, that tends to make the fruit sing – go for it! And then, and this is important here, you want to add a pinch or two of salt (depending on how much fruit you’re working with). Once you’ve done all that, turn on the burner, bring the whole mess to a simmer, skim the foamy parts, and let the fruit cook slowly, stirring on occasion. I prefer to bring my fruit to 220 degrees F and not add the pectin.

kitchen set up while jamming

Some fruit, such as the cranberry, has a lot of natural pectin – which explains why your cranberries becomes jelly-like so quickly when you cook them down. Other fruit, like stone fruit, does not have a lot of pectin, so you either cook it to a proper temperature without pectin, or you add pectin, which comes in powder and liquid form. Either way, you are looking for that point in time when you drip a little jam onto a plate and instead of it spreading out in a messy puddle, the drip holds together a bit, bound by that viscosity that forms when you cook fruit and liquid for some time.

my jars!! aren't they pretty?

When that done, you sterilize your jars, making sure they are dry. You sterilize the tops of the jars and the rings too, in case you’re wondering. Then you fill up your jars with the jam, leaving a quarter inch of room on top, place the lids on the jars, and screw on the rings, but not too tight, just enough. After awhile, you should hear a click or a pop, that’s your jars sealing themselves. No sound? Top of the lid still pointing upwards? Press the lid downward gently. If it collapses and doesn’t come up – voila! You have sealed with success. If it pops right back up, you might want to re-sterilize and start the process anew.

someone needs a wide-mouth funnel

So this is what happens when you get so fed up with your fear, you mutter to yourself, to hell with it and just go for it. You wind up with two jars of delicious jam, sitting in your fridge, awaiting their fate. And quite frankly, what would I have done had my jars not sealed themselves properly? I would have gone into my kitchen, taken out the biggest spoon I own, and ate my jam in one sitting just like that – au naturel. If only every kitchen failure tasted as good.

testing for donness

Continue reading apricot blueberry thyme jam.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

mustard chicken

mustard chicken

I’ve been hoping, with it being summer and all, that work will slow down to allow me to catch my breath and all. I feel like I’ve been going, going, going. I could really use a vacation – somewhere, anywhere, I just don’t have time to plan it. This crazy schedule of mine makes dinner on weeknights feel like an afterthought. My morning routine is less than inspiring: I wake up early, eat breakfast and drink my coffee on the way to work. On days when I’m feeling diligent, I will blow dry my hair, but on most days I let it be what it wants to be in humid weather – a frizzy mess. Days at work feel like the spin cycle during a wash as I dart in an out of meetings and conference calls.

thyme, sage

And then before I know it evening arrives, and as I gather up my things to head on home, I realize – I don’t know what to do for dinner. (I’m sure this never happens to any of you!) And maybe I’m starting to show my age, but I’m sort of over take-out. Invariably, I’d almost rather always cook than pick up my phone. Except, weeknight cooking requires planning – and planning is a little tricky when you’re running around during the week. You kind of just want to come home, pull a few ingredients together and eat within a reasonable time frame. And then, after you clean up the dishes, you want to stretch out in front of the television to watch Rachel Maddow. Ooops, sorry, I’m projecting.

mustard and herbs

Well, no matter your schedule or busy-ness level, you can add another solid recipe to your weeknight (and weekend!) repertoire, all thanks to Luisa. Because of her (and Regina Schrambling), I had one of the loveliest, calmest, glorious evenings in awhile as I pulled my ingredients together, mixed, slathered, sprinkled, and drizzled. Then in the oven the whole mess went, and I? I settled on the couch with a chilled glass of Riesling and a magazine. How lovely does that sound? Doesn’t an evening like sound better than ordering take-out? The anticipation of a meal, that pre-dinner glass of wine, the warm smell wafting through your house – a preview of what’s to come. Sure, you can sit down with a glass of wine in anticipation of take-out, but somehow it doesn’t sound nearly as exciting. When you hear the chicken quietly sputter in your oven, the anticipation of a meal to come becomes palpable.

mustard chicken

The whole business couldn’t be simpler. Just wash and pat dry your chicken, spread the mustard mixture over in a generous, thick coat, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and drizzle with melted butter. Then you bake your chicken until it’s done, and then you eat it. Besides the herbs, which you can pick up on your way home, the ingredients are pretty straight-forward, and most likely already reside in your pantry.

mustard chicken

If you are wondering how the baked mustard on chicken combination works, let me put your worries aside. The heat works wonders on the mustard, which coats the chicken and thickens and dries at it cooks. Mustard on chicken – genius. The recipe – a keeper. Lack of planning – rectified. Now, this thing about planning a vacation – is there a shortcut for that? I could really use one.

Continue reading mustard chicken.

Friday, July 16, 2010

oven barbecue ribs

barbecued ribs

In my next life, I want to be a pit-master. I want to live in Texas, preferably in the Hill Country, and dedicate my life to slow-cooking meat. I can’t imagine saying this twelve years ago at the height of my impassioned vegetarianism. Ironically, it was barbecue that brought me back to my meat-eating ways. Ribs, to be precise. My, how I’ve come full circle. I’m now not only eating ribs, I’m making them too. Twelve years ago, I couldn’t imagine myself ever eating meat, but now! Now one of my dream vacations involves a hands-on intensive course learning how to grill properly. Grill like I mean it – with gusto.

liquid glaze misemixing the rub

Sadly, in my current life, I am outfitted with an apartment sans a back yard, and subsequently without a grill or a smoker. If I want barbecue, I have to either go out for it, or make it myself. In my kitchen. Using an oven. I can just see barbecue devotees rolling their eyes as they read this – barbecue in the oven? You’ve got to be kidding! And I swear to you all that the second I get my hands on a backyard, some serious, real, honest-to-goodness grilling is going to happen. You can hold me to it. I’ll make up for lost time.

ribs, rubbed

Speaking of time, the key to making ribs in the oven at home is simply ample time. You can’t rush the process – or disaster will follow. This is a thing of patience: you surrender the ribs over to low heat for several hours and you let the slow-cooking process do its thing as the meat grows tender, flaky, relaxed. [I resist using words like “succulent” and “moist” because I strongly dislike them. These, as well as the word “juicy” make me shudder and lose my appetite.] Instead of just cooking your meat at high temperature, which can yield some tough and chewy results (fail!), you gently coax it into a state of gradual submission (success!), so it practically falls off the bone when you try to bite into it.

It didn’t hurt that the meat came from one of my favorite purveyors – these ribs were perfection, with a nice layer of fat to keep them from drying out, and a healthy pink color. I’ve been to the farm where these ribs came from and you can tell – these are some of the happiest and well-cared-for animals you’ll see. The pigs were practically smiling.

ribs, rubbed

I made these over the 4th of July, when the East Coast heat wave was in full swing and it was far too hot to do anything outside. I turned the a/c on, dialed the oven to 200 degrees F, and puttered around the kitchen busying myself with potato salad and pie until the ribs were done and ready for our plates. We ate them in a pinch with only a few ribs left over for the following afternoon lunch. When life gives you ribs – you fire up the grill. But when life gives you some ribs and an oven – well, you know what to do.

ribs, rubbed and rested

Continue reading oven barbecue ribs.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

classic potato salad

classic potato salad

I, apparently, have so much to say about potato salad, that I’ve been staring at this page for the last four days not sure of what to write. At first, blamed writer’s block, but then I realized it wasn’t so much as that I didn’t know what to say about potatoes, it was more that I didn’t know how to start writing because at once I had so many thoughts running through my head.

I grew up eating a lot of potatoes in all its permutations – I don’t think I’ve ever come across a potato I didn’t like. Boiled, fried, baked, mashed – I’ve loved every version in its own way. I can eat potatoes cold straight from the fridge with a bit of salt, olive oil and freshly cut onion, topped with a few pieces of herring or some other smoked fish. To me – this meal is heaven. And I don’t think the Sassy Radish household has spent a day without potatoes in its pantry – it would feel naked and empty otherwise.

red potatoes

In these hot, sticky months, my thoughts shift to potato salad – cold, perfect-for-a-barbecue potato salad. I could really spend a lifetime celebrating eternal summer with corn on the cob, lobster rolls and blueberry pie. Oh, and potato salad. Because what summer potluck is complete without one?

happy, red potatoes

My favorite way to do this salad in the summer, because Sassy Radish loves potato salad enough to already feature two versions, is to throw everything but the kitchen sink in. True to form, I couldn’t abstain from throwing a bit of horseradish in there for an extra bite, and I think it was the right call to make.

kosher dill pickles

I never know how to classify potatoes – starch or vegetable? It’s always a bit confusing to me, as I want to do both. Not a grain and definitely technically a vegetable – for something so pedestrian, potatoes have managed to be enigmatic. One thing is clear however – they are versatile, filling and comforting no how you view them. And with a plateful of this salad on your plate, eternal summer, if you want it, can be yours as well.

Continue reading classic potato salad.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

blueberry strawberry pie

blueberry strawberry pie

I am a girl who loves a good fruit pie. I can think so nothing more delicious in the summer, and I love making it almost as much as I love eating it. But, I have a bone to pick with fruit pies because they are finicky and temperamental in the summer months. My biggest gripe is that the best time of the year to make fruit pies is also the most challenging. If you’ve ever made your own crust, you know crust’s two mortal enemies are heat and humidity, and guess what New York summers are known for? Meanwhile, farmers’ markets are brimming with the most ripe, fragrant fruit begging to be eaten, canned, and turned out in baked goods. Other than enjoying summer’s bounty as nature intended, what more glorious way is there to showcase fruit at the peak of its season than baking it into a pie? Never mind that you dread turning on your oven when temperatures cross into the triple digits, as you yourself slowly cook in your tiny urban apartment. So when the pie is baked – so are you.

flying pigs farm rendered lardscraper, rolling pin, pie dish, iced coffee

And yet to me, despite the heat and the sweat, the process of making pie is one of life’s greatest pleasures. I love to see the dough, crumbly and speckled with pea-sized pieces of butter come together, love shaping the pie crusts into disks and chilling them. Love to prepare the fruit: pit the cherries, hull the strawberries, blanch the peaches. Love to flour my counter and roll out the dough out and place it into the pie dish. But nothing gives me more glee and jubilation than piling the fruit into the pie shell, seeing it tower before my eyes.

an almost perfect circle

Fruit pies offer a taste of summer, a burst of sunshine topped by a sugary, flaky, buttery crust. Crust is key to a good pie, in my opinion. But with fruit pies, you often face a soggy bottom – the upside of a fruit pie is also its downside. And I used to think, such is the way of the world. I had to just make do and carry on. But there’s a genius solution in place – pre-baking your bottom crust! It’s genius, really, and you can kiss those soggy bottom crusts goodbye.

blueberries, strawberries, thyme

A solution came my way in the form of a book and a New York Times article almost simultaneously. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of Bill Yosses’ and Melissa Clark’s new book, “The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion”. I leafed through the entire book the night it arrived in the mail, and there wasn’t a single thing I didn’t want to make, but a recipe for a pie crust caught my eye first. I’ve been a long-time fan of Bill Yosses, the executive pastry chef at the White House; and Melissa Clark’s recipes and I go way way back. I’ve been inexplicably drawn to her recipes, not just for the New York Times, but for other publications like Food & Wine. I have, on many an occasion, clicked on tempting recipes only to discover that they have been written by her. When I saw the method for pre-baking crust, and then saw the New York Times sour cherry pie recipe, I knew that I was never again going to have a soggy crust in my pies. Hurray! I want to twirl around the room in jubilation!

blueberry strawberry pie

Pre-baking is the bees knees! So ingenious I’m sad I didn’t think of it myself. It makes absolute perfect sense and is worth the extra time spent in the kitchen. You can pour yourself one of these and read a book, or look out the window, or stick your head in the freezer for a minute to cool off. Whatever you do, you can pass the time swimmingly because it’ll be well worth the extra effort.

blueberry strawberry pie

I bet there aren’t any disagreements over wanting a flaky bottom crust. So we’ve got that going for us, right? Now that the matter is settled, let’s move on to the content of the crust. There’s some debate out there, an each option with its own fervent following: all-butter, butter-with-shortening, or butter-with-leaf lard? My own personal preference (at this point) is tied between an all-butter and a butter-leaf-lard crust, between which I will alternate depending on my mood and if I have access to quality leaf lard. No matter which recipe you go with, you want to find the best quality butter around. Better butter means higher fat content. Higher the fat content means a flakier crust. It’s that simple.

blueberry strawberry pie

Whatever method you choose to go with for your crust, you will want to work quickly, be it cutting your butter into flour (in a pre-chilled bowl, of course!), shaping your dough into disks, or rolling it out. You have a few minutes between the too-hard-and-crumbly dough and too-warm-and-tearing dough; and overworking the pastry releases the dreaded glutens, diminishing your crust’s flakiness. I am not trying to frighten you, my lovelies, but instead give you as much information and ammunition to tackle this perfect-time-for-pie-but-it’s-too-hot-to-make-it conundrum. Knowledge is power, and I know you will do beautifully. But most importantly, I want you to not be afraid. Worst case, if your pie refuses to roll out, you can gently press pieces of it into the pie dish and then when you are ready to top your pie with the second crust, you can use a cookie-cutter to shape crust circles and lay them on top (another genius Melissa Clark idea). Which will save you the possible aggravation and yield a rather pretty pie. And you will get points for taste and looks. Bonus.

blueberry strawberry pie

Then you can kick back and pretend the whole thing was completely effortless, because neither heat, nor humidity got anything on you. You can totally reward yourself with a slice of pie, because you earned it, friend. Just be sure to share some with me.

blueberry strawberry pie

Blueberry Strawberry Pie
Crust adapted from “The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion” by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark and from NY Times piece by Melissa Clark

Ingredients:

Crust:
20 tbsp (283 grams) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed (use high fat butter like Plugra)
7 tablespoons (100 grams) heavy cream
3 tablespoons (40 grams)rendered lard (or use more butter)
3 3/4 cups (469 grams) all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling the dough
1 tablespoons (12.5 grams) granulated suga
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

Filling:
8 cups blueberries and strawberries (mixed)
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
freshly squeezed lemon juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (57 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon (7 grams) creme de cassis
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg white (28 grams), room temperature, lightly beaten (if using a traditional crust on top and not cutting out circles)
1 1/2 teaspoons Demerara or granulated sugar
1/4 cup (45 grams) cornstarch

Preparation:

For the crust:

Pre-chill a stand mixer beforehand. Once cold, place butter, cream and lard. Beat on low with a paddle attachment until smooth. In another bowl, thoroughly mix together flour, sugar and salt. Add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low until the mixture comes together like a fairly wet dough. Add the remaining flour and mix until the dough just begins to come together. Once that happens, turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead gently into a small ball. Divide the ball in half, wrap each half in plastic wrap and flatten into disks. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight (or up to 3 days).

For the filling:

In a large bowl, toss together blueberries, cut-up strawberries and thyme. Add lemon juice, sugars, salt, creme de cassis and vanilla extract. Set aside to macerate for about half an hour.

After the half hour passes, add the cornstarch and mix it until it completely dissolves. Set aside.

Assembling and Baking the Pie:

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the disks of dough to a 1/4-inch thickness and fold it in half. Then re-roll to a round about 12 inches in diameter and the thickness of about 2 quarters. This thickness will give you the layers of flakiness you so desire in your pie dough, particularly the bottom part. Transfer the dough to a Pyrex 9-inch pie pan (or a dark steel pie pan), and trim the edges so they are even with the rim of the pie pan. [Pyrex is particularly useful here as it allows you to see the doneness of the bottom crust due to its transparency.] Cover the dough with plastic wrap you used in chilling this disk, and place in the freezer for 1 hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425F. Remove the pie pan from the freezer and line the dough with aluminum foil on top, delicately pressing it to form to the shape of the pan. Place the baking beads, dried beans, or uncooked rice (or lentils, etc.) on top of the foil. Bake for 30 minutes and allow to cool on a cooling rack afterward. After the pie cooled off, preheat the oven again to 350F.

While your shell is baking, roll out the second disk of dough. Using cookie cutters (I used the circle ones of various sizes) cut out a bunch of circles from the rolled out dough. Place on a baking rack and refrigerate until ready to decorate the top.

Pour the berry filling into the pre-baked pie shell. Place your pie dough circles on top of the pie, starting in the center and filling out to the outer sides. Make a pattern pleasing to your eye. I liked placing my circles slightly atop their neighbor circles to create some kind of a cohesion. I used tiny circles to fill in some gaps. When done with the top of the pie, sprinkle some Demerara sugar on top of the pie.

[If you prefer a traditional pie topping, you can, instead, roll out the pie shell and create a traditional pie crust topping. Be sure to slice a few vents on top to allow the pie to breathe. If you do make a traditional topping, then be sure to use the whipped egg white as glue for your pie crust top. Brush the edges of the pre-baked shell with the egg white before placing your rolled out raw shell on top.]

Bake for 1 hour, on an aluminum foil covered rimmed 11 x 17 inch baking sheet on the center rack until the pie is deeply golden and you can see the thick juices bubbling through the openings.

Let cool before serving as it allows the starch to set a bit and give the pie some structure. Otherwise, your pie will ooze and fall apart when you are trying to serve it. While it’s the pie’s taste we are all most concerned with, it is a great feeling of accomplishment to be able to serve the pie to your guests where the slice has great structure and holds its shape.

Friday, July 2, 2010

buttermilk granita with strawberries in balsamic

buttermilk granita with macerated balsamic strawberries

I got my air conditioning bill the other day, raised eye brows and all, and make no mistake – summer is upon us. At the rate this summer’s going, best to prepare myself for some higher cooling costs, despite my great desire to reduce my carbon footprint. I’ve resorted to some creative solutions too: ice cold water, fans continuously on, shades drawn in the apartment. But sometimes you have no other choice, and you push that “on” a/c button. Otherwise, you walk around in a hot and sleepy stupor, dented by the heat and humidity, your environmental altruism causing you serious suffering.

mint

But, I think I have found yet another creative alternative to air conditioning and I wanted to share it with you. Friends, I’d like to meet a new buddy of mine. Its name is buttermilk granita and it’s here to stay for the summer. I think you might just become good pals with it too. It’s cold, tangy, refreshing, and requires only a dish and a whisk. That’s right, a shallow dish and a whisk only. No ice cream machine needed here. Nothing to plug in and chill for hours. Just periodic stirring with the whisk – that is all that’s required. So if you have a tiny kitchen, or don’t own an ice cream machine, but want to make a cold dessert while the summer heat is abound, this dessert here is for you. Think you can handle it?

buttermilk, sugarready, set, pour

The granita stands on its own and has a taste reminiscent of homemade frozen yogurt, but it’s lighter and tastes more like sorbet than anything else. Here, however, it’s paired with some lush strawberries that have been steeping in its own juices, a little sugar and some balsamic vinegar. Strawberries and balsamic are nothing new, of course, but when they’re paired with the buttermilk granita, it’s a whole new game. These are complementary flavors, working together to elevate one another’s notes even higher. Buttermilk tastes tangier, strawberries – sweeter. And while dessert is generally viewed as an enemy to an expanding waistline, this here little concoction is quite healthy, in fact, and tastes lighter than air – a welcome relief from some heavier desserts this long weekend will undoubtedly bring.* And you can even feel good about that carbon footprint reduction because this dessert is all over it.

macerated strawberries

Simple. Refreshing. Calming, even. And environmentally-friendly to boot. We could all use a friend like that. Don’t you think?

*[Not that I’d ever turn down pie. Ever.]

Continue reading buttermilk granita with strawberries in balsamic.