Sunday, August 28, 2011

Peach Jam ^2

Summer has been generous with her bounty. Perhaps too generous. About a week back a friend came into possession of a crate of peaches. I eagerly agreed to take a dozen or so of the amber and russet colored gems off of her hands. And what better use of such a bounty of fruit than a jam to enjoy months down the road when summer's generosity is a fleeting memory to warm us through six months of cold and snow.

I had never made jam before. Nor had I attempted water bath canning. My food preservation is limited to a jar of crock pickles I made several years ago. However, my grandmother made a killer plum jam and I am bound and determined to honor her memory by honing my canning and jarring skills.

I made two variations of peach jam using the 12 peaches I was bequeathed. The first was a Spicy Peach with Thai Bird Eye Peppers. The second was a Ginger Peach. The basis of both are the same. I lacked pectin, so the end result is a tad runnier than most jam. While they may not be firm enough for toast or scones, to date these jams have been perfect for fillings, glazes, and sauces.

adapted from the guidelines and instructions at The National Center for Home Presesrvation

each variation makes approximately 7 half pint jars

The Ingredients:
6-8 medium peaches (about 6 cups when diced)
4- 4 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice

for Peach with Thai chili
2-3 bird's eye chilies, seeded and finely chopped
for Ginger Peach
3 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced

The Process:

Wash and rinse the peaches thoroughly. Do not soak. Remove stems, skins, and pits from fruit; cut into pieces and crush. Measure crushed fruit into large saucepan. Add sugar, lemon juice and flavoring of choice (ginger or peppers).

Over medium high heat, bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Continue to boil until mixture thickens. Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 220. Test the jam's consistency by spooning a little onto a cold saucer and chill for a few minutes in the fridge. If adequately set it should wrinkle and feel firm.

Remove saucepan from heat and skim off any foam. Fill sterile jars with jam, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Gently stir to remove air bubbles, wipe rims of jars clean and top with lids, screwing them finger tight (not TOO tight). Submerge filled jars in a water bath of boiling water and boil for 5-7 minutes (process times may vary by elevation).

Remove from water bath and allow to cool undisturbed for 12-24 hours.

If properly processed the jam will remain good for several months, though the flavor will diminish after a year.

The Review:

Had I read up on jam making a little more thoroughly prior to diving in, I would have had pectin on hand before starting the process. The end result would have been far more firm. But this is merely a learning step in the process, and the end result was still absolutely amazing.

The Ginger Peach was far more successful than the Spicy Peach. The fresh ginger completely permeated the jam without overwhelming the peach flavor. It was warm and spicy without the bite that fresh ginger often has.

The spicy peach jam, however, was not so spicy. Thai bird eye chilies are fairly high on the Scoville scale, so I was hesitant to use too many. Either the heat all cooked out as I simmered the jam or they were not the peppers they claimed to be. The little flecks of chili in the jam gave off a very, very subtle after burn (if your palette is clean and finely tuned, any way) but overall it was a bit lackluster. But on the bright side, the peach shown through. What was to be spicy was still wonderfully fruity and sweet.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rustic Stone Fruit Tart (with mulled wine accents)

Peaches and plums are everywhere right now! Thankfully stone fruit recipes abound. This tart is a simple version of a pie, using a single pastry and folding the edges up over the filling. For a previous holiday I had made a similar tart using only peaches and no added spice. This version combined several stone fruits with red wine, brandy , nutmeg and cinnamon to accent the fruit flavors.

The recipe is my own

serve 4-6

The Ingredients:
3-4 medium stone fruits (peaches, plum, nectarines, apricots, etc)
2 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp cornflour
2 Tbsp dry red wine
1 Tbsp brandy
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 single-crust pie pastry
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp coarse sugar

The Process:
Preheat the oven to 350.

Halve the fruits, remove pits, and slice into even 1/4" slices. Place fruit in a large mixing bowl. Gently toss with sugar, cornflour, wine, brandy, spices and lemon zest. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes.

One a lightly floured surface roll out your favorite pastry recipe into a 12-15 inch round. Line a baking stone or baking sheet with parchment paper and carefully transfer the pastry. Arrange the fruit on the pastry in an overlapping spiral, alternating fruits. Leave a 2-3 inch border all the way around. Carefully fold the border over the edge of the fruit, making pleats where necessary. Pour any remaining juices from the fruit into the center of the tart. Brush pastry edges with egg and sprinkle with course sugar.

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool. Serve warm with whipped cream, clotted cream or ice cream.

The Review:
My peaches were sub par at the time that I made this recipe. Their mealiness resulted in them crumbling apart when tossed with the sugar and mixed with the other fruit. The plums and necterines, however, held their own. While the peaches were unable to become part of the spiral of filling, their flavor was the strongest of the lot. The wine and brandy flavors were incredibly subdued...I almost wished for more, but was hesitant to add more liquid lest the filling become too runny. Perhaps the added step of a mulled wine reduction is necessary to drizzle over the filling if that flavor is highly desired. All in all it was an excellent way to showcase summer's finery. My only true complaint is that I really need to remember to add salt to my pastry in the future. The crust (a combination of shortening and butter) was one of the flakiest I've made to date, but sadly also one of the least flavorful.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vietnamese Springs Rolls

Near downtown Honolulu lies a small pedestrian mall lined with hole in the wall cafes and lunch spots from every corner of the world. I was blessed to be within walking distance of culinary tour of the globe. One favorite lunch was the Vietnamese spring rolls from either Fort Street Cafe or Ba Le Sandwich Shop. These rolls were not of the deep fried variety, but rather fresh rolls of mint, basil, rice vermicelli and either shrimp or tofu skillfully wrapped in translucence rice paper. The little works of art were almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Many filling variations of the fresh spring rolls (or summer rolls if you prefer) exist. I tried to replicate the flavors and textures from my favorite lunch spots as best as my memory would allow.

Makes 4 rolls

The Ingredients:
2-3 oz rice vermicelli (rice sticks)
4 spring roll wrappers (rice paper rounds)
12-16 medium shrimp, cooked, shelled and deveined
8-12 mint leaves
8-12 basil leaves
4 springs of cilantro or parsley
4 small lettuce leaves (romaine or bibb)
1 medium carrot, julianned or shredded
peanut sauce or other dipping sauce

The Process:
In a large sauce pan bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Add the rice vermicelli and cook for 3-5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Fill a shallow baking tray (my 10" Pyrex pie plate worked beautifully) with hot water and place one spring roll wrapper into the water until soft (about 15-20 seconds). Remove from water and gently transfer to a damp cloth or paper towel. Line 3-4 shrimp down the center of the wrapper. Layer the mint, basil, parsley/cilantro and lettuce leaf over the shrimp. Arrange one quarter of the carrot shreds over the greenery. Mound one quarter of the cooked vermicelli over the vegetables. Gently fold the lower half of the wrapper over the filling. Fold in the sides,encasing the filling and then roll the wrapper upwards. Repeat with remaining 3 wrappers and filling.

Serve with dipping sauces of your choice.

The Review:
Don't fret if the first few do not turn out as beautifully as you hope. The sticky rice paper is an exercise in small motor skills, patience and anger management. I didn't create a successful roll until my third attempt. And even then, the resultant rolls were far from photogenic. However the flavors and textures were everything I remember of these quick and healthy lunches. The dominate flavor in my memory had always been the mint and I found 2 to three leaves per roll easily provided the flavors I recalled. Yet the mint was not so strong as to overshadow the shrimp. Ba Le also had an amazing marinated tofu version of the spring roll...but that is a challenge for another day.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Simple Stuffed French Toast

This morning I found myself with a leisurely amount of time to make breakfast along with a mostly untouched loaf of white- than-white bread, store-brand version of Wonderbread and a mason jar full of a friend's amazing homemade jam (courtesy of the fruit trees in her yard and the rest of summer's amazing bounty). Stuffed French toast was in the works...

This incarnation is far less fussy than many of the cream cheese, fruit jam and challah bread varieties out there. Really, mine were just glorified jam sandwich made from what my pantry had on hand. The homemade jam truly made up for the weak, flimsy bread I ended up using...

The recipe is my own. Though true inspiration is due to my friend Marcy and her amazing jam.

Serves 3

The Ingredients:
6 slices of bread
2-3 Tbsp jam of your choice
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1-2 Tbsp butter
powdered sugar for dusting

The Process:
Spoon a scant Tbsp of jam on three of the slices of bread and spread within the edge of the crust, but not completely to it. Top each slice with a second to create a simple jam sandwich.

Whisk the eggs, milk, cinnamon and vanilla together and pour into a shallow bowl. Dip the jam sandwich into the egg mixture, coating both sides.

In a large skillet or griddle melt the butter over medium heat. Add the egg coated sandwiches and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side. Add more butter as needed.

Serve warm with a dusting of powdered sugar.

The Review:
This breakfast was the perfect way to showcase an amazing homemade jam without much fuss. I would, however, upgrade to a heartier bread next time around. But still, this was a nice twist on a tried and true traditional French toast. Though this stuffed version comes no where near the amazing guava stuffed version served at the Wailana Coffee House in Honolulu.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pineapple Coconut Muffins

The nostalgia of two years spent in Hawaii hangs thick upon our home as of late. I've been pining for sunny, non-scorching days and cool ocean breezes for several weeks. Pineapples beckon and tease from the produce aisle. I finally succumbed. The fruit has been taunting me from the kitchen counter ever since.

Tonight in a mood to bake, I dug up a coconut pineapple quick bread recipe. Several actually. Annalise's muffin recipe at And Now for Something Completely Delicious won out for two reason. One, she used fresh pineapple. Two, she added rum.

If you like pina coladas...

adapted from Annalise's recipe (for the original check recipe is below)

makes 12 muffins

The Ingredients:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp + 2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp unsweetened, flaked coconut
3 egg whites
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp rum
1 1/4 cup fresh pineapple, finely diced almost to the point of mincing

The Process:
Preheat the oven to 375 and line a muffin pan with paper liners.

Spread the coconut in a thin layer on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 3-5 minutes. Allow to cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, baking soda, 6 Tbsp sugar salt and cooled coconut. In a large bowl whisk together sour cream, egg whites, melted butter, and rum. Fold in the pineapple. Gently stir the dry ingredients into the sour cream mixture until just combined. Do not overmix.

Fill the muffin liners 3/4 of the way full. Combine the remaining 2 Tbsp of brown sugar and 2 Tbsp of coconut. Sprinkle about 1 tsp of the brown sugar mixture over the muffins.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm.

The Review:
These were delectable served slightly warm and with a generous spread of honey butter made by a friend. Though in all honesty the muffins were so moist and flavorful, they hardly needed any accompaniment. I'm glad I doubled the coconut from Annalise's original recipe, as well as toasting it before hand. With the sweetness of the fresh pineapple, the coconut may have been otherwise lost.

A sprinkling of chopped macadamia nuts would have pushed these muffins to en even higher level of tropical ecstasy.

With the cool evening breeze wafting through the kitchen windows and the pineapple smell still lingering, I could almost imagine I was back in Honolulu. Almost....

Monday, August 8, 2011

Eggplant Stuffed with Minced Meat Curry

I am finally becoming comfortable enough with my stash of Indian spices to foray into the world of curries without a cookbook as a guide. This curry is fairly mild when paired with eggplant. And the combination is a nice twist on a typically Italian dish.

The recipe is my own

serves 4-6

The Ingredients:
2 medium eggplants
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 bay leaves
1" stick of cinnamon
1/4 tsp whole cloves
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
2-3 black cardamom pods
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 clove garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced
1 Serrano pepper, seeded and finely minced
1 1/4 lb ground meat (lamb, turkey of beef)
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
1 cup peas

The Process:
Preheat the oven to 350. Remove the tops of the eggplants and halve lengthwise. Prick the skins and place the eggplants face down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 30-40 minutes or until soft. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile heat the oil in a large skillet and add the bay leaves, cinanamon, cloves, peppercorns and cardamom. When the spices begin to sizzle, add the onions. Saute over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, 10-12 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and pepper and saute for 1-2 minutes more.

Add the ground meat, and cook until no longer pink, 10-12 minutes. Break up any lumps with the back of a spoon. Add the tomato paste, cover and simmer.

Once the eggplants are cool enough to handle, spoon out the flesh from the center, leaving a 1/2" wall around the skin. Finely chop the flesh and add to the meat mixture. Stir in the garam masala, chili powder, turmeric and salt. Add peas and stir until combined. Simmer for about 10 more minutes. Remove the bay leaves, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick.

Spoon the minced meat curry into the eggplant halved=s, mounding slightly. Bake at 350 for an 20-25 minutes.

Serve with rice.

The Review:
My former Indian neighbors would have been proud.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

A few days ago, Ross directed my attention to another sweet recipe he wanted me to try. I perused the recipe and was amused to see that the filling was the same one I used (sans the juice and zest) for the cranberry phyllo baskets I had made a few weeks back. So really, these are cream cheese stuffed, not cheesecake. But they are so heavenly on a summer day I doubt anyone will care what you call them...

adapted from Nutmeg Nanny's recipeLink
makes about 2 -3 dozen depending on the size of your berries

The Ingredients:
1 lb large strawberries
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3-4 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (or lemon juice)
Graham cracker crumbs

The Process:
Rinse strawberries and cut around the top. Remove the hull and clean out inside with a paring knife if necessary. If you want to stand your strawberries upright slice a bit off the bottom. Once strawberries are prepped set aside.

Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla with a mixer or by hand. Spoon the cream cheese mixture into a piping bag and fill strawberries. Once strawberries are filled dip the top in graham cracker crumbs.

My Modifications:

As per Nutmeg Nanny's suggestion, I dipped the bottom tip of the strawberry in chocolate. I had wanted to use white chocolate, but for whatever reason, as soon as the chocolate reached that smooth melted stage it immediately disintegrated in to a grainy mixture before I could dip a single berry. Milk chocolate to the rescue...

If you wish to dip the berries, I recommend doing this after preparing the strawberries, but before filling them. After dipping, set the strawberries upright on parchment paper and chill in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes prior to filling.

The Review:

What seemed like a large quantity of dessert disappeared in mere minutes among four people. You can imagine the guilt felt by all parties for devouring the gems with out reservation...

But it's mostly fruit, right?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bow Thai Pasta

I realize the name is far from original. But pun or no, bow Thai pasta is a fitting description of this dish, Tuesday is National Night Out. How timely...a mere week after moving in we have reason to meet our neighbors. And I had an excuse to experiment with a pasta salad.

Mayo based pasta salads are a summer potluck staple, persistent as mosquitoes. I wanted to try something completely unexpected, yet with broad appeal. Thai-based flavors may not be as ubiquitous on the American BBQ scene as the typical mayo, mustard and dill based dressings, but many a person enjoys peanut butter!

the recipe is my own, vaguely based on a hot noodle dish I had at Azia Resturant.

Serves 6-8

The Ingredients:
The dressing
1 Tbsp tamarind paste, steeped in 1/3 cup boiling water
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1-2 tsp fresh ginger, finely minced
juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 cup canned coconut milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
Srirachi to taste

The salad
1 lb farfalle pasta, cooked al dente
1/4 cup olive oil with a dash of sesame oil
2 medium carrots, finely julianned
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar snap peas or shelled peas
chopped peanuts to garnish

The Process:
In a small bowl, cover the tamarind paste with boiling water, set aside for 5- 10 minutes. Break up the pulp with a fork or clean fingers. Pour the mixture through a sieve, discarding any fibrous pulp. (you may substitute lemon juice for the tamarind...start with about 2 Tbsp)

In a blender or food processor, combine all of the dressing ingredients, including the tamarind concentrate (or lemon juice). Blend until smooth.

In a large bowl gently toss the cooked pasta with the olive and sesame oils. Toss in the vegetables. Drizzle on enough dressing to moisten and toss the pasta to evenly coat (I used approximately half of the peanut the rest as a dip for satay). Chill until ready to serve.

The Review:
The block party was crawling with far more kids than I was expecting. Who knew so many little ones lived on our block! But much like the adults, they were adventurous when it came to food, and the peanut-y flavors were a big hit. And the leftovers made for an amazing lunch the next day.