Sunday, May 31, 2009

It's a Recession: Homemade Strawberry Jam, Part 1

Like pretty maids all in a row.

Apologies for the lack of posts. There was not much cooking in Kitchen Stadium last week. To make up for it, though, I bring you a three-parter.

I know it's a little old-school, but I like to make my own jam. Usually my mom and I take a weekend and make a ton of jam -- generally either strawberry or peach. We can it, and then it lasts the whole year. Except last year, we never got around to making any and for the first time in probably my life I actually had to buy jam at the store. I felt like a failure. As soon as the strawberries showed up at the market this year, I made an appointment with the mother to make some jam. We had these grandiose plans to go to the farm and pick the berries ourselves -- in spite of my severe allergy to bees mind you -- but then we could never find a decently priced place. So my mom bought a bunch of berries at Costco. She went a little overboard and bought 20 pounds, which is how I ended up making three different flavors of strawberry jam (You've got to keep it interesting if you're going to stand over a hot pot all day, you know?).

A couple notes on homemade jam before I give you the first recipe.

1) To can or not to can? When you make homemade jam, you could either make it and refrigerate or you could can it. Canning is more intense, but it keeps for up to a year. If you just refrigerate, the jam will only last about 2-3 weeks. For my part, I always can. But if you don't want to go out and get jars, you can skip that part. I'll put some instructions here on this first recipe about how to can for those who are interested. If you do want to can, you need glass jars. They sell these at Target, Walmart and places like Michael's Crafts. Each jar has three parts: the glass container, the metal lid and the metal band. If you are reusing old jars, you can use the glass part and the band, but make sure to buy new lids. You can either use pint size or half-pint size depending on your preference.

2) Pectin or no pectin. This is actually the first year I have ever cooked with pectin and it was at CCO's behest. Pectin is a natural enzyme found in fruits like apples and lemons. When added to jams and jellies, it acts as a natural thickening agent to help the fruit gell. Back in the day when you made jam, you would cook it until the fruit broke down and counteracted with the sugar to form a gell. Now you can just use pectin and it will thicken much more quickly. You can find at the store in packets of dried powder or as a gel (called Certo), usually on the same aisle as gelatin. There's also some strange way you can make your own pectin at home if you're really crunchy, but I decided that was way beyond me. There are two advantages to pectin. First, because the pectin is causing the thickening, you don't have to cook the fruit as long. When I was a kid, it seemed like we would stand over the stove for hours (it's really more like 20-30 minutes). With pectin, it's faster, more like 10. The second advantage is that pectin is a soluable dietary fiber. This was CCO's appeal. For whatever chemical reason, your stomach doesn't break down the pectin and it goes through your system pretty much in tact. Somewhat gross to visualize, but this helps reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood. So even though he was essentially asking me to relearn how to cook jam, I decided to be a sport and make some with pectin. The first recipe, plain strawberry jam, is made without pectin. The second, strawberry with port wine, has powdered pectin, and the third, strawberry-balsamic, is no pectin.

Eat Rating: Awesome. Seriously, you may reconsider buying your jam at the store...
Difficulty: Medium to hard. You need several pots and canning jars. It also helps if you have one of these jar lifters.

Strawberry Jam

From the Ball Blue Book of Preserving

2 quarts of strawberries
6 cups of sugar
5 1-pint canning jars

Place the strawberries in a colander and wash thoroughly, making sure to remove any strawberries with visible dirt or mold. With a knife, remove the tops of the berries and coursely chop. Once you have chopped all the berries, you should have 8 cups.

Add the berries to a large saucepan and crush with a potato masher. Add the sugar, stir until thoroughly coated and then set aside for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the lids from the canning jars and thoroughly wash each jar, either by hand using soap and hot water or by running through the dish washer.

Take a big pot, the largest one you've got and fill about halfway with water. This is your jar pot. After the jars are washed, place each jar in the water. Heat up the water to boiling to further sterilize the jars, then reduce heat to low. In a separate smaller saucepan, heat water and place all the jar rims inside. It doesn't need to be boiling, just hot.

At this point, take your berry/sugar mixture and heat it over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. The sugar should be dissolved and you'll start to get a foam on top. That's ok, just be careful that the foam doesn't overflow the pan or you'll get to experience what burning sugar smells like. Stir frequently as the mixture cooks until it reaches the gelling, or sheeting point. This will take awhile, as much as 40 minutes. To test whether it's ready, take a metal spoon and lift it above the pan about a foot. Allow to cool for a second, then turn the spoon so the jelly falls back into the pan. If the mixture falls off in drops, it needs more time. But if the jelly falls off the spoon more like a mass, as though the drops have coalesced together, it's finished. (Here's a good example of what sheeting looks like).

Remove from heat. At this point you want to remove the foam from the jam. With a small spoon, skim any foam off the top of the jam. You can either discard the skim or keep it to eat later. Once the foam is removed, you'll want to fill the jars.

Carefully remove one jar from the jar pot. Fill the jar with jam, leaving about 1/4 of an inch at the top. Using a paper towel or cloth, clean the rim of the jar. You want to make sure there is no jam on the jar's rim or the lid may not seal properly. Using tongs, briefly place the lid in the hot water to heat up, then place on top of the jar. Remove a ring from the ring bath, and use a towel to twist the lid until it is completely secured. Place the filled jar back in the water bath. Fill all the remaining jars until you run out of jam.

Return the jar pot to the heat and boil for about 5-10 minutes. Carefully remove the hot jars from the pot, and set aside. The reason you reboil the jam is to pressurize the jars. As they cool to room temperature, you should hear a small metallic popping sound as the lid of each jar pops inward. That's how you know the canning was successful and will keep for a long period. After about 30 minutes, inspect the jars to insure they have all popped inward. If any did not pop, check the band to make sure it is twisted on firmly, then reboil.

Sealed jars of jam will keep for at least a year. Once you open a jar, use within 3 weeks.

Monday, May 25, 2009

It's a Recession!: Egg Drop Soup

Egg Drop Soup

After a rockin' good time at our friend Chris' wedding in Northwest Arkansas, CCO has come down with a gross cold. He asked for soup and rejected my first two suggestions because he secretly wanted to order pho from the place down the street. We compromised on Egg Drop, since after all, it is Meatless Monday. Normally I would order from a Chinese restaurant up the street, but it is a recession and we did just come back from a four-day weekend extravaganza (or as extravagant as you can get in Northwest Arkansas...).

I'll link to the recipe below as I found it on a fellow food blog (Simply Recipes). It's also awesome because, with the exception of the mushrooms, I had all the ingredients in my cupboard. The recipe calls for green onions. Since I missed the farmer's market this weekend, I didn't have any and instead subbed some minced shallot. I think it would be better with the green onions, though, so if you have to go to the store, pick up some. The recipe also calls for chicken stock as the base. You can sub veggie broth to make it totally vegetarian.

Eat Rating: Awesome. Actually better than I've had at most Chinese restaurants.
Difficulty: Easy. Requirements: Pot, fork, bowl. Voila!

"Egg Drop Soup" at Simply Recipes

Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Two bowls full.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Orecchiette with Carmalized Onions, Sugar Snap Peas and Ricotta

Slightly creamy with peas (the good kind).

It is not yet June. There are, in fact, another two weeks before it becomes June. But last week the Bon Appetit that suggests what I should cook in June arrived in my mailbox. And though I probably should be cooking things from the May issue since, you know, it's still May and it features foods available in May, I am highly suggestible. So I started adding dishes from the June issue to the Meatless Monday list. Which is how we ended up with orecchiette with sugar snap peas even though it is May and even though sugar snap peas won't really be available till next month.

Orechiette is one of the little pastas, like orzo and conchigliette. The article that accompanied this recipe called it "ear shaped." I always think of it as shaped like a buttercup, which inevitably makes me think of the song. So orechiette and the Foundations, wierdly associated in my head. Anyway, it's a good pasta. So bookmark this page and come back to it in a few weeks when sugar snap peas are everywhere.

Eat Rating: Good. Not awesome. Slighly below awesome. But still good. Particularly because I love crisp snap peas.
Difficulty: Easy. The only weird instrument required is a zester, my favorite kitchen invention ever. If you don't have that, the finer holes on a grater would work.

From Bon Appetit Magazine, June 2009

2 tbsp olive oil
3 cups onion, chopped
1 cup (8 oz) sugar snap peas, cut into pieces
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (LN: They recommend whole milk, but we used fat-free)
Fresh basil leaves, torn
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest (About one lemon's worth)

In a large skillet, heat the oil and then saute the onions until lightly browned, about five minutes. Reduce heat to medium and saute the onions for another 15 minutes. You want them browned all the way through. While the onions are cooking, boil a pot of water for the pasta. Cook pasta according to the package directions (mine took about 8 minutes.)

Once the onions are thoroughly cooked, add the cut peas and saute until slightly tender, about 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat until pasta is cooked.

Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of liquid. Add the pasta and 1/2 cup of the water to the onion/pea mixture and return the pan to medium heat. Cook for about 1 minute, then stir in the ricotta, basil and lemon zest. Stir until well-incorporated, adding additional pasta water if necessary.

Serve immediately.

All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Orangette's Cherry Bread Salad with Goat Cheese

All covered with (goat) cheese...

I promise that one day soon I will get over my obsession with Orangette's new cookbook. But not yet.

I love cherries. A lot. I actually get really excited when I go to the store during cherry season. I have a somewhat gross story that illustrates the extent of my cherry love. Since this is a food blog, I will refrain from telling it, but it did involve me losing a toenail.

When I saw this recipe in Orangette's book, I knew I had to make it as soon as cherries came into season. I went to the store this weekend, and they had gotten their first shipment. I controlled myself and only bought one bag. You could tell they were early season cherries, possibly even from a greenhouse, a little sour, not like the sweet summer ones I love. But they did work their magic. I ate half the bag as soon as I got home.

The other half, I saved for this salad. It was worth the sacrifice.

Orangette recommends adding several handfuls of arugula to the salad. I sort of hate arugula (sorry, Barack Obama), so I left it out. The salad is perfectly fine without it, but if you don't dislike arugula, you might considering adding some in.

Eat Rating: Awesome. I think I would eat this every day if CCO wouldn't boycott.
Difficulty: Easy. This would be substantially easier to make if you own a cherry pitter. (Sadly all my friends just mocked me when I asked for one for my birthday.) But you can just as easily pit cherries with a knife.

From "A Homemade Life" by Molly Wizenberg

1/2 lb cherries, pitted
6 oz white bread, preferably day old (LN: We used half of a baguette I bought that day and it worked fine)
Olive oil
1/4 tsp crushed garlic
2-3 tsp balsamic vinegar
3-4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
Arugula (if that's your thing)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Tear the bread into bite-sized hunks, lay out on a cookie sheet and lightly sprinkle with olive oil. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes until you have lightly toasted crouton-type things.

Put about 1/3 of your pitted cherries in a bowl and crush them with the back of a spoon/fork to release the juices.

When the bread is finished, let cool for a minute, then place in a large bowl with the garlic and toss to coat. Let cool a minute. Add the cherries -- crushed and whole -- and toss again. Sprinkle with 2-3 tsp of balsamic vinegar. (I went with 3, she recommends 2) Add 1 tbsp of olive oil and the goat cheese and toss again. If you're using arugula, add that in now and toss to mix. Serve immediately.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

It's a Recession!: Homemade Energy Bars

Not much of a looker, but damn is she good.

Today we debut a new weekly feature, It's a Recession!, where I attempt to make foods at home that I would normally buy at the store. I will freely admit this idea was inspired by this article in Slate where another food blogger attempted to figure out which pantry staples (bagels, cream cheese, etc.) you could make at home more cheaply. The article also led me to her food blog, which is also pretty cool.

Anyway, I thought this was a great idea. My first attempt at yogurt failed. Miserably. More on that in a few weeks once I've gotten it right. Because of that failure, I moved on to something I thought would be a little easier: snack bars. I found a seemingly simple recipe in the "Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook," which I got for my birthday. This attempt was also a miserable failure. I took one to work in my lunch and sent another with CCO. Around lunchtime I was forced to send him this message: "Subject: DON'T EAT IT. Message: Unless it's already too late." His slightly more generous reply: "Yeah. Not so good."

So we'll save that one for another time. Perhaps it is also salvageable.

Feeling horrible about myself for being a failure, I will give you a cool recipe I tried a couple weeks back that has been making its way around some other food blogs. Larabars are made out of all raw ingredients -- mostly nuts and fruits -- with a base of dates. They are tasty, with no-sugar added because of the sweetness of the date, and only about 200 calories each (I knew you'd wonder that part, Annie.) I found the basis for this recipe on Chocolate and Zucchini. This other food blog by Camilla Saulsbury also has a bunch of other variations, but I have not had a chance to try those yet.

Anyway, I played with Clothilde's recipe a little since I couldn't actually find date paste. You can buy Medjool dates in the bulk food aisle at Whole Foods. If you go to Whole Foods, make sure to buy them in the bulk food section where they are $6.99/lb. If you buy them in the pre-made plastic cartons in the produce section, they cost $7.99/lb. Sneaky Whole Foods. You can also find them in the produce section at some Trader Joes stores.

Eat Rating: Awesome. I ate them all within a day and had to make a second batch because I forgot to take a photo.
Difficulty: Easy. Just requires a food processor and a rubber scraper.

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini, "Homemade Larabars"

8 Medjool dates, pits removed and roughly chopped
3-4 tsp water
1/2 cup roasted almonds (LN: Try to get ones that aren't salted. If you have salted, you can rinse them in a colander to remove the salt.)
1/2 cup walnuts
1/8 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 heaping tbsp cocoa nibs (LN: Not the chocolate covered ones)

Spray the bottom of a loaf pan with Pam or olive oil. Also tear a sheet of saran wrap or wax paper long enough to cover the pan. Set both aside.

Place the dates in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add 1-2 tsp of water. Pulse again, then scrape, repeating until the dates are broken down into a paste consistency. It will be a thick, chunky paste, more like a course meal than something like tomato paste. Add the nuts and pulse several times to chop them up. Add the cinnamon, cocoa and nibs, pulsing again until just combined. At this point, my mixture had started to ball in the bowl of the food processor.

Scrape the content of the bowl into the loaf pan. Using the wrap or wax paper, press the mixture into the pan until it is roughly level. Once the pan is filled, place the wax paper or wrap directly onto the bars and refridgerate for at least 4 hours. After the bars are solid, you can cut them in to bars and wrap in wax paper until ready to eat.

My variations:
Chocolate Cherry - Omit the 1/2 cup of walnuts and increase the almonds to 1 cup. Add 1/2 cup of dried cherries when you add the spices and chocolate.

Choco-coconut - Omit the 1/2 cup of walnuts and increase the almonds to 1 cup. Add in 1/2 to 3/4 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut.

Chocolate cranberry - Omit the 1/2 cup of almonds and increase the walnuts to 1 cup. Add in 1/2 cup of dried cranberries.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Halibut with Tomatoes and Basil

Roasted Halibut with couscous.

I've had a hankering for fish recently. My go-to fish is (predictably) salmon, mostly because I only like fish that is firm and flaky. But CCO was tired of my salmon obsession, so we bought a filet of halibut at the store this weekend.

Roasted in a foil packet with tomato, basil and oil, it was everything I dreamed of and more.

Eat Rating: Delicious.
Difficulty: Easy. Just a long strip of aluminum foil.

1 cup of basil leaves, loosely packed and then chopped
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp dry white wine (LN: We used Sauvignon Blanc)
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 1/2 lb filets of halibut

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Tear two long sheets of aluminum foil, about 6 inches long.

In a bowl, combined the chopped basile, grape tomatoes, garlic, wine and olive oil. Mix until all the ingredients are coated and add salt and pepper to taste. Wash the filets and pat dry with a paper towel. Place a filet in the middle of a sheet of aluminum foil. Top with half the tomato/basil mixture. Fold one end of the foil up over the fish, then fold the other side over so you have a roll with two open ends. Then fold each of the open ends over so all sides are closed. Repeat with the second filet. Place the packets on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

Unwrap and serve immediately.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Italian Meatballs

Tiny balls of buffalo meat.

The farmer's markets have returned! Which means I should probably use up the ground buffalo I bought last fall in order to buy fresh. Having exhausted CCO on my favorite recipe for ground meat, we decided to make meatballs instead.

Eat Rating: Good. The buffalo makes them nice and savory.
Difficulty: Easy. No fancy instruments, just get your hands dirty

Adapted from Christie's Corner, "Italian Meatballs"

1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup skim milk
1 lb ground buffalo
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup fresh oregano, finely chopped (LN: I subbed 1 tbsp dried oregano)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and milk. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the buffalo, onion, garlic and egg with your hands until well mixed. Add the oregano and milk/bread, and mix again until combined through-out. Add the parmesan and nutmeg. Break off small clumps of meat and roll into balls. You can get up to 48 bite-sized meatballs. (I got more like 25)

Set out the meatballs on a cookie sheet and cook for 20 minutes.

Add the meatballs to the sauce and mix with pasta, or cool and then freeze to use later.

My hands.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Basil + pine nuts + garlic + oil

For Meatless Monday this week, I made CCO some pesto. It's apparently his favorite sauce. I am not an enormous fan, but we ate it on some of the leftover gnocchi from a few weeks ago and it was delicious.

Eat Rating: Awesome (if you like pesto, of course). Very basilly and nutty.
Difficulty: Easy. Requires either a blender/food processor or mortar and pestle (for the hard-core among you)

45 fresh basil leaves, about 1 cup packed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup walnuts

Combine the basil, garlic, salt and nuts in the bowl of a food processor (or blender) and pulse several times. You want the mixture to be a little mealy, don't overmix or the basil will turn to liquid. Through the feeder tube, gradually add the oil while pulsing. Pulse just until combined. Add to 1 lb of cooked pasta (gnocchi) and serve.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cold Oven Popovers

Poppin up all over the place.

After all that intense eating on the weekend, we decided to go with salad for dinner Sunday. I wanted to make some bread to go with, but I couldn't find a good recipe. Instead, I decided on popovers. CCO suggested using the American Heart Association Cookbook recipe. It uses only egg whites, rather than the whole egg. This means the popovers aren't as full-bodied as ones you've eaten in the past. Still light and fluffy, but not as rich and buttery. Good for if you've eaten way to much in a weekend.

There are two important tricks for this recipe. First, don't preheat your oven. That may sound weird but the trick to popovers is that the pop is created by steam. It works better if the temperature increases gradually. So don't turn the oven on until after you put the tray into the oven.

Secondly, muffin tins don't work very well. You're supposed to use a popover pan. The cups are deeper than a muffin tin. If you don't have a popover pan (because who actually does), you can use custard cups, sprayed with olive oil. The recipe will make about 18 5-oz popovers. That's a lot, so unless you have a big family or company, I'd suggest halving the recipe. Nine is a much more doable number anyway.

Eat Rating: Ok. You can definitely tell they are the "heart healthy" recipe, though.
Difficulty: Easy. The hardest part is separating the eggs.

Whites of 6 eggs
2 cups skim milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp margarine or butter, melted
2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1/4 tsp salt

Spray the popover pan or custard cups.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites lightly with a fork, then add milk, oil and melted butter. In a second, larger bowl, stir together flour and salt. Gradually add the milk/egg mix to the flour, mixing with an electric mixer until well blended. Then beat for 1 to 2 minutes.

Fill each cup half-full. Any more and it'll spill over onto the bottom of your oven. Set into the oven, then turn the oven on to 400 degrees. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Popovers will be done when they have puffed up and baked to a light golden brown color.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Sauce


So, I didn't initially intend to make the strawberry tart for my grandma's birthday. I had wanted to make a flourless dark chocolate cake, and pulled out Orangette's Winning Hearts and Minds cake, which I had been saving for a special occasion. Only I managed to mess it up. It was sort of pathetic. I mean the recipe was ridiculously easy. It only requires one bowl and five ingredients. But I destroyed it.

To be fair, it wasn't the recipe that messed me up, but rather my clumsiness. It was sad really because I was trying to be very diligent about following the recipe for once. She suggests making the cake ahead of time, freezing it and then defrosting to get the best flavor. So on Thursday night, I started making the cake so it could freeze til Friday night and then have 24 hours to defrost. Everything was fine, until I went to flip the cake. She has very specific instructions on how to best flip the cake once it's removed from the pan. Instead of flipping it onto a plate, though, I was trying to flip it back onto a sheet of saran wrap so I could wrap it up and stuff it in the freezer. This was an ill-conceived idea however and the cake split in two, right down the middle. Exasperated, I turned to the picture on the cover of Gourmet.

Although I'm sure you were enthralled by my cake-mishap story, I told it for a reason. I decided to make lemonade from my lemons and use the broken chocolate cake for dessert for my brother and sister-in-law. To accompany the dark chocolate, I pulled out this recipe for Coeur a la Creme with Raspberry Sauce -- that's a fancy way of saying White Chocolate Mousse -- also courtesy Orangette. And it worked out beautifully.

She recommends either using a fancy mold or using a colander wrapped in cheese cloth. That seemed difficult to me and I couldn't find cheese cloth at my store, so I just used a bowl. Not as pretty, but it worked for my purposes.

Eat Rating: Wonderful. Particularly if you are a white chocolate fan.
Difficulty: Easy. I skipped the hardest part which required cheesecloth straining.

Adapted from "Couer a La Creme with Raspberry Puree", A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

3 ounches white chocolate, chopped or cut into chunks
1 8-oz package of cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 10-oz bag frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed in a bowl
3 tbsp sugar

In a microwave bowl, melt the white chocolate. (You can also do this in a bowl over a pot of boiling water on the stove). Stir well until smooth, set aside to cool.

In a medium sized bowl, mix the cream cheese, 1/4 cup of cream and the powdered sugar. Add the white chocolate and combine until smooth, about 2 minutes with an electric mixer. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, preferrably a Kitchenaid so your arms don't get tired, beat the 1 cup of cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture, folding in until completely combined. Spoon the mixture into the mold. (Or I just scraped down the edges of my bowl and then covered with saran wrap, making sure to have the wrap touch the top layer of cream). Refridgerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Once the raspberries are defrosted, puree them in a blender or food processor. Add the sugar and blend until smooth. At this point, she suggest pushing the raspberries through a sieve/cheese cloth to remove the seeds. I was lazy and served with seeds. Chill for at least 4 hours.

To serve, place a spoonful of the mousse in a dish and top with raspberry sauce. Goes wonderfully on top of a piece of broken cake.