Monday, December 26, 2016

Fast and Festive for Right Now

Colorful, flavorful and nutritious without sugar or fat: citrus salad. Tiz the season.
You're looking at two star grapefruits, 3 satsuma mandarins (seedless clementines), 1 navel orange, 1 tbsp pomegranate arils, 1/2 c fresh cranberries, a bunch of watercress leaves and a small bit of frisee--all cut up and seasoned with poppy seeds, anise seeds and a few fresh mint leaves minced. A few toasted pecans tossed in for crunch. Dressed to go in 2 parts sweet lime juice to 1 part olive oil. It cuts right through the richness of any over the top holiday meal, and makes those more ordinary extraordinary right away.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Holiday Cheer from the Kitchen

Before refrigerated trucks and jet planes, there wasn't much fresh or any food available at this chilling, dark time of year. So if you cared about someone's survival, you often offered gifts of food. Most often preserved or baked or in some form long lasting. That's the origin of Christmas baskets and the Christmas cookie industry. Often foods were fortified with spices known to raise heat inside the body: ginger and cinnamon particularly. Sound familiar right now, gingerbread house builders and cinnamon spiced nog mixers?

So here's the annual prompt of great holiday food gifts to give the people you love. No matter how much stuff they have and how fancy it is, they can still go gaga over a homemade jar of jam or happily nibble spiced nuts with their cocktails. And kids...well, which of them doesn't brighten at the sight of homemade cookies and bars just for them?

Fermented products, with their mega nutrients, are currently the rage of the culinary avant garde. So a jar of pickled asparagus or dilly beans could be the gift of the year. And there's still time to make a few. I've posted the recipe many times; it's in How to Fix a Leek....the book under asparagus. But here it is one more time:
2 lbs. asparagus spears or green beans, cleaned of stems
6 lg garlic cloves, halved and smashed
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 dill head or 2 tbsp dill seed
2½ cups white vinegar
2½ cups water
¼ cup kosher salt (not regular salt)
3  1 qt canning jars with lids
Sterilize jars in boiling water.
Cut woody bottoms from spears and cut spears into 4” lengths (slightly shorter than the jar height). Cut beans into same length so they fit inside the jar.  Put 4 garlic halves in each jar. Evenly divide pepper flakes and dill between each jar. Fill jars tightly with upright spears, mixing bottom and top halves as you go.
In a large saucepan, combine water, vinegar and salt. Stir to dissolve salt and bring to a full boil. Ladle into jars while boiling, filling to ¼” of the top. Shake jars to remove air bubbles. Seal jars. Put back in boiling water 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Listen for the lids to “pop” so you know the jars are securely sealed. Cool. Store in the pantry.  Store opened jars in the refrigerator.
And here's another bit of ferment, from Veggiyana the Dharma of Cooking:

This is good for a week in two pint Mason jars.

2 lbs red beets, greens, stems and roots removed (leave on about 1” to prevent beets from bleeding when boiled)
4 whole cloves
6 black peppercorns
1 tsp ground allspice
1 short cinnamon stick or piece of cinnamon bark
1½ cups vinegar
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/8 tbsp kosher salt

Cook the beets until tender either by roasting them wrapped in foil or boiling them in salted water.  Cool and peel.  Slice the beets into thin disks.  Sterilize the jars by submersion in boiling water.  While still hot, fill them with the sliced beets, cloves, peppercorns, allspice, and about ¼” of cinnamon bark per jar.  In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil over medium high heat. Stir in the salt to dissolve.  Pour the hot brine over the beets, filling to almost the top of the jar (leave a tiny space so it doesn’t overflow). Immediately seal the jar.
Stores in the refrigerator up to a week.  

This year's spiced nuts entry is
1 lb walnut halves
1/2 c sugar
2 1/2 tbsp corn oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp chili powder

Prehead oven to 325º. Blanch walnuts in boiling water 1 minute, then drain really well. While they're hot, put into a large bowl with corn oil and sugar and toss to blend. Let stand 10 minutes. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment (to keep it clean) and arrange the nuts in a single layer on it. Bake 30-35 minutes, turning them over after 15. When nuts are brown and crisp, put them in a large bowl. Add all the seasonings and toss with the warm nuts to coat. Spread in a single layer to cool. Then pack in airtight tins or jars to give away.

One of the reasons to bake right now is that turning on the oven helps heat the house. So here are suggestions for the love you can share from that oven, no sweat:
 8 oz cheddar cheese
4 oz butter, unsalted
6 drops Tabasco sauce
pinch of salt
1 cup flour

Get out a food processor or chopper.  Chop the cheese until it's coarse. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the cheese. Process until the two are smooth together. Add the remaining ingredients and process very fast, just long enough to make the flour disappear. Chill this dough for at least an hour.

When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 400º. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats or butter so nothing sticks. Divide the dough into three equal parts and roll each between your hands into 1 1/8" wide cylinders. Wrap each one in plastic wrap or waxed papper and roll it a bit more so it's now only about 1" thick. Chill the dough in the freezer 10-15 minutes.  Unwrap the cylinders and cut each into 1/8" disks. Line this up on the covered cookie sheets about 1 1/2"  apart. Bake 10 minutes. Do not let them brown, just puff up.  (Put them in a tin; they're best served warmed up in a toaster oven.)

These are meringue cookies covered by pieces of chocolate and nuts. It's what to do with all the egg whites when so many cake, cupcake, pudding and cookie recipes call only for the yolks. Yes, white trash cookies!
 Makes 30-35 cookies
2 c unblanched almond slivers
3 egg whites at room temperature
3/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
3 oz semi sweet chocolate, cut into thin shreds and bits

Heat oven to 350º. Butter or line several rimmed baking sheets and spread the slivered almonds out them. Toast in the oven 5 minutes or until they are lightly browned. Cool.

Put the egg whites in a large beater bowl and beat them on low until foamy. Slowly increase beater speed and beat them into soft peaks. By spoonfuls add the vanilla and keep beating so the egg white thicken. Slowly add the vanilla and spices while beating and continue beating until the mixture is very thick. Using a wire whisk, carefully fold in the chocolate and toasted almonds.
   Drop a heaping teaspoon of batter, using a second spoon, on the prepared baking sheet. Allow 2" between each "nest." When the baking sheets are full, bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Immediately remove them and remove them with a spatula to a wire rack to cool.  When cold, pack in airtight containers. 

makes about 30 large cookies
 or the dough
2 1/2 c unbleached white flour
3/4 c sugar
2 sticks (1 c) unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
grated peel of 1/2 lemon

This dough is best made in a heavy duty mixer with a flat beater. Put in the flour, make a well, add the sugar. Add the yolk on top. Cut the butter into 1" pieces and spread them around the sloping sides of the well opening. Add the lemon peel and salt. With the mixer on lowest setting, turn it off and on quickly a few times to get the flour moistened. Then run it on slow through mealy stage into larger lumps. It's done when a ball forms around the beater. Take it off, press it into a smooth ball, wrap this in wax paper and chill for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator.

Heat oven to 375º. Line several baking sheets with parchment or silicon or butter them thoroughly.
Cut the dough in half and leave one half in the refrigerator. Flour a working surface and using your knuckles knead the dough down into a flat circle on it--quickly so it stays cold. Roll the dough out to be 1/8" thick. With a 2 1/2" round cutter (scalloped edges make these cookies fancier), cut as many cookies as you can, placing them on a baking sheet as you go. Prick each with a fork several times.
   Roll out the second half of the dough the same way.  Cut cookies as before BUT now, using a 1" or 1 1/4" cutter, cut the center out of them to make a ring.   Roll the cut out dough and make more cookies. You want the same number of ring tops as solid bottoms.  Prick the rings with a fork twice.
   Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until pale golden and crisp. Immediately remove from the baking sheet and put on a wire rack to cool

for the filling: 3/4 c raspberry or strawberry preserves
1/4 c confectioners sugar
(the red feels very Christmasy but you can use apricot preserves which are more traditional)
Spread a thin layer of the preserves on the whole cookie. Put a ring cookie on top, Carefully dust it with confectioners sugar. Then fill the ring up with more preserves.
Store these cookies in an airtight tin in a cool place. 

Quick refrigerated yummies to present in a jar:
Tomatoes don't taste that good right now so this makes them much better--and far tastier than the commercial product at salad and antipasto bars.
There's no real precise formula here so make as much as you want by doubling or tripling this.
3 medium ripe tomatoes
1 clove garlic, through a press
sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil and 1/4-1/3 c more for storage

Heat the oven or toaster oven to 325º. Slice the tomatoes about 1/8" thick. Lay them on a baking sheet. (You can line it with parchment or tin foil to avoid cleaning it later.) Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Distribute the garlic evenly over the tomatoes. Sprinkle the olive oil over them. Roast 45-60 minutes or just until they start to brown at the edges. Remove from the oven, put in a jar and add enough olive oil to come about 1/2-2/3 of the way to the top of them.  Store in the refrigerator. These should last about 2-3 weeks.
They're great on bruschetta with goat cheese, terrific with scrambled eggs and roasted meat

Combine all this in a heavy stock or soup pot:
1/2 c olive oil

1.2 c dry white wine
1 tbsp thyme leaves
1 tbsp dried tarragon leaves
dash of red wine vinegar
1/4 c raisins
1 tsp black peppercorns
pinch of salt
1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 doz pearl onions, peeled
12 oz fresh button or crimini mushrooms, washed

Add enough water to just barely cover these ingredients. Then stir in 3 tbsp tomato paste.
Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 5 minutes. Cool. Pack in jars and refrigerate. Good for a few days.