Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Before we start this week's blog I have a bit of an announcement. This will be the last "regularly scheduled post" you are going to see until January. I have decided to apply for grad school, and am currently knee deep in application hell. Pile on top of that an insane November full of family visits both in NY and PA, and a number of other events I'm involved with. (One of these things is the Queens Eats fundraiser for the Queens Harvest Co-op. If you live in Queens and would really like there to be a food co-op, you should attend! Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased here) In the past I have taken on the attitude of "I can do everything! It will be fine! I never liked sleep that much anyway!" This inevitably ends in a downward spiral where I work myself until I fall ill, end up half assing at least one of the things on my list and resenting the hell out of everything else. Then I have a sobbing fit which when you compound that with the cold I've contracted by that point in the spiral, makes me a very pretty girl indeed. Planning, cooking, and writing about an elaborate meal once a week is probably the task that needs to go right now, otherwise that will become the half assed project which means bad writing and probably a small kitchen fire.

This doesn't mean there will be no blogs, I'm just not going to hold myself to a schedule. Updates will be announced on Twitter and you can see them right away if you subscribe to my RSS feeds (see links on the right). I'm working on a project to make french sourdough bread, and I think we're still having our Christmas party so there should be interesting, if sporadic, posts. This blog has meant a lot to me over the last year and a half and I look forward to having more time to devote to it in 2011!

With November being the scheduling nightmare that it is, we've been hitting the take out menus pretty hard lately. Knowing what the rest of my month looks like, I've been desperate for some easy dinner ideas. I don't mean "15 Minute Meal" type ideas, I mean open, pour in bowl, hit Reheat kind of ideas. I don't want to shop, chop, or do any unnecessary dishes. This all reminded me of a story I heard when I was 16 about Broadway playwright Jonathan Larson. While writing Rent he wanted to be able to focus all his energy on his art, and not spend any time on other activities. Sunday nights he would cook a huge pot of pasta and live off of it all week. This stuck in my brain as part of the Bohemian artistic lifestyle I would someday live in NY. I also thought I would wear a lot more leather pants. Go figure. I do love a big pot of pasta though and as I have dealt with the reality of the next few weeks, I knew that was a good option, especially since most sauces freeze wonderfully. I turned to a sauce that has always been a favorite of food blogs. A sauce so simple I would recommend it to new moms, not for before they have the baby, but for making when all of those casseroles run out. It requires all of 4 ingredients, and a stove. That's pretty much it, and it makes a sauce so incredible I was using sandwich bread to sop every last bit out of my bowl.

One of these very simple ingredients is a can of tomatoes. I was ecstatic. Why would I get so jazzed about an ingredient that I didn't select from my local farmers market? Because for the last year I have had a 6 pound can of diced tomatoes sitting on my shelf. Will brought it home from his restaurant, they were changing brands or something, but he lugged it home for me. Six pounds of organic tomatoes, just waiting for someone's imagination to turn them into something wonderful. I didn't have that much imagination. It was so much tomato! There were two of us! For awhile I contemplated a really cheesy spaghetti dinner party, with checked tablecloths and those bottles of wine with the wicker bottoms. It never came together though, and there sat my can of tomatoes, taking up space being all accusatory.

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
Adapted from  Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

- 6 pounds canned tomatoes (whole or diced)
- 2 sticks of butter
- 2 medium onions, peeled and cut in half
- Salt to taste
- Freshly grated parmigiana for the table

If using a gas stove, you can char the bottom of the onions by placing them directly on the burners, until they get just slightly blackened. This will give your sauce a richer taste. Put the tomatoes, butter and onion in a large 5-quart pot over medium heat. When the sauce begins to boil turn down heat. Simmer until fat floats free from the tomatoes, between an hour to an hour fifteen. Stir from time to time, mashing the tomato against the side of the pan with the back of a spoon periodically. Taste and add salt if needed. Many canned tomatoes come pre-salted so use your judgment here. Discard the onion. Toss as much sauce as desired with cooked pasta, put the rest in freezer bags for later!

While this recipe calls for canned whole tomatoes, the diced worked fine. They didn't quite fall apart the way I would have liked them to, but a quick pulse with the immersion blender gave the sause the thick puree I desired. If I wanted it more rustic, I would have skipped the blender.

It was a very good sauce. When I came home exhausted the next night and asked Will if he would mind us eating it two nights in a row. He practically skipped to the fridge. Last night when he finally got home from work at 10pm, he started eyeing the freezer bags. I don't know how long my reserves will last! Better get another 6 pound can of tomatoes...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

No Food Blog this Week

Hi guys.

Well, I was 3/4 of the way through a blog about butternut squash ravioli. Then blogger randomly deleted everything and Auto-Saved before I could react. After 3 hours of work. Yup, the internet ate my blog. I'm going to bed.

See you next week,

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hot Buttered Bourbon and Cider

I've been talking about beer a lot lately and it's probably not going to stop anytime soon.  At least not until next summer when the apartment starts feeling like it's on top of a lake of fire.  I can't help it; it's just so interesting.  Brewing beer is perfect practice for being a father.  Those little yeast cells are relying on me and me alone to create the perfect environment to survive and flourish.  Occasionally I'll catch myself staring at the bubbling airlock.  I'm thinking about how the beer will turn out and contemplating my creepy parental attachment to the yeast.

I'll probably be back to beer next week, but this week--as a palate cleanser--I thought I would return to the world of cocktails.  Seasonal cocktails to be specific.  It's hard not to get taken in by all the pumpkins, squash and apples that dominate the farmer's market this time of year.  Traditionally there are so many of them that we have to resort to bobbing for apples, carving pumpkins and stuffing squash down our pants...we all did that as a kid, right?

Heather and I enjoy buying local cider in the fall.  When enjoying it as an alcoholic beverage, we heat it up in the microwave and add a splash of rum to it--warms the heart and soul.  But this time around I wanted to do something more elaborate and festive.  After scouring recipes from various different sources, I decided on one in particular that caught my eye.

Hot Buttered Bourbon and Cider
adapted from Bon Appétit

-2 cups apple cider
-1/2 cup water
-3 tbsp (packed) golden brown sugar
-4 whole cloves
-1 cinnamon stick
-2 tbsp chilled unsalted butter
-3/4 cup bourbon
-2 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
-ground nutmeg

Bring the first 5 ingredients to simmer in medium saucepan.  Remove from heat; cover and let steep 15 minutes.  Ad 2 tbsp chilled butter to saucepan; bring to simmer.  Remove from heat.  Stir in bourbon and lemon juice.  Strain into large measuring cup.  Divide hot cider among 4 mugs.  Garnish with apple slice and cinnamon stick.  Sprinkle nutmeg over.

The one major change from the original recipe is the butter.  In addition to the butter contained in the drink itself, it calls for you to essentially garnish the drink by having a quarter teaspoon of butter floating in the drink as you serve it.  I told Heather and she said "ewww."  My thoughts exactly.  Don't get me wrong, butter is great.  But people don't want to be reminded of its presence, especially in cocktails.  It was in this spirit that it was nixed.  Please feel free to try it and leave your thoughts in the comments.

The final result was something a bit different and a bit more savory than I was used to.  I've always thought of whiskey as a good winter spirit.  It's got a nice sharp bite to it.  As for the butter used, I thought that two tablespoons were plenty.  Anything more and I'll feel like it's time for a cholesterol test. And I'm told they can be pricey.

I would recommend this as a good drink to make in batches for a party because of the prep work involved.  It's the sort of thing that would look great in a punchbowl.  Just be careful that no one bobs for apples in it for two reasons.  First, the scalding temperature will surely cause severe and disfiguring burns.  Second, it's very tasty and your guest may not want to come out, resulting in his eventual drowning.  And third, it's devastating to see good liquor wasted.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Beer Update

The Belgian Tripel that I have in the fermenter right now is going beautifully so far--not bragging or anything.  The temperature is holding at a steady 68°F which is like Disneyland for yeast.  The airlock has been steadily bubbling for the last week or so and it's been very encouraging.  So encouraging, in fact, that I've decided to bang out another five gallon batch of brew right on the heels of the Tripel.

Heather took a bread making class at Brooklyn Kitchen--an establishment at which Heather and I have taken a handful of classes, some of them beer related--and she suggested that if I were to brew another beer, I could use her 10% class discount to buy ingredients.  I said let's do it.  It wasn't until that very night that I decided on the beer to brew.  I decided on a coffee stout.

My "stout"
As loyal readers may recall, I tried my hand at a stout earlier in the year.  The result was a drinkable beer, but very pale.  I had a couple of theories about what went wrong with the color--maybe I didn't steep the grains for long enough or maybe I didn't get the right kind of malt.  A lot of things could have happened.  That beer marked the first time that I selected the ingredients myself rather than have the home brew shop assemble them for me.  I got the recipe from the Keystone Homebrew website--a great resource for extract brewing recipes--but I got the ingredients from Brooklyn Kitchen.  As a result, I had to make substitutions for some ingredients that they didn't carry.

It didn't occur to me until two nights ago--after I picked up the ingredients for this upcoming batch--that the grains need to be milled or crushed.  Every time I get my ingredients from Keystone, they prep the grains and blend them together.  Part of that preparation includes milling the grains so that the hot water can get access to the starch inside the grain and turn it into fermentable sugar.  Brooklyn Kitchen will not automatically do that for you, which explains the pale color and the low Original Gravity (1.040 as opposed to the 1.050 that the recipe estimated).  I felt (feel) like an idiot, but I am happy that it's no longer a mystery.  The code is cracked and I'm excited to move forward.

As luck would have it, Heather left her phone at Brooklyn Kitchen after her class.  She called them the next day and had them set it aside to be picked up later.  The phone retrieval gave me an excuse to go back, hat in hand, and ask them to let me mill my grains.  They were happy to oblige.

Whenever I get the kits from Keystone Homebrew, they give me the Wyeast smack packs of yeast that inflate when you burst the little bag inside.  When I go to Brooklyn Kitchen and pick out my own stuff, I get the White Labs vial of Irish Ale Yeast.  There's really not a great deal of difference between the two, but the vial makes me feel like more of a scientist.  The smack pack--while effective--makes me feel like I'm about to treat a sports injury.  Hopefully with my properly cracked grain, I'll be able to give the yeast a little more fermentable sugar to feed on.

I am very excited to return to beer brewing after this long hot summer.  I spent a good chunk of yesterday cleaning used bottles with my bottle brush and removing their labels with steel wool, which works leaps and bounds better than the scouring side of our dish sponge.  Heather is slowly getting used to the amassing of bottles in the apartment and has been putting up with it like a saint.

Bottling day for the Tripel is a week from today and I'll be able to drink it two weeks after that.  The recipe suggests that the beer could benefit from a secondary fermentation in a glass carboy.  Unfortunately, I don't own a glass carboy so I'll be skipping that step.  As far as I've come with beer brewing, there is still so far to go.  I suppose that's one of the things that keeps me interested; there's always going to be more complex and elaborate things you can do to make your beer better.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Risotto with Kale and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

There are foods out there that are legendary for being challenges. Dishes that have a number of very precise steps, dishes with chemical reactions, and if one step goes astray the whole dish collapses on you. This is why I've never attempted a soufflé. Or anything that requires a sheet of gelatin as an ingredient. For the longest time I have avoided a staple of Italian cooking, the risotto. 

Let's start with the fact that I just kinda suck at cooking rice. After the like 17th pot of either soggy or dry rice, I finally just broke down and bought a rice cooker. Risotto, however, is even more complicated. The scientific principal of regular rice is simple. Cook with water (or stock), let liquid absorb into rice, done. The types of rice used for risotto (most notably Arborio) has a kernel surrounded by a starch known as amlopectin. When this starch dissolves it makes the rices all soft and sticky, creating the creamy goodness risotto is known for. Sticking the rice into boiling water is not enough to create this effect, however. It can only be achieved by toasting the kernels, then stirring in liquid, a bit at a time, and letting it absorb before adding the next batch. This process can take anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes and you must stir constantly the entire time. I have been intimidated by the process, and more then that, I have been lazy. Man has invented stand mixers, hand mixers, and a variety of blenders all so we don't have to stir. "Stir constantly"... what is this, the 16th century?

A few nights ago I was crouched in front of my fridge, staring down a large bunch of kale. This leaf has been increasingly popping up in my culinary research, especially for a plant I was unable to identify two years ago. I needed a side dish for a leg of lamb, and I had purchased this large leafy bunch after being seduced by a sale last week. I took to the Google, and discovered the perfect recipe. It involved risotto. I may have walked away, except for one ingredient. Toasted pumpkin seeds. Suddenly this dish was seasonal. Suddenly I had a use for the bag of pumpkin seeds I bought for last week's recipe. I took a deep breath. Alright risotto. You win. It was time to face the challenge.

Not being experienced with this method, I turned to my Italian goddess, Marcella Hazan. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking offers a solid overview of risotto, walking though the process of creating a flavor base of sauteed onion, toasting the rice, and the gradual adding of liquid, as well the details of cooking the rice al dente (which can end up slightly chalky) to cooking it until it is slightly softer. Risotto "should be tender, but still firm to the bite."

Risotto with Kale and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Adapted the tiniest bit from Gourmet magazine

- 3 1/2cups low-sodium (or homemade) chicken broth
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 3/4 tsp plus 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 to 3/4 pounds green kale
- 1 1/4 cups finely chopped onion
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, separated
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 1/2 cups (or 10 oz) Arborio rice
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiana-Reggiano
- 1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds*

Bring broth and water to boil with 3/4 teaspoon of salt in a 3 to 4 quart saucepan. Meanwhile, tear the stems and center ribs from kale and discard. Adding in batches stir kale into broth and simmer, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer kale with tongs to a large sieve set over a bowl and gently press on greens to extract more liquid. Add liquid in bowl to simmering broth and keep at a bare simmer, covered. Chop kale.

Cook onion in oil and 1 Tbsp butter with remaining 1/4 tsp salt in a wide 4 quart heavy pot, covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened about 5 minutes. Increase heat to moderate, then add garlic and cook, uncovered, stirring, 1 minute. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add wine and simmer, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth and simmer, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is creamy-looking and the consistency of a thick soup. Start tasting after 20 minutes, it may take more like 25 minutes to get it where you want it. There will most likely be leftover broth.

Stir in kale, cheese, and remaining Tbsp of butter and cook, stirring, until heated through and butter is incorporated, about 1 minute. Season risotto with sea salt and pepper. If you feel the risotto is too thick, you can thin with some of the remaining broth. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and serve.

* To toast pumpkin seeds: toss 1/2 cup of raw pumpkin seeds with about 1/2 tsp of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Spread on baking sheet and bake at 375°F for 4 to 5 minutes.

This dish was deep, creamy, and exactly how I wanted it to be. The crunchy seeds gave texture to this softer dish. One thing that surprised me was how amazing the risotto was the next day. I'm used to rice that dries out and loses all flavor when stored overnight, this retained its moisture so beautifully and the flavor was deepens with the extra time. I love a dish that produces leftovers for my weekday lunches. And not only can I add this dish to my repertoire, I have opened the door to all risottos, a whole spectrum of dishes I had previously shied away from. Pandora's box has been opened and it's evils have been released...and by evils, I mean deliciousness.  Maybe its time to reconsider my stance on the soufflé..

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pumpkin Tea Bread

I am so excited for Fall. Last year we were so slammed at this time with the wedding preparations, I'm really not certain October 2009 actually happened. I'm pretty sure it was just a lie. Last weekend on a visit to PA I wore heavy sweaters, I sat near a bonfire, and I drank cider. It was lovely, but that's not why I'm excited. The pumpkins are back. They have returned to my muffins, my lattes, my Jamba Juice smoothies. They crowd tables at the farmers market and as I drove around last weekend, it seemed every town was involved in some kind of pumpkin gathering, pumpkin patch type pumpkin festival. This is the best time of year. Last year I introduced you to my consuming passion for Pumpkin Ice Cream. This year, I bring you Pumpkin Bread.

I was introduced to this bread when someone brought it to an office party. I demanded the name of the bread's creator, swearing I would marry him. It turned out the co-worker responsible was tall, lean, and named Will. I was in luck, I wouldn't even have to have the tux altered. Work Will declined my offer of marriage (I'm sure my Will is relieved) but he did provide me with the recipe which came from a bakery he loved in San Francisco, Tartine. The wonderful thing about this recipe is that it provides both "American" measurements (cups, tablespoons, etc.) and the European style of measuring everything in milliliters and grams. The European way is (A) More precise, a blessing for someone who struggles with the exactness of baking and (B) Gives me an excuse to play with my super fancy awesome digital scale. Win, win.

Quick tip. This recipe require somewhat huge amounts of spices, so check them before you do your shopping. Otherwise your husband (the non-work Will) has to walk to the store at 7pm to buy some. Also, this recipe calls for a large amount of safflower or sunflower oil, which I have found at Whole Foods. If you cannot find these and use something else, please let me know how it goes. If I was a paid test kitchen, I would have tried a loaf with vegetable oil, and maybe one with olive oil. I am not a test kitchen, however, and have a full time job. If you wouldn't mind writing to the New York Times and telling them to hire me, I promise I'll do a much more thorough job of recipe testing. I'll also get to go to cool parties, and then write about them. Doesn't that sound nice? Now come on. Start the viral campaign.

Pumpkin Tea Bread

- 1 1/3 cups or 225 g All purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon or 7 ml Baking Powder
- 1/2 tsp or 2 ml Baking Soda
- 1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp or 25 ml Ground Cinnamon
- 2 tsp or 10 ml Ground Nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp or 1 ml Ground Cloves
- 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp or 25 ml Pumpkin Purée
- 1 cup or 250 ml Safflower or Sunflower Oil
- 1 1/3 cup or 270 g Sugar
- 3/4 tsp or 4 ml salt
- 3 Large Eggs
- Sugar and pepitas or shelled pumpkin seeds for topping

Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9" by 5" loaf pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into a mixing bowl. Use a wire whisk to make sure they are blended. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, beat together pumpkin, oil, sugar, and salt on medium speed until well mixed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition until incorporated before adding the next egg. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on medium speed for 5 to 10 seconds to make a smooth batter. It should have the consistency of a thick purée.

Transfer the batter to the loaf pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Sprinkle evenly with sugar and sprinkle seeds on top.  Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cook in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, and then invert onto the rack. Turn right side up, and let cool completely. Serve the bread at room temperature. It will keep, well wrapped, at room temperature for 4 days or in the refrigerator for about 1 week.

This bread is delightful. I've brought it to parties or devoured the entire thing myself (followed by a week of guilt and gym attendance). The oil makes it super moist, and it is flavorful and inviting, a perfect thing for a Fall day.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tripel Preview

Now that the temperature has gone down quite a bit, it looks as if I'm ready to start brewing again.  I did some research into which style I should pursue next; porter is something I've wanted to try for a while but it might be a little to similar to my nut brown ale.  I thought I should do something interesting, new and challenging.  It is in that spirit that I went with a Belgian-style ale.

Belgian ales have a very sharp, distinct taste to them and the yeast plays a very important role in the flavor. The home brew shop had recipes for four different types of Belgian ale--Dubbel, White, Saison and Tripel.  I decided to go with the Tripel.  The decision was made somewhat arbitrarily.  This particular style has one of the highest alcohol contents which wasn't the reason I picked it, but I wanted to try to make something that packs a wallop.  The beers I've made up until now have been fairly mild and smooth.  It might be a nice change of pace to make something that puts hair on my chest.  

A couple of commercial brands of Belgian style beer that I enjoy are Duvel and Chimay.  Both have a very strong, heavy flavor to them.  They are beers that are better savored slowly than consumed quickly. They tend to be very flowery and aromatic as opposed to something like a german lager or pilsner which is very clean and crisp.

Tripels tend to be a little bit stronger and a little bit paler that most Belgian beers.  When I went into the home brew shop and said I wanted to brew a tripel, the guy gave me a high gravity trappist yeast that he said was pretty high octane stuff.  The yeast needs to be really resilient to withstand the alcohol it gives off which, in this case, will be somewhere around 8%-9%.  The most important thing is that the final product tastes good.  I will be taking copious notes on the entire endeavor that I will share here as I move forward.  Wish me luck.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Red Wine Porcini Pot Roast

Sunday morning I poked my nose out from under my comforter. Then I darted it back under. Yup, it was October all right. A chill has set in New York City, the kind that makes the air crisp and makes you think of little else but cider and pumpkins and hayrides. In my chilly apartment, however, it had me thinking about getting warm. The heat is not yet on in our building, so suddenly I had the opposite problem of two months ago, when it was sweltering in my unairconditioned digs. Instead of thinking of dishes that wouldn't utilize the oven at all, I was thinking hard to think of dishes that might warm things up a bit. A dish that would have me turning the oven on and leaving it on. A slow cooked piece of meat that could be served up next to mashed potatoes and warm me all the way down to my toes. It was Pot Roast season.

The most interesting part of assembling this dish is standing at the meat counter and picking up a four pound chuck roast. There's just something amusing to me about getting a huge cut of meat wrapped in butcher paper, since I'm usually only cooking for two. Cut from the shoulder area above the rib, the chuck roast is tough and fatty, but great for braising. By slow-cooking this otherwise undesirable cut slowly at a lower temperature and steeped in liquid, the tough meat breaks down until it is falling apart. It's juicy, tender, and it creates fantastic gravy.

The next step is to decide what you are going to put into your gravy. Some sort of stock is usually used for the braising, most recommend beef but I've found a rich vegetable stock can work very well. You're going to have plenty of beef flavor when you are done, don't worry. I'm also a huge fan of pouring a cup of red wine in there, which does wonderful things to beef. Wonderful, aromatic things. The pile of vegetables you put in must be carefully selected, because they are going to be in that pot awhile, and will probably turn to mush. There is always the option of adding vegetables some time during cooking, which is known as a "Yankee Pot Roast". Me, I'm a traditionalist. A lazy traditionalist. Once I shut the door of the oven, I'm not really looking to futz with this thing much more. I'll flip the roast and give it a stir at the halfway point, but that's it. Once my roast is in, it's in.

This recipe can be adapted for the crock pot, you just need to throw in another cup or two of stock, since that thing will be cooking for at least 6 hours on high and 8 hours on low. No matter how you cook it, it will make your home smell fantastic, and suddenly you wont be so cold.

The use of tomatoes in this recipe is unusual, as are the porcini mushrooms, but they turn this dish from a peasants dish into a much more sophisticated earthy roast. The juice from the tomatoes mixes with the red wine to create an almost Italian feeling, but the pot roast is still distinctly American. It is simply a more grown up version.

Red Wine Porcini Pot Roast
Adapted from Bon Appetit

-1 cup vegetable stock
-1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
-1 4-pound boneless chuck roast, tied
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
-2 celery stalks with some leaves, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
-1 large carrot, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
-3 garlic cloves, smashed
-1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
-1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
-1 cup dry red wine

Preheat oven to 300°. Bring broth to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from heat; add mushrooms, cover, and let stand until soft, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to a cutting board. Chop coarsely. Reserve mushrooms and broth separately.

While mushrooms are soaking, sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook until brown on all sides, about 15 minutes total. Transfer beef to a large plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from pot. Place over medium heat, and add onion, celery and carrots. Saute until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, and reserved mushrooms, saute 1 minute. Using hands, crush tomatoes, 1 at at time into pot. Cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently, and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot. Add wine; boil 5 minutes. Add reserved mushroom broth, leaving any sediment behind. Boil 5 minutes.

Return beef and any juices to pot. Cover; transfer to oven. Cook 1 1/2 hours. (In the meantime you can watch a movie, read a book, and just generally enjoy your warm and nice smelling home.) Turn beef over and continue cooking until tender, about 1 1/2 hours longer. (In the meantime, go back to your book.)

Transfer beef to cutting board; tent with foil. Spoon fat from the surface of the juices in the pot. Bring juices to boil, cook until liquid is reduced to 4 cups, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut beef into 1/2 inch-thick slices. Transfer to platter. Spoon juices over and serve!

The gravy turns out as something close to ambrosia. The flavor is deep and rich, and it will soak into mashed potatoes and smothers the now tender meat with deliciousness. It is a truly satisfying and warming meal for chilly and rainy fall days. Will and I ate it up while wearing warm sweaters, and we celebrated the newly arrived fall.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dominating the Airwaves

As many of you may know from the previous post, I was featured on WDEL's lovely Thirsty Thursday segment of The Rick Jensen Show.  Gina, a good friend from college, has made herself a staple at WDEL 1150 in Wilmington, DE.  About a month and a half ago, she visited our apartment and tried some of my nut brown ale, probably my best beer to date.

I was buzzed into the studio and met up with Gene, Gina's fiance, who also works at the station.  We hung out at his desk and chatted for a while as Gina finished up an interview.  I told him that there was an irrational part of my brain that thought I had to use hushed tones in a radio station.  Like there were microphones everywhere or something.  He told me that he understood...sort of.  

We were almost ready to go.  Rick came out and introduced himself.  As everyone was setting up, he asked me a couple of questions about where I was from, the beer I liked, stuff like that.  We all shuffled into the studio, which forms kind of a semi-circle around the sound board, and took our places at the microphones.  I got my beer out and was ready to go.

I brought the same nut brown ale that I mentioned earlier in the blog and distributed it amongst the panel, first in tiny glasses and then when those ran out, styrofoam cups.  I'll spare you the details of the show itself and encourage you to listen to the program.  Rick was a real pro, by the way.  He came off like a guy who feels at home in this kind of setting.  The commercial breaks had the same tone as the rest of the show--the panel informally chatting about this and that.  (Rick Jensen likes my chucks, by the way.)  In the end, my beer got a rating of 5 out of 6 and I got a little round of applause for my trouble.  You can't beat that.  After the show I packed up my stuff and had to clear out pretty quickly to make room for the next show--a news program of some sort.

When we were done, I was a nerd and asked for a picture with everyone there.  I'm just happy that everyone accepted and joined in on my nerd-dom.  Gina would be in it but she's the one taking it.

The show was helpful in focusing my attention on brewing again.  I've been unable to because my apartment reaches kiln-like temperatures during the summer months, but considering that yesterday was practically jacket weather, I think all systems are go.  This coming weekend, I plan to make a stop at the homebrew shop to weigh my options--perhaps something I haven't tried before.

New frontiers are in view.  A couple weeks ago, I took a class on all-grain brewing at the Brooklyn Kitchen that got me pretty excited.  I like the idea of using as few processed ingredients as possible and making beer from scratch...or at least as from scratch as I can reasonably get.  It's going to take some new equipment though, and new equipment is going to mean a monetary investment.  Someday though. For now though, extract brewing will have to do.  I know Heather is excited that the apartment will not be completely overrun with a ten gallon stockpot and a cooler that's been converted into a mash/lauter tun...yet.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

On the Air

Will spent Thursday traveling to visit our friend Gina who works at WDEL 1150AM in Delaware. He appeared on the Rick Jenson segment "Thirsty Thursday" to talk about home brewing and the assembled group sampled his Nut Brown Ale. Rick scored it a 5 out of 6 and refereed to it as "Mapley". Listen to the full segment. (Quick tip, the beer stuff doesn't start until about 6 min 30 seconds in)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Eggplant and Ricotta Sauce

Quick Announcement! For our Delaware readers, Will will be on WDEL 1150 AM on Rick Jensen's "Thirsty Thursday" show, talking about home brewing. The show is conveniently on Thursday at 3:30pm. For those of you not in Delaware the station live streams on their website by clicking the "Listen Now" button. They also post the show for a week after its broadcasting, so check back for the link if you miss it. OK, on with your regularly scheduled blog...

I have been deep in research to unearth the secrets of the cooking goddesses. Women who define their particular regions and styles of cooking, women who have written anthologies of recipes, distinguished books historical record on ingredients and technique. I have already told you about my dabeling in the authentic Indian cuisine of Julie Sahini and my constant adulation of Ruth Reichl. Now, after two months of flipping through her recipes with a quiet awe, I decided to tackle the work of Marcella Hazan.

Marcella Hazan is probably the most celebrated cookbook authors of Italian Cuisine. She is credited with introducing balsamic vinegar to the American household. Yes, she's more important then Giada. The Classic Italian Cookbook was released in 1973 and when that was a hit she published More Classic Italian Cooking in 1976. For those like me with very limited shelf space, in the 90's she revised and updated her recipes and combined them into a single book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a treasure I unearthed at the Strand in August, after several visits and much searching. Funny side note: the worst kept secret in cookbook publishing is that Marcella Hazan didn't write any of those books, in the actually writing things down sense. Her husband Victor did, because Marcella doesn't really speak enough English to write a coherent cookbook. Apparently letting the husband near the food is not something I invented.

As was one of my New Year's resolutions, I had decided to learn some Italian cooking, as those lovely tempting dishes have been invading the New York palate, and I can't afford to eat at Locanda Verde every night. This book is a fabulous way to learn, because this woman has OPINIONS, and is not afraid to tell you that you are doing it wrong. For example, you are not going to be patted on the head and praised for always using fresh pasta.
"There is not the slightest justification for preferring homemade pasta to the factory-made. Those who do deprive themselves of the most flavorful dishes in the Italian repertory."
This is not to say that she prefers factory made either, she simply believes the two are different, and should be used for different purposes. The book is excellent at recommending what type of pasta you should serve with the various sauces. I chose two to start with that both called for "factory made" which gave me a break since I didn't have to spend 45 minutes making the pasta. Marcella probably would have still been disappointed in me though...
"Great factory pasta is made slowly: The dough is kneaded at length; once kneaded,  it is extruded through slow bronze dies rather then slippery, fast Teflon-coated ones. It is then dried gradually at an unforced pace. Such pasta is necessarily limited to small quantities; it is made only by a few artisan pasta makers in Italy, and it cost more than the industrial product of major brands."
Oops. I probably wasn't supposed to use Trader Giotto's then.

Eggplant and Ricotta Sauce, Sicilian Style
Adapted (slightly) from the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

- About 1 to 1 1/2 pound eggplant
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Vegetable Oil
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 large yellow onion (or half of a small onion) sliced very thin
- 2 small to medium cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh, ripe Italian plum tomatoes
- Fresh Ground Pepper
- 3 Tablespoons freshly grated romano cheese
- 8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
- 1 pound pasta (Recommended: Cartwheel pasta. Fusilli or rigatoni also good.)
- Fresh grated parmesan for the table


Cut off the eggplant's green spiky cap. Peel the eggplant (or don't, if you don't mind eggplant skin and want to skip that step) and cut it into 1 1/2 inch cubes. Put the cubes in a colander and set over a bowl, then sprinkle liberally with salt. Let the eggplant steep for about 1 hour so that the salt can draw off most of its bitter juices.

While the eggplant is steeping, bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut an X into the bottom of each tomato. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge into ice water to stop their cooking. Tomatoes should now peel easily. Core the tomato like the video below.

God I love Chow Tips. Discard the core (or use it for something else) and cut the tomato into thin strips.

Once the eggplant is done steeping, rinse the cubes under cold water. Wrap them in paper towels and squeeze to remove as much moisture as possible.

Put enough vegetable oil in a large frying pan to come up 1/2 inch on the sides, and turn to medium high. When the oil is quite hot, slip in as many eggplant pieces as will fit loosely in the pan. If you can't fit them all, fry in batches. Fry eggplant, turning often, 2-3 minutes. As soon as eggplant feels tender when prodded with a fork transfer it with a slotted spoon or spatula to a platter lined with paper towels to drain.

Pour off the oil and wipe the pan clean with paper towels. Put in the olive oil and the sliced onion and turn the heat to medium high. (This is another Marcella trick, she usually believed in starting onion in a cold pan and heating them gently, which results in a mellower taste.) Saute the onion until it becomes colored a light gold, then add the chopped garlic and cook for only a few seconds, stirring as you cook. (According to Marcella, this combining of onion and garlic by sautéing is called a Soffritto.)

Add the strips of tomato, turn up the heat to high, and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the oil floats free from the tomato.

Add the eggplant and a few grindings of of pepper, stir, and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for just a minute or two more, stirring once or twice. Taste and add more salt to taste.

Toss the cooked and drained pasta with the eggplant sauce, add the grated Romano and the ricotta. Toss again, mixing all ingredients thoroughly into the hot pasta, and serve at once. Garnish with basil. Serve Parmesan on the side.

OK, that "until the oil floats free of the tomato" part? I still have no idea what that means, and a google search reveals that the only person to use that phrase is Marcella Hazan. After 8 to 10 mintues the mixture had become a more cohesive form and the tomatoes had relaxed into the pan, so maybe that's what it means. 8-10 minutes, then more on. That's what you should take from this.

The dish was fantastic, delicate but filling, creamy but with substance. I was greedy with it, I wanted to eat it up all at once but then I also wanted to just sit with the bowl under my face and let that garlicky eggplanty smell fill my nose. It is such a perfect recipe for this type of year when eggplant and tomato are so plentiful and fresh. The book has tons of zucchini and peppers too, it begs to be put to use in the early fall.

Marcella is walking me through this Italian thing bit by bit, maybe I'll be ready for the 3 hour Bolognese soon, and not the sausage cheat that I did in January. I'm dreaming of the cold winter day when I let this bubble in on my stove, warming every corner of this apartment. I think Marcella and I will get along just fine.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Long Island Iced Tea

In my effort to embrace gin as the staple of drinking culture that it is, I find myself revisiting the things I cast aside in my gin rebuking wake.  One of the drinks that I saw as an opportunity to ease myself into gin was a long island iced tea.  According to wikipedia "Long Island Iced Tea, a summer drink, was first served in the mid 1970s by Robert (Rosebud) Butts, a bartender at the Oak Beach Inn, in the town of Babylon, Long Island, New York."  It's probably a good thing that Mr. Butts became a bartender rather than a substitute teacher.  The kids would have had a field day with that one.  Heh heh...Butts.

It's a drink that isn't made outside the context of a bar very often.  It does require more ingredients than most drinks.  The unlikely combination of liquors blend together to create a taste that is entirely its own.  The mixers mask the booze in such a way that it hardly seems like you're drinking at all.  This is the reason that long island iced teas are so popular among girls who have just turned 21 and want to get drunk without knocking back shots of whiskey.

For those unfamiliar, the long island iced tea is a cocktail consisting of the spirits gin, rum, vodka and tequila.  There are some variations after that but sugar, lemon and coca-cola are always involved.  I don't know if this is still the case, but when I worked as a bartender for Ruby Tuesday, the recipe called for no tequila.  Even as a guy who didn't drink them, I knew this seemed wrong.  Oddly, there was a drink that was essentially a long island iced tea called a texas tea.  The texas tea was a long island iced tea and the long island iced tea was an abomination.  Here's the kicker--it was the same price.  As soon as I discovered Ruby Tuesday's dirty little secret, I would use it as a ploy to sell texas teas.  Maybe that was their plan all along.  Anyway, remember that the next time you roll into a Ruby Tuesday.

My first attempt did not yield enough liquid to fill my glass.  I ended up using too much cola to fill; what should have looked like iced tea looked like coca-cola.  In addition it had a little too much lemon and wasn't sweet enough.  I tried tinkering with the recipe the following day and I believe I've vastly improved upon it.  The recipe printed reflects changes that I think helped the flavor profile.  A little more booze, a little less mixer.

Long Island Iced Tea
adapted from

-3/4 oz. gin
-3/4 oz. vodka
-3/4 oz. light rum
-3/4 oz. tequila
-3/4 oz. triple sec or grand marnier
-1 oz. fresh lemon juice
-1/3 oz. simple syrup
-club soda

Combine all ingredients except cola and club soda in a cocktail shaker and shake 5 seconds.  Strain into a very tall (16 ounce) glass filled with ice cubes, then top off with equal parts cola and club soda and stir. Garnish with a lemon wedge and stir.

I can see how this drink can get out of hand fairly quickly.  The flavors do blend together nicely and go down smooth.  Almost too smooth.  It's one of those drinks that it's probably best to cap at one.  After three or so, you might forget where you put your feet.  It won't be until the following day that you realize they're right where you left them--attached to your legs. Which are sprawled on the bathroom floor.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Almond Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

For long time readers of this blog, you will remember that at one point I regarded baking with suspicion and indifference, only taking on the task when I came across recipes I wanted to eat desperately and knew no one else was going to make for me. There's a bit of a kitchen stereotype, men are chefs, women are pastry chefs, and the idea of making cakes and cookies was an affront to my sense of artistry and feminism.  I was a chef, dammit, and was not going to be tempted in with sugar coated frilly things.

Recently, however, baking has creeped more and more into my repertoire. With Will's birthday came those complicated filled Carbomb Cupcakes, with my own birthday was the Almond Cake with Maderia Icing, and baking is quickly winning my respect. It's one of those things in life where I've realized that if baking is a task that women are often assigned, it is not because it is frilly and easy. In many ways I've had a harder time baking then with my usual cooking, it is more detail oriented, more precise, and with less room for error. In other words... David Chang can cook. Christina Tosi can do it backwards and in heels.

And so with beloved friend Stef returning to NY for another visit on a date that was coincidentally her 26th birthday, I knew cupcakes were in order. What kind was hardly up for debate. Stef is mad about almonds. Almond croissants, almond danishes, almond biscotti, the girl has not met an almond she didn't like. I briefly considered the cake I had made myself in February, but then dismissed it. It had been a fabulous cake, but I was craving new adventures. Also cake is hard to divide up, but it is easier to pack a few cupcakes for the journey home, which was a treat I felt the birthday girl deserved.

Two recent blog obsessions helped considerably. Design Sponge, an amazing blog full of home projects to make your apartment adorable and awesome, which includes some baked goods recipes for stuff that will look cute on your counter, impress your friends, and make everything smell awesome. They posted a recipe for Pistachio Fig Cake, but that wasn't what caught my interest. The author of this recipe was one Ming Thompson, who runs the website Ming Makes Cupcakes. Yes, yes she does.

The website isn't really a blog, because there is no discussion of the recipes or how she came to them, she just numbers her cupcakes and gives you a recipe in a very stark, "Here's your god damn cupcake" kind of way. No unnecessary narcissistic ideas that the world is interested in personal views and stories of a blogger. Anyway.... I immediately honed in on Cupcake 27. And luckily just like last week my friend Anne was here to assist and photograph. Will better watch his back, he's quickly losing his title of sous chef.

Almond Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted (slightly) from Ming Makes Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

For the Cupcakes:

- 1 cup cake flour (or 130 grams if you are a freak like me and weigh it)
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 stick butter at room temp.
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk together both flours, baking powder, and salt. Beat in sugar and mix thoroughly. Beat in eggs, then vanilla and milk until just mixed. Pour into lined cupcake pan. Bake for 15 minutes, or until toothpick comes out almost clean.

For the Frosting:

- 4 oz cream cheese at room temperature
- 1/2 stick butter at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups of confectioners' sugar
- 1/4 cup maple syrup

Mix cream cheese, butter, and maple syrup with an electric mixer until just combined, then slowly add the confectioners' sugar and mix at high speed until smooth and light, about a minute. Frost cupcakes. Decorate as desired.

I played a bit with a new frosting kit I bought, but mostly just decorated by making the frosting smooth and plunking an almond or three on top. Um, does that cupcake look a little dark to you? Yeah, on the website Ming recommends baking for 20 minutes, which turned out to be a little much for my perhaps overly hot oven. I made a second batch and baked for 15, which was better, but I had been a bit haphazard in mixing the ingredients so they didn't rise properly and were perhaps a little strudelly looking.

I even made a third batch (and by that point Anne wasn't here to photograph and make it all pretty) which was better, but kinda rose into weird peaks instead of a pretty dome. America's Test Kitchen seems to think you get prettier tops if you bake cupcakes at 350° for a bit longer, like 18 to 22 minutes. Someone else is going to have to have a birthday so I can test that theory.

I really liked the frosting, it was sweet and creamy. I got WAY too much, however, so I might have to cut the recipe next time. Though it was helpful when I made that extra batch. The cake, while moist and tasty, was not as almondy as I would have liked. Anne brought a cupcake book over with her, Crazy About Cupcakes (she contributed to the cupcake party by making Champagne Cupcakes with Champagne Buttercream Frosting). The book includes its own Almond Cupcake, which includes ground almonds as well as almond extract, so that might be worth a turn the next time I attempt this. Stef seemed happy though. She blew out her candle and enjoyed a cupcake the night of her birthday.

It was the next morning, though, when I got the real complement on these confections. After packing a few cupcakes for her in a tupperware, we went to grab coffee before she had to catch her bus. As we sipped our caffeinated beverages, her hand wandered into her bag. The next moment I looked up, she was happily enjoying a cupcake breakfast. A Happy Birthday treat indeed!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cocktail Hour

I've spent my entire post 21 life having an aversion to gin.  Never cared for the stuff.  I remember trying it for the first time quite a while ago and thinking that it tasted like bug spray.  Later on, in my young innocence, a friend recommended a Tanqueray and tonic without realizing that Tanqueray is a brand of gin.  Burned again.  I'm not proud of it but it's true.  Since then I've been keeping my distance.

When I would go though my various books of cocktails, my eyes would gloss over the sight of any drink that would incorporate gin.  Recipes that would be fine otherwise were cast aside shamefully because of their use of gin.  Needless to say, this left a great hole in my liquor knowledge and experience.  I call it the gin gap... I don't call it that, but I'm going to start.  It has a nice ring to it.

Heather recently bought me a book called The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto published in 1948 written by a man named Bernard DeVoto.  The word manifesto is appropriate for this book because it comes off as the rantings of a crazy person.  He has all sorts of crazy rules and restrictions for drinking that must be adhered to.  According to him, there are only two cocktails--a martini and a slug of whiskey.  As for the others, "[t]hey are not cocktails, they are slops.  They are fit to be drunk only in the barbarian marches and mostly are drunk there, by the barbarians."  As a man for whom only two spirits exist--gin and whisky--I wonder what DeVoto would make of a man like me, a cocktail enthusiast who enjoys a vodka martini.  Blasphemy.

Lately around New York (and I'm sure other places) I've seen ads for Hendrick's gin.  The advertising pitches it as a small batch, craft gin with a bottle that looks like it came off an apothecary's shelf.  The graphics make it look like something straight from the turn of the century--the last one, not this one--and the label claims that among gin drinkers it is not a preferred brand.  Apparently it takes a special kind of discerning palate to appreciate the genius behind this gin.  I figured I would give it a try.

I purchased the bottle and then set to work.  I first administered a non-scientific taste test for Heather and I between the Hendrick's and a small amount of Bombay Sapphire that we've had kicking around our liquor cabinet for a while.  The Hendrick's has a slightly lower alcohol content, which made for a smoother taste I think.  The Bombay Sapphire has a sharper bite to it.

I started out with a couple of gin standbys: cocktails I was familiar with by name but never bothered to try.  First up for myself was a French 75.

French 75
adapted from Death and Company
-1 Gin
-.5 Lemon
-.5 Simple syrup

It was nice and sweet.  I'm sure it was repulsive to a man like Mr. DeVoto, but I found it nice.  The gin flavor was tempered nicely by the sugar and lemon and made for an aromatic citrus experience.  Next up was a Corpse Reviver for Heather.

Corpse Reviver
adapted from Death and Company
-.75 Gin
-.75 Lillet
-.75 Cointreau
-.75 Lemon
-Dash Versinthe

This was a fun one to make because it uses a little bit of everything, and I just so happened to have it all lying around.  I'm not so sure what Versinthe is and what makes it different form Absinthe so I just used Absinthe.  I think it works out nicely.  I may have gone a little lemon heavy on this cocktail.  I would recommend going easy on the lemon because there are so many flavors fighting for dominance that you don't want to mask it all with the citrus. 

Last night I decided to take on the challenge of crafting a martini a la the man himself, Bernard DeVoto. "There is a point at which the marriage of gin and vermouth is consummated.  It varies a little with the constituents, but for a gin of 94.4 proof and a harmonious vermouth it may be generalized at about 3.7 to one.  And that is not only the proper proportion but the critical one; if you use less gin it is a marriage in name only and the name is not martini.  You get a drinkable and even pleasurable result, but not art's sunburst of imagined delight becoming real.  Happily the upper limit is not so fixed; you may make it four to one or a little more than that, which is a comfort if you cannot do fractions in your head and an assurance when you must use an unfamiliar gin."  I would quote the entire book if I could, but as those of you who read my Dark 'N' Stormy post may recall, I fear getting sued.

Hendrick's gin is 88 proof, so off the bat, we're not to specifications. But I feel I assembled the martini in the spirit with which it was given.  The ratio was 3.7 to one exactly and the ice used to shake it was plentiful.  DeVoto claims that their should be no olive or onion to sully the drink, but he claims that "the final brush stroke is a few drops of oil squeezed from lemon rind on the surface of each cocktail.  Some drop the squeezed bit into the glass;  I do not favor the practice and caution you to make it rind, not peel, if you do."  So generous, these allowances he makes.

The final result--a surprisingly relaxing cocktail.  I did choose to drop the lemon into it and felt I was richer for the experience.  I think the amount of vermouth that was described was a bit much--especially by today's standards--but for a novice gin drinker like me, it was a nice way to ease myself into a strange new world.  You have to crawl before you can walk.  And who knows, before long I'll be angering Heather by distilling bootleg gin in my bathtub.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sweet Cider Apple Butter or Canning Experiment #1

Apparently I can't do anything the easy way. When I first made my own pasta Will stood dumbfounded, not having realized that pasta was something people made and didn't just get out of a box. This from a man who brews his own beer. I've made a few attempts at bread, but nothing worth reporting on as of yet. But this past weekend I really may have gone to the dark side of DIY projects, becoming a person who just can't buy food off the damn shelf like a normal person. Last Sunday, I canned.

It's something I've been dying to get started with for quite awhile. As the strawberries came and went this spring, I mourned my lack of jam. As Will made refrigerated brandied cherries I lamented that they would not be the dark, wrinkly ones that cooking the cherries produces. But now we were headed into tomato and apple season dammit. I was not letting more produce slip by without cramming it into a boiling hot jar and sealing on a lid.

In this project I've had a number of supporters. First and foremost were two of the Jacobson ladies, my friend Megan and her mother. You might remember these culinarily inspirational women from previous blogs, Mrs. Jacobson was responsible for gifting me with my cherished Le Cruset pot when I got married, and Megan has been plying me with cookbooks and vanilla beans since I started this blog. No food blogger should be without a support team like this. On a visit to their house last July I expressed an interest in canning and they were more than happy to back me up. From the depths of the basement came Mrs. Jacobson's pot and a canning rack (apparently they had been retired some time ago) and Megan began my education with the Ball Blue Book, otherwise known as the canning bible. A short while later she shipped me a copy, and I sat in bed drooling over jams, jellys, and preserves.

Picture from
Still, despite Megan's instruction that if I followed the steps outlined in the book EXACTLY canning was perfectly easy and safe, I was still a bit concerned about killing someone. Horror stories of botulism always seem to arise as soon as someone picks up a canning funnel. There's nothing like watching someone else do it first, and to be able to ask questions. Back to a Brooklyn Kitchen class I went. When you tell someone you've been to a jam making class, I think the image that they think of is someone's Grandma, a little old lady that has been ladling preserves into jars since the depression.  My teacher was not some one's Grandma. I had the good fortune to be in the class of Kelly Geary who owns the Sweet Deliverance, a company that makes and delivers organic meals based out of Brooklyn, which has been selling jam throughout the city. She was tiny, young, tattooed, and ready to teach us a thing or two about canning. One of the first things she did was promise that we probably wouldn't kill anyone. At least not anyone who wasn't stupid enough to eat jam from a jar that was seeping, smelly and gross. Apparently botulism is pretty obvious.

I wont give you a blow by blow of the whole class. For the most part it is what you would find in a canning book, but for a visual learner like me it was extremely helpful. I got some great tips too, like putting a saucer in the freezer and using it to cool down a sample of your jam quickly so you can see if it's holding together. She warned us not to add the full amount of sugar a recipe calls for immediately; you should add some and taste as some fruits can be sweeter then others. We learned a lot about food acidity needed for canning, very important if you are creating your own recipes. She also recommended Pomona's Universal Pectin as being particularly awesome, and though I didn't need pectin this particular time I bought a package anyway for the future. The insert comes with a Jamline you can call and ask questions about jam making (kinda like the Butterball Turkey Talk Line that runs in November and December to help home cooks). I love a company that will talk me down from cooking panic.

Kelly also suggested that for our first time out on canning, we might not want to work alone. It's helpful to have someone to stir while you read the recipe, to plunk lids on the jars while you ladle, or at the very least to pour you another glass of wine. My friend Anne ventured all the way to Queens from the Upper West Side to help me out, and took most of the pictures that appear here, which is why you will notice drastically increased quality in the images. If I ever write a cookbook, she's photographing it.

I am not going to give you step by step instructions on how to can, because I am not an expert and since this really could make someone sick, you shouldn't listen to me on how to do it. There are a number of great books, and if you don't want to buy a book, the USDA is so invested in making sure you don't kill someone they give their complete guide to canning safely away on their website, which even has recipes. I will say that if you are boiling your jars in a huge pot, start the water early. On my tiny stove it took nearly an hour to get a rolling boil.

Making and Canning Sweet Cider Apple Butter
Recipe from Ball Blue Book
Makes about 4 pints

- 6 pounds of apples (I used Gala, as they were $1 a pound at the farmers market)
- 2 cups sweet cider
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Prepare pulp: Core, peel, and quarter your apples. (An assembly line with a friend shortens this process considerably, thanks Anne!) Combine apples and cider in a large saucepot. Simmer until apples are soft, you should be able to cut them in half with a wooden spoon. Puree with food processor or immersion blender, being careful not to liquefy. (I had a few chunks of apple in the final product, but I kinda liked it that way.) Measure 3 quarts apple pulp.

Make butter: Combine apple pulp, spices, and about half the sugar in a large saucepot, stirring until sugar dissolves. TASTE. If you want more sugar, add that now; if it tastes sweet enough to you, leave it out. I probably only used 2 cups of sugar in mine. Cook slowly until thick enough to round up on a spoon. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Do your cold saucer test now. When I did it the spoonful I plunked on the plate kept its shape perfectly when sliding around on the plate. Ladle hot butter into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace (this is where that whole sterilized equipment canning part comes into play). Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

So a few things things. One, I forgot to get the bubbles out around the side of the jar. They tell you how to do it in my book, but I forgot and there are some tiny bubble I can see on the side of my jars. Hopefully this does not make things grow in there. Fingers crossed. Second, this really resembles applesauce quite a bit. It is much less water, and does function perfectly as a spread, but heads up that you will look at this and your first thought will be "Mmm, applesauce." Third, I didn't so much do the "Measure 3 quarts apple pulp" part. I kinda eyeballed it. And while I should have gotten eight 8oz jars, I got 9. And then a little bit more in a tupperware. Not that I'm complaining.

I am quite proud of myself overall. I only burned myself once, and not very seriously, which for me is an accomplishment for any day of cooking. I am looking forward to next year, when pounds of fruit will be piled high on my counter ready to go into jars. I may not be able to wait that long. I'm already eyeing recipes for canned tomato sauce. God help all of my friends, I know what they are getting for Christmas....