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....

Monday, September 13, 2010

Witte Screwdriver

I'm not usually one to incorporate beer into my cocktails, but sometimes the occasion calls for it.  One of the newer bars that we've been frequenting is called Sweet Afton.  It has a good atmosphere, knowledgable staff and these deep fried spicy pickles that are to die for.

Anyway, Heather and I learned that they serve brunch on the weekends and some of the items looked intriguing.  We get there and Heather orders the blueberry pancakes, which she ended up loving and pining after ever since.  I got a burger, which really isn't fantastic brunch fare, but I was happy.  The happy hour cocktail menu has plenty of fun brunch cocktails to try, ranging from your standard bloody mary to something called an oatmeal martini.  One of the best parts is that the cocktails are no more than six dollars a piece.

I see on their menu of brunch cocktails that they have something called a Witte Screwdriver.  A screwdriver, as I understand it, incorporates vodka and orange juice.  This concoction goes a step further and replaces the vodka with Citron and adds lemon, ginger and beer to the mix.

The beer they use is Ommegang Witte.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, it's a belgian-style wheat beer that is very light in color.  The yeast is prominent in the flavor and it has mild notes of citrus.  The cocktail they serve me is delicious.  Looking at the ingredients, I felt that I could play around with the proportions and recreate this pleasant cocktail.  A 25 oz. bottle ran me about $6.99 at the local grocery store which seems kind of pricey especially considering that the original cocktail only ran me five bucks, but I did get the tactile pleasure of popping a cork and having it fly across the room.  It makes me feel like I've accomplished something.

Witte Screwdriver
adapted from Sweet Afton

-2 oz. Absolut Citron
-1/2 oz ginger syrup
-2 oz. orange juice
-juice of half a lemon
-Ommegang Witte

Pour Citron, ginger syrup, orange juice, and lemon juice over ice in a pint glass or other tall glass.  Fill with Witte and gently stir.

One of the goals I have in life (outside of memorizing Hall and Oates' entire catalogue and learning scrimshaw) is having a cocktail recipe at the ready for whatever situation I may be in--morning and early afternoon included.  I admire this cocktail for its deft combination of flavors.  The beer itself is a very prominent flavor, which is good because it's a premium beer.  The other ingredients serve to enhance the flavor by complementing the citrus, and the ginger is the unexpected twist.

Perhaps this has shifted my entire worldview on beer as a mixer.  Sure it's great by itself--no one's denying that.  But perhaps it can exist in piece and harmony with liquor and juice.  Perhaps it's not the lone wolf I thought it was.  If beer can learn to play nice, then perhaps there's hope for all of us.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Boozy Cupcakes

Okay, so I haven't been 100% honest with all of you. Remember how I spent all of August cooking healthy, vegetarian food? Well the vegetarian part I was very dedicated to. The healthy part...

August 13th marked Will's 26th birthday, and what was I supposed to do, hand the boy a dish of hummus with a candle in it? Birthdays require cake. Yummy cake. And I'd be damned if he wasn't going to have some. The original idea was simple, instead of a cake that has layers that must be stacked and must be carefully wrapped if not eaten at once, I would make cupcakes. So easy to store! So easy to assemble! So how exactly did it end up a 4 hour process?

The trouble started when I decided, instead of just picking a very simple cupcake recipe from America's Test Kitchen and a very simple frosting, I would just look at the Smitten Kitchen archives, just to peek. That's when I found the holy grail of grown-up cupcakes. A cupcake with such wonderful ingredients so perfectly arranged, all I could think was that I could not be responsible for them not existing. I could not have on my conscience that I had known of these cupcakes and walked away. I discovered the Irish Car Bomb Cupcake.

Guinness cupcake. Whiskey ganache. Bailey's buttercream icing. I stared at the computer screen with my mouth agape. Will needed that cupcake.

The real complication here is that 3 separate parts must be made from scratch, and then you actually have to gouge a hole in the cake, stuff it with ganache, and then ice the whole thing without smearing the ganache into the icing and making a streaky mess. I don't do baking like this. In fact it has only been about a year now that I've even attempted baking that wasn't from a box labeled "Sara Lee". My eating a can of frosting days are not all that far behind me, but Will deserved something a bit fancy, especially after I made myself a Maderia Almond Cake for my own birthday in February.

I was a bit late getting started. Having bought Will tickets to a Phillies game that night at Citi Field, we had friends meeting us at the apartment at 5:00. "If I start before 1:00," I thought, "I'll have over 4 hours to bang these guys out." Somehow it was 1:15 before I had the first ingredients on the stove.

Step 1:
Guinness Cupcakes

- 1 cup stout (you know, Guinness)
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture a little bit at a time and beat at slow speed. Once all flour is added, use a rubber spatula to fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes completely.

It took me a little longer then 17 minutes, probably more like 19. You want to be completely sure the cupcakes aren't mush, they need to have a bit of structure for the next step. The cooling completely also got to me, as time ticked by I got impatient. I may have rotated the cupcake tins into the freezer to expedite the process...

Step 2
Whiskey Ganache

- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons Irish Whiskey (Jameson would be most traditional, I used a brand from Clontarf)

Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate you can pop it in the microwave for 20 seconds) Add the butter and whiskey and stir it until combined.

Cool the ganache until it is thick but still soft (putting in the fridge for 10 minutes speeds this along). Use a 1" cookie cutter or apple corer (finally, a use for my apple corer) cut the center out of the cupcakes. You want to go 2/3 of the way down. Smitten Kitchen suggests using a small spoon or grapefruit knife to help get the centers out, I found a fondue fork worked pretty well. Put the ganache into a piping bag, or if you are like me and don't own one, a gallon ziplock bag with the bottom corner cut out. Fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.

Step 3
Bailey's Frosting

- 3-4 cups confectioners sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 Tablespoons Baileys

Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes until light, fluffy, and creamy. Turn the mixer to its lowest speed and slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.

When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys and whip it until combined. It this makes the frosting too thin, beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar.

By this point it was after 4pm, and I was getting nervous. The poor birthday boy had to help me ice the cupcakes, half because of time constraints and half because I flat out sucked at it, constantly getting the ganache whipped up into the frosting in dark streaks. We developed system, Will would put a giant blob (about 3 Tablespoons) directly on top of the hole with the ganache, and then spread it down the cupcake top. At this point he would hand it off to me and I would drag a spatula around the top to make it smooth and pretty. We finally got them all iced and arranged with 5 minutes left on the clock. Just enough time to wipe the sweat from my brow and shove my hair under a Phillies cap.

On Smitten Kitchen Deb writes: Do ahead: You can bake the cupcakes a week or two in advance and store them, well wrapped, in the freezer. You can also fill them before you freeze them. They also keep filled — or filled and frosted — in the fridge for a day. (Longer, they will start to get stale.)

I probably should have worked ahead on these, unless it's a really rainy chilly day (like St. Patrick's Days can tend to be) I probably wouldn't make these all in one day again. As a treat though, they killed. Everyone who ate them raved, and a coworker who took one home to her boyfriend came back to report I had received a proposal of marriage. Seriously, these are compliment garnering cupcakes. The guests seemed a little tipsy after eating. And the birthday boy seemed happy they did not contain eggplant.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Brandy Sidecar

This past couple of weeks has been good for our liquor cabinet.  Regular readers will recall that I recently received absinthe and pear brandy for my birthday.  I would like to add that I came to visit PA and my mother gave me a bottle of Courvoisier and Danny Devito's Limoncello.

It occurred to me as I was staring at my Courvoisier that I've never made myself a proper sidecar.  I've read about it numerous times, but I always opt for something else.  For the longest time, I associated it with gin--like a singapore sling or a bronx cocktail.  Irrational I know, but it's what happened.

The drink originated in France in the early 1920s and moved west from there, being featured in--amongst other things--The Savoy Cocktail Book published in 1930.  A cocktail automatically wins points with me if it can invoke a prohibition-era mystique.  The cocktail is also made extra attractive if you drink it while wearing a fedora and an Eliot Ness style trench coat.

adapted from
-2 tablespoons superfine sugar
-1 lemon wedge
-1 1/2 oz. cognac
-1 oz. triple sec
-1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice

Rub the rim of a cocktail glass with the lemon wedge and dip the rim in sugar.  Shake cognac, triple sec, and lemon juice with ice in a cocktail shaker and strain into the prepared cocktail glass.  Use lemon wedge for garnish if desired.

I love visiting Heather's mother's house for a number of reasons: we can sleep at night without listening to Indian pop music and disgruntled youths, Heather and I can both be in the kitchen and actually move around and it provides attractive backlighting for photography.  A nice little change of pace for me.  It makes an already attractive drink appear even more so.

I constructed one for myself and one for the matron of the house, who responded with emphatic approval.  Not one for sweet drinks, hers was served sans the sugar rim.  Though the drink is fairly sweet, the tart from the lemon keeps it in check.  Triple sec, while very sweet, isn't quite as sweet as sugar syrup.  The cocktail would probably benefit from the use of Grand Marnier or Cointreau instead of triple sec, but it worked just fine for our purposes.

Well readers, as you read this, we are well on our way to Avalon, NJ for a relaxing (and well deserved if you ask me) shore trip.  With any luck, I should be bursting with several fascinating topics to discuss before the trip is over.  Bon Voyage.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Indian Pumpkin Split Pea Stew

Happy September! It's the last day of healthy vegetarian cooking! It's been quite the adventure this past month, walking staight past the meat case, playing with all kinds of edible plants and legumes. It's working pretty well on the diet front, I am weighing in at 132.9 as of this morning, which means I reached the goal of 132.2 to133.2 that I set for myself at the begining of the month. I hope to keep going, though maybe at a slower pace, until I get back down to the wedding weight of 129. I have carefully gone through the archives of this blog and more clearly tagged the low cal recipes as Diet, and the Vegetarian recipes, so that they are easier for you, my wonderful readers, to find if you are looking for such recipe ideas in the future.

I have a very exact cookbook wish list. Very exact, and a little expensive. They range from the Ad Hoc at Home to out of print stuff, from the newest most in-fashion food to the forgotten vintage recipes. Every once in awhile I do sweeps of NY bookstore The Strand to see if I can pick up one of these cheap, and recently I made two big scores.

Ever since Julia Child became the one to democratize French cooking and bring it to the states, people like to figure out who is the "Julia Child" of other sections of cooking, which usually means "wrote the best and most complete cookbook on the subject." I've been hunting for the cookbooks of two such women, Marcella Hazzan, otherwise known as the Julia Child of Italian cooking, and Julie Sahni, the Julia Child of Indian cooking. The comparisons do not hold up that well, as Julia Child was an American who learned to cook French and brought it back with her, these women actually represent the cultures they are teaching you about. They are, however, the women with the most complete cookbooks, and that meant I wanted them.(Funny side note, this isn't just a cooking thing. I recently took an exercise class with the "Indian Jane Fonda". Good class! A lot of dancing.)

The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking I will have to tell you about later, I haven't cooked from it yet. August was, after all, the month of healthy vegetarian cooking, and I kept drooling over the meat sauces. There probably were some healthy recipes in there, but I kept flipping straight to roasts and heavy cream and lots of butter. Don't worry, these recipes are coming. While I have been searching for Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking for quite awhile, that was not the book I stumbled across this past month. Her follow up, Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking stared back at me from the Strand's shelf. I was reading it by the time I was on the subway.

I haven't played much with Indian cuisine since last year's attempt at Chicken Tikka, but now that I own the spices, I notice them cropping up in more and more recipes. Full on Indian cooking might not be hugely popular, but its influence is being found everywhere. Food Network even finally found itself a chef who knows what curry is, though it took them a competition show to do it (Congrats to Aarti Sequeira by the way!) Digging through the book, there were certainly recipes that felt like they would be a bit challenging, or too spicy for my somewhat weak pallate. Finally I stumbled across a recipe that would be more mild, and perfect for a certain Fall fruit now tumbling out of my farmer's market. Pumpkin and Split Peas with Camphor Basil. Will gave me a dubious look as we walked home. "You are going to cook a pumpkin?"

It's true, my previous pumpkin cooking has all been:
A. Using canned pumpkin, and
B. Dessert

And my last gourd chopping experience went badly. Like me staring at a butternut with a knife jutting out of it after a long struggle and wanting to chuck the whole thing in the trash and order Chinese kinda badly. That was the night of the Butternut Squash Lasagna of last October. Things have changed a bit since then though. For one, Will and I are much better with knifes. For another, I am much better with planning. As my beloved friend Stef was going to be in town on Monday night (an Indian food addict if I ever saw one) I made a very wise decision, I chopped the pumpkin on Sunday night. This was not nearly the warfare I had experienced with the butternut. Will split the thing down the center for me, as I tend to have a bit less muscle. I was going to attack it with a peeler, but cutting the skin off with very shallow knife cuts was a much more efficient and less maddening process. Then I scooped it out (reserving the seeds for toasting) and diced down into 1 inch pieces, which I stored in Ziploc containers in my fridge. The whole process probably only took 20 minutes, and that was 20 minutes I didn't have to spend while cooking the next day.

Unfortunately, despite a trip to our local Patel Brother's grocery, I could not locate Camphor Basil. It is a more bitter basil that's not easily found in the states, which Ms. Sahni recognizes by offering a substitution of Sweet Basil and Star Anise. I did not have Star Anise, but I did have Anise seeds on hand, so I worked with that. The results were still delicious, so I stand by my alteration.

Pumpkin and Split Peas with Basil
Adapted Slightly from Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking

- 1/3 teaspoon anise seeds
- 1 cup yellow split peas
- Pinch turmeric
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 cups of water
- 2 pounds pumpkin (you can substitute butternut squash if needed) cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup water

For the spice-perfumed ghee
- 5 tablespoon ghee (if you can not get this in your area, Alton Brown has a recipe for it here)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons shredded fresh ginger
- 2-4 hot green chilies, finely diced
- 1/3 cup packed fresh basil, then take the leaves and cut into 1/4 inch wide shreds

Put the split peas, turmeric, bay leaves, onion and anise seeds in a deep pot with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cook over medium heat, partially covered, for 20 minutes.

Add the pumpkin pieces along with 1 cup water, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil again. Lower the heat and continue cooking, covered, for 20 more minutes. Turn off heat. Transfer to a serving dish or individual bowls.

Measure out all the seasonings for the spice-perfumed butter and put them right next to the stove. Heat the ghee in a small frying pan over high heat. When it is hot, add the cumin seeds. When the cumin turns dark brown (about 15 to 20 seconds), add the finger and chilies. Reduce the heat to low and let the herbs sizzle for 30 seconds. Add the basil and let the mixture fry for 30 seconds.

Pour all of it over the pumpkin-split pea mixture. Mix with a fork just once or twice to streak it with the spice-perfumed butter. Serve immediately.

OK, so ghee, if you didn't know, is basically clarified butter. And that's a good bit of butter. Therefore, this might not be the healthiest of all of my recipes this month. But it was yummy. Stef ate 2 bowls kinda yummy. The serving suggestion Julie Sahni makes in the book is to pair this stew with an Indian bread, she suggests a Kale Bread that is in another part of the book, but as this was a weeknight meal I wasn't about to bake some bread too but that's the luxury of living in Little India. I popped some frozen Garlic Naan in the toaster oven and presto, side dish.

This dish was a bit on the heavy side especially as it was 90 degrees out, but with fall ready to kick down our door I can see this being a repeat recipe on a chilly fall day. It will be a nice vegetarian distraction, because right now I'm jonesing to get my hands on some meat. I want to roast it, saute it, stick it in a pasta sauce, I am ready to resume my carnivorous kitchen. Just as soon as the temperature drops out of the 90's so I can turn my oven on. Come on Fall, I'm waiting...