Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Peachy.

If polled, I think most people would agree that there isn't much better in life than a perfectly ripe peach.  Maybe this is because a perfect peach is so fleeting, the window of perfect eating is gloriously small.  Both over and under ripe peaches have their place fortunately, but for that split instant of perfection, one might wait all year.

Because I was raised in a rural, northern Wisconsin, our peaches came in lugs from Michigan or Colorado.  My Mom canned quart upon quart to last us a whole year, something she still does and shares with me.  It's a lot of work for something that can disappear so quickly - those glass quarts of peaches seem to be everyone's favorite.  

I used to just drink the canned peach juice after the peaches were gone, but in the great sugar diet reduction of the past few years, I tried hard to be okay with just ditching it.  Then I realized that I could be extending it by boiling the peach juice with ample amounts of ginger and then using it to flavor seltzer or other drinks.  I simmer it for 10 minutes or so, with as much finely chopped ginger as I feel like, then let it cool and strain it through a nut milk bag.  The summer I worked a little at my friend's cafe, we added some ginger-centric chai concentrate to coffee and were pleasantly surprised (but it was never on the menu).  A touch in your coffee is a unique twist that you might end up liking!  For me it was a flavor combination that at first seemed weird, but then I all of a sudden craved.

peach ginger syrup.

As a kid, it might not have solely been my job to run down to the basement shelves to pick out a jam when we were out upstairs, but it seems like it was.  And it also seems like my Mom used certain jars for certain things.  I haven't asked her yet, but I feel like the peach jam was always canned in round jars - and I had totally forgotten about this until I was down in my own basement this week wrangling up half pints.  I made small batches of Marisa's Salted Peach Jam (recipe in Preserving by the Pint), and just 2 1/2 jars of the Peach-Sriracha Butter I can no longer live without.  I canned the jam in round jars.  And I thought all the while of how thankful I am for my Mom and her habit of providing me homemade peachy things for pretty much my whole life.

salted peach jam.

Isn't that was preserving for yourself, you family, and friends is all about?  Little glimpses into the past, to remember those days when you put the fruit into jars in the first place, a look back on my own childhood completely full of peanut butter and homemade jam sandwiches and who I ate those sandwiches with?  Peaches then are much more than a once a year luxury; they hold some deeply rooted history underneath their fuzzy exteriors...

Untitled

And speaking of fuzzy exteriors, I made a pie last week without peeling the peaches.  This was under advisement of the Bojon Gourmet (Alanna Taylor-Tobin), who is writing her first book.  Not peeling peaches for pie is a revelation, and I'm sold!  I also can hardly wait to see her finished book that will feature gluten-free baked goods.  It should be out next spring, and it's available for pre-order on Amazon.

The past several years, we've had a peach truck delivery at numerous locations in our area.  It's called Tree-Ripe Citrus, and you can find Midwest schedules and drop point locations here.  Their peaches come from Georgia, and are reliably good.  I split a case with my in-laws last Tuesday and Wednesday morning I came into the kitchen to find my eater baby had bitten into 6 of them.  Most likely, he was looking for the perfect peach because most of them were rock hard having just been picked.  He didn't yet know that he needed to wait and be patiently look them over twice daily, but maybe he somehow knew that in continuous trying he would find that perfect one.  The one to drip down all over him and the one that will start him on his way to his own memories of all things peachy.

peaches.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Food Update, Smoked Salmon & Ramp Tart.

Where does the time go?  I feel as if I barely look at the Internet anymore, rarely read the blogs that I once read voraciously and with total vigor.  I have slipped back into the old fashioned habit of cookbook reading from front to back (or did I never really abandon that notion?), devouring the written word the way God intended: inscribed into a tangible medium.

When I do have time to make the Internet rounds, I find that other people are likely as busy as I am.  A handful of people I checked up on recently haven't been posting in several months, perhaps now their blogs are even defunct.  Others are busy with other work and are posting less seldom.  It bothers me that I don't make the time to sit in the glow of the computer and update what has been going on in my own personal world of food - especially since I've feel so happy in my kitchen lately.

My kitchen was painted in late March, and when cleaning it out, (it was off limits for 5 days when ceilings/walls were repaired before painting) I reduced my clutter.  I was lucky to get a new fridge a couple weeks ago when my old one was keeping things at a balmy 60 degrees.  The new one is larger inside but almost seems smaller outside, and I took the opportunity to cleanse it of years old condiments: preserved kumquats from 2011? Imported capers packed in salt that expired in 2011?  Both were probably still fine to consume, but it feels so good to be lighter.  It feels so good not to re-clutter the fridge, enjoy the bright light through the new shelves when I open the doors.  The new fridge causes me to cook less, too. 

salmon ramp tart

What's that?  Cook less?  Probably because I am more in tune with the leftovers and I re-create things using them without needlessly making more.  Believe it or not, I notice a difference in my food budget too.  Being creative on what seems to be an empty fridge - but really it's never been more full.  I vow not to make more condiments before I actually run out this time.

Craving smoked salmon, I picked up an 8 oz. package a couple weeks ago and somehow decided on making Megan Gordon's smoked salmon tart with a remarkable cornmeal and millet crust.  It was so good I made it two weeks in a row, but adding more ramps than I did in the first rendition.  One thing I noticed this year above other years is just how long ramp season is.  Being a teacher caused me to spend more time outside and in the woods, and what I thought was really a fleeting 7-10 days of a season really stretches the better part of a month or more.  I spent the days of ramps well, but not overdoing it...  adding a single one here or there for a twist, eating really good soft cooked scrambled eggs with them butter-sauteed inside.

ramp ribbons.
ramps & onions

Maybe a month ago or longer already, I came across the TeamYogurt site after a friend pinned this brilliant Nutmeg Crunch.  I felt so out of the loop.  AND totally inspired to make heat-set yogurt again after a very long hiatus.  My room temp culture had conveniently just died, so I figured I didn't have much to lose using a store bought Greek yogurt as a culture.  I read an article on the National Center for Home Food Preservation site that recommended heating the milk to 200 degrees and holding it there for 20 minutes before cooling and then culturing for 7 hours.  I've streamlined my process now, and it doesn't take me all that long now that I've got the hang of it again.  I heat my milk to between 185-200 in a makeshift double boiler, hold it for 10 minutes, and then cool it rapidly (it only takes 5 minutes) by pouring the hot milk into the bowl I'll culture it in.  Then I sink that bowl into a larger bowl of ice water and stir it infrequently for 5 minutes.  It seems like a mess of bowls and timing, but it is easier done than said, and by the time I'm putting the cultured milk into the dehydrator to keep warm I'm nearly done with the clean up.

My yogurt has a gorgeous flavor now that it's several generations old - and a velvety buttermilk texture.  I used it in the salmon tart.

heat set yogurt

Megan Gordon wrote this recipe using creme fraiche, which is also easy to make, but in the spirit of using what I have I used the yogurt.  I love the texture of this tart so much.  It keeps well for a few days for lunches and the ratio is sound for pretty much any ingredient you would want to add.  Err on the shorter side of baking for a more custardy interior, but bake fully if you intend to pack for lunch or picnic.  And if you still spy a few ramps, by all means use them in their entirety.  The tart crust is just perfect.  With the additional of a couple tablespoons of confectioner's sugar, I really want to make it as a base for a lemon curd.  In my experience, you can never go wrong with millet!

I appreciated that her book Whole Grain Mornings was written in weights, and I made the crust using them.  Her conventional measurements are also below.  If you don't have ramps, make this with onions and add a clove or two of minced garlic with the onions of your choice.

Smoked Salmon & Ramp Tart (adapted from Megan Gordon)
serves 4-6 as a main course (with a salad)

for the crust:
  • 65 g. (1/2 c.) cornmeal
  • 90 g. (3/4 c.) white wheat or whole wheat flour (I used the Lonesome Stone Milling organic all-purpose)
  • 3/4 t. kosher salt
  • 85 g. (6 T.) cold butter, cut into bits
  • 3-4 T. ice water
  • 45 g. (1/4 c. millet) 
 Butter a 9 inch tart pan (or springform pan, like I used) well and set aside.  In a food processor, pulse the cornmeal, wheat flour, and salt together to blend.  Add bits of butter and pulse several one-second pulses until it resembles a coarse meal with bits of visible butter.  Add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse until the dough starts to hold together when you pinch it.   Add the millet and pulse 2 times more to evenly distribute it.  Transfer it to the buttered pan and press it evenly into the bottom and up the sides.  Cover it, and place in the fridge to chill for 1 hour and up to a day.

for the tart:
  • olive oil
  • 4-5 ramps, leaves cut into thin ribbons and bulbs/stems finely chopped
  •  enough chopped onion to equal about 1/2 c. with the chopped ramps
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 c. yogurt
  • 1/2 t. dried dill (use a couple tablespoons of fresh if you have it) 
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 4 oz. smoked salmon, cut into small pieces
 After your crust has chilled and you're ready to bake your tart, preheat the oven to 375.  Remove the chilled tart base from the fridge and place on a sheet pan.  Pre-bake it for 15 minutes just to dry out the top a little bit.  Meanwhile saute the chopped ramps (reserve the leafy ribbons separately) and onions in a little olive oil until just wilted and soft - 5 minutes or so.  Beat the milk, eggs, and yogurt with the dill, salt, and pepper until well combined.  
Spread the onions evenly over pre-baked base , then scatter the salmon pieces over evenly.  Pour the eggy custard over the top and sprinkle with the ramp ribbons and more pepper if you think it needs it.  Bake in the center of the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the top is set and browned to your liking.



salmon ramp tart slice
This one is slightly underbaked to have a fluffier texture inside.  This one I baked more completely. (You can see that it almost has a cheesecake look about it, and it is pleasantly dense.)

This recipe is a keeper for so many reasons, the least of which is the absolute ease with which it comes together.  It looks complicated, and it's not.  It's the perfect all-in-one food.  It's vegetarian without being laden with cheese.  It's equally good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  It's exactly the type of thing that would fit nicely into the "Genius" category that I'm also so fond of lately.

Now that our school year is wrapping up, I'm looking forward to a little more online time, but I'm sure that our summer will be busier than ever.  There is a lot to cram into 3 short months of warm weather!  All the time I feel cursed by the convenience of the Internet.  I wonder if I could ever go back to the way things were in the 90's.  Conscious decisions not to be checking my phone/mail all the time are one thing, but I am not sure I could give up the convenience of the camera in my back pocket...

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

More Cabbage? Genius.

Mere moments after last weeks obsession with red cabbage slaw, I began reading a hard copy of Genius Recipes.  I missed the Fergus Henderson Red Salad when it appeared online a couple of years ago - and who knows, I might have overlooked it by not being completely obsessed with red cabbage at the time.  I'm only mentioning it because it is genius, as is the rest of the Kristen Miglore book which feels so good in the hands.  With 'gestures of balsamic' and 'healthy splashes of olive oil', it is exactly the right evolution from my red slaw when plated with Greek yogurt and candied jalapenos.  A short and sweet paragraph encouraging you to give it a go.

red salad.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Purple Slaw, Spicy Baked Tofu, and Food52 Love.

I came a little late to the Food52 party, but still it's a website I've enjoyed for several years.  There is always plenty of inspiration when the pantry seems bare but really is well stocked, and the community setting is comforting in the big world of Internet food.  When I see something tagged with "Genius Recipe" or "How to Make _____ Without a Recipe" (or Not Recipes as they are called), I'm always sure to give particular attention.  I think about cooking without recipes pretty frequently - especially since I tend to cook what I find on sale and also what needs to be used up, often on the fly during this homeschooling year. 

Last week, organic purple cabbages were on sale at my food co-op and when shopping on that cool Sunday evening after a weekend out of town with my boys, I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed cilantro and a fresh hot pepper and and some kind of slaw.  The next day, half of it became a medium-spicy concoction that really hit the spot.  What I had originally thought would be more Asian in flavor turned out to be more Southwestern/Mexican and I couldn't get the "without a recipe" moniker out of my head.  The second half of the cabbage was made into a similar slaw, only instead of letting the cabbage drain in a mixture of salt and sugar, I decided to just add some candied jalapenos and their juice.  It was spicier, and even better than my first attempt.  I'm pretty sure you could add anything to the slaw to make it good; just be sure to keep a rainbow of colors.

Untitled
Purple slaw, topped with spicy baked tofu.

I'm not so good at typing up a non-recipe - they beg to be told word of mouth.  Basically, toss the cabbage and salt (and a tad of sugar if you want it nuanced with sweetness) together (you could add the peppers and carrots to the salted mix if you like, or if you forget add them after).  Let it stand at room temp for an hour to draw out some moisture.  Then drain it well and add the rest of the ingredients. You can omit the mayo and use Vegenaise, or skip the creamy mayo component altogether and use a couple tablespoons of cider or rice vinegar.  Just taste and go with it!  It tastes better after it sits a day, and stays remarkably crunchy for nearly a week.

Purple Slaw (vegetarian, vegan option)
serves 4-6 depending on serving size
  • 1/2 head of small purple cabbage (about 1 lb.), cut into quarters and thinly sliced
  • about 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 red bell pepper (or more), thinly sliced
  • 1-2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 small bunch of cilantro, minced
  • 1-2 small hot peppers, thinly sliced (or several slices of candied jalapeno and a tablespoon of their brine, minced if desired
  • 1-2 spoonfuls mayonnaise (I like Hain Safflower mayo despite the non-health benefits of that particular vegetable oil...) 

spicy baked tofu.

Baked tofu is another non-recipe.  I used to follow a more rigid approach to baked tofu, but recently I've been making it this way with exceptional results.  I cut a 1 pound block of firm tofu into two even slabs, press it for at least a half hour but usually longer in a makeshift contraption of dish towels and plates and weights (cast iron pans).  Then I slice the drained tofu again into 4 total slices.  In the bottom of a baking dish, drizzle in a fair amount of sriracha, an equal amount of maple syrup (or honey), and roughly the same amount of olive oil.  Turn to fully coat, add a little salt and pepper if you feel like it, and let it sit overnight if you want - or just bake it at 425 right away.  I've been using my toaster oven to bake, which probably runs a little hotter than 425 due to the compact baking space.  I just watch it, and turn it about halfway through.  When it looks done, it's done.  I like nibbling it warm, or cubing it cold and adding it to other things.  Like the purple slaw (picture above), or these spring rolls I made for lunch today using the same slaw and more candied jalapenos...  I am totally remembering these for picnic season.

purple slaw spring rolls

Last week, I used a spicy tofu slice in a grilled sandwich which is also worth noting!  I had a few tablespoons of leftover red chard from the night before (just fried in olive oil with shallot - I'm always surprised at how good greens are this way, and I shouldn't be), some avocado, and sourdough with the crusts cut off and spread on the outside with mayo.  Last summer, Food52 highlighted Gabrielle Hamilton's method for grilled cheese, which was the way a friend of mine made grilled sandwiches more than a decade ago but I had forgotten about it.  It was a wonderful sandwich.

Untitled
That's a sprinkling of those Urfa Biber chile flakes I'm still obsessed with...

While spreading the Food52 love around, I will mention the latest book to come from their collective: the Genius Recipes book.  I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list.  It includes things like Marella Hazan's tomato sauce and Michael Ruhlman's chicken.  Simple things that always work and are always good - and now all found in one tome.  I don't really need to read it before being sold on it.  Genius is genius.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Whole Wheat Banana Bread.


As much as I love long and slow bread, there is ample room in my heart for quick breads.  Nailing down a favorite would prove difficult: I have spent sleepless nights envisioning almond poppy seed bread or lemon poppy seed bread, I've picked up my walking pace to get home and make Dorie's Oatmeal Breakfast Bread.  A few weeks back I caught a nasty flu bug and lost my appetite for the better part of two weeks.  The experience left me completely over sugar.  It's weird; I still have absolutely no taste for anything sweet (though this berry trifle I made for Easter dinner did hit the spot I admit...).  Five pounds lighter as I head into spring is a good thing I suppose, and with that new-found lightness I went back to my baking schedule slashing sugars even more than before.  I'm wondering if it will stick and I'll turn into one of those people who don't look so forward to dessert...

B.S. (before sickness), I had devoured two baking books: Ovenly by Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga and Huckelberry by Zoe Nathan.  I baked quite a bit from each, admiring both equally for their creative flavors and make ahead ease.  I can't quite get over the Ovenly adaptation of Mollie Katzen's whole wheat banana bread, which I in turn adapted further and have been making weekly.  My boys like it so well I haven't been able to branch out from banana, but I would really like to try it with pineapple puree that's been well drained.  The fruit and maple syrup make it plenty sweet, so I cut out the sugar all together and no one's the wiser.  And of course, extra virgin olive oil is standing in nicely for the recommended flavorless oil.

whole wheat banana bread

Whole Wheat Banana Bread (adapted from Ovenly)
1 loaf
  • 2 bananas, mashed to equal 1 cup
  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 c. ap flour
  • 1/4 c. flaxseed meal
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. maple syrup, preferably dark
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. Greek yogurt (regular yogurt or buttermilk also works, sour cream was suggested)
Preheat oven to 350 with rack in the center.  Grease a 10x4 (or 9x5) loaf pan with butter and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flours, flaxseed meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk the maple syrup with the eggs, olive oil, and vanilla until well blended. Add the yogurt and mashed banana and whisk until nearly smooth.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, taking care not to over mix.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes until a tester comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing the loaf to a wire rack to cool completely.  Try to resist slicing it until it has cooled at least 1 hour.

whole wheat banana bread

I'm pretty sure the best way to eat this is with a good amount of butter, and it's your call if you would like to toast it first.  If you forgot to buy salted butter like I did last time I was shopping, just sprinkle the top with a little flaky salt.  This bread ages very well, the wheat flavor deepening and the flax becoming more nutty tasting the next day.  Stored at room temperature, you can easily keep it for 4 days or so - it would likely fare longer if stored in the refrigerator.  You could easily add nuts, but I like the soft texture without them for a change of pace.
We had one warm week last month, enough of a breath to carry us through the early part of spring that seems perpetually cool and damp.  It's good quick bread weather for a while yet and I don't mind. Once the world heats up, I don't have the craving for fast bakery like I do just now.  Then I like to let the warmer weather work its magic on the wild yeast and daydream of baking outdoors in an earth oven.  Meanwhile we're keeping an eye on the daffodils and magnolia trees, eagerly anticipating the first of the chives which miraculously seem to have grown overnight due to the rain.  Sometimes it's easy to wish away this type of weather, but all too soon summer will arrive and I'll wish for these cool, dreary days!  Better make some more coffee, slice some bread, and enjoy it while I can.