Thursday, July 28, 2011

Canning Time - Plum Ginger Jam & Nectarine Vanilla Bean Jam

While some people have shopping addictions, where they buy excessive amounts of shoes or handbags, I buy excessive amounts of food. Stone fruit season is in full swing in the bay area and Berkeley Bowl has three aisles of different types of stone fruit. I, of course, felt compelled to buy about 8 pounds of peaches, nectarines and plums (which is about 7.5 pounds more than I can consume in a reasonable period of time). Thus, I decided to make some jam.
A beautiful bunch of Protea "Blushing Bride" flowers
Summer Stone Fruit & Ginger Jam - I went to my go-to canning source - and found a recipe for peach plum ginger jam that I adapted to fit my likes, my fruit supply and my equipment (or lack thereof). 

I started by getting a big pot of water boiling (see above) to sterilize my jars. I chopped up about 7-ish cups of fruit, mainly Santa Rosa plums, with a few Dapple Dandy pluots and White Nectarines thrown in for good measure. I cooked the fruit with a generous 3 cups sugar (and it was almost too sweet) and 1/2 cup ginger juice. As explained on Food in Jars you simply blend chopped ginger root with a bit of water. As an aside, this led me to the discovery that ginger juice separates(!!) into a liquid green layer and a heavier viscose white layer (the weird white layer reminds me of the combination of cornstarch and water - see above). Anyways, throw all ingredients in the pot and cook for 20 minutes-ish, stirring and smashing the fruit a bit as you go.
While prepping the jam(s) I threw (gently) the jars into the pot of boiling water.
Nectarine and Vanilla Bean Jam - I just winged it with this jam (I did a little research and found out that plums have natural pectin, while nectarines are very low on the natural pectin totem pole, but, since I had no pectin I forged ahead, sans-pectin). I cut up about 4 pounds of white and yellow nectarines and cooked them in a pot with a shave of lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice, a heaping cup (maybe 1 1/2) of sugar and a vanilla bean (sliced in half lengthwise with the seeds scraped out). Cook, stir and smush for 20-30 minutes.
To finish both jams, sans-canner, I turned off the fruit and one by one I removed my jars from the pot of boiling water with tongs. For each jar I placed it on a clean surface and ladled the piping hot jam in (this would have been made simpler with a wide-neck funnel). To finish, I carefully pulled out the lid pieces from the boiling water and placed them atop the filled jar (still with my tongs) and then quickly screwed on the lid. I flipped the jars upside down and left them to cool on a dishtowel. Once cool (it will take 4-5 hours) turn them right-side up and if the lid is depressed your jar has successfully sealed!

A note on pectin - My nectarine and vanilla bean jam (low on natural pectin but added a little citrus which is high in pectin) was much thicker than my plum ginger jam (high-ish in natural pectin).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jalapeno and Red-Cornbread

Mutinous squash plant 
I was at my favorite place, Berkeley Bowl, and found this beautiful red corn and, while I had no idea what I was going to do with it, I decided that I needed to have it. 
I had a quart of buttermilk sitting in my fridge begging to be used so I decided to make cornbread.
To make: Combine 1.5 cups coarse ground yellow cornmeal, 1/2 cup flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon each of baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl beat together 2 large eggs and 1.5 cups buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine.
Homegrown (not by me) Dahlia
To finish the batter, fold in 2 cups fresh corn kernels and the corn 'milk' (run your knife up and down the de-kerneled cob to extract the milky corn-y liquid from the cob), along with two finely diced (seeded) jalapenos, and 1.5 cups grated sharp cheddar. Once everything is combined pour the mixture into two loaf pans and bake for about 20-30 mins at 425 degrees, until it is cooked through and golden brown on top.

I based my recipe on the a recipe from Gourmet magazine. I thought it was good, but have maybe decided that I like finer ground cornmeal. Conclusion: I am a fluffy cornbread lover not crunchy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Skirt Steak - Trés Simple

I rarely cook red meat, this isn't to say I don't crave it, I just don't often think to buy it. In addition, I basically never order it out - I grew up eating deliciously cooked, flavorfully marinated (care of my father's apricot jam, garlic and rosemary concoctions) tender steak and have yet to see much at a restaurant that lives up to that. That being said, I made a pretty damn good steak.
I seasoned the steak generously with salt and pepper, dusted with a little cayenne and cumin and finished by slathering it in a few cloves of chopped garlic and the juice of one lime. I let the flavors merry for some hours while I made my sides and enjoyed a home made margarita (I'm pretending it's summer).

For one of my favorite appetizers of the moment I have been sautéing shishito or padron peppers (for Calvin Trillin's characteristically enjoyable narrative about padrons click here) with a little olive oil and then sprinkling them with sea salt to finish. Being a self-admitted spice-wimp, it is always a little bit like playing Russian roulette because most of the peppers are tame with a pleasant pepper hint, but, occasionally, you will get one that will really blow you away (my best advice is to take a tiny nibble to start - and, spice-wimp that I am, this has served me well).

To finish the skirt steak, if you have a grill (well that would mean that you have outdoor space and I would be jealous) - use it, for those of us who don't heat up you grill pan until it's nice and hot, brush with a smidge of olive oil and throw on the steak. Cook for about 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 minutes per side, I like my steak on the rarer side, add an extra minute per side for medium-ish. I served mine with cilantro smashed potatoes, fresh garden tomatoes, and a special cornbread - recipe to follow. . . 
The padron aftermath

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wedding and a Cake

The lovely couple
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of going to a friend's beautiful wedding. Here are some photos of the wedding, and a recipe for a 'celebratory cake' (this cake should definitely only be used in celebration, as it is armed with dangerous amounts of butter . . . I could have eaten the whole thing in one sitting).
Not my hand
I mildly adjusted Ina Garten's chocolate cake recipe and came up with the following:
Sift 1 3/4 cup flour with 2 cups sugar, 3/4 cup good cocoa powder, 2 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp each of salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl combine 1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 2 eggs and 1 tbsp of vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stir to combine and to finish the batter add in 1 cup room temp coffee. Butter and flour two cake pans. Pour the batter in and bake at 350 degrees for just over 1/2 hour (do the toothpick trick to make sure they are done).
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Burrata from Paula LeDuc Fine Catering

For the pièce de résistance - the chocolate buttercream - you really need to block out all health consciousness or thoughts of moderation and forge ahead. I will say that, for the butter cream, you need to have soft butter (especially when doing this by hand). Of course, I forgot to take the butter out.  Not to worry,  I knew I could just slyly microwave it for a few seconds . . . a few seconds later I found that I had a microwave full of melted butter. After scooping up what I could I attempted to let the melty butter cool and re-solidify – fabulous idea. Long story short I got out two new sticks of butter and let them sit out and warm up, au naturale. 

To make the butter cream, melt 6-8 ounces good chocolate (I used bittersweet). While the chocolate is melting beat the two sticks of butter until they are "light yellow and fluffy" – I did it until my hand gave out and it looked a smidgen fluffy. Add in 1 egg yolk and 2 tsp vanilla extract and continue to beat for a few more minutes. Slowly add 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar. To finish add in the melted chocolate and put in a few tablespoons of coffee. Your butter cream is complete. To finish I frosted the cake and then sprinkled the frosting with some nice sea salt which gave the cake a really nice savory end and the tiniest crunch.