Friday, August 28, 2009

we almost don't believe it's really happening

our honeymoon was almost
a year ago - give or
take a couple of weeks -
and unless you count
a weekend in
allentown, pennsylvania
for my sister's college graduation
(sorry, erin, but i can't),
that was the last time we
stayed in a hotel.

we are more than excited
to head out for
not only days of
good seafood,
but also for a place
where someone else
is responsible
for making the bed
and doing the dishes...

...and to put my
new camera -
one of my very cool
culinary-inspired birthday gifts -
to good use.

i'll come back with beautiful
(or at least passable) pictures
and tons of
kitchen inspiration.

in the meantime,
a shot from our last time, um, away:
erin, at dinner, the night before
her college graduation,
very time appropriate,
considering that she's starting
her next round of schooling
in just a couple of days.
erin at dinner, the night before college graduation

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

homemade pride

grilled pizza with homemade ricotta and heirloom tomato bruschetta
there are several things
that i have made,
simply because i'm
to find out that i can.

that's how the whole deal
with marshmallows began,
why i first made graham crackers,
and how i ran to the store late
one saturday night to get yeast,
determined to make english muffins
for sunday morning's breakfast.

and that was initially most of
my thought process with
ricotta cheese.
i can't even remember how long
ago it was that i learned
ricotta cheese could easily
be made at home.
and even though i printed out
a recipe and debated what i should
use it for,
i still held onto that piece of paper
for way too long.

last week i decided - no doubt
fueled by the success of
that that was it,
no more excuses:
i was making ricotta.

larry reacted true to form.
first giving me that look,
letting me know that he thinks
i'm crazy.
next, he asked, very simply, why?
and after that didn't work,
he gave it a last ditch attempt,
reminding me that i could
buy it for a lot less work.
later, he asked what i was going to
do with it. when i said i didn't
yet know, but that wasn't the point,
he shrugged his shoulders and
dropped the subject,
no doubt clear in his defeat.

but because i'm never content
to just make it easy,
i searched for a different
recipe, wanting to guarantee
that i went with the right method.
i found this one,
then debated all afternoon.
it wasn't until i was in the store,
staring at all the milks
that i decided to stick to my guns
and go with my first recipe.
i owed it that much after
years waiting its turn
in the binder.

i made one change,
breaking a major rule of mine:
never ever change a recipe the
first time you make it.
make it the way it was intended first,
then feel free to play, tinker and add.
it's not that i don't adjust
here and there,
but when a recipe is fundamentally based
on very few ingredients,
it seems more than wrong
to mess with any
of them.

i never buy full-fat ricotta,
so, it seemed kind of weird for me
to make the cheese all fat at home.
i took a big leap, and bought
1% milk, knowing that if i didn't
have cheese at the end of the
experiment, i'd have no one
to blame but myself.

i also switched the heavy cream
for light cream, worried that i needed
extra fat that whole milk
just would not be able to provide.
milk coming to a boil for ricotta cheese
in spite of these changes,
when i mixed together the
and salt,
in a pot, and brought them
to a boil, they boiled anyway
(not that there was really
any doubt about that part).

and after, i
added the lemon juice
called for,
plus just a smidge more,
i crossed my fingers
that the mixture would
in fact curdle.

at first, i thought the curds
were tiny, and that there
weren't enough.
i was sure that the whole
thing concoction would slip
through the cheesecloth
and all wind up in the bottom
of the bowl,
still liquid.
but a minute later, i experimented,
lifting up the spoon i was using to stir
and was pleasantly surprised to
see that it contained a good amount of cheese.

it was now or never.
i poured the mixture into
the cheesecloth-lined strainer,
eyes half closed and was very
happy to realize that there was quite
a lot of cheese in the bowl.
i tasted i small bit -
very hot
still wet -
but unmistakingly, ricotta.

even though this recipe had said to strain
the cheese for one hour,
the other one called for only 15 minutes.
i took a chance around 20
(after a quick straining test to make sure
it wasn't still dripping wet)
and spread it onto the
whole grain pizza dough i had just grilled.

then, i topped it with the
heirloom bruschetta i had stirred together
while the cheese was draining.
and i was so glad for that.
you see - i like ricotta.
i can appreciate the creamy texture
and the smoothness it lends
to a dish. i can get behind the
hard to beat clean cheese flavor.
but, i can't help to find ricotta
a little bit bland.
i rarely use it without
spicing the whole mixture
up with
and more.

this time, i wanted to enjoy
it for the simple ingredient
it was. i added nothing to it,
but on top, was a different story.
the balsamic, basil and red onion-spiked
bruschetta over the crispy smoky crust,
encouraged the cheese to taste like
the most complex of
homemade fresh ricotta with cinnamon, honey and blueberries
the next night,
i scooped a spoonful of the
significantly dryer ricotta
into a bowl,
sprinkled it with ground cinnamon,
drizzled everything with honey
and tossed a handful of blueberries
on top.
it was a lovely treat -
creamy and indulgent,
gently spiced and
not too sweet.
but thanks to the summer fruit,
extremely fresh.

i've waited years to
make ricotta, never actually
discussing it with anyone,
but just days after this batch
was made, my friend colleen
wrote about her experience
making ricotta that very
weekend. it's not such a
surprise - in the past
we've made garlic scapes
at the same time and
this past weekend for my
birthday, she whipped up a
batch of peach cupcakes that i
had my eye on to bake.
but to me, the best part was
that she had made the other
recipe, so i now have proof
that both work.

obviously, if you're in a hurry,
i cannot dispute that it's easier
to buy a container
from the store.
but if you have even
the tiniest
bit of time,
it's worth it to make
ricotta at home.
the only reason
this actually takes
a few extra minutes
is because you have to
wait for the mixture to come
to a boil.
after that, it's fast,
smooth sailing -
the equivilant of making pasta.
don't wait as long as i did.
fresh ricotta cheese, straining
homemade ricotta cheese
adapted from gourmet magazine
the original recipe called for whole milk and heavy cream, which i'm sure would have been delicious. i made this with 1% milk and light cream. on the first night, it was lovely. the second night it was still good, but much dryer. the original recipe called to let the mixture drain for 1 hour. i was very happy with the texture after 20 minutes of draining - so i used it then. if you prefer a less wet ricotta, let it strain longer.

1/2 gallon 1% milk
1 cup light cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 generous tablespoons fresh lemon juice

line a large sieve with cheesecloth (i gave it four layers); place over a large bowl and set aside.

in large heavy saucepot over medium heat, bring milk, cream and salt to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

add lemon juice; reduce heat to low and cook 2 minutes, or until the mixture curdles, stirring constantly. gently pour mixture into sieve. let drain 20 minutes to 1 hour.

cover and chill in fridge. keeps for up to two days.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

a slow journey

oven-roasted tomatoes
every summer,
i wait until august,
excited to finally make
this recipe
for slow-roasted tomatoes,
directly from the pages of orangette.

then somewhere around
it occurs to me that that
it's now october and i,
in fact, have let another
summer go without
producing even a single batch
of these deeply flavored

it was not going to
happen again this year.

reason one: i was determined.
reason two: i read a homemade life.
the book by molly wizenberg,

author of orangette,
this summer.
and while there
were quite a few recipes i intended
to use to break in the book,
like the buckwheat pancakes,
the bouchons au thons and
the chocolate cake of hers that
i've always wanted to make,
when there were nothing but
tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes,
everywhere i turned, it was
clear that this one was up first.

to ensure that i would carry
my promise through,
i bought 10 roma tomatoes
on friday, carefully placing
them spaced out on my counter
when i got home, so that if
i didn't roast them, the guilt
would hit me
every trip to the kitchen.
yes, that's how i work.
sunday morning,
it was ridiculously hot,
but when hasn't it been
this august?
i set to work, slicing tomatoes
and was pleasantly surprised
to note that in the book,
molly had adapted the recipe
to tossing the tomatoes with
oil, rather than brushing them.
once coated, i placed them on
a baking sheet, trying to keep
the slippery devils in place,
sprinkled the halves
with salt and ground coriander
and placed them in the oven.
roma tomatoes on baking sheet
roma tomatoes with ground corriander
but then i had a choice to make:
trap myself, and in turn, larry,
in the hot apartment
or take a chance and actually leave,
relying on the fact that we've used
this oven for 3 years and never has
it started a fire -
even when making this overnight apple cake,
which also required me to leave
the oven on all night and kept me
from a relaxed night of sleep,
too worried that i would wake
up to the fire alarm, or worse, smoke.
i'm sensing a trend, here.
so, we left, but it was too hot to
visit anywhere except the
air conditioned-movie theatre.
we settled in to see julie and julia,
as i vowed that i would pay attention
to the movie and not spend two hours
thinking about things like
fire trucks, insurance and
my grandmother's dining room table
& china cabinet,
both made of wood.

i expected the movie to be light
and touching and brimming with food,
but what i didn't expect was to be hit
so hard with its story lines,
so similar to mine.
i had read the book and found it
entertaining, but that's the most
that i remember
or took away from the pages.
the movie though, well if you've seen
it, you know that it is sweet and
inspirational with a
few moments that
could possibly provoke tears,
if you are pretty sensitive.

i cried almost the whole time.
and for a while after.
it was so strange.
but, save for the scene that julie
made the most delicious looking
bruschetta, the movie served
its purposes, keeping us cool for
two hours and mostly distracting
me from the tomatoes at home.

we got home at just about the
four hour mark
(from the prescribed 4-6
hour cooking time)
and everything was...
as it should be.

when we opened the door,
the entire space smelled
like the best tomatoes ever.
and when i opened the oven,
the halves were absolutely
wrinkled, smaller and darker,
but not quite the 1/3 of their
size they ought to be,
so i closed the door and let
them cook almost two hours
more, heeding the note
that they should still be juicy.
when i pulled them out,
i remembered the other blogs
from around the time
it was published,
saying that it was nearly impossible
to not eat them all right away
and how few tomatoes
actually made it to the table.
and i understood.
larry and i split one and i warned
him that the rest were for dinner.

but it was early in the day -
dinner was far away and that
was a hard deal for both
of us to keep.
it's just that
they're puckered and their
texture is unclear, until you pop
one in your mouth and you
realize that they are in fact,
incredibly juicy and nothing like
those leathery
sun-dried tomatoes
that i always knew i should
love, but have never been able
to fully embrace.
and their flavor is that of
the most intense tomato,
summery and sweet.

next to sherry vinegar roasted onions
(hey, the oven had been on all day anyway -
what's two more hours at this point?)
and skillet-browned padron chilies,
a round of bucheron
and slices of toasted bread,
they were our tapas-style dinner,
and certainly, the star.
i was glad that i had pulled out
four for a sandwich later in the
week (which i topped with
hummus and basil).

i cannot imagine waiting
another summer to make more,
but goodness,
the day of slow-roasting
was oddly stressful.
at least,
it was worth it.
tears and all.
oven roasted tomatoes on baking sheet
slow-roasted tomatoes
adapted from a homemade life
molly uses these to make pestos and sauces, which i would probably do next next time, now that i've enjoyed them on their own. here, though, we ate them straight, on a table with other veggies and in a sandwiches. they keep for up to a week. the original recipe calls for 20 tomatoes, which would have been nice to have, but i only used 10.

10 roma tomatoes, still firm
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
ground coriander
kosher salt

heat oven to 200 degree. using sharp paring knife, core tomatoes; halve each tomato. place in bowl and toss with olive oil. place, cut side up on baking sheet.

sprinkle tomatoes with pinches of ground coriander and salt.

roast 4 to 6 hours, or until tomatoes are 1/3 their original size, but are still juicy. let cool.

enjoy tomatoes warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

i made quince paste!

quince paste with cheese and wafers
everyone who cooks
has that giant stack of recipes
somewhere - in a binder,
a notebook, a file on the computer,
in their minds - titled
some variation of,
to make, some day.

while this is certainly true
for me, i have about five or six
that have stayed at the very
top of the list for years,
seemingly always edged
out by another recipe
or simply, because
it's the wrong season.

but somehow,
over the past week
(and this one that i'm
going to tell you about today,
a little longer ago),
i've made my way through
four of them.
yes, four, after years of waiting.
i can't believe it either.
i'm not sure if i just
got it together or
it was the pressure (um, inspiration)
of this blog, but somehow,
i did it. i can attest that three
were a huge success. the other
one? we're having tonight
for dinner, so i'll let you
know soon.

first up?
obviously, quince paste,
also known as membrillo.
i had my first bite
of manchego and membrillo
years ago at a press party in
california. the combination -
hard salty cheese
on top of the orange fruity paste -
and i became fast friends,
mostly because all the other
passed options were
filled with meat or
wrapped with bacon.

after that, quince paste
sort of floated in and out
of my life, sometimes popping
up on cheese and dessert plates,
or on delicious crostinis.
somewhere along the way,
i looked it up,
found this recipe that
looked simple enough
and made a mental note.
but that was out.

this year, larry and i welcomed
in the new year at home
and to celebrate, i made us
a cheese plate. after picking
out the cheeses,
my eyes fell upon the pricey
quince paste.
we had had a rough week
and i decided to splurge.
it was so worth it and
absolutely the best
thing for a cheese plate,
which, um, hello?
of course it was.
but really, the sweet, firm
almost gumdrop-like
paste was delicious
next to the soft
and firm cheeses alike.
this is not just a
manchego condiment.

but we had a lot
left over and i was determined
for it not to go to waste.
true inspiration came
the next time i was making
turkey burgers. i usually stuff
them with boursin and then
never know what to put
on top. i've tried lots of condiments
to not so favorable results and just
dry, which is also not
i cut very thin slices and placed
them on top of the patty.
it was amazing and i was so
happy to have solved
my always-forget dilemma.
only problem?
there was no way that i
was spending $7.99 again.
so i revisited the recipe,
but then realized that directions
meant very little
without quince,
the apple-looking fruit that
is used as the base.
so i put the recipe
again to the back of my mind.

then, months later,
larry was meeting
friends for dinner and i decided
to stop at a different
grocery store to pick up a few things.
right there, quince for just $1.99 a pound.
i remembered two pounds
and grabbed four, hoping
my memory was not failing me.
it didn't and when i got home
and consulted the recipe,
i was relieved to note that the only
other things i needed
were sugar and water,
two items that are always
easy to come by in this house.

the proccess looked easy.
i just had to set the quince in
the oven to bake for two hours,
peel them, puree them,
then stir the puree together
with sugar until firm,
pour into a mold, wrap
and wait.
in theory, it's that easy.
quince, about to be bakedbaked quince
measured pureed quince quince puree in saucepan
fully cooked quince paste block of quince paste
but i think quince are typically
available in the fall
and that is probably the best
time to make this dish
if you are, like me,
in a kitchen without
an air conditioner.
once they were peeled
and pureed, they were supposed
to go through a strainer.
i started to, but i quickly realized
i wasn't going to make it
through all the batches
with my sanity still in tact
and that the texture was smooth
enough for me. so i stirred
the one strained bowlful
back into the rest of it and
crossed my fingers that it
would balance everything out.

i tasted the pale beige mixture
just before simmering and it
looked and tasted like baby food,
nothing like the silky paste
i've enjoyed in the past.
i set the timer for 25 minutes,
turned on the burner
and started simmering.
when you're alone and stuck
with a mind-numbing task,
you need to make deals with yourself
to get through.
so, i promised myself
i wouldn't look at the clock for at least 10
minutes. instead, i would carefully
examine the puree, watching
for color or texture differences
and think about how at least when
you make risotto, the constant stirring
is broken up by occasionally adding
broth to the pan. soon, i knew it hadn't
been 10 minutes, but i had to look.
oh no.

so i made a decision that i was
early enough in the process that i could
stop stirring for the 15 seconds
that it would take for me to run
and turn on the cd player
in the living room,
taking my chances with whatever
disc was inside.

the five indigo girls songs that
followed made the entire situation
so much more manageable.
in between closer to fine
i was actually able to ignore
how hot i was and appreciate
that after about 10 minutes of
stirring, the puree had deepened
in color a bit,
and with 5 minutes more,
the texture had changed considerably.
(my neighbors, on the other hand,
probably were not so happy.)
the recipe had read to stir for 25 minutes,
or until it is thickened and the mixture
pulls away from the pan.
with about 3 or 4 minutes left,
the texture did change,
but not quite like the directions had said.
so i kept stirring
and after 25 minutes were
up, i held on for two extra minutes,
before deciding that i had
probably put in
several minutes of overtime.
i quickly poured the paste
into the readied loaf pan
(i don't have a terrine).
once cool, i wrapped it up
and stuck it in the fridge.
it no longer looked like
baby food, i thought -
much more membrillo-like.
slices of quince paste
it wasn't until the next day
that i realized i don't very often
put out cheese plates
and that it might be quite
a while until i actually
would need or even use the paste.
thank goodness the recipe says
that you have three months.

it took a while, but i made
the turkey burgers and while
i worried that the paste was
too firm thanks to the
overzealous cooking,
once put on the hot burger,
it softened.

and oddly enough,
we ended up with a few
cheeses recently,
and i was very excited
to pull out the loaf and cut
off another slice.
just as the purchased
membrillo was
8 months earlier,
this one was a delicious
sweet foil for the
rich cheeses.
i still have a bunch
left - i'm formulating
plans. but i'm so glad
that i finally got my
act together and made
a batch. now that i did
it, i have no idea
why it took me so long.
slice of quince paste
quince paste (membrillo)
adapted from gourmet magazine
with the exception of straining, i followed this recipe exactly. i wanted to use less sugar, but i was too afraid that the mixture wouldn't gel. so i used almost all of it all - and while it's a bit of a sweet food on its own, that's not usually how you eat it. with cheese or on a turkey burger, it's exactly right. if you have help - someone else to take turns stirring or to help you pour into the terrine, you'll be happy - but if not, go for it anyway. i did it alone and lived to tell the tale. just have good music on standby.

4 medium quinces (about 2 pounds total)
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup water
2 to 3 cups sugar

heat oven to 350˚f. lightly oil a 1 quart terrine or loaf pan.

wash quinces; dry well. place quinces in a heatproof baking dish. cover tightly with foil and bake 2 hours or until quince can be pierced easily with a fork. transfer quince to a rack until cool enough to handle. using sharp knife, peel, core and cut them.

in food processor, puree pulp with 1/4 cup water. blend until smooth adding extra 1/4 cup water, if necessary (note, this took me the full 1/2 cup water). you can strain it here into a bowl if you want, i didn't.

measure puree. measure out an equal amounto of sugar (example: if you have 2 1/2 cups of puree, use 2 1/2 cups of sugar). i had about 2 2/3 cups of puree and i used just under that amount of sugar (about 2 1/2 cups).

add puree and sugar to a heavy three quart saucepot. heat over medium-high heat for 25 minutes, stirring constantly, or until the mixture is thickened, changes color and pulls away from the pan. immediately turn off the heat, pour the puree into the greased pan and use an offset spatula to smooth down the top. loosely cover with plastic wrap and chill 4 hours, or until firm.

run knife around mold and invert onto plate. use, or wrap well: wrap in wax paper, then in plastic wrap and chill. it will keep for up to three months.