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.

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