August 7th, 2012 / comments
Wine is often used to add flavor in cooking, but whining is not a good addition to any dish, EXCEPT when it results in a new and wonderful recipe. Here’s the story:
I was complaining to my son, Noah, that peach season had finally arrived and I couldn’t find fresh ricotta anywhere. “If I were in Sicily, I’d to walk to the market, and get as much as I wanted and, I’d have a cappuccino and maybe even a cannoli on the way.”
With absolutely no sympathy, he said, “Why don’t you make your own, instead of whining about it? It’s really easy. You only need whole milk and white vinegar and, if you make it in the microwave, clean-up is a breeze.”
I wasn’t convinced that any ricotta made in Vermont could compare with what I was missing but, decided to give it a try. Using Noah’s recipe, I made my first batch in less than five minutes and cleanup was a breeze. Here’s how I did it: … read more
January 26th, 2011 / comments
Even though terms like locavore, eco-gastronomy, terroir, bioregional and sustainable were not used when talking about food in the 1970’s, I was making yogurt and growing bean sprouts in my apartment in Washington, DC.
I was an accidental, partial locavore – eating yogurt and sprouts that were being produced within a 100-mile radius of my dining room. The eco-gastronomic sprouts were growing in a very local ecosystem – a glass jar on my kitchen counter. I don’t know if the altitude, the terroir, of my fourth four apartment affected the flavor of the sprouts, but they certainly added texture and flavor to sandwiches and salads.
There’s evidence that cultured milk products were being made in 2000 BC. Pliny the Elder noted that nomadic tribes knew how to thicken milk into a substance with agreeable acidity, and yogurt has long been a staple in the diets of people in Central Asia. It appeared in my grocery store in the late 1960’s packed in plastic cups with a puddle of sweetened fruit slurry. Soon after yogurt appeared in grocery stores, electric yogurt makers replaced fondue pots as ‘must have’ kitchen equipment. My kit consisted of glass jars with lids, a thermometer, dried yogurt culture and a temperature-controlled container. Producing yogurt was an appealing scientific experiment.
When I read that the earliest yoghurt was probably fermented spontaneously, perhaps by wild bacteria found inside goatskin bags used to carry raw milk, I realized that making yogurt didn’t need to be as precise as the five pages of instructions that came with my yogurt maker. I no longer have an electric yogurt maker and the only special equipment I use is an instant read thermometer. I make yogurt in eight-ounce canning jars that are kept warm in the oven with two large tin cans filled with hot water. Rather than using a dry yogurt culture, I use a tablespoon of plain yogurt, either homemade or store bought, as the source of Lactobacillus, the ‘starter’. Here’s how I make it: … read more
December 8th, 2010 / Comments
I’m planning to include a few of my favorite vanilla sugar cookies with each bottle of vanilla extract when I give them to my foodie friends who bake. Like the vanilla sugar, making vanilla extract is a process of assembly rather than one of cooking.
Here’s how I did it:
I split six vanilla beans and put them into a one-quart mason jar. I added two cups of vodka, pushed the beans down so that they were submerged, put the lid on the jar and put the jar in a dark corner of the pantry. I’ll bottle and label the vanilla extract, along with a piece of vanilla bean just before Christmas. Click here to download a label for bottles of vanilla extract.
When I make only one jar of vanilla sugar, I get a vanilla bean in the spice aisle at the market. But one vanilla bean costs about five dollars and I needed ten beans to make six jars of vanilla sugar and sixteen ounces of vanilla. Luckily, I found Beanilla.com. It is a source for eight varieties of vanilla beans that are significantly less expensive than those bottled individually.
I got a bit carried away when I ordered vanilla beans but I love the intoxicating scent of vanilla that has filled the house. My next project is to try to make a bottle of brandy-based vanilla extract. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
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December 8th, 2010 / comments
This has been vanilla week in my kitchen. Often, vanilla is used as an adjective to describe something that is plain, ordinary or uninteresting, but vanilla week has been creative, exciting and tasty. I’ve made vanilla sugar and vanilla extract to give as gifts this Christmas. They both need time for the flavor to develop so the timing was perfect.
Vanilla begins as the seedpod of an orchid native to Mexico. Conquistador was my sister’s favorite word, and I remember when she told me that it was a conquistador, Hernan Cortes, who brought both chocolate and vanilla to Europe in the sixteenth century after observing Montezuma drink a mixture made with cocoa beans, vanilla and honey.
Vanilla grows as a vine with white flowers. The Melipona bee, the only insect that pollinates vanilla, is native to Central America, and so when grown in the tropics anywhere else in the world, vanilla must be pollinated by hand. Vanilla flowers last only one day and growers inspect their plantations every day for open flowers. The beans, actually seedpods formed by the pollinated flowers, are harvested by hand and then cured in a four-step process. The first step, wilting the vanilla beans, is done either by a quick dip in hot water, by freezing, or by heating in an oven or in the sun. Step two, sweating, consists of wrapping the beans in woolen blankets and baking them in the tropical sun. The beans are then dried to prevent rotting and to lock in the aroma. The final step, conditioning, is achieved by storing the beans in closed boxes for a few months. The intensity of labor required to grow and cure vanilla makes it the second most expensive flavoring after saffron.Vanilla sugar brings flavor and aroma to coffee and hot chocolate, is delicious when used to sweetened oatmeal, can be sprinkled on fresh berries or on fruit before it is baked. It’s an easy way to add flavor to meringues, marshmallows or custard and is a gift that makes both cooks and non-cooks happy. The six jars I made will be ready by Christmas. Here’s how I did it: … read more
April 25th, 2010 / comments
Today I picked up my first CSA delivery. I got Chinese cabbage, Siberian kale, chives, garlic chives, a spicy greens salad mix of about twenty greens, small bunches of Tango lettuce , spring herbs, granola and eggs.
My bag also had a note from the Clay HIll folks with an update on the irrigation system, information about the green house and hoop houses and a recipe for Garlic Scallion and Almond Pesto.
I’m planning on making fresh pasta and the pesto for dinner tomorrow night. I let you know how it goes. I made maple syrup seasoned salad dressing to top the spicy mixed greens for a salad for dinner. Here’s how I did it: … read more
April 1st, 2010 / comments
It was a snail that introduced me to garlic. My mother was from England and my father was from Slovakia so spice and punch came in the form of mustard, black pepper or sauerkraut. Olives, capers and anchovies never appeared on our table.
When I was nineteen, I moved to an apartment on the second floor of a converted town house in Washington, DC. The French Market, a boutique grocery store, was on the ground floor. It had become a successful business when John Kennedy was president and all things French became fashionable. By my third visit, I realized that my gastronomic education had begun.
The owner, Georges, was from Nice, in the south of France. He always had time to answer questions, share recipes or offer tastes. He never looked at his twelve-inch chef’s knife as he minced garlic, parsley and almonds to make snail butter and gossiped with market regulars. After he put a cooked snail into each shell he sealed the opening with a knob of the seasoned butter. When he suggested that I try the snails for dinner, I bought a dozen, a baguette and two sets of snail-eating equipment. He explained how to heat the snails in dimpled metal plates and how to use the tool that looked an eyelash curler to hold the hot shell while fishing them out with a small snail fork.
The snails were interesting, a bit chewy, but the apartment smelled wonderful! The chunks of bread soaked in the hot garlic butter were divine. It was the beginning of a new friendship, “Bonjour Garlic!”
Since that introduction, garlic has been a permanent resident in my pantry. It appears so frequently in my recipes that I use garlic scapes, the immature flower stalks of hard neck garlic, as my logo. The best way to store garlic is at room temperature, in a porous container. I have a ceramic garlic pot with a lid that keeps out the light and holes in the sides that allow air to circulate, preventing garlic from becoming moldy.
Georges showed me how to add zip to salads by rubbing the inside of a wooden salad bowl with a clove of garlic and a pinch of kosher salt. Occasionally, he had cooked artichokes next to mushroom, fennel and green bean salads. A small container of mayonnaise mixed with mince garlic, lemon juice, a pinch of cayenne pepper and an artichoke made a lunch that was tres chic.
The pate Georges made was perfumed with garlic and it inspired me to use garlic to season meatloaf. When Georges prepared chickens for roasting, he pushed a mixture of butter, garlic and thyme under the skin of the bird.
He seasoned legs of lamb with garlic, rosemary, sage and thyme before deftly forming each roast into the shape of a duck with the end of a bone as the duck’s head. I’ve never tried the fancy butchering but I do use the same herb and garlic mixture to season lamb.
I don’t remember who introduced me to the complex, sweet and earthy flavors of roasted garlic. I make it often by cutting off the top of plump garlic bulbs, drizzling them with olive oil, wrapping the bottoms of the bulbs in aluminum foil and roasting them. After half an hour in a 350-degree oven, the golden paste can be spread onto crusty bread to make appetizers that I serve with red wine.
Fifteen years later, my friend Gwen served a salad made with blanched garlic. She said that it was easier to digest and that it added flavor with less bite. She claimed that blanching eliminated volatile sulfur compounds that cause garlic breath and indigestion. Gwen simmered garlic in boiling water for a minute before peeling it and blending into salad dressing. Blanching garlic in the microwave by zapping unpeeled garlic cloves in a half-cup of water in a partially covered container for 30 seconds seems simpler to me. I use blanched garlic in barley or bean salads that will not be served within and hour.
Garlic is called the stinky rose and blamed for causing bad breath but its presence is recognized in cuisines around the world as the promise of a tasty meal. The pan of garlic roasted root vegetables I served on Saturday delivered on that promise when Jim and Anne joined us for dinner.
Along with the roasted turnips, carrots and potatoes roasted, a can of cranberry sauce mixed with a couple of tablespoons of horseradish and a roasted chicken from the market were all I needed for our impromptu dinner party. The scent of the roasting vegetables made it seem as if I had spent the entire day, rather than half an hour, cooking. I started the vegetables in the microwave and they finished roasting while I set the table, and cut up the chicken. Here’s how I did it. … read more