October 25, 2010

Apple Butter Anyone?

I've been threatening to do it for years. Every Fall I say this is the year I go apple picking and make apple butter. I think I started this little charade seven years ago. Well 2010 made me a honest woman. I made apple butter - mounds of it - towers of it.

There's no quick way of doing this. No short cuts. It takes a long time and a lot of patience. This is probably why it took me so long to actually getting around to it. However, when it's 10-something at night and you're proudly looking at a dining table filled with little jars of homemade apple butter, it's very much worth it.

I made three kinds of apple butter two ways. First, a classic cinnamon the classic way, and then a brandy flavored and a more savory rosemary flavored both in the slow cooker. Below are the various methods, recipes, and canning process.

Stove top method:
Cook apples in enough liquid to cover.
Boil until very soft.
Drain apples, return to pot.
Blend with an immersion blender (or press through sieve)
Add sugars, spices, and any flavorings.
Cook down over low heat until desired thickness, stirring often.

Slow cooker method:
Cook apples with sugars, flavorings, and liquid together on low for 6-7 hours.
Depending on the kind of apples used, you might have to drain off excess liquid.
Blend with immersion blender.
If you want or need to cook it down further, do so on high, with the cover off, stirring often.

Canning process
Boil large pot of water.
Unscrew the lids and boil with the jars for ten minutes. Remove. Be sure not to touch the insides of the jars or lids with your bare hands - you can undo the sterilizing process that way.
Set aside until ready to fill and can.
Once filled and covers are screwed on, boil again for 10 minutes making sure there is at least 1" of water covering the jars.
Remove from water and let sit. If within 24 hours the jars don't seal, (meaning they don't "pop" and the button doesn't depresses), then the canning process did not work and they need to be refrigerated instead.

Brandy Apple Butter 
(slow cooker method)
3 cups cored, peeled, and sliced apples (this will be anywhere between 4-5lbs whole apples)
3/4 cups brandy
1 tbs vanilla
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar (up to 1 1/2 depending on apple variety/sweetness)
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
healthy pinch of salt

-Cook everything together on low for 6-7 hours.
-Drain if necessary. Blend with immersion blender.
-If needed, cook on high, uncovered to desired thickness.
-Makes approximately ten 4 oz. jars or eight 6 oz. jars

Rosemary Apple Butter
(slow cooker method)
3 lbs cored, peeled, and sliced apples
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup rosemary leaves
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
Healthy pinch of salt

-Cook everything together on low for 6-7 hours.
-Drain if necessary. Blend with immersion blender.
-If needed, cook on high, uncovered to desired thickness.
-Makes approximately ten 4 oz. jars or eight 6 oz. jars

Cinnamon Apple Butter
(stove-top method)
4 lbs cored, peeled, and slices apples (about 5-6 lbs whole apples)
1/2-1 cup lemon juice
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar (up to 1 1/2 depending on apple variety/sweetness)
1 1/2 tbs+ cinnamon
1 tbs+ ground ginger
1 tbs vanilla
Healthy pinch of salt

-Boil apples in lemon juice and enough water to cover in large heavy bottom pot until very soft.
-Drain off water and using immersion blender, blend in pot until smooth.
-Add sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, and ginger.
-Cook until sugar has dissolved. Taste. You might want to add more spices or sugar at this point depending on the kind of apples used.
-If still not the consistency you want, let simmer on low heat, stirring often until desired thickness.
-Makes approximately ten 4 oz. jars or eight 6 oz. jars

October 20, 2010

'Cause we had the beer...

There was chicken, there was beer, and not much else. That's ok though, becuase beer just happens to be a brilliant cooking medium! Not only does it make for tasty foods, there is hardly a protein I can think of that it doesn't enhance. All manner of poultry likes being cooked in beer, although to be fair, I've never tried duck cooked in beer - maybe next time. Shrimp is especially happy when boiled in the stuff, and a beef stew begs for a dark lager.

So when faced with a fridge that has some chicken and beer in it, don't sigh and order a pizza, give this a shot instead. I served it with yellow rice and I can't tell you how truly satisfying and yummy it was.

Beer-Poached Salsa Fresca Chicken

For Salsa Fresca: (do this first and let sit so that the flavors meld)
3 large slicing tomatoes
1/2 large white onion
1 bunch cilantro
1 Poblano chili
1 tbs hot sauce
Juice of 2 limes
Salt to taste

-Cut chili in half, remove seeds and stem. Over your stove-top's burner, place half of the chili and let each side char, about 3 minutes per side. Set aside and let cool. (You can also broil them for a few minutes, flipping them half way through cooking as well)
-Dice tomatoes. Finely dice onions and chili, place in bowl. Chop cilantro finely, add. Add lime juice, hot sauce, and salt to taste. Mix well and let sit.

For Chicken:
Light colored beer (we had Corona)
Skinless chicken breasts (we had boneless, but bone in would be fine too - also, doesn't have to be white meat)
2 dry bay leaves
1 whole lime

-Pour beer into pot and let sit for five or so minutes to let the beer flatten slightly. If you boil the beer fresh from the bottle, it can bubble over. (If you don't have or don't want to use beer, use broth instead).
-Cut lime in half and add entire fruit to pot. Add bay leaves.
-Bring to boil, add chicken, and let poach until cooked through.
-Slice up the meat (it might have to be lightly salted depending on the beer) and cover in the salsa fresca, serve room temperature.

October 13, 2010

Cooking Like a Celebrity

I'm having a Seinfeld-moment... let me explain. This morning a friend sent me a link with the tag line "Not good. Not good at all." It just so happens that the not-so-good situation she was speaking of was Paula Deen's new line of cookware that looks like - wait for it - buttered popcorn. Wasn't expecting that either huh?

Now back to my Seinfeld moment: What's the deal with these celebrity cookware lines?

The celebrity chef's I get. That Mario Batali, Chef Chen, and Emeril Lagasse have cookware lines makes sense in the same way that athletes have their own athletic gear. If Shaq can have sneakers then Rick Bayless can have his Mexican bean pots, fair is fair. That being said, why do I want to cook in pots that already look they're smeared with grease and yellowed? Paula, I love you. I fall for the southern charm-thing hook, line, and sinker. You have three boys who love you to bits, a big teddy bear of a husband who I'd want to hug too, and bless you and your fried biscuits. But were the buttered popcorn pots and pans necessary?

While we're on the topic, I don't think Rachel Ray needs her own brand of chicken and beef stocks. There is nothing you could say to convince me that paying more for chicken stock that has her face on it is worth it. Meanwhile, Giada De Laurentis doesn't need her own branded measuring spoons. Giada, you are so very pretty and lovely but I seriously doubt that using your mixing bowls will make my meringues any more fluffy.

Let me make one thing clear though, these celebrities with their own TV shows have a place in the culinary word; there is no doubt about that. Anytime someone watches Garten, or Lawson, or Deen and gets inspired to cook a meal, that's a great accomplishment in my book. These ladies and gentleman have only added to the culinary education of this country and that, as Martha would say, is a good thing. But what's next? A Guy Fieri, flame embossed knife called something silly like, oh I don't know, a dragon dagger?

What? Really? You're kidding! 

Guy Fieri's Dragon Dagger Knife

Giada bowls and measuring spoons

Rachel Ray Stock

Paula Deen's Popcorn Cookware

October 11, 2010

Sunday Dinner

A friend of ours just came back from a week in the wilderness. He shipped himself out to the middle of nowhere in Utah and along with ten or so others spent a week torturing himself with no clean water, miles of hiking everyday, and whatever Mother Nature saw fit to throw at him. Definitely not my bag - I'm pretty sure you couldn't pay me to do any of it. But, since he survived, and since I was so damn proud of the guy, I thought a proper Sunday Dinner was in order. Nuts and berries NOT included.

I've mentioned before how much I love my slow cooker. It's a true marvel to me. You take a hunk of a cheaper cut of meat, you throw in a some simple ingredients, set the timer, and by dinner time you have something tender and scrumptious. If you don't have a slow cooker, I'd like to try to convince you to get one. They're not expensive (mine was just about $40), and although they take up room, they are easily stored on top of the china cabinet - just like ours.

Slow-Cooked Pork Loin
3lb boneless pork loin
1 sweet or yellow onion, sliced in rounds
6 cloves of garlic, thickly sliced
3 heaping tbs Dijon mustard
1 bunch of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 pint of mushrooms, sliced (I used Shitake)
1 1/2 cups beef broth
Salt & pepper

-Place onions in slow cooker, scatter half of the fresh thyme across onions.
-Place pork loin on top of onions & thyme, and using tip of a knife, cut little slits across the loin. Stuff garlic slices into slits. Scatter remaining garlic around pork.
-Salt & pepper the loin well. Spread mustard on top and sides of loin. Spread remaining thyme leaves over loin. Add mushrooms, bay leaf, and pour in broth around the loin
-Set on high for 1 hour, then on low for 6.
-Take out the loin, removing any loose fat from the bottom of the loin, and place on serving dish. Remove thyme and bay leaf then scatter onions and mushrooms around the loin.
-Pour off drippings into a pot. Spoon out about 1/2 cup of liquid into a smaller bowl and add 1 tbs of cornstarch - mix very well. Add cornstarch mixture back to pot, whisk well, and let heat until thickened. If you like a thicker gravy, repeat the cornstarch process.

Acorn is my favorite squash. This is a salty preparation, but you can also roast them with butter and brown sugar for something sweeter.

Rosemary-Roasted Acorn Squash
3 small acorn squash, cut into quarters, seeds removed
12 tsp butter
1/4 cup finely chopped rosemary (fresh or dried)

-Preheat oven to 425. Spray a baking dish with non stick spray or a spread a little olive oil.
-Place squash in dish, sprinkle with salt and chopped rosemary.
-Put 1 tsp of butter on each quarter. Roast for 40-45 minutes until flesh is cooked and nicely browned.

Bread Pudding
2 Brioche loaves, crusts removed, cut into about 1" cubes (you can also use Challah, but might only need 1 1/2 loaves of it)
3 cups half and half
2 whole extra large eggs
2 extra large egg yolks
1 vanilla bean
2/3 cup sugar
1 large pinch of salt
1 cup chocolate chips
Butter (for baking dish)

-Pour half and half into a small pot on stove top. Split the vanilla bean, scape out seeds into the pot, and add the entire bean as well. Heat until steaming and bubbles form at the edges, mixing occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool completely. If you don't have or can't find vanilla beans, skip this step and simply add 1 tbs of good quality vanilla extract to the half and half.
-Place rack in lower third of oven. Preheat 350. Butter a 9x13 baking dish, set aside.
-Whisk eggs, sugar, and salt until well combined. Remove the vanilla bean from the half and half, discard. Slowly add the half and half to the egg mixture, whisk well.
-Add bread to the buttered dish, then pour over the custard. Let the bread soak up the custard for about 10-15 minutes until well saturated.
-Sprinkle on the chocolate chips (I like using mini chips, but use whichever you have), then bake in oven for about 40-45 minutes or until bread is toasted, and custard is cooked.
-It is very important that you let this sit for a good 15 minutes before you cut into it. This lets the custard finish setting up and the bread pudding settle, (it will have puffed up in the oven then collapse slightly as it cools).

October 4, 2010

Comfort Food, Duchess-Style

When I invited friends for dinner over the weekend, this wasn't the meal I had planned. I was going to make a much more sophisticated, complicated, and unique meal. Then, on Friday, I got bad news and it shook me hard. I was tempted to tell my friends not to bother coming over, the wind was knocked out of my sails and I felt deflated. But my husband, the wise Jedi that he is, urged me to cook and have our friends over. He knew it would make me feel better and of course, it did.

Since my elaborate meal plans were scraped (for now, I still plan on making that meal one day), I happily shifted to comfort food - 'tis the season after all. So off to an old standby, Coq Au Vin. Don't be fooled by its fancy-schmansy name. It's a French peasant dish and should be treated as such - hence the picture below of the meal in it's pot, as it was out of the oven, and put on the table. The name literally means: Cock in Wine. Since we don't readily get those birds in Brooklyn, a normal chicken works nicely.

Along with some crusty bread, my calorie-busting Potato Galette, and a very simple herb salad of dill, mint, basil, parsley, lemon juice and salt, we had ourselves a party. For dessert I had planned on making this fabulous brioche bread pudding with vanilla bean custard and chocolate... it's as incredible as it sounds. But that very morning, we were watching the Food Channel and Sunny Anderson made something that was so simple, so gooey, so messy (see said gooey mess below), and so yummy that I had to make it instead!

Now remember, as I've said before, as long as the food is good, people won't care that they're eating on paper plates with plastic knives and forks; a theory proved yet again on Saturday.

Coq Au Vin
Adapted and tooled with from Martha Stewart

14-16 pieces chicken thighs and legs with skin on
3 cups red wine (I would suggest a nice Cabernet Sauvingon, but even a Rioja or a Chianti would work)
2 heaping tbs tomato paste
1/3 cup beef broth (this can also be Cognac, but since I never have the stuff in the house I always use stock)
10 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 - 1 1/2 cups white pearl onions (I always used the frozen ones, less peeling)
1 lb slab bacon cut in 1/4" - 1/2" cubes (if you cant find slab, use thickly sliced)
1 lb mushrooms (I use a combo of crimini/baby bella and shitake, you can't beat the smokey flavor of shitake - it really adds to the dish)
3 tbs flour
1 tbs corn starch
3 bay leaves
10+ sprigs of thyme
1 tsp whole pepper corns
Salt and cracked pepper

-Let the chicken marinate in the wine overnight or at least 4-5 hours day of.
-Preheat oven to 325.
-Cook bacon in large heavy bottom pot with lid, must be oven safe. Remove the bacon, set aside.
-Remove chicken and reserve wine. Pat the chicken dry, salt and pepper the meat, then sear in the bacon grease until skin has crisped, about 6-7 minutes per side, set aside.
-Remove all but 2 tbs of grease and cook the chopped onion and garlic until soft and translucent.
-Add pearl onions and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes (if you need to, add one tbs of butter to help cook mushrooms, they absorb a lot)
-Add the tomato paste, flour, and corn starch, incorporate well.
-Add the stock and scrape up any stuck on bits at the bottom of the pot.
-Return bacon and chicken to pot. Add herbs, peppercorns, and cover with the reserved wine. Bring to boil, mixing everything together, then place in oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour covered until veggies and chicken are cooked. If there is excess oil on the surface, skim away before serving.

*I don't think I need to say this, but this dish the day after is not to be believed! This will happily serve 6-7 people with some leftovers.

Potato Galette
4+ cups of thinly sliced Yukon gold potatoes (I used a Benriner Mandolin for this, but you can use your food processor with the slicing attachment too)
1 cup of heavy cream
1.25 lbs of Jarlsberg, shredded
8 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
Salt & pepper

-Preheat oven to 400.
-Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray.
-Start with a layer of potatoes, cover up any large gaps with a potato slice. Salt and pepper the potatoes lightly.
-Continue with a layer of cheese. Another layer of potatoes, light salt and pepper. Cheese, potato, salt and pepper. Sprinkle on the the chopped garlic, then continue the layering and seasoning. Put the nicest sliced potatoes on the top layer, then cover with one final layer of cheese. You should have 5 layers total by the end.
-Once layers are finished, pour on the cream. Jiggle the dish gently to get the cream in all the nooks and crannies.
-Bake in oven for half hour covered with tin foil. Remove foil for last half hour. The whole thing should be bubbling, the top browned, and the potatoes cooked - if not, leave in for another 10-15 minutes.
-Serve immediately.

S'mores "Crepes"
by Sunny Anderson

Whole wheat wraps or tortillas (these are the "crepes." It is very important that you use whole wheat, the white ones don't have the right "crepe" flavor.)
Mini marshmallows
Toasted, chopped hazelnuts (I used macadamia because I had them)

-Melt 1 tbs of butter in a flat large pan.
-Spread a tortilla with enough Nutella to come about 1 inch to the edge. As it cooks it gets gooey and melts, too much Nutella and it would ooze out while cooking.
-Place tortilla in the hot pan and cover half with the mini marshmallows.
-Fold over the tortilla and cook, flipping once. Remove once the marshmallows melt a little and the tortilla has browned slightly. Cut in half, sprinkle on the nuts and serve immediately.

* I served them with coffee ice cream - they were a wild success and will definitly be made again...