Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Hallmark of a Good Cook

Roast Chicken is a favorite around here. DH, Bella, and I thoroughly enjoy a roast chicken dinner. Perhaps it is our childhood memories of family Sunday dinners with grandparents and those heaping bowls of traditional New England side dishes that make roast chicken such a favorite. Those days we now remember with a certain nostalgia, and the food we ate is an intrinsic component of those memories.

A roast chicken is considered by many to be the hallmark of a good cook--if you can prepare a roast chicken you have made the culinary grade. There is nothing more satisfying for the cook than to present those at the table with a roast chicken dinner.

Many years ago when this recipe was taught to me, I was told that this was the French style for preparing roast chicken. Is it really? I have absolutely no idea, but I do know that is absolutely delicious! The lemon slices and fresh rosemary sprigs slipped between the skin and the breast give the meat a delightful flavor and an extraordinary moistness. As a practical matter, it is a good dish to have in your culinary arsenal. The secondary benefits of a roast chicken are the potential leftovers and a carcass.

If you look closely at the photograph above, you will notice that this chicken was stuffed. For stuffing "how to" see my post "Stuff It." For gravy how-to see the January 2010 post "Panic and Despair?".

Roast Chicken

1 6 to 7 lb. chicken, preferably free-range, organic

1 lemon, very thinly sliced

2 springs fresh rosemary (each at least 4 inches long)

1 qt. chicken stock

4 oz. butter, softened

Preheat oven to 325. Calculate the roasting time for your chicken—20 minutes per pound. If the chicken has a “pup-up thermometer” in its breast pull it out and discard. If there are giblets remove them and set aside. Thoroughly rinse the chicken under cold running water.

Move the rinsed chicken to a cutting board. Gently fold back the wings. Turn the chicken so the abdominal cavity is facing you. Carefully slip your fingers between the flesh of the breast and the skin, separating them. Do not rip the skin. Do this to each side. The skin will not separate in the middle.

Now slip in equal an number of lemon slices between the skin and meat on each side (about 4 per side). Break the rosemary springs in half. Gently slip them under the skin on top of the lemon slices. Tie the legs together with a piece of string. Place the trussed chicken into a pan large enough to hold it comfortably. Smear the softened butter evenly over the skin. Pour the stock into the pan. Place the pan into the preheated oven.

Baste the chicken every 20 minutes. If you don’t have a bulb baster use a spoon with a large bowl and a wooden handle. The chicken is cooked when a thermometer inserted into the breast reads 170. Cut the string around the legs. Take one of the drumsticks and gently move it up and down. If the leg moves freely, the chicken is cooked. (This is my preferred method.)

Remove the chicken from the oven. Using two large spatulas or meat forks move the chicken to a platter being careful not to pierce the skin. Cover the chicken with a piece of foil and let it to rest for 20 minutes before carving. This allows the juices to be redistributed.

Your chicken is now ready to be carved. You can do this at the table or in the kitchen. There are special utensils called carving sets designed specifically for this purpose, if you don’t have one, use a long handled fork and a sharp knife.

If you are carving the chicken at the table serve the meat as you slice it. If you are carving in the kitchen, place the meat on a platter as you cut it. Work quickly so the meat is still hot when it is served. Insert the fork into one of the breasts near the breastbone. On the side where you have inserted the fork, find the joint between thigh and the drumstick with your knife. Sever this joint. Next sever the joint between the thigh and the back of the chicken. Now move the knife to the breast. Reposition the fork if you need to. With the knife at the same angle as the breast, cut thin slices of breast meat using smooth even strokes. The lemon and rosemary will be very tender and flavorful and can be offered with the chicken.

After the meal when the chicken is returned to the kitchen, remove/carve any remaining meat from the carcass and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use the carcass and the giblets to make stock.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spectacularly Simple

Dessert does not have to be complicated to be spectacular. This time of year when apples are plentiful and fresh, it is a simple matter to create a dessert that is both spectacular and simple. This recipe was developed a number of years ago, and “perfected” just this year. Most of my recipes are a work in progress, and this recipe was no exception. This dish has a lovely apple flavor with just a hint of maple sweetness.

As always, my apple of choice is Northern Spy. When they are not available I use Empires or a combination of Empires and Granny Smiths. I have a special “contraption” to

prepare my apples. It is a wonderful thing and saves me a great deal of time. It can peel, core and slice, or just peel. Either way it does exactly what is needed. Maple sugar is used in the topping for this crisp. It is actually a sugar, not a syrup. I purchase mine at the Morse Farm, for which you will find a link under “Places and Ingredients.” The dish/pan I use for the Crisp is 2 inches deep and about 8 x 12 inches in size. Try not to use a pan deeper than 2 inches deep. I always serve this dish with a healthy dollop of schlag (whipped cream).

Unfortunately, due to rapid consumption, there is no picture of the finished Crisp. A photograph of an empty dish isn't quite the same. Of course, this is the best compliment any cook can hope for!

Apple Crisp

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

6 large tart apples

¼ c. apple cider

1/3 c. maple syrup

¾ c. flour

¼ c. oats

1 tsp. ginger

½ tsp. cinnamon

1/3 c. maple sugar or brown sugar

4 oz. unsalted butter, slightly softened

½ c. heavy cream

¼ tsp. ginger

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 2 x 8 x 12 inch dish or pan with the 1 Tbsp. of butter. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. Arrange them in the prepared pan. Pour the apple cider over the apples, and then drizzle on the maple syrup.

Select a medium sized bowl. Measure into it the flour, oats, ginger, cinnamon, maple sugar, and butter.

Using your fingers work the butter into the dry ingredients until it is well combined. The mixture should still be “powdery.” Sprinkle it evenly over the apples being sure to bring it right to the edges.

Put the dish in the oven. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. The Crisp is baked when the sides are bubbling, the apples in the middle are tender, and the topping is lightly browned. Do not over bake as the apples will become mushy. While the Crisp is cooling, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Add the ginger and beat just to incorporate the ginger. Serve the Crisp warm with a generous dollop of schlag.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I’ll Take Mine Whole, Please

We are indeed fortunate--the Morse Farm sells cranberries in bulk. Burr, the proprietor goes down to Massachusetts every year and purchases the berries. As soon as they arrive, I hop in the car and head on over. Once home with my booty, I make cranberry sauce—whole berry sauce. Most of the berries will be frozen and keep us in a good supply of fresh cranberry sauce all winter. Cranberry Sauce is one of DH’s favorite foods. Actually, I think he considers it to be a food group! It doesn’t matter how much I put on the table, there will be none left.

Cranberries are a good source of Vitamin C, Potassium and believe it or not, Carotene. Their antioxidant properties have drawn the attention of scientists doing cancer, immune system and cardiovascular research. All good reasons to eat cranberries!

As we enjoy the tartness of the cranberries, I use very little sugar. The reduced sugar also helps maximize the health benefits of this lovely berry.

Cranberry Sauce

4 cups whole cranberries, fresh or frozen

1/3 c. sugar

1 Tbsp. ginger

½ c. fresh orange juice

Zest of one orange

Water


Wash the cranberries and place them in a quart pot with a lid. Add the sugar, ginger, orange juice, and zest. Add about 1 c. of water. Stir to combine well. Put the pot on the stove and cover with lid. Turn the burner to high. When the water boils, immediately reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer the berries, stirring occasionally, until most have popped their skins and the sauce is thick and glossy, about 20 minutes. Remove the pot to the counter and cool uncovered. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools. The sauce can be served warm, or refrigerated until needed.

Quick, simple and ever so good!

We have wonderful “new” potatoes from the garden. Fresh potatoes have such a fresh flavor and the texture is crisp. When cut into slices or sticks, these potatoes literally snap when broken. Faced with such bounty, I made one of our favorite dishes—Oven Fries. About ten years ago, I began making fries in this manner. They are simple, quick, and ever so good.

One of the really nice things about these fries is their flexibility with regards to seasoning--it can be adjusted to suit your particular tastes. We don’t use ketchup, so prefer our fries on the spicy side. Make sure you select a baking sheet with sides that is large enough to hold the potatoes in a single layer.

Oven Fries

3 potatoes

¼ c. olive oil

½ tsp salt

½ tsp. hot or sweet Hungarian paprika

1 Tbsp. caraway seeds

a good grind of black pepper

Kosher or sea salt

Preheat the oven to 450. Select a baking sheet with sides and set aside.

Wash the potatoes and cut them into ½ inch sticks. I generally cut the potatoes in half length-wise. Then, cut each half in half length-wise again, and cut these slices into sticks. Don’t be too concerned about making perfectly exact ½ inch sticks. Place the sticks into a bowl. Drizzle the olive oil over them. Add the seasoning and spices. Toss with your hands to mix well.

Scrape the sticks onto the baking sheet. Spread them out in a single layer. Put the baking sheet into the oven. Bake for about 8 minutes. Using a spatula, turn the sticks. Bake for another 8 minutes. Turn again, if necessary.

The fries are done when the interior flesh of the potato is soft, but outside is golden brown and crispy.

When the fries are done, remove them from the oven and scrape them onto a paper towel lined platter or bowl. Sprinkle with a little kosher or sea salt and serve immediately.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bella's Favorite

This is a cake I make every year during apple season, and often throughout the winter, due to the ready availability of good apples. It has a wonderful taste and texture—rich and subtle with a moist crumb. The apples layered in the middle of the cake add a pleasant surprise and only enhance the cake’s elegant simplicity. When baked in a greased and floured Bundt-style pan the cake is a lovely golden brown. This is Bella’s favorite cake, and is what she asks for every year as her birthday cake.

The recipe comes from the King Arthur 200th Anniversary Cookbook, and is presented here with permission from the King Arthur Company. The recipe below reflects some minor changes I have made. One final note, I often substitute blueberries (which is what you will see in the pictures) for the apples and use milk instead of cider. Raspberries, strawberries, peaches, and apricots can also be used with good results.

German Apple Cake

Apple Filling:

3 large apples

lemon juice (optional)

5 Tbsp. sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

Batter:

3 c. flour

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1 c. canola oil

2 c. sugar

4 eggs

¼ c. apple cider or milk

2-1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a Bundt-style pan and set aside.

The filling is made before the batter as it is layered into the cake. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. If you won’t be completing the cake within 30 minutes, sprinkle them with a bit of lemon juice to prevent browning. In a small bow, mix the sugar with the cinnamon. Set these aside.

To make the batter, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, beat the oil and sugar for 2 or 3 minutes on high speed using an electric hand mixer until creamy.



In a separate small bowl using the same beaters, beat the eggs at medium-high speed until light and lemon colored (about 1 minute). Add the cider and vanilla, mix well and add to the sugar and oil, beating thoroughly on medium-high speed. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently fold together by hand or carefully mix on the lowest speed with the electric mixer just until blended. The batter will be quite thick and fall in thick ribbons from a spatula.



To assemble the cake, pour one-third of the batter into the prepared pan. Next, lay down a layer of apples, using half of them, and sprinkle with half the cinnamon sugar. Cover the apples with a little bit of batter.



Lay down another layer using the remaining apples and sprinkle with the rest of the cinnamon sugar. Scrape all of the remaining batter on top.

Bake at 350 for 50 to 60 minutes or until a pick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for ten minutes. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Apple Harvest Season--It's A Tradition

Every year we go apple picking. It’s a tradition with us. No matter how busy we are, at least once during the apple harvest season we wend our way over to Boyer's our favorite orchard in Monkton Ridge. When Bella was young, it was a family event. Now, DH and I make the pilgrimage together. We walk through the orchard tasting the apples as we go. Working our way towards the Empires, Northern Spies, and Spartans. And, the obligatory Macintosh--DH’s favorite. As they become soft quickly, Macs are not my favorite, to eat or to use in cooking.

My absolute favorite apple is the Northern Spy. Not always an easy apple to find the Northern Spy’s crisp flesh and tart flavor are perfect for cooking and eating. They are also an excellent keeper. Spies are best when picked after the first frost, but it is not unusual for them to be picked earlier. We always come home with a good variety of apples to eat, and about 40 pounds of Northern Spies. Most of these will be turned into applesauce to be frozen and enjoyed through the winter. The rest will be eaten and used in baking.

As a child I remember my mother making applesauce every fall. Mother manually pureed the cooked fruit with a food mill, and always highly seasoned her applesauce with cinnamon and sweetened it with sugar. There would be plenty for us to eat, but a great deal would be frozen.
Mother did this every year for as long as I can remember. The only thing that changed was the food mill. Mother traded her manual food mill for a contraption that attached to the front of her Kitchenaid. During her last few years my mother was not well enough to make her own applesauce, and passed her contraption onto me, so I could make enough applesauce for both households. Now, I carry on the tradition of making applesauce, grateful to my mother for what she taught me.

The Northern Spy is my apple of choice, but others can be used: Empires, Spartans, Macintosh (to name just a few). For a sweeter sauce, use older apples. Manual food mills are not difficult to come by. They can be purchased at most kitchen stores for about $20. Unlike my mother, I do not sweeten or spice my applesauce. But, if this is your preference you may certainly do so.
Applesauce
24 apples
water
Cinnamon, optional
Cloves, optional
Brown sugar, optional

Select a large pot with a lid. Pour about two inches of water into the bottom of the pot. Quarter the apples into the pot. Put the pot on a large burner and turn the heat to medium high. Cover the pot. When the water begins to boil reduce the heat to medium. Stir the pot often being sure to reach the bottom. Watch the pot carefully. Do not allow the apples to burn or scorch, as this will spoil the sauce--the flavor will permeate the sauce. Reduce the heat of the burner to medium-low or low, if necessary. As the apples cook add a little bit of
water at a time if they seem too dry. Use care when adding water--too much water will make for a thin, runny sauce. When most of the apples have separated from the peels, remove the pan for the stove to the counter. Set the food mill over a bowl and puree the cooked apples. Puree a cup of cooked apple. Remove the peels and cores from the food mill by turning the handle counter clockwise, which will catch them on the top of the blade for easy removal. Repeat until all the cooked apples have been pureed. Sweeten and spice as you like. Eat immediately or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Red is a Many Splendored Thing

I’ve never liked coleslaw. Most people believe that all cabbage is created equal, and live blissfully unaware of the many different varieties of green cabbage. This leads them to be undiscriminating about the type of cabbage they use in their coleslaw. To make the dish even more offensive, they add pineapple, loads of commercial mayonnaise, and little marshmallows, earning coleslaw a prominent place on my scary food list.

The day I discovered red cabbage a veil was lifted from my eyes. This vegetable is splendid.

In addition to its spectacular color this cabbage is sweet, tender, and has just a tiny bit of a bite. As this is a vegetable we do not grow, it must be hunted down at Farmer’s Markets and farm stands. I was lucky enough to find some at the Norris Berry Farm stand in Monkton Ridge. Harvest Dinner was the following week and red cabbage slaw seemed the perfect dish for this event. I purchased every red cabbage on the table, and was delighted with my score. The resulting slaw was even more delightful.
This Slaw recipe was developed quite a few years ago--shortly after I discovered the miracle of red cabbage. For the best flavor, home made mayonnaise must be used. See my earlier post "Hold the Mayo?" for the recipe. For the very best flavor, make this dish the day before it is to be served.
Red Cabbage Slaw
1 small red cabbage
1 medium onion
2 carrots at least 6” long
¼ c. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. celery seed
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. Kosher salt
Black pepper

Wash the cabbage and pull off the touch outer leaves. Cut the cabbage into quarters. Cut out the tough “stem” cores at the bottom of each wedge. Discard or save for soup stock. Grate the cabbage, onion and carrots by hand or using a food processor fitted with a grating blade. Put these ingredients into a large bowl. Mix in the mayonnaise, celery seed, and cider vinegar.

If the salad seems dry, add a little more mayonnaise. Add the kosher salt and a good grind of black pepper. Mix well to combine. If the dish is not being served immediately, scrape into an air tight container and refrigerate. Just before serving, taste the slaw and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Uborkasalata

We grow several varieties of cucumbers in our garden. Each variety is used to make a different kind of pickle. The cukes are also used in many different types of salad. Towards the end of the gardening season the overgrown cukes are used to make one of my favorite salads—Uborka Salata—or Hungarian Cucumber Salad. Hungarian cuisine is one of my favorites and I enjoy making it as much as I do eating it.

I learned to make this salad many years ago after falling in love with it while traveling in Hungary. The recipe calls for paprika, which is a staple ingredient in Hungarian cuisine. It is necessary to use real Hungarian paprika. It isn’t as difficult to find as you might think--I can now find it in the ethnic aisle in my small-town market. I use the hotter paprika if I want the dish to have a bit of zip; the sweeter paprika if a milder version of the salad is desired. Either way the dish is delicious and surprisingly refreshing.
As for the cucumbers, use any type you like. If they are very large, they must be peeled and seeded. Large does not necessarily refer to length, but to diameter. This is not necessary with smaller/thinner cucumbers. Although this salad can be eaten immediately, it tastes best when the flavors are allowed to meld for an hour or two. It is spectacular the next day. At this time of year, this is often served as a side dish with Maple Glazed Butternut Squash Stuffed with Meatballs (see this earlier post).
Uborka Salata
3 cucumbers
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 medium onion, sliced very thin
1 tsp. Hungarian paprika
¼ c. distilled (white) vinegar
Pinch of sugar (optional, I prefer the salad without this ingredient)

Slice the cucumbers very thin. Peel and seed them if they are very large or have a large amount of seeds. Place the sliced cucumbers in a stainless steel or glass bowl. Sprinkle with the kosher salt. Let the cucumbers set for at least 30 minutes, and up to two hours. Pour off the liquid and discard, do not rinse the cucumbers. Transfer the cucumbers to a bowl and add the thinly sliced onion, paprika and vinegar. Toss to mix. Serve immediately or set aside to allow the flavors to meld before eating.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How Sweet It Is

Harvest season is winding down. The last of the produce has been picked and readied for storage, including winter squash. Winter squash is the catch all name I have given to anything squash that can be “wintered” over. This year winter squash was part of the garden plan as they make great decoy plants for the cucumber beetles, which have plagued us for several years now. DH, my partner, and gardener extraordinaire, was surprised by how well the plants produced. We’ll be enjoying Acorn, Butternut, Buttercup, and Hubbard squash for some months to come.

As we live in Vermont with ready access to maple syrup and apple cider and because I happen to like how these flavors interact with certain foods, they are recurring themes in my culinary arsenal. You may not use fake maple syrup in this recipe. For the best maple flavor use Grade B.
The winter squash varieties to use for this recipe are: Acorn, Butternut, or Buttercup. The amount of syrup required will depend on the variety and size of the squash, and how many you will be baking. The presentation for this dish is simple, but elegant. Each person is served half a squash, and each is its own serving dish. The squash is eaten by using a dinner fork to scrape the squash away from the skin into the middle, where it is mixed with the maple syrup mixture that fills the cavity. How sweet it is!

Maple Soaked Winter Squash
Acorn squash
Butter (unsalted)
Maple syrup, Grade B
Apple Cider
Kosher salt
Pepper
Nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350. Select a 9x13 inch heat-proof baking dish and set aside. Wash and dry the acorn squash and set on a cutting board. Knock off the stem. With a large,
sharp knife cut the squash in half from top to bottom. Scrape out the pulp and seeds and discard or use in soup stock. Set the halves on their bottoms. If they rock, turn them over and slice off a small piece to level them out. Turn the halves over again and check to be sure they are steady before proceeding to the next step.

Fill the selected pan with about 1 inch of water and stir in 1 tsp. kosher salt. Place the squash cut side down in the pan. Put the pan in the oven and bake just until the squash is tender, about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of your squash. Remove the pan from the oven.


Turn the squash cut side up. Sprinkle each cavity with a pinch of kosher salt, and put a tablespoon of butter in each half. Fill the cavities with equal amounts of maple syrup and apple cider to about ¼ inch from the top. Give a good grind of black pepper, and a scrape or two of nutmeg. If you don’t use fresh nutmeg, a pinch will do nicely. Put the squash back into the oven and bake until they are thoroughly cooked, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove the squash from the oven. Using two long-handled spoons with large bowls to transfer the squash to a platter being careful not to spill any of the liquid in the cavity. (Any water remaining in the pan can be used in soup stock.) Serve immediately and wait for the compliments.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

First, You Select A Pumpkin

Even though these instructions are on the long side, making pumpkin puree is quite simple. First you select a pumpkin! Certain pumpkins are grown specifically for eating, these are commonly called pie or sugar pumpkins. One variety in this category is the Connecticut Field Pumpkin. (Almost any pumpkin can be cooked and eaten, but the varieties grown for carving are not as sweet and the flesh tends to be stringy.) Select a pumpkin that feels heavier than you think it might for its size, with a three or four inch stem. The pumpkin shown in the picture weighed about 11 pounds and was 33 inches in diameter and 16 inches from stem to bottom. When cooked and processed, the pumpkin produced 5 cups of puree, enough to make 2 pumpkin pies.

Pumpkin Puree

Preheat the oven to 350. Wash and dry the pumpkin. Select a large, very sharp knife. Set the pumpkin on a cutting board. Knock off the stem. Cut the pumpkin in half. When the pumpkin is completely cut through, separate the halves and lay them on their backs. Using a spoon scoop out the pulp and seeds. (To roast the seeds see my earlier post, “Sign of the Season.”)

Select one or two pans large enough to hold the pumpkin halves. Place the pumpkins halves in the pan(s) cut side down. Fill the pans about half way with water. Add 1 tsp. of kosher salt to each pan. Lift the pumpkins halves slightly—this allows the water to flow underneath the halves. Place the pans in the preheated oven.


Bake the pumpkin halves until the flesh is completely cooked, about 45 minutes. The skin will not be soft, but should give when touched, indicating that the flesh underneath is thoroughly cooked. Remove the pan(s) from the oven. When the halves have cooled sufficiently to handle, use two large long handled spatulas and remove them to a cutting board. Flip the halves onto their backs and let them rest while you prepare the colander. (The water can be saved and used in soup.)

Line a large colander with a paper towel, then with a triple layer of cheese cloth large enough to hang over the sides of the colander—about 6 inches all the way around. Set the colander over a bowl. Using a large metal kitchen spoon, scoop the flesh out of the pumpkin and into the colander. As the pulp cools, it will shed water into the bowl. Allow the pulp to drain for two hours.

When the pulp is cold and has drained for two hours, gather up the overhanging cheesecloth in one hand. Twist the gathered material and start squeezing. The goal is to squeeze as much moisture as possible from the pulp. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of juice that streams from the pulp. Squeeze the pulp until the volume is reduced by half. The pulp should be shiny and thick. When this has been accomplished, the pulp is ready to be pureed. The pumpkin juice has a lovely sweet flavor and can be reserved for use in soup.

The pulp is now ready to be pureed. Place the pulp in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the pulp until is smooth and thick—about 10 pulses. The pulp can be used immediately, frozen for future use, or stored in an air tight container for use in a day or two.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Mentor's Gift

I have been privileged to have several mentors who have changed the course of my life--one was my piano teacher Renee. A gifted pianist, Renee was also a fabulous cook who guarded her culinary knowledge very carefully. If I happened to be in her kitchen when she was cooking, Renee would share her culinary secrets, and I would be sworn to secrecy. I treasure the memory of those moments with my mentor and value the recipes she entrusted to me. Now that Renee has passed away, I can think of no greater way to honor her memory than to share what little I know of her culinary knowledge. This will be the first of several posts reflecting my cooking lessons with Renee.

In this recipe I used both Macouns and Empires for their flavor and texture. The red skin of the Empire’s imparts a lovely pink color to the finished sauce. During the winter when Macoun’s are more difficult to come by, I use only Empire’s. Soft apples must not be used in this recipe, as they will not hold their shape during cooking, and this sauce is intended to be slightly chunky.
Renee’s Applesauce
12 Empire apples
12 Macoun apples
1 piece of vanilla bean 2 to 3 inches long
Water


Select a two-quart pot with a lid and set aside. Quarter the apples. Using a paring knife cut out the cores. Do not peel the apples. Place the cored apple quarters into the pot. Add the piece of vanilla bean and two inches of water. Place the pot on a large burner and cover. Turn the burner to high. When the water boils, turn the heat to medium-low and simmer just until the apples are tender and the peels are separating from the quarters. Add a little more water if necessary to prevent scorching.

When the apples are done, remove the pan from the stove and set it on the counter. After about 10 minutes, use a fork to fish out the peels. Do not remove the vanilla bean. When the sauce has cooled completely scrape it into a bowl, serve and enjoy!

Hold the Mayo?

Years ago when I was working in kitchens my arm muscles were very well developed. This was before food processors and other appliances of convenience--sauces and emulsified mixtures like mayonnaise were made using whips and whisks and tons of arm strength. Mayonnaise took forever! Of course, it was always worth it, but it was a time consuming and tiring process.

Although most people rely on the easy availability of store bought commercial mayonnaise, where sugar is generally the third or fourth ingredient, I find this product lacking. The flavor, texture and consistency leave a great deal to be desired and the nutritional values are less than satisfactory. And, to be honest it falls into my scary food category. Fresh mayonnaise has such a wonderfully subtle flavor and, thanks to kitchen appliances like food processors and blenders, mayonnaise is now easy to make.

This recipe makes about a cup and it will keep nicely in the coldest part of your refrigerator for about two weeks. Experiment with different vinegars. White wine or red wine vinegar is what I normally use due to the mild flavor it imparts. You can also use fresh lemon juice. Balsamic vinegar turns the mayo a light brown, but gives a very nice flavor for pasta salads and salad dressings. As for the oil--I generally use olive oil, but other oils can be used successfully—canola, vegetable, corn.

My appliance of choice is the food processor. The feed tube pusher has a small hole in its bottom especially designed to allow the oil to fall into the work bowl in a thin stream at the proper rate of speed. If you use a blender, you will have to drizzle the oil into the container very slowly through the opening in the lid with the blade spinning.

Mayonnaise

1 egg

1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

¼ tsp. salt

Pepper

1-1/4 c. olive oil

Set the food processor onto the counter top. Make sure it is level and won’t rock, and insert the metal chopping blade. Crack the egg into the work bowl. Add the vinegar, salt and a good grind of pepper.

Set the lid onto the work bowl and lock it in place. Turn the food processor on and pour the oil into the feed tube pusher. The feed tube will not hold all the oil, so watch and add the remaining oil when the tube will hold it.

The oil in the pusher will fall into the work bowl at the proper rate of speed. About half way through this process, the mixture will begin to emulsify. Do not stop the processor until all the oil has dripped from the pusher tube and the mixture is thick and creamy. Turn off the processor, remove the lid and the metal blade. With a rubber spatula clean off the blade and scrape the mayonnaise from the work bowl into a glass jar. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Sign of the Season

Pumpkins are a sign of the season, and mean so many things in the culinary world, including pumpkin seeds. These tiny morsels of flavor are not difficult to process and are worth the small amount of effort required to separate them from their pumpkins. Pumpkin seeds not only taste good, they are good for you. High in manganese, magnesium, Vitamin K and other important minerals believed to have important health benefits when consumed in sufficient amounts. So, this year, don’t toss those pumpkins seeds! Harvest and eat them.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

You will need a pumpkin. The bigger the pumpkin the greater the seed yield. Using a very sharp knife, cut the top off the pumpkin. Once the top has been lifted off, scoop out the seeds and filaments onto a plate using a large spoon. Separate the seeds from the filaments, placing them in a colander. Carry the colander to the sink and thoroughly rinse the seeds. Set aside to

drain for about 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 325, and select a cookie sheet or baking pan large enough to hold the seeds spread out in a single layer. Pour the seeds onto the selected pan and spread them out. Sprinkle them with salt. Put the pan into the preheated oven. Bake for 5 minutes and then stir the seeds. Bake for another 5 minutes and stir again. When the seeds are dry and begin to color slightly remove the pan from the oven. Cool completely on a wire rack. Scrape the seeds into a bowl and eat.

A True Feeling For Corn

Many years ago a houseguest was in the kitchen helping to prepare dinner. Corn-on-the-cob was on the menu and had just come in from being shucked. When I turned around, the helper was at the sink filling a very large pot with water. When I asked her what she was doing, my helper told me that she was getting the pot ready to cook the corn. I think she was rather taken aback by my response, which was to tell her that no one with any feeling for corn ever boiled it in water! Well, then, she wanted to know, how else would you cook corn-on-the-cob? My response was to tell her story.

I grew up eating farm fresh corn cooked to perfection by my mother who had a true feeling for corn. We ate platters of perfectly cooked corn all summer long. My mother steamed her corn in milk bringing out its sweetness and tenderness. I thought every one cooked their corn like my mother, until I had the unfortunate experience of eating boiled corn-on-the-cob at a friend’s house--it was tough and tasteless, and truly terrible. I went home and told my mother about the bad corn. She replied by telling me that most people cooked their corn in this way. I was shocked!
Not long after I asked my mother why she cooked her corn differently from everyone else. Her response, “The water was for the cows, but there was plenty of milk. We needed to save the water for the cows. Our lives depended on the animals and their needs came first. This is how your grandmother cooked corn, and this is how she taught me to cook it.” And, it is how my mother taught me. Mother passed her feeling for corn onto me, and in turn, I to my daughter. In the summer, as soon as the corn starts coming in, we eat platters of perfectly cooked corn. And, with every bite I think of my mother and my Memere and am ever so grateful for their feeling for corn.
Memere’s Corn
Corn-on-the-cob
Water
Milk

Shuck the corn being sure to remove all the silk. Select a pot with a lid large enough to hold the corn. Put about ½ inch of water into the bottom of the pot, and place it on a large burner. Put the corn in the pot. Pour about 2 inches of milk into the pot. Cover. Turn the burner to high. Watch the pot carefully. When the milk begins to boil and envelop the corn in its bubbling steam, turn the heat down to medium-high. Reducing the heat also helps prevent burning. Continue watching to make sure the milky steam always covers the corn. You can adjust the lid a little to help keep the milk from bubbling over. Add more milk if necessary. Steam the corn for about 20 minutes or until the kernels are tender. Remove the corn to a platter and serve immediately.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

When September turns to October

The foliage is spectacular in its plumage, the days are shorter and the temperature is dropping. Jackets, hats and mittens are being retrieved from summer storage and the winter squash is arriving on the porch. We may have a few days of Indian Summer before the end of October, but winter is definitely on the horizon.

When September turns to October, we move from the ease of grilling and porch dining to the comfort foods of colder weather, eaten in the warmth of the kitchen. A favorite autumn dish is one I developed many years ago using Butternut or Acorn squash. When the Butternut squash comes in from the garden, this is one of the first dishes I make. With its unique flavors and spectacular presentation it very well suited for a special dinner party. For a vegetarian version, substitute falafel for the meatballs. The meatballs become gluten-free when oatmeal is substituted for the bread crumbs.
Maple-Glazed Butternut Squash Stuffed with Meatballs
4 small winter or acorn squash
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 egg
¼ c. bread crumbs
1/2 c. plain bread crumbs
1/4 c. finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp. fresh marjoram, finely chopped (1 tsp. dried) or 1 Tbsp fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dry)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 c. maple syrup (grade B)
1/2 c. apple cider
1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
olive oil
salt pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a 9 x13 heat proof baking dish by filling with a ½ inch of water, and adding the 1 tsp. of salt. Cut winter squash in half and remove seeds. Cut a small piece from back of squash so it sits flat when placed on its bottom. Place cut side down in water. Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until just tender.
While squash is baking prepare sauce. In a small saucepan mix together garlic, maple syrup, cider, pepper flakes, and mustard. Bring just to a boil and reduce heat and simmer until the sauce is reduced by half. Do not allow the sauce to come to a full rolling boil, as maple syrup when it boils makes a huge, sticky mess.

Prepare the meatballs. Mix the hamburger with chopped onion, ¼ c. bread crumbs, egg, and marjoram or thyme. Divide the mixture evenly into four portions. Shape each portion into a meatball. Measure the ½ cup of bread crumbs into a saucer or shallow dish. Roll meatballs in the bread crumbs coating evenly. Place a skillet on the stove over medium heat. Pour in about 2 Tbsp. olive oil. When heated, add the meatballs and brown evenly on all sides. Add more olive oil as needed. When the meatballs are done, remove them to a paper-towel covered plate and set aside.
When squash in baked to just tender, remove it from oven. Remove the squash from the pan. Drain water from pan. Replace squash in the pan, cut side up. Place a meatball in each cavity. Baste squash and meatballs with sauce. Return to oven. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the squash and meatballs have finished cooking, basting frequently with remaining sauce.

When the squash is cooked, remove the pan from the oven. Using two spatulas transfer the squash to a serving platter. A rice medley and a crisp cucumber salad make nice complimentary side dishes. Bon appetite!

Get Stuffed?

In September the cooler weather presents the perfect opportunity to make Baked Stuffed Zucchini. In the heat of August the idea of turning on the oven has absolutely no appeal. And, eating a full-blown hot meal has even less. So, when September rolls around, any remaining extra-large zucchini are stuffed and baked.
Stuffed zucchini is easy to make and extremely versatile. The ingredients used in the stuffing can be varied depending on what is on hand. Even better, it can be prepared ahead of time, stored in the refrigerator, and then popped into the oven in time for dinner, leaving you free to go for a hike or tend to flower beds.
Baked Stuffed Zucchini
1 over-sized zucchini (at least 10 inches long)
1 tomato, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small summer squash, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
½ c. peas (fresh or frozen)
2 cloves garlic peeled and minced
2 tbsp. flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh marjoram or 1 tsp. dried
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Cut the zucchini in half length-wise. With a spoon scoop out the soft flesh and seeds, and set aside on the cutting board. If the hollowed out zucchinis rock when touched, flip them over and slice a small piece off their bottoms to help them sit level. Place them into a heat-proof baking pan large enough for them to sit side-by-side. Set aside.
Put a large frying pan on the stove and turn heat to medium. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Coarsely chop the reserved scooped out soft flesh and seeds and put them into the heated frying pan. Add the remaining vegetables. Stir to combine. Add the flat leaf parsley and marjoram. Saute the vegetables until they are crisp tender. Add a good grind of pepper and salt to taste. When the vegetables are cooked, remove the frying pan from the stove.

Spoon the filling into the zucchini dividing it evenly between the two halves. Top with the shredded cheddar cheese. Fill the pan with water about half way. Carefully place the pan into the preheated oven. Bake for approximately one hour or until the zucchini is tender and the cheese is golden brown. Using two spatulas transfer the stuffed zucchinis to a platter and serve. This dish is lovely served with Rice Pilaf and a mixed green salad.