Monday, September 28, 2009

My Kind of Preserve

If you're looking for a quick, easy way to hold onto the flavors of the season's best, consider the hooch. A lot flavors happen to be very alcohol soluble, so a bottle of vodka can make for the perfect preserve.
Our friend the concord grape works particularly well.
In a quart mason jar I simply muddled about two cups of grapes with three tablespoons of sugar (it acts as much as an abrasive to release the flavors of the grapes as a sweetener). Then fill the jar with vodka and pop it in the freezer. Easy as that.

Note: as you can see I couldn't wait to help myself to a little bit.

Other infused vodka suggestions:
Berries: They usually need a little lemon juice in addition to the sugar, but they produce great flavor and color.

Citrus: Lemons, Limes, Orange, clementine, etc. Crushed rind and all with sugar. Sometimes I'll even puree a small portion of it to release more of the bitter in the pith (the white part), very nice to offset the sweetness.

and my personal favorite,
Chili Peppers: namely the habanero/scotch bonnet.
Alcohol is perfect to harness the true fruitiness of chilis, and some of the heat too. Just one or two is good for a whole quart of booze, along with a tablespoon and a half of sugar. If you're not a fan of heat, you can monitor the progression and remove the chilis when the heat is to your liking.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fine design in the kitchen

Every once in a blue moon a simple product comes out that reminds that what we've been using all along kinda just sucked. In the last few years Oxo has introduced a few items in particular that make time in the kitchen a little easier.
1. The pepper mill:
The typical model: While it got the job done, it's list of flaws is not short. The adjustable feature, changed by rotating a knob, was rough and produced an uneven grind, and because you have to turn a pepper mill, the setting often changes during use. You never know when you need to fill it up and they are usually difficult load, due to a small hole. Finally, the pepper comes out of the bottom, leaving a ring of pepper wherever you set it down.
The Oxo model ($19.99): They literally turned the whole thing upside down, fixing all these problems. Fixed grind sizes that stay that way. Clear sides so you know when you need more pepper, and a large, easy to fill opening. To top it off, the pepper comes out of the top. Super simple fixes for a very superior tool.

2. The sink stopper.
The old model: You almost never think about it. It's the last thing you get to after a night of cooking at home. The wire mesh model is practically disposable, and it has to be. Food gets caught in the wire, which is very difficult to clean well. Wet food hanging out at the bottom of your sink is NOT a good thing. and the only real solution is to bang against the trash can in hope of dislodging the gunk. Even a cycle in the dishwasher may disinfect, but it doesn't really remove the the bits of food.
The Oxo model: ($7.99) Problem solved. It has a silicon strainer, that functions to prevent stuff from going down the drain, but it's so easy to clean. The strainer reverses for super easy cleaning. What's more is that the one in this picture is a little over two years old, and I don't expect to poop out anytime soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

How do I make a simple mushroom sauce?

As Fall is creeping up on us, and as temperatures start to cool down a bit, we might start looking for the heartier fare of colder times. I like to think of mushrooms as the "gateway ingredient", and now happens to be a great time to get your hands on some.

We're at the tail end of the chanterelle season, and slipping into porcini (which actually grow well around here) and even truffles if you've got the coin. But it seems like people shy away from funghi for a few reasons. 1) They have the reputation of being expensive. and 2) failed attempts to extract good flavor from the mushroom at hand.

Let's lay these concerns to rest. First, yes, mushroom can cost a pretty penny, but keep in mind that they are very lightweight in nature, and when prepared properly, a little bit will go a long way.

For making them tasty. It's really easy. We're gonna make a sauce that I put on pasta, but would be delicious over fish or meat as well.

Mushroom Sauce

6-8 oz Mushrooms of your choice, Single variety or mixed, sliced thinly.
2 Shallots, chopped finely <- the shallots should be about the size of golf balls, if they're huge, use less.
1 clove Garlic
1/4 cup Mushroom stock (any stock will do though)
1 tbsps White wine
2 tbsps Fresh thyme, chopped
Vegetable Oil and Butter for sauteing.

1. In a saute pan, heat equal part butter and oil over medium high heat. Saute the mushrooms until nicely browned.
2. Set aside the mushrooms and lower the heat to medium. In the same butter/oil mixture, sweat the shallots until translucent. Add the garlic and stir just long enough to extract the aroma.
3. Return the mushrooms the the pan and add the stock and wine. Simmer until the sauce thickens and finish with generous pat of butter (1/2 to 1 tablespoon) and the thyme.

When shopping for mushrooms, they should be firm and resilient to indentation. They should feel dry and smell earthy. Damp spots, mold, and funky (bad) smells are all no-no's. If you can pick individual peices out of a pile, keep in mind that the younger/smaller mushrooms, tend to last a little bit long, and maybe even taste a little bit better. To store them, a brown paper bag with a small hole torn is iedal. It regulates the moisture very well.

I'm starting with seven types, I like mix for a few reasons, you get little hints of all the different flavors, but the variety has the effect of balancing itself out. Also the cheaper mushrooms can compensate for the volume a little. This mix cost me under five dollars!

These mushrooms are as follows from top left: The common button mushroom, portobello, shitake,
bluefoot, chanterelle, cremini (which grows into a portobello) and a king oyster of roal trumpet.

I wipe all the mushrooms down with a damp paper towel to remove any grime. I'll also scoop the gills out of the portobello. The taste of the gills is fine but they can turn the whole mix black. Slicing them thinly is key to getting bang for your buck. It is the browning that really stands out in the end, So more surface area = more browning = yummier mushrooms. You may have noticed I didn't indicate the amount of oil and butter needed. It is because that will depend on the mushroom used. They have different absorption rates, so you'll have to use your own judgment. Just make sure there is enough fat present to brown well, if there isn't, the shrooms will simply burn.

In the simmering phase of this method, some of the browning will dissolve into the liquid, which is what we want, just don't fret if your mushrooms turn pale again.

To finish my pasta, I just drop in the noodles followed by an additional drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some grated parm.

I made "le stracci" for this dish, just cut squares of fresh pasta. One of my favorites, literally translated it means "rags".

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What do you do if you have more tomatoes than you can use up right away?

This is a question that plagues tomato growers every year, who inevitably end up with more tomatoes than they can eat.
The trick is to get to the tomato when it is at its peek. For this reason I usually keep a good rotation tomatoes coming and going.
However, when I have more tomatoes on the brink of disaster than I can eat, I'll usually whip up a quick simple sauce, (like the roasted one in the newsletter).
A sauce like this will last a few days in the fridge, or a few months in the freezer.

Here's another simple sauce that goes great with just about anything you can think of.

2 lbs. ripe tomaotes, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 cup onions, diced
1/2 cup carrot, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup wine (red or white)
handful of whole basil leaves.

1. In medium sauce pot, sweat the onions over medium heat until translucent. About 5 minutes.
2. Add the carrots and garlic and sweat a little further, don't allow the garlic to brown!
3. Once the veg is soft, add the tomatoes, wine and basil. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
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