Friday, December 26, 2008

Jam Thyme

One of the fun parts about traveling is being able to shop in local grocery stores. It is a little like an archaeological dig in real time......a true window into other lives and cultures. A friend of mine once said "remember to not shop like you have the car parked in the lot." Anything that passes by the cash register must be hauled back home par avion with all of your other baggage. could you possibly leave behind a treasure you dug from the the grocery shelf? Good thing the savory jams a friend pointed out to me came in small jars. Cherry jam with thyme, pear jam with cumin and fig jam with nuts were stacked on the shelf next to the cheese in the Monoprix, Paris' main grocery store. A new taste! Also, one that is simple to duplicate using good quality jam and adding your own spices. There is no need to start from scratch, since you will only use a small amount to accompany cheese. These jams really jazz up an otherwise simple cheese. Brie, goat cheese, or even sharp cheddar are enlivened by the surprise of the herbs or nuts mixed with the sweetness of the jam. Serve alongside roasted meat or ham to make them really special. Use your imagination and availability of ingredients to create your own unique combinations. Any ideas?

Morello Cherry Thyme Jam

2 ounces Morello cherry jam or other cherry jam

1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves removed

In a small saucepan add the cherry jam and thyme leaves. Simmer covered for 10 minutes, then let cool to room temperature before using. Cover tightly and refrigerate to store.

Pear Jam With Cumin

2 ounces pear jam
1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

In a small saucepan add the pear jam and 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin. Cumin has a strong flavor, so just add according to your taste. Simmer covered for 10 minutes, then let cool to room temperature before using. Cover tightly and refrigerate to store.

Fig Jam With Nuts

2 ounces fig jam
2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans or walnuts

Stir fig jam and nuts together and serve. Cover tightly and refrigerate to store.

Raspberry and basil or apricot and rosemary are also flavorful combinations. Just experiment to create your own personal blend.

Written and photographed by Diane

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Spicy Nuts

I am just nuts about pecans. When offered a selection of mixed nuts I go straight to the pecans. Add a little butter, sweet and savory spices, and you have an irresistible combination. The following recipe has a delicate balance of cinnamon and sugar with the pepper and spice.....neither one competes with the other. Just like the perfect relationship they're a little sweet and spicy, and a little nutty. These can be enjoyed with a glass of brandy, served with a cheese plate or plucked straight from the cupboard to satisfy a sweet, salty, crunchy craving. At holiday time they make welcome bundles to give away. I have also tossed them into a salad of mesclun greens, with dried cranberries and fresh oranges. Very refreshing.

Spicy Pecans

1 lb. pecan halves
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground gin
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons water

Mix the cumin, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a small bowl. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans and stir to fully coat with the butter, stirring constantly. Add the spices, while constantly stirring to coat. Add the sugar, stirring until the sugar fully coats the nuts. Add the water while stirring. When the sugar is dissolved and starts to thicken, remove from heat and turn out onto a parchment lined sheet pan. After they are thoroughly cool, store in an airtight container.

For a strictly sweet pecan, these cinnamon sugared nuts are delightful with tea or coffee or as an addition to a cheese offering.

Cinnamon Sugared Pecans

4 cups pecan halves
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup water

Add pecans, sugar, cinnamon and water to a large skillet over medium heat. Stir constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and continue stirring until crisp. These must be stirred constantly and watched to make sure they do not burn or thicken too quickly. Turn out onto a parchment lined sheet pan and cool thoroughly. Store in an airtight container.

Written and photographed by Diane

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Am I Blue?

Often as an artist, a material will tell you what it wants to be. For me, food can be the same way. So when I bought a jar of blue poppy seeds in Paris and then a set of miniature loaf pans at home, I knew what I had to make. Small loaves of Lemon Poppy Seed Cake soon emerged from those Lilliputian loaf pans. Blue food is just plain fun. You really can't tell that the seeds are blue or gray in the pale yellow cake, but they looked so appealing in the jar on the store shelf. They give the subtlest crunch to this fresh, buttery cake. The little loaves are perfect to give away at holiday time, alongside a plate of homemade cookies. A lemony sugar syrup is drizzled over them as they cool from the oven to give them a more robust lemon flavor and longer shelf life. These are so tempting with their delicate texture and come hither taste, that shelf life will not be something you'll need to worry about.

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake

3 tablespoons milk
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

for the lemon syrup:
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven
to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl lightly combine the milk, eggs and vanilla. In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and half of the egg mixture. Mix on low speed until moistened and then on medium speed for 1 minute. Gradually add the rest of the egg mixture, while scraping down the sides, and beat for 1 more minute. Scape the batter into 6 greased and floured pans miniature 2x4 inch loaf pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and they are golden brown on top. You may also use a 4x8 loaf pan and bake for 55-65 minutes.

Make the lemon sugar syrup just before the cake comes out of the oven. Put the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and heat just until the sugar dissolves. After taking the cake out of the oven, poke it all over with a metal tester or thin skewer. Brush with half of the syrup. After slightly cooled, take out of pan and poke with skewer on the bottom and sides, and then brush with the rest of the syrup.Cool and wrap with plastic wrap and let sit overnight to fully absorb the syrup. Store for up to 4 days room temperature, 1 week refrigerated.

Written and photographed by Diane

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Welsh Farmhouse Chicken

I picked up a "Country Living" magazine on cool raw day in London recently and couldn't wait to try one of the recipes when I returned home. It was Welsh farmhouse inspired and called for partridges or other game from the local shoot. My Boston seaside town doesn't stock game, so I substituted chicken. Doesn't it all taste like chicken anyway?! The dish was accompanied by beet root and greens, and I added a cauliflower gratin to mine. The resulting meal was of the season and very satisfying. I envisioned a Welsh farmhouse with a chilly stone floor and simmering iron pot as the aroma of it cooking filled the fall air. The mixture of the red wine, onions, cinnamon and chicken will warm you to the bottom of your Wellies. Following is my adaptation.

Welsh Farmhouse Chicken

1 large chicken breast, split

2 tablespoons butter
24 baby onions, skinned
1 1/2 cups Shiraz red wine
1 short stick of cinnamon

2 cloves
1 teaspoon brown sugar
salt and pepper

Saute onions in the butter in a heavy large pot until golden. Add
the chicken and continue sa
uteing until it is lightly browned. Add the cloves, by inserting them into a couple of the onions, for easy removal. Then add the wine, cinnamon, brown sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer. Check after 30-40 minutes for doneness of the chicken. The sauce should reduce to a shiny, slightly thickened richness. Remove the cloves and serve with baked beetroot and beet leaves. Serves 4

Baked Beetroot and Beet Leaves with Yogurt and Lemon

3 beets with leaves
juice from 1/2 lemon
6 ounces Greek style yogurt or sour cream

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Trim leaves from beetroot, leaving a small tuft on the root. Reserve the leaves. Put the beets in a small casserole with a tight lid and bake 40-60 minutes until tender. Leave them in the casserole until cool and them slip them out of their skins. Grate thickly and mix with the yogurt or sour cream. Be mindful that beet juice stains fingers and clothes. Meanwhile, chop the beet greens and stalks into short lengths. Cook in a little salted water in a covered pan, for 5 minutes, until the leaves and stalks are tender. Drain in a colander and squeeze out any excess water. Toss the greens with lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve the greens and beetroot separately. Serves 4

Cauliflower Gratin

1/2 head cauliflower, broken into florets

1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup light cream or milk
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
pinch of grated nutmeg
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Steam cauliflower in the chicken broth in a medium pot
until tender, about 10 minutes. With an immersion blender, puree the cauliflower. Add the cheddar cheese, cream, pinch of grated nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Put the mixture into a gratin dish. Top with the finely grated Parmesan cheese and bake at 375 degrees until golden brown on top, about 20 minutes. Serves 4

Written and photographed by Diane

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Twist and Shout Pretzels

Everyone has their food traditions that evolve into comfort food. When my son was in elementary school, his class made soft yeast pretzels. They have all of the elements of food fun.....creative and expressive shapes.......warm and comforting, yeasty aroma and taste.......and exercising something else besides the mouth (except when you shout in joy!). We never deviate from the tried and true recipe, except maybe with the addition of a little salt in the dough. Make the dough one day and let it rest. Then shape, let it rise, bake and enjoy the second day.

Twist and Shout Pretzels

3/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 cups unsifted all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
coarse salt, for sprinkling on top
1/2 teaspoon salt

Day 1:
Pour warm water into a large mixing bowl, sprinkle in yeast and sugar. Stir until dissolved. Gradually mix in flour until the dough forms a ball and sticks to the spoon as you stir. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place dough in a plastic bag and refrigerate overnight. Day 2: Take dough out of plastic bag and put on lightly floured surface. Divide into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a long thin rope and form into pretzel shape or any shape you desire. This is the fun part! Place on a greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until about double in size.

Brush with
the beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse salt.
Bake in a preheated 450 degree oven
for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from baking sheet and place on wire rack to cool slightly before eating. You can dip into a favorite sauce or eat them right away, just the way they are.
Don't forget to shout with joy!

written and photographed by Diane

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