Damn Delicious

Cooking for two is boring -- I want to cook for the entire blogosphere!

Thursday, March 14

Concord Grape Jam in Nine Steps

This fall, we bought a house. With grape vines. Behold the bounty:
Now imagine about five more bowls like this and you'll get a sense of what we harvested in October. What to do with so many grapes? I'd made concord grape sorbet two years earlier, and it had sat in the freezer for months untouched. The easiest choice seemed jam.

I've never made jam before, but the internet seemed the best place to start. Reviewing other people's recipes, I came across one that didn't involve too many additives and seemed simple, though a relative "process" to complete. Step one, wash grapes and remove from stems. Step two, skip-skin each grape individually (!). Try not to turn your hands too purple. Step three, cook down the pulp. Step four, mash the cooked pulp through a fine-mesh strainer. Almost lose patience. Wish for less-fine-mesh strainer. Regain composure. Step five, cook strained mashed pulp together with skins and some water and a bunch of sugar. I also add a grated apple or two and some lemon juice. Cook cook cook. Cook until it's very thick and jammy. Step six, canning process. Step seven, try to scrub blue stain from cast iron Dutch oven and fail. Step eight, give jam away to everybody for Christmas. Step nine, eat homemade freakin delicious jam for the next year.

I made another version with added pectin and ginger that wasn't as good as this way.

I'd also recommend using grapes that aren't overly ripe; I think they lose pectin and texture and the resulting jam is a little musty, almost grainy.

Since it's spring now, I clipped back the vines the way they showed me on YouTube. Next year's crop should be a little bit less fruitful, but 12-foot grape vines won't be growing into my cherry tree, and the resulting grapes should be beautiful. And I already have a new recipe I want to try -- a play on lemon bars.

It's good to have a yard.

Saturday, January 19

Automat Mac n Cheese

A while back I was working for a cultural institution whose summer exhibit featured, among other things, the history of the Automat. The Automat is one of those things that makes you want to transport yourself back to 1925 so you can have a cup of coffee and a piece of pie and experience the place in all its chrome glory. Delicious food could be had behind little glass doors if only you had the proper number of nickles.

As close as I could get to 1925 was walking around the exhibit, where visitors could take home printed notecards with recipes from the original Horn and Hardart automat restaurant. (The recipes were actually taken from a 1950s newspaper advertisement for the Horn and Hardart brand frozen foods line - the idea was that you COULD make these dishes at home -- here's the recipe -- but why would you, when our frozen foods are so delicious? Thanks to the ad, we have a reasonable guess as to how to make original automat foods like baked beans and creamed spinach, albeit scaled down for the home cook.)

We decided to try one and chose the macaroni and cheese. Thanks to a friend in Vermont who brought smoked cheddar to us, this was probably one of the best mac 'n cheeses ever. I quite like the bits of tomato, too, which add a nice sweetness.

Baked macaroni and cheese from Horn & Hardart 

1/4 lb elbow macaroni
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
dash white pepper
dash red pepper
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tbsp light cream
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup canned tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp sugar

Cook macaroni according to directions on the package. Preheat oven to 400 deg.

Melt butter in the top of a double boiler. Blend flour, salt, and white and red pepper in gradually. When smooth, add milk and cream, stirring constantly. Cook for a few minutes until it thickens.
Add cheese and continue to heat until it melts and the sauce looks smooth. Remove from heat. Add cooked macaroni to the sauce. Add sugar to tomatoes and add to the sauce.

Pour mixture into a buttered baking dish and bake until the surface browns. Serves 2-4

Tuesday, January 15

Thanksgiving Pie

It’s been quite a long time and quite a few food adventures since I blogged last. We drank perfect mint juleps (and won the pool) at our friends’ Derby Day party, ate our share of Flathead summer cherries in Montana, and kinda-sorta fell in love with split peas. It’s been a good year.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share a few of the fun things we’ve eaten, made, and drank in 2012. Just to play a little catch-up. Then – I swear – my New Year’s resolution is to keep cooking and keep writing. We have a wonderful yard now, which is currently covered in snow but, come spring, I’d love to make into a garden. We could grow all the veggies we love to eat most – broccoli, chard, cucumbers, onions, peppers – and herbs to season everything and Chinese chives for dumplings. Then we can sit out there with a glass of Channing Daughters rose and watch the bees buzz around on Sunday afternoon, while a few steaks sizzle on the grill. Ah the daydreams of January…

In any case, here's the pie I made this Thanksgiving. It's apple cranberry. It's become my thing now. Pretty, right?

 More to come in the new year...

Thursday, September 6

Meals for the Invalid: Carrot-Orange Soup and Cream of Broccoli

If you read any old cookbooks, you're likely to find a section on how to feed the elderly, ill and infirm. Invalids, they used to call them. Often invalids needed special foods -- easy to digest and chew, but full of things that would keep one's strength up. Things like beef tea, toast, and that old standby, chicken soup.

A few months ago I had my wisdom teeth taken out, and I found myself wishing for a granny to dust off her old housewife's Bible. In pain, in a oxy haze, unable to chew anything at all, I needed the kind of food they don't tell you how to make anymore. You realize how much you take eating for granted when you can't chew. After a day of apple sauce, smoothies, and ice cream shakes (even cottage cheese curds proved too formidable for my poor, beleaguered mouth), I realized I needed to get some of those nourishing, strength-giving foods in me soon.

When you can't chew things properly, your choices are restricted to things that don't require much chewing. The best solution is to whir up hard-to-chew things until you've got something even an invalid can deal with.

Which is a long way to say: I made soup.

I really wanted soup that would be full of flavor and full of fiber and protein. I also didn't want to spend all day in the kitchen. I made two soups that were easy to prepare and kept well for the week. They should do well for you the next time you have four teeth yanked out of your mouth, or just feel like a soothing meal.

Carrot Orange Soup

This tastes like sunshine and feels like a soup that would get a four-year-old to love her vegetables. I made this even after I could chew again. It's also incredibly budget friendly if you make your own stock from leftover vegetable bits and ends you store up in your freezer.

Cream of Broccoli Soup

Fairly standard recipe, I go light on the cream. It's comforting and homey in the winter, but isn't out of place in the springtime either.

Recipes for both are in the Joy of Cooking and can be found here (use Cream of Cauliflower recipe for the broccoli soup, omitting the nutmeg and cooking the broccoli no more than 10 minutes, as few as 6, depending on age of the vegetable):

Friday, January 20

Blackberry Gin Cocktail

Blackberries. Sloe Gin. Anything else need to be said, really? This is sweet but sophisticated.

Blackberry Gin Cocktail

In a bowl, muddle a half-pint of blackberries with 1/2 cup superfine sugar. Whisk in 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice. Strain and discard seeds and blackberry mush.

To make the cocktail, fill a lo-ball glass with ice and add about two fingers Averell damson plum gin. Add half an ounce cognac and approximately 2 tablespoons raspberry puree. Top with seltzer.

Serves 4.

Sunday, January 15

Apple-Pear-Cranberry Coffee Cake

If you are like me, your fridge still contains half a bag of cranberries from Thanksgiving.

"Oh shoot, I should have frozen these. Don't they last only a month in the fridge? Oh well, they don't look so bad. [They are happily turning into Craisins.] I don't see any mold. Hmm, what can we do?"

You may also have bought a few very late season apples from the farmer's market that turned out to be more mealy than crisp, and perhaps you didn't get around to making that pear, blue cheese and walnut salad at Christmas, so you have a squishy, browning pear mingling with the celery in the crisper drawer.

"Hmm, I wonder if we put all together we can make something - I'm sure the texture won't matter once they're cooked." Rummaging in the cupboard and cookbooks ensues.

I'm sure by now you're thinking, "I am never eating at her house." Don't worry, I'm not some kind of crazy hoarder, and we do throw food out. But if it's salvageable, why not? One reason I love baking is you can turn something totally unappealing into something delicious - the magic of chemistry.

Here's a bundt coffee cake I made, with apple and pear in the filling and a cranberry swirl. It's very moist, with a strong taste of the fruit. It's a mix of several different recipes, mostly The Joy of Cooking mixed with a little Cook's Illustrated.

Apple-Pear-Cranberry Coffee Cake

1 apple and 1 pear (or 2 apples/2 pears)
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt (I used 1 cup yogurt, 1/4 cup sour cream)
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs

About 2 1/2 cups cranberries
3 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp lemon, lime or orange juice
pinch table salt
pinch ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

  • Have all ingredients at room temperature. Butter and flour a bundt or tube pan (don't skimp - this is a very moist cake). Pre-heat the oven to 350 deg.
  • Make the filling first: combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the cranberries begin to burst and the cornstarch has made the liquid jelled and glossy, about four minutes. Set aside to let cool.
  • Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  • Combine yogurt and vanilla in a small bowl.
  • Peel and chop apple and pear into 1/4 inch pieces and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter together until light colored, a few minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time.
  • Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the sour cream mixture. Stir until smooth, then fold in the apple and pear.
  • Scrape 1/3 of batter into the pan, then top with half of the filling. Add another third of batter and the rest of the filling, then top with remaining batter. Take a small spoon and dip it to the bottom of the pan, repeating five or six times around the pan, to marble the filling.
  • Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool for five to 10 minutes, then invert on a rack to cool (be sure to tap the pan all around to make the cake come loose). Cool before serving.

Thursday, July 28

Free-Form Plum and Apricot Tart

Question: How do you make fruit un-healthy?

Answer: Add two sticks of butter to it.

As much as I love reading Cooking Light and eating sensibly, there's something so satisfying about boatloads of butter. Somehow it feels a little bid badder to do it in summer, with so many fresh things around.

We signed up for a fruit CSA again this summer and came home this week with apricots and plums. They are tiny little things, and while I enjoyed one at lunch, they really begged to be cooked. More carnivorous chefs than me would probably make apricot chutney or jam to go over roast chicken. I can't help but indulge my sweet tooth.

I pulled together a free-form apricot and plum tart, one of those where you roll out the dough and fold it over the fruit, leaving the top open. I thought I'd be clever and cook the fruit down first. Bad idea. The filling became super soupy; meanwhile the butter crust started melting in the heat. Sigh.

In the end it was a lot more trouble than it was worth, and I wish I'd just saved the fruit compote to serve over vanilla ice cream. (Certainly more appealing than having the hot oven on for 45 minutes.)

Do you have a good recipe for a free-form tart? 'Cause I need one.