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...