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Pasta, not Croissants

Today, I am supposed to be posting about croissants for twd, but I have not had time to make them. Honestly. I keep thinking that next week will be less busy and it just never happens. Well, I have every intention of getting to the croissants. It’s just not going to happen today. Maybe tomorrow. We’re supposed to be getting a snowstorm, so I may have to declare a snow day and make croissants. Wouldn’t that be fun?

In the meantime, I give you a recipe for a very tasty pasta dish I have been making lately with my new favorite green leafy veg, escarole. Have you ever had escarole? It’s kind of like a sturdy lettuce. In fact, I once bought lettuce once, thinking it was escarole, but it was not. It’s actually a member of the endive family, and, when eaten raw, it does remind me of endive, with its mildly bitter flavor. However, when you cook escarole, it changes into a wonderfully sweet and crunchy vegetable, with no hint of bitterness whatsoever.

I’ve been using it in this pasta recipe, inspired by a recipe in Rustic Italian Food. This is an easy recipe that can be made in about 30 minutes. It is so tasty that I have to put the pasta pot in the kitchen so that I don’t end up eating all of it myself. Even then, it is tempting to just “have a tiny bit more” several times, until I have eaten way more than I intended. There is not enough escarole in the dish for my taste, but the rest of the family thinks it’s enough. I love how escarole keeps its crunch, even when it is cooked, and it becomes deliciously sweet, especially when paired with the carrots.

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Pasta with Escarole, Sausage, and Cannellini

1 pound mild italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped small
2 medium carrots, small dice
2-3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 cup white wine
1 head escarole, washed, spun, and chopped coarsely into 1 inch slices
1 14.5 ounce can white cannellini (kidney) beans, drained and rinsed
1 pound dry pasta shells, bowties, whatever shape you like
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

1. Remove the sausage from its casing and brown over medium heat in a 12 inch nonstick skillet. When it is mostly browned, add the onions and carrots and a sprinkling of salt. Sautee until the onions are softened, about 5-7 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the white wine, cover, and simmer over med-low heat for 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta for recommended time. Drain, reserving a cup of pasta liquid for finishing the dish. Return the pasta to the pot and let rest while finishing up the sauce.

4. When the wine is mostly gone, add the escarole to the pan and stir until wilted. Then, add the drained beans. Stir and cook everything over medium heat until everything is hot.

5. Pour the sausage mixture into the pot with the pasta. Toss in the cheese and mix gently until everything is evenly distributed. Add some pasta liquid if things are getting to sticky or stiff.

6. Serve with extra cheese on the side. Makes 6-8 servings, 10-12 if half your of your family/guests are children.

The Last of the Jams, maybe

The other day, I mentioned to the husband casually that I was running out of jars for canning. He gave me a look. A long one.

Then he said, “I thought you were canning less this year?”

“Weeeellll, yyeeeesss, I have, sort of.”

It is true, I have canned fewer jars of jam than last year, but I have more of some things. This year, in addition to jam, we also have plum sauce, peach bbq sauce, peach salsa, and applesauce. We also canned more peaches and pickles than last year. Overall, we have more food put up than we did last year, but we have less jam, ummm, maybe. I haven’t actually counted the jars.

Let’s just ignore the overflowing cabinets for a moment and talk about, surprise!, apples. You didn’t think I was going to skip making apple jammy goodness just because I already have a gazillion jars of jam, do you? No.

Just to make things interesting, though I did play around a little bit.

Firstly, I made apple-grape jelly.

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The boys love grape jelly, and I was able to find some organic “wine” grapes at Whole Foods one day, so I thought I would give jelly a try. I combined the grapes with apples to make it a) cheaper, b) easier to set, and c) use up some of our mountain of apples.

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Jelly is easy, but you do need a special setup. The first step is easy; just chop up the apples, get all the grapes off of the stem, toss them in a pot with a little apple juice or water, and boil until everything is soft.

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The next step is the crucial one. You need to buy a jelly bag and bag holder or, you can use several layers of cheesecloth in a strainer. Suspend the bag or strainer over a large bowl and scoop the hot, soft, cooked fruit into it.

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The only thing you have to remember is this: Do Not Ever Press Down on the fruit in the strainer. This could cause fruit bits to get through the cloth and then your jelly will be cloudy. I know this seems counter intuitive. After all, don’t you want as much juice as possible? Well, yes, but you have to let gravity and time do the work, not you.

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After about 24 hours, you have juice. In this case, I had about 3 cups of juice. Now, at this point, if your juice looks cloudy, even though you did not press down on the fruit in the cloth, it is ok. Jelly making is a little magical. Watch what happens next.

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I added 3 ounces of lemon juice and 16 ounces of sugar to the juice and set it over medium heat. As the sugar dissolves and the mixture gets hot, the juice turns clear. See?

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Ok, I know it’s a little hard to tell in this photo, but trust me, it was so clear that I could see the bottom of the pot. I told you it was magical. Anyway, the next part is easy. Boil the mixture until the setting point is reached. This basically means that if you put a few drops of the jelly on a frozen spoon or dish, it will gel up after a minute or two. You will be able to turn the plate or spoon vertically and the jelly will not move or it will move very slowly. If you push a finger through it, the surface will wrinkle. It took my jelly about 15 minutes to get to this point. I suggest checking every five minutes or so.

Then, you shut off the heat, skim all the foam off the surface, ladle into your prepared jars, and process. I got barely 3 half pint jars from this batch. I think the boys will be happy to have this in the pb&j sandwiches.

Wow, this turned out to be a longer post than I was expecting. I think I will have to tell you about my unconventional apple butter next time.

Recipe for Apple Jelly, a summary

Basically, I wrote all the directions in the post above, so I am just going to list the ingredients here for easy reference and give the basic skeleton of directions.

2 pounds wine grapes, or any other seeded grape will do. Someday, if I ever find organic concord grapes, I want to try those.
2 pounds apples, any variety, but tart ones and small ones will have more pectin and set more quickly
1 cup apple cider
1 pound sugar
3 ounces lemon juice, about 2 lemons

Special Equipment:

Jelly bag and frame or cheesecloth and a strainer
3-4 teaspoons or saucers placed in the freezer for testing
3-4 half pint jam jars with lids and seals, sterilized and ready for processing

Directions:

1. Wash, chop, and cook fruit with a little juice.

2. Strain juice through the jelly bag for 24 hours.

3. Place spoons or saucers in the freezer, prep jars for canning.

4. Boil juice with sugar and lemon juice until setting point is reached.

5. Divide jelly among jars and process.

6. Store jam and try not to eat it all at once.

makes about 3 half pint jars of jam that will keep for a year

Next: Apple Butter, revised.

Blood Orange

I know it is not really the height of citrus season. I’ve still got almost 4 half bushel baskets to get through and I am running all over town looking for those purple Italian prune plums. I saw them once at Costco a few weeks ago but did not buy them because I felt too busy, and now I can’t find them anywhere! Argh! So, when I saw blood oranges at the store, I bought some, not really caring that it is not citrus season here yet and they had to be shipped from Australia. What’s the lesson here? Get it while you can, maybe? Hmm…

Funny, I don’t think I have ever actually eaten a blood orange, or at least, I don’t remember doing so. In any case, when I bought them, I had some ideas of making a cool colored blood orange apple jelly thing, but instead, I made marmalade. I was very excited after all the ingredients were prepped and the fruit started cooking. It looked really cool with the flecks of deep dark red scattered among the orange pieces.

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It took longer than I anticipated to cook down to the right consistency (about 45 minutes), but it was worth it. The final color of the marmalade was more of a burnt orange, but I think you can still see some flecks of darker color. It is a milder tasting marmalade than the last batch I made a couple of years ago, but really tasty. We are really looking forward to eating this in the middle of winter!

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Don’t wait too long to make your own! Here’s a recipe to help you along.

Blood Orange Marmalade with Grand Marnier

2 lbs blood oranges (about 4)
1.5 lbs valencia oranges (about 3)
3 eureka lemons (not meyer)
Grated zest of 5 more lemons
3 lbs granulated sugar
4 Tblsp Grand Marnier

Put a few saucers or spoons in the freezer to test for doneness later. Prepare your jars for canning using your favorite method.

Peel all the oranges and lemons with a vegetable peeler, leaving behind as much of the white pith behind as possible. Slice the peel thinly and throw it into your preserving pan. Add the extra grated lemon zest.

Slice off each end of the oranges and lemons and cut off the pith, leaving behind the juicy inside with its membranes intact. Discard all the pith.

Slice the fruit and membranes crosswise into 1/4 inch slices and the cut each slice into quarters. Throw away any seeds you encounter along the way. Transfer the fruit to the pan, along with the juices and 1 cup of water.

Stir in all the sugar into the pan with the fruit and heat over med-high heat until the sugar is dissolved. Using a potato masher, mash all the fruit in the pan to release as much of the juices from the pieces as possible. Continue heating until it is bubbling merrily. Fish out any seeds and discard as they float to the top. At first, it will look like this.

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Unlike other jams, marmalades behave a little differently while cooking, at least for me they do. Usually, there is a lot of foaming at the beginning of boiling, but in the case of marmalade, it boils like water for awhile first (picture above), and then it starts to foam like crazy (picture below). It is important to be at the stove to stir and use a big pan! If you think it might boil over, turn off the heat and let the foam settle down for a minute. Then, turn the heat back on to a lower setting than you were using before.

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After 30-45 minutes, the mixture should have reduced considerably. Check for doneness by dribbling a few drops onto your frozen saucer or spoon. You will know that the marmalade is ready if, after a minute, you can turn the spoon or saucer vertically and it does not move.

Turn off the heat and stir in the grand marnier. This is optional, but really tasty. Ladle into your jars, seal, and process for 15 minutes.

Makes about 7 cups.

I Dream of Ice Cream

Everyone loves ice cream.  Don’t you?  I have never met anyone who doesn’t.  I know I love ice cream, but, sadly, I have not really been able to eat it for about 15 years.  I fall into the lactose intolerant camp and, though I can eat tiny amounts of dairy, I can never indulge in a full serving, even with lactaid.   Usually, I am content with this.  In general, I think it saves me a lot of calories, but when summertime comes and all I can have is sorbet, I get a little sad.  I do love sorbet and it is great when you want some refreshment on a hot day, but sometimes I just really Crave Good Old Fashioned Ice Cream!

Well, enough of my whining.  Even though I can’t eat it, I made this week’s FFwD recipe for Olive Oil Ice Cream, anyway.  I made it for the boys.

The ice cream base was easy to put together.  Instead of using vanilla extract, I decided to use half of a vanilla bean.  I love those little black flecks.  They make me feel fancy.

I did worry that I had heated it up too much.  The recipe says to not let it go above 180 and mine was definitely over 180 when I checked, but I forged ahead.

We always have a great time making ice cream.  Our ice cream maker is kind of an old model.  It’s not the really old kind where you have to get the rock salt, but it’s also not electric.  We have the freezer bowl thingy that most electric ones come with, but we have to turn the paddle ourselves.  It’s fun and easy and great entertainment to watch it freeze right before your very eyes.  Plus, we can hear ourselves talk.

It froze beautifully and had a wonderfully silky texture.  It’s been a while since I did an ice cream base with egg yolks, so I forgot how lovely they feel on the tongue.  The olive oil is subtle and is more of an aftertaste, I thought.  The boys declared it the best ice cream they had ever had.  I had just a tiny bit and had to agree that it was really good.

The silky texture of the ice cream caused me to wonder if this technique would taste good in a dairy free version?  Hmm…

Since I do not like being left out of the ice cream party, I went back into the kitchen and made up a dairy free version, sort of.  I meant to make the same flavor to compare, but you know, something happened on the way and I got a little sidetracked.  Instead of a dairy free olive oil ice cream, I ended up with a dairy free caramel sea salt ice cream.  Yum!

The easiest way to make a small amount of caramel:  Just throw some sugar in a pot.

Heat it up over medium heat until it begins to melt.

Once most of it is melted and it is beginning to turn amber, begin stirring with a heatproof spatula.  Stir until it is caramel colored.  Do not step away from the pan here!  I will eat burnt caramel because I don’t mind it, but some people do, so it’s worth it to watch it carefully.

Pour your liquid in slowly from the side.  The caramel will turn hard, but them will melt into the milk as it heats up.

The rest of the ice cream pretty much followed the same steps as a regular custard ice cream, except I used a combination of coconut milk and my favorite soy milk creamer.  Oh, and I did not add olive oil at the end.  I added salted butter.  Ahem.  Just because I’m lactose intolerant doesn’t mean I have to deprive myself.

It froze softer than the olive oil ice cream, but scooped out quite well.  It was nice and smooth and had the same silky feeling.  The husband did not like the soy flavor so much, but I didn’t mind.  I thought it was delicious.  I love the slight saltiness with the caramel.  The youngest declared it to be the best ice cream EVER, better than the olive oil (yes, he had just given that honor to the olive oil, but he is, like me, a caramel lover).  Next time, I might try it with all coconut milk, but one can was all I had on hand.

Just for fun, we wondered what would happen if you just added some jam to yogurt and froze it like ice cream.  So, we tried it.  We mixed a cup of my homemade strawberry rhubarb jam with two cups of greek yogurt and threw it in the ice cream maker.  It froze really well in the machine, even though it was non fat yogurt.  Surprisingly, we thought it was not sweet enough, but this could be a function of the jam itself.  I have no photo of this one because it became rock hard after its overnight rest in the freezer, and I was too impatient to post to wait for it.

Now, I think we have enough frozen delights stocked up to keep us going for at least a few days.  It’s supposed to heat up here, so I think we’re going to need it.

Want a recipe so you don’t have to be left out of the party?  Here you go.

Caramel Sea Salt Coconut Soy Cream

2 ounces sugar

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon plain soy creamer

1 13.5 ounce can coconut milk (not the light kind)

1/2 vanilla bean, split, with the seeds scraped out

5 egg yolks

3 ounces dark brown sugar

1/2-1 tsp sea salt

3 Tablespoons salted butter

1.  Make the caramel:  Place sugar in a medium sized saucepan, preferably light colored.  Heat over medium heat until it begins to melt and color.  Stir with a heatproof spatula until all the sugar is melted and is an even caramel color.  Brown is too dark.  Somewhere between honey and iced tea is a good color. (See photo above)  Pour the soy milk carefully in the pot from the side.  It will bubble like mad and the caramel will turn hard.  Continue stirring over medium heat until the caramel has fully dissolved again.

2. Whisk egg yolks and brown sugar in a medium bowl until thick.

3.  Add the coconut milk and vanilla beans, with the pods into the caramel mixture.  Stir and bring to a simmer.  Have ready a medium bowl with a strainer set in it.

4.  Once the liquids are simmering, slowly add 1/2 cup of the hot liquid to the eggs WHILE you are whisking the eggs to temper them.  Once this is done, you can add the rest of the hot liquid in a steady stream while whisking.

5.  Pour all the mixture back into the pot and heat over medium heat, stirring the whole time with a spatula.  Heat until the mixture is a little thickened, about 180 degrees.

6.  Pour the contents of the pot through the strainer into the bowl, letting the liquid drip through.   Add the salt and butter and whisk until combined.  Chill thoroughly in the fridge or ice bath.  It should be less than 50 degrees, colder is better.  After it is chilled, taste and add more salt, if you want.  Cold things tend to need a little more salt.

7.  Freeze in your machine and enjoy!

Cramming and Smashing (with a recipe)

This is cram week for us.  This is the point in the school year where we (I) decide that we (I) have just had enough of school and decide to cram the rest of the year’s school work into a shorter than advised period of time.  We don’t do this for all subjects; just the ones that I feel can be hurried up and finished without losing the quality of instruction or work, not to mention my mind.  Lest you think I am some sort of evil schoolmaster, the boys have already finished several subjects and have been having some extra time in the day for a few weeks now.  So this week will be more work, yes, but really probably less than one of our typical full school days.  Then we’ll be done — yay!

The other thing I have been cramming on lately is my mitered cross blanket.  I finally got the border done after a 2 hour bind-off session that resulted in many spit splices and an edge of my seat finish.  It’s not easy to estimate how much yarn you’ll  need to bind off something that’s over 1100 stitches.  I ran out of yarn several times and had to call upon those little bits of balls that usually go in the trash or are saved for little mending projects.  It didn’t help that I decided to bind off with the yarn doubled.  Noro yarn is so uneven in its thickness that I thought doubling up the yarn would help make for a stronger edge and would be less likely to fray.

Here’s a little preview shot in its unblocked glory.  I still have a lot of ends to weave in as well.

After the bind off, I had about 2 yards of yarn left.  I started with 8 balls of Noro sock yarn, 5 Kureyon and 3 Silk Garden.  This certainly satisfies my desire not to have much leftover, but it sure is cutting it close.  Next time, I may not be so lucky, but I do like to live dangerously.

Once I was done cramming all that knitting into my life, I decided to do a little smashing so that I could cram something in my mouth to reward myself.

Have you heard of this new fad in cooking potatoes?  I’ve seen recipes for smashed potatoes showing up in cookbooks and recipe sites lately.  Yesterday, while looking at a 5lb bag of potatoes that have been sitting around in our house for a long time, I decided to try them.  The recipe kinda goes against the grain of how I normally cook.  Generally, I don’t go for recipes that have you cook something twice.  I mean, I cooked it the first time, why do I want to spend the time and energy to cook it again?

But, I was in the mood for something new, so after the husband trimmed all the eyes off the potatoes (I know, isn’t he great?), I boiled them in a big pot of water.  Then, I took them out and let them cool a bit.

Several glugs of olive oil and a hefty portion of the bacon fat leftover from brunch went into a sheet pan to mingle.  Then, I laid out all of the potatoes on the pan and smashed them.  I  used the bottom of an empty jar, but a flat bottom meat tenderizer would work as well or the side of a knife.  Since we had a lot of potatoes, they were a little crowded in the pan, but I put them in the oven anyway.

After about 20-25 minutes at 450 degrees (with the convection fan on) and one mid roast flip, the smashed potatoes were ready.

And, wow, they were delicious.  The uneven edges crisped up nicely, but they still had that lovely, creamy texture of boiled potatoes on the inside.  My youngest, who really does not care for potatoes in any form, declared it to be his favorite part of the meal.  And we would have to agree.  Especially if you dip the crunchy potatoes in grilled meat jus.

I know I’m supposed to be watching my waistline for the bathing suit season, but it was hard not to eat the whole pan of potatoes because you know that they won’t taste the same when they are reheated.  Sometimes, you just have to make sacrifices for good food.  And, it is cram week after all.

Oh?  Did you want a recipe?  Well, it’s more of a technique, really, but I’ll lay it out for you anyway.

Oven Roasted Smashed Potatoes

Small potatoes, 1-2 inches in diameter.  The amount doesn’t really matter.  We fit about 4.5 pounds of potatoes on a half sheet pan.  Wash and trim as many as you want to eat.  We used Yukon Gold, but reds would be good also.

2-4 tablespoons of olive oil

2-4 tablespoons of bacon fat, butter, duck fat, or more olive oil

Salt and pepper.

1.  Bring the potatoes  to a boil in a large pot of salted water (1 tablespoon of salt per 10 cups or so).  Boil for about 15 minutes or until just tender.  Do not overcook.  You want them to be soft enough to smash, but not mushy or they won’t keep their shape.

2.  Preheat your oven to 450 and turn on the convection fan, if you have one.  If you don’t, you may want to increase your oven temperature to 475.

3.  Line a half sheet pan with heavy duty foil (makes for easy clean up later, but you can skip this if you like to wash oily pans).  Place 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of bacon fat (or whatever other fat you are using) into the pan.  Slide into the oven to mingle for a few minutes.  Be sure to take it out after just a few minutes.  You don’t want your oil to smoke.  Spread the oil around so the whole bottom is oiled.

4.  When the potatoes are done boiling, drain them and let cool a few minutes until you can handle them.  Arrange them, evenly spaced apart, on the pan.

5.  Using something flat and heavy, like the bottom of a large jar, or even a small frying pan would work, smash the potatoes on the pan until  they are about half an inch thick or one cm.  Sprinke with salt and pepper.

6.  Roast for about 10 minutes or until just starting to brown.  Flip carefully using a spatula or tongs.  Add the remaining oil in the pan.  Don’t skimp on the oil.  You need it for the crispy crunchies!  A lot of it will stay in the pan when they are done, so don’t worry.  Sprinkle with some more salt and pepper.

7.  Roast for another 10 minutes or until they reach your desired coloring.  I like mine darker.  The husband likes his golden.  It’s a constant source of  contention between us.

8.  Use a slotted spatula to lift off each potato into a serving dish, leaving the excess oil behind.  Cram them in your mouth, preferably with some sort of meat jus.