Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

In Which We Are Reminded That I Am Slow to Learn

Devorit: Well hello there.
BNA: ...Hey-lo.
D: Uh-oh.
B: What?
D: You've quite obviously done something you shouldn't have.
B: Look, the older sister spider-sense-of-troublemaking doesn't work over transcontinental phone lines.
D: Oh yeah? Then how do I know that you've been baking in humidity again?
B: ...Lucky guess.
D: Uh-huh. A little stubborn, are we?
B: I had the almond flour. It was calling my name.
D: I know that you're not going to tell me that you tried to make macaroons when you're in rain-forest conditions.
B: Maybe that spider sense doesn't work so well after all.
D: Oh BNA.
B: What? Ok, so I had to double the amount of almond flour. So what?
D: ...Verdict?
B: Excellent.
D: Carry on.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess

Makes about 30 cookies.

2 large egg whites
pinch of salt
3/4 c. sugar
zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp. top-quality vanilla extract
1 tsp. top-quality almond extract
1 1/3 c. ground almonds (sometimes labeled as almond flour)
confectioner's sugar for dusting (optional)

Whisk the egg whites and salt until they're stiff and dry. Gradually whisk in the sugar until you have a marshmallow kind of consistency, then add the zest and extracts. Mix in the ground almonds. Nigella says this will be "quite a hard paste."

Shape into small diamonds (if you can). Lay on parchment-paper-covered baking sheets and leave to dry out at least 15 hours.

Heat the oven to 250 and bake about 30 minutes, until pale and slightly cracked. Cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar if you like.

Freezes well.

* To get anywhere near a "hard paste," I had to add an extra cup of almond flour. They still tasted awesome, though.
* I skipped the powdered sugar because I forgot. Oh well.
* I found it extremely difficult to shape the dough into diamond or lozenge shapes. The dough just would not hold a form (see below). Eventually I gave up and, again, they tasted awesome.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

WCB #58 -- Well, He Does Have a Fur Coat

One move toward the air conditioning controls and I will KEEL YOU!

Clare's back! Visit her and Kiri and the other furballs for the WCB roundup.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Savory Side of Blueberries

So you've got a glut of blueberries -- lucky you! You could make a pie, or a buckle, or muffins. You could make Kitchenmage's blueberry habanero chutney (indeed, you should). Or, you can make this:

I may never go back to regular barbeque sauce again. This stuff is awesome on sandwiches, grilled veggies, bruschetta...would you look askance if I admitted I was thinking about how it would be on vanilla ice cream?

Blueberry Chipotle Barbeque Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light: Fresh and Easy

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

2 c. fresh blueberries
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
3 T. sugar
3 T. ketchup or adobo sauce from chipotle chiles
1-2 chipotle chiles
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Put everything into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about fifteen minutes, until it's slightly thick. Remove from heat and cool.

Puree the mixture in a blender until smooth. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

* I haven't tried it with both the chiles and the adobo sauce instead of the ketchup -- I imagine it would be quite spicy.
* I'm wondering how this would work with other berries...raspberries? Cherries?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

WCB #58 - This Is Why I Keep a Lint Roller in My Purses

Widget is a big fan of leather, I guess.

We're all hoping Clare and Kiri are doing okay...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

There's Always Room for Jello

...points for the relatively obscure Bill Murray reference. (Devorit -- you can't play.)

Of course this isn't actually Jello. I came home from the Greenmarket last weekend with a fistful of lemon verbena, which I had read about but never seen. The leaves are actually more leathery and tough than I had imagined -- don't you think "verbena" conjures up a rather more ethereal herb? But the scent is everything the leaves are not -- delicate, firmly lemony without being astringent, green underneath the edges.

My source for herbs I don't know anything about is always Jerry Traunfeld. As it happened that I'd also grabbed several pints of fresh raspberries, this recipe was an obvious choice. It's really a lovely summery dessert -- light without being over too quickly, refreshing and a little exotic.

Raspberries in Lemon Verbena Gel
Adapted from Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbal Kitchen

Serves 4-6.

2 1/2 c. water, divided
1/2 c. sugar
1 c. lightly packed lemon verbna leaves
2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1/3 c. fresh lemon juice
1 pint fresh raspberries

Heat 2 1/4 c. water with the sugar in a small saucepan. As soon as it boils, stir in the lemon verbena, cover the pan, and remove from heat. Steep at least ten minutes; I let mine go for thirty because, honestly, I forgot about it.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the remaining 1/4 c. water. Give it a few minutes to develop. Strain the verbena syrup and stir the gelatin into the still-warm syrup to dissolve. Cool to room temperature.

Stir in the lemon juice. Arrange the berries in 4-6 dessert gasses, then pour the gelatin over the berries and chil for several hours until set.

* Mine took 10 hours to set fully -- maybe I skimped on the gelatin without realizing it.
* The gel is soft and scoopable, not firm.
* The raspberries will color the gel as it sets.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Summertime . . . and the Jamming's Easy

How do you know summer’s finally, viscerally here? Well, in our house growing up, summer always announced its arrival with a signature scent -- a blend of suntan lotion and chlorine, barbequed pork chops and melting Big Stick popsicles, but most of all the smell of melting wax.

Summer also had a distinctive sound. We didn’t call good night to one another -- we would listen of the metallic *thunks* of plums hitting the roof of our old metal shed and holler, “Plum!” down the hall.

I have a feeling that in other parts of the country, the sights and smells of jam/jelly making and preserving aren’t so terribly rare . . . in Southern California in the 80s, though, we were the only kids we knew whose mother made jam. We pretty much still are, actually.

The apricot and plum trees dominated their end of the yard, which was a good thing most of the time. Except when they’d start giving off fruit too rapidly for us to keep up and we’d have to scrape up smooshed fruit guts to try to keep the flies, and the more distant, but also more scary, threat of rats, away. For a couple of years after we moved in, the trees responded so wildly (we think to actually being watered) that they exploded with fruit. I’m not kidding. Ex-plod-ed. You could hardly see that the tree had leaves for the dark purple and sunny orange fruit. Mom made batches and batches of jam, we ate bowlsful of fruit, and gave it away hand-over-fist, but we were still filling trash bag after trash bag of decaying, smooshed, and not-so-vaguely alcohol-scented rejects. Those were the summers of The Great Plum Capers -- we’d sling full bags of dead and dying fruit in the back of the van, and on our way to a movie or errands, zig clandestinely down back alleys in shopping centers, hurl the bags into their Dumpsters, and zoom away cackling at the illicit thrill.

Yeah, well, I was eight, BNA four; it seemed pretty darned exciting.

We still make jam, though just apricot now, since the plum tree died a tragic death a few years ago. (BNA is still in mourning.) Happily this year’s crop is making up for almost no fruit last year . . .

After sterilizing the jars and rings (dishwasher) and the flat lids, ladle, skimming spoon, and funnel (pot o’ boiling water), we follow the basic recipe found on the inserts in the pectin packages:

5 cups, trimmed, cut, and smooshed apricot pulp (a combo of nectar-like consistency and some larger chunks)
7 cups sugar
1 pkg pectin
¼ cup lemon juice
a dollop of butter/margarine to keep the foam down

Bring the pulp, pectin, lemon juice, and butter to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour in the sugar, bring back to a full boil, then stir for one minute longer at a full, rolling boil. Remove from heat.

Skim most of the foam (if any) off (we don’t make a project out of it), and then ladle the jam as quickly as possible into the clean jars.

Then it’s just a matter of wiping off any spills from the tops of the jars, pushing the lids on, and securing the rings, being careful, of course, to observe all proper care to keep things clean and sterile. The wax I mentioned earlier, is, of course, for sealing the jam safely into any non-canning jars we’ve culled over the previous year -- chutney sized jars are a great size.

Perhaps my favorite step is the last one: listening for the lids to ping sealed with a friendly little pop that is a cousin to the Snapple lid noise. A lovely, happy little sound.

As much fun as making it is, though, it’s even better when we get to pop the top off of a jar and spread it on toast. Bliss.

So is slathering it on boneless, skinless chicken breasts and baking them, covered, in a 325 degree oven for 30-35 minutes. Of late, I have been mixing the jam with about equal parts with bottled Filipino chili sauce, adjusting for taste depending on how spicy I’m feeling, and tossing that on top the chicken. Tasty. You can also spread the jam between butter cookies, thin it into a glaze for pork chops, or dollop it over ice cream and waffles.

WCB #57

In the spirit of the World Cup finals, Max has given up possession of my yoga bag and instead has moved into Dimples's soccer bag.

Game time! Over to the couch!

Clare and Kiri host weekend cat blogging -- be sure to stop by.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Sticky Afternoon

BNA: Hey-lo.
Devorit: Hi there.
B: So.
D: You sound...miffed.
B: A bit, verily.
D: At whom? Did Widget pull down another shelf?
B: No, we're fresh out of shelves.
D: So, what?
B: I made pastry dough.
D: You...know you're not supposed to do that.
B: I know.
D: You don't like working wtih pastry dough.
B: I know.
D: It makes you grumpy.
B: So it's been said.
D: And -- didn't you say it's raining in New York?
B: Yep.
D: So it was extra sticky.
B: Like paste. If paste were butter-scented.
D: You're so weird.
B: Tastes good, though.
D: Well thank goodness for that.

Raspberry Turnovers
adapted from an unknown cooking magazine

Makes 12 turnovers.

1 recipe buttery shortbread pastry (recipe follows)
4 tsp. sugar, plus more as needed
1 T. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon, preferably Ceylon
1/4 tsp. Penzeys Baking Spice or nutmeg
2 c. fresh red raspberries
1-2 T. skim milk

Buttery Shortbread Pastry

9 oz. (2 cups) all-purpose flour, preferably King Arthur
7 oz. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large egg, beaten
2 T. sugar
1 T. heavy cream, chilled
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. table salt

Combine everything in a food processor and pulse until the dough clumps together in large pieces. Turn it out onto the counter, gather together, and divide in half. Pat each half into a rough square, about an inch thick. Wrap the squares separately in plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes.

Line two baking sheets with parchment. On a lightly floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll out one square of dough into a 9x14 rectangle, or as close as you can get. Cut the dough into six four-inch-diameter rounds, re-rolling the dough if necessary for more surface area. Run a spatula under each circle to separate it from the counter.

In a large bowl, mix the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and Baking Spice or nutmeg together. Add the raspberries and toss to coat, very gently.

Put a heaping T. of berries (about three large berries) on one half of each dough circle. Squish them a bit, gently so you don't tear the dough. Dampen the edges with a little ater and then carefully fold the other side of the circle over the berries to form a half moon. Press the edges together with a fork. Transfer to baking sheet.

Repeat with the other half of the dough. When all the turnovers are made, chill them for at least 15 minutes while you hear the oven to 400.

Brush the turnovers with the milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.