16 March 2013

A Heartfelt Apology

To the Butts of our Dear Friends:

I hereby present an official apology to all of the Butts that have temporarily resided on our dining room chairs throughout the past decade.  The appallingly uncomfortable chairs were frugally purchased with our wedding money, and we if knew THEN how much sitting around our Butts and your Butts would be doing over the course of the next ten years, we would have chosen differently.  We were babies, young and inexperienced, and were not yet aware of the epic durations of time that Adult Butts spend sitting around at dining room tables.

Those chairs sucked.

Friends, I love your Butts, and I am deeply sorry. 

Not one word of complaint have we heard uttered from your mouths. Though one of you has fallen straight through the wicker, one of you suffered a complete frame collapse (you might have been pregnant at the time), and one of you has even peed on our chairs (you also maybe have been pregnant), none of you have ever mentioned that your Butt has been uncomfortable. Not even once did any of you casually suggest that we adjourn to the living room so that your Numb Butt could perhaps regain sensation. I thank you, Gracious Guests, for your tact.

You will be pleased to learn that in the space of a mere 24 hours, our three (barely) remaining chairs spontaneously disintegrated into minute, untraceable particles of dust.  That is not true. But they did become suddenly, completely un-sittable-upon by our Butts, and now they are gone.  While we waited for our new chairs to arrive, we sat on our children and we ate cake.  This delicious coconut cake. This magical, puffy cloud of coconut and sugar and butter.  I made one for you. 

Our new chairs have arrived. Also, I ate the cake that I made for you. But please come over. I will make another coconut cake. We will sit in our new chairs and eat it and our Butts will be happy together forever.

Magical Puffy (Yet Crunchy) Cloud Coconut Cake with a Smidge of Lemon
From America’s Test Kitchen (they just call it Coconut Cake)

I’ve been making this cake for almost 10 years. It’s true, just ask my Butt. 
If you like sweet, and you like coconut, it is perfect. The most recent time I made it, I tempered the sweetness with a thin layer of Meyer lemon marmalade in the very middle of the cake.  An unexpected taste – it was quite nice. I'll do it again. 

Toasting the coconut adds crunch and also keeps the cake from being too sweet.

1 large egg
5 large egg whites
3/4 cup cream of coconut
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract

2 1/4 cups cake flour (9 ounces)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, softened but still cool

8 ounces sweetened coconut (about 8 ounces)

Buttercream Frosting:
4 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch table salt
1 lb unsalted butter, each stick cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1/4 cup cream of coconut
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup Meyer lemon marmalade (optional)

1. For the Cake: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans with shortening and dust with flour.

2. Beat egg whites and whole egg in large measuring cup with fork to combine. Add cream of coconut, water, vanilla, and coconut extract and beat with fork until thoroughly combined.

3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on lowest speed to combine, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running on lowest speed, add butter 1 piece at a time, then beat until mixture resembles coarse meal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes.

4. With mixer still running, add 1 cup liquid. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 45 seconds. With mixer still running, add remaining 1 cup liquid in steady stream (this should take about 15 seconds). Stop mixer and scrape down bowl with rubber spatula, then beat at medium-high speed to combine, about 15 seconds. (Batter will be thick.).

5. Divide batter between cake pans and level with offset or rubber spatula. Bake until deep golden brown, cakes pull away from sides of pans, and toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes (rotate cakes after about 20 minutes). Do not turn off oven.

6. Cool in pans on wire racks about 10 minutes, then loosen cakes from sides of pans with paring knife, invert cakes onto racks and then re-invert; cool to room temperature.

7. While cakes are cooling, spread shredded coconut on rimmed baking sheet; toast in oven until shreds are a mix of golden brown and white, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times. Cool to room temperature.

8. For the Buttercream: Combine whites, sugar, and salt in bowl of standing mixer; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 1/2-inches of barely simmering water. Whisk constantly until mixture is opaque and warm to the touch and registers about 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes.

9. Transfer bowl to mixer and beat whites on high speed with whisk attachment until barely warm (about 80 degrees) and whites are glossy and sticky, about 7 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-high and beat in butter 1 piece at a time. Beat in cream of coconut and coconut and vanilla extracts. Stop mixer and scrape bottom and sides of bowl. Continue to beat at medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute.

Assembling the Cake:

1. With a long serrated knife, cut both cakes in half horizontally so that each cake forms two layers.

2. Put a dab of icing on a cardboard round cut just larger than the cake. Center one cake layer on the round.

3. Place a large blob of icing in the center of the layer and spread it to the edges with an icing spatula.

4. Hold the spatula at a 45-degree angle to the cake and drag it across the surface to level the icing. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with remaining cake layers. 
(Delicious but optional: After the second cake layer, and after a layer of frosting, spread a thin layer of marmalade.)

5. To ice the sides of the cake, scoop up a large dab of icing with the tip of the spatula and spread it on the sides with short side-to-side strokes.

6. Sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut. Then press the coconut into the sides, letting the excess fall back onto a baking sheet.

Only a little bit messy!

04 March 2013

Butternut Squash and Kale Strata with Multigrain Bread

“Hey Baby, you’re looking fine. 
Let’s make a casserole together.” 

Ok that’s obviously a joke, because squashes don’t have eyeballs. But you’ve got to give him some credit for the sweet pick-up line.

Admit it. If you were single, and a guy walked up to you at a bar and told you were hot and that he’d like to make a casserole with you, you might slap him in the face and tell him to stop being crude. And then you’d giggle with your friends all evening and make fun of Weird Casserole Guy sitting sadly on a stool reading on his phone about craft beers and the best kinds of flour to make pasta with.
But then on the way home, trudging (by yourself) through the snowy slush on a cold, winter night, you might think to yourself, gee, what if he wasn’t being gross? What if he really wanted to take me home and make a delicious casserole for me, just for me, and feed it to me all night long? 
THAT’S sexy. (And only a little bit weird.)
And then you might turn around and run back to the bar to find Sexy Casserole Guy, hoping with all of your heart that he has the ingredients in house to make you THIS exquisite butternut and kale strata.

I roasted some squash, wilted some kale, toasted some bread cubes, mixed everything together with a béchamel sauce, cracked some eggs into it, topped it with parmesan, and baked it. Easy (not really)! 

If ONLY it were easy. I'd make it every week if it was.  This meal dirtied about a hundred pots and pans (not really). Fortunately, the weather was horrendous (really), there was no where else I had to be for the eleven hours (not really) that it took me to put this together, and the results were well worth the labor. My family of four ate it happily (really) for two nights.
The moral of the story? Um, if a butternut squash with googly eyes hits on you, take him up on it. Because it might turn out well for you.  
Well, really, the moral of the story is, spend a few hours on this meal and you will not regret it. It really is special.

 Look at those colors! Orange! Green! Eggy color!

 (Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano is added during the last 10 minutes of baking.)

Butternut Squash and Kale Strata with Multigrain Bread
(Adaptions are in purple italics.)

2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
2 pounds butternut squash—peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, thinly sliced, plus 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
3/4 pound kale, ribs discarded and leaves chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream (I used half & half)
1/2 cup crème fraîche (I replaced this with 1/2 cup grated mozzarella)
1 teaspoon sugar
8 large eggs
One 3/4-pound multigrain baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces (Leave these out over night to make them stale; alternatively, toast them in the oven for a bit to dry them out. They’ll soak up more liquid this way.) 
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 

Preheat the oven to 425° and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 25 minutes, tossing once, until the squash is just tender. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the sliced onions, season with salt and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 25 minutes. Scrape the onions into a bowl. 

In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil until shimmering. Add the kale, garlic, crushed red pepper and 1 teaspoon of the thyme and season with salt. Cook over moderately high heat, tossing, until the kale is wilted and just tender, about 5 minutes. Scrape the kale into the bowl with the cooked onions. 

In a medium saucepan, melt the 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter. Add the chopped onion and the remaining 1 teaspoon of thyme and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until a light golden paste forms, 3 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup of the milk and cook, whisking, until very thick and no floury taste remains, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream (or half & half), crème fraîche (or mozzarella), mozzarella, sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk. Let the béchamel cool.

Beat the eggs into the cooled béchamel in the saucepan. Pour into a bowl, add the bread and the vegetables and mix well. Pour the strata mixture into the prepared baking dish and let stand for 30 minutes, pressing down the bread occasionally. (Ideally, weigh it down with bricks or cans so that the bread cubes can fully absorb the liquid. If you can press it overnight, while refrigerated, even better.)

Bake the strata for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until almost set. Increase the oven temperature to 475°. Sprinkle the Parmigiano on the strata and bake for about 10 minutes more, until the top is lightly browned. Let the strata stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Extreme close-up!

16 December 2012

Hot and Sour Rhubarb and Crispy Pork with Noodles

Photo on far left by Abbey Lewis

From Farm to Table (butcher’s table) 
to Table (my dining room table)
to My Mouth.

A few weeks ago, I bought a pig from Slagel Family Farms.  Not to love and cuddle, as one does, but to eat. (I still might cuddle with it, though.)

With the purchase came an invitation to view the butchering (not to be confused by its slaughtering, which is different).  Rob Levitt at The Butcher and the Larder provided this educational and enjoyable experience for us, and I highly recommend it to those who deem this sort of activity educational and enjoyable. Um, yes.  I would like to watch you cut apart this beautiful creature that died for my family.  Yes, I would like to be educated about its piggy meaty parts while I drink beer with my friends who also like piggy meaty parts.

So there’s my pig.  Well, there’s my half-pig.  And ok, only half of that half-pig is mine, since I split it with a pig-loving friend. Isn’t he handsome? Who, Rob? Well yes, but, the pig, isn’t he handsome? (Yes, he is a he; I asked. Rob obliged and dug around until he found out for me. Rob is the best.)

As the butcher deftly yet gently broke down our hog, wasting nothing except for some inedible glands, he taught us many things.  He taught us that if you’re doing it right, a saw is needed only for the bones, and everything else can be done with a $27 knife, as long it is very, very, very sharp.  He taught us that hogs are broken down differently in different countries. He showed us parts we hadn’t heard of before and suggested different ways to prepare certain cuts.  He taught us that your energy shouldn’t be spent sawing with the knife, but rather pulling the meat so tautly that the knife takes hardly any effort to separate the muscles from themselves. Easier said than done, and he sure made it look easy.

Lifting the skirt steak out of the hog.  What!? Pigs have a skirt steak? Who knew?
P.S. Although Nate looks grossed out, he's really, really not. I promise. 

I was amazed at how non-gruesome the evening was. Rob worked on a wooden butcher’s block, which looked so clean by the end of the night that I would have considered eating a cupcake off of it, had there been cupcakes. The butcher wore a white apron, and though he wiped his hands on it constantly, it was still remarkably white by the end of the night. The meat seemed smooth and dry, in contrast to the slimy pork I often bring home from the grocery store. Another difference? The smell. This pig actually smelled good - pleasant and sweet.  Nothing like the stench of some of those supermarket pigs. Stinky Pork, you and me are over. I have a new addiction.

That night at home, I dumped forty pounds of wrapped pork on my dining room table and stared at it for about an hour. Finally I calmed down (but only a little bit) and went to bed, visions of ham hocks still dancing through my head.  What would I make? Which cut would I cook first? Should I eat it all by myself, or share it? Should I cook it or just eat it raw?

Fast forward to a few days later, when during his Rhubarb episode, Jamie Oliver told me exactly what I would be doing with at least two pounds of my precious pork.  DID YOU KNOW THAT JAMIE OLIVER HAS A RHUBARB EPISODE? And that during that episode, he also prepares pork belly? Well, I didn't, and at that particular moment, suddenly nothing else in the world mattered. Not my unfinished lesson plans, not my children, not even my half-half-pig from Slagel Farms that I watched transformed into delicious piggy meaty parts. The only thing in this world that mattered was what Jamie Oliver was going to do to that rhubarb and pork belly right then and there. 

First, he made a marinade of rhubarb, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, red chiles, and honey.
(“I have sequestered frozen rhubarb,” I thought to myself. )

Then, he braised pork belly in that marinade.
(“I HAVE PORK BELLY!!!!!!!” I squealed to myself. )

Then, he crisped up the fork-tender belly in a frying pan, added noodles, the braising sauce, and fresh garnishes. He ate it. He filmed that. I watched it. I made it.  Then I ate it.

And I will make it again. And again.  Although I was looking forward to discovering new ways to prepare my Slagel Farms pork belly, I'm not sure I will ever need a different pork belly recipe again. It's  that good. The rhubarb gives it tangy smack, the chiles add perfect heat, and greens add fresh crunch.  But the pork is the star.  I'm hooked, Slagel Farms!

Hot and Sour Rhubarb and Crispy Pork with Noodles
~ from Jamie Oliver


• 1kg pork belly, the best quality you can afford, boned, rind removed, cut into 3–4cm cubes 
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 
• groundnut or vegetable oil 
• 375g medium egg noodles (or ramen, or chow mein noodles)
• 4 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced 
• 1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced 
• 2 punnets of interesting cresses (such as coriander, shiso or basil cress) 
• a bunch of fresh coriander 
• 2 limes 

for the marinade 
• 400g rhubarb 
• 4 tablespoons runny honey 
• 4 tablespoons soy sauce 
• 4 garlic cloves, peeled 
• 2 fresh red chillies, halved and deseeded 
• 1 heaped teaspoon five-spice 
• a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the pork pieces in a roasting tray and put to one side. Chuck all the marinade ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you have a smooth paste, then pour all this over the pork, adding a large wineglass of water. Mix it all up, then tightly cover the tray with tinfoil and place in the preheated oven for about an hour and 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender, but not colored.

Pick the pieces of sauce out of the pan and put to one side. The sauce left in the pan will be deliciously tasty and pretty much perfect. However, if you feel it needs to be thickened slightly, simmer on a gentle heat for a bit until reduced to the consistency of ketchup. Season nicely to taste, add a little extra soy sauce if need be, then remove from the heat and put to one side.

Put a pan of salted water on to boil. Get yourself a large pan or wok on the heat and pour in a good drizzle of groundnut or vegetable oil. Add your pieces of pork to the wok and fry for a few minutes until crisp and golden. (You might need to do this in two batches.) At the same time, drop your noodles into the boiling water and cook for a few minutes, then drain most of the water away. Divide the noodles into four warmed bowls immediately, while they’re still moist.

To finish, spoon over a good amount of rhubarb sauce. Divide your crispy pork top, and add a good sprinkling of spring onions, chilli, cresses and coriander. Serve with half a lime each – perfect.

More photos of the evening at The Butcher & Larder

 My friend's kid was totally into it. 
Halfway through, he wiggled over to me and asked if he would be able to eat some of this pig at my house, and when I said yes, he smiled and triumphantly informed his mother that he would be doing so. 

Mine. All mine.

 Scraps for sausage.

Wrapping it up. 
Q&A session with the butcher.

Thanks Rob! It was a wonderful evening.  And the meat is even better. 

07 August 2012

The Return of the Inconsolable Brussels Sprout!

Remember this guy? The last time I saw him was five years ago when he quietly slipped off my windowsill and disappeared from my life.  ‘Twas tragic, but no more than the time I cheerfully chopped up his friends from the farmers market and braised them into a creamy, velvety, delicious mess.  I totally get why he was mad.  But jumping out of a third-story window? Seriously, dude, you didn’t have to be so melodramatic.

Thoughts of the self-pitying sprout had crossed my mind during the past six years, but I truly never thought I would ever again cast my eyes upon his sorrowful face. One evening, however, he came hopping up the back stairs, a transformed sprout. All smiles and hugs, seemingly eager to rekindle our friendship.

I offered to take him out for a beer so we could catch up. Apparently his first few years were a blur. Lots of drinking, lots of partying, anything to escape the memory of my face and my pointy knife.  Eventually, he came to terms with his place in the food chain.  Poor little sprout.  To realize that those who detest you are actually your allies, as those who love you are only planning to chew you up and use your life force to propel their own.

Well, it turns out the smiles and hugs were just a show. After a few hours at the bar, he was a blubbering mess. Completely out of control!

He ended up calling me some nasty names, stomping off on his shiny little feet and going home with some lady that I occasionally see around the Goose Island Brewpub.

I heard nothing from him until a few weeks later when his all-too-recognizable shrieks suddenly pierced the tranquility of my afternoon. What now!? I looked up from my book and uttered a shriek of my own (albeit a few octaves lower than his) when I saw this:

Aaaaaaaaah! Well, my daughter does love her brussels sprouts.
I rescued the trembling sprout from my daughter’s clenched hands and hurried him out of the room. Unfortunately, in my shock, I had forgotten about the kale and brussels sprouts salad that was unapologetically displayed on the kitchen counter. I tried to cover  the sprout’s eyes, but it was too late.  At the sight of his shredded kin, his teeny weeny shrieks turned into teeny weeny sobs, and he practically lost his trimmings all over himself.

Oh, the saddest sprout!  His misery was palpable. I could almost taste him it.

I left the room to attend to my daughter’s distress (hell hath no fury like a four-year-old denied her brussels sprouts), but when I came back, the little guy was nowhere to be found.
I checked the cutting board.
I checked the garbage disposal.
I even checked the vinegar jars (brussels sprout pickles, anyone?).
He was nowhere.

Then, a little giggle.
A few more.
I ran to the source of the titters, and was overjoyed to find that sad sprout had indeed accepted his fate, joining his kind in a delicious kale and brussels sprouts salad.

I served the salad to guests that evening, secretly smiling to my little buddy as people ate the salad and raved about it.
The End.

Wait, what’s that I said? Something about guests raving about kale and brussels sprouts? And did I mention that they were RAW?  Raw brussels sprouts? Shut up.  It’s true. This salad is a completely unexpected and magical experience. The garlicky, mustardy dressing melts into the kale and tenderizes the leaves with its acidity. The almonds add a toasty crunch, and the salty pecorino fuels one's addiction to the salad. I can't decide if the dried cherries (an adaption from a different kale salad) add bursts of sweet tartness or tart sweetness, but whatever they do, I am completely enamored with this dish. I just want to  roll around in it and eat it and eat it and eat it eat it and eat it and eat it eat it and eat it eat itand eat it eat it and eat it eat it.

Kale & Brussels Sprouts Salad
~ adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2011

Note: To save time, I sometimes skip the step of toasting the almonds (the olive oil goes straight into the dressing instead of the skillet). But the toasted almonds sure are nice. Maybe I shouldn't have said anything about skipping that step.
Another note: The salad can be dressed ahead of time. The dressing actually marinates the kale leaves, making the salad better the second day. 
OK, one more note: Once, I added a touch of honey and red wine vinegar. It was delicious. 

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large bunches of Tuscan kale (about 1 1/2 pounds total), center stem discarded, leaves thinly sliced
12 ounces brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup almonds with skins, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup cherries or cranberries (this is my addition; I like it)
1 cup finely grated Pecorino (I also use Parmesan)

Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper in a small bowl. Stir to blend; set aside to let flavors meld. 
Cut the center stem out of the kale leaves and discard. Thinly slice them. (A food processor makes quick work of this. I highly recommend using one.).
Trim brussels sprouts and thinly shred them with a knife or a food processor.
Mix sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts in a large bowl.
Measure 1/2 cup oil into a cup. Spoon 1 tablespoon oil from cup into a small skillet; heat oil over medium-high heat. Add almonds to skillet and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to a paper towel–lined plate. Sprinkle almonds lightly with salt.
Slowly whisk remaining olive oil in cup into lemon-juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture; toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Garnish with almonds.

01 August 2012

Rhubarb Beer Jam

A Haiku About Beer in the Morning:

a lovely home brew
wait - it’s only six a.m.
cook it into jam and eat it for breakfast

Wait, what? That is not a haiku. 
Do you care? I don’t. What I do care about is the massive amount of rhubarb in my freezer, the extremely diminished space in my freezer for non-rhubarb items, and this gleaming growler of wheat beer that my buddy Dan brewed, and the fact that it is only six o'clock in the morning.
A refreshing home brew.  In a metal measuring cup.
Some of that brew will go straight into my mouth via a beer glass. And I will enjoy it immensely. But I will probably need to wait until at least noon. But I don’t want to. But I should. And I will. Because if I don’t, that would be weird. So instead, the tasty beverage will be combined with a few pounds of my sequestered rhubarb and simmered down into rhubarb beer jam, which no one thinks is weird…

Rhubarb beer jam was the first recipe that captured my attention in Paul Virant’s new book ‘The Preservation Kitchen.’

This book!  
Of all the specifically organized clusters of molecules that take up space in this universe, I believe this book might be one of the most beautiful. There is a slight chance that I slept with my arms wrapped around it on the first night I brought it home. Or maybe it was a bundle of rhubarb I was cuddling with…I can’t remember. My husband was definitely spooning the growler. Anyway, this book is gorgeous.  I can’t stop licking it looking at it.  

hello, canning book
i would like to lick you, k?
be cool, botulism.
Aw dang! When am I going to be smart enough to write a proper haiku? Well, lucky for you (but mostly lucky for me), I promise to spend less time honing my haiku-writing skills, and more time making tasty jams.
beautiful rhubarb, love of my life
This jam does not disappoint. On the first taste, the fruit announces itself in a burst of flavor.  But wait - push it to the sides of your mouth a bit, and you’ll quickly notice the yeasty tang of the wheat beer. There you go. Beer in the morning.
This is not just jam for the morningtime, however!  It will boost fancy cocktails, glaze your meats, and shine on a cheese plate.
Rhubarb Beer Jam (lower right), shining on a cheese plate.
Says Michelin-star chef Paul Virant: “This jam takes advantage of the two things that the Midwest has in abundance: beer and rhubarb. Pair a locally made wheat beer with rhubarb, which grows like a weed in some parts, and we have one heck of a regional jam.”
Well, Chef Virant, you will be pleased to know that I kicked that Midwestern party-in-my-mouth up a notch. I stirred some rhubarb beer jam into some stone-ground mustard and slathered it on a Paulina Meat's veal brat that was boiled in a local Chicago ale.  Then I fed it to that husband, who was also locally made here in the Midwest. I did not write a haiku about the experience, however, because that would have significantly diminished the Midwestern authenticity of that whoopensocker of a meal.

Rhubarb-Beer Jam
~ from The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy
Makes 7 half-pints.
3 pounds rhubarb, diced (about 9 cups)
3 cups wheat beer
1 ½ cups sugar
zest and juice of one lemon

1. In a wide, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-high heat, combine all the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight or up to 5 days.
2. Strain the mixture through a sieve and into a wide, heavy-bottomed pot (save the rhubarb for later). Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reaches 215°, about 12 minutes. Return the rhubarb to the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the jam lightly coats the back of a spoon and its temperature has returned to 215°, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. In a large pot of simmering water, sterilize seven ½-pint jars. Once the jam is finished, use tongs to remove the jars from the pot and set upside down on a kitchen towel to drain. Turn off the heat and soak the lids and bands in the hot water. Turn the jars upright and pour the jam through a funnel to fill each jar with jam up to ½ inch from the rim. Wipe the rims clean with a kitchen towel and seal with the lids. Screw on the bands until snug.
4. Place a canning rack into the pot of hot water and return to a boil. Use tongs to lower the jam-filled jars into the pot, making sure there is enough water to cover the jars by 1 inch. Boil the jars for 10 minutes and turn off the heat. Leave the jars in the hot water for 5 minutes, then use tongs to remove them. Cool completely before storing in a cool, dark, dry place.

13 June 2012

Transports of Delight: Spicy Pickled Carrots

Once upon a time, I needed a replacement for the word ‘elation.’ Instead of using my brain, or my husband, I used the thesaurus, and one of the listed  synonyms was ‘transports of delight.’
Transports of delight?
Has anyone heard of this before? I think it’s dumb. Also, I love it.

Lots of things give me the transports of delight. Like peppermint patties and pulled pork sandwiches, and when toddlers have dirty faces and then they cry and then their tears dry but leave those two clean streaks on both sides of their faces. I love that. And cake, too. Cake never fails to give me transports of delight. Except for red velvet cake, which gives me transports of stupid, and that gives me transports of sad, because plenty of people like red velvet cake, and that makes me think that there is something wrong with me, which gives me transports of worry.
Enough of this depressing talk. Let’s get back to what transports me to delight: these spicy pickled carrots. 

What? I’m posting about pickles? If you know me, you know that I hate pickles.  You know that if pickle juice runs into my hamburger bun, I screech. Loudly. Whoever burgers with me knows that he/she must be extremely vigilant so that he/she can pick the pickle right off my plate before the server sets it down and the picklejuicepuddle runs into my fries and I am transported to agony.

Please tolerate my abhorrence of pickles; in my defense, I do try them on a semi-annual basis to see if my taste buds have evolved.  They haven’t, sadly.
But even my stubborn palette could not prevent me from making these carrots when I saw the recipe in Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation. I knew this recipe would be different from traditional pickles. For one, the recipe calls for cider vinegar, which has a flavor with more depth than that of white vinegar.  Secondly, the mixture of pickling spices is very different from that of traditional pickles.  Thirdly, they’re carrots! Not pickles! I figured it was worth a try. If they were gross, I could always give them to someone I didn’t like. Heh heh.

But I wasn’t wrong. They weren’t gross. Thank goodness I made two pounds of them so I can get my transports of delight on whenever I please.  Oh my oh my oh my oh my.  So flavorful!  So vinegary! So spicy! And they keep getting spicier and spicier and spicier as the brine absorbs more heat from the chiles.

You really should try these.  I processed mine with a water bath canner, but don’t have transports of disappointment if you don’t own canning equipment!  Just store them in the fridge, where the vinegar will keep them tasty for at least a month.

As if these carrots weren’t delicious enough just eaten straight from the jar, they are even better when enjoyed alongside a grilled cheese sandwich.  Krissoff includes a recipe for a grilled fontina sandwich on sourdough. I followed her advice, and the pairing was divine. The creaminess of the hot cheese perfectly balanced the acidity of the carrots and made my mouth dance crazier than Robyn in a faux-fur half-shirt and leggings.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand. Even when your spicy pickled carrots are all gone, the joy they will bring you is not.  Do NOT dump the pickling brine down the drain!!! You can use it to add a tart, spicy note to vinaigrettes for salads and cole slaws.  You could add it to marinades. As for me, I am quite happy sneaking tiny, delicious, heartburn-inducing sips straight from the jar.

Spicy Carrot Pickles
~Recipe from Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff

2 lbs. carrots, trimmed and scrubbed

5 1/2 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
1 tablespoon pure kosher salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
3 bay leaves
8 dried hot chiles, stemmed
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 sprigs thyme
1 to 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 small white onion, thinly sliced lengthwise

Peel the carrots, if desired, and cut larger carrots into sticks no more than 1/2 inch thick.  Cut into 4-inch lengths to fit upright in pint jars. Set aside in a bowl of ice water.

Prepare for water bath canning: Wash the jars and keep them hot in the canning pot, and put the flat lids in a heatproof bowl.
In a wide, 6- to 8-quart preserving pan, combine the vinegar, 1 cup water, the salt, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook until just crisp-tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. Using a jar lifter, remove the hot jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a folded towel. Drain the water off the jar lids. 

Working quickly, divide the chiles, garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, and peppercorns among the jars.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the hot carrots to the jars (do not pack them too tightly) and fill in empty spaces loosely with slivers of onion.  Ladle the hot pickling liquid into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace at the top. Use a chopstick to remove air bubbles around the inside of each jar. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars, then put a flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so it’s just finger-tight.  Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch.  Bring to a boil, and boil for 15 minutes to process. Remove the jars to a a folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours.  After 1 hour, check that the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed, and the jar should be refrigerated immediately.  Label the sealed jars and store.

Pickling spices: hot chiles, garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, peppercorns.