Monday, October 29, 2007

Breakfast Series Post # 2: Pumpkin-Molasses Muffins

These muffins are loosely based on a recipe for "Best Pumpkin Muffins" from the Vegan with a Vengeance cookbook. My recipe is not vegan but they could be easily re-veganized by using some soy milk as recommended in the original. The original version also uses white flour and a whopping 1-1/4 cups of sugar, a guaranteed morning calorie bomb, not to mention the sugar rush and crash that would leave you starving at 10 AM. Proof once again that just because a recipe is vegan does NOT mean that it is healthy! My version uses substantially less sugar, less oil, and whole wheat pastry flour, with the result that each muffin is only 181 calories and gives you 1 serving of whole grains. Thanks to the pastry flour and pumpkin pulp, the muffins stay tender and moist and the sunflower seeds add a nice crunch. They are fabulous for breakfast, especially toasted plain or with some apple or pumpkin butter.


Pumpkin-Molasses Muffins

Makes 1 dozen muffins at 181 calories each.

1-3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 tablespoon (yes, a tablespoon) of baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 cup canola or other mild vegetable oil

1-1/4 cup pumpkin pulp (if you use your own pumpkin be sure to blend it smooth before using)

3/8 cup brown sugar (not packed)

2 tablespoons dark molasses

1/2 cup organic 1% milk

1/4 cup dried cranberries*

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

*You can use all cranberries or raisins or substitute chopped dates or even a mix if you prefer. I used 1/8 cup raisins and 1/8 cup cranberries.

Procedure:

1. Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and spices, sunflower seeds and cranberries or other dried fruit.

2. Measure out the molasses, milk, oil and pumpkin pulp and stir into the dry ingredients until just mixed.


3. Fill muffin tins about 2/3 full and bake for 18-25 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Jammin' Jelly Exchange in the Pouring Rain

As I posted earlier, I am participating in Molly of Batter Splattered's Jammin' Jelly Exchange, where jam-makers the world over unite to ship each other samples of their creations for their mutual approval and enjoyment. Earlier this month Molly sent me the address for a lovely lady living in Victoria, British Colombia who does not have a blog, but apparently reads them and enjoys eating jam.

So last week I got the address in my email, snagged a small cardboard box from work, took out and packed a jar of Belizean Orange Marmalade and a little jar of my Apple-Ginger Chutney, and then proceeded to procrastinate about actually mailing the thing. My problem was, I told myself, that I couldn't get to the Post Office during normal working hours, and the UPS store closed too early! Excuses, excuses...but they lasted me until this past weekend, when being out of town for a wedding gave me another reason to not mail out the precious jam.

Here they are, all wrapped up and ready to go:


I was totally completely planning on mailing the jam this week. In fact, I was going to do it on Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. And I was really really going to do it on Thursday on my way down to class, but then I had a paper to finish and, well, you know how these things go.

So it was Friday and pouring rain when I realized that I absolutely HAD to mail the box today, or suffer the wrath of the Blogger Food Exchange Gods who loathe tardiness and procrastination. Either that, or wait until Monday, when the vicious cycle would start all over again. As it is, I had to walk past the UPS store to drop off a paper at the Anthropology Department, so I really didn't have any excuse. Except that it was cold, gray and pouring down rain. No cats and dogs here, just freezing, wet, heavy drops of precipitation that somehow managed to penetrate all defenses and leave one clammy and cold.

I put on my hiking boots, the ones that are supposed to be at least semi-water proof. I put on my hoodie and my sturdy double lined rain and general foul weather coat with fuzzy warm pockets. I stuck my paper in a ziplock bag and put the precious jam box in one plastic bag and then another, just for good luck. I grabbed the largest umbrella in the stand and ran out the door before I changed my mind.

Despite the raincoat, the waterproof boots and the umbrella, by the time I got home I was soaking wet. But the box of jam stayed dry long enough to make it to UPS, where one can only hope they will manage to deliver it safely to Canada. While filling out the customs form, I had to indicate the value of the contents of the box, and I promptly found myself in a quandary: How exactly does one calculate the value of homemade jam? How much should I be billing myself per hour for stirring pots of fruit and sugar? Isn't home made jelly one of those "priceless" items like you see in those VISA card advertisements? "Sugar, 1.29 a pound. Organic apples from your favorite farmers market, 2.59 a pound. Home made apple butter? Priceless."

I can't wait to see what priceless preserves show up in my mailbox!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Breakfast-My favorite meal of the day! Post # 1

I love carbs. The Atkins and South Beach diet crazes came and went and I sat there contentedly munching on homemade muffins and bread. I never did understand how bacon and eggs could ever be considered healthier breakfast options than a piece of multi-grain toast or an innocent apple. After all, we need carbohydrates like a car needs gas. Without complex carbohydrates running through our bodies, our brains don't function correctly and we get all cranky. I think Foamy the Squirrel says it more eloquently than I.

It is for these reasons that breakfast is my favorite meal, for it is at breakfast time that I really load up on whole grains, a great source of complex carbohydrates. They fill you up, they are delicious and you can make all kinds of yummy things with them. Add some fruit or veggies (more carbs!) and some lean protein and you are ready to go!

In the name of whole grains, I have decided to do a mini-series of posts celebrating breakfast. There will be many a recipe, I promise. In fact, if you actually came here looking for something to cook, just scroll down to the bottom of this post. But first, let me bore you with some needless back history. I was a lucky kid. Growing up on a farm, my family ate breakfast together (and lunch and dinner too). Because high cholesterol runs in the family, we didn't eat many eggs over easy, or chow down on crispy bacon. Instead, we normally consumed what I later discovered is a very European-style meal.

Most days we would start our day with toast cooked on the griddle on our wood stove (we didn't have a toaster because where would we have plugged it in?), served with jam, peanut butter and a big fruit salad. The fruit was from our farm and the bread and jam were homemade. You can't put a price on a breakfast like that. If we had beans left over, we would get re-fried beans with our toast. Leftover spaghetti from dinner meant spaghetti pancake the next morning, and oatmeal made a weekly appearance, often enhanced with some local bananas and cinnamon.

After 18 years of these hearty, heart healthy breakfasts I moved to Washington DC and promptly fell into the classic college trap of not eating that meal at all. Sleeping in until 9 and then running to my 9:30 class seemed vastly preferable to eating when I was staying up until 2 in the morning studying or hanging out with friends. Not surprisingly this was the same time I started gaining the famous "freshman 15". Ironically, eating breakfast can actually help you maintain a healthy weight, as Susan points out at Fat Free Vegan. At the time I was completely ignorant of the fact that breakfast may well be the most important meal of the day.

Luckily once I graduated from college I rediscovered the wonderful world of morning carb-loading. Grits, oatmeal, toast, bagels, muffins, pancakes and waffles...what a great way to start the day. Along with some fruit and yogurt, they form the backbone of my morning and keep me going at work. As I prepare to start graduate school full time in January you can bet I'm not falling back into that old no-breakfast trap. Breakfast is just too delicious to give up!

So I know you must be hungry for a recipe after my breakfast pep-rally. This one is perfect for St. Paddy's day morning-or any morning that you have some kale that needs to be eaten pronto slowly dying in your fridge. I know the combination of bananas and kale sounds strange, perhaps even disgusting, but don't knock it til you have tried it. The first sip you can taste the greenish flavour of kale, but from then on it's banana all the way. Delicious and so darn good for you! You will feel like superman (or woman) as you walk out the door. I speak from experience, as I had this for breakfast this morning. You don't need a multivitamin with this smoothie around! Plus, if you are like me and loved Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham book so much that you used green food coloring to make your own green eggs, than you will enjoy the lovely emerald color of this beverage.


Banana and Kale Smoothie

Serves 1, 290 calories with 3/4 cup of milk and the flax meal.

1 banana ( I like to peel and freeze mine the night before so the smoothie is thick like a milkshake)

1/2 to 3/4 cup 1% organic milk

1 tbsp flax meal (optional)

1 tsp maple syrup

1 cup chopped raw kale leaves (wash these thoroughly before chopping)

Procedure:

Wash and chop the kale leaves:


Then toss everything in your blender and blend until smooth.

I plan on trying this smoothie with a date blended in for sweetness instead of the maple syrup. The flax meal is entirely optional, or you can substitute wheat germ or even a tablespoon of oatmeal if you like. I'm not Irish in any way, shape or form, but doesn't that color just make you want to dance a jig?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

An Autumn Salad (1.0) and a Delicious Dijon Vinaigrette

Trying to eat with the seasons means no lettuce in December, no asparagus in August, no strawberries in February. It also means that instead of eating the exact same old boring lettuce, tomato and onion salad for 12 months of the year, I get an opportunity to come up with something more fall-appropriate as we move into the cooler months.

There is certainly plenty of material to work with-especially right now in early autumn, when it isn't even that cold yet (especially today-83 degrees is not typical, you hear that you green house gassing Humvee owners?). Late summer crops linger on while the first wave of apples, cabbages and winter-loving brassicas are just hitting the stands of the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market.

Coming up with this winter salad was a matter of looking at my kitchen counter and throwing together about half the fruits and vegetables lying around on it. Keep in mind: this salad was invented to be modified. Don't hesitate to make substitutions or changes-grab this recipe, drag it into your kitchen and let it know who's boss!

The Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette is an adaption of a dressing that I found in the Washington Post, and I find that it is delicious on just about everything. Try it on a hearty roast beef sandwich, on top of a bratwurst or some sauerkraut, brushed over a fish fillet or as a glaze on a chicken breast-it always tastes good!


Autumn Salad 1: Purple Cabbage, Carrots and Apple

This salad serves two as an ample side and one very hungry individual as a hearty main course (you may still have leftovers), but is only about 190 calories for the entire salad (without dressing). Plus it gives you 1 serving of fruit and 2 and 1/2 of vegetables!

1 cup shredded purple cabbage

1 small to medium sized apple, diced

1 medium carrot, shredded

1/4 to 1/3 cup minced onion (more if you like onion, less or none if you don't)

1 tablespoon sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons raisins

Juice of 1/2 lemon

About 1 cup spinach leaves, washed and dried (I have left these out plenty of times and the salad is still delicious, but if you must have something green in it, go with spinach. Lettuce just can't stand up to bold flavours of the cabbage, not to mention the mustard vinaigrette!)

Procedure:

1. Toss everything except raisins together in a large bowl with the lemon juice.

2. Mix the raisins together with about 1/4 cup of the mustard vinaigrette (see recipe below). Place them in the microwave and heat for about 25 seconds. Let them sit for 5-10 minutes until the raisins have plumped up. Pour over the salad, mix together and let sit for about 5 minutes for the flavours to meld. Serve. Don't try saving some of this salad for the next day-it is edible but nowhere near as good as the fresh version, despite being made of heartier ingredients than the highly perishable tomatoes and lettuce of summer.


Dijon Mustard and Olive Oil Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 cup, at approximately 535 calories for the entire recipe, or 34 calories per tablespoon.

1/4 cup good quality olive oil

1/4 cup Dijon or other pungent mustard

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons sugar (or to taste)

a large pinch of salt

Procedure:

Place the mustard in a small bowl. Pour the olive oil into the bowl in a slow stream while whisking to blend. Whisk in the vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and salt. You may add a dash of freshly ground black pepper if you like. Whisk until smooth, then give it a taste and add a bit more sugar if necessary. This makes about 1 cup of dressing which will keep quite well in the fridge. Make sure to bring it to room temperature before using-you may also pop it in the microwave for 10 or 15 seconds if you are in a hurry. If the olive oil has solidified, once the dressing has been brought to room temp you may want to whisk it again to mix everything together before serving.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A taste of India: Fish Curry from Goa

When I first saw this recipe on the Cumin and Coriander website I bookmarked it immediately. I love curry. I love seafood. And it was so simple I just couldn't see a way to talk myself out of trying it. So after it sat around in my recipe file for a while I finally got around to buying some fish (red snapper) and actually cooked, photographed and ate it last Thursday in the two hours between getting off work and going to class. That's just how quick and easy this recipe is. The only difficult part might be finding the tamarind paste-but I got some from my local Whole Foods, and you can find it online or at most Indian and Middle Eastern stores.

According to Stefanie of C&C, this curry is called Amotik or Ambotik and is usually made with shark. If you don't have any lying around your kitchen (I know I don't), another white fleshed, mild flavoured fish such as Tilapia or snapper can be used. You can also make it with shrimp or even squid. I'm going to see how catfish or cod work next time-the curry's flavour is pretty powerful, so a bland fish like cod might benefit from this dish. (I don't care what anyone says-cod is bland. Doesn't taste like a d**mn thing. Tofu of the sea, that's cod.)

One warning, however. If you don't like the taste of vinegar, if pickles turn you cold, sauerkraut makes you shudder and you run the other way at the sight of kim chee, you might not like this dish. That is because it contains quite a bit of vinegar (as befitting a hot and sour curry), which is absolutely essential to the character of the Amotik. On the other hand, if you are like me and love anything pickled or sour, you should definitely make this!

You can access the original recipe here: Amotik recipe on the Cumin and Coriander website, where you can also read all the great comments about the dish. And then you can scroll down and read mine.


Hot and Sour Goan Fish Curry: Amotik or Ambotik
(Courtesy of Cumin and Coriander)

Serves about 4 people. The entire recipe is only about 710 calories (with red snapper anyways), high in protein and low in fat. Enjoy!

I like my curries with lots of sauce so I doubled that part of the recipe. I recommend you try it with the amounts below-the sauce soaks into the rice and turns each grain into an experience all by itself. If it turns out to be more than you need you can always go with the original recipe next time.

For the Masala:

3 tsp chili powder (or more if you like it spicy)
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1/2 inch thumb of ginger, peeled
6 garlic cloves, peeled
8 tablespoons of vinegar (Stefanie doesn't say what kind of vinegar, so I used 4 tablespoons of white vinegar and 4 of red wine vinegar.)
Salt to taste

Everything else:

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced into thin slices crosswise
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil (Stefanie's version calls for 4 tablespoons, but it turned out fine with less oil, so I think I will stick with the lighter rendition. I used organic canola oil.)
About 3 1/2 cups water
About 1/2 to 2/3 pound or 4-500 grams of mild, white fleshed fish such as Tilapia, cut into 3 inch pieces
4 tsp tamarind paste
2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in a tablespoon or two of water

Procedure:

1. Salt the cut up fish and leave in a bowl for half an hour.


2. Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, blend together all the ingredients listed under "masala".

3. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onion until golden. (You can see I didn't wait that long...)

Pour on the masala mixture and cook for a couple more minutes, then add the water and bring to a boil.


Rinse the fish to remove the excess salt and place the pieces carefully into the curry, making sure each one has room to cook and is covered with liquid. Simmer for 5-7 minutes. Add salt to taste and the 4 teaspoons of tamarind paste and simmer for a few more minutes. Check a piece of fish for doneness (it should flake apart easily), and add more tamarind, vinegar or a touch of hot sauce if desired. Pour in the cornstarch mixture and carefully stir to combine until the curry thickens slightly.

4. Serve with brown Basmati rice.

Thanks to Stefanie of Cumin and Coriander for a wonderful recipe! I look forward to seeing some more postings of recipes from Goa.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A pumpkin and a samurai sword walk into a bar...



This past week I celebrated the arrival of October with a centerfold shot of a beautiful orange Cinderella pumpkin. Around these parts October is Halloween month, when drugstore and supermarket aisles overflow with explosively bright yet strangely unsubstantial specters of black and orange: plastic pumpkins, stuffed black cats from China, and enormous "family size" (extended family size apparently) sacks of candy corn. For a short time only, the strange and the macabre can be found in convenient and sturdy plastic form at any corner CVS or RiteAid pharmacy. And the glorified pumpkin, a holiday symbol more akin to the venerable Christmas tree than the tasty turkey, can be found piled in technicolour heaps at every supermarket, waiting to be carved into strange faces and then discarded after the 31st of the month.

By now you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with my pumpkin, which, as I noted in my previous post, was destined for greater and more delicious things than jackolantern-hood. Well, really I just wanted to share with you a secret to make the somewhat tedious job of dissecting a large pumpkin enjoyable. Employ my technique and not only will the task be completed quickly, you might even consider pumpkin cleaning prime time entertainment instead of a chore.

The trick is this: Don't take your massive cucurbit into the kitchen. Don't try to cut it apart with your little chef's knife, no matter how sharp it may be. Instead, find someone with a really sharp sword and set them lose on that mutant orange squash! That's what I did, and now have about 10 pounds of pumpkin pieces sitting in my fridge waiting to be transformed into dinner.

Now, I knew you would want pictures, so instead of kicking back on the couch and enjoying the show like everyone else, I played the earnest shutterbug just so all of you can see how much fun it is to chop your pumpkin up with a Japanese katana.

Enjoy!

The innocent pumpkin awaits its demise:

The executioner prepares to strike the fatal blow:

The deed is done: Kill Bill with a pumpkin anyone?


Now to cut the pumpkin into quarters:

Perfect! Time to get out the old roasting pan....

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Batter Splattered's Jammin' Jelly Exchange!

When Molly at Batter Splattered decided that it would be cool if all those food bloggers who make jams and jellies sent samples to each other, the Jammin' Jelly Exchange was born. And I was soooo in. Especially when I kept reading about the delicious jams and jellies that she was making with all those Alaskan berries that she picked all summer long. I'm hoping to get some of that current jelly to spread over my morning muffins.
Well now Molly needs our help folks! She is just one person short of the exact number needed so we can begin shipping ruby hued jellies and sticky jams across the country and around the globe. So for the love of jam and jelly, go to the Batter Splattered website and sign up! I have home made marmalade, apple butter and Belizean surinam jam waiting for some lucky person to get their hands on....home made preserves...if that isn't an incentive I don't know what is!

My Grandma's Bread Pudding

For a long time the only bread pudding I would eat was my Grandma's. I didn't like the dried out slabs that were served to me at restaurants-all I wanted was the cinnamony, soft, sweet pudding that my Grandma made for me every fall when we came to Pennsylvania to visit.

As we walked in the door at 11 at night, exhausted after a long day spent waiting in airports and on planes, she would immediately lead us to the kitchen, where the fridge would be bulging full of all our favorite desserts: red fruit jello for my brother, lemon sponge for my Dad, apple crisp for my Mom, and a big quart glass pan of bread pudding for me. Three bean salad, pepper cabbage, pork and sauerkraut or maybe potatoes and sausage would supplement the sweets table. It wasn't until we had "sat down for a little bite" that we would climb the narrow stairs to our beds, our stomachs reminding us with each step that we were definitely back in Pennsylvania Dutch country.

After she passed away I didn't eat bread pudding at all for some years, until one fall when I finally fetched the recipe, written on a 3 by 5 card, out of her little wooden recipe box and made it myself. I took that card with me to college and when I finally got my own apartment I would make it now and then, usually in the autumn, and hoard the dish away, eating one serving every day until it was gone.

During this time I finally came to accept that there were other styles of bread pudding out there that I could enjoy. A trip to New Orleans, where I sampled some liquored up cousins of my grandma's recipe, contributed to this change. Tea-totaler that she was, I doubt she would have approved, but they managed to sneak their way onto my short list of bread puddings that I would actually eat. But my grandma's is still my favorite. It is a great basic bread pudding recipe, which lends itself to experimentation. But promise me you will try the original before you go tossing in exotic ingredients like lemon zest and maple syrup.


My Grandma Laura's Bread Pudding

Using eggbeaters instead of eggs and about 5 slices of bread at roughly 160 calories a slice, this pudding is about 382 calories per cup. If you use richer bread, it will be higher. If you use a milk other than 1%, it will be higher. Basically this is a pretty rich dessert anyway you cut it, so just try not to eat it all at once.

1 quart ( 4 cups) milk (I use 1% milk, but if you want a richer pudding, you can even use half and half)

1/3 cup molasses (I use dark molasses but you can use light if you prefer. You could also substitute honey or maple syrup or agave syrup if you want to deviate from the original recipe)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp salt

1 tbsp butter

4 eggs (or one cup eggbeaters or egg whites)

3 cups dry bread cubes ( some kind of fluffy white bread will give you the lightest result, but feel free to experiment)

1/3 cup raisins (feel free to use more if you like-if you want to deviate from the original you can use other dried fruits or omit them)

Procedure:

1. In a medium saucepan, scald the milk, then stir in the molasses, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, salt and butter until blended. A whisk is good for this.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs or eggbeaters slightly. Gradually pour hot milk mixture over the eggs, whisking rapidly. Turn bread and raisins into a buttered 2 quart glass baking dish. Pour milk mixture over and let stand for 10-15 minutes. Stir, place dish in a pan of hot water, and bake in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven until knife comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. I decided to bake some of the pudding in two of my new ramekins-they were done in about 25-30 minutes. This one isn't burnt, it was just made with brown bread and blackstrap molasses:

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if you like. I like this pudding best cold or at room temperature. You can keep it in the fridge for at least a week and it just gets better tasting with time. I recently made the pudding with some left over molasses brown bread and added extra ginger to make it into a sort of gingerbread bread pudding, which is why it is so dark coloured in the photos you see here. Despite the changes, the original flavours still held strong, and every bite takes me back to a 1950s green linoleum lined kitchen presided over by my favorite chef. Thanks for the recipe Grandma!

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Apple of My Eye

The great thing about eating seasonally is that the shift from spring to summer and summer to fall is not just something you notice when the temperature starts to change-it's also what you eat. While heaps of late season peppers, tomatoes and eggplant still fill my local farmers market, the peaches I lived on all summer are nowhere to be found. The nectarines have disappeared. Plums no longer gleam like jewels on every table. Instead the stalwart apple has arrived, overflowing bins and buckets, rolling under tables and into street gutters and filling the bags of early morning shoppers.


There have got to be as many recipes for cooking apples as there are varieties of them. I lug home some of my favorites (York, Rome, Jonathon, Pink Lady) almost every Sunday from early fall through spring. I have been cooking apple-y dishes (Ok, fine, desserts) for weeks now.

An Apple Spice Yogurt Coffee Cake using Chocolate and Zucchini's ever-adaptable recipe.


A Sweet Potato and Apple Galette with apple butter glaze which has long since been devoured:

So yummy! I wish I had made some vanilla ice cream to go along with it...


But this week was special. This week, instead of buying apples from the market, I got to pick the suckers myself! On Saturday, after stuffing myself liberally with brunch, I hopped into a friend's mini-cooper convertible with Scottish flags on the side view mirrors and we zoomed off down rural roads under a very summery sun, bound for apple country.

We ended up at Homestead farm, where we took a sweaty hayride to find pumpkins and then refreshed ourselves with some cold cider before heading off into the apple orchards with bushel baskets and a map in hand. An hour or so later we somehow managed to cram ourselves, 4 enormous pumpkins, a 6 foot tall firefighter, assorted winter squash and 50 pounds of apples into the mini convertible and wended our merry way home.

It was only when I walked in the front door of the apartment that I realized exactly how much 20 pounds of apples is. I had eating apples, but most of the apples I had picked were the cooking kind. Visions of apple pie had plagued me for weeks. I was especially keen on trying out the sour cream apple pie from FXCuisine. But 20 pounds of apples makes an awful lot of pie and since I wasn't planning on opening a bakery, I had to figure out something else.

So I made apple chutney. I grew up with mango chutney, something that people make out of desperation in an attempt to deal with massive quantities of mangoes lying around, so I figured the same could be done with apples. A quick search landed me on the Epicurious website where I had a couple choices to choose from. I finally decided on an Apple Ginger Chutney that had gotten good reviews. I thought about doubling the recipe but then decided to stick with the original quantities in case it didn't turn out. Of course, I just had to make a few adjustments to the spices...so here is the recipe as I made it.


Apple Ginger Chutney

4 large Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped into small pieces

2 cups minced onion

1 red bell pepper, minced

1 cup golden raisins (I used regular raisins with no ill effect that I could see)

1 1/2 cups cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup minced peeled fresh ginger root

3/4 teaspoon dry ground mustard

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

About 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

1/2 jalapeƱo or other chili pepper, finely minced (optional, but the pepper flakes just didn't seem like enough spice for me)

3 clean pint glass jars with lids


Procedure:

1. As you can see, this recipe requires a lot of chopping and mincing, so make sure your knife is sharp and your wrist limber. Get out a pot, place the glass jars in it tops down, and put in the lids, then pour in several inches of water to cover the lids and the jar mouths. Put on medium high heat while you chop and mince your ingredients. Let the jars boil for at least 10 minutes to sterilize them before filling them with chutney.


2. Chop and mince everything in the list of ingredients. The original recipe calls for the apples to be peeled, but I just gave them a good washing instead.


3. Put all the ingredients including the vinegar and sugar in another large pot with a lid. Bring to a boil, then let cook on medium high until everything is soft and the syrup begins to thicken. I found that stirring it too often was a bad idea as a lot of the water evaporated off and I ended up with too little liquid. So I recommend you stir only occasionally and keep the lid on the pot until the chutney is ready. (Conversely, if you have too much liquid and its very watery looking, please ignore this advice and stir away).


4. Pour the hot chutney into your sterilized jars and seal. Let cool upside down. This recipe only made about 5 cups when I did it, although it is supposed to make 6. Maybe one of my apples was too small.

This stuff is spicy, sour and sweet: definitely chutney! Try it with some pork, or maybe roast beef for a nice sweet and sour accent to your meal. Remember-its a condiment, so don't overdo it or you will be sorry when all you can taste is chutney. Also, when cooking any kind of pickled item, the vinegar smell can sometimes overwhelm, so be prepared to open a window if necessary (or bake an apple pie afterwards to mask the smell). Although this didn't use up my 20 pounds of apples (the next day I made apple sauce and got rid of some more), it did utilize a few Granny Smiths and produced a different kind of apple product from the more typical pies, crisps and sauces that come out of my kitchen this time of year.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

To put you in the mood...


It may be 80 degrees outside, but the calendar says that fall is here, and so to get in the spirit of things I went apple picking today, and came home with 20 (yes, 20) pounds of apples, 3 end-of-season tomatoes that were on sale at the farm stand, and this cinderella pumpkin which I was assured would make a great pie. Well, it would probably make about 15 great pies, but I think maybe some pumpkin soup, curried pumpkin or kaddo bourani might be in order too. As for the 20 pounds of apples...well, you will just have to wait to read my next post and find out for yourselves!

Friday, October 5, 2007

My Mom's Bread


Over the years my mother developed a fail proof bread recipe that could be baked in a drafty, often unreliable, wood stove in the middle of "the jungle" (the technical term for that being, as my father would point out, "the tropical lowland hardwood forest"). And yes, the wood burning stove isn't really in the middle of the jungle-you have to walk about 15 minutes to reach uncultivated land-but then this story just wouldn't be as good if I stuck to the facts, now would it?

So where were we? That's right, intrepid frontiers-woman baking in the middle of the jungle on a faulty wood burning stove that is suffering salt damage to its outsides and so retains heat about as well as a sieve. Despite the grave challenges of trying to get our cookstove's oven up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, my mother made bread at least once a week pretty much the entire time we were growing up. Her recipe evolved over that time to the one you see here today. I particularly remember there being honey and oil involved in the version she used to make-both have been cut out in the recipe she emailed me last week, I can only assume in the interest of healthier eating. Because of this derth of fat, the bread dries out quite quickly. So eat it now, freeze it for later, or plan on toasting it so that the dryness is not a factor. Otherwise you can just add about 1/3 cup of your oil of choice to the recipe at step one, where you mix up the sponge. (This means you will probably need to add a bit more white flour to get it to kneading consistency, but don't worry, it won't mess up the recipe).

Everyone loves this bread. Guests always rave about it, and then reminisce about how good it was when they email later. What follows below is the verbatim transcript of her email, with my comments in italics. I made the bread yesterday, and it was as good as I remembered. Now I just need some mango jam...


My Mom's Bread


"My bread recipe follows, but I can't swear about the measurements because I don't measure all that carefully. The following amounts make two 9x5 loaves.

Combine 5 cups whole wheat flour with one cup oats, ½ cup cornmeal, ½ cup nonfat milk powder*, 1 ½ tsp dry yeast, ½ cup sesame seeds. Stir well then slowly stir in about 6 cups warm (110 F) water until the batter is smooth.
(Instead of the milk powder you can just use 4 and 1/2 cups water and 1 and 1/2 cups nonfat or lowfat milk. In Belize, sesame seeds are very cheap and you can buy them by the pound. Feel free to substitute sunflower seeds or any other type of seeds that you might prefer. You can also substitute bran cereal for the oats if you like.)

Cover and let develop in a warm place for at least 20 minutes, up to an hour. (The longer the sponge sits, the more the ingredients soften and the more tender the crumb will be.)

Stir down puffy sponge, Mix in about 1 tsp salt. (The salt should be added at this stage because it can inhibit yeast activity if you mix it in earlier.) Add white flour one cup at a time until the dough becomes stiff enough to knead by hand. (For me this was 5-6 cups of flour, but just keep adding til you can knead it.) Knead for ten minutes or so adding white flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.

Place kneaded dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm spot for about an hour or until doubled. Knead again for about one minute and place into greased loaf pans or shape free-form loaves. (You can also make some great rolls with this). Let loaves rise about 20 minutes (until doubled in size) and bake in 350-400 F oven for at least an hour. Check for doneness by thumping bottom of loaves (when they are cooked they sound hollow) and cool on a rack.

(Someone asked me to clarify how, exactly, you can thump on the bottom of a loaf of bread when it is still being cooked. If you have properly prepared your pan by greasing and flouring it, or if you have a good non-stick pan, you should be able to pull the loaf out of the oven and turn it right out into a mittened hand. Then tap on the bottom of the loaf with a bare finger. It should sound hollow. For free form loaves this is even easier to do. Obviously you don't want to start checking for doneness for at least 50 minutes after you have put the loaves in the oven. Rolls, on the other hand, take about half an hour, and it should be easy to see when they are ready to pull out.)

You might want to test drive this, Lyra, before you put in on your blog. As you know, the milk powder and sesame seeds are not essential. And other seeds, nuts, wheat germ, etc could be added. If the ingredients need to soften, they ought to be in the sponge."

As my mom points out, this is a very forgiving recipe, so feel free to mess around with it. You can use it as a base recipe, it is especially good for savory things, herb breads, etc, since it doesn't have any sweetener in it. After the first kneading you can leave it in the fridge tightly wrapped for a couple days if you don't want to bake it right away. I brushed my loaves with eggbeaters (or use a regular egg) mixed with water to give the crust that nice shine that you see in the photos.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

It's Addictive, It's Dangerous, It's...Grape Focaccia!

I know what some of you are thinking-you're thinking, "Grapes on focaccia? With rosemary? I'll just use those cherry tomatoes going bad on my counter instead, that will taste better." But you would be wrong, my friends, because not only do grapes and fresh rosemary go together, in this bread the sweetness of the grapes, and the spicy fragrance of the rosemary blend to create something unique and fabulous. It just won't be the same with tomatoes, no matter how ripe they are. Go to A Year in Bread and bake this marvelous focaccia. Make no changes. No substitutions. Ok, fine, I did sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar on top along with the salt and rosemary, but that doesn't count.


A few comments on the focaccia:

1. I decided to add a teaspoon of sugar to the top along with the salt and rosemary and I think it worked out great, but its certainly not necessary. I used Dorie Greenspan's approach to infusing flavour into the sugar: I blended the fresh chopped rosemary, sugar and salt together with my fingertips to release a bit of the oils into the salt and sugar, then sprinkled it all over the focaccia.
2. I only had black grapes, not red ones, so I used those. Still delicious.
3. Use fresh rosemary. I used dried the first time around because that is all I had on hand, and it was good, but the flavour of the fresh rosemary is so superior that it is worth a shopping run for.
4. Use coarse salt as called for in the recipe. Plain old iodized salt just isn't going to cut it texturally.
5. This recipe is pretty big. I divided the dough in half and baked one half one day and the other another. (I just stuck the dough in the fridge until I needed it and it kept fine). Half the recipe makes enough for two people to eat with salad as a meal, and plenty for four people as an appetizer or to accompany your dinner.
6. This bread is easy to make, so if you aren't an expert with yeast and bread dough, have no fear. There are few ingredients and its simple to put together.
7. If you don't eat all the focaccia while it is warm, you can wrap it in tin foil and put it in something airtight, then pop it into the fridge. I kept it overnight that way, then ran it under the broiler for a minute or two the next day to bring it back to life.

Thank you Kevin and all the lovely folks at A Year in Bread for the recipe. I will be baking this one regularly!

Get the recipe here: Grape Focaccia at A Year in Bread

Wild Crab Apple Butter (the Observations of a Tree-climber in Washington DC)


This is a picture of the beautiful crab apples that I harvested from a scraggly tree by the side of a footpath that runs along the Potomac River in downtown Washington DC. Said footpath just happens to run parallel to the Watergate, that infamous and luxurious building from the Nixon era. So while I was clambering around the lower limbs of the tree I could gaze at the professionally landscaped balconies of multi-millionaire politicians and business tycoons just across the way.

Given the juxtaposition, its not surprising that people jogging by seemed to think that I was homeless. After all, we are in a city. Normal people would just go buy some apples at the farmers' market. But normalcy has never been a close friend of mine, and so there I was, getting scratched by branches, observing unwary cyclists from my perch, scaring the public and generally having a good time. Who wouldn't when one is getting free apples for the picking?

I made the crab apples into some delicious and spicy apple butter. Unfortunately, although I know how many cups of apple butter I made (4), I have can't remember how many cups of crab apples I started with. But I'm going to guess, for the sake of the recipe, that it was probably about 8. Its amazing how things cook down. Anyways, my vague attempt at instructions follows. Thank Simply Recipes for the inspiration. It's hard to mess up apple butter. And if you don't feel like pissing off the secret service, you can use regular apples from the store (or your tree if you have one).

Spicy Wild Crab Apple Butter

Makes about two pints of apple butter. You should be able to double the recipe and still get good results.

About 8 cups of whole crab apples, with stems removed and any rotten parts cut out. If you are using regular apples, cut out the core and cut the apples into quarters.

About 6 cups of sugar (I like organic brown sugar, but the regular bleached stuff works too).

The juice and zest of one lemon.

The amount and type of spices used can be varied to taste. Cardamom or star anise might even work in here, who knows!

About 2 tsp of cinnamon

1 large cinnamon stick, broken in half, or two small sticks

About 3/4 tsp nutmeg

About 1/2 tsp cloves

About 1/2 tsp ground dried ginger

1 tsp vanilla (optional)

2-3 clean pint glass jars. These can be old peanut butter jars, salsa jars and so on. Take a look at the lid on the inside to make sure there are no big nicks in the rubberized lining-if not they should seal up fine. I have always re-used jars for my canning, both here and in Belize, and have never had a serious problem with sealing as long as the lining is still good.

Procedure:

1. Put the jars upside down in a deep sauce pan or a pot, place the lids bottom side up in the same pot (you can sit the jars on top of their lids). Pour in about 3-4 inches of water. (The exact amount is not important as long as it covers the the portion of the jar that the lid will cover). Put on medium-high heat, bring to a boil and allow to boil for at least 10 minutes to sterilize the jars.

2. Place the apples in a pot and just cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer until soft (about 20-30 minutes). Remove from heat, let cool a bit and blend the mixture until smooth. Don't worry about the seeds in the crab apples, they will be pulverized in the blending.

3. Return the pulp to the pot, add the sugar, cinnamon sticks and spices and bring to a boil. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring regularly. The idea is to get a lot of the water to evaporate out of the mix so that it will get thicker, more concentrated and more tasty, so keep stirring to help the evaporation process along and to make sure nothing burns on the bottom. Remove the cinnamon sticks after about 20 minutes. Once the mixture begins to thicken up, stir in the lemon zest and lemon juice and mix it in well, add the vanilla too if you are using it.

4. Once the butter has taken on a dark hue and is quite thick and "gloopy", you will want to perform a jelly test to determine if it is ready to jar. Take about a tablespoon of the butter onto the spoon you are stirring with and turn it sideways to let the pulp pour off the spoon. If the last couple drops are thick and viscous and run together into a little sheet, or drop off the spoon close to one another and at the same time, you are probably about done. To double check this, put about a teaspoon of the butter on a dish, stick it in the fridge for a minute or two to cool down, and then check the texture. If it is as thick as you want it to be when you spread it on your toast, then it's finished. Pull the pot off the heat immediately.

5. Jarring: this is easier than it sounds. Several instruments make it even easier, but they aren't essential: a spatula to scrape out the last bites, a wide mouthed funnel that you can stick into the mouth of the jar, and a pair of tongs. The tongs are the most important part as you will see. To can your tasty apple butter, take an oven-mitted hand or the tongs and grab one of the sterilized jars (which should still be bubbling away at medium heat in their pan). Set it right side up on the counter, put the funnel in if you have one (I don't) and the spoon the butter into the jar right up to the top. You want to fill it as full as you can without it spilling over the edges (bad, because then it won't seal properly). Now, with your tongs grab the lid, then using your mittened hands, put the lid on, tightening it down completely. Turn the jar upside down onto the counter to cool. Repeat until you run out of apple butter.

If you have a bit more than 2 pints (or 4 pints if you double the recipe), just put it in a container to cool in the fridge, then eat it in the next week or so. When you check the jars after they have cooled the middle of the lid should not be puffed upwards. If it is, the jar has not sealed. Put it in the fridge and eat it over the next couple weeks (no great hardship). The sealed jars can be stuck in your cupboard and will stay in good shape for a year or two, if you can keep your hands off them for that long.

This apple butter is really great on toast, pancakes or muffins. It also makes a great glaze for fruit tarts, just mix a few tablespoons of the butter with a little hot water and apply it with a pastry brush.