Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fruit Spread


I didn't want the delicious, ripe fruit I recently picked at Alstede Farms to develop mold so I decided to make two quick fruit spreads- sweet raspberry and vanilla peach. Fruit spread (whether in the form of preserves, marmalade, jelly or jam) is so simple to make and yields sweet results that can be enjoyed well after the fruit itself would have gone to waste. My two pieces of advice for undertaking this task are as follows: (1)sterilize the canning jars before you begin making the fruit spread; and (2)wear an apron if you don't think colorful fruit splashes will add character to your attire (my shirt fell victim to plenty of hot, sticky raspberry chunks).

Sterilize the canning jars first


Sweet Raspberry Spread (yield, approx. 1 1/4 cups)
Ingredients:
1 lb red and black raspberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
Preparation:
1. Combine ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Continue to cook over high heat for approximately 15 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Skim any foam that may develop on top of the fruit spread.
3. Fill hot, sterilized jars with fruit spread and cover tightly with sterilized lids and screw tops. Process jars in a pot of boiling water properly set up for canning for approximately 10 minutes. Allow to cool and ensure jars are securely sealed.

3 quick ingredients- raspberries, lemon juice and sugar

Stir constantly over high heat until the fruit spread thickens

Testing the results on a toasted English muffin


Vanilla Peach Spread (yield, approx. 2 cups)
Ingredients:
2 lbs peaches
1/2 vanilla bean
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Preparation:
1. Score peaches with an X on the bottom. Blanch peaches in boiling water for approximately 1 minute and submerge in an ice bath. Remove and discard peach skins. Remove pits and dice peaches.
2. Split vanilla bean and place in a sauce pan over high heat with the diced peaches, lemon juice and sugar.
3. Bring to a boil and continue to cook over high heat for approximately 15 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Skim any foam that may develop on top of the fruit spread.
4. Fill hot, sterilized jars with fruit spread adding a piece of the vanilla bean to each of the jars. Cover tightly with sterilized lids and screw tops. Process jars in a pot of boiling water properly set up for canning for approximately 10 minutes. Allow to cool and ensure jars are securely sealed.

Scoring and blanching the peaches allows you to easily peel off the skins

4 quick ingredients- peaches, lemon juice, sugar, and 1/2 vanilla bean

After stirring over high heat for approx. 15 min.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Alstede Farms


I recently spent the afternoon with my friend Sarah at Alstede Farms, a pick-your-own farm located approximately 50 miles from Manhattan in Chester, New Jersey (www.alstedefarms.com). Depending on the season, the massive farm offers visitors the opportunity to pick their own fruits and vegetables, feed friendly animals, stock up on fresh produce, and sample home made ice cream made with ripe fruit.

Colorful directions

Visitors can feed the animals with food purchased in the Alstede Market

Grazing donkeys

A goat that managed to get on the wrong side of the fence

Home made ice cream stand (current flavors are blueberry, black raspberry, and peach)

Produce outside of the Alstede Market

The view inside the Alstede Market


Following the short drive from Manhattan, Sarah and I stocked up on containers to carry our farm fresh goods (purchased inside the Alstede Market for a nominal fee) and walked on a short path to the farm's raspberry fields. We made our way up and down row upon row of prickly raspberry bushes (I escaped with two minor scratches on my ankle and one on both index fingers; Sarah somehow eluded the thorns altogether), and under the hot sun we quickly filled our containers with bright, plump red and black raspberries. Visitors can pick black raspberries from the end of June through the end of July, yellow raspberries from the middle of August through the middle of October, and red raspberries from the end of June through the middle of October for $6.49 per pound.

A view of the raspberry fields

A big fan of tasting the product before purchasing, I had a hard time not sampling as I picked

Red raspberries

Black raspberries

The raspberries that made their way back to Manhattan with me and will likely be made into raspberry preserves


In an effort to deter me from eating our pickings as we walked around the farm (signs posted throughout the fields make it clear this is strictly prohibited until all food is weighed and paid for) Sarah graciously carried our raspberries to the peach orchard. Visitors can pick peaches from the middle of July through the middle of September for $1.59 per pound. We surveyed the abundance of peach trees and headed to the far end of the orchard. The information sheet handed to us when we purchased our containers directed us to be on the lookout for large peaches having a deep red hue- a combination that Sarah, who I think may have been a professional peach picker in a former life, had no trouble locating. After picking about a dozen fuzzy peaches, Sarah nominated me to carry the substantially heavier box, we paid for our fruit (and of course the pies and other produce we happened upon in the Alstede Market) and left, smiling, for Manhattan. Alstede Farms is absolutely worth the trip.

Sarah leads the way to the peach trees

A sign directing us to the end of the row

A cluster of peaches

In front of the peach trees

Our final box of peaches and raspberries

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wine Essentials: Parts V and VI


I've been told that my synopses of three of the Institute of Culinary Education's six Wine Essentials classes (I missed the third session) are unnecessarily long and slightly boring. I won't name any names because I partially agree. For parts five (Spain and Australia) and six (the final installment- California, Oregon and Washington) I've decided to spare us all (or maybe just the one of you that actually reads my posts), combine both classes into one post, and include some of the most interesting comments that came out of those two classes followed by the names of the wines we tasted*.

- Of Spain's "solera system", the method of aging wine through fractional blending of various vintages making it impossible to determine how old the final wine is: "It's like the ketchup bottle at a restaurant, constantly topped off so you never really know what you're getting."
- Of the 2007 Albarino: "This is a great slosh it back before dinner wine."
- Of the 2007 Condrieu: "This wine smells like a grandmother's perfume."
- Of the 2000 Imperial Rioja Reserva: "It tastes like decomposing organic matter."
- Of the 2004 Priorat: "It smells like dark red."
- Of drinking in the United States during Prohibition: "If you knew a priest and had a little cash, you could find some bad wine."
- Of the 2007 Viognier: "This wine will make you hungry for dinner."
- Of the 2006 Chardonnay: "It tastes like movie popcorn with fake 'golden topping'." "This would be nice with a tender beer-can chicken for Sunday brunch."
- Of the 2005 'Le Mistral': "It tastes like alcohol."
- Of the 2005 Zinfandel: "It smells just like IHOP's boysenberry syrup."
- Of the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon: "This smells black." "Cabernet sauvignon in all it's strength and glory."

*Wines in the fifth class included:
1. Jerez, Manzanilla, 'La Gitana', Bodegas Hidalgo ($20.00);
2. Rias Baixas, Albarino, Pazo Senoras 2007 ($25.00);
3. Condrieu, E. Guigal 2007 ($50.00);
4. Rioja, Vina Tondonia Blanco Reserva, R. Lopez de Heredia 1990 ($40.00) ;
5. Rioja Reserva, 'Imperial' CUNE 2000 ($50.00);
6. Ribera del Duero, Montecastro y Llanahermosa 2005 ($50.00);
7. Priorat, Finca La Planeta, Pasanau 2004 ($50.00);
8. Crozes Hermitage, 'Domaine de Thalabert', P. Jaboulet 2005 ($35.00);
9. Barossa Valley, Shiraz, 'Entity', J. Duval Wines 2006 ($35.00); and
10. Jerez, Matusalem Oloroso Dulce Muy Viejo, G. Byass (375 ml bottle- $33.00).

*Wines in the sixth (and final) class included:
1. Napa, Brut, Blanc de Noirs, Schramsberg 2005 ($40.00);
2. Mt. Harlan (San Benito), Viognier, Calera 2007 ($35.00);
3. Chalk Hill (Russian River), Sauvignon Blanc, Chalk Hill Winery 2006 ($30.00);
4. Columbia Valley, Riesling, 'Eroica', Dr. Loosen, Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 ($23.00);
5. Napa, Chardonnay, Grgich Hills Estate 2006 ($43.00);
6. Oregon, Pinot Noir, 'Signature Label', King Estate 2006 ($33.00);
7. Carneros (Napa), Pinot Noir, Acacia 2006 ($27.00);
8. Monterey County, 'Le Mistral', Joseph Phelps 2005 ($45.00);
9. Napa, Zinfandel, Chateau Montelena 2005 ($30.00);
10. Oakville (Napa), Merlot, Swanson 2005 ($40.00); and
11. Napa, Cabernet Sauvignon, 'Georges de Latour Private Reserve', Beaulieu Vineyard 2005 ($80.00).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Kitchen Basics

Along with what I think are the positive aspects of living in NYC- a seemingly endless variety of amazing restaurants, there are a few negatives- finding the space to live comfortably in a small apartment. I have lived in NYC since I left Buffalo for college well over a decade ago. Through the years I have learned to scale back my belongings (albeit hesitantly) and have grown accustomed to my tiny kitchen. While I would love to make room for every kitchen appliance sold at Bed Bath & Beyond, I don't think it would be very practical (I suppose it makes more sense to store coats in the closet rather than an oversized margarita maker). No matter how small my kitchen is, I always make room in the cupboards or on the counter for a few cherished essentials. This list of kitchen basics are the tools I could never do without:


1. Wusthof's Santoku knife. This sharp knife is my favorite for chopping, slicing, and dicing.
2. Le Creuset's panini press and skillet grill. When I use this versatile tool I love to pretend I'm grilling outdoors (the smoke detector always brings me back from my fantasy). I use it to grill meats for a quick dinner and to make crunchy paninis for lunch.
3. Breville's handheld cordless blender. This immersion blender makes it easy to whip up healthy smoothies, and puree homemade soups and sauces.
4. Emile Henry's salt pig filled with coarse sea salt. I love the taste of salt and this tool keeps it easily accessible at all times.
5. A Microplane with a comfortable handle. Grating/zesting taste enhancers like ginger, lemon, cheese, or nutmeg and the accompanying clean-up becomes effortless when using a Microplane.
6. Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook. If it were socially acceptable I would happily subsist on a diet of cookies. With 175 cookie recipes and gorgeous mouth-watering pictures, this cookbook is a must-have for anyone who loves to bake.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

GOOP's 7-Day Detox (Make That 4)

Diets have always been a foreign concept to me. I love to eat, so I subscribe to the school of thought that exercise is the key to maintaining a healthy weight. I believe it is my adoration of food, and the fact that I had a constant headache, struggled to make it through every mile of my regular runs, and felt as though my stomach was feeding on itself, that caused my first (and I can definitely say only) attempt at a 7-day detox to fail halfway through the 4th day.

I had been feeling overly sluggish the previous week and hoped that a cleanse, which I have never done before, would give me a much needed energy boost. A quick search for a detox program brought me to a 7-day elimination diet laid out on Gwyneth Paltrow's exceedingly criticized website GOOP*. Her doctor, a detox specialist, had signed off on the menu, so I thought this the safest plan to follow. Dairy, sugar, processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, and pretty much everything else that I consume on a daily basis is strictly forbidden. A given day starts with a room temperature glass of lemon water, a cup of herbal tea, and either a smoothie made with almond/coconut/rice milk, fresh fruit, and a protein powder boost, or a bowl of oatmeal. A mid-morning glass of coconut water (there is an incredulous suggestion that fresh coconut water is ideal) is followed by an avocado salad, detox teriyaki chicken breast (the most substantial meal on the menu- but there is no indication of portion size, weight, skinless, boneless, etc.), vegetable soup, raw crudite (again, no portion size is mentioned), or a fruit smoothie (if you chose oatmeal for breakfast on that particular day). An afternoon snack of various juices (think beets and ginger), miso soup, or a handful of fruit or nuts is a prelude to a dinner consisting of steamed fish (no further explanation), a host of different vegetable soups, or possibly just a glass of juiced vegetables. Before bed a spoonful or two of extra virgin olive oil is suggested to eliminate bile and stimulate your liver.

Each morning I awoke with a slight headache that grew as the day went on. I didn't need a growling stomach (which I was never without) to tell me I was hungry from sun up to sun down. I never got the energy boost I was looking for as I was actually drained of energy at the end of each day. The final straw was when I weighed myself during day 4 and was shocked to see I had lost 5 pounds. Clearly if weight loss came this fast, I was not cleansing my body, I was depriving it. To each his own, but for me it is back to chocolate, and bread, and beer, and everything else that I love to consume.

*If you have the desire to try it for yourself, Gwyneth's 7-day detox menu can be found at http://goop.com/newsletter/15/

Breakfast or lunch- raspberry and rice milk smoothie

Mid-morning snack- coconut water (hailed as nature's sports drink)

Dinner- water based broccoli and arugula soup served with a lemon

A pre-dinner snack or dinner- miso soup (to be made with filtered water)

A pre-dinner snack or dinner- "Super Greens Juice" made with kale, celery, pears, ginger and lemon

Monday, July 13, 2009

Edamame Dumplings


Served in a whole wheat skin, Rickshaw Dumpling Bar's edamame dumplings are generously filled with a combination of partially blended soybeans (I say partially because the filling is studded with whole soybeans), scallions, soy sauce, and lemon zest. While the plump dumplings provide satisfying flavor, I have a difficult time overcoming my aversion to whole pieces of soybeans in what I think should be a smooth filling. In my opinion, the everyday edamame dumpling eater would benefit tremendously from a perfectly smooth filling. This is why I attempted to re-create Rickshaw Dumpling Bar's edamame dumplings in the comfort of my tiny kitchen.

The most difficult challenge I faced was an inability to locate specific ingredients. There is not one pack of whole wheat skins in any of my local grocery stores and there is a less than stellar selection of non whole wheat skins (to be fair, laziness prevented me from going farther than 5 blocks). In addition, these same grocery stores neglect to carry sansyo (a Japanese pepper made by grinding the dried leaves of Japan's prickly ash tree), a key ingredient in Rickshaw Dumpling Bar's dipping sauce. Somewhat dejected, I was forced to settle for Nasoya's rectangular egg roll wraps which I then cut using a circular cookie cutter with a 5-inch diameter (if at all possible, avoid this tedious process). Unable to replicate the taste of the dipping sauce without sansyo I opted make my own very different version by whisking together soy sauce, lemon juice, toasted sesame oil, and honey (I tend to like anything with toasted sesame oil as long as it's not overpowering, but my husband thought the combination was incredibly unsuccessful). My husband and I both thoroughly enjoyed the taste of my edamame dumplings' filling, but given the choice each of us would have opted for a thicker, less rubbery skin.

Edamame Dumplings (yield, approx 32 dumplings)
Dumpling Ingredients:
32 dumpling skins (preferably whole wheat)
1 16 ounce bag frozen shelled edamame
4 tbsp water, reserved from boiling edamame
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp green onions, thinly sliced (optional- additional for garnish)
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper
sesame seeds (optional for garnish)
Dipping Sauce Ingredients:
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp honey
Preparation:
1. Prepare edamame according to package instructions, reserving 4 tbsp of the cooking water. Allow edamame to cool.
2. Combine edamame, green onions, sea salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse, adding the water and lemon juice, until the ingredients are blended into a smooth mixture.
3. Scoop one tablespoon of mixture into a dumpling skin (hopefully tastier than a Nasoya egg roll wrap) and pinch together to form dumpling. Repeat until filling is gone.
4. Steam dumplings for approximately 5-6 minutes. While the dumplings are being steamed, whisk together the ingredients for the dipping sauce.
5. Remove dumplings from steamer, and garnish with additional green onions and sesame seeds if desired. Serve immediately.

Nasoya egg roll wraps- a fate I was forced to succumb to

The blended filling

Filling scooped onto a newly round wrap

Slightly misshapen dumpling

Steamed edamame dumplings garnished with green onions and sesame seeds

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wine Essentials: Part IV


Dreams of Bourdeaux were quickly shattered as a delayed flight into JFK International Airport (no surprise there) caused me to miss the third installment of Wine Essentials. The fourth class took us through the complicated wines of Italy. We received a lesson on the region's history, climate, and wine regulations, and finished by sampling a whopping twelve wines*. A combination of the lack of recognizable structure in Italy's labelling and my recent overindulgence in Napa made it extremely difficult to concentrate.

In 800 B.C. the Greeks settled in southern Italy and were so impressed with the mild climate that they began the art of wine production. Several hundreds of years later the Romans worked to improve the Greeks' techniques, and the love of wine spread through Italy to the north where the climate is cooler and better suited for richer wine production.

The laws that govern Italian wines are regionalistic; each area follows its own traditions. However, there is a national set of standards. In 1963 Italian lawmakers introduced three main categories of Italian wine; Vino da Tavola (VDT; typically jug wines that are lower quality and therefore not exported), Vino Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC; the origin is controlled, boundaries are established, specific grapes must be used, etc.), and Vino Denominazione di Origine Controllata et Garantita (DOCG; a step above the DOC designation, reserved for outstanding wines that are guaranteed to a specific level of quality). In 1992 the Goria Law identified new sub-zones within the existing DOC zones (this is where I started to zone out) creating a new category termed Indicazioni Geografiche Tipiche (IGT). The IGT label is intended for wines that were previously labelled VDT but were actually higher quality and thus deserving of a higher distinction (the "Super Tuscans" are an example).

Italian wines are labelled every which way. A given bottle of wine may be labelled after the origin, the grape, both the origin and grape, or possibly an invented name that has nothing to do with the origin or grape. If this is too much of a deterrent, there are several indicators of quality on a label that may help; "classico" refers to the notion that the wine hails from a traditional or classic area, and "riserva" has a legal connotation and denotes the wine has been processed more carefully and has had additional aging either in the bottle, cask, or both. If an Italian wine include classico or riserva on its label it will be more costly.

I struggled through the dissection of several of the wines and realized I have no idea what red smells like. I never knew it was possible to smell a color, but I went with it when someone described the smell of our first drink, the Campari, as "red". I also came to the understanding that I need to work on proper food pairings- I never would have suggested that one pair the Valpolicella Superiore (my favorite of the fourth session and one of the cheaper bottles) with a simple pizza, and don't dare put the Amarone della Valpolicella Classico with something so simple. This classico wine apparently deserves a complex pizza topped with onion marmalade, smoked mozzarella and sausage.



*Wines in the fourth class included:
1. Piemonte, Campari ($22.00);
2. Prosecco di Conegliano, Brut, Zardetto, NV ($11.00);
3. Orvietto Classico, 'Poggio Calvelli', La Carraia 2008 ($20.00);
4. Fiano di Avellino, Feudi di San Gregorio 2007 ($24.00);
5. Alto Adige Lagrein, 'Castel Turmhof', Tiefenbrunner 2006 ($22.00);
6. Valpolicella Superiore, Zenato 2006 ($14.00);
7. Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, Vaio Armaron, Serego Alighieri, Masi 2001 ($70.00);
8. Chiante Classico, 'Aziano', Ruffino 2006 ($17.00);
9. Brunello di Montalcino, Altesino 2003 ($50.00);
10. Brunello di Montalcino, Riserva, Altesino 1999 ($75.00);
11. Taurasi, 'Radici', Mastroberardino 2004 ($50.00); and
12. Barolo, Azienda Agricola Falletto (Bruno Giacosa) 1999 ($110.00).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fruit Juice And Herb Popsicles



It is only Wednesday and I have already sought out Van Leeuwan's Artisan Ice Cream Truck twice this week. The first time I was legitimately in SoHo, but I have no excuse for the second visit (other than the much anticipated appearance of summertime temperatures in NYC). When the urge for ice cream struck me again today I realized I need to come up with a frozen alternative before I spend too much money, and too many calories, on Van Leeuwan's creamy, delicious ice cream.

Luckily the July edition of Food & Wine Magazine arrived in my mailbox with an easy recipe for Minted Watermelon Popsicles*. I didn't have watermelon or ice cube trays (my ingenious freezer somehow automatically makes crushed, cubed, and quick ice at the push of a button), so I improvised and adapted the recipe for the ingredients and tools I had readily available. Gathering an underutilized egg tray, ripe honeydew, cucumber and mint from the fridge, I set out to make my own version of a fresh fruit juice and herb popsicle. The resulting treat provided a refreshing, cool sweetness that is much more healthy and practical than a daily ice cream cone.

Honeydew Cucumber and Mint Popsicles (yield, approx. 3 12-slot egg trays)
Ingredients:
1/2 large honeydew, without the rind (approx. 32 ounces)
1/2 large cucumber (approx. 6 ounces)
1/2 tsp mint, minced
36 lollipop sticks
Preparation:
1. Using a juicer, juice the honeydew and cucumber.
2. Mix in the mint until distributed as evenly as possible.
3. Pour the mixture into a 12-slot egg tray and place lollipop sticks in each slot.
4. Place tray in freezer until popsicles are frozen.

Honeydew, without the rind

Cucumber

Fresh mint

Popsicles before freezing

The final product


* Food & Wine Magazine's recipe for Minted Watermelon Popsicles can be found at: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/minted-watermelon-popsicles

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day At Casa Del Sol


I left my apartment midday Thursday and promptly sat in an hour of traffic with hordes of other New Yorkers. I consider the extra time in the car a small price to pay for a chance to spend Fourth of July weekend with friends in Lake Placid.

Collective dreams of sunshine and barbecues quickly faded once we realized Lake Placid's July 4th forecast may not be in our favor. Thus far, Independence Day 2009 has been rife with cloudy skies, strong winds, and heavy rain. Thankfully we are a resourceful group so it didn't take us long to come up with an alternative to a traditional hot dog, hamburger, and beer filled afternoon outdoors. Setting aside fears that it may be considered sacrilege on a day when Americans are expected to be their most patriotic, we spent the holiday enjoying margaritas and fresh tacos at Casa Del Sol in Saranac Lake. With it's unassuming exterior, Casa Del Sol (House Of Sun- a very appropriate name for a dark, wet day) provides a welcoming atmosphere and authentic Mexican food including homemade corn chips with pico de gallo, flavorful tacos, and a multitude of delicious salt-rimmed margaritas.

Casa Del Sol on Lake Flower Ave in Saranac Lake

Cadillac and watermelon margaritas with fresh lime

Complimentary corn chips with pico de gallo

Cajun spiced mahi-mahi tacos with a cilantro cream sauce