Sunday, September 26, 2010

Time to Make the Marshmallows

There’s a fire pit sitting in my back yard looking all forlorn and lonely. I want to turn it over, set it on the grass, fill it with wood and light it up.

I want to toast marshmallows until they’re charred and almost dripping off the stick. I want to tilt back in my chair, watch the night sky, sip some wine.

I have been waiting for this all summer, waiting through the swampy heat and humidity, waiting for a suitably cooler evening. It’s almost here.

Time to make the marshmallows!

Makes about 50 2” squares

Note--- these can be made using a hand mixer however, I’d urge you to borrow a good stand mixer (my borrow is a KitchenAid) if you don’t have one. It will save a lot of wear and tear on your mixer and your back.

• About 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
• 3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
• 1 cup cold water, divided in half
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 1/2 cup light corn syrup
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 2 large egg whites from very fresh eggs
• 1 tablespoon vanilla


• Grease the bottom and sides of a rectangular 9x13x2 inch metal baking pan with plain vegetable oil, then heavily dust the bottom and sides with confectioners’ sugar.
• In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup ice water and let sit about 5 minutes to soften.
• In a heavy duty 3 quart saucepan, cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, second 1/2 cup of cold water and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 240°F, about 12 minutes.
• Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.
• With standing, or a hand-held electric mixer, beat sugar mixture on high speed until white, thick and nearly tripled in volume, about 6 minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer.
• In separate medium bowl, using very clean and dry beaters, whisk the egg whites until they just hold stiff peaks.
• Fold beaten whites and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into the prepared baking pan
• This is the hardest part of the entire process. The mixture is very sticky and is difficult to spread evenly in the prepared pan. You will also not be able to get every bit of it out of the mixing bowl. Use a lighty oiled spatula to spread the mix evenly in the pan and use what’s left in the bowl for tasting. When you’ve had your fill, soak it immediately in hot soapy water to make for an easier clean up.
• Sift 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow uncovered for at least three hours.
• Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board that has been sprinkled lightly with confectioner’s sugar. Lift up one corner of the inverted pan and with your fingers ease the marshmallow onto a cutting board. Use a large lightly oiled knife to trim the edges of marshmallow and then cut into roughly two-inch cubes. (If you have one, an oiled pizza cutter works well here also.)
• Sift remaining confectioner’s sugar back into the now-empty baking pan and roll the marshmallow squares through it, coating all sides, before shaking off the excess and packing them away in an airtight container.
• Marshmallows will keep at cool room temperature for 2 weeks

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Locavore, Locavorism

It used to be, when I was learning about food and cooking (which I admit I still am), I would occasionally stumble across a term like brunoise that sent me scurrying to my Larousse for a look up. But those were words long a part of the traditional food lexicon. And, as there were a finite number of those words, I knew at some point I would learn them all.

But our twenty first century food scene has morphed into a whole new beast growing rarefied techniques using unapproachably expensive equipment and a peculiar new vocabulary. Case in point locavore and locavorism.

Hailed as “The Best New Food Trend” by Atlanta’s Creative Loafing, locavorism sent me scrambling. Finding nothing in Larousse and nothing in an unabridged Webster’s, I found myself trolling the web.

Along the way, I stumbled on this article published two years ago by William Safire. I guess I really missed the boat on locavorism. Silly me.

“As the economy began its downturn last year and imports became more expensive, localness challenged cleanliness as being next to godliness in the food dodge. The lust for the local is even competing with organic — food grown or raised without a chemical assist but often transported around the world — and Wal-Mart, having joined the organic parade two years ago, is now touting its purchases of produce grown in-state near its supercenters.

Naturally, a name was needed to describe the new anti-exoticism. The word locavore was coined in 2005 on the analogy of carnivore, “flesh eater” (which most dictionaries prefer to “meat eater” because the Latin caro is translated as “flesh,” but nobody eats fattening flesh these days), and herbivore, “plant eater.” The suffix -vorous means “eating, devouring” and spawned the adjective “voracious.”

The coiner is Jessica Prentice, who was challenged to come up with a name for what Prentice had been calling the nearby foodshed, I presume on the analogy of “watershed.” She promptly melded the Latin locus, “place,” with vorare, “swallow, devour” and (gulp!) there was locavore, the noun that became the Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year for 2007.

“The Rise of the ‘Locavore’ ” was a Business Week headline this spring in an article about the spread of farmers’ markets: “Consumers increasingly are seeking out the flavors of fresh, vine-ripened foods grown on local farms rather than those trucked to supermarkets from faraway lands.” Name of the trend (in a recent review in The New York Sun, which lamentably set last month): locavorism.

The trend was also confirmed in a macabre New Yorker cartoon by Bruce Eric Kaplan. A man-eating shark, munching on a human arm, says to another shark, “I’m trying to eat more locals.”

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stu's Pink Applesauce

Apples remind me of my boys when they were small…all rosy cheeks from running wild.

We took them apple picking in the fall, ate fresh donuts hot from the fryer and tasted new cider. A bushel of red Macintosh always came home with us and Stu loved the applesauce I’d make….it was pink from leaving the skins on.

I made applesauce again today. That brought the memories back. It made me smile. I feel happy.

Stu’s Favorite Pink Applesauce
Makes approximately 4 cups

3# Macintosh apples, cored, skin on, cut into ¼’s
2/3 cup cold water
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sweet butter

The quantities of sugar and water will vary based on how sweet and juicy the apples are. Half way through the cooking taste it and add more sugar if you want a sweeter result. Do the same with the water. If you like a looser applesauce add more water, a tablespoon at a time. The applesauce will thicken as it cools so don't fret if it looks a little loose.

Choose a heavy duty pot with a tight lid.  (I use my 5 quart le Creuset---it's older than my boys and is still in great shape).

Add everything at once and stir. Put the pot over medium heat and bring the mix to a boil. Cover and adjust your heat to keep everything at a gentle boil.

Cook for about 20 minutes----stirring occasionally---until the apples are soft and easily mashed.

Remove from the heat and check seasonings. Adjust as needed. If you are adding more sugar, spices or water at this time, return the applesauce to the heat and cook, covered, another 5 minutes. 

Remove from the heat, uncover and cool, in the pot, for about 15 minutes. (Do this to avoid burns. Hot applesauce hurts!)

Put the applesauce in a food mill and puree to remove skins and any stray seeds.

Cover and chill. Lasts for one week in the refrigerator or can  in a water bath canner for 20 minutes. I use 1/2 pint jars so I can enjoy Stu's pink applesauce as a snack.

Pink Applesauce---Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chicken Soup

We are half way through the Jewish New Year, the span of time that begins with  
Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur. It is a time for celebrating and remembering, for forgiving and fasting, for being with family and friends.

It’s also a time to eat well.

While traditional recipes reign---pot roast, noodle pudding, roast chicken---pride of place in the Jewish Holiday food line up is the classic, comforting home made Chicken Soup. It is also the food with as many permutations as there are cooks putting a chicken in a pot (Not to mention that it is also a food that crosses many cultures).

Everyone starts with a whole, fresh chicken (which a hundred years ago might have arrived in the kitchen still feathered and squawking---a friend tells a great story about her Bubbie sitting on the back stoop plucking feathers), carrots and onions, celery, salt and pepper and enough water to cover the bird. That rounds out the list of widely approved ingredients.

Other additions---approved by some, scorned by others---are bouillon cubes, parsley, dill, leek, parsnip and garlic. My Mother, Aunt, Grandma and Nana added paprika and thyme.

The final result can be a finely wrought, clear broth with a simple garnish of cooked chicken and a bit of carrot or a rich soup served with a mélange from the pot: bits of onion, minced parsley, slices of carrot and lots of the chicken, shredded.

(In my house, Mother would be lucky to find any of the cooked chicken when it was time to serve the soup...Daddy and I loved nibbling on the cold bird and left little behind for guests).

Many cooks add rice, noodles, alphabet pasta (if there are very young children joining the dinner) or tiny squares of pastina. And of course, we cannot forget the lovely matzo ball---which we will save for another blog.

While there will always be as much discourse about what constitutes a perfect bowl of soup as there is over the perfect “Q”, I can promise that every cook who serves you soup will declare it the best you ever ate and, you had better agree!

My Family’s Recipe for The Perfect Chicken Soup

  • 1 3# to 4# kosher or organic chicken, well cleaned                    
  • 1 onion, cut in ¼’s
  • 1 stalk celery, leaves on, cut in ½
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and cut in ½
  • 1 leek, light green part on, well cleaned, cut in ½
  • 6-8 carrots, peeled and cut in 1½ ” to 2” lengths
  • ½ bunch fresh dill
  • ¼ bunch flat leaf parsley
  • Seasonings: salt, pepper, garlic powder, dry thyme, paprika, dry dill weed: all to taste
Fit the chicken in the bottom of a heavy stock pot. The chicken should fit rather snugly on the bottom. There should be no more than 1”-2” of space from the side of the pot to the chicken. Fill the pot with enough cold water to top the chicken by about 4”.

Add the seasonings to the water; season lightly in the beginning. The cold water will deaden taste. You can add more seasonings later if necessary. Loosely cover the pot and bring it to a boil. Turn the light down and keep the heat on a gentle boil for 1 hour.

After one hour, re-check and adjust your seasonings. Add all of the vegetables, bring the broth back up to a boil and continue gently boiling for another 2 hours. (Loosely covered). Turn off the heat, adjust the seasonings if necessary and let the soup cool for ½ hour.

Remove the chicken from the pot and put aside. Strain the balance of the soup, saving the vegetables. Pick out all but 2 of the carrot pieces from the vegetables and set them aside with the chicken.

Add all of the remaining vegetables to the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. If necessary, add 2-3 TBS. of the soup to the vegetables to make the processing easier.

Scoop the pureed vegetables back into the soup, stir, cover and chill overnight.
The next day, skim all of the congealed fat from the top of the soup and discard.

This soup will keep in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days. It also freezes very well. Make sure, if you’re dividing the stock into smaller containers, that it’s well mixed so there are equal amounts of the puree in each batch.

Serve warm with a bit of the cooked chicken, lightly shredded, a carrot and a pinch of finely chopped parsley.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What's Hiding In My Pantry?

Piles of magazines float around our neighborhood; each of us trading our subscription copies with friends. I like this arrangement. We get to read several magazines and only pay for a couple.

The pile I dug into today included Bon Appetit and Martha Stewart Living (a few from 1999—love it!) and I spent a lazy afternoon digging through all kinds of food ideas, recipes, diet plans. Nothing was really grabbing my interest until I saw a short column by BA’s Restaurant Editor Foodist Andrew Knowlton

A letter to the Editor asked about using canned tuna. The writer was trying to make the most of what she had in the house.

Knowlton  answered with a story about a challenge he met to make a week’s worth of meals using only what was already in his house. “The goal was simple, ” he wrote.“Save money and clean out all those forgotten ingredients.”

It struck me as something perfect to do this time of year, as the seasons are slipping from summer to fall. Cleaning out my pantry, cabinets and fridge to make room for the cooler weather, autumnal foods we’ll soon be craving.

So, what was in my pantry, fridge and freezer? Could I make a week’s worth of meals and stay out of the store?

I decided to start with Knowlton’s recipe (from his friend Chef Chris Cosentino) and go on from there. I made two changes as I didn’t have tuna, did have salmon and preferred soba noodles to spaghetti. It was a very good dinner with a leafy green salad dressed in a simple vinaigrette.

Chef Cosentino’s Spaghetti with Canned Tuna
(serves 2)
• 1 can high quality tuna packed in oil (if your tuna is in water you will need one tablespoon of olive oil)
• 1 clove of fresh garlic, minced
• 1 TBS fresh Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
• 1 1” piece of lemon peel
• Pinch red pepper flakes
• ¼ cup plain bread crumbs (or panko) that have been toasted in a pan with 1 TBS melted butter and tossed with 1 TBS minced Italian parsley
• Cooked pasta, cooking water reserved

• Drain the tuna, if you have it in oil, pour the oil into a skillet set over medium heat (if your tuna is in water drain that off, discard it and use the 1 TBS olive oil)
• When the oil is heated mix in the parsley, lemon peel and garlic. Sauté for 1 minute
• Add the tuna, flaking it gently with a fork. Sauté just to heat.
• Add the cooked pasta and toss gently. Use some of the pasta water to moisten to taste. Add it 1 TBS at a time
• Top with toasted breadcrumbs and serve. No cheese necessary.

BA Foodist Food Editor Andrew Knowlton's Blog