Archive for The recipe books

Just chillin’

I picked up an almost-new ice cream maker in a yard sale last year, and it sat in the kitchen cabinet all year, which is exactly what the spouse said would happen when I brought it home.

True, some friends and I made one batch of peach ice cream with straight-from-the-farmers market Ontario peaches, and I liked the alchemy of churning a thick liquid into an even thicker ice cream in a supercooled metal drum. But that peach ice cream wasn’t “must make this again” delicious, and I wasn’t a fan of the two-day process of making, cooling and churning. First you make a custard with eggs, milk and cream, with all the angst that that entails (will it curdle, will it set?) and a fruit puree, and then you chill everything thoroughly before the churn.

The final product had little ice crystals, was too hard to scoop from the freezer (it lacks the emulsifiers and other gunk they add to commercial ice cream) and I also admit that cutting corners by not peeling peaches was possibly a mistake. The bits of peel were sort of crunchy.

So that was it until this summer, when I got two ice cream books out of the library and tried again.

Let’s just say that churning so-called no-churn ice cream in an ice-cream maker makes something that’s seriously good. There’s no eggs, no custard and not even any sugar, although you do add a can of sweet, gooey condensed milk.

Amazingly easy vanilla ice cream
(Adapted from No-churn ice cream, by Leslie Bilderbeck)

1 300g can of sweetened condensed milk
3 cups cream (I used one of whipping cream, which has 35 percent fat, and two of table cream, which is a mere 18 percent)
2 tsp vanilla extract
juice of half a lemon
Pinch of salt (to lower the freezing temperature)
Splash of white rum (also to lower the freezing temperature)

I put the condensed milk in the fridge the night before, so I started with cold ingredients. Then you mix everything together and pour the (very runny) liquid into the ice cream maker. Let it churn for 20-30 minutes until it thickens up. Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze.

To my surprise, this ice cream is actually scoopable from the freezer, unlike last year’s peach experiment. It’s smooth, and it tastes particularly good with fresh fruit, or even with a runny jam slathered over the top. I will make again, perhaps as early as this weekend. I will not think about the calories.

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Plenty of plums

I missed a month of canning and jamming on the bike trip of a lifetime last month, so there are some jams that just won’t happen this year. I don’t think it matters — the storage shelves are creaking with jam already — but I do want to step up the pickles, add to the chutney collection and save those wonderful late summer/autumn fruits that are starting to arrive, a couple of weeks later than in a normal year.

Last week we canned peaches in three slightly different ways, but I’m saving the blog-about-it until I get around to opening a jar (why eat canned peaches when there are fresh ones in the market?). This week it was those nice, blue Zwetschken plums. I’ve written before about the mysterious alchemy that turns blue plums into red jam, but today’s batch seemed to produce a jam that’s even redder than usual. We picked a plum preserve recipe from Madelaine Bullwinkel’s Gourmet Preserves but eliminated a few steps, added ginger and cut the already small amount of sugar. It set super fast, and I think it’s going to be very nice, but it made five jars, so no samples now.

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Plum ginger jam (adapted from Gourmet Preserves)

3 lbs blue plums, pitted and quartered
1 cup water (maybe use 1-1/2 cups next time)
2 cups sugar
juice of one lemon
1-2 cup crystallized ginger, coarsely chopped

Simmer the chopped plums with the water for 20 minutes, and then drain the liquid from the mushy plums in a colander — let the mush sit around for a good 30 minutes so that it drains well. Add the sugar to the liquid with half the lemon juice and heat, gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil until it’s about to set. The recipe says 5-10 minutes for this stage, but ours was well set within 4 minutes. Then, off the heat, add the plum quarters and the ginger and let it sit around for another 15 minutes or so. Bring the mix back to the boil and boil until it’s set. Again, this took minutes.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath 10 minutes.

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Second venture was a plum apple chutney, from the adventurous Art of Preserving, by the beautifully named Jan Berry. I got this book for $9 in a second hand shop a while back, and I see that Amazon has it on offer at $138. Maybe I should sell.

Plum raisin chutney (mostly from Art of Preserving)

4 lbs blue plums, pitted and chopped
2 lbs apples (we used Macintosh)
1 lb onions
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup currants
2-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice
1-1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tbsp mustard seeds
Black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a big, heavy pan and simmer until it thickens (something over an hour). Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath.

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Why is everything made from plums quite so beautiful?

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Sugar, sugar, sugar

IMG_0599I spent a few months earlier this year playing along with the Cook the Books lassies over on the West Coast, grumbling as they wheeled out a vegetable cookbook before so much as a stalk of rhubarb had made it to the Toronto markets. Each month they throw out a recipe book, which you beg, steal, buy or borrow, and then you cook and blog about something that takes your fancy.

But while I had fun with a French recipe book at the start of the year, and made awesome cinnamon buns from the Mile End Cook Book, I abandoned ship mid year when the challenge moved to ice cream, which would have involved investing in an ice cream maker. Now it’s November, and it’s a bakery book, The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. I’m in.

Sadly, this is not my book. The instructions are dogmatic and repetitive, and the recipes irritatingly badly converted, throwing out 99g measurements when any sane person would round things up to 100g. Their signature recipe is for coconut cream pie, which is not my type of cake, so I opted for the intriguing sounding Rustic Olive Oil Cake instead.

Serious, serious, epic fail. Even after baking this one for almost 50 percent longer than the recipe said I should, and then chucking it back in the oven (it stuck to the pan the second time), this reminds me of a sweet Asian pudding rather than a cake. The edges are nicely crumbly, but the only thing I can taste is sweet, and the center of the cake has the texture of boiled glue. What a waste of perfectly good olive oil, freshly squeezed orange juice, eggs and Grand Marnier. Their suggestion is to serve this with honey syrup (another 127 grams of sugar and 196 grams of honey), and sweetened whipped cream. Spare me, please.

IMG_0601I admit to somewhat more success with the banana bread, which is satisfyingly moist, perhaps thanks to the sour cream addition, with a nice banana taste. But it’s also dense and very sweet, and I am forced to conclude that I just don’t like chocolate in my banana bread. I might make it again, if I can be bothered to photocopy the recipe before I throw the book back at the library, but I will double the walnuts, cut the sugar drastically and abandon the chocolate chunks.

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Edit: The olive oil cake mellowed slightly over time (or I mellowed slightly), and I now admit it was quite a pleasant taste. But it was still sweet, the center was still uncooked, and a honey syrup would only had added to the problems. But I admit my initial comments were perhaps a little harsh.

The good thing about the weekend baking?

I made two more wing-it loaves of bread, adding a teaspoon of ground coriander for flavor, walnuts for crunch and protein and oat flakes for bulk, along with two cups each of red fife flour, wholewheat flour and white bread flour, two teaspoons of yeast, some honey and olive oil and three cups of liquid.

It’s awesome.

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Crazy colors

When you mix colors, blue paint plus yellow paint turns to green.

So why do blue-purple blueberries and yellow-orange peaches produce a jam that’s almost black, with a hint of purple, while blueberries and orange-red apricots mix to a similar color, although with a slightly redder tinge?

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 And why do they look so similar, yet taste so very different?

The two jams took advantage of early peaches and late apricots in the market today, although both fruits would have been easier to manage if they had been a little riper. But the jams would have been even sweeter then, so maybe not such a good idea.

We started with a peach blueberry jam, from a community farmers’ market web site, which was a pretty basic recipe that told you to simmer up peaches and blueberries, add quite a lot of sugar and boil to a sweetish, fairly dense jam that looks like blueberry jam, and tastes like peach. (Huh?) Paring back the recipe somewhat, we used 1.5 kilos of peaches, which we peeled and chopped roughly, and 3 cups of blueberries, along with something like 4 cups of sugar and the juice of one lemon. (The prep work reminded me how much easier it is to peel peaches when they are ripe, which these were not, so it was a little messy.) But the jam, seven jars of it, is nice, if sweet.

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Next up was peach apricot jam, from Madelaine Bullwinkel’s Gourmet Preserves. It called for 2 pounds of  apricots and one of blueberries, with the juice of one lemon and an amazingly skimpy single cup of sugar. A taste test midway through the boil hinted at a jam that was not sweet enough, even for me, so I cooled it down and threw in another quarter of a cup of sugar before bringing it up to boil again. It set nicely and is pleasantly tart.

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And then there was the stuff that wouldn’t quite fit in the jars, blending the tartness of the apricot-blueberry mix with the sweeter peach version.

We ate it with plain Greek yogurt.

Nice.

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Cooking the Latin books

I admit I nearly walked straight out the library door when looked on the hold shelf for my on-loan copy of Gran Cocina Latina, the latest challenge cookbook from my virtual friends over at Cook the Books.

I mean this thing is massive, not just in terms of its 902 pages, but for sheer heft. It weights in at just shy of 2.2 kilos, or 4 lb 13 oz.  And it’s dense, with a lot of history and back story, recipes flipping over a page (a big no-no for me and my grubby fingers) and a lot of cross-referencing to previous instructions which are often (irritatingly) cross-referenced to the wrong page. It’s sloppy editing that got me annoyed before I even thought about what I might want to cook.

I pushed my way through that one, but a long weekend work day stymied plans to head out for ingredients to Kensington Market Latino heaven to pick up some of the mildly obscure ingredients.  I improvised, with a scallop cebiche

fried plantains

and an avocado salad.

I will admit first off that I didn’t follow the recipes properly for any of these. The scallop cebiche in the book used juice that wasn’t available in local stores, so I used the clam dressing for scallops, and the red pepper was an (inspired) addition to the onion avocado salad, where I also cut the garlic to one clove from an astonishing three. The avocado salad (dressing of onions, garlic, olive oil and lime juice) was very, very good, and the fried plantains made me wonder why I’ve never cooked them before. The cebiche was ok by Day Two, but pretty tasteless on Day One, and the spouse, who only now tells me he doesn’t really like sushi either, raced off and cooked his portion. That’s not a good sign.

But will I use the recipe book again? Or would I actually go out and buy it?

I think not. It would take up 2-1/2 inches of valuable bookshelf space, and needs too many ingredients that I don’t normally cook with to make it worth while. And while there were recipes I liked the look of, they all had specific ingredients I didn’t have to hand, and the faulty cross-referencing irritated me madly. The first cebiche recipe I looked at had frozen tumbo juice (with passionfruit juice as a substitute), and mirasol pepper, which was supposed to be explained on page 54. Page 54 talked about recado and sazon, whatever they may be.

Let’s face it. Maybe I’m just not a recipe book person. Feel free to take any cook book reviews with a pinch of the proverbial salt.

But there again I seem to remember it’s an ice cream book next month. I’ve never made ice cream. Should I give that one a swirl?

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Cook the books: spoiled for choice

So after a hiccup in the last couple of months, I bonded with the Mile End Cookbook after a marathon session with canning supremo over at Eat locally, Blog globally. We’ve both been playing with the Cook The Books challenge this year, so we thought we might as well play this round together. We were going to make the challah, perhaps with a side order of cinnamon buns (my last two attempts at those were good but not perfection), but we just kept going.

We ended up with two beautiful challah, a slightly sweet, plaited egg bread with poppyseed coating, and perhaps the best cinammon buns in the world (could that be the 2 sticks of butter that went into the filling?), as well as a raft of pickles that might take months to get through.

The list went like this:

Challah: Light, chewy, slightly sweet, but perfect with a sharp goat cheese or even the pickles (see below). I wish they were a little darker, but maybe my oven doesn’t heat as hot as it ought to heat. So you get a before shot not an after one.

Cinnamon buns: The real deal. Sticky, sweet, slightly nutty, with two sorts of sugar, pecans, maple syrup as well as all that butter in the filling. Eat locally took half the batch, and the rest was gone before lunchtime the next day.

Beets: Cooked in the brine rather cooked and then brined. A little much allspice/clove, but I think they will mellow down nicely.

Red onions: Crunchy, sweet, acid, salty and almost not tasting of onions at all, in a very, very good way. Amazingly pretty pink half rings

Mushrooms: Similar recipe to last time, but I used all olive oil for the post brining oil bath. I suspect they will last even less time than the last batch, which was gone within a week, stirred into salads and enjoyed.

And then I made two batches of horseradish, one with beets and one without. Both already seem good at clearing the sinuses, and the taste is far better than the store bought stuff.

Anyone got recipes that use lots of horseradish, or stuff to eat it with?

As for the book, I liked the stuff we did, with clear, easy to follow instructions. But there’s a lot of stuff (smoked meat, brisket, pickled tongues, sauerkraut) that just take a lot of time, so I won’t prioritize those. But hey, it was fun.

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Black rice bread

I’m proud to say that I’m almost at the six-month mark of home-made bread, with some tweaks to make it a process that doesn’t interfere too much with life. Even though I use regular shop-bought yeast (rather than being adventurous with a sourdough starter), making two loaves of bread takes up a good chunk of a day, with two (or sometimes three) sets of time set aside for the bread to rise and another hour or so to bake it and let it cool enough to eat.

But the stuff I do in terms of measuring ingredients, mixing them together and kneading them (by hand) doesn’t actually take that long. The key is to make the bread do its stuff while you are busy doing yours, whether it’s sleeping, or shopping, or just hanging out at home.

Cue slow rising, where you mix and knead the bread before bed, and let it rise, slowly, slowly, slowly, in the refrigerator on a Friday or Saturday night. First thing in the morning, you throw the dough in the tins to let it rise again while you’re doing your morning errands, and then there’s only the baking time that you have to sit around for.

That was my adventure this weekend, with the bonus of using up the leftovers of the black rice I served for Saturday night dinner and kneading it into my first loaf of black rice bread.

The recipe came from All You Knead is Bread, which I bought on the recommendation of one of my bread-baking buddies, and it made one dense, chewy loaf which is yummy with lunchtime sandwiches. I used some wholewheat flour rather than all white, so that added to the denseness, but it’s certainly one to do again.

My other shortcut: I slice the bread as soon as it is cold, and freeze sandwich-ready, two slice portions in ziplocs bags. Come morning, I take out a frozen pack of bread, add my sandwich ingredients and it’s an almost instant brown-bag lunch. And the frozen bread helps keep the lunch cool for a chunk of the morning.

My challenge: not eating it before lunchtime.

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Mushrooms: salty, slippery, spicy, and really nice

Marinaded mushrooms were one of the few things in the market in winter when I lived in Moscow a few million years ago. They were salty, slippery and very acidic, but I enjoyed them, even if I never did figure out how to make them. So when this month’s Cook the Books challenge focused on Jewish comfort food, it seemed sensible to give the pickled mushrooms recipe a try.

But then Grow and Resist complained bitterly about the over-salty the pickles she made from the Mile End Cookbook, so I got a little frightened and cut the salt from a third of a cup to a quarter, as well as throwing in the spices I had rather than the ones I was supposed to add. The result? They are actually rather nice, with that salty, acid taste I remember from Moscow. Mushrooms do tend to be bland. Adding spices for taste can’t be a bad thing.

I used cider vinegar rather than white vinegar, and juniper rather than thyme and rosemary. Nice taste, and very, very easy, especially after I remembered to add a ziploc of water on top to stop the ‘shrooms floating to the surface.

I also bought chicken livers with the aim of making the chopped liver recipe, but ended up frying them with onion, Savoy cabbage and lots of garlic instead. It was surprisingly, yummily good.

But while I would like to try the lox (if I can find the patience to spend five days brining a fish), the jury’s still out on whether really like this book. I’m not a huge meat eater, so the idea of creating the perfect corned beef doesn’t really appeal, although I was tempted to try the tongue, just because I’m one of about three people I know who actually eat tongue.

Maybe you need to know the New York deli to love the book.

But hey, if I lived within reach of the deli, I wouldn’t need the book. I’d just go straight in and eat the food.

I have another recipe-following session planned before month end with fellow blogger Eat locally, blog globally, so watch this space for an update.

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Fishing around

I really wanted to like “Good Fish” the book of the month in the cookbook challenge from OhBriggsy and Grow and Resist. I love fish, and it’s usually my meal of choice when I eat out. And this one is for sustainable fish — the stuff we ought to be eating rather than the stuff we’re overfishing to extinction all around the world.

But I’m sad to say that “Good Fish” and I never bonded despite a number of read-it-through attempts. Some recipes had a vague appeal. But when I looked more closely, most of them were a notch too finicky, with ingredients I would have to go out of my way to find, or different layers to make the meal  look pretty on the plate. I am, it must be said, a lazy cook. Most of the stuff I make tastes good most of the time, but plating food to look pretty just isn’t what I do.

But having wimped out on the February Cook the Books dumpling challenge, I wanted to try something (anything) this time around. The recipes for mussels looked the best of the bunch, but I made mussels for my last cookbook challenge. I needed something new.

Cue squid, which  I’ve ordered at restaurants, but have always been a little afraid of cooking. Well-cooked squid is tender (although often bland).  Overcooked squid is almost as bad as eating whale.

I chose a recipe near the back of the book called quick squid with red chili sauce and herbs, where you marinade the squid for a few minutes in a mix of fish sauce, lime juice and spring onions, stir fry it for another few minutes and serve it in a lettuce wrap with herbs and (bought) sweet chili sauce.

I admit it was quick to make, but at the end of the day I bonded with the squid just like I bonded with the book, which is barely at all. It was tender not rubbery, but without the chili sauce it was beyond bland, despite all that fish sauce, lime juice and seasonings. I broke the serve-in-lettuce  rules and added brown rice and french beans with garlic, but even that barely added pep.

Anyone out there with a squid recipe that is worth trying?

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More marmalade: will I never learn?

Will I never learn that I’m not very good at using up marmalade? I love the making of it, and the heady orange smell right through the house, and I love the fact that you have to seize the few short weeks when Seville oranges hit the stores. But while I race through a jar of jam a week, and we can clean out a jar of chutney in a single meal, the marmalade does tend to sit around. I use it on the rare morning when I want toast for breakfast, or for a peanut butter-marmalade sandwich (a surprisingly tasty combination) midway through my summer bike rides. But it takes a while to use up a jar.

Despite all that I made more marmalade today, both the traditional Seville orange stuff, and the more exotic Meyer lemon marmalade, because Meyer lemons have a short season too and it seemed a nice idea. And just for good measure I had a slice of toast with the last of the 2012 marmalade, after giving a number of jars away and offering several to the last Well-Preserved preserve swap.

Having said all that, I do have high hopes of the current two batches, given that I actually read the recipe through this time and used the appropriate amount of sugar. We boiled the oranges in water first to soften them up, then removed the pits and white pulp and chopped the peel up pretty finely. Then came the second boil, with sugar, and then a water bath, because we wanted to be sure we hadn’t let any nasty bugs in when we were not looking. One jar broke cleanly between the base and the jar, leaving marmalade in the water. Either it was faulty, or it was sitting too close to the bottom of the canner and it didn’t like the heat. 😦

Seville orange marmalade
(Increased and adapted from “Jellies, Jams and Chutneys, Preserving the Harvest” by Thane Price)
9 Seville oranges
2 blood oranges
1 lemon
1 kg sugar

Simmer the fruit for an hour in 8 cups of water, moving the oranges around frequently to be sure they all get super-soft. Take them from the water, and let them cool down before quartering and removing the seeds and pith (and putting in a muslin bag) and slicing the peel as thinly or as thickly as you like.

Measure the water that’s left, and add liquid to make up 7.5 cups. Add the sugar, then the chopped up peel and fruit (as well as the tied-up bag of pits), and heat until the sugar has melted. Then bring to a fast boil for 15 minutes or so, until it’s thickened enough so that you can run a finger through a blob on a chilled plate without it running straight back together.

And it all looks so pretty, with the sun shining through in the background.

Luckily the casualty was a one of our 15 jars of  Seville marmalade rather than a Meyer lemon one, where we used the same marmalading principle, but got just 3-1/2 jars of the stuff.

Time will tell which one tastes best.

Now has anyone got any ideas of things to do with tart orange or lemon marmalade?

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