Monday, September 26, 2011

Black Raspberry Macarons

Over the last month I've been slowly trying to wrap up unfinished projects, purge unused things out of the house and overall just simplify my home and my life. Progress has been really slow and for a long time even though I was getting things checked off the list, the difference was not noticeable, but yesterday night I walked through the house and felt lighter. It's amazing the things you find when you undertake something like this. I have boxes filled with bits and pieces of places and activities from years ago. Things I'd forgotten I'd done and places I'd forgotten I'd been. A trail map from a hike I took with my sister in the middle of nowhere. A ticket stub from a show where my friend and I got drenched and then walked around downtown trying to find a restaurant that wouldn't mind seating us even though we were dripping wet. A set of vintage baking pans I picked up in a tiny town on a weekend trip with a friend. And more unfinished craft projects then I can even begin to tell you. I've been giving a lot of things away (my friend Joy, who I've been piling a lot of my things onto, is starting to joke that I'm slowly taking over her house), but I like the idea of finding my things a good home. I acquired most of them because I liked them and it makes me feel better knowing that someone else will use and love them instead of letting them gather dust in a closet somewhere.

Black Raspberry Macarons 2

I've been going through my pictures and my files on the computer too when I found these. I made this jam this summer when a trip to the farmer's market yielded a case of gorgeous black raspberries. I know it's unfair to post it now, seeing as how raspberries of any color are long since out of season, but as I said, I'm cleaning the rafters. You can always earmark this for next year if you'd like and I'll definitely be making this again next summer.

Black Raspberry Jam 2

If you never had black raspberries you're definitely missing out. They're full of antioxidants, are as dark as blackberries, have the same shape as raspberries, but different from both in taste. Sweeter and not as tart, they just need a bit of sugar and lemon juice to make a beautiful jam. I made macarons using my favorite recipe from Tartlette and filled the shells with this jam, which was amazing, but it would also be lovely on toast or a buttery croissant.

Black Raspberry Macaron

Black Raspberry Jam
3 pounds black raspberries
2.5 cups sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

- Sterilize about ten 8oz jars by either washing them in hot soapy water and then "cooking" them in the oven for a few minutes, or by running them through the dishwasher on "sterilize" setting (my preferred lazy route).
- Dump the raspberries, sugar and lemon juice into a very large pot set over high heat. You want there to be plenty of room left in there for when the jam bubbles up. Mash the berries with a potato masher until you are happy. I don't mind seeds or chunks in my jam, so I don't worry too much about this, but if you do you may want to sieve or blend the mixture before you start.
- Bring the jam to a hard boil and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring the entire time making sure the bottom doesn't scorch, until it thickens. If you keep a spoon in the freezer you can test your set by dropping a bit of jam into the cold spoon and waiting a minute. If you nudge the chilled jam with your finger and see wrinkles, your jam is done. If it's still runny, keep cooking a few minutes longer and test again.
- Carefully ladle the hot jam into the jars and seal. Process them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes if you want to save them for later or just chill and keep in the fridge if you intend to eat them within the next week or so.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pie Contest and Pie Crust Tips

This past weekend I thought I'd throw my hat into the pie making ring. Never mind that I'm a cake lady and can probably count the number of times I'd previously made pie on one hand. But those earlier pies had come out good, so I was determined that I'd at least try. The event was sponsored by California Raisins, French Pastry School of Chicago, and Pastry Chicago and it was held at the Whole Foods over in Lincoln Park. Have you ever been to that Whole Foods? It's enormous! Apparently it's the 2nd largest store in US, with the biggest being down in Texas. I'm serious, it was huge.

Table of Pies
And some of the pies looked absolutely amazing (nope, none of these are mine):

Pretty Pie
I'm not going to show you what I made, and needless to say, I did not win any of these awesome prizes, but I did learn quite a bit from the whole experience, so I thought I'd make this post informative and share what I learned with you.

Prizes I didn't get
Chef Della Gossett, who currently teaches The Professional Pastry and Baking Program at French Pastry School of Chicago, came out and did a demo on pie making, and I learned more about making a great crust in that half hour then in all the books/tutorials I've read on the subject. I guess I'm a visual learner because watching her, everything just clicked. This post is going to be a bit wordy, but I'm going to try and share with you all the little tidbits that I picked up.

I don't have the exact recipe or ratios that she used, and I find that most recipes are basically the same, so the trick is usually in the handling and the process. I can tell you is that the recipe had pastry flour, salt, cold unsalted butter, and some ice water mixed with about a half teaspoon of table vinegar. If you like you can substitute all purpose or cake flour if you don't have pastry flour on hand, just don't use bread flour which has too much gluten for a pie crust. Also, the little bit of vinegar helps prevent gluten from forming, leaving your crust nice and flaky even if you accidentally overwork it a little. Gluten, by the way, is what makes things like bread and pizza dough so nice and chewy, but turns around and makes pie crusts tough and hard. She dumped the flour and salt into the food processor (no pastry cutters here), pulsed a few times, added cold butter cubes, pulsed a few times to get a crumb texture, and then drizzled in the water/vinegar mix while pulsing again, just until the dough started to come together a bit.

Side tip: If you're planning on making lots and lots of pies, or even just want to get ready to make one, measure out everything except for the water and vinegar, put into a ziplock bag and toss in the freezer. When you're ready to make the crust, just empty the pouch into your food processor and you're ready to go.
Pie Crust 1
Once things started coming together a little, she dumped everything out onto a lightly floured Silpat and really quickly kneaded everything together into a cohesive dough. The whole thing took less then a minute and when she was done the dough was still cold and you could still make out little bits of butter in the mix. The whole thing got wrapped with Saran Wrap and tossed into the fridge to relax.

Ideally you want to chill the dough for an hour or so, but if you kept yours overnight and it got firmer than you like, just whack it a few times into a disk form with your rolling pin before quickly rolling it out on a lightly floured Silpat. Make sure to roll outward from the center and not back and forth and keep in mind that you want the final shape to be a circle, so rotate the dough a quarter turn every couple of strokes.

Rolling Out Cold Dough
Instead of tucking the dough edges underneath, she neatly trimmed the edges leaving an even inch of overhang all around (the leftovers can be cut into strips, dredged in cinnamon and sugar and baked for munching on later), and folded them inward using her finger as a guide. You can sort of see what I mean in the picture below. I really liked the shape that this made, plus I think it gives you a deeper crust even if you're not using a very deep dish. A deeper crust equals more filling and who doesn't want that?

Crimping Pie Crust
She had the oven preheated to 475F with an inverted cookie sheet set on the middle rack waiting for the crust to be blind baked (baked partially without filling). When you slide in the pie dish, the preheated cookie sheet will make sure that the bottom of the crust cooks faster, preventing soggy/uncooked crust bottoms later on.

I also liked how she used a large coffee filter (filled with pie weights, beans or rice) to line her crust instead of foil, which is what I have been using. The coffee filter absorbs some of the moisture and allows some air circulation making sure that the top of the crust bottom (does that make sense?) browns nicely as well. The crust baked for about 20 minutes and was then taken out and cooled as the filling was being made.

Blind Baking
She filled her pie with chopped apples, raisins infused with cinnamon, and pre-cooked quince. You can use whatever apples you like, or even a mix, just make sure that you pick the kind that don't turn completely to mush during cooking. If you're getting them at your farmers market, just ask the farmer, they'll tell you exactly which ones are the best for what.

The raisins can be infused with almost anything. Della (yes, I got tired of saying "she" so we're on a first name basis now) plopped some raisins into a small pot with some water and a few sticks of cinnamon, brought it to a simmer and set it aside to infuse for about 20 minutes or so. I had attempted to do the same with my pie, but I used rum and I learned that there is such a thing as infusing raisins too much. I left them to soak overnight and they were tiny little booze bombs, so 20 to 30 minutes might be my limit next time around.

Beautiful Cooked Quince
I don't know if you've ever cooked with quince before, but it's a delicious fruit that's unlike anything else. It looks like a cross between an apple and a pear, but it absolutely cannot be eaten raw because it is hard and will suck out all the moisture from your mouth. My mom used to make it into preserves with a few walnuts suspended in delicious syrup, or toss a few into compot, a cooked fruit punch that's amazing both warm and ice cold and is the perfect use of leftover or slightly imperfect fruit. I'll have to tell you guys about it sometime in a different post.

Della peeled, cored and thickly sliced the quince and dumped the peels and the slices into a pressure cooker along with a scraped vanilla bean, two tablespoons of sugar and about two cups of water. You want to keep the peels for the flavor that they add to the mix. The whole thing was sealed up tight, brought to full steam, and then cooked on medium for about 35 minutes. The quince will retain it's shape, but soften a bit and turn this lovely pink color, and your kitchen will smell incredible. Some of the poaching liquid got mixed in with the diced apples and raisins, which got scooped into the crust and topped with the cooked quince slices.

Fill and Bake
The pie went into the oven to cook for about 40 minutes and in the mean time she reduced the quince poaching liquid with a bit of honey into a beautiful glaze that was brushed onto the finished pie.

Glaze and Eat 
How gorgeous is that? And let me tell you, topped with a wisp of whipped cream, it was delicious! The crust perfectly flaky and tender and the filling not too sweet and full of flavor. I'm on a hunt for quince that won't cost me an arm and a leg, and then I'll definitely be making this.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Corn and Zucchini Salad with Chives and Bacon

The air is finally cooling, the leaves are just barely beginning to change colors, and farmers markets are chock full of amazing fall produce, including almost sugary sweet corn. The hot summer and monsoon-like rains have wreaked havoc on some of the market produce, but the corn has been amazing. I've been visiting different farmers markets over the last few weekends and on my last trip out I found a small table covered in beautiful chives, complete with lovely chive blossoms.


I scooped up the bunch, a small handful of mint and a few ears of corn and I lugged them home to make this recipe, which I'd bookmarked from The Kitchn a few weeks back. Now I don't know about you, but I find that shaving corn is always a messy process in my kitchen. I know that there are fancy shmancy corn shavers out there, but I just don't think that they deserve valuable drawer space in my kitchen, so I improvise. I usually pick out a nice wide bowl, put an inverted glass into the middle of that, stand my corn on the glass and use my knife to shave the kernels off. That way the bowl catches 98% of the flying kernels and the mess is at a minimum.


Adding zucchini boosts up the veggie appeal and a few pieces of bacon adds a great smokey flavor, making for a great side dish.

Stir Fried Corn

Corn and Zucchini Salad with Chives and Bacon
adapted from The Kitchn
2 small zucchini, diced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 strips of bacon
4 ears sweet corn, kernels shaved off
1 cup minced chives
1/2 cup chopped mint

- Place the diced zucchini in a colander or small bowl and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside.
- Heat a deep skillet over medium heat and fry the bacon strips until crispy. Remove the bacon, crumble and set aside. Pour off some of the grease, leaving about a tablespoon or two in the pan. Add the corn kernels and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are tender or about 5 minutes.
- Drain any excess water off the zucchini (I didn't have very much liquid, but you might) and add to the skillet, along with the chives and mint. Sauté just until the zucchini is barely tender or about 3 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, stir in the crumbled bacon and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately while hot, or at room temperature.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Honey and Peaches Ice Cream

I hope you are all enjoying your Labor Day weekend. Down here I've taken the holiday literally. My entire Saturday was filled with work, though don't get me wrong, it was work of the delicious persuasion. My friend and I got up early-ish (I mean it IS the weekend after all) and visited three different Farmer's Markets, ferreting out peaches. My original plan was to drive to a farm and pick our own like I did last year, but then I did the math and between the gas and the three or four hours that such a trip would take, staying close to home and going to the market was sounding better and better.

Peaches Honey and Cream Ice Cream

At one of the markets we hit the jackpot and picked up a full bushel of peach "seconds" for less then half of the normal cost. These were imperfect peaches that didn't look pretty enough to sell for full price, but since we had destined them for ice cream and jam, the look of the peaches didn't matter to us one bit and they were without a doubt at the very peak of ripeness. We also picked up a few pretty peaches for eating, a half bushel of beautiful plum tomatoes, some onions, way too many beautiful garlic bulbs, a still warm baguette, and a slice of pungent blue cheese for my friend and a slice of gorgeous creamy brie layered with apricot preserves and sliced almonds for me. (The work ahead would require a lunch break and we wanted to be prepared.)


The rest of the day was spent happily in my friend's large kitchen. I made two batches of peach ice cream, roasting peaches with a touch of sugar and raspberry balsamic for one and simmering down some peaches with honey and lemon juice for the other. I made eight batches of roasted tomato sauce base under the strict supervision of my friend, whose recipe this was, roasting tray after tray of quartered plum tomatoes, onions and garlic slathered with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. I made a batch of gorgeous peach butter and another batch of golden gingered peach jam (recipes coming soon). At the end of the day I was tired, sore, and sweaty despite the AC that occasionally dripped on my head as I stopped under the vent to wash the dishes, but the house smelled amazing, everything was canned or bagged or frozen, and as I sank into the deep cushy sofa in my friend's back room I felt a deep sense of satisfaction (and my aching back...oof). And so I rewarded myself with a scoop of ice cream.

Peaches Honey and Cream Ice Cream 2

Honey and Peaches Ice Cream

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cups whole milk
1 large vanilla bean, scraped
1/2 cup sugar
4 large yolks

6 or 7 ripe peaches, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup honey, I like forest honey for this, but use what you have
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Heat the heavy cream, milk, vanilla bean and sugar in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat until it's just below simmering, then turn off the heat. Let this mixture sit and steep. The longer you wait, the stronger the vanilla flavor will be. Bring the mixture back to a low simmer once you're ready to continue.

Whisk together the yolks in a medium sized bowl. Pour a cup of the hot cream mixture into the eggs, whisking rapidly the entire time, essentially tempering the eggs so that they don't turn into an omelet in the next step. Whisk another cup of hot cream into the eggs and once everything is warm, whisk the eggs into the pot of remaining cream.

Gently whisk the custard over low heat until the mixture starts to thicken. When the custard seems to be getting thicker, dip a spoon or a spatula into the mix and run your finger through it. It is done when the custard clings to the flat surface.

Strain the custard through a mesh strainer into a shallow dish. Cover the dish with plastic wrap, making sure that the wrap rests directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming, let it cool a bit on the counter and then place in the fridge. Allow the custard to chill and thicken overnight or until it's thoroughly cold.

Combine peaches, honey and lemon juice in a large pot and cook on high, stirring regularly, for 20 minutes or until the peaches are so soft that they're starting to puree themselves. Remove from heat, puree, pour into a shallow dish, cover with saran wrap just like the custard and chill.

Once you're ready to churn the ice cream, stir the peach puree into the custard and process the yummy goodness in your ice cream maker according to manufacturers instructions.