Monday, October 22, 2012

Rebecca's Own Kiwiberry Tartlets

At the grocery store in Anchorage, Alaska, where I live, we don’t always get interesting things. I usually have to go to around three stores to gather what I need for any really interesting culinary project. So, you can imagine how excited and surprised I was to find, in a small corner of the produce section above the grapes, a pint of something I hadn’t seen before. Kiwiberries.

The Elusive Kiwiberry-- Ripe and wrinkled.

Well, I had to buy them!! I took the little box home and did my research. When I’m looking for recipes I usually google whatever is my seasonal ingredient. In this case I typed in “kiwiberry recipes.” Nothing interesting. So I tried a lot more, but I didn’t find anything too interesting.  They seem to be used in cocktails a lot, or simply eaten like grapes.

Kiwiberries are grown mostly is Oregon. They grow on vines and are completely edible; no fuzzy skin! My favorite part: they are the size of a grape and look just like a kiwi inside. Oh the possibilities!

They are ripe when the skin stops being shiny and gets wrinkled. When they ripen they become really really sweet! The taste before they’re completely ripe is exactly like a kiwi. I let mine ripen and they turned into something amazing. The taste reminds me of a pineapple guava, another amazing fruit that I ate like crazy when I was at boarding school in California.

I made a lovely tartlet with the berries. I only made one to try the recipe, which I created. I baked some leftover pie dough in a 4.5’’ tartlet pan.

I filled it with a strange creation. I wanted to use a very light zabaglione with a little bit of white wine, brandy, and vanilla, but for some reason it wasn’t thickening. I used the same recipe a few days ago and it turned out great! No idea. You have to be plastic if you’re going to cook. I didn’t throw it out in despair. Instead I took my failed sauce added a little bit of cream mixed with cornstarch, put it back on the stove, and cooked it until it was thick. I made a very odd pastry cream. It is golden and delicious.

I cut the berries in half and arranged them on the tart. I think they’re beautiful! There aren’t many green desserts. This is a keeper. 

Poached Pear Tartlet- More from Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts

It's a beauty isn't it?! This wonderful tart is yet again from Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts cookbook. They are both amazing, the cookbook and the tart that is.

It is made with red wine and white wine poached pears baked in a really really long shell of pate sucree, and filled in with a custard. The one problem I have with the recipe is the custard. It had flour and was a little gummy. Next time I will try to make in lighter.

The one challenge with this tart was its size. This rimmed baking sheet is a 3/4 sized one. It only barely fits in my oven. I obviously couldn't find a tartlet mould like that in Anchorage, Alaska, so I had to make on. I thought about it for awhile and decided to make it out of aluminum foil. The reason I came to this decision was because I couldn't find any tin sheeting online at Home Depot. 

Here is what I came up with:

This is my aluminum foil tartlet mold filled with my dough and weighted with a small square of parchment, cheesecloth, and ceramic beads. I also had a little circle of crust, so I baked it.

It turned out perfectly. 

After making the tart I had some extra red wine pears (they are bosc, the white are bartlett). I decided to bake them with the extra custard in a pie plate. They were great too! They were also healthier without the crust.

I really loved working with the poached pears! I hope you try it.

Rebecca's Own Blueberry Tartlets

That's right folks! In a moment of hunger and inspiration I created something truly magnificent! I wanted dessert, and when given a choice between apples, pears, kiwiberries, blueberries, and plums, all things that I had in the house, Adam chose blueberries. So there I was. I was to make a blueberry dessert. I happened to have a small amount of leftover pie crust in the refrigerator from my double crust blueberry nectarine pie, so I decided to use it. I began lining two small tartlet pans when Adam took out a small piece of chèvre cheese and smiled widely. I said that I would use it in the tart and he was surprised and happy. Three ingredients down.

So, here is what I did. I put about half of the blueberries in a little saucepan. I added half a vanilla bean, some pinot noir that I had open, a small squeeze of lemon juice, and some honey to taste.

I reduced this until I had basically made jam. I took if off the heat and folded the rest of the blueberries in. I adjusted the honey level and set the berry mixture aside.

By this point it was time to take out the tartlet shells, one of the upsides to 4.5 inch crusts. I un-molded them and let them cool on a wire rack so that they wouldn't get soggy and tough. I took the chèvre cheese, added some honey, and mixed in heavy cream until it was the consistency of a thick yogurt.

I filled the crusts with the berries, put a dollop of the cheese, and added a few slivers of candied lemon zest that I made earlier this summer.

It was a super delicious, recipe-free creation. I intend on making it again someday. I do have a few ideas. I think it would be even more delicious if I used wild blueberries for the jam mixture; they have more flavor. They are sold in the organic freezer section if you haven't had a chance to pick your own; as I haven't. I also think that whipped cream, yogurt, sour cream, ricotta, cream cheese with milk, or crème fraîche would be delicious if you didn't have chèvre around.

One more thing, I just learned the keypad codes for things like this: `e and this: î. That's why I've decided to use them today!

A German Feast- Bratwurst and Sauerkraut

My sweetie, the beer guy, loves German food. It makes sense; the strong and rich flavors of beer, bread, sauerkraut, and pickles were born together. Fermentation is a wonderful thing, and paired with a delicious emulsified sausage sausage which has been perfectly poached in beer and then lightly caramelized, all of those fermented food become something truly inspired.

I was a vegetarian when I was little. In many ways it was a blessing. I'm just going to ignore the reasons most people use: it is humane, it is better for the environment, it is better for your health. The reason that I think being raised a vegetarian is a blessing is because I learned about spices and clean flavors. I find that many people rely heavily on animal fat in order to impart flavor to their food. If you disagree then just look at bacon. It is in EVERYTHING!

Anyhoo, that being said.  I'm trying to learn how to cook meat. My mom never learned, so it truly is up to me. So, of course, I started with the least common, and arguably most difficult, meat to make.

I made sausage! It's my new experiment. I got an excellent book called Charcuterie, it is by Michael Ruhlman, Brian Polcyn, and Thomas Keller. It is an amazing book! I have been having a lot of fun making things from it.

This book gave me the recipe for my bratwurst. It was a trying experience though. Sweetie and I got an old fashioned horn-style sausage stuffer. It was awful! I ended up returning it. The meat would not go through. My sweetie ended up standing on the counter sitting on the handle. We're going for a different approach next time.

The bratwurst came out great though. I ended up freezing it immediately for later use. For dinner I poached it in some beer. After it reached the correct internal temperature, I took it out and sauteed it lightly in order to caramelize the outside.

We ate it with potatoes that Adam made. He cooked some small pieces of bacon and sauteed the potatoes in the fat. We also ate it with my homemade sauerkraut. 

Talk about something that is easy to make. You basically pour a light brine over shredded cabbage and then wait. It turned out crunchy and sour. After it had fermented to my liking,  I took the cabbage out of the brine and replaced it with wine. White for the green cabbage, and red for the purple. 

Well , all of that turned into delicious dinner. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Marinara Sauce: The Tomatoes' Slaughter!

I decided to make some homemade marinara sauce in the hopes it might be a fun and cost-effective way to stock up on some pantry essentials. Wow was I mistaken! $40 of locally grown Alaskan tomatoes from Bell's Nursery (20 lbs.) only gave me 6 quarts of sauce. I could probably buy that at the store for around $16. It is certainly delicious, but I don't think the fresh tomatoes made much of a difference. It was a good learning experience. Next time I'm starting with high quality canned tomatoes. It will be far more time and cost effective. That being said, here is what I did!

First I cored, blanched and peeled all of my tomatoes. Then I cut them in half and, with my fingers, scooped out all of the seeds. I strained the seeds in order to put the juice back in the pot so I would keep all the good flavor. I diced the tomatoes and them moved on to the onions. Here is my overflowing 8qt. (7.5L) tub of prepared tomatoes:

In a huge pot I added around six finely diced yellow onions and a scant half cup of olive oil. I sauteed these until they were translucent and had just begun to take on a golden color. To this I added 6 tablespoons of crushed and minced garlic and 2 tablespoons each of dried: basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. If you wanted to you could add any of these herbs fresh, but you would need to increase the amounts accordingly. After I'd tossed these in, I deglazed the pan with 1.5 cups of red wine. I can't remember what I used now.

After those flavors had a chance to meld, I threw in all of the tomatoes. What a sight!

Me, in a baby pool of tomatoes and wearing a tomato hat for a Renaissance Fair!
I cannot remember who took this photo, sorry!

I let the sauce reduce and cook down for a really really long time, stirring to make sure the bottom didn't scorch. After it was sufficiently cooked I threw it into the food processor and, batch by batch, I pureed some of the larger chunks out. I added salt and pepper also and adjusted for taste. These tomatoes weren't as sweet as I would have liked, so I had to add about a tablespoon of brown sugar to add depth. 

Can I even express my distaste for this electric stove with a broken microwave above it?
When I am able I'm ditching it for a gas stovetop with beautiful hood vent.
Being young and in school can be tough!
It is like camp cooking.
Longest caption ever!

Anyway, the sauce is delicious. I packed it into quart jars and froze it. I use it sparingly, it is great on pizzas and as a base for pasta sauce. My sweetie likes to add sausage and other veggies to it. 

Next time I'm beginning with high quality canned tomatoes....that is, until I have a greenhouse. I hope you have your own marinara adventures!

Unfortunately the best photo I've got.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Treacle Tart

So I made this delicious treacle tart a while ago. It was most excellent with soft faintly sweet whipped cream. I made it with homemade breadcrumbs. Here is the basic idea: bake light treacle with fresh breadcrumbs, lemon zest, ginger, and a dash of lemon juice in a pastry crust. It is delicious! 

For those of you who have no idea what treacle is, treacle is a syrup made of cane sugar. Light treacle is similar to corn syrup, and black treacle is similar to molasses. Basically, this is a really good sugar pie. 

I could have made this into more of a tart shape, but I really wanted to use my beautiful pie plate. I love these I have two now, one in green and one in this sand color. I really want to get more. I love pretty pottery. These are wonderful because they're really deep.

I didn't use my new crust recipe on this one. See how the crimping melted? Yeah, that doesn't happen anymore. Thanks Martha!

The Wedding Cake

Get ready for a wordy one!

My friends got married! Yes, it is excellent. I, being a college student who doesn't have much money at all, thought that instead of buying them a gift I couldn't afford, could make their wedding cake. That became the deal. They would pay for the ingredients, Mrs. Bride would tell me what she wanted, I would get the experience of making a wedding cake, and Mr. & Mrs. Happy Couple would get a delicious wedding cake for a fraction of the price.

The cake's recipe was from Baking With Julia; it was brought to the book by Martha Stewart. The cake was for 50 people, the ingredients were about $80, and the rest of the supplies I needed made the whole deal about $150. Quite a deal! I also spent a long, long time working on it.

I ended up having three cakes to make that week. This one, my sweetie's birthday cake (for about 15), and another birthday cake, a chocolate behemoth for 50. It was quite a busy week. Needless to say cake making is breezy now. I can make a successful cake recipe-free now, so the lesson was useful.

The most important thing that I learned: plan ahead. I new that the biggest challenge for a 50 person cake was going to be logistics and shopping, so I was ahead of the curve the whole time. I began about a month ahead by making a comprehensive grocery list and doing some pre-shopping. That let Mr. and Mrs. Happy Couple plan on how much it would cost. I also made my shopping much more manageable. In fact, when my dad asked me to make the second 50 person cake a week before, It was pretty easy. I already knew what to do, and my kitchen was in cake mode.

I have to admit that I can be immensely stubborn. I still am not fond of Mrs. Bride's decoration choices, and I wish that the cake could have been displayed on a flat, clean, and covered table, but it wasn't my happy day. In the end the cake got rained on and started sliding on the crooked table; the photos show that. It still was delicious though; people were talking about it weeks later.

I'm removing the top tier to save.
Mr. & Mrs. Happy Couple!

The cake was a dense almond cake; pretty much a pound cake. Each tier of the cake had two layers of the almond cake surrounding a round of almond dacquoise surrounded with apricot jam. The recipe in Baking with Julia called for a egg yolk buttercream, but after I made our tester cake we decided that it was too rich. I ended up making an italian buttercream frosting instead. I have a lot of learning to with with frosting cakes still!

Mrs. Bride wanted black daisies and I decided to make them out of marzipan instead of gum paste. They turned out really well!

My gallon bag of homemade almond paste. About half turned into marzipan.
Decoration factory! Small daisies.
Cake Factory!

I enjoyed the experience and hope that I get more chances to make big cakes; I really need to learn how to frost! One thing I learned, chill your cakes! It makes everything go smoothly. My biggest problem with my buttercream is that it had big holes in it so it frosted lumpy. If anyone has any ideas about how to get a smoother frosting without air please let me know!!

Anyway, the wedding was a success. In addition to the cakes I helped the Mrs. Bride shop for, and prepare the rest of the food. We made pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, and lemon feta pasta salad for 50 people. It was great fun! I made the pasta in a massive restaurant food storage bucket. I was stirring with my hands so that I wouldn't tear the pasta. I was up to my elbows!!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rose Syrup

In July, when the smell of roses was pretty much around every corner, I put on my pretty yellow summer dress, grabbed a large bag, and went for a walk. It was time to collect roses! It was a beautiful and sweet smelling day, but I probably should have worn long sleeves and Carhartts, because at the end of the day my legs and arms were scratched and itchy. I had a lot of fun anyway. In Anchorage, AK there are a lot of roses that grow on the side of the road. They're close enough to get to, but far enough away from the road that they aren't scary. I gathered a LOT of petals, in both white and pink.

Me in the sundress that I made! I don't have any pictures of the full skirt.

After gathering the petals, I washed them in a bowl to which I'd added some vegetable wash. The stuff I have is all natural and made with grapefruit seed extract. It really helped. The water was very dirty after the first swish, and the bugs all died.  Here are by beautiful petals.

After washing the petals I put them in a pot and added water. I boiled the petals until they rendered all of their color and aroma; I strained them out. Next I added sugar. It is really up to you how much you add. I looked online at different syrup consistencies. You can always simmer some of the extra water out too. I made my syrup pretty light. My mom said that it should have been heavier, but we used it in a punch for her birthday, and it worked perfectly. More about the party another day...

Anyway, the syrup turned out beautiful and delicious. I also made one with fireweed blossoms and one with peony petals (yes, they're edible). The fireweed had a very vibrant color, but ended up a little bit bitter. I think that next year I will cold steep them. The peony was really interesting; it had a nutty taste reminiscent of hazelnut. I've yet to find a use for it. Maybe with chocolate. 

I had so many rose petals I ended up drying some. I wanted to candy them, but it wasn't working well for me that day so I let it go. Sometimes the easiest things just have a fussy day. Maybe it was the humidity or the heat, who knows. 

Here are my drying petals and my syrups. I got my beautiful bottles, corks, and shrink tops at a local brewing supply store.