Spiced Peaches (Sugar High Friday #22)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

My mother cans every year and has an enviable repertoire of jams, jellies, pickles, fruit, vegetables, and meat. She always kept us kids out of the kitchen and away from the pressure cooker and boiling sugar during the process, and as a result I left home not knowing how. I'd always given her a hard time about failing to pass on this vital life skill until she replied that it is not that hard and I should be able to figure it out. With a frugal themed blog, I could not resist trying it for the Can You Can episode of Sugar High Friday.

Spiced peaches do double duty as a sweet or as a relish - the heat of the spices makes up for the lack of a sour element.

Boil together 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water with 6 cloves, 6 peppercorns, 6 allspice berries, and two cinnamon sticks until the sugar is dissolved. You can mix and match other whole spices; grains of paradise or ginger would work well. Make sure the cinnamon sticks are short enough to fit into your canning jars. Wash an orange and zest in long strips; add zest to syrup. Peel 1 lb firm peaches and cut into chunks; cook in the syrup for a few minutes until tender. (You want firmer peaches for this; use the softer ones to eat fresh or make soup.) Meanwhile, sterilize jars and lids and start water boiling for water bath.

Place cinnamon sticks in clean sterilized jars and coil in the orange zest. Pack in the peaches and whole spices and spoon the hot syrup over the fruit, leaving a couple centimeters of head space. Run a spoon up and down the sides to remove any air bubbles and partly tighten the lids. Process in water bath for fifteen minutes; remove jars and firmly tighten the lids. I was thrilled to hear the pop that meant the jar was sealing. This is a very small batch; it makes a couple half pints with a bit left over for your cereal the next day.

Qing jiao yu mi (Corn With Peppers), from Land of Plenty

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The best cookbooks are those that teach you to cook with your senses. Far too many use a formulaic approach that outlines equipment, specific ingredients, precise cooking times, and precisely nothing that would give you a deeper understanding of the food and process. I recently picked up Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty, a book about Sichuan style cooking. It is full of not only good recipes, but fascinating information about this central Chinese province as well as cooking and eating habits of Sichuanese.

My exploring this book coincided with gorgeous fresh corn on special nearly everywhere as well as the annual pepper event at the Italian Centre Shop, one of the best places to shop for groceries in Edmonton. Each year in late summer you can get a variety of BC peppers for around 1.50 a pound. A jumble of various sweet and hot varieties take up most of an entire produce stand and you can smell it from around the aisle.

This recipe I found in the vegetable chapter of the book- fresh corn and peppers, sauteed in oil with salt. Such a prosaic combination - the very opposite of my usual idea of Sichuan cooking - gave me pause. However, the book's engaging description of the dish aroused my curiosity. It is also extremely fast to make, with a couple minutes chopping and five minutes or so frying. The recipe mentions you could make this with frozen or canned corn but it will not compare to sauteed fresh sweet corn, and I would agree that the appeal of the finished dish, which is much more than the sum of its parts, is mainly due to the freshness of the corn.

Cut the kernels off of two fresh cobs of corn. Chop coloured peppers into small dice similar to the size of a corn kernel, in quantity to give an attractive colour contrast in the dish (I used one green and one red pepper, both very small) and saute in 3 tbs of hot oil, adding salt to taste, until vegetables are tender but not mushy. The book encourages adding plenty of salt - about two teaspoons was enough to brace the sweetness of the corn I used.

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #8 entry, co-hosted by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast and Sara of i like to cook. Theme is Foreign Food. See entry details here.

Peach and Canteloupe Soup

Saturday, August 19, 2006

This is a cool and refreshing first course or summer dessert. You need really dead ripe fruit- that bag of marked down peaches, for example. The canteloupe should be soft as well, nearly translucent. Some really ripe peaches will peel easily by just lifting the skins off with a knife, but if that does not work plunge them in boiling water for a minute, then colder water so they are cool enough to handle. The skins should slip off. The proportions don't really matter, but I used one small canteloupe and four peaches. The fruits will give out a lot of juice as you peel and slice them into a blender, making a spa treatment for your hands. Try and capture as much juice as you can in the blender. You might need to blend in two batches.

Stir in 3/4 cup of milk, cream, soymilk, buttermilk, whatever you have. If you have almond flavouring or Amaretto on hand add some to taste but don't go out and buy it for the sake of the recipe. (Flavouring should intensify the fruit; should not be enough to give the soup a strong almond note.) Chill until very cold and garnish with berries, if available, or a spoonful of sour cream.

Another entry for ARF/5-a-day over at Sweetnicks'. Check for the roundup on Tuesday.

Poutine with Mole

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Belly bomb alert! Poutine, which comes from Quebec, is a pile of French fries and cheese curds smothered with with gravy, barbecue sauce, or other concoctions such as bolognese sauce. I've wanted to try it with mole for a long time and finally made it this way on the long weekend when my sister came to visit. I used a mole verde mix for the sauce, prepared quite thick with chicken stock. The mix was Doña Maria brand and very salty; Rogelio is better if you can find it.

Cooking fries in animal fat, like beef fat or duck fat, gives them the best flavour. I got a couple kilos of beef fat free from Sunterra market, just by calling ahead, and rendered it in the slow cooker. I should have followed a more elaborate rendering process because the resulting lard was full of suc - yummy, but complicated the frying. (Do we have a word in English for suc? The sticky, aromatic brown stuff that clings to your pan surfaces?) I mandolined starchy baking potatoes into skinny fries and soaked them in cold water, then heated the lard over medium high heat and began parcooking the fries.

French fries should be cooked once at a lower heat to cook them through and then again at high heat to crisp them. If you have a deep fat fryer, the low temperature should be about 300 deg F and the high temperature about 375. I was using a stove top, so for me the low temperature made the fries look like they were relaxing in a jacuzzi and the high temperature immersed them completely in bubbling oil. I thought that with my skinny cut fries double cooking would not make much difference and tried to cook one batch in hotter fat all at once, but they turned out limp. The double cooked fries, salted, were wondrous. We ate them as poutine, then with ketchup and other dips.

As for the poutine, the final combination was very good but still could use some tweaks. The thin, crispy fries did not hold enough heat to melt the cheese (used chevre) into submission and the sauce was a bit too thick, so the glommed-together quality of true poutine did not get a chance to develop. Next time will try thicker cut fries, and maybe a different kind of mole, like chocolate or pumpkin seed. The cheese element definitely needs more attention as well - think queso fresco would work really well with the mole, or maybe a sharp feta if I can find one that is melty enough.

Masala Chai and Coconut Ginger Matcha Ice Creams

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

My first experiments with ice cream made me eager to try a few other flavours. The first was the chai ice cream (shown) mentioned in the original post. The second was to add the bite of ginger to the coconut matcha. For these I switched to honey for a sweetener since I am saving sugar for baking. You can use a slightly higher quantity of sugar to match the sweetness.

The masala chai flavoured ice cream was quite straightforward - steep two tablespoons of chai tea and spice mix in two cups of heated half and half, until strongly flavoured. Sweeten to taste - I ended up using one and a half tablespoons of honey. Chill and strain before freezing. Both Masala Chai and Culina Oolong Chai blends from Cally's Teas gave good results, with both the tea and spice coming through very well.

For coconut ginger matcha, heat up a 14 oz can of coconut milk (I used 55% coconut milk) and dissolve one and a half tablespoons of matcha powder. Finely chop a two inch piece of ginger - use more than you think you need, because freezing dulls flavours - and mix in. Simmer for a couple minutes and use a potato masher or other tool to squeeze out the ginger juice into the coconut and matcha mixture. Sweeten with two tablespoons honey, or to taste, and chill and strain before freezing.

Blueberry Soup with Polenta and Chevre

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Seems like everyone is blogging about blueberries these days. Love it. Just got back from a BC trip with two quarts of blueberries that have the most intense blueberry flavour I've ever tasted from cultivated blueberries - almost like blueberry liquor.

This soup began as I was throwing a bowl of things together to eat on a busy night. I decided to use some blueberries I had stewed several days earlier. (Had intended originally to mix them with fresh ones for a pie, but hadn't yet been able to get the fresh ones and finish the pie.) To give the dish of stewed berries some body I added polenta. For protein, I then crumbled some homemade chevre on top. The results were distractingly good.

If you have to buy all the elements it is expensive to make, but hopefully you have blueberries to use up or have access to wild ones. Cream cheese, a spoonful of sour cream or lebnah, or any mild cheese with a slight tang would all work very well if you don't have chevre on hand.

What made this combination really zing, I realized, was making the blueberry mixture with lemon sugar (sugar infused with scrapings of lemon zest) and using cheese made with lemon juice. The citrus sharpness throws the flavour of the berries into relief and so is a traditional addition to blueberry or saskatoon dishes. Otherwise, the blueberries do not need much. You start them with a little water and sweeten them to taste - my soup version of the berries used a lot less sugar than my original pie version. Caramelizing the polenta gave the dish character and a temperature contrast.

Blueberries: Put 1/2 cup of water in a medium saucepan with one and a half pint baskets of blueberries and simmer til they are juicy. The water is just to prevent the berries from burning before giving up their juices. You can add more if you want a thinner soup - blueberries cook up quite thick and you shouldn't need to add any thickener. Add one half lemon's worth of juice and zest. Make yourself a cool drink with the other half. Add sweetener to taste, starting with a tablespoon or so - maple syrup, sugar, or honey would all work well. Cool and refrigerate. This much will make a breakfast/late supper dish for two, or you could serve it in smaller dishes as shown to up to six for dessert.

Polenta: Use a chunk of cooked polenta about the size of two decks of cards. Cut in cubes and brown in some butter and sugar or maple syrup until the polenta is heated through and has a crispy brown surface. Use medium heat because the sugar burns fast.

Chevre: Crumble one tsp of chevre per dessert serving, as shown, or up to two tablespoons for a bigger bowl.

Assembly should be quick, since you should eat while there is still a good contrast between the warm polenta and cold soup - take a bowl of soup out of the fridge, tip the cubes of polenta on top of it, and sprinkle with the chevre.

Another entry for Sweetnicks' ARF/5-a-day. Roundup every Tuesday.

Fan qie chao dan (Tomatoes and Eggs)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

This comfort food from China with basic elements of tomatoes and eggs scrambled together is almost easier to make than to eat.

More elaborate preparations call for the tomatoes to be blanched and peeled so that you do not end up with tough pieces of tomato skin throughout, but I find that as long as you slice the tomatoes thinly the skins are not a problem. You could also add herbs - garlic fried for a few seconds before eggs are initially added to the oil, or finely sliced basil or oregano added during the final cooking stage. A scattering of chopped green onions finishes the dish nicely too. The oil has been reduced as much as I am comfortable; if you want to reduce it more keep in mind that it will compromise the dish.

Use two large eggs for every one large tomato. Heat at least 3 tbs of oil in a wok or frying pan over medium high heat and cut tomatoes in thin pieces. When the oil has come to a shimmer pour in the eggs and cook for several seconds until they are mostly set but still very soft. Remove eggs from pan and put in the tomatoes; cook for about a minute and a half until they are heated through and releasing their juices. Pour eggs back to the pan and mix them into the tomatoes with a generous amount of salt and pepper. The seasonings here may seem common but getting the amounts right makes the difference between an ordinary and lick-the-plate dish. Let the eggs cook just a bit more in the tomato juices and serve with toast or leftover rice.

My favourite way to eat this is over wilted spinach drizzled with sesame oil. (Arrange one handful of spinach on a plate and microwave for approximately one minute until limp but still bright green. Drizzle with one tbs sesame oil.) All ready in less than five minutes, faster than any fast food.

Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop is a fantastic cookbook that I am now reading with recipes from Sichuan province. She includes a recipe for fan qie chao dan that differs slightly from this one and then turns the same ingredients into a soup by cooking the eggs in one piece, like an omelet, then adding stock and some greens along with the tomatoes to make soup. With plenty of garlic, this would be great to make for someone under the weather.