Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tarragon Chicken Salad & a Tasty Tangy Neighbor Gift for Christmas

This summer I started a project that will be completed this weekend. My family will be giving out bottles of tarragon vinegar as neighbor gifts, a small reminder of this beautiful Christmas season and how much we appreciate their friendship.

The vinegar wasn’t difficult to make, I quite enjoyed the process of harvesting the fragrant herb from a generous neighbor with a terrific green thumb. After stewing the vinegar with fresh herbs of tarragon, chives and a bit of oregano the liquid steppes for two to three weeks in a cool dark place. Put it into bottles, add a fresh sprig of tarragon, seal jars with wax and add a label. The result is simply delightful.

One of my favorite ways to use tarragon vinegar is in a chicken salad with a tart apple and grapes. The recipe comes from The Foster Market Cookbook that was pointed out to me by a dear friend. It has just the right mix of flavors and is worth the effort it takes to make the tarragon mayonnaise. I’ve eaten a similar salad at a local eatery, Pinon for years- maybe you have a favorite cafe' that has a similar salad?

Wishing each of you a memorable, meaningful holiday that’s filled with delicious things to eat and time to enjoy them with your loved ones.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Dickens' Kitchen, Bubble & Squeak and Treacle Tart

One of my favorite authors is Charles Dickens. This hasn’t always been the case. I fell truly in love with his classics as I reread them with my kids as they were reading them for their English classes in Junior and High School. One of my sisters called a few weeks ago to see if I would be interested in teaching a class to a couple of students that are having a semester of home school English devoted to the novel, David Copperfield. I jumped at the chance to have a “Dickens’ Kitchen”.

One of the things I enjoy about Dickens’ writing is the high contrast between good and evil, happy and sad and in his description of food we can find the same thing, huge contrast. The very poor in his books live on a meager menu, even the description often comes off sounding gray and dull (think gruel here) in small portions. Where the well off seem to have an abundance of food dishes with color, variety and flavor (goose, chestnuts, puddings, raisins, etc).

In class we talked about the history of “plum pudding”, the process of how it is made and the interesting traditions that accompany this dish. I do have a recipe for a plum pudding (which has no plums in it), but it takes much effort to make they way they would have made it in 1835. It is interesting to note that in England, at least at one time there was an official day called “Stir-Up Day” on which Christmas puddings are made. Each person in the family would take a turn stirring in a clockwise direction, with eyes shut while making a secret wish. Silver charms were also traditionally used in the pudding. The baker would place them in before the steaming process later to be found by the guests. The charms were of a variety of shapes and gave a specific message for the future. A thimble might mean spinsterhood, a silver sixpence a good fortune, a boot for travel, a ring for an impending marriage, the wishbone for granting of one wish, etc. I would love to get my hands on a vintage set of these charms, I find them well, charming.

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The fun part of class was making and eating the food that might have been eaten during Charles Dickens time period, Bubble & Squeak and Treacle Tart. Bubble and Squeak is an old dish that is made from leftover potatoes, cabbage and meat. You can still get it today at local eateries and pubs (at least when I was in England a few years ago it was available). My students enjoyed the process of cooking and eating it, and of course it came together quickly. It could almost be described as “fast food”.

The Treacle Tart on the other hand is not fast, but it is tasty. I have been hearing about this dessert for sometime, but never had the pleasure of trying it until this class. I used a recipe from Emma of Poires Au Chocolat who had this tart growing up as a child. I followed her recipe exactly, using Golden Syrup as suggested (found at a local market, a bit pricey but worth every cent). It was delightful and the clotted cream on ours was made from 3 parts mascarpone cheese, 2 parts whipping cream, a bit of vanilla extract and powder sugar to taste. It got wonderful reviews from all who tried it, including my fabulous students.

If you want to step back into time, try one of these recipes while picking up your favorite Charles Dickens novel up. Which book is your favorite?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cast Iron Skillet, the Basics: How to Cook & How to Clean

Cooking in a cast iron skillet has become second nature to me; in fact if I could only take a few kitchen items with me on an extended stay my skillet would mandatorily be on that list. In trying to pass this love or skill along to friends and loved ones I have been told that it would be helpful to do a post with a few specific steps. My dear friend, Gretchen helped me out. She has had her cast iron skillet for about a year but not used it much due to intimidation, but after our short lesson together in her kitchen she’s reported a number of positive experiences, in fact I think she may end up becoming a coming a member of the cast iron fan club as well.

I do think it’s important to begin with the proper kind of skillet- choose one that has been pre-seasoned. They are easy to acquire, not expensive and are a workhorse in the kitchen. My favorite brand is Lodge. I nice size to have is a 10 inch, it isn’t too heavy but can still hold quite a bit of food.

· Always start with a hot skillet, using hot pads of course to keep your hands safe. To see if your skillet is hot drop a few droplets of water onto your skillet. If they sizzle, it’s ready to use.

· Use some kind of fat (canola oil, olive oil, butter, etc.)in the pan before you cook anything else. There are some exceptions to this rule; one being toasting nuts or seeds. You can use a dry, hot skillet without any oil because of the high fat content in the nuts. Otherwise, always begin with some kind of fat in the pan.

· Cleaning your skillet in a timely manner is important. Taking the time right after you are done cooking and while the skillet is still warm is a great time to clean it. Using warm water and a brush, gently brush any crusted food particles that are on the pan. Rinse. Dry with paper towels. Put a drop or two of CANOLA oil in pan and rub in and let pan completely dry out before putting away.

· Cleaning with soap may be necessary if you have a particularly nasty, stuck on piece of food. I try very hard not to use soap, but at times it is necessary to use ONE DROP of liquid dish soap. Quickly scrub with your brush and it should come right out.

Cooking in a Cast Iron Skillet
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Cleaning a Cast Iron Skillet

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There is a reason that these pans have been around for generations. If you have not used cast iron before because of lack of knowledge or fear that it may be too daunting I hope this may give you some aid wanting to pull out that pan and give it a go. Everything will cook quicker, have a lovely crisp edge to it and the clean up is a wiz.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Peach and Plum Bruschetta & the Utah State Fair

When I attended the Utah State Fair this year I noticed an abundance of canned peach items.Some of them sounded very tasty (vanilla bean peach pie filling) while others might take me a while to get use to (green tomato, jalapeƱo and peach salsa). It was amazing to see what creative cooks abound in Utah. The peach syrups were lined up in different size jars and colored from light to dark amber- each of them having something extra to make their syrup just a little special. Jams, jelly’s, pickles, it was enough to make my head spin!

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I came home and made a recipe I picked up at the fair a couple of years ago when I was demonstrating in their kitchen. Kelsey Nixon was on just before and she made a version of this delightful peach bruschetta. It’s an appetizer, but could be used as a dessert or afternoon snack I suppose. I’ve used a variety of fruit in this from nectarines to pears, but I especially love plums paired with peaches. The lime juice adds just the right tang to bring the sweet together. Make a couple of loaves of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and you've got a delicious fall appitizer where you can taste the sweetness of summer all mixed up- it's delightful!

What will be your final farewell to summer's peaches?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How to Pound Meat and Poultery without Making a Mess

Often when I’m making a meat or poultry dish I choose to pound it out, for a variety of reasons. Many times it is because I want it to be thinner so it will cook evenly and quickly. Other times it is because I want the meat to become more tender. No matter the reason I have often become frustrated over the MESS it can cause on my counter. I really do not like working with meat all that much . . .

Not long ago I read a comment in a Cooks Illustrated magazine from a reader about the way she had solved the problem. It’s brilliant.

Inside a box of cereal or crackers the product is usually inside a bag. The bag is tuff as nails and hard to open. Turns out they make great bags for pounding meat in. It works like a charm.

· Prepare all meat by trimming and washing if necessary

· Place one piece of meat inside of empty cereal bag

· Fold open edge under or place a small strip of plastic wrap on the edge to seal it

· Pound meat with hammer until the meat is at the desired thickness for your recipe

· Remove it from the bag, set on prepared cutting board or plate and repeat with additional pieces of meat until you have finished them all

The cereal bags that I have used have held up for up to 12 chicken breasts each or more. That is one tuff bag. I have pounded more than I need for the recipe at hand, placed the extras in between butcher paper and then in a freezer zip lock bag and frozen it for later use. It’s a wonderful time saver.

We just don’t really eat much cereal and few if any crackers so my bags are precious (who thought I would ever be saying that!).

If you have any extra bags, send them my way.

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