Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pumpkins: Day 2

I am not sure what has gotten hold of me, but I appear to be in a pickling mood. I took my first stab at dill pickles this summer, and made a second batch after my trip (and consultation with pickle guru Louie) at LJB Farms in San Martin. Then I saw the post by Molly over at Orangette about the pickled grapes that she made and served at her & Brandon’s rehearsal dinner, which I was intrigued by. And after hearing Tea rave about them, I gave them a shot. Despite what you may think. They are delicious. They are now a staple on Friday nights—a night where I do not cook and we have cocktails and appetizers. The grapes go wonderfully with a selection of cheeses. Really, you should try them sometime.

That brings me to my latest escapade: pumpkin pickles (or as Mr. B insists, pickled pumpkin). You probably thing I am way out there and might start pickling anything that passes under my nose, but I found the recipe in a perfectly respectable place, the SF Chronicle food section, a few weeks ago and cut it out thinking that maybe I would give them a whirl, which I did on Sunday.

This endeavor was a bit more of a challenge. My old potato peeler died several weeks ago. I was upset about it, but Mr. B reminded me that it was probably at least 15 years old and it had served me well, and I was overdue for a new one anyway. Brilliant Daughter had recommended one of those new peelers that goes over the finger, thinking it might be easier. So we went on down to the local Target and picked one up. Nope. Hated it. Almost gave up making the pumpkin pickles it was so bad. In fact, as I neared the end, Mr. B got worried and went down to our neighborhood market and probably paid an arm and a leg for a Zyliss traditional peeler, just to keep me from going near the knives. But once I peeled and seeded a pumpkin, and chopped it up into the requisite blocks, all was right with the world again. I doubled the recipe and got to cooking. I made 6 pint jars, and due to the small batch, just stuck them in the refrigerator rather than processing them through a canning bath. And then we waited…. The recipe said 24 hours, but I really wanted the flavors to meld longer, so we waited 48.

As is my modus operandi these days, I sent a jar up to the butchers at Robert’s Market. No one hated them, thankfully. Some were hesitant to try them, but the response ranged from “interesting” to “good.” I think that eaten on their own, out of context makes it difficult to judge these wedges. Mr. B and I tasted them ourselves last night. The first bite didn’t taste that great, but after two more it was much better. Mr. B ate half and dropped the other half, which I thought was on purpose, but which he vehemently denied. Served with Thanksgiving turkey dinner or sliced on a turkey sandwich, I think these would be great. Not sure what else to do with them, so if you have suggestions, please let me know. Meanwhile, Paul—the kind soul who procured all the pumpkins for me—took a jar for himself and for the pumpkin grower. Can’t wait to hear what they have to say.

Pumpkin Pickles
Yields about 1 quart

1 pumpkin, at least 1 1/2 pounds 1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4-inch-long cinnamon stick, broken in pieces
4 cloves
Four 2-inch-wide strips lemon peel
1 small dried chile (arbol), optional

Instructions: Slice the top off the pumpkin. Cut into wedges so it will be easier to handle. Using a paring knife, remove inner fibers and seeds and discard. Use a potato peeler to remove the pumpkin's skin and then cut the pumpkin into 1 1/2-inch cubes.

Combine the sugar, salt, apple cider vinegar, 2 cups water, cinnamon, cloves, lemon peel and chile and simmer for 5 minutes or until sugar is dissolved. Add the pumpkin cubes and simmer until tender, about 18 minutes. Check with a fork to make sure they are just tender enough to be easily speared. Remove the pumpkin cubes to a glass bowl and continue to simmer the liquid until it is reduced and syrupy. Be careful, as it can turn to caramel very quickly. You want the syrup to just coat a spoon. Cool it down for 15 minutes and then pour over the pumpkin cubes. Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using. Place in a pretty glass jar to give pumpkin pickles as a gift. They will keep for a month, but should be refrigerated at all times.

Pumpkins: Day 1

Butcher Son went and fetched me a dozen pumpkins on Saturday from his friend Paul, who works for a Half Moon Bay farmer. All sizes and shapes just sat there staring at me in the garage. I went ahead and decorated the porch for Halloween with them, but I was pretty antsy to get something cooked with these quintessential fall hallmarks. I have had soooo many ideas rolling around. So last night, after my Spicy Cajun Shrimp came out of the oven, I popped in one of the larger pumpkins to steam. I just cut the pumpkin into large chunks, clean out the seeds, put the pieces in a turkey pan or large roaster with about an inch of water, cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes. Once it was cool, I peeled it easily with a knife and pureed the pieces in a food processor. And this morning, bright and early, I made a double batch of pumpkin scones. One batch with chopped pecans and one with chopped crystallized ginger. I made the scones a bit smaller, as I was sending them up to the butchers at Robert’s Market, who have become my guinea pigs (thanks, guys!). As scones usually are, these are not very sweet, but with the addition of my homemade peach jam, or some pumpkin butter (which I am making later today), they are perfect. I ate two right out of the oven and they were mighty tasty. So far the word from the market is good as well. No complaints yet (except for Butcher Son, who requested more Turbinado sugar sprinkled on top).

While the pumpkin really didn’t take me that much time, I do realize that most people are not willing to go quite this far for a batch of scones (although it made enough puree for scones, 2 batches of pumpkin butter and still have enough left over for a pie or two). So do feel free to use pumpkin from a can, just make sure it is not spiced or else you will get an overdose of aromatics that will make the scones bitter.

2 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
1/3 cup buttermilk (or 1/3 cup milk with 1T vinegar added)
1/2 cup pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup chopped nuts or chopped crystallized ginger (optional)

Mix together first 9 ingredients, then cut in butter until mixture resembles small crumbs. Mix together pumpkin, buttermilk and vanilla in a measuring cup and add to flour mixture. Mix until the dough comes together, being careful not to overmix. At this point you can add in the nuts or ginger. Pour all onto a lightly floured board and knead until it comes together, about 6-8 turns. You can either pat out into a round and cut into 6-8 larger scones, or cut dough in half and pat out into 2 small rounds cut into 6 pieces each.

I sprinkle these with Turbinado sugar, place on cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Quick Chicken Piccata

I’m not sure where I got the original recipe for this, and I have modified it some. But it was a very easy recipe to make, probably 30 minutes total from start to finish. You could easily pick up the ingredients on the way home and whip it out in no time. It was a big hit with the family and leftovers were just as tasty. I have to apologize for the lack of pictures here. I have been realllly bad about that lately.

1 lb boneless, skinless Foster Farms chicken tenders
2 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large lemon thinly sliced
1-2 lemons, juiced
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium shallot, chopped
1/2 cup white wine or dry vermouth
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 T capers (optional)
2 T chopped parsley (optional)

Take the tenders and put 2-3 in a large Ziploc on a cutting board. Pound with meat mallet until very thin, like scallopine. (if you don’t have a meat mallet, you can use the bottom of a wine bottle or even a heavy glass). Repeat until all the tenders are flat and even (about 1/4 inch thick). Mix up the flour, salt and paprika. Lay the chicken out on a piece of wax paper and dust both sides with the flour mixture. Heat up 2 T of the oil over medium-high to high heat and add lemon slices for 1 minute. Remove slices to serving dish and add in half the chicken. Saute about 2 minutes on each side. Remove to serving plate. Repeat this process with the remaining chicken.

Once all has been removed from the pan, melt 1 T butter in same skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Pour in wine and broth and bring to a boil over high heat, scraping up any brown bits from bottom of pan with a wooden spatula; boil until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and remaining butter, pour sauce over chicken and garnish with capers and parsley (optional) and serve.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Pie Contest

My nephew Greg has a green thumb. He carefully plotted, prepared and planted a large garden behind his parent's home in Marysville. They have been harvesting all sorts of goodies this summer. But this weekend yielded the big prizes: pumpkins. So my sister-in-law Kathy, who doesn't typically bake much, decided to make some pumpkin pies. She looked up how to cook the pumpkins, got a recipe from a co-worker and set to work. In the middle of all this, I sent her an email. When she answered she told me what she was doing and I recommended the very best pumpkin pie recipe I know, which I wrote about last fall in "Mary Holmstrom's Pumpkin Pie." Well, it just so happened that Kathy had enough pulp for 4 pies, so decided to make two of each recipe. Here is what she had to say, along with the alternate pie recipe and a picture.

First job was to cook the pumpkins. I used 4 pumpkins from Greg's home-grown pumpkin patch. I cut all the pumpkins in half, cleaned the seeds and string out. One half at a time I microwaved for 10 minutes, then scraped the pumpkin from the rind. When all the pumpkins were cooked I mashed with a potato masher. (This all took me about 3 hours, what a job. Thank god for canned.) But it was fun

I prepared the two pies, one with the recipe you recommended on your blog and this recipe, which I got from Mona, a co-worker:

1 cup fresh pumpkin
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon

Cream all ingredients together with electric mixer. Pour into baked pie shell and bake at 375 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

The decision was split 50/50. Some liked the sweetness and spiciness of your recipe while the other half liked the milder flavor of the other recipe. I liked your recipe, with the taste of the molasses and how it gave the top of the pumpkin pie a glaze.

I still have enough to make 4 more pies or muffins and bread! Have to think about what to do next.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Simplicity at its Best

Seems that lately we have been eating very simply, farm fresh veggies from LJB Farms in Gilroy, meat from Roberts of Woodside (where Butcher Son is working), and fresh fruit from the farmers market. There have been several of these things which just stick in my mind, and that the family is still raving over, so I thought I would share. My behind is a bit black and blue from kicking myself for not taking pictures, so no need for you to do that. But trust me when I say that these items were divine, worth eating on a regular basis if the ingredients are available.

1. Filet Mignon with Blue Cheese Butter
I did some horse trading last week with the meat department at Roberts, pumpkin bread and peach-ginger jam for some sausage casings. I then sent up some of my homemade sausage to them, and got some very nice filet mignon. My husband threw them on the grill and I made a simple blue-cheese butter (half Maytag blue, half butter) to serve on top. Done to rare perfection, you could almost cut them with your fork, The meat melted in your mouth with the blue cheese butter chasing it down the gullet in its wonderful creaminess. The four of us hardly spoke at dinner, so consumed with eating this piece of flesh.

2. Brown Butter Corn
God bless Molly at Orangette. She posts some of my favorite recipes on her site. I am constantly trying to make things she posts about, but I rarely write about them myself. However this time, I cannot NOT post, that is how good this recipe is. I ate way more than my share and was borderline gluttonous on this dish. Starting with freshly picked ears of corn from LJB Farms, in a matter of minutes the kernels were sheared off, mixed in a heavenly bath of thyme brown butter and on my plate. Having the corn swimming in butter never hurts, but the fresh thyme from the garden added just enough flavor to push this over the top. The recipe is below, minus the chopped parsely she used, as I felt it would detract a bit.

6 ears corn, shucked
8 Tbsp. unsalted butter
8 sprigs thyme, preferably lemon thyme
Kosher salt

Stand one ear of corn vertically on a cutting board or inside a large, shallow wooden bowl. (Using a bowl helps to keep kernels from darting all over the countertop, and using a wooden bowl – such as a salad bowl – is much better for your knife than a metal one.) Using a sawing motion, run a large knife down the ear, between the cob and kernels, to remove the kernels. Using the back of the knife, scrape the bare cob to release the corn’s juices. Repeat with remaining ears of corn. Set kernels and their juices aside. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, dd the thyme sprigs, and cook, stirring frequently, until the butter turns a deep shade of amber and smells nutty. Add the corn kernels, their juices, and a large pinch of salt, and stir well. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the corn is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs, and season to taste with salt. Serves 4-6

3. Freeform Pear Tart
After canning 15 pints of strawberry jam, I still had Sunday dinner to make. Rummaging around the kitchen to find something quick and easy to make for dessert, due to my sagging energy level, I decided to make a pear tart. I much prefer a pear pie with its crumbly topping, but no time for that today. So I grabbed a premade store-bought pie dough round and rolled it out a bit, topped the center with sliced pears, sprinkled on some sugar and cinnamon and a few dots of butter. Then I folded the outer edge (2-3”) up onto the pears, making folds as I went around the edge (this leaves an open center that the pears are visible through. Then popped in a 425 oven for 15 minutes, then lowered the over to 375 for another 30-35 minutes until brown. Five minutes of work and we had a beautiful, rustic tart that I served warm out of the oven with sweetened whipped cream. Mmmmmm.

This week I am on a canning frenzy, due to stocking up at LJB Farms. Pickled grapes (courtesy of Molly again), two kinds of onion marmalade, today will be pickles, and tomorrow pepper paste. So I hope to have time to write about it all!