Monday, December 22, 2014

Grandma's Sugar Cookies

Christmas is, for me, probably above all other things, a time of comfort food.

My father abandoned my mother and me when I was seven, leaving us a mountain of debt and not much else. Doing what was necessary to survive, my mother became a real estate agent. The hours were long and uncertain, and there definitely were no vacations. Luckily, my grandparents were around, so the long breaks (summer and winter) were often spent with them.

Summer generally meant exploration, tooling around the country in a Dodge van converted to a camper. Summers I expanded my horizons, saw new things, and and learned. Summer was Indian fry bread at  various pueblos, carnitas in small cafes, and Canadian pizza.

Winter was about warmth, and comfort, and family. It was a time of deep, rich, satisfying flavors, like my grandfather's exquisite prime rib roast, or roast turkey with sage stuffing (my number one comfort food). And the desserts, oh the desserts! My grandmother's desserts were amazing. Pumpkin and apple pie, homemade mincemeat pie, Christmas steamed pudding, popcorn balls in red and green, date nut porcupines. But, the number one important ritual of the season was making sugar cookies.

And what a production it was! On sugar cookie day, we made enough for ourselves, for me to take home, to give to friends, take to holiday parties, gift to carolers, and otherwise spread around. I'm pretty sure Santa got a big plate set out for him every year. One batch of dough makes 4 - 5 dozen cookies; I bet grandma made four batches.

Grandma made the dough, rolled out and cut out the  cookies, and did the baking. I had two jobs. One was decorating the cookies. We generally had a wide variety of things to work with; green and read sugar, rainbow dots, chocolate sprinkles. silver balls, and cinnamon candies, I now understand part of my  grandma's frustration, having made a batch all by myself. I tended to treat each cookie as an individual work of art, my grandmother wanted me to just mass produce a tray and get on with it.

My other job was sorting the cooled cookies by shape. Long rows of Santas, trees, stars, reindeer, wreaths, and more.

Almost all of the bonding with my grandmother was over food, and no ritual was deeper or more fulfilling than the sugar cookie marathon.

This recipe is for thin crispy sugar cookies. They are light and crunchy, a perfect accompaniment to coffee, tea, or milk.

My grandmother used a pastry cloth to roll them out on. I use my marble slab. It is important that the surface be well floured, and flour the rolling pin as well. You want them just as thin as you can get them. I roll the dough out until it is translucent, and I can just see my marble through the dough.

Sugar Cookies

3 cups AP flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream shortening. Add flour mixture a third at a time, creaming together.

While whisking eggs, slowly add sugar. Whisk until smooth, Add vanilla paste, and whisk in thoroughly.

Add egg mixture to flour mixture. Run mixer at medium speed until well combined. 

Form into a ball, and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

Working with a small amount of dough at a time, roll out on a well floured surface until very thin.

Cut to desired shapes. Transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet.

Sprinkle cookies with granulated (white) sugar. Decorate as desired (colored sugar, jimmies, dots, etc.)

Bake for 5 - 8 minutes, until light brown.

Transfer to a cooling rack.

Happy Eating!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Trio of Persimmon Preserves

A friend with a very productive persimmon tree gifted me with two full grocery sacks of fruit. I'm always looking to make preserves for my tea business. It is nice to be able to offer a range of possibilities to prospective customers.

I ended up making three different preserves from them, so far. In the upper left is a straight persimmon jam, in front is a bourbon persimmon jam, and in the upper right is a lemon persimmon marmalade.

I figured the straight jam would have the best presentation of the fruit. Always good to have a simple, straightforward option.

When I tasted the persimmons, I thought bourbon would be a great match, flavorwise. Coincidentally, the spouse had just purchased a large bottle of bourbon for her own culinary purposes. She wasn't going to need all of it.

I'm always in the need for marmalade, so thought that would be a good idea. And, persimmon works well with lemon, anyway. I was a little surprised at how red it turned, but think that it is a fabulous color. The lemon peel stayed tougher than I would have liked. Have a plan to fix that in the next batch.


Persimmon Jam

6 cups diced persimmon ( peeled and cored)
1/2 cup lemon juice
7 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine persimmon and lemon juice in a stock pot over medium low heat. Bring to a simmer. Let simmer until persimmon is soft. Use an immersion blender to process smooth. Force persimmon mixture through a sieve to remove any peel, seeds, or fibrous material. Return liquid to pan. Add sugar and salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Add pectin, bring back to a rolling boil. Cook three minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer to sterilized hot jars. Seal, process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Bourbon Persimmon Jam

6 cups diced persimmon ( peeled and cored)
1 cup bourbon whiskey
6 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine persimmon and bourbon in a stock pot over medium low heat. Bring to a simmer. Let simmer until persimmon is soft. Use an immersion blender to process smooth. Force persimmon mixture through a sieve to remove any peel, seeds, or fibrous material. Return liquid to pan. Add lemon juice, sugar, and salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Add pectin, bring back to a rolling boil. Cook three minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer to sterilized hot jars. Seal, process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Lemon Persimmon Marmalade

6 cups diced persimmon ( peeled and cored)
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
7 cups sugar
peel of 4 small lemons, all pith removed, cut in fine julienne
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine persimmon and lemon juice in a stock pot over medium low heat. Bring to a simmer. Let simmer until persimmon is soft. Use an immersion blender to process smooth. Force persimmon mixture through a sieve to remove any peel, seeds, or fibrous material. Return liquid to pan. Add sugar,, peel and salt. Bring to a low simmer. Let simmer until mixture has thickened, and lemon peel is translucent. Bring to a rolling boil.  Add pectin, bring back to a rolling boil. Cook three minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer to sterilized hot jars. Seal, process in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Happy Eating!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sugar Class: Sweet Treats

Most of what we are doing in sugar class is decorative pieces. Yesterday, we had the one day where we made things you actually want to eat. We made lollipops, pillow candies, and making marshmallows. We then practiced making hard caramel decorations.

Lollipops are fairly easy. You cook sugar to hard crack stage. then add color and flavor. We used metal spring molds. You grease them lightly, then clip in the stick, and place it on a silicon baking sheet. Fill the molds with the hot sugar.

Pillow candy  is made by heating sugar to hard crack stage. Add flavor. Pour half on to a silicon pad, then  add color to the other half. At it cools, roll it up, and stretch it to add air and it becomes shiny. Roll out each color, and stick together. Stretch and fold to produce stripes. Stretch and twist, and cut into inch long pieces. Let harden on non-stick surface.

Marshmallows are fairly simple. Sugar is cooked to soft ball stage. Then place in a stand mixer with gelatin. Whip until fluffy and cooled to just warmer than room temperature. Add color and flavor, whip to incorporate. Transfer to an eight by eight pan that is lined with greased plastic wrap. Dust with a mixture of equal parts powdered sugar and corn starch. Press into pan. Let set, turn onto a cutting board and cut into squares. Toss with more powdered sugar and corn starch.



7 oz. by wt. sugar
3 3/4 oz. by wt. corn syrup
4 oz. by vol. water
1 tsp. flavor extract
1 tsp. water
1/4 tsp. citric acid
artificial color

Combine 1 tsp. water, flavor extract, citric acid, and artificial color. Set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small pot over medium low heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, to 300 F. Remove from heat, add flavor mixture. Swirl to combine. Pour into prepared molds, allow to solidify before unmolding.

Ribbon Candy

14 oz. by wt. sugar
6 oz. by vol. water
3 oz. by wt. corn syrup
1 tsp. water
1/2 tsp. citric acid
1 tsp. flavor extract

Dissolve citric acid in 1 tsp. water. Add flavor extract. Set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small pot over medium low heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, to 300 F. Remove from heat, add citric acid mixture. Swirl to combine. 

Pour half of sugar mix onto a silicone mat. Add color to remaining half, swirl to combine. Pour onto a separate location on the mat.

As they cool, roll up. When cool enough, stretch until shiny and opaque. Roll into 12" rolls, stick together, fold and stretch to form stripes. Stretch and twist. Snip into one inch lengths. Let cool on a non-stick surface.


Mix together equal parts cornstarch and powdered sugar. Set aside.

3/10 oz. by wt. powdered gelatin
2 oz. by vol. water

Combine water and gelatin. Let stand at least ten minutes.

6 oz. by wt. sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
3 oz. by vol. water
1 tsp. flavor extract
1/8 tsp. salt

Line an 8" by 8" with plastic wrap. Lightly grease, set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water in a small pot over medium low heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, to 238 F. Move to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add gelatin. Whip on high speed until fluffy and cooled to just warmer than room temperature. Add flavoring, salt, and color. Whip until well combined. Transfer to pan. Dust with cornstarch mixture. Press into pan to level.

When cool, dust a cutting board with cornstarch mixture. Turn marshmallow onto board. Cut into squares. Toss with more cornstarch mixture.

Happy eating!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fruit and Vegetable Carving Class: First Week

In my fruit and vegetable carving class, we got right into carving from the first day. On the first day, we learned to make basic carrot flowers. It is a fairly simple process. You want to use the biggest carrots you can find. You square up the carrot. You next sharpen it like a pencil, cutting along the sharp edges to form a point in the center. Then, you cut along the four corners down to the center to form the petals. When you cut the last petal, you slide the tip of the knife inside the flower to cut it away from the carrot.

We then used half an onion as a base, and created a bouquet from them. We arranged them with the largest in the middle, then worked outward with smaller and smaller flowers. The spaces between the flowers are filled in with parsley to hide any visible toothpicks.

On the second day, we did a lot more practice with basic techniques. We made more elaborate carrot
flowers, by first incising lines on the faces of the carrots before cutting the flowers from the squared carrots.

We also made more elaborate bases, by cutting steps in a turnip and a potato.With the turnip, we just cut broad gradated platforms. On the potato, we cut small, spiralling staircases.

We then made some simple characters. We made a fish from a lemon, and frogs from limes.

For the fish, we cut a simple mouth, took off thin slices to form eyes. We used slices of black olive for the pupils. We cut for the gills, and  used carrots to make fins and the tail. We cut strips of cucumber skin to make seaweed. The fish was mounted on the turnip, then some of the carrot flowers and some parsley was added to finish the scene.

For the frogs, large mouths were cut, and small patches removed to make the eyes. Again, slices of black olive were used to make the pupils. the skin of the section removed for the mouth was used to make the feet. A bit of radish skin was used for the tongues. We used carrot to make hats. I made a top hat and a winged helmet for my frogs. The frogs were mounted on the potato, and additional decoration of carrot flowers added.

This is turning out to be a fascinating class. I am curious to see where this takes me.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Renaissance Marmalade

As most of you know, I belong to a group that does medieval/renaissance re-creation. One of the rituals common in it is the passing of gifts between landed nobles. It can be particularly difficult for the King and Queen, as they may need to give gifts to a large number of people over the course of a reign. 

So, a call was made for artisans to provide a dozen items each that their Majesties could use for largesse. It can be difficult as a cook to help with these things. Most food items have a limited shelf life. Canning was invented in the Napoleonic era, well after the renaissance. Right at the end of the renaissance, we see recipes for marmalades that are recognizable as similar to modern ones. They were not canned, but rather stored in boxes. As a highly concentrated paste of sugar and pectin, they should probably be sterile, as long as they don't get wet.

For the challenge, I decided to make a set of jars of marmalade from a period recipe. I looked at several, then decided on the one by Hugh Platt, published in 1602. I did alter it based on other recipes from around the same time, and in line with modern practice. I did can it with a modern water bath method, for food safety reasons.

It is a supremely simple recipe, with only three ingredients: oranges, sugar, and apples. I used juice oranges, as they were cheaper, and since I wanted to maximize juice/pulp, rather than having pretty supremes. I used granny smith apples, because I wanted the tartness, but next time I will probably try it with a mealier apple, as the apples are supposed to disintegrate, and the granny smiths never did, even after 3 1/2 hours of simmering.

One redactor I read suggested the apples were there to stretch the expensive oranges. That is a possibility, but I think there is a more practical reason: pectin. While the cooks of the day didn't know of the existence of pectin, they did know that certain fruits, cooked down with sugar, would form a thick paste. Quince was known to do this by the Romans, and I'm sure that similar properties were noted with other high pectin fruits like apples and pears.

The original recipe was: TAke ten lemmons or orenges & boyle them with half a dozē pippins, & ſo draw them through a ſtrainer, then take ſo much ſugar as the pulp doth wey, & boyle it as you doe Marmalade of Quinces, and then box it vp. 

Don Avenel's Renaissance Marmalade

12 juicing oranges
approximately 4 3/4 lbs. sugar
6 granny smith apples

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the skin from the oranges, being careful to not get any of the white pith underneath the skin. Fine julienne the peel. Set aside.

Using a sharp knife, remove the white pith from the oranges, and cut out the sections, being careful not to get any of the inner membranes. Remove any seeds. Squeeze all the juice you can from the core, then dispose of the core. Set aside juice and segments.

Peel, core, and slice apples.

Combine orange peel, segments, juice, and apple slices. Weigh mixture. Mine came out to 4 3/4 lbs. In a large stock pot, combine mixture with the same weight of sugar. Stir to dampen sugar. Place over medium low heat. Bring to a simmer. Simmer gently until sugar is dissolved, and peel and apple slices are soft, about 3 1/2 hours. 

Can marmalade using water bath method. Process jars for 10 minutes. Makes 12 half pint jars.

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Start of Summer Classes

I am taking two classes this summer. I am taking Sugar Work, and Fruit, Vegetable, and Ice Carving. I have already had the first two days of Sugar. We had a short lab yesterday, preparing colored isomalt for future projects. It was interesting.

Today I start my carving class. I have already ordered my carving kit. It will be an intense 6 weeks.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Spring Semester Grades

I already mentioned I got an A in my sanitation class. I checked the grades on my other two classes.

For my Cooking for Healthy Lifestyles class, we had to do a group practical final. We had to produce a healthy three course meal.

We decided on a Mediterranean style meal, with a pan-Middle Eastern style.I think it worked well. We did a good job working together as a team to produce both the menu and the final project.

For our appetizer, we made hummus, and served it with a variety of crudites.

This hummus was flavored with cilantro and a little jalapeno to give it a kick.

To be healthier, instead of using pita bread, we served it with celery, carrots, and yellow bell pepper. This also gave a lot of color to the plate.

For our main dish, we had a bed of couscous with peas and raisins. On top of that was Lebanese Orange Chicken.

To accompany the meal is a Greek salad with marinated onions and cucumbers, kalamata olives, tomatoes, and julienned carrots.

Also with the dish are spicy Moroccan style vegetables with sweet potato, leek, onion, and zucchini.

For our dessert, we made a coconut milk panna cotta with fresh strawberries.

To make it more vegan friendly, it was made with agar agar instead of gelatin. It is garnished with a little toasted coconut.

We can't complain. We got an a on the final, and with that and 100% on my written final, I secured a solid A for that class.

For my cake decorating class, our final project was to make a dummy wedding cake. The core of the cake was Styrofoam, as the object of this exam was testing decorating skill, not cake baking.

My partner and I chose to make an Indian inspired cake. We used the peacock, lotus blossoms, and henna patterns in the design of the cake.

The cake is covered in a light ivory fondant. We wanted a blank canvas for the elaborate decorations we had planned.

The body of the peacock is made of colored fondant.

The tail is piped royal frosting.

The lotus blossoms are made from wafer paper. They were cut out, air brushed, then assembled.

on the other side are some fondant ropes framing piped henna patterns in purple and gold.

I'm really proud of this cake. I think it came out quite nice. We scored a 9.4 out of ten on it.

I managed an A+ in this class, which was a better grade than I thought I would get. I was expecting a B or at best a B+.

This was a relatively unstressful semester, though I did occasionally get stressed out over my lack of piping skills.

Next up for summer: Sugar work, and fruit carving.

Monday, June 2, 2014

World Tea Expo 2014 Introduction

Just got back From the World Tea Expo 2014. This year, it was held in Long Beach Ca., which was nice for me, as it is a short drive, and I have friends in the area to crash with, so I saved a lot of money I would otherwise had to spend on a hotel room. This was my second year attending. Last year the spouse and I attended the New Business Boot Camp, which included the World Tea Tasting Tour, which I discussed in two parts, here and here.

This year, I went alone. I focused on taking classes, but also did some networking, and talking to vendors. I'd like to have a small stock of teas to offer.

One of my goals at the Expo is to expand and educate my own palate. I mostly focused on tasting single source teas, rather than on blends, or flavored teas. Flavored blends, especially fruity, spicy, and floral teas, are hugely popular in the US. They are, however, kind of the wine coolers of the tea world. Everyone sells them, because that is what people buy, but what we want them to love are the subtle and complex teas, the equivalent of aged varietal wines. I find myself intrigued by the variation within tea, and want to have some ability to guide others.

One thing I love about the Expo is the energy. It has a positive energy unlike any other professional convention I've been to. I think this is because one does not casually become a tea professional. Running a tea business does not top the Forbes list of fast riches jobs. Everyone there is there because of passion. We can all geek out on tea together.

I also love the cosmopolitan nature of the Expo. Not only did I meet great people from all over the US, I talked to people from Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Thailand, Kenya, Malawi, and more. I love that you have people in every attire from three piece business suits to cargo shorts and tie-die t-shirts happily chatting.

I will write more on the classes I had the opportunity to take, and some of the products and companies.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Cake Decorating Class: S'mores Cupcakes

We had our first lab for our cake decorating class. The first half of the semester will be more focused on baking and construction, and the second half more on decoration.

We started off with something fairly easy. We started a cheesecake, which we will finish in the next class session. We also did S'mores cupcakes, that while fairly simple, looked and tasted great.

These cupcakes are a rich chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, graham cracker crumbs, Swiss meringue, and a little square of milk chocolate with smoked salt. We baked it in a square shape.

We torched the meringue to give it the toasted marshmallow flavor. The smoked salt was to give it a little taste of the campfire.

I really liked the look and taste of this cupcake. It manages to be both homey and elegant.

We did not explicitly cover the recipe for the ganache, but I expect it is probably the one here. For the chocolate, we tempered milk chocolate, and spread it thin on a sheet of acetate. It was sprinkled with smoked salt, and allowed to harden. It was then cut into squares.

S'mores Cupcakes

Chocolate Cupcakes

dry ingredients:
5 oz. by wt. all purpose flour
7 oz. by wt. sugar
1 1/2 oz. by wt. cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

wet ingredients:
1 egg
2 oz. by vol. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 oz. by vol. brewed coffee
4 oz. by vol. buttermilk

Pre-heat oven to 350 F. 

Sift together dry ingredients. Whisk together wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to wet, mix until well combined.

Scoop into lined cupcake pan. Bake 18 - 22 minutes. Makes 12 cupcakes.

Swiss Meringue

4 egg whites
8 oz. by wt. sugar
3/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/8 tsp. salt

Heat all ingredients in a double boiler over simmering water while whisking continuously. Heat to 165 F. Transfer to a stand mixer and whip on high until cooled to room temperature.

Happy Eating!

Healthy Lifestyles Class: Healthy Appetizers

Last week in my Healthy lifestyles class, we were to make a number of healthy appetizers/ hor d'oeuvres. We were given a number of recipes to work from. One of the interesting things about the way Chef Kim organizes his labs is that he doesn't micromanage us. He gives us recipes, but gives us leave to deviate from them in our own creative fashion. Also, he basically gives us a goal, gives us product to work with, then lets us work out how it gets done.

As a group, we were to make four appetizers, two hor d'oeuvres, and a salad. We had four recipes given us, and we were to adapt two of them to work as hor d'oeuvres. For the salad, we were on our own to create something. Presentation was to be a big part of things.

I made both an appetizer and an hor d'oeuvre from the recipe for Vietnamese style spring rolls. They were very similar to the ones I did for my Pan Asian dinner. The rolls have cooked shrimp, lettuce, rice noodles, julienned carrot and daikon radish, cilantro, and slivers of yellow bell pepper.

The dipping sauce is a mix of rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar, garlic, and sriracha.

I garnished the plate with a little minced peanuts.

For the smaller version, I cut the rice paper wrappers in half, and  left out the shredded lettuce.

This is a great, refreshing appetizer. Very healthy, with no added fat.

For the salad, I collaborated with one of my teammates on a seafood salad, using some of my leftover shrimp, and some of the scallops from another appetizer made by a different teammate.

We included mixed greens, sauteed baby shitake mushrooms, tomato, and some sweet yellow and orange peppers. My teammate made a nice vinaigrette to go with it.

All and all, I'm happy with both the flavors and presentations we did. Chef had some minor critiques, some ideas for improvement, but there were no terrible missteps.

Sanitation Class final grade

Finished the one credit sanitation class with an A. Other than memorizing specific temperatures for specific foods, it was really just a matter of common sense and be aware of what you are doing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Roots and Greens

We got our second box from Farm Fresh to You today. This was a good haul this week. It was heavy on the root vegetables and greens. For greens, we got lettuce, green cabbage, kale, and frisee. I see a lot of salad in the near future. I haven't worked with frisee before. From what I can find, it seems to be best eaten raw, with an acidic vinaigrette.

For roots, we were given beets, fennel, carrots, and radishes. I kept the greens from all of these as well. The spouse is not a huge fan of fennel, but I enjoy it in small amounts. I have a couple of beets left from the last box, so am planning on pickling and canning all of them.

We also got some fruit. An avocado, a pint of strawberries, four blood oranges, and a couple of navel oranges. Need to do something cool with orange and strawberries.

Looking forward to playing with everything.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Healthy Lifestyles Class: First Cooking Lab

We finally got around to actually cooking in my healthy lifestyles class. It is interesting to note the significant difference in how Chef Kim organizes his labs vs. how Chef Joe does. Chef Joe is a very rigid authoritarian. He requires everyone to wait to do anything until he authorizes the specific action. He also allows only limited variation from his recipes for the session.

In  contrast, Chef Kim gave us a pile of material, six techniques to demonstrate, and freedom to decide which vegetables to use for which techniques, how to cut the vegetables, and who was to do what. It was an interesting experience.

We were given some zucchini and yellow squash, carrots, tomatoes, and broccoli. We were to demonstrate six techniques: sauteing, stir frying, steaming, poaching, braising, and en papillote (in parchment). The other members of my team quickly claimed various methods, leaving sauteing and braising for me. I was the only one to do two techniques.

I thin sliced some carrots, yellow, and green squash for sauteing. I was happy that I was able to saute the vegetables just by flipping them in the pan. I did not use a spoon or spatula at all. I cooked the carrots for about a minute before adding the squash. It went quickly, as it should.

I then went back and thick cut some of each squash for braising, and cut up some chunks of tomato. I seasoned some water with salt and pepper. Once it was up to a simmer, I added the squash and covered the pan. I let it cook for a bit, then added the tomatoes. Once the squash was cooked, I removed it from the water.

I felt I did a good job. My team thought the braised veggies were the best, and the sauteed the second best. Chef liked both as well, and thought I had properly cut the vegetables for both. The only criticism was that I had been a tad aggressive with the pepper in the sauteed veggies, and I think that was a fair cop.

We also were to create two flavored vinegars and a flavored oil for doing salads next week. We made a red wine vinegar with blueberries and lemon, and a white wine vinegar with thyme and lemon. For the oil, we went with a classic, garlic and rosemary. Apparently so did all the other tables, independently.

Should be an interesting semester.

Slow Baked Pork Chili and Kirschwasser Strawberry Shortcake

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. The day before yesterday, I had pulled out a pork roast to defrost for dinner, and I had the strawberries from my CSA that I planned to make into strawberry shortcake. I did not have a plan for the roast. Then, I saw a post from a foodie friend on Facebook announcing that it was National Strawberry Day, and National Chili Day. I thought, OK, I have half of that covered. And, as the day was cold and rainy (by San Diego standards), it was a perfect day for chili.

I have fallen in love with doing my chili by slow baking it in an enameled cast iron dutch oven. I think it gets the best texture that way, and there is no danger of scorching the bottom. It also gets the flavors to meld  to perfection.

I had a two pound pork sirloin roast, It was very lean. I cut it into 3/4" cubes. I dredged it in flour seasoned with berbere (an Ethiopian spice mix) cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, and salt. I seared the pork pieces in small batches in a little vegetable oil in the bottom of my dutch oven.

After pulling out all the seared pork pieces,  I added diced onion and green and red bell peppers to the oil, and sweated them.  To that I added diced fresh tomatoes, a can of crushed tomatoes, and a little pinot noir. I brought that to a simmer, and let it cook for about 45 minutes, to reduce the liquid some.

I seasoned the chili with oregano, rosemary, dried cilantro, thyme, cumin, bay leaf, chili powder, pepper, and salt. I returned the pork to the pot, then put on the lid. I placed it into a 280 F oven, where it cooked slowly for three hours.

After three hours, the pork was tender, and just starting to fall apart. The flavors had melded beautifully.

Strawberry shortcake has always been a major comfort food for me. And, I mean real strawberry shortcake, not stale store bought sponge cake rounds. Proper shortcakes are scones or biscuits, maybe lightly sweetened.

It was a summer favorite my grandmother made. Sliced strawberries are macerated in a little sugar, to get them to release their own juices. The biscuits are soaked with lightly sweetened cream or half and half. It's a simple dessert, but one I adore.

In this case, I tried to elevate the dessert by adding a little kirschwasser to the strawberries and sugar as they macerated. I also added a little of the kirschwasser to the heavy cream, with a little sugar. I used a whisk to whip it until moderately thick, but stopped well before it reached even soft peaks.

For the biscuits, I used my basic scone recipe. The spouse had made them to take to work, and had more than she needed. She rolled them and cut them out, to the stage where they were ready to go into the oven. She then froze about half the batch. I pulled the frozen scones out, and placed them on an ungreased baking sheet. I baked them for 20 minutes in a 375 F oven, and they turned out just as nice as if they hadn't been frozen. This is actually good news for the business.

I thought the kirschwasser added a nice touch. We both enjoyed the dessert very much.

Slow Baked Pork Chili

Coating Flour:

1 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. berbere powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder


2 lbs. pork sirloin roast, cut into 3/4" cubes
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
7 ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 28 oz. can peeled crushed tomatoes
1 cup pinot noir
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. dried cilantro
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together all ingredients for coating flour.

Heat oil in a large enameled cast iron dutch oven over medium to medium high heat. Toss pork pieces in coating flour, shaking off excess. Sear pork pieces in the oil until brown on all sides. Remove from dutch oven, set aside.

Add onion and bell peppers to oil, cook until softened. Add fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, and wine. bring to a simmer, let cook for about 45 minutes, until somewhat reduced. Add herbs and spices, and return pork to the pot. Cover, place in a 280 F oven. Bake for three hours, until pork is tender.

Happy Eating!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Trying a New CSA

Last year we subscribed to Suzie's Farm. Now, we had absolutely no issues with them. The quality of the produce, and the value for the money was excellent. The problem for us was simply that it was difficult to come up with the advance all at once.

The spouse found a Groupon for Farm Fresh to You. They allow you to buy one box at a time, rather than requiring a seasonal subscription. They offer a wide variety of boxes, in a number of sizes. We chose the regular Valley box for our first delivery. The valley box is mostly vegetables, some fruit, and focused on local seasonal produce. Another advantage, they deliver to you, rather than having to go to a pickup point.

We got our first box today. It contained 2 navel oranges, 4 blood oranges, 3 beets, a bunch of broccoli, a large head of lettuce, a pint of strawberries, a bunch of carrots, and a large bunch of kale.

I'm looking forward to having fresh produce again to inspire experimentation.

That will, hopefully, lead to more blog posts.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day Food Fest

The spouse and I both had yesterday off in celebration of Lincoln's birthday (which was on Wednesday, but I guess school admins would rather have a four day weekend than be temporally correct.) This year that also happened to coincide with Valentine's Day. We don't usually do much about this holiday, but since we did have the opportunity to spend it together, I decided to make it all about the food.

I started by making breakfast in bed for the spouse. I made an omelet with caramelized onions and sauteed fresh mushrooms. It also had cheddar and Parmesan cheese. When I caramelized the onions, I added a little hot smoked paprika, as well as salt and pepper. I sauteed the mushrooms in olive oil, and added a little garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. I'm finding that if I make a dish with multiple components, I like to season the components separately. When spices are added subtly changes their flavor, and adding them into the components seems to provide more subtly and complexity of flavor.

To go with the omelets, I had some mixed red, white, and purple fingerling potatoes that I sliced on my mandolin and shallow fried until crispy.

After breakfast, we went to an early showing of The Lego Movie. We enjoyed it. I found it one of the most entertaining flicks I've seen  in a long time. Also, the more pages you've read at TV Tropes, the more jokes you will get. 

For lunch, I made club style BLT's. We had picked up some thick cut maple glazed bacon at Costco. We had some nice ripe cluster tomatoes, and bronze leaf lettuce. 

I slow cooked the bacon on a broiler pan in a 350 F oven. It took about half an hour, but this helped the bacon remain flat. This was a good quality bacon, as there was little shrinkage, and less grease run off than you would normally expect. 

I toasted whole wheat bread, and used just a little mayo on each section.

Dinner, however, was the star of the day. We went by the store, and found a nice rib eye (my favorite steak). They also had a nice deal on Maine lobster tails, just $4 each. We both love lobster, so We grabbed a couple. We had already picked up some lovely asparagus. 

If this seems a little deja vu-ish, that's because last year's Valentine's Day menu was also grilled steak and asparagus. I used the same rub (cocoa powder, cumin, salt, onion powder, and chili powder) as last year. 

I also grilled the lobster tails. I snipped off the little palps (legs), and used kitchen shears to split the underside of the shell. The lobster tails took about 3/4's as long to cook as the steak took to reach medium rare. I also grilled the asparagus, and finished it with a little fresh lemon juice and some smoked Serrano sea salt. For the starch, I made quinoa in the rice cooker with some garlic and kosher salt.

For dessert, I also sort of repeated myself from last year. I made a sabayon, though this year's was a spiced rum sabayon. 

To go with it, I made apple pumpkin butter galettes. Traditionally, galettes use frangipane or marzapane (almond paste) for the base. I did not have any, but I had a jar of maple pumpkin butter. The galette is a round of puff pastry, with a layer of the pumpkin butter in the center, and slices of pink lady apples. It came out really nice, and matched well with the sabayon.

To accompany the meal, I had a bottle of 2012 Bella Bolle' Moscato D'Asti. It is an Italian sparkling Muscato. It was sweet, with crisp green apple and citron notes, with a bold attack and a clean finish. It went surprisingly well with the meal. If you are every looking for a sparkling wine that is not brut(ally) dry champagne, I can heartily recommend this one.


Spiced Rum Sabayon

6 egg yolks
 1/3 cup spiced rum
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar

Whip cream to medium stiff peaks. Set aside.

In a double boiler over barely simmering water, whisk together egg yolks. sugar, and rum until thick and smooth. Place bowl with egg mixture in an ice bath, continue to whisk until room temperature. Fold cream into egg mixture. Pour or spoon into serving containers. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Apple and Pumpkin Butter Galettes

1 pink lady apple, sliced
4 3" rounds puff pastry
4 Tbsp. pumpkin butter
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. simple syrup

Pre-heat oven to 375 F.

Spread a tablespoon of pumpkin butter in the center of each round of puff pastry, leaving a rim of  1/4" clear. arrange apple slices to cover pumpkin butter. Brush pastries with butter. Sprinkle liberally with sugar.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet, and bake for 15 - 18 minutes, until pastry is brown and crisp. Remove to a cooling rack.

Let cool to room temperature. Brush with simple syrup.

Happy Eating!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

First Week of Classes

January was a bust for blogging, sorry. Between breaking my laptop, and dealing with a resurgence of my clinical depression, I didn't get a lot done.

Last week Spring semester started. I am taking three classes this semester. I have a class on sanitation, which should be fairly simple. I also have a class on cooking for healthy living. Finally, I have a class on cake decorating, which won't begin until April.

I'm a little bit concerned about the healthy living class. I'm afraid I will be the lone skeptic. I'm picking up a major anti-GMO vibe, and am afraid there will be some very pro-woo moments. I hope I am wrong.