Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Persimmon Bread

Fuyu Persimmon, small and squat and can be eaten while still crunchy. Illustration from USDA
I don't eat a lot of persimmons. But, sometimes it's fun to step away from the parade of wintertime citrus, too-long-in-storage apples, and grapes from warmer climes. For the persimmon novice, you need to know there are two varieties and they are very different. One, the Fuyu, can be eaten  while still slightly crunchy. They taste a bit like apples to me. You can also eat them when they are fully ripe. They will be sweeter and the texture will be slightly squishy.
Hachiya Persimmon, taller and can only be eaten when very soft. Illustration from USDA
The other type of persimmon, the Hachiya, can only be eaten when fully ripe and very, very soft. Before this stage, the tannins in the fruit are overwhelming and you will get a serious pucker-face from trying to eat it. You must be quite patient to eat this; I found it took weeks for my persimmons to soften up. Persimmon season runs from October until mid-winter in the US, so we're right in the thick of it now. As a specialty fruit, they are expensive, but you can find them on sale throughout the winter.

Rather then eat them out of hand, I used them to make persimmon bread, like banana bread. They add a nice flavor and plenty of sweetness. They are very sweet when ripe so there isn't a lot of sugar in this quick bread. This is a great snack or tea bread.

Persimmon Bread
(serves 12)

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder (1 teaspoon at sea level)
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda (same at sea level)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2-3 Hachiya persimmons or 4-5 Fuyu, very ripe
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
¼ cup sour cream
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted (see Note)

Adjust a rack to the middle of the oven . Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 8"x4"x2½" loaf pan. Set aside.

Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a medium bowl.

Cut each persimmon across the equator and gently scoop out the flesh: run the spoon under the skin to loosen the flesh, then spoon out the flesh away from the center part that is fibrous and contains the seeds. Place in a small bowl and mash the pulp with a fork. Measure out 1 cup of persimmon pulp. Any leftovers can be eaten with a spoon, frozen for another bread, or added to a smoothie.

Cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, and beat to combine well. Add the persimmon pulp, sour cream, and almond extract. Beat to combine. With the mixer on slow speed, slowly add the dry mixture, scrapping down the sides so everything is combined. Add in the dried apricots and toasted almonds and mix to distribute evenly. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan, set on a rimmed cookie sheet (in case it overflows; it shouldn't), and bake for 1 hour - 1 hour 10 minutes. The bread is done when a skewer comes out without any wet batter.

Let cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Remove from loaf pan and cool to room temperature. The bread is hard to slice when warm so be patient!

Note: to toast almonds, place nuts on a sheet pan in a 300°F oven for 8 minutes. Set a timer - it's easy to burn nuts. I speak from experience.

Adapted from Nicole Routheir's Fruit Cookbook by Nicole Routhier, Workman Publishing, 1996.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thanksgiving is Coming!

My most beautiful turkey ever. OK, it looks like this every year. Tastes even better than it looks.
Yep, right around the corner now. Starting to think about that big holiday menu? Not me! I'm going to visit family so I'm not responsible for the bird, etc. this year. That's not to say I don't have recipes for you. Here are links to Thanksgiving posts from years past to give you some ideas:

Thanksgiving 2010: a mix of recipes pulled from various places.
Turkey Brining: how I've done it though I don't always bring mine because the drippings become too salty for gravy.
Turkey Cooking: how to roast that bird.
Icebox Cake: a rather non-tradtional Thanksgiving dessert originally from Fine Cooking.
Masa Cornbread Stuffing: Delicious Southwest-inspired stuffing. Really dressing since you don't stuff the bird with it.
Buttermilk Rolls: impress your guests with homemade rolls.
Apple Sausage Stuffing: two Thanksgiving classics, apples and turkey.

The Turkey Carcass:  Stop! Do not throw out that carcass. Make stock.
Turkey and Corn Chowder: place to use both stock and turkey meat
Turkey and Wild Rice Soup: turkey and wild rice, two American natives.
Turkey Curry: from my other blog, School of Eating Good.

Hope your Thanksgiving meal is filled with many delicious dishes and good company!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Trader Joe's Nut Oil Sale

Nut oils are one of the secret weapons of the great cook. Like high quality extra virgin olive oil, they pack a big punch of flavor in a little package. They make sensational vinaigrettes. They are delicious drizzled on cooked vegetables, grains, or fish. They are delicate so you don't cook with them. You use them to impart a rich nutty flavor. Unfortunately, they are usually quite expensive.

This month, Trader Joe's has a trio of nut oils - hazelnut, walnut, pistachio - on sale for $14.99. I know that sounds expensive but that's a huge bargain. Three 8.45 oz. cans for $15! Jump at this sale. Get to Trader Joe's and snap it up.

Here's the Trader Joe's page on the oils: http://www.traderjoes.com/fearless-flyer/article/1975

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Elderflower Cocktail

It's about 0 degrees here and I'm posting summer cocktails. What can I say? We're not intimidated by some cold here in Colorado.  I had tried this cocktail at a party over the summer, and I wanted to give it a try, weather be damned. Traditionally, it's made with St-Germain liqueur. That's some expensive hooch. It's a French liqueur infused with elderflowers, giving it a delicate floral bouquet. I wasn't up to forking over $35 for a bottle, so I settled for the elderflower syrup from IKEA. Significantly cheaper. The Swedes love this stuff. They use it to make an elderflower lemonade (so my Swedish friend Anette tells me). It's much sweeter than the liqueur and it contains no alcohol. Still made for a delicious cocktail, one quite light on alcohol. I've dubbed it the Hummingbird Moth Cocktail. The hummingbird moth, a large moth common in Boulder gardens, is often mistaken for a hummingbird.

The Hummingbird Moth Cocktail
(makes 1)

a few pieces of ice
1 oz. elderflower syrup  (available at IKEA)
2 oz. prosecco or sparkling white wine
2 oz. club soda

Combine everything in a wine glass. Sip and dream of summer breezes. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mussels in Mustard Dill Sauce

At this point, I realized I hadn't taken a picture but I had already eaten a bunch of them.  Let me tell you, it took some restraint to stop and take a picture!

Mussels are my favorite "cheap" seafood. I love all seafood: raw oysters on the half shell, lobster, shrimp, all manner of crab. What do all these delicious things have in common? All pricey! Mussels are not cheap like pinto beans, but compared to the rest, they are an outright bargain. They are so adaptable too. So many sauces work on the flavorful but not fishy tasting mussel. I went to a Belgian restaurant in Montreal a couple of summers ago and they had pages of variations.

If you have a Costco near you, you can get a great price on mussels during their Seafood sales. They have lots of other great things, like giant scallops, crabs, shrimp, and clams at a good price, but they are still hardly cheap. The mussels are the cheapest of them all.

Mussels in Mustard Dill Sauce
(serves 2)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lamb Shanks Vindaloo

I mentioned this dish to two friends and they both went "Oooohh!" It was certainly delicious. The secret is using a pressure cooker. Lamb shanks take a very long time to cook. They are filled with connective tissue, which is what makes them so rich and delicious. Alas, connective tissue takes quite some time to break down. The pressure cooker to the rescue! Something that would take hours in the oven is done in about an hour. Score one for technology.

Vindaloo is supposed to be hot. Really hot. At ½ teaspoon cayenne, it's mildly spicy. Feel free to increase the cayenne up to 1 ½ teaspoons, if you can handle it.

Lamb Shanks Vindaloo
(serves 4-6)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Applesauce Time!

This box of apples showed up at my house a few days ago, thanks to some generous friends. That's about 20 pounds of apples. When you have a windfall like that, you need to do something on a large scale so I made a lot of applesauce. Homemade "canned" applesauce is easy and delicious. You can make it as sweet as you like - I don't like it very sweet. Canning requires some equipment and some labor but it isn't hard. If you have a decent sized garden, canning skills are almost part of being a gardener. That's why you plant a garden - so you can sock away all that bounty for those dreary days in winter. I'm sure this applesauce will be a ray of sunshine in my winter.

Twelve pints is a lot of apple sauce. My canner will only hold 7 pint jars. You may have to can this in two batches like I did.

Sharon's Applesauce
(makes 12 pints)

12 pounds apples, cored and cut into chunks*
citric acid to prevent browning (also called Fruit Fresh)
4 cups apple juice or apple cider
1 vanilla bean
1 thumb-sized chunk of ginger
1 4" stick of cinnamon
4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)

As you cut up the apples, place them in a large bowl with water and citric acid (check the Fruit Fresh label instructions on mixing this). Drain well and put the apples, apple juice, vanilla bean, ginger, and cinnamon in a large stockpot. Cook over medium-high heat until it reaches a boil. Stir, and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the apples are falling apart tender, stirring occasionally. How long that is depends on the type of apples you are using. My apples took about 30 minutes to fall apart. Remove from the heat. Remove the lump of ginger and cinnamon; discard. Remove the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the sauce. Using an immersion (or wand) blender to break up the apples. I like my applesauce chunky. If you want a smoother applesauce, puree in a blender in batches - this will take a while!

Wash 12 wide-mouth pint jars. Fill your canner pot about half full with water. Place the jars in the canner on a rack; it's easier if you fill the jars partially with water before putting them in the canner, because they try to float. Add enough water to cover the jars by 1" of water and bring it to a boil. Wash 12 jar lids and 12 rings, and set aside while you get the water boiling.

While you are waiting for the water to boil, return the applesauce to the stockpot, add the lemon juice, and stir. Reheat over medium-low and maintain it at a simmer until the canner is ready.

Remove the jars and drain. Fill each jar within ½" of the rim. Remove any air bubbles. Put on a lid, screw on the ring, and place in the canner. As soon as the water in the canner returns to a boil, start your timer. At my elevation (nearly 5400 ft.), can for 30 minutes. At sea level, you only need 20 minutes.

Remove the jars to a rack covered with a towel and let cool. After 24 hours, check seals: the jars are sealed correctly if the lids don't flex up and down when pressed.

*You can peel the apples if you like but I don't. The skins on my apples are tender and I hardly notice that the apples weren't peeled, but your apples may have tougher skins.

Adapted from the Ball website, which is a great collection of preserving and canning know-how.