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Friday, December 19, 2008

GIFTS! (Easy, last minute food gifts for everybody on your list!) BONUS: A Craft

Greetings! I've been busy busy busy in the kitchen and want to share these simple ideas for last minute edible giftables. These recipes are easy and quick, so don't fear if your list isn't quite checked off yet.

I know I promised you goat cheese, and it really will be coming, but this post is long enough just covering the tasty giftables I want to share, so it will have to wait until next time. Ok, here's one little picture to stimulate your taste buds for cheese-



That said, SPOILER ALERT. IF you are in my close family, read NO FURTHER if you are interested in your gifts being SECRET, at least in part.(VANESSA, THIS MEANS YOU.)







Ok, so here goes.

I have spent way too much time these last weeks in the kitchen PRESERVING. In all forms. Canning, pickling, and others. What I've discovered is that preservation is a cheap and easy way to create homemade, delicious, healthy gifts for your family and friends. These also make great hostess gifts, or small gifts to have on hand when an unexpected visitor arrives.

Each of these recipes requires you to can the products if you want them to be shelf-stable. If you don't want them to be shelf-stable, you can skip the canning steps, store the product in the fridge, and use within a month or so. Properly canned, both of these recipes should last at least a year on the shelf out of the way of light and heat.

(REMEMBER, ALWAYS store home-canned goods with the rings OFF. If the lid pops up it is a sign that air has entered the container and that food is probably not safe to eat. If you store jars with the rings on, you won't know if the lid pops up. You don't want botulism, do you?)

Should you choose to preserve your foods, Ball has a great guide to pressure canning and using a water bath. I personally prefer to use the water bath, but that's only because I don't have a pressure cooker. Yet. (Christmas is yet to come...)


So, onto the recipes.

Crock Pot Apple Butter

When I want to make something for the first time that doesn't require exact measurements like baking, I tend to look at a bunch of different recipes online to see how different people approach a dish before deciding on some final version by me. That was the case with this apple butter. It's actually an easy flexible recipe that is pretty fool-proof. And waking up to the smell of apples and cinnamon filling your house is pretty darn nice on a cold winter morning. (It's like a gift for YOU!)

Into your slow cooker, throw

approximately 4 lbs. apples of varying types

Often those big totes have around 4 lbs. Here I've doubled the recipe and used Granny Smith and Braeburn varieties.






peeled (if you're a good food blogger you should cover these in lemon juice so they don't brown, but I'm not.)



cored (THIS is what melon ballers are REALLY for)





chopped



then add
3-4 tbsp. cinnamon (eyeball it, and use GOOD cinnamon. it's worth it.)

1 tbsp. freshly ground nutmeg (really)
1 tbsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. allspice
1 tbsp. vanilla




2/3 c. sugar
1 c. apple cider










Cook overnight (about 8 hours. 10 for me :)) on high after stirring. When it's done, it will look like this and your home will smell absolutely AMAZING.




If you are a stickler for perfectly smooth apple butter, run this through the blender or food processor. If you're like me and you like it a little chunky, just use your potato masher to get the texture you want. If your final product seems to have too much liquid, you can run the slow cooker on high with the lid off for about an hour.

Then, can away. Here's a quick run-through of my method...
These jars and lids have been sanitized in the boiling water for a few minutes and are now drying.




Fill the jars just below the lid (NOT touching) being sure to wipe off the mouth of the jar before putting on the lid and putting on the ring till just snug, not too tight.

Then I process them in boiling water for 10 minutes.





After the 10 minutes is up, put the jars out on the counter to cool. As they cool, you should hear them go "plink". This is the lid snapping down and tells you that they have been successfully preserved. After the jars have cooled for a few hours, be sure that each lid has popped down by pressing on the top. If it snaps down when you push, that means the canning didn't work. Do not despair! These jars just need to be kept in the fridge and eaten within a few weeks. Remove the rings from all the jars that canned properly and put them into storage.








YUM. This stuff is so amazingly good. It is fruity without being too sweet. I cannot describe how fantastic this is with bacon. ::drool::
(FYI, you might think you could do other fruit butters just as easily, but be cautious and do your research. For some reason you can't do pumpkin butter at home, which I never would have guessed. Preservation is great so long as you're not making somebody sick.)


Pickled Green Beans


This recipe would work easily with asparagus, but green beans are cheaper.

I made a variation of this ratio from a valuable resource, cooks.com. (It takes a lot more wading than some other websites, but there are lots of good recipes to be found there.)


Shove into a jar-

2 lbs. green beans, each end snapped off
1-2 cloves cracked garlic
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (if you like it hot)
1 tsp. dill
1 tbsp. pickling spice

In the mean time, bring to a boil

2 1/2 c. water
2 1/2 c. vinegar
1/4 c. salt

Pour the vinegar mixture into each jar. Lid the jars and process like the apple butter. Easy.


Next, a quick talk about preserved lemons.

Preserved Lemons

These are popular in middle eastern cuisine, though they're hard to find on the shelves in the U.S.. I heard of them on The Splendid Table (who could resist salty lemons?!) and thought a couple members of my family (and I) would like to give them a try. (This site was a guiding resource.)

Start by quartering the lemons, but not entirely. Leave them intact at the bottom 1/4 inch or so. Remove any remaining stem and the top 1/4 inch of the lemon peel.





Pour some kosher salt into the bottom of a jar. Salt the lemons all over, inside and outside the slices you've made. Shove them into the jar, putting a layer of salt between each lemon. I threw some whole all-spice berries to one jar, because I had them around. Any whole spice would be interesting.






Leave these at room temperature (out of light and heat) for at least three weeks. Most people don't like to use the flesh and only use the rind, but no matter what you use for recipes, be sure to rinse the lemons before preparing them. These do not need to be boiled like the other canned products. The preservation only comes from the salt. (Here is one delicious looking recipe if you want a reason to try these lemons.)

Finally, the promised non-edible craft. These are easy, inexpensive gifts that I love to have made up any time, but especially Christmas time.

Run to your local Goodwill. I guarantee there are a few sets of teacups and saucers just sitting there, matching and adorable, that are just begging to be used. (I found these super-cute party trays with cups. They are so detailed and delicate. I think they are milk glass, and every tray is different.)

Look around your house. You've got half burned candles whose wicks are too short to burn, right? Me too.

Well, buy those teacups and saucers.

Pour those old candles into a big bowl and melt them in a double boiler. Remove the wicks. Put a new wick into the bottom of each teacup and fill with your old wax. Give as a pretty gift.






Green and adorable.


Ok kids, have a fantastic holiday and stay safe!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

V Day Bolognese

Hola! We've gotten a few days of warmish weather around here, which is enough to remind us that spring is really coming!

The seed-starting setup is almost finished, and we will get the first ones into the soil germinating within the next week. Can't wait!

Until then, I thought I'd share the recipe that the hubs and I had for Valentine's Day, and have had many times since then. We thought about going out since we eat out so rarely, but it was clear that we'd rather spend that money on quality ingredients and that time in the kitchen together. We wanted something indulgent and special, but nothing so tedious as to force us into too much prep. We settled on a dish with simple ingredients and simple cooking methods, but ultimately complex and satisfying flavors.

This dish wouldn't have been possible without the generosity of a friend. My friends are spread all over the country, and the world, and somehow I manage to keep in touch with most of them. A dear friend of mine was in Rome recently and I insisted that he buy me some of the good stuff while in the old country. (Yes, my family is Italian so I can say that.)How could I pass by an opportunity for door-to-door grocery shopping from Rome? What he brought back exceeded my expectations. His thoughtfulness was revealing both of our friendship as well as his knowledge of things culinary. Fittingly, he, the husband and I tasted most ingredients together, about five minutes after he arrived. They were universally delicious.

I wanted to do something quintessentially Italian with these fantastic ingredients. Something simple, but not plain. I wanted to highlight the quality of the ingredients by using them in the most straight-forward way possible. There was no question. It had to be bolognese.

You might have heard of a ragoût (Italian:ragu), (not to be confused with Ragú) the simple tomato sauce. Bolognese is simply a ragu from Bologna.

Sometimes I riff off familiar dishes by browsing recipes and deciding on my own take. Since this dish was uncharted territory for me, I reached out to the blogosphere for some help.

Do you ever have that experience of coming upon someone's work that is better than anything you will probably ever do? That's what this guy's blog is like for me.

FXcuisine is a FANTASTIC food blog, and you should visit it more than you visit mine. (That's right, he updates TWICE weekly!) In addition to his committment and fabulous camera setup, François-Xavier is deeply interested in slow food, and documenting the work of those precious few who still make things the way their ancestors did. I have deep respect for him as a journalist, and as a cook. His blog was the perfect place to find the true recipe, which he faithfully reproduces, without any personal touches.

I, on the other hand, did make some changes. The title of this recipe links to his, but the measurements and method are slightly modified, and mine.

Ragù Bolognese

In a large dutch oven, or any large oven-safe pot with a lid, add

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp oil

toss in

1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stick, diced

Once these are starting to turn soft, move them to the other side of the pan. In the empty side, cook

3-5 strips of bacon, cubed. (pancetta is traditional, but expensive)

Once cooked through, move over the bacon and brown in small batches

1 lb. ground beef

Once all your beef is brown, add

1/4 c. dry white wine

scraping all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Then, add

2 large cans of tomatoes (if you have fancy friends, use San Marzano. If you're slightly less fancy, use the ones you canned form the garden. If you're desperate, use the ones from the grocery store, but it just won't be the same.)

While you're doing this, keep warm on another burner

1 cup full fat milk
1 cup chicken stock

Add the milk and stock to the beef mixture.

Add salt, pepper, and a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Cover this and put it into a 250 oven for 3-4 hours. Seriously, it's worth it. You could probably do this in a slow cooker, but I've never tried.

It'll look like this.



Your house will smell divine.

This is best served with polenta (me) or pasta (him).

Two of our favorite ways to have it-

With red wine (Beaujolais!) and kale.




For Vday, with champagne and raspberries and canned green beans.






Either way, it MUST be dusted with Parmesan.



and drizzled with balsamic. If you're lucky, you'll have balsamic glaze. :)



YUM! Try it. It's really easy and the results really show just how much taking the time makes a difference.

Look, I got a copper strainer!




That's all for now. I'll update once the seeds are started!
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