Tag Archives: food gifts

Thyme for Chocolate

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I recently received a windfall of herbs from my friend Karen’s garden.  It was a lovely mixture and I’ve had a fun time experimenting with flavors and using the herbs in new ways.

Her generous food gift included a hefty portion of thyme.  This herb just smells and tastes green to me.  I also find it quite strong tasting.  I find that too many cooks overuse it and in some dishes it is all I taste.  That is not what I want.

Thyme is a little bittersweet and as I mulled over what to do with it I decided to make a dessert.  Sweet paired with bitter just seemed right.  And, as many of you know, I have trouble imagining dessert without chocolate.  And, thus it was decided.  Thyme and chocolate together at last.

Thyme Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Sauce
Makes about 1 quart of ice cream

Inspired by Thomas Keller

For Ice Cream:
1 1/4 cups whole milk
small handful of thyme sprigs
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

For Chocolate Sauce:
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 oz dark chocolate, chopped
4 Tbsp light corn syrup

To make ice cream:
In a small saucepan, combine milk and thyme sprigs and turn on burner.  Heat the milk until it starts to form bubbles around the edges.  Turn off the heat and leave to cool.

Cover and put in refrigerator to steep overnight.

The following day, heat again until bubbles form.  Then strain to remove thyme sprigs and leaves.  You will really start to smell the grassy thyme now.

In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks with sugar.

Slowly add the warm, thyme-infused milk to the beaten eggs in a thin stream, stirring constantly.  When you add something hot to eggs, you risk curdling or cooking the eggs.  If you add it slowly while stirring, you temper the two ingredients so they combine instead of cook.  Don’t panic if you do see a few little lumps, you can strain them out later.

Transfer to a clean saucepan and stir over low heat, without letting it boil, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.

Remove from heat and strain through a fine sieve.

Stir in the heavy cream.  Cover and cool in refrigerator for several hours.

Follow manufacturers’ directions for your ice cream maker.

To make chocolate sauce:
Put cream, chocolate, and syrup in a saucepan and melt over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

The sauce should be ready in about 2 minutes.

Serve right away or you can keep in refrigerator for a few days and reheat in microwave.  Just heat for 30 seconds or less, stir and repeat once or twice.

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Herbal Gifts Lead to Dinner

One of the nicest benefits of writing this blog (besides getting to electronically meet folks from all over the world) is that local friends often provide me with food gifts.  They give them to me because they know I will use them and I guess sometimes they are interested to see if I will write about what I do with them.

Recently, I was the lucky recipient of a large quantity of fresh herbs from my friend Karen’s garden.  Oh, boy, was I excited thinking about all I could do with this collection of flavors.

First up was a risotto with fresh sage and bacon.  I used to believe that I didn’t like sage.  I thought is was too strong and musty and it made me think of camphor.  But, then I realized that I only dislike dried sage.  Freshly picked sage is another story…it is lighter with a bit of lemony flavor.  Perfect paired with butternut squash or apple, or bacon…!

This recipe is the result of my experimentation with making risotto in the oven, instead of the stovetop with constant stirring.  It is great for an easy after-work meal.  This is inspired by a recipe from Delia Smith.  It is has a slightly less creamy texture than risotto prepared in the traditional way, but I think this is good in its own right.  I hope you do, too.

Oven Risotto with Sage and Bacon
Serves 4

about 2 Tbsp olive oil
4 to 6 slices of bacon, sliced into lardons (small, thin strips)
1/2 cup sweet onion, diced
1 cup arborio rice (specially made for risotto)
5 Tbsp white wine or lager beer (whichever you have on hand)
2 cups chicken broth
about 2 tsp fresh sage, chopped
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 4 Tbsp parmesan cheese, grated

First, find a pan that can move from the stovetop to the oven.  If it has a lid, that makes it really perfect.  If it doesn’t, you can just use foil instead.  I used an enameled cast iron pan that my brother passed down to me.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Place your pan on the burner and heat about 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  Add the lardons or bacon strips and cook.

Once the bacon starts to brown, add the diced onion.  Depending on how much fat your bacon has, you may need to add more olive oil at this point.  Stir and cook until the onion is soft.

Add the rice and stir to coat the grains in the oil.

Now, add the wine or beer, chicken broth, sage, and black pepper.

Stir to blend and turn down heat to low.  Bring the mixture to a simmer.

Turn off burner, cover pan with lid or foil, and transfer to preheated oven.  Bake for about 20 minutes.  Then, remove lid or foil cover, and add the grated Parmesan cheese.

Stir, recover, and put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes.  The final texture should be thick with no liquid left.  If there is some remaining liquid, just stir, recover and place back in oven.  Check it every five minutes or so until it reaches the appropriate texture.

Serve warm and you may want to add a bit more grated Parmesan cheese to each helping.

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Peach Throw-Down

Last month, several entries on this blog highlighted dishes made with one of my favorite summer fruits, peaches.  This was due, in part, to the generous gift of Georgia peaches from my friends Dave and Laura.  Well, I have even more entries from Peachapoolza to offer you, dear reader.

My friends Dave and Wendy are always going on about New Jersey peaches.  They claim they are the best in the country.  They claim they are even better than Texas peaches.  I finally asked them to prove it.  So, they brought back a peck of freshly picked peaches from their recent trip home.  They bought a mix of both white and yellow cling-free peaches.

We ate several right away, and as the juice ran down my chin I asked Wendy if there was a particular peach recipe she wanted me to make.  At this point Dave chimed in.  You see, I hadn’t directed my question to him because he is allergic to the fruit.  But, I discovered that he can sometimes eat peaches if they have been cooked.  He asked if I could can peaches.  Yes, I said.  Then Dave wanted to know if I could make sugary, syrupy peaches that he could spoon onto ice cream.  Yes, yes I can.

I altered slightly my father’s spiced peach recipe to work better for ice cream or cereal topping.  Delicious.  I still prefer Texas peaches, but I’m willing to admit to just a slight bias for my home state products.

Canned Spiced Peaches
Makes about 4 pints 

about 4 lbs fresh, ripe peaches
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
4 cinnamon sticks, broken
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp whole cloves

To make it easier to peel the peaches, I blanched them.  Place whole peaches in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes and then drain and rinse with cold water to stop the fruit from cooking and make them cool enough to handle.  The skin should slide right off of ripe peaches.  If it doesn’t you can finish peeling them with a paring knife.

My father cans his peaches whole, but I decided to slice and pit the fruit for this batch.  Set them aside and prepare the syrup.

In a large saucepan, combine sugars, water, vinegar, cinnamon, and cloves.  Bring it to a boil, then stir and turn down heat to a simmer.  Let it simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.  You can take this time to sterilize your jars and lids.

Add the peach slices to the syrup and let them cook for about 5 minutes.  Take it off the heat and spoon the peaches and syrup into your prepared jars.  Make sure the threads of the jars are clean of syrup so you’ll get a good seal then screw on the lids.

I use a water bath process to seal the jars by submerging them in boiling water.  For pint-size jars, I let them stay in the boiling water for about 20 minutes.  Then I lift them out of the water and place them on a towel.  As they cool down, you should hear an occasional pinging noise as the lids pop from a vacuum forming.  After a couple of  hours of cooling, press down on the center of each lid.  There should not be any flex.  If the lid flexes, repeat the process and re-submerge the jars in boiling water for another 20 minutes to reach the vacuum seal.

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Bar Stool Fridays – Herbal Limeade

This post is due to the influence of two remarkable women in my life.  One, is my sister-in-law Sarah, who gently and without prejudice, pointed out to me that not all of my readers enjoy alcohol quite as much as I apparently do.  Point taken and appreciated, thank you.

The other is my amazing friend Wendy who is one of my biggest champions and always pushes me to be more creative.  Wendy has decided to start presenting me with random ingredients and in Iron Chef style makes firm suggestions of what kind of dish I should make.  In this first example she offered me freshly picked Thai basil and demanded, I mean requested, I make a drink with it.

Okay, ladies, I hope you like the results.  This post is for you.  Thanks for the ongoing support.

Thai Basil and Mint Limeade
Makes about 24 oz

1/2 cup basil and mint infused simple syrup
zest of 1 lime
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 cups water or club soda
Thai basil sprigs for garnish

To make herbal infused simple syrup, combine equal parts of water and granulated sugar in a saucepan.  Heat on stovetop and stir until sugar dissolves.  Turn off heat and drop in sprigs of Thai basil and mint (about 1 to 2 oz) into the hot syrup.

Let the herbs steep until the syrup has cooled to room temperature.  Remove herbs.  Add lime zest.

Measure and pour syrup into pitcher.  Add an equal amount of fresh lime juice, and stir.  If you like it a little sweeter, add only half the amount of lime juice.

Now add water or club soda.  I added twice as much water as juice and syrup, but you may prefer a slightly weaker taste and may want to add more water.

Serve over ice with a sprig of Thai basil or mint for garnish.

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Peaches with My Coffee

Peachapalooza continues in my household as I experiment with Georgia peaches.

Next up…peaches for breakfast.

Spiced Peach Bread
Makes 1 9-inch loaf (or 3 mini loaves)

Modified from Southern Living magazine

1 cup pecans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and diced
3/4 cup freshly grated carrots
1/3 cup natural applesauce
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Bake pecans in a single layer in  shallow pan for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until toasted and fragrant.

Cool 15 minutes and coarsely chop.

Stir together flour and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl.

Add diced peaches.

Stir in remaining ingredients, including toasted pecans, just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Spoon batter into a lightly greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan or 3 mini loaf pans.

Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a tester inserted comes out clean.  Cool in pan on wire rack for about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

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George Washington in Hot Water

While my parents were in town, we decided to visit George Washington’s Gristmill and Distillery outside Alexandria, Virginia.  It is just a few miles south of his estate, Mount Vernon.  The original structures were destroyed sometime around 1850, but the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association have reconstructed the operation.

As a farmer, George Washington operated a gristmill that ground wheat and corn into flour and meal.  The mill was powered by a huge water wheel with water diverted from the Dogue Run Creek.  The mill machinery is enclosed in a huge frame of heavy oak and pine beams that is built directly onto the building’s foundation and not connected the walls.  This protects the structure from the machinery’s potentially damaging vibrations.

It is a terrific working example of the Oliver Evans Automated Milling System.  This system connected all machines in the mill in a continuous process, greatly improving the production of flour and meal.

The 16-foot water wheel provides power to run all the machinery in the gristmill.

Raw grain is stored in bins and fed into the rolling screens for cleaning.  The rolling screen is a grain cleaner which removes any chaf or other debris so only clean grain drops to the millstones.

The millstones grind the wheat into flour or the corn into meal.

After milling, the flour/meal travels up to the hopper boy where it is spread and cooled.

From the hopper boy, flour/meal drops into the bolter, where it is sifted through bolting silk and graded into superfine flour, fine flour, and bran.

Once the gristmill was well established, Washington’s farm manager, James Anderson, suggested building a whiskey distillery.  Anderson, who had experience as a distiller in Scotland, pointed out to Washington that all the key components for making whiskey were already in place: an abundant supply of grain, a gristmill to grind the grain, and a water system to operate the stills.  Once it was complete it was one of the largest distilleries in the United States.  In its most profitable year, 1799, it had become Washington’s most successful enterprise, producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey.  A variety of whiskeys were produced at the site along with different types of fruit brandy.

With our country’s teetotaler history, the distillery was not a priority for rebuilding for many years.  Further, because there was no surviving examples of eighteenth century distilleries, the reconstruction required extensive archaeological and documentary study before an authentic structure could be built.

Beginning in 1997, excavation archaeologists uncovered the original foundation stones and the location of five stills and boilers, and found many objects related to the distilling process.  The distillery was reconstructed in 2007.  To ensure an authentic reconstruction the wood was finished by hand and the construction used hand-made nails and hardware.  There were some compromises necessary to meet modern building codes and safety requirements.  Even though, we were surprised to see open flames in the same room as the stills.  That seems like kind of a no-no when dealing with flammable substances like grain alcohol…

But, back to present day.  The distillery is back in operation and with five copper stills, produces rye whiskey using George Washington’s original recipe (60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley).

The grain mixture is ground and placed in a mash tub.  Hot water is poured over the grain to convert starches to sugar.  And, it is stirred by hand with the implement you see below.

Yeast is added to the mash to turn sugar into alcohol.  Then, after it sits for a bit, the liquid moves to distillation in the pot stills.

It is distilled at least twice to bring the alcohol up to 80 or 90 proof, the level at which Washington sold his common whiskey.

Limited numbers of bottles of whiskey distilled using this method are available certain times of the year at Mount Vernon.  Unfortunately, we were not able to secure a bottle during  this visit.

Stone ground cornmeal produced on site is always available in the Gristmill Shop, however.

Lucky for me, my dad treated me to a bag of this special product.  Here’s the first thing I made…

Hot Water Cornbread
Makes 12 to 18 pieces, depending on size

3 cups water
1 1/2 cups stone-ground cornmeal (maybe more)
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp shortening (maybe more)

Bring water to a boil.  Add cornmeal to boiling water.  Stir constantly with wire whip to prevent lumping.  Stir in baking soda and salt.

Remove from heat.  The mixture will thicken quickly.  You want it to be stiff so it will stick together in a little cake.  If it is still a little drippy, add more corn meal, whisking with a fork to smooth out the lumps.

Heat shortening in a cast iron skillet.  The amount will vary to the size of your skillet.

Once it is nice and bubbly, scoop out the cornmeal mixture to make a little oval flat cake and drop into the hot grease.  Fry the cakes, browning slightly on each side.

Drain on paper towels, and repeat until all cornmeal mixture is used.

Serve right away.

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When Life Gives You Icky Sugar Cookies…Make Lemon Pie!

You know those boxes of cookies you see in the grocery store bakery?

Well, I don’t like them.  I know that some people must like those cookies though, because I witness them being purchased, and I see them at potluck parties.

A box of these cookies showed up at a party that my friend Kate attended last weekend, and no one touched them.  Okay, maybe one person touched them because the box was short one cookie.  Anyway, the party ended and there sat a nearly full box of cookies.  It seemed wrong somehow to Kate, and the sweet and clever girl that she is, she brought them home.  She knew that we could see to it that those cookies served a better purpose…a higher purpose.

And, you know what?  I think we did.

Lemon Icebox Pie with Sugar Cookie Crust
Makes one 9-inch deep dish pie

Crust:
box of stale grocery store sugar cookies
7 Tbsp butter

Filling:
4 egg yolks
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
1 cup lemon juice

Meringue Topping:
4 egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Start with the crust.  You want to reduce those not-so-great cookies into crumbs.  I used my food processor, but you could also put them in a sealed zip-top plastic bag and pound on them with a rolling pin.

You need to finish with 3 1/2 to 4 cups of cookie crumbs.  Dump those crumbs in a bowl.

Melt the butter and add it to the crumbs.

Stir to combine.

Press the buttery crumbs into a deep-dish pie pan with your fingers.  Evenly distribute the crumbs to cover the entire inside of the pan.

Now for the filling…Separate the eggs by putting the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another.  Add sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice to the bowl with egg yolks.  Blend well – I used a handheld electric mixer.

Pour the filling into the cookie crumb crust.

Finally, on to the topping.  Take the 4 egg whites you set aside, and sprinkle them with cream of tartar.  The cream of tartar helps make your egg whites more manageable.  Using clean beaters for your handheld electric mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff glossy peaks form.

Spread the whipped egg whites onto the lemon filling.

Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes until the meringue is lightly browned.  Cool completely before slicing.

The pie keeps for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

VARIATION:  I made meringue, but you could top your pie with whip cream instead.  Just bake the filling and crust for about 15 minutes.  Let it cool and then spread with whipped cream.

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Meaty Gratitude

As an extra special thank you, our friends Dave and Wendy bought us some steaks from Lobel’s of New York.  Wow.  What a great gift.  I tore open the box and was thrilled by some of the best-looking steaks I had ever seen.  I have heard good things about this butcher shop and I couldn’t wait to try it for myself.

Lobel’s  specializes in USDA prime, dry aged beef.  When beef is dry aged, the moisture evaporates from the muscle concentrating the beefy flavor and taste.  It also becomes more tender as the natural enzymes in the beef break down the fibrous, connective tissue in the muscle.  Needless to say, this is an expensive process, since the beef must be stored for weeks at or near freezing temperatures.  This adds to the cost of the meat, and is why you only see it offered at steak restaurants and high-end butcher shops nowadays.

I decided to prepare two tenderloin steaks for our dinner that night.  About half an hour before I was ready to grill, I took the steaks out of the refrigerator and removed them from their packaging.  With such a fine cut of meat, it needs seasoning only from kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Then I let the steaks sit out to bring them to room temperature.  This will help ensure the meat cooks evenly and can help reduce the cooking time.

I fired up the grill to high.  I knew it was ready when I couldn’t hold my hand above the grate for more than about 5 seconds.  Using tongs, I placed the steaks on the grate to sear.  This will take 2 to 4 minutes for each side – depending on how thick your steak is, how hot you’ve made your grill, and how done you want it.  You can turn (not flip) your steak halfway through each side to give it fancy grill marks, if you want.

If you don’t like your steak rare, you may want to cook it a bit longer on indirect heat after the sear.  Just lift it with the tongs, away from the flame.  We like our steaks rare, so ours were ready to go much faster.

To check for doneness, I don’t like to pierce of cut the beef, I just use my clean finger and press down on the steak.  If it is rare, my finger will make an indention and it will stay in place.  If it is medium, the steak will give, but the indention will not remain.  A well done steak will feel firm.

After removing the steaks from the grill, let them rest for 3 or 4 minutes to redistribute the juices within the meat.

They were delicious and meltingly tender.  Some of the best meat I’ve ever had.  Seriously.  We have some pretty great friends.

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