You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto

August 27, 2014 § 1 Comment

To look at our weather forecast, you wouldn’t think that summer is on its way out. Yet, as much as I hate to say it (and I do — summer is my favorite time of year), it’s true. I looked out my kitchen window this morning and noticed that my garden was no longer getting a full day of sun. Yep, the sun has already started slipping lower in the sky, to the point where shadows from the large, cherry plum tree across the yard are covering large swaths of my little garden.

And yet, everything in my garden — and I do mean everything — has ripened and is ready for harvest. I’ve been out every morning, trying to keep ahead of the thieving squirrels, gathering colorful, fresh produce. I’ve been picking red-purple tomatoes, large ancho chiles, purple (now, red) jalapeños, bright-red bell peppers, and green-turning-bright-red jalapeños. I snip herbs when I need them, but they’ll keep growing, so I’m in no rush to harvest them yet. But the nightshades? That’s a different story! They’re ready NOW.tomatoes-in-bowl

Two things struck me recently, as I was admiring the pounds of peppers and tomatoes I’ve grown this year:

  • How cool it was that I had all of this gorgeous, fresh food in front of me, that I grew in my own little garden.
    and
  • Ohmygod I have all of this gorgeous, fresh food in front of me that I have to hurry up and use. Now what?!

Well, here’s what: it’s time to enjoy, cook, preserve and store! Fortunately the peppers are hardy enough to handle some cold storage until I’m ready to use them (more about my plans for the peppers in a future post). The tomatoes are a different story: the clock starts ticking as soon as those babies ripen. I’ve found that the Indigo Apples I’ve grown will keep their texture and flavor for several days while stored at room temp, but after that, they’ll soften and start to lose flavor. And no, you can’t keep them in the refrigerator. Refrigeration decreases their flavor and creates a mealy texture toute de suite, so, no cold storage for my tomatoes!

At the beginning of the summer, I had every intention of learning to can so that I could preserve my garden harvest, as well pounds of fruit from u-pick trips. Turns out, I just haven’t had time to get that project going yet, so no canned tomatoes or pasta sauce for me. And really, sauce didn’t seem like the best use of these tomatoes, which have a sweet flavor, low acidity, and somewhat meaty texture.

I’ve kinda fallen in love with the Indigo Apple. It’s a tomato that holds its own in salads, summer pastas, even with a slice of cheese and drizzle of olive oil. I decided that the best way to enjoy these beauties was to give them a long, slow oven roast. Oven roasting intensifies the flavor and makes the texture a little chewier, giving you a lot of options for use. Plus, you can store oven-roasted tomatoes in the refrigerator for about a week, or try freezing them for longer storage.

Recipe: Oven-Roasted Tomatoes

This recipe is super-simple and results in an oven-roasted tomato that you can use in so many ways: added to pastas, salads, sandwiches, or homemade pizzas. I crave them and snack on them right out of the refrigerator with just a sprinkle of sea salt!

The quick version: arrange tomato halves on an aluminum-lined sheet pan; season with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a tiny sprinkle of sugar; roast at a low temperature for about 3 hours. (Want to add more flavor? Drizzle on some balsamic vinegar, add herbs, or sprinkle with minced garlic before roasting.)

Tools:

Rimmed, sheet pan (at least 1″ deep)
Aluminum foil

Ingredients:

Fresh tomatoes
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper
Sugar

How To:

  1. Wash and dry the tomatoes to remove any dust, pollen, or dirt.
  2. Preheat the oven to 275°F.
  3. Line the sheet pan with two layers of aluminum foil, making sure to cover the sides of the pan.
  4. Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally and arrange them, cut side up, on the prepared sheet pan.sheetpan
    Cutting the tomatoes horizontally means they’ll rock and roll a bit less on the sheet pan than tomatoes cut vertically (through the stem).
  5. Drizzle olive oil over each tomato half, then season to taste with salt, pepper, and a tiny sprinkle of sugar.
    I used freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, plus a little fine white sugar. Adding a little sugar brings out the tomatoes’ sweetness and promotes some caramelization during the roasting process. Next time I’ll try raw sugar!

    Indigo Apple beauties: organic and home-grown!

    Indigo Apple beauties: organic and home-grown!

  6. Place in the oven and roast for about 3 hours, turning the sheet pan every 45 minutes or so for even cooking.
    Just to give you an idea of what to expect after 1½ hours:

    Roasted tomatoes after one-and-a-half hours in the oven

    Roasted tomatoes after one-and-a-half hours in the oven

    You can see that the tomatoes have darkened around the edges and started to deflate, but they’re still juicy. After 3 hours in the oven, the tomatoes are deflated/sunken, caramelized, and dark-red in color. Delicious!

    Roasted for 3 hours: tomato-y goodness

    Roasted for 3 hours: tomato-y goodness

    Want an even chewier version? Keep roasting for another 30 minutes.

  7. After roasting, cool on the sheet pan. Store in refrigerator in a covered container for up to a week (if they last that long!) or freeze.

650 Cooks: Suzanne’s Tomato-Watermelon Salad

August 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

Ever have one of those days when you come home from work, and it’s — ugh — too hot to cook dinner, and yet, you still want a satisfying, homemade meal? Sometimes you just gotta go with your cravings and make something on the fly! This was exactly what long-time 650 resident and avid gardener, Suzanne, did last week. Her answer to dinner on a muggy 650 night? Create a delicious Tomato-Watermelon Salad with items she had on hand, some of which came from her own garden. She posted the result to Facebook, and it was stunning — not only beautiful, but easy to make!

Suzanne's Tomato-Watermelon Salad

I think everyone who saw that post asked for the recipe — including me. Except, there wasn’t one, exactly. Suzanne knew what she wanted to make, but couldn’t find a recipe that worked for her, so she created her own. And fortunately for us, she’s been kind enough to provide the recipe for her Tomato-Watermelon Salad here on 650Food. The text and image below are all hers (thank you again, Suzanne!). Quantities are approximate, so just adjust to your taste and enjoy!

 


On a recent warm summer evening with uncharacteristic residual monsoonal moisture (I confess, I am a Bay Area Native and can’t tolerate an ounce of humidity!), I craved a watermelon-tomato salad. Not being completely jazzed about some of the recipes I’d seen, I decided to create my own. Fortunately, I was blessed with fresh tomatoes and basil from our garden – and with simple dishes such as this, freshness is essential. It was quick and easy — and just right for beating the heat.

Recipe: Tomato-Watermelon Salad
Yield: Serves 2

Ingredients:
For two servings I used approximately

1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup watermelon
¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
½ can white cannellini beans
2 tablespoons fresh basil, cut into chiffonade
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon minced jalapeño,
Juice of one lime

To taste:
Extra-virgin olive oil
Champagne vinegar
Fresh-cracked black pepper

How to:

  1. Combine the two fruits with red onion,white beans, basil, salt, white pepper, jalapeño, lime juice, champagne vinegar, olive oil.
    Splash in extra-virgin olive oil and champagne vinegar to taste.
  2. Finish this simple, cooling dish with fresh-cracked black pepper.

    Summer in the 650: Suzanne's Tomato-Watermelon Salad

    Summer in the 650: Suzanne’s Tomato-Watermelon Salad


 

What are you making with ingredients from your garden? Have you created a simple, fresh dish that you’d like to share? Or maybe even a decadent cocktail or dessert? If you’d like to share a recipe and the backstory on its creation here on 650Food, contact me by leaving a comment below or through 650Food’s Facebook page (where you can also give us a “Like,” if you’re so inclined).

Field Trip: Webb Ranch Blackberry Fields

July 23, 2014 § 4 Comments

One of the items on my Summer Bucket List this year is “blackberry picking at a local farm.” Blackberry season here in the Bay Area is rather short, usually running from the end of June until the end of July. If you want to get the best berries (or any berries at all, for that matter), you have to make a point to plan your visit to a u-pick farm. Sure, you can purchase local, organic blackberries at most farmers’ markets — no muss, no fuss — but where’s the fun in that?! If you’re a DIY kinda person, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty (or fingers stained or arms scratched up), then u-pick is a great way to get your hands on the freshest berries around.

Blackberry syrup over yogurt

From farm to table: Webb Ranch blackberry syrup and Greek yogurt

Knowing that I was running out of time, and with all kinds of plans for what I might make with the pounds of plump, sweet dark-purple berries I’d pick myself, I decided that last Saturday was The Day. We were having perfect berry-picking weather here in the 650: sunny with a few clouds and temps in the low 70’s. I thought about making the 45-minute drive to Coastaways Ranch in Pescadero, especially as they were about to close their blackberry u-pick for the season, but opted to head over to Webb Ranch in Portola Valley instead. Getting to Webb Ranch would take less time, and they were advertising more varieties of berries. Win-win.

Webb Ranch is family-friendly and well set up for u-pick. Signs point the way to the u-pick parking lot and to the fields’ entrance (look for the white tent where you’ll enter and exit the fields). When I checked in with the ladies at the u-pick entrance before heading out to the fields, they let me know that pickins were slim (sad face). However, there were berries to be had for those pickers willing to search (hint, hint). Undeterred, I grabbed several boxes and headed out.

I saw lots of unripe, red berries on the vines, but the dusky berries I was expecting were few and far between. Anything at eye level was definitely picked over, but there were some berries at ground level. It took some scraped arms and pricked fingers from moving vines to get at those hidden treasures, but I can get a little obsessive when it comes to berry picking. After a while I got into a groove, searching vines in sections, and really just enjoying walking through the fields. I lost track of time, moving from one row to the next, squatting, moving vines (ouch), slipping my hands under leaves (ouch), and occasionally finding a cache of ripe berries, missed by the early-morning pickers.

Lost in my hunt and enjoying the fresh air and warm weather, I started to get this weird feeling. You know that point when you realize that things have gotten really quiet and there’s no one else around? When I finally put my head up and checked the time, yikes! It was past closing time for u-pick and yes, I was actually alone out in the fields. Well, that’s a first. I’ve closed bars and restaurants, but never a berry field. I looked down at my haul. Barely two containers full. Oof.

Fortunately, farmer Deano Lovecchio and his wife, who were (ahem) waiting for me so that they could close up, were nice enough to chat for a few minutes about my picking experience and what’s going on at Webb Ranch. I got the low-down from Deano on what they’ve planted and why, and what’s up with the lack of berries. Basically, it comes down to what Deano called “our weird weather” — cool, foggy mornings in the Portola Valley hills has slowed down the ripening process — along with a lot more of “you folks,” meaning more u-pickers. And this isn’t a bad thing for the farm — more of “us folks” picking means higher demand for their berries and a growth opportunity for the farm. In fact, Deano was telling me about all the additional crops he’s planted for the coming year to support the farm’s growth. (More about that in a future post!)

During my drive home I had a little internal debate as to what I might do with the berries I’d picked. Quantity-wise, things hadn’t worked out as I’d anticipated; I probably ended up with about a pound. But quality-wise: jackpot! These very ripe berries were at their best right now (ok, so I’d taste-tested few while picking…); they were very sweet, flavorful, even a bit jammy tasting, with just a hint of tartness. They wouldn’t be better tomorrow or the next day. That’s the thing about u-pick: you need to be thinking ahead as to what you’ll do with the fruit. How much you can eat or cook now and whether the fruit is sturdy enough for storing for future use. It was pretty clear from the juice leaking into the box holding the berries that these super-ripe babies needed to be enjoyed or cooked right away. I decided to split the difference: eat my fill now and cook the rest into a blackberry syrup that I could enjoy for the next week or two.

Not to be a big tease after all that talk of sweet, ripe berries, but if you’re thinking about getting your blackberries from Webb Ranch, better hurry up! This Saturday, 9am–2pm, is the last chance for blackberry u-pick for the season! Check out their website or Facebook page for the latest updates. And if you do get your hands on some sweet, ripe berries, make up a batch of this versatile syrup!

Recipe: Blackberry Syrup
This syrup is delicious on waffles, homemade vanilla ice cream, or a scoop of Greek yogurt (hint: you don’t need to buy yogurt with fruit added — make your own fruit sauces and syrups). It’s also a great way to use up very ripe, soft, or ugly berries. Note that blackberries, depending on the type, can vary in size from about 1/2-inch to 1-inch, so I recommend weight over volume measurements for consistent results.

Yield: 8 – 9 ounces syrup

What you need:

Kitchen scale
1-quart saucepan
Fine-mesh strainer
Small container or bowl to hold the strainer
Rubber spatula
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup

Ingredients:

12 ounces ripe, fresh blackberries, boysenberries, olallieberries (or a combination of any of these)
3 – 4 ounces sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 ounce of water

How to:

  1. Taste your berries.
    Seriously, before you go any further, taste several berries to get a good idea of how sweet and/or tart they are. If they’re very sweet with a hint of tartness, start with the minimum amount of sugar (3 ounces) and lemon juice (2 teaspoons). If the berries are more tart than sweet, they’re likely not ripe enough, and you’ll need to add more sugar — up to 3 ounces more.
  2. Place the berries in the saucepan and add the sugar, lemon juice, and water.
    Combine blackberries, sugar, lemon juice, and water in a saucepan

    Combine blackberries, sugar, lemon juice, and water in a saucepan

    Per your taste test in Step 1, add more sugar and/or lemon juice as necessary. Just to give you an idea of what I did: the berries I used were super-ripe and very sweet, AND I prefer a less-sweet syrup, so I used only 3 ounces of sugar. Next time, I might add another half ounce to see if that brings out the berry flavor a bit more without making the syrup too sweet. If your berries are tasting more tart than sweet, consider adding more sugar.

  3. Bring the berries, sugar, lemon juice, and water to a boil and reduce the heat.
  4. Cook for 15-20 minutes over low-medium to medium heat until the mixture has thickened and reduced to about three-quarters of the original amount.
    Make sure you’re stirring the mixture regularly and using the rubber spatula to break up the berries in the pot. I press the spatula against the berries until they pop.
  5. Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down with the spatula to extract as much liquid as possible.
    Straining the syrup

    Straining the syrup

    I haven’t yet figured out a good use for what I call the “smoosh” — the leftover skins and seeds from making the syrup. Got any ideas??

    Leftover "smoosh" from the blackberries

    Leftover “smoosh” from the blackberries

  6. Taste the syrup and make any final adjustments for sweetness or acidity by adding sugar or lemon juice in small increments.
  7. Allow to cool. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.in-the-jar

I Scream, You Scream: Easy Apricot Honey Ice Cream

July 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

If you follow national food holidays, then you might know that yesterday was National Peach Ice Cream Day. Years ago, I came across a super-easy recipe for fresh peach ice cream in the New York Times Magazine.

Missed National Peach Ice Cream Day? Get some Apricot Honey instead!

Missed National Peach Ice Cream Day? Get some Apricot Honey instead!

It’s the kind of recipe that makes you want to make fresh ice cream as soon as possible: the ingredient list is short and seasonal, and the technique is simple. What could be more summery, more luscious than fresh juicy peaches (or any stone fruit, for that matter), rich cream, sugar, and lemon juice swirled together in your own ice cream machine? And better yet, there’s no custard to make, which cuts the ice-cream-making time in half! You read that right: no eggs to separate, no cooking, no straining, no “did I overcook the custard?” worries.

That NY Times Magazine recipe, which has become a summer standard in my house, was a timely find for me all those years ago. I’d learned to make ice cream using a classic custard base, but it’s a time-consuming process that takes about 12 hours when you factor in the “best practice” of chilling the custard overnight. Custard-based ice cream, while delicious and indulgent, definitely requires planning ahead to make at home. Finding a no-cooking version changed things for me — I could whip up a rich, fruity ice cream in a few hours! (It’s also inspired me to make ice creams with other stone fruit, which leads me to…)

This year I’ve used that simple recipe as the inspiration for homemade apricot ice cream. Why? you might ask. Why not stick to the tried-and-true, especially when peaches are so plentiful and still in season? Simple: because I don’t have peaches. But I do have apricots — lots of them. So much so that they’re taking up most of my freezer, and it’s time start using up some to make room for other food.

I love apricots, but the sad truth is that they have a short season and don’t keep long. Most of the fruit on my tree ripened within one week, and I was having a hard time keeping up with the harvest (not to mention trying to stay ahead of the greedy squirrels and birds in the process). Not wanting to waste any of the lovely fruit, I grabbed everything I could: the perfect, the bruised, the really soft, and the verging-on-overripe. Thanks to a friend’s suggestion, I opted to freeze most of what I harvested, especially the soft and overripe fruit. This “ugly fruit” is perfect for ice creams, sorbets, sauces — any recipe in which the appearance of the fruit doesn’t matter.

So, if you find yourself with a bounty of apricots and have exhausted your jam and tart recipes, try this Apricot Honey Ice Cream.

Recipe: Apricot Honey Ice Cream
I love the honeyed flavor of very ripe apricots balanced with a bit of tartness. The addition of mild-flavored honey and lemon juice play up the sweet-tart components of the fruit and provide some contrast to the richness of the cream.

Yield: Slightly less than 1 quart of ice cream
Adapted from “Frozen Assets,” by Julia Reed, NY Times Magazine, June 29, 2003

What you need:

Ice cream maker
1-quart container with lid
Fine-mesh strainer
Small bowl
Large bowl
Small saucepan
Large spoon
Rubber spatula

Ingredients:

1¼ pounds very ripe fresh or frozen apricots (I used frozen)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 – 1½ tablespoons light-colored, mild honey (such as orange blossom)

How to:

  1. Place the fruit in a large bowl (or, if frozen, in a flat dish to thaw).
    If frozen, let the fruit thaw at room temperature, which should take about an hour.

    Frozen apricots thawing

    Frozen apricots thawing

  2. Sprinkle fruit with sugar and lemon juice, mixing well. Let the fruit macerate for about 30 minutes.
    Using the back of a rubber spatula or large spoon, press on the fruit, breaking it up as much as possible. We’re going for a “rustic” ice cream with some chunks of apricots, not a fine purée.

    Apricots combined with sugar and lemon juice... waiting for the cream and honey

    Apricots combined with sugar and lemon juice…
    waiting for the cream and honey

  3. Optional: Slip the skins from the fruit and press them against a fine-mesh strainer set over a small bowl to extract any remaining juice and flesh. Add the extracted juice/flesh back into the fruit. Discard the skins.
    Skins removed from apricots and pressed against a fine-mesh strainer

    Skins removed from apricots and pressed against a fine-mesh strainer

    It’s up to you whether you want to keep the skins on the fruit or remove them. I found that once the fruit thawed, the skins easily came away, so I just removed them. Plus, it’s a texture thing. If you’re ok with the skins, keep ’em and skip this step.

  4. Combine the cream and honey in a small saucepan, place on the stove top, and bring to a simmer.
    I prefer the honey flavor to complement the apricot, so I used 1 tablespoon. If you prefer a more dominant honey flavor in your ice cream, use up to 1½ tablespoons.
  5. Once the cream has reached a simmer (lots of tiny, frothy bubbles around the edge of the saucepan), remove the saucepan from the heat and let the cream cool on the stove top.
  6. Combine the cream and fruit mixture and taste for sweetness and acidity.
    Here’s your chance to make any adjustments to mix. If you prefer a sweeter ice cream, add a bit more sugar. If you want to add some brightness, add a bit more lemon juice.
  7. Cover the mixture and chill it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours — or, if you can wait, overnight — so that the flavors combine and the mixture thickens.
  8. After the mixture has chilled, process it in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer directions.

    Churning apricot honey ice cream in the ice cream maker

    Churning apricot honey ice cream in the ice cream maker

  9. While the mixture is churning in the ice cream maker, place a 1-quart container  in the freezer.
    You want to transfer your churned ice cream (which is partially frozen) into a chilled container to reduce melting on contact.
  10. Transfer the ice cream to the prepared container and freeze for 2 — 4 hours before serving.
    Packing ice cream into chilled container for freezing

    Ready for freezing — or eating, if you don’t want to wait!

    After about 2 hours, the ice cream will have a softer consistency, so if you prefer a texture that’s more soft-serve-like, then don’t freeze it as long. For a harder texture, freeze for 3 — 4 hours.

 

Cooking from the Garden: Get Stuffed

July 14, 2014 § 4 Comments

Recently, while I was sitting in my home office putting together a post for this blog, I heard my elderly neighbor — the one with the tomatoes — yelling my name as he came across my driveway to the back door. He’d come over to give me a “zucchini” from his garden. Now that both of our gardens are blooming, we’ve started trading. (I’d just traded his daughter a bunch of sage and an over-sized jalapeño pepper for a handful of fresh tomatoes. Talk about “shop local!”)

This zucchini was like none I’d seen before: it was the size of a cantaloupe and about two pounds in weight. Thanks to my cucurbit education at CUESA’s Summer Celebration, I figured out that what he’d given me was a Ronde de Nice, or globe squash (still… it’s a big, round zucchini). I don’t eat much summer squash, so what to do with it was an immediate headscratcher.  I thanked him, turned it over a few times feeling the weight, and then put it in my refrigerator until I could figure it out.

Inside view of refrigerator

See that green pumpkin-looking thing on the top shelf? That’s my Ronde de Nice!

When his daughter stopped by a few days later, she was excitedly curious about “the zucchini” — had I cooked it yet?! I had to admit — reluctantly — that I hadn’t, and that I was a little stymied as to how to prepare it. Truthfully, I still had no idea what to do with this thing, so I was, well, avoiding it. Stuffing and baking it seemed like the obvious choice (and she agreed), but the ground beef and cheese version she’d recently made for dinner with her father just didn’t fit my more plant-based diet, which meant that I’d have to come up with a recipe. Cue the interweb searches.

So, the big, round zucchini sat in my refrigerator — at eye level — for almost two weeks. I moved it from the top shelf to the middle, and then back again as I cooked my way through the rest of the produce. (Ugh. I know!) It was a thoughtful gift, and I was running the risk of letting it go the way of so many lost zucchini before it. Sad but true: every once in a while I forget about my hit-or-miss relationship with zucchini, buy some, and then struggle to use it all before it goes slimy. (Yep, eww.)

Finally, as I was contemplating dinner this past weekend, I decided it was time to deal with the big, round zucchini. What was the right way to stuff and cook this thing? I’d have to experiment. Then it hit me: what a great opportunity to use up some leftovers! I had roasted vegetables, brown rice, half an heirloom tomato, some feta — I could come up with something tasty and do it without much prep work. Suddenly this thing I’d been fretting over became a fun dinner project! Cue the aperitif.

I cut the top from the Ronde de Nice and scooped out the interior flesh and seeds. Eek. This thing could feed a family of four. Hmm, the filling I’d planned wouldn’t be quite enough for this cavernous cucurbit. Crap. I’d have to come up with more ingredients for the filling, so I started scavenging the refrigerator.

Ronde de nice squash scraped clean... and not quite enough filling

Ronde de Nice squash scraped clean… and not quite enough filling

Fortunately, I’d had a new CSA box delivery two days beforehand, not to mention a few lingering items from the previous CSA box. (Still working on reducing food waste at home!) The beet greens from the previous CSA box were still good, as was the last of the green garlic. Problem solved: sautéed beet greens with garlic and spicy red pepper would round out the filling. I could also finely chop the Ronde de Nice’s cap and add some squash to my er, squash.

Beet greens chopped into ribbons (chiffonade) and minced green garlic ready to go into the sautee pan

Beet greens chopped into ribbons (chiffonade) and minced green garlic ready to go into the sautee pan

For additional texture I threw in some pepitas, and for a bit of creaminess and flavor, I added some olive oil and locally made feta. In the end, I needed about three cups of filling to pack out this baby! When all was said and done, most of the work was chopping and mixing. The only “cooking” I did was sautéing the greens with garlic and red pepper, and that took about seven minutes. The whole thing couldn’t have been easier. Yeah, who knew?

650 Ronde de nice: Stuffed and oven-ready!

650 Ronde de Nice: Stuffed and oven-ready!

Here’s my version of Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash — a nod to Bastille Day and #MeatlessMonday. Feel free to substitute your own leftover grains, vegetables, and cheeses.

Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash
Yield: Serves 2 as a main course; serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients:

Filling for Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash (below)
2-pound Ronde de Nice squash (or two 1-pound squashes)

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF and lightly oil a deep baking dish or roasting pan.
  2. Cut the top from the squash.
  3. Using a dessert spoon, scrape the flesh and seeds from inside the squash, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick “shell.”
    Discard the seeds and reserve any remaining flesh for future use.
  4. Cut some of the cap into 1/4″ pieces for the filling (about 1/3 cup total).
  5. Make the filling (recipe below).
  6. Use a towel or paper towel to blot any moisture from inside the squash.
  7. Stuff squash with filling, slightly mounding the filling at the opening.
    If using two smaller squashes, divide filling evenly between the two.
    Save any leftover filling for other uses (side dish, salad, topping for vegetarian nachos).
  8. Place stuffed squash in the prepared baking dish and cover with foil.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking about 15 minutes longer until squash is al dente or slightly soft, depending on your preference.

Filling for Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash
If using a 2-pound squash, you’ll need about 3 cups of filling. Feel free to increase or decrease amounts or substitute ingredients, depending on your taste.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup chopped roasted carrots and onions (¼” pieces)
1/2 cup chopped tomato (¼” pieces)
3/4 cup cooked corn
1/3 cup chopped squash from the cap or flesh
1/2 bunch greens (kale, beet, radish), sautéed with garlic and crushed red pepper
1½ tablespoons toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped or snipped into ¼” pieces
½ – 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

How to:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.
  2. Add to prepared squash as described above.

 

Grow Local: Got Stone Fruit?

June 19, 2014 § 5 Comments

The recent hot, hot days have kicked off the ripening process for stone fruit trees here in the 650. The 75-year-old apricot tree in my backyard is heavy with pale-orange, blush-kissed fruit. Every morning for the past week, I’ve stood under that tree, looking up and pondering which small treasures to pick for the day. Which will be fragrant and ripe, and which should stay put for a few more days?

Apricots on the tree

Which beauty to pick now?

And if that weren’t happiness enough, my neighbor’s front-yard plum tree is dropping warm, juicy red-purple fruit right onto the sidewalk. Other neighbors stop by late in the day to pick up a few with their kids or while taking the evening constitutional with their dogs. The calendar might say that it’s still spring, but it feels like midsummer already.

Santa Rosa plums, ripe on the tree

Santa Rosa plums in the 650

Why do a couple of old fruit trees give me such a thrill? Maybe it’s the history — the fact that these trees have been part of the neighborhood since, well, since the houses were built 75 years ago. It’s nice to see a little of the peninsula’s past still in place here and there. I’m not exactly the tree-hugging type, but I can’t help but be impressed by the hardiness of these trees, whose branches are laden with fruit every year! They thrive without much more help from us than an annual pruning and some water. (Or in my case, almost no water, as the drip system in my yard is on the fritz.) Local and organic? Oh yeah.

I think, more than anything, it’s the sensory experience of summer fruit that I love. The colors are so beautiful and vibrant! Apricots range from yellow with pale green (unripe) to orange-pink, some with a freckling or blush of red (ripe).

Beautiful apricots from my backyard

Beautiful apricots from my backyard

Plums are deep red when less ripe, becoming red-purple with a bloom of blue when ripe.

Santa Rosa Plums

Plums: reds aren’t quite ripe, while the purples are just about ready

Then there’s the scent of ripe fruit, which is like perfume: honeyed, floral, complex. (Smelling the stem end of an apricot or plum with get your mouth watering, if the fruit is ripe.) And the flavor is equally complex — sweet and slightly tart at the same time.

Apricots and plums have a short season, which is another reason that they’re so special. Unlike berries, which we’re seeing almost year-round, apricots and plums are best in summer when they’re sun-ripened and ready for harvest. If you have the good fortune to have an apricot or plum tree in your yard, then you know that these fruits are best when harvested fresh from the tree and eaten, canned, or frozen within a couple of days. Unripe fruit can be kept at room temperature and will soften, but won’t get sweeter (it needs heat and sun for that). I don’t recommend storing apricots or plums in the refrigerator, as they tend to get “mealy.” My best advice for tree-ripened apricots and plums: use ’em or lose ’em.

Need some ideas?

  • Slice apricots or plums into salads: Fresh greens, local goat cheese, and toasted almonds for a tasty lunch; add grilled chicken or tofu if you need a protein
  • Add a teaspoon or two of simple syrup infused with lemon verbena to one cup of diced apricots for a quick dessert or snack
  • Mix two teaspoons of simple syrup with 1 cup of sliced plums, and serve with vanilla ice cream or almond-milk sherbet for a simple, elegant dessert

One of my favorite summer desserts is fruit crisp; it’s a homey and not-fancy-at-all dish that I can eat for days. (What’s a fruit crisp? It’s a dessert of baked fruit with a crispy topping made from flour, butter, and sugar. Topping variations can include oatmeal and/or nuts.) It’s also oh-so-simple to make! About a dozen years ago, Fine Cooking magazine published their “formula” for fruit crisps. I’ve hung on to that issue (#51); it’s provided me with inspiration for creative summer-fruit crisps, year after year.

I don’t typically make crisps with fall fruit; fruit crisps are mostly a summer dessert in my house. The first crisp of the summer is kind of a thing around here — it’s the kick off to summer dessert making. My first crisp of the summer this year is an Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping. (Yep, plums would have been fabulous in this crisp, but pluots arrived in my CSA box last week, and, well, I needed to use ’em or … you know.)

The fruit filling for the crisp is a combination of:

  • 2 pounds of sliced fruit
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • The seeds of 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch combined with 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to thicken the fruit juices as the crisp bakes
Fruit filling for 650 Apricot-Pluot Crisp

Fruit filling for 650 Apricot-Pluot Crisp: Fruit, sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and vanilla bean seeds

The crisp topping is the “marzipan” from Apricot and Marzipan Tart in Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz. The topping mixture combines almond paste, flour, brown sugar, and sliced almonds.

Almond crisp topping

Almond crisp topping added to fruit. This baby is ready for the oven!

Per Fine Cooking‘s tip for keeping the crisp, er, crispy, I sprinkle half of the crisp topping over the fruit and bake for 20 minutes, then add the remaining half and bake for another 15-20 minutes — et voila!

Apricot-Pluot Almond Crisp just out of the oven

Freshly baked fruit crisp, just out of the oven

Crisps are great for dinner parties, barbeques, even brunches. Serve the crisp warm or at room temperature with ice cream, whipped cream, or non-dairy frozen dessert flavored with almond or vanilla (think: sherbet or sorbet made with a plant-based milk). Should you happen to have leftover crisp, stash some for breakfast. Trust me on this one; you can thank me later. Eat it cold with a dollop of greek yogurt — although it’s really tasty just plain, too. Want to reheat your crisp? Do it in a 325ºF oven for about 10 minutes. Reheating in the microwave makes the topping soggy — you don’t want that.

Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping: It's what for breakfast

Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping: It’s what for breakfast

My favorite way to eat fresh fruit crisp? With a spoon, right out of the baking dish, of course! Have you made fruit crisps? What’s your go-to summer fruit dessert?

All I need is a spoon...

All I need is a spoon…

I Scream, You Scream: Rich Chocolate Sherbet and Rocky Road Redux

June 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

I hope you rested up after National Doughnut Day yesterday, because today is National Chocolate Ice Cream Day! Come to think of it, you better pace yourself because June is packed full of sweet food holidays. Oh, and in case you missed it, National Rocky Road Ice Cream Day was on June 2, but don’t worry, with the recipe below, you can still indulge.

Dark Chocolate Sherbet with Easter Rocky Road pieces

Dark Chocolate Sherbet with Easter Rocky Road pieces

After my adventures with orange sorbet last week, I was inspired to come up with a delicious, non-dairy treat for National Chocolate Ice Cream Day. Now, this is the kind of problem solving that I enjoy: What could I make that is dairy-free, but still creamy and indulgent with a rich chocolate flavor — and is as easy and fast to make as sorbet? The answer: Dark Chocolate Sherbet made with almond milk! Even better? Dress it up with chocolate chunks, marshmallows, or even pieces of Easter Rocky Road. Don’t get me wrong — ice cream is a delicious warm-weather treat (and I am a big fan of a certain Mission-based ice cream maker, but I digress…) But what if your diet excludes dairy? You shouldn’t have to miss out on all the fun!

So, what is sherbet exactly? In the world of frozen desserts, sherbet falls between sorbet and ice cream. It’s typically made with milk and sugar (and sometimes egg), and the milk in sherbet can be dairy or plant-based. If you read last week’s post on orange sorbet, then you know that sorbet is a frozen dessert that is a combination of fruit juice or purée and sugar syrup. It’s dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan (if you don’t use honey), and low-fat. Ice cream is a frozen dessert that has a sweetened cream or custard base. It isn’t dairy-free, vegan, or low-fat — and as for gluten-free, well that depends on the brand. (Of course, if you make your own, you can decide what goes in your ice cream!) However, flavor-wise it’s more versatile than sorbet in that you can create a wider variety of flavor profiles.

Sherbet gives you the best of both worlds. The addition of milk in sherbet, whether of the dairy or plant variety, adds fat, which gives sherbet a creamier mouthfeel than sorbet, but doesn’t have the all-out richness of ice cream. (Yes, you can choose a nonfat milk for sherbet, but I recommend using a milk with some fat in it for flavor and mouthfeel.) You can also get a little more creative with your sherbet flavors, and you can add “mix ins” — pieces of chocolate, fruit, or marshmallows. In terms of process, making sherbet takes about as much time as sorbet, and you don’t have to test the sugar density of the mixture, so no egg test or refractometer is required.

A couple of notes on ingredients for the recipe below:
I use a dark, rich cocoa powder for this recipe (Cacao Barry or Valrhona), but feel free to use what you have on hand. Also, I used lightly sweetened almond milk (about 5 grams of sugars per 8 ounce serving). If your almond milk is significantly sweeter, you might want to reduce the sugar a bit.

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Sherbet
Yield: About 1 quart of sherbet

What you need:

Whisk
Rubber spatula
2-quart saucepan
Fine-mesh strainer
1-quart container, preferably at least 6″ tall
Large bowl or 4-quart container for ice bath
Ice cream maker
Container for freezing sorbet, 1 quart or larger

Ingredients:
Note that I’ve given the weight and volume measurements below, except for chocolate, which I always recommend weighing for your recipes.

18 ounces (2¼ cups) almond milk
5 ounces (½ cup + 2 tablespoons) sugar
1½ ounces glucose or light corn syrup
2 ounces (½ cup) cocoa powder
5 ounces dark chocolate, 61-70% cacao, chopped finely
1 teaspoon vanilla extractingredients

Optional: Want to dress up your sherbet?
Cut 4 pieces of Easter Rocky Road (2″ x 2″) into small pieces, approximately ¼ – ½ inch. Total: about 1 cup of small pieces.

How to:

  1. Combine almond milk, sugar, and glucose or corn syrup in a 2-quart saucepan. Heat until glucose (or corn syrup) and sugar melt, stirring occasionally.

    Combine almond milk, sugar, and glucose or corn syrup and bring to a simmer

    Combine almond milk, sugar, and glucose or corn syrup on stovetop

  2. When the almond milk is just coming to a simmer (tiny bubbles appearing around the edge of the pot), whisk in the cocoa powder.

    Whisking in the cocoa powder

    Whisking in the cocoa powder

  3. Bring to a low boil for one minute, then remove from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
    If you have an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature of the hot cocoa mixture. You want it to cool to 150165°F.
  4. Meanwhile, place chopped chocolate in a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl. Heat in the microwave on 50% power for 30-second increments, stirring each time, until chocolate has melted.
    You want the chocolate to be completely melted, but not too hot. If you have an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature. Ideally it should be about 110°F.
  5. Slowly and continuously pour the hot cocoa mixture from the saucepan into the center of the melted chocolate while stirring the chocolate continuously. Make sure that you’re stirring in the center of the bowl, not around the edges. You can put a wet towel or rubber jar opener under the bowl to keep it from moving.
    You’re slowly adjusting the temperature and viscosity of the melted chocolate so that it’s easier to incorporate the hot cocoa mixture. And yes, you’re essentially making a very thin ganache here. 

    Adding hot almond milk-cocoa mixure to melted chocolate

    Adding hot almond milk-cocoa mixture to melted chocolate

  6. Whisk in the vanilla extract.
  7. Strain the sherbet mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a 1-quart container.
    Straining makes sure that there are no unincorporated lumps of cocoa powder or solids from the almond milk.

    Straining the chocolate sherbet mixture

    Straining the chocolate sherbet mixture

  8. Prepare an ice bath for cooling the sherbet mixture by adding ice and water to a container large enough to hold the sherbet container.
  9. Place the sherbet mixture container into the ice bath and then chill the sherbet mixture (in the ice bath) in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.
    The mixture will thicken as it cools. Your sherbet will churn and freeze more quickly if the mix has been chilled.

    Sherbet mix (in the metal container) in an ice bath

    Sherbet mix (in the metal container) in an ice bath

  10. After chilling the sherbet mix, prepare your ice cream maker. Pour the chocolate sherbet mixture into your ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions.
    Mine takes 25-30 minutes to churn. Your mileage may vary.

    Oh my... Rich chocolate sherbet churning away

    Oh my… Rich chocolate sherbet churning away

  11. While the sherbet is churning in the ice cream maker, place a 1-quart container for the sherbet in the freezer.
    You want to transfer your churned sherbet (which is partially frozen) into a chilled container to reduce melting on contact.
  12. Optional: During the last 5 minutes of processing, add Easter Rocky Road pieces to the churning chocolate sherbet.
    You might need to mix them in a bit more when you transfer the sherbet to the chilled container.
  13. Transfer the sherbet to the chilled container and freeze for 4 hours before serving.
  14. To serve, let the sherbet sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before scooping.
    The sherbet is best when it’s a bit soft and gooey. Enjoy!choc-sherbet-scoop

Hit the Road!

June 5, 2014 § 3 Comments

It’s been one of those weeks: delays, fixes, and do-overs. Nail in the tire of my car (amazingly, same time as last year’s nail in the tire — what’s up with that?!). Clogged drain. Leaking shower. Browser that keeps screeching to a halt, forcing reboots. You get the idea: one step forward, two steps back. If you subscribe to theories about the state of the Universe and all that, Mercury retrograde is already in effect. Yeah, it’s been a bit of a rocky road this week — especially with the nail in my tire. So, in the spirit of re-visits, re-do’s, and fixes, I’m fulfilling a reader request for the recipe for my Easter Rocky Road.

Easter Rocky Road: Passion fruit marshmallow pieces, dried sour cherries, roasted almonds, and 66% dark chocolate

Easter Rocky Road: Passion fruit marshmallow pieces, dried sour cherries, roasted almonds, and 66% dark chocolate

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, if you’ve got tempered chocolate, marshmallows, and roasted nuts on hand, you’re good to go. I like to add a little dried fruit to the mix for flavor and texture. You can buy or make the marshmallows, all you need to do is cut them into smaller pieces. You can also buy already-roasted nuts, or roast them yourself. The only real prep work you need for rocky road is to temper the chocolate. If you’ve tempered chocolate before and are comfortable with the process, then feel free to skip ahead to the recipe. If not, you can follow the tempering instructions on food writer Aleta Watson’s blog (adapted from a class I taught at Gamble Garden House).

The process of tempering chocolate could take up a post all unto itself (which is why I’ve referred you to Aleta’s), but if you’re new to tempering chocolate, have no fear! It’s something that you can easily learn to do with practice and patience. What is this thing called “tempering chocolate?” you might ask. In short, it’s the process of heating and melting chocolate to a specific temperature, then cooling it to a specific temperature while stirring, so that you can mold it or coat other ingredients with it. That’s it! You’re basically using time and temperature to change the structure of the chocolate so that you can shape it the way you want. (You gotta break it down to build it back up.)

Summary of the geeky, science version? When you melt chocolate, you change its crystalline structure and its physical properties. It becomes “unstable,” losing firmness, shine, and snap. Tempering is the process of re-establishing a stable crystalline structure that returns those properties of shelf-stable chocolate: crispness, shine, and snap. Want more details about the science of chocolate? Check out this article by my favorite food scientist, Shirley Corriher.

Ok, enough about tempering chocolate. Let’s hit the road!

Recipe: Easter Rocky Road
Yield: 16 pieces (2″ square) or 64 pieces (1″ square)

What you need:

Parchment paper
8 x 8 baking pan
Instant-read thermometer
Rubber spatula

Ingredients:
Note: When it comes to working with chocolate, I really recommend using a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients, rather than relying on volume measurements.

1¼ pounds of dark chocolate, 61 – 70% cacao
4.5 ounces (about 2 cups) dried sour cherries
4 ounces (about 1 cup) roasted almonds
4 ounces (about 2 cups) ½-inch marshmallow pieces (vanilla or passion fruit)

How to:

  1. Roughly chop the cherries and almonds. Cut the marshmallows into approximately ½-inch pieces.
    You’re not going for perfection here, just aim for ½-inch pieces or slightly smaller. Marshmallow pieces sticking together? Dip them in potato starch or corn starch, then shake off the excess powder in a sifter or sieve.

    Roasted almonds, dried sour cherries, passion fruit marshmallows

    Roasted almonds, dried sour cherries, passion fruit marshmallows

  2. Cut two (2) pieces of parchment paper: 8 inches wide by 12 inches long.
  3. Fit one piece of paper into the baking pan so that two sides are evenly covered.

    Pan lined with one piece of parchment paper

    Pan lined with one piece of parchment paper

  4. Turn the pan 90 degrees and fit the second piece of parchment paper into the baking pan, making sure that the sides are evenly covered.

    Pan lined with second piece of parchment paper (all sides are covered)

    Pan lined with second piece of parchment paper (all sides are covered)

  5. Temper the chocolate.
    Use your instant-read thermometer to make sure that your chocolate is at the correct working temperature (generally, 89-91ºF). If you need to, test that your chocolate is in temper by wiping a bit of liquid chocolate from the tip of your spatula onto a piece of parchment paper. The chocolate should set up firmly, with shine, within 3-5 minutes.

    Tempered chocolate at working temperature

    Tempered chocolate at working temperature, ready for the nuts, cherries, and marshmallow pieces

  6. Fold the nuts, dried fruit, and marshmallows into the chocolate with a rubber spatula, until combined.
    Keep in mind that the temperature of your ingredients — cherries, almonds, and marshmallow pieces — will be colder than the tempered chocolate. Once you add these ingredients to the chocolate, the chocolate’s temperature will drop, which means it will start to set up. Work somewhat quickly, but don’t rush. You need to combine the ingredients and transfer everything to your pan before the chocolate gets too fudgy, or you won’t be able to spread it evenly in the pan.
  7. Transfer rocky road mix to the prepared pan.
    You can see in the photo below that my mix is already starting to get fudgy along the edges — that’s the chocolate setting up (cooling and becoming firm).

    Rocky road mix in the pan

    Rocky road mix in the pan

  8. Holding both sides of the pan, bang the pan on your work surface to even out the mixture and release air bubbles.
    Seriously, pick up the pan and with a bit of force, tap the bottom of it on your work surface a couple of times, while holding onto the pan. Don’t drop it from four feet up, à la Emeril. Don’t get all medieval on its ass. Just hit it hard enough to help distribute the rocky road mixture evenly and remove any air bubbles.
  9. Put the pan in the refrigerator (top shelf) for about five minutes.
    You’re helping the chocolate set up to a point where it’s less liquid and more fudgy because you still need to cut the rocky road before it hardens.
  10. After about five minutes, remove the pan from your refrigerator.
    The rocky road should be firming up around the edges and fudgy in the middle.
  11. Using a sharp knife, cut the rocky road into either 16 pieces (4 x 4, or 2 inches square) or 64 pieces (8 x 8, or 1 inch square).
    The chocolate will continue to harden as you work, just keep that in mind as you cut, so don’t dawdle. Again, no need for perfection. Also, if you need to wipe down your knife in between cuts, make sure the blade is dry before making additional cuts. Getting water (even a small amount) in your chocolate can cause your chocolate to seize. You don’t want that.

    Cutting 2-inch squares of rocky road in the pan

    Cutting 2-inch squares of rocky road in the pan

  12. Once the chocolate seems firm (but not hard) in the center, remove the rocky road from the pan.
    Hold the sides of the parchment paper and pull the rocky road up and out of the pan. It should come out in one piece. out-of-pan-1
  13. Again, using a sharp knife, go over your cuts, making sure that the knife goes all the way through, and that you can separate the pieces.

    Almost finished and ready to eat!

    Almost finished and ready to eat!

  14. If your kitchen is on the warm side, put the pieces on a sheet pan (cookie sheet) and return the rocky road to the top shelf of the refrigerator for five minutes to help the chocolate finish hardening.
    Otherwise, let them continue to harden on your work surface. Or, you know, start enjoying them now. Just know that the chocolate will continue to harden.
  15. Store in a covered container at room temperature for up to four weeks.

 

Orange You Glad?

June 2, 2014 § 3 Comments

It seems that I have a problem when it comes to citrus — oranges, in particular. After taking a quick inventory of my refrigerator recently, it turns out that citrus (mostly of the orange kind) has taken over both of the crisper drawers. As in, the drawers are so full that I can barely open them. You’d think I’m hoarding oranges for the end of the world or something. How did this happen?

Navel oranges in a stainless steel colander

Just some of the many oranges I’ve been hoarding

The good news is that an excess of any ingredient is always an opportunity for a little creative problem solving in the kitchen. Aside from the obvious — juice those babies for mimosas (I’m not sure I can round up enough champagne for that) — there’s always my Sunday Morning Scones and Orange-Scented Anzac Biscuits. Unfortunately, making both of those recipes wouldn’t come close to fully using all of those oranges, and I’m looking to minimize food waste with whatever recipe I use. Most recipes that call for oranges want the juice or the zest, meaning there’s a high likelihood of waste (in fact, depending on your recipe, 50-70% of the orange can go to waste).

If you’ve read this blog a bit, you know that my heart (and experience) are in the sweet kitchen, so I was immediately thinking about candied peel. It keeps for ages, and I can use it for holiday fruit cakes later this year or dip it in dark chocolate as a gift for my father’s birthday. I was also thinking about making a confit that I can use for filling cakes or as a mix-in for ice cream. Given the abundance of oranges I’ve accumulated, I’ll likely make both! Ok, so that covers the outside, but what about the inside?

The ice cream/confit idea got me thinking: it’s been a long time since I’ve made an ice cream or a sorbet. Maybe I could try orange sherbet, but that would mean buying milk (ugh, another trip to the grocery store). And then inspiration arrived courtesy of Fine Cooking magazine: an article about sorbet! Funny how inspiration seems to show up just when you need it. Skimming the article reminded me that I have all the tools and resources that I need at home to make sorbet (although Fine Cooking breaks down the process into bite-sized chunks and author Zoe Francois has some tasty ideas for add-ins). Ta-dah — orange problem solved!

Sorbet is simply fruit juice or purée combined with a sugar syrup, spun up in an ice cream maker, and then frozen. The most important part of making sorbet is getting the right proportions of fruit juice/purée and sugar syrup. Too little syrup, and you basically end up with rock-solid, frozen juice that’s too hard to scoop. Too much sugar, and the mixture won’t freeze, and you’ll end up with a slushie (which could be delicious, but isn’t the point of the exercise).

So how do you know when you’ve got the right combination of fruit juice/purée and syrup? Well, if you’re addicted to kitchen tools like I am (I’m pretty sure that’s why I went to culinary school in the first place — all the fun toys), you could use a refractometer or a saccharometer to measure the density of the sugar in the mixture.

Trusty refractometer

Trusty refractometer

A refractometer measures the light refraction of sugar using the Brix scale. You just place a drop of your solution on the plate, close the plastic cover, and look through the eye piece. Super-easy to use — and to clean. A saccharometer is a long, narrow glass tube — with a weighted bottom — that measures the gravity of the mixture using the Baumé scale. You need to physically place it in the solution you want to measure, which means you need a tall, narrow container in which to put your solution. I find it more challenging to get an accurate reading on the saccharometer because you have to eyeball it in the solution you’re measuring. (In short: I think it’s a pain to use.)

Unless you make beer, wine, or a lot of sorbets — or work in a professional kitchen — you probably don’t have a refractometer or saccharometer stashed in a drawer somewhere (and if you do, we should hang out). But there is something that you likely have in your kitchen that will help you check the sugar density of a sorbet mix: an egg.

You read that right. The old-school, tool-free technique for checking the density of a sorbet solution is to place an egg (yup — a whole, raw egg, in the shell) in the mix and see whether it floats. There are a few things you need to know before trying this technique:

  1. Your egg should be fresh, so check the date on the carton (Need to know how to find the packing and sell by dates for your eggs? Check out this article). An old egg will not float as well and won’t give you an accurate “reading.” Trust me on this; I learned the hard way. An old egg will float the same whether you have too much or too little syrup. No fun.
  2. Make sure there are no cracks in the shell.
  3. Wash your egg with mild dish soap, rinse it well, and dry it before placing it in the sorbet mix.

I’ve never used the egg test before, so I decided to try it out — in tandem with my trusty refractometer. I’ll save you the suspense and let you know that the egg test worked for me — and it’s reliable as long as your egg is fresh! So, if you’ve got a sorbet syrup (recipe below), fresh orange juice, fresh lemon juice, an ice cream maker and an egg, you can make delicious, sweet-orange sorbet at home!

Another tip: I’ve found it easier to make the sorbet syrup first, let it cool completely (which might mean overnight), and then go on to prepping the fruit, making the sorbet mix, and spinning it up. Sorbet syrup keeps in the refrigerator for about 10 days. After making sorbet, you can use leftover syrup to sweeten ice tea, homemade lemonade, and cocktails.

Recipe: Sorbet Sugar Syrup

Yield: About 2¾ cups
Adapted from the Culinary Institute of America

If you want to get all technical, this is a 65º Brix sorbet syrup. Just, you know, in case anyone asks you. Including corn syrup or glucose will prevent crystallization of your sorbet syrup and give you a smoother sorbet.

Ingredients

1½ cups sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup light corn syrup (or glucose)

How to:

  1. Combine ingredients in a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a boil.

    Sorbet syrup ingredients

    Sorbet syrup ingredients

  2. As soon as the syrup comes to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the saucepan and allow the syrup to cool completely.
  3. If you’re making the syrup in advance, transfer it to a container with a tight-fitting lid and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to make the sorbet.

 

Recipe: Orange Sorbet

Yield: About 1 quart of sorbet
Inspired by Fine Cooking Magazine, June/July 2014

What you need:

Ice cream maker
1-quart container, preferably at least 6″ tall
Narrow whisk (not a balloon whisk)
Fresh egg in the shell, washed and dried (or, if you have one, a 0-32º Brix refractometer)
Container for freezing sorbet, 1 quart or larger

Ingredients:

3 cups of fresh orange juice (from 10-12 oranges or about 4½ pounds)
2-3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice (1-2 large lemons)
1 cup sorbet syrup (recipe above; keep extra in reserve, in case you need it)
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest (I used a microplane zester)
Optional: 2-3 tablespoons of orange liqueur (I used 3 tablespoons of Cointreau, although an aged tequila or good vodka could work, too, depending on the flavor you prefer)

How to:

  1. Juice the oranges, reserving the rinds for zest or other uses.
    I used the juicer attachment on my food processor, but you can go old-school and use a hand juicer or reemer. I stored the orange rinds in a freezer bag in the coldest part of my fridge for future use (candied peel and confit).

    Juicing oranges with the food processor

    Juicing oranges with the food processor: no muss, no fuss

  2. Strain the orange juice through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any seeds or large pieces of pulp.
    Small pieces of pulp are ok and add flavor and body to your sorbet.
  3. Taste the orange juice so that you can determine how much lemon juice to add.
    If the oranges are very sweet, start by adding 2½ tablespoons of juice. Add up to another ½ tablespoon if you prefer. If the orange juice is less sweet or slightly tart, add about 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Why add lemon juice? Because it can enhance the orange flavor, making it “brighter.” You just don’t want to add so much lemon that you detract from the orange.
  4. Pour the orange juice into a tall, narrow 1-quart container. Using a narrow whisk, stir in the lemon juice, zest, and alcohol (if you’re including it).
    Note that adding alcohol will change the density of your mixture, so add it before you start adding the sorbet syrup.

    Sorbet syrup, orange zest, Cointreau (optional), lemon juice, orange juice

    Sorbet syrup, orange zest, Cointreau (optional), lemon juice, orange juice

  5. Whisk in ½ cup of the sorbet syrup and test the density of the mixture by gently lowering your egg into the container (or taking a refractometer reading).
    Note: If you’re using a refractometer, your goal is 24-29º Brix, depending on how sweet and firm or slushy you like your sorbet. The higher the reading, the sweeter and softer the sorbet.
  6. If the egg goes right to the bottom, you need to add more sorbet syrup.
  7. Adjust your sorbet mix by stirring in 2 tablespoons of syrup, then try the egg test again. Continue until the egg floats, and you can see a 1-inch circle of shell sticking up out of the sorbet mix.
    Make sure you taste the sorbet mix as you add syrup. It should be orange-y and sweet, but not cloying (as in, it shouldn’t burn the back of your throat).
  8. If the egg floats, and you can see a 1-inch circle of the shell, your mixture should be ready for churning and freezing. If not, continue to whisk in small amounts of syrup and float the egg until you see a 1-inch circle of shell sticking up out of the sorbet mix.
    When my egg floated with a 1-inch circle of shell showing, my refractometer reading was 24º Brix. As I was going for a less sweet (and slightly firmer) sorbet, I stopped adding syrup.
  9. Chill the mix in your refrigerator for about an hour.
    Your sorbet will churn and freeze more quickly if the mix has been chilled.
  10. Pour the mix into the ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions.
    Mine takes 25-30 minutes to churn. Your mileage may vary.

    Sorbet churning away in my little ice cream maker (view from above)

    Sorbet churning away in my little ice cream maker (view from above)

  11. While the sorbet is churning in the ice cream maker, place a 1-quart container for the sorbet in the freezer.
    You want to transfer your churned sorbet (which is partially frozen) into a chilled container to reduce melting on contact.
  12. Freeze the sorbet for at least four hours before serving.

    Orange sorbet scoops in a glass bowl

    Orange You Glad? Sorbet!

So here’s a really cool thing (yes, pun intended) about sorbet: you can always melt it down, adjust it, and churn it again. Let’s say that after a couple of weeks in the freezer, your sorbet is getting icy. Or, maybe you wish you’d added a bit more sorbet syrup for a softer, sweeter sorbet. No problem! Just melt the sorbet back to liquid form, make any adjustments (whisk in more syrup or add another tablespoon of liqueur — just be sure to run the egg test again), churn the sorbet in the ice cream maker, and refreeze.

Well, I’ve solved half of my orange problem. Stay tuned for part deux…
Have you made sorbet? Did you use the “egg float” test? Did it work for you?

Part Deux: Orange-Scented Anzac Biscuits with Dark-Chocolate Truffle Filling

April 30, 2014 § 7 Comments

Ready to make the filling for Orange-Scented Anzac Biscuits with Dark-Chocolate Truffle Filling? If you’re just jumping in here, you might want to pop on over to read Part One of this story to get caught up. Part One gives you a short history of ANZAC day and Anzac biscuits, along with my orange-scented version of this Aussie classic cookie. Part Deux (that would be this post here) has the:

  1. Recipe for the chocolate truffle filling
  2. Assembly instructions for the whole shebang
Orange-Scented Anzac Biscuits with Dark-Chocolate Truffle Filling

Orange-Scented Anzac Biscuits with Dark-Chocolate Truffle Filling

If you’ve already made a firm ganache and/or have a favorite recipe of your own, you can skip ahead to the assembly details. If not, follow along as we make a firm, dark-chocolate ganache. A ganache is simply an emulsification (oil in water) of chocolate and cream. Chocolate ganaches can be firm, medium, or soft, as defined by the ratio of chocolate to cream.

  • Firm ganache: 2:1 ratio of chocolate to cream.
    Good for: making sandwich cookies or hand-rolled chocolate truffles.
  • Medium ganache: 1:1 ratio of chocolate to cream.
    Good for: chocolate bonbon centers, cake fillings, thick glaze to coat a cake.
  • Soft ganache: A ratio of 1:1.5 up to 1:2 chocolate to cream (more cream than chocolate).
    Good for: whipped cake filling, dessert sauces.

In it’s simplest form, the recipe has two ingredients: chocolate and cream. I’ve added a bit of glucose (you can substitute corn syrup) for a touch of sweetness and longer shelf life. You might also see chocolate ganache recipes in which a bit of butter is added. Adding butter adds fat, which results in a smoother, creamier mouth feel. It’s a nice touch, but not necessary here — especially as the Anzac biscuits are already so buttery. (Note: You’re more likely to see the addition of butter in ganaches that will be used specifically for confections — truffles and bonbons.)

Chocolate Truffle Filling
Yield:  Approximately 12 one-ounce truffle centers

Tools:

Kitchen scale
Medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl
Small saucepan (1 quart)
Rubber Spatula
Instant-read thermometer (recommended, but not required)

Ingredients:
Note: Because the ratios for ganache are specific and based on weight, I strongly recommend using a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients, rather than relying on volume measurements.

9 ounces finely chopped dark chocolate or chocolate feves (disks)
4.5 ounces heavy cream
1 tablespoon + ½ teaspoon corn syrup or glucose

How To:

  1. Place chopped chocolate (or feves) in a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl. Heat in the microwave on 50% power for 30-second increments, stirring each time, until chocolate has melted. Set aside briefly while you prepare the cream.
    You want the chocolate to be completely melted, but not too hot. If you have an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature. Ideally it should be between 110°F and 115°F. It’s ok if the temperature is a few degrees lower, but not higher.

    Melted chocolate for ganache

    Melted chocolate for ganache

  2. Combine cream and glucose or corn syrup in a small saucepan and heat until just starting to boil.
    Keep a close eye on your pot, as cream can boil over in a flash. (Trust me, it’s a lesson that I’ve learned more than once, the hard way.)

    Cream in a pot

    Look for bubbles around the edge of the pot and in the center

  3. Remove pot from heat and allow the cream to cool for a minute or two.
    If you have an instant-read thermometer, your cream is ready to use between 150°F and 165°F.
  4. Test the temperature of the chocolate either by dipping your pinky finger in it (the chocolate should feel as warm as, or just slightly warmer than, body temperature) or using an instant-read thermometer.
    If you’re using a thermometer, your chocolate should be in the 98°F to 104°F range.

    Melted chocolate and instant-read thermometer

    That’s 99.14 degrees farenheit, in case you were wondering

  5. Slowly and continuously pour a thin stream of cream into the center of the chocolate while stirring the chocolate continuously (stir faster than you pour). Make sure that you’re stirring in the center of the bowl, not around the edges.
    This is the part where you create that emuslification of chocolate and cream! Imagine that you’re creating a vortex in the middle of the chocolate, and that vortex is pulling in the cream.

    Chocolate ganache in a bowl

    Pulling cream into the vortex of chocolate

  6. Keep stirring until all cream has been incorporated with the chocolate. If there’s a small amount of cream around the edge of the bowl, expand your stirring radius to incorporate any remaining  cream.
    Your ganache should be smooth and shiny. It’s likely still too warm to work with yet, so you’ll need to let it cool down.

    Chocolate ganache

    Ta-dah! Chocolate ganache

  7. You want the working consistency of the ganache to be fudgy, but not stiff. Cool the ganache at room temperature or by placing it in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
    If you put the ganache in the fridge, stir it every time you check on it. Again, if you have an instant-read thermometer, you’ll want to cool the ganache to 77-78°F before you use it.

Now that you’ve made the biscuits and the ganache, you’re ready to assemble these rich, chewy, creamy, decadent treats!

Assembling the Orange-Scented Anzac Biscuits with Dark-Chocolate Truffle Filling
Yield: 12 sandwich biscuits
What you need:

2 Sheet pans
Parchment paper
1½” Ice cream scoop or 1 tablespoon measuring spoon
24 Orange-Scented Anzac Biscuits
1 Batch firm chocolate ganache (see above)

How To:

  1. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. Arrange 12 Anzac biscuits on each sheet pan (half face down and half face up) as shown here.csdfas
  3. Using the tablespoon or ice cream scoop, form a truffle ball and place it in the center of a face-down biscuit. repeat for all face-down biscuits (12 total).
    Note: You want the filling to be firm enough that you can make a ball with it, but not so firm that it’s stiff and hard to work with. If the filling is too stiff, try gently warming the ganache in the microwave on low power (30-40% power and 15-20 second intervals, stirring each time).

    Scooping chocolate-truffle filling onto Anzac biscuits

    Scooping chocolate truffle filling onto Anzac biscuits

  4. Place a face-up biscuit on top of each truffle scoop and gently (and evenly) press down, forcing the filling to the edge of each sandwich.
  5. Share and enjoy or store in an airtight container for several days (if they last that long!).bite-1

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