March 26, 2010

Cherry Ketchup



Opening day of the Portland Farmers Market was a beautiful, warm Spring day. When I came across the Cherry Country booth I thought about how nice it would be to have venison or some other game, then remembered that I have a dinner class coming up where I'll be serving lamb. Cherries are a classic sauce base for wild game, and older lamb sometimes has a hint of gaminess, so I thought I'd whip up a batch of cherry ketchup. I grabbed a 5.5-ounce bag of organic dried Bing cherries and headed for the kitchen.

Cherry Ketchup
5.5 oz./156 g dried Bing cherries
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon blackstrap molasses
¼ teaspoon fleur de sel
6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon crystalized ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
pinch Togarashi pepper
½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼-½ cup water

Combine all the ingredients with ¼ cup of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the cherries have softened and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes or so. Purée in a food processor, adding up to ¼ cup additional water, as needed. Let sit in the refrigerator overnight so the flavors can get well acquainted, then bring to room temperature before adjusting the seasoning. Serve at room temperature.

March 23, 2010

Strawberry Macarons


Strawberry Macarons
Strawberry Macarons

Macarons are photographed like precious jewels, and there are trendy shops that sell nothing else. Are they actually hard to make or is it all hype?

March 15, 2010

Spanikopita


Spanikopita, sometimes called spinach pie, is a classic, easy dish. It can be made with fresh spinach or frozen, with feta or your preferred cheese, with or without eggs, and with butter or olive oil. It can be served warm, cold, or room temperature. It's not at all fussy to make, and lasts a week in the refrigerator, which is why it's an excellent choice for work or school lunches.

If you're going to use frozen spinach, get the chopped version. It's easier to deal with. Leave it in the refrigerator for a day or two before you prepare it so it will be thawed. If you chose to use fresh spinach, clean and blanch it. In either case, you'll need about 2 pounds (1 kilo). The day before you want to assemble the spanikopita, put the spinach into a colander set in a bowl and weight it with something. You'll want to let the spinach drain for as much as 24 hours to dry it out.

Assembly is simple. Mix the drained spinach with your choice of cheese (at least 8 ounces, more if you wish), salt to taste, some herbs (chopped fresh dill is nice), the zest of one lemon, and one egg if you want the pie to hold together well.

Next you'll need phyllo dough and melted butter or extra-virgin olive oil. Brush the butter onto about 7 layers of dough and line a baking dish (8"x12" or 9"x13"). You should have dough covering the bottom and sides of the baking dish. Put the filling in and top with another 7 layers of dough brushed with butter.

Finally, bake it in a 350° oven for about an hour, until the top is nicely browned. See? Easy as it gets.

March 5, 2010

Chocolate Truffles


When I first learned to make chocolate truffles thirty years ago I didn't know I was learning the recipe originally conceived, or at least credited to, Fernand Point (1897-1955), one of the greatest French chefs. He trained or mentored such giants as Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, and Jean and Pierre Troisgros, which should give you a clear idea of just how great he was.

These are all that a chocolate truffle should be: simple, classic, elegant, easily varied. They are proof, if proof is needed, that less is more. I've varied the original recipe, as most chefs will, by allowing the use of a liqueur or espresso instead of water, and by the addition of a very small pinch of fleur de sel.

Chocolate Truffles
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 ounces unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon liqueur, espresso, or water
very small pinch fleur de sel
unsweetened cocoa powder

Put the chocolate into a heatproof mixing bowl or the top of a double boiler. Melt the chocolate over, but not in, simmering water, stirring continuously. When the chocolate is nearly melted, add the butter and continue to stir until incorporated. Remove the bowl from the hot water and mix in the egg yolk. When the yolk is fully incorporated, add the tablespoon of liqueur or water and the fleur de sel. Mix well, then cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Using whatever tool you prefer, make a small ball of chocolate. It does not need to be perfectly round. A quenelle is fine. Roundish is fine. If you feel it needs to be rounder, roll it quickly between your palms. Then carefully roll it with a fork on a plate covered with unsweetened cocoa powder. Repeat until you've finished making all the truffles. Chill briefly to set the truffle. Serve slightly chilled.

You may find that the truffle is too hard at first. Let it sit at room temperature a few minutes until it's soft enough to work. If you don't work quickly enough, the truffle might get too soft, making it difficult to form. In that case just refrigerate a few minutes until it's workable again.

I think my favorite variation is to use Chambord as the liqueur. If I don't want any alcohol at all in the truffle, then I might add some cinnamon to the cocoa powder and maybe just a teeny tiny pinch of chipotle powder to the truffle.

For me the biggest challenge is to let a "flawed" truffle go instead of eating it to hide the "mistake." That's one reason I can't tell you how many truffles this recipe will yield. I can only suggest that it will yield as many as you don't eat while making them.

March 2, 2010

The Way to Eat

I was out eating breakfast the other day and saw something important, I think. All around me were my fellow Americans, busily eating and reading newspapers or working on computers. Virtually everyone was alone, no matter how many people were sitting at the same table. They were all eating rapidly while doing some busy-ness necessary to getting on with their days. Nobody talked to tablemates except those few who clearly were having a breakfast meeting. Minds were on "important" things, not the food in front of them or the people with them.

In walked four people who took a table and got their food. They started talking, which was when I started paying attention, because one doesn't hear many conversations in French in downtown Portland, Oregon. I could tell from the way they dressed and the things they carried that they were in town on business, but they spent most of an hour lingering over their breakfast, laughing and talking and clearly enjoying being with each other at the beginning of their day.

Wouldn't it be better if all meals were like their breakfast? Maybe the people having a power breakfast made more money or closed more deals--maybe they didn't--but at the end of the day, who was likely happier, who had the more rewarding, fulfilling day?

I think I need to eat more meals with family and friends for the pleasure of their company and fewer meals for fuel. I think we all do.