Archive for June, 2010

Since I already made enough strawberry jam, I decided to make a fresh tart with some of the remaining berries. I was wanting to play around with a new crust recipe and ran into Faith from the kitchn while I was at the Deli, she told me about a oat shortbread crust that she had found some while back. It sounded tasty so I went for it!

I toasted and chopped the oats and mixed them with flour, salt and brown sugar (it called for dark so I added a little molasses to the light brown sugar I had.) I cut in the butter and patted the mixture into a pie pan and popped it in the oven until it was golden.

While the crust was cooling, I chopped the berries and tossed them with a little sugar and some mint. I whipped together some greek yogurt, lime zest and juice, sugar and vanilla and set it aside. I whipped some heavy cream and folded it into the yogurt mixture. I poured the whipped cream and yogurt into the pie crust and topped it with the berries.

I took it to the park for a picnic with a couple of friends. We found the first of the season black raspberries and added a few to the top. It was so good that none of it made it home!

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Strawberry Jam

About a week ago, I finally went out and picked some strawberries at a u-pick farm. (When I say some, I mean 16.3 lbs!)

I had a few jam projects on my agenda. The first was a classic strawberry jam; 3.5 lbs of berries, 4.5 c of sugar, 6 Tbsp lemon juice, and the seeds and membrane of 2 lemons. I have never really liked jam that is made with pectin so I was excited about this recipe. Instead of adding pectin ( in packet form) you add the seeds and membranes of a couple of lemons which have just enough pectin.

I washed and quartered all of the strawberries, put them in a pot with the lemon juice and a sachet of lemon seeds and membranes.

I let this simmer until the strawberries were nice and soft. (This didn’t take too long because the strawberries were so ripe!) I removed it from the heat and  stirred in the sugar.

I put it back on the heat and cooked it, watching carefully so the sugar didn’t burn, until it jelled up a bit on a chilled spoon. This is a step in jam making that I don’t have a lot of patience for, I also don’t mind if it is runny, so I usually figure the jam is done when I can’t wait any longer.

I ladled the hot jam into hot, sterile jars and then processed them in a water bath. I love hearing the pop of the lids sealing while they are cooling on the counter!

The second project was  inspired by a recipe that I found on food52, it is a strawberry chili jam. I followed the same recipe as I did for the classic strawberry with one adjustment. While the strawberries and lemon bits were simmering,

I through in 3 dried New Mexico red chilis and 1/3 of a dried chipotle pepper ( which was very smokey).

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When I was in Modena a couple of years ago, Erika taught me how to make an amazing cake. It is called Torta agli Amaretti e Cioccolato, or Chocolate and Amaretti Cake. I haven’t been able to make it since because I can’t two very important ingredients, sassolino and amaretti (little crunchy cookies made with apricot pits.) Lucky for me, Erika brought me everything I needed so I made one!

The dry ingredients are measured by weight so I put a mixing bowl on my scale and added them one by one. Starting with crushed amaretti, followed by breadcrumbs, sugar, and shaved dark chocolate…

After mixing it together, I added some eggs, milk with baking powder in it and mixed it again.

The next and final addition is cocoa powder which is added until “it is as dark as you like” – I like my cake dark.

While it was baking, the aroma of melting chocolate, amaretti, and sassolino filled my apartment. I stepped outside for a moment and could smell it wafting out my kitchen window.

Here is a picture of the cake before it was devoured…

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Last week my friend Erika came to visit from Italy. (Erika is the maker of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.) Her visit was centered around a Balsamic vinegar tasting that we did together at Zingerman’s Deli.

We did several food pairings with the various ages and wood types (the different woods impart different flavors.) Strawberries with 12 year cherry barrels, potatoes and tuna with 12 year juniper barrels, bruschetta with 12 year mulberry barrels, mixed greens and ricotta salad with 25 year mixed barrels, Parmigiano Reggiano with 25 year mulberry barrels, and of course vanilla gelato with 25 year cherry barrels.

Erika even brought a bottle of vinegar that came from the set of barrels that were started for her great-grandmother’s dowry in 1842. This one is so good you eat it alone! Needless to say, this was a big hit.

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About 4 years ago my sister and I went to Modena, Italy to learn about Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. We were lucky enough to stay with Erika Barbieri of Acetaia del Cristo. Erika’s family has been making Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (ABTM) for generations. She and her business partner, Daniele, along with her brother Gilberto are carrying on their family tradition of making ABTM.

For those of you who don’t know the difference between ABTM and the “balsamic” vinegar you find at the grocery store, there are several. ABTM is made from cooked grape juice (the cooking stops it from turning into wine) that is aged in wooden barrels for a number of years.

As the vinegar ages there is a lot of evaporation that takes place so the vinegar becomes both thicker and sweeter (because the sugars are more concentrated). At the same time, the level of acidity is increasing making the vinegar more tart. After aging for at least 12 or 25 years, the vinegar is ready to be bottled. By this point, the vinegar is so thick and sweet it seems more like a syrup than what we think of as vinegar. Grocery store “balsamic” is almost always made from wine vinegar and many times has sweeteners and colorants added to it in an attempt to mimic the richness of ABTM.

One of my favorite ways to eat Traditional Balsamic is on vanilla ice cream and strawberries!

My sister and I were in Modena during the fall so we got to help with the grape harvest. None of our friends there could believe that we were excited to pick grapes. I suppose it is akin to detasseling corn in the Midwest. Never the less, we had fun!

At the end of the harvest, Erika’s father made a big batch of Porcini risotto with porcini that he collected up in the mountains.

Erika’s friends and neighbors help with the harvest just so they can partake in the end of harvest party and eat Eugenio’s risotto, it is that good.

After the harvest was complete and things settled down a bit, my sister and I accompanied Erika to Torino, Italy for the Salone del Gusto which is a fair highlighting producers of traditional foods from all over the world.

I highly encourage everyone to taste this vinegar if you have the opportunity!

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I am always looking for a flaky pie crust recipe, especially for one where the flavor hasn’t been compromised. Too often the baker will forgo flavor for texture. I admit, I have made the odd shortening crust but to no avail. Since I live in Michigan and when there is fruit, there is fruit! I decided to get a head start on my search for the perfect crust. I did some reading in various cookbooks and found some helpful information and an interesting recipe in Baking by James Peterson (my current favorite book of baking basics.)  I decided to give it a shot. I was a little wary of using cake flour in the mix but as I read on, I came to learn that this could only make it better! For a flaky crust, all-purpose flour has too high of a gluten level (resulting in dough that can easily be very hard) and cake flour has too low of a gluten level (resulting in a dough that can’t hold together.) Apparently, using half all-purpose and half cake flour is just the right level of gluten to produce a delicate and flaky crust. The recipe called for a little more butter than I usually use, this I am sure added to the flavor and flake.

I put both flours, and some salt in a bowl and then added large cubes of cold butter. The recipe instructed me to cut the butter in until the pieces were “no larger than a hazelnut and no smaller than a small pea.” I then added some ice water and mixed that in until all of the flour was incorporated. (note: I am not used to working the dough as much as I did for this recipe but, it reassured me that I wouldn’t over-work it.) Then I turned the dough out onto the counter and kneaded it a couple of times. I separated it into two pieces and chilled them both for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I planned my fillings. I had some rhubarb, raspberries, and meyer lemons (courtesy of Claire’s mom’s tree in Berkeley.) I thought it best to make a pie and a tart.

For the pie, I chose rhubarb.

Rhubarb pie filling:

  • 5 cups rhubarb, cut into 3/4″ pieces
  • 1 scant cup sugar
  • Juice of 1/4 of an orange
  • 1/2″  piece of fresh ginger, minced
  • approximately, 3 Tablespoons flour

I tossed everything together in a mixing bowl…

…put it in the pie crust, and popped it in the oven at 400*F. I baked it for about an hour and 15 minutes and it was still really juicy so I added a little crumble top to soak up some juice. After adding the topping, I baked it for about another 20 minutes. (Note: my oven is small and runs cool, you may need to adjust baking time accordingly.)

The pie turned out very well, the crumble top accomplished it purpose of soaking up extra juice; the orange and ginger were just the right strength so you could still taste the rhubarb.

For the tart, I chose raspberries and meyer lemons.

I rolled out the crust and lined a nice rectangular tart pan with it.To stop the crust from bubbling up, I pricked the dough with and fork and then I put a generously sized piece of parchment paper in it and filled it with rice. I baked the crust for about 15 minutes, removed the rice and baked it for another 15 minutes, until it was slightly golden.

I set the shell aside to cool and prepared the various fillings.

For the base layer, I mixed a little bit of wildflower honey into some tangy yogurt. The next layer called for the meyer lemons. I used the zest and juice and made a simple curd.

Once the layers had been spread…

an army of red raspberries marched onto the battlefield…

only to be beat out by an apricot glaze.

The crust was very flavorful and flaky! All in all, a success! Here is a picture of the cross section, sorry it is so blurry…

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