Friday, October 29, 2010

Mad about pumpkins - happy Halloween!

I photographed some floral arrangements for Design*Sponge's upcoming book this week.  They were absolutely beautiful.  Amy Merrick arranged them and she did a wonderful job.  I really don't have much of a green thumb, but looking at her arrangements sent me up to the flower district to have a look around.  She brought a Cinderella pumpkin (I had never heard of that variety before).  It's the most beautiful pumpkin I have ever seen.  As far as I'm concerned, there is no reason to buy a conventional pumpkin again!

I've also been loving ghost pumpkins.  They seem to be popping up everywhere.  I have some out on the table now and they are definitely going to play a role in Thanksgiving decor.  They are so subdued and elegant - i just love them.

I found a large one in the floral district today and immediately thought of turning it into a lantern.  Not a traditional jack-o'-lantern but something a little more sophisticated.  I haven't gotten into Halloween festivities yet - but this seemed like just the right toe in.  A knife, a drill, and a few minutes later and I had a little nod to Halloween. 

The best part? I now have seeds to roast.  I already know just what I want to do with them - more on that later.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A treat: garlic confit

I am definitely trying to be better about attacking the bread basket when I am out but the one time I simply cannot resist is when there is a garlic confit accompanying it.  There is nothing like garlic cooked until it is sweet and mellow and the combination of garlic and olive oil cannot be beat.

I purchased Michael Psilakis' How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking a while ago and enjoyed flipping through it.  There are a number of interesting recipes to try but it's the garlic confit that jumped out as the first to try.  It's incredibly simple and keeps in the refrigerator for at least three weeks.  It's a fun project and a nice gift idea with a crusty bread or a jar of interesting olives to add with it.  I cheated and bought pre-peeled garlic (why not?).  The cooking item is about an hour, all of it unattended, so you can just let it do its thing and then enjoy the fruits of (barely any) labor pretty soon thereafter.  Enjoy (and just don't worry about the bread basket).

(makes 3 cups) 

3 cups garlic cloves, peeled
1 fresh bay leaf or 3 dried leaves
8 to 10 sprigs fresh thyme
Kosher salt and whole black peppercorns
Optional: add 1 tsp dried crushed red pepper (or to taste)
About 2 cups blended oil (half/half canola and extra virgin)

Combine cloves and seasonings in a heavy braising pan or Dutch oven.  Barely cover with the oil.  Cover pan and braise at 300 degrees F for 1 - 1 hour 15 minutes.  Cool to room temperature.

Store in sterilized jars with oil to cover.  Stored properly, the confit will last for at least 3 weeks. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What's for dinner?

I have fresh curry leaves, fresh kaffir lime leaves, kaffir limes, lemongrass, and coconut milk.  What should I make?  Tom yum (minus the curry leaves?).  Any ideas?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Apple season!

We had had a tough weekend. My son, for some inexplicable reason, woke up every night (Fri, Sat, Sun) at 3:45, leaving us all tired and cranky during daylight hours. He's awfully cute, so it's not so bad, but we are really hoping for a full night's sleep tonight. When we have tough weekends it always makes me want to treat myself. Top on the wish list is a drive up north to apple country, to pick some apples and have fun with my camera. I love apples and it's this time of year that apples are in their full splendor. It make a world of difference to have an apple straight (or not long from) the tree versus cold storage.


There are always interesting local varieties in the farmer's market and picking an apple is often like selecting a bottle of wine: crisp, honey undertones, firm flesh, tart ... Did you see my last piece in Sweet Paul Magazine? I wrote a story on apples. This was before apples were actually in season and now it's truly the right time to take advantage. My favorite recipe in the piece is for apple butter. Have a look and give it a try.

Apple butter
(makes 3 cups)

4 pounds all-purpose or saucing apples peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups apple cider
1.5 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 Tbs cinnamon
¼ tsp allspice

Combine apples and cider in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until apples are tender.

Stir in sugar, lemon juice vanilla, cinnamon and allspice. Return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently for about 35 minutes. or until mixture is very thick.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Seasonal specialty: fried zucchini blossoms

The farmer's marketing has had beautiful zucchini blossoms for several weeks now and every time I see them, I make a note to buy them but I am always hesitant to purchase them unless I know I'll have time to make them right away.  They are so beautiful (but fragile) and they deserve to be eaten right away while "just picked."  If they weren't quite so ephemeral, I'd put them in bud vases and decorate the dinner table with them. My favorite way to eat them is stuffed with some fresh mozzarella and basil and fried in a light batter.  It seems to bring out their flavor and still preserve their interesting form.  It's also quite a crowd-pleaser.

The recipe is quite simple.   Be sure to make them only moments before you plan to eat them: they are quite fragile and won't hold their shape long.

Fried zucchini blossoms
(for ~12 blossoms)

12 zucchini blossoms, pistils removed, stems trimmed, washed well and gently patted dry
2 cups whole milk
4 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
Generous pinch salt
Mozzarella (small amount)
4 basil leaves, torn into three pieces each
Canola or olive oil for frying

Combine milk, flour and egg.  Heat oil in a medium saucepan until a droplet of water crackles vigorously when dropped in.  While oil is heating, place a small chunk of mozzarella and a piece of basil in each blossom.  Gently twist tops to seal as best you can.

Dredge blossoms in batter a few at a time.  Allow excess to drip off.  Fry a few at a time for several minutes until blossoms turn golden brown.  Cheese will melt on the inside.

Remove gently with a slotted spoon.  Drain on paper towels.

Serve immediately.