Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Best Pumpkin Bread recipe yet

Pumpkin Bread recipes are more than a dime a dozen.  They have more varieties using raw, puree or the dreaded already spiced "pumpkin pie" canned stuff.  I love a good pumpkin bread and its taken a few whacks to get one that works consistently.  

The day after Halloween at my house is the day I commit jack-o-cide.  Yup, those adorable decorations get the big dice and roasted off for puree.  A puree that I use for soup, pie or bread as the whim strikes.  I like the flavor even better than butternut squash.

This recipe is easily doubled.  Its good just warm from the oven or the next day slathered with butter for brekkie.  Its all good.  It all works.  Added boner - it really is easy.

Pumpkin Bread Recipe 
  • 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée*
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • zest of one orange
  • juice of one orange plus enough water to equal 1/4 cup
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberry
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Sift together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda. 

Mix the pumpkin, oil, eggs, 1/4 cup of water, and spices together, then combine with the dry ingredients, but do not mix too thoroughly. Stir in the nuts. 

Pour into a well-buttered 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes until a thin skewer poked in the very center of the loaf comes out clean. Turn out of the pan and let cool on a rack.

Makes one loaf. Can easily double the recipe.

* To make pumpkin purée, cut a pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff, lie face down on a foil or Silpat lined baking sheet. Bake at 350°F until soft, about 45 min to an hour. Cool, scoop out the flesh. Freeze whatever you don't use for future use. Or, if you are working with pumpkin pieces, roast or boil them until tender, then remove and discard the skin.

This pictures serves to do nothing for the recipe but I do find the whirling and swirling blade hypnotic and a stress reliever.  

This pic does have a purpose.  Though the batter is rather homogeneous it pays to run a knife through it to break up any big bubbles before you bake it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Redder than Red Cranberry Sauce

There are two kinds of cranberry sauce lovers in my house.  Sweetish and tart.  I like the latter, kidlets seem to prefer the former.  Until now I didn't have a sweetish to make them happy that didn't come out of a can.  Now I do.

I'm a big fan of Nigella Lawson a brit on Food Tv.  The woman cracks me up, but she is spot on target when it comes to fast easy comfort food.  This weekend her Holiday edition included "Redder than Red Cranberry Sauce".  Perfectly sweet tart with a bit of a cherry pie back to it because you use cherry brandy in it.  

Next time I'm in London I need to track her down and maybe get her to sign of her books.  Maybe?

Redder thanRed Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries 
  • 7 ounces caster sugar 
  • 3 tablespoons cherry brandy 
  • 4 fluid ounces water 
  • Lemon juice, optional 
Place all the ingredients in a pan and cook until the liquids have reduced to a thick cranberry sauce. 

The pectin-rich nature of the fruit means that it solidifies briskly as it cools, so take the pan off the heat to stop it from cooking and reducing when you still think there's too much liquid. Once the berries have burst, which should be after about 10 minutes, it should be ready. Taste to test whether the sauce needs more sugar (if you find it too sweet just add some lemon juice).

Note I skipped the lemon juice and opted to use regular table sugar as "castor sugar" is not something I keep in stock in the old pantry.  I canned up a small jar as a gift for our T-giving guests and the rest was tossed into a serving container for the big day.  Mmmmmm...turkey next

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pomegranate Jelly

Fall means pomegranates come to market.  If you have a tree you have more than you could ever image possible to consume.  Or give away.  The latter is how I wound up a giant grocery bag full of them left on my doorstep the other day by our friend Kate.

They are buggers to clean in order to get to the juicy little seeds inside the pod.  Years ago I believe it was Malto Mario who showed how to cut them in half at the equator and then rap them hard repeatedly with a spoon to knock the seeds loose.  It works and is a lot less messy than trying to carve them out with a spoon.

After last weeks 90+  yesterdays surprise rain here in the SGV brought about some nice cool weather.  That got me in the mood to do some cooking.  The first challenge was what to do with all those pomegranates.  Jelly was the logical answer.  A quick search of the Certo Sure Jell site yielded the recipe.  Of course I can't help but add my own twist, a little lemon juice to tarten it up Just a little.

SURE.JELL Pomegranate Jelly   
  • 3-1/2 cups prepared juice (buy about 5 large fully ripe pomegranates)
  • 2 T lemon juice 
  • 1/2 tsp.  butter or margarine 
  • 1 box SURE.JELL Fruit Pectin 
  • 5 cups  sugar, measured into separate bowl  

Make It
 BRING boiling-water canner, half full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling. 

CUT pomegranates in half horizontally. Squeeze out juice from each half with orange juice press or citrus reamer. Place 3 layers of damp cheesecloth or a jelly bag in large bowl. Pour prepared fruit juice into cheesecloth. Tie cheesecloth closed; hang and let drip into bowl until dripping stops. Press gently. Measure exactly 3-1/2 cups juice into 6- or 8-qt. saucepot. 

STIR pectin into juice in saucepot. Add butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon. 

LADLE immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 5 min. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lids spring back, lids are not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.)

It is important to measure closely when making jelly and jam.  Probably less forgiving than baking in some respects.  The fresh juice does need to be filtered so you have a clear jelly.  I always start with a bit more juice than the recipe calls for to compensate for the reduction when you filter.  Filtering is easy, use a paper coffee filter and a strainer big enough to hold it then pour the juice through. 

A hard rolling boil looks like this.  It is boiling so hard that you can't stir down the bubbles.  Once at this point cook to the recommended time to ensure the jelly setting.
I've been told the water bath serves two purposes.  The first is to completely sterilize the contents in case you had any contamination in the process of filling the jars.  The other is to ensure a very tight seal.  Don't skip this step as you also have a very strong chance of your jelly not setting, but separating.
Of course that bit of foam and remnant of jelly when skimmed is always put aside in a tiny bowl.  Why?  Obvious is if that bit sets at room temp your canned jelly will too. get a little tasty treat for all your labors while you wait for the canned stuff to be ready.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Italian Style Braised Beef Short Ribs

November 1 was officially our first rain day here in LA.  Not exactly a cold rain day but the kind that triggers the yearning for hearty comfort food.  Long slow cooked hearty beef that nurtures the carnivore within kind of comfort food.

Costco has quite the deal on Beef Chuck boneless short ribs.  Big, thick, beautifully marbled chunks of beef.  Even though you don't get the bones and marrow to pick at as you would with a bone in variety it is still a great cut of meat.  Cooked bone-in does yield more flavor but you can compensate for that with some good beef broth.

Short ribs because of all the marbling are best cooked in a slow braise.  That means it is just covered with liquid and slow cooked until all the connective tissues dissolve away and the meat is just fork tender falling apart.  That long slow cook also means the flavor is cooked deep into the meat.

This recipe comes from a lot of different sources.  It is loosely based on a Bolognese style spaghetti sauce that I've seen made by people like Malto Mario on Food TV. The recipe also has some bits based in the classic tomato sauce my Ma makes that she in turned learned from an old Italian lady that lived by us in Iron River MI when I was really little.  

Though they called the sauce "gravy" its still good eats.  The lady's name is lost to memory at this time but this "gravy" is her legacy in the kitchen.  A side bar is that the "gravy"in this recipe is referenced in a stuffed rigatoni recipe that she gave my Mom. It is an extremely labor intensive dish, but my gawd is it good.   Look for that in the coming days.

Italian Style Braised Beef Short Ribs
  • 4 lbs boneless beef chuck short ribs
  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1/2 C sun dried tomato in oil
  • 2 T chopped garlic
  • 1/2 C loose fresh basil (2T dried)
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 T fennel seed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 C Red Wine - use what you are serving with dinner
  • 2 pkg Beef broth concentrate or bouillon (it would make 1 C each)
  • 2 Cans diced tomato
  • 1 Can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 C flour
  • 1 T kosher salt
  • 1 T coarse ground black pepper
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T bacon fat

Mix flour, salt and pepper.  Dredge beef in the mixture.  Heat large dutch oven over medium heat, add olive oil and bacon fat.  Heat until just smoking and add beef, do not crowd pan, cook in batches.  Sear beef  on all sides until well browned and crusted about 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove cooked beef to platter on side and repeat searing with the remaining beef.

Using a food processor fine chop onion, carrot, celery, sun dried tomato and fresh basil.  Add to the hot pan after the last of the beef has been seared.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir often scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan.  Cook about 10 minutes until onions are translucent and beginning to caramelize.  Add wine and scrape bottom of pan clean to deglaze.  Cook until wine reduced about one half.  Coarse grind the fennel seed and add to pot.  Add oregano and bay leaf.

Add diced tomato and sauce.  Add the beef boulion concentrate.  Stir until dissolved.  Add beef to the top of the sauce.  

Cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer 2 hours.  (You may also slow cook in 325F oven for 2 hours).

Serve over pasta or mashed potatoes. 

Don't crowd the pan while searing the meat.  Doing so will cause the meat to simmer in its own juices rather than get a deep dark sear and crust.  This deep dark sear is what adds to the intense flavor in the final dish.
Searing of the mire poi you will find that a lot of liquid is given off the vegies.  Use that liquid to help deglaze the pan and scrape up all those flavorful bits from the bottom. I little trivia for you the term mire poi is french, the italians call it sofrito.  Still the same fine diced combo of onion, carrot and celery.
A friend turned me on to this brand of liquid beef broth.  It really adds a deep rich flavor to the dish without all the added salt of the traditional little boullion cubes.
Let the meat just sit on the braising liquid, it doesn't have to be covered.  That is the difference between braising and stewing...the latter the meat is completely submerged in the liquid.