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Archive for June, 2008

This was my grandmother’s, and I claimed it long before I was into cooking. I just liked that it was made out of clear glass, that it doesn’t take up much space, and that it looks good. These days, I use it fairly frequently. I juice lemons for lemonade and jams, limes for yogurt cake and oranges for orange juice.

It’s designed to let juice flow through the little gates in the middle ring, which are at the same time small enough to block the seeds from following the juice. Although they are sneaky and do occasionally slip by. Once you’ve squeezed out all the juice by pressing and turning the fruit, you simply tilt and pour.

It takes some amount of energy and patience. Certainly more than you’d need with an electric juicer. But it doesn’t use any electricity, which in this age of global warming is a good thing. And sometimes you get back what you put in. A little effort makes the reward that much more sweet.

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This bread is crazy good. It’s the bread invented by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery (perhaps the best bread bakery in NYC) and made famous by Mark Bittman in the New York Times.

The recipe I use is an adaptation; it’s from Cook’s Illustrated. They added some beer for extra yeast and flavor, a few strokes of kneading for better texture, and some white vinegar for tang. They also reduced the amount of water in the original recipe. And I, in turn, made my own adaptation, which is to double the amount of salt used.

A word about the beer: I’ve tried this recipe with Amstel Light, Budweiser and Heineken. To my taste, Heineken adds the nicest flavor.

You cook the bread in a dutch oven, covered to start. This traps in the moisture released from the dough as it cooks. This moisture causes a fantastic crust to form on the bread (a crust one is usually unable to obtain in a home oven with no steam injectors). It takes two days to make (with rising time) but the results are oh-so-worth it!

Ingredients:
3 cups bread flour
¼ tsp. dry yeast
3 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup lager
1 tbsp. white vinegar

Mix all the dry ingredients, then add in beer, vinegar and water. Stir until just combined. Place in greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 11-18 hours at room temperature. The amount of time here is flexible; I’ve let the dough rise as long as 24 hours and the bread was fine.

Remove onto a lightly floured surface and knead for approximately 15 strokes. Shape into a ball, proof at room temperature for 2 hours, covered with oiled plastic wrap. Cook’s Illustrated recommends that after shaping you place the ball on a piece of parchment paper for the proofing.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Heat dutch oven for 30 minutes.

Lower oven temperature to 425 degrees. Score and lightly flour surface of bread, then pick up while still on parchment (this makes the process easier) and place in the hot dutch oven (still on parchment). Bake for 30 minutes with cover on and an additional 20-30 minutes uncovered. Remove from oven and let cool.

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In case you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty well obsessed with jam lately. If I’m not actively making it, I’m cursing the weather for being too hot to comfortably stand over a stove and I’m researching recipes I want to try. Should I move the air conditioner into the kitchen? I ask myself. But then how will I sleep at night?

This past Sunday in the UK Observer’s food section, I found a new recipe idea. Or one that’s new to me, anyway. Nigel Slater expounds on the joys of jam made to be eaten right away. He even rhapsodizes about the pink foam most people skim off.

The suggestion I like is that of adding red currants to strawberry jam. The currants have a higher amount of natural pectin, which helps the strawberries (which contain a low amount) to set more easily. They’ll also add a bit of tartness to the flavor. Slater recommends putting them in later than the berries, so they don’t lose their shape.

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Chuck’s Honey


I’ve just returned from a long weekend in Burlington, VT, visiting my sister and her family. My older nephew turned 11, my younger nephew taught me how to throw and catch a lacrosse ball, and it took me two days to get home (thanks, US Airways!).

One of the highlights of the weekends was tasting Chuck’s honey. Chuck is my sister’s neighbor. He’s had hives for a few years now, and has gotten very good at the art of honey making. For the last two years, he’s won the blue ribbon at the Champlain Valley Fair for this honey. It has a really light but deliciously rich flavor.

Another of their neighbors makes honey as well, and while his hives aren’t far from Chuck’s, the flavor of his final product isn’t quite as good. Like wine, honey is affected by terroir and the distance of a few hundred yards (and therefore different flowers to feed the bees) can make a huge difference.

I’m thrilled to have a huge supply. It will flavor my tea and maybe some pastries for several months, and it cost me about half what I’d pay for a similar quantity in New York ($20 for a half gallon).

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Strawberry Balsamic Jam


Strawberries and balsamic vinegar and sugar are such a tasty, delightful combination that I decided to try them together in a jam. You don’t taste the vinegar in the final product, but it really enhances the strawberry flavor, and adds depth to the overall taste.

This is another small-batch jam. Because the quantities are tiny, I generally don’t bother canning it properly with sterilized jars and a hot water bath. I’ll do that if I’m planning to give it away. Otherwise, I simply jar it and store in the refrigerator.

Ingredients:

20 oz. strawberries (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Cut strawberries into chunks. If you have time, combine berries and sugar and let soak together for several hours or overnight. It brings out the flavor in the berries. I often skip this step, however, and the final product is still really tasty.

Place all ingredients in saucepan over medium heat. Cook, skimming off pink foam as it arises, until the temperature reaches 106 degrees Celsius (222 F) or slightly less for a looser jam. Put into containers, let cool at room temperature and then refrigerate.

Makes just over 1/2 liter or about 3 cups.

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Since I discovered this olive oil on igourmet.com, I haven’t used any other. It’s the olive oil I’d been looking for my entire life. OK, maybe not quite, but it’s really good. It has a great fresh olive-y scent and delicate, lightly fruity flavor. It’s neither heavy nor acidic.

Why is this stuff so good? No oil from pomace (the remains of olives/seeds from previous pressings) or any source other than fresh ripe olives is used in its production. Also, the maximum acidity allowed by Carli in its extra virgin olive oil is 0.3%, while legally producers are allowed a maximum acidity of 1%.

It’s a bit on the pricey side ($21.99 per liter), although when you consider its quality and the prices of other oils in its class, it’s not so bad. Still, I only use it in recipes that really showcase the oil, such as pestos, tapenades, vinaigrettes, and for dipping bread.

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I’ve just finished reading Rowan Jacobsen’s A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America. It covers a history of oysters in this country, with very articulate descriptions of the different species and varieties, lists of good oyster bars and festivals and growers who ship direct, and all manner of oyster recipes. Here’s what I’ve learned:

-There are five species of oysters commercially cultivated in the U.S.: Kumamotos, Pacifics, Belons (also known as European Flats), Easterns and Olympias. Within those five species are numerous varieties of oysters. They’re often named for their place of origin but (unlike in the wine world) there is no strict naming system in place.
-Their flavors tend to be either fruity and clean in taste, like Kumamotos and Pacifics, or briney and metallic, like Eastern, Belon and Olympia oysters. Belons are known as the “oyster-lovers oyster” because of their very distinctive briney and coppery flavor (which some find overwhelming).
-Like wine, they have very distinctive flavors, textures and shapes depending upon where and how they were raised.
-They can change gender.
-They process up to fifty gallons of ocean water a day through their shells.
-Live oysters ship really well: a number of growers harvest to order, and you’ll get them two days out of the water. At a restaurant, they may have been harvested a week before they’re served to you. But oysters don’t decompose the way fish or meats do—they’re still alive, after all. So even after a week they’ll be OK. They just won’t taste quite as fresh.

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