Sunday, June 28, 2009

the mysterious case of the chill-chest cherry jam

He who likes cherries soon learns to climb. ~ German Proverb

When I read the post about making Freezer Jam by those two southern boys, Clay and Zach at The Bitten Word I knew that I had to try this method of making jam

The recipe appeared easy enough and looked so yummy.
This method seemed perfect to make in small batches as the each new seasonal fruits arrives at the Farm Market.

I dashed off to my local Farmers Market bright and early this morning. I knew that there would be fresh picked cherries and strawberries from a neighboring farm, perfect for this recipe.

I scored a quart of strawberries, a quart of beautiful dark Michigan cherries and a pint of Rainier Cherries and decided that the beautiful cherries were just the thing for this jam recipe.

I referenced the recipe posted on The Bitten Word: recipe for freezer jam, which I also found to be included in the box of Pectin pouches. I followed the recipe to the letter, measuring and timing exactly. I ladled my cherry mixture into a jar, set it out on the kitchen counter as directed and left the house for the day..

When I retuned about 8 hours later, I was not happy to see what was happening in my blue Ball jar. The pectin was congealed and pink and had separated form the cherries and the dark cherry liquid. It looked like a pink monster hibernating in my Ball jar.


I don’t know what went wrong, but I was hoping that I could figure out how to tame thie pink monster or else this would be an expensive mistake.
(In hind sight, I should have photogtaphed the monster in the Ball
So sorry. I was a bit flustered and just dove in to repair the mess.)

Remembering my what I had read in Harold McGee’s classic book On Food and Cooking, as fruit is heated to near the boil, the pectin is shaken loose from the cell walls and released into the plant juice and water. The sugar that is added to the recipe is hydroscopic (attracts water) pulls water away from the natural pectins so they can bond again. Also evaporating some of the liquid through a boil will bring the natural fruit pectin and the added pectin closer together to form a web-like structure that will result in a thick consistency.

Sorry to go all science-nerd on you, but when I cook I like to understand the scientific processes that occur. That knowledge helps to be a better cook than just following a recipe.

So it made culinary sense to followed the advice given by Zach to another commenter on The Bitten Word. I decanted the congealed failed mixture in to a pot and gently and very slowly boiled it down for about ½ hour, keeping the temperature just under a boil and stirred every few minutes.

The color of the congealed jam-in-progress was also a rather unattractive, sort of a Hello-Kitty-Pink. I added about one ounce of fruity Merlot to give it a deep rich dark red color. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Hello-Kitty-Pink on a little girl’s lunchbox, but not in my jam.) After the alcohol cooked off during the half-hour, the wine taste was not discernable and deeper color looked just right.

I let the mixture cool and retuned it to a freshly sterilized jar, capped it and let it cool on my counter until bedtime (approximately 5 hours) and then put the jar in the refrigerator overnight.
Early this morning I so pleasantly surprised to discover that that the jam had set to a dense “jammy” consistency. It spooned up nicely to my mouth and had a deep, dark, rich flavor and an unctuous mouth feel. For breakfast, I made gluten-free pancakes and the chill-chest cherry jam was a perfect topping.

So what I thought was a gloppy disaster, with the advice of my friends at The Bitten Word and the sound food-science advice of Harold McGee, all is well in my chill-chest today. A big merci beaucoup to all…

Thursday, June 25, 2009

suburban-urban chef…

When my sister and I planned to go to Frankfort Country Market on Sunday we had more in mind than just our usual perusal of the great vendors. We were primarily interested in attending the cooking demo given a local Chef star,
Dan McGee.

We arrived at the market early so not to miss the Chef demo and found that we had enough time to purchase our veggies and gluten-free baked goods and settle into the audience for the demo.

It was the perfect June day, so it was easy to kick backm, enjoy the beautiful sunny weather and inhale the wonderful aromas coming from the portable demo kitchen as the chef and his son set up their mise-en-place and plates for service.

Chef McGee explained that he was preparing a tasting of three courses that were from his contemporary seasonal American menu at his restaurant,
Dan McGee Restaurant and Catering.

The items on the demo menu were a creamy Carrot Soup garnished with a cilantro and apple chiffonade and Sesame oil, a light summer salad of micro greens in a Parmesan crisp basket with a Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing and a dessert of summer fruits drizzled with a rich warm sabayon.

Prior to the beginning of the demo I introduced myself to the chef, asking if I could take some unobtrusive images and inquiring as to what he was preparing to see if I could sample it and remain gluten-free. He was warm and very gracious, agreed to my photography and explained that the food he was preparing in the demo was indeed gluten-free.

At first sip, the Carrot soup had a soft creamy fresh taste with a gentle punch of oriental flavor from the Cilantro and Sesame oil. I loved that the apple chiffonade added a textural crunch and brightness to the creamy soup.
My sister was in rapture over the soup and took copious notes so she could try this dish at home.

The salad demo began with Chef McGee illustrated the precise, but easy to do steps to make a Parmesan cheese basket to fill with Balsamic Vinaigrette dressed micro greens. He toasted a medium-sized long grate of Parmesano Reggiano into a non-stick pan. When the cheese became golden brown and delicious he gently formed the warm cheese round over a large juice- sized can covered with aluminum foil.

As the Parmesan cooled, it became a beautiful lacy container for the crisp summer greens making for a stunning presentation...a study in lovely simplicity.
In his restaurant, this delightful course is listed as a “Simple Salad” on the menu just in case you want to order it when you go there for a meal.

However, the taste was anything but simple.
I tasted salty, sweet, crunchy, soft, tangy, and fresh in each bite. My overall impression was that this salad combination was not only chic, but had a touch of genius.
Yet it was a dish that I could possibly replicate in my home kitchen. And since I am growing my own micro greens in my container garden, this “Simple Salad” is something that I am sure that I will try to replicate throughout the summer.

Throughout the demo, Chef McGee was very gracious, taking questions from the audience. He answered my query and talked about his training and experience.
As he worked on the sabayon for the desert, he told of his formation training at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, a culinary school of very high regard in the US,

His experiences include the L'Hotel Crillion in Paris, La Plaza Hotel in Switzerland, and Swissôtel in Lima, Peru. After working throughout the United States, he returned to Chicago to the Park Hyatt, Charlie Trotters, Hotel Nikko, The Mid-America Club, and Swissôtel in Chicago before opening Dan McGee Restaurant in Frankfort, Illinois.

For those of you unfamiliar, a sabayon is the French cousin of the light, egg-based Italian dessert zabaglione. A sabayon is made by beating egg yolks with a liquid over simmering water until thickened and increased in volume. ( the liquid can be water, but champagne or wine is often used for a savory sabayon.)

The sabayon must not get too hot during cooking or it will become grainy: if it begins to feel warmer than body temperature, remove the pan briefly from the heat, beating continuously, until the mixture cools. Then return the pan to the heat and continue cooking.
Sabayon can be served warm or cold; a cold sabayon is beaten off the heat until cooled.

The dessert that Chef offered us was utter simplicity, perfect for a Farm Market setting, but with a touch of Parisian flair. The blueberries and quartered strawberries were drizzled with the rich custardy sabayon, not too much…but enough to make each summery sweet mouthful seem decadent. And although the dessert was served on a paper plate in the middle of Illinois, my tastebuds were remembering Paris.

In the autumn of 2007, Chef Dan McGee opened the doors to his neighborhood restaurant that features contemporary décor. On our way home from the Frankfort Country Market my sister and I stopped to scout the restaurant’s location for a future meal.

The exterior and placement in a strip mall was misleading. Peering through the window, I found the interior space to be clean and urban, but warm and welcoming. Herbs and flowers were happily thriving together planted outside the window where inside, tables were set with pristine linens and sparkling silver and crystal.

If the food that I tasted from his demo is any indication of the Chef Dan’s offerings in the restaurant, I am looking forward to sitting down for a meal at this hidden suburban-urban restaurant.

The restaurant is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
and for dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (last seating at 9 p.m.)
Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Dan McGee Restaurant and Catering
330 W. Lincoln Hwy.
Frankfort, IL 60423
(815) 469-7750

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday links…perfect Paris meals from the past that are yours today…

For my 100th post, I wanted to write about a topic that was near and dear to my heart...

The authentic food of Paris...!

For all of you that plan to visit Paris this summer, here is a truly perfect post from Gourmet Magazine that will help you plan your meals at restaurants that have that touch of old Paris for which you may have be searching.

Alexander Lobrano’s article on the authentic tastes of Paris is well worth a read. His “Address Book” will help you plan your foray into the restos that are dear to the heart of Parisiennes as they stay true to the original flavors of the traditional cuisine and have the charming ambience of times past.
A Remembrance of Things Present

I hope that all of you that plan to travel to Paris in the near future will read this beautifully crafted article. Then take these addresses, put them in your pockets and make your way to these authentic establishments before they disappear forever.

Bon appetit…!

P.S. Merci mille fois to you all that have supported me through 100 posts...
you know who you are...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

my urban-suburban garden...

In Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, written in 1781, he lists tomatoes as produce common to Virginia kitchen gardens. Jefferson grew his tomatoes at Monticello in 1809 - the first summer of his retirement - and grew them until his death.

Although I have been to Jefferson's Garden many times, this aerial image is courtesy of Monticello.

Inspired by the garden journals of Jefferson, I wanted to document the growth of my garden and the quality of the fruits and vegetables over the summer in my small urban-suburban garden.

Although I live in the suburbs of Chicago, the primary garden that provides my salads and herbs are grown in containers on my ground level terrace and balcony gardens.
Because my home is across the road from a dense forest preserve that is also home to squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, possums, deer, coyotes, skunks, geese, ducks, heron, wolves and possibly werewolves…lol…
So, I have to grow my vegetables on the balcony terrace overlooking Cinnamon Creek and out of the way of the creatures looking for a free salad bar.

On the lower terrace, I am able to grow a variety of herbs, as the critters as not fond of the taste of them. Here edible and ornamental flowers also bloom their little hearts out.

On the vegetable terrace on the second level, I started Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow peas and Cascadia Snap peas. Cascadia variety snap peas are very sweet and tender peas, with an edible pod. I love these in a salad or as a refreshing snack with a fresh yogurt dip.

Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow peas are an heirloom, flat-podded snow pea. They have a tasty, stringless pod for stir-fry and salads.

Both these varieties of pea have a bush habits that grow short vines from 28-30”, perfect for my urban-suburban garden. I planted the peas from seed on April 15th and I have already enjoyed a small harvest of both types of peas.

On May 21, I started seeds of French lettuces and assorted greens with colorful names from a beautiful package that my sister bought for me. The lettuces have stunning French names as Blonde de Paris, Freckles, Merveille de Quarte Saisons, Rouge d’Hiver, and Sucrene.

The Swiss chard, chervil, endive, and spinaches have equally evocative names.

The curly chervil is called Corn Salad Verte de Cambri.

The endives sound oh so romantic with names like Grosse Pancaliere and Scarole Ronde Verte Coeur Plein.

My spinaches have elegant names: Geant d’Hiver and Monstrueux de Viroflay.

The Swiss Chards has lovely painterly names of Lucullus and Rainbow mix.
Very sexy names for delicious greens that will certainly inspire some wonderful summer meals that I can pick outside my door.

These lyrically named greens are already 6-8” and have already become stars in my salad bowl.

A local lapin visits my French lettuces growing on my terrasse.
Fortunately, he is just a sweet little statue and not the real thing that would munch away on my crop...

As most of you know, there are six major types of tomato: globe, plum, cherry, pear, grape and dollhouse-sized currant tomatoes. In past years, I primarily grew the plum, cherry and grape varieties on my terrace and purchased other varieties at my local farmers market.
This year, after reading the book by Amy Goldman, Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table, I decided to branch out to include a few Heirloom varieties that peaked my interest.

I was intrigued and inspired by the myriad of sizes and shapes and the rainbow of colors of these Heirlooms and hoped that some of them would do well in containers.
After doing a little research, I had my sister helped me choose a few out of the dozens that were available as seedlings at a local garden center.
We chose Cherokee Purple, Elberta Girl, Mortgage Lifter, and a hybrid called Health Kick not because of their interesting names and colors, but for their growing habits that would be suited to containers.

baby Cherokee Purple at birth

The Cherokee Purple tomato is considered by many to be the best tasting tomato. It has a unique dusty rose color and is said to be extremely sweet with a flavor that rivals the very tasty Brandywine tomato.

The beautiful, determined and determinate habits of Elberta Girl I spoke about in my previous post last month was the first to produce fruit.

The Health Kick is a hybrid determinate habit plum tomato have thick and meaty fruits. There are sweet and tangy tasting and they resembles a Roma but is juicier and better for fresh eating, but is also excellent for making sauce and paste.

A breakthrough in breeding, this tomato is actually healthier for you than others you can grow or buy as this variety is reported to have 50% more lycopene than any other tomato. According to growers, Heath Kick is a prolific producer. It is known to have bountiful crops of 4 ounce, sweet red fruits.

The Mortgage Lifter tomato was developed in the early 1930's in Logan, West Virginia by a radiator repairman, "Radiator Charlie" Byles. Without any experience in breeding, he made a successful cross of four of the largest tomatoes he could find - German Johnson, Beefsteak, an Italian variety, and an English variety.

Radiator Charlie sold the first seedlings of his new tomato in the 1940's for one dollar each to customers who drove up to 200 miles for his famous plants that bore tasty tomatoes averaging two and a half pounds. With these sales, Charlie managed to pay off his $6,000 mortgage in only six years, and so the tomato was aptly named Mortgage Lifter.
I read that the Mortgage Lifter is a large, meaty, mild-flavored tomato has few seeds and is the perfect tomato-sandwich tomato. It is indeterminate in habit and bears stunning red, two to four pound tomatoes all summer long.

I also planted many grape tomato plants at the same time, as they have been very prolific on my terrace in past years all the way to the first frost. Besides, these are fun to eat right off the vine as I water the “crops” in my urban-suburban garden.

How does your garden grow?

Who inspired your vegetable gardening?

What vegetables are you growing in your gardens?
Looking forward to your feedback about your gardens...