Saturday, August 22, 2015

Prosecco-Poached Nectarines

I usually avoid making plans during and after the first week of school since I'm so brain-fried from all the introductions and explanations, but yesterday turned out to be a good day to get together with some lovely people I know, so we scheduled a dinner. I was tasked with dessert and had no idea what I was going to do until I thought about doing something with peaches or nectarines. 

White peaches and nectarines are a little piece of heaven. So are yellow ones, and you could absolutely use those if you preferred. Poached and served with some vanilla ice cream and a little caramel sauce...oh boy. Somehow my scattered brain was able to make these connections and pull this lovely dessert together after a little research on,, and some other site I can't remember right now! For poaching, you want fruit that is almost ripe or just barely ripe, not too hard and not too soft. 

Fill up a tea kettle and bring it to a boil. 

Cut an X in the bottom of each nectarine. Set up one heat-proof bowl with the nectarines and another full of ice water. 

Pour the boiling water over the fruit and let sit for 30 seconds to one minute. 

Remove from the hot water and place in the ice water to stop the cooking. When the fruit is cool enough, peel the skins. 

Bring 1 bottle of Prosecco, Cava or Sparking Wine of choice to a boil (or one bottle minus one glass, if you're so inclined). Scrape the seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean; add seeds and pod to the pot. Add juice of 1/2 or 1 lemon and 1 cup of sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. 

Add peeled nectarines and add water if they're not covered by the liquid. 

Simmer, turning periodically if part of the fruit keeps poking up through the liquid, for about 12 minutes until a knife slips into the fruit very easily. 

Remove the fruit from the pot and pour off about a third of the poaching liquid. Bring the rest to a fast boil and cook until reduced by at least half. This could take 15 to 30 felt like forever  last night since I was tired! 

When the fruit is cool enough to pick up, cut in pieces. It's very beautiful cut in halves, but I discovered in my attempt that I had bought cling nectarines that hold on to the pits for dear life. Had I realized, I might have looked for freestones, but they taste delicious either way. 

Let the reduced syrup cool to warm or lukewarm and pour over the fruit. Let it all absorb together at room temp for a few minutes, then refrigerate until a little while before serving. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Plum Kuchen

Reading through the family cookbook for summer recipes, I was very excited to find a Plum Kuchen recipe from a bookkeeping ledger Grandma Irene used to write recipes in. Kuchen is German for cake and some people use more of a coffee cake batter, but this is made with a yeasted dough. It's not a very sweet cake, so some people prefer to call this dish a tart instead, but that doesn't quite seem to fit either. Kuchen it is! Start to finish, it takes about 2.5 to 3 hours, but most of that time you're just waiting for the dough to rise or the oven to finish working its magic. This is going into my rotation for feels like a nice treat and it's delicious, but it's not so sweet as to trigger me to keep eating more than I should. For dessert, top with ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, and for breakfast tomorrow I'm gonna put some nice yogurt on it.  

The traditional plum for this is an Italian prune plum, which is a little more oval than round. Those weren't available at my market this week, so I used a combination of black and green. As it turns out, Grandma used to use canned plums in her "Real Plum Kuchen", which I'm sure came in handy in Phoenix in the fifties! After consulting with Uncle Bill and doing a little internet research, I decided to use her apple kuchen recipe and just put fresh plums in instead. Sprinkling the top wasn't necessary with canned plums, but the cinnamon sugar in the apple recipe was going to do the trick with these tart fresh ones. Recipe from The Way We Ate: Over a Century of Great Food from the Farnbach Family. 

Wash 7-8 large or a combination of large and small plums, removing any stickers, and set aside. I used 5 of the larger black ones and 5 of the green ones. 

Make the dough: 
Warm 1 cup milk, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/3 cup butter, and 1/2 tsp salt, stirring just until the sugar and butter dissolve. Cool to lukewarm. 

While the milk mixture cools, dissolve 2 tsp instant yeast in 1/4 c lukewarm water

When everything is no more than lukewarm, add the yeast and 2 beaten eggs to the milk mixture. Then add 3 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour - I confess, I didn't sift today so I could get out of the hot kitchen faster in this 90 degree weather. Sorry, Grandma!

Mix well but don't knead. Put in a bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise for 60 to 90 minutes until about doubled. 

When the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 9" x 13" baking pan and put the dough in it. Press it out into the corners and up the sides. You can spend a little time making it perfect, but rustic is also good here. I'm sticking to that story. 

Cut the plums into slices of even thickness and lay them in overlapping rows on the dough. You can lay them down or place them sticking up a bit, but you don't need to peel them. Don't worry if they start to turn a little brown. 

When the dough is completely covered, mix 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over the plums. You could use a little more or a little less, depending on the sweetness or tartness of the plums. 

Sprinkling technique: if you use the bowl, it'll dump out in clumps. Put a pinch in your fingers and sprinkle it on from a few inches above the pan. Repeat until done. 

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until the dough is getting golden brown. Sprinkle with a little more sugar and let cool for about 20 minutes before serving. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

German Potato Salad

Last year I received the most amazing gift in the mail. My uncle and aunt had compiled a book out of all my grandmother's recipe boxes and most used cookbooks. The book has inspired me to cook a few things, including the stollen I'll be posting about closer to the holidays, and I wanted to try another recipe from it this week. 

This potato salad is in the traditional German style, sweet, sour and salty from the bacon. It's not for all tastes, but I've always really enjoyed it. The use of the fat from the bacon in the dressing reflects the use everything and throw away nothing values I'm trying to bring back to my kitchen. 

It's only very slightly adapted from my uncle's beautiful collection pictured below, and came from What's Cookin' in Dragout, a collection of recipes from the village of Kampsville, Illinois, where my grandfather was from.  

Kampsville was a rural area back when Grandpa Fred was growing up, and even today it has a population of less than 400 people. 

Original recipe by Vera Steinberg.

First, boil 2 pounds of red potatoes in their jackets in the following way:

Put the potatoes in a pot and cover them with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, add 1/2 to 1 tsp salt, then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot and boil about 15 minutes or until fork tender. 

Drain potatoes and cool about ten minutes until easy to handle. 

You can peel the potatoes completely, or just cut off any eyes or funny bits you see. 

Dice the potatoes into bite-size pieces. Put them in a medium-large bowl with room to toss them in the dressing. 

If your market carries slab bacon, get a 1/2 lb piece and dice it in 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubical rectangles, more commonly known as lardons. I went to the other market today that only has pre-sliced bacon, so I used 8 slices of thick-cut style, cut in half-inch pieces. 

To crisp up the pieces and render out the fat, put the pieces in a cold heavy pan over medium heat with a teaspoon of oil to get them started. 

Stir periodically, moving darker pieces to the outside and lighter pieces to the middle, until they are evenly crisp on the edges and a nice reddish brown color... this. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and add to the potatoes. Leave the bacon grease in the pan

Cut one smallish onion or part of a bigger onion (about a cup chopped) into 1/4 inch pieces. You know, roughly. A little bigger, a little smaller, no big deal.

Add the onions to the fat in the pan and saute over medium low heat until soft. 

It looked like a lot of fat, so I let the pan cool enough to measure it. It was just 1/4 cup, an amount nobody would balk at if it were olive oil!

When the onions are soft, add 1/4 c sugar and 1/3 c white wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar is also great).  Stir until the sugar dissolves, then add about 1 Tbsp flour and stir in to thicken it a bit. 

Taste it to see if you want to add more sugar or vinegar (I added a teaspoon or so more vinegar). 

Add a nice grinding of black pepper and then stir the dressing into the potatoes and bacon. Finally, finely chop 1/4 c total of parsley and/or chives and stir in. Serve warm or refrigerate for morning...this is coming with me to another music-filled picnic tomorrow. I'll probably stir in a bit more of the herbs before I go.  To print recipe, right click on recipe image below. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Tortilla EspaƱola: an un-recipe

AKA Tortilla de Patatas in Spain, or Tortilla de Papas in Argentina, where Mexican tortillas have arrived but are called fajitas. Language is fascinating in its ability to clarify or confuse! I learned how to make them when my college roommate's Basque mom visited. It took a few tries to get the technique down, but since then, this dish has become a potluck staple. Almost everyone can eat it, and almost everyone loves it! This photo is from this weekend's picnic. I've never followed a standard-issue recipe and I think it's one of those traditional dishes that can be made without one (with a little practice), so I'll just share the steps as I do them. 

These humble ingredients (plus a splash of milk and perhaps some parsley, but I didn't have any) come together in a non-stick pan to make a most satisfying dish:

extra virgin olive oil
black pepper

The nonstick pan is pretty important, unless you have an extremely well-seasoned cast iron pan and the arm strength to pick it up and flip it over with one hand. This is my "is this nonstick pan finished" test recipe, actually. 

How much you need of each will depend on the size of your pan. I'm using an 8 inch here because the light weight serving plate I need to use is 10 inches and my other option is a 12 inch pan. It made about 8 servings as part of brunch, and could have been cut smaller for a cocktail party. 

You can use another type of oil, but I don't recommend it. You don't have to spend a ton of money, though...a store brand will work just fine. 

You can also use any kind of eggs, but if you splurge on the good ones, you will really notice a difference. If you don't have a farmers' market nearby or you can't get to one regularly, look for pastured eggs

As for the potatoes, my original teacher used Russets. They can get a little mushy in the poaching, though, so some prefer to use waxier red potatoes. I've been using gold potatoes for a while. They're tasty and the skins are delicate, so you just have to cut off the funky bits instead of peeling them completely. 

Cut the potatoes into pieces of more or less even size. Cut enough pieces to almost fill your pan, then transfer to a bowl and add some diced white or yellow onion. I used about a third of the giant one pictured, not all of it! Toss the potatoes and onions with salt. Start with 3/4 tsp - you can add more with the eggs later if you need it. I know some people avoid salt, but potatoes really need it. Use less if you want, but don't skip it altogether!

Put the potatoes and onions back in the pan and cover with olive oil. Bring the oil to a gentle simmer over medium low heat and poach the potato-onion mixture until just cooked through, stirring very gently to prevent any browning on the bottom, 10-15 minutes.

Start checking for doneness when you see some pieces becoming translucent like this one. 

Drain the potatoes. Keep the now-flavored oil and saute your next batch of scrambled eggs or breakfast potatoes in some of it. You're welcome.

Taste the potato mix for salt. If it needs more, add a little to the egg mixture. If not, skip the salt in the egg step. 

While the potatoes cool a little bit, crack some eggs into a bowl. Five is the perfect number for this size pan, but you might need more for a bigger pan. 

Add in some black pepper and a splash of milk or cream, then beat well. Beat the eggs. 

Add the potato mixture to the egg mixture and stir. 

Put a little of the oil back into the pan over medium heat. Pour the eggs and potatoes into the pan. 

The edges will start to set up quickly. Use a silicone or wooden spoon to gently pull them back and let more of the egg mixture spill over those edges. This helps keep them from sticking and cooks everything gently. 

Turn the heat down just a hair and let everything cook for a few minutes. 

When it looks like it's at least half cooked through, it's time to flip it. I usually look for it to bubble a little at the center, but that didn't happen this time. Instead, I turned it when it looked like this and I started to smell "done" eggs. 
Here comes the scary part!

Find a plate that's at least two inches bigger in diameter than your pan. Place it over the pan and turn off the heat. 

Using pot holders or oven mitts, put one hand on top of the plate and one hand on the handle. Take a deep breath! Flip the tortilla onto the plate and then gently slide it back into the pan. 

You can use an upside down baking sheet if you don't have the right size pan. 

Turn the burner on again (to medium heat) and let cook for about five more minutes. Turn off and leave in the pan to cool and finish cooking from the residual heat for a few more minutes before serving. 

Slide onto a serving plate and serve as is or with some garlicky aioli. 

I slid it onto a sturdy plastic plate, then topped it with another plate and wrapped it well to take it to the picnic. It made it in one piece! If serving for a small crowd, slice it like a pie. If you're sharing with a big crowd, cut it into squares.