Saturday, December 19, 2015

Spiced Pomegranate Liqueur

While I live in an apartment building and have something of a black thumb, I'm lucky enough to have friends who bring me fruit from their backyard trees every now and then. 

This fall, I was treated to a bag of pomegranates and a bag of persimmons. The pomegranates quickly began their transformation into a lovely liqueur that I'm just now enjoying. 

To get started, you'll need: 

1 750ml bottle nice but not too expensive vodka
4-6 pomegranates
2-3 one-inch pieces of lemon peel, white pith removed from the back
1/2 stick cinnamon (or 2-3 whole cloves)
1 large jar (3 quarts-ish)

To start with, remove the seeds from the pomegranates. This is the most difficult part of the whole process. There are lots of videos about how easy it is to do in a bowl of water or by simply whacking the back of a half pomegranate with a wooden spoon, but really, it's either a messy procedure or one that takes lots of patience to pick out the white pith. Luckily, either way, you get lots of delicious, nutritious pomegranate seeds. 

Mash the seeds a bit to expose the white parts inside. Place the seeds (red and white parts) in the large jar with the lemon peel, vodka and cinnamon once you're done with the removal. 
Cover the jar, give it a good swirl, and place in a cool, dark spot in the kitchen. Pick it up and swirl it around again every couple of days. 

Let sit for two weeks before straining. 

After the two weeks of straining, pour the mix through a strainer lined with a couple of layers of cheesecloth or a big coffee filter. Mash the seeds a bit more and squeeze the cloth to get all the liquid you can out. 

I tasted it at this point and found the cinnamon way too much, but it has mellowed a lot since the second resting phase. It's just right now! 

Now you need: 
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

Return the liquid to the large jar. Add pomegranate juice and stir. 

Make a simple syrup: to a medium saucepan, add sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and stir to dissolve the sugar. Let simmer for about 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature. 

Once the syrup is at room temperature, add to the jar. Stir well and return to its cool, dark hiding place. Let sit for another 4 weeks. 

Strain through a damp coffee filter, funnel into swing-top or other lidded bottles, and enjoy! 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Almond Cardamom Thumbprint Cookies

It's the last week of the Fall Semester at school, and somehow I got the idea that a cookie swap would be fun at the end of semester faculty party. This meant carefully choosing a simple item or two I could manage to contribute on a week where I'm getting home late every night from doing extra paperwork. 

The good news is that this recipe will be every bit as simple as last week's Stollen was complicated. While Grandma Irene tried to uphold her parents' tradition, my Nanna's mother was raised on a Mennonite farm. The simple cooking style that was passed down to her included making thumbprint cookies at the holidays. Marmalade reminds me of her, too, since she had a sour orange tree in her yard in Phoenix. 

I wanted to add cardamom to spice them up a bit, and almond flour adds flavor and protein--this recipe is adapted from one at I hope you enjoy them! 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Frangipane Calvados Christmas Stollen

This is the recipe that planted the seed for the blog!

When I was little, I remember helping my grandmother with sorghum cookies around the holidays. When it came time for her to make the stollen, however, we all cleared out of the kitchen and tried not to giggle as she struggled and swore in perfect Grandma style: "Oh, pshaw! Oh, drat!" and my favorite, "Ohhhh, crrrrushed strawberries!" I didn't like the stollen, but didn't dare say so after she had gone to so much trouble.

Over the past few years, thinking of Grandma Irene, I've bought a few loaves of stollen from Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, and much to my surprise, I really liked them! Last year around this time, I dug into the family recipe compendium in search of Grandma's stollen recipe. I looked at her recipe and at the version my aunt made with dry milk from her food storage and extra candied cherries for the beautiful holiday colors, and it dawned on me: it's the candied cherries I don't like. Fruitcake? Same thing. The rummy cake is delicious, but the candied, weird green fruit? Not so much.

I even polled the cousins on FaceBook about their preference for dried vs candied fruit, and the responses confirmed my suspicion. "Stollen? I love lemon bread!" and "yeah, just dried for us." I went back to the drawing board and found a recipe at to tweak to heavenly results. It's an involved process that takes a few hours, but none of the steps are terrible difficult.

An hour or two before you really get started, take 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter out of the fridge to soften. Soak 1/2 cup each dried cherries, golden raisins, and currants in 1/2 c Calvados apple brandy. In her later years, Grandma gave up alcohol, but her younger self would have approved. If you can't find or don't want to splurge on Calvados (I get a deal on it at Trader Joe's every fall), you could use rum, cognac or even warm water. Whatever you do, DO NOT use that green apple liqueur stuff they put in apple-tinis. 

After an hour or more of soaking the fruit, put the contents two 1/4 ounce packages of active dry yeast (not instant) and a pinch of sugar into 1/4 c lukewarm water. Stir gently and set aside until the mixture gets nice and bubbly like the second photo. This could take two to ten minutes - the volume should be double but in this case it quadrupled!
While the yeast does its thing, drain the fruit, reserving the liquid for the dough.

Coarsely chop the fruit for better distribution in the dough and toss it in a bowl with 2 Tbsp flour. 
In a heavy bottomed small to medium saucepan, heat 1 c milk, 1/3 c granulated or raw sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar, to lukewarm (110 degrees-ish). Don't overheat the milk or you'll kill the yeast when you stir it together.

Turn off the heat and stir in reserved liquid from fruit, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1 tsp grated lemon zest. Let cool for a minute and gently stir in the yeast mixture. 
Now I'm pretty sure that these next few steps are where the cussin' and fussin' happened, so I strongly recommend using a stand mixer if you have one. Otherwise, stir by hand and cuss away!

Measure 5 cups all-purpose flour into a large bowl (the stand mixer bowl if you have it), and use a fork to mix the milk-yeast mixture into it, a cup or so at a time. You'll use the mixer later, but it's best to make sure you don't over-mix. 

Crack two eggs into a small bowl, fish out any little bits of shell (I had one stubborn one that took a minute), and beat until frothy.

Gently beat the eggs into the flour mixture on low.
Cut the softened butter into small pieces and. using the dough hook or a wooden spoon and strong arms, work it into the dough a few tablespoons at a time. The resulting dough will be wet and buttery. Yummmm. Again, if you're doing this by hand, cuss away! 
Add 1/2 c more flour to the bowl or to a work board, then knead 5 minutes with the machine or ten minutes by hand. You want the dough to feel smooth and elastic by the end, and all the flour to be incorporated.
Work in the fruit now before letting the dough rise: Press the dough into a rectangle and scatter half the fruit across it. Fold half the dough over the other half, press it out a little more and scatter the other half of the fruit on top.

Pull it all back together and then knead gently to distribute the fruit through the dough for just a minute or so, stopping before the fruit starts to color the dough.
Butter a large bowl and set the dough inside it. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and set the dough in a warm area to rise for about two hours or until doubled in size. If you have an Instant Pot or similar Gizmo with a yogurt setting, you can put the dough in and set it to yogurt for one hour. It should rise in that time, saving you an hour! 

If something goes wrong and it doesn't rise, you don't have to throw it all out. You can keep going--you'll just have a dense but yummy product. Happened to me last time, and my lovely co-workers ate the loaf I took them in no time flat!

In the meantime, take 1 more stick of butter out of the fridge to soften. 

When the dough has risen (or proofed, or proved as they say on the Great British Baking show), remove it from the bowl and set it on a lightly floured board. Cut it in four even pieces and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.

While it rests, make the frangipane (almond) filling:

Cream 1 stick softened unsalted butter with 1/3 c sugar in a mixer. Add 1 c fine almond meal or almond flour and mix in, then mix in 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour, 2 eggs, and 2 Tbsp more of your booze of choice (Calvados, Rum or Cognac). Set aside for a moment, but don't put it in the fridge.
Cut 14 oz marzipan (two of these packages) into small pieces.

Assemble the Stollen:

Press one fourth of the dough into a rectangle on the floured board. Spread one fourth of the Frangipane filling over the rectangle, leaving a one inch border all around the outside.

Scatter one fourth of the marzipan pieces over the frangipane.

Fold one long side in, more than halfway over the middle, then fold up the other long side so that it overlaps like a business letter. Pinch the ends closed. Repeat with the other three parts of dough, frangipane and marzipan.

It's supposed to look kind of like swaddling :-)
Get out two large baking sheets and place two stollen on each. Melt about three or four tablespoons of butter (30 seconds in the microwave should do it) and brush over the loaves. Leave them in a warm area again, and let them rise for about an hour. When the hour is almost up, preheat the oven to 350.

They won't likely double in size, but you'll see a difference. Alas, there is no Instant Pot shortcut at this point. Le sigh. 

Bake the loaves for a total of 35-40 minutes, moving the top pan to the bottom and the bottom to the top halfway through that time (also turn them front to back) for even browning.

Remove them from the oven when they're beautifully browned like this. Melt five more Tbsp butter and add 2 more Tbsp booze to it. Brush over the hot loaves.
The traditional way to cover the loaves is to cover them in a thick layer of powdered sugar right away while the brushed-on butter is still warm and damp. (Cool them on baking racks before serving).

Stollen are traditionally aged in a cool area for several days and as long as a week. In Germany they're kept for weeks, but a) I've never had any last that long, and 2) winters in CA are not quite as cold as winters in Germany. I'm not sure how long they would really keep here. I'm confident that they're OK for about a week, wrapped well, though, because of the sugar coating. It prevents mold and other yucky things from setting in.

I prefer a powdered sugar glaze to the plain powdered sugar (less messy to eat, ergo less evidence to hide on your fingers and clothes if you're sneaking a piece here and there). My method is very scientific: dump some powdered sugar and milk in a bowl, grate in some lemon or orange zest, stir in a little vanilla, and pour it over the slightly cooled loaves. Finish cooling and share with neighbors, friends and family. Because they keep for a little while, you can even mail a couple out via a two-day service if you like.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Butternut and Kale Risotto - Instant Pot recipe

Ever since I got this electric pressure cooker, I've been eating a ton of butternut squash. You can cook it whole, no cutting or peeling necessary until it's soft, as per this wonderful page (though I find I like it done with more time, more like 18 to 20 min for a whole butternut. Risotto, it turns out, is a breeze in the pressure cooker, saving just a few minutes but requiring a lot less focus and attention. You do have to have the final ingredients at the ready to stir in quickly at the end. However, you can walk away from it for much longer than you can a pot on the stove. 

Most of the recipes I found for the PC required cutting and peeling the thing ahead. Um, no. I found a Barefoot Contessa recipe that added the squash at the end and adapted it with some help on timing from Try that one if you don't have a pressure cooker!

After a few experiments, I found that I really prefer the squash soft so it almost melts into the risotto rather than staying in cubes, but you can leave it in cubes if you like it that way. I also made the mistake of using fabulous homemade chicken broth (also a breeze with the Gizmo and some 99 cents a pound chicken parts from the butcher) the first time around, so before "publishing" I had to make it that way again. 
Ingredients (amounts at the end): 
-Arborio rice (or Carnaroli, or other short to medium grain rice)
-dry white wine (Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc)
-chicken or veggie broth, preferably homemade, but you could use canned, or even water and a bouillon cube if you reeaaalllly have to. 
-a little butter and parmesan (less than in a regular risotto because of the creaminess of the squash
-slab pancetta (optional, but YUM. If you can't find it in one big piece, you can use pre-diced or sliced.)
-shallots, because I've decided I like them more than onions for risotto, but you could just use onion if you like
-cooked butternut squash (even thawed frozen could work if it's a good brand)
-olive oil
-saffron (also optional)
-baby kale (baby spinach is OK, but might be a little bitter), which you can find at Costco or many other places these days

If using pancetta, brown that first in olive oil. If not, replace pancetta with more olive oil and a little butter and salt - see recipe card). 

Press the saute button on the Instant Pot after adding 1 Tbsp olive oil and 4 oz finely diced pancetta. Saute, stirring frequently, 3 to 5 minutes until nicely browned. 

Remove pancetta pieces and set aside until the end of the process. 
Add two finely chopped shallots to the pot, stirring frequently until soft - I know this seems like a lot of stirring, but it's MUCH less than in a traditional risotto.

Add 1/4 cup, y'know, ish, of white wine and stir while scraping up any remaining yummy brownish bits from the bottom of the pot. 
Add 2 cups arborio rice to the pot and stir for a couple of minutes, until the rice starts to look translucent around the edges or a little more. You can't quite see it here, but it's happening! 

This step of sauteing the risotto is supposed to be what helps build the creamy texture, whether or not you stir constantly. 

Once the rice is looking a bit translucent, stir in 4 cups broth and turn off the saute function by pressing the "keep warm/cancel" button. 

Lock the lid into place and make sure the valve is set to "seal" - it's the position where it's pointing more toward the back. 
Press "manual" and "-" to adjust down to 7 minutes. Between the time it takes to come to pressure and the 7 minutes to count down from there, you've got about 20 minutes with no stirring. Yay! However, you'll need to stir in the remaining ingredients very quickly once that time is up, so get them ready before you get lost in your favorite show. 
Once the time is up and the beeper goes off, do a quick release of the pressure by carefully turning the valve to venting. Press "keep warm/cancel" again to turn off. 

Stir in 1 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan, then 3 1/2 c mashed butternut squash and 3 c baby kale. Remove inner pot from the heating element and put on a potholder or trivet. 

Serve with a green salad and a glass of the wine, since you've opened it already ;)