Thursday, July 29, 2010

Daring Bakers' Challenge: Swiss Swirl

I am learning (slowly) that I'm not all that in to baking. I don't really like following a recipe, and I don't like to have a lot of specialty items on hand in my kitchen. Like parchment paper. I frequently look at baking recipes, and think 'eh, I can skip that part.' Which is not really how baking works!

So thanks to my friend B., this month's Daring Bakers' challenge was a success. We were to make a Swiss roll ice cream bombe (an ice cream cake covered with slices of a giant ho-ho). And thanks to B's perseverance, we made a great Swiss roll with toffee chips and whipped cream, and vanilla and coffee ice cream! It was deeelicious. And a great dessert after a hot afternoon of canning!

The July 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Sunita of Sunita’s world – life and food. Sunita challenged everyone to make an ice-cream filled Swiss roll that’s then used to make a bombe with hot fudge. Her recipe is based on an ice cream cake recipe from Taste of Home.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pickles, Relish, and Dilly Beans, Oh My!

That's right- a pickling marathon. All things dill and certainly (no, not ever) sweet or bread and butter. First up, dilly beans.

Do I need to explain dilly beans to non-Mainers? They're pickled green beans. And while I'm sure Maine doesn't hold the patent on dilly beans, I hadn't heard of them until I moved here. Same with my non-Mainer friends.

A simple brine of salt, water, vinegar, and crushed red pepper, poured over green beans, garlic, and dill heads makes for snappy, salt, tart, spicy pickled beans. Would be great in a Bloody Mary or a martini. Or ya know, just eaten straight out of the jar for no reason at all.

Next, fresh pack Kosher dill pickles. We used a recipe calling for whole cukes, but switched it up and sliced them into spears. I had a mild panic attack doing so because of the trauma of last year's applesauce pickles (where you can poke your finger into the middle of the slice and it turns into an applesauce consistency).

I think the applesauce pickles happened because of my ad-libbing without, uh, reading the directions for sliced pickles. Sliced pickle recipes call for you to treat your pickles by soaking them in salted water first- something to do with drawing in water so they stay crisp after processing. This year, we just went with spears, which don't call for pre-treatment, and added some Ball Pickle Crisp Granules as back-up. Fingers crossed we didn't just waste 8 pounds of cucumbers (again).

Then, and finally, the relish. We actually prepped the relish as we sliced our green beans and cucumbers, since the relish has to soak in salted water for two hours. Then you drain it, rinse it, and add vinegar, sugar (just a little), dill seed, and chopped onions. Boil it all up and can it in half-pints, unless you're really into hot dogs and can plow through a pint of relish in two weeks.

The final haul with many thanks to Roomie A., B. and C.:

And this was a Canning Across America party, connecting with home food preservers all across the country!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Canning Across America Party

This weekend I'm throwing a canning party! My girlfriends and I are going to put up some more dilly beans and some pickles. We're taking part in Canning Across America, where they encourage canners to 'join the canvolution.' So we're throwing a canning party this weekend, and you can be sure I'll share with you what we make. And I look forward to reading about all other canners' efforts all around the county.

If you want to throw your own canning party, check out these tips from Sunset magazine.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bubble Maineia Review

Another guest post from Roomie A, only this time *not* because I was too lazy to write my own review (see Pom's write-up). A. just sent me an email - with an attached photo and everything! - detailing her lunch experience at the newly relocated Bubble Maineia Dessert & Noodle Bar. Since it lent itself so easily to blogging, I asked her if I could post it here. So take it away, Roomie A!

I am not normally in the habit of spreading bad news about local businesses. In fact, quite the contrary! I'm thrilled to support any local establishment, even if the cost is higher, as long as the quality is good. But I do feel a certain civic duty to save my friends (most of whom are broke) from wasting good money on bad food. It is for only this reason that I share my recent tale of luncheon woe:

In the hope of finding a good noodle shop in this town, I tried Bubble Maineia Dessert & Noodle Bar (15 Temple Street, Portland). Sadly, my lunch was a Lo Mein Letdown, a Porky Pity, and a Bok Choy Bummer- all at the same time.

I spent last weekend in Brooklyn, where I truly spoiled myself eating excellent Asian food (excepting Thai and Sushi, which are quite satisfactory here in Portland). But even comparing my noodles to others in Portland, this was not a compelling lunch.

I ordered the "Minced Pork Sauce with Noodle" on the Lo Mein list for $5.95. It came with a "free side" of either spicy chicken salad or sweet and sour cucumber. I opted for the spicy chicken salad, which was actually very good and had some interesting ingredients (that awesome transparent seaweed!). But to call it a "side" is WILDLY generous. It was, at the most, two tablespoons. Just slightly more than I would have expected from a sample at whole foods. However, one can order it on its own for $4, which would be worth it as long as the portion is larger.

I also had a hankering for iced tea, and they have both green and black. I chose green. It tasted like soap. A co-worker chose black, which tasted pleasantly of tea.

I took my noodle takeout (plus a little container of chili sauce) back to my office and cracked it open. I felt like a contestant on Let's Make a Deal and Monty Hall just opened the last door to reveal a goat. I had such high hopes! Which, no doubt, worsened the disappointment.

The takeout container (which is very nice and will be useful for storing leftovers) contained a pile of perfectly cooked Lo Mein noodles and . . . some gunk with bok choy. The title was misleading, perhaps a result of a language barrier, but it's still problematic. My noodles were billed as coming with a "minced pork sauce." What I got was a quarter of a cup of very greasy, dry, tough, ground pork, with NO sauce-like qualities. Under-seasoned and over-cooked. And visually unappealing (looking like the result of the "dog's dinner" that Gordon Ramsay is frequently served). It was garnished with a half a head of under-done baby bok choy, which I normally love, but it wasn't enough to resurrect the mess.

All that said, I have frequently had bubble tea from Bubble Maineia's commercial street location, and enjoyed it quite thoroughly, so I will probably go in from time to time for my tapioca fix. And the chicken salad would be excellent if taken home and eaten with some salted, crispy seaweed and sticky rice as a delicious deconstructed sushi. But the noodle bar element of this location is NOT worth six bucks. Sorry.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How to Can (Dilly Beans)

It's time to share how to can here on the Blueberry Files! I've written about recipes you can can (Strawberry Rhubarb Jam and Lavender Honey Strawberry Jam), but I've left the canning part up to you. And since canning is so popular right now- and there are lots of great how-tos on the internet!- I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring. So if you are the type of person who can learn from a book (or a blog!), then have at it. If not and you live in Maine, then come to one of my hands-on canning workshops.

The process I'm showing you here, boiling water bath canning, can be applied to all high-acid foods: fruits and pickled vegetables. So you can can jams, jellies, salsa, relish, pickled fruits and vegetables, whole fruits, and tomato sauces this way. Anything else (non-pickled vegetables, meat, and dairy) requires the use of a pressure canner, which cannot be made with common household items; you must go buy one. Please do not attempt to can low-acid foods in a boiling water bath, as you run the very real risk of botulism poisoning. No fun!

To start, here is the equipment you will need to can pickles, jams and jellies, salsa, relish, chutneys, and tomato sauces.

You'll need: a large pot with a circular rack in the bottom (you can buy a canner or use a large pot you already have. It just needs to have a rack in the bottom (like a round cooling rack or a steamer rack) and be deep enough to hold your jars with 1-2 inches of water over the tops), a case of canning jars with two-part lids, liquid and dry measuring cups, a ladle, a digital timer, and a set of canning tools (magnetic wand lid lifter, headspace measurer/bubble freer, wide mouth funnel, and jar lifter), clean dish towels, paper towels, a cooling rack, and a large and small pot.

You can purchase the canning utensil toolkit from Ball's website or sometimes stores where canning goods are sold.

I made dilly beans (pickled green beans), so here are the ingredients I used for my recipe. I had fresh green beans, picked yesterday from my garden, garlic, fresh dill heads, crushed red pepper, vinegar, water, and pickling and canning salt.

About the produce: use freshly harvested produce, at its peak of ripeness. We're not trying to revive anything here, we're trying to preserve the freshness of the food. Do not use anything with pest damage, mold, or overripe spots. Just cut them off! All of these things mean increased microorganisms, and we're trying to DECREASE the number of germies on our food, since germs = spoiled food.

Once you have all of your equipment and produce gathered, begin by washing your hands and then your jars in hot, soapy water. Fill your canner about 3/4 of the way full with water and place on the stove over high heat. At this point, you can add your empty jars to the canner as you bring the water to a boil. You are going to need to sterilize your jars by boiling them for 10 minutes. By adding them as the water comes to a boil, you don't have to add room temperature jars to boiling hot water, as the temperature change could cause them to break.

Place the lids of your jars in a small sauce pot and cover them with water. Place them on a back burner over medium heat. This is to warm up the ring of orange sealing compound found on the underside of the lids. By warming (not boiling!) the compound, you soften it and allow a seal to form between the lid and the top of the jar.

Begin preparing your recipe as the water in the canner comes to a boil. (Remember to start your timer for 10 minutes once it comes to a rolling, vigorous boil!) For dilly beans, the recipes specifies that 1/2" of headspace must be between the top of the food and the bottom of the lid. So the beans need to be cut so they are 1/2" in from the top of the jar. Make a bean template by putting a bean in the jar and measuring the proper headspace. Once you cut that bean to the proper size, leave it on the cutting board and cut your other beans to the same size. This is where a headspace measuring tool comes in handy, but you can use a ruler too.

Those little notches are in 1/4" increments- so the first step is 1/4", the second is 1/2".

After all your beans are washed and chopped, portion out your garlic and dill. You can use 1 fresh dill head per jar or 1 teaspoon of dried dill seeds.

Prepare your brine in a large pot, and bring to a boil to dissolve salt. Reduce heat once you reach a boil. Brine is a combination of vinegar, water, salt, spices, and sometimes sugar. The particular recipe depends on what kind of pickles you are making- sour pickles, bread and butter, kosher dill, etc. Follow a tested recipe from the USDA, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, or Ball. Please don't make your own recipe, as these recipes have been tested to ensure that a proper pH is achieved (i.e. very acidic!) and that no botulism spores can survive. Just keep trying until you find one to your liking.

After your jars have been boiled for 10 minutes, remove the jars from the canner with your jar lifter. Place them on a cooling rack or a folded dish towel, as coming in contact with the cold kitchen counter could cause them to break. You can turn the heat down on your canner a bit while you prepare your recipe (to medium-high or 8, if electric).

Add one clove of garlic and one head of dill (or one tablespoon dill seed) to each jar and pack tightly with trimmed beans. I mean tightly! Cram beans in there until you can't cram them anymore. The beans will shrink when they cook. Using your ladle and jar funnel, add hot brine to the jars, again leaving 1/2" headspace.

Wipe the rims of the jars well with a paper towel. By having a clean rim before you apply your lids, you ensure that a good vacuum seal will form. And that is the point of home canning! The vacuum seal is like the Holy Grail, only much more achievable.

Use your magnetic lid lifter (or a fork) to remove one lid from the warm water and apply to a jar. Screw on the screwband until fingertip tight. Do not over tighten, as air needs to escape the jar while it is being boiled. Forcing all the air out of the jar during processing, and then the subsequent cooling, is what creates the vacuum seal (no air in the jar). So just apply the bands until they are tight. Don't go crazy!

Repeat this process until all your jars are filled, and lift each jar into the canner. Try to leave space between the jars, so they are not leaning on each other or the sides of the canner. But don't give yourself an ulcer.

After all your jars are in, check to make sure that you have 1-2" of water over the tops of the jars. You may want to have a kettle of boiling water on the stove to add water easily until you get the hang of how much water you need to have in your canner. Apply the lid to the canner, turn the heat to high again and wait until a rolling, vigorous boil occurs. No sissy blurps here- we want boiling! Start your timer for the processing time specified in your recipe (5 minutes for dilly beans).

After the processing time is up, turn off the heat, remove the lid and wait a few minutes. The jars will be very hot, so waiting will reduce the chances of you burning yourself and the jars breaking due to the temperature change.

Remove your jars and place them on a cooling rack or a folded kitchen towel. Let them cool, undisturbed for 24 hours. After 24 hours has passed, check to make sure the jars sealed. Run your finger along the tops of the lids. If they are sucked in, they have sealed. If they are still popped up and you can click the lid, they are not. You can either reprocess by adding a new lid and processing them again or store them in the fridge and eat within two weeks. But if you followed the instructions here, all of your jars should have sealed.

Wipe sealed jars down with a damp cloth, remove the screw bands and label the lids with a permanent marker. Write the name of the product and the date canned; use home canned goods within one year. Once opened, store in the refrigerator and eat within two weeks. Store your jars in a cool, dry place, away from direct light and heat.

Most of all, enjoy! Now, questions? Please comment below, and I'll be happy to answer as best I can or point you to a resource.

Oh, and here's the complete recipe for dilly beans (from the Nat'l Center for Home Food Preservation).

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Blueberry Limeade Popsicles

After a day at Willard Beach, I stopped by LeRoux Kitchen to buy some popsicle molds. After a lovely visit with the rents, I was left with some delicious lemonade and limeade from Whole Foods Market. Figured it'd be perfect wizzed up with some frozen fruit and poured into these cute star molds.

I can't wait to try strawberry lemonade, but first I've got to work through these blueberry limeade ones. I sweetened them with a bit of honey simple syrup, inspired by Heidi Swanson over at 101 Cookbooks.

Bring on the heat wave- I'm armed with my beach towel and my popsicle mold.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lavender Honey Strawberry Jam

I'm here to sing the praises of Pomona's pectin again. I just love the stuff. So versatile- make a small batch or a big batch, make your own recipe, use honey, use little or no sugar.

When I had a bunch of mashed strawberries, and some whole ones too, leftover from my canning classes, I turned to Pomona's to make a small batch of strawberry jam.

Unlike other pectins, where one box of pectin makes one batch of jam, Pomona's breaks it down for you- for every one cup of fruit, you add 2 teaspoons of pectin. Tada! And since I knew my friend B and I would eat the jam right up, I didn't need to follow a tested recipe with processing times. I just kept it in the fridge to be enjoyed immediately.

Since pretty much every other US blogger has strawberry season before we do in Maine, I had a chance to scope out everybody else's jam recipes. And I saw a lot of great strawberry jams, with black pepper, balsamic vinegar, or rosemary. All of these great recipes percolated in my brain until I thought of mint, lavender, honey, and strawberries.

The mint didn't come through, however, so we'll just shorten the name of this jam to Lavender Honey Strawberry Jam.

I used fresh herbs and didn't want little bits of herb in the jam, so B tied everything up in cheesecloth and added it while we cooked the jam. When we fished it out at the end, the lavender flavor seeped gently through the jam, but the mint was no where to be found. Oh well!

Lavender Honey Strawberry Jam
From Pomona's Pectin

4 cups mashed strawberries (about 2 quarts)
1/2-1 cup honey
2 teaspoons Pectin powder
2 teaspoons calcium water
3/4 cup fresh lavender, chopped and tied in cheesecloth

Wash, hull, and mash berries in a large bowl. Measure out four cups into a non-reactive stockpot and add herbs in cheesecloth. Stir in calcium water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.

While fruit is heating, mix pectin powder into honey and stir until combined. When fruit mixture boils, add pectin-honey mixture and return to a boil. Boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove jam from heat and ladle into jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace if processing.

To process, boil in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Otherwise, keep jam in the refrigerator and use within two weeks. Jam can also be frozen in freezer-grade containers (plastic or wide-mouth glass canning jars) and used within 1 year.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Saeng Thai Review

This latest installation of the Thai-o-rama is teaching me a lesson in impermanence. While sampling all this Thai food in Portland, I've been searching, naturally, for the best Thai food. I've been attached to the idea of systematically eating through all Thai offerings in town to find the Platonic ideal of pad thai or Panang curry. How very Western of me.

But maybe in order to be happy with my Thai take-out, I should recognize the very impermanent nature of our world- that all that is will come to pass. After all, attachment to an idea or thing is what causes our suffering.

You may be wondering where all of this is coming from (aside from the obvious connection of Buddhism to Thailand). Well, my recent meal at Saeng Thai wasn't very good, where I'd been happy with my food from there in the past.

M's pork pad prik khing was the better of the two dishes- but incredibly spicy. This is a spicy dish, so there was no option to order by star, but man, was it hot! The pork was nice and firm, while the green beans added a nice crunch. Texture was about all I got, since the only flavor I could taste was 'hot.'

My chicken "special" pad thai was similiarly spicy (2 stars), with a disappointing selection of vegetables: carrots, onions, and peppers. The sauce didn't have much flavor, savory or sweet, and no peanut taste to speak of. Not all that special.

The people at Saeng Thai are very nice- both times I've eaten in and gotten take out, I've had excellent customer service. But this time my food didn't live up to my previous experience.

So maybe the idea of perfect Thai food is an illusion, the very nature of my experience unreal. While this may be hard for us Westerners to wrap our minds around, at least it will help me mediate my disappointment as I cross another Thai restaurant off my list.

Saeng Thai House on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 2, 2010

ATK BBQ Chops and Mac Salad

Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen appeal to a certain kind of cook. My friend A. subscribes to their website (yes, it's a subscription website) and really enjoys perusing their recipes, gathering specific ingredients, and following the instructions to a T.

She is very detail-oriented and great at things like writing grants, planning weddings/big events, making spreadsheets, and folding cloth napkins. OK, I was reaching on that last one, but you get my point. She likes the more meticulous side of a Cook's Illustrated recipe.

Some of you already may be thinking, 'this is not for me,' and I tend to agree with you. In general, I like recipes- they offer ideas you wouldn't have thought of on your own and are a good guide for things like cooking times and methods, things that have some science behind them and can't be meddled with.

That said, I often deviate from a recipe and substitute in what I have, skip what I don't, and generally fail to read the recipe completely and thoroughly through to the end. So while I like watching America's Test Kitchen and reading Cook's Illustrated, when I go to follow their recipes, I usually fall short of the Platonic ideal they promise will result. After all, I didn't follow the instructions.

When I came home the other night to find the ATK DVD paused and Michael gone, I figured we were in for some fun with meticulous recipes. Sure enough, he returned with bags of groceries for making BBQ Skillet Pork Chops and Cool and Creamy Macaroni Salad. And because he was leading the charge, we ended up with great results.

But unfortunately, because we were watching an old season of the DVD (the current season's recipes are available for free on their website), we just had to watch the DVD as we cooked, pausing it when our steps took longer than their edited ones. Kind of like painting along with Bob Ross (did people actually do that??). So I can't give you a recipe, but rather an approximation of what we did, which turned out pretty darn tasty.

Macaroni Salad

1 pound Pipette pasta (macaroni with ridges)
3 celery ribs, diced
1 red onion, diced
1/2 bunch of parsley, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup mayonaise
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Bring a saucepot full of heavily salted water to a boil. Add pasta and boil until al dente. Drain pasta.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together celery, onion, parsley, lemon juice, and mustard. Toss pasta in and add mayonnaise, stirring to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Before serving, add some warm water to loosen and moisten the pasta.

BBQ Skillet Pork Chops

4 medium rib or loin chops
1/2 cup salt
8 cups of water

For the spice rub:
a pinch of ground coriander seed, cayenne, cumin, ground black pepper, brown sugar, and paprika.

For the sauce:
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup molasses, light or mild
2 tablespoons grated onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Dissolve salt in water in a large bowl to create a brine. Place chops in the brine and refrigerate for half an hour. Mix together sauce and spice rub while chops are brining.

Pat chops dry and rub both sides with spice rub. In a large skillet over low heat, cook chops until they register 130 degrees F internally (about 5 minutes on one side and 3 on the other). Remove chops from pan and wipe pan clean. Return pan to heat.

Baste chops with barbecue sauce and return to pan. Cook until internal temperature reads 140 degrees F. Let chops rest while you cook the remaining barbecue sauce to thicken. Serve remaining sauce over chops.