Sunday, September 30, 2012

Capturing The Last Bites Of Summer

Peaches & Cream (with a little bourbon & brown sugar)

I had to go out of town recently and had a dilemma... what to do with all the fresh produce on the counter before I leave? There were tons of grapes, a whole lot of two different kinds of tomatoes, and 5 peaches. On our budget, this stuff is like gold. I had to make the best use of it that I could, and I only had a few days to do it. It wouldn't keep until I got back.

First up... the five peaches. A nice lady at church shared the last late fruit from her tree. They were lovely and fragrant. We could have just eaten them as is, but I wanted to do something a little more special with them. It's not every day that we get such beautiful ripe fruit and it will be a long time until peaches are in season again. Then I remembered seeing a recipe for peach ice cream that sounded kind of slightly spectacular...

Peach, Bourbon & Brown Sugar Ice Cream
adapted from Serious Eats

4-5 ripe peaches
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp molasses
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp bourbon

Wash, dry, and cut the peaches into large chunks. Don't bother peeling them.

Blend the first five ingredients together in a blender or food processor until the peaches are completely pureed.

Transfer to a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Simmer for 5 minutes or until it starts to thicken. Take off heat and let cool to room temp.

Stir in the salt and the bourbon, then transfer the mixture into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 6-8 hours or overnight.

When it's fully chilled, process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Transfer the soft ice cream to a freezer container and put in the freezer for at least 3 hours.

My Notes: If you have dark brown sugar, use it and omit the molasses. The bourbon is not a strong presence in the finished ice cream but I would be afraid to add more as it might interfere with the freezing. Still, I like that it's in there and just because it isn't a strong flavor doesn't mean it's not adding to the overall deliciousness. Definitely let this stuff sit in the freezer for a few days if you can... the brown sugar really comes forward at the finish if you do. Really nice ice cream. Sweet, subtle, perfume-y, earthy... yummy.  

All-in-all, a fitting finish to summer.
Coming up... my preserve-a-thon continues with concord grapes, two kinds of tomatoes, and much much more! How about you? Preserve anything lately?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How Marriage Is Like A Toaster

5-Grain Sandwich Bread
(or... How we kept 4 toasters out of the local landfill)

Last year for our anniversary, our toaster died. For the fourth time. Or, should I say... for the last time.

I'd better start from the beginning. One year and one month after receiving our lovely big toaster as a wedding gift, it stopped toasting. It, of course, had a one-year warranty. Our newly-married budget would not allow for it's replacement in kind, so we would have to buy a cheap new one... or have it repaired.

Words That Start With "R"
What are the green 3-Rs again... Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle? What ever happened to Repair? Is it lumped under the Reuse heading? It needs to be its own "R". Twelve years ago, it looked like the honeymoon was over for our wedding-toaster when I realized that small appliance repair was apparently a lost or dying art. Too many years of people thinking that the fourth "R" stands for Replace. I found one repair shop though, and they told me on the phone that if they couldn't fix it there would be no charge. If they could fix it, $24.

Such A Deal
Well, the way I saw it, even a cheap toaster would cost us something in that neighborhood, so fixing it would be like buying that same $60 toaster at 60% off. We decided to go the repair-route. That repair lasted us 6 years before the toaster bit the dust again. Back to the shop, and another $24 fix job. So we've put a total of $48 into it (or by my calculations, bought a $60 toaster for 20% off).

Fast forward four years. Once again, kaput. The shop had moved, but was thankfully still in business. This time it was the circuit board. Our tally is now up to $72 for a $60 toaster. I looked over at Hubby on the way home, "You realize this was the last time?" He nodded in reply.

Requiem For A Toaster
When the oft-resuscitated toaster kicked the bucket last September, Hubs brought up the R-word: repair. I used a different R-word and reminded him of our toaster's history, the timeline, the math. He nodded again... remembering.

It Was Finally Time For A Replacement
Time now to research brands and models, features and reviews. Tedious stuff. But we take our toast seriously. And after living with that toaster for 12 years, we both had definite ideas about what we each wanted in a new one:
  1. I bake a lot of rustic round loaves of bread, and I prefer toasting whole slices. 
  2. Hubs has strong feelings about different manufacturers and their quality. 
  3. We both wanted something simple and basic. One that does what it does, and does it well.
The field of contenders was actually pretty small after we combined our needs and requirements.* Which toaster we ended up with, isn't important to this story. Toast is so subjective anyway. A real hot topic. I'll just say though that we found exactly what we wanted, it cost more than I'd hoped to spend, but then it's also been 12 years since we've shopped for a toaster. I really can't complain!

Happy Toaster-versary!
So here's to our toaster... It's one year later and we're still really happy with our second ever toaster. In honor of the occasion, I baked up an awesome bread recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks:

Oatmeal Sandwich Bread from page 130 of Good To The Grain by Kim Boyce
Find the recipe adapted over at the Diary Of A Locavore blog ...or better yet, just go get the book from your local library or bookstore. It's a great introduction to baking with different grains and flours. I've baked up at least a half-dozen of the recipes so far and have loved every one.

My Notes: Just for the heck of it, I substituted Bob's Red Mill 5-Grain Rolled Hot Cereal for the oats. And since I didn't have any bread flour in the cupboard, I simply used 2 cups of all-purpose flour and added two tablespoons of gluten. The bread tasted—and toasted—great!

* This is all about compromising and it begins with respecting each other. It's a very grown-up thing to do and it helps build a happy marriage. Consider it my Marital Tip Of The Day. Cheers!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Freezer Jam Of The Golden Sun

Sweet, Sweet, Sunshine
Forget the moonbeams and butterflies, or catching falling stars that will fit in your pocket... that's just the stuff of sappy love songs. You can however, catch the summer sunshine and keep it in a jar. At least that's what this jam tastes like to me. Tomato sunshine.

Picture yourself in the middle of winter... it's cold, it's wet, the weather is miserable. You take a jar out of the freezer to thaw. You toast some rustic bread until it's crisp and golden, add some good flavorful cheese—maybe an aged cheddar or smoked Gouda—then pry off the lid of the jam jar and dollop this golden orange stuff over the top. You're transported. You suddenly remember the smell of your hands after picking tomatoes last August. You get a flashback of a warm ripe tomato bursting sweet in your mouth and forever defining the word "summer". It could happen. In fact, I'm planning on it.

Harvest Gold
I've got Sungold cherry tomatoes practically coming out of my ears right now, and while I love them, I know this gloriousness won't last much longer. So I'm "saving for a rainy day" the only way I can right now and capturing the very essence of summer sunshine in a jar for later. 

When I read this recipe, I just knew it would be amazing made with our Sungold cherry tomatoes. Some of them are so sweet, they stop tasting like tomatoes at all and say with assurance, "You see, we really ARE a fruit!". I made one batch at first just to try it out. I filled two half-pint jars, lidded them, labeled them, and stuck them in the freezer. With the bit that was left over, I dolloped it over toast with brie. Two or three times. The creamy pungency of the brie with the sweet, earthy tomato jam... my, oh my... oh my.

Sungold {Cherry Tomato} Freezer Jam
adapted from: The Vanilla Bean Blog
4 cups Sungold cherry tomatoes
1-1/4 cups sugar
a pinch of sea salt
  1. Wash the tomatoes and cut them in half.
  2. Put them in a heavy pot with the rest of the ingredients.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil then drop the heat down to a simmer.
  4. Cook the jam until thickened, 60-90 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Jam is done when you can swipe a finger across the back of your spoon and the path remains.
  6. Blend briefly with an immersion blender if you'd like a smoother texture.
  7. Let cool and transfer to jars.
  8. Refrigerate for up to two weeks, or freeze for 6 months.
Yield: 2 to 3 cups.
    Notes: Flavor is the name of the game here, so obviously you'll want to use only homegrown or farmer's market cherry tomatoes. This recipe doubles well. My first (single) batch made just over 2 cups. The next time I made it, I doubled the recipe and got just over 5 cups. Can't wait to try this on a grilled cheese sandwich, panini, cheeseburger... hmm, what else?

    Monday, September 17, 2012

    Refresh With Lemon Cucumbers

    Garden Fresh Lemon Cucumbers
    Thanks to a gift from a gardening friend last spring, our garden has been giving us lovely Lemon Cucumbers this summer and fall. I for one, couldn't be happier. Cucumbers have to be one of the most refreshing snacks ever. With their slight hint of citrus-ness, Lemon Cucumbers are even more so. 

    They've been really easy to grow; we have them in a pot with a bit of trellis propped in it. Keep them watered regularly, don't let the leaves get wet, guide their vines where you want them, and clip the cukes off as soon as they look ready. I've noticed that once cut from the vine, they start to lose their plump firmness, so plan on eating them within a day of picking.

    I usually just scrub them, slice off the ends, then cut them into quarters or slice them across like any other cucumber. We leave the skins on and eat them by themselves, or include them in a salad. Sometimes I'll drop a slice into my glass of ice water... super refreshing!

    Next year we're definitely getting another one of these vines... we might even have to get two of them!
    Happy growing!

    Wednesday, September 12, 2012

    From The South To My Mouth

    Classic Southern Pralines
    Have you ever had a real southern-style praline? You'd know it if you had. Buttery, rich, nutty and sweet, with a bit of snap and a touch of grit... sounds like the type of person I wouldn't mind being, actually.

    As some of the roots anchoring my family tree pass through southern soil, I find myself wondering if my affinity for pecans, ripe peaches, bourbon and bluegrass has been genetically gifted to me. My mother has always had a soft spot for things like pickled watermelon rind and pimiento cheese... is that a familial proclivity? I discovered grits (well, polenta actually, but close enough) a few years ago and it immediately became a staple at my house, both at breakfast and dinner. Could that be some latent awakening of my southern soul? I sometimes wonder about these things.

    Puddles Of Sweetness
    As for pralines... when I was a child, my parents went to New Orleans on vacation and brought us back a box of pecan pralines. I'd never tasted anything like them. They became the high-point on my scale of confection perfection. I was officially obsessed. I even tried to make them once when I was a teenager... which led me to believe that pralines were not something you could make successfully at home.

    I came across some purely by chance at a restaurant in San Antonio once... and happily brought some home with me of course. But that was a dozen years ago. Everything is different now. I won't have to wait another decade or travel a couple thousand miles for my next one. Now I can make them whenever I want*, no matter where I am...

    The Lady Insisted
    When I first read this recipe for Classic Southern Pralines I was surprised by its simplicity. It looked almost... easy. So I bookmarked it and forgot about it. Well, my inner-southern "belle" started ringing in the back of my head and she just kept getting more and more insistent. So I gave in and gave it a go... my mother always told me, "When a lady insists, there is no further argument". I wonder if that's a southern-thing?

    You'll want to make some yourself... Classic Southern Pralines from The Kitchn

    Notes: I made these twice in two weeks. The first time I was a little too slow in realizing the point at which to stop stirring and start dropping. Nevertheless they were delicious enough to make again (in the interest of perfecting my skill, of course). The second batch turned out perfectly. It really comes down to observing and anticipating what's happening in the pot after you take it off the heat. That and having everything ready and set up beforehand. Like a roller-coaster ride, it doesn't take very long but there's no stopping once you've started! Once you've scooped out and dropped all the pralines, scrape the pan immediately with a metal spoon, don't wait. Save the scrapings to sprinkle over ice cream or fruit later.

    A Note About Nuts: I made these with walnuts instead of pecans. Not because I prefer them, and not as a nod to my northern home, but because they are cheaper. Period. And I toast them in a pan first. I think they taste even better that way.

    *Why this is an ever so slightly erroneous statement: I will most likely not make more of these until Christmas. I'd really better not. You see, I cannot be left alone in the house with them. I will eat them all. They really are that good. So while I can make these whenever I want...  really, I don't dare.

    Friday, September 7, 2012

    Lavender & Apricot Breakfast Rolls

    Lavender Apricot Breakfast Rolls
    From the recipe files: Made these the other day on a whim and we really liked them... they actually went together pretty fast too (no yeast!). The lavender in the dough is just right, not overpowering, and the apricot filling pairs with it perfectly. Looking a bit like cinnamon rolls but with a biscuit-y texture, they were especially tasty alongside a pot of vanilla scented black tea. 

    It's really starting to feel like Autumn around here and I'm finding myself wanting to bake more. In other words, I'll be making these again... and again...

    Lavender & Apricot Breakfast Rolls
    adapted from: Napa Valley Lavender Co.*

    2 1/4 cups flour
    1/2 cup sugar
    2 1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    Tblsp chilled butter
    Tblsp fresh (or 1 Tblsp dried) lavender flowers, chopped 
    1/2 cup milk
    1 large egg, lightly beaten

    4 Tblsp apricot preserves
    2 Tbsp butter, softened
    4-5 chopped dried apricots

    2 tsp sugar

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wipe the inside of an 8-inch round cake pan or a pie plate with butter or oil.

    Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the cold butter into small pieces (or use a grater if frozen) and work into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or your fingers, just until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the lavender. Add the milk and egg, stirring only until combined. 

    Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently but firmly pat the dough together, then knead it briefly until dough holds together. Dust the top with a little flour and roll into a 9 by 11 inch rectangle. 

    Mix apricot preserves and soft butter together. Warm for a few seconds in the microwave if it's too cold and not blending. Spread mixture over dough, leaving a 1/2 inch strip bare along one long side of the rectangle. Sprinkle the chopped apricots over the top. 

    Beginning with the opposite side, roll into a log. Pinch the seam along the length to seal. Cut the log into nine even slices. Place slices in the prepared pan, with one in the middle and the rest in a ring around it. Sprinkle sugar over the tops of the rolls. 

    Bake at 375°F for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Turn the rolls out of the pan and onto a serving plate. Gently separate each one with a dinner knife and serve.

    Notes: I spread a little butter over the pan of rolls right after they came out of the oven  :^) Mmmm!

    * I've had 3 pages of printed out recipes from the Napa Valley Lavender Co. website kicking around in my copious recipe files for years... no idea how long. When I went to add their link to this recipe though, the website is no where to be found... apparently they are no longer around. The identical recipes are all over the web though and I have no idea where they actually originated... NVLCo. or somewhere else. Un petit mystery, n'est-ce pas?

    Sunday, September 2, 2012

    Strawberry Mint Lemonade


    Last time on As The Strawberry Turns we saw the husband make garden pallet-craft for his loving wife, even though he really really doesn't like pallet-crafting... we shared their hopes and dreams of a bounteous strawberry-filled summer... we saw 15 strawberry plants survive neglect and abuse at the hands of the sweet but forgetful couple... 

    By the start of September however, the girl was afraid that something was amiss. There were still no flowers, and thus no fruit, happening on these 15 remaining plants. It was then that she began to suspect that these "mid-to-late season" strawberries that they planted (and her dream of berry-ful bounty) might have to wait until next summer for fruition.

    The girl, not wanting to take any chances, went and did what any other girl might do in her position and she got herself to the nearest CostCo and bought a big bountiful bag of beautiful (but frozen) strawberries.

    The End... (at least until next summer anyway).

    Strawberry-Mint Lemonade

    5 cups water
    20 frozen strawberries (or fresh if you've got them)
    2 sprigs of fresh peppermint
    1/2 cup lemon juice
    6 Tblsp honey

    In a small pan, bring 3 cups of the water and the strawberries, to a boil. Remove from heat, add the mint, cover and let cool. Smash the strawberries in the pan, then strain through a sieve. Add the lemon juice, the honey, and the rest of the water. Mix well. Serve over ice.

    Notes: A lemonade that's "just right" for me may be too tart (or too sweet) for you. These things can always be adjusted though. Experiment with different amounts, different herbs, different sweeteners... on a hot day you can't go wrong as long as it's poured over lots of ice.