Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pomegranate Chutney

I love using quintessential seasonal ingredients. Right now the abundance of pomegranate simply beckons me, loudly. I try and come with all kinds of ways to use the deep red seeds called arils, mostly tossing them in salads I take to work. When it comes to pomegranate I am also overcome with laziness and rarely seed the fruit myself. My friend Ivy would say I am missing half the fun when I purchase small containers of just the arils. But I am not interested in staining my hands deep red and I just want immediate gratification with spoons full of the tart tangy seeds popping in my mouth. Sometimes I get pure pomegranate juice and mix it with my tonic water for a tasty drink. I love tonic water, tonic with cherry juice or tonic with pomegranate juice.

Tomorrow I am having good friends over for dinner. People I care dearly about, all with different dietary issues. It's been fun trying to come up with a menu that is seasonally festive as well as gluten and vegan friendly. As I envisioned the evening all I could see was bright glistening pomegranate seeds. My friend Ivy suggested pomegranate guacamole. What could be more seasonal that green guacamole dotted with little red jewels! I found a festive nonalcoholic pomegranate "mimosa" recipe that is so simple, mixing sparkling apple cider and pomegranate juice. Sounds good to me! Then I realized I was going to have a good amount of vegan cream cheese left over from a potato dish I am making . Extra cream cheese screams chutney to me. My mother used to smother bricks of Philadelphia cream cheese with red pepper jelly at Christmas time. I am very partial to chutney, cream cheese and crackers. I am actually partial to chutney in general and have made chutney with just about every imaginable ingredient. It is a stable with all the Indian food I enjoy. So why not try a pomegranate chutney. This recipe is going to knock your socks off. I can hardly wait for it to cool to test it with a cracker and some cream cheese. If you like pomegranate and cherry this chutney is for you!

Pomegranate Chutney

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
12 ounces fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted, or frozen
1/2 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a deep pot heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, ginger and garlic, cook about 5 minutes, until tender and translucent. Stir in cinnamon and allspice, cook 15-20 seconds, until fragrant. Add cherries, pomegranate juice and sugar. Increase heat to medium-high, bringing to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, medium-low and simmer, uncovered 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally until chutney is thickened. Remove from heat, stir in pomegranate seeds and salt. Cool to room temp and refrigerate chutney, covered. Enjoy anyway you like!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

One of my favorite bloggers, Shauna James Ahern from http://glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com/ posted a recipe for gluten-free rugelach today. I am not a baker. I would much rather eat something savory than sweet but they looked so good and I had everything I needed to make these traditional Jewish cookies.

I am a big fan of Shauna's. Her website was the very first I stumbled on when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I am not sure what the connection was but something resonated in me when I read her posts. I loved her attitude and her approach, focusing on what one could eat on a gluten-free diet. I traveled all the way to Chicago to meet her when she was on her first book signing tour. She feels like kindred spirit to me.

When she posted her rugelach recipe this morning I couldn't wait to get started. You will have to visit her site for the recipe. I might steal ideas to post on but I don't take recipes! Besides you will love her even if your not GF, if only for her writing! I followed her directions exactly, including her advice to weigh the flours on a scale. Gone are the days of measuring flour in measuring cups, simply not good enough. Shauna provides directions for a log style technique as well as the more traditional twists. Since I don't have much experience in baking GF I decided to go with the log, it seemed less fragile and easier. Next time I will try the twists since they are so attractive. I made a traditional filling with apricot preserves, cinnamon, brown sugar, white sugar, raisins and toasted chopped pecans.

The only time I veered off course was when I pulled the rugelach out of the oven. I couldn't wait for the logs to cool to room temperature before cutting as directed in the recipe. I started cutting small pieces off each end, four ends what harm could that do. Before I knew it I was digging right into the middle of the logs, cutting one piece after another and eating them. The pastry is a flaky, melt in your mouth pastry without any grittiness you get with the usual GF baked stuff. Now I know exactly what Shauna meant when she wrote, "This is a stand-in-front-of-the-stove post."

I am thrilled with my results! With any luck there will be some left for Tina when she gets home from work tonight. I can't wait to share these with some real connoisseurs, perhaps the next time I am invited to Shabbat

Monday, December 14, 2009

Genius Gadget

We all love our kitchen aide mixer. How could we live without this must have kitchen appliance. But admit it, you do have a pet peeve about this essential and expensive device. The paddle attachment simply doesn't cut it, leaving tuns of unmixed batter along the edges of the bowl. You constantly have to stop the mixing and take a spatula to the rim, incorporating the unmixed batter. A real pet peeve, a nuisance to say the least.

Well I got an early stocking stuffer last night during our annual "Home Alone" movie night, Tina's favorite holiday tradition. We eat really fun gunk food like artichoke dip and peanut M and M's and watch this (awful) holiday movie (I hate slapstick humor). My niece Katie joins us, the only one with any sensibility. She arrived with three bags of fresh cherries. Although she ate her fair share of the dip and the M and M's. I guess the cherries were for me.

Anyway, I am getting off track, the genius gadget. Tina was giddy about a particular item in my stocking. After some convincing that I should have an early present I opened the small package from Cooks of Crocus Hill, http://www.cooksofcrocushill.com/ , my mother ship.

A new attachment for the kitchen aide mixer, a brilliant attachment in fact. It is a paddle attachment with spatula like edges that actually reaches the rim of the bowl preventing unmixed batter from mounting. It swipes the bowl clean with each whirl. No more pausing every few moments to wipe down the sides yourself. I love this gadget. I put it to the test this morning with some very tacky and hard to manage gingerbread batter. Not a speck of unmixed batter on the rim of my bowl. It was slick like a magic trick. I am headed to Cooks this morning to get several more for stocking stuffers for my baking pals.

The gingerbread, well it is one of Tina's favorite holiday treats so perhaps there was a secondary gain for her in my opening a present early. She will come home to her favorite treat covered in cool whip tonight!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jerusalem Artichokes

I found some Jerusalem Artichokes at Whole Foods yesterday, on my mission to find some concentrated cherry juice. New vegetables always catch my eye. I had never had Jerusalem Artichokes before and was actually looking for a second vegetable to serve with my roasted chicken for dinner so I bought a pack. Of course when I got home I had to do a little research to find out exactly what they are and how to prepare them. They look like knobs of ginger or fresh raw horseradish, and I love both so naturally these would appeal to me. They are loaded with potassium, iron, fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus and copper.

I knew they had nothing to do with the traditional artichoke or Jerusalem but I did not know they were also part of the Daisy family. In my reading I discovered they are actually a tuber and also go by the names sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambur. They come from the sunflower.

So what to do with them? I love root vegetable of all kinds, especially roasted so I decided to peel and roast them. They peeled easily, although a few of them seemed a bit soft and sort of mushy so I tossed those, thinking they might be spoiled. The harder crunchy raw tubers tasted like a potato only sweeter and nuttier. I tossed them in olive oil and generously sprinkled with salt and pepper and tossed them in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes.

They were excellent! More importantly they passed Tina's taste test and her brother liked them as well. I didn't have too many of them and I am sure we all would have eaten more. They were indeed sweeter than a potato but similar in texture. They had caramelized in the oven which contributed to the sweetness.

Now here's the thing, I developed an unusual amount of flatulence shortly after dinner which lasted well into the evening and early hours of the morning. My belly bloated and was uncomfortable with gastric pain all night long. So I did a bit more reading this morning and learned that the Jerusalem Artichoke tubers store the carbohydrate inulin (not to be confused with insulin) instead of starch like most tubers. For this reason they are a source of fructose. The carbohydrates give them a tendency to become soft and mushy (probably a wise decision to toss my softer mushier tubers). The inulin is not well digested by some people, obviously I am one of them, and can lead to flatulence and gastric pain.

The great English planter John Goodyer wrote on the Jerusalem Artichoke in the Oxford Companion to Food "which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine the men". Had I read this before indulging, I might not have. Will I eat them again, yes! They were worth the gas and pain. I would however make a disclaimer if I ever serve them to guests again. I hope Charlie and Tina didn't have too rough a night!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jack Frost's Pumpkin Pie

Everyone is posting about pumpkin pie this time of year! Of course we all think we have the best, the perfect pumpkin pie recipe, including myself. I am not a pie person. In fact I don't really have much of a sweet tooth. I would always opt for something savory before something sweet. But Tina, well she and her mother love pumpkin pie. More often than not we are in Florida for Thanksgiving and Christmas, sometimes for as long as 4-6 weeks (the benefits of an academic calendar). During these visits Tina and her mom eat pumpkin pie several times a week. Once Thanksgiving and Christmas day pass the local grocery store, Publix's puts pies on sale for $1.99 until they are gone. They have a routine. The pie arrives, it sits on the counter until after dinner and they each have a piece, claiming this is going to the the only piece they eat. Come morning time, the pie is gone and both are equally dumbfounded. Who finished the pie? Well, it sure isn't me as the pie is not GF. I can speculate with some degree of certainty that they both sneak into the kitchen through out the evening and into the night helping themselves to more pie. A few days later, another pie shows up and the same thing, the pie is gone in the morning. However, we usually don't stay at Tina's mother's so when we return the next day and the pie is gone, it is less perplexing!

While I don't love pie, I do appreciate an occasional piece every now and then. I don't really like to bake so I am limited to making single crust pies which I can purchase already made from Whole Foods. The GF pie crusts from Whole Foods are really quite good! Especially if your making a no bake pie and you cook the crust before filling. In fact, I cook the crust first even if I am making a pie that is going to be baked. It is just better.

Our version of the ever popular pumpkin pie is inspired from Famous Dave's and Tina is convinced that the secret ingredient is clover honey. She might be right!

Jack Frost's Pumpkin Pie

One pie crust
15 ounces of canned pumpkin
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup premium clover honey (preferably from your local beekeeper)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
12 ounce can evaporated milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
generous 1/3 cup whipping cream

Prepare your crust. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.Combine pumpkin, brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and mace in a bowl, mix until blended. Whisk evaporated milk, eggs and vanilla until well blended. Add the milk mixture to the pumpkin mixture and beat at medium speed for two minutes. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the prepared pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an hour or longer, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely. Whip cream and pipe around the edge or serve a dollop of whipped cream with each piece of pie.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas Caramels

I just love Christmas traditions. When Tina and I got together 10 years ago she taught me how to make caramels and let me in on a secret family recipe from her Aunt. Tina loved her Aunt's caramels, so much so that she invested in nickel plated square bars to make molds for pouring her own caramel.

I am not sure how it happened but over the course of a few years I was the only one making caramels around here, thousands of them every Christmas. I established my own tradition, starting on Halloween and pouring several thousand caramels a season. Each one wrapped in red or green taffy paper, and packaged in a box or festive bag. They became my signature Christmas gift. Friends and family have come to expect the annual delivery.

Every now and again, I threaten to take a year off. After all they are very labor intensive and consume my every day between Halloween and the middle of December. Cooking, pouring, cutting, wrapping, packaging and mailing . . . it is a huge undertaking. I doubt I could actually take a year off though. I would miss the compliments too much!

In addition to the caramels we also make turtles. What could be better than toasted pecans, caramel and chocolate. These never get mailed out to anyone, the only way to get one is to get invited over during the holidays. We have tried walnuts and cashews but honestly, toasted pecan is the very best. We make milk chocolate and dark chocolate, using the very best chocolate we can find, always struggling with the process of tempering. This year Tina hit a high note with tempering the dark chocolate and they were perfect.

I can't give out the recipe, it is not mine to give but I have taught several of my nieces and nephews, and a friend or two how to make the caramels. My nieces Katie and Megan have spent several evenings over the years in our kitchen making their own stash for giving. It is a tradition I am happy to pass on to them.