Monday, June 28, 2010

STRAWBERRY BUTTER WEEKEND

Dash doesn't yet know how to throw a football, sew on a button, or ride a bike.
But he makes killer strawberry butter.
He and I spent three days making strawberry butter in order to submit our own recipe to a contest over at the fabulous food52 (a great food website—social media/networking at its best).  Every time we had a spare moment Dash would run full tilt into the kitchen and yell, "Let's make more strawberry butter!!!!" We had many ramekins of strawberry butter stacked precariously on top of the ice cream in the freezer.

Dash tested every version.
In the end, Dash and I made a beautiful, creamy, cotton candy-pink butter with big chunks of softened strawberries. Not too sweet. Some vanilla bean. And a bit of crunchy salt. But it took a few rounds to get there.

Our strawberry butter kept splitting. It was such an unappetizing texture. I poked my head into the kitchen at Elmwood Cafe and asked pastry chef Mark Chacon a few questions. Props to Mark for alerting me to the high moisture content of strawberries and its potential effects on butter. All that thick strawberry syrup was tasty but it was too much for the butter to stand. So I strained off most of the syrup. Before adding the strawberries,  I whipped the butter up with a tablespoon of powdered sugar in the hopes that it would help things stabilize. Success.
We were ready to submit the recipe. Photos were taken. The recipe was written up. I went to download the recipe and I realized we had missed the food52 deadline by two days! I won't repeat the awful words I said to the computer at this point. But Dash could probably tell you since he has heard all these swear words since birth. But at least we had a freezer full of strawberry butter and a blog (this one!) on which to upload the recipe. Nothing lost.

Here are some uses for strawberry butter (besides just eating it out of the dish like Bella did):
1. Topping for waffles and pancakes.
2. Inside Danish ebilskiver (recipe coming soon).
3. On toast.
4. On buttermilk biscuits(anyone have a great recipe?).

I added some blackberries and raspberries to the leftover strawberry syrup and poured it over ice cream and pancakes.


CARAMELIZED VANILLA BEAN STRAWBERRY BUTTER WITH FLEUR DE SEL
printable recipe 

ingredients:
1 tablespoon granulated sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it)
1 tablespoon water
1 cup stemmed strawberries, cut into about 1 inch pieces (or bigger)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/3 vanilla bean, sliced in half and seeds scraped out OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
fleur de sel or other coarse/crunchy salt, for the butter AND the top

directions:
Mix granulated sugar and water in a medium-sized saucepan. Swirl around until sugar is dissolved. Keep watching the sugar. When it just starts to caramelize (light brown), turn off the flame. Mix in strawberries and coat with the caramelized sugar. But back on a low flame and cook until strawberries just start to soften (3-5 minutes ). Add a squeeeze of lemon juice. Continue cooking for one more minute. Take off the flame and cool until room temperature.

Combine soft butter, powdered sugar, a pinch of salt, and vanilla bean seeds (or extract) in a mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix together really well (2 minutes high speed). Add 1/3 of the cooked strawberries and leave most of the liquid behind. Mix really well again on high speed (at this point you're coloring the butter by mashing the cooked berries). By hand, gently mix in another 1/3 of the strawberries with very little syrup (this time you're keeping the berry pieces intact). If you like lots of strawbery chunks in your butter you can add the final 1/3 of strawberries (again leaving the liquid behind) or save them for another use. Scrape strawberry butter into a ramekin. Before serving, sprinkle the top with another pinch fleur de sel to add some extra crunch. The butter tastes best served right away. But you can refrigerate it up to 5 days. And it freezes really well and stays a beautiful vibrant color. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

IN PRINT

I have some cool news. I have a recipe. In a cookbook. A real deal fancy-pants hardcover COOKBOOK!

It's called Thinkfood and it was sponsored and published by Posit Science.  They've gathered recipes from 50 food bloggers featuring "brain-healthy" ingredients. Luckily their list of healthful foods includes chocolate. Their idea is "to take an integrated approach to brain health that includes brain training and brain healthy eating." (I just tried to do one of their 60 second brain games online called The Farmers' Challenge and it kicked my butt!)

The hardcover cookbook is coming out in July.  Here's a sneak peek of the cover.

Another way to view the recipes is to sign up for the Thinkfood Cookbook Recipe of the Week. It's pretty much how it sounds. They will email you one recipe a week for the next 50 weeks. Free free free.

I can't tell you about my featured recipe because they've sworn us to secrecy. But I will say that it's one of my spring favorites.

Here are the 50 food bloggers from around the world featured in the cookbook. I'm in some great company.

Friday, June 4, 2010

EDIBLE COMPOST

Over and over again, my kids bring me SMACK into the present and cause my heart to race. The save-Dash's-life-before-he-runs-into-the-street moment, the tackling-Dash-before-he-swallows-all-the-vitamins moment, the deep-breath-to-control-my-anger moment. The bummer is that when I'm not saving a life, tackling my son, or calming my anger,  I'm very spacey and tired. Except, for some reason, in the kitchen. 

Cooking with Dash and Bella, I am at my most alert and my most calm. I breathe deeply, I watch them like a hawk, and I let them play. I even take pictures. The kitchen is where I feel that my sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are working in tandem and are not at odds. Ask Bella and she will tell you that I'm NOT alert and calm when I'm trying to hustle them out the door in the morning to get to school.  
Dash seems to have found some of the same equilibrium that I've found in the kitchen. At least I see the potential. He holds his hands together to resist grabbing everything. He tries to work with me. If he holds my hand while I chop he feels like an equal participant.

But a few weeks ago he couldn't control himself anymore. He threw a peeler at my head AND dumped a huge bowl of stinky compost all over me and the floor. I've cooked with him almost every day during the past year and this was his first massive freak out in a long time. Usually he listens and asks the most amazing questions.

"Will my hands die if I touch the hot pan? Just like my pants died when I left them at school?"
"Yeah, Dashi. Something like that." 

Despite the peeler incident, we have made a batch of Roasted Sweet Red Pepper Purée every week for the past 2 months. I use it in something almost every day. 
We're trying to waste less food and make more versatile concoctions that work in numerous dishes. The first few times we made this recipe it was to clean out our fridge. A scrap of lemon, a months-old jar of sweet roasted red peppers, an extra shallot, two different kinds of capers, and a few anchovy fillets. But now we make this purée because we crave it. Dashi and I have started roasting our own red bell peppers. We throw them in a cast iron pan and under the broiler until they are soft, juicy, and partially  blackened. 

Then we cover the peppers with a lid for 10 minutes to let them steam. Dash finds it very satisfying to slide off the skins and plop the slices into the jar.
Get yourself a big jar and combine the roasted red peppers with any scraps from the citrus and onion families—my favorites for this being lemon, garlic, and shallots (a reader just warned me not to use fresh orange juice because it breaks down—thanks Meghan!). Add something briny like capers, some balsamic vinegar, and some pungent olive oil. And, of course, some anchovies. And then let it sit in the fridge all week. 
While the ingredients macerate, use the flavored oil for marinades and salad dressings. Stir it daily. And make sure to replace whatever flavored oil you've taken out with more olive oil so that everything is covered. Dash likes to taste and replenish the oil.
Remove the lemon halves before puréeing the mix and save them because they are infused with fabulous flavors. You can stuff the halves into a chicken cavity before roasting. Or slice them up and use them to infuse rice or couscous while cooking.

The flavor is slightly different each time. Thanks to Dash, this particular batch had a lot of lemon zest and diced shallots. And a bit too much balsamic vinegar.
Once puréed, it freezes really well. This is another way to prevent waste. It lasts for months in the freezer.
You can use the purée as the base for a tart. We did one on puff pastry with caramelized onions, pancetta, and dill.

OTHER USES FOR ROASTED SWEET RED PEPPER PUREE THAT WE TRIED AND LIKED:

1. Mix the purée into a meatloaf (recipe coming soon). Add additional purée as a glaze.
2. Add more balsamic vinegar and use it as a glaze for steak or salmon.
3. Turn it into pesto (of course!) by adding nuts and cheese.
4. Smear it on chicken pieces before baking.
5. Melt a frozen cube into couscous. Add pine nuts and currants.
6. Serve over pasta with a handful of peas, fresh goat cheese, and chopped parsley.
7. Add 1 teaspoon mustard to 1 tablespoon of the purée and whisk in 2-3 tablespoons olive oil for a vinaigrette.


ROASTED SWEET RED PEPPER PUREE:
printable recipe
These amounts and ingredients are somewhat arbitrary. Use what you have in the fridge. Leave out the anchovies if you want. Add some olives. 

You can use roasted red peppers from a jar. Or you can do do the peppers yourself: Char 3 red peppers over a flame or under a broiler. Keep turning them around until they are mostly black. Place hot peppers in a bowl covered with sarah wrap (or a pot covered with a lid). Let steam for at least 10 minutes. Peel off charred skin into a strainer over a bowl. Let the pepper juice drip down. Still over the strainer, break open the peppers, strip out the seeds, stem, and fibrous interior. Set the pepper strips into a separate bowl. Tear the pepper into any size strips. Pour strained juice over strips.

8 strips of roasted red peppers (about 3 peppers total)
5-10 anchovy plus fillets plus oil 
2 tablespoons capers plus brine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, grated or pressed or finely chopped
3 shallots, diced
1 lemon, juice + zest
pinch of salt
pepper to taste

Directions:
Place all ingredients in a jar, including the lemon halves that have been juiced and zested. Press everything down so that it's below the surface of the liquid. Add more olive oil if you need to. Keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Spoon off oil to make salad dressings and marinades. Add more olive oil to replace what you've taken. Take out lemon halves and save them (you can stuff them inside a chicken before roasting). Purée in a food processor or blender. It will keep for a few days in the fridge. Or you can freeze it in an ice cube tray and then store cubes in a ziploc bag up to 6 months.