Tuesday, September 27, 2011

White Peaches with Saffron Jam

Several years ago, several months after I began this blog, I participated in Steph Chow's initial Jam Exchange.  Steph organizes this each summer, pairing participating bloggers who produce and exchange two half pint jars of jam.  Although Tjing and I don't really eat a lot of jam, I decided to participate as a way to motivate myself to try something I might otherwise choose not to do.

Making the jam itself didn't seem particularly daunting, but canning it successfully, without producing a toxic gift package, did give me qualms.  Science wasn't exactly my forte in school, and canning seemed an arcane and possibly perilous undertaking.  Anyone who has canned at home knows the relief I felt when the lids of those first jars pinged as the jars cooled.

In reality, if you can bake a cake, you can can.  It's simply a matter of following some steps and paying attention to details.  You may need to step up your game (and buy a pressure canner) to do more challenging canning with low acid foods, but preserves and jams seem fairly straightforward.

Although the rules allow you to send two half-pint jars of the same jam, I always try to send two different jams.  Both the jams I sent this year were adapted from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures.  Sacramento enjoyed a remarkably cool summer which seemed to extend the peach season.  As I was still able to get some good white peaches in September, I chose to try Ferber's recipe for white peaches with saffron.  This produces a very nice jam with a subtle flavor and hue from the saffron.  It is quite splendid on a warm buttermilk biscuit.

3 pounds of firm, ripe white peaches
3 1/2  to 3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
juice of 1 small lemon
a pinch of saffron (Ferber calls for 15 threads)

Blanch the the peaches in boiling water for a minute or two.  Remove and immediately place the peaches in an ice bath.  After peeling the peaches, cut them in half and remove their pits.  Thinly slice the halves and put in a large pan with the sugar, lemon juice, and saffron.  Bring this mixture to a simmer and then turn into a glass bowl.  Allow to cool, then cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, pour this mixture through a sieve set over a large pan to drain the liquid from the fruit.  Boil this syrup, skimming the froth, until it reaches 221º F on a candy thermometer.  Add the peaches and return to a boil for about 5 minutes, skimming as needed.  As soon as the mixture reaches 221º F, remove from heat and place into jars.  Follow the directions for canning jams.

(Ferber suggests simply ladling the jam into sterilized jars, placing on the lids, and turning the jars upside down--forgoing the water bath method of canning.  While this may be fine for the French ;-), it falls short of USDA guidelines. Fearful of shipping off a half-pint of botulism--and with my veins flowing red, white, and blue--I follow the American guidelines.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ahi Poke

If you look towards the right side of the island, you'll notice the landing strip for Bandaneira, the main island in Central Maluku.  Landing on the strip in a twin engine prop is a exhilarating experience.  As you approach the island you notice how the strip bisects the island where it narrows.  It seems impossible that the plane will stop before the strip ends and you find yourself in the sea, but it does.  At least it did when I flew there in the late 80s.

Bandaneira is an island that doesn't attract too many foreign visitors although some of the best snorkeling in Indonesia can be found there and at other nearby islands.  It was here that the Dutch East Indies Company shifted from being simply a commercial force to a colonizing power.  Nutmeg is indigenous to the Banda islands, and the Dutch so wanted to maintain absolute control over the production of the spice that they traded Manhattan to the British for one of the islands.

I traveled there by myself, staying in a guesthouse for a few dollars a day.  The only other tourists at the time were a handful of young Germans who had the charming habit of dipping tobacco and were intent on getting some good underwater pictures of sharks.  The apparent leader of the group seemed to be the heaviest user of the dip, and as he spoke he would intermittently pause and dribble some dark saliva into a cup he carried.

They had a great wealth of underwater cameras, lights, and gear for filming their snorkeling excursions.  We all hiked up the adjacent volcano one day before snorkeling in a beautiful cove.  Because he wanted to get some good close-ups of sharks if possible, the dipper thought it would be a good idea to tie a mesh bag filled with fish heads around his waist while he snorkeled.  I swam away from the group.

It was during this trip I first had raw ahi.  A sport fishing boat that was connected to the hotel in town had caught some yellowfin.  I happened to be at the hotel when they arrived and proceeded to fillet the fish and serve up some pieces with some wasabi and soy sauce.  That began my appreciation for raw ahi.

Poke is a Hawaiian dish of ahi and onion with a simple dressing of soy sauce, sesame oil and a few other ingredients.  As with any recipe for raw ahi, the most important thing is to make sure you use only the best, freshest sashimi grade ahi.  The recipe is adapted from HAWAI'I Magazine.

1/2 lb. fresh ahi cubed into 1/4 inch pieces
1 TBS Ponzu sauce
1 TBS soy sauce
2 green onions, chopped, including green tops
2 TBS chopped Maui onion (or sweet yellow onion)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp Lingham's Hot Sauce with Garlic
Sea salt, to taste
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp roasted kemiri (candlenut) ground with 1/2 tsp sea salt

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.  Refrigerate for two hours before serving.

Tjing and I make a meal of this with rice and wakame (a kind of seaweed), but it also makes a nice appetizer served with fried won ton skins.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cherry Tomato Clafoutis

I first encountered Patricia Wells while working in Sungei Besi refugee camp in Malaysia.  Having little else of interest to read, I would read every inch of the International Herald Tribune, including the financial news and coverage of test cricket, two subjects I remain woefully ignorant of.  Patricia Wells' articles came out once or twice a week as I recall. 

While almost all the writing in the paper was of a very high standard--even the cricket coverage could be compelling--I particularly enjoyed Wells' articles.  Mostly reviews of Parisian eateries, her writing was informative and informed.  When she praised a particular chef's handling of bouillabaisse, she placed it within the context of other chefs' treatment of the dish, not only pointing out the differences, but explaining why each chose the approach they did.  It was obvious when reading her that Wells had a great knowledge of and keen passion for the food she wrote about.  Living on a $500 a month salary, working in a rather bleak refugee camp on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, I found myself transported to the bistros and restaurants Wells assayed in her articles.

Although I tend to cook mostly Asian food and thus my collection of cookbooks skews towards recipes from those countries, I do have a handful of other cookbooks I enjoy.  For French and Italian food I am partial to Wells and Joyce Goldstein.  Both authors not only write clear, tasty recipes, but also include information on the background of the dishes and useful tips along with a clean prose style.  I have seldom been disappointed in any of the recipes I have tried from either of these authors.

Having stopped by the Mien strawberry stand down the street from my house, I discovered they had these brilliant jewels of cherry tomatoes little bigger than peas.  Once I saw them, I decided I'd have to find a way to use them.  This recipe for cherry tomato clafoutis is adapted from Wells' recipe for tomato clafoutis from Patricia Wells at Home in Provence.  Larger cherry tomatoes would work just as well--and be a lot less time consuming when halving and salting.  Wells recipe (which I halved) calls for baking the clafoutis in a 10 1/2-inch round baking dish. 

1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
fine sea salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3 TBS heavy cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

Place the halved tomatoes in a colander, cut side up.  Sprinkle them with the salt.  Set aside for 30 to 60 minutes to allow the salt to draw the liquid from the tomatoes.  Then place the tomatoes in a bowl lined with paper towels. 

In a small bowl, bet together the egg, yolk, cream, half the cheese, and half the thyme leaves.

Divide the tomatoes between two four-inch ramekins.  Pour the batter over the tomatoes.  Top with the remaining thyme and cheese. 

Bake in the oven until the batter is set and the clafoutis is golden.  Serve warm or at room temperature. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Choy Sum Stir Fried with Eggs--Cah Caisim Orak-arik Telur

Indonesian food is a marvelous melange of ingredients and influences from around the world.  Peanuts, native to South America, were brought to Asia by the Portuguese.  Although nutmeg and cloves are native to Indonesia, many other spices commonly used in Indonesian dishes, including coriander and cumin, drifted to the islands from traders to the west.  Dutch, Portuguese, Arabic, Indian, Chinese and Champa influences are evident in the culture and cuisine of Indonesia.  Although  Chinese were reported to comprise less than 2% of the the population in the 2000 census, they have had a disproportionally large impact on Indonesian society and culture.  Of course, one of the greatest areas of impact is on the food.

There are countless recipes entitled orak arik.  Simply meaning scrambled, these are simple stir fry dishes in which eggs are scrambled with vegetables.  They are quick, flavorful, and a good source for protein for people unable to afford or not wanting to consume meat.  The ingredients as well as the cooking method point to the obvious Chinese origin of this dish.  Along with some steamed rice it makes for a most satisfying meal.

This is another recipe adapted from 240 Resep Hindangan Sehari-Hari untuk 2 Bulan 
(240 Recipes of Dishes for Every Day for 2 Months).

1 bunch of choy sum (about 1/2 pound) cut in 2-inch lengths
2 eggs, beaten
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
4 shallots, thinly sliced
2 red chiles, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 tsp fish sauce
1 TBS oyster sauce
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp sugar
2 TBS water
2 green onions, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces on the diagonal

2 TBS oil for stir-frying

Heat the oil in a wok and stir in the garlic, shallots and chiles.  Briefly fry until fragrant, then push to the side of the wok.  Add the beaten eggs and stir until scrambled.  Then add the choy sum, stirring until limp.  Add the fish sauce, oyster sauce, salt, pepper, and sugar.  Fry quickly, tossing the vegetables and eggs to coat thoroughly with the sauce.  Add the water and cook for a minute or two so everything is well cooked.  Stir in the green onions.  Remove from heat and pour into a serving dish.  Serve immediately.  (Although in Indonesia this might well be cooked at noon and not be eaten until several hours later, most Americans will probably enjoy this dish served hot.)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Corn Fritters with Lemon Basil--Perkedel Jagung Kemangi

Perkedel jagung are one of my favorite Indonesian dishes.  Usually served as part of a nasi tumpeng, they also make a great appetizer or snack.  I usually make them with a little fresh shrimp and kaffir lime leaves as in this recipe, but came across this vegetarian version while in Kediri this summer and thought I'd give it a try.  Right now both corn and kemangi (lemon basil) are readily available at the farmer's market, so this is the perfect end of summer dish.

Fried basil is a delicate flare of flavor that enlivens these fritters.  The crispness the leaves take on from frying is a nice counterpoint to the sweet corn.  For those who want a little more kick, try adding some thinly sliced chilies to the batter. 

The only tricky part of this recipe is getting the oil to the right temperature.  You want it to be hot enough that the fritters don't absorb too much oil, but not so hot that the fritters brown too much before being cooked through.  I fry them in a wok with about an inch of oil with the temperature around 350º F. 

adapted from 240 Resep Hindangan Sehari-Hari untuk 2 Bulan 
(240 Recipes of Dishes for Every Day for 2 Months)

2 ears of sweet yellow corn
6 small shallots
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp coriander seeds, ground
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
leaves from three stalks of lemon basil
3/4 cup of all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
vegetable oil for frying

Using a sharp knife, shave the kernels from the corn. Place half the kernels into a mortar and pound to a fairly smooth paste.  Add the remaining kernels and pound lightly, preserving the shape of the kernels.  Remove the corn to a large bowl.

In the mortar (or a food processor) grind the shallots, garlic, coriander, turmeric, salt, and pepper to a smooth paste.  Stir into the corn.  Add the lemon basil, flour and egg  to the corn and spice mixture.  Stir well to incorporate all the ingredients.

Pour about an inch of oil into a wok or pan.  Heat over a medium flame to around 350º F.  To cook, drop tablespoons of the corn fritter batter into the hot oil.  Fry about 2 minutes, then turn the fritters over and fry about two minutes more on the other side.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  The fritters may be served warm or at room temperature.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fried Tofu with Flowering Chives

There are two places I like to go when I visit any city.  One is the bookstore, the other the supermarket.  Those two places give a good feel of the city and what the tastes of its population lean towards.  A city that only has a bookstore stocked almost entirely of popular generic fiction and spiritual/financial/home decorating self-help tomes is likely to have a supermarket that has preformed taco shells and rice in the "Ethnic" aisle.  A proper bookstore is a place one can lose oneself in, drifting from find to find, discovering books and authors scattered throughout the aisles, one discovery leading to the next.

While Indonesian bookstores (and really there is only one major chain that operates throughout the country--Gramedia) have limited offerings in the realm of fiction (the government having long suppressed critical voices--although it is now possible to buy copies of Pramoedya Ananta Toer's novels in Indonesia), the cookbook selection is fairly extensive.  A large number of the cookbooks have a slant towards home industry--collections of snacks and variations that can be sold for profit.  The rest of the cookbooks tend to be for the home cooks who wants to expand their familiarity with traditional Indonesian dishes.

As many Indonesian families employ maids to help with cooking and cleaning, a lot of Indonesians grow up not learning how to cook.  A maid from Central Java is going to cook soto ayam different from a maid from West Java.  My father-in-law (who is from East Java) is famous for complaining about the food when he stayed with his son in Bandung, West Java.  Nothing ever tasted right to him. The cookbooks with 30 variations on soto help the beleaguered housewife soothe her family's tastes.

One of the cookbooks I picked up during our stay in Indonesia this summer is 240 Resep Hindangan Sehari-Hari untuk 2 Bulan (240 Recipes of Dishes for Every Day for 2 Months).  The book presents four recipes for each day, one for breakfast and the other three for lunch/dinner, with photos.  It has a number of recipes that look promising and I'll be posting in the coming months.  The coconut milk used in this one gives the fried tofu a lushness that is not usually associated with tofu.  I served it with Lingham's Hot Sauce with Garlic, but a Thai sweet chili sauce would also work, and I think Vietnamese ginger-lime sauce (nuoc mam gung) would be really nice with this.

Fried Tofu with Flowering Chives
(Tahu Goreng Tepung)

1 large block of regular tofu cut into 1-inch cubes

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rice flour (do not use glutinous rice flour)
1 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 1/4 cup coconut milk
1 large egg, beaten
10 flowering chives, cut into 1-inch lengths

oil for frying

In a large bowl mix the flours, salt, and pepper.  Whisk in the coconut milk and beaten egg until you have a fairly smooth batter.  Stir in the chives and about a third of the tofu cubes.

Heat the oil in a wok.  With a fork or slotted spoon remove pieces of tofu that have been covered in the coconut batter and carefully lower into the hot oil.  Gently fry until all the pieces are a golden brown.  Remove  and drain on paper towels.  Repeat until all of the tofu pieces have been battered and fried.  As with all fried foods, these are best served hot.