Friday, November 30, 2012

For the love of little oranges

I first stumbled across arancini (Italian for "little oranges") when my daughter and I were trying to come up with a cultural food that she could take into her class for a presentation.  We ended up using a recipe that we found at Noshtalgia.  The name comes from the typical size of the item prepared, about the size of a tangerine or small orange.  Following the basic concept of croquettes of various types, this is a great way to use up leftover risotto (has anyone ever used those two words together with a straight face?), or in our family's case, make some risotto to use to make what our friends have come to refer to as "Amazeballs."

If you don't have any leftover risotto - here's the basics for making one.

1.5 C short grain (arborio) rice
1 qt chicken stock
0.5 C white wine
1 small onion, chopped (~0.5 C)
0.25 C shredded parmesan
3 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil

Ingredients ready to roll
Heat stock to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and keep hot.  Melt 1 T butter in a heavy bottomed pan with 1 T olive oil.    Add onions to pan and saute for 2-3 minutes, or until translucent.
 Add rice to pan and saute until rice has begun to brown slightly, and has a nutty aroma.

Adding the rice

Rice toasted versus rice at the start
Add the half a cup of white wine to the rice and stir constantly, until the wine has been absorbed into the rice.  Add the stock to the rice a half a cup at a time, stirring constantly, until the liquid has absorbed into the rice or incorporated into the sauce.  Repeat until the stock pot is empty or the rice is done - the grains should have a bit of toothiness, but no hard center and no white "gem" in the middle.  If you're making this risotto specifically for arancini, it's okay to overcook a bit, no one will notice.  Finish the risotto with the remaining two tablespoons of butter and the parmesan, stirring to incorporate.

Once the risotto has cooled, mix in the following:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 C grated parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 lb cheese, chopped small (I like a mix of mozzarella and provolone)
  • 1/4 lb Genoa salami, chopped into small pieces
Incorporate all and refrigerate overnight.  When ready to cook, you will need vegetable oil to fry the arancini in and bread crumbs to coat.  You may note that the original recipe calls for using the egg whites to coat the arancini before breading them, but I've found that 1) they're more of a mess than they're worth and 2) breading the arancini without the egg whites results in a crispier outer shell, which I prefer.

Roll the rice mixture into appropriately sized shapes - traditionally, the little orange, although I like these about ping pong/golf ball sized as an appetizer.  You do not need to roll perfect spheres at this point, as I recommend re-rolling them a second time after breading.

Little spheres of yumminess

Hot oil and bread crumbs

Breaded and ready

I use the chopstick method to test my oil for readiness for cooking.  Not precise, but effective enough.  One thing you absolutely do not want to do is cook arancini at too low a temperature - they'll come apart in the oil, contaminating the oil, making it frothy, and generally being a complete pain.

Bubbling arancini
Cook the arancini until the breading is a nice golden brown.  Drain against the side of the pan, then rest on a baking sheet with paper towels to drain the oil.  Serve hot, with a side of marinara to dip into.


Ready to serve

  If you're preparing for later service, set the cooled arancini onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper and freeze, then store in ziplocs until ready to reheat (oven, 350F, 10-15 minutes).
Into the deep freeze

Serve hot, cheesy, melty and delicious!

Ready to devour

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Butter side up

A spate of pumpkins sits on our "harvest table" on the front patio.  A couple of standard oranges and several marina de chioggia variety.  Not the most inspiring looking pumpkin on the outside, I assure you.  One of the orange samples came off the vine prematurely as we were attempting to elevate the fruit off of the ground.  As such, I designated it the test pumpkin and yesterday got cool enough to roast it up.  Split, seeded and into the oven at 350F until a knife inserts easily into the flesh.

Once cooled, I scooped the flesh from the skin, and deposited it safely in my Crockpot.  It was a bit more fibrous than I had hoped (or wanted), but a determined treatment with the Bamix with chopping blade made satisfactory work of most of the longer strands, although I did end up removing a half dozen or so clumps over the course of the cooking.

 ~5 quarts of pumpkin puree

Once everything was satisfactorily processed, I added the sugars and spices and stirred them in, setting the Crockpot to high and topping with the lid, elevated on chopsticks placed across the mouth of the cooker (to allow water to evaporate from the butter).

Sugar and spice and everything nice

Mixed in

After the butter began to bubble, I turned the Crockpot to low and cooked overnight plus 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.  The butter reduced to 20-25% of original volume, a deep rich brown collection of deliciousness.  I once again treated the butter to the immersion blender, this time with the blender blade in order to finish off any lingering strands of fiber as well smooth consistency of the finished butter.  

Unfortunately, due to it's low acidity and high viscosity, pureed pumpkin and squash is not well suited to safe home canning.  The low acidity makes boiling water treatment unfeasible, and the high viscosity/density makes pressure canning ineffective, as the puree is inconsistent in reaching the necessary core temperature for safety.  Because of this, preservation should be limited to refrigerator for short term storage and freezer for long term.  So, once my pumpkin butter was cooled I transferred it to containers and into the fridge for final cooling before a trip to the freezer (with a little set aside for tomorrow's toast).

Good enough to eat

Crockpot Pumpkin Butter

5qt pumpkin puree
1 C packed dark brown sugar
2 C granulated sugar (if using a more suitable/mature pumpkin, this amount could be reduced to 1 C)
2 T ground cinnamon
1 tsp each ground cloves, allspice, and ginger
1/4 tsp fresh shaved nutmeg

  • Place puree in crockpot (or make in crockpot if using an immersion blender).
  • Add spices and sugar and stir in to puree.
  • Cook on high until beginning to bubble.  Reduce heat to low, cover with an elevated lid and cook 10-12 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Place cooled butter in clean containers and store in refrigerator and/or freezer.
Serve on toast, mixed in to yogurt or cottage cheese, or over the top of ice cream or cake.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Now bring us some figgy pudding

I've been on an ice cream making kick of late (as this blog indicates).  One of my contacts on Google Plus recently posted about her attempts to recreate a flavor from her youth, honey sweetened vanilla ice cream.  I loved the idea of pairing the warmth of honey with vanilla, but I wanted to incorporate an early harvest of figs into the ice cream, both to make use of them, and to challenge myself to make use of fruit as it comes available from the property.

Early harvest bounty

I took 8 figs, washed them and cut the tops and bases from them.  Once cleaned and processed, I cut them into quarters and then roughly chopped them.  I added them to a saucepan with approximately 1/2 C orange juice and a tablespoon of orange zest, and cooked down to a thick, jammy consistency.  After cooling overnight in the fridge, I hit the mixture with an immersion blender with chopping blade and pulsed on low to a rough chop consistency.

Processed fig mixture

I made one mistake with Kath's recipe, using regular whipping cream instead of heavy whipping cream (a purchasing error on my part), and while the finished ice cream was missing a little richness, it was still delicious.  As a bonus, I was preparing the ice cream for a family gathering, and one of my aunts had been put on a restricted diet that kept her from eating refined sugars - and this ice cream fit the bill perfectly.  The honey and cooked fig flavors are warm and caramel-y, which is offset wonderfully by the brightness of the citrus.

Finished deliciousness

This was my final recipe, as adapted from Kath's version:

Honey Sweetened Vanilla with Orange Figs
  • 1 C whole milk, well chilled
  • 1/2 C honey
  • 2 C whipping cream, well chilled (Kath's recipe calls for heavy whipping cream)
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 8 figs, washed, quartered and chopped - tips and buds removed
  • 1/2 C orange juice
  • 1 T orange zest

Place chopped figs, orange juice and zest in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Cook down to a jam-like consistency and cool overnight.  Process fig mixture roughly with an immersion blender and chopping blade.

Whisk together milk and honey, until honey is completely incorporated.  Warming the honey slightly will ease the incorporation process.  Once combined, stir in the whipping cream and return to refrigerator to chill.

Add dairy mixture to ice cream maker and process for 25-30 minutes.  Add fig mixture to ice cream maker and process approximately 5 minutes to incorporate.  Remove ice cream to air tight container and freeze 6+ hours to set.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

If you like pina coladas...

In a follow up to my previous experiments with pina colada ice cream, I think success has been achieved.  Some of the changes detailed in my previous discussion, combined with some great input from the good folks at r/cooking combined to make a winning combination of rich coconut sweetness, pineapple bite and toasted warmth.

Nearing perfection

So, what was different in this new batch of ice cream?  Pineapple juice reduced to a syrup, a change from heavy whipping cream to half-and-half, and the addition of toasted pineapple.

  • 1 C pineapple juice, reduced to 1/4 C
  • 14 oz coconut milk
  • 12 oz half-and-half
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C crushed pineapple
  • 1/3 C toasted coconut
Cook pineapple juice down in a small sauce pan until reduced by 75%.  Cool pineapple juice separately while whisking together coconut milk and granulated sugar.  Stir in half-and-half and chill.

Combine chilled pineapple "syrup" with dairy mixture and add to ice cream maker.  Toast 1/3 C sweetened coconut until nutty brown.  With 5 minutes remaining in ice cream mix, add coconut and crushed pineapple.

Store in an airtight container and freeze for 3-4 hours to set.

Monday, September 3, 2012

...and getting lost in the rain

I was lucky enough to pick up a fully functional and all parts intact Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker for $13 at a local thrift store last week.  After a successful sorbet adventure using Galia melon, I decided it was time to try my hand at a little recipe creation - the first target: Pina-Colada ice cream.

I postulated a basic recipe:

  • 6 oz pineapple juice
  • 14 oz coconut milk
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 2 C heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 C crushed pineapple
Whisk together the liquid ingredients and the sugar until the sugar is dissolved, 1-2 minutes.  Once all is combined, chill in the refrigerator.  Add ice cream ingredients as per ice cream machine's directions, and mix according to machine guidelines - mine calls for 25-30 minutes.  5 minutes before completion, add crushed pineapple and allow machine to process.  Scoop into freezer safe container and allow to rest 4-5 hours before service.

Pineapple juice, sugar and coconut milk mixed together

Heavy whipping cream whisked in

The process begins

Pineapple added

Getting ready to transfer

4 hours later

So, what was the final verdict?  Yummy, without a doubt!  But, there were a few shortcomings that will be addressed in future iterations.
  1. Heavy build up of frozen fat on the wall of the ice cream maker.  I suspect this is due to the heavy fat content (heavy whipping cream + coconut milk).  I plan to alter the recipe by changing the heavy whipping cream for half-and-half, and reducing the quantities of both coconut milk and dairy, as well as increasing the quantity of pineapple juice.
  2. Missing a flavor layer.  There's just "something" missing, and the consensus was that it needed a warm, nutty flavor to complement the sweetness of the coconut and the acid of the pineapple.  I think that toasted coconut may be the path to this.
My next iteration recipe will look something like this:
  • 10 oz pineapple juice
  • 10 oz coconut milk
  • 1.5 C half-and-half
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 C crushed pineapple
  • 1/4 C toasted coconut

The joys of experimentation lie ahead!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Our squash runneth over

In the relative chill of early Southern California spring, we sat down with my aunt and went through the seed catalog to make selections for this year's garden.  A midst the plethora of green bean varietals, tomato types and colors of eggplants, we looked over the squashes.  Zucchini is a given - being robust, productive and versatile, it is an excellent summer production for the garden.  We also added the multi-colored Zephyr squash - which has proven itself an exceptional producer of delicious fruit.

As a result, we're a bit squished on squash, having had it grilled, steamed, fried, baked - in bread, in muffins, even in pancakes.  But you can only dump so much excess zucchini on the neighbors' porches before they install security cameras and you receive your bounty back ten-fold.  Because of that, I've made many an exploratory foray into the internet to discover and experiment with new and creative ways to put our production to use.  My delvings brought me to the 35 zucchini recipes page at Two Peas & Their Pod and I was moved to try out the Zucchini Fritter recipe from the always reliable Smitten Kitchen.

I took a couple of liberties with the given recipe, replacing the black pepper with Old Bay seasoning, and adding a minced clove of garlic to the fritter batter.

One fritter to go!

Love the cast iron

The given recipe calls for serving the fritters with a sour cream fortified with lemon and garlic which sounds delicious, but I had some Garlic Delight dip from All Star Dips sitting in the fridge, and it was a delicious substitution, rich with garlic and sour enough to cut the fat of the fried squash patties.


Prep and cook time are minimal with these fritters, making them an excellent choice for an easy addition to breakfast that takes some small cut at the abundance of squash that you might also be facing.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Buttering up your fruit trees

One of the beauties of the property we're lucky enough to live on is the production of food completely under our control.  Aside from a garden producing various berries, squashes, carrots, beets, herbs and other delicious goods, we have a small orchard.  Trees are producing peaches, apricots, pears, apples, and a meager few cherries.

As food comes in to season it's a race to eat it while it's fresh (without growing sick of it) and saving as much as possible of what isn't eaten.  To that end, I've been putting up a variety of items, building on the success of my entrants to the county fair (fodder for another post).  Currently shelved are peaches in syrup, chunky applesauce, peach butter and now apple butter - can you tell what's currently in season?  The beauty of apple butter is that it's simply applesauce with extra time added.  Recipe and steps follow - I've got some sourdough toast that needs a little perking up.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

  • 4 quarts processed apples (washed, cored, sliced)
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 C white sugar
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Process the apples and pack into your slow cooker - I prefer to leave the skins on for all of the nutrition they may still provide when cooked down over many hours.

Apple carnage, and a well packed slow cooker

Add the water to the crock pot and place on low/warm.  Setting will ultimately be determined by your individual slow cooker, you want it hot enough to begin to break down the apples without boiling.  Cook for an hour to reduce the level of apples in the cooker, then add the spices and stir.  For my own personal preference, if I were going to make this into applesauce rather than apple butter - I'd reduce the sugar amount by half, and double the cinnamon.  I also like a splash of vanilla extract in my applesauce; to each their own.

After an hour of cooking, we're ready to spice!

Once the apples have been spiced and cooked down (3-4 hours) you'll want to hit it with an immersion blender with a chopping blade in order to break down the fruit.  It's not necessary at this point to get a fine puree, as you'll be blending it again at the end.  The main goal is to break down the apple skins and get the pieces smaller.

This is the point where you decide on applesauce versus apple butter.  If you want applesauce process it to as chunky or smooth a consistency as you like, and can it up.

3 hours later, time to blend

The main difference between apple sauce and apple butter is the amount of water present and the carmelization of the sugars.  We want to cook the apples well enough to brown the sugars and drive off the water.  Unfortunately, slow cookers are built to retain liquid, not boil it off.  To deal with this, insert two long chopsticks across the lip of the cooker and rest the lid on top of them.  No round chopsticks, unless you didn't want that lid to stay put...or intact.  You can cook without a lid, but depending on how your apple butter bubbles, you may come back to a very messy work space.  Raise the heat level of the crockpot by one level and let cook for 8 hours/overnight.  

Cooking away, and shedding moisture!

If left overnight, you will likely get a higher level of browning around the edge of the crockpot, but not to worry, as it will get re-incorporated into the batch.  When the butter is at the color and consistency desired (somewhere around a firm Jello pudding), puree it again with the immersion blender to break up any remaining chunks that might still be present, and to blend in the more heavily cooked edges.

Cooked down and ready to can

Process the apple butter following all safe rules of canning, with 1/4" head space and 10 minutes of boiling water bath for 1/2 pint jars.  Use to top your morning toast, as a base for a tasty BBQ sauce, mixed into cottage cheese, or even right off the spoon for a straight hit of rich apple goodness.

Canned and ready to store

Monday, January 30, 2012

The success of failure

Having moved into my grandparents' home has presented the whole family with a plethora of new opportunities.  I've begun to experiment with canning, as an abundance of freshly grown fruit and vegetables right on our property lends itself to this endeavor.  Recent successes have include spicy frog balls (aka pickled Brussels sprouts), candied and bread and butter pickle jalapenos, green tomato relish, spicy dilly beans and others.

Flush with success, I dove into a bit of jam making, by way of Kumquat-Tangerine Marmalade.  Using the recipe taken from Drick's Rambling Cafe, I followed all of the directions strictly.  The long overnight steep that was supposed to extract the natural pectin form the citrus apparently failed to meet the gelling needs of my marmalade.  So, I have 10 - 12oz jars of delicious citrus syrup.  Having recently read through local food blogger Brandon Matzek's post on blackberry shrub, I think that's where my flopped marmalade is headed for.  A straining, maybe some sherry vinegar to fortify, and into tasty tonic water drinks.

So, while I peruse the interwebs for a pectin based marmalade that I can mold into the target I had in mind earlier, I will do so with a tasty drink in hand.

At least it looks pretty!

Edit: After some deeper perusal of available resources, I realized that I may have simply failed to allow the pectin sufficient time to develop.  I depressurized one of my jars of syrup and reintroduced it to a sauce pan and let it slow boil, with intermittent "fridge tests" of the syrup.  To fridge test, put a spoonful of syrup on a plate and place in the fridge.  If it comes to room temperature(ish) and is still runny, continue to cook.  If it gels and sets, it's ready to go.

My single jar sample was about a half jar sample by the time the balance of liquid to pectin was right for a set.  Result, a half jar of golden refrigerator marmalade.  I'll be saving some syrup for my drinks (delicious with a splash of sherry vinegar), and reclaiming the rest to their intended goal.