Sunday, April 29, 2012

Strawberry Balsamic Jam and Strawberry Jalapeno Jam

I tasted this jam a couple weeks ago from a vendor at the Dupont Circle Farmer's Market in Washington DC and it blew my socks off!  I had to come home and recreate it IMMEDIATELY!

Nothing quite brings out every molecule of flavor from a strawberry like balsamic vinegar.  The addition of jalapeno peppers adds a lovely spicy kick at the end.  These jams would be great with a wedge of brie, slathered on a turkey sandwich, or melted and served over ice cream.

I provide one recipe for two jams.  If you don't want spicy jam, simply leave out the jalapeno peppers!

Try to use locally grown organic strawberries if you can, the flavor is incomparable.  We picked our own at the legendary Volmer Farms in Bunn, NC.

Strawberry Balsamic Jam and Strawberry Jalapeno Jam
(makes 4 pints)

4 cups crushed fresh strawberries
1 cup minced jalapeno pepper (with seeds) OR add one more cup crushed strawberries
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 oz. powdered pectin
7 cups granulated sugar

Everything mixed, except sugar, and ready to be cooked

Combine everything EXCEPT SUGAR in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Sugar will impede the development of the pectin and if you add it too early you will have runny jam.  Once everything has come to a boil, let it cook on high for a full minute, THEN ADD SUGAR and stir until dissolved and mixture returns to a boil.

Sterilize jars, rings and lids by submerging in boiling water for 5 minutes.  Drain jars upside down on a clean towel.  leave lids and rings in hot water until ready to use.

Fill hot jars with jam until 1/4 inch from the top of the jar.  Wipe edges clean if there are any splatters.  Top each jar with a lid and then screw on a ring until just finger tight.

Re-submerge filled sealed jars in boiling water and boil for 10 minutes.  Remove from water and let cool to room temperature.  Lids should make a "pop" sound as they cool. Jam can be kept at room temperature until opened, then keep in refrigerator.

Freshly sterilized jars of jam ready to be put up for winter!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Anise Seed Pound Cake with Balsamic Strawberries

Do you like this loaf pan? You can but it HERE!

Tonight we have been invited to our friends Candace and Andy's "family dinner night", a regular gathering of friends over a home-cooked meal.  I love this kind of party and I wish more people would host these kind of gatherings where everyone brings something to share (food, juicy gossip, off color jokes etc).

Since it is springtime and strawberries are ready for picking here in North Carolina, I thought I would make one of my favorite desserts, anise seed pound cake with strawberries in balsamic vinegar.

This Anise-scented pound cake is amazing with fresh fruit.  The anise seed is toasted in a dry pan over high heat until fragrant, and the hot seeds are added into the batter, releasing their essential oils into the cake as it bakes.  The result is a deliciously fragrant pound cake, reminiscent of good pizelle cookies.  As it bakes, the top of the cake forms a crispy crunchy shell that is so delicious, and is a wonderful contrast to the dense moist cake. YUM.
Mmmmmmm... locally grown organic strawberries!

This cake is great with a scoop of sorbet, but I much prefer fresh fruit tossed with good balsamic vinegar and a tiny bit of brown sugar.   I was fortunate enough to receive a bottle of fig balsamic vinegar for Christmas from my daughter Rachel, and I love to use it on strawberries.  It just makes the strawberries taste 1,000 times more like a strawberry!

Anise Seed Pound Cake with Balsamic Strawberries
Serves 12

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla
5 eggs, room temperature
1 Tbsp anise seed

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour a bundt or loaf pan.

Cream butter and sugar on high speed until very light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).  Add flour and mix on medium speed until just combined.  Add eggs one at a time mixing thoroughly after each addition.  Add vanilla and mix in.

In a small skillet, heat anise seed over high heat until it become fragrant and just begins to smoke.  Add hot seeds to cake batter and mix in.

Transfer batter to a greased and floured bundt cake or loaf pan.  Bake at 350F for 1 hour and 15 minutes until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool on a wrie rack for 15 minutes before removing from pan.

Serve with Balsamic Strawberries.

Balsamic strawberries

2 lb fresh strawberries, hulled and thickly sliced
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine.  Let berries macerate for 30 minutes before serving.

Strawberries with brown sugar and balsamic vinegar

...And after macerating

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rose Marie

This weekend was Rachel's senior art show at the Corcoran School of Art + Design. We decided to throw her a cocktail party at our cavernous room at the funky Hotel Palomar in DuPont Circle. This was the signature cocktail of the evening.
These are deceivingly strong cocktails and are very easy to drink. Sweet and salty with a pleasing scent of rosemary, we polished off several of them in minutes. But be careful, because it wasn't long before hotel security arrived asking us to keep down the noise!

Rose Marie

1 shot gin
1 shot fresh red grapefruit juice
1 shot rosemary simple syrup

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Strain into glasses with a salted rim and filled with crushed ice.

Rosemary simple syrup
4 cups granulated sugar
4 cups water
20 - 30 sprigs fresh rosemary

Combine sugar and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add rosemary and cover and reduce heat to medium. Poach rosemary in simmering syrup for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature before pouring syrup through a fine mesh strainer. Discard rosemary. Transfer syrup to a decorative bottle contains one sprig of fresh rosemary. Syrup will keep one month in the refrigerator.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Italian Easter Meat Pie (Pizza Rustica)

Being eastern european, Easter was always a MAJOR holiday when I was growing up.  My mother would always buy us fancy new outfits and we even went to church!  After church we would come home for an Easter egg hunt in the snow (I grew up north of the 45th parallel) followed by a sumptuous feast of ham and deviled eggs and pineapple and asparagus and kolacki stuffed with sweet gooey black poppy seed filling.

These days my parents are gone, but I still like to celebrate Easter in a big way.  Since I now live in North Carolina, Easter is beautiful with flowers and azaleas and warm weather.  Doug and I throw our annual Boozy Easter party on the Saturday before Easter featuring a buffet of traditional Easter foods (which we affectionately call cruci-fixin's), invite all of our friends over for some food fun and frivolity followed by the infamous mini bottle hunt!

I first made this dish about four or five years ago when I was teaching myself to make artisanal bread and I came across it on the King Arthur flour web was a major hit!  It is rich and packed with cheese and cured Italian meats, almost like a calzone, but much more satisfying.  The crust is a simple pizza dough.  I usually make my own, but Trader Joe's makes an excellent pizza dough that works perfectly well and cuts hours off the preparation time.  The pie should be prepared well ahead of time and served at room temperature or just slightly warm.

Traditionally, in Italy this dish is called Pizza Rustica and it is prepared on Good Friday and not consumed until Easter Sunday.  Because it is so indulgent, it certainly brings an end to the austerity of Lent.  I don't really observe lent ( I always say I am giving up lent for lent), but I do love the idea of celebrating springtime with something unabashedly hedonistic, and this fits the bill every year.

Happy Easter!

Easter Meat Pie
serves 8-10

Bread Crust (or purchase pre-made pizza dough)
3/4 cup warm water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 package dry yeast
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 cups all purpose flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water and sugar and stir to dissolve.  Sprinkle yeast over top and allow yeast to "proof" for 15 minutes (it should begin to become foamy, if not your yeast has expired).

Add olive oil and salt to yeast mixture. Add 1 cup of the flour to the yeast mixture and mix on medium speed with the paddle attachment for about 2 minutes.   Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time mixing after each addition until a soft ball dough that cleans the sides of the bowl is formed.  Alternatively, hand knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is smooth and elastic.

Turn dough into a clean bowl that has been well oiled with olive oil.  Allow dough to rise until doubled in size (about 1-2 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen).

While dough is rising prepare filling.

1 lb ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1/2 lb shredded mozarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 lb. aged fontina, cubed
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 lb ham, cubed
1/4 lb Genoa salami, cubed
1/4 lb pepperoni, cubed
1/4 lb prosciutto

In a large bowl combine eggs and cheeses, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Mix well.  Stir in ham, salami and pepperoni.  Reserve prosciutto to line pie crust.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Generously butter a 9-inch glass pie pan.

Deflate the dough and divide into two pieces.  Turn each piece of dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface, and using a rolling pin roll both to 16-inch diameter circles.  Place one of the dough circles into the prepared pie pan.

Line the crust in the pan with overlapping slices of prosciutto.

 Place the filling in the prosciutto-lined pie shell.

Cover with the remaining dough circle and roll edges under around the perimeter of the pie to seal the pie.  Cut several steam vents in the top crust.

Bake pie at 325 F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Pie should be golden brown when finished.

Remove pie from oven and cool for at least 1-2 hours before removing from pie pan.  For easy serving, invert the pie onto a cutting board and slice through the bottom.  Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.