Monday, December 29, 2008

Canning a Cinnamon-Persimmon Sauce

When Justin and Andria recently worked on an article about canning, they made a peach-coriander chutney that honestly was just about the best thing ever as a Christmas gift. Because of that memory, I myself have been wanting to learn how to can for a while now, and with the persimmon overload that we wrote about here last week, it was the perfect time to see how it's done. So I enlisted the help of my mom, who basically knows how to do anything and everything and acts like nothing is ever a big deal. We chose some squat, modern-looking Ball jars with silver lids, and I spent a few days gathering up ripe persimmons from the bench outside and peeling and chopping up the fruit every night. We adapted a plum jam recipe from the pectin insert since we figured plums and persimmons have about the same texture. Here is how we did it:

Persimmon Sauce

First, run all jars and lids through the dishwasher. Set them in a pan of hot tap water in the sink. You have to keep everything sterile in order to do this right. 

Boil 4 cups of chopped and slightly mashed persimmons. Add 2 cups of raw, organic sugar. Stir it up. Squeeze in one pack of pectin. Keep stirring. Add 1 tbsp. or so of cinnamon and the juice of one lemon. The persimmon sauce should be at a boil; ladle it into a jar, and wipe off any that gets on the mouth of the jar with a paper towel that's been dipped in hot water. Screw on the seal and the lid tightly and put aside to cool. It made 8 jars of sauce with a little left over for tasting. 
(Funny thing is, we were really trying to make jam, but this turned out to be a smooth, thick sauce that is perfect with banana pancakes or french toast. J. said earlier that he is sick of persimmons, but you know, this sauce is so good that it made me like them even more. I always want to make things that people request, so maybe this will end up being a go-to, memory-making Christmas gift of my own each year.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chanterelle & Spinach Souffle with Goat Cheese

I make all kinds of souffles, but they all come from one basic recipe by Alton Brown. In an episode of his show called "The Egg Files," Mr. Brown explains the mechanics of building a successful souffle, and then sends you on your way with his simple recipe for one made with sharp cheddar. On the show he is very detailed in his explanation, but you can find a written version of the recipe on the Food Network site by clicking HERE. Once you have mastered the cheese souffle, you can shake things up a bit. In this version I subbed creamy goat cheese for the sharp cheddar, and then folded in some chopped spinach and a sauteed chanterelle mushroom. 
Though this dish is simple to make, it is sure to impress the hell out of people. Get creative by trying out a few of your own combos. Let the old TCV know what ideas you came up with. I'd love to know. Go ahead, try it. Go on. You can do it. You'll see.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Persimmon Gelato

Up until a month ago I had never even tasted a persimmon, and now if I never saw another I might just be o.k. with that. You see, my older brother and his wife have a persimmon tree in the back yard of their new house. At harvest time everyone hauled away as many persimmons as they could. The Wife and I easily had 60 or 70. The great persimmon experiment of '08 had begun.

The flavor, for those of you who have not had one, is not unlike a dried apricot...rolled in dirt. I'd call it earthy and sweet. We had them every way you could imagine. We had persimmon salad, chutney, syrup, syrup again, and gelato. We had them sliced, peeled, plain, sweet, and savory. At the end of it all, I can honestly say that I'm not sure if I even like them that much, or possibly I'm just sick of them. Here is my recipe for persimmon gelato:
6 fresh persimmons (peeled, pureed, and strained)
3/4 cup half & half
1/2 cup raw sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla bean paste
scant pinch of salt

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Pour mixture into your ice cream mixer. We have the kind with the freezer bowl, and it is brilliant. It is so easy. Let that sucker run for about 20 minutes and you will be up to your ears in persimmon gelato. It makes a nice presentation to serve it inside of a hollowed out fruit.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The New & Improved Portobello Mushroom

The grilled portobello is a staple on vegetarian menus everywhere. The problem is not the taste, it is a hearty stand in for nearly any meat. The problem is simply how it looks on the plate. When grilled, the mushroom is dark and flat. You can cover it up, but that defeats the purpose of presenting it as the main course. So, I decided to try to figure out a way to bring out the mushroom's inherent beauty. This may sound silly, but we do eat with our eyes. It has to look good people.

I simply took my knife and scored the top of the mushroom before I grilled it. Using my sharpest blade, I drug the knife across the face of the mushroom only allowing it to sink about 1/4 of the way through. I made a "tic-tac-toe" pattern using this method. Then grill as you normally would. I like to put mine on a hot grill for about 5 minutes per side, then move it to indirect heat until I'm ready to serve. To plate the mushroom, fold two ends under towards the center. This will open up the grid and make for a beautiful presentation. Here it is served with cauliflower risotto and little leek onion rings. 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

That's Professor Chubby Vegetarian to You!

The University of Memphis, of which I am an alum, has asked me to teach a continuing education class on vegetarian cooking for the "Living Well: Cooking in the Garden" series at the Memphis Botanic Garden. It is a one day class, and the cost is $49 bucks. I will do my best to make it worthwhile and fun. Click HERE for registration details and a course description.

If you plan to attend, then please let me know. Also tell me your favorite recipes from the blog as well as what you'd like to get out of a class like this. I will tailor this class to fit you perfectly. We'll eat, make stuff, eat, and talk about food for a few hours. It'll be a blast.

While you are on the U of M page take a moment to look around. Ken Lumpkin, chef/owner of Umai is teaching a sushi class, and Melissa Peterson, editor of Edible Memphis, is teaching both a  knife skills and cheese making classes. That makes me in pretty good company.

Monday, December 15, 2008

White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Chanterelles and Black Truffle Oil

For some inexplicable reason, I have been receiving the magazine Family Circle in the mail. You know, the one with some buttery, crazy dessert pictured on the cover along with a "LOSE 20 POUNDS IN A WEEK!" headline? I love that. But I wouldn't really subscribe to this publication on purpose. It's a good thing some little Santa had me in mind for this children-and-marriage, cleaning-and-cooking magazine for the modern mom/housewife because some great, very simple recipes are featured this month. Last Friday, I showed TCV the tempting picture of a bowl of cheese macaroni and said, 'I want this for dinner.' We were out of time that night, but this week, he gave it a shot and as a bonus, made it extra-fancy. 

Now, TCV's family doesn't call him 'high-minded' for nothing. How it usually goes is when I want something like plain old mac and cheese, he takes it up at least ten notches. Sometimes this push-and-pull over food preference can cause the need for a dinnertime detenté. I like simple food; he likes it pretty complicated. I want the same old thing made the usual way; every time he makes a dish, it results in something new. This time, I admit that he was right to monkey with the traditional recipe. Fresh bread crumbs made from a bunch of bread leftover from a recent family lunch in Southaven + some Cabot white cheddar + our ubiquitous black truffle oil + sliced, sauteéd chanterelles + elbows = the best dinner I have had in quite a while. I think Greek yogurt was an excellent sub for milk, too. What a great possible-ice-storm dinner. 
Here's how to make it:

1 small shallot, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
6 oz. sharp white cheddar, shredded
1/2 c water
1/2 pd. dry elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
3 1/2 oz Greek yogurt (we like Fage)
5 medium chanterelle mushrooms, sliced and sauteéd
salt and pepper
drizzle of black truffle oil
1/2 c breadcrumbs

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots. Once it stops bubbling, add the flour and whisk it all up. Cook 2-3 minutes 'til it just starts to change color. Add water and yogurt and whisk until smooth. Remove from heat. Add cheese, pinches of salt, pepper; stir until cheese is melted. Fold in cooked macaroni. Put it in a small, buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with bread crumbs evenly and drizzle with the truffle oil. Bake for 20 min. at 350. Place under broiler until top is golden brown. Take it out and place the chanterelles all across it. Looks very twee served in small bowls, and tastes best when eaten while you stand around in the kitchen.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Taco Salad with Black Beans, Toasted Pepitas, & Corn Succotash

Taco salad night was quite an event at ye olde childhood Germatown home. My mom would get out the biggest pot we had, fill it full of vegetable oil, and put in on the stove. Once the oil was boiling hot, she'd float a flour tortilla in the oil. With a small metal bowl and a pair of tongs, she would press the center of the tortilla so it formed around the bowl as it crisped. Each one was a sculpture in oil and flour. It is a feat that I have never attempted. Never mind the fact that I avoid deep frying anything; I'm pretty sure I'd have one less house than I have now if I attempted such a thing. 

So I developed a less-dangerous method of attaining a crispy bowl for my taco salads. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees on convection if you have it. Take a flour tortilla, brush each side lightly with olive oil, and then drape the tortilla over a small oven-safe bowl. Place it on cookie sheet, and pop it in the oven. It will stay in the oven for 7-10 minutes until it is golden brown. Keep a close eye on these because they can burn quickly. Take them out and let them cool. 
For the corn succotash:

1/2 pint grape tomatoes (quartered)
1 ear of corn (kernels cut off)
1 jalapeno (seeded and chopped)
1/2 small white onion (fine dice)
1 clove of garlic (minced)
juice of one lime
a few dashes of hot sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Let this stand until you're ready to assemble the salad. Pour the mixture into a mesh strainer and reserve the liquid. This is what you will use to dress the lettuce. Now it is time to build your masterpiece. Start with a tortilla bowl, and then add some black beans in the bottom. Next up is the lettuce you tossed with the dressing, and then some cheese, followed by the spicy corn succotash, toasted pepitas, and sour cream. It's great with a slice of avocado or some guacamole and green onion. There are no rules here, people. Have fun with your own taco salad night this week. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Come See My Band at the Hi-tone Tonight

O.K. today is the big day. We, The Perfect Vessels, are playing our very 1st show at the Hi-Tone tonight. I'd love for ya'll to come out and watch us play. We will be playing a short set of original music. Click HERE to get a preview of what you are likely to hear. The music will start at 10:00 or 10:30, and TPV play 1st. 
Food note: The Hi-Tone serves some of the best pizza in town. If you have not tried it, then you should. i know what I'm having for dinner tonight.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Crispy Eggplant Sandwich with Roasted-Garlic Ricotta Spread

I love sandwiches.  They are nearly the perfect food. Many days I eat them for breakfast and lunch, but rarely do I eat a sandwich for dinner. This sandwich counts as dinner. The key to this particular sandwich is to get a good eggplant. The fresher the better. Look for a smooth skin and no soft spots. Here I pair the crispy eggplant with arugula, tomato sauce, and roasted garlic ricotta spread. You will need:

1 medium eggplant
1 cup of flour
2 1/2 cups of bread crumbs (throw in some herbs if you have 'em)
2 eggs beaten
1/2 cups of parmesan cheese
2 cloves of roasted garlic
1/2 cup  of ricotta
a couple of handfuls of arugula or spinach
Good quality tomato sauce (homemade is best)
good bread
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Slice the eggplant about 1/4 to a 1/2 inch thick. Dredge eggplant slices in the flour, the egg, and then roll them in the herbed bread crumbs. Arrange the Eggplant on an indoor griddle or large flat-bottomed pan over medium heat. Drizzle with olive oil, and allow the eggplant to brown on both sides. You are not cooking it through, just browning the bread crumbs. Work in batches if you need to. Transfer the slices to a large baking sheet and put them into the oven. The low heat will cook them through and retain the crispiness. 

Roasted garlic ricotta spread:
The fast way to roast garlic is to put the garlic cloves skin-on into a dry, hot skillet. Allow it to cook until the skin is black. Let it cool, and inside the burnt skin you'll find a soft smoky, sweet clove of garlic. Mix the ricotta, roasted garlic cloves, and parmesan together using a fork.

Throw your bread into the warm oven, and then toss the arugula with a tiny bit of oil and vinegar. Once the bread is warm assemble the sandwich like this: arugula, eggplant, tomato sauce, sprinkle of parm. Spread some RGRS on the underside of the top bun and you are in for a treat. 

I accidentally caused some confusion over the eggplant that I'd like to clear up. I'd hate for anyone to eat raw eggplant. I begin cooking the eggplant by pan frying it. This serves to brown the breadcrumbs, and cooks the eggplant somewhat. Do not burn the bread crumbs on the outside just to be certain that the inside is cooked, because the eggplant will continue to cook in the oven. 

Monday, December 8, 2008

Redemption Stew Served in a Kombucha Squash Bowl

Here is a fun idea for you. Next time you make stew for dinner make it special with squash. After a post-marathon fried food bender, I began looking in the fridge for fresh food with bright colors. I piled my cutting board full of carrots, mushrooms, parsnips, fingerling potatoes, celery, fresh herbs, tomatoes, beans, red onions, and kombucha squash. I began chopping vegetables, and throwing them into my new cast iron pot. I browned up some seitan and threw it in for good measure. I added enough broth to cover, secured the lid, set it to simmer, and watched The Simpsons. When my show was over, I noticed that I had left the squash out of the stew, so I cut it in half, seeded it, and roasted it in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes. In the meantime, I siphoned off the broth from the stew to make some rice in a different pot. This makes the stew extra thick and the rice rich and flavorful. 

To serve I placed a roasted squash bowl in the center of a plate, then spooned in some of my rice. I topped that with a heaping helping of my redemption stew and some aged parm. 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

I ran the St. Jude 1/2 Marathon

I'm not joking. Today The Chubby Vegetarian ran 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 22 minutes. "Team Suzanne," started by my brother in honor of my mother, raised $1,775.00 for the kids at St. Jude. A big thank you to all of you who dished out some dough for this great cause. Also a big, big thanks to all of you who stood in the freezing cold and cheered on me, Kelly, Graham, Mo, and Lindsay.