Saturday, August 8, 2009

the barefoot contessa's strawberry jam

my attempts at running have been thwarted by this muggy heat. there's no way in hell i'm going back out into that for a run after i get home from work in the afternoons - no way. this saddens me as i know it'll hurt when i do get back into running later this year.

i did take a few weeks off after running in the Peachtree Road Race, but being idle does not suit me. i get lazy and then hate the fact that i'm lazy, then beat myself up over it. what's the use of that? so i started using my elliptical machine again, which is inside the air-conditioned house. the boy has named it Sven, so that he can joke about me having a hot date with Sven later on. (side note: Sven??? seriously. what kind of name is that? the tall Nordic boys were never my type. not that i have a type. anyway).

so i'm back to watching a lot of crappy TV while on a hot date with Sven. we recently upped our cable package and now have Showtime, Encore, etc..., but let me tell you, there is usually not a damn thing on anyway. except for one day, while flipping around, i watched Ina Garten make strawberry jam. and as soon as i hopped off Sven (heh), i ran off to get the ingredients for this.

my mom is a good cook, although she tends to never follow recipes at all. she owns a lot of cookbooks but i doubt she's even glanced through a good portion of them. most of them are from places like the Zuni Cafe or Stars, places she's eaten where the food was lovely, so she felt compelled to buy the cookbook. she has handwritten recipes on index cards and the margins of ripped out magazine articles scattered around her kitchen, but when it comes down to following a recipe, she will go with her gut (with more or less success). this is why it's so hard for me to get a recipe out of her. if i've had a good dish at her house and ask for the recipe, she gets flustered and says, "Mais, i don't know, i don't measure, you just pour it in. Tu m'ennuies".

she has never been much into canning or preserving; although having said that i remember one summer weekend spending the day with her and my brother in the forest of St Germain en Laye gathering raspberries which grew wild all along the park lanes. we took every pot and deep bowl in the house we could find, and filled them all up. i remember the sweet smell of raspberries and sugar boiling away on the stove, and the jam she made from them. she never made jam again, preferring to buy it ready-made. but i wonder if that raspberry memory of mine is what prompts me to attempt jam every few years. i had very little success with preserving until i came across Ms Garten's recipe (see here for a ridiculous failed attempt a while back). because the strawberries that are available now are marvelously sweet, i've cut back the amount of sugar in the original recipe to 2 cups (3 cups just seemed like a whole hell of a lot). the end result makes two mason jar pints. Ms Garten says it will keep refrigerated for at least 2 weeks, but mine never does because the elves eat it up before it ever comes near going bad.

strawberry jam, adapted from Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics

3 pints strawberries
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur
1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and small-diced
1/2 cup fresh blueberries

1. Wash and hull the strawberries. Cut the larger berries in half or quarters and leave the small berries whole. Place the strawberries in a Dutch oven and toss them with the sugar and orange-flavored liqueur.

2. Bring the berry mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Add the apple and blueberries and continue to keep the mixture at a rolling boil, stirring occasionally, until the jam reaches 220 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. This should take 25 to 35 minutes. Skim and discard any foam that rises to the top. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and then store covered in the refrigerator.

Monday, August 3, 2009

chickpea and kale curry

the other day when my buddy Caprice and i were busy chatting via gchat about various summertime salads, she passed along this recipe she’d made several times for a type of chick pea and spinach curry that could be done in the slow cooker. to me, this is fantastic, as it adds to my growing list of dishes i don't have to make in a traditional oven. Here in Atlanta we’ve reached that window of mugginess where I refuse to run the oven if I can help it – it will heat up the house indecently, make the A/C run overtime, and generally make me irritable as hell. The only time I’ve not been totally irritated while cooking in the middle of summer in front of an overheating oven was one time when the boy and I were working a catering job in Annapolis, MD a few years back. We had set up a makeshift kitchen in the client’s garage, but the client insisted we lower the garage doors when the guests arrived so that the guests would be spared seeing the hired help at work. The windows had been nailed shut, so there was no fresh air flow coming in. So as we’re plating stacked heirloom tomato and crispy pancetta salads, I looked down at the instant read thermometer in my jacket pocket to see that it was a mere 125 degrees F in that tiny garage (the boy later joked about how we were medium-rare). that sounds totally miserable – and it was, for a moment. But we knew it was temporary, and we knew we had to kick ass and make the food look effortless and elegant, so work our asses off we did. To this day the boy and I still laugh about that afternoon.

Caprice insisted that I use dried chick peas, as the difference between canned and dried is major. I promised I would, planned on making this dish over the weekend. then yesterday I forgot to buy dried chick peas (in my defense, I was thwarted by a hangover). I was kind of irritated with myself this morning when I realized this lack of judgment on my part, so I figured I’d use canned and cook it in a Dutch oven (no need to break out the slow cooker if I’m only cooking this dish for an hour). This is my version of the recipe, swapping kale for the spinach because spinach tends to shrink to about nothing, and I like a bit of texture in my cooked greens. I will make a mental note of trying this again with dried chickpeas.

This will make several lunches for me (3 or 4, depending on how hungry I am), with a nice squirt of sriracha to spice it up – totally untraditional to the origins of this dish, but I pretty much add sriracha or Texas Pete to a lot of things I eat. One day my stomach lining will thank me I’m sure.

chick pea and kale curry

2 15-oz cans of chick peas
1 cup chicken stock (or water, if you want to make this totally vegan)
8 cups kale, ripped into large pieces
2 15-oz cans diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Drain chickpeas, then toss into a Dutch oven with 1 cup water or chicken stock, kale, tomatoes, coriander, cumin, garam masala, turmeric, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and pepper.

2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for one hour. Sprinkle in remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, stir in cilantro and serve.