Thursday, September 15, 2011

Getting Back Into the Groove (And a Recipe for Peach Butter)

Having recently returned from vacation it has taken me a while to get my cooking mojo back.  It was easy to cook on vacation - there was a barbecue.  Simple meals, minimal cleanup.  Now that I've gotten back into the groove I have been cooking up a storm.  But, upon returning home to an empty fridge and a despondently bare pantry, I may have overdone it with the food shopping...

As I've written here previously, I hate to waste food.  In the time it took me to get back onto the cooking wagon I had accumulated a large amount of peaches.  Between my CSA and an accidental double order on Fresh Direct I found myself with over 4 lbs of nearing-the-point-of-no-return peaches in my refrigerator.  Fortunately one of the blogs I love recently had a recipe for peach butter.  Peach butter?  I've made butter before but I've never made peach butter before.  So I figured, why not?

This recipe is completely inspired by the one found on smitten kitchen. I added in ginger and substituted lime juice for lemon.  I also used considerably less water because the first time I made this according to the original recipe I found it too thin for my taste.   There is also less sugar in this second batch because I wanted the flavor of the peaches to shine.

This is delicious on its own right off the spoon (so I've heard...).  It also makes a nice addition to plain yogurt for breakfast, a topping for ice cream, a spread on toast or an accompaniment to pork.

Peach Butter with Ginger and Lime
Yields about 4 cups

4 lbs peaches
1/4 cup water
1" piece of ginger, chopped
1 cup sugar (or less if you prefer)
Juice of 1 lime

  • To peel the peaches:  make a small "x" in the bottom of each peach and drop them into boiling water for about a minute.  Remove quickly to a bowl filled with ice water.  After another minute you should be able to slip the fruit right out of the peels.
  • Remove the pits and chop the peaches into 1" pieces. 
  • Combine with the water and ginger and bring to a boil over medium high heat.
  • Reduce to a simmer and allow the peaches to cook until they have softened - about 30-40 minutes.
  • Transfer the peaches and any accumulated juices to a blender and puree (do this in batches).
  • Return the peach puree to the pot, add in the sugar and lime juice and stir to  start dissolving the sugar.  
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a brisk simmer (you want bubbles to be breaking the surface) and allow the mixture to thicken considerably (it will reduce by about 1/3).  This can take anywhere from 45-90 minutes depending on how much moisture there was in your peaches.
  • At this point you can simply transfer the butter to jars and allow it to cool.  It will keep in the refrigerator this way for about 2 weeks.  Once it is cooled you can also transfer it to freezer safe containers and freeze the butter.  It will last for months in the freezer and allow you to savor the taste of summer peaches in say, February, when summer seems but a distant memory.
  • Or, if you choose, you can opt to can the butter and it will keep for a considerably longer amount of time.  For canning instructions please see here.  I'm lazy and just do the refrigerator method.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

For Ch*** - A Recipe for Simple Chicken Kabobs

It all started with a Facebook status update (identifying features have been omitted to protect the innocent): 

We're all busier than ever these days.  Work.  Kids.  School.  Divorce.  Life.  Marriage.  Aging parents.  Bills.  Social media.  Project Runway (well maybe that's just me).  The person who wrote this is a divorced, working, parent of two young children and the exchange really got me thinking.

Now, don't get me wrong - I was in no way judging anyone.  My philosophy when it comes to food is everything in moderation.  We eat plenty of things in our home that aren't exactly the healthiest.  I just worry that we've all come to rely on convenience foods because we've been fooled into thinking they are an easy alternative to cooking every night.  But when you measure the consequences of reliance on such foods (childhood obesity, increases in Type 2 Diabetes, rising BMIs, and so on), are they really "easier?"

Coincidentally it was recently revealed that  28% of Americans admit that they don't know how to cook.   I firmly believe that armed with the right information and a decently stocked pantry cooking at home can be just as easy as these so-called convenience foods.  If you can read and you can count you can cook.  I promise.   And I also promise that the feeling of satisfaction you get from watching someone eat something you made with your own two hands makes up for any parts that might not initially seem so "easy."

Easy Weeknight Chicken Kabobs 
Yields 6-8 servings

These kabobs are a big hit with kids (who doesn't love food on a stick?).  I usually throw together the marinade the night before I plan on making these so once dinner time rolls around all that's left is the cooking.  I usually serve these with mini whole-wheat pitas, store bought tzatziki and a green salad with feta and olives.

1/4 c olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 clove of garlic, smashed
salt and pepper to taste
3 lbs thick boneless chicken breast cut into 2" chunks

  1. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, oregano, garlic and salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Mix well.
  2. Add in the chicken and be sure to coat well with the marinade.  Cover and marinate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
  3. Preheat a grill or broiler (if necessary).
  4. Thread the meat onto skewers leaving a little space between the pieces to allow air to circulate (if using wooden skewers soak them in water for a while before so they don't burn).  You can also alternate the chicken with vegetables if you'd like.  Some to consider: onion, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, eggplant.
  5. Grill or broil the skewers, turning a few times throughout the cooking process, until they are cooked through (about 12-18 minutes depending on the heat of your grill or broiler).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why Do We Cook? (Plus a recipe for Chinese Tea Eggs)

This summer was long.   The days were hot and filled with activity.  There were highs and lows in both life and temperature.  100+ degrees outside.  Gorgeous mornings for running along the Hudson.  Hurricanes.  Rainbows.  Hail.  My daughter gained a sense of confidence when it comes to sports (something I've yet to manage).  We spent time with friends filled with food and fun. We were lucky to be able to spend another vacation on the Cape. 

But the lowest of the lows came when my father had a health scare which sent him to the hospital and me on the next plane out of town to play my least favorite recurring role:  The Daughter From New York (TDFNY).  Medical professionals in Florida who deal with patients of a certain age dread TDFNY.  She sweeps in (generally wearing all black).  She takes control.  She demands attention.  She asks pointed questions.  She challenges.  She subtly provokes.   In other words, TDFNY gets shit done.  Luckily this was just a temporary hospital stay and my father was home within 48 hours.  I got the chance to spend some quality time alone with my parents without the associated responsibilities of a husband and a daughter.  Refreshing lemonade out of what could have been some extremely sour lemons.  

So what did I do?  I cooked.  And cooked.  And then I cooked some more.  Watermelon and cucumber salad with feta, mint and lime.  Grandma's brisket with homemade mashed potatoes.  Bite sized chocolate chip cookies.  Biscotti with toffee and chocolate.  Fluffy omelets.  Homemade hot fudge sauce for ice cream.  Baked ziti with garlic bread.  I can't fix what ails my father.  I can't make it better for him or my mother.  I can't be there every day.  And I agonize over what I can't do.  But while I am there I can make sure they are nourished by my food and my love. 

Ever since that trip I've been thinking a lot about why we cook.  There are the obvious reasons:  we need to eat; it's healthier and less expensive than dining out, etc.  But for those of us who love to cook it goes much deeper.  For me I can show someone how much I love them by cooking their favorite dish.  I can make their day a little brighter with a small treat.  I can make them feel taken care of and tended to for even just a little while.   And it's also a little selfish.  I relish nothing more than seeing someone enjoy something I've made for them.  Everybody wins.

This past weekend a dear old friend and her mother came to visit me.  They were in town to mark the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  On that day they lost a firefighter brother and son when the South Tower collapsed.   Their resilience amazes me.  And while I couldn't take away their pain, the sense of loss and their sadness there was something I could do:  I could open my home to them.

 And cook.

My Mother-In-Law's Tea Eggs
Yield - 1 dozen

My mother-in-law is an amazing Chinese cook.  Born in China and raised both there and in Taiwan before coming to the United States in her 20s she has a mind-boggling command of Asian technique.  These eggs were a favorite in my husband's home when he was growing up.  I don't recall the first time I ate them but I do remember my sense of awe at how 3 simple ingredients could transform a hard-boiled egg into something so resplendent.  

1 dozen eggs, rinsed
Enough water to cover the eggs in a heavy bottomed pot
2-3 tea bags (plain old black tea will do - I prefer loose leaf teas and usually use oolong)
3 star anise
1 cup soy sauce

  1. Place the eggs in a heavy bottomed pan and cover with cold water by an inch.
  2. Bring the water to a boil.
  3. Cover the pot and remove from the heat.  Allow the eggs to sit in the covered pot of hot water for 8 minutes.
  4. Remove the eggs from the pot and set aside.  Measure out about 1 cup of the hot water and discard.
  5. Add in the teabags, the star anise and the soy sauce.  Allow the mixture to steep.
  6. Carefully roll the eggs to crack the shells all over but do NOT peel them.
  7. Return the eggs to the water/tea/anise/soy mixture and allow the eggs to steep in the mixture for 30 minutes while it cools.
  8. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
  9. When you are ready to eat an egg simply remove it from the liquid and peel it.   You will delight in the gorgeous marbling that has taken place.
The eggs will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.