29 July 2010

Using up stale bread: Plum Bread Pudding

I've been making Jim Lahey's famous no-knead bread for a while now but hadn't tried any of his other recipes since the basic one is so damn good. But this week, my husband and I neglected to eat our loaf of bread quickly enough, and it started to become stale and hard. Since Lahey's book
features an entire chapter on stale bread recipes, I decided to give one a shot, settling on bread pudding tart (budino). I followed the recipe pretty closely, except that I halved the sugar and used plums rather than peaches.

I love the idea of bread pudding, but I've often found it either too dry, too sweet, or too syrupy. So, I was pretty elated when I tasted this one -- it was moist, not too sweet, and out-of-this-world delicious. And it was totally worth the burn blister I received on my finger, which I stupidly stuck into a scalding caramel sauce in order to taste it.

(not as pretty as it could be, but so yummy)

25 July 2010

Playing with food: A success (farmer's cheese) and failure (collards and beans)

Most Polish families are likely familiar with farmer's cheese, a mild and soft cheese that resembles ricotta or firm cottage cheese. My mom has made it for years, using it as filling for pierogies and cheesecake and as a base for tomato sandwiches. After years of completely not paying attention to her technique, I decided to try it myself. It was surprisingly easy and yielded a delicious result.

I started with a half gallon of high-quality (local and organic) milk that was pasteurized, NOT ultra-pasteurized (a totally unnecessary process, in my opinion), and let it sit until it reached room temperature. I heated the milk, stirring often to prevent scorching, until it simmered.

(start with high-quality milk)

Once the milk began to bubble slightly, I added about 3 tablespoons of sour cream and a splash of white vinegar. My mom uses buttermilk, but I didn't have any on hand, and she said sour cream would do the trick. I've read that you can forgo the sour cream or buttermilk and just use lemon juice or vinegar (1/2 a cup or so), but I like the idea of adding dairy rather than going heavy on either of the latter.

After adding my sour cream and vinegar, I turned off the heat and began slowly stirring. The curds and whey began to separate almost instantaneously. After stirring for another minute or so, I let the mixture sit for 10 minutes.

(curds and whey)

The final step was to strain it. Although most sources suggest that you use a cheesecloth, my mom usually uses only a strainer, and that worked out just fine, though I would have benefited from a finer mesh. The outcome was about a 1/2 lb of cheese. Not bad for my first try!

(farmer's cheese - voila!)

While my first attempt at cheese was a success, my first time cooking with collards yielded a mediocre result.

After hearing a radio interview with my beloved Mark Bittman raving about a simple meal of collards, beans, and garlic, I decided to give the meal a try. I had no recipe on hand, so improvised as best as I could.

I boiled a bunch of white and kidney beans until just about soft. I then sauteed onions, garlic, a small handful of heirloom cherry tomatoes, and added a huge dose of Indian curry powder (because I can't get enough of it). Once everything was nice and soft, I added 2 bunches of chopped collard greens, and then poured in the water in which the beans had been cooking (since I didn't have veggie broth on hand). I then added the beans and allowed the whole mixture to cook for about 30 minutes. The result was edible, but that's about it. Such a shame, since it looked fairly pretty.

(pretty but not very good)

I think maybe I just don't like collards. Does anyone have any other ideas how to prepare them?

20 July 2010

Cluttering the house: finally hanging stuff up

After a year and a half of living in our South Philly house, we finally decided to decorate the living room, since we may be living here for another year and a half. We're renting, so unfortunately we can't paint the walls or get rid of the horrible popcorn ceiling. So, we covered as much wall space as possible. I have fairly eclectic decorating tastes. I've always liked a very cluttered, jumbled aesthetic. So, we put my mishmashed collection to work.

Behind the new couch, we put up a "tapestry" - really just semi-heavy brocaded fabric from a shop on Fabric Row. I love the look of tapestries but can't really afford the real thing, so this was the next best thing. I need to steam it a bit to get rid of the creases, but I really love the ornate pattern, especially against our ostentatious sofa.

On and against the south wall, we also put up prints of 19th-century French posters, a Halloween-inspired collection, tikis galore, and the map I scored at an antique shop.

For the north wall, where the tv currently sits, we added some masks, my Jesus tchochkes (mostly Polish folk art), and scattered a few photos on the bookshelves.

Nothing matches - and that's just the way I like it!

18 July 2010

Playing with food: asparagus galette

I saw this amazing-looking zucchini galette recipe on Smitten Kitchen and decided to give it a go. I couldn't find any zucchini at Whole Foods, so I decided to try asparagus instead. I made a few other amendments, including substituting extra ricotta for the mozzarella and leaving out the basil garnish. I followed the recipe's directions to make the crust, though I neglected to make an egg wash, which may be why the pastry didn't achieve a golden color. The galette was pretty tasty, but the pastry could have used 10 more minutes in the oven. It also could have used the styling of Smitten Kitchen. Mine did not look nearly as pretty.

Signs of plant life: garden update

Well, my potatoes were a bust. Not a single one came out, even though the leaves were initially lush before flowering and wilting (a sign that potatoes are ready to harvest). Maybe next year. I found a You Tube video that shows a successful five-gallon-container potato harvest, and I'm going to try to replicate it.

My first tomato plant is steadily producing fruit, though almost all of the skins are splitting. I've read that happens when they are watered too much too quickly, thus causing the skin to expand too rapidly. I've been watering fairly regularly and evenly, so I'm not sure where I'm messing up. The leaves also look terrible - they're mostly yellow-brown and withered. Still, the tomatoes are delicious and the fruit seems relatively healthy - I've simply been slicing off the split parts.

This year's intense heat has not been kind to my radishes or lettuce--many have bolted--but I'm still getting some crops, which is a relief.

So, I made a delicious salad with lettuce, radishes, and tomatoes from the garden, some store-bought fresh mozzarella, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Yum!

04 July 2010

Playing with food: fruit picking

Yesterday, I finally went fruit picking, which I haven't done since I was a kid. I decided to try Mood's Farm, since it was recommended by two of my favorite canning blogs, Doris and Jilly Cook and Food in Jars. My goal was to come home with a bucketful of raspberries, but they were pretty much picked over, so I ended up with less than a pound. I still went away happy, though, because the sweet plums were bountiful, and at $1.15 a lb, I stocked up.

With my fruit safely home, I made small batches of jam: one 12-oz jar of raspberry jam, and two 12-oz jars of sweet plum jam. I also added one small peach into the plum mixture. Ordinarily, I dislike anything peach-flavored, with the exception of actual peaches, but I decided to experiment. I tasted the resulting batch, and it came out quite tasty, so I dare say that the experiment paid off.

I've been using low-sugar pectin in all of my jam recipes, since I don't like a lot of sugar, and conventional jam recipes call for ungodly amounts. I've read that pectin can sometimes negatively alter the taste of jams, but I haven't found that to be the case yet. I'd like to try making jams without pectin, but I'm not sure if that means I must increase the sugar. If you happen to know, send me an email or leave a comment.

Raspberry jam in the center, sweet plum jam on either side