October 31, 2010

Preserving Flavour in a Jar: Fig Lemon Thyme Confiture

Well, shoot.  It was only after I posted my adventures in canning - namely making plum jam and Italian tomato sauce - that I read the deets on September's Daring Cooks' Challenge.  Yep.  We were asked to learn about food preservation and can or freeze something.  I felt sufficiently proficient to tackle something other than the apple butter or bruschetta in a jar that was suggested...and after reading this recipe on Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen, this was a must do.  And even though September is feeling very far away, I wanted to post the results.

The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, and challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it by either canning or freezing it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

Fig Lemon Thyme Confiture
from Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen
updated September 2013
4 lbs. fresh figs
1 lemon
½ c honey
Scant 3 c sugar
3 to 4 sprigs of thyme, tied together in a small piece of cheesecloth (optional)*

1.  Pour boiling water over the figs, allow to stand for 10 minutes and then drain. Quarter the figs, then place them in a large non-reactive pan.  I love my sturdy and pretty #26 Le Creuset pot.

2.  Wash the lemon well and slice very thin with a mandoline or a sharp knife, and then cut into quarter slices.*  Remove the seeds. Add the lemons, honey, sugar and thyme to the figs.

3.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Take off of the heat, cool slightly, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight to develop the flavors.

4.  When you're ready to can, remove the thyme and bring the jam to a full rolling boil, and boil vigorously for five minutes, stirring constantly to avoid burning the jam.  For a thicker jam, add one packet of liquid pectin before bringing to a boil.

5.  Pour hot jam into hot sterilized jars and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

This gorgeous jam is the perfect accompaniment for a lovely cheese course, an unusual condiment for a grilled cheese sandwich, roast chicken or just spread over a piece of thick and crusty baguette, made all the more decadent with a slather of butter.

*The first time I made this I left the lemon slices whole, and did not use the pectin.  I found the resulting jam too "chunky" for my liking, but also not "jammy" enough.  Also be careful with how much thyme you use.  The flavour can be overwhelming for the delicate figs.

October 26, 2010

Comfort Food: Eliz's Roast Chicken

Sure there’s fancy. I have stacks of old Gourmet magazines in the basement, filled with recipes two pages long, multi-day complex affairs that somehow never quite live up to all their promise. It used to be that I’d seek out the especially long ones, seeing a virtue in surviving a marathon of cooking, struggling to get everything to the table at once and hot.

And while those moments of total immersion in a new recipe, technique or process still beckon (tomato sauce anyone?), there’s something deeply satisfying about simple. A chicken. A lemon. Some fresh herbs. Garlic. Olive oil.

Roast chicken really is a most magical dish.

Eliz’s Roast Chicken
serves two greedy people, or four moderately hungry ones.

Perfect every time, this is my go-to meal for after work, Friday night dinner with friends, or a lazy Sunday lunch. Add a salad, good crusty bread and a bottle of wine or whatever else appeals to your rumbling stomach.

1 4½ - 5 lb organic whole roasting chicken
1 lemon
2 large garlic cloves
1 bunch fresh marjoram
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

2. Rinse chicken inside and out and dry well with a tea towel.

3. Generously sprinkle the inner cavity with salt and pepper. I like to use finely ground seasoned sea salt from France.

4. Quarter the lemon, chop the unpeeled garlic cloves in half and roughly chop a generous portion of marjoram. Stuff as much as will fit into the chicken, starting with a piece of lemon, tucking in a few sprigs of marjoram, adding garlic liberally, until you have used as much of the flavourings as possible. Pour a tbsp of olive oil into the cavity.

5. Using kitchen twine, truss and tie the chicken. Rub the outside with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place in a roasting pan with rack.  I have recently used my Le Creuset casserole very successfully, using rolled aluminum foil to create a makeshift rack.

6. Place the chicken the chicken in the oven, uncovered, breast side up, and roast for 1 to 1 ½ hours (the general rule of thumb is to cook chicken for 20 minutes per pound), until juices run clear when the thigh is pierced. If you’re using a thermometer, the internal temperature should be about 165°F.*

7. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes so that the juices settle. Cut into pieces and put on a serving platter, squeezing the lemons that were in the chicken over the pieces. Alternatively, you can deglaze the roasting pan with the lemon juice and some white wine, and reduce the juices to a lemony sauce.

*Full disclosure: I have a Turbo Chef, so that beautiful bird is fully cooked and ready in less than 30 minutes. For those of you with high speed ovens, follow the directions. Many roast chicken recipes suggest an initial cooking for 15 minutes at 425°F, and then reducing the heat for the rest of the cooking cycle. Experiment! It's so easy and worth the time and minimal effort to get oh-so-juicy chicken.

October 23, 2010

Cheers to the Weekend: The Marlatini

The birthday girl at a recent visit to Sketch

It’s the weekend, and it’s time for bottoms up! This deliciously fruity drink was concocted by my niece Marla, and in honour of her birthday today, we’re raising a glass to toast her. Cheers, Marla, and many, many more.

The Marlatini
makes one very generous drink, or two to share

1 oz Cointreau
1 oz Chambord
1 oz Limoncello
(if you adjust these amounts to make one drink, do so in equal measure; eg ½ oz each Cointreau, Chambord and Limoncello)

3 oz cranberry juice
3 oz orange juice
(if you adjust these amounts make one drink, do so in equal measure; eg 2 oz each cranberry and orange juice)

2 oz club soda

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into a large martini glass. Serve with a twist of lemon or orange.

I love this all-in-one shaker that allows me to measure and shake easily

Shake it baby, shake it!

If you're using the original portions, be sure you have a big martini glass!

Bottoms up!

October 19, 2010

Eat to the Beet: Fabulous Roasted Beet and Grapefruit Salad

Autumn's market bounty

It’s here – that time of year when the fresh produce of fall’s bounty slowly starts winding down and is replaced by sturdy root vegetables. Still, the market was full of colour this Saturday: brilliant sunshine taking the chill off of the October air; gerbera daisies still in abundance from Milan at Bizjak Farms, along with tables laden with apples; multi coloured beets and kale from Ann at Wooler Dale Farms.

We let the season guide us, a Sunday brunch in the offing. Those candy coloured beets were a must and with a new issue of LCBO’s Food & Drink on hand, featuring Ontario’s harvest and plenty of beet recipes, we were set for at least one star attraction on the menu.

Roasted Beet and Grapefruit Salad
adapted from Food & Drink magazine

serves 4

8 baby beets, multi-coloured, trimmed
¼ c water
Salt and pepper
3 small ruby red grapefruit
1 tbsp grapefruit zest
1 tsp honey
1 tsp grainy mustard
¼ c canola oil
6 c mixed salad greens
¼ c thinly sliced red onion
¼ c Marcona almonds
4 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled (we used Grappa soaked goat from Monforte)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Trim beet leaves to ¼ inch from beets, and trim off root end. Scrub beets well, and place in a baking dish with the water. Season with salt and pepper, cover with foil and roast until beets are tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool, covered, until cool enough to handle. Trim stalk ends and peel off skins. (Peeled beets can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to 2 days).

Trimmed beets, ready for roasting

The colours are still vivid after roasting

Don't worry - your fingers won't stay stained!

Nature's beautiful colours

3. While the beets are roasting, make the dressing. Finely grate 1 tbsp zest from a grapefruit. Squeeze half a grapefruit to yield 3 tbsp juice. Whisk together zest, juice, honey, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Gradually whisk in oil. (Dressing can be refrigerated for up to 8 hours before serving. Whisk again before using).

4. Cut the beets into wedges and toss with 2 tbsp of dressing. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes or refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Cut the two remaining grapefruit into segments, removing pith. Grapefruit can also be prepped in advance, covered and refrigerated.

5. Just before serving, toss salad greens with half the remaining dressing. Top with beets, grapefruit, onion, almonds and cheese. Drizzle with remaining dressing, toss lightly, and serve.

An entertaining note: even for brunch, it's fun to start with an "appetiser".  Since ours was a savoury brunch for six, we started with yellow pepper sippers, a nifty way to serve this fabulous yellow pepper recipe.


October 06, 2010

Sweet Treat: Lemon Panna Cotta with Balsamic-Scented Strawberries

When it comes to dessert, I'm more of a cheese girl.  Give me a nibble or two of Comté , tempt my palate with Piave, let me get cosy with an award-winning Canadian clothbound cheddar.  Savoury over sweet has always held sway with me.

But even so, I do indulge in sweet treats, and more than occasionally.  When I do, it's the rich-creamy-whipped-cream variety that has the most appeal.  Simple is best; and if the dessert has lemon, it goes up a decided notch.  When I first had this gorgeous lemony panna cotta at a friend's house, I knew it would immediately become part of my repetoire.  Three steps, and a bit of planning, and I have a delicious treat that gives me pause before reaching for the cheese tray.

Lemon Panna Cotta
serves 8

This make ahead dessert is light, so it's perfect after a rich meal.  Served in pretty cups instead of ramekins, it becomes a beautiful centrepiece for a brunch gathering.  Top the panna cotta with fresh strawberries scented with balsamic vinegar.

1 envelope unflavoured gelatin
¼ c cold water
⅔ c sugar
2 c whipping cream, divided
⅓ c lemon juice
1 tbsp grated lemon peel
1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
1 c Greek style yogurt

1. Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in a small saucepan. Let sit five minutes. Warm gently until gelatin dissolves.

2. In another medium saucepan, gently heat sugar and half the cream. Cook just until sugar dissolves. Stir in lemon juice, peel and vanilla paste. Whisk in dissolved gelatin and cool 10 minutes. Whisk in remaining cream and yogurt.

Lots of lemony peel give the panna cotta a wonderful zing

Be sure to use thick Greek style yogurt - this is not the time to go for low fat

3. Divide mixture between 8 ramekins. Chill until set, at least two hours.

Our teacup collection is the perfect receptacle for the panna cotta

Balsamic-Scented Strawberries

While the panna cotta is chilling, prepare a fresh strawberry topping.

1½ c fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp sugar (more to taste)

Mix the berries, vinegar and sugar in a bowl. Set aside to macerate. When ready to serve the panna cotta, spoon some berries and their juices on top of each dish.

Pretty cups for a pretty dessert