Thursday, October 30, 2008

Caramel Sauce

There are some things you can buy in the grocery store that are so easy to make yet so expensive to buy... like caramel sauce. A high quality caramel sauce might run you 6$ or 7$ for an 8 oz jar and really all it consists of is sugar, cream, butter and salt and a little know how...
The recipe I have below uses a little bit more salt, but it uses a high quality salt that makes this sauce incredibly flavorful and addicting. It is important to not use a cheap low quality iodized salt because it will only make your caramel sauce taste salty. I used a fleur de sel but any good salt will do, even a more every day sea salt. When you have a recipe that has only 4 ingredients you should make sure they are all of high quality because the flavor definitely shows through. The know how comes in the form of sugar cooking. This may seem complicated with all the different temperatures and precautions but for caramel, you don't even need a thermometer. You can gauge by color.

Caramel Sauce (makes about 1 1/4 cups)

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TBS corn syrup
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 TBS butter (1/2 stick)
1/2- 1 tsp salt (depends on the salt and how coarse the grain)

Start with a medium size sauce pan. Put the sugar, water and corn syrup into the pan and stir to dissolve. Turn the heat on high, and place a lid on the pot and keep it on until the mix has come to a boil long enough that it has created steam. Wait until the steam has hit the top of the lid and is dropping back down the sides- this is cleaning the sides of the pot, making sure all the sugar is dissolved and pushed back to the bottom of the pot. At this point take the lid off and DO NOT STIR! Cook until the sugar is a deep dark amber- if it is too light then you don't get a strong caramel flavor, your sauce will just taste sweet, too dark and it will taste like burned marshmallows. It can be hard to tell the true color in the pan so take some out of the pan and drop it on a white plate.

Meanwhile, heat the cream up in the microwave, until it is lukewarm (it mixes into the hot sugar better this way). Once the sugar is a the right color, turn the heat off and SLOWLY steam the cream into the sugar using a whisk to mix it in. Pour about a quarter of the cream into the sugar, whisk, and then slowly pour in more. Since the sugar is so hot it will rapidly bubble and give off very hot steam, so you want to not only go slow, but also keep your hands out of the way (I've gotten a few steam burns this way). After all the cream is added in, if there is still sugar that hasn't melted in to the cream, you can turn the heat back on low to finish dissolving the sugar. Then let the mix cool slightly about 10 minutes or so, then add in the butter and salt. There is a range for the salt because if you are using a really fine grained sea salt, you will want to start with 1/2 a tsp (or even a little less) and if it's coarser you may find that after 1/2 a tsp you need more. Taste and add more according to your taste. You want to add enough salt so you get that hint of salt with the caramel flavor... it's amazingly addicting!
The sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for a few weeks with no problem. Make sure to gently rewarm before serving (getting it too hot will make it very thin).

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I know it's a little late to post a mid summer meal like gazpacho, (when you have more tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers than you know what to do with). For me that came a little later this summer and then it took a while to put the post up. So it you are moving onto fall produce and meals, tuck this one away for next summer because it's surely a keeper! Or give it a try on the next nice fall afternoon we have! In my mind gazpacho should have some body to it, lots of flavor and some weight on your tongue, not just V-8 with some vegetables floating in it! I found a great recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook. What I like about this recipe is it has some bread in it (gives a great deal of body and mouth feel)and it roasts the peppers and tomatoes which brings a deeper depth of flavor. While it is a little more work than your normal gazpacho it is worth the work!

Gazpacho (adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook pg 88-89)
Serves 6 as a main coarse

2 pounds of tomatoes
2 red bell peppers
1 cucumber or 2 small kirby cucumbers (pickling cucumbers), peeled, seeded, chopped
4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
2 TBS of sherry vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
4 slices (1/2" thick) good quality bread, crusts removed
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp minced fresh tarragon (optional, if you have it)

Heat the oven to 350. Roast the tomatoes and peppers for 30 minutes. Remove the tomatoes and place them in a bowl to cool. Continue to roast the peppers until lightly charred, then remove them from the pan and place them in a covered bowl or paper bag until cool (helps to remove the skin). Remove skin and cores from tomatoes and tear the flesh into smaller pieces over a bowl to catch all the juice. Remove the skin and seeds from the bell peppers and add to the tomatoes. Add in chopped garlic, cucumbers, vinegar and oil.
Rip the pieces of bread into 1" pieces and add 1/2 cup water to the bread. Let it soak for 10 minutes. Drain any excess water, but don't squeeze the bread. Transfer the bread to the bowl with the tomato mixture along with the salt, pepper and tarragon (if using). Mix everything well and cover and let sit 8 hours to overnight)in the refrigerator. Up to a few hours before serving, thoroughly blend everything in the blender and check again for seasoning adding more salt, pepper or vinegar if necessary. Feel free to garnish with a little fresh herbs (basil or chives or parsley) on top. Serve chilled.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Buttermilk Ranch

I am slowly working on a collection of salad dressings beyond the impromptu vinaigrette. This version of Ranch still has all the recognizable flavors but it's a little fresher, cleaner and healthier than your bottled variety. It's quick and easy and makes a great dressing for potato salad.

Buttermilk Ranch (makes about 1 cup)

1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream (can use low fat) or mayonnaise (also can use low fat)
1 TBS chives, chopped fine
1 TBS dill, chopped fine
1 TBS oregano, chopped fine
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Put all ingredients into a blender or blend with a hand held immersion blender*, or for a little rougher texture, you can just whisk everything together. Will keep well for a week.

*I have found my immersion blender one of the most helpful tools in the kitchen. There all sorts of models you can buy with a varying price range to go with it, but you'll find even a basic $25 model very helpful for blending dressings, sauces, soups or basically anything you could put into a blender. If you are thinking of investing in one, I think the blenders with a stainless steel bottom (as opposed to plastic) are worth the extra money. The plastic bottoms can melt if you are often pureeing hot soups or liquids as the bottom has a tendency to soften and become a little misshapen. They usually will come with several other attachments like a whisk that works for small jobs (like whipping a few egg whites or a small amount of cream), and a small container with a blade that acts much like a food processor. There are many times I have pureed dips or pesto in there with great success. Out of all the kitchen gadgets out there this is definitely one I recommend!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Vegetable Strata

A strata is a savory bread pudding and the name strata refers to all the different layers. It can be made with many different combination's of ingredients. I love any food that uses bread as one of it's main ingredients. This one almost had the flavors of lasagna but using bread instead of noodles.

I layered this with slow roasted tomatoes (the recipe for them is great, I found it on Orangette , and was also featured in her column in Bon Appetite. Check it out, if you have any left over tomatoes). I layered the tomatoes with sauteed spinach, grilled portabellos, and some fontina and then on topped it with more tomatoes and Gorgonzola which formed a nice crispy crust that could be likened to a Gorgonzola tomato toast. Maybe a good recipe in the making, a little tomato spread on toast, topped with Gorgonzola and baked until crunchy. Hmmm....
This recipe I originally got from Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison I followed the recipe with a few modifications but this could certainly be deviated from, with endless possibilities! I'm thinking the next version might include something like roasted winter squash, caramelize onions... or maybe roasted apples, bacon, caramelized onions and Gouda... the possibilities are endless. This can easily be made in advance and is a perfect way to use up bread, especially bread a few days old.

Strata (8 servings)

1 lb portabello mushrooms tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and grilled and sliced thin
2 bunches of spinach wilted, squeezed dry and chopped
approximately 1 1/2 lbs slow roasted tomatoes
5 cloves of garlic chopped finely
4 eggs
2 cups milk
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
10 thin slices of good bread ( I used a mix of a baguette and a semolina bread)
2 TBS chopped rosemary
1/2 cup grated fontina
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola

Pre- heat the oven to 375. Butter a 9x12" baking dish
Lay out a layer of roasted tomatoes along the bottom of the dish. Next lay down bread to cover the surface in a single layer. Scatter the spinach over the bread and follow with half of each, the herbs, garlic and fontina. Lay another layer of bread, and repeat the same process using the mushrooms this time in place of the spinach. Top with a layer of bread and then scatter the rest of the tomatoes and all the Gorgonzola. Mix the eggs milk and nutmeg together and pour the custard over the entire pan. At this point it can be baked immediately or it can wait several hours, covered and refrigerated. Bake in the oven until brown and puffed, about 1 hour. Cool for a few minutes before serving

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Braised Red Cabbage

I have obviously not mastered working full time in a job that keeps me busy, and a life that always has me doing something, AND blogging! I'm trying though, I think about it all the time and have not given up yet, and you shouldn't either! I have a few posts I will do over this weekend, to hopefully make up for an absentee summer. (Although I have only been averaging one post a month so it won't be hard to exceed!)
This first picture I have up is a sample from our CSA.

This stands for Community Supported Agriculture and this was our first year subscribing to it (but not our last). This is a program that lets people invest in a farms crop for the year, before the season starts and then each week you receive a mystery box of produce all during the season (usually running May through the fall). This was our first year doing it and we have loved it. I found the farm that we subscribe to through a website called Local Harvest. That is what I linked "CSA" to above. I wanted to link directly to the farms web site but it didn't seem to be working. It has been a great experience, and we have signed up for the fall season as well so we will have beautiful organic produce coming to us every week until December! It was my original intention to take a picture of every week's box and feature a recipe for each week to go with the picture... you can see how far I got with that! Every farm works their CSA differently, depending on what they grow/offer. The farm we went with, Groundworks Organics, is out of Eugene Oregon and they have been wonderful! During the week we would get an email of a list of proposed items, and then a newsletter on Saturdays when we picked up our box. I thought they did a great job of varying the produce, so we never felt like we were constantly eating the same thing! That reminds me of last summer when I pulled a rookie move of planting 5 zucchini plants (not knowing how easy or fast they grow) and towards the middle and end of the season we definitely had our fill! Never will I do that again, I quickly learned! With our CSA we have been able to experience a little of everything. So that brings me to our first recipe, for braised red cabbage. I had gotten a head of cabbage, and didn't have anything coming up (like a dinner party or get together) to use it on. I needed to find something I could make that would use up the whole head without us having to eat coleslaw for an entire week straight! I've always loved braised cabbage, and found a great recipe out of The Gourmet Cookbook. I have found many good recipes from there in fact (of course since they all come from the magazine!).

Braised Red Cabbage (from The Gourmet Cookbook pg 528)
serves 8-10 portions

1 medium size head of red cabbage quartered, cored and thinly sliced crossways
4 slices of bacon (medium dice)
1 TBS of butter
2 large onions sliced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
3 TBS of packed brown sugar
1 TBS of salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Rinse cabbage under cold water, then drain; do not dry. Cook bacon in 6-8 qt heavy pot over medium heat until most of the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon bits, and leave the fat in the pan, and add the butter. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until golden brown and then add the cabbage, and the rest of the ingredients. Cover and simmer, stir occasionally until cabbage is tender, about 1 1/4 hours. Sprinkle on bacon after done cooking.

*with only two of us in the house, we weren't able to finish all of it so I decided to see how it will hold up in the freezer. When I defrost it I'll let you know!