Tuesday, September 28, 2010

the mothership of condiments

It never occurred to me to make homemade ketchup. That is until I tried the one from Ramos House in San Juan Capistrano. Chef and owner John Q’s recipe is a secret, but is for sale, I think he charges about $8.00 a bottle, which, admittedly I have purchased. But for the sole purpose of trying to figure out what he puts in it. His deliciously nuanced ketchup is spicy, sweet and slightly smoky. I have made a few attempts and think I’ve finally come up with a pretty darn good version of my own. It starts with only the best vine ripened tomatoes cooked with some fresh chilies, ginger, and honey and then simmered with a bundle of spices to round out the flavor. It gets finished off with some apple cider vinegar to give it that subtle tang that we all know and love.

Given in old-fashioned, hinged-topped, clear glass bottles, this everyday pantry product is even more special when made from the really beautiful tomatoes found in the farmers’ markets right now. What a great way to preserve summer throughout the dark winter months until they make their appearance again next year.


Homemade Spicy Ketchup
makes about 3cups

Olive oil
5 lbs. red ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
A thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 small fresh red chilies, sliced
3 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. yellow mustard seed
1 tsp. allspice, whole
1 tsp. coriander seed, whole
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Put the vegetables, parsley, garlic and salt in a large pot.

Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Adjust the heat to maintain a brisk simmer and cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 30 minutes. Pass the mixture through a food mill fitted with the fine disk and return the puree to the pot.

Put the bay leaves, mustard seeds, allspice, coriander, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and cloves on a square of cheesecloth, and then tie with kitchen twine to make a spice bag.

Add to the pot with the honey. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced by half, about 1 hour. Remove the spice bag and add the vinegar. Continue to simmer, stirring as needed to prevent sticking until the mixture reaches the desired thickness or about 3cups.

Fill a canning kettle with enough water to cover 2 hinged flask style jars or 3 half pint jars. Bring to a boil. Wash the jars with hot, soapy water; rinse well, and keep upside down on a clean dish towel until you are ready to fill them. Put 3 new lids (never reuse lids) in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water, if you’re using the half pint jars.

Using a ladle and a funnel, and transfer the ketchup to the jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Wipe rims clean with a damp paper towel. Top with the lids and secure tightly.

Place the jars on the preserving rack and lower it into the canning kettle. If the water doesn’t cover the jars, add boiling water from a tea kettle. Cover the canning kettle. After the water returns to a boil, boil for 15 minutes. With a jar lifter, transfer the jars to a rack and cool completely. Do not touch the jars again until they are completely cooled. If using the half pint jars you can confirm that a lid has sealed by pressing the center with your finger. If it gives, it has not sealed and the contents should be refrigerated and used within a week. Store sealed jars in a cool dark place for least two weeks before using. They will keep for up to 1 year before opening. Refrigerate after opening.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

spread the love

Gift giving is a tangible expression of care and love. For me a homemade food gift packed into tins, jars, boxes or cellophane bags tied with ribbon represents creative energy and time spent in the kitchen-a homemade hug. It’s a personal connection of sharing a homemade gift and wrapping it up in some special way that brings joy and delivers goodness and cheer.

I made a promise to myself after the holidays last year that I was going to get a good jump on my holiday gift giving projects. And to that end I have been canning and preserving quite a bit over that last few weeks.

Figs have been in abundance this season; I’ve made some fig jam laced with cognac, as well as a fig and balsamic conserve. Rainier and Bing cherries have been potted with rum and vanilla and with summer winding down the bargain-priced, end of season green tomatoes at the farmers’ market are so good when preserved and turned into green tomato chutney. Concord grapes have been slowly making their way into the markets lately and I have a recipe for a compote of Concord grapes and walnuts I’ve been wanting to try.

This is also a great time to grab the last of those vine ripened tomatoes and turn them into spicy tomato ketchup, and when preserved into a flask-style bottle paired with a homemade smoky BBQ rub it makes a delightful and incredibly useful gift for those friends who like to grill.

Over the next few weeks I thought I might share with you some of my favorite recipes old and new, as well as some tips, notes and packaging details with the hopes that you will enjoy creating these gifts for those you love. After all, giving a gift, especially a food gift comes from the heart.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

as easy as pie

What could be better than a picture perfect double-crusted pie, its rim crimped and decorated with the back of a fork, its top baked to a beautiful golden brown and a starburst-pattern in the center that has been stained from the luscious bubbling filling? The aroma of warm fruits that have been encased in a tender flaky dough baked to perfection is probably the dessert that is tops on my list. Although truth be told, I’ve been known to have pie for breakfast as well.

The secret to baking fruit pies in my opinion is the cooking of the filling on top of the range. This gives the opportunity to adjust the flavors before the pie goes into the oven-a good idea and a guarantee of success from pie to pie, no matter the sweetness, or lack thereof, of a particular batch of fruit. Right now at the farmers’ market plums are in season and are over flowing on the market tables. One of my favorites is the small sugar plum or the French Prune plum. It is a small variety that tastes best when it’s wrinkled, and has an aroma that makes you want to eat it. Paring these sweet, red fleshed stone fruits with a pint or two of blueberries is a match made in heaven.  As with all pies and tarts you can play around with the filling. And, when you’re feeling ambitious, double or triple the recipe and bake or store in the freezer for a quick dessert that will make you look like a rock star!


Blueberry and Sugar Plum Pie
Makes 6 to 8 servings

The Filling:
3 cups fresh blueberries (about 1 ½ pints)
10 sugar plums, sliced
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ Tbsp. all-purpose flour
Large pinch of grated lemon zest
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Put half of the fruit in a medium saucepan, keeping the remaining fruit close at hand. Add the sugar, flour, and lemon zest and stir to mix. Bring the mixture to a soft boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. The fruits will release their juices and the liquid with thicken. Turn the mixture into a bowl and stir in the uncooked fruit. Taste spoonful, paying attention to the saucy liquid, and add lemon juice as needed. Cool the filling to room temperature.

The Crust:
½ recipe pastry dough from the toolbox
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 large egg beaten with 1 Tbsp. cold water, for egg wash
Crystal or turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Lining the pie pan: Cut the dough in half and roll one half out on a lightly floured work surface into a circle about 11 inches across. Fit the crust into a 9-inch pie pan with 1-inch high sides. (Or you can use an 8-inch pie pan with 1 ½-inch high sides.) Allow excess dough to hang over the sides for the moment.

Roll the remaining piece of dough into a circle about 10 inches across. Place the pie pan in the center of the dough and, using the pan as a template, cut the bottom round of dough so that it is about ½ inch larger all around than the pan.

Filling the pie pan: Spoon the cooled filling into the pie shell and dot the top with the butter.

Top crust: Trim the overhanging dough to about ½ inch. Lift the rolled-out circle of dough onto the pie (I use my rolling pin to roll the dough onto it and then unroll on top of the pie) Align the edges of the top crust with the bottom crust. If necessary use a kitchen knife or scissor to trim any ragged edges.

Fold both layers of overhanging dough under to create a thick edge around the rim of the pan. Crimp the edges gently with a fork. Paint the crust with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little crystal or turbinado sugar.

Chilling the pie: Using the point of a thin knife, cut 4 to 6 slits in the crust and chill for about 20 minutes. At this point the pie can be frozen. Place it on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, then wrap airtight and freeze for up to a month. There’s no need to thaw the pie before baking, but you should apply another coat of egg wash and will have to bake the pie about 10 minutes longer.

Baking the pie: Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

Place the pie on a parchment or silpat lined jelly-roll pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before you cut it so that the crusts top and bottom have a chance to set.

Storing: Pies are at their peak the day they’re made, but you can cover and chill leftovers for a day (if it lasts that long!)