Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It has dirt in it (Recipe: Spiced Peach Jam)

My first job in the food industry was in the bakery/pastry department at Central Market-Houston.  Central Market is a phenomenal grocery store concept which was inspired by fresh produce markets, Seattle's fish markets, French Boulangaries and pastry shops, quaint cheese shops and all things food.  It is an experience and should be a destination for any foodie visiting the great state of Texas.  If you don't take my word for it, maybe you'll take his.

I had the great opportunity to work there during its grand opening.  Houston was very receptive to us and it was such a grand event.  I mean its a building full of foodies-you would expect for us to throw a great party.  Our weekday customers were primarily area foodies, chefs, local TV personalities, pro athletes & coaches, white collar workers on their lunch break and the wealthy River Oaks residents who lived just blocks away.

On the weekends, however, it became a madhouse.  We were bombarded with non-foodies...sample seekers, if you will.  Folks who had never sliced through an artisan loaf, tasted an aged English Cheddar, or gazed upon a star fruit would treat our store like an amusement park.  They were the people who would call our Pain de Campagne, "Champagne Bread", say "Grand Mariner" instead of Grand Marnier and pronounce Boule as "Boo-lee".  Weekends obviously made us smile.

One day I was working behind the pastry counter when a very irritated woman slammed her empty creme brulee cup onto the counter.  "I have a problem with the 'Cream Brew-lee'!  It has dirt in it!"  As I looked into her cup I cracked a slight smile.  "Ma'am, you shouldn't worry, you didn't eat any dirt.  Those are vanilla beans."

Since then, every time I slice a plump, fragrant pod in half, or see tiny flecks of vanilla in my desserts, I crack a smile and think about that "dirt."  Just as I did making this Spiced Peach Jam.

Spiced Peach Jam (and yes, it has dirt in it)

4 pounds peaches
4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cinnamon sticks, each 3 inches long
1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
4 whole cloves
  1. Prepare an ice water bath for the peaches.  Etch an X at the bottom of each peach.  Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil.  Working in batches, add peaches and blanch for 30 seconds.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to the bowl of ice water.  Drain the peaches, then peel, halve and pit them.  Working over a large, saucepan, cut the peaches into chunks, allowing their juices and the chunks to fall into the pan.  Stir in sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.  Let stand for 1 hour.  (I macerated mine overnight)
  2. Place the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.  Raise the heat and bring to a slow boil.  cook uncovered to the jelling stage, stirring occasionally at first and then more frequently near the end of cooking, about 30 minutes.  Perform the gel test to check to see if jam has cooked long enough.
  3. Meanwhile, wash canning jars and lids in hot soapy water; rinse well.  Fill the jars with hot water.  Put the lids in a pan with water to cover and bring to a simmer.  Remove from the heat.
  4. Drain 1 jar.  Remove cinnamon sticks and clove if you'd prefer.  Spoon in the hot jam to within 1/4 inch of the top.  Using a hot, damp towel, wipe the rim clean.  Drain 1 lid and place on the jar; seal with the screw band.  Repeat with the remaining jam and jars.  Follow these directions, process the jars in a hot-water bath, check seals, label and store.  (If keeping no longer than 3 weeks, omit the water bath and store in the refrigerator.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Believe it or not...a casserole (Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Casserole)

Alright, I promised nothing but peach recipes for National Peach Month, but thought that my previous post was fitting given the time and circumstances.  And guess what...I'm posting another non-peach recipe today.  I find it fitting as well, being that the star of this recipe has a very short season.

I am not a casserole girl.  I don't know why I am not, I don't mind them, I just don't cook them.  But for some reason last week I wanted to make a casserole.  I had just bought my second round of hatch chiles and wanted to make something out of the ordinary, a la casserole.

Yes, hatch chiles.  The Anaheim-esque chiles that make their short appearance in August and exit as soon as September has a chance to say hello.  I stalk them.  Buy them weekly.  I relish in the pepper's short season as if it is some type of adult treat.  What am I IS a treat.

So back to the casserole.  This recipe is courtesy of Central Market, who has an awesome Hatch Chile Fest during August.  This dish is cheesy, hearty, spicy and just plain good.  Even my picky sister liked it!

Check this recipe out from The Homesick Texan.  It is my husband's favorite BBQ side dish-and it is a real treat as well!  Hatch Chile Potato Casserole- The Homesick Texan

Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Casserole
source:  Central Market
serves:  6-8
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2-3 hatch chiles, seeded and chopped
2 T. canola oil
16 oz. shredded cheddar
3 flour tortillas
1 white onion, chopped
1tsp. cumin
2 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, baked and diced
1 can Hatch Chile Sauce

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 10-inch pie plate or round casserole with cooking spray. 
  2. Sauté onion and hatch chiles in Canola oil until translucent. Stir in Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce, diced chicken, and cilantro. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. 
  3. Place 1 tortilla in the bottom of the prepared pie plate. Spread with 1/2 of the chicken mixture, and 1/3 of the cheese. Cover with a tortilla and the remaining 1/2 of the chicken mixture, and 1/3 of the cheese. Top with the remaining tortilla. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes. 
  4. Uncover, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake another 10 minutes or until the cheese melts. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Cut into wedges and serve.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Food Memory (Recipe: Summer Corn Chowder)

This past month has brought some heartache to some of my old favorite and new found bloggers.  They sadly expressed the hardship of losing a loved one and were so open to share with their fellow readers.  One commonality they had were stories, or food memories of those they had loved and lost.  A certain dinner, a favorite fruit, or a favorite pie-it is the something we all share, maybe even take for granted until we are made to remember.

This past Friday as I was at a stop sign it hit me.  It was exactly one year since my grandfather's passing.  Out of my four grandparents he was the one without any kitchen skills.  He had warmed up a can of dog food on the gas stove once, but it exploded leaving the kitchen in a Purina coated mess and a stray dog hungry.  That was the one and only cookery attempt I know of.  Yet, when I rip into a fresh stalk of corn I immediately think of him.

The summer before my final semester in college my grandfather, who was 74, and his brother decided to plant a garden at the old family homestead.  My sister and I, along with our boyfriends took the 45 minute jaunt over to help with the harvest.  When I laid my eyes upon the "garden", I knew we were in for A LOT of work.  "Garden"... that was an understatement.  We had expected those old men to have planted a 20'X20' plot, but it was more like an acre.  It was filled with tomatoes, new potatoes, purple hull peas, melons, squash, zucchini and corn.

We spent the majority of the day picking peas and hauling them up to the old farmhouse.  My great uncle had invested in a sheller and we sat in the house packing purple hulls into gallon bags.  We had enough purple hulls to feed the closest town, I have no doubt about that.

But it was the corn.  The sweetest, most succulent corn I had ever laid my lips upon.  We ate it right off of the stalk.  Raw.  The bright color, the musky sweet scent of the husk, the crisp crunch and sugary sweet kernels had imprinted on me, creating a food memory.  And since, I don't recall ever eating corn so pure and sweet.

It is because of that hot Texas summer day, the over achieving farmer that rested in my grandfather, and that golden sweet corn, that I have a food memory of the one man in my family that never cooked.  He may not have known how to prepare it, but he sure did know how to grow it.

I'm sharing this recipe along with my Chicken Tortilla Soup over at TidyMom & Dine and Dishes #Soupapalooza starting today. Come join SoupaPalooza at TidyMom and Dine and Dish sponsored by KitchenAid, Red Star Yeast and Le Creuset

Monday, August 15, 2011

Barbecued Chicken Breasts with Spicy Peach Glaze

My living room looks like a battlefield.  We had laid a sleeping pallet and pillows down upon the floor and camped there all day Saturday.  The Baking Tot had once again fallen ill from a stomach virus and we all piled together for snuggles, comforting hugs and movie time.

Initially, I was hoping for a different kind of weekend-one with family time, a day trip and a big family dinner, but as I was leaning against my son, who was laying on my husband, while the cat was curled up at my feet, it hit me...this is what I wanted after all.  Unfortunately it was at the expense of the Baking Tot's stomach.

As our night drew to a close, my husband and I heard an all too familiar sound.  A sound we hadn't heard in months...rain.  I ached to go outside so I could feel it, listen to it spatter upon the concrete, smell it, but it was late and my son was drifting asleep in my arms.  According to a neighbor, many did convene on their porches to witness this rarity, some may have even cheered.

Poor central Texas has fallen to a nasty, blazing, dry summer with temperatures in the triple digits.  We have only whipped out the barbecue pit once this summer and it was well worth it.  We deserve a perfect summer meal just like the next person and here is what we had:  pasta salad, corn fricasse, barbecued chicken breasts with spicy peach glaze and ice cold lemonade.  I suppose grilling this summer is as much a rarity as the rain, but at least we had one perfect summer meal on the coolest day of the season (I think it was 99 degrees).

Here's hoping for more rain and maybe a cooler day for grilling.

Barbecued Chicken Breasts with Spicy Peach Glaze
Great Parties, The Best of Martha Stewart Living

serves 8

1 cup peach preserves or jam
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
4 chicken breasts, split (about 5 pounds)
4 ripe peaches, cut in half and pitted
  1. Heat a grill to medium hot  In medium mixing bowl, combine the preserves, garlic, olive oil, soy sauce, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper, and mix well to combine.
  2. Sprinkle chicken breasts with additional salt and pepper, and place skin-side down, on the grill.  Cook the chicken about 10 minutes on each side before brushing the upturned side with glaze.  Continue cooking the chicken for another 10-12 minutes, turning it every 3 to 5 minutes and brushing each upturned side with glaze every time, until chicken is cooked through.  Move chicken to oven or a cooler part of grill if it gets too dark before it is cooked through.
  3. Place peach halves on grill, cut-side down, and grill for 2 minutes.  Turn, and brush tops with glaze.  Grill 3 to 4 minutes more, until  peaches are soft and cavities fill with juices. Transfer cooked chicken and peaches to a serving platter.
***We used 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts and omitted the grilled peaches, cutting cooking time just a's just too darn hot out there!!!
****This chicken is even better served cold the following day!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Jam Session Part Deux: Peach Jam

I had a pretty good weekend.  I guess you could say it was down right peachy (yes, I feel nerdy typing that).  Thanks to my neighbor, her daughter, and the peach tree on the corner of our street, I was the lucky recipient of seven pounds of freshly picked peaches.  My neighbor made a small request for jam and I had no hesitation following through.  This morning as I was sitting in my kitchen listening to the pot sputtering away, I quickly remembered the first time I had ever made jam.

Eight years ago I went a little overboard and purchased a myriad of strawberries from our produce market.  Standing in my tiny kitchen, the abundance of beautiful red berries over shadowed the outdated harvest gold appliances and sent my mind in a quandary.  With the ridiculous amount of berries standing before me, my husband and I would be eating shortcake for weeks!  What else was I going to do with those tiny, sweet, red jewels?  As I rifled through cookbook after cookbook I came upon a recipe for Ponchatoula Strawberry Jam (Ponchatoula is the strawberry capital of Louisiana-errrr, or the world if you are from there-you can thank me for the history lesson later).  I had never made jam and was very hesitant to do so.

Wasn't special equipment needed?  Did I have to go out and buy a ginormous canning pot?  A jar lifter?  As a lowly paid pastry cook and new wife of a grad student (which meant we still lived like college students), I could not justify buying all of this equipment for a few jars of strawberry jam.  Guess what...I didn't have to buy all of that stuff after all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

National Peach Month: Peach Ice Cream

If you couldn't tell, I kinda like themed blog posts; like my Cookie Box Series, my Summer Breakfast Series or my Sunday Dinner/Monday's Leftover feature.  So, when I found out that August was National Peach Month and had been up to my eyeballs in peaches this summer, I only saw it fitting to celebrate the month with nothing but peach recipes.  Oh yeah!

So lets get this month's peachy party started.  How about dessert first?  Peach Ice Cream.  This is very easy to whip up and the only cooking it involves is that of the peaches- no custard, no creme anglaise, just peaches and cream.  Hello??? Can we say perfect combination?  The flavor is so delicate and fresh, the color is very pleasing to the eye and it just screams summer...AAAAAHHHHHHH!  SUMMER!!!!!!!

And remember to come back next week for more peachy recipes!!!

Peach Ice Cream
inspired by Apricot Ice Cream, A Perfect Scoop, David Lebovitz
1 pound ripe fresh peaches
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
a few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1. Slice open the peaches and remove the pits, then cut each peach into 2 inch chunks. Cook the peaches with the water in a covered medium, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat until tender, about 8 minutes, and stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
  2. Once cool, purée the peaches and any liquid in a blender or food processor until smooth. Press the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove fibers and bits of peel. Stir in the cream, almond extract, and lemon juice.
  3. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.