Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Savory Buttermilk Bread Pudding

I've been singing the praises of buttermilk for a while now (see here), and it looks like buttermilk is finally getting it's due. I see it soon getting pantry status, as it is in my house during the winter months. Buttermilk does take a back seat during the warmer months because I don't do as much baking. And just like soups and stews, I get so excited to see it back in rotation after its long absence. So much so, that at the moment I have an over-abundance and have needed to make something every day with it. Which is not that hard: pancakes on Sunday, Irish soda bread on Monday, and this for dinner on Tuesday. This made a lot, so you get leftovers the next day. It would be a great addition to a holiday meal.

The above was a mix of challah rolls and a cheddar-jalepeno sourdough loaf. I love buying day-old bread! The extra cheese and spicy pepper were a good foil to the sweet challah and kale. I think it goes without saying that creativity is welcomed in this dish. Varying the types of bread or vegetables will be a welcome change in your dinners.

If you are serving this as a main dish, you might want to go luxe and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top, with some extra fresh cracked pepper, as you plate it up. I served it alongside steamed romanesco broccoli. It was an amazing meal!

Savory Buttermilk Bread Pudding
yields one 3-quart casserole (although I used a 2-qt. and a 1 qt.)

1 large onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, smashed
1 head of kale (red winter kale), de-stemmed and chopped finely
1 teaspoon salt

4 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup milk

4 ounces of feta
pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Day old bread, cut in 1 inch cubes, about 8 cups (cheddar-jalepeno sourdough and challah rolls)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until golden.
2. Add the kale in large handfuls, mixing to coat with the oil. I like to add a little water to steam the kale down, or if you just washed it, the water clinging to the curls will help this. Add the salt when it has wilted down.
3. In a separate bowl beat the buttermilk, milk and eggs together.
4. With the bread cubes in another separate large bowl, add the hot vegetable mixture and toss gently, adding pepper to taste.
5. Add feta and toss gently.
6. Add egg-milk mixture. Toss gently and let sit for 15 minutes to an hour.
7. Put in a buttered glass or porcelain casserole dish, sprinkle generously with grated cheese and bake in 350 degree oven for about 45-50 minutes, until it has puffed out, has golden edges and feels firm when you gently rest your palm on it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Grape Mostarda

Is there anything more succulent than a cluster of dusty yet shiny, tight purple globes hanging on the vine? Whenever I go grape picking, I  really have to restrain myself: I want to just grab them all. It's such a textile event. There is something about grapes that you just want to squeeze. Their weight and firmness feels good in your hand, and of course biting into them is a pleasure of their own. The chewy and slightly tannic skin starts sweet and ends a touch bitter. It yields to the gelatinous yet tensile flesh inside. Both are an almost obvious pleasure, followed by the gratifying separation of the heart-shaped bitter pit with your tongue. Even the spitting out of the seeds is satisfying.

I was thinking of a sweet preparation for these particular red sheridan grapes, but was intrigued by a suggestion from a friend on Instagram. She said chutney. My mind doesn't normally think of a chutney when thinking of grapes, but it was a brilliant idea. I almost made it. In particular, this one from the Cozy Herbivore. But instead I started thinking of mostarda, that fabulous fruity mustard (mustardy fruit?) that hails from Italy. 

Grape Mostarda
Adapted from Grape Mostarda, Bon Appetit
Yield: 2 half-pint jars

About two pounds of local red sheridan grapes (I'm betting any local, sweet variety would do well)
1 small white onion, chopped finely
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon of dried red chili pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon of candied citrus (or you can use citrus zest)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon of dijon mustard

First, prep the grapes. Slip the innards from the skin into a saucepan. Reserve the skins in a bowl. Simmer the grape innards for about ten minutes--you will notice the flesh separate from the seeds. Turn off the heat and let it cool a bit. Then press it all through a food mill to remove the seeds. Add the flesh to the skins. Sauté the onion in a small bit of olive oil until just softened. Then add the grapes, and the rest of the ingredients, except the mustard. Get it to a good simmer, and let it cook for about twenty minutes, until it looks glossy and thick. Add the mustard. Turn off the heat and pour into clean jars. Keep refrigerated.

I think this mostarda is best after sitting a few days, and it should keep in the fridge for quite some time. The recipe makes two half-pint jars, and a little goes a long way, so you might want to gift some of this to a friend or serve it at a party with cheese. The color is amazing, and it's slightly zingy due to the red pepper. The little mustard seeds give it a caviar-like pop in each bite. I couldn't resist and we had some for dinner the day I made it: a baguette, a creamy French bleu cheese, soppressata and a bottle of wine. Aren't those the best dinners? The next day I had the leftovers in a sandwich. Heaven! But upon tasting it again today, it's much better now that the intense flavors have had time to mingle.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Apricot Pit Vinegar

Yep. You saw that title right. Remember when I made this citrus cleaner? Well, this summer when I was up to my elbows in apricots, and their pits, I considered making that pit liqueur, Noyaux. As you might know, apricot pits (and cherries) are related to almonds, and impart an almond flavor when steeped. But, do you know how many little jars of strange liqueurs I have? And, you know, they just sit there. Because for the most part, I'd rather have a glass of wine at the end of the day than fussing with a cocktail, truth be told. But all those pits! What to do with them? I don't throw anything out unless I know I can't do anything with them.

So, I did what any crazy preserver would do: I filled a half-gallon jar with the pits and covered them with white vinegar. I stuck it in the basement and forgot all about it. Almost three months later I've given them a sniff and have declared them a success. Now along with my sour orange cleaner, I also have the option of an exquisitely almond-scented cleaner. The vinegar is a subtle secondary tang to the primary almond scent. And I love that smell!

I guess I could dress a winter salad with it as well---maybe a wilted greens salad with toasted nuts and some figs?

P.S. Do you know how hard it is to make a jar filled with pits and brown liquid look pretty?
P.P.S. As EL notes in the comments below, there is some controversy whether apricot pits are good or bad for you. Click over to the link for the liqueur above for more information on that topic.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Plum Conserve

I have been wanting to write a post for about a month now, but this amazing late summer/early fall we've been having in the Hudson Valley has me busy with other things. I'm not complaining! But today, as I soak in the hot sun--it's hitting 80 today--I realize we are very close to the end. I am almost done with closing the garden up, the fig trees have been replanted in their winter pots, and stink bugs are crawling everywhere. It's inevitable that every time we have a last burst of heat, some bug frenzy happens. Last year it was lady bugs, this year, stink bugs. I can feel it everywhere as I walk around my yard. The maples are turning yellow, the purple asters are lining the hill, the goldenrod surrounds the pond, and the bees are busily making haste. I have heard from various places that this year is going to be a snowy and cold winter. Have you noticed all the woolly bear caterpillars out this year? I am seeing them everywhere: fat black ones, little fuzzy black and brown ones, and one huge white one. I haven't seen so many in years.

There is a small cool breeze that underlies the heat of the sun today. It riffles the leaves, and they slowly fall, lazily coating the ground. The neighbor's rooster crows, and the buzz of the bugs seems muffled. Birds call, and dogs whine, chainsaws buzz and trucks lumber by. It's lazy but focused, it seems. The word portentous comes to mind. Everything seems to remind me that quite soon I won't be sitting on the porch sipping a beet-carrot-apple-ginger juice in a t-shirt and shorts.

Even the preserving has slowed down a bit, although this batch of plum conserve is on the stove top as I write. Made with some gleaned tiny blue prune plums, I was looking to make something that was rich and cozy for the coming winter. I asked folks on my Facebook page what I should make, and there were a few good ideas! I have saved some plums to make the kuchen that Rosemary posted.

I adapted this from a recipe for Nutty Plum Conserve from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I removed a bit of sugar (and must admit, it still seems a bit sweet), used currants instead of raisins, and added Pisa liqueur, which is a nutty liqueur similar to Amaretto.

Plum Conserve
yields 5 half-pints, with a little extra for the fridge

2.5 pounds of blue prune plums, halved and pitted
2 cups sugar
1 cup dried currants
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1/2 cup candied citrus peel
1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup coarsely chopped mixed nuts
1/2 cup Pisa liqueur

If your plums are large, quarter them. If they are small, keep them halved. Put plums, sugar, currants, juices and peel in your jam pot and bring them to a boil. While this is cooking, soak the nuts in the liqueur. Let the plum mixture boil for about twenty minutes; they should foam up a bit, and then get glossy and thick. Add the nuts and liqueur, bring back to a boil, and cook for another ten minutes making sure not to scorch the bottom. Process for ten minutes.