Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Has Anyone Heard of Peppadews

Unfilled Peppadews®
Unfilled Peppadews®
Some years back I tried Peppadews® at a party. They were filled with something cheesy and were just delicious. I didn't know at the time that these little peppers are quite unique. The name "Peppadew®" has even  even been registered. Apparently they were discovered not all that long ago (1993) in South Africa. They are little bitty peppers and look very like a cherry tomato in size and shape. Obviously, being peppers, they do vary in shape, with some sized and shaped very much like a little heart (chicken, pheasant, etc), while others are larger and rounder. While these little gems are not available everywhere, their availability is becoming more widespread, and of course they are available on

Peppadews® are a little bit spicy and a little bit sweet. While they are peppers with a scoville rating of 1,177, this rating is low, similar to Anaheim peppers or Pasilla peppers. They arrive here in the US already marinated and processed, either in cans or jars. The marinade they are subjected to adds sweetness, and it is this sweetness, balancing the minimal heat that just makes these tiny gems so irresistible. 

Why Peppadews®

Cheese Filled Peppadews®
Cheese Filled Peppadews®
So, you may be asking why am I bringing up these little peppers in the first place? Well a couple of months back, I was walking into our local grocery with my daughter-in-law, Julia (visiting from Chicago). We were fast and furiously discussing foods and recipes as we always do, both of us being avid foodies. The subject of Peppadews® came up and she asked me if I ever used them to make anything. I had just been saying I had not seen them locally, so no, I had not used them - - when we both looked over at the deli and there they were! Available even up here in Aberdeen! Amazing! Most things can be found here, at a price.

So they sort of stayed high in my mind ever since, but I'd had no occasion to buy them. However, our friend Rich was here for pheasant hunting, and he loves to eat also. I figured this would be a good time to experiment. I walked over to Kessler's, the local grocery, and bought a few. There were about 25 little peppers in the deli container for a bit over four dollars, so they aren't cheap, but not too bad either. I brought them home and started to think about what to fill them with. Cheese, obviously, but mixed with what? How? What kind(s) of cheese? 

I had goat cheese, which we just love, and I always keep cream cheese handy, so those were the first two flavors I turned to when puzzling out the flavor profile I was looking for. I had scallions in the fridge, so those would go in. Garlic? With Rich here, garlic is a MUST. In just about everything. Once I mixed these things together and tasted the result, it tasted a little flat. I added in a little Sherry vinegar. Then I added a little olive oil, to smooth out the flavors. It tasted most wonderful, so I filled the peppers. 
Cheese Filled Peppadews®
Cheese Filled Peppadews

This was the first time I used these peppers, so there are a few tips I can, with confidence, pass on:
  1. Drain the Peppadews® first and set them upside-down on paper toweling to dry well before filling. Otherwise, the filling just wants to slip out if the pepper is still very wet inside. I found this out by trial and error.
  2. The peppers are easiest to fill using a piping bag or a zip-top baggie with a corner cut off. I wanted to make mine look cute by using an open star tip, but I selected a tip far too large, so some of my first attempts to fill them were quite a mess.
  3. Then the issue of how to present them. These little peppers have no flat bottom. If you want them to stand up pretty like cherry tomatoes, it ain't gonna happen, folks! Set them on your serving dish, artfully arranged, either leaning on each other or just laying them on their sides. Enjoy their differences of shape and just flow with it!
  4. Goat cheese comes in various flavors these days, so choosing one with interesting flavors will add other flavor notes to the recipe, if desired. 

Cheese Filled Peppadews®

20 - 25 little appetizer bites

20 - 25 Peppadews®
4 ounces goat cheese (Chevre or Montrachet)
2 ounces cream cheese
2 scallions, minced (white and light green parts)
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil

Drain the Peppadews® and set them upside-down on paper toweling to drain for about an hour.

Prepare a piping bag with either a #10 or 12 round icing tip or a #21 or 32 open star tip. Or, just cut a hole in the end of the piping bag (or zip-top baggie) measuring no more than 1/4-inch in diameter.
Wilton tips: 10 & 12 round; 21 & 32 open star
Wilton tips: 10 & 12 round; 21 & 32 open star
Set the cheeses on a counter to come to room temperature for at least a half hour. Place the room-temperature cheeses into a small mixing bowl with the minced scallion and garlic and mix well with a spoon, to combine. Once well mixed, add in the vinegar and olive oil. Place this mixture into the prepared piping bag. Squeeze the mixture down to the point. Grab the bag tightly between thumb and forefinger just above the filling. Hold tightly to the bag and twist to create pressure on the contents. Squeeze enough filling into each little pepper to completely fill the inside. Set them on a plate to serve.

MAKE AHEAD: The cheese mixture can easily be made 3 or 4 days ahead, if making for a party. The recipe for the filling can be doubled or tripled or as needed. The peppers will last fine in the refrigerator as long as they are covered in enough of their marinade/brine mixture. If filling for a party, try to fill them as close to serving time as possible, only because since they will not stand upright, they tend to knock into one another, smearing the filling all over!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Great Side Dish for Wild Fowl

Our dear friend Rich left this morning. He was here for 10 days to get in some pheasant hunting. On his second day out with another hunter here, Rich brought home 3 pheasants, and my last two blog posts were of the recipes I used for these birds. Yesterday Rich went out again, coming back with 2 more pheasants, but these he brined to take home with him. We so enjoy having Rich here to visit, but all visits come to an end, no matter how wonderful.
Fall Fruit Compote
Fall Fruit Compote

When thinking up recipes for the last birds, Rich's idea is always to brine them first, then possibly follow the brining with another soak of some kind. Last year he soaked the pheasant pieces in buttermilk all day following the brine. This year, one of the birds was used after just having been brined, while the second spent time in a wine marinade. No matter how one treats these wild birds, they are rather dry. Luckily I like the drier meat, though my husband is less keen on it, in general. To me, the breast portion of these wild birds tastes like dry dark meat. I don't care for the dark meat of turkey or chicken, because it is generally fatty and moist. Somehow, the flavor and fattiness are objectionable to me. Others just love it. For me, dry pheasant breast meat makes a darker meat palatable. 

No matter how you choose to go about preparing a wild bird, there will come the need for a side dish or other condiment to pair with it. While marinating the second half of the birds in wine, I originally had in mind to bake the bird in a wine sauce with a lot of dried fruits. Since that just wasn't coming together in my mind, Rich suggested making the fruits as a side dish. Aha! 

Dried Mission Figs
Dried Mission Figs from
Last year I had so many apples to freeze, I eventually went to dehydration instead of just freezing. Since I have all these dehydrated apple slices, I have looked for uses for the dried fruit. I had added some of them to the wine marinade for the birds, but wanted to use some in the final dish - which now switched to a side dish. Dried fruit retains a lot of sweetness. In thinking about cranberry relish to go with a roast turkey, and gauging the sweetness factor there, I opted to use Port as the main cooking liquid for the dried fruit. 

The Port Dilemma

We like Port wine on occasion, so I have various types in our wine cellar. We have some 10-year-old late bottled ports, some Warre's Otima Tawny Port, some Ruby Ports, some Warre's Warrior and Fonseca Bin 27s, as well as a few vintage ports. Looking at the attributes of each type, I certainly didn't want to use a pricy vintage port to cook dried fruit. I also thought that Tawny would not give the rich color I wanted, plus it is less sweet than some of the red ports. Still, some of the fruits were very dark, like the figs and prunes (excuse me - ahem - "dried plums!"), so did I want a really dark wine like the Warre's Warrior or Fonseca Bin 27? Probably not, so ultimately I chose the Ruby Port. Ruby Port is exactly as it sounds: ruby red colored. It is quite sweet and pretty to look at, but generally less viscous than a deep red port. It is enjoyable to drink, in the manner of a more simple-to-enjoy dessert quaff. 

Fresh Quinces
Fresh Quinces
For other liquids I used some dry red wine and some water. Sweetener? I chose honey. Spices? That took some thought. I didn't want to use all the regular sweet spices, though cinnamon was still in the running. I left out cloves or allspice. I did use a half teaspoon of black peppercorns. Since I use only Tellicherry peppercorns, their fruity scent would help perfume the compote yet add a little bite. I meant to put them into a tea ball to easily pick out later, but just that fast I dropped them into the pot - oops! We had to fish them out later. Last minute I added one whole (small) star anise. Orange was another flavor I wanted to incorporate, but not to make any statement of its own. To this end, using a peeler, I peeled off a long strip of orange peel while leaving the white pith behind; removing the peel from the compote later is a snap. Another option would have been to either grate the rind or chop the peeled section and leave it in the mixture.

All that was left was to determine which fruits to use. The main idea was to use dried fruits, but there were two exceptions. I really wanted quince, if there were any available. Quince is a tart fruit that looks somewhat like a misshapen yellow apple. It needs to be cooked to make it edible. Quince has even more pectin than apples, and makes a wonderful jam. I felt they would also lend great flavor as well as thickening power to this compote. I was very glad to find that quinces were available. The other fruit not already dried were fresh cranberries, another great Fall flavor. Other fruits that were handy were dried cherries, apricots, figs and plums. With this in mind, here is what I did:
Fall Fruit Compote
Fall Fruit Compote

Fall Fruit Compote

Makes about 6 or more servings

1½ cups Ruby Port
1 cup dry red wine
½ cup water
½ cup honey
1 (4-inch) cassia cinnamon stick
1 whole star anise, optional
½ teaspoon whole peppercorns, preferably Tellicherry
1 orange
2 quince
¾ cup (.75 ounce) dried apple slices
½ cup (3 ounces) dried apricots, halved or quartered 
½ cup (3 ounces) dried plums (prunes), halved 
½ cup (3 ounces) dried Mission figs, halved 
½ cup (2 ounces) dried tart cherries
boiling water
¾ cup (2.5 ounces) whole fresh cranberries

fresh Cranberries
fresh Cranberries
In a large saucepan, combine the first 4 ingredients. If desired, set the cinnamon stick, star anise and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth for ease of removal later, then add this to the pan. Peel a strip or two of orange peel, avoiding the white pith. Add to the pan, along with the juice squeezed from the orange. Peel, quarter and core the quince and slice them as with apples; add to the pan. Bring the mixture in the pan to boil, then set the temperature to just maintain a low boil. Reduce the liquid in the pan by about ⅓, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, set the dried apple slices, apricots, prunes, figs and cherries in a large measuring cup or medium bowl. Add boiling water to just not quite cover the fruit and allow the fruit to plump, covered, while the liquid in the saucepan is reducing.

Once the wine mixture is reduced, add in the dried fruits along with the soaking water and the fresh cranberries. Cook this mixture at a low boil for another 20 to 25 minutes, until reduced and slightly thickened. Remove the spices before serving.

This compote was absolutely perfect with the decadently rich Pheasant Alfredo. It had enough flavor and just enough "bite" to cut through the fattiness of the sauce and make a wonderful counterpoint to the flavors. I cannot recommend this mixture highly enough, and plan to make it again soon, possibly for Thanksgiving, to taste with turkey or chicken. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Friday, October 24, 2014

More Pheasant and Another Recipe

As I said in my last post, our friend Rich brought home 3 pheasants on his second day hunting. We used 1½ birds in a wonderful Pheasant Mushroom Stew, and it was finally time to do something with the remaining 1½ birds. Back on Monday when we worked with the birds, I set this second half of them into a marinating container with some red wine, olive oil, smashed garlic and fresh herbs, and there they stayed until yesterday evening. This was the wine marinade recipe:

Wine Marinade for Pheasant

Enough for 1 to 1½ pheasants

1½ cups dry red wine
½ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons juniper berries
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh sage (about 20 leaves)

Set the pheasant quarters into a container. Add in the juniper berries, garlic and fresh herbs, then pour in the wine and olive oil. Marinate, turning twice daily for up to 3 days.

Dinner of Pheasant Alfredo, egg noodles and Fall Fruit Compote
Dinner of Pheasant Alfredo, egg noodles and Fall Fruit Compote
My original intent with these wine marinated birds was to make a wine-based sauce, and add in a lot of dried fruit - somehow. Somehow, the recipe was just not coming together in my mind. The concepts I wanted to bring together just weren't coalescing into a usable recipe. And then - and this is where I love having Rich around - he said he really wanted to use a cream based sauce, maybe an Alfredo Sauce for these birds. I said I had really hoped to use a lot of dried fruits in the recipe, and it seemed they would just muddy an Alfredo sauce. Rich said, "Why not use the fruits in a side dish?" To which I had to smack myself on the forehead and say, "Well, DUH!" 

Okay, so now I had a workable plan. First off, being me, I prefer to make my own Alfredo Sauce, so I had to create a recipe, since I never really had. I asked Rich what he would put in an Alfredo sauce? He said cream and cheese. Well, okay. I was a bit concerned that the meat, having soaked in wine for 3 days, would also muddy up the white Alfredo Sauce. Rich said he didn't care if the sauce was pink or purple. I embellished on his Alfredo "recipe" a bit, but in essence, used that concept. I will say, try to use the best quality butter, cream cheese, Parmesan and Romano cheeses that you can afford for this sauce. It makes a world of difference. As for the dried fruits, I decided to make a compote-like side dish that would serve like cranberries do with turkey or chicken. Wine seemed to be a theme in this menu, so I wanted to cook the fruits in a wine reduction sauce. My other true desire was to use fresh quinces as a part of this fruit melange. 

Creamy Pheasant Alfredo and noodles with a splash of color from the Fruit Compote
Creamy Pheasant Alfredo and noodles with a splash of color from the Fruit Compote
I think it is truly not necessary to first marinate the pheasant in the wine sauce before making it into this Alfredo recipe. The main reason we went the wine marinade route was just to keep the birds in a suspended state until we could get one batch eaten and get around to the second batch. Rich was averse to freezing the remainder, if we were going to be using them soonish. However you choose to go about this recipe, I will say that the meat did not leach color into the white Alfredo Sauce, so that was wonderful. The meat was tender, albeit still dry, despite not really overcooking. For anyone who has not cleaned, cooked or eaten pheasant, the meat has almost no fat whatsoever. It is almost impossible to have a fat-free meat that is also juicy and tender. We even went the route of a very low 250 degree oven this time, and the meat was still dry. Luckily I like dry fowl just fine.

The birds tasted very good last evening, in the recipe we thought up. Nothing truly new under the sun, of course. Pheasant Alfredo recipes seem to abound, as I soon noted when I Googled that concept. My Alfredo was terribly rich, but I think that sort of comes with the territory. Still, the addition of herbs and garlic seemed to take the sauce to new levels. It was absolutely delightful. The fruit compote was the perfect accompaniment. The wine was great, the company convivial and all was perfect in my world.

Pheasant Alfredo, straight from the oven
Pheasant Alfredo, straight from the oven

Pheasant Alfredo

Serves 4 to 6

1½ pheasants, in quarters (marinated or not)
1 stick unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, minced finely
10 sage leaves
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (3-ounces)
1 cup freshly grated Romano cheese (3-ounces)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 large or 2 smaller sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh sage (or about 20 leaves)

At least ½ hour before making the Alfredo Sauce, melt the stick of butter over very low heat and add in the minced garlic and 10-ish sage leaves. Leave the pan on the lowest heat possible, so it does not even come to a simmer. This might require leaving the pan slightly off the burner. The goal is to "steep" the garlic and sage flavors into the butter, cooking the garlic very gently so there is no raw flavor left. (I left my pot over a "warming burner" for over an hour).

When ready to make the sauce, remove the spent sage leaves and add the flour to the butter and garlic in the pan and stir in. Add in the milk and cream and bring to a low boil. Add the cream cheese, in cubes, stirring until it is melted into the cream. Add in the Parmesan and Romano cheeses, stirring until they are melted.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 casserole with cooking spray. Set the fresh herbs over the bottom of the casserole. Lay the pheasant quarters over the herbs, skin side down (whether it has skin left on or not). Pour the Alfredo Sauce over the meat. Cover the casserole tightly with foil and bake for 1½ hours.

This pheasant Alfredo dish was just perfect served with wide egg noodles as an accompaniment. The Fall Fruit Compote (recipe coming in my next blog) was just the right amount of bright flavor to cut through all the cheese and cream in the sauce. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

It's Pheasant Hunting Season Again

Once again, it is time for avid hunters to test their shooting skills against pheasants. I have nothing against hunting, if it is done so one can eat or otherwise live. Our friend Rich arrived last Friday evening, so as to get out as soon as possible on Saturday. Sadly, no one was available to hunt with him on Saturday, and he didn't manage to get any birds. On Sunday however, he went out with someone and he came home with 3 birds. 
Stewed Pheasant, Dressing with Stewed Mushroom Gravy and Delicata Squash
Stewed Pheasant, Dressing with Stewed Mushroom Gravy and Delicata Squash, a hearty meal

Once home, he and I cleaned them and put them to brine overnight in a mixture of:

Large mushroom chunks in the gravy
Large mushroom chunks in the gravy

Marinade for Three Pheasants

8 quarts of water
½ cup Kosher salt
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon juniper berries

Bring all ingredients to boil and then cool before pouring over cleaned pheasants. If using a zip-top bag to hold the birds, you might be able to halve this recipe for the marinade.
NOTES: The use of juniper berries is not absolutely essential, but if you can find them, they make game meats taste wonderful.

The next morning I drained off the brine, as leaving them too long would make the birds too salty. Then Rich and I sat down to try and figure out what we wanted to do with them for dinner. We must have gone back and forth with ideas for more than 2 hours before finally agreeing, first, to use them for two separate meals, second to make the first batch into a stew with mushrooms and to have a stuffing/dressing made on the side to accompany, and third, to make the second 1 1/2 pheasants in a few days. Meanwhile we put that second batch to marinate in red wine, thyme, sage, olive oil, garlic. We had so many leftovers in the fridge that last night and tonight are pot luck nights here. Tomorrow I plan to work with the wine marinated pheasant.

Delicata Squash
Delicata Squash, baked
What I did for the stew recipe with the first 1 1/2 pheasants was to set dried mushrooms to soak in boiling water and start assembling the rest of the ingredients, which I was mostly making up as I went along. All I can say is the result was a rich and gloriously savory stew gravy. I had to hold dinner, as Rich got a last-minute call that his hunting partner could head out for a brief while, and he wouldn't be back till about 7 PM. We normally eat between 5 and 5:30 in our house, so this was a late dinner indeed, and the stew sat in the oven on "Hold" for at least 2 hours. Let's just say that the meat was literally falling off the bones by the time we ate dinner. We had decided to have some Delicata squash with the meal.

A note on the fats used in this recipe: It is difficult to exactly pinpoint the amount of fat to use, as much will depend on how meaty or fatty the bacon is. The bacon I used was extremely meaty and rendered so little fat that I had to add in oil and butter to accommodate frying the onions, garlic and then the pheasant. No matter how much extra fat or oil you add, it will make little difference to the moisture of the bird. Pheasant is naturally very lean. If it was to be roasted, wrapping the pieces in strips of bacon might help a bit in the overall moistness of the meat, but when the meat is in a stew, that has no real effect. The fat that floated on the surface of the stew attests to the fact that it was not absorbed by the meat!

Pheasant and Mushroom Stew

Dinner of Pheasant, dressing, gravy and Delicata squash
Dinner of Pheasant, dressing, gravy and Delicata squash

Serves 3 - 4 

1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms (8 - 12, depending on size)
½ ounce dried chanterelle mushrooms
4 cups boiling water
6 slices thick-sliced bacon, in 1/4-inch slices
1 large onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, rough chopped
1 - 2 tablespoons oil or butter, as needed for frying
1½ pheasants, cleaned and cut into quarters
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
6 juniper berries
1 large sprig fresh thyme
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 - 3 tablespoons Worcestershire for Chicken (or regular Worcestershire)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt

Pour the boiling water over the dried mushrooms, cover and set aside for 20 or 30 minutes, while preparing the other ingredients.

Dry the pheasant pieces thoroughly with paper toweling. Combine the flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the first teaspoon of paprika in a large plate. Dredge the pheasant pieces in this flour mixture and set aside, reserving the flour.

Have ready a large stew pot. In a large skillet, over medium heat, brown the bacon. Once browned, remove with a slotted spoon to the stew pot. Add the onions to the grease in the pan, and add more oil or butter if needed. Once softened, add the garlic for 2 - 3 minutes, until fragrant. Remove the onion and garlic to the stew pot. Use 2 - 3 tablespoons of the reserved dredging flour and sprinkle it over the bacon, onions and garlic. Stir in well until it disappears.

Stew gravy with mushrooms
Stew gravy with mushrooms - no sour cream!
Brown the pheasant pieces on both sides, in batches, without crowding the pan, and removing them to the stew pot when browned. Add in the juniper berries, thyme, tomato paste, Worcestershire, additional smoked paprika (regular paprika can be used instead) and the remaining teaspoon salt. A few grinds of fresh pepper would be nice also. Remove any tough stems or other parts of the soaked mushrooms. Chop the mushrooms and add them to the pot. Strain the mushroom liquid through a coffee filter or paper towel to remove any grit or dirt that may have accumulated. Measure the remaining liquid and add enough water or stock to make about 4½ cups. Pour this liquid into the pot and stir carefully. Set the pot over a burner and bring to a boil, while simultaneously preheating the oven to 275 degrees. Once the pot comes to a near boil, stir carefully, then cover the pot and place in the oven for 1½ to 2 hours, or until the pheasant is tender.
Sour cream may be added to the stew gravy if desired. I meant to do this but completely forgot in my hurry to get the food on the table for such a late dinner. No one missed the sour cream. The stew was absolutely perfect. The stew could be served over rice, or noodles. I made a dressing with the precise intent to use with this dish. Another alternative is to add potatoes to the stew to cook.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fall Ingredients - Using Tomatoes and Apples

Fall has been here in South Dakota for quite a while already. We barely had a summer at all. I had lots of tomatoes all summer, but mostly by buying them from the Farmers' Market. I did get some from my plants, hosted at my sister-in-law's house, but not all that many altogether. Temps kept dipping into 50s and even high 40s enough times all summer to really slow down tomato growth. So a couple of weeks back, when night temps were supposed to dip into freezing and below, my sister-in-law opted to just pick all remaining tomatoes and bring them in. Some, maybe most, will ripen eventually. Many larger ones were ripe when she brought a huge box to me a few days ago. 
Tomato Apple Balsamic Relish
Tomato Apple Balsamic Relish

Scrabbling to think of a recipe to use so many tomatoes all at once, I came up with an idea using tomatoes and apples together. It is a relish with some sweetness to it, and I feel it will be wonderful to use as an accompaniment to a nice strong cheese as an appetizer, or mixed with cream cheese to create a dip for crackers or tortilla chips. Another way I am looking forward to using this relish is to pour over chicken or pork chops while cooking, or just to serve as a relish "side" for these meats. 

Originally I was thinking in the vein of a chutney, and of course, this could also be used as a chutney; it has all the criteria. It is sweet but not overly; thick enough, but not completely thickened; has great texture. I used up 4 pounds of the tomatoes I had received, plus 1 pound of the apples that are STILL on my counter. And now I have 2 more large bags of apples from my sister-in-law's trees. One thing at a time!

In making this relish, I opted to remove the seeds from the tomatoes before chopping. Slice the tomatoes, and then over a sink or a bowl, just run a finger around the seed pockets, removing most of the liquid parts and keeping the meatier parts for chopping. Leaving in all the seeds would have required much longer cooking times to reduce the mixture to the thicker consistency I wanted. Also, I left skins on the tomatoes. If desired, you might plunge them into boiling water and peel them first.

I had lots if ideas for flavors to add to this relish. I used many of them, like balsamic vinegar, coriander seeds and even some Garam Masala. I wanted it to have a nice vinegary bite also, so along with the balsamic, I also added cider vinegar. For sweetness I used brown sugar. I wanted onions in this relish, but opted to cook them to golden before adding in any other ingredients. Pomegranate was a flavor I thought about, and went back and forth in my recipe creation: Should I...? Shouldn't I...? In the end I did add in a little pomegranate concentrate. I thought of using raisins or sultanas (white raisins), but finally opted not to use them. Altogether I was quite pleased with the outcome and am really looking forward to testing it in some of ways noted above.

Tomato Apple Balsamic Relish
Chopped apples added to golden onions
Chopped apples added to golden onions

Makes 4 pints

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large onions [1 1/2 pounds / 6 cups], chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound apples [about 3 apples or 3 1/2 cups], peeled, cored and chopped
4 pounds tomatoes, seeds removed, chopped very small (8 1/2 cups)
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons pomegranate concentrate, optional

2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 - 2 teaspoons more salt, as needed

In a large nonreactive pot, melt the butter and olive oil together and add in the onions and the salt and saute slowly, over medium low heat, stirring often, for about 20 or more minutes, until they are soft and golden.

Have a large canning pot of boiling water to sterilize pint canning jars and rings.

While onions are caramelizing, prepare the tomatoes. Slice them and remove seeds, then chop the remaining "meat" of the tomatoes until you have 8 1/2 cups. Peel and core the apples and chop them into small bits. Once onions are caramelized, add in the tomatoes, apples, sugar, vinegar and pomegranate concentrate if using. Add in all the spices and 1 teaspoon of the remaining salt. Stir well, bring to a boil and cook over low boil for 40 or 45 minutes, until much of the liquids have cooked out. Once the mixture is beginning to look a bit like preserves, pack the relish into pint jars. Cover with sterile lids and rings.

Process the jars in boiling water to cover for 10 minutes up to 1,000 feet, 15 minutes from 1,001 to 5,000 feet, and 20 minutes from 5,001 feet and up.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Great Fall Soup with Parsnips and Pears

White Chocolate and Triple Dark Chocolate Friendship Breads
Before getting to my soup idea and recipe, a couple of days back it again came time to make Friendship Bread from my active starter. I still have the starter on the counter, merrily bubbling away. This time, the flavors I used were chocolate and white "chocolate". I knew our friend Rich was coming to town for pheasant hunting season, which starts today up in these parts. Rich is a real, true, chocoholic. My husband and I - not so much. I had planned to take a starter to my friend Deb, and while doing that, also took her a loaf of the freshly baked Triple Chocolate Friendship Bread. Both of these breads turned out exceptionally wonderful. I prefer the white chocolate one myself, but I can also truly say the dark Triple Chocolate is also really good. For the white chocolate version, I used white chocolate instant pudding mixes and a whole bag of white (fake white chocolate) baking chips for the two loaves in the recipe. For the second batch with actual chocolate, I substituted ¼ cup of cocoa for 1/4 of the flour in the recipe, used chocolate instant pudding mix and added in a whole bag of Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate chips. Yum! We had them for dessert last evening.

On to the Soup!

I saw a recipe for a parsnip and pear soup in my latest Food and Wine Magazine, but the flavor ingredients didn't appeal to me. The thought of parsnips, which I love, and pears, which I don't love, but tolerate, sounded good together. I like a little natural sweetness mixed in with savory at times, and this seemed a good combo. I also wanted to use fennel bulb, if I could find one (last time I looked, there were none at either of two stores I tried). I thought leeks would be a nice idea, to keep the onion flavor, with less harshness to this delicate flavor combo. However, I had not planned to go out of my way to buy leeks. That said, I already had some in my fridge, after having used them during my cooking demo at the Methodist Church; see my blog of October 5th. I was demonstrating where to cut the leeks, how much of the light green parts to use, and how to clean them of dirt and grit.

Parsnip, Pear and Leek Soup
Parsnip, Pear and Leek Soup
I generally have a very developed ability to combine flavors in my mind, making it easy to make a really flavorful final dish. While I loved the whole idea of parsnips and pears, I was having a little bit of trouble with combining those flavors in my mind. Still, I went forward with the recipe yesterday. I did find fennel bulb, so that did become a part of the mix. When sauteing the leeks I used butter, as it gives such great flavor, although olive oil or any less flavored cooking oil would work fine. I used a little white wine, cooked to complete evaporation, just to give the flavors a boost. The wine could be omitted. I used unsalted chicken stock, though a vegetable stock or even plain water could be substituted. These alternatives would make the recipe vegan. It is already gluten free, egg free and easily dairy free if using oil instead of butter. If using salted stock, do be careful before adding salt to the recipe.

One other thing: I left the skin on the pears. They may be peeled if desired, but I felt that since I was going to puree the soup, the skin would not affect texture, and only add in a little fiber, never a bad thing.

Parsnip, Pear and Leek Soup
Parsnip, Pear and Leek Soup

Parsnip, Pear and Leek Soup

Makes about 10 cups

3 tablespoons butter (or oil of choice)
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced in ½-inch bits, or 3 cups
2 stalks celery, chopped, about 1 cup
1 medium fennel bulb, chopped, about 2 cups
1 - 2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 teaspoons salt, or as needed
1 hefty sprig of thyme
½ cup dry white wine, optional
2 Bartlett pears, cored, chopped, 3 cups
3 - 4 parsnips, peeled, chopped, to make 3 cups
½ teaspoon dried tarragon leaves
1 bay leaf
4 cups unsalted stock or water

vegetables and thyme in pan to saute  |  remaining ingredients added to pan
In a 4 to 6 quart pot, melt the butter and add in the leeks, celery, fennel, garlic and the thyme sprig. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt (this brings out sweetness and moisture). Allow the vegetables to "sweat" and soften for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the wine, if using, and allow the mixture to cook until all the wine has evaporated, about 8 or 10 minutes more. While vegetables are sauteing and wine reduces, prepare the pears and parsnips, then add them to the pot once the wine has evaporated, along with the tarragon, bay leaf and stock. Bring the mixture to boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 15 or 20 minutes, or until the parsnips are tender when pierced with a knife. Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprig and puree the soup in two batches. Serve immediately or make up to 3 days ahead and reheat slowly before serving.
Lots of layers of flavor made this soup really spectacular. There was a lot going on, with no real ability to discern which vegetable or fruit was the main player. Like a fine wine, it just kept on giving. I highly recommend this soup!  

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fall Apples and Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake

Fall brings lots of apples. A sudden deluge. What to do with all of them is the question. I still have a lot of apples both dried slices and frozen slices from last years bounty. And here we are in Fall again. Recently I made an Apple Fritter Loaf - twice. It was so amazingly good. With the bag of fresh apples still on the counter, a couple of days ago I wondered about making an upside down cake. I have made peach and pineapple and even spiced pear upside down cakes, but all with cooked/canned fruit. Thinking about apples, I couldn't imagine any reason that using fresh apples in an upside down cake. While the cake bakes, there is plenty of time for them to cook through. 
Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake, just turned out onto the plate
Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake, just turned out onto the plate

Granted, this cake barely used up two apples, total, so it is not really about using up lots of apples. Still, it uses a couple, so that's something. Instead of just mixing the usual butter and brown sugar for the topping (which goes in the bottom of the pan), I added in some dark corn syrup, cinnamon and vanilla, to further approximate the "caramel" part of this cake. In all, it was simple to make and unctuously good, with the caramel dripping down the sides and soaked into the cake. This will certainly not be the last time I make this cake! 

Place apples rounded edge down
Place apples rounded edge down
One thing to keep in mind when placing the apple slices onto the caramel: if you set them cut edge down, this will be the edge that shows when the cake is turned out and the bottom becomes the top. So, when setting the apple slices onto the caramel, set them in with the outer, rounded edge down into the caramel. layering them with the sharper inner edges up. 

Nuts, raisins or even dates could be added to the cake, or layered in with the apples on the caramel, if desired. I was going for simple caramel apple flavor this first time.This cake can easily be made gluten free. Simply substitute your favorite all-purpose gluten-free flour mixture and add ½ teaspoon xanthan gum or guar gum with the dry ingredients.

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake

Makes one 9-inch cake

A slice of Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake
A slice of Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons water  

2 apples, peeled, sliced into thin wedges lengthwise

½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg½ teaspoon baking soda½ teaspoon salt½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

CARAMEL: In a small saucepan, combine all the caramel ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce to low and simmer for a few minutes, until the sugar has melted. Spray a 9-inch cake pan with cooking spray. For complete insurance the cake will come out cleanly, line the bottom of the pan with parchment and spray the parchment. Pour in the caramel sauce. Set the apple slices in a pattern in the caramel sauce and set aside.

Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake
Caramel Apple Upside Down Cake

CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection). In a bowl, sift or whisk together the first 6 dry ingredients and set aside. In another mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light. Add in the eggs, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients in 2 or 3 batches, stirring well after each. Do not over beat. Using a spatula or spoon, slide small dollops of the thick batter gently over the apples, in order to not disturb the apple pattern. Once all the batter is on top, very gently spread the batter to cover the apples and reach the edges of the pan. Bake the cake for 40 or more minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake rest in the pan for about 5 minutes. Have a serving plate ready. Invert the plate on top of the cake pan. Using hot pads, grip both the cake pan and the serving plate firmly and flip them over, so the cake falls onto the serving plate.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Buffalo Chicken Pizza is a Hit

Buffalo Wings can conjure up mental images of excruciatingly hot flavors, inspiring a fear of trying them out. Or, such is the way my husband has imagined, to date. In all the many years since these wings have taken over the appetizer menu everywhere, my husband has yet to even taste them.

Buffalo Chicken Pizza, fresh from the oven
Buffalo Chicken Pizza, fresh from the oven
Now, I can understand that, up to a point. I mean, if you cannot tolerate almost any heat in a food, then this fear would keep one from trying something out. But really, when I asked him yesterday if he had EVER tried Buffalo Wings, he said no. Absolutely. 

As for myself, I think I only ever once ordered Buffalo Wings once as an appetizer somewhere, and I really loved them, flavor-wise. I am not overly keen on messing with bones and eating too much of the skin. Not because of health purposes. Too much of that rubbery skin in my mouth just gives me the willies, a little hangup of my own. I have, in some distant past, even bought frozen Buffalo Wings when I craved them. I also love the flavors, done up in a sandwich or wrap. In Florida we ate often at Beef O'Brady's, a sports bar with exceptionally good food. I ate their "Buffalo Chicken Wrap" more times than any other thing on their menu. It was delightfully good. I also have made a version of the Buffalo Chicken Dip for parties a couple of times, and which my husband also never tried.
One beautiful slice of Buffalo Chicken Pizza
One beautiful slice of Buffalo Chicken Pizza

So I was thinking of those flavors last week, and trying to think of a way to present them. I had used Sweet Baby Ray's Buffalo Wing Sauce and Marinade in the past for the dip, and really like the flavor. I haven't used any other brand, since I know that while this one has a little heat, it is not fiery. I thought about trying a version of the Buffalo Chicken Lasagna I am seeing around the internet recently. That was my plan, but the more I thought about it, the more I started leaning toward pizza instead. So yesterday was pizza day.

First off, I wanted to make just one pizza. I know I could freeze the remainder of a recipe for pizza dough, or just keep it refrigerated till needed, but decided to make a small recipe and just make one large pizza. The recipe I created will make one 15 inch pizza with a nicely puffy crust. Doubling the recipe will make (obviously) 2 large pizzas, or three smaller ones. 

Pizza Dough for One Large Pizza

Start about 4+ hours prior to serving
dough still sticking to bottom of bowl
dough still sticking to bottom of bowl

1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon instant yeast
¾ cup lukewarm water, 80 - 90 degrees
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 to 1¼ cup flour
1 to 1½ teaspoons salt
1 - 2 tablespoons water, only if needed
the Sponge (above)

Sponge: In a heavy duty mixer bowl, or in another large bowl, combine the flour and yeast and mix together. Add the lukewarm water and oil and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place (80 degrees) for 1 1/2 hours, until bubbly. (When in a cooler climate, setting the bowl in the oven with just the oven light on creates a nice warm environment. Some oven lights are too hot and will begin to cook the dough. In this case, leave the oven door ajar so some of the heat escapes.)

Dough drizzled with Buffalo Wing Sauce
Dough drizzled with Buffalo Wing Sauce

DOUGH: Once bubbly, if the sponge was made in a heavy duty mixer bowl, add in one cup of flour and salt to taste. Set the dough hook in place and begin kneading on low speed until combined, 2 - 3 minutes. If making by hand, add the flour and salt to the sponge and mix by hand. Once well mixed, determine if more flour is needed. If the climate is very dry, you may even have to add a tablespoon of water or two. Once the flour and salt are mostly incorporated, knead for 4 to 5 minutes more with the dough hook, or 5 to 7 minutes by hand, until the dough is smoothly elastic and not too sticky. In the mixer, the dough should clear the sides of the bowl but still stick to the bottom. Grease a bowl and set the dough in, turning once to grease all sides and set in a warm place to rise for another 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.

The dough can be patted out and placed on a cornmeal coated piece of parchment (to later slide on to a pizza stone) or on a greased 15 inch pizza pan. If the dough wants to spring back too much, allow it to rest for 10 minutes and try again, stretching to desired diameter. Top with your choice of flavorings and bake at 475 degrees (450 on Convection Bake) for 13 to 15 minutes.

My husband and I both love blue cheese, so I went ahead and used blue cheese dressing and blue cheese crumbles for my Buffalo Chicken Pizza. If you are not a fan of blue cheese, use Ranch dressing and another cheese crumbled over top, such as Feta or even goat cheese crumbles.

All toppings in place, ready for baking

Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Makes one 15-inch pizza

pizza dough (above)
1/3 cup Buffalo Wing Sauce (not plain hot sauce)
2 cups cooked chicken, diced (rotisserie chicken is great)
1 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 cup green pepper, diced
1/2 cup Blue cheese dressing
4 ounces Blue cheese crumbles

Drizzle the Buffalo Wing Sauce over the pizza dough. Top with the chicken, celery and green pepper. Dot with the Blue cheese dressing and then the Blue cheese crumbles. Bake in a preheated 475 degree oven (450 degrees on Convection Bake) for 13 to 15 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.

I am going to be making this again, and soon. My husband LOVED it, though it stretched his spice/heat tolerance to its limits. The flavors were sublime. But.... 

A couple of notes. I coated the pizza dough with olive oil. I used ½ cup of Buffalo Wing Sauce. The center of the finished pizza was a bit soggy. Next time I am not using the olive oil and I am using the ⅓ cup of sauce as listed in the recipe above. My hope is that the sauce can soak into the crust a little bit this way. The center of the pizza was too wet, so the other thought is to use the lowest oven rack to bake the pizza rather then the second level up, in hope it will better brown the bottom. I baked the pizza on a pan, so possibly setting it on a parchment and pizza stone would have yielded better crust-baking results. Despite this, the recipe is well worth making again. 

October 18, 2014 Pizza Repeat with Changes
Calphalon 15-inch Perforated Pizza Pan
Calphalon 15-inch Perforated Pizza Pan

To amend the recipe above, I made this pizza a second time and followed my idea, using ⅓ cup of the buffalo wing sauce, over a pizza dough with no olive oil. I did use my large, 15-inch perforated pizza pan. I lined the pan with parchment, though this would not be strictly necessary. I used the bottom oven rack to bake the pizza, for the full 15 minutes. The crust came out perfectly crispy, with a most satisfying crunch, despite the sauce and Blue Cheese Dressings. The flavors were equally great the second time, but the crust came out as it should be. I truly recommend this perforated pizza pan!

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.