Saturday, September 8, 2012

End of Summer Ramblings....

Some of  my magazine subscriptions send 12 issues and some send 10 or 11. They combine two months like July/August or January/February. Well I am doing that too. This is the August/September blog. I'll be away for 3 weeks in September traveling around the East Coast eating, I hope, lots 'o lobster with my cousins and friends!

I have been doing some preserving, baking, cooking for myself, friends and get togethers. Everyone around here will not just come to your house for dinner. It is always "what can I bring"? Nothing, I say, "I am not coming unless I can bring something". I have resigned myself to this tradition and plan meals accordingly. Everyone of my friends like to cook and sharing is a good way to keep their skills fresh and maybe a way to ensure they will be able to eat something they like by bringing it. We all get a little weird as we age.
 I tricked our little group over Labor Day weekend and announced I was having a "Taco Party" so I could clear out my freezer and refrigerator of all things taco-ish. This was the truth but it didn't totally work. My friend Lynda brought two awesome flans and fresh berries, Loretta made delish guacamole and baked chips, Shari contributed a very popular warm bean dip while everyone else brought adult beverages. Always appreciated. It was really nice on the deck so I had antojitos out there: flour tortilla crisps with defrosted bay shrimp nacho and chile con queso baked on top ( like pizzas), salsa fresca that used up some ripe tomatoes and wrinkled serrano chiles, Chipotle chile salsa from tomatillos I got on sale and a few other odd jars of salsas along with house made fried tortilla chips. The margaritas were flowing too thanks to Vilia! The first thing she did when she arrived was make me a fresh squeezed over the rocks Marg. Heaven.
The "taco works" consisted of shredding up odds and ends of cheese, chopping onions, making a big pot of organic black beans with epazote that I turned into a black bean and corn salsa for vege tacos. Trader Joe's carnitas had been lingering in the freezer along with some pieces of Chicken Chipotle Verde that was one of Diana Kennedy's recipes. I even found a bag of almost freezer burned prawns to defrost for a Shrimp and Potato taco filling that was from Diana Kennedy's Tortilla Book.
Vilia heated up a ton of tortillas one by one on my comal. I had fried the thick handmade-like ones earlier and kept them warm. We then set about to demolish the entire table of goodies. During the second round of toasting tortillas the smoke alarm went off, so you know,OH, it was so much fun!

Every year tomatoes are perfectly ripe and abundant right around my birthday. I used to can quarts and quarts of them on my actual birthday and once even called in sick for work when we lived in Chicago to do this. But before I got into the whole canning tomatoes thing I decided to head to the Oak Street beach for a few restful hours in the sun... I didn't even tell Steve as he had already left for work when I decided to play hooky (hehe). It was fun except for the big dude who tried to accost me and then insulted my bare tummy when I rebuffed him and shoved my wedding ring in his face. After Labor Day the beach was sparsely populated so I didn't hang out much longer. I hurried home to can those tomatoes!

Now, I tend to roast my tomatoes for immediate use or to freeze in zip lock bags. Sometimes they are the little ones cut in half , seasoned with salt and pepper and roasted until almost dry. These I pack in jars covered with olive oil and store in the refrigerator. Large meaty tomatoes are nestled in a shallow dish on a bed of basil with a few garlic cloves tucked in and a good dousing of olive oil before baking until they collapse. So yum! You can just squish them over warm pasta, whirl them in a blender for the base of Roasted Tomato soup or puree them for future sauces ( like for the shrimp-potato taco filling). I saved the oil and juices and used it for salads and a light sauce for butternut squash ravioli.

Bed of basil for beauty tomatoes
Seasoned and ready for the 350 oven

Ever since I found a wonderful Mango Bread down in Key West at a "Hippy bakery", I have been thinking of trying to recreate it. It was a sweet yeast bread full of ripe mangoes. I hunted on the Internet for ideas and found one that used the bread machine.  I happen to have some cut up mango so I was off and running.  Welll... the bread was beautiful but the mangoes got totally lost. It was more like a slightly cinnamon flavored dome of  white bread. I think it will be good for French Toast if I ever get around to having a brunch party. The bread machine that I have is wonderful for kneading and rising the dough. I don't particularly like to bake in it and would rather shape the loaves myself to bake on my stone in the oven. Next time, double or triple the mango, add nuts or other dried fruit ( maybe dried mango?) and I will share that new and improved recipe.

The not so Mango bread...

Peaches are winding down. My neighbors have family from the Central Valley that bring boxes of stone fruit over here to us "deprived" beach people. This has been a spectacular year for them. I prefer the yellow peaches as I like the acidity. A few years ago I won a "give away" from one of my favorite bloggers "Tigress in a Jam" it was a book of my choice from her Amazon store. I chose a lovely book by Christine Ferber " Mes Confitures".  She is a master patissier in France and this is her personal collection of jam and jelly recipes. I have a good collection of jamming books and recipes but I have never seen any as interesting as hers.  Last year I made apple pectin which is the base of many of her recipes. What a labor of love (or not) that was. The jars are still in my pantry. I need to decide which recipes to try that would be worthy of my apple pectin making efforts. This year as I was perusing the book, determined to try something, I came across a recipe for "Yellow Peach with Lavender Honey" jam. It called for lavender honey which I did not have but there was a fair amount of sugar in the recipe. My lavender was still blooming so I infused the sugar with it for a few days and used local honey. Since you infuse the peach jam mixture with a few sprigs of lavender in a cheesecloth bag I figured that would be lavendery enough and it was. She even suggested tying a sprig of dried lavender to the jars. I have these neat tags so I glued the dried lavender to them so it wouldn't shed all over the place.

Peach jam set up

Lastly I was lucky enough to find a vendor at our farmer's market that grows Italian prune plums.  I so love those but they are really hard to find and only available at the end of August or beginning of September. The first bag I bought went into a plum galette. The second bag, of about 5#, I used to make my "Asian Plum-Ginger sauce". This is a recipe I developed 28 years ago. It is still written on a scrap of paper with a few odd notes added. Originally I called it "Oriental Plum Sauce" until my sister, Nancy, pointed out that it was politically incorrect to refer to Asians as Orientals. So now I am totally PC.
This recipe is easily reduced depending on how many lbs. of plums you have. What to use it for?  Egg roll or fried won ton dipping sauce by thinning it out a little, baste pork loins or chicken, add to stir frys or serve with a soft cheese. It is so good!

plums, chiles, garlic & ginger
Spicey, plummy, gingery goodness!
All but one sealed, oh, I guess I'll have to eat that one.

                                             Asian Plum-Ginger Sauce
5# crisp plums like Italian Prune or Satsuma ( the red hearted ones), quartered with pits removed
1/3 c.  fresh ginger ( no need to peel), coarsely chopped
3 large cloves garlic,  coarsely chopped
4 small fresh red chiles, if available, or use serranos, coarsely chopped. You may want to take the seeds out.
2# sugar ( about 4 c.)
1 1/3 c. Natural rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce

       Place plums, ginger, garlic and chiles in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until all are chopped into small pieces. Transfer to a dutch oven or other heavy pot.  Add sugar and rice wine vinegar.  Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and skim as it cooks down about 1-1 1/2 hrs.  Before putting in jars stir in the soy sauce. 
Taste to see if it is hot enough, if not add some sirachi sauce to kick it up.
Water bath in half pint jars for 10 min. 
Makes 8 half pints.

See ya next month with tales from the East Coast:)