Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fun with fruit: Pate de Fruit

Remember my spring kitchen to-do list? OK, maybe not, but I do and I'm working my way down it. Anchovy-stuffed fried olives went pretty smoothly—I picked that one first suspecting it would be the easiest. I didn't expect Pate de Fruit to go as smoothly, and it didn't. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As I often do when taking on a new kitchen project, I spend ages on the internet looking at and comparing different recipes. Pate de Fruit recipes are more or less the same: fruit, sugar, and pectin, with lots of cooking and stirring, but some include other ingredients like tartaric acid, glucose, and one even butter. After much research and an email consul twith blogger pal Laura who recently made this treat, I went with a recipe from Helen at Tartlette.

In California, the summer fruits are on their way in. Strawberries are best right now, and my produce market had some nice small sweet organic ones. Helen's recipe includes rhubarb as well, but I stuck with just strawberries, substituting strawberries for the rhubarb that I omitted.

Helen's recipe gives the berry amounts in ounces and grams. I went with grams since the fruit is measured before pureeing. And it was nice to find another use for the cute little scale I bought for making macarons (coming up on the to-do list).

I followed instructions for cooking carefully. Any recipe that involves a candy thermometer makes me nervous. That usually means that temperature is really important. In other words, if you don't get the temperature just right, you can completely screw it up. I've poured out or had to recook my share of jellies that didn't jell. And cooked fudge—that's another story and not a good one.

So I stirred continuously and watched. The last stage where you take the temperature up to 223 degrees (what is marked as "thread" on most candy thermometers) takes forever. Seriously—about 40 minutes. Maybe I got a little too impatient and turned up the heat a little too high because the wonderful concentrated fruit aroma turned to a . . . burning, scorching BAD smell.

I panicked, pulled the thermometer, and poured the mixture into my prepared pan. The burned pan aside, I was worried about the scorched taste ruining the flavor.

But the coating on the cooled spoon tasted ok, so I forged on.

Amazingly enough, the final product was delicious, with a burst of concentrated strawberry flavor. I must have ditched the pan soon enough. And even though the mixture never got quite to 223, the consistency was just right.

I was so thrilled that I got a little cocky and decided to see what I could do with a few kiwis I had on hand. I had skipped straining the strawberry mixtures because my food processor seemed to have done a good enough job, but kiwi has more to strain out. I wanted a few seeds but not too many.

My main divergence from any recipe I found was to add an amount of sugar that depends on the sweetness of the fruit. I'm always suspicious of sugar amounts in fruit recipes since fruits vary widely in sweetness depending on type, ripeness, and season. I also had to guess at the pectin amount to add since different fruits have different natural pectin amounts.

One thing that helped this time is I used a smaller pan, so stirring the mixture from the edges to prevent scorching as it reached a higher temperature was easier. Also, given that I had some idea from the previous batch of the consistency I was looking for, I ignored the thermometer at the end and instead decided that when you could draw with a spoon through the mixture a line that held for a few seconds that we were done. I was still a little below 223 degrees at this point, but I was right that this was enough cooking for the mixture to set.

Because I limited the amount of sugar I use, these were slightly sour, just like a kiwi. The sugar coating balanced the flavor nicely. Another change: Since the color was so beautiful, I sugared only the top. This meant that I couldn't store them stacked since the sides would stick together, but after leaving them on a small plate on the kitchen counter, this turned out to be a nonissue.


Four kiwi
sugar to taste, about 1/2 cup
1 1/2 tablespoon liquid pectin

Line a small loaf pan with parchment paper, using at little canola spray to fix the parchment to the sides of the pan.

Peel and chop kiwi. Puree in food processor. You should have about a cup.

Place in small saucepan. Stir in sugar to taste and then add pectin. Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture thickens and cooks down to the point that a line drawn with a wooden spoon will hold for a few seconds before filling in. This may take nearly half an hour.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and allow to set until cooled, about an hour.

Remove set mixture from pan and cut with sharp knife into small pieces. Coat pieces in sugar. Store at room temperature for a few days and in the refrigerator for longer than that.

So there you have it. Chalk this one up to "If Cindy can make this, so can I." I can't wait to experiment with more fruits as they come in season. I'm especially looking forward to my favorites, white peaches and nectarines, which I can imagine will have a delicate blush flavor. I'm also considering freezing a few batches of puree so I can make Pate de Fruit at Christmas for gifts.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How to handle this one

What to do. The third book in Steig Larsson's Millenium trilogy is OUT!!! And my favorite independent bookseller has called to tell me the copy I reserved is IN.
I read the first, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and took Husband to see the movie, which I thought was one of the best book-adaptation screenplays ever. Of course the movie was different from the book, else you probably would have had a five-hour film, but the choices made were intelligent ones and in a few cases I thought improvements over the book. Husband like it so much, he read the book. And then he read the next one. Which is sort of amazing since his reading repertoire is usually limited to geeky science and construction magazines. I can list the books he's read in our twelve years of marriage. Here they are:

Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America, Theodora Kroeber. He read this on our honeymoon, perhaps reflecting on his recent state of captivity. Loved it—at the end, he cried sitting on the beach in Maui.
Sacred Hunger, Barry Unsworth. Good for him, I thought. Unsworth is hardly easy reading. He totally dug it but then didn't read another book for years. Seriously.
Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton, Diane Wood Middlebrook. He picked this up following an NPR interview with the author. Billy Tipton was a female jazz musician who lived as a man—very successfully it would seem given that he was married to several woman who somehow did not notice this. It's a beautiful and poignant story of the nature of identity and gender, but alas, Billy dies at the end, once again bringing Husband to tears. To make things worse, every time he tried to get my book group to read this, everyone laughed. And we haven't stopped: We're supposed to nominate three books each time, and if we're ever short a choice, we throw in Suits Me and then vote for one of the other two.
Then a couple of summer ago when we were on an Alaskan cruise with the MIL, he read a book about the cruise ship business. It was just great: He regaled us at dinner each night with endless statistics on what it took to run a large cruise ship: how many freezers, how much lettuce, how many prep cooks. Fascinating.
And then he's read the first two books in the Millenium trilogy. And he wants the third one. Badly. He will not wait until paperback. And neither will I, for that matter. These books are a hoot, sort of like smart mind candy. Problem is they keep you up at night and prevent you from peeling yourself off the couch in the day time. When he was on the first and I on the second, Husband and I spend an entire rainy weekend day doing nothing but reading in front of the fire.We are both in love with Lisbeth Salander, that tattooed computer-hacking motorcyle-riding little minx. Did you know Larsson said once that he envisioned her as modern-day Pippi Longstocking? No wonder I love her so much.

But here's the dilemma. Whereas I am perfectly happy to buy the third book in hardback and even let Husband read it first (I'm in the middle of two other books—see the reading list), I am concerned about the ramifications of turning it over to him. His company, like mine, has mandated furloughs, and he has ganged up some of his to stretch Memorial Day weekend into a five-day frenzy of work on . . . (yes!) our house.

So if I give him the book, the furlough may get pissed away. If I withhold it, I may get a front door I can actually walk through and plastic tarps off the front of my house. Maybe. But I want him to be happy. So how about this: I let him have the book only between the hours of 7:00 and 11:00 p.m. During the rest of the time I'm going to have to either hide it or if that fails put it in the car and drive it away. So I can read it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Discuss, please

This question has been vexing me for years.

Are salt and pepper shakers obsolete?

Here's why I need to know.

I bought these pretty shakers at an antique show years ago—I think in Baltimore, where I visited often with my graduate school roommate when I was at Penn State. They were a little battered, but I considered that part of their charm. What I appreciated most was the intricate glass pattern, which is of course none the worse for the wear.

The tops, however, are another story. The years have taken their toll, and the silver plate has completely worn off in spots.

So the decision I need to make is whether to have them replated. But does this make any sense? I have put them on the table maybe once or twice in the past ten years, probably at a holiday meal. I don't think anyone used them. And I can count on one finger when someone at my table requested salt. I fear salt and pepper shakers are a thing of the past. My mother served food mostly unsalted; shakers were always on the table. I serve food already salted, making an executive decision concerning seasoning. And, of course, I try to season as much as I can with substances other than salt (citrus is my favorite flavor kicker).

So that is why I ask . . .

Are salt and pepper shakers obsolete?

If I don't have them replated, what do I do with them? Cinnamon? Nutmeg?

Thanks for your help here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

An appetizer out of the cupboard:
Fried anchovy-stuffed olives

I'm a sort of a Girl Scout when it comes to the front end of meals, the appetizer: I like to be prepared. (Or was that Boy Scouts? I don't know—I was a Campfire Girl). Point is I often go to bed thinking about desserts and wake up in the middle of the night for a little meal planning but relegate appetizers to an afterthought. So I try to have on hand a good supply of items in my cupboard and freezer that can be whipped into a tasty bite or two. I certainly don't serve appetizers before regular weeknight dinners, but an appetizer and a cocktail are required for the Domino, Scrabble, or Flinch game on the kitchen table that precedes Sunday dinner at our house.

This past weekend I turned my shopping attention to the fried anchovy-stuffed olives in my spring kitchen to-do list. I always have anchovies on hand (useful in puttanesca sauce, one of my weeknight go-to meals) and bread crumbs (useful for all sorts of things) on hand. But while there is almost always a jar of Kalamata olives in my fridge, I needed to search for and buy the green olives I have seen in this dish. I bypassed the fancy expensive ones sold by the pound at my local fancy expensive market since most of them already had something stuffed in them. I thought unstuffing and restuffing would be stupid. And I didn't want olives cured in a vinegar since I thought that flavor would complete with the anchovy.

These green olives in a can by the same company that makes the black ones we all ate off them ends of our fingers when we were little turned out to be the least expensive option and the perfect choice.

After reading nearly a dozen recipes for this dish, I combined bits of several to approximate what I remember washing down with a dry martini at a zinc bar in a restaurant that went away.

I rinsed the anchovies and picked out as many of the little bones as I could. Whenever I do this, I think of my friend Eric, who says that anchovies remind him of eating an eyebrow.

I chopped them up with a little garlic and parsley.

I searched for the perfect tool with which to stuff the mixture into the olives and found them on the end of my hand. Messy but effective.

The stuffed olives traveled left to right through flour, beaten egg, and bread crumbs.

Here they are ready for their frying. No picture of that though—it happens pretty quickly. I rarely fry and hate the idea of throwing out a bunch of expensive olive oil, so I fried in a very small saucepan in a 50:50 mixture of olive and canola oils.

Success! Or as Sophie now says "booyah!" (I looked it up in an online urban slang dictionary—it means "good.")


1 6-oz. can of green olives
5–6 olive oil packed anchovies; rinsed, boned, and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. parsley, minced
1/2 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs
olive and canola oil for frying

Mince together anchovies, garlic, and parsley. Use fingers to stuff into olives. Coat olives in flour, then beaten egg, then breadcrumbs.

Heat 50:50 combination of olive and canola oil in a small saucepan. Oil should be deep enough to fully cover olives, about 1 inch. When oil starts to bubble, add the olives a few at a time. When golden brown, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Serve warm.
Tick that off the list, please. Booyah!

Monday, May 17, 2010

A spring kitchen list: I've got plans

I'm a sucker for a list. I could list the things I love about lists, but I won't.

Instead I'll list what's on my spring kitchen list.

Fried anchovy-stuff olives

The Berkeley restaurant Downtown (not surprisingly located in downtown Berkeley) closed up several months ago. I was surprised: They seemed to be doing brisk lunch business from the university, and their proximity to the Berkeley Rep Theater seemed to bode well for dinner traffic. And it was a great (well, really at the time the only) place to get decent martini in that neighborhood. Their bar plate of fried anchovy-stuffed olives was the perfect accompaniment. I'm going to give it my best shot at recreating these.

Homemade ravioli

I am embarrassed to admit I registered for and received a lovely hand-crank pasta machine for our wedding twelve years ago, and I have not used it once. God, that was embarrassing to even type! But seriously, I see and occasionally buy expensive fancy raviolis with all sorts of wonderful fillings and always ponder how difficult these can be to make. And I often think that among the fillings there is one thing that I'd perhaps change. If I make my own, I'll be able to.

Pâtes de fruits

Blogger pal Laura, owner of one amazing Vermont bakery, was chatting about these on Facebook a while ago, and the idea has been wedged in my head ever since. Mine will probably turn out like little blobs instead of these tidy equal-sized cubes, but given the summer fruit on the horizon how could they not taste good?

Better macarons

I was behind a favorite food blogger but well ahead of popular media in realizing the importance of these confections. One of my favorite local bakeries does an amazing job at them—with flavors like mango, pistachio, and sea salt caramel—but when they are too busy with special orders, they often don't have time to make them, leaving me wanting to throw myself in a little heap on their floor if I've come in with my mouth watering for one. It was the only thing that could damper my enthusiasm for all the pre-proposition 8 weddings and cakes that needed baking. I bought a little kitchen scale just for making these (I don't know why, but all the recipes seems to be in grams) and have learned to produce a macaron that everyone agrees tastes great. However, I would also like them to look great, not just okay. Call me superficial.

And call me busy in my kitchen if I succeed in working down my list. But first, a confession: I've already nailed the olives (coming up next). It's one of my keys to list satisfaction: Include something you've already done.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Favas here, favas there

There's a lot to like about spring in northern California—the almost electric green hills, the smell of flowers wafting through my neighborhood, the gentle warm days and cool night (good sleeping weather, they say), longer evenings with enough light for a run in the hills after work—but my favorite harbinger of the season is the arrival at my local produce market of the fava bean.

I love later in the summer when they drop to 39 cents a pound, but at 79 cents, a pound of the tender spring beans is well worth the price—smaller and more shelling work but tender enough that the smallest can be eaten with the skin on.

Favas made appearances at my dinner table twice this week.

This was an salad of orzo, favas, lightly sauteed yellow squash, tomatoes (the romanitos aren't bad for an early tomato), fresh mozzarella, olive oil, and fresh Meyer lemon juice.

Later in the week was fresh corn (a little too early—I'll wait a few weeks to buy more) sauteed in browned butter, with favas, chives, and toasted pine nuts.

The first strawberries are in, and the small organic ones are good (the ginormous overwatered ones horrible). We have very good inexpensive avocados. Still waiting for the stone fruits, good corn, and heirloom tomatoes. But that's another season.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I comment on fashion

Stop rolling your eyes. Just because I spend most of my life in yoga pants does not mean I do not love looking at pictures from events like the Met Costume Institute Gala and am not entitled to a few opinions (as long as I keep them brief). Here are a few standouts, shown in shamelessly highjacked photos:

I don't care when she had a baby.

I keep shutting my eyes really tight and hoping when I open them
Tina Fey will not be wearing a pants suit.

Janet Jackson's boobs look ridiculous.

Enough already with the blue.

This hairdo looks better on my MIL.

This dress is too short.

One person looked better than all the rest.

Who did you like? Hate? Laugh at?