Saturday, September 28, 2013

Double whammy! Cook the Books meets Tasting Jerusalem

I love serendipity, and this month it struck with the convergence of two communal cooking groups. Cook the Books 2013 with Meg of Grow & Resist and Briggs of Ohbriggsy! focuses on a different cookbook each month, and Tasting Jerusalem with Beth (@omgyummy) and Serene (@fringefood) selects a different ingredient each month from a single book. So September brings Jerusalem and pomegranate molasses to the spotlight.

Plenty is a favorite cookbook (though I'm nowhere near vegetarian), so I bought Jerusalem when it came out. While I admit I don't turn to it as often, I have been inspired by the flavors and recipes over the past few months. Choice dishes I've made have included Roasted Cauliflower Salad (p 62), Baharat spiced grilled eggplant over Mejadra (p 120), Baharat eggs over Mejadra, preserved lemons (p 203), and Lamb Meatballs with Currants, Yogurt & Herbs (p 199).

On the menu this month:

Cardamom rice pudding with pistachios & rose water (p 270) - As previously confessed in my Cook the Books Gran Cocina Latina post, I adore rice pudding. And rose flavored things. Especially the combination of cardamom and rose (see my french toast and meringue posts). As usual I made some of my recipe reading mistakes (long grain rice instead of short grain) and some substitutions (half & half instead of heavy cream, and a little extra milk with some sugar instead of condensed milk), so my version was no doubt a little less rich than Ottolenghi and Tamimi's...but it still looked and tasted gorgeous! The overnight liquid soaking part felt a little fussy to me; I wonder if there might be a way to impart the flavor of the spices without that step. Also, my sister gave me one of her rugosa rose bushes, which produces amazing blooms and rose petal jelly! The petals went into this dish too.

Shakshuka (p 66) - Me and Tunisian cuisine both have a passionate love affair with eggs. The recipe states it's a seasonal summer variation, and using all fresh farmers market produce and eggs really emphasized this point. The fresh flavors of the peppers and tomatoes shone through, and the harissa brings some spicy depth without overwhelming. Over the moon with this satisfying dish despite my less than perfect presentation. I halved the recipe and used only whole eggs (not whole eggs + yolks), so found it was a little tight in my pan and swirling the whites was just a bad idea for me. There will be a next time, so I'm sure this is a practice makes perfect kind of thing.

Wheat berries & Swiss chard with pomegranate molasses (p 100) - This dish was a strange one for me. First of all, though I should have had a sense of it from the cooking time (all together over 80 minutes), but I wasn't expecting it to be so stew-like. Served up with poached salmon on the first night, it was really tasty. Though the BF liked it less than me. True, I may have been a little heavy-handed with the pomegranate molasses, so it was pretty tangy, but to my palate a nice combination of textures and flavors. A couple days later we had some leftovers, and it had become much less pleasant tasting; bitter and strong. I did skip serving it with the suggested greek yogurt both times, so maybe that would have helped mellow out the strong flavors. I would maybe make this again, and fiddle with the ingredients and proportions in order to make it more savory, with just a hint of sweet, and less dominant sharpness.

One of the really fun things about immersing yourself in a single cookbook each monthor for longer!is to investigate and savor different ingredients. I love going out to the various ethnic grocers in our neighborhood (rarely do I need to go further) and buying things I usually only look at or wonder about. And I frequently discover new ways to use a familiar ingredient too. At home in my own kitchen, I feel like I journey the world through food. And the exploration is made that much more interesting with good company. I can't wait to see what everyone else, from both cooking communities, cooked up this month!

And for the record (the second time), I WILL make the Chocolate Krantz Cake one of these days...

Note: My trusty old Canon PowerShot SD650 is on its last legs, and I recently crossed over to the dark side and now have an iPhone. I'm trying out all iPhone photos for the blog. and though I haven't spent any time exploring more than basic functionality, so far...I'm not convinced. Tips, thoughts and camera recommendations are all welcome.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Concord Grape Jam from Put 'em Up! Fruit for FSC Book Club

Put 'em Up! was one of the first preserving books I found on the local library shelves, and it quickly became a trusted favorite. So when author/canner extraordinaire Sherri Brooks Vinton came out with her second cookbook, Put 'em Up! Fruit, I immediately got myself a copy.

Then I spotted a fellow food swap group, From Scratch Club (from the Capital Region of New York), hosting just my kind of book club: The No-Stress Virtual Cook-Along Book Club! I've been keeping an eye on the activity—primarily via the Goodreads group—but this week {Meeting 5: Grapes, Grapefruit & Quince} was the first time I've been able to make something, and post about it. My Meyer Lemon Gastrique from {Meeting 4: Blueberries, Apricots & Lemons} made it to the last food swap, though I never posted on it.

Last year I counted myself super lucky to score some concord grape concentrate a friend had made from their backyard harvest. The resulting concord grape jelly became the go-to jam in my larder for PBJ's.

So, I didn't hesitate to purchase when I spotted some local concord grapes at a nearby market recently. Since the fruit in my fridge lined right up with the book club chapter, I set my mind on the Concord Grape Jam on p. 141.

This jam took me about 4 days to finish. Seriously. Though prepping the fruit and cooking it took no time at all, I knew I wanted to get it into the canner, and kept running out of time. So it ended up macerating in the fridge a solid 3 days, before I canned it up. I confess, one PBJ was eaten in the interim.

Concord grapes measure up

Squeezing the grape pulp out is fun

Grape innards

Jam hitting its boil

If you have never tasted homemade concord grape jam or jelly, you are missing out. The Smucker's of your childhood just doesn't measure up. Doesn't compare! Doesn't hold a candle to the real stuff! Truly.

Grape jam/jelly you make yourself shines. It has deep purple grape-y essence, but with built-in flavor layers and explosions. It's like a meteor shower of sweetness. It is the M-80 of the jam world. It's a knockout.

Bonus points: my grape jam jars have grapes on them!

One of the great features in Put 'em Up! Fruit is the 'Use it up!' meal recipe accompanying each preserving recipe. No jars full of dregs and last bits of whatever here! So, I am looking forward to putting this jam to savory use in Butter-Basted Steak with Grape Reduction down the line.

If any makes it that far, that is.

Warning: you may be tempted to eat this by the spoonful