Sunday, September 25, 2011

Trifecta of Bad Baking: Mistakes were made

Not nearly ripe enough to be
Screaming Ripe Bananas
The four ripe bananas on the counter screamed “Banana Bread!!” I should have roasted them and stuck them into the freezer for another day.

Mistakes were made. Learn from them.

1. Don't bake when you are very very tired; 
2. Don't do discretionary baking when you aren't super-double-keen on the recipe or the intended result;
3. Don't re-read the instructions. Rely on your memory. It's always great when you are tired.

4. Don't set out a mis-en-place. Grabbing ingredients on the fly is so adventurous.

5. When substituting butter for shortening:
     (a)    If you must thaw frozen butter, slice the precise amount that you need because:
             (1) if you aren't paying attention, you will use one cup instead of 2/3 cup, and;
             (2) you may then try to adjust the ingredients without doing math so that you:
                  (i) forget to add more sugar, and;
                  (ii) forget to add more salt, baking powder and spices; 
    (b)    Don't be surprised that the result achieves a Trifecta of Bad Baking:
            (1)  Flat (not enough salt);
            (2)  Dull (not enough sugar); and
            (3)   Bland (not enough spices).

6. Don't bother with the usual fixes:
      (a) Toast: Even toasting, which you might expect could sharpen up the candied ginger and crisp up the almonds that you added instead of walnuts, will only make boring, bland, flavorless, heavy, and scary toast; or
       (b) Bread Pudding: This would be an insult to the custard, which, unless it contains an overwhelming amount of your best bourbon (a waste, which might then create its own problems), will never make up for the underlying failure of Bad Bland Banana Bread.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Last tomatoes: roast 'em

I was going to make tomato jam, but the idea of peeling all of the tomatoes that I bought from Erin Smith at the Hopkins Farmers Market on Saturday stopped me in my tracks. Fortunately, I had a better idea, and I roasted them in two large batches, the easiest thing in the world. Think duxelles (minced mushrooms cooked down to their essence), and know with a tiny amount of work, you will have the essence of tomatoes in a dish.

Chopped with garlic and chili
Roasted with a blackened chili
My first introduction to roasted tomatoes came from the late-but-never forgotten Laurie Colwin, who wrote rhapsodically about them in More Home Cooking. I use winter tomatoes and make it often.

Roasting large batches of tomatoes can take 3 hours. Settle in near your oven so that you can stir every 30 minutes or so. You'll know when your batch is finished when the tomatoes have gone from bright and juicy to dark and jammy.

Easy Peasy Roasted Tomatoes

Fresh tomatoes: chop up as many has you have
Fresh Garlic: 3-5 fat cloves
Dried Chili: As much or as little as you like
Fresh Ground Pepper: 1-2 tsp
Optional: 1/2 finely chopped onion (which I forgot yesterday)
Optional: any amount of thin sliced fresh sweet or hot peppers
1/4 cup oil (I like canola; olive oil lovers, have at it!)

Oven temp: I have a convection oven option, and I started at 450 for about 45 minutes, and then reduced the heat to 325.)

  1. Pre-heat the oil in your largest heavy shallow roasting pan. Unless you want to clean your oven, do not use a rimmed baking sheet. 
  2. Add the tomatoes, garlic, chili and (optional) onion and pepper.
  3. Roast for three hours, stirring every 30 minutes.

If you can resist eating this all at once, it will freeze nicely for 3 months.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

18 Pounds of Italian Plums

Italian Plums are oval
Italian Plums are my favorite fruit for making deep, dark, and dense plum jam, and an unfailingly elegant, foolproof, and uncommonly delicious Plum Torte.  I bought 18 pounds this morning, and I will certainly go back for more.  Why?

Dark Red Plum Jam
PLUM JAM  I owe this affection to the late and very-much-lamented Laurie Colwin, from whom I learned to make jam by following her instructions it in the “Jam Anxiety” chapter in More Home Cooking.  She wrote “Jam making is actually, a snap, and also very liberating, since once you know how, you realize it is not the project of an entire day or week (jelly making is quite another matter) but half an evening’s pleasant and rewarding effort."

That sentence was a gift and inspiration to me.I made my first batch of Plum Jam right after September 11, 2001, and jam-making became my outlet. When the going was tough, I made jam. There were perhaps two entire years when I had 6 dozen jam jars in the trunk of my car, and imagined that everyone else did, too.

I am not alone in having been inspired by her essay. Greg Atkinson blogged nicely about her recipe in 2008, and a Google search of “Laurie Colwin’s Plum Jam” nets 3,300 results.

I have already blogged about Marian Burros Plum Torte, which was the New York Times’ most requested recipe for years. It freezes well and when baked off in February perfumes your house with the sweet smells of summer. I have made it with beets, pears, peaches, apples, and a variety of plums, but the Italian Plums are the best.

Find the Plum Torte and so much more in the The Best of DeGustibus