Friday, December 16, 2011

Pistachio Orange Biscotti

Homemade biscotti make a wonderful Christmas gift. They are a bit of project, but worth the effort, and it's easy to create your own unique flavor combinations. The cookies are baked twice so that they stand up to repeated dunking in your favorite hot beverage. I used whole wheat pastry flour in this recipe, which gives the cookies a bit heartier flavor. Really you can add any kind of goodies you want to the basic biscotti recipe, but New Mexico pistachios and candied orange peel are a great combo. I made my own candied orange peels, but you can find them in many grocery stores this time of year (or just use some orange zest in the cookies instead).

3 large eggs
2/3 C. granulated sugar
2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 C. butter, melted and cooled
2 1/2 C. flour (whole wheat pastry flour or white all-purpose flour)
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1 C. chopped pistachios
1 C. chopped candied orange peel
1 C. chocolate chips (white, milk or dark)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Separate one egg, reserving the white. Beat the egg yolk with the other two eggs and the sugar, with an electric mixer on high speed, for 2 full minutes. Add vanilla and melted butter and beat for another full minute. In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. Add gradually to the wet ingredients, mixing only enough to combine. Fold in the pistachios and orange peel.

Divide dough into two equal portions. On a floured surface, roll each into a log about two inches in diameter. Place the logs about 3 inches apart on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper (or lightly oiled) to prevent sticking. Press down gently to flatten them a bit. Brush each log with beaten egg white, then sprinkle with granulated sugar – this helps hold them together when you slice them.

Bake 25-35 minutes, or until lightly browned and firm to the touch. Cool for at least an hour or overnight. Cut each log into 3/4-inch slices, like a loaf of bread. To avoid crumbling them, use a sharp, non-serrated knife and press straight down (no sawing).

Turn the slices on their sides and bake again at 350°F for about 8 minutes, then flip them and bake another 7 minutes on the other side. They should be pretty hard and a little bit toasted on each side. Cool to room temperature.

To melt the chocolate, put the chips in a dry, shallow bowl (all utensils must be completely dry a few drops of water can cause the chocolate to seize up.) Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir. Continue heating, stirring after every 30 seconds. When the chocolate gets closer to melting completely, reduce the interval to 15 seconds, and continue until the chocolate is just melted. This is especially important for white and milk chocolate, because they scorch more easily than dark. Dip the top of each cookie in chocolate and set them back on the baking sheet. Cool until the chocolate is completely hardened (to speed this up, put them into the refrigerator or the freezer for a few minutes). Makes about 20 biscotti.

Candied Orange Peels

6 large navel oranges (thick skins work best)
6 cups granulated sugar
Optional: 1 cinnamon stick, 1 vanilla bean or 2 cloves

Wash and dry oranges, and cut into wedges (quarters or eighths). Remove the fruit and set aside for another use. The sections of peel should still have the white pith attached. Place peels in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer 20 minutes. Drain off the water, refill with fresh water, and boil 20 more minutes to remove the bitterness. Drain again.

Add 4 1/2 cups sugar and 3 cups of water to the pan with spice(s) if desired. Boil the peels, uncovered, in this simple syrup on medium heat for 1 hour. Gently remove peels from the syrup and drain on a rack, white side down, for a few minutes. Save the syrup for mixing cocktails!

When peels are cool, slice them lengthwise into 1/4 inch strips, using a sharp knife or kitchen scissors. Roll the strips in the remaining sugar. Turn on the oven to 180°F, and spread the strips in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 60-90 minutes - don't use higher temperature or leave them in longer than 90 minutes, or the sugar will begin to melt. Cool to room temperature, at least another hour, or overnight.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Potato Pancakes with Ginger-Apple Chutney

This sweet-sour chutney is wonderful with potato pancakes, but also great on pork chops, or you could even put it in little meat pies or dumplings with ground pork. Next time I might experiment with adding spices like coriander or cinnamon. The recipe is adapted from Ming Tsai's Simply Ming cookbook.

Ginger-Apple Chutney
4 C. apples, diced
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 T. grapeseed oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 T. peeled and diced fresh ginger
1 C. rice vinegar
1 C. apple juice.
Salt and pepper

Toss apples with lemon juice and zest as you dice them, to prevent browning. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium flame, add onions and ginger, and cook until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add apples and cook, about 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. Add the liquids and cook, stirring gently, until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning as needed.

Potato Pancakes
2 large potatoes
1/2 t. salt
1 egg
2 green onions

Coarsely shred potatoes, sprinkle with salt, and place in a colander to drain for about 10 minutes, pressing firmly to remove as much liquid as possible. Add egg and onions, season with pepper as needed, and mix thoroughly. Heat oil on medium flame, then add potato mixture by quarter-cupfuls, flattening them to make pancakes about 4 inches in diameter. Cook until the bottoms are brown, then flip, adding more oil if necessary, and brown the other side. Drain on paper towels. Garnish with Ginger Apple Chutney and sour cream, or mix equal parts chutney and sour cream with one chopped scallion. Serves 2-3.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Homemade Sauerkraut

Fall is the best time to grow cabbage in Albuquerque – spring gets too hot too fast, but fall lingers a bit longer with warmish days and cold nights. Planted in August or September, cabbages and lots of other cole crops (like broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, and bok choy) are maturing right now. Cole crops are very cold-hardy, and can survive uncovered until November or December, but a cover of garden cloth will help them continue to mature for another month or so.

Sauerkraut is easy to make, full of Vitamin C and probiotics, and a traditional Christmas food in many Eastern European cultures.

The basic recipe has only two ingredients – cabbage and salt – but traditional embellishments include garlic, onions, bay leaves, caraway, juniper berries and wine. I made a small batch with just one cabbage, in a tiny crock I found at a vintage store, but glass quart jars are really nice because you can really see what's going on in there. This recipe is adapted from one given in Linda Ziedrich's excellent book, The Joy of Pickling.

1 to 1 1/4 lb. cabbage
2 t. pickling or kosher salt
1/4 t. juniper berries, dill seeds, or caraway seeds, or one bay leaf, crumbled
Additional water and salt for brine

Quarter and core the cabbage. Slice very thinly (about 1/8 inch), using a sharp knife or the slicing blade of a food processor.

Add the salt and juniper berries and mix thoroughly in a large bowl, with clean hands. Rinse a small crock or quart jar with boiling water – one pound of cabbage fits easily into a quart jar. Pack the cabbage in tightly, so the juice comes to the surface. To seal air out, fill a food-grade bag with brine (1 1/2 tablespoons salt per quart) and push it into the top of the jar so that all the air bubbles out. 

The salt is the key to getting the right kind of fermentation; use brine in the bag so that if the bag leaks, it doesn't ruin your sauerkraut. Not enough salt can result in soft texture, or even sliminess - if it is slimy, you've got the wrong kind of fermentation going on, and this is pretty much the only case in which you truly have to throw the whole thing out. So just don't skimp on the salt. Set in a cool spot, or just leave it on your counter to start fermenting. You may want to set the jar in a bowl in case it starts to bubble over.

After about a day, the cabbage should be submerged in its own brine. If not, pour a little of the brine from the bag into the jar and replace the bag. After about 2 weeks, little bubbles should be rising along the side of the jar from the fermentation. You can adjust the amount of water to give just enough pressure that it keeps the cabbage submerged; take some out if it's bubbling over. If any scum forms, skim off what you can, then wash the bag in hot water and replace it, but it's really not a big deal – the good microorganisms always win.

You can taste it at any point, to see if it's tart enough, and take it out a bit early if you like it less sour. Sauerkraut fermented at 65° or below has the best flavor, but it takes longer (five weeks or more). At 70° to 75° it takes about 3 weeks. When fermentation is complete, the bubbling will stop. Store in refrigerator, tightly covered.