Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lifesavers: Pickled Cauliflower, Pickled Carrots, Red Onion-Cranberry Marmalade, Quince Paste

Sorry for the delay in posting; I wanted to get a post up before Thanksgiving as my wife and I were heading to Las Vegas on Black Friday for a long weekend. I have a couple of dishes on which to report - so I should be back to a normal schedule for the next couple of weeks. Expect another delay around Christmas/New Year as I will be traipsing across the eastern half of the United States as I visit family in three states.

These three lifesavers (as they are called in the book) were all done in one day and they were all straightforward and easy to complete. The hardest part of these recipes was finding canning jars in November. I tried Wal-Mart. No luck. The grocery store? No. Hardware store? Sorry pal, we just put out our holiday displays, no room for canning supplies. The craft store? Success! Kinda. Our local craft store only had one size and no swing-top lids whatsoever. So I was stuck with what they had. You'll notice the shortcomings later in the post. (Edit: I'll be damned! Found a full shelf of canning supplies at Wegmans today (12.6.09) right next to the shaving cream aisle. Obviously.)

Pickled Cauliflower and Carrots

Let's start with the pickled cauliflower. Here is the mise en place:

The mix is pretty simple: water, champagne vinegar, sugar and Piment d'Espelette (a slightly smoky, slightly spicy, not-quite-paprika-not-quite-chili-pepper spice that I picked up from the Savory Spice Shop in Colorado (via mail order). The ingredients for the pickling solution are combined in a saucepan and warmed until the sugar dissolves:

I then started to break down the cauliflower looking for uniformly sized pieces that would blanch at the same rate; the book suggests pieces the size of a quarter. I perhaps got a little obsessive about this step, but I think it paid off in the end. However, my kitchen looked like a cauliflower massacre - parts and pieces everywhere. Those leftover parts and pieces make a mighty fine soup or gratin though...

Tee uniformly sized pieces are blanched and drained, added to the jar (warm) and the pickling liquid is poured over. The jar if left to cool on the counter, then put into the fridge for up to a month of storage.

This shot gives you a nice look at the Piment d'Espelette in the solution:

Onto the carrots. Just as easy, just as straightforward. The carrots are flavored with curry and jalapeño and the same basic pickling liquid of champagne vinegar, sugar and water. The carrots in my garden were not quite ready for picking, so I was stuck with grocery store carrots. The large carrots were a little too big and a little to not-so-fresh looking. Luckily, Wegmans has baby vegetables on a fairly regular basis - here are the baby carrots bisected, ready to be pickled:

After cutting the carrots, the yellow curry powder is toasted in a dry pan before the pickling liquid is added:

The 1/4 jalapeno is added to the warm liquid along with the carrots and they are simmered for a couple of minutes to soften he carrots and dissolve the sugar.

Remember when I said there was only one jar size available at the craft store. Here is that shortcoming I promised before:

I guess I could have made more pickling liquid, but I didn't need a full recipe worth and I didn't want any extra curry pickling liquid around and then i would have had to add like an eighth of a jalapeno. Not difficult, but in my mind I wanted to get onto the quince paste, so I skipped it. I also figured that since these were not sitting on the shelf but rather in the refrigerator for the rest of their little lives, I didn't have to worry about mold and spoilage.

Red Onion-Cranberry Marmalade

I was a little hesitant about this flavor combination. I have not really heard cranberry and onion as a classic taste, but knowing that red onions have a nice sweetness when they are cooked down, I thought this would be a nice lifesaver to give a try and to have in the refrigerator.

I also wanted to cook a jam, jelly or marmalade on my marathon lifesaver cooking day. I have a very distinct food memory of making grape jelly in my grandmother's kitchen as a kid. We used to go to her farm in Missouri every summer from age 5 until age 11. We would go for a month at the end of the summer right before we had to return home to Chicago for school. When the grapes were ripe, Grandma would assemble all the cousins together to help smash the grapes (by hand), add the sugar and pectin and help jar the bounty. I have never made any sort of jam or jelly since - thus, I am very excited that I will have the opportunity to make the ones in the book.

Onto the onions and cranberries (dried in this case):

The red onion-cranberry marmalade starts with red onions cooked over low heat for 30 minutes:

The rest of the ingredients for this dish include apple pectin (a hard-to-find ingredient that I purchased from Sotiros Foods in Chicago via mail order), apple juice, cider vinegar, brown sugar, granulated sugar and orange zest.

The cranberries are added to the cooking onions followed by the sugars, pectin, apple juice and cider vinegar.

The mixture was then brought up to 215 degrees and put into the one-size-fits-all crafts store jar.

I put a small amount on a plate so you could see the texture and color of this marmalade. It is a deep red color that is hard to capture in the jar.

Quince Paste

The final creation on my Lifesaver Day was quince paste. Prior to this recipe, I'm not sure I could have picked quince out of a crowd. I am not sure I have ever had them before and I'm certain that I have never cooked with them before. Luckily, the fine folks at Wegmans had several California grown in stock. I had actually been looking trying to catch them in season but had not had any success finding them locally (both locally grown and locally sourced). They magically appeared one day in November, I bought all of them, and I have not seen them since. I should say that I have kept an eye at Whole Foods as well and didn't have any luck when I was there in September and October.

For the other quince virgins out there, take a look:

Kinda homely looking if you ask me. They look almost like a pear without a neck. I found the flesh to be more spongy rather than dense and juicy like a pear or apple. These were not juicy at all, they had a dry-ish texture that reminded me more of cutting into the kitchen sponge rather than a delicious fruit.

The recipe calls for a sachet (I used cheesecloth this time) of cinnamon, star anise and clove. The sachet is added to a pot of water containing the quinces and a vanilla bean.

The quinces are cooked until tender and then pureed:

The quince is measured after being pureed in order to measure the quantity of sugar needed for the next step.

The puree, sugar and some lemon juice are added to a clean pot, brought to a simmer (simmering quince and sugar is like lava), and simmered for several hours until the quince is thick and a deep red color.

Many hours later:

The lava, um, quince is then put into a baking dish and placed in a low, low oven in order to dry.

Once dry, the paste easily holds its shape and can be sliced and served with cheese, in this case, Manchego and Brie. Keller puts the shelf life on the paste at 6 months in the refrigerator.

Tasting Notes

The pickles: I have never been much of a sweet pickle fan. I find both of these recipes to have more sweetness than my tastes can handle. I also thought that the flavoring agents (Piment d'Espelette, curry, jalapeño) would have more of an impact on the final flavors than they did. I also like the combination of curry and carrot, but the flavor is lost in the vinegar and sugar. Perhaps the flavor will develop as the pickles hang out in the fridge for a while. Unfortunately, these items aren't flying out of the jar at this point.

The red onion-cranberry marmalade: I was initially worried that I would never use such a condiment. I have made a fair share of onion confit-type sides that I have always likes, but I didn't know how the orange zest and apple juice would all work out. Not to mention that I was all but convinced that I would screw up something with the apple pectin and I would end up with something that more resembled a hard candy rather than a jam or marmalade. But, to my surprise, I didn't screw it up and the flavors really work well together. A little savory with the onion, a little sweet with the cranberry, a little tart with the cider vinegar. The first application was as a condiment to a little pork tenderloin and cauliflower gratin (told you I would use those leftovers). It kicked ass. I loved it, my wife loved it. We had to break the jar back out of the fridge mid-meal to refill our plates. This stuff really worked with pork, I could see how it would work well with duck confit and a variety of other applications. This one's a winner.

The quince paste: I don't care if I boiled gym socks for 45 minutes in a pot of water with a vanilla bean and three aromatic spices, they would probably be edible. However, take a fruit that is known for its floral qualities, add those same ingredients and it is bound to be a hit. As expected, this recipe is very good. In addition, this was a great way for quince and I to get to know one another. This paste goes great with all kinds of cheeses and adds a fancy touch to an otherwise pedestrian cheese board. The flavors evolve in your mouth: first sweet, then floral (with hints of vanilla), then spicy (cinnamon, clove and star anise spice, not cayenne). It is really, really nice and is something I will no doubt make again. Not to mention the darn thing lasts SIX MONTHS in the fridge (if you can stretch it that long - we ate half of ours in a month).

Next Up: Pan Roasted Chicken with Sweet Sausage and Peppers

Champagne Vinegar from Whole Foods
Piment d'Espelette from Savory Spice Shop
Apple Pectin from Sotiros Foods
Quince from Wegmans

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