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Monday, July 25, 2011

Spiced Peaches

I'm really not sure how it happens that I go so long between posts sometimes. Sure, I'm busy, but I'm not that busy. Somehow, I turn around and two weeks (or longer) have passed me by. To be honest, if it weren't for my mom, it might even occasionally be longer between posts. Her gentle chiding, "I'm getting sick of looking at..." whatever it is I've had sitting there for a while is very motivating. And then I go look at my blog and think, "How can it really have been two weeks already? I could have sworn I just posted that recipe two days ago!" My how the time does fly! I guess that means I'm having fun, right? Or is it just that I'm getting older? Hmmm.... I think I'll stick with the former.

This is a great recipe. While you can forego the whole canning part and simply make a small amount to keep in the refrigerator for a week or so, I like to dive right in and make huge amounts when I have the chance.

A few weeks ago, I posted a recipe for rosemary peach freezer jam and I mentioned that I also made some spiced peaches. Since then, I made another batch as well. I love this fruit stand that's set up in town. This time my five bucks paid for a box of cast off peaches that made fourteen pints of spiced peaches!

I've made canned peaches every way known to mankind and I've decided, for a number of reasons, that diced are the only way to go. First, you don't need perfect peaches (or cling free peaches). Second, you can prepare the fruit a whole heckuva lot faster. Third, you can fit more fruit in each jar, reducing your need for shelf space and processing time. Fourth, they don't look any less pretty than slices or halves, and they're the perfect bite sized pieces. I highly recommend going this route.

The first step is the remove the skins. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer. Drop 5-10 peaches into the water and count to 30 for really ripe peaches or one minute for slightly under ripe peaches. I really like to use the cast off, slightly overripe peaches because they have the best flavor.

Remove the peaches from the simmering water and drop into a sink or bowl full of cold water. Prepare a large bowl of cold water sprinkled with a little Fruit Fresh, citric acid, or lemon juice. As you peel and cut the peaches, drop them in this water so that they don't brown in the interim.

If you are working with cling peaches, where the fruit stubbornly does not release from the fruit, simply cut around the pit. No sense getting frustrated for nothing. Again, another reason why diced fruit is an easier way to go.

When you're almost done with the fruit preparation (20-30 minutes out), start 10 cups of water to simmering. Add the bundle of spices to flavor the syrup. You can use cheesecloth to keep the spices together (shown here), or...

you can use a cute little spice bag like this one. The spice bundle includes cinnamon, cloves, and all spice. Let the spices simmer in the water for 10 minutes or so and then add the sugar. Reduce the heat to hold the syrup until you are ready to heat the peaches.

Drain the peaches from the acidified water and rinse them off. Place the drained peaches into the pot of warm syrup. Increase the heat to medium or medium-high and let them heat through. You do not want them to boil. Meanwhile, get your boiling water canner ready if you are going to can the peaches. If you need a refresher on standard canning practices, check out my Canning 101 post.

Fill your clean jars with the hot peaches leaving a 1/2 inch head space. Use a plastic knife to remove air bubbles and then wipe the rims clean. Place heated lids and rings on and process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes for pint containers and 25 minutes for quarts.

Spiced Peaches Yield: 8-14 pints peaches

10 cups water
4 - 3" cinnamon sticks
2 tsp whole cloves
2 tsp whole allspice
4 cups sugar
16 - 28 cups diced peaches (roughly 2 cups per pint)

Bring the water to a simmer. Place the spices in a spice bag or wrapped in cheesecloth. Place in the simmering water for 10-15 minutes. Water will be colored and very aromatic. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Reduce heat to low until ready to heat peaches.

Place peaches in simmering water for 30 seconds to one minute to facilitate slipping the skins off. Remove peaches from hot water and immediately place in a cold water bath. Remove pits and skins and any blemishes from the fruit. Dice into 1 cm cubed pieces. Drop into cold water mixed with a little bit of Fruit Fresh, citric acid, or lemon juice. When peaches are all prepared, drain and rinse the peaches. Place peaches in the warm syrup, increase the heat to medium or medium-high and heat until the peaches are hot through. Do not boil or simmer peaches.

Prepare a water bath canner and set the water to heating. Meanwhile, fill clean jars with peaches and syrup to a 1/2 inch head space. Use a plastic knife to remove bubbles and adjust syrup level as necessary. Wipe rims clean. Place heated lids and bands on jars and process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts. When processing time is up, remove canner from heat and let jars cool slightly in canner before removing. If they are removed right away, they often ooze syrup, making a mess. After 24 hours, remove the bands and clean jars before storing in a cool dark place for up to a year.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tossed Caprese

I really like caprese salad, but I've always had a few issues with its traditional composition. Part of my issue is a flavor/texture concern, part is an aesthetic concern.

Let's start with the flavor/texture issue I have. And I will freely admit that I may be the only person on the planet who has this issue, but I doubt it. While I am quite sure that there are a large percentage of you who don't find this a problem, surely there are a few who will read this next bit and think, "Amen!"

I love, love, love basil, but I am not a fan of chewing on a whole leaf of basil. The texture is just so... well, tough. Plus, you don't start getting a good sense of the essential oils until you've chewed that leaf up pretty well. By that time, I'm ready to swallow and so I miss the best part!

What's the cure? Pour a potent basil oil over the salad with just a few shreds of basil for garnish. Make the basil oil by simply blending some extra virgin olive oil together with a handful of basil leaves. Not only does it taste great, but it has a lovely hue.

Issue two? Well, this one may be a little OCD, but when I set up a traditional caprese, I like my cheese slices and tomato slices to be of a similar size. But since tomatoes are mostly spherical, it's impossible to get consistently sized slices, so I tend to only end up using the middle slices of my tomatoes when making traditional caprese. Making a tossed caprese salad, where both the tomatoes and cheese are cut up into similarly sized pieces means I can stop fretting over the size of my tomato slices. (Phew!)

You can make my 30-minute homemade mozzarella cheese or buy fresh mozzarella at the market. Chop up the cheese and some tomatoes, whir together some basil oil, and grate on some fresh black pepper and sea salt, and you've got a beautiful, delicious tossed caprese!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pecan Praline Weave

For almost six years, every time I opened my magazine clippings cookbook to the bread section, there was a recipe staring at me that always took my breath away. You would think since this bread looked so amazing and always made me drool uncontrollably that I might have tried to make it a little sooner. Part of the problem was that I knew it looked too good. I had to have a recipient ready and waiting to receive at least half of the creation, lest I eat myself into a gluttonous torpor.

Last week, I had multiple recipients, which worked out great since I ended up making the bread twice, two days in a row. I made it just how the recipe was written the first time. The second time, I made a number of adjustments. It was delicious both ways, but I think my adjustments made it a little better for two reasons. The first is that it is now easier to make; I can't abide by recipes that have a bunch of cup plus tablespoon measurements (as in "3 TBS plus 2 1/4 cups of flour"... I mean, really!) and unnecessary steps. I think I also managed to make it just a little less sinful.

It happens to be the strangest dough I've come across as far as the process of its mixing. You start out mixing a fairly stiff dough with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. (I think you could also mix this dough by hand, but it'll give you a bit of a workout.) My mixer was thumping a bit. Then you mix in the butter, which softens the dough up a lot... too much, to be honest. As a result, you have to finish up the dough with a little more flour, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl nicely. Spritz a bowl with some oil, put in the dough, cover with some plastic wrap, and let it sit to rise for one to two hours.

This dough is so nice to work with once it has risen. It's soft and supple and the gluten doesn't fight very much, which I appreciate when I'm trying to roll out a large rectangle of dough. Roll the dough out until it is about 16 x 13 inches. Be sure to transfer the dough onto a piece of parchment at this point. You'll need that parchment to transfer the loaf to the baking sheet later. It also is a very useful for rolling out the dough to the right size. Now imagine the dough divided into three sections, like a tri-fold brochure. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, make slices toward the center all along each side. Shoot for about 1/2 inch wide slices.

Mix together the filling and then crumble it down the middle of the dough evenly.

Then start "weaving" the arms across the middle as shown in this picture.

At the ends, tuck and/or fold to form a neat finish. Transfer the loaf to the sheet pan using the parchment paper. Cover the loaf loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, about an hour and a half.

Preheat the oven to 375° F. When the loaf is properly risen and the oven is hot, remove the plastic wrap and brush with an egg yolk wash. The egg wash helps the loaf bake to a beautiful golden color. Bake 15 minutes and then rotate the pan 180 degrees. Then bake another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before slicing and serving. Loaf stays tasty for three to four days when stored in an air tight container. It's almost too beautiful to eat! (Almost!).

Pecan Praline Weave
Yield: 1 16x5 inch loaf
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2005

Dough:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
3 TBS warm water
1/2 cup sour cream
4 TBS sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 TBS vanilla extract
3/4 tsp table salt
5 TBS softened butter
4 TBS all purpose flour

Filling:
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
5 TBS softened butter
1 cup brown sugar

1 egg yolk & 1 TBS water for egg wash

Mix the initial amount of flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. In a separate bowl, mix the wawter, sour cream, sugar, egg yolks, extract, and salt together. Add to the flour mixture at speed 2 (on a Kitchen-Aid). Mix for 3-4 minutes. The dough will be quite stiff at this point. Add the butter and mix for another 3-4 minutes. Now the dough will be so soft it will not hold together. Add the remaining 4 TBS of flour and mix until the dough comes back together. Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and pat together into a ball. Place in an oiled bowl and then cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm place to rise until it has doubled, between one and two hours.

Roll the dough out on a floured board until it is slightly wider than an 16x12 sheet of parchment.You can't roll the dough out on the parchment, but you will want to transfer it onto the parchment as soon as it is the right size. The parchment can help measure the dough's dimensions. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to slice parallel cuts one-half inch apart from the sides in toward the middle of the dough. Visually divide the dough into three columns and leave the middle column uncut. (See picture).

Mix together the remaining butter, pecans, and brown sugar. Spread out evenly in the middle section of the dough. Begin folding the side pieces over one side and then the other, "weaving" them into a chevron design. Tuck or fold the ends over/under to form a clean finish. Cover loosely with plastic and let rise another one to two hours, until the loaf is puffy. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Brush the loaf with egg wash and then bake 30 minutes, rotating 180° halfway through. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack before slicing. Bread keeps quite well for 3-4 days if kept in an air tight container.
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