February 29, 2008

A wild tear leads to... kumquat marmalade?

You know how sometimes an idea just pops in your head and you can't shake it? I'm sure this happens to everyone, just changing forms to match their passions or interests. For me, this usually involves food, sometimes it's a gradual process, but sometimes an idea just slaps me in the face and I end up going to extreme lengths to satisfy the compulsion.

Last week I had just such a moment and in the course of seeing this idea through, I've already made something that I'd never made before, and didn't think I even liked. What is this dubious and daring creation? Marmalade, and not just marmalade, but kumquat marmalade. Believe it or not, but that is two strikes against this recipe. While I've always liked the idea of kumquats, the reality has never done much for me. And marmalade is like the strange, awkward cousin of those other sweet condiments that I mostly loathe - jelly and jam.

Somehow, none of that mattered. I called my local co-op, "Do you have kumquats? Or if you don't, are you getting any more in?" Alas, the answer was "no" and "probably not." Oh well, that won't stop the beast in my mind, driving me to bring this harebrained idea to fruition. But then, I got a call - they did get more kumquats in, so I drove over there and grabbed a small bag of the small, seedy fruits.

Two days, and a few blog searches later, I had found the inspiration for my marmalade. My biggest complaint about jams, jellies, and marmalades is that they're too sweet, so I reduced the sugar and tweaked the process a little. The result is something that could lose a little sugar still, but for the most part I'm really happy with - and more surprising, I genuinely enjoy. It is fantastic on a hunk of crusty baguette. So look to see a few uses for my new stash over the next few posts (including the idea that started this all).

I'm also going to grab up a few more kumquats and make another batch. There may be few tweaks in store for this recipe, and if those tweaks are successful, I'll update this post.

Kumquat Marmalade
Adapted from A Life (Time) of Cooking


275 g kumquats
500 g sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 Tbs orange liqueur


Wash the kumquats and set in a colander to drain. Slice the kumquats into thin rounds and capture as much of the juice as possible, adding it to the bowl of sliced kumquats. I used a mandoline for the first half of each kumquat and then switched to a paring knife to remove the seeds and finish slicing the now softer kumquat. Save the seeds in a small bowl of water.

When you're done slicing the kumquats, pour enough boiling water over them to submerge them by about an inch (you'll have to estimate this a little since the slices will float a little). Cover the bowl (either with a tight fitting lid or plastic wrap), and place in the refrigerator at least over night (I left them for about 24 hours). Cover the sees and place in the refrigerator as well.

The next day, pour the kumquat/water mixture into a large pot and place over medium heat. Cut the vanilla bean in half and then split each half open lengthwise. Scrape out the black "caviar" interior and add both the bean and the "caviar" to the pot. Stir occasionally and bring to a light boil for 20 minutes.

Add the sugar to the kumquats and bring back to a boil. Watch the mixture carefully now since it may start to thicken and may burn on the bottom. In a small pan bring the seeds and at least a 1/2 cup of water to boil. Adding enough water to keep the seeds submerged as it evaporates.

Let each pot boil for about 30 minutes and then strain the "seed" water into the kumquat mixture. This adds pectin and flavor to the marmalade. Stir the marmalade well and let it cook for another 5-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the liqueur.

If you're going to can this prepare your jars in advance based on your own preferred method - I'm going to stay out of the debate over what's safe and what's not - there are plenty of opinions out there. Google "canning" if you need help.

Otherwise you can let it cool slightly, put it in any covered container, and refrigerate it. It will probably stay good for a few weeks.

February 23, 2008

A Riff on Dressy Applesauce

I love reading recipes and ogling gorgeous food photography. I have binders of printed recipes from blogs and websites and a compulsive desire to buy cookbooks that I barely keep in check. That is partially why I am so excited about the new Gourmet website.

It has a look and feel that I prefer to Epicurious and interesting articles. I especially like their "Politics of the Plate" column with recent posts about the FDA's definition of milk, and the ridiculousness of organic seafood and the USDA's pending rules.

While perusing the site for the first time I stumbled upon an interesting dessert recipe designed for one. However, it was the picture and the idea, not so much the actual recipe that caught my attention. The idea is to dress up applesauce, but I'm not a big applesauce fan (at least since I've been old enough to drive). So I took the picture and came up with an idea that I thought would be a tasty alternative.

The result is a fast way of taking a pear and making an outstanding dessert in about 10-15 minutes. Think pear crisp for one. Although for one it's a large dessert (or slightly decadent breakfast), it can easily be split for two. The recipe also scales really well. Use your favorite pear variety, but choose one that is still on the firm side of ripe; I used a red d'Anjou.

Pear Crumble

1 firm-ripe pear
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 slice crusty bread (I used half of a ciabatta roll)
1 scant tbs butter
2 tbs chopped walnuts
pinch salt
2 tsp brown sugar

Core and chop pear into a medium dice an place in a small bowl. Heat a small skillet on medium. Add the vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon to the pears and stir to coat well. Scrape the mixture into the skillet and cover.

Cook for about 2 minutes, then stir. Cover again and cook for another 2 minutes. Uncover and cook the pears, stirring gently, for about another minute. The pears should have soften and released some moisture, but not started to disintegrate yet.

Scrape the pears and any liquid into a serving glass or bowl. Place the skillet back on the burner.

Add the butter to the skillet. Quickly process the bread into crumbs in a food processor or chop finely with a chef's knife. When the butter has melted add the breadcrumbs, nuts, and salt. Cook until the crumbs start to color and then add the sugar. Cook for another minute stirring vigorously (the sugar will make the mixture start to stick if you don't).

Add the topping to the pears and (if desired) top with some vanilla whipped cream.

February 17, 2008

Christmas Packages Part 2 (in Lent, no less)

I had originally envisioned at least three different posts about Christmas treats, but since I've been negligent, I'm going to wrap it up with this post. In the interim I have been cooking and I hope that I'll stay on task for at least the next few weeks.

My Christmas packages were a mix of candies and cookies, so today I'm going to share my turtle recipe. This is an adaptation of my mother's recipe for turtles. In fact, my mother came up and stayed with me a few days after my knee surgery to help me get around and while she was there she helped me make the turtles that I gave out (the pictured ones are from my first batch).

The turtles start with small piles of pecans, then you pour hot caramel over them, followed by a drizzle or brushing of dark chocolate. The most important non-cooking aspect of this recipe is humidity - if it's very humid you're likely to end up with Southern pralines and not caramel. Also, take care not to stir the caramel too much after taking it off the heat and work quickly to minimize the chance of crystallization.

I buy my cream from a local dairy that produces exceptionally rich Jersey cream. If you're buying a mass market product you'll probably want to add 2 tbs of butter to the recipe to increase the butterfat content.

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup pecan (whole look better, but smaller pieces are easier to work with and eat)
3 ounces melted dark chocolate (I used 60%)

Special Equipment:
Heavy pot (at least three quart), preferably enameled cast iron
Candy thermometer

Pour cream into the pan and set on medium heat. Pour sugar slowly into center of the cream (so as not to get any crystals on the sides of the pan). Add the salt. Put the lid on the pan and let come to a boil.

Remove the lid, insert thermometer and cook mixture, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 250F.

While the caramel is getting up to temperature lay out sheets of parchment paper, and form little mounds of pecans, if using pieces about 1 tbs, or if using whole pecans about three pecans each.

After getting up to temperature remove the caramel from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Working as quickly as possible, pour about 2 tsp to 1 tbs of caramel on each mound and allow to set up. Drizzle or brush melted dark chocolate over the top of each mound. If you're a particular fan of sea salt caramel you could also drop of few course flakes of salt on the still soft chocolate.

Place turtles in an airtight container and eat within a few days.