Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Of Cranberry Marmalade and Christmas Martinis

For the first time in several years, I made cranberry marmalade. It's good, but there are so many possibilities when you get on a binge with canning, and this one fell out of rotation for a few years.
Most people like the flavor, if they are marmalade fans, and it's undeniably Christmassy; it makes a good gift. It's great on toast, swirled into yogurt, or used as a relish. Try it over a block of softened cream cheese; serve with crackers.
I make mine a trifle more bitter and tart than most, as I use not only lemon and orange, but grapefruit, for the citrus elements.
As you can see below, scissors can be used to sliver the peel. I like a serrated knife for trimming away excess pith.

Here it is not long after being put on the stove; most of the berries will have burst by the time it's ready for processing.

The processed jars. I let them sit overnight. In the morning, I check the seals, wash the jars and lids, and make sure they are completely dry before adding labels.

A Christmas martini.

 The final product. I got eleven full jars, and another about 2/3 full, which went into the fridge. I had some this morning. We were out of bread, so I had it on a buttered crumpet.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Let the Baking Begin! (Not to mention the canning).

For Thanksgiving, I made one of my very favorite desserts: a cranberry tart with a polenta crust. It's divine, especially with a cloud of freshly whipped cream, barely sweetened with a bit of powdered sugar and a dash of vanilla.

I changed the corn syrup to Lyle's Golden Syrup, but otherwise it's about the same as the printed recipe.

Cranberry (Polenta) Tart

This is crisp and bright in flavor, a nice change from some of the very sweet desserts more traditional at Thanksgiving.

We went out for dinner this year, to a wonderful old tavern about an hour away. My husband and I took a friend who wasn't able to get home for Thanksgiving.

Here we are, after dinner.

I have also started with the mince pies; this year made from cranberry mincemeat, rather than green tomato mincemeat. I am also considering a batch of traditional mincemeat.

Below are apple marmalade, and spicy pork and apple pie, as mentioned in the previous post.

I happened on some good sized quince in the market today, so tomorrow will probably be something or other with the quince, and I also plan to make another dozen mince pies.

In knitting news, I have finished a beanie for my mother-in-law, and found some coordinating leather mittens; I am trying to finish a ruffled necklet scarf to match.

These past few months have been some of the worst I can remember; not only for us, but for so many other people. I am trying, with some success, I hope, to burnish up the good things, to make them stand out and remind us that there are still good things, and good people in this world.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A is for Apple

In spite of the plans, we didn't get to go apple picking this year. The orchard the group went to see stopped the pick-your-own early; another orchard employee elsewhere told me that a lot of orchards did that this year, due to the odd weather we've been having.

So...today I drove out to a local orchard that still has one (elderly but still producing) R.I. Greening apple tree. These--as I've said before--are my favorite apples. They're tart, crisp, and the best ever for cooking. I think that we'll be having pork and apple pie this week.

I don't have the recipe to hand, but in general: peel and core some sour apples; thinly slice some yellow onions; cook about a pound of ground pork with minced garlic, a bit of onion, some tomato paste, sage, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and black pepper; let the meat mixture cool.

Layer meat/apple/onion (and repeat to the top of the dish); cover with a pastry of your choice; I generally use cream cheese pastry, though Catherine's Pastry (see Fanny Farmer; it's a butter and lard pastry) is also very good.

Cut some slits for the steam to escape and bake at about 425 F until the juices bubble up and the crust is golden.

More ideas: applesauce, apple marmalade, cranberry applesauce, apple pie, Dutch apple cake.

Oh, and apple brownies aren't so bad, either.

Happy picking and eating.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Preparations Begin

What a year it's been. For the most part, not a very good, or a very nice year. There's the obvious of this past week--the election.

Five weeks ago I cut my finger badly while working in the kitchen (two ER visits)...not a lot of fun, that. It's going to be weeks or months before I can go without a dressing on the wound, but it is beginning to heal nicely.

We've had colds, bronchitis, food poisoning...yikes.

Well, enough of that. Thanksgiving is in a couple of weeks. Before that, there's a lovely vintage market to attend in Boston, and on the following day, I've organized a group to dress up in 20s garb and go to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

It's really been a funny year. For one reason and another, I have done very little canning. Only one batch of jelly, one of marmalade, and a few pints of pickles. Good thing that past couple of years have been so productive! I count on those things for Christmas presents, and use them as hostess gifts.

Finally, this past week I made mincemeat. Not the traditional stuff, but a cranberry mincemeat. It's good, but rather tart, and not as rich as the green tomato mincemeat I've made in the past. I am considering my first batch of real mincemeat, too.

Two fruitcakes are maturing in the cellar; a white one, a light one, and a third (dark) is in the works; the fruit and nuts are soaking in brandy now.

There will be little or no Christmas knitting. What with all the weirdness, and then the hand injury, it's just not going to happen. I can knit, but not marathon style, and as I'm so far behind, that's the only way I'd manage it!

For Thanksgiving my husband and I are going out to dinner with a friend who lives in the area; we'll be dining at one of the old, traditional New England restaurants we're so lucky to have here.

I just might make a Thanksgiving dessert, though. Possibly. We'll see...but it would be a lovely excuse to come back here, light a fire, and have dessert, tea, coffee, and brandy at our leisure.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Quince Brandy

About five years ago I planted a small quince bush. I haven't had any viable fruit--either it just didn't set, or the squirrels bit into it and threw it away (someday I will write a monograph on the Squirrel Mafia in our town).
THIS year, a miracle occurred. I found not one, but three--very tiny--fruits on the bush when I went into the garden today. The large fruit next to them is half of a lemon.

I wasn't sure what to do with such a small yield, but finally decided that to maximize what I had, a cordial of sorts was the answer. Even for a cordial, though, that's not much fruit, so I got inventive, after digging around through some of my British cookbooks and online sites.
I made quince-lemon brandy (at least, I hope so).
Quince-Lemon Brandy
1/3 c. finely minced or shredded quince
juice and zest of half a lemon
1/4 cinnamon stick
1/4 c. sugar
1 scant pint of brandy or cognac
Combine all ingredients in a Mason jar, stir well, cover tightly, and put away in a dark place for three months.
Strain and re-bottle; taste and add additional sugar, if necessary.
In three months I'll either let you know how it turned out, or I'll have forgotten about it entirely!

Saturday, October 08, 2016

More On Picnicking, Vintage Style

We've got another picnic coming up. This one is in conjunction with an apple picking expedition. We pick apples every year, just the two of us, but I know this group is good fun and good company, so we're in. The place we're headed doesn't seem to grow heritage apples, so we'll be making a trip somewhere else on another day to pick up Rhode Island Greenings.

What am I covering this time? Food.

In detail, that is. With an apple picking theme, apples will figure in my menu plans. Here are some of my ideas so far: spicy pork & apple hand pies; pumpkin soup or pumpkin chili; orange-cocoa tea cakes; maybe an apple cake or torte. I make a mean apple pie, but it looks like other people will have that covered, so I'm choosing different things. Another idea is apple marmalade over cream cheese, to be spread on crackers.

Cookies are a picnicking staple. In keeping with the fall theme, crunchy, spicy molasses cookies would be ideal.

For drinks...water, and maybe a whisky cocktail of some kind. There will be cider at the orchards, if we care to buy some.

If you search the blog you'll find pumpkin soup and pumpkin chili recipes and ideas. A word to the wise: if you like a very savory pumpkin taste, allow quite a lot of time for cooking and mellowing of flavors. Vinegars, lemon juice and Worcester sauce are your friends.

As for the pies, cream cheese pastry always answers--I like the one from the New York Times Cookbook. For the filling, cook ground pork with minced onion, cumin, a dash of cinnamon, black pepper, and red pepper flakes; for additional heat, add a few dashes of Tabasco. Deglaze the pan with cider and cook down till the mixture is nearly dry. Allow this to cool before using in the pastry.

Layer this with thin slices of tart, firm apple and very thin slices of onion.

I am also playing with the idea of making a version of a raised pie, complete with jelly added in at the end. That will probably require a hot water pastry--I'll get a recipe from one of my British cookery books.

I haven't yet decided on what to wear but it will be casual, and plaid and wool will certainly play a part. I have great 1940s reproduction dungarees which I might wear, and green and white saddle shoes.

The other thing to remember is some sturdy (empty) baskets--we're bound to find a good farmstand or two, in addition to what's on offer at the orchard's stores.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

1928 Orange Cake / 2016 Orange-Cocoa Cake

Twice in two days! (The world isn't ending, don't worry...at least, I hope it's not.)

I made this yesterday.

...because on the weekend, my husband and I went to a favorite antiques shop, and I found the cookbook pictured above (and below).

I collect old cookbooks, in original and facsimile editions, from about 1650 to 1950, though most fall into the 1900 - 1939 category. I use them, too, though you do need to be aware of changes. For example, what in the world does a gill measure? (Half a cup.)
This book was published in 1928, and in 1928, double acting baking powder was around, but not the default leavening agent for quick breads. One could make baking powder at home, with baking soda and cream of tartar, and many people did.

Single acting baking powder starts to rise when it gets wet. Double acting baking powder starts (for the first time) when it's wetted, and begins to rise again when exposed to heat. According to some sources, the amount of rise is the same with both versions of baking powder.

From my own experience, I can say that it is not; if you're using double acting baking powder on an older (1920s or 30s...maybe even 40s), you're liable to end up with something that rises too fast once in the oven, and cracks as a result; in fact, it's possible that it will even fall after the quick rise, as the structure isn't yet hardened enough by cooking to uphold its new height.
I have a "feather cocoanut cake" recipe that I've perfected from a 1930s cookbook that took three or four tries to get right. One thing I did was to change from liquid fat to solid fat, and cream it, but even more importantly, I decreased the amount of baking powder.

I got lazy with this cake...and yes, it rose too fast, and cracked. Hence the flat top...because I turned it over. Which works, within reason!
Here is the original recipe--I'll post the changes I made after this.
Orange Cake
2/3 c. Crisco
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 eggs
3 cups flour
3 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
3/4 c. orange juice
1/4 c. water
Cream Crisco and sugar together. Add well-beaten eggs and mix well.  Mix and sift flour, baking powder and salt and add alternately with the combined orange juice and water to the first mixture.  Beat thoroughly. Pour into 3 greased layer cake pans and bake in a hot oven (400 degrees F) 20 to 25 minutes. Cool.
I only had one orange, which meant I had about 1/4 c. orange juice. I did have orange flavoring, and also some good cocoa on hand. Besides, I love orange and cocoa together.
I used 2 3/4 flour, and 1/4 c. cocoa; 3/4 c. water, and 1/4 c. orange juice; 1/8 t. orange flavoring, and 1 tbl. freshly minced orange peel. And, as is usual, I decreased the amount of salt to about 1/4 t.
This makes a fine, velvety cake. It has a pronounced chocolate flavor, because there is no dairy to interfere with the development of the chocolate taste--water will always give you a richer flavor. It is very tender, as well.
The glaze on top is made as follows:
Bittersweet Chocolate-Orange Glaze
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate
2 tbl. Cointreau
2 1/2 tbl. unsalted butter
Melt together over very low heat, stirring constantly. Pour over cooled cake and swirl over top. Dust center of cake with finely minced fresh orange zest.
I did make the full recipe and used the rest of the batter to make four cupcakes and 12 small teacakes, all now in the freezer for teas and picnics of the future. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Vintage Picnics: An Art Deco Guide

I know. It's been an age. Several, in fact--I haven't posted in more than a year.

However...we've had a lovely time in the past year or so, vintage-wise. We are now firmly part of the Greater Boston Vintage Society (GVBS), after meeting up for the first time for a Tweed Ramble, last October.

One of the nicest things about our this group is the predilection we have for picnics. We have them in the spring, summer, and fall. So far...who knows, maybe a winter picnic is next! (Though you probably won't catch me ice skating or skiing.)

My husband and I love this kind of thing. We've been collecting wicker baskets and the proper fittings, recipes to fill them, and the clothing to wear for years...this year we've been to Gatsby picnics, mostly, because of the summer, but I enjoy the fall outings, too.

Some of these photos will give you an idea of what sorts of things we drag along to have these events. Oddly, I can't find any from our Gatsby event at the Crane Estate, but I suppose they're all on Facebook.
What kinds of things do we bring to eat and drink? Well, if it's a private area, alcohol is fine; in that case, Champagne trumps the rest, and a flask or two is usually around, to add to lemonade or punch.
We also like soda water, sparkling fruit juices, and good old water. (It's often a good idea to put a bottle of frozen water in your basket, to keep things cool. When it thaws you have a bottle of chilled water.)
For food, I often make hand pies, either savory or sweet. Examples: cheese and ham; apple; spicy pork and apple; peach...you get the idea. My favorite pasty is cream cheese pastry--it's very easy to work, it's good cold, it's rich and also flaky and tender.
We usually bring some kind of fresh fruit, whatever happens to be in season.

I make cookies (or, if you're British, biscuits). Lavender shortbread, rose biscuits, molasses cookies; anything that will travel well and doesn't have a sticky topping works well.
Salads can be good, but do stay away from mayonnaise or anything else that must stay cold for safety's sake. A good German coleslaw is wonderful (vinegar dressing).
Yes, we bring tea sandwiches. Some favorites: liverwurst, onion and cream cheese; spicy peanut butter, cream cheese and hot pepper; cucumber/butter; onion; butter/radish.
Cakes are a nice addition. I usually bring something like a chocolate zucchini cake, fruitcake, or a Devonshire cake (like a light fruitcake, but flavored with rosewater rather than vanilla). If it's sturdy and doesn't have a sticky icing it will probably travel well.
There are plenty more things you can bring, but I do suggest you consider how anything you pack will travel.

Collect pretty tins; they are a wonderful way to transport things, and they look good as well. I usually bring a tin of candied orange peel, as it's something I always have on hand, and it travels well. You can find tins in thrift shops (charity shops, op shops), and the wicker as well. Believe it or now, a couple of months ago I found a small Fortnum and Mason picnic hamper! And not in the UK; I found it here, in Rhode Island. Keep your eyes open...I promise you, if you do, you'll find the treasures. They're out there.

We are going on an autumn picnic in about a week and a half; I am thinking of making molasses cookies and savory hand pies...also chili (if I can find enough Thermoses to carry it). Probably hot cider as well, and bread-and-butter sandwiches.

You probably have a good idea now, even if you've never gone on a vintage picnic. A few more notes: you'll need a decently sized blanket (preferably wool); a tarp or other waterproof item to place under your blanket, if you like; parasols or umbrellas for wandering around without acquiring sunburns; knitting or magazines for amusing yourself (or for sharing with others); a camera or the phone app on your camera, because you will want pictures!; and a good weather forecast.
Don't forget to dress for the occasion!