Thursday, October 27, 2011

Too Many Green Tomatoes? Make Chutney

There’s something about the very word “chutney” that I’ve always thought exotic.  I suppose that’s because it was something foreign to me as a child.  We had Welch’s grape jelly (in Flintstone glasses or maybe Tom and Jerry) or we had pickle relish.  Chutney kind of mixes those together.

I do vaguely recall Christmas gift packages my parents would receive, filled with cheese, meat, crackers and a jar of something with “MajorGrey” emblazoned on it.  Since then I’ve seen jars of all kinds of chutney, including the Major, in gourmet food shops. But still I kept my distance.  It was unfamiliar.

So why make chutney?  Why now?

  1. I’ll eat anything.  (Just ask Mr. Rosemary.)
  2. I love to experiment. (Ditto.)
  3. I had a whole bunch of green tomatoes still sitting on the vine.  With a heavy frost sure to hit any day now, I needed to do something.
Enter Martha.  I often turn to one of my big bible-type cookbooks when I have a need to make an indefinable something with a particular something.  I found this Green Tomato Chutney recipe in the huge The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook, The Original Classics.  That’s the orange one. I have the blue one, too; that’s the New Classics version.  And I do consult them often.

So I had all the ingredients, I knew the chutney would keep a long time and I had visions of, not sugarplums, but pretty jars of my homemade chutney as charming Christmas gifts.

This particular recipe was pretty time-consuming, though.  And I found that paring green tomatoes is a whole lot harder than with ripe tomatoes.    

My verdict?  It’s pretty good.  And I didn't waste the tomatoes.  I’ve been eating it on my morning toast, on top of a smear of mascarpone cheese.  My neighbor Dick stopped by soon after I finished making the chutney and I made him taste it.  He’s a great guinea pig.  He just took the cracker I offered  without even asking what it was and immediately declared, “Tastes like mincemeat.”  A spot on description.
Chutneys are just a condiment, and as varied as any salsa or relish.  Usually, it’s a sweet-sour mix of fruit and vegetable combinations with vinegar and sugar, cooked well down. Next time, I’d use apple instead of raisins.  (Mr. Rosemary's comment:  "I relish relish; I don't 'chutney' chutney.")

But my visions of Christmas presents of chutney?  Sorry, but not gonna happen.

Green Tomato Chutney
from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook, The Original Classics

1 large bunch fresh mint, roughly chopped
4 pounds green tomatoes
2 yellow onion (1 pound), finely diced
1 ½ cup white vinegar
1 ½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup golden raisins

1. Cover and bring a large stock pot of water to a boil. Tie mint in a piece of cheesecloth.  Set aside.  Prepare an ice water bath. Set aside
2. Using a paring knife, remove the core and score the end of each tomato with a shallow “x”.  Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 seconds.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the ice bath.  Using a paring knife, peel off the skin and discard. Cut the tomatoes into ¾ inch chunks and set aside.
3.  Combine the onions, vinegar, mint bundle, sugar, salt, raisins and 1 cup water in a low-sided 6-quart saucepan.  Cover and bring to a boil over medium high heat.
4.  Add the tomatoes and reduce to a simmer.  Cook, stirring frequently until the tomatoes are tender, about 1 hour.
5.  Increase the heat to high and continue cooking stirring frequently until almost all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and discard the mint bundle.
6.  Transfer the chutney immediately to a large bowl over the ice bath to chill. Chutney can be stored, refrigerated in an airtight container up to 4 weeks.
Makes 6 half-pint jars.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tomato Soup Comfort and the Fairy Hobmother

When you’re under the weather, there’s nothing like a friendly visit from neighbors to cheer you up.  When they’re bearing gifts, even better.

When they’re bearing food gifts, well, that’s off-the-charts better.
Last week, the day after I returned home after an overnight stay in the hospital – it was a scheduled trip and everything’s okay --  I answered the door and there were my neighbors bearing a whole box of homemade goodies.  Chicken noodle soup,  vegetable soup, tomato soup, pickles and a freshly baked loaf of  wheat bread, wrapped in a linen tea towel, still warm from the oven.  (That has to be one of the world’s best aromas! No wonder real estate agents recommend baking bread before a buying prospects visit.)

The week before, my sisters had armed me with a week’s worth of freezer meals, too – a sausage barley stew, a chicken and bean stew, chili, and spaghetti sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes.  All delectable.
I was all set for a no-cooking recuperation! At least no cooking out of necessity . . . there was that pumpkin cheesecake!

Great comfort food from wonderful cooks and wonderfully generous people can’t be beat.  I’m lucky to have such wonderful people in my life.   And Mr. Rosemary has attentively nursed me back to good spirits.  (And he didn’t have to cook!)

A visit from the Fairy Hobmother was another recent surprise.  After I made a comment on Sam’s blog at My CarolinaKitchen, I received a visit from The Fairy Hobmother.  The Fairy Hobmother, who represents Appliances Online, granted me a wish with a nice gift card to  Thanks, Fairy Hobmother.  The good news is that the same thing can happen to you.  All you have to do is leave a comment here and the Fairy Hobmother could visit you, too. 

A surprise visitor  bearing gifts!  Pretty comforting.

No recipe today . . . just comfort.  (And just one more fall picture, I promise.)

P.S.  I have to add that my neighbor's tomato soup was simple and delicious!  Nothing at all like the stuff we got at the school cafeteria!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake and Compromise

“It should either be a pumpkin pie or a cheesecake.  Just not together!

That was Mr. Rosemary’s response when I told him what I was making for his sister’s birthday.
“You made this before, didn’t you?” he asked.

I nodded demurely.

“And I didn’t like it then, did I?”

“Well,” said I.  “You didn’t rave about it.  But you ate it,” I quietly reasoned.  And, after all, it wasn’t his birthday.  (I didn’t say that last part out loud.)

“Hmmph.” he said. I took that as a concession and proceeded on my merry way in the kitchen.
The next day as he saw me unmolding the cheesecake from its springform confines, he wanted to know if I was happy with the way it turned out.
I wasn’t sure how to answer because I didn’t know yet. I daringly mixed up two different recipes, because I liked pieces of each.    The cheesecake looked good, but you (or at least, I, unconfident baker that I am) never know until you cut into a cake, even a cheesecake.  I feared it was going to be a bit dry.  Over baking (or is it under baking?) is my biggest baking sin.

So, just for insurance, I was ready with my secret weapon – a jar of caramel ice cream topping in the pantry.  I’d drizzle that on top of the cake in a spider web fashion and it would look moist and pretty and  the eye would fool the discerning tasters.

I needn’t have worried.  It wasn’t dry. It was very good.  Very, very good.  So, next time, I’ll make my own caramel sauce.

As for Mr. Rosemary’s verdict?  Since there were two cakes for the crowd that celebrated Liz’s birthday, he opted for the chocolate-mint cake.  When he heard other people comment on my cheesecake, though, he said, “Okay, I’ll try a piece.”

“Hmmm,” he said, as his face crinkled in that way I know means he likes it.  “This is really good.” --  like he didn’t believe everyone else until he tasted it himself. 

I’d call that a win, wouldn’t you?

Blending two recipes – plus winging it a little – works sometimes.  And sometimes it doesn’t,  I got lucky and have me a keeper.

My marriage of the recipes was a compromise, just like any marriage.  One called for an 8-inch pan; I only have a 10-inch springform pan.  One said bake longer at 350.  The other said to bake at 325 lower but keep in the turned off oven.  One asked for 3 eggs, one for 4. I wrote down what I did as I was doing it so, here it is . . . . . 

 Pumpkin Cheesecake
An adaptation based on combining recipes from Joy of Baking and Peter Christian’s Recipes

Serves 10-16 people, depending on how fat you cut your slices!

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
½ cup crushed ginger snap cookies (about 10)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons melted butter

For Filling:
! ½ pounds cream cheese (3 8-ounce bricks), softened
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup maple syrup
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves
1/ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ginger
4 eggs, room temperature
¼ cup melted and cooled butter

For Topping:
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup white sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prepare graham cracker crust and pat into a 10 inch springform pan.  Bake in oven 8 to 10 minutes.  Cool while getting the filling ready.

In mixing bowl cream well and mix on high speed the cream cheese brown sugar maple syrup and vanilla on high speed.  Then add and mix well the pumpkin, flour and spices, scraping often and incorporating all lumps. 

Then add eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.

Finally add the butter.  Spread filling in pan.  Place an empty cake pan half filled with water on the bottom rack of oven.  (This helps add moisture to the baking process.)

Bake for 40 minutes.  Meanwhile make topping by blending the sour cream, vanilla and sugar.   Remove cake from oven and spread with the sour cream mixture.  Return to oven and turn the oven off.  Leave cake there with door closed for another 40 minutes.  Remove from oven to rack and cool.  When cooled completely, refrigerate overnight or at least 4 to 6 hours.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Indian Summer Roasted Corn and Pepper Salad

What an absolutely gorgeous Indian summer weekend we just had here in western Pennsylvania!  Sunny skies.  A kaleidoscope of color. I wish I could have just freeze framed it.

We almost felt we were cheated out of this all too short season by some premature chilly weather last week.  (We cleared slush off the car one morning.)   “Isn’t this still September?” I asked.  But then we were blessed with four straight days of this glorious weather.  Can’t complain.

And it called for the perfect Indian summer treat, one that still celebrated the bounty of fresh harvest. The colors just mimic all the bright colors of the weekend.
I'd frozen leftover roasted corn from a Labor Day picnic and had just roasted some peppers.  All the makings of a great pairing. This was a pretty mild salad and I’d spice it up more next time --  jalapeno, maybe, or cumin, or just a dash of sriracha or Tabasco.

Roasted Corn and Pepper Salad

3 cups roasted corn, cut from cob
2 cups roasted red pepper, diced
½ cup scallion, sliced
½ red onion, diced
¼ cup parsley
For dressing:
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 ½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon pepper

Combine vegetables and parsley in bowl.  Whisk remaining ingredients, pour over vegetables and toss lightly to combine.  Serve chilled.

And here was the big finish.  I took this picture Sunday evening from our hilltop.  It was breathtaking in real life.