Two Fourth of July Dips

Real Salsa and Yuppie Salsa

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A good friend, whom I’m lucky enough to have live just a block away, holds a Fourth of July barbecue every year. The Fourth also happens to be her husband’s birthday, so it’s a pretty serious party. Since the first of these parties, I’ve tried to bring something special-usually something with a naughty twist to it. The first year was Macedonia di Frutti, an alcoholic fruit salad; the second year was Crack Pie; and the third year was absinthe ice cream. This year, however, I couldn’t think of a thing to make, so I asked my friend what she’d like me to bring. Ever the practical party host, she asked for salsa. However, being me, I went to town on the whole salsa idea and decided to bring a duo of salsas.

The first is your very serious, very spicy, salsa roja picante. Blackened tomatoes, jalapenos and garlic pureed into a hot as hell salsa. It’s the real deal. The second is my yuppie salsa, my champagne and smoked salmon to bring in the anniversary of the nation kind of salsa: apricot salsa with mint. The hope is that the two will balance each other out.

Salsa Roja

Adapted from epicurious.com

2 tomatoes

2 jalapenos

1 clove unpeeled garlic

kosher salt

1.)   In a cast-iron skillet dry roast the vegetables and garlic. When the garlic skin is totally brown on all sides, take it out and peel it.

2.)   Roast the tomatoes and jalapenos until they’re black and peeling on all sides. This may take awhile and your house will get pretty smoky while they’re cooking. Still, it feels very primal and it looks damned pretty, so enjoy it.

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3.)   Peel the garlic and jalapeno and mash them into a pulp.

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4.)   Skin the tomatoes and add all the ingredients to a food processor and process until smooth.

5.)   For a smoother texture, pour through a mesh strainer to get out the tomato seeds, making sure to pound the tomato pulp back into the salsa with the back of a spoon.

6.)   Season and serve.

Apricot Mint Salsa

Adapted from Saveur

Juice of 2 oranges

½ cup white wine vinegar

1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 jalapeno, deseeded and minced

¼ cup chopped mint

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1.)   Boil juice over medium heat until it turns into a thin syrup.

2.)   Add vinegar and salt and continue cooking until salt dissolves

3.)   Return to boil and add apricots, garlic, jalapeno, and onion. Reduce heat and cook, covered for about 5 to 7 minutes.

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4.)   Wait to cool and add herbs.

Pickled Peppers

Okay, so way way too late for Passover. Actually, this last Passover I basically cooked an entire meal for thirty people practically by myself so I didn’t have time for blogging. This was followed shortly thereafter by a bridal shower that I hosted and cooked for also entirely by myself.

Yeah…I’m not bitter or anything.

I get myself into these fixes. I like cooking so much that I’m always volunteering to cook and then driving myself bat shit by doing too much. Ambition is dangerous, especially where meals for huge groups of people are involved. There’s so much that goes into it: artistry, skill, taste, time, and money. Not to mention all the variables involved in who will be eating your food and what’s expected of you. Once status and class-consciousness come into it then you can forget about enjoying yourself.

All I’ve learned the last few months of intensive cooking is that you should only really put yourself out in the kitchen for people who love you.

I give you now, pickled peppers. I made these for Passover. They were on the table during the ceremony and had disappeared before the appetizer course.

pickled peppers

Adapted from Jewish Home Cooking by Arthur Schwartz

6 red bell peppers

1 ¼ cups white vinegar

1 ¼ cups water

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 mounded tablespoons minced garlic

1.)   Roast peppers on stovetop over open flames until completely blackened all over. Turn on the oven fan and open the windows. This gets smoky. Do not leave unattended.

2.)   Once peppers are blackened put them in a glass or metal bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

3.)   Once cool, halve them and scrape off blackened skin under a cold tap, then remove ribs and seeds with a sharp knife.

4.)   Combine vinegar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the salt, sugar and garlic, remove from heat and pour over peppers.

5.)   Pack into a wide mouth jar, weighing down the peppers so they don’t float to the top, and allow to sit on the counter for one day. After one day refrigerate. It should keep for several months.

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Blood Orange Liqueur

The first time I’d even heard of blood oranges I was in Rome on a school choir trip my senior year of high school. We had a free hour before dinner, and I’d tagged along with the coolest kids in my grade to the corner store for vodka mixers for a hotel room party. One of the girls bought a container of blood orange juice and it seemed proof positive of their cool superiority: they didn’t just drink screwdrivers, they drank blood orange screwdrivers.

I never actually got to taste it. It was a sopranos only party. This turned out to be a good thing because at the party one boy dropped a bottle of vodka down seven stories from the window and almost killed someone. Half the kids there got suspended. So for once being a loser stick-in-the-mud turned out to be to my benefit.

But who am I kidding…I still wish I’d been invited to that party. Blood orange screwdrivers, the popular kids, and nearness to manslaughter…it would’ve been the best night of high school. And probably also the worst. It would’ve made a better story all the same.

This liqueur is silky and sweet with a little hint of bitterness just to keep things interesting. The burnt umber color lights up the room and I’m looking forward to the bridal shower I’m throwing in May so I can make up a gorgeous blood orange punch.

This recipe isn’t difficult but it is arduous. I’ve got an electric citrus juicer and I was still stiff-muscled in the wrists the next day. Juicing zested oranges is a serious pain.

Make sure you keep it infusing for the full six weeks. It makes the vodka nice and silky.

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Blood Orange Liqueur

8 blood oranges

4 cups vodka

2 cups sugar

Half-gallon wide mouth jar with lid.

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1.) Wash and dry the oranges thoroughly. Peel off the zest with your best peeler, peeling off the strips as long and thick as possible so it’s easy to scrape any pith off with a paring knife when you’re done.

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2.) Set aside the peel and juice the oranges.

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3.) Add vodka, sugar, juice, and peels into the jar and shake for 30 seconds.

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4.) Put jar in a cool dark place for 6 weeks and shake once a week.

 

5.) Strain the mixture first through cheesecloth, and then through a coffee filter into a swing top glass bottle.

Slivovitz

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I’d bought the last of the summer plums at the farmer’s market and hauled them home. I’d combined them with sugar, vodka, lemon peel, and spices, and then waited the long 3 months and two weeks for the fruit to infuse. Before I’d tasted the liqueur I’d just hoped it wouldn’t kill me. It seemed that surely some crazy new bacteria that only exists in basement apartments in Brooklyn had gotten into the infusion. But then I tasted it. My first thought was that it didn’t taste much like plums; it was more like strawberries, but not even strawberries: strawberries that have been liquified, boiled, turned into a gas, and then inhaled as a vapor. It tasted sweet and pure and profound. It tasted like what you imagine wine to taste like before you’ve ever tasted it: like the word ‘wine’ as the word is slipping from your tongue.

Make this for Christmas. Or actually, screw Christmas, make it for yourself and hoard it and hide it from your friends.

Slivovitz

Adapted from The Washington Post

2 ½ lbs prune plums

1 ½ cups sugar

2 1-inch pieces lemon peel

4 cups vodka (plus more if needed)

2 wide mouth half gallon jars

2 cinnamon sticks

1.)    Making sure each fruit is perfect and without bruising before cutting, pierce each fruit to the put with a knife, cutting each plum several times.

2.)    Pack fruit into jars and add sugar, cinnamon, and peel. Pour in enough vodka to cover plums completely and secure lids on jars.

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3.)    Keep jars in a cool, dark place and turn them once a day for two weeks until the sugar has dissolved.

4.)    Keeping them right side up, leave them in the cool, dark place for 90 days.

5.)    Strain first through a cheesecloth, discarding fruit, peel, and cinnamon, and then strain the liquid  through a coffee filter.

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Wine Jelly

 

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The guy working at my wine store looked at me like I had two heads when I told him I needed a dry white to make wine jelly out of. The guys who work at my wine store are of a species of fake connoisseurs that I like to think of as dumb nerds. In my years as a college professor I’ve taught many such people: young kids who know a little something about something that’s got a whiff of sophistication to it. They’re not experts, but they take on the mean-spirited and arrogant demeanor that they believe an expert would have. Not that wine jelly is the least bit sophisticated. I was just amused by the look of horror on the face of my liquor store man when I told him what my wine was getting used for.

Wine jelly is incredibly easy to make. It’s already liquid and seeing as you’ve got to use liquid pectin to make it, there’s not a lot of time that goes into this. All you need to worry about is sterilizing your jars, bands, and lids for canning. That takes a little time, but the jelly making is very simple.

Herbes de Provence Wine Jelly

Adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

2 cups dry white wine

1 tbsp herbes de Provence

2 cups sugar

1 pouch (3 oz) liquid pectin

1.)   Start heating the water in water bath canner.

2.)   Combine wine and herbs and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and steep for 20 minutes.

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3.)   Line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth and strain mixture.

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4.)   Measure out 1 3/4ths cups of infused wine.

5.)   Prepare canner, jars, and lids.

6.)   Put wine in a saucepan and stir in sugar. Stir constantly over high heat until it reaches a high boil. Stir in pectin and boil, constantly stirring, 2 minutes. Remove from heat and use the freezer test. Skim off foam and pour jelly into prepared jars. Screw on lids and bands until fingertip tight.

7.)   Place jars in the canner, making sure they’re covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes, then remove jars.

8.)   Leave jelly jars on a damp towel on counter top overnight.

Apple Jelly

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I kept thinking on Nietzsche while I was making this jelly. My boyfriend and I had gone to the farm, picked the apples from the trees, and then hauled them all the way home. That was just the beginning. Then came the jelly-making process, two days of boiling, juice dripping, mashing, cooking, and finally canning. The process by which the Dionysian fruits of the earth are transformed into formally perfect Apollonian objects had never been clearer to me. I’ll never look at a jar of Smucker’s the same again.

Apple Jelly

Adapted from David Lebowitz

8 lbs apples

10 cups water

6 cups sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon Calvados or other brandy

1.)   Wash and chop apples into coarse chunks, and put everything, including the cores and the seeds into your largest pot.

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2.)   Pour in water and boil. When boiling, reduce the heat, leave the lid off slightly, and cook for about a half hour until the apples are cooked.

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3.)   Line a wire-rimmed strainer with cheesecloth and set it over a large, deep bowl. Ladle the apple into the strainer and allow to stand overnight. Do not press down on the apples ever as this will make your jelly cloudy.

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4.)   The next day you should have about 8 cups of juice. Take the leftover fruit pulp and mash it through a strainer for applesauce.

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5.)   Pour the jelly into a good solid jelly-making pot and attach a candy thermometer to the pot. Add sugar and lemon juice and bring to a boil, skimming off the scum that rises to the surface.

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6.)   Cook until the candy thermometer reads 220 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature you can begin testing the jelly using the freezer method. If the jelly holds its shape, it’s done; if not continue to cook it and test it again in the freezer. The jelly-making process could take a long time, up to a couple of hours.

7.)   Sterilize jars, lids, and bands, and water bath process the filled jars for ten minutes.

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Membrillo Paste

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When it comes to sweets, I harbor a special love for all things chewy. From Swedish Fish and Twizzlers to Dutch salt licorice and pate de fruit. With the exception of the vile British Jelly Babies (Dr. Who was wrong!) I’ve almost never met a gummy candy I didn’t like. Juju Bees (whole movie theatre sized cartons of them) were my companion in misery during sad adolescent moments; red shoelace licorice accompanied me on college road trips; and in the first year of my relationship with my boyfriend, one of our earliest couple’s rituals was to devour an entire package of Red Vines while watching The Gilmore Girls. So yes, I’m a bit of a chewy candy addict.

But alas, a whole foods lifestyle allows for no Red Vines. I’ve mostly eliminated packaged sweets, but I’ve never been able to do without the occasional piece of licorice. Somehow pate de fruit never does the job. The stuff I’ve made at home doesn’t stiffen the way I want it to and it never gives your jaws the pleasurable workout you get from eating licorice.

Fortunately, there’s Dulce de Membrillo, or quince paste.

I’d have to say this is one of my favorite things to eat. It has the hard chewiness of licorice, but also the powerful flavor of quince. The fruit, cooked down over many hours, contains a flavor I can only compare to the smell of hot fruit cooking. The non plus ultra of chewy candies, it’s what you want all those packaged licorice bits to taste like; it’s what I yearned for in all those boxes of Juju Bees: true transmogrification of regular fruit into a wholly alien substance.

Dulce de Membrillo has a complex, sophisticated flavor and not all Twizzler gobblers may enjoy them. They are delicious by themselves, but are also good with a slice of sharp Manchengo cheese. Remember also that this candy sticks to your ribs. It’s sublime, but also dense. If you try to consume more than a few pieces in one sitting you will get a serious stomachache.

 Dulce de Membrillo

(Adapted from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz)

4 quinces

½ lemon

4 cups water

3 cups sugar

1.)   Wash the quinces and cut into quarters. In a pot combine quince, lemon, and water and cook on medium heat for one hour, until the quince is tender.

2.)   Discard lemon and using a spoon or a melon baler, scoop the seeds out of your now tenderized quince pieces. Discard lemon and push cooking liquid and quince pieces through a wire mesh strainer.

3.)   Put quince puree and sugar in a good cast iron saucepan (I used my Le Creuset) and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly. Wear oven mitts. The puree will spit at you while it cooks.

4.)   Next comes the hard part. You’ve pretty much got to keep stirring for as long as it takes. Just stir the motherfucker until it is a thick mass, so thick your spoon can stand straight up in it by itself.  It should be a dark red color and incredibly difficult to stir by the time you’re finished. I’ve stirred membrillo for two and a half hours in the past. It may take you only an hour and a half so long as you keep your pot good and hot.

5.)   Get out a small baking sheet and line it with parchment paper. Spread quince paste in a layer. Once it’s cool enough, spread it smooth with your hand. Let it cool and then cut it into bite-sized pieces.

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Membrillo paste on the cheese plate at the holiday party.