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.

Pilgrimage to Santiago

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the...

Español: Tarta de Santiago

It was my mother’s birthday recently, and she being someone who enjoys the trappings of religion but is very much of the “Lord make me good, but not yet,” ‘I intend to die a Catholic, though I never could live as one” school of thought, I thought I’d make her a pseudo-Catholic birthday cake. The Tarta de Santiago is a flourless cake make of egg yolks and almonds that’s given to pilgrims who have walked the Way of St. James, the pilgrimage across the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. I’m not sure why you’d want almond cake after hiking hundreds of miles. I did a walking tour of the Ridgeway in southern England a few years ago, and after hiking twenty miles I’d have said fuck the cake, unless it’s heroin cake, in which case stick it straight into my veins. In any case, the Tarta de Santiago is a really good cake. It’s fluffy and moist and it makes your house smell like heaven while it’s baking. Traditionally, a cut-out of the St. James cross is placed on the cake and the cake is then dusted with powdered sugar and the cut-out removed. This I did not do. Much as I love authenticity, I’ve never been one for arts and crafts.

I served it with a saffron coconut ice cream. A very adult tasting ice cream, and by adult I mean it tastes pretty damned weird. Far from sweet, it’s borderline savory. Its complexity makes you pause and think about the nature of existence between bites. It is philosophical ice cream. It’s extremely good, of course, but its profundity and sophistication may make you long for the Rocky Road of your childhood.

Tarta de Santiago

(Adapted from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden)

1 ¾ cups almond flour

6 eggs, separated at room temperature

1 ¼ cups superfine sugar

Zest of 1 orange

Zest of 1 lemon

¼ teaspoon almond extract

Confectioners’ sugar

1.) Beat together eggs yolks with sugar until you create a smooth, creamy mixture. Beat in zests and extract. Add almond flour and mix.

2.) In a separate bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold into egg and almond mixture and mix together until fully integrated (this will take some doing as the mixture will be thick.)

3.) Grease and flour an 11-inch springform pan. Pour in batter and bake for 40 minutes to an hour, or until the cake feels firm. Allow to cool before removing sides of pan. Dust with Confectioners’ sugar before serving.

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Saffron Coconut Ice Cream

(Adapted from David Lebovitz)

While I realize saffron is pretty expensive stuff and this recipe calls for a full half teaspoon and not the usual scanty pinch, honestly how often do you use the stuff? My saffron goes untouched for months at a time. It was a relief to dump the whole thing in a pot of cream. Remember, saffron isn’t good at sticking to the ice cream so when transferring it between containers, you may have to spend a few persnickety minutes dabbing at the threads that have stuck to the sides of the pan and transferring them one by one. An irritating job, but believe me this ice cream is worth it.

This recipe also calls for palm sugar. My local green grocer happened to have some. It’s brown and crumbly and tastes, well, coconutty. I made a ginger lemon iced tea the other week and sweetened it with a simple syrup made from palm sugar and it was amazing.

2/3-cup heavy cream.

1-cup coconut milk

¼ cup palm sugar

½ teaspoon saffron threads

1.)   Bring all ingredients to boil in a saucepan. Simmer ten minutes, stirring from time to time. Remove from heat and chill at least 3 hours.

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2.)   Chill in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

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Photo Credits: Wikipedia.

Momofuku Barbecue

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I’ve been in awe of the Momofuku restaurants for years, ever since baking my first Crack Pie for a friend’s birthday party. The way they use sophisticated techniques to bring haute cuisine together with little kid garbage food never ceases to delight me. Which is why it was such a disappointment going to Ssäm Bar for the first time last year. I tasted an array of creative but not stunningly delicious food and because of the way service is there we ate our seven courses in about forty-five minutes. That’s definitely not how I like to eat.

Still, the recipes are amazing. This past weekend I had a bunch of friends over for a barbecue and made several dishes from the Momofuku cookbook. I was initially intimidated by the cookbook because their recipes have so many steps, recipes within recipes. However, no one step is actually all that difficult. If you’re already insane about cooking, and do your own canning and pickling, then Momofuku is nothing to be frightened of.

I always wind up barbecuing too early in the season. In our party dresses, my friends and I stood around the coals for warmth as the wind snaked around our bare legs. Still, oh my fucking God was the food good. And there’s nothing better for impressing your friends than serving pork belly at a barbecue instead of burgers and hot dogs.

We had seven carnivorous guests (the best kind) and these recipes served all of them with about two servings leftover for an amazing hung-over brunch the following day.

The meat, kimchi, rice, and condiments are to be served with lettuce in order for people to make their own wraps.

Momofuku Barbecue

(All recipes are adapted from Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan unless otherwise noted)

The Meat

Pork Belly Ssäm

1 3 lb skinless slab of pork belly

¼ cup kosher salt

¼ cup sugar

1.)   Place the pork belly in a smallish pan that can hold it snugly. Combine the sugar and salt and rub it into the pork belly all over. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

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2.)   Heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Discard liquid in pan and cook pork belly for 1 hour, basting occasionally and turning the pork over at the halfway point.

3.)   Reduce heat to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 30 minutes more. Allow belly to cool and wrap it in plastic wrap and stick it back in the fridge. The cooking can be done on the morning of your barbecue.

4.)   Start your grill and allow the coals to burn down for about half an hour. Slice the pork belly into small slices, about two inches wide and a half an inch thick.

5.)   Grill the slices about a minute or two per side until they’re seared or the fat begins to crackle.

Marinated Hanger Steak Ssäm

2 cups sugarless apple juice

½ cup soy sauce

½ yellow onion

6 garlic cloves

1-teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 8-ounce hanger steaks.

1.)   Combine all ingredients except steaks and place in a zip lock bag. Add steaks and allow to sit refrigerated overnight.

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2.)   When your coals are hot, grill each steak about five minutes per side for rare to medium rare.

The Accompaniments

Kimchi

(Adapted from David Lebovitz)

To be started at least six days before your barbecue.

1 head Napa cabbage

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1/3-cup white rice vinegar

3 tablespoons Korean chili paste, gochujang

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons coarse Korean chili powder, gokchu garu

½ tablespoon minced fresh ginger

4 scallions, white and green parts, cut into two-inch slices.

1.)   Remove outer leaves and core of the cabbage and cut into small pieces. Toss in salt and transfer to a colander. Set a bowl under the colander and a plate and heavy weight on top of it. I used a teapot. Leave to brine 24 hours.

2.)   The following day mix vinegar, chili paste, garlic, chili powder and ginger together.

3.)   Squeeze water out of cabbage and add in small batches to the marinade. Mix together, add scallions and back closely into a jar. Cover the jar tightly and leave on the counter for 48 hours.

4.)   Refrigerate for 4 days, then serve.

Scallion Ginger Relish

To be served with the steaks and made on the day of your barbecue.

2 ½ cups thinly sliced scallions (from about 3 bunches) using the white and green parts

½ cup minced ginger

¼ cup grape seed oil

1 ½ teaspoons soy sauce

¾ teaspoon sherry vinegar

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

Mix together ingredients and taste for seasoning.

Mustard Seed Sauce

To be begun at least the day before your barbecue and served with the pork belly.

6 tablespoons pickled mustard seeds (recipe follows)

3 tablespoons quick pickled cucumbers (recipe follows)

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1-tablespoon spicy mustard

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

3 tablespoons scallions (green and white parts)

Kosher salt

Black pepper

Combine all ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pickled Mustard Seeds

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1 cup yellow mustard seeds

11/2 cups water

1 ½ cups white rice vinegar

½ cup sugar

1-tablespoon kosher salt

1.)   Combine mustard seeds, water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook mustard seeds, stirring frequently, until soft, about 45 minutes to an hour.

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2.)   Store pickled mustard seeds and whatever brine is left in a tightly covered container in the fridge.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers

3 Kirby cucumbers, thinly slices

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 ½ -teaspoons kosher salt

Combine ingredients and allow to sit for at least an hour. The longer they sit the better they’ll get.

Other Accompaniments:

 2 cups short grain rice (sushi rice)

1 head Bibb lettuce