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Archive for April, 2008

Quince Paste Recipe

Quince Paste Recipe:

There are so many variations on this recipe as with anything else. Here is one that I know is foolproof and the pictures show the finished product:

Ripe Quince

Sugar

Water

Lemon Juice (optional but recommended)

Method: Peel and core quince, like you would an apple (some recipes tell you to reserve the skins and core and place into muslin bag while cooking the quince but I don’t find that this is necessary for paste). Cut quince into large chunks and cover with enough water to cook through until soft enough to pierce. Drain water and puree the fruit through a sieve, with a masher or in a food processor.  Weigh the puree and add equal amounts of sugar in weight as the puree in a pan and cook (while stirring constantly) until the mixture starts to get very thick. If you want a thick quince paste that can be sliced, cook until the mixture starts to pull away from the pan. Be careful, when fully boiling, it can be very hot and spurt out and stick to your skin so try to cook it on the lowest heat possible to avoid being scalded.  The best test is, if the paste does not come together again when you create a line through the mixture with a spoon, then it is done.  Pour paste it into a non-stick pan to cool or a pan lined with good parchment paper or even in individual muffin pans.

I have read recipes that say to place into a very low oven for 12 to 24 hours.  We tried the oven and stovetop method and the oven produces a much darker paste.  We opted for putting it on a higher oven setting (about 150C) and stirred it occasionally and it took roughly about 5 to 6 hours and honestly, although I had reservations about doing it this way, I find that it is easier in the oven.

A few tablespoons of lemon juice can be added to brighten the flavour.

Cooking the Quince Paste

The Finished Product

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Quince

Have you ever seen Quince blossoms? The beautiful salmon coloured flowers with its cluster of bright yellow stamens can brighten up any wet spring day and make wonderful cut flowers that lasts for a couple of weeks. I can barely resist buying a bunch if I see them at a florist.

The fruit is equally seductive – especially when they start to ripen and the perfume wafts throughout the room its in. The aroma is a cross between pineapple, guava, apple and pear and is an almost candy-like scent, sweet and floral at the same time. I could honestly sniff the fruit for hours as a form of aromatherapy!

Here in Australia, Barossa food icon Maggie Beer (http://www.maggiebeer.com.au/) is the queen of quince and has definitely brought the fruit back into fashion with her quince paste and a willingness to teach Australians to take advantage of the wonderful fruit that grows practically wild all over temperate areas of Australia. Quince are high in pectin so are great for jelly and fruit cheese. Most commercial varieties are yellow, slightly fuzzy and are too tannic (astringent) to eat raw and must be cooked. What’s amazing is that once cooked, Quince take on the most amazing transformation to a dark rose hue.

Quince picked green and less ripe are good for jelly but if you want to make quince paste or stew them, leave the in the fruit bowl to perfume up the house and ripen – just make sure the skin isn’t starting to wrinkle but if they are, you may still be able to salvage them for pureed quince. When I have an abundance of quince, I always make *quince paste and then with the remainder, I quarter the fruit and cook until tender and preserve them in a light syrup (with vanilla bean) made from the poaching liquid. Poached quince is gorgeous as an accompaniment to roast duck and pork and makes a change from the apples, cherries and plums used to go along with meat. Quince slices can also be added to apple pie and I once made a BBQ sauce for ribs with quince paste and it was lovely (if only I had written down the recipe!)

About three weeks ago, my chef friend from Hawaii (who now lives in Australia) came to visit and we took her to the Adelaide Hills wine region famous for their Sauvignon Blancs and also for their abundant produce and quaint little towns. We were on our way to a winery when I spotted at least three large quince trees by the side of the road (next to a huge vacant lot) right off the highway exit! I yelled out to my husband to turn around and go back. He is so used to me finding food growing wild by the side of the road that he doesn’t even question when I tell him to turn the car around. When we pulled up to the trees, the side that was easily accessible by passersby was a bit bare but my friend and husband climbed over the fence to get my loot of quince! I am very clumsy (and decided that it wasn’t worth a trip to hospital) so I stayed over the safe side and held out a bag for collection and took the photos. My friend had never seen quinces growing on a tree before (it doesn’t grow in the tropics) and when she grabbed her first one, she yelled out in surprise, “It’s fuzzy!” I guess since they look like apples, the fuzziness was a bit of a surprise.

*Quince paste is not as common in the USA (yet) but here in South Australia, you will find a small chunk of it on cheese platters and makes a very good accompaniment to many different cheeses. My favourite would probably be goat or blue cheese with quince paste.

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Funny Husband

My husband is so funny. I grew up in a household where the huge American fridge and freezer were always full and I think my mother made sure that we had plenty to eat. My husband on the other hand, grew up in the UK where the fridges are not that much bigger than some U.S. college dorm fridges and when he moved out and lived on his own, he kept the bare necessities in his fridge and shopped when he started running out of fresh food. When we got married, our extremely opposite views on food shopping and fridge stocking had to come to a compromise. I tend to buy foods that I feel the mood to eat when I see it and may not necessarily feel like eating it a few days later. My husband on the other hand, has a bit more a routine and eats familiar things and also eats whatever is in the house to reduce waste. He gets annoyed with me when I let things rot because I forgot I bought something and/or because my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Anyway, after living in a better, less-wasteful way, I went home recently and found it uncomfortable to see so much fridge clutter back home and so much going bad and money being dumped in the bin.

We were lucky to come upon an extra free older (piece of s**t) fridge to use to cool the excess that will not fit into our new, pitifully small (UK-style) fridge in our big Australian home. (Personally I don’t understand why the standard fridges in this huge country with big houses are not similar in size to the U.S. fridges…) This fridge is mostly used for our water, drinks and extra food that I’ve preserved or have frozen. On the outside of that fridge, he has started to use a dry erase marker to write a list of what is in there at all times so that I remember them (trust me, I’d really forget).

Anyway, to make me remember to eat things or to communicate anything to do with food, my husband either lines up fruit that seems to be getting too ripe, or leaves me messages on the food in the morning before he leaves to work (I wake up a bit later) and then I walk downstairs to see the messages he has left for me.

Here are just a couple of pictures of things he’s left me. I will add to this as I get more photos of my husband’s food communications.

This picture of the milk carton is my husband copying a Sharpie™ commercial on TV. In the commercial, a young guy opens the fridge and sniffs and tastes a carton of milk. He then writes “BAD” on the spoiled milk and places it back into the fridge for his flat mates to discover it instead of dumping it in the sink and throwing it away! So my husband cracked me up one morning by doing the same but trouble was, I DIDN’T SEE IT only noticed the writing when I sniffed it! Good thing I wasn’t going to use more than a tablespoon of it that morning (for my tea).

This was a really fragrant green fleshed honeydew melon but because some melons give me an itchy throat, I was waiting for the right mood to eat it. Why do I buy foods that cause me to suffer? Because, I do. My husband doesn’t really care for melons but was tired of seeing it on the counter for a week so he wrote me a funny message…again, with a Sharpie™.

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A Bouquet of Spinach

$1.99 for this great big bunch of spinach!

In North America, what we call “spinach” is something that is about a foot long, dark leafy green with fairly tender stems which also comes in the “baby” form. Imagine my surprise when I was at my local greengrocer and saw this gigantic bunch that I first mistook for flowers, then I thought it was kale. Hmm…it wasn’t even refrigerated but instead stacked up in neat rows like big floral bouquets and it wasn’t until I read the price sticker that I realized that it was indeed SPINACH! English Spinach to be exact and it was a bargain $1.99. I had to buy it and see if it tasted different and truly wanted to test how creative I could be with this beast. Now I know for many of you, that kind of mature spinach is no big deal and you probably grew up with it but for me, it was a great novelty because it was as if the spinach was on steroids.

So I took it home and did cooked it in a slightly boring, yet yummy way – sauté it with olive oil, garlic, chili flakes, salt & pepper. But then, where do I store the half a ton of spinach I still had left? I knew that if I put it in my minuscule fridge that it would take it over completely and wilt it at the same time so I decided that my large crystal Royal Doulton water pitcher was the best place (like a vase) to store it. Amazingly enough, it stayed pretty fresh for about 3 days when I remembered that I still had it. I was simply too lazy to think of creative spinach recipes so I decided to make an Asian inspired soup which my husband didn’t really care for (which is surprising because he eats virtually anything).

I was making braised pork belly (Asian-style w/soy sauce & 5-spice) and decided to boil the belly first in water and then cook it in the marinade. After skimming the scum off the liquid, I used the lightly pork-flavored broth for the base of my spinach soup (I love pork broth and it is definitely not done enough – more on that another time). I then chopped the rest of the lot of spinach into bite sized strips and some slivers of daikon, crushed garlic clove, 1 cm piece of sliced ginger, salt, pepper, chili flakes, sesame oil, and a hint of soy sauce. I thought that the soup was very flavorful and nutritious and fairly comforting especially since it’s starting to get a bit cooler outside. My husband on the other hand, being English, did not find the soup comforting…in fact I think he said that it tasted a bit like liquid dirt. A Pinot Noir probably would have complimented the earthy tones of the soup! (just kidding).

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Fresh Pistachio Nuts

Fresh Pistachios Pistachios Dissected

I remember when I first saw fresh pistachio nuts at a farmer’s market here in Adelaide last year, I had never seen them in its unadulterated state before and it made me giddy to try one of my favourite nuts fresh and without all the extra salt that the roasted ones are often coated with. When I was a kid in the USA, I often remember roasted and salted pistachios that were dyed red (though they are becoming less common now) and I could NEVER understand why there was any need to dye them at all but according to Micheal Moyer, Jill C. Shomer, Trevor Thieme and Bob Sillery on http://www.popsci.com:

Until the mid-1970s, all pistachios sold in the United States were imported, mainly from the Middle East. The traditional growing and harvesting methods used by pistachio farmers in countries such as Iran, Syria, and Greece often left blemishes on the outer shell, which American importers would mask with a red vegetable dye. But with the growth of the domestic pistachio industry, the days of the red pistachio may be numbered. About 96 percent of the pistachios currently sold in the United States are grown in California. These nuts are harvested without blemishes, which makes the red dyes moot.

Very interesting…anyway, back to the fresh ones. Fresh pistachios to me are such an amazing treat and because they are seasonal (end of summer), I get so excited when I see them come to the markets every year. I get home and eat them over a few days (usually in front of the television) which is why I have yet to actually cook with them. Being an ex-pastry chef, I naturally think about all the sweet dessert that would work well but I know that pistachios can be used in many savoury ways as well. I personally love pistachios, pears and cardamom together as a combination and I ADORE pistachio ice cream/gelato (I always ordered pistachio gelato at every gelato stand I went to in Italy).

Fresh pistachios have this beautifully pink and white outer “skin” which feels a bit like a thick flower petal – that needs to be peeled off. Then you quietly hope that the shell you are about to open is already slightly split because it’s a darn sight easier to get the nut out than if it is completely shut. If shut (which many are), either pop them into your mouth and crunch on them with your molars and hope that you don’t knock an old filling out OR you could get a nut cracker and open it in a more civilised way (I am usually too lazy to get a nut cracker)! The nut is very moist, sweet with a grassy, fresh undertone and has a brilliant green colour on the outside and creamy yellow on the inside. If you ever encounter them at your local market, try to choose ones that don’t look bruised and that have no black spots on the outer skin. If you love pistachios as much as I do, your first mouthful will be absolute heaven!

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When I was in the UK, I came across this unusual variety of Rice Krispies (called Rice Bubbles in Australia) as one of the cereal choices at our hotel breakfast buffet. Maybe someone can enlighten me on whether this new “multi-grain” flavour is available in other countries. I forgot that I brought this box of cereal home so it sat in the back of a cupboard for a little too long and when I finally decided to eat it, it was a bit stale but the texture and taste was a little bit surprising. It was sort of like eating lightly sweet puffy cardboard – nothing really resembling the original Rice Krispies except for them being puffed. It’s great that it contains some natural prebiotic (probiotic) but I imagine that yogurt is probably a better and tastier alternative to make kids “tummies” healthy. Although processed, I think that it’s still better than the super sugary cereals with lots of food-colouring in it (you all know what I’m talking about).

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Fresh Ginkgo

Beautiful Mature Ginkgo in Washington D.C.

Fresh Fallen Ginkgo

As a child, I treasured my grandmother’s chawan mushi, or savory Japanese custard with lots of goodies in it like shrimp, chicken and fish cake. Whenever she’d make it, I always asked for seconds so she started to make extra to anticipate my greedy request for more. The only thing that I didn’t find pleasurable when eating my chawan mushi was finding the one little yellow ginkgo seed (ぎんなん ginnan in Japanese) at the bottom. It was bitter and sort of squishy and the only thing it reminded me of was Chinese bitter melon (which I also didn’t like). But as I grew older, I started to look forward to the ginkgo (often sold as “white nuts” in Chinese grocery stores in tins) at the bottom of the dish and even liked them skewered and sprinkled with salt on a stick at yakiniku restaurants.

Ginkgo nuts are grown on beautiful trees that turn an amazing bright yellow in the autumn and brighten up the dullest rainy days. From the information I could find on Ginkgo trees, they have been around for over 200 million years and have done little evolutionary change during that time. In western cultures, ginkgo biloba is created as a supplement (often in energy drinks) to aid memory – the plant definitely has been found to contain phytochemicals. In all the years that I have seen ginkgo biloba trees, I have never seen it bearing fruit until about a month ago when I drove through a tiny lane in my neighborhood and saw a ginkgo tree (on the sidewalk) with a great big orange sticky mess under it. I immediately pulled over the car and ran towards it and realized that it was indeed ginkgo seeds! I was so excited that I crabbed a plastic bag from my car (I always carry them) and started to load up on these orange, wrinkly cherry-like seeds from the road. I honestly didn’t understand why I was so excited because I don’t even love them but I think just the novelty of them made me giddy.  Actually, I felt a little sorry for the people who owned the house in front of the tree because it was making a huge mess everywhere and it spilled onto the tarmac as well.  I can tell from the mess around the tree that no one was picking these or cared to – probably because of their smell or because their use is not common in western cuisine.

For those of you who have ever smelled what fresh ginkgo seeds, you know what I’m talking about. The fresh pulpy orange fruit that surrounds the seed (nut) tastes a bit like orange and apricot with a dash of Angostura bitters but it smells sort of like…how do I say this nicely?  It smells like fresh sweet vomit. When I got it home, I didn’t even notice the vile scent coming from the bag because I was so excited to even collect fresh ginkgo but my husband stayed very far away from the kitchen when I was removing the seeds from the pulp. So far, I have about a couple of kilograms of ginkgo seeds and I truly am not sure what I’ll do with them apart from using a few in chawan mushi (I know that the Chinese make soup with ginkgo seeds) so if anyone can send over some recipes to use these ginkgos, I’d certainly appreciate it!! 🙂

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