Friday, September 27, 2013

Pear Chips - A Grain-Free Alternative to Crackers

I've been mostly grain-free for several years now. Unlike many people, I don't typically look for ways to recreate the things I can't eat anymore. There aren't a lot of grain-free alternatives for the basics like crackers, breads and pizza. Most of the time I don't really care. There are a plethora of wonderful things to eat without turning to starchy staples.

One of my favorite things to eat is cheese. (Thank God I don't have a sensitivity to dairy too. For a while there Vince was having some issues with dairy and I thought, "holy crap, aren't we the fun couple to invite to dinner." Thankfully that passed.) Anyway, most of the time I just eat cheese on its own or with some antipasti but that's not so easy do with soft cheeses like Brie, Cambazola and goat cheese. You, more or less, need a delivery system of sorts with them. That's the time when I miss being able to grab a cracker or piece of bread.

Recently I saw a new product called Simple and Crisp. It's a line of dehydrated fruit crisps that can be used for anything for crackers to drink garnishes. They feature pear, apple, orange and blood orange crisps. I like them very much but they are a little pricey - about $8 a box for around 20 crisps. Vince has been off work for over a year now so I don't feel like I can be all willy-nilly with my food budget these days. So, I thought I'd just make my own. It's not difficult and really not all that time consuming because you just put them in a low oven and forget about them for a few hours.

Here's what you need:
3 to 4 firm, ripe pears
6 ounces of fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 cups of water

First wash the pears and gently wipe them dry. In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine the lemon juice and water, and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 250F. Incidentally, I prefer to use an oven over a dehydrator because the oven creates crispier chips as opposed to fruit leather-like chips.

Now it's time to slice. I highly recommend using a mandoline for slicing the pears. It's pretty hard to maintain the steady hand and eagle eye it take to make consistent slices. I set my mandoline on the second thinnest slice setting, which gives me roughly 1/8-inch thick slices. That's perfect for a crispy chip with enough stability to hold a slathering of creamy cheese.

Submerge the slices of pear in the lemon water. You only need to leave them in the water a minute or two. If you leave them in too long they will absorb too much water and it will be harder to crisp them up.

Then, drain the slices and pat them dry on clean kitchen towel or sheets of paper towel.

Next, line baking sheets with pieces of parchment. This will make clean up super easy. Arrange the pear slices on the parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer.

Place the baking sheets in the oven. Set a timer for 2 hours.  At the end of the 2 hours, check the slices.  They should be dry and slightly crispy.  If not, put them back in the oven for another 15 to 30 minutes. Don't over brown them.

Finally, remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the pear chips to cool for 15 to 30 minutes.  They will crisp completely during this time.

It's up to you what you do next. Vince and I love pear chips with a smear of Camembert or creamy Gorgonzola. Try topping them with a sprinkling of toasted, chopped hazelnuts or walnuts.  They are also great with a little mascarpone drizzled with chocolate sauce.

After pear season, try the same trick with apples!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Plum Crazy for Slivovitz

My neighbor across the alley has a prolific Italian Prune Plum tree. Last year, I used her plums to create my recipe for Plum Butter with Chinese Five Spice in The Kitchen Pantry Cookbook. Even though I made multiple batches of plum butter, I still had pound of plums leftover. It was about that time that I stumbled on a recipe for Slivovitz in the Washington Post. Slivovitz is an Eastern European plum brandy common to Croatia, Serbia, Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary.

I am of Hungarian decent, and I wish I could share charmingly, clouded memories of sipping Slivovitz with my grandmother and great aunt, but unfortunately my grandmother passed away when I was in my early teens so no such memories exist. I was still intrigued by the idea and the recipe though. I teach a Hungarian and Eastern European cooking class (Grandma Rose's recipes) and Slivovitz dove-tailed right into that. With the abundance of Marie's plums to use up, it seemed like the perfect recipe to try. 

Last spring,  the Toth Family asked me to teach a Hungarian cooking class in honor of their 93-year old mother's birthday. I brought along some of the Slivovitz for a special treat. We popped it open during the last of the cooking, playfully referring to it as Hungarian Hooch and toasted Ann. The perfect end to a lovely afternoon of cooking and family. 

So, here we are at peak plum season once again. I figured I should start another batch, just in case I'm asked to toast Ann at her 94th birthday!

Recipe adapted from Cathy Barrow, Washington Post, Sept 12, 2012
Makes 2 quarts

2 1/2 pounds small ripe Italian prune plums*
1 1/2 cups superfine granulated sugar
2 3-inch cinnamon stick
2 1-inch pieces lemon peel
4 cups vodka

Gently rinse the plums under cool running water. Remove the stems and use a sharp paring knife to pierce each plum through to the pit 3 or 4 times. Be sure to exam each one to make sure it's perfect. (Bruised fruit ferments too quickly.)

You can either use a jar beverage dispenser or 2 quart-size mason jars. Add the plums, sugar, cinnamon sticks and lemon peel. Stir gently and cover. If you use the mason jars, divide the fruit between evenly between the two jars. Add the sugar (3/4 cup per jar), cinnamon sticks, and lemon peel. Pour in vodka, and cap the jars securely.

If you used a large beverage dispenser, like I did, stir the plums gently with a wooden spoon once a day, every day for 2 weeks. If you used two mason, invert the jars once a day, every day for 2 weeks. At the end of 2 weeks, the sugar will have dissolved.

Place the jar in a closet or other dark space for 90 days. At the end of the 90 days you'll have a delicious amber-magenta liquor. You can strain the Slivovitz through a coffee filter and bottle it in something pretty if you wish but I kind of like the homey look of the plums in the mason jar. It makes a fun gift for the holidays.

Slivovitz is usually sipped chilled, as a digestif, but I love to mix it into a Champagne Cocktail. It's delicious and a little bit dangerous!

Plum Champagne Cocktail

champagne flutes
grenadine syrup
natural cane turbinado sugar
brut champagne or sparkling wine

Moisten the rim of the champagne flutes with grenadine and coat with turbinado sugar for a sugared rim. Allow to dry slightly. 

Fill 1/3 of each champagne flute with Slivovitz and top each off with champagne. You can use slices of the spirit-infused plums as a garnish, if you'd like. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

KIXI Guests: Holly Brown & Chef Erin Coopey on Chat With Women

I had a great time with Holly Brown of The Brown Lounge
and Kevin Brown, of Siren Song Wines. 
Holly and I talked the delicious Mediterranean menu that I helped her create. 
Check it out! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

End of Summer Salad with Corn, Tomatoes & Black Beans

As summer comes to a close, I thought it would be fun to create a simple salad with some of the ripest ingredients still available in the market. We're just at the tail end of sweet corn season so if your market doesn't have any fresh sweet corn you can substitute frozen corn kernels. However, tomatoes are still at their peak! Grab a pint of sweet cherry tomatoes, snack on half, and save the other half for this zesty, colorful salad.

Until next year, dear Summer, we'll miss you! 

End of Summer Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, & Black Beans

2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground cumin seed
1/4 garlic powder
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and ground black pepper to taste
6 ears sweet corn, husked and cleaned,
     or 1 16-oz bag of frozen corn niblets
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 14-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)

In a small bowl, combine lime juice, vinegar, sugar, cumin, garlic and olive oil. Whisk together the dressing and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

If using fresh corn, place the corn in a large pot with enough water to cover, and bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes, until kernels are tender but crisp. Drain, cool slightly, and use a knife to scrape kernels from the cobs. If using frozen corn, allow to thaw for 1 hour in a colander.

In a large bowl, mix the corn kernels, cherry tomatoes, black beans, red bell pepper, green onions, cilantro, and the jalapeno, if you are using it. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Season with a little more salt and pepper. Chill 15 minutes before serving.

Did you try any new salads this summer? What was your favorite?