Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cherry Jamming in the Miele Kitchen

Chef Rachelle Boucher shows off our cherry jam
If you’ve been to the store or maybe the farmers market recently you might have seen cherries. The sweetness of bing cherries is both intense and fleeting. Cherries don’t last long after being picked, unlike apples or oranges. That's why I'm glad to be a part of the Canbassador program.

The past few years I’ve received a crate of fresh sweet cherries from Northwest Cherry Growers. Every year I experiment preserving something different. I’ve prepared cherry barbecue sauce, canned cherries for pie, put up bourbon cherries, made cherry vanilla shrub and even dried and frozen cherries. This year I decided to make cherry jam. It turned out to be a very special cooking experience for me because I wasn’t in my kitchen, but over at the Miele showroom in San Francisco, with my pal Chef Rachelle Boucher. She kindly invited me over to do a little cooking. To be honest, working with Miele appliances will spoil you. Here’s how it went and the key ways it differed from what I do at home: 

Step 1 - Sterlized the jars in  Miele’s super duper professional dishwasher. No messy hot water bath! 
Step 2 - Cooked the jam using a super duper Miele Induction Range. I would take induction over gas anyday. Why? The minute you turn it off, there’s no heat at all. Which means while I probably should have used a larger pot, there was no risk of it boiling over since any adjustment to the heat was instantaneous. When you turn of the heat on a gas or electric range, the grate stays hot. The smooth surface also makes moving pots around easy.
Step 3 - Sterilized more jars then processed the jam in a super duper Miele Combi-Steam Oven. Again, no messy and potentially dangerous hot water bath! Because the oven uses steam, you don’t need a large capacity, and it heats instantly, no “preheating.” What else can you do in it? Well steam obviously but also roast, make yogurt, proof dough, bake bread with perfect crusts. 

You really don’t know what appliances are like until you use them. You can read all the reviews you want, but nothing takes the place of actually trying before you buy. The touchscreens, the smooth surfaces and the incredible number of settings all make this line of appliances positively dreamy. So you don’t think I turned into the perfect cook, I will now share with you the things I did wrong.  These are the three mistakes I made that I will not make again:

1. I mostly mashed the cherries instead of chopping them thoroughly. If you don’t chop the cherries finely enough, cherry jam doesn’t thicken up as much as it should. Oops! The good news is I have  syrupy cherry topping which is fabulous on Greek yogurt or ice cream and not bad on toast. I may also use some to make cherry soda or cherry cocktails, so not a complete disaster. 

2. The recipe I found online called for a teaspoon of almond extract to 4 cups of cherries. This is way too much. Better to use about a quarter or half that amount. Live and learn! Seriously though, make sure you’re confident in your recipe source. I recommend using the recipes at Sweet Preservation on the Northwest Cherries site.  

3. I doubled my recipe. While preserving is great for large quantities, when trying a new recipe, it’s best to do a small or single batch in case something goes wrong (see #1 and #2).

Disclaimer: My thanks for Northwest Stone Fruit for providing me with the cherries and to Rachelle Boucher for inviting me to cook in the Miele kitchen. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any another post on Cooking with Amy. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Easy Shrimp Curry Recipe

Here's one of my strategies for dinner in a hurry--tweak a classic dish by loading it up with vegetables and creating a one pot meal. Recently I worked on a shrimp and feta recipe, it started out very much the same as many other recipes, but I added lots of fresh fennel. Basically this shrimp curry recipe started with a simple coconut curry recipe to which I added sugar snap peas, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes. I happened to have some sugar snap peas from Mann's produce (another great time saver because they are stringless and don't need any prep), but I could have added broccoli or sweet potatoes or some other study vegetables. Just add rice or noodles and dinner is done!

This recipe comes courtesy of American Shrimp Company, they kindly sent me some more of their fresh wild gulf shrimp. The shrimp are bursting with flavor and can be used in so many dishes. They arrive clean, deveined, peeled, fresh, not frozen, perfect for when you don't have much time for meal prep since they really don't need marinating and cook in just minutes. I don't use all the shrimp at once so some of them go in the freezer to use at a later date.

The benefit of making a one pot meal is that you don't have to bother cooking multiple side dishes and in this case, the vegetables swim along with the shrimp in a delicious curry sauce. I'm going to continue to experiment with more dishes like this. What classic shrimp dishes would you add vegetables to in order to make it a meal? Shrimp and grits? Scampi? Shrimp gumbo? The possibilities are endless. 

Easy Shrimp Curry
Serves 4

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon coconut oil or vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 sweet onion, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 orange bell pepper, sliced
3/4 pound raw peeled and deveined shrimp
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 cup sugar snap peas
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Pinch cayenne pepper, optional
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro, optional

Instructions

Heat a large deep skillet or wok over medium high heat and add the coconut oil. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds then add the onion and peppers. Stiry fry until the vegetables have slightly softened, about 5 minutes. 

Add the curry powder and  the snap peas and stir for a minute then add the coconut milk and soy sauce. Increase heat and bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook just until they shrimp are cooked through, about 2-3 minutes. Taste for seasoning. You can add more soy sauce or a pinch of cayenne pepper if you like. Serve with rice (or rice noodles) and garnish with cilantro. 

Enjoy! 

Disclaimer: My thanks to The American Shrimp Company and Mann's for providing me with shrimp and sugar snap peas. I was not compensated monetarily for this or any other post. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pecorino Toscano & Pecorino Sardo

Yesterday I wrote about Pecorino Romano, today Pecorino Toscano and Pecorino Sardo, two other kinds of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Pecorino you are likely to find in the US.
Pecorino Toscano
I ate the fresh version of Pecorino Toscano practically daily when I lived in Tuscany. In Florence, fresh Pecorino Toscano was like the Italian version of Monterey Jack, the cheese I grew up eating in California.It's mild, slightly herbal, sweet, approachable, easy to love. It's really great in a sandwich--either cold or grilled.

Pecorino Toscano is made from milk produced in Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria. As with all cheeses, it gets harder and drier as it ages. In the US it used to be much easier to the find the aged versions than the really fresh soft ones. The fresher version is particularly mild and creamy. The aged version is buttery, sometimes nutty with a peppery finish It’s just a great table cheese, perfect for an antipasto platter. Even aged it tends to be much milder than the Pecorinos from Lazio and Sardinia. 
Pecorino Sardo Maturo & Pecorino Fiore Sardo
Pecorino Sardo 
This is the Pecorino I know the least about, so I turned to cheesemonger and author Gordon Edgar to help me get a better understanding of it. Here's what he had to say: 

“The tricky thing about Pecorino Sardo is the variation contained within the name. Whereas Pecorino Romano means hard, aged, grating cheese and "Fresco" means semi-soft and young, Pecorino Sardo just means sheep cheese from Sardinia which is where a lot of Italian sheep cheese comes from, labeled as Sardo or not.

There is a name-controlled version "Fiore Sardo DOP" which is raw milk and slightly smoked and one of the most amazingly complex sheep cheeses available anywhere.  Rich, milky, nutty, mutli-layered, briney, and, yes, a touch smokey in a complimentary way, not the way smoke is often used to cover defects in cheese.  Personally I mostly use this as a table cheese to eat with cold cuts or other cheeses.  If you dislike "pecorino," this cheese may well change your mind.  Make sure it says DOP though, because some importers  and retailers can be a little loose with the American naming of their Italian cheese

Most Sardo sold in the US fits the middle-ground, age-wise between fresco (from whatever region) and the hard, crumbly Romano. If not name-controlled, the Sardo Maturo is my favorite one to buy.  It can work as a less intense and salty alternative to grating than a Romano, but also works as a table cheese, often lending a grassy, potato-y flavor absent from many pecorinos. The aging (maturo) lets flavor develop and my favorite brand is Central Formaggi (though this is often not labeled at point of sale). You can kind of tell how strong Sardo will be based on the texture, so -- if you can -- try and squeeze it a little before purchase.”

Curious about Pecorino Romano? Read about in yesterday's post. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano and Pecorino Gran Cacio Etrusco
Knowing Italian is sometimes a help in the culinary realm. But not always. Pecora means sheep in Italian providing the clue that Pecorino refers to sheep’s milk cheese. But after that it gets complicated. There are 6 kinds of Pecorino with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in Italy but only a few you are likely to find in the US. First up is the most commonly found Pecorino cheese, Pecorino Romano and tomorrow, Pecorino Toscano and Pecorino Sardo.

Pecorino Romano is the easiest to find Pecorino cheese in the US. The name is a bit confusing however. It’s not just a cheese from Rome or even Lazio as you might assume, but is also produced in the province of Grosseto in Tuscany and in Cagliari, Nuoro, Oristano and Sassari on the island of Sardinia. In fact, Sardinia is the biggest producer of Pecorino Romano, go figure. It’s an ancient cheese and it was mentioned by Pliny the Elder almost 2,000 years ago. It was such an important cheese, that it was part of the Roman legion’s rations—hence “Romano” in the name. It’s salty and dry, and has a wonderful sharp flavor that sets it apart from other dry cheeses. A good one will also have a bit of sweetness to it. You may recognize it from the black wax coating on the cheese. Fresher versions are aged for 5 months and the harder cheese used for grating is aged at least 8 months. 

The more aged version is most often used in recipes, but the fresher version can be eaten on a cheese plate. It’s traditional to eat Pecorino with fresh fava beans in Spring. Pecorino Romano's sharp bite makes it the ideal cheese with rich pasta dishes like bucatini all'amatriciana and spaghetti alla carbonara. It is also the cheese you must use for the pasta dish cacio e pepe. Cacio literally means Pecorino in the Roman dialect, so please, do not substitute Parmigiano Reggiano for Pecorino Romano in the recipe. The classic recipe calls for only spaghetti, freshly ground black pepper and Pecorino Romano, though I won’t quibble if you want to add a bit of butter or olive oil. When the cheese combines with water it melts into a sauce, rather than gooey strings. 

The brand of Pecorino Romano I’m most familar with is Fulvi made by I Buona Tavola. They make the only Pecorino Romano made in Lazio that's imported to the US. It’s aged 10 months to a year and made from full fat sheep’s milk, which means the cheese is not quite as hard as most Sardinian Pecorino. It’s salty but not too salty with a pungency but also a sweet finish. In addition to Pecorino Romano you may find another cheese from Fulvi called Pecorino Romano Gran Cacio Etrusco. It’s salted with Sicilian salt and rubbed with olive oil for several months. It’s a bit softer in texture and sweeter, definitely more nuanced and in my opinion, worth the slightly higher price. You can read a post about a visit to the caseficio where they produce Fulvi Pecorino Romano cheeses on cheesemonger Gordon Edgar’s blog, Gordonzola.