What’s the Difference: Orange Marmalade?

I want to share with you a lesson I’ve learned over the last week.  While testing a recipe I will be making later in the month for a catered event, I discovered that all orange marmalades are not alike.  I know, not a gasp-out-loud, jaw dropping revelation – because you’d expect differences; but I did not expect what I found.

Orange Marmalade

Let me start by clearing up one of the great mysteries of life…the difference between marmalade, jam and jelly!

  • Marmalade – a clear, jelly-like preserve made from the pulp and rind of fruits, especially citrus fruits.
  • Jam – a preserve made from whole fruit boiled to a pulp with sugar.
  • Jelly – a fruit product made by boiling sugar and the juice of the fruit.

So, back to my story….

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Just Peachy

Last week in the Outer Banks was terrific.  I truly can’t remember the last time I was so relaxed.  We let each day unfold like a surprise.  We had no plan, no itinerary, and no stress!

On our way home, just before we crossed from North Carolina into Virginia, we stopped at a roadside produce stand to pick up some late-summer peaches.  And boy are they good!  Jeff and I usually overdose on PA peaches in August; but this summer we just didn’t find any great peaches near home.  Fortunately, North Carolina not only delivered on a great vacation, but on great produce as well.

As a salute to vacation, I decided to bake today; which is funny since our fridge is bare. After scanning the contents, I decided to make a crostata – a rustic Italian tart.  But I wanted to amp it up a little so I added some brandy to the last of the blackberry syrup Jeff used to make a refreshing blackberry gin drink on vacation and I added a little bit of fresh thyme from the garden.

I used the 3/4 cup of blackberry syrup that remained and added to it 6 Tbsp of brandy and 1 Tbsp of chopped fresh thyme.  I cooked it over medium low heat for 15 minutes, whisking frequently, until it reduced and became dark and thick.

While the syrup reduced, I made the dough.  This dough is a very simple recipe with just a few ingredients:

I pulsed the flour, salt, sugar, lemon zest and thyme in a food processor until just combined and then added the cold butter.  I pulsed the food processor until the butter incorporated into the flour mixture and resembled coarse crumbs.  I added the ice water a bit at a time until the dough began to hold together.

Then I turned the dough out onto a board, gathered it together, shaped it into a ball, flattened the ball into a disk, wrapped it in plastic wrap and refrigerated it for approximately 1 hour.

I rolled the cold dough into a rough 12-inch “circle” – remember this is a RUSTIC Italian tart –  and transferred it onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

I then topped the dough with the blackberry, brandy, and thyme reduction – kind of like you top a pizza crust with sauce.

I sliced two ripe, juicy peaches and arranged them on the crostata.  I folded the edges of the crostata toward the center – no need to be precise.  In my opinion, the more rustic looking, the better.

I brushed the crust with egg wash and sprinkled it with some white (I’m not quite sure why they call it white when it is really clear) sanding sugar and baked the crostata in a 400 degree oven for approximately 35 minutes.

The end result is a delightfully mouth-watering treat.

I rewarded myself with a piece of the crostata dusted lightly with powdered sugar and a steaming cup of Jeff’s yummy coffee.  I’d say my day is going to be just peachy!

Rules are Meant to Be Broken

There was so much activity in our vacation kitchen that my smile was an accessory to EVERY outfit I wore!  But two things in particular stand out to me as outside the norm.

The first is that I got to cook with my dad.  Not since (1) the days of scrambled egg hoagies when I was young and my mom worked in the evenings or (2) the days of ordering so much pizza from Pizza Village in Bethlehem, PA when I was a teen and my sister was away at college and my mom worked evenings that the Italian guys knew us by phone number have my dad and I spent time in the kitchen together “creating” (or phoning in) a dinner.  But my mom was under the weather on this trip and my dad and I were determined to still serve her fabulous grilled clam pasta; so we set to work shoulder to shoulder under my mom’s direction!

Together we chopped and grated and zested and sautéed and grilled the necessary ingredients to end up with a fabulous, if a bit too spicy but just sassy enough, pasta!

First we cooked the bacon to crispy perfection and removed it from the pan to get crisp on paper towels.  We poured off all but a bit of the bacon grease.  In the remaining bacon grease we sautéed red onion until it was beautifully translucent and the bottom of the pan was a gorgeous chestnut brown.

Then we deglazed the pan with about a cup of Pinot Grigio and let it cook until most of the wine evaporated.  We added the juice of two lemons and let that cook a bit longer.  We added olive oil and chopped garlic, a few too many hot pepper flakes, the zest of two lemons, some cracked black pepper and one or two ladles of the salted water in which the pasta was cooking.  We let that get nice and mellow and put the cleaned, fresh clams on the grill.

 

 

 

 

The clams cooked until they had absorbed the taste of the fire and smoke.  When they opened we put them in a large foil pan and tossed them with the pasta, crisp bacon, oil mixture, zest of two lemons, and some chopped fresh parsley.  The whole, delicious dish was served with grilled Italian bread, some fresh made seasoned bread crumbs for sprinkling over the pasta, and a bit of parmesan cheese.

Which brings me to the second thing that struck me as outside the norm in our vacation kitchen.  Fish with cheese!  Horror of horrors!  Sins against food and man!

I have watched enough episodes of Chopped on the Food Network to hear Scott Conant say at least a gazillion times that it’s just not done.  You don’t serve fish with cheese. It’s not the Italian way.

Well I stick out my tongue and give the raspberries to that sentiment!

As far as I am concerned, if we (cooks everywhere – whether home cooks or Michelin starred chefs) hadn’t pushed the proverbial envelope in the kitchen and broken a few rules along the way, we would still be eating exactly what our ancestors ate thousands of years ago exactly how they ate it!  AND there would be no cooking shows like Chopped on television – Chopped, which judges food based upon CREATIVITY, taste and presentation – not on tradition and rules.  How can we be creative if we do what we’ve always done?  In fact, isn’t the definition of insanity “doing what you’ve always done and expecting a different result?”

Sorry for the rant, but I REALLY had to get that out of my system!

This turned out to be a great meal because I got to cook with my dad, I got to eat the freshest clams I’ve eaten in I don’t know how long, and I got to break a few rules.  So I say eat what tastes good, cook with the people you love, and be innovative in the kitchen.  After all, as Thomas Edison once said, “There are no rules here — we are trying to accomplish something!”

Top Ten….or is it Eleven?

This morning I was in the kitchen and looked at the four containers in which we store kitchen tools and “gadgets” and, among other things, I wondered why we need four containers and if we actually use the things in them.  I emptied the containers to determine if I could get rid of anything and I couldn’t bring myself to discard anything.  But I was able to ask and answer, “What are the 10 tools you couldn’t cook without?”

Unfortunately I was only able to answer the question with 11 items!  I know, I always have to be difficult.  A friend of mine told me once that she never buys a gadget if it doesn’t have more than one use.  In looking through my containers, I realize I have inadvertently followed her theory. The following are the items I couldn’t cook without.  I thought about ordering the list from least to most important tool, but I truly cannot decide which would be the most important – I just know that I wouldn’t want to do without any of them in the kitchen.

Disclaimer: All items in the following photographs are well-used.  I don’t have the budget the fancy magazines have to show you only pristine, brand new products!

To order items mentioned below from Amazon.com, visit my blog store.

  • Whisks

I have them in different shapes and sizes, but on any given day there is at least one in the dishwasher because it’s been used to beat eggs until they are fluffy, to stir polenta or gravy to eliminate lumps, or to beat something by hand rather than getting out the mixer.  If you find yourself without a whisk – a situation I hope to avoid at all costs – you can use two forks facing one another so the tines interlock.

  • OXO Good Grips Vegetable Peeler

For some items the brand is not important to me, but for others I find it makes a difference.  In the case of my vegetable peelers, I like the OXO Good Grips.  Specifically the Swivel Peeler.  Having peeled an inordinate amount of carrots and potatoes in my lifetime and having used many not-so-great peelers, I prefer the OXO because it’s comfortable in my hand, the food doesn’t get stuck in the blade and the blade swivels nicely around curves.

 

 

  • Salt Box and Kuhn Rikon Pepper Mill (Vase Grinder)

Technically I know this is two items, but they both fall under seasoning and you can hardly even say “salt” without “pepper” so surely you can cut me some slack!  The salt box is a round wooden “box” with a lid that swivels open to reveal the salt yet stays attached.  It’s a good size and fits neatly on my counter blending nicely with the cabinets.  The Kuhn Rikon Pepper Mill (Vase Grinder) was a gift from my mother-in-law and I’ve never used another pepper mill in the many years I’ve owned this one.  It grinds the pepper just the way I like it, holds a lot of peppercorns at one time and never (knock wood) jams.

 

This tool is amazing.  I have two and they’re usually both in the dishwasher because we use them so often.  My favorite use is grating parmesan cheese (my absolute favorite food); but I also use it for zesting all kinds of citrus fruits (this is quite different than a zester that gives you longer “strips” of citrus peel), for finely grating chocolate over tiramisu or other desserts, for grating whole nutmeg, ginger, etc.  I like this brand because the grating blade is longer than others I have tried.

  • Hand-Held Citrus Juicer

I have no idea what brand mine is, but I like the design because it keeps the seeds inside while the juice flows though the holes.  The only drawback of the model I have is that while it is terrific for smaller fruits like lemons, limes, and mandarin oranges, larger citrus fruits just don’t fit into it.  I am typically not in need of so much juice that I would pull out an electric juicer so I don’t even own one.

  • Williams Sonoma Green Herb Snips

Because I grow a lot of fresh herbs in my yard, these are an invaluable tool – particularly during the growing season.  The snips are dishwasher safe and come apart so they dry completely without rusting.  They have an “on board” stripper that removes leaves from woody herbs such as rosemary.


  • Seven Inch Hollow-Edge Santoku

I love this knife!  The brand of mine is Wusthof.  It fits very comfortably in my large hand and is weighted quite nicely.  I really appreciate the hollow edge, which reduces drag when cutting and helps prevent food sticking to the blade.  If you use your knives as much as I do, I would highly recommend investing in a knife sharpener.

  • Ramekins and Pinch Bowls

I am a firm believer in mis en place.  This is a French phrase that translates into “everything in place.”  It means you get all your recipe ingredients prepped and in place before you start cooking.  In order to do that, I use ramekins and pinch bowls of different sizes on a regular basis.  I find prepping all my ingredients ahead of time helps reduce the chance of missing an ingredient and requires me to review a recipe so there are no surprises when I actually start cooking.

  • Food Processor

Again, this is a tool I use quite regularly.  It’s great for making pesto, for grating large amounts of cheese and/or veggies quickly, for making pizza dough and/or bread dough, for incorporating butter into pastry dough, etc.  In fact, I use mine so often that I purchased a second bowl so that I’m not constantly washing the bowl.  My current food processor is a Kitchen Aid and I have had very good luck with it.

  • Silicone Spoons with Stainless Steel Handles

I am a lover of wooden spoons.  I think they are quite beautiful – particularly those in funky shapes made from exotic woods; but I don’t like the hassle of cleaning them.  For the hard core cooking I do, I like being able to throw my spoons into the dishwasher.  Over time I have found that silicone spoons with stainless steel handles really hold up for the long haul.

  • Half Sheet Pans

We use our half sheet pans at least once a day.  We use them for roasting meats and vegetables, for baking cookies and cakes, for reheating leftovers, for making chocolate barks, among a zillion other uses.  You can tell by looking at them that they are well loved.  We own two, but honestly I would say it’s not enough.  Of course, if I owned more I’d dirty more and then I’d be complaining more often because they don’t fit into my sink.

I hope the above information is helpful to you.  I would love to hear the tools you can’t cook without – especially those with more than one use!

What’s for Dinner?

Before Jeff left for work this morning he left a note for me on the kitchen counter that made my heart sing!  Now some of you might imagine a flowery message declaring his undying love; while others may jump to something a bit racier.  But those who know me best will not be surprised to hear that the note read, “Girls [our dogs] did not eat.  Would you mind marinating the lamb chops?”

Lovelier words cannot be spoken to someone who loves to cook, eat and entertain!  In fact, they are two of my favorite words when spoken together – lamb chops.  Clearly you can surmise that I am not a vegetarian –  not that there’s anything wrong with that!  So yes, honey.  Yes, I will marinate the lamb chops.  In fact, I will photograph the process!

To my way of thinking a simple but flavorful Mediterranean preparation is best when it comes to this delicious meat.

I start in my herb garden, a place that gives me great delight – the possibilities are endless and when you lightly brush against the plants you are rewarded with a lovely aroma.  Rosemary is my go to herb when it comes to lamb so I cut some fresh rosemary and immediately pull one of the fresh sprigs through my hand to warm it ever so slightly. Immediately I smell that piney scent and have the slightly sappy feel on my hands like you get when you touch a pine tree.

Back inside I prep my other ingredients.  A fresh lemon, several cloves of garlic and some red pepper flakes. Mmm mmm mmm, my hands smell wonderful.

I season the lamb chops with salt and pepper on both sides and place them in a zip top bag with some olive oil and the juice of one lemon.  I then add the lemon zest, the chopped garlic, the red pepper flakes and the chopped rosemary.  The chops are now resting in the fridge waiting to be grilled to perfection and served with a creamy polenta and some fresh veggies.

Do we always eat this extravagantly?  I wish I could answer, “Yes.”  But the truth is, we’re like so many other couples – busy beyond belief, running from one thing to the next and sometimes too tired to cook.  Some nights dinner is take-out pizza or breakfast food or leftovers eaten in front of the television; but not tonight…..tonight, we just might eat at the table!!!!