Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Magnolia Grill lives on in classic cookbooks

UNC Press invites fans of Ben and Karen Barker and the Magnolia Grill to enter the Free Book Friday contest by 3 p.m. Friday, June 1, to win a set of their award-winning cookbooks. If you're not lucky enough to snag free copies, they currently are on sale when purchased through the UNC Press website.

Karen and Ben Barker (@ Southern Foodways Alliance)
It's only a matter of hours now before Ben and Karen Barker shut the lights and lock the doors for the last time at Magnolia Grill, the legendary Durham restaurant that established them both as culinary superstars.

In the weeks since they announced in a handwritten note that they would close on May 31 after nearly 26 years of operation - and 30 of cooking together professionally - countless devoted diners have posted photos and blogs showcasing the Barkers' lusciously plated seasonal fare. Regulars and those who regretted never calling before kept the reservation line jangling until they announced with humble appreciation that every last slot was booked. 

While the opportunity to enjoy the Barkers' hospitality has passed, two books published by UNC Press have placed them firmly in the pantheon of distinguished cookbook writers - and their recipes well within reach of home cooks. Their critical success also helped to establish UNC Press's reputation as promoter of extraordinary, Southern-based culinary talent.

"When we published Not Afraid of Flavor: Recipes from Magnolia Grill in 2000 and Sweet Stuff: Karen Barker's American Desserts in 2004, the thought of Durham without a restaurant run by the Barkers was unimaginable," said Regina Mahalek, director of publicity. "Both books are written with the same attention to quality and detail that these chefs brought to the restaurant."

Not Afraid of Flavor was a finalist for Best Regional/Local Cookbook in the 2001 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and Magnolia Grill was ranked No. 11 in Gourmet's 2001 List of the 50 Best American Restaurants. The year before, Ben was named Best Chef in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation. Likewise, the year before Sweet Stuff was released, Karen was named the 2003 winner of the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Pastry Chef Award; in 1999, she earned Bon Appétit's American Food and Entertaining Award for Best Pastry Chef.

"We are honored to be the publisher of these two fabulous cookbooks that document and preserve the contributions of two of the most talented, revered and innovative chefs in the business," Mahalek said. "The Magnolia Grill tradition and the Barkers' culinary philosophy lives on in these classic cookbooks."

Mahalek herself is glad for the recipes for Magnolia Grill favorites like "Cool as a Cucumber Soup with Buttermilk, Dill, & Vermouth Shrimp," "Baby Butterbean Crostini," "Key Lime Coconut Pie with Rum Cream," "Dark Chocolate Peppermint Pattie Cake" and "Sautéed Summer Berries," which is shared below.

Sautéed Summer Berries
From Sweet Stuff: Karen Barker's American Desserts. Copyright © 2004 by Karen Barker. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.

Serves 6

The application of a bit of heat to fresh berries seems to intensify their flavor. It’s also a great way to doctor up less-than-stellar berries. You can add a touch more sweetness or acid, enrich them with additional butter, or add various herbs and spices as you see fit.

      2 tablespoons (1 ounce) butter
      4½ cups mixed berries
      2 tablespoons sugar
      1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
      1 teaspoon lime juice
      A few grains kosher salt

Melt the butter in a medium-sized nonreactive sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the remaining ingredients. Sauté, tossing a few times, until the berries have just started to release some of their juices and are warmed through.

Baker’s Note: I’ll often start sautéing berries such as blueberries or strawberries a moment or two before more fragile varieties such as raspberries. Please use this as a method rather than a strict recipe. You can sweeten with honey or brown sugar.  Blueberries sautéed with a bit of maple syrup are also delicious. You can add a grating of citrus zest, a bit of vanilla, some chopped tarragon, or fresh ginger. You can season with nutmeg, a grind of black pepper, or a hint of fresh chili. This method also works for other fruits. Experiment with sliced bananas, nectarines, or figs.

Serving Suggestions: Warm sautéed berries are wonderful topped with a scoop of ice cream or sorbet.

Note: For more about the Barkers' extraordinary story, read Andrea Weigl's report in the News & Observer

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Carrot greens-basil pesto

Carrot greens-basil pesto in pasta salad loaded
with roasted summer vegetables.
Tim bought two bunches of sweet local carrots this weekend, both of which were topped with especially lush greens. I've read before that they are more than merely edible but also quite tasty and nutritious, yet I always seem to let them go limp before I think to use them.

Some sources disagree about their merits, even warning that may be toxic. I had a kind blogger from distant shores caution me when I posted my intentions, then playfully implore that I "keep tweeting" so she would know I'm all right.

You want a handful of  fresh
carrot greens, not Carrot Top.
I am both well and pleased that I used those feathery greens to make an appealing pesto. I suppose I went the cheater's route - mostly substituting carrot tops for parsley in my ever-changing pesto recipe - but the result is both distinct and delicious.

Carrot tops lend an earthy, slightly bitter note to the mix, which I balanced with a scant teaspoon of sugar. Rinse the greens well to remove grit; use just the tender leaves and discard the tough stalk.

This batch made enough to generously dress a pasta salad loaded with roasted vegetables (noted below), with about a cup's worth left over. I see bruschetta in my near future and will save try to a few spoonfuls to toss with roasted potatoes.

Note: I inadvertently bought pecorino romano instead of parmesan, which I normally choose for pesto, making added salt unnecessary. If you use parmesan, you might need to add a pinch.

Carrot Greens-Basil Pesto
1 large handful carrot greens without stems
Same amount fresh basil leaves
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup pecorino romano, freshly grated
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
3/4 cup olive oil
a few grinds of black pepper
1/2-1 tsp. sugar, if needed
1/2 tsp. kosher salt, if needed

Toast walnuts in small skilled until fragrant; transfer to cutting board. When cool, chop coarsely.

Place carrot greens, basil and garlic in food processor work bowl. Pulse until coarsely blended then add about 1/2 cup olive oil in a slow stream while continuously chopping. Add grated cheese, walnuts, lemon zest and juice, and black pepper; set to on and drizzle in remaining oil. Taste for balance. If needed, add sugar and/or salt; pulse to combine.

You'll need about 1/2 cup pesto for the pasta salad below. Transfer excess to small jar and press plastic wrap to pesto surface; store in refrigerator for up to two days.

Pasta Salad with Roasted Vegetables
Any colorful combination of fresh summer vegetables will work, but this is what I used:
1 head purple cauliflower, cut into florets
8 purple summer onions, cut into 1/2-inch slices
kernels from two ears of corn
1 medium red bell pepper, 1/2-inch dice
2-3 medium carrots, 1/2-inch dice
1 pint grape tomatoes
Olive oil
1/2-1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup carrot greens-basil pesto
1 14-ounce box whole grain, multicolor penne
reserved pasta water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Arrange cauliflower, carrots, onions and bell peppers on shallow roasting pan coated with spray oil. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and roast about 20 minutes. Add corn and a little olive oil, if needed. Stir well and return to oven for 10 minutes.

If cauliflower is tender and browned, pluck pieces out and transfer to cutting board. Cook for about 10 minutes more or until vegetables are well caramelized but not dried out.

Coarsely chop cauliflower and transfer to large mixing bowl. Add panful of roasted vegetables and sprinkle lightly with salt, if needed. Place grape tomatoes on emptied pan and drizzle with oil. Roast about about 15 minutes or until they pop and look succulently juicy.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water for a boil. Cook pasta about 8-9 minutes, or as directed on package. Reserve about a cup of pasta water before draining; set pasta water aside.

Add drained pasta to bowl of roasted vegetables along with about a half-cup of pesto and a few tablespoons of pasta water. Stir well to combine. Add most of the roasted tomatoes, reserving a few pretty ones for garnish. Stir well, adding additional pesto and/or pasta water as needed. Scatter reserved tomatoes on top.

Serve right way or at room temperature.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Canning for 'Farm to Fork' – and from his table to yours

Paperless tickets for Sunday's Farm to Form 2012 Picnic are available online and must be purchased in advance.

Chad McIntyre is a little like the guy who needs to make to doughnuts. Except he needs to make summer squash pickles. And he loves doing it.

Chad McIntyre leads a recent canning class
at The Market Restaurant
“I’ve got to pickle four cases for the weekend,” said McIntrye, chef at The Market Restaurant of Raleigh, which will be represented at Sunday's Farm to Fork 2012 Picnic in Hillsborough. “I want to be sure we have enough.”

The annual event, which celebrates the connection between local farmers and chefs, is a perfect fit for McIntyre. In collaboration with Walters Unlimited farm of Efland, he'll cook hickory-smoked brisket on carrot-turnip bread with pickled summer squash and a cilantro cream. He'll also make a version with vegan sausage in place of the brisket. 

McIntrye's creative use of seasonal fare has built a loyal following at The Market, where diners count on meals crafted from whole, all-natural, unprocessed foods gathered from local sources.

The Market has proved so successful, in fact, that McIntyre will temporarily shut down the cozy eaterie in the Mordecai neighborhood in September to relocate just a few blocks south to a larger space at the long-abandoned Person Street Plaza. In addition to more seating, the new spot also will feature a market in which McIntyre will sell both canned goods and canning supplies.

“Canning has become a signature of what we do here at The Market,” said McIntrye, who recently started selling hip T-shirts with the motto I Eat Local … Because I Can. “People expect it, and we like that they do.”

While he’ll eventually offer jams and jellies, sauces and pickles in the shop, McIntyre is not waiting until fall to get started. He's warming up now by leading workshops on how to can at home.

In recent weeks, McIntrye has taught a series of beginner, intermediate and advanced canning classes at The Market on Monday nights, when it's usually closed. The entry level classes have been most popular.

“I think that will continue to be our focus,” he said, noting that more classes will be scheduled in the fall. “People feel better about canning if they have a guide. Anyone who cans knows how easy and rewarding it can be. But sometimes new canners are afraid they’re going to kill someone if they do something wrong.”

In addition to practical, food safety-based instruction and a smattering of preservation history, McIntyre sends every participant home with a copy of the Ball Blue Book, long recognized as a preserver's bible.

To help build canning confidence, McIntrye focuses on high-acid products that yield reliable results, like the squash pickles. Students leave enthused and with a new respect for old traditions, he said. Some have even followed up to report success with making jam or jelly.

“I know how they feel,” he said. “It’s great to capture the freshness of what’s in season so you can enjoy it any time.”

One of the recipes McIntrye shares is the popular picked onions served at The Market. It’s perfect for beginners but yields a sophisticated taste that anyone would enjoy. McIntyre used them in sandwiches and to garnish salads. One batch will fill about six 8-ounce jars, sometimes with enough for an additional 4-ounce jar.

The Market Restaurant's Pickled Onions
½ tsp. pickling spice
½ tsp. turmeric
1½ cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 pinch salt
½ tsp. whole brown mustard seed
½ tsp. celery seed
6-7 cups onions, sliced about 1/4-inch thick (approximately 3 large onions)
  • Prepare jars, lids and rings according to USDA guidelines. Fill jars with raw sliced onion and set aside. 
  • Combine remaining ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring well to incorporate. Pour hot vinegar mix over onions in jars, leaving a half-inch of head space. 
  • Run a knife through jars to break up any air bubbles. Top with lids and adjust bands until snug but not tight.
  • Place jars in water bath with water at least an inch above jars. Process for 10 minutes then remove to a heatproof surface to cool. Allow to mature at least a week before enjoying.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stir-Fried Garlic Kale

I had good intentions to submit this blog in time for the debut of Wok Wednesdays, a new food community blog celebrating Grace Young's James Beard Award-winning book Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge. I also intended to make the recipe as written.

Well, neither happened, but I still think I achieved success.

With advice from Young herself, I tweaked her recipe for Stir-Fried Garlic Spinach to make use of a large bunch of tender kale I had in the refrigerator. It needs to be prepped and cooked a bit differently, but the variation was simple and the results delicious.

Even with young kale, you'll likely need to strip each leaf of its tough core. Stack small handfuls of trimmed leaves and roll like a tight cigar, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips.

In a small bowl, combine a tablespoon each of broth - I used a cube of frozen vegetable stock - sherry and soy sauce. Stir to combine.

Start the stir-fry as described on page 202. After flipping the greens a few times, add soy mixture and cover for 1 minute to steam. Remove lid and stir fry constantly until liquid cooks off. Add salt and sugar as directed. Toss a few more times then transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately.

NOTE: Be sure to check to see how other bloggers addressed this week's recipe, and join us for future posts!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Encore! Reed to return with new barbecue book

John Shelton Reed will be the guest speaker of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.

Six years after John Shelton Reed wrote the definitive book on North Carolina barbecue, he’s been asked to produce an encore.

“I’m not sure the world needs another book on barbecue, but UNC Press wants to include barbecue in its series on Southern food, so I’m happy to do it,” said Shelton, author of Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue (UNC Press, 2008).  He wrote the critically acclaimed volume with his wife, Dale Volberg Reed, and colleague William McKinney.

The as-yet untitled follow-up book probably won’t be published until 2014, but Reed said he’s already decided on most of the side dishes and is making plans to test several new recipes in his new toy.

A few months ago, Reed recalled during a call from his Chapel Hill home, he attended a barbecue catered by Craig Rogers’ Border Springs Farms of Virginia, which is renowned for its lamb. Reed was duly impressed with the quality of the meat, but riding home all he could think about was Rogers’ impressive Viking cooker.

“I’ve got to admit, I coveted it,” Reed said with a laugh. “I came home and checked on eBay, where I found one for half price. I could hardly believe it.”

The impulse purchase of this 455-pound shrine to smoking might get some people in hot water, but Reed is fortunate to have a spouse who is equally crazy about traditional barbecue.

“I am lucky, and we love to cook for friends,” he said. “Of course, I had to put in a pad for it to sit on, so it turned out to be pretty expensive after all, but it works like a charm. Better than I deserve.”

John Shelton Reed
If anyone deserves a state-of-the-art smoker, surely it’s the man who has dedicated much of his professional career to documenting and promoting the labor-intensive efforts of authentic pit masters.

Reed has unabashed admiration for those who continue to cook barbecue the traditional way: low and slow with plenty of wood smoke. He’s likewise dismissive of old stalwarts who have quit cooking with wood, some of whom appear to have committed the ultimate barbecue crime of trying to replace hard-earned flavor with Liquid Smoke.

He considers Keith Allen of Allen & Son in Chapel Hill a prime example of a purist who provides diners with a true Southern barbecue experience.

“He gets up and starts cooking at 3:30 every morning so he can feed people lunch,” Reed said. “There aren’t many left that still do that because it’s very hard work.”

Reed gets a bit irritated at those who balk at paying a fair price that reflects both the hours of labor and cost of quality meat. At Wilber’s in Goldsboro, he said, “You can get a barbecue sandwich that cooked all night long and costs no more than a Big Mac. It’s crazy that they have to compete with guys who use a set-it-and-forget-it cooking method. People have got to charge right or they’ll go out of business.

“There I go. Up on my soap box,” he added with a wry chuckle. “I just hate the idea of losing the old classics. There’s a great working-class tradition that is at risk.”

Much like the recipes in Holy Smoke, Reed’s next book will feature dishes perfected by barbecue greats but focus primarily on traditions that make Southern barbecue unique from one region to the next. He looks forward to cooking some meats he’s never smoked before, especially goat, but draws a clear line that will not be crossed. For example, to be truly inclusive, he’ll include a recipe from a reliable Missouri colleague for barbecued pig snout – but he has no desire to try it.

“I understand it comes out looking something like a dog’s chew toy and doesn’t taste much better,” he said. “Anything that needs to be hidden under a lot of sauce is something I can do without.”

He will apply similar common sense – and a computer spreadsheet – to “construct” a Kansas City barbecue sauce. After all, he has considerable experience consuming the stuff, as well as a vast library of barbecue books.

“I confess: I’ll lay them out and determine what they have in common and what’s just off the wall,” he said. “It won’t be innovative. That’s not the point. I’ll write about what makes something classic, how it evolved and how it’s different from what’s done in other regions.”

Reed is sympathetic to those who righteously believe that Tar Heel barbecue is the best. “In North Carolina, barbecue is kind of like college basketball. Even if you’re not interested in it, you pretend to be.

“If someone asks your preference,” he advised, meaning Eastern vinegar-style or Piedmont tomato-based ‘cue, “you’ve got to have one. It doesn’t entirely matter which, but you’ve got to have a stand.”

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A toast to non-traditional preserves

Paul Virant has a message for home preservers: He wants you to see an empty canning jar as more than a mere vessel for sweet spreads. And he wants you to get out of the box.

“Too many people think they’ve got to buy those boxes of pectin to make jams and jellies, but they don’t,” said Virant, author of The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux (Ten Speed Press) and chef at Chicago’s Vie Restaurant. Substitute patience and great ingredients, he said, and the results will be delicious.

If you don't have a dehydrator, slow roast
strawberries to intensify their flavor
Virant is not overly concerned about creating fruity slathers for toast, though he does offer a number of deeply flavored jams – such as the intense Dehydrated Strawberry, which brings undeniable luster to bread and muffins. Most of his preserving recipes come with tips for how to apply them to everything from cocktails to main courses. His Beer Jam, for example, made with stout and spices (see recipe below), results in a loose jelly that he uses to both punch up a Manhattan and glaze tender beef cheeks.

A batch made with North Carolina’s Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout produced a heady brew that that turned a basic grilled burger into a burnished specialty you’d pay way too much for at a restaurant. It also was great on roast chicken and added an appealing varnish to grilled tofu. Rhubarb Beer jam, which I made with Blue Moon, is an ideal accompaniment to a cheese and charcuterie plate. Virant uses it to jazz up a Normandy, a cocktail featuring Calvados.

Grilled burger glazed with Beer Jam and
topped with gorgonzola and balsamic onions
Using preserved foods in new ways is the main takeaway Virant wants readers to experience. “My style has developed over time to a point where preserves are really incorporated into the food, into sauces, reductions, gastriques, glazes. It’s a major part of the dish, not an accompaniment.”

If you prefer the reliability of added pectin, Virant doesn’t mind. He sometimes adds an all-natural dried apple powder made by Patisfrance, and similar products are available online and at natural food markets. He also provides directions for homemade pectin, which is essentially a lightly-set apple jelly. He uses this in several recipes, but most rely on a long rolling boil and a candy thermometer to establish the desired degree of jelling. 

This is especially true of the recipes that start with a slow maceration, a minimum of overnight or up to a week. This allows busy canners to set fruit in sugar at its peak, condense it for easy refrigerator storage and finish the processing later.

“The nice thing about the maceration method is that you’re actually preserving the fruit before you can,” Virant explained. “For example, you have these incredible ripe blackberries that could spoil before you have time to make jam. It’s an easy thing to bring it to a boil and then refrigerate. You preserve the integrity of the freshness and instead of waiting a few days as it decomposes.”

While his methods and recipes may seem novel, Virant got into canning the way many people do – by cooking with his grandmothers.

“It’s a life’s passion. I have more memories of making pies and cakes, but my grandmother on my mother’s side was really involved in canning,” he said. “For me, the appeal is a lot like making bread or beer. You’re dealing with a living microbe. There’s that element of transforming ingredients and waiting to see what it will be like. Finally opening a pickle or a jar of jam, it’s rewarding.”

Virant’s interest in canning and preserving has an important place in his overall culinary expression. Indeed, it’s proved especially valuable at the restaurant, where preserving excess produce both reduces waste and brings a dash of depth or acidity to balance a dish.

“I’ve always had the problem of going to a farmer’s market and buying more than I need,” he confessed with a laugh. “It’s like the old saying: ‘Eat what you can, and can what you can’t.’”

Golden wheat beer tints savory Rhubarb Beer Jam 
Currently, Virant is obsessed with spring onions, which are just arriving at Chicago farmer’s markets. “There’s a recipe in the book for Smoked and Pickled Spring Onions that I really like. It’s a bit labor intensive, but it’s really worth it.” His also notes how to add the mix into a relish he uses to top chicken-fried steak.

Virant also is on a mission to master pickled okra. “We used a lot of smoked okra, but pickling it is not easy,” he said. “I’ve done it for years but I don’t feel like I’m quite there yet.”

The arrival of spring gives virtually everything in Virant’s gaze potential for preserving and repurposing in the restaurant. He wants home cooks to feel the same way.

“We’re using a lot of rhubarb now, and ramps,” Virant said. “It’s important to build experience before you experiment. If you follow recipes from good sources, you’ll learn pretty quickly how things should look and react. It’s usually pretty obvious if something doesn’t work.”

If you open a canning jar and detect an off odor, or anything about the product looks odd, Virant advised, pitch it. It’s far better to lose a batch than risk making anyone sick.

That said, he added that creative canners should not let such fears hold them back. “Coming up with something new is fun and satisfying,” he said. “You just never know where it will take you.”

Below find a corrected version of the Beer Jam recipe included in The Preservation Kitchen. The first-edition publication inadvertently omitted when to add pectin in the directions (highlighted below). I skipped the star anise as it’s my Voldemort of spices. The result was a bold and full-bodied glaze.

Beer Jam
Reprinted with permission from The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

Yield: 6 half-pint jars, plus 1 (4-ounce) jar

Stout beer
4 (12-ounce) bottles
3 pounds 3 ounces
1,361 grams
4 2/3 cups
2 pounds
907 grams
Lemon, juiced
1 ounce
28 grams
Vanilla beans, split
Allspice berries
Star anise
Orange zest
1 large strip
Pectin (page 000)
1 cup
8 ounces
227 grams

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat, bring the beer, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla beans, allspice berries, cloves, star anise, and orange juice to a boil. Remove from the heat, transfer to a storage container, and refrigerate overnight or up to 5 days.

2. Strain the liquid and save the vanilla beans for another use. Pour into a large, wide pot, stir in the pectin, and bring to a boil over high heat—be careful that the beer doesn’t boil over. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches about 215˚F and has the texture of light syrup, 25-35 minutes.

3. Scald 6 half-pint jars and one (4-ounce) jar. (To scald, using tongs put the jars into a large pot of simmering water fitted with a rack—you will use this pot to process the jars.) Meanwhile, soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the rubber seal. Right before filling, put the jars on the counter.

4. Transfer the jam to a heat-proof pitcher and pour into the jars, leaving a ½-inch space from the rim. (Depending on how much you reduced the jam, you may not need the small jar.) Wipe the rims with a clean towel, seal with the lids, then screw on the bands until snug but not tight.

5. Place the jars in the pot with the rack and add enough water to cover the jars by about 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil and process the jars for 10 minutes (start the timer when the water reaches a boil). Remove the jars from the water and cool completely.

Paul Virant: From smoke to firewater

Kentucky Burnt Apples
Photo credits: Jeff Kauck © 2012
Paul Virant's The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux  is not your typical canning recipe book. Yes, it contains directions for how to make pickles and jams, fermented sauerkrat and cured meats, but it's purpose is intentional in its "cooking with" title and key section labels: First "In the Jar," then "At the Table."

Virant wants the home cook to be as creative in using these recipes as he is in working them into the offerings at Vie Restaurant in Chicago, where they accompany cheese and crackers, glaze entrees and add zing to cocktails. Not surprisingly, they also play a key roles in desserts.

His jar-to-table concept - or in this case, jar-to-bar - is especially well illustrated in the following recipes for Smoked Apple Butter and Burnt Kentucky Apples.

Smoked Apple Butter
Recipes reprinted with permission from The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. 

Makes about 7 pints

Golden apples
10 pounds
4536 grams
Lemon, juice and strips of zest
2 ounces
57 grams
31/2 cups
11/2 pounds
680 grams

Core and halve the apples. Put the cores in a pot with the juice and zest from the lemon. Cover the cores with 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Decrease to a simmer and cook for 1 hour, then strain and discard the solids.
Meanwhile, prepare the smoker. Remove the lid and the large center cylinder. Open the vent in the charcoal basin, ensuring that the holes aren’t blocked by bits of charcoal or ash. Place the center ring down and the charcoal chamber on top of it.  Fill the chamber halfway up with hardwood lump charcoal.
Put about 3 sheets of crumpled newspaper at the base of a heavy-duty chimney starter. Place the chimney on a grate or a heat-proof surface that allows air to flow into its base and light the paper on about 3 sides. After 5 to 10 minutes, the charcoal should start to catch fire, begin to glow red, and turn ashen around the edges.
Dump the contents of the chimney onto the unlit charcoal, using metal tongs to pick up any pieces that stray to the sides. Once the smoke subsides, place three 3- to 5-inch chunks of wood on the charcoal.
Reassemble the smoker: Return the center cylinder (which should be fitted with a water bowl and two grates) on top of the charcoal basin. With a heat-proof pitcher gently pour water through the grates into the bowl, trying not to splash the coals underneath, until it is nearly full. Once the smoke has subsided, about 5 minutes later, put the apples, skin side down, on the top grate and cover with the lid, ensuring that the vent is open.
Smoke the apples for 2 hours between 225˚F and 250˚F, checking only periodically to ensure the coals are still burning (the less you open the lid, the more smoke stays with the fruit). After 2 hours, the apples should be golden brown and tender.
In a large pot, stir together the smoke apples, the strained apple broth, and the sugar. Cover and bring to a boil. Decrease to a simmer and cook gently for 1/2 hour. In batches, puree the apples until smooth, Return to the pot and cook to 200ºF, about 20 minutes.
Scald 7 half-pint jars in a large pot of simmering water fitted with a rack—you will use this pot to process the jars. (Depending on the apples, you might have enough for an additional small, 4-ounce jar.) Right before filling, put the jars on the counter. Meanwhile, soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the rubber seal.
Ladle the apple butter into the jars, leaving a 1/2-inch space from the rim of the jar. Wipe the rims with a clean towel, seal with the lids, then screw on the bands until snug but not tight. 
Place the jars in the pot with the rack and add enough water to cover the jars by about 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil and process the jars for 10 minutes (start the timer when the water reaches a boil). Turn off the heat and leave the jars in the water for a few minutes. Remove the jars from the water and let cool completely.

Kentucky Burnt Apples
Makes 1 cocktail
11/2 ounces bourbon (such as Buffalo Trace)
3/4 ounces apple liqueur (such as Berentzen)
1/2 ounce cane syrup (such as Depaz)
1 ounce lemonade
1 tablespoon Smoked Apple Butter 
Wheat beer
In a tumbler or pilsner glass, stir the bourbon, apple liqueur, cane syrup, lemonade, and apple butter well. Top with a splash of beer and a few ice cubes.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Town lore: Crook’s Corner’s honeysuckle sorbet

This blog was first published by Chapel Hill Magazine.

Most nights in May, right around 6 p.m., Bill Smith walks out the side door of Crook’s Corner with an iced pitcher concealing a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. He heads directly across the street then down a path leading to a tangle of plants and weeds that sprout from the broken asphalt of an abandoned parking lot.

As he approaches a lush thicket one warm Friday night, the humid air hangs like a curtain. Step through it and you’ll be enveloped in the rich perfume of honeysuckles – an aroma so transporting that it instantly beckons forth childhood memories of pulling out the delicate stamens to reveal tiny beads of nectar.

“Sometimes, when the pitcher gets full of blooms, I just like to close my eyes and breathe in the aroma,” Smith says, leaning in as if nosing a snifter of fine cognac. “I’m amazed every time how intense it is.”

It’s not usual for this ritual to attract a crowd. This sultry night draws a young man on a bicycle who rolls in to inspect the harvest. He pauses to pull back his dreadlocks to cool his neck and ask what happening. “We pick these to make sorbet,” Smith says, launching in a polite speech delivered a hundred times each spring.

“That’s really cool that you make something with these,” the fellow says, inhaling deeply as he surveys the seemingly endless supply of weedy blooms. “They smell so good. It must be wonderful.”

It is. Smith’s honeysuckle sorbet is a true rite of spring at Crook’s Corner, the Chapel Hill landmark where whispers and hopeful online postings routinely draw room-filling crowds. Even though the recipe is posted in Smith’s celebrated 2005 book, Seasoned in the South (Algonquin Books), and available from several online links, fans prefer to enjoy it made by the hand of the master.

“It’s part of town lore,” Smith says with an amused shrug and a swig of PBR. “Sometimes, when people hear it’s available, it’s like a riot in here. It’s the same with soft shell crabs. I’ve trained my staff to be clear: We will have it when we open at 5:30. No, we cannot save it for you.”

Despite this, some diners can’t help but make a fuss when the legendary stuff runs out. “I tell them, ‘It’s time to be an adult,’” Smith says, peering over his glasses in a humorous visage of mock scolding. “People do sometimes lose it, but seriously. I mean, we’ll have more.”

Until they don’t. Honeysuckle sorbet is available most nights in May, and sometimes well into June, so long as the bushes are productive. After that, fans must be patient until the following spring.

“We tried to save a batch once as a special treat for New Year’s, but it tasted like sugar and ice,” he recalls. “The flavor just disappeared.”

It took three years for Smith to perfect the recipe, which yields a snowy, fragrant sorbet that he swears is different with every batch. A sampling from different pickings both were exceptionally delicious and refreshing, but in fact, one was decidedly more floral and satisfyingly slushy.

Elizabeth Du Bosc of Chapel Hill has been addicted for years. She stops at Crook’s Corner at least two or three times a week when it’s available, including her May birthday, and gleefully brings friends and family to get them hooked as well.

“You are God’s gift to TASTEBUDS,” she declared recently on her Facebook page, where she also confessed to dabbing a bit behind her ears like perfume. She’s also slurped this season’s treasure wearing a tiara of woven honeysuckle blossoms.

Not everyone is so convinced. At least once a year, Smith says, “I get yelled at by angry botanists. They say things like, ‘Don’t you know that’s an invasive species?’ Good lord. I didn’t plant it, and at least I’m making use of it. It’s silly to castigate me.”

While angry botanists may disapprove, wild honeysuckle can be found on roadsides and along greenways throughout the Piedmont. A forager’s delight, it takes hardly any time to collect enough for a batch of sorbet, which requires little more effort than using an ice cream machine to turn into the stuff of mid-spring’s night’s dream. Smith favors an old-fashioned crank with rock salt, but whatever you’ve got should work.

Honeysuckle Sorbet
@2005 Bill Smith with permission of Algonquin Press.
4 cups (tightly packed buy not smashed) honeysuckle flowers, leaves and stems discarded
5 ½ cups cool water
1 1/3 cups water
2 cups sugar
Few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Speck of cinnamon

Place the flowers in a nonreactive container (glass or stainless steel) and cover with cool water. Weight down with a plate. Let them stand on the counter overnight.

In a small sauce pan make a syrup out of the sugar and water by boiling it until all sugar is dissolved and it begins to look lustrous and slightly thick, 3-5 minutes. Add a few drops of lemon juice to prevent the sugar from recrystalizing. Cool the syrup completely.  Strain the honeysuckle infusion, gently pressing the blossoms so as to not waste any of your previous efforts.  Combine the two liquids and add the merest dusting of cinnamon. You don’t want to taste it but you can tell if it’s not there. Churn in an ice-cream maker. This does not keep more than a week or two.

Crook’s-inspired Honeysuckle Jelly – two ways

This blog was first published by Chapel Hill Magazine.

Honeysuckle sorbet is one of the many signature dishes that makes Crook’s Corner a Chapel Hill landmark. Developed by Chef Bill Smith from a Renaissance-era recipe for jasmine ice, the delicate flavor of this decadent slush inspires near riots in the West Franklin Street eatery every spring.

Smith’s fuss-free recipe is easy to recreate at home, and it converts nicely into a simple but intoxicatingly fragrant jelly. Indeed, the ingredients are nearly identical, with the exception of added low-sugar pectin and canning jars instead of an ice-cream machine.

The Crook’s-inspired Honeysuckle Jelly below is easily tweaked to create a jewel-toned strawberry variation – which no doubt would be insanely good made instead with sun-warmed wild blackberries, which just happen to grow amid Smith’s preferred honeysuckle patch. Either way, the recipes are so simple and reliable that they were used to teach a first-time canner how to make jelly.  

Smith prefers to pick honeysuckles in the evening, when their perfume is heavy, but concedes he’s had delicious results with flowers plucked dewy-fresh is the morning, too. An ideal time is after a rain, when older blooms have shaken loose, leaving the best pickings behind.

The honeysuckles used to make these jellies were gathered along the greenway of our North Raleigh neighborhood, but they can be found in plentiful supply along roadsides and other places where weeds thrive. Be careful to choose bushes that have not been chemically treated, and ask permission as appropriate.

You’ll likely observe a lot of variation – some flowers are pure white to the stem while others reveal a tender blush of pink, and the petals will range from white to buttery yellow. Avoid ones that are dark yellow or shriveled as they may be bitter, and for goodness sake, don’t bother pinching off the tiny green bases.

“Some people think I actually do that at the restaurant, or use just the stamens because that’s their childhood experience with honeysuckles,” Smith says with a chuckle. “If I did that, I’d never get around to making anything.”

Honeysuckle Jelly
4 cups (tightly packed buy not smashed) honeysuckle flowers, leaves and stems discarded
5 cups cool water
1 package low-sugar pectin (such as Sure-Jell in the pink box)
3 cups sugar
½ tsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Speck of cinnamon

Prepare a dozen 4-ounce jelly jars (or comparable assortment) according to USDA guidelines.

Place the flowers in a nonreactive container (glass or stainless steel) and cover with cool water. Weight down with a plate. Sit on counter overnight or at least 8 hours. Drain mixture through a jelly bag or cheesecloth-lined colander. Measure 4½ cups honeysuckle stock; discard blooms.

In a deep, heavy-bottom pot – I use a pasta pot – pour in stock and add package of pectin and ¼ cup sugar. Over medium-high heat, stir until sugar and pectin are fully incorporated. Stirring often, add butter and bring mixture to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.

When at a full bubble, add the rest of the sugar all at once, plus the lemon juice and cinnamon. Stir frequently until mix returns to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Use a timer or count off 60 seconds. Transfer pot to heatproof surface.

If necessary, skim any foam with a tight mesh strainer. Carefully pour hot jelly into prepared jars, top with warmed lids and finger-tighten screw-on bands. Place jars in water bath and boil for about 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let the jars settle for about 5 minutes, then carefully remove and set on a heatproof surface where they can remain undisturbed until cooled and set.

Don’t worry if the jelly does not set quickly. It should firm up nicely by the next day, but if it doesn’t, fear not. You can now boast of having made amazing honeysuckle syrup, great in cocktails or drizzled on desserts. If you’re daring, you can even dab a drop behind your ears.

2 cups fresh strawberries, coarsely chopped
5 cups water

Add strawberries to water in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Drain through jelly bag or cheesecloth-lined colander and discard remaining strawberry mush.

From this point on, continue as described in the original Honeysuckle Jelly Recipe, substituting 5 cups of strawberry water for plain water.