Chutney

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I truly love condiments, especially those seasonally-based, like chutneys. And, because I love to “play” in the kitchen and use whatever ingredients I have on hand or am in the mood to use, I wanted to show how easy it is to make your own chutney sans recipe.

It’s about creating a chutney that you love, customizing the ingredients to your tastes, according to the seasons. Indulge. Chutneys are fabulous.

I have an actual recipe following this “primer” of chutney making below, but seriously once you make a chutney, you’ll see how creative you can be and how well they turn out. A recipe is not necessary.

Create Your Own Chutney

A chutney is about combining fruits – the sweet factor, and aromatics – the savory factor, and then adding seasoning and flavorings.

The sweet-savory ratio is important, however. I use about 2/3 fruit to 1/3 aromatics in my chutneys. You don’t want it all fruit, or it would be a jam.

I season the chutney according to my tastes and the time of year. There are spicy fall and winter chutneys, and there are light, vibrant chutneys you can make for spring and summer appearances as well. (Like my Strawberry Onion Chutney.) It’s all about seasonal ingredients.

Fruit:
You can use fresh fruit: apple, pear, mango, apricot, plum, cranberries, strawberries, peach, etc.
And you can use dried fruit: cranberries, cherries, figs, apricots, raisins, dates, blueberries, etc.
A combination of fresh and dried makes a nice consistency, like pear-dried fig, peach-raisin, apple-dried apricot. Using three fruits works really well, like apple-mango-dried cherry. Or cranberry-apple-date. You get the idea.

If you’re using dried fruits like raisins or cherries, you can soak them in port or fruit juice first to soften them and soak up the flavors, then use it all in the chutney-making process.

Aromatics:
I always use a combination of fresh onion, garlic, and sometimes shallots and fresh ginger. You definitely need onion; the rest is optional.

Sugar:
There is always a sweet component in chutney to balance the aromatics. If you’re using tart cranberries, you would definitely need more sugar than if you were using, say, ripe peaches or strawberries. You can use brown sugar, white sugar, turbinado sugar and so forth. Liquid forms of sugar don’t work well in chutney, because they’re too, well, liquid. A prepared chutney is soft, but not a pile of syrupy mush. But you can add a teaspoon of maple syrup or boiled cider.

Seasonings:
Except for salt, you don’t have to season a chutney at all, although I happen to love black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne.

For fall and winter chutneys, I like them full of flavor – especially when they’re going to be served alongside fairly bland meats. The choices are vast, depending what you want your chutney to taste like.

I, personally, love that what curry powder adds to a chutney. But separately, you can use cumin, cardamom, coriander, etc. A cinnamon stick adds flavor while the chutney is cooking, but ground cinnamon can be used as well. And nutmeg, cloves, and allspice are always yummy. Think of them in an apple-pear-dried fig chutney served with a pork loin. YUM.

Another fun ingredients are small pieces of crystallized ginger.

You can also add ground chile pepper, like ancho or even chipotle powders, to a chutney. And also adobo or adobo powder – especially if you’re making the chutney for a Southwestern-inspired meal.

Vinegar:
Any vinegar will work in a chutney. I love cider vinegar and red wine vinegar, but a white balsamic vinegar works well also. Nothing fancy is required.

Cranberry Apple Raisin Chutney

2 tablespoons grape seed oil
1 purple onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 12 ounce bag cranberries, rinsed, sorted
1 apple, peeled, cored, finely chopped
1 cup golden raisins, loosely packed
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cinnamon stick, optional
2 teaspoons vinegar

Add the oil to a hot stock pot and let it heat over medium. Add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes, without allowing browning.

Give the garlic a stir into the onions, then add the cranberries, apple, and raisins. Stir together.

Allow to heat up, then add the sugar, cinnamon, curry powder, salt, and the cinnamon stick.


Stir well, then cover the pot, turn down the heat to a simmer, and let cook for at least 15 minutes. It will look like this.

Add a couple teaspoons of vinegar and stir in gently. Unless there’s excess liquid, remove the pot from the heat.

Let the chutney cool, remove the cinnamon stick, then store in sterilized jars.


It freezes well.

Not only does this chutney go beautifully with Thanksgiving turkey, but also with chicken and pork. Here I’ve served it with roasted pork and sweet potatoes.


As you can see, there’s a lot of leeway when creating a chutney. They can be simple or complicated from an ingredient standpoint, but they are very easy to prepare.

Chutney is also wonderful topping a baked Brie, and can be used in individual Brie and chutney bites.

Just remember to cook off any extra liquid over extremely low heat, and also don’t overstir. You want to see the beautiful pieces of fruit in your beautiful chutney!

Foie Gras

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If I were ever asked what my last meal would be, it wouldn’t be a difficult answer. Foie gras, seared gently and cooked medium-rare, served with a compote of sorts and some toasts. It’s heaven on a plate to me.

Sadly, I can count the number of people I know who love liver as much as I do on one finger. So as a result, I’ve rarely prepared it.


Fortunately, I am able to buy beef liver where I live, and do enjoy it on occasion, typically with eggs and lots of browned onions.

And, I am able to purchase chicken liver in order to make chicken liver paté.

But there is just no comparing a slice of beef liver, or puréed chicken livers to the wonderfulness that is foie gras, and it was high time I purchased it.

My source for foie gras is the wonderful store and website D’Artagnan. The founder of D’Artagnan is Ariane Daguin, and her story is inspirational.

I purchased two lobes from D’Artagnan – one to cook sliced, and the other to make a paté for the holidays.

I chose to serve the foie gras with beet pancakes, which I made simply with grated beets, chopped shallots, egg, and flour.

Because fruit pairs so well with foie gras, I poached apple slices in a combination of apple nectar and maple syrup until soft, then reduced the liquid until syrupy.

Sometimes there is confusion, as one can make paté from liver, or one can make paté from foie gras, as my friend Stéphane did when I visited him at his home five long years ago. I got to help a little!

To prepare the foie gras, slice the lobe gently but firmly. Place the slices on a plate, and season with salt and pepper.

I like to cook foie gras in browned butter. I prefer a lighter sear, so I immediately turned down the fire after turning over the foie gras slices.

It only takes a few minutes per side, depending on the thickness. As I mentioned, I love foie gras medium rare. To the plate with 2 slices of foie gras I added a beet pancake, some of the nectar-poached apples, and then poured on a little syrup.


The combination was perfection, if I may say so myself!

I included the beet pancake for color, but one could place the foie gras slices on bread slices optionally.

If all you’ve heard about foie gras is the inhumane treatment of ducks and geese, please read this article by my favorite Serious Eats writer J. KENJI LÓPEZ-ALT. The article is well-researched, educational, and also based on personal experience.

Pumpkin Pancakes

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Pumpkin is not only for Thanksgiving time, or for just making pumpkin pie. After all, it is a squash. It’s healthy, delicious, and really versatile.

I used to make pumpkin pancakes year-round for my daughters when they were growing up. They loved the pancakes and, unbeknownst to them, the pancakes were terribly healthy.

This is a version of what I made for them:
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Pumpkin Pancakes with Raisins and Walnuts

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup milk – almond, soy, hemp, whatever you prefer
2 eggs
3/4 cup pumpkin purée
Ground walnuts, optional
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup whole-grain pancake mix
Butter
Maple syrup, or agave syrup

Place the raisins in a small bowl. Pour the milk over them and let them sit for about 15 minutes, or even overnight in the refrigerator. Warm the milk slightly if the raisins are hard.


In a separate larger bowl, add the eggs and pumpkin and whisk until smooth.

Stir in the walnuts, cinnamon, and the raisins with the milk.
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Gradually add the pancake mix, but don’t overstir. You might have to adjust the quantity.

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Place about one tablespoon of butter in a skillet or on a griddle. Heat it up over medium-high heat. I let my butter brown and even burn a little.
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When the butter is ready, make pancakes with the batter, spreading it evenly. Let cook for about a minute, then turn over, turn down the heat a little, and cook them for about 2 minutes. I like the outsides browned, but the insides need to be cooked through.
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When the pancakes have cooked, place them on a plate and continue with the remaining batter.
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Of course I add more butter to the warm pancakes.

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This recipe makes about one dozen pancakes, about 3″ round or so.
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Drizzle with maple syrup.

Enjoy!
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note: Children may not like the walnuts unless they’re more finely chopped. Oats that have been soaked in liquid are another option for added texture and nutrition.

Yeasted Brown Butter Waffles

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I’d like to think that I’m pretty organized when it comes to kitchen equipment and gadgets. I’m blessed with a large basement, and I’ve installed four large shelving units to hold items that are not used often – like tortilla presses, raclette grills, random bakeware, and so forth.

But the other day when I got my ebleskiver pan out of my pantry, mind you, not from the basement, I noticed it was right next to a mini waffle pan. For the life of me, I do not remember if I purchased this thing or it was a gift. And how I hadn’t noticed it for years since I organized my pantry, is beyond me. One side of my pantry is food, the other side is a wall of pots and pans, inspired by the way Julia Child would hang her pots and pans, except I don’t have to draw outlines with magic marker.

So my Dutch friend Stefan (I can really call him that because I’ve actually met the young and talented chef) had commented on my ebleskiver, mentioning a yeasted version he made on his blog, called Poffertjes. Here is the post for them here.

I was really intrigued by the fact that these very similar pancake “balls” are made with a yeasted batter including buckwheat flour. I’ve made blini before, which seems like it would be the savory sister to Poffertjes.

Not everyone in my family likes buckwheat, so I checked on Epicurious, and found a browned butter yeasted pancake batter. On the day after Christmas, I made mini waffles. There was nothing really different about the batter, except for the yeast, and the inclusion of a lot of browned butter.

Here’s the recipe I used:

Browned Butter Waffles
adapted from Epicurious here

1 1/2 sticks butter, or 6 ounces
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups white flour, sifted
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

First brown the butter in a small pan on the stove over medium heat. Adjust the heat if any burning occurs.


Once the butter has browned, remove the pan from the heat.

Meanwhile, pour the milk and buttermilk into a large bowl. Slowly heat the milks until warm. You should be able to stick your finger into the milk comfortably. If it’s lukewarm, heat a little more. If it’s too hot, stir until it cools. The temperature should be approximately 110 degrees, if you prefer to use a thermometer.

Add the yeast, sugar, and salt, and let everything just rest for about 5 minutes.
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Whisk together, then sift in the flour.
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Whisking the whole time, whisk in the browned butter.
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Notice the little bits of browned butter in the batter? Gorgeous!
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Cover with plastic wrap and let set for 12 hours.

When you’re ready to make waffles, Add 2 eggs and the baking soda to the batter and whisk until smooth.
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Have your special waffle pan ready.

I poured the batter into one of those ketchup-looking plastic bottles to make pouring easier. I also used a butter spray. I don’t like to use the spray, but there’s a significant amount of butter in the batter, and I thought spray might make the waffle-making process go a little more quickly.
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Heat the waffle pan over medium to low heat, depending on your stove. The waffles take about 8 minutes to cook through, so you don’t want them browning too much on the bottom. When using this kind of pan, the waffles don’t get turned over.
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The most fun was testing the doneness of the waffles. What a fabulous texture and flavor. Just a touch of soudough from the 12-hour batter.
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I got a little better at not overfilling the waffle indentations, as well. To remove the waffles, simply turn the pan upside down over a platter.

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Repeat with remaining batter.

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I can’t tell you how many waffles this pan made, because people kept coming through the kitchen and eating them. The recipe says it makes 8 servings, but I think it’s more like 16 servings. They are light, though.
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I will definitely make this recipe again. Really good flavor and texture, and the pan is fun. Although, of course, these could also be pancakes…

Buttternut Squash Aigre Doux

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If any of you have been following my blog for a year, and merci for that, you might remember when I made something called cranberry aigre doux. I made three jars of these cranberries essentially cooked in wine and vinegar. The recipe came from a very interesting book on canning called the Preservation Kitchen, by Paul Virant.

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In a follow-up post, I strained the cranberries from the liquid, reduced the liquid, and then poured everything over a room temperature block of cream cheese. My daughter claimed it tasted like Christmas! It was indeed good, and I’d also made the blueberry version of his in the summer before I started blogging so it’s not documented; it was equally delicious.

These posts no longer exist because I need to re-do them.

But I became even more intrigued with whatever Mr. Virant means by his terminology of aigre doux when I saw his recipe for butternut squash aigre doux. Okay, now I get it for cranberries and blueberries. But now for a winter squash? A vegetable? Of course, I had to make it. So here it is.

Butternut Squash Aigre Doux

1 good-sized butternut squash
1 large white onion, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sherry
1 cup maple syrup

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I used this sherry. It wasn’t good for drinking because I prefer sweeter sherry.

Have all of your canning supplies available and ready to go. I used one large jar that held the whole butternut squash, but you can use smaller jars, of course. make sure everything is sterilized.

Peel the squash, cut off the ends, and then slice it once lengthwise. Remove the seeds. Then cut each half lengthwise again.

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Slice 1/4″ slices crosswise and place in a large Dutch oven. Slice the onion crosswise into thin slices and add to the squash in the pot, and add the salt.

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Then pour on the sherry and maple syrup.
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Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat. Simmer the squash for about 30 minutes, stirring it around one time during the cooking process. You want it tender, but not mush. Let everything cool with the lid off.

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Using a slotted spoon, place the squash and onions in your sterilized jar.

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Add the sherry vinegar to the remaining liquid in the pot. Cook the liquid gently for about 10 minutes. I actually placed all the liquid in a different pan that had a pourable side.

Using a funnel with a strainer at the bottom, pour in the liquid until it comes no more than 1″ from the base of the lid. Cover the lid, but not too tightly.

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Process the jar or jars, under 1″ of water, at the correct temperature according to the thermostat on your canning pot, for 10 minutes. Remove the jar from the water, and let it cool.

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Store it as you would any thing that you’ve canned before, preferably a cool, dark place like a cellar or basement.

So then, what in the world to do with this butternut squash? Well, for me, the answer was simple. A salad! But a hearty salad. I’ve been making lots of bean and lentil salads lately, being that it’s winter time, so I reached for orzo instead.

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I put together a salad of spinach, purple cabbage, tomatoes, purple onion, orzo, butternut squash aigre-doux style, and some toasted pine nuts. Of course, I added a little salt and pepper.
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And the dressing? Simply some delicious balsamic vinegar and olive oil – both of which my daughters had bought me as Christmas presents! The vinegar matched beautifully with the somewhat maple syrup-sweetened butternut squash. I wish I could have shared.

verdict: I’ll probably not make this again. But that’s not to say it isn’t good, because it is. Mostly, the butternut squash slices taste like they were infused with maple syrup, although, fortunately, they’re not too sweet. Honestly, it was a waste of a lot of good sherry, maple syrup, and sherry vinegar. And some time that I’ll never get back. But if you’re feeling adventurous, go for it!