Friday, August 24, 2012

Whole Foods Friday: Spread the word

Most people have an idea how to grill a steak or roast a chicken, but when it comes to fancy things that are usually purchased in little jars or come from bowls behind the deli counter, it becomes more mysterious.

I'm here to take some of the mystery out of it. And in some cases, the mystery is miniscule.

Tomato time!

If you have a juicer, tomato jam is incredibly simple, requiring nothing more than a long cooking time, mostly unattended. What's left is much like tomato paste, but with a fresher flavor than what you'll find in cans or tubes. I wouldn't use that paste as a spread, but I'd use this jam.

If you don't have a juicer, you've got some added prep time, but it's not difficult.

You can use this jam as a spread on sandwiches, or dollop it on pizza. Or, if you must, you can use it like tomato paste in recipes. You might like it so much that you find yourself making it in larger and larger quantities to keep up with the demand.

The good news is that it freezes well.

Tomato Jam

1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon salt

If you have a juicer, run the tomatoes through the juicer to separate the juice and flesh from the skin and seeds. If the rejected skin and seed pulp seems wet, run it though the juicer again to extract as much as possible.

If you don't have a juicer, you still need to remove the seeds and skin. You can blanch the tomatoes and peel them and seed them. Or quarter them, cook them until soft, and run them though a food mill or strainer.

When you've got that done (see, wasn't it easier in a juicer?) put the liquid in non-reactive pan with a heavy bottom, add the salt, and simmer, stirring occasionally to keep it from burning. This process will move along faster in a wide, shallow pan that encourages evaporation, but a saucepan works, too.

As the mixture gets thicker, you'll want to stir more often. Lower the heat, if it seems to be sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Continue cooking until the jam is thick and it sounds like it's frying rather than bubbling. You should have about 1/2 cup of the jam.

Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if needed. This isn't a sweet jam, but if it seems too tart you can add a bit of honey or sugar. Chill until needed.

Leeks aren't just for soup...

Leeks aren't just big fat onion stalks - they have a taste of their own. This jam included both leeks and onions for both flavor and texture.

What can you do with this jam? It's great on sandwiches, either warm or room temperature, and it makes a nice accent on a cheese-topped cracker. I particularly like it with soft cheeses like chevre or cream cheese.

Speaking of cream cheese, you could also combine this with cream cheese, thin it with a little milk, and use it as a chip dip or thin it more, add a few herbs, and use it for a salad dressing.

I'm sure you can think of plenty of other uses.

I started this off in the crock pot, but you can certainly do all the cooking on the stove.

Leek and Onion Jam

3 leeks
1 large onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter

Slice the leeks in half lengthwise and cut the white parts and tender green parts into half-moons. Rinse them several times in water - leeks are notoriously dirty. Drain them (they don't need to be dry, but you don't need the extra water) and place them in your slow cooker.

Dice the onion and add that to the slow cooker. Add the butter and salt, and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

After cooking time is up, the leeks and onions should be very tender. Transfer them, and all the juices, to a pan on the stove. Cook, stirring as needed, until all the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables begin to brown just a little bit.

Use immediately or transfer to a container and store in the refrigerator until needed.

These are best served slightly warm, hot, or just barely at room temperature. When they are fully chilled, the butter hardens and it's not the best texture.

What am I? Chopped liver?

Growing up, I was the kid who loved liver in all forms - liver and onions, liverwurst, and chicken livers were all okay with me. Later, I learned about pate.

My mother insisted that hand-chopped chicken livers were the best, but on occasion she'd resort to using a blender or food processor to puree the livers, resulting in a smooth consistency that can't be achieved by hand.

You can make these either way, but I suggest you try hand-chopping at least once. Not only is there more texture, but the spread seems lighter and fluffier.

This is best served on a cracker, small rounds or squares of toasted bread, or on cocktail rye. We like to garnish it with some chopped raw onion.

Chopped Chicken Livers

1 tablespoon butter
1 pound chicken livers
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
2 hard boiled eggs
Broth, neutral oil, or clarified butter, as needed

Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the livers, onion, salt, and sage. Cook until the onions are softened and the liver is cooked through. Its perfectly fine if you break up the livers as they cook - there's no need to keep them whole.

Transfer the cooked liver and onion to a cutting board and chop the heck out of it with a large knife. It should be somewhat smooth, but still with some small bits. You can do this in batches, if it's easier. And you do want to do this while the livers are still warm. If you chill them first, it won't be as easy to chop them and get the right consistency.

Chop the eggs finely and add them to the livers. Stir to combine, taste for seasoning, and add salt, if desired. Refrigerate until fully chilled.

Before serving, taste the livers again and add more salt, if necessary. If the mixture seems too stiff and tastes dry, you can add a bit of clarified butter or oil, or even some chicken broth, to get it to the right consistency. Stir well and serve chilled or at room temperature.
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