Cookbooks: Bring It!

I have long believed that when it comes to entertaining, most people can roughly be broken down into two groups. There are potluck people and dinner party people. My friend Cindy is most decidedly a dinner party person. She likes to control the menu and create an experience for her friends. I am more of a potluck person. I love the uncertainty of inviting people to bring with them whatever they’re moved to make.

I have definite opinions of what makes a good potluck dish (ideally something that can be served at room temperature and can be eaten from a plate with a fork). I’m forever curious about the recipes that other people prefer for potlucks and so make a point of checking out new potluck cookbooks whenever one is published.

The latest book on the topic to come to market is Ali Rosen’s Bring It! Ali is the force behind Potluck Video, a video series that you can find online and on NYC Life on Thursday nights.

This book is broken up into seven chapters. It opens with an introductory section that offers tips on How to Bring It. From there, it moves into Hors d’Oeuvres and Dips, Salads, Casseroles/Pastas/Tarts, Meats and Fish, Veggies and Grains, and Desserts.

There’s plenty of appealing food in this book (though I find the photography style a little unsettling. The lighting feels excessively artificial). In addition to the dishes pictured throughout this post, I’ve marked the Grits Casserole (page 106), the Cherry Tomato Tart (page 117), and the Farro with Charred Vegetables (page 188) as things I hope to make.

If you’re someone who attends regular potlucks and needs new inspiration, this book will certainly be of use!

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How to Make Paneer Cheese

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones is here today to show us how to make homemade paneer cheese with just two simple ingredients – milk and lemon juice! Reading this post immediately makes me crave dairy products! -Marisa

Slices of homemade paneer cheese

We often preserve to capture height-of-season flavors or produce we can’t get for most of the year. But oftentimes in my kitchen, preserving happens in an effort to curb food waste.

That’s how I first learned to make paneer, the springy, fresh cheese that shows up as the protein in some of my favorite Indian dishes. It’s one of the quickest dairy products to make, and also one of the easiest. All you need is milk, lemon juice or vinegar, and a little salt.

Milk and lemon juice for homemade paneer cheese

One of the reasons to make cheese like this is to use up milk that’s right at or even a tiny bit past its sell-by date. Just make sure to give it a good sniff and then use your good sense and best judgment.

That said, when the list is so short, using the best ingredients you can afford is always a good idea.  I source whole raw Ayreshire milk from a small grass-fed dairy here in southeast Pennsylvania, Wholesome Dairy Farms, for both drinking and making value-added dairy products.

Milk separating into curds for homemade paneer cheese.

I find that even when I’m pasteurizing the milk for a recipe, the yields on items like yogurt, whole-milk ricotta, and paneer are higher, and the product just tastes better when I’ve started with raw milk. We’re lucky that raw milk is so available in Pennsylvania. If you can get your hands on it from a reputable source in your state, I recommend doing so, even if you plan to pasteurize it in your recipe.

While we’re heating the milk for this recipe far past the pasteurization point, it’s still a good idea to remember that the very young, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems carry a greater risk when consuming unpasteurized milk products.

Pressing the homemade paneer cheese.

To start your cheese, pour one half gallon of milk into a four-quart, heavy-bottomed pot (I use my enameled Dutch oven). Heat the milk over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally and feeling along the bottom of the pot with your spoon to make sure that it isn’t scorching. Keep a close eye on the pot so that it doesn’t boil over.

You want to get to a little below the boiling point, about 200oF. You can use an instant-read or milk thermometer for this, or you can watch for when tiny bubbles start to form on the surface of the milk. When you see the bubbles, immediately remove the pot from the heat.

Pressed homemade paneer cheese in the strainer.

Once you’ve reached the proper temperature, stir in lemon juice. This will cause the milk solids to immediately begin separating out. As the milk sits, the solids will continue to coagulate.

Strain the curds, then press out the remaining liquid in cheesecloth or butter muslin (I prefer butter muslin for home cheesemaking since it’s washable and reusable; cheesecloth is one-time use only). Press and refrigerate the cheese for at least a half an hour or overnight.

Homemade paneer cheese, unwrapped from the butter muslin.

Once the cheese is full drained, unwrap the bundle. Now you’re ready to add chunks of paneer to a curry or other dish, or — my favorite — fry slices up in some ghee and enjoy them with flaky sea salt and maybe a dollop of tomato jam or a slab of quince paste.

Bits of fried homemade paneer cheese.

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Cookbooks: Eating From the Ground Up

I the kind of cook who tucks vegetables into nearly everything I cook. My turkey chili always includes wilted Swiss chard. I prefer my eggs perched on a bed of sauteed spinach or zucchini. And if I’m making a sandwich, I pile it high with sliced cucumber, lettuce, and ribbons of carrot. This habit of mine doesn’t always thrill my husband (he grew up with a mother who was less of a produce pusher than mine), but after 10+ years together, he’s gotten used to it.

All that said, I confess to having a somewhat limited repertoire of vegetable dishes. I rotate through steaming, roasting, and sauting most things. This gets the job done, but can lead to a certain weariness. However, recently my vegetable cookery has received a much-needed shot in the arm.

This is all thanks to Alana Chernila’s gorgeous new book, Eating From the Ground Up. Many of you might be familiar with Alana’s previous books, The Homemade Pantry and The Homemade Kitchen, as well as her blog (it shares a name with this new book).

What I love about this book is that it tackles vegetables from a number of different directions, all with delicious results. The book opens with a section entitled Barely Recipes. These are ideal for busy weeknights, when you need to get dinner on the table and value speed and flavor.

After that, you’ll find A Pot of Soup (filling and deeply savory), Too Hot to Cook (perfect for deep summer, when it doesn’t take much to make a flavorful meal), Warmth and Comfort (many of these make a main dish out of veg), and the final chapter, Celebrations and Other Excuses to Eat With Your Hands (with a title like that, it needs no additional description).

This book should be on your shelf if you keep a backyard garden, shop farmers markets, subscribe to a CSA share, or simply love vegetables. It’s one that I know I’ll turn to again and again.

Thanks to Clarkson Potter, I have a copy of this lovely book to giveaway this week. Please use the widget below to enter.

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Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book and the giveaway copy at no cost to me. No additional compensation was provided and all opinions are entirely my own.

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Links: Stewed Rhubarb, Wilted Greens Pesto, and Winners

By the time you read this, Scott and I will be on a plane to Ireland! We’re heading off on a bit of vacation and I could not be more excited for the break from real life. I have some posts scheduled to run while I’m away and I’ll be dropping in now and then with some pictures from our travels. Additionally, thanks to the purchase of Irish SIM cards, I’ll be sharing snippets on Instagram (both in my feed and the Stories), so make sure to follow if you want to see some of our adventures. Now, links!

  • Because we’re having a long, cold spring, local rhubarb hasn’t appeared in any stores or markets yet. But I know it’s coming. When it does, I will make some of this gorgeous braised rhubarb.
  • Creamy date caramel. I’m making a “date” with this one as soon as I get back from my trip.
  • Wilted greens pesto. Deliciously preventing food waste is the best.
  • Nothing helps unify leftovers and make them feel like a fresh meal than a tasty sauce. This trio of sauces would all make your refrigerator proud.
  • Add some pickled red onions or tomato jam to this savory Dutch baby and I’m all in.
  • In anticipation of Ashley English’s new book (Southern from Scratch!), you should make a batch of her pickled eggs.
  • Wild garlic soda bread. I bet you could make this with ramps or even scallion greens to similar effect.

Last week, I ran a giveaway of silicone jar sleeves from Mason Jar Lifestyle. The winners on the blog are Annie Wyatt and Kelly Kerr. The Instagram winner is #1129/Meg Myers. Congratulations!

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How to Make Beet Raisins

Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops in to show us how to simmer and dry beet slices into beet raisins. It’s a great project for this in-between time, when we’re waiting for spring produce to arrive! -Marisa

Small slices of beets on a dehydrator tray will become beet raisins.

I’m not much of a cooking competition show watcher. The exceptions are the original Japanese Iron Chef, which I followed voraciously back in high school, The Great British Baking Show (of course), and a brief foray into MasterChef Junior — all shows that avoid the cutthroat, stressful nature of most reality TV.

So I can’t really blame myself for not knowing about beet raisins, with which chef Carrie Baird of Denver’s Bar Dough wowed the judges during an episode of Top Chef last year.

Cut beets on a cutting board for beet raisins.

A poster on the Food in Jars Community Facebook group mentioned them recently, and I was instantly fascinated. Beets are the kind of veggie I always wish I used more often. Now that I have an Instant Pot, it’s easy to quickly prep a bunch for a week of salads, but that’s as about as creative as I’ve gotten with them lately.

And while I’m waiting for the ever-so-slow unfolding of spring here in Philly, farmers’ market stands still have tons of sturdy storage beets in red and gold, harvested months ago. With strawberries still weeks away and grapes for actual raisins not available until high summer, I had to try this recipe.

Cut and peeled beets for beet raisins.

Baird’s recipe calls for melon balling the raw beets into uniform spheres, which is far more work than I wanted to put in. (A melon baller is also not one of the many culinary tools in my kitchen, and if I’ve managed to avoid getting one for this long, it’s not gonna happen now.)

So I peeled and trimmed my organic red beets, then halved them and cut each halves into five roughly equal slices, about half an inch thick and an inch or so long — cutting the pointy end, then slicing the remainder into quarters.

Cut beets in a pot that will become beet raisins.

Slices rather than balls also reduces waste, giving you more beet raisin for your buck. (My cuts gave me larger pieces in the end; if you want something more raisin-sized, do cuts closer to 1/2″ all around and cut the drying time.) The slices went into a pot with vinegar, sugar, water, and a pinch of salt.

Baird uses champagne vinegar, which you’re welcome to do; I used apple cider vinegar, because that’s what I had on hand (and I’m not trying to win a high-stakes cooking competition).

The slices simmered till they were very soft but not disintegrating, about two hours. Then, I drained the liquid — which you could use to make salad dressing, or add a little more salt and use it to quick-pickle some thinly-sliced hakurei turnips, for example — and let the slices cool for a bit.

Side view of beet slices on a dehydrator tray for beet raisins.

The cooked beet “grapes” then went into my Excalibur dehydrator at at 135oF, which is the setting recommended for fruit. After two hours, the beets were showing signs of dehydration, but their texture was still more like beets than raisins.

I upped the temperature to 145oF, which is the temperature I include in the recipe below. The beets took another three hours or so until they were sufficiently raisinlike for me to pull them out — next time, I might just turn the dehydrator up all the way to 155oF and see if that helps to shorten the dehydration time without overdrying.

When I did, they were wrinkly, chewy and toothsome, and pleasantly sweet and a little tart — just like real raisins! They’re super snackable and would be delicious in a bowl of yogurt with granola, or on a kale salad, as Baird served them on Top Chef. I could also see using them to top a tzatziki-esque cucumber salad along with lots of dill, toasted slivered almonds, and a pillowy pita.

Finished beet raisins in a small bowl.

They’re not quite as simple as stemming grapes and tossing them onto a dehydrator rack, but I’ll definitely be making these beet raisins again. Would you give them a try? Tell us in the comments!

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Giveaway: Silicone Sleeves from Mason Jar Lifestyle

Mason jars serve play many roles in my life. Of course, I use them for canning. But I also put them to work holding pantry staples, vinaigrettes and sauces, leftovers, and a wide array of drinks. I often brew loose leaf tea in a quart jar and when the weather gets warmer, a Pint & Half jar filled with ice coffee is my vessel and beverage of choice.

The one problem with using mason jars as drinking glass/travel mug is the breakability factor. Happily, thanks to the folks at Mason Jar Lifestyle, I now have a collection of silicone sleeve for every size jar possible. They help cushion my jars, they serve as a heatproof barrier when I fill a jar with coffee or tea, and they prevent the jars from sweating when I use them for cold drinks. All in all, it’s a really awesome accessory.

Mason Jar Lifestyle make silicone sleeves that fit quarter pints (so adorable!), wide mouth half pints (these are great for those times when you use your jars to pack snacks), regular mouth half pints, pint jars (both regular and wide mouth), my beloved Pint & Half jars, and even for quart jars. They also come in an array of fun colors.

All the larger sleeves have small holes in the bottom, to make it easier to slide the sleeves on and off the jars (the little ones don’t, but they’re still pretty easy to put on and then remove for cleaning). My sister has a stash of these sleeves that she keeps on a set of regular mouth half pints for her kids, and she leaves them on the jars and runs them through the dishwasher with the sleeves in place.

I like to pair these silicone sleeves with a drink topper and a glass straw when I’m sitting at my desk, to prevent messes and potential spills.

This week, I’m giving away two full sets of silicone sleeves here on the blog and another set over on Instagram. Make sure to enter in both places to increase your chances of winning!

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