August 15, 2014

I’m just back from vacation and too jet-lagged to write. Here’s a  column from my 2005 Second Helpings newsletter for you to enjoy.

Don’t forget to send me an email about anything noteworthy you consumed on your vacation this summer.. The reader who sends the best email (describing the most unusual, fabulous or bizarre food) will receive a free copy of my cookbook, “Jane Snow Cooks.” Please put  “Food” in the subject line of your email.

Dear friends:

I spent an hour making a grilled-vegetable-phyllo appetizer and about five minutes figuring out how to use up the rest of the phyllo dough. Guess which recipe turned out to be the winner?

The grilled vegetables with basil and goat cheese baked in phyllo was pleasant, but not great. For great, you have to throw a few chunks of goat cheese in a phyllo-lined pie plate and top it with half a jar of hot pepper jam. Boy, was this appetizer great. I took it to a meeting and begrudged my friends every slice. I saved a couple for breakfast the next day.

The flavor combination of fresh cheese and hot pepper jam isn’t new, of course. For years, you couldn’t go to a party without encountering a brick of cream cheese dripping with jalapeno jelly. But encasing the cheese and jelly in phyllo dough is much more elegant, and the shatteringly crisp phyllo adds an interesting texture to what had been a baby-food-smooth nosh. Even better, you don’t have to juggle a plate, knife and cracker — just pick up a slice and bite.

Any hot pepper jam or jelly will do, although the one I used was especially good. It was Earth & Vine Red Bell Pepper and Ancho Chili Jam from West Point Market. I had a half jar left after using some earlier this summer as a sauce for grilled pork.

For the appetizer, I layered the jam and mild goat cheese between eight layers of phyllo — four on the bottom and four on the top. Then I simply folded the phyllo that hung over the edges toward the center of the pie plate to create what I thought was a sloppy rim around the pie. But when it came out of the oven all ruffled and brown, it was gorgeous.

Feel free to use cream cheese or feta in place of the goat cheese, and apricot jam with a dash of mustard instead of the hot pepper jam. Or, hey, wouldn’t sautéed mushrooms and a mixture of blue and goat cheeses taste good? The potential variations are practically infinite.

If you’re like me and forget to take the phyllo dough out of the freezer a day in advance, thaw it at room temperature for two hours.

PHYLLO APPETIZER TART

  • 4 sheets phyllo dough
  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 4 oz. mild goat cheese
  • 1/2 jar (about 6 oz.) hot pepper jam

Peel off one sheet of phyllo dough and fold it in half by bringing the two short edges together. Keep the remaining sheets of dough covered with a damp dish towel. Place the folded dough in the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Spray evenly with vegetable oil. Repeat with another sheet, stacking it on top of the first sheet and spraying.

Crumble cheese and scatter over the dough in the pie pan. Dot with the hot pepper jam. Top with two more folded sheets of phyllo, spraying each sheet after folding and placing in the pan. Loosely fold the overhanging dough toward the center of the pie plate. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool slightly, then cut into thin wedges to serve. Makes 12 appetizers.

One More Thing….

Up to your keister in zucchini yet? If not, you soon will be. This relish is a good way to save some fresh summer zucchini for those long, cold months. Not to bring you down or anything.

ZUCCHINI RELISH

  • 10 cups ground zucchini
  • 4 cups ground onions
  • 2 cups ground red and/or green peppers
  • 5 Tbsp. salt

Place all ingredients in a large container, sprinkling the salt over the top. Let stand overnight. Drain well.

Mix with:

  •  2 1/2 cups white vinegar
  •  5 cups sugar
  •  1 Tbsp. dry mustard
  •  2 Tbsp. celery seed
  •  1/2 tsp. black pepper
  •  1 Tbsp. turmeric
  •  1 Tbsp. cornstarch

Cook 30 minutes or until liquid is clear. Pack in sterilized jars, affix lids and rims, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Makes 8 pints.

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August 6, 2014

Tony and I are in Japan visiting his family this week, so I left behind this column from my 2005 Second Helpings newsletter for you to enjoy. I’ll have lots to report when we return.

Don’t forget to send me an email about anything noteworthy you consumed on your vacation this summer. When I get back, we’ll swap stories. The reader who sends the best email (describing the most unusual, fabulous or bizarre food) will receive a free copy of my cookbook, “Jane Snow Cooks.” Don’t forget to put “Food” in the subject line of your email.

Dear friends:

If you’re at all mobile, carve out an hour or two for gathering blackberries this summer. Berry picking is food for the soul as well as the body.

Standing in a meadow on a summer morning, with the sun warming your skin while the berries mount in your bucket, is better than a martini for attitude adjustment.

In spite of stepping on a bees’ nest, my outing last week was about perfect. Michele and her newly rescued shepherd, Misty, came along to my favorite picking spot on top of a hill in Northampton (technically Cuyahoga Falls, but I can’t get used to lumping the country with the city). The sky was a cloudless blue and the humidity was at bay. An occasional breeze animated the nodding heads of goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace. The dog rolled in the grass while Michele and I sang silly songs and picked hundreds of fat berries.

In her kitchen, we turned the blackberries into jam, then started on a peck of peaches. Because we’re both watching calories, we made the jams with Splenda. I was skeptical, but the jams taste great.

The color is cloudy, but that’s a fair trade-off for the decrease in calories, which is significant. Our no-sugar jams contain only about 5 calories per tablespoon, compared to about 50 for regular jams. To be safe, the jams must be made with pectin formulated specifically for low-sugar jams.

Michele and I jazzed up the blackberry jam with a splash of brandy, and the peach jam with a pinch of cinnamon. Makes about 3 pints.

NO-SUGAR-NEEDED BLACKBERRY JAM

  •   3 cups ripe blackberries
  •   3/4 cup water
  •   1 box Sure-Jell for Lower Sugar Recipes Fruit Pectin
  •   1 Tbsp. brandy
  •  1/2 cup Splenda granular sugar substitute

Bring boiling-water canner, half full with water, to a simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain jars well before filling.

Float berries in water to wash, then drain well. Place in a large bowl and crush berries. Measure out exactly 3 cups and place in a 6- or 8-quart sauce pot.

Stir in water. Gradually add pectin, stirring until well blended. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Add brandy. Boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in Splenda. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with 2-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 minutes.

Remove jars and place upright on towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.

PEACH PASSION JAM

  •   3 cups crushed ripe peaches
  •   3/4 cup water
  •   1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  •   1 box Sure-Jell for Lower Sugar Recipes Fruit Pectin
  •   1/2 cup Splenda granular sugar substitute

Prepare and process jam as described above, adding cinnamon at the same time as water. Makes about 3 pints or 6 half-pints.

Fishing for flavor

When I was at Michele’s making jam, she pulled a tiny tin of sea salt from a cupboard and said, “Smell.” The aroma was lavender-meets-ocean. She promised to get the recipe for the lavender salt from her friend, George Pope. It’s too good not to share. Here’s what George wrote in an e-mail the next day:

“Jane, the ‘recipe’ is just grind dried lavender blooms in a spice or coffee grinder to a fine powder and add it to your favorite sea salt.

“About a tablespoon lavender powder to a half-cup of salt — but really, just to taste. I’ve used everything from kosher salt to French gray coarse-ground sea salt. It’s great on meats, especially beef and lamb, but I’ve used it on everything, including eggs and vegetables.

“A friend in Germany turned me onto this concept, sharing some lavender salt he bought in Italy every year. After looking everywhere, I figured it couldn’t be that difficult to reproduce, and voila.”

George: I love this salt. Thanks for sharing. Those who have never harvested lavender should know to choose tightly closed flower heads. They have more aroma than those that have already bloomed. Or just buy dried lavender buds.