Sunday, November 29, 2015

Candying citrus for the holidays

At our last Bountiful Basket we received lots of tangerines and lots of lemons. I'm always at a loss as to what to do with bunches of lemons. I can only drink so much lemon water. And citrus in general, while I enjoy it, I do not like preparing it. I hate getting sticky when peeling the rind and I don't like dealing with the seeds. Then a week later a BB friend gave me her tangerines, and suddenly I was overflowing with citrus.

In my mind, the implicit contract is that if a friend gives me some of their Basket, I will eat the produce, and not let it go to waste. I began peeling four of the tangerines and it was slow going. The effort didn't produce much fruit, since the tangerines were small. There's got to be a better way.

There is: candy them.

I looked at numerous recipes and the only difference is that some said to blanch the slices before boiling them, to reduce the sourness of the rind. Others said that step was not necessary. Being me, I chose the path of least resistance, and skipped blanching.

Since my usual process when receiving a Bountiful Basket is to soak the produce in tepid vinegar water for ten minutes to clean them, I did not wash these. But otherwise, DO wash them thoroughly. One YouTube recipe gal said that the pesticides reside in the rind so organic is best. Something to think about. Use fresh citrus without blemishes or bruises on the rind. Again, you're eating the rind. Plus, you want them to look pretty.

What you need is citrus of any kind. I used tangerines and lemons. Oranges of course will do. As a matter of fact, you don't even need the fruit. Many recipes described how to candy the rind only.

It helps to have a sharp knife to make even cuts without a lot of juice loss. My knives were kind of dull and I had to hold the tangerine firmly to slice it and I lost juice and form. You see some of the slices below look a little squished. Slice them about 1/4 inch.

Deal with the seeds. My advice is to buy citrus that's seedless or nearly so. You can tell I have low patience for kitchen work, lol.

The recipes varied slightly on ratio of sugar to water. I used a 1-to-1 ratio. I poured in to my skillet 2 cups water to 2 cups sugar. I used regular, white granulated sugar. Some recipes advise using a deep stock pot. Others say a wide pan is OK. I used a wide pan but I'd use a deep stock pot next time. I didn't like the steam going all over the place. The steam is sugar water and it made the stove top sticky. It would be easier to contain the steam with a narrower opening.

Stir the sugar in the water upon initially pouring-in but refrain from doing that after there are bubbles appearing in the water when it heats up, said one recipe. It will crystallize.

Boil moderately high for a few minutes then moderately low. Cook until the rinds are translucent. As I went along, I just tasted one or two of them at different stages. When it was soft and sweet, I stopped.

Take them out and drain them on a grate over wax paper or a larger cookie sheet. You want them to get really dry. Some recipes say this stage takes a few hours to a few days. Others say after the initial sugar juice is drained well to pop them in a very low oven for a few hours. I did not have a cooling rack or grate to put them on so I made do with a colander. Cooling rack or grate or mesh of some kind is better. You want the air to circulate well.

When they are dry but still tacky, you can put them in a ziploc or a large bowl and tumble them with a bit of granulated sugar to give that crunchy effect. I had ended up using all my sugar in the boiling and forgot to leave aside a few tablespoons. Some recipes say add the sugar at the end, others stop here. It's a personal preference. I thought it wouldn't be the same without the added crunch of the sugar at the end, but the slices were delicious the way they were.

However the small amount you see here is indicative of the fact that I ate most of them right away! Despite the long description here, the recipe is very easy. Slice, boil/simmer, dry, eat. They keep up to two weeks in the fridge. Oh, and DON'T throw away the sugar water! It makes a nice syrup in and of itself!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Taking food photos

I love, love, love photography. I love taking pictures and I love looking at pictures and I love making pictures into art with all the new digital possibilities available these days. In a few minutes a friend is coming over with her camera and we're driving the county to shoot pleasing scenes. It was a stupendous dawn, vivid with pinks and oranges and the temps are already in the 60s. It is a perfect day for it.

Pixlr is my favorite photo editing program. I use their borders, styles, and overlays a lot. I'm too heavy handed most times, which is why I like to participate in Pixlr's weekly challenges. It reins me in and gives me a goal. I can also compare my work with others who are participating in the challenge and see where I stand. (Usually at the bottom).

This week the challenge was taking food photos. I looked through my archives and found three I'd work with plus one I took this week. I always think other people's photos are cool and that mine stink. So I was disappointed in my choices but I worked with them anyway.

This one is of a Tuscan picnic. My friend and I were hiking up and up to get tot he top of a hill to see a castle and we stopped along the way to have a bite of bresaola and focaccia bread with fizzy water while resting on the stone bench.

Overnighting aboard schooner yacht Wendameen, a turn of the last century schooner, doesn't mean we go hungry, A repast was prepared for us of beef stew, corn on the cob, tortellini salad, and biscuits.

Another Italy trip, another repast, this time in Orvieto. Olives, wine, breadsticks, pea salad, tomatoes and frutti dimare, or seafood salad. The seafood was octopus, mussels, squid, and pickled veggies. We ate it atop the roof patio of our hotel.

This was breakfast yesterday, French toast made of a baguette and pomegranates with its own juice.

Pixlr featured the one of the Schooner Yacht Wendameen dinner on the deck. They liked the edits, which tells me something, because I restrained myself. I didn't use a thousand overlays and over-process the picture for once, lol.

I was personally proud of the French Toast picture. It's hard to shoot food. Most of the time it just looks gross, if you don't do it well, and by well, I mean professionally. Composing food is hard and making sure the butter dripping and each pomegranate seed is just so takes work. Setting the right depth of field is hard and ensuring there are no stray utensils or distracting background things also takes an eye.

But, they picked the Wendameen photo and I'm just as happy.

BBC: How to Photograph Food

Nikon: Tips for taking great food shots

Friday, November 27, 2015

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving

It's the holiday season and then shortly it will be the New Year. 2016. Wow. I remember the 1999 Millennium panic like it was yesterday. Come to think of it, I remember Flower Power of the 1960s, Race Riots in the 1970s, high collared, ruffled prairie shirts of the 1980s, and the grunge fascination of the 1990s like they happened yesterday. The decades pile up.

Yesterday I looked in the fridge and what did I see? Withering cukes, not too tasty to me. Yet when they arrived in what is likely to be our last Bountiful Basket, I'd vowed to use them.  Since I had a package of stale Pita pockets (I buy them that way, they're usually marked down only 50 cents at my regular store) I decided to make raita.

The Pitas being stale already meant they wold become great Pita chips. All you have to do is take a Pita disk, brush or rub with olive oil, and sprinkle with flavoring, garlic salt would do, or in my case I used lemon-pepper salt. Then cut them into triangles. Pop them into a preheated 375 oven for 10 minutes or so and you have a nice chip. Watch them carefully as the done-to-burned moment comes in a flash.

Raita is a cool yogurt dip favored in Indian cuisine because of so much heat inherent in Indian dishes. Curry, Tandoori=spicy...raita is a usual accompaniment to cool the palate.

I used my plain yogurt, and splashed out the yogurt water pooling on top. It makes a thicker raita. Chop cukes small, salt, and let drain or blot. I mixed in some lemon juice, lemon-pepper salt, and the cukes. Let set for a while to let flavors blend. Here is a photo of the result-

Additionally, I made Lentil Soup, Brown Rice and Pea salad, Asian Slaw with mayo-mustard sauce for wraps, and figured out what to do with 15 tangerines from my Bountiful Basket and my BB friend who gave me hers too- I'll candy them.

Also on the docket yesterday was a promise to myself to push away from the computer and read a lot. These are my books currently on deck or in various states of progression:

The Anatomy of Evil is by Will Thomas and part of a wonderful detective series called Barker and Llewellyn. It is a series set in London in the late 1890s where Barker and his sidekick Llewellyn solve a number of crimes on the gritty but not gross streets of the city. Well written and fast paced, it occasionally features Charles Spurgeon, the Director of the newly instituted Scotland Yard, and other notables who had lived at the time.

One Minute After You Die by Erwin Lutzer is a biblical look at what the Bible has to say about heaven, not heavenly tourism where someone comes back and gushes out what they have allegedly seen while they were 'clinically dead'.

I'm in the middle of Angels Evil & Elect by C. Fred Dickason. Apparently Dickason was known for his biblical, scholarly studies on angels, and so far I find it illuminating and fascinating. Ever since I listened to a John MacArthur sermon on Revelation and he pointed out just how much the angels do (execute all the judgments, for example) I have been fascinated with these kindred creatures. Kindred in the sense that they are created by God but are not human, yet we both worship Him. The holy ones among us both, anyway.

The Nov-Dec issues is my last issue of TeaTime. A friend at work subscribed to it as a Christmas gift for me and I enjoy the magazine tremendously. I'll probably re-subscribe in February. The word search, lol...I have been placed as para-support in second grade this year in addition to being in Kindergarten. Occasionally the teacher makes a word search out of the vocabulary words, or holiday word searches for the kids to work on independently. When a student can't seem to find a word and comes over to ask me for help, it's fun. I get addicted. Apparently word searches are relaxing and soothing for kids. I find them to be so as well. I like to do the search while watching an inane show to keep my hands busy and my mind half-occupied.

Speaking of televised inanity, during this week of vacation I've watched

Today's Special: "In this super-feel-good foodie comedy, young Manhattan chef Samir rediscovers his heritage and his passion for life through the enchanting art of cooking Indian food." I wouldn't call it a comedy, but it is a nice movie.

Quartet: "At a home for retired musicians, the annual concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday is disrupted by the arrival of Jean, an eternal diva and the former wife of one of the residents." Featuring Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly, Michael is a visual feast, and auditory triumph, and a sweetly affecting movie.

Famous Nathan: (documentary). "A Coney Island-inspired, densely-layered visually dynamic documentary portrait of the life and times of the original Nathan's Famous, created in 1916 by filmmaker Lloyd Handwerker's grandparents, Nathan and Ida Handwerker. 30 years in the making, Famous Nathan interweaves decades-spanning archival footage, family photos and home movies, an eclectic soundtrack and never-before-heard audio from Nathan: his only interview, ever as well as compelling, intimate and hilarious interviews with the dedicated band of workers, not at all shy at offering opinions, memories and the occasional tall tale." An interesting film about a grandson's search for who his grandfather really was. He never found out, but along the way we learned of Nathan Handwerker's backstory from 1892 Poland to immigration to the US at the turn of the century, a rags to riches by the sweat of your brow kind of story that never gets old.

TV, The Man in the High Castle: an alt-history television series that depicts if WWII had been won by the Japanese and Nazis. The US is divided into threes, the left coast being the Japanese spoils, the east coast being the Nazi's, and the middle strip a neutral zone. The show is visually stunning, with an America of the 1960s that looks much the same as it actually did, until the camera pans over a payphone dial with a swastika in the middle, or a poster of the Fuhrer. The series examines oppression and freedom, and it's chilling.

Battle Creek, starring Dean Winters. I like Dean Winters. He's like Donal Logue, everywhere, great at everything, yet unknown. He is a rumpled, old fashioned detective in Battle Creek Michigan resentful of his new partner, a spiffy, technologically adept FBI agent. Fox has canceled the show already and either by the end of the 13 episode series I'll agree with their decision or mourn yet another one-season wonder cancellation like Hope Island, Terriers, Enlisted, and The Finder.

Beachfront Bargain Hunt: (HGTV) Because I like beaches, bright colors (the Hitler tv show and Battle Creek are dark, metaphorically AND literally) and also because I like being mentally critical of whiny, entitled rich people who think having only three bathrooms isn't enough and having to walk across the street to the beach is a burden. I also enjoy looking up the buyers afterwards to see if they are a) divorced yet, b) overextended already or c) renting their 'dream property' instead of living there happily ever after.

And, of course I collaged a little, napped a little, wrote a little, and got started making my Christmas gifts. Last Friday I was invited to a sumptuous dinner at a friend's church and it was relaxing and wonderful. Tomorrow I'm going on gadabout with a friend to take photos of the scenic places in the county, after buying a muffin and coffee of course to sustain us for the drive. Next Friday I'm headed to a Christmas White Elephant Party. So all is well both at home and in my thriving social life. LOL. How are things with you?