Q is for Quince

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420px-Pancrace_Bessa00There’s something old-fashioned about quince. It could be partly because the fruit is rarely seen in U.S. markets these days, despite its likeness to the apples and pears that overflow grocery bins. That very scarcity, coupled with the fact that quinces have a dry, astringent flesh that needs to be cooked, and so can’t be eaten out of hand like their more alluringly juicy cousins, might explain why the fruit isn’t a part of our typical repertoire, even though quince trees are still abundant – and abundantly ignored – around the country.

A tasting of quince jam, served on a cracker with a bit of cheese at the greenmarket, persuaded me to pick up a few of these fall fruits. After all, cheese and quince paste (in a form somewhere between a dense jelly and fruit leather) are a classic pairing in Spanish cuisine. (I’ve even been known to serve some cheese and quince paste on matzo for a tapas meal served during Passover.) And the idea of cooking up a quick jam or compote that could accompany a meal of roast meats and vegetables, or be utilized for dessert in a tart of pastry, seemed appealing.

photoA browse through The Foods & Wines of Spain, by Penelope Casas (Knopf, 1982) turned up a version of the jam, and Banda de Almendra (Almond and Marmalade Puff Pastry Strips),which would take advantage of some puff pastry in the freezer. The quince (membrillo) marmalade cooks up in no time, and a little bit tops puff pastry strips, sprinkled in this case with some chopped leftover walnuts. A Spanish-born sampler recognized them immediately: “Ah, membrillo!” After he relayed that they also known as Corbatas (“ties”), a batch was obligingly shaped into neckties. 

RECIPES:

Banda de Almendra

Quince Marmalade

Pick a Pickled Pumpkin

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IMGP0596 (2)Here’s a new way to try pumpkin: in a pickle. This recipe for Quick Pickled Pumpkin is just that, and the results will add a bright, unexpected punch to fall menus of all kinds. (Plus offer an excuse to jump on the pickling bandwagon.) The only key here is to let the pumpkin do it’s thing, marinating in the brine. The pumpkin may seem too salty at the beginning, and the brine too harsh, but an overnight rest softens the squash and melds the flavors. We’re thinking the next batch might be good with some star anise and clove.

Just Say No. . . to Snickers Salad

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Contrary to our Midwestern roots, the Three Points cooks will not be adding Snicker Salad to the Thanksgiving table this year (or any year). The New York Times reveals that the top Google searches for recipes in all 50 states this week place Nebraska (Kate’s home state) at the center of the Snickers Salad belt. The ” salad” is composed of whipped topping, apples, chopped-up Snickers bars and, sometimes, pudding mix.

More in keeping with our dinner in D.C. (where the top search was for “corn pudding”), we will be having Mrs. Apple’s Creamed Corn, a traditional Pennsylvania recipe made with dried sweet corn. That ingredient was, of course, purchased via an online search.

Meanwhile, the top searches this week on Three Points Kitchen reveal more diverse global interests:  Cranberry Coffee Cake, Salsa Verde Cruda, Pan de Coco, Tamarind Ice Cream, Allspice Ice Cream, and Povitica.

cranberry coffee cakesalsa verde cruda II

Sweet Inspiration

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povitica w pistachios (1)

I know, I know, povitica/potica has made a few appearances here at Three Points Kitchen. But the Eastern European nut bread is a family holiday tradition, especially as part of the Easter basket and subsequent dinner. But part of the fun of baking comes from where experimentation and exploration can take you.

OK, sometimes innovation is a matter of necessity. Arriving in D.C. for Kate’s annual Easter feast, I realized I’d forgotten the walnuts needed for the traditional povitica filling. Kate suggested substituting pistachios from a stash she had on hand. My mother would not have approved (she barely tolerated the cheese filling option that is also traditional), but our revolutionary idea proved relevatory. Swapping out ground pistachios for the same amount of walnuts in the basic recipe, keeping the cinnamon and adding a touch of almond extract, took this batch of povitica to a delicious new place. The Turkish turn  it took seemed entirely in keeping with the culinary influences found throughout states of the former Yugoslavia from where our family recipe hails, and the swirl of green pistachio filling lent a springtime touch.

Sorry mom, but this one’s a keeper.  Try the recipe here.

 

Going Green

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Kiwi Lime TartHappy St. Patrick’s Day! Here in D.C., where we are celebrating another snow day (6 inches, sigh), we are going green with a cool and tangy kiwi-lime tart. It will complete our tribute to the Celts, aka dinner, which will feature a glorious fabada asturiana–the Spanish cassoulet that hails from Spain’s northern and very Celtic region of Asturias. Rebecca scored some actual Spanish faba beans in New York, and we have a jamón bone, sawed into three pieces, to throw into the soup pot this afternoon. Photos to come!

How’s About a (Meat) Pie, Dearie?

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Chicken pot pie

I’ve been thinking a lot about meat pies lately, brought on, no doubt, by my involvement with a recent production of Sweeney Todd. The grislier aspects of that bit of musical theater, aside, it seems I’m not the only one with meat pies on the brain. The March issue of Bon Appetit features Short Rib Pot Pie on the cover, and a recent wedding in Yorkshire was disrupted by a brawl over pork pies.

Truth is that, like dumplings, every culture has a form of meat pie: Jamaican meat patties, South American empanadas of all stripes, Australian pie floaters (a meat pie overturned in a bowl of pea soup, topped with tomato sauce), South Asian samosas, the French-Canadian tourtière. The only distinction might be how one defines a meat pie: baked in a dish and topped with a pastry crust, or a hand-held patty? Maybe encased in bread dough, as in Kate’s favorite bierocks. And then, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, there is shepherd’s pie, where the crust is abandoned for creamy mashed potatoes.

No matter. When it comes to meat pies, we’re all pretty much related; recipes from one country to the next overlap to such a degree that it’s a bit like following a trail on Ancestry.com. The Nigerian meat pie, with its dash of curry or cayenne, is reflected in Caribbean meat pies, with their addition of local Scotch bonnet peppers, as well as in the Natchitoches meat pie (an official state food of Louisiana), which swaps in bell pepper.  Kate jazzes up her mom’s traditional chicken pot pie (pictured above) with a hit of turmeric.The influence of the Ottoman Empire is apparent in the phyllo-wrapped meat pies found through the Middle East, Greece, North Africa, and the Balkans.

Thus we land on the Burek, a meat pie common in the former states of Yugoslavia, including my family’s homeland of Croatia. It’s made from a paper-thin flaky dough stuffed with ground meat and spices,  served with a yogurt sauce on the side. This particular recipe encases the pie in phyllo and wraps it all up neatly with a topping of Greek-style yogurt and eggs that bakes into a non-drippy custard with just the right tang to enhance the filling.

Phyllo can sound frightening to work with, but it’s really not difficult at all if you take a little time to gather the right tools to keep the thin sheets of dough from drying out (a damp kitchen towel, some plastic wrap, melted butter or olive oil, and a pastry brush are essential.) Or you can go all out and try making the dough from scratch.  You be the judge.

A "Sweeney Todd" prop.
A “Sweeney Todd” prop.

Smokin’ Soulful Soup

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(Photo by Post Punk Kitchen)
(Photo by Post Punk Kitchen)

The clocks have leapt forward. the sun is shining, the birds are twittering ’round the yard, and that classic spring break flick, “Where the Boys Are,” is playing on cable. We can almost see spring on the horizon.

Alas, the forecasts tell us that fickle March is not done with us yet, and because there’s nothing better after a long day at work than an invite to share a soul-satisfying bowl of soup, here’s two new recipe finds:

Smoky Tomato Lentil Soup with Spinach and Olives packs an unusual warmth, thanks to a generous dose of smoked paprika, and an ingredient I’d never though of tossing in — Kalamata olives. They add a richness and saltiness that enhances rather than overpowers. It’s a vegan recipe without even trying, and a good clean-out-the-fridge soup, courtesy of the Post Punk Kitchen site.

Kale, Bean and Italian Sausage Soup. The aromatic punch lent by fresh fennel is so enticing that my cosmic twin, Julianne, relates that the first time she made it the landlord came upstairs to ask, “Excuse me, but what is that you’re cooking? It smells so good!