Sunday, October 25, 2009

Quince Paste (Membrillo) from Tree to Table

Our visit to Live Earth Farm today offered us a chance to make quince paste. The first time I saw Membrillo (Spanish quince paste made from the whole fruit) was in Dean and Deluca in St. Helena, CA. I questioned the cheese monger there who told me it was quince paste. I'd seen and tasted quince and didn't quite understand how the two related until now.

Spying the beautiful quince trees I admired the pretty fruit. They were some of the only produce left on the vine/tree in abundance at the CSA during the Harvest Festival. I overheard someone say that the quince were not used, some suggested that the trees would be used for grafting. At the end of the evening I asked Farmer Tom if I may pick some to take home. This would be my opportunity to make quince paste from scratch.

Using for the recipe, I modified it for my available time.

The quince was peeled, seeds removed, cut up and added to water with a vanilla bean. (Paste=flesh only, Membrillo=whole fruit, seeds, skin and all, then strained) Fruit was boiled, then simmered for 30 minutes until the quince was soft. After draining the fruit, removed the vanilla bean pod, then the mix was blended until smooth.

The blended pulp was simmered in the pan with equal amounts of sugar and two tablespoons of lemon juice for an hour. To speed the process (I don't necessarily recommend unless one's impatient like me): the first 15 minutes on medium-high, stirring constantly, 30 minutes on low stirring occasionally, and the last 15 minutes on medium-low to medium stirring constantly. It was past midnight, and I didn't want to wait 90 minutes for the boiling and another 60 minutes for the low oven. The process went faster, at a slight cost: the quince paste was not as evenly colored as when one takes their time. I didn't mind the strips of caramelization, though.

Spread out on a buttered pan, cooled, and cut. The two of us can't
possibly eat all this quince paste . . . or rather we shouldn't. Three quarters will become "gifts" on our trek to the Napa Valley tomorrow.

Among my favorite meals: bread, cheese, fruit, vegetables and wine! Membrillo is normally served with a Spanish sheep's milk cheese called Manchego. The combination is delicious.

Here I served my homemade quince paste with cheddar, the CSA rye bread, CSA Fuji apple picked today, a not quite ripe fig picked at LEF. My quicker version of quince paste is outstanding. I give all the credit to Live Earth Farm, our CSA, for growing perfectly wholesome flavorful and natural tasting food. The fruit is so good, the quince paste tastes unlike any I've had before: like vanilla caramel, or the sweetest fruit-perfumed honey. It's pure heaven, like my CSA.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Indian Inspired Gourmet Group Dinner

We belong as partial members to a local gourmet dinner group. When the founder found herself ill, she called and asked if we would fill in for her husband and her. Dessert for an Indian curry dinner was our assignment. After two long evenings deciding what to make or buy, I made a final decision.

Driving up a long, forested driveway we arrived at our hosts' home. She began by serving appetizers of eggplant, prosciutto and Fontina cheese; and bacon-wrapped scallops. Delicious. I was glad to see the eggplant appetizer because now I've got a way to use the 5 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) eggplants sitting in my kitchen.

The male host explained that Caesar Salad was our next course. The recipe was given to his mother by the inventor of the original Caesar Salad. Though anchovies are not a part of the original recipe or dressing, we all liked anchovies so they went on the salad.

For the main course, two of the U.S. Navy's recipes for "Indian" curry were used. Being a "Navy Brat," he explained that the Navy used Filipino cooks, and they were the ones who created the recipes.
Over rice we placed the two curries, with a center toppings bar that included three different kinds of chutneys: pear, apple and persimmon. I was very full by the time I finished my plate.

We rested a little while before I served my Indian inspired dessert. None of the desserts I made are traditionally Indian, they're all newly created recipes. In thoroughly cleaned and emptied egg shells, I put a "no bake" coconut custard, under the egg shell I placed gems with cuttings from a peacock feather. The custard cup was topped with swirled hard honey configurations.

Saffron infused oil was used to make my grandmother's sugar cookies. Using a star cookie cutter, colored sugar with a lettering template for initials, and gold leaf I decorated the cookies.

Finally, a blended mango, yogurt and coconut milk drink was topped with Indian spices such as nigella. A good dessert plate for the occasion, and I felt I did some justice for the outstanding dessert making founder of the club.