Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Plum Cheese, Membrillo, and other fruit pastes


Fruit cheese is the dried paste of various fruits, mixed with sugar, and perhaps some spice or flavoring,
and cooked down until it stands on its own. Fruit cheese is very good with cheese and crackers; I have
made it with Quince, known as Membrillo in Spanish or Pate de Coings in French and, just recently with plums.

I have made membrillo before, as I had a nice harvest of quinces one year. During cooking, the quince
took on a beautiful deep ruby color and had the flavor of vanilla combined with the unique taste of the
quince. It took forever to cook down, though, and I had the same experience with the Plum Cheese I made
the other day. These fruit cheese are jams that are reduced to a stiff paste that will set up when cooled. They may also require a little drying treatment in a very low oven.

I developed an interest in making plum cheese while watching the TV show, " Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie."
The episode was about food bloggers. Pim (Chez Pim) visited a lady who was making Plum Cheese
commercially. The footage showed the cheeses being turned out of decorative molds, all dark and
glistening. Looked good, so I decided to try it at home. After googling "Plum cheese," I decide to try a
variation on a recipe by Natalia Schamroth from an old issue of Bon Appetit.

She suggests using plums that are not quite ripe, as they contain more pectin which helps the cheese
solidify. She suggests that this will shorten the cooking time and ensure that the plums have a fresh,
not overcooked, flavor. I used a combination of underripe and ripe plums which is what I had; perhaps
this is why the cooking time was so long.

Fruit cheese differs from fruit butters in that the structure of the preparation is almost solid when
done. Fruit butters need to be cooked down only until no free liquid is visible and the surface is creamy.  Other fruit cheeses and butters can be made by following these directions and substituting in seasoning and flavors that you find compatable.

Plum Cheese or Paste


2 lbs. plums, halved
3/4 cup water
white sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Place the plums, stones and water in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Simmer, covered with a lid, until just
softened. Pass the plums through a strainer or sieve (discard stones) and return to the saucepan. Weigh
the pulp and add to it an equal quantity of sugar.

Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved then add the lemon juice. Turn up to a brisk simmer,
stirring occasionally, until thickened. This process will take between 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on
the pectin content of the fruit. Test the plum paste as you would jam; a small amount on a saucer should
form a skin and thicken quite quickly after 1-2 minutes in the refrigerator.

Pour the paste into a rectangular loaf tin lined with baking paper and leave to set. Store airtight in the
refrigerator or in a cool dark place until ready to use.  The mixture can also be poured into hot, hot, dry sterilized jars as when making jam. Wipe the jars or moulds clean and cover immediately whilst still hot.
Leave to cool and label with contents and date made.

Fruit cheeses can be turned out in one piece and cut with a knife and served with cheese and crackers or,
cut into small pieces, as a sweetmeat. They are also useful as a condiment to cold meat or poultry.
Cheeses can be stored for up to 4 months and are often better if left to mature for 2 months before using

My biggest problem was figuring out when it was done. I cooked and cooked it down, albeit on a low flame
so that I didn't have to stir often; it took ages but it did set up in the refrigerator. Many of the
recipes I read said that the cheese was done when a spoon drawn across the pan leaves a clean path. There
is a fine line between when this preparation is done and when it is scorched. I pulled mine when it set
up in the refrigerator, but before I could draw a spoon through it and have it leave a clean line. Mine
came out a little on the soft side, but I thought I could smell a scorch, so I pulled it. I didn't finish
it until late in the evening, and I was too tired to puzzle out the mold things, so I poured/spread it
into little loaf pans lined with parchment paper and refrigerated them. If I had a pilot light in my
over, I would have put them in there to "dry" overnight.

It's the two days later now, and I have kept the plum cheese out to dry during the day in a pan on oiled
plastic wrap, covered loosely with more plastic; I refrigerate overnight. They are now firm enough to
slice. Hooray!
Recommendations for Fruit cheese and cheese combinations include Brie or Pont L'Eveque for the Plum Cheese and a nice Spanish Manchego with the Quince Membrillo. I think most favorites will work; if you happen have the blues--Stilton, Roquefort, or Cambazola, I would try them,too. We had a Jarlsberg with the Plum cheese on Cousteaux Bakery Multigrain Bread. Fantastic!

Here's a recipe for the beautiful ruby Quince Paste or Membrillo for the lucky ones who have them.

Quince Paste or Membrillo Recipe


4 pounds quince, washed, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
1 vanilla pod, split
2 strips (1/2 inch by 2 inches each) of lemon peel (only the yellow peel, no white pith)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
About 4 cups of granulated sugar, exact amount will be determined during cooking

Place quince pieces in a large saucepan (6-8 quarts) and cover with water. Add the vanilla pod and lemon
peel and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let cook until the quince pieces are fork tender
(30-40 minutes).

Strain the water from the quince pieces. Discard the vanilla pod but keep the lemon peel with the quince.
Purée the quince pieces in a food processor, blender, or by using a food mill. Measure the quince purée.
and add an equal amount, cup for cup, of sugar. Return the quince purée to the large pan. Heat to medium-
low. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the lemon juice.

Continue to cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the quince paste is very
thick and has a deep orange pink color.
Preheat oven to a low 125°F (52°C). Line a 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper (do not use wax paper, it
will melt!). Grease the parchment paper with a thin coating of butter or oil. Pour the cooked quince paste
into the parchment paper-lined baking pan. Smooth out the top of the paste so it is even. Place in the
oven for about an hour to help it dry. Remove from oven and let cool. Store by wrapping in foil or plastic wrap, an keeping in the refrigerator.



Monday, August 30, 2010

Peach Chutney

For me, the essence of chutney is the sweet/sour flavor enhanced with lots and lots of ginger.  The easiest ways to get the ginger into the mix and have it be very chunky with a good texture is to use crystallized ginger cut in thick strips.  I buy mine at the health food store, not in those little packages that are sold at the large markets.  It's much more economical that way.
The best mango chutney is made with some green mangoes, so I would use some underripe fruit in this.  Peaches soften up rather quickly, and this would help preserve some "tooth".

Using brown sugar gives a deep rich flavor and color.  If you substitue white sugar and white vinegar,  the chutney will be golden.
I still love Sun Brand Major Grey's that we used to serve when I was a kid.

Peach Chutney


4 pounds sliced peeled peaches
1 cup raisins
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped onion
12 ounces chopped preserved ginger
1 tablespoon mustard seed
2 tsp. turmeric, ground
3 cups brown sugar, packed
4 cups apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. Salt
2-6 sliced jalapeno peppers, according to heat desired


In a large heavy pot, stir together the peaches, raisins, garlic, onion, preserved ginger,  mustard seed, turmeric,  brown sugar and cider vinegar.

Bring to a boil, and cook over medium heat uncovered until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. If the fruit is getting too soft before the syrup thickens, remove some of it until the end to preserve some texturel. It will take about 1 1/2 hours to get a good thick sauce. Stir frequently to prevent scorching on the bottom.

Ladle into hot sterilized jars. Wipe the rims with a clean moist cloth. Seal with lids and rings, and process in a barely simmering water bath for 10 minutes. The water should cover the jars completely.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Liquados (licuado) and Agua Frescas

Liquados (licuados) are a Latin American handmade blended beverage similar to smoothies, made with milk, fruit, and usually ice. Liquados and other fresh fruit juice drinks are ubiquitous throughout Mexico. They are very easy to make, very healthy, and very refreshing. This simple preparation lends itself to any amount of variations, according to taste and to what is on hand.

Aguas frescas (Spanish for "fresh (cold) waters") are a combination of either fruits, cereals, or seeds,
and sugar and water, blended together to make a refreshing beverage. Although they originated and are most
common in Mexico, aguas frescas have also become popular in Central America, the Caribbean, and the United States. Some of the most popular flavors include agua de tamarindo (made with tamarind pods), agua de Jamaica (made with roselle), and agua de horchata (usually made with rice and cinnamon). They are usually not blended, but traditionally made without blenders and done by simply mashing the fruit with a fork or masher before adding the water and sweetener. The trick with making agua fresca (Spanish for "fresh water") is to infuse the water with fruit essence without turning it into a smoothie or slushy drink.

They are very simple preparations that should be lightly sweetened, healthy, and icy, icy cold.  I added a little Triple Sec to our Watermelon Liquado; it was a little less healthy, but extra delicious.

Peach Liquado

1 peach
1 cup milk
1/2 cup ice
1 tbsp. honey


Berry Liquado

1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cup fresh berries
1 banana

Mango Liquado (without milk)
This recipe serves: 8

4 cups cubed, ripe mango
3 cups water
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
juice of 1 lemon
lime wedges for garnish

 In a blender, combine the mango and water and puree at high speed until smooth. Thin with more water if
desired, and add sugar and lemon juice to taste. Blend again and serve in tall glasses over ice with a
wedge of lime.

Serving Size: 1 tall glass


Agua Fresca Recipe

Watermelon Agua Fresca
Serves 6

This light, refreshing drink popularized in Mexico is a terrific thirst quencher on a hot summer day. The
trick with making agua fresca (Spanish for "fresh water") is to infuse the water with fruit essence
without turning it into a smoothie or slushy drink. Feel free to experiment with other flavors such as
strawberry, mango, cantaloupe and honeydew.


6 to 8 pounds seedless watermelon, cut into 2-inch pieces (no rind)
2 cups cold water, divided
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey (more or less to taste)
Ice cubes
Lime slices and mint leaves for garnish


Cut the watermelon flesh from the rind. In a blender, process half the watermelon pieces with 1 cup of
water until smooth. Pour through a strainer into a pitcher. Repeat the process with the remaining melon
and water. You should end up with about 8 cups of juice. Stir in the lime juice and agave. Pour into ice-
filled glasses and garnish with lime slices and mint.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Zucchini Creole

Zucchini Creole in the Pot
Adapted from Farm Journal's Best Ever Recipes

This is a great dish to make with a large zucchini.  I keep it in the fridge for a low-fat snack; it's good cold, too, and better when it sits a day.  I don't really use a recipe for this, but I am publishing one for a guideline.  The zucchini can be cooked al dente or soft, according to taste.  The amount of Old Bay Seasoning can be upped if you like it spicy, spicy, spicy.

Get organic whenever you can, but it is very important with the celery, as that is now the #1 most poisoned produce.

Yield: 8 Servings

1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
3/4 cup green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. zucchini, cut in quarters, then 3/4" chunks
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried basil
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. Old Bay Seasoning, more or less to palate
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
14 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, nice if served hot

Heat olive oil in skillet and saute, onion, garlic, peppers, and celery until softened.  Add zucchini, tomatoes, Old Bay, herbs, salt, and pepper, cover and cook over medium heat until zucchini is tender 20 minutes.  Serve with chopped parsley and (optional) parmesan cheese.
Can be refigerated and enjoyed cold.

A Zucchini corer!!! Who knew??

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Durian Ice Cream Recipe

Pile of Durian fruit in Bangkok Market

The Durian is a tropical Asian fruit with cute/ugle spiny skin.  The flesh is pale yellow and emits an odor like cleaning products.  Most people find the odor pretty off-putting and rank.  However, on the tongue, the taste is transformed to a strong and addictive flavor, like a ripe St. Andre cheese.  Durians are available freesh in Asian markets; the flesh can be frozen.  The flesh is also available freeze-dried and frozen.  I used reconstituted freeze-dried, as fresh is unavailable in my area.  You will need 1/2 cup or more pureed Durian for this recipe.

I started with an easy, but rich French Vanilla recipe.  Since I didn't add much fruit, the texture wasn't changed by the addition of the Durian.

I've just been informed that the Durian fruit is the only fruit tigers will eat.  Durian and tiger are both muy forte (strong).

                                        Durian Ice Cream Recipe

3 Eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp. flour, 2 cups cream, 2 cups milk, 1/2 (or more, according to taste) Durian puree. 1 tsp. Vanilla extract (optional)

Beat eggs, milk. and flour together in a large saucepan. Add sugar and cook over low heat - stirring constantly until thickened - about 10 minutes. Mixture should coat the spoon. Cool, then add cream and vanilla. Refrigerate 5 hours or overnight.

Freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

This recipe makes more than some ice cream makers hold, so cut it in half for a pint batch.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Got chard? Swiss Chard Dumplings

Swiss Chard Dumplings
I made these with Kale, no shallots, a grated zucchini, and Edamame substituting for the peas.

For the dumplings:
1 lb. Young Swiss chard leaves
1 leek, white part only, minced
2 shallots, minced
4 tbsp. Unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
½ lb. Fresh ricotta
1 egg, beaten
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
¼ cup fresh breadcrumbs

For the sauce:
6 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. Unsalted butter
1 cup peas, blanched
6 tomatoes, diced
Salt and pepper

Make the dumplings: Wash the greens in several changes of water; boil in salted water for 10 minutes. Drain, chop, and squeeze dry.

Sauté the leek and shallots in 2 tablespoons of the butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Turn into a bowl; add the chard, ricotta, egg, 1/3 cup of the Parmigiano, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Using 2 spoons, shape the mixture into pretty football-shaped dumplings. Place the dumplings in a buttered baking dish and then top with the remaining butter, Parmigiano, and breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 minutes

.Make the sauce; Sauté the scallions in the butter for 10 minutes. Fold in the peas, tomatoes, salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes. Serve the dumplings hot over the sauce. Serves 4.

Pumpkin style—add 3/4 cup pumpkin puree and  ¼ cup extra breadcrumbs, grating of nutmeg


Allow about 5 1/2 hours for the pizza dough to rise. The small quantity of yeast and a long, slow rise give the crust its great flavor and texture.

3/4 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast (from 1 envelope)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (about) unbleached all purpose flour
Seasoned oil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

1 bunch Swiss chard (about 10 ounces), white ribs cut away
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced

Yellow cornmeal
8 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated
4 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

For crust:

Pour 3/4 cup water into large bowl. Sprinkle yeast over; stir to blend. Let stand 10 minutes to dissolve yeast. Add oil and salt, then 1 1/2 cups flour. Stir until well blended (dough will be sticky). Turn dough out onto generously floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding just enough flour to prevent dough from sticking, about 5 minutes (dough will be soft). Shape dough into ball; place in large oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with kitchen towel. Let dough rise at cool room temperature until almost doubled, about 2 hours. Punch dough down; form into ball. Return to bowl; cover with towel and let rise until doubled, about 3 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare seasoned oil:
Mix oil, garlic, and red pepper in small bowl. Let stand 1 hour.

For topping:

Cook chard in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water; drain. Squeeze dry, then coarsely chop. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Add chard and stir 1 minute. Season to taste with salt.

Preheat oven to 500°F. Punch down dough. Form into ball; place on floured work surface. Cover with kitchen towel; let rest 30 minutes.

Sprinkle rimless baking sheet with cornmeal. Roll out dough on floured surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to baking sheet. Sprinkle mozzarella over dough, leaving 1-inch border. Scatter chard over mozzarella. Top with goat cheese. Brush crust edge with some of seasoned oil. Set aside 2 teaspoons seasoned oil; drizzle remaining oil over pizza.

Bake pizza until crust is brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven; brush edge with seasoned oil and serve.

Makes 4 servings.
Bon Appétit
January 2002