nancylebov (nancylebov) wrote,

Adventures in Cooking: Hot and Sweet

I bought three quinces at a farmer's market because they smelled extremely good. I don't know if it's my nose or bad luck this year, but I haven't run into apples or tomatoes which smelled like much. It's certainly possible to get a tasty apple or tomato with little smell, but if they smell good, you know they'll taste excellent.

Anyway, those quinces were haunting, even at a distance, and I found out later that some people just keep whole quinces around for the smell.

However, the web made quinces sound very intimidating.... be sure you have a sharp knife because the skin is very tough, and no one eats raw quince, it's too dry and astringent.

Somewhere in the course of this, I saw a mention of a Southern European(?) recipe which involved simmering quinces in pomegranate juice and black pepper, and simmering meat in it. This sounded intriguing.

I mentioned all this to jonsinger, who said that he like raw quince, thought the general idea was reasonable, and contributed a packet of Grains of Paradise (crocodile pepper) to the cause. Grains of Paradise (great name) is something like black peppercorns, but with less bite and a lot of fruit undertones.

So, here's a very approximate recipe....

3 quinces
3/4 quart of pomegranate juice (real pomegranate juice, which is expensive-- other juices flavored with pomegranate isn't the same)
an apple (probably a winesap)
3/4 of the packet of Grains of Paradise (unfortunately, I don't remember the size of the packet, probably an ounce or a half ounce)
Auntie Arwen's Bon Voyageur mix (black and white pepper and a little cumin)
some salt
3 vicious little Indonesian pilipili peppers
some sassafras because it smelled like it might go with everything else
2 little delicata squashes
most of a head of garlic, chopped
about a pound and a half of shoulder steak, chopped into stir-fry size
some olive oil
jasmine rice

Being intimidated by what I'd heard about quinces, I decided to peel them, though I didn't use hazmat equipment. The skin was a little thicker than pear skin, and an ordinary peeler was plenty.

I tried eating a bit. It wasn't as juicy as a pear, and not nearly as sour as a lemon, but very tasty. If I didn't have a Cooking Project and hadn't already bought the pomegranate juice, I would have just eaten them. I don't know whether there's a bunch of wimps on the internet, or "don't eat the quince!" is one of those things people just repeat to each other, or whether I'd lucked into the only sweet and pleasant quinces in the world.

I tasted the peel, and found it was a little sweeter than the quinces and should go into the sauce.

Anyway, I started with the quinces, the pomegranate juice, the cinnamon, a quarter packet of grains of paradise, salt, one pilipili pepper, and cloves, and started simmering.

It was clear at some point (a half an hour? an hour?) that the cloves and cinnamon had taken over and something had to be done. This was when the half packet of grains of paradise, the additional two pilipili peppers, the black and white pepper, and the sassafras happened. I think I also added the apple at that stage.

More simmering. At that point, it tasted pretty interesting. I was in a mood to add things. It wasn't random-- the smoked hot paprika didn't smell harmonious, so it stayed in the jar.

I started the jasmine rice.

I baked the delicata squashes in the microwave and added them. They made the sauce opaque and brown and not as pretty. I'm not sure how much they added to the results, but the results were good, so I think they're a matter of opinion.

I browned the shoulder steak with the garlic in the olive oil, then put it into the simmering sauce.

By the time the beef was cooked through, I was ready to eat, but that turned out to be a little early. The sauce was wonderful (at least if you like strong flavors), but the beef didn't taste like much.

Fortunately, overnight sitting in the sauce in the refrigerator and reheating solved that.

This strikes me as a very flexible recipe format. If I couldn't get quinces, I think it would work with apples, limes, and kiwi fruit. Chicken would be as good as beef. It could be heavy on the herbs or a curry instead of sweet. Cardamom would probably work as an addition to the sweet version. A lot more garlic might be a good idea. Offhand, I can't think of a good substitute for the pomegranate juice.

I generally cook squash in the microwave-- it's very convenient. It's important to prick holes in the skin so that moisture can escape undramatically. Trust me on this. I microwaved a spaghetti squash without pricking holes in it, and it exploded. Fortunately, it knocked the microwave door open, and no further damage was done.

Anyway, are there any reasons to use an oven rather than a microwave for squash?

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