Thursday, April 29, 2010

Roasted Carrot, Celery and Acorn Squash Soup

This soup really hit the spot for the past few rainy, then chilly, spring days. I roasted two acorn squash, a big bunch of carrots, and celery. Yes, roasted celery is delicious! I especially like to add it to sweet vegetables like carrots and squash, because it balances it out with its green parsley-ish taste. I sauteed onions in olive oil and then added all the roasted vegetables, added water and simmered to make sure it was all nice and soft. I added a small amount of fennel seeds, instead of the usual nutmeg or ginger. Then I got out the trusty immersion blender and went to town on it. It was perfect topped with crème fraîche and fresh chives.

And in local rhubarb news, I've been obsessed with my rhubarb plants these days with good reason. They are huge and by far, the most exciting plant in the garden at the moment. But even still, they are such vigorous and beautiful plants, and not to mention I love me some rhubarb, that I love them all year round. My plants just started to flower, and they looked incredible and alien, but due to my greedy need for more pieplant I had to chop the flowers down to encourage more stalk growth. I can't shut my piehole!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Garden Greens and a Pickled Egg

It's so exciting to eat fresh, green things from your own garden again. I feel so rich when I sit down to a plate that looks like this. And it all came from thinning my seedlings. I hate pulling seedings, unless I know that I'm going to eat them. These are from a mixed asian greens, arugula, and little baby radishes. There are slices of non-local fennel that I couldn't resist putting in, there-by sullying my hyper-local fare. It's okay by me. The sweet anise went well with the spicy bite of the rest of the greens. Topped with extra-virgin olive oil (I'm a little heavy-handed on that), salt, pepper and a pickled egg (courtesy of my chickens, and pickled in my carrot daikon brine). It was pouring while I ate it, and now the sun has broken out and the sort of crummy mood I was in is now lifting. Thank you sun!

And how's this for a mood-lifter? My first bunch of rhubarb laying amidst the passel of herbs I have waiting to go in a bed. This is from last week and is already steeping in what will become rhubarb liqueur. Sort of crazy that I didn't make jam from it, but that liqueur had me dazzled! I can't wait to pull more because there are tons of rhubarb-y things to make!

N.B. Those stumpy things are scallions that I stuck in some dirt. I've read about this in a bunch of places, but I finally did it with inspiration from Brooklyn Forager. It's amazing how fast these guys grow! And you just need a pot of dirt, really. It's a great gardening experiment for kids as you can see results daily. (Though, I'd warrant that adults like to see daily results, too.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bitters Syrup

When you start thinking about herbs as a focus in your eating life, you find them everywhere. I made some tarragon white wine mustard, yesterday, for example. And dinner was pasta with peas, and a gorgeous bunch of fresh chives, with crème fraîche.

This little jar of syrup has been on my mind for a while. I've been thinking about bitters, a preparation of herbs in alcohol, which is a simple or complex operation depending on how you look at it. I opted for the simple, of course, and instead of being steeped in alcohol, I opted for a syrup. Which may or may not eventually get steeped in alcohol. (Not that syrups are any easier than a true bitters. But check out this recipe. This guy is serious.)

What I like about this syrup is that, mixed with seltzer and on ice, it's like a drink without the alcohol, and as a digestif, there are health benefits as well. Now, why bother, if there's no alcohol, you ask? Good point. I think it would be great with gin, as well. But sometimes, with lunch al fresco, you want a little something to drink but don't want to nap just yet. This is lovely. The wormwood is very bitter, so don't add any more than that teaspoon. The hibiscus give it that pretty color, and a little acidity. Think campari and soda. Go outside and sit on your café chairs and enjoy.

2 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
1 tablespoon of nettles
1 teaspoon of wormwood
10 whole cloves
1 teaspoon of fennel seed
a stick of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of hibiscus

Boil water and steep with herbs overnight. Strain and add sugar. Boil for ten minutes. You can process this in a boiling water bath for ten minutes to make it shelf stable. Otherwise, put it in the fridge.

Serve over ice with seltzer, and lemon peel.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dandelion Honey

Nothing is a fail. Let's remember that, shall we? I'd like to have you think that I made up the idea of dandelion honey, but I didn't. It was a miracle of mishap. The way great things happen. By mistake.

I wanted to use all these lovely flowers that dot the grass. When you get down on your hands and knees and start picking them, you remember how special they are.

And why you were enthralled with them as a child. Bright yellow and fuzzy. A special and important name. They were everywhere, and your mother would let you pick them. All of them, if you wanted. There were games to play with them. There were wishes to be made with them.

It really didn't take that long to pick a lot of them. And, of course, I didn't need a scissor.

Dandy Lion. I know that's not where the name comes from, but isn't it perfect? It comes from dentes de lion, french for lion's teeth.

Here's the hard part. Taking the petals from the flower. Make sure no green gets in! Which I didn't. There were a few in there. It's hard, meticulous work. And I didn't mind a little bitterness. Isn't that what dandelions are all about? Bittersweet.

Initially, I had intended to make a jelly. But after a long day, my mind was wandering, and as the temperature of the mixture grew higher and hotter, I wondered to myself, why isn't this jelling? I used an apple jelly base and knew it should work. I was staring at the bubbling pot wondering, wondering. Then it hit me like a smack on the forehead: you forgot the lemon juice! That's like a baker forgetting the salt. A little detail that is so important but easy to overlook.

So, immediately I poured in a tablespoonful of lemon juice and it bubbled up furiously, and I let it boil (now at 224 degrees) until it threatened to boil over the pot. It wouldn't simmer down even with stirring. I turned it off and let it settle, hoping for the best. What happened was this: the set was thick and viscous, not a syrup, somewhat jellied, but not a firm jelly. Not even what they call a "tender" set. The next day when I tasted it cooled it took a while to let the thick sweet sunniness of it settle on my tongue, and I realized that what I had was dandelion honey. Sweet!

The only problem? How to recreate it? You could add the lemon juice at the end and hope for the best. Or maybe cook it to 218 or 19 degrees, though I often find that you get just a thick syrup. Here is my initial recipe for the jelly. I do think it would've been a great jelly had I followed my own recipe! But I'm pretty happy with dandelion honey.

2 cups apple pectin stock
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup dandelion petals (only the flowery fluff, no green bracts!)

Add sugar, lemon and apple in pot. Heat to dissolve sugar. Add flowers. High heat to boil. Reach jell stage, or 220 degrees. Ladle into hot half-pint jars and process for ten minutes.

N.B. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Well Preserved's great post on dandelion wine, jelly and coffee. You would be remiss if you didn't stay there and check out all the spring preserving entries they did for Edible Toronto. It's jam-packed with great ideas and stylish graphics. And do peruse a great post on the beauties of dandelion jelly by Yummy Supper.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hibiscus Jelly

For this month's Tigress' Can Jam, Marisa at Food in Jars has declared the focus to be on herbs. An excellent choice that opened the doors up wide to experimentation. Herbs are what make hundreds of preserves into thousands of preserves. Their inflections bring about completely different flavors. To sound just vaguely drippy: herbs bring excitement. (I'm pretty excited. Drippy? Dorky? Maybe.) I have a bunch of herbal things to post, this is only the beginning, as they say, so stay tuned.

Flowers fall under the herb rubric which suited me just fine. I had been thinking about hibiscus for a while. Certainly not local, but I did get organic hibiscus petals purchased in the health food store. Did you know that hibiscus tastes nice and chewy when it's cooked? Toothsome is the word. And of course, it makes a great tea. While researching hibiscus stuff, I saw this recipe for Hibiscus Flower Margaritas and one for Hibiscus jam (no-sugar, but you can sub). And Kate, from The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking, and fellow jammer, made a gorgeous Rhubarb Hibiscus Preserve you should check out. If you have hibiscus plants, well then, hooray for you! There's a lot to do with them. A natural diuretic and high in vitamin C, you can read more about hibiscus flowers here. Now, on with the jelly!

Really, this is a very straight-forward jelly recipe in which apple jelly gets a hibiscus boost. But something about the color just made me thrilled with the result. You know when you make something and you think, meh, it won't work out, and then it does, totally!? And you think: why didn't I make more!! So, that's what happened. I didn't care much about what happened, it was an experiment, blah, blah, and I ended falling in love with it. I put it in a pint jar like a fool (shoulda put it in two half-pints. What was I thinking? I do this sometimes.) But whatever, I'll make it again. I really think it's the color that had me hooked. It's tastes delicious, though, apple-y but with a tarter citric kick. But that color! I took a billion pictures, but you don't need to see them.

2 cups of apple pectin stock
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons of dried hibiscus flowers

Bring all to a boil, dissolve sugar and bring temperature up to 220 degrees until jell stage is reached. Ladle into hot jars and seal, process for ten minutes. I left the flowers in the jelly, because they taste good. You could strain them if you want. Or you could visit Shae at Hitchhiking to Heaven and see what she says about the Artful Suspension of Flowers in her April canjam post. In a nutshell, it ain't so easy!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Baby Bread Redux

Every week I make at least one loaf of what I call "baby bread." This quick bread is, well, quick, and easy, so a little guy can help. It's also healthy but tasty, with a slight sweetness. It's a perfect snack upon wake up from a nap, or a mid-morning bite after a romp outside. The great thing is the versatility of these breads. The one above was made with pureed sweet potatoes, beets and carrots. The batter was a bright, technicolor pink! I had pressure cooked a small dice of these root vegetables for the little guy, but he decided not to be interested in them. So, I pureed them. Still not interested. Baking them in a bread did the trick, and made the loaf naturally sweet and moist. Like baking with applesauce. I'm sure you could interchange any number of vegetables or fruits and get a satisfactory result.

3 cups of flour (2 cups wheat and 1 cup all purpose)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
1 cup vegetable puree (beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, in this case)
1/4 cup agave

Mix wet and add to dry. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes. I used a square 8x8 inch pan.

Flower interlude: aren't grape hyacinths special? I never planted a one, and they are scattered all over my lawn, probably thanks to the squirrels. They are so intricate! And the neighbors wonder why I don't cut my lawn. There's too many nice things growing in there!

Now here's a sturdy baby bread. Peanut butter bread! Slathered with jelly, this is my kind of snack. I used vanilla sugar, too, so when it was baking it smelled like Reese's Pieces, which I have a thing for. I was going to make peanut butter granola cookies. But I saw via Twitter this from Foodista, an anonymous recipe that I adapted to my tastes and needs. The hook was peanut butter bread with jelly. Of course I was sold. There's the random beauty that is Twitter.

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup oil (I wonder if this is even necessary, but did it anyway)
1 cup buttermilk (milk or yogurt would do fine)
2 eggs

In my slapdash fashion, I mixed wet and added to dry, folding the peanut butter in at the end. Bake at 350 for about 50 minutes. I use a square 8x8 inch pan.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Buttermilk Cake

Since I've made buttermilk I haven't gone without it. It ends up going in a lot more things than I thought and makes all my baked goods more tender. The other day it was summertime hot, and we had dinner outside at a friend's house. I brought over this strawberry buttermilk cake and we served it with fresh whipped cream.

I had been meaning to make this for awhile; there was a version of it in Bon Appetit over the winter. Then I saw it, this time a version from Gourmet, on The Kitchenette, made with blackberries. It was time. I adapted both versions and came up with my own, made with olive oil, which I like to bake with. Nothing against butter, it's just that it's always that much easier! And I like to think it's healthier, which may or may not be the case.

1 cup of flour
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
A cup of fruit, more or less depending on your tastes or you can leave it out, add spices, be creative and use what you have!

Mix wet and add to dry. Drop fruit (sliced strawberries, whole berries--you get the idea) on top of the batter. It will sink a little; no worries. Bake in 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes. I used a 10 inch spring form pan, and it seemed to be better on the 25 minute side.

This cake was so easy and delicious that when my in-laws came to visit this weekend, I decided to make it again, this time with the brandied apricots that I've had in the fridge sitting in a shot of their brandy. I pulled the apricots and arranged them on the batter, which I had added vanilla sugar and extract to. Then I downed the last bit of brandy. Waste not, want not! We finished it for breakfast the next day.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Apricot Plum Jam with Orange Pectin

Before full-on pantry raiding happens, the big freezer clean-out must occur. That is to say, that all the goodies in the freezer have to be canned or eaten. Particularly before a shipment of forty pounds of local chicken meat comes to roost. I'm a bit of a hoarder, so I still had two big bags of apricots and plums from last fall. Instead of doing small batches, I took them out in one fell swoop by combining the two. I feel that apricots and plums go incredibly well together. And because I had a jar of orange pectin in the freezer too, I figured I'd make the jam with that.

Apricots don't have much by way of pectin, but they have a nice level of acidity. Plums vary on pectin, and I've read a lot of varying reports on that. I think it's safe to say that if you have a sweet plum, say the black ones, you don't have a lot of pectin. I was working with a tart but sweet Santa Rosa, which are just a gorgeous pinky-peach color. I didn't want the orange pectin to overpower the flavor of the fruit, so I used much less than the ratio of the jelly I made with orange pectin, hence, it wasn't as firm.

This jam took forever to jell. It was sheeting like mad, however, not quite at the wrinkle stage, but I pulled it because it seemed to be overcooking and the flavor was changing from that fresh fruit stage to a more sugared fruit stage. After sitting, it still is a soft set but holds together nicely on toast. It's a real soft spread, as they say. It's a gorgeous carnelian color, and although sweet--even though the sugar ratio is quite low--it retained its punchy acidity, thanks to the fruit.

I thought about these measurements for a while and I'm still not entirely sure of them. I didn't add lemon juice, because the pectin has a bunch in it. I think if you are looking for a firmer set, you might want to have equal amounts pectin to fruit, so I should have had eight cups. That would have been too much for my pot. Next time I might make a much smaller batch.

4 cups plums, halved and drupe removed
4 cups apricots, halved and, or you can say, pits removed
4 cups of sugar
2 cups of orange pectin

Bring all to a boil. How long it will take? Who knows. I pulled this at about 219 degrees? I leave that up to you, mon frere. Process in hot jars for ten minutes.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Crème Fraîche

Uh oh. I made creme fraiche the other day. It may become a problem. It was super easy. All you have to do is heat a half-pint of cream to 80 degrees, add two tablespoons of buttermilk, mix well and let sit overnight. I used a mason jar. The first time I made it, the yield was a thicker cream, and it didn't really look like creme fraiche to me. I was a little disappointed. However, cream had been on sale, so I had a few back up pints. You have to be prepared! When you already have creme fraiche, you can use the last bit as a starter for the next batch. Which I did. This time it came out perfect--thick and firm, with some bubbles on top. Like this:

So, I've been going a little bananas on it, even using it in my morning bowl of brown rice, which sort of defeats the purpose of eating brown rice for breakfast, now doesn't it? But here it is, working wonders for a simple pasta, binding up all the things I needed to use up in the fridge in a nutty, creamy dressing.

And here it is on some strawberry shortcake. I could have whipped it up, but I didn't feel like bothering. Stiff peaks or no, it's still heaven. I'm a sucker for strawberries and cream. It's the only way, the only way to be.

Oops, sorry about the Cure lyrics. That's a shout out for my girl, Dane. She and I were horrible goths when we were kids, and we were freaks for Head on the Door. I still think it's a great album. One year for her birthday, I made her a picnic on the beach, which we had as the sun went down, as per goth regulations, and it featured one of our favorite lyrics: strawberries and cream. It might have been ten years later and she got me back on my birthday, but this time it was on the Oregon coast. I always think of that when I eat strawberries and cream. Even if it's really creme fraiche.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

I actually saw another blog had posted about this today, and I know this isn't anything original, but did you know that baked sweet potato fries are the bomb in early spring? Peeled and sliced like fries, tossed in olive oil on a baking tray, seasoned with salt and pepper, and put in a 400 degree oven for about thirty minutes. Make sure to flip them once or twice so all the sides get baked. These hit the spot for both adults and little babies. Well, maybe not little babies. Toddlers who eat everything in their path, like the kind I have. And paired with some steaks on the grill (from Cedar Hill Farms in Amenia), caramelized onions doused with pomegranate vinegar, and some horseradish cream to dip the fries in, that is what I call "being in business." Isn't it disgusting that I even put a pat of butter on the steak? I guess I was thinking I was in Peter Luger's or something, excepting the service was super attentive. Not that I don't appreciate a surly waiter. I do. I was one once!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sunny Days and Thrift

It's been gorgeous spring weather these past few days and I haven't really been inspired by food all that much. Not that we haven't been eating well: lamb burgers with beet greens and feta, fried rice with pineapple and shrimp. Steve asks me, why no photos? I guess I'm more inspired to take photos of things outside. Like my rocker, which I put out overlooking the pond and barn. The other night I sat and listened to the peepers, those tiny frogs that are harbingers of spring in our area. It's such a great aural memory, like smelling the dirt after the thaw, that really means spring is here. Being outside at night is also a great feeling.

Isn't it nice to find a wild columbine growing at the base of a cedar?

The only rooster we have.

Playing outside with the tractor.

I love it when I can use something that seems to be destined for the garbage. These boots have cracks in the soles--pretty worthless, right? I mean these boots are made for the rain. Well, mostly. I know I should have gotten a real pair of rubber boots. A serious pair. Not a fashionable pair meant for skipping through a mall parking lot from car to door. A pair that's for muck and mud and huge puddles. At least I got them at a thrift shop, so I didn't spend much for them. But it killed me, because aside from the glaring cracks in the soles (!!) they're fine boots. So, I cut them down and turned them into my gardening boots. They slip on and off really easily. I can't throw anything out!