Thursday, March 31, 2011

In the Garden: Transplanting an Elderberry Bush

Going for a ride in the wagon!
 Right now we are waiting on yet another snow storm that should last tonight and tomorrow, which is pretty depressing, so I'm going to stick my fingers in my ears and sing a little until it's over. While I do that, I'm going to think about last week when I planted some Red Giant mustard greens, radishes, and two kinds of peas. It felt so good to be back in the dirt.

While I had the chance, I also transplanted my elderberry bushes. I had gotten them as a present from my mother a few years ago, and promptly planted them in the worst possible spot in my yard. That would be a hot, dry spot. The bad part is the dry part. Elderberries want to have their feet in the water and their faces in the sun. I happen to have a pond and a stream on my land, so I moved them down there. Right next to the wild elderberries I found last summer, growing on the edge of the pond. I hope to have a big family of them down there one day. They reproduce quickly, if given the right conditions. And they don't need much upkeep, if any at all.

You can use elderberries to make many a wonderful jelly or wine, but I mostly like the syrup. I might be dreaming, but during this epic winter, we didn't get sick once. And I think it was the elderberry syrup.

Can you see them in all this dreary brown??

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Buttermilk and Avocado Smoothie

Do you have a horror story about getting your wisdom teeth removed? I just got my two top widsom teeth extracted, as they say, and I was really not looking forward to it, obviously. I'm one of those people who for some strange reason won't listen to sound advice about getting their teeth removed. As a teenager and twenty-something I was told time and time again to get my wisdom teeth removed. Ever the conspiracy theorist, I would refuse, thinking the dentist was requesting my first-born. "You will never get my wisdom teeth," I hissed. Well, years later, now that my forty-year-old teeth are nice and fused to my jaw, I actually had to get them out because they were hurting. So, I'll spare you the details of mine, it went rather quickly, and my recovery has been quick. If you want to share your pain, please go ahead in the comments, by all means!

I got my teeth removed on Thursday. I had to fast ALL day, which is tantamount to torture for me. Particularly because I spend my days with a 2 1/2 year old who grazes on snacks around the clock. Then I was in a Vicodin funk because as much as I like to be anesthetized, that stuff makes my stomach turn so much that it's not worth it. Of course, one of the things you turn to during these times are smoothies. (No straws! Watch out for seeds and rice! Dry socket lurks!) I'd been meaning to branch out to buttermilk smoothies for a while now, and here was my chance.

Buttermilk is something I now have on hand all the time, as it's about the easiest cultured milk product you can make, even easier than crème fraîche. And maybe a little better for you and just as helpful. I bake with buttermilk all the time. I'm so glad that Annette at Sustainable Eats turned me on to it. Another fan of buttermilk is Kate from Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking (who, I just noticed, is having a Baking Illustrated book giveaway right now, btw!). She knows that baking with buttermilk is a wondrous thing. Like buttermilk cake, for example!

There was a nice, ripe avocado on hand, and I thought: avocado smoothie! The syrup I used was from making candied citrus, so it was a mix of oranges and lemons. What was so surprising to me was how whipped buttermilk became after a minute in the blender. It was so lush and creamy, it was almost like pudding, but still drinkable. I'm pondering the pudding idea--maybe I'll add a banana to thicken it. But I do know I'll have another buttermilk smoothie! I had never thought of drinking buttermilk, even though many folks do it. Now I'm a believer.

1/2 avocado
1 cup cultured buttermilk
2-3 tablespoons of lemon syrup (a nice substitute would be agave nectar or honey)

Put it in a blender and whoosh. It's time for dinner!

Smoothie plus garden catalog = winter heaven.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Triple Sec

The world of orange-flavored liqueurs is a big one. Let's get a few things straight at the start. Triple Sec is orange liqueur usually made from dried bitter and sweet orange peels and grain alcohol. There are many different brands of triple sec, like Cointreau and Grand Marnier. Cointreau is apparently brandy-based, though a trip to their purple-prosed site reveals nothing but very funny copy.  Grand Marnier is a cognac-based orange liqueur. I'm sure I've had my fair share of "well" orange liqueurs, like De Kuypers and Marie Brizard, but I think I've stayed clear of Curaçao, that crazy blue stuff.

A while back I was sent some sour oranges from my mother in Florida and being fairly marmaladed out, I decided to make some booze. I had brandy in the house so I decided to go with it. I guess this is a Cointreau-style triple sec? There were a few recipes I sifted through, but what I was most intrigued by was a technique to bake orange slices at a low temperature first and then to soak the slices.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees

4 large sour oranges, sliced 1/8"

Arrange the slices on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper in a single layer. Bake them for two hours and then leave them in the warm oven. Doing this step at night works well--leave them overnight in the oven. Place citrus slices in a quart jar, cover with brandy and let sit for four weeks. Then strain the fruit, leaving the brandy in the jar. Add one cup of sugar and let sit for two more weeks, inverting jar daily until sugar is dissolved.

Note: I froze my brandy soaked citrus, thinking it might be a lovely addition to a marmalade whenever I get the impetus to make marmalade again.

I didn't add a simple syrup to the brandy because I wanted to really taste the oranges. As I'm writing this, I'm sipping a small glass. It's not as sweet as triple sec (though I must admit, I haven't had a straight slug of triple sec since I was what, 13?), and the taste of oranges first, followed by a bitter tang afterwards is very pleasurable. I now know why this was at one time a digestif, or aperitif.

Check out these other recipes:
Mrs. Wheelbarrow's version with Cara Cara oranges and vodka
An interesting version from Thursday Happy Hour that "tastes like orange hard candy"
and one from Food, Literature, Philosophy

Roasted. About to be soaked in brandy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Corned Beef Brisket

Can it possibly be the third month of Charcutepalooza?? Are you following along with Mrs. Wheelbarrow and The Yummy Mummy? And Punk Domestics and Food52? It seems like everywhere I go on the internet, I've got delicious, meat-curing company. This month's challenge--brining meats--can be found here in detail. Because I already had a grass-fed, local, five pound brisket in the freezer, I was prepared. There were plans for this thing to be corned beef as soon as I got it.

It wasn't me who had the plans, by the way. My husband, who is half Irish, had made the bid. Me? If I see an St. Patrick's Day parade I run the other way. Needless to say, I don't have any memories of brisket, in any way. I'm sure my mother made it once or twice. And I've made it once or twice to appease my husband. A huge sandwich from Katz's deli in NYC or some smoked meat from Montreal's Schwartz's once every couple of years and I'd be fine. The times I've made it before I didn't realize I was making corned beef, because honestly, it didn't taste like corned beef. It tasted good, like a nice chunk of beef, a little bland, surrounded by watery cabbage. Not too exciting.

Up until now in this challenge, I've been pink salt-less. This month I decided I wanted that pinky pink salt corned beef. But then I did a weird thing. I was rushed for some reason (I'm an impatient sort) and felt like I didn't have time for ordering pink salt on line. So, I went to Agway, a local feed/garden store, forever lured by their surprisingly well-stocked preserving section, and purchased some Morton's Tender Quick, a curing salt blend. I based my Tender Quick calculations on a post on a Garden Web forum. (Btw, Garden Web forums are filled with gems. There are some obsessive people posting willy nilly on those things!) The Kitchn also had a post on corned beef with Tender Quick, but I felt that two cups of Tender Quick was too much.

What happened? I heated up my cure and spices in water in a big pot. Once it was dissolved I put it on the porch to cool, and it really smelled amazing, of peppercorns and juniper goodness. Later on that evening, after trimming the meat well, I put it into a ziploc with the brine, and it sat in the fridge for about a week. It didn't turn very pink, which I was happy with. As I cooked it off (in the largest braising pan I have) the house smelled incredible. It was done in three hours.

Once cooked, it was brightly pink, and delicious, though I will say that it was a tad dry for my liking. Steve, however, was elated. And we ate it for days. This huge slab of meat kept giving. The next day I made massive grilled corned beef sandwiches, reuben-esque, you might say. Wheat bread, muenster cheese, thick slices of corned beef, and some crazy good garlic and dill relish. Then on Sunday morning we had a huge plate of the best ever corned beef hash. Now, that was worthwhile. How can people eat that dog food they sell in cans??

The thing I hate the most about corned beef dinners is the cabbage. Something about cabbage that's been boiled for hours makes me a bit ill. I did a quick boiled salad instead, lightly pickled. Here it is:

Two parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced in rounds
One small head of cabbage, cut into bite-sized wedges
A few carrots, peeled and sliced
Scallions, chopped

In boiling water, cook the root vegetables one at a time for two to three minutes, pulling them out with a slotted spoon for the next batch. Put them in a bowl as you go, and toss the scallions in at the end to wilt. Dissolve a tablespoon of sugar in a quarter of a cup of apple cider vinegar and pour over the warm veg. Let them sit and pickle a little.

Corny beef.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What To Do When Your Jams Fail

I've been really, really lucky lately. Not only did I get some calamondins sent to me from Florida, but I also got some star fruit. My mother is pretty dang cool. And so is the friend who owns the trees she picked these fruit from! After opening this huge box of star fruit (or carambola), I got right to work preserving them. I froze some, slicing them and freezing them on trays. Star fruit are good for fresh eating, and I'm not completely sold on canning them. I should point out that star fruit are high in oxalic acid, and those with kidney issues might want to abstain. I didn't know that about star fruit!

STOP. That's how this post started last week. To be honest, I wasn't too thrilled with my preserves, so what did I do? Made another batch of star fruit jam. I don't learn. I had heard people raving about star fruit jam. Why just the other day while my son ate a star fruit for snack time in toddler play group, a father gushed about the star fruit jam he had once and how good it was. I must have just made a mistake on the first batch, I thought.

Well, star fruit jam is not as easy as it seems. And if you want my opinion, it doesn't make a good jam on its own. I'm not the only one who says that. The woman whose tree I got mine from concurs. I learned this after I made the two jams. I did find, however, that they are good mixed with something else. I made a key lime-star fruit-calamondin marmalade, and it came out quite nicely. I think star fruit need to be with other fruit. Like pineapple. Wendy Read of Sunchowder's Emporia gave me a starfruit recipe that paired the carambola with pineapple. Did I use it? No. Though I bet pineapple would be perfect! Anything with high acidity and punch would be nice. How about Flamingo Musings' Carambola Pepper Jam? (Which I didn't make.) Something spicy might be just the kick that star fruit need. Sigh.

So. I made two jams. One is preserved star fruit with orange peel pectin. The other is a light jam that I used Pomona's Pectin in, and lowered the sugar thinking it would let the subtle taste of the star fruit shine. Nope. And neither jam set. The reason why I posting this is not to complain (well, maybe a little), but to point out that once you have made a jam that you are not happy with, there are a few things you can do to avoid chucking the lot. I do admit though, there are times when tossing it seems the only route. One time I saw a chef's batch of nectarine jam that had turned to candy. Hard as a rock. That might need to be tossed.

1. Let it sit and try it in a month or two. I just tasted a peach ginger preserve that I thought was boring, and upon tasting it I found I was dead wrong. It's delicious. Was I bored of peaches at the time? Did it need to sit? Who knows. But I'm glad I didn't give it all away.

2. Cook with it. I'm always adding a half-pint of jam to one baked good or another. Obvious choices are muffins and quick breads and smoothies. Make sure to reduce the sugar in the recipe. Or the obvious savory applications, like roasted or grilled meats, salad dressings and the like. Sometimes dull or bland preserves are the perfect thing for cooking applications.

3. Re-cook it. Yes, open those jars and add it to some more fruit and make a new jam. Obviously, this is for someone who's comfortable creating their own jams. But keep this in mind: you can can foods that have already been canned. Capisce? I opened four jars and made a Meyer lemon star fruit jam. I think it tastes great, but still the set isn't perfect. That is no problem at all because now it actually tastes good. I might use the rest for a chutney. And I don't have to turn these around right away. I can wait a little bit. Star fruit rhubarb jam perhaps?

4. Give it away to someone who might like it. I wouldn't do this with these star fruit jams, because they just weren't right. It tasted like I made cucumber jam. Bleh. But sometimes it's just a personal issue. And if you give it away, then it's their problem! Ha, just kidding. I recently received a lovely jar of banana jam, and I couldn't get past the smell. I have a thing with cooked bananas. I think it's psychological. But put in a batch of buttermilk muffins, and then I'm eating way too many.

What do you do when your jams fail? Besides curse, of course.