Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter Pesto and Roasted Pear Tomatoes

I had a ton of parsley from LPO that I wanted to use up before we go away for the holidays, so I decided to try out the recipe that came on the tag, a winter pesto with rosemary and thyme. My rosemary and thyme are still doing great in the garden, and they usually last all winter. It was delicious - a light, fresh break from all the rich holiday cooking I've been doing.

Our very last tomatoes of the season have finally ripened up on the counter - about 2 pounds of tiny yellow pear tomatoes. I roasted them in the oven and froze them, so we can enjoy a little burst of summer anytime throughout the winter. The flavor is wonderfully concentrated, so a little goes a long way, and it was perfect with the pesto!

Winter Pesto:
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pinon nuts
1 large bunch of parsley (about 3 packed cups)
2 large sprigs of rosemary
4 large sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup parmesan cheese (leave out if freezing)

Pulse garlic, olive oil and pinon in food processor until finely chopped. Add herbs and process until a fairly smooth paste is formed. Add salt and pepper as desired. Add parmesan, if serving right away. I froze some without the parmesan cheese, since I think it keeps better that way. I like to freeze pesto in Ziploc bags, smashed flat to about 1/4 inch thick. This way, when I want to use some, I can just break off a chunk.

When thawing pesto after it's been frozen, the rule is generally not to heat it too much - just defrost until it is soft and then toss it with hot pasta (and parmesan) to warm it up. With basil pesto, you don't want to cook it because that ruins the flavor, but with this pesto it might not damage the flavor as much.

Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes:
2 lbs cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme (or two sprigs fresh thyme)
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 400F. Slice cherry tomatoes in half, and toss them with oil, salt and thyme on a large baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes, until edges are slightly browned. Refrigerate or freeze.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Green Chile Pistachio (or Peanut) Brittle

Pistachios and peanuts are a couple more great New Mexico products, both harvested in mid-September.

Amazingly, pistachios are in the same family as mangoes, cashews and poison oak. The tree needs long, hot summers and moderately cold winters, so our climate is perfect for it. In fact, the climate (and altitude) of the Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico is almost identical to the areas of Iran and Turkey where pistachios have been grown for centuries. They are very long-lived trees, and tolerant of our alkaline soil.

Peanuts are a legume, grown in the sandy soil near Portales, in Eastern New Mexico. I was looking for locally grown peanuts at the store this week - Smith's had none, but surprisingly the Lowe's grocery near our house had Sunland peanuts in the shell (their website is full of neat peanut info!) The kind they grow are Valencia peanuts, smaller and sweeter than other varieties; 90% of all Valencia peanuts produced in the U.S. are grown in New Mexico.

Brittle is amazingly easy to make, especially with this microwave recipe. Dried green chile powder makes this a sweet and spicy treat. Although it's not as commonly used, you can find dried green chile at many grocery stores in New Mexico, right next to the dried red chile. This stuff is incredibly addictive - I seriously could not stop eating it.

1/2 C. corn syrup
1 C. white sugar
1 C. shelled pistachios
1 T. butter
1 T. dried green chile powder
1 t. baking soda

Mix the corn syrup and sugar in a medium-size bowl, and microwave on high power 4 minutes. It should be quite foamy. Add the pistachios and cook 3 more minutes. Stir in the butter and green chile powder, and cook 1 1/2 minutes longer. Stir in the baking soda, and quickly spread the mixture on a buttered cookie sheet. When cool, flex the cookie sheet to pop the brittle free, then break it up into chunks.

Update: This recipe works perfectly in an 800-watt microwave oven, but if you have a microwave of a different wattage, check out the awesome conversion charts at

Valencian Orange Tart

The New Spanish TableI just got the most fantastic Spanish cookbook, The New Spanish Table, by Anya Von Bremzen. The photo of this tart was so stunning, I had to make it first thing. I love her writing - friendly and entertaining, she tells all kinds of great stories about modern Spanish chefs and culinary history. I love the fascinating combinations of spices - saffron, rosemary, oranges, almonds, paprika. She makes amazing food accessible, even including shortcuts and substitutions so the recipes are not too fussy, yet focusing on the little details so that the result is spectacular. I've been interested in Spanish food for a while, but all the cookbooks I've seen before seem to call for multiple impossible-to-find ingredients, or tons of seafood, which just isn't plentiful here. And, unlike other Spanish cookbooks, this book also includes lots of great, fresh vegetable recipes!

As gorgeous as this is, it's not really difficult to make. We had a pile of juicy Valencia oranges from LPO, store-bought pie crusts in the freezer, and Wilkin & Sons marmalade in the fridge, so I had everything I needed. It's important to use thin-skinned oranges like Valencia or blood oranges, instead of thicker-skinned varieties like most Navel oranges. You could even mix in lemon slices!

4 medium-size, thin-skinned oranges or lemons
2 1/2 cups orange juice
1 cup + 2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs grated orange zest
2 tsp orange flower water (optional)
1 cup best-quality orange marmalade
Pre-made pie crust

Preheat oven to 400F. Scrub the oranges well, and cut a thick slice off each end. You can grate the orange zest you need from these end slices - it's just about enough. Slice each orange in thin rounds about 1/8 inch thick (it's not easy!) I didn't try it, but I wonder if the mandoline would work well for this.

Mix juice, sugar, zest and orange flower water (if using) with 1 cup sugar in a wide pan, and bring to a boil so that the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat to low and simmer the orange slices in this liquid for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bake the pie crust: cover it with aluminum foil and fill it with pie weights or set an identical pie plate on top to hold the crust down, bake for 25 minutes, then remove the weight and bake 5-10 minutes longer. Turn the oven down to 375F. Let the crust cool completely before filling it.

Let the orange slices cool in the liquid, then drain well and pat dry (this is important, otherwise the tart will be too liquidy.) Cut each slice in half. If you're like me, and can't bear to throw away this delicious liquid, you can boil it down to make syrup! Or you can even reduce it to the point where it's thick enough to use in the recipe instead of the marmalade. Of course, it takes longer if you want to do this. Spread the marmalade in the bottom of the crust, and arrange the orange slices in overlapping concentric circles on top.

Bake on center rack of oven 30 minutes, until the oranges are lightly browned. Heat the broiler. Sprinkle the top of the tart evenly with sugar. Broil until the sugar is caramelized, 4-7 minutes, being very careful not to let the top burn!

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Chestnuts

Brussels sprouts are a favorite Christmas dish in many parts of Europe, and according to Alton Brown, in Belgium they are traditionally cooked with chestnuts. As I've said before, they are truly horrible if boiled until they become soggy, sulfurous blobs... but they're nutty, sweet and wonderful when roasted or sauteed until the edges are browned. Chestnuts are in season just for this short time around Christmas, and you can find them at Whole Foods or the Co-Op, but I actually saw them at Smith's last week!  I usually forgo the bacon, because I love Brussels sprouts for their own delicious flavor, but hey, it's Christmas.

6-8 whole chestnuts (in shells)
1 pound Brussels sprouts
2 strips bacon, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
2 Tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

Cut an X into the flat side of each chestnut, then place them in a small saucepan and cover with water. Boil 10 minutes, drain and cool. Peel off the hard outer shell and the bark-like inner coating. Chop into quarters. Wash the Brussels sprouts and peel off any loose outer leaves. Slice them into thin ribbons. Heat a large skillet on medium flame. Fry the bacon bits until crisp, and drain off most of the grease. Add olive oil, garlic, chestnuts and Brussels sprouts. Cook until the sprouts are tender and browning at the edges. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Red Chile Pecan Pie

Pecan pie just might be my favorite pie, and it's truly spectacular with a little red chile in it! In fact, I love to add red chile to all kinds of sweet things. Did you know? The pecan is a species of hickory, native to the southern U.S. and Mexico. New Mexico pecans are in season right now, and many orchards sell them online. At the Los Ranchos winter market last weekend, I found a man selling pecans from his own front-yard tree. Many people grow the tall, beautiful pecan as a shade tree in the Albuquerque area, but since our growing season is a few weeks shorter here than in southern New Mexico, they don't usually produce a crop. Thanks to an extra-late frost this year, we got lucky!

This recipe is adapted from one on, and unlike most pecan pies, it does not call for corn syrup. It's not quite as sweet as some, which I prefer, and I used lots of extra pecans. It's not quite enough custard for a deep dish pie, so if you're worried that it won't fill your pie dish, just add another egg and another 1/2 tablespoon of milk.

2 eggs
1 C. brown sugar
¼ C. white sugar
½ C. melted butter
2 T. red chile powder
1 T. all-purpose flour
1 T. milk
1 t. bourbon or vanilla extract
2 C. chopped pecans
1 pre-made 9-inch pie shell

Preheat oven to 400ºF. In a large bowl, beat eggs until foamy. Stir in melted butter, brown sugar, and flour. Mix thoroughly, then gently stir in milk, vanilla and pecans. Pour into an unbaked 9-inch pie shell. Cover the edges with foil, and bake at 400ºF for 10 minutes. Remove the foil, reduce the temperature to 350ºF, and bake for about 20-30 minutes longer, until the center is just set – the whole pie should jiggle as one mass when gently shaken.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Urban Foraging - Pyracantha Jelly

This is another recipe from the PNM cookbook, Cocinas de New Mexico, and a fun urban foraging project. Pyracantha is that thorny shrub you see all over town at this time of year, with red or orange berries. It's related to cotoneaster and hawthorn, but cotoneaster doesn't have thorns. I don't have a pyracantha in my yard, but my friend Ashley gave me some from hers. You can find them in parking lots, along the side of the road, and in many public places. Contrary to popular belief, pyracantha berries are not poisonous. They are in the family Rosaceae, along with apples, plums, and strawberries (to name only a few!)

3 cups pyracantha berries
6 cups water
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 grapefruit
1 1/2 ounces powdered pectin

Wash and stem the berries, and place them in a large stock pot with the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add lemon and grapefruit juice to the pot. Place a clean dishtowel in a strainer and pour the mixture through into another container. Do not squeeze, otherwise the juice will become cloudy! Meanwhile, prepare the water bath for canning - boil water in the largest pot you have, and put the canning jars in to sterilize.

Measure the amount of liquid, then measure out as many cups of sugar. Combine the liquid with sugar and pectin in the pot. Bring to a rolling boil and cook 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. The mixture will still be thin, but it will jell in the jars. Remove the mixture from the heat, and skim off any foam.

Pour the mixture into hot, sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace below the lip of the jar. Screw lids on and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes (longer at high altitude). Leave the jars on a dishtowel to cool overnight, and you will hear the pinging of the lids sealing over the next few hours.

It's a nice, slightly tart, light flavored jelly, but I think it tastes mostly of grapefruit - next time I'll use twice as many pyracantha berries for the same amount of everything else.

Green Chile Pinon Meatballs

These sweet, spicy little meatballs are a tasty treat for holiday parties. The great thing is, the ingredients are just what most New Mexicans have on hand in the winter – frozen green chile and ground beef. For the past few years I've been making an effort to buy local meats. Last year, we received a share of grass-fed beef from Ranney Ranch as a wedding gift. This year we decided to try out Keller's Farm Store in Albuquerque – they raise their own free-range cattle and poultry near Moriarty. Los Poblanos Organics also sells local meats, including pork and lamb. If you're interested in purchasing local meats, you can find information on New Mexico farms and ranches at

Although I've modified it quite a bit, the inspiration for this recipe comes from one in the PNM cookbook, Cocinas de New Mexico. I'm a big fan of this little book - it's packed with tried and true recipes for all the staples of New Mexican cuisine, including how to make your own tortillas. It makes a great gift for those who love New Mexican food but didn't grow up learning to cook it – my mom and sister actually asked me to send it to them for Christmas this year. You can order it online at, and all proceeds go to the PNM Good Neighbor Fund, which helps customers who are struggling to pay their energy bills.

The original recipe called for a lot of sugar, but when I fried the meatballs, the sugar came out and burned in the oil. So I reduced the sugar and added onions to make a more savory meatball, which can be served with a sweet green chile sauce. I also added piñon nuts – the fruit of our state tree, Pinus edulis, New Mexico piñon is especially prized for its buttery flavor. There wasn't a big crop this year, so local piñon might be hard to find, but I have seen a few guys selling them by the side of the road in Santa Fe and Rio Rancho lately.

1 pound ground beef
1 T. brown sugar
¼ C. raisins, finely chopped
¼ C. piñon nuts
¼ C. onion, finely minced
1 t. allspice
3/4 t. salt
½ C. green chile, finely chopped
oil for frying

Sweet green chile sauce:
1/2 C. green chile, finely chopped
1 T. brown sugar
¼ t. salt

Combine meat, sugar, raisins, piñon, onion, chile, allspice and salt in medium bowl. Mix thoroughly with your hands, and form into 1-inch balls (about 1 T. each). Heat enough oil (I used canola) to cover the bottom of a large skillet, on medium-high flame. Fry meatballs in batches, 1-2 minutes on each side, until browned. Drain on paper towels. Mix green chile, sugar and salt to make a sauce to serve with meatballs.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tortilla Soup

This is great fall/winter food. Actually, I have fond memories of eating tortilla soup in the college cafeteria - it was reliably delicious, one of the best things they served. Loosely based on the recipe in The Border Cookbook by Cheryl and Bill Jamison, I throw in all kinds of extra things, depending on what I have. This time I actually just mixed about a cup and a half of my Green Tomato Salsa with the stock (because it has basically the same ingredients as the original recipe) and it was ready in about 5 minutes!

6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 Tbs oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 cup chopped green tomatoes, tomatillos or canned tomatoes
1-2 chipotles (dried or canned) or 1 tsp powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup cooked chicken or turkey (optional)
2 quarts chicken, beef or vegetable stock
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
6 corn tortillas
4 ounces Asadero, jack or cheddar cheese
1 avocado, cubed

Place unpeeled garlic cloves in a large saucepan or stock pot over medium-high heat, and dry-roast them until the skins get brown spots, turning once or twice to brown all sides. Remove the pan from heat; peel and chop the garlic cloves. Add oil and onions to the pot and brown on medium heat. Add the garlic, tomatoes, chipotles, oregano, meat (totally optional) and stock, and simmer 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the tortillas into strips and toast or broil them until they are crisp. Add lime juice and cilantro to the soup, and turn off the heat. To serve, divide the tortilla strips, cheese and avocado between the bowls. Ladle soup over everything, and enjoy!

Chorizo and Cabbage

A few weeks ago, I drove up to Los Ranchos for the winter market (got to get my fix! every second Saturday, so you can bet I'll be there this coming weekend) but I was too late - everyone was already packing up. As I dejectedly headed home, I remembered I'd be driving right by Joe S. Sausage. I'd actually never been into his shop, so I thought I'd pay a visit. It's tiny - you walk right into his kitchen, basically, and there he is making sausage. This is the kind of sausage you want to see being made. He uses organic pork, and when I asked him what cut, he said definitively: shoulder, because it has the right balance of fat.

On a tiny whiteboard, there's a list of all the varieties available, and the list is extensive. It's fabulous to get him talking about how he develops the flavors - he was trained as a microbiologist, so of course he keeps a meticulous sausage lab notebook! He also makes ravioli, pierogies, and falafel. Probably my favorite part of the conversation was when he explained how he quizzes Polish old ladies about how they make pierogies, which means Polish old ladies buy sausage from him... impressive. I got the Green Chile Bratwurst, the Hungarian Kolbasz, and the Xoriço.

The best way to cook a great sausage like this is low and slow, with some onions roasting alongside it. I love some cabbage in there too.

1 large sausage link (or however many regular-size ones you want to eat)
1/2 medium onion
1/2 medium head of cabbage
2 Tbs cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt

Slice onions and cabbage into 1/2-inch ribbons. Arrange around the sausage in a cast iron skillet or casserole dish. Sprinkle vinegar, water and salt over the veggies. Cover and bake at 350F for an hour or so, until the sausage is done (at least 160F on an instant-read thermometer) and the cabbage is tender.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pumpkin, Chard and Chestnut Rice Revisited

About a year ago (it's chestnut season again) I published a recipe for Pumpkin, Chard and Chestnut Rice, which was absolutely marvelous... but I wanted to try it with brown rice. I found a great technique for cooking brown rice in Cook's Illustrated, and it came out fantastic! They recommend baking it, because the texture turns out really nice, kind of like my buckwheat recipe.

The recipe is actually pretty easy. I simply sauteed the garlic, bacon, squash, chard and chestnuts for about 10 minutes, until the bacon was browned. I used the whole chard leaves, and more of them, this time. I added the rice and cooked a few minutes more, until the grains were translucent at the edges. Then I put the whole mixture in a covered casserole with the chickpeas and vegetable stock, and baked it at 375 for 2 hours. I know this sounds like a long time, but if you think about white rice, it takes 20 minutes to cook normally and about an hour to make a risotto... brown rice takes at least 40 minutes to cook normally and this risotto-type dish takes 2 hours. So I think this is actually pretty reasonable. And believe me, it's worth it!

Pumpkin Pie (From Real Pumpkins!)

Gosh, time flies! I guess it's been a while since I posted anything - I was so busy doing Thanksgiving that I didn't have time to write about it. It's one of my favorite holidays, because it's entirely about enjoying food, relaxing and expressing gratitude for what you have. I had a wonderful time cooking for my mom, my sister, my husband's parents, and a few friends. Probably my greatest triumph this Thanksgiving was the pumpkin pie - it was truly exceptional, the best one I've ever made.

During the last few weeks of the farmers' markets in late October and early November, I bought a fabulous array of heirloom pumpkins. Here's an adorable family photo!

Clockwise from the bottom left, we have:
Jarrahdale Blue - a very standard type of winter squash in Australia (correct me if I'm wrong, Peta) and an incredibly long keeper. It looks more blue in person, really.
Black Futsu - another very long keeper, said to have a wonderful chestnut flavor. The farmer said it would keep until early spring, and its skin should turn to a warm buckskin color.
Turk's Turban - cute and funky, but reputed to be very dry and maybe not so flavorful. We'll find out!
Kabocha - I usually don't try to grow squash because the squash bugs always get it, but this squash simply grew out of our compost pile and remained amazingly bug-free. The vines were 20 feet long and twined up into our plum tree to where it looked like a pumpkin tree!
Naples Long - the favored baking pumpkin in Italy, according to Eli at Chispas Farm. Gotta love the nametag! This is the one I used for my pie.
And in the middle, Galeux d'Eysines - a French heirloom which is not a very long keeper (I'll have to use it by Christmas) but should be incredibly sweet and flavorful. People say the warts are where the sugar is popping out of the skin.

Most recipes use canned pumpkin, which is nice because the moisture content is more consistent from can to can. But that's no fun, because there are so many gorgeous, flavorful pumpkins out there! The day before Thanksgiving, I cut the 11-pound Naples Long in half (crosswise, because its full length wouldn't fit in my oven!) and baked it for about an hour and a half at 350F. It came out with the most amazing texture, not exactly stringy - the flesh looked and felt kind of like the little juice sacs that make up a grapefruit segment.

I used a technique from Cook's Illustrated for the custard, which involves cooking the pumpkin to concentrate the flavor and reduce the liquid. And I replaced the cream/evaporated milk and two egg yolks with eggnog - my new favorite eggnog is Organic Valley (NOT Horizon Organic, which is terrible). The custard came out with a perfect silky texture and didn't crack at all!

1 pre-made pie crust
1 cup eggnog (or 2 egg yolks + cream or evaporated milk to make 1 cup)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups cooked pumpkin, pureed
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400F. Lay the pie crust in the pan and crimp edges. Cover with foil and place pie weights or an identical pie pan inside to keep it from bubbling up. Bake 15 minutes, remove weights and foil, and bake 5 minutes more, until golden brown and crisp.

Whisk eggnog, eggs and vanilla together in a bowl. Combine the pumpkin, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and sugar in a saucepan. I used my awesome Cuisinart hand blender (thanks Ally and Ben!) to puree it all together. Bring the pumpkin mixture to a slow simmer and cook until it resembles thick applesauce, about 20 minutes. Stir frequently, but be careful, because it will burn you badly if it splatters on your hand! Turn off the heat and whisk in the eggnog mixture.

Pour custard into the baked pie crust, and place in the oven at 400F for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 300F. Continue baking 20-35 minutes more, until the center reads 175F on an instant-read thermometer. If you don't have one, the other way to determine whether it's done is to shake the pan gently, and there should be an area in the center about the size of a quarter that jiggles - if the liquidy area is any bigger than a 50-cent piece, leave it in another 5-10 minutes. If you wait until it is solid all the way to the center, the top of the custard will crack as it cools.

Allow the pie to cool at least 2-3 hours so the custard is fully set. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Winter Gardening

I've just constructed these fabulous mini-hoop houses, so I can try to grow a few things over the winter! Last weekend I attended a winter gardening workshop at Los Poblanos Organics - I've been to one of their gardening workshops before, and I always learn something new. In the spring, I'll use these as a seed-starting nursery, because we don't have enough space or bright enough light in the house to really get seedlings started well.

I've got some radishes and fava beans started in there, along with the kale I've been growing all summer, and some little starts of broccoli and Brussels sprouts. My big goal is to grow Brussels sprouts - possibly my favorite vegetable. I've tried them in the spring and they got full of aphids, so I wanted to try them in the fall when there are far fewer pests, but this has been an odd fall! It was so hot all the way through September, I couldn't even get seeds to germinate, then no frost until October 30, and just last week the overnight low suddenly dropped into the 20s and hasn't risen since. So maybe, just maybe, the hoop house will keep my little plants happy enough through the winter that they can burst forth in all their brassica glory as soon as it starts to warm up in the spring. I'm also planning to start some salad greens.

For each hoop house, I used 3 ten-foot lengths of 1/2-inch PVC Schedule 40 pipe. I stuck the ends into the ground just inside the frame of each raised bed, which is 3 feet by 6 feet. I bet you could do this without a raised bed, but you might need some stakes to tie them to. I covered each set of hoops with a 10 by 10-foot sheet of 4-mil plastic, which is available at Lowe's or Home Depot - it's much heavier than a painter's dropcloth, and it's usually near the building supplies - just ask them where to find it. Then I folded the ends in from each side and rolled them together and clipped them with clothespins. It's noticeably warmer inside there already!

Apple Rosemary Chicken

I'm usually not too keen on crockpot recipes, but this one is really good! It's adapted from a recipe on the Food Network website, but since we just got a huge freezer pack from Keller's farm store, we only have whole chickens. I didn't feel like cutting it up so I put the whole thing in. It makes enough for plenty of leftovers, but you can cut the recipe in half if you like.

1 whole chicken
2 cans cream of chicken (or mushroom, or celery) soup
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup white wine
5 apples
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic (peeled)
4 good-size sprigs rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
1 package extra-wide egg noodles

Slice apples and onions 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick, and put in crockpot with the rosemary sprigs and garlic. Nestle the whole chicken amongst them. Pour the soup, broth and wine over everything and put on the lid. Cook on high 4-6 hours or low 8-10 hours. The chicken will be falling off the bone and the apples and onions release their juices to make a delicious sauce. Cook the egg noodles as directed on the package. Serve chicken pieces and sauce over noodles, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Caramelized Pear, Pecan and Parmesan Salad

I've been so busy enjoying all the other fruits of fall, I'd almost forgotten about the pears. I have two big paper sacks of pears from my backyard tree sitting in the bottom of my refrigerator, ready to be taken out and ripened a few at a time. Unlike most fruits, they are best picked when green and ripened off the tree, because they ripen from the inside out, and the centers can rot before the outside is ripe. So now is the perfect time to make a succulent fall salad with pears. 

I know I've published a pear salad before, but just I have to share this fantastic technique from Cooks' Illustrated for caramelizing the pears - it makes less-than-stellar pears taste magnificent. The simple combination of sugar, salt and pepper is surprisingly magical. I have a White Doyenne pear tree in my backyard, and I haven't quite gotten the hang of when to harvest the pears so that they ripen up nice and juicy... the fruit starts to get a blush and break off easily around mid-August, so this year I thought OK, now must be the time. So I picked maybe half of them, then I started thinking, maybe these are a bit too green. So I waited a couple more weeks, and picked the rest. Now I think they still might have benefited from another week or two, because they are pretty dry even when I let them ripen in a paper bag on the counter for several days. If anyone has advice on this topic, I'd love to hear it!

It's almost pecan season, and in case you didn't know, Dona Ana county is one of the top pecan-producing counties in the nation. The NM Pecan Festival was just a couple of weeks ago in Las Cruces, and they're expecting an especially large crop this year. This year's harvest won't actually start until after the first frost in the southern part of the state, which happens to be forecast for next week. The sweetness of pecans and pears with the buttery parmesan complement the slight bitterness of any salad greens, but especially sharp-flavored ones such as arugula or cress.

One large pear (or a few tiny ones like I have), quartered
1 t. olive oil
½ t. sugar
Pinch of salt
A few grinds of pepper
2 t. balsamic vinegar

3 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. minced chives
1 T. olive or grapeseed oil
Pinch of salt

Two large handfuls of arugula leaves
Two handfuls of pecans, chopped
Several thin slices of parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. If your pears are juicy, you'll probably need to turn up the heat and don't cook them too long. Toss the pear quarters with sugar, salt and pepper. Lay each quarter on one cut side in the skillet. Cook until lightly browned, about 2-4 minutes, then tip each piece onto its other cut side to brown. Turn off the heat and drizzle balsamic vinegar over the pears, stirring gently until it forms a syrupy coating on the pears. Remove from the skillet and set aside to cool. Whisk balsamic vinegar with chives, oil and salt to make the dressing. Slice the pear quarters crosswise, if they are large, or just leave them whole if they are tiny. Arrange the pears, pecans and parmesan on a bed of arugula, and drizzle with dressing. Serves two.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Quince and Goat Cheese Tart

This is a fantastic, rich and tangy dessert - I don't think I've ever made anything quite like it before. It's kind of like a cheesecake or a cheese danish, but with lots of fruit flavor, all wrapped up in a flaky pie crust. I was inspired by a recipe in Deborah Madison's Local Flavors cookbook, but it called for creme fraiche (which I can never find) as well as ricotta (which I never have on hand), as well as making a crust with ground walnuts. I wanted something simpler, with less cheese and more quince and walnut goodness. Next time I think I might try even a bit less cheese (or maybe just leave out the cream), and fold the crust over the edges like a rustic tart.

1 pie crust
1 pint quince slices poached in syrup (see below)
4 oz. goat cheese
1/4 cup cream
1 egg
1 egg yolk (I'm not sure this is necessary)
2 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup (or more) chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400F. Lay the pie crust in the pan and cover with foil, then weight it with another pie pan (or pie weights, or beans) and bake 15-20 minutes until it is golden brown. Turn oven down to 350. Whip the goat cheese, cream and egg(s) with the brown sugar and cinnamon until smooth. Lay the quinces in the bottom of the crust and pour the cheese mixture over them. Scatter walnuts over the top. Bake 30 minutes more, until the cheese is mostly solidified and lightly browned at the edges.

To prepare the poached quince slices: Core and cut 2 pounds of quinces in 1/4-inch wedges, add to 2 cups sugar in 6 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer until quinces are tender, about 45 minutes. It's super-easy to can them for later use... just put the quinces and syrup in clean canning jars, screw the lids on and set in boiling water bath for at least 10 minutes at sea level, 15-20 minutes at high altitude. After you remove them from the boiling water, you should hear the lids ping within a few hours, letting you know they are sealed - if they don't seal, just refrigerate them.

Tomatillo (or Green Tomato) Salsa

This is my all-time favorite salsa, from Cheryl and Bill Jamison's Border Cookbook. Chipotles give it a rich smoky flavor, caramelized onions give it a little sweetness, and the roasted tomatillos are tangy with a wonderful malty flavor. I didn't grow tomatillos in my garden this year, but I've got tons of green tomatoes, so I thought I'd try using them instead, and it turned out almost as good.

I've grown tomatillos in the past, and they are marvelous, sprawling, vigorous plants that thrive in poor soil and hot sun... the only problem is the pests that love them too (*see below for pest discussion - I don't want to ruin your appetite!)  Even with the pests, the tomatillo plants are so robust that I've still gotten a huge harvest every year I've grown them, so I highly recommend giving them a try. And then you can also make some delicious Verdolagas and Tomatillos Stewed with Pork.  If you don't have a garden, check the regular grocery store (where they may be expensive) or the Mexican grocery (where they're usually really cheap).

1 pound whole tomatillos (husks removed) or small green tomatoes
1 Tbs olive oil
1 small onion
1 Tbs vinegar
1 tsp chipotle powder or 1 canned chipotle in adobo (minced)
1 tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro

Heat the broiler. Broil tomatillos in a single layer, turning occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until they are soft and brown in spots. Meanwhile, heat the oil and chop the onions - red or sweet onions are really nice. Fry them on medium heat until they are soft - I like to cook them until they are nice and golden brown for a rich, caramelized flavor. Cool the tomatillos, chop them coarsely, and add them to the onion. Add the vinegar - I like to use cider vinegar for its fruity flavor, but with the green tomatoes I tried malt vinegar to replace the malty flavor of the tomatillos. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and cook on low for a few more minutes to let the flavors mingle.

*Not many people grow tomatillos, so no one ever tells you what to watch out for. My major problem was the three-lined potato beetle, which most garden references call "not a significant pest" - ha! Their disgusting, slimy larvae ate most of the leaves off every one of my tomatillo plants. The good news is, they weren't remotely interested in anything else in my garden! If you're vigilant, you can control them with insecticidal soap. And then there are tiny worms that can infest the fruit - I haven't seen these myself, but the guys from Vida Verde Farm lost about 50% of their crop this year to them! On the other hand, their husks protect them from being eaten by grasshoppers, and they don't get those giant tomato hornworms.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Green Tomato Pie

This was Dave's grandfather's favorite pie. It's richly spiced, kind of like mincemeat. I love it with all tomatoes, but Dave's mom uses half apples. Some recipes call for raisins as well.

It's been a couple weeks since our first frost, but if you grew your own tomatoes this year, your kitchen counter is probably covered with green ones right now. I'm always a little sad to see my tomato vines killed by frost just when they are at their peak of glory, and it seems like a shame to let so much potential go to waste.

Some can ripen indoors over time – you can tell by the warm yellowish cast to their skin. If you carefully lay them in a single layer in a cardboard box and cover them with newspaper, you may be able to eat red tomatoes all the way up until Christmas. Others are still so immature that they will never ripen – these are a pale whitish-green color, and they are perfect for making green tomato pie! If you use the slightly more mature ones there's a more distinct tomato flavor, so it just depends on what you like.

2 pounds very green tomatoes (about 8 medium-size)
½ C. brown sugar
½ C. white sugar
1 T. flour
Zest of one lemon

½ t. cinnamon
¼ t. nutmeg
¼ t. ground ginger (optional)
¼ t. salt
2 crusts for 9” pie

Preheat oven to 375º F. Cut small tomatoes in half, or large tomatoes in quarters, and remove the seeds because they can make the pie too juicy. Slice about ¼ inch thick. Toss with sugar, flour, lemon zest and spices (my original recipe called for some lemon juice, but this can make the pie too juicy, so it's safest to leave it out). Pile filling into unbaked bottom crust, pressing down gently to settle the tomato slices. Seal top crust over and cut slits to let the steam escape. Bake 45 minutes or until the crust is golden-brown and the juices are thickened and bubbling. I tried this without the top crust, and I think the tomatoes didn't get cooked as evenly as they would with two crusts - but it was still tasty!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Buckwheat - Better Than Oatmeal!

This is one of our breakfast staples. Now that the weather's getting cold again, I love a hot bowl of toasty goodness.  I know it's not really a veggie, it's a grain, but I probably need to eat more whole grains. Buckwheat is high in iron and B vitamins, as well as being gluten-free! You can find whole buckwheat groats in the bulk bins at natural foods stores - sometimes you can buy them already roasted, otherwise dry-roast them in a skillet for a few minutes, until they start to smell good. The key to making buckwheat taste nutty and delicious, with a really nice texture, is to bake it. We usually do it in the toaster oven.

1/2 cup whole roasted buckwheat groats
1 cup boiling water
1 Tbs honey
Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in an ovenproof dish (or cast-iron skillet). Cover tightly and bake at 350F for 20 minutes, until all liquid is evaporated. Serve with a dollop of plain or vanilla yogurt.

Root Vegetable Pot Pie

As the weather gets colder, I'm in the mood for baking. Root vegetables are so hearty and packed with nutrition, they're the perfect fall meal.

You can mix and match any kind of root vegetables to fill this savory pie (or even kohlrabi, which is technically not a root, but has a similar texture). We just had our first frost, which makes parsnips all the sweeter. Carrots also keep beautifully stored in the ground throughout the winter. I've bought some gorgeous red turnips this year from Majestic Valley Farm - many people are afraid of turnips, including myself, but they lend a delicious earthy note to the mix. And of course, potatoes... not all potatoes are created equal! The potato varieties you can buy from local farmers have so much more flavor than the typical Russets we buy at the grocery store. Beets could be good too, but they tend to overpower the more delicate flavors of other root veggies. Meat is optional.

2 parsnips
2 carrots
2 medium-size potatoes
1 large turnip or rutabaga
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic
Olive oil
½ t. salt
¼ t. pepper
½ pound stew meat (optional)
¼ C. white wine or dry vermouth
2 C. vegetable or chicken stock
1 t. thyme
2 T. flour + 2 T. cold water
1 or 2 pie crusts

Preheat oven to 500º F. Cut vegetables into ½ inch pieces. Crush the garlic cloves and peel them. Toss everything with olive oil, salt and pepper in a large baking pan. Roast, turning occasionally, for 20-25 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Turn the oven down to 375º F.

If using meat, brown in a skillet until cooked through, and set aside. When vegetables are done, remove them from the roasting pan and set them aside. Deglaze the roasting pan by pouring the wine or vermouth into it and scraping up all the little bits from the bottom. Pour this liquid into the skillet, add stock and thyme, and bring to a boil. Shake the flour with cold water in a jar (or just whisk in a bowl), and add to the stock, stirring vigorously. Simmer until the gravy is thickened and reduced by about half. Toss the meat and vegetables in the gravy.
If you like your pot pies to have a bottom crust, pour the filling into the bottom crust, otherwise just pour directly into the pie plate. Seal the top crust over everything, and bake 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Saffron Chicken with Quinces

The quince is an odd fruit that looks like a cross between an apple and a pear... but fuzzy. It smells heavenly, a bit like pineapple. When raw, it's sour, astringent, and tough, but when cooked its taste is incredibly rich and delicious, like apple intensified! Not many people grow quinces anymore, and the only places I know to get them are from Gutierrez Farm and Macias Farm at the Downtown Growers' Market.

Saffron, one of the world's most expensive spices, comes from the stigma of a crocus which blooms in fall. They actually grow quite well in Albuquerque, so I've just ordered some for my garden - now is the time to plant them, and most nurseries will sell out by the end of October.

This flavorful chicken stew with quinces is common, with many variations, in the Mediterranean and Middle East. My pomegranate tree is loaded with fruit right now, so I added some pomegranate seeds as a garnish, but next time I would also incorporate them into the stew.

1 whole chicken, cut up into serving pieces
4 quinces
1 medium onion
A pinch of saffron threads
1/2 t. coriander
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. black pepper
1 C. chicken stock
1 t. honey
Seeds of 1 pomegranate (optional)

Cut quinces into eighths, removing the seeds and stem. Heat oil in a wide skillet over medium flame. Sear the chicken until browned on both sides, and set aside. Add onion to the skillet and cook until translucent. Push the onions to one side of the skillet, add quinces and brown on both sides. Stir in spices, stock and honey. Add most of the pomegranate seeds (optional) but save a handful for garnish. Put chicken pieces back into the skillet, cover tightly and simmer 30 minutes or until the chicken is done and the quinces are tender but not mushy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Green Chile Apple Pie

Green chile apple pie is a New Mexico classic, and everyone makes it a little differently – I could never reveal my friend Ashley's secret recipe, so I had to make up my own! I used some of Dixon Orchard's special Champagne apples, which are fantastic for fresh eating but also hold their shape and flavor nicely when cooked. Cooking the apples before putting them into the pie allows the green chile flavor to thoroughly infuse, and eliminates the gap between the filling and the top crust that forms when the fruit shrinks during cooking.

6 ripe apples
2 T. butter
1/2-1 C. chopped green chile
3/4 C. sugar
1/8 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 C. cheddar cheese, grated
2 pre-made pie crusts

Preheat oven to 375. Core and slice apples 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Heat butter in a large skillet on medium heat until fragrant and sizzling. Add apples and toss to coat, cover tightly and cook, stirring frequently until they are tender but still slightly crunchy, about 5 minutes. Stir in green chile, sugar, salt and spices, and cook on high heat about 5 more minutes, until the juices thicken. Lay the bottom crust in a 9” pie pan and sprinkle cheese over the bottom. Pour in the apple mixture. Lay the top crust over and seal by crimping the edges. Bake about 45 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pomegranate Martini

Our pomegranate tree (well, shrub really) has borne its first gorgeous crop this year! Tucked in a sunny southwest-facing corner, it is thriving, and we've got about a dozen fruits.

We're in heaven, just cracking them open and tumbling their gorgeous little ruby seeds out over a bowl, and eating them fresh. The next step, of course, is to make a cocktail out of them...

To make the juice, I just crushed a handful of seeds through a strainer with the back of a spoon.

1.5 ounces pomegranate juice
1.5 ounces gin

Shake with ice, and pour into martini glasses. Drop a few pomegranate seeds in the bottom of the glass, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

Cabbage, Currant, and Chorizo Slaw

This dish we had at Bar Salute in Greytown, NZ was so good, I had to re-create it as soon as we got home! Unfortunately, I forgot to finish this post about it until now. It's so sweet and crunchy, and filling, because of the chorizo... a perfect light winter dish, because cabbages keep so well through the winter, and lemons are in season. In New Zealand, the lemons taste slightly different than our lemons, with a hint of orange, so I used a bit of orange juice to reproduce this flavor.

2 fresh chorizo links
1 cup water
2 Tbs olive oil

1 pound cabbage (about half a medium head)
1/2 small red onion
2 Tbs fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
2 Tbs. black currants
Juice of one lemon
Juice of one quarter orange
1 tsp honey
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground coriander
Salt and pepper to taste

Set the chorizo links in a pan with the water and olive oil over medium heat. Boil until the water is evaporated, turning the sausages over halfway through. Fry until the sausages are browned on both sides, then set aside. When cool enough to handle, slice the chorizo in half crosswise, then slice each half lengthwise into about 6 long pieces.

Slice the cabbage and onion into very thin ribbons. Chop the cilantro leaves roughly, and toss with the chorizo, cabbage, onion and currants.  Mix the lemon juice, orange juice, honey, cloves and coriander to make dressing. Toss with salad, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sweet and Savory Crepes

Last weekend, we had a fabulous breakfast with our friends Dan and Viv - crepes, with sweet and savory fillings. Viv made the crepes, some with coconut milk, some with whole wheat flour.

We brought fresh spinach, ham, and fresh oyster mushrooms from the farmers' market, grown by Exotic Edibles of Edgewood. For the crepe recipe I use, and the spinach filling with veloute sauce, see my earlier post about spinach crepes. We made these the same way, but added chopped ham to some and oyster mushrooms to others. For the mushrooms, I just lightly browned them in olive oil with green onions, garlic, salt and pepper, then added a splash of white wine at the end and cooked a bit more until the wine evaporated.

And for sweet stuff, we brought fresh peaches from Montoya's Orchard, and Cort Pendu Plat apples from our tree (this is the first year we've had a really good crop, and they taste fantastic!) I cut up the peaches and tossed them with a few tablespoons of sugar to macerate. The apples were just sauteed in butter, with a little cinnamon added at the end. One of my favorite crepe fillings is actually apples (or applesauce) and bacon, but we were trying to keep it light. All in all, a perfect Sunday morning.

Crispy String Beans with Pork

I bought these gorgeous purple yard-long beans at the farmers' market this week from Eli and Amanda at Chispas Farms. They are so sweet and crunchy, and they stay red when you cook them!

Here's one of my favorite ways to eat snap beans, that reminds me of when I lived in Honolulu. I was friends with a bunch of grad students from the meteorology department, who worked on the floor below me at the University of Hawaii, and we used to eat at this great Chinese place called the Dew Drop Inn. On the menu it was called Crispy String Beans with Pork, but you can make it with any ground meat and any type of snap beans you like.

2 Tbs oil
1 pound snap beans
1/4 pound ground pork, beef or turkey
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs fish sauce (OR 1 Tbs mirin or dry sherry + 2 Tbs soy sauce)
red chile or cayenne to taste
1/2 Tbs grated fresh ginger (optional)
2 green onions (optional)
1/2 tsp sugar (optional)
1/2 tsp sesame oil (optional)

Wash the beans, trim the ends and dry them with a dishtowel. Cut them into 2-5 inch pieces. Get the oil very hot in a wide skillet on medium heat. Add the green beans and fry until the skins pucker and brown slightly, about 7-10 minutes. Remove the beans and set aside.

Add more oil to the skillet if necessary, and fry the garlic for a few seconds. Add the meat, break it up into small bits and fry without turning until browned, then turn once to brown the other side. Add the green beans and all remaining ingredients. Toss to coat everything evenly with the sauce, and remove from heat. Serve hot, with rice.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dry Okra Curry

This was my first favorite way to eat okra (now I usually just grill it). It reminds me of the okra curry I ate once in Fiji - possibly the first time I ever ate okra, in fact. The key is to fry the okra until it's no longer slimy.

I was on my way back from studying abroad in Perth, and I had the chance to stop over in Fiji, but I'd never been there and had no idea what to do. I started asking people about what it was like there, and an Indian friend said his mother had a friend who lived there! I called her from the airport in Nadi, not wanting to impose, but curious to see if I could meet her... and she immediately said "you can stay with us, when are you coming?" So I got on the bus to Suva, took a cab to her house, and was there by dinnertime. Amazing.  I was really only there for a day or two, because I only had five days in Fiji, and I went to two other islands before heading home. We went shopping, saw a Hindi movie, and had this okra dish along with a tasty goat curry for lunch. It made quite an impression.

2 Tbs oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 lb okra, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground ciriander
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a wide skillet on medium-high heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and fry until lightly browned, about 10 seconds. Turn the heat down to medium and add the okra and onions, spreading them out in an even layer. Fry, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until the pieces are browned and the okra has lost its sliminess. Add the spices and lemon juice and cook another 5 minutes, stirring gently. Serve hot, with rice and perhaps some dal, or a meat dish.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Watermelon Curry

Here's an unusual recipe for one last end-of-summer hurrah! You can still find watermelons at the growers' markets right now, and the ones in my garden are just getting ripe - this yellow variety is called Desert King.

I got this recipe from the Albuquerque Journal several years ago, but it comes from Rajasthan, and was originally published in The Great Curries of India, by Camellia Panjabi. It's hard to categorize – it could be an appetizer, a salad, a dessert a side dish, or even a main dish, because it is actually quite filling. It's sweet and refreshing, but watch out - when the watermelon juice runs down the back of your throat, it's spicy! You'll be addicted before you know it.

About 10 cups cubed watermelon (one small watermelon, like a Sugar Baby)
1/8 t. paprika
1/8 t. turmeric
1/2 t. ground coriander seed
1/2 t. salt
1 garlic clove, crushed/pureed
1 t. ground red chile or cayenne
Juice of one lime
1/2 T. sugar
2 t. oil
1/4 t. cumin seeds

After cutting the watermelon, pour the juice from the bottom of the bowl into a cup. Add the paprika, turmeric, coriander, salt, garlic, chile, lime juice and sugar to the watermelon juice. Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat and fry the cumin seeds until they begin to brown, about 20 seconds. Turn the heat to medium, add the juice, and simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half. Add the watermelon pieces, turning to coat them evenly with the syrup, and cook 3-4 more minutes, until heated through.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Antipodean Food Tour 2010

Ok, so here's my food-focused vacation slideshow from our recent trip New Zealand (and a little bit of Australia)!  I only wish we could have made it all the way out to Perth to see Peta.

Since meat pies and fish 'n' chips are about all that come to many people's minds when they think about cuisine from the land down under, you might be wondering - what would the veggie-obsessed find? Actually, they have an amazing range of Asian food that we don't often see in the US, and even everyday cookbooks there have more Asian and Middle Eastern influence than typical American cookbooks. I bought an awesome New Zealand Vegetable Cookbook!

Our first stop was Melbourne, to visit Dave's college friend, Ann. We spent a few days just wandering around the neighborhoods, checking out art galleries and restaurants in all the crazy laneways of the downtown area. We had an amazing lunch at Gingerboy, the more casual and affordable of two restaurants owned by celebrity chef Teage Ezard. The "upscale street hawker" menu included such delicacies as Crispy Chili Salt Cuttlefish with Lemon and Sesame, Soy-Cured Ocean Trout with Turmeric Coconut Caramel, Fried Whole Baby Snapper with Hot and Sour Banana Flower Salad,
and Bangalow Pork Belly with Salted Prawn and Fennel Salad. 

A trip to the grocery store was fun - we checked out the selection of Greek yogurt (mmm, so thick and creamy), Devonshire cream, passionfruits - which are just coming into season...

and "Mexican food." Sadly, Mexicans have yet to conquer the Southern Hemisphere, although one of the most popular restaurants in Melbourne right now is a Mexican place called Mamasita, run by a New York-educated Aussie.

We also visited the famous Queen Victoria Market to revel in the glorious array of produce, meat and fish - I've never seen such huge cabbages and fennel!  Lemon myrtle-flavored macadamia nuts were one of the highlights.

Dave was brave enough to try driving on the left, so we could see some cool Aussie critters at the Healesville Sanctuary in the Upper Yarra Valley. On the way, we had a fantastic lunch and saw some great contemporary art at the TarraWarra Estate.  I can't wait to try recreating the Chestnut Linguini with Wild Mushroom Sauce, Jerusalem Artichoke Crisps and Pecorino, and this incredible Duck, Pinot and Prune Pie with Radicchio and Blood Orange Salad.

On the way out of Melbourne, we had some of the best airport food I've ever encountered - a Tandoori Chicken Pie, washed down with a Victoria Bitter and a Little Creatures Pale Ale.

Next, we visited New Mexico peeps Andy and Jordan in Auckland for some hiking, boating, and city funtimes. Within one block of their place, dining options included curry, sushi, Peking duck (at the excellently titled Love A Duck Restaurant), and Tokyo Ramen...

For a weekend adventure, we headed up to the Northland, a rural, agricultural area with miles of gorgeous coast on both sides, and a balmy subtropical climate. All kinds of citrus trees were fruiting everywhere, including some very odd-looking ones:

We took a cruise around the Bay of Islands (unfortunately no dolphins) and out to Russell, once known as "the hell-hole of the Pacific" for its abundance of whorehouses and shady dealings. We shared a kilo of New Zealand green-lipped mussels, before taking the ferry back to Paihia. Then we went out for a second dinner in Kerikeri, at The Black Olive, an upscale pizza place with such funky toppings as kumara (New Zealand sweet potato), pumpkin, banana, and roasted peach chutney!

On the way home, we accidentally stumbled upon New Zealand's oldest building, the Stone Store. And just up the way, we had a fabulous lunch on the beautiful garden patio of FOOD at Wharepuke. The spinach-ricotta gnocchi and locally caught fish and chips were absolutely perfect. The Lemongrass Panna Cotta with Stewed Tamarillo was spectacular.

We'd never heard of a tamarillo before, so we asked about it, and she brought us a plate of them to try!  It's a subtropical fruit, also called the "tree tomato" that's not commonly seen anywhere except New Zealand, and probably South America, where they originated.

They taste kind of like a combination of kiwifruit and tomato - odd, but good! They're dessertlike with sugar sprinkled on them, but I think they would be great as a sweet/savory sauce for meat.

The final leg of our journey was a visit to Wellington, where my college friend Ken lives with his wife (a Kiwi!) and 18-month old son. We had a wonderful time wandering around the waterfront, visiting the amazing Te Papa museum, and shopping on Cuba street. The pastry case at Fidel's was irresistible - the raspberry-custard brioche was amazing with a long black (down-under coffee lingo for an Americano), and a lovely fresh lemon and ginger tea.

Luckily for us, the first annual Wellington on a Plate festival was going on while we were there, with fine dining restaurants all over the city offering specials. We had some perfectly-cooked local fish at Ortega's Fish Shack, and on our way home from visiting Ken's bache (Kiwi for holiday house) we stopped at Bar Salute in Greytown for some tasty treats. The Moroccan lamb soup was delicious, the blue cheese pizza was great, as were the lemon fritters with pomegranate molasses, but the real showstopper was the Moroccan cabbage and chorizo slaw with blackcurrant and lemon dressing.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing food tour of the Southern Hemisphere!