Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rosemary Pear Jelly

I really needed to thin our pear tree. It had tons of tiny pears, growing in clusters of 2-5, and I'm hoping that if I pick off all but one from each cluster, we might get decent size pears this year. So what to do with 6 pounds of hard, green, far-from-ripe pears? I've read that you can make apple-rosemary jelly from unripe apples, because they have natural pectin, which is what makes jellies gel. If you just cook them plain, you can even make your own pectin for use in other jellies! So I thought I would try it with pears, since unripe pears are supposed to have lots of pectin too (the riper they are, the less pectin).

I cut all the pears in half, sliced up a whole lemon (which is supposed to add extra pectin), covered it all with water, and boiled for about an hour. It filled the house with the most amazing scent! Everything got pretty soft, but not mushy, as you can see. Perhaps I could have cooked it even more. Then I laid a clean, thin flour-sack type dishtowel over a colander, and dumped the fruit in so the liquid drained into another pot. All the recipes say you should not push down to squeeze the juice out, or else the jelly will end up cloudy.  I left it to drain overnight in the refrigerator.

The next day, I added 3 cups of sugar and a couple sprigs of rosemary to the 3 cups of liquid I got, and started boiling it down. You're supposed to reduce the liquid's volume by half, and then it should be pretty much at the point where it's ready to gel. By this time, my jelly was frothing like crazy, coming up almost to the top of the pot, so I added a tiny sliver of butter, and that calmed it down to a manageable level. I kept stirring, and it was starting to look pretty thick, but I had a little trouble determining when it was done. I admit, I am a jelly novice, so... hilarity ensues!

Jelly recipes always say things like "when it sheets off the spoon", which I have never quite understood. I tried putting a dab on a cold plate to see if it gelled, but it didn't seem quite jellylike enough. In retrospect, I definitely should have stopped then. But I waited until I thought it was "sheeting," a few minutes longer. Only after I put it in the jars did I realize I may have overcooked it a bit, because I looked at the spoon and the stuff on it was incredibly sticky and thick like taffy! I finally found a more definitive description of what the jelly is supposed to do on the chilled plate. When you put a dab on the plate, you let it cool to room temperature and then run your finger through it. If the line stays, it is done. So I scooped my now rubber-cement-like jelly out of the jars (wow, was that easier said than done) and put it back in the pot with about another cup of water. I boiled it again, whisking vigorously to break up the lumps, then did the plate test again and it looked ok. Whew!

After all that, I was too exhausted to bother sterilizing the jars or processing them in boiling water like you're supposed to, so I guess I'll just keep them in the fridge.  Although the texture didn't come out quite perfect, the jelly was absolutely delicious on Sunday morning toast, and I bet it would be great on pork chops.  I'd say I'll probably be making this again (and hopefully getting it right the first time) next year!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cold Coconut Pudding with Strawberries, Ginger and Basil

Strawberries are in season, although there aren't too many farmers growing them here in NM.  I was daydreaming yesterday afternoon about a cool, refreshing dessert, and I came up with this. The candied ginger adds a perfect spicy kick to the tangy strawberries.

This quick coconut pudding is just a soft form of haupia, a dessert served everywhere in Hawaii, usually in little solid squares. I like the recipe from a wonderful cookbook called The Food of Paradise, which I picked up when I lived there. The great thing about this book is its fascinating description of the historical contexts in which Native, Asian, and Caucasian culinary traditions came together to form "local" food in the islands. If you've only been to Hawaii on a beach-lounging vacation, you may be surprised by the rich local culture that results from this diversity - much more than just luaus and shave ice.

1 can of coconut milk
3 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs cornstarch (3 if you want it solid)

Mix the cornstarch and sugar together in a small saucepan. Whisk in the coconut milk so there are no lumps. Heat on medium-low, stirring constantly, until the mixture is just simmering and thickens to a glossy, silky, creamy texture. Pour into small ramekins and chill thoroughly.

Chop 2 big pieces of candied ginger. Mix with a few spoonfuls of sugar, about 1/2 pound sliced strawberries, and a few thinly sliced leaves of basil (or pineapple sage!) Spoon over the cold pudding and enjoy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lemon Verbena Tea

This is one of my favorite refreshing summer drinks.  Lemon verbena is tough to find in stores, so you'll have to grow your own. You can usually find starts at good nurseries, and it is pretty hardy. Mine dies back in our cold winter, but grows 3-4 feet tall again every summer! Its scent is just incredible - like lemon, but faintly minty... it's hard to describe, but it's just one of the best smells you can imagine.

Add 2 large (8-10") sprigs of lemon verbena to 1 quart boiling water in a 2-quart pitcher.

Add 2-4 Tbs of honey if you like your tea a little sweet.

Steep 5 minutes, then add ice and cold water to chill it quickly.

Roasted Kohlrabi and Eggs with Greens

This is my latest recipe for the Edible Santa Fe website. I'm so excited to be doing this on a weekly basis for such a great local food magazine!!

Kohlrabi is such a funny looking vegetable. The bulbous stem is the part most people eat, but the greens are also edible. It needs cool weather to grow, so it's in season now, or later in fall.  It's been showing up in the Los Poblanos box lately, and at the Downtown ABQ growers' market this week, I bought some cute little bulbs from Seth at Vida Verde Farm. I think kohlrabi tastes best if you cook it either a lot or not at all - roasted until it caramelizes, or raw in salad or slaw.

I've been wanting to try this recipe by Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu restaurant in Napa, CA, which was originally printed in Sunset magazine. I have long been looking for a really interesting way to cook kohlrabi. And I always love greens - everyone at the growers' markets has all kinds of gorgeous greens at this time of year.
I haven't always been an egg lover, but we recently got 3 adorable chickens, and I guess maybe I'm a convert! It could be my imagination, but I think the fresh eggs really do taste better. So lately I'm looking for new ways to use them. If you're looking for fresh eggs, you can often find them at growers' markets. If you don't see them, ask a farmer - they are bound to know someone who sells eggs.

The only problem with this fabulous recipe was that it took 3 1/2 hours from start to finish! So here's my modified version that only takes one hour:

6-8 smallish (2-3 inches in diameter) kohlrabi bulbs
1/4 cup (for the kohlrabi) + 2 Tbs (for the greens) olive oil
4 eggs
1 bunch kohlrabi greens and/or any other greens you like, sliced into thin ribbons
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/4 cup water
2 Tbs sherry vinegar (or just use cooking sherry + cider vinegar)
1-2 Tbs honey, to taste
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbs prepared mustard

Peel the kohlrabi, and cut in 1-2 inch chunks. Toss with olive oil in a baking pan, and cover with foil. Roast at 450F for 35 minutes or until tender, turning every five minutes after about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the eggs in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes, then boil them until they are almost hard-boiled (about 5 minutes up here at 5000 feet). Crack all over and drop into cold water to cool before peeling.

Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in a large skillet. When hot, add the mustard seeds and let them sizzle until they begin to pop. Add the greens and bay leaves and turn to coat with oil. Add the water, sherry vinegar, honey and salt. Do NOT add liquids to the pan before adding the greens, otherwise hot oil will splatter all over your kitchen! Cook until greens are thoroughly wilted.

A word about the greens - the first time I made this recipe I used endive (also from Vida Verde farm), which needs a long cooking time. It is seriously bitter, so if you're ready for some intense flavor, go for it! Kohlrabi greens and collards can be very tough if you don't cook them long enough. Kale is a bit more forgiving. The original recipe calls for sorrel, which does not really need much cooking at all, so if you do use sorrel just turn off the heat after you've added all the ingredients.

Chop the eggs into quarters, and toss with the kohlrabi and greens. If you love mustard flavor like I do, add the prepared mustard as you toss. If you like a little subtler flavor, leave it out.

This dish has a fantastic mixture of big, bold flavors! I loved it with kohlrabi, but if you can't find it, try serving just the greens and eggs over a local free range chicken breast.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mulberries - Urban Foraging

How many Americans have ever eaten a mulberry?  Well, here in Albuquerque (as many with allergies know) there are mulberry trees all over the place.  The ones that cause the allergies are the male trees.  People normally don't plant the females because they make a big mess of black berries all over the sidewalk, but at this time of year that makes them easy to spot!  The berries are delicious, with a flavor like blackberries, although not as tart and with a little bit chewier texture.  They ripen over a period of only a few weeks, which happens to be right about now - so go out and see if you can find some around town!

We have one growing in a neglected corner of our back yard, and this week I got inspired to pick them.  I love to make fresh fruit sorbets all summer in my old electric ice cream maker. Sorbet is made with no dairy, just fruit and water, whereas sherbet has a little bit of dairy (but not as much as a full-fat ice cream). So here's a fabulous Buttermilk Mulberry sherbet. The buttermilk adds a rich creamy tang, and the result is a gorgeous deep purple.

1 cup fresh or frozen mulberries
1 cup buttermillk
1/4 cup sugar

Puree everything together in a food processor or blender. Freeze in ice cream maker according to directions, or just put it in the freezer for several hours, stirring it every hour or so.

There's also a great page all about mulberries in ABQ by Dave DeWitt of the fabulous annual Fiery Foods Show. I tried out the Mulberry-Chipotle barbecue sauce, and it was pretty good on chicken, but I wonder if it might be even better on lamb.

And then I was going to make this Mulberry Lime Custard Tart but we ended up eating all the rest of the fresh mulberries before I could get around to it! Oh well, maybe next week, since more seem to be ripening by the minute.

This article was also published on!

Sesame Snap Pea and Radish Salad

Usually I just end up eating all our snap peas right off the vine, but this year we had a really good crop - I picked almost 2 pounds!  This will probably be it for the poor little plants - after this they will just shrivel up in the heat (100 degrees yesterday).

So I thought I'd make a pea salad, something like this recipe from the New York Times  But I didn't have ricotta salata, and we don't have much mint yet... and we do have this fantastic toasted sesame oil!  It's incredible, much more flavorful than the Sun Luck brand you get at the regular grocery store - it's really worth a trip to an Asian supermarket for the real deal.

3 good-size handfuls of sugar snap peas
6-8 radishes
1 Tbs toasted sesame oil
2 Tbs ume plum vinegar
fresh ground pepper
sesame seeds (I happened to have these pretty black ones)

Cut the peas in half, diagonally.  Thinly slice the radishes.  Toss with all the other ingredients.  As you may have noticed from other posts, I am in love with the ume plum vinegar - it is just magical, salty and tangy, but milder than other vinegars.  It makes everything taste delicious, not that these peas and radishes needed it.  But if you can't find it or don't want to bother, just use cider or rice vinegar and a little salt.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Turnips Baked with Sour Cream and Cheddar

Ok, turnips are not the most inherently likeable vegetable out there. And the mature ones you can buy in the store with purple tops are a whole different thing from the young, sweet turnips we're getting from our garden and the CSA box right now. (See the previous turnip post for Julia Child's instructions on how to deal with mature turnips.)  Even I would have said I didn't really like turnips until quite recently.

But what follows is THE most delicious way I've ever had turnips (so far). Dave was actually dumbstruck for a few moments by its extreme deliciousness.  It may be cheating a bit, because sour cream and cheddar cheese are already known to be tasty together, but I think the flavor of the turnips really adds something.

1 lb turnips, cut in ~1 inch chunks
1/2 cup grated cheddar
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

Stir all ingredients together in a baking pan. Cover and bake ~1 hour (or until turnips are tender) at 375F. If you uncover it for the last 15 minutes, the sauce gets nice and thick.