Friday, December 16, 2011

Pistachio Orange Biscotti

Homemade biscotti make a wonderful Christmas gift. They are a bit of project, but worth the effort, and it's easy to create your own unique flavor combinations. The cookies are baked twice so that they stand up to repeated dunking in your favorite hot beverage. I used whole wheat pastry flour in this recipe, which gives the cookies a bit heartier flavor. Really you can add any kind of goodies you want to the basic biscotti recipe, but New Mexico pistachios and candied orange peel are a great combo. I made my own candied orange peels, but you can find them in many grocery stores this time of year (or just use some orange zest in the cookies instead).

3 large eggs
2/3 C. granulated sugar
2 t. vanilla extract
1/2 C. butter, melted and cooled
2 1/2 C. flour (whole wheat pastry flour or white all-purpose flour)
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1 C. chopped pistachios
1 C. chopped candied orange peel
1 C. chocolate chips (white, milk or dark)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Separate one egg, reserving the white. Beat the egg yolk with the other two eggs and the sugar, with an electric mixer on high speed, for 2 full minutes. Add vanilla and melted butter and beat for another full minute. In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. Add gradually to the wet ingredients, mixing only enough to combine. Fold in the pistachios and orange peel.

Divide dough into two equal portions. On a floured surface, roll each into a log about two inches in diameter. Place the logs about 3 inches apart on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper (or lightly oiled) to prevent sticking. Press down gently to flatten them a bit. Brush each log with beaten egg white, then sprinkle with granulated sugar – this helps hold them together when you slice them.

Bake 25-35 minutes, or until lightly browned and firm to the touch. Cool for at least an hour or overnight. Cut each log into 3/4-inch slices, like a loaf of bread. To avoid crumbling them, use a sharp, non-serrated knife and press straight down (no sawing).

Turn the slices on their sides and bake again at 350°F for about 8 minutes, then flip them and bake another 7 minutes on the other side. They should be pretty hard and a little bit toasted on each side. Cool to room temperature.

To melt the chocolate, put the chips in a dry, shallow bowl (all utensils must be completely dry a few drops of water can cause the chocolate to seize up.) Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir. Continue heating, stirring after every 30 seconds. When the chocolate gets closer to melting completely, reduce the interval to 15 seconds, and continue until the chocolate is just melted. This is especially important for white and milk chocolate, because they scorch more easily than dark. Dip the top of each cookie in chocolate and set them back on the baking sheet. Cool until the chocolate is completely hardened (to speed this up, put them into the refrigerator or the freezer for a few minutes). Makes about 20 biscotti.

Candied Orange Peels

6 large navel oranges (thick skins work best)
6 cups granulated sugar
Optional: 1 cinnamon stick, 1 vanilla bean or 2 cloves

Wash and dry oranges, and cut into wedges (quarters or eighths). Remove the fruit and set aside for another use. The sections of peel should still have the white pith attached. Place peels in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer 20 minutes. Drain off the water, refill with fresh water, and boil 20 more minutes to remove the bitterness. Drain again.

Add 4 1/2 cups sugar and 3 cups of water to the pan with spice(s) if desired. Boil the peels, uncovered, in this simple syrup on medium heat for 1 hour. Gently remove peels from the syrup and drain on a rack, white side down, for a few minutes. Save the syrup for mixing cocktails!

When peels are cool, slice them lengthwise into 1/4 inch strips, using a sharp knife or kitchen scissors. Roll the strips in the remaining sugar. Turn on the oven to 180°F, and spread the strips in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 60-90 minutes - don't use higher temperature or leave them in longer than 90 minutes, or the sugar will begin to melt. Cool to room temperature, at least another hour, or overnight.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Potato Pancakes with Ginger-Apple Chutney

This sweet-sour chutney is wonderful with potato pancakes, but also great on pork chops, or you could even put it in little meat pies or dumplings with ground pork. Next time I might experiment with adding spices like coriander or cinnamon. The recipe is adapted from Ming Tsai's Simply Ming cookbook.

Ginger-Apple Chutney
4 C. apples, diced
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 T. grapeseed oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 T. peeled and diced fresh ginger
1 C. rice vinegar
1 C. apple juice.
Salt and pepper

Toss apples with lemon juice and zest as you dice them, to prevent browning. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium flame, add onions and ginger, and cook until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add apples and cook, about 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. Add the liquids and cook, stirring gently, until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning as needed.

Potato Pancakes
2 large potatoes
1/2 t. salt
1 egg
2 green onions

Coarsely shred potatoes, sprinkle with salt, and place in a colander to drain for about 10 minutes, pressing firmly to remove as much liquid as possible. Add egg and onions, season with pepper as needed, and mix thoroughly. Heat oil on medium flame, then add potato mixture by quarter-cupfuls, flattening them to make pancakes about 4 inches in diameter. Cook until the bottoms are brown, then flip, adding more oil if necessary, and brown the other side. Drain on paper towels. Garnish with Ginger Apple Chutney and sour cream, or mix equal parts chutney and sour cream with one chopped scallion. Serves 2-3.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Homemade Sauerkraut

Fall is the best time to grow cabbage in Albuquerque – spring gets too hot too fast, but fall lingers a bit longer with warmish days and cold nights. Planted in August or September, cabbages and lots of other cole crops (like broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, and bok choy) are maturing right now. Cole crops are very cold-hardy, and can survive uncovered until November or December, but a cover of garden cloth will help them continue to mature for another month or so.

Sauerkraut is easy to make, full of Vitamin C and probiotics, and a traditional Christmas food in many Eastern European cultures.

The basic recipe has only two ingredients – cabbage and salt – but traditional embellishments include garlic, onions, bay leaves, caraway, juniper berries and wine. I made a small batch with just one cabbage, in a tiny crock I found at a vintage store, but glass quart jars are really nice because you can really see what's going on in there. This recipe is adapted from one given in Linda Ziedrich's excellent book, The Joy of Pickling.

1 to 1 1/4 lb. cabbage
2 t. pickling or kosher salt
1/4 t. juniper berries, dill seeds, or caraway seeds, or one bay leaf, crumbled
Additional water and salt for brine

Quarter and core the cabbage. Slice very thinly (about 1/8 inch), using a sharp knife or the slicing blade of a food processor.

Add the salt and juniper berries and mix thoroughly in a large bowl, with clean hands. Rinse a small crock or quart jar with boiling water – one pound of cabbage fits easily into a quart jar. Pack the cabbage in tightly, so the juice comes to the surface. To seal air out, fill a food-grade bag with brine (1 1/2 tablespoons salt per quart) and push it into the top of the jar so that all the air bubbles out. 

The salt is the key to getting the right kind of fermentation; use brine in the bag so that if the bag leaks, it doesn't ruin your sauerkraut. Not enough salt can result in soft texture, or even sliminess - if it is slimy, you've got the wrong kind of fermentation going on, and this is pretty much the only case in which you truly have to throw the whole thing out. So just don't skimp on the salt. Set in a cool spot, or just leave it on your counter to start fermenting. You may want to set the jar in a bowl in case it starts to bubble over.

After about a day, the cabbage should be submerged in its own brine. If not, pour a little of the brine from the bag into the jar and replace the bag. After about 2 weeks, little bubbles should be rising along the side of the jar from the fermentation. You can adjust the amount of water to give just enough pressure that it keeps the cabbage submerged; take some out if it's bubbling over. If any scum forms, skim off what you can, then wash the bag in hot water and replace it, but it's really not a big deal – the good microorganisms always win.

You can taste it at any point, to see if it's tart enough, and take it out a bit early if you like it less sour. Sauerkraut fermented at 65° or below has the best flavor, but it takes longer (five weeks or more). At 70° to 75° it takes about 3 weeks. When fermentation is complete, the bubbling will stop. Store in refrigerator, tightly covered.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pork and Apple Hash with Greens

This is my kind of breakfast. Hearty, stick-to-your-ribs food, made from leftovers and served with tasty, nutritious greens. 

Locally raised pork is available right now from  a few farms – Moore Family Farm is offering half hog shares, and Los Poblanos Organics sells their own pork on their website. 

Pork shoulder, also known as butt, is a fatty, full-flavored cut that becomes deliciously tender when slow-cooked. Local greens, onions and potatoes are still available at growers’ markets that stay open through the winter (such as Santa Fe, Corrales, and Los Ranchos).

1 bunch collard greens, dandelion greens, or kale
3 large potatoes
1/2 t. salt
2 tablespoons butter or cooking oil
1/2 to 1 pound leftover roast pork
1 large apple
1 onion
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only
Poached or sunny-side-up eggs, for serving

Chop the greens coarsely and steam for a few minutes, just until tender. Chop potatoes into 1/2-inch dice. Heat butter or oil in a wide skillet. Add potatoes, salt and enough water to cover. Put a lid on the skillet and simmer about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the liquid is mostly evaporated.
Chop the pork, apples and onions into 1/2-inch dice and add to the skillet with a little more water. Cook, uncovered, until the onions are tender and golden around the edges, about 10 minutes. Mix in the thyme leaves and greens, and fry, pressing mixture in the pan until the edges are crisped. Serve with eggs and toast. Serves 4.

Lamb and Turnip Pie

Turnips are so beautiful, I can’t resist buying them even though I don’t really know what to do with them. They’re so easy to grow and hardy through the winter and early spring… they are available almost year-round at growers’ markets. I bought this huge one from Vida Verde Farm - it just charmed me! 

The easiest way to learn to like turnips is to cook them slowly with a juicy piece of meat. New Mexico lamb is available almost year-round too, and the inexpensive neck bones make a flavorful stew. If you’re feeling fancy, go all the way and make a savory pie.

2 pounds lamb neck bones
2 T. all-purpose white flour
2 T. oil
2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 large sprigs of rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 quart chicken stock
1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 sheets puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Season the meat with salt and pepper, and toss to coat with flour. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot and brown the meat. Add the onions, and cook on medium heat until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the rosemary and stock. Bring to a boil and simmer, partially covered, about 2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone. (You could also do this in a crockpot so that when you come home in the evening all you have to do is bake the pie.) Add the turnips, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until the turnips are cooked and the gravy is thickened. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Roll out the pastry a little larger than the pie dish and lay the bottom crust. Pour in the stew and cover with top crust. Cut a slit in the center to let the steam out, and bake 40-45 minutes until golden. Serves 4.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Roasting pumpkin seeds after carving pumpkins is a time-honored tradition. I love carving pumpkins, but I've never really loved eating the seeds... until now. This recipe is adapted from David Leite's wonderful cookbook, The New Portuguese Table. You can use the seeds from any kind of winter squash.

2 cups pumpkin seeds
1 egg white
2 t. red chile or hot paprika
1/8 t. cinnamon
1 t. salt
2 T. sugar

Heat oven to 300F. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Remove the seeds from the pumpkin and rinse them. Whisk the egg white in a bowl until very foamy. Add sugar, salt, spices and pumpkin seeds. Mix thoroughly. Lift the seeds out with a slotted spoon, allowing them to drain a bit. Spread in a single layer on the baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until crisp and slightly browned, about 25 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chimayo Cocktail

As Eric Felten says, this is one of the few great cocktails that can be made with tequila, besides a margarita. In his fascinating column called "How's Your Drink?" in the Wall Street Journal, he once mentioned this gem, invented at Rancho de Chimayo in northern New Mexico. He raved about it, even going out of his way to visit Chimayo every time he's in NM.

The ingredients are: tequila, lime or lemon juice, unfiltered apple cider, and creme de cassis. But the key here is to use really good apple cider, and really good creme de cassis.

2 ounces tequila
1 ounce unfiltered apple cider
1/2 ounce creme de cassis
1/4 ounce lemon or lime juice

With high hopes, we made this drink the first time a few years ago with the cheap creme de cassis that everybody buys. And we were a little disappointed. The combination of Dixon's apple cider and tequila was pretty great, but the cassis kind of ruined the taste, and gave it a weird purplish hue.

This year we got some great apple cider from Manzano Mountain Retreat, and because we revere Eric Felten, we knew we had to try again with the Chimayo cocktail.  We finally bought some fancy French cassis for twice the price of the cheap stuff. And wow! Huge difference.

The good cassis has a wonderful, winey, fruity flavor and gives the drink a gorgeous red color. All of a suddent, I get it.  And I'll be looking for all kinds of ways to use cassis now! Wonder if we could make our own... I saw black currants for sale at the growers' market this summer.

The Garden Journal - July, September, October

Wow, August and September slipped away so fast! My favorite months of the whole year, but I was working too much and barely had time to look at the garden. This wasn't the best year for our garden - less than 3 inches of rain since January, and temperatures consistently over 90 degrees (although we had fewer days over 100). And after our first rain of the year, we were so excited we turned the drip system off, and forgot to turn it back on for a week. I'm amazed everything didn't actually die.

These photos are from July 27, and there's another set below from September 22, but I didn't have time to write about them then. We got just a few strawberries from the plant in a pot on the porch in July, but it hasn't done much since.

One of the coolest bugs I've ever seen! I think the pattern on its back looks like a printed circuit board. I spent an hour searching Google to figure out what it was - a Calligrapha beetle.

It laid these pretty pink eggs, which hatched into amazingly cute fuzzy larvae, then finally became these gorgeous beetles! It really only chewed on the hollyhocks, which can probably handle it - they are tough as nails.

The potatoes bloomed, which means the new potatoes are ready.  They will continue to grow bigger until the plant dies in the fall. These are volunteers from last year's sowing of Yellow Finns. Next year we'll have to plant potatoes in a sunnier spot, because the tubers never grew very big. I never thought to grow potatoes before, because they're so cheap in the store, but it turns out there are tons of cool varieties, and the difference in flavor is so amazing that it's really worth it!

The first tomato to ripen after the Sungolds was this cute little Stupice. It has continued to produce pretty well since July, but I can't say the flavor is spectacular.

The mystery squash grows bigger and its stripes get darker. It turned out to be a kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) - hooray!

The sunflowers volunteer year after year, seeds from a red variety we planted years ago. The lavender is blooming, and there's a little brown praying mantis on one stalk in the back in this photo.

 Aloysius likes to watch from the window.

A tiny watermelon and a tiny cantaloupe. The canteloupe got ripe, then split and rotted before I noticed it in August. The watermelon grew to about volleyball-size and we ate it in September.

September 22 - The cabbages I planted in April are finally starting to head up, but I don't have much hope for them - too many aphids and cabbage loopers.

The artichokes completely died back in August and September - we thought they were dead, but after the rains cooled the weather down a bit, they suddenly sprouted up again!

 I planted some broccoli and cabbage starts at the beginning of September and they are doing pretty well.

The Hopi squash grew absolutely huge - probably 20 feet in either direction. It climbed up the cholla and grew a pumpkin so heavy it took the cholla down! Then it went up the bean trellises and took those down too. We're still waiting for the stems to turn corky, which is how you tell a winter squash is ripe.

We got just one or two apples from the Cort Pendu Plat, none from the Arkansas Black. The deep freeze last winter must have killed the blossoms, just like on the plum tree. Let's hope we don't have another one of those this winter!

And finally, the sad story of the tomatoes. We were so excited to get all that alpaca poop, and we mixed lots of it into the tomato beds... which turned out to be way too much nitrogen for them, so they grew big and green, but didn't set much fruit. What fruit they did set, took forever to ripen. The marigolds sure look great though, don't they? We finally got a few ripe tomatoes off each plant this week, and now that it's mid-October it's too late set any more fruit. Sigh! Live and learn.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Roasted Tomato Sauce

I love to make this sauce in the fall when we have an overabundance of garden-ripe tomatoes and I want the heat from the oven to warm the house up a bit (we have a really old oven that just radiates heat, inefficient but charming). Unfortunately I don't actually have an overabundance this year - I put too much nitrogen-rich manure on my tomato beds, so they grew huge and leafy but didn't produce much fruit. Live and learn. So I used some Speckled Romans, my favorite paste tomato, from Amyo Farms. They have an intense flavor that is richer than any other Roma type I've tried.

This recipe is from an issue of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine several years ago, and it's a winner. Carrots make it extra-healthy and add a soft, mellow flavor. Roasting the vegetables brings out extra sweetness and depth of flavor. Roma-type (paste) tomatoes are usually best for sauce, because they have a drier texture and there's not so much juice to cook off, but any kind works well here because the carrots add body to the sauce. 

3 pounds ripe tomatoes
1/2 pound carrots
1 medium-large onion
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 t. dried thyme or several sprigs of fresh herbs
2 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425F. Cut the tomatoes in half (or quarters if you're using really big tomatoes). Slice the carrots and onions about 1/4 inch thick. Toss with the whole garlic cloves and herbs in olive oil on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast about 1 hour - be sure to check several times in the last half hour and move veggies from the outside of the tray to the center as they begin to brown. Remove from oven, let cool a few minutes, and remove tomato skins with tongs or your fingers. Transfer the veggies with their juice to a blender and puree until smooth. Cool completely and refrigerate. Serves 4, with pasta.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ginger-Lime Pear Marmalade

Another pear recipe that's perfect for underripe pears. Their crunchy texture, once cooked, gives a nice chewy bite to this marmalade. The natural pectin in the pears and citrus rinds makes it gel beautifully without added pectin.

I've always liked the combination of pear and lime - there's something delicately floral about both of them, and they work perfectly together. And of course ginger is a shoo-in (don't you just love that word?)

The recipe comes from the awesome new Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, so it is safe for canning (it's easier than you think!) and makes 4 half-pint jars. If you don't want to go to the trouble, you can always just refrigerate the jars. But they start to fill up the fridge and you can only eat so much jam, so I say go for it! You will need a jar lifter, though. I've made do with rubber-grip tongs, but that wasn't exactly safe. I've seen canning kits all over the place this time of year, at Lowe's hardware, at Ace, at K-Mart... and the jars are sold at grocery stores, but they don't always have the tools.

3 limes
8 cups thinly sliced, cored, firm pears
4 cups granulated sugar
3 Tbs chopped crystallized ginger
1 1/4 cups water

Remove peel from limes using a vegetable peeler, then slice into very thin strips. Juice the limes, and add to a stainless steel saucepan with the pears, sugar and ginger. Stir well to combine. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

If you wish to can the marmalade, set a large pot of water on to boil (for a small batch like this, a 6-quart stockpot will do). Wash the jars thoroughly and set them in the pot to warm. Set a skillet of water on low heat to warm the lids (you don't need to warm the rings).

In a small stainless steel saucepan, combine the water and lime peel. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook about 15 minutes, or until the peel is very tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Drain liquid into pear mixture.

Bring pear mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat, and boil hard for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add peel and boil until mixture gels, about 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and test gel.

This is the part I've always had trouble with - I can never tell if it "sheets" off the spoon and I'm never quite organized enough to chill saucers in the freezer for the other test. This book has a great explanation for testing by temperature! 
"Cook the soft spread until it reaches a temperature of... 8ºF (4ºC) above the boiling point of water.... At or below 1,000 feet (305m) above sea level, water boils at 212ºF (100ºC). At higher altitudes, subtract 2ºF (1ºC) for each added 1,000ft (305m) of elevation."
So... at 5,000ft elevation here in Albuquerque, we subtract 10ºF, and water boils at 192ºF. So my spread would be done when the temperature reaches 200ºF.

Once the proper temperature has been reached, skim off any foam. Remove your jars from the pot using your jar lifter, and pour the water out of them. Ladle the marmalade into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles by sliding a knife gently down the sides of the jar. Wipe the rim with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel. Use tongs to lift the lids out of the skillet. Center lid on jar, and screw band down over it to fingertip-tight.

Place jars in the boiling water bath, making sure that they are covered by at least an inch of water. Boil for 10 minutes if you're at sea level, 20 minutes in Albuquerque, 25 minutes in Santa Fe, or 30 minutes in Taos. (You must add 5 minutes for 1000-3000 feet of elevation, 10 minutes for 3000-6000ft, 15 minutes for 6000-8000ft and 20 minutes for 8000-10,000ft.) Turn off the heat, let the jars rest in the bath 5 minutes, then pull them out without tilting them - don't worry about water on the tops, it will just evaporate as they cool. Set them on a dishtowel on the counter and let them sit undisturbed for 24 hours. They will be shelf-stable for at least 6 months.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sweet Potato and Fontina Pizza with Shishito or Padron Peppers

This pizza combines two great tastes of fall - sweet potatoes and Shishito peppers (or similar Padron peppers). If you haven't tried these incredibly tasty little frying peppers yet this summer, now's the time to get some before they're gone. Both Shishitos and Padrons have an intense flavor and are generally not hot, but every once in a while you get a humdinger! They're generally fried whole in olive oil and sprinkled with a little sea salt as an appetizer. I saw the first sweet potatoes of the fall this month at the growers' market - I bought an absolutely enormous orange one about 5 inches in diameter, and a few slender magenta colored ones. Fontina makes this pizza really special - it's a soft cheese that melts like Mozzarella, but with a funkier flavor. There are many types, from milder Danish varieties to sharper aged French or Italian varieties, so if you can, taste a few to see what you like. For the crust, try a dough ball from Il Vicino or Whole Foods (they even have whole grain.)

1 premade pizza crust
1 medium sweet potato
Big handful of Shishito or Padron peppers
1 T. olive oil
1/4 t. salt
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 oz. Fontina

Preheat oven to 450. Stretch or roll out the pizza dough to fit a 12-inch pan (I like thin crust, so I just use half of one dough ball from Whole Foods.) Slice the sweet potatoes about 1/4 inch thick, then steam or microwave them for a few minutes until they are just barely tender. Slice peppers lengthwise, removing the stems. Toss with olive oil, salt, garlic and sweet potatoes. Distribute vegetables evenly over the crust and dot with slices of fontina. Bake until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is browned at edges, about 20 minutes. Serves 2.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pickled Pears

I picked 53 pounds of pears off our backyard tree last week! What now? A whole lot of canning. Pears are strange fruit - most varieties (other than Bartlett) cannot ripen on the tree. If you leave them on the tree until they feel soft on the outside, they will be rotten on the inside. The trick is to pick them green, then ripen them in a cool place, preferably about 55F and 90% humidity. Of course, it's not easy to find any place with that kind of temperature and humidity in New Mexico in September, so we just bought a wine fridge to try to achieve the right conditions. So we'll try to properly ripen some of the haul, and can the rest.

Lackluster or underripe pears are vastly improved by cooking. Mixed pickling spice is the key to the complex flavor of these pickled pears - you can find it in many grocery stores. The recipe is adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, the fabulous updated version of the classic Ball Blue Book which has been the bible of home canning for generations. You have to be extremely careful about adapting canning recipes so that you don't mess up the balance of acidity, which could make the recipe unsafe. All I did was skip the peeling of the pears and add a few tips. This recipe takes a bit of time to make, but the pears are shelf-stable for at least 6 months to a year, and they are delicious with a cheese plate!

6 pounds firm, just-ripe or slightly underripe pears
1 T. mixed pickling spice
1 T. whole cloves
1 T. coarsely chopped gingerroot
3 C. granulated sugar
2 1/2 C. water
1 1/2 C. white vinegar
1/2 lemon, cut into 1/4 inch slices

Halve and core the pears, putting them into a bowl with about a quart of water and the juice of half a lemon to keep them from browning. Add the spices, sugar, water and vinegar to a large nonreactive stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 5 minutes to let the spices infuse.

Working in batches, put pear halves into the pan in a single layer and poach over medium-low heat until tender, about 7 minutes. If your pears are very underripe, go ahead and poach them all at once, stirring occasionally. When all the pears are done, put them all in the pot, cover, and let stand in a cool place for 12-18 hours.

Prepare a large pot of boiling water, put the jars in it to warm, and warm the lids gently in a skillet of water. Remove pears from pickling liquid and set aside. Bring the pickling liquid to a boil in the stockpot, keeping it covered until you are ready to use it.

Pack the pears into jars, leaving a generous 1/2 inch below the top of the jar. Ladle hot pickling liquid into the jars to cover the pears, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Slide a clean knife down the side to remove any air bubbles, and add more liquid if necessary. Wipe the rim of each jar with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel. Center lid on jar, and screw bands down to fingertip-tight. Place jars in the boiling water, ensuring that they are covered by at least 1 inch of water.

Cover the pot, bring it to a boil and process 30 minutes (This is the correct time for Albuquerque at 5000 feet. In Santa Fe, at 7000 feet, it's 40 minutes. If you're at sea level, you only need to do 20 minutes.)  Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and wait 5 minutes before pulling the jars from the water. Set them on a dishtowel to cool for several hours before moving them. Makes 6 pints.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chevre Cheesecake with Grape and Rosemary Compote

I think this may be my favorite cheesecake of all time. I don't eat cheesecake much these days, but I remember when I was maybe 6 years old asking my mom to make her honey lemon cheesecake with cherries for my birthday.

I'm all about slightly savory desserts - this has a delicate but not overwhelming flavor of goat cheese. If you didn't know it was in there, you might not even guess. And now you can buy great logs of chevre (soft goat cheese) so inexpensively at Costco!  I love the unusual rosemary and red grape topping with or without walnuts. The flavor and texture of this cheesecake are exceptional - creamy, tangy and firm, not gloppy - and it's actually pretty easy to whip up.

The recipe comes from Cuisine at Home magazine - my mother-in-law gave me a subscription a few years ago, and we've gotten several great recipes from it.

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup toasted walnuts (if you're allergic, just use all graham cracker crumbs instead)
2 Tbs sugar
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted

1 lb goat cheese, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
3 eggs, room temperature
2 Tbs heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Grape and Rosemary Compote
3/4 cup dry red wine (or substitute 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and 1/2 cup water)
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 cups red grapes, halved
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp fresh lemon juice (omit if using balsamic vinegar)

Freshly ground pepper

Take the goat cheese, cream cheese, and eggs out of the refrigerator to warm up while you prepare the crust. Preheat oven to 350F. Chop graham crackers and walnuts finely (a food processor comes in handy here, but you can also just put them in a ziploc and bang them gently with a hammer). Mix thoroughly with sugar and butter. Press onto the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes, and let cool. Reduce oven temperature to 250F.

Beat the cheeses, sugar and sour cream together with an electric mixer on low speed, scraping the sides down often, until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides after each. Beat in the cream and vanilla. Pour into crust and bake at 250F for 60-75 minutes. The center should still be slightly wobbly. Let stand at room temperature until completely cooled, then cover the pan without letting wrap touch the top, and chill overnight.

Whisk together wine (or balsamic vinegar), sugar and cornstarch until smooth. Simmer over medium-high heat, whisking constantly until thickened, about 3 minutes. Pour syrup over remaining ingredients and toss to coat.

Remove ring from springform and cut slices with a long knife, rinsing the knife with hot water and wiping dry after each cut. Top each piece with compote and a small sprig of rosemary.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Roasted Corn Salsa

For just a few weeks every summer, the Schwebach Farm trailer shows up at farmers' markets with a huge load of sweet corn! I eat as much fresh corn as I can while it lasts, then look forward to next year. Roasting the corn caramelizes its sugars for a wonderful toasty flavor. Super-sweet and mild Red Tropea onions from Nolina's Heavenly Organics are really worth seeking out - they also sell them at La Montanita Co-Op. With deeply flavorful poblano chiles or sweet peppers, and perfectly ripe tomatoes, this salsa celebrates the peak of the harvest season. It can be served warm or cold, with chips, as a taco filling, or as an accompaniment to grilled meats.

2 ears of corn
2 large poblano chiles or sweet peppers
1-2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 medium sweet onion
1 pound tomatoes
1 jalapeno (optional)
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1/8 t. salt

Cut corn kernels off the cobs, and coarsely chop the peppers. Heat olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Fry the corn and peppers until the corn is a warm golden brown. If you like you, can fry the onions too, but if you use sweet onions there's no need. Coarsely chop tomatoes. Finely chop jalapeno. Toss everything together with vinegar and salt in a large bowl. Serves 4.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tomato Toast

Our standard summer breakfast - tomatoes with salt and pepper on buttered toast.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Summer Squash Salad

This is a simple and beautiful way to enjoy summer squash at the height of its season. Thin ribbons of yellow and green summer squash are salted but not cooked, for a great texture. It's even better with a few crushed Sungold tomatoes and crumbled feta.

2 medium zucchini or other green summer squash (1/2 pound)
2 medium yellow summer squashes (1/2 pound)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 T. balsamic vinegar
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small red or sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 t. chopped fresh basil
Handful of Sungold or other cherry tomatoes (optional)
Freshly ground pepper
2 T. crumbled feta (optional)

Holding a vegetable peeler in one hand and squash in the other, shave long, wide strips lengthwise. When this becomes difficult, place the squash cut side down on a cutting board to continue peeling. Toss with coarse salt in a colander, and let it drain about 10 minutes. Whisk together vinegar and olive oil in a large bowl. Add squash ribbons, onion, basil and tomatoes; toss gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with feta, and serve immediately.

Roasted Eggplant with Za'atar

Beyond ratatouille and baba ghanoush, it can be tough to think of exciting ways to cook eggplant.  Roasting it brings out its sweet, toasty flavors and silky texture, but if you're not careful, it can absorb too much oil and be soggy.  Za'atar is a fantastically delicious Middle Eastern spice mix made from thyme, sesame seeds, and ground sumac (a sour-tasting red berry).  I picked some up a few weeks ago at my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, San Pedro Mart, and I've been using it on everything... you can mix it with olive oil and spread it on bread, rub it on meats for grilling, and it is absolutely addictive on eggplant!

1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 t. coarse salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 T. olive oil
2 t. za'atar
1 T. toasted sesame oil
2 T. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced

Heat broiler. Slice eggplant into 3/4-inch-thick rounds, and cut each into 3/4-inch-wide strips. Toss with coarse salt and ground pepper. Spread in a single layer on lightly oiled baking sheet. Whisk remaining ingredients together, and drizzle over eggplant. Toss to coat and spread evenly again. Broil until eggplant is browned and tender, about 15 minutes. Serves 2.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rosemary Peach Galette

Luscious, juicy peaches are finally in season! It has been a tough year for many stone fruits, with the insane cold snap this winter, late freezes in May, and the extremely dry, hot summer. Very few people had apricots, plums, peaches or cherries, and even some apple trees didn't set fruit this spring. And now, many peaches are splitting from the heat. Montoya's Orchard has a smaller peach crop than usual this year, but they are as sweet as always, so get them while you can. I love combining fruit and herbs – rosemary was great in this rustic tart with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, but basil or lemon balm would also be wonderful.

1 small sprig fresh rosemary
5 peaches
3/4 C. sugar
1 pre-made pie crust
1 T. balsamic vinegar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400F. Slice the peaches and toss with sugar. Snip the rosemary into tiny bits with kitchen scissors, and stir it in. Let the mixture sit to macerate about 20 minutes. Lay the pie crust in a pie pan and pour in the peach mixture. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar if desired. Fold the edges of the crust over, and bake 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Serves 6.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fresh Grape Salsa

This simple and unusual recipe was given to me by a friend from Chihuahua several years ago. I planted grapevines along my front fence last year, and a few clusters have started to ripen (the only trouble is, they're not seedless). Many growers have grapes as well as all kinds of wonderful sweet onions, and of course fresh jalapenos, at the farmers' markets now. I got these sweet little Thompson seedless grapes from Crack Pot Herbs last weekend.

1 bunch of grapes, preferably seedless
1 jalapeno
2 T. chopped red onion
1 T. olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

Slice the grapes in half. Seed and finely mince the jalapeno. Toss all ingredients together and serve with chips, or on tacos. Serves 4.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Squash Blossom, Anchovy and Sun-Dried Tomato Pizza

Squash blossoms are a delicate summer treat. The blossoms of summer squashes like zucchini are the best, because they are tender and mild-tasting. Winter squash blossoms are often bitter, but they may be ok if you remove the pollen-bearing part. 

I always wondered - if you pick the blossoms, doesn't that mean you won't have any squash? Once I started growing my own squash, it became clear. It's easy to tell the difference between male and female squash blossoms, because the females have tiny baby squashes already forming. There are more than enough male blossoms and if you leave at least one on the plant, the females will still get fertilized and you'll have squash. Even if you pick some of the female blossoms, I doubt you'll have the problem of not enough zucchini.

Photo by Sergio Salvador
You can often buy squash blossoms at the Santa Fe farmers' market, and maybe other markets too, especially if you get there early. Local dairies, South Mountain and Old Windmill, sell wonderful soft goat cheeses. I love anchovies, but if you don't, just go with the sun-dried tomatoes on this delicious pizza. They add a nice, rich umami flavor to complement the earthiness of the goat cheese. Nolina's Organics sells fantastic sun-dried heirloom tomatoes at the downtown Albuquerque farmers' market.

1 package active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
1 t. sugar
1 2/3 C. flour
3/4 t. salt
2 t. oil
Oil and cornmeal for the pan

1 T. olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. anchovy paste, or as many anchovies as you like
6-8 squash blossoms
6-8 sun-dried tomatoes
4 ounces soft goat cheese

Combine the yeast, sugar and warm water and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Mix the flour and salt in a food processor or bowl. Add yeast mixture and mix thoroughly (or process for 45 seconds, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl). Add oil and knead or process for about a minute. If the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add more flour. Roll out to about 12 inches on a floured surface. Lightly oil the pizza pan and dust it with cornmeal, then spread the crust over it.

Mix the olive oil and garlic with the anchovy paste (if using, otherwise save the anchovies for sprinkling around with the other toppings). Brush evenly over the crust. Very gently wash the squash blossoms, if desired, and slice them into ribbons. If the sun-dried tomatoes are very dry, soak them in boiling water for a few minutes. Dot the crust with goat cheese, tomatoes and anchovies, then sprinkle evenly with the squash blossom ribbons. Bake about 20 minutes, until the goat cheese is bubbly. Serves 2 to 4.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cornichons a Cru

So many different kinds of pickles, and they all taste different. If you've only had the grocery store kind, you're really missing out. You don't have to ferment them in a crock, though it's easier than you might think. You can add so many lovely spice combinations to basic vinegar pickles, and you don't have to can them, just marinate them in a clean jar in the back of the fridge and you'll always have wonderful pickles on hand. These are some of the most unusually crunchy, fresh and delicately-flavored pickles I've ever made. The clear, bright flavors are elegantly simple - just tarragon, bay leaf, black pepper and shallots.

The only tricky part of making your own pickles is finding the right cucumbers. Regular ones from the grocery store just won't do, but the next few weeks are prime time to find them at the farmers' markets. Growing your own is not too hard, and very satisfying. I've been buying the most perfect little gherkins from East Mountain Organics this year, but next year maybe I'll try growing cornichons.

1 1/4 pounds small pickling cucumbers (or cornichons, or gherkins)
3 T. pickling salt or kosher salt
4 shallots, peeled and trimmed
1 bay leaf
2 tarragon sprigs
10 black peppercorns
2 C. white wine vinegar

Wash the cucumbers gently, and cut a tiny slice off each end. In a bowl, mix the cucumbers with the salt and refrigerate 24 hours, then drain and rinse in cold water. (Or if you're in a rush like I was, the night before we were going out of town for a week, you can just pack them in the jar with everything, and only use about half the salt.) Put the shallots in a shallow dish and pour boiling water over them. Let them stand for a few minutes, then drain. This prevents them from developing a funky sulfur flavor when pickled. Pack the cucumbers into a jar, interspersing with the shallots, bay leaf, tarragon and peppercorns. Fill to the brim with vinegar. Cap and refrigerate for at least a week before eating.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Garden Journal - July 15

Gosh, I feel so depressed about the garden in July.  It seems like half the stuff I planted in spring is dead, or at least half-dead. I told you I wasn't the greatest gardener. But... it's not so bad, as long as the tomatoes are doing ok.

The Sungold has already produced a handful of little orange beauties. These are probably the earliest tomatoes we've ever had! And the Japanese Black Trifele has set its first fruit.

The melons are flowering, and the bees are all over them. This is the Desert King watermelon. I love those deeply lobed leaves.

And here's the Charentais canteloupe. We only have one now - the other just died for some unknown reason. In its place, I planted the seeds we saved from the "mystery melon" that grew from the compost a few years ago (it was something like a Canary melon, oblong with yellow-green skin). Hopefully those will do well - they certainly came from hardy stock, and since our first frost won't come until October, it's not too late for planting melons.

The volunteer squash has produced a fruit! I still can't tell what it is. It looks like some summer squash I've seen, and that would mean this little guy is ready to pick... but it felt so hard when I squeezed it, I decided maybe not. We'll just have to wait a little longer to see how it turns out.

The Hopi squash has a very different growth habit - look how upright it is. No flowers yet, but the stems are incredibly thick! That's a tendril of the other squash cruising on by next to it.

The Tarahumara squash never sprouted, so I planted a few "mystery melon" seeds there instead.

Here are the first chiles (Espanola Improved). And Dave just planted a few black beans (Turtle, which is a bush bean), to fill in the patch. We've never tried growing these before, so it will be neat to see how they do.

So, for the summary:
Things that are doing well include yard-long beans, okra, tomatoes, marigolds, chiles, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, basil, and pears. The grapes I planted last year (Roberts Red) and this year (Himrod) seem to be doing fine.

Things that are not doing particularly well include artichokes, cabbages, dino kale, beets - these are all in one bed, so maybe it's the soil, or the afternoon sun. These are all moderate to heavy feeders, so next year I'll have to pay more attention to enriching the soil. They're doing much better on the side that gets more shade, so maybe I'll try them all in a shadier spot next year. Except the artichokes are perennials, so I'd like to try to make them work in this spot.

The fava beans, chervil, and green onions I planted in the beds under the Tree of Heaven didn't make it either - maybe it's the soil in these beds, or the shade, or quite likely just the heat. The sorrel is hanging on for dear life in there. But the upland cress was a definite success there in the spring.

Frying peppers and Tarahumara squash never came up - maybe they need a bit more coddling, so I'll try to start them inside next year. And the potatoes in barrels - not a huge success, but they're hanging in there, so we'll see what happens. Next year, I think I'll go back to growing them in the ground, in a sunnier spot than we did last year.

As for the perennials, the hop vine is still tiny, and I'm not sure if it's just because this is its first year, or the soil, or what. The strawberries are doing ok but not great - maybe I should try covering the soil with white plastic to cool it and keep the pillbugs and sowbugs off the berries. And I'm afraid the raspberries and blackberries I planted along the front fence have died. I'm guessing it's the heavy clay soil... I didn't prepare the soil very carefully, and I think they need some coddling in this climate. The Fall Gold raspberry I planted in the back yard, in better soil, is doing ok but not great.

All in all, maybe a 50% success rate. Every year I learn something new. It looks bad now, but come September, I'll be singing a different song. Everything that does survive July goes crazy once the monsoons arrive and the temperatures cool down a bit. If they ever come... this year is just scary dry.