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Monday, March 29, 2010

meyer lemon fest part 1: preserved

i went on a meyer lemon spree the other week. they were in season (though these did come from california, i should point out), so there were a ton of great looking ones at PCC natural markets. i really love meyer lemons-- they are sweeter than the average lemon, perfumy, thin-skinned, and are the most gorgeous color of yellow that i believe there exists in nature. i've read in a couple of places that they may be lemons crossed with some sort of sweet orange, but i can't confirm that. i can only declare with certainty that they are a gorgeous citrus treat. 

my plan for all the lemons i bought included preserving some. i've never worked with preserved lemons before, and frankly only know they exist because i've heard them referenced on shows like top chef. but, reading as many food blogs as i do, i realized that everyone else was doing it, so i would, too. the recipe takes a total of 5 days (non-active time) and requires a jar with a tight-fitting lid big enough to hold 6 cut-up lemons (or several smaller jars).

preserved meyer lemons
gourmet, december 1999 

2 1/2 - 3 lbs meyer lemons (10-12 count)
2/3 cup coarse salt (i used kosher)
1/4 cup olive oil

blanch 6 lemons in boiling water 5 minutes. (i actually blanched closer to 3 after reading complaints in the reviews about the lemons being too soft and difficult to handle and i had no problems.) let cool. cut lemons into 8 wedges and discard seeds. toss with the salt and put in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. 

squeeze the remaining lemons to get enough juice to cover the wedges in the jar. cover jar with lid and let stand at room temperature 5 days, shaking gently once a day. at this point i transferred them into two jars, and topped each with half of the olive oil. keep chilled.

refrigerated they will keep for about a year, but i doubt it will take me that long to use them up. 

i'm not entirely sure what i'll do with them. i know they show up in moroccan and northern african cooking a good bit. i don't do much of that style, but this is certainly motivation to give it a try. one thing i tried already was to use the leftover brine after the jar transfer in place of olive juice as a twist on a dirty martini. quite nice! i can also imagine a piece or two thin sliced with some asparagus and pasta, or even in something like a fresh tuna salad. these just may become a new kitchen necessity.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

black bean soup and cornbread

black bean soup. everyone has their own recipe, and anyone who doesn't certainly has easy access to any of the millions out there. i used to make this soup a lot, and tried out several different recipes until i found the one. unfortunately, the last few times i've made black bean soup, i've not been able to locate my magical recipe! it lives somewhere on, but i can't remember which of the dozens available is the one i loved. so, i gave up and made up yet another black bean soup recipe to toss on the pile with the rest. 

this is a pretty basic soup-- thick and savory with not a lot of heat. thankfully, it also uses some of my preserved summer and fall ingredients-- i've noted the abundance in the freezer and the countdown to having some of those ingredients fresh again means i need to get on the ball.

another black bean soup, for your consideration
about 3-4 servings

4 slices bacon
1/2 onion, diced
1 carrot, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 of a red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 4-inch piece of a mild dried chili pepper, chopped (i used dried numex joe e. parker from the farmers market, because it's what i had on hand. i'd use a whole fresh jalapeno, seeded and diced, if i had it.)
1 Tbsp+ cumin
4 cups fully cooked black beans, or 2 15 oz cans
1 cup chicken broth (more if you want a thinner soup)
2 cups, or 15 ounces, diced tomatoes
3 tsp kosher salt, and more to taste
juice of 1/2 lime (optional)
cracked black pepper

chop raw bacon (i use kitchen shears), and cook it over medium heat in heavy-bottom soup pot until well cooked but not crispy. remove from pot and reserve. pour off all but 2 Tbsp bacon drippings. (reserve the rest in case you need more oil when cooking the vegetables.)

over medium heat, cook onion and carrot until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. add garlic and red bell pepper and cook a few minutes more, stirring frequently. don't let anything burn or brown. add dried peppers and cumin and cook, stirring, 30 seconds to one minute.

add beans, broth, tomatoes, and salt, and bring to a boil. lower heat and simmer over medium/medium low, covered, for 15-20 minutes, or until the carrots are cooked through. 

remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender until thickened and chunky. stir in lime juice, and reserved bacon. taste and season with salt and black pepper and cook a few minutes more to warm the bacon. serve with sour cream, chopped cilantro, chives, lime wedges, whatever sounds good. like maybe cornbread...

this is a great cornbread recipe. i found it from another blogger at it's just sweet enough for my taste (which is not very sweet), and it stays nice and moist. and it's so, so easy. my only change from her recipe was to add about a cup of corn kernels to the batter-- again, gotta use up all that stuff in the freezer!

from userealbutter's recipe, originally from "pie in the sky" by susan g. purdy

4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, room temp
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1-1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

heat oven to 425 degrees. butter and flour an 8x8 inch pan. in a large bowl, mix together butter, egg, milk, sour cream and sugar until well mixed. add cornmeal, flour, and corn and mix just until well blended. don't overmix. pour batter into prepared pan and bake 20-22 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. don't overcook!

alvarez farms, tonnemaker farm, caity's eggs, skagit river ranch, and our garden

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

saturday was pretty much the best day ever. first, it was my mom's birthday. happy birthday, foxy lady! second, it was the vernal equinox. WELCOME SPRING! third, it was the iranian new year-- i know this because the persian woman who cut my hair saturday morning told me so. which brings me to the fourth point of best-day-ness-- i got a haircut, for the first time in a year! and, AND, it was 70 degrees and full sun on saturday. right here in dreary seattle, washington. 

so, scene set. waving goodbye to winter with a fresh new 'do on a sunny warm day when celebrations are taking place from south georgia to tehran. but there's so much more to the day's awesomeness.

saturday was the seattle tilth spring edible plant sale. we were there to pick up a couple of pea starts, maybe some greens, a strawberry plant-- nothing outrageous. not much money plus not much room in the back garden bed determined that. but as i was looking over the kale varieties, someone announced on the bullhorn, "attention tilth plant sale shoppers-- all plants now are HALF PRICE." i swear to you, there was a collective gasp and a cheer. it cracked me up, buncha gardening dorks (which i can say because i count myself among them).

so, naturally we had to pick up another carrying flat for the many more plants that i was about to buy. 

the damage (none of which i've tried or even heard of before):

strawberry-- pineapple crush
spinach-- emilia
salad greens-- mache (corn salad), gourmet lettuce mix, continuity lettuce
peas-- green arrow, blauschokker, golden sweet edible podded, dwarf grey sugar, dwarf snow, sugar sprint
broccoli-- purple peacock, decicco, umpqua, italian green sprouting calabrese
cauliflower-- early snowball, snow crown

many of the above are in multiple trays, thus i have 22 broccoli and cauliflower starts. problem is, my garden bed is sized for some peas and greens-- not for 22 heading brassicas...

on a whim, i suggested we stop by an antiques store i've been curious about (but not before we stopped by the u village gardening event and said hi to the edible seattle publisher, then rob found two pairs of jeans on sale from $130 to $30-- best day ever!). i figured we may find a neat-o pot or something to grow the lettuces in. instead, rob found this old broke-down trunk for the low, low price of 20 bucks, and it's big enough (i believe) to fit 5 or 6 of my broccoli plants! we'd talked about building a new bed, or buying a big container, but there's not a chance we could have done either for $20. plus, it's gonna look stinkin' cool. (i love having old stuff in the garden! if i had $160 to throw away, i'd have also bought the ancient metal bed frame for my peas to climb. one day...)

on the inside of the trunk top was nailed a postcard, a photo of a ship, evidently taken by j.a. mccormick. there's some writing on the back, but all i've been able to make out are "san pedro," "san diego," the name "allen maynard" (i think), and some numbers. it was tacked in with what look to be hand-fashioned nails. we're going to nail it to the wall and hang a frame around it. 

finally, we bought dirt and got last-minute reservations at our favorite sushi joint. 

so, there you have it. the best day ever since the last best day last january when my friend claudine and i drove to kookoolan farms in yamhill to buy cheesemaking supplies, then stopped by a biodynamic winery on a hill with a view of 3 mountain peaks and bought a $40 bottle of pinot noir. one of the next best days ever will be when i find a job and get to drink that $40 pinot!

okay, off to the garden. ttfn!

Monday, March 22, 2010

vernal equinox was march 20th-- last day of winter!

dear winter,

you were full of surprises. thank you for making way for spring!

see ya in december,

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

my favorite breakfast, and why eggs from pastured hens are the bomb

these eggs are special. why? is it because they come from happy chickens, birds who live happy chicken lives, doing what chickens do and not confined to 60-square-inch battery cages with their beaks chopped off? well, yes. but i can get those eggs from several booths at the farmers market. what makes these eggs extra special is that they are the enterprise of a 12-year-old named caity, and i learned chatting with her dad at the farmer's market one day that caity named one of her happy hens sir lancelot. awesome.

one day last spring i was desperately uninterested in cooking myself any lunch. but, i was hungry, and, ya know, eating is good for you. i dug around and found i had bread, cheese, caity's eggs, and half of an avocado. that day was born my favorite breakfast treat (when i'm willing to buy california produce, anyway), and, in honor of caity's gallant and knightly egg-laying hen, i've named it the sir lancelot. 

the sir lancelot is basically cheese toast, or an open-faced grilled cheese, topped with an over-medium egg and some slices of avocado. 

cook egg to over medium, or whatever is your pleasure. season with salt and pepper. (look how dark the yolks of caity's eggs are! for egg nutrition, darker is better. links to a couple of articles below.)

meanwhile, slice some cheese on a piece of bread (cheddar, monterey jack, whatever you like), and melt it in a 350 degree oven. remove from oven and top with cooked egg.

melt a pat of butter over medium heat in pan or griddle, and cook cheese toast with egg until the bottom of the bread is golden and crunchy. don't skip this step! the crunchy bottom is what makes the sir lancelot awesome. 

move toast to plate, slice avocado, and arrange on top. 

dig in. if you're feeling particularly sassy, have some bacon on the side. mmm...

here's a blog post (mentioning caity's eggs!) with lots of information on vitamin K2 MK-4 levels in eggs from pastured hens: vitamin K2 MK-4 in eggs, 

gofrolic links to an article on mother earth news, which reports that pastured eggs contain:

• 1/3 less cholesterol

• 1/4 less saturated fat

• 2/3 more vitamin A

• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids

• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

from farm sanctuary, a description of conditions for egg-laying hens in the US: factory egg production, the welfare of hens in battery cages (summary-- beyond horrifying.)

voters in california passed a "prevention of farm animal cruelty act" in 2008, banning battery-cage confinement statewide. also, wal-mart announced last month that it's great value brand eggs  are cage-free. cage free is not actually free, but at least the birds can walk. a good description of what cage-free means here, from the humane society. 

the best news is that there are more and more pastured hens around-- more municipalities allowing egg-laying hens inside the city limits, and more family farms (and caitys!) raising chickens and selling eggs. produce stands, farmer's markets, green grocers-- look around and see what you can find. or, build a coop and buy some chicks! if being nice to the birds gives us healthier food, well, that's about as good an example of a win-win as i can imagine. 

caity's eggs from woodring northwest specialties 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

roasted brussels sprouts with mustard and cream

i'm really lucky to have someone in the house to cook for who likes the same food as i do. (or, is he the lucky one, to have the person cooking be one who enjoys the same food as him? i'll say it's both.) one fall and winter favorite around here are the maligned-by-children-everywhere brussels sprouts. they taste good, they make you feel like you're doing something good for your body, and they are sooo freakin' cute!

one thing i'd never considered is how they grow. last fall i was wandering around, exploring the neighborhood, when i stumbled upon a community garden plot. most of the summer produce was gone or dying on brown vines, but there were plenty of kale and chard plants, and some big bushy things. i looked closer and realized the bushy things were brussels sprouts! the sprouts grow in the joint between stalk and leaf. cool, eh?

we've had sprouts with countless meals over the last several months, and this particular recipe stands out as one of my favorites. these roasted sprouts with mustard and cream are a simple preparation, but they are a little more exciting than plain roasted or steamed, and would be great for company.  

roasted brussels sprouts with mustard and cream
edible seattle, november/december 2009 

2 lb brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
olive oil
salt and pepper
3 Tbsp whole grain mustard
1/3 cup heavy cream

heat oven to 375 degrees. 

place sprouts in a roasting pan and toss to coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper. roast 20-30 minutes, until beginning to soften and turning bright green in color. stir or toss once or twice during cooking time.

remove sprouts from oven and move them to one end of the pan. in the clear end, add the cream and mustard and whisk together to mix thoroughly. toss sprouts in the mixture and put pan back in oven, cooking another 5 minutes to thicken the sauce. serve.

can be made a few hours ahead and reheated for 5 minutes in a 350 degree oven. 

*variation, though untried-- i suspect that these would also be good with a careful amount of prepared horseradish added. i hope to remember to give it a try next time!

sprouts from nash's organic produce 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

risotto with mushrooms and leeks

it's been a while since i cooked risotto. i used to make it all the time, but i never really could get the texture exactly right, and eventually i moved the dish out of the rotation in favor of other techniques that weren't so tricky. but when i finally got my hands on some leeks at the farmers market recently (they're almost always sold out by the time i arrive), i couldn't shake the idea of a leek risotto. epicurious featured a recipe from le pigeon, a celebrated portland restaurant that i sadly never made it to when we were living there... the recipe for risotto with leeks, shiitake mushrooms, and truffles sounded too good not to try. 

the recipe begins with halved and thinly-sliced leeks. click here for a handy guide on prepping and cleaning leeks.

the leeks are cooked in heavy whipping cream until the mixture is nice and thick, and the leeks are tender.

le pigeon's recipe calls for shiitake mushrooms and truffles. i, having neither on hand, substituted dried porcinis that were reconstituted by soaking in boiling water for 20 minutes, drained, and added to the roasting onions for the last 15 minutes of their 45 minute cooking time. (if i make this again, i'll try it with fresh shiitakes or creminis. the porcinis didn't quite match the dish.)

now the real work begins. arborio rice is sauted in butter, then white wine, then 4-5 cups of simmering chicken or vegetable stock are added, one ladle-full at a time. most recipes call for constant stirring during this step, but i do cover the pan and step away to do something else occasionally. don't go far, though-- the rice absorbs the stock in about 2-4 minutes, and then it's time for more. 

the rice is done when it is tender, but still a little al dente, and creamy, but not gummy. it should be a bit loose, not clumpy. 

now, the leeks and cream are stirred into the rice, along with 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, and a pat of butter. season with salt and pepper. top with mushroom and onion mixture, or stir it all together. 

as i said, i will save the porcinis for another dish next time. fresh shiitakes or creminis would be better in this one. between the creamy rice, and the creamy leeks, the dish was creamy creaminess, and the porcinis were too pungent and out of place. their aroma reminds me of a cross between a super sharp pecorino cheese and the ocean-- just too much for the other flavors.

it is entirely too easy to overcook risotto, and even if you yank it off the heat at just the right time, it's only a matter of minutes before the rice has continued to cook and taken your dish from "yay!" to "damn, i overcooked it again." that's why i think everyone who makes risotto at home should be willing to adjust their standards for the dish-- it still tastes good, even if tom and padma would complain. give it a try!

dried porcinis: foraged and found edibles