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Friday, July 23, 2010

summer berries with cointreau and mascarpone cream

i spend plenty of time prepping for blog posts that never make the cut, either because the photos didn't turn out like i wanted, or the dish wasn't that great, or the inspiration just fizzled. this was almost left on the cutting room floor until i pulled out last night's leftover dessert to have for this afternoon's snack and realized, this one needs to get out there. 

now, i know full well that berries and cream is nothing new, but i have to go on record praising its delectability. this one mixes the strawberry-raspberry freezer jam i made a few weeks ago with the berries to give them some extra fruity sweetness, and a drizzle of cointreau for a little heady perfume. the cream is whipped with mascarpone and a squeeze of lemon juice for a slight tang. delish! 

summer berries with cointreau and  mascarpone cream
8 servings

3/4 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
4 oz mascarpone cheese
3 Tbps sugar
juice from 1/2 small lemon (or to taste)
1 tsp cointreau + 2-3 tsp more (or other orange or fruit liqueur)
8 cups mixed summer berries-- i used strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries
3/4 cup berry preserves or jam-- i used our strawberry-raspberry freezer jam

beat together with an electric mixer the cream, mascarpone, sugar, lemon juice, and cointreau until soft peaks form. 

prepare berries-- wash, hull, etc. mix the blueberries and strawberries thoroughly with the jam, and carefully fold in the raspberries (if yours are as delicate as mine were). 

serve by layering berries in a bowl, glass, or parfait dish, and drizzle with a little cointreau (about as much as will fit in an everyday spoon). top with some cream, then more fruit, another cointreau drizzle (less this time), and end with cream.

organic raspberries and blueberries-- jessie's berries
organic puget summer strawberries-- sidhu farms
cream-- golden glen creamery

Thursday, July 22, 2010

garden report: the brassicas

we had a lot of fun growing some brassicas this year! in truth we didn't get a ton of food out of our little beds of broccoli and cauliflower, but for a first attempt, it was quite enough to be worth it. and, some of the side-sprouting varieties are still delivering!

our biggest producer, pictured above, was umpqua. these plants made tight heads about the size of two fists, and in the joints where the big leaves meet the stems, smaller heads sprout. the sprouts are great raw in salads, stir fried, steamed, and roasted, depending on their size. i'll definitely try umpqua again next year.

another good producer was italian green sprouting calabrese. these, too, had nice fat heads and plenty of side sprouts, though the sprouts are more wispy. these guys are finished sprouting since i let them go to flower, and the plants are about 3 1/2 feet tall! i should pull them up, but i'm kinda liking their sprays of yellow flowers.

third on the list was decicco. about half of these died right out, and the other half made healthy fist-sized heads. these heads weren't quite as tight as the other two, and that made for a nice variety in texture when we cooked them together. these, too, offered some good side sprouts. 

this one is called purple peacock, and it's a cross between green goliath broccoli and two different kales. i didn't get to the heads in time to try them-- they were slow and loose, and i was never really sure when was the right time to cut these. this head is beginning to flower-- did you know broccoli is the flower of the plant, you're just eating it before it blooms? i didn't. 

purple peacock's leaves are edible, like kale, but i haven't tried them yet. like with last year's kale, the aphids have been a problem. it's a really pretty plant, though! i know a lot of people were growing this one this year. i'm curious to learn what other people thought of it.

**cooking tip i learned! submerge broccoli from the garden in a bowl of salted water for 30 minutes before cooking in order to drive out any hidden aphids!

we planted one variety of cauliflower, snow crown. out of the 8 or so starts we planted, about 3 produced small heads, enough for one pan of roasted cauliflower for 2. but again, being able to bring any amount of cauliflower in from the backyard for dinner was exciting! i'll likely give it another shot next year, and just pay more attention to what they need, and to killing the awful, awful slugs who would eat 'em.  

so, that about wraps up the backyard, early-season garden. now we're just down to the herbs! the salad bowl fed us quite well for months before i decided to let it go on to its next life. once i get the beds cleaned out, it's time to plant some fall crops! beets? carrots? more broccoli? we'll see. 

garden report: the peas

so, the peas are all done, and here's a quick look back at how they did. you may recall that i went a little nuts at the seattle tilth spring edible plant sale, since all of the starts were half price by the time we arrived. i'm glad we had the opportunity to try out so many different varieties, as some did decidedly better than others. 

one success was a variety of snow pea called golden sweet edible podded. as the name would indicate, they were golden, sweet, and the pods were edible. 

the golden sweets were especially fun because they came from beautiful purple blossoms. they grew tall, and produced plenty of peas that were best straight from the vine. the sweetness made them a great little outdoor snack. 

the other winners were the curvy, curly dwarf snow peas (they grew into twisty shapes!), and sugar sprint. these, too, were edible podded and were crunchy and sweet. we ate these, along with the golden sweets, raw, in stir fries, on salads, and mixed in pasta with grilled chicken. yum!

for the shelling peas, it was a different story. above is the extent of the harvest, and, frankly, two of them weren't good at all.

left to right:

green arrow-- we had high hopes for these, because they share a name with a superhero. (superheroes are kind of a big deal in this household...) while the plants didn't produce very much, the peas tasted good. 

blauschokker-- these were a lovely and dramatic addition to the garden with their purple flowers and dark, dusky purple pods. inside, the peas were a pretty light green. however, they tasted bitter. maybe i left them on the vine too long? not sure, but i don't think i'll grow these again unless as ornamentals.

dwarf grey sugar-- i thought at first that these were supposed to be edible podded, but after trying to eat a few i realized i must be wrong. with these, too, the peas inside were bitter and disappointing. in fact, i ended up throwing these and the blauschokkers in the compost bin. there just wasn't enough there to make it worth the effort to cook or save them. (believe me, it takes a LOT for me to throw out anything edible, and especially if i've invested months in growing it! these were just bad.)

so, that's how the peas did. i hope to try some new varieties next year and get a good fresh eating crop, plus some to put away in the freezer. if anyone has suggestions for varieties that do really well here, please leave a comment!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

old-fashioned strawberry shortcake with drop biscuits

imagine eating something that, for a few minutes, makes nothing else seem to matter. 

this strawberry shortcake is AMAZING. amazing. like, make-you-forget-that-you-have-questions-about-the-meaning-of-life amazing. the drop biscuits come together like a dream and hold up perfectly while soaking in all of that syrupy strawberry juice. the berries are dark and sweet, the cream is light and dreamy-- between the berries, the juice, the biscuits, and the lightly sweetened cream, each bite actually made me whimper a little. 

but there's a catch-- you have to have the right berries. 

my parents came to visit me in portland a few years ago, and though we were wrapped in jackets and scarves, it was june berry season. we stopped by a produce market on sauvie island where we found a giant table of small and squishy strawberries that looked to me like they were almost ready for the compost pile. they had a sign that said "try me!" so we did. the look on my mother's face was, i'm sure, mirrored on my own-- "that's a strawberry? but it's SO GOOD!" they were a variety called hood, and i learned to look forward to their june arrival every year. i don't even know how to describe the flavor-- it's nothing like the jumbo, shiny, taut, shippable red fruits with the white centers that you find in the grocery. they are full of sugars and flavor, and are solid, deep red all the way through. 

we grew honeoyes this year. not a big yield, but definitely a fine berry. 

a variety i heard of for the first time this year, reported to be even better than hoods, is called shuksan. i'm a little broken hearted that i didn't get a chance to try them before they were gone. thing is, the good berries, the BEST berries, are generally an extremely short harvest, and don't last or transport well at all. you can get decent berries later in the summer, but for true transcendence, you need june-bearing varieties. when they're gone, they're gone, but thankfully, some of them freeze well. 

the variety i did manage to get my hands on this year is called rainier. we got the last flat of berries at the u-district farmers market, and the next week, all of the june-bearing berries were finished. i made a pitcher of strawberry lemonade with one pint and froze the rest. (freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then move to a freezer container.) 

yesterday, i thawed some of the rainier berries and made this shortcake. best. idea. ever. 

jon rowley's old-fashioned strawberry shortcake with drop biscuits 
serves 6

for the berries:

3 pints organic, local, june-bearing strawberries, the reddest, juiciest, sweetest you can find
1-4 Tbsp sugar  

rinse and hull the berries and chop into irregular chunks. mix the berries with a tablespoon of sugar or two and set aside to macerate for at least an hour. before serving, taste and add more sugar to taste. (the berries and their juices are the sweeteners in this dessert, so don't overdo it, but don't underdo it either!)

for the biscuits:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz butter, chilled (the recipe didn't specify, so i used salted since i had it on hand)
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp cream (optional-- i forgot this step and it was fine)

heat oven to 400 degrees.

stir dry ingredients together in large mixing bowl. cube the chilled butter and work it into the dry ingredients with your fingers to get a texture like a rough meal. stir in milk and mix until you have a soft dough that is pulling away from the sides of the bowl. (i tried not to overmix since i've heard that's the easiest way to get rock-hard biscuits. i don't bake, so i don't really know, but these turned out great.)

spoon the dough in 6 portions on a greased baking sheet. brush the tops with cream, if using. bake 10-15 minutes until golden. cool on a rack.

for the whipped cream:

2 cups heavy cream, well chilled
2 Tbsp sugar (or to taste)

whip the sugar and cream together using a wire whisk or electric mixer until soft peaks form.

for assembly:

slice a biscuit in half and top the bottom half with berries and juice, then a spoonful of cream. cover with the top half of the biscuit and add berries/juice and more cream. 

enjoy, and whimper.

rainier strawberries-- schuh farms
cream-- golden glen creamery