Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rhubarb Mostarda

It's about 8:30 p.m. here in my little corner of the Hudson Valley, and the sky is just starting to get that cornflower blue cast to it, and the leaves are making a soft whisper, being blown by a cool breeze. The warm air is mixing with the cool wind, and it smells like baked mown grass, Russian olive and rose blossoms, chives and maybe a hint of rain. Since it stopped raining last Tuesday, I've been thrown into a summer-time idyll, and the things I want to write about pile up as photographs, but never make it to the page.

I've instead been working in the garden: pulling up rows of arugula and braising greens, radishes and lettuce. All of a sudden there is a deluge of things to eat from my yard. The strawberries are ripe and the rhubarb is flourishing. The asparagus is taking nicely to its new bed, and the potatoes seem to be in a race with themselves, they are growing so fast. The sugar snap peas aren't happy, but the purple podded peas are. The beets and carrots are coming along. The cucumbers sprouted in what seems like days. And the tomatoes. Oh, goodness, the tomatoes! It's really summer when the tomatoes are set in their cages.

This week I spent some time driving around tiny towns, like Accord and Alligerville, picking up ten pounds of rhubarb and dropping off jars of jam to worthy folks. My little boy and I have been making the rounds of all the playgrounds, and all the places to eat ice pops, or sorbets, or something fruity because he doesn't yet have a taste for vanilla or chocolate. At the ice cream stands families loiter, like us, and the older kids seem to be sniffing out summer vacation. We like to visit a park in Gardiner that is next to Sky Dive The Ranch so we can watch for people falling from the sky with colorful parachutes.

Today was another perfect summer day, and we didn't do much. We drove to Tractor Supply to buy chicken feed. We took a quick stroll over the Walkway Over the Hudson. Later on we hung around at the Kingston Point Park and flew a kite. Whenever you take the time to fly a kite, you think: what a good idea it is to fly a kite! The wind was perfect, and our new dragon flew up easily. There was a good mix of people down by the beach, and I closed my eyes to soak it all in. I grew up near the water, and it still is a deliciously comfortable feeling that floods every sense: the smell of sunscreen, the feel of the sand, the sound of the waves and children laughing, screaming or crying. The only thing missing was the salt. I do miss the ocean.

All of these things are just thick with summer. Bug bites and sunburns are just the price you pay; not as onerous as they will soon become. Right now I'm savoring instead the outdoor visits with friends, drinking icy cold beers, and snacking on some crackers, good cheddar and this really delicious rhubarb mostarda. I've been meaning to make mostarda for a long time now. It's an Italian condiment that's similar to a chutney, but not quite as pickled. My version has wild Alaskan lingonberries in it, thanks to Shae at Hitchhiking to Heaven. But think of this recipe as a blueprint. You could use any fruit really. And then insert it into your idyll.

Rhubarb and Lingonberry Mostarda

1 pound of rhubarb, chopped in 1/2" chunks
1 cup of lingonberries (or cranberries, or pears or apples)
1 cup of dry white wine
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon of brown mustard seed
1 tablespoon of yellow mustard seed
1 teaspoon of salt
the juice and zest of two small oranges (I used satsumas, tart and bright, blood oranges would be nice.)
(optional: bay leaf, sprig of fresh rosemary)

Put all ingredients in a pot and simmer until it gets to a spreadable consistency. Some recipes say two hours, but mine was much quicker, probably because of the lingonberries, which are high in pectin. Store in the fridge. Serve with pork or chicken, or with a good cheese.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Buttermilk Muffins with Rhubarb Jam Centers

I have yet to write about the two wonderful rhubarb jams I recently made, and by the time I do it'll be too late. In the meantime, I am posting this quick recipe for these very tender, not-too-sweet muffins. I used some rhubarb jam from last year for the filling. It was made with Pomona's pectin, so it was firm and thus, perfect for this little filled muffin idea. Filling muffins is certainly not a new idea, but it is staunchly a good one! Try muffins made with buttermilk; they are so soft. If you don't have buttermilk, use yogurt instead. And of course, any firm jam will do.

Doesn't this little muffin look sleepy?
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2 cups of AP flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 cup of sugar  (I used sugar with a vanilla bean scraped into it, otherwise add 1 tsp. of vanilla or use real vanilla seeds scraped from the pod)

Mix these dry ingredients.

Then mix in a separate bowl:

1 cup of buttermilk
1 large egg
1/4 cup of vegetable oil

Have on hand a half-pint of jam.

Add the wet mixture to the dry. Mix quickly, but well. Using a well-greased muffin tin, scoop a tablespoonful of batter into each of the twelve spots. Then, using a teaspoon, gently place a small dollop of jam in each spoonful of batter, making a well with the back of the spoon. Then, using the tablespoon, put a scoop of batter on top of each muffin, trying as best you can to cover the jam up. Bake for about twenty minutes, but keep an eye on them after sixteen or so minutes. They should be golden brown, and if any jam escaped (you hope not, but it happens) it will be bubbling.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cabbage, Apple, Carrot Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is amazingly simple, delicious and incredibly good for you. Once you get comfortable making sauerkraut, you can, to an extent, adjust and play. But there are a few things to keep in mind.   It's amazing what can go right with simply cabbage and salt. You get sauerkraut! Staves off scurvy! But even if you've done it a bunch of times, it could go very wrong:

When you see mold that is a.) black and b.) fuzzy or both, like I had, you want to dump the whole lot. Which is always sad, but hey, it's cabbage. And hey, it's your stomach/life. You know? I knew something was up because the batch wasn't bubbling like normal, and it smelled off. You can really trust your nose, you know? 'Cause the nose knows.

This was the second time I had this problem, and I was horrified because I thought there was something in my basement that was causing it. However, it only happened when I used this particular crock that I got from my family this last summer. When I went to clean it out, I realized the problem was my fault. I turned over the crock, and on the very bottom was a nice patch of black mold. Lovely! I had been lazy and didn't clean scrupulously. Case closed, and yet another reminder to not get lazy.

Still wary of the new (old) crock, I decided to go back to my good old crock pot.

Isn't she a beaut? I got her in some garage sale years ago for a pittance. In the winter, we make hot spiced cider and mulled wine in it. In the summer, it doubles as a fermenting crock. I also decided to keep the crock in the kitchen, because the colder it is the slower the ferment. This batch came out beautifully. Phew! For all of my sauerkraut info, I check in with The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich, which you really should own if you love pickles. There is just an incredible amount of wonderful recipes and tons of information, clearly outlined. Below you'll find my recipe, but not directions. For that and a wealth of information on how to make sauerkraut, check out Sandor Katz' excellent site, Wild Fermentation, where you will get in depth info on sauerkraut and a whole lot more of the wonderful world of fermented foods.

What to do with all that kraut, one wonders, when you've made a ton? I don't like to can it, and instead keep it in the fridge. Making smaller batches is nice, so you can vary your sauerkraut, adding different spices or vegetables. Did you know that you can freeze sauerkraut? I've never done it, but it's possible and some say it will keep the beneficials as opposed to canning, which can kill off all that lively stuff that's good for you.

This is how I like to eat my kraut:

Sauerkraut sandwich: especially on a soft onion roll, with a smear of strained yogurt made with raw milk. But I would be equally happy with a dollop of mayo. Think hot dog without the meat. Or, also delicious, on a falafel sandwich.

Sauerkraut on top of a hot bowl of jasmine rice. Lunch today. Sprinkled with some sesame seeds.

Sauerkraut side, next to some braised short ribs in red wine. That was dinner tonight. It's a perfect foil to a rich, fatty dish.

My father can't abide by a roast turkey without sauerkraut on the side.

How do you like to eat your sauerkraut?

My most recent sauerkraut:

1 pound of finely sliced cabbage
1 pound of peeled, grated carrot
1/2 pound of peeled Ida Red apples
3 tablespoons of kosher salt (Ziedrich uses pickling, Katz recommends sea salt, I like kosher)
a few juniper berries
a teaspoon of coriander

Slightly sweet and fresh tasting. For directions on how to make sauerkraut, see Wild Fermentation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Breakfast and Dinner Sausage

Beer: necessity for making sausage?

Is it really already the fifth month of Charcutepalooza?? This fine month we worked on our grinding. Again, I give thanks for Charcutepalooza, because my two old hand-cranked grinders were gathering dust in the basement, waiting for me to use them. I promised them I would, but they keep on getting shuttled into a darker, farther corner of a cabinet or box. After the challenge was issued, I dutifully went downstairs and cleaned them off. Would they work? Did I have all the pieces? Was I crazy for collecting these things? Well, yes and no.

The bad grinder.

I started off with a beer, standard for sausage making, no? And the younger of the two grinders. I'm not sure what I might be missing, or if this thing is just a stinker, but boy was this grinder the worst. A pencil sharpener would have worked better. I promptly dispatched it to the sink and feeling downhearted, drank my beer. My husband cheered me (knowing if he didn't, dinner might just be peanut butter and jelly and not sausages), and I rallied with the next, older, ancient-looking grinder, also a Universal. The meat waited in the freezer while I gathered courage to try again.

The good grinder. More beer.
 This one worked. Quite well, in fact, in comparison to the hell that was the other one. I am SO glad I didn't do five pounds, though. And once I was done, it smelled incredibly good. I think I saw my husband wipe the sweat from his brow. He knows it's bad news if something pisses me off in the kitchen. And he didn't want PB&J's for dinner.

They are cool looking, though, aren't they? 
Breakfast (or Dinner?) Sausage Recipe:

2.5 pounds of pork butt shoulder
1.5 tablespoons of kosher salt
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon of fresh lemon thyme
1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon of Meyer lemon zest
ground pepper to taste

I followed the breakfast sausage directionsin Charcuterie for making this.

Glorious pork.

The Meyer lemon zest was an after thought. When I opened the freezer to pull the meat out, there was my little container of zest in there. Perfect, I thought! It really added a fresh tanginess to the sausage, that went along perfectly with the fresh lemon thyme from my garden.

Who doesn't love a log of sausage?

I stuck this little log in the fridge alongside it's friend, the Canadian bacon. Now I have two more awesome breakfasts to look forward to. I know it's not exciting, but we had the sausage patties for dinner, with some fresh eggs and local asparagus. It was so delicious, I think I may rename my sausage dinner sausage. I really wanted to make the merguez, but I got caught up in some life stuff and so had to stick with the single challenge this month. Those grinders slowed me down a little, too. My next purchase is an electric grinder, because I need to make a LOT more sausage. Good thing it was my birthday the other day, so I can squeeze one last present out of it. 


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Home, Home with the Range

Crabapple blossoms. Life is good, right?
I just wanted an excuse to put this pretty picture on my blog. Aren't crabapple trees beautiful? You would never know that I took this picture in front of the Goodwill store by all the malls and big box stores in my area. Is it obvious to say that there is beauty everywhere?

This post, though, is about my new gas range. I must admit I was a bit flummoxed by the terminology while getting the first, new range I've ever had in my life. I've never called it a "range." I've called it a stove, or an oven. But not a range. Another thing I have learned in my somewhat surface research was that there are ranges out there that have a setting for "chicken tenders." Lord, help us.

The Ol' Tappan.
 My old range was a good sort. I got used to it's small oven and finicky igniters and oven temperatures, but when the thermostat really blew, we had to call it quits. I had always wanted a big, super deluxe commercial oven, but I couldn't lay out the cash to buy one that was worth it. When I thought about it, though, it was okay, because it wouldn't go with my awesome late 80's kitchen. It's amazing that the one room I spend most of my waking hours in is really sort of bummy. It's very dark, and the overhead light fixture is horrible and florescent. The lay out is counterintuitive; the last time it was redesigned they moved everything to a spot that was not originally intended. Let's not even talk about the cabinets. And, there's no window over the sink. That just makes me sad. But I've learned to live with it.

New blood: the Kenmore 72333
With the help of a bunch of the good people who gather to chat on my Facebook page (join in!) and my pal, Shae from Hitchhiking to Heaven, who also recently bought a new range, I gathered a bunch of information, and decided on this one. I think I fretted over the new range more than a car. The people at Sears got used to me dropping by and trying to look at ranges while clutching my son, who was way more interested in running amok. In the end, I got the most basic thing I could find that was reasonably priced with these amenities: all stainless steel (because black is a pain to keep clean--though the same has been said about stainless steel), a turbo boil (the instruction manual has a "home canning" section!), and a convection capable oven (I really got sick of burning cookies).

I must admit, I am scared of all the digital stuff, but hopefully--fingers crossed--we'll get along, this new range and I. All I need now is my new Le Creuset French oven, which should be en route as I write, and I'll be all set for the new jamming season!

Another gratuitous flower shot. Who can resist? It's spring, dammit!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sheep Sorrel and Seedling Pesto

Not the prettiest pesto you've ever met, but a tasty one.

It's exciting times in the garden. Yesterday, I spent a while in the garden doing a task I never enjoyed: thinning the seedlings. That is, until I started eating my seedlings. I wait until they're a decent size, and cull them. Once they are washed, roots and all, I can do various things with them, like putting them on a sandwich, like sprouts (which they are), or make soup (along the lines of this garlic mustard greens soup), or make a pesto-like sauce.

To call this pesto is a stretch, as there is no cheese or nuts, or any of the traditional pesto ingredients. I gathered all of my seedlings, a mix of mustard greens, arugula and radishes and added a good amount of wild sheep sorrel, a tangy lemony green that grows wild in my garden. Sheep sorrel is very tasty, and makes a great soup. It's also an indication that your soil is acidic, although every time I test my soil it's very alkaline. Go figure. Sheep sorrel is high in oxalic acid, hence it's tanginess, and the radishes are a little tough, so I blanched them quickly in boiling water. This turned the sorrel a horrible color, so the finished product is not that jewel-toned green hue that I love so much.

After blanching, the greens went into the food processor and got pureed with some olive oil, and a few cloves of garlic. I'll eat this as a condiment on sandwiches, tossed with pasta or steamed veggies. It's garlic-y and peppery, with a lemony tang.

Wild sorrel.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Potato Planting

Red Pontiacs and Yukon Golds.

The other day, I was outside very early planting some potatoes. It's a little late, date-wise, but weather-wise is another thing. It's almost mid-May, but the weather seems decidedly April-ish. Lots of rain, and cooler temperatures. But every plant I see is forging ahead, despite the weather. Most of the garden is planted, aside from the warm weather plants, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and squashes.

I'm new to the potato game. I always thought why bother with potatoes? They are cheap, and I can get good local ones quite easily. But yes, once you grow your own, as with probably anything, you're likely to notice the difference. Last year a friend gave me a bunch of seed potatoes, and I carelessly threw them in a lousy spot and they flourished. This year I've done the same, thrown them in a lousy spot. Maybe with a touch more care. Potatoes were often the plant that farmers used to loosen up a new plot. It seems to work for me, so I'm doing it again.

The new potato bed.
My garden is right by the road, but not for any other reason than it was the best place that was closest to the water source. We have three acres, so it seems like I'm trying to make a statement about it. But I'm not, even though it's a statement I can totally get behind. The site gets great sun, it faces south on a slope, and the drainage is perfect. When we moved in, I decided to make the garden very small, with the ability to make it bigger. Next year I'll make it twice the size by fencing it in. This year I'm starting the beds that will be part of the bigger garden, like the row above.

(You may wonder how I can plant things without fencing with the unbelievable deer population we have in the Hudson Valley. I also have quite a few unfenced raised beds. Amazingly, the deer have left me alone (knock on wood). I ascribe it to being so close to the road, which is a steep and dangerous curve that they never seem to want to cross. A plus of the roadside garden. Another plus? I now know more of my neighbors than I would have!)

Not for the faint of heart.
I'm a little crazy, I think. I mentioned in my asparagus bed post that my soil is very rocky. See above. I think most folks would have bagged it after pulling that many rocks out of the soil. But once I start something, I can't really stop. I understand why some people don't garden. It's back-breaking work. But I tell you, I was out there on a Sunday morning as people were driving to church, and I thought: this is my church. Honestly, that's how I feel about it.

It will be all worthwhile in a few months.
I felt very satisfied when it was done. And I slept really well that night. And hopefully, if it all works out, I'll have twenty or more pounds of potatoes to feed my family when it's harvested. I think probably the thing that hooked me with potatoes was digging them out of the ground. It was like finding buried treasure!

The nuts and bolts of planting the potatoes:

I bought Red Pontiac and Yukon Gold seed potatoes from my local garden/feed store. The seed potatoes sat in a basket inside by a warm window, so the eyes began to sprout. I then cut them, leaving an eye on each piece, and let them scar over--don't put them in the ground after cutting them. [Tip for next year: don't cut seed potatoes, instead buy small seed potatoes.] I dug a trench about a foot wide, and about six to eight inches deep. I covered them with about two inches of dirt--no compost--and as they grow I will hill them up. Potato flowers are beautiful, and a signifier of new potatoes to be harvested. In July, the potato plants will start to die, and underneath the soil you will find your gold. There's tons of information on planting potatoes on the internet. This is just a very basic overview, and also sort of a garden journal for me to see what I did this year. Let me know about your potatoes!