Archive for the ‘Seasonal’ Category

Raspberry shrub

The first time I heard the term ‘shrub’ I thought the person was talking about vegetation. When talking about food and drink though, it turns out a shrub is an old method of preserving fruit juice. Mix fruit, sugar and vinegar for a syrupy concentrate you can mix with water. They remind me a lot of a Scandinavian drink called ‘saft.’ Saft is a juice concentrate made from seasonal berries – often blackcurrants, sometimes raspberries or lingonberries – and lots of sugar. Mix saft with still or sparkling water (in a ratio of 1:4 or 1:5 usually) for a tasty, refreshing drink.

Shrubs are very similar, but the added vinegar makes them last almost forever and gives them a nice tart kick. If you look up shrub on dictionary.com, it is defined as “any of various acidulated beverages made from the juice of fruit, sugar, and other ingredients, often including alcohol.” The word has its origins in Arabic. The word shurb meant “to drink.” Though I imagine the Arabs weren’t adding any alcohol.

The garden at my parents house is slowly being taken over by their raspberry bushes. Despite my having had no hand in the quantity of raspberry bushes they planted (I’d like more black currants and blueberries), they have been harassing me in recent weeks to come pick raspberries. Don’t get me wrong, I love raspberries. But after making jam, ice cream, pie, and eating handfuls of fresh berries nearly everyday…I was getting raspberried out.

I made a simple raspberry concentrate with some of the excess berries one week, by simmering some raspberries with sugar for 15 minutes or so and then straining. It was syrupy and sweet and perfect when mixed about 1:6 with sparkling water. After hearing about shrubs a few more times though (twice in one week!), it was time to make a raspberry shrub.

The first time I tasted the shrub, it was the smell that hit me first. It was pretty vinegary. I love me some tangy-tartness, but whoa! And then I tasted it. It almost sparkled on my tongue. Once mixed with sparkling water it was even better. The New York Times recently had an article about raspberry shrub and I love how Amanda Hesser describes first tasting it, “The taste was sweet and full-bodied, and the acidity wasn’t the ephemeral “ping!” of most berries but more of a fiery bellow. The taste was intense and addictive, and I wanted to drink the syrup as an elixir.” 

Recipes vary a great deal. Below is an approximation of what I made. I would adjust the vinegar and sugar according to your own taste.

Raspberry Shrub

1 quart fresh raspberries,
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup to 1 cup sugar or more, to taste

Let the berries and vinegar soak for 4 days in the refrigerate. Strain, and add 1 cup of sugar or more to taste.

Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Strain through cheesecloth into a bottle. Keep in a cool place.

The first time I heard about shrubs was from Marley, a local bartender, at my last LUPEC meeting. So I couldn’t get my mind off the idea of making a boozy shrub. It appears that you can make a shrub out of just about any fruit and even ginger or rhubarb. A classic boozy shrub is made with Rum and citrus. Quantities and ingredients vary a little, but if you are interested in hard shrubs just search for “rum shrub” and you’ll find lots of options.

After my shrub was ready to use, I put a call out on Twitter for some ideas for cocktails. My friend Courtney over at the Cocktail Quest blog came through with lots of ideas, in 140 characters or less:

Basic rum shrub: 2.5 oz rum, 1 oz shrub, build over ice, fill w/ quality ginger beer (about 4 oz.). a good one to start with

Clarke’s conundrum: 2.25 rye, .5 shrub, .5 pedro xim. sherry, 3 dash ang., stir, lemon twist

Jan’s conundrum: 2.25 rum, .5 shrub, .5 dry amon. sherry, 3 dash ang., stir, lemon twist

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Fall Guy

It is starting to feel a lot like fall around here. Temperatures in the mornings and evenings are much cooler and my mailbox has been packed with cooking magazines whose pages are loaded with recipes for soups, stews and Thanksgiving. Every year though, there is one event that really signals summer is over to me: a bag of corn is anonymously delivered to my doorstep.

Well, it isn’t really anonymous. I know it is our neighbor Dale that leaves a bag on our doorstep – and on the doorstep of every other house on our block – each year. He explained it once, many, many years ago. He visits a small farm in a nearby valley every September when they are harvesting the corn. I thought he was friends with the farmer, but I guess he is just a really big fan of their corn. The corn is so good and fresh that he buys a couple of boxfuls and wants to spread the love.

The corn arrived last Sunday, when we were still out of town. Our friend Maria was staying at the house and sent a text message, “Somebody dropped off a bunch of corn on your doorstep.” I called her immediately and said, “You need to cook up some corn immediately because it will never be as good as it is RIGHT NOW.” OK, that may have been a little bit of an exaggeration but I have never tasted corn as sweet and fresh as the corn that Dale brings us.

We arrived home on Tuesday and had about eight ears of corn remaining that we wanted to use up that night. The solution was simple. Fill a large stockpot with water and several spoonfuls of salt. Bring to a boil, add corn and wait 15-20 minutes. Drain water, remove the ears of corn, add butter and salt…EAT.

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I have a love/hate relationship with asparagus. I love it when someone else cooks it, but hate it whenever I cook it. A few weeks ago though, I heard about an asparagus preparation that just might prove successful if I tried it at home.

We had hot, summer-like weather in Seattle for the last week – a rarity for this time of year. We spent every evening out on our deck, only going inside for fresh reading material of more ice. I picked up our bi-weekly produce basket one day which included some fresh, local asparagus. It being so hot, I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy meal so a light vegetable dish sounded perfect. I had all the other ingredients on hand to try out a new recipe.

Grilled Asparagus with Tarragon Vinaigrette and Poached Egg
1 serving

4-8 spears of asparagus, peeled
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp minced shallot
1 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt & pepper
1 egg

Start by breaking off the woody ends of the asparagus. I also peel the stalks lightly, since they always get stringy if I don’t. What I mean by lightly is that I don’t peel absolutely everything. I peel it ‘lightly,’ I can’t really think of another way to describe that.

Make the vinaigrette: whisk together the lemon juice, tarragon, shallot and oil. Salt & pepper to taste.

Steam the asparagus spears for 2-3 minutes until they have softened. Then, put them into a soaking tub filled with the vinaigrette while you fire up the grill (at least 10 minutes; no more than one hour) and get the water boiling for the egg.

If you don’t have a grill, I think you can just saute the spears at this point. There is a little tricky timing to make sure the asparagus is still hot when the poached egg is ready. I grilled the asparagus for about 5 minutes, just enough time to poach the egg.

To poach the egg:
Fill a saucepan with 3-4 inches of water and bring to a rolling boil. Crack in egg into a small cup. Remove the pan from the heat and gently pour the egg into the water. Cover and walk away. For 4 1/2 minutes. Gently lift the egg out of the pan with a slotted spoon. I poke and prod the egg at this point to make sure the white is fully cooked. I have had pretty good success with this timing though.

To serve:
Remove the asparagus from the grill and place on a serving plate. Spoon over a tablespoon or so of the vinaigrette. Place the poached egg on top and season generously with salt and pepper.

The beauty of this dish is that when you break into the egg yolk, it mixes with the vinaigrette to make a nice sauce. This may soon become my favorite way to prepare vegetables, as I think you could substitute anything for the asparagus…or even make a salad with a similar vinaigrette. A poached egg improves everything.

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In the summer, it is easy for me to track time based on which berry is available. I thought this would be a fun monthly blog feature – a berry of the month club, if you will.

I made it in just under the wire for May, but on Sunday I thankfully had time to head down to the creek behind our house and pick salmonberries.

Salmonberries are unique to the Pacific Northwest, though I understand they grow as far North as Alaska and as far East as Idaho. Not many people actually know about the berries, since they are not cultivated and are too fragile for transporting or freezing. You can find them growing along the road, especially in shaded, woodsy areas. They are not as prolific as blackberries though and the period they are ripe is just a couple of weeks.

My friend Maria came by Sunday afternoon and we lazed in the sun on my deck for awhile before we realized we needed to get up and move. We both had a case of the lazy Sundays. With basket in hand, we headed down to the creek.

There is something so satisfying about picking berries. We were both wrestling branches and risking a fall into the creek to reach the fattest, brightest berries.

Our efforts were well rewarded though. We managed to get about a cup and a half of berries in just 15 or 20 minutes. I love how the berries range in color from pale orange to hot pink.

The berries have a really mild flavor. They are best eaten right away, promptly upon plucking them from the bush in fact. They are named ‘salmon’ berries, since the shoots were eaten by Native Americans as a side dish alongside salmon. Perhaps the name also references the color as well or that they ripen near the time salmon are returning to streams in late Spring.

I decided to make a simple syrup with the berries, as I did last year. We were having fish tacos for dinner, so had our heart set on margaritas. By mixing up the salmonberry syrup with some triple sec, fresh lemon and lime juices and some tequila, they ended up being Salmonberry Margaritas. Olé!

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The Sweetest Gift

Every winter there comes a day when I walk into the kitchen at my parents’ house and see a large bag of Meyer lemons. “Arlene is back?” is always the first thing I ask my mom.

Arlene is a friend of my parents since way back before I was born, back before my parents were even married. Mom and Arlene worked together at the Rainier Brewery, but that’s another story. Arlene spends part of every winter in Palm Springs and when she returns, she always brings with her some Meyer lemons from the tree at her house.

My childhood memories are filled with memories of women like Arlene. Women that love to cook & bake and shared that love of food with me. These friends joined our family for parties or holidays, were neighbors and often babysitters. Looking back now, I realize what an influence they’ve had at me.

Visits to Arlene’s house held the promise of her homemade fruit leather. Being babysat by Sandra meant she’d bake cookies with me. Staying with my aunt Margita meant sweet, juicy, blackberry pie.

So back to the lemons. Meyer lemons are thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. They are still quite tart, but have a great flavor and are very juicy. I wanted to make something special with these seasonal treasures and got it in my head to make lemon curd.

I did some research and it seemed simple enough. Then I made the mistake of asking the chef/owner of a restaurant I was dining at last weekend and he put the fear of God in me. “Whisk like mad,” he said. “Do you have a chinoise? No?! You’ll have lumpy curd unless you strain it properly.” Gah! I panicked.

But wait, I’ve made hollandaise, pastry creams and the like. I just needed to find the right recipe. I remembered seeing a recipe for lemon curd in a magazine awhile back and found an old issue of Fine Cooking with a much simpler recipe than anything else I’d read. Inexplicably, they have a more complex recipe on their website.

Simple Lemon Curd
Yields about 1 cup

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 oz (2 Tbsp) unsalted butter cut into 4-6 small pieces

Set a fine strainer over a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice, sugar and eggs until thoroughly combines and most of the sugar has dissolved.

Pour the lemon mixture into a heavy-bottom stainless pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until the curd is steaming (but not boiling) until thickened and registers 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 3-7 minutes.

Take the curd off the heat, add the butter and stir until the butter has melted. Pour the curd through the strainer to get rid of any lumps. Let cool. Will keep up to a week in the fridge.

In honor of Inauguration Day, I decided to make a special dessert with the lemon curd. The idea of little tartlets was stuck in my mind. They needed a little color, so I spent a King’s ransom for some out-of-season raspberries.

These days, I have found myself surrounded by lots of little girls and like to think that my love of baking and cooking will rub off on them. 14 year-old Chloe was the first to arrive on the scene and we have baked chocolate chip cookies together since she was 4 or 5. She advanced quickly to cracking the eggs, then reading the recipe and today, I can just sit back and watch her make them all by herself.

Little Hazel, Marley, Lily and Makenna are almost old enough to join me in the kitchen. Most have already shown a fondness for sweets and treats and I always have something special for them when they are over at our house. The lemon curd was a little too tart for Marley, but she sure did like those raspberries.

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Well, not exactly. Last week, my produce box included those vegetables however. In my new goal to waste less food, that meant I’d have to eat them all. Since I never, ever buy any of those items I needed to know HOW to cook them first.

First, the yams:

I knew I’d probably roast them, but didn’t have a plan as far as roasting them whole, peeling and chopping them first or what. I did some searching and found a recipe for Roasted Yam Purée with Brown Butter. If anything could make yams taste butter, it’s got to be a stick of butter. Too bad it doesn’t photograph better. Looks like baby food, tastes like nutty, buttery goodness.

Roasted Yam Purée with Brown Butter
4 pounds yams (red-skinned sweet potatoes)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Preheat oven to 400°F. Roast yams until tender when pierced with knife, about 1 hour. Cool slightly.

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Cook until butter turns light brown, about 5 minutes.

Scoop flesh from yams into a bowl and purée with a stick blender until smooth. Blend in brown butter. Season to taste with salt.

On to the eggplant:

The eggplant solution was even less photogenic, but turned out darn tasty. It is more about the chicken stock and caramelized onions, but at least I saved the eggplant from the compost bin. Plus, I have lunch for a few days.

Puréed Eggplant Soup
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound eggplant (sliced in half lengthwise)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
5 cups low-salt canned chicken broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp celery salt
1 Tbsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried chile flakes
1 large onion, sliced
1 1/2 Tsp minced fresh garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread 2 Tbsp of the oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Season the cut side of the eggplant with salt and pepper and put the halves face down on the pan. Roast until tender, about 40 minutes (a knife will enter the flesh easily). When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh with a spoon and set aside in a bowl. Discard the skin.

Meanwhile, put the chicken broth, herbs and the skin of the onion into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Strain the broth.

Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and and cook, stirring frequently, until golden. About 20 minutes. Stir in the garlic and about 1/2 tsp salt. Saute another 3-4 four minute until the garlic starts to brown. Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook another minute or two. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the eggplant flesh, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.

Pureed to within an inch of its life with a stick blender. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Season to taste.

And finally, the turnips:

The turnips ended up cooked with cream, topped with cheese and baked to make a nice little gratin. I only had about a pound of turnips so I halved the recipe below and cut the cooking time by half as well. I also didn’t have enough Parmigiano, so I substituted gruyere and added a some panko bread crumbs just for kicks.

Turnip Gratin
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 pounds medium turnips, trimmed and left unpeeled
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Rounded 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated ParmigianoReggiano (use a Microplane)

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle.

Melt butter in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet, then cool.

Slice turnips paper-thin with slicer, then arrange one third of slices, overlapping tightly, in skillet, keeping remaining slices covered with dampened paper towels. Sprinkle with about a third of thyme, kosher salt, and cayenne. Make 2 more layers.

Cook, covered, over medium heat until underside is browned, about 10 minutes. Add cream and cook, covered, until center is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Sprinkle evenly with cheese, then bake, uncovered, until golden and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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