Category Archives: Spring

I Love Rhubarb

I’ve spent the last few weeks totally fixated on rhubarb.  Before I move on to something new (there were cherries at the market last Saturday), I thought I’d gather together all the different crap on my computer desktop into one convenient spot.  These are the highlights from the great rhubarb extravaganza of 2012.

Jam

I’ve made many, many jars of this basic rhubarb jam that I posted a few weeks ago.  It’s a simple recipe that uses rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice, and it’s the perfect blank canvas for experimenting with different add-ins like vanilla beans, lavender, rosemary, cardamom….   (As the rhubarb season has progressed, the jams have gone from bright red to pale pink to greenish-brown….. )

Know what makes me really happy?  Greek yogurt + rhubarb jam + a drizzle of honey + granola.  You gotta do it.  It’s like dessert, but healthier.

Syrup:

Rhubeena, from The Hungry Tigress, should be considered a pantry staple like tomato sauce.  It’s that good. Before the rhubarb season is over, I also need to make this Rhubarb-Lime syrup, from Hitchhiking to Heaven, because  citrus sounds like the perfect partner for rhubarb.

Cocktails:  

Rhubarb Mojitos: a classic mojito pumped up with rhubarb syrup

Rhubarb Granita Cocktails: ridiculously good frozen cocktails made with rhubarb granita, vodka and soda.  (The other night, while I was drinking one of these, I decided that they’re the best fruity cocktail that I’ve ever had in my life, ever. I love these. They’re dangerous.)(We’ve also made Local Kitchen’s Rhubarbitas, because apparently, you know, I drink a lot and really like rhubarb.   I love me a fruity pink cocktail, what can I say).

Rhubarb Fruit Leather:

Making rhubarb syrups means that you’ll end up with some leftover cooked rhubarb pulp.  It depends on how long you’ve cooked the pulp, but sometimes there’s still a lot of flavor left in there.   I was pleasantly surprised by the way the rhubarb leather turned out;  the flavor in the pulp that was definitely a bit on the bland side concentrated in the oven and came out perfectly sweet, tart and bright by the time it was finished dehydrating.   You don’t need to own a dehydrator to make leather — it comes out fine in the oven using a cookie sheet with raised sides.

Cook Time: 8 hrs. or so

Ingredients:

  • a couple cups of cooked rhubarb pulp leftover from other recipes
  • lemon juice to taste
  • sugar
  • cooking spray or neutral flavored oil

Heat the oven to 150 degrees or the lowest setting available.  Use a blender to puree the rhubarb pulp.  Taste it, and add a splash of lemon juice if it needs some brightness.  Add a bit of sugar to taste, but remember that the flavors will concentrate and sweeten in the oven, so be careful not to overdo it or it will come out really sweet.  Lightly grease a cookie sheet with neutral oil or cooking spray, and then pour the rhubarb puree onto it.  The puree layer should be about 1/4″ thick.  Put it in the oven until it’s dry and looks like fruit leather, somewhere from 6-8 hours.  (Check it more often when it’s almost done so it doesn’t get too dry).

When it’s done, peel it off the cookie sheet and cut it into convenient sized pieces.   Theoretically, it will keep for a long time at room temperature in a jar or a tupperware, but we ate ours in just a couple days.

Desserts:

Everyone knows about rhubarb pie, but there are so many other sweet treats that you can make with rhubarb.  Like this cake (or is a tart? or a pie?):I give you: strawberry rhubarb kuchen, which is what happens when you stumble onto this recipe for Rhubarb Krack from the Hungry Tigress (which is an adaptation of  Cakewalk’s Rhubarb Kuchen recipe) and realize that you don’t have enough rhubarb to make it but if you just substitute some strawberries for part of the rhubarb, things could still work out well….There’s not really much point in writing the recipe out again since two other talented ladies have already done it.  The only information that really matters is that you can substitute some strawberries for the Tigress’ recipe if you don’t have enough rhubarb, but that it’s probably wise to reduce the sugar since strawberries are pretty sweet on their own.  I used 1 c. of sugar for the filling instead of 2 c. and it was plenty sweet for my taste.  (I also used all-purpose flour, not the whole wheat pastry flour that the recipe calls for, but it was only because I didn’t have the whole wheat on hand.)

I’m pretty sure this recipe would be amazing with any ripe fruit.  I’d love to try it with peaches, or pears, or plums….  That custardy fruit layer is really just everything I could ever want out of a dessert.

I wish I could say that I’m done working on rhubarb recipes, but I’m totally not. (I definitely still want to make the rhubarb mostarda from What Julia Ate and this Rhubarb Custard Pie from Saveur.) and I really haven’t experimented enough with all of rhubarb’s savory applications….  It’s a vicious cycle of rhubarb, it’s true.

Okay, I gotta go get a slice of that pie….

Tomato Starts for the Ukiah Farmers Market Tomorrow 4/28

Tomorrow we’ll be loading up a bunch of tomato starts to bring to the Ukiah Farmers Market (so exciting, right?)…

Our tomatoes are all heirloom and specialty varieties that will grow well here in Northern California and look beautiful both on your dinner plate and in your garden.  The seeds that we use aren’t certified organic (many of these varieties aren’t available as organic seed) but we grow them completely organically from day 1.  We’ve grown almost all of these varieties here on the farm, so if you have any questions about them, feel free to ask.

This is the list of varieties we will be bringing tomorrow; the selection will change over the next few weeks. (The descriptions are taken exactly from the Baker Creek seed catalogue, none of them are my own writing- I thought it would be helpful for all of the market customers to see the full description written by the folks that are working hard to keep all of these great varieties around for generations to come).   Hope to see you at the market tomorrow!Ananas Noire: (Black Pineappple) A most exciting new tomato, it is wonderful in every way.  This unusual variety was developed by Pascal Moreau, a horticulturist from Belgium.  The multi-colored, smooth fruit (green, yellow and purple mix) weight about 1.5 lbs.  The flesh is bright green with deep red streaks.  Everyone loves their superb flavor that is outstanding, being both sweet and smoky with a hint of citrus.  The yield is one of the heaviest we have ever seen!

Big Zebra: “New! A stunning tomato that looks much like a giant version of our popular “Green Zebra,” this 8-10 oz. beauty has a vibrant green and deep gold striped skin, with delicious red-streaked, green flesh.  A superb home and market tomato, a must for all who love the beautiful and unique.  One of the most amazing tomatoes we have grown; so groovy and retro looking! 80-90 days.

Carbon: 90 days Winner of the 2005 ‘heirloom garden show’ best tasting tomato award.  These have won taste awards coast to coast in the last few years, so we were proud to locate a small supply of seed.  The fruit are smooth, large and beautiful, being one of the darkest and prettiest of the purple types that we have seen.  They seem to have an extra dose of the complex flavor that makes dark tomatoes famous.

Cherokee Purple: 80 days An old Cherokee Indian heirloom, pre-1890 variety; beautiful deep dusky purple-pink color, superb sweet flavor, and very large sized fruit.  Try this one for real old-time tomato flavor

Copia: 80-90 days  One of our most unique and beautiful large, striped tomatoes, these have lovely fine striped of glowing gold and neon red.  Inside the flavorful flesh is a mix of red and yellow that is swirled together in various combinations.  This new variety was developed by Jeff Dawson and named in honor of Copia, the American Center for Food, Wine and the Arts, of Napa, CA

Cuor di Bue: 70 days This oxheart type Italian heirloom has been a favorite in Italy for many years.  Beautiful 12 oz fruit have a delicious sweet taste; similar to the shape of a heart; great for fresh eating or cooking.  Large vigorous vines.  Hard to find.

Dr. Wyches Yellow: 80 days This heirloom was introduced to Seed Savers Exchange by the late Dr. John Wyche, who at one time owned the Cole Brothers Circus and used the manure of elephants to fertilize his heritage gardens.  The 1 lb. fruit is solid and smooth; their color is a glowing tangerine-orange that always stands out in the kitchen or off the vine.

Fox Cherry: Delicious large, red heirloom cherry tomatoes that seem to be one of the best-tasting large cherries around.  The vining plants are very reliable; even in years when the wilt kills about everything else, these seem to do great.  The fruit weigh about 1 oz. each and are perfect for salads.

Great White: 80-85 days Large, 1-lb giant, creamy white fruit, this tomato is superbly wonderful.  The flesh is so good and deliciously fruity, it reminds me of a mixture of fresh-cut pineapple, melon and guava.  One of our favorite fresh-eating tomatoes! Fruit are smoother than most large beefsteak types, and yields can be very high.  Introduced by Gleckler’s Seedsmen.

Hillbilly or Flame: 80-85 Days A huge, bi-color heirloom: brilliant yellow color with red marbling.  Very large with a rich, sweet flavor.  Beautiful when sliced.  An heirloom believed to be from West Virginia.

Lollipop: 70 days Delicious, light yellow translucent cherries.  The flavor of these is really good– both sweet and fruity.  Plants set good yields.  A real winner!

Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge: 80-90 days Stunning tomato is a vibrant, tangerine orange with shocking true purple splashed in various amounts over its upper half.  This is one of the few domestic tomatoes that have true purple pigment, although research is being done with wild purple tomatoes.  These have a mild taste that make them good for snacking.  Fruit weighing 4-10 ounces were produced in abundance and tended to turn more purple as the season progressed.  Some fruit may not be very purple, coloration varies.

Paul Robeson: 90 days This famous tomato has almost a cult following among seed collectors and tomato connoisseurs.  They simply cannot get enough of this variety’s amazing flavor that is so distinctive, sweet and smokey.  7-10 oz. fruit are a black-brick color.  Named in honor of the famous opera singer star of “King Solomon’s Mines,” 1937. This Russian heirloom was lovingly named in his honor.

Placero: A flavorful, small tomato from our friend Herb Culver.  He colected this tomato in Cuba from a man named Orlando at Mission Mundial.  This tomato also is said to have a very high beta-carotene content.  Tasty, red fruit grow on very productive plants.

Pink Brandywine: The most popular heirloom vegetable! A favorite of many gardeners; large fruit with superb flavor.  A great potato-leafed variety from 1885! Beautiful pink fruit up to 1 1/2 lbs. each!

Plum Lemon: 80 days Bright canary-yellow 3” fruit looks just like a fresh lemon.  … This variety was collected by Kent Whealy, of Seed Savers Exchange, from an elderly seedsman at the Bird Market in Moscow.  Delicious, sweet taste.

Purple Calabash: 85 days.  May be the most purple of all the “purple” tomatoes; a deep purple/burgundy and very colorful! The shape is also exciting, with the 3” fruit being very flat, ribbed and ruffled.  Flavor is intense, sweet and tart, with a lime or citrus taste.  A most uniquely flavored tomato! The plants give huge yields.  This tomato resembles tomatoes pictured in 16th century herbal diaries.

Riesentraube: 76-85 days This old German heirloom was offered in Philadephia by the mid-1800s.  The sweet red 1 oz. fruit grow in large clusters, and the name means “Giant Bunch of Grapes” in German.  It is probably the most popular small tomato with seed collectors, as many enjoy the rich, full tomato flavor that is missing in today’s cherry types.  Large plants produce massive yields.

Violet Jasper: When these little Oriental jewels ripen, your eyes will be stunned with color.  They have pretty violet-purple fruit with iridescent green streaks! Fruit weigh 1-3 oz., are smooth and have good tasting, dark purplish-red flesh.  This variety will also amaze you with its yield: It’s not only high, but incredibly high, being one of the most productive tomatoes we have grown.

Yellow Brandywine: 90 days Superbly rich and delicious tasting large fruit, the golden variety gives good yields and, in our opinion, the fruit are better tasting than pink brandywine.  Large potato-leaf plants are very sturdy and deep green.  This heirloom is delicious any way you eat it!

Yellow Pear: 78 days Very sweet, 1 1/2” yellow, pear-shaped fruit have a mild flavor, and are great for fresh eating or making tomato preserves.  Very productive plants are easy to grow.

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For some tomato growing tips from serious experts, I recommend reading this great article from Love Apple Farm. 

This One Is Dangerous: Rhubarb Granita Cocktails

So I’m in the middle of a pretty intense obsession with rhubarb- I’ve made a ton of jam, rhubarb syrup, rhubarb mojitos, and most recently this rhubarb granita.Granitas are simply frozen syrups that you stir during the freezing process, making a texture something like a snow cone. ( The Los Angeles Times has an article here explaining the general process.) They’re almost are always a good idea- they’re sweet and cold, the perfect treat for a hot day.

This granita is superpowered, though.

It’s already amazing because it’s made of rhubarb…. but this granita also has vodka in it.  Throw some in a glass and top it with sprite or seltzer water, and you now have one of those deceptive cocktails that definitely doesn’t taste as strong as it really is.  Fizzy, sweet and tart, cold….  it’s the perfect cocktail for a sunny afternoon.  Whenever I put recipes up here for the whole internet to see, I like to taste them one last time to make sure I have the measurements right.  That means that right now (9:42 a.m.) I’m having to remind myself that drinking vodka cocktails before breakfast is never, ever a good idea.

oh, but what a breakfast it could be….

(no! step away!)

seriously though, these are addictive.  Serve it at your next party and all of your guests will love you.

Rhubarb Granita 

I got the idea for this recipe here, from A Crafty Lass’s recipe for Rhubarb Slush.  I didn’t really follow the recipe, so I’m not 100% sure, but I think her version is more like frozen rhubarb jello.  I omitted the gelling step, changed a couple ingredients, and figured a basic granita would be just as good.

Cook Time: oh, with time in the freezer included, about a day- but don’t let that scare you- it’s easy.

Makes: a lot- almost a gallon

Ingredients:

  • 8 c. rhubarb, chopped into 1″ sections
  • 2 quarts of water
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. strawberry jam
  • 2 c. vodka
  • for serving the cocktails: sprite, 7-up, ginger ale, seltzer…. anything fizzy will work

Step 1: Make the rhubarb syrup

Combine the rhubarb, water, sugar and lemon juice in a large pot and cook on high heat until the rhubarb is soft, about 20 minutes.  Strain the mixture through a colander, reserving the rhubarb syrup.  (Save the pulp- it still tastes good and you can put it in quick bread, mix it into yogurt, make fruit leather, etc.)

Combine the rhubarb syrup with the strawberry jam and the vodka.

Step 2: Make the granita

Pour the rhubarb-vodka mixture into a large, shallow dish.  Cover with saran wrap and place in the freezer.  (If you don’t have enough space in the freezer for a large dish, it really will work ok in a bowl too.  It just might take longer.)    Most granita recipes will tell you to stir the liquid every 30 minutes, but I didn’t do it nearly that often and it turned out fine.   The idea is that you don’t want to let it freeze solid.  I stirred mine with a fork every hour or two, then let it freeze overnight and gave it another stir in the morning.

Step 3: Cocktails

Top with seltzer water, sprite, ginger ale, whatever you like, and drink immediately.  The granita will last awhile (days? weeks? but who could let it sit in there that long without drinking it?) in the freezer, but the texture may change a little, becoming more frozen.  You can always let it thaw for awhile to soften it back up and it should be fine.

Mint Syrup & Rhubarb Mojitos

This project started out as an attempt to preserve spring herbs.When I first started my garden, years ago, I was working with this bare hillside covered with brush and weeds.  I didn’t really have any experience with garden planning and made some strange choices, once of which was to plant a whole bunch of mint.  I liked the idea of mint growing around my garden without me having to do anything, and since it would spread I figured it would take over the space from all the weeds.

Yeah…

That was about the dumbest idea I’ve ever had.  Now we have mint everywhere.  Don’t plant mint in your garden.  Put it in a container, not the ground.  The roots are so invasive, and even when you think you’ve dug them all up, they come right back.  God forbid you run a rototiller through it — then all of the roots split into little pieces and sprout new plants, and instead of having a million little mint plants you have ten trillion of them.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to use this ridiculous amount of mint, to turn it into something that would actually make it worth the space in the garden.  Later in the summer, it shoots up pretty purple flower spikes and I put it in our bouquets for the farmers market.  I wanted to find a culinary use for it, though, so I figured I’d make a mint simple syrup since mojitos are a staple around here during the summer. Oh yeah, that beautiful shade of baby poo green? That’s why most people put green food coloring in their minty canned goods.

I’d never made anything like this before, so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.  It’s good, but if you’re using it for mojitos I think it works better in addition to the fresh mint than it does as a substitution for the fresh stuff.  The flavor in the cooked syrup is definitely very minty but loses some of that fresh brightness that the leaves originally had.

So while that whole project was going on, I was also working on rhubarb things and finally made the Tigress’s recipe for Rhubeena, (rhubarb syrup), which is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages now.  It came out perfectly – it’s everything that the mint syrup isn’t, actually.  It tastes tart and bright and turns a stunning shade of hot pink. At this point, my mediocre herb-preservation project joined forces with the power of rhubarb to make some absolutely stellar cocktails.  You don’t necessarily have to use rhubeena to make these- any rhubarb product you have around will work.  I even made a couple using some rhubarb pulp leftover from a totally different project.  Rhubarb jam would work.  Technically… you don’t even need to use rhubarb as the fruit flavor.  You could substitute any fruit product that makes you happy:  blueberry jam, apricot butter, chopped fresh strawberries… whatever you want.  The rhubarb is amazing, though, and I highly recommend it. It seems like everyone always looks forward to summer for fun stuff like grilling and fizzy cocktails and eating outdoors.  Spring has always seemed like a some kind of preparatory period leading up to summer, but recently I’ve been thinking that, you know, the weather right now is totally beautiful, the garden has plenty of nice things going on, and – most importantly – late July and August on a farm tend to be so busy that there’s not much time to stop and enjoy everything.  I’m embracing spring as the time to celebrate.  The sun is back out.  Make a cocktail and clean the grill off, no reason to wait.

(I know, I know, it might still frost/snow/sleet etc., I’m starting the party early anyway).

Mint Simple Syrup

Thanks to Cindy from SB Canning for helping me make sure that this project would be safe to can (she’s pretty smart about that stuff).  Lots of recipes on the internet for mint syrup that goes in the fridge, but I wasn’t sure if it would be shelf stable.  This recipe should work for other culinary herbs as well.

cook time: oh…. 40 minutes including processing time?

makes: a little over 3 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. water
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 1 huge bunch of fresh mint, washed thoroughly: I don’t mean the little teeny bunches that they sell at the grocery store- I mean a big huge handful!

This recipe comes together pretty quickly, so you might as well start by bringing the boiling water canner up to a boil right off the bat.

In a nonreactive pot, combine the sugar and water.  Cook on high heat, stirring for a minute or two, to dissolve the sugar.  Add the mint into the pot and cook for 15 minutes on medium heat.  Remove from heat and strain through several layers of cheesecloth or a jelly bag.   Pour into clean half pint jars leaving 1/4″ headspace and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

 

Rhubarb Mojitos

cook time: 5 minutes

makes: 1 cocktail

Ingredients:

  • ice & seltzer water
  • 2 ounces rhubeena
  • 1 ounce mint simple syrup*
  • 6 or 7 fresh mint leaves
  • 3/4 of a lime
  • 1 ounce rum

Cut the lime into wedges.  In a pint glass, combine the rhubeena, mint syrup, and rum.  Squeeze the lime wedges into the glass to release the juice and then throw them right in there with everything.  Add the mint leaves.  Add some ice.  Top with seltzer water.  Mix well.

*In the past I haven’t bothered making mint syrup for mojitos, but I think it actually made a significant improvement in the cocktail to do it this way.  If you don’t want to can a big batch, you could just infuse a small batch of simple syrup with some mint leaves and put leftovers in the fridge.

How To Preserve Radishes

Radishes aren’t really a vegetable that screams out for preservation.  They’re usually eaten raw, after all.  The problem is that I compulsively preserve all of the produce we grow, and in the springtime this invariably means that there will be the odd bunch of radishes that goes unsold at the farmers market.  The unsold produce usually makes its way into our meals for the week, and yes, baby greens with thinly sliced radishes and mustard vinaigrette tastes wonderful after all of the kale we’ve been eating all winter, but we can only eat so much salad before that gets old.  True, you can also roast them in the oven and toss them with brown butter for something more unexpected.  When the temperature starts to spike up into the 80s during the day, however, roasting things for dinner just doesn’t seem very appropriate.

Over the years, I’ve managed to find a few ways to preserve the bounty of spring radishes.  Radishes are so delicate that one heat wave can ruin them —  leave them in the garden a few days too long and they turn tough and unpleasantly spicy.  It’s much better to pick them at their peak, right away, and turn them into something tasty while they’re still fresh and perfect.  These preservation methods will help extend the season a little bit, so that you don’t have to figure out how to do crazy things like eat a whole bed of radishes in four days.

Refrigerator PicklesRadishes make perfect pickles.  They’re so crunchy already, and when you put them in a brine in the fridge they’ll stay crisp for weeks.  Spiced with white wine, green garlic and fresh herbs from the spring garden, these pickles are majorly addictive.Pickled Radishes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Makes: 1 quart

Ingredients:

  • about 2 bunches of radishes
  • 1 c. pinot grigio
  • 1 c. white vinegar
  • 1 c. water
  • 3″ section of stem from green garlic  (or fresh garlic tops, or scapes would work too)
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 small sprig of fennel
  • 1 sprig marjoram
  • 1 sprig oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 tbs. kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tbs. sugar

In a nonreactive pot, combine all of the ingredients except the radishes.  Bring everything to a boil and then let it simmer for a five minutes to infuse the brine with the fresh herbs.  Turn off the heat and let it cool down a bit after this- warm is fine, but boiling hot could cook that radishes a little bit, and we don’t want that.  Meanwhile, cut the radishes into smaller pieces.  Depending on the size and shape, you can cut them into halves, quarters, wedges or rounds (whatever makes you happy).  Pack the radishes into a clean quart jar.*  Remove the cooked herbs from the brine and discard. (If you want, you can throw a sprig of something in the jar, but I like to grab a fresh sprig).  Pour the brine over them.  Screw on the lid and store in the fridge for up to 1 month.  (The radishes take about three days to taste properly pickled.)As the radishes sit in the vinegar, the red from the outside of the roots will dye the whole thing a vibrant shade of hot pink.

*Sterilize the jar to make the pickles last longer in the fridge.

Radish ButterThis is my most favorite radish recipe ever.  This year, I used it for our ugly radishes that didn’t make it to the market.  Any that are split, cracked or sat in the garden a few days too long can just be thrown right in with everything else to make this delicious spread without compromising the quality of the final product. It’s simple, too.  Just puree the radishes with your favorite kitchen appliance for pureeing things and then mix them together with softened butter and fresh herbs.  Basically, the plan is to cram the whole early spring garden into one compound butter and then eat it on toasted sourdough bread.

This lasts for a week in the fridge, and we’ve had success freezing it but I’m not sure how long it really lasts yet. (I’ll come back and update, I promise!)  So far, those jars only sit in the freezer for a week or two before we’ve polished them off.

Radish Compound Butter

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Makes: 3 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • about 16 radishes
  • 1 1/2 c. salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tbs. chopped fresh marjoram
  • 1 tbs. thinly sliced garlic greens (from the growing tops of the garlic in the garden)
  • 2 tbs. chopped fennel fronds
  • fresh cracked black pepper

Puree the radishes in a food processor (or whatever you use.)   Add in the butter and the fresh herbs and mix until everything is thoroughly combined.  Season with fresh cracked black pepper to taste.

Paula Deen Would Be Proud Of Us

The time sure flies when you’re having fun…

So far, Cook it! 2012 has brought us all shapes and sizes of handmade pastas, a beautiful assortment of breads, and the most recent undertaking, fresh sweet butter.

Truly, nothing really says luxury like warm bread slathered with butter made from the best grass-fed cream.   I still haven’t found a local source for dairy other than the natural food store, but hopefully something will appear soon.

Or…

Maybe I need to get a cow?

Or a goat?

As usual, I loved reading the collection of everyone’s projects.  It is a constant inspiration to see the great things that other people are cooking.

Belated Bread and Butter, from Snowflake Kitchen: a touching post about making bread and butter as kitchen therapy during sad times.

Butter, and Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes with Garlic Shrimp, from Homemade Trade:  Aimee, you had me at mashed yukon gold potatoes with fresh buttermilk.  That should be a food group all to itself.

Buttermaking, from Oh Briggsy: green garlic compound butter sounds like something I could eat on pretty much everything.  More importantly, this post managed to find the theme song for the March challenge: C.R.E.A.M., from the Wu Tang Clan.  (In case you don’t have it on your iPod already, it stands for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” which is perfect since making good butter requires the best quality cream, which really does involve shelling out the big money.  Nice song choice, Briggsy…)

Calendula Butter, from Bunchberry Farm and Dogwood Designs:  Lots of nice ideas for using calendula in this post, including a charming calendula butter.   (Scones + calendula butter + jam =  sure sounds good to me)

Homemade Butter and Buttermilk Rum Pound Cake, from Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja: that pound cake looks divine, and that stoneware bundt pan that you scored for free at the dump? I’m jealous.

(On How Not To) Make Butter, from Grow and Resist: My favorite part of this post is that me and Meg’s four year old had the exact same thought process.  Shaking the cream in a jar = boring.  KitchenAid mixer = powerful superior technology.  You could have had the exact same shot of me dumping the jar of cream into the mixer….
And with that, we move on to the April project: cheese!

Happy cooking, everyone…

Cook it! 2012 April Resolution: Make Fresh Cheese

A lot of people already know how to do this.  A lot of people have also blogged about it too.  I don’t really care, though, because this is the very first time ever that I made this, and I bet there are a lot of people out there reading this that haven’t done this project either.

This month’s cook it 2012 project is fast, easy, and cheap, and aren’t those really the ideal qualities in a good cooking project? (I suppose they can also be the ideal qualities in several other situations, like dates and dentist appointments).

It really is exciting to do a project that only takes about fifteen minutes, costs under $5, turns out completely delicious and makes you feel like some kind of magical food wizard while you’re at it.  

APRIL COOK IT! 2012 RESOLUTION: MAKE FRESH CHEESE

So, I’m calling this fresh ricotta cheese, but that’s not quite accurate.  If I understand correctly, there are a whole family of cheeses that are made by heating up milk, adding acid to separate the curds and whey and then draining off the whey to leave behind the curds (the cheese!).  Technically, real ricotta isn’t made using milk, it’s made using whey.  I’ll be giving that process a try this month too, but since they don’t sell whey at the farmers market or the grocery store I had to start with this.  The cheese that this recipe makes can be used as cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, queso fresco, paneer, and probably some other ones that I don’t know about since I’m no cheese expert….  Whatever you want to call it, this cheese is wonderful used as ricotta in Italian dishes, served with sliced fruit and honey for breakfast, mixed with fresh herbs, pepper and fancy olive oil and eaten on crackers, and a whole realm of other sweet and savory applications.  All you need to get started is milk, cheesecloth and acid.  For the acid you can either use white vinegar, lemon juice or buttermilk.   I used lemon juice, which works great but does leave a lemony flavor behind, so I’ll probably use vinegar next time.  Use the best milk you can find/afford, making sure that it’s not ultra-pasteurized.  I tried a batch with goat milk and another batch with Strauss Organic cow milk.  Both batches turned out great, but I actually preferred the flavor of the goat milk version (because I am a major fiend for goat cheese). Goat milk is always a nice option for people who don’t do well with lactose, and  I’ve also heard that if you  consume goat milk from goats who have been eating poison oak leaves in their diet, it can improve your immune response to poison oak (note: you have to consume the goat products first, before you’re exposed, not after you’ve already gotten the rash).  To make the cheese, heat up the milk to 180 degrees.  Serious Eats has a recipe for five minute microwave ricotta, but I did it the old-school way on the stove.  If you have an instant read thermometer, it helps, but you’ll know it’s time to add the acid when the milk comes to a simmer and starts looking frothy.  Pour in a couple tablespoons of your acid, either lemon juice or vinegar, cook the milk for another minute or two and keep stirring, and you’ll see the curds and whey magically separate. At this point, you pour the separated milk through cheesecloth to strain out the curds.  Different recipes have different times for how long to leave everything draining, but it really depends on your preference and what you’re using it for.  I only left mine to drain for a couple minutes because I wanted it to stay fairly spreadable.  If you were making something like paneer, an Indian cheese used similarly to tofu in lots of different curries, you drain it longer and then press it so that it can be sliced into pieces.  (Can you imagine? Homemade paneer tikka masala? Oh my goodness…)Fresh Ricotta Cheese

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Makes: about a cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart of whole milk
  • about 2 tbs. lemon juice or white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Heat up the milk in a pot on the stove.  Add the salt.  When the milk is simmering or reads 180 on a thermometer, stir in the lemon juice or vinegar.  (I didn’t really measure so much as pour a few splashes of lemon juice into the pot while the milk was simmering.  If you stir for a minute and let the milk keep simmering, the curds will separate.)  Pour into a colander lined with a couple layers of cheesecloth to drain.  I thought the cheese came out the best when I let it drain for about five minutes.  You can eat the cheese warm or chill it for later.  The cheese will firm up more in the fridge, where it can be stored for about two days.

I highly recommend mixing the warm cheese with the best olive oil you have, fresh herbs, sliced scallions, salt and pepper and eating it on crackers (especially if you’re tired after a long day of work and want to sit down, have a cocktail and a small bite to eat, then it’s really great).

If you don’t want to eat it right away, though, you can always do something crazy like make lasagna:I never use a recipe for lasagna since it’s more fun to raid the garden, the pantry and the freezer for whatever things you want to be in the layers.  Yesterday we happened to have some good looking spinach and spring onions in the garden…so that turned into one layer, and then I had a pack of ground veal from Owen Family Farms — humanely raised, pastured veal! — that was in the freezer, so I threw together a veal ragu for another layer.  I cooked the veal in some of the leftover whey along with red wine, canned tomatoes, onions, carrots, fresh oregano and parsley.  And then, this is a trick that j. taught me when I complained that I hate ricotta cheese long ago, you gotta fancy up that cheese a bit before it goes in the lasagna. I used the batch of cow milk ricotta for the lasagna, which was the yield from one half gallon of milk, and it was just enough to do a medium sized casserole dish.  If you want to have a big casserole or a really thick layer, you should definitely use a whole gallon of milk so you get more ricotta cheese.  To make your ricotta layer tasty and packed with flavor, throw the ricotta into the food processor with an egg or two, some garlic powder, chopped parsley or scallions and a pinch of salt and pepper.  It will be far superior to those bland lasagnas with a layer of mushy, flavorless grocery store ricotta cheese.

and then, you know, you just do the lasagna thing: and then pop that baby in the oven until it’s bubbly and delicious looking.

(Yeah, I know that I usually preach the gospel of fresh pasta with 100% local semolina flour, and those are obviously not fresh pasta noodles, but fresh pasta is not usually a project to do after you’ve already been up for many hours and worked the farmers market and your feet are so sore.  Gotta be realistic here).

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If you want to cook along, e-mail me, thejamgirl@gmail.com, a link to the url of your post by May 15, 2012 to be included in the round-up post.

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I can’t believe I made cheese and it was that easy.  I hope you give it a try too!

Coconut Chana Masala

One of my friends makes the most fantastic Indian food.  I usually like to be the one cooking  for other people, but I would beg her to puhleeeezeeeee please please make Indian food again, pleeeeeze or I might actually keel over and die!  Then she moved to Los Angeles and I haven’t seen her in years now, let alone tasted any of her cooking.  It’s really tragic.   When I win the lottery, I’m going to buy a jet so that I can fly around the country visiting all my friends that have moved away.  This curry is my version of something my friend cooked a long time ago that I might not even be remembering accurately, but I think I’ve got it pretty close here.

This isn’t really an authentic chana masala at all, since chana masala doesn’t usually have coconut milk in it.  Coconut milk  ranks up there with butter, bacon and heavy cream, though, which means that you should put in everything and it will only make it better.  This also has some other spices in it that I think taste awesome but have nothing to do with authentic chana masala.

Oh, and anyone who talks smack about vegan cooking has never tasted this recipe.  The curry is wonderfully rich and creamy with a solid spicy kick from the cayenne pepper.  Serve it with basmati rice, some warm flatbread or tortillas and your favorite chutney for a seriously delicious meal.

Coconut Chana Masala 

Cook Time: 5 minutes plus 1-2 hours simmering on the stove.  This recipe is really, really, really easy and comes together super quickly.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cans of garbanzo beans, drained
  • 2 small potatoes, diced into 1/2”cubes
  •  1 can coconut milk
  • 1”section of ginger, peeled
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 c. loosely packed cilantro leaves
  • 3 tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 dried cayenne chili pepper (or less, depending on your spice preference)
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. garam masala
  • salt & pepper to taste

In a blender, combine all the ingredients except the garbanzo beans and potatoes.*  Blend until smooth. ( This is not the way you’re supposed to make chana masala but it doesn’t matter because this way tastes amazing.)

In a large cast iron skillet (or a pot works fine too), combine the garbanzo beans, potatoes and the coconut milk-spice mixture from the blender.  Simmer on low heat for an hour or two.  (If you make it too spicy, you can add yogurt and some honey to cool it back down, although it won’t be vegan then.)   Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over basmati rice with a few sprigs of fresh cilantro.   This is one of those dishes that only gets tastier if you let it sit in the fridge for a day or two, so you’ll be happy if you end up with any leftovers, which you probably won’t.

*(and the salt and pepper…. that’s always last).

Our New Chickens, and How To Introduce Young Chickens Into Your Flock

I swore that I would take more pictures of the baby chicks this time around, and I totally didn’t do it. They just grow so fast; before you know it, their feathers are in and they’re starting to look like chickens instead of little stuffed animals.

I’m really excited for some of the breeds we have.  Up until now, our flock has been 100% ameraucanas, so our eggs are a lovely mix of pastel greens and blues.  When we placed this order with the hatchery, we decided to worry less about egg color more about having an interesting flock with a large assortment of breeds.  I’m particularly taken with the blue-laced red wyandottes, one of which held still long enough for me to take a picture: I ordered us a couple special roosters too.  This guy was absolutely not excited about the camera, but you can see how long his tail feathers already are.  He’s a phoenix, a rare variety where the roosters have wonderfully dramatic tail feathers.  (Click here for some pictures to get an idea of what I mean)The baby chicks growing up means that it’s time for them to join the big girls in the main coop.  If we had tons of space, I would keep them separate for another few months, but we don’t.  I’ve learned a few things about this process over the years, (some of which might conflict with information you may read elsewhere, which usually advises against different age groups in the same coop).

It’s completely possible to combine multiple age groups of chickens into one space.  Ideally, you can keep them separate until they’re full-grown, but not everyone has that much room.  Here are the tricks that I’ve learned over the years:

  • Never put day old chicks with laying hens. The age difference just too much.  Instead, put the day old chicks in a smaller space for a month or two to grow a little bit.  The smaller space doesn’t need to be lavish since it’s so temporary (but do make sure that it’s warm, dry, that they have plenty of food and water and space to move around.) I’ve used rabbit cages, sectioned off areas of the main coop, and makeshift cardboard boxes or storage bins.
  • The actual age that you decide to put the young chicks in with the grownup hens depends on a few variables.  If your hens have a lot of space to roam around, you can put the chicks out a little younger.
  • When you first combine the two age groups, do it about an hour before sunset.  That way, if it’s too soon and the grownup hens start picking on the little ones, they won’t really cause too much trouble because they’ll be going to the coop to go to sleep soon.
  • The most important thing: The key is to distract the grownup hens from the younger ones.  Put out lots of scratch, vegetable scraps from the garden, leftover kitchen scraps, whatever you have.  You want to have the older birds so caught up in eating all this awesome stuff that they don’t notice that there are suddenly a bunch of little ones running around.   Remember, there is such a thing as too much scratch.  It’s much better to give your hens lots and lots of fresh vegetables than to overdo it on the scratch.
  • Pick a day that you’ll be at home and can hang out with your chickens.  Don’t just combine the two groups and assume it’s fine.  There will be the occasional scuffle.  An adult bird may peck a younger chick, and if it draws blood it can turn very dangerous for the younger bird.  If you catch it right as it’s happening, all you have to do is grab the younger bird and wipe off the blood, then the bird can go right back into the group. (I’m talking about a very small amount here, just a speck of blood.  If you’re around to pay attention to the birds, it shouldn’t progress any farther than this, but if it does and you have a bird that has a larger cut that is actively bleeding, you need to separate it from the other birds immediately.)  If the two age groups are not getting along and you’re having to break up more than one or two little scuffles, it means that they’re not ready to be combined yet.
  • It will probably take a couple days for them to be completely comfortable together.  You’ll need to keep a closer eye on your chickens than usual and give them lots to do for these two days.  This is the time to give them a fresh bale of straw to play with, some heads of lettuce to tear apart.
  • The two age groups aren’t supposed to be eating the same food. The calcium in the food for the laying hens isn’t good for the young chickens and you don’t want the older chickens eating medicated chick starter (we don’t use medicated starter, but if you do, know that the medication can end up in the eggs if laying hens eat it).  The best solution that we’ve found is to use a flock-raiser mix and also put out oyster shells for the hens that are laying.

When we first let out the little chicks, this one immediately flew onto j's head and then pooped on him. Charming, right?

Rhubarb Jam

I’ve been making marmalades for months now.  There have been oranges, lemons, tangerines, kumquats, grapefruit and pomelos scattered all over every surface in kitchen. Every time I finish with one case of citrus, I’ll swear to myself that I’m not doing any more marmalades because I’m so sick of finely slicing things… and then about two days will pass, I’ll forget my vow, and then decide it’s a good idea to do something idiotic like make 40 jars of kumquat marmalade.  (About 5 minutes after I start, I remember that I totally meant to not go down that road again, but since I don’t like wasting things I end up powering through several cases of kumquats and getting a bunch of calluses on my fingers from all the knife-work.)

After this whole marmalade saga, I can say that as of right now, I’m officially down to one last single lemon. If you see me at a farmers market, please just say:

LISTEN.  DON’T DO IT. IT’S NOT WORTH IT. STAY AWAY FROM THE ORANGES.

(But just writing that, I start thinking – ah, but I don’t really have enough blood orange things in jars, and I never got to do anything with those rangpur limes that Shae keeps raving about , so I can basically guarantee that I’m going to continue down this destructive path of citrus addiction for atleast another month or two.)

I’m trying though! See? This rhubarb jam is completely different from all of the elaborate marmalades I’ve been working on.  It’s just plain rhubarb, no bells and whistles at all.  I wanted to make something that was bright and clean tasting and completely true to the flavor of the fruit. So the rhubarb ends up doing this sweet-tart thing that’s so, so tasty….  This is, without a doubt, in my top 5 favorite preserves.  I want to put it on everything.  I like it so much that I’m pretty sure I’m going to put in a twenty foot row of rhubarb in the garden so that I can really have enough to play with.  Rhubarb Jam

This recipe is my own, but very much inspired by the methods used in the Blue Chair Fruit cookbook and the vibrant colors of the jam over at INNA Jam, which I’ve never tasted before but I’ve stared at a lot on the internet.

Makes: a little more than 5 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 lbs. rhubarb
  • 4 c. sugar
  • lemon juice to taste, around 1/4 c.

Day 1:

Remove the leaves from the rhubarb stalks and discard.  Wash the stalks.  Slice the stalks into small pieces about 1/2″ wide.  In a nonreactive container (like a large tupperware or glass bowl), combine the chopped rhubarb and the sugar.  Cover.  Put the container in the fridge for a day or two to macerate.

Day 2:

Cook the jam: Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Put the rhubarb mixture into a wide, heavy-bottomed pot.  Cook on high heat, stirring occasionally.  Try to be gentle when you stir so you keep some chunks of rhubarb; the pieces are very tender and fall apart very easily.  I didn’t use a thermometer when I cooked this; I noticed that the jam visibly thickened more than it really looked like it had gelled.  The rhubarb will start wanting to stick to the bottom of the pot towards the very end of the cooking time, so make sure to keep stirring and keep a close eye on it towards the end of the cooking time.  It ends up being  a soft set jam, but the texture is wonderful, thick enough.  Add in the lemon juice towards the end of the cooking time, going about a tablespoon at a time.  I wanted this to be pretty tart, so I put in a lot, but you don’t have to use as much as I did.  It’s fine to turn off the jam, let it sit for a minute, taste it, and stir in a little more lemon juice if it needs a more brightness.

Ladle cooked jam into clean jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe the rims of the jars completely clean and screw on lids.  Process for 10 minutes, remembering to adjust for altitude if necessary.

NOTE: I like how simple this recipe is, but you could certainly use it as a starting point and add some other flavorings in.  Future batches might have things like candied ginger, orange zest, lavender, etc. mixed in, but I wanted something simple before I pulled out all the fancy stuff.