Top 10 Posts from 2011

Wasting time on the internet reading Top 10 lists is such a delightful tradition right before Jan 1.  I want to enable anyone else who enjoys it as much as I do, by writing yet another top 10 list.  You know you love ’em.  Don’t go be productive, sit here on the computer, for just another few minutes.

1. How To Preserve 100+ lbs. of Tomatoes With Almost No Work

This is probably my favorite post too, detailing the massive amounts of tomato preservation that happens at the farm every summer.  Sometimes I come home from the farmers market with more tomatoes than I actually took, which is completely ridiculous.  At the end of the market, when vendors have unsold tomatoes, if I hear mutters of “ah, feed ’em to the chickens,” I try to get in on the action before the hens.  End of summer, heavily discounted tomatoes are where it’s at.

2. Stout Beer Jelly

This is such a weird jelly.  It’s good and all, but…  This post made it to the front page of reddit, which hurt my brain, since there are so many other preserves I’ve made that I would recommend more than this one.  It’s a novelty jelly.  It’s definitely really tasty in certain situations, like on grilled lamb, or with toasted pumpernickel bread with cream cheese.  This is what happens if you, um, partake on St. Patrick’s Day and are a huge canning nerd, and then you decide to start making jelly out of random stuff in the kitchen.

So here’s the deal: I’m working on a new version, with tart cherries, some dried spices and bay leaves.  Please, I beg you, wait for the updated recipe before you make this. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

3. Vanilla Peach Jam

This jam is killer, and this post has step-by-step instructions for beginners.  Vanilla bean and ripe, juicy peaches is a pretty perfect combination.

4. Chocolate Plum Jam

I spent days and days and days canning in the commercial kitchen I use (that’s the door, in the picture below) for the National Heirloom Expo this September. The chocolate plum jam was a creation for that event, which you can make at home if you didn’t get to go.  It’s another winner, absolutely delicious.

5. Concord Grape Jam

What’s not to love about grape jam? It’s heavenly…

6. Pineapple Weed Tea

So…  I was all excited about how popular this post was, sitting in my living room going “gosh it’s so great that people are so interested in foraging these days”… and then I realized, after reading the search terms a little more closely:

There’s a strain of marijuana named “pineapple” and when I wrote “pineapple weed tea” a lot of people thought that I meant I was making tea out of marijuana and got really excited about my blog.

Am I naive? Yes. Is this post about getting high off your tea? Sadly, no. Is it still delicious tea? Yes.

7. My Grandma Molly’s Recipe for Pickled Watermelon Rind

Pickled watermelon was all kinds of trendy this year, and I saw recipes popping up all over the place.  Well, this is the exact recipe that my grandma from North Carolina was making, decades ago.  It’s a tedious recipe, true, but keep a jar in the fridge during the summer, and you’ll be rewarded with the most deliciously sweet, cold, crunchy pickle you’ve ever had.  People sometimes ask me what this pickle is for, exactly, and let me just say: Fried Chicken.  A big southern dinner is never complete without a little glass dish of pickles out on the table.

8. Pear Cardamom Jam 

This is my personal favorite jam, the one that I put on my toast.  Pears have such a bold, juicy flavor- I can’t get enough.

9. Candied Buddha’s Hand

One of the most exotic fruits you’ll ever see, chopped up in little pieces, cooked in sugar and turned into sweet little bites, perfect for putting in bread, cookies and fruitcake.

10. Kimchi

‘cuz kimchi is totally a thing now, like cupcakes and making jam…

This is a small batch recipe that ferments in the fridge, adapted from The Hungry Tigress, who adapted it from Tart and Sweet, which is a fantastic cookbook that I just got for Christmas! Funny how it works like that… (Thanks, my sweet little sister, you rock).

And that’s the top 10…

Thanks for reading this year, and here’s to another epic year of jamming pickling fermenting baking roasting braising gardening and all that stuff that we all love! Happy New Year!

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Wild Blackberry Jam

Every August, I’m faced with the tough choice between how much I adore the taste of wild blackberries and how much I hate picking them.  It’s 102 degrees outside, the sun is blazing, picking blackberries almost invariable involves a hike, and, best of all, they’re covered with thorns.  As much as I love California, I still daydream about the soft, dew-covered grass back in New York that you can walk on barefoot all summer long.  The plants on our property here are either pointy (star-thistle, nettles, blackberries, etc.) or make you itchy (poison oak).

Ah, but the blackberries.

Their flavor is rich and dark and perfect for jam. Varying degrees of sweetness from the wild berries makes a complex final product with plenty of sweet and plenty of tart; the berries that make your mouth pucker when you eat them raw are the magic ingredient here.

Of course, make sure that whatever berry patch you find hasn’t been polluted by run-off from a nearby road or sprayed with anything (which is good practice for foraging in general).

The actual making of the blackberry jam is easy as pie.

Wild Blackberry Jam

Since foraging tends to involve inexact amounts of produce (unlike the pretty baskets of berries at the farmers market), this recipe works better written out as a formula.

Yields: every cup of crushed berries that you have will end up equalling about one half-pint jar of jam.

Cook Time: about 30 minutes, but the time will vary drastically according to how many berries you cook in a batch

Ingredients:

  • wild blackberries:  I recommend a batch size of 4 c. of prepared berries.  Much less and you will have to really be vigilant to prevent sticking and burning during cooking. Too many berries and you will end up cooking the jam so long that you may lose some of the fresh blackberry flavor. If you go nuts and pick 12 cups of berries, just split them into four separate batches. The amount doesn’t have to be exact, though. No need to get four cups on the nose. 5 and 2/3 c. would work, or 3 cups, or… you see where I’m going here.
  • sugar: equal amount of sugar to crushed berries

1. Bring boiling water canner to a boil. Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water. 

2. Rinse berries and drain thoroughly. Put the berries into a mixing bowl and give them a gently crush.  Not enough to completely pulverize them, though; some chunks of fruit in our jam is a good thing.

3. In a large, non-reactive pot, combine the berries with an equal amount of sugar. If you have 4 cups of berries, put in 4 cups of sugar. 1:1 ratio. Easy. 

4. Cook the jam until it reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer (or whatever gel test you like to use). Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Remove the pot from the heat and ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ head space. Wipe rims clean and screw on lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. Now hide those jars away, deep in the pantry where no one can find them.  Once people know how good they are, poof! They will be gone. This photo and one lone jar is all I have left from my blackberry picking mission. (My brother discovered the jam and realized that it will make the best peanut butter and jam sandwich you’ve ever eaten.)

The vibrant flavors in these jars taste like August, and remind me of the rows of wild blackberry jam that my mom had on the pantry shelves when we were little kids.

Maybe you’re weary and you don’t give a damn

I bet you’ve never tasted her blackberry jam

-Greg Brown, from Canned Goods

Elderflower Sun Cordial For Elderflower Cocktails

I am an elderflower fiend. If I’m at a fancy bar that has signature cocktails and there’s anything with elderflower liqueur, I’m instantly sold. Usually on more than one of them, since St. Germain is delicious even on pancakes. The unfortunate part is that I usually can only find these lovely drinks at really fancy places, which I rarely go to, and that even though they’re delicious, one cocktail usually costs in the range of $14-$18, which means that you better bring some cash if you want to sit around and have a few of them. These are a few of the reasons that I often embark on preserving missions. I know that making it myself is cheaper and yields a larger quantity than buying it at the store.

Elder trees are less prolific on the west coast than on the east coast, where I grew up. I vividly remember the intoxicating smell of the flowers on my parents property when I was just a teeny little muffin.

It took some searching here in Northern California but elder trees are, in fact, here. I saw one in my neighbor’s vineyards and another one next to the Russian River along Hwy. 101. The best specimen was at the Ag. Department of a local college, where they had been lovingly tending a huge tree for years (thank you Karen!).  I picked a bag of blossoms early in the morning, when the sun was just warming the flower buds. The smell is . . .   divine. It smells like the summer solstice, and birds singing, and sunshine, if those things all had smells. Cooking with it is the epitome of cooking with flowers.

Most elderflower cordial recipes are fairly simple. Make a syrup. Pour boiling syrup over blossoms and lemon slices, and let steep for 2-3 days. Coincidentally, the day I went to make the cordial, I couldn’t find my lighter and the pilot on my stove had gone out (an off-the grid propane stove that we don’t always keep lit anyway).  Hence the “sun” part of this recipe. If you live somewhere rainy feel free to harness the power of your stovetop as I have harnessed the power of the sun.

Elderflower Sun Cordial 

Makes: 6 half pint jars

Cooking time: 2 days inactive cooking, 30 minutes active cooking

Ingredients:

  • 6 c. water
  • 2 lbs. sugar
  • 20 large elderflower heads
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbs. citric or absorbic acid*

1. Rinse elderflower heads in cool running water and drain. 

2. Combine all the ingredients in a large glass bowl. The sugar and water won’t dissolve together right away, but give the mixture a stir anyway. Cover with a plate or some saran wrap to make sure that no bugs can get in to your cordial.

3. Put the cordial in a very sunny spot to warm the bowl. Give it a stir every few hours to combine the sugar and water into a syrup.  The smell will be intoxicating and you will be thrilled with how the project is going at this point.

4. After about 2 days of full sun, strain the syrup through a cheesecloth.  You can either freeze, refrigerate or can the syrup at this point. There are rumors on the internet about un-canned syrup being shelf stable because of the citric acid, but there are also rumors about it fermenting and jars exploding, so I’m not going to try it.  To can the syrup, as I did (I found my lighter the next day):

Heat up boiling water canner and sterilize jars and lids. Bring syrup to a boil. Pour hot syrup into hot jars leaving 1/4″ headspace. Wipe rims clean and attach lids. Process for 10 minutes.

Please note: I’ve never canned this before, and I found a whole array of recipes with differing instructions for storing the cordial. This is my very educated guess. If it doesn’t go well, I’ll update this post. I’m also pretty sure that you could add a little more sugar and some powdered pectin to make elderflower jelly if you’d rather make that than beverages.

*Citric acid and absorbic acid both are natural preservatives that can usually be found in the bulk section of big health food stores. I’ve found recipes using both types of acid, so my second educated guess is that they’re essentially interchangeable. Don’t be mad at me if I’m wrong, though.

The Obvious Next Step: Sparkling Elderflower-Grapefruit Cocktails

This was inspired by a cocktail I had at the W Hotel in New Orleans, since we can’t always be on vacation, let alone buying drinks at a fancy bars. They served a slightly different version in a martini glass, but we use big girl cups on the farm.

Makes: 1 quart sized jar cocktail (it’s more efficient that way, because you’re definitely going to be making multiples of this one)

Cooking time: 3 minutes once you’ve got all the ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 2 shots of vodka (or you can use gin, that works well too)
  • 2 shots of elderflower cordial
  • 1 c. seltzer water
  • a splash of grapefruit juice
  • 6 very thinly sliced cucumber wedges
  • ice cubes

Combine all the ingredients in your jar and mix well. If you’re fancy and have a cocktail shaker, you can go that route and pour it in a martini glass and garnish with a cucumber wedge. 

Happy Drinking!

Forage It: Pineapple Weed Tea

The pineapple weed is blooming… This charming little pineapple-scented flower looks like chamomile with the petals all missing.

Pineapple weed is an edible, medicinal plant that closely resembles wild chamomile.  It’s prolific in the western U.S., (although I believe it can be found in the eastern U.S. as well). Wikipedia has a good article with some identifying characteristics and where to find it. If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll start noticing the lacy foliage and little yellow flowers popping up in disturbed areas with poor soil. I live on a very hilly property, and anywhere that a bulldozer flattened out once upon a time now has pineapple weed growing all over it. I use this plant in place of chamomile for tea. It makes a soothing, mellow flavored tea that is wonderful with a little bit of honey. To use the herb fresh, snip off about a tablespoon of the yellow flowers and steep in hot water for a few minutes. To harvest and store for later use, gather it into bunches first thing in the morning and hang in a cool, dry place to dry.  Snip off the buds and put them in a jar to preserve the flavor and aroma.

You can make tea with pineapple weed alone, but I like making mixtures with whatever I have lying around.  A cup of this is especially good if you’re kind of feeling like crap…

Pineapple Weed Tea

makes: one 32 oz. french press (although  you could easily change the amounts for whatever size press you have)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. dried pineapple weed – or- a few sprigs of fresh pineapple weed
  • 5 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tbs. loose-leaf tea, such as Oolong
  • honey to taste
  • a few tablespoons of milk (optional, to taste)

(I’m wondering if I need to write directions out for this? I will anyway though…)

Heat a kettle of water to just shy of boiling.

Put pineapple weed, oolong tea, and mint leaves into a french press.

Pour hot water into press and let everything steep for 3-4 minutes. Press, and pour into cups. Stir in honey and milk to taste.

Remember….

When you’re foraging for plants, make sure they’re not from an area that’s been contaminated by pollutants such as run off from a road. Also make sure that your dogs haven’t been peeing all over it (my dogs like peeing all over everything, it’s true). Also, if you pick poison hemlock because you think it looks the same and then you die, it’s not my fault. Use your eyeballs.  With that said, happy foraging and enjoy your tea.

Wild Duck Cacciatore (Because It’s Freezing In The Kitchen, and I’m Not Going In There)

We’ve been having some real crap weather in Northern California.  I know I should be thankful for the rain since it means we won’t have to worry about a drought this year, but I’m not feeling it.  When I got home from the farmers market this past Saturday, we were getting pounded with freezing mix and high winds.  My “kitchen” (it’s a barn) has no hot water, no heat, no insulation, and poor lighting, and I was absolutely not going in there to start a cooking project….

Hence this delicious dinner, cooked in the warm, cozy “living room” (also a barn, but with insulation and wood stove):

wild duck alla cacciatora

I have a big cast iron dutch oven that I really don’t use very often, but on really cold days I can just throw a bunch of ingredients in the pot and set it on the wood stove, letting it simmer in my living room for the whole afternoon.  If I have the fire burning already, it’s such a convenient way to cook a big meal without a lot of trouble.  (I suppose this is really the pre-cursor to the electric crock-pot.) Whether you decide for the wood stove or a conventional oven,  I can’t emphasize enough that this dish is all about flexibility and convenience; no need to search out obscure ingredients and make life difficult.

If you do want to cook this on a wood stove, keep a good base of hot coals going to ensure an even temperature for your dutch oven.*

First you need a protein. I used wild duck, which is delicious.  It’s very low fat compared to farm-raised duck, so the stew doesn’t get greasy or feel too heavy; the duck adds a rich flavor vaguely like beef or lamb.

Season your meat with salt and pepper, and then sear in the hot dutch oven with some aromatics.  Since I was lazy and tired, (getting up at 6:30 a.m. picking lettuce in the pouring rain for the farmers market doesn’t always make for proper cooking technique) I didn’t mince the garlic, but it would be better if I did. I put the sprigs of fresh herbs in whole and pull them out later, before serving.

Pick out your favorite veggies, and dice them up for the stew pot while your meat is searing (or before you start cooking, if you’re into planning in advance).

i love me some parsnips

I wild-harvested these from the a forest grove in the product section of the grocery store. That’s right!  Whenever I shop at the grocery store I feel like a criminal, like I’m buying crack on a street corner.  I realize that this is totally irrational.  Anyway, though, the sweetness of the root vegetables pairs really well with duck, and the firm texture holds up really well in a stew.

Saute your vegetables in the fat from the meat for a few minutes. This develops the natural sugars in the vegetables and makes them taste amazing.  Once you’ve done that, you deglaze the pan with the red wine. (When you pour the red wine into the hot pan with all kinds of crusty pieces of duck fat stuck on it, you pull all of those intense flavors off the pan and into what will become the best sauce you’ve ever tasted).  Add some stock, and then some tomato sauce for body and thickness.

Throw a lid on the pot and let it cook, covered, for a few hours. This roasts the meat and cooks the vegetables.  Then take the lid off for another hour and let the sauce slowly reduce, concentrating the flavors and achieving the right thickness.  You can always add more red wine or stock if you need more broth.  Remember to re-season with salt and pepper before you serve the stew.  Serve over mashed potatoes, buttered egg noodles, brown rice, quinoa, or whatever you think tastes the best drowned in juicy stew goodness.  A loaf of bread good be a good thing here too.  I decided to make the Wild Stinging Nettle Spaetzle from Hunter Gardener Angler Cook instead of plain old noodles.  Spaetzle taste like a cross between a dumpling and an egg noodle, and are the perfect medium for soaking up the saucy good part of stews just like this one.   Hank Shaw’s recipe for nettle spaetzle paired well with my duck stew, with the brightness of the greens balancing out the richness of the duck.  If you want to give them a whirl, go here for my full post on how to process nettles and make the dumplings.

duck alla cacciatora on wild stinging nettle spaetzle

Wild Duck alla Cacciatora ….   Fire up that woodstove!

This is a cacciatore in the loosest sense of the word, meaning a “hunter’s style” braised meat dish with wine and vegetables.

Special Equipment: Cast Iron Dutch Oven, Woodstove*

Cooking Time: 7 hours, with 20 minutes of active cooking

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 California wild ducks** (enough for 1 1/2 c. shredded cooked meat)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • fresh herbs: 1 sprig marjoram, 1 sprig sage, 3 sprigs thyme, 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 parsnip
  • 2 large carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1 large parsnip, sliced into rounds
  • 1 medium rutabaga, diced into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 garnet yam, diced into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 c. zinfandel, or whatever red wine you have open
  • 1 pint of chunky tomato sauce (I have this in my pantry, but you can substitute 1 16-oz can of crushed tomatoes. Just know that you’ll need to add some more seasonings, since my sauce is already seasoned in the jar)
  • 1/2 pint chicken stock (or 1 8 oz. can of low-sodium chicken broth)
  • salt and fresh cracked pepper

Start a fire in the wood stove and set a cast iron dutch oven on top of it to preheat. (This is the dutch oven I use; It has feet on it so the whole bottom of the pot doesn’t sit on the stove.  It’s really meant more for cooking directly in the fire, but I like the low, consistent temperature that I get using this method.)

Season ducks with salt and  fresh cracked pepper.  Once the pan is hot, add in the two ducks, fresh herbs, and minced garlic.  The ducks will release fat into the pan, but feel free to add an extra tablespoon or two of olive oil if you think the pan is too dry and the garlic is burning.  Put the lid on the pan, and cook for 10 minutes.
The duck should be sizzling and starting to get a little color at this point (add more wood to the fire if it’s not hot enough).  Add in chopped root vegetables and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour in the red wine, followed by the chicken stock, tomato sauce, and parsley. Give the pot a stir or two to mix everything together, cover, and cook for about four hours. Open the lid and stir the stew every so often.  If the fire gets really hot and it starts bubbling like crazy you may want to add more stock to prevent anything from sticking.
Uncover the pot.  Remove the ducks.  (At this point I discard the skin because I don’t enjoy eating that much fat, but if you like it, leave it in). Pull the meat off of the bones and discard the carcasses (or reserve them for duck stock or soup). Shred the meat into smaller pieces, whatever size you’d like in your stew. Return the meat to the pot and cook, uncovered, for one more hour or until the stew reaches the desired consistency.  If the stew reduces too much, add some more stock or red wine to the pot to thin the broth out again.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve over spaetzle, noodles, rice or mashed potatoes.

*If you’re not the wood stove – cast iron type, this recipe will work with a conventional oven and any type of dutch oven.  Start the cacciatore on top of the stove to sear the duck and saute the vegetables, and once you add liquid, move the pot to the oven and cook at 300 degrees for 3 hours.

**Meat substitutions that I would recommend: two chicken quarters, 1 lb of beef stew meat, pork tenderloin, or 1 lamb shank or 1 lb. of lamb stew meat. Be creative though, this is just a stew with meat, wine, and root veggies.

Featured Recipe: Stinging Nettle Spaetzle from Hunter Gardener Angler Cook

These spaetzle were the side dish that I made with my wild duck cacciatore the other day.  The recipe is from Hunter Gardener Angler Cook, one of my favorite sources for information about hunting and foraging.  Hank Shaw creates beautiful, upscale recipes for wild foods, and has a book coming out that you can be sure will be on my kitchen shelf.  Finding the Forgotten Feast is on pre-order at Amazon.com here.  His recipes are for dishes that you’d except to find in a high-end restaurant using expensive ingredients, and it never ceases to amaze me that the ingredients are actually all around us, waiting for us to find them.  If you take some time and learn what to look for, anyone can make forage and cook this food.

Wild stinging nettles are high in Iron, Vitamin C, and many other vitamins and minerals.  They grow throughout the United States in a variety of areas, often in the woods with filtered or full sunlight.  I’ve seen them in growing in open fields and among the Eucalyptus trees near the beach, too.  This website has some good pictures of nettles in the wild.  Don’t forget- when you’re foraging for wild plants, make sure that the area hasn’t been contaminated in any way, whether by pesticides, run-off from a nearby road, or, if you live at my house, pets (dog pee isn’t toxic, but it sure it gross to think about eating it).

There are only a couple of ingredients for this recipe: flour, nutmeg, a little salt and sugar, fresh eggs and some stinging nettles.  The nettles function very much like spinach, so if you really can’t get your hands on any, you could substitute either fresh spinach or frozen chopped spinach.

Whenever I tell people about nettles, I get a lot of comments along the lines of “Yeah, you’re insane, have you touched those things? No way am I eating that.”  I swear to you though, as long as they’re cooked, you’re totally fine and will NOT end up going to the hospital with stingers in your throat.  I promise. It is, however, incredibly important that you protect your hands and arms when you pick them, because those little suckers inflict some serious pain if you touch them when they’re raw.  I wear heavy gloves and a long sleeved shirt or coat and it works fine.  After you pick them, put them straight into some kind of container where you won’t touch them, like a tupperware or a thick bag.  From there they go straight into boiling water.

You’ll want to have two pots of water boiling.   First you blanch the nettles for about 3 minutes to remove the stingers and clean off any dirt or bugs that might be hiding in the leaves.  The nettles are now safe to handle with your bare hands.  In between blanches, shock them in an ice bath to keep the greens from overcooking and maintain their bright green color. The second pot of boiling water finishes cooking the nettles.

The nettles I was able to forage were on the older side, but it doesn’t mean they’re unusable. Their stems were tough and fibrous and they had started going to seed.  If you run into this, just run your fingers along the stem to separate the leaves from the stem (just like cooking with big kale leaves).  The seeds might get mixed in with your greens, but you won’t notice in the final product.  Feed the stems to the chickens or put them in the compost.

kind of messy at this point...

Once you’ve actually got the nettles processed and ready to cook with, you can either puree them or chop them up finely.  The original recipe on Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said to puree them with the milk, but my blender just broke, so we’re not doing that.

Squeeze out the water with a clean dishcloth or a paper towel.

Now combine the nettles with the other wet ingredients, milk and beaten eggs.  I happened to be out of cow milk when I made these and so I used soy milk instead.  I know, I know, eew, soy.  The recipe turned out fine though.  I also was distracted and put in three eggs instead of the two that the original recipe called for, and the recipe turned out fine.

dry ingredients combined in one bowl, wet ingredients combined in another

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, forming a sticky, moist batter.  It reminded me of the consistency of a wet biscuit dough.

Transfer the dough to into a colander.

The next step sounds a lot simpler and cleaner written down in a recipe than it actually is.  Hold the colander over the pot of boiling water, and push the batter through the holes so that little pieces fall off into the boiling water.  You probably will end up with a big sticky mess, like I did:

The problem was that the individual piece didn’t want to fall off the colander (maybe it was the accidental extra egg?)  It still works though, just take a small knife and flick the individual pieces into the water.  It will be sloppy.  The point of spaetzle, though, is not to have perfect, uniform dumplings.  The irregular, rustic shapes adds to the charm of this rustic dish.  Just roll with it.

The spaetzle will float to the top when they’re almost done cooking, almost like gnocchi or other fresh pastas. I worked in batches, pulling out the cooked spaetzle and putting them in an ice bath while I waited for the other batches to finish cooking.

Drain off the ice water.  The spaetzle will hold well in the fridge for several days at this point.  To serve, I give them a quick saute in some butter with garlic and fresh cracked black pepper.

Stinging Nettle Spaetzle, from Hunter Gardener Angler Cook

To read the original recipe, written by Hank Shaw, go here. This is my very slightly adapted version.

serves: 6

cooking time: about 40 minutes, with 10 minutes of active cooking time

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. blanched stinging nettles, finely chopped
  • 1 c. milk (soy milk will work as well as traditional cow milk)
  • 3 medium eggs, beaten (the original recipe calls for 2 eggs)
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. salt
  1. To process the nettles: Bring pots of water to a boil to blanch the nettles.  Liberally season the water in both pots with salt.  Put about one pound of unprocessed nettles into the water, being careful to transfer the nettles from their holding container and into the water without touching them (to avoid being stung).  Cook for 3 minutes.  Drain the nettles, and transfer into an ice-bath.  Wait 1-2 minutes to let the nettles cool.  Remove from ice water, and wring out any excess water.  Put the blanched nettles into the second pot of water, and cook for 2-5 minutes depending on the age (cook young nettles for just a few minutes, older ones need more time to become tender).  Drain, and rinse with cold water.  Strip the leaves from the stalks and discard the stalks, and pat dry with a paper towel or dish cloth.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl.  Whisk together finely chopped, dried nettles, eggs, and milk in another bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined. The dough should be wet and sticky, but hold together.
  3. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for cooking the spaetzle. Transfer the dough to a colander.  Holding the colander over the boiling water, push the dough through the colander so that little pieces fall into the water. Use a small knife to flick off any stragglers that don’t fall right away.  The spaetzle will float to the top of the water, let them boil for another minute, and then they’re done.  It’s easiest to work in batches, pushing through about 1/3 of the batter into the water at a time.  Remove the spaetzle from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to an ice-water bath.  Keep going until all the batter is cooked and all the spaetzle is in the ice-water bath.  Drain the spaetzle and hold in the refrigerator for up to three days before serving.  The quality, of course, will be the best if you serve them that day.
  4. To serve, heat a tablespoons of butter in a saute pan with some minced garlic, add in the spaetzle, and cook until heated through.  Feel free to add mushrooms, scallions, cream, or anything else that’s exciting to you. These are delicious little noodles and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Foraged Greens

The Miner’s Lettuce is going crazy right now!

This is what it looks like at the farm in Redwood Valley, growing wild:

Harvesting is simple, just like lettuce. Clip some leaves at the base of the stem, wash them, and toss with your favorite dressing.  The texture is delicious, similar to butter lettuce, and the flavor is very mild and delicate, even when the plants begin to flower.

miners lettuce and nasturtiums

Miner’s Lettuce is fairly common on the west coast during late winter and spring, something even city folks might be able to find.  As with any foraged plant, be sure to identify it correctly and make sure it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides.  Or, if you see it at the dog park, like I have, make sure dogs haven’t been peeing on it for a month straight, because that’s really gross.  Maybe try to find it somewhere else.

Johnny’s Seeds actually carried seeds for Miner’s Lettuce, also called Claytonia, so if it doesn’t grow wild where you live, you can grow it in the garden.