Spring Cooking Projects

I have so many projects I’ve been working on this week, and somehow there hasn’t been any time to write about them here. I’ll go to sleep at night and think: tomorrow I’m going to have a relaxing morning and write about that violet syrup I made the other day.  Then, when I wake up, I realize that I actually have this list a mile long of less relaxing things that really need to get dealt with right away. I think it’s just interesting, for any creative profession, to work on finding that balance between keeping your head in the clouds, being inspired and thinking about beautiful things, and then keeping your feet firmly grounded in real life to make sure you can pay your bills.  blossoms

Anyway, enough of the responsible adult stuff, I think it’s time for a break so I can tell you about the projects I’m excited for this spring.

First up: Pickled Artichoke Hearts. Last year I made three quart jars using this recipe from Hunter Gardener Angler Cook. They were so delicious that I’m going to try and make them more of a pantry staple this year, up there with the tomatoes. They can go in pasta, quiche, vegetable salads, antipasti plates and more…. three jars did not cut it at all.  They’re pretty tedious to make but well worth it. If you’re in the Mendocino County area, I’d recommend Inland Ranch Organics as a source for reasonably priced baby artichokes.pickledartichokeheartI’m also really craving this radish butter that I wrote about last year in this post about preserving radishes.  It’s s crisp and bright, wonderful on sourdough toast.  radish butter

Of course, I’m dying to make a rhubarb pie.  and rhubarb cake. and jam. and syrup. If you need some rhubarb recipes, check this post from last year for a roundup of my favorites. the beginnings of rhubarb crisp

Spring also means that the perennial herbs are growing in full force. We have these two monster marjoram bushes that I planted years ago, not having any understanding of how big they’d get, and so we always make a lot of this marjoram pesto from The Hungry Tigress.  It’s great on pasta, spread on toast, even as a condiment for steaks on the grill (that was my husband’s idea, and it was brilliant). marjoram pesto pasta

….and speaking of green things: I got these gorgeous mustard greens from my friend Jen at Salt Hollow Flower Farm, and she mentioned she was going to make kimchi soon with some of hers. Kimchi is never a bad idea, so now I have a batch fermenting on the counter for us.  With all the lovely greens at the farmers market right now, it’s the perfect time to play around with new kimchi combinations. You don’t have to use savoy cabbage at all- any greens will work.  mustardgreens

Last but not least: I’m trying to get a recipe fine-tuned for pickled asparagus. I made these the other day and I’m not sure the flavor is quite there yet, but it might just need a few more days to mellow out. I’ll report back when I get it finished. pickled asparagusWhat are you excited to make this spring? If you have special recipes, feel free to share them in the comments section.

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Chicken Tacos with Spring Vegetables

So I made these tacos the other day…And tacos are always delicious but these ones turned out extra-super delicious.

I didn’t use a recipe but it doesn’t matter; I can still share the technique with everyone.  As you probably know, making tacos basically involves putting a bunch of tasty things in a tortilla.  The star player of my version is this amazing chicken that’s braised with beer and tomatillo salsa all afternoon.  It’s tangy, juicy, tender, and absolutely tastes like it should be from a mexican restaurant or a taco truck.  If you have the tomatillo salsa already in jars in the pantry, fantastic, but you can also just grab a jar of the store-bought stuff and vow to can more tomatillos this summer.

Chicken Tacos with Spring Vegetables

I didn’t really put down amounts for each of the items that go in the tacos.  It’s really up to personal taste and what you have lying around in the kitchen and the garden, so it seems silly to try and specify.  Only you know how much cilantro you like.

Cook time: 25 minutes, plus a couple hours for the chicken to braise in the oven

Ingredients:

  • corn tortillas
  • braised chicken for tacos (recipe follows)
  • thinly sliced radishes
  • crumbled queso fresco
  • diced avocado
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • grilled spring onions (recipe follows)
  • salsa of your choice (from the pantry, fresh made or store-bought will all work)
  • lime wedge for garnish

To assemble the tacos, first heat up a couple tortillas. There are lots of acceptable methods for this, but I put them on a hot grill pan for about a minute on each side.  Lay the tortillas on a plate and top each one with the braised chicken, salsa, radishes, queso fresco, avocado, cilantro, and the grilled onions.  Squeeze some lime juice on them to get really crazy.  Dig in.

 

Braised Chicken for Tacos

This chicken is equally good served over rice as it inside of a tortilla. It also holds well in the fridge for leftovers.

Cook Time: 4 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 chicken breasts and 4 chicken thighs (boneless, skinless, organic)
  • 1/2 can of beer (something on the lighter side for this recipe)
  • 1 medium onion, cut in half and then sliced into strips
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp.  dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. dark roast chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • sea salt & black pepper to taste
  • water or stock
  • 1/2 c. medium-heat tomatillo salsa

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees or so.  Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a wide-bottomed pot (I basically use my jam pot for everything).  Add the chicken, onions and spices and saute on medium high heat for 7-8 minutes to sear the chicken and toast the spices.  Turn the heat to high.  Pour in the beer.  Add water or stock to cover the chicken.  Add the tomatillo salsa.  Give everything a stir and put it in the oven.  Cook for the afternoon.  Check it occasionally to make sure there’s liquid covering the chicken, adding more water or stock as needed. (I’m sure this would work in a crock pot but I don’t own one…)

Once the chicken is fork-tender, take it out of the oven.  I like to break apart any big chunks of chicken into smaller pieces with a pair of tongs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Grilled Spring Onions

Cook time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of scallions or small spring onions with thin, tender tops
  • olive oil
  • sea salt & black pepper

Cut the roots off the onion. Wash well to remove any dirt.  Toss with a splash of olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Grill until completely cooked through and very tender, about 20 minutes, but it will depend entirely on what you’re grilling on and how hot the fire is.  (Grill pans on a stove will work fine for this).  To prepare for taco filling: roughly chop into 1″ sections.

 

P.S. I was using the first of our spring radishes for this recipe so I haven’t gotten around to pickling any of them yet, but just so you know… radishes make excellent refrigerator pickles and pickled radishes make excellent taco toppings.

Blossoms

Some of the fruit trees are starting to bloom.  February seems like a weird time for a peach tree to bloom, but I suppose our fruit trees are just free spirits and want to live dangerously.  (I doubt they were using much advance planning and thinking about all the frost and rain we’ll still get).  The other day, when it was 75 degrees and sunny, I’m pretty sure they had a carpe diem moment and decided just to go for it, frost be damned. 

 

Gardening To-Do List, Late April

I’m working hard at waiting for paint to dry right now.  Our lovely little barn has gotten quite the facelift for 2011, but unfortunately paint just doesn’t dry the way that I want to…. which is instantly. Until then, there’s a bed frame in the driveway, mattresses in the kitchen, boxes and other junk strewn basically everywhere. The second that paint is dry, the project is finished; all we have to do is move the furniture back in.

With every second that ticks by, a surge of “holy shit I have so much work to do” is welling up in the corners of my brain. It is that time of year, after all. So, while I wait for paint to dry, I think a to-do list is probably in order.  This list is inspired by the Garden Chore posts from Margaret Roach’s blog, A Way To Garden, which I have found to be very helpful in the past. Every gardener’s to-do list is going to be a little bit different, though, and mine is more centered around growing food and less around perennials and ornamental plants.

When I was just starting to grow vegetables and flowers, a seasoned farmer told me that the goal is  to plant and harvest constantly, with some sections of the garden in the earliest stages of growth, others ready for harvest, others growing, and others waiting to be planted.  “A good farmer is always planting,” she said. It was a lightbulb moment. I used to try to have my garden be completely planted at the beginning of every season, but I’ve realized that having everything is a state of organized chaos and disarray means that it is a more productive farm. There are always flowers and vegetables to harvest and there are always new plants to replace them with.

alcosa cabbage, ready for harvest

MAINTENANCE WORK AND SPRING CLEANING:

  • Weedwack all of the borders in the gardens before the spring weeds go to seed.
  • Inspect fences for holes and repair as needed.
  • Inspect irrigation system and repair as needed.
  • Clean out foliar sprayers, watering cans, and barrels used for mixing compost tea- a mild bleach solution and elbow grease seems to work well.
mustard greens

VEGETABLES:

  • Harvest winter vegetables now (cabbages, greens, carrots, beets, etc.). Cook, preserve, barter or sell to clear the way for summer planting.
  • Fertilize growing spring vegetables that are a month or so away from harvest (peas, lettuces, more carrots, beets and greens). I use an organic liquid seaweed fertilizer (any brand will do) or make compost tea.
  • Inventory starts for summer vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, summer and winter squash).  We grow some from seed in the greenhouse and I fill in the gaps with starts that I get from friends or buy at the farmers market.  Cucumbers and squash can also be direct sown in the garden after the frost date.
  • Fertilize plants in the greenhouse- they are usually getting quite large by this point, and may not be able to get enough nutrients from the soil in their little containers.  I foliar spray with a high-nitrogen fertilizer if the leaves on my starts look too yellow or pale.
  • Plant carrots, beets, and lettuce in the garden before the weather gets too hot.
summer squash start in the greenhouse
sweet peas, ready to go to the market in bouquets

FLOWERS:

  • Spring flowers which may have overwintered are blooming, which is fantastic (calendula, sweet william, sweet peas, pansies). The sweet peas smell divine and will go to the market on opening day.
  • Early season flowers that were seeded in weeks ago should be popping up by now (bells of ireland, poppies, calendula, love-in-a-mist, etc). Weed beds to keep the space open for the delicate seedlings and fertilize if needed.
  • Flower starts in the greenhouse will probably need some fertilizer, just like the vegetables do.  Varieties will vary greatly from one garden to another, but in our greenhouse I have marigolds, zinnias, celosia, and much, much more.
sweet william
celosia starts in the greenhouse

HERBS:

  • Tender spring growth is perfect for rooting cuttings from plants like rosemary, lavender and sage. Never taken cuttings before? Here’s how. 
  • Overwintered herbs (mint, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, etc.) should be growing nicely by now. Use the abundance of fresh growth for pestos, as filler in flower bouquets, mix into quiches, toss into pasta dishes, mix into jellies.
thyme

FRUIT TREES:

  • By this time of the year, trees should already be pruned.
  • Clear weeds from the base of the trees.
  • Inspect irrigation and repair any leaks.
  • Plant any remaining bare-root trees before the weather gets too hot (it’s late by now, they will need extra water to make sure they get established properly).
  • In a few weeks when the weather starts to really stabilize and get warm, plant out any citrus trees.
Cara Cara Pink Navel in the greenhouse

AND MOST IMPORTANTLY…. THE COMPOST PILE:

  • In these last few weeks before planting time, I turn the compost pile several times to try and really get everything going in there. The composting process often slows down significantly during the winter (since it’s cold outside), but once the temperatures warm, everything should return to normal. Before you planting date, break down the pile and pull out finished compost to till into beds.
  • If you have particularly hot compost, you may want to spread and till the compost into garden beds now so you can water it a few times and let it sit for a week or two before planting time.  (“Hot” means high in nitrogen; anyone using lots of chicken manure will have this issue. Or blessing, depending how you look at it).
  • Have questions about composting? Martha has a really good slideshow here (big surprise.)
butter lettuce in the garden
wildflower
calendula
bleeding heart in the greenhouse

… and in case anyone forgot, since that was a long to-do list:

  • Enjoy the spring, and the sunshine, and the wildflowers. Try not to work too hard. Don’t worry about perfection, just have fun.
parrot tulips

Ginger-Orange Smoked Salmon Tacos with Avocado, Tomatillo Salsa, and Roasted Sweet Meat Pumpkin

I’m about to embark on a few weeks of travels, which somehow means that I’ve actually planned in advance and finished the April Charcutepalooza challenge a whole week early.

By this point of the Meat Festivities, I pretty much sit next to the computer like a crazy person waiting for the next month’s challenge to be announced.  When I read “Hot Smoking”…. I groaned. Ugh. Really? J. just bought a new smoker a few months ago and it has been Smoke City at our house, with him literally emerging from a cloud of smoke to wander indoors and ask if we have any more meat in the fridge that he can smoke. It’s not that I don’t think the taste of a slow-smoked chili-garlic-brown-sugar rubbed pork shoulder that drips with juice and falls right off the bone isn’t amazing… I just drank a touch too much champagne one night, happened to eat a lot of these smoked goodies, and now, let’s just say that the smell of smoke in my hair and on my clothing can sometimes make my stomach turn. It’s a pungent aroma, to be sure.

Instead of tackling the more complex charcuterie assignments (curing and smoking a pork loin to make canadian bacon or a pork shoulder to make tasso ham) I opted for the apprentice challenge: hot-smoke a piece of salmon.

I have to rewind here, and explain how we go about the whole process of smoking at our house.  Making smoked meats isn’t difficult, but it is time consuming.  Instead of grilling at high temperatures with charcoal briquettes or gas, hot smoking uses aromatic woods to create an indirect, smoky heat.  The long cooking time  and low heat results in moist, incredibly tender meats.  A pork roast or a chicken will be very dark and smoky looking on the outside, but juicy and pink on the inside.

Using the Smoker


There are so many different methods for smoking (you can use a simple Weber grill too), but I want to explain a little about ours.  J. did a ton of research and ended up choosing the 22.5 ” Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker.  It’s a large smoker with lots of versatility without completely breaking the bank. (I did see him gazing wistfully at the massive $2000 metal beasts, but I don’t even know how we would have gotten one home.)  Learning how to use the smoker and get a good fire was much more challenging for me than actually smoking some salmon.  Here’s the general process that I’ve figured out:

Soak the wood chips.

Now put a pile of charcoal briquettes into the chimney starter. Crumble up a few pieces of newspaper underneath it.
Use a long match to light the newspaper, which will start the charcoal burning.

Don’t mess with anything until the charcoal is hot. It will look like this:

Now dump the coals into the metal ring on the bottom grill rack.

The basic concept of all this is to get a really consistent heat going first, and then put your wood on top of the coals after that.  Since you want the coals to burn for a long time, when you put your hot coals on the grill you should also put some new cold ones on top of these.  We also use added a few big chunks of lump charcoal that burn for quite a long time.

Now you can put the middle section of the smoker on top of the base.  Inside this section is a large metal bowl that needs to be filled with water, helping to keep the meat moist while it smokes.

Replace the front cover, put on the lid, and go do something else for an hour or two.  The goal is for the temperature to be around 200-250 degrees.  Don’t get all antsy and try to start cooking right away; If you wait for it, the coals will create the right kind of low heat that we’re looking for.

Once the temperature gets around 200 degrees, open the front and put your soaked wood chips on top of the coals.  In a few minutes, a really impressive cloud of smoke will start billowing out of the grill.  You’re ready to cook.

And Now… A Recipe

Pigs are great and all, but you must try these fish tacos, with citrusy-spicy-smoky moist chunks of salmon, ripe avocado, sweet red onion, tomatillo sauce, roasted sweet meat pumpkin, topped with sour cream and fresh cilantro.  Not only will these totally blow your mind, but …. shhhh….. a healthy charcuterie recipe? It’s true. Don’t tell anyone.


Ginger-Orange Smoked Salmon Tacos with Avocado, Tomatillo Salsa, and Roasted Sweet Meat Pumpkin

There are several components to this dish, which you by no means have to replicate exactly. Store-bought salsa would be fine, as well as a different winter squash.

Serves: approximately 8, depending on portion size

Cook Time: 1 .5 hrs, not including time to heat up the smoker

Ingredients:

  • Citrus Smoked Salmon (recipe follows)
  • 20 small corn tortillas
  • 3 ripe avocados, diced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 large red onion, minced
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 4 oz. container of sour cream (creme fraiche would be good here too)
  • Tomatillo Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Roasted Pumpkin (recipe follows)
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges
  • salt and pepper
  • about 1/8 c. extra virgin olive oil (for a quick drizzle before serving)

Heat corn tortillas.  You can do this several ways- either on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven, placed on the grill, or directly on the burner of a stove.  Each method only takes a few minutes, just to heat the tortilla and give it a light toast.  (about 8 minutes in a 350 degree oven, 2 minutes on a hot grill, or 1 minute right on the burner of the stove).

Fill heated tortilla with whatever looks good to you out of the ingredients listed above.  If you want to make them similar to what I did, one tortilla would have about 2 ounces of salmon, 2 tbs. sour cream, 1 tsp. red onion, 1 tsp. cilantro, 1 tbs. tomatillo sauce, 3 cubes of pumpkin, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lime, and a tiny pinch of salt and pepper sprinkled over everything.

Serve with cold beer or lemonade on a hot day.

Citrus Smoked Salmon

Cooking Time: 1 hour (not including time to start the smoker)

Serves: 8 or more, depending how much fish you put in the tacos

Ingredients:

1 small side of wild salmon, about 2 lbs.*

approximately 1/2 lb. applewood chips, for smoking the salmon

Spice Rub:

  • 1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed cayenne pepper (feel free to use a little less)
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander seed

Soak applewood chips and start the smoker.

Combine spices together, and rub onto salmon.

Put salmon on the smoker, skin side down, and smoke at 225 degrees for an hour.  If you want a more pronounced smoky flavor, leave the salmon on another 30-60 minutes.  Take the salmon off the grill. Cut into rough chunks to put into the tacos. (I like the skin, but you can remove it if you want).

*This happened to be the nicest piece of salmon I had access to; the size is really quite arbitrary.  Normally I would have bought just one small filet and made less of the spice rub.

Tomatillo Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 dried cayenne chili, crushed
  • 15 oz. can of tomatillos, including the liquid
  • 4 tbs. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 c. roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tsp. lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan, heat up the olive oil on medium heat. Saute the garlic and crushed chilis for 2-3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and simmer for 5-6 minutes (just to heat everything through and blend the flavors together).  Transfer ingredients to a blender or food processor and give the sauce a few pulses, but not enough to completely puree.  Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot over the salmon, or chill and serve as a cold salsa.

Roasted Pumpkin

Roasted pumpkin pairs well with the salmon. It tastes clean and light but still has a rich sweetness.  I used Sweet Meat, which I think has a great texture.  You could also use butternut squash or sweet potatoes.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 small pumpkin, with the seeds removed
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the pumpkin, cut side up, on a cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Roast for one hour, or until the pumpkin is completely cooked through.  Remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes (or until it’s comfortable to handle). Slice into 1/2″ cubes.

Kale and White Bean Stew

We’ve been busy… planting zinnias, carrots and camelias, getting compost ready for May planting time, making orange marmalade and so much more.

grow!

This stew is the “holy crap I’m way too exhausted to cook anything elaborate but I really want to eat something healthy with vegetables and not just pasta” dinner.  If you have a lot of kale in your life right now, this is a good dish to make. Also if you happen to be short on time, energy or money.  It’s can easily be made vegetarian or vegan if you want. Such a simple list of ingredients, too: greens, broth, noodles, beans, cheese.

Kale and White Bean Soup

Cooking Time: 30 minutes minimum, but you can let it simmer longer

Serves: 6

  • 1 slice of home cured bacon or pancetta, diced (store bought is fine too, but it sure seems like there are a lot of people curing there own bacon these days… you could absolutely omit the meat altogether if you don’t have any in the fridge that day)
  • 1 tsp. butter or olive oil
  • 2 medium bunches or 1 very large bunch of kale, rinsed and roughly chopped (any variety will do; feel free to substitute chard, collards, mustard greens or even dandelion greens, taking care to adjust cooking time for the specific greens that you choose)
  • 2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 cans cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 oz. shaved parmesan or romano cheese
  • 8 oz. of uncooked chiocciole noodles available from Bionaturae (substitute large macaroni noodles)
  • salt and fresh cracked pepper

1. Bring a medium sized pot of water to boil for cooking the noodles.  Season the water with salt.

2. In a large soup pot, melt butter on medium heat. Add diced bacon and saute for 4-5 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Add the chopped kale into the pot and saute for 2-3 minutes, or until the kale begins to wilt. Pour in the stock and bring the stew back up to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, or until kale is tender. If too much stock cooks off, add some water to thin the stew out again. Gently stir in the beans, and cook on low for 10 more minutes to bring the flavors together.  Season with salt and pepper.

3. While you are cooking the kale, cook the noodles separately in the pot with boiling water (I cook them separately to avoid overcooking the noodles and ruining the consistency of the broth). Cook to al dente, drain, and set aside.

4. To serve, put hot noodles into soup bowls, ladle the stew over the top of them, and give a few stirs to mix everything together.  Top with a liberal amount of shaved parmesan cheese.  Sweet potato biscuits or sourdough bread are great with this if you’re feeling extra inspired, and maybe a beet salad.

Happy eating and have fun out in the sunshine!

UPDATE: 10/26/11

I wanted to update this post with a local source for my favorite beans in the universe. West Side Renaissance Market in Ukiah sells heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, a farm in Napa. They grow the best beans I’ve ever tasted- they’re meaty, rich, flavorful, and delicious simply simmered in some stock with few or no other ingredients.  Up until recently, I thought you could only buy their beans closer to the Bay Area, and when I discovered them at the WRM,  I bought a pack of their Cannelini beans and made this recipe.  The cannelini beans from Rancho Gordo are huge, the size of lima beans or butter beans. I don’t always follow the proper instructions for cooking with dried beans, but it never seems to matter. If you want to add dried beans instead of the canned beans the original recipe calls for, here’s the instructions:

Cooked Cannelini Beans

Soak dried beans for two hours. Drain. In a large stock pot, combine beans with a lot of water. I never measure…  I would estimate a ratio of about 1 part beans to 5 parts water. Keep an eye on the pot, if the water gets low you should add more water to keep the beans from burning. Add a liberal amount of sea salt and a few sprigs of fresh herbs like bay leaves or thyme.  Simmer the beans on very low heat for about 4 hours, or until they are completely tender but not falling apart. Drain, and set aside until you’re ready to combine them with the other ingredients in the stew recipe above.

The pound package of beans yields more than the two cans of beans called for in the original recipe, so I added another bunch of kale and a little more broth. Just eyeball it for whatever you’re in the mood for, though, and it will be fine.  If you don’t want to put in the full amount of beans, the Rancho Gordo website suggests puréeing the leftovers with some caramelized onions to make a spread for crostini, which sounds pretty divine. P.S. While I’m raving about Rancho Gordo’s amazing beans, I have to also recommend their Yellow Indian Woman Beans.  J. and I love making a huge stock pot of homemade chicken broth (the full deal, with bones, carrots, celery onion, leeks, and parsley) and then using the broth to make a big pot of the Indian Woman beans.  A nice loaf of bread and a salad from the garden complete the dinner, and we eat the leftovers with hot sauce and sunny-side up eggs the next day.

 

Sunshine and Citrus

The sun is finally out!  The daffodils are blooming….


 

And right when I should be out in the garden, pulling up bolting winter greens and replanting with spring crops, a friend with a backyard full of citrus trees dropped off these lovely presents….

 

So, sometimes I have issues with how much sugar is in jam, and I feel bad that I’m basically making candy.  Sometimes I think I should be making raw vegan soups or something.

The answer?

Butter, and eggs.  Lots of eggs.

Bright orange, creamy yolked, laid-this-morning, free range spring eggs…

This is hands down, the most delicious thing in a jar that I have ever made.  I want to put on sweatpants and lie on the couch and watch tv and eat the whole thing right out of the jar all by myself.  Seriously.

GRAPEFRUIT SCENTED LEMON CURD

makes: 4 1/2 pint jars

cook time: about 45 minutes


People get all crazy about canning lemon curd, the butter and the eggs being the main safety concern.  Recipes run the gamut- some claim that it’s never safe to can at all, that you have to freeze the curd or use it immediately.  Other recipes say that lemon curd is safe to can if you use bottled lemon juice, for the reliable acid content.  Here’s my two cents (follow at your own risk):

  • I found a recipe for lemon curd that was developed by the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  It uses the boiling water processing method and was deemed safe for canning. “National Center for Home Food Preservation” sounds really official so I’m going to trust them.
  • I used fresh lemon juice instead of bottled lemon juice.  Careful though: Meyer lemons are not acidic enough, so don’t use them.
  • The National Food Preservation people are saying that canned lemon curd has a shelf-life of 3-4 months, much shorter than the multiple year shelf life of jam or jelly.

After all that background information, let’s get to the recipe. The ingredients are only slightly adapted from the official recipe that I mentioned earlier, but the cooking technique is much different.  Most recipes call for a double boiler (to avoid curdling the eggs and ending up with chunks of cooked egg whites) but I think that makes everything overly complicated.  I’ve made it twice now without a double boiler, and no curdled eggs.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 c. unsalted cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 c. grapefruit zest
  • 1/4 c. orange zest
  • 4 whole eggs, beaten thoroughly (they should be airy and light, with no little bits of white floating around any more)
  • 7 egg yolks

Bring boiling water canner to a boil. Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water.  Put lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water from the canner.

Zest your fruit.

Combine zest and sugar in a bowl, mix well, and set aside for 20 minutes to let the flavors meld.  At this point, you will be surprised at how amazing everything is smelling.  Your kitchen will be an explosion of grapefruity brightness.

Juice your lemons while the sugar is doing its thing…

Prep your eggs: thoroughly beat 4 whole eggs until they are light and airy, with little bubbles from the intense whisking you’ve done.  Make absolutely sure there are no little bits of white floating around still.

Separate out seven egg yolks, and whisk them into the beaten egg mixture.  (Set aside the egg whites for something else, like angel food cake).

Now combine all the ingredients in a medium-large non-reactive pot.

Now turn the burner on as LOW as it will go, and whisk like crazy! We’re trying to incorporate the ingredients together slowly and consistently, avoiding high heat that could cook curdle the eggs. It’s hard work, but think of the sexy, rippling arm muscles you’ll have! And the smooth, luscious curd.

Once the butter has melted, turn the heat to medium and keep whisking.  Do not stop whisking.  Civilization could collapse while you’re making this, but if you want a smooth curd, you must not get distracted and stop whisking.  It will seem like nothing is happening and you will curse yourself for deciding to make this recipe because your arms are getting tired.  But then….  the mixture will start to thicken, and start to seem more like the consistency of pudding.  After another minute or two, the mixture will be thick enough that when you pull the whisk across the bottom of the pan, you will see the metal for a few moments because the curd is starting to hold its shape.

about the right consistency

Remove the pot from the heat. If you want, you can run the curd through a metal strainer at this point to remove the zest. Some people find the texture off-putting. I don’t, so I left it in.  Ladle hot curd into hot jars leaving 1/2″ headspace. Wipe jar rims clean and attach lids. I processed the half pint jars for 30 minutes, which is a little more than the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommended, but I figured “round up, just to be sure.”

Serving recommendations:

This curd is amazing with almost anything.  Mix some into yogurt.  Fold it into whipped cream and top with berries. Spoon some over angel food cake or pound cake.  The possibilities are endless!