Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fruit and nut preservation – April 28 2012

Nuts are a very easy thing to preserve because they freeze well.  We own a piece of property with walnut trees which I will talk more about in the Fall when we begin to harvest, but throughout the year, I often buy many types of nuts for recipes and have left overs.  Of course, you can always toss these together and eat as mixed nuts, but I usually place each type of nut in a zip lock bag and stick in the freezer.  I also keep dried raisins as well as dried cherries and other fruit to make chickpea salad and to toss in salad with feta or blue cheese.  From time to time, the various left overs build up and I have two great recipes that are my standards for using these two ingredients.  The first is a fabulous granola that is wonderful with milk or yogurt, but I usually eat by handfuls out of the bag.  This is based on a recipe created by Alton Brown.


3 3/4 cups rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds and ½ cup chopped walnuts (or a combination of nuts to taste)
¼ cup plus 2 T. dark brown sugar (or Splenda brown sugar)
¼ cup plus 2 T. maple syrup (use the good stuff)
¼ c. vegetable oil
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½ c. raisins or other dried fruit

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine oats, nuts and brown sugar.  In another bowl, combine maple syrup, oil and salt.  Mix and pour onto two cookie sheets.  Cook for 1 hour 15 minutes, stirring each 15 minutes.  Remove, cool and mix with fruit.  Store in an airtight container.

For a real treat when others are visiting or we go camping, I make these Canadian biscuits (we’d call them cookies).  The recipe came from Penzey Spices' ONE magazine which I really miss.  And, you'll see the recipe is really flexible so you can use more or less of an item to take advantage of what you have at home.

Canadian Biscuits

½ cup butter
¾ c. sugar
1 tsp. soda
½ c. shortening
2 eggs
¾ cup brown sugar
1 ½ c. white or wheat flour
1 tsp. salt
2 ½ c. dried fruit and/or chocolate chips
2 c. oatmeal
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cream butter, shortening, and sugars.  Add eggs and then each other ingredient one at a time.  Drop by teaspoons on greased or lined cookie sheets.  Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.  Makes 3-4 dozen.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stalks and Stems – April 19, 2012

I had a fabulous time at my friend Mary’s 50th birthday party this past weekend.  My contribution was asparagus spears wrapped with beef marinated in balsamic vinegar and grilled for 10 minutes.  However, to make the appetizers pretty, I used the ends leaving me with a pile of asparagus stems.  Luckily, I found this great recipe adapted from Mario Batali’s asparagus risotto and made it later in the week:

Asparagus Risotto

2 cups asparagus stems cut in one inch pieces
4 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 T. olive oil
3 T. butter
1/3 onion or shallot, diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add half the asparagus stalks and cook until quite soft, at least 5 minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water. Put cooked asparagus in a blender or food processor and add just enough water to puree until smooth; set aside.

Put stock in a medium saucepan over low. Put oil and 1 T. butter in a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, add onion, stirring until soft, 3 to 5 minutes.
Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add a large pinch of salt. Add warmed stock, 1/2 cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about evaporated, add more.

After about 15 minutes, add remaining asparagus pieces, continuing to add stock when necessary. In 5 minutes, begin tasting rice. You want it to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. When it does, stir in 1/2 cup asparagus puree. Remove skillet from heat, add remaining butter and stir briskly. Add Parmesan and stir briskly, then taste and adjust seasoning. Risotto should be slightly soupy. Serve immediately.

Making great food from asparagus stems also reminds me of another favorite recipe very useful in the Spring when green veggies are growing.  Amazingly, you’d never think this was broccoli unless you knew.  The idea came from a Rachel Ray magazine and seemed crazy but is now one of my favorite snacks:

Broccoli Stem Refrigerator Pickles

3 broccoli stalks sliced into rings
1 clove crushed garlic
1 tsp. salt
2 T. rice wine vinegar (or more to taste)
2 packets Splenda
½ tsp. sesame oil (or more to taste)
Pinch red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in refrigerator over night and enjoy!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Eating Your Yard – April 13, 2012

We planted our garden early this year.  It is so unseasonably warm, we just couldn’t help ourselves.  We are growing peas, lettuce, broccoli, okra, tomatoes and herbs, but it will be weeks before there is anything from either garden to eat.  There are, however, things in most of our yards that can be eaten as well.  I recently learned you can cook daylilies just like squash blossoms and pansies and violets have no taste but are pretty in a salad or used to decorate a goat cheese.  But, if you are really hungry, most weeds can be eaten as well.  I find this interesting, but don’t see a reason to eat my yard most days.  I did make an exception this week though for dandelion. 

Mostly, my experience with dandelion is trying to dig them out of my flower beds, but they are actually a very edible plant.  In fact, every part of a dandelion can be eaten in some way.  It would take a lot of harvesting to gather enough, but dandelion root can be eaten in stir fry and dandelion flowers are boiled to make dandelion wine.  But the easiest part to use is the green.  The dandelion greens can be cooked just like kale, turnip, spinach or any other green.  I have read that this is the time to gather the greens (before the flowers bloom).  I picked a few from my yard and added to other store bought greens to make a great wilted salad.  This recipe was adapted by Mark Williams, the Brown-Forman Chef, from an old Shaker cookbook:

Wilted Dandeline Greens

4 cups dandelion or other greens
4 slices bacon
½ c. apple cider vinegar
2 T. sugar
¼ c. water
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 T. chopped onion or shallot
4 hard boiled eggs

Carefully pick, clean and chop the greens.  Fry the bacon in a skillet and reserve the fat.  Add vinegar, sugar, water, salt and pepper to fat and heat until well blended.  Remove from heat and toss in greens and onion, mixing well.  Serve garnished with crumbled bacon and chopped eggs.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Making the Best of a Bad Wine Choice – April 6, 2012

I find it difficult and boring to keep purchasing the same bottle of wine over and over again.  This usually leads to lots of fun new wine discoveries, but can often mean the purchase of something that just doesn’t fit your taste.  I find the easiest way to use a less than stellar wine is for cooking.  Red wine is great when making homemade spaghetti sauce and I use it in a fabulous Portuguese Chicken recipe I got from Bon Appetite.  You won’t believe how rich and yummy this is and it’s the perfect meal to make ahead and warm up for dinner.  But many other sauces use both red and white wines.  Do a web search and you’ll find lots of Italian, French and other recipes with wine. 

Another easy use for an open bottle of wine is Sangria.  There are two varieties (Spanish and Mexican).  The Spanish is the fruiter type which usually has fruit pieces floating in it.  But Mexico and many Caribbean countries created a lighter more refreshing version which is great for using a surplus of limes which these countries have in spades.  I made a Peach Sangria today for friends because it goes well with white, rose or sparkling wine.  There aren’t any good peaches yet, so I added white grapes and mango pieces.  The basic Spanish Sangria would have Brandy and Triple Sec instead of Peach Schnapps.  

Peach Sangria

1 bottle white, rose or sparkling wine
½ c. Peach Schnapps
Up to ½ c. sugar or Splenda) to taste
1 diced mango
2 cups white grapes (cut in half)
½ liter ginger ale (I used diet)

Pour wine and Schnapps in a pitcher and add fruit.  Sliced citrus fruit is traditional, but peaches, kiwi and berries are great.  Stir in sugar and chill.  Add Ginger Ale (or Club Soda or citrus soda if you prefer) right before serving.

In case you want to try the Mexican/Cuban/Island Sangria, here is the recipe:

Island Sangria

1 tsp. sugar
2 oz. lime juice
4 oz. soda water
2 oz. or to taste of white Rum
4 oz. red wine

Pour sugar in bottom of glass.  Add lime juice, rum and soda water with ice and mix to dissolve sugar.  Carefully pour wine on top of drink to create two colors.  Serve with straw to mix.

Now, if you have a little time on your hands and want to make something to share with friends, you can use your left over wine (or other liquors) to make jelly.  This is the basic wine jelly recipe.  If you wanted to make moonshine, rum or vodka jelly, you just replace some of the wine in the recipe with the liquor.  Surprisingly, wine jelly tastes pretty much like grape jelly.

Wine or Moonshine Jelly

3 ½ cups wine (can replace ½ c. or more with moonshine or other liquor)
½ c. fresh lemon juice
1 (2 oz.) package dry pectin
4 ½ c. white sugar

Add first three ingredients and boil in large saucepan, stirring frequently.  Add sugar and stir until dissolved.  Return to boil for one minute.  Remove from heat and skim any foam.  Ladle into sterilized jars leaving ½ inch and process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.  This is especially good as an appetizer on cream cheese.