Foraging for Nettles

 

_MG_6078Stinging Nettles (aka Nettles) are hot hot hot these days. Everyone wants to get their hands on some.Known for their superfood properties (nettles are rich in vitamins A, C, and D and loaded with calcium and even protein), raw nettles will sting you if they come in contact with your skin. The leaves and stem have tiny plant hairs that penetrate your skin and result in welts that sting and burn slightly and are sometimes itchy. Luckily, the welts don’t last for long on most people.

Nettles grow along roadsides and pathways, mostly in woods, so keep your eyes open when you’re on any urban nature walks. They come up first thing at the end of winter and are best harvested around March when they are still young, one to two feet high, but I just harvested some new growth at low elevations (like, Seattle!) last week and they were just fine.

The leaves are deeply serrated and end with a pointed tip. They grow in tiers like a Christmas tree—big leaves at the bottom of the plant and smaller leaves toward the tip. Nettles tend to grow in clusters. If you’re not sure you’ve found nettles, a light brush up against a leaf will quickly confirm any suspicions. Nettles are mildly flavored and can be used as a hearty green, a filling for pastas or roulades, or a quick pesto-like pasta sauce. Nutrient-dense nettle leaves may also be used in the garden as an all-purpose fertilizer for your plants—they are thought to pass their beneficial qualities on to other plants.

_MG_6109To harvest, wear gloves and trim only the top 6" - 12" of the stem and leaves. Clip with scissors and place in a large paper bag. When home, set a large pot over high heat and just cover the bottom with water, about 1" deep. When the water is boiling, toss in the nettles and steam for 10 to 12 minutes. This will remove the sting and leave them ready for eating. I will also often fill a pot with water and blanch nettles for 3 to 4 minutes, reserving the blanching water as nettle tea for drinking.

Nettles can be used as you would spinach or sauteed greens in recipes. You can also leave the nettles on their stalks and lay them out on drying racks or hang them upside down to dry. These dried leaves can be steeped as tea, which is thought to be rich in minerals and vitamins.

To make nettle tea for your garden, fill a large jar or jug densely with nettle leaves and cover in water. Let sit out, covered, for a little over a week. During this time, the leaves will start to ferment. The mixture will smell a bit boozy and yeasty. Spray on plants or add a cupful to each container once a week.

Recipe for Maple Blossoms

Maple Blossom, april82013I did something really off character yesterday and went for a walk in the middle of the day, despite looming deadlines and a long Honey-Do list. Spring is my 'go' season when I adjust to the circadian rhythm of a 6:30am wake up call and spend my days juggling garden work with computer time. Fortunately, that short walk was a great reminder to grab a harvest bag and spend more time outdoors. There are LOTS of foods found easily in the great outdoors, and spring is the time to embrace the season and get moving along trails and roadsides. Yesterday, I spotted dense mats of Miners lettuce, young nettles and vibrant Salmonberry flowers. Maple trees are also in the beginning stages of bloom wherein the branches are bare, but tipped in a dense cluster of closed flowers - the perfect time for pickling.

Here, also, is a recipe for Pickled Maple Blossoms, another wild food project for spring. Fair warning is necessary for these recipes, as the buds and blooms are only perfect a very short amount of time, so make a plan to get out in the coming days.

Pickled Maple Blossoms

Makes about 2 cups start to finish: 20 minutes

2 cups maple blossoms 1 1/2 cups white vinegar 3 tablespoons sugar 2 whole star anise (optional) 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns 1 teaspoon coriander seeds Pinch of salt

Place maple blossoms in a glass pint jar, and pack them down. In a medium saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, star anise, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, and salt over medium heat until simmering. When the liquid is near boiling, pour it over the blossoms and let the mixture sit on the counter until cool, stirring gently on occasion. When cool, store pickled maple blossoms in the refrigerator until ready to serve, up to several weeks.

washed jars | store in fridge

HOW TO :: HOMEMADE PRESERVED LEMONS

This is an awesome and easy way to stock your pantry and a super easy and affordable option for Christmas gift giving - Preserved Lemons.

What's even more fantastic is Meyer Lemons are just coming into season. They are thin-skinned lemons that cure in the salt quickly, so you can still start this project this week and pass them on for holiday gift giving. I was at the grocery yesterday and found gorgeous Meyer Lemons, 2 for $1. HALF of one lemon fits perfectly in a small 1/4 pint jar. That means for $1 + cost of a jar, you can make FOUR gifts that people will love. Not to mention, you'll be turning them on to a new ingredient that may just inspire them to get creative in the kitchen. Do it! (ALSO - if you dig those adorable & perfectly-fitting canning labels, check out my store. I designed these! I love them, and so will you. Finally a canning labels that worksAND looks amazing on the jar.)

PRESERVED LEMONS

To make preserved lemons yourself, you can use regular lemons or Meyer lemons when they are in season (in winter). Cut off the blossom end of the lemon. Slice the lemons in quarters, leaving the end intact so they are split open into fours, but still “whole” lemons. Rub each lemon in salt (about 1 tablespoon per lemon), making sure to press salt into the flesh and cover the rinds. Place the lemons in a clean glass jar, and press down to expel some juices. Cover and store on the counter to monitor progress for three days. Over the next several days, the jar should fill, covering the lemons in their own juice. If after three days the lemons are not submerged in their juices, add some fresh squeezed lemon juice to cover fully. Store in a cool, dark cupboard for three to four weeks before using. After the lemons are completely soft and preserved, store them in the fridge and use within six months.

Rinse preserved lemons thoroughly in cold water before using. You must rinse off the salt, leaving behind only the sweet skin. You can scrape out the pulp and pith and finely chop or thinly slice the skins. It is also safe to use the entire lemon, but that is best used in stews or roasts. Be sure to adjust the salt in your recipe accordingly, as the preserved fruits will give off some salt.

A NOTE ABOUT PRESERVED LEMONS:

To make, lemons are sliced and rubbed with coarse salt, the juice and salt acting as the preservative. Over a few weeks the lemon rinds, pulp, and pith become soft and velvety and can be chopped and sliced for salads, relishes, stews, and more. They are delicious.

Salt has long been a means of food preservation. When this concept is applied to simple lemons, the outcome is an intensely flavored pantry ingredient that is simple to make and stores well. Preserved lemons are a staple of Moroccan cuisine but can be used in most savory dishes calling for lemon. Tasting of muted lemon, with none of the sour tang, they add a subtle undertone to dishes. Replace the fresh zest in Gremolata with preserved lemon, and you’ll instantly change the dish. Preserved lemons have a flavor unto themselves, at once clean yet rich. They can be added to a compound butter or used in long braises. They also add a nice flavor note to room-temperature salads, like Apricot– Chickpea Salad and can be used as a quick garnish to simply steamed vegetables.

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PART OF THE URBAN FARM HANDBOOK CHALLENGE: Skipstone Books published my first book, Urban Pantry,  and continues to put out awesome books that support and encourage a self-sustaining lifestyle. Last fall, they published The Urban Farm Handbook to be used as "City-Slicker Resources for Growing, Raising, Sourcing, Trading, and Preparing What You Eat." Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols penned the book and recently asked me to join their Urban Farm Handbook Challenge. 

With that, here is a great recipe for getting farm-y in the city. It's an awesome and easy way to stock your pantry and a super easy and affordable option for Christmas gift giving - Preserved Lemons.

 

HOW TO :: Harvesting Fennel Blossoms

It's your last chance to harvest late-blooming fennel blossoms, so if you haven't stocked up already or you've never tried before, now is the time. Now! 

Wild fennel looks very much like the fennel fronds you see in the grocery and at farmers markets, though wild fennel is not a bulbing variety. Instead, wild fennel grows tall and vigorous in the wild, offering up licorice-scented fronds nearly year-round that can be harvested and used as a fresh herb. These blossoms have a distinct fennel flavor without the sharpness that is found in both green and mature seeds.

To collect fennel blossoms, wait until the blossoms are in full bloom and open. Flower heads will be densely packed and bright yellow. Cut stems just below flower bunches—each stem will have a multitude of blossoms. Do not rinse them off! While fennel blossoms are often collected from roadsides and railroad tracks, rinsing them will remove some of the pollen that you’re trying to collect. To dry the blossoms, make a small bouquet and secure with a long piece of string or twine. When dry, pick off the blossoms with your fingertips. To do this, set up a clean workstation and, holding the stem in one hand, pull up on each individual blossom stem to release the flowers. You may also cut with a pair of scissors, being careful not to also cut the small stem. Store blossoms in a small glass jar in your spice cupboard, where they will keep for several months or longer.

Roasted Shiitakes with Fennel Blossoms

Roasted mushrooms are an easy and flavorful side dish any time of the year. Shiitakes are widely cultivated and available all year long. They don’t have much moisture, so they bake up to a chewy-crisp texture quickly. For this recipe, mushrooms are roasted until the stems just begin to brown. Fennel blossoms can be collected in summer and kept as a spice in the pantry. They impart a sweet fennel flavor and aroma to these mushrooms that is quite distinct, as well as phenomenally flavorful.

Serves 4

2 pounds shiitake mushrooms, roughly torn into pieces 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 tablespoon fennel blossoms 3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 ̊F. Toss the mushrooms, salt, pepper, fennel blossoms, and oil in a large bowl, coating the mushrooms evenly. spread out on a sheet pan, in a single layer,

and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, tossing oc- casionally, until the mushrooms are shriveled and their stems are starting to crisp. They will have re- leased most of their moisture and shrunk in size. serve immediately or hold at room temperature until serving.

More Garden Recipes: Fennel blossoms are a great herb to add to pork or a white fish like halibut. a light sprinkle of blossoms will also add a complementary flavor to vegetable soups.

 

 

URBAN FORAGE :: ROSE HIPS & Anna's Rose Hip Sherry

Rosehips are easily foraged in fall and make awesome jams, purees and tinctures. I was recently reminded rosehip season is upon us, when I read Johanna Kindvall's blog, kokblog, which I've been reading for yeeeeeears. She is a one-woman illustrative dynamo (check out my homepage illo) and I love her recipes and ideas. Her sister, Anna Kindvall (who curates electronic art), makes this amazing-sounding sherry that I think we should all attempt this year. Anna likes to use rosehips before the frost (more acidic), but I've always picked them after Seattle's first frost - in early November. Check out kokblog for the recipe and notes on making and storing your foraged sherry. And for more rosehip info, here is an earlier piece of writing on rosehips from my second book, Apartment Gardening.

"Rosehips are the seed buds that follow the rose bloom in July. Rosa Rugosa plants make hips somewhere between late July and September. They tend to grow along coast lines and water which is likely why some people call them rock roses. You can identify these bushes when in bloom by their strong rose-scented flowers which bloom in white and pinks all the way through bright fuchsia. Make note of their location and head back in four weeks to collect the rosehips. The rosehips themselves look like little tomatoes hanging off the plant. They are often orange-red and have shiny skins. They are more round than long, and are about the size of a red globe grape. Harvest rosehips by snapping the stem from the plant. They are strong enough that you can toss them in a plastic bag and then a backpack without doing too much damage. Use them within a day of bringing them home. Rosehip puree can be made and frozen and used at a later time in recipes."

HOW TO :: DRYING EDIBLE FLOWER PETALS

Mid-summer is a beautiful time of year in the garden - most plants are producing flowers and fruit adding to the visual texture of a working productive garden. Harvesting and drying flower heads (or herbs) is a satisfying project and the perfect way to extend your harvest. Plus, taking flower heads from plants will prevent prolific re-seeding, which is often the goal. If you've ever let your bronze fennel go to seed before removing the yellow fennel blossoms, you know what I'm talking about. (Note to self: dig out bronze fennel this summer.)

In all of my gardens, I plant flowers in order to attract pollinators and add to the list of plants. Many of these blossoms may be harvested and stored for winter indulgence. Lavender, chamomile, thyme flowers, chives and more may all be harvested and dried for future use. To dry out flower heads, choose a warm, dry place. Molds, bacteria, and yeast all thrive in moisture and can ruin herb-saving projects, so keep drying herbs free from excess moisture. Run you hand along the length of the plants stem, and pop off the flower head, leaving the stem behind. To dry, I lay my flower heads out on a fine mesh drying rack that my friend Patric made for me. You can also lay them out on a clean sheet pan, just make sure to turn them often, so air circulates around the buds and they dry completely.

Use dried chamomile in granola, dessert crisps & even cocktails. All recipes are linked here!

HOW TO :: Dandelion Jelly + Pectin

I just received this email from a past student (I taught preserving at Bastyr University last fall) and thought it was a great learning opportunity for anyone interested in home preserving, particulary jams and jellies in this case. dandelion crackerRachel writes:

Remember how I said you changed my life by introducing me to the fact that I don't need to buy pectin? Weeell, I have this recipe for Dandelion Jelly that asks for no sugar needed pectin (yet later calls for sugar in the recipe) here. My question is, can I make my own pectin in lieu of the no sugar needed? Does it really serve any sort of purpose in this recipe?

This Dandelion Jelly recipe is made from steeping dandys in water, flavoring with lemon juice & rind, pectin and sugar. Here is what everyone needs to remember: ALL jams and jellies need pectin in order to set. Some fruits are heavy with natural pectin (apples, lemons) and do not need any help from added pectin to set. Other fruits that are low in pectin (blueberries, cherries) will need some pectin added. You can add pectin by using a pectin product (whether or not the label says it requires sugar) or by using natural pectin - the rind of a lemon, core of an apple or homemade green apple jelly.

To answer Rachel's specific question, yes, you need sugar. You need some sort of sweetener for two reasons.

1 - If you didn't have sugar in the recipe, you would have dandelion infused lemon water. Not yummy.

2 - Sugar and pectin work together. (We talked about this in class, remember?!) Sugar helps to attract water away from pectin, allowing the pectin molecules to create network of 'links' that hold the jam/jelly together. This pectin linkage is what give jellies their body.

So, if you removed the sugar, the pectin would have a hard time bonding. AND if you removed the sugar, the jam wouldn't taste good. If it were me, I'd use homemade apple jelly pectin, not a powdered product from the store. My final thoughts on the matter are left from my friend and uber-smart forager, Langdon Cook. Lang made Dandy Jelly last year and his post sums up all the potential mishaps and shows what the actual product will look like on his blog, Fat of The Land. I also like the sound of this recipe better - the proportions are more balanced.

Water Bath Canning 101

Water-Bath Canning 101 This is a step-by-step guide to water-bath canning at home. There are a few options to choose from, but all work well. Be sure to set up your jars and workspace beforehand so you can establish a rhythm. Also, be mindful of the processing times given in each recipe.

CLEANING JARS. Wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water and set them to dry completely on a rack or on a clean dish towel.

PREPARING JARS. Glass jars and lids do not need to be sterilized before use if your foodstuffs will be processed more than 10 minutes in a boiling water bath or pressure canner. If jar-processing time is 10 minutes or less, jars must be sterilized before filling. Do this by placing jars in a canning pot, filling with water, and bringing water to simmer. Hold jars in water until ready to use. Conversely, I always hold just-washed jars in a 225-degree oven until ready to use. This is not recommended by the USDA, but I’m still alive to give you the option.

FILLING THE JARS. All canned goods will need headspace to allow for expansion of the food and to create a vacuum in cooling jars. As a general rule, leave . inch of headspace on all jams and jellies and . inch of headspace on all whole fruits. When using whole fruits, release air bubbles in just-filled jars by tapping the jar on the counter or by inserting a wooden chopstick or skewer into the jar and gently stirring the fruit. When placing lids and rings on canning jars, do not overtighten the rings. Secure just until rings have tension and feel snug. Overtightening will not allow air to vent from the jars—a crucial step in canning.

HEATING THE CANNING POT. Fill your canning pot or a deep stockpot half full of water and heat to a low boil. Hold the liquid on a very low boil until ready to use.

FILLING THE CANNING POT. If using a canning pot, place prepared jars of food on the rack in the canner. Do not stack, as you need to allow for circulation of water for proper sealing. Lower jars into the canning pot, and add enough water to cover the jar tops by an inch or more. Cover the pot and return to a boil. Processing times begin once the canning-pot water is brought back up to a boil. This can take as long as 15 minutes, so be sure to keep an eye on your pot and a timer nearby. You may also use a deep stockpot (best only in small-batch preserving) by lining the bottom of the pot with a dish towel and placing jars on top. This helps keep jars from clanging around on the bottom of the pot or tumbling over onto their sides. This form of canning is not universally recommended or endorsed by the USDA. I have seen plenty of farmers and European country folk use this old-school technique, and I’ve adapted their laissez-faire ways.

REMOVING SEALED JARS. Using a jar lifter, or a set of kitchen tongs, remove jars from the canner when the processing time has elapsed. (Remember, processing times begin once the canning-pot water is brought back up to a boil.) Set jars aside on a folded towel to cool. Make sure you do not press on the tops and create an artificial seal.

KNOWING WHEN JARS ARE SEALED. You’ll hear the sound of can tops popping shortly—a sign that a secure seal has been made. Once the jars are cool, check the seal by removing the outer ring and lifting the jar by holding only the lid. If it stays intact, you have successfully canned your food. If the seal is loose or broken, you may reprocess in the water bath within twenty-four hours. (Be sure to replace the lid and check the jar rim for cracks or nicks and replace if necessary.) Conversely, you can refrigerate the jar immediately and use within three weeks.

LABELING AND STORAGE. Once cool, label all jars with date and contents. Successfully sealed jars should be stored in a cool dark place, such as a cupboard. Officially, canned goods keep for up to a year, but I have let them go a bit longer with little effect.

EXCERPTED FROM URBAN PANTRY (SKIPSTONE 2010)

Citrus Preservation

Preserving mosaicI had another awesome class in my apartment this weekend past. I am always amazed at how I find the coolest people and they find me. While the marmalade did not co-operate and took more time than expected to set up, we had a fun casual evening at home. One of my students, Stacee, took pictures all night and while I didn't think of it at all at the time, it turns out her work is STUNNING. Check out more on her adorable site, My Digs - she's a great writer and it's a wonderful read in the morning over coffee.  

The next Super VIP Classes are on February 12th and February 19th. If you're interested, email me here for deets.

Spiced Apple Chutney & Honey Pumpkin Butter Recipe

  ApplesIn late fall, gardens heave a near audible final breath and give up the last of their fruits. Fields turn fragrant with the pungent smell from fermenting fallen fruit and the last of anything sweet is gathered from bare tree branches or browning vines. For a canning enthusiast, or a 100-mile dieter, November marks the last ditch effort to get fresh food in a jar and up into your cupboard for winter indulgences. Apples hold well on the branch and are often harvested late in fall. Apples are quite flexible as they have a higher acid content and can be successfully canned or paired with a myriad of additional fruits or infusions. I have it on high esteem that chutneys are coming back in vogue, and this one will not disappoint. This fragrant chutney relies heavily on spices for flavor and has a bit of a bite from the chili flakes and cayenne pepper. Cider apples make the best chutney, as they are tart and quite firm so they will hold their shape and not turn too soft from cooking. If you can’t find cider apples, it’s ok to substitute another firm, tart apple.

Spiced Apple Chutney

Makes about 6 to 8 half pints | start to finish: 1.5 hours

1 onion, finely chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon coarse salt 2 pounds cider apples, cored and cut into small dice (do not peel) 12 whole cloves 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon curry powder 1/2 teaspoon cardamom 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 2 teaspoon mustard seed, coarsely ground 2 tablespoons crystallized ginger 1/2 cup raisins 1 cup apple cider vinegar 1/2 cup brown sugar

Heat oil in sauce pan over medium high heat. Add onions and salt and sauté until onions start to brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add apples and sauté until they start to brown, another 10 to 12 minutes. Add all spices, crystallized ginger and raisins, stirring for two minutes to incorporate. Add apple cider vinegar and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Cook until thick and apples are beginning to break down, but still hold their shape, about 45 minutes to an hour. Fill clean jars with chutney, leaving 1/2 –inch head space. Using a damp, clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars, and top the jars with lids and rings. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove each jar with tongs and let cool on the counter. Once cool, make sure seals are secure. Sealed jars may be stored in a cool dark cupboard for up to one year.

*washed jars *water bath

Not many fruits are available this late in the season, but pumpkins store well and make a fantastic spread when cooked down and scented with spicy notes. Pumpkins are more of a challenge for the casual canner. As sugar levels and flesh density vary greatly between pumpkins, it is difficult to say with utmost certainty that water-bath canning of pumpkin butter is guaranteed to be safe. Though I have never had an issue with my butters, a wonderful (and utterly safe) alternative is to make a freezer jam and store your pumpkin butter in the freezer. Butters can be spread thick on toast or morning pastry, or used as a base layer in tarts and pies. Smear a generous heap on a tart shell, then fill the rest of the tart with melted chocolate ganache.

Honey Pumpkin Butter

Makes about 5 half pints | start to finish: 4 to 5 hours

3 lb sugar pie pumpkin, trimmed of outer flesh and diced to 1-inch cube 2 cups sugar 1 vanilla bean, cut and beans scraped 1 cup water 1 lemon, cut in half 1 orange, cut in half 1 1/2 cups honey 1 teaspoon cardamom 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

In a large saucepan, add pumpkin, sugar, vanilla pod and seeds and water. Add all citrus halves to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook over low heat, until pumpkin is soft and can be easily pierced with a knife, 45 minutes to an hour. Remove lemon and orange halves and skim any citrus seeds from the surface. Remove vanilla bean.

Working in small batches, purée pumpkin in blender until completely smooth. Return smooth pumpkin purée back into the pot and add the honey, cardamom and nutmeg. Set over low heat and cook, stirring often. Butter will become thick and lava-like, producing big, low bubbles. Cook down until butter is thick and leaves a firm trail on the bottom of the pan when you stir. This can take up to 2 to 3 hours, depending on how thick you want your butter.

When pumpkin butter is cooked to your liking, add to small jars or plastic containers. If using glass jars, note that butter will expand slightly as it freezes, so it’s best to leave at least 1/2-inch head space to ensure jars will not crack. Let cool slightly on counter before sealing with lids and freezing.

*washed jars or freezer tubs; store chilled

Originally published in Edible Seattle November/December 2010

 

December Classes

SUPER VIP CANNING CLASS

Sunday, Dec 12th - 6pm - Preserving Citrus

.preserved lemons, meyer lemon jam & bourbon orange marmalade

Monday, Dec 13th - 6pm - Homemade DIY Gifts

.fennel-steeped cordial, vanilla sugar, thyme-infused salt & minted apple butter

I am loving the intimate class structure of teaching at home.  If you're interested making your own holiday gifts this year or curious about how best to preserve citrus these casual nights are a great resource. We'll do some basic recipes and I'll demo some creative packaging.

My kitchen is  easy to peer into and there is plenty of opportunity to ask questions and pitch in. My kitchen is tiny, so this class will be small and intimate. This is an AWESOME time of year for preseving. It's the kick off for winter citrus and a great time for DIY gift-making or stocking the pantry.

Students will actively participate, but won't necessarily be donning aprons. Come learn how to preserve in this VERY CASUAL atmosphere. This class is fully casual and open to friends, family and subscribers of this newsletter.

Class is $40 person. Also, I will limit the number of students to make the perfect balance of learning & fun, so space is limited. My little urban pantry sits on the east side of Queen Anne, for any of you curious about the location.

To sign up, please email me directly at amyp@gogogreengarden.com.

Chamomile Cordial

This morning I am a guest on Terri Trespicio's show on Martha Stewart Radio - Whole Living. I love coming on the show. Terri is a firecracker and I always have fun. Today we are talking about homemade holiday food gifts and cordials are one of my absolute favorites to make and give. Cordials are essentially sweetened syrups infused with herbs, spice or plants. They are simple to make and offer a wide range of flavors and essences to anyone willing to experiment. Cordials offer a perfect solution for a non-alcoholic ‘cocktail’ that is nothing short of grown up. For this syrup, you can use either fresh or dried chamomile flower heads. Chamomile is a dainty little white flower that has a tendency to prosper and spread amongst garden beds, cracks in the sidewalk and anywhere else it can take hold. Known for its medicinal properties (and ability to soothe), the sweet flavor from the flower heads also makes for a gentle summer drink. Add some syrup to some fizzy water and serve over crushed ice. If you want to go for gold, add a splash of cognac - its gentle flavor won’t overpower the floral note. This syrup is also delicious brushed onto a simple yellow or buttermilk cake.

CHAMOMILE CORDIAL

by Amy Pennington Makes about 2 cups | start to finish: 30 minutes

2 tablespoons dried chamomile flowers (or 1 tablespoon fresh chamomile flower heads) 2 cups boiled water 1/4 cup honey

Add chamomile flowers to muslin steeping bag or fine mesh tea strainer. (Chamomile seeds are quite small and thin, so be sure to use fine mesh so they don’t escape and float in your syrup.) Steep in boiled water until liquid is stained yellow and perfumed, about 20 minutes. Press any reserved liquid out from the muslin bag and discard the solids. Add the honey, and stir until dissolved. Keep in the refrigerator until cool.

Once cooled, completely, add crushed ice to a glass. Pour in about 1/2 cup of the chamomile cordial and top with equal parts seltzer water. Garnish with a thin slice of cucumber to fancy it up. If you like, add a float of cognac and serve immediately.

Store cordial in a clean jar or bottle, covered, in the fridge where it will last for several weeks.

Green Tomato Recipe - Salsa Verde

I started making this salsa at home when I overplanted tomatillos in the garden one summer and ended up with far too many. It’s an amazing garnish for stewed black beans and can easily be used as a dip for chips. Often, I’ll pour some in a small sauté pan and crack an egg in, effectively poaching the egg. I pour this over some toast for a delicious breakfast or lunch. It also makes a spicy and colorful stewing sauce for pork. With tomatillos as a braising liquid the meat will come out fork tender with a hint of heat from the peppers. In order to make this salsa pantry-safe, acid should be added. Tomatillos, while a more acidic fruit, vary significantly and therefore do well with the addition of lemon juice. Store-bought lemon juice is the way to go as the acid levels have been tested, unlike in fresh fruits. Because there is so much lemon juice, this preserve really needs time in the cupboard to mellow. If you want to make a fresh salsa verde, just omit the lemon juice and store in your fridge. The sheer versatility of the final preserve and ease of preparation make this a great one to try for a novice canner. It’s a great savory addition to any well-stocked pantry.

Tomatillo Salsa

Makes about 2 pints or 4 half pints | start to finish:  1 hour 2 1/2 pounds tomatillos, papers removed 2 poblano or pasilla peppers 1 jalapeno pepper 1 medium red onion, outer skin peeled and sliced into rings 2 cloves garlic 1 bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1 cup) 1/2 cups lemon juice 2 teaspoons salt Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss peppers and onion rings in olive oil to coat and place on a sheet pan. Roast in oven until charred and cooked through, about 20 minutes, turning occasionally. Add to bowl and cover to let steam and cool, about 20 minutes. Remove stems and seeds from peppers. Peel out skin of peppers. Roughly chop peppers and onions and set aside in a small bowl.

Meanwhile, cut tomatillos in half. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat until pan is hot. In dry pan, place tomatillos in a single layer, cut side down.  Don’t move them around in the pan, just let them sit and get charred, about 8 to 12 minutes. When fully charred, add tomatillos to small bowl and cover to let steam until soft. Add garlic cloves to the pan and char in the same fashion. Continue charring tomatillos and garlic until all are cooked and softened through.

In bowl of a blender, add peppers, onions, tomatillos, garlic, cilantro, lemon juice and salt. Blend at low speed until all ingredients are just combined. Pour into preserving jars. Using a damp, clean towel, wipe the rims of the jars, and top the jars with lids and rings. Process in a water bath for 15 minutes for half pints, 25 minutes for pint jars. Remove each jar with tongs and let cool on the counter. Once cool, make sure seals are secure. Sealed jars may be stored in a cool dark cupboard for up to one year.

PHOTO BY DELLA CHEN

Originally published in Edible Seattle, Sept/Oct 2010

Preserving Fruit With Alcohol

Preserving Fruit in AlcoholI am a New Yorker. I read the New York Times.

I love the Wednesday NYT Dining Section.

If I date you and you read the NYT Dining Section, it ups your cool by like.........1000 points.

That said, this week, I was included in one of my favorite weekly columns (IN THE NY-bloody-TIMES!!!!!) by Brooklyn-based food writer, Melissa Clark. She writes the must-read Good Appetite every week (and is soon releasing a book of recipe favs!) and this week highlighting the technique of preserving fruit in alcohol. I love a boozy piece of fruit, I can't deny, and so I was thrilled to be included in her article. There are some great recipes that accompany it, as well. Also, for all you Pacific NWers plums are on their way OUT, so be sure to grab a handful and brandy them up - no fancy canning tricks applied. Just a little fruit, sugar & a shake. From the article………..

"For Amy Pennington, a professional gardener in Seattle and the author of “The Urban Pantry” (Skipstone, 2010), using booze to preserve fruit is just one more “branch in the preservation tree.”

“There’s drying, salting, canning and using alcohol, which kills bacteria, meaning you don’t need to futz around with creating an anaerobic environment,” she said, adding that preserving with alcohol is the “lowest rung of entry for beginning canning enthusiasts” because it’s hard to mess up.

She’s used the technique to preserve raspberries in vodka, which she plans to churn into sorbet, and greengage plums in brandy, to bake into an upside-down gingerbread cake as soon as they are ready — in, oh, about three months."

Cucumber Pickles - the quick method

Quick Pickled CucumbersI love the casual rapport that happens when good friends email eachother. Gone are salutations, gone are general mentions of health or humor, and nine times out of ten, we cut to the chase. I love it. My Dear friend  Debbie (a most fabulous designer in case you ever need) wrote me tonight:

"Um. I want to make crispy pickles because I bought a bag 'o' cukes today. I don't want to boil and seal and all that. Thought I saw a recipe somewhere this week that says you can just pack em in some good juju and eat em in two days. True?"

And with that, here is my response (as a recipe) for refrigerator quick pickled cucumbers, done right:

Yes, pretty much.

Tonight, soak them in a salt water brine. Salt water should be salty like the sea.

Tomorrow, drain & add cukes to a large jar or bowl. Heat vinegar with pickling spices. Pour over cukes and let cool on counter or in fridge. Hold in fridge until you're ready to eat them.

Last week, I did this same thing, but I sliced them thick and used rice wine vinegar and some sugar. DELICOUS.

And of course, she had more questions:

Great. I have cider vinegar, will that work? And is there a clue to how much pickling spice? I have about 20 small cukes.

And I had answers:

Cider vinegar will work, yes. But for the record, the brine will be cloudy and the flavor much softer. Go easy on the sugar.

It really depends on what you like. If you're going for a dill pickle, load it up. If you're going for a spicy asian vibe, I do a little this and a little that - one cinnamon stick, one star anise, 6 cloves - something light. You can always make your brine, taste it and adjust BEFORE pouring over your pickles. That's your best bet!

Try making your brine tonight and then letting it sit overnight. That way, the flavors will infuse and be more pronounced and true. You can heat it up and adjust tomorrow before draining your brine and pouring over your cukes.

GOOD LUCK!

And she had one more question:

Thanks. Last question - should I quarter them before brining or after. OR do you like a whole unpeeled little guy. I am a pickle virgin as you can tell.

And I had one more answer:

I'd quarter some, leave some, slice some. Then you know better for next time! Whatever you like in the end, you should do. You want chips? slice them! Spears? Quarter them.

End scene:

I will go forth and pickle with abandon!

Preserving Fruit in Alcohol

Last week I came home from eastern Washington with a small handful of Greengage plums. I love love love Greengage plums, as they have a super subtle sweetness that is smooth and almost flower-y. Because I had so few, I decided to preserve them in spirits. Covering them with brandy, I immediately knew that come December, I would strain the plums out and use them in a boozy upside down gingerbread cake. Ah, the life of a foodie - I'm not thinking about my next meal, but I am already thinking about a dessert I'll make in the middle of winter! Preserving fruit in alcohol is quite easy and produces two delicious outcomes - boozy fruit & infused spirits. Quite simply, I fill a clean glass jar with fruit, submerge completely in alcohol, add a few spoons of sugar, cover & shake. The recipe is truly that easy, which makes this preservation method a nice low bar of entry for anyone experimenting with preservation for the first time. The high alcohol content acts as a preservative, thereby minimizing spoilage. The amount of sugar depends on the fruit and your personal taste preference. I tend to stay on the less sweet side of things, but most stone fruits will taste better with a bit more sugar.

Shake your jars gently every couple of days. I keep my steeping fruits in a dark cupboard and shake them whenever I see them and that has always worked well. After 3 to 4 weeks, I move the jar to the fridge, where the low temperature will further retard deterioration and where they will keep for one million years. (Ok, just kidding. But they will keep for a very long time.) The longer the fruit sits, the further they will break down, so try and use the fruit within three months time.

Greengage Plums in Brandy

2 handfuls small plums 1 cup brandy 2 tablespoons sugar

Add all ingredients to a clean glass jar.Add more brandy to the jar, if necessary, to fully submerge the plums. Cover with lid and shake gently until sugar dissolves. Store in a dark cupboard for 3 to 4 weeks, shaking occasionally. After four weeks, move to refrigerator and use within three months.

 

 

Jam Pots

Two batches of peach & honey jam being cooked simultaneously. The pot on the left is just getting under way. The pot on the right had been cooking for 20 minutes, after having rested overnight. Note the difference in color! This often happens in jam-making.

Kitchen Projects

My friend Gannon is always asking me to keep a video camera on my life because I always have a good story to tell. I've been thinking about keeping a book tour journal, instead.People make the coolest observations, sometimes, or ask awesome questions. In a departure from my typical posts where I hope to educate or inspire, here I'm just sharing a story. Last night, I gave a little chat to the Literary Group at the Rainer Club. They were seriously some of the most gracious people I’ve ever met. Incredibly polite, ladies crossing legs at their ankles kind of a crowd. They were incredibly enthusiastic and also very conversational. It was a great great night.

One of the woman in attendance (the one with the hot shoes!) asked me “How many projects do you currently have going?” I laughed out loud. No one has ever keyed in to the fact that my small apartment acts as a sort of laboratory. I constantly have things fermenting, drying, steeping and more. With that, here is a list of my current projects and experiments:

Vinegar steeped with Chamomile, Mint, Rose, Lemon Balm for FACIAL TONER

FENNEL BLOSSOM heads stuffed in a paper bag and drying for my spice cupboard.

LIME BASIL VINEGAR for salads

HERBAL SUN TEA with tangerine sage, mint, anise hyssop, thyme & lovage in my fridge, finally. If you don’t get it in there fast, it ferments and tastes boozy

CHOCOLATE MINT steeping in milk for ice cream? Ganache? Haven’t decided.

LUCIA PLUMS that I picked from the tree I just noticed across my street. Think I’ll make jam tonight.