Weekend Recipe: Seasonal Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Goat Cheese

October 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

It’s a fine line between the end of summer and beginning of fall here in the 650. Our warm, sunny days might continue right up until Thanksgiving, making you wonder how the holidays came up so quickly. The clues are there: leaves turning from bright green to brown and vibrant red (but slowly, not all at once), shorter days, and a change in the way the sunlight comes in my kitchen window… more golden in color, but not as bright or strong as during the summer.

You see it in the markets, too, of course. Summer produce is mostly finished by October 1, although in good years you’ll still see strawberries lingering for a few more weeks. Stone fruit is long gone, as are blueberries and the second flush of figs. Apples, pears, and persimmons have made their way into the market. Even the concord grapes have come and gone.

I’m now doing the happy dance for the efforts I made to preserve food during those crazy hot days of summer: the jars of jam that have taken over most of a large kitchen cabinet, not to mention the roasted tomatoes, beets, and peppers that have filled my freezer. I’m a little wistful to see summer go; it’s definitely my favorite food season.

Back in early June, after visiting Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, I put together what I thought of as the quintessential 650 summer salad: mixed baby greens with edible flowers from Fifth Crow Farm, topped with strawberries (also from Fifth Crow Farm), Blenheim apricots from my backyard, and Harley Farm’s Honey Lavender Chèvre.

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy chèvre

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy Chèvre

By the time I made the second visit to Harley Farms in late August to pick up more Honey Lavender Chèvre, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make that same salad again until next year. My backyard apricot tree was bare, as the harvest ended at the beginning of July, and Fifth Crow Farm’s tender baby greens with edible flowers weren’t showing up in my CSA box. Instead, they’d been placed by spinach and baby kale. (Not that I’m complaining, by any means. That’s the beauty of eating seasonally, new things just keep coming!) *sigh* It was a nice little dish, that salad, and I look forward to making it again next June, when those Blenheims are ripe and sweet. In the meantime, there were other salad variations with which to enjoy that luscious goat cheese from Harley Farms.

What follows is the original Pescadero-inspired salad from early summer. If you can still get good strawberries now, go ahead and make it, substituting sweet-tart apples or even fuyu persimmons for the apricots. Otherwise, you can squirrel it away for next year, when strawberries and apricots hit the market in early summer. If we’re well into fall by the time you read this, then scroll on down to the bottom of the page for a seasonal variation.

Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Honey Lavender Goat Cheese (Summer)
2 Servings
I believe in improvising when making salads — use whatever you’ve got and assemble the ingredients according to your taste. There’s no measuring, and you can’t really go wrong, as long as you’re using fresh ingredients that you enjoy. I’ve approximated the measurements for two servings, but feel free to adjust to your taste and appetite.

Ingredients:

3 – 4 cups Fifth Crow Farms organic baby greens salad mix with edible flowers
3 – 4 medium organic Blenheim apricots, rinsed and sliced into eighths (Early fall version: substitute thinly sliced sweet-tart apples, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Pearl)
8 – 10 medium organic strawberries, rinsed, stemmed, hulled, and sliced into quarters
2 – 3 tablespoons honey lavender goat cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Organic lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

How to:

  1. Split the ingredients between two bowls or dinner plates. Place the greens on the dish first, then top with slices of fruit, arranging the pieces evenly.
  2. Drizzle olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over each salad.
  3. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  4. Top with crumbled goat cheese.
    Wine pairing suggestion: French-style rosé
    plate-top-view

Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Honey Lavender Goat Cheese (Fall)
The roasted carrots in this autumn version of the salad add a sweet-savory-earthy component that works surprisingly well with the honey lavender goat cheese. If you’re feeling adventurous, toss in some roasted fennel, which plays well with both the apple and the carrot.

Ingredients:

3 – 4 cups Fifth Crow Farms organic mixed lettuces, spinach, or a combination, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 medium sweet-tart apple, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Pearl, cut into thin slices
2 – 3 medium roasted carrots, cut into chunks
2 – 3 tablespoons honey lavender goat cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Organic lemon juice
Salt and Pepper
Optional: Chopped toasted pecan pieces to finish the salad

How to:

  1. Follow instructions for the summer salad version for assembly.
  2. Wine-pairing suggestion: California chardonnay

Get the Blues

May 22, 2015 § 1 Comment

Blueberries are back in season, and they’re everywhere right now! Local market providers Triple D Ranch and Sierra Cascade (one of my favs for their sustainable practices and sweet berries) are bringing their berries to farmers’ markets and local stores. Whole Foods recently had a good deal on San Joaquin Valley berries from Delta Blues. Right now blueberries are plentiful, and prices reasonable, so stock up.

Fresh blueberries from the San Joaquin valley

Fresh blueberries from the San Joaquin valley

Unfortunately, we don’t see many locally grown blueberries (as in, right here in the 650), but we’re fortunate to have some quality regional organic growers from points north. Early season berries tend to be a bit more tart — especially with our cooler weather this year — but we should see sweeter berries as the season continues. I’m digging blueberries in my morning cereal, the occasional blueberry compote (a good solution for too-tart berries), and my favorite: blueberry scones.

If you’re thinking “Meh, scones; they’re so dry,” let me persuade you otherwise. Made with a little love and attention, a good scone hits that sweet spot between pastry and cake. The crumb isn’t as fine as that of a cake or muffin, yet the texture is moist and tender — sturdy enough to be a tasty delivery device for jam or lemon curd.

Scones are essentially a rubbed dough (like pie dough), in which you coat the flour with fat. There are two keys to making a tender scone: adding enough moisture and not overworking the dough. The moisture comes in the form of Greek yogurt and a bit of lemon juice. Not overworking the dough means combining ingredients by hand and work it just enough to combine the ingredients enough into a cohesive dough ball.

If you’ve been meh about scones, give this recipe a try; it’s a nice way to get the blues.

Recipe: Blueberry Scones
Yield: 8 wedges or 12 round scones
These scones are best the day they’re baked. Let them cool completely before enjoying with butter and jam or some homemade lemon curd. Serve for breakfast, brunch, or an indulgent afternoon snack. They also freeze well for up to 3 months.

What You Need:

Small bowl
Large bowl
Rubber spatula
Half sheet pan
Parchment paper (cut to fit half sheet pan)
Small (1 cup) microwave-safe container for melting butter
Pastry brush
Dough scraper or chef’s knife to cut wedges or 2½” round cutter

Ingredients:

9.6 ounces organic all-purpose or stone-ground white wheat flour
2.6 ounces fair trade organic sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼ – ½″ pieces
4 ounces organic blueberries (washed)
2.5 ounces organic Greek yogurt (full fat or low-fat)
1.5 ounces lemon juice
1 large egg
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon raw (demerara) sugaringredients-darker

How To:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line the sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, juice, and egg until smooth and well combined. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Rather than using a whisk or fork, I swirl my fingers through the dry ingredients to combine, but do what works for you.
  4. Add the cold butter to the dry ingredients, and using your fingertips, rub the pieces into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse meal.
    Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles cornmeal

    Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture
    resembles cornmeal

    Rubbing the butter in coats the dry ingredients in fat, which will give the scones a tender crumb. It’s okay if a few visible bits of butter remain.

  5. Add the yogurt-juice-egg mixture and berries to the dry ingredients, using a rubber spatula to combine.
    The dough will be wet and sticky as it comes together.
  6. Flour your hands, turn the dough out onto a floured workspace, gathering all ingredients together and forming the dough into a ball.
    Knead lightly, just enough to be sure that all dry ingredients are moistened and the dough comes together.
  7. Flatten the ball into an 8″ disk on the floured board or workspace.
    The dough should be about ½” thick.
  8. Cut the dough into wedges or rounds. For wedges: Using a chef’s knife or dough scraper, cut the dough into 8 wedges. For rounds: Using a 2½” round cutter, cut 8 rounds. Gather the remaining dough together into a ½” thickness and cut the remaining 4.
    Don’t knead or work the dough too much. Doing so will strengthen the gluten and melt the butter, toughening the dough.
  9. Move the cut scones to the prepared sheet pan, spacing them evenly.
    Wedges: Two rows of four scones.
    Rounds: Three rows of four scones.
  10. Brush each scone with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.

    Finish the scones with melted butter and demerara sugar

    Finish the scones with melted butter and demerara sugar

  11. Bake for 12-13 minutes, until lightly golden brown.baked
  12. Allow scones to cool on the sheet pan for about 10 minutes, then move to a rack until completely cool.
  13. Serve plain, with butter and jam or lemon curd. hero-with-curd
  14. Store in a closed container or ziplock bag for three days at room temperature, or freeze for up to three months.

Weekend Cocktail: Orange Margarita

May 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

College friends of mine get together every summer for an annual birthday party. Well, not just a birthday party. The birthday party is the capper on a week-long reunion at a low-key vacation spot (think: Bend, OR or Cape Cod, MA). What started out as a lobster-and-Freixenet dinner party in a college fraternity house (more than a few) years ago has morphed into a yearly vacation tradition that includes spouses, kids, and friends joining in for a week of hanging out, cooking together, and competitive games of bridge.

The birthday party location varies every year, switching from right coast to left to accommodate East Coasters and West Coasters equally. I attended a few of the West Coast birthday parties in the decade or so after graduating university. In the early years, most of us were just fresh out of school and settling into apartments and careers. Some of us were in serious relationships. Some were not. There were no kids, no bedtimes, and probably more cocktails than cooking. (And wine. Lots of wine.) People slept on the floor. Clothing was lost. Long-running inside jokes were born. And we ate and drank well. The food was always plentiful and fresh, especially the birthday party dinner, which consisted of a spread of seafood (lobster was the star), salad, and sides, and of course: cake.

The guys handled the organization of the event, the cooking, and the beverages. My friend Jon took on bartender duties at more than one of these events. Unfortunately, my favorite cocktail — the margarita — was not his specialty (sorry Jon). Ever the excellent host, he was willing to make it right. “You know what this needs?” he asked enthusiastically, and then without waiting for me to answer: “Orange juice!” No. No, it really didn’t. But to this day it makes me laugh to think about it. One of those small, but memorable moments from a long time ago.

Flash forward to this year’s day of margaritas: Cinco de Mayo. I’ve been thinking about revamping my standard House Margarita to create an organic version using my new favorite tequila (Casa Noble Añejo). The first idea was to replace the Cointreau, which has a heavy alcohol taste, with the organic, lower-alcohol, sweeter Greenbar Distillery Organic Orange liqueur.

Important safety tip: it’s not a one-to-one replacement when it comes to orange liqueurs. Because the Greenbar liqueur is sweeter than Cointreau, I had to adjust the acidity of the cocktail. So, then how to coax out the orange flavor of the liqueur and adjust the acidity without the lime taking over, while letting the chocolate and caramel flavors of the tequila shine through? Good ol’ trial and error.

After a few rounds of testing different amounts of lime juice and adding some rich simple syrup to balance the acidity, something was still missing: more orange flavor. So there I am on Cinco de Mayo thinking how do I add some true orange flavor and sweetness plus some acidity, without making things too lime-y? And then it hit me: You know what this needs? Orange juice. No kidding. (Thanks Jon.)hero-1

Recipe: Orange Margarita
Yield: 1 cocktail
Not your classic margarita, this one brings the orange flavor forward, while downplaying the lime and letting the unique flavor of the tequila shine through on the finish. You can vary the sweetness by increasing or decreasing the amount of rich simple syrup. For an all-organic cocktail, choose organic limes and oranges, if possible.

You’ll need a double old-fashioned or highball glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, and ice.

Ingredients:

2 ounces Casa Noble Añejo organic tequila
¾ ounce Fruitlab Organic Orange Liqueur
1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice (Tip: Zest the lime before juicing; set aside zest for Lime Salt)
¼ ounce rich simple syrup (recipe below)

Start your weekend off right: Five ingredients to a fresh Orange Margarita

Start your weekend off right: Five ingredients to a fresh Orange Margarita

For the glass:

Lime wedge
Thin round of lime
Lime salt (recipe below)

Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons:
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons
1 ounce = 2 tablespoons
¾ ounce= 1½ tablespoons
½ ounce = 1 tablespoon

How to:

  1. Prepare the glass.
    Pour the Lime Salt onto a small plate. Run a wedge of lime around the rim of the glass, then turn the glass upside down and dip into the Lime Salt. (You’re trying to get the salt mixture to adhere to the outer rim of the glass). Set aside.
  2. Combine tequila, orange liqueur, juices, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with four or five cubes of fresh ice.
  3. Shake 4 – 5 times (not vigorously) to combine and pour into a prepared glass.
  4. Float a thin round of lime in the glass for garnish.hero-2

Recipe: Lime Salt
Ingredients:

Zest of one lime
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

How To:

  1. Preheat oven to 250° F.
  2. Line a small baking tray with parchment paper. Spread the zest on the baking tray and place into preheated oven to dry for 5-6 minutes, stirring and tossing halfway through to ensure even drying.

    Fresh lime zest, ready for drying

    Fresh lime zest, ready for drying

  3. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  4. When zest is cool, place in a small bowl. Break the zest into smaller pieces, approximately the same size as kosher salt grains, by rubbing it between your thumb and forefinger or crushing with a pestle.
    You want to create something that looks like crushed — but not powdered — zest. 
  5. Combine the crushed zest with the kosher salt.
  6. Set aside until you’re ready to make the cocktail.

Recipe: Rich Simple Syrup
Yield: About 6 ounces syrup
Rich simple syrup has twice as much sugar as water, resulting in a thicker syrup with more sweetening power than regular simple syrup. If you can, use organic, fair-trade sugar as it has a richer flavor than refined white sugar. Adding a few drops of lemon juice to the mixture will minimize crystallization during storage.

What you need:

1-quart saucepan
Rubber spatula
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup

Ingredients:

4 ounces sugar
2 ounces water
A few drops of lemon juice

How to:

  1. Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan and place on the stove top.
  2. Give the ingredients a stir and heat just until the sugar has melted and small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
  4. Refrigerate syrup in a closed container. Store up to three weeks.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Strawberry-Orange Compote

May 6, 2015 § 1 Comment

When was the last time you took a good look inside your freezer? Do you know what’s living in there, under the frozen peas and ice cream? For many of us, the freezer is like a hall closet for food. We just keep shoving stuff in there until one day it all comes tumbling out, and we finally have to decide to pitch or keep that frozen mass of … what was that again? And how long has it been in there?

One way to keep a handle on what’s going into your freezer — and how long it lives there — is to label freezer items with the “date in.” All you need is a Sharpie and some freezer tape. For each item that goes into the freezer, take a minute and write the current date on a piece of freezer tape. (Add the name of the item, too, if it’s packaged in an opaque or unlabeled container, freezer bag, or layers of foil. ) Affix the tape to the item, and voilà. No more guessing games about how long that foil-wrapped thing has been wedged behind last week’s ice cream and under last year’s frozen pizza.

I’ve been a labeler since culinary school. All good, right? Yes and no. The followup to labelling is, that you have to — every few months — take a look at what’s actually living in the freezer. If you focus on a mostly fresh-food diet, then you might not be digging into the freezer that often. I use my freezer as a place to preserve foods — breads, summer fruit that I want to enjoy later in the year, stocks and broths, and vegetable scraps for said stocks and broths. In short, it’s place to store food until I get around to doing something with it. Problem is, often out of sight, out of mind. Hence the need to check in every few months.

Given that we’re into the first week of May already, summer garden vegetables and u-pick fruit are on their way. Unfortunately, I still have last year’s overages of backyard apricots and Swanton Berry Farm strawberries taking up most of my freezer. Sheesh. (Ok, so I’m not so good at the every-few-months check-in.) So while most Waste-Less Wednesdays have focused on ways to reduce waste by rescuing or repurposing what’s in front of you — in the refrigerator or on the countertop — let’s not forget about what’s going on in the freezer.

So, let’s say you’ve got an excess of freezer fruit. What to do? While freezing fruit often maintains most of the flavor, the texture is another story. Soft fruits like berries and apricots don’t bounce back so well when thawed, which means they’re ideal for smoothies or cooked fruit dishes. A simple way to enjoy previously frozen fruit? Make a compote. While it might sound fancy, the making part is easy. A compote is fruit cooked in liquid with sugar added for sweetness. Perfectly delicious on their own, compotes can also dress up Greek yogurt, elevate waffles and pancakes, or add a touch of decadence to your favorite ice cream.

DIY fruit yogurt: swirl in your own homemade compote

DIY fruit yogurt: swirl in your own homemade compote

So, start digging through your freezer. If you’ve got last year’s frozen berries — or store-bought frozen berries will do in a pinch — you can have a tasty, homemade fruit compote in about 15 minutes.

Recipe: Strawberry-Orange Compote
Yield: About 8 ounces

This recipe omits the water to produce a chunkier compote, and (bonus!) is a great way to use up one of those packets of orange zest you might have lingering in your refrigerator. Delicious warm or cold, you can enjoy this compote on its own (or with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream) or as a complement to a variety of other treats. Serve it warm or at room temperature with cakes, waffles, rice pudding, or pancakes. Serve cool over ice cream or yogurt.

Ingredients

12 ounces frozen strawberries (previously washed, dried, and hulled)
1½ – 2 ounces organic sugar (to your taste)
1 heaping teaspoon fresh orange zest

Yes, you can make a beautiful compote from just three ingredients!

Yes, you can make a beautiful compote from just three ingredients!

What You Need:

Rubber spatula
2-quart saucepan
Small plate
Small glass or ceramic bowl or dish (to hold up to 10 ounces)

How to:

  1. Combine the sugar and berries in the saucepan and place it on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally so that the berries cook evenly and don’t stick to the pan.
    After about five minutes, the berries will begin to soften and release their juices, combining with the sugar to make a syrup.

    Berries getting juicy and starting to soften

    Berries getting juicy and starting to soften

  2. Use the tip of the spatula to break the berries into smaller, bite-size pieces.
    Don’t worry about creating even-size pieces.
  3. Continue cooking until the syrup thickens and berries are soft and in pieces, about 10 minutes.
  4. Check the consistency of the compote by taking a small spoonful of the syrup from the saucepan and putting it on the plate. Place the plate in the freezer for about 20 seconds, just enough to bring the temperature down.
  5. Retrieve the plate from the freezer and run your finger or the tip of the spatula through the syrup. If the gap closes quickly, continue cooking the compote for a minute or two, testing it again for doneness. If the gap closes slowly, the compote is ready.

    Mind the gap: this compote is ready!

    Mind the gap: this compote is ready!

  6. Taste the small sample from the plate and adjust the amount of sugar, if neccessary.
    If you’d prefer a sweeter compote, stir another teaspoon of sugar into the hot compote until fully combined. Taste a cooled sample of the compote to determine whether you need to add any more sugar.
  7. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the orange zest.
  8. Transfer the compote to the glass or ceramic dish (Pyrex is a good choice), cover with plastic or parchment paper, and place in the refrigerator to cool.
  9. Serve cold or rewarm gently in the microwave before serving.swirl-yogurt-2
  10. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Waste-Less Wednesday: The Other Broccoli

April 22, 2015 § Leave a comment

Broccoli is a staple in my house. Exciting? No. Reliable? Yes. When I’m too tired or uninspired to cook (yes, it happens sometimes), steamed broccoli is my standby. Seven minutes from refrigerator to table. No kidding. Broccoli is a substantial partner to quick-cooking brown rice or 4-minute soba noodles. Throw in some homemade peanut sauce and shredded carrots, or pair it up with olive oil, cheese and fresh tomatoes, and you’ve got yourself a decent, healthy, homemade meal.

Beautiful, fresh broccoli

Beautiful, fresh broccoli

“Broccoli” for me, like many people here in the US, has not meant the whole plant, but rather just the crown: the collection of florets — that flower-like, dark-green part. The stems? Unfortunately, not so much. While I’m doing my best to reduce food waste at home and practice a leaf-to-stem cooking approach, broccoli stems have had me stumped. Mostly I’ve been put off by the tough, fibrous outer layer and longer cooking times. It took some experimenting and kitchen creativity, but it turns out that broccoli stems are just as flavorful and versatile as the florets.

Once you get past the tough outer layer (unless you like that sort of thing), broccoli stems are tender, herbaceous, and slightly sweet. Not only are they tasty, they’re really versatile! You can enjoy them fresh or cooked. Toss them into salads, pastas, egg dishes, or turn them into a supporting side dish. Read on for some of the many ways to use the other broccoli.

Prepping the Stems
Start by washing and drying the stems. Cut away the dried area at the bottom of the stem (just a thin slice should do it). Then using a paring knife or peeler, peel away the thin, tough, outer layer of the stems. Once you get past that tough outer layer, you’ll see a light-green, moist layer. That’s the tender, sweet, delicious part! And don’t toss those peels or dried end bits — save them for making vegetable broth. Just pop them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer until the next time you make broth.

If you don't like the fibrous outer layer of broccoli stems, peel them first, and save the peels for vegetable broth

If you don’t like the fibrous outer layer of broccoli stems, peel them first
and save the peels for vegetable broth

Raw, Grated Broccoli Stems
Grated stems are the most versatile way to use this part of the broccoli plant. Use grated stems much as you would shredded lettuce, cabbage, or even sprouts:

  • Top a salad or sandwich
  • Quick saute with onions and garlic for an omelette filling
  • Combine with brown rice, olive oil, sea salt, tomato, and fresh mozzarella
  • Toss with soba noodles, shredded carrots, tofu or chicken, sesame oil, crushed red pepper, and soy or tamari sauce

So many possibilities! If you have a food processor with a grating disk, you can make quick work of grating broccoli stems, although a box grater will do the trick, too (just watch your knuckles). Four medium-sized stems will yield about 1½ cups of shredded broccoli. Store in the refrigerator in a closed container.

Light green, sweet, and crunchy: shredded broccoli stems

Light green, sweet, and crunchy: grated broccoli stems

Broccoli-Stem Pesto
Another way to use freshly grated broccoli stems? Combine ’em with olive oil, garlic, toasted pine nuts, a smidge of lemon juice, and cheese to make a broccoli pesto!

Rich, flavorful Broccoli Stem Pesto

Rich, flavorful Broccoli-Stem Pesto

Need a recipe? Start with the Carrot-Top Pesto recipe and make these easy modifications:

  • Substitute 1 heaping cup of grated broccoli stems for the carrot greens (or 1¼ cups if you prefer a thicker pesto)
  • Squeeze out excess liquid from grated broccoli
  • Add ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice when you add the olive oil
  • Optional: Substitute roasted garlic cloves for fresh for a less intense garlic flavor

Use the pesto as a sandwich spread, dip, or pasta sauce.

Oven-Roasted Broccoli Stems
Roasting vegetables is a great way to reduce food waste. When you oven-roast root vegetables or brassicas — broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, for example — that might be a bit old or limpy, the cooking process brings out their earthy sweetness while maintaining the flavor and nutritional value.

Recipe
My favorite oven-roasting technique for dense vegetables like broccoli and carrots comes from The Stone Edge Farm Cookbook by John McReynolds. Rather than expose the vegetables directly to oven heat for the entire cooking process, you cook the vegetables covered for half the time, which prevents them from drying out. If using oven-roasted stems as a side dish, plan on one stem per person (assuming stems are 1-1½” in diameter), less if you have additional side dishes.

Ingredients for roasting:

2 – 4 cleaned and peeled broccoli stems
1 – 1½ teaspoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 4 garlic cloves

What you need:

Glass baking dish
Tongs

For finishing oven-roasted stems:

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
¼ finely grated fresh lemon zest
½ – 1 tablespoon toasted pecans or sliced almonds
Optional: roasted garlic cloves

How to:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Meanwhile, prepare stems as described above in “Prepping the Stems.”
  2. Cut stems into quarters.
    Each “spear” should measure about ½ inch across the base.
  3. Toss spears with olive oil in the baking dish, ensuring that spear is coated. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Optional: You can roast several garlic cloves at the same time as roasting the broccoli stems. Pull 4 large cloves from a head of garlic. Do not remove the papery skin covering the cloves. Place the cloves in a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle them with olive oil, then fold the ends of the foil together. Place the packet of garlic cloves in the corner of the baking dish.
  5. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.
  6. After 25 minutes, remove the foil and using tongs, turn each spear over. Return the baking dish to the oven.
  7. Continue baking for 20-25 minutes or until spears are fork tender.
  8. Remove garlic cloves from foil and allow to cool slightly before peeling skin away.
  9. Allow spears to cool slightly before plating, then top with a sprinkling of fresh lemon juice, feta cheese, lemon zest, toasted nuts, roasted garlic cloves, and salt and pepper to taste.
Oven-roasted Broccoli Stems: topped with roasted garlic, lemon zest, toasted almonds, feta cheese

Oven-Roasted Broccoli Stems: topped with roasted garlic, lemon zest, toasted almonds, feta cheese

Do you eat broccoli stems? How do you prepare them? Share your tips in the comments below.

I Got Sunshine: DIY Organic Limoncello

April 11, 2015 § 1 Comment

Ah, limoncello! That little glass of sunshine on a cloudy day (or a sunny day, or… any day). Limoncello is lemony-sweet boozy goodness that you can enjoy as an apertif, a digestif, or anywhere in between. If you’ve got some patience, lemons, clear alcohol of at least 80 proof (vodka, for example), and simple syrup, you can make your own limoncello to enjoy whenever.

Sunshine in a glass

Sunshine in a glass

When I wrote about Lemonpalooza earlier this year, one of the projects on my list was to make a tasty organic limoncello. Maybe not the “it tastes just like the one on had in Italy that one time.” But a flavorful, balanced — not too sweet and not too boozy — indulgence, using good ingredients. Deciding on the right combo of lemons, alcohol and simple syrup meant getting into research-geek mode (definitely part of the fun!). I reviewed a variety of recipes from across the interwebs and dug for deets about alcohol content and aging times for liqueurs.

Thinking about making your own limoncello? Here are some tips to help you along.

Go Organic and Pesticide-Free
While not certified organic, the lemons I get from my backyard and from my neighbors are pesticide-free. In fact, other than the occasional watering — mostly from the little rainfall we’ve had this year — these lemons are just doing their own thing without the help of other chemicals. If you’re trying to follow a healthy, sustainable diet, why not consider doing same with homemade liqueurs?

Lemons
Limoncello made in Italy typically uses Femminello ‘St. Teresa’ lemons. Larger than our local ‘Eureka’, the Femminello’s zest has more lemon oil, which gives Italian limoncello that oh-so-lemony flavor. (Want to know more about Femminellos? Check out scordo.com.) While some of the specialty citrus growers are starting to cultivate Femminello lemons here in California, the fruit aren’t widely available in the market yet. Given the local abundance of Meyers at this time of year (and their unique sweet-tart flavor), they’re a good choice for a 650-style liqueur. Traditional? No. Delicious? Yes.

Grain Alcohol vs. Vodka
While in research-geek mode, I tracked down at least a dozen recipes from reputable sources. (Incidentally, all of them the best limoncello recipe evah! ) For every best ev-ah! recipe out there, there’s another best ev-ah! that contradicted the previous — particularly when it came to the type of alcohol to use: high-proof grain alcohol vs. 80-proof vodka. Given that I want to know who’s making my consumables, the source of their ingredients, and the distiller’s take on sustainability, I opted for an 80-proof organic vodka that has a clean, neutral finish. Choosing a lower-proof base alcohol also meant that I didn’t have to add as much simple syrup to dilute the alcohol percentage of my finished limoncello.

Simple Syrup and Alcohol Content
The alcohol content of commercially made limoncellos falls in the 26-32% range (that’s 52-64 proof). That percentage is determined by how much simple syrup you add to the lemon-infused alcohol. Sound complicated? It’s not. The more simple syrup you add, the more you dilute the alcohol, thus lowering the percentage. More simple syrup = less boozy and sweeter. Less simple syrup = more boozy and less sweet. Got it?

Taste will rule how much simple syrup you add to your limoncello, but if you want to geek out and make sure you get your limoncello in that 26-32% range for alcohol content, then website LimoncelloQuest can help. The site provides a calculator that quickly figures out for you how much simple syrup to add to your lemon-infused alcohol. Of course, you can skip the calculator and rely completely on your own palate, ‘cos taste-testing is part of the fun of creating your own liqueur.

Aging
If there’s any downside to making limoncello, it’s the waiting. The infusion process takes about four weeks, then there’s a few more days of waiting after you dilute the infusion with simple syrup. That’s right. More waiting. What I’ve learned is that the last part — that additional week of aging — is key. You have to let the simple syrup and lemon-infused alcohol do their thing in the dark for a few days — better yet, a week. During this time the alcohol will mellow a bit, reducing any harshness.

Back in February, I promised that if all went well, I’d post the recipe. <Drumroll> Well, two months later, and half three-quarters of the bottle gone, here it is: DIY Organic Limoncello.

Recipe: DIY Organic Limoncello
Yield: About 1 liter, depending on the amount of dilution and taste testing.
The base alcohol you use matters as much as the lemons, so choose a neutral, smooth vodka that fits your budget and dietary requirements or lifestyle (gluten-free, kosher, grain allergy, etc.). Note that I’ve specified organic cane sugar for this recipe, which produces a richer-flavored and darker-colored simple syrup than you’ll get using refined white sugar.

Use the best quality lemons and vodka for your taste and budget

Use the best quality lemons and vodka for your taste and budget

For the Infusion
What You Need:

1 bottle (750 ml) Tru Organic Vodka
10 organic / pesticide-free Meyer lemons
1-Liter glass jar, clean and dry
1 piece of plastic wrap, to cover the mouth of the jar

How to:

  1. Rinse the lemons to remove any dust or dirt.
    If necessary, use a small brush to scrub away any dirt or insects that don’t come off easily.

    Tip: keep a small scrub brush handy for cleaning citrus skins

    Tip: keep a small scrub brush handy for cleaning citrus skins

  2. Using a fine zester (Microplane or box grater), zest the lemons.
    Reserve naked lemons for other uses.
  3. Combine zest and vodka in the jar.
    Use any jar that has a snuggly fitting lid and a wide-ish opening, such as a mason jar. When the time comes, you’ll have to strain the zest out of the container, and you don’t want to struggle with some narrow opening.
  4. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar. Close the lid tightly and place in a cool, dark spot to infuse for four weeks.
    Put a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar before sealing

    Put a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar before sealing

    Suggestion: Label the jar with today’s date. A piece of masking tape and a Sharpie should do the trick.

  5. Create an alert on your calendar for four weeks from now so that you know when to dilute the infusion.

Simple Syrup
Yield: About 1½ cups

Ingredients:

8 ounces fair-trade, organic sugar
8 ounces filtered water

How to:

  1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover saucepan, and allow syrup to cool to room temperature before using.
  2. If not using immediately, store in a closed container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 weeks.
    Note: Simple syrup made with natural, organic sugar has slight brownish hue to it, which will darken the limoncello. It won’t be quite as day-glo yellow as limoncello made with refined sugar, but I think the flavor is better.

Diluting and Aging
What You’ll Need:

Clean 1-liter jar
Funnel
Several layers of cheesecloth
1½ cups simple syrup (recipe above)

How to:

  1. Line the funnel with several layers of cheesecloth and place it in the mouth of the clean jar.

    Line the funnel with several layers of cheesecloth before straining

    Line the funnel with several layers of cheesecloth before straining

  2. Pour the infused alcohol and zest into the funnel, straining the zest from the liquid.
  3. Squeeze all liquid from the cheesecloth into the jar.

    Make sure to get all of that lemon-infused goodness out of the zest

    Make sure to get all of that lemon-infused goodness out of the zest

  4. Pour 1 cup of the simple syrup into the jar and stir. Taste the mixture.
    It might taste boozy at this point; the alcohol content will be about 30%, or 60 proof. If you think this might be to your taste, close the jar, and put it in a cool, dark place to age for a week. If, after a week, your limoncello is still too boozy or harsh, you can add more simple syrup at that time. Just give it a few more days to age.
    If you think you’d prefer a sweeter limoncello, add more simple syrup, two tablespoons at time. Stir, then taste. FYI, I added the full 12 ounces of simple syrup all at once for 27% alcohol content (54 proof) and ended up with the perfect balance of alcohol and sweetness for my palate. I probably could have gone with just a tablespoon or two less, but it’s so damn good!
  5. Age your final mixture for a week, then transfer to the final storage bottle or container. Store in refrigerator or freezer. Serve chilled.picnic-bottle
    You might notice a “scum” forming at the top of the container. This is a coagulation of the natural lemon oils in the mixture (it’s flav-ah!). Simply stir or shake the container to redistribute the oils.

Have you made limoncello? What’s your best ev-ah recipe?

Waste-Less Wednesday: Fava Leaves, Hold the Chianti

April 8, 2015 § 3 Comments

Waste-Less Wednesday posts are all about ways to reduce or eliminate food waste, particularly at home. Most of the posts to date have focused on creative ideas for using more of the food that comes into your kitchen, especially fruits and vegetables. We’ve looked at ways to repurpose carrot greens, enjoy a glut of backyard citrus, and even a savory way to use up too much homemade peanut butter.

Reducing food waste at home means getting creative and thinking outside our standard diet choices. Whether you simply love food, consider yourself a food geek, or are even just a tiny bit adventurous when it comes to trying new recipes, the experience can be a lot of fun!

But there are other points in the food chain where we, as consumers — as eaters — can help reduce food waste in our local food system. Again, it goes back to rethinking what and how we eat. If you shop farmers’ markets or get a weekly CSA box, these are great sources for test-driving new foods. I’m seeing some creative ways that farmers are reducing food waste from field to market by selling whole plants (e.g., carrots with greens attached) or assorted greens that extend beyond a few kinds of lettuce. Case in point: fava leaves from Happy Boy Farms, available by the bag at the Saturday San Mateo Farmer’s Market.

Fresh fava leaves from the San Mateo Farmers' Market

Fresh fava leaves from the San Mateo Farmers’ Market

Fava leaves grow at the top of a fava bean plant, are 2½-3 inches long with pointed ends, dark-green in color, and velvety soft to the touch. Available mid-to-late spring, they’re not only edible, but are a surprising delight.

Texture-wise, fava leaves are a bit sturdier than spinach, and yet they seem more delicate. Inhaling their scent is like smelling a stash of freshly picked beans from a grassy field. And the flavor? Fresh, uncooked leaves taste sweet and herbaceous, with a slight hint of bitterness. Cooking the greens brings out their sweetness, along with a delicately nutty flavor component.

So once you get your bag of fresh fava leaves home, what can you do with them? Just about anything that you would do with spinach: create a salad, add to egg dishes and pastas, top bruschettas and pizzas. Where to start when pairing fava leaves with other flavors? Think Mediterranean. Some suggestions to mix and match:

  • Citrus: Lemon, grapefruit, or orange
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Herbs: Mint, Thyme, or Dill
  • Pepper: Black pepper, Crushed red pepper
  • Soft or crumbly white cheeses: ricotta, goat, feta
  • Hard cheeses: aged manchego, pecorino, parmesan

Following are some suggested dishes for fava leaves. Hopefully they’ll inspire you with ideas for creating your own dishes, made to your taste. As always, feel free to make adjustments for your diet and palate. If you want to 86 the cheese, replace oranges with grapefruits, or add some sriracha, do it!

Salad: Fava Leaf and Spinach Salad with Orange, Smoked Mozzarella, and Toasted Pecans
For a little leaf variety in your salad, consider pairing fava leaves and spinach. The textures are just different enough to create interest, and the leaf flavors work well together. Dress the leaves with olive oil and a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice, then season lightly with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Fava Leaf and Spinach Salad with Orange, Smoked Mozzarella, and Toasted Pecans

Fava Leaf and Spinach Salad with Orange, Smoked Mozzarella, and Toasted Pecans

Top with orange segments, toasted pecan pieces, and ½-inch chunks of smoked mozzarella. (Want to make it vegan? Substitute smoked tofu for the mozzarella.) The combo of herbaceous leaves with the sweetness of the orange and slight smokiness of the cheese is craveable. Toasted pecans add just the right amount of crunch to balance the soft cheese and leaves.

Switch it up: Substitute ruby grapefruit pieces for oranges, toasted cashews or pepitas for pecans, and goat cheese for smoked mozzarella.

Pasta: Soba Noodles with Fava Leaves, Hot-Smoked Salmon, and Preserved Lemon
Soba noodles are so versatile; they’re my go-to pasta! (Plus, the cooking time is super short: 4 minutes.) They’re sturdy enough to stand up to most “toppings,” and the flavorful earthiness dances well with so many partners — from sweet to salty to smokey, with a dash of umami thrown in.

Soba Noodles with Fava Leaves, Hot Smoked Salmon, and Preserved Lemon

Soba Noodles with Fava Leaves, Hot Smoked Salmon, and Preserved Lemon

For each serving of this dish, toss soba noodles with chiffonade fava leaves, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and matchsticks of perserved lemon rind (thinly slice the rind of approximately 1 preserved lemon wedge). Top with about 2 ounces of hot-smoked salmon. Finish it off with a sprinkling of fresh thyme and a grating of hard cheese, such as aged manchego or asiago.

Note: Serve this dish should at room temperature or slightly cool. I assembled it by pulling all ingredients from the refrigerator — including leftover soba noodles. If you’re making the noodles the same day that you make this dish, be sure to rinse the noodles in cold water until cool.

Switch it up: Substitute fresh, grilled salmon for the hot-smoked salmon — or try cold-smoked salmon. Make it vegan by substituting tofu or roasted cauliflower for the salmon (and 86 the cheese). Substitute goat cheese for hard, grated cheese.

Brunch: Poached Egg and Sautéed Fava Greens on Toast with Feta
Sauteing fava greens softens them a bit, accents the sweetness, and brings out a slightly nutty flavor component. Because fava leaves are sturdier than spinach, they don’t wilt as much when heated, providing a nice nest for your poached egg.

Put an egg on it: Poached Egg and Sautéed Fava Greens on Toast with Feta

Put an egg on it: Poached Egg and Sautéed Fava Greens on Toast with Feta

To prepare this quick-and-easy dish, chiffonade 1½ cups of fava leaves and saute them in 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat for several minutes until wilted (seriously, 2-3 minutes oughta do it). Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, make the poached egg and toast a sturdy piece of bread (go for a rustic sourdough or spelt bread). Brush the toast with olive oil, then top with the sautéed fava leaves, then the poached egg. Garnish with crumbled feta cheese, crushed red pepper, and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.

Switch it up: Substitute sriracha for the crushed red pepper (squeeze small dollops on the plate or the egg). Replace feta with goat cheese.

Have you tried fava leaves? How do you prepare them? Share your ideas in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Wasteless Wednesday: Blood Orange-Rosemary Marmalade

March 28, 2015 § 2 Comments

March was full of activity Chez 650Food, and things have been busy, busy around here — lest you think I was taking a hiatus and had run off to some tropical beach. (sigh. I wish.). Following home reno projects, spring cleaning, and a trip to our nation’s capital for the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference, I’m looking forward to a bit of calm (read: quiet) in April.

One project that I did manage to check off my list in March was a first attempt at canning (booyah!). Turns out that marmalade is a good solution for baby-stepping your way into canning, not to mention a delicious way to use up citrus fruits. In previous posts I’ve written about ways to enjoy a bounty of lemons (here, here, and here), but what about oranges? The last of the blood oranges are dwindling, but the navels and Valencias just keep a-comin’.

Mmmmm, marmalade

Mmmmm, marmalade

When I was doing research for a Waste-Less Wednesday post on herbs, I came across a recipe for Orange-Rosemary Marmalade in Jerry Traunfeld’s The Herbfarm CookbookLet me tell you: the recipe is fool-proof. You don’t have to be a professional cook or experienced canner to get this one right. Nor do you have to spend hours over the stove. Best of all, the recipe can easily be halved for smaller households (because, really, who has space for 6 jars of marmalade??).

It doesn't get more Bay Area than this: fresh rosemary, backyard lemons, and springtime blood oranges

It doesn’t get more Bay Area than this: fresh rosemary, backyard lemons, and springtime blood oranges

Why is marmalade such a good choice for first-time canners?

  • Fruit prep is simple: wash, dry, and slice.
  • No special ingredients required: citrus fruits are high in pectin, a carbohydrate found in the cell walls of fruit, which acts as a gelling agent when combined with water. Citrus brings its own pectin to the party, which means that you don’t need to buy or add pectin.
  • Not so time-consuming: Marmalade is fast! Total cooking time is 45-60 minutes, with the actual, hands-on part happening during the last 15 minutes or so.
  • No food waste: marmalade is a total win because you use the whole fruit: rind, pith, and pulp! (No seeds, though. Make sure to remove those.)

Before pointing you to the recipe, it’s worth saying a few things about the elephant in the room: botulism. Many first-time canners are worried that they’re going to botulize themselves and their families, so here’s some info that might help ease your mind. First of all, cases of botulism are very rare in the US. According to the CDC, an average of 145 cases are reported annually, and only 15% of those are caused by food. (To put that in perspective, the US population is about 318.9 million people.)

Food-borne botulism that results from home-preserved foods typically occurs in low-acid, high-moisture foods, such as tomatoes, green beans, and beets. Citrus-based marmalade is a high-acid food. The boiling process reduces the moisture content significantly. Sterilizing the jars by boiling them for at least 10 minutes is essential to reducing any possible contamination as well. For more information about food-borne botulism, check out this article on botulism from the CDC and this detailed post about canning from Food in Jars.

So, thanks to the wonders of Google Books, you can check out the recipe yourself and make either a full or half batch as suits your needs. I made a half batch, which yielded 2 pint jars and a not-quite-full half-pint jar.

"Yes,

The ingredient list is short: oranges, lemon(s), sugar, water, rosemary. Choose organic fruit if you can, then you’ll only have to give it a quick rinse and scrub to remove any dirt.

Simple, organic goodness (cane sugar, blood oranges, lemon, rosemary) and filtered water

Ingredients: Simple, organic goodness (cane sugar, blood oranges,
lemon, rosemary) and filtered water

You can use any kind of orange, but the combo of blood oranges with rosemary elevates the marmalade’s flavor and gives it a pretty color. Plus, making marmalade now and preserving it for later means that you can enjoy blood oranges any time of year.

Beautiful regional blood oranges and one very local Eureka lemon

Beautiful regional blood oranges and one very local Eureka lemon

The recipe is a two-parter, so you’ll need to plan ahead a bit. On the first day, prep the fruit: wash, dry, slice in half and remove seeds, then slice the halves thinly. If you have a food processor with a slicing disk, you can get the work done in just a few minutes.

Thinly sliced fruit, ready for the pot

Thinly sliced fruit, ready for the pot

Sliced fruit goes into the pot with water for an overnight soak that softens the rinds and releases the pectin. On the second day, you boil the water and fruit for 30 minutes. The fruit will soften further as it cooks down and the pectin is released. The color will start to change from a rich blood orange to a pinkish-orange color.

Cooking the citrus and rosemary with sugar and water

Boiling the sliced blood oranges and lemon with water

After boiling the fruit for 30 minutes, add the sugar and rosemary sprigs (wrapped in cheesecloth and tied) and continue boiling for 15-30 minutes. This is the part where you want to be nearby and pay attention. You’ll also want to sterilize the pint jars by submerging them in boiling water for at least 10 minutes and sterilize the canning lids and bands in a separate saucepan.

As the marmalade mixture starts to gel, the bubbles will change from small, quick champagne-like bubbles to larger, thicker, more viscous bubbles. Once you see those larger bubbles (around 15-20 minutes in), do a “wrinkle test” to see if the marmalade has set up or needs to continue cooking.

Doin' the marmalade wrinkle test

Doin’ the marmalade wrinkle test

Have a chilled plate waiting in the refrigerator or freezer. Spoon a small amount of marmalade jelly (not the fruit) from the pot onto the plate and return the plate to the refrigerator. Let the jelly chill for a minute or two, then test it by removing the plate from the refrigerator and pushing the jelly with your finger. If it wrinkles, your marmalade is finished and ready for canning. If it’s still smooth and syrupy, keep cooking. I found that the wrinkle test was positive at 27 minutes and my marmalade was done! (YMMV.)

You don’t need any special equipment for making this marmalade, other than some pint-sized canning jars with lids and lid bands. In the 650 you can find pint-sized jars sold in packages of 4 or 12 at Orchard Supply, Ace Hardware, Target, and Whole Foods.

Filling hot jars with hot marmalade

Filling hot jars with hot marmalade

The Ball Jar folks also make an inexpensive canning-tool “kit” that includes a jar lifter, headspace tool (for measuring how much space to leave below the mouth of the jar), wide-mouth funnel, and a magnetic lid lifter. The kit, which is available at Orchard Supply and Ace Hardware, is a “nice-to-have,” but not required. You can substitute items that you likely already have at home. Got a pair of kitchen tongs? Create a gripping jar lifter and lid lifter by wrapping a thick rubber band around each wide, scalloped end of the tongs. Keep a metal ruler handy for measuring headspace.

The real test of canning success is waiting to find out how well you sealed the jars. You won’t know until the jars have cooled almost completely whether or not you have a good seal. If you press on the center of the lid, and it doesn’t pop back at you, congratulations! You’ve got a good seal. Refrigerate jars that don’t have a good seal — or any about which you might be concerned. Also, refrigerate any jars that weren’t filled to the headspace recommended in the recipe. You’ll want to open and use those first.toast-n-marm-closeup

I’ll admit to doing the happy dance in my kitchen when those lids didn’t pop back at me. Maybe it wasn’t a Tom Hanks “I have made fire!” (Castaway) moment, but it was pretty cool. Have you made marmalade? Share your experience or ideas in the comments.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Peanut Sauce

March 18, 2015 § 4 Comments

Last Friday’s Birthday Week Indulgence was lunch at one of my go-to “quick food” spots in the 650: Asian Box. (More about that some other time.) While I was watching the locals fight it out for lunch-time parking spots in the ridiculously crowded Palo Alto Town & Country shopping center and digging into my usual — rice noodles with tofu and vegetables, topped with peanut sauce and sriracha — I was thinking about how essential that peanut sauce was. That my Box lunch wouldn’t be nearly as craveable without it (at least not enough to get me to brave the Town & Country parking lot on Friday afternoon). That I’m ambivalent about peanut butter, but will happily eat peanut sauce. Peanut sauce is delicious and complex, with that umami thing that keeps me coming back for more.

So, come Sunday afternoon when I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to make space in my jam-packed refrigerator (and which kitchen experiments I need to sacrifice to the compost bin), I come across not one, but two containers of DIY Crunchy Peanut Butter. Oof, I’m not eating that any time soon. Unless! Why not make my own peanut sauce? I gathered up a few condiments from the refrigerator (confession: I love condiments and probably have waaay too many), a container of simple syrup (leftover from making limoncello), and olive oil.

The version I came up with isn’t “authentic,” but it is easy to make, flavorful, and adds some punch to a quick meal of noodles and steamed vegetables. The fun in making this sauce from scratch was using ingredients that I had on hand and thinking of them as building blocks of flavor. How was I going to balance sweet, tart, spicy, with that umami flavor that makes peanut sauce so interesting and craveable?

First things first: I had to thin the peanut butter, which mean adding some oil. Olive oil is my default for savory cooking, so I’d added it to the peanut butter, almost without thinking. (Later it occurred that peanut oil might have been a better choice, but oh well.) I added a touch of sesame oil for variety and to complement the roasted peanut flavor. That left me to figure out — by trial and error — how to add complexity while balancing the sweet, tart, and salty components. I started by adding some ponzu sauce, to hit the notes of sweetness, saltiness, and tartness all at once. From there I adjusted the sweet/spicy combo by adding some simple syrup and some sriracha. Finally I added some fish sauce for its umami quality. Fish sauce on its own? Not so great. But it really does add that final oomph to a sauce.

I’ve been trying not to slather this sauce on every meal this week, but it’s my new favorite condiment. Give it a try, and feel free to tweak the flavor components to your taste — that’s the best part of DIY!

Recipe: Peanut Sauce
Yield: About 1/2 cup

While this sauce is an easy pairing for Asian-style noodles, such as soba or mai fun, you can also use it as salad dressing or a dipping sauce for grilled vegetables, chicken or tofu. Need more sauce? Double the recipe!

Ingredients:

2.5 ounces DIY Crunchy Peanut Butter (or your favorite brand of natural, crunchy peanut butter), warmed/softened in the microwave on high for 15 seconds
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1 tablespoon ponzu sauce
1½ teaspoons sriracha (or to taste)
1 teaspoon fish sauce (or to taste)

Peanut sauce ingredients

Peanut sauce ingredients: ponzu, sriracha, sesame oil, fish sauce, olive oil, crunchy peanut butter, and organic simple syrup made with cane sugar

How to:

  1. Place the peanut butter in a small mixing bowl.
  2. Add the olive and sesame oils to the mixing bowl and mix with a fork, combining until smooth.
    Keep stirring until all of the oil has been combined with the peanut butter. The mixture will appear thinner and lighter colored, but don’t worry, it will thicken up when you add the remaining ingredients.

    Olive and sesame oils combined with the peanut butter

    Olive and sesame oils combined with the peanut butter

  3. Add the simple syrup and ponzu sauce to the peanut butter and oil mixture, stirring in a tight center (creating a whirlpool-like effect).
    Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth. You’re creating a water-in-oil emulsion by adding the liquid simple syrup and ponzu sauce. The result is a lot like what happens when you make a chocolate ganache.
  4. Add the fish sauce and sriracha to the sauce, mixing thoroughly to combine.

    Peanut sauce

    See how easy that was? Peanut sauce!

  5. Taste the sauce and adjust the sweetness, saltiness, and spice to your taste by adding a bit more simple syrup, fish sauce, or sriracha.
    Take it easy with the fish sauce; a little goes a long way.
  6. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.

    final-plate2

    Try this at home: Brown rice mai fun noodles with steamed flowering
    broccoli, shredded rainbow carrots, minced fresh basil, fresh peanut sauce
    and a squeeze of lime

Waste-Less Wednesday: Soba Noodles with 650 Gremolata

March 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

Today’s Birthday Week indulgence is homemade comfort food that brings together two recent Waste-Less Wednesday ingredients: lemons and herbs. Remember those 7-Day Preserved Lemons? After a week of climbing the kitchen stepladder to shake those babies up, it’s time to crack them open and take them for a taste test!

So... how'd they turn out?

So… how’d they turn out?

Opening the mason jar of marinated lemons after it spent a week in the surprisingly warm upper-reaches of my kitchen, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would they actually taste ok, or would the flavors be off? Would this be another kitchen experiment to hit the compost bin?

The first bite was soft, tart, and salty. The rinds and flesh had softened, but weren’t mooshy, with the lemon flesh coming away from the soft rinds easily. The flavor was definitely Meyer — lemon with a hint of tangerine — and tart, but not puckeringly so. Ooooh, this was gonna be good! (And a little weird when I realized that I was eating wedges of lemon!) I almost forgot the final step of the process, which was to cover the lemons in olive oil to help preserve them in the fridge. So, now I have these salty, somewhat-tart, soft lemons dipped in olive oil. Nothin’ bad about that!

Almost forgot to top up the jar with olive oil!

Almost forgot to top up the jar with olive oil!

In general, I wouldn’t eat these preserved lemons out of the jar, but I could think of all the ways that they would be a flavorful accent to pasta, fish, or a composed salad. What to make first? I love the idea of gremolata — a classic Italian condiment of fresh lemon zest, parsley, and garlic — but with a twist. When making the classic version, you’ll get the best results when all ingredients are freshest. But what if your ingredients aren’t super-fresh? How about a variation that brings together roasted garlic, preserved lemons, and minced parsley?

Using preserved lemons means that you can use the whole lemon, not just the zest. Roasting garlic cloves lets you extend the life of your garlic, giving it a sweet but complex flavor and soft texture that makes it more versatile. And even less-than-fresh parsley has something to add to this combo! (I’ll confess that I keep my parsley in a ziplock bag for two weeks or more, weeding out the <ahem> discolored or floppy branches. It’s not always pretty, but I’m doing what I can to get the most out of a bunch of parsley.) And the best part is that you can prepare all the components in advance and store them in your refrigerator until you’re ready to put them together!

So, inspired by the classic gremolata, here’s my recipe for a homemade mid-week meal that is flavorful, comforting, and indulgent.

Recipe: Soba Noodles with 650 Gremolata
Yield: 1 serving
This pasta is on the lighter side and perfect for a weeknight spring meal or weekend lunch. The recipe makes enough for one person. Double up if you’re cooking for two (or just want some leftovers). Scale up if you’re cooking for a crowd. Feel free to make adjustments to the parsley, garlic, or lemon or amount of pasta based on your taste and preferences. Add a seasonal green salad with grated carrots or tomato wedges to round out the meal.

Ingredients (per serving):

1 wedge preserved lemon, chopped finely
4 large roasted garlic cloves*, peeled or removed from their papery casings
2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped finely
2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauté pan
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 – 3 tablespoons shredded cheese (Asiago, Parmesan, or a blend)
2 – 2¼ ounces soba noodles
Salt and black pepper to taste
Optional: 1 – 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Make the preserved lemons and roasted garlic in advance and store them in your refrigerator

Make the preserved lemons and roasted garlic in advance and store them in your refrigerator

* To roast garlic: You can roast garlic in a toaster oven or toss it into the baking dish when making roasted vegetables in a full-sized oven. Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut the top off a head of garlic and peel away a couple of the head’s outer paper-like layers. Place the garlic head in the center of a 5″ square piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle the garlic with olive oil (don’t douse it) and then fold the foil around the garlic head, enclosing it. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the cloves are soft enough to pierce with a sharp knife or skewer.

What you need:

Small sauté pan
Medium bowl
4-quart pot for the noodles
Strainer

How to:

  1. Start heating the water for the noodles while you make the gremolata.
    Review the package directions for the amount of water to boil. By the time you’ve made the gremolata, the pasta should be ready to go into the pot.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in the sauté pan over medium heat.
  3. Add the chopped preserved lemon and sauté for 2-3 minutes until lightly brown and fragrant. Remove from heat.

    Saute the preserved lemon just until it colors a bit and is fragrant, 2-3 minutes.

    Sauté the preserved lemon just until it colors a bit and is fragrant,
    2-3 minutes.

  4. Place the garlic cloves in the medium bowl and crush them with the back of a spoon until you have a garlic paste.

    Soft, roasted garlic cloves crush easily with the back of a spoon -- or you can use a mortar and pestle, if you wanna get fancy

    Soft, roasted garlic cloves crush easily with the back of a spoon — or use a
    mortar and pestle, if you wanna get fancy

  5. Add the olive oil to the garlic paste and mix together using a spoon or fork.
  6. Add the parsley, sautéed lemon, and roasted red pepper, mixing to combine. Set aside while you make the noodles.

    650 gremolata: ready for pasta

    650 gremolata: ready for pasta

  7. Follow the package directions for making soba noodles.
    Make sure that you drain the noodles well, removing as much water as possible after cooking.
  8. Add the noodles to the gremolata mixture, tossing to coat the pasta thoroughly.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Turn out into a serving bowl or dish and sprinkle with shredded cheese.

    Mmmm... earthy soba noodles with garlicky, lemony, herbal goodness.

    Mmmm… earthy soba noodles with garlicky, lemony, herbal goodness.

  11. Want to add to the indulgence? Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.

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