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2015 0620 Wild black raspberries
“Follow the black dots,” he said. Into the woods and the bramble patch where a tremendous harvest of wild black raspberries lay before us. We were outfitted in long pants and long sleeves to avoid the poison ivy, which runs rampant among the arcing canes of red and black fruit. The berries on higher, drier ground along the Millstone River have ripened first but as the land slopes down and the river bends, there are many that are still green and hard as rocks. This adventure could go on for weeks.

The berries seemed rather dry and sturdy compared to the red raspberries that we will harvest at the CSA farm or the tasteless blowsy sort that the grocer stocks in plastic containers, “fresh” from thousands of miles away. The wild berries are small and seedy of course but contain taste bombs that explode in your mouth with a lingering wine-like flavor. 2015 0620 Black raspberries in bowl
With the berries, we made summer cake and pancakes, tossed them with the first melons of summer and the last lettuce, have plans for ice cream and sorbet, and of course, we made jam. Just like the winter’s pomegranate experiment, this jam needs to be treated gently so as not to overcook it and make it tough. I say tough because I left the seeds in and they provide a kind of structure to the jam, which is nicely offset by jelly that’s not too firm.2015 0622 Black raspberry jam
I made a second version, with apples and lemon, so that I can develop natural pectin to avoid overcooking and add less sugar, so long as the overall preservative content makes the jam safe over time. The recipe needs tweaking but the approach works.

Wild Black Raspberry Jam
2 qt wild black raspberries, lightly rinsed and drained
Sugar (about 2-3 c)
Juice of 1 lemon, seeds and peel reserved
Mash the black raspberries and add half the volume of sugar (if you have 4 c of mashed berries, add 2 c sugar). Juice the lemon and add the juice to the berry mixture. Tie the lemon seeds and a bit of the peel in a muslin sack and submerge it into the berries. Let the mixture sit for several hours or overnight until the juice renders.
Place the berry mixture in a large heavy pan with a wide bottom and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove and cool. Cover with crumpled parchment paper and set aside for several hours or overnight (refrigerated).
Prepare jars for water bath canning and keep them hot. Place a saucer in the freezer to test the gel.
Remove the lemon sack and bring the berry mixture to a boil over medium high heat and cook, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching, until the jam test for gel, about 7 minutes (but check earlier if large bubbles form). A drop placed on a frozen saucer should crinkle when touched.
Ladle the hot jam into the prepared jars, wipe the rims and close with two-part lids. Process in a water bath for ten minutes after the water boils. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let sit for five minutes before removing to a counter to sit, undisturbed, until cool.
Make 4 eight-ounce jars or 8 four-ounce jars.

Combining two annual pantry traditions illustrates our kitchen ecosystem. One is stocking up on the first berry crop of the summer and the other is making vanilla extract. What a combo. 2015 0610 Bowl of strawberries

I find that strawberries turned into jam need a companion ingredient to keep them from being cloying. Over the past two weekends, I’ve made Strawberry and Roasted Rhubarb Jam (pictured) and Strawberry Jam with Pinot Noir. For the final batch of this session, I decided to add vanilla beans to the strawberries, reminiscent of a successful Nectarine Vanilla Jam from past summers. My timely decision worked well on two fronts: it made a very tasty jam and it used the remnants of whole vanilla beans and vanilla sugar before the cycle of vanilla extract begins anew.2015 0610 IMG_5995 Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

That’s the ecosystem part. I’ve always thought of the process that uses every viable part of our food ingredients as “waste-not-want-not.” Eugenia Bone characterized this phenomenon more aptly in her recent book, The Kitchen Ecosystem. The phrase struck a chord when I first heard it. Eke out nutrients from even the most unexpected parts of a plant, compost the rest to feed the garden, and start all over (if you grow your own).

Vanilla beans are a luxury. They’re exotic and expensive. I buy a pack of plump Tahitian or Bourbon beans online every summer and soak a few rods in vodka or bourbon (not to be confused with the moniker of one type of bean) for 6-8 weeks to obtain delicious vanilla extract. As I use fresh beans throughout the year, after scraping out the tiny black seeds, I insert the shells in the pool of extract or bury them in a jar of sugar to produce an aromatic and lightly flavored confection. At the end of the cycle this year, I combined the remaining, slightly shriveled fresh pods from my stash with strawberries macerating in vanilla sugar. I also scraped drunken seeds from the pods in the extract jars into the mix.

I made the jam in my normal way, by letting the fruit macerate in sugar for several hours, boiling the mixture for 3-4 minutes and, once cooled, letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight. I drained the liquid from the berries and boiled it until the gel starts to set, and then added the berries, cooking until it tests for a good but not too hard gel. This method promotes gelling and keeps you from overcooking the berries. Also, I jam only 1-2 quarts of berries at a time since the small batch allows me to minimize cooking time.2015 0610 Vanilla extract

This was a good experiment. Now it’s time to order beans for vanilla extract. I typically soak 3 vanilla beans, split vertically but not separated from the stem, in 1 cup of alcohol, and scale up from there. The mellowest is bourbon but vodka is fine. Keep tightly capped in a dark spot (cupboard) and shake daily at first and then weekly for about 2 months. I do not add sugar, which is actually an ingredient in the vanilla extract most commonly found on the market. This keeps a long time (years unless you use it up) and is a little stronger than what you buy in the grocery store.

Strawberry Vanilla Jam
1 heaping qt strawberries
1½ c sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice, seeds and peel reserved
2 vanilla pods
Clean and hull the strawberries, cut them into ½-inch pieces and place them in bowl. Toss with sugar. Add the lemon juice. Tie a strip of lemon peel and reserved seeds in a small muslin sack and add it to the mixture. Halve the vanilla beans crosswise and lengthwise and scrape the small black sees into the strawberry mixture. Toss the scraped pods into the strawberries. Stir, cover and let sit for about 6 hours or overnight (if overnight, transfer to the refrigerator).
Pour the ingredients into a wide, shallow pan and bring to a boil, cooking rapidly for 4 minutes. Remove to a heatproof glass bowl and let cool. When cooled, cover the bowl and let the mixture sit overnight.
Prepare the canning jars and set a saucer in the freezer for testing the gel.
Drain the juice from the berries, reserving the fruit. Remove the muslin sack and vanilla bean pods. Bring the liquid to a boil in a wide shallow pan over medium-high heat. Boil for 4 minutes (it will have started to gel), add the reserved fruit, and boil for another 2-3 minutes or until a small drop placed on the frozen saucer tests for gel.
Ladle the jam into the prepared jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes before removing to the counter to cool, undisturbed.
Makes 4-5 four-ounce jars.

Vanilla Extract, Homestyle
Use plump vanilla beans, 3 per cup of alcohol. I use Grade B Bourbon beans (named for the island where they originate, not the liquor) or Tahitian. Split the beans vertically but do not detach the halves. Place them in a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. Cover them with the alcohol: bourbon will give a mellow flavor, vodka works fine but is a little harsher. Store in a dark place for 2 months before using. In the first few weeks, shake the jar daily, then every so often. Store in a dark place or dark bottle. I do not bother to decant this (unless giving it as a gift).

2015 0525 Peas and basil from my gardenI would love my kitchen garden to be a true French potager. A pleasing and productive assortment of herbs, vegetables and flowers artfully arranged. A place where the paint box is as much at home as trowels and shears. It’s more prosaic than that but plenty productive. From now until the killing frosts of fall, I can rely on the kitchen garden for a handful of this or that, enough for a meal or at least the main feature of one. 2015 0525 Pasta with Peas and BasilI typically plant a few varieties of each vegetable or herb. Some are trials for our larger farm, and some are just a local experiment. I discovered yellow snow peas from India a few years ago and they’re now a staple. I added a prolific types of snap pea this year, and a darling dwarf shelling pea. I have ten varieties of basil that I bought as small plants. As they are ready to transplant into the garden when the nights become warm, I pinch them back and toss a handful into wholewheat (or buckwheat) linguine lightened by long threads of zucchini and garnished with blanched peas. All it needs is a spoonful of aromatic olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Spring in a bowl.

2015 0510 Pickled Hinona Kabu TurnipAdventuresome farmers are my favorites. Those who dare to grow something for market that no one heard of before or sees everyday, whether farmers’ markets, grocery stores, or authentic farm-to-table restaurants. They – like blogs and occasionally newspapers – introduce us to produce, prepared food or techniques that take us back to folkways or transport us to faraway places. That’s how I learned you could grow ginger in New Jersey and that there are hundreds of varieties of eggplant, peppers, and even cucumbers available for the home gardener. Not to mention, there’s a new world of roasting and pickling out there.

I went to one of our several local farmers’ markets last weekend, expecting to buy freshly harvested asparagus, radishes, chard and Hakurei turnips. They were all there, of course, but alongside the picture-perfect globes of white turnip were bundles of long, skinny, hairy, magenta and white roots labeled Hinona Kabu turnips. Huh? This was going to be exciting. 2015 0511 IMG_5860 Hinona Kabu TurnipsThey were wonderful raw, crisper and denser than their Hakerei cousins. They were also wonderful lightly pickled in the traditional Japanese way, salted to sweat out excess moisture and marinated for a few hours in rice vinegar and a little sugar. This pickle is known as Sakura Zuke or Cherry Blossom Pickle. There is a condiment that pickles actual cherry blossoms, but I guess this is so called because of its signature pink color.

I did not peel the turnips since the skin is not tough, but I did remove the hairy roots. They actually rub off quite easily with a rough towel. I decided to cut the turnips into diagonal wedges rather than thin slices or sticks (which would also be nice) because this gave me the option of serving them on toothpicks with raw turnips and sesame rice crackers or dicing them to toss into a salad with raw radishes and fennel. Either way, they were a big hit.

I was so excited by this discovery that I ordered seeds to plant in early summer and again in early fall so that I can enjoy these special turnips any time.

Sakura Zuke, Pickled Hinona Kabu Turnips adapted from Kitazawa Seed Co
I small bunch (12 pieces) Japanese long turnips (Hinona Kabu)
2 tsp sea salt or Kosher salt (not iodized)
½ c rice vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
Remove the greens from the turnips and set aside for another use. Remove the hairy roots by plucking them or rubbing them off with a coarse towel. Do not peel.
Cut the turnips into thick or thin slices or sticks and place them in a medium colander over a shallow bowl. Sprinkle with salt, place a weighted plate on top and let them sweat for 30 minutes. Brush off the excess salt and liquid and place the turnip in a bowl with a lid.
Combine the rice vinegar and sugar. (Scale up the mixture so that the liquid just covers the turnip.) Heat slightly to dissolve the sugar, if necessary. Pour over the sliced turnips. When cool, cover and marinate for 8 hours or overnight. Store in the refrigerator.

2015 0426  Root soup with lovage and orange
I love lovage. You could probably tell that from the banner on this blog. Several times, I have tried to make the banner reflect my big theme – pantry — but I still come back to a field of the herb named lovage. Since it’s one of the first herbs to emerge from my pot garden in spring, it reminds me of regeneration, a time to start again. The prospect of the pantry starts in the garden after all. And so it goes…
Like many names, the word lovage has an etymological history that evolved from culture to culture, generation to generation. Did you ever play the word game called “Telephone?” It’s the one where people gather in a circle, initiate a word or phrase and whisper it person to person all around until it reaches the last one who blurts out something – to everyone’s surprise — dramatically metamorphosed from the original. Well, that’s what happens to words and phrases over history, nuanced by contextual associations and variations in native tongues.

Some say lovage originated as love-ache. We could certainly read into that. Plausible, since the word “ache” (pronounced “aitch”) meant parsley, a similar looking herb. Actually, it seems to trace back to its Latin-named genus, Levisticum, which is related to a like-sounding word referring to Liguria, a section of the Italian Riviera where it grows naturally. Lovage is more closely related to celery and carrots (of the same genus) than to love. Its flavor and the texture of its leaves are reminiscent of celery – no surprise – and faintly resemble the after-taste of young carrot greens.

Here, I combined onion, potatoes and a rutabaga from last fall with homemade chicken stock to create a creamy but non-dairy soup infused with lovage leaves. I stirred in a large spoonful of orange marmalade from the pantry to complement the rutabaga. (Orange and rutabaga are a great combination. I put orange zest in scalloped potatoes and rutabaga with great success.) Garnished with chopped lovage leaves and additional marmalade, this is one of those dishes that cross between late winter and early spring with a remembrance of past bounty and the promise of a growing season ahead.

Potato and Rutabaga Soup with Lovage and Orange Marmalade
1 small onion, chopped
Butter or vegetable oil, or a combination
1 small or half large rutabaga, cubed
2-3 medium potatoes, peeled or not, and cubed
4 c homemade chicken stock or vegetable broth or water
Salt and pepper
Lovage leaves
Orange marmalade
In a large pan over medium heat, saute the onion slowly in butter or oil until translucent. Add the rutabaga, stir to coat with oil and cook for a few minutes. Add the potatoes and a little broth, cooking to braise the vegetables lightly. Add additional stock to cover the vegetables and cook over low heat, covering the pan, until the vegetables are tender and falling apart, about 20 minutes. Add about ¼ c of chopped lovage leaves to wilt them. Puree with an immersion blender or use a food processor. Add more stock, or water, if the puree is too thick for soup. Season with salt and pepper. When ready to serve, stir a teaspoon of orange marmalade into each bowl and garnish with lovage leaves – snipped or whole depending on how tender they are – and a little spoonful of marmalade.
Serves 4.

2015 0417 Red cabbage, forbidden rice, parsley and dillAlmost gone. Stragglers from the fall harvest are finally dwindling as the dark days of winter have turned light. It’s a game I play with myself, making sure we use every last bit of fall produce that’s been stored in the fridge before the first spring harvests appear in usable amounts. Sure, I there are over-wintered mustard and hardy speckled salad greens thriving in the garden, herbs poking up in pots, and dandelions stretching their leaves on the lawn. But it’s the last red cabbage, purple kohlrabi and beets that focus my attention. They’ve got to go.

I get excited when I read a recipe that coincidentally uses stuff I have on hand, especially leftovers, and does so in a relevant way. Being an avid reader of Martha Rose Shulman’s Recipes for Health column in the New York Times, I was taken by a recipe for red cabbage and black forbidden rice inspired by traditional Lenten recipe for Greek Easter. ‘Tis the season and there was the cabbage. I often melt down red cabbage with vinegar and apples, a technique characteristic of the zone from Alsace to Budapest. Or I stew it with sausage and white beans northern Italian style. This is a variant on those slow cooking methods, but when stewed with a handful of dill and parsley, a grassy essence shines through and takes us across the border from winter to spring, at Easter no less. Perfect.

Black forbidden rice is a flavorful, chewy variety that is a perfect counterpoint to the unctuous texture of melted cabbage. I happened to have a half-cup in my pantry, surplus from a collection of exotic rice that I bought in bulk and packaged as Christmas gifts. I’m sure other types of rice would be more typical but this was genius.

Red Cabbage and Rice with Parsley and Dill adapted from Martha Rose Shulman, NYT

About 1lb red cabbage trimmed of outer leaves and core

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 c black forbidden rice or another type of rice

Handful each of parsley and dill, chopped (about 1/3 c)

Salt and pepper

1 c water

Fresh parsley and dill to garnish

Cut the cabbage into fine shreds.

Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a large wide pan with a lid, and add the onions. Cook slowly until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until it becomes aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the cabbage, stir to coat with olive oil and cook until it is slightly wilted, 8-10 minutes.

Add the rice and chopped herbs and stir to combine. Season generously with salt and lightly with pepper. Add water, increase the heat and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat as low as your stove allows and cover the pan. Cook for 30-40 minutes until the rice is tender, checking every so often to make sure the mixture hasn’t dried out.

Remove the pan from the heat, replace the lid with a folded tea towel and let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes. Adjust the seasonings.

May be made ahead and reheated. Serves about 4, or more depending on the accompaniments.

2015 0222 Moroccan chickpea stew 4This is a tribute to my pantry, some refrigerator luck and online recipes. I had seen Melissa Clark’s latest video on the New York Times cooking website, which turned out to be a godsend. Perky, quirky and sometimes smirky, her videos are fun and an easy way for people who don’t cook much to see how easy most dishes are to make. This one – a Moroccan Chickpea Stew — sounds involved but isn’t. Once everything is placed in the pot, the stew happily simmers away on its own.

2015 0222 Moroccan chickpea stewDuring a sudden and severe snowstorm last weekend that made the roads instantly impassable, I headed straight home from the office (yes, the office) without the planned detour to the market. Aargh. I didn’t need anything from the store. The trip was just my way of changing the subject. Instead, I stood in front of my pantry and refrigerator, and there, thankfully, were basically all the ingredients for Melissa’s chickpea stew. This is not so much a lesson in preparedness for me but the realization that something pretty spectacular can come from stuff you probably have lying around, plus a few special items like fennel and chard, but those are interchangeable.

2015 0222 Sauteeing vegetables 2

So what did I need? Onions, ginger and garlic, check. Jalapeno, maybe but substitute chilis dried from last year’s harvest, Spices like turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, cumin and black pepper, always on hand. Tomato paste, if not from an available tube or can, check the freezer for the frozen leftovers from another recipe. Dried chickpeas, check. I typically keep dried legumes and beans on hand and when I make a batch, I freeze the leftovers for a quick start on another dish. You need dried here or they won’t absorb the liquid, and you need to have soaked them overnight or for an hour in boiled water.

2015 Chopped fennel, carrots, chard stemsThen came the challenge of fresh vegetables – carrots, fennel, turnip and chard. Coincidentally, I had these. Normally, I wouldn’t have had chard and would have substituted locally grown low-tunnel spinach. Other vegetable combinations would work, even carrots alone. Finally, the finishing touches: dried apricots and preserved lemons are usually in the pantry and I did have fresh cilantro. Honey would work instead of apricots since they’re there for sweetness. Wow

You basically sauté the aromatics, spices and tomato paste serially in vegetable oil, add the root vegetables and chard stems and sauté. Then add the chickpeas, cover with water, and simmer for a couple of hours. Add the chard or spinach leaves at the end, along with chopped apricots (or honey) and spunky preserved lemon. Serve with chopped fresh cilantro. This was great on top of couscous or bulgur or quinoa or brown rice. The leftovers are going into tomato soup this weekend and it will be great.

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