Friday, April 11, 2014

Dandelion Update - "Cream-of", That Is.

Dandelions are bitter.

And water is wet, and cats shed and disdain the toys you bought for them.  I know.  Very painfully obvious stuff.

But tonight - after a bunch of Julia Child encounters, and enormous success with the

Cream of Sorrel soup, it was time to go out on a limb.

So we went for it.

Nope - just no getting around it.
Cream of Dandelion Soup
looks like all the "cream of" soups.
But they taste REALLY nice.

Step 1.  Find a place with dandelions that is not; impregnated with weed killer, too close to a road, a potty stop heaven for the neighborhood dogs.
These places are there, you just might have to think about it.

Step 2. Pick your dandelions.  Here at the height of weed season this takes all of 5 minutes.

Step 3.  Clean them.  This takes a bit longer.  Dandelions are not eaten all that much by insect life, but they hang out there.  And depending on how you picked yours, they may be a bit muddy.  So give them 2 or 3 washes in changes of water - and then spin or pat them dry.

And you can catch your son snitching the flowers to eat.
(If he's weird like mine.)
Or dip them in fritter batter and fry them.

Step 4.  Cut them up well. And get out the hand blender - as these leaves are heartier, and will need major mechanical assistance to break down.  (Unlike the sorrel which simply disintegrated into the soup - more or less.)

Go back and follow the Potage Feuilles de Printemps recipe.  But bring along the champagne vinegar.  And whatever you do, don't forget the salt.  This one needs both.

After you've made this soup... now you are ready for lots more stuff.  Maybe not ANYthing, but the veggies are not going to scare you any more.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hardware Gin - Easy on the Palate

One distillery and Two intriguing gins; 

The Hardware Distillery out of Hoodsport, OR - I have to thank them for coming all the way up for the Meet Your Maker event in Seattle.  (That was a worm-drowner of a day).

For I was lucky enough to sample their two completely unique gins.

The first I tasted, the Crabby Gin, was easy on the palate - and I would certainly enjoy as a Martini - with those bright green buttery olives (Castelvetrano in case you were wondering).
It is billed as pairing with Dungeness Crab.  And as a woman who thinks Champagne and Crab is the end-all-be-all of food and wine pairing, I will take them up on this.

Distilled from the usual grain - but also cranberry and pear - the fruit comes across in a gentle, light gin.  It is unique in the group where gins tend toward either citrus forward, flowery or straight up declarations of juniper.  I love all kinds - well the best of their kinds - and Crabby Ginny is certainly an enjoyable new kind.

Second, the R Gin - co called because it harkens back to "the months oysters are good" - is made from barley cold smoked in an Oyster Smoking house.  R Gin was developed (partly) to pair with oysters.  Hmmmm.  I'll have to wonder about that... not having had any oysters on hand at the time.

But in the meantime - it screamed at me to be made into a Gibson.  But not with any ol' cocktail onion.  It needed a scorched onion.  Thus it is a Scorched Gibson if you will.  (2+ oz. gin shaken with ice and served in a Martini glass rinsed with Vermouth - or your favored ratio).

So I burned the heck out of some lightly oiled green onions, rolled them up and sent them for swim in a pickling liquid made of dry vermouth, rice vinegar and salt.

It was a wonder.

OK... I'm the first to admit,
the scorched scallions need some pretty-ing up
for presentation.  But they taste lovely.

To quick pickle some Scorched Scallions:

1. Get a jar usefully sterile.
Choose a small jar with a lid - small canning jars are perfect.
Place the clean jar and lid in a small sauce pan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil for two minutes and then leave it at a simmer (or lower) until it is time to use it.

2. Prepare the Pickling liquid
In a sauce pan add
1/2 C dry vermouth
1/2 C rice vinegar
1 Tbs salt

Bring to a boil for a minute and
Return to a simmer until you are ready to use it.

3. Toss some scallions in a little oil
4. Scorch over a grill/grill pan or under the broiler.  Keep an eye on them - it happens pretty quickly.

5.  Roll up the scallions and tie them together with the long green ends or stab through with a toothpick.

6. Use tongs to remove the jar from the hot water.  Place the rolled scorched onions in the jar.
Fill with the hot pickling liquid.  Close the jar, let it cool, place in the fridge for a few days or a week.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Potage Feuilles de Printemps

Cream Soup of Spring Leaves
(Thank You HS French + food-mad vocab)

Sounds Mad, it does.  What a messy, general, non-specific title.

But - as I alternate between long sleeves, sweater, fleece and a wind breaker and then Short Sleeves as a cloud moves, and then back to rain jacket as the rain falls - a hearty, warming, soothing, absolutely delicious soup seems just the thing.  Especially one that is the fruits (or leaves) of spring.

I've stared at Julia Child's Cream of Sorrel Soup for years.  Literally Years!

Yes... this is my mom's, butter stains and all.

And it seems over complicated.  But as I was turning chicken scraps from my freezer into stock (yeah.... I was going all out for this one), I broke it down into language I could see.  And it really turned out to be easy.

And then when I  got to the end... and it was time to make the toasty cheese sandwiches - but the soup needed a bit of fussing about with salt - and I was able to turn it over to the 5th grader...

Yeah it is worth is - and the soup makes total sense on a blustery spring evening.

So how to do this?

Prep - get the stock on the heat - close to a boil.  Clean your leaves - and cut them up in chiffonade or chopped to smithereens.
Measure everything out.  Mix the 1/2 C milk/cream with the 2 egg yolks.

Now it will be easy.

1/3 C onions or green garlic
cook it to soft in
3 Tbs butter

then make a white roux by stirring in the
3Tbs flour (interesting note - just needs to be starch - wheat is NOT essential)
and cooking for about 3 min to toast the starch - or whatever sort.

Stir in the 3-4 C chopped leaves - and maybe a ladleful of hot stock.  Coat with the roux (starch-butter-onion mixture) and keep stirring until the leaves are completely collapsed and maybe falling apart.

Add in the 5 1/2 C stock a bit at a time, so the roux stirs in and is not lumpy.

Stir 2 ladles of the soup into the egg+cream mixture.  Take the soup off the heat - and stir the tempered egg mixture back into the soup.

If it is not rich and creamy enough - stir in a little more butter.
Taste and check for salt.  This would be a bland, boring disappointing soup if not salted correctly.  I had a 5th grader check it for me (see above).

If photographing for FB or Pinterest, or serving for an important dinner with you S/O's boss, decorate with leaves.

Otherwise, eat as you listen to the rain drum on the roof.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Spring: Sorrel & Garlic

Farmers markets are right around the corner.

But in the meantime, my sorrel plants are living up to their billing - tough, willing to put up with my benign neglect, and first to sprout back up out of their roots.

Honest - all I did was leave them alone all winter.

Sorrel is the pleasant tonic of the spring plants.  While dandelion is super good for you (the whole reason it was imported by our fore bearers ) it is BITTER.  Sorrel has many of the same vitamin benefits, but its plentiful Vitamin C and oxalic acid give it a bracing sour flavor.  Lemony even!

But other than throwing it into a green smoothie - what to do?

It is still pretty wintery in terms of the food that's growing.  So that means chives and radishes.  (Those greenhouse people - they are doing much better.)

That means it is still pantry food time.  And what lives in the pantry?  Beans!  

Dried or canned beans are plentiful.  As we keep hearing, they are healthy, easy and full of good stuff.  But lets face it, plain beans are BLAND!
No problem - that also means they are begging for something with a big punch of flavor to be stirred in.  So when the Farmers Markets get rolling - and you see the dried beans for sale - you'll be able to see the other things - dried chiles, garlic (and if you are lucky, sorrel) in the right context.  These are here to bring those beans to life.  
In fact many of the cuisines of the world eat beans for breakfast - and hit them up with something flavorful and/or spicy to punch them up.  (see below for a few examples*)

But I'm specifically taking on the traditional breakfast food of Egypt - fūl medames.  Usually this is mature fava beans (they are tan or cream colored) cooked until soft, then flavored with 1. lemon, 2. raw garlic, 3. cumin, 4. olive oil, 5. salt and maybe 6. a pinch of pepper or cayenne.  
Eat with flat bread.

Perfect: along with the pantry beans, #2 over winters, #3 is in the spice cabinet, #4 pantry, #5 & #6 easy easy.  Ooooh, but lemon?  Oh, right how about a big handful of sorrel chopped to smithereens?  

I had fava beans in the pantry, but chickpeas/garbanzo beans are a fine replacement.  Both are starchy beans with a pleasant toasty flavor.  Split favas are nice because they cook up to a nice ready-to-mash-consistency in about 45 min, whereas dried chickpeas can take up to 3 hours. 
But there is no shame in canned.  Those only need about 15min on the stove to get to the right consistency.  (They do have those outer skins, but they are edible so you can just ignore them.)

So for a tasty, filling breakfast or lunch here's what to do:
(By the way - you can cook these beans while doing other dinner prep the night - or several nights before.  And this is a tasty dish that can happily go for a few lunches.)

Sorrel-for-Lemon Fūl Medames

sorrel leaves - 1/2 to 1 C
garlic cloves - 4
ground cumin - 2 tsp
olive oil (the tasty kind) - 2 to 4 Tbs (to taste)
cayenne pepper - a pinch or 2
salt - to taste

mature fava or garbanzo beans cooked very soft (instructions below) - about 2 C

blender or food processor (or cutting board & knife)
measuring cups and spoons

sauce pan for cooking beans
colander for draining beans (or pan lid)

Cook your beans - this can be done the night before, several days before, or even longer - you can freeze cooked beans.  (Some people say they get a little mealy - but since you are mashing them it doesn't matter.)

From dried beans:
Favas -  Pour 1 C dried split favas into the sauce pan.  Add water to rinse.  Rub them together to release any loose powder/starch.  Drain.  Add about 4 C water.  Bring to a boil.  Skim off the scum. Simmer for about 45 min or until the beans mash easily with a fork.

Garbanzos/Chick Peas - do the same, though they can take up to 3 hours.  Shorten the cook time with an overnight soak.

From canned beans:

Garbanzos/Chick Peas - use 2  14.5 oz. cans.  Drain in a colander and give the a quick rinse.  Place in a sauce pan, cover with water.  Bring to a boil. Skim off the scum. Simmer for about 15 min or until the beans mash easily with a fork.

Favas - do the same.


Add the sorrel, garlic, and spices to the blender.  Add 2 Tbs of olive oil.  Chop finely.  Taste for oil and salt.  Blend until well mixed.

This is great over chicken or fish or eggs!

Partially mash the beans - and add in the green sauce.  Enjoy with rice, flat bread, sun dried tomatoes, polenta - whatever your little heart desires.

Here's what it looks like with the garbanzos.

*Some Wildly Overgeneralized Generalizations:
(legumes for breakfast)

Costa Rica - Beans & Rice for breakfast with the (in)famous Salsa Lazano
Japan - the notorious, but undeniably strongly flavored, natto (fermented soy beans)
Mexico - refritos with sausage, chicken or pulled pork and some salsa/pico de gallo
India - spicy dahl (lentils) over rice.
and so on.

Monday, March 31, 2014

3 Howls Gin


Live at the Meet Your Maker event
at the old Rainier Brewery
Of all the local gins - this is the most floral forward.
So for your herbal based drinks - and anything with a flower essence in it,
this should be your gin of choice.  (Think recipes from the Drunken Botanist )

The Navy Strength they were pouring packs the promised punch.
(Fun trivia: Navy Strength - 114 proof or 57% alcohol - means that it wouldn't get Gun Powder "wet" in a way that would keep it from firing.  And anyone who has read Master & Commander - or any of the other Patrick O'Brian novels knows that victory at sea relies as much on a fairly content crew as it does dry powder and plenty of shot.)

Would I drink this in a regular gin Martini?  Unlikely.  The particular botanical bitterness that comes with the florals is too much for me.  But as a pair with Elderflower Liqueur, or with a floral amoro (those complex Italian digestifs that have bubbled up to the surface of cocktail consciousness of late) this is a sure bet.

For a lovely floral cocktail - break out the St. Germain, a beautiful Limoncello (I'm currently smitten by Letterpress Distillery's version - the honey undertones match well with the gin's florals) and your shaker.

Pour over ice into your shaker:

2 oz 3 Howls Gin
1 oz Limoncello (Letterpress if you can get it.)
.5 oz St. Germain (or other Elderflower liqueur)

Give it a good shake - and pour into a martini glass
add the juice from 1/8 of a lemon
add a lemon twist if you are feeling fancy.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Bitter Lemon at Home

So how happy was I when I ran across Seattle's own Tonic syrup/concentrate - and it turned out to be startlingly good?

Not as happy as I was a few seconds later when I realized, at last, I had, in my hands the missing ingredient for Bitter Lemon.  Why yes, thank you Bradley's Kina Tonic.  This is for you.

Bitter Lemon is a soft drink/mixer mainly available in the UK, and other ex-Empire outposts.

This is the form I first encountered:
Wee little cans on the plane or in the
International Lounge at Heathrow

I was hooked.  I'll drink the stuff straight - and as a buddy to gin, Well!
It needs to be the right gin though.  It will help your run-of-the-mill gin turn decent, and can have fun playing with a citrus leaning gin, making something special.

But the only form of Bitter Lemon I've gotten my hands on in the states (well, in my state, WA, anyway) is the Fever Tree brand.  

Which is actually quite good.  And a bit pricey.  And more than a bit of a pain to get my hands on.  

The mission was to use my newly acquired spoils to create a bitter lemon I could make at home.  And not have to freshly grind and brew precious elixirs all the time to do it.  Might as well run out and get some Fever Tree in that case.
(There are some "house made bitter lemon" recipes out there, but they depend on the bitterness of the pith - which is altogether different than what Quinine brings.)

What to make at home:

Fortified Lemon Juice
Simple Syrup
(Recipes Below - and don't worry... they keep for quite a long while)

What to buy:
Tonic concentrate (Bradley's Kina Tonic - or your local)
Sparkling Water
Good Gin - go with a citrus forward one to play nicely with this.

(Sound Spirits' Ebb & Flo bright citrus forward gin is my hands down favorite for this application.
Wishkah River Bulfinch 83 Gin - with it's almost oily citrus presence would be a good bet too.)

I won't bore you with the details - but there was trial and error involved.  
Let's just say - I have a large number of plastic tablespoons to play with.
This is handy since 1 Tbs = 0.5 oz

Fortified Lemon Juice
4 Lemons
Vegetable Peeler or a small Sharp Knife

Citrus Juicer/Reamer
Storage Container (tight sealing)

Carefully peel the yellow (zest) part of the peel from 2 of the lemons.  Place this in your container.
Juice the 4 lemons and add this to your peel.

Store until needed.

Simple Syrup
1C Sugar
1C Water
(actually just 1:1 sugar/water is what you need.  1C is a handy amount, some for now, some for later.  But you can make any amount you want to.)

Measuring cup
Sauce pan
Storage Container (tight sealing)

Heat the measured sugar and water until it dissolves and then boils for 2 minutes.  (Sanitizing measure - for storage.)

Combine these to make Lemon Syrup in a 2:1 ratio
2 parts Fortified Lemon Juice : 1 part Simple Syrup
This also keeps in the fridge a nice long time!

The Bitter Lemon - 1 serving

1 oz Lemon Syrup (2Tbs)
.5 oz Tonic Syrup  (1Tbs)
2.5 - 3 oz soda water (to taste)

While Gin & Bitter Lemon is a nice alternative/friend to Gin & Tonic, this takes things a step further.
Some kids who don't like super sweet stuff will enjoy this a s a special treat.  (e.g. my son)

Oranges & Lemons

1 serving The Bitter Lemon
1.5 oz Gin (citrus-y is best!)
0.5 oz Cointreau

Pour over ice - no garnish needed.  A lemon twist if you must.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Egg Epiphany - 11 Yr. Old Style

I present... the egg:
Yes this is a ridiculous close-up and self consciously
But I have a point...
Those dark spots at the top, and overall moon-like scape - not a healthy egg.

I live in a generally ecumenical household on the egg front.

When I had high school kids living behind me raising chickens and selling eggs - I was 1st in line (well maybe in the 1st 2 or 3), but it was Great!  The only down side, my then pre-school son had a hard time getting the dang things open.

And then they grew up and left for college.


Then a friend of mine got some chicks off Craig's List.  Less regular, but still - wow.  One of those egg whites made an embarrassment of bubbles.

And in between the "good" eggs we'd ping-pong back and forth between Organic and Cage Free.

Right now, it is the bitter end of Winter - the most fragile front of Spring, and around here, the backyard chickens are NOT laying.  Much.

So it has been store bought eggs time.

And then this happened - Pi Day (March 14th to the rest of us... and people get all gooey over 1:59 on March 14, because 3.14159....)

My son hates does not care for fruit pies (texture thing).  But he LOVES sour.
"How about a Lime Meringue Pie?"
"Sure!  What's that?"

Yes, he loves sour so much he'll jump at the word lime, and ask questions later.

Well, one must separate eggs for a Meringue Pie (Lemon or Lime; between the starch custard filling - egg yolks & the meringue - egg whites, there is no escaping the egg separation.)

Now - there was no reason to worry about this.  The boy had been well schooled in egg separation.  He LOVES crème brulée (texture thing - used to hate it, now loves it, I don't get it).

And for that he bravely ventured in to the cold, wet, gooey world of egg separation.  (I believe the word "snot" was used more than once.)

The point is - sure there were a few casualties, to be scrambled eggs/omelets the next day, but it was doable - 3 eggs were always done in 5, often 4, sometimes 3.
The 3 Bowl Method

Break into 1.  Pour the white in the "white bowl"
dump the yolk in the "yolk bowl"
Mistakes stay in the "breaking bowl"

So when we pulled the "Cage Free" eggs out of the fridge.  There were 7.

First he noticed how rough the shells were.
Backyard eggs are the smoothest.  They may have an odd nob, but they are very smooth, thick shelled and hard to break.
Organic eggs are still pretty smooth, and have pretty tough shells.  You still need to strike with purpose.
These cage free eggs - well even my tentative egg cracker was holding back.

And, "What are those dark spots on the egg Mom?"  Oh. Oooo. Um.  Yeah-mmm these are pretty thin eggs.

The 3 bowl method turned into the 5 and 6 bowl method.

"Why do the shells keep crumbling?"
"How are these yolks popping so easy [sic]?"
"Do we have another egg?"

And thus I was scolded.  "Only organic eggs mom.  But I like the backyard chicken eggs better."

I've found egg religion.

Thanks kiddo.