Go Big Or Go Home

I have about a million things I want to share with you. Recipes, photos, ideas. I’ve been working on Thanksgiving and summer at the same time, and a million other things.

I’ve been making jam, and getting ready for pickles season to begin in earnest. I’ve been drinking a lot of delicious smoothies and unsweetened coffee. I’ve been working on my tan and somehow finding time to read the books I’m obsessing over (while brushing my teeth, while stirring the jam, etc.).

I’ve been cooking a lot of recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, and it’s going a long ways towards building the anticipation for our upcoming trip to Israel. I like to think it’s what’s been keeping me on track with getting my eating habits back in order. I’m also hoping that Lilli decides she really likes Israeli food because right now she is being a super picky toddler and it’s Driving. Me. Crazy.

I’ve been berry picking at least once a week for the last 3 weeks with quarts of frozen berries to show for it, and I’ve been harvesting fennel pollen like crazy so far with little success. Not sure what’s up with that.

The truck has been taking a lot of my time. Between getting it all gutted and looking at appliances, scouting the markets looking for likely vendors for our raw ingredients, catering weddings, and recipe testing, it’s been a busy month indeed. I hope you don’t hate me for neglecting you, but a very wise friend once said to me “never apologize” so I’m not going to. I’m just going to tell you that it will all be worth it in the end.

Those tomatoes? They are the best. We served them at the wedding we catered last weekend (for which I also did the cakes–yes, 4 of them–and am kicking myself for not taking time to photograph). I got the recipe from Ashley Rodriguez who writes Not Without Salt, and it’s the best way to eat heirloom tomatoes that I have ever come across in my whole life. I can’t wait for all the tomatoes in the front yard to start getting ripe so I can devour them bathed in fragrant vanilla. They’ll probably all start getting ripe while we’re in Israel so my sister–who’s house-sitting for us– will be the lucky one who gets the first harvest.

This week James (my biz partner) and I put up about 40 lb worth of nectarine jam. It’s divine. It’s chunky and fruity. I can’t wait to serve it on some warm toasty skillet cake in a cozy little brown box off the truck. I can’t wait for that window to slide open with a sign hanging next to it that says “Come and get it!”

In the meantime we’re preparing for back to back dinners this weekend–our first matched set. We’ve been selling them all out, and are planning a brunch in September that we’re super excited for. There are few spots left for each date next month, so if you’re interested you should get on the list ASAP.

This is what’s been on my mind for the last 2 days, though, so I’ll share it with you. We’ve been eating a lot of nectarines lately–I think they’re way better than peaches, and consequently can’t get enough of them. Neither can Lilli. She’s been eating like 3 a day, if she can get away with it. This incarnation of jam is very simple, though it does require some patience. If you don’t want to spend so much time slaving away, you can always make a berry jam and just add the lemon zest to that as well, it will be just as nice.

Nectarine Jam with Lemon

6 heaping cups nectarines cut into 1″ chunks
3 cups sugar
zest from one organic lemon plus juice

Add the fruit, sugar, and zest to a large heavy pot over high heat and stir it all up. Bring it to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally. Once it’s really boiling, set a timer for 30 minutes and come back to stir it every couple of minutes. Towards the end this becomes almost constant stirring–you don’t want to fruit to start sticking to the bottom of the pan or all the sugars will burn. After 30 minutes, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice. Put into hot sterile jars and process 15 minutes in a water bath for pint jars. This batch will make about 3 pints with a little bit leftover for your toast the next morning.

Marmalade Mash-up

One time I went to three or four different hole-in-the-wall asian markets looking for green papayas to make green papaya salad. It was probably the only legitimate craving I had the entire time I was pregnant with Lilli.

It wasn’t even that much of a craving, really. More of an “I think I want to make this” and then it got more and more important the harder I had to look for those stupid papayas.

Anyway, last week Lilli and I took another journey down to those hole-in-the-wall asian markets, this time with two important differences. One, she was an actual kid and not just a zygote, or whatever. Two, we were looking for citrus, preferably weird varieties, but not with anything too specific in mind. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything that weird.We did come home with a couple of huge pomelos and about 3 pounds of kumquats, all for about 8 bucks.

This is awesome because unless you happen to live in california and have some sort of citrus tree (that actually produces fruit, unlike the one in my dining room) somewhere within, oh, say, 200 miles of your front door, those little babies will cost you an arm and a leg. I knew I wanted to make some sort of marmalade so it really didn’t matter what we found, as long as it was cheap. I have also been collecting other citrus. By the time I was getting ready to go to work on this marmalade, I had a bevy of grapefruit, a small stash of Meyer lemons and more oranges than I could count, of several varieties.

So I set to work reading a ton of awesome posts about marmalade. I read some over at Food in Jars (Whose kumquat recipe I followed…the whole thing. Which is unlike me.), and there’s been tons of good ideas for citrus in general on Punk Domestics. I wanted to make a batch that had just one fruit and also one batch that was a medley. I peeled an orange for Lilli and then set to work chopping everything up.

And then I decided that I am a total crazy person. Making kumquat marmalade is like making strawberry jelly where the first step is taking out each individual seed with a pair of tweezers before you cook the fruit. It’s ridiculously time consuming. As good as it tasted, I recommend you find a crazy-person friend to make it for you instead of attempting it yourself. Unless you’re crazy too, in which case you have my blessing.

The other batch I made was the medley and I kind of just made it up using the rule of thumb that says you should add about 3-4 cups of sugar for every pound of fruit. Marmalade isn’t like other jam. Since it contains the peel of the citrus you kind of need to let it soak and soften and then cook for a really long time. It’s better that way. There are ways to get around it, but not with kumquats.

I used the way around when we made the lemon marmalade back in San Francisco. When I cut up the pomelos I followed this “way around” too. You can basically make supremes of the fruit. First, use a vegetable peeler to take off all the zest in big strips which you then chop into very thin slices. Next, cut the flesh from the membranes, and chop it into smallish pieces, setting aside the seeds and membranes like you would if you had cut them whole. For the pomelos it was kind of the only way to go since there’s so much peel and the membranes can be kind of tough. I added one delicious pink grapefruit, mostly just to give it a little more rosy color than the pomelos would bring and also cut up 5 Meyer lemons. And I let it soak the entire 24 hours, even though I’ve never done that part before.

When I got around to cooking it, I realized I had probably added too much water, because it boiled forever. It boiled for probably over an hour before it hit the jelly point (220ºF), which is sort of on the ridiculous end of the spectrum.

In the end, it was kind of on the bitter side. Not inedible, just a little bit not sweet even though I knew it had plenty of sugar in it. So, I’m not going to share the recipe. I hope you don’t mind. I think it will be excellent as part of a sweet cookie or made into a sauce to go over ice cream…Why don’t I have any ice cream?

Well, good thing the kumquat marmalade was delicious. I guess I’ll have to eat that first.

One thing I did deem a success was the pomelo sugar I made using the rind from one of the pomelos. I had decided that since they’re such a big fruit, I only needed to add part of the zest, and was pretty glad about that later. To use it up (because I hate to throw stuff out if I can help it) I ground it up very very fine in the food processor and then dumped in a couple cups of granulated sugar to absorb all the oils from the rind. The sugar also serves as a medium for the zest to get into whatever it is you want it in.

You can just mix any sort of citrus zest in with some sugar. About one orange or lemon per cup of sugar, or two of each fruit it they are pretty small. Mix it up and then store it in an airtight container. I went the wacky route and physically cut up the zest, but a microplane style grater is the best tool for the job. You can use it anywhere regular sugar would be called for but a hit of citrus would be welcome.

A San Francisco Treat

(Sorry, I couldn’t help that one)

While we were in San Fran last week I got the chance to do something I am totally jealous of my past self for getting to do, which is eat and cook with very fresh citrus fruit.

Our first night there we walked up to a lookout point in the neighborhood were our friends live, Cole Valley. I never caught the name of the lookout, but it had truly breathtaking views, especially since most of the time we were In San Fran we had very clear and sunny weather, and that evening was warm to boot. The perfect antidote for what the weather’s been like here in Seattle.

On our way back down the hill to order dinner (awesome and easy Thai, because Thai is never wrong.) I spotted something you would never in a million years see in Seattle, even if we did have actual summers and decent autumns: a fruiting Meyer lemon tree. Though by this point it was quite dark, I peered in among the branches and felt out some of the fruits that looked yellow in the glow of the streetlight. I tried to twist off a fruit I thought was ripe, but it wasn’t quite there yet, or so I guessed since it didn’t easily come off. I left it alone and went on my way with an added spring in my step.

I am going to share with you something about myself that you might not have know. I am a shameless urban fruit “forager” and while mostly I only take fruit that is on public or abandoned land, I will occasionally venture onto the more private side of things and pick fruit that is very obviously going to waste. These lemons were just at the tip of someone’s yard. A very very wealthy person’s yard. The tree was very well pruned, in a yard that looked pretty well manicured, and it was chock full of fruit that was ripening or ripe. Clearly, I told our hosts, they were not going to miss a lemon or two. Or a dozen. Right?

The next morning I went to the lookout by myself, early, in the fog, to take some pictures and see the city in a different light. I scoped out the tree again, this time with the sunlight on my side, and found that there were indeed quite a few ripe lemons hanging out in this tree. Hooray!

The day before we were set to leave was pretty busy. There were two very small earthquakes (exciting!) and it was the start of the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah (awesome!) which we celebrated by dancing with Torah scrolls and drinking tequila in a Baha’i Temple (drunky!). We ate dinner at a food truck gathering to make the food trucks in Seattle blush with inadequacy (yummy!) and had an awesome burrito in the Tenderloin of all places (wacky!).

We were supposed to pack for home and then be at a friend’s house for breakfast the next morning at 8, before tooling around and then heading to the airport by 1. So of course, it was the perfect time to go steal forage lemons and then start an involved canning project which we maybe didn’t have all the right ingredients for.

Aviva and I bundled up a bit (it finally was a little chilly in the evenings) and decided to take a trip up to the lookout one last time. And we took with us a cloth sack, “just in case” we found something worth bringing home. Maybe we would get lucky and there would be enough ripe ones to make a quart of preserved lemons. I maybe got a little carried away and we ended up with quite a few lemons, all without even a soul finding out what we were up to. It was slightly exhilarating, or maybe that was just the heady smell of the fruit wafting from the cotton bag as they jostled around in there while we practically skipped back home.

Anyway, we ended up having enough fruit to make a quart of preserved lemons, and a batch of ginger lemon marmalade. We cheated and used a couple of oranges and some lemons that were sitting around getting old. But we had a few fruits that were still sort of green so we sorted those out to ripen and use later, and there were even enough that I got to bring a couple home. As I peeled the zest from the fruit to make the marmalade, I couldn’t help but taste the fruit itself. If you’ve never had fresh citrus like this, I highly recommend it if you get the chance. It made me insanely jealous of those Californians, even if I do love my hometown to pieces.

I don’t own a copy of the Ball Book of Home Preserving, but that is the book we took both recipes from. We followed the marmalade pretty closely, substituting a couple of oranges for part of the lemons and halving the ginger, since that’s just what we had on hand. We also used raw sugar instead of the usual white, which I think played off the ginger very very nicely. I have to remember that trick for other jams.

For the preserved lemons we substituted the bay leaves for fresh basil, and added a star anise. Basil and lemon are so nice together, and while this makes it a bit less traditional, I’m confident that the flavors will work well together and be great. I just hope the basil doesn’t overpower the delicate flavor of the Meyer lemons. We’ll see!

P.S. We live tweeted our canning adventure, but if you missed it and are using twitter, you can follow me @kernelsandseeds and get updates for future adventures!

A bumper crop

Next week we are going to be out of town, so of course, this week is the week that I have two largish orders for custom cakes, a bushel of tomatoes to deal with and 75 lbs of fruit coming on Saturday.

The cakes are easy–they require a bit of work, but should come together smoothly and almost without thinking. That’s my job, after all.

The fruit, 50 lbs of apples and 25 of pears, will probably keep just fine in the cool basement for the 5 days we will be gone, so long as the cat doesn’t suddenly develop a taste for tree fruit. I just hope those raccoons don’t figure out how to get in the house…

The tomatoes, on the other hand, can’t wait. It’s been very rainy here this week so they all had to come in out of the downpour one way or another.  There were about 10 lbs of green ones, 5 or 6 lbs of ripe ones, and a couple of lbs that are halfway in between. Those ones, I don’t know what will happen to.  And I’ll have no problem getting rid of most of the ripe ones. Even Lilli eats at least a tomato a day.

But the rest, I found uses for with just a little bit of research and brain power.


I made tomatoes 5 ways this week, over the course of 3 nights.

First, I put up 4 quarts of green tomato mincemeat, made with honeycrisp apples and some asian pears I helped harvest from a neighborhood tree last week. Plenty of currants and spices, some lemons and sugar, and sometime this winter this delicious mix will meet it’s match in philo or pie dough.

Next, I started a couple different batches of green tomato pickles. One that needed 24 hours; and one only 12. One that had curry seasonings and mustard and sugar; one that was laced with garlic and mint and basil and chili.  One that is a simple refrigerator pickle and one that needed to be processed. I think the 2 probably couldn’t be much more different from each other, but each will be much appreciated in their own way.

Wait, let me take a step back. The very first thing I did, even before the mincemeat, was start some oven dried tomatoes. And tonight I finished that project, a tomato pesto that I borrowed from Ashley Rodriguez who writes one of my favorite blogs, Not Without Salt. I have never met a recipe from her that I didn’t like, so while I didn’t have time to test out this particular one beforehand, I knew it would be great. I decided to make a much larger batch than her original recipe calls for, because of the amount of ingredients I had. I altered it a bit also, so that I could freeze it and use up what I had instead of procuring new things.

Drying the tomatoes turned out to be a frustrating thing for me, because I lack patience. They took much longer than I thought they would, so I got them most of the way there and then gave up. I figured since they weren’t being kept as a dry ingredient anyway, it wasn’t a big deal.

The pesto turned out amazing, but, as with all things gooey, the pictures did not. Especially not in my night kitchen.

Chatting with the cat.

And after all was said and done, I still have a few nice green tomatoes to make into a tasty quick bread as an airplane snack.

Green Tomato Mincemeat
makes 4 quarts

4 quart jars full of whole green tomatoes, rinsed

1 ¼ cups vinegar or 1 cup vinegar and ¼ cup lemon juice
4 cups currants or raisins
2 lemons seeded and chopped up fine in a food processor
2 quart jars full of apples or apples and pears, quartered, skins removed, and sliced thinly
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
2 tsp salt
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups white sugar

A note about the fruit measurements. To measure the tomatoes, I packed them into a quart jar as I cleaned and de-stemmed them, stopping when I got to 4 jars worth. For larger tomatoes, I halved or quartered them to make more fit, but there was quite a bit of space in between the them, so don’t worry about packing the jars too full.  For the apples I filled the jars as I sliced the apples, and for these I did pack them in rather tight.

Chop up the tomatoes in a food processor, pulsing so that they don’t just turn to mush. You want the pieces to be roughly the size of a large lima bean, give or take. Pour into a large nonreactive pot.
For the apples and pears, I used one of those handy apple core turning machines. It peels the apples, cores and slices it all in one motion. (If you don’t have one and ever find one at a thrift store, buy it. You will thank yourself the next time you need to do anything with apples in large quantities.) I just cut the whole apple in quarters after putting it through the machine. If you don’t have one of these, peel the apples, quarter them, and slice them thin.
Add everything else to the pot, stir it up, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and the fruit has softened. The color will be much more uniform at this point as well.
Clean and sanitize 4 quart jars, and fill using a canning funnel, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Remove air bubbles with a thin rubber spatula and adjust filling level. Wipe the rims clean with a damp paper towel and seal. Process in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes. You might have more or less filling, depending on how long you cook it down. As long as your jars are completely full you can process them. Otherwise store the jars in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks.

And in case you didn’t see this floating around the internets, here’s my real motivation for canning and preserving:

Doing the Can-Can

August is my birthday month. For the past six or seven years, I have celebrated my birthday month by spending most of it canning. This year, thankfully, August has been pretty warm, and it’s been even warmer in our kitchen since I’ve been canning or baking almost every day. Between the 50# of apricots, the figs, the crab apples, the birthdays (not just mine), the weddings, and I can’t even remember what else, it’s been a busy month.


It might seem like a lot of work to spend all that time canning, especially when it’s your birthday. But really, it’s the best birthday gift I could ever give myself. Aside from letting this awesome cutie “help” out in the kitchen of course (she loves the jar lifter tool!).


It’s the satisfaction of knowing that sometime, in the dead of winter, I can pull out a jar of something and savor a little bit of sunshine. It’s also satisfying thinking about putting a smile on people’s faces when I bring them a little jar of said sunshine as a treat, maybe just when they are getting sick of potatoes and squash.


My favorite part of canning is the snap of a jar sealing. It signifies all of that satisfaction like nothing else in the world.

Some of the things I’ve been canning are recipes easily found, and some are recipes I’ve altered. I have to say that of the ones I’ve done so far this season, the one I am most excited about is probably the fennel bulb with orange. It’s only a refrigerator pickle, so there wasn’t any processing necessary. That’s why it’s the perfect recipe to share with people who might be afraid to pickle…

But you know, you really shouldn’t be. It’s very simple once you get the basics of canning and pickling down. You have to have sterile jars and vinegar with 5% acidity. You want unblemished produce and hot brine. Those things are all pretty easy to come by, and so are easy recipes. This is one of them, and you won’t be disappointed. It doesn’t produce the satisfying snap of a jar sealing, but if you’ve been thinking about trying out pickling and looking for a good place to start (and love fennel as much as I do) then this might just be the gateway pickle you’ve been looking for.


Hang on a second.

Sorry, I just had to go eat some straight from the jar and do a little happy pickle dance.


Fennel Pickled with Orange
adapted from The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich (thanks Rose!)

makes 2 pints

1 1/2 lb fennel bulbs, sliced in chunks about 1/4″ thick
2 tsp pickling salt
zest of one orange
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
Juice of the orange, plus water to make 3/4 cup
2 Tbsp sugar
8 whole peppercorns, cracked with a knifeblade


Slice up your fennel. This is part of where I altered the original recipe, which called for slicing them very thin. I thought it would be nice to have a chunkier piece, but you could do it either way really. Next, toss the fennel with the salt in a large, nonreactive bowl and leave to sit at room temp for 1 hour.


While the fennel is sitting, sterilize 2 clean pint jars in a 250ºF oven for 20 minutes, or you can do this in a boiling water bath. The jars don’t need to stay warm once they are sterile, but do leave them undisturbed while they are waiting to be packed. Even though this pickle won’t be getting processed (essentially pasteurized) you don’t want anything gross in there so that they can keep for longer in the fridge. (Theoretically–they probably won’t stick around that long anyway.)


Drain the fennel, discarding the brine. Do not rinse. Toss with the orange zest and pack it all into the jars, adding four crushed peppercorns to each jar.  


Heat the liquids, along with the sugar, in a small pan to boiling, making sure that all the sugar has dissolved. Using a funnel, pour the liquid over the fennel. Put the clean cap on the jar (doesn’t need to be two piece or even an unused lid, since you’re not processing.) Cool to room temp before refrigerating. Let it sit for at least 48 hours before eating. 


If you can stand it.





















The Spoils

I am happy to report that not a single earwig made it home with me from blueberry picking today.

In the trunk, having a pre-picking snack.
I did however, make it home with a couple of spiders, and some potatoes. Not to mention the blueberries. Almost 6 pounds of them, which I somehow managed to pick while gossiping with a friend and watching our 2 babes crawl/wander around in the damp grass of the blueberry field.

Then we had a picnic, which was absolutely nothing special other than for the fact that we got to eat it outside.

There was no one else there today, with the exception of Pat, the owner and farmer. He was a very sweet old guy. It was so nice to have the place all to ourselves–the kids could wander around and eat as many blueberries as they could find, without bothering other pickers or us worrying that they were getting into other people’s stuff.

Plus, it was a rather cool day, temperature wise. No sticky sweat to make you wish you could go home, and not too many bugs either. I wish all berry picking experiences could be so pleasant.

Now I have 4 pounds of blueberries in my freezer, almost 2 lbs more left untouched (I’ll save them for tomorrow, I’m blueberried out for today) and plans to return to the small farm I discovered in a couple of weeks for more blueberries, sweet corn and green beans, plus cucumbers and dill for pickles.

 

But what to do with all those blueberries that I now have sitting pretty in a bowl on the table? Perhaps muffins, perhaps pancakes, perhaps just let Lilli stuff herself silly for the next couple of days. Maybe all three. I’m also thinking some blueberry crumb bars might be just the thing, because I am supposed to be bringing cookies to several different events this weekend. And since I have some red currants sitting around, I think I’ll add those in as well. I’ll probably use this recipe, as I do adore pretty much any recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

I encourage you to find a berry field, and for an hour or two, or the whole day if you think you’re tough enough, hang out and pick berries. Eat your fill, laugh with a friend, and bring enough home to put some in the freezer. When you pull them out in the middle of winter, you will thank yourself for the joy of that summer day, and the memories that each berry has attached to it.