Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Whole Bottle

One of the nurses at work, after hearing about my culinary exploits, brought in a bottle of champagne for me to make into vinegar.  She said she'd never drink it and was glad to see it get put to good use.  It was in her locker, and she asked me to get it before the end of the day, so it wouldn't be left there.  That would just be weird, right?  I said I would and...

promptly forgot.  Of course I did!

I remembered after I got home, and called her to apologize.  She put the bottle in the desk drawer under my computer and, after 2 days, it was there when I got back to work yesterday.  Thank you!

When I got it home, I poured the whole bottle of champagne into a half-gallon jar and added about 3/4 cup of that cider vinegar with the vinegar mother in it.  I topped it with cheesecloth and it's resting on the counter for the next month or so.  Since it loses about half its volume in the process (evaporation, I suppose) I should end up with about a pint of vinegar.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Now We're Getting Fancy

As I said yesterday, I've been playing around with spruce tips because of this blog: Forager|Chef.  You should really check it out!  Anyhow, today I was able to make the spruce tip ice cream I'd hoped to make.  The instructions are on his blog but, essentially, you make an ice cream base, cool it to room temperature (which took half the morning), blend in the spruce tips and then filter the whole thing to get the little pieces of spruce needle out.  This mixture then goes into the ice cream maker.  I set my ice cream maker to soft-serve and it ran for about 25 minutes.  At that point it was the correct texture and I put it into the freezer to set up some more.

The next thing I did was make a rhubarb crisp, as that is the recommended pairing with the spruce ice cream.  I baked it this afternoon and, after we made dinner, I put it into the warm oven to reheat.  When dessert came around, I scooped the spruce ice cream on top.

It's a complex collection of flavors:  the tart rhubarb, the sweet crisp topping, and the floral-earthy ice cream.  The ice cream is more "spruce-y" than the sauce I made yesterday, but that was OK because the rhubarb crisp was a stronger flavor as well.  The 10 year old was not a fan - although I think more turned off by the rhubarb than anything else.

Now I have a tub of spruce ice cream in the freezer, just waiting to garnish some other tart thing.  Looks like there will be more experimentation in the future!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Walleye with Spring Flavors

So, I've been following this blog for a while:  Forager|Chef.  He's got a nice combination of really beautiful photos, tasty recipes, and foraging tips and I enjoy reading his posts.  Many of the recipes inspire me.  A while back he posted about spruce tips - both as an ingredient in savory dishes and as an ice cream.  The blue spruce in front of my house is covered with new growth so I harvested about a cup of the tips and used half to make a spruce tip puree.  I cut the recipe in half and, even with that, I froze half of the puree since I knew I wouldn't use it up all that quickly.  He said in his blog that spruce goes particularly well with spring flavors.  I came up with a combination that worked very, very well.

We still have several packages of that walleye we caught last summer on Lake Erie, so I thawed one of those.  I also had a bunch of fiddleheads, courtesy of Whole Foods, and some farro.  I went out into the yard and pulled up some field garlic.  Then I set to work:

The fish was baked with just some pepper and an herb mix, 15 minutes at 425 degrees.  While that was cooking, I was simmering the farro with chicken stock.  And warming up a cup of heavy cream with 3 T. spruce puree.  And sautéing field garlic bulbs in butter with the fiddleheads, which had been blanched first.  I also reserved the green parts of the field garlic for a garnish, whole and chopped.

What I discovered is that the fiddleheads were cooked so amazingly well, and they were the anchor of the dish - they held onto the spruce-cream sauce and tied the whole combination of tastes together.  The farro, which I hadn't really intended to mix with the sauce, was nothing without the sauce.  The spruce flavor was subtle but lovely.  I would consider thinly slicing the field garlic bulbs as they were a little bitter when left whole.

Next up, I plan to make that ice cream!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Another Nettle Adventure

One of the recipes which really uses nettles well is this risotto from Hank Shaw.  Every time I've made it, I do something different.  Risotto is very flexible and tolerates variation well.  Sometimes I add mushrooms, sometimes I use different greens.  But, in general, I follow the core of the recipe and it comes out terrific, every time.

I'd blanched all those nettles the other day and set a bunch aside to make a risotto.  The original plan was to make it Thursday night, but I got home late and was tired.  Then, last night, I got home even later, so we ate out instead.  Tonight, I was able to carve out enough time to make dinner and finally got to make this.

Following the general recipe, here are today's changes:  I added sliced shiitake mushrooms when I sauteed the shallots and I used a total of 2 pints of vegetable stock and one pint of duck stock.  I think the duck stock really enhanced the flavor!  Paired with some steak and broccolini, it was just right.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Return to Nettle Wednesdays

Around the stables, the spring greens became abundant in the last week or so.  As I walked around today, I saw curly dock, dandelions, Japanese knotweed, wintercress, oregano, garlic mustard, and a few other greens I probably should be able to identify. Most of the greens had already flowered, making them bitter. But, today, I only had eyes for the nettles.

This week they were easy to find.  Tucked in the back, near the stream, mixed in with an awful lot of garlic mustard. They'd grown fairly high, so I only took the tips. When I was done snipping, I had a full grocery bagful. I thought maybe it was enough for 2 projects but it turns out I can get 3 separate meals out of them.  Likely by next week the plants will be too far gone until the fall, so I'm making full use of what I picked!

Tonight's dinner was sausage ravioli with a nettle and mascarpone sauce. I'd made this before, with spaghetti, but I much preferred tonight's version. Garlic and shallots were sautéed in butter and olive oil, then I added about half a cup of milk, 8 oz. of mascarpone cheese, blanched nettles, salt, pepper, nutmeg, quartered Campari tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. When the ravioli were ready the sauce was spooned over each serving. The dish was finished with a little more freshly ground nutmeg. The nettles went very well with the sausage and the whole thing just looked pretty.

Tomorrow I plan to make a risotto. The third portion will likely be used to make some pasta, so for now it's in the freezer.

Another Bartering Opportunity

A few months ago, I started a new job.  The really cool thing is that I work with newborn babies and their happy families.  It's a breath of fresh air.  An added bonus is that it is at a hospital closer to home, a place I worked at about 18 years ago as a moonlighter.  Some of the nurses remember me from then.  Others remembered me from when I had my kids there.  And then there are new nurses for me to get to know and we often find out we have things in common.

One nurse raises horses, sheep, and chickens.  She and her family have shown the sheep at the Topsfield Fair for a long time.  I'm quite certain I've seen her at the Fair when we went through the sheep barn.  This year, for sure, I'll be making a point to go find her!  As we were talking recently we ended up discussing my jam-making and arranged a barter.  She brought me a dozen eggs and, when I get strawberries in June, I'll bring her a jar of strawberry jam.  A little delayed gratification for her; I got to enjoy the eggs today!

In our quest to get the perfect soft-boiled egg, today I boiled the water and put the (cold) eggs in.  After 30 seconds I dropped the heat to the lowest setting and let the eggs sit in the hot water for another 5 minutes and 30 seconds.  6 minutes total, and they were, indeed, perfect.  And incredibly tasty.

In other news, I used the yogurt I'd made from the powdered culture to make a second batch and it came out with exactly the right texture.  I left it on the heating pad for about 9 hours, maybe those extra 2 hours helped it firm up a little.  Since I'm keeping a tally of how many batches I can get out of one packet, so far we are at 2.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Chocolate and Champagne

Happy Mother's Day!

As most of the petit fours from the other day were taken to work, and as I wanted to try again with different "materials" I made a batch of chocolate petit fours.  Yesterday I made the sour cream chocolate cake recipe and did a few things differently.

1. I lined 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and spread out the batter in those.  It made 2 thinner cakes, I used one for each type of petit four.  Pros:  the cake layers were thinner.  Cons: the resulting cake is the wrong texture, the parchment stuck too much and broke the cake, and they baked unevenly in my fragile oven, so there were thicker and thinner parts and there were parts that were more done than others.

2. The layers were chilled before I started to work with them.  Pros: easier to work with. Cons: really, none.

3. One batch had Dulce de Leche in between the layers, the other had raspberry.  Pros:  Dulce de leche.  Cons:  the raspberry ones had violets as decorations, not raspberries.  Had I been more prepared I might have managed a sugar glaze to preserve raspberries for the top.  I didn't have that kind of time.

4. I made a batch of dark chocolate ganache, 10 oz. of chocolate and 10 fl. oz. of cream.  This poured perfectly.  I used this batch for the raspberry ones, which were then topped with the last of my candied violets.

5. Since I needed more ganache, I made another batch with another 10 oz. of dark chocolate.  I didn't have enough heavy cream, only about 6 fl. oz. so I topped that off with half and half.  It completely changed the consistency of the ganache so it didn't set up as well.  Even with chilling the petit fours after pouring the ganache.  Also, as the dulce de leche ones were all jagged on the top, the ganache didn't even out the surface.  I topped these with chocolate covered espresso beans.  Lesson here:  don't skimp on the cream.

Overall, they came out reasonably attractive and certainly tasty.  Richer than the white cake ones.  The white cake ones are more typical of petit fours.  Lessons:  stick with the white cake and, if we're going to keep doing this, invest in the correct little pans.

As I was having my parents over for brunch, I made a champagne vinaigrette with the champagne vinegar I made.  It was light and sweet.  Here's the recipe:
Champagne vinaigrette

1/4 c. champagne vinegar
1/2 c. olive oil
2 T. lemon juice
2 T. brown mustard
2 T. honey
salt and pepper

This was whisked up in the blender.  It needed more pepper, and maybe could do with a little spice.  Still, it was a nice use of some of that champagne vinegar I made.

I hope all the mothers out there have a wonderful day!