Monday, April 29, 2013

Candied Violets

I now have a little tub of candied violets in the fridge for whenever I want a pretty garnish.  They taste like plant mixed with a little sugar.  There was no significant difference between techniques, but the ones I did individually were more likely to stick to the paper towel and break.  I only lost about 3 that way so it's not a big deal, I guess.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spring Colors

After letting the violets steep overnight I strained the liquid into a quart jar.  It was so blue it was almost black.  I had high hopes that the final jam color would be deeper as well.  We brought the jar outside and added the lemon juice so that we could enjoy the full beauty of the color change.  I thought it was interesting that the lemon juice made the color change from the bottom up.

Given that I have sworn off liquid pectin, I had to try to convert the recipe I normally use to powdered pectin.  I had 4 cups of violet infusion and 1/2 c. strained lemon juice and to that I added one package of powdered pectin and 5 cups of sugar.  The proportions seem to be correct as the jelly set up nicely, for a grand total of 6.5 cups.  The color, as I had hoped, is an amazing shade of fuchsia which I didn't think was possible.  I tried to get pictures tonight but I'll just have to add them in tomorrow.  If ever a jelly could be described as gorgeous.....

I moved from pink to green as I needed more mint jelly and the mint was just coming up in the garden.  After snipping off the tops of every mint shoot I could find, I had just enough.  I steeped the leaves for 10 minutes, strained them, and mixed 4 cups of the mint infusion with one package of powdered pectin and 5 cups of sugar plus 4 drops of green food coloring and 1 drop of blue.  This also yielded 6.5 cups and is starting to look a little darker now but initially it was the color of mouthwash.  Tasted better, though!
Here's the violet jelly with the mint.  Even this doesn't do the color justice!

Tonight I'll take the candied violets out of the fridge and let them sit out at room temperature for another day.  Then I'll report back as to how they are.  I checked them earlier and they certainly seem like they're doing the right thing.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Violet Obsession

My Brasilian friend moved and in her new backyard is a sea of violets.  She invited us over today to pick violets for jelly and have a little snack (pao de queijo and other things!).  I brought a large container to get enough flowers to make two batches of violet jelly.  We barely made a dent in the field of purple!  We got another container and picked more so I could candy them.  I thought it was a relatively easy process.

There aren't a lot of ingredients or anything, but it's tedious.  First you make an egg white wash and dip the violets in, then sprinkle them with powdered sugar and put them on a paper towel.  I did about 40 this way and then just about lost my mind.  At that point I was thinking about sugar water in an atomizer or something, but decided instead to just mix the powdered sugar in with the egg wash and bathe the violets in it.  I still had to laboriously separate all the petals before setting each blossom down on the towel, but at least it went a little faster.  Now all the flowers are in the fridge for 1 day and then they dry at room temperature for a day as well.  I have the two different batches separated enough that I can tell the difference so I'll know in a few days if my "alternate method" worked.

I also am steeping 4 cups of violets in 4 cups of boiling water and will strain that tomorrow and make the jelly.  I really packed the violets in there because I'm hoping for a nice strong purple color when it's all done.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Two Foraged Dishes

Gotta love the blogosphere!

Not great lighting, but it is 10 pm....
I found this recipe for wild onion kimchi on one of the blogs I follow and I thought, I have plenty of field garlic, I like kimchi, why don't I try this?  Well, for one thing, 1.5 pounds of wild onions or wild leeks is attainable.  1.5 pounds of tiny little field garlic bulbs is, in my opinion, not.  Certainly not if you want to do other things in your day!

After about a half an hour I did get 1.5 ounces.  I thought maybe I just needed to scale down the recipe.  Turns out that the volume of the field garlic was larger than I thought so I only cut the recipe amounts in half and that was just right.  I still ended up with just a pint of fermenting stuff but, really, how much do I need?  Not much.  Should be ready in a few days. 

Today was also my first nettle picking day.  Last week they looked like they were starting to grow and I figured that this week they'd be just right.  I brought home a bag full and blanched them.  I used them to make a mushroom and nettle risotto that came out really tasty.  I used a small container of baby bellas and chopped them into 1/2 inch pieces, which I sautéed with garlic before adding the rice, turkey and vegetable stocks (1 pint each), nettles (also chopped, with stems removed) and romano cheese.  We had the risotto with steaks (served with homemade horseradish, a gift from my boss who makes it yearly for Passover, it's terrific) and some really good strawberries.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Whey Good!

This morning my parents were coming to visit and I wanted to make something special for them with that ricotta I made yesterday.  I had 12 ounces of ricotta and found a recipe for a ricotta cake in The North End Italian Cookbook.  12 ounces is 1/4 of the ricotta the recipe calls for so I scaled the recipe down and made 3 tiny heart shaped cheesecakes.  It's ricotta, sugar, eggs, flour (just a little), lemon, vanilla and a tiny bit of cream.  The recommended crust is graham cracker crumbs but my box of those was really old and smelled funny, and I didn't have any other graham crackers, so I used some shortbread type cookies I had instead.  They are baked at 425 for 10 minutes and then 350 for another 40, then I turned the oven off and let them cool in the oven.  They are supposed to be served chilled but I didn't have time so they were a little warm.  Not a problem.

We ate the cheesecakes topped with canned peaches, lemon curd, or candied kumquats.  They were terrific!

A Day at The Big Farm

Lambs in the weaning pen
Yesterday I went with my friend Lisa to The Big Farm, in Madison, NH.  She had found it online when looking for cheese making classes.  It is a small sheep dairy farm owned by Paul and his family.  He makes several aged cheese which he sells at a local farmers market.  We were there, with 3 other students, to make cheese.

After driving for 2 and a half hours we were greeted by Paul welcomed in to his home, and fed breakfast of warm coffee cake.  Mmm.   Then, once everyone was there and settled, we got to work!

Paul had tables set up with everything we would need:  crockpot, filled with 3/4 gallon sheep milk, spoon, whisk, knife, thermometer, and all the various strainers, bowls and molds.  In the morning we made a small sheep milk cheese that will have a reddish rind and be like a reblochon on the inside.  First we warmed the milk up to 86-88 degrees.  Then we added the different bacteria cultures and waited a bit.  Then we added the rennet and waited a bit longer.  While we waited we talked about all things cheese, and farming.  Once the curds were ready we cut them, waited a little longer, then put them into the cheese molds and put a weight on top for a light press.  Then we had lunch.  Which consisted of salad, soup, bread and several of Paul's cheeses, including the one we were making.  I can only hope that mine comes out that good!  He also had a manchego and a havarti-like cheese.  Both were great, but I liked the reblochon-like one best.

This cheese requires whisking of the curds
After lunch we flipped our cheese and while that was resting, toured his basement cheese cave.  We were taught how to wash the cheeses and then he set a few aside so we could learn how to coat some in cheese wax.  We also set up for the next cheese, which is a cow's milk cheddar-type cheese.  Paul said it was ok if I brought some of the whey home from the sheep milk to try to make ricotta, so I tucked a gallon jug of the whey into a cooler for later.
We went through the same process for the cheddar, but since the milk is pasteurized we had to add calcium chloride to make the rennet work better.  These curds needed to sit longer so we went outside and met the sheep.  They made a lot of noise!  There were a bunch of older lambs in the weaning pen and two littler, twin lambs with their mama.  So very cute!  Plus some chickens, a turkey, and guinea hens.  Paul showed us the set up he has to milk the sheep, which he does by hand twice a day.  I think he has about 16 that he milks. 

After a while we said goodbye to the sheep, and to Piper, the very friendly border collie who played with us.  It was time to go back and tend to the cheddar curds.  Which were cut, drained, and then pressed into an oval shape on the bottom of the bowl.  At that point we "cheddared" them - we stacked one half of the cheese atop the other, and the weight of one pushes the whey out of the other.  After a bit they were cut again, salted, and pressed into the mold.  These require greater pressure so they went downstairs to Paul's cheese press, an impressive home made device that can press 4 cheeses at once.  We started at 15 pounds of pressure and later in the day Paul was going to increase that gradually.

Oh, yeah, I didn't go home with any cheese.  What?  No, they need to age and Paul will age them in his cheese cave and then in 2 months we'll figure out how to get them.  I'll let you all know in 2 months how they turned out!

After I got home with the whey, I heated it to almost boiling, let it sit for 5 minutes, and then strained it through butter muslin.  I got just under 2 cups of ricotta.  I don't know if it has the potential to be sweeter; the recipes say the whey can't be more than 3 hours old and there was no way that was happening with the drive I had, and maybe the lactose in it broke down a little.  But it is ricotta, and it is edible, and it's the first time I have been able to do that!

So, thank you, Paul, for letting us come into your home and make such a mess!  I learned a lot, and enjoyed everyone's company, and am so excited to try my cheeses!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Field Garlic Bread

Last year I discovered the 3 Foragers' blog which really expanded my horizons when it came to foraging.  One of the recipes was this really nice, savory bread which I made once last year.  With all the field garlic growing like crazy it was easy to get what I needed to do this again.  In fact, I likely have enough for another batch.  Maybe I'll make some in a few days, when I have several hours to spare again.  Since it has yeast in it, you do have to let it rise a couple of times.  I've been running errands in between having to do something with it.  Now that it's done, I have to go back outside in the rain again!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pasta with Garlic Mustard

The weather has finally turned warmer (although I hear we might get some sleet on Friday!) and the spring greens are starting to grow again.  Today I went for a little bike ride and found some garlic mustard greens.  I had been thinking about making a pesto with them but there just wasn't enough so I decided to come up with some sort of pasta dish and toss them in at the last minute.

I sautéed sliced chicken breasts in oil and then added a can of diced tomatoes, a small can of butter beans (drained), salt, pepper and a sprig of rosemary and let that simmer.  Near the end of the cooking time I added some frozen peas and let them cook.  I tossed this with fettuccine and the garlic mustard greens and served with a little parmesan cheese.

It worked pretty well, but everyone agreed it need more... something.  We just can't agree on what the something should be.  Regardless, maybe next time I'll add some onion, or more pepper.  Or balsamic vinegar?  Hmmm.