Monday, March 29, 2010

Cute as a Kumquat...

Kumquats, they’re just so darn cute! We have a little tree in a pot on our front porch and when it is full of fruit it just makes me smile. It just tries so hard, like one of the little kids who want to be just like the big kids.

This year we had a bumper crop of kumquats and I made a commitment to not let them go to waste…so I decided that I would can them, big surprise…I read a recipe in one of Alice Water’s cookbooks for candied kumquats that was quick and easy and something I might actually use. I have visions of making a lovely pound cake and drizzling some of the kumquats on top and maybe a little mascarpone too, it sounds pretty yummy to me. Well I set about the ‘slice off the end and remove the seeds’ part of the exercise, boy those things are pretty much filled with seeds, but it went pretty quickly. Then I put them in a small sauce pan and covered them with a 2:1 mix of water and sugar and I simmered them for about 10 minutes until they were soft. They fit just perfectly into three half pint jars. Unfortunately one of the jars broke while processing, but I can’t totally complain, since I’ve had an awfully long run of no breakage, so I guess I was due...Now the kumquats are looking very cute in their little jars, waiting for their next big adventure!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Asparagus! Asparagus! Yea! Asparagus!

Asparagus, those little harbingers of Spring. Diminutive green soldiers saluting the long awaited sunshine. It just gets you all wiggly excited for the new season!

Around our house asparagus definitely rates as a favorite vegetable. Unfortunately it has what we consider a remarkably short season. The way we have dealt with this is to simply eat asparagus almost every day, which even for an asparagus lover can get a bit tiring. We just don't want to miss any! Well, now that our farmers market and local co-op are crazy with the green spears, we are in asparagus heaven!

This year, being in full canning mode and determined to have foods we love available to us all year long, or until we pig out on one particular canned item 'til it's all gone, whichever occurs first...I decided I would put up some asparagus. As is my m.o. I did a little practice batch of pickled asparagus a few weeks ago, using

the recipe from Well-Preserved by Eugenia Bone, and let them sit-almost long enough-then gave them a test taste last Friday...YUM! So Sunday at our farmers market I was ready to purchase 12lbs...well the farmer I decided to buy from gave me 3 extra lbs. because I had made such a large purchase, don't you just love that! Last night we set about pickling them. I enlisted my husband's help, since he has only been a 'taster' up to this point and I figured a little sweat equity wouldn't be a bad thing. Needless to say we had a blast, and the result is 8 quart jars of lovely asparagus...let's jar per month will almost get us to next season...fat chance.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bees, Please...

Last year I decided that I wanted to keep bees…after I expressed this desire, the questions from friends and family poured in, everything from ‘Very cool’ to ‘Oh for heaven’s sake, why would you want to do that?’ Undaunted, I waited for Spring to arrive so that I could actually pursue this new hobby. I find bees absolutely fascinating. And now after doing reading and researching I am even more enthralled. Our backyard is very bee friendly, with citrus, lavender, wisteria in the spring, roses, vegetables and all manner of small flowering plants. Also, I am told that urban hives are quite successful because there is always something blooming in the city.
We are very fortunate to have a ‘bee store’ blocks from our house. It is a family run business, with three generations of beekeepers manning the store. They have all sorts of supplies, not to mention remarkable knowledge! Several weeks ago, I put a deposit down on my bees and this weekend I purchased my hive and all the beekeeper garb…The hive required fabrication, so I set about putting it together. I had a total blast. It really went together pretty quickly and if we hadn’t had to leave for a concert, I think I would have even gotten it painted! So painting my hive – a lovely butter yellow – will be an after work pursuit for the week. Now all I have to do is wait for the bees to arrive in mid April and take my beekeeping class at that time as well…
I will keep you posted...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Starting Seeds for the Summer Garden

I love seeds…I love the catalogues, I love the packets, I love the instructions about figuring out when to plant, the whole thing. I can pour over them like trading cards, admiring my booty. Several weeks ago a friend of mine told me about a new (to me) seed source. And what a winner! Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – –you can order online or request their beautiful print catalogue. They have an unbelievable selection of heirlooms, no GMO seeds there! And since I’ve practically become a conspiracy theorist on that subject, I was very happy. After devouring their catalogue I purchased my seeds. As usual I have enough for a small farm, not the urban back yard that I actually have, but I just can’t resist. I got mostly tomatoes, and a couple squash. I figure I can add eggplant and peppers later. I will cram as many plants into my space as is possible, and whatever is left I will share.
Next step planting…I have a great sprouting tray and I carefully planted my seeds. I set them on my service porch where through the sunny windows I thought it would be enough warmer than outside to sprout…but no-o-o, after two weeks and still rather cool weather, nothing. This required emergency measures…I brought the little guys inside and purchased a grow light.A little cheesy, but effective.
In two days I had sprouts! Now they are coming up fast and furious and I’ve moved on to panicking about getting my winter garden cleaned up and ready for my seedlings.
Here’s to Spring!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lovely Lemon Curd

Well I learned an important canning lesson over the weekend…
A few months ago I canned my first batch of lemon curd. I made a very small batch, checking and rechecking the steps as I went along, I figured that would create the best chance for success and I was dually rewarded, it was perfect! A couple weeks later, feeling rather cocky, I quickly made and canned a double batch…but, I forgot one key step…removing the air bubbles… I ended up with that weird space at the bottom of the jars. I was so disappointed! I went ahead and used this curd in a lemon tart and it looked and tasted great, but the consistency was a little less than. So last night, using the very last Meyer Lemons from my tree, I carefully created a double batch once again…remembering of course to run a spatula around the edge to remove the air…and voila! It is amazing to me that such a simple step can make such a big difference. It just doesn’t seem like it would be that important, especially since you are supposed to leave space at the top, but those air bubbles are really trapped and airspace at the bottom just isn’t very pretty. So ‘tip for the day’ don’t forget to remove the air bubbles!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Citrus & Chocolate

As the citrus season wanes, leaving in it’s wake oodles of jars of preserved loveliness, my mind shifts to what to do with them all…gifts for friends, spoon full’s on toast, accompaniments to meat dishes, you all know the drill.

Well, last week when I was putting together the menu for a little dinner party we were hosting: braised pork shoulder, cinnamon scented lentils, Caesar salad, chocolate cake…I had a brainstorm! What if I took the Fennel Pickled Oranges that I had canned from a recipe I found at CafĂ© Libby, and chopped them up and put them between the layers of the chocolate cake? Now when my sister and I were little we thought those chocolate orange stick candies were about the best thing going and chocolate and orange is still one of my favorite combos, so I figured how could I loose. I used the recipe for Sin City Chocolate Cake from Chocolate Cake by Michele Urvater and on top of the frosting, between the layers, I sprinkled about ¼ cup of chopped oranges. O-o-o-la-la! It was just the right amount! There was a subtle fennel orangey flavor mixed with some pretty serious chocolate…my guests proclaimed it a success and it will go into my ‘keeper’ recipes.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jumping in...

My excitement for cooking, canning and growing food in my own garden has driven me to blog...which considering the alternatives is a pretty good thing.
I tend to take a somewhat fearless approach to these ventures, and the results can range from lovely to ‘interesting’. But it’s never dull, and it's always a good time…