“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can
begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.”
― Judith Minty, Letters to My Daughters
And so, dear readers, we have moved again. From Tennessee where so many life events (some good, and some bad,) have come and gone, the winds of change have filled our sails once again and we have embarked on a new journey. This time lady fortune has lured us further Westward to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just east of The City of Angels. Had you asked me in June, I would never have guessed that we would end up living in Greater Los Angeles. But here we are, with a new home, and new jobs, getting back into the swing of things. Its a new swing but it has a nice groove; and with my penchant for produce, I could certainly do much worse than to end up in LA.
Though we were sad to leave behind our phenomenal CSA program in Tennessee, we are so fortunate to have moved to an area where high-quality farmers markets are abundant. We have tried three of the area’s local markets so far and have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety of local ingredients and handmade goods. The knowledge and passion of the vendors and artisans gives the market its buzz and verve. Fruit vendors proudly pass out samples of their home grown produce and will gladly spend time with conscious consumers to explain their growing practices. Artisans offer up color on the inspiration for their wares which vary from market to market but include an immense variety of goods from beautiful handmade soaps, to aged balsamic vinegar, to home dried fruits, freshly popped kettle corn, local honey, and a multitude of baked goods. These are the markets I have been longing for – and with the scent of sweet summer fruit in the air and passion emanating from each booth, inspiration abounds.
Now in its 13th year, The South Pasadena Farmers Market has a strong reputation as one of the best in Greater Los Angeles. Situated smack dab in the middle of what is arguably one of the most picture-perfect towns in the local area, the farmers market buzzes with activity every Thursday evening. The sense of community is immensely strong at this evening market. Parents bring their children to participate in sing-a-longs led by a local musician. Food stalls serve up dinner to hungry shoppers who set themselves down at communal picnic tables to enjoy their feast “en plein air.” Produce purveyors banter with their regulars while welcoming newcomers into the fold proffering up wedges of nectarines and samples of fresh pea pods for old and new shoppers alike, whetting their appetite for the weeks peak produce.
It was one such sample of a tangy golden nectarine that seeded the inspiration for this salad. Only a stones throw from Georgia, we were plenty fortunate in Tennessee to be on the receiving end of the region’s well renown peaches. But despite Georgia’s claims of dominance in the production of peaches, I have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety and quality of stone fruit for sale at the Pasadena Area’s farmers markets. To preserve their delicate flesh from bruising, most peaches, plums, and nectarines are picked, packed, and taken to market just a day or so before they fully ripen. Though I have traditionally found underripe fruits to be unpleasantly tart, or lacking in flavor, some of the semi-firm nectarines offered up for sample struck a cord. Tangy but sweet, firm but not crunchy, the nectarine shows a different color and new versatility when eaten just before it reaches the pinnacle of ripeness. In this salad that sweet yet tart flavor plays well with the zesty chiles, sweet summer corn, and punchy onion; and the fruit brings a citrusy brightness acting as a foil for the earthy rye berries that make up the bulk of this grain-based dish.
The original recipe called for cucumbers but I have adapted it here to include some lovely golden zucchini in its stead. As we typically prepare dishes for Dustin’s packed lunches in advance, I wanted to use a vegetable that would keep well in the salad for a few days and not leach too much water into the dish, hence the swapping in of zucchini for cucumbers. For similar reasons, I would strongly suggest using a golden zucchini over a yellow summer squash. If you cannot find golden zucchini at your local market, feel free to substitute a the traditional green variety that is so insanely abundant during the summer season.
From place to place, vendor to vendor, and varietal to varietal, I find there is so much variance in corn. Some summer corn is so sweet and tender that I will happily eat it “raw,” cut straight from the cob (or perhaps still on it.) If you are lucky enough to happen upon corn that is brilliant in its naked state, simply remove it from the cob and add it to the salad uncooked. At times I find corn to be too starchy to eat without at least some cooking. There are countless ways to cook corn and virtually all will work for this dish. If you happen to be lighting up the grill you can simply wrap the shucked corn in foil and let them steam in the foil for a 10 – 15 minutes, or until the kernels darken ever so slightly in color and become tender allow the corn to cool before severing the kernels from the cob. Another method I like involves removing the kernels from the cob and briefly blanching these in boiling water. Once the water has returned to a boil, leave kernels to bubble away for about two minutes before removing them with a slotted spoon to a prepared ice bath. The ice bath will halt the cooking process and brighten the color of the corn slightly. If using this method, allow the kernels to drain well before adding them to the salad.
Sweet Corn and Sour Nectarine Rye-bouleh (adapted from Kitchen Confidante)
128g (1 C) Cracked Rye
2 Ears of Sweet Corn, Raw, Steamed, or Boiled (See Note on Corn Above)
2 Slightly Firm Nectarines, Pitted and Diced
1/2 C Diced Red Onion
2 Small Golden Zucchini, Diced
1/2 Hatch Chile, Seeds Removed, Finely Sliced
1/2 C Chopped Cilantro
1/4 C Chopped Mint
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Strained
1 TBSP Sherry Vinegar
1/2 TSP Agave
1/4 Cup Good Olive Oil
In a medium saucepan (with a lid) bring 3 cups of water to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, place the cracked rye in a fine mesh strainer. Rinse the rye in several “changes” of water, as you would rice before cooking. Once the water has boiled add a pinch of salt and the grains. Once the pot has returned to a boil, place the lid on the pot and remove it from the heat. Let it stand for at least 5 minutes before removing the lid and tasting one of the grains. The grains should no longer be crunchy but should still have a somewhat firm texture. If they are not soft enough, return the lid to the pot and let stand several more minutes before testing again. Once the grains are to your liking, drain in a fine mesh colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Give the colander a few shakes to rid it of some of the excess water and leave the grains to drain while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Place corn, nectarines, onion, zucchini, and chiles in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add cilantro, mint, lemon juice, sherry, agave, olive oil, a liberal pinch of salt and several cracks of pepper and toss again. Add the well drained rye berries and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil.
With the summer harvest long past, the middle of February may seem, to many, to be an odd time to talk about preserves. But to me, this is the time of year I am most grateful for the stores of jams, jellies, and pickles that pepper our pantry shelves. Not only do homemade canned goods make excellent gifts for friends and family, but there is something so sweet about dipping into a jar of your own homemade fruit preserves. Each time I pry open a jar of jam it offers a small taste of another season, jam making not only preserves peak produce for later seasons but preserves the memories of past seasons as well. I do not mean to disenfranchise any gentlemen readers by saying this but jam-making is, to me, a beautifully feminine process. The world of jam making has such a long rich history, and like pie-baking, it has traditionally been women who have tirelessly sought to perfect this elusive culinary art form. Perhaps it is the rich sweetness of the fruit, or the glean of brilliantly ripe skins and peels, maybe it is the way the perfume of cooking fruit fills the air, or the quilted jars – daintily labeled but I find myself irresistibly drawn to the jam making process.
This Kumquat Marmalade is a great starter for anyone hesitant about the traditional rind filled confections. The preserve fits into a category of marmalade commonly referred to as “fine-cut,” meaning that the fruit has been finely sliced to the point where they may, at first glance, resemble a jelly. “Fine-cut” marmalades are time and labor intensive and are more difficult to find on the market as much of the commercially available marmalades are machine made. Marmalades differ from jams and jellies in that water is typically added to the fruit to create the “liquid” or juice needed for processing. The marmalade featured in this post requires three days to make from start to finish. While three days may sound like a ludicrously long time for making a batch of preserves, the three day duration is a critical component in creating a successful marmalade. With its relatively high proportion of fruit solids and water, the citrus needs ample time to rest in the fruit “juice” in order for its natural pectins to permeate the liquid. The presence of these natural pectins is what allows the marmalade to set without the need for any additional powdered pectin.
When approaching any canning project, cleanliness and thorough sterilization of tools, and not the recipe itself, is truly the key element in success. The boiling water method is the gold-standard when it comes to preserving highly acidic foods like pickles, jams, salsas, and tomatoes. While many other techniques exist, and have been used “successfully” for generations, water bath canning is the only method I advocate using. Even with high-sugar, high-acid jams and marmalades, other methods have a greater potential for failure, and failure, when it comes to canning, can mean botulism. When it comes to canning, botulism is the big 800-lb gorilla lurking in the corner of the room, it is a downright frightening food borne illness that can thrive in improperly canned foods. Botulism spores exist naturally in the air and are not, themselves, harmful. But when botulism spores develop into botulism toxin, you have a literal recipe for disaster. Using proper canning technique and time tested recipes with a pre-established acidity level can easily prevent botulism toxin from taking root in your canned goods.
This jam requires a few hours of work over the course of three consecutive days to prepare properly. It may sound like an insurmountable task but the rewards are well worth the time investment. In fact, I actually appreciate that the work is spread over the course of a few days as it make the process easier to fit into a busy schedule. The preparation of the kumquats requires a solid chunk of time. It is a lovely project to take on with a friend or a few family members as the slicing and dicing process is fairly monotonous and quite conducive to conversation and with good company, the task will fly by in no time.
Kumquat Marmalade – Adapted Slightly from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders. For anyone not familiar with this cookbook, it is a beautifully written and wonderfully produced resource for truly special and simply stunning jam, jelly, and marmalade recipes.
2 Pounds 10 Ounces Meyer Lemons, Cut into Eighths
1 Pound Kumquats, Halved
1 Pound 3 Ounces Kumquats, Seeded, Cut Crosswise into Halves (so that you have two long halves) Halves Cut into Quarters (you want to create long slivers), and Then Sliced Thinly into Itty-Bitty Pieces
5 1/4 Pounds of Organic White Sugar
5 Ounces Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice, Strained
1 Ounce Clément Créole Shrubb or Other Lightly Spiced Rum
Additional Equipment Needed 1 11-12 Quart Copper Preserving Pan or Wide Non-Reactive Kettle of Similar Volume
2 Large Saucepans
1 Large Canner or Very Deep Stock Pot for Processing Jars
Large Colander or Chinois for Draining the Lemon-Kumquat Juice
Fine Mesh Sieve or Strainer for Straining the Juice
12 Clean 1/2 Pint Mason Jars with Screw Bands and New Lids
1 Canning Insert – Jar Rack
Day Two – Start by preparing the kumkuat-lemon “juice.” Place the pan with the lemon eighths and kumquat halves over high heat and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer for 2 to 3 hours. As the fruit cooks you will need to press down on it periodically to encourage it to release juices (tread lightly – you don’t want to break up the pulp into the juice), a wooden spoon or spatula works well for this task, alternatively you can use a potato masher. If the water level starts to dip you can add more water in increments to ensure that the fruit remains submerged during the cooking process. You will know the juice is ready when the fruit has become very soft and the liquid takes on a slightly syrupy consistency.
While the lemons and kumquats simmer place the saucepan containing the sliced kumquats over high heat an being to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium and allow it to simmer for about 1/2-hour or until the fruit slices are quite tender. remove the pan from the heat, place a lid on it, and leave to rest overnight at room temperature.
When the lemon -kumquat juice is ready, place a large bowl beneath a fine strainer or chinois and strain the juice into the bowl. Leave the fruit suspended over the bowl to drain overnight at room temperature.
Day Three – Fill your canner with water, set the insert into the canner, place the jars (without the lids or bands) in the pot, and set over high heat to bring to a boil. This will take a good chunk of time so it is best to start well in advance, you can always lower the heat to keep the water near boiling and at the ready if the water heats well before the marmalade is ready.
Place five teaspoons on a plate on a flat surface in the freezer, you will need to have these well chilled for testing the marmalade.
Strain the lemon-kumquat juice through a fine mesh strainer into the preserving pan. Add the kumquat pieces, lemon juice, and sugar to the juice and stir well to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. During the initial bubbling process leave the mixture alone and resist the temptation to stir it. Once the mixture begins to foam stir it gently, repeating every few minutes to keep it from burning on the bottom of the pan. As the jam nears setting point you may need to lower the heat slightly to keep the mixture from sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan. Allow the marmalade to bubble away over high heat until it reaches the setting point. This process may take anywhere from 1/2-hour to an hour. Certain telltale signs will signal that the mixture is nearly ready, the color will deepen and the bubbles will reduce in size. Once this happens begin testing to avoid over-setting (I like a jam that is set, and spreadable, but
To test the marmalade for doneness, remove the preserving pan from the heat. I typically place a layer or two of kitchen towels on top of a cutting board to act as a buffer between the hot pan and counter and remove the pan to this area while testing. Spoon out a small glob of jam with one of the frozen spoons and place it back on the plate in the freezer for 3-4 minutes. Remove the spoon and feel the underside, if its cool but not cold its ready to test. Tilt the spoon vertically to see if the marmalade runs. If it runs, return the pan to the heat and continue to cook for another 3-5 minutes before retesting. If the marmalade has sufficiently solidified, leave the pan off the heat. With a broad wooden or metal spoon, skim any white foam from the top of the marmalade, being careful not to stir any into the mixture.
See notes above for details on the canning process. This recipe should make enough marmalade to fill 10-12 half pint jars. Even if you only “need” 10, make and process 12, on occasion a jar or two will not seal and you just might have to suck it up, pop it in the fridge and start chipping away at a jar yourself (oh the woes we must endure.) My canning rack holds 7 half pint jars but I typically process 5-6 at a time to give myself a bit of wiggle room in maneuvering the jars in and out of the boiling water. For this recipe I processed the jars for 10 minutes before removing them to a kitchen towel lined jelly roll pan for cooling. Let them really cool, completely, don’t poke at them, or try to remove the screw bands, or try to dry them off, or test the buttons on the top, leave them alone. If you need to, drape them with a kitchen towel to assist you in resisting the temptation to pester them. After a solid 18-24 hours remove the screw bands and check the button to ensure that the lids are solidly sealed. If any are not sealed you can either return the contents to the heat, and then reprocess, or place in the fridge.
In a world of so much variety it is still somehow easy to get stuck in a rut. Whether to save time or reduce the risk that comes from experimenting many of us have a certain leaning towards the familiar. To some extent, these likes and dislikes are what form the etchings of our identity. My certain love of vegetables, a penchant for puns and wordplay, my unending quest to develop and redevelop a methodology for composing the world’s most organized grocery list, a distinct urge to fill my closet with clothing in varying shades of grey and brown – these may be some of the things that come to mind when friends and family think of me.
These interests, likes, and dislikes piece together to form about a kindergarten level understanding of who we are. And its strange to think but we still so often rely on these identifiers to build bridges with new people. We may bond over a shared love of blues music, rock climbing, wood oven pizzas, vintage clothing, or old trucks and develop relationships with newcomers that largely revolve around these shared interests and activities. All of this is good and well, and really perfectly normal, but the problem is that as we change, and our likes and dislikes shift and morph and we evolve as individuals we experience a good deal of churn. There is often a turning over of acquaintances as we give up old hobbies and shed bits and bobs of our face value identity.
About 6 months ago Dustin and I stopped climbing. It was less of a conscious decision and more of a natural shift, we moved to a new house, took on new hobbies and found new athletic pursuits. And just like that our new identities formed adding new badges to our identities sort of “Brownie” style, an iron on patch for distance running, a sticker for gardening, pins for milestone achievements in weight lifting, a new sash for woodworking. These pursuits became our new topics of discussion, our new bonding points with passersby, something to talk about while standing in the grocery line or while waiting for a bench at the gym.
On the grand cosmic scheme of things, stopping climbing really changed nothing at all about Dustin and myself. We so quickly found new activities to fill our time, new ways to self identify, the old badges were put aside – maybe to be revisited, maybe not. But for larger, shape shifting changes these voids are not so easily filled. For all of my friends and family who have struggled to overcome addiction, to put the pieces back together after an illness, or job loss, who have suffered through depression – to pull through these crises of identity takes an enormous amount of soul searching. Pulling through each dreary day, each setback requires that you get real with yourself and search for that deeper kernel of identity that many never have the will or need to reach for.
This weeks dish is made up from some truly simple ingredients. The earthy radish, the humble bean, peasant greens and a scant smattering of nuts, cheese, and lemon pull together to create a nourishing meal. Lemon, Parmesan and garlic are flavors that I love, that can elevate even the humblest ingredient, and that bring me comfort. Like us, strong, basic ingredients need little embellishment to shine, at their core, simple, “whole” ingredients have the integrity to stand alone. This simple meal is a great staple to turn to for a rainy day. If you are willing to take on the time taking project of soaking, rinsing, cooking and rerinsing your own beans, I suggest you do yourself a favor and cook a double batch, the remaining beans can be frozen for a later use. Alternatively this dish can be made with cooked beans, I suggest buying the largest ones you can find, the giant limas are nice as they are about the same size as the halved radishes and make for a really attractive plate of food, but smaller white beans like navy, cannellini or even chickpeas would work well here.
Kale, Radish, and Giant Lima Sautee with Almonds
This dish was inspired by “Pan-Fried Corona Beans & Kale” from one of my all time favorite bloggers, Heidi Swenson, you can find the original here at 101cookbooks.com.
1 1/4 Cup Large Lima Beans (Dried) Soaked Overnight in Water
2 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
2 Bunches of Kale, Washed Well (about 400g) Stems Separated and Chopped Finely (1/2″ Segments), Leaves Chopped (1″ Pieces, Strips are OK.)
1/2 lb (226g) Radishes, Washed (May Need to Be Gently Scrubbed If Very Dirty) and Halved
1/4 Cup (about 30g) Walnuts, Chopped and Toasted
1/4 Cup (about 28g) Parmesan Cheese, Grated
Zest of One Lemon, Minced
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Start the recipe the night before (actually, for all of the advance planners out there – this step can be done 2 or 3 days before, in fact, you can easily double the amount of beans you prepare here and do your future-self a favor by freezing one half of the beans for later use.) Place the beans in a medium sized bowl and cover with about 6 cups of water. Cover the bowl with a towel (I typically slip a rubber band around the rim of the bowl to secure the towel lest any of our insect friends get curious about the bowls contents.) Leave the beans overnight to soak. Drain the beans and rinse well. Place in a saucepan and cover with water, the beans should be covered by about 1 – 1 1/2 inch of water. Put the pot over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the water to a simmer and cook for about 40-45 minutes or until just tender. Be careful not to overcook the beans or they will disintegrate when they are pan fried later. Drain the beans, rinse again and set aside to dry.
Once the beans have dried place a large (preferably non-stick) pan over medium high heat. Add the oil and heat till shimmering. Add beans to the heated oil and sautee, tossing every 2 minutes for about 6 minutes or until lightly golden, add the radishes and sautee for another 4-5 minutes, tossing regularly. Add the garlic and sautee another minute. Add the kale and sautee until just wilted. Remove the pan from the heat and add the walnuts, parmesan, and lemon (zest and juice.) Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed and serve.
If tomatoes are summer’s prom queens then peppers must be the practical jokers of the produce kingdom. Allow me to explain. Peppers, or shall we say chilies, like to be the center of attention. It takes careful skill, and occasionally some real gumption in tasting raw specimen to determine their spice factor (but more on this in a moment.) And with deft hand and careful placement the home cook can teach chiles to play nice with their veggie (and occasionally fruit) brethren and serve in a complementary, rather than a starring role.
But what makes them jokers in my mind is the way that peppers can lure you into a false sense of confidence one moment, and come through with a shocking wallop when you aren’t looking. In fact, I have found that home grown peppers in particular seem to vary WIDELY in their degree of spiciness. The same pepper plant may yield an early June crop of jalapeños that are mild and sweet and then give birth to fire breathing dragons of peppers just a few weeks later.
If fact, according to the obviously unassailable source of Wikipedia (insert snarky comment here) Jalapenos can range in spiciness from as little as 2,500 to as much as 8,000 Scoville Units. What are Scoville Units you may ask? Scoville Units represent a measurement of the amount of Capsacin present in a pepper. Capsacin is a chemical compound that stimulates nerve receptors in your body producing that oh so familiar burning feeling you might experience while eating spicy foods. To hone in on just what the Jalapeno’s wide ranging Capsacin content means for us the home cooks, allow me to paint an illustration. Mild Anaheim Chiles rank around the 2,500 Scoville measure, while heady Serranos typically chime in just above the Jalapenos at 10,000 Scoville Units. So selecting a Jalapeno to use in your favorite salsa can be a bit haphazard and the same measure in cups or weight or number of chiles can illicit quite different end products.
What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with corn salad? Reader, I assure you, this is not just another one of my tangents on food education (though every day in the Briggs-Limaye Kitchen is chock full of learning experiences.) Dustin and I have been working away to diligently test recipes for posting here and in doing so took a couple takes at making this corn salad (also its sort of addictive so it didn’t really hurt that we just couldn’t stop eating it.) The first was for a small get together/cookout in our back yard. The corn I had bought was large kernel corn, we used our favorite new microwave method for cooking the kernels and steamed them 2 at a time in the husks for 3 minutes before slicing off the stalk end and shaking the kernel out (its amazing, they come out silk free and the microwaving is just enough to barely cook the corn for the salad.) The end product was beautifully sweet from the peak season corn and had a nice balanced punch from the jalapenos.
Most recently the corn we used was a smaller kernel corn that was starchier and less sweet than the first batch, the 3 minute microwaving time proved far too long for the small kernels but when we reduced it to 2 minutes our favorite cut and shake trick didn’t work quite as well as it had previously. Additionally, though we used the same number of jalapenos the end product was FAR spicier than the first round had been.
From trial and error we learned two important lessons that will hopefully make this dish a winning success in your kitchen. First, use large ears of corn, with tight rows and fat kernels. Buy the corn with the husk on as these are typically the most fresh. Second, test the jalapenos and, especially if they are local and it has been a hot dry summer, proceed with caution. You can always increase the spice level by adding jalapenos to the final dish but its darn hard to dial down the heat if you knock the heat level through the roof. If you do, however, overdo the spiciness, don’t fret. Grab a bag of tortilla chips and call it salsa, everyone will love it.
Summery Sweet Corn Salad with Jicama
1 Medium Red Onion, Approximately 1/2 lb, Cut into Small Dice
2 Jalapenos, With Seeds, Sliced Very Thinly
3 Ounces Lime Juice
1 TSP Salt
9 Ears of Corn, Preferably with Large Plump Kernels, Husks On
1/2 Of a Jicama, Cut into 1/4″ Dice
2 TBSP Avocado Oil
1 TSP Agave
1/2-3/4 Cup Chopped Cilantro
Place onion, jalapenos, lime juice, and salt in the bottom of a large bowl and stir. Set aside until needed.
Place the corn, husks on, two ears at a time, in the microwave. Cut off the bottom of the ear (the stalk end) to expose the last row of kernels fully. Grasp the corn firmly by the silk end and shake until the ear slips free of the husk. Repeat this with the remaining ears.
Check for any remaining silks before slicing the kernels from the cobs. Add the kernels to the bowl containing the jalapenos and lime and add the jicama, avocado oil, agave, and cilantro. Toss to combine well and taste for seasoning adding additional lime, jalapeno, and salt as needed.
The last few weeks in Nashville have been riddled with sweltering hot afternoons and equally steaming evenings. With little respite from the heat our garden began to look depressed and tired, its little green stems drooping towards the ground, leaves yellowing. Water as we would the veggies protested the heat, our cucumbers became warped and deformed from a lack of moisture, pinching in at their “waist”to resemble barbells. The tomatoes cracked under the pressure.
At a canning class organized by Delvin Farms (who run our CSA) the farmers asked the participants to pray for rain. And perhaps the power of those prayers – palms to palms, foreheads to ground, or swishing feet in dance – brought down upon us the rain that so swiftly ensued, but not more than two days after that class entered the deluge. Days and days of rain, almost unsettling amounts of rain poured down upon our city, a city already a bit wary of copious downpour following the recent flood that took out much of its low lying tenements, burying entire malls in water, closing roadways and barring much of Nashville’s commerce for days on end.
As humans, we have an amazing ability to adapt to changes, our bodies adjust to temperature fluctuations with relative ease, we weather the rain and snow, inhabit barren desserts, and marshy wetlands, indeed we are capable of so much variety. It always amazes me that with such an uncanny ability to thrive in almost any climate, almost any area, that many people are downright unreceptive to change in their own lives. Rather then spending the sullen sweltering days standing over the stove or grill moaning about the heat, I try to target my cooking to techniques that suit the hotter climate, saving steamier projects for those unseasonably cold days that take us by surprise during the summer months.
In our kitchen, one of those rainy day projects typically involves cooking a large batch of whole grains. Rather then spending time boiling and cooking grains like farro or wheat berries for a salad, I typically cook a large batch once or twice a month and freeze cooled portions in bags for later use. They defrost fairly quickly and, provided you cool them completely before freezing they should keep well for 3-4 months (not that they will last that long I would recommend running cold water over the grains or dunking them in an ice bath and then draining them well before freezing as this will keep them in the best condition possible throughout their time “on ice.” I do my very best to flush out as much air as possible before freezing the grains to keep them fresh.
With the grains cooked this salad is fairly easy to throw together on a sweltering summer day. It does require a fair bit of chopping, but I have a feeling that this is something that many produce lovers are well accustomed to – those veggies don’t chop themselves now do they. Personally, I would not used dried oregano in the stead of the fresh oregano listed here, if you cannot find it, I would reach for mint, or basil as a substitute before rummaging around for the dried oregano as it wont bring the zing that is needed to balance out the dressing. I love the sharp tang of Bulgarian feta in this dish, it is pungent and unctuous and adds a slightly gaminess to the otherwise straightforward dish. As the salad does follow fairly traditional “Greek salad” lines it would make a nice addition to a pot luck dinner or picnic, and may be a nice way to get new diners indoctrinated into the grain salad “movement” (I know its not really a movement but it should be!) So without further ado, I give you my new favorite grain salad – Greek style. Enjoy!
Greek Salad with Wheat Berries and Bulgarian Feta
This Recipe makes a large bowl – enough to feed a small picnic crowd or large family gathering, it can easily be halved for smaller get-togethers.
4 Cups Cooked Wheat Berries (Farro or other hearty whole grains may be substituted)
3 Cucumbers Cut into 1/2 inch Dice
2 Pints Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
1 1/2 Red Onions, Halved, Sliced Thinly, Slices Cut into Thirds or Quarters
2 TSP Sugar
Juice of 1 Lemon
1 TBSP White Balsamic or Good White Vinegar
4 Small Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Sliced
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 TSP Salt
2 Green Bell Peppers, Diced
2 TBSP Fresh Oregano, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Parsley
About 20 Pitted Kalamata Olives, Rougly Chopped
1/2 Cup Crumbled Bulgarian Feta (or substitute another brined feta)
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Place the Cucumbers and Tomatoes in separate colanders and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt (don’t worry about the amount of salt, it will be rinsed off later) This salting helps draw some of the water out of the vegetables so they don’t make the dressing watery later on. Allow the cucumbers and tomatoes to sit and drain in the sink while chopping the other veggies.
Place the Onions in a large bowl with the sugar, lemon juice and vinegar and toss to combine. Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes to take the bite off of the onions. Add the garlic and slowly whisk in the olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste.
Rinse the tomatoes and cucumbers well with water and drain. Add to the bowl with the dressing along with the bell peppers, parsley, oregano, wheat berries and olives. Toss well, seasoning as you see fit, remember that the feta will add a bit of additional salt. Crumble the feta over the top just before serving and toss lightly (if combined too early the feta will color and look murky.) Serve to friends and enjoy!
Its a beautiful thing when you find two ingredients that truly marry well together. Like a good relationship this melding of flavors is a partnership of sorts, where each player complements the other, bringing out the best in its partner without losing any of it’s own shine. Cooking is full of classic flavor pairings, cool mint and creamy chocolate, gamey smokey bacon and pungent sharp onions, vine ripened tomatoes and fresh creamy mozzarella cheese, and a springtime favorite – supple sweet strawberries and tangy woodsy rhubarb.
Every time I think of great pairings a scene from Ratatouille springs to mind, if you don’t know the movie, or don’t know the scene I am referencing, let me try my hand at telling the story. It all starts with a rat with somewhat discerning tastes. This cute friend, who is also the stories protagonist, ventures out with his brother in search of some good ingredients from the local garbage bin. Remy, our rat friend, finds a chanterelle mushroom, a nugget of tomme cheese, some rosemary, and grass dew drops. He treks to the top of a roof to try to roast the mushroom over the exhaust to meld the flavors when he is struck by lightening. He falls from the roof, mushroom in hand, and when he comes to he finds that he has created an amazing cheesy woodsy creation on a stick.
By no means do strawberries and rhubarb remind me of dumpster diving, or, fortunately, of lightening toasted rodents, but Remy’s revelation on how flavors meet to produce a heightened experience for the diner, is one that most good cooks are well familiar with. It’s this simultaneous transformation and showcasing of raw ingredients that drives myself, and so many other cooks, to experiment with flavors in the kitchen. I had seem a recipe for barley scones in “Good to the Grain,” which put a new spin on the idea of partnering jam and scones by sandwiching a tangy layer of between two sweet and buttery rounds of barley based dough. I wanted to adapt the recipe to fit a scheme I had to make a rhubarb jam from some beautiful stalks I found at the market.
As if the duo of Strawberries and Rhubarb aren’t enough to make you want to try these scones, the combination of these two with the sweet nuttiness of Barley Flour truly pushes these scones into rave-worthy territory. Barley flour is simply made from milled barley. It can be substituted 1:1 for 1/3 of the all purpose flour called for in most baking dishes without diminishing the integrity of the dish. It makes a nice alternative to white or even whole wheat flour not only because of its great flavor, but because with fewer calories per cup and far more fiber, it has greater nutritional value as well. Hopefully tasting these scones you will have a ratatouille moment of your own – so go on and give them a try, and if you are suddenly struck by an impulse to add a spark of your own flavor – go for it!
Barley Scones with Strawberries and Rhubarb
For the Scone Dough
1 C Plus 2 TBSP Barley Flour
1 C All Purpose Flour
1/4 C Dark Brown Sugar
2 TSP Baking Powder
1/2 TSP Baking Soda
1 1/4 TSP Kosher Salt
8 TBSP Cold Unsalted Butter Cut into Small Cubes
1/2 C Whole Buttermilk
10 Medium Strawberries Diced
For the Jam
4-5 Stalks Rhubarb, Diced
3/4 Cup Sugar
4-5 Thick Strips of Lemon Peel
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
2 TBSP White Wine
2 TBSP Melted Butter, Cooled Slightly
2 TBSP Sugar
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse dry ingredients until well mixed. Add butter pieces and pulse in 4-5 short (1-2 second) spurts until batter looks sandy. Add buttermilk and egg and pulse until just incorporated. Add strawberries and pulse once or twice for a second each time to distribute.
Turn scone dough out onto a floured surface and divide in half. Pat each half into flat rounds and wrap with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill while you make the jam (chill for a min of 1 hour.)
To make the jam, place rhubarb, and sugar in a sauté pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until rhubarb releases its juices, and sugar dissolves. Allow the mixture to come to a low boil, add lemon peel & juice and wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fruit breaks down and the jam is thick, this should take 12-15 mins. Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before moving on to the scone assembly.
To assemble the scones, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, line a cookie pan with a silpat mat or parchment paper and set aside. Remove scone dough from the refrigerator, place on a lightly floured surface and roll each round into a 7 inch circle. Select one round to be the bottom, smear this round with 3-4 TBSP of your homemade jam. Place the other round on top of the jam smeared circle and press just slightly on the top. Brush the top lightly with melted butter, sprinkle with sugar. Cut into 8 equally sized wedges. It is best to rinse the knife with cold water between slices to keep the cuts clean. Place scones on prepared pan, leaving at least two inches between scones. Bake for 22-26 minutes, rotating the tray half way through baking. Once the scones are lightly brown and fairly fragrant remove from oven and place on a drying rack to cool. Allow to cool for 5-10 mins before removing from the tray. These are unbelievably delicious served straight from the oven, but should ideally be eaten the day they are made, this may mean you have to invite others to share, but your friends and family will thank you for it!
It has been a supremely exciting couple of weeks. My bridal shower sped by in a flash, our new house is finally, starting to feel like a home. Photos are up on the walls, our spices have finally found a new roost in the organizational challenge that is our kitchen. And our first garden is growing by leaps and bounds, some days I feel as though, if I sat outside and watched, I might actually catch a glimpse of the tomatoes inching up the posts that hold them upright. They have grown at least three feet in the last three weeks, maybe it’s all the love in the air.
In addition to sewing our first garden, Dustin and I recently purchased our first grill. Our little webber smokey joe may not measure up size wise to look like the biggest and baddest around, but what it lacks in surface area, it makes up with in ease of use and pure smokey grilling flavor. Since buying the little guy, we have been grilling a few times a week.
Recently we started experimenting with fish on the grill, first a few whole sardines made their way onto the fire and onto our plates. Spurred by this “tiny” fish success Dustin and I ventured to whole foods to try a fresh catch. when we arrived we were a bit overwhelmed by the choices (and a bit by the prices as well.) I knew that I wanted to pair the fish with a cucumber salsa I saw in Bon Apetit’s June 2012 issue – we had just received a gorgeous gaggle of hot house cucumbers in our first CSA allotment of the season, and the magazine had auspiciously featured them in their “Four Chefs One Ingredient” challenge, I took this as a sign.
Getting back to the market, I asked the fishmonger which fish he might pair with a cucumber salsa. “Cucumber salsa?” he remarked quizzically, something told me this might not be standard fare for fish but I was determined it would work, and he tried to keep an open mind as we walked through potential foils for said salsa.
Initially I had thought a tuna steak would pair nicely, but not only was the tuna obscenely expensive, but it just didn’t look quite as nice as its neighbors. Salmon was on sale and in season, but the fishmonger and I agreed it might be a bit, how shall we say this, odd, with cold cucumbers. We moved on, US caught mahi mahi was a strong contender, and I was ready to put in my chips when a man in rubberized overalls laid a vision of a fillet down before me. “What’s that?” I asked my new fish friend, whose patience with me was astounding, “Mackerel,” he replied. I asked him his thoughts on the mackerel with salsa, he paused, smiled, and replied that he thought it was a “real winner.” I was sold.
As it turns out, my fishmonger friend was right on the money. Not only does the mackerel pair well with the salsa from a textural perspective, but the slightly oily flavor of the fish stands up to the fresh zing of the salsa. These are nice together with a side of grilled veggies or grill roasted new potatoes. Dustin and I mused that, with the addition of some nice shredded cabbage and a zingy crema, the grilled fish and salsa would make for some excellent fish tacos. Leftover salsa can be used in a myriad of ways, but one worth mentioning is that the salsa is quite close to a cucumber gazpacho, in fact, with the addition of some nice olive oil, a slight splash of water, and a tad more lime, the salsa leftovers may be transformed into a nice (spicy) cold soup for lunch the following day.
Fish with Cucumber Salsa (From Bon Apetit)
1/2 C Finely Diced Red Onion
2 C Finely Diced Peeled Cucumber
1/4 C Chopped Cilantro
1/4 C Chopped Mint
1 Jalapeno, With Seeds, Finely Minced
3 TBSP Fresh Lime Juice
1 TBSP Vegetable Oil
Mix first five ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir in lime juice and oil. Season to taste with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and more lime juice, if desired.
Set salsa aside and allow flavors to meld while you prepare the fish.
I didn’t specify a size or type of fish above because, really, a whole slew of fish would go nicely, pick a slightly oily and fairly flavorful fillet that looks fresh and will hold up to grilling. For grilling I prefer my fillets with skin on, but obviously with some fish, like tuna, this is not an option. The salsa in this recipe will easily provide for up to three pounds of fish, and, if you plan to make less fish, I think its highly unlikely that the cucumbery leftovers will go to waste.
Preparing the fish is quite simple. Run your fingers down the centerline to check for pin bones. Remove any pin bones with fish tweezers. Rub remaining fish with a very light coating of canola or other flavor neutral oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and some good cracks of pepper.
Grill over high heat about 3-5 mins per side (depending on the thickness of the fillets, ours took about four mins per side and came out perfectly cooked.)
I like to serve my grilled fish with some grilled citrus, grilling lemons and limes mellows the flavor and allows it to zest up the fish (also great with grilled veggies like broccoli or zucchini) without completely overpowering it with acid, to grill the citrus simply slice it in half and place over medium heat on the grill until the flesh bears a slight char.