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Archive for the ‘Fruit’ Category

On January 8, 2011 I graduated summa cum laude from Georgia Gwinnett College with a degree in Business Administration, Finance concentration. To celebrate the event, I catered my own graduation party last Saturday night. As much as possible, I used local and/or organic food. It was a lot of work, but at the end of it all my exhausted foodie spirit was satisfied! Various food porn photos from the event are below! Click on the pics for the larger version.

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Unusual Ingredients

In my CSA box last week I got a branch with leaves and sort of prickly pods on it. I’m thinking..what the…and check the label on the box. It lists only one thing that I am unfamiliar with: Lychee.

What the heck is a lychee? I immediately googled this strange food. Apparently lychee is a tropical fruit. You peel it and eat it. Or make it into any number of incarnations. How it made its way into my LOCAL CSA box was a bit of a mystery that I intended to investigate. Someone in the Georgia or Florida area has successfully grown lychee…

I found this in the CSA newsletter on the lychees: “Last week I came across a find that I just could not pass up as they are one of my favorite fruits. Lychee  – pronounced lie – chi or lee-chi  depending on who you ask are a wonderful tropical fruit found throughout Asia. They have a thin shell that can be easily peeled, underneath is a juicy eye-ball looking fruit that is similar to the taste and consistency of a grape. These are hard to find fresh but we ran across some being grown in South Florida so we went out of our regular sphere a bit just to get a taste.”

Alien fruit

So I cut upon a lychee fruit and examined it. The white interior was kind of spongy. There was a dark oblong seed in the center. (Could I grow my own lychee tree? Maybe, but I doubt it would bear fruit…) As I munched on the fruit, it kind of reminded me of canned fruit cocktail. Does anyone know if lychee is a common ingredient for fruit cups? Very interesting. Anyway, I didn’t have the energy to turn these little fruits into anything so I just ate them. And they were good.

I also recently got some duck eggs. I don’t know what I was expecting, but they were pretty much just like chicken eggs except huge. Only other difference I noticed was a slightly gamey flavor and that they tend to toughen up faster when scrambled than chicken eggs. One of my favorite I-don’t-have-time-to-cook dinners is scrambled eggs and salad. So I scrambled up a few of my duck eggs and served them up with a salad of CSA greens and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and vinegar.

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It’s summer in Georgia. Temps are in the 90’s (a little too early for this kind of heat). Sweet tea abounds. And of course, there’s the peaches. A neighbor of mine has a peach tree in her front yard. Every time I walk by I’m soooo tempted to just reach out and grab one. I guess it runs in the family; I heard my mom was well-known for pilfering fruit from neighbor’s trees as a child…

In addition to straight-up peach munching, I’ve been dicing them up and mixing them with my homemade yogurt. No additional sweetening needed – these things are sweet and juicy and totally delicious! But of course, I can’t stop there. So I looked up a peach muffin recipe and edited it a bit (of course) and made myself some peach bread.

The recipe at Allrecipes.com calls for 1 1/4 cups of vegetable oil. My heart stopped at the thought of using that much vegetable oil, or even that much of any kind of oil. But the reviews were so good. So I replaced the vegetable oil with coconut oil, which is actually good for you. It also calls for TWO CUPS of white sugar. Egads! I used one cup and felt like a bad girl.

The bread turned out super moist, thanks to the coconut oil and juicy peach bits. I didn’t need to even put butter on it, and I definately did not miss that extra cup of sugar. In fact, I think all that sugar would have made it too sweet and ruined it. America is over-sugared. Just a little sweet goes a long way once your taste buds have stopped being inundated with sweeteners.

Since I’m trying to drop a few pounds for my neice’s wedding in a few weeks I ended up freezing most of the bread so I can fatten up on it later 🙂 But it was a yummy and fun use of the peaches.

Ok, so I didn’t pie…I breaded. But the post title wouldn’t have been so snappy with “then you bread.” However, pie sounds wonderful. I’m thinking about this one. Or little individual pies that I can freeze. Oh, the endless peachy opportunities…

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Pickled shrimp: sounds scarier than it really is.

My pickle frenzy resulted in a large variety of pickled items in my fridge. They are kind of taking over. So far I’ve pickled asparagus, butternut squash and pumpkin, shrimp, beets, mushrooms, broccoli, apples and onions. Yes, I pickled shrimp. The recipe calls for white peppercorns but I didn’t have any so I used black…I can see why she said to use white peppercorns. The black ones kind of look like…eyes…

Anyway, here are my findings:

Apple and Onion: I made this one too early. This really needs to go with Thanksgiving dinner. The cinnamon mixed with the vinegar is fun and suprising. I could totally see this going with any kind of a roast.

Asparagus: kind of disappointed in this one. I was hoping that it would be more like the dilled green beans. But it’s not. Somewhat blah. If I preserve asparagus again, it will be a straight up canning job.

Pickle buffet: broccoli in the ramekin and mushrooms in the jar. Shrimp, asparagus and butternut squash on the plate.

Beets: as I mentioned before, I really liked these ones. The Morrocan-style spices really make it interesting. Strong, though. You can’t just sit and munch mindlessly. Not that I ever do that.

Broccoli: this one is pretty good. Refreshing, a nice addition to a salad or a rich main course where the fat needs to be cut a little bit. I like it.

Butternut squash and pumpkin: Not bad on this one. Definately a better use than throwing out the pumpkin, which is what would have happened to it otherwise. Even test subject Bill liked this one. Sweet and sour…I should try it on ice cream. Wait a minute. Pickles and ice cream….NOOOOOO!

Mushrooms: these are very good – I would put these on a small plates buffet. Along side cheese and olives and crusty bread…oh yeah.

Apple and onion pickle. Looks rather refined, doesn't it?

Shrimp: they were not as creepy as I was thinking they would be. These could be little snackies to go along with the mushrooms in the above scenario. They actually kind of taste like the cooked shrimp they use at the sushi bar. Not creepy or freaky at all, even though it is pickled seafood. Rather messy to eat though.

All of these pickles were vinegar-based pickles. However, thanks to my successful kimchi experience I’ve been playing around with fermentation. Look for an upcoming post on dill pickles and sauerkraut. I have been absolutely devouring Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Wow! The world of microorganisms…who knew! And with the recent addition of a Gairtopf fermentation crock I’ll be a level 7 food freak in no time at all.

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If some of my Facebook feedback is any indicator, pickles (other than the boring dills you put on your burger) have gotten a bad rap. The mere mention of pickled beets is enough to send people running for cover. Even regular old pickled cucumbers are anathema if they are any different than Vlasic. How did the ancient and historically important pickle become a target of such ire? Are there some really vile pickle makers out there destroying pickling’s reputation?

If so, I am here to right the wrongs. I will be the pickle super hero. Armed with my new book, I will bring pickles back to their rightful place: front and center, part of everyone’s diet!

Ok, maybe not. But I will be pickling everything I can get my hands on. Pickling is an important method of preserving. You can do shelf stable vegetables in a waterbath canner if they are pickled without fear of the dreaded botulism. You can pickle just about any veggie (an some fruits). And I intend to pickle as many as I can get my hands on.

I recently pickled some asparagus, a vegetable indicative of spring if ever there was one. Since I canned them, and I hate to just can one thing when I’ve got that ginormous pot of boiling water going, I decided to do another pickle, too. Pumpkin and butternut squash.

Pumpkin and butternut squash pickled and cannedI know what you’re thinking. Well, maybe not. I try not to use those words. But seriously, who pickles pumpkin? Or butternut squash? Well, apparently Linda Ziedrich, author of the Joy of Pickling does. Using her recipe for a sweet and sour pickle brine I cut up the remaining pumpkin and butternut squash left on my counter and canned the little suckers. I’m a little nervous about this one. I mean, especially the pumpkin. It’s been on my counter for a long time. I can’t even remember when I got it. I would venture to say…well…months. But it was still hard on the outside. The squash, too. The insides were a little dry but they smelled ok.

Ok, I’m justifying. But it was either pickle them or throw them away, and how I hate to toss good food. So there are three pints of pickled pumpkin and squash sitting in my pantry waiting patiently three weeks until they are supposed to be fit to eat. I’ll report back.

Pickling broccoliSince I was up to my ears in cool pickle recipes, I went a little hog wild. I pickled a LOT of stuff as refrigerator or “quick” pickles. I pickled broccoli. I pickled apples and onions (yes, together.) I pickled beets in a kind of Moroccan style brine with toasted cumin seeds (which by the way I found only at one Whole Foods that had them in bins where you could buy in bulk – or in my case by the table spoon).

Now, the beets are good. Very unique and tart Pickling apple and onionand kind of savory thanks to the cumin. I like ‘em. Those are the only ones so far that are ready. The rest of them I have to wait at least a week before eating. A WEEK. Rude. Now that’s a pickle. I want to eat them, but I don’t want to have them before their prime and add to the anti-pickle bias with a bad pickle. So I’ll be patient. I’ll stare at them a minute each day and wonder how they’re coming along with their bad selves, pickling away in the dark recesses of my Maytag. This is going to be a long week or two.

Pickling beets

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Well ok, I didn’t actually get canned myself, but a bunch of other stuff in my house did. So what if it’s been more than twenty years since I helped my mom do canning back home? Heck yeah, let’s fly by the seat of our pants like always and do some canning.

 It all started innocently enough. I was hanging out at the farmer’s market Saturday morning, minding my own business. It was a dreary, drizzly, generally unappealing morning. So bad, in fact, that many of the vendors didn’t even show up. Neither did the customers. I felt like I had the whole six stands to myself.

 I chatted up a few of the vendors, discussing scones and herbs before finally making the rounds to the rest of the tables. When customers are sparse and the morning is wearing on, the vendors are ready to wheel and deal. I ended up getting a killer deal on about nine pounds of tomatoes (not to mention some already cleaned and cut pole beans…nice).

 And that, your honor, is how the great tomato massacre began.

 I’d been contemplating canning for a while, but was pretty scared of the whole prospect. I mean, making something shelf stable is no laughing matter. But I’d invested in a nice waterbath canner and wanted to try my hand. After reading about waterbath canners, pressure canners and canned botulism, I decided to stick with tried and true waterbath recipes. I’ll pass on the canned botulism, thanks.

The Great Tomato Massacre

The Great Tomato Massacre

 I found a good looking recipe for canned tomato sauce here. I was excited and got to work hacking away at the tomatoes. It was a veritable saucy bloodbath. It also took forever. I suppose I’ll have to have a kid, since it would have been nice to have an extra pair of hands to peel, seed and chop. Maybe I could borrow a neighbor’s kid next time…

 I got my tomato sauce together and put it on to simmer for several hours. I then turned my attention to the glut of apples I had somehow accumulated on my kitchen counter due to my CSA box and too much time at the farmer’s market. It just so happened that I also had a canned apple recipe. I could do the apples while the sauce was simmering. That’s called multitasking! (Or time management, I’m not sure which…)

Canning Station: Jars and lids in hot water, simmering tomato sauce, boiling water and simmering apples

Canning Station: Jars and lids in hot water, simmering tomato sauce, boiling water and simmering apples

 My simple syrup was simmering, my waterbath was boiling. The apples went into the syrup to boil for a few minutes, then into my hot jars they went. It was a bit messy since I couldn’t find a stupid wide mouth funnel anywhere that morning, but I think I managed. Jarred, topped and banded, into the boiling bath the jars went.

 I was so proud when I pulled them out. They were beautiful! Then I heard the pop, pop, pop of the lids sealing and marveled at my own greatness. Well, pride comes before a fall.

Canned apples!

Canned apples!

 The tomato sauce was ready. I jarred it up in pints in the same manner (I halved the recipe but didn’t get anywhere near half the yield the recipe stated…maybe I simmered too long and now have tomato sauce concentrate…anyway, I digress.) and dunked them in the water. About fifteen minutes into the processing time, I opened the refrigerator and saw the lemon juice (that I specifically sent test subject Bill to the store to buy because I was short) that was supposed to go into the sauce before it went into the jars. (For pH

They sure look nice...

They sure look nice...

reasons, the lemon juice is added to better stabilize the sauce.)

 My heart fell out and hit the floor with a thud. After all that work, to screw it up at the very end…I deserve three kung faux pas for that one. Derrr!

 Anyway, I let the jars finish processing and did what any normal person would do. I went crying to my mom and finished off the rest of the bottle of wine that didn’t go into the sauce.

You know when I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself...

You know when I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself...

 Mom kindly assured me that my sauce would be ok without the lemon juice, that she had done it before and it turned out just fine. She then shared with me a very sad story about a time when she had to throw out 24 jars of green beans because she misread the processing time. Thanks, Mom.

 I also sent the following email to the webmaster of the site that I got the recipe from:

 “What would happen, hypothetically, if you forgot to put the lemon juice in before canning the tomato sauce? Not that I did that or anything.”

 The friendly response indicated I could recan with the lemon juice and reprocess. I figured I’d screwed it up enough for one time around so I decided to just refrigerate my jars. I’ve got the space in between my yogurt and my pickles. [Note: I tried the tomato sauce one week later and it is the bomb. I had it with some mozzarella sticks and it is super yummy!]

Dilled and rather pickled green beans

Dilled and rather pickled green beans

 Undaunted (or insane) I tried my hand again the next day with some Dilled Green Beans. This was a fairly simple recipe. Trim the beans, pack them and the other ingredients into hot jars and pour a boiling salt/water/vinegar solution over them. Top, band and boil. This went much better than the day before (experience is a great teacher). Only issue was that even though I halved the recipe, half the liquid wasn’t enough so I had to quick boil some more while my beans waited.

 It was a success, as all my lids were sucked down 24 hours later. And darned if they don’t look totally cool. I love opening up my pantry and seeing my canned apples and canned pickled green beans. I did it. I preserved!

 Here’s what I took away from this experience: 

  • Read all your directions and make sure you have everything on hand.
  • Make a checklist and go through it before you lid your jars.
  • Check for bubbles and make sure you get them all pushed out before lidding.
  • A wide mouth funnel is your friend. Get one.
  • A jar lifter for pulling hot jars out of boiling water will save your fingers. Note to self: get jar lifter.
  • Don’t use a wet potholder to pull something out of a 400 degree oven. Not that I did that or anything.
  • A water bath canner will steam for a long time after you turn the heat off.
  • Sticking your hand into the water where you’ve been heating your jars and lids may not be advisable. Also not something that I did.
  • Resist the urge to play with your jars after you pull them out of the canner.
  • Popping is a good thing.
  • Canned botulism = bad. If it smells funny or you’re not sure about something, don’t eat it. This is actually serious this time. Public service announcement. Don’t kill yourself.
  • There is something inherently satisfying about making something shelf stable. Independence!

With a few successes and a few kung faux pas under my belt, I can safely say that I will try canning again. It is a lot of work, but what else are you going to do over the weekend that you can enjoy for months to come?

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Asian Pear A La Mode

I’ve never really been a huge fan of Asian pears. They’re not quite a pear, they’re not quite an apple…just never really knew what to do with them. So I wasn’t particularly excited to get one in my CSA box. It sat on the counter for a while and I began to worry that it would die there.

pear saute1But suddenly…inspiration! I got an idea from a Nourishing Traditions recipe (I think, I was reading several cookbooks) and grabbed that pear, rescuing it from the certain doom of decay. I diced it up and sauteed it in some butter and cinnamon until it was starting to get soft and a little golden brown and delicious on the edges.

Rising out a fancy dessert dish (I rarely make desserts, so the dishes tend to sit around and get dusty), I filled it with the warm pear and pear dessert1put a small scoop of my homemade vanilla ice cream on it. For good measure, I topped the ice cream with two frozen raspberries (farmer’s market haul from last month, yeah) and dusted it with a little more cinnamon. It was a work of art!

When I tasted it, at first it didn’t seem sweet enough and I was tempted to put honey on it.  But as the ice cream started to melt and mix in with the pear it was plenty sweet and I’m glad I didn’t add anything. I am still not an Asian pear fan, but this was a satisfying and beautiful dessert. Next time one of those fruits graces my CSA box I won’t be too disappointed.

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