Manic Monday

It’s been quiet around here, so I thought I’d tell you about my evening. For the last two-and-a-half hours I’ve been a whirlwind in the kitchen: I started batches of fermented okra (more on this later in the week) and pickled eggs, concocted an apple-pecan-raisin bake, and assembled a three-bean salad (an adapted version of this recipe).

I was in a bit of a funk when I got home — but no more, thanks to this mishmash of food, an equally eclectic music selection (Janis Joplin, GreenMan, Jack Johnson, and Tori Amos), and the breezy, overcast evening.

Now that I feel quite accomplished, I think I’ll go snuggle up with a book.

Tonight’s evolving countertops:
fermented okra, pickled eggs, purple hull peasfermented okra, pickled eggsapple bake, pickled eggs, purple hull peas, fermented okra
bean salad

P.S. I’d like to talk to the person that thought 2-inch tile and grout would make a suitable kitchen counter.

The Infusion Incident, or How I Wasted A Lot of Garlic and Olive Oil

garlic-herb oil
For weeks I admired these bottles, only to find out the contents are potentially lethal.

A month or so ago, Shauna gave me several heads of garlic from her harvest. After last year’s success with pistou, I knew that I wanted to make garlic-infused olive oil.

Loosely following the guidance in Preserving Foods Without Canning or Freezing, I stuffed garlic cloves, rosemary and oregano into bottles and filled them with olive oil. For weeks I doted on the suspended herbs and the way the bottles would glow in the afternoon sunlight.

After the recommended steeping, I transferred the bottles to the cupboard where I intended to keep them on-hand for gifts. I reserved a bottle for myself, eagerly drizzling it in gazpacho, on focaccia, and in the skillet for sautéed vegetables.

There have been many kitchen blunders over the years, but none have almost killed me, as far as I know. The oil’s intermittent cloudiness should have been the first clue that something was awry. But even more astonishing is that I dismissed my friend’s declaration that the oil smelled foul. I was sautéing zucchini when Julie distorted her face and exclaimed, “Something smells like dog shit!”

Eventually the doubt started creeping in. I tentatively checked on the reserved bottles only to find questionable residues and murky oil. I finally (finally!) decided to Google “garlic-infused oil.” (This little exercise should have happened much earlier, but you’ve probably already figured that out.)

Apparently garlic-infused oils pose a botulism risk that I possibly could have mitigated. (One suggestion is roasting the garlic first and refrigerating the oil.) This has me wondering about the aforementioned pistou. Why was it delicious? It was almost the same combination of ingredients. Maybe I was just lucky? Please excuse me while I go cry in my festering olive oil.
garlic-herb oil

Handpicked

Last Saturday I got up early, picked up Julie and we headed to Rose Ranch to hunt for sand plums. (Two consecutive Saturdays of foraging!) We found only a handful of those, but were rewarded with loads of wild blackberries! The thorns snagged my clothes and skin — and I still have some splinters I could use some help with — but it was all worth it!

I bet we gathered at least 10 pounds, and they were the most precious berries ever. Not only because blackberries are expensive, but because we picked them ourselves on Don and Vicki’s beautiful land where they raise grass-fed beef. After a couple of hours of picking, but not even close to exhausting the blackberry canes, we got hungry and hot and went for lunch at Braum’s, waded and lounged at Arcadia Lake, followed by the Porch Mice and pizza at Sauced on Paseo. What a day!*

On Sunday Julie made a couple of blackberry cobblers to feed those Porch Mice, and I enjoyed wild blackberry compote crepes for breakfast, made a small batch of jam, and froze whole berries for some future dessert.
wild blackberries at Rose Ranchwild blackberries at Rose Ranchwild blackberries at Rose Ranch
wild blackberries at Rose Ranch
wild blackberries at Rose Ranchwild blackberries at Rose Ranch
wild blackberry compote crepewild blackberry jam
Rose Ranch

*This post required much restraint. I wanted to punctuate every sentence with an exclamation point. That’s how much fun this day was!

Preservation Season

It’s tornado season: time for self-preservation and food preservation! Sometimes they’re mutually exclusive.

For instance, last Tuesday night: My friend Julie was helping me make chutney, which was simmering on the stove when a hail storm came through. It wasn’t long before we heard tornado sirens. Take shelter or stir chutney? As we continued stirring amidst the chaos, I joked, “Well, this will all be funny as long as we don’t die.” (I said something similar last year at the State Fair — followed by a silent prayer: Please don’t let me earn a Darwin Award — as a friend and I waited in line for a corn dog, despite tornado sirens and cartoonish black clouds overhead.)

The storms eventually subsided and Julie went home. I continued quietly stirring the chutney as it cooked down, and the Harmed Brothers played from the living room. A line caught my attention: the kitchen light / is still shining on / and it’s still shining with a purpose. I looked at the track listing. No. 9: “We Might Not Have to Die Tonight.” Ha! I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. Check it out.

Julie and plum chutney
Julie
plum chutney
The day before the storms, I answered Christine‘s call: Come get some plums! She had already made three batches of jam, and her plum tree was still heavy with fruit. I decided to make chutney using the recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Plums, onion, raisins, mustard seed, ginger, brown sugar and vinegar. Intriguing, yes? I read somewhere that chutney satisfies the five basic tastes. But guess what? I forgot to taste it before I sealed the jars. I’ll have to wait 2-3 weeks, since according to the recipe, it takes that long for the flavors to fully develop.

Sauerrüben

Monday’s freakishly terrific weather had me pining for sweaty afternoons in the garden, nurturing seedlings and combating Bermuda grass. For the meantime I’ll have to make do with a couple of fermentation projects, mostly beverages (blog posts forthcoming). I haven’t yet progressed past the point where I don’t view my garden as a months-long trial, and these mini science experiments in the kitchen seem to satisfy the same yearning.

About this time last year a friend introduced me to Wild Fermentation. I was familiar with the title, but when he described the book as a life-changing read, I decided to finally check out the library’s copy, which had tattered edges and splattered pages. (I love getting a well-loved library book; it’s an instant bond with other nameless, but like-minded OKC residents.)

After scanning through the first third of the book — the part that explains the history and basic science of fermented foods (many of which are my favorite things: beer, sourdough bread, cheese, yogurt) and the author’s interest in them — I knew I needed my very own copy.

The first recipe I tried was for sauerrüben (like sauerkraut, but with turnips instead of cabbage), since turnips were in season and are pretty cheap. I picked up a couple of pounds from W Bar M at the OSU-OKC farmers’ market.
fermenting shredded turnips, aka Sauerruben
Feb. 20, 2011
SauerrubenSauerruben
Grated turnips and sea salt packed into a crock, covered and weighted.
sauerruben
Evidence of fermentation after three days.
Sauerruben
I tasted the sauerrüben every day. I decided the flavor was right on day six, but the fermentation slowly continues in the refrigerator. My palate hasn’t quite adapted to enjoy sauerrüben on its own, but it’s a delicious complement to meats, especially barbecued brisket.

Preserving pears, or making things more complicated than needed.

Some friends and I harvested pears and apples in Jones, OK
In early October some friends and I went to Jones and picked about 170 pounds of apples and pears. We had a great time divvying our harvest and I brought home a good haul: roughly 15 pounds of apples and 8 pounds of pears. My friend Julie and I made apple butter (yum!) and preserved the pears in a sweet-tangy syrup.
dessert pearsdessert pears
dessert pears
Dessert Pears in Vinegar
from Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning by the Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante
2 lbs. sugar
2 c vinegar
8 1/4 lbs. ripe pears, peeled

Combine the vinegar and the sugar in a large pot. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Arrange the whole pears, peeled but still with their stems, in layers in the pan. Boil, covered, over low heat for three hours, and then uncovered, for an additional three hours. Do not stir. Then, holding the pears by their stems, transfer them to jars or a stoneware pot. Cover the pears with the remaining syrup. Seal the jars. The pears will keep as long as jam.
Variation: Add one or two cinnamon sticks and a few cloves. Some recipes require less cooking: one and a half hours covered, followed by one hour uncovered.
dessert pears
Pear and rice pudding
Dessert pear and rice pudding
IMG_0164
Dessert pear with cardamom whipped cream

While the process was pretty easy and fun, I think this was an instance when I simply should have enjoyed the raw fruit. The jars of amber pears looked lovely, but the contents left something to be desired. I couldn’t figure out what to pair them with, which led to more time and effort. Contrasted with canned applesauce or peach wedges, which are a hit without any additional effort, the preserved pears were an exercise in inefficiency. Perhaps I should create a food-preservation decision-making flow chart?

Trotter Gear

Nose to tail eating - image courtesy of Bloomsbury-239

“This unctuous, giving gastronomic tool will become all chefs’ and cooks’ friend, finding untold uses in the kitchen. No fridge should be without its jar of Trotter Gear. … Nuduals of giving, wobbly trotters captured in a splendid jelly. One can sense its potential even now.

—from A Healthy Jar of Trotter Gear in “Beyond Nose to Tail” by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly

I did sense the potential, but mostly I was intrigued by the seemingly magical ingredient listed in many of the book’s recipes. And how could I resist that delightfully descriptive language?

Even as I embarked on this cooking adventure, the ambiguous description left me unclear as to the end-product. I imagined it spread on a baguette. I actually planned on taking trotter gear to a potluck! However, I didn’t give the trotters enough time to cook, so I ended up resorting to Plan B: a carton of Braum’s ice cream. Thank goodness, because trotter gear is essentially a concentrated soup stock made gelatinous from the slow-cooked bones. It is pork jelly or aspic, and — I’ve learned — it is intended to add flavor and “mouthfeel” to sauces, gravies and soups, or perhaps a pot of greens.

I let the trotters cook until they were “totally giving,” about eight hours in a “gentle oven” (which I deciphered as 250˚). I did not have “nuduals of trotters.” The recipe directs the cook to pick off all the flesh, fat and skin, but I couldn’t find any flesh and decided against keeping the bits of fat and skin. I poured the liquid into jars. Once chilled, the fat rose atop the jiggly pork Jello. I scooped off the fat and reserved it for frying some greens pies. Or perhaps I’ll make some biscuits with it.

And a “healthy jar,” indeed! The recipe yielded about three quarts of trotter gear, most of which I froze. I shan’t be without trotter gear anytime soon.
making trotter gear
Feet from Doug Hill’s pigs in Jones, Oklahoma.
making trotter gear
trotter gear