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Make Your Radishes Blush

radish preserves

Colors make me happy. Preserving food does, too. Now put the two together, and you have an immensely happy Caroline.

That’s exactly what happened yesterday. Admiring the radishes my favorite farmer friends had gifted me with – taking in all the shades of purple, pink and white, plus the fascinating black, as well as the various shapes and external textures – I realized that soon it would be way too hot down here for them to grow, and I would be left without the crunchy little rounds. Unless I pickled them. So I did.

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Reading # 5 – Preserving the Japanese Way

Preserving the Japanese Way

I got this book for my birthday, a couple of months ago, and read it from the first to the last page. Then I put it by my other “canning” books. After my return from Japan last week, this book was the first thing I pulled and put onto my table in order to re read and plan my preserving schedule. At every meal, every market, in each store in Japan I had been mesmerized with the pickle selection. This book not only shows techniques and recipes, it also tells stories and the history, contains many beautiful pictures, and is in depth yet easy to read. I can’t wait to serve my own little pickled side dishes very soon. (By Nancy Singleton Hachisu, Andrews McMeel Publishing.)

Star Stuck

carambola ready to be pickled

I live in Florida. And it’s September. And together, that means Star Fruits. – Not a few, here and there. No, it means loads of them, over and over again.

So we eat Carambola – as this star shaped, deep golden colored fruit also is called -, whole, just as one would eat an apple or pear. We slice it up and let the lovely little stars infuse our water. We cut it into slices, dehydrate it and nibble on star shaped chips. We juice it. We cook it (with the aid of lots of pectin!) into jam. We chop it and make it into salsas and chutneys. We decorate salads or crudité platters with the yellow stars.

And, because even after all of the above there usually still are way too many Carambolas around – I pickle them. I have experimented with different brines and solid partners, and by now stick to red onions as a perfect companion to the Star Fruit, and a simple apple cider vinegar liquid. Pickling Carambola is quick and easy, so I recommend to make the little extra time to take out the seeds. It is not a huge effort, and the result is a very pleasant eating experience.

carambola bounty

carambola

Pickled Star Fruit are most probably not part of any cook book recipe – and therefore mobilize one’s creative juices. They can be added to savory sandwiches or be part of a big mixed salad. They have turned out to be the just perfect companions to specific cheeses. They marry merrily with all kinds of fatty meats and charcuterie (Foie Gras, anybody? Rillettes, Pâtés?). They make baked fish very happy, and simple rice dishes right out fancy – especially when there are some warm spices involved (think curry, turmeric, cumin, coriander, etc.).

Not to mention that they taste fruity and sweet and tart and summery just plain out of the jar. – So, being star stuck isn’t a bad thing after all.

pickled carambola in jars

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Carpe Diem #6 – On a (Black) Mission

Fresh figs

When nature gives you abundance, take it. Use the product – that for a limited time is seemingly everywhere -, enjoy it, mix it up, play with it. And just before you get tired, preserve it. – I did this with lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, mangoes, beans, peppers, peaches and several herbs so far this year. And now with Black Mission Figs.

This small, dark and very versatile variety is my personal favorite one, and recently it came in bounty and striking beauty. We ate the fruit straight out of the crate, cut in half and topped with a dollop of fresh goat cheese, or with a sliver of a good blue cheese. We added it to leafy salads. We put a generous amount of goat cheese between two halfs of a fig, wrapped the whole thing with some thinly sliced jamón (or Italian prosciutto, for those who prefer) and let it get crisp under the broiler. We smuggled slices of figs onto pizzas, hidden under speck and arugula (an adaption of a flat bread we once ate at one of Todd English’s restaurants). We pounded pork tenderloin as flat as possible, smeared enough St.Agour – an über creamy blue cheese from southern France – on it and added quarters of little Black Missions. We rolled the beast up, using toothpicks to keep its shape intact, while it was first browned in the pan and then finished in the oven. We did not prepare but talk about the possibility of serving pork chops accompanied by a rich, thick Aceto Balsamico & fig sauce. We also did not bake the fig tart we had made last year.

fresh figs and blue cheese

But we did realize that it was time to move on to the preserving stage. And we knew exactly how we would turn our little friends into immortal, eternally tasty figs: By soaking them, very simply, in brandy. We had been gifted, two or three years ago, with a few jars of such drunken figs by a friend. We ate them with ice cream, with Crème Pâtissière and in delicate muffins (and, one here and there, just off the spoon). My favorite application though was in cheese: We cut a Buffalo Camembert in half horizontally (works best with when done with unscented floss), put the brandied fig slices on the bottom part, and put the top back on again. We let the cheese rest in the fridge overnight, in order to let the flavors mingle. One can do this with any kind of Brie (especially triple cream one), a regular cow Camembert or a fresh goat cheese. Any soft cheese, really. The experience was heavenly, and it could easily replace a sweet dessert.

cheese is filled with brandied figs

Preparing brandied figs is simple and quick: All one needs are cleaned, fresh figs*, a good quality brandy and Mason jars. If you want to preserve the figs whole, poke them with a fork all around. In case you prefer smaller pieces, slice the fruits. Fill a Mason jar with the fruits until about 2 inches from the top. Pack the figs tight, but don’t squish them. Pour the brandy in the jars so that all fruits are completely covered. Close the jar and turn upside down in order to get rid of any air pockets. Make sure the fruits still are completely covered. Let stand in the dark 4-6 weeks before enjoying.

(*Dry figs can be used if desired. They will result in a much sweeter flavor and more dense texture, especially around the edges.)

jars of figs in brandy

Have a Crush!

herb pesto without basilNo basil? No worries! You still can prepare and enjoy pesto. The classic and ubiquitous recipe from Genova, a busy port town on the Ligurian coast of Italy, calls for basil (plus olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and finely grated, aged cheese) in its cold sauce. But pesto – meaning “crushed” or “pounded” in Italian – can be made of any fresh herbs, really.

So when I received more mixed herbs from a farmer friend recently that fit into my fridge, no kidding, I decided to preserve them in the form of pesto (which I prefer so much more than dried herbs). I took out my food processor, gave it a long and grateful look, cut the garlic chive, vietnamese coriander, parsley and lemon thyme into about two inch long pieces, peeled plenty of garlic and grated a good amount of Paglierina, a wonderfully well balanced sheep milk cheese from Italy. And into the groove we went, my food processor and me: I poured some oil, added some greens, garlic and cheese, and in barely any time the mighty machine worked it down into a smooth, luscious paste. More oil, more solids. Out of the bowl the pesto went with the help of a spatula, into  a very large pan, so that there was space for the next batch. On and on, until those pounds of herbs all were turned into thick, concentrated sauce – and ready for a long, long life around many happy eaters.

triple cream brie cheese sandwich with pesto

jars full of herb pesto

Don’t stop thinking outside the box once the ingredients of your pesto are chosen. Do the same when it comes to its application. Of course pestos are great on pasta. But they can do so much more! They perk up any kind of sandwich. They make for big eyes and surprised “aahhh’s” as the base layer of savory tarts. They hide in the middle of a horizontally cut wheel of Brie and, once discovered, turn out to be the star of the show. Pestos can be added to salad dressings. They bring zing to tomato based pasta sauces. Or to pizza. A little dollop of pesto does not only make a polenta look better, but also taste richer. Same with boiled, baked or fried potatoes. Fish adores pesto. Soup, anyone? It too, loves your pesto. Oh, and if you dress your favorite nuts in some pesto and then bake them shortly, your guests will love you – and your drinks will taste so much better.

So, yes. Have a crush! It is so delightful. Even the unorthodox way.

pasta al pesto