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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Mulberries

One of my favorite things about summer is the appearance of more free fresh fruit than I could ever possibly eat: mulberries!

If you’ve never foraged for mulberries, I highly encourage you to do so. And if “foraging” sounds a little too hippie for you, just imagine that you are homeless, or a bear, and that should make it seem a little less weird.

So you’re ready to give it a try? Here are a few things to remember:

The great thing about mulberries is: nobody wants them! They grow as weed trees in the most of the United States. Nobody is going to care if you stop to munch on mulberries that are hanging out over the road or pathway. If anything you are doing them a favor.

Which brings me to my next point:

Mulberry trees are very easy to identify and locate. Simply look for the purple mess on the ground or road beneath them. Mulberries typically grow along roadsides or in alleyways, at the edge of wooded areas or forgotten patches of brush. The mulberry tree will be laden with clusters of red and purple berries. And just to be absolutely certain, look for leaves that are lobed, like this:

Mulberry leaves

Mulberries are great for a refreshing impromptu summer snack, but if you want to get really serious about foraging and using this completely free and nutritious summer food, you’ll need a little forethought and preparation.

Once you know how to recognize a mulberry tree and decide they are worth the minimal effort to gather, your next mission is to scope out your area to find the best mulberry trees. There are dozens growing in my neighborhood, and I’ve narrowed it down to three that are the most flavorful and easiest to get to.

Every mulberry tree tastes different from the others. Often there will be two growing side by side, with the berries of one tree tasting amazing, and the berries of the neighboring tree tasting absolutely flavorless. It takes a little bit of research to find the worthwhile mulberry patches.

Mulberry foraging containers

When gathering large amounts of berries, bring some plastic containers with lids to store them safely. Mulberries are extremely delicate, and simply tossing them all in to a bag together will surely damage them before you make it home. That being said, it’s best to bring along a buddy to pull down branches and hold them while you ever so gently loosen them from the tree and drop them in your container. Just make sure he/she doesn’t get distracted with stuffing mulberries into his/her gob before you can get them safely tucked away.

Mulberries are juicy and richly colored, so wear appropriate clothing that won’t get ruined. And if you are squeamish about having stained hands, you may want to wear gloves, though I wouldn’t recommend it because a)this will look really weird and you might already be a little self-conscious while picking berries, and b)it could seriously impede your ability to pluck them and keep them from dropping to the ground.

Mulberries are best eaten or used as soon as possible. They will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator, but they won’t taste nearly as good as they are when they are fresh. Avoid washing them, though I will submerge them in cold water to remove debris and creepy crawlies, and as an added bonus the unripe berries usually float to the top where they can be easily removed. I like to put just a little lemon juice on the berries before they go into the fridge. The juice adds a little tartness and brings out the flavor, and in addition will act as a natural preservative to extend the life of your mulberries.

Mulberries can be used in any recipe that calls for fresh fruit. Cobblers, shortcakes, crisps, skillet pies: just do a google search for mulberry recipes, or try substituting them in your favorite dish. Since the flavor is more subtle than many other fruits, I’ve enjoyed mulberries on my salad. Mulberries are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, and make a great addition to any diet! I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Mulberry Cobbler

 

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Though everything is coming along nicely, so far my garden has produced nothing but a ton of radishes. I’ve eaten them raw, roasted them, sauteed them with their greens, and chopped them to garnish salads. They’re so easy to grow that I just keep planting more, even though I’m starting to get pretty tired of them. Does anyone have any delicious and unique radish recipes I could try? If not, I’m just going to keep feeding them to Moose.

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Joy of Toffeeing

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A few weeks ago I stood in my kitchen doing something that I’ve been doing a lot of this winter: browsing through my grandmothers old (and frankly, dirty) copy of Joy of Cooking. I love the way that this is not just a recipe book, but also an instruction manual on anything and everything you might need to know about food and food prep.

Er—excluding any new products or techniques that may have developed within the past forty years.

My Joy of Cooking does not specify what kind of butter should be used in its recipes (I’m enough of a cook to know that unsalted is usually a given). Its recipes often include ingredients such as “soured milk”, and so far I have not come across any mention of a food processor. To call it dated would be a little inaccurate—I prefer to think that I own the classic version. And since I lack fancy kitchen gadgets, I appreciate this simplified approach to food-making.

At any rate, while immersing myself in the grease-stained pages, I came across a recipe that caught my fancy—English toffee. The brevity of the recipe piqued my interest, indicating ease and simplicity. Five ingredients were mentioned, of which I had four in my kitchen at that very moment. The instructions seemed promising. Basically: melt, boil, pour. Interesting.

As usual before jumping into a new recipe, I went online first to seek some alternative methods. What I found was even more encouraging. Many of the online recipes called for only butter, sugar, and salt, with optional fancy stuff for interesting toppings.

Since I’m a penny pincher, I decided to go with the simplified version of things, and make due with what I had on hand. (Fortunately, I happened to have semi-sweet chocolate chips and assorted nuts on hand).

Given that I do not own a candy thermometer, I’ll have to chalk up my success to beginner’s luck. The toffee turned out beautifully, and with a texture that surprised me, once it firmed up in the refrigerator. Of course, my mind automatically set itself to inventing more elaborate and exotic toppings. The old chocolate and nuts thing is great, but I wonder how it would taste with some orange zest? Or rosemary? How would adding heavy cream and vanilla extract (as Joy of Cooking suggests) alter the outcome? How much salt is ridiculous, given that I had already used twice the suggested amount, which didn’t seem like nearly enough?

And, perhaps most importantly…where am I going to find enough people to taste-test all the pounds of experimental toffee that I envision in my near future?

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With the beginning of the new year I have decided to avoid eating meat whenever possible.  There’s nothing like the challenge of vegetarianism to help you think creatively about food, and to make you more adventurous about food choices, especially when eating out.

For your less daring, stay-at-home nights when you just want something really good and hearty to fill your belly, I present to you my Magical Fruit Soup. This recipe is adapted from one I ripped out of a Martha Stewart magazine, but I like to think that I came up with it all on my own. This is the first soup I ever made that did not come from a can, so I know that any beginner can do it.

Enjoy!

To Make Magical Fruit Soup:

Ingredients:

2 tb olive oil

2 or 3 med carrots, diced

2 celery stalk, diced

1 onion, diced

3 garlic  cloves, minced

1 tb dried thyme

course salt/ground pepper

2 cans (about 4 cups) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

28 oz (2 cans) diced tomatoes, drained

32 oz vegetable broth

¼ cup fresh chopped parsley (optional)

  1. Heat oil in largeish saucepan on medium-high heat. Sautee onion, carrots, and celery about 6 minutes, or until onion is translucent.
  2. Add garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, cook about 3 minutes. Enjoy the aroma.
  3. Add beans and tomatoes, vegetable broth, parsley. Bring to boil.
  4. Reduce heat, simmer for 30 minutes or until carrots are soft.

As long as you don’t mind chopping veggies, this recipe is an easy way to pack tons of fiber and protein into your chilly winter evening. Since it’s even tastier reheated the next day, you can make a big pot to eat all week long. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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In honor of my blog’s 10,000th page view, I wanted to celebrate with 10,000 of something!

Which is why I made this:

It’s like 10,000 tiny celebrations in your mouth! And, it’s quick and cheap and easy to make, not to mention 100% vegetarian and healthy for you even if you do put meat in it. 🙂

Here’s how:

Ingredients

10,000 grains of brown or wild rice (or approximately 2 cups)

4 cups of vegetable broth (or 4 cups water with a dash of salt)

2-3 tbs olive oil

1 onion

5-6 garlic cloves

1 tsp chili powder

1 bell pepper of your chosen color

2 cans (or 3 cups) cooked beans

1 14.5oz can of diced tomatoes

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1.Place rice in a pot with four cups of vegetable broth. You could also use water and a pinch of salt, which is cheaper and easier to find.

2.Preheat oven to 225F. Bring rice to a boil for 1 minute. This part is important, as I have learned through experience.

3.Pour the super hot rice mixture into a covered casserole. Get it into the oven as soon as you can (without burning yourself) in order to seal in all that steamy goodness.

4.Set your kitchen timer for 30 minutes.

5.Rinse out and dry your pot for the next step.

6.When the timer goes off, set it for 30 minutes again.

7.Immediately heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.

8.Chop up an onion and sautee it for a few minutes. Add a diced bell pepper and several cloves of chopped garlic, plus a couple dashes of chili pepper. Cook a few more minutes.

9.Stir in a can of diced tomatoes with their juice. Simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes.

10.Add in two cans (about 3 cups) of beans. Simmer another 5 minutes to heat throughout.

11.Take rice dish out of oven and mix in the bean mixture. Garnish with cilantro if desired.

Enjoy!

PS–This recipe makes about ten cups of food, so be sure to have some friends or storage containers close by.

PPS–Each serving provides about 10g of protein. Even so, we agree that this dish might taste even more spectacular with a little local venison mixed in. Sorry, Bambi.

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Have you ever eaten at Ted’s Montana Grill? If so, you were probably served a little appetizing dish of something that looked like cucumber slices, but tasted like awesome. The first time I had them, I was blown away.

I have since learned that those crisp little chunks were something called half-sour pickles, and I couldn’t find them for sale anywhere.

So, as with any great mystery, I got online and did a search. The more I read about half-sour pickles, the more intrigued I became. A half-sour pickle is made by placing small cucumbers into a relatively  low-salt/high-vinegar mixture with spices and left to ferment for a day or two at room temperature. They are supposedly quite popular with the Eastern European types. It shocks me a little to think that I hadn’t experienced one earlier, considering that I grew up eating pierogies and kielbasa just outside of Philadelphia. And that I consume pickles like nobody’s business.

Apparently, though, they were pretty simple to make, and as an avid pickle-lover that got my gears turning. Mind you, this was way back in the day when “cooking” consisted of warming up a bowl of soup in the microwave. I never got around to taking a closer look at those recipes. That’s right….until now.

Last Wednesday I went to the Broad Ripple Farmers’ Market yet again, and came home with a shopping bag bulging with produce. Among my treasures were five little things I had found called pickling cucumbers. Things started to come together.

I cleaned out one of the old Mason jars I had lying around and made a special trip to the store. The ingredients were easy enough to find: dill weed, vinegar, pickling spices, kosher salt, fresh garlic, and spring water. The process is pretty much as simple as measuring out the ingredients, mixing them, and pouring it all into a big enough jar.

At least, I think it’s that simple. I will have to wait a couple of days to know if my efforts were successful. I can only hope they end up tasting half as good as they look.

Pickle party, anyone?

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