Channeling Christine Ferber.

When I was growing up, my mom would have dried apricots around the house. Sometimes she put them in “blondies”, the butterscotch brownies we made quite frequently (we did not want for dessert even then!). My take on dried apricots, at that point, was that they were kind of yucky. I would beg her not to put them in the blondies. I just wanted chocolate.

Fast forward to my sophomore year of college, when I was living in Morocco for a term. You would walk down the street on your way home from school and pass so many vendors: the guy selling camel meat, the fresh cheese attracting flies on its little shelf, the hot roasted seeds and nuts, the pastries, the dates, the olives, the fruit. And among those piles of fruit – really, piles – was, nestled in there, fresh apricots.

I was dumbstruck. What? Apricots were actually a fruit? I guess I had known that, if nothing else than from learning how to say them in foreign languages. But as a New England native, it had really never occurred to me that such a thing as a fresh apricot existed. I bought them up and ate them one after another, nom nom nom.

Then I returned to the U.S. and apricots were but a distant, tasty, memory. I kept eating dried ones, of course, but they aren’t the same.

When I moved to Oregon, I was elated that apricots might be part of my future again. We’ve had an awesome summer of fruit so far – strawberries, raspberries, cherries, you name it. I was recently making dinner with a friend who mentioned that he was going to pick blueberries over the weekend. I love picking, but I don’t actually like blueberries – I know, I know, I’m a freak. I told him as much.

“Well, what is your favorite summer fruit?” he asked.

After thinking for a little while – raspberries are so good – I said, with some trepidation, “apricots”.

I’m a lucky girl because Matt called me up from the blueberry farm while he was picking and said that they had flats of fresh Oregon apricots for sale, and did I want one? So he brought 17 pounds of apricots over to our house and my housemate and I split them. She dried some and canned some whole, while I was determined to make jam. Apricot jam is my favorite and I was envisioning needing a hint of sunshine once it gets cold and wet and horrendously depressing here this winter.

So I started looking up jam recipes and came across a foursome of recipes from Christine Ferber, who may or may not be the most famous jam-maker in the world. The recipes looked good so I dove in.

I wanted to make one batch that was just a simple apricot jam. It seems stupid to waste such good jam on sandwiches, but I do eat peanut butter and jelly for lunch pretty much every day and I’ve been stockpiling different flavors to keep my winter interesting. So far I have homemade strawberry, mixed berry-cherry, and this apricot.

The method for Ferber’s apricot jams is interesting – first of all, you don’t have to use pectin, which was nice. But secondly, she says to boil the apricots and sugar and lemon juice very briefly and then put them in the refrigerator overnight.

I was a little nervous about this step, because after all there isn’t much liquid involved: just apricots and sugar. How am I supposed to boil this? But I tried, and as the sugar melted it brought some of the apricot juice with it, and I was indeed able to bring the mixture to a boil. I stuck it in a bowl and forgot about it for the next 24 hours.

When I came back, there was tons of juice – I understood that “macerate” actually is a process which accomplishes something. The next step was to strain out the apricots and boil the juice until it reached 220 degrees. Then, I dumped the apricots back into the mixture and boiled them for five minutes before canning them and going through the whole water-bath process.

I tasted a little bit of the jam while I was canning and it was delicious – not too sweet, and very apricot-y. One thing I’d recommend is perhaps cutting the apricots smaller than half-pieces, depending on what you want to use the jam for! I’m really excited to have this ready for the winter.

Then: a second batch. The thing about Ferber’s jams is that while some are basic and delicious, others are incredibly fancy and gourmet. I was going to try one of the fancy ones, darnit.

I had a hard time picking – I really wanted to try nougabricot, which confusingly enough is a Quebecois jam using apricots, pistachios, and almonds. Where did they get this stuff? It must have really been a delicacy.

But in the end I went for a jam using apricots, orange zest, vanilla bean, and Gewurztraminer, a white wine. I couldn’t quite imagine how to eat nougabricot with its chunks of nuts. This other jam sounded more refined. So I went to the grocery story to pick up ingredients and quickly realized that I was going to spend more on a few jars of jam than I do on most dinners. I hesitated, but I had picked my jam and I was going for it. I sucked it up and spent nine dollars on a vanilla bean, grimacing a bit as I did (I stopped grimacing when I smelled it… holy cow, those things are amazing).

So: the basic jam recipe was the same, but with some added steps. It actually used a cup or so of dried apricots, which I cut up very finely and left to soak overnight in the Gewurztraminer. I ate one the next morning. Yum. The orange zest and vanilla bean went in with the fresh apricots, and the dried apricots were added in along with the fruit after the syrup had been heated to that 220 degree mark.

The jam smelled divine the whole time it was cooking. Our kitchen became a whole new place.

And as I was canning, I decided to leave out a little bit of jam for my housemate Laura and I to eat. I was dying to try this fancy invention. We scooped ourselves tiny bowls of vanilla ice cream and drizzled the jam, still hot, on top.

WOW.

I am not going to be able to put this on toast; it’s too good. It’s rich and it’s… BAM! It’s both strong and delicate, and kind of indescribable. I have never had jam like this before…. and okay, I am going to put it on toast, but it’s so good that it feels like a travesty. Ice cream was a perfect vehicle for the jam, which was completely worth the silly amount of money I spent making it.

The verdict here is that I am so excited to have two kinds of delicious apricot jam in my cupboard – and I still had enough apricots left over to munch on this week. I put them in oatmeal for breakfast and eat them for snacks… and for lunch… and for dessert. I’m a lucky girl, and I owe Matt big time for picking me up some of my favorite fruit.

I’m not going to post recipes since I didn’t adapt them at all – but you can find four amazing apricot jam recipes over at Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s blog, which is amazing, as a side note.

 

sunny pie for a rainy day.

Let me sum this pie up for you: it’s a stew, wrapped in a croissant. How could you possibly go wrong with that?

I must admit that I have been eating abysmally. First we were camping, and then I was tired. I’ve had too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, too many bowls of oatmeal, and I am ashamed to say that I may have even eaten a can of tuna for dinner one night. It’s been grim.

On an entertaining note, I just got enrolled in state health insurance here in Oregon, and I was urged to take this online health assessment. So I did. It told me that my health score was 63 out of 100, which seemed terrible until I saw that the average score was 54. Really, America? Okay, I guess I’m not that surprised. But it turned out that my diet was one of the main reasons I scored so poorly. I had filled out that I ate 2 servings of fruits and veggies per day, 3 of whole grains, and 1 of nuts and seeds. That was all. I guess that looks really bad, but they only asked about low fat dairy, and I drink raw milk, which is whole! They only asked about lean red meat; I don’t cook red meat for myself very often, more often choosing pork or chicken. And they didn’t ask about eggs. Or beans and legumes. Or all sorts of other things. Anyway, they told me that my diet was very unbalanced and I needed to meet with a nutritionist. I laughed a little.

Perhaps part of the reason that my eating habits have been so bad recently is that it has been raining. Nobody wants to ride their bike to the grocery store in the rain, much less ride to the farmer’s market and walk around in the rain. But today I decided that this monkey business had to stop – I swear that this was not related to the health assessment – so I sucked it up and drove my car over to the grocery store.

Yesterday, I had been looking for recipes for dulce de leche or confiture de lait (I later realized that I didn’t have as much milk as I would need, so abandoned the idea). On my way I came across a wonderful Australian food blog which had this recipe for chicken, leek, and fennel pie with cream cheese pastry. I love pies. I love fennel. I was hooked, and the ingredients in the recipe became my shopping list for today’s venture to the store.

For some reason I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough filling in the pie, so, never one to leave well enough alone, I added one more ingredient: a giant golden beet. I like purple beets, but golden ones add an extra bit of sweetness which I thought would compliment the fennel well. An unusual combination, for sure, but I was ready to try it.

To make the pie filling, I sautéed up the chicken, then the fennel, leek, beet, and garlic. I added some white wine, chicken broth, and flour to thicken it up, plus thyme and rosemary. It took a long time to reduce the liquid, but in that time, my kitchen began to smell amazing. Fennel isn’t something that everyone likes, but I like it. And you can’t deny that it smells divine.

The crust…. how to describe the crust. Butter, flour, salt, and I made a substitution of crème fraiche for the cream cheese. It required a little bit of water to come together, but turned out fine. I knew as soon as I added the crème fraiche that this crust was going to be unusual. It gave the dough a different texture, very flexible, very light, very stretchy. It was a breeze to roll out, although I had to generously flour my countertop to keep it from sticking.

And when it came out of the oven. Wow.

When I cut into the pie, the crust crinkled and crunched. It was airy and didn’t feel like a pie crust. I slopped some out onto a plate and steam poured out with the filling, which was golden like the beets and the sunshine I was so dearly missing.

The pie was phenomenal. The crust, as I said, was like a croissant in texture, but a little tangy because of the crème fraiche. The filling was lovely – the dark meat from the chicken thighs I used was so much more pleasing than the white meat you find in a traditional chicken pot pie, and the taste was more spicy, more complex, more warming. It had never really occurred to me that you could make a chicken pot pie that was different than the yummy, comforting kind you are served at New England church suppers. But this pie was just as comforting in a more interesting way. It’s good to try change every once in a while.

Unless you’re one of those anti-fennel folks, make this pie! Thanks to Citrus and Candy for a great recipe. The crust will definitely stay in my repertoire!

Sunshine Chicken Pie with a Crème Fraiche Crust

Adapted from Citrus and Candy

3 boneless chicken thighs
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 leek
1 fennel bulb
1 golden beet
1 cup white wine
3/8 cup white flour
1 cup chicken stock
a couple each of thyme and rosemary leaves, finely chopped

1 ½ cups plain flour
pinch of salt
11 tablespoons cold butter
½ cup crème fraiche
a couple tablespoons cold water

Start by making the filling. In a large pot or pan over medium heat, melt the butter until it just starts to turn brown. While it is heating up, cut the chicken thighs into half-inch cubes (or a little bigger if you want). Toss them in the olive oil and salt, and then add them to the butter in the pan, cooking until done. Place the chicken in a bowl, leaving as much of the butter in the pan as possible. While the chicken was cooking, you could chop up the vegetables: garlic into a small mince, the leek in half lengthwise and then the white parts only into 1/4-inch semicircles, the fennel and beet into half-inch cubes. When the chicken is out of the pan, toss the veggies in and cook five to ten minutes, depending on the size of your pan, or until they have softened in the chicken-butter. Then add the white wine and crank the heat up. Cook until the volume of wine is decreased by half. Add the flour, stir quickly, and then pour in the chicken stock. As the mixture starts to thicken, throw the chicken and herbs in as well and continue cooking, stirring often, until the filling is as thick as you want it for your pie. Put it in a bowl in the refrigerator to cool as much as possible before using in the pie.

For the crust, when you are ready, put the flour and salt in a bowl and then chop the butter into the bowl as well. Use your fingers to mix the two together, breaking the butter into smaller and smaller pieces and incorporating it with the flour. When the butter is in pea-sized pieces, add the crème fraiche and stir with a fork until the dough is as well-mixed as possible. Is it still too dry? Add some water, but be careful not to make it too wet. When you can mush it into a ball, stop and let it rest in the refrigerator for ten minutes.

To assemble the pie, take the dough out of the refrigerator and divide it into two slightly differently-sized pieces. Flour your counter well, and your rolling pin, and roll the larger piece into your bottom crust, stopping frequently to reflour and make sure that it does not get stuck to your rolling surface! Place it in a greased pie pan, the bigger the better – there’s a lot of filling! Next, roll out the top crust. Pour the filling into the pan, place the top crust on top, pinch the edges, and put the whole thing in a 450 degree oven. Bake for five minutes before turning the oven down to 425 and baking for another 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top is golden.

maiden voyage of the ice cream maker.

For months now I have been saying that I was going to buy an ice cream maker. It started in Florida, for obvious reasons – it was hot and I wanted ice cream, dammit. But there was always an excuse not to get one. In Florida, I didn’t want to have one more thing to pack in the car when I moved. Once I got to Oregon, it was oh, I’ll wait until my next paycheck. I had my eye on a model which wasn’t my ideal, but was affordable.

About two days before my birthday, two boxes arrived at my house. Boxes! Presents! On Tuesday morning when I finally allowed myself to open them, what did I find but a Donvier ice cream maker and a cookbook of ice cream recipes. My parents really do know me pretty well. The Donvier was the ice cream maker of my dreams: no fussing around with ice because you just freeze the canister, but still the charm of hand-cranking. Plus, it was the ice cream maker of my childhood and all of those happy ice cream memories. I was ecstatic. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

I began planning my first batch of ice cream pretty much immediately, but I was too busy to actually make it. The flavor was obvious though. My yard is overflowing with berries so it had to be a berry ice cream. I settled on loganberries, a giant hybrid of blackberries and black raspberries. The bush in the backyard has just started producing and the berries are gorgeous.

I used a recipe from the birthday cookbook – Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home – as the inspiration for my ice cream, even though I didn’t really follow a recipe. After all, you don’t find too many loganberry recipes. I had to adapt. Instead, I based my ice cream off of a roasted-strawberry buttermilk recipe. I also changed things up by using a custard base.

To start with, I roasted the berries in the oven with some lemon juice and sugar. Interestingly, as they cooked they lost a lot of their dark blackish color and became red again, like their unripe brothers and sisters. After ten minutes or so in the oven they were nice and soft and juicy, and I tossed them in the blender to make a purée.

Next I tackled the custard. Not to brag or anything, but custard is pretty straightforward for me at this point. If you’re in the habit of making it, it’s easy. I recently made a cake for the fourth of July, a layered Scandinavian berry affair with custard in between the cake layers. The recipe came from The Scandinavian Cookbook and it taught me a trick about custards – when you heat up the milk (or cream) the first time, without the egg in it, don’t let it boil! You don’t have to get it fully up to temperature – just pretty hot, so you can temper the eggs. For some reason, thinking about it like this made custards seem even simpler.

Finally, I had to put everything together. The recipe from Jeni’s suggested straining the berry mixture, but I didn’t have a strainer, so I just poured it in with the custard (I didn’t use it all, but the rest will go on top of my oatmeal for the next few days – so no complaints there!). Also in there: some crème fraiche and buttermilk for tang and lot of heavy cream. Mmm, cream.

After sticking the base in the fridge for a few hours, I poured it into the Donvier canister, which I had kept in the freezer for about 24 hours. It was all clean and tidy and ready for its maiden voyage.

Then I kept working away at my computer, taking a break every five minutes or so to churn the ice cream. The key with a setup like this is to not let it get totally frozen around the edges, where the cream actually touches the canister. If you let it get too hard, it will be very difficult to turn the hand crank, and you’ll have frozen ice cream on the outside and merely chilled cream in the center. You have to mix the ice cream so that it ends up a fairly homogeneous texture.

Like this:

The beauty of making your ice cream is that you can choose whether you want soft-serve or hard-serve. I prefer something in between, and that’s what I got. Another score for making things yourself!

When I took the top off of the Donvier, it just smelled like ice cream. You think of ice cream having a taste, but you don’t realize that it also has a smell. It does. It smells like yum, summer.

So it smelled good. Visually, it was a beautiful purple. The texture had a few seeds from the berries but not in an annoying way. What sense is left? Oh yes, it tasted delicious. Sweet, tangy from the buttermilk and crème fraiche, and a little bit sharp from the berries and their lemon juice. Not overpowering in any one direction, but just an overall lovely ice cream.

I hope some of you have ice cream makers and can churn up your own concoctions. I think that the technique on this one would work with any berries, and probably some other fruit as well.

With the maiden voyage successful, I’m looking forward to many more tasty ice creams in the future.

Pretty Purple Loganberry Buttermilk Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups loganberries

3/4 cup sugar

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 1/4 cup milk (I used raw milk)

2 teaspoons honey

2 eggs

2 tablespoons crème fraiche

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup buttermilk

Start by placing the berries in a shallow pan or baking dish. Preheat the oven to 375 and while it’s warming up, squeeze the juice of the half lemon over the berries. Sprinkle on 1/4 cup of sugar and stir the mixture so that the berries are coated in both lemon juice and sugar. Bake them in the oven for ten or so minutes. You don’t want them to dry up, so don’t overcook them, but you want them to be soft and the juice should begin to run out of the berries and accumulate in the pan. When you think they’re done, pour the whole thing into the blender and purée them for a couple of seconds – it won’t take much because they’re already pretty mushy.

Next, in a saucepan, whisk together the rest of the sugar and the cornstarch. Add in the milk, whisk well, and place over medium heat. Add the honey and stir periodically to make sure that nothing is burning to the bottom of the pan. In a small bowl, beat the two eggs. When the milk mixture is very hot but not yet boiling, slowly pour half of it into the egg bowl, whisking as you pour. Then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan again and keep whisking. Keep a close eye on the custard and whisk frequently; you will be able to tell that the mixture is thickening. Don’t overthicken because you don’t want the custard to become grainy; just let it get to the point where it is a loose pudding consistency. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, stir the crème fraiche and salt together. Add the still-warm custard mixture, then 3/4 cup of the berry purée. Finally, stir in the cream and buttermilk. Put the ice cream base – because that’s what you have now – in the refrigerator for a few hours until it is uniformly cool. Then follow the instructions for your ice cream maker and enjoy your icy treat!

Pickled Pink.

I’ve made my first loaf of bread in my new kitchen – a nice half-rye loaf with a fermented starter – so I guess my house is truly a home. And now that bread is knocked off the list, I can get on with some other cooking experiments in earnest!

Right now, I have one housemate. His name is Seth. He’s moving out in a couple of weeks and then I’ll have a different housemate, but for now it’s me and Seth, and we get along great.

Because Seth is moving soon, he’s pretty busy. And because he’s going to Squamish, British Columbia later this summer, he’s climbing a lot to get in shape. For the last five days he’s been gone on a climbing trip, so I’ve had the house to myself. When he left, he urged me to eat the beets in the refrigerator and the insane amount of lettuce that his girlfriend’s roommate had given us as she tried to harvest her overflowing garden. I was also given the chance to pick up his CSA share, which turned out to be really fun. He has a small share, just four items, but the place had probably ten different kinds of produce to pick from, so I tried to pick what I thought Seth would like as well as a treat for me: rhubarb, which I’ll hopefully be making into a pie sometime soon.

The beets made me hesitate though. I love beets. I love love love them. Since I was very small, when it was unusual for people my age to like beets, I liked beets. I was ecstatic that I was being given the beets. But I also felt bad eating them all. I mean, they were nice beets, and they were Seth’s, and I don’t know him that well yet, so why should I just eat all his beets? The lettuce was different, because it would start to wilt and get slimy if I didn’t have a salad every night. But the beets…

So eventually, I decided to pickle them. That way, they would be incredibly delicious but we’d all be able to enjoy them.

Funny enough, I didn’t use to like pickled beets. I liked them cooked, warm and sweet. But when I got to college and started eating from the salad bar, I discovered that the pickled beets were a good addition to a salad and provided some much-needed color. When I got to Craftsbury, the beets in the salad bar were often pickled in the kitchen itself rather than coming from a food service can. My appreciation of pickled beets quadrupled. They could be really good, and weren’t just a semi-lame way to preserve a favorite vegetable.

I found this recipe in The Scandinavian Cookbook, a gorgeous book which was given to me for Christmas by a family member. Despite being a committed Scandophile, the only recipe I’d made so far was one for cardamom rolls (they were good!). The pickles are great, and easy to make. The recipe says to let them sit for a week before opening them up, but did I sneak a slice after three days? Yes. And was it pickly delicious? Yes. Perhaps the reason that I had previously disliked pickled beets was that they were one-dimensional; this recipe adds in pepper and anise, and gives them a much more interesting, and yummy, flavor.

Besides salads or just eating with a fork, pickled beets are great for other things as well. I made a quasi-smørrebrød with sliced cucumbers, pickled beets, and a fried egg on top of toasted rye bread. Highly recommended.

Pickled Beets

Adapted from The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann

7 or 8 medium-sized beets

salt

2 cups distilled white vinegar

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 star anise

1 tablespoon peppercorns or some freshly grated pepper

Start by peeling the beets, and then place them, whole or in halves, in a pot of salted water. The beets should be completely covered by the water. Boil until they are soft enough to eat, but not soft enough to be mushy. Next, make the pickling brine. Put the vinegar and sugars in a small saucepan and heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the anise and pepper and boil for a few minutes. Then remove from the burner and let the brine cool until the beets are done cooking. When they are, put them in a colander in the sink, run some cold water over them, and then, when they are cool enough to handle, cut into slices. You can experiment with what size the slices should be; I like them thin, but not too thin. You don’t want them to fall apart. As you cut the beets, put the slices in a pint-sized mason jar which has been sterilized. Once all the beets are in, pour the brine over the top. It should just fill the jar. Make sure the star anise is in there and if you ground the pepper, try to get it in there too. Put on the lid and let rest until you’re ready to enjoy your beets!

Tomatogasm.

When I left the trailer this afternoon, I told my roommate that I was going to the grocery store and would stop and run on the way back. I’ll be out for a while, I said.

So when I popped back in 30 or 40 minutes later, she was surprised.

“Did you go to the store?”

“Yup…. it was the run I skipped,” I replied. “I just got so excited about cooking dinner that I had to come right back home.”

Before leaving for the grocery store, I had picked out a recipe for the evening. It was from David Tanis’s cookbook A Platter of Figs, and it was grilled halibut with Indian spices and yellow tomatoes (am I supposed to capitalize all that? grammar police?). You can find the original recipe online, including here; I originally stumbled upon it when Gourmet reviewed the cookbook.

So into the Publix I went, shopping list in hand. When I began wandering around and eventually made it to the fish counter, they had no halibut. In fact, they only had a handful of different kinds of fish. I am still somewhat in shock about this, since we live on the coast and everything. But anyway, halibut was not an option, unless I wanted to buy frozen. I did not.

But…. swordfish was on sale. Swordfish! And so I got some, promising myself to eat only half of the gorgeous-looking steak tonight and saving the other half for tomorrow’s dinner, because after all, even on sale, swordfish ain’t cheap.

I was so excited that I rushed back to the trailer and started seasoning my fish with a spice blend similar to that in Tanis’s recipe. It was actually a fairly complex dinner by my current standards: rice, fish, tomatoes, some spinach, and a yogurt sauce. That’s a lot of parts, but each of them was quite simple (especially the spinach: place on plate, put swordfish on top, done).

Immediately, things began to smell good.

“Damn, what are you cooking over there? Are you using herbs or something?” my roommate asked.

Ignoring the fact that I was using spices, not herbs, I nodded. “Coriander, cumin, turmeric, fennel seed, nutmeg, cayenne….”

Her eyes got big.

But not as big as mine were when the fish and tomatoes came out of the oven. They looked good.

I brought the pan out to the picnic table, where I already had a plate set with rice and spinach. I put half the swordfish steak on top of the spinach, half the tomatoes next to that, and drizzled the whole thing with the yogurt sauce.

And it tasted just as good as it had looked and smelled.

While the swordfish was great, the real star of the show was the tomatoes. They totally stole the spotlight. Perhaps I should have rubbed more of the spice mix into the swordfish, although then it would have barely even tasted like fish anymore, and wasted a perfectly good steak. But the tomatoes were spicy, hot, interesting, delectable… I can’t think of enough words to describe them. They were still juicy, like a tomato should be, but the top edges had crisped up a little, too. On a side note, why are yellow tomatoes so much more exciting than red ones?

And the tomatoes drizzled with my improvised yogurt sauce, wow. The yogurt sauce was awesome. I’d eat it on its own, honestly.

In any case, I do not regret skipping my run today, because this was hands-down the best and most inspired meal I’ve cooked so far in Florida. The bar has been raised, plus now I have some spices in my cabinet, so I’d better keep using them!

Oven-Baked Swordfish With Spiced Yellow Tomatoes and Yogurt Sauce

adapted from/inspired by A Platter of Figs by David Tanis; serves two

1 6-oz swordfish steak (or two if you are particularly protein-hungry)

1 yellow tomato

olive oil

salt and pepper

cayenne pepper

ground cumin

ground coriander

turmeric

nutmeg

fennel seeds

1/3 cup plain, whole-milk yogurt

1 clove garlic

1 small piece fresh ginger

fresh parsley, cilantro, or mint

spinach, arugula or your favorite leafy green

3/4 cup white rice

First things first: place your swordfish on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Drizzle a bit more olive oil on top, and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Rub these in with your fingers so that they cover the whole top of the steak. Then, sprinkle on coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and nutmeg, in the following ratio: 2:2:2:1:0.5. Does that make sense? Then sprinkle on five to ten fennel seeds. You can use more or less spice depending on how strongly you want your swordfish to taste; it’s your call. With your fingers, rub all of these spices into the top of the swordfish steak. Then, I rubbed a bit of additional turmeric and cumin onto the sides of the steak. Let this sit, preferably in a refrigerator for a couple of hours, but at least for a few minutes while you make some of the other dinner components.

For instance: boil 1 1/2 cups water and add the rice to it. Turn down to low and let simmer.

Next, cut the yellow tomato into eight to ten wedge-shaped pieces, removing the tough core. Place the pieces in a bowl and sprinkle with a small amount of olive oil. Then, add equal parts coriander, cumin, cayenne, and turmeric. The tomatoes should be a bit more spicy than the fish itself. Stir until all of the wedges are evenly coated with the spice and oil mixture, then arrange around the swordfish on your baking sheet.

Bake at 450 degrees for 7-8 minutes, or until the fish is only barely pink or no longer pink in the middle. I’m not a master fish-cooker. I went for no longer pink. Also, my oven is a piece of crap, so I really can’t vouch for the 450 degrees part.

While the fish is cooking, mix up the yogurt sauce (also, check on the rice to see how it’s doing). Chop the garlic and ginger very finely and toss into a frying pan which has been sitting on medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil. Let sit ten seconds, then shake the pan to move the garlic and ginger around. Cook another 10 seconds, repeat process. After 30 seconds of cook time, remove from heat. In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, cumin, and parsley or other green herb. Add the garlic and ginger mix along with any olive oil left in the pan, and stir thoroughly. Place back in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

To assemble the meal, put some rice on each plate and a small bed of spinach. Place half the swordfish on top of the bed of spinach, and the tomatoes on the side. Drizzle yogurt sauce over the fish, spinach, and tomatoes. Enjoy!

Beach Vacation.

I work on the beach every day, but nevertheless, I am taking a beach vacation.

For the last few days I have been staying at my grandparents’ condo, which is about an hour down the coast from Navarre. They usually rent it out, but this weekend, there were no renters. So I drove over and enjoyed having the whole place to myself and reading a trashy romance novel on the beach. It’s not my usual reading genre, but on the beach, it’s about the only thing you can read. My biggest accomplishment was tanning my legs sufficiently to get rid of my five-year shorts tan.

I also had some great meals. Sunday was the last morning I’d be able to go out to breakfast before work started again, so I wanted to do something special. My original plan was to check out the Hibiscus Coffee and Guest House, but it turned out that Sunday was Easter (when you are all alone, holidays aren’t on your radar), so they had something special going on. Instead, I walked literally across the street to check out the Liars Club Cafe, an excellently-named offshoot of Stinky’s Fish Camp. I got to sit at a bar and had great eggs Benedict. On my list of things to do: learn how to poach an egg.

Tonight I checked out The Red Bar on the recommendation of my uncle Chris. It was a trendy spot and packed even though it was just a Monday night. After asking for a mojito, I chose a shrimp and crawfish dish for dinner. One of the pluses of dining out by yourself: everyone else had to wait 20 to 45 minutes for a table, but I got served at the bar immediately. Ha! And it was great, a fun atmosphere with live music playing in the background.

Vacation is over, so unfortunately my lazy days of lying on the beach and eating food prepared by other people will be a thing of the past. Ah, well, it was good when it lasted – and I finally have a job that pays me enough so that I can take myself out to dinner every once in a while.

Gardens, flowers…. stigmas, saffron rolls (& tons of pictures)

My trip to Atlanta – which I’m now back from – was excellent for many reasons. I had a great time with my grandparents, who I haven’t seen nearly enough of in the last few years. College was too busy for me and so the last year or so has allowed me to catch up with my family, finally.

But while I would have been happy to sit at their house and simply spend time with them, my grandparents had more in store for me. On Tuesday grandfather Pete and I went to a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the High Museum. I saw more than 200 amazing black and white photographs – many of Cartier-Bresson’s native France, many set in the U.S., some from India – including from Gandhi’s funeral – and a photo-essay about the Great Leap Forward in China, among many other settings. The photos were beautiful and many showed unusual and artistic composition. It was a huge treat. I miss the days when people made prints in a darkroom.

On Thursday, we went to the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

I will never think of a botanical garden the same way again. I pictured, well, just a big garden with lots of plants and signs telling me their names. I love plants and flowers, both because of my scientific interests and because, like anyone else, I appreciate beauty – so I was excited for the trip, but I had no idea what I was about to encounter. I found a happy, dynamic space – which even included a whimsical, educational children’s garden – full of not only flowers but sculptures and statues, ponds and fountains, trellises and plenty of creative landscaping.

I also didn’t expect that the botanical garden would have a large herb, vegetable, and fruit tree section which fed the hungry. Way to go, botanical garden! For some time now I’ve had a dream that more Americans should have small gardens. Maybe incorporating edible plants

We spent a lot of time in the Conservatory and Orchid Center.

Walking into the conservatory was like entering a new world.

Orchids reigned supreme. So did rainforests.

Color. Shape.

And so it was only appropriate that the last thing I cooked for my grandparents came from flowers.

My grandfather had been requesting saffron buns all week, so we finally picked up some saffron at the store and I got cooking. Saffron is frequently touted as being the most expensive spice in the world. Its price tag is thanks to the labor required to produce it: saffron threads are the stigma, or pollen-receving reproductive parts, of a Crocus sativus plant. Each crocus has just three stigma, which must be painstakingly collected.

My grandmother had a recipe for saffron buns, but she said that it sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. It also had lard in it. The only thing I ever put lard in is pasties, and I wasn’t quite ready for lardy rolls. So I looked elsewhere for inspiration, settling eventually on Scandinavian Santa Lucia buns, even though the season isn’t quite right.

I think that when I was in elementary school and read about the Santa Lucia tradition, it was the first time that I wanted to be Scandinavian. I wanted to be one of those blonde-braided girls dressed all in white with a wreath of candles on my head. Since then, I have accumulated many much better reasons to wish that I was Norwegian or Swedish. (Sidenote: I am ashamed to admit that I learned about Santa Lucia by reading Kirsten’s surprise, an American Girl doll book. Because my parents never got me one of those dolls, they seemed super cool. Thanks, though, mom and dad, way to stay strong. I learned about Swedish immigrants anyway.)

The saffron threads are red, but as soon as I dropped them into hot milk, they began spreading their signature yellow color.

Eventually, I had made up a dough that used not lard, but butter – thank goodness! After a bulk rise, I quickly shaped the buns into their signature scrolls in the eight minutes left before dinner (a shrimp alfredo made by my grandfather – yum!) hit the table.

And then I baked them while we ate dessert. In fact, I forgot about them while we ate dessert. But at some point I remembered them and after being terrified that they would be burnt into blackened lumps, I found that they were unharmed, and shiny with their quick egg glaze (it’s my new favorite way to make sweet breads look fancy). The smell when they came out of the oven was tantalizing. Even though we had just eaten dinner and dessert, we split one of the still-hot rolls between the three of us.

When it’s by itself – which it was in these rolls, which lack any other spices – saffron is noticeable, but subtle. It’s not a flavor that I have often encountered, but I loved these rolls. They are unique. And honestly, even if saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, you can splurge on a packet to make some rolls every once in a while. It’s not going to break the bank.

Definitely submitting this one to YeastSpotting!

Santa Lucia Saffron Rolls

adapted from Lunches Fit For A Kid, a blog loaded with cuteness

1 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp saffron threads
3 tsp active dry yeast
1 egg
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp salt
3 1/2 to 4 cups flour

glaze: 1 egg, and a bit of water

Start by heating the milk until it’s almost boiling. Add the saffron threads, crushing them with your fingers as you sprinkle them onto the milk. They will immediately dissolve a bit. Stir and let sit for ten or so minutes. The milk should still be fairly warm after this. Add the yeast and let sit another five minutes. I do all of these steps still in whatever vessel I heated the milk in so that it can retain as much of that heat as possible. Then, pour the milk-saffron-yeast mixture into your actual mixing bowl. Add the egg, beating well, and then the melted butter, sugar, salt, and one cup of flour. Stir until you have a lumpy but fairly uniform mixture. Add two more cups of flour and stir again. Add more flour until you have a dough that is cohesive and kneadable without making too much of a mess on your hands. Turn dough out onto a floured counter to rest while you wash out the mixing bowl and smear it with butter. Then, knead the dough for five minutes, place it in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until doubled in size.

Next, divide the dough into quarters. Divide each quarter into three equal-sized portions and shape each portion into a rope, eight or ten inches long and of a uniform thickness. Shape the rope into the S-shape shown in the pictures above: start wrapping one end into a circle which coils around itself. When you have used a third of the length of the rope, switch and wrap the other end up in the opposite direction. Push the two spirals toward each other and wrap further, if necessary. Transfer all of the rolls – there should be twelve – to a greased baking sheet and let rise for another hour at least.

Finally, brush with an egg glaze made of one well-beaten egg and a glug of water, whisked together. You can brush it on with a pastry brush or just your fingers. You won’t even come close to using up the whole egg, but that’s a problem I haven’t yet figured out how to deal with. Bake the rolls at 400 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes, or until they seem done.