As I write this, it’s 10am and temperatures are already in the mid-80s. I’m sitting outside and there’s a pleasant breeze, but I know I only have about an hour (if I’m lucky) before things become unbearable and I have to take shelter. It’s expected to hit 95° today, and we haven’t yet put our lone window A/C unit in, so I may be spending the remainder of the day in the basement. If things get really bad, I might have to resort to turning into one of those people who write in coffee shops for the day.
These unusual-for-Michigan high temperatures have thrown everything off kilter for produce. Most notably, the fruit trees all blossomed prematurely and the blossoms then got killed off by a frost. For a state with a major fruit-growing industry, things are not looking good: we’ll see little if any apples, cherries, peaches, pears, plums or anything else that grows on a tree.
Despite this setback- one that affects me personally as a small business owner trying to use local produce- there are still several fruits that should still thrive this year, like raspberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries and of course, strawberries. Strawberry season, which usually starts around this time, has already been going strong for a few weeks, and probably won’t be around much longer. As soon as we were able, in late May, my partner Molly and I went to a U-Pick farm on a beautiful spring morning and picked 60 pounds of the most gorgeous berries I’ve seen in years (see below). Last year’s strawberries were somewhat watery due to a lot of rain, but these were deep red with concentrated, complex flavor.
In addition to making jam for our business, we each took a few pints for our own personal use. While not much can beat the simplicity of a bowl of sliced berries with a small sprinkling of sugar and maybe a touch of lemon, my favorite thing to do with them other than that is to make ice cream. I had recently checked out Jeni Britton Bauer’s book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home from the library, and as someone who makes lots of ice cream, was intrigued by her no-egg method. Rather than make a custard base, she uses a combination of cornstarch, cream cheese and corn syrup to give the proper consistency and scoopability to her creations. I was a bit skeptical at first- I’m trying to limit consumption of GMO corn products- but decided to go ahead with a couple substitutions, using tapioca for the starch and an organic corn syrup. Incidentally, Jeni’s is a cool regional (Columbus, OH) company who generously sent several pints for us to sample at the first annual Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic, which is happening again this Saturday! Everyone loved the Bangkok Peanut, Wild Berry Lavender and other creative flavors. Continue reading
After a few months’ hiatus, les culinettes (a potluck dinner club of like-minded ladies) was back in full force a few weeks ago with a red-themed dinner at Emily’s beautiful Woodbridge home. Because of the length of time that passed since the last dinner (September! yoinks…), we were all extra-excited and inspired this time around. Since the green-themed dinner went over so well, Emily decided to do a similar theme but with red food. Once again, I was impressed by the variety and breadth of people’s contributions- red pepper hummus (Emily), an African curried chickpea stew (also Emily), Spanish stuffed ancho chiles (Abigail), a salad with lots of red accents (Meghan), beet ravioli with brown butter & sage (Sarah), roasted red pepper & tuna tapas (Amy), fries with homemade ketchup (Christina), a red onion vegetable tart (Molly), and even cherry-pomegranate bourbon jello shots (Molly again)! You’ll forgive my phone photos, I hope… I forgot to bring my camera, but can’t resist sharing some shots of this amazing food.
I had a bunch of pitted tart Michigan cherries in the freezer left over from some Beau Bien jam-making, so I offered to bring dessert. I made a buttermilk ice cream, and to go on top, cherries in a light syrup infused with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. I thought it might be nice to have something to soak up all the sauce, so I also made shortcake-type biscuits, and sprinkled them with a little red sugar to get in the spirit of things. By the time we got to dessert, I was shocked anyone had room left, but then again, I always am! Luckily everyone rallied, since it would have been a difficult dish to take home for later. Continue reading
My in-laws are serious eaters. At all the gatherings I’ve attended, the quantities of food would make the Two Fat Ladies blush, and we always come home with several containers of leftovers. This Christmas was no exception! My mother in law hosted Christmas Eve, as is getting to be the tradition. She veered away from the usual Puerto Rican fare this year (roast pork, arroz con gandules) and went Mexican, making posole, ceviche and nopales (cactus) salad. One of his cousins brought an interesting new (to me) PR dish of chicken gizzards cooked with green bananas and a few green olives (something like this except it was served warm instead of like a salad). The dish is an unglamorous greyish color, but the flavor was great and the gizzards were much more tender than when I’ve made them. It re-inspired me to try making gizzards again after an unsuccessful attempt last summer.
With all this great food in such abundance, it’s always hard to know what to bring. My MIL never wants to assign me a dish; she always demurs, saying that there will be enough food, or to just bring “whatever I want”. I know this is because she doesn’t want to impose, but I have somewhat mixed feelings about it… she knows I like to cook; I’m part of the family now; shouldn’t that warrant a side dish assignment? To be fair, for all I know she does the same with all the other relatives and they just bring whatever they feel like. But a small part of me would be flattered to be entrusted with something specific. Continue reading
For someone without much of a sweet tooth, I make a fair amount of ice cream. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and I think it’s the fact that there are so many possibilities (endless, really) when it comes to flavor. Unlike baking, which requires a bit more precision, ice cream making has a lot of wiggle room when it comes to proportions. Recipes vary wildly in the amount of eggs, dairy and sugar called for, and somehow all end up yielding a fairly similar end product. As long as you understand the basics of making a custard (and many versions don’t even require that!), you can vary the other elements a great deal and still get a good result. Add to that the fact that making ice cream doesn’t require turning on the oven, and usually only dirties one bowl and one pot, and you have some pretty strong motivation for turning your creative energies in that direction.
The first ice cream I made this year was inspired by sweets of the Middle East and North Africa. Honey and pistachios play a starring role, with orange flower water as supporting cast. But unlike some pastries in which the honey can be cloyingly sweet or the overuse of rosewater brings to mind your grandmother’s perfumed soap, this ice cream strikes a delicate and, if I may say so, delightful balance. Rosewater is perhaps more commonly used in the region, but I’ve never loved the scent or taste of roses so I opt for orange flower. Orange blossom honey would be a natural partner, although any flavorful honey will work. Swirl in a generous amount of toasted pistachios, and you have a dessert worthy of an Arabian prince. In fact, according to Wikipedia’s entry on ice cream,
“As early as the 10th century, ice cream was widespread amongst many of the Arab world’s major cities, such as Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Their version of ice cream was produced from milk or cream and often some yoghurt similar to Ancient Greek recipes, flavoured with rosewater as well as dried fruits and nuts.” Continue reading
Although I like to do my share of experimenting in the kitchen, you’ll never hear me claim to be on the cutting edge of cooking or food trends. Even still, I suffer a bit of pique when I finally get around to making something that many others have already blogged about, and it’s so good, and seems like the most obvious thing in the world that I wonder why the heck it took me so long to try it. I hesitated a bit to write about this salad since it’s kind of reaching a saturation point in the foodblogosphere. But then I figured if it’s new to me, it’s likely there are those among you who still haven’t had it, and it really is so worth trying, bandwagon be damned.
Although a current trend, shaved asparagus salad is far from cutting edge- I found a recipe for it in a Chez Panisse cookbook (I believe it was this one), so it dates at least from the ’90s if not before. But it certainly seems to be enjoying a bit of a moment right now. I think my initial pause, if you could call it that, was in the fact that I assumed (wrongly) that raw asparagus would have more of the slightly stinky, bitter edge than cooked asparagus does. I say this as an asparagus lover, mind you, and a fan of most all green vegetables. But I never felt a particular urge to try asparagus uncooked as a salad, any more so than I would, say, cauliflower or okra or green beans.
Until recently, that is, when we were on our third or fourth bunch of asparagus in just about as many days (I went a little nuts when the Michigan asparagus finally arrived, later than usual after the weeks of unseasonably chill weather). We’d had it roasted, steamed, stir fried and grilled, and it was time for something new. I got out my vegetable peeler and got to work.
When I had a bowl piled high with pale green tangles, I dressed it lightly with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I crumbled ricotta salata on top, along with toasted, chopped pistachios whose hue echoed that of the asparagus ribbons. I am only slightly embarrassed to say that I hoovered the entire dish down in minutes, it was so good. The salad had a sweetness to it that I hadn’t expected, and none of the “raw-tasting” quality I’d subconsciously feared- at least not in a bad way. It tasted raw in the sense of fresh, light and healthy; just what you’d crave on a warm day. I made it again the next day and ate nothing besides that for my supper, polishing off the fat bunch of spears all by myself in what amounted to two oversize servings. Continue reading