Pomegranates and Lemon Curd

It's been a while since I've posted anything. The Holidays are closing in, and like a lot of other people, for me that means not only holiday cheer, but a whole lot of extra stress too!

This year, I'm making quite a few food gifts which I'm sure I'll document on this blog. The only thing I've done thus far is make lemon curd. I cooked it this weekend and canned it so it'll last till Christmas. Lemons are in season now, although I've heard that the supply this year from Southern California (where most lemons grow) is very short. The hard frosts that hit the state last year have a lot to do with it I guess.

I used fresh lemon juice (and some organic bottled juice when I ran out of fresh lemons,) sugar, butter, and eggs (more yolks than whites.) Here a link to the recipe I used. Basically, you cook all of those things in a double boiler till they reach 170 degrees F. The recipe says to then filter out the zest, but I left it in since I kind of like the texture and the bitter contrast to the sweet lemon curd. I poured the hot mixture into half pint jars and "processed" them in boiling water for about 15 minutes. That really amounted to about 45 minutes in the hot water bath since it took the water so long to boil after I put the jars in. Here it is in the hot water. I don't have a whole lot of experience canning - I'm a little intimidated by the idea, but this seemed easy enough. Here's the finished jars - I got a total of 9 half-pint jars. This weekend, I'll make a bunch of other stuff to go with it.

Pomegranates were on sale at the co-op last week, so I decided to try something creative with them over the weekend. They were small - not the best quality, but organic and super cheap. I'm not exactly sure where these particular pomegranates are from, but mostly they grow in The Central Valley in Southern California. Not local, but not too far.

Pomegranates are an incredibly ancient fruit. They originally came from Persia (Iran.) Since they have the most experience, I figured the Persians would have some of the best recipes, so I decided lookes for Persian pomegranate recipes for a small dinner party I had on Sunday night.

Unfortunately I didn't get too many pictures of the main dish: Ash-e-anar, a Persian pomegranate soup. Here's a link to the recipe I loosely followed. I didn't have a few of the ingredients, and I added some others. This picture is pretty early on in the process:
The final soup consisted of onions, green onions, a beet, garlic, yellow lentils, rice, parsley, cilantro, pomegranate juice, and beef meat-balls. I would have loved to use lamb, but unfortunately there was none to be had at the co-op this weekend. I also really wish I had had the turmeric that the recipe called for. I didn't realize until too late that I needed it. The recipe also calls for Angelica Powder, which I couldn't find anywhere. I guess it's a spice used in Persian cooking. There are definite drawbacks to living in such a small town!

The soup reminded me a lot of Russian Borscht. It was rich and very warming. It gave me a good idea of how versatile Pomegranate juice can be.

We sprinkled fresh pomegranate seeds in the soup, and I also used some on the salad. They provided a great color contrast. This is our super awesome locally grown organic spring mix from Little River Farm- truly one of the joys of living in Arcata - especially this time of year when the local scene consists mainly of root crops.

For dessert I went with the Middle Eastern theme and made stuffed dates. I used to do this when I was a waitress at a Middle Eastern restaurant. These are organic Medjool dates. It's quite easy to do, and really good. You just make an incision in each date, pull out the pit, and put a few almonds in its place. I sprinkled pistachios on it just for fun. Dates are delicious, but they're almost too sweet. I can't eat too many of them in one sitting - but I guess that's not really a bad thing!

Just a few more quick pictures that I've taken recently:

This is the very last of the local lettuce. It's been frosty this week and it finally did in the last of the G Farms lettuce. In some ways it's sad to see the season ending. It feels like a final passage into winter. Even if the frost hadn't killed it, the lettuce was practically done anyway: The lack of daylight this time of year practically stops its growth.

This was dinner last night. It just looked so good, I had to take a picture. It's a hamburger, but instead of a bun, I chose to have extra cheese, grilled onion, and greens. Mmmmm....delicious, especially with the oven fries. I like finding ways to eliminate wheat from my diet without missing it too much - this was even better than a hamburger with bun! I regret buying the Mexican tomato - it tasted like mushy cardboard. It's just not worth buying tomatoes this time of year - they get more expensive and less tasty - why do we buy them?

Speaking of non-local food, this is the asparagus that Johnny brought home a week ago. It's from Argentina - flown up to the US in a cargo plane. This really is some of the most environmentally unsustainable food on the planet - it's organic, but that doesn't make up for all the diesel fuel and jet fuel it used to get here. It tasted good, but not good enough to take away the guilt I felt eating it....
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Meditations on a Squash

This is what the rodents who live close by are eating! They've been gnawing on the last few apples in our tree and knocking them down one by one. Every morning when I leave for work there's one or two more on the sidewalk. At least we can be sure that none of the apples are going to waste, and no rodents are going hungry!

To make up for my lack of imagination on Thanksgiving, I decided to make an elaborate meal this Sunday. I had a very large Long Island Cheese squash that was beginning to develop spots that would eventually turn soft, so I took the opportunity to to cook it. I wanted three separate courses that all featured the squash, but were different enough to still make an acceptable meal - Kind of like the Iron Chef, except I took my time. I think rushing things the way they do can only lead to compromised results.

Johnny had to cut the squash. It was just too big for me to handle. He cut it into quarters and I baked three of them. I could hardly fit them in the pan! The texture of this squash is nice - It's a tiny bit fibrous, but very creamy at the same time. It's a nice dark orange color, with a relatively mild sweet taste. It's an heirloom from Long Island - named "cheese" because it looks like a cheese wheel. This one was grown on Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley (about an hour North of Sacramento.) Unfortunately none of our local farmers grow this squash - perhaps next year I'll convince one of them to.

Coordinating the three dishes was a bit of a chore. I basically made all three recipes at once. I'll describe them in the order we ate them.

For the first course I used the quarter of the squash that I hadn't baked. I peeled it and cut it into bite-sized chunks. I tossed them with a little flour and deep fried the squash chunks in batches for about 5 minutes per batch. They cooked up really nicely - there wasn't much breading so they weren't too greasy, but the little bit of flour that stuck to each piece gave it just a touch of deep fried goodness.

Here they are right out of the fry oil. I laid these out in a pie plate and sprinkled sliced garlic, chopped anchovies, chopped sage sage, olive oil, and a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar on top.

I mixed it all together lightly and let it marinate for a few minutes while I quickly browned a few pine nuts in a skillet. Once the pine nuts were added it was done. The whole thing was unbelievably delicious. The recipe I started with called for mint instead of sage, but I decided I'd rather have sage. It was such a great taste combination with the spicy garlic the salty anchovies, and the sweet squash. Mmmmmm......

For the main course I made an Italian potato squash "pie" (I'd call it more of a casserole, but maybe I'm being too picky.) I pureed 1 quarter of the squash (already cooked) in the food processor with about the same amount of boiled potatoes. Into that, I mixed butter, 4 egg yolks, Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper (yes this is a decadent recipe!) I cooked up a little sausage into tiny bits and added that too. Finally, I whipped the egg yolks until they were stiff and folded them in. I spread bread crumbs on the bottom of a pan and added half the squash potato mixture on top. I sprinkled grated mozzarella cheese on that layer and then added the rest of the mixture. I topped it off with more mozzarella and Parmesan and baked the whole thing.

Here it is coming out of the oven. It was like the lightest, most buttery, creamy mashed potatoes you've ever had. The squash is mild, so it didn't overpower, but it did add a nice twist. It was very filling. We only ate about a quarter of it - we'll be eating it all week!

For dessert I made pumpkin flan with the third quarter of squash. I'd never done it before, but it worked amazingly well. The first step was to make the caramel. I didn't have any white sugar, so I used Sucanat, which is unrefined. The recipe said to warm the sugar over a burner till it caramelized. I did, and at first nothing happened. I got nervous when I started to smell burned sugar and it had still not changed texture at all, so I added just a touch of bourbon (which I was planning to use as flavoring anyway.) Immediately the sugar liquefied perfectly. I poured the carmel into the pan I would bake the flan in and set it aside while I mixed up the flan: pureed squash, eggs, brown sugar, and cream. I poured that on top of the carmel in the pan. Finally, I filled a large pan with hot water and baked the flan in its pan within the hot water pan. I have no idea why that's how you do it, but that's what recipe said, so that's what I did.

It's hard to see in this picture, but this is the flan going into the oven.....

And here it is just out of the oven. I put it in the freezer to cool. After we were done with the rest of the meal, I made a simple warm cranberry sauce with just fresh cranberries, bourbon, and brown sugar.

I pulled the flan out of the freezer and flipped it upside down so that the carmel on the bottom (which had liquefied again as it cooled) dripped down over the flan.

The only problem was that I didn't quite get it centered on the plate....ah well, next time.....

Here's my portion with the cranberry sauce on top. I love cranberries with sweet things - they added such a great sour to balance the carmely sweetness.
So this was my 3 course meditation on the Long Island Cheese. It was one of the most satisfying (and time consuming) meals I've had in a while! We still have one quarter baked squash left... we'll probably just eat it plain. What a versatile thing winter squash is!

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My Marina di Chioggia is changing color! When I brought it home it was very dark green, and it's slowly turning a dark orangy pink. It's name translated means "Chioggia Sea Pumpkin" - it looks like something from the sea. Soon I'm be making gnocchi from it......I've just got to find the time!

Life has been busy this past week, so there hasn't been a lot of time to cook, but I still managed to collect a few pictures....
The satsumas are here! It is truly incredible how many of these little oranges are consumed in ?Arcata this time of year! Last week, we sold about 600 10lb bags, 200 5lb boxes, and about 1500lb of loose satsumas at the Co-op alone! They really are good - so sweet, juicy, easy to peel, and almost no seeds. They're perfect for this time of year too - extra vitamin C when the cold season is starting to set in. I've certainly been eating a lot of them, but I think I prefer the stronger flavored pixie and honey mandarins that come later in the season.
This is a Matzutake Mushroom that my favorite mushroom picker brought in to the co-op for the produce staff. No one else wanted it, so I got the whole thing. The Matzutake is a very expensive symbolic mushroom in Japan. The can be over $500.00 per pound! Lucky for us, they grow wild here and this year there have been tons of them.
I had a few friends over for dinner last Sunday, and I wanted to use the Matzutake. I had been wanting to roast a chicken, so I decided to have a pre-Thanksgiving meal: roasted chicken with matzutake stuffing.
I used some old bread for the stuffing, and added sauteed onions shallots and celery, hazelnuts, Matzutakes, a few eggs, and salt and pepper. I cooked some of it in the chicken, and some separately in a pan. One of the guests was vegetarian, and I was a little nervous having a vegetarian over for roast chicken - but she loved the stuffing! The mushrooms were good - they held their own, but didn't overpower.
Here's the chicken right out of the oven. I cooked it to 185 degrees. It was very well done, but still moist - it practically fell apart when Johnny tried to cut it.

These are New Zealand Guava that one of our guests brought. She has a tree in a pot that lives on her porch. They were really good - like huckleberries with a tropical flavor.

The food was good, but these margaritas were the star of the night. Our group of friends had discovered Passion Fruit margaritas a while back, and we wanted to experience them one more time before the passion fruit season ends. There's a Portugese lady in Arcata who grows Passion Fruit in her greenhouse and sells them to the Co-op. She brought in her last load of them this week. The margaritas were tequila, orange liquor, lime juice, and Passion Fruit. A friend brought strawberries, so we added them too, shook them in a shaker, and drank them. A good time was had by all!

Later in the week, I decided to take full advantage of the left over chicken and make soup. This is the chicken bones starting to cook into broth. first I stripped all the usable meat from the carcass, and then boiled all the bones for a few hours. I drained the broth from the bones and used it as a base for chicken soup. It ended up being Thanksgiving day before I had any time to make the soup, so that's what we had for Thanksgiving dinner.

Here's the finished soup. It's pretty basic: onions, mushrooms, carrots, and chicken. I seasoned it with lots of oregano and lime.

Since it was Thanksgiving, I decided to make the meal kind of special and we made dolmas to go with our soup. This is the filling: rice, ground lamb, roasted yellow pepper, oregano and lime (to tie in with the soup.)

Here they are rolled up in the grape leaves. Johnny did the rolling - he did well! They were delicious! We only ate about half of them, and the leftovers are great for lunches.

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Chicken Soup

This is the chicken barley soup I made for dinner last night. Johnny and I managed to catch the same cold this week, and we're desperately trying to shake it. I wasn't feeling too excited about cooking anything, but it was actually quite easy. I sauteed two leeks, garlic, two carrots, and chicken breast in olive oil, added chicken broth, sliced mushrooms, dried thyme and basil, a tiny rice wine vinegar, and lemon juice. I wasn't sure how much the barley would cook up, so I added a few handfuls and let it cook for about an hour.

I don't know if it was the soup, or the yoga routine I've been following, but I've gotten over this cold much faster than usual. Chicken broth is basically bones that have the marrow cooked out of them. There's lots of good minerals in there, plus it gives you extra liquids, and the steam is good for the sinuses.....I guess the belief that chicken soup is a cureall goes back to Ancient Egypt, Persia, and Greece. If it's stood the test of time so well, who am I to argue?

As we were eating, Johnny commented that when he was a kid he thought Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup was as healthy as it got. It never occurred to him that a person could make their own chicken soup. His upbringing was so different from my hippy health food past! He's a good barometer for me of how most Americans relate to food...... It's interesting how many levels there are to diet. He was excited by home-made soup, andI was feeling guilty about using store bought broth!

Here's the current produce line up on the dining room table. I've still got the Marina di Chioggia, the Turban, and the Long Island Cheese squashes. I'm planning on making gnocchi with the Marina and pie with the Long Island Cheese for Thanksgiving. It's probably just be Johnny and I, but I'm not going to let that stop me from cooking. I'll still get to blog about it!

The larger red apples are Galarinas from one of my favorite farmers in Blue Lake. They're really pretty - so red with beautiful galaxy like patterns. The flavor is good - sweet, with almost a hint of spice. The little apples are Crimson Golds. We're going to have these on sale over Thanksgiving, so I'm sure I'll be writing more about them. They were developed locally in Ettersburg by Abert Etter. They are tiny, cute, and oh so tasty. They really have hints of wild honey......

And oh yes, the persimmons. These are Fuyus from Gilroy. I like the tops - there's just something about them that makes me happy.

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I'm a little Persimmon crazy these days. They're just starting to come into their own - the season will last at least another couple months. So many people think they don't like Persimmons because they've only had them unripe. An unripe Hachiya is so astringent that your face won't return to a normal expression for a good 5 minutes after eating it. Ripe, however, they are one of the sweetest fruits around. I guess I'm weird for liking the 'ooey gooey goodness that is a ripe Hachiya Persimmon. You can just suck it out of the skin like pudding! The photo above is from Wikipedia. It captures the color and texture pretty well. I think a large part of the charm of these fruits is their color - it's the same as pumpkin, but even deeper and more intense. Just what we need during these dark late autumn days!

This is another Persimmon picture from Wikipedia. It's a Fuyu tree in Japan. The Fuyu are the most popular persimmons because they're sweet and tasty even when they're hard. You can eat them crunchy like an apple, but I prefer to wait until they're almost as gooey as a Hachiya - there's so much more intensely persimmony sweetness that way.

Back to my own kitchen now. Tonight we had a wild dinner - literally. The main ingredients were Scallops from the sea, Mushrooms from the woods, and Wild Green Onions from our yard.

Here are the Green Onions. They are incredibly annoyingly invasive plant here. They come up when it rains in the fall, bloom in the late winter/early spring, and die back in the summer. They're pretty and good to eat, but boy are they hard to get rid of! I was weeding these out of a flower bed today and I snagged some of the "weeds" for dinner.

This is a Porcini mushroom that I bought at the farmers market this morning. I'm not sure where it was picked - somewhere nearby for sure. It's really a nice one. It was one of the #3 grade mushrooms which were priced lower than the #1 and #2's. This one looks pretty good though - no bugs living in the cap - that's always a plus! It was $7.00/lb, and it weighed exactly a pound. $7.00 for such a big beautiful mushroom seemed like a deal - they're usually a minimum $14.00/lb.

These are Chantrelles that I bought at the Co-op on Friday. They smelled fruity and spicy, had a vibrant golden color, and beautiful shape - all good signs! They were picked somewhere up in the Hoopa Indian Reservation by Larry Alameda, the best mushroom hunter around. He almost seems to have a mystical connection to the mushroom world.....

Here's the completed dish. First, I started the pasta water boiling. I cooked the stem of the Porcini with the scallops in white wine, olive oil and butter. I added a zucchini, garlic, the Porcini caps and the Chantrelles and cooked it all for just a minute or two. I combined the scallop/mushroom mixture to the drained vegetable rotilli which was just done cooking and added the diced Green Onions, Sundried Tomatoes, a little more Butter, Salt, and Pepper. We ate it with grated Romano Cheese on top. Mmmmm...... The Porcini was especially delicious - melt in your mouth delectable. It's good that it's so good - we have tons of left overs. Oh how I love left overs!

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No, this is not food - But he's just so handsome!

My Oatmeal Rye Bread turned out well last Sunday - really moist with a good crusty crust. The recipe was from the Tasahara Bread Book - a book I highly recommend. It does a great job of teaching the basics of bread making. I've made this recipe multiple times, and it never lets me down. It's a bit molasses-y, which gives it a mild Pumpernickel flavor. I froze one of the loaves since I can't imaging the two of us eating them before they get stale.

Here it is going into the oven...
and here it is coming out...

Last weekend we made apple butter with 2 big grocery bags full of apples from our tree. It cooked on low for almost 3 full days - Sunday morning through Tuesday night. We even left it on while we slept, which we haven't done before. Previously, we've cooked it at a higher temperature for a shorter time. It's the best batch we've ever made - incredibly thick and flavorful. The apples were pretty ripe and sweet, so I didn't add any sugar. Cinnamon and Nutmeg are the only additives


We yielded about 2.5 quarts. Johnny eats it every morning for breakfast, so I know it'll pay to have that much around.

We had a few too many apples, so I made a pie. I made the crust from scratch - something I'm not really too confidant at. I did a decent job though. It could have been a bit flakier, but we had no trouble eating it all up! I used the Joy of Cooking Apple Pie recipe, except I didn't add any sugar. Instead I used just a bit of honey. It was noticeably not sweet, but like I said, we had no trouble eating it! I tried it with some of my sour cream and a drizzle of honey - very rich, but very good!

I had the chance this week to buy a case of Long Island Cheese Winter Squash from one of the co-op's distributors in San Francisco. I've been trying to get my hands on this particular variety for a few years now, so I was pretty excited. I bought two of them: one for a pie, and one for dinner tonight. They're an heirloom from Long Island; they're called Cheese because they look like a cheese wheel. I've heard they're excellent for pies....They joined my Marina di Chioggia and Turban on the table. I'm definitely nearing my winter squash limit - I've got to start cooking these suckers!

I spent part of this week in Austin Texas at a co-op marketing conference. I stayed at the downtown Hilton, and got to explore the city a bit. The original flagship Whole Foods Market was within walking distance of the hotel, so I had to check it out. I was completely overwhelmed! It was way too visually busy, confusing, and insincere for my merchandising and political tastes, but they did have some crazy gourmet stuff that I couldn't resist buying.

These are $6.50 chocolate bars that I just had to try since the flavors are so out there. Bacon and salt in milk chocolate? It sounds like a joke I know. We ate it yesterday when I got home, and I have to admit, it was awesome. Apparently the flavor was conceived when the creator was a kid and had chocolate chip pancakes with bacon on the side. Sweet/Salty is a rare combination, but I think I like it. The Bacon added an almost carmel-y rich flavor. The other bar we haven't tried yet. It's dark chocolate with black sesame seeds, ginger, and wasabi. Sweet/Salty is one of my favorite taste combinations. I just hope it's not too wimpy on the wasabi.

I also picked up this weird produce item at Whole Foods: a Horned Melon. It's actually grown in California, so it's more local to home than to Austin....I looked up the grower online - it turns out its from the Central Coast. I'm not quite sure what to do with it - I'll probably just put it on the table and admire it for the time being.

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