Monday, July 23, 2007

Imperfect; not for everyone.

A few summers ago, I was lucky enough to live on an organic farm and cook lunch and snacks for the crew and dinner for the farmers and their family. It was a fantastic opportunity and it might always live on in my memory as the best job I ever had.
I knew I wanted some sort of record of the things that I cooked that summer so I made a journal and clipped or photocopied the recipes that I used.
This system was imperfect and time consuming but I stuck with it. As a result, I can flip through the pages and remember every meal I ate that summer. I had never heard of blogs back then but if I had, I'm sure I would have started one. When I pull out my journal today, though, I'm glad it's hand written. I just wish it had a search function!
Because of the journal, my memories are still so vivid. In April, I picked dandelions with my rubber boots on because there wasn't much growing in the fields. My job included feeding the cows and although sometimes I resented getting up early to take care of this task before heading into the kitchen, I'm grateful that I had the chance to raise an animal that I would consume. We traded veggies for eggs from the neighbors (who just happened to be the CEO of Organic Valley) and I'd walk around Saturday market with a bag of food to trade for honey, cheese and trout.
I tried many new things that summer and came away with some favorites: homemade rhubarb schnapps, whipped cream sweetened with strawberry syrup, elderflower ice cream, the best plum pie EVER. Hmm, can you tell I like dessert? I also made asparagus soup with Parmesan custards, learned to like rutabagas, fried up homemade root vegetable chips and on the 4th of July we had fried chicken from farm raised chicken that had never been frozen. So incredibly juicy!
Possibly my favorite discovery of the summer, however, was homemade ginger beer. As many times as I flip through my journal, though, I can't find any trace of a recipe or even a mention of when we drank it. I've searched the web in hopes of finding something that resembles this elixir but have had no luck. I remember it had A LOT of ginger in it and I think it sat at room temperature for a day or so and then went into the cooler for a week. I remember this part well because I could not wait to try it. But wait I did and I was well rewarded. It was unlike anything you could buy at the store. Perfectly sweet and so spicy that it warmed the stomach. Not everyone who tried it loved it, but I sure did.
This summer, I gave up on finding that illusive recipe and decided to work with what I had. I found a super easy recipe on Instructables and gave it a go last week. In less than 24 hours, I had a tasty beverage. It was not the drink of my dreams but as I drank glass after glass, I started to fantasize about how to make it better. My imagination really took off after I read Married with Dinner's post on the Gin Gin Cooler. I didn't have all of the necessary ingredients to make their cocktail so I ended up just mixing the ginger brew with Death's Door Gin (local gin, woohoo!) and added a slice of lemon.
I was so busy thinking about how to improve the ginger beer- more ginger for sure...hmmm, some vanilla? about lime instead of lemon juice- that I don't think it hit me until the next day that this method of quick brewing had far reaching applications. I've brewed beer and mead and made homemade liqueur out the wazoo and while they are all delicious, none of them are easy or quick. It can be weeks or months before you get to taste anything. But put a flavor agent in a two liter bottle with a smidge of yeast and some sugar and the next day you have a delicious, fizzy beverage to enjoy. The mind boggles at the potential. With a little nudge from Shuna, I decided to start with chocolate soda.
I used Dagoba Xocolatl cocoa powder, which is slightly sweetened and has a hint of cinnamon and chilies. I admit that my concoction smells a little weird. When you get past that, it has an interesting, complex flavor. In the ginger beer, there was no hint of the yeast but in the chocolate soda, the yeast and the chocolate are making friends. I haven't had the chance to share my latest creation with anyone yet but here's the recipe for you. It may be imperfect still and the finished product may not be for everyone, but I'm still excited about the potential for this method. Try your own homemade soda and let me know what you come up with. I'm gonna try coffee soda next.

Homemade Chocolate Soda

1 empty 2 liter bottle
1/4 c. Dagoba Xocolatl cocoa powder
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. wine yeast

Put the cocoa, yeast and sugar in the bottle. Add water to within an inch of the top. Shake to distribute ingredients. Put on top of fridge. Approximately 24 hours later feel the bottle. If it feels like it's going to explode, put in the fridge. When its cold, drink it. If it doesn't feel like it's going to explode, let it sit at room temp until it does. DO NOT forget about it or it will explode all over your kitchen and make you very, very sad.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Beets for dessert?!

Even though I have not been buying much produce lately, our fridge was starting to seem uncomfortably full. Friends who left on vacation told us to pick up their CSA box, I was the willing recipient of gifted veggies from farmers who brought too much to market, and my back porch herb garden is overflowing. I have a lot of guilt about wasting produce so I decided not to wait another day to eat some of this bounty.
What I created was an unexpected treat. I will preface this by saying this is for beet lovers only but I will add that if you try this, you might find you are a beet lover after all.

My favorite way to prepare beets is to roast them. Boiling only seems to dilute the flavors, while roasting makes them more intense. Put your unpeeled beets in an glass baking dish with a little water, oil, salt, a few bay leaves and a sprinkle of black peppercorns. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees until they are easily pierced with a fork. This could take up to an hour if you beets are big. Let them cool and their skins should slide right off. Be careful not to get any juices on you or your countertop You are now ready to use your beets in all manner of dishes.

Yesterday, I was in a hurry to make dinner and short on ingredients so I used whatever I had on hand. Luckily, I have a well-stocked pantry. I chopped the beets in bite-sized chunks,added a splash of cassis vinegar, clementine olive oil, a drizzle of honey, salt and pepper and topped it with tiny lemon verbena leaves. Oh, and while I was out picking those, I noticed that my gooseberries were ripe and since they are similar in color to the beets and I was creating a kind of fruity salad, I threw those in too. Trust me, I was a little skeptical about the results. It could have been really weird with all those different flavors. I was pleasantly surprised. It seemed more like a dessert fruit salad than anything but that's okay. I figure we are supposed to eat so many fruits and veggies that the more courses we include them in the better right?

You may not have these exact ingredients lying around and although this salad was delicious, I wouldn't necessarily recommend that you go out and buy them to make it. I would encourage you to play with your food though. Try new things. Be bold in the kitchen. The worst that could happen is that you spit something out and you never have to try it again.

I was inspired to share this after months of ignoring my blog because I was so surprised and delighted by these new flavor combinations. I have recently started selling preserves at a local farmers' market and I give out samples. It is discouraging the number of people who will turn down a free taste because of an unfamiliar ingredient or one they haven't liked in the past.

"Passion fruit. What's that like?"
"Would you like a taste?"

It could be your new favorite thing but now you'll never know...