Monthly Archives: May 2013

rhubarb + sour cherry beer preserves

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I feel like this has been the spring of failures.  First my body failed me; I’ve been sidelined from the activities I love due to some chronic health issues.  While I’m slowly getting back to normal, it’s been… slow.   I’ve had a few friends let me down, and I haven’t been the best friend either. Not on anything big, but the little things add up.  I’ve set goals, monthly and weekly, and haven’t hit them.  I’ve messed up quite a few things  in the kitchen.  And over the top of all of this is the feeling that spring completely failed us.  Months of unrelenting cold and snow, and then the sudden, unceremonious unfurling of greenness, hurling itself into being, even though it feels as though the sun hasn’t even properly shone yet.  All of this failure has been a little bit exhausting.

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The failed kitchen experiments have been particularly frustrating.  I’m realizing how much better I feel without gluten in my diet. I’m amassing a whole shelf of flours and starches – at last count I had something like 15 different kinds! – but gluten-free baking really is a whole new world.   I want to avoid adding gums, but I can feel my resolve breaking down.  There have been cookies that were cake-like, and cookies that spread into a giant mass on the pan;  miserable hockey-puck muffins;  cardboard pizza crusts;  an attempted crumble where the “crumb” sank into blueberries and rhubarb like the lost city of Atlantis, and then was completely forgotten about in the oven and burnt to a crisp.  And don’t forget the particularly disastrous upside-down cake that I absentmindedly assembled in a Springform pan.  (It actually hurts to write that one “out loud.”)  I’m still chipping bits of charred mess off the bottom of my stove.  Even my trusty loaves of (completely gluten-filled) sourdough have been falling flat – literally.

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AND since I’m moaning, I’ll point out that while the flavor of this preserve is very, very good, it’s looser than a typical jam.  Another failure.  I cooked and cooked and cooked, over double the time given in the recipe, but still I ended up with a very loose preserve, despite my addition of a cup of apple pectin stock.  All of the extra cooking I did after adding the fruit gave me a lower yield than the original recipe – 5 half-pints instead of 7 – and I’m still scratching my head at how the original recipe could work.

But the triumph here is that the combination of rhubarb and sour cherry is really winning, bright and tart, and lifting me above all of the little let-downs.  I particularly love that I was able to put some of my husband’s excellent homebrew to use.  The balance of sour and sweet with some slight hoppiness is exactly what I need to cope with some of these feelings of inadequacy.  Ah, emotional eating at its finest.

Hopefully I’ll have some recipes to share, and SOON.  In the meantime, I’ll be slathering this preserve with butter on top of pieces of crusty – albeit, flat – sourdough bread.

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Rhubarb + Sour Cherry Beer Preserves
Adapted from The Preservation Kitchen

Notes: I changed this up from the original in a few ways.  First, I used 2.25 pounds of fresh rhubarb and 0.75 pounds of frozen sour cherries, as my rhubarb is really green and I was afraid of ending up with a greenish-gray jam.  *shudder* I considered using strawberries, but I’m really glad I went with cherries- the tanginess of the two marry perfectly.  I also used a blonde ale that my husband homebrewed– but the called-for wheat beer is going to be a bit sweeter and less hoppy.  I added an extra 1/4 cup of sugar, left out the lemon zest, and instead added 1 cup of apple pectin stock and let the whole mess macerate with the lemon halves in an attempt to eek out some additional pectin.  Here is a link on apple pectin stock, and Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation is where I got the idea of macerating overnight with a lemon.

2-1/4 pounds diced rhubarb
3/4 pound frozen sour cherries
1-3/4 cups sugar
3 cups wheat beer
1 cup apple pectin stock (optional)
the juice of 1 lemon

In a heavy-bottomed pan, combine all ingredients and stir.  Throw the juiced lemon halves in as well, but try to pick the seeds out first.  Optional step- let macerate in the fridge for 4-6 hours.  (This will extract more of the juice and hopefully more of the pectin out of the lemon, slightly changing your cooking time.)  Bring ingredients to a low simmer, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat, cover with a lid, and place in the fridge overnight or for up to 5 days.

When ready to make the jam, remove the lemon halves. Place a small saucer in the freezer.  Use a sieve or slotted spoon to separate the juice from the fruit solids; return the juice to the heavy pan and set the fruit aside.  Bring the juice to a rapid simmer, stirring frequently, and allow to reduce by almost half.  (Virant said 12 minutes; mine took closer to 20 minutes.)  Stir in the fruit solids and return to a simmer.  Stir frequently to prevent scorching.  While your jam is cooking, prepare 5-6 half-pint jars and lids for a boiling water bath.  As the jam thickens, use a spoon to place a small amount of jam on the frozen saucer and return to the freezer for 60-90 seconds.  When the jam is gelling on the plate, it’s done.

*Virant says to cook until the jam reaches 215 degrees F and lightly coats the back of the spoon, approximately 10 minutes. In my experience, the spoon-coating consistency results in more of a sauce than a jam. I cooked for over 25 minutes, stirring frequently, and I personally prefer the freezer gel test.

Once you’re satisfied with the texture of your jam, pour the jam into half-pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch head space.  Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove the jars from the water bath and place on a towel; leave for 12-24 hours without disturbing. Remove lid rings for storage.

*If you’d rather not process, you can simply store this in the fridge in clean jars.  I’m going to guess it’ll last a month or two, if not longer- but I haven’t tested it.
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Filed under Condiments, etc., Desserts, Gluten-Free, Spring

Carnitas

Anybody who has dinner at my house will eventually have carnitas.

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There’s something kind of magical about carnitas.  The sweet-savory aroma as they cook is irresistible, and guests smell it as soon as they walk in:  salty, fatty pork; sweet cinnamon and orange; the smell of cumin and oregano from a pot of beans; corn tortillas frying on the stove top.  It’s welcoming, but not overwhelming.  They’re not too fancy, and each person gets to add what they want.  It’s like a grown-up taco bar. (And I love a good taco bar, believe me.)

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The thing that puts them solidly in the “Entertaining” column is that almost all of the prep is done ahead.  The only thing you’re doing when your guests arrive is sliding them under the broiler, just above a stack of freshly-fried tortillas.   Little bowls of cilantro, queso fresco, diced onion, and avocado are already on the table.  You’ve got time to mix a couple of cocktails, pull a bowl of red cabbage slaw out of the fridge, and then dinner is served.

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I had tried crockpot carnitas, but they were always a bit dried out and dusty by they time they made it onto our plates.  At the same time, I refuse to fry 4 pounds of pork cubes in a vat of oil in my kitchen, and definitely NOT when I have people coming over.  Then I stumbled on this article by Serious Eats’ The Food Lab, and things got real.  Instead of cooking the pork in water-based liquid, you still cook the pork in fat- it’s own fat.  By packing it tightly in the dish and cooking it slowly, the fat is rendered out of the pork, filling the dish and effectively frying the meat.  It’s genius, simple, and deliciously fatty while being not at all messy.  The best part is that the pork can be cooked ahead – days ahead! – and all it needs is a quick crisping-up under a hot broiler.  Brilliance!  I use the fattiest pork shoulder I can find, and although that means I have to buy a heavier cut and thus pay more, it’s worth every penny.

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Carnitas
Serves 4-6
Adapted (barely) from Serious Eats

3.5-4 pounds pork butt roast (shoulder)
1 medium onion
1 orange
1 lime
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 or 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into 3-4 small pieces (1 if you have new/pungent cinnamon; 2 if it’s older)
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup vegetable or peanut oil
2-4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2-3 teaspoons kosher salt

To serve: tortillas and any extra condiments you want.  I serve queso fresco, cilantro, diced onion, avocado, tomato, salsa, lime wedges, and cabbage slaw.

Preheat oven to 275 F.  Cube pork into 2-3 inches pieces, trimming away large hunks of excess fat, but not being too picky.  Place in a 9×13 baking dish; the pieces should form fit in one layer, but should be touching. Quarter the onion and nestle the quarters into the baking dish.  Juice and orange and lime over the pork, then nestle the pieces into the dish as well.  Place the garlic, bay leaves, and cinnamon stick pieces throughout the dish.  Drizzle the oil over the top of the pork, then sprinkle with cilantro and salt.

Cover the dish with foil and bake until the pork is fork tender, approximately 3.5 hours.  Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit.  Remove the onion, garlic, lime and orange pieces, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks.  If serving later, place the pork in a covered container in the fridge. Dispose of the grease remaining in the dish.

Before serving, heat broiler on high.  Break up pork slightly and place on a baking sheet.  Broil for 5-6 minutes, until the edges are crispy.  Shake or stir and broil for 1-2 minutes more.  Serve with warm tortillas and accoutrements.

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Filed under Clean Eating, Gluten-Free, Main dishes

Fresh red cabbage slaw

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There are a couple of big things that have happened in the last few weeks.  The first: I think spring might actually have arrived.  Secondly: I apparently now like cilantro.

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The first one is a big deal because IT’S MAY.  The last weekend of April was gorgeous.  Mid-60s and low 70s, sunshine, green grass, even budding tulips and the tips of iris and hostas poking through the mulch.  And then, on May 2nd and 3rd (!) the Midwest got hit with a nasty system that included snow (!) and sleet (!) and freezing rain (!).  Not just a dusting, but 18 inches fell in northwest Wisconsin.  18 freaking inches of white, dream-shattering, soul-crushing snow.

But between the 60s and 70s yesterday and today, the snow has melted, the grass is re-perking, and my rhubarb has unfurled an impossible number of frilly leaves.  Spring is here to stay, I think.

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The second part- the part about me finally coming around to cilantro- is a big deal because, c’mon, it’s cilantro.  It’s fresh.  It’s green.  I can grow it.  It’s a big deal in Mexican and Indian cuisines.  And I’m pleased to say that I actually have bought and used it three whole times in the last two weeks and it’s been awesome.

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I made this slaw to serve with carnitas, and it’s crunch and tanginess was exactly what the tender pork needed.  And after all, the recipe is a bit like the weather we’ve had lately: schizophrenic.  It combines winter staples (cabbage and carrot) with a few fresh things that pack a little more punch in the flavor department (jalapeno, cilantro, and lime).  Even if I have to keep buying cilantro for a another month while the weather warms up (*grumble grumble*), I’m adding cilantro to my seed-purchase list, and I’ll definitely be making this slaw frequently for the summer barbeque circuit.  It took me less than 20 minutes to prep, and it needs only an hour in the fridge to really come together.

Fresh red cabbage slaw
Serves 6-8
Adapted from Pezzo

juice of 2 limes
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 large clove garlic smashed (approximately 1/2 tsp)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (Greek yogurt might work?)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
salt and fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup diced onion
1 diced jalapeno (I removed the seeds; keep them for more spice)
1 medium carrot, grated
1/2 large or 1 small head of cabbage

In a jar or bowl, whisk together the limes, honey, garlic, mayo, and cilantro. Salt and pepper, and set aside.  Prep the veggies, and thinly slice the cabbage- you want approximately 4 cups of cabbage. Toss all the veggies together in a bowl; dress with the dressing.  Set aside in the fridge for the flavors to develop, at least 1 hour.  Taste before serving and add salt and pepper to taste.

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Filed under 30 min. or less, Clean Eating, Condiments, etc., Gluten-Free, Side dishes, Spring, Vegetables, Vegetarian