Tag Archives: spring

Easy pickled asparagus

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Spring came late this year.  Maybe you experienced it yourself; otherwise, these whiny posts might’ve clued you in.  No bother – We all still seem to be smitten with the token spring produce players.  Every year, an onslaught of rhubarb, asparagus, ramp, etc. posts flood the internet.  I’m a definite contributor…  and I’m not apologizing.  But the spring season seems so fleeting.  The ramps don’t stick around long, and then asparagus gets woody, stringy, and flavorless.  And with spring quickly turning to summer around here, I wanted to find a way to make that green, grassy joy-flavor stick around a little longer.

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Enter: the pickle.  Frozen and canned asparagus fall apart.  Freezing makes the cell walls burst, causing asparagus to go limp and lifeless.  Canning does the same, except in the form of overcooking.  But pickling…

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Pickling takes that grassy flavor and intensifies it.  It’s also perfect for those big stalks you find at the market a 3 or 4 weeks into the season that seem to be un-cookable when roasting or sauteing, then suddenly are overcooked and bland in the blink of an eye.  I like to blanch the spears briefly before dousing them in the hot vinegar solution, just to make sure each spear is cooked through.  But magically, pickled asparagus keeps some of it’s bite.  I wouldn’t say it’s crunchy… it’s certainly “bendy.”  But it’s also firm, and sliced into a salad or munched alongside an after-work beverage, pickled asparagus is one of my early summer favorites.

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Easy pickled asparagus
Makes 2 – 24oz. jars
Inspired by Simple Bites and She Simmers

*Note: I used the pint-and-a-half wide mouthed jars that are 24 oz. each.  You can certainly use wide mouth pint jars, but you’ll have to trim more of the asparagus bottoms off.  Also be sure to wash your asparagus well in cool water; gritty pickles are the worst.

1.5 pounds asparagus, trimmed to fit jars
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
2 tablespoons pickling salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 dried chiles de arbol, or 2 teaspoons dried chile flakes
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon mustard seed

Wash and trim asparagus.  Bring a pot of water to rolling boil and blanch the asparagus (in multiple batches, if needed,) for one minute; rinse with cold water and set aside. Combine the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar in a pot (I used the same one) and bring to a rapid boil.  While waiting for the mix to boil, put one chile (or one teaspoon chile flakes), one clove of garlic, and 1/2 tablespoon of mustard seeds in each jar.  Then place asparagus in jars.  Once the mix comes to a boil, stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Carefully pour the boiling liquid into the jars, and carefully top with a lid.  Leave at room temperature for 6-8 hours, then move to the fridge to store.
Pickles are ready to be eaten after 24 hours in the fridge, but I let them sit about 48 hours before digging in.

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Filed under Condiments, etc., Side dishes, Summer, Vegetables

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

Leek Risotto

Yes, leeks are a spring food.  But they’ve got a fall season, too.  (This makes me automatically love leeks, and rhubarb and spinach too- I get them on both ends of the growing season.)

Until this summer, I had never cooked with leeks.  Sheltered, I know.  My first leek experience was to saute some of these in butter, sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper, and splash some white wine over the top. The sweet, grown-up flavor was shy yet undeniable. Leeks are the middle child, stuck between well-rounded, know-it-all onion and spotlight-loving and spicy garlic. They’re refined, quieter, gentler.

I ate leek risotto throughout late May and early June.  And when I found leeks at the very last farmer’s market of the season, I was thankful- one last leek risotto before hibernating for winter.

Leek Risotto
adapted from Daily Unadventures in Cooking

Serves 4

4 T. unsalted butter
3-4 small, tender leeks, cleaned
kosher salt and pepper
1 c. arborio rice
1 c. white wine
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
2 T. lemon juice
1 c. grated parmesan (I used parm and romano)

Clean up your leeks: trim off the bottoms and the dark leafy green tops, and cut in half lengthwise. Run each half under cold water, making sure to rinse out any sand or debris in between the layers of the leek. Shake and/or pat dry, and then cut into small semi-circles, about 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick.  Loosly separate and lay on a towel to try out a bit.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat; add leeks and stir lightly. Keeping heat at medium or lower, cook the leeks for about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes until they barely start to brown.

While the leeks are cooking, pick over your rice for debris. Place your stock in a medium pot, cover, and heat over medium, just to bring the temperature up but not necessarily boil. (If it simmers, that’s fine, but it doesn’t need to- we just want it warmer than room temperature, as it will help make a faster and creamier risotto.)

Once the leeks are wilted and beginning to lightly brown, add the rice and stir. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook at medium-high, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes.  Add wine and bring up to a simmer. Continue stirring until the wine is reduced almost completely.

Add a large ladle of stock, between 1/2 and 3/4 cup. Bring the mixture up to a simmer and continue stirring almost constantly.  Cook until almost all of the liquid is absorbed or evaporated before adding another ladle of stock. Continue this process until the rice is cooked al dente (with a slight bite to it) and most of the stock has been added and evaporated. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and cheese.

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Filed under Fall, Main dishes, Side dishes, Spring, Vegetarian