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Fun with Shrubs

This is the third month of the food preservation Mastery Challenge hosted by Marisa McClellan at Food in JarsMarch’s challenge is a choice of Jellies and/or Shrubs.  Always one to try something new, I decided to explore shrubs.

What’s a shrub, you might ask?  At least, what is it when we’re not talking about the woody plants growing around the foundation of your house?  Shrub is sometimes known as drinking vinegar.  It’s a sweet and tart syrup made with fruit, sugar, and vinegar.  Other herbs, spices or aromatics can also be added.  Typically, a shrub is added to seltzer water for a refreshing drink or, with some added alcohol, a cocktail.

I like getting familiar with a new way to preserve fruit that’s an alternative to jellies and jams.

The first shrub I made was Pomegranate Shrub.  I had half a bottle of Pom pomegranate juice in the fridge, so I tried one-third of a batch of this recipe from Punch Drunk. It was super simple.  All you need to do is combine juice, sugar, and vinegar.  I heated the vinegar first to accelerate the dissolving of the sugar, then added the juice.  Pomegranate is tart to begin with, so the vinegar enhanced the tartness, which was toned down by the sugar.

My second attempt was a bit more experimental.  I started with strawberries I had frozen after a summer berry picking outing.  After reading about the different processes, I opted to start with the hot method, where the fruit is infused in simple syrup to extract its juice. I added slightly thawed berries along with some crushed peppercorns to a warm simple syrup and simmered it.  Then, I strained out the fruit and added vinegar and some vanilla extract for good measure.  This Strawberry-Vanilla-Peppercorn Shrub reminded me of summer.  The berry flavor was pronounced, the vinegar added some tang, and the other flavors gave it some mystique.

Shrubs are a worthwhile discovery!  Both shrubs were delicious added to seltzer. I still have to try adding this to cocktails.

After I’ve gone overboard picking fruit this summer, I’m also interested in trying the cold method for making shrubs where fruit is simply tossed with sugar to draw out its juice before adding the vinegar.

Strawberry-Vanilla-Peppercorn Shrub
Makes a little more than a cup

½ pound strawberries (unsweetened frozen OK)
½ cup water
½ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp black peppercorns, crushed
6 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the water in medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the sugar and stir to dissolve completely.  (If you already have simple syrup on hand, gently heat ¾ cup simple syrup in the medium saucepan instead of dissolving sugar in water.)  Add the strawberries and crushed peppercorns, and bring to a light simmer.  Cook for about 10 minutes, until the syrup is a rich color and the strawberries are soft.  Let the fruit cool in the syrup until lukewarm.

Strain the berries from the syrup.  (No need to discard the strained berries.  Stir it into yogurt for breakfast or a snack.)  Stir the vinegar and vanilla into the syrup.  Transfer to a bottle.  Store in the refrigerator.

 

 

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It’s Here! Summer 2016 CSA Week 1

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For two summers, we had a CSA share which filled our bellies with both delicious produce for 20 weeks and dread about making the most of summer’s bounty without waste.  The challenge was fun, but exhausting.  Last year, we took a break.  However, I have to admit that I felt a little left out.  Every week, I volunteered for half a day in the fields at Lexington Community Farm and published a newsletter for the shareholders to help them make the most of that week’s share.  While I could (and did) shop in the farm stand, I felt left out of the enthusiastic banter of the CSA shareholders.   So after a one-year hiatus, I decided to jump back into the summer CSA fray.

Fortunately, this year Lexington Community Farm offers a 10-week share, where the pickup is every other week throughout the full season.  I’m hoping this option will relieve the flow of food and the pressure I felt as abundant produce seemed to multiply in the kitchen.

I’ve handed off the weekly newsletter to someone else, but the question of how to best enjoy the week’s offering is still a puzzle I enjoy solving.  As I work it out, I’ll share the result with you.  For the first week, here goes!


IMG_3436Week #1 Share Contents:

  • Swiss chard
  • Spinach
  • Braising Mix
  • Radishes (with greens)
  • Pea Tendrils
  • Mint
  • Sage
  • Green Garlic (purchased)

Storage Tips

The first task on arriving home is to access what needs to be eaten first and how to store what I won’t get to until tomorrow (or later).  I’ve had good luck wrapping greens in a paper towel (dry if the greens are somewhat wet or damp if they are dry) and stowing them in a large plastic bag or a large airtight container.  As long as they aren’t too wet, greens can last up to a week or so this way.

I’m big on using the “bonus” vegetables, the parts that many people discard or compost.  This week, I consider the radish greens as a bonus.  Not sure how I’ll use them, I cut them off the radishes, wrap them in a paper towel and store them with the other greens.

I find that fresh herbs last longer in “vases” of water instead of plastic bags.  As with cut flowers, trim a little bit off the base of the stem and place them in water.  My assortment of small pitchers gets extra time outside the cabinet, and with the herbs visible on the counter, I remember to use them.

What to Eat

The first week’s share was on the small side, so we polished it off within a few days.  That means I’m writing this in retrospect, sharing what I made not what I’m planning.

Sage:  In addition to the sprigs of sage in my share, the sage plant in my backyard herb garden was flowering.  With a plentiful amount of fresh sage ready to go, rather than add it to the week’s meals, I decided to infuse the sage in red wine vinegar for a flavored vinegar to use later.

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Mint: A few sprigs of mint cried out to be muddled into mojitos for Friday-night start-of-the-weekend cocktails.

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Greens always surprise me when they cook down from generous bunches to just a handful.  I combined this week’s spinach, Swiss chard, and radish greens to make a mixed greens quiche, one of my favorite ways to eat cooked greens.  Quiche is one of those flexible recipes that can be varied to different fillings, seasonings, and cheeses.  For this week’s version, I sliced one stalk of green garlic and added some crumbled blue cheese.  I also experimented with the pastry crust, adding some stone-ground cornmeal for some added texture.

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Pea tendrils (also known as pea shoots) can be eaten raw, wilted, or thoroughly sautéed.  I made a simple salad with pea tendrils and sliced radishes tossed with a mustardy tarragon dressing.  (The tarragon came from my own herb garden.)

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The braising mix was a combination of baby greens including mustard, mizuna, and other greens I couldn’t identify.  I sautéed the greens with minced ginger and garlic as a bed for salmon fillets and shiitake mushrooms steamed in foil packets with an Asian sauce.  Pea tendrils would have made the perfect garnish (as called for in the recipe), but we had already eaten them!

I’d never made anything with green garlic before, so I bought a few stalks when I picked up my share.

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Green Garlic

When you slice through the bulbous end of the stalk, you can see the little cloves of garlic waiting to develop into garlic bulbs that are harvested at the end of the summer.  The flavor is definitely garlicky, but with a milder bite.

If you look carefully, you'll see tiny cloves ready to grow!

If you look carefully, you’ll see tiny cloves ready to grow!

 

I added one stalk to the quiche.  With the remainder, I made a green garlic pesto.  I like garlic’s bite, but it could be mellowed by blanching the green garlic before making the pesto.  The pesto is quite versatile.  So far, I’ve used dollops of the pesto on pasta, mixed with mayonnaise to dress a potato salad, and as a condiment for pan-fried fish.

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I’ll be picking up my next share later this week, so check back to see what I get and how we eat it!

Muddled Sage

Simplest Sage Vinegar

1 oz sage (leaves stem, flowers), cut into 2-inch lengths, washed and dried
3 cups red wine vinegar

In a bowl, muddle the sage until it’s bruised and fragrant.  Transfer to a clean 1-quart jar.  Add vinegar and cover with lid, preferably plastic.  (If your jar doesn’t have a plastic lid, cover the top with plastic wrap before closing with a metal one.  The vinegar could react with the metal lid.)

Let it sit in a cool dark place for 1-4 weeks.  Taste weekly.  When you like the strength of the infusion, strain out the sage and transfer the vinegar to clean bottles.

Store at room temperature.

Mojitos

12 fresh mint leaves
1½ Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp simple syrup (made with 1:1 sugar/water ratio)
1½ oz rum (preferable Bacardi Limon)
Ice cubes
Club soda or unflavored seltzer
Lime wedge
Mint sprig

In a tall glass, muddle mint leaves with lime juice.  Add simple syrup.  Fill glass with ice.  Pour rum over the ice and top the glass with club soda.  Garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint.

Serves 1

Pea Tendril Salad

2 oz pea tendrils, broken into 2-inch stems (leave any flowers – they’re edible)
2 radishes, sliced thin

Dressing:
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1½ Tbsp tarragon vinegar
¼ tsp capers, roughly chopped
½ tsp caper brine
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Leaves of 4 sprigs of tarragon, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste.

To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a small jar and shake well until combined.  Taste for seasoning.

Toss the pea tendrils and radishes with the dressing. You won’t use all the dressing.  Save it for another salad.

Serves 2.

Green Garlic Pesto

4 stalks green garlic
25g chunk Parmesan, cut into a few smaller pieces
2 Tbsp almonds
¼ cup olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Cut the bulbous end off of the green garlic and cut it in half.  Slice the remaining stalk into 1-inch lengths.

Place the Parmesan and almonds in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground.  Add the green garlic and pulse until chopped.  With the food processor running, add the olive oil and process until the mixture forms a thick paste.  Season with salt and pepper.

Store in the refrigerator.

Mixed Greens Quiche

2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly sliced
Pinch of salt
2-3 bunches of greens, thick stems removed, washed well but not dried
1 stalk green garlic, thinly sliced (optional)
4 eggs
1½ cups milk (skim or lowfat is fine)
4 oz crumbled blue cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
Pastry crust for 9-inch pan (your favorite recipe or mine)

Roll out the pastry crust to a 12-13-inch circle.  Fit it into a 9-inch springform pan, going 2 inches up the side and folding the extra pastry over to reinforce the sides.  Prick the crust all over with a fork.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 425F.  Line the crust with parchment paper (or foil) and fill with pie weights (I use dried beans reserved for this purpose).  Bake the crust for 15 minutes.  Remove the parchment with weights.  If any areas puffed up, prick them again with the fork to let out the air.  Let the crust cool while you prepare the filling.

Reduce the oven temperature to 375F.

In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the sliced onion and a large pinch of salt.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Sauté the onion, stirring often, until it’s lightly golden, about 5-10 minutes.  In a larger pan, heat another 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the greens, in handfuls, to the oil.  If the volume exceeds your pan, wait a minute or so until the greens reduce and you will have room to add more.  Cover the pan, and let the vegetables cook down until they are completely wilted and cooked through.  With tender greens like spinach and chard, this will take 2-3 minutes.  Periodically taste them to see if they’re ready.  Drain, pressing out excess liquid, and coarsely chop the greens.  Combine with the onions and add sliced green garlic, if using.  Season with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, make the custard by whisking the eggs and milk together.  Season with salt and pepper.

Place the pan with the crust on a baking sheet.  Spread the greens mixture over the bottom of the partially-baked crust.  Sprinkle with blue cheese.  Pour in the custard.  Bake for 1 hour, until the top of the quiche is lightly browned and the center is set.  Cool slightly before serving.  Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6-8