Saturday, March 19, 2011

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries

Hethyr:  In our 13 years together, Jon and I have always been a bit fascinated by the fact that I know a lot of songs from the 30s without a clue as to how I came to learn them, so we’ve always joked about my previous life in the Big Band/Swing Era.  I’d even asked my mom about it in the past and she couldn’t figure out how I would know these songs.  Well, one day about a year ago, I was watching the 2005 remake of King Kong and started singing along to one of the songs – an Al Jolson recording of “I’m Sitting on Top of the World.”  As usual with this kind of music, it struck me as odd that I knew the song at all.  For a completely unrelated reason, I called home and my dad just happened to pick up the phone.  He has always amazed me with his musical knowledge, so I asked him how I could possibly know so many songs from that era.  He started laughing and told me that his parents had listened to Big Band/Swing when I was really young.  That explained it all!  And after years of wondering who I was in the 30s.  ;)

Cherry Pies with Almond-Streusel Topping
So, if you haven’t figured out the connection yet, the version of “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” in the video is from that era and this blog post is all about cherries and cherry wine.  It is also quite fitting that Bing Crosby was part of the recording - can you figure out why?  This summer, we received quite a bounty of pie cherries in our Grant Family Farms CSA.  I used some to make a couple of pies this past summer and I froze the rest, knowing that cherry pie in the dead of winter would be a special treat.  Actually, Jon got a couple of cherry pies and some cherry-cheese blintzes for Valentine's Day!  We also got about a dozen bottles of cherry wine between our summer and winter CSA shares.  It’s a really nice, light, crisp wine with a bright red color and a beautiful hand-drawn label, but because it is sweet, it’s not something I can sit down and drink several glasses of at once.  Since we received so many bottles, though, and since it’s only good for about 6 months in the refrigerator, we’ve given some as gifts and I’ve had to get really creative with the rest (aside from what we drink, of course).  This led to the creation of a couple of really great sauce recipes that I’ll share with you.

Since pork tends to go well with fruit sauces and chutneys due to its natural sweetness, I thought of a way to combine the cherry wine with pork chops.  I thought a cherry wine-cream sauce sounded divine, so I reduced some cherry wine with fresh rosemary and cream until slightly thickened.  Given a little extra time, I would probably have reduced it even more until it became thick and syrupy but it was still great, even if a little thin.

For the other recipe, I made a sweet drizzle for ice cream which turned out even better than expected.  Cherry pits and stems and the bark of the cherry tree have an almondy aroma/flavor so almonds are a natural complement to cherries.  What better to pair with this heavenly dessert sauce than my homemade toasted almond ice cream?  Although I’m sure it would be delicious over other flavors as well!

*Bonus Cherry Tip:  Easily pit fresh cherries by pushing the end of a chopstick or drinking straw through one end of the cherries.  The pits should push right through the other end.

Cherry Wine-Cream Sauce for Pork Chops or Pork Tenderloin
  • 1 cup cherry wine
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pepper
In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and cook over medium to medium-high heat until liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup.  Adjust seasonings and drizzle over cooked pork chops or sliced pork tenderloin.

Cherry Wine-Brandy Reduction Sauce for Ice Cream, Pound Cake or Other Desserts
  • 1/2 cup cherry wine
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup pie cherries
Cherry and dairy - oh, so very!  =)
Combine wine, brandy, honey and pie cherries in a small saucepan over medium to medium-high heat for 15 minutes or until thickened and syrupy.  Watch closely so it doesn’t boil over. 

Cool completely.  Add a little bit of water to thin, if necessary, before drizzling over ice cream, pound cake or other desserts of your choice.  I drizzled mine over homemade toasted almond ice cream and garnished with sliced toasted almonds.

I think this one is FoodPornDaily-worthy!

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Pie Man
Jon:  One of the many great things about our CSA from Grant Farms is that we sometimes get awesome bonus items.  The fruits and veggies are the real reasons why we're signed up for a share, but it's always fun to get extra little "presents" like cherry wine and pie cherries.  Other past presents have included apple cider, gourds, eggs, bread, harvest beer and a holiday wreath.  But the cherry-related items have been provided in full force.  Every fall and winter we eat more pies than Lardass from Stand By Me.  I think it's important to any healthy balanced diet to include an appropriate pie to non-pie ratio.  I'm pretty sure that pie-deficiency is America's number one killer.  Seriously.  I read it on Wikipedia.

I'm sweatin' just looking
at this baby
I'm not sure how a cherry becomes a pie cherry.  Okay, I just asked Hethyr after writing that question so now I know.  Apparently there are sweet cherries and tart cherries.  The tart ones are used for pies (and those are the ones used in the sauce recipe above).  I can definitely vouch for the extreme tartness of these cherries, as evidenced by the way they cause me to sweat under my eyes.  Just as Hethyr's mom can confirm, anything sour or tart makes me sweat under my eyes.  The first time I told Ginny that margaritas make me sweat under my eyes (due to the sour mix), she laughed so hard I thought she would pass out.  Once she regained control she then proceeded to shoot margarita at me through her straw.  I can only hope that I don't get a tart pie in the face from her next week when I see her in Florida.

The intensity of these cherries make them a perfect fit for ice cream.  And the cherry wine sauce for pork is some of the best stuff I've ever had.  Maybe it's the sweetness of the pork that works so well with the cherry flavor.  I'm not entirely sure, but I don't need to be sure to eat it.  All this talk about tart cherries is actually causing me to sweat under my eyes right now.  I'd better grab a glass of wine and a towel.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

One Fish, Two Fish, Whole Fish, Glued Fish

Hethyr:  One of the greatest parts about my job is the relationships I have built with the staff at the grocery stores in which I shop.  Not only is it fun to be able to talk to familiar people as I shop, but sometimes I even get preferential treatment!  I often get the inside scoop on upcoming specials, employees will offer to go to the back to get me top quality produce which hasn’t yet been shelved and sometimes, like the other day, one of them will even track me down in the store to tell me something awesome has just come in off the truck.

"Eat me!"
I was at the seafood counter at Whole Foods shopping for a client the other day when one of the fishmongers told me what the upcoming weekend had in store (no pun intended) for them.  It was their 7th anniversary and they had all kinds of events planned.  He mentioned a couple of specials they’d be having including a sale on whole yellowtail snapper, which they only get in occasionally.  I’d purchased one a few weeks prior and it was absolutely beautiful and delicious (Jon didn’t think it was quite as pretty as I did!).  I knew that I wouldn’t be making a trip to Whole Foods while they were having the sale so I was bummed that I’d be missing out but wished the guys luck and went on my way.  About halfway through the store I heard someone yelling.  I didn’t really pay attention because employees are often yelling instructions/information back and forth to each other.  Well, a couple of yells later, I realized it was Adam, one of the fishmongers, yelling at me and then he appeared at the end of the aisle waving a gorgeous yellowtail snapper.  “I didn’t think they were coming until tomorrow, but they just unloaded these off the truck!”  So I made my way back to the seafood counter while they wrapped up a two or three pound beauty for me at the special sale price that wouldn’t be available until the next day.  I think it cost $18 and it fed us for three meals.  If you break it down, that’s $3 per person per meal.  That’s a heck of a lot less expensive than what you’d pay in a restaurant for the same thing.

The first night, I stuffed the fish with butter and herbs and baked it whole.  The second night, I flaked it and made it into AMAZING curried fish cakes that fed us for the next two days.  In the following recipes, feel free to substitute any mild white fish for the yellowtail snapper if you can’t find it.  If you can find it, I really recommend trying it.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch rates it as a good alternative and notes that “a recent assessment of yellowtail snapper suggests that the population is healthy and abundant.”

In the fishcakes, I use millet as an ingredient.  Millet is an ancient gluten-free, easily digested whole grain that is high in protein, fiber, B-vitamins and minerals.  It is very versatile and can be enjoyed with savory or sweet ingredients (think side dish with dinner or a breakfast cereal).  Find more information and a few great millet recipes here.  As always, I’d love to hear your comments on how you adapt these recipes to suit your tastes or to use what you have on hand.  So try one or both of these recipes... just for the halibut!

Baked Whole Yellowtail Snapper with Herbs
Serves 2 to 6 (depending on whether or not you want leftovers)
  • 1 whole yellowtail snapper, about 2 to 3 pounds, cleaned
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • Fresh herbs of your choice (I used rosemary and thyme)
  • Salt and pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 400°F.  Chop herbs and mix with softened butter.  Season cavity with salt and pepper and stuff with herb butter.  Rub outside of fish with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. 

2.  Place fish on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

3.  If desired, save leftovers for curried fish cakes.

Curried Fish Cakes with Cilantro-Garlic-Yogurt Sauce
Serves 4 (2 fish cakes per person)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (preferably Greek-style)
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup celery, diced
  • 2 cups cooked millet (see directions here)
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1 pound yellowtail snapper, cooked and flaked
  • 1/4 cup sliced scallions
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, chopped
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 eggs
  • Oil
1.  In blender or food processor, combine yogurt, cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper.  Blend until smooth.  Set aside.

2.  Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Cook onion and celery until softened.  Cool slightly.

3.  Toss cooked millet with ground flaxseed until millet is well coated.  Add flaked fish, scallions, almonds, raisins, curry powder, salt and pepper, onion and celery, Dijon mustard and eggs.  Stir together with a fork until well combined.  Divide mixture into eight equal portions and form into 8 patties, each about 1/2-inch thick.

4.  Heat 1/4” of oil over medium heat in large skillet.  When oil is hot, carefully add fish cakes and cook for approximately four minutes per side or until golden brown and hot throughout.  Drain on paper towels, then serve with Cilantro-Garlic-Yogurt Sauce.
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Jon:  Let's face it... cooking can be gross, especially for carnivores.  I've definitely seen Hethyr make tremendous progress over time with her ability to handle the less pleasant side of cheffing.  For example, as recently as three or four years ago she could barely touch a piece of raw chicken without gagging.  Since then I've witnessed her go elbow deep while stuffing a Thanksgiving turkey like some poultry proctologist without so much as batting an eye.  She's come a long way.

A picture of Hethyr stuffing the fish.
But despite the progress she's made, it's a whole different story when dinner is still wearing its head. After flopping the snapper out of the wrapping paper and onto the baking sheet, it was impossible to ignore the fact that he did, in fact, still have his head.  Hethyr refused my offer to prep him so she proceeded with lathering him up with olive oil and stuffing him full of butter and herbs on her own. Despite the presence of the ominous head, Hethyr once again persevered and overcame her fears. Dinner was delicious.

Garr waiting for his shot
at the snapper.
Our dog Garr, however, has no such concerns regarding either fish or fish heads.  He spends most of his life waiting just outside the kitchen watching everything that Hethyr does and basking in the smells that she creates.  He goes pretty nuts over the smell of fish in the kitchen.  As you've probably figured out by now, Garr is actually named after a fish.  That is thanks to Hethyr's sister Shaye who has an uncanny ability to give names to animals and children that seem perplexing at first but fit perfectly later down the road.  For example, Gar fish are known for their elongated bodies and rows of long sharp teeth.  Garr is also known for his elongated body and has rows of short crooked teeth that are too big to fit in his mouth.  Both can be violent and dangerous if poked or prodded.  And I believe that both are of roughly equal intelligence.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

And the Beet Goes On

[Jitterbug_Perfume.jpg]"The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.
Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.
The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip...
The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.
The beet was Rasputin's favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes."
~Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Hethyr:  Tom Robbins is, by far, my favorite fiction author.  He's weird, funny, smart, ridiculous, thought-provoking, insane, etc.  I can't get enough of his books (I've read most of them several times) and Jitterbug Perfume, which centers around - you guessed it - BEETS, is my all-time favorite.  If you're interested or at least confused enough to be curious, you should check it out.

Although my number-one read has beets as an underlying theme, I am actually NOT a big fan of beets at all. My dad loves them and my mom hates them because she thinks they taste like dirt and, oddly, I fall somewhere in beet-ween.  I guess I don't mind the taste of dirt as much as my mom and my dad loves the taste of dirt?  Hmm...

Anyway, since I'm not a hater and I'm not a lover, there are select few recipes that I really like that include beets.  However, this is the one vegetable that we have in massive quantities nearly all year round.  I can never keep up with using them as quickly as we receive them, so I roast, peel and purée them, then freeze them in 1/4-cup portions in muffin tins.  Once frozen, I place the "muffins" in freezer-safe, airtight containers and thaw them as I need them.  I usually use the beet purée in actual muffins and, as promised in an earlier post, I'll give you a couple of those recipes now...

Dark Chocolate-Beet Mini-Muffins
Makes 24 mini-muffins
  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (decrease to 1 teaspoon for high altitude)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (decrease to 1/4 teaspoon for high altitude)
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 cup roasted, puréed beets
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup (real) maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (flour through cocoa powder).  In a separate large bowl, whisk together remaining wet ingredients (beets through vanilla).  Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing well (but don’t over-mix).  Spoon batter into greased mini-muffin tins, filling muffins cups about 2/3 full.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.  If desired, wrap individually and freeze in freezer bags.

Sweet Beet Muffins
Dark Chocolate-Beet Minis & Sweet Beet Muffins
Makes 12 regular muffins
  • 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (reduce to 1/2 teaspoon for high altitude)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (reduce to 1/2 teaspoon for high altitude)
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and almonds.  In a separate large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, oil, milk, applesauce and vanilla.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, then gently fold in the golden raisins.  Spoon batter into greased muffin tins, filling muffin cups about 2/3 full.  Bake for approximately 18-20 minutes or until tops are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.  If desired, wrap individually and freeze in freezer bags.
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Jon:  I know I can't compete with the rhetoric of Tom Robbins so I'm not really going to try.  But I will point out that it seems like we always have beets in the house and it is one of Hethyr's greatest skills that she continues to make interesting and delicious food out of these "melancholy" plant roots.  Whether it's beet muffins, beet pizza, beet and goat cheese ("bloody goat spread" as we call it) or some other beet edible, Hethyr can definitely take the boredom out of the beet.

The Albert Pujols of beets
I recently stopped by our CSA pick-up location and unloaded our monthly winter veggie bounty consisting of beets, onions, squash, potatoes, beans, leeks and flour.  There was an incredible number of beets... so many that dozens were dumped in the trade box.  I didn't blame the traders one bit, because not only were there piles of beets all over the place but many were the size of small watermelons.  Who says a vegetable can't grow to monolithic proportions without the aid of performance enhancing drugs?  Just a little dirt, water, sunshine and love can apparently produce a beet the size of your head. They even get pretty hairy when they get that big, much like Rasputin's beard. But in the end, it's what's on the inside the really counts.