I’ve stopped eating meat this early year – not really out of any one particular reason, though the need to feed a cow 9 calories of grain to get 1 calorie of beef has a lot to do with it. In honesty, I’ve just stopped enjoying the taste of meat. I still eat and enjoy fish and seafood. I try not to be preachy or even mention it too much. Everybody knows an annoying/high maintenance/scowling vegetarian/vegan. The last thing I want to do is tell anyone else what to eat or do. This is probably the last time I’ll mention it. This is all to say, I’ve been looking for and finding a lot more meatless meals that are seasonal, satisfying and delicious! So stay tuned!
We’re in the middle of a heat wave in Central Ohio. Today, we hit 94 degrees, and tomorrow is supposed to be 99. I don’t think anything is better on a hot day than ice cream. I’ve been making a lot of ice cream and sorbet lately, thanks to an inspirational new cookbook from Columbus’ own ice cream luminary, Jeni Britton Bauer. Her recipes use cornstarch and cream cheese to thicken them rather than eggs, and the result is my favorite ice cream in the world.
After Janna and I made some batches directly from the book (bananas and honey, backyard mint, apricot/ale sorbet with my brother’s homebrewed beer and raspberry sorbet) I thought I’d strike out a bit on my own. Taking the basics of one of Jeni’s recipes, I made an ice cream that feels right for godawful hot days, taking inspiration from the deserts of Mexico.
I found some prickly pear cactus fruit at the grocery store this week, and the idea of a prickly pear/tequila ice cream seemed too intriguing not to try. Here’s my recipe, modified from Jeni’s.
Tequila Ice Cream with Prickly Pear Syrup
2 cups whole mik
1 1/4 cups heavy crea
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp corn syrup
1 1/2 tbsp cream cheese
4 tsp corn starch
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup tequila
2 prickly pear cactus fruits peeled and crushed
1/3 cup sugar
First, make prickly pear syrup – cook the crushed prickly pears with the sugar in a small saucepan until it thickens. Push it through a sieve to get rid of the seeds and cool.
Next, add the milk minus 2 tbsp, cream, sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil for three minutes. Bring off the heat and add the corn starch mixed with the reserved milk. Bring to a boil for one more minute, then whisk in the cream cheese and salt. Cool to room temp, then add the tequila. Chill for a few hours, then put the mixture into an ice cream maker. When it’s fully frozen, drizzle in the prickly pear syrup slowly. Don’t overmix.
The flavor of the tequila (I used Patron) comes through, but there isn’t much of an alcohol taste. It’s slightly salty, like you’d want a margarita to be, and the cactus syrup (which doesn’t freeze so much as firm up a bit) adds an interesting texture.
The row of Chinese Kale in the bed of greens is by far the tallest, and it’s starting to form flower buds, so it seemed to be time to harvest a significant portion of it. Chinese Kale is interesting in that its leaves are large and flat, but also leathery and lightly bitter. This is a green that definitely needs to be cooked. The stems are fairly tender for something so sturdy, and the flower buds are also edible, and delicious.
A weeknight calls for something simple and light, so I settled on a pasta, combining the Chinese Kale with broccoli raab. This is not a complicated thing to make – and there really isn’t a firm recipe, but here’s an outline:
Chinese Kale and Broccoli Raab Pasta
as much garlic as you can handle
as much olive oil as covers the bottom of a skillet
as much Chinese Kale and broccoli raab as you have on hand (chop the stems separately from the leaves/buds)
as much salt as you like
a little pasta for body
more red chili flakes than you think is prudent
some cheese for on top – I used ricotta salata, which is creamy and squeaky at the same time
Lightly brown the garlic, then add the chili flakes and salt. Add the chopped stems, cook until soft, then add the leaves and buds. Cook them until slightly wilted, mix in some pasta, and top with cheese.
The greens are nice and bitter, which pairs well with the creamy cheese and hot pepper. A satisfying supper.
It’s been over a week since I started the nocino, so we thought it was high time for a check-in. After the first day, the liquid turned green-black – dark, sticky and noxious-looking. I’ve been shaking it about every day to mix the flavors. I opened the jars just to smell a few times, and early on, it still smelled like raw black walnuts. Last night, though, the aroma had transformed to something more subtle and balanced. The vanilla and lemon scents came to the forefront. Four of us tasted small sips, and all agreed – it was pretty darn good! Very complex in flavor and surprisingly smooth.
The redcurrant infusion is doing well too. Almost all of the color has leached from the berries and into the vodka. The flavor is very bright with none of the sourness of a fresh currant. These are the beginning of what I hope will be a nice collection of infusion experiments over the summer.
After some heavy storms early this week, we were again cursed with detritus from our neighbor’s awful black walnut tree. Sticks, branches, larger limbs, and some immature walnuts, strewn around the yard. Because black walnuts are 100 times worse than lemons, I decided to turn them into a potent, bitter drink that I hope will be 100 times better than lemonade. Nocino is a traditional bittersweet liqueur from Emilia-Romagna that combines immature walnuts with spices and alcohol.
It’s important to select only the freshest walnuts – there should be no brown spots or squirrel nibbles. English walnuts are more commonly used, but black walnuts are fine, too. This time of year, the walnuts haven’t yet formed their woody shells, and the flesh surrounding the nut is crisp and green. They’re pretty easy to slice into quarters with a heavy knife. Traditionally, nocino is made on or around June 23, so I’m just a bit ahead of the curve. As more walnuts fall over the coming weeks, I’ll add them to the jars.
For each pint jar, here’s the recipe:
11 immature Black Walnuts, halved or quartered (It’s traditional to use an odd number of nuts)
1/2 cup sugar
3 juniper berries
1/4 vanilla bean
zest of 1/2 large lemon in wide strips
3 allspice berries
Vodka to fill the jar (I used 80-prood Svedka)
After a haul of more than seven pounds of mulberries my sister-in-law and I picked from the tree in the park down the street, I knew there was a lot of canning in my future. She and I ate a lot of them fresh, then made up a big match of mulberry jam. We still had a whole lot left over, so I pulled out the junberries we had left in the fridge, and I made a wild-picked, mixed berry jam. There aren’t any recipes out there for this one, so I was working a bit without a net.
Mulberry – Juneberry Jam
3 cups juneberries
4 cups mulberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 box low sugar pectin (only use 2/3 of the box)
Wash the mulberries carefully and drain them fully. In a large saucepan, mix the juneberries and mulberries, and crush well by hand. Don’t use a food processor, or your jam will come out oddly textured. Add the lemon juice, and bring to a full boil for one minute. Add the pectin and 1/4 cup of sugar and bring to a full boil for one minute. Add in the remaining sugar, and bring back to a full boil for one minute. Ladle into sterilized jars and process in hot water for five minutes. Makes 7 cups.
The jam turned out really tasty. The mulberries dominated the appearance, but the junberry flavor shines through with a slightly floral apple-y flavor. It’s pretty sweet, even though the low-sugar recipe is about half of what is called for in a traditional recipe. The juneberries contain a fair amount of pectin on their own, and even with using 2/3 of a packet of pectin. You might try even less, or no additional pectin, especially if your juneberries are still red rather than purple.
All in all, it’s a great way to preserve the wild flavors of the month.
With only two apricots on my tree, there aren’t going to be any hyper-local apricot recipes from me this year. But I did see California apricots at the grocery store today that looked great, so I thought I’d make an easy dessert that featured their deliciously tart flavor. Apricots and almonds go great together, so I thought I’d put some almond flour in the crust, and I dug out my soft-set apricot-noyeaux-bourbon jam from last summer for a bit of added sweetness. The cookie-like crust is the perfect complement to the almost sour fresh apricot halves on top.
Mix 1 stick of melted butter and 1/2 cup of sugar.
Stir in 1/2 tsp of vanilla, then 1/2 tsp of salt, 2 tbsp of almond flour and 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour.
Butter a tart pan, and press the dough into it.
Dock the crust, and blind-bake for 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven.
Brush the warm crust with 2-3 tbsp of apricot jam, then layer on apricot halves.
Bake for 45 minutes, until the apricots are meltingly soft.