Potluck Salad Kit #2

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Last spring, I shared a little salad kit I’d put together to take to a potluck. This Sunday morning, I found myself filling that same salad bowl with greens, jars and other tasty bits for another shared meal. I thought some of you might like a peek.

Much like that salad last spring, this one also used baby arugula as the base (it’s one of my very favorite greens). I added some homemade croutons for crunch. Maytag blue cheese was there for a hint of funk and softness. And a pomegranate offered sweetness and a different texture. The vinaigrette was equal parts balsamic vinegar and olive oil, a spoonful of honey, and salt. Shake to combine.

If you read this post and the one from eight months ago, you’ll start to see that there’s a formula to my potluck salads. They all begin with greens. I love baby arugula, but will also use spring mix, torn red leaf or Bibb lettuce, or tender spinach. Then I pick something crunchy, something creamy, and, if I think the audience will approve, something sweet (when I make salads for my husband, I always omit the something sweet. While he has a healthy sweet tooth, he doesn’t like it in his greens). Dressings are simple and most often are made right in a jar.

My favorite crunchy things are toasted nuts, homemade croutons, small cubes of roasted vegetables (like in this salad) or pickles. The creamy things can be cheese, caramelized onions, avocados or morsels of chopped egg. If you’re adding a sweet thing, try pickled fruit, slivers of apple, pear or persimmon, currants, or segmented bits of oranges.

How do you like to build your salads?

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Karen Solomon’s Pickled Asian Pears with Lemon

asian pears

Asian pears are a tough ingredient for preservers. So much of their charm is in their clean flavor and snappy texture and those are qualities that don’t translate well in a jam or butter. They’re also really quite low in acid and so have be to acidified aggressively in order to be safe for canning. Sometime ago, I determined to save myself the heartache of wasted asian pears and simply kept them far away from my jars.

lemon zest strips

But then, I got a copy of Karen Solomon’s new e-book, called Asian Pickles: Japan. Her publisher is doing this brilliant thing, in which they’re releasing sections of the book electronically in advance of the physical publication. These e-versions include audio enhancements and give you a chance to preview some of the content that the print edition will include (coming in Spring 2014).

brine

Included in this lovely little e-book was a recipe for Pickled Asian Pear with Lemon. You lightly poach asian pear wedges and then float them in a brine made from white wine vinegar, sugar, and lemon juice. Strips of lemon zest and slivers of ginger add flavor (the recipe calls for pickled ginger, but not having any in my kitchen, I substituted a few peeled slices of fresh).

pears in brine

This recipe neatly dealt with all my asian pear preserving issues. It handles the acid issue with a generous application of undiluted vinegar. You do lose the crunch of the raw pear, but in its place is a silky, tender portion of fruit. I’ve taken to eating bits of these pickles pears with blue cheese over torn Bibb lettuce. With persimmons slowly fading from the seasonal fruit array, I’m happy to have a different fruit to heap onto my lunchtime salads.

finished pears

You should know that Karen’s e-book isn’t simply easy little pickles like this one (though there are others that can be made with relative quickness). She goes into a great, useful depth about traditional Japanese pickling and offers details about the various techniques (including how to start and maintain a pickling bed), carefully explains the steps required to pull off the trickier ferments, and offers lots of helpful suggestions about how to incorporate these new-to-you pickles into your meals. For $2.99, it’s a serious score.
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Links: Milk Jam, Savory Granola, and Coconut Butter

cheesy tortillas

A few links I’ve had stashed away. I found a draft post with some links from late November and early December that are too good not to share.

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Here’s what I’ve written elsewhere recently…

  • I tried my hand at homemade pretzels. I did both hard and soft and found that the soft pretzel is where it’s at. Absolutely worth making at least once in life. 
  • I’ve started a year-long project over on Table Matters that has me finding 12 delicious takes on the whole chicken. In January, I wrote about my favorite slow-cooked method.
  • Over on the FN Dish, I’ve written about Paula Deen’s Irish Lamb Stew (seriously delicious), Giada’s farfalle with chicken and Swiss chard (good, but know that making it with red chard makes for a muddy looking dish), and Rachael Ray’s Pork Goulash (Scott at it three times over, so it must have been good).
  • I also rewrote my grapefruit jam for the Etsy blog. It’s the perfect preserve for this time of year and it so bright tasting.

 

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Pear and Chocolate Jam

seven pears

Sometime last fall, I bought a copy of a British preserving book called Notes from the Jam Cupboard. I discovered its existence while skimming a list of recent cookbook imports and, justifying it as an important research material, promptly added it to my ever-growing canning and preserving library. I read through it as soon as it arrived and marked more than half a dozen recipes to try immediately (of course, immediately turned out to mean “sometime in the next six months”).

Notes From the Jam Cupboard

Of all the possible preserves and dishes I marked, there was one that stuck particularly fast in my memory. Pear and chocolate jam. As we all know, I have something of a weakness for pear jams (cardamom. vanilla. cinnamon. lavender.). I had to try a jam that has you melt nearly two bars of dark chocolate into a pot of pear jam that you’ve gently spiked with cinnamon. Truly, I couldn’t imagine how anything could sound more divine.

spread from book

I’ve spent more time than is rational thinking about this jam and have twice bought pears with the intention of making it. Finally, earlier this week, my stars aligned and I made a batch of this jam, exactly as written. It cooked up beautifully and made me realize that a jam made from peeled pears is slightly more refined and elegant than the ones I’ve often made (not that I’ll be peeling all my pears from here on out, but there are moments when it can be nice).

pouring chocolate

In her head note, Mary Tregellas says that this is a jam that “has a particular affinity with buttery things, such as brioche and croissants.” Having made a batch, I understand why she said this. This is an incredibly sweet jam. There are four parts sugar to five parts fruit, and then you add a mountain of dark chocolate.

This is not something you’ll probably want to smear on toast for breakfast each morning, but it would make an amazing glaze for a dense, barely-sweet chocolate cake or as a filling layer in an elegant tart (there’s even a tart recipe included in the book).

stirring chocolate

I’m certain that this jam will raise some safety flags for some of you out there, but according to the reading I’ve done, I believe it is safe for canning (I added a boiling water bath step that isn’t included in the book). Good dark chocolate (which is what I used) is made without the addition of milk solids, so there’s no dairy in this product. The amount of sugar in the recipe will help keep it safely preserved for some time.

There is some reason for caution on the pH front, though. Chocolate is quite low in acid. However, most pear varieties have enough acid for safe canning (though not asian pears) and the recipe includes the juice of two lemons. If using fresh lemons for acid balancing makes you uncomfortable, you can substitute bottled lemon juice (a medium lemon averages 3 tablespoons of lemon juice). When I made my batch, I added the juice of 2 1/2 lemons, which gave me a full half cup.

finished pear choc jam

All that said, this is a lovely jam. It tastes a great deal like a slice of pear dipped into chocolate fondue. It’s a treat I’m happy to welcome into my pantry and I’ll be looking for ways to best use it going forward.

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Preserves in Action: Pureed Preserved Lemons

preserved lemons

For the last several years, one of my mid-winter traditions has been to treat myself to a box of Meyer lemons from an orchard in California. It’s my favorite way to bright dark days and ward off the gloom of January on the east coast.

When the lemons arrive, I make marmalade, jelly, dehydrated citrus slices, curd, and salt preserved lemons. It’s a joy to spend those hours squirreling away all the different lemon preserves, knowing that it will be another year before I make them again.

Cook This Now

In a typical year, I have no problem using up the things I’ve made from my box of Meyer lemons. This time though, I just didn’t manage to work through 2012′s jar of salt preserved lemons. It got scooted to the very back corner of the fridge and there it stayed, for most of the last 12 months.

I did remember that it was tucked back there. What’s more, there have even been many moments when I knew that a little dose of preserved lemons would go nicely in a dish I was making. I just couldn’t deal with the game of reverse-Tetris that it would have required to put hands on those lemons.

preserved lemons in the blender

About a week ago, on the hunt for some January dinner inspiration, I pulled my copy of Melissa Clark’s book, Cook This Now, down off the shelf. While leafing through, I spotted an absolutely brilliant idea. She suggests plucking the seeds out of a preserved lemon and then running it through a blender, in order to make an easy-to-use pulp.

Instead of having a giant jar of inaccessible lemons, I could have a very accessible (smaller) jar of preserved lemon puree. This was an idea I could get behind.

12 ounces of preserved lemon puree

Once managed to unearth the jar of lemons from behind the maple syrup, I was in business. I pulled the seeds from half my stash and plopped them into the blender. It took less than a minute in the Vitamix to work them into a very sunny paste. Now, whenever I want to add that funky, tangy, salty, tart preserved lemon flavor to a dish, all I have to do is dip a clean spoon into a jar that now lives on the door of the fridge. Preserved lemons, redeemed!

topping with olive oil

Melissa Clark recommends that you cover the puree with a generous layer of olive oil, to keep it from spoiling. A very sensible idea.

salad with preserved lemon dressing

The best thing about blending the lemons is that once you’ve scraped what you can out of the blender pitcher, you’re already halfway to a great salad dressing. Because it’s inevitable that you won’t be able to get every last bit out of the blender. Instead of surrendering and cleaning it out in the sink, add a little water, honey, and freshly ground pepper. Put the pitcher back on the blender base, run the motor on low and drizzle in a little olive oil. As soon as it develops a thick consistency, you’re done.

The finished dressing is creamy and tart, but without the throat-catching acidity that a vinegar-based dressing can have. I made a not-so-seasonal salad of halved grape tomatoes and avocado, covered it with my blender dressing and heaped it on a pile of torn lettuce. It made for a really great weekday lunch.

If you have a stash of preserved lemons tucked away in your fridge, how are you using them?

 

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Hachiya Persimmon Oatcakes

hachiya persimmon

I’m having a bit of a fling with persimmons this winter. First, there was the chutney included in this pretty project. Next came that red leaf and fuyu persimmon salad (I ate it again today). Today, I took very ripe hachiya persimmons and made a batch of hearty, not-too-sweet oatcakes.

persimmon pulp

When I bought this pair of hachiya persimmons, my plan was to make a batch of cookies. I have a recipe from my grandma Bunny’s little file box that I’ve long intended to make (she died when I was 15 and cooking her dishes brings her back a little). But when I pulled the card out to see what I’d need, I realized that I wanted something just a little more virtuous than a cookie made with two sticks of butter and lots of white sugar.

making oat flour

And so, I took the recipe and started rewriting. I cut the butter in half (who needs two sticks when you’ve got all that luscious persimmon pulp to lend moisture?). I used a little coconut palm sugar to sweeten (if your pantry doesn’t run to such things, use sucanat or brown sugar). I added some toasted pecans for protein and crunch. And I used a combination of rolled oats and oat flour for backbone (make your own oat flour in your food processor or blender. Takes 90 seconds and keeps things simple).

coconut palm sugar

Unlike the salad I wrote about last week, this recipe uses the pointy-ended persimmons. This variety is incredibly astringent when firm, but when ripe, becomes super sweet and perfect for baking. I let mine soften on the counter for more than a week, until they felt soft, heavy and a little like a full-to-bursting water balloon. To use them, you simply cut off the stem end and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

persimmon oatcakes

The finished oatcake is tender and moist, but still manages to hold its shape nicely. I used a 1/4 cup disher to portion the dough into little mounds, but you can also grab a couple soup spoons and scoop the old-fashioned way. These guys are nice toasted for breakfast, tucked into packed lunches or gobbled in front of a computer with a cup of tea as a late afternoon snack.

A couple notes:

  • If you don’t have easy access to persimmons, you could also make these with a cup of mashed banana.
  • If you use gluten-free oats, these oatcakes become gluten-free. A nice feature these days.
  • If pecans are too pricey, use toasted walnuts. Or skip the nuts entirely. Sometimes I substitute toasted millet for nuts in baked goods, when I want some crunch but I know someone in my eating audience is allergic.
  • Because these oatcakes are quite moist, they should be tucked into an airtight container and kept in the fridge or freezer within a day or so of baking.

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