Sweet! (I’m back, with pomelo!)

Hey, internet! I’m back. Didja miss me? I missed you!

All kinds of life things plus mega-tiredness and being away from home for a week have kept me from updating my box here. But now I’m home again and with delicious news – Duck and I will soon be nesting together! I am as yet unsure how sharing will affect my box, but hopefully two appetites will help keep the backlog down. Duck is vegan (although he will occasionally eat eggs from well-cared-for chickens like Eatwell’s) and though I mostly don’t cook with dairy, my big-production items often do contain cheese and the like, so there may be changes in that realm as well.

One of the lovelier parts of my busy week was Mother’s Day. My mom and I had a great afternoon of noshingCandied Pomelo Rind with Castor Sugar and poking around stores and generally hanging out. I brought her a huge sculptural bouquet of gladiolas, cala lilies, pussy willow, and eucalyptus, and prepared a special Mother’s Day treat from my box.

When I was little my mom and I used to walk downtown together and sometimes stop at our local sweet shop. I would get frozen yogurt and ogle the candy cigarettes, and my mom would always get chocolate-dipped orange peels. So recently, inspired in part by her affinity and in part by my desire to use every bit of what comes in my box, I’ve been experimenting with making my own varieties of citrus peel candy.

At Chanukah-time I made chocolate-dipped candied satsuma peels, which I ended up preparing too close to the time I needed to give them away (no time for a photo shoot!) so they were enjoyed thoroughly but passed undocumented. The only problem was that the thin satsuma peels were very floppy and fragile and even a bit mushy – they tasted great but lacked the sturdy texture of those chocolate-dipped orange peels from my childhood.

When the beautiful pomelo arrived back in April, I knew immediately that I wanted to candy the peel. Candied Pomelo Rinds Dipped in Bittersweet ChocolateI had never eaten it, but had been hearing for a while now about how great pomelo rind is for candying. I saved the peel but life took me in other directions until finally last weekend I dragged the box of peel of from the recesses of the fridge. I swear I have a magic fridge with magic powers of food-freshness preservation (I keep it really cold, which probably helps). My pomelo rind was still fresh and pithy and ready to go.

I had removed the peel following a New York Magazine recipe, keeping as much of the pith on as possible. (Although I really went back and forth on this one: the instructions read: “Peel pomelo, taking care to remove as much of the pith as possible.” Do they mean remove the pith from the fruit, keeping it on the peel? Or remove the pith from the peel? VAGUE! I went with keeping the pith on the peel, and, tasting the finished product, I do not regret it.)

I did the requisite thrice-boiled blanching to get the bitterness out. I then simmered all my little strips in a pot with sugar and water, but then when it was time to put them on a rack to dry, it was also time for me to leave the house to go to a potluck and do a little weekend visiting over in the East Bay. My kitchen receives an occasional rodent visitor (and not the sanctioned kind!) so it would be most unwise to leave a big tray of sugared fruit just sitting out over the weekend. So I put them on some parchment on a cookie sheet, covered them with a clean dishtowel, and settled my sugared strips in the passenger seat of my car.

These pomelo pieces ended up traveling all over with me. They spent a few days at my mom’s house on her kitchen table, covered by the towel so as not to ruin the surprise. They went up and down the steep Berkeley hills as I drove with one hand on the wheel and the other clutching the tray to keep it from sliding off the seat. Candied Pomelo Rind with Castor SugarThey ended up back at my house in an airtight container, waiting, waiting until their moment arrived.

Finally, Mother’s Day morning arrived, and it was pomelo-peel game time. After all their adventures, the rinds had dried to a wonderful consistency – firm and substantial, but still yielding and, not gooey, but… I don’t even know the word to describe it but if you’ve ever had great candied fruit you know what I’m talking about. Half of them I rolled in castor sugar, which is superfine sugar and which I think is perfection for coating candied peel. (You can make your own castor sugar by putting sugar in the food processor, but I just went out and bought a bag because I never seem to get around to making it and I’m always low on sugar anyways.) The other half I dipped in bittersweet chocolate melted over a double boiler and laid on some foil (having somehow gone through all my wax paper and all my parchment!) to harden.

I brought them up to my mom along with the sculptural flowers and she went wild for them! They are like mom-catnip! It’s awesome! I think she loves them even more than orange peels, because I don’t remember her being this into them back in the day. And I have to agree, they are fantastic. They are like everything that is great about candied peel, to the most magnified degree. The large amount of pith means more of that indescribable (jelly-like? I keep eating them as I write this to try to come up with a word) texture. Candied Pomelo Rinds Dipped in Bittersweet ChocolateThey are tarter than orange peels, which is a great foil for the castor sugar or chocolate. And they look, in my opinion, gorgeous – they have beautiful color and their length and stiffness make them wonderful for dipping in the chocolate.

So I returned home today from my long sojourn, ready to write about my latest box-related adventure in candyland. As I sat down to write I thought suddenly, “I should check what the topic is this month for Sugar High Fridays.” Sugar High Fridays is an especially yummy blog event created by Jennifer at Domestic Goddess, where every month (for a long time now) food bloggers post about a decadent dessert that fits the theme of the month. I love reading the SHF round-ups, but I have never participated. I rarely post about desserts here, because my posts are mainly about what I make with my box, and my desserts are usually interested more in incorporating mountains of chocolate than bunches of radishes. But as luck would have it, I popped over to this month’s SHF topic at Tartelette and the theme is (yes! yes! yes!) citrus!

So it may have been a long week, and a tiring one, but I wouldn’t trade it in for any other week. We have ducks building a nest, the invention of mom-catnip, and a blog event entry to cap it all off and mark my return to the wider world. Sweet!

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Snap Pea and Asparagus Into Battle!

Bhutanese Red Rice Salad with Asparagus, Cabbage, Peas, and Cashews

The lovely blog Mele Cotte is hosting a blog event called Cooking to Combat Cancer, asking food bloggers to “utilize recipes that include ingredients that help the body fight cancer.” Cancer is something I had never really given much of a thought to until my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer ten years ago. Then everything shifted into high gear in terms of education and research as we sought to put together the best resources for her, both allopathic and “complementary.” A lot of my knowledge and interest in alternative medicine and health in general stems from this time.

The year my mom was undergoing treatment was probably the single most formative year of my cooking life, as well. Her integrative (as in integrating “traditional” and “alternative” cancer treatments) oncologist had a whole program that was heavily based in diet and supplementation, so when we were presented with the huge twin lists of “food to eat more of” (mountains of cruciferous vegetables, seaweed, miso, some weird thing called quinoa) and “food to avoid” (all meat, all dairy, all sugar, wheat, refined grains, tofu, basically anything easy to make, it seemed) it was clear the learning curve was going to be steep. My mom was so exhausted from her treatment, and the new diet was so labor-intensive, and I already loved to cook, so I basically became a macrobiotic chef for a year for the two of us. I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, so my mom would drive us to the health food store and then sleep with her head on the steering wheel while I combed the aisles for kombu and buckwheat and some kind of treats that wouldn’t be harmful but would make life still feel worth eating.

So when I saw the Cooking to Combat Cancer event, I was immediately flooded with all these memories of the time when cooking to combat cancer – and to boost the immune system – was nearly my full-time job. Many of the bright points in my memories of that time are the dear friends who really came through for my family when my mom was sick, and one of the dearest new friends we made during that year was the amazing Rebecca Katz. Rebecca is a professional chef for whom cooking delicious, nourishing food for people with cancer actually is a full time job! She has such tenderness, such creativity, such sensitivity to the balance of nutrition and taste – she takes the twin lists of terror I wrote about above and turns them into yummy, yummy recipes. All her recipes are based on her genius principles of FASS (balancing the fat, acid, salty, and sweet).

Since we can’t all have Rebecca cooking for us all the time, luckily she’s written a wonderful book called One Bite at a Time. More than a cookbook, the book includes alongside its delicious cancer-treatment-accomodating, immune boosting recipes chapters on how friends and family can help and how to sustain the effort of cooking nourishing meals over the long haul. It’s a real resource for the whole food-related world of living with cancer, one which is sorely needed since food is one of the largest parts of our physical and emotional lives but it’s often one of the lowest priorities for the doctors who are trying to keep us alive.

When my mom was first diagnosed, we picked up a little brochure at the hospital called something like “What to eat during cancer treatment.” I guess the focus of the pamphlet was to replace protein lost during chemotheraphy – all the recipes were for things like eggs benedict with canadian bacon and hollandaise sauce. It was insane! Not only do I find it highly unlikely that someone on chemo could tolerate a mountain of creamy fat on a plate, this is the opposite of the veggies and fruits and whole grains and sea vegetables we now know fight cancer and support immune strength. It is really important to make sure you get enough protein during chemotherapy, though, as we discovered to my mom’s detriment (you may notice that nearly every heavy-hitting source of protein is on the “avoid” list up there…), so don’t just eat veggies and fruits and grains.

For this event I decided to make a recipe from One Bite at a Time that I’d been eying – a kind of warm-weather variation on my adored rice bowl. The recipe in the book is Asian Japonica Salad with Edamame, but I made my own variation (using Rebecca’s delicious and perfectly FASS-balanced dressing) with what I had left in my box. Continue reading

Scrap stock, round two

I was so nervous making this week’s scrap stock! I think I was worried that last week’s good results were sheer random luck and that it was statistically unlikely I would succeed again if I just did a repeat of last week’s method of simply cooking up all my veggie scraps from the past week, without regard to composition. But I gave it another shot. This week’s stock came out quite rich and quite assertive, which is unsurprising given that there were many asparagus stalks, fennel tops, and even two heads of roasted garlic that had been emptied of their yummy gooey cloves. I think it would make a delicious soup base, but I wouldn’t use it for something like risotto, because it would just take over the dish.

Scrap Stock!

In this week’s scrap stock:
Leek tops
Green onion tops
Carrot tops
Roast garlic bulbs (no cloves)
Red cabbage trim
Red kale trim
Fennel stalks and leaves
Asparagus bottoms
Carrot trim
Shallot peels and trim
Spinach crowns
Thyme stalks
Sugar snap pea trim
Garlic peels and trim
Mushroom stems

Fennel

The other night my mom and I had dinner at Delfina. We’ve been fantasizing about the restaurant since we stumbled in there by accident during a rainstorm a few years ago and had an incredible, unforgettable meal. This time around, unfortunately, was nowhere near that magical experience. The quality of the execution of the food was still very good, there just wasn’t anything on the menu that we were particularly excited about ordering to begin with. Partly the problem was that I had to choose between fish, which I don’t eat much anymore, and wheat, which I don’t eat much anymore. I chose wheat (better for me to suffer than the fish!) and my pasta with breadcrumbs (I know, I know, I’m insane) was tasty but too rich, too heavy, and made me want to lay my head down on the table for a nap.

The highlight of the meal (as it so often is for me in European restaurants) was our side dish – some kind of grilled or roasted fennel (I was too sleepy to remember exactly how it was prepared) that was caramelized to an exquisite, tender sweetness. I was thrilled to pick up my box the next day and find a lovely bulb of Florence fennel waiting for me, ready for an encore. I googled for roasted fennel and ended up using a simple recipe from the appropriately named Simply Recipes blog.

I only have a couple of notes to add to Elise’s excellent recipe. The first is a tip I found mentioned in several other posts about fennel, which is to leave the bulb connected at the base and then make your slices vertically through the bulb, so the base holds each slice together and you don’t end up with many little fennel strips. The other note I would add is that the cooking time was much longer for me, so I would use the 15-20 minutes as a starting place but really keep checking the tenderness of the fennel. It is done when it is quite tender and at least somewhat caramelized.

Roasted Fennel (adapted from the Simply Recipes blog)

One or more bulbs of fennel
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To prepare fennel, trim off the stems (the green stalks with the fronds), slice the bulb in half length-wise, put the cut side down and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Do not trim off the base! You want to keep it intact so it holds the layers of fennel together.

Rub both sides of fennel slices with olive oil, enough to coat. Line a baking dish with parchment paper, aluminum foil, or a silpat mat. Place fennel slices in baking dish in a single layer. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar, enough to coat. You can sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, but I thought it was plenty flavorful without them. Cook for 40 minutes or so, until the fennel is quite tender, golden brown and beginning to caramelize.

Spring! Spring! Spring!

Part of why I have struggled so much with a constant excess of lettuce since I started getting my box is that, well, I just don’t like lettuce that much. I’m still not very good at making salad dressing (it’s always too oily or too vinegary or too flowery or too something), and, without some kind of interesting accessories, plain lettuce just doesn’t get me all that excited. But there haven’t been very many things in my box this winter that lend themselves to salad fixin’ – radishes occasionally, and carrots, of course, and apples and oranges if I want to get creative, but that’s been about it, besides the lettuce that arrives relentlessly each week, whether I have something to toss it with or not.

Which is why I am just so indescribably excited about spring. Spring means asparagus and sugar snap peas and fennel, just to name a few things with the power to turn a bowl of lettuce into a tasty meal. So many colors and textures and so much sweetness and crunch. Today’s salad looked like an Easter basket with asparagus, sugar snap peas, red cabbage, carrots, purple spring onions, and radishes marinated in rice vinegar, sesame oil, and black sesame seeds, with a light, sweet, rice vinegar and sesame oil dressing. I think that weekly bag of lettuce just got a whole lot more exciting…

Asparagus and Pomelo: Week of April 2nd

This was maybe the most exciting box ever. Or at least it was incredibly full of spring and surprises. I was so sad not to be able to photograph the contents, but I picked it up early this morning and threw it all into the fridge before leaving home for a few days of training.

Here’s what I marveled at as I unpacked this week’s box:

Lettuce
Crocodile Spinach
Green Garlic
Cauliflower
Red Kale
Florence Fennel
Sugar Snap Peas
Asparagus
Carrots
Green Onions
Pomelo
Navel Oranges