Monday, March 31, 2008

Lemon Rosemary Marmalade

After such an auspicious beginning tasting rosemary lemonade for the first time, I decided to try rosemary and lemon in another combination: marmalade. After all, my stores of blackberry and fig jam are getting thin, I'll need new stuff to spread on my morning toast. I think it is important to use organic lemons here since you use all the zest, so it's best if it hasn't been sprayed.

Here's the recipe:

organic lemons, quartered longways and very thinly sliced, seeds removed
water to cover
confectioner's sugar
1 tsp of chopped rosemary per cup of fruit pulp
commercial fruit pectin for jams/jellies/marmalades

I haven't given much information in the way of quantities since this recipe works in ratios. Place the lemon slices in a non-resctive saucepan. I happened only to use 2 lemons. Just barely cover with water. Cook over low heat for 1 hour. Cover and let stand for at least 4 hours or overnight. Measure the amount of fruit pulp and liquid you have. I had 2 cups. Place pulp mixture back into the pan. Add as many cups of sugar as you have pulp into the pan. To that, add 1 tsp of chopped rosemary leaves per cup of pulp and fruit pectin as per package directions. I added 1/4 of a package given the small amount I made.

In a different saucepan, place the canning jars and their lids, cover with water and bring to a boil. Once the canning jar water begins to steam (before it boils) put your lemon, sugar, rosemary mixture on high heat and stir frequently. Once the marmalade has been boiling for about 5 minutes, you can begin to test it's doneness. Place a drop of marmalade on a cool saucer. Wait a minute or two to allow it to set. Draw your finger through the drop and if the two sides remain separate (do not run together), it's done. Take a jar out of the now boiling water and fill to the rim with the marmalade. Repeat with as many jars as needed. If the jarring has been done right, the marmalade will keep for more than a year. There are other methods that have you filling and sealing the jars before you boil them. I've never tried that, but it may be an effective method as well.

When the mood strikes you, open up a jar and spread on toast or even maybe some roast lamb. Music to eat lemon rosemary marmalade by: "King for a Day" on the release, Oranges and Lemons by XTC.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Powdery Mildew on my Sage: A Home Remedy

I was strolling through an open air market last summer and bought a huge sage plant at a discount. It was glorious. I brought it home dreaming of ravioli with sage-butter sauce and even crisp fried sage leaves as a snack (the best alternative to potato chips there is!), but after about a week the plant developed powdery mildew. See the little white spot on the leaf in the middle? That's it. It's insidious. I fought a losing battle all last summer and fall. When I cut the whole plant down to the stalks in early winter, I hoped that freezing temps over the season would put an end to the bug. They didn't, so here's a home recipe for an anti-powdery mildew spray:

1 cups tap water
1/4 tsp baking soda

Place into a spray bottle. Saturate leaves in the morning so they have a chance to dry out in the afternoon sun. Since powdery mildew thrives in moisture, you want to limit the time the leaves are wet. Also, if possible, water the plant from the bottom by filling the saucer with water. So, this seems a bit paradoxical. You should spray with a water solution to get rid of powdery mildew but you should keep the plant's leaves dry to retard powdery mildew growth. I dunno; for now that's the best I got.

Now if anybody out there has any better home remedies, please let me know.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Escarole & Beans

Thanks to Marie of Proud Italian Cook and Maryann of Finding la Dolce Vita for organizing the Festa Italiana. My entry to this big Italo-pot-luck is Good Friday escarole and beans.

In Chicago, you still see particular observance of older Catholic traditions. Actually, with the major immigrant groups being Irish, Italian, Mexican and Polish, Catholicism is pretty important in Chicago. One such tradition can be seen in the Italian beef and sausage shops that have Friday specials of pepper and egg sandwiches from back in the day when every Friday was meatless. In many Italian restaurants in the winter months you can get schkarol' and bean soup (that's escarole and bean soup pronounced with that faithful Southern Italian accent of so many of my Italian-American friends).

Here is a Good Friday version of the classic Escarole & Beans (normally using chicken stock) here, flavored with a battuto of aromatic vegetables.


The "battuto""
1 large onion
1 large carrot
1 rib celery
1 large clove garlic
2 tbsps olive oil

1 cup dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight
1 parmesan cheese rind
1 large bay leaves
1 large head of escarole, roughly chopped
1 cup pureed tomatoes
1 sprig fresh rosemary or 1-1/2 tsps dried and crumbled
1/2 tsp thyme or oregano
salt and pepper to taste
lots of freshly grated paremsan to sprinkle over

Place the "battuto" vegetables in a food processor and whizz around until you have very small pieces, almost a paste. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium then add the battuto. Sautee while the vegetables steam and let off their liquid. Stir until all the liquid has evaporated and the mixture starts to genuinely fry in the oil. You willl not get good browning with this but that's ok; it'll still be delicious. Add the soaked beans plus 6 cups of water, the parmesan rind and the bay leaves. Now your beans and flavorings are floating in a golden broth flecked with green. This battuto and water combination replaces the chicken broth; you'll never miss it! Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours or until the beans are tender. Add the escarole, the tomato puree, the rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Allow to simmer another 20 minutes until the escarole is tender and the flavors have melded.

Serve in big bowls with lots of parmesan to go around and crusty bread.Music to eat Good Friday meatless escarole and beans by: Good Friday by CocoRosie.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rosemary and Lemon, Who Knew?

The other day I posted about the weekly shipments of organic vegetables and herbs I get from our CSA and I posted about a particular problem, namely I didn't know what to do with all that rosemary. Well, you all came to the rescue with a variety of tips including drink recipes. Well, I went ahead and made a simple syrup infused with chopped rosemary and added that as a sweetener to lemonade with stellar results. Wow is rosemary lemonade delicious! You have GOT to try this! Run, don't walk to your nearest plant nursery and pick up a rosemary plant if you don't already have one, and make this recipe:

Rosemary simple syrup:

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup roughly chopped rosemary leaves

In a small saucepan, place the sugar and water. Bring to a boil and once all the sugar has dissolved, put in the rosemary. Reduce heat to minimum and let steep (don't let this boil) for 10 minutes. Strain into a glass jar and reserve for your next glass of lemonade.

Rosemary Lemonade:

juice of 1 lemon
8 to 12 ozs cold water
tablespoon or two of rosemary simple syrup

Mix all ingredients together in a tall glass, relax and enjoy. Music to sip cool Rosemary Lemonade on a warm Italian balcony: "Mambo Italiano" sung by Rosemary Clooney.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Irish Champ With Smoked Salmon (And a Rant)

What's champ? It's simply mashed potatoes with scallions. A lovely side dish for any meat, really but especially nice with smoked salmon. With tasty, real butter, this is just yummy.
2 lbs (1 kilo) russet potatoes
1/2 cup butter
1 cup milk
5 fat scallions (or less given your taste)
salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste

Peel the potatoes, cut them into chunks and place them in a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of your potato chunks). While your potatoes are simmering, slice the scallions into 1/4 inch thick rounds, place them into another saucepan along with the milk and half the butter. Bring to a boil and allow the scallions to soften. Once soft, turn off the heat and reserve.

Once the potatoes are tender, drain completely and return to the pan. Begin to mash with a potato masher, add the scallion mixture and incorporate. Add half of the remaining butter and keep mashing until you have a smooth texture. Some recipes say that there should be lumps in the potatoes so if you end up with them you can claim it was on purpose. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and serve piping hot alongside any meat dish you like. Music to eat Irish Champ by: Champs of Irish (ceili) dancing. It's always amazed me how these girls can be completely immoble from the waist up and look like they're battery operated from the waist down.

So on to my rant: Timothy Egan, New York Times blogger, has a recent post deriding the "leprechaun-lite version of Ireland's legacy in the New World", (picture the typical St. Patrick's Day parade activities of people drinking cheap, green beer, shamrock antennae on their heads). So Egan sets up the straw-man of loutish "Irishness" almost nobody would defend in favor of another tired and overused myth: the Irish as eternal sufferers and underdogs. As I read the blog, I couldn't help thinking how, unfortunately, suffering and underdog status are NOT exclusive to being Irish. I find it disingenuous to claim that the Irish have some special relationship with suffering, especially given the average income of Irish-Americans today, not to mention the fact that the Republic of Ireland is now the richer than the UK. But things get worse when you read the blog comments: either glowing thank yous by those who couldn't agree more or condemnations from Ireland claiming (rightfully) that the story of the Irish is more complex than all that but then characterizing Irish-Americanness in the same crude, stereotypical way as Egan characterizes Irishness. I dunno. I found it all so disappointing. One would hope the New York Times would come up with better food for thought.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Our Weekly CSA Bounty: What Do YOU Do With Rosemary?

Fennel, Swiss chard, white and purple cauliflower, purple scallions, puntarelle, escarole, brocoletti, spinach, bay leaves and flowering rosemary. And it's all organic thanks to our CSA, Parco dei Buoi.

The weekly shipments usually send me into a flurry of vegetable prep: wash spinach and chard well and sautee, steam cauliflower and brocoletti, refrigerate (or freeze if still eating last week's shipment), hang rosemary and bay to dry.

Last week the cauliflower went into Indian cauliflower pakoras, (a disaster! I won't blog that one!) and we eat spinach and chard in myriad ways, including cooked and chilled from the fridge with a little tataki sauce on top.

This week, the scallions are going into my St. Patrick's Day Champ with Smoked Salmon and the escarole is reserved for "scarola e fagioli", my entry into Marie of Proud Italian Cook's "Festa italiana" event.

But, so far, I have not used one sprig of the rosemary that's arrived on my doorstep week after week. It's gorgeous stuff; see it there on the right under the purple cauliflower with its little lavender flowers on the stalk? I feel bad not using it, so I need ideas and inspiration from you. My question to you all is: What do YOU do with rosemary?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chicken Coconut Curry

I love Indian food! My first Indian cookbook, now held together by tape, more tape and string, contains a lovely chicken coconut curry dish that includes almost every spice you can think of. It's the most complex masala in the book. I have made this recipe many times as well as numerous variations on the theme. Usually, I would cut the amount of chicken down to half and add two large cubed potatoes, but this time I had only one single chicken breast to work with. That's 1/2 of 1/2. I added three large carrots to make up the volume and the result was really delicious served over steamed basmati rice. Here's my modified recipe.


1 single chicken breast
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 tsp salt

1 medium onion
1/2 in. piece of ginger
5 cloves of garlic
2 tbsps vegetable oil

1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp aniseeds (or fennel seeds)
1 stick cinnamon
5 cloves
2 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

1 cup coconut milk
1 med. tomato, diced or 2 tbsp tomato paste
1 potato, cut into a fine dice
3 carrots cut into a fine dice
up to 3 cups water

salt to taste

Initial preparations: First, cube the chicken and mix it in a small bowl with the yogurt, turmeric and salt. While that is marinating in the fridge, chop the onion, ginger and garlic in a food processor*. Set aside. In a small frying pan roast the spices until they become fragrant and turn ever so minimally darker. I use a cast iron blini pan which looks like the teeniest, tiniest prying pan ever, and it's perfect for roasting spices. Take off heat, pour into a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Music to grind your masala by: A little Bollywood bump and grind.
*If you're interested in the rich flavor of caramelized onions, you should thinly slice the onion and sautee it until it's light brown before adding the ginger and garlic.

Cooking: In a medium pan over moderate heat, pour in the oil. Add the onion, ginger and garlic and sautee until it becomes blonde. Add the spices and mix for a minute. Add in the marinated chicken (without washing off the yogurt mixture)and mix into the pot. Now add the coconut milk, raise heat and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes, potato and carrots. Finally add enough water to create the consistency you want. This curry can have the creamy texture of thick coconut milk or of a soup, you decide. Simmer for 20 minutes to let the flavors blend and the vegetables soften. Correct for salt and serve over fresh basmati rice.

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