Recipes

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Yikes! It's been a long time since my last post! It's just not as easy to get a decent photograph of food any more. I know that's not the most important thing, but the lighting in my kitchen is just so bad. The first floor of my house is more a basement than anything, so good lighting is a challenge. 
common violet

Anyway, violet jelly? Yes, violets! The common violet that many people consider a weed on their lawn. Since I don't have enough sunlight on my shady property to grow much, I'm now foraging--ha! Violet jelly is a rather old-fashioned recipe since it does use foraged plants, but one that should really make a comeback. All of the flowers in the viola family are edible (including pansies) as long as they haven't been treated or sprayed with chemicals. My yard is a weedy wonderland, so all the violets are safe to consume. This past weekend, my daughter and I collected a bowl full of violet blooms to make this jelly. It takes hundreds to do so. The best way to harvest them is to pinch at the base of the bloom because you don't want any greenery (stems or flowers) in your mix. Then, you just wash them, soak them, and make the jelly. It's really simple!

And the result is fantastic. First, the jelly is a beautiful dark purple that you can see right through. Filtering your lemon juice (or using bottled lemon juice) makes it even clearer. The taste is sweet and just a bit tart. It is really delicious and would be great on toast, but particularly accompanying some brie or a thin schmear of goat cheese on a piece of baguette.

violet jelly

Violet Jelly
yield: four or five 8 ounce jars

2 heaping cups freshly-picked wild violet blooms (fully opened)
2 1/2 cups water
the juice of one lemon (or 1/4 cup lemon juice), strained
4 cups sugar
1 package of pectin (I used Certo liquid pectin; use powdered pectin as directed)

Rinse the flowers and place in a large glass bowl. Boil the water and pour it over the flowers and steep for 8 to 24 hours. Strain the flowers and pour the infused liquid into a large sauce pan (strain through a jelly bag or fine cheesecloth if you want to strain out the finest debris or dirt for a super clear jelly). Stir in the lemon juice and pectin and bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the sugar and return to a hard boil, stirring constantly. Boil for about a minute more. Turn off and remove from heat and skim off the foam. Ladle the hot liquid into prepared (sterilized) canning jars leaving a 1/4 to 1/2 inch at the top. Run a skewer around the edges to let out air bubbles (which are not likely), wipe around the rims (and just inside), and seal. Process in a boiling hot water bath for 5 minutes. (If you have not canned before, follow these canning instructions.)

A few notes:

I tried to reduce the sugar to 2 cups and I don't advise it. Tasted great, but did not jell well. Sugar is also a preservative, so it's necessary for long-term storage.

Don't boil for too long as that will also affect your jelling. Overboiling can break down pectin. Use the jelly test to determine if your mixture is ready to be canned. And be sure to use fresh pectin. Old pectin (more than a year old) will not jell. You can use a jelly test to see if it's ready, but you should be able to tell from a skim of jelly and foam that forms.

Overboiling applies to the hot water bath, too. If you are at 1000 ft altitude or lower, five minutes is plenty.

The foam you skim is still edible and delicious, just  not pretty. Set it aside and eat it later.

Here's another good primer if you've  never made and canned jelly before.

 

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I've been thinking about stuffing a pumpkin for a while. Specifically, I was looking for a recipe where I could just cram some uncooked wild rice or quinoa in a pumpkin and have a meal after a couple of hours. I didn't find that, but I did find a simple recipe that's extremely customizable that was originally from Dorie Greenspan. It's a perfect vegetarian main dish or side dish for fall or Thanksgiving dinners. It's really easy, too. The short version is: get a pumpkin, remove the guts, stuff it with cheese and bread, and cook it for two hours. But the longer version may be a bit more helpful.

And please excuse my photos. I snapped these as I was cooking and serving, not sure how it would turn out and not up for a photo sesh. But they give you a good idea of sizing and doneness. I placed my pumpkin in a 7 qt Dutch oven.

All done! I forgot to remove the lid to brown the stuffing and it still tasted great.
All done! I forgot to remove the lid to brown the stuffing and it still tasted great.

Vegetarian Stuffed Pumpkin
serves 4-6
adapted from a recipe by Dorie Greenspan via PBS

  • 1 medium "pie" or "sugar" pumpkin, about 3 pounds (about the size of a basketball)
  • Smoked salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups stale or refrigerated bread cubes (½-inch)
  • 8 - 12 ounces cheese, such as Gouda, Havarti, Gruyère, Emmenthal, cheddar, or a combination, cut into ½-inch chunks
  • 2–4 chopped garlic cloves (to taste) or 1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • About ¼ cup snipped fresh chives OR
  • 1 tablespoon of Wash Park seasoning blend from Savory Spice Shop
  • About ⅓ cup heavy cream or milk

Place the oven rack on the lower middle or lower setting and pre-heat the oven to 350F.

Scrub the outside of the pumpkin to clean. Then cut a hole in the top large enough to clean out and stuff the pumpkin, making sure to cut at a 45 degree angle so that the resulting lid will rest on top (like a jack-o-lantern). Scoop out the seeds and strings and remove them from the lid as well. Discard or keep the seeds for roasting later. Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the pumpkin (and around the edges) to taste.

Combine the bread, cheese, garlic, and seasoning in a large bowl and toss together to mix. Place the stuffing in the pumpkin and pour the cream or milk on top to moisten.

Pumpkin ready for roasting. Note how the top was cut at an angle to keep the lid secure.
Pumpkin ready for roasting. Note how the top was cut at an angle to keep the lid secure.

Place the lid on top and put the pumpkin in a large oven-proof casserole or Dutch oven or on a large baking sheet (contents may bubble over or pumpkin may lose shape). Cook for two hours or until the stuffing is bubbling (check after 90 minutes for doneness). Remove the lid for the last 15 minutes or so to brown the stuffing, if desired. The pumpkin is ready when the skin can be easily pierced with a fork.

To serve, scoop contents and cut portions of the side of the pumpkin.

Notes: I used Gouda and Havarti, which tasted great. A Gruyère or Emmenthal would have made a creamier filling, though (think fondue). For a heartier meal, reduce the salt and seasoning and add veggie sausage. I served mine topped with arugula and with a side of rice pilaf (with golden raisins and walnuts).

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A friend of mine brought over some tarragon from her garden recently. I wasn’t really sure what to do with it, but then I remembered I’d just gotten some red new potatoes at the farmers’ market and figured if it’s good for chicken salad, surely tarragon would be good in potato salad. And it is! Tarragon has a unique flavor; similar to anise but not as reminiscent of the dreaded black jellybean. I definitely went light with it. Using a shallot instead of onion made it a milder salad, too. The fried shallot is from the international market and added a nice bit of crunch and texture.

I served this as part of a 4th of July dinner al fresco. It was also a great occasion to try out some Repurpose dinnerware I was sent recently to try. Repurpose is kinder, gentler disposable serveware; the cups, cutlery, and plates are all made exclusively from plants (corn, sugar, and bamboo with soy inks) and completely compostable. They’re also BPA-free, chlorine-free, and petroleum-free. Though not completely tested, it is believed that the limited amount of soy ink used will not create an issue with anyone with a soy allergy.

Repurpose is not just earth-friendly, they’re also really durable. The plates and cutlery are strong and the cups aren’t flimsy at all. You can definitely tell there’s something different about them, but in a good way. They’re surprisingly sturdy; they held up to a plate of this potato salad and a couple of Smart Dogs really well! Repurpose compostables are available at stores across the country (though none in Nashville) and are available online.

tarragonpotatosalad

Tarragon Potato Salad
a variation of Potato Salad with Tarragon and Shallots from Saveur
Serves 6-8

Ingredients
2 pounds red new potatoes, cut in bite-size pieces
½ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons red wine or apple cider vinegar
1 shallot, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup fried shallot to finish (optional)

Boil potatoes in a large pot of salted water until tender, 10–20 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Once cool (room temperature), add mayonnaise, vinegar, shallots, and tarragon and stir gently to combine. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Top with fried shallot when serving.