Pear Crisp with Cardamom

In which I also resolve to illustrate some posts for this blog.

 

pears 1

 

Every fall, it’s the pears that get me over my disappointment at the end of the stone fruit season, and convince me that everything’s going to be Ok.  I like to wait until they’re really ripe to eat them (at least most of the common kinds), ripe enough to slide a knife in one clean curve down the stem and around the seeds, with pear juice forming instantly on the cut surfaces.  That first bite of juicy ambrosial pear, that’s what convinces me that maybe I’ll get along with autumn alright after all.

I was hoping to have a recipe, not a just a short soliloquy, about pears for you, and I do!  It turns out that two of the dear friends we visited in the Northwest at the end of the summer have a copy of The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, and so I spent a little time pouring through that book looking for various ideas.  I’m really starting to admire the way she looks at the simplicity of cooking.  In the second household there was also a huge bowl of free pears from a colleague’s tree, and the inspired idea to combine pears and cardamom (thanks Becca!), so here you go.

 

Pear Crisp with Cardamom

Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

 

Slice 7 cups/4 lbs of fairly ripe pears (they don’t have to be as ripe as I like them for eating)

Toss the pears in a bowl with:

1  1/2 Tablespoons flour (can be white or wheat or gluten-free alternative, it’s just for thickening the juice)

Zest of 1 (organic) lemon

About 1 Tablespoon lemon juice

 

Pour the pears into a baking dish and make the crisp topping in the bowl:

Toast 2/3 cup walnuts in the oven at 375° F for about 10 minutes, until golden brown (set a timer!  I’m so bad at that, I burn things more often than I’d like to admit).  While they are toasting, mix in the bowl:

1  1/4 cups flour (again use what you like, gluten is not required to hold the crisp together.  I used a mixture of white and whole wheat flour)

6 Tablespoons brown sugar

1  1/2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

About 1/4 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds (if you have whole green pods, crush the pods lightly with the flat of a knife if necessary, pull the pods open, and extract the seeds.  Grind just the seeds in a mortar and pestle or with a spice grinder.  Fairly coarse ground is fine.)

Chop the walnuts and add them to the above mixture.  Mix well, and then cut in 1 stick (8 Tablespoons) of butter (cut into pieces), using your fingers or a pastry blender, just until the mixture comes together and has a texture like big crumbs.

Sprinkle the topping over the pears, and bake at 375° for about 50 minutes, rotating once for even baking.  When done, the crisp topping should be golden brown, and the fruit should be juicy and bubbling down in the dish.

 

pears 2

 

About the illustrations: I know I need to keep up my drawing skills, and I’d even like to practice enough to keep improving.  Since finishing Hello Sewing Machine, I haven’t had too much incentive to draw (other than little sketches like these, which I still make all the time).  I thought if I made it a goal to illustrate at least one post a month, I would be sure to get practice drawing.  I kind of forgot that I would also get practice scanning drawings and working in Photoshop . . . but it’s also practice I need.  I’m more of an illustrator than an artist, and more used to trying to make things clear than to capturing 3-D fruit in all it’s glory.  And I need to find some smoother paper . . . but one little bit at a time, right?

Good luck with your fall goals, whatever they are!  (And eat some pears!)

 

A Fall Harvest Without Much of a Garden

 

strawberries in compost

 

Over the past few weeks I’ve done a couple of things that I’ve been meaning to do since, oh, last year . . . one was to dig out the compost.  I mention this because for any of you who think you don’t know enough or have enough time to compost; I don’t either, and mine still works.  I practice a kind of benign compost neglect which goes like this: I dump all of our vegetable scraps into a big black plastic cone-shaped thing outside with a screw-on lid, which I got from the city of Flagstaff.  I continue to do this all winter, when everything is frozen.  I did some research when I first got the bin, and theoretically I know that I’m supposed to add stuff that contains lots of carbon, as well as the food scraps which are mostly nitrogen.  So, every three months or so (when It’s not too cold out and I’m feeling ambitious) I dump in a shovel of fireplace ashes which the previous owners of our house left in a large metal trash can outside.  Depending on the season, I scoop out the bottom of the little compost container from the house with either pine needles or snow, and that goes in the bin too.  The one thing I do actually add with some regularity is a bucket of water, since it’s so dry here.  If there is snow on top of the lid, I dump it inside the container too.  I turn my compost once every never.

Then I leave for the pretty much the whole summer and abandon the bin completely.  Only once have I coerced any friends and/or house-sitters to do anything to it while we’re gone.   And when we come back, a minor miracle has occurred.  The mound of frozen stuff that was nearing the top third of the container is now a much smaller, browner pile of—dirt!  Tada!

I asked my dad which of our motley collection of plants would most like some extra nutrients, and he suggested the strawberries growing out by the front fence, which he planted there . . . they are just like the strawberry plants we had at our house when I was little, producing a handful of the tiniest and most intensely flavored strawberries you’ve ever tasted every year.  Maybe a few more next year?

After digging it out this time, I have a few compost rules which I am trying to stick to: 1. All eggshells must be crushed (otherwise they take forever to break down).  2. No stacking/nesting of things like avocado skins (ditto.  Surface area is a good thing).  3. No stickers of any kind.  They do not break down (in my haphazard compost anyway) ever.

 

farmer roasting chile

 

The second thing I did was to freeze chiles for the winter.  And this year in a new twist, we asked Cory, the super nice farmer from Whipstone Farm, to roast us some sweet red bell peppers as well (on the spot at the farmers’ market) and he did!  I froze them using the exact same method I do for chiles.  I’m pretty excited about this development, which should mean a steady supply of relatively cheap, local, sustainably grown roasted red peppers all winter long—yes!  I mention this in case someone is growing peppers near you as well.  You could roast them at home if you don’t happen to know an accommodating farmer with a giant gas-powered chile roaster . . . I usually use the broiler in my oven.

Anyway, I’m pretty pleased with myself, especially for someone who doesn’t have anything approaching a real garden.  Any time I do manage to put a little bit of my work into my bit of soil, or into saving food for the winter, it feels pretty great.

 

Fried Green (Cherry) Tomatoes


fried green cherry tomatoes


But why, you may be asking, should I fry green tomatoes?  That was my question too, until we got some from our CSA a few years ago and I tried this for the first time.  The short answer is: they’re delicious.  For a slightly longer one: in our mountain climate, an early freeze is likely pretty much inevitable in the fall, which greatly increases the chances that my friends and neighbors will give me tomatoes picked before they had time to ripen.  They will get a little riper on the counter in a paper bag or wrapped in newspaper, but they’ll never be the same as they would be on the vine. When fried, the green tomato flavor completely changes, and a crunchy cornmeal crust is a wonderful compliment to the tart soft insides.


Fried Green Tomatoes

adapted from The Joy of Cooking


Mix together in bowl for the coating:

1/2 cup dry masa

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup blue corn meal

Seasonings you like: a little bit of salt and pepper, seasoned salt, fresh thyme and/or Cajun spice mix . . . anything you want to give the batter a little extra flavor.

If you don’t have these exact ingredients, don’t worry.  The mixture of fine ground (masa) and coarser cornmeal seemed like a good idea as far as sticking to the tomatoes and producing a crispy crust, but a mixture of regular cornmeal and flour should work fine.  One cup total of the dry batter was enough to cover a heaping dinner plate’s worth of fried cherry tomatoes.

Pour a little buttermilk (or regular milk, I used buttermilk since it’s a little thicker and has a bit of tangy flavor) into a shallow bowl.  If you run out you can always add more to the bowl.


Dip the tomatoes in the buttermilk, then in the cornmeal mixture, shake off the excess and set on a plate to dry.  I found the most efficient method to be: chop a bunch of the little tomatoes in half.  Reserve one hand for buttermilk and one for cornmeal (so you can do several rounds without stopping to wash your hands).  With the buttermilk hand, pick up a handful of tomatoes and drop them in the milk.  Stir to coat and then drop them into the cornmeal mixture.  With the other (cornmeal) hand, scoop cornmeal on top of the wet tomatoes, stir them to coat, shake each one gently and put it on the plate.  I was a little worried about the batter not sticking to the skins of the little tomatoes, but for the most part it worked just fine.

If you have big tomatoes, slice them fairly thin (between a quarter and half inch thick is good).  Dip each slice in the buttermilk and then in the cornmeal, turning to coat.


To fry: heat 1/4 -1/2 inch of oil in the bottom of a heavy pot or skillet.  I like to use my heavy-bottomed soup pot, since any splashes of oil stay inside it instead of all over everywhere.  Use an oil that can take high heat without smoking (I used canola).  Joy suggests heating the oil until a drop of water sizzles when you flick it into the pan.  I did a little research for a recommended temperature, and Southern Living (they should know) suggests 360-375° F.  I know from experience that having the temp too low can cause strange things to happen to your batter . . . anyway, when the oil comes up to heat, drop in as many tomatoes as will fit in a single layer.  Fry until one side is golden brown and crispy, and then turn them over and cook the second side.  When done, scoop the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon or strainer, shake off the excess oil, and place on paper towels.

These are best eaten warm, delicious with a little homemade mayo or ranch as well as just plain.  If that doesn’t make you hungry for some Southern food I don’t know what will!  Black eyed peas and cornbread . . .

Hidden Gems from the Road

 

Jazz Fest 2011And not so hidden.  Jazz Fest is of course, amazing, and so is the food there!

 

I’ve been working on a new page, for you and for me.  It’s full of all the places (mainly restaurants) that I want to remember from our travels.  How do you persuade me to leave my comfortable and productive studio, and head out on the road for a summer tour of art shows?  Well, just remind me that when we get to Austin, we can eat at Enoteca Vespaio, they have the first and best macarons I have ever tasted.  Then once we get to St Louis there’s Shu Feng, oh the crispy eggplant . . . you get the idea.  And it pretty much works that way, every spring.  Ever since we read Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria, we have an ongoing joke about being on the walking and eating tour of wherever we happen to be, with the goal of walking enough so that we can eat some more!  The list of restaurants and fun places to visit is getting too long to keep just in my head, or on random scraps of paper and lists on my phone, so I made a page for it here.

For every place I’ve remembered, looked up, and put on the list, I thought of at least one more that I haven’t had time to post yet.  So, look for another update, hopefully soon, and I even have some pictures to put in!  But I wanted to go ahead and publish the start of the list.  My goal is to keep updating it as time goes on, and we stumble on more hidden gems of the road.  If you have some of your own to share, let me know!

 

Tart Cherry Sorbet à la Jeni’s

 

cherry sorbet tile

 

So last summer, if you happened to be watching this blog, you might have noticed a feature in the sidebar on all the amazing ice cream we found, or this post, which mentions Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream.  People, this ice cream, it’s fantastic.  It’s fair to say I’ve never had better in the American style, where the milk and cream flavors predominate.  We got to go there again this summer, and as we sat in the shop, (me alternately closing my eyes, making noises of food bliss, and trying to eat faster so that Bryan wouldn’t get it all) I happened to glance over and saw this book sitting on the shelf above the freezer.  The cover said Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  Expletives may possibly have left my lips, followed by, “is that what I think it is?!?”  We live a long way from Ohio, people, and it’s been a while since I’ve been this excited by a book at first sight.

It turns out this book, it’s about as splendid as can be.  Not just a couple of recipes from the shop—I’m pretty sure every recipe she had at publication is in there.  It’s open source dessert: complete with sauces, candies for mixing in, toppings, sundae recipes, and the exact techniques you need to get the texture and flavor of her ice cream yourself.  Which are, have I mentioned, amazing?

It’s cherry season where we are now (in Michigan) and when we voted on which cherry dessert to make, sorbet was the winner.  I had left the book at home, but between memory and experimentation I was able to replicate a sorbet recipe.  When we got our hands on another copy, it turned out the amount of sugar that we decided was perfect, it was what Jeni already specified.  A note about the corn syrup: this is not something I would normally buy.  But if you read the book or visit the shops, it will be clear to you as it is to me that Jeni is as passionate about quality fresh ingredients, local and organic sourcing, and above all flavor and texture, as anyone could possibly be.  She is also passionate about the science of ice cream and getting the exact result she is after, and therefore I bought corn syrup.  More experimentation on my part will come later.  As a foodie friend of ours said (after eating the sweet corn and black raspberry flavor that we made), “Whatever that book says, you should do it.”  For minimum stress levels, make this the day before you want to serve it, so that you’re sure everything will have time to chill and freeze.

 

 

cherry sorbet towel

 

Tart Cherry Sorbet à la Jeni’s

1 quart fresh tart cherries, pitted.  If you don’t have a cherry pitter, I find the easiest way is to hold the cherry in the fingertips of both hands, and use your two thumbs to split it open and pull out the pit.  It’s ok that the cherries come out in two uneven halves, because the next step is to purée them in a food processor until fairly smooth.  It’s ok if the purée is a little bit chunky and/or still has some bits of cherry skin visible.

Combine the fruit with 3/4 cup sugar (I used natural cane sugar) and 1/3 cup light corn syrup in a medium saucepan, and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Immediately remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and put in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours.

Stir in 1 tablespoon kirsch (unsweetened eau de vie distilled from cherries).  Jeni’s original recipe uses lambic or sour beer, and it’s effervescent and delicious.  Amaretto instead of kirsch would also be really, really good.

Pour the cold sorbet mixture into your ice cream freezer and spin until it’s just the consistency of very softly whipped cream, or barely pourable.  This book advises that whipping it too long while it’s freezing will result in too much air being mixed in.  Bryan and I had a big debate about what “barely pourable” means, but despite that and with two experimental batches under my belt, I actually suspect that there’s a bit of leeway here.  I also suspect that if you don’t have a ice cream maker, you could just stick the mixture in a tub in your freezer and as long as you remembered to get it out and stir it fairly frequently for a while, it would come out pretty great.  Anyway, if you are using an ice cream maker, once you think it’s frozen enough, pour it into a container and put it in the freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.  This book advises pressing a sheet of wax or parchment paper onto the surface.

This was as good as it looks, maybe better, with amazingly intense cherry flavor.  Possibly even better eaten side by side with a creamy flavor, like the roasted pistachio.  I’m out of superlatives.  Go eat this!

 

cherry sorbet with pistachio

 

 

 

 

Northern Arizona Corn Bread

 

NAZ cornbread

 

One of the few recent food happenings I have actually gotten a photo of is this cornbread.  It’s my adaptation of a recipe that my Mom has made since I was little.  It came from one of my elementary school teachers, Ms. Bené.  We made it during our creative retreat this year, actually twice, it was a hit!  It’s a sweeter-style cornbread, what in the US we call “Northern” style.  I’ve given it a Southwestern twist as well.  It’s great with blue cornmeal, if you can find it, and pretty awesome with some chiles inside as well.

 

Northern Arizona Cornbread

In a large bowl, mix well:

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs

 

Stir in:

1 cup buttermilk, and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

-or- plain milk and no soda

The buttermilk gives a nice flavor, but it’s not necessary.  Either way, you can add a dash more milk for a very moist cornbread.

 

Pile on top of the liquids in the bowl:

1 cup blue cornmeal (or yellow if you can’t find blue.)

1 cup whole wheat flour (you can use white or a mix if you prefer)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder (at sea level, at 7000′ I use 1  1/4 tsp)

Stir just until blended.

 

Optional: remove the stems, centers, and seeds from 3 roasted green chiles.  Cut into thin strips, and stir in just before baking.  This adds a delicious bit of spiciness, but leave out if you are serving the cornbread along with other hot foods, which it goes really well with! Chile time is coming again soon!

 

Scrape into a heavy baking pan.  Any size 9 x 9″ or bigger will work, the cornbread will just be a little thicker or thinner.  Bake at 350˚ F for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  It should be a little bit brown around the edges and golden on top, although with the blue corn it can be harder to see.   Enjoy!

A Simple and Delicious Way to Cook Artichokes

 

artichokes on plate

 

Phew—who’s ready for a break and some easy cooking?  I know I am.  As I mentioned in this post about broiled asparagus, spring came along just in time for me this year.  I’ve been busting my booty over my recently launched beginning sewing e-book for the last couple of months, so anything that tasted delicious and and fresh without a whole lot of time and effort in the kitchen was a major bonus.  We’ve eaten a lot of artichokes this spring.

I love artichokes.  That time of spring when they appear at our CSA farm store, tiny and fresh and beautiful in their variations, would get me excited whether or not I needed some easy food options.  So we’ve eaten a lot of them, practically one every day for a while there.  I also wasn’t running to the store unless absolutely necessary, so I did some experimenting with what I added and how I cooked them.  Considering how cool this spring has been in many parts of the country, I’m hoping their are still some artichokes available near you!

 

 

artichokes with lid

 

Simply Delicious Artichokes

  • Rinse the your artichokes and trim the stems flush with the bottoms.  I don’t trim any of the leaves.  Especially when they are small and fresh, I like to leave on each possible delicious morsel.  My mom cooks the stems along with the rest, but I find they are often somewhat bitter.
  • Put the artichokes in a pot in a single layer.  Use a pressure cooker if you have one (more about that below).  Either put the artichokes stem side down in the pan and add about 1/2″ of water around them, or put them in a steamer basket with either the top or the stem up and add water below.  I haven’t found any difference in how they come out with any of those methods.
  • Optional: add a drizzle of olive oil on top.  It doesn’t change the flavor very much, but it does the usual jobs of added oil: making sure that the artichokes don’t dry out and adding a little smoothness to the taste.
  • Optional: add a drizzle of lemon juice.  This doesn’t change the flavor much either, but without it the water left in the pot turns an amazing dark green color which could stain your cookware.  However, I cooked a bunch without any lemon and they came out fine.
  • Put the lid on the pot and cook until the leaves are tender.  Pull one out from somewhere in the middle, and pull the base of the leaf off with your teeth to see if it’s tender.  It’s hard to overcook them.  I knew they were taking a while to cook on my stove, but I didn’t realize how long until I started keeping track for this post.  It was anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half!  So then I did what should have been obvious, at least at high altitude, got out the pressure cooker.  15 minutes later (12 minutes at high pressure plus warm-up and cool-down) I had cooked artichokes!

 

Ok, you knew I was going to say this, right?  But it’s no joke, artichokes are totally delicious with crème frâiche!  And possibly even more delicious with just a bit of good quality balsamic vinegar on top, so that each leaf you dip gets some of each.  If you’ve never eaten one before, there are illustrated directions here, among other places.  I may have to try a clove garlic in the water next time I make them.  But I bet the flavor of the artichokes themselves will still be my favorite part.  (By the way, they contain a chemical that can change your perception of other flavors, so beware of eating them with your best wine.)  Enjoy!

 

Broiled Asparagus – Simple Spring Vegetables

 

broiled asparagus 1

 

I’ve been working super hard on my soon-to-be-released project lately, as you may have noticed since no post has appeared yet this week!  Luckily, some spring produce has also arrived lately, heralding the long season of practically effortless vegetables.  Perfect timing!  I could use some easy dinners right now.

If you’ve never tried asparagus broiled, it’s great.  It’s just a little caramelized and crispy on the outside, juicy and delicious inside.

If your asparagus varies widely in thickness, like this bunch did, either separate it into two batches or take the tiny ones out when they’re cooked, sooner than the thicker spears.   Cut or snap off the ends of the asparagus spears, put them in a broiler-safe pan and smear a little olive oil on them.  Start your broiler on low heat.  Put asparagus pan close to the broiler and check it every couple of minutes.  The spears will turn bright green first.  When they have caramel-colored patches and the ends are barely crispy, they’re done.

 

broiled asparagus 2

 

Broiled asparagus is delicious as a side to just about anything I can think of.  On the day I took these photos we ate it on lemon pepper pasta from Decio (a Christmas gift) with a little cheese, accompanied by a salad and then artichokes.

Enjoy!  And feel free to share your favorite spring vegetables/recipes . . .

 

In the Desert, We Wait for Spring, and Eat Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices

 

grand falls 1

 

Bryan and I drove out to Grand Falls the other day, down a long dirt road, to see the spring runoff flooding down the Little Colorado river and over the cliffs (as high as Niagara, or so they say around here).  I kept thinking about how our Ponderosa pine forest seems so complete when I’m in it (which is most of the time), but really, just on the other side of town is a transition zone between our high-elevation forest and the lower-elevation piñon pine and juniper, and the scrub-covered desert.

It’s getting warmer all over our varied section of the landscape, including the valley further south where most our local produce comes from.  We are not, however, California, and we are still waiting for asparagus and strawberries.

 

grand falls 3

 

In fact, as we drove, it seemed like the desert was waiting too, the little bushes looking soft and sun-bleached, flocking the hills.  Maybe the roar of muddy water will bring some green, a few desert flowers . . . but not yet.

 

grand falls 4

 

Fortunately, in the meantime, we still have squash.  Butternut squash was the first winter vegetable I fell in love with, since what’s not to love; the round, slightly sweet flavors, the vibrant orange color, and in this case, brightened up further for the coming spring with some new and unexpected spices and a tangy sauce.

I mentioned that we’ve cooked a LOT of recipes from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi this winter, this is latest one; which I adapted to my tastes and what was in my pantry that day.  It was just perfect to make ahead and leave in a friend’s refrigerator while we gallivanted around the desert, ready and waiting for all of us to be hungry when we got back.

 

roasted butternut with sweet spices

 

Roasted Butternut Squash with Sweet Spices and Tangy Chile Sauce

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Serves 5 as an appetizer

 

Preheat the oven to 400° F

Take two very small, or one medium-large butternut squash.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and set them aside for later.  Slice the squash 3/8 inch or 1 cm thick.  Lay out the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a non-stick mat.

Take 1 Tablespoon of dried cardamom pods; break the green pods open, either with your fingers or by crushing them a bit in a mortar and pestle.  Discard the pods but keep all the seeds which are inside.  Crush the seeds until they are roughly ground, either with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.

Add the ground cardamom to a small bowl with: 1 teaspoon ground allspice and 3 Tablespoons olive oil.  Stir this up and brush it all over the squash slices.

Sprinkle a little salt over the squash, and roast in the oven until the slices are tender but not mushy when stabbed with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, separate the squash seeds from the stringy stuff they grow in, and put the seeds into the bowl with the leftover oil and spices, mix them around to coat.

For the sauce: stir together the juice of 1/2 lime, several heaping Tablespoons of crème fraîche (once you have it, you put it on everything) and some chopped fresh chile  – I used 1/2 of one large defrosted frozen roasted one from last fall (you can put those on everything too).  If dairy is not your thing, these would also be great with just a little chile or hot sauce, or maybe even a sweet and hot sauce . . .

 

roasted butternut sauce and seeds

 

When the squash is done, transfer it to a cutting board, or platter or bowl to serve, and put the seeds on the same baking sheet and roast them for 10 – 15 minutes, until golden and crunchy.  You can serve them with the squash, or eat them as a road-trip snack.  The leftover spices are more subtle, but delicious with the toasted seed flavor.

To serve the squash, slide a small sharp knife around the outside of the slices, taking off just the peel.  If you run out of time, you can also serve them as they are and let the eaters peel their own.  This is good cold or room temp, with a little sauce drizzled over the top.

 

So, what are you eating?  Is it spring yet where you are?

 

grand falls 2

 

DIY Crème Fraîche – and Kohlrabi Salad

 

Or, why I like The Joy Of Cooking so much.

 

creme fraiche and kohlrabi

I know, it looks like strange bedfellows, but keep reading . . .

 

If you’ve never had crème fraîche, I recommend trying it.  It’s kind of like sour cream, but a little less sour and much more subtly flavored.  And expensive, at least here.  It’s a cultured food, so we figured that if some of the cultures are still active, we might be able to get more crème fraîche by adding some of what we had to some plain cream.  Good quality organic heavy cream is about 1/4 the price per ounce of crème fraîche, at least in Flagstaff, AZ.

And in fact, if you look up crème fraîche in the KNOW YOUR INGREDIENTS section at the back of The Joy of Cooking (I love that part of the book), they suggest as a substitute: adding one tablespoon of buttermilk to one cup of heavy cream, warming it to 110° F on the stove, and then pouring in into a jar, letting it set loosely covered “until the cream has thickened and has a pleasant mildly sour flavor,” anywhere from 6 hours to 3 days.

We tried the same thing, using one tablespoon of store-bought crème fraîche to one cup of cream.  And, almost three days later, tada!  It’s funny because it looks like nothing is happening for quite a while, the cream still very liquid, and then finally a few more solid clumps appear, and the then bam! it’s done.  Once it gets as thick and mildly sour as you would like, store it in the fridge to keep it from becoming overly acidic.

These directions say to leave it in a warm place while the cultures are working.  Our house is short on warm places in the winter, so the first time I tried it, I left the little jar near the stove, figuring that whenever I heated something up it would get a little warmth.  That was the time it took almost the whole three days, but definitely worked.  The next time, I actually forgot to heat it at the beginning, I just added 1 tablespoon of the first batch to one cup of fresh cream and stirred it around.  I thought it might benefit from a warmer place, so I put it in the middle of the burners on the stove as I was cooking dinner, checking from time to time to make sure the jar was getting warm, but not hot, and to rotate it around a bit.  That time the whole jar had become thick crème fraîche by the next morning!

 

kohlrabi salad

 

Ok, so once you have some crème fraîche, kohlrabi is probably not the first thing you are inspired to put it on.  Dolloped in soup or on waffles might sound more luscious, and both are wonderful.  But, if you’ve never had kohlrabi, I definitely recommend it.  It’s one of those winter vegetables that looks knobbly and scary on the outside, but on the inside has a lovely subtle flavor, in this case a little cabbage, a little nutty, and quite good.

I tried one recipe for kohlrabi salad earlier this winter, but I thought the amount of lemon juice in the dressing overwhelmed the soft flavors.  If you look up almost any specific vegetable in Joy, it will tell you not only whether it is good raw or cooked, and how to cook it, and whether to peel it first, but it also gives a list of flavors that compliment that veggie particularly well.  That features was a huge help when we joined our local CSA – even though I had never heard of most of the greens we got, they were almost all listed, and I could figure out at least whether they were for cooking or salad, and what they were likely to taste like.

Under kohlrabi it says, among other things, that it goes well with cream, parsley, and dill.  As do carrots, and so . . .

 

Recipe Sketch: Kohlrabi and Carrot Salad with Crème Fraîche

This makes enough for 2 or 3 servings, feel free to make more!

 

Peel, taking off the woody outside layer (chew on a bit if you are not sure), 2 small kohlrabi

Scrub one medium carrot (I pretty much never peel carrots)

Grate the kohlrabi and carrot on the largest teeth of your grater (a trick I only recently figured out is to leave the carrot top as a handle, start grating from the skinny end, and stop when you get almost to the top).

Put these in a bowl, add 2 – 3 tablespoons of crème fraîche, and mix with your fingers, it should be slightly creamy all over.

Sprinkle on about a tablespoon each of chopped fresh dill and fresh parsley.  (Remember how I keep herbs in a jar in the fridge?  Dill keeps practically indefinitely that way.)

Mix together, taste, and add a pinch of salt if desired.  If you are not serving it right away, you may find that the veggies have absorbed some the liquid and the salad is a little dry, if so you can add a little more crème fraîche or regular cream before serving.

 

I love all harmonious delicate flavors in this salad.  And, as you might guess, some crème fraîche mixed with the cream for carrot and raisin salad is pretty great as well.

If you can’t find any crème fraîche to start from where you live, you may be able to get the cultures from a source like New England Cheesemaking Supply.

I did a little research on using the same process to make perpetual yogurt, which I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never tried, but it’s now next on my list of kitchen projects.  From what I’ve read so far it seems only slightly more complicated, heating the milk, I presume to kill of any unwanted bacteria, then adding the yogurt or culture once it’s cooled back to warm.

What about you – have you made your own crème fraîche or yogurt, or other cultured food?  Any tips or thoughts?