Sunday, July 14, 2013

Galinsoga, Guasacas, and an Ajiaco Recipe

Our herb garden is full of a common weed called Galinsoga (Galinsoga sp.).  As it turns out Galinsoga itself is an herb--commonly called guasaca in South America.  Galinsoga can be eaten as one would cooked greens.  It is also the principal flavoring in ajiaco, a Colombian soup.

We first heard about ajiaco from our friend Arena.  Neither Thag nor I have had ajiaco before, so we do not know what the dish tastes like.  I spent a lot of time online looking for ajiaco recipes.  All Colombian ajiaco recipes use potatoes, corn and chicken.  In all the recipes adapted for use by non-Colombian restaurants and by famous American cooks, I found no galinsoga included.  However, in every recipe for ajiaco written by someone from Colombia, galinsoga was used.  Many cooks said it could not be called ajiaco without galinsoga.  Galinsoga/guasaca is almost impossible to buy in the US, but it grows wild throughout the Americas and is probably in your yard right now.

The recipe below is my version of ajiaco, based on several ajiaco recipes I found online written by Colombians.  It is more a stew than a soup, and it is fantastic.  The galinsoga has its own unique flavor I cannot describe, but if you chew a bit of raw galinsoga you will have an inkling of its flavor.  When I make the soup again, I plan to increase the galinsoga to 3/4 cup.

2 chicken breasts
garlic and onion, chopped fine
4 pounds potatoes, peeled and separated, 2 pounds cut into quarters, 2 pounds sliced thin
2 ears of corn, but into 4 pieces each
1 bunch scallions
1/2 cup guasacas/galinsoga leaves, rinsed and chopped fine
1/2 and 1/2, cream, or sour cream

The day before, press onion, garlic, and salt onto chicken breasts.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Cook chicken in stock pot with enough water to cover by 2 inches. When chicken is cooked, remove from soup.  Separate meat from bones.  Put bones back into pot. 

Add quartered potatoes to stock.  Cook until mushy.  Remove bones.  Puree soup in blender or with immersion blender.

While soup is cooking, remove skin from chicken and slice chicken into bite sized pieces.

Add sliced potatoes, corn, scallions (whole), galinsoga leaves.  Salt to taste.  Cook until potatoes are tender.

Remove scallions.  Add chicken.  Serve with cream, capers, and avocado in bowls.

Yum!  I'm not sure how you are supposed to eat the corn.  Every picture I found of ajiaco had the corn on the cob floating in the bowl.  When we ate the leftovers, we cut the corn from the cob before heating it up.  Anyone out there know why they might serve it on the cob or how one is supposed to eat the corn?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wood Sorrel Pesto

After our week long trip to Connecticut, Thag got out the lawn mower. Yub Yub pleaded, "Papa, please don't cut the grass!  It is so long, like a meadow.  I have dreamed of it being like this for three whole summers!"

Well, we own 25 acres, so he had plenty to mow and still leave the front yard long.  Yub Yub sat in the foot long grasses, making "soup" with weeds, mud, and water.  She brought in a few cups of wood sorrel she had gathered and asked if we could make real soup.  We've never cooked with wood sorrel before, only eaten it as a trailside nibble or in salads so the idea was intriguing.  Still, it was 93 degrees outside, so soup was out of the question.  Instead we turned it into pesto, and it was delightful.  The light lemony flavor of wood sorrel rang through.  This weed is very common, easy to gather, and tastes good well into the season.  Try this recipe the next time it is too hot to cook!

2 cups fresh wood sorrel
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp walnuts (almonds or pine nuts will work fine)
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Pour wood sorrel, garlic, walnuts, and salt into a food processor.  Blend until fine.  Add oil.  Blend until smooth.  Add cheese.  Pulse breifly until incorporated.  All amounts in this recipe can be adjusted according to taste.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Strawberry Fruit Leather

It has been an awesome berry year--even for wild strawberries. 
 I have picked more wild strawberries this year than I have ever picked before--so many that we were able to measure them in cups.  We've already harvested more raspberries than we harvested last year.  And we're already drooling what looks like it will be the largest crop of blackberries that we have ever seen.  What to do with all this berry wealth? 

Ooga has already canned about four gallons (yes, gallons) of strawberry jam and we still had plenty of berries for me to continue my experiments with drying.  Unfortunately, the wet weather has prohibited me from sun-drying, so I've moved my drying operation into our oven.  Theoretically, this would be faster than sun-drying, but our oven has no setting lower than 170 degrees F, a temperature that I worry would do more cooking than drying.  So I spent a lot of time babysitting the oven during this process turning it on and off throughout the day.  Even so, it was still a lot less work than canning the fruit.  Here's my process. 

Greasing the surface that the berries dried on made all the difference. 

  1. Puree:  I usually crush the washed and stemmed berries in a bowl with a potato masher.   I mash coarsely, leaving big chunks of fruit for that cave man feel.  Though next time I'm thinking about running them through a food processor to see if I can mimic the texture of the commercial leathers.
  2. Grease:  This was my big mistake last year.  I just poured the puree right onto some waxed paper and thought I was hot stuff because I wasn't pouring it right onto the baking sheet.  Then I spent almost an hour scraping the leather off the paper.  This year, I coated the paper with some butter and the leather can right off.  Awesome!  I've also seen some folks using plastic wrap.  I wonder if that would work without greasing, but I'm not so excited to use plastics through the higher drying temps. 
  3. Spread:  The trick here is to keep the layer of even thickness about 1/8 inch.  I take my time here to make sure it's really well spread before . . .
  4. Dry:  Sun-drying on a roof might seem like a good idea, but it only works if the pitch is very shallow.  Otherwise your leather slowly flows downhill.  Sun-drying takes time.  I like to start before 9:00 am on a day that will be sunny and hot all day.  Our oven is OK.  If I had my druthers, I'd find one that could go down to 120 degrees F, though. 
  5. Flip:  Once the leather is dry enough to peel off the waxed paper, I flip the whole thing and give the bottom side a little time so that it's not overly sticky. 
  6. Spreading the puree.
  7. Store:  I sandwich the finished leather between two fresh pieces of waxed paper.  Then I put them in a sealed container.  I once did not put them in a sealed container and ended up feeding some grubs.  You could also keep them in a freezer, if you could handle the irony. 
I don't sweeten my leathers at all.  Their flavor is tart and strong and not as sweet as the fresh berries.  And after a year like this one, we'll have that flavor all winter long. 

The finished product getting wrapped. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Black Locust Flower Appetizers and Spreads

Black Locust Flower Butter
This is one of our favorite times of year because the stately black locust tree is in bloom.  As you drive up and down the highway in Vermont, you see these tall dark-wooded trees lining the road, all abloom with clusters of small white flowers.  The flowers themselves are wonderfully fragrant--smelling the way I imagine perfumeries try to make their potions smell. 

Yub Yub loves to eat the flowers, picking them one by one from their clusters like grapes.  We all love them in salads of every variety.  We do cook with them, but we are careful not to cook them to long and lose the texture and fragrance. 

This week I incorporated blossoms into several spreads, including...
  • Locust Blossom Butter:  Mix locust blossoms into softened butter--preferably a high quality, lightly salted butter
  • Honey Lavender Locust Blossom Butter:  Add honey and/or dried lavender blossoms to locust blossom butter
  • Locust Blossom Cream Cheese:  Mix locust blossoms and honey/maple syrup into cream cheese
  • Locus Blossom Goat Cheese: roll a fresh goat cheese log in locust blossoms until thoroughly coated
Black Locust trees only bloom for one to two weeks a year--usually the last week of May and first week of June.  Run out and gather some today!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Culinary Success: Lamb's Quarter Soup--a recipe

Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best! Yub Yub loves to make soup.  She says she is a soup expert, and every time we introduce her to a new wild green she asks to make soup from it.  Other than eating them as she picks, it is the only way Yub Yub will eat leafy greens.  This is a recipe she and I devised for lamb's quarters.   Our good friend recently visited from Miami and couldn't get enough of this recipe.
1 pound lamb's quarters, rinsed and chopped
2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
salt to taste

1)  Melt butter in sauce pan.
2)  Saute onion in butter for 5 minutes.
3)  Add lamb's quarters and cook until wilted.
4)  Add broth.  Stir.
5)  Blend until smooth.
6)  Heat through and add salt to taste.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Culinary Disaster: Nettle and Lamb's Quarter Risotto

I'm a fairly experienced cook, and I often create my own recipes.  Doing this with a newborn is a novel challenge, however.  Two weekends ago, I awoke with recipe dreams:  Japanese knotweed pie, dandelion black walnut muffins, wild greens soup (it was 45 degrees outside!), and nettle and lamb's quarter risotto.  Our garden, untended by my very pregnant and then newborn filled self, became a lamb's quarter field this spring.  This edible is so delicious, nutritious, and versatile, that we are utterly delighted to find ourselves flush with it.

 So I sent Yub Yub and Thag out to gather lamb's quarters and nettles and then I went to my risotto cookbook to look up recipes to shape my new recipe around.  I like to use tried and true recipes to give me ideas of quantities and cooking times.  This often works out quite nicely for me.  Not so this time. 

I made two major mistakes which are easily avoided.  I did not chop my nettles before adding them to the risotto.  This left huge clumps of greens that felt like sea weed in my mouth and needed to be chewed copiously to avoid choking!  Then, I added the greens too early.  The risotto rice was not yet fully cooked and needed a lot more liquid.  This meant my greens were overcooked and their flavor permeated the meal unpleasantly. What should have been a lovely nettle accented flavor became a heady, perfumy, overpowering nettle flavor. 

I had trouble finishing my plate.  Thag, whose palate is sturdier, valiantly finished the meal and ate leftovers during the week.
Here's a picture of my goopy mess.  I'll try another risotto soon and keep you updated.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Dandelion Black Walnut Muffins--A Recipe

Every April our yard explodes with dandelions.  For several weeks they are everywhere.  Then suddenly at the end of May we are left with a field of fluffy dandelion seed heads and only a few blooming dandelions scattered here and there.  This year, with a newborn on site, we nearly missed our easy gather opportunity--in the past we've made dandelion muffins on a weekly basis in the springtime.

But on this cold and blustery weekend, Yub Yub and I collected what we could scavenge of the remaining dandelions, and the whole family hauled out the black walnuts from the basement and got cracking.

To make this recipe, separate dandelion petals from their green base--you want very little green, and the petals should be loose and individual--like soft yellow fluff.

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup yogurt--plain or vanilla
1 egg
1/4 cup melted butter (1/2 stick) or 1/4  cup oil
1 to 2 cups dandelion petals
1 cup black walnuts (regular walnuts can be substituted)
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Grease muffin tins.
  • Mix flour, salt, and baking powder in large mixing bowl.
  • Add maple syrup, egg, and yogurt.  Mix well.
  • Add butter or oil.  Mix.
  • Add dandelion petals and black walnuts.  Mix well. Separate clumps of dandelion petals.
  • Pour into muffin tins.  Bake 10 to 14 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Makes one dozen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Red Clover Vinegar and Vinaigartte

There are many methods of making flower or herb vinegars.  I started making clover vinegar when we started the foraging family project three years ago.  This recipe works well.

Fill a quart sized Mason jar with red clover blossoms. 
Add 2 cups white vinegar, 1/4 tsp salt, and 3 tbsp honey to small pot.  Boil.
Pour over red clover blossoms.  Let sit.
The next day strain liquid back into pot.  Boil. Add liquid back to flowers in mason jar.  Repeat for 3 to 7 days until liquid becomes purpley pink.
Store clover vinegar in a jar without a metal lid--the vinegar will destroy the lid. The vinegar lasts a long time--I've used mine for over a year.

Red Clover Vinegarette:

I play around with the amounts in this recipe (usually eyeballing it), but try this to start--adjusting the amount of any ingredient to suit your taste.

1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red clover vinegar
1 tsp mustard
1 tbsp maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste

Shake well and serve over salad!

Where has the foraging family been?

 It has been nearly a year since our last post...what could we possibly have been doing in that time?
  • Thag began a new job teaching biology and physical science to high school students.
  • Ooga did a triathlon.
  • Thag wrote and published several articles in the awesome magazine Northern Woodlands.
  • Yub Yub started preschool.
  • Thag wrote the first draft of a full length novel.
  • Ooga had a baby!  
Yes, the foraging family has a new member--a beautiful boy--9 lbs 1 oz born in late April of this year.  He has yet to be given a cave name!