The Best Way to Cook Fresh Beans

I’ve had a fresh food revelation. I’m really not exaggerating. This meal that I had was so utterly inspiring that it changed the way I look at this food. Stand back, I’m talking about beans. FRESH BEANS! This year, we grew a test patch of cannellini beans and, based on their outstanding flavor, we’ll be growing a lot more next year. I feel like the world has been keeping a secret from me. There is nothing quite like a fresh bean. Who knew?

We’ve since bought fresh cranberry beans from the market and have eaten them on pasta, on toast, and in soup. Delicious! The biggest surprise, however, was that we shelled some overripe green beans, cooked those in a similar way, and found they were almost as good as the cannellini. After several pickings, I thought that we were going to tear out the green bean plants and feed them to the chickens, but R. took the time to shell all the large, woody beans, and I’m so glad that he did. What a great meal!

Cook your fresh beans gently and really taste them towards the end. You’ll know to take them off the heat when they are creamy (but not yet mushy.)

Adapted from one of our favorite go to books, Franny’s.

Serves 4 or more

1 1/2 pounds fresh beans
3 cups water
2 tbls. olive oil
4 sage leaves
2 small rosemary sprigs
4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Add all of the ingredients to a medium pot. Bring to a simmer over medium- high heat. Then, turn the heat down to low and cook until tender, about 40 minutes. Begin to taste them at the 30 minute mark.

Drain the beans and serve over toast or pasta. Reserve the cooking liquid for a nice soup or use some of it to sauce the beans.

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Basic Berry Jam in a Steam Oven

It’s jam season again and I have to tell you, I have a delightful new toy. I don’t think I’ve ever loved an object like this before and, though I probably should feel embarrassed, it makes me a little giddy and a little evangelical. Meet…my steam oven.  Nestled in there among those Shaker simplistic cabinets, it’s a modern (futuristic?) gadget that I use daily. It does it all – bakes, blanches, dehydrates, adds steam to a bread with a press of a button (no more wrapping my arm in a dish towel and adding boiling water to the bottom of the oven!) And, oh my oh my, it makes small batch canning an absolutely delightful breeze. A friend and kitchen designer once showed me her steam oven and, upon learning that it was capable of canning, I began to dream of owning one. Goodbye, vat of boiling water!img_3872.jpg

When we began to build the house for the homestead, we knew that this appliance would be one of our big splurges. It was hard to find out information about it and, if you’re on a similar journey, I’d encourage you to be persistent in seeking answers. Picture me with a quart canning jar in an appliance store baffling all of the sales reps with my pointed questions. They weren’t able to answer most of them, but I’ve been figuring it out, experimenting as I go. Here are my notes from a few experiences with jam. Adapted from the black raspberry jam recipe from Food in Jars’s Preserving by the Pint, I think you’ll find this a reliable start for your own exploration.img_3866

Any berry jam (using a steam oven)

Makes 3 8-ounce jars of jam

Ingredients
30 ounces berries (or two large dry pints)
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 tsp. lemon

Here’s a sequence that helps you run the steam oven and complete the jam in parallel. (Follow these steps and your jars and jam will be hot at the right times.)

  1. Prepare your equipment. Find your funnel, ladle, whisk and rubber spatula. Wash three new lids in soapy warm water, dry, and set out. Place three jars upside down on rack in steam oven. If you have a stainless steel funnel, go ahead and place that in the steam oven too.
  2. Weigh berries and pick through for leaves and stems.
  3. Remove a large handful of berries and set aside. Run the rest of the berries through your food mill set up with the medium disc. (This won’t remove all of the seeds, but it will remove enough so that the seeds aren’t overwhelming.)
  4. Add the milled berry pulp and sugar to a wide skillet. Stir until sugar dissolves. Turn heat onto medium high.
  5. Program your steam oven to sanitize cookware for 8 minutes (212F, 100% steam). Leave the door closed, keeping the jars hot until you’re ready to fill them.
  6. Jam it. Stir and boil until your mixture hits 220F or passes the spoon drip test. This should take about 8-10 minutes. Five minutes into the boiling, add your handful of reserved, fresh berries. Crush them as you stir.
  7. Off heat, stir in the lemon juice thoroughly.
  8. Remove your hot jars from the steam oven. Use the funnel and ladle to fill the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Place lids on and twist on bands gently. Place in the steam oven.
  9. Program the steam oven for the canning mode for 10 minutes (or 195F, 100% steam, for 10 minutes.)

 

Kid-friendly Crab Primevera

Oh, hello, summer days! It’s time for sunshine, a little bit of sweat, and big salads. Dirty, hungry, people eating outside, soil under fingernails. Lunchtime picnics at the beach. Let’s just do it all. Bed time is cancelled and sometimes, just sometimes, if you’re really lucky, someone will call you up and ask if you want to drop what you’re doing and go sailing. (The answer, of course, is yes!)

We went out this week, sailing from near a dock we sit on often and gaze out wonderingly. We were able to look out from the boat and see a shoreline that we walk and bike often, truly understanding the serpentine geography of our neighborhood. We caught several red rock crabs, headed home, and boiled them up right away. We dropped them into rolling water and waited ten minutes. With tongs, we then threw them in an ice bath. We cracked the shells with pliers and picked them on baking sheets on the kitchen table. Since it was late, and we could not possibly ignore putting the child to bed any longer, we chilled the meat until the next day and it was just fine.

1 cup summer vegetables, sliced thinly
1 cup crab
2 portions fresh or dried pasta, boiled in salted water
2 tbls. butter
1 large clove garlic
3 tbls. cream
3 tbls. grated Parmesan cheese
3 small sprigs dill, chopped finely
salt, pepper to taste

  1. In a medium skillet over medium low, melt 1 tbls. butter. Peel the garlic clove, smash it with the side of your knife and add it to the butter.
  2. Toss in the vegetables and saute until wilted, about four minutes. Fish out the garlic clove.
  3. Move the vegetables to the side of the skillet. Add 1 tbls. butter to the empty side of the skillet. When it’s melted, add the crab. Saute for about 4 more minutes.
  4. Drizzle in the cream, add a little salt and pepper, and stir entire mixture together gently.
  5. Sprinkle the cheese over and lightly stir.
  6. Add the dill, stir, and serve immediately to hungry, summer bumpkins.

 

Lemon Meringue Pie

One rainy day, about a decade ago when we were staunch locavores and still beginning to learn about what that meant (and how to incorporate balance), a friend left a surprise sack of lemons on my porch.  During her drive north, they’d traveled with her in her tiny trunk, fresh from her parents’ CA tree, and she thought I might like them. Oh, it was the first time I’d ever smelled a freshly picked lemon! I’ll never forget that moment, standing on my porch in the rain, opening that sack, and being hit by a waft of sunshine.

Recently, I had some more fresh lemons come into my life. Another friend received a big box of lemons from a relative’s tree. There I was again, with that same scent in my nose (on another drippy February day.) I set about “converting” them for both our families. Starting with pie, moving on to bread, not quite making it to curd, as I had intended to – we got some good miles out of those lemons this winter.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery book (which surpassed my family recipe in flavor)

Makes 1 deliciously large pie that needs to be eaten within a day or two

your favorite pie crust recipe, weighted and prebaked at 425 for 20 minutes, then cooled

6 egg yolks
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. milk
zest from two lemons
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
3 tbls. unsalted butter

For the meringue:
6 egg whites (from above)
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar

  1. Separate the yolks and whites into bowls. Set aside.
  2. In a pot on the stove over medium, whisk together the sugar, conrstarch, and salt. Add 1 1/4 c. water and the milk. Whisk continuously for about 5 minutes until thick.
  3. Temper the egg yolks by mixing about 1 cup of your heated milk mixture into them first, then adding this all back into the pot.
  4. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Set the pot over low, then simmer, whisking often. You’re looking for a thick and glossy custard.
  5. Remove from the heat, add in the butter. Pass this “lemon pudding” through a sieve, then add it to your prebaked pie shell.
  6. To make the meringue, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt together with the whisk attachment of a mixer for one minute. When this looks frothy, add the granulated sugar and beat until you see peaks. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat again on medium until they are stiff.
  7. Immediately pour the meringue onto the pudding in the pie shell.
  8. Bake for 8-10 minutes on 375F.
  9. Cool for at least an hour before serving.

Gingerdead Men Cookies for Halloween

imageBoo! Happy Halloween! I’m not one who usually falls for kitschy holiday things, but walking through town last year, this cookie stamp caught the child’s eye. Now, it seems to be a welcome tradition. Making gingerdead men is not only a hilarious pun (that pretty much cracks us up every time we say it) but is also a delicious fall treat to gift and munch. We used fresh, local ginger from Tani Creek, and so this cookie has a little zing that becomes addicting.

Tips for Making Gingerdead Men

  • Use your favorite chocolate sugar cookie recipe or go with our favorite. We love the chocolate ginger combination of this recipe. The dough is easy to work with (if you keep it chilled) and really holds its shape. Definitely don’t skip the fresh ginger.
  • Roll your chilled dough out thinly. To make stamping easier, flour the dough and the stamp side of the cutter.
  • Stamp first, using a small cutting board to help you press down evenly. Next, cut it out and transfer the deadman, still in the cutter, to a parchment lined sheet with a large spatula. Tap it out of the cutter directly onto the sheet.
  • Use a thicker royal icing recipe. We whisked together: 1 1/2 c. confectioners’ sugar, 3 tsp. meringue powder, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 2 tbls. water.

 

Pear Butter and Tips For Baking Frozen Fruit Pie

I have officially declared this year’s canning season closed. I have canned all of the things. I have used all of the jars. All of them. Aside from one excusable weakness (peaches!), I stuck to my goal of only canning free fruit. This wasn’t too hard this year, actually. Even though our garden production isn’t fully up and running, when friends know you preserve, somehow bags of produce seem to make their way to your back porch. (Lucky me! But really, people, canning season is CLOSED.)

Recently a friend and I were invited to pick some pears from a regal and impressive old tree. Such a gift! I made a lot of chocolate pear jam (which I’m renaming, more appropriately pear butter) from Preserving by the Pint. I look forward to eating this on a snowy day in December in front of a fire – it’s definitely a holiday jam.

 With the pears, also, I made several pear anise pies from the one pie book you absolutely must own. On some of the pies, I added a streusel topping. I froze the pies raw and plan to bake them as needed. To do this, line your empty pie plate with plastic wrap and then build your pie on top. Freeze for about 2-3 hours, then pop out of the plate. Wrap and label. I find it helpful to list which pie plate I used since I have many of varying sizes. To bake a fruit pie from frozen, unwrap, place in plate, and pierce vents on top with a chef’s knife. Follow baking temperature and time in recipe, adding 25-30 extra minutes. If your pie begins to brown, loosely lay a square of foil on the top.

Figs Aplenty

figs aplentyA generous islander gave me some figs from a beautiful, mature tree. So, of course, I had to learn what to do with them right away! We ate a few for breakfast just straight up, with honey and chopped nuts. We gave away a few to friends who had never eaten a fig before. The rest, I found a few ways to preserve them for the rest of the year.

  • I modified this chutney recipe, using dried cherries and omitting the red pepper powder. This will be delicious in the fall and I imagine it on simple fig saladthe Thanksgiving table.
  • From Preserving by the Pint, I made fig and thyme jam. It’s already been enjoyed on cheese platters and turkey sandwiches. Yum.
  • In the steam oven, I dehydrated halved figs for 16 hours. (16?!) I was still unhappy with the level of dryness, so I packaged them for the freezer. I plan to make fig anise bread with these.