Wednesday, November 21, 2007

4 oranges, 4 greens, 1 red, and 1 recipe

I've been tagged again for another meme, and although I'm not much of a meme-r, I can't say no to Wendy, blogress extraordinaire at A Wee Bit of Cooking. Since she's a fellow teacher, gardener, and cook (as well as animal and nature lover, traveler, and reader--we have lots of shared interests, you see), it is impossible for me to ignore her request. She asked that I list four things in four different categories, but I'll modify it to write four things in two categories, with two extras just for kicks.

List Number 1: Oh, how I love orange.
Not one to have favorites, I can't claim a favorite color, just as I can't name one perfect food, one ideal place to be, or the one band that I have to hear all the time. So, although it isn't my favorite because I "love every color just the same," orange has a special place in my heart.

1) Orange is the color of my living room, a place where I curl up on the couch with the animals for a nap, to watch TV with ECG, or sit in one of the old barrel chairs and read. When ECG and I have parties, the orange room is where the crowd congregates, even sitting on the floor to be surrounded by the warm glow off of the walls. The color of the room flatters everyone.


2) Nearly eight years ago, I went to the swap meet at Pasadena City College for the first time and found a glass casserole dish, glazed with a glowing orange luster. I fell in love. Since then, I've collected orange luster-ware from swap meets, yard sales, and antique shops I've stumbled upon; someday I may have enough with which to serve a complete meal. At this rate of collection, that should happen when I am about 73 years old, give or take a month or two.

3) This weekend, I made Clementine-Meyer Lemon marmalade, a treat that is delicious with the recipe that will end this post.

4) The middle of November means it is time for hachiya persimmons. They hang on the trees like splatter-bombs disguised as early Christmas decorations.


My friends S and RWW have a persimmon tree behind their house. This year, I helped them harvest, hoping to collect as much just-unripe fruit as possible before they ripened and parrots got to them or before they splatted into sweet, sticky sugar puddles all over the yard and roof. We weren't early enough to completely beat the seasons: some fruit fell as we used the long-poled fruit picker. We had to dodge orange explosions that fell from random parts of the tree.


The payoff was worth the mess. We collected bags and bags of the fruit, many that we gave away, many that we kept.


If you haven't had a hachiya persimmon before, you've missed out on their slippery sweet goodness. It's important to eat them when they are completely ripe, soft and fragile as water balloons, otherwise the fruit is astringent and gives one a wicked case of cotton-mouth. But when they are ripe, they are intensely sweet and cool, a tree-given pudding, a dessert to slurp out of hand or attempt to tackle with a spoon. They are also wonderful to use in the kitchen. In the weeks to come, as the piles of fruit in my house ripen, I'll post recipes that show off its wonderful qualities.


List Number 2: Green Goods
The winter vegetable garden is coming into its own. I've been bringing home a gallon bag of green, leafy vegetables almost every day, the source of the salads we eat for dinner and the braised greens I sometimes have for lunch. The arugula I planted in the beginning of October has already peaked and gotten too hot to eat, even sauteed; as a result, I pulled it out and will be trying a different variety, Seeds of Change's Sputnik Arugula.

Here are four crops that haven't matured quite yet, but that I'm happily anticipating:

1) Sugar Snap Peas: They're now taller than waist-high and growing so quickly I feel like I can see the tendrils curl in front of my eyes, but no flowers yet.


2) Garlic: All the varieties are up now, some more vigorous than others, but it looks like, come harvest time in the late spring, I'll have plenty.


3) The first Windsor Fava flower-bud is here. It will open to be black and white and fragrant.


4) And so close I can taste it stir-fried, steamed with butter, or roasted with garlic--here comes the broccoli!


Another Garden Good, not Green
The beets--in this case Detroit Dark Red--are beginning to swell.


And to round this out, a recipe: Homemade English Muffins
When the marmalade bubbled on the stove this past weekend, the whole house filled with the smell of sweet citrus, and ECG asked how we'd eat it. He claims not to like marmalade. I told him that I could taste it smeared on hot English muffins, each cavity filled with melted butter and topped with a marmalade glaze. (I just made myself drool a little bit as I wrote that last sentence.) He grimaced and said, "I guess I have to try it." Ah, the gauntlet was tossed to the ground and I took the challenge. Yup, if I wanted to make sure to prove that marmalade is delicious, I better make the means of delivering that marmalade as delectable as possible, so that meant that those English muffins had to be spectacular. Making them at home considerably increased that possibility, but I had never made them before. Unfazed, I consulted Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible and set out.

Although The Bread Bible is a phenomenal resource, I can't stand the layout. It drives me crazy to see so many numbers on a page. (A few years ago, I directed my school's self-auditing process--called WASC in this area of the world--and authored a report on our academic, demographic, athletic, and financial statistics. Each page included at least one table or chart. By the end of this endeavor, I was a basketcase. I dreamed in charts instead of pictures, figures instead of numbers. I spoke in acronyms and brainstormed in jargon. It took hundreds of miles of meandering walks, hikes in the local mountains, and a few trips to parents' very rural New Mexico home to put my head back together again. Never again will I put myself in such a position.) So, here I've written the recipe in a way that works for me. This way, I can share it with my readers and keep it in a place where I can refer to it, over and over, without having to suffer through a chart.

Plan ahead: this recipe straddles two days. Plan the ferment and the chilling around your schedule. I will make these again, but only when I have plenty of time, perhaps on vacations or summer break.

Step 1.
For this step, you will need:
1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons of organic all purpose flour
3/4 cup of organic nonfat or 1% milk, scalded and returned to room temperature
1 tablespoon local honey
1/2 teaspoon of yeast

In a bowl of your stand mixer, stir these ingredients together, incorporating as much air as possible. The mixture will be very thick, but keep stirring for two minutes to dissolve the yeast, oxygenate the mixture, and blend everything together well. This mixture will serve as the sponge for the dough.

Step 2.
For this step, you will need:
1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons of organic all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon yeast

Stir these ingredients together and sprinkle on top of the other ingredients from Step 1. Do not mix the dry flour into the sponge, just leave it on top. Cover the bowl. Leave it on the counter for an hour, then place it in the refrigerator overnight, or up to 24 hours. The chilled environments leads to a slower ferment, and more flavorful final result.

Step 3.
For this step, you will need:
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 teaspoons of salt

Insert the dough hook in your stand mixer and place the bowl underneath. Dump in the butter and mix on very low speed to incorporate it into the other ingredients. The resulting mixture will be very rough looking. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes or so to the let gluten relax a bit. Sprinkle the salt into the mixture, then turn the stand mixer on to the kneading speed (on a KitchenAid, #3 or 4 work well) and knead for 10 minutes. You may need to add a splash or two of water to make sure that there is enough moisture to form a smooth dough--I had to add about two tablespoons. The finished dough should be very smooth, firm, and a little shiny.

Step 4 (the easiest step).
Grease a bowl and place the ball of dough in it. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for an hour and a half, or until the dough doubles in size. Once it has doubled in size, press the dough down to deflate it, and knead it gently for a bit in the bowl. Cover the bowl again and place it in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to 8.

Step 5.
For this step you will need:
1/3 a cup of organic cornmeal
a 3 1/2 inch biscuit cutter, a clean and empty tuna can, or other means of cutting the dough into circles (I used the ring for a wide-mouth canning jar with the help of a sharp knife)

Sprinkle a baking sheet with most of the cornmeal. Flour your work space and roll out the dough into a rectangle 8" by 12". The dough should be about 1/4 inch thick. Use your biscuit cutter (or replacement) and cut out 6 rounds. They will shrink a bit as they're cut. Place the rounds on cornmeal-covered baking sheet, about 2" apart. Sprinkle the rounds with some of the remaining cornmeal. Cover the baking sheet with oiled parchment or another baking sheet, placed upside down. Let the rounds rise for about 45 minutes, or until they are between 1/2" and 3/4" high.

While the first rounds are rising, knead together the dough scraps, press them into a disk, and place them in a covered container in the refrigerator for an hour to relax the gluten. Then, roll out the dough on the floured work space into a 7 1/2" square and cut out 4 more rounds of dough. Follow the directions for the first batch for these as well.

Step 6.
For this step, you will need:
Butter
Your favorite skillet--I used my cast-iron skillet for this.

Heat a skillet over low heat until water sizzles when dropped in the pan. Spread a bit of butter around the bottom of the pan with a spatula, and add a few muffins to the pan. Cook for 10 minutes, or until browned underneath. Flip the muffins and cook until the bottom is browned. Transfer the muffins to a wire rack to cool and continue cooking the rest of the dough rounds.

Step 7.
Use forks to split the muffins. Toast them until lightly brown, then smother them in butter and marmalade and prove to your man that marmalade is some darn good stuff. Listen to him moan happily.

Smile in satisfaction.

16 comments:

Tom Stearns said...

Hi Christina,

Great blog - I enjoyed reading about your great efforts and harvests from your winter garden. So many people stop planting and think that gardening is only for the summer. I wish you all the best success. My love of growing things actually turned into a small seed company. Isn't it so rewarding to try new varieties?

Tom

Wendy said...

“Bloggess extrodinaire” – I love that! :)
Though my living room isn’t painted orange it does have lots of orange features (blanket, candle holders, cushions, pictures). Yet another thing we have in common. It’s getting spooky!
Got a quiet weekend coming up soon(ish) and have bookmarked this recipe. Are you going to post the marmalade recipe?

Lucy said...

You made english muffins?! Thoroughly impressed.

You've put into words exactly what puts me off about the Bread Bible. I, never mathematically-minded, cannot work my way through charts and numbers.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for some of that lustreware - I'm often in op shops looking for props. Should I find some in precisely that shade of orange, I'll pop them in the post.

Shaun said...

Christina ~ I, too, love orange. In our Long Beach kitchen, Eric and I had an orange Dutch oven, orange spatulas, orange and yellow striped tea towels, and a cooking utensil jar that bled from yellow to orange. The kitchen tiles were yellow. It was always so welcoming to walk into and work in the kitchen. Orange is the perfect color for a convivial setting, as you know from your lounge area.

I love the photos of the marmalade and persimmons...

Happy Thanksgiving.

Jill Davis Doughtie said...

Happy Thanksgiving!

Christina said...

Tom: So you dropped the bait and I just had to google "tom stearns seeds," and whaddya know? You run High Mowing Seeds! What a great company! I'm so flattered that you stopped by--I hope you continue to do so. I love seeing how different gardens grow in different parts of the country, and I'd love to get pointers from you when you have any to spare! And to answer your question, yes, it is mighty rewarding to experiment.

Wendy: Hey, the title fits! I want to work out a tweak or two in the marmalade recipe before I post it, but I plan on it. If it doesn't work well into a post, I'll just email you the recipe once I'm confident in it. It's wonderful marmalade, but it isn't as easy as I think that it could be yet.

Lucy: Ah, our great minds work similarly, I see. I know how to use charts and tables and whatnot, but it is never comfortable for me. I'm a word and picture person, as, I imagine, are you. Thank you so much for staying on the lookout for the orange pieces--you are so awesome!

Shaun: Orange is just plain ol' happy. That's the best way I can think of describing it. Thank you for the compliments. I wish you a happy Thanksgiving too, and hope that you're hanging in there, so far from your love.

Jill: Happy Turkey Day to you too! I hope you're enjoying your holiday!

Susan in Italy said...

This is overwhelming! I envy you so much that you have garden access to persimmons (in abundance, wow!) I love how here in Italy they look like Christmas ornaments on the leafless trees. And then garlic and favas and broccoli. What a great thing you've got going.

winedeb said...

You would think we would have persimmon trees down here but not. Yours is awesome. And oh my gosh, your garden is...terrific! I posted an update on mine today and it does even compare to yours! I so wish I could plant in the ground. Maybe someday! What a great post Christina on your lovely garden! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

Wendy said...

Anh at Food Lover's Journey linked to this photo. Immediately thought of you when I saw it!
http://www.flickr.com/photos/merinocroos/2053612585/

Susan said...

How crazy I am about orange. I once had a flat with sublimely glowing peach walls (which I painted myself), tall ceilings and shocking white moldings. How I loved it. And I really dig that lusterware, which accounts for that exquisite shot of squash quiche in your last post; I knew it tripped some retro wires.

Christina said...

Susan in Italy: Aren't persimmon trees gorgeous? They have that lovely fall color, then the fruit hangs on them for a long time, adding color to the grey skies of winter. I'm sorry you're suffering envy, but thank you for the compliments. I feel lucky to be able to keep the garden at my friends' house, especially since I don't have a yard of my own.

Winedeb: Thank you! I hope you had a great Thanksgiving too. I wonder why persimmon trees don't grow there--maybe they need a little less humidity or just a smidgin more cold. Hmmmm.

Wendy: Oh, that is a gorgeous picture! Thank you so much for sharing it with me.

Susan: The vibrant peach walls with clean white moldings sounds beautiful. I'm glad I've found a fellow orange-lover.

Have a nice evening, everyone!

Patricia Scarpin said...

I'm a total sucker for citrus flavors, Christina - can I have some of the marmalade, please? ;)

ann said...

Oh you live in a wonderland! Orange lusterware, parrots, persimmons, winter vegetable gardens!
So, did ECG like the marmalade? I bet he did. I'd eat mud on homemade english muffins!

Christina said...

Patricia: I'm still tweaking this recipe a bit, but I hope to post the marmalade recipe soon.

Ann: He liked it. What he liked even more was dulce de leche smeared all over the English muffins. Dude can eat dulce de leche with anything and everything, I tell you!

Stacy Doolittle said...

Hi Christina: Just found your blog. Love it.

My husband and I live in Pasadena (you as well I think?). We moved here two years ago from Texas, where we grew divine winter broccoli. We've not been able to recreate it here and I'm wondering if you have any specials tips for growing it here? Thanks, Stacy In Pasadena

P.S. Can't wait to try the persimmon bread recipe!

Christina said...

Hi Stacy in Pasadena! Welcome. Email me at niezcka at gmail dot com, and I'll reply directly with everything (which isn't that much) I know about growing broccoli where we live. Merry Christmas!