Monday, April 18, 2011

Candied Orange Peels

I know not everyone agrees with me on this--but I love watching Martha Stewart. A couple of weeks ago she had a guest on who demonstrated how she candies lemon peels. I thought that looked like an interesting way to use the orange peel instead of sending it out with the compost, and took note of the instructions.  A couple of days later Michael and I made a trip to Costco, and I came home with a 13 pound box of oranges. I'm nowhere near finished with that whole box of fruit yet, but I have gone through enough of them to make a pretty good batch of candied orange peels.
I ended up with the peels from about 7 oranges. Before you can use them, you have to separate the membrane from the pith. A little knife works well for just pulling it away. I cut the peels into manageable pieces, and put them into a pot of boiling water. I wasn't scientific about this at all. I'd put the peels in the water, let them boil for about 10 minutes, then change the water. The boiling makes the peel tender, and also helps get rid of the bitter compounds in the pith and peel. I changed the water twice, and the third boil wasn't quite as long as the first 2, once I realized I had some pretty tender orange bits.
I then mixed up a simple syrup to boil the peels in. I think I had about 4 cups of water with 4 cups of sugar.  With oranges in the syrup, I brought the mixture to a boil and let it simmer for about half an hour. Maybe longer. Like I said, not too scientific about this one. Then I turned the burner off and let the covered pot sit on the stove for a few hours before removing it to the fridge. The peels marinated for two days in my fridge, before I drained the syrup away and started drying them.
Now, most instructions I read said to just spread the peels out and let them air dry for a couple of days. The humidity is extremely high here in Arcata (over 90% the morning of this venture), so it was more likely that the things would mold or go bad before ever drying out if I tried to do it that way. Instead, I spread them on a baking sheet and dried them in a 200 degree oven for a couple of hours.
The final step, when the peels were dried to my satisfaction, was to sprinkle them with sugar. This makes them a bit less sticky to the touch, as well as adding more sweetness. The final product is quite addictive. I'm not sure that they're dry enough to be stored for a hugely extended amount of time, but they should keep in a sealed container for at least a couple of weeks. They taste like store bought orange candy, but brilliantly better, and probably won't be around long enough to have a chance to go bad.

The best way to measure success: I've had to hide the tray from my roommate to keep her from eating them all, and this is the first time I've offered something to Michael, and have him respond with, "This is amazing!"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cooking with Chard

I'll admit it--I am still kind of afraid of the green things that lurk on my plate.  I spent my childhood as a picky eater, and when I look back on it I have to wonder if I ever ate any vegetables. If french fries count, then I know I was eating plenty of potatoes. When I first became a vegetarian I didn't think very much about adding more vegetables to my diet. I just cut out the meat without making any healthier adjustments. Now that I have been a vegetarian for 5 years, learned about proper nutrition, and spent my time at university learning about how to grow real, whole, nutritious foods, I eat differently. And more healthfully. I try to eat at least two fruits a day. Right now that's at least one orange (you'll see why in tomorrow's post), and a pear, apple, banana... something good and whole. It takes a little more work to eat enough veggies. Potatoes are still kind of a staple, but I'm pretty good about adding in onions, broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms, peas, spinach, and corn. But the more the diversity, the better! Which leads me to the farmers market chard you learned about yesterday.

There are tons of recipes out there that call for cooking your chard on the stove in a little bit of oil, perhaps with some lemon juice or garlic. Well, that wasn't what I was looking for. I wanted a whole meal with a bit more substance than a plate of stewed chard could provide me. I wanted something where chard was an ingredient, not the focal point. It was with the New York Times that I found my direction for the night's cooking adventures. I followed the basic recipe for Onion Pizza With Ricotta and Chard, with just a twist or two.

I started by slicing my onion and caramelizing it on the stove.
While the onion caramelized I ribbed and chopped up four leaves of chard, then steamed it on the stove.
The chard steamed until tender, then I rinsed it under cold water and dried it off to keep excess moisture out of the cheese mixture. The NYT recipe calls for ricotta cheese, which I did not feel like running to the grocery store for. Instead, I used cottage cheese. I mashed the curd up a little bit, and added some milk to make it closer to the spreadable consistency that ricotta would provide. I also grated in a little bit of parmesan and mozzarella cheese. When I was ready to make up my pizza I mixed the chard in with the cheese, and spread it on my crust of choice. This was another improvisation: no whole wheat flour around to make dough, not really the energy to make dough if I did have the stuff. So I used a pita.
I then covered, and I mean absolutely covered, the cheese chard mix with caramelized onions. Then the whole thing went into the oven at 425, straight on the rack. It only needed to bake until the cheese was melted and the onions a little more golden and crispy.
It. was. amazing. I love caramelized onions, and they were definitely the focal point here. They did such a good job dominating the flavor of my little pita pizza that I could probably add more chard, and probably will in the future.

My basic amounts, which made two little pita pizzas, about 5'' each, were as follows:
2 pitas
1 medium onion, sliced and caramelized
1-2 cloves garlic, added during the last half of onion caramelizing
4 chard leaves, stemmed, chopped, steamed, and excess water wrung out.
1/4 cup cottage cheese
1 Tbl milk
3 Tbl parmesan cheese
2 Tbl mozzarella cheese

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Farmers Market

Today we went to the Arcata Farmers Market. Luckily the rain held off until we were done with our shopping adventures, and the sun even came out to shine on us! There are a ton of vendors that sell live plants--from lettuce starts to carnivorous pitcher plants. One woman had the most beautiful bouquets, and the wheelbarrows full of lilacs were really a visual kick. After strolling around and looking at what was available I chose to buy a bunch of chard and some bok choy. I've never really cooked with either of them, but they're so good for you I decided to get them and challenge myself a little bit.
Chard, for example, contains phytonutrients that serve as antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory.  In my olericulture class last semester someone said that chard was good for blood sugar regulation. A little bit of background research gives me this info, from "...lab studies and animal studies show that syringic acid-one of chard's premiere flavonoids-has the ability to inhibit activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase. Alpha-glucosidase is an enzyme used to break down carbohydrates into simple sugars. When this enzyme gets inhibited, fewer carbs get broken down and blood sugar is able to stay more steady." So that's cool.
Photos tomorrow of my chard creation!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lonicera involucrata

Yesterday I paid a visit to Azalea State Reserve in McKinleyville. It's not far from where I go on Wednesdays to feed the horses from Heart of the Redwoods Horse Rescue, and the azaleas are supposed to start blooming around mid April. 
The buds are definitely more developed than they were on my last visit. In the photo above you can see the different stages of budding out that are taking place. Some plants at the reserve have leafed already, while others haven't, and a couple have bloomed. I'm really hoping there will be a good flush of bloom coming up and the whole place will look just spectacular.

I did find a few flowers, and they're pretty in the otherwise very drab landscape. This shot of the flower is probably one of my favorites from the day.   
While prowling around I also came across the bush pictured above. It stood out because it was one of the few green things along the path, and had those funny little flowers! A look at my plant guide tells me its Lonicera involucrata, black twinberry. It will eventually have black berries, but they aren't considered edible. Apparently the Kwakwaka'wakw people believe that eating the berries would leave a person unable to speak.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Viola sempervirens

I just thought I'd take a moment to share some of the native flora of this area with you.

I'm a slow hiker. I spend a lot of time looking around me--into the bushes, along the ground, up in the trees. I'm always watching for those hidden bits of beauty that spice up the otherwise ordinary lanscape.

Viola sempervirens is something I see very often on our trips through the woods. Also known as the Evergreen violet or Redwood violet, it enjoys moist, partly-shady conditions. I came across a good clump of these guys while we were hiking College Cove in Trinidad a couple of weeks ago, in an area very near to the ocean. They're also seen very often in the redwood forests. Aside from the skunk cabbage, they're the only yellow flower I can remember seeing so far this spring.

Sidenote: 9th Annual Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest  1) Sounds cool, maybe I'll find some things to enter 2) It runs from March 1, 2011, to December 1, 2011. How many hundreds of thousands of entries do you think they'll get?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


I recently applied to be on a Swedish game show called The Great Swedish Adventure. I picture it like The Amazing Race, but confined to Sweden. They make you do crazy things, they want to see drama, and in the end, you would have a chance to meet relatives you didn't even know existed.
Well, when you're bordering on unemployed and would love to travel, why not apply for a show that would make fun of Americans on Swedish TV! Sounds like a plan to me!
While I was working on my application profile I had my mom scan and send me a photo...
Weren't we cute!!?? In case you can't tell, the tall one is me, and Mel's sitting down. This was at a Pippi-themed pancake breakfast at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle. I remember it being a distressing morning, because I was definitely the most authentic-looking Pippi in the room, but everyone else kept getting stickers and prizes!
Last month I found a DVD copy of The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking (1983?), which I sent to Mel for her birthday. As I understand it, she tore open the package this weekend and watched it right away.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Last week Winco had pineapple on sale for a "come buy me!" price. I couldn't pass it up. Once I got the fruit home, however, I was immediately intimidated by having this big, yellow, acidic fruit to eat before it went bad. So I put it in the fridge for a few days and started thinking.

I disassembled the beast this morning. It was a juicy job that took me a bit of meticulous time, but completely worth it.

Once the pineapple was nicely diced, I sectioned it out. 2 cups for making pineapple rice, 2 cups for pineapple empanadas, and the extras for plain ol' eating!

I then set to making the empanada filling. Pineapple, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, 1 orange, and a couple of tablespoons to get everything started. Put that in a pot on the stove, and cook away! The fruit released a ton of water, and I stirred quite constantly for about 30 minutes to cook the moisture off. Once the fruit was tender and the water cooked off, I took the pot of the heat, ate some breakfast, and moved it to the fridge to wait until I felt ambitious again. There was an interlude of a few hours as Mary and I visited the Arcata Farmers Market (which is awesome!), and Michael and I took a trip to the beach with a couple of friends.

After our trip to the beach I came back home and started the empanada dough. I used roughly half whole wheat, half all-purpose flour. The dough also had butter, oil, water, and a little bit of vinegar in it. It was mixed until smooth, then put into the freezer to chill. I rolled the chilled dough into flat rounds, dropped 1-2 tablespoons of pineapple filling inside, and closed it up. The whole little pocket baked at 350 for nearly 30 minutes. They smelled pretty good coming out of the oven!

Sadly, I'm not sitting here raving about my wild success and imploring that everyone try one of my pineapple empanadas. I'm not impressed by this outcome. The dough lacks a certian sweetness (which could be due to the whole wheat), and the pineapple doens't have much of a kick left. So, chalk that one up as something I probably won't do again. I'm thinking apple empanadas next time...