Spice Rack Challenge: Dill

April’s Spice Rack challenge was pretty perfect: Dill. I use dill quite a bit already – but only in a few standard recipes. I love Dill Pickles. So much that I put Dill Weed AND Dill Seed in them for an extra kick. My favorite way to grill salmon is with lemon and dill. [Cue shameless plug, don’t forget to enter SK’s Lemon Ladies Meyer Lemon Giveaway – ends tonight!] But despite all of that, I really am a scone addict. Sweet scones are great – I’ve been hooked on a proper cream tea since I visited the UK as a teenager. But there’s really something to be said about savory scones. Its a little unexpected – great with soup or as a stand in for dinner rolls.

There’s only one problem. Have I mentioned I am not a baker? I am the girl who seems to make great tasting chocolate chip cookies but their texture is all off. Consistency is not my strong suit – and you really need consistency for baking. But isn’t the Spice Rack Challenge all about going outside of your comfort zone? So scones it was.

White Cheddar and Dill Milk Scones
Adapted from Cheddar-Chive Scones on Epicurious and Local Kitchen’s Cheddar Parsley Scones
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup dried dill or 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
5 oz extra-sharp cheddar, coarsely grated (1 1/2 cups)
2 cups milk (1%)
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Mix all of the dry ingredients together. Add the dill and cheddar, and incorporate thoroughly. I used a stand mixer, but I’m sure that you could easily do this recipe by hand. Keep the mixer on low (or grab another pair of hands and have them mix) while you slowly pour in the two cups of milk and two of the tablespoons of butter to make a very wet dough. I bet if you used the cream called for in this recipe, you wouldn’t have to add butter, but I thought it might benefit from some additional fat as I was using 1% milk.

Roll out the dough onto a well floured surface – it will be very sticky. I had to dust the counter and the dough multiple times. Knead a bit and divide in half. Roll into two 7″ rounds. Cut into six slices and lay out on a baking sheet. Use a silpat or parchment paper to keep the dough from sticking. Brush once with melted butter (you will have some leftover.) Bake at 400° for anywhere from 15-25 minutes – watch until they turn golden brown. I also brushed the scones with the last bit of butter in the middle of baking.

I am really pleasantly surprised with how they came out. Some of the cheese came to the surface and crisped up. The dill came through but wasn’t terribly overpowering, either. I foresee lots more scones in my future.

Options
1. Serve with a hot bowl of soup on a rainy day. We’ve certainly had our share of those here – “April showers…” and all that.
2. Stuff them. As soon as the first scone was cool enough to eat I sandwiched some ham and homemade mustard inside and it became lunch. Fantastic.
3. Cut them into smaller pieces to make mini scones for a potluck party.

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Forays into the World of Foraging

Foraging is the new hot thing. It’s not just about local food anymore – it’s about über local, wild foods, picked YOURSELF. That’s right – this is not for the faint of heart. This is stomping around in the woods, braving mud and creepy crawlies and thorns all to get a few plants.

Have I grossed you out yet? Good. Now for the disclaimer. You have to be really careful when foraging. Know where you are going (you might end up trespassing or be in a place you don’t have permission to take plants from), exactly what kind of plant you’re looking for (if you’re wrong it might not be edible or alternatively toxic) and exactly how much you can take. You need to know what you’re doing – or else. [Cue the menacing music] Seriously – you could end up in a world of hurt or even dead if you’re not sure.

I decided to take a low-key peek around our yard. If I didn’t find anything, no harm no foul – and I would avoid that whole wrongful entrance without proper authority or consent upon the real property of another thing. (And between you and me I wouldn’t look like a complete moron in public staring at the ground not knowing what to look for.) So, I started close to home. We are living in a house that is surrounded by tall pine and oak trees and bordered by a small river. The trees leave us very shaded most of the time – our front “lawn” is a combination of grass and moss. We also have a steep hill down to the river with lots of mud and leaves – very swampy.

Inspired by Peter at Cook Blog, I began the hunt for wild alliums. Not only because his pickled wild garlic looks great in jars, but because alliums are super safe. Anything that smells like onions or garlic generally won’t kill you – good territory for the newbie forager. Lo and behold – our mossy lawn had a bunch of wild garlic!

Super easy to spot, though I did confuse them with tall grass at first.

As Peter says, it pays to be discerning here (which I, of course, figured out after the fact). Wild Garlic tends to grow in clumps, as little cloves branch off from the main bulb. The big bulbs naturally have the widest and tallest stems. I ended up picking whole bunches at first – and painstakingly cleaned those tiny bulbs. Anyway – be picky! Trust me. I found enough here for one jar of wild garlic pickles. Could I have made more? Absolutely. In fact, I see wild garlic/onions EVERYWHERE now. But a) I didn’t want to dig up the whole lawn and b) I want to make sure I’ll use them before making a ton. This way, I can save more for next year’s harvest.

Not picking everything in sight and saving more for next year is half the battle with foraging. There’s quite the controversy about ramps (also known as wild leeks). Ramps are prized for a variety of reasons – they’re delicious, they’re the first bit of fresh greens that surface after a long winter, and they hold a lot of tradition as a foraging prize. They’re becoming very trendy in higher end restaurants, and as a result the US Forest Service thinks we’re overharvesting. The thing is with ramps – you don’t just take that year’s growth. You dig up the whole thing, like with other wild alliums – the whole bulb comes out.

I really, really wanted to find ramps. Though they do carry them at Whole Foods, they always seem wilted and lifeless and don’t last more than a few days. Much to my surprise, I found them in droves near the river. Naturally, on a typical April day (read: cold and rainy), I hauled out my Xtratufs and went down the muddy hill. Not on the scale of what The 3 Foragers seem to find, but plenty there all the same. Most importantly – plenty to leave for next year. I probably picked about 20%.

The haul: wild garlic, ramps and some dandelion greens. Not bad for a first outing - huh?

So what do to with the bounty? First and foremost – be prepared to preserve it quickly. The wild garlic is fairly sturdy but the ramps started wilting pretty quickly. You just went through all this trouble – no sense in throwing it all away. Everything needs a VERY good rinse. I chopped the ramps greens from the stems and soaked them separately (like you would leeks) to make sure all the grit was out. I ended up with two quart size bags of greens to freeze, and about a quart’s worth of stems/bulbs. In retrospect – I probably picked too many small ramps, but once I had picked them I wanted to use all of them. Another batch of pickles was born.

Pickled Saffron Ramps with Sage
Adapted from Hank Shaw’s Pickled Ramp Bulbs with Saffron
1 quart ramp bulbs/stems
2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pinch saffron threads
fresh sage
2 bay leaves

Make sure you have the correct jar for the job – I always measure my pickles in the jar before I put the jar in the waterbath canner to heat up. While the canner heats, I make the brine in another pot. I use a 2:1 vinegar-water ratio, with one tablespoon of salt. This means 2 cups of white vinegar, one cup of water, and one tablespoon of salt for this recipe, but if you were to double it it would be 4 cups of vinegar, 2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of salt – you get the idea. You will have a little brine leftover – which I always use to quick pickle any veggies left in the fridge without processing. Anyway – proceed according to normal waterbath canning instructions (if you’re unsure always consult the Ball Blue Book): boil the jars, pour boiling water over the lids and rings, and boil your brine. The combination of hot jars + hot food + warm, wet lids minimizes the chance for something to go wrong. I pack the ramps and bay and sage leaves into the jars and top with hot brine, and put in the waterbath for 10 minutes. Yields one wide-mouth quart.

Pickled Wild Garlic
1 quart wild alliums (I think there might have been a few stray onions in my batch)
2:1 ratio vinegar brine
1 tablespoon salt
coriander seeds
red pepper flake
peppercorns
2 bay leaves

Same idea as above: hot jars + hot brine + wet, warm lids and rings. Also yields 1 wide mouth quart. A great first foraging project!

Local, homegrown, home foraged AND gorgeous - what's not to like?

Other Wild Allium Ideas:
-Kaela at Local Kitchen has a great ramp roundup. I must try her Chicken Braised in White Wine and Ramps.
-Joel at Well Preserved uses the whole plant – even dehydrates the roots! Imagine crunchy oniony garlicy bits sprinkled in your morning eggs or over a bowl of soup… even more proof I need to get a dehydrator and/or figure out how to do this in the oven.
-I found this spoonbread recipe from the New York Times. Though it calls for green chiles, I think it would be lovely with some ramps greens and some goat or cheddar cheese.
Peter takes the rest of his wild alliums and makes them into a pesto. I saved my greens to do just this – but man was it strong. I had to vent the kitchen while they were in the food processor! Just one word of advice – chop the greens before you put them in. Trust me:

Wild allium revenge.

Giveaway! From the Lemon Ladies Orchard

So in case you missed it, I have a Meyer Lemon problem. Specifically, I have a Lemon Ladies Meyer Lemon problem. I just can’t get enough of the sweet and sour flavor. The scent of them is almost floral. Its addictive. In case you missed it, I took seven pounds of lemons and made them into Raspberry Lemon Preserves, Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Preserved Lemons and Limoncello. I made Meyer Lemon Curd, Kiwi Meyer Lemon Jam and an absolutely amazing Lazy Lemon Tart and froze some of the juice for later lemon cravings. I even shipped some of Karen’s lemons to Anchorage, Alaska so I could share them with friends.

They should come with a warning label, they are so addictive.

It’s safe to say I am Meyer obsessed. I had to get some more lemons – I still haven’t made Meyer Lemon Salt for this summer’s catch or Meyer Lemon Roast Chicken. I’m still coveting Nicole’s Lemon Pull-Apart Loaf at Arctic Garden Studio. And I must dehydrate Meyer slices to savor the flavor for as long as possible.

Have I linked you to death yet? Well I’m glad you survived the onslaught – there’s a reward. Karen at the Lemon Ladies Orchard has graciously offered to send one lucky SK reader a Meyer Lemon Gift Bag. They come from her own trees in sunny Emerald Hills, California. If the fruit wasn’t a good enough reason to check her out, the story behind the orchard is pretty amazing too. This means she will pick a dozen beautiful lemons and send them direct to your door! How can you say no?

How to Enter:
1. Post a comment here and tell me what you’re going to do with your meyers. What’s your favorite tried and true recipe? Or are you going to try something new?
2. Earn an additional entry by liking Snowflake Kitchen on Facebook. Leave a comment here to let me know you did.
3. Earn an additional entry by liking the Lemon Ladies page on Facebook. Again, post here to let me know you did.
4. Tweet about it: “Check out the Meyer Lemon Giveaway going on at @snowflakekitchn! http://is.gd/xjbV78” then post back here with the link!

Even if you dont win, the Meyer Lemon season in California is almost done – place your Lemon Ladies order soon! And this giveaway ends on Monday April 25 at 11:59pm EST!


UPDATE:

Congrats to Jeanne in Toledo the winner! Please check your email. Thanks to everyone who entered – stay tuned for more giveaways! -Kate

Adventures with the Daylight Machine

So this year is the first year I’ve started my garden from seed. I’ve previously bought organic seedlings from my local garden store. At $3-5 each – while they are wonderful, they are nowhere near economical. So in 2011 when I found myself on a tighter budget than ever, it only made sense to start from scratch.

The first problem: gorgeous catalogs from Comstock Ferre, Baker Creek, John Scheeper’s Kitchen Garden Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange and more. I’m sure every gardener suffers from I-want-one-of-everything-itis, but this was my first experience. I made a fairly conservative budget of $50. I even stuck to it – within $5. I also had to limit my choices of veg. We rent a home that has fairly limited garden space – so even though I want to grow prolific beds of squash and garlic… not going to happen this year. Our soil is also largely shaded… so most of the veg will be in one sunny spot in containers. I knew I wanted many kinds of tomatoes and peppers – easy to do in containers. I was gifted a few different kinds of beans and greens in a seed swap. The addition of a few herbs and some free onions completed the plan.

The second problem: lack of knowledge. I will be the first to admit – I am a total n00b at this. I was not about to put blood, sweat and tears into this massive project, only to have it fail and THEN find out that I could have avoided the disaster. Luckily, Comstock Ferre does not just sell fantastic heirloom seeds, but they also happen to host workshops. And they happen to be only half an hour from my house. And they happened to have a seed starting workshop in mid-March. Sometimes things just work out.

The third problem: equipment. You can spend hundreds of dollars on an indoor light setup. And – lets face it – this is New England, a.k.a. the land of the April Nor’easter. Needless to say, my plants aren’t going outside until six weeks from the last frost. I am hoping to get them outside around Memorial Day. We have a fairly chilly basement/workshop, which was to be the place for our grand experiment. This is really the area of this where I am most proud – and most frugal. I saved egg cartons, cardboard tubes from toilet paper and paper towels, arugula and strawberry containers, and yogurt/sour cream containers for months. I spent $10 on disposable foil food containers with plastic lids to use as humidity domes for the tomatoes and peppers. I also found a vendor on eBay that built custom heating mats.

Then there’s the light. Have I mentioned Señor SK is a tinkerer? (Did “workshop” give it away?) In his younger days, he built a projector to show movies on the side of his house for friends. He happened to have a metal halide fixture, transformer and capacitor leftover. One trip to Home Depot for a new bulb, sheet metal, pine 2″ x 3″ x 8″s and soil and we were in business.

It's not pretty, but its functional.

Total Cost: Approximately $150. For initial outlay – all things we can use next year (except the cardboard and some of the seeds) – not bad.

Oh, have I mentioned why we call it the Daylight Machine?

Hard to capture in a picture, but this is with the regular lights off.

Future plans:

  • Once the heating mat comes in, start the rest of the seeds. The only reason the tomatoes are thriving is that my parents lovingly lent me a heating pad to keep them warm in the interim.
  • Planting: onions and chard in a whiskey barrel planter or two. Spinach in a dresser drawer bed. Peppers and basil and tomatoes and basil together in respective whiskey barrel planters. Dill and Cucumbers in the cucumber bed. Beans and Rosemary (and more Chard) planted in something I’m not quite sure of yet, but probably near the fence so they can use it to grow vertically. Speaking of beans – Comstock Ferre suggested rolling them in inoculant to grow. Really necessary? Thoughts?

Anyway, welcome to my grand experiment. I’ll keep you posted. If anyone has any suggestions – feel free to chime in!

Ginger Pear Whiskey Smash

Sometimes you just need a cocktail. For whatever reason – hard day at work, grumpy mood, nasty commute… or cause you have all the delicious ingredients on hand and why not? Or – as seems to be happening more frequently around here – you look in the larder and find inspiration in one of your preserves. I had a lovely jar of pears put up in the fall in a light tea-flavored syrup. Thus, a cocktail was born.

Ginger Pear Whiskey Smash
1 part Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 part sugar syrup
1 whole preserved pear, cut into chunks
3 pieces crystallized ginger – 2 to muddle, 1 to garnish
Ice

Open your jar of pears or use fresh. Cut into small chunks. Add fresh or crystallized ginger. Muddle with equal parts whiskey and syrup. Let flavors mix for 5ish minutes… or however long you can stand it. Strain, pour over ice into your glass of choice and top with ginger ale.  Garnish with crystallized ginger, relax and enjoy.

Options
1. Use Jameson Irish Whiskey. Accept no substitutes. If you don’t like whiskey, this drink isn’t for you. I would suggest that you try it though, it tends to win over converts.
2. You need one part syrup. I used a combination of the pear/tea syrup and some simple syrup. To taste – as sweet as you like. I bet infusing ginger into the tea syrup for a more pronounced ginger flavor would be great.
3. Many of the other whiskey smash recipes I’ve found use herbs. Like Bless Her Heart’s Blackberry Smash and The Kitchn’s Peach Whiskey Smash. I bet thyme or mint would be a fun addition to this one.

Preserving 2011

Inspired by Joel at WellPreserved.ca, I thought it was high time to make a Preserving Bucket List. I am sort of new to this game, especially new at putting it out on the interwebs, but I figured putting it out there was the best way to keep track. And maybe cross some of it off. What can I say, its the inner analytical list-making lawyer. Anyway, the more I thought about it I thought I could make a 2011 wishlist. Because I can’t really talk about my dreams of pressure canning when I haven’t even done it once, can I? Baby steps – you have to crawl before you can walk.

  1. Brewing. This one I’ll steal right off from Joel. Señor SK and I are attending a homebrew session hosted by the Knights of the Mashing Fork in June. Very excited. Science + food experiments that yield alcohol? How is that a hobby anyone couldn’t love?
  2. Foraging. Specifically, baby steps. Apparently, Connecticut is home to ramps and morels. I would love to try to find some delicious non-deadly mushrooms. We also have these awesome wineberries I’ve never heard of. I think ramps and berries first – mushrooms later. Potentially deadly stuff once I’ve gained some foraging legs.
  3. Condiments and Pantry Staples. We really don’t eat a lot of processed food here at SK. We do make our own vanilla extract and country mustard (blog post forthcoming), but a large part of our condiments come from the store. This year, a lacto-fermented salsa, homemade mayonnaise, and dijon mustard are calling my name. I have 10 varieties of tomato seedlings in their infancy – so its highly likely I’ll have enough tomatoes to make my own tomato paste and ketchup. Not that we use that much ketchup, but I digress. I would also really like to try a hot sauce. I made chile verde and tomato sauce last year, but not nearly enough and I must increase our stores for next year. I bought a second-hand pressure canner, and once I have it calibrated I can move to the world of canned beans and chicken stock.
  4. Pickling. A newbie step for most preservers, but I really didn’t get into pickling much last year. There were only cucumber pickles, and lots of them. Too many in fact. I want to try all sorts of pickles this year, but I am particularly looking forward to pickled fruit. Sweet Pickled Cherries sound divine, and though I had never heard of peach pickles, I found a recipe hailing from Texasthat I can’t wait to try.

    Too many cucumber pickles! Yes, there really is such a thing.

  5. Dehydration. My first experience with dehydration came in the form of an Alaskan Backcountry Cooking class. You cant head into the backcountry for months at a time with a months worth of food – it just isn’t physically possible. We had a guide who dehydrated EVERYTHING for the trail – including tomato paste. I really like Marisa at Food in Jars’ idea of dehydrating winter citrus for use later on. Though I don’t have a dehydrator at the moment, I do have a limited budget – so this one looks like it will have to be tackled at some point in the future. Though Marisa did suggest a method for using the oven instead…
  6. Using up every bit of our CSA. We are on a tight budget, but still managed to squeak out enough for a deposit of a half-share. I am really looking forward to forced creativity – you paid for these vegetables, now do something with them. I need to figure out how to cook things like kohlrabi and celeriac… you know, in ways other than puree.

The only thing I’ll have trouble justifying is the amount of jars in our basement.