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Dandelion recipes: Italian-style greens.

Dandelion Greens

Simple greens, Italian-style.

My favorite way to eat dandelions.

Here’s how to do it:

Pick dandelion greens. Stick to plants that are not blooming if you don’t want them to be too bitter. Sturdy kitchen scissors are great for picking greens. (You can also use garden or farm-grown dandelion greens—they’ll be bigger and maybe a bit less bitter, but you won’t have the fun of snipping your lawn with scissors!)

Wash dandelion greens. Soak them in a bowl of water, fish them out, and repeat with clean water until you don’t find any dirt on the bottom of the bowl.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a skillet. You could also use lard or schmaltz. Goose fat is especially good.

Saute the greens in the oil. Cook them until they’re as soft as you like. You may want to put a lid on the pan and steam them for a bit if they’re tough.

Salt the greens to taste. Use good salt if you have it—I like unrefined sea salt.

Chop a bunch of garlic. How much depends on how much you like garlic.

Stir the garlic into the greens. I like to leave it basically raw, but you can keep cooking it for a minute or two if you like.

Serve it forth, as they say in the old cookbooks.

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Dandelion recipes: breakfast.

Dandelion fritters.So dandelion week has turned into dandelion month, and I’m afraid I still won’t have time to try all the dandelion concoctions I’ve been thinking about. (Thank my long-suffering boyfriend. He likely won’t want to see another dandelion for quite some time.)

Today it’s a full dandelion breakfast: Dandelion fritters with dandelion syrup. Floral and joyful, it tastes exactly like spring!

For the syrup, I used Henriette’s method. The flavor is incredibly complex—floral and honeylike, with hints of caramel and fresh green leaves. Amazing. As soon as I can, I plan to make a nice big batch to freeze.

For the fritters, I made a basic pancake batter (a cup of flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, an egg, a cup of milk, a couple of tablespoons melted butter, and a pinch of salt) with enough extra milk added to make it about as thin as heavy cream. Then I added a nice pile of yellow dandelion fluff*—about a cup or a little more. I cooked the fritters on a hot buttered griddle just like pancakes.

*By “yellow dandelion fluff” I mean the yellow parts of dandelion blossoms, separated from the green bits and fluffed up a bit to avoid clumping. Sound like too much trouble? I think you can get away with including a bit of green, but be sure to pinch off the stem end of each blossom, or you might get some bitterness in your fritters.

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Citrus season: candied grapefruit peel (and bitters too).

Candied Grapefruit PeelLast week someone gave me a lovely ripe grapefruit from a backyard tree in Florida. Quite a gift when there’s 3 feet of snow on the ground.

The peel was so aromatic I couldn’t bear to compost it, so I did what my great-grandmother used to do: I made candied grapefruit peel. And while I was at it I made a bitter liqueur from the cooking water.

Candied grapefruit peel was a Christmas tradition at Nanny’s house, but I think it’s wonderful any time of year. It tastes like essence of grapefruit—perfumed, and a little bit sharp. (I don’t remember Nanny ever making bitters from the cooking water, but I’m sure she would have loved the idea.)

To make the candied grapefruit peel:

Slice up some grapefruit peel and remove most of the white pith.

Put the slices of peel in a pot with enough water to cover them by about an inch. Add a pinch of salt.

Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer it for 15 minutes or so. Drain the peels and set aside the cooking water to make liqueur. Return the peels to the pot, add fresh water, bring it to a boil, and simmer it for another 15 minutes. Drain again (don’t forget to reserve the cooking water).

Now return the peels to the pot with about 1/2 cup sugar per grapefruit. Stir and lift them gently with a fork over low-medium heat until all the liquid has evaporated. Be careful about sticking. (This should take maybe 20 minutes.)

Once the liquid has evaporated, spread the candied peels out on wax paper to dry. (Nanny used to roll them in more sugar, but I don’t think it’s necessary.)

You have candied grapefruit peel!

To make the bitter grapefruit liqueur:

This recipe depends on what kind of alcohol you have. It’s easiest if you have 190 proof grain alcohol, but you can also make it with vodka if you can’t get grain alcohol.

If you have 190 proof grain alcohol: Bring the reserved cooking water to a simmer with 1/2 cup sugar per cup of water. Let it cool and then add 1/3 cup alcohol per cup of liquid.

If you have 100 proof vodka: Bring the reserved cooking water to a boil and reduce it by about a third. Now add 2/3 cup sugar per cup of water. Stir to dissolve. Let it cool and then add 1 cup of vodka per cup of liquid.

Bitter liqueurs like this one are a great way to get your digestive system ready for a meal. Take a little bit mixed with water (or something more creative) about a half hour before you eat. A classic aperitif.

Related post: Citrus season: pickled lemons.

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Citrus season: pickled lemons.

Pickled Lemons

Rebecca asked for details on my citrus liqueur recipes because she has too many meyer lemons on her hands. What a lovely problem!

I’ve had the same “problem” on occasion myself—whenever I visit my grandmother in California, I come away with shopping bags full of meyer lemons from her prolific backyard tree.

One of my favorite ways to preserve an onslaught of lemons is by pickling. I do my pickled lemons Sephardic/Moroccan style. They turn out sharp and salty, like sour olives. You can use them almost anywhere you would use green olives, and the pickling liquid makes an interesting vinegar substitute for salad dressings.

Oh, and these pickled lemons are lacto-fermented. Which means they’re full of helpful critters for the human ecosystem. And they’re very simple to make.

Here’s what to do:

Use fresh organic / unsprayed lemons.

Cut each lemon almost into quarters: slice lengthwise from the stem end toward the blossom end, and leave the last quarter of an inch intact.

Coat the inside of each lemon with a generous amount of coarse salt.

Put the lemons in a clean glass or ceramic jar, sprinkling some extra salt over each layer of lemons.

Cover the jar. For the first few days, shake and turn the jar as often as you remember. After three or four days the lemons will have juiced out. At this point, add enough fresh lemon juice to cover the lemons. The lemons should be fully submerged in the liquid. Now cover the jar, but not too tightly—enough to keep insects out but allow a bit of air in.

Put the jar in a cool, dark place and wait a month or so.

You have pickled lemons.

Related post: Citrus season: candied grapefruit peel (and bitters too).

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Mushrooms for strength.

Shiitakes

I found these gorgeous fist-sized locally-grown shiitake mushrooms at Putney Coop.
Perfect for winter chicken soup or just sauteed with butter and garlic, shiitakes are tasty mushrooms.

Shiitakes are also a good example of how much you can learn by tasting. To me, shiitakes taste meaty and solid and strong, and that’s exactly how they work in the body: they’re nourishing and strengthening on a really basic level. Shiitakes give sturdy support to the immune system—they’re often used to help people recover from viruses and cancer. In Traditional Chinese Medicine they’re strengthening tonics for blood and qi (indications include tiredness and frequent colds).

This is my favorite way to eat shiitakes for winter strength:

Slice up shiitakes and saute them in butter until they’re golden brown. Add salt and freshly chopped garlic at the end of cooking. So good.

(The mushroom’s name is sometimes spelled “shitake”, but the “ii” is a better approximation of the original Japanese.)

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Winter flu care: pink ginger tea.

Pink Ginger Tea

My favorite herbs for flu care are diaphoretics, to stimulate sweating.*

I like diaphoretics because they support the body’s natural response rather than “fighting” the illness. (I’m not a big fan of the body-as-battleground theory of disease, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Some of my favorite diaphoretic herbs: lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), bee balm (Monarda didyma or M. fistulosa), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), elder flowers & berries (Sambucus nigra) and ginger (Zingiber officinale).

Elderberry and ginger make a delicious tea that you might want to drink all winter, whether you’re sick or not!

To make pink ginger tea:

Slice up 2-3 inches of fresh ginger.

Put the ginger in a pot and cover it with about a quart of water.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of elderberry (frozen, canned, juice, syrup or dried).

Simmer the mixture until it tastes strongly of ginger—usually at least 15 minutes. (The tea turns a muddy purple-brown as it simmers. Don’t worry, we’ll fix it.)

When it’s ready, remove the tea from the heat, let it sit a minute to cool, and add good quality raw honey** to taste. (Don’t boil raw honey. You’ll kill the enzymes.)

Now for the magic. Squeeze the juice from one small or half a large lemon. Add it to the tea. Watch the color change from muddy to clear pink!

Drink hot, preferably while wrapped in a blanket.

*The simple definition of diaphoretic: an agent that stimulates sweating. But as Samuel Potter points out in his 1902 Materia Medica, diaphoretic is derived from the Greek meaning “I carry through.” Diaphoretic herbs help carry heat and energy through the body, promoting excretion through the skin.

**You have to be careful with honey. Most US beekeepers use toxic miticides to keep their bees alive. Talk to your beekeeper, buy organic honey (expensive, if you can get it), or use a reliable supplier like Honey Gardens in Vermont.

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Homemade liqueurs.

Finished liqueurs.

Liqueur is very easy to make. For Christmas this year, I made five different flavors from citrus peel, herbs and spices. From left to right: Tangerine Spice (with nutmeg and cloves), Chocolate Orange, Orange Saffron, Mint Lime, and Meyer Lemon Cardamom.

This is how I made them:

First I grated each kind of citrus peel into its own mason jar and covered it with grain alcohol. I covered each jar and let them sit for a few days, until the color of the citrus peels had completely leached into the alcohol.

Then I strained the liquids, put them back in the mason jars and added the next ingredients (spices, cocoa, saffron, mint and cardamom, respectively). I let them sit for a few more days, and then added about 3 parts light simple syrup to the 1 part alcohol mixture in each jar.

Then I waited a few more days, strained the liqueurs, tasted them, adjusted for strength (I had to add more syrup to some that were too strong) and bottled them.

Really, it’s mostly a question of waiting. And they are worth the wait. The Meyer Lemon Cardamom is my favorite—I like to mix it with sparkling water and maybe a little vodka. The Mint Lime and Orange Saffron are great that way too. The Chocolate Orange is good with milk, and I’m going to try making hot bourbon toddies with the Tangerine Spice.

(That’s my stone grinder in the background of the photo. It’s one of my favorite kitchen things ever. I promise to blog about it soon.)

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Wood stove cooking: garlic eggs.

Eggs on the wood stove.

I like cooking on the woodstove—it agrees with my sense of frugality and my natural laziness.

We finally had a quiet morning after weeks of holiday visiting, it’s snowing out and the stove is going . . . just the right time for garlic poached eggs.

You don’t have to have a woodstove—you can do them in the oven. Here’s the basic idea:

Put a drizzle of olive oil in one heat-safe cup for each egg you want to cook. Chop some garlic (or onion, or whatever) and divide it between the cups. Crack an egg into each cup, and drizzle some more olive oil on the top. Salt and pepper too.

Now get a pan just large enough to fit the cups, put a dish towel in the bottom of it, arrange the cups on the towel, pour boiling water into the pan until it reaches at least halfway up the cups (careful not to get water in the eggs) and set the whole thing on the woodstove or put it in a 350 degree oven. Check it every once in a while—it’s done when a white skin forms over the yolk. It usually takes about 20–25 minutes on my stove, so it’s something for a slow morning.

And the eggs are so good. With real bread, or with a spoon.

(That’s some beef broth cooking in the pot next to the eggs—been on the stove two days now. Likely soup tonight. To make beef broth, follow the directions for chicken broth, but brown the bones for 40 minutes or so in a medium-hot oven first, and simmer it longer than chicken broth—at least a day.)

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Grandma was right.

Our great-grandmothers were right about a lot of things, but on this cold rainy day I want to talk about the most basic of grandmotherly remedies—chicken soup.

Broth is fabulous food and amazing medicine. Real broth, that is. Real broth is made from bones. Real broth is simmered for hours or even days. Real broth is so full of gelatin that it congeals as it cools. Minerals. Protein. Incredible flavor. And that’s before you add any vegetables or herbs. (For more about the wonders of broth, check out Sally Fallon’s “Broth is Beautiful.”)

We’ve been slowly getting a cold in my house this week, so we made chicken soup. Well, my boyfriend made chicken soup. And it may have been the best chicken soup I’ve ever had. Here’s how he did it:

Six chicken backs, submerged in a decent size stockpot with a [small] handful of coarse gray sea salt. We put it on the woodstove to simmer (this is Vermont and it’s October), but it doesn’t matter what kind of stove you use—just bring it to a simmer and turn it down. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface. Then leave it. Alone. Wander by every half hour or so to see if it needs more skimming. But other than that, don’t bother it. When the meat starts to fall off the bones, take them out, pick the meat off, set it aside, and return the bones to the pot to simmer. Leave it simmering for as many hours as you can stand it. Keep your eye on the water level and make sure the bones are always submerged, but that’s all the attention it needs. See if you can let it simmer all day long. You’ll thank yourself later.

When you’re getting close to suppertime, strain the broth. Rinse the pot and put the broth back in it. Taste it. Marvel at it. Then think about what you want to add. We usually do barley, some vegetables, and some herbs. You don’t have to be complicated. Our last soup had barley, peppers, onions, and a lot of fresh basil and garlic added at the end. Just that. And like I said it was incredible.

You really can add just about anything in your kitchen: carrots, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, kale, collards, chard, peppers, tomatoes, sauteed onions, sauteed mushrooms, garlic, potatoes, rice, barley, basil, thyme, oregano, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger…. But I don’t suggest using all of them together!

You can choose your vegetables and flavorings based on the medicinal herbs you want to use. This time of year, you might choose warming herbs like ginger and cinnamon and black pepper. Onions and carrots might go well with them. Holy basil and cinnamon also make a nice combination. I like garlic, and I like it strong, so I usually wait to add it until the soup is almost finished cooking. (This also preserves some of the medicinal properties of the garlic.)

So choose your ingredients. Add them to your broth and bring it back to a simmer. Taste for salt. Keep it simmering until all the ingredients are done. (Barley and brown rice take about 45 minutes, but if you use white rice or stick to vegetables it’ll be done sooner.) Taste again, season it and add any last minute ingredients. Eat. Six chicken backs make a lot of soup, but it’ll disappear fast. And it’s really best the next day.

[To make broth from the bones of your roast chicken, just put them in a pot, cover them with water, bring it very slowly to a simmer, turn the heat down and let it brew. A few hours is probably enough for chicken bones, but overnight is always better if you have the patience.]

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