Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Purple Basil and Blackberry Ice Cream

Last year, I found a recipe for Thai basil ice cream somewhere on the Conscious Kitchen blog (which has since closed down)--we were getting a lot of Thai basil in our CSA basket, and I could never use enough of it, until I found the ice cream recipe. I made Thai basil ice cream a good few times last summer; I liked its subtle floral and spicy flavor, and it was incredibly refreshing during the hot Tennessee summer. Because I was foolish enough not to copy the recipe, I've had to try to re-create it on my own; I'm happy to say that this latest ice cream attempt has been a great success--the addition of the blackberries gives the ice cream a little textural interest and complements the basil quite well. Without any more ado:

-2/3 cup blackberries
-2 tablespoons orange liqueur
-1 tablespoon sugar

-1 1/2 cups coconut creamer (or soy/almond creamer)
-1 1/2 cups soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
-2/3 cup basil, packed (purple is best; I used a mix of purple and Genovese)
-2/3 cup sugar
-2 tablespoons tapioca flour
-pinch of salt

1. Combine blackberries, orange liqueur, and the tablespoon of sugar in a bowl and set aside to macerate.
2. Combine the creamer and soy milk in a medium saucepan, and bring to just near a boil over medium heat; once the mixture is hot and lightly steaming, take off heat and stir in the basil. Allow the mixture to infuse for at least an hour; if you would like a more intense flavor, let it sit overnight (refrigerated). (If you choose to infuse for longer than a few hours, also refrigerate the blackberry mixture.)
3. Once the ice cream base is infused to your liking, strain out the basil, squeezing the leaves to extract flavor.
4. Combine the ice cream base, sugar, and salt in the medium saucepan, and bring to a near-boil over medium-high heat, whisking regularly. When the mixture is hot, sprinkle in the tapioca flour, whisking steadily; continue to whisk for 5-7 minutes, or until the mix thickens noticeably.
5. Pour the ice cream base into a wide bowl and allow to come to room temperature before refrigerating. When the base has cooled sufficiently, mash the blackberries with a fork until no whole berries remain. Fold the blackberries into the ice cream base.
6. Follow the ice cream maker's instructions, and wait patiently while the ice cream freezes.
The ice cream in my pictures looks a little icy because our ice cream maker decided to die on us right in the middle of making this; nonetheless, the ice cream is wonderful. If you doubt the combination of basil and blackberries, I wish that I could let you taste some of this (I happen to be eating some right now), as the flavor would make you rescind any doubt. The basil makes the wild blackberry flavor more intense, and itself tastes almost a little like mint. If you had to guess the flavor of the ice cream, I bet it would take you a few tries to get to basil. I love this ice cream because it is both a little unusual, but yet somehow familiar; and I also like to be reminded that basil is more than just a savory herb--that it shines, but differently, when combined with sweetness.

I'm so glad that blackberries are starting to come in again, and I'm particularly lucky to have a large bramble within walking distance. Most of the berries are out of reach (and shielded by thorns), but last year, I picked at least a couple of quarts (and used some in a cake!). I think this year I'll freeze them as I pick them and try to make a jam with whatever is left over after making the ice cream.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Spring Tonic: Ode to Greens and Root Vegetables

There were three things that I was eager to do immediately upon our return to town: pick up Lucy from the kennel, go to the farmer's market to get our CSA basket, and visit our community garden plot. Although Louisville has great vegan food, I missed the fresh vegetables from the market and our garden. There's nothing quite like planning meals around what's in season--it's this very thing that's made us so attached to the CSA (we're in our third year with A Place of the Heart Farm). When I visited our community garden plot, there were over half a dozen cosmic purple carrots ready to pick; I was surprised by how big they were--some as long as eight inches. It was my first time to try to grow carrots, and I only put in a couple short rows of them, but I have really been enjoying the results: the carrots are spicier and tastier than even the organic ones from the store. And they're just so beautiful, not only on the outside, too--I always look forward to seeing the contrasts of orange flesh, greenish-yellow core, and the purple skin when I slice them.

The soup I'm about to introduce isn't just about the carrots, although they are an integral part of it; the soup is more of a convergence of a few different greens and vegetables that have flourished in our garden. In fact, the only ingredients that are not local are the onion, olive oil, and the salt/pepper--everything else came either from our CSA (garlic, parsley, mustard greens) or was grown by us (beet, turnip, carrot, arugula, sorrel, thyme). It is a wonderfully quick soup that has a good depth of flavor without relying on stock; it also allowed me to use up a good amount of the greens that have proliferated in the week of our absence.

I've had Deborah Madison's Vegetable Soups for at least four years, and have only used recipes from it a couple times because when I first bought the book, I had a very primitive understanding of soup, and a good few of her recipes call for stock, or patience, or both. Lately, though--and especially with this soup adaptation, my interest has been piqued--it's such a simple soup, and yet so good that I can only imagine how wonderful some of the more complex recipes will be. Also, now that we have a garden, some of these more elusive ingredients are readily available.
I picked the soup recipe specifically for the greens that have been missing from my diet in the last week and a half--it's called "A Spring Tonic," and although we're almost out of spring and into summer, it was definitely nourishing and restorative. The original recipe calls for nettles and watercress, but I didn't have any on hand; it also calls for two small potatoes--but alas, we finished off the rest of our potatoes before leaving town, so I substituted a good-sized turnip. I think that the soup I made yesterday was every bit as good as the original recipe, as I stayed true to the concept: lots of greens with some starch for consistency.

-2 T olive oil
-1 medium turnip, cubed
-1 medium onion, diced
-2 carrots, diced
-5 garlic cloves, chopped
-sprig of fresh thyme
-handful of parsley
-2 cups sorrel, chopped
-1 cup arugula, chopped
-2 cups beet greens, chopped
-1 cup mustard greens, chopped
(feel free to include radish tops, carrot tops, or other odd greens
-sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Warm olive oil in a wide soup pot. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion starts becoming translucent; add turnip, carrots, parsley, and thyme. Give a good stir and cook over medium heat for several minutes, and then add the greens. Season with 1 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat until the greens have collapsed, about 5 minutes, turning them every so often.

2. Once the greens have wilted, add 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until the root vegetables are soft, 20 minutes or so. Puree the soup and adjust the spices; serve with a swirl of olive oil or chive blossoms.

As you can see, I chose to not puree the soup (at first), and just had it as is; the soup is just as Madison describes, "the sum of the flavor [of the ingredients] is always larger than the parts." I pureed the leftovers, and am looking forward to eating it again. I can see continuing to make this as "A Summer Tonic" on those days when I need rejuvenation or an extra dose of iron. I'm so glad that I've returned to this book of soups, and I'm sure I'll be using it soon to make cool soups for the hot heart of summer.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Back again, before departure.

View from our hotel room.
As I mentioned a few days ago, we have been in Louisville, Kentucky for the last week; we are now back home for a few days before we travel north again--for Matt's sister's wedding. I like Louisville a whole lot: I visited it first when I accompanied Matt to the AP reading three years ago (I was not actually working, but he was), and we seem to be coming back to it with some regularity--at least twice a year. It's a nice city, and conveniently half-way between Knoxville and north-east Ohio, where Matt's parents live. The food is good in Louisville, and the bourbon plentiful.

I have spent the last week in a ware-house-like room with a few hundred people, reading hundreds of student essays and sitting in an uncomfortable chair. The work wasn't too bad, but I hope that I can get a good deal of time outside in the next few days before we travel again. July should be more exciting, too, as the canning workshops resume, and the tomatoes start coming in. This month is full of transience and home-sickness--but the end is in sight.
View from my seat at the AP reading.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

So marvelous and dangerous...

Today, I feel untethered; imminence is everywhere. Here is a poem by Lisel Mueller from her collection Alive Together.

Sometimes, When the Light

Sometimes, when the light strikes at odd angles
and pulls you back into childhood

and you are passing a crumbling mansion
completely hidden behind old willows

or an empty convent guarded by hemlocks
and giant firs standing hip to hip,

you know again that behind that wall,
under the uncut hair of the willows

something secret is going on,
so marvelous and dangerous

that if you crawled through and saw,
you would die, or be happy forever.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pickled Radishes

Pickled watermelon radish.
Last year, the nice folks over at Beardsley gave me a couple giant black radishes because they thought I'd like to experiment with them (and probably because they had no idea what to do with it themselves). They were beautiful and unusual, and after a little poking around, I found out that it was a Black Spanish Radish. To be honest, I didn't really know what to do with it, either--and the radishes were big, bigger than even a good-sized turnip; so I pickled them, just as an experiment. When we opened a jar of the pickled radishes a few months later, we could hardly tear ourselves away from it: the radishes were softer, but still crunchy; briny and spicy; savory in a way that is hard to describe, too. This past weekend, we had some friends over to the house, and we finished off a 24 ounce jar of those same radishes--all in one evening.

After eating that first jar of pickled radishes, I decided that I would not only try to grow the Black Spanish Radish (I'll be trying my hand at this in the fall--ordering seeds from the Sand Hill Preservation Center), but that I would also try pickling other radishes.

When I saw the watermelon radishes at market a few weeks ago, I knew that they would make a beautiful pickle. I got a couple bunches, one of which included a radish that was the size of both of my fists put together (and trust me, I do not have small hands). I tasted them as I was preparing to can, and they were quite spicy and crunchy--perfect for pickling. Once I peeled and cut up the radishes, I stuffed them into three pint jars with garlic, ginger, whole coriander seeds, yellow mustard seeds, and black peppercorns. I used a brine solution that had slightly more vinegar than water (as radishes are in no way acidic), and about a teaspoon and a half of salt per pint. Once I processed the jars in a boiling water bath, the radishes gave off some of their brilliant pink color and tinted the brine--although not so much that I can't discern a little of the white and green on the outside of the slices. They're easily some of the most beautiful pickles I've ever made, and I think they'll be every bit as good as the Black Spanish Radish pickles I made last fall.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Crooked Little Garden in a Rented Space

Matt and I started renting our present home shortly before we got married two years ago. We didn't know then--and still don't know now--how long we'll be living in Knoxville, and so renting makes a certain kind of sense for us. However, any time that we're walking around the neighborhood, we look at people's houses and talk about what our house will be like when we move; I would like as little lawn as possible, and a sizable garden with a few beds of established perennials--rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries... Until then, we've decided to make the best of things at this present place, and got permission from our landlord to put in a small garden.
Cinder-block cilantro

I actually started planting things in our back yard before I even got permission. I thought that if I put in just a few plants here and there, the landlord wouldn't mind. Last spring, I put a couple salvaged drawers into the ground, along with some cinder blocks, and grew a couple pepper plants, basil, oregano, and one sad Mortgage Lifter tomato. It was an experimental kind of garden--I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn't want to dig up too much of our yard (or ask the landlord for permission), but I wanted to grow something. Somehow, as the summer progressed into fall, the
number of drawers filled with dirt kept multiplying. My parents brought me a horseradish root, and I had to put it somewhere; then, I started volunteering at Beardsley, and decided that I wanted to plant collards--and they, too, had to be planted somewhere. Before knew it, I was preparing beds for next year's squash and tomatoes. Then, a friend gave us some seed garlic, and we built a small raised bed to plant it in; then, another small raised bed for the Egyptian walking onions. At the end of this past winter, I put in a small bed for peppers and a larger bed for kale and root vegetables (for which the neighbors donated unused masonry stones).
Just a couple months ago, I put in a small bed for beans after John Coykendall got me so excited about planting them. I'm also growing potatoes in a couple buckets, just to see if I can. We bought a small blueberry bush, and I'm growing cucumbers, dill, and loofahs along the fence. The patch of dirt in our front yard that had previously been overtaken by ivy now has sorrel, chamomile, cilantro, mint, and dill.
Clockwise from bottom left: horseradish, squash and onions, garlic, potato bucket, mystery tomato, oregano.
As I list everything, I realize just how much I've expanded our garden since last year--all in little increments. It's all a little crooked: the beds are not even, the stones (and even cinder blocks) are not level, and most of the drawers are starting to warp after a year of holding soil and water. I've had to put chicken wire on top of the bigger beds because the neighborhood cats like to use the loose soil as a litter box--thus, the beds look even more strange. But I love it nonetheless. It has taught me a few important lessons--that a garden does not have to be aesthetically pleasing to produce food; that even clay soil is fertile; that compost is indispensable; that I can make a garden with mostly found materials; and that it takes about a year to put in beds, amend the soil, and start an active compost pile. This all gives me hope that wherever we go next, whenever that happens, I will be able to grow something.