Dried Apricots in Cardamom Syrup

Dried Apricots in Cardamom Syrup

It was Dano’s birthday last night, and for the past few years we’ve celebrated with a home-cooked meal and a really fantastic yeasted sugar cake, usually served alongside some fruit compote. Last year, it was boozy prunes — dried plums cured in Armagnac, if you’re fancy — but we didn’t have any around this time, so I made something different, from an old recipe over at the terrific Splendid Table blog.

Serve the compote alongside your favorite simple cake recipe — polenta pound cake, angelfood, good ol’ yellow cake — or over ice cream. I will say, too, that just a little bit of the simple syrup produced in this recipe is really good in a gin and tonic.

Dried Apricots in Cardamom Syrup Recipe

From The Splendid Table, recipe by Sally Schneider

  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar, or more to taste
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
  • 15 green cardamom pods
  • 1 1/2 pound dried apricots
  1. In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the water, sugar, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, half the cardamom pods and the vanilla bean, seeds scraped out and added with the bean. Crack open the remaining cardamom pods — whack them with the side of a knife, like you would to smash garlic — and add the black seeds to the pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then simmer 5 minutes.
  2. Reduce the heat, add the apricots and the cook at a bare simmer for five minutes. Remove from the heat and let the apricots sit, uncovered, to continue plumping for 4 or 5 hours, or until you’re ready to eat them. Taste the syrup and add additional lemon juice if necessary. Store the apricots in clean, dry jars in the fridge. The syrup will thicken over time — just add a little water if it’s too thick.

Bon Voyage

In just a few days I’ll be stepping into a large airplane headed to Bangkok. That’s right, I’m taking a rather grand vacation to southeast Asia — Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. A very good friend of mine lives over there, and it just seemed like now or never. Ever get that feeling? So I bought a plane ticket and a bunch of guide books, and, well, there we are. I’m going on vacation. For six weeks. In southeast Asia.

Along the way I’ll be taking cooking classes, and although I don’t think I’ll do much blogging from the road — I’m not taking a computer, just a camera and phone — I may want to share some recipes when I’m back. That is, if I ever come back.

See you on the flip side!

Holiday Farmers’ Markets

Tis the season for Holiday Farmers Markets, folks.

gourds

This weekend, Berkshire Grown does their thing in Williamstown and Great Barrington on Saturday from 10-2. Full details at Berkshire Grown’s website, including a cute little video made by some Williams students. Bennington, VT is also getting into the spirit on Saturday with a holiday market at St. Peter’s Church in Bennington.

These markets are always great fun, and it’s encouraging and surprising to see just how much food there is available so deep in winter. Go, and get yourself something delicious for Christmas dinner — or whatever else you like to celebrate at this time of year. (Celebrating the return of longer days post-solstice is enough for me!)

Warm Quinoa Salad with Persian Lime

the lonely pacific

The sound of grasses whispering in the wind, tides crashing up against rocks; the tastes of dungeness crab, wild mushrooms, crisp beers kissed with hops; the sight of the Pacific fading from ice-blue to pink at the horizon, someone’s footsteps stamped in a staccato march across the charcoal gray sand.

The first week back at work after a long vacation is brutal. It doesn’t matter where you went, or how long you stayed — it’s difficult to make that transition a smooth one. Dano and I spent the past two weeks working our way from San Francisco, to Mendocino, to Ashland and Portland, Oregon, visiting friends and family, awestruck, delighted — and savoring some really amazing meals together. Re-entry has been hard, and the red eye flight home — and the subsequent three-hour drive to our house — didn’t really help matters. I find myself awake for hours, moodily, at three in the morning, plowing through the remnants of novels once abandoned, then sleeping late, my internal clock a bit hazy.

Mendocino grasses

carved redwoods

We promised ourselves we’d eat well upon our return — such was our gluttony while away. (Have you guys ever been to Portland, Oregon? This was my fourth visit, but holy hell, the food scene there is insane.) And mostly we’ve stuck to it, making hearty but interesting and nutritious meals bolstered mainly by Dano having obtained, before we left, the really fantastic Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi. Plenty is a delight to cook from — all vegetarian recipes with unique and unexpected flavors using simple and surprising ingredients. Last night, we cooked a dish using Persian lime — something we happened to have, but had never used before.

Persian limes are rock-hard, brown dried little orbs. They give off a great citrusy, sweet, and sort of barnyard scent that you sometimes find in wine — and which I happen to like a lot. Wondering, as we were, what the heck to do with them, we were overjoyed to see this simple and fun little recipe. Ottolenghi recommends tossing them whole into stews, where they’ll perfume the whole pot, but for this recipe you grind them up in a spice grinder. (We use an old coffee grinder.) One Persian lime makes about two tablespoons ground, which is exactly what you need for this recipe. As far as we can tell, they last forever. No Persian lime? You can order it ground from Kalyustan’s, or search for it at a local middle eastern market.

The flavors are bold, layering bright, sharp herbs like mint and oregano with the subtle warmth of sage, and the zesty funk of Persian lime. It makes a great light dinner, or you could serve it as a side dish in a larger meal.

quinoa salad with Persian lime

Warm Quinoa Salad with Persian Lime Recipe

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

I like to “shred” the herbs by stacking them one atop the other, then thinly slicing through the stack. If your mint or sage is large, you could also roll up the stack and slice through the roll, chiffonade-style.

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 7 tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 c. basmati rice
  • 1 c. quinoa
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp. shredded sage leaves
  • 3 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 tbsp. ground Persian lime
  • 6 tbsp. shredded fresh mint
  • 4 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 6 oz. feta, broken into small chunks
  1. Preheat the oven to 400. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut roughly into 1/2-inch dice. Spread on a cookie sheet or roasting pan, drizzle with half the oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the rice. (Most basmati does fine in a 1-to-2 ratio, rice to water, for about 30 minutes. Indian cookbooks always say to rinse basmati “till the water runs clear,” but I almost never do.) Bring another small pot of water to boil and add the quinoa, cooking for about 10 minutes. Drain the quinoa into a fine sieve and leave to dry. Put the cooked, but still warm, rice and quinoa in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a small frying pan, then fry the garlic for 30 seconds, or until it turns light golden. Add the sage and oregano, and fry, stirring, for about a minute — make sure nothing burns.
  4. Add the contents of the pan to the rice and quinoa, then stir in the roasted sweet potato and its oil. Add the dried lime, mint, spring onion, lemon juice, feta and salt and pepper, toss together gently. The sweet potato might want to get mushy, so take care. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve warm, or at room temperature, garnished with more scallion, and a light dusting of fleur de sel, if you have it.

Keep Farming Kickoff Event

  • It tastes better.
  • It enhances our landscape.
  • It creates jobs.
  • It protects natural habitats.

Keep Farming is a grassroots, community-first workflow of sorts that aims to eliminate impediments to farming in rural communities like the Northern Berkshires. Join us for a Keep Farming Kickoff event on Monday, October 24 @ 7 PM at the First Baptist Church on Main St. in North Adams. If you’re interested in local food, land preservation, healthy air and water, economic growth, or beautiful vistas in North Berkshire County, you will have something in common with the other farmers, residents, local officials, and local business people who will be present at the event.

Please join us.

(And if you want a PDF of the posters to print and distribute, let me know.)