Monday, February 28, 2011

turnip puff to the rescue!

Have you ever noticed how ugly most winter vegetables are?

My theory is that they need to be ugly so we won't be tempted to eat them in the fall. Because if we did, we’d have nothing to eat in the winter.

I have never been inspired by a turnip. It is hardly attractive, not to mention its odd pale-orange and purple colour.


My friend Lisa – who has excellent taste in both food and clothing – raved about her family’s recipe for turnip puff. She told me how a holiday dinner at her house isn't complete without turnip puff. This woman is devoted to turnip puff.

So when she brought me the recipe, I knew I should treasure it. I carefully put it in the vegetable section of my recipe binder . . . but two years passed before I could find myself inspired to make it.

Now, I understand the devotion.

This recipe is hard to describe, but let’s just say it’s the most delicious turnip incarnation I could ever imagine. It almost feels like a soufflé on the tongue and it’s savoury in just the right way, with that hint of nutmeg and brown sugar rounding it out. (Does anyone have The Flavor Bible? Tell me that turnip and nutmeg aren't superstar companions.)

Let me take you on a journey from ugly vegetable to divine turnip puff.

When I went to buy my turnip, the produce man told me that what we call turnip in Canada is actually a cross between a turnip and a cabbage. It's also called rutabaga. That explains its distinctive odour.

We decided together that my turnip puff recipe probably really wanted this crossed turnip, so I hefted it into my cart. Then I also bought a pure turnip to cook up later on.

See them here – the pure turnip flaunting its purple and cute status on top of the crossed-turnip cubes and crossed-turnip bottom. (I liked looking at that bottom and imagining its cabbage ancestry.)

Once you have these nice cubes, throw them in a pot of boiling water.

And boil them.

And boil them.

And boil them some more.

 (Turnips, I now understand, take a lot longer than potatoes to get soft.)

Eventually, they get soft and their colour becomes a pretty golden-orange. After straining them, pull out the potato masher. I get pretty excited at this part, because I always like mashing unsuspecting vegetables and watching them become a whole new kind of food.

Stir in flour and almost everything else, and your turnip puff is almost ready to bake. Just need to scatter some bread crumbs and drizzle some melted butter . . .

Turnip puff in the oven!

Now, the agony: will my turnip puff puff? Will it stay a soggy lump of mashed-up turnip? Is that a bit of – dare I say it – puff?

This is not a dramatic turnip soufflé, all billowing and full of air. It is a puff. Puffs are gentler. Keep this straight in your head, so you can keep your expectations in check.

After about 45 minutes, it should be puffy and golden-brown. Pull it out and admire what you have made. If anyone else is around, call them over to admire it, too. Look what you’ve done with a turnip!

Eat right away. Even if it’s not Thanksgiving. Or Christmas. And it’s all alone on a plate. Just eat it and be happy. Because turnip is a very inspiring vegetable indeed.

A note for the gluten-free among us: If you’d like to make this gluten-free, use the sweet rice flour and use gluten-free breadcrumbs. I made mine this way and it was scrumptious.

turnip puff

feeds 6 – 8 as a side dish

6 c. turnip, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp. + 2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. wheat flour or 2 tbsp. sweet rice flour
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground pepper
nutmeg (a good grating)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. fine bread crumbs

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Salt it lightly, if you wish. Throw in the turnip. (Stand back, so the hot water doesn’t hit you!)

Boil for a long time until the cubes are soft. This took me about 30 minutes. In the meantime, mix the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, pepper and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Set aside. Butter a casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the turnip is tender, strain it in a colander. Rinse the empty pot with cold water to speed up the cooling process. Also rinse the turnip in the colander with cold water.

Tumble the turnip back into the almost-dry pot. Add 2 tbsp. butter. Mash with a potato masher. (This is easier than you think.) It should not be steaming hot at this point – only luke-warm or cool. As long as it’s not steaming hot, stir in the flour mixture in stages, sprinkling a bit at a time. Stir in the beaten eggs. Scoop it out into the prepared casserole dish.

Scatter bread crumbs over top. Melt 2 tbsp. of butter and drizzle over. Put in the oven and wait for it to slowly puff up and for its topping to become golden. This should take 40 – 50 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

a strange time to celebrate

One year ago, on February 9th, I started telling people about this fledgling blog.

This year, on February 9th, a truck ran into our car and almost sheared off the trunk.

We are thankful we’re still alive and not in the hospital.

But otherwise, as we struggle through the fog of headaches and stiff necks and sore backs, we are exhausted just trying to get through the day.

By the time evening finally comes, making dinner – and doing the dishes – seems like a gargantuan task. Instead, we’re making the rounds of our favourite less expensive restaurants: Thai, Turkish, Mexican. We sit drained, trying not to grimace, hardly noticing the food.

Needless to say, I have not felt like celebrating. 

But before the accident, I knew dollop of cream’s one-year birthday was coming up, and I bought all the ingredients to make my favourite party food. I have looked at those ingredients every day since the accident, those slices of bacon and dates and olives and almonds, sitting so innocently and full of hope.

Even in the midst of everything else that seems to be taking over my life, I am still delighted I have this little blog to work on. So, this morning, I gathered up my energy and set to work.

And, as we sat down with these hot little salty-buttery bundles, we forgot about our backs and necks for a few minutes. We just ate this happy treat to celebrate dollop of cream and all the joy it has brought me.

I first made these little bundles for Scott’s 33rd birthday. We were secretly engaged and I could hardly stop grinning the whole party. I rolled up the bacon around the dates around the olives around the almonds, baked them and watched them disappear as soon as I set them on a plate. 

They are incredibly simple and wonderfully decadent. They also meet all the requirements of party food – salty, sweet, chewy, crunchy and smooth – all in one little bundle of goodness.

last february: muesli

Because this is a party food, it’s really more of a narrative than a recipe with official instructions. (Even the title isn’t exactly short and snappy.) Here we go . . .

bacon-wrapped dates with olives and almonds

roasted almonds

Take an almond and push it into an olive. (This part works much better if the olive has been pitted.) Take your almond-stuffed olive and put it into a date. Roll a piece of bacon around your almond-stuffed-olive-stuffed date. Do not try to skimp on the bacon so that you’re stretching and stretching the bacon to meet, but the bacon just starts falling apart, and eventually you go back to your original bacon and use the longer pieces anyway. (This might have happened at our house.)

Take a toothpick and carefully poke it through the bacon seam, the date and the olive, and all they way out the other side. Sometimes, you might need two toothpicks, if you’re not an expert. (This might have happened at our house.)

Put the bundles on a cookie sheet. Bake them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of your bacon. (I used thick bacon.) Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and put the bundles on a plate lined with paper towel for a minute or two. Or, if you’ve run out of paper towel, use a fancy chicken napkin. (This might have happened at our house.)

Eat one before they all disappear. Prepare to accept compliments from your happy guests. Make more.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

whisky marmalade

Winter is a hard time of year for a canning addict.

Because I'm not craving pickled squash, it seems like there’s nothing local to preserve.

In desperation, I must look south.

Luckily, California is just one international border and three states down the coast. (Let's call it “local-ish.”) And it’s citrus season!

When I saw Seville oranges all bright and orange in the grocery store, I knew they longed to be canned and that only I could help.

This was my first time making marmalade and it’s a very satisfying process. Kind of like taking all that California sunshine and distilling it in a pretty jar.

I started with a recipe from the always reliable Canadian Living. I couldn’t resist adding a tumbler of Laphroiag whisky. The deep bitterness of whisky seems to be a natural companion for these sharp oranges. Not to mention, it’s more fun to eat whisky marmalade than to eat regular marmalade.

It seems very civilized to slather my toast with butter and spread on a good dollop of whisky marmalade at breakfast.

May the canning continue, unhindered by season.
whisky marmalade

adapted from Canadian Living

2 lbs (907 g.) Seville oranges
1 lemon
6 1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. whisky

Wash the fruit and cut off stems, blossoms and blemishes. Cut all the oranges in half. Squeeze out the juice, saving the rind, pith and seeds. Use a sturdy spoon to scoop out any white pith that's left next to the rind. Put the pith and seeds into a square of double-layered cheesecloth and tie tightly with string. Let's call this the pith bundle. Set aside.

Cut each half-orange rind in half again. Slice paper thin.

Pour the juice into a large heavy-duty pot, such as a Dutch oven. Put in the pith bundle and sliced rind. Add 8 cups water. Heat to a good simmer, stirring often and using the spoon to squeeze juice out of the pith bundle. Simmer, uncovered, for about 1 hour, until you can mush up the rind pieces between your fingers. (The original recipe called for 2 1/2 hours, but I found it was concentrated and soft after 1 hour.)

Turn off the heat and carefully pull the pith bundle out. Once it's cooled, squeeze as much goopy liquid through the cheesecloth as you can back into the pot with the juice and rind. Discard the pith bundle.

Measure how much liquid you have in the pot. Add water or boil it down to make 6 1/2 cups. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add whisky. Stirring often, bring to a rolling boil over medium heat. Keep stirring every minute or two and boil for 12 to 15 minutes, until it reaches the gel stage.

Fill and seal jars. Can in hot water bath for 10 minutes.