Feijoa – fabulous, exotic … and it might be in your backyard

A few weeks ago, I had never even heard of a feijoa, but lately I have seen them all over the place. A few people I know have the trees in their yards, and they have been showing up in farmer’s markets all over town.

The fabulous feijoa (pronouced “fee-joe-ah”) is also called a pineapple guava, which best sums up its flavor. It tastes like a pineapple, only milder, and it has the grainy texture of a pear. You don’t eat the skin, but it can be easily scooped out when you slice it in half and spoon it like so:

It’s delicious to just take a bite as it is, but it also makes a lovely jam. For every 2 lbs of fruit (before scooping), add two lemons and four cups of white sugar.  You can adjust this recipe depending on how much fruit you have; the fruits vary quite a bit in size. No pectin is needed and it turns a lovely golden brown and gels within 20 minutes at high heat.

After it gels, ladle it into sterilized jars and process for 10 minutes. It tastes sweet and tangy but not overly sugary. Delicious!

Try planking … all the kids are doing it

Planking? Not the weird fad that consists of kids lying face-down in a public place or other location, I mean cedar planking. As in cooking on a cedar plank, indoors or out. It’s a classy and modern yet ancient and earthy way to make tasty food taste even better.

Oooh, it smells like fall around here. The weather took a sharp turn towards the weird in good old San Diego after Labor Day weekend, and the smell of the slightly rainy and humid feel makes me think of forests in the Pacific Northwest that are brimming with fragrant woods. Indigenous people have been cooking their meals on woods like cedar for generations. I received an awesome gift of some fresh Alaskan salmon, so I figured this was the perfect time to try some planking on my M7P outdoor cooking system.

I did a little research beforehand, looking at the tips from the manufacturer (I used “TrueFire” planks but there are a few different places to get cedar specifically prepared for grilling and cooking) and asking some fellow foodies in the know. The main recommendations I got were to soak, soak, soak the planks. The ones I bought suggested 20 minutes to 4 hours of soaking, but pretty much everyone else I talked to suggested more like 6 hours and even overnight. Since this blog is about my experiments, I determined that I would … well, experiment … and discover which recipes and methods work best.

Experiment No. 1:

Herbed Alaskan Salmon with fresh vegetables

I made this recipe on a cedar plank that had been soaking in water for about 4-5 hours, and I cooked it over charcoal. Obviously you can adapt this recipe and soak the plank in other liquid, like fruit juice or wine (but stay clear of spirits because they will make your plank of cedar into a plank of fire).

  • 2 fillets Alaskan salmon
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh herbs (I used rosemary and thyme)

Carefully place the salmon on the planks (you may need one plank per fillet if the planks are small or the fish is big) and season the salmon with the salt, pepper, and herbs, and sprinkle fresh juice from the lemon on top. Add fresh vegetables (I used asparagus, but stick to something like broccoli that would steam quickly and easily) and cover with foil. Carefully place the plank on a preheated grill and cook for about 25-30 minutes.

The vegetables covering the salmon also help to keep the heat inside.

What I Learned from Experiment No. 1:

  • Cedar is weak. Within 10 minutes at not-very-high heat, the plank has started to buckle in on itself and the juices are starting to run off. The solution: put the plank on a broiler pan or some other equally sturdy and hole-y flat surface.
  • Temperature control is key. Keep the fire at about 200 degrees and keep the lid on as much as possible while cooking. The wet cedar is also steaming the salmon and vegetables, and it helps to keep the salmon protected by a pile of asparagus or other veggie. It’s also recommended that you keep a squirt bottle handy in case of a flare-up. 
    A broiler pan is perfect to keep the cedar plank from buckling.

Experiment No. 2:

Baked Alaskan Salmon with Grapefruit/ Vanilla Quick Marmalade

I got some lovely fresh vanilla beans and thought the additional sweetness and citrus flavor would be great on the salmon. This version is also baked in the oven on top of a plank soaked in orange juice, but it can be cooked on a grill also if you like.

  • 1 whole grapefruit (if not organic, scrub the outside very well)
  • 1/2 fresh vanilla bean, scraped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 fillets Alaskan salmon
  • salt and pepper
  • Fresh vegetables (I used carrot sticks and bok choy this time)

To make the marmalade, slice the grapefruit very thinly, peel and all, into a nonreactive pot (to make the marmalade less bitter, omit the peel but keep the pith). Add vanilla and sugar, boil on high for about 10 minutes and then reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes or until the mixture has gelled (watch carefully, because when it’s done, you have about 10 seconds to remove it from the heat before it burns). While still warm, spoon on top of salmon fillets that are already on soaked cedar planks.

I kept the cedar as wet as possible (literally in an inch of orange juice in the baking dish) and also covered the salmon with sturdy vegetables to keep the moisture and heat inside while baking.

What I Learned from Experiment No. 2:

  • Cedar takes the flavor you give it. Soaking the plank in orange juice adds a ton of fresh and delicious flavor to the delicate salmon.
  • Cedar is delicious. There is no need to pile on overpowering flavors to compete with the delicate flavor of the salmon. Although the grapefruit is a little overpowering in this recipe, salmon and most other fish work very well with citrus and this is no exception.
  • Baking the cedar plank while it’s immersed in liquid means you don’t need to be constantly vigilant about the cedar possibly flaring up, so it’s more convenient in that sense. However the cedar flavor is definitely more pronounced when the plank is grilled.

Of course, there’s no reason your cedar-plank-cooking experience must be limited to vegetables and delicate fish. For my next attempt, I went full turophile.

Just the perfect level of gooeyness.

Experiment No. 3:

Planked Brie

I love cheese like Paula Deen loves butter. I soaked this cedar plank in white wine to enhance the awesome.

  • Bottle of white wine (I used a simple Turning Point Chardonnay, but use whatever you like)
  • Wheel of Brie cheese
  • For serving: a jar of your favorite spicy jelly and some crusty bread or crackers (I used my favorite roasted cherry/pepper jam. Thank goodness I had an extra jar! It’s delicious and smoky and is an excellent addition to the creamy brie).

Soak the plank in the white wine for at least 4 hours (to really get the wine flavor into that plank, soak it for 6 or more). Carefully slice the top off of the brie package and place on the plank, then carefully place on a grill.  Cover and let cook over the hot coals for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is gooey and bubbly. For serving, add the spicy jelly on top and serve with sliced apples and pears and crackers or bread.

Try it with a spicy and fruity jam or preserve.

What I Learned from Experiment No. 3:

  • Cheese is awesome. Well … I may have known that before. 
  • White wine doesn’t add as much flavor as I thought it would. The wine adds a delicate scent and flavor but the cedar is pretty delicate and fragrant as well. One day I plan to try planking some chicken and cheese with a good hoppy beer.
  • If you are cooking on coals, cook as the coals are starting to cool off. If you have a propane or very hot grill that has been cooking all day and is still very hot, make sure you keep an eye on the brie because you have about enough time as it takes to slice an apple or two and open a pack of crackers before the cheese overflows all over the plank. If the grill is cooling off when you place the brie on it, you have a beer or two before it’s soft enough to serve. But still keep an eye on it.

    It also helps to "tent" some foil over the plank, like so.

  • Brie is like jam in that when it’s done, you have about 45 seconds between “done” and “burnt beyond recognition and unusable as food.” Watch it carefully or you’ll waste the cheese and the cedar plank.

Altogether, I am very happy with the results of my cooking on cedar planks. It adds a delicate and smooth yet very distinct flavor to several different dishes. Obviously things like delicate salmon or gooey brie is best for a medium like cedar, but I look forward to planking chicken, ribs and even desserts. Stay tuned.

Enhance the flavors of summer with roasting

Since the invention of fire, humans have noticed that in addition to providing light and warmth, fire and heat makes our food tasty. Roasting isn’t just for meat, though. Next time you find a delicious bunch of plum tomatoes in the farmer’s market, or if you want to give your next fruity jam a kick, try roasting the fruits first.

I set out to make a batch of cherry-berry-jalapeno jam, using ripe strawberries and cherries and a few whole jalapeno peppers, and roasted all of the fruits and peppers first. It adds a whole new and different depth of flavor!

Roasted Cherry-Berry-Jalapeno Jam

This recipe is also good with fresh and unroasted fruits and peppers, and can be adapted to use up whatever you have on hand. Maybe use ancho chiles and blueberries … Habaneros and raspberries …

  • 1 pint berries of any kind (I used strawberries and cherries)
  • 5-6 jalapenos (remove or keep the seeds and ribs according to your taste; remember seeds=spice)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 tbsp. balsamic and/or cider vinegar (balsamic will bring out the berry flavor more, cider will enhance the spiciness of the pepper)
  • 2 tbsp. vodka (optional)

Remove pits or stems from the fruit, and place in a single layer on a roasting pan with other berries and peppers. Coat with 1 cup of sugar and vinegar, and roast at 400 degrees or until the berries and peppers are soft and slightly charred.* Remove from the oven and put into a pot with remaining sugar on high heat, mashing the berries and peppers together. Add vodka if desired. Bring to a rolling boil until the mixture gels. Ladle immediately into hot jars and boil to seal in a water bath for 15 minutes.

This jam has a definite kick to it, but it’s worth it!!

* I should point out here that the act of “roasting” for the purposes of these recipes can be everything from fire-roasting these fruits over a charcoal or propane flame, cooking under high heat in your broiler, or even just baking in a convection oven at 400 degrees or more. All of them produce delicious results.

This time of year is ideal for procuring delicious, fresh and juicy tomatoes almost everywhere. I managed to score some gorgeous plum tomatoes and wanted to try my hand at my own pomodori al forno (after the one I enjoyed so much from the food swap). I roasted them with garlic, basil and olive oil and canned them for later.

Pomodori al forno

This is an excellent addition to casseroles and other dishes, but probably best enjoyed warm with a hunk of crusty bread and a tangy goat cheese.

  • 1 pint plum or other small tomatoes (the very small ones don’t need to be sliced)
  • 1/2-cup (approx) olive oil
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and pepper

Place tomatoes in a single layer in a roasting pan. Coat with oil and sprinkle basil, garlic and spices over the tomatoes. Roast for 45 mins- 1 hour, or until tomatoes are slightly charred and have burst if they are whole. Use immediately, or if you are canning them, use a pressure canner. 1 small green basket from the farmers market of tomatoes yields about 2 pints of finished product.

These are  excellent!

Plum Crazy Part II — “Kitchen Sink” Recipes: Christmas Chutney and Smoky Plum BBQ Sauce

Some of my best dishes haven’t been recipes at all… they’ve been what my Grandma Verla calls “kitchen sink” recipes, as in that you use everything but the kitchen sink, and use up that half-bag of whatnot in the cupboard and the half-cup of what-have-you in the fridge.

It's all about knowing what tastes good together. You don't have to be a chef, you just have to love food.

I was planning already to take some of my friend’s plums and smoke them in my smoker to make a nice BBQ sauce. After smoking a few kinds of meat this past weekend, over wild apple wood chips (mixed with a handful of chips made from the oak barrels they make Tabasco in), there was only an hour or so to smoke the plums, but I know they got some of that delicious woody flavor.

The beginnings of BBQ sauce.

I also added some fresh and non-smoked plums, as well as some smoked garlic and smoked jalapeno. It all went into a big pot with oranges, orange juice, dried and chopped figs, a shot or so of brandy, a cup of my neighbor’s homemade margharita hot sauce, apple cider vinegar, some chili-lime flavored finising salts, candied ginger, shallot and garlic oil, tomato paste, a bay leaf, allspice, a dash of cinnamon, and various peppery spices. I let it simmer for hours and I am so glad … it has a delicious, sweet and peppery flavor, and a citrusy aftertaste.

I also tweaked a delicious spiced plum chutney recipe: swapping the demerara sugar for half white and half brown sugar, plus I added raisins and some candied ginger for extra spiciness. This is so easy to cook, and like the best recipes, is born out of what you have lying around. It smells amazing while it’s cooking, and you can see as the cooking progresses how wonderfully the ingredients work together.

The before photo:

"Before"

As it’s cooking:

"During"

And the finished product. So yummy.

"After"

It’s lovely and tastes amazing on some pork tenderloin and chicken. I learned also that chutneys are best when they ave been allowed to sit and ferment for a few months. I can’t wait to break this out again for the holidays!

** Note: After this post was made live, it was brought to my attention that my altering of the chutney recipe (adding raisins and ginger) might have altered the acid levels in the chutney. I used a pressure canner to seal the jars of BBQ sauce and chutney in this post. Just to be on the safe side, if you alter the recipe like I did, I would recommend that you seal the jars in a pressure canner instead of a water bath.

Plum Crazy, Part I — I still have all these oranges

I am lucky enough to live in San Diego, and to have a lot of friends with fruit trees. Really, most things grow well around here if you try hard enough, but even a tree that is neglected most of the year can yield some great fruit. Most of them yield more fruit than any one person knows what the heck to do with, but that’s a perfect time to experiment!

Fresh from the tree!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I now own a really cool smoker that has already proven its worth in smoking garlic, jalapenos, pork tenderloin, chicken, sausage and steak. I’m also a sucker for a good sauce. My first idea is for a smoky plum barbeque sauce, building on what I recently learned about smoking garlic. I’m also leaning towards something that isn’t jam — I’d hate to become predictable — and I found an amazingly good-looking recipe for a Christmasy plum chutney. I learned that chutney is best if you seal it and then let it sit for a few months, so this is a perfect summer recipe to be holiday gifts later. 

The first bag of plums had been picked a couple of days before, and were given to me late last night. It became clear that these would have to be made into something immediately, and that most were fully ripe, if not borderline mushy.  This calls for a liquor emergency! Brandy and large mason jars, stat!

And, let’s face it, I still have a ton of oranges from another friend’s tree. I sliced about 5 oranges, peel and all, and removed the peel totally from another 8 or 9 oranges. This jam will need to have a little bitter flavor to offset the plum and spices. I prepped the oranges (i.e., sliced them, covered them in water) and let them sit overnight.

The next day … the oranges have been sitting at room temperature for 24 hours. I open up this huge bag of gorgeous plums. Ok, first things first. I have to triage the plums into the too-far-gone for use (to the garbage bag — sorry fellas); the cutting board to have pits and blemishes removed, then the good parts scrapped for jam; and the ready mason jars for the intact and pretty ones.

First, for the brandied plums. Equal parts brandy and sugar (I started with 4 cups each and that was only enough for two large jars), and only fill the jars about halfway with plums so they all can freely move around in there. That was easy … and these will be EXCELLENT in a couple of months!

The syrup is equal parts sugar and brandy.

Next, the jam. I prepared these oranges the same way I did in the citrus jelly post, so that I won’t have to add a tonnage of extra (and unneeded) sugar or storebought pectin. After bringing the oranges to a boil and letting them simmer for about 45 minutes, I strained the liquid through a jelly bag, and used the liquid – equal parts liquid to sugar. Then I added it to a pot of already-softening chunks of plum, fresh orange slices, and cinnamon. It doesn’t look like much, but it makes the house smell like Christmas. 🙂

Check back for the next post! With the next sack of plums I get, I plan to make chutney and barbeque sauce.

Maybe it’s because it’s Canadian? Eh?

I’ve always been a huge fan of carrot cake. It’s by far my favorite non-chocolate dessert. So when I stumbled upon a recipe for Carrot Cake Jam, I knew it must be love. And it was. It was all the best things about cooking. It was fun and simple to make, it was very pleasing to the eyes …

However, strangely (to me anyway), the recipe left out raisins. The second time I made this, I added raisins, as well as a little extra nutmeg and cinnamon.  If you eat it, slightly warmed — not heated, but just to take the chill off, on a bagel with cream cheese, it’s like a recreation of the carrot cake itself. Mmmm….

Adventures in marmalade

My family is Scottish and as such I feel it is somehow in my blood to enjoy and be good at making and cooking with marmalade. But after sampling a few different marmalades and making my own (courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa here) I discovered the unthinkable. I really don’t care for traditional marmalade. It’s too bitter and you can’t make a peanut butter sandwich with it. It’s lovely, and it’s easy to make, but I had my doubts.

I tried another batch, this time instead of navel oranges using fresh and local mandarin oranges (although they were very seedy and required lots of seed removal), as well as a large can of crushed pineapple. While still generally unusable for a sandwich, it works on toast, and is also insanely good as a base for a meat marinade. Here’s a nice steak marinated in a vinagrette with the orange/pineapple marmalade on the grill. The smell is fabulous.