far afield

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Far Afield by Shane Mitchell contains recipes, but it is not a cookbook. The photography is so stunning that you can call it a coffee table book and be happy to return to the photos again and again, never reading a single word.

If you are interested in the world, you can read, and before you realize what has happened, hours will have gone by as you are drawn in to the stories of these people and places and ingredients. So far away from my house, my part of the world, the stories do not leave me.

If you are someone who really, really enjoys food, Far Afield can be a travel guide, showing you the regions of the world to visit and what to look for once you arrive. A most intimate and delicious travel guide.

Yes, there are recipes, but they are not the reason for the book, they are an aside. The recipes are there to wet your appetite, tickle your taste buds, spark your wanderlust, until the time you can eat these dishes in their native lands, with native ingredients full of terroir and heart and swagger.
I return again and agin to the photography, how a picture still says 1,000 words. This book is a wonder, beautiful, telling, soul filled, and informative in the way that makes you want to know more. I do not think it is possible to read this book and not want to visit the places it calls out. A reminder that the world is a big place full of amazing things.

rhubarb cordial

Yesterday I pulled the last of the rhubarb, the stalks looked pale and tired, the leaves brown. Luckily, I made a nice harvest a couple weeks ago and turned it into a bottle of Rhubarb Cordial. This is my second batch this year, using the first and last rhubarb harvests of the year. I only hope I can time things that well again.

Super easy, delicious, and beautiful. The color changes depending on your rhubarb. The first batch of the season had a darker, more reddish hue, this latest bottle is practically neon pink. Lovely sipped on its own, or added to a glass of bubble water.

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Rhubarb Cordial

1 pound rhubarb

3/4 cup granulated sugar

750ml bottle of vodka (no need for the good stuff, Smirnoff works great)

Trim the ends of the rhubarb, and cut into pieces that are about in inch in length. Place the rhubarb into a LARGE jar or bowl, add the sugar and the vodka, and cover.

The sugar will dissolve over the course of a week, stir it when you think of it. After ten days, give your cordial a taste and see what you think. The longer it sits, the stronger the flavor. I find between 12-14 days to be about right.

Strain out the rhubarb, pour the cordial into a bottle with a tight fitting lid, and store it in the fridge. It will stay fresh until rhubarb is in season again, but it is unlikely there will be any left by then.

P.S.

You could use the rhubarb pieces to make a sauce for ice cream, just cook the rhubarb down over medium heat until it is soft. Add a bt of water if the pan feels dry. A bit of sugar if the fruit is not sweet enough. Have some other fruit around that is getting soft? Add it to the pot. Easy Peasy.

salsa verde

There are two types of salsa verde in the world, the Italian variety that combines oil, parsley, and garlic, and the Mexican type that uses chilis and tomatillos. In our casa, it is all Mexican all the time.

Somehow, I did not put up salsa verde last year, did I have some left from the previous year? A couple months ago when I was hankering for enchiladas I had to purchase a pouch of the green stuff. And while Rick Bayless Frontera makes a very nice salsa verde, I do not like buying things I can make myself.

Following is the recipe I have used for years. It is perfect and needs no tinkering. The recipe comes from Put ‘Em Up by Sheri Brooks Vinton (a very useful canning book) and is a crowd pleaser.

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Salsa Verde

4 pounds tomatillos, husks removed

1 tablespoon lightly flavored oil

1 cup distilled white vinegar or bottled lime juice (I use vinegar)

1 pound yellow onions, chopped

1/2 pound chili peppers, stems and seeds removed (I use jalapenos)

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the broiler. Wash and dry the tomatillos. Lightly brush half of the tomatillos with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet, stem side down. Broil until blackened in spots. Remove and cool to room temperature.

2. Puree the remaining raw tomatillos with the vinegar in a blender or food processor and remove to a large nonreactive saucepan. (I use a food processor)  Puree cooked tomatillos, onions, chilis and garlic. Add to pan.

4. Bring to a boil, simmer 10 minutes, to thicken and reduce.

5. Remove pan from heat and stir in cilantro and salt.

Fill your jars and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

The original recipes states that it makes 8 cups. I find it makes more than that, every time, so prep a couple extra jars.

blueberry conserve

Are you wondering about the title? What the heck is conserve? Conserve is an old-fashioned sort of preserve that combines jam with nuts and spices. I like it on pancakes, or on top of ice cream. Spreading some on a muffin would not be a bad thing. Local blueberries are coming to an end, so I grabbed a flat and got busy.

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Blueberry Conserve with Maple Syrup and Walnuts

4 cups blueberries

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup dried cherries

1 cup water

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon allspice

Place blueberries, water, maple syrup, and lemon juice in a non-reactive pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer five minutes, stirring from time to time.

Stir in the sugar and cherries, then return to a boil. Reduce heat so the mixture keeps a nice gentle boil and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often. You are not looking for a jelly set, just a soft set.

Remove from heat and add walnuts and allspice. Stir well.

Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Do not forget to label your jars.

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a little bit of currant jam

Walking through the produce section of the grocery store yesterday I came across currants. It is so unusual to see currants in the store, I scooped up a couple little containers as fast as I could. After lunch I turned those little beauties into jam. I love currant jam, one of my very favorites, and one that is not always on the shelf because currants are not always available here. It was a treat to be able to add the jam to my larder.

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Currant Jam

2 1/2 cups of currants, I used a combination of black and red, but any combination is fine, separate the fruit from the stems

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons cassis, this is optional, if you have some use it, if not, it is fine

In a stainless or enamel pan, bring currants and water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes to soften the fruit.

Add sugar, lemon juice, and cassis to the pan, bring to a boil, and continue boiling until set, about 10 minutes.

Fill jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Do not forget to label the jars, dark jams all look alike a few months later.

figs in brandy

We have two fig trees. This is their third year, so they are still small, but produce a good amount of fruit. The great thing about fig trees is that the fruit matures at different rates. This is perfect for picking a few to add to a salad for dinner, or to throw on the grill, but poses a problem for anyone wanting to can a big batch to use later.

I like having a half a dozen jars of preserved figs on the shelf to use through out the year, alongside a cheese plate, or on top of ice cream. The way I make this happen is one jar at a time.

 

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This morning I picked a jar’s worth of figs, and make a whole batch of syrup. I put up one jar, then poured the rest of the liquid into another jar to use as needed. It will probably be three days before I have another round of figs ready, and having the syrup prepared makes the canning even easier.

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When putting up one jar I do not get out the big pot. For smaller jars I use the oh-so-awesome Fourth Burner Pot, but that pot does not work as well for the wide Weck jars, for those jars I use my trusty sauce pan. You should never put glass jars directly on the bottom of a pan, it is not an old wives tale, and it is a mess when they break. Weck jars nestle perfectly into an English muffin mold to hold them and keep them safe, just above the bottom of the pan.

This recipe works for 8 cups of figs and will make four pints in one go, or one at a time.

Brandied Figs

1 2/3 cups brandy

1 1/3 cups sugar

3/4 cup water

8 cups figs

Cut the woody stem from the figs and quarter them.

In a small pot, combine brandy, sugar, and water, heating until the sugar is disolved.

Fill your jars with figs,  and pour hot liquid to cover, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.

Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

a silver lining

I recently received a surprise diagnoses of high blood pressure. It was a surprise because there is no family history of hypertension, and I have a good diet. Then I learned that it is not all about salt. I am going to need to be more intentional about exercise and make it a priority. And when 5 o’clock rolls around I need to grab a bottle of flavored bubble water instead of a martini, at least occasionally.And I am going to have to rethink how I cook and plate. I do have a healthy diet, few prepared foods and lots of veg, but also lots of meat, and sauce, oh how I love sauces.

My Doc recommended the DASH diet, it seems to be the goto for people who need to lower their blood pressure. The meals are full of grains I can not eat, and more importantly, is bor-ing. Nope, that is not what I am after at all. First stop, the bookstore.

Many of the “healthy” cookbooks are all about weight loss. I do need to drop some pounds, but that should happen naturally as I make other lifestyle changes. I do not want a “diet” book. And then there are the books that call themselves healthy because they use real, whole foods. Well, I have been cooking and eating real, whole foods, for ages, and look where it got me.

I dislike the word superfood. In my mind it congers up images of new-agey fads. The only reason I pulled Everyday Super Food off the shelf is because it is written by Jamie Oliver. I have cooked from his books in the past, even still own a couple after The Amazing Book Cull Of 2016, and remember watching and learning from him in the earliest days of Food Network.

Wow! Wowie, wow, wow, wow! This is exactly what I am looking for. High nutrition, with vegetables playing a major role on the plates. Big, bright flavors and textures to keep things interesting. That is what I am talking about.

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After living with, and cooking from, Everyday Super Foods, I am a convert. I started at the beginning of each section, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and began cooking each recipe. The flavors are amazing and vegetables are everywhere. The first day I made Baked Eggs in Popped Beans Cherry Tomatoes, Ricotta on Toast for breakfast that gave me two of my 5-a-Day servings, and Tasty Fish Tacos Game-Changing Kiwi, Lime & Chili Salsa For lunch that gave me three more. That meant the three I had with Bombay Chicken & Cauli Pappadams, Rice & Spinach for dinner, and the one with 100-Calorie Salad Snack Bowls for a snack were a bonus my body really needs. 9 servings of veg and fruit in one day, delicious.

 

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There is some whole wheat in the book, not much, so I substitute when I can, or just skip the recipe if I can not. And there are a few vegetables that I do not eat, cauliflower, eggplant, and beets will never again cross my lips, but again, easy enough to substitute.

Most of the recipes are designed for two people. This makes it easy for me to cut them in half and watch my portion size, or double them if I think people will be home for dinner.

There is a fair amount of effort involved in the recipes, and for people working full-time away from home, some planning will be needed. But nothing crazy, just spend an hour or so on the weekend making the sauces and salsas you will need for the week. If you are taking lunch to work, package things up separately and mix when it is time to eat.

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Everything is so good that I think I will be cooking my three meals a day from this book during the week, and then make family favorites for dinner on the weekends. If not for the hypertension diagnoses, I would not have gone looking for a book like this, and I would have missed out on this great food. A silver lining.

Do you have a favorite healthy cookbook?