Food: Foraging in Spring

So right now (as alluded to in my previous post), I’m focused on things of a domestic nature in order to cope with the chaos raging outside my door. Call it escapism, or something else vaguely insulting — I don’t care. Whatever it takes (short of psychotropic drugs) to get by these days.

This week in food: my son and I collected Japanese Knotweed shoots and made a delicious jam — or compote, really. There is nothing like a tasty invasive species compote.

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) was originally brought to the U.S. as an ornamental, but has taken over as the bane of many gardeners. Knotweed is quite pretty, with shoots that look like bamboo that quickly transform into a gargantuan plant which flowers in late summer/early fall. It spreads via its rhizomes, which means it is a nightmare to control.

Interestingly, knotweed is used in alternative medicine to treat Lyme disease. An herbalist I know says that plants will often spring up unbidden in response to a need. If so, it makes sense that knotweed is so pervasive here (beyond its biological imperative), as Lyme disease is equally pervasive in the Northeast. For more official information on knotweed, check out what the eggheads at Penn State have to say through this link.

I was skeptical of the pro-edible knotweed entries I read in my foraging books, but thought I would give it a try. My skepticism was ill-founded because wow, is it ever tasty! If you like rhubarb, then eating knotweed is for you. The only downside is that the jam/compote is a terrible color: like asparagus baby food puree. This is off-putting, unless you are a baby who doesn’t know any better. As an adult, the polite thing to do is ignore the hue of the food and focus on the taste. You will be rewarded with deliciousness. Try it over yogurt or ice cream or anywhere you would slather jam.

I used a recipe from this smart veggie-obsessed blog, though I added two cups of sugar, not three, and contributed a touch of cinnamon to the final product. Which gave it a bit more depth, if I do say so myself.

Japanese Knotwood: ugly-cute

Next week’s post will feature life in the garden. And by life, I mean finding life in the garden. What a place! In the meantime, hang in there and, if you can, make this Life Changing Udon from this month’s Food & Wine. While it might not change your life, it will most definitely fill your belly with wholesome goodness, remind you that eggs, when cooked properly, are a beautiful thing, and be one more culinary hedge against outer darkness.

2013 So Far…

The Year-to-Date has been a veritable microcosm of life itself, with New Year’s Day a mix of Success, Failure, and In-Between. Here is 2013 so far, broken down for you:

Success: Homemade doughnuts

Failure: Did not participate in the local Polar Bear swim. Instead I only watched as a group of nearly-naked people in bizarre hats and body paint jumped in the frigid Atlantic ocean.

Success: Did not participate in the local Polar Bear swim. Instead I only watched as a group of nearly-naked people in bizarre hats and body paint jumped in the frigid Atlantic ocean.

Failure: Cooked and attempted to glaze a shoulder picnic ham. Turned out to be the wrong cut of meat. A bit greasy and fit more for chomping on post-Apocalypse than on the first day of the year.

Success: Scalloped potatoes. Broccoli with Horseradish. Brown butter chocolate chip cookies.

In between: Key lime pie. When I finally bothered to look at the recipe moments before I commenced, it turns out I was missing a few key ingredients: no graham crackers, no condensed milk. So I made homemade versions of both, (only I didn’t have graham flour on hand to put the graham in graham cracker. I never knew that graham flour existed before yesterday), which took the better part of the afternoon. After all this from-scratching, the pie was done at about 11 p.m., long after I lost interest in it and nearly everyone who might eat it was in bed. My husband dutifully ate a piece with me. It turns out that key lime pie is not really a winter-ish sort of thing. Why didn’t someone tell me this when I randomly bought a bag of key limes?

Success: Watched all five episodes of the BBC series Cranford. This was a real treat. Except for the fact that every time someone in the series died or complained about the destruction of the countryside due to industrialization brought on by the new railroad, I cried. And as unwanted death and development happened repeatedly throughout the series set in the 1840s, there was a lot of weeping. Not from the characters — they were perfect stoics. A day spent cooking and crying is about as cathartic as it gets on the domestic front.

I am now prepared to take on the rest of the year. Which means design projects, handmade goods and a few events on the horizon. See you in 2013!

Homemade Raised Doughnuts*

2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups (295 – 325 grams) all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

3 tablespoons (40 grams) room temperature unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

3 tablespoons (35 grams) granulated white sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (120 ml) milk, heated to lukewarm

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Topping:

1/2 – 1 cup (100-200 grams) granulated white sugar or 1/2 – 1 cup (60 – 120 grams) sifted powdered (confectioners or icing) sugar

homemadedoughnuts

Homemade Doughnuts: In a large bowl whisk together 2 1/4 cups (295 grams) flour and the yeast. Add the butter and, with a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut or rub the butter into the flour mixture until you have coarse crumbs. Stir in the sugar and salt.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the lukewarm milk and lightly beaten egg and stir until you have a ball of dough. Add more flour, a tablespoon at a time, if necessary. Then transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is no longer sticky and is smooth and elastic (about five minutes). Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large lightly greased bowl, turning once. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled (approximately 1 1/2 – 2 hours). Then place the dough on a lightly floured surface, and gently punch the dough to release the air. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough to a thickness of about 1/2 inch (1 cm). Cut the dough into about 2 1/2 – 3 inch (6-7 cm) circles, using a lightly floured doughnut cutter or cookie cutter (will need a smaller cookie cutter to cut out the center “hole”). Place the doughnuts on a lightly floured baking sheet, lined with parchment or wax paper. Gather up the scraps, roll, and cut out remaining doughnuts. You can keep the doughnut holes to fry separately, if you like. Loosely cover the doughnuts with plastic wrap (lightly butter or spray the plastic wrap with a non stick vegetable spray so the doughnuts won’t stick) and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled (about 30-60 minutes).

Clip a candy thermometer to the inside of a large, deep,  heavy bottomed saucepan (Dutch oven), and at medium-high heat, bring about 2 inches (5 cm) of oil (canola, vegetable, peanut, or corn) to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Carefully place the doughnuts into the hot oil, about 2 to 3 at a time (do not over crowd). Fry each side until golden brown, about 45-60 seconds per side. The doughnut holes will only take about 30 seconds per side. Carefully remove the doughnuts from the hot fat with the end of a wooden spoon, tongs, slotted spoon, bamboo chopstick, or Chinese skimmer. Place on a baking sheet lined with clean paper towels. After a minute, roll the doughnuts in the sugar. Let the oil return to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) before adding more doughnuts. These doughnuts are best freshly made.

Makes about 8 – 3 inch doughnuts and 8 doughnut holes.(The recipe can be doubled.)

*Recipe & image from The Joy of Baking