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Dairy

Blueberry & Lemon Curd Crepes


Brunch, Anyone?

Recently we were gifted with a trove of blueberries, picked fresh this summer from a local orchard and frozen at the height of their sweetness. At the same time, we found ourselves with a glut of lemons. After recently drooling over other people's citrus curds such as these from Michael at Verses from My Kitchen and Viviane at Chocolate Chili Mango, I decided it was time I tried making lemon curd again. Now that I'm reminded how easy this is, there will be more curd.

So there was a rich and creamy lemon curd in the fridge, and fresh-picked blueberries in the freezer. All we needed was a canvas. Pie? Pancakes? Tart?

As we've been unpacking these last few months, we've been coming across all sorts of goodies we haven't seen in a long while. Some we haven't seen since we left Germany. One of these was a crepe pan. Now you would be forgiven for assuming that this is one of my many, many kitchen tools. In fact, it is one of T's. A dyed-in-wool blue-white-and-red Francophile, he loves crepes. He perfected his technique earlier this year on some savory crepes (his preferred variety) and some sweet ones with homemade "ricotta" and fruit. He agreed to whip up another batch one Sunday morning as an envelope for these treats. He gets consistent and delicious results from a recipe he found on allrecipes.com.

As you can see, his crepe pan is not the swirl-the-pan variety with which you might be familiar. Rather it is a home version of the ones the crepe-vendors on the street corners of Paris might have — it even came with a special batter-spreading tool and a crepe turner — both made of wood.





Pretty cool, right?


The best part is that on that Sunday morning my only job was to make the coffee and thaw the blueberries, and voila! I turned around and there were Blueberry and Lemon Curd Crepes. There will be more crepe brunches. Crepe dinners, too.

CREPE BATTER
T. uses this one from allrecipes.com
Makes 10-12 12" crepes

1 cup (100g) unbleached flour
¼ tsp sea salt
2 eggs
½ cup (120ml) milk
½ cup (120ml) water
2 TBL unsalted butter, melted

Directions
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and eggs. Combine milk and water and gradually add to dry ingredients, stirring to mix well. Add butter and beat until smooth.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour approximately ¼ cup (60ml) batter onto the griddle for each crepe. Working quickly, tilt pan in a circular motion so that the batter evenly coats the pan.

Cook for about 90 seconds, until the batter just sets. Loosen with a spatula, turn and briefly cook the flip side, about 15 seconds. Remove to plate and cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter. Use wax or parchment paper to separate crepes as they stack.

Fill with sweet or savory fillings as your heart desires!


LEMON CURD
Adapted from Joy of Baking
Makes 1½ cups

It's worth seeking out organic lemons for this recipe since the zest is used in such copious amounts.

¾ cup raw sugar
3 large eggs
3 large organic lemons
pinch of sea salt
4 TBL (56g) unsalted butter, cut into dice, keep chilled until needed

Wash and pat dry lemons.

Over medium heat, set up a double boiler or stainless steel bowl set over a medium pot filled with an inch of water. Remove top pan from heat, and add eggs and sugar. Using a microplane or fine grater, zest whole lemons directly over eggs and sugar. Repeat for all lemons.

Now cut each lemon in half and juice with a lemon reamer or juicer. Strain to remove seeds and measure ½ cup (120ml) fresh-squeezed juice. Add to eggs and beat well with a whisk to combine. Place top boiler/pan over simmering water and continue whisking until mixture begins to thicken (like a cream sauce or sour cream). Don't leave unattended or you may get some curdling.

Add pieces of cold butter, whisking in each addition well before adding the next. Remove from heat and turn curd out into a jar or bowl for storage or serving. Place a piece of wax paper or plastic film on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Keep refrigerated for up to one week.

Besides filling crepes, use lemon curd to fill tart shells, adorn scones, smear on pancakes, bagels and waffles, or swirl into plain yogurt for a breakfast treat. Either alone or with its favorite companion clotted or whipped cream, lemon curd is one of those great secret weapons that transforms ordinary into memorable with a dollop.


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Loroco Cream Sauce


Loroco (Fernaldia pandurata). As piquant as capers but not pickled, and with the full earthiness of an artichoke, these buds of a flowering vine are native to Central America and are used as a flavoring agent or vegetable in many popular dishes of the region.

We were introduced to Lorocos soon after our arrival to the D.C. area in 2008. Of course, it was at one of the many Salvadoran pupuseria that can be found in Maryland's metro area near D.C. This one was across from the hotel to which we had encamped while we hunted for rental housing. We were there for a month. We ate a lot of pupusas. (For the uninitiated, pupusas are thick cornmeal tortillas with a filling of beans or cheese or meat or lorocos, or some combination of these, and often served with pickled cabbage and carrot salad, see photo left, the pupusas are the flat discs on either side of hte salad). But I digress. One of the more popular pupusa fillings is cheese and lorocos, and not having any idea what lorocos were as we pondered our first pupusa menu, we had to try them first. The woman taking our order told us loroco was a flower — great, we like edible flowers!

Truthfully, there almost was not a second order. On first bite, T and I looked at each other with that look, "Do you like it?" Uhhhh, not sure. In addition to the sheer vegetal quality of the flower buds, there was also the surprising tanginess, then a slight bitter aftertaste. But we eat lots of bitter vegetables, so onto the second bite. Now that we were over the shock of first taste, we had time to focus on how the sharp lorocos blended with the creamy blandness of the cheese. Mmmmmm, nice counterpoint. By the time we had finished the first pupusa, we were hooked — pupusa con queso y lorocos became our favorite order and the standard by which we evaluated new pupuseria we visited.

We find lorocos most often in the frozen section of Hispanic groceries and even many Asian markets (H-Mart, Korean Korner, Lotte Plaza in the metro DC area) that also serve large Central American communities. I've also seen large jars of pickled loroco buds but have not tried these since we prefer the frozen buds, which have only one ingredient: lorocos. The first loroco recipe we tried at home was for a soup of beans and lorocos, which proved to be equally addictive — we've made it at least 3 times and which I promise to post that as soon as I remember to take a photo before we finish off the whole pot.

More recently, we read about a lorocos cream sauce with chicken that we could not pass up. Since we had all the ingredients on hand except chicken (yes, we had lorocos but no chicken, go figure), I substituted pork chops for the chicken legs. Another show-stopper — lick-your-plate-and-try-to-steal-your-spouse's tasty! The sharpness and bitterness that are hallmarks of loroco in pupusas and the bean soup are completely missing here. Instead the buds mellow into a flavor more reminiscent of asparagus. I guess they even look a little like tiny asparagus in the sauce, don't they? But there is also an earthier undertone than asparagus alone would lend to this sauce that just says, More, please! I'll be buying frozen lorocos buds in multiple quantities to keep in the freezer from here on out. And yes, I should probably pick up some chicken too!

This recipe is adapted from one shared by Anne at Rainforest Recipes, who lives and works with the Ix-Canaan project in Guatemala. Finding her site set me off on of those long digressions for which the Interwebs is so infamous to learn about the Ix-Canaan project and their efforts to introduce sustainable agriculture and the preservation of indigenous culture to their corner of Guatemala. Now I'm looking for breadnut flour too... Anne has a photo of the fresh loroco flowers on her recipe page if you'd like to see how pretty those are (follow her link). Don't recall seeing fresh loroco buds here, but I haven't frequented Hispanic markets very much in the past. This spring, though, I will keep my eye out for these.


UPDATE (02/16/2011): We craved this sauce again, and tried it with mahi-mahi fillets (above). Still delicious, but would recommend including 1 tsp. fish sauce when adding broth to increase the umami in the finished sauce. Pork and chicken have more natural umami than this firm, white-flesh fish and the sauce needs the boost.

LOROCO CREAM SAUCE (WITH PORK)
Adapted from Anne's recipe
Serves 3-4 persons

Apparently in Guatemala the traditional meat for this sauce is chicken (4 legs or a whole chicken, cut up) and we will give that a try soon, but we will also be saucing fish (cod or mahi mahi) and maybe even rabbit with this, too! I would recommend 2 lbs of mushrooms and doubling the quantity of potato as a vegetarian option that would complement and absorb the unique flavors of this sauce.

4 medium-cut pork chops
sea salt and black pepper
2 TBL olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cup broth or water, divided
1 tomato, diced
1 sprig fresh thyme, or ¼ tsp dried
2 bay leaves
1½ cup broth or water
1 package frozen lorocos = 6oz or 170g
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
¾ cup heavy cream

Pat dry chops, and season well. Over medium high heat, warm oil in a skillet large enough to hold all ingredients. Brown both sides of each chop, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove and keep aside.

Reduce heat to medium low. In remaining oil in pan, add onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomato, thyme and bay leaves, and continue cooking until onions become translucent, another 4-6 minutes.

Add broth, and gently scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Add loroco buds, potatoes, and return pork chops to skillet. Cover and simmer gently 10-15 minutes.

(I found it easier to blend the cream into the sauce if I removed the chops before adding the cream, but this step is optional.) Add cream to skillet and stir through to combine, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes or until the chops are cooked through.

Serve over white rice, with plenty of napkins!



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Whey Cool: Lasagne with Homemade Cheese

There's nothing more fun than learning something new and then just doing it! So as 2010 draws to a close, I finally challenged myself to do something I had only lusted after until now. Yes, I made fresh cheese at home. It all started with a craving for lasagne (so many good things do...) but we didn't have any ricotta or even cottage cheese to make a filling. What we did have: almost a half gallon of organic milk. OK, on to the InterWebs we went....

The ingredients for making fresh cheese are remarkably few: milk, salt, and some kind of acid, usually vinegar or lemon. There are many recipes out there for making paneer or ricotta cheese at home and many declare that they are easy to do. Then I came upon what was truly the easiest recipe of all... no thermometers necessary, no threats of pots boiling over, and best of all, no messy milk-scorched pots to clean afterwards. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, you're my hero! Mr. Lopez-Alt, an editor and master food deconstructionist at Serious Eats, writes at length and in engaging detail on Serious Eats' Food Lab about the making of whole milk ricotta cheese at home: the different types of acids that are commonly used (buttermilk, vinegar, lemon) and how each affects both the texture of the final product and the flavor, the temperature to which the milk must be brought, and draining times. His final conclusion, though, is that fresh cheese is best made in a microwave, not the stove top! Love it! Suddenly, cheese-making is a much less daunting task, and so at 5:15 yesterday morning, I started to make ricotta-style cheese in my own kitchen.

I tripled the whole-milk ricotta recipe on the Food Lab site (BTW the recipe link is separate from the article link) to use the full amount of milk we had — to make certain I had enough for my lasagne (let's not forget, this is why the quest began, right?). As promised, the methodology Mr. Lopez-Alt describes was incredibly straight-forward and easy. If I can do this, Folks, any one of you can too!


The set-up: milk in a non-metal bowl,
colander set in bowl, and lined
with 2 layers of food-safe paper towels,
sea salt, white vinegar



After 5 minutes in the microwave on High (right), you can just start to see chemistry in action. Pretty cool, right?
After tripling the time in the Food Lab recipe as well, the curds and whey have fully separated.


Drain mixture in colander.
Draining time will depend on
what you plan to do with the cheese
(see Food Lab article).


Voila! Real Cheese!
The final product, after 35 minutes of draining.
I started with 6 cups of whole milk and ended up with almost 1-1/2 cups of cheese.
The whole thing, from set-up to the end of draining was about an hour,
but your time will be less if you want a softer cheese.


As someone who had only tried commercial ricottas, the flavor of this cheese was a revelation to me: sweet and clean, no aftertaste or bitterness. It was firm (the long draining time) but tender to the bite, and smooth — not at all grainy or coarse. I would have happily eaten the whole thing just as it was, if that lasagne wasn't still calling...


Even though lasagne was the driving force behind this project, this post isn't about the pasta... It's to encourage everyone to make this cheese for themselves early in the New Year! Were not big milk-drinkers but we'll be buying our milk by the gallon from now on so we have plenty on hand to make this tasty treat again. Think of the possibilities: blintzes, crepes, stuffed shells, and of course, just plain eating out-of-spoon... or bowl... Yummmmm.... And yes, it did make a darn fine lasagne, even with a bottled sauce.

We're left with about a half-quart of liquid (whey), which seems a waste to throw out, so I'm looking now for ways to use that too. Stay tuned to this bat channel in 2011....

Until then, Happy New Year, Everyone!

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