Along the Grapevine


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Savoury Apple Juniper Soup

DSC03243.JPGThis has been a great year for apples – so good in fact that I have heard pleas on the radio for people to do the trees a favour and pick the fruit because the branches are breaking from the weight. The fruit may be smaller than usual because of the horrific drought, but they are more numerous and, even better, sweeter than ever.

The problem is what to do with all those apples. Those I can’t use right away I preserve either by making applesauce, and when freezer space runs out I dehydrate the rest. For the applesauce I cut them in half to make sure the insides are not infested or bad, chuck them into a pot of water, seeds, skin, core and all and cook them until soft. Once they are pressed through a food mill they can be frozen. The rest get peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (roughly) and dehydrated, while the cores and peel are used for scrap vinegar.

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For my recipe this week I wanted to make a savoury dish so I did a search for soups. I read several tempting recipes from around the world, especially China and Eastern Europe, but either they called for ingredients I didn’t have or they were too sweet and better suited for a dessert. This one was perfect – a spicy Norwegian soup using juniper berries, a local ingredient I had just been collecting and drying and was keen to find a use for.DSC03219.JPG

If you don’t have any in your area, they can also be purchased at a good spice shop.

I altered the recipe somewhat, including using applesauce instead of chopped apples and then pureeing the whole batch. I liked my method because there is still some texture with the onions which I prefer, it being less like baby food. The combination of spices is not too strong, none overpowers the flavour but adds a subtle taste of exotica to the apples.

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Savoury Apple Juniper Soup

2 Tbsp oil

1 onion, chopped fine

1 inch ginger

1 Tbsp juniper berries

4 cardamoms

3 allspice berries

1 stick cinnamon

a few sage leaves

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

4 cups unsweetened applesauce (preferably home-made)

2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

Fry the onion and ginger in the oil until soft. Add the stock and water. Wrap the other spices and herbs in cheesecloth and place in the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove  the spice bag, stir in the applesauce, salt and pepper and heat through.

dsc03241Serve hot garnished with sour cream or apple slices.

Linked to Fiesta Friday #141, Foodie on Board and Food for the Soul.


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Juniper Berries and Soup

DSC02831Since I began working on this blog, I have found two things about foraging which surprise me. First, that you can forage quite happily in the winter even in this snowiest of landscapes for some really worthwhile ingredients, one of which I am writing about today. In fact, the winter has the advantage of being insect-free, and as long as there’s not a blizzard and you are dressed for it, the venture is very invigorating and a great excuse to enjoy the outdoors. Just don’t remove gloves for too long while you take photographs or snip branches, both of which are impossible with furry gloves.

The other surprise is that some of the most overlooked and miniscule pickings add so much flavour and are every bit as valuable as the bulkier crops. Good seasonings and spices are essential in cooking, and if they are local, fresh and free, all the better.

I have always used juniper berries in cooking, usually to flavour fish, game, sauerkraut and choucroute garnie, but no longer will I buy little plastic boxes from the supermarket. I found my own source, and they are so good!

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These ones grow on what is usually referred to as the Eastern Red Cedar which is misleading because it is not a cedar, but a juniper, juniperus virginiana to be exact. This same cedar we use to add a scent to our linen trunks and repel moths is not a cedar at all – another surprise for me. There are other varieties of juniper, but I will only try and describe this one as I have direct experience with it. So here are a few facts you’ll need to identify it.

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Where it grows:  Eastern North America, hardy to zone 3.

Description: A coniferous evergreen which in poor soil may just be a shrub but in the right conditions can grow as high as 40-50 feet with a spread of 8-15 feet.  It is pyramid shaped. The leaves change appearance with age. The young ones, on trees up to three years old and the new growth on older trees have sharp spreading needles about 2-4 inches long. Leaves of older trees are green and scale-like arranged in overlapping groups of four. The trees I picked from were of the younger variety. There is a good picture showing the leaves at different stages in this post. The fruit are small currant sized cones resembling berries, dark blue with a white waxy coating which makes them look sky blue.

Uses: The cones are used in cooking and making gin, the leaves are toxic. The bark is used as a moth repellant, and the wood is used in building fence posts. Oil is extracted from leaves, bark and wood.

Benefits and Cautions: The cones (which look like berries) have an antiviral compound called deoxypodophyllotoxin (DPT) which is used against some viruses. People used to add it to tea as a medicinal herb. They should not be taken in large amounts.

Juniper Berries on Punk Domestics

At this point I was just interested in using these little cones (berries), and as I am off rich and meaty dishes at this time of year, I decided to make a vegan soup – a pea soup, with some aromatic flavour. I also used some of my prickly ash, or szechwan pepper, but if you don’t have that you can just use more black pepper. And if you don’t have these plants in your area, you can buy both juniper berries or Szechwan pepper at a good spice store.

 

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I soaked, then cooked one pound of split peas. Once cooked I added 1 chopped onion, 1 carrot, 4 crushed cloves of garlic, 10 juniper berries, 1 tsp Szechwan pepper, 1 tsp black pepper and salt to taste. I simmered it until all vegetables were cooked.

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You can vary the spiciness  according to your taste of course. By using these less common flavours, you will find this familiar soup takes on a whole new character. If you have a favourite dish using juniper berries, I would love to hear about it.

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Linked to:  Angie at The Novice Gardener; Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook and Mr. Fitz of Cooking with Mr. Fitz.

 

 

 


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Chicken Rillettes

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If you are cooking for more people than usual at this time of year, it is a good idea to have some ready-to-serve dishes stashed away in the freezer to serve when you are too busy to cook or have an impromptu event where something a little out of the ordinary is called for. This rillette recipe fits the bill perfectly, and also allowed me to use a perfectly good, organic, albeit rather dry chicken I had to do something with.

Rillettes are really a French version of the English potted meats. They are made by long slow cooking of the meat in broth and white wine, and then potted with lots of herbs and butter. Served on slices of crusty bread with good quality pickles, they keep for at least five days in the fridge and much longer in the freezer.

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You can adapt this recipe to what you prefer in the way of herbs, but I used my spruce salt, juniper berries and some fermented dandelion buds as garnish giving it a distinctively local flavour.

Chicken Rillettes


Ingredients

1 whole chicken, approximately 4 lbs.

2 Tbsp oil

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups water

2 onions

1 large carrot

3/4 cup of unsalted butter

2 tsp spruce salt

1 dozen juniper berries

a handful of chopped parsley

Method

In a large Dutch oven, brown the chicken on all sides in the oil. Pour the water and wine over it. Add 1 onion and the carrot, both roughly chopped. Cover and put in a 300 degree F. oven for about 2 1/2 hours. The chicken should be well cooked and fall away easily from the bones. Strain the broth into a bowl and discard the vegetables (or better yet use them in something else) cool, and then store the broth and the chicken separately in the fridge. There should be about 2 cups of broth. This can be done a day or two ahead.

To make the rillettes, using a couple of forks, pull away all the meat in small bite-sized strips, discarding the skin and bones. In a saucepan, cook the second onion, finely chopped in 1/4 cup of butter until translucent. Add the chicken, the rest of the butter, juniper berries and salt. Continue to cook on a low heat until most of the liquid, but not all has evaporated. If you pull the meat to one side of the pan, there should still be liquid visible at the bottom, but the whole mixture will not be covered in liquid. Just before it is ready, add the parsley, mix well and check for seasoning.

Transfer it into serving dishes and/or mason jars and cool completely, cover and refrigerate or freeze. Bring back to room temperature before serving.

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I am bringing this dish to Fiesta Friday #47, hosted as always by Angie and co-hosted by Indu at Indu’s International Kitchen  and Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook. Many thanks to these three for keeping this party going this week. Feel free to drop by and see join in the fun.