Posts Tagged ‘marmalade’

The Perfect Brunch, and notes on the Los Ranchos Farmers’ Market

For the gardener and urban homesteader weekend mornings are a busy worktime, with plenty to do and (usually) cool and pretty weather in which to do it. But after a few hours, it feels good to relax with a perfect brunch. To me, the essence of the perfect breakfast or lunch is simplicity. This is not the time for fuss. Its simpicity relies on perfect ingredients, and that gives me a chance to showcase some of my favorites. Please let these good suppliers know that Local Food Albuquerque sent you.

Corn bread: All Southerners and a lot of other people feel strongly about cornbread. I’m no exception. I give my recipe below, but cornbread preferences are very individual, so use your own favorite. The quality of the cornmeal is essential, and in my opinion there is none better than the roasted blue cornmeal sold by Oracio and Lourdes Molina at the Los Ranchos Farmers Market. They grow the blue corn, shell the kernels off the cob, roast the kernels, and grind them finely. The result is full of toasty corn flavor and makes cornbread that fills the kitchen with irresistable scent as it bakes. Oracio also sells his self-published book Hidden Village, which contains some fascinating bits of old New Mexico. Incidentally, their cornmeal makes the best blue corn tortillas imaginable.

Scones: if you don’t happen to be a cornbread fan, or even if you are, visit Hand to Mouth Foods at the Los Ranchos farmers Market (they are at the Corrales market too.) Jeffrey has a great hand for pastry, and his scones are very delicious. I also love his date and pine nut tarts, and my husband is an addict of the cranberry-pecan biscotti. They make a perfect finish to a perfect brunch. Email Jeffrey and Elaine at and ask to be on their email list; you’ll get useful reminders of market times and products available.

The Best Butter: Good cornbread deserves to be slathered with good butter, and I use the only completely grass-fed butter that I know of, Pastureland. It’s made by the Pastureland Dairy Co-op in Minnesota that makes butter and cheese only in the summer, when the cows are eating 100% grass and nothing else. It’s shipped frozen in styrofoam cartons, and a prepaid UPS label is included so that you can send back the carton for reuse, free of charge. They also offer 100% grassfed cheeses. Grassfed butter is a good source of CLA, and you’ll have to decide for yourself whether that’s important to you. I eat Pastureland butter because it’s wonderfully delicious and because the grass-fed life is best for the cows. To arguments that it isn’t local, I can only respond that if a local dairy changed to 100% grass-feeding in season, I’d buy their products.

Blood orange marmalade: my favorite thing to dress up hot or toasted bread. See my post for the recipe.

Freshly squeezed orange juice: I used the very last blood oranges of the season. Any very good orange makes very good juice. In my view, the idea of adulterating something so perfect with champagne is sacrilegious, but suit yourself.

Eggs: The Los Ranchos Farmers Market has at least three egg vendors, and these are real free range eggs, not the pale imitations sold as free-range in grocery stores. Fry them according to your favorite method. Like cornbread, preferences are very personal. I’ve seen directions in cookbooks about how to avoid “undesirable brown crusting” at the rims, while to others that delicate crispy rim is the best possible contrast to the sapidity of the rest of the egg. Again, suit yourself. Next year I hope to be eating home-produced eggs, but right now my future laying hens are bouncy little fluffballs, so thank goodness for the farmers markets.

Put it all together and you have a simple and perfect meal. Enjoy it with people you really care about, who can be counted on to contribute to the general harmony.

Corn bread:
2 cups fine cornmeal, preferably Oracio’s
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 scant tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar (optional)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup melted butter
3 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a 12-inch iron skillet in it (without a hot heavy pan, your crust will never be what it could be.) Mix all the dry ingredients thoroughly in one bowl and all the wet ingredients in another. When the oven and the skillet are thoroughly hot, mix the wet ingredients into the dry with a few quick strokes. Stirring too much activates the gluten and makes your cornbread tough. Pull the skillet out of the oven, swirl a couple of tablespoons of butter in it until melted and the skillet is greased all over, pour in the batter, and pop back in the oven. Bake until done, ie the top crust is browning and an inserted knife comes out clean. Take out of the oven, invert the skillet over a clean towel to turn out the cornbread, then use the towel to invert the cornbread again onto a rack. This requires dexterity and practice but is worth dooing because both the bottom and the top crust stay crisp. Let rest a couple of minutes, then cut into wedges and bring on the butter.

Passing Pleasures: Blood Orange Marmalade, and notes on sharp knives

In my last post I discussed the virtues of freshly squeezed blood orange juice, and encouraged you to eat them up during the few short weeks that we can get them. In this post I’ll talk about how to preserve them so that you can spread your morning whole wheat toast with exquisite marmalade long after the season is over.
First, the disclaimer: nearly all my ideas about marmalade came from John Thorne, a remarkably quirky, idiosyncratic, and interesting food writer. I strongly advise getting his book Mouth Wide Open and reading the chapter “Maximum Marmalade,” because you’ll learn good marmalade-making technique, get all the comments and asides of a working cook in his element, and have a great time. I happened to reread his book at a time when I was thinking about the concentration of beneficial flavanoids such as naringenin, hesperidin, and rutin in citrus peel, and wondering how to make them taste good. Naturally, a chunky and delicious marmalade was the way to go.
First, catch your blood oranges. There are two basic types on the market right now, one the size of a lemon or a little bigger, deep red inside, and filled with tart juice with a definite note of raspberry. The other is the size of a navel orange and only lightly blushed inside, and the juice is sweet. The former type is best for marmalade. I have only found it at the Nob Hill branch of La Montanita Co-op this week, so act fast if you want to get some. If all you can find is the other kind, you can still make a great marmalade, but it won’t be quite the same. Buy about 15 of the small ones or 7-8 of the big ones. The two types are shown below:

Next, get a really sharp knife. For my local readers I advise a trip to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market with all your knives in hand. Look for Pat Romero’s sharpening booth, and he will sharpen them to lethality while you shop. Please let him know that Local Food Albuquerque sent you, and be damn careful when you unwrap them at home, because a knife sharpened by Pat has no margin for error.
Now wash the 4 prettiest small oranges, or the one best if using the larger sort. Cut off the two ends enough to reveal the flesh, cut in half lengthwise, and slice each half crosswise into the finest slices that you can manage. Remove any seeds, but keep everything else. Put your slices in a bowl, and juice the remaining oranges until you have enough juice to cover the slices. Cover the bowl tightly and let the slices macerate in juice overnight at room temperature.
The next day, put the entire contents of the bowl in a saucepan of at least twice the volume of the mixture, bring to a boil briefly, and simmer gently until the peel is as tender as you like, remembering that it will firm up some when cooked with sugar. When the peel is softened to your preference, measure how much orange goop you have and add 3/4 that much sugar. I recommend white sugar only, to avoid distorting the wonderful orange taste. Now bring to a boil briefly again, and cook at a fast simmer until it’s ready to gel. John’s test, which is the best one I’ve come across, is to put a heavy plate in the freezer before you start cooking. After cooking the orange-sugar mixture for 15 minutes, start putting a half teaspoon or so on the cold rim of the plate. Return to the freezer for a minute and then prod the dribble with your finger. When it softly holds its new prodded shape, it’s done. Pour it into clean jars, let cool, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator, or see the Ball Blue Book for directions on how to heat-process so that it can be stored in the pantry until opened. In the morning, toast and butter a piece of very good bread, spread it with butter and marmalade, and eat. Oh my.
Incidentally, cooking any sugar syrup requires a watchful cook hovering over the stove to stir and prevent boil-overs. This is not a forget-it-until-it’s-done recipe. The result is worth it.