Lots of Loquats

IMG_4660You can find a loquat tree in nearly every neighborhood in Los Angeles.  All the trees are bearing heavily this year, perhaps in response to the drought conditions.  Sadly, much of this fruit will end up in green cans for green waste management, as there are more than even our hungry squirrels and raccoons can eat.  But you can harvest and preserve this local crop, with just a little effort.  Loquat fruits are mostly seed and not very juicy, but once cooked they do have a delightful subtle flavor, evoking almonds (from the seeds) and roses.  Thanks to Co-op members and a dear friend of the Co-op, Nadine, for the loquat harvest.  Nadine invited us to harvest her loquats, and Cyd (Co-op stalwart) and I went home with not only 50 pounds of loquats but armfuls of blooming iris and lilies from Nadine’s wonderful Hollywood Hills mediterranean garden.  The best of Hollywood!

Look for recipes and step by step instructions here soon for loquat jelly as well as pickled loquats.IMG_4661

 

Fresh Orange Cake, fill it with berries or orange curd + Italian Meringue Icing

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The Co-op had lots of ripe, sweet Valencia oranges a few weeks ago.  A bounty of former orchards ripened in our back yards and there will be more.  We literally gave them away in a box in front of Co-op HQ for any interested passers-by. My family’s birthday calendar and my culinary strengths (baking and preserves) happily coincided with this Co-op surplus. I made this cake twice in 10 days, and I recommend it to you as it is the happy confluence of easy and delicious.

IMG_4641IMG_4645 You can dress it up with an orange curd between the layers and cover it with a meringue, or simply mince and macerate strawberries and mangos for a filling and topping.  

Basically, this cake is excellent by itself and amenable to your ideas.  It is so simple that you probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now.  It takes about an hour.

2 1/4 c flour

1 1/2 c sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

zest of 2 large or 3 small oranges (just the orange, not the white pith)

3 eggs

1 c orange juice (you can use the juice of those zested oranges, and add water to reach 1 cup)

4 ounces melted unsalted butter (1 stick), cooled

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with vegetable-oil spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Spray the paper too.
  2. In a large bowl or the bowl of your electric stand mixer, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Mix well at medium speed, then beat in the eggs,  juice, and butter until blended, about 2 minutes. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes onto a rack to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.
  3. Either fill with fresh chopped strawberries, mangoes, or whatever you like, or make an orange curd filling.
  4. Orange Curd: In a medium saucepan, combine a cup of orange juice, 1/3 c sugar, 3 tbsp flour and about 2 tsp orange zest.  Keep whisking constantly over heat until the mixture thickens and starts to boil.  Take off the heat and whisk in a hefty tbsp of butter.  Set aside to cool with a piece of plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin forming.
  5. Italian Meringue Icing:  This is a treat that my family loves, as it is lighter than a buttercream and really attractive.  My grandmother Nonny made a wonderful 7 minute frosting, and this is right along that line.
  6. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup sugar and 1/3 c water to a boil to the soft ball stage, or 240 degrees.  (You will need an electric mixer for this, or someone to help.)  Meanwhile, beat 3 egg whites with a pinch (1/8 tsp) cream of tartar to the soft peak stage.  While you are beating the egg whites, slowly pur in the hot sugar syrup and beat continuously for about 8 minutes, until the meringue is smooth and glossy.
  7. To assemble the cake, split the layers and fill with the orange curd, then frost.  I decorated this one with lemon balm leaves and a geranium flower. It is not overly sweet or rich, but fresh and yummy.

 

Kumquat chocolate sauce, and kumquat marmalade with wild fennel seeds

I love that Cyd is an intuitive cook as well as an adventurous spirit. He took home some of the Co-op’s kumquat harvest to preserve and share, according to our mission. Cyd is attuned to his immediate environment, keeping an eye on our deer and local fruits, and had climbed up on a Nichols Canyon hillside and harvested local fennel seeds. Using these saved seeds, he flavored a kumquat marmalade. Genius! He also combined basic chocolate with kumquats to make Kumquat Chocolate sauce. Right?? The tart citrus notes balance the rich chocolate, and it makes a delicately nuanced sauce that transforms a plain matzoh cracker to something sublime. (That is one way I like to taste things, as a matzoh is kind of a blank culinary slate.) We’ll get the recipes from Cyd and post them on the ‘Recipes’ tab. We are all looking forward to whatever Cyd will cook up next!

Kumquats, red chilis and cocoa nibs – oh my!

Cyd and I harvested 30 pounds of kumquats from a tree in Pasadena, and with 30 pounds, there is room for creativity.  Beata gave the Co-op a large bag of organic cocoa nibs and came over to help us do some preserving.  The jars, the steaming pots of water, and the fruit all reminded Beata of her childhood in Poland, watching her mother put those lovely seasonal strawberries and cherries in jars.  Even hearing the ‘ping’ of jars cooling down evoked memories.

Kumquats with cocoa nibs and chili pepper, nearly at the canning stage

Kumquats with cocoa nibs and chili pepper, nearly at the canning stage

But I don’t think anyone has memories quite like this flavor.

Prepared halved kumquats were cooked with cocoa nibs.  Once softened, chili pepper flakes were stirred in and then sugar was added.  This preserve is moderately sweet, spicy/hot, and has that bitter richness from the cocoa nibs to balance out the acidity.  It also has a terrific contrast texture, smooth jelly and crunchy nibs.   I really want to stir in soy sauce and dip dumplings in this one, or maybe spread some on a warm tortilla.  What will you do?

The recipe is on the ‘Recipes’ tab, Kumquat Chili Pepper Preserves with Cocoa Nibs’.  The name may be pragmatic, but the flavors are a flight of fancy.

Blood Orange Marmalade

Mimi brought over 2 1/2 pounds of blood oranges, or 13 3 ounce fruits.  She wondered what sort of marmalade these would make – and so did I.  In order to really taste this rather subtle citrus, no flavoring, such as vanilla or spice, was added.  Start by soaking and scrubbing the fruit, then cut 1/4″ from each end and halve.   IMG_4607 Cut out a little triangle of core and put in the cheesecloth lined bowl for the pectin bag, scraping out any seeds at the same time.  IMG_4611Slice each half thinly, and measure.  2 1/2 pounds yielded 8 cups of sliced fruit.  Put in a large pot, add an equal amount of water and the pectin bag, and boil for 30 minutes, then cover and take off the heat.  At this point, let the mixture sit about 8 hours, usually overnight, or refrigerate for later use.IMG_4615

The golden rule for marmalade and preserves is to cook no more than 6 cups per batch.  Since this yielded 8 cups of cooked mixture, I split it into 2 batches of 4 cups each.  Bring the fruit mix to a boil, then add an equal amount of sugar, which in this case was 4 cups. Add 2 tbsp of lemon or lime juice.  Keep the mixture at a boil. Bring the canner to a boil and have your jars ready.  This reaches the gel stage in about 30 minutes, but can take longer, depending on your stove.  Ladle into jars leaving 1/4″ head space, and process for 10 minutes.  This yielded 18 4 ounce jars.