Saturday, September 21, 2013

Foodie at the Farmers’ Market
What’s cooking? Ground Cherry Shazam

Every once in a while, a new fruit or vegetable shows up at my farmers’ market, issuing a siren call of sorts to people like me who are intrigued with the unusual taste or texture, to see what can be made of these foods. The latest to appear in our New Jersey market was ground cherries. Not ground-up cherries, mind you, but ground cherries, which are closely related to tomatillos. In fact, in their paper-lantern shells, ground cherries look like miniature versions of tomatillos.

The taste, however, is nothing like tomatillos. They’re sweet-tart, with a flavor many think reminds them of pineapple. Not me. To me, it’s a more mysterious flavor – think tomato crossed with melon. The berries, known also as Cape gooseberries, reach about a half-inch in diameter, and are yellow to bright orange, with numerous seeds like tomatoes.

They’re wonderful in fruit salads, pies, tarts, and jam. I first had them in Portugal, where they were served as a garnish with dessert, husks pulled back like leaves and berries dipped in a micro-thin candy coating. They’re also delicious pulled straight from their husks.

I was aiming for jam when I started this project, but it never set (gelled). I asked a friend who’s a pro at jams and jellies if she thought I should re-boil it. “No,” she said. “I’d just call it syrup.” But it’s thicker than syrup, yet thinner than jam. I call it Shazam. When you taste it, you’ll know it’s the perfect name.

Ground Cherry Shazam on yogurt.

What can you do with Shazam?

■ Spoon it over fresh goat cheese as an appetizer with crackers;
■ Stir it into Greek yogurt for breakfast or dessert;
■ Spread it on toast; or
■ Drizzle it as a glaze over chicken or pork before baking.

Use your imagination. I’m saving some jars of it to give as Christmas gifts if I don’t eat it all first. And if you don’t want to make so much – or shell so many ground cherries – this recipe is easily halved.

Ground Cherry Shazam on crostini with hummus.

Ground Cherry Shazam

Makes 5 half-pint jars.

36 ounces husked ground cherries (from 6 pint baskets)
4½ tablespoons lemon juice (about 2 lemons), plus 2 long, inch-wide strips of lemon zest
3 cups sugar
2 large sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons Domaine De Canton French Ginger Liqueur (optional)

In a large, heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan or an enameled cast iron pot (I use a 5.5-quart Le Creuset French oven), combine the ground cherries, the lemon juice, and the sugar. Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Place a round of parchment paper on top of the mixture to keep a skin from forming, cover the pot, and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

The next day, remove the parchment paper, place the pan over medium high heat, and bring the mixture to a rapid boil. Continue to boil the mixture for 15-20 minutes.

In the meantime, place a small plate in the freezer. After 10 minutes, test for the preserves to set by dribbling a spoonful onto the frozen plate and let it sit back in the freezer 2 minutes. If it turns into a soft get that moves only slightly when you tip the plate, the jam is set. Remove the mixture from the heat. If after 20 minutes, the jam still doesn’t appear to be setting, remove it from the heat anyhow. (Now you, too, have shazam!)

Stir the thyme and lemon rind into the mix and cover the pot. Let the preserves steep for 5-10 minutes, then remove the thyme and the lemon zest and stir in the liqueur if using. I take a potato masher at this point and smash about half the fruit – I like the look of the tiny seeds and the variations in texture.

Ladle the shazam (or jam) into clean Ball jars. Store in the fridge or process as for preserves.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Celebrating the Goldilocks Season
What’s cooking? Sunny Plumcot Sorbet and Lemon-Basil Butter Cookies

The Kitchen Goddess has been in Texas for a week, grappling with AT&T for a new modem because the house is too far away from the signal source to get U-verse. No internet, no blog. Grrr... I’m making up for that absence with TWO fine recipes that go together like, well,... cookies and fruit.

Now is the sweet spot of summer, when it’s not too hot and not too cold. So before we begin the great kitchen migration to soups and stews, lentils and lasagna, let us pause a moment for a final summer sorbet. And perhaps some cookies.

Not long ago, one of the stalls at my farmers’ market showed up with the loveliest little plums. Shiro plums, they said. Small, pale yellow orbs that turned out to be as juicy and delicious as they were beautiful. I bought a couple of boxes and made sorbet. It was so good, I wouldn’t let anyone else have it. Well, almost anyone else.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

And the winner is...
What’s cooking? Italian Plum Ketchup

I couldn’t get any of the national accounting firms to come over for the drawing, so in the interest of ethical independence, my friend, Gusty Scattergood – who is also the author of the award-winning YA novel, Glory Be – came over yesterday to pull a name out of the bowl. The winner of the drawing for the Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker is... (drum roll, please):

I wish I had enough of those Breakfast Sandwich Makers to give one to each of you, but alas... You can, however, get one online or in many stores. For a start, I found them at Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and

So for everyone else, today’s prize will have to be a different kind of treat – one that will also last quite a while, just not as long as an appliance.

One of the great late summer arrivals at the farmers’ market is a crop of Italian prune plums. Most of the plums you get at the grocery store are fat and round; these are more egg-shaped, and wear a beautiful powdery blue-purple skin – the color of royalty, which may explain why they’re also known as Empress plums. They have a wonderful sweet-tart taste, though the juice won’t dribble down your chin the way it does with the fat, round varieties.