Friday, July 27, 2012

Peachapalooza, Part II: liqueur and a lemony jelly and syrup from peelings

Save your peach peelings and lemon rinds
to make jelly and syrup, but discard the pits.
I recently processed nearly 30 pounds of perfect peaches into a delicious assortment of jams and jellies. What didn't get put into jars would up in gallon containers with a vodka to make liqueur. It took a few weeks to fully infuse - and repeated strainings - to yield a blushing but clear pour that (shhh!) lucky friends and family will enjoy as holiday gifts.

Additionally, inspired by Gilt Taste's popular Eat Shoots & Leaves series - especially this IACP award-winning apple peel edition by Sheri Castle - I decided to save all the peach peelings and most of the lemon rinds to make stock for jelly and syrup. The results are as righteous as they are delicious.

Peach Liqueur
1 750 ml bottle of vodka
5 lbs. peaches
2 cinnamon sticks
10 strips lemon zest
2 sealable gallon-size containers
2 cups sugar
2 cups water

Select a brand of vodka you would drink in public, but not an expensive top label. Pour four cups vodka into each of the gallon containers; add a cinnamon stick and 5 slices of lemon zest to each.

Blanch peaches, peel and cut into chunks; reserve peels but discard pits, which contain a trace amount of cyanide. Divide fruit equally among containers. Secure lids and set aside in a cool, not sunny location. Turn container over every day for a full week.

Strain mix first through mesh colander  to gather majority of the juice, then run the juice through a jelly bag; transfer to clean sealable gallon container. Transfer peaches from colander to jelly bag and all to drip for at least an hour. Press lightly to get the last drips, but avoid the urge to squeeze as liqueur can turn cloudy. Pour liquid into a gallon container. (Note, The fruit likely will have given its best to the infusion, but sample a bite before you decide whether to discard or use for another purpose, such as mashing and adding to homemade barbecue sauce.)

Meanwhile, in a small pan over medium heat, dissolve sugar in water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer two minutes, stirring to ensure that sugar is fully incorporated. Remove from heat to cool.

Add cooled syrup to peach mixture in the container. Seal and set aside in a cool, not sunny location, swirling occasionally, for 4-6 weeks (or more, if you lose track). If necessary, strain one more time before serving to remove any remaining sediment. Transfer to smaller bottles to enjoy or give as gifts.

Lemony Peach Jelly and Syrup
Peach peelings from about 20 pounds of peaches
Rinds reserved from about 8 juiced lemons
Reserved blanching water
About 10 cups water
6-8 cups sugar, divided
2 packages low-sugar pectin (such as Sure-Jel)

Makes two batches of jelly, each yielding 5 half-pints, with remaining stock boosted into a light syrup to flavor soda water.

Place reserved peelings, reserved blanching water and fresh water in a stock pot. Bring to a boil over meidum-high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Bubble for about an hour, or until stock is richly colored and fragrant.

Carefully transfer hot mixture to a jelly strainer set over a large pot. Allow to drip undisturbed four about an hour. Gently press obvious juice from the bag, being careful to not release sediment that will cloud the jelly. Discard remains from jelly bag.

You'll need 3 cups of peach stock, 3 cups of sugar and 1 package of low-sugar pectin per batch of jelly. Pour stock into a wide, heavy-bottom pot of dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pectin and 1/4 cup sugar, stir constantly until fully blended. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil, then add remaining sugar. Stir often until mixture returns to a full rolling boil. Watch the clock or count off 60 seconds, then remove the pot from heat.

Peach syrup in soda water (pre-stir)
Following USDA directions, process in water bath 10 minutes then carefully transfer to heatproof surface. leave undisturbed until jars are fully cooled and set. Repeat for second batch; do not double this or any jelly recipe. Ratios are important in canning and a double batch of jelly may never set.

Measure remaining peach stock an 1 cup sugar for every 2 cups stock, or more if you prefer a sweeter syrup. Transfer mix to a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to ensure that sugar is well incorporated. Remove from heat and, when cool, transfer to a sealable bottle and refrigerate.

Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour in about 3 tablespoons syrup then top with soda water and stir. Garnish with a peach slice, if you have any left, or spike with a splash of vodka.

Note: If you want a thicker, pancake-style syrup, boil the mixture to reduce to desired consistency. Remove from heat and, when cool, transfer to a sealable bottle and refrigerate.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Blunderproof Kung Pao Chicken

With help from an especially adept sous chef, I returned home Monday tonight with a complete mise en place ready to prepare Grace Young's Kung Pao Chicken for dinner. Described by the wok guru as one of her favorite recipes from Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge - and the selected post for this week's Wok Wednesdays online event - my only task was to locate the two tablespoons of chicken broth Tim was unable to find in our typically stock-stuffed freezer.

The bags of cubes and containers of broth that often tumble from my freezer were oddly missing from sight; a signal, at long last, that it really is time to replenish. In its place I made a scant cupful of broth from a liquid concentrate, a reasonable substitute since everything else was so perfectly in place.

Or so I thought. I messed up the maestro's organization by stashing the excess broth too close to the prep station. Tim handed me each ingredient with the confident skill of a surgical nurse - scalpel! clamp! red bell peppers! - until I misspoke and asked for broth instead of the savory mix of soy sauce, rice wine and toasted sesame oil actually called for.

I didn't even look when I splashed in about 3/4 cup of light golden broth, which should have been dark and  shimmery. I realized the blunder about a minute later when the stir fry failed to gain the classic lacquered look of Kung Pao. In rapid succession, I strained off the excess liquid, added a teaspoon of corn starch and the proper sauce, then held my breath as I tossed the contents in the bubbling mix.

In just a minute or two, it assumed expected appearance and was brought to the table still steaming. A photo I posted as a preview earned admiring comments from friends who were unaware of how close I came to completely ruining the dish.

Photo @TheKitchn
Once my adrenalin rush subsided, I had to admit I went too weenie on Grace Young's recommended heat scale. I had planned to substitute the 4-8 dried red chiles with a generous shake of red chile flakes but opted instead to use two fresh jalapeno peppers in our market stash. Even with seeds, their sweet almost-heat should have been amplified by some red chile.

One ingredient that absolutely must not be messed with is the half-teaspoon of roasted and ground Sichuan (or Szechwan, etc.) peppercorns. I can't imagine anything else that comes close to the floral, almost fruity essence of this critical ingredient. Most well-stocked grocery stores carry this, as well as local and online specialty spice shops. Splurge a few bucks and get a jar; you'll be surprised how often you sneak it into favorite dishes.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cheers! All-natural soda inspired by craft cocktails

The craft cocktail movement has given rise to a resurgence of great bars that appeal to discerning customers who favor premium blends from small-batch distilleries and house-made mixers flavored with local fruit, herbs and spices.

Bob Safford is impressed by the creativity of top mixologists and the hip, well-heeled crowds they attract. As a non-drinker, however, he grew tired of sitting on the sidelines when friends would order concoctions far more interesting than his Diet Coke or non-alcoholic beer.

“I remember one night in particular where everyone was talking about the great herbs and spices in their drinks, and it hit me: Why can’t you do this with a soda?” said Safford, who did just that with JOIA, an all-natural beverage available locally at Fresh Market.

Safford researched several alternative soft drinks before he launched JOIA in June 2011. None had flavors as complex or adventurous as his vision, and some included artificial ingredients.

“There’s a strong demand quality products made with natural fruits and spices. It started as a trend in healthy snacks 10-15 years ago when Nabsico and Kraft and other large companies responded to the shift in consumer preferences,” said Safford, who retired from a career at General Mills. “Today, it’s going the other way with small producers getting shelf space.”

Bob Safford
At upscale grocery chains and specialty markets, buyers now have their choice of dozens of snack crackers made by some of the best bakers they’ve never heard of – including ones from their own culinary communities. That kind of creativity just isn’t possible at mega-manufacturers, he said, and consumer demand is making it possible for more small-batch producers to achieve success.

After developing nearly 100 funky flavors in 2010, Safford used focus groups and in-home demonstration parties to winnow the field to four signature Drink Distinct flavors: Pineapple Coconut & Nutmeg; Lime Hibiscus& Clove; Blackberry Pomegranate & Ginger; and Grapefruit Chamomile & Cardamon. Four-packs sell for about $5.99 at Fresh Market, or $1.69 for chilled single bottles.

Safford introduced JOIA in his home market of Minneapolis-St. Paul, which he described as “upscale, highly educated and open to natural products” – much like the Triad, where JOIA recently found space on market shelves.

Being named Best Carbonated Beverage of the year in 2011 by BevNet helped grow the buzz and created opportunities to expand. “Frankly, flew in the face of how we intended to grow, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he said with a laugh. “We’re working hard to meet the demand and continue offering new products.”

Though they are not yet available in all JOIA markets, the company has introduced two new flavors, Orange Jasmine & Nutmeg and Ginger Apricot & Allspice. Don’t be surprised if Cranberry Pear & Allspice makes its debut around the Thanksgiving holiday.

While JOIA was inspired as a non-alcohol beverage option, Safford does not object if anyone decides to punch up the flavor with their favorite spirits. The brand's website even offer suggestions for cocktail pairings.

“That’s a little controversial within the board of the company,” conceded Safford. “It’s an irony, right? But because of the way these are made it’s not surprising that these are great mixers. If you talk our Lime Hibiscus & Clove and add some gin and lime, it’s an insanely good drink.”

* * *
Taste Test

JOIA provided a sampler four-pack of its signature soda flavors for a taste testing. A highly unscientific test was conducted at my kitchen table, which happens to be located in reasonable proximity to our liquor stash. Testers included two adult females, two adult males, and a surprisingly adventurous and taste-savvy 8-year-old girl.    .

Lime Hibiscus & Clove:  We all warily expected the clove to be dominant and cloying, but the balance was excellent and the crisp flavor highly refreshing.

“It’s sour and it’s perfect; a 10,” said our kid tester, adding, “I’d like to add this flavor to my SodaStream.” “Yummy,” agreed an adult female, who suggested it be spiked with vodka. “Yes, indeed.”

Blackberry Pomegranate & Ginger:  While testers had high expectations, this sample was deemed too sweet and punch-like.

“Add some Smirnoff and lime, my friend, and it becomes an 8,” declared one adult female tester. “Vodka does add a bit of herbaceousness,” agreed a male tester, “but it’s still sweet.”

Grapefruit Chamomile & Cardomon:  For four out of five tasters, this was the best of the bunch.

 “Subtle and delicious with a dry tartness. Perfect for a hot day,” said an adult female tester. “Smells the best,” said a male tester, adding,. “Wow, an 8.” “A little funky to me,” said our 8-year-old, but it smells and tastes very nice.” “Too crisp for me,” said the other male tester. “Kind of like Mt. Dew Extreme.”

Pineapple Coconut & Nutmeg:  The pina colada-like blend was sweet and somewhat reminiscent of Lifesavers. It scored lowest among testers.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ribs epitomize barbecue for Steven Raichlen

Steven Raichlen will participate in a demonstration and book signing event at 6 p.m. July 25 at Fearrington Village in Pittsboro in celebration of his book, Best Ribs Ever: A Barbecue Bible Cookbook: 100 Killer Recipes. Tickets are $40 each and include samples of ribs, beer and an autographed copy of the book. For information, call 919-542-3030.

There are lots of foods called barbecue, but most North Carolina purists sit in the same pew when it comes to the holy trinity of whole hog, pork shoulder and wood smoke.

Steven Raichlen doesn’t mind sitting in the next row. After spreading the gospel of barbecue around the globe and teaching countless fans how to make it at home through his popular books and cooking shows, Raichlen remains devoted to a certain cut.

“If I were to pick one dish that epitomizes barbecue, that stands as the pin-up for it all, it has to be ribs,” said Raichlen, author of the new collection Best Ribs Ever (Workman Press).  “There’s just something so primal about it. Any food eaten with your bare hands, preferably outdoors, takes you back 1.8 million years ago to the whole king of the hill thing.”

Raichlen credits the built-in flavor boost provided by marrow-rich rib bones and feels a bit sorry for those who deny themselves the pleasure that comes with the relatively high ratio of fat to meat.

“Hey, fat equals flavor,” he said, noting that barbecue is not a subject fit for calorie counting. “It’s extraordinarily versatile. I know people in North Carolina will disagree, but for me, it just doesn’t get any better.”

Raichlen is an ardent admirer of the Carolina ‘cue – he’s especially keen on Allen & Son, the celebrated Chapel Hill smokehouse that remains faithful to the low and slow method – but he thinks those who try to pass off electric- or gas-cooked meat as the real deal deserve a sort of barbecue ex-communication.

In his travels to research this and other books and broadcasts – he reckons he’s circumnavigated the globe at least a half-dozen times in search of barbecue heaven – Raichlen said he’s come across many exceptional cooks whose methods are rooted in the Tar Heel tradition of pit barbecue.

The owner of the Auberge Shulamit inn and restaurant in Rosh Pina, Israel, finally found the smokey flavor she wanted to feature after a friend from North Carolina came over and crafted a pit to cook meat. “She was very taken with this and tried it with goose, which is delicious,” said Raichlen, who wrote about the restaurant’s Smoked Egg Pâté in Planet Barbecue“If you’re willing to broaden your definitions, you open yourself up to some amazing barbecue experiences.”

There are some places, however, that Raichlen just won’t go.  “Boiling, braising and microwaving – that’s just wrong,” he said, enumerating the three “heresies” defined in the book.

“Some people would argue that smoking low and slow is the barbecue analog of braising, but it’s different when you rely on natural juices to flavor the meat,” he said. “Braising the ribs in the oven then throwing them on the grill to brown them up is very different. Same goes for boiling or microwaving. You might make something very tasty, but it’s just not barbecue.”

Raichlen suggests that newbies start with the appropriately titled First Timer Ribs, a simply seasoned feast that explains step by step how to prep the meat and cook it to perfection. 
Rotisserie collars are available spit-style and
specially made for ribs, such as this Weber Rib-o-Lator.
Ever the barbecue missionary, he's hopeful that the recipes in Best Ribs Ever will encourage cooks to venture beyond the basics to enjoy exotic seasonings – and not just with baby backs and short ribs, but also lamb. One of his personal favorites is North African “Mechoui” of Lamb Ribs served with a spicy harissa.

Part of this dish’s appeal is the method of cooking with a rotisserie collar, which can be ordered online for most gas or kettle-type grills.

“I use one to cook a spit-roasted chicken at least once a week, and it’s an especially good way to cook ribs,” said Raichlen. “Honestly, it’s somewhat in the spirit of a Carolina pig pickin’, and who can resist that?”


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Peachapalooza, Part I: in marmalade with basil, St. Germain syrup, and cardamon butter

I adore peaches and make peach jam every year. Their cost, especially when the more-or-less local Sandhills crop is in abundance, usually stirs little heartburn, yet I've never bought them in the quantity needed to really get creative. This year, however, Whole Foods graciously made me an offer I could not refuse: a bulging case of Georgia peaches, not a spoiled one among nearly 30 pounds of fruit, for the pre-July 4th price of just $17.76.

Graham handled the transaction for me. Before he left for the house, he asked if perhaps I wanted two boxes since the price was so good. Once there, he called to make sure I really wanted a whole box - even texting me a photo to make certain. He said customers made way as he hauled the crate and a bag of sugar to checkout.

The sight of them on my kitchen table, and the perfume they were beginning to spill, was somewhat intoxicating, leading me to decide right off the bat to take a boozy approach to this bounty. After a quick run to the ABC store, I set aside a quantity for peach liqueur and, in what I think is an appealing deviation from brandied peaches, canned golden slivers in the special savor faire of St. Germain. I feel sure it will be a canning crime of the highest degree to spill out any "excess" syrup. Cocktails, anyone?

With the sole exception of Cardamon Peach Butter, all recipes require peeling these luscious orbs.Yes, peeling peaches takes time, but a quick blanch makes the job much simpler. Fill a medium stock pot about half way with water, cover and bring to a boil. Gather the fruit on a rimmed baking pan near the stove and, with a sharp knife, slash a shallow X into the bottom of each peach. Using a metal skimmer or spider, submerge 4-5 peaches at a time in the boiling water for about 45-60 seconds, or until the cut edges begin to loosen, then return the peaches to the sheet pan. Repeat until all fruit has been blanched, adding more water to the pot if needed.

When cool enough to handle, grab each flap of peel between the tip of a knife and a thumb and lightly pull back to denude each peach. Be sure to save all peelings and the peachy blanching water for the jelly and syrup, but discard the pits, which contain a trace amount of cyanide.

Recipes for Peach Liqueur and Lemony Peach Jelly and Syrup - seriously, save those peels and the blanching water - will follow soon. Tim thinks the results of the recipe below was the best of the bunch. I'm typically not keen on all that citrus peel in marmalade, but the food processor makes quick work of pulverizing a lemon, and the slow simmer leaves it mild and thick, a perfect base for the macerated peaches that follow.

Peach Lemon Marmalade with Basil
Adapted from The Blue Chair Cookbook by Rachel Saunders (@ Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2010)

1 pound thin-skinned organic lemons, seeded
3½  pounds peaches; peeled and pitted
3½  pounds white cane sugar
2-4 additional lemons to make 6 ounces freshly squeezed juice
½ to 1 cup small fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade just before use

Day 1
Scrub 1 pound lemons and trim ends. Cut into quarters (or sixths, if large) and remove seeds. Transfer seeded pieces to work bowl of food processor and whirr until well chopped but not fully pureed. Use your tolerance for citrus peel as a guide.

Pour into heavy bottom sauce pan and cover with about two cups of water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered 30-40 minutes until tender and thickened, stirring occasionally to ensure the mixture does not stick. Remove from heat to cool.

While lemons are cooking, score the bottom of each peach with an X and blanch as described above. Transfer to rimmed pan to catch juice and peel when peaches are cool enough to handle. Reserve peach peel and blanching water but discard the pits.

Cut peach flesh into chunks and transfer with any accumulated juice to a large hard plastic container. Using a hand-held chopper - since childhood, I've known it as a "chunka-chunka," my mother's device of choice for chunking canned tuna - chop until you like the texture, being sure to leave some big pieces. If, sadly, your kitchen is not equipped with a chunka-chunka, a potato masher will suffice.

Add the sugar, lemon juice and cooked lemons and stir well to combine. Press plastic wrap to surface of mixture to minimize browning from oxidation. Cover tightly with lid and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.

Day 2
Remove peach-lemon mixture from refrigerator and transfer to a non-reactive, heavy bottom canning pot or large dutch oven. Stir well to incorporate any undissolved sugar.

Bring mixture to a boil over high heat and maintain a rolling boil for about 30-40 minutes or until setting point is reached. This should not require frequent stirring, but do stir lightly every few minutes, especially toward the end, when it will may pop with great volcanic bubbles. The mixture will darken slightly as it nears completion. At this point, add a handful of basil leaves freshly chopped in a chiffonade; stir through. Basil should look like tiny green threads suspended in jelly. If you want more, add it now and stir again to combine.

Test for doneness by placing a half-spoonful of marmalade in the freezer for 2-3 minutes. If the  marmalade does not slosh when the spoon is tilted, it's done. If not, let the mixture bubble a few more minutes and test again.

Following USDA directions, process in water bath for 10 minutes then carefully transfer to heatproof surface. Leave undisturbed until jars are fully cooled and set.

* * *

In August 2009, Amanda Hesser wrote about a classic 1951 New York Times recipe for brandied peaches that truly stood the test of time. If you poke around online, you'll find in cited in other blogs and food sites, too, because it's so darn awesome.

I planned to follow its simple directions precisely before landing on the idea to use St. Germain instead. The elderflower liqueur is fabulously floral and oh so French. The mere mention of this has led several people to volunteer as testers.

I am happy to report that it is indeed quite tasty. Save any leftover syrup for cocktails, to drizzle on pound cake, or dab behind your ears. 

Peaches in St. Germain Syrup
Adapted from The New York Times.
6 pounds ripe, unblemished peaches
5 cups sugar
1 to 1½ cups St. Germain

Blanch peaches as described above. Transfer to rimmed pan to catch juice and peel when peaches are cool enough to handle. 

If peaches are a free-stone variety, cut in half; if not, cut into large slices. Reserve peach peels and blanching water (ideally, use the same blanching water as above) but discard the pits.

In another pot, combine 5 cups sugar and 5 cups water and bring to a boil. When sugar is dissolved, add peaches and accumulated juices. Reduce heat and simmer about 3 minutes.

Have 6 pint jars (or comparable variety), lids and bands ready for canning. Gently pack peaches into jars. Boil remaining syrup 5 minutes to thicken slightly. Use a small ladle to pour over fruit, filling jars ¾ full. Reserve excess syrup.

Add 3-4 tablespoons St. Germain to each pint (or about two tablespoons to each half-pint). Leave about ½ inch headroom; apply lids and bands.

Following USDA directions, process in water bath for 20 minutes then carefully transfer to heatproof surface. Leave undisturbed until jars are fully cooled. 

* * *

A lifetime ago, I won a red ribbon at the Indiana State Fair for peach butter. I wish I'd kept track of that recipe, but this one definitely is a keeper.

Peach Cardamon Butter
8 pounds peaches, pitted
Reserved St. Germain syrup (see above)
12-16 green cardamon pods, crushed
½ cinnamon stick
1-3 cups white cane sugar, as needed
½ teaspoon cardamon powder, optional
Small piece of cheesecloth, string

Cut unpeeled peaches into chunks, discarding pits, and place fruit in bowl of a large slow cooker set on low heat. Pour in reserved St. Germain syrup. Place crushed caradmon pods and  ½  stick of cinnamon on cheesecloth; gather edges together, tie tightly into a bundle and push down into fruit mixture. Cover, stirring occasionally, and simmer overnight or at least 8-10 hours.

Fish out the bundle of spices and puree contents with an immersion blender. Add 1 cup sugar and stir to incorporate. Transfer mixture to a heavy-bottom pot or dutch oven and bubble over medium heat, stirring now and then to ensure the mixture is not sticking or burning. 

During this time the butter will change in color from golden peach to reddish brown. Taste as it thickens to ensure balance of spices and adequate sweetness; if needed, add more sugar and up to a half teaspoon of dried cardamon. It should be done at or close to the point when the mixture has reduced by nearly half. This will take an hour or more, so be patient and keep stirring.

Assume that the recipe will yield at least a dozen half-pint jars, but it likely will fill more. Prepare a few extras, including some 4-ounce jars, just in case, or pour remainder into a sealable container and refrigerate.

Following USDA directions, process jars in water bath for 10 minutes then carefully transfer to heatproof surface. Leave undisturbed until jars are fully cooled and set.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Spinach Cream Sauce with Roasted Tomatoes

I've made this twice now and both times it vanished before I could get a photo. It's a cheater's dinner, based on a bag of frozen creamed spinach, but it's a genuinely delicious and quick meatless meal.

1 11-oz. bag frozen creamed spinach (such as SteamFresh)
1 pint sungold or other cherry tomatoes
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 oz. reduced fat cream cheese
freshly ground black pepper
1 14.5-oz. box whole grain spaghetti or linguine
reserved pasta water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place cherry tomatoes in a pie plate with olive oil and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix to coat then roast for about 15 minutes or until tomatoes are blistered and release juice. Turn off heat and leave in oven to keep warm. Place cream cheese on oven safe plate and set on rack in warm oven for about 5 minutes to soften.

Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot and cook the pasta about a minute less than the package directs. Reserve a cup of pasta water before draining.

While pasta is boiling, cook creamed spinach in microwave according to package directions. Transfer to a bowl with juice from tomatoes and cream cheese; stir to combine.

Return drained pasta to pot over medium-low heat with a glug of pasta water. Add spinach mixture and, using tongs, distribute through pasta, adding more pasta water by the tablespoon if needed. Transfer to serving bowl and top with roasted tomatoes and freshly ground pepper.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Substitutes yields satisfying side dish for post-season stir fry

Sugar snap peas are for me what the sight of a robin is to many people: an assurance that spring is well on its way. Their crisp sweetness, devoured straight from market tubs before they can be transferred to a proper bowl, fully earns their sunny, promising name.
Variation on Grace Young's Stir-Fried Sugar Snap Peas
with Shitake Mushrooms, served with panko-crusted trout.

I happily ate my share in those early weeks and didn't entirely notice their absence as other early summer vegetables followed. So it was with some sadness that, while on a belated market run for last week's Wok Wednedsays post about Grace Young's Stir-Fried Sugar Snap Peas With Shitake Mushrooms, I found not a single sugar snap pea.

The basket that normally is full of plump shitakes also was bare - but on another shelf I spiked a package of maitakes, otherwise knows as Hens of the Wood. Assuming commonality of name communicated a reasonable (if perhaps distant) culinary kinship, I bought them. While clearly different varieties, a quick online search was reassuring in that both reportedly "boost immune function, support cardiovascular health, and show promise in lowering the risk of - or treating - cancer." So far, so good.

Tim likewise had no luck with sugar snap peas at the farmer's market, but he did bring home a bag of just-picked local green beans. Trusting the heat of my wok to make it all work, and imaging Grace Young's encouraging voice, I forged on to prepare a heavily tweaked version of the recipe from her James Beard award-winning Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge.

Maitakes are better known as Hen of the Woods.
Since the direction call for light stir-frying of the snaps, and my green beans were a bit tough, I gave them a quick steam bath in the microwave with the clinging rinse water. Conversely, the maitakes were more tender and did not absorb all of the savory stock as described. As such, I opted to not add the last spoonful of stock and let the green beans soak up the remaining mushroomy broth.

To my relief, the end result was a reasonable rendition of the image featured in her book - which is saying a lot since most of the ingredients were substitutions. The beans retained an appealing crispness and the ginger-glazed mushrooms surrendered to drape them luxuiously. 

I'll certainly make this variant again over the course of the summer, but join me in marking the calendar now to take even better advantage of next year's spring arrival of sugar snaps.