Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thanksgiving Butternut Squash Spread

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and as you may imagine, it's kind of a big deal around here.  The planning typically begins in August when seeds go into the ground, along with a hope and a prayer that maturity will be reached by mid-November.  Radish, beets, swiss chard, a spicy mesclun mix from Johnny's and  shelling peas are still growing well (albeit under a low tunnel with a 4 mil greenhouse film covering) and should be a part of our dinner this year.

As for planning the meal itself, recipe selection began today.  It's kind of like the NFL draft, all past recipes on one side, possible new recipes on the other.  There are some non-negotiables in our family.

1.  Fresh turkey, in any form and cooked in any manner.  We've deep fried them, dry brined, wet brined, Cajun injected, spatchcocked, de-boned and rolled, stuffed, unstuffed and broken down to cook legs and breasts separately.  This year's method is yet to be determined.

2.  Mashed potatoes and gravy.  Lots of both.  The gravy project began earlier this week with The Making of the Turkey Stock.  Turkey wings and backs get roasted with leeks, carrots and celery, then moved to a stock pot with a good amount of water and simmered for a couple hours to extract every bit of turkiness.

3.  Corn.  It's a boy thing.  All the y chromosomes in our family would raise a holy ruckus if corn weren't on the table, in all its yellow (or white) glory.  We've tried fancy schamancy preps here, but it always seem to come back to Green Giant Shoepeg White Corn in Butter Sauce.  I figure once a year won't kill me.  It's a Connecticut/Jersey thing.

4.  Cranberry sauce, jellied, from Ocean Spray.  Personally, I can't stand the stuff and always make a fresh alternative.  My husband, the Foodie, would leave the table to go buy a can if it wasn't in evidence.  Like sour cream, he doesn't have a problem opening the can and taking a spoon to it.  Eww.

Those are The Basics that Must Be Provided.  Pretty simple really.  If only I could leave it at that.

But I can't.

We don't sit to eat until 2pm typically, but no one goes hungry until then.  The all day buffet starts with a light and healthy breakfast and morphs into heavier hors d'oeuvres and canapes as the morning progresses.  Here's one of our favorite I'll be making the day before - it's simple, tasty, and healthy.

Butternut Spread

2# squash peeled, cleaned and cut into 1" cubes
1 tbsp brown sugar, not packed
1 tbsp olive oil



Toss ingredients together with salt and pepper.  Spread onto a lined cookie sheet and roast at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until squash is tender and slightly caramelized.  Very fresh squash will take a little longer to reach this state, but never more than 30 minutes.

While squash is roasting, in a small pan saute:

one small onion, minced
in 1 tbsp butter

once onion is translucent, add:

 2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp ground coriander (or to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin (or to taste)

and continue to cook another minute, until coriander and cumin are fragrant.

Dump squash and onion mixture into a food processor and blitz, adding up to 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil to smooth out the puree.  I typically use as small amount as possible to achieve a good consistency because to finish, you're going to add:

1/4 creme fraiche or full fat Greek yogurt

I don't like sour cream as a creme fraiche substitute, it's too heavy and sour.  The perfect substitute may be Mexican or Salvadoran crema, look for it in your local bodega.

Finish with a nice pinch of salt and some additional black or white pepper.  If you plan on serving this cold, over season it just a bit now when it's still warm or room temp, it will be just right when you serve.

This spread is a wonderful with crackers or bread, as well as your typical crudite.  It makes a nice change from hummus, and if your kids won't eat that, they may like this.  It's also great on apple slices, makes a tasty cheese sandwich spread, and thinned with some broth makes a nice soup.

For a vegan version, substitute olive oil for the butter and use a little coconut milk (unsweetened) instead of creme fraiche.

Happy cooking!

Last Minute Gifts for Your Favorite Cooks

A Guest Blog by Cyn

Hello Holiday Shoppers!

What to get the Cook in your life?  It's been a hot topic of conversation lately, with friends and family all wondering what to procure for each other for the holidays, and some of my foodie friends sharing their lists for Santa with me.  We've got some great ideas, some of which are even free!!!

For the avid cheffers in your household, here are my favorite to get and receive gifts:

Wicked sharp paring knives, the semi-disposable kind that come in a multi pack at your local home store.  We don't always want to use our 'good' knives for some of the more menial tasks in the kitchen.  Loud and obnoxious colors are a good thing for handles, so don't be afraid to color it up a bit.  The hotter the color the less likely we are to lose the knife in whatever we're peeling.


Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peelers are the best vegetable peelers for my money.
And as veg peelers are nearly impossible to sharpen, you'll want to buy them in packs of 3, which fortuitously, is how these are packaged.  Great stocking stuffer!  (Note of Warning:  these are for advanced peelers - they work best and fastest when you hold the veg in one hand and rotate as you peel with the other, bring the peeler toward you.  More of a professional bad ass style of peeling, but with a little practice, anyone can master this.  It's incredibly fast, and no, you won't cut yourself, regardless of what your mother may have told you.  Good for peeling carrots. <snort>)

Finishing salt.  Some of which can now be found at your local grocer - check the aisle - betcha you find something fancy!

Interesting vinegars.  Champagne, fig, raspberry, we don't discriminate.  Really want to impress us?  Make us a bottle.

Good cookbooks.  Check out James Beard Award Winners, Amazon has a nice list.  If you are lucky enough to have a good used book store in your city, a well loved and used version of a classic cookbook (preferably with notes in the margins) makes a great gift.  Some of my favorite must have food books are, in no order of preference;

The Flavor Bible, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg
Gourmet Cookbook (the yellow one), edited by Ruth Reichl
Baking: From My Home to Yours, Dorie Greenspan
anything by Jamie Oliver (what can I say?  I have a soft spot for grungy Brits who have big gardens and want kids to eat well)
and speaking of Brits ----
Nigel Slater's Tender is a fabulous food and garden read
Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi is a must for your vegetarian.

Now about those 'free' gifts....find a few of your favorite recipes and copy them onto pretty card stock.  Double points for writing them out by hand.  This is probably one of my most favorite gifts to receive.

Create a coupon for a free kitchen clean up, or for a free recipe organization of everything that's been shoved into that file folder next to the Cuisinart.  It'll cost you some time, but isn't spending a little time with your loved ones really what the holiday is all about?





Friday, November 9, 2012

One Year Of Meatless Mondays



On November 3, 2011, I wrote and posted my very first blog entry.It explained why I was making a commitment to observing Meatless Mondays for one year and why I felt the need to blog about it.Well, here we are a year later and I'm happy to report I did it!

For those of you unfamiliar the Meatless Monday movement, it is a global initiative to eliminate meat products from their diet one day each week (or about 15%). There are lots of reasons to consider going meatless one day each week. Some do it for health reason, others to promote a better environment and others still for ethical reason. In my case, I'll readily admit that my reasons were different (and maybe even more trivial) compared to the others. Very simply, I wanted to see if I could do it. Nothing more, nothing less. It sounded interesting and I wanted to challenge myself. If you want to know more about Meatless Mondays and the global movement, click here.

As I stated in my first post, I'm not a vegetarian. I don't particularly want to be a vegetarian (yeah, that bacon thing). I do however, like vegetables, so the idea of eating more of them one day a week didn't seem that daunting. What I didn't immediately consider a year ago was that I was essentially committing my wife, Cynthia, to a year of vegetarian cooking on those Monday nights were ate at home together. I travel in my job some, so there were probably a dozen Mondays that I was away from home. There were something int he range of another ten when we ate out locally on Monday. That still leaves about 30 Mondays that Cynthia willingly and expertly made vegetarian meals at home. Thanks for being such a willing an supportive partner.

So, you may ask what did I get out of this grand experiment?

First and absolutely foremost is the satisfaction of having made a commitment to do something that I didn't have to do and required a change in behavior and sticking to it for a full year. Secondly, it exposed me to a pretty heretofore unexplored variety of foods that, as it turned out, I liked a lot. During the year, we ate meals that included quinoa, farro, tofu, forbidden black rice, adasi and falafel. (If you haven't figured it out, each of these links will take you to the original blog post on the topic).

Another curious outcome of the past year is that I simply ate less meat - not just on Monday, but in general. There was a higher level of conscious thought about what constituted a "meal". When we ate meat, we both seemed to eat less of it. Instead of two steaks, we would cook one and split it (after all the recommended portion of protein for an adult is around 4 oz). The makeup of our dinner plates morphed in a way that the meat was more of a side dish and the vegetables were more of a main course. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that this is some path (for me) to vegetarianism - it's not. It is however, a redefinition of how a meal is constructed. For those of you that worry that this type of diet is protein deficient, don't. We ate lots of beans, lentils and other protein rich non-meat foods.

So, after a year, I have decided to stop doing Meatless Mondays. Why? It's not that I have lost my faith in their overall goals. I haven't. In fact, I strongly support what they promote. For me, however, the goals have not only been achieved, but have been integrated into my routine - every day. I eat less meat (more than 15% less than I did before) while still enjoying it when I do eat it. I've discovered that there are plenty of vegetables, grains and fruits that can add taste, texture and enjoyment to meals. I feel like I'm eating a more balanced diet - every day. Institutionalizing it to Mondays no longer seems necessary for me.

If you're interested in reading about some of the other Meatless Monday meals I ate during the year, both at home and out, head on over to A Reluctant Foodie and explore. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

You’ve Got To Pick a Pepper or Two!



A Guest Blog by Anneli

I asked Al to guest post for me over on Delicieux and happily he agreed and it kind of turned into a little ingredients cook off! Wanting to keep it seasonal and from the garden if possible, Al suggested ‘peppers’ as he still had some beauties just turning ripe. We too had peppers a plenty although somewhat smaller and less fabulous! But the ‘Pepper-off’ was born and so here we are!



Immediately my mind was racing with possibilities and I found myself lying in bed at night pondering ingredient combinations. In my usual manner, I came up with lots and narrowed it down, but still couldn’t settle on one outright favourite. So I set about a week of stuffed pepper suppers! I knew I had to try them all to make up my mind.



A little oddly, eating this many peppers did not become dull. Every dish was interesting and enjoyable and reminded me just how damn delicious peppers are! In fact I am not a fan of peppers raw but roasted they are just so sweet, juicy and full of flavour that they become something else entirely. But actually, I discovered that this was something I needed to be careful of. Peppers are so powerful that they can overwhelm less robust ingredients and wash away all your well planned deliciousness.



Peppers are such clever little vessels for stuffing. Upright or laying down they offer up an empty cavity just begging to be loaded up. A whole pepper is very filling when packed to the brim and makes a substantial main course. But cut in half and filled, half a pepper makes a great starter or lunch.

First I shall tell you about a failure as I feel that full disclosure is a good thing in this instance. The reason for this failure of this pepper dish was because of the sum of its parts when in fact, individually everything was fantastic! This is where I learnt the valuable lesson about pepper power. I decided to stuff a pepper with a fresh cream cheese pesto risotto. In my head this was going to be a winner. I blended my pesto, rich with garlic, pine nuts, basil and cream cheese and stirred it into my oozy soft risotto. It tasted frankly incredible. Then I stuffed it into a pepper that I had roasted a little already and popped it back in the oven, I truly expected great things. But when it came to the eating, so much of the wonderful flavour of the risotto just disappeared under the clout of the pepper! In the end, my husband and I were reduced to scooping out the risotto and eating the pepper separately. They were not lovers…..

So, moving swiftly on to the successes. There were two dishes that worked really well but I only have space for one recipe. Suffice as to say, peppers stuffed with garlic lentils and tons of veggies was a delight. But I shall opt instead to tell you about Peppers Stuffed with Spiced Onions and Egg. Does that sound like a strange combo to you? Well, I thought it sounded rather nice and I was proved right!

The foundation for this dish is an Indian inspired spiced onion mixture and a whole egg baked within the pepper. This for me is a nice lunchtime or brunchtime dish. The baked eggs should have lovely soft yolks still so that when eaten, the yolks spill over the onions and pepper coating all in a gooey eggy sauce. I served my peppers sitting on a little mound of turmeric spiced basmati rice.

Peppers Stuffed with Spiced Onions & Egg

Serves 4 for lunch

Ingredients

2 large peppers
1 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
4 small tomatoes, skinned & de-seeded & chopped
1 tsp Garam Massala spice
1 mild chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
½ tsp chilli powder (optional)
½ tsp cumin powder
4 medium eggs
Basmati rice cooked with a teaspoon of turmeric to serve

Preparation

Pre-heat your oven 180Fan00C/395F. Carefully cut your peppers in half lengthways, cutting through the stem if possible. Gently remove all the seeds and white pith from within to leave a lovely clean cavity to stuff.


Brush very lightly with a little olive oil all over. Place in a baking dish and bake for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat your remaining olive oil and fry your onions on a medium heat until softened but not coloured. Then add your chopped chilli. Whilst these are frying you can skin and de-seed your tomatoes and then chop them into smallish chunks.
Add your tomatoes to the onions and your dry spices. Cook this out for 5-10 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down around the onions made a thickish sauce. Season and taste and adjust your spicing if necessary.

Take your peppers out of the oven and spoon a little of the onion mixture into the base of each pepper. Not too much mind – you must leave enough room for the egg.
Take an egg and break it very gently, close as you can to the pepper in order to control it so that it does not slide out of the cavity. Repeat with all your peppers and eggs.

Pop them back in the oven for 8-12 minutes – keeping a close eye on them – as you want your eggs to be just cooked with a slight wobble still ensuring a runny egg yolk.

Season the eggs and serve your peppers sitting on a mound of basmati rice.



Blog by Anneli Faiers from www.delicieux.eu
Biog: I am a Private Chef living South West France. I am a 35 year old, mother of two, living the rural dream. I love to cook all food and am inspired by fresh produce and the cuisine here in France. From rustic traditional dishes to vegetarian to fine dining, I try to cook it all and share my journey with you. Stop by and check it out!

Made with Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Comfort of Carrots

A guest blog by Cyn

Seventy nine cents a pound ($.79) is the cost for a pound of fresh organic carrots at my local supermercado.  Granted, you have to buy a 5# bag to earn that cost, but a pound in plastic is still only $.89.  You can't buy a soda or a decent candy bar for $.89, never mind the eventual cost to your health for going there.  But oh, the places you can go with carrots!

They may be my favorite veg.  You can dress them up or dress them down, make them sweet, savory, spicy - or all three at the same time.  Recently I renewed my vows to carrots when my foodie and gardening BFF Judy forwarded a soup recipe from Eating Well to me.  Judy, like me, loves great food, prepared thoughtfully and simply, with a nod to the season and the best ingredients you can afford.  The soup is simple.  And it is fabulous as is, but thinking of the permutations available staggers me - because the carrot is such a team player.  It boosts and amplifies the flavors of whatever you add to it.  Ginger becomes a little spicier, grilled shrimp speak of skewers and campfires on the Outer Banks, apples sing with carrots, and the song is Yankee Doodle.  I've never met a person who hates carrots, have you?

Unlike a lot of vegetables available in our supermarkets, your carrots are probably grown right here in the good ole US of A.  We're tied with Russia for production at 7%, but the real production is in China, they grow 34%.  Of course, they have a couple more mouths to feed.  Carrots are finicky about where and how the grow, and are susceptible to quite a few pests and diseases.  They like a nice loose sandy soil, with a good amount of available nutrition, and a regular shower.  Not too hot, not too cold.  My first attempt at growing carrots turned out some pretty interesting forked and knotted roots.  Turns out I was lazy and didn't make sure all the lumps and bumps were worked out of the soil.  Since then, I've only planted carrots in newly purchased bags of ProMix soil in a raised bed, making sure to work in a little screened compost before planting seeds.

They are several types of carrots available to grow, and many many more varieties.  Check with your local extension agent to find out what grows best where you are.  Here in Virginia, where our soil can be better described as clay, finger or short types are recommended.  There are some darling little chubbiteenas of the carrot world out there, like Thumbelina ----> which are perfectly suited to sitting in the top four inches or so of your soil, saving your back a little aching.  Might I add that carrots have stunning above ground foliage that looks like ferns.  Nothing wrong with adding a little clump to your beds of annuals!  Or how about adding a pot o'carrots to your back deck?

Carrots also come in colors.  Cosmic Red and Cosmic Purple are two of the varieties that are available at my market occasionally, but I typically have better luck finding them at my farmer's market.  When buying carrots 'loose', be sure to look for vibrant green healthy foliage.  If the leaves are gone, your carrots have probably been sitting around for awhile.  



Back to the food portion of our show, the soup recipe.  My changes this first time making was to omit the green herbage and add ground coriander instead.  I was too lazy to walk outside and gather ye herbs while ye may.  I also upped the carrots to 2# and used all stock in a lesser amount for a thicker soup.  And of course, my VitaMix was involved in the final process insuring the orange velvet love.  I can see this soup in so many ways, with the addition of apples or sweet potatoes, butternut squash or pumpkin.  Creme fraiche or greek yogurt finish? My fave herbs to use with carrots are tarragon, chervil and coriander, not necessarily all at once.  For a Halloween treat, how about a simultaneous pour of black bean next to the carrot, wouldn't that be gorgeous!  A big fat dollop of spicy cornbread dressing in the center of the bowl would do it for me.  I could go on and on, but here's that wonderful recipe:

Carrot Soup

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/carrot_soup.html
From EatingWell:  EatingWell on a Budget (2010), March/April 2011This easy carrot soup is a great way to use up a bag of carrots that were forgotten in your produce drawer.
8 servings, about 1 cup each Active Time: 40 minutes | Total Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme or parsley
  • 5 cups chopped carrots
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, “no-chicken” broth (see Note) or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Heat butter and oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat until the butter melts. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Add garlic and thyme (or parsley); cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds.
  2. Stir in carrots. Add water and broth; bring to a lively simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a lively simmer and cook until very tender, about 25 minutes.
  3. Puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.) Stir in half-and-half (if using), salt and pepper.

Nutrition

Per serving : 77 Calories; 3 g Fat; 1 g Sat; 2 g Mono; 4 mg Cholesterol; 10 g Carbohydrates; 3 g Protein; 3 g Fiber; 484 mg Sodium; 397 mg Potassium
1/2 Carbohydrate Serving
Exchanges: 1 vegetable, 1 fat

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
  • Note: Chicken-flavored broth, a vegetarian broth despite its name, is preferable to vegetable broth in some recipes for its hearty, rich flavor. Sometimes called “no-chicken” broth, it can be found with the soups in the natural-foods section of most supermarkets.

And my proof of production:


I highly recommend using Better than Boullion's No Chicken broth, and if you want to get all vegan about it, use all EVOO and finish with a little coconut milk, unsweetened of course.  Leaving a little carrot in the pot before blitzing adds a nice little bit of texture as well - just smush a bit with your stirring spoon.

Rant on::: One last note, for heaven's sake, don't buy 'baby' carrots in a bag.  Put on your big girl panties and buy a big boy carrot and peel it.  Takes 30 seconds for a remedial peeler, and will be far less processed that your whittled down bred for higher sugar content carrot reject treated with chlorine to kill the bad bugs.  Doritos may be a better choice than a 'baby' carrot in a bag.  :::Rant off.




Made with Love Mondays, hosted by Javelin Warrior

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Trouble with Tribbles, err, Zucchini

OK, if you're not a geek like me or aren't old enough to remember the classic Trouble with Tribbles episode of the original Star Trek, that title line probably confused you. You see, Tribbles were these cute little furry pets that were brought aboard the Starship Enterprise and began to reproduce at a rate that would make rabbits look lazy. If you've ever grown zucchini, you know that they're kind of like Tribbles. Well, we had the typical bumper crop this season so we're still working hard at finding new ways to feature them in our Meatless Monday meals.

Our most recent use of zucchini was as a pistou, a cold sauce typically made from garlic, basil, olive oil, nuts and cheese.

Ingredients
  • 4 tsps extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 1/2 cups zucchini sliced 1/4" thick (about 3/4 pound)
  • 1/2  cup packed basil leaves
  • 2 tbps pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) shaved parmigiano-reggiano cheese, divided
  • 4 garlic cloves (2 minced, 2 whole)
  • 2 cups chopper Vidalia (or other sweet onion)
  • 6 qts water
  • 1 3/4 tsps kosher salt, divided
  • 8 oz. uncooked penne
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 hot peppers, thinly sliced (optional)
  • Handful yellow wax or green beans (optional)
  • Halved cherry tomatoes for garnish
 Preparation
  • Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large skillet on medium high. Add zucchini and saute until tender and starting to brown (about 10 mins).
  • Remove to a bowl and allow to cool slightly.
  • place 1/4 cup cooked zucchini, basil, 1/4 cup cheese, and 2 whole garlic cloves in a food processor or blender and mix until finely chopped (keep mixture in processor).
  • Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and saute for about 10 minutes until golden. Add remaining cooked zucchini to pan. Add hot pepper and minced garlic, saute for about 1 more minute. Remove from heat. 
  • Combine water and 1 tsp kosher salt in a large pot and bring to a boil.
  • Add pasta and cook until almost aldente. Add beans and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Fish out pasta and beans
  • Add 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water to the food processor, process until smooth.
  • Add the onion and zucchini mixture to the pasta and beans
  • Add the basil/zucchini pistou to the pasta. Add heavy cream, salt and pepper. Stir then top with remaining cheese and cherry tomatoes.



This summery pasta dish is perfect for any vegetarian or Meatless Monday meal. The zucchini lends a refreshing element to the classic pistou components.

Days like this are why we garden.....

Some days the garden seems ready to give more than other days. This past Sunday was one of those special days. It wasn't so much the quantity of what we were able to harvest, but the variety that made is seem just a little bit special. We went out to pick things early in the evening when the sun was very low in the sky and the light made everything look just a little more perfect.

I recently posted about the garden changing as the summer passes. I think Sunday night was one of the change points because things from the early part of the growing season were still there but fading a little and being replaced with things that we had planted later and were now thriving.

So, enough waxing poetically -- here's what we were able to pick in just about 10 minutes last Sunday. I like this picture as much as any I've posted in any of my blogs.





Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ch-Ch-Ch Changes (In The Garden)

In honor of the recently completed London Olympics I thought this post needed a little nod to a great Brit - hence the Bowie referrence in the title.

One of the wonderful things about a vegetable garden is that it keeps changing as the seasons progress. Here in Northern Virginia we have a pretty long growing season and with the help of a little low level technology, we can make it even longer.

Back when it was still cold we were happily growing things like lettuce, beets, radishes and kale in our simple cold frame. There are few more satisfying things for a gardener than to have to take off winter gloves to harvest some lettuce that you'll wash and eat that day!


As the weather started to warm, our soil amendments made over the winter paid off handsomely in a bumper strawberry crop. Some heavy rains shortened the yield a bit but we really had all we could eat this spring -- and they were delicious. 



Spring and early summer also gave us kale, spinach, swiss chard, garlic (don't forget the scapes), leeks, more lettuces and a pretty wide variety of herbs.I wrote about much of it here.

Then came the tomatoes! And boy did they come -- it's been a really good year.


The zucchini have been prolific and I've written several posts about how we are using them is our Meatless Monday meals.

As we get into the later part of the summer , the garden is changing over once again. We're still getting a good amount of tomatoes and zucchini but several new plants are ready to take center stage. For the 1st time we are growing corn. Admittedly it is a small plot, but it was an experiment to see if we could do it. Well, our tiny little corn "field' seems pretty darn happy.

The stalks are nearly 10 feet high (is that the height of an elephant's eye?) and the ears are forming up nicely. It won't be long before we find out is it tastes as deleicious as it looks.

The hot peppers are ready to pick and the cucumbers seem to be multiplying overnight.



We've picked and eaten our first batch of yellow wax beans (delicious!) and are anxiously awaiting more.










Another first for us is a particularly interesting red variety of okra. They look quite different from the classic green pods I wrote about recently and we'll soon find out if there is any taste difference.


I realize how fortunate we are to have the space to do all of this. I also know that not everyone does.But, don't let that stop you from growing something -- anything. Even if it's just some herbs in a pot in your kitchen window. Or a small patch of tomatoes in that little unused spot in your yard. Once you grow and eat your own produce you'll learn what we did a long time ago -- it is so much better than anyting you can buy at a supermarket.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Okra - The Rodney Dangerfield of Veggies

That;s right, okra gets no respect I tell ya. These beautiful green pods, often called Ladyfingers in Indian and other Asian cultures are misunderstood and under appreciated. I'll admit, cooked badly (and it often is), okra be pretty nasty. It can get slimy and funky tasting. Cooked correctly, this member of the mallow family, can be amazingly delicious on its own or a tasty addition in a variety of dishes -- like this one.

We recently ate at a wonderful Indian restaurant about 1/2 hour from our home called Rangoli and, among other "small plates" we had a fried okra dish that we so good we ordered a second helping. We enjoyed it so much we wanted to try to recreate it at home. Here's Cynthia's version.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup AP flour
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1 scant tsp (sweet) paprika
  • several grinds of black pepper
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 - 2 dozens okra pods, the smaller the better but you'll need a few more
  • sea salt, finely ground
Preparation
  •  Mix the flour, smoked paprika, cumin, sweet paprika and black pepper through a wire mesh colander to insure complete blending.
  •  Cut the okra on the bias into 1/4 inch slices
 
  • Place cut okra slices into the colander and cover with dry ingredient mixture
  •   Toss to coat well then shake to remove excess coating

  • Heat the oil (about 1/2 inch deep) in a shallow pan with plenty of cooking space
  • Fry slices about 30 seconds per side until GBD (golden brown and delicious)

  • Remove and place on a drain rack and salt liberally immediately

These crispy and spicy treats are addicting and are perfect as a side dish with burgers, as a appetizer or all by themselves with a cold beer. If you've had okra done badly and think you don't like it, I promise you these will change your mind.

Final note: The spice mix here is Cynthia's and probably different from what they used at Rangoli. I'm sure these are a million combinations that would be just as good. Be creative, use things you like, just give okra a chance.

JWsMadeWLuvMondays

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Trouser Legs for Meatless Monday Dinner?

What's that you said? That's right, trouser legs -- also known as calzoni, literally translated from the Italian.

Last night was one of our "re-purposing" nights, you know, making use of things from the refrigerator and pantry that just happen to be sitting around. Not quite a Refrigerator Orphans event, but pretty close. Cynthia makes her own dough which we typically use to make Grilled Pizza. She usually makes more than we need and freezes the unused portions for later use. Initially, we had decided to make pizza so the dough was already out defrosting when she called me to say the plan had changed and we were doing something different and that she was going to use up some of the "never-ending supply of zucchini" that our garden seems hell bent on producing. We also had a red pepper from our garden and an eggplant from the farmer's market sitting around. So, vegetable and ricotta calzones it would be.

Ingredients
  • 1/4 Pizza dough recipe (find the recipe here)
  • 1 medium red bell pepper - cut into strips
  • 1 small eggplant - cut into 1/4" thick pieces (see picture), lightly salted and left to sit on the counter for 10 minutes or so
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini cut in half and then into half moons about 1/4" thick
  • couple cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • handful of breadcrumbs (used Ian's organic whole wheat panko)
  • EVOO, a tbsp or two
  • salt, fresh chopped herbs of your choice, we used marjoram and parsley
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • couple of slices of fresh mozzarella or goat cheese
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup your favorite grated cheese, we used locatelli romano 

Preparation
  • Saute onions in EVOO for a couple of minutes, add eggplant and cook for another couple minutes
  • Add zucchini and pepper and continue to cook until all veggies are soft, on medium high heat to develop some carmelization.  Toss in the garlic, herbs, breadcrumb and cheese, adding a little extra EVOO if necessary.  Mix and let get nice and crusty.  Set aside and let cool.
  • Divide the pizza dough in half and roll out to about 1/8" thickness. Roughly round shape is helpful.

  • Place a health scoop of the veggie mix offset from the middle of your chosen shape leaving enough room around the edges to form a seal later
  • Add a healthy 1/4 cup dollop of ricotta cheese on top of the veggies along with some of the fresh mozzarella that you've ripped apart - season the cheese if you like 

  • Fold the dough over onto itself, making a "turnover" and crimp the edges together using your fingers. Making a good seal here is important to keep the insides from leaking out during cooking - it's imperative the top edge of the top portion gets tucked under the bottom edge that you're pulling up and over the top edge.  Got that?  
  • Place the calzone on a lightly oiled sheet pan to prevent sticking.
  • Cook at 425 degrees F for approximately 15 minutes. Brushing the top with a little oil will promote better browning, as will using your convection oven.

  • Remove from the oven and serve hot with warm sauce on the side for dipping and extra grated cheese.  Cold beer makes an excellent accompaniment.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Art of the Tomato Sandwich

Guest Blog By Cyn

Along with the copious amounts of zucchini now coming from 4 plants. (we really only need one, but I cannot seem to 'thin' the seedlings), the first wave of tomatoes is coming on hot and heavy.  One of my favorite ways to indulge myself in summer is with a couple of slices of fresh-from-the-garden tomato on toast. Sounds simple, doesn't it?  The beauty of it is, it can be as simple, or as complicated as you like.  

Step One, make toast.  Fresh bread will not hold up to a ripe slice of summer so well, so please toast to armor your bread against a juicy meltdown.  The bread selection is key -- too soft and you'll end up wearing your bread, too hard and you'll break a tooth.  My favorite of late is a miche from our neighborhood Wegman's bakery, a nice hearty sourdough, toasted lightly.  

Step Two, choose a bread spread.  It's for the additional barrier to the wet tomato and to elevate the flavor as well, you are shooting for Tomato Nirvana after all.  Choose wisely, for while the correct spread will bring you life, the false spread will take it from you (apologies to the Grail Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).  Mayo is the classic choice, Hellman's, Best Foods or your own homemade.  Those are your only choices.  And regular mayo please, no low fat, half fat, no fat ---eat the fat, every healthy diet includes some.  Pesto is another classic choice, and fabulous in conjunction with mayo.  Other less traditional, interesting choices include: olive tapenade, hummus, baba ganoush, smushed avocado or guacamole, Boursin, and since I am a relatively new transplant to The South, pimento cheese.

Step Three, adding a green.  Could be a couple leaves of basil or arugula, a super thin slice of cucumber, a nicely crusted piece of baked zucchini or eggplant slices, any sort of lettuce. I even have a friend who loves roasted red peppers on her tomato sandwiches.  If you would add it to a salad that includes tomatoes, you can add it to your sandwich.
Step Four, slice your garden fresh tomatoes. 

Horizontal or vertical slices are acceptable, no wedgies, please. And they must be garden fresh, from yours or someone who lives within 25 miles of where you're eating them. It's a rule.  Look it up.



And last but not least, Step Five, assemble.  This is not a sandwich that you can wrap up and take to the beach.  It must be assembled and eaten on site, in situ. Don't wait to eat this!  If you do wait, get out a cutting board, place the sandwich on it, cut into 1" squares and toss in a salad bowl.  You've waited out the sandwich and made panzanella, an Italian bread and tomato salad.  Wasn't that easy?  Only one piece of bread in the house?  Serve your tomato sandwich open face and call it bruschetta (say 'bruce ketta' -- roll your rrrrr a little and pause on the t's for bit, you'll sound like a Roman).


Here are some of my favorite combinations and tricks:

  • rub your toast with a fresh garlic clove (on the inside please)
  • grill your bread instead of toasting, charcoal fire imparts a nice smokiness but even a gas grill adds a je ne sais quoi (spell check is having a fit with that one)
  • tomato, pesto, fresh mozzarella
  • tomato, mayo, slices of avocado and Vidalia onion, cracked black pepper
  • a boring classic, but for a very good reason, it's freakin' delicious -- garlic rubbed toast, tomato, basil leaves, fleur de sel
  • a cold rainy day in October favorite:  toast your bread with a schmear of pimento cheese on top before assembling with your choice of tomato et al.
  • my absolute favorite:  multigrain toast, mayo, avocado, and Nueske's bacon (my top reason for omnivore-ism) with thick slices of Green Zebra tomato and White Cherry tomato relish, drizzled with The Reluctant Foodie's famous balsamic vinaigrette, lots of napkins, big dopey smile


Lately we've been doing our part to keep the watermelon growers of the South in business, and I'm wondering, would watermelon and feta work on a tomato sandwich, with perhaps a bit of mint and basil? Can I add Thai fish sauce to the mayo and finish with a bit of sriracha??  What kind of bread do I hunt down for that combo??  Maybe I'll start with the watermelon and feta...

What are some of your favorite tomato sandwich combos?


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer Pasta with Fried Zucchini Flowers and Radicchio

My last post was called Here Come the Zucchini. Well, they're here -- in full force, and like many of you, we're always looking for great new ways to use them. This week for Meatless Monday, Cyn put together a wonderful pasta dish using not only the zucchini but garlic, Greek oregano, Tuscan rosemary, Thai basil, Italian parsley, chives and zucchini flowers all from our garden!

If you've never cooked with or had zucchini flowers you really need to give them a try. If you grow your own zucchini, you will have these beautiful yellow flowers on every vine.

They're used in a variety of ways in Italian cooking and we've done one of the simplest but most delicious preparations here -- a light batter deep fry.




Ingredients 


Pasta
  • 3 tbsp butter, divided
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 tbsp shallots, sliced thin (half a medium)
  • salt
  • 2 big pinched of crushed red pepper (or to taste)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • 1 cup of white wine -- we used an un-oaked Chardonnay
  • 1 medium zucchini, whole and unpeeled
  • 1/2 pound linguine (or other long pasta of your choice)
  • 1/2 cup Better than Bullion "no chicken" chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • 1/2 small head of radicchio julienned
  • good squeeze of fresh lemon
For Fried Squash Blossom
  • 2/3 cup AP flour
  • 1 cup carbonated beverage (we used Pelligrino water but beer, soda, seltzer or tonic would all work)
  • Vegetable oil - at least 1/2" deep
  • 9-12 zucchini blossoms, stamen snipped out of middle

Preparation (the sauce)

  • In a small saucepan, reduce the white wine to 1/2 cup
  • On a mandolin with thick julienne insert, slice the zucchini the long way to make 'linguine', stopping before you get into the seeds
  • Combine the herbs and chop roughly (finer - more taste)
  •  Add 2 tbsp of butter and the 2 tbsp EVOO to a saute pan on medium low heat
  • Add garlic and shallots, cook slowly until transparent and just starting to brown, add red pepper
  • Add reduced wine and stock to garlic and shallots -- simmer while stirring for 1-2 minutes 
  • Keep warm while cooking pasta

Preparation (the zucchini flowers)
  • Heat the vegetable oil to 350 degrees F in a deep fry pan
  • Prepare a light batter by mixing the flour and carbonated beverage together with a whisk. Important: the carbonated beverage MUST BE COLD. You are looking for a consistency just slightly more thick than heavy cream.
  • Drag each zucchini flower in the batter and fry immediately. They will take no more than 30 seconds per side

  • Remove them from the oil as they finish and drain on a rack above a pan or paper towels. Salt immediately as they come out of the oil.

     Final Preparation

    • Cook the pasta about 3/4 of the way done
    • Remove the pasta from the water, add to the reserved sauce
    • Add about 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the sauce and zucchini
    • Simmer until pasta reaches your preferred level of doneness
    • Add chopped herbs, sliced radicchio and simmer for another minute
    • Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and the remaining 1 tbsp of butter
    • Top pasta with zucchini flowers
    • Salt to taste

    The creamy pasta combines perfectly with the slight bitterness of the radicchio and the crispiness of the zucchini flowers. Together with the garlic and wine sauce, this dish screams summer. Buon appetito!