Monday, September 28, 2009

Complete Garden Failure

I'm exaggerating a little, but not too much. It finally sunk in this weekend when I went to visit my parents in Vermont and saw their garden. Mine really bombed, and I'm not sure why. It took me this long to realize it because I'm a novice gardener and don't have experience to fall back on, I'm lazy and hardly ever picked up my gardening book to see where things should be, and I have a fabulous farmers' market a five minute walk away so didn't think too much about why my beets were only small greens and no beet underneath.

My parents' brussels sprouts are huge - at least 3 feet tall. My biggest one is 10 inches, with no sprouts. My potatoes never grew beyond an inch in diameter, I had maybe a dozen peas, a few dozen beans, small kale, no peppers, lettuce and rainbow chard that barely grew, watermelons that didn't sprout, and eggplant that is clearly not eggplant, but some sort of zucchini or summer squash.

My tomatoes did pretty well, despite my earlier worries, and the thing that did the best, the sunberries, are the one thing we all agreed were not worth doing again because they just aren't very tasty.

So why the failure? I got all of my seeds from an heirloom seed organization in the midwest and perhaps they aren't as good as they advertise. We had so much rain in June and maybe that is the one month plants need to establish themselves and do a huge percentage of growth. Maybe the sunniest spot in my yard is not sunny enough for a garden. I just don't know. I'm not giving up. Next year, I will buy seeds locally and maybe do fewer varieties. Hopefully the weather will be a bit more cooperative.

Okay, enough griping; here's a recipe. It's one that has been handed down via stories through my Dad's side of the family. My Dad and his siblings all reminisce about how their mother made it and swear it will never be replicated, despite their best efforts, but I think they've come up with something pretty delicious.

Sheldon Potato Salad

makes a large bowl, enough for 12 to 15 side servings.

3 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teas. salt
1 teas. pepper
1 large or two medium tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 green pepper, seeds removed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 to 1 cup mayonnaise, depending on personal preference

Boil potatoes until just cooked; pour into a colander. Put back into empty cooking pot or a large bowl and add vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, stirring gently until mixed. Let cool completely in the refrigerator.

Add vegetables. Add mayonnaise, starting with 1/2 cup and mixing well. Add more mayo as needed.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pesto

I almost didn't become a pesto-maker. I've never done it before, and even though I love pesto, I think of it being dependant on lots of garlic, and Blanca doesn't like even a little garlic. So I order pesto on nights when we go out and I'm prepared to be banished to the far side of the bed later on. But last week, I said I'd make pesto, and I follow through on my promises almost to a fault. This time, it's really all for the best. Pesto, it turns out, is super fast and easy to make, does not require much if any garlic, is fantastically adaptable to whatever you happen to have on hand, and can be esily made lin large enough quantities to eat some now, and save some in the fridge for next week and in the freezer for next month.

Pesto

1 small garlic clove
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
2 cups medium-packed basil leaves
1 cup loosely packed parsley
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1T salt
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 dried chinese red pepper (gives it a very little kick; mostly enhances the flavor)
1/4 cup water

Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until completely smooth. You may need to stick a spoon in once or twice to mix it up as you go. This makes about 2 cups of totally blended pesto.

Alterations:

Any nut, really, works wonderfully. Pine nuts are classic; walnuts are great; even sunflower seeds work!

You can mix and match with the parsley and basil, using more of one and less of the other as you like. You can also substitue all or part of either with spinach.

If you like garlic you can use more.

Romano or Asiago cheese both work well in place of parmesan.


To serve with pasta, mix 1 cup pesto into 1 package spaghetti or other pasta cooked al dente (bring big pot of salted water to rapid boil drop in 1 package of pasta and 1 T olive oil; return to boil and cook 8-11 minutes, depending on type of pasta; drain immediately then return to pot where you'll add in the pesto), stir well and serve. My mom reminds me that traditional italian pesto is served mixed into pasta with potatoes and green beans--both in season right alongside the basil!

Also works wonderfully as a base for pizza and a spread for sandwiches.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Roasted Tomatoes and Beet Green Spirals


You could say that I've run out of my own recipes (and can you really blame me after a year of posting?) or you could say that I have a lot of friends who are great cooks. I prefer the latter.

This first recipe is from my friend, Kim. She overheard it at a farmers' market a while ago and made it her own. The great thing about this recipe is that you can easily make it your own, too. Much to the chagrin of our wonderful recipe testers, it relies on a "pinch of this" and "enough of that", which happens to be how I cook and my very favorite type of recipe.

Kim's Roasted Plum Tomatoes

I bought beautiful purplish plum tomatoes at the farmers' mar
ket. They were small and sweet. I got about 3 lbs, and it ended up making one quart mason jar's worth. Below is what I did, but try adding more garlic or other herbs (thyme is great) to make it your own. They end up super sweet and soft but not mushy.

3 lbs plum tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 head garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teas. sea salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Place tomato halves on cookie sheets or in baking pans, close together but leaving enough room that they can all lie flat.

Sprinkle with garlic and salt. Drizzle with olive oil.

Roast in a 250 oven for 3 to 4 hours (3 hours if small tomatoes, 4 if large).

Put entire contents of pan into a mason jar if keeping in the fridge or into a freezer bag if freezing.

Eat as is, on pizza, in sandwiches, with goat cheese, on salads.













This second recipe is from my friend Jen. Ironically, she doesn't like recipes and prefers to cook with the "little of this, little of that" method. However, her made up creation was so good that she agreed to figure out what she did and write it down for me. She's a good friend.

Jen's Beet Green Spirals

1 sheet puff pastry
1 teas. olive oil
1 small handful chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teas. chopped ginger
a few sprigs fresh dill
greens from 4 beets
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup other cheese, grated (Jenn used Ecuadoran but cheddar or mozzarella or anything medium firm would work)
1 egg, gently beaten
1 teas. water


Thaw puff pastry (40 minutes) on a baking sheet, cutting board, or other flat surface.

Grease another baking sheet with olive oil.

Meanwhile, saute onions, garlic, ginger, and dill in olive oil. Put in a bowl and set aside to cool, keeping pan on stove.

Wash greens (don't dry them) and saute in the pan until tender. Rinse in cold water and squeeze out water by hand. Chop up.

Mix sautéed onion, etc., with cheeses.

Preheat oven to 400.

Lay out pastry on a floured surface.

Mix egg with water and brush over entire pastry.

Spread cheese mixture over pastry, leaving an inch bare along one short end (this is where it will seal).

Spread greens over cheese.

Roll from the short end that is covered towards the end with bare strip. Slice into 12 pieces.

Bake on the greased baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes until starting to puff and lightly brown.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Basil

When the beans are still spreading like wildfire, the tomatoes are finally coming in, and the CSA has upped the weekly amounts of red peppers and potatoes to almost 3 pounds, little things like herbs often slip into the background. But my patch of thick, pungent, knee-high basil demands notice. It has thrived in spite of our barely month-long summer, my mile-high beans that blot out the sun on one side, and the baseballs that regularly attack from the other. And notice I have; I've even elevated basil to a main ingredient in appetizers, salads, pasta dishes, pizza...

Basil Dinner Salad

This is just your basic garden salad with one big change: substitute 1/3 of the lettuce with basil leaves. If you make lots of garden salads, use your own recipe. If you want a few ideas, here's mine, serving about 4 as a side dish.

About four cups of lettuce and about 1 cup of basil leaves (the basil leaves are much flatter than the lettuce, so weight-wise it's 2/3-1/3 but volume-wise it's 4:1), washed and spun dry.

2 large tomatoes cut into 1" chunks or 1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

2-3 carrotts, peeled and sliced

1 cucumber, peeled and sliced

1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced

1 red pepper, seeds and white inside removed, cut into 1/2" squares

Serve with a balsamic vinaigrette


Basil Caprese Salad or Sandwich
serves 4

all Caprese salads have basil, but maybe not quite this much.

4 large tomatoes, sliced
2 8-oz fresh mozarella cheeses, sliced
1 cup fresh basil leaves
Sea salt
pepper
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Cover your serving platter or each plate with one layer of mozarella, one layer of tomatoe, and one layer of basil. Use enough tomato to completely cover the cheese and enough basil to completely cover the tomatoe. Sprinkle with about 1 tsp. sea salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1/2 T olive oil, and 1 T balsamic vinegar. Repeat.

To turn this into a sandwich, stack the layers on a piece of bread, but do not repeat.

Early Fall Garden Pasta with Prosciutto
serves 4

1 package of your favorite pasta (I like thin fettuccini for this)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a fast boil, put in the pasta and abotu 1 T olive oil. Cook until al dente (8-12 minutes, depending on the type of pasta), drain, return to pot, and stir in 2 T butter.

While the water is coming to a boil

Cut 1/4 pound sliced prosciutto into 1/2" squares
Cut 1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes in halves
Wash, spin dry, then roughly chop 3/4 cup basil leaves

After the pasta is drained, stir the above along with 2 small or 1 large jar of artichoke hearts

Serve with grated parmesan or romano cheese


Of course, the traditional thing to do with tons of basil is make pesto--I'll be experimenting with various pestos this week!

Monday, September 14, 2009

In a Rush Meatloaf

I don't own a microwave, for which 99.99% of the time I am grateful, because I like to take my time in the kitchen, and I have a freakish distrust of those weird boxes, but there is always the one time when I really need one. The other night was one of those nights. I realized a day too late that I hadn't defrosted the meat for the loaf, so carted my frozen containers over to the playground, where Keja took the stash home and defrosted it for me. I guess a microwave is like a pick up truck: it's always best if you have a friend with one.


So, unless you don't own a microwave and forget to defrost the meat early, this is a really easy recipe and absolutely perfect for a crisp Fall evening.


Peter's Mom's Amazing Meatloaf


2 cups bread crumbs

2 whole eggs

1/2 cup ketchup

2 TBSP Dijon mustard

2 TBSP Worcestershire sauce

1 cup hot beef broth

1 medium onion, small diced and sautéed

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teas pepper

Salt - optional, depending on saltiness of broth; better to salt at the table if you're unsure! (It's hard when you can't taste your meal before you eat it!)

Fresh herbs - optional (thyme, parsley, sage, rosemary are all nice; use a 1/2 teas or so of any or all)

2 lbs. ground meat (the secret is using a variety of meat with high fat content. Try using pork sausage, ground lamb, ground beef, ground pork, etc. in whatever combination sounds good to you. Avoid anything leaner than 80%.)



Directions:


Sauté onions until starting to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic at last minute to release flavor.


In the bowl of a mixer or large mixing bowl, mix onion with all other ingredients EXCEPT MEAT. Mix until incorporated. If not using a mixer, I recommend using your hands to mix everything together.

Add meat into meatloaf mixture.

Place meat into two bread pans.

Cook at 400 for one hour, with pans over a cookie sheet to catch potential drips. The meat should be cooked through.

Before cutting and serving, drain off excess fat (unless you like it, then reserve it). I like to use a baster to remove the fat. It is easier to transfer to a plate for easy carving.

Serve with mashed potatoes. Yum.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Green Beans, Again

When I left for Mexico over a month ago, I was writing about how to use the green beans that we picked from our CSA and that were just beginning to show on my plants. Now my back garden green beans have climbed up to the second floor porch, and even though my neighbor Meghan picked at least weekly while I was gone, they are absolutely covered with beans and still producing more flowers (Actually, it's probably because Meghan picked them while I was gone that they're still producing. Green beans, like many other plants, produce more when they are picked regularly)! The big problem with my green beans, though, is that they have blocked the sun from half of my garden. I realize, now, that I made a rather big mistake when I planted them: I put the green beans in a long row in the middle of the garden. Something that grows tall and thick like that, really belongs at one end of the garden, and positioned in relation to the sun so that it's longest shadow-casting will go not over the rest of the garden but over whatever is alongside the garden. Indeed, green beans can be wonderful in creating a nice shady seating spot beside the garden, and work wonderfully on trellises. But the better their location, the more they produce and then what (else) to do with them?

I've already listed a green bean salad recipe, a steamed green bean recipe, and a green bean stir-fry recipe, and of course put them into salade nicoise, but there are still more green beans!

So this week I've tried a few new things:

Grilled Green Beans and Onions
Trim the ends off of about 3/4 lb of green beans but leave them whole
Cut one large onion in half and then slice it into long thin slices

Toss the green beans and onions with about 2 T olive oil, sea salt, and pepper

Place everything in a grilling basket (the shape of a wok, but full of holes) and put over medium-hot coals. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the beans and onions just start to get little brown-black spots, 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and set aside. Then grill your meat or whatever else you're making, and just before serving return the green beans and onions to the heat long enough to reheat.

Bean, Bean, and Beet Salad
Roast 1 lb beets by slicing off the tops and bottoms and baking on a pan at 350 for abotu one hour, or until tender when pierced. Put into a bowl and cover tightly (with saran wrap, aluminium foil, or a lid) for aout ten minutes, then remove cover, slide off skins, and cut into 1" dice. Place back in covered container with 1/3 cup balsamic vinaigrette. Let sit at room temperature or in fridge at least 30 minutes and up to 48 hours.

Trim and cut into 1" pieces about 1/2 lb green beans. Steam until just tender. Place in a covered container with 1/3 cup balsamic vinaigrette. Let sit at room temperature or in fridge at least 30 minutes and up to 48 hours.

Just before serving, mix together the green beans, beets, and one can of garbanzo beans.

If you want, add crumbled feta cheese.

This packs up wonderfully for a picnic or brown bag lunch, and also is great served on a bed of lettuce at home.

Beans in Soup
The other thing to remember about green beans, is that they are great in almost any soup. Cut them to a size that matches other things in the soup and add them at the beginning if you want them super-soft, or 30 minutes before serving if you want them a little crunchy.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Stuffed Zucchini and Raspberries Raspberries Raspberries!

I got two beautiful spherical zucchinis from my parents a few weeks ago. They said that they had been sautéing them with onions and green peppers and having them as a side dish, but that my sister's boyfriend, Jason, a wonderful gardener and originator of the mint margarita, said they were great stuffed. So, I decided to stuff them. Just now I looked online to attempt identification and I believe that they are round zucchini, but don't quote me on that. I've never seen them in the grocery store before, or did, and thought that they were winter squash of some sort. They were about 6 inches in diameter and 4 or 5 inches tall with very dark green skin.


I opted to follow my nose on this, and not get any ideas from cookbooks. Luckily, I had two zucchinis so while the first was pretty good, the second was delicious, thanks to additions Dave and I came up with. I will note variations within the recipe. In general, like so many other recipes Keja and I create and share with you, being willing to be creative will make for your own unique, and hopefully satisfying dish.


Stuffed Zucchini


This feeds two quite hungry adults or two adults and two small children. The first time I did the first part of each OR and the second I did the second part, but feel free to mix and match or add your own. The first was light, the second much heartier.


4 TBS olive oil, separated in half

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

1/2 lb. ground turkey (preferably dark meat) OR ground beef

3 fennel bulbs, white part only, sliced thin, ~ 1 cup and 1/2 cup green pepper, diced OR 1/2 cup black beans and 1/2 cup cooked corn

1/2 teas. garlic powder

dash cayenne pepper

1/2 teas. oregano

1/2 teas. black pepper

1 teas. salt

1 TBS sliced basil


Optional spice additions (I highly recommend them and used them the second time):

2 TBS minced fresh sage

1/2 teas. curry powder


8 oz. mozzarella, grated

1/2 cup bread crumbs


In a large frying pan heat 2 TBS oil and sauté onion and garlic for a few minutes until fragrant.


Add ground meat and cook, breaking apart with a spatula, until mostly browned, approximately 5 minutes.


Add fennel and green peppers (or black beans and corn) and stir in, cooking for 3 or 4 minutes.


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.


To mix in pan add garlic powder, cayenne pepper, oregano, black pepper, salt and basil. Add sage and curry powder if you choose. Stir well and turn off heat.


Cut zucchini in half horizontally (if it's sitting on it's bottom with the stem end pointing up). Cut the stem end and rough bottom end off, just enough to remove rough parts but still leaving plenty of flesh. Scoop out seeds and discard. Place two halves in a baking dish or on a cookie sheet.


Stir cheese into mixture in pan. Stuff each zucchini with the half of the mixture, mounding any extra on top. Sprinkle half of the bread crumbs on each and drizzle with remaining 2 TBS olive oil.


Bake for 1 hour.


I found that on one zucchini the skin was easily chewable and on the other not at all. That could be the difference one being eaten a week after the other.



This past week I took the kids raspberry picking twice. We found this amazing place in Winchester, MA, recommended by a friend. It's owned by the town and is organic. It's a lovely spot and the raspberries are fantastic. Also, very affordable. I got 6 lbs. for $33. Compare that to buying organic in the grocery store and at best you'll get the same amount for $50 or so, and that's when they're on sale. And from California. We brought them home and froze most of them, using the freeze-on-tray method, then putting them into freezer bags once frozen. We kept some out for immediate eating but they were so ripe that by the next morning they were growing mold, despite being refrigerated.