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Archive for the ‘Sunday Cooking’ Category

Garlic cloves shoved into a grid in the prepped bed

Garlic cloves shoved into a grid in the prepped bed

Two days ago, I planted half of the hardneck garlic I intend to put in this year. I had chosen a bed that hadn’t held any last season and yanked out the desiccated tomato plants (we picked our last green ones, which are turning red on the porch as I write, about five days ago) and the defunct peppers. Loosened the soil with a fork, weeded what needed to be weeded and planted the cloves that I’d chosen from among the largest bulbs I’d grown this past year.

Since I first learned about hardneck garlic from Colchester CSA manager and grower, Theresa Mycek, probably ten years ago, and started planting it in my own garden, I’ve come to depend on it. Hardneck garlic is terrific because it’s delicious, beautiful (those tall green tops with the curlicue scapes are such a nice visual counterpoint to the clumpy greens and beans), and like a culinary Double-mint gum: it’s two, two, two garlics in one.

The first one is the scape.

Scapes before clipping off arrowhead tip

Scapes before clipping off arrowhead tip

Wait; let me back up a little. First, sometime in late-October through November, you sit outside on a nice autumn day, separate garlic bulbs into cloves and plant the cloves about 8 inches apart – I plant in a grid, others do it in rows – in a prepared bed. Tuck them in gently beneath straw or some other light but effective mulch. In spring when the earth wakes up, the green shoots start coming through the mulch. In about May, you notice that the shoots have grown rather tall – knee high at least. In maybe mid-June, when the tall stiff shoots have continued to grow and are now curled around themselves a bit (i.e. turned into true scapes), you clip or break them off – it’s kinda like asparagus; you snap them where they are happy to be snapped – bring them in and cook them any one of a number of ways. We sometimes tempura them, or grill them for a great snack/ hors d’oeuvre/side dish, chop them into omelets, sauté them with other veggies, quick-pickle them in the fridge in a vinegar-and-herb-and-peppercorn bath or hang them by the kitchen door to ward off vampires. Whatever.

Hardneck bulbs - notice the central hard neck

Hardneck bulbs – notice the central hard neck

 

Siberian, Russian Giant, Music and Keith's Garlic cloves

Siberian, Russian Giant, Music and Keith’s Garlic cloves

In July-ish, when the green tops have browned and died back sufficiently, you dig – or pull, depending on how soft the bed is – the now cloved-up bulbs, wipe off the earth, and hang them up to dry. (I clump them in bunches of about 6-8 bulbs and hang them on the back porch). Then you use them. They go into the spaghetti sauce I can during tomato-and-pepper harvest, into chicken cacciatore (which is ONLY truly delicious when made in season with fresh garlic, fresh basil and fresh parsley plucked only a few minutes before chopping into the red-wine-soaked braising liquid), into the oven to spread on homemade bread with good olive oil, into salad dressings, well, you get the idea. But if you’ve planned right and the fates have shined on you and your little bed of hardneck garlic, you will also have enough to save, separate into cloves and plant to continue the whole cycle. The miracle of gardening and life perpetuating itself.

This year, I prepped one bed, but the second bed I wanted to plant was a knotted thicket of wire grass, wild aster, which has determined root systems, and the bind weed just to put a topping on it all. My husband volunteered to dig it all for me, bless him, so this afternoon I’m going to sit outside with the dog, separate six more garlic bulbs into cloves and plant that bed.

garlic-in-misty-garden

Scapes beginning in late April-May

When I’m in prayer position on my knees stuffing the cloves – or anything for that matter – into the ground, I think about a little garden plaque a friend gave me years ago that said: Who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in God. It’s an acknowledgement that while we can become really good gardeners, we are all at the mercy of so many other elements in life beyond our own control. But I have faith. And I keep on planting.

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Bad photo of stocked pantry

Darkish photo of stocked pantry

One of the reasons I love to can is the bounty you end up with in the dead of winter. As long as there are jars of last year’s produce safely tucked away on the pantry shelves, I feel safe (smug even) when the weatherman starts talking about Snowmageddon and urges everyone to rush out to stores. I must admit, I made sure the wine and chocolate were sufficient to a few days’ cabin fever – but otherwise, we were pretty much good to go with what I had stockpiled from last year’s garden.

I know a lot of people don’t can tomatoes – they freeze them instead. But I do both – partly for space (only so much on the pantry shelves, only so much in the freezer) and partly for flavor and convenience of use. I like the flavor of canned tomatoes and you don’t have to thaw them. I can quart and pint jars of tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, salsa V-8 (or my equivalent) and Bloody Mary mix, which is just as delicious in soup as in vodka.

Pantry produce for the soup pot

Pantry produce for the soup pot

There are pickled dilly green beans, which are nice when someone stops in for cocktails – also one of the imperatives when someone slogs through snow or mud to come visit because they’re going nuts at home after several days of shoveling. There are also dried herbs – oregano is particularly easy as is thyme and they taste so much fresher and more flavorful if you do it yourself – and dried beans – calypso beans and tiger’s eye, which I particularly like. (My husband very sweetly shells them out in the evening in late fall).

Sauteed leeks, onions and celery for tomato white wine soup

Sauteed leeks, onions and celery for tomato white wine soup

To complement these home-grown and home-canned things, I stock other dried peas, beans and lentils and tins of things like sardines and tuna, chipotle peppers, and anchovies.There are jars of bread and butter pickles (which is lovely on a tuna melt to say nothing of with chicken sausage or turkey sandwiches or just out of the jar for a sweet-sour snack), pickled lemon peppers for adding to virtually anything needing a little kick, and lemon peppers in sherry for black bean soup, curried red pepper jelly (a great hostess gift when you’re rushing out the door to a party your forgot you were invited to) and great on goat cheese and crackers or mixed into venison stew. There’s raspberry jam, raspberry shrub and raspberry vinegar.  Tomato bullion, a spicy mix of tomatoes, onions, black pepper, a little brown sugar and celery seed is called Ma Comp’s Soup Seasoning in Maryland’s Way Cookbook. A couple of tablespoons in a mug of hot water is a delicious and quick mid-morning pick-me-up.

Tomato white wine soup about to simmer

Tomato white wine soup about to simmer

I freeze a lot of things too, and not just the things that aren’t safe to can in a water bath. Last year I had plenty of tomatoes and peppers and so sautéed a kind of quick sofrito, a tomato-pepper-onion seasoning you can pull out and throw into a frying pan full of chicken or chorizo and rice with a little white wine and have supper in no time flat. I also did something I saw on TV years ago – put about four large tomatoes and one big onion into a Dutch oven with about 2-3 tablespoons of melted butter and let the whole thing simmer on the lowest possible heat until it’s all soft. Maybe 35 minutes. Puree it, cool it and stick it in the freezer in a quart bag or container. Pull it out to make a quick vodka sauce for pasta, or in my case, use it as the very quick base for red pepper soup. I happened to find three beautiful fresh red peppers (when I went back out to the grocery story AFTER everyone had picked the shelves pretty clean), chopped them up, threw them with three cloves of chopped garlic into a pot of that tomato-onion-butter base along with a chicken bullion cube and voila! Soup!

Tomato-and-onion soup base

Tomato-and-onion soup base

Why am I gloating? (AM I gloating?  I like to think of it as encouragement). Because NOW is the best time to start planning what you can plant to have a full pantry next winter, when Snowmageddon 2017 comes. The seed catalogues are here now, you can look with starry-eyed wonder at the perfect garden that you will plant (in your dreams), and you might be looking around your pantry – or whatever shelves or storage you have for what they could hold. (Marisa in Philly keeps hers in the closet along with her shoes).

Having a stocked pantry, or closet or whatever is like money in the bank.

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Garlic bed planted on 24 November

Garlic bed planted on 24 November

It’s a little late for garlic, planting-wise, but I’m looking at the garden and thinking I may still have a little time to shove in a few more cloves before we reach what is predicted to be a cold January and February. Since I first learned about hardneck garlic from Colchester CSA manager and grower, Theresa Mycek probably nine years ago, and started planting it in my own garden, I’ve come to depend on it. Hardneck garlic is terrific because it’s delicious, beautiful in the garden (those tall green tops with the curlicue scapes are such a nice visual counterpoint to the clumpy greens and beans), and like a culinary Double-mint gum: it’s two, two, two garlics in one.

The first one is the scape.

Wait; let me back up a little. First, sometime in late-October through November, you sit outside on a nice autumn day, separate garlic bulbs into cloves and plant the cloves about 8 inches apart – I plant in a grid, others do it in rows. Tuck them in gently beneath straw or some other light but effective mulch. In spring when the earth wakes up, the green shoots start coming through the mulch. In about May, you notice that the shoots have ground rather tall – knee high at least. In maybe mid-June, when the tall  stiff central shoots have continued to grow and are now curled around themselves a bit (i.e. turned into true scapes), you clip or break them off – it’s kinda like asparagus; you snap them where they are happy to be snapped – bring them in and cook them any one of a number of ways. We sometimes tempura them, or grill them for a great snack/ hors d’oeuvre/side dish, chop them into omelets, sauté them with other veggies, quick-pickle them in the fridge in a vinegar-and-herb-and-peppercorn bath or hang them by the kitchen door to ward off vampires. Whatever.

In July-ish, when the green tops have browned and died back sufficiently, you dig – or pull, depending on how soft the bed is – the now cloved-up bulbs, wipe off the earth, and hang them up to dry.  (I clump them in bunches of about 6-8 bulbs and hang them from the back porch). Then you use them.  They go into the spaghetti sauce I can during tomato-and-pepper harvest, into chicken cacciatore (which is ONLY truly delicious when made in season with fresh garlic, fresh basil and fresh parsley plucked only a few minutes before chopping wads into the red-wine-soaked braising liquid), into the oven to roast and then spread on homemade bread with good olive oil, into salad dressings, well, you get the idea.  But if you’ve planned right and the fates have shined on you and your little bed of hardneck garlic, you will also have enough to save, separate into cloves and plant to continue the whole cycle. (The miracle of gardening with its wonderful reminder that life works to perpetuate itself).

Chesnok Red hardneck garlic cloves ready to plant

Chesnok Red hardneck garlic cloves ready to plant

This year, my husband prepped a couple of beds in early November one lovely autumn afternoon while I sat outside, separated the bulbs I had grown and saved for next year’s harvest along with the bulbs I bought from Colchester CSA. (My last summer’s harvest was smaller than I had anticipated. I had more of them rot this past year than usual and so had to buy in seed stock). As I was in prayer position on my knees stuffing the cloves into the ground, I thought about a little garden plaque a friend gave me years ago that said: Who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in God. whatever your spiritual convictions, that statement is an acknowledgement that while we can become really good gardeners, we are all at the mercy of so many other elements in life beyond our own control. But I have faith. And I keep on planting.

Scapes before clipping off arrowhead tip

Scapes before clipping off arrowhead tip

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Second planting of beans setting blooms

Second planting of beans setting blooms

I’m only slightly late with this post, especially since now that the evenings are cooler, I’m looking at a yellowed bunch of bean plants. But since I see that beans are still on offer in the farmers’ markets (though not for much longer unless I miss my guess), I thought I’d send out a bean homage along with a nod to the departing tender annual herbs.

I had gotten enough from the first planting of French beans in early summer to freeze a bunch using my husband’s vacuum packer, which I’ve only this year made friends with. It does a fabulous job of keeping them frost-free in the freezer. (Gary, who is intimately acquainted with the machine vacuum-packed bunches of them for me last year, which is how I know). Usually, I neglect to seed anything in the garden for late summer and fall. The weather’s often so miserable in mid-summer, and I’m so fed up and tired of the whole enterprise, that I tend to ignore the window of opportunity for planting late summer and fall produce. But this year, it was so nice I actually stuck some more things in the ground.

Basket of Haricots Verts (French green beans)

Basket of Haricots Verts (French green beans)

On the last day in July I gently prepped a couple of short beds that had held hard neck garlic, which was planted last fall and which I had harvested in the beginning of July. Once they were prepped (I stuff a fork in and loosened the ground a little and pulled out whatever weeds were there) I poked in the rest of the packet of French green beans, some 3-year-old Italian bean seeds and about 40 calypso beans. I even managed to cover the row. (I was so proud of myself for having been THAT organized) So the birds wouldn’t plucked the seeds back out and, once they germinated the rabbits wouldn’t chomp off the little seed leaves . (The ingrates! We’re surrounded by other culinary options for them, but NO! It has to be my garden!)

 

Fling ingredients into a skillet, sauté and you've got lunch!

Fling ingredients into a skillet, sauté and you’ve got lunch!

The tomatoes, which this year had been a whole lot less than stellar, were nonetheless still producing, as were the tender herbs.  As a result, I had several lunches and suppers of green beans sautéed with chopped onion, tomatoes, Cuban basil, a small-leafed spicy basil that roots in water readily, garlic and prosciutto. Fling it all into a skillet with a little olive oil, stir it around a bit, and Bob’s your uncle (or in regular parlance, you have a meal!).We didn’t have any rain to speak of in August, so once a week I splooshed a 5-gallon bucket of water drawn from the rain barrels over each bed. Because they were drinking in rain water, and because the ground was warm, (and I’m convinced because I love them and chatted encouragingly to them whenever I came past), they came up much faster than in spring. I was picking beans by the gallon by the second week in September –about 45 days from seeding instead of the predicted 55 days.

Next thing I’m waiting for, aside from the blankety-blank rabbits to stop munching down my fall peas and pak choi, is the calypso beans, which should be dry enough to shell out in another 3-4 weeks. We store them in a lidded mason jar in the pantry. They’re great steeped in some beef bullion and garlic, then turned into a salad with smoked olive oil, sweet onions and chives or basil – or whatever other herb suits your fancy and comes readily to hand.

After that, we’ll fall back (yes, go ahead and groan) on the larder, feeling incredibly virtuous and making plans for next year’s garden, God willing and the creek don’t rise.

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Gadzukes zucchini in garden

Gadzukes zucchini in garden

This is for Bonnie, who asked for the recipe after I mentioned it on Midday with Dan Rodricks a couple of days ago.  sorry I don’t have a picture of the finished product for you, (I’m currently thinking about ice latte for breakfast), but if I did, it would be little pancake-y things browned with the shredded green rinds of the zukes apparent throughout and dolloped with a bit of creamy adobo sauce.  Hope this helps, Bonnie!

 https://www.facebook.com/dan.rodricks.1/posts/10152552014109435?comment_id=10152554651949435&offset=0&total_comments=13

Zucchini Latkes with Chipotle Sauce

2 medium zucchini, grated

¼ cup grated onion

2 serrano peppers, finely chopped (seeds removed if you like less heat)

¼ cup finely chopped sweet pepper

1 cup fresh chopped herbs, any you fancy- I usually use lots of lime basil, lemon basil, cilantro, oregano, parsley, a little dill and a single sage leaf

1 tblsp Adobo seasoning

freshly ground pepper

1-2 tsp chili powder

½ tsp cumin

1-2 tsp paprika (Spanish, sweet, or smoked paprika are all nice in this)

1/3 cup flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 large or 2 small eggs

For sauce:

Mix ½ cup mayonnaise with 2-3 finely chopped tinned chipotles in adobo sauce (along with some of the adobo sauce), a squeeze of tomato paste from the tube or a teaspoon of tomato paste from a tin, and the juice of half a lime.

3 tblsp canola or other frying oil.

Chop herbs and peppers and grate the onion then grate the zucchini last to keep it from getting watery. Mix the vegetables, herbs, and seasonings together. Add the flour and baking powder with a fork to mix it well, but quickly so you don’t build up the gluten in the flour. Beat eggs a little (like for scrambled) then add and mix in so you have something like a thick, veg-filled batter. Heat oil until shimmering hot in a frying pan. (I use my grandmother’s old iron skillet). With a dessert spoon or tablespoon, carefully add a big mound of zucchini batter to the pan, and gently pat it down into a pancake. Repeat. Fry on medium-high heat until golden brown on one side and starting to puff, flip over and cook until puffed and golden brown on the second side. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Serve with a dollop of sauce on top.

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Peas ready to harvest

Peas ready to harvest

I love peas. I enjoy frozen peas steamed barely warm or thawed and sprinkled into salads, but I especially love fresh peas plucked from their tendrilled vines, shelled and popped almost immediately into a steamer on top of a couple of lettuce leaves. Cooked until they are bright green and barely tender, then bathed in butter or maybe lemon juice and pepper for those who shun butter, it’s a little bit of culinary heaven. Peas are early-season veggies that flag and turn starchy (blah-tasting is the technical term) as soon as hot summer arrives, so there is a seasonal window during which to plant for decent harvest. Depending on variety, they need anywhere from 54 days to 72 days give or take to go from seed to plate. The rule of thumb here in Maryland was: Plant peas on St Patrick’s Day. Which in more ordinary years should get you safely through from poking those wrinkled little rounds in the ground until you’re blissfully scooping up warm spoonfuls at the dinner table.

Shelling peas

Shelling peas

Yet unless the conditions are right, you’ll be wasting both your seed and your time if you only plant by date.  Peas will rot instead of germinate if the soil is too wet and cold (below 48F or so; some say 45F but that’s not been my experience), as it has been this year.* I’ve agonized over when to plant peas. Finally, this year, I started some in a flat and will transplant them into the garden when the weather settles down some. I’ve got a small back yard greenhouse, which I love, but you don’t need one to start plants indoors. There are back-posts in this blog that will give you plenty of good advice on how to do it at home without one. Before the greenhouse, (which saves me all kinds of money on anti-depressants), I used to start them in the kitchen and guestroom, both of which face south, and rig up some overhead full-spectrum lights to supplement the sometimes meager sunlight. Pea plants are sturdy little things and are as easy to transplant from a flat of individual cells (so the roots don’t tangle together) as lettuce, kale, and other early season veggies. The garden centers have got their seeds in now, so browsing and imagining is fun (for some people it’s clothes or shoes, for me it’s seeds and food). A visit to your favorite garden center makes a lovely Saturday’s project – get seeds and maybe a bloom or two for spiritual uplift, chat with friendly souls there about growing things, get home and plant the seeds in flats under lights, then relax and feel good about the cycle of life.

Peas seeded 3/12/14 and 3/22/14 just poking thru

Peas seeded 3/12/14 and 3/22/14 just poking thru

Once in the garden, peas (Pisum sativum), fix nitrogen to their roots, so they require little if any nitrogen fertilizer, which tends to produce foliage at the expense of fruit. They also come out of the garden early enough that you can plant a second crop of summer somethings where they’ve vacated, which makes them a great use of space. You can also seed some into a container at the back door – they’re really pretty climbing up a trellis and they make great snacks right out of the pod. Replace the pea plants in June or so with something like a pepper plant and a couple of different basils and maybe a thyme for jerk chicken on the grill.   * Even if it the weather conditions are perfect for planting peas, if you have blackbirds and robins around, you might want to consider planting them in a meandering stream rather than a regimented row. Blackbirds and robins are marvels at discerning patterns, and once they see you put them in the ground – and believe me, they watch, especially in years like this when food is more difficult to come by – they can come down and Hoover up each seed, leaving little holes as evidence of their theft. Row cover immediately after planting also helps to thwart the birds.

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Aji Limon in sherry-NOT a science experiment

Aji Limon in sherry-NOT a science experiment

It may look like a science experiment but it’s actually a jar of lemon peppers  (aji limon Capsicum baccatum)– some ripe, some not so much – that I preserved in sherry last fall. The jar sits at the back of the fridge where the peppers are easy to pull out and add to all kinds of things: Thai shrimp soup, quesadillas, stews, whatever.

Today, I dropped two into the black bean soup I’m making. They add just the right amount of heat (about 2 large or 3 small for a 4-quart pot of soup usually does it for me and my heat-sensitive friends; my husband and when he’s here, our son, usually add more heat via a sprinkling of the dried aji limons we keep in a jar in the pantry).

Jarred abundance including dried aji limon

Jarred abundance including dried aji limon

The sherry-filled jar of lemon peppers is only one of a collection of jars and freezer bags of stuff that I put by from last year’s garden. It’s a treasure trove that in winter makes it possible to create an actual meal with little actual work. Yes, it’s plenty of work in the summer and early fall, but once it’s done you can sit back and bask in all that preserved glory.

On winter days, especially during days with the kind of bone-cracking cold that the Polar Express (yes, I know, VORtex) treated us to recently, soups and stews are what’s for dinner. Putting together something warm, delicious and nourishing inside of 15 minutes simply by opening jars and bags and whatnot from what you’ve produced yourself (along with Mother Nature, of course) is incredibly satisfying, to say nothing of economical. And it lets you dump things together, cover the pot, and go sit under the quilt on the sofa in front of the fire with a book or the news while you’re waiting for it to cook. (Or in our case, it lets you suit up, walk the dog, then haul in the wood for that fire, but never mind. It’s always something.).

Simmering bean soup with everything dumped in

Simmering bean soup with everything dumped in

While it’s great to have a store of homemade condiments, ingredients, and cooking sauces that you’ve made yourself, it’s also important to know what exactly you’ll actually use so you don’t end up with wastage.  Took me a while.

Years ago, I got so carried away with the garden and fruit trees’ abundance combined with the plethora of recipes available, that I ended up with stacks of stuff moldering on the cellar shelves for ages. I canned everything I could get my hands on, (and envisioned my children eating all of it – Hah!). I hauled the filled jars down there, then, years later when the moisture had attacked the lids (and then the stuff inside), I hauled them back up again to dump the contents of the jars, one by one, onto the compost heap. Wasteful of time, energy and produce.

Over the years, I’ve learned. I now keep tabs on what we and those we love will actually not only eat, but also enjoy. Hence: spaghetti sauce, salsa, jarred tomatoes and home-made V-8, but not green tomato mincemeat or tomato marmalade; strawberry jam with walnuts and Cointreau but not rhubarb chutney; only two quarts of pickled jalapenos, not ten; two pints of pickled watermelon rind, not four quarts.

Being more circumspect about what and how much I put up doesn’t mean I don’t still experiment.  So many recipes, so little time. Year before last, I canned harrissa, a tomato-and chili-based condiment for Morrocan-y things, the recipe for which I found in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I put up ten half-pints and only used two here at home. Fortunately, our son used one to make wild goose stew from the Canada geese his father shoots, and loved it. So, I gave him all of the remaining jars. I didn’t put up any harissa this year, but plan to make more this fall, using both the Ball recipe and an alternative one that I found in a magazine. Something new and different.

Black bean soup awaiting cheese, sour cream, pesto, whatever

Black bean soup awaiting cheese, sour cream, pesto, whatever

Having stuff like this in the cabinet and freezer feels unbearably virtuous. But for those for whom a smug sense of virtue doesn’t quite do it, (and heaven knows that only goes so far), the more important part of the exercise is what you end up with. Healthy, economical comfort food in no time flat.

Black Bean Soup

2 quarts of turkey stock (made from the remains of the Thanksgiving turkey and frozen – or 2 quarts of chicken stock)

3 tins of black beans (organic if possible)

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic (cut from the hardneck that are hanging on the porch and are already starting to send up green shoots way too soon; what’s THAT about?!)

I chopped sweet pepper, or about a cup of frozen chopped sweet pepper from your freezer

1 pint of salsa

2 or three hot peppers –whatever you’ve got

1 tblsp smoked paprika

2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce

a sploosh of sherry (about ¼ cup) if you want

salt and pepper

In a heavy pot, sauté the onion and garlic in a splash of olive oil until the onion is clear-ish. Add the peppers and sauté for another few minutes. Add stock (doesn’t have to be completely thawed), beans and everything else. Cover and simmer for about an hour. Serve with cheese on top or some fresh cilantro or maybe a dab of cilantro pesto or basil pesto (we make it during herb season and freeze it in little packets of plastic wrap) or a dollop of sour cream or all of the above if you’re feeling in need of major indulgence. It’s winter. Why not?

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