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Blanching leeks

Blanching potted leeks with straw

Well, looks like we finally have spring – or maybe early summer – so I’m hauling the cool weather greens that I started in the greenhouse in and out every day to both harden them and keep them from frying as the heat inside ramps up. (So far, the tomato seedlings are loving the heat).  Managed to get some pak choi, lettuce and kale into the ground over the weekend along with two packets of last year’s pea seeds, so I’ll be interested to see what their germination rates turn out to be.

Pak Choi and kale just about ready for harvest

Pak Choi and kale just about ready for harvest

The experimental kale and pak choi are going to be ready for harvest this week (can’t wait – looking up recipes for inspiration) and the leeks I planted in two pots are looking happy, unlike the poor guys I planted in the garden when the blankety-blank plant company sent them two solid weeks before I had specified on their site while ordering. The garden leeks look moribund, though I’m going to give them a chance to resurrect themselves. But the potted leeks have grown quite a bit in the past week-plus, and are now about 11 inches out of the soil with beautiful blue-green shoots. Time to start blanching them by shielding the stalks from the sun while keeping enough greenery exposed to gather rays so they can actually continue to grow.

potted Buttercrunch lettuce nearly ready for a salad

potted Buttercrunch lettuce nearly ready for a salad

Leeks take anywhere from 90-120 days or so to come to a size that you’d expect to pull and use them, so this will mean I need to feed these potted guys a little as I go along with organic fertilizer. I had planted them the same day I put their confreres in the garden in a combination of soil and compost. Their long growth rate, and my competitive longing for huge, fat stalks, compel additional feeding of the potted ones every four weeks or so.

I love leeks. I often sauté them with shallots, poblanos and a few dried chopped tomatoes (and some chili, adobo and hot sauce) and bake them into a frittata, though last night I added them to the cod filets for supper. Yesterday evening,  I shaved some carrots and chopped leeks (bought) and a shallot, sautéed them for about five minutes in olive oil, added the cod and a splash of pinot grigio and simmered for another five minutes until they were barely done (they were thin). I added some capers and served it up with a dollop of sour cream. Quick, easy, delicious. Gotta love leeks.

p.s. I didin’t think about photographing supper last night until I started writing this — sorry. It looked pretty with carrot ribbons and spirals of leeks alongside a glass of white wine. Boring description will have to do.

 

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Raw roots 2

Gold Ball turnips, Hakurei turnips and carrots right out of the ground and washed

I don’t really know who makes these declarations — I hope they don’t clog up an already clogged Congress to get something like The Official Year of The Root Crop powered through — but it is, officially, somehow, The Year of The Root Crop. It’s a good thing, since little by little, we as a society are trying to drag ourselves back to the kind of eating that once made us one of the healthiest nations on earth only a few decades ago. For those who don’t already love vegetables; I’m sorry. I hope you can learn to enjoy them, as there are literally thousands of ways to prepare them, and with a little assiduous and open-minded work, you, too can get there. I have friends who only eat the white food groups, or the chocolate food groups, or the wine and beer food groups, so I do get it, but we continue to have people in for breadth of experience to say nothing of fun and laughter and conversation.

Among other things, I write for University of Maryland’s Grow It Eat It blog along with a lot of other gardener cooks, who have recipes for all kinds of seasonal veggies as well as pictures, tips on growing even a little bit of your own food — some of of have patio pots that produce cukes, lettuce, some carrots, whatever. Have a look. It’s a nice variety of people and ideas.

http://groweat.blogspot.com/#axzz2H76fhWGL

Now to the root vegetables: I didn’t grow them, but I’m eating them like crazy this winter. I get turnips (and carrots and more) from our friend, Theresa Mycek, the grower/manager of Colchester CSA, who lives just down the road and grows a fabulous selection of carrots, beets, turnips, and daikon radishes (and the proverbial more). http://www.colchesterfarm.org/

Peeled turnips

Peeled Hakurei and Gold Ball turnips

I’ve always loved vegetables, but I didn’t used to like turnips ONE BIT until I had some fresh from the ground – and not overcooked.  Old, and overcooked they’re bitter and icky. Fresh and well cooked, they’re really good. Theresa grows three kinds of turnips – Purple Top, Hakurei, and Gold Ball. Purple Top, with pretty purple shoulders, is what we usually see in the grocery store. Hakurei is a white globe that’s crisp and slightly juicier and milder than the purple top, so in addition to being good cooked, it’s nice cut up raw in a salad or shredded in coleslaw like a radish. Gold Ball turnips have creamy, pale yellow flesh and are sweeter than Purple Top, especially when roasted.

Turnips (brassica rapa), which are relatively high in Vitamin C, are members of the same family as broccoli, kohlrabi (aka turnip cabbage), and rutabaga, (aka Swedish turnip or Swedes). The turnip itself is a large taproot, whose leaves are also edible. People over here on the Eastern Shore often stew the greens (which constitutes a mess of greens) with bacon or ham and some onions or sauté the young leaves.

Turnips take 40 to 65 days from seed to maturity, depending on variety. For example, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s fall-planted Amber Globe turnip is 63 days to maturity, while the spring-planted Nabo Roxo Comprido turnips reach maturity after only 40 days. Turnips are generally cool weather crops; you can sow seed practically as soon as you can get into the garden in spring. Succession plant if you want a steady crop until the heat sets in in June, then sow them again in August for fall and winter eating. You can actually grow turnips in containers too, being sure to thin them so they have sufficient space to grow. Below is a link to a list of turnip growing tips.

http://www.allotment.org.uk/grow-your-own/vegetables/turnips

Turnips prepped on sheet

Turnips cubed, carrots all prepped for the oven

I didn’t learn to enjoy turnips until I began to grow them myself. We’d usually steam and mash them with caramelized onions, parmesan and a little splash of cream, like rich mashed potatoes – and they’re delicious! Some roasted garlic adds a little dash of je ne sais quoi. But there are other ways to cook them. For Christmas this year, I roasted some in the pan with the leg of lamb along with potatoes, carrots and onions. Yum yum yum. Usually, though, I dice, season and roast them and keep them in the frig to pull out when I want. They’re delicious as a side dish with chicken or goose (or duck or whatever else your resident Visigoth drags home).  More often, I pull a handful out of the container in the frig, warm them a little and add them to salad with toasted hazelnuts and blue cheese with a splash of pear or fig vinegar and olive oil.

To roast turnips:

Peel and dice turnips into whatever sized pieces you like. I usually do them about ¾ of an inch because they shrink as they roast, and I like to have the outsides toasty and the insides still soft. Others cut them small for a chewier texture.

turnips roasted in salad

Roasted Gold Ball with greens, stilton and toasted walnuts waiting for balsamic dressing

Toss them with maple syrup or honey, salt, pepper and a bit of oil with whatever spices you like to add.  I usually do either berbere spice or smoked paprika and Adobo. Curry’s nice too. Toast at 350F for about 35 minutes or until desired doneness.

For seed, you can check out:

http://www.southernexposure.com/

http://www.seedsavers.org/

http://www.johnnyseeds.com/

http://www.cooksgarden.com/

(Just to get your started).

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FInished product: Jelly jars for us and Theresa, pints for Matt

I grow lemon peppers – aji limon – by the cartload (kinda) because 1) I depend on them for bean soup (preserved in sherry – add 2 peppers per 3-quart pot of soup) and 2) – and more important – our son, Matt, spends the weekend with us at the end of summer and uses a boatload to make lemon pepper relish.

Lemon peppers are not hybrid so you can save the seed and have it come true (i.e. produce the same fruits) the following year, something our friend, Theresa Mycek, manager of Colchester CSA has been doing since I first gave her a packet of seeds several years ago. The lemon peppers are about as hot as jalapenos (which is about 5,000 Scoville units) but taste different from a jalapeno.  They have a distinctive lemony-smoky flavor that adds wonderfully to a host of things, including the jerk chicken we put on the grill last night and served with pineapple salsa (made with our own fish peppers), which absolutely makes the dish*. Lemon peppers are also beautiful, hanging from the thigh-high bush like lemon-colored Christmas ornaments. I plant way more than I need because of Matt’s annual lemon pepper relish production, and because they produce so beautifully at the end of the summer when the rest of the summer vegetables are winding down or have collapsed altogether.

We put lemon pepper relish on fish tacos. Matt probably puts it on everything — scrambled eggs, quesadillas, minestrone, pudding whatever — but of course his capsaicin capacity way outstrips ours. The relish, which is predominantly ground fresh peppers simmered with seasonings, is a big hit of aji limon with each demi-teaspoon. As a result, we use it sparingly, so can take a year to get through a 10-pounce jar of the stuff whereas Matt goes through about 2 quarts a year.  Having said that, he loves to share so has been trying to figure out a balance between maintaining the character of the peppers and not assaulting the taste buds of his family and friends.

“I like it really hot, but I want to share it with other people who will really enjoy it and see how awesome it is,” he laughs.

Matt with lemon pepper relish

A food processor is a huge help in the production.  He de-stems piles of fresh-picked peppers, then grinds them whole with big chunks of fresh whole garlic.   That goes into the pot to simmer with a big splash of white vinegar. He then processes plenty of fresh squeezed lime juice and fresh cilantro together, adds a fair lick of Kosher salt, then adds that to the pot and simmers it for about 40 minutes. When sufficiently simmered, it goes into sterilized jars for processing. This year, he used way more garlic than in previous years – big bulbs of fresh hardneck roja that he got from Theresa. He’s been playing with the recipe (he’s a handful of this, pinch of that kinda cook), for a couple of years now.  I haven’t tasted it yet, but it smelled fabulous.  Fish tacos here we come.

 

Lemon pepper ripening on potted plant

*The recipe for jerk chicken and its marinade along with pineapple salsa is in the Gourmet Cookbook. We think it’s something really special, especially when you sit outside with friends by the grill and have laughter and conversation over an end-of-season margarita before you sit down to the meal.

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Arugula, roasted beets and feta

Don’t get me wrong: I love rich, once-a-year holiday foods. But for balance in both taste and texture – to say nothing of waistline — I crave salads. We’re not talkin’ lettuce and tomato at this time of year though. We’re talkin’ winter vegetables — shredded, roasted, sautéed, and raw.

There are plenty of options.  For example, you can tweak classic summer slaw with new combinations: shredded cabbage (red or white or both), beets, and broccoli stems; or turnip, carrot, and daikon radish; or rutabaga, jicama, and spaghetti squash. Add chopped apple, pineapple, or sliced clementines for a little tart sweetness, or pickled hot peppers for heat, season with abandon, and dress with a mustard vinaigrette. Classic Waldorf salad is another retro staple that cries out for new variations: Turnip, celery and apple tossed with yogurt-and-fig-vinegar dressing with poppy seed; radish, sprouts, and pear with white-wine-and-orange-juice vinaigrette with coriander. Add nuts, cheese, and dried cherries, blueberries or raisins to any of the above and you’ve got lunch. Try raw Broccoli Salad with scallion, toasted walnuts and dried cranberries dressed with a creamy mix of half plain yogurt/half mayo thinned with a little red wine vinegar, or Warm Red Cabbage Salad. Sautee some chopped red cabbage in olive oil for about five minutes, splash in some cider or balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Add some crushed garlic and sauté another three minutes.  Turn into a salad bowl, and add a chopped apple, fresh parsley, toasted pine nuts, and crumbled goat cheese or gorgonzola. Drizzle with extra vinegar and oil.

Roasted vegetable salads are terrific this time of year too; the oven’s warmth is welcome, and what’s cookin’ makes the house smell great.  You can roast beets, turnips, carrots, parsnip, winter squash, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, eggplant, (which is great dressed and served room temp with sautéed mushrooms, scallions, and shaved parmesan) and more.

One of our favorites is French lentil salad with roasted veggies on arugula.  Peel and chop some winter squash  or some carrots and parsnips. Toss with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, a bare dusting of sugar, and whatever seasonings strike your fancy — smoked paprika and chili powder are nice. Slow roast on a pan at 325F for 20-30 minutes until just tender and brown-edged. Meanwhile, cook lentils in broth until barely tender. Drain. While still warm, season them with salt and pepper, some chopped garlic and a splash each of red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar. Arrange all on a plate with fresh arugula and a little crumbled goat cheese, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil just before serving.  Unlike summer salads, most winter salads stay good in the frig for days so you can make a bunch on Sunday and eat ‘em all week.

http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Cran-Broccoli-Salad/Detail.aspx

http://allrecipes.com/HowTo/Fall-and-Winter-Salads/Detail.aspx

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshows/2008/11/winter_salads_slideshow#slide=5

http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/six-hearty-winter-salads

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Inorganic vs Organic

It’s probably not news for anyone who’s been paying ANY attention at all over the past 20 or so years, but according to Prevention magazine’s website, there are seven foods that should never cross your lips. The list is a piece of affirmation for organic living. Link to the article below.

http://www.prevention.com/7foodsthatshouldnever/index.shtml?cm_mmc=Content_Ads-_-Outbrain-_-Prevention-_-7foodsthatshouldnever/index.shtml

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This recipe isn’t mine; it was emailed to me by a friend and didn’t include attribution for the author.  But while the creator won’t get credit, it will strike a lot of people as a good recipe to follow this time of year.

Parmieux Adventures cake

Christmas Cake Recipe


2 cups flour


1 stick butter


1 cup of water


1 tsp baking soda


1 cup of sugar


1 tsp salt


1 cup of brown sugar


Lemon juice


4 large eggs


Nuts


2 bottles of wine


2 cups of dried fruit


Sample the wine to check quality. Take a large bowl, check the wine again. To be sure it is of the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink. Repeat. Turn on the electric mixer. Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add one teaspoon of sugar. Beat again. At this point it’s best to make sure the wine is still OK. Try another cup… Just in case. Turn off the mixerer thingy. Break 2 eggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.


Pick the frigging fruit up off floor. Mix on the turner. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers just pry it loose with a drewscriver. Sample the wine to check for tonsisticity. Next, sift two cups of salt. Or something. Check the wine. Now shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find. Greash the oven. Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over. Don’t forget to beat off the turner. Finally, throw the bowl through the window. Finish the wine and wipe counter with the cat.Take a taxi to supermarket and buy cake.

Bingle Jells

The cake photo, which is not an incarnation of the recipe above, is from the blog, parmieux adventures:

http://parmieuxadventures.blogspot.com/2008/06/great-cake-disastertrainwreckwhat-was-i.html


					

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I don’t remember exactly when I first read Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone, but I think I was in my very early twenties (if that). The volume, a paperback with a worn cover and thin pages that had the musty smell particular to old books, had belonged to my mother and she had faint memories of it, but nothing solid.  There are a lot of layers to the story, but a good summary might go something like this: Pietro Spina, a member of the Socialist party, returns to Mussolini’s Italy after years of politically forced exile.  Taken ill, he is sent to a remote mountain village in Abruzzi to recover, posing as a priest named Don Paolo. There, his political ideologies come face-to-face with the brutal life of the peasants and Spina, an intellectual man, realizes that rhetoric and words are not enough.

http://blog.timesunion.com/vinoteca/bread-and-wine/4924/

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