Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

It’s hard to believe the weather we’ve had here in Rhode Island. Though we’ve had some cool temperatures at night, daytime highs have stayed in the 70’s for the last few weeks. Vegetables as well as flowers have thrived.

With cooler, windier and rainier weather now here, I thought I should go out to the garden and take some photos of what’s blooming before it all finally goes away for the season.

Globe amaranth, or gomphrena.

 

Mandevilla has a southern exposure in front of my wife’s art studio, but it will go in soon and join the other houseplants for the winter.

 

Petunias, sown from seed in early spring.

 

One of many dahlias, which will be dug up soon. I store the tubers in the garage for the winter, then start them in pots in the spring before planting in the garden.

 

Impatiens never lasted this long! A perfect spot, hidden from the sun and wind.

 

Nasturtiums. Though they’re annuals, these peppery-tasting edibles do re-sow themselves.

 

A lone rose.

 

Gazania loves the warm sun.

 

Calendula self-sows every year. Another edible.

 

Galliarda, with a friend.

 

Rudbeckia. It comes back every year.

 

 

ASIAN SLAW

Posted: October 19, 2017 in Food, garden, Recipes, Uncategorized
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I love cole slaw. It’s awesome with any grilled food, but I especially love the classic pulled pork/cole slaw combo. Visiting the local farm stand the other day, the cooler weather crops were in, and there was a beautiful head of cabbage just sitting there, waiting for me to take it home.

The farm stand had this beautiful purple cabbage, but use green if you like!

 

 

I wanted to try something different from the basic cole slaw recipe I usually make, and so I took my ingredients in an Asian direction. I think I came up with something that really rocks…and it goes great with a plate of Asian-inspired spare ribs!

 

Shredded veggies, ready for the dressing.

 

1 medium-sized head of cabbage, cored and shredded
1 carrot, shredded
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons honey
I like to give the cabbage different textures, so I wash and then quarter the cabbage, removing the center core (which is, by the way, totally edible and was given to me by my Mom as a treat when I was a kid. Hey, it’s a Lithuanian thing.) So I hand slice one-quarter of the cabbage as thinly as I can with a knife. The other three-quarters go in a food processor to slice more thinly. I put the carrot through the machine as well. I put the veggies in a large bowl and add the sesame seeds.

Veggies and dressing mixed.

To make the dressing, in a separate bowl, combine the mayo, rice vinegar, sesame oil and honey, whisking to mix thoroughly.

Rice vinegar is not rice wine vinegar. Make sure you use the good stuff. Here’s one brand I use.

Add the dressing to the veggies, and mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours, mixing every hour to combine as the veggies release their juices and make the slaw more flavorful and “wet.”

The definition of a consomme is: “a clear soup made with concentrated stock.” I might add “mind-blowing” to that sentence, especially with this recipe. The key to success– and this is crucial–is to use absolutely garden-fresh, in-season ingredients. If you try this with greenhouse or supermarket tomatoes, you’re just wasting your time.

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4 1/2 lbs. of fresh garden tomatoes (my favorite is the heirloom: Brandywine)
1 large bunch of fresh basil, leaves and stems
1 2-inch piece of fresh horseradish, peeled
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I use Alessi)
2 oz. vodka (I use Tito’s)
sea salt and pepper

 

Remove the core of the tomatoes, but leave everything else, including seeds and skin.

Put all the tomatoes, basil, horseradish, garlic, vinegar and vodka in a blender or food processor. You might need to do this in batches if your equipment can’t handle it all.

Process until you get a kind of slush.

Line a mixing bowl with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the tomato slush mixture into it. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth carefully, and tie them securely so you can lift the bundle up by the knot. Hang the bundle from a hook over a clean bowl in the fridge so that it catches the liquid that drips out, and leave the whole thing in there overnight. The liquid that drips out will be clear. (You can place an optional slice of beet in the bowl to add color, but I choose not to, because I think it changes the flavor.)

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

To serve, chill bowls (or in this case: the sipping glasses) in the fridge. When ready to serve, ladle out the consomme and garnish with a tiny basil leaf. A drop of excellent quality olive oil is optional.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

 

I tried using a synthetic cheesecloth for this recipe, and I found that it doesn’t filter out enough of the solids to make a clear consomme. You could use it along with real cheesecloth, just to use the stand, or just hang it all in real cheesecloth, as described in this recipe.

Now’s the time to head to your local farm stand and pick up a bag of gorgeous plum tomatoes, before the season is gone! And this is what you do with them…

These are not sun-dried tomatoes. They’re better, because fresh plum tomatoes are still moist after roasting, with a bit of that magic tomato liquid in every cup! A great, simple platter to offer at parties.

Tomatoes before

Tomatoes before

12 to 18 halved, seeded plum tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
Freshly ground pepper
Fleur de Sel or sea salt

Pre-heat the oven to 250.

Line a baking sheet with foil and rub it lightly with olive oil.

Arrange halved and seeded tomatoes on it in a single layer, cut side up. Drizzle evenly with 1/4 cup olive oil, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar, and season with pepper to taste.

Bake the tomatoes until they are still juicy but slightly wrinkled, about 3 hours. Transfer to a platter and let cool slightly.

Just before serving, sprinkle tomatoes with Fleur de Sel, and garnish if you like, with chopped parsley leaves, mint leaves, or basil.

Tomatoes after

Tomatoes after

Just because you’ve got a garden full of fresh veggies, it doesn’t mean you have to gorge on nothing but salads! Sometimes, a refreshing cocktail is just what you need after a long day of yard work. This one fits the bill!

 

4 fresh cucumbers, peeled and seeded
Small ice cubes
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons granulated organic cane sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup vodka (I like Tito’s)
1 oz. orange liqueur (I like Cointreau)

 

Peel and seed the cucumbers. Coarsely chop them and then purée in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Or, if you have one, use a juicer. Set the cucumber juice aside.

To a large glass pitcher, add the mint leaves, sugar and lime juice. Muddle the ingredients so that the mint leaves release their oils. Add 3/4 cup (at least) of the cucumber juice. Add the vodka and Cointreau. Muddle again briefly.

Fill tall drinking glasses with ice cubes. Strain the cocktail into glasses. Garnish with a cucumber spear or mint.

I grow several varieties of squash and pumpkins in my garden every year, so I’ve got an overload of blossoms. But it was only recently, after my daughter had a taste of fried squash blossoms at a favorite restaurant, Plum Point Bistro in Saunderstown, RI, did she start asking me to prepare them at home.

At the restaurant, we were served a savory version, the blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese, lightly battered, fried and served with a delicious tomato sauce.

At home, we went for a sweeter version for breakfast, using gluten-free pancake mix as the base, experimenting with two fillings: raspberry preserves or strawberry cream cheese.

Because we need to keep things gluten-free in our home, I simply followed the directions on the box of pancake mix, using fat-free milk instead of whole milk and a little less of the dry ingredients to make the batter thinner than I would use for regular pancakes. I use King Arthur Gluten-Free Pancake Mix, which requires adding an egg and melted butter to make a smooth, slightly sweet batter. I set that aside and let it rest for a few minutes.

Next, it’s off to the garden to snip a handful of squash blossoms. I prefer the ones that are open. They’re easier to stuff, but it’s also easier to spot the little critters that like to make themselves comfortable inside. I carefully snip the blossoms off the plant, then give them a light shake, which is enough to convince the bugs inside to fly out. It’s pretty cool to find a happy bee inside every blossom that I snip.

 

 

Other than making sure all foreign particles (and insects) have been removed from the blossoms, no other preparation is needed. I snip the stems right up to the blossom, and they’re ready to be stuffed.

 

Blossoms stuffed with strawberry cream cheese and the fantastic raspberry preserves from Briermere Farms on the North Fork of Long Island!

 

 

I heat a few inches of olive oil in a pan, then start the process: I stuff the blossoms, closing the flower petals around the stuffing, then carefully dip them in the pancake batter, and release them gently into the oil, flipping them as they fry, until they’re golden in color.

 

 

I drain them on paper towels, dust them with powdered sugar, and they’re ready to be enjoyed.

 

 

 

 

I don’t have the patience to boil Mason jars and lids and all that crap. But I love me my pickles, especially when this year’s garden is cranking out cucumbers in record numbers!

This is such an easy way to make great pickles, it’s almost unbelievable…and no water is needed! The salt extracts just enough moisture, like when curing meat, to make it work. This method works great if you want fresh pickles to eat immediately, but you’ll need to use the old-fashioned pickling methods if you want to keep them for longer periods of time.

pickles

 

 

6 fresh cucumbers
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)
handful of fresh dill
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

 

Get a large plastic bag.  Add the salt, dill and garlic and gently mix everything in the bag.

Cut the ends off the cucumbers and then slice them lengthwise, in half or in quarters. Add them to the bag and gently mix again, trying not to crush or squeeze the cucumbers.

Roll the plastic bag tightly, squeezing the air out of the bag, then zip it and place it in the fridge overnight. The pickles will be ready to eat the next day, but they’re even better after 48 hours.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer’s in full swing, and let’s face it: you might be tired of grilling by now.

Don’t get me wrong…grilling makes food taste great, but sometimes you don’t want to stand out there in a cloud of smoke while your friends are at the table, sipping wine and having a good time without you.

This is a great dish for those that want to pass on the grill for a day. It’s a delicious salad that you can serve warm or cool. You can make it the day before. Wrap it in plastic, and keep it in the fridge. Then, when your guests arrive, let it warm to room temperature. Taste for seasoning before serving. If you’re not a fan of quinoa, brown basmati rice works well, too. And use what’s fresh and in season. If you can’t find asparagus, some chopped and lightly sautéed squash works just as well.

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1 1/3 cup dry quinoa (or 1 cup basmati rice)
Chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon
2 lbs. wild-caught American shrimp, peeled and de-veined (16 to 18 count)
1 cup of asparagus stalks, cut into 1″ lengths
1/2 cup minced scallions, green part only
1 cup chopped fresh dill
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and medium-diced
1/4 cup red onion, small diced
1/2 cup seeded and chopped tomatoes
3/4 lb. good feta cheese, crumbled
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

 

Prepare the quinoa according to the package directions, using chicken stock instead of water. Once it’s cooked, place it in a large bowl. (1 1/3 cups dry quinoa should give you about 3 cups of cooked quinoa.)

Place the chopped asparagus on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss them to combine and spread them out in a single layer. Roast them for just a few minutes at 350 degrees. Set them aside to cool to room temperature. (You can also simply saute the asparagus in a pan on the stove top with olive oil, salt and pepper.)

Place the shrimp on the same sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss them to combine and spread them out in a single layer. Roast for 5 to 6 minutes at 350 degrees, until the shrimp are cooked through. Turn them once while cooking. Don’t overcook them! (again…you can simply saute the shrimp in a pan on the stove top with olive, salt and pepper.)

Add the shrimp to the quinoa, then add the asparagus, lemon juice, scallions, dill, parsley, cucumber, onion, tomatoes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add the feta and stir carefully. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour to allow the flavors to blend…or, if you’re not serving soon, place the bowl in the fridge. Before serving, allow it to warm almost to room temperature. Taste it and season again, if needed, before serving.

 

 

We eat a ton of pesto at home, and I’m amazed at how much my 10-year-old daughter loves the stuff. Most of the time, it’s simply mixed with pasta. But we stir it into tomato sauce and smear it on grilled chicken or beef as well.

The herb garden, with basil in the foreground. Happy cucumbers are growing on the trellis in the background.

Basil is the main ingredient in my pesto, and it’s growing rapidly under the summer sun in my garden right now. And that’s key to great pesto: when Mother Nature says the basil’s ready, be sure you have all the other ingredients and get to work!

Basil, ready to be picked.

Besides that it tastes old, the problem with store-bought pesto is that it’s expensive. Although homemade pesto isn’t cheap, you can still save a lot of money by making it yourself.
Some of my tips for saving money: buy good quality ingredients in bulk. My go-to olive oil is California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It gets high ratings, tastes amazing, and can be found in those large cans at most supermarkets and in quantity on Amazon.
There’s been a rash of articles about already-grated parmesan cheese that is 50% wood fiber. Stay away from that junk and buy yourself a nice chunk of the real deal: Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Mario Batali calls it the “undisputed king of cheeses.”) Grate it yourself and taste the difference!
The most expensive (and questionable) ingredient in basic pesto is pine nuts. If you look on the back of the package (and you always should!) you’ll see that most pine nuts come from China. I don’t buy any food products from China…period. So sourcing “safe” pine nuts can be difficult. Again, Amazon can be a help with that.
One of the reasons you want real pine nuts and not some look-alike from China is something called “pine mouth” or “pine nut mouth.” A small percentage of people experience a reaction after eating pine nuts that makes their mouth taste like metal–imagine putting a handful of pennies in your mouth–and the taste stays in their mouths for a couple of weeks, ruining their taste buds for the foods they love. (Eventually, it wears off.) Some scientists say you get “pine mouth” by eating counterfeit pine nuts–varieties like those from China that are not the same species. Others say that you can get the reaction even from real pine nuts. Research on this continues, but all the more reason not to buy any foods from China and other questionable countries.
There are alternatives to pine nuts, and you’ll find many pesto recipes that substitute with almonds, pistachios or walnuts. I think those nuts change the taste of the pesto, plus they have a skin that leaves a gritty residue, which I don’t like. So I don’t use them. The one nut that I’ve found that does a pretty good job filling in for pine nuts is macadamia nuts. They are less expensive and usually come from Hawaii. Just remember to buy raw, unsalted macadamias.
So here’s my sure-fire pesto recipe. I make massive amounts of it, store it in plastic storage containers with a tightly sealing screw-top lid, and put them in the deep freeze. They last all year, and thaw out easily.
2 cups fresh basil, packed down a little
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1/2 cup pine nuts (or raw, unsalted macadamia nuts)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
Put all the ingredients in a food processor and let it rip!
 

KOHL-SLAW

Posted: July 5, 2017 in Food, garden, Recipes
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Kohlrabi is probably one of the most misunderstood vegetables around. Most people don’t know what to do with them. Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family and can be eaten raw as well as cooked.

For me, the real joy of kohlrabi is biting into a crunchy, sweet, freshly picked and peeled bulb right out of the garden. Unfortunately, much of the kohlrabi you find in a supermarket (or even a farm stand) is grown larger than a tennis ball, making it tough, woody and dry…and they usually remove all the leaves, which are delicious.

The kohlrabi harvest has begun in my home garden, and I make a slaw with the leaves and the bulb. I use my Awesomesauce recipe as the dressing.

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2 kohlrabi bulbs with leaves, de-stemmed
1 carrot, peeled
Awesomesauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon dill pickle relish
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper

Combine the Awesomesauce ingredients in a bowl and keep it in the fridge.

Wash the veggies thoroughly before using. Pull the leaves off the kohlrabi bulb, and remove the stems. Grab a bunch of leaves at a time, roll them up tightly, and slice as thinly as you can into thin ribbons. Place in a bowl. Do this with all the leaves.

Peel the thick skin off the kohlrabi bulb and slice it as thinly as you can. Then take the slices and cut thin sticks out of them. Toss into the bowl.

I like to peel the carrot with a veggie peeler, then finely chop the slices. Toss into the bowl.

Add Awesomesauce to taste and toss well.

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Cover and refrigerate, letting the flavors blend for a couple of hours before serving.