Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

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.

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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
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

Successful gardening is a combination of art, science and luck. You can do everything by the book, and one season, Mother Nature will reward you with a bountiful harvest. The next season, when you think you’ve got it all figured out, she’ll give you nothing more than a cluster of dead plants.

That’s why, if there’s such a thing as a foolproof plant, I grow it. Perennials are the perfect example: you plant them once, and they come back year after year, with little or no work, sometimes bigger and stronger with every season. In the vegetable garden, asparagus is one of those delicious, reliable crops that comes back every year. Onions, chives and some herbs are favorites as well.

I’ve grown peas for over 50 years…from my very first gardening season. In my young days, I sowed the standard English peas that everyone is familiar with. Able to withstand cold and damp soil, peas have always been the first to go in the ground. I still go by the old saying: “Plant your peas on St. Patrick’s Day.”

But in the late 60’s, the Sugar Snap pea was introduced. It became an AAS winner in 1979, and later was awarded the most popular vegetable of all time! What made it different from standard peas was that you could eat the entire pod: the peas and the outside shell. They were sweet, they were prolific, and incredibly easy to grow. Once I discovered Sugar Snaps, I grew no other pea.

If you let Sugar Snap pea pods grow to their fullest, you’ll get a nice, plump crunchy pod with sweet, juicy peas on the inside. There’s no need to cook these peas…they’re at their most flavorful when eaten raw, straight off the vine.

Sugar Snap peas in early June: well over 6′ tall!

But what makes Sugar Snaps foolproof is that you can eat them at any point during the growing season. Pick them early, when they’re flat and small, and use them in a stir fry. Wait until they plump up, and they make a refreshing crunchy treat. And when the season ends, when your pea plants start to wither in the summer sun and it’s time to pull the plants out of the ground and toss them in the compost pile, you can still pick off every single tiny pod left on the plants for that last farewell snack.

They say you can grow peas in the fall, but I’ve had limited success. There’s something magical about growing peas in the spring. They’re one of the first plants to grow, when the weather is still cold and damp, tiny green shoots sprouting out of the cold (sometimes snow-covered) soil…a sign of better, warmer, sweeter days to come.

The warm weather has finally arrived here in New England, and that means it’s time to break out a classic summer recipe.

It’s interesting that an Eastern European country that is as far north as Newfoundland has one of the most refreshing cold summer soups of any country in Europe. It’s a cold beet soup called Šaltibarščiai (pronounced shul-tih barsh-chay) and it’s classic Lithuanian cooking at its best.

No summer was complete without my Mom’s Šaltibarščiai on the table, and my Dad always insisted on eating it with boiled potatoes on the side. Now residing in an assisted living facility, my Mom has not had this soup in many years, so I made her a batch when she came to visit recently.

There are many different variations of this soup. For example, many Lithuanians today use keffir instead of buttermilk. My Mom insists buttermilk tastes better.

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1 quart buttermilk
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
8 beets, cooked, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill
1 scallion, finely chopped, greens only
salt
a pile of boiled potatoes (optional)

 

Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl. If it’s very thick, you can dilute it a bit with fresh water.

Peel and chop the eggs and toss them in the bowl. Peel, seed and chop the cukes…then into the bowl.

I love Love Beets, hermetically sealed cooked and peeled beets, ready to use, available in most supermarkets. (In the old days, my Mom would simply use canned beets.) I open a couple of packs of Love Beets, pouring the beet juice into the bowl. I chop the beets and add them as well.

Grab some fresh dill and chop it finely. Add it to the bowl. Finely chop the greens of one or two scallions and sprinkle some salt on them. Rub the salt into the scallions, mashing them a bit, softening them. Then add the to the bowl.

Stir everything together, put a lid on the bowl, and let it chill in the fridge for a few hours.

Remove from fridge, stir, and season with more salt if needed.

 

It’s Father’s Day. Here’s a story about my Mom’s dad, my grandfather. Born in Lithuania, he came here during WWII. He was a short man, barely 5’5″ tall, but he was the strongest man I ever knew. As a kid, I watched him crush walnuts, and even hazelnuts, in his bare hands. He would go out into the water at Rockaway Beach, and the waves would hit him head-on, but never knock him down. He had little or no formal education, but he could fix or build anything, from concrete driveways to dog houses. And no matter what chore he took on, he wore a white shirt and tie with a vest while he did it. He never became a US citizen because he had a hard time with the English language, but he maintained his legal alien status, and spoke enough to work in the kitchens of several high-end restaurants in Queens, NY.

My grandfather, Vaclovas Lukosevicius. A helluva name and a helluva guy. Now I know where I got my receding hairline!

I smoked my first cigarette with him when I was 12, and we had a good talk about it after my face returned to a lighter shade of blue-green. We would walk to his favorite bar on Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill, the Triangle Hofbrau (it’s still there) and they let me sit at the bar, snacking on pretzels with a 7-Up while he enjoyed a beer. My Mom was an only child, so I was the only grandson, and nobody made me feel more special than he did.

One of my grandfather’s passions was horseradish…homegrown, homemade horseradish.

It’s been almost 50 years since I watched my grandfather dig the long, dirty, gnarled horseradish roots out of his garden with a sharp spade, lunging at the ground with all of his strength to cut through the thick fibers of the plant.

After harvesting a large piece, he would wash the dirt from it and then peel it, leaving behind a beautifully smooth white root.

He had a large bowl set under a grater, and he would hand grate the horseradish root with incredible speed. But no matter how fast he went, the potent vapors released by the root would make their way to his eyes, and he was forced to stop several times to wipe the tears away with his old handkerchief and regain his composure before returning to grate the root again.

Onions were child’s play compared to horseradish, and I understood why he did all the preparation just outside of the kitchen door of his Queens, NY home.

Once grated, he would add some water, vinegar, and salt, and his prepared horseradish was complete. He’d store it in tightly sealed glass jars in the fridge, and when it was time to sample the goods, he would carefully open a jar, poke his knife in, and spread the prepared horseradish over beef, beets, twice-smoked bacon, or anything else he desired.
I’d watch his face slowly turn red, small beads of perspiration developing on his forehead, and he’d turn and smile at me and tell me in Lithuanian: “Labai skanu!” (Very tasty!)

At the age of 10, I couldn’t figure out what he saw in horseradish, but it didn’t take long before I was hooked myself, as it was a staple at every family dinner table.

Opting for the stuff that came in a jar in the supermarket, I never made my own prepared horseradish until almost 50 years later.

I’ve had a huge horseradish plant growing in my garden for years, and I just never got around to doing anything with it. But the other night, as I was preparing my cocktail sauce recipe and I realized that I was out of prepared horseradish, it became clear that the time of reckoning had arrived. It was time, in the finest tradition of my grandfather, to make my own prepared horseradish.

Freshly harvested horseradish roots

Freshly harvested horseradish roots

I went out to the yard with a sharp shovel and lunged at the horseradish plant, splitting a few roots off of the main crown. I pulled them out of the ground, detached the long leaves, and headed back to the kitchen.
Today’s kitchen technology gave me a distinct advantage over my grandfather, and after washing and peeling the root, I chopped it into smaller pieces and tossed them into a food processor. No hand grating necessary!
The processor pulverized the root in no time, and I added water, vinegar and salt as my grandfather did, being very careful not to stick my face too close to the opening of the processor where the vapors were their most powerful.
A small taste on my tongue just about had my eyeballs shoot out of my head, and I muttered silently to myself: “Labai skanu!”

My grandfather would be proud.

Horseradish is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes mustard, cabbage, wasabi, and broccoli. The horseradish root itself hardly has any aroma. But when you crush it, enzymes from the broken plant cells produce mustard oil, which irritates the mucous membranes of the sinuses and eyes. To keep the horseradish from losing its pungency and freshness, vinegar must be added immediately.

Prepared Horseradish

6 oz. fresh horseradish root, peeled
6 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons white vinegar
3 pinches of salt

Chop the horseradish root into small pieces and add water, vinegar and salt. Process until proper consistency is reached.
Careful! Use proper ventilation or the vapors will blow your eyeballs and sinuses out!

The latest rage in food is finding new uses for cauliflower. Personally, I love the taste of it so I don’t really need alternatives. But my wife’s on a gluten-free diet, I need to reduce my carbs, and we both love pizza. It seemed that maybe a cauliflower crust could be the answer.

The key to the crispiest crust possible is to make sure you bake it thoroughly before you put the toppings on.  Even if the crust comes out a bit soggy, all is not lost. Just grab a knife and fork… It’ll still taste pretty darn good.

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2 cups riced, then cooked cauliflower
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon parsley
mozzarella cheese
tomato sauce
additional pizza toppings of your choice

 

Cut the cauliflower florets into chunks and toss them in a food processor. Pulse until you get the consistency of rice. Don’t over-process, or you’ll get mush.

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Microwave the riced cauliflower in a bowl for about 6 minutes on high. No need to add water. Depending on the amount of liquid in your cauliflower, you may need to transfer it to a fine mesh strainer to let it drain. Once it has drained, transfer it to a clean dish towel and wrap the sides around the cauliflower, gently pressing out the excess water. You want to get it as dry as possible. Dry = crispier crust. But be careful…let the nuked cauliflower cool first or you could burn your hands!

Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees. (I like to use my large toaster oven, with the convection feature turned off.)

In a large bowl, use 2 cups of the cauliflower. (Depending on the size of the cauliflower head, you may have a little left over.) Add the parmesan cheese, the eggs, garlic salt, oregano and parsley. Mix well until it forms a sort of ball of “dough.”

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Grease a 9″ stainless pizza pan with olive oil. (Lining it with non-stick foil first is an option.) Take your ball of “dough” and press it evenly into the pan, making sure you don’t get it too thin, or you’ll get holes.

Bake the “dough” in the oven for 20–25 minutes, until it looks brown and crispy and is fully cooked. You don’t want it to be soft or soggy.

Remove the pizza from the oven, and add the tomato sauce, cheese, and whatever other toppings you like. (I used some pre-cooked chicken sausage and a sprinkling of oregano.)

Return the pizza to the oven, only this time place it under the broiler, and cook until the toppings have browned and the cheese has melted. Keep an eye on it…be careful not to burn it!

 

The corn is still out on farm stands in my neighborhood, and it’s really hard to resist, despite the fact that corn is at the top of the loaded-with-pesticides list of veggies. Organic farmers struggle with corn because it demands a lot and produces little in return, but you can find it if you look hard enough. It’s easier to find it frozen, but that’s something you don’t want to do in season, especially when you see those beautiful ears just waiting for you at the local farm stand!

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen those videos where the person takes corn still in the husk, pops it in the microwave, and then slips out a perfect ear of corn without any silk minutes later. If you haven’t, here’s one of them…

There are 2 problems with this method: 1) It takes forever to do a dozen ears…and 2) It ruins the damn corn!

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Why would anyone who’s passionate about fresh corn, stick it in a microwave and nuke the living hell out of it? Fresh corn needs a minimalist approach. It should be eaten practically raw…not bombarded with gamma rays and dehydrated in to shriveled kernels.

I love my corn right off the cob…and I still stick to the tried-and-true method of putting it in a pot of water and boiling it for a very short time. Do I get a few strands of silk? Sure. That’s part of the deal. Real corn has silk…just like real fish has bones. Get over it.

My wife and daughter like their corn off the cob. In that case, I shuck the corn, standing the raw ear up in a bowl or bundt pan, slicing down with a knife to remove the kernels. I then lightly saute the corn in a pan with unsalted organic butter and a pinch of Fleur de Sel. Those pieces that have several rows of kernels stuck together, across and down, are the favorites.

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One other way I’ve cooked corn is the “cooler corn” method, which is great when you have a really large crowd to feed. Get your favorite cooler and make sure it’s clean inside. Shuck your corn and place the ears in the cooler. Boil a large pot of water on the stove and then pour the hot water over the corn. Close the cooler lid tightly and let it sit for about 20 minutes. You’ll have perfect corn for a crowd every time.

 

 

 

At a recent summer garden dinner for 12 of our friends, I wanted to serve my corn and tomato salsa that I featured here a few weeks ago.

We “smuggled” a few treats from a recent visit to Santorini Greece: capers, caper leaves and sun-dried tomatoes. Adding them to fresh corn and tomatoes gave it that salty bite that. I usually use feta cheese in this recipe, but we served a cheese plate as an appetizer, so I left the feta out. Turns out we like it even better this way…

1 dozen fresh ears of corn, lightly sautéed in olive oil
2 dozen (or more) tiny tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon caper leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (in addition to what you saute the corn with)

Slice the kernels of corn off the ears with a sharp knife. Saute them in a little olive oil, just to remove the raw taste. Don’t over cook them!

Combine the corn with all the other ingredients and place in a bowl in the fridge.

Just before serving, let it come back to cool, not cold, and check for seasoning. The capers and caper leaves are salty, so I’m careful not to over-salt.