Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

Does anyone remember Art Ginsburg, also known as Mr. Food? His syndicated segments appeared on the news for almost 10 years. I met him back in 1993, and he was quite the self-promoter…but a really nice guy. Art passed away years ago, but I still have his old cookbooks, and his simple but perfect pesto recipe has been my guide for decades.
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 the fact that it tastes bad, 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 large bottles 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. 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. I make sure I’m getting quality pine nuts from Italy. They are expensive, but anything of high quality usually is.
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, although they, too, are a bit gritty. 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
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
When measuring the basil, I pick dry leaves from the garden and place them in a measuring cup, lightly packing them until I get 2 cups. Then I remove them from the measuring cup and wash them, tossing them in a salad spinner to dry. Then they go into the food processor.
Add the other ingredients in the food processor with the basil and let it rip!
 
The color and fragrance of freshly-made pesto is hard to beat! For me, a bowl of pasta with pesto is real comfort food.

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.

You might be thinking of eating more healthy fruits and veggies in 2019, and organic is usually the way to go. But considering the price difference, it’s not always easy to simply buy organic over non-organic produce. Although I tend to buy mostly organic products, there are times when I think it’s not all that necessary. By the same token, there are times when it is absolutely necessary.

organic

Despite the organic label… despite the fact that produce has been triple washed or whatever other nonsense they claim, I always wash my produce before eating. And I store it in a new, clean plastic bag or container in the fridge, recycling the old clam shell container.

I try to avoid any produce from Mexico or South America, where they’re allowed to use pesticides banned long ago in the United States. I don’t even trust the organic products from those areas. (Hey, if they tell you not to drink the water when you vacation in Mexico, why would you want them to water your produce with it?)

And I buy seasonal organic produce from my local farmers whenever possible.

Here are a few of what are known as the “dirty dozen:”

Strawberries: Always go organic. Non-organic strawberries are bathed in pesticides and no amount of washing with water will remove them. There’s no way I’m going to put that in my daughter’s smoothie.
Speaking of strawberries, the greens on each fruit are totally edible, and you won’t notice them at all if you’re using them for smoothies. Just wash the fruits and then throw the whole thing into your blender.
I usually buy a large quantity of organic strawberries when they’re on sale, wash them thoroughly in cold water, and then freeze them in small bags to use for smoothies later.

Apples: Always go organic. I have two apple trees in my yard and I know what a nightmare it is to keep the bugs away from them. The only way you can do that is by spraying the living hell out of those trees. Unfortunately for me, the days of going to an orchard with the family and picking our own apples are long gone, because I know what they have to do to make them look pretty on the branch.

Potatoes: Always go organic. These are sprayed heavily as well. And then there’s the added bonus of spraying the harvested potatoes afterwards to prevent them from sprouting while in storage.

 

Since the US Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t do its job to let you know about pesticides in your food, groups like the EWG, the Environmental Working Group, do it for them. Other produce that falls into the “dirty dozen” category, as listed by the EWG: celery, peaches, bell peppers, spinach, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, kale, collard greens, zucchini, lettuce, and blueberries. Always buy organic versions of these if you want to avoid ingesting pesticides. Remember, washing the fruit does not wash off the pesticide!

 

Fruits with skin you peel: bananas, oranges and other citrus, melons, etc…I’m OK with non-organic, but I wash the outside thoroughly before cutting into the fruit, and I don’t use the skin. If I need the zest of citrus for a recipe, I use organic…but those can be hard to find.

“The clean fifteen,” meaning produce you can buy that is not organic (according to the EWG): onions, sweet corn (which I totally disagree with, thanks to Monsanto’s Round-Up ready crops), pineapple, avocado, asparagus, frozen sweet peas, mango, papayas, eggplant, cantaloupe (domestic), kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, and mushrooms. I would still keep my purchases to produce grown in the USA. Pesticides that are banned in the USA are still used in other countries.

Here’s some technical labeling info you may or may not know…

Natural: This is a marketing word – not a scientific label. The FDA requires only one natural ingredient to be present for an entire product to be labeled “natural.” This means that as long as a company has one natural ingredient despite multiple harmful chemical ingredients, they can still call the product natural. (As my buddy, Lee, a PhD in Chemistry once told me: “Hey…cyanide is ‘natural!'”) So always read the label!

USDA Certified Organic: Product labels that feature this term are manufactured by operators who comply with annual inspections, as well as random checks, to ensure they’re adhering to the USDA’s organic standards. This includes, among many things, a three-year process to properly fortify the farmland. It’s also important to note that many local farmers that do adhere to “organic” standards can’t afford the fee to apply the “organic” label to their products. So, talk to your local farmer about it.

Here are a few permutations of the USDA’s “organic” label:

    • 100 percent organic: Product must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
    • Organic: Product must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Remaining product ingredients must consist of non-agricultural substances approved on the National List or non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form, also on the National List. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
    • Made with more organic ingredients: Products contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and product label can list up to three of the organic ingredients or “food” groups on the principal display panel. For example, body lotion made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients (excluding water and salt) and only organic herbs may be labeled either “body lotion made with organic lavender, rosemary, and chamomile,” or “body lotion made with organic herbs.” Products may not display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.

    Of course, all this assumes honest labeling on packaging. Bottom line: read labels, ask questions, and support your local farmers.

     

     

    CHIVE BLOSSOMS

    Posted: May 22, 2019 in Food, garden, pizza, Uncategorized
    Tags: , , , , ,

    This is the time of year when the chives in my herb garden are busting out with blossoms. Before they pop, I head out every few days and snip the larger ones off the chive plants with about 3 inches of the green stem, wrap them in freezer bags and freeze them.

     

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    I use those blossoms over the course of the year on a variety of dishes, but they really shine on my signature marinated beef and chive blossom pizza. I just take a packet of chive blossoms out of the freezer, and sauté them lightly in olive oil and salt and pepper, then sprinkle them on the pizza before baking.

     

    My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

    My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

     

    Pick 'em and freeze 'em in May!

    Pick ’em and freeze ’em in May!

    Chive blossoms not only add great flavor, but they look cool on the plate, too.  I’ll add them as a side to almost any meat dish, or chop them after sautéing and sprinkle them in rice or quinoa. Great for stir-frying.

     

    Hosting a “boys’ weekend” at Saule, our rental home in Little Compton, Rhode Island  (Go to http://www.sauleri.com. We’re listing #4711871 Homeaway.com), I made this as a side dish to the piles of meats we devoured.

    This is a salad you want to make now, while corn and tomatoes are still in season, but I’ve found that frozen organic corn and greenhouse tomatoes work pretty darn well.

     

     

     

    2 lbs. fresh or frozen organic corn
    1 container grape tomatoes, chopped
    1 small red onion, finely chopped
    6 oz. mild crumbled cheese, like cotija or feta
    1 package (5 oz.) organic baby arugula
    1 teaspoon Fleur de Sel
    1 teaspoon black pepper
    1 tablespoon capers, drained
    2 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar
    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

     

    If you’re using fresh corn, remove it from the ears, then pan saute it  in a little olive oil, but leave it nice and crisp. If you can roast the ears of corn over some coals, even better. If you’re using frozen corn, pan saute in a little olive oil. Set the corn aside to cool.

    Mix the corn with all the other ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

    Right before serving, taste and season it again, mixing well. I think it’s best a little cooler than room temperature.

    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. With a ton of cucumbers crankin’ out of the garden right now, and with this seemingly never-ending heat wave going on in New England, this is the perfect Friday-get-the-weekend-started cocktail!

    If you’ve got a juicer that’s sitting in the corner of the kitchen unused because the “juice kick” you were on became tiresome, here’s a great excuse to bring it out again.

     

    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. Juice them to extract the liquid. If you don’t have a juicer, use a food processor. 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. You’ll need at least 3/4 of a cup of juice, so use more cukes if you don’t have enough. 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.

    It’s Father’s Day and it’s a hot one here in New England. Time to make a delicious cold soup that always reminds me of my Dad…

    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, and I have to agree.

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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.

     

    CHIVE TALKIN’

    Posted: May 24, 2018 in Food, garden, pizza, Uncategorized
    Tags: , , , , ,

    This is the time of year when the chives in my herb garden are busting out with blossoms. Before they pop, I head out every few days and snip the larger ones off the chive plants with about 3 inches of the green stem, wrap them in freezer bags and freeze them.

     

    image

     

    I use those blossoms over the course of the year on a variety of dishes, but they really shine on my signature marinated beef and chive blossom pizza. I just take a packet of chive blossoms out of the freezer, and sauté them lightly in olive oil and salt and pepper, then sprinkle them on the pizza before baking.

     

    My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

    My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

     

    Pick 'em and freeze 'em in May!

    Pick ’em and freeze ’em in May!

    Chive blossoms not only add great flavor, but they look cool on the plate, too.  I’ll add them as a side to almost any meat dish, or chop them after sauteing and sprinkle them in rice or quinoa.

     

    When asparagus is in season, it’s time to gorge. I’ve got it growing in my yard, and the patch gets bigger and happier every year with minimal maintenance…definitely one of those veggies every lazy gardener should grow.

    I love it raw, chopped into salads, pickled, oven-roasted, and in pasta dishes. This is a great side dish with any main course slab of meat.

     

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    1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
    1 tablespoon butter
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
    salt and pepper

    The easy way to trim asparagus spears is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. Toss the bottoms into your compost pile.

    Heat the butter and oil in a pan and then add the asparagus spears. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. You don’t want them mushy.

    While the asparagus is still in the pan, sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. Season with salt and pepper.

    That’s it! With fresh garden asparagus, it’s all you need! I ate this batch right out of the pan!

     

     

    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.