Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

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.

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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.

     

     

    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.