Posts Tagged ‘garden’

This is 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 English 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!

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 them to a platter and let them cool slightly.

Just before serving, sprinkle the tomatoes with Fleur de Sel, and garnish if you like, with chopped parsley leaves, mint leaves, or basil. (Bacon bits sound pretty good, too!)

 

Tomatoes after

Tomatoes after!

Years ago, at Le Saint-Amour, a great restaurant in Quebec City, the dish I ordered had these small strange-looking root vegetables sitting next to my roasted duck entrée. They resembled tiny twisted parsnips…or caterpillars! I needed to know what these things were, and so I asked my French waiter, who came back with a piece of paper that had the word “crosne” written on it. He said: “I don’t know how they say it in English.”
Back at the hotel room, I went right to the laptop and started a search online and discovered that crosnes (pronounced crones) are also known as Chinese artichokes, and although they are somewhat common in European gardens, they’re really difficult to find in the states.

The leaves look like mint, but don't have a fragrance.

The leaves look like mint, but don’t have a fragrance.

 

The plant is a relative of mint (though the leaves have no aroma), a perennial, is easy to grow, spreads on its own, and has those small, convoluted and delicious root clumps (known as tubers to gardeners.) So what’s not to like? Well, apparently, it’s not the gardeners that don’t want to deal with them…it’s the chefs! The tubers are very small and need a little extra effort to make sure they’re washed clean before cooking. They don’t need to be peeled (now that would be a pain) but to many chefs, even the washing is too much of a hassle.
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As a Master Gardener and food nerd, I found all of this pretty interesting so I searched for sources to buy crosnes plants. It took a while (most growers were in Europe or Great Britain), but I finally found a source in Oregon that sold the plants and I bought a few for my home garden.
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Much like mint, crosnes are pretty hardy and are tough to remove once well established, so they need to be planted in an area where you don’t mind if they take over. The tubers are ready to harvest October through November, and as long as I leave some in the ground over the winter, the crosnes will be back again the next year. Seems pretty low-maintenance for such a delicious treat!

 

 

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As for preparation, a light saute in olive oil and butter (or lard), and a little salt and pepper, is all they need. They also go well with a deep, rich demi glace reduction like I had with my duck at Le Saint-Amour.

When it’s done right, gazpacho is one of the most delicious summer soups you’ll ever have. The secret, of course, is using super-fresh veggies. That’s why I crave it at the first sign of a vine-ripened tomato in my garden or a local farm stand. Now that the summer season is winding down, my tomato plants have dozens of ripening fruits on them every day. I eat some in salads…I make tomato sauce with others…but the reddest and ripest become gazpacho!

 

 

I never make this out of season, and I’m always wary of restaurants that do! Very often, they’ll try to hide the taste of older veggies by adding too much salt or lots of spice.

The consistency of gazpacho is a personal preference. I like mine a bit chewy…not chunky like salsa, but not watery like soup…somewhere in between the two is perfection.

All the work is pretty much in the slicing, peeling and chopping…so I do it carefully.

 

1 large Vidalia onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
5 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
6 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup olives, drained  (I like kalamatas)
1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a large lemon
3 tablespoons white vinegar
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

An easy way to peel tomatoes is to turn them upside down and make an X with a knife, puncturing the skin. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds, and the skin will start peeling away from the meat. Scoop the tomatoes out of the water, and immediately drop them into a bowl of ice water, letting them cool for 5 minutes. The skin will peel right off. Cut the tomatoes in half and (over the sink!) gently press your thumbs into the seed compartments, popping them out. Give the tomato a little shake to remove any last seeds, and it’s ready to be chopped.

 

Make an X, then drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds.

 

While the tomatoes are cooling, you can peel and chop the other veggies.

Peel and roughly chop the onion and carrot, and place them in a food processor. Let it run for about 10 seconds.

Add the peeled and seeded tomatoes, the peeled and seeded cucumbers, and the sprigs of parsley and continue processing.

Add the olives, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, sea salt and black pepper.

 

 

Process until the veggies are finely chopped, and you’ve got a soup. Store it in the fridge for at least one hour to chill before serving.

 

 

Garnish with a sprig of parsley and a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel or other sea salt.

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.

 

FullSizeRender (9)

 

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

FullSizeRender (9)

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