Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category
Last weekend, we had a gorgeous spring day – sunny with temps in the low 60s. Perfect for getting out in the garden and planting some veggies.
We use a lot of lettuce and love a good spring mix, so I planted a salad bowl in a terra-cotta pot. One of my gardening goals this year is to integrate beautiful ornamental plants with delicious edible plants so I can extend the time the garden looks good. So for this salad bowl, I added a few violas to the pot along with the lettuce mix. I sprinkled few pinches of seeds in the open area and will sprinkle a few more each week. This is called succession planting – I can harvest it all summer long by continuing to sprinkle in new seed and harvest the leaves when they’re ready.
The parsley wintered over in the pot and I’ve been harvesting a few leaves now and then when I need a tablespoon or two for a recipe. It’s so nice being able to just clip what I need.
I am a vinegar fiend. I just checked my cupboard and I have 11 different kinds of vinegar. So when I came across this recipe for chimichurri sauce in Cooks’ Illustrated magazine a few years ago, I really wanted to try it. It’s kind of like a kicked-up version of Italian dressing with a larger proportion of vinegar and uses red-wine vinegar – my favorite.
Chimichurri sauce is a condiment from Argentina generally used as a steak sauce, but it can be used on all kinds of grilled meats. There are variations that include cilantro or oregano, but I found I didn’t like those flavors as well, so I just use parsley. I also am not fond of the bite of fresh onion and garlic, so I reduced the amount of garlic and soaked it and the onion in the vinegar to remove some of their pungency.
Even though summer is unofficially over, there are lots of good grilling days ahead, so try this with your next cookout.
Chimichurri Sauce for Grilled Steak
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
1 cup parsley leaves (reserve stems for another use)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced red onion
1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp. water
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Add red onion and garlic to red-wine vinegar and let sit for 10 minutes. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until fairly smooth. Taste and add salt, if needed. Will keep refrigerated for one week.
Dan gave me a KitchenAid mixer for Christmas, so I could expand my cooking in a new direction. But since I’ve never baked much, I have a hard time thinking of things to do with it! So I decided to challenge myself and try new techniques by joining the Daring Bakers, an online group that comes up with a baking challenge each month. All members bake the same item and publish a blog post about it on the same day each month. The item is known only to the members until the publication day. Which was yesterday. Yes, I’m late on my first challenge, but it turned out well!
Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.
The only requirement was to use two different methods to make two types of crackers:
- icebox crackers, where you mix ingredients, shape them into a log, refrigerate to firm up, then slice and bake; or
- rolled crackers, where you combine ingredients in a mixer, then roll out by hand or with pasta rollers. From here, you can cut out shapes with a cookie/biscuit cutter or cut the sheets into cracker shapes after baking.
Dan and I were out of town the first two weeks of July, so I had limited time to get this done. Last week, I tried a cracker recipe I had printed out years ago – Ina Garten’s Parmesan and Thyme Crackers. But I measured the flour wrong and they crumbled. Lesson learned.
Next I decided to try the Seedy Crisps, an Alton Brown recipe. These are so good! Thin and crisp, filled with poppy and sesame seeds, these crunchy little bites go great with cheese. They rolled out very easily and didn’t stick to my granite countertop, which I love. It’s important to cut them while they’re still warm; otherwise, they just break apart.
Seedy Crisps. Recipe by Alton Brown.
The third recipe I made was really easy, too. I just need to remember to take the butter out to soften! Since I don’t bake much, I’m always forgetting about that part. Anyway, these were Rosemary, Cheddar and Walnut Icebox Crackers from “Garde Manger, The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen” by the Culinary Institute of America. I used pine nuts nuts instead of walnuts since we like those better.
These are like a cheesy, herby little shortbread. These are one of the icebox types; I still have another log in the fridge to bake off later. Because of the high fat content from the cheese and nuts, these will not last as long as the crisps, but the dough will keep in the fridge for days. Now, it just needs to be sliced and baked so we can enjoy it again.
Rosemary, Cheddar and Pine Nut Crackers
The recipes and tips are all available on the Daring Kitchen website.
This was a really fun challenge, and I look forward to participating in many more!
We came back from vacation to find the garden thriving, for the most part. The only plants we lost were the pickling cucumbers – but we still have full-size cucumbers. I plan to pickle some of those; I’ll just cut them into halves and then slices.
But everything else is doing well, particularly the Roma tomatoes and jalapeno and pepperoncini peppers. But we have some new babies out there that I’m really excited about. I thought they had died while we were on vacation, but the summer squash are flowering again, and there are a few babies, so soon we will have more of those.
Baby summer squash
We also have three tomatillo plants. We really love these. Tomatillos look like small green tomatoes, hence the name, but they’re actually a relative of the gooseberry plant. They have a mildly tart flavor similar to a less pungent mix of lemon and lime. I have several recipes in mind for these:
- Bobby Flay’s Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa for a fresh dip or sauce
- Rick Bayless’s Roasted Tomatillo Salsa for taco and enchilada sauces; I’m planning to can and freeze this for use later.
- I’ll also freeze some whole for Pork & Tomatillo Posole this winter.
And we have canteloupe again! Last year, we only got two or three fruits out of the vine, but they were juicy and sweet. I can only find one baby right now, but there are a lot of flowers.
I made a really delicious fruity salad with mint and vanilla-fig balsamic vinegar a few years ago, so that may be on the menu.
There was a time, as an inexperienced cook, when I rarely used fresh garlic. It was annoying to have to buy an entire head of garlic when I only needed a clove or two for a recipe, and more annoying when the rest of them dried up or sprouted before I used them. I’m still not fond of the bite of raw garlic, but it seems like almost every recipe I cook now begins with sauteeing chopped onions and minced garlic.
Dan sometimes comes sniffing into the kitchen, asking what smells so good – often, it’s just onions and garlic so far. When that combination hits a pan of hot olive oil, the savory aroma sizzles throughout the room and you know something delicious is on the way.
Last November, some of the garlic in my kitchen began to sprout. We separated the cloves and planted them in the garden, hoping the critters wouldn’t find them tasty. A couple of weeks ago, Dan and I debated whether they were ready to harvest. That’s the somewhat difficult aspect of growing bulbs and root vegetables – it’s hard to tell what they’re going to look like before you pull them.
We looked up tips on gardening websites and decided to go with the advice that, when about half the leaves have turned brown, they’re ready to pull. So we let them go a little longer. Last weekend, the leaves were browned and the plants were beginning to tip over. It seemed to be time to harvest our garlic.
We were rewarded with four beautiful, home-grown heads of garlic and now we know how to tell when the cloves are nice and plump. These will go into something very tasty very soon.
The vegetable garden is coming along beautifully – we got lots of gentle rain last weekend, which gave them just what they needed at just the right time. We’ve been harvesting some of the cool-weather crops for a few weeks now.
When garlic sprouts in the kitchen, I’m tempted to put it right into the garden. But if I do that now, when it gets hot for real, it will just fade and dry out. So we have to wait for fall. But here’s one we planted last fall that’s ready to pick. And lots of yummy Swiss chard is out there, too, for adding to salads or sauteeing with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The chives have lovely lavender blooms right now – perfect for topping a salad. A little sprinkle of chives on top of almost any savory dish gives a mild oniony flavor without the bite of raw onion.
And here’s the most recent resident of our urban farm – Tiger Gnome, a gift from my mother-in-law to the evergreen Detroit Tigers fan in our house. Peeping out from the green-bean plants, he keeps a very close eye on the goings-on out there. Hopefully he can keep Pippen from lying on the newly planted tomatoes.
So the 2012 garden is well on its way.