Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Day Outdoors

Whew.  There's a lot to do in the garden right now.  With the rain and sun we've had, conditions have been great for plant growth.  Every shrub in our yard is (was) overgrown, and the grass was tall enough to lose a dog in, in some spots.  While mowing, edging, and sweeping are not my favorite garden tasks, they're necessary, so I did them today.  Strangely, I like pruning.  Half of the shrubs are now done, and the other half are for later.  I save my favorite things for last.

The tomatoes have had an attack of early blight and septoria leaf spot; fortunately, organic practices allow for the use of copper fungicides, so all is not lost.  I sprayed them yesterday, and though it's probably my imagination, they look better today.  These two diseases can be nasty, because they can defoliate the plant if left untreated.  But the worst is late blight, which wiped out tomato crops in the Northeast a few years ago. It spreads unbelievably quickly, so I'm keeping a vigilant eye out.  I'm fairly sure my heart would break if I lost all the tomato plants.

The peppers are threatening to actually do something this year!  I am a notoriously poor pepper grower, but this year I vowed to be better.  I planted them out under row covers, and kept them there for quite some time so they'd be warm and cozy.  The Jimmy Nardello and Carmen peppers are already fruiting, which is the earliest I've ever seen them go.  The one lone bell pepper...well, it's still only the end of June.

I picked our peas today; they didn't do well in the raised bed I had them in, so we only got about a cup and a half when shelled.  But they were tasty mixed into our salad tonight, so I definitely don't count them a loss.  I'll plant them again toward the end of August, so we can (hopefully) have a fall crop.  The bed they're in is going to be overhauled when I pull them out, but I'm not sure what's going in there next.  Beets and turnips, maybe?  The anticipation is half of the fun.

At the end of the day, there was sadly no one around to cook for us, so I decided to grill some pizzas.  I'd defrosted some pizza dough overnight, which made the process really easy.  I had about a pound of dough, so I quartered it, rolled it out, and threw it on the grill with some braised leeks (another Smitten Kitchen-by-way-of-Orangette recipe), prosciutto, parmigiano, and arugula.  A drizzle of olive oil over the top, and we had dinner (and lunch tomorrow!).

If you're interested in grilling pizza, just take your favorite dough, cut it into individual-serving blobs, roll out to the desired thickness (I usually do thin crust--it cooks quicker!), and let sit, covered, while you get the grill ready.  The grill should be at its highest heat, and the grates should be really, really clean.  Just before throwing the dough on, swipe the grates with a high-heat oil like canola.  Place the individual pizzas, no toppings, on the grates, close the lid, and grill for about 3 minutes.  Don't walk away from the grill, though, and keep an eye on them.  They go from done to charcoal pretty quickly.  Pull them off the grill, flip them uncooked side down on a platter, and put on your toppings.  Use a light hand, though, because toppings slide down between the grill grates pretty easily.  Ahem.  Put the pizzas back on the grill and close the lid.  Cook for another 3 or so minutes, and dinner is done!

We were going to grill pizzas a few weeks ago when we had company, but we ran out of propane it was so hot out (how embarrassing when company is over!) we decided to do them in the oven, instead.  Or it was decided for us, as it were.  Equally tasty, so no complaints.

Happy growing and eating!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Strawberry Everything

While I often fail miserably at eating seasonally with vegetables (there are only so many root vegetables one can eat during the course of six months, even when one loves them) I'm pretty good about it with fruit.  (Except for bananas--I buy those all year.)  More dramatically than any other foods, for me anyway, fruits taste exponentially better when they're in season.  Living in New England, I have the opportunity to go and pick most of the fruits that I eat, which adds a whole other dimension of fun for me.

Two Sundays ago, we picked strawberries at Russell Orchards in Ipswich.  Heading to Russell anytime is a full-day affair: we pick whatever is in season, and then tool around the antique shops or take a road we haven't taken before.  And since a tip from a friend, no visit is complete without a stop at Farnham's for lobster and fried clams.  Ooo!  And let's not forget Down River Ice Cream.  I can't talk about them, or I'll have to stop blogging and get in the car.

As you might imagine, I don't pick anything in moderation.  If it turns out we've picked too much...who am I kidding, it never turns out we've picked too much.  That's what the freezer, jams, and sauces are for!  So we picked four quarts of strawberries.  We've eaten a few out of hand, but I've also made two kinds of muffins, made scones twice, froze a quart, and made this obscenely wonderful Strawberry Summer Cake from Smitten Kitchen.  (Trust me, make this right now. )

The first batch of muffins I made tasted really good, but had a textural issue were like hockey pucks.  Lately, I like a little bit of a challenge when it comes to baking (this must mean I'm learning!) so I decided to tinker with the recipe.  One word: yum.

Make'em all, and call it a Strawberry Fiesta!  Thrown in a little Limoncello muddled with strawberries, and you've got yourself a fine summer party.

Strawberry Lemon Muffins
(adapted from http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/blueberry-peach-muffins/detail.aspx  And now you have the peach-blueberry recipe I use, too!)

1 1/2 c. each all-purpose and whole wheat flour
1/2 c. each granulated and slightly packed brown sugar, plus 1 heaped tsp.
1 tsp of baking powder
1/2 tsp of baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2-1 tsp of ground ginger (if you wanted to spike this, you could add some finely chopped crystalized ginger)
2 cups sliced strawberries
zest of one lemon
3 eggs
1 c. buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c. melted butter

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare 12 or 16 muffin tins--your call.  The 12 will just barely rise and bake into each other, but not so badly that they're a challenge to separate.  The 16 will be very nicely behaved, normal sized muffins.

1.  Toss the sliced strawberries with the heaped teaspoon of sugar and the lemon zest.  Set aside.
2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.
3.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted butter.
4.  Add the egg  mixture to the flour mixture, and combine almost completely--leave some streaks so that the muffins don't become over-mixed when you add the strawberries.
5.  Add the strawberries to the batter (including any juices) and mix until just barely combined--it's okay if there are some small streaks of flour.
6.  Divide batter evenly among muffin cups.  Bake 18-20 minutes for the 16 muffins, or 20-25 minutes for the 12 muffins.  Cool on wire rack.

Strawberry Scones
(I can't find the source of this recipe.  I apologize for that--if it's your recipe, please leave a comment so I can properly cite you! It's original incarnation is Peach-Pecan Scones.)

1 large egg
1/3 c milk
2 tsp honey
1/3 c finely chopped strawberries (heaped)  or you can use peeled peaches
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c firmly packed brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c finely chopped, toasted pecans
turbinado sugar, for topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Coat a large sheet pan with cooking spray, or line it with parchment paper.
1.  Whisk together the egg, milk, and honey in a small bowl.  Add strawberries.  Set aside.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, mix flours, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Cut in butter with a pastry blender (or two knives, or rub in with your fingers) until pea-sized clumps form.
3.  Stir in pecans and milk mixture just until dough begins to come together (I usually start with a spoon, and then get in there and mix gently with my hands).
4.  Place dough on a well-floured surface and form a ball.  Pat into a round about 1/2 inch thick.  Slice into 8 equal wedges.  Transfer to baking sheet, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if using.  Bake 20-25 minutes or til golden brown around edges.  Cool on wire rack.

...and last but not least, Strawberry Summer Cake Trifle!
Believe it or not, we didn't take down all of the summer cake (link above) when I made it.  We were having company, so I thought a quick version of a trifle might be a nice pretty delicious excuse for eating lots of whipped cream along with this cake.  The beauty of it?  You can make as much or as little as you want, since it all depends on how much of the cake you use.

Strawberry Summer Cake, crumbled into chunks and bits
Whipped Cream, barely sweetened (not Cool Whip--too over-powering for this)
sliced strawberries, tossed with a little sugar
(I used most of the cake, 4 cups of whipped cream, and 2 cups of sliced strawberries tossed with 2 tsp of sugar)
In a trifle dish or other high-sided bowl, layer half of the cake, half of the strawberries and the juice that formed, and half of the whipped cream.  Repeat, ending with whipped cream.  Chill for about an hour, so the strawberry juice can seep into the cake.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Spring-into-summer green

It's that time of year when the greens you so carefully nurtured on your sunny windowsill in February are bolting and heading to seed.  Tomatoes are little green nubbins on their plants, and the Art Deco-looking garlic scapes are pleading with you to use them in stir-fries and egg dishes.  In our yard, it's the utter definition of "Eating Green" since everything ready to eat right now comes in shades of that color.  Except for the two Thai Dragon peppers that came from the over-wintered plant; those are miniscule pops of red on the cutting board.

The greens in the bag above are from the mustard plants I started in the house this year.  I don't know yet what I'll do with them, but whatever it is I'm already looking forward to it!  Tonight's dinner comes from our yard, the Braintree Farmer's Market, and our CSA share.  It will be a stir-fry of radishes, snow peas, English peas, garlic scapes, scallions, those Thai Dragon peppers, and a mix of small "braising" greens like bok choy, mizuna, and red kale.  I don't know if I'll add some chopped rotisserie chicken or not; we might not need it. 

Throw in some ginger, soy sauce, lemon verbena and sesame oil to taste, and some cilantro and Thai basil if you have it. Served over Basmati rice, I think this is the epitome of fresh, spring eating.  

Well, until I get some fresh asparagus tomorrow, anyway.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We have seven and a half days of school left.  That is my excuse for not posting in a very long time.  It's a lame one, but the only one I have, so please pretend it explains everything!

We're still eating some from the garden.  We had a simple arugula salad with a red wine vinegar dressing one day last week, used some basil in a pasta dish, and some cilantro on taco night.  The beans, greens, shallots, garlic, tomatillos, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, and squash are all planted and I'm shifting into tending versus planting mode.  I love this part of the season, as sprouts shoot up and plants seem to grow many inches over night.  This is the first year I've planted potatoes; they went in sometime in April (May?  Ugh, this is why I'm supposed to be better at keeping up with my garden journal.) and are beginning to flower.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the spuds continue to do well.  I occasionally have nightmares about Colorado Potato Beetles, and am hoping that because this is our first year together, the bugs won't find us.

Tonight, I knew dinner was going to use the rest of the spinach from our Spring Treat Share (over, but our full-season share starts tomorrow!) along with some tomatoes (I told you--eventually I cave) and pasta for dinner.  Beyond that...well, I wasn't finding any inspiration.  I flipped to the index in my Cooking Light 2009 recipes book, and lo and behold, there was a recipe for Spinach and Tomato Macaroni and Cheese.  It called for ziti, spinach, tomatoes, half and half, garlic, and blue cheese.  I had no ziti or blue cheese, and quickly learned, after a sniff, that I didn't have any half-and-half anymore, either.


But!  I did have skim milk, mascarpone, and fontina.  And I had a twisty pasta called strozzapreti.  So a new recipe was born.  I have to admit, it's a little more fattening than the Cooking Light version.  But oh, so tasty!  And I quadrupled the spinach, so that balances it out some, right?

Creamy Spinach and Tomato Macaroni and Cheese
adapted from Cooking Light   serves 4

10 oz short-cut pasta, such as ziti or penne, cooked al dente
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated if you have it
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c mascarpone cheese
4 oz fontina cheese, shredded (pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes to make it easier)
2 tbsp milk
4-6 cups fresh spinach, chopped

1.  While the pasta water is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add the red pepper flakes and the garlic, and cook, stirring, about one minute.  Add the tomatoes and a pinch of the salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. 
2.  Add the mascarpone, fontina, milk, and nutmeg and stir, melting the cheeses into the tomatoes and garlic.  Add the spinach and the rest of the salt and stir until the spinach is wilted.  Mix in the pasta, and serve.