Thursday, July 14, 2011

Of weeds, flowers, and zucchini

I admit it.  I am the world's worst grower of zucchini.  It's ironic, really, that everyone talks about the glut of summer squash produced by every home gardener...and I'm lucky if I get a single baby zucchini from three plants.  Oh well.  Fortunately, others grow zucchini really well so I can still cook with it. 

Tonight I used a medium zucchini in a chicken and corn chili.  Earlier this week, I used one shaved into ribbons and tossed with spaghetti and a light tomato sauce.  I love how versatile it is in the kitchen.  One of my favorite recipes last year was an Orange Zucchini Bread from Cooking Light.  I'm pretty sure we still have a loaf of it in the freezer...maybe I'll pull that out before I start this year's batch...

I've been cooking sporadically the last few weeks.  It's happening, but none of it is worth writing home about, or posting here, for that matter.  Tonight's chili got rave reviews from a guest (okay, full disclosure, it was my dad) so I figured, why not?

Mostly what I've been doing, though, is gardening.  I'm ripping out a weed patch in a semi-circular area in front of our farmhouse in upstate New York, and trying to turn it into a both edible and ornamental garden.  So far the beetles find it veeeery edible.  Grumble.  But I do have some beautiful lilies blooming, and the herbs I've planted seem happy.  It's hard gardening at a place that you can't tend to every day; I worry that it will suffer from the neglect necessitated by distance.

I am not, however, worried about some of the weeds that are there.  I realize that sounds odd, but I've decided that some of the "weeds" are really just lovely wildflowers, and I'm letting them stay.  There are the usual suspects, like Black-Eyed Susans and Queen Anne's Lace, but then there is also one called Bouncing Bet, or Soapwort.  It smells almost sugary sweet, and it's little blooms are so pretty.  It has a mostly tidy habit, and when it starts a colony, it's lush and full.  It has very conveniently sited itself in corners and crannies that suit it perfectly (or suit my aesthetic taste perfectly, I suppose).

Another wildflower, Purple Vetch, I couldn't eradicate if I tried.  It's often grown as a cover crop to fix nitrogen in the soil, but ours is popping up wildly around the barn and garage buildings.  It reminds me of Jacob's Ladder, which I love.  Again, another "weed" that I can live with.  It's all in how we look at things, isn't it?

Chicken, Corn and Zucchini Chili
by Me  (serves 4)

1 tbsp vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thighs, or a mix, cut into bite-sized pieces
up to 1 tsp of salt, sprinkled on in stages
4 garlic scapes, chopped, or two cloves garlic, minced
1 c of chopped onion
1/4 cup of chopped scallions
1 to 2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, with about 1 tsp of sauce, chopped (depends on your heat tolerance--I used about 1 1/2)
up to 1 tbsp of chili powder; I used a mix of a Cocoa Chili Blend (Mccormicks) and regular chili powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1 medium zucchini, chopped/cubed
2 cups of frozen or fresh corn, defrosted if frozen
2 cups black beans, only partly drained
1 cup chicken broth, or 3/4 c broth and 1/4 c beer (I used's what I was drinking)
1 1/2 tsp honey
juice of half a lime (necessary), and lime wedges for garnish (optional)
chopped scallions and grated cheddar to garnish (optional)

1.  Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  When shimmering, add the chicken.  Let it brown on all sides, then sprinkle with salt and add the garlic through the coriander.  Let this cook for about 2 minutes, so the onions start to soften and the spices start to get toasty.

2.  Add the zucchini, corn, beans, a little more salt, and beer (if using).  Stir together, scraping bottom of the pan with the spoon to get up the brown bits.  When the beer is cooked down, add the broth.  (If only using broth, add all at once and commence with scraping!).  Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low, add a little more salt and add the honey.  (Taste to see if you might want more-honey and/or salt.)  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the chili starts to thicken.  Just before serving, stir in the lime juice.  Top with scallions and cheddar, if using, and serve with a lime wedge to squeeze over at the table.

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