Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spicy Gingepeño Basil Smash

This drink is based off one we had at one of our favorite Raleigh restaurants. When Derek had a sip of mine that night out, he said, "that is a flavor I have never tasted before."  The goal is for it to have a really "green" flavor.  The heat of the jalapeños definitely comes out, but even more than that, their flavor does.  Add hints of ginger and a squeeze of lemon for a really fresh flavor and sprigs of muddled fresh basil to up the "green" flavor, and you have an incredibly refreshing and delicious cocktail.
-10 jalapeños, stemmed and seeded
-4 inches ginger, sliced
-fresh basil sprigs
-jalapeño, sliced
-juice of 1 lemon

->  To make the simple syrup, place jalapeños and ginger in a medium pot.  Cover with water and bring to a slow, rolling boil.  Allow to boil slowly for about 40 minutes to an hour.  Strain out the peppers and ginger.  Mix the infused water with equal parts sugar and stir until completely dissolved.  At this point, the syrup will keep in a jar in the fridge for weeks, or you can use it now to make these cocktails!  

Muddle a sprig of fresh basil and one slice of jalapeño in the bottom of two glasses.  Fill with ice.  In a shaker (or an improvised shaker, aka mason jar with lid, like the one pictured below), mix 2 parts vodka, 1 part syrup, 1 part water, and juice of one lemon.  Add ice, place the lid on firmly and shake!  

Pour shaker's contents over ice in glasses.  Check that the taste is too your liking and feel free to adjust syrup, vodka, water, or lemon accordingly.  Careful, they're dangerous!  
~*TIP: The drink will get hotter and hotter as the jalepeno sits in it, so the slower you drink, the spicier your last sips will be!  *~

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Green Tomato Salsa Verde Mahi over Brothy Green Beans

This was a really fun dinner to make together and made use of some of the last few fading signs of summer...  green beans and green tomatoes.  With less than one month left before our expected first frost date, I've been pinching off the blossoms and small fruits from my tomatoes and peppers, hoping the plants will instead put the remainder of their energy into growing and ripening their last few remaining larger fruits.  With all of the smaller green tomatoes that I picked off the vines, we made this green tomato salsa verde (adapted from Simply in Season).  It was a great way to make use of even the smallest green tomatoes, that might normally go to waste.  
Salsa Verde:  
-roughly 2 c small green tomatoes, stemmed
-1 1/2 jalapeno, stemmed and seeded
-1/4 large onion, roughly chopped
-2 cloves garlic, peeled
-juice of one lime
-cilantro (optional)

->Toss everything into the blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.

-1 large filet of mahi mahi, cut in about 5-inch pieces

->Rinse filets and pat dry.  Mix spices in the proportions you prefer and rub on filets.  Heat a medium skillet over medium heat with enough oil to cover the bottom.  Place flilets in the pan skin side up.  Cook about 5 minutes or until browned  on that side and then flip skin-side down and cook until skin is also brown and crispy.  Remove from pan and use the same pan for the green beans below.

Green Beans:
-1/2 large onion, cut thinly
-1 Anaheim pepper, cut thinly
-4 large handfuls of green beans, stemmed
-2-3 c vegetable broth
-salt and pepper
-pinch of sugar (optional)

->Saute onions over medium heat in the same pan and oil used for the fish.  When onions are translucent, add pepper and saute until all are soft.  Add green beans and saute until the turn bright green.  Add enough broth to cover the beans and simmer until beans are tender.  Season with salt and pepper and add a pinch of sugar if there is any bitterness from the beans.

->Plate by ladling the green beans and broth into a large bowl, lay the fish on top and then drizzle with salsa verde.  Top with tortilla strips if desired (see TIP below).

~*TIP:  Cut soft corn tortillas in strips, drizzle them with oil, salt them, and then pop them in the toaster oven until golden and crispy.  Use them to top the dish above or any soups for a crunchy, salty addition.  *~

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Butter-Browned Trout with Fresh Fettuccine and Roasted Butternut Squash

I love cooking as we transition from summer to fall because there are so many different ingredients on hand right now.  This entire dinner was made in maybe 40 minutes...  I started with high-quality, local ingredients, which made it so easy to bring them each together into three delicious components.  Below, I have recipes for Warm Roasted Butternut Squash Salad, Butter-Browned Trout with Fresh Herbs, and Fresh Fettuccine with Lemon and Parmesan.  

Warm Roasted Butternut Squash Salad
-2 small butternut squashes, peeled, seeded, and cubed
-salt and pepper
-1 large red bell pepper, diced
-2-3 oz goat cheese
-greens, rinsed and chopped (any that will wilt well such as spinach, arugula, chard, or amaranth)
-fresh basil (or lemon basil), chopped

->Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss cubed butternut squash with oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast in the oven on a large pan for about 20 minutes or until fork-tender.  Remove from oven, dump into a bowl and mix with remaining ingredients.  

Butter-Browned Trout with Fresh Herbs
-4 Tbsp butter
-2, 1/2-pound trout fillets
-salt and pepper
-lemon -fresh herbs, chopped (such as chives, garlic chives, lemon basil, lemon thyme, and/or parsley)

->  Melt butter over medium heat in a large wide skillet.  Meanwhile, rinse fillets.  Pat dry.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.  (You could also dredge in flour at this stage, but I did not).  When the butter starts to foam, place fillets in pan of heated butter skin side up.  Cook for about 5 minutes until one side is browned, jiggling the pan occasionally to keep it from sticking.  Carefully flip the fish so that they are skin side down and cook another 5 minutes until the skin side is brown and crispy.  

Remove from pan and plate.  Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the fish and sprinkle generously with chopped fresh herbs.  I've also added a bloom from my garlic chives for the picture above.  

Fresh Fettuccine with Lemon and Parmesan
-1 lb fresh (or frozen fresh) fettuccine noodles
-olive oil
-zest and juice of 2 lemons
-1 c grated Parmesan cheese
-generous handfuls of fresh herbs, chopped (such as chives, garlic chives, lemon basil, lemon thyme, and/or parsley)

->  Boil fettuccine in salted water for about 3-5 minutes or until al dente.  Do not overcook!  Drain and toss with enough olive oil to coat the noodles.  Toss with lemon juice and zest, cheese, and herbs.  Serve!

~*TIP:  You can definitely do these all at once.  Start by getting the squash in the oven and then prepping all of your other chopped ingredients while your pasta water comes to a boil.  Cook your fish and pasta around the same time and then plate it all!  *~

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blended Harvest Ginger Soup

As far as harvest-time soups go, this one is a favorite of mine.  The creamy blended texture makes you feel like you are eating something very decadent...  and the strong essence of ginger warms your blood as well as your belly.  I've topped it off here with some homemade croutons, a quick thrifty way to make use of stale bread.  The recipe below calls for sweet potatoes, carrots, and apples, but butternut squash (like in a similar version from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, Simply in Season) or hard green pears would also be great additions to this pot.  
-1/2 large onion, chopped
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
-10 carrots, roughly chopped
-2 apples, cored and roughly chopped
-4-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
-4 c broth (chicken or vegetable)
-salt and pepper
-1/4 c half and half
-stale bread (optional, see TIP below)

->  Saute onion and garlic in oil over medium heat in a large stew pot until translucent.  Add potatoes, carrots, apples, and ginger as you chop them.  Add broth and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer covered for about 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are fork-tender.  

Ladle soup into a blender or food processor and blend smooth in batches.  You will want to leave the hole in the top of your blender lid open and cover with a dish rag so that steam can escape.  

Once you return the soup to the pot, adjust seasoning and add more ginger if needed.  Finish with a splash of cream or half and half if desired (but not necessary).  Top with croutons (see TIP below) or eat with crusty bread.  

~*TIP:  Cut a loaf of stale bread into cubes, toss with oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Spread on a cookie sheet and put under the broiler until browned.  *~

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sweet Dumpling Risotto with Heirloom Slaw and Toasted Seeds

The meal below was the ideal finish to one of our first few beautiful fall days so far here in Raleigh.  I think winter squashes must be the vegetable that most signifies cool-weather cooking to me.  Add to that hints of sage and thyme and a creamy comfort food consistency, and you have what may end up being one of my favorite go-to meals over the next few months.  I used a sweet dumpling squash in the recipe below.  Sweet dumplings are similar to acorn squash but speckled beautifully in greens, yellows, and orange, and about the size of one and a half acorn squashes. The texture is similar, but the flavor may be even a little more mild than an acorn squash.  This dish would be just as delicious with any winter squash, taking on a slightly different hue and flavor personality with each adaptation.  I can't wait to try them all!
-olive oil
-1/2 large onion, diced
-1 Anaheim pepper, chopped (optional)
-1 sweet dumpling squash, peeled, seeded and diced
-1 Tbsp fresh, minced thyme (1.5 tsp dried)
-2 Tbsp fresh, minced sage (1 Tbsp dried)
-1 1/2 c Arborio rice
-salt and pepper
-4-6 c broth
-3 oz plain goat cheese
-2 good handfuls of grated Parmesan (about 1/3 c)
-fresh heirloom slaw and toasted seeds for topping (see below)

->  Heat broth in a medium sauce pan until simmering and keep hot throughout the Risottto process.

Meanwhile, saute onion in oil in a large pot over medium heat until translucent.  Add pepper and stir until combined.  Add squash and about half of the fresh herbs and mix.  I like to do this as I chop, adding each ingredient to the saute pot as I finish up chopping.

Add rice and stir.  Season with salt and pepper.  Now, begin to add your hot broth to the rice and vegetable mixture about 2 ladles full at a time, stirring the the rice mixture constantly.  Bring to a low simmer and reduce to medium-low heat.  Once each round of additional broth is absorbed, add two more.  Continue in this manner until the mixture becomes creamy, and the rice is al dente.  Don't let it stick!  Then, remove from heat.

Add goat cheese, Parmesan cheese, and the remaining fresh herbs.  At this point the mixture will become unbelievably creamy and rich.  Check your seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.  Plate and top with heirloom slaw and toasted seeds (below), and enjoy.

Heirloom Slaw
-1 heirloom tomato, chopped
-fresh basil (sweet or other variety, such as lemon or Thai), minced
-fresh lemon verbena (optional), minced

->  Combine all ingredients and serve a large spoonful over a bowl of the above Risotto for a contrasting fresh flavor and juicy texture.

Toasted Seeds
-seeds from above squash
-salt and pepper
-cayenne powder (optional)

->  Remove seeds from pulp and rinse vigorously.  Drain and dry seeds by rubbing in a dishtowel.  Toss with oil, salt, pepper and cayenne.  Spread evenly on a toaster oven tray (or regular cookie sheet if you want to do this in a regular oven) and bake at 450 degrees, stirring occasionally, until they are crispy and golden and begin to pop.

Eat as is for a crunchy, salty snack and/or serve sprinkled over the above Risotto and slaw for a crunchy pop!

~*TIP:  To make it easier to peel ribbed squashes like the sweet dumpling above and acorn squashes, I like to follow the following method.  Cut squash in half and remove the seeds with a spoon.  Turn squash so that the skin side faces up.  Cut squash in "smiley face" shapes but slicing down the concave valley between each rib.  At this point, the individual slices will be easier to peel than trying to peel between the ridges when whole.  From here, chop up your squash "smileys" and proceed with your recipe.  *~

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Falling out of Summer Garden

Cooler temperatures have arrived here in Raleigh and the summer garden is quickly coming to a close as I begin to transition in my fall crops.  I am loving the fall weather but am still hoping for a few more warm weeks to ripen my remaining tomatoes and peppers and, most especially, melons.  Check out the slideshow below to see what fruits are still hanging on from this summer and what young plants are taking their place as we fall out of the summer garden...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Best Biscuits

This post involves so many of my favorite things...  one of my all-time favorite restaurants, my favorite new cookbook, and my favorite meal...  brunch.  The biscuit recipe is adapted from one in the Tupelo Honey Cafe Cookbook, a gift from Derek's mom and my new favorite cookbook, especially for brunch options.  The Tupelo Honey Cafe is arguable the most famous and beloved restaurant in Asheville, NC and is one of our very favorites (well, Derek's ultimate favorite might be Salsa's).  Brunch is most definitely my favorite meal, full of all of breakfast's most decadent delights and brimming with excuses to drink a cocktail before noon (well, unless it's a Sunday because apparently that's against the law here).  Hats off to you mimosa and bloody Mary.  Pictured here is a biscuit dripping with my Crystalized Ginger and Champagne Jam, next to a veggie egg scramble much like the one here, but adapted to what's in season now for summer.  In the background, you can see a hint of the stem to the glass holding my mimosa, a great compliment to the champagne in this jam.  Aaah, brunch, you never disappoint.  
-2 c flour
-1 Tbsp baking powder
-1/4 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling
-2 Tbsp sour cream (or plain yogurt)
-3/4 c unsalted butter, frozen, plus some for brushing
-1/2-3/4 c plain yogurt

->Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Mix dry ingredients together.  Add sour cream and mix until incorporated.  Grate butter on largest size.  Mix into flour mixture with either a pastry blender or with forks until like small peas.  Add yogurt until mixture comes together into a moist dough ball.  Don't over mix.  Roll out on a floured surface to a one-inch thickness.  Cut biscuits with a 3-inch biscuit cutter or a similar-sized drinking glass.  
Place on a baking sheet and into the preheated oven on the top rack.  Bake until golden brown (about 20 minutes).  Remove from the oven, brush or rub with butter and then sprinkle with salt.  Put back in the oven about 5 more minutes.  Pull them out and enjoy with jam, honey, and/or butter.  

~*TIP:  I think a few things that make this recipe so easy and these biscuits so delicious are the grated frozen butter and the last-minute butter and salt addition.  I've never heard of doing either, but don't skip these steps!  They are what give you the most buttery, flaky, and flavorful biscuits.  Also, the original recipe calls for buttermilk, rather than yogurt, but I've made them with yogurt twice now (because that's what I had on hand), and I've had stellar results both times.  *~  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A tale of two figs...

Around this time of year, I have an eye out for a fig source.  I never knew fresh figs until I moved to North Carolina, where figs of all kinds are beginning to be grown profusely.  Growing up, the closest I ever came was a fig newton.  I have a feeling I'm not alone in that.  This year, I found a source for Black Mission Figs when one of my faculty offered to let me pick some off of his trees.  We worked out a deal, a large loaf of fresh-made zucchini bread + a promise of fig jam in the future in exchange for a couple gourmet beers and the motherload of fresh figs waiting to be picked.  Below are the results of that agreement...  two fig preserves recipes, both delicious, one Vanilla-Balsamic Fig Compote, and the other Crystallized Ginger and Champagne Jam.  
Step 1:  The prep...  For both recipes, the first thing I did was wash and quarter my figs, removing an stems still left on them.  I think if I do this again, I will chop them up a little more (maybe in eighths), since my figs were on the large side.  From here on, the tale of to figs will part ways.  
Step 2:  The jams...  Follow the instructions below on how to make each jam.  Note that both require chilling overnight, so this will be a two-day process.  Pick up with Step 3 to see instructions for canning.  

Vanilla-Balsamic Fig Compote

-2.5 lbs of figs, rinsed, stemmed, and chopped
-1.75 lbs of sugar
-juice of 1 lemon
-1 vanilla bean, split (or about 1.5 tsp vanilla extract)
-1/4 c balsamic vinegar
-1/4 tsp (or more) freshly ground black pepper

->  Combine figs, sugar, lemon, and vanilla in a non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic or non-reactive metal) and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, but overnight is better.  

The next day, pour into a large pot and add the balsamic and pepper.  Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 5-10 minutes until the mixture thickens (see picture below and TIP at the end of this post).  Remove vanilla bean (if used) and proceed to canning instructions in Step 3.  
Crystallized Ginger and Champagne Jam

-5.5 lbs of figs, rinsed, stemmed, and chopped
-2.5 lbs of sugar
-1/2 c minced crystallized ginger
-zest of 2 lemons
-juice of 3 lemons
-1 1/2 c champagne 

->  Put figs into a large pot and add about a 1/2-inch of water.  Simmer figs for about 5 minutes and then give them a quick mash with a potato masher.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes more or until tender and translucent, stirring occasionally.  

Put half of the stewed figs through a food mill or into your food processor until smooth.  

Mix both stewed figs and processed figs with sugar, ginger (see pictured below), lemon juice, and lemon zest in a non-reactive bowl.  Store covered in the fridge for at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight.  

The next day, pour refrigerated mixture into a large pan and add champagne.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 40 minutes or until thickened (see TIP at the end of this post), stirring frequently and reducing the heat if needed to prevent the mixture from sticking.  Once thickened, proceed to canning instructions in Step 3.  
Step 3:  The canning...

->  At this point you are ready to can your jam(s)!  Pour the hot mixture into sterilized jars, leaving about a 1/4 inch of head space (as pictured below).  
Canning Note:  In order to sterilize your jars, you can wash them in HOT soapy water, put them in a boiling water bath, or pull them straight out of a hot, freshly run dishwasher.  For jams like this, I prefer 1/2-pint or even the smaller 4-oz jars, but pint jars will work too.  Anything bigger than that will mean having to use a whole lotta jam at once when it comes time to open it!  

Once the jars are filled, wipe any residue from the rim of the jars to ensure a good seal.  Put on prepared disks (soaked in boiling water) and screw on sterilized rings.  

Next, you can either put them in a boiling hot water bath for 10-12 minutes or using a pressure cooker at around 7 lbs pressure for 10 minutes.  See my awesome family heirloom pressure cooker below.  It's been canning for decades in my grandma's kitchen, but it came to live with me when she updated to a newer model.  

If using a pressure cooker, allow pressure to come down naturally.  Remove jars.  Allow to cool and then check for a good seal by making sure each lid is concave against the jar (not convex) and does not push down at all when you press it.  
~*TIP:  To test if your jams are "thickened," you can use the freezer test.  Keep a few metal teaspoons in the freezer.  When it comes time to test for thickness, pull one out, put a bit of jam on it, stick it back in the freezer for about 3 minutes, and pull it out.  Push the jam with your finger to see if it wrinkles and/or hold the spoon perpendicular to the floor and see if it runs off or drips slowly.  If your jam wrinkles and/or drips slowly, it's thickened.  If not, keep cooking it for a few more minutes and then try again.  However, how thick you want it may vary.  Sometimes I like mine a little runny with big chunks (more like compote than jam).  *~  

*If you have any concerns about whether you are canning correctly, please see USDA Guidelines here.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Who squashed my spaghetti? Salad

This is a great simple way to make use of one of my favorite, most interactive vegetables...  spaghetti squash.  Yes, that's right, for those of you who are not familiar, there is a delicious squash that looks a lot like angel hair spaghetti when you scrape it out of its shell (see the "noodles" in the picture below).  You can eat spaghetti squash any way you would other squashes (similar in flavor to acorn) or... anyway you would eat spaghetti.  Wild!  I know.  This dish really could be inspired by either, but ends up looking and tasting much like a pasta salad of sorts.  Check it out and feel free to change it up by adding whatever fresh veggies or pickled pantry delights you have around.    

-2 medium spaghetti squash
-olive oil
-juice and and zest of 1 1/2 lemons
-Parmesan cheese
-1 red pepper, chopped
-2 oz capers (1/2 a 4-oz jar)
-fresh herbs, chopped (I used chives, garlic chives, parsley, and basil)

->  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut your squashes in half and scrape out seeds.  Rub them with a little olive oil and then put them in the oven in a baking dish for about 20 minutes or until they are fork-tender.  Remove and allow to cool until you can handle them easily.  Use a fork to scrape out the "noodles," or squash strands; scraping "against the grain" works best.

Toss the squash with lemon juice and zest and then add as much Parmesan as you prefer (around 1/4 cup).  Add chopped peppers, capers, and fresh herbs.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.  You will have a lot of (pleasantly, I hope,) surprised dinner guests after they take their first bite...

Goaty Red Pepper Wontoli with Lemon

 Once upon a time there was a girl with a coupon for wonton wrappers.  She bought the wrappers thinking, "there are so many things I could create with these!".  The wrappers sat and sat in her fridge...  until one night, in a burst of creativity and a fury of roommate cooperation, the wonton wrappers were magically transformed into delicious ravioli!  Wontoli, if you will.  See the enchanted steps below if you want to know how to turn a pack of wrappers, some spicy leftovers, and some delicious creamy goat cheese into the something magical pictured below.  

-1 pack wonton wrappers (or about 12 wrappers per person)
-1 c roasted red pepper and sausage sauce (see recipe below)
-4 oz goat cheese
-olive oil
-zest of one lemon
-juice of 1 1/2 lemon
-Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper for serving.  

->Lay half of your wonton wrappers (like the ones below) out on a large flat, dry pan.  

Mix sauce and goat cheese together.  

Put a scoop (about 1.5 Tbsps)of this mixture in the center of each wonton wrapper on the tray.  Wet the tip of your finger and run it along the edges of the wonton wrapper.  Place a second wrapper on top, squeeze out any air pockets and pinch edges together, forming a ravioli.  

At this point, you can either bake the ravioli or boil them.  We boiled them, which worked fine, but I recommend only boiling them briefly (maybe 5 minutes) until they float to the top.  They will begin to get a little soggy fast.  

Next take them out of the boiling water and put them directly into a pan generously covered with olive oil and at medium to high heat.  Brown both sides and remove from pan.  

Toss with lemon juice and lemon zest.  Top with Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper at the table.  There you have your wontoli...  spicy, goaty, lemony, and magical!  

~*TIP:  You can either use some browned Italian sausage paired with some chopped roasted red peppers for the sauce required above or try out the sauce recipe below.  But be careful when roasting your own peppers!  I didn't realize I was working with as hot of a variety as I was, and I had "hands on fire" for a good hour after cleaning them of seeds and skins.*~

Roasted Red Pepper and Sausage Sauce
-roughly 15 Anaheim peppers
-2 Italian sausages
-1 large jar stewed tomatoes (32 oz)

->  Put peppers whole on a baking sheet and place under the broiler.  Allow to broil until they just start to blacken on one side.  Then take them out and flip the peppers, putting them back in for the reverse side to broil.  Allow to cool until cool enough to handle.

[NOTE:  At this point, it's important to know how spicy your peppers are.  Anaheims vary in heat considerably, and mine were much hotter than I anticipated.  If you have spicy peppers, you may want to wear gloves for the next step.  No amount of handwashing or slathering yourself down in yogurt (ok, so I was desperate) will save you from the "hands on fire" fate.]

->Pepper skins should just rub off at this point, so rub off skins and scoop out seeds and seed membrane.  You can either dispose of these or save the skins to fry up with your eggs the next morning.  That's what my friend's Italian grandparents do.  Roughly chop the skinned, seeded peppers.

Now, squeeze the Italian sausage from its casing and brown over medium heat.  Once brown, add chopped peppers and saute until mixed.  Add stewed tomatoes and simmer until reduced into a thick chunky sauce.  
Serve over pasta as is and/or use leftovers in the recipe above!  Be careful.  Depending on your peppers, this sauce could be pretty spicy!  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ode to Boothby's Blonde

I wanted to take this time to honor my favorite garden producer of the summer...  my Boothby's Blonde cucumbers.  Early this summer, I dreamt of a beautiful cucumber trellis, made of interwoven bamboo, arching between two of my curbside beds.  Boothby's Blond did NOT disappoint.  Not only were they healthy, vibrant climbers even in the melting North Carolina summer heat, they were also my best producer of the summer garden so far!
Take note of it's thin yellow skin...  Unlike green cucumber varieties that are past their prime when they turn yellow, these are at their peak when they turn a bright lemony yellow.  The skin is also thin enough that there is no need to peel!  Unlike with some cucumbers, you won't be left chewing on woody skins and seeds.  One aspect that is a little strange to get used to and is not pictured here is that they also have small black spines, which makes for a wild contrast with their yellow skins.  Don't worry, they rub off easily!
Also note here their melon-like flesh...  These are crisp and juicy.  No need to scrape out the seeds.  You won't even notice them.  
A big thanks to Seed Savers Exchange, my source for Boothby's Blonde cucumber.  I'll definitely be saving these seeds and planting again next year.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jazzy Summer Salad

This summer salad has some poppin' sweet crunch and will make your taste-buds go ZING-ZIP-POW!  Holy corn-tomato combo Batman, we have lift-off!  The subtly-sweet corn accompanied by a hint of lemon and some fresh onion makes this a wonderfully refreshing treat in the woeful summer heat.
-4 ears corn, kernels cut off
-1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
-1/2 small onion, minced
-salt and pepper
-olive oil
-juice of 1 lemon

->Combine corn, tomatoes, and onion.  Add a splash of olive oil and the lemon juice and then season to taste.  You could also blanch the corn or saute your onions, but we like them fresh from the garden for this dish.  Enjoy as a side to your favorite summer meal!

*TIP:  Make it even jazzier by adding some of your favorite chopped herbs, like cilantro, sweet basil, or lemon basil.  *~

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Everything Greek Orzo Salad

We are back after a stint of summer madness!  For our return, we decided to do something light and fresh to offset the heat of summer and use up some tasty ingredients from both the pantry and the garden.  Amanda's roommate, Rachel, used to always make a delicious Greek orzo salad in the summer.  This Greek orzo salad can be done in a number of ways, and we made many additions to her original recipe.  For example, we switched up the beans from a more traditional chickpea (or garbanzo) to pinto beans because that is what we had on hand, and we opted to add tuna for a change of pace.  This is a great summertime meal that is served best chilled and makes great leftovers for lunches!
-2 c orzo, cooked according to package directions
-1-12 oz can beans (we used pinto), drained and rinsed
-juice of 2 lemons
-chopped, fresh herbs (such as mint, parsley, and/or cilantro)
-salt to taste
-8 oz of crumbled feta cheese

+Any or all of the following:
-tomatoes, chopped
-roasted red peppers, drained and diced
-canned artichokes, drained and chopped
-Kalamata olives, drained and chopped
-can of tuna, drained

->  Toss warm orzo with beans, lemon juice and herbs.  Add some liquid from artichokes, if using.  Season with salt and chill in the refrigerator (or freezer if you're in a hurry like us!).

Once chilled, add remaining ingredients and mix.  Enjoy all week!
~*TIP:  If you have picky eaters, keep all of the "toppings" on the side, and then everyone can put whatever they like in their bowl.  This is also a fun way to serve it when entertaining!  *~

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tomato Basil Brie Panini

This makes for a delicious, quick and easy summer meal with infinite possibilities for variation.  I think Derek doubted whether a cheese and tomato sandwich really qualified as "dinner," but after the first bite, he was convinced.  Since then, panini night has quickly become a weekly tradition.  I've left out amounts on the recipe below because you can easily adjust it for however many sandwiches you are making.  The key to this one is starting with high-quality ingredients - local tomatoes, basil from the garden, and most importantly, delicious crusty bread from a local bakery...
-onion, chopped finely
-garlic, minced
-slices of your favorite crusty bread
-grape tomatoes, halved
-fresh basil, torn
-brie cheese, thinly sliced
-olive oil 
-salt and pepper

->  Saute onions and garlic in oil over medium heat until soft and translucent.  

Layer onion-garlic mixture with tomatoes, basil, and brie on crusty bread.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Brush outside of bread slices with olive oil as well.  Cook until bread is golden and cheese is melted, either over medium heat in a skillet on the stove top, flipping once, or in a panini maker if you have one.  

~*TIP:  Use left-over grilled vegetables like eggplant and summer squash for another delicious alternative.  Also feel free to switch up the cheese you use or add pancetta for extra flavor.  *~

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gimme the beet blue-green apple salad

I can't get enough of fresh salad greens from the garden these days.  I am picking my Forellenschluss, Australian Yellow, Red Oak Leaf, and Flame lettuces as much as they can stand without completely picking them to death. My Ruby Streaks Mustard has bolted, but I still use small amounts of their frisee-esque leaves, despite their growing spicy, bitter taste, and their flowers add a spicy punch of yellow to my salads as well.  In this salad, green apples, blue cheese, and my Grandma's pickled beats top off fresh salad greens mixed with onions and herbs from the garden, all coated in a simple vinaigrette.  
-Several cups of torn salad greens
-Chopped green onion
-Chopped fresh herbs (I used dill, fennel, mint, and cilantro)
-2-3 Tbsp vinaigrette (I used a lemon juice, Dijon, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper mix)
-1/2 green apple, quartered and sliced thinly
-2 Tbsp blue cheese, crumbled
-4-5 small pickled beets

-Toss greens, onions and herbs together and coat with vinaigrette.  Top with apple, blue cheese, and beets.  That's it!

~*TIP:  I didn't have them on hand, but walnuts or pecans would make a great addition to this salad, and pears would be a great apple substitute depending on the season.  *~

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I'll-Take-Seconds Cucumber Salads

I am usually a little so-so about cucumber salads and even cucumbers in general.  I have to say, these local cucumbers I've been getting in my produce box have changed my mind about cucumbers entirely!  Cucumbers are in the same family as melons...  but I don't usually think about sweet juicy honeydews when I bite into a dry or tasteless or not-so-crispy one I get in the store.  These fresh, crisp, juicy cucumbers are more reminiscent of their melon cousins, and this makes me tend toward gorging myself on them in the way I might a fresh watermelon in July.  There are a few variations below, but whatever you do with them, you'll want seconds on these salads...  you may not even have room for dinner.  
-1 fresh cucumber, seeded, with alternating strips peeled, and chopped
-1/2 a fresh tomato, chopped
-1 ripe avocado, chopped
-Juice of one lime
-1 Bunch fresh cilantro
-Salt and Cayenne pepper

->  Combine cucumbers, tomatoes, and avocado.  Don't worry if the avocado mashes up a bit; it will form a sauce-like consistency.  Add lime juice and cilantro and season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.  That's it!

~*  TIP:  Another favorite variation on this for me is to omit the avocado, and cover the mix of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers with lemon juice, plain yogurt, and handfuls of chopped fresh herbs such as dill, mint, and cilantro.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!*~

Monday, May 30, 2011

Grilled Veggies and Blue Cheese Couscous

The smell of charcoal grills wafting through the neighborhood is a first sign of spring that seems to appear just as faithfully as the first robin or the first daffodil, and for me, with similar anticipation.  Whenever I get the coals red hot, I can't help but want to throw everything in my fridge on the grill.  I just don't want to waste it!  This dish was a result of one of those nights.  We used tomatoes, asparagus, and red peppers because that is what my roommate Rachel and I happened to have on hand, but just about any mix of grilled veggies would do.  
-2-3 c couscous (it will double in size)
-1 1/4 c broth for every cup of couscous
-2 medium tomatoes, halved
-1 bunch asparagus, woody ends removed
-1 large red pepper, quartered
-1 c crumbled blue cheese, goat cheese, or feta

->  Coat vegetables with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Put them on grill over hot coals and cook, turning once, until tender with dark grill marks.

Meanwhile bring broth to a boil.  Add couscous.  Stir and remove from heat.  Cover with a lid lined with a dish towel and leave to sit until time to serve.  Then fluff with fork.

Bring veggies in off the grill and chop into bite sized pieces.  Mix cheese into couscous and top with or mix in chopped veggies.
 ~*TIP:  Make use of that remaining grill heat to make a quick and simple dessert!  Quarter a couple of green apples, toss with olive oil, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt.  Put them on the grill and cook, turning once, until tender with grill marks.  Plate them up, and top with creamy Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey to finish off your throw-it-all-on-the-grill summer feast!  Also great with peaches and nutmeg!*~

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Yes, Kohlrabi Can!

With fewer kohlrabi plants this year, I had the time to make better use of every part of the plant, including the leaves and their (sometimes rather tough) stems that often overwhelmed me last year.  I would generally just chop them up and add them to whatever I was making with kohlrabi that day, but all too often many of them still ended up in the compost heap.  The recipe below makes use of the stems by pickling them similar to how one might pickle asparagus.  Therefore you could use the same process to pickle asparagus or any number of other things.  The process is somewhat labor intensive since I peeled each stem to remove the woody exterior.  These will need to sit in the pantry for a bit longer before I crack open a jar and we really know if it was all worth it.  
-kohlrabi leaf stems, trimmed to jar height and peeled (yes, peeled)
-1/4 c + 1 Tbsp salt
-3 c water
-2 c vinegar (5% acidity)
-2/3 c sugar
-1 tsp mustard seed
-1 tsp peppercorns 
-1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes
-1 slice fresh lemon per jar
-1 clove garlic per jar
-1 bay leaf per jar

->Soak kohlrabi stems in 1/4 cup salt and enough water to cover them.  

Meanwhile, heat water, vinegar, tablespoon of salt, sugar, mustard seed and peppers in medium sauce pot until simmering.  

While that heats, put lemon slice, garlic clove and bay leaf in sterilized jars.  Remove kohlrabi stems from salted water and pack in jars.  

When brine is simmering, pour over kohlrabi stems into each jar, being sure to get some of the pickling spices in each jar.  

At this point, you could either have "refrigerator pickles," by putting the jar in, yes, the refrigerator and eating them within two weeks.  Alternatively, you could can them.  For this, make sure the jars are filled to about 1/4 inch from the top, wipe rim clean with a damp rag, and seal with lids and bands.  Process in a hot water bath for 10-15 minutes.  Once cooled to room temperature, be sure lids have sealed by pressing them in the center.  They should not press down or "pop."  Store them in a cool, dark place.  I would give them a couple of weeks before you pop one open to try them out!  
~*TIP:  I also followed the S&P recipe for pickled kohlrabi leaves from last year, but processed them the same as above.  They will be in the pantry ready to use for stuffed "grape" leaves all year long!*~  

Monday, May 23, 2011


As already mentioned, my kohlrabi is all about ready for harvest out in the garden.  After making this dish, I am down to my last kohlrabi plant...  so not many more kohlrabi recipes to come for this spring.  I generally love lasagna and veggie lasagna, but this dish forgoes the noodles completely, instead using thin-sliced al dente kohlrabi layered with some spiced up Mama Matson sauce, mozzarella, and local goat cheese for a different take on a lasagna-esque dish, a Kohlrabagna if you will...  Let's be honest, when large quantities of sauce and cheese are involved, it's hard to go wrong.  
-2-3 kohlrabi stems, peeled and thinly sliced
-kohlrabi greens and their stems, chopped finely and seperated
-2-3 c marinara sauce
-4 oz goat cheese
-1 egg
-1/2 c milk or half & half
-chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives or garlic chives
-2 c mozzarella cheese

->Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  
Bring salted water to a boil in a medium sauce pan and cook sliced kohlrabi until al dente.  
Meanwhile, bring your marinara sauce to a simmer and add chopped stems of kohlrabi leaves as well as any other spices or veggies you like to add in order to spice up your sauce.  
Beat the goat cheese, egg and milk together and stir in chopped kohlrabi leaves as well as chopped fresh herbs.  
Finally, when all components are ready, in a 9x9-inch pan, layer sauce, kohlrabi slices, goat cheese mixture and mozzarella until you reach the top.  It doesn't matter too much in what order the layers happen in between but be sure to end with mozzarella.  Top with salt and pepper and some chopped herbs.
Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until top is golden and bubbly.
Remove from oven and allow to set for 5-10 minutes.  Slice and serve, sprinkling with more chopped fresh herbs.
~*TIP:  Make this same recipe with any number of layered vegetables depending on what is in season.  I can't wait to try it with layered summer squash or eggplant this summer.  You could also add layers of lasagna noodles, but I don't think they're necessary.  *~

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mulberry Crumble Pie

The mulberry saga continues, this time in a summer classic, the berry crumble pie...  As usual, you can use this same recipe with any berries (particular black or blue).  This was a very simple recipe and used up lots of berries in a hurry!  The mulberries go bad quickly, so once they are picked I try to use them the same day.  The flavor and texture seemed to be somewhere between a blueberry and a blackberry pie, in other words, really freakin' good.  I took this one to a cookout potluck...  When the hostess brought out a carton of vanilla ice cream, my friend Taryn and I instantly looked at one another and shouted, "à la mode!".  I hadn't planned for that, but now I highly recommend it.  
-1 single 9-inch pie crust
-3-4 c mulberries
-1 c sugar
-1/4 c flour
-Juice of one lemon
Crumble Topping:
-1/2 c flour
-1/2 c oats
-1/4 c butter
-1 tsp cinnamon

->  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine berries, flour, sugar and lemon juice.  I packed the berries in as much as I could.  Pour into prepared pie shell.

Mix flour, oats, butter and cinnamon with a fork, pastry cutter, or even a food processor until crumbly.  Crumble on top of berries evenly.

Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees and then reduce to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until top is golden brown.  This was a very juicy pie, so I highly recommend placing a pan under the pie to catch drips!
~*TIP:  The richness of this pie demands a cool, creamy complement.  As mentioned above, serve à la mode, with fresh whipped cream or even just with a big, cold glass of milk, either standing next to it or dumped all over it, Matson style.  Yes, we eat milk on our fruit pie.  Try it, you'll never go back to dry pie.  *~  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Manure Garden!

The garden looks beautiful now with a fresh layer of manure on it, so I just have to show it off!  I hate when gardening books and magazines show a background of dark, rich, bare soil with bright accents of green plants.  It looks so good, but I would never want to leave my soil bare for too long, or I would quickly lose valuable nutrients, and my rich, moist, dark soil would start to look like a dry, gray wasteland very quickly.  Oh, and it has headed in that direction in times of neglect.  My garden rarely looks like that, more often being a mess of layered grass and leaf mulch.  But over the last few days, after a fresh load of manure, and then a nice gentle rain, covered in a shower of mustard blossom petals, I think, for now, it's magazine quality.

Soil Management:
It's generally best to amend your soil at least once in spring and once in fall and then add other nutrient boosters throughout the season.  I hadn't yet gotten around to major soil amendment this spring, so it was long overdue.   Here is a list of my most common soil management strategies:
  • Mulching:  As mentioned above, I try to keep a thick layer of mulch on my garden at all times.  This will reduce soil erosion and therefore nutrient loss as well as reduce water evaporation from your soil.  Keeping my garden moist in the hot North Carolinian summers would be impossible without a thick layer of mulch.  I try to layer nitrogen-rich green mulches (i.e. grass clippings) with more carbon-rich brown mulches (i.e. leaves) so that the mulch will also continuously break down and add to my soil.  You can also see a layer of straw on my strawberry beds in the slideshow, mainly because I got it for free from Halloween party leftovers last fall.  That is probably my main requirement for mulch, that it be FREE!  
  • "Fertilizer":  My worms generally provide all the "fertilizer" I need.  I generally try to put a scoop of worm dirt in with new transplants when they first go in the ground.  If I'm direct planting from seed, I put a scoop in the ground between each seed, since too much fertilizer on young seedlings can "burn" them.  Additionally, I dilute worm "juice" or "tea" that drains off the worm bin and either water with it or spray it on my plants as a foliar feed.  
  • Compost:  The worm compost mentioned above is produced in much too small of quantities to put a layer on the whole garden, and it is much more nutrient-dense than "regular" compost.  Therefore, I also keep a compost pile out back for non-worm-friendly kitchen waste, leaves, and garden waste.  This produces larger quantities that I can use to put a layer on my entire garden.  
    • NOTE:  Diseased or pest-infested garden waste should either go in the trash or should be composted in a separate pile not to be used on the garden.  
  • Manure:  I've now had a couple of different sources for manure.  I used to find it on Craig's List, but this time my friend Genna helped me dig it from a horse farm near her house.  I loaded up the Cavalier, lining the trunk with tarps and filling big tubs.  This gave me enough to put about two inches over the whole garden.  I hope to soon cover it with a layer of leaf mulch, but for now, it looks too beautiful!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sweet and Punchy Mulberry Syrup

It's mulberry season down in North Carolina, and my friend Genna and I have been harvesting off trees on the farm across from her house every few days for the last week or so.  They seem to grow like weeds around here, but I think it is less common to find a large enough tree for a significant harvest that isn't too high off the ground.  This one is huge and sprawling, so it is perfect for easy picking and lots of it.  This of course sent me looking for mulberry recipes, online, in books, even calling my grandma to see if she had any ideas...  but really (as she said) they can be used just like any other berry.  Below is the first of many mulberry recipes to come, but if you don't have a tree nearby, feel free to substitute just about any other berry.  

-Mulberry juice
-Lemon juice

->  Heat however much mulberry juice you have and an equal amount of sugar in a medium saucepan until just simmering.  
Remove from heat, and stir in fresh-squeezed lemon juice to taste.  This is a critical step.  The mulberries are sweet but lack a certain punch, so add plenty of lemon juice!  Skim foam if necessary.  

At this point, you can just keep it in a jar in the fridge or you could can it in sterile jars with lids and rings for 10-15 minutes in a hot water bath.  

I think the uses may be virtually limitless.  So far, I have added it to fruit and yogurt for a great light dessert...

Put a few tablespoons in the bottom or a glass and added prosecco or champagne and a splash of gin...

Added it to my fruit and yogurt smoothies, and made mulberry lemonade out of it by adding water and a generous squeeze of lemon.  The possibilities go on!  I can't wait to try it mixed with ice-cold tonic or mineral water this summer on the porch, or drizzled over ice cream (again, probably this summer on the porch), even on pancakes or in any number of potential cocktails.  I canned my first couple of batches, but I seem to keep opening it before it even makes it onto the pantry shelf!

~*TIP:  To juice my mulberries, I ran them through a food mill (you could also just mash them) and then let them drain in a tea-towel-lined colander.  You could leave it like this overnight to let them juice themselves effortlessly, but this requires patience.  Alternatively, you could squeeze it through the towel with all of your might periodically over the course of a couple hours, requiring more effort, but less patience.  I'll let you decide which method I used.  *~

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Housewarming Greens

I wanted to bring a bunch of greens as a house-warming gift, but as I was about to stuff them  in a plastic bag, I thought how much nicer a gift they would be as a big bouquet of greens!  I always think about how beautiful my greens are all together, so why not showcase that rather than hide them away in a bag in the bottom drawer of the fridge?  Also, my ruby streaks mustard is blooming like crazy right now, so it makes a great focal point to the center of my greens bouquet.  Whether they are for your own table or as a gift to someone else, they will be house-warming.  
What you'll need?
-large bunches of a variety of greens, here I used red kale, ruby chard, dinosaur kale, and ruby streaks mustard.
-any long-stem edible flowers from the garden, here I used bolted ruby streaks mustard flowers.
-large, pretty container

How to?
->  Just trim the greens and flowers by holding them up to the height you want them next to your container, and cutting off any excess on an angle.  I then arranged the greens in concentric circles by type (red kale, swiss chard, ruby streaks, dino kale, and then flowers in the center), and filled up my container with water.
~*Care and Tips:  The bouquet will last a few days on the counter, so you can just pull from it and use the greens as you need them.  After a couple of days, you could just put the whole thing in your fridge as is if it will fit, or you may need to bag them up.  If you give it as a gift, you may want to include a card with a few of your favorite greens recipes.  *~

Monday, May 2, 2011

Kohlrabi Curry

Kohlrabi returns this year for a cameo appearance.  I learned my lesson last year to ease up on the kohlrabi planting for this year.  Last year I think I must have planted around 16+ kohlrabi, and as illustrated by the week of kohlrabi, it took a lot of kohlrabi dishes to make it through all of that.  This year, I've planted about 4-6 which has been much more manageable and makes me appreciate it each time a bit more!  This dish is an old kohlrabi favorite of mine, so I am surprised it never made it into the week of kohlrabi.  As usual, if you don't have kohlrabi, feel free to substitute other vegetables, such as potatoes or the stems of broccoli for the kohlrabi in the recipe below or to substitute other greens such as kale, collards, or chard for the greens.
-3 Tbsp olive oil
-4 whole cloves
-2 cardamom pods
-2-4 kohlrabi, peeled and cubed
-1 pinch asafetida powder (omit or use garlic as a substitute)
-1 c water
-1 tsp turmeric
-1 tsp ginger
-2 Tbsp garam masala or curry powder
-1 c yogurt
-1 large bunch kohlrabi greens, chopped
-garnish of cilantro and/or green onions, chopped

->Heat oil in a large pot.  Add cloves and cardamom and saute until aromatic.  Add kohlrabi, turmeric, ginger, and water.  Be careful here and use a lid to block splattering.  Cook for about 10 minutes or until kohlrabi is fork-tender.
Meanwhile, mix yogurt and curry powder.  When kohlrabi is tender, add yogurt mixture, and cook for 5 more minutes.  Add chopped greens, put the lid on the pot, and take off the heat.  Let sit until kohlrabi greens have wilted.  Stir.  Serve with garnish of fresh cilantro and/or chopped green onions.

~*TIP:  Kohlrabi matures much more quickly than other cole crops, in as few as 55 days, and is less sensitive to fluctuations in heat and water conditions.  Use it to fill in gaps in the garden between sowings of vegetables that take longer to mature or to squeeze in a quick spring crop before your summer garden.  I generally pick it when it's just smaller than a tennis ball.  You can always pick it early if you need to open up the space it's occupying, yielding a smaller but even more sweet and tender harvest.  *~