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.  *~