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In the spring, I'm a little jealous of all my neighbors' gardens and the big burst of colors. I enjoy theirs, and then wait for mine. This week, with the onset of the ripe tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant, comes my color burst.
My brother-in-law is a self described "fanatical" Jew. The degree to which he keeps kosher can be mind boggling even to the modern Orthodox.
A few weeks ago when we were together for a family vacation, I watched as he soaked his lettuces in salted water to wash them. As someone who loves salt, I think any way to better season a dish is pure genius (Empire Kosher Chicken is an example of a salt-soak improving the flavor).
When I queried him about this practice, he explained that the salt helps release any bugs that may still be trapped in the leaves. Since bugs are not kosher, he does not want to inadvertently eat them in his salad, lest he break the dietary laws.
The aphids have begun to attack the kale in my garden, and the kale is rapidly disintegrating. Ladybugs supposedly feast on these little critters, but I have yet to get some this season (um, John? Do you still want to share an order?)
In the meantime, a salt-soak seems to be the ideal solution until I cure this problem.
And in case you thought I, too, was an observant Jew, I added bacon to this recipe to dispel any confusion. If you do keep kosher (or just don't like pork), turkey bacon, or smoked turkey would be a great substitute.
Kale with Bacon and Cider 1/2 pound kale, washed 1 slice bacon, finely chopped 3 cloves garlic 2 tsp. cider vinegar salt and pepper
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt. Add kale and cook for three minutes. 2. Drain Kale and cool. Coarsely chop. 3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, add the bacon. Cook over medium heat until the fat begins to render and the edges start to brown. Add the garlic and continue cooking. 4. When garlic is aromatic, stir in the kale and cook for one minute more. Drizzle vinegar on top. 5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Yep, that's Dina picking up a plastic bag of green stuff from a prearranged drop-off. Not suspicious at all, nope.
Hopefully, my neighbors don’t call the cops on her. This is Cambridge, MA, after all. And we know what could happen. Despite all the controversial media, I left a bag of mint on the front porch for Dina. I think I’m safe, though, since my neighbors also partake of my bounty of herbs: I regularly find 4-year old Oliver in the mint patch having a little snack.
Lord knows, I can’t possibly consume all the herbs on my own. I enjoy what I can throughout the summer, and freeze more for the winter. But even still the garden produces more than I can enjoy. I joke that I’ll start a farm-stand at the end of my driveway and peddle my excess herbs (and vegetables).
On Saturday evening, Dina returned for dinner with Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. Seems like a fair trade, don’t you think?
This recipe comes courtesy of www.epicurious.com. It sounds like the same as the one Dina used.
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream 2 cups heavy cream 1 cup whole milk 2 cups packed fresh mint leaves 2 large eggs 3/4 cup sugar 3 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
In a blender blend cream, milk, and mint until mint is finely chopped. In a saucepan bring cream mixture just to a boil and cool 15 minutes. Whisk in eggs and sugar and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and a thermometer registers 170°F. (Do not let custard boil or it will curdle.) Pour custard through a fine sieve into a bowl. Chill custard, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 3 hours, and up to 1 day. Chop chocolate. Freeze custard in an ice-cream maker. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and stir in chocolate. Put ice cream in freezer to harden.
Some people mark the start of summer at Memorial Day, others on June 21st. For me, summer officially begins with the first tomato from the garden.
Though the first tomato appeared in early June, the miserable rains and cool weather that followed thwarted any chance of an early July first harvest. A few weeks off “schedule,” I’m picking the first tomato. Of course, one tomato does not make a salad, much less a meal. Thankfully, on the same day the first cucumber is large enough to pick also. With a few scallions and fresh dill, I have all the fixings for a favorite summertime salad, and enough to serve as a side for dinner.
Israeli Salad In Israel, this salad of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers is usually served at breakfast with smoked, cured or pickled fish. It’s also a great condiment for falafel, or tossed with Israeli Cous Cous for a refreshing side salad. This recipe is also featured in Even’ Star Organic Farm’s Summer Cookbook.
2 of your favorite heirloom tomatoes 1 small cucumbers 3 scallions 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 ½ teaspoon fresh dill or lemon basil ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Coarsely chop tomatoes. Toss with salt and pepper. Let sit for 5 minutes
2. Meanwhile, coarsely chop cucumbers (unpeeled).
3. Drain excess liquid from tomatoes. Toss with remaining ingredients.
4. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, pepper, lemon and/or olive oil.
I have a few friends who make their food preferences very clear. Truthfully, I like that… with all the options of things to cook for dinner, I appreciate the focus this gives me. I know Dina likes Smoked Chicken salad, and Matthew likes lamb.
Last week, we planned a picnic at Tanglewood, and I knew what to bring: Smoked Chicken Salad for Dina, and Tandoori Lamb for Matthew. Sure, I had just made it a few times already in the past month, but why not make the guy happy.
I often serve the lamb with raita or mint chutney. But with the first jalapeno in the garden, I decided to make another recipe from Singapore Food, Spicy Chickpeas.
Spicy Chickpeas 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons ghee or oil 1 onion, peeled and chopped 6 cloves garlic, chopped 1 tablespoon fresh ginger 1 green chili chopped ½ teaspoon ground cumin ½ teaspoon ground cardamom 1 teaspoon coriander ¼ teaspoon ground cloves 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 cups cooked chickpeas 2 tomatoes, finely chopped 1 sprig cilantro for garnish
1. Heat a large skillet with oil. Add onions, garlic, ginger and jalapeno, and cook for 10 minutes or until onions soften. Add spices and cook until aromatic, about 2 minutes.
2. Add chickpeas and ½ cup of water. Cover and let simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove cover and continue cooking until liquid is absorbed.
3. Stir in tomatoes, and cook just until they lose their raw edge.
4. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
When I travel abroad, I like to buy cookbooks that feature the local cuisine. Usually, they're unavailable in the US. And especially with the books purchased in Asia, they have not been tailored to the “western kitchen.” True or not, I think the recipes will be more authentic to the region. And I feel confident enough in both my cooking skills and ability to find the unusual ingredients in the Boston markets that I am unfettered by these recipes.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, Wendy Hutton's books are now available in the US. Her recipe for tandoori chicken is exceptional in flavor and tastes as good as anything I’ve eaten in a restaurant. I use this recipe for both lamb and chicken.
Mine little resembles in appearance the restaurant version since I don’t use food coloring and leave on the marinade when I cook it. I love the flavor of the marinade roasted in the butter and chicken juices, and could easily make a meal of those drippings slathered on naan. Since I don’t have a tandoori oven at home (and who does??), I cook it in a cast iron skillet on the charcoal grill outside. I was less pleased with her naan recipe and use the one from Stonyfield Farms that comes courtesy of Peter Franklin.
1 chicken, about 2 lbs. 1 tbs. melted butter or ghee
Marinade 1 1 tsp. salt ½ tsp. turmeric ½ tsp. chili powder ¼ tsp. white pepper pinch cloves 1 tsp. crushed garlic 1 ½ tbs. lemon juice
Marinade 2 4 tbs. plain yogurt 1 heaping tbs. cilantro, pounded 1 heaping tbs. mint, pounded 1 tbs. cumin ½ tsp. salt 1 tsp. crushed fresh ginger 1 tsp. white vinegar ¼ tsp. cinnamon 1/3 tsp. cardamom few drops of red food coloring (opt.)
1. Remove feet, head and skin from the chicken and make deep cuts in the thighs and breasts. Combine all ingredients for marinade 1 and rub well into the chicken. Leave in the refrigerator for 3 hours.
2. Combine ingredients for marinade 2 and rub evenly all over the chicken, making sure some of the marinade penetrates the slits. Leave in refrigerator for at least 6 hours.
3. Brush grill with ghee or butter and cook chicken over hot coals, brushing from time to time.
Yogurt Flatbread (Naan) 1 cup warm water 1 packet dry, active yeast 1 cup Stonyfield plain yogurt 2 teaspoons salt 5-6 cups all purpose flour 4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1. In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of an electric mixer (i.e. Kitchen Aid), combine the water, yogurt and butter, and yeast. Mix well and let sit for 5 minutes. 2. Mix together the salt and flour, and gradually add to the liquids. If the dough becomes too stiff to mix, add a bit of warm water, 1 tbs. at a time. Knead by hand for 5-6 minutes, until dough is smooth and shiny. 3. Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for +/- 20 minutes. 4. Portion dough into 2 ounce pieces, and roll very thin (tortilla like thickness) with a rolling pin. Layer rolled-out pieces on flour dusted parchment or waxed paper until ready to cook. 5. The Naan may be cooked in a skillet (cast iron is best…heat to medium high heat, ungreased) or even on a barbecue grill. Cook about 2 minutes per side, or until desired level of doneness. Dough will bubble and rise a bit as it cooks. This is normal. 6. Serve warm.
Last year, I planted 20 zucchini seeds hoping for a bountiful squash blossom harvest. Any less would not yield enough blossoms for more than just a taste. Part of me was scared with this strategy because of the plants bountiful nature. I envisioned myself peddling zucchini up and down my street. It turns out, I had nothing to worry about.
I did not harvest a single zucchini.
And in case you’re wondering, it’s not because I harvested all the blossoms before they had a chance to metamorphose into zucchini. Early in the squash blossoms life, it reveals its destiny.
For tips on when to pick squash blossom, read this post.
If the stem thickens to resemble a petite courgette, then you have the option to enjoy the blossom or leave it be to let the squash mature. This year, I planted only 3 zucchini. I had my fill of blossoms last year, and now I just want squash. As these photos were taken today, I’m hopeful.
I’m curious to know what’s different this year. Already, the plants show signs of squash. Last year, there were none. I have a few theories:
1. The soil seems to be in better condition as witnessed by all the earth worms squirming around. 2. Last year, I planted a single seed every few inches, unlike the recommend 3 seeds per mound. I wonder if the seeds “mate” to produce the vegetables.
When I began planning my garden for the season, I envisioned spring peas climbing up a little garden fence I posted in the back of the plot. I would start the cucumbers in early May, 6 inches away from the pea vines, and by the time the cucumber plants reached a substantial size, the peas would be over, and the cucumbers would begin to train up the same fence. See how the cucumber tendrils wrap around the fencing? The pea tendrils do the same thing. The challenge, of course, is to constantly adjust the plants so that the tendrils clench on to what you want, and not onto other plants, strangling the leaves and potentially killing other plants.
In my case, the tendrils of the cucumbers and peas got into a wrangle. I don't know how else to describe it, but co-strangulation.
The peas came out of the garden today. Honestly, I think this is the last year I'll grow peas. When I decided to plant them, I thought the young leaves would be a lovely addition to my spring mesclun mix. As the vines matured, I would have the snap peas. The leaves (tendrils) were too tough and the most peas I was able to harvest in a 3 day period fit into the palm of my hand.
When organizing a party, the general rule of thumb is that 60% of the guests will accept the invitation. Somewhere in planning a 4th of July pot-luck in the garden, I messed up the numbers, as I ended up with 15 guests.
Granted, I was thrilled that so many wonderful people could join me, I just don't have the accouterments for that many guests, and had to resort to disposable plates, cups and flatware. During a last-minute run to Target, I was thrilled to discover biodegradable plates made from recycled paper. I didn't feel as guilty about creating all that trash knowing that some of it would end up in the compost bin. I billed the dinner as "pot-luck." But as I evaluated the guest list -- considering who would bring food vs. beverages vs. nothing at all, I decided it was best if I just cooked enough to cover all the bases. As my friend Paul teased, I could have feed all the guests just on the hors d'ouevres, never mind the assortment of salads, as well as burgers and fixin's.
Needless to say, I had leftovers. From the burger bar, I had leftover patties, tomatoes and onions. From the crudite, I had celery and carrots. Do you see where I'm going with this? With a sprig of basil from the garden and a grating of fresh parmesan, the leftovers hardly felt recycled.
Here's my original recipe with modifications for cooking with leftovers. Pasta Bolognese ¼ cup olive oil 1 ½ cups diced yellow onions (or red onions) ½ cup diced carrot ½ cup diced celery 2 tsp. salt 1 tsp. black pepper 2 lb. ground beef (or leftover grilled hamburger patties) 2 cups tomato sauce/puree (I pureed raw tomatoes which were quite watery, negating the need for extra broth) 1 ¾ cups beef stock (no need if using fresh tomatoes that are watery) 1 cup dry white wine (surprise, surprise, I had left over of this too)
1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan. Add onions, stirring occasionally, until wilted and lightly browned. Add carrots, celery, salt and pepper and continue to cook for 5 minutes
2. Season meat with salt and pepper. Add to pan, breaking up meat with back of a spoon. Continue cooking until meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
3. Add tomato sauce, wine and stock. Simmer for a very long time.
4. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with pasta, or use for your favorite lasagna recipe
With all this rain and cool weather, they had a glut of spinach. So much that they could not keep up with the harvest and the leaves were rather large by the time they did. They gave me 11 pounds for the event.
Such spinach is ideal for cooking, less so for a salad, because cooking reduces its mass considerably. My crate cooked down to about ¾ gallon in volume. I snagged a little off the top to eat with my own dinner the night before the event, and reheated it in garlic and olive oil. If I had more, I would have frozen it. The remainder I served with a Japanese style sesame dressing. Chilled Spinach Salad with Sesame Dressing (Goma Spinach)
1 pound fresh spinach, washed 8 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds 2 tbs. sake 2 tsp sugar 2 tbs. soy sauce 1 tbs. rice vinegar ¼ cup water or dashi
Heat a large skillet over high flame. Add spinach (no oil, just the residual water from washing). Cook the spinach just until it wilts, turning occasionally.
Chill spinach in refrigerator.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the remaining ingredients together. Blend until smooth.
Squeeze out excess water from spinach. Drizzle dressing on top just before serving.