25 August 2009

Hushpuppy! No, Holden is not barking.

I blame Gatton. You hear that, Gatton? I blame you! After my post about oven fried okra and hot pepper poppers, Gatton had to go and say the one word that would burrow under my skin and plant the seed of a food obsession: hushpuppies. Hushpuppies! I love hushpuppies! What southern girl doesn't love hushpuppies? I haven't had them in years. You can't really get a good hushpuppy up here on LI - and let me go on record saying that the hushpuppies at Long John Silver's are NOT good hushpuppies. Shudder.

So Gatton plants the hushpuppy seed and I have a big bowl of those gigantic hot peppers I wrote about before and my brain starts to put two and two together - hot peppers + hushpuppies = yummy!

Of course, a real hushpuppy is a lovely mixture of cornmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, eggs, and milk (along with salt and sugar and stuff) plopped by big spoonfuls into hot fat and fried until they're GBD (golden brown and delicious). It's like a big fried cornbread dumpling. It's so good. If you've been following me lately, you know I've been trying to cut down on my favorite food group (fried) by revamping recipes and baking foods until they are crispety and crunchety.

Oven-fried hushpuppies are pretty simple. Start with your favorite hushpuppy recipe and plop tablespoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet or into mini muffin cups and bake them up. I wanted to stuff my hushpuppies with big slices of hot pepper, so the free-form hushpuppy was not going to work for me. I opted for the mini muffin pan preparation, which resulted in hushpuppies that look like mini muffins - whatever - they tasted good.

I mixed up a box of my favorite cornbread mix (I told you, I love this stuff and it's so convenient) with less milk than I would use for cornbread or muffins and egg whites instead of a whole egg (I am trying to make this recipe just a bit healthier, don't you know). I then scooped a small amount of the hushpuppy batter into the (greased) bottom of each muffin cup. I sliced up some hot peppers and pressed the slices into the center of each cup, nestling them down into the hushpuppy batter.

Back to scooping batter - just enough to cover and seal in the pepper was plopped into each cup.

See how the peppers are still showing in some cups? I used a wet finger to push and press the batter around so that the pepper was sealed into the hushpuppy like a little surprise inside.

These baked in a 450 degree (Fahrenheit) oven for about twenty minutes (actually, I baked mine for nineteen minutes - I warned you about my prime number issues) until the tops started to brown and the bottoms were nicely browned.

My favorite hushpuppies are always the ones fried the darkest, so I like to bake mine nice and dark. I flipped over a couple for the picture above so you could see the color. Oh yeah. Those look good. So what if they look like mini muffins? They're hushpuppies I tell you! They are!

These are no ordinary hushpuppies, though. Remember the little surprise I tucked inside each of my little hushpuppy friends? These are hushpuppy/pepperpoppers - sweet and salty and spicy and good.

I made three dozen of these to use up all of my peppers. I used several boxes of corn bread mix in the process - good thing I keep them stocked up in my pantry. Two dozen are now nestled into my freezer, waiting for a cold night and a pot of vegetarian chili. I'll pop those little puppies into the oven while the chili bubbles away and serve them together, piping hot and spicy hot and everything my soul will need when there's snow on the ground.

24 August 2009

We've Been At This For 14 Weeks? Cool!

While I stood over my favorite orange cutting board this morning, slashing away at a green bell pepper with my trusty four inch santoku knife, J noted that green bell peppers are an unusual presence in our kitchen. It's true. I never buy green bell peppers. I hate them. They taste too...green and grassy...that's the best I can describe them. Why were these bell peppers in my kitchen, let alone being hacked apart for use in a recipe? Blame the CSA. J and I had talked about joining Community Supported Agriculture for years, but this year I grabbed the bull by the horns and signed us up. We've been getting lots and lots of our favorite produce all summer and we've been challenged to try new things or retry foods we have written off in the past (must I remind you about the beets? - let's not go there - shudder!).

Last week we brought home two big green bell peppers as part of our share. If this had happened in June, when I was new to the CSA mindset, I would have freaked out trying to find a way to use them. I would have searched all of my favorite food blogs and recipe sights for green bell pepper recipes. I would have been crazed. Three months into cooking out of a CSA basket, I'm able to better handle a strange/rogue/odd ingredient. The second I saw the peppers, I knew it was time for me to make red beans and rice - without a can. I've always used canned red beans that I've doctored up with some onion and garlic - and I've been happy with that. But I had these green bell peppers to use up and it was time to make red beans from scratch. I probably never would have attempted this recipe in the past because (a) I was satisfied with the canned beans - gotta love Blue Runner - and (b) I never would purchase the green bell peppers necessary for the recipe. So, thank you, Garden of Eve CSA, for sending me home with green bell peppers last week. These fourteen weeks of new/strange/challenging/odd ingredients has pushed my cooking into many new areas.

So, week fourteen's haul was a big one. Let's take a look.

Within an hour of getting home from the pickup, the basil and arugula had been turned into pesto. Some of the arugula pesto hit the freezer and the rest was spread onto grilled bread for an amazing sanwich featuring the heirloom tomatoes and some fresh mozzarella. The basil pesto is waiting in the fridge for a quick pasta dinner later this week when I get home late from setting up my classroom. This will be a practice run for my school-year-dinner-in-twenty-mintues plan I've been working on all summer. I'm contemplating tossing the sungold cherry tomatoes into a hot skillet and giving them a quick saute with garlic and olive oil to serve on the side of the pasta. Mmm...

The lettuce got processed right away and joined forces with slices of a homegrown heirloom tomato and some soy bacon for the best vegetarian BLT ever. I grilled up thick slices of whole wheat bread and slathered them with some Baconnaise (yes, it's vegetarian) before layering on the B, L, and T. J and I were two very happy campers with these sandwiches.

While I was processing produce (in record time I should mention), I washed and dried the mesclun and the baby bok choi. They're tucked away in my refrigerator waiting for salad and stir fry inspiration to strike.

I cooked down the tomatoes into my first batch of Mexican rice with some veggie stock, hot peppers from the green market, and plenty of cumin. This might make it's own post because it was so easy and so tasty.

The watermelon was a surprise as part of the vegetable share. It's so small and cute.

I can't wait to eat it, but I don't want to be the one to hack it open - it's just too adorable. J will have to be the watermelon mauler in this house.

I also brought home what was minimally described as a "sweet yellow melon."

I have no idea what this melon is, but it's huge and, I confess, I'm rather intimidated by it. I'm tossing it into the refrigerator tonight and cutting it up for dessert. J loves any and all melon, so I'm sure he's going to like it. I stashed a few of the ripe nectarines in the fridge earlier today just in case the melon and I don't get along.

I used a few eggs for a breakfast of huevos rancheros on Sunday morning. This is becoming a bit of a tradition around here. I whipped up some black bean puree (with lots of garlic and hot peppers) and toasted up some corn tortillas in the oven (I love them fried, but my waistline doesn't) and spooned on lots of homemade salsa.

Mixing the yolk with the salsa and beans and scooping all of it up with the crispy tortilla is perhaps one of the most satisfying culinary experiences I've ever had. This could very well be my most favorite breakfast ever. J and I had given up on huevos rancheros as a breakfast a while back, but our first CSA bundle of cilantro pushed us into the world of homemade salsa and an overabundance of homemade salsa pushed us back into the world of huevos rancheros. The amazing free-range organic eggs pushed us, too, because you've got to have a great recipe when you've got incredible eggs. Thanks again, CSA, for pushing us out of our routines and into loads of fun new recipes.

23 August 2009

Pesto Fest

Our CSA shares have included arugula and basil for weeks now. Back in July, we were buying giant bunches of basil at the green market every week. These tasty little leaves are delicate, so they need to be used quickly once they're brought home. Our strategy for long-term preservation? Pesto.

I'm no pesto expert, but I know what I like and I know how to make it. Pesto, to me, is a combination of a tasty leaf (basil, spinach, arugula, parsley) with a tasty nut (pine nut, almond, pecan, pistachio) and some garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. I take a mix-and-match approach to pesto, using what I have and what I like and trying new combinations of flavors to see what works.

Some of my favorite pesto combinations are basil & almond, arugula & pecan, and spinach & parsley & pistachio. Pine nuts make me itchy, so I try to avoid them, but they are the classic pesto nut.

You can leave out the nuts and cheese altogether and make a pistou - a French sauce made with basil, garlic, and olive oil. (Hey, Lisa M., that would be vegan!) Modern pistou makers like to add cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino). This would also be great if someone has a nut allergy.

The teacher in me is dying for a mini-lesson. Indulge me, and let me walk you through how I make pesto.

These are the basic ingredients for a small batch of arugula pesto:

I had about a third-pound of arugula from my CSA, seven garlic cloves, two handfuls of pecans (I love pecans with arugula - peppery and earthy are a tasty combo), a one-inch by three-inch by half-inch chunk of Parmesan cheese, cut into smaller chunks, some kosher salt, and my favorite go-to olive oil.

I've worked out a technique to keep me from having to fuss with the food processor when I make pesto: I layer in the ingredients - garlic, nuts, and cheese chunks on the bottom with some salt and leaves on top.

With everything but the oil in the food processor, I pulse about 13 times (I told you I had issues with prime numbers), until everything has been pulled into the blades and chopped finely. I then let the food processor run while I squeeze in the olive oil (I love my squeezy bottles of olive oil!) until everything combines into a thick paste.

Some people like their pesto to be thinner - more oil or some water will give you that texture. I leave the pesto thick because I thin it down with pasta water when I'm making pasta and I like it thick as a spread.

The photo below is NOT the arugula pesto I made yesterday. It is a garlic scape pesto I made in June. I was so into my rhythm of make pesto, jar it up, and freeze it yesterday that I simply forgot to take a picture. Sigh. This photo shows you how thick I like my pesto, though.

Pesto freezes well and keeps in the refrigerator for a few days (if you can keep people from eating it). It should be stored with a layer of olive oil over the top so that it does not oxidize and turn black. It's still tasty and edible after it oxidizes; it's just ugly, so use the oil trick.

So, what do we do with all of this stuff? J loves pasta with pesto. Just toss the sauce with some hot pasta (thin it down with some of the pasta water if necessary). I like a cold pesto pasta salad with some peas, carrots, roasted red peppers, and a little extra olive oil. We spread pesto onto pizza dough instead of tomato sauce and melt mozzarella cheese over it. Pesto on a baguette makes for the beginning of a tasty garlic bread. We slather pesto onto our tomato and mozzarella sandwiches instead of using basil leaves. It's also good inside a mozzarella panini. We enjoy pesto as a sauce for steamed, fried, or oven fried veggies. It was really good with our oven fried eggplant last week.

At last count, I had over a gallon of pesto in the freezer (in small half-pint jars). As long as the CSA keeps sending home basil and arugula and the green market tempts me with big fragrant bunches of basil for a song, I'll keep making pesto. It's so simple and tasty and fun.

22 August 2009

Week 13 Pickup - Better Late Than Never

It has been an entire week since our last CSA pickup, but I haven't written a word about it. Strange. Well, in my defense, we did head into NYC for a green market run on the same day as the pickup - which we've never done before - so I claim discombobulation. Better late than never, though, to talk about what we got and what we've done with it.

The veggie share is the bulk of the pickup, as usual, and there were some great finds this week. The basil and the arugula both found their way into pesto. The basil pesto was spread onto tomato and fresh mozzarella sandwiches - yum. We froze most of the arugula pesto but saved a bit to eat with our oven fried eggplant and squash I wrote about earlier this week. That was a tasty combo and, obviously, how we used up our one large eggplant from the share.

The bell peppers will find their way into the batch of red beans and rice I'm making today. I will confess that I usually pop open a can or two of Blue Runner red beans when I'm craving a taste of New Orleans, but I've been wanting to try making my own red beans and rice for some time now. Since neither J nor I really like green bell peppers for any other recipe, this is the time for my experiment.

The tomatoes and jalapenos joined forces with more tomatoes and chiles from my garden and the green market to make a tasty salsa (and accompanying tomato margaritas). The salsa was particularly good on some crusty panini I made with cheddar cheese and some roasted hot peppers.

The sungold cherry tomatoes sat on the counter for a couple of days while we ate the grape and cherry tomatoes spilling out of our garden. I decided to take pity on the beautiful orange-hued sungolds and froze them into big cheery cherry tomato marbles. They're in a baggie in the freezer awaiting a winter's evening when they'll be popped into a saute pan with some olive oil and garlic for a fabulous quick pasta sauce. They'll taste of summer in the dark of winter.

Lettuce = salad and sandwich ingredient - as usual.

I haven't been using the broccoli to my best advantage all season. I'll have to get on that soon. Time for some research.

The fruit share was slightly modified. J got a melon that looked like a canteloupe and was called a canteloupe but had some honeydew coloring on the inside. He also got some white peaches that he said were wonderful and some tiny little donut peaches that I thought were the cutest thing ever. Notice that J got all of the fruit this week. Did you know that I'm ambivalent about melons other than watermelon (of which I simply cannot get enough)? Since J loves all melon, this one was entirely for him. Anyone who really knows me knows that I cannot stand peaches or anything peach flavored. Thank goodness J loves the fuzzy little buggers, or I don't know what I would have done with them. I can't even touch them - the fuzz gives me the creeps.

Some of the egg share was cooked up with some greens and grilled slices of bread for a fabulous breakfast. Some of the egg share is still in my refrigerator, awaiting its destiny.

The flower share was a bouquet of six sunflowers, evenly divided between two different varieties. They are so happy and cheerful. I set them up in my kitchen to make me smile and even J comments on them every once in a while.

Sorry I had to make this one so quick. We're getting suited up to head out for our week 14 pickup today. We're also hoping to make a stop or two at some local farms for a bushel of tomatoes to can. So far, all of our tomatoes have hit the freezer and we're running out of space. It's time I bite the bullet and learn how to can these buggers up. Wish me luck. I'll take pictures - I promise.

21 August 2009

Eating Our Greens

Greens are in season and will be until we get close to the first frost. Different greens will be in season at different times throughout the spring, summer, and fall, but some green leafy vegetable will be in season at any given point during this time.

We started the summer with tons of pea shoots from our CSA. Then we were inundated with kale and chard. For a while there I was constantly searching for new ways to prepare our greens, outside of our standard saute with garlic and olive oil. I kept fighting the saute. One of the most important things I learned from my CSA experience this summer is don't fight the saute.

The saute of greens with olive oil and garlic (and, in my kitchen, lots of red pepper flakes) is more than just a side dish. You can make all sorts of stuff with sauteed greens. It's a fabulous filling for enchiladas, quesadillas, and panini.

Want some variety? Try stuffing your enchiladas with the greens, different kinds of cheeses, add onions or carrots, use different sauces (red, green, whatever).

Try a whole wheat quesadilla with pepper jack cheese, roasted hot peppers, greens, and salsa verde. What about a multigrain quesadilla with cheddar, greens, and a spicy tomato salsa?

How about a panini of fresh mozzarella with greens and pesto? Or perhaps try squeezing some greens in between your bread with slices of fresh tomato, swiss cheese, and some shards of Parmesan and give that puppy a good toasting. Switch the quesadilla fillings with the panini fillings. Use different tortilla flavors and different kinds/sizes of bread.

By the way, you can toss your sauteed greens with some pasta and Parmesan and, if you're feeling a bit wild at the moment, a splash of cream.

J and I like cracking a few eggs into little wells we dig into the greens while they're cooking and letting them set up before scooping them out, greens and all, and gobbling it all down with crisp slices of toast or grilled bread.

Then again, just poach an egg or two and serve it atop a mound of greens or your pasta/greens combo. Let the yolk run through the greens to dress them in the richest, yellowest ribbon of flavor you can imagine.

Stuff an omelet with greens. Add some cheese or tomatoes or salsa.

Tumble some greens together with some roasted potatoes and garlic cloves for a yummy side dish.

I'm telling you - this stuff is versatile.

Are you all fired up to get some greens and garlic and get cooking? I hope so. Let's talk about greens, shall we?

Collard greens are broad and leafy with a stiff stem that you don't want to eat. Cut out the center stem of each leaf, stack the leaves together like a deck of cards, roll them up like a cigar, and slice into ribbons.

These will take a bit longer to cook than other types of greens, so you may want to blanch them for a minute or so in boiling water, then shock them in some ice water before you add them to your saute.

Black Tuscan kale can have woody stems as well. If they snap easily when you bend them, they're fine. Chop up the leaves before you saute. If the stems are tough, remove them before you chop.

Everyday, regular curly kale can be chopped up, stems and all. Be sure to check for yellowed, blemished, or rotting leaves before scrunching up a bunch of leaves at once and whacking away at them.

Red mustard greens add a great tangy, pungent taste to a pot of mixed greens. They have soft stems, so they're easy to prepare.

Turnip greens (once separated from the turnips - use them for something else, of course) are some of my favorite greens. They're mild and tasty.

After cooking up batch after batch after batch of greens this summer, I've developed a routine for cleaning and cooking the greens that makes for quicker and more thorough grit removal and better texture in the final cooked product.

To clean the greens, I fill a big bowl with cold water, grab a bunch of greens by their stems and give them a good swirl/swoosh/plunge in the bowl for a minute or so. I shake off the excess water, chop the greens, and give the chopped leaves a soak in a bowl of fresh water (agitating them to loosen up any sediment) before draining, squeezing, and taking them for a spin in my salad spinner. I pour them out onto a baking sheet to continue drying while I prep the next bunch of greens.

To cook the greens, I use a ratio of eight cloves of garlic to one bunch of greens. Yes, that's a lot of garlic, but I like my greens nice and garlicy. I chop all of my garlic at once in my food processor with some kosher salt and have everything in a bowl ready for the cooking.

I should note here that, although it is entirely possible to cook lots of greens in one big batch, I like to cook mine in smaller batches to control the texture of the greens and the amount of moisture they give off. Although I'll prep many bunches of greens at once, I'll cook off one bunch at a time, combining everything together at the end for the final cooking step.

Cooking: heat up a pan, add a nice swoosh of good olive oil, add some of your chopped garlic (divide the garlic evenly between your batches - if you have four bunches of greens, use a fourth of the garlic per batch), add about one bunch of chopped greens. Use a good pair of kitchen tongs to move the greens and garlic around the pan, taking care to get the hot stuff off the bottom of the pan and up to the top - you wouldn't want that garlic to burn - yuck. When the leaves have wilted down but remain a lovely vibrant green, slide the contents of your pan into a bowl and proceed through the remainder of your garlic and greens.

Once all of your garlic and greens have been cooked down, add all of them back to the pot over high heat. Get those leaves sizzling! Add some kosher salt and some red pepper flakes (I like a lot of heat) and some black pepper. Some people like nutmeg in their greens. I don't. When everything is nice and hot, give it one final stir and slap on the lid to your pan. Turn off the heat and step away from the greens. Leave them alone. Give them a good ten minutes. If you're eating them right away, they should still be plenty hot. If you're freezing them for another time, let them cool a bit more before bagging them up.

Don't they look tasty? This was a mixture of kale, black Tuscan kale, red mustard greens, and mustard greens. I made this batch this morning and dispatched it to the freezer. It will be filling panini (with my homemade bread) and quesadillas (with my homemade tortillas) during the winter months when good fresh greens are nowhere to be found.

20 August 2009

My Favorite Food Group

If you haven't heard one of my raves about being from the South, you haven't been listening carefully while I'm speaking or you've never spoken with me. Yes, I'm a southern girl with southern tastes and southern sensibilities. I'm a southern girl with some southern eating habits.

What's a southern eating habit? Well, there are a few. I only have some of them because, well, there's a squeamish picky eater dwelling within this particular southern girl (hence most of the reason I'm a vegetarian). I do, though, possess the most southern of eating habits - the preference for all things FRIED.

Fried food is the very best food there is. Whether you're a sweet or savory person, one of your top ten favorite dishes is probably fried (you may not want to admit it, but one of them is fried and you know it). There's just something about the effect hot fat has on food that causes me (and you too, admit it) to swoon. Fried food smells good. It has that satisfying texture (sometimes crunchy, sometimes achingly giving with a toothsome resistance, sometimes crisp on the outside and creamy or fluffy on the inside). Fried food is rich and flavorful and, let's face it, downright fun. Who doesn't have fond memories of a funnel cake or french fries or corn dog or doughnut? Face it, fried food is good stuff.

Of course I'm not ignorant of the lousy nutrition news on the fried food front - trans fats, saturated fats, high cholesterol, obesity...yadda yadda yadda. Yes, fried foods, for all of their tasty and comforting virtue, are HORRIBLE for your health. I get it. Moderation. Yeah yeah yeah.

As a fried food fiend married to a fried food fan, I've worked hard to work the flavors of our favorite food group (well, J may call frozen dairy his favorite food group, but he's not writing this blog now is he?) alive and well in our diet without killing us both before we're 50. I've been "oven frying" since college and have worked out some techniques that make for some mighty tasty cuisine (is fried food too populist to refer to as "cuisine"?). Some fun and interesting green market finds this summer have given me the chance to play with oven frying with some tasty results.

I love fried okra. It's definitely a southern thing. Okra can be really intimidating and freaky looking to some (I witnessed a few people "ew"-ing at the green market recently while pointing at a beautiful mound of $4 a pound okra. I've also had people warning me about the "yukky slime" inside the okra.).

It's tasty and healthy (okra itself is low in calories and high in dietary fiber and vitamin c). Of course, when you coat it with eggs and cornmeal and sling it into a vat of hot fat, the calories skyrocket and the negative health effects start to outweigh the positive. I'm not a fan for steamed or stewed or boiled okra, so my okra purchases at the green market were destined for a healthier version of my favorite okra preparation - fried.

Frying okra involved a few basic steps: slice the okra, swath the bits in something that will get the coating to stick, stick on the coating, fry those babies up, and eat.

I decided to use egg whites as my glue instead of whole eggs. If you're not into eggs or egg whites, this works pretty well with fat free Italian salad dressing. It's a little heavier than eggs so it tends to slide off in large clumps, but with some patience, it does indeed work.

For the coating, I love a cornmeal base. You can look up recipes on line for straight cornmeal, seasoned cornmeal, cornmeal lightened with flour, and more. I, being the lazy cook that I am, like to use cornbread mix out of a box for my fried okra. Yes, I buy cornbred mix in a box. It's what I grew up on and I like it. It's got a good balance of grainy corn meal and lighter flour and some sweetness along with saltiness. Best of all, it's easy peasy, Lemon Squeasy. So, after taking a swim in some egg whites (or egg substitute), my okra rolls around in cornbread mix.

J thinks I'm a bit neurotic for lining up the breaded okra slices on my (foil-lined, and oil-sprayed) baking sheets, but there's something comforting about this ordered assembly of my little okra soldiers.

I give my okra army a spray of oil (I like canola for this job) and deploy them into the hot battle zone of a 500 degree (Fahrenheit, of course) oven. They bake for about 13 minutes (I have a thing for prime numbers) before I flip them and bake them for at least another 13 minutes. When they are GBD (golden brown and delicious), I scoop them into a bowl and run and hide in another room where J can't find me and my tasty little goodies. No, I actually do share them. They are crunchy and sweet and salty and oh so satisfying. Of course they are not just as good as the fried okra of my southern youth - I don't lie to myself or you about that. They are good, though, and very little guilt is involved in sharing a bowl of these with my Bubba.

I used the same technique on some funky hot peppers I found at the green market last week. These were SPICY and delicously good. Who needs jalapeno poppers (filled with cheese and other uhealthy bits), when I can oven fry some hot pepper poppers and be just as satisfied? J and I like these with some refreshing cocktails for our own spicy happy hour.

I use a similar technique, substituting seasoned bread crumbs for the corn bread mix, for oven frying eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash. The larger slices of these veggies need to bake a bit longer than the okra or the peppers, but the results are just as good.

Of course, fried foods love to be dipped in sauces. J likes cocktail sauce for zucchini. I suspect cocktail sauce would be good on the okra as well. I did serve the eggplant with some freshly made pesto - that was fabulous. Although we ate the hot peppers straight, I can imagine taming their fiery heat with a tasty sour cream based dip (low fat sour cream, of course).

I picked up a few pounds of okra and hot peppers at the green market yesterday. Although J doesn't want me firing up the oven during the summer, he won't argue with me today because he knows he's getting "fried" okra and peppers served along side his dinner tonight.

19 August 2009

My Promise

I know. I know. I have been a very bad girl. I have not been keeping up with my blog and I have no good excuse. It's not that I haven't been thinking about my blog. In fact, I've been thinking about ways to make it better and I've taken steps. I really have! You want proof? Okay, here's just one example: I've been dragging my camera into the kitchen while I prep and cook every day so that my blog could be made more interesting and visually dynamic through the inclusion of photographs of the food experiments about which I write. Here's another: Since my photographs were rather flat and dark, I had J lug a desk lamp into the kitchen to properly light my work and photo space. Here's a third: When the desk lamp wasn't working to my liking, I dragged J to Ikea to buy some under-cabinet lighting for my task/photo area. Want more? Okay: When J couldn't find the right screws to install said under-cabinet task lighting, I tied the light cord to my cabinet handle and levered is against the edge of the cabinet to achieve better lighting in the meantime. I could give more examples, but this is getting a bit crazy.

Needless to say, I've been doing a lot of cooking and photographing. Obviously, I have not been doing a lot of writing and posting. Sorry. My bad. I am working to rectify that. I will make a concerted effort to post something (howsoever short) each day until I return to school. Not every post will be fascinating, but there will be posts.

I am sitting at the moment in World Wide Plaza in Manhattan, sipping an iced (decaf!) Americano. I need to leave in a few minutes to pick up J and some of his family members, so I need to be quick with today's perhaps-fascinating post.

While J and his family went to see Wicked today, I made a rather half-hearted attempt to go to my school to start setting up my classroom. When I couldn't find a parking spot, I hit the gas and headed down to Union Square. It is Wednesday after all and I did have my shopping bags and cooler bag in the back of the car.

This was my first completely solo trip through the green market and it was fun! I made a quick sweep through the entire swath of vendors (thanks for the advice, Alice Waters) and doubled back to scoop up the long, hot chiles I cannot identify, handfuls of plump green jalapenos, and the reddest and least-expensive roma tomatoes in the market from one vendor. A couple of stalls down I scooped up red mustard greens, kale, and a couple of pounds of tomatillos. Across the way I bought fresh red and yellow onions, black Tuscan kale, and a new funky type of cilantro (cilantro delfino) that I had never tried or heard of before. I was told that restaurants buy this type of cilantro because it keeps better and chops up more finely. Down around the corner I bought beefsteak tomatoes, warm from the hot August afternoon sun. Up the way a bit I scooped up the sticky long green pointy fingers of okra that will find their way into my favorite oven "fried" recipe before being gobbled up with spicy cocktails. I even found a couple of less-expensive pints of sweet hybrid strawberries.

What am I going to make with this bounty? Wouldn't you like to know! I'll write about it soon. I promise.

11 August 2009

Nothing Goes To Waste

Between our garden and our green market sprees of late, J and I have found ourselves overwhelmed in the kitchen at times. It can be difficult to keep up with the coolers crammed full with produce that we schlep into our kitchen twice a week. Last week we went crazy at the Union Square green market (that's another post) and brought home a mess of farm fresh (not hothouse - I love this time of year!) tomatoes and jalapenos and cilantro. My intent, of course, was salsa - the first fully-fresh salsa of the year. After a couple of months of canned tomatoes, fresh tomato salsa would be light and fresh and sweet.

When we got home, we discovered our garden had been thinking the same thing.

Jalapenos and tomatoes abound! We harvested a couple of small colanders of grape tomatoes and a few larger tomatoes, with plenty of ripening fruit still on the vine.

It's no surprise, then, that I went a little crazy-obsessive about using these beauties up before they started to soften and go bad. I stuffed my food processor full of farm fresh onions (red and yellow), cilantro, jalapenos, and tomatoes then seasoned it all with salt, pepper, and lime juice. Okay, I may have overdone it with the tomatoes. I crammed them in, squishing down chunks of one tomato to make room for the next one and the one after that. The result? A very tasty fresh tomato salsa filled and overflowed my food processor. I grabbed a big bowl to transfer the salsa and, while the salsa sat, pink-tinted clear tomato water began to seep out of the bottom of the Cuisinart bowl and rise to the top as well. Of course! I hadn't created an emulsion (no oil), so the tomato water was naturally going to separate. Since I had used an awful lot of incredibly juicy tomatoes, you can imagine the quantities of tomato water that were struggling to pour out of my food processor.

I slammed a strainer over a very large bowl and dumped out my salsa. I ended up with a wonderfully tight salsa without the extra liquid in which my chunky vegetables would normally swim about. I also ended up with a quart and a half of tomato water. I'm not one to waste anything in the kitchen, especially anything that I've worked so hard to schlep from Manhattan or coax out of my own soil, so I knitted my brows together and did my best Winnie-the-Pooh impression. Think! Think! Think! What can I do with this tomato water? I tasted it and discovered that it was highly seasoned with the other salsa ingredients - lots of fresh onion, lime juice, essence of jalapeno and cilantro.

I could freeze it and add it to a tortilla soup I'll cook this winter. Sure. I could add it to tomato juice for a lovely spicy kick in a Bloody Mary. Yum. Mother Inspiration struck - the perfect use for this spicy flavorful tomato water was one that highlighted it's Tex-Mex flavor profile - Tomato Margaritas!

Oh yes, add some more lime juice, some hot sauce, and tequila and flavorful tomato water becomes a fantastic savory and spicy cocktail. It's the perfect drink for a snack of homemade tortilla chips and farm fresh salsa or oven fried jalapenos (another post) or a dinner of kale and cheese enchiladas. Perhaps I could serve it as a brunch cocktail with my nearly-perfected huevos rancheros recipe. So much potential.

Of course I was rather pleased with myself. I had not only saved a big bowl full of tomato water from being poured down the drain, I had created a tasty cocktail at the same time.

I spent the next day processing greens and greens and more greens (yet another post) and I neglected the fresh carrots, celery, and daikon we had brought home with the bounty of tomatoes. I should have cut off the leafy tops to stop the veggies from losing moisture. I should have stashed them in the chill chest but it was overflowing with veg that had to be kept cold and carrots and daikon could keep for a couple of days in my kitchen. After all, don't they keep in root cellars for weeks? I was wrong. When I got to them, the carrots and daikon were rubbery imitations of themselves. I could tie a long thin carrot into a knot. The celery smelled wonderfully fresh, but it too was rubbery. Sigh.

These veggies would not go to waste. I washed and roughly chopped them up then threw them into a pot of water with some onion, black peppercorns, and a couple of bay leaves and boiled away. Veggie stock would be mine. I stole a cup of stock to help me saute down a stubborn batch of greens and bagged up the rest (about a gallon) for the freezer. I tend to make a soup and bread supper at least once a week in the colder weather (heat up the house with the stove and oven and my body with hot soup and warm bread). This veggie stock will give me a couple of pots of soup. I'm dreaming of white beans and escarole, vegetable, three bean, black bean, and Tuscan white bean soups. I hate cold weather, but this gives me something special to look forward to later this year.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying this warm weather bounty. I'm headed back to the green market tomorrow for more tomatoes because I'm out of salsa and I need a nice spicy cocktail too!

04 August 2009

The Suspense Is Killing Me - Refrigerator Pickles and Cherry Bounce

I am not a patient person. Time just never moves quickly enough for me. I am the person who has to sing the alphabet to herself to know how long to wash her hands. I also make sure to hum the Jeopardy theme four full times while brushing my teeth, ensuring a proper brushing duration. My sense of time is indeed slightly warped and running on the fast side. It makes sense, then, that any recipe that takes four or more weeks to come to fruition would make me absolutely BONKERS!

When a bounty of white cucumbers found their way into my refrigerator three weeks ago I knew it was time to attempt pickles. J loves pickled and fermented foods - spicy pickles from vendors at street fairs in Manhattan, kim chee, the pickled radishes I put in congee, bread and butter pickles straight out of the jar, the pickled daikon and carrot salad that comes with our favorite Japanese take out - so at some point in my life with him, I was going to have to learn to pickle stuff. That time had come.

Since J and I both have a spicy tooth (I am half Cajun, after all), I decided to make my first batches of pickles with plenty of heat. My jalapenos and habanero peppers in the garden were not ready for picking in the middle of July (they will be soon, though!), so I grabbed some jalapeno peppers at the market as well as some baby carrots (I was so not in the mood to peel and cut down carrots that weekend - cut me some slack).

Here's the plan: Stuff wide-mouth pint jars with alternating layers of jalapeno slices, thinly sliced onion, cloves of garlic, and the pickling veg of choice (I made jars with cucumber and jars with baby carrots). When the jars are packed quite tightly, pour over a boiling mixture of equal parts white vinegar and water that has been seasoned with kosher salt, all spice (whole), clove (whole), celery seed, mustard seed, and copious amounts of red chili flakes. After I filled the jars with the hot liquid to the tippy tippy top, I sealed them up and let them cool on the counter. I could have boiled them and canned them properly, but I was not about to heat up my house. These pickles would be refrigerator pickles and I had just the place for them in the little tiny refrigerator (from my first year of college - yes, it still works) in my garage. They had to go in the outside refrigerator so I would not stalk them as they did their whole pickle thing for at least four weeks. That's right, four weeks - four weeks of waiting, impatiently, to find out if these things are any good. Sigh. Not a recipe for the impatient.

I've got one week of waiting left. The suspense is killing me. Are they going to be spicy enough? Too spicy? Soggy? Crunchy? Underseasoned? Overseasoned? Delicious? Awful? Come on! I've got to know!

With only a week left, though, I find myself wishing I had a couple more weeks before I find out if I really messed up the recipe. I mean, who wants to taste something that required this much of a time investment to find out it was a failure? Aaarrrrggghhh!

Another long-term recipe pushing hard on my patience button is the Cherry Bounce I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Since then, J and I have purchased more cherries and whiskey and put up a third bottle of Bounce. This recipe requires that I wait FOUR MONTHS (heavens!) for the final product! I can hardly stand it. I've had to squirrel my three bottles of Bounce into a difficult-to-access cabinet so that I stop paying them daily visits to check on their well being. They lived on the counter for their first ten days so that they could get their daily bouncing to help dissolve the massive amounts of sugar called for in the recipe (thanks again, Merideth!), but they had to go once J caught me obsessively lifting and turning each bottle, examining the way the cherries bobbed in the liquid and checking for any crystals of undissolved sugar, on day fifteen.

Maybe these kinds of recipes are good for me. After all, bread making has forced me to slow down my time table in the kitchen, allowing me to enjoy the process as much as the final product. Maybe pickles and Cherry Bounce will help be slow things down even more. Maybe the waiting will enhance the flavor of the final product not only physically but also emotionally. I've got a lot of time invested in these recipes. Time has to taste good, right?

03 August 2009

That's A Lot Of Food - Week 9 Pickup

I can't believe it's August already. Where is the summer going? Last summer was filled with leisurely days of lounging in my back yard on a comfy chair with my pups tethered nearby and a cocktail and a good book on a tray next to me. I was well-rested, brown-skinned, and all smiles (the cocktails might have had quite a bit to do with the smiling) last summer.

This summer has a completely different vibe. Yes, there are still good books and cocktails in the picture this year, but I've only spent one afternoon in my comfy back yard chair and I am certainly not well-rested or brown-skinned.

This has been a busy summer. J and I have been busy working on our house, running errands, processing and cooking our CSA shares, and hitting green markets for fresh and in-season produce to put up for the winter. We're working hard this summer to make ourselves happy and comfortable this winter. It's hard to keep our eyes on the prize, though, when we seem to be work-work-working our summer away.

J has been getting frustrated with the amount of time we've been spending in the kitchen, so I know it's time to reflect on finding some balance. I know, though, that the more cooking and preserving I can do now, the more free time I'll have during the hectic school year. This is a tough call, because free time now is so warm and fun and pleasant and the promise of free time later is simply too abstract to grasp. During the summer I forget how sleep-deprived, overworked, and stressed I get during the school year. I need to find some time for warm summer fun and I need to make time to squirrel away all of the amazing produce coming into season this month so that we can eat well and conveniently during the school year.

Saturdays are always about running out to the farm for our weekly pickup of farm fresh fruit, veggies, eggs, and flowers. These runs are a fun weekly ritual. We're forced to get out of the house and we treat the pups with an always-appreciated ride in the car. Riley especially loves to stick his head out of the window and snurfle when we're winding through the rural roads of the North Fork.

Don't my boys look like they're having fun?

Just as much fun as the ride out to the farm is the moment our haul for the week is finally revealed to us. Yes, the farm often posts a list of items for the weekly shares earlier in the week, but the list is often wrong. So, when we get to see the CSA board for the first time, it's like waking up on our birthdays. Here's this week's goody list:

This pickup had our bag bulging with the bounty of mid-summer. There was a lot of food to bring home this week and all of it was fresh and beautiful. I've got big plans for all of this produce.

The lettuce, baby bok choi, turnips, broccoli, and bunching onions will join forces with some green market carrots, sweet onions, garlic, and celery and some of my home grown jalapeno peppers to make tasty lettuce wraps. I love the contrast of hot (veggie stir fry) and cold (lettuce cups) and sweet (carrots and turnips) and spicy (jalapenos). When the lettuce runs out, this stuff is tasty served over some brown rice.

The arugula will make a tasty green salad, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Cucumbers find their way into everything in my kitchen. Sometimes they're just a tasty snack with some kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Sometimes they find their way into a salad or onto a sandwich when I want something crunchy. Sometimes they're a great cracker-or-chip-substitute when I make hummus or some other kind of dip. Sometimes they are an essential side dish, especially when I make curry. One of this week's cucumbers has already been a salad ingredient and a snack. The other two will probably join the tomatoes turning red and yellow in my garden and some green market red onions for J's favorite summer salad. He'll eat this straight out of the fridge as is or stuff it into whole wheat pitas with some baked falafel balls (we did this last week) or toss it on top of a bowl of lettuce.

I've completely overdosed on corn this summer. I've just hit that wall where I can't eat any more corn. J, on the other hand, can't get enough of the stuff. So, some of the corn will be grilled up for J's dining pleasure and the rest will be trimmed off the cobs and dispatched to the freezer. I'll boil down the cobs to make corn stock again because I'll be making tons of corn chowder for J after the first frost. He loves the silky, velvety, earthy combination of corn and potatoes and cream. I love making soup and bread when the weather is cold. I can see it now - homemade bread bowls filled with steaming hot corn chowder (with my home grown potatoes bobbing in the creamy broth) waiting for us after shoveling down the sidewalk and driveway after the first big snow. You know, I hate winter and I despise snow, but I'm actually looking forward to both just to get a bread bowl full of corn chowder. Bring it on! (Give me a couple more warm months first, okay?)

I haven't used marjoram until now. I know it's part of the mint family and it bears some resemblance to both thyme and oregano. I'm thinking of drying some for later use and experimenting with some now. It will probably find its way into the big vat of tomato sauce I'm making this week and maybe sprinkled over a salad or pasta dish. I need to play with it to learn more about it.

J says he loves apricots, but I've never seen him eat one. If he doesn't eat these apricots I'll probably turn them into jam. I've read several recipes for apricot jam and I'm fascinated with all of the techniques for using the apricot kernels in the cooking process.

I loved loved loved the yellow plum sorbet I made with our last batch of plums. I might whip up another batch because it was just that good. On the other hand, a jar of plum jam or plum compote would make for a happy Sunday morning breakfast with some freshly baked biscuits or scones or waffles.

I love blackberries. As much as I'd love some homemade blackberry compote for pancakes and waffles (when I have pancakes, I want them smothered in blackberry compote), half a pint of blackberries just isn't enough. These little black-purple-bumpy jeweled beauties will be eaten straight up in one sitting, popping in my mouth like caviar and turning my lips a funky shade of violet. I hope we get some more in next week's share. I'll be searching for them at the green market this week for sure.

I got some new dishes at Fishs Eddy for making baked eggs. Some of our organic free-range beauties will find their way into these dishes atop some of homemade tomato sauce. I'll serve them piping hot from the oven with slices of homemade crusty bread.

The flowers this week were colorful and cheerful.

See how heavy the bag was this week?

Okay, enough writing. I'm off to the kitchen to prep some produce so that I can sit in the yard later with the pups and a good book.

26 July 2009

Produce Overload: Week 9 CSA Pickup and Green Market Shopping

We can hardly get the refrigerator door shut this week. J and I have been very busy in the kitchen after a green market shopping spree earlier this week and yesterday's CSA pickup. I can't believe we've been picking our our shares for nine weeks now. Looking back, I realize that (not counting cherries and citrus products) I've purchased less than a shopping bag full of produce from the supermarket since late May - almost everything has come from the farm share or a local green market.

What were we up to this week? J and I headed into Manhattan on Wednesday to shop at the Union Square green market, grab some goodies from Chinatown, and meet some friends from work for good company and libations. We stocked the car with a cooler, a cooler bag, and several canvas shopping bags and headed out to take advantage of all of the amazing produce in season this time of year.

I was determined to find a real, honest-to-goodness, locally grown tomato. Yeah, I've gotten some small ones from my own plants, but some local farm had to have an early tomato or two for sale this week, right? Most of the tomatoes we found were hot house tomatoes. J and I were being obnoxious (well, it was mostly me being obnoxious) and stuck to our guns, holding out for the real deal. They were hard to find, but I came home with three funky lumpy but deliciously ripe tomatoes. Mmm...tomatoes...it's difficult to believe I'll be sick of them by this time next month. Until then, I am going to savor every bite.

The first of the three lumpy beauties found its way into a delicious tomato, mozzarella, and pesto sandwich on a fabulous baguette. Tomato sandwiches will become my daily lunch within the next couple of weeks, when I'm pulling the tomato right off the vine and slicing it, still warm from the sun, before wedging it into one of my homemade rolls. Oh my, I'm getting excited just thinking about it.

At the green market we also scooped up some fresh onions (both sweet yellow and red), leeks, dandelion greens (regular and red), escarole, cilantro, baby bok choi, some amazing scallions (two feet long), two more giant bunches of basil (can't resist its scent), a couple of kinds of bread, and some zucchini blossoms.

Aren't they pretty? They're incredibly delicate and were already getting soft by the time we got home. I battered them (I stuffed a few with some fresh mozzarella first) and lightly fried them for a crispy breakfast. I'm going to have to harvest some of my garden's blossoms to practice and perfect my recipe. They are tasty.

We ran down to Chinatown to get some noodles and a couple of cooking tools (including a new tortilla press - don't ask) and some produce one cannot get at the green market or farm stands on the North Fork. We needed some Chinese broccoli and other greens. We found even smaller baby bok choi - perfect for cooking (and eating) whole.

Fast forward to our Saturday CSA pickup and our goodies for this week:

Within seconds of snapping this photo, my wheels were spinning and I had plans for a lot of this produce.

The romaine would make lovely little lettuce cups for a spicy veggie meat stir fry during the week. The kohlrabi would add a tasty crunch to said stir fry.

The corn would be (part of - okay most of) dinner that very night (the ears were quite small - look!)
To give you a sense of perspective, the little ears in the front row were about 4 inches long. Note that there are only eight ears pictured here because we found some caterpillar friends in two of the ears (ah, the joys of organic produce!).

The kale would probably find its way into some quesadillas after being cooked down with garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes.

The basil was a beautiful purple basil, which I processed into a tasty basil-parsley pesto (right after I processed the two big bunches of basil from the green market into a couple of pints of pesto). This was the pesto on our tomato-mozzarella sandwiches. The rest of the pesto found its way into our freezer.

The cucumbers will find their way into a salad with the remaining tomatoes and some of the fresh red onion. Maybe I'll toss in some of the cilantro. Most of the cilantro and fresh onions were blitzed up into a big batch of salsa this morning. I can't wait to make salsa with fresh tomatoes.

Zucchini...zucchini...zucchini...so much zucchini and my plants have just started producing fruit. The big zucchini we picked up this week will probably find itself either pickled with lots of sweet onion and jalapeno pepper or on top of a pizza with some caramelized onion and roasted garlic and fresh parsley. Said pizza might even have a couple gorgeous free-range eggs perched on top amidst freshly shaven shards of Parmesan cheese. Okay, I'm feeling it. Pizza sounds good!

The cherries and blueberries from the fruit share will find their way into my food dehydrator. I'm preparing for those winter Sunday mornings when J wakes up craving something sweet and I'm craving some extra heat from the oven. Scones and muffins will warm his belly and the oven will warm my toes.

I forgot to mention that J scooped up twelve pounds of cherries this week. (J has a cherry problem.) A couple of pounds found their way into a big bottle of Cherry Bounce and I need to thank Merideth for this fun recipe. In a gallon container (I used an old growler that once held some stout) combine a couple of quarts of cherries with three cups of sugar (yeah, that's a lot) and a fifth of whiskey (not the expensive stuff - not necessary with all of that sugar). Every day for ten days, give the container a bounce to incorporate some of the sugar. Store the bottle away for four months and try not to obsess about it. I can't wait for this sweet cherry and whiskey liquor to be ready to mix cocktails. J loves Whiskey Sours, so how can we go wrong with a Bouncy Sour? I'm dreaming of a Bouncy boozy cherry cola. How about a blend of Bounce with some chocolate soda for a Black Forest Bounce? Oh yeah, this is going to be some good stuff in a few months.

The yellow plums were tiny and deliciously sweet-tart. I cooked them down with some simple syrup until they were soft then stirred in a generous glug of Triple Sec before chilling it down to make sorbet. This will hit the ice cream maker tomorrow morning. I know it's going to be fabulous because J and I attacked the bowl of the food processor after I poured out the sorbet mix. It's sweet and tart and orangy (from the Triple Sec) and wonderfully sunshiny.

We took the pups for an extended ride after our CSA pickup (check out Holdy in his Doggles).

Our destination? Harbe's Family Farm for another bag of their sweet corn. We ate six ears last week and they were amazingly sweet. Since we had ten ears of organic corn from our CSA already, the bag of a dozen ears from Harbe's was destined to be cut off the cob and frozen for all sorts of dreamy winter recipes - corn chowder, a lovely maque choux to serve along side my favorite Malaysian-style potato curry, corn and black bean quesadillas with black bean soup. I don't want to rush away my summer, but these winter dishes sound good. At least I have something to look forward to during the dark, cold months of winter. Maybe we'll get another big storm and a snow day (or two) to give me some quality cooking time! Before any of that can happen, though, the corn had to be de-cobbed.

Twelve ears of de-cobbing later, I had three lovely zip top bags of sweet corn nestled in my freezer, dreaming of blizzards and snow days and chowder.

Speaking of chowder, my corn cobs did not go to waste. I boiled them up with some water and salt and pepper and made a couple of quarts of homemade corn stock for a big pot of corn chowder. The stock is nestled into my freezer, next to the corn. I'm planning on using my own home grown potatoes in that recipe. But that's another blog entry for a much much later date. I've got a refrigerator full of summer goodness to cook through before the door pops off!

20 July 2009

Week 8 Pickup: You Can't Make Me Eat That!

We were given ample warning that this would happen. I've made it a habit to check the Garden of Eve web site (http://www.gardenofevefarm.com) around mid-week to see if any share news has been posted. This week we got the news on Wednesday - beets would be part of our pick up on Saturday. Cue ominous sounding music here.

Beets have haunted me since childhood. They are the one vegetable that I have flat-out refused to try - ever. Many people have postulated that the canned beets that were served as part of school lunch from Kindergarten through Fifth Grade are the only beets I have known and have therefore tainted my opinion on the vegetable. True enough, but I never tasted those beets. It's something about the color and the weird bleeding thing beets do that turns me off. I have been reassured by several people that fresh beets neither look nor taste as awful as canned beets. I promised J and myself that I would give these beets a try.

Alas, the online update, which is usually wrong in some tiny way, was correct. Beets! Beets? Beets! Noooooooo! Actually, the update was correct about the beets but incorrect about the yellow squash. I ended up with an extra head of garlic and a couple of extra potatoes in exchange.

The flowers were lovely this week.

See how I can always find something positive to say? It's that good southern upbringing.

Let's stay happily positive for a minute and talk about our adventures after our farm pickup. Stop #1: Harbe's Family Farm in Mattituck, NY (http://www.harbesfamilyfarm.com/). Harbe's is our favorite stop for roasted corn and delicious baguettes. We grabbed a couple of ears of the former and shared them with the puppers.

Notice that their little fuzzy noggins make a heart shape as they lick corn kernels from J's plate.

Aren't they adorable, my little corn dogs?

As for the baguettes, they are delicious and amazing and we scooped one up along with a couple of hothouse tomatoes. Yes, Ms. I-want-to-eat-in-season-and-local succumbed to the hothouse tomatoes. The bread was talking to me. The warm weather was singing to me. The delicious tiny home grown tomatoes from last week were haunting my palate. I wanted a tomato sandwich. I needed a tomato sandwich. I would have a tomato sandwich.

I needed some mozzarella for that sandwich - good mozzarella - not that plastic stuff you get at the Stop-and-Shop. We had asked the cashier at Harbe's about the source of their bread and she told us that Scotto's Pork Store (http://www.scottosporkstore.com/home.html) in Hampton Bays delivers both the baguettes and the mozzarella they use in their sandwiches at the farm stand. Okay, the title "pork store" does bother this vegetarian, but I'm in search of cheese, not pork, so, off to Hampton Bays we went!

My BlackBerry and Google Maps made the trip an easy one. I navigated and J drove. On our way to bread-and-cheese-deliciousness, we passed a landmark we've only seen on TV and in print: the Flanders Duck!

Isn't it cute? Okay, not as cute as my pups, but cute. Please excuse the dark gray smudge on the left side of the photo. J's nose (schnoz, as I lovingly refer to it) found its way into the one shot I got of the ducky as we sped by. I tried to wipe the schnoz smudge out using Picasa, but I was less-than-successful. I've got to get some photoshop classes from Gatton.

At Scotto's we scooped up some tasty lunch and a ball of fresh mozzarella. We also grabbed a hero roll because I know how much J loves tomato mozzarella sandwiches. We'd need a lot of bread.

I forgot to mention that Harbe's finally had their own corn for sale at the farm stand, so we scooped up a bag of six ears. Later in the season, I'm sure I'll be lugging home larger sacks so that we can eat some now and freeze some for the winter.

Enough about the extra stuff - let's get back to the shares.

Mesclun mix? Easy. Salad. I figured I'd make the roasted beets with baby greens and fried goat cheese and candied pecan salad I've seen variations of on most restaurant menus recently. This covers the lettuces and the beets. Cool.

Not too cool. After roasting and peeling and slicing the beets (and turning my hands a glowing purple in the process), I mustered up the courage to taste some. Nope. Nope. Nope. Don't like them. Nope. Not gonna happen - for me, at least. J loves them; thank heavens! I'll make the salad for him!

The zucchini found itself in a tasty pair of zucchini pies. That's a recipe for another post. It requires more attention.

The white cucumbers and some carrots and jalapenos and onions found their way into some pickling jars as part of the Great Pickle Experiment of 2009. That, too, is another recipe for another post.

The potatoes, garlic, and parsley will make for a nice batch of lyonnaise potatoes for breakfast later in the week, along side of a couple of the amazing eggs we pick up with each share. These potatoes are a childhood favorite from a restaurant in New Orleans that probably no longer exists. I try to recreate this recipe a couple of times each year. I guess it's time to try again. Mmm...starchy deliciousness.

I'm sorry to say that I don't like peaches either. Don't ask. J, on the other hand loves peaches; but, I'm sorry to say, he didn't like these. Evidently they were mealy and tart and otherwise flavorless. Oh well.

The cherries ended up in J's belly when they started to get fuzzy too quickly to get them into my food dehydrator. Super ripe fruit requires quick action and I was hoping the cherries would hold out until Tuesday. They didn't, so J enjoyed a lovely dessert of fresh cherries tonight.

The blueberries are destined for the food dehydrator. The resulting dried morsels will be wonderful in scones on a very cold day when firing up the oven not only results in a delicious treat, but helps warm up the kitchen and my chilly bones.

Did I cover it all? Whew! Okay, enough writing - time to get cooking!

Scent of a Tomato Plant

There is nothing more perfect, more heady, or more aromatic than the smell of the leaves of a tomato plant. I can often be found out in the garden rubbing my hands along the tops of the tomato plants and taking deep breaths, hoping to inhale as much of the grassy, herbal, mineral scent as I can. I've been known to rub tomato leaves on my wrists and walk around all day sniffing myself as if I had just gotten a sample of Chanel No. 5. Tomato plants smell that good to me.

While surveying our lands last week, J and I noticed the first of our grape tomatoes turning red.
We had to exercise the utmost in restraint to not rip the almost-perfectly-red beauties off of their vines and gobble them down on the spot. No, the first tomatoes would be the most perfect tomatoes. We would wait...(not so) patiently...wait...until the tomatoes were absolutely perfectly wonderfully red and ripe and ready to be devoured.

That day came last Sunday.
The photo doesn't do these two little gems justice. They were vibrant red, plump, just firm, and warm from the sun. J and I couldn't even wait to get the kosher salt out of the kitchen. We tapped tomatoes (you know, like clinking glasses) and popped our little rubied fruits into our mouths.

Nothing beats the taste of the first real tomato of the season. especially when it is eaten outside, straight off of the vine, and still sun-kissed. It was rich - slightly acidic but very earthy. This bite always has me regretting every bullet-proof hothouse tomato I suffered through during the winter and spring. This singular bite of tomato perfection has me swearing off tomatoes between the months of October and July (a promise, I admit, I am too weak-willed to keep). This perfectly juicy-sweet-musky taste of sun, soil, and fragrant tomato leaf is one I'd like to freeze in time and bottle. No other taste of tomato comes close to it. I will eat tomato after tomato after tomato this summer. I will subsist on tomato sandwiches for days at a time. I will cook them into sauces and soups. I will toss them into salads. I will stuff them into tacos and falafels and salad wraps. I will eat so many tomatoes that I will not want to touch another tomato (until the urge returns sometime around January or so). Not one bite of any of those many tomatoes will be as perfect as that first bite, in the yard, next to J, feeling the sunshine on my face and smelling the scent of my tomato plants.

I'll need to get over it, because I've got a garden full of tomatoes starting to grow and ripen.