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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

First Summer Harvest, Stir Fry, and Vanilla Ice Cream with a Balsamic Fig Reduction

Hidy ho neighborinos!

I know I've been a bad blogger, but I promise July will be better than June. We've been super duper busy around here getting the garden established (which I can't wait to show you) so we haven't been doing a ton of interesting cooking. Honestly, we've been doing some fine cooking, just not a ton of photographing :)

I want to share with you a simple stir fry we make around here whenever we're feeling uninspired, but first I have to share the second big harvest of the garden, and the first offical summer harvest: KALE!

If you don't know about kale or don't like it, may I kindly shove you in its general direction? Aside from being insanely good for you (how many leafy greens do YOU eat a day?) kale is versatile and delicious.

We've got a few big bunches that have grown amazingly well from the basement into the plot.



Look how huge it got! It's bigger than his head!



We wanted to do something very simple with the kale, and our dear friend Maggie had a great tip for making a simple dressing with a whole avocado, about 2 tbsp. lemon juice, a healthy dose of salt and fresh pepper, and the chopped raw kale.


I mashed the dressing together with a fork and tossed the kale to cover with my (clean) bare hands.




You'll see how the final product looked when the whole meal is revealed.

The rest of the garden is looking fantastic. Here's the lettuce that remains, getting bigger by the day.



The beans are also flourishing. I should probably thin these out, but haven't yet...




The bushes are pumping out raspberries like crazy! It's all I can do to keep up. Hopefully some interesting things will come from them this year...




Finally, we're lucky enough to have bought a house with one of these in the yard-



As you can see, things are moving quickly around here, and as usual I feel it's all I can do to keep up! (Did I mention I'm also treaching a full load this semester?)

Since we've been so busy with our hands in the dirt lately, we wanted to make a dinner that was tasty and fast, but delicious and interesting. For us, that usually means stir fry. We had a chicken breast leftover from the pasta sauce, so


Here's where the evening began.




(Almost) everything I used for dinner is in that photo, including dessert.

First, let me introduce you to a friend of mine: this chili basil paste


I get it at my local Asian grocery store for very cheap. It's pretty much chili paste with basil leaves, garlic, sugar, vinegar, and some other great stuff. It's salty, spicy, and has that fruity taste of hot chilies. I loooove it. It's from Thailand, and this jar is $1.59. I *highly* recommend walking into a foreign grocery store and forcing yourself to leave with something you've never heard of or used before. You'll always be led into something delicious and special.





We've also started having our stir fry with noodles that we boil, then pan braise with a little oil and some of the liquid from the stir fry.



We chopped up three Vedic green peppers and some yellow onions with the leftover chicken. We minced up a couple tablespoons of fresh ginger and garlic. These went into the oil first, just until fragrant when I added the vegetables. Once they were softening, but still very crisp and brightly colored, I added the sauce and the chicken.

Stir Fry Sauce

1/3 c. stock
1/4 c. soy sauce
1 tsp. sweet or hot chili paste
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar




also very cheap at the Asian store.

optional:

1 thinly sliced green onion or small bunch of chives

1 tsp. of sesame oil



This was quite reasonably priced at $5.89. Sesame oil is an extremely flavorful, delicate oil that should really only be used in finishing and is not to be heated much. It makes and excellent salad dressing, and the nutty quality really completes this sauce's flavor.




We cooked this down until it was thick enough, then served it over the noodles with the kale and some green beans from September.

Cooking away. (One of these days the cabinets will be hung and the kitchen will be finished. I have no idea when that day will come, but I'm sure it will.)



Served up:



The finished kale:




The stir fry:




Mmmm!

Now, onto dessert. The husband requested plain vanilla ice cream. Again.

I learned that there are two kinds of ice cream recipes: flavored milks, and custards. The former just require you to mix milk with some flavoring agent like soft fruits, or seeds like vanilla. The latter require you to make a simple custard, which is a little more complicated, as it involves eggs. Having tried both, the flavor and texture of the custard is slightly better, the milk mixes are delicious and so much faster. I'd rather have you make your own quick vanilla, which really takes about 1 minute on hands-on time, than to think you have to spend the few minutes putting the custard together.

That said, it's quite easy.

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz, god of all things sweet.

Vanilla Custard Ice Cream

Heat up on medium heat (don't boil!)

1 c. milk
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. sugar



(I used unrefined sugar that I got from the Amish store. Regular granulated sugar would be fine, but I wanted to try using a less-processed sugar.)

Have ready

4 egg yolks

Whip the yolks, and add a little of the warm milk to the yolks, tempering them.

Then, add the yolk and milk mixture to the warm milk.

Add

1 vanilla bean,




split down the middle, putting both the seeds and the bean to the milk.



Steep the vanilla and cook the eggs until the liquid coats the back of a spoon, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom.

Pour the egg and milk mix into

2 cups milk (he calls for cream, but I didn't have the heart)

straining the vanilla pod.

Cool thoroughly and freeze according to your machine's instructions. (If you don't have an ice cream machine, David has some great tips on making ice cream without a machine)

I wanted a special suace to go with the simple vanilla, so I made a basic


Balsamic Fig Reduction


combine in a pan

1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
1/2 c. water
5-7 dried figs, shoppd into small pieces

Reduce this until the figs are soft and the liquid is syrupy.

Serve warm over ice cream. :)



Enjoy your long weekend, and next time I'll share my secret tomato habit with you...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fresh Pasta and 15 Minute Tomato Sauce and the First Harvest!

Hiya!
Most of us are having trouble dealing with all the rain and grey skies these days, but I think I may have a dish that will can serve as just the sunny reminder you need that it is indeed spring and beautiful (delicious) things are coming into season all around us. Late spring means tomatoes are finally starting to be palatable, and around here that means it's time for the fastest, easiest, most flavorful tomato sauce we know.

While my weekday dinner preparations are by design very quick and simple, I tend to seek out more involved meals to savor on long Saturdays. usually while I listen to a podcast, which is usually about food. This is why I chose to make some fresh pasta this weekend. I know fresh pasta can seem intimidating, but it's actually quite easy and the results are satisfying and significantly different than dried pasta. (I don't say better, because each one serves different purposes well)

Before I get to the dish, I have to celebrate. Our babies are growing up! This weekend, we harvested the FIRST anything out of our first garden EVER! It was LETTUCE! It was GREEEEAT! (And very, VERY dirty) Pretty huh?






That kale is going next. I am so happy with how well these grew this year. I think I'll do twice as much next year and try to stagger it a bit better. Non-stop kale for a few weeks is something I think I can handle. We'll see what becomes of this-



Onto the meal!

I looked at a TON of resources for fresh pasta and this recipe is a true amalgamation of about six different recipes. I started with three cups of flour total. I decided to use half semolina (corn meal) and half unbleached unenriched white flour. Make a well in the center of the flour.



Then, add 4 whole eggs and 1 tbsp. olive oil (I got this stuff at my local Middle Eastern grocery for pretty cheap.)




Pour your oil into the well



Then put the eggs into the well and start mixing it up with your fingers. This is where you have to put the camera down because your husband is yelling at you about the eggs all over the counter, but trust me. It'll be fine. Do your best to bring everything together. Knead for 7-10 minutes, until the dough is shiny and smooth. (You may need to add more liquid or flour )






Knead this for a while, until it looks pretty. Like this.



Hey look! I got this new kitchen cart! I got it super cheap on craigslist. It sits by the window for me to cut things on and take pictures on. (here it is with some of my awesome mac and cheese)



First, divide the dough into four equal parts.

Then, roll out the dough. If you're like me, you'll have to do it with a rolling pin because you can't find the handle for your pasta rolling machine. X-(



Dust these generously with flour and roll them up.



Slice 'em.



And hang 'em up to dry. I hung the strips over a spoon braced over a couple Mason jars. These dried for 30 minutes or so while I prepared the ingredients for the sauce.



Now for the sauce.

Start with some garlic, of course. This is from my local Asian market. Isn't it cute? (The quality is fine, though I much prefer the variety of garlic types that show up in my farmer's market in the late summer.)





You'll need 2 pts of cherry or grape tomatoes, 1 small yellow onion diced, and some minced garlic. I used 5-7 cloves. You might want to only include two. We like our garlic very very strong in tomato sauces.

We chose a cheap white wine that was on the drier side for this dish, a Sauvignon blanc.



We decided to include one chicken breast, chopped into 1/4 in. cubes. This isn't necessary and turned out to be more than enough meat for the occasion. I'm so happy and surprised as to how little meat we've been eating lately. It's been better for our bellies and out pocketbooks.




Get a large wide pan (I used my saucier, a skillet would be fine.) heat up

1 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. butter

throw in the onions until they're translucent. then throw in the garlic. then add in the tomatoes and cook until they're as soft as you want them. For me, this was just less than five minutes. Then, deglaze with

1/4 c. white wine
the juice of half of a lemon


Use these liquids to scrape the bottom of the pan, getting all the good bits.



In another pan, fry 1-2 strips of bacon. This came from my farmers market. The owner is so.sweet. to her pigs, and it REALLY shows in this bacon which has the perfect marbling and smoke flavor. I've been buying bacon each week from her ever since....



Enter the fresh pasta, boiled to al dente. (In my case, 8-10 minutes)




Voila.




Supper.



Pretty darn quick and easy.

The take-home message of this post is this- get out to your farmer's market, buy what looks good, put it together in a simple but thoughtful way, and enjoy.

Late spring is good!

Early summer is GREAT!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Garden Check In, Farmer's Market Haul, and No Meal (sorry!)

Greetings my lovelies!

I don't know about you, but I am never sure if my perceptions of weather trends are accurate. I grew up in this area, and am constantly asked to share my state with my students who come from around the world. While I have always pointed to fall as my favorite season, perhaps because it coincides with my birthday, I must say, spring is beginning to edge into that front position if this year has been any indication.

We normally think of spring and fall as barely-there seasons, ephemeral transitions wedged between miserably cold and unbearably hot. But for some reason, this spring has been slow, and glorious. Still the mornings and evenings are cool, and the warm sun in between is welcomed by bare shoulders and legs that are still a little shy emerging from months of coverage. I'm not sure if I have always been unfounded in my understanding of spring as so short, but I'm ready to embrace the realization regardless.

(You know, I did grow up in the City of Five Seasons, the fifth being the season to enjoy the four :P)

Perhaps my recent affection for spring comes from the joy of my first real garden in my first real house, or my expanding sun-dress collection. Either way, I'm energized by the weather and thankful to live in a place where beautiful things grow naturally.

Oh, and blue skies-






Speaking of growing things! The garden is so amazingly crazily interesting and exciting.

I took these photos a week ago and things looks so much bigger now.

This being my first time starting seeds and planting them in my yard, I have learned many lessons about the exponential nature of growing food. This has resulted in two somewhat hilarious situations at the homestead.

The first of these culminated on our second wedding anniversary. The other persists, and I'll explain it shortly.

Being that it was our second big anniversary, (and it rained again) we were in a celebratory mood last week, and decided that it was finally time to harvest The Radish.

See, I started my radish seeds along with my tomato seeds (face palm), not connecting the idea that radishes come up very quickly and tomatoes take significantly longer. Thus, only ONE radish seedling made its way into the bed we tilled in the back yard. (I'll get to the tomatoes in a minute.)

This one radish THRIVED. It was a French Breakfast radish, so it was meant to be long and thin. We let this guy go until I could get a good photo and say goodbye to the little guy I'd looked at for so many days in a row, all the way from the basement.

Being married for two years seemed about right. Here he was-



All cleaned up. He was very crunchy but mild, and will certainly be planting them again (better) next spring.



He was eaten on a baguette with fleur de sel, and this local butter-



We can't live without this Amish-run store. They carry a diversity of products at a very cheap price. This is where I get all of my dried beans, pasta, and fruit, tons of spices, and usually where we get our grass-fed beef from local farmers. Look for a bulk foods store in your area, or look for buying clubs in your area .(here's an example) Having a well stocked pantry really makes cooking easier, faster, and better. (Seriously. Fish sauce has changed my life.)


So the radish illustrated one failure in my long journey of seed-starting, and another is still glaring at me from the front and side of my home. Tomato seedlings, about 60 of them.



The hubs and I dug (BY HAND) room for about 9 of them, giving them 2 ft between each other in rows 1 ft. apart, but haven't so much found room for the rest of these guys. They will likely end up in 5 gallon buckets. (If you have any buckets please give them to me now. I'll give you tomatoes in a little while, I swear.)

They are all doing very well, and I can't bear to part with too many of them. That said, I've been trying to pawn them off, largely unsuccessfully, on my family, friends, and coworkers.

The plot is looking great. The kale is strong, and the lettuce and beans are growing very very quickly.

Last week-









Tonight (camera balanced on a railroad tie)



Now that you've seen my humble first attempt, I'll regale you with my purchases from the pros.

Some beautiful local bacon (SORRY it's blurry, but the marbling is fantastic. This plus the Stringtown beef and butter made our anniversary bolognese, which I did not photograph. mmmm.)




I did manage to take a photo of the carrots I chopped up for this. Not to toot my own horn, but I have certainly improved at cutting things since I first started this blog. (ALMOST TWO YEARS AGO!)



The rest of the haul:














Hey, look what my hubby made all by himself!!



And look how cute my dog is!



Hey, remember the flood? Yeah that sucked. But a bunch of the food on that post is great! :D

Here's hoping that the small amount of water my basement has received this spring will the the closest we come to that again.

I admonish you, dear readers, get your butts outside, in spite of the gray skies and occasional downpour, and soak up the last of the season of new beginnings!
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