Tuesday, July 7, 2015

So much pleasure

Things are moving fast. The tomato plants are being supported by a matrix of stakes, cages and ropes as their branches start to bow under the weight of all those maturing fruits. And, the plethora of flowers on the pepper plants makes me hopeful that I will be putting up plenty of chili sauce. For now, I am collecting cucumbers…cucumbers…cucumbers.

It always surprises me have prolific this sprawling vine is. With just two plants, today yielded over 10-pounds, and still quite a few were left still attached. Needless to say, cucumbers have been featured nightly. Still, the crisper is fill. A large jar of pickled cucumbers sits in the back of the refrigerator, and smaller gift jars have been passed out. Still the crisper is full. 

There are only so many you can put in a salad. I have served cold Cucumber/Sorrel Soup and Minted Cucumber Granite. But I have found that the smoothie I have been making, which is terrifically simple, while being extremely satiating can eat up a quick couple of pounds. Surprisingly, there is a good serving of dietary fiber in what is considered a water-saturated vegetable, and with approximately 20 calories per 8-ounces it is definitely a guilt-free gulp.

I know those leaves are going to brown sometime in September, and there will be a moment of loss, but I am determined enjoy the embarrassment of this plant’s generosity. I think tonight I make some cucumber kimchee.

Cucumber Smoothie - yields 2-quarts

2 pounds-cucumber
1/4 cup-lemon verbena leaves
1/2 cup-lemon juice

Peel, and seed the cucumbers (if they are small and have yet to develop a seed pocket do not bother removing the center pulp). Roughly chop the cucumbers.

Place lemon juice, lemon verbena and cucumbers into a blender, and process until completely smooth. It is advised to turn the blender on and off a couple of times to ensure that everything gets blended.

Chill the smoothie in the refrigerator, or serve over ice.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Celebrating …. everything

Evolution is inevitable, if…

The ideas I held, years back, when revisited today, clearly express the experiences I had up till then. I have been documenting recipes for more than twenty years, and it is always curious when I go back, and revisit a recipe. Why did I make that choice? How will I reshape my future endeavors based upon today -- yellow cheddar in a block was exotic at a time when I had such limited the scope for my expression. Now, moked Gouda is everyday, while I flipped for the lavender studded Truckle that seduced me in Sydney. It wasn’t until I moved out of the relative safety of my known world that I was jolted towards dynamic growth afforded by meeting things completely alien to me.

Oh, the awakening of creativity prompted by the strange and unfamiliar. An explosion of ideas and possibilities opened up for me – exploring and experimenting became the air I drew in. Encountering a host of ideas I had no concept of did not paralysis me, rather it became fuel for my core, and in return I exhaled a meal that exalted all that we share, and flights of fancy I wanted to share. 

Stepping into the unknown has been the greatest gift I have given myself. I’m thrilled to meet a new soul, and with foodstuffs…if I have not seen it before I buy it because for me inspiration is found in the void between comfort and fear.

Spicy Bar-b-que Sauce - yields approx. 3 cups
chipolte chilies
black cardamom seeds
small onion
garlic cloves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup ketchup manis
1/4 cup pomegranate syrup
1-1/2 pounds tomato
1/8 cup cider vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Cooking Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a 1 quart sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 60 minutes. Fish out the 5 cardamom seeds, and discard. Place the remaining ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Store in the refrigerator. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

I am melting

The summer solstice occurred less then 24 hours ago, and I think we landed smack-dab into the dog days. Soaring temperatures that reach back a week, with reports that it’s stretching forward. The sun fiercely pelts down, evaporating the morning dew upon kissing the horizon. Trying to be a step ahead, the alarm clock on my husband’s nightstand is going off at 5.30 am in order for me get my java jolt, and grab a hose. I am trying to make sure my garden is not stressed by the lack of rain, but by noon the
squash plants droop for heat exhaustion. Though the tomatoes and peppers haven’t flinched, rather a profusion of flowers have been put out. I am hoping the chili peppers are going to be extra-hot this year. All my herbs are feeling just dandy under these conditions, growing and putting out leaves potent with fragrance. The only downside is the push to bolt, which I expect in August. Add to my just-breaking-day chores: deadheading all 30 plus herbs I am growing. But I am always excited to use these scented denizens of my summer scape.  There are daily sun-teas; torn leaves in every salad; pestos to rubbed into grilled meats, and infusions to magically extract.

As for the people and animals around me, the oppressive heat has everyone seeking shade or the relief of an artificial environment. Personally, I stand in solidarity with my friends in the garden, and suffer the heat…okay, with a caveat or two like a daily dip in the pool and a big scoop of ice cream.

Mango-Rose Geranium Ice Cream – approx 2-quarts
3-magoes – peeled and pureed (3-cups)
6-rose geranium leaves
4-cups whole milk
2-cups heavy cream
1½-cups sugar
4-egg yolks

In a 2-quart sauce place the geranium leaves, mago pits, milk and cream, and warm over a medium low heat.

In the meanwhile, in a work bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar together. Once the milk concoction has warmed beat about a third of the warm milk into the eggs. Then whisk the warmed eggs into the pot with the remaining milk. Using a rubber spatula stir the milk/egg mixture over the heat for about five minutes – making sure you don’t let the egg cruddle.

Remove the milk mixture from the heat, and pour through a fine sieve into a bowl. Stir in the mango puree to completely combine. Store the milk mixture in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.

Pout the milk mixture into your ice cream maker, and proceed according to the manufacture’s instructions.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Herb Me

For the majority of my life the herbaceous notes I added to a dish came from a vendor, tied in bundles with twine, wire or rubber bands. I could never be sure how long they took to get to my kitchen – in the winter months it was a sure bet that they were long traveled before getting plucked by me. I attempted windowsill gardening, with more or less marginal results. I am an herb fanatic adhering to the philosophy: when in doubt toss in some more. I am clearly attached to fresh, verdant, scented leaves. Dried herbs have very little place in my cooking life with the exception of dried hyssop, which is part of my z’aatar blend, or lavender buds which get dried to be used well beyond its limited season.

The unfortunate part of loving to use herbs is that they really don’t have the greatest shelf life – basil seems to start wilting as soon as it’s taken from the earth and cilantro can go slimy awfully quickly. I am in the habit of purchasing herbs at the farmer’s markets getting bunches that were at least not already beyond pleasure. I would store these herbs in cups with just enough water to keep them perky never covering them in plastic so condensation does not start breaking down the leaves. Rosemary, thyme, oregano and mint have lasted the longest under these conditions. These days I don’t worry about my herbs going off in the refrigerator, no now, I obsess about them bolting and flowering.

I always thought I had a black thumb but in reality my windowsill that faced north just wasn’t bright enough and the truth is these aromatic weeds have proven relatively easy to propagate.

No longer am I buying bunches I get to capriciously decide what I am in the mood for, and just slip out through the screened-in porch with my snipping shears. There, in view from the kitchen window, is my herbal potager. In a 10x3 feet raised planter; sorrel for that ever so sour pucker; loveage and mistuba offer alternatives to celery and parsley, respectively. Basics like sage, thyme and chives give easy snips. At the one end, which is kept damp, Vietnamese cilantro flourishes while a leafy wasabi varietal and watercress are experimental this year. And, this is just a fraction of the edible, fragrant plants scattered around the gardens. From 5 different basils to summer savory to borage and bergamot I am able to perfume a dish on a whim and a whiff.

Smashed New Potatoes­ - yields 6 servings
2½-pounds small new potatoes - such as yukon gold, red bliss or purple Peruvian
3 to 4 garlic cloves - sliced paper thin
1-tablepsoon chopped - summer savory
1-tablespoon chopped thyme
1-tablspoon chopped rosemary
1-tablespoon chopped mint
Zest of 1 lemon
½-cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a 4 quart pot and cover with cold water along with 2-teaspoons of salt. Bring the potatoes to the boil and cook the potatoes until fork tender, about 20 minutes.

In a work bowl, large enough to hold the potatoes, mix together the garlic, herbs, lemon zest, oil, and pepper to taste.

 Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them and then using a large spoon or a spatula lightly smash each potato to just have them split open. Place them in the work bowl and toss the hot potatoes with the oil mixture to coat well. Serve the potatoes immediately or serve at room temperature.