Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Never will say good-bye

I am just amazed that it is the end of August, and Labor Day weekend is upon us. It seems it was a mere few weeks ago that we rented that roto tiller to get the new garden prepped. I fretted that laborous weekend that the plants that were being planted was in no way going to be enough to supply us with an adequate supply of food. Clearly, the novice in me had no idea what to expect. I had no idea how aggressive cucumbers would be or the continuous crowning of okra. Yes, there have been disappointments along the way; cauliflower that was an early casualty and a few plants that dogs trampled as they learned the garden was off limits. Now, almost four months along I have not bought more then onions, garlic and potatoes from the farmer’s market, well of course that is not including proteins but I am politicing for chickens.

Happily my garden is not finished. Surprisingly the watermelon has set yet another fruit leaving a tally of eight watermelons in various stages of readiness, which is quite exciting after the less than stellar start I had with this particular fruit. That first one I was so sure was ready turened out to be white and bland. I can report am I now successfully recognizing when to snip it from the vine. The cucumbers are winding down, no longer yeilding six to eight engorger fruits a day – I am sure come January I will long for my daily excess. And of course, the autumn plantings that have been started – another go at cauliflower as well as broccoli, carrots, beets and Romansque Broccoli along with Tuscan kale, arugula and Rossa lettuce will hopefully be on my plate in the months to come.

Preparations have been being made for the long, dark days that are ahead of us when prehaps just the kale and cabbage may be able to survive dull,chill of the winter. I have put up vinegar, aromatic salts and sugars, pickles of various kinds from peaches to jalapenos, and there is a freezer filling up with freshly harvested, peaking okra, black-eyed peas, tomatoes and corn kernels. I think I have enough chili sauce in storage to keep me sweating through the winter,
although I know my plants have not yet completed their production so I am confident that I can get at least another quart put away.

Saying goodbye to summer for me only means the beginning of the jacket wearing season but not saying goodbye to the foods of the season.

Watermelon Gazpacho with Feta – serves 8 to 10
3-cups chopped watermelon – seeds discarded
1/2-pound cucumbers – peeled and diced
1-red onion – minced
2-beefsteak tomatoes – seeds discard and then diced
4-scallions – minced
1-jalapeno – minced (seeds discarded to lower heat)
¼-cup chopped basil leaves
½-cup chopped mint leaves
1/4-cup fresh lime juice
½-cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4-pound feta cheese – diced

Diced the watermelon taking great care to discard the seeds. Pour any juice through a sieve to catch the seeds and let the juice drain into a large bowl. Place all the ingredients into the bowl and mix to thoroughly combine. Chill well. Serve in bowls garnished with some diced feta cheese.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Say Yes to the Dish

I definitely live by the culinary credo, if I have not had it I must try it.
I take this maxim with me every time I go to the farmer’s market, specialty food store, and especially when I am traveling.

There have been some funky foods I have consumed on some of my journeys. The fish gonads in Tokyo gave a bit of a shiver; chili and calamansi lime drenched fried pig ear in the Philippines was definitely ear, and then there was the cumin laced roasted cuy (guinea pig) that I met alive in the kitchen and then, an hour later had it sitting in front of me. I think this was the most difficult thing to get down for as an American I kept seeing its habitat with exercise wheel, now vacant. I ate it,for with enough hot sauce I can get anything down plus there is nothing more rude then refusing food a people prepare for you. That is how I felt when in Provence I went to the market loaded up on almonds, peaches, lavender, summer savory and a rabbit, head still attached. My friends that I was renting a house with were aghast, and talked of going out to dinner. I slinked into the garage with a cutting board and knife, and rendered the rabbit a more “American” market prefect. They loved the civet I made that night but I was not in love with their provincial attitude.

Heading to a farmer’s market tends to offer a slightly less exotic selection and definitely without the cringe factor. Though it does offer mysteries to be solved and the courage to take them on regardless of my security about a guaranteed outcome. Sometimes it is as simple of finding a new herb like shiso or Mexican mint, which is straightforward – like the scents then try it. The first husk tomato I peeled and popped in my mouth immediately let me know I had just met a new best friend but then I had to start playing with it. I made a rose scented jam, white chocolate breading pudding and finally, I dared, to more it to the savory side of the kitchen with a highly successful corn salad. Remember living when I lived in Sydney and would go to Paddy’s Market on a weekly hunt. It is there that I first bought and used breadfruit, and lotus seeds as well as very Asian green that market offered. There was a terrific farmer who would only sell me my week’s choice if I was able to name it and gave him a cooking idea. I learned very choy he sold, and excited with the idea of having to come up with a recipe on the spot. Just recently, I added sweet potato leaves to the myriad greens that find its self being wilted in my wok – it was a terrific revelation to find out that they were edible, and yummy.

All these experiences has made me fearless when it comes to meeting new things – some I will like; some I will reject, and others, will become oft called upon members of my repertoire. It is only through saying yes, have I been able to build a culinary palate that gives no tip to my own cultural heritage and has allowed me to find pleasure in a bowl of freshly made tofu drizzled with sweet syrup to fumy slabs of baby backs to a gently tossed bouquet of herbs, edible flowers and nascent greens.

Lavender scented Braised Rabbit – serves 4 to 6
2 rabbits – cut into quarters
1/2-cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2-tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots - diced
2 stalks celery – diced
2-teaspoons lavender - gently rubbed
1/4-teaspoon fennel seeds
1-cup rosé wine
1/2-cup crème fraiche
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix the flour with the cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Dredge the rabbit pieces in the seasoned flour, and then shake off the excess.

Heat a 10-inch skillet over a high heat, and add the oil. Brown the rabbit pieces in the pan in two to three batches. Remove the rabbit from the pan. Then into the pan add the onions and celery cooking until translucent, adding an additional tablespoon of oil if necessary.

Return the rabbit pieces back to the pan and add the lavender, fennel seeds and wine. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the flame to a simmer. Cook the rabbit, covered with a lid slightly askew, for 35 to 45 minutes. Swirl in the crème fraiche, salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A mid-summer dream

Summer finds its peak
Swollen cucumbers, tomatoes, melons
I feast; I save seeds
Stores of potential
Everything cycles

Roasted Pepper and Heart of Palm Salad – yields 6 to 8 servings
1 can heart of palm – drained and rinsed; cut into 1/2 inch rounds
1 red pepper – roasted; peeled and seeded
1 yellow pepper - roasted; peeled and seeded
1 small red onion – sliced a thin julienne
1 medium sized tomato – thinly sliced
1 cucumber (peeled if waxed) – slice into thin rounds
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves – chopped
2-tablespoons chopped oregano leaves
1/4-cup fresh lemon juice
1/4-cup white wine vinegar
1/3-cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 ripe avocadoes – sliced for garnish (drizzle with lemon juice to prevent browning)

Gently toss all ingredients together, except for the avocado, in a large bowl to coat the vegetables. Lay the vegetables onto a platter and garnish the salad with slices of avocado.

Friday, August 5, 2011

small moments of joy

There are a few items that show up during the summer months that send me into a possibility frenzy, which subsequently translates into an eating fit. Up there on that list are any tomatoes picked from the vine and brought directly to me. Green gage plums are just ridiculously fabulous and hark back to those Victorian botanical illustrations I love to collect. Of course, the succulent, stupidly saccharine cherry needs to do nothing but show up. There are blushes of aromatics that send my olfactory system to places that is usually relegated to the conjuring of a romance novelist. These months of luscious, redolent marvels charges my creative juices and even though the temperature on the sidewalk is hot enough to fry an egg on certain days, I am psyched to get down and sweaty. Ok, in the spirit of full disclosure I will turn the air conditioner on.
One of nature’s true edible astonishments is the husk tomato also referred to as the ground cherry or cape berry. I don’t care what name it goes by as long as it finds itself in my mouth. Covered in a papery skin, similar to its cousin the tomatillo they also share meaty, dense interior but that is where any familial resemblance ends. The husk tomato is large pea sized fruit that when ripe is hued a sun baked golden-orange, and its mouth…there is a reminiscent sweet pineapple up front flavor with a young goat cheese back. Its culinary versatility has taken it from a corn and chili salad to a blueberry and white chocolate bread pudding to a rose kissed compote. I have even laid them out on a screen and allowed them to raisin for a winter hit.

Last week I bit to a long desired summer seductress, the fig.
When living in the northeast I just flat out refused to eat any fig in the tri-state area. The climate in the New York area cannot support a fig crop, and any of the warmer states that delivered to Gotham did not need to stop at my place. They are so fragile that carrying from the tree is precarious. In order to get these magical fruits across the country they must be harvested unripe, which just won’t do for they fail to continue ripening after they have been plucked from there limbs. Visit a fig tree and you will quickly become aware you are not they only visitor – swarms of bees, yellow jackets and wasps are already keen to potion contained within that wisp thin, leathery skin. I have not been in California, during the summer, for a few years now and it has been too long since I have gotten that buzz from biting into the ancient summer siren. A couple months ago when I was in South Carolina at a friend’s house, and I spied a healthy, lofty familiar tree I was ecstatic learning they survive the gentle frosts of the zone 7 I am living in. And, so the wait began. Well, the wait is over, and pinked, fleshy fruits joyfully have come home with me.

As a kid I marked summer’s days listening to the beatings of the cicadas intrigued by the mysterious sound. Now, that summer soundtrack is the hum of desire and creative passion.

Husk Tomato and Fig Cake – 9-inch cake
2-cups flour
1-teaspoon baking soda
1-teaspoon baking powder
1/2-teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
1-cup whole husk tomatoes
1-1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
12 figs – cut in half

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

In a large work bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. The mix in the husk tomatoes making sure they are distributed and coasted in the flour.

With a whisk beat the sugar, eggs, and yogurt together until very smooth.

Then mix in the flour mixture, and macadamia nuts.

Pour the batter into the cake pan, and float the figs along the outer parameter the pan, and then a smaller circle in the middle of the cake.

Place in the oven and bake for about an hour, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Cool completely before un-molding.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A new day...another day

It has been an atypical summer for me. No swimming through the city gagging on the burning, evaporating dog urine that most of year secretly coats the sidewalks. I have not gone to the beach, and yet I am bronzed though this time with a farmer’s tan. I cool off by taking the garden hose and dousing myself then get back to work. Of course, there is a minimum of three showers a day – two of them usually cold, and the tub pools with browned, gritty water. The only remnant of my morning routine I recognize is the putting up of my coffee water before I step into the first shower of the day.
For the past 10 plus years I would hurriedly gulp down my morning jolt and make a bee-line for the farmer’s market wanting to be the first to reject anything. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday were my marketing days scrambling home with canvass bags brimming with the bounty of some else’s efforts. Now, seven mornings a week I can be found by 7am in the garden, coffee in one hand, hose set on shower in the other. Yes, I could more easily program the sprinkler head to oscillate letting water cascade hither and thither freeing me to check emails and the news to make sure the world has not imploded overnight. Well, I have my new priorities this season, and damn the world my plants need me more! The lavender should not get watered less I lose another to excessive moisture. However, the adjacent herbs adore being fed and the Vietnamese cilantro prefers a damp environment. The watermelon needs a good soaking, as fruits are still setting up; the poor suffering sorrel is being kept on life support until the cooler weather sets in and it can flourish once again. All the capsicum plants are in constant need and not all same needs. And, lets not forget how the tomatoes need to have their leaves washed daily (keeps the aphids down) but does not want a drenching drink (will cause the tomatoes to crack). Then I need to baby sit the radish, beets and broccoli seeds that I am sowing for an autumnal harvesting those seedlings need to be kept moist during these 90-degree days. So, you see the sprinkler is just not smart and sensitive enough to care for this eclectic assemblage of summer. You would agree, that perhaps next year I could do a better job of placement but if no one needs me…..

Gazpacho – yields 8 to 10 servings
6-cups chopped ripe tomatoes
(seeds discarded to lower its intensity)
1 lime - juiced
1/4-pound cucumber – diced
1 small red onion – finely diced
1 red pepper – seeds discarded; then diced
1/4-cup Thai basil leaves (or common) - chopped
1/4-cup Vietnamese cilantro leaves (or mint) – chopped
1/4-cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon – juiced (approx. 1/4-cup)
Salt to taste

In a blender place the tomatoes, jalapeno and limejuice. Process until everything is broken-down and very smooth.

Pour in a large bowl or 1-gallon glass jar and add the remaining ingredients. Place about 8 ice cubes into the gazpacho and mix everything to combine. Refrigerate at least an hour before serving.