Friday, August 24, 2012

A summer pattie

This might sound like heresy, but I was never a fan of the typical summer cookout. And now, with the information out there about what gets encased into a hot dog or the pink slime that makes hamburger helper seem like a whole grain extender I am glad to have had a contrary response to a summer picnic table. I realize I was having the same reaction to these foods as I would to a fast food meal and not surprising because thrown on the backyard grill or packaged as a happy meal these were the same products.

Not to sound too un-American I do love a well-made sausage, however, it is usually from a small batch butcher -- how I carve the smoked pheasant sausage of Quattro Farms from New York State. A heaping of grainy mustard and I am good to go. A burger on the other hand is a different kettle of fish. I needed to be deeply hangover before I found myself jaws unhinged eating a burger – and it has been decades since I have gotten that blotto. I do like to participate in rituals though, I do find myself making burgers just never pre-formed. It is too simple to buy the ground meat (I usually go for buffalo, pork or chicken) and concoct my own with a liberal seasoning of fresh herbs and perhaps smoked paparika. Fish versions require the additional step of grinding up the meat in the food process before moving forward with an idea. Plus, I don’t like the burger to be about the “pilings” on and the subsequent mess I will make. No, I want the meat to stand on it own with it own unique flavors. A simple garnishment will do, thank you.

Tilapia Burgers – yields 6 pieces
1-pound tilapia – roughly chopped (shrimp maybe substituted)
2-tablespoons Texas tarragon leaves
2-teaspoons thyme
1-tablespoon grated ginger
1-celery stalk - minced
2-egg whites
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a food processor place the tilapia and pulse to break the fish down. Add in the tarragon, thyme, ginger and celery and process to fully incorporate into the fish. Remove the fish to a work bowl and mix in the eggs, salt and pepper.

Form the fish into 6 patties, and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of an hour in order to allow them to firm up.

Cook on the grill for about 4 minutes a side, or under the broiler.

Onion-Tomato Relish
1-small red onion
1-teaspoon salt
¼-cup fresh lime juice
1/2-pound ripe tomatoes
1-tablespoon shredded lemon verbena leaves

Cut the onion in half through its root. Slice each half into very thin julienne, and toss with the salt and lime juice. Allow the onion to sit at room room temperature for about 15 to 30 minutes.

Slice the tomatoes into thin strips and toss into the onions along with the verbena leaves. 

Serve at room temperature or cold.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Fruit

Today it was announced that some sliced apples are being recalled due to the possibility of listeria contamination that were distributed to some fast food chains. Now, of course this is but another reason to stop eating at these kinds of food outlets but apples in summer? Yes, I know there are varieties of apples that ripen in the summer, like the Lodi, but these are sour apples. It takes the cooling of autumn to bring in the crisp, crunch of a Jonathan or Fuji. This the season of the peach, plum, blueberry, watermelon and cantaloupe if that is not enough of a selection try a raspberry, fig, blackberry or apricot. Almost every region in this nation has some fruit, weighted with maturation and full of sweet, juicy fabulousness wanting for you to bite in.

And, most fruits that we eat require no cooking, and a few asked just to be peeled then seeded. The vines in my garden are chockfull of watermelons and cantaloupe swollen by water and heat. This my second year growing both of these, and really my first year having planned to have cantaloupe. You see, last year I had a volunteer that relieved its self mid-summer and how could I say no to it. I figured it most be of strong seed stock to have pushed through the tilling, and weeding (perhaps not so diligently on my part) to make it to maturity that I saved the seeds for one. I have had half cantaloupe almost every morning for the past two weeks; gave some way to eager hands and even cubed some for a place in the chest freezer.

I still have a couple of watermelons in the garden and a couple sitting on the dining room table, and I am a waiting, finger crossed, for my blackberries. I will eventually get to apples but that is not for at least another month, and at that time I will be willing to slice my own. 

Cantaloupe Salad – yields 6 servings
½ cantaloupe – seeds discarded, and peeled
½-pound cucumber (approx. 2) - peeled
1-red bell pepper
1-yellow bell pepper
4-ounces ricotta salata cheese
1 small red Thai chili – minced
1/3-cup mint leaves – chopped
¼-cup Thai basil leaves – chopped
1/3-cup fresh lime juice (from approx. 1 large lime)
2-tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Dice the cantaloupe, cucumber and bell peppers into ½-inch squares, and place in a large work bowl.

Cut the ricotta salata into ¼-inch cubes and add to the cantaloupe. Mix in the Thai chili, mint, basil, lime juice, olive oil and black pepper into the cantaloupe to thoroughly to distribute.

Refrigerate for an hour before serving. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

And, they continue to come

The start of this summer has been a scorcher punctuated by four straight weeks of not a drop of water falling from the sky. When the dry spell finally broke, it rained across the road but not a drop managed to find its way into the backyard. The large elm or oak, I am not sure what it is, has dropped its leaves in reaction to this starvation and much of the lawn crunched under foot. However, down by the garden a ring of verdant, healthy grass continued to grow as it syphoned off water from the daily dosing I gave the garden.  Amazingly, I lost nothing though I will admit to a less than prolific cucumber output, which is a disappointment to my pickling jars.

I think the tomato plants might have preferred a more consistent water supply though I wont complain about its output. It is the other “tomato” in the garden that is overwhelming me – those husk tomatoes clearly loved this summer. Their generosity has been felt by almost everyone I come in contact with as I foist upon them a bag full of these giftwrapped gems. And, I still find I have a more than I can eat on any given day.

In the cupboard are preserves and conserves; the chest freezer has a few gallon-sized bags filled, suspended for when there are just a memory, and dinner has featured them in salads and desserts.

I think even if I planted them with a bit more thought toward succession harvesting I would still be dazed by its daily volume.

Husk Tomato Bread – yields 7x3 loaf 
½-cup canola oil
1-cup sugar
2-teaspoons vanilla extract
2-cups husk tomatoes
2-ounces chopped white chocolate
2-cups all-purpose flour
2-teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees.
Butter and flour a loaf pan.

In a work bowl whisk the oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla together until thickened and pale. Stir in the husk tomatoes and white chocolate.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Mix the flour into the eggs to combine. Pour the batter into the loaf pan, and bake in the oven for 35 t 45 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. 

Cool on a wire rack, and invert once cooled.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

So many spoils

Those dog days of summer bring on unrelenting humidity, blazing heat and multiple cooling showers a day (and not necessarily downpours from the sky).  But it also fills every farmer’s market and CSA box with the greatest selection we tend to have at any other time of the year. Right now, our meals should be textured by the crunch of sweet corn, overly wet by juicy tomatoes and bounce from sweet to hot due to the schizophrenic readiness of peppers. Dare I ever buy a melon from a grocery store again after being cast under the magical affect of its musky perfume?

We don’t have to wait until after a rainstorm to see a rainbow there is one every night on our plates for we are assaulted by every hue of the color wheel.

How do you deal with this generosity? Is there nothing more distressing than a prefect peach going bad on the counter?  Oh sure, at a farmer’s market you can buy a pint of this and a quarter pound of that. But what about those of us who are getting more than the week’s worth through our CSA’s and backyard gardens? Even the sweetest of tomatoes gets redundant by the end of the season.

For me the answer is in squirreling away the day’s excess. Freezing whole tomatoes for a winter’s sauce or soup and slicing some with a sprinkle of salt to dehydrate in the summer sun; and then, there are the afternoons spent roasting, peeling and seeding peppers to be stored in the refrigerator under olive oil. The incendiary Thai chili that has fruited with great profusion is being bottled in the form of hot sauce to get me through until next year’s supply returns.

Today I feast assured I have planned for tomorrow. 

Chili Sauce – yields approx 1-quart
1/4-cup fresh lemon juice
3/4-cup distilled vinegar
1-tablespoon salt
2- lemon grass – roughly chopped
1/2-cup Thai basil leaves
1/2-cup Vietnamese cilantro leaves
1-cup lemon balm leaves
1/4-pound red or yellow Thai Bird's Beak Chili

Place everything in a blender and process until completely smooth. Transfer to a sterilized glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator.