Saturday, September 22, 2007

Happy Birthday, dear garden!

Today we celebrated the Third Season birthday of our plot with gifts of compost, "worm doody" and the gently sprinkled application of sea kelp and fish emulsion.

We planted kale and kohlrabi, too.

Then I came home and planted dinosaur kale (nero, lacinato--you name it), ate kohlrabi, and encouraged the BBQers in the back to compost their grilled fish. Sort of the same day, twice.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lavender Blueberry Soup

Manissa wasn't so keen on this soup, because she loves blueberries so much it seemed a pity to alter them so throughly. But I like the rich--almost tart--mulled flavor of this curious soup. It makes use of lavender, an interesting and underused herb, and can compliment any part of a meal. I've tried it as a dessert, with yogurt or a dash of sour cream; I've used it as a main, baking the strained, pulpy blueberries into a cornmeal crust (see "vegetable tartlets" for recipe).

Blueberry Lavender Soup

2 pints fresh blueberries (or more)
1 cup hearty red wine
3 cups water
12 ounces of local honey*
2 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender
juice and rind of three lemons (and orange juice, if you fancy)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cloves
pinch salt, to taste

Put all in a stock pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer 10 minutes. Garnish with creme fraiche, fresh blueberries, lavender florets. Serve hot (on ice cream is nice) or cold (I used olive sourdough as a dipping bread--sounds weird, but it was quite lovely!).

*On honey--Dwayne Newcombe, of the Friday market in Union Square, has a lovely, darkly flavored bamboo honey which would pair really well with this soup. For a lighter note, try his linden honey. I used apple blossom honey from Toigo Orchards (my Sunday market in Tompkins Square), and accented it with manuka honey from New Zealand, as it is very velvety and rich.

Fall Squash!

Sunshine Kabocha, Portimarron, Red Kuri and Confection Kabocha--fancy Brazilian dance moves, or fabulous squash? From nutty to sweet, from yellow to orange, these guys are my new favorite thing.

Squash is really easy to prepare. My basic approach is to cut in it half, deseed it with a spoon, and bake them open-side down in a casserole dish or pie pan with about an inch of water at 350*F until they feel soft (use a fork, not your fingers)--about 40 minutes to an hour. You can spoon out the yumminess and proceed to:
--mash it with herbs
--eat it with cinnamon
--try it in a pie
--blend it into a soup

For this soup, I took these two guys, and while they were cooking up nicely in the oven, I sauted onion and pears in butter, added cinnamon, nutmeg, a touch of chilli powder, and a 1/3 cup or so of apple cider. When everything was cooked down and savory, wham! I put it in the blender. The result? a sweet soup, tempered by cream. In a moment of genius (and needing transport!) I let it cool just enough and then put it in a used OJ container. The soup picked up the subtle flavor, and didn't spill in my bag when I biked! Hurrah recycling, hurrah soup! The vegetable side was a "root mix" (garlic, ginger, turnips, carrots and beautiful blue potatoes) in a mix of spices. Ideally, particularly because of the potatoes, a beautiful creamy curry would do, but instead I just fried them in a light amount of peanut oil, adding spices to draw out the flavor. I have a bag of savory spices from Fiji (check January's entry to see the beautiful spice market!) that did the trick. Mmm!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Eggplants with Spicy Shallot-Tomato Sauce

God, aren't eggplants gorgeous? This sauce is really easy--and with the tasty addition of tumeric, a nice vacation from the wide range of Italian basil & tomato twists on cooking.

Eggplants with Spicy Sauce

Cut as many eggplants as you want to eat into round slices about 3/4" thick. Soak them in a bowl of saltwater (water, plus 1 tablespoon salt) for at least a half hour.

For the sauce:

In a food processor or blender, blend to a paste:
1/2 a large bell pepper (red is pretty and tasty, too)
4 medium shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves or more, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground tumeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
...with 4 tablespoons of water.

Set aside. In a pan, heat
3 tablespoons oil, preferably peanut (allergies--try corn oil)

When hot, add sauce paste. Stir and fry for seven minutes, or until the paste looses some of its moisture.

Now add:
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped

Stir 4 additional minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 cup of water. Cover and simmer 3-4 minutes.

Drain eggplants. Pour peanut (or corn) oil to 2" thick depth over medium heat. When hot, slip in eggplants in a single layer. Fry 7 minutes, or until golden brown on each side. Lift out with a slotted spoon; pat dry. Repeat until done.

Set the sauce over medium-low heat. When hot, put in the eggplants. Gently fold eggplants into the sauce. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature!

All the ingredients were so beautiful. I don't have a photo of the finished dish, but trust me, it looks ruby-red and delish.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Fried Green Tomatoes and Basil-ly Red Tomato Sauce

In about a week or two, worried for the approaching frost, a lot of farmers are going to start selling you something you wouldn't normally buy (except for that really cute movie)--green tomatoes. We have 'em in our garden, and once they get frost-bite and turn brown and rot, we won't be able to do anything with them, either. When trimming back the tomato plants, I salvaged these green guys so Keegan could make Fried Green Tomatoes. This is basically what he did:

Fried Green Tomatoes in Cornmeal Flour

Slice green tomatoes about 1/4" thick
Warm up a pan with 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Wisk 1-2 eggs in a bowl.
Put about 1 cup cornmeal in a bowl (we used blue cornflour).
Dip green tomato slices in egg mixture, then coat with cornmeal flour.
Fry both sides until crispy and brown.

When frying stuff, it's important to keep the oil clean. If you notice bits of flour are floating off and the tomatoes are soaking up more grease than goodness, just let the pan cool, wipe it out, and start again.

We ate these with a tomato sauce Manissa made. Everyone has their own method with tomato sauce--she says the trick is to squeeze the seeds and water out of the tomatoes before slicing them. Then (like applesauce), you just put the chopped parts in a pot with olive oil, add some onions (saute them in a pan a bit first), eggplant--whatever else you like in your sauce (zucchini, etc.) and a whole lot of minced garlic. Let it cook down (about 30-40 minutes), and then in the last 5 minutes add a ton of basil. You can see how big our pile was!

Look at this plate of food! Kimchi, eggplant dip, stuffed cabbage, tomato sauce with basil, fried green tomatoes, and good lord, breaded salmon (Alaska woo!). This magnificent party on a plate was followed by homemade, locally-grown peach sorbet.

Yellow Eggplants!

We recently harvested all these veggies from our backyard garden in the South Bronx. It looked too pretty to eat. Not! We ate all of it! It was awesome. We had tomato sauce with full-on basil, fried green tomatoes in blue cornmeal and eggplant dip (see below).

The yellow (as yellow as a banana!) and "lavender touch" eggplants came from the Howell Family Garden (at the Bronx BotGar), and were baked, peeled, mashed with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice into a delightful and easy-peasy eggplant dip.

Golabki!: Stuffed Cabbage

This Wednesday at market, I was given a cabbage. The last time I interacted with cabbage was six years ago, when I saw it being fed to manatees in Tampa, Florida. I remember it made them very gassy. Stumped for a more refined way to enjoy this interesting brassica, I asked my Polish coworker, Karol, for suggestions. Here's what I ended up doing:

Fill a pot with water and simmer. Place cabbage upside-down. Do not let boil begin to roll! Just steam the outer leaves until they turn a brighter green and soften. Remove from pot and let cool a bit. Peel back outer leaves (about 4-6).

Meanwhile: prepare 1 cup of wild rice (bring to a boil in 2 cups water with 1 tablespoon olive oil; simmer and cook 30 minutes).

While the rice is cooking, take your open cabbage and begin to carve it out. I just attacked it with a knife, taking care not to break the outer leaves that were holding it in shape as a "bowl." We saved the interior we'd cut out and our neighbor Beth came over and mixed it up into a Korean kimchee dish.

Chop 3 cloves garlic and about 1 inch of ginger. Once rice is cooked, mix in garlic and ginger with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, fresh dill (about 2-3 inches of feathery bits), and sage (I lightly crisped five leaves with olive oil).

Spoon rice mixture into cabbage. Fold outer leaves until it's nice and tight. Place back into hot simmering water, only this time, stem-side down. Steam for about 10 minutes. To serve, slice it any way you'd like. I cut it like a pie (because I like pie).

This is good hot or cold. We didn't have any leftovers to put in the fridge, or I'd tell you which is better.

Consider the Pickle.

This time of year, I start to stockpile. It turns out, pickling is easy. I chopped up some cucumbers, fit them into a jar, filled it about a third of the with vinegar, added water, added salt to taste (and sugar to taste, if desired), and added more vinegar until full. Brilliant. If desired (and desired it was indeed!), one can add a bunch of chopped garlic, shallots (because they fit better than onion, and are a bit milder), and "pickling spices," which run the gamut from cloves to cilantro seeds. You can buy a mix, or pull the seeds off your bolting plants, or pick and choose from your spice rack. I also pickled beets with vinegar, water, a touch of sugar, a cinnamon stick, ginger, and hot pepper flakes. You have only to boil them first and remove the skins. Theirs is the most beautiful jar: they are blood-red and juicy.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Green Chicago! a visit to the markets.

Back in Chicago to visit family, the documentary superheroes at sent along a mission: find and film urban beekeepers. A few trips to some spectacular farm markets later, I was off and running to visit the Chicago Honey Coop.

I met up with Dr. Israel in a beautiful community garden/urban apiary to talk about colony collapse, the taste of city honey, and everything bee. Over the course of the interview, in a reinvented abandoned lot on the South West side, I was stung three times on the head. Here Dr. Israel walks through his community garden at sunset, towards the apiaries.

Here are some other city pics: an urban garden against the skyline, lovely sprouts from Bill's market stand near Lincoln Park Zoo, and a garage crushed by a tornado near my aunt's house. Yes: tornado.

Easy Tasty Rice with Plums

I had leftover wild rice (actually a grass!) and a bunch of sweet, slightly brusied plums from the Tompkin Square farmers' market. Here's what happened.

Lightly butter a pan. Throw in the cooked rice. Cut plums, add with pine nuts (or walnuts) and saute until warm and juicy. Keep stirring so rice doesn't stick. Remove from heat. Add a heaping spoonful of goat cheese. Stir. Serve. Admire the salty-sweet-savory-nutty flavor. Beg for more.

You can make this with any fruit, any nut, any cheese and any grain. This one just happened to become the most lovely of pinks.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Butter-Fried Pumpkin Gnocchi

A foray along our garden fence through the forest of basil and tomatoes that guard it revealed, hurrah, our first fall pumpkin. With any squash, my first move is always to cut it in half, put it on a pan with a 1/2" of water, throw it in the oven at 350*F---and then use the next 45 min-1 hour while it cooks to thumb through all my recipe books deciding what to do. Soup, pies, pasta---squash is the reason I don't groan at the creeping cold. Happy September, and here's a really easy recipe that I'm making right now. Literally. There's flour on the keyboard.

Butter-Fried Pumpkin Gnocchi

1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon (generous) baking powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour

3 tablespoons butter (I used Ronnybrook, as always)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Whisk pumpkin, egg, salt, nutmeg and baking powder in large bowl to blend. Mix in flour (dough will be soft).

Dip 1/2-teaspoon measuring spoon into boiling water to moisten. Scoop up generous 1/2 teaspoon of dough and return spoon to water, allowing dough to drop. Working in 2 batches, repeat dropping 1/2 teaspoonfuls of dough into water, first dipping spoon into water to moisten each time. Boil dumpling until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to colander and drain.

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add dumplings. Sauté until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer dumplings to bowl. Sprinkle with cheese and serve. This recipe is also delicious with fried sage or thyme. The fresh leaves can be tossed into the pumpkin puree, or flash-fried until crispy to use as a garnish.

Makes 4 Side-Dish Servings.