Monday, July 11, 2011

Garden Notes

We harvested the first of our garlic today, which, together with the basil flourishing in the herb garden, means that pesto season has officially begun. The other significant news from the garden is that the blueberries have begun at last to bear fruit, and if we're not getting the hundreds of pounds per year we hoped for (seven years ago!), we're getting just enough each day to add to our morning yogurt or to sprinkle on pancakes. They are delicious, and we are grateful.

As for the green beans, they are beginning to come in a handful at a time: not enough for making dilly beans, but a reasonable amount to steam for dinner. Excellent by themselves or served with a balsamic vinaigrette and minced basil or mint.

The mint was a benign little plant when I picked her up at the market, but put in the earth, she has become a voracious creature threatening to overtake both the parsley and the basil. Means I've had to both invent new ways of using the herb (muddled mint in tea! on cucumbers! in rice! in salads!) and, on occasion, trim her overreaching tentacles. Harsh treatment perhaps, but in my garden, nothing is allowed to threaten the basil.

No tomatos yet -- it is early in the season, after all -- but I decided to rush things a bit and buy some organic tomatos at the market to try out a recipe for Spicy Tomato Salsa from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving... just to see if we'd even like it. I ratcheted up the heat a few degrees by substituting dried chipotle chiles for some of the dried ancho chiles called for and by doubling the quantity of crushed red pepper. The result: smokier than we are used to, and a little sweeter, too, but amazing, completely amazing flavor. Excellent with chips and guacamole, and a divine compansion to huevos rancheros.

It was my first salsa, but it probably won't be my last. I'm still aiming for something a little more tangy, a little less sweet, and it's looking like we'll have enough tomatos come August that it will be easy to experiment a bit.

Projects like these definitely involve some work -- spending an hour peeling, coring, and chopping 12 cups of tomatos, not to mention the 3 cups of onions as well as numerous jalapenos and cloves of garlic, had me momentarily fantasizing about a food processor... until I started reading reviews of food processors and realized that all my memories of tomatos & onions turning into mush were grounded in actual fact -- but having a garden makes it hard to avoid learning how to preserve its bounty: the produce is just too delicious, and there is always way too much of it. When you put the usual surplus together with the memory of spending way too much for way too little for the same items from November to March, the argument for preserving what you grow is hard to resist.

All to say: there are a few other food preservation projects in the works this summer. The dilly beans I mentioned earlier, for example; blame a recent addiction to Rick's Pick's Mean Beans for this one. This corn and red pepper relish. Sauerkraut (fermented, not canned), with caraway seed and maybe juniper; something to help me break my budget-breaking habit at The Brinery. I even have plans for those violas: they are destined to be preserved in sugar syrup, then used to decorate cakes.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

First strawberry shrub

A shrub in this case refers not to a bush, but to a fruity syrup mixed with apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar, of which a tablespoon or two (or more!) is added to your favorite sparkling water, vodka, or rum. According to the Virtual Linguist, the word shrub comes from the Arabic word sharab for wine, or shariba, meaning drink. What they are for certain is completely refreshing; totally delicious.

Shrubs will keep for up to a year in the refrigerator. At the rate this one is going, we'll be lucky to keep ours through the 4th of July weekend.

Thanks to Serious Eats for the recipe, and to Food in Jars for pointing the way...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Wishful thinking: what I'd like to see in my refrigerator right about now

None of these treats is a meal unto itself, and none of them takes very much effort to prepare. With a few of them on hand, though -- and something to throw on the grill -- you are well-prepared for anything from a quick lunch to a spontaneous feast. If only I could find someone willing to wash and chop and prep, this is what I would like to keep around:

1) Pesto. Because pesto is the little black dress of summer; goes with potatos, grilled fish or chicken, pasta (of course!), even in salad dressings. Around here, some of us have been known to eat it straight from the refrigerator, with crackers, and call it lunch.

2) Slow cooked tomatos. Start with a dozen or so perfectly ripe paste tomatos (roma, san marzano, etc.). Split lengthwise and remove the seeds. Sprinkle with finely minced garlic and a little salt, then drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 275-300 for 2-4 hours, or until they are completely collapsed but not crispy. The long, low heat accentuates their sweetness, intensifies flavors, and renders this perennial best friend of the vegetable garden into something a lot more seductive, completely irresistible. No matter how many I make, none are ever left.

3) Guacamole. To eat with chips and lots of salsa fresca (#4, below). To encourage frequent refills of excellent homemade sangria.

4) Salsa fresca: diced tomatos, chopped onions, minced jalapenos, dressed with lime juice and salt; to go with #3 and #5.

5) Sangria. The kind you make from red wine, fresh fruit, and a generous hand of brandy. The kind that will take you from sunny afternoons on the porch to philosophical reveries under the stars. Coupled with background music from Stan Getz, might even prompt you to consider taking flamenco lessons. That kind of sangria.

6) Iced tea, both black and green, with plenty of muddled mint in each.

7) The green bean salad that my friend J. makes: green beans steamed to a perfect crisp, dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and paired with thinly sliced shallots, diced tomatos, toasted pine nuts, lots of thinly sliced ribbons of basil, and the very freshest of diced, fresh mozzarella.

8) Cucumbers in a light vinegar and sugar dressing. Traditionally served with a dainty accompaniment of thinly sliced chives. In our household, more frequently clobbered with chives, mint, and dill, plus a generous dose of red pepper flakes. Very refreshing.

8) Potato salad: Preferably with lemon, olive oil & herbs, but in a pinch, I'll make do with the kind made with mayonnaise, pickle, celery, and chopped shallots.

9) Pickled carrots. One of my latest addictions, especially the spicy version pickled with garlic and jalapenos from The Brinery in Ann Arbor. Crisp, salty, spicy, even a little bit sweet, and good for you as well! Definitely addictive. Theoretically, an items I can buy (and thus, technically, not entitled to a place on this list), but given the difficulty of making it to the farmer's market this year, one of those things -- along with sauerkraut -- that I may need to learn how to make.

10) Chocolate sorbet. Because what is summer without dessert?

11) Deviled eggs. For a quick protein boost. And because we always have lots of eggs around.

12) Fruit salad, just about any kind. My current favorite is a mix of berries and nectarines with a light sugar syrup mixed with lime and mint. Am still trying to duplicate the melon salad I had at Zingerman's last year, the one with watermelon, canteloupe, blueberries and mint:

Haven't got it yet. Will let you know as soon as I do...

13) Some kind of black bean salad with roasted red peppers and roasted sweet corn. Always improvised. Different each time. Absolutely essential.

So that's my list. What's on yours?