Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Our Lady of Perpetual Parsley

. . . and kale, and, alas, Oxalis too.

It's true. If I never wanted to grow anything but kale, tomatoes, beans, parseley, cilantro, and oregano, I could dispense with all deliberate planting.

Missed dropped tomatoes, kale plants gone to flower, bean roots hibernating underground, my garden is full of potential. If the circumstances are right, as in the tiny kale forest below, up they pop.

I let the parsley go to seed because the bees like it. Bonus is I never have to deal with fiddly parsley seeds and their picky germination requirements. Apparently, benign neglect is the key.

There are downsides, I assume. I haven't figured out all of the succession keys yet, so I have either "all" or "none" as the settings. Remember the Tunnel of Cilantro?

I also can't really choose with any pinpoint accuracy where these plants will show up. True confession -- I may see parsley all over as I may have flailed some seedhead branches all around while singing a few weeks ago. . . "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyyyyyyyyymmeee." Still, it's a generalized planting technique.

However, if you like serendipity, if you are lazy, and especially if you're willing to eat stuff when it feels like showing up -- I am still trying to force pint after pint of lovely Sungold cherry tomatoes on neighbors, and may hand them out as Halloween treats tomorrow -- I can heartily endorse it as a technique.

What pops up without effort in your garden?

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Big One

Our sadly neglected front yard apple trees put on a lovely show this year. I've been eating apples almost every day.

Sometimes it's been difficult to see them because they're hidden by volunteer Sun Gold vines, but the other day I was picking some tomatoes to force them on offer them to neighbors, and saw the apple of the season.


The other Big One?

She seems to be having a lot of fun and studying hard at college. We were lucky enough to get to see her play in a casual tournament last week.

Watching my kids play remains one of the very most enjoyable things I do.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Daily meals

Some nights it's all I can do to put food on the table -- sometimes going so far as to order takeout or pick up burritos from the very nice people up the street. But I do write a menu every week and try to stick to it. I also like to try new things -- tonight is one example.

I like gnocchi. At restaurants. At home, it's hit or miss. Out of nowhere, I figured I'd give it a try, and was inspired by some pop-up recipe with spinach. So I looked until I found a recipe I really liked. Also I'm trying to clean out the freezers, and we had two half-bags of spinach waiting. Coincidentally, they were exactly the weight specified. Yay!

After I baked the two kilos of Yukon gold potatoes, then riced them, mixed in the cooked and drained spinach and two cups of flour, it looked like this.

Then the dough got rolled out into ropes. It's pretty wet, so we'll see how it goes.

I tried cutting pieces with a knife

But decided that kitchen shears were easier and squished the ropes less.

 After cutting, a quick push with a fork makes groovy places. Apparently, it helps sauce cling.


A test run in the afternoon.

They're. . . okay. I think they'll be better with butter, Parmesan, cream, and nutmeg tonight. How could they be worse?

Edited to add -- gnocchi were only okay. Sauce was terrific. Oh well . . .

The other first is this plum torte. Very very easy to make. I can hardly wait to cut into it. I may end up taking it to spinning to share.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Making Do

The volunteer Sungolds have climbed the espaliered apple trees out front. The plant nearest the sidewalk is dense, with many smallish tomatoes. It reaches through the fence to the side where the toddler lives. She runs there each morning and picks orange tomatoes to eat.

The plant toward the back has bigger fruit and longer, whip-like branches. Denise helps me pick and slice, trying to save as many as possible. We feed them to anyone who will eat them, and still there are more. I think there will be cherry tomatoes until a hard frost. Will I manage to not pull them out before January?

Estimating how much to plant is an art I've not yet mastered. I thought three Principe Borghese plants would keep me in sun-dried tomatoes all year long. Given the vagaries of my irrigation system, I underplanted. I'm trying to keep up with the harvest and preserve as many as I can. I'm already eating them, chopped into quinoa, tossed with pine nuts over pasta, and in salads.

But drying them in the oven isn't resource-wise, and perhaps more importantly, I'm over-crisping them. I'm pretty impatient. There's a book in our local library about building a solar dehydrator that looks pretty interesting. I'd hate to buy an electric one.

In the mean time? I'm making do with the huge solar oven-like thing out front. The dash of the van is good for turning crystallized honey back into pourable liquid, and it's doing a great job on these tomatoes, too.

What passers-by think of it is beyond my knowing. The results have been wonderful.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Recipes for the Reds

When I'm overwhelmed with tomatoes or red peppers (although, really, "overwhelmed" and red peppers do not belong in the same sentence. It would be like being "overwhelmed" with health), I have a couple of go-to recipes.

Annie suggested that I needed to share my tomato recipe, and I hesitated. It's not really a recipe, more like a procedure. At any rate, here goes.

Take a bunch of your lovely, fresh, ripe ripe ripe tomatoes. It doesn't matter what variety; you just have to enjoy them enough to eat them somewhat concentrated. Wash and core them. Chop roughly. Set aside. Mince an onion, leek, or a bunch of shallots. Make the allium pile correlate to the amount of tomatoes -- a whole onion for a large pot, half for half, etc.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, melt about 1/4 cup butter and an equal amount of good olive oil together. Add the onion and saute on medium heat until translucent. Add the tomatoes. Cook until the skins are coming off of the pieces, and the tomatoes are breaking down. Hasten this process by smushing them with a spoon.

When they're cooked, remove the pot from the heat and either in batches in a food processor or with an immersion blender, blend until smooth. Pass the puree through a fine sieve and then salt and pepper the resulting liquid to taste.

You could then gild the lily by dressing each bowl with a lagniappe of something -- a spoon of cream? A swirl of pesto? A drizzle of good balsamic vinegar? Any of those suffice.

I try to make batches and freeze them because heating up a bowl of this in the doldrums of February, along with topping it with thawed cubes of pesto, is a great way to remind myself that the earth is still turning and spring will come again.

So that's my "made up" soup. I also cook things from recipes. This week, Denise and I shared another soup-centric meal that featured the Roasted Red Pepper Soup from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Since it asks for quite a lot of red peppers, I can only make this when the garden cooperates. Another good reason to go pepper-mad each spring.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Fried Polenta Croutons ** I do NOT often make croutons!
From Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Serves six

You will need some leftover polenta, chilled and cut into cubes. Why? Why? Why? I'm not a huge polentist, so skipping this isn't a challenge for me.

3 Tbsp olive oil -- I put "some"
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small russet potato, peeled and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp chopped fresh marjoram, plus more for garnish -- I skipped this part, because I didn't want to walk to the back corner of the garden
1 Tbsp tomato paste -- or you could use one smallish fresh tomato and not worry?
4 red bell peppers roasted and chopped
1 tsp Hungarian paprika -- In my case I misread and put in one tablespoon. Still, okay
Salt and pepper
Quart of water

Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and potato and cook, stirring frequently, until edges begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaves and marjoram, and cook, stirring, one minute more. Stir in tomato paste and cook for yet one minute more.
Add peppers, paprika, 1 tsp salt, a few grinds of pepper and the broth. Scrape the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer until potato is quite tender, about 25 minutes.

If you have a sister to watch the soup, you can drive to school to pick up a child who it turns out is not there, so you have made the trip for no reason. (She had gone to a friend's. Sigh.)

Fish out the bay leaf. I use an immersion blender -- seriously? They are so useful! -- but you can use a tall blender or a food processor, with care -- to blend until smooth. Taste and correct salt and pepper as needed.

Madison says to serve with croutons, but you can ladle it into bowls and top with balsamic vinegar and it's still fantastic.

To roast the peppers, I cut them in half, put them under the broiler before I did anything else until they were nicely charred, and then stuck them in the soup pot with the lid on. After they steamed for a while, I pulled off what skins I could but didn't get too crazy about it. I'm willing to eat some charred bits of skin.

I missed all of the in-between pictures (see going to the school) but this is what it looked like post-blending. Apparently I'm a huge fan of almost single-ingredient pureed soups!

But pureed soup does not, on its own, a meal make. In the "Get 'em while they're fresh" approach, we also had some beans. I've posted before about how much I love my dried beans.

However, I also enjoy shelled beans, and they're not easily available here. I figured I'd grab some of the green ones while I still had them. Denise helped me shell both kinds of beans, and Oona thought it was interesting, but was a bit less helpful.

 We just boiled the shelled beans until they were tender, but discovered that, like Favas, they had sort of a strong inner peel. We nipped that off and were left with starchy, soft, bean innards.

Finally! Dressed with a crunch of sea salt and some very good olive oil, they made a fine accompaniment to the soup. Can you tell I'm not a food blogger? Sigh. . . pictures.

Although Denise and I each yummed up our lunch, after demanding soup and beans, Oona decided that perhaps pb&j would be more to her preference. Have to eat lunch before getting ice cream!