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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Summer is waning...

We tend to eat much more simply in the summertime.
With loads of fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden, and lovely, bright orange-yolk freshly laid eggs from the pullets, we eat whatever is fresh.
A quick sear on the 'real' charcoal grill and zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, poblano peppers and kale tossed with chives, oregano and thyme become a feast. A little salad of fresh red leaf lettuce, Diva cucumbers and cherry tomatoes tossed together with some olive oil, rice wine vinegar and a lightly poached egg on top round out the meal. Adding a rib eye or chicken thigh or bratwurst to the BBQ just makes it even more fragrant and mouth-watering on the summer weekends!
But, the weather is starting to turn in the Kalamth Basin and our thoughts are turning to autumn. Last night, it was 34 degrees. I actually put a light blanket on the bed last night- of course, I kept the window open- I'm not ready to surrender to the cold just yet!
I might have to pull the remainder of the tomatoes soon, and put the heat lamp on in the coop at night for the chickies!
It's been in the mid 70's today with a light breeze- lots of sunshine, but a lot cooler than the past couple of months, so it's time to start bringing in the pumpkins and spaghetti squash to cure...and time to think about fertilizing the grass for snow, cutting back the plants and mulching for the coming winter, and preparing in general for the hard freeze that is coming.
Since it's been a little cooler at night, I've been making more soup-stew type meals.
I recently made an absolutely delicious recipe that was so tasty I have to share it! I guess it could be a summer recipe, or spring recipe, too...but it was warm, and very comforting!
It was originally a 'Shrimp Risotto with Chive Germolata' from the complimentary sample "Cuisine at Home" magazine that I received ...but I made it a little bit differently, because I am not a fan of risotto. I know, I have no taste- I am not cultured- but really, I dislike goopy, runny rice.
First, use your microplane grater to zest an entire lemon.
Then, fry 4 strips of applewood smoked thick bacon. OK, you can use whatever bacon you like.
When nice and crispy, chop finely and combine with 2 tablespoons each of finely chopped chives, fresh parsley and garlic. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and set aside.

I am very fond of the 'great grains' pack from Trader Joe's. It contains couscous, quinoa, lentils and several other tasty grains of varying textures. It's very easy to cook, and we always buy a few bags whenever we run across a TJ's when we travel. Instead of risotto, I made a a 'half serving' which makes about 1.5 cups, using the seafood stock. 

Here's the recipe I used...
Peel and devein 1/2 lb. of shrimp, saving the shells.
Place the shells, 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup of chicken stock, 1/2 cup of chopped onion, 5 whole peppercorns, 4 sprigs of fresh parsley and 1 bay leaf in a pan and bring to a boil on high heat. Boil for 5 minutes, and then lower the heat to medium. Cook for 15 minutes. OK, yes, I did add all the other shells I've saved over the summer, so yes, you do see lobster shells! Turn the heat off and strain the mixture into a bowl, squeezing every bit of juicy goodness out of the shells and veggies! Discard the solids.

 Melt 1 tbsp. of butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup of finely diced onion and slowly sweat the onion. Don't allow it to brown! Add 1/2 cup of Sherry and bring to a boil. Boil for about 1 minute.
Use this stock to make the 'Great Grains'. (Or if you want to make risotto, saute 2 tbsp. of butter and add the onion, add 1/2 cup of arborio rice and saute for 2 minutes. Add the sherrry, and saute for 2 more minutes. Add 1/2 cup of stock at a time until it's absorbed by the rice. Keep adding a 1/2 cup at a time until the rice has absorbed it all and the rice is tender, 20-25 minutes.)
Add the shrimp, and 1/2 cup of frozen peas to the rice or grain mixture. Stir for a couple of minutes, until the peas are hot and the shrimp is cooked through and pink, about 5 minutes.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of grated nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional)
Off the heat, add 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese and 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir well, and serve with the BACON gremolata.
It was DELICIOUS!!! Kevin thought it was too 'lemony' with the gremolata, but he also does not like lemon or things like chicken picatta or veal if you like a light lemony, bacony and chivy-parsley topping, you will like this!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup and Panini Croutons

I received my Food Network Magazine on Friday, and I've been pouring over the usual. There are so many different things in each magazine that I want to make!
We are still having very hot weather in Klamath Falls...80s-90s during the day with cool nights in the mid to low 40s. We are very fortunate- this time last year, I was frantically picking green tomatoes to put in newspaper in order to not lose them to a hard freeze! This is the warmest September I have experienced here in the Basin...and that's a good thing for the tomato plants!
As a result of the lovely weather, we are getting nice, vine-ripened tomatoes every day! Well, we are getting tomatoes that the chickens aren't sampling...the little brats were jumping up, eating the bottom out of a not quite ripe but pink 1 lb. German Giant tomato yesterday! I was pretty irritated at them- but now it's covered with poultry netting, so I think I have a handle on that little problem! I don't mind sharing with the chickens as long as they are eating the earwigs, but there are NO earwigs on that side of the garden! Sigh.
Anyhow, I have been canning at least 2 quarts of roma tomatoes the past few weekends, and I made 4 quarts of tomato sauce that are resting in the freezer after this weekend!
So, back to the Food Network Magazine- one of my favorite celebrity chefs is Ina Garten, the former owner of the Barefoot Contessa in the Hamptons of New York. She also had a Food Network Show called, "Barefoot Contessa" and she has many cookbooks under the same title.
She was one of the featured chefs for this month and she made a lovely tomato-orzo soup with 'panini' croutons. I liked the idea, but I wanted to find a recipe to use up the many ripe tomatoes I had sitting on my counter. I found her recipe for Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup and decided this would be perfect with the panini croutons!
I was also lucky enough to find a nice size block of Gruyere cheese on sale at Dirty Bird (oops, Sherm's Thunderbird Market) and paired with a freshly baked ciabatta loaf, I made a delicious dinner (and lunch, and dinner, and lunch, and dinner...) 
I used yellow Lemon Boy and Firework tomatoes from the garden. Unlike Ina, I cut a small x into the bottom of each tomato, dropped it in boiling water for 20 seconds or so and then dropped it into a bowl of ice and water. I peeled off the skin and cut out the core, and squeezed out the seeds.
I also doubled the recipe....and I also doubled the amount of basil. It was delicious! Instead of adding kosher salt, I used 1 tablespoon of basil salt that I made in August- another Food Network Magazine recipe!
It was rich, flavorful and delicious!
The best part were the panini croutons!
I took a 1/4 slice of ciabatta bread, buttered on side, and placed it on the bottom of a George Foreman grill. (I knew it would come in handy someday!) Then, I added about 1/2 cup of grated gruyere cheese, covered it with another piece of 1/4 in sliced ciabatta bread, that was buttered on one side. I closed the grill for about 4 minutes. The bread got toasty, beautifully marked, and the cheese melted. I took it off the grill, cut it into small croutons, and garnished the soup.

This has to be the best tomato soup I've ever had! And the croutons....even better than a toasted cheese sandwich on the side! You have to try this if you have a tomato garden!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Festivity Corn Pudding

As promised yesterday, I am writing about our absolutely delicious Corn Pudding that rounded out dinner last night!

We are growing an heirloom type of corn this year that was given to us by a friend, Art Sayles. He sent us some dried cobs a couple of years ago. We've never grown corn before, and didn't really have the space, but this year, we reclaimed a patch of ground that had been decorative only and amended the soil with compost and mycorrhizae (a beneficial fungus that supports root growth- I've written about this before). We started the corn plants from seed in the house, and transplanted them in batches of 12 plants at a time, two weeks apart. We have 36 stalks...every single corn kernel germinated!
The corn is absolutely beautiful. Art said it's called, "Festivity" which can be eaten as a sweet corn, or dried on the stalk as a decorative corn. I can attest to the beauty, and deliciousness of the corn!
These ears are a week apart in's really interesting how they go from 'white' sweet corn, to a little speckled, to mostly dark purple. they are really beautiful!
The left side of the yard has been an herb/vegetable garden for the past 5 years, but the right side was covered with decorative bark since it does not get as much full sun as the left side. Well, apparently, it's sunny enough to produce a lot of corn!
Anyhow, I had 6 ears total that I had to pick yesterday, so I decided to make a delicious side dish called Corn Pudding. Here's the recipe I used as a guide by Ina Garten- called Sagaponack Corn Pudding
but, I did make some changes. I also cut the recipe in half, since I don't have 8-10 people to feed :)
I cut the kernels off of the corn for about 2 1/2 cups of fresh corn. The cobs went out to the chickens. They like corn, too-cracked and dried or fresh. They also like newly planted corn plants- I learned that the hard way.
I added the kernels to a pan with 1/2 cup of finely chopped onion and 2 tbsp. of butter. I sweated the vegetables for 4 minutes, took them off the heat and let them cool.
In a large bowl, I beat together two of the biggest eggs I had (the girls are still hit-or-miss on large eggs and forget about extra-large at this point in their laying life!) 1 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of cottage cheese. I was completely out of fat free half and half and ricotta, but I figured small curd fat free cottage cheese could be a substitute. I added 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and about 5 large fresh basil leaves, chopped up. After this was all mixed, I slowly mixed in 1/4 cup of cornmeal.

I also sprayed a 6 cup baking ramekin with canola spray and heated the oven to 375 degrees.
I didn't have any sharp cheddar cheese. Kevin doesn't like sharp cheddar, so I usually buy medium or mild or Colby, but I was out of that, too. I did have a block of Pepper Jack, however, so I cut off a chunk of about 3 ounces and shredded that up.
When the corn/onion mixture was cooled, I added it to the egg/milk/cornmeal mix. Then, I added about half of the cheese and mixed it all together. I poured it into the greased ramekin and topped it with the rest of the cheese.
I popped it into a baking pan and filled the pan with enough hot water from the tap to go up the sides of the ramekin halfway. I placed it in the oven, and let the heat do the magic! It took about an hour.

We also had a small rack of St. Louis cut ribs that I had dry rubbed with my homemade rib rub (for another day- it's fantastic) and baked in foil in the oven for 3 hours at 275. I added some steamed zucchini slices tossed with the tomato vinaigrette from yesterday, and voila! Dinner! It was scrumptious! And the purple and yellow and reddish and maroon kernels of the corn mixed with the yellow creamy and cheese-y texture was so pretty, too. I hope you try this recipe- it's pretty easy and you can adapt a lot of vegetables to this version!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette

I recently watched one of my favorite Cooking Channel Shows, "Chuck's Day Off". Chuck Hughes is a very talented and creative young chef and his show is always exciting- in the food he cooks, in his enthusiasm and in his passion for fresh, sustainable ingredients. I like that!
On the show I watched, he made a roasted halibut served over a 'Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette".  That made my mouth water, especially since I am looking for some creative ways to use the abundance of tomatoes I have in my garden this season!
I made a really tasty red enchilada sauce from scratch a few days ago- using Sweet One Million and Sungold cherry tomatoes. It was incredibly tasty, but very sweet. After watching Chuck, I thought a sweeter version of his Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette would be delicious made with the over-abundance of cherry tomatoes in my yard.
So, thanks, Chuck. Here's his original recipe with the halibut, which also sounds delish!
I made some changes.
First, wash, stem, cut in half, and seed a huge amount of cherry tomatoes. I used about 2 cups. Seeding cherry tomatoes is a pain in the neck, but worth it in this instance.
Then, get your homemade smoker ready.
This was a very easy technique. I have had a Chinese steamer for years- but never thought to use it for smoking in the kitchen!

Unless you want to ruin a heavy duty pan, line your pan with a double layer of foil. Turn the heat on high, and toss in a couple of handfuls of smoking chips- in this case, mesquite. When it starts to smoke, TURN ON THE HOOD/FAN. Seriously!

 Rinse your Chinese steamer basket out, and place the cut side up of the tomatoes on the trays. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt and add either some sliced green onions, or shallots, as Chuck suggests, or as I did, half a chopped onion. Then, top with fresh herbs of your liking- in my case, some fresh torn basil, oregano, and thyme from the garden. Let it sit for about 15 minutes.
Add about 1/2 cup of water to the chips when they start to smoke, cover the Chinese steamer, and place on top of the smoking chips.
Let it smoke for about 20 minutes.

Take the steamer off of the heat and let it cool a bit. Toss all of the smoked veggies into a blender. Add a little kosher salt and pepper, and if  you have it handy (I ALWAYS DO!!) add a tablespoon of roasted garlic.
Don't know how to make roasted garlic? Get a nice head of garlic, slice it across the root to expose the ends, put it on some aluminum foil, drizzle some olive oil and a pinch of salt over the cut ends, wrap up the foil and bake in a 350 oven for about 25 minutes. When it cools down, pop the soft, gooey cloves into a small container and cover well. Refrigerate. It keeps for a week ...ha ha, as if it will actually stay around a week! I add it to many, many dishes- the sweet, deep, carmelized garlick-y flavor makes everything taste better. You can even spread it on bread in the morning after is fantastic. No harsh, garlick-y breath or flavor, either!
Anyhow-I digress. Back to the vinaigrette...Toss in 1/4 cup of rice vinegar. Well, I guess you can use another type of vinegar, but I like the mildness of rice wine vinegar. Blend the heck out of the veggies and vinegar. Slowly add 1/2-1 cup of extra virgin olive oil in a drizzle as you blend. You don't want a runny, oily mess- just a nice emulsification.
Now, this had a very mild smoked flavor. I thought it was good, but I also added a 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika to bump up the smokiness.
This came out absolutely incredibly delicious!
I am not sure how to 'can' it yet, but as soon as I figure it out, I'll be shipping some to my niece, Lauren, who has already expressed interest in this unique flavor!
My batch made 4 cups of deliciousness. I'll be drizzling this on our zucchini tonight, and on a roasted beet, goat cheese and arugula salad on Monday for the Catholic Daughters potluck. No, I'm not joining. I'm just checking them out.
Now if I am really lucky, I'll be posting my amazing success with Festivity Corn Pudding tomorrow! It's in the oven as I write...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Pickle Everything!

This is my last free weekend for a while, I am afraid, so I really wanted to make a memory that will last...unfortunately, all the good hotels in Reno were booked (well, OK, there were a few rooms at $500 a night but that's not realistic with boarding the mutts, too) so we decided to delay a trip to Reno until possibly October. Bummer. It doesn't help that my sister is posting great pictures from Las Vegas this weekend.
It's probably just as well...I had a fridge packed full of produce that needed attention, and we really wanted to finish the sprinkler system in the back yard, so we are taking advantage of 4 days off in a row to get some big stuff done around the yard before winter.
I absolutely LOVE watching Michael Symon on Food Network. I like his style, and I really like how he makes fresh pasta, sausage and pickles on almost every Iron Chef show. Since I had a 'peck' of jalapenos that are just sitting in the fridge, I decided to add pickled peppers to my repertoire of recipes. I am not sure how much a 'peck' is, but I had a plastic gallon bag full of peppers, so I thought it qualified :)
Here's the recipe I used- adapted from Michael Symon's Live to Cook   and yes, I actually bought the book for the pictures, not the Kindle version...although I was sorely tempted because it only takes 15 seconds to download.

1 pound of fresh jalapeno peppers, washed
2 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons black peppercorns

1. Slit each pepper three times with a sharp paring knife and place them in a large glass preserving jar. Or, remove step and cut into slices and then put them in the glass jar.
2. In a non-reactive saucepan, bring the other ingredients to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes.
3. Remove from heat and pour the brine over the peppers. Place the lid on the jar and let cool. Once cool, refrigerate for at least a week before using, if possible.

They are still delicious if you only wait an hour or so, but longer develops the flavor. You can also use this same brine for any other kind of pickle- carrots, squash, green tomatoes, any other kind of peppers- use your imagination. If it's a hard vegetable like carrots, you might want to peel and parboil for a few minutes, but hey, I like the crunch of a crispy carrot.

I also made some pickled green beans, which you can also view above. I used this recipe and I am hoping they are spicy and good! We bought some locally made pickled green beans last year, and used them as a 'stir stick' in Bloody Marys on the weekend during football season, and let me tell you, they were fabulous! Our green bean plants are not producing very well this year, so I think one pint is all we will get...but I can always get some more at the farmer's market next week!
I made quite a few pints and quarts of actual pickles made from cucumbers, too.

The bright green ones are cold-packed before boiling. These should be pretty crisp, since I chilled the cukes overnight in a ice-water and salt bath, and cold packed them. I cooled the brine before adding it, and only boiled them in a water bath for 10 minutes. I'll let you know in 3 weeks if they are still crisp.
And, last but not least, I canned some of the tomatoes from this week. I figured, I have to get a jump on these. We should have at least another week of hot weather with cool but not freezing temps, so I will hopefully be canning a couple of pints every other day to stay ahead. Alas, we always get a hard freeze around the 15th of September, so once again, our guest room will become the tomato/pumpkin and spaghetti squash curing room. Here are two pints of delicious "Martino" Romas and one pint of Lemon Boy tomato quarters.
I love this time of year- the weather is wonderful, my garden is producing wonderfully well and I get to do a lot of specialty cooking to preserve food for all winter and spring...until the next harvest.