Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

Salsa or Gazpacho? It Depends

Monday, August 26th, 2013

One day it dawned upon me that I have the same intention when making salsa or making the chunky summer soup, gazpacho. Either way, I’m going for a tomato base with veggies and a complex mix of sweet, salty and sour flavors, plus heat from chiles. That same day, I realized that most of the ingredients are identical, save a little more cilantro in the salsa and chopped cucumber added to the gazpacho. But, really, the combinations change every time. Jalapeno or habanero? Lemon or lime juice? Red or yellow or white or green onions or all four? Garlic cloves, garlic chives, or shallots? Red, green, yellow or orange sweet peppers? Salt or Vulcan Salt? Ground Black Pepper–always a resounding “Yes!” to that.

Today’s version started with the beautiful, meaty tomatoes from the Nicollet Mall Farmer’s Market, Thursdays, in Downtown Minneapolis. My own garden finally offered the first and then a second ripened San Marzano tomato to add to the mix. Lemon-colored peppers, green onions, chopped garlic cloves. I can’t help but stop and admire the burst of colors at this point.

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The vegetables always outdo themselves. The seasonings take a bit more thought. I use fresh lemon or lime juice and a splash of olive oil. Vinaigrette calls for about 1/3 lemon juice to 2/3 oil. I flip those proportions and lean into the lemon or lime juice for an assertive, bracing quality to the dish. Sometimes, I augment the chiles’ heat with Crystal Hot Pepper Sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. If gazpacho has the upper hand, I splash in some Worcestershire sauce. Instead of giving you exact amount, I advise calibrating these ingredients by your taste preferences as I do for mine.

Before the mix

Before the mix

The chunkier the tomato, the more the dish tends toward gazpacho. Yet, it’s easier to scoop a salsa’s single, large tomato chunk onto a tortilla chip (in Minneapolis/St. Paul, I recommend those from El Burrito Mercado, sold across the metro area and in their St. Paul HQ). OK, it may be even easier to scoop the more uniformly, chopped vegetables. It just depends.

For certain, I know that from now until frost, salsa/gazpacho will be on the menu almost daily.

Sweet, indeed!

Friday, March 1st, 2013
Tah Dah! Roasted Sweet Potato Burrito

Tah Dah! Roasted Sweet Potato Burrito


I’m craving spring, but the crocus and tulips are tucked under the snow.

Spring with its crocus, tulips, and daffodils has to wait out the snow. And, so must I.

Spring with its crocus, tulips, and daffodils has to wait out the snow. And, so must I.

To cheer myself, I made this a fruit- and veggie-focused day. My sweet supper idea satisfied my appetite and my spring-starved spirit. Step One: Peel one sweet potato, saving the peelings for a Trigger Kong Snack tomorrow. Cut into fries, about 1/2″ wide. Roast with a little olive oil in 400 degree F oven for 20 minutes. Turn them and roast another 10 minutes.

Sweet potatoes, nicely browned

Sweet potatoes, nicely browned

See result above:  I lined a whole-wheat tortilla with fresh green salad tossed with cherry tomatoes, green onions, and vinaigrette. I laid the fries over the salad and added a heaping spoonful of corn and black bean salsa. A dab of guacamole would have been nice, too.

Smarter than a…

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

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As I planted a patch of tulips in my backyard in the late afternoon, I imagined the chipmunks and squirrels (and I learned today that chipmunks are in the squirrel family) watching with glee. ‘Dinner is served! Just dig down six inches and we’ve got MREs (meals-ready-to-eat). Yippee!’

Who cares whether I’m smarter than a third grader. I just want to be smarter than the squirrel families who frequent my yard. I laid some obstacles to their dinner. The mighty fortress is pictured: Small but mighty.

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Rhubarb. Spring. Baking.

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

On Sunday, I enjoyed the pleasures available only on a late May morning in a friend’s kitchen, a friend with a huge rhubarb patch and a baker’s white (flour) thumb. Christine and her husband, Scott welcomed me overnight at their home on a cattle ranch in northeastern Nebraska. For supper Scott grilled pork chops from animals raised nearby and asparagus Christine had harvested that morning from their garden. (They would have served their own beef, but their guest, sadly, is allergic.) All delicious, served with generous helpings of warm conversation.

In the morning, I said, “Something smells wonderful!”

“Rhubarb muffins,” Christine told me. She bakes often and does it without fuss. Another pile of slim stalks lay in the kitchen sink. Later in the day, after I left, she’d make and serve a rhubarb dessert to friends. Her main focus, though, these days is completing her PhD thesis in nursing with an emphasis on qualitative care for elders.

We sat down to  warm muffins, hot tea, and cold orange juice. I ate two muffins.  Well, ok, two-and-a-half. Christine had stirred black walnut extract into the batter, adding another layer of flavor.

Prairie breakfast. Prairie air. Plenty fun!

Christine-style Rhubarb Muffins

Christine: friend, baker, experimental cook, gardener, PhD candidate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp vanilla

1 cup buttermilk, fresh or dried  equivalent

1 1/2 cups diced rhubarb

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 tsp black walnut flavoring

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Topping:

2 tsp melted butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

In medium bowl, combine brown sugar, oil, egg, milk and vanilla. Add rhubarb, nuts, and flavoring. Stir in dry ingredients, just until mixed. Spoon into prepared muffin tins, either greased or with paper liners. Combine topping and press gently onto muffin batter. Bake in 350° F for 20 to 25 minutes until wooden pick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean. Makes 18 muffins.

Oh, Fiddle(head)!

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

A plateful of fiddlehead ferns is the ultimate in local and seasonal food. I have a nice stand of ferns, especially thriving this year’s  cool, damp-enough spring. Last evening, I broke off as many of the cobra-headed spirals as I could find.  It came to about three cups of trimmed fiddleheads, all about the size of a quarter:

The harvest came to about three cups of trimmed fiddleheads. They have to be rinsed several times to get rid of the grit.

Blot the curls dry and then saute in a little butter.

And get out the forks!

 

 

Raised Gardens and a Chicken-Wire Memory

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

I started gardening in raised beds last year. Special thanks to my neighbor Terry who built them for me! This year I’m adding four more beds.

Simple raised bed tips:  1)  Use screws, not nails, to connect the boards. They’ll hold together longer.

2) Brace the corners.

Before filling with 1/3 peat moss-1/3 vermiculite-1/3 mixed variety compost, I lined the beds with newspapers to discourage weeds and chicken wire to discourage burrowing animals.

(A side note on the chicken wire: Always reminds me of  homecoming parades in our small town in South Dakota. Instead of flowers as they use for the renowned Rose Bowl parade, we stuffed fluffed-up paper table napkins in the chicken wire to create our creations.

Coming up with the design was great fun! Really!)

But, I digress. Gardening season is here and I’m ready!

 

 

 

 

Luscious tomatoes…and not-so-welcome critters

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

For the first time ever, I wanted a BB gun.  I wanted it bad.  First it was the rabbit, the one with a head and back full of lumps, probably tumors. The four-foot chicken wire fence around the raised bed garden put an end to the rabbit(s) nibbling on peas and sunflower seedlings. I thought I was home free.

When the first tomato turned red, I wanted to leap for joy.  When I checked it the next day, I wanted to find the critter that ate it. I suspected a raccoon, crawling up the trellis and reaching in to hold it firmly while she (he) took large bites out of both the giant Romas and the Russian Blacks.

I let go of my BB gun fantasy long enough to search the internet for another idea.  I found a suggestion to sprinkle Epsom salts and black pepper around the garden.  For good measure, I sprinkled pepper on the leaves and tomatoes, as well.

The carnage hasn’t stopped, but my efforts seem to slow the rate of loss.  I’m picking the fruit when it begins to turn red and adding more pepper, as needed.

Rites of Spring: Rhubarb

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Rhubarb tastes best to me when I pull it myself and cook it right away. Always pull from the root plant to get the ‘good end.’ I’ll be replacing my small, unproductive rhubarb patch this year. In the meantime, I watch for stands of rhubarb that look as though the owners have more than enough of the stuff or simply don’t pick it. I look for the pale green bulb, meaning the plant has “bolted” or gone to seed. The stalks taste best if it has only just gone to seed.

I’m not shy to inquire about the rhubarb. If the answer is “no,” no problem. But, it never is.  Yesterday, I was granted permission to pick what I wanted and got enough rhubarb for two pies and some sauce.

Adding eggs to rhubarb pie makes a creamy filling that balances rhubarb’s tart, sour flavor. Sugar is essential, of course. My mom’s recipe came from the Better Homes and Gardens “Red Plaid” and the Betty Crocker “Big Red” cookbooks she received as a bride in the early 1950s. Alas! Neither the latest BHG book nor the latest BC book still has the recipe. My copy of the Pillsbury Kitchens Family Cookbook, 1979, has it.

A side note: in my first job, I helped test the recipes for the dessert section of the Pillsbury book, working with experienced home economists who contributed to my development as a cook and food writer. Later I wrote as a staff food editor for Better Homes and Gardens magazine and worked often as a freelance food writer for the Betty Crocker kitchens.

Rhubarb Crumble Custard Pie

Adapted from the Pillsbury Family Cookbook, 1979.

9-inch single crust pastry

4 eggs

1½ to 1¾ cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon nutmeg

5 cups sliced rhubarb, ½-inch pieces

Oatmeal Crumble:

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ cup oatmeal     TIP: I use a mix of  steel-cut and rolled oats.

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ to ½ tsp. nutmeg

3 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup chopped nuts of your choice:  pecans, walnuts, almonds

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place pastry crust in 9-inch pie plate.

TIP:  Pastry cooks most evenly in pottery or ceramic pie plate than in glass or metal.

In large bowl, beat eggs. Stir in sugar, flour, and nutmeg; mix well.  Stir in rhubarb.

In separate bowl, prepare Oatmeal Crumble: Stir together brown sugar, oatmeal, and flour.  Cut in butter with pastry blender or two knives. Stir in chopped nuts.

Spoon rhubarb mixture into pastry. Flute pastry edge. Sprinkle filling evenly with Oatmeal Crumble. Bake in 400 degree oven about 70 minutes. Place aluminum foil collars around pastry edge to avoid over-browning. If it browns too fast on top, place a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over top. Bake until golden brown, filling is set, and mixture bubbles. Makes 8 servings.

Garden-in-Progress-1

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

My sixth garden is underway. The first two yielded not much, each lasting a season. By the third, I had years to make a garden that satisfied me and pleased visitors. The first year of Garden #3, I gardened with a friend who had big dreams for a vegetable garden. For the next seven years, I planted and tended mostly flowers, both perennials and annuals, and had a few tomato and pepper plants. I hauled barrels full of free processed cattle manure from the nearby ag university to my very dense, clay soil. I left that enriched, created garden reluctantly. For the fourth garden, I was confined to a small townhouse plot,

my request to expand voted down by the townhouse committee, many of whom voted for more rock landscaping at every opportunity and a minimum of green plants. This I remedied by moving to a small house with gorgeous chocolate-cake-like soil about five blocks from the Missouri River.

After another seven seasons I left this well-developed garden, again reluctantly. Too bad such things are impossible to transport, even if you take a few cuttings along with the move.

I think of the current garden, Garden #6 in a longer time frame. My gardens mark not quite all the major moves of my adult life. I’d like to stay put now, relieved that my footloose ways are calmed and my hummingbird heart has found a perch.

My mom’s good friend from childhood gardens this year, knowing that she’ll have hip-replacement surgery in the fall. In her early 80s, she doesn’t want to miss a summer of gardening. I understand. Neither do I!