Garden Produce

I’ve been displaying my non-refrigerated produce items on our dining room table like this for a while now. It’s turned into a seasonal food altar that I sit and contemplate while I eat dinner. I love the way it changes with the season: in the beginning of September I had plums, peaches and tomatoes; now it’s winter squash, onions, apples, and garlic. The limes are the only thing that aren’t grown regionally, but I just can’t seem to live without them! I think someday I’ll have to move to Mexico just so I can have local limes and mangos……

We had the perfect week-long leftover experience this week. I’m really getting into using leftovers throughout the week in new and exciting ways. It’s a way to use the time I have on the weekend to make quick delicious meals all week.

Last Saturday we had a friend over for tacos. Earlier in the day I started black beans soaking and made tomatillo salsa (the details of which are in the last post.) Towards dinner time I turned the beans on to cook. While Johnny cooked and seasoned the ground beef to perfection, I made fresh corn tortillas. We added grated cheese, sour cream, cilantro, fresh lime, chopped tomato, and avocado to make one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. Fresh tortillas really make all the difference – The tequila we drank with it didn’t hurt either!

The next night it was just the two of us and I made another very delicious time consuming meal. I had two thick steaks and I wanted to try a Tuscan Style Braised Beef recipe that’s in The Big Book of Italian Cooking. I’ve never cooked beef this way, and it seemed the perfect thing for a chilly rainy Sunday. I had to bastardize it a bit since I didn’t have all the right ingredients, but it still worked well. First I made incisions in the steaks, filled them with chopped rosemary and salt, and tied them closed with string. It called for “kitchen string” which I didn’t have, so I used hemp twine that I have for jewelry making. Then I browned the steaks on both sides and added potatoes, a carrot, an onion, and some sage and cooked that for a while with the meat. I then added a lot of wine (more than the recipe called for since I had a bottle I wanted to use up) and canned plain tomato sauce and let the whole thing cook for about 2 hours. the recipe said 2.5 hours, but we were just too hungry and couldn’t wait. Here’s what it looked like when it was done – the beef was so tender and delicious!

Now for the leftovers part. We had quite a bit of food left over from both of our weekend meals: black beans, a little cilantro, ground beef, and a lot of the cooked vegetables and sauce from the braised beef. On Monday we combined all of these things with the right spices to make some of the best chili I’ve ever had. I was a little concerned that the wine and herbs in the braised beef sauce would make it weird, but it wasn’t overpowering at all. We made some cornbread to finish the meal. We had enough chili and cornbread to feed us on Monday night and again for two lunches during the week. Genius! And we didn’t even plan it that way!

Now back to the items on my dining room table. Right now I’m totally enamored with apples. At other times of the year I go for months without eating any, but this October I’ve probably eaten an average of 3 or 4 a day. We have over 25 varieties at the co-op, so trying them all keeps me busy!

This is my current line up. On the left are two Spigolds, a beautiful crunchy variety that’s grown locally in Blue Lake. The next two are Hudson’s Golden Gem – an heirloom from Oregon. It’s a little soft, but the flavor is great, and I love the russetting. Last year we all swore these tasted just like buttered popcorn jelly bellies, but this year it’s not as intense. They’re grown in Mendocino County, not too far away. The next two are Blushing Goldens from Fortuna. I don’t know much about this variety, other than that I was surprised that they’re so much crisper and tangier than a gold delicious that I had to buy some! The last two are Ashmead Kernals which is a very old English variety. They’ve got a great flavor and the same russetting that I like so much. They’re grown at the same heirloom orchard in Mendocino as the Hudson’s Golden Gem.

The other item of interest on my table right now is my turban squash:

This will probably sit for a while by the Marina di Chioggia while I contemplate its beauty and what to do with it. I’ve heard that it makes a good soup that you serve in the shell. We’ll see if I have the time or energy to get that fancy! Johnny’s been calling it a “Spaceship Squash” which it certainly looks like when stood up with it’s stem on top:

Lastly for my garden update. It’s been raining all week and it’s stayed relatively warm, so my seeds have germinated beautifully. Still no sign of the carrots or garlic yet, but I’m not worried. Here are some of the salad greens. I plan to harvest most of them as babies, so it’s OK that they’re so close together.

Our project for the weekend is to make apple butter. We made our last batch in early September and it’s almost gone. We have apples on the tree by our front door that aren’t that great for eating but will be perfect for the occasion. They’re at the peak of ripeness right now.

No This Is Not Food But He’s Just So Handsome!

My Handsome Cat!

My Oatmeal Rye Bread turned out well last Sunday – really moist with a good crusty crust. The recipe was from the Tasahara Bread Book – a book I highly recommend. It does a great job of teaching the basics of bread making. I’ve made this recipe multiple times, and it never lets me down. It’s a bit molasses-y, which gives it a mild Pumpernickel flavor. I froze one of the loaves since I can’t imaging the two of us eating them before they get stale.

Here it is going into the oven…

and here it is coming out…

Last weekend we made apple butter with 2 big grocery bags full of apples from our tree. It cooked on low for almost 3 full days – Sunday morning through Tuesday night. We even left it on while we slept, which we haven’t done before. Previously, we’ve cooked it at a higher temperature for a shorter time. It’s the best batch we’ve ever made – incredibly thick and flavorful. The apples were pretty ripe and sweet, so I didn’t add any sugar. Cinnamon and Nutmeg are the only additives

Mmmmmm….

We yielded about 2.5 quarts. Johnny eats it every morning for breakfast, so I know it’ll pay to have that much around.

We had a few too many apples, so I made a pie. I made the crust from scratch – something I’m not really too confidant at. I did a decent job though. It could have been a bit flakier, but we had no trouble eating it all up! I used the Joy of Cooking Apple Pie recipe, except I didn’t add any sugar. Instead I used just a bit of honey. It was noticeably not sweet, but like I said, we had no trouble eating it! I tried it with some of my sour cream and a drizzle of honey – very rich, but very good!

I had the chance this week to buy a case of Long Island Cheese Winter Squash from one of the co-op’s distributors in San Francisco. I’ve been trying to get my hands on this particular variety for a few years now, so I was pretty excited. I bought two of them: one for a pie, and one for dinner tonight. They’re an heirloom from Long Island; they’re called Cheese because they look like a cheese wheel. I’ve heard they’re excellent for pies….They joined my Marina di Chioggia and Turban on the table. I’m definitely nearing my winter squash limit – I’ve got to start cooking these suckers!

I spent part of this week in Austin Texas at a co-op marketing conference. I stayed at the downtown Hilton, and got to explore the city a bit. The original flagship Whole Foods Market was within walking distance of the hotel, so I had to check it out. I was completely overwhelmed! It was way too visually busy, confusing, and insincere for my merchandising and political tastes, but they did have some crazy gourmet stuff that I couldn’t resist buying.

These are $6.50 chocolate bars that I just had to try since the flavors are so out there. Bacon and salt in milk chocolate? It sounds like a joke I know. We ate it yesterday when I got home, and I have to admit, it was awesome. Apparently the flavor was conceived when the creator was a kid and had chocolate chip pancakes with bacon on the side. Sweet/Salty is a rare combination, but I think I like it. The Bacon added an almost carmel-y rich flavor. The other bar we haven’t tried yet. It’s dark chocolate with black sesame seeds, ginger, and wasabi. Sweet/Salty is one of my favorite taste combinations. I just hope it’s not too wimpy on the wasabi.

I also picked up this weird produce item at Whole Foods: a Horned Melon. It’s actually grown in California, so it’s more local to home than to Austin….I looked up the grower online – it turns out its from the Central Coast. I’m not quite sure what to do with it – I’ll probably just put it on the table and admire it for the time being.

13.5 Pound Marina di Chioggia

This is a 13.5 pound ‘Marina di Chioggia’ squash from Willow Creek that I bought at the co-op this last Friday. I was going to cut it up and cook it tonight, but I’ve become too attached to it. I think I’ll let it live on my table for a week or so so I can contemplate it for a while.

The ‘Marina di Chioggia’ is an Italian heirloom squash from the Seaside town of Chioggia, near Venice. Chioggia is also the ancestral home of the striped pink and white Chioggia Beet – perhaps I should try to combine them in one dish! The ‘Marina di Chioggia’ is mentioned in Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but beyond that I can’t find a whole lot of information on it. While touring Italy, she found one at a roadside vegetable stand. The man assured her that is was the best tasting squash in existence. In Europe, squashes this big would probably be sold by the slice. I’ll have to either give some away, or maybe freeze some of the puree……

This is the small garden that I recently dug and planted in the back yard. I am a renter, so it was hard to make the decision to plant a garden – but I feel like growing food is something everyone should know how to do, and how are you going to know how if you never practice? Certainly this is a humble beginning, but one has to start somewhere, right?

The center circle is a pretty densely planted bed of salad greens: heirloom lettuces, arugula, etc. Around the outside I planted garlic, and some carrots. Today I put in a few tiny Red Russian Kale plants, and one little curly parsley.

One of the great things about Humboldt’s mild coastal climate is that gardening is feasible all year long. If all goes well, I’ll have fresh salad in January! For a Wisconsin girl, this seems like a miracle indeed.

Last night I made my first ever batch of roasted tomatillo salsa. We eat a lot of store bought green salsa, and I wanted to see how hard it would be to make some myself.

I bought a bunch of tomatillos at the farmers market, peeled them and put them on a cookie sheet with a local Sweet Italian Red Pepper, garlic, and a Cayenne pepper (all of which happened to be in the fridge.) I turned the oven on broil and roasted the veggies on a rack very close to the heat. When they started to char a little, I took them out and put everything in the food processor (minus the top of the pepper, and the garlic skins.) I added fresh lime juice, salt, vinegar, and pureed it. Delicious!