Grilled Fruit and Chocolate Birthday Cake

This birthday cake was a wonderful example of serendipitous cooking.

We had a small get-together with some friends for Johnny’s birthday on Memorial Day. I had to work that day, so our friend Erin graciously offered to make a beet chocolate cake. (yes, chocolate cake with beets in it – they add a wonderful earthy richness!) She arrived with the cake and a pint of whipping cream for frosting. I happened to have a bunch of strawberries and apriums (a stone fruit variety that’s 1/4 plum, 3/4 apricot) that needed to be used up, so I decided to grill them on shish-kebabs.

Grilled fruit is one of those things I can’t believe more people don’t do. It’s totally delicious – like pie without the crust….

We whipped the cream, cut the cake into two layers, frosted one half, layered on some grilled fruit, put the other piece on top, and added more frosting and fruit. Messy, but wow – it was so good!

Late May Garden Pics

The apple tree is already forming little apples – How quickly it goes from flower to fruit!

Things have been growing so fast! We had a few days of freak hot weather a couple weeks ago, and it really jump-started my garden. (Here on the coast it almost never gets over 80 degrees, and we had a few 85 and even 90 degree days.) It’s been pretty normal since then – cool and foggy. The picture above is the front garden about a week ago. The Rhododendron and Azalea were in full bloom. The heat-wave made their flowers rot quickly – they’re all turning brown now. It’s funny – the Azalea blends in with the foggy sky in this picture – both were totally white.

Mustard Greens and Lettuce. The lettuce especially is growing really well. We’ve been eating salad from the garden for a few weeks now.

The potatoes are just awesome! I expect to be eating them in a month tops. They haven’t bloomed yet, but I bet they will soon….

This is a garlic head that speared a falling azalea flower. The garlic will probably be done before too long as well.

The back garden doesn’t get as much sun as the front, so it’s pretty much impossible to grow veggies…..this lavender sure is pretty though…..

I’ve forgotten the name of this columbine. It’s kind of under-stated, but beautiful none the less.

The Japanese Painted Fern is so happy in its spot! It’s one of the most beautiful plants we have!

Hot Days and Cold Salads

This is the first salad harvest from the garden! It’s a few different kinds of lettuces, some mustard greens, and nasturtium flowers. The flowers are edible – a little spicy, but good. There’s nothing like eating food that was picked just minutes before. It makes me feel more alive somehow!

Our part of California and some of the Pacific Northwest experienced an unusual early summer heatwave last week – it got up to the high 80s here on the coast, which rarely happens even at the hight of summer. Although I enjoyed it (I really love hot weather,) it was hard on the plants, especially the natives, who really aren’t designed for heat. I kept everything watered in the garden, and it seemed to get through OK.

Cooking anything hot in hot weather just isn’t fun, so we ended up eating a lot of salad. Here’s a few of the more interesting ones…..

This is a salad I had for lunch last weekend from things that happened to be in the fridge: butter lettuce, blue cheese, croutons, and raspberries. I dressed it with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, cracked pepper, and salt.

The raspberries really made it good! We’ve been getting some great prices at the Co-op recently on really tasty organic spring raspberries. I’m not exactly sure where they’re from – somewhere on the Central Coast I would guess. They sure are good though! I’ve been buying them two containers at a time and eating them for breakfast with oatmeal and yogurt. Just the taste of fresh sweet raspberries puts me in a good mood!

Earlier in the week I made a cold pasta salad for dinner. This is one of my favorite summertime meals, plus it’s one of those great dishes that you can make from almost anything that’s in the fridge.

This is Broccoli Raab (aka Rapini.) It’s not local, although the local stuff from Little River Farm has since started to come in. I sauteed it quickly in the cast iron skillet with olive oil and green garlic….

This is the green garlic chopped up. I’ve been using this stuff a lot this year. It’s basically just immature garlic that hasn’t formed a head yet. It tastes a lot like regular garlic, but a little fresher and “greener.” (duh!)

Not the most appetizing picture, but the finished salad sure was good! It consisted of pasta, broccoli raab sauteed with green garlic, fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, and oregano,) cheese cubes, olive oil, lemon juice, and smoked salmon. That, plus a gin and tonic was the perfect thing for a hot evening!

I bought these peas and some beautiful basil at the farmer’s market on Saturday, and made a really good potato salad, which unfortunately I didn’t get a get a picture of….It was potatoes, sugar snap peas, basil, rosemary, thyme, mayo, worstersire sauce, and lemon juice. Another wonderful cold dinner!

Early May Garden Pics

As you can see, we haven’t mowed our lawn yet this year. I love how the grass looks right now – it’s like we have our own mini prairie! It’s mostly rattlesnake grass, which has a beautiful seed pod.

This Azalea in the front yard is going crazy! In the 3 years we’ve been a this house, this is by far the best year for blooms. I don’t know what the variety is called, but it’s just gorgeous and super fragrant.

Here’s the little veggie garden. The potatoes are doing really well!

The bees are busily pollinating the flowers on the little apple tree by our front door. The tree itself is actually on our neighbor’s property, but it hangs over onto ours, and our neighbors don’t seem to care for apples… I’ve never seen them pick any. Johnny will be making apple butter this fall thanks to this little bee!

The “Popcorn Rose” is in its prime right now. It’s just gorgeous, and so amazingly vigorous. We just cunstructed this arbor last year!

The fuzzy bunny

The Ladies Mantle (aka Alchemia) is sprouting new leaves.

This is an old lilac is beautiful, but a little frustrating. All I want to do is bury my face in the fragrant blooms, but most of them are too high to reach.

Even the Rosemary is blooming right now.

I just got this start at the garden center yesterday. It’s French Sorrel – something I’ve been wanting for a while. The leaves have a really sour flavor – I’m excited to experiment with them in the kitchen when the plant is big enough.

Rhubarb Extravaganza

I decided to celebrate early summer rhubarb last weekend with a 3 course rhubarb extravaganza! This rhubarb is what we had on sale at the Co-op. It’s from Oregon, and it has the most beautiful dark red color. The rhubarb that’s grown around here seems to be really pale – probably because it doesn’t get cold enough in the winter.

Designing three courses that all feature rhubarb was a bit of a challenge, but I think I managed to make it work…..

The first course was a savory rhubarb cheese cake. I combined two recipes from Epicurious, one for a sweet Stilton cheesecake with rhubarb compote, and one for a savory Marscarpone cheesecake. This is the crust – it’s crushed crackers and butter. I don’t think I did it quite right – it was pretty crumbly…

Here’s the rhubarb for the cheesecake. I cooked it in port, a little sucanat, and lots of black pepper.

Here’s the Stilton cheese that I used. Mmmmm…. fancy blue cheeses like this one are one of my favorite foods. This is from England – apparently in order to be called Stilton it has to be from one of three counties: Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire. I blended it in the food processor with cream cheese, eggs, a little flour, and lots of fresh thyme. I’ve got so much thyme right now on the front porch, I can’t seem to use enough of it!

This is the cheesecake before baking. I put a layer of the cheese mixture down, then the rhubarb, and another layer of cheese on top. Then it went in the oven for an hour….

This is the rhubarb sliced for the main dish. I loosely followed a recipe I found at the LA Times website: Crisp duck breast with rhubarb-ginger confit.

I tossed it with a little sucanat, fresh ginger, black pepper, and soy sauce. Retrospectively, I wish I would have skipped the soy sauce – the flavor didn’t seem to blend well. I spread the rhubarb in one layer on a baking dish and put it in the oven with the cheesecake.

Now it was time to start the dessert : rhubarb ice cream!

Here’s the unfrozen ice cream: Cream, milk, eggs, sucanat, vanilla, stewed rhubarb (with sugar,) raspberries, and strawberries. Unfortunately, we don’t have an ice cream maker, so I just had to freeze it like this and stir it often while it was freezing. Not the best way to make ice cream, but it was bound to taste good!

And here’s the finished cheesecake. Beautiful! I put it in the fridge to cool.

This is the duck breast ready to be cooked. It’s seasoned with salt and pepper and a little Pickapeppa sauce, which is basically a Jamaican barbecue sauce. I cooked the duck over medium high heat in the cast iron skillet.

And it was time to eat!

Here’s the cheesecake ready to be cut. I sprinkled some thyme flowers on top for garnish.

It was really good! The only problem was the crust not staying together…. I don’t think I used the right kind of crackers, plus I didn’t crumble them as well as I could have.

Here’s the main course. The rhubarb complemented the duck perfectly. My only regret was adding soy sauce to the rhubarb….other than that, it was perfect!

And the ice cream. It took a long time to freeze! It was really good, but didn’t last overnight. By the next day it was pretty freezer burnt and hard. I’d really like to get an ice cream maker – although then I guess I’d probably eat too much of it…

So that was the rhubarb meal. It definitely wasn’t perfect, but it all tasted really good, and I sure learned a lot about rhubarb!