Erin’s Local Veggie and Quinoa Salad

I had a potluck birthday party this weekend, and I just had to post this beautiful dish that my friend Erin brought. It was a delicious quinoa/fresh veggie salad – much of it is from her own garden! I love the presentation – nothing dresses up a dish like a few nasturtiums!

Bacon Wrapped Date Surprise

I decided to make these on whim last week. We have some bacon in the fridge, and we don’t usually cook with bacon, and I’ve been trying to think of creative ways to use it. My mom and I had bacon wrapped dates last winter at Devotay, in Iowa City. (I sure hope it’s not underwater right now!) It was delicious! I really liked the sweet/salty flavor combo, and I’ve been meaning to try it out myself ever since. First, I cut bacon into really thin strips.

I had a total of 8 dates, and I wanted Johnny and I to each have one of each filling, so I stuffed them with four different fillings: garlic, walnuts, cheddar cheese, and blue cheese. I picked those ingredients because they were what I happened to have on hand, and not for any particular gastronomic reason. I was curious to see which worked and which didn’t.

I rolled them up, skewered them to hold them together, and baked them till the bacon seemed done. They were incredibly rich! I liked both the cheeses and the walnut – the cheddar was surprisingly good. The garlic was a little weird though….. I like experimenting with food like this – I’m just glad Johnny agrees to eat all the weird stuff I come up with!

El primer carne asada del verano

This picture is actually not part of the carne asada, but it does fit in with the grilling theme. Earlier in the week we grilled this asparagus, and I experimented with grilling a few chard stems. The asparagus was delicious, but I probably wouldn’t recommend the chard. It was kind of tough and stringy. It made a nice picture though.

Now on the real subject of this post. Last night we had two other couples over for dinner, and since the weather was nice, we decided to grill out, Mexican style.

I decided to try to use as many local ingredients as possible. This is zucchini from the Pierce’s in Orleans. It’s getting bigger and better as the summer starts to really warm-up up there.

This is cilantro from Blake’s Farm in Blue Lake. It’s probably the nicest, most flavorful and aromatic cilantro I’ve ever seen. I am in total awe of Blake – he grows some of the most beautiful produce around….and he’s an incredibly humble person. I bought two bunches and picked the leaves from the stems.

These little spring onions aren’t local…but they’re from Northern California somewhere. They reminded me of the little onions I’ve had grilled in Mexico. These were just a little bigger than those Mexican cebollitos, however.

Johnny made guacamole. He won’t tell me exactly what’s in it: “It’s a secret,” he says. It sure was good though – our guests made short work of it!

This is the cheese I used. I couldn’t find any Mexican cheeses at the Co-op (kind of shameful, given that we have cheeses from all over the rest of the world!) so I went to Rita’s Market behind the Co-op and got this. It’s Oaxacan style….kind of like mozzarella. Unfortunately, it’s not organic. It’s rare that I eat non-organic dairy, but I figured cultural correctness was more important than organic in this case. Besides, I like going to Rita’s – I get to practice my Spanish!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures of the actual grilling. Our guests got here, and I was too busy making tortillas and helping Johnny oversee the grilling to remember to take pictures. Someday I’ll take pictures of corn-tortilla-making for this blog, but not this time. It’s actually quite easy….all together we had tortillas, meat (marinated in lime juiceand grilled,) grilled veggies, sour cream, cilantro, cheese, guacamole, salsa, chips….perfect!

The best thing about a meal like this one is the left-overs! This was our dinner tonight: Left-over tortillas made into quesadillas, lettuce from the garden, cilantro, sour cream, salsa, chopped tomato, beans, and re-heated grilled meat and veggies. Oh, and of course lime. Oh, how I wish limes grew locally!

Deep Dish Polenta Pie

I’ve made a lot of variations of this polenta pie. Basically, I start with a bottom layer of olive oil and sliced polenta, then pile a bunch of yummy Italian cheeses, veggies, and meats on top, and bake it till it looks done. It’s always a little different, but always delicious!

This is the pie I made last week. I started out with polenta, then a layer of salami, local basil, chopped local garlic…..

….sliced tomatoes, blue cheese, local green onion, more polenta, a drizzle of olive oil….

….and some grated cheese. All I had, besides the blue cheese, was Monterey Jack. I would much rather have used mozzarella, but the Jack worked fine.

Like I said, it’s really easy to make this dish really delicious!

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Berries

We’re planning a party in a few weeks, for which I want to make a black forest cake (chocolate with cherries.) One of the people coming is allergic to gluten. Since I’m not familiar with gluten-free baking, I made an experimental cake this weekend. (Yes, this was in part just an elaborate excuse to make a cake, but the experience will really help with the black forest cake too!) It’s a super simple recipe from Epicurious: Flourless Chocolate Cake. It’s just melted chocolate, sugar, eggs, cocoa powder, and butter. I topped it with fresh berries, and man, was it good. Very rich, but with more of a cakey texture than you might think. The recipe should work really well as the base for a black forest cake. the trick will be making thin layers with cherries between them….mmmm….the possibilities!

Early June Garden Pics

This pretty pink climbing rose has just started blooming in the front yard. I really like simple rose flowers like this one – it smells really good too!

The veggie garden is looking great! I had just watered in this picture, so the potatoes were a little flattened. Most of what you see on the right are garlic plants that we planted last fall (with a few red onions scattered in). Hopefully they’ll be ready in a month or so.

In the course of watering the garden, I accidentally uncovered these baby potatoes! It was great timing, since we had eaten some of the very very last of the local russets from last fall just the night before. Potatoes are one of the only starches that are grown locally around here, and now we’ve proved that you can have them year round if you do it right! You really could survive quite nicely here all year on local potatoes, greens, dairy, meat, and fish. I boiled these and we ate them as a snack. The flavor of a potato right out of the ground is simply wonderful! I won’t dig up the rest for a while, but it’s good to know everything’s growing well down there.

I bought some tomato seedlings at the farmer’s market this Saturday – here’s one of them. It’s so cool here on the coast all summer that I don’t have a lot of hope that they’ll thrive, but I decided to give it a try anyway. One is a Sungold (gold cherry tomato) that I’ve grown with some success in the past. The other is an Early Girl – a regular red tomato variety. The farmers I bought them from seemed to think the Early Girl would do well on the coast, but I’ve been disappointed before…. It just doesn’t get hot enough here for lots of tomatoes or basil, which is pretty sad since they’re two of my very favorite summer foods.

The lettuce, on the other hand, is doing really well. This is red romaine ready to be eaten.

This sage plant sat on our porch in a big 10 gallon pot for a year and looked just horrible. I couldn’t figure out why it just wasn’t happy, so I planted it in the ground a moth ago or so and what do you know? It’s blooming and looks as happy as a clam!

For a year and a half, since the fall of 2006, we’ve had a local blue Lumina pumpkin sitting on the front porch slowly decomposing. It was interesting to watch all the stages – by this spring it was reduced to a dried out pancake stuck to the porch. When I went to clean it up, I noticed how many seeds there were. On a whim, I planted some, and they came up! I’ve got 5 or 6 nice pumpkin seedlings!

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.