Saturday, August 29, 2009

In the Garden: August 2009

A nice harvest from the backyard today: 30+ peaches, about 20 tomatoes, and 10 jalapeno peppers. I see some recipe searching for salsa.

Tomatoes: As the tomatoes began to ripen, I noticed that the bottom of the fruit had a brown rot. I did some research and learned that I had Blossom End Rot or BER. It has to do with either irregular watering and/or not enough calcium in the soil. I suspect over-watering. It can't be inconsistent watering since the beds are on a timer. So I cut back the amount of water. I think it may have helped since I was able to harvest some intact tomatoes today but I also composted just as many. Next year, I should also mulch the vegetables to keep the soil moist and keep the timer at 5 minutes or less.

Zucchini: Pulled it up a few weeks ago. Phew, done with zucchini! Next year, try a new and different kind of squash.

Peaches: They are just coming into season now. I could have harvested more today. Next year, I need to thin out the peaches (along with the apricots) as the fruit begins to form. With so many so close together they tend to push each other off as they grow larger.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Smoked Salmon

I'd seen them before. They would be at our local Farmer's Market from time to time. They seemed very friendly and would offer a sample. But I avoided making eye contact with them and would politely decline. I mean, you don't go to the farmers market to buy smoked salmon! What are you guys doing here, anyway?

Last week, I decided to adopt a new attitude and I marched right up and gladly accepted a sample. One taste was all we needed. We went home with a package.

The company is Blue Ocean Smokehouse (the web site needs some development), they are based out of Half Moon Bay, and they make some excellent, tasty smoked salmon.

Most smoked salmon (especially the icky store stuff) has a chemical aftertaste. But this tasted exactly like, well, smoked salmon. The fish was quite tender and fresh tasting. We paid a pretty penny for it but it was worth it. We got a head piece (thicker fish). The vendor said some people prefer the tail because the flavor is more intense (next time).

We made a simple pasta dish with sauteed onions, tomatoes, and basil. Added the flaked salmon at the last minute. Some cheese sprinkled on top. We saved enough salmon to have some in our scrambled eggs on Sunday morning. Good stuff!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Heirloom Tomato Pasta Puttanesca

Our good friends and fellow FFTY'ers gave this recipe based on the excellent heirloom tomatoes in the box this week. It's great with regular tomatoes but "sublime with heirlooms."

  • 2 lbs. heirloom tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp. chili flakes
  • 3-4 anchovy fillets
  • 1/2 cup oil-cured black olives
  • 3 tsp. capers
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 small bunch of Italian parsley
  • sea salt
  • Romano cheese
  • 1 lb. pasta (penne or spaghetti)
  • Chop anchovies into a paste (Don't skip this ingredient. Get a small jar of anchovy fillets at Whole Foods. It's $1.29. I know what you're thinking).
  • Pit and coarsely chop the olives (Joanne Weir gives a great tip on always buying your olives from the bulk section of the supermarket instead of canned. I used some Whole Foods black olives cured in Fines Herbes).
  • Chop the parsley (I used backyard flat leaf parsley).
  • Finely chop the garlic
  • Coarsely chop the capers
  • Core, seed, and cut the heirloom tomatoes into small dice (Given the high water content of the heirloom tomatoes I might have drained them in a colander for a bit first).
Combine all ingredients except pasta and let it rest for at least an hour. Cook the pasta in sea salted water until al dente. Toss with the sauce.

Serve with crusty bread and some good red wine.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Drying Backyard Parsley

Before going on vacation a few weeks ago, I harvested two bunches of flat-leaf parsley from the yard with the intent of drying them. I had read that air drying for 2-3 weeks was one method. I hung a bunch in the garage and another in the pantry. They were hung from the ceiling by string. But as the herb dried and shrunk it slipped out of the string. When I got home the parsley was yellow and much had fallen to the ground. Conclusion: Air drying doesn't work.

This evening I harvested more parsley to try out some different drying techniques. I washed it, spun it in a salad spinner, and let it dry for a few hours. I read more than one story about things going back if you tried to dry damp herbs.

I tried two different approaches:

Microwave: I read mostly favorable reviews (but a few bad ones) that said that drying in the microwave was a good way to go. Nuke them in small batches in a single layer with a paper towel beneath and above. Cook 30 seconds at a time and check. A small batch should take 2 minutes. But my second and larger batch took 3 minutes.

: I read a few different reviews. One said to set the oven to 100 degrees, but most ovens won't go that low. Another said to set the oven to 185 and cook until dried (20-30 minutes). The one I tried had the oven at 250 degrees but you turn it off once the temperature is set. Place the parsley leaves on a cookie sheet in a single layer and put them in the just turned off oven for 30 minutes.

As all of this went on, I pulled out my existing jar of parsley. I turned the jar over and it read, "Best by Dec. 18. 05." I tossed the contents.

In the end, I couldn't tell too much difference between the oven and microwave dried parsley. If I had to choose I thought the oven did a better job of completely drying out the herb.

I pulsed both methods together in a food processor until they were chopped. I put the chopped leaves in the jar that had the old parsley.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch

Michael Pollan being interviewed recently on NPR's Fresh Air. In the interview he discusses the rise of cooking shows from Julia Childs to the Food Network while at the same time the amount of time we spend cooking (27 minutes a day) is half of what it was in the 1960's. He dives into the reasons why we're cooking less and "allowing corporations to cook for us" more. An interesting listen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Irish Butter

We've just returned from a three week trip to Ireland. I'm of Irish descent and, while this was not the first time there, it was a chance to revisit the country as an adult. I was pleasantly surprised by the food and I will post a few entries on my findings there.

Let's begin with the butter! Irish butter is simply incredible. Butter on a piece of bread is usually just a condiment, but with Irish butter it's another ingredient to be enjoyed and savored (along with the wonderful brown bread they make!). After getting home I wondered what was the difference. Some research revealed that organically-raised cows make the difference. Go figure.

In Ireland, it seems that all cows are grass fed. Here, grass-fed beef is a premium. There, it's a way of life. Not only that, but for every acre of land there are only 20-30 cows at the most. Each cow has room to move around, lay down, and feed. Calves stay with their mother and continue to feed from her. The cows (and sheep) eat grass, heather, and wild herbs that the Irish say they can taste in the meat. The cows are not overwhelmed by flies and the stench of the American factory farm is not there.

For the most part, I don't eat meat but in Ireland I ordered lamb a number of times since I was comfortable that the animal was raised organically and humanely. Hiking through the Irish countryside gave me lots of opportunities to see how they raise their animals.

This website speaks to the quality of the animal that provides the butter: "The butters are made from milk from different breeds of cow that are fed in different climates eating different fodder- all factors that influence the final product."

Two qualities differentiate Irish butter: Color and fat content. The color is more yellow which is from the beta carotene in the intense green grass that cows consume. I compared the nutritional analysis of the Kerrygold with TJ's regular brand and Whole Foods' 365 brand. Most of the numbers were the same (365 was higher in sodium) but Irish butter was slightly higher in saturated fats. While saturated fats are the "bad" fats it is likely the stuff that contributes to the texture and feel of the butter.

Irish butter is readily available at your local supermarket and Trader Joe's. One of the brands available at both is the Kerrygold label. Their website states,
"Our grass fed cows ... produce the sweetest, richest milk in the world. It's the reason our butter tastes silkier and creamier and glows a healthy, golden yellow like the sun."

Give it a try.