Cilantro Pesto

July 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

Pesto makes me happy. It just does. Just like the pop of a champagne bottle means something celebratory is about to happen, the knowledge that pesto is in a dish means something tasty is about to be experienced.

Basil is just the tip of the pesto iceberg. It’s the easy and expected version. But when the garden presents one with an abundance of other herbs, it’s a prime opportunity to explore other pesto flavors. That’s how this batch of cilantro pesto came about. A 3-ft. row of cilantro plants was beginning to bolt (i.e. grow quickly and produce flowers), and rather than let it go to seed, I opted to harvest it all. And what’s the best way to use large amounts of herbs? Pesto.

Like anything with cilantro, this pesto goes pretty darn well with Mexican food. It’s also tasty spread inside a grilled cheese and as a base for a pizza. And the best thing about this version is … it’s accidentally vegan.

Ingredientscilantro pesto

  • 1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves (and I also threw in the flowers)
  • 1 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
  • 1/3 cup whole almonds
  • 1 small fresh chili (jalapeno is good)
  • 2 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbs fresh lime juice (I used a whole lime)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

-Place all ingredients except lime juice and oil in a food processor and pulse several times to chop finely.
-With the foodpro on, add the juice and oil in a steady stream. If you like your pesto saucy, add a bit more oil.

All my pesto recipes come from the The Moosewood Kitchen Garden cook-garden book. The dill pesto recipe is also a keeper. I’ll share, but first my dill needs to grow a bit more.

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Fall’s First Frost Predicted: How to Prepare

October 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

I listen to the local news as part of my morning ritual. But, most days I head online if I want to learn about the weather, even though sassy JC Monahan just gave me the five-day forecast five minutes ago.

My memory is a sieve when it comes to the weather. Except … when frost is predicted. It’s been a whole five hours since I heard this morning’s news, and I can still remember JC predicted frost will be in the air for Worcester County and western Massachusetts this evening. Thanks to being a “heat island” with all our brick and pavement, Boston proper will make it only down into the low 40s.

Whew.

I eased up on my fall-harvest plantings this year, but I still do have a few summer stragglers hanging on. Of what’s left, this is what will and won’t like temperatures in the low 40s:

early October zucchini

itty bitty zucchini

Zucchini/squash: Not a good year for them and they are not beefy enough to deal with temps too much colder than the low 50s. Hey, I had zucchini up until November last year. Maybe a quick one-night of 40s will be fine.

early October tomatoes

Oh, so sad.

Tomatoes: I have just two plants left and neither look great. It’s just cruel of me to keep them hangin’ on. Absolutely cruel, like pulling wings off flies. But I do it to see how far they can go.

early October carrots

Carrots - they'll be just fine.

Carrots: They’ll be just fine for a long time yet, thanks to that insulating layer of soil.

last of the season's basil

There it is - the rest of the season's basil.

Basil: Aaaaccckkk!!!!! I better go harvest that asap. It definitely won’t survive. It doesn’t even like my fridge set much below 45.

Snail-along

ick.

ps – this little guy is why it’s important to inspect your harvest before you bring it in your home – we had a few snails crawling on the walls in our fridge one morning …

early October leeks

Leeks: I have a good batch of leeks going this year. VERY excited about them. They’ll hang on for a good long time yet. I won’t have to worry about them until November or so. At that time I will try to mount them with as much soil as possible. I could be lucky enough to harvest leeks in January if I work it right.

early October jalepenos

We have jalepenos??

Jalepenos: We have jalepenos??

early October broccoli

Broccoli: It’s lovin’ this time of year.

early October chard

Chard: Back in mid August I pulled up all of my chard. Or so I thought. On a few of the smaller plants I pulled the biggest leaves off, leaving the small runts behind. A Well, wouldn’t you know but I have a batch of chard ready to go.

early October beets

The beets are so excited, they are pushing themselves outta the ground.

Beets: Happy as clams in this weather. And I have a lot of them. I’ll be harvesting them two by two for the rest of the month. I still have a whole jar of pickled beets in the fridge—maybe I need to make another.

If your ears have perked up with the sounding of the “frost predicted tonight” alarm, in all likelihood you’ll have a light frost, one that will damage only the most sensitive summer veggies in your garden. If you’re so inclined, try these techniques to help them survive a little bit longer:

-While the sun is still out, break out that old set of sheets you never use anymore and cover the most sensitive plants. The sheets will act light a light coat and keep the temps slightly elevated underneath as the soil gives off heat. Remove those covers the next day—it could really heat up under there. Plus, your neighbors will start talking about you.

Don’t have extra sheets or plant covers?

-As evening sets in, turn a hose on and water down the summer-loving veggies—the leaves, stems, fruit, etc.—and also the soil around the plants. The water around the foliage will freeze first or give up its heat first (it’s physics). Same with the moist soil.

Maybe with the temperatures climbing in the 80s starting tomorrow, I’ll be lucky enough to have some homegrown zucchini for next week’s Homegrown Food Challenge.

 

The Homegrown Food Challenge

September 30, 2011 § 4 Comments

Are you in for the Home Grown Food Challenge?

I’m always up for a challenge, unless it involves deep sea diving or eating 62 hot dogs.

A few weeks ago, the folks at the Homegrown Food Challenge emailed me out of the blue with a request: Can I submit a recipe or two or three that Luke and Karen—founders of the Food Challenge—can prepare during their October-long commitment to eating locally sourced food? Sure! Absolutely! And what’s this challenge you’re talking about?

Luke and Karen tell their own story over at their blog, Sweet Local Farm. In a nutshell, they’re living the “modern-day back-to-the-land” lifestyle on three acres of farmland in the Pioneer Valley. They plant, they tend, they harvest, they cook. And what they can’t eat all at once, they put up for the winter by canning and freezing and pickling and storing in a lot of other ways.

Can I come live with you, Luke and Karen? Cuz that’s exactly what I want to do.

Last year, realizing they had buckets and buckets of a wide variety of food at this time of year, they challenged themselves eat only what they grew during the month of October. And what they didn’t grow themselves, they’d source locally.

This year, they are doing it again and encouraging others to join in. Not everybody has a 3-acre farm that can support them for the month, they know that. And they realize 31 days is a long time to commit to any challenge, let alone one that involves food.

The Homegrown Food Challenge, therefore, is nothing if not flexible. Only growing tomatoes and basil in your garden? That’s fine—commit to eating only locally sourced foods and hit up your neighborhood farmers markets. Can’t commit to a month? Then sign up for a week or a day. or hey, even one day a week. Point is, making the commitment to the Homegrown Food Challenge will get you thinking about a) where your food comes from, b) what food you’re going to eat, and c) how you’re going to get that food. You do realize that calling up Domino’s or Yum Phat and having your meal appear before you in 30 minutes or less is a modern-day miracle? And one that only a small portion of this world’s population has the luxury to partake in?

Think about your food, people!

Ahem … sorry for the rant. It was quick, though.

Back to the Challenge. Head on over to the Homegrown Food Challenge’s Facebook page and sign up whichever source and time frame works for you. Or, just mentally commit to it. Whatever you do, there’s gonna be some recipes on the page that you can turn to for inspiration. And I’m sure Luke and Karen will be posting about it over on Sweet Local Farm.

As for Dainty’s role in this … I’ll give you a heads up when Luke and Karen use one of the recipes I’ve submitted. And I’ll also direct you over there when one of their other recipes looks Daintilicious. I’m very pysched about it.

Jennifer and I have officially committed to one week of locally sourced food. And it’s not going to be this week. This takes some planning and rule making (and rule breaking)—we’ll keep you posted as to when that week occurs. And she doesn’t know it yet, but in addition to that one week, I’m also adding in one day of locally sourced food each week, which I hope to continue beyond October.

How are we preparing for the Challenge? Well, we’re coming up with guidelines, e.g. oils, vinegars, flour, lemons and limes don’t count. And we’re planning some meals. And we’re mapping out farmers markets. And we’re going out for dinner tonight.

Need some inspiration? I will be posting the three recipes I submitted to Luke this weekend. AND, I’ll post an awesomely superb spicy tomato soup recipe later today so you can hit the farmers market tomorrow morning with a shopping list in hand.

Are you in? Who’s with me?

Pickled Beets

September 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

Last year I had a Ziploc bag of small red beets sitting in the hydrator for … months. Months. I had intended to pickle them. Didn’t happen. They sat for ages – actually, I was quite impressed with just how long they lasted – until one day they were just gone. I think Jennifer may have realized the pickling wasn’t going to happen. Or I chucked them and don’t remember.

Pickled Beets

Pickled beets, not quite how Grandma used to make.

The pickling didn’t happen because I couldn’t decide on exactly how to tackle it. What recipe to use? What about canning them? What if?

My god, I can’t live with the what ifs anymore. Just freakin’ pickle beets, Dainty.

That’s exactly what I did last week. And I’m happy to say I have a quart of beautiful pickled beets sitting in my fridge at this very moment.

Well, what recipe did I decide on, you ask? It’s a combo of a recipe found in the August Bon Appetit and a recipe for Vinegar Beets from my mother, which I just found out was her mother-in-law’s recipe; i.e., it’s old.

Mom’s recipe calls for boiling the beets until tender, slip off the skins, and combining  a cup cider vinegar, a half cup sugar, 1/4 tbs cinnamon stick, 1/4 tsp allspice berries, 1/4 tbs mustard seed, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp whole cloves. She boils that for 3 minutes, then adds the beets to boil again. Then she adds the beets to a jar and strains the liquid. Boiling twice?? To infuse the beets with the spices, she said defensively.

On the other hand, Bon Appetit suggested 3/4 cup each of red wine vinegar and dry red wine, 1/2 cup sugar, 1.5 tsp salt and star anise.

Compromise, compromise.

Ingredients

  • About 2lbs. beets – I used a combo of red and golden, and don’t use any that are too very large
  • 1.5+ cups red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp mustard seed
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp whole cloves

-Boil the beets until a sharp knife slips through your largest beet. Could be 20 minutes, could be more – it all depends on the size. Drain and let cool until cool enough to handle.

beets cooling

Beets cooling until they can be stripped naked

-When cool, the skins just slip right off. Pretty darn amazing how easily they come off. FYI, you’re gonna stain your hands.

removing skins from boiled beets

Skins slip off incredibly easily once beets are boiled.

Beets with skins removed

How beautiful are these??

-While those cooled, I cleaned/sterilized a 1-qt. jar. I added the cinnamon stick (which I crushed a bit), the mustard seed and the cloves.

-When the beets were cool, I left the small beets whole and put them into the. jar. The larger beets I cut into quarters, and some of them I sliced.

-Meanwhile, I combined 1.5 cups vinegar, sugar and salt in a saucepan and boiled until the sugar and salt dissolved. Then I let it cool a bit. While it was still a tad warm, I added the liquid to the jar.

-Turns out 1.5 cups vinegar wasn’t quite enough to cover the beets in the jar. Hence the “1.5+ cups vinegar in the ingredient list. I warmed another 1/4-cup-ish of red wine vinegar added with a couple pinches sugar and a nip of salt. Dissolved that, then topped off the beets.

-And then I did something crazy: I added a half-shot of Southern Comfort. Bon Appetitit’s recipe called for dry red wine, so hey, why not a glug of SoCo? Barely perceptible, but there is a hint of a sweet smokiness. Pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Cover, let sit on the counter for a day to let the flavors develop, and then give ’em a try. They’re good! And they really do only get better with time.

What? No canning them? I decided not to, and opted for the “put them in the fridge for easy access” method. I still have beets in the garden – two sets of beets, actually – one that’s ready for harvest at any time and one that I just planted a few weeks ago for a late-November harvest. The latter will likely be headed for pickling, and this time for the canner, as well. And this time I mean it.

Pickling Green Cherry Tomatoes

September 1, 2011 § 3 Comments

What does a gardener do when a little thing like a hurricane is imminent? She cleans out the garden of all ripe, nearly ripe and totally unripe tomatoes, that’s what she does.

pickled green cherry tomatoes

pickled tomato scrumptiousness

Ripe tomatoes have been dispatched to salsa, gazpacho and pizza toppings.

Somewhat ripe tomatoes are on a tray and ripening, possibly for a sauce.

Ripe cherry tomatoes are … well, in a bowl and thinking of what they want to become. Possibly tomato cobbler. We’ll see.

The unripe tomatoes – interestingly all cherries – are destined to be pickled.

I know what you’re thinking: Pickling is soo sooo very trendy. Maybe it is. BUT … I’ve been pickling green cherry tomatoes since 1994. My housemate at the time – Lou – had been pickling since forever and shared the recipe. Pickle the cherries at the end of the season – right as you’re grabbing them off the vine before the first frost – and they are good and pickly and presentable as hostess gifts for fall dinner parties. Oh, that Lou.

A couple of notes:

1. Pickling green fruit is key here. Too much red ripe deliciousness and they cherry will swell and burst, making a jar full of mush. But, I do try to add a cherry or two to the jar that is turning just a bit orange. It’s pretty. So so pretty.

2. Would it be okay to cut green slicing tomatoes into chunks and pickle them? Well, yeah, maybe. I’d remove the pulp and use just the flesh. We want to avoid mush.

3. And with the pickling spices, garlic clove and sneaky pepper, they taste just fabulous. Ohhhh …. yum.

Pickled Green Cherry Tomatoes ala Lou

  • 21 8oz. jelly jars with new lids and rings
  • 8 cups white distilled vinegar
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup salt

-Don’t have enough tomatoes to fill 21 jars? Work the proportions for the number of jars you can fill. I quartered the recipe and it filled 6ish jars.

-Boil the above and let cool.

Pickling spices

Fill'r up with pickling spices.

To each jar, add:

  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 chili pepper, aka “a sneaky pepper”
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 garlic clove

-Add tomatoes to each jar, filling to within about 1/4-1/2 in. of the rim of the jar. Don’t jam them in too tightly – they may burst if forced.

-When the liquid has cooled, fill each jar to cover the tomatoes. Place a lid on each jar and tighten the ring. Let sit out overnight and then place in the refrigerator.

What about preserving them with canning? It’s definitely doable! I’m not the one to tell you how to do it. Really. Even though I witnessed my mother can jars and jars of everything from apricots to zucchini, none of it stuck in my head. And if something goes wrong … like when that jar of canned tuna wasn’t sealed properly … it can go terribly wrong. And I’m not gonna be responsible for your botulism.

filling jars with green tomatoes

I couldn't help myself - I made one jar more red than the others.

Vermont Cranberry Bean Salad

August 31, 2011 § 2 Comments

When I was a kid, my father would get a little stir crazy in winter and he’d do the worst thing a man with a 1-acre garden could do: Sit for hours with the Johnny’s Select Seed catalog. Fathers don’t get giddy as a rule, but I swear my dad would get as giddy as any school girl when the … um, somewhat large and heavy … box arrived. Sure, some of the seeds were for the farm: Seeds for 100 combined acres of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and pumpkins are a bit heavy. But then there were the items destined for our garden. Corn. Watermelon. Tomatoes. Peppers. Cucumbers. Zucchini. Squash. Yum. Yum.

But then … then there were the despised seeds: Peas and lima beans. And I swear, every single seed of those two crops came up and produced a bounty. Bleck and ugh … I really don’t like peas and lima beans. Really. Don’t. Like.

The worst part, really, and I don’t know how many of you can relate … the worst part was having to help my mother shell the bushels and bushels of pods these horrid plants would produce. You know how big a bushel is, right? It’s a lot. And now picture lots of lots. And having to take one lima bean pod or one pea pod, slicing it down lengthwise with your thumb nail, and then cajoling each pea or bean out of its home with said finger and into a pan. Pans and pans and pans of peas and beans. And Mom would blanch these mounds and mounds of peas and beans, put them into little plastic baggies, put the baggies in boxes, put the boxes in the freezers (yes, we had multiple freezers to store multiple upon multiple boxes), and then those boxes would come out of the freezer in the deepest, darkest of winter and end up on our plates. And then after dinner Dad would get out his Johnny’s Select Seed catalog and order more for the coming spring …

I really hate peas and lima beans. Really.

What did I find myself doing yesterday pre-lunch during my vacation? Shelling beans. Not a bushel, thankfully; just a gallon ziplock’s worth. The beans in question we grew in our garden this summer. No, not peas and not limas.They are Vermont cranberry beans. Beautiful pink and red speckly things. Gorgeous, really. No, I didn’t snap a pic pre-cooking. Sorry. But yes, we grew them this year—my garden plot neighbor has been growing them for years and loves loves loves them. Easy to grow. I’d tell you more about how to grow them except … well, okay, I’ll tell you. Sow the seeds about 2 inches apart in a row. Water. They will emerge. They’ll keep growing if you keep watering. I can’t even recall if I had to fertilize. It’s seriously that easy, people.

And the process at the other end of the line is just as simple, and way way way delicious. So very not a lima bean.

Vermont cranberry bean salad

Vermont cranberry bean salad

Vermont Cranberry Bean Salad  from Epicurious.com)

Serves 4

  •    1 1/2 pounds fresh cranberry beans in pods
  •    2 tablespoons salt
  •    1/4 cup evoo
  •    1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  •    2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or basil leaves
  •    ground black pepper

– Shell beans and place in a saucepan of boiling salted water. Salt the water! That way the beans really take in the flavor.Unfortunately, the boiling spoils the beans’ beautiful coloration.

– Boil the beans until they are tender. If all of your beans are picked at the same stage, they should all come along at the same time. Mine, not so lucky. To get the “more done” or more dry beans to a tender stage, the more fresh beans got a tad over-mushy. But, I kinda liked the variety within the dish.

– Drain beans and transfer to a bowl. While beans are still warm, toss with remaining ingredients and season with salt, if needed. Serve still warm for a fabulous flavor, or at room temperature.

I could eat this for days. And luckily, there’s a bunch more beans ripening when we get home.

This Morning’s Harvest, Next Week’s Meals

August 26, 2011 § 2 Comments

Okay, so I’m rushing for two reasons: 1) A big storm’s a-brewin’ and 2) leaving town for a week. What’s that mean? Gotta hit the community garden plot this morning and harvest.

Tomatoes are gonna get whipped in the storm. Pair that with the fact that they look like hell anyway (I think we have blight – that’s like having lice to me), I decided to harvest all the tomatoes except a few very green ones and rip up all the plants except the best two.

What else is on the list? Here it is:

Harvest it all! A hurricane's a-comin'!

  • Cherry and slicing tomatoes in all stages of ripe- and unripeness
  • Vermont cranberry beans
  • Green bean
  • Lettuce
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Yellow and green chard
  • A cabbage
  • A big ol’ purple carrot
  • A zucchini – full disclosure: It’s not mine – another gardener gave it to me.

*Missing from this list are a handful of Hungarian wax peppers and a yellow squash. They were camera shy.

All of this will be processed in some form or another – along with a boat load of beets I harvested last week – in the coming week. Stay tuned!

Any suggestions? Anyone have experience frying sage leaves? What should I do with a huge purple carrot? Leave a comment, let me know.

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