Monday, July 27, 2009

Fragole di bosco

Alpine StrawberriesTiny alpine strawberries are ripening daily in the back yard. No, we are not so fortunate as to have these growing wild; we planted some in pots.

The plants, Fragaria vesca to be precise, stay evergreen through our winters here on Puget Sound, and start blooming as early as April.

There are both alpine and wild types of strawberries known in Italy and France. In Italy, you might see tiny fragole di bosco on offer in the Campo di Fiori as early as March. The French call them fraises des bois. They go by many other names depending on the region. By any name, they are tiny, just about the size of the tip of a little finger.

Not as sweet as their hybridized cousins, they pack an enormous amount of strawberry flavor in a miniscule package.

My favorite way to end dinner of late is to pick whatever of these are ripe (which might only be a few), add some red huckleberries, and finish off the handful with some delectable ripe native blackberries (these are the trailing kind, not the invasive Himalayan blackberry, which is just now setting fruit).

Unfortunately, the birds knew exactly when the huckleberries were at their peak and the bushes are stripped practically bare. Actually, I don't mind sharing them with the birds at all.

Red Huckleberries

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cooking: Vegetable Sushi

Vegetable SushiI had some leftover purple sticky rice from dinner a couple of nights ago, so I thought I would try making some sushi with it.

These rolls, which would technically be known as makizushi in Japan, are made with vegetables only. I would have added some avocado if I had a good one in the house.

Traditionally, sushi rice is seasoned with rice vinegar and sugar, and cooled by gently moving it about in a large wooden tub, all the while fanning it to dry it out. I didn't do that. Here's my simple recipe, which omits the sugar.

Vegetable Sushi
makes 3 rolls (18 pieces total)

1 cup cooked purple sticky rice (or use any leftover rice)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
thin strips of carrot, cucumber, snap peas, avocado, or any other vegetable you like
3 sheets toasted nori
bowl of cold water (for dipping your fingers)

Put the rice in a bowl and fluff it gently with a fork. Sprinkle the vinegar over the rice and, again gently, fluff it around. The point is to season the rice without breaking it up.

Place 1 sheet of nori on a sushi mat (I used a Silpat, or just use a cloth napkin or lint-free towel). Spread 1/3 of the rice in a pile. Dip your fingers in the water, then use your fingertips to spread the rice out in an even layer. Leave a 1.5 inch strip across the top of the nori uncovered by rice.

Lay strips of vegetables near the edge closest to you. Don't overstuff—just a few strips will work. Using the mat (or napkin or whatever), lift the front edge and start rolling the sushi. Once you get it going, you probably won't need the mat. Keep rolling until you reach the edge where there is no rice. Using your fingertips, wet the exposed nori at the back edge, then firmly roll the whole shebang together. The water will help seal the roll.

Place the roll sean-side down in a dish and do the next one. Remember, this should be fun.

These can be served immediately, or refrigerated for up to 3 days in a covered container. To serve, run a sharp knife under cold water, then slice each roll into six pieces.

Serve with tamari with as much wasabi mixed in as you like.

These rolls are quite good, crunchy and cool. The rice is sumptious. The wasabi will wake up your sinuses. It's all good.

Vegetable Sushi

Friday, July 24, 2009

Cooking: Bulgar Patties

Bulgar PattiesWe're testing wheat to see if either of us has an inflammatory response to it, so I thought I'd try making some bulgar patties.

Bulgar is made by soaking and cooking whole wheat, drying it and then stripping off part of the bran. The remaining kernel is then broken into small pieces.

Although it loses some fiber in the process, it still retains enough of the bran to qualify as a mostly whole grain. Because it has already been soaked and cooked, bulgar can be very quickly prepared. Traditional tabbouleh recipes often call for the bulgar to be covered with boiling water, then left to re-hydrate without actually cooking it again. While not as nutritious as whole wheat berries, it is nevertheless handy when you're short on time.

Bulgar Patties
serves 4

1 cup water
1/2 cup bulgar
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic (or more), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon wheat-free tamari
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon non-aluminum baking powder
3/4 cup garbanzo flour mixed with 1/2 cup cold water

Bring 1 cup of water to a boil, then add bulgar, onions and garlic. Simmer, covered, until water is absorbed, about 5-10 minutes. The bulgar I used, from Bob's Red Mill, took about 15 minutes to fully absorb the water.

Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Pop this mixture in the refrigerator to set up a little (I stuck mine in the freezer for 15 minutes). Heat 1/8 inch of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When it is just starting to shimmer, drop large spoonfuls of the batter into four mounds, flattening slightly with the back of the spoon.

Fry until set and golden on the bottom (the upper part will start to look dryer, too), then carefully turn them over and cook the other side.

I added about 1 teaspoon of curry powder to my mixture, which was very nice. They were satisfyingly crispy/chewy on the outside and moist on the inside. I served them with a simple sauce made by stirring together 1 tablespoon sugar-free mayonnaise (Trader Joe's makes an organic one), 1/2 teaspoon double-strength tomato paste (from a tube), plenty of freshly ground black pepper, and a few dashes of Tabasco. Very tasty.

The next time I make these, however, I think I will add some chopped parsley or other herbs, as well as some chopped sun-dried tomatoes. They would also be great with grated vegetables mixed in, like carrot or zucchini.


Mixed Berries
Raspberries’Nuff said.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cooking: Crisp Roast Kale

Crisp Roast KaleKale, round 2.

There are dozens of recipes for crispy roast kale floating around on the internet, but the basic premise is the same. Here's my take.

Crisp Roast Kale
serves 2

1/2 bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash the kale and shake it mostly dry. Using a sharp knife, trim out the tough stem. Finely shred and put in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and toss to thoroughly coat the kale. You can do this right on your baking sheet if you don't want to get a bowl dirty; just be aware that raw kale is springy and you may end up with it all over your counter, which you will also have to wash.

Spread the kale on a rimmed baking sheet and stick it on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Roast for 5 minutes, remove and turn things over with a spatula. Return to the oven and continue roasting another 6-7 minutes, or until the kale is crisp. Test it to see.

When it's done, remove from the oven and sprinkle with sea salt. I used Celtic gray salt (which I keep in a grinder) and it was great.

These are so light, crisp and delicious. We had them alongside some roasted carrots, yams, onions, and beets, and a meatless burger. It's impossible to eat these with a fork—pinch some between your fingers and have at it.

I'm thinking these would also be a fabulous garnish for puréed soups, or piled onto a salad or tostada.

Cooking: Sautéed Kale with Curry Pine Nuts

Sauteed KaleKale is in good supply at the farm stand and farmers' market, and we're increasing the amount of vegetables, especially dark green ones, in our diet.

However, we both have a bias against greens. Too tough. Too bitter. Too…green.

How to cook them so we actually eat them? Here's one option.

Sautéed Kale with Curry Pine Nuts
serves 2

1/2 bunch kale
1/2 sweet onion, such as Walla Walla or Vidalia, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced *
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 lemon

Wash the kale and shake off most of the water. With a sharp knife, cut out the stem. Stack the leaves and very finely shred them. This works best with a sharp knife, as these greens are tough.

In a large sauté pan or wok, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Sauté until onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic (slicing the garlic keeps it from burning so readily) and cook for 1 minute. Add the shredded kale and toss it to coat in the oil. Season with kosher salt (greens benefit from salting both at the start of cooking and at the end).

Pop a lid on the pan for a few minutes, then stir everything again. Replace the lid for a few more minutes, or until the kale is nicely wilted. Watch it so it doesn't burn. Remove the lid and continue cooking, stirring often, until the kale is done to your liking. Season with a little more salt, ground pepper, and lemon zest.

Drizzle a little more olive oil over the greens, then squeeze the 1/2 lemon over it all. Serve topped with Curry Pine Nuts.

Curry Pine Nuts

1/2 cup raw pine nuts
1-2 teaspoons curry powder

Place the pine nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-high heat and toast, stirring often, until they start to turn a nutty brown and they sweat a little oil. Stir in the curry powder and continue toasting just one more minute. Remove to a bowl to cool.

We had this with some red quinoa topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, and some fresh tomato.

* If you grow your own garlic or have access to a farmers' market, try using fresh garlic. Basically, fresh garlic hasn't finished forming the dry paper skins that separate the cloves. When really young, you can chop up the entire head; once the skins begin to form, just peel them. This garlic is delicious and mild.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Romneya coulteri

Romneya coulteriHere are two newcomers to our garden this year, Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy) happily using the sturdy Lilium 'First Choice' and an Amsonia hubrichtii as a support.

We are pretty happy ourselves that their bloom times overlap.

Matilija Poppies can grow to eight feet high and will spread through underground runners where conditions are suitable. Huge swathes of them cover hillsides in Southern California, where it can become invasive in light, sandy soils. Here in the Pacific Northwest, with our clay soils, they are harder to establish, and tend to behave themselves a little better than their warm-climate cousins.

Romneya coulteriHere's another flower, on a stem that has flopped into a nearby Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Worcester Gold,' which is just starting to show its lovely blue flowers.

Romneyas tend to go dormant after flowering, usually dropping all their foliage, and you might be tempted to think it has croaked. More likely than not, it is just resting and will emerge healthy and robust the following spring.

Unless it dies, of course.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cooking: Prawns with Corn and Fava Beans

Prawns  with Corn and Fava BeansWhile at a farm stand this morning, we found bags of fresh fava beans, which we're seeing all over the island this year. Later, at a produce stand that sets up on Fridays and Saturdays, we found the first luscious, fresh sweet corn of the season. My old Ohio farm roots kicked in, and I thought "Succotash!"

Traditionally, succotash is a melange of corn and lima beans. Why not use the favas, though? Sure, they're a little work to prepare, because you first remove them from the pods, then blanch them, then slip off the tough outer skins to reveal the incredibly green goodness inside. These were so fresh that if I had been puréeing them (mixed with lemon juice, salt and pepper) I might have left the skins on.

We sat on the front porch, shelling the beans, something I did countless times with my grandmother when I was a child. In those days, it was first peas, then lima beans, then "shelly" beans, which were then dried for winter consumption. I have a lot of fond memories of sitting on the old glider liberating the legumes from their pods.

We don't have a glider, and we don't have a farm, and we didn't grow the beans ourselves, but it was still pretty satisfying to sit there with my sweetie, watching the birds and doing something productive.

The thing about fava beans is you need a lot of them to end up with anything. Five pounds of beans in the pod may only yield two pounds of shelled, peeled favas, which is why I usually pair them with other things when we buy them.

Prawns with Corn and Fava Bean Succotash
serves 2

olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 small jalapeño pepper, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds fresh fava beans (unshelled weight)
4 small ears fresh corn, cut off the cobs
1/2 pound large prawns (about 8), peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 ripe avocado, cubed

Prepare the fava beans by shelling them. Remove the nibs unless your beans are very small. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add a lot of salt, then dump in the beans. Bring back to the boil, then boil for 1 minute. Remove the beans to a bowl of water with some ice in it to stop the cooking. When cooled, remove the outer skins. Small, fresh beans may not need this step; eat one and see. To remove skins from larger beans, pinch a small hole in one end (the skin will have become slightly elastic), then squeeze the bright green bean out of the skin. Set aside.

In a 12 in non-stick skillet, heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. While it's heating, pat the peeled shrimp dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.

When the oil is hot, slide in the garlic and jalapeño and cook for 1/2 minute. Add the corn kernels, season with salt and pepper, and turn the corn so it gets coated with the oil and the garlic isn't all trapped on the bottom, where it can burn. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the corn becomes less milky looking. You can cook the corn until it starts to caramelize, if you like, but for this dish I just wanted a fresh corn taste.

Gently stir in the peeled fava beans and mix them in. Cook for one minute more, or until the beans are tender (taste one). Push everything to one side of the pan.

Drizzle a little more olive oil in the empty part of the skillet, let it heat up, then lay in the prawns. Sprinkle them with the grated orange zest. Cook about 2-3 minutes, then turn them over. Continue cooking for just 1-2 minutes, or until they are opaque and firm. Turn off the heat.

Pile some of the succotash in the middle of a plate and top with the prawns. Garnish with avocado.

This was delicious as is. Add fresh herbs or a squeeze of fresh lime juice for another twist.

Fava Beans

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gardening: Phlomis cashmerii

Phlomis cashmeriiNot nearly as well known as it's cousin, Phlomis russeliana, P. cashmerii is a smaller-stature plant with soft, lilac-pink flowers instead of yellow.

Forming a tidy basal rosette of felty, gray-green leaves, it sends up these lovely flower spikes with whorls of pink, fuzzy flowers. Very drought tolerant once established, it's a tough, pest-free performer in our garden.

In the photo above, you can see the rich maroon flowers of Clematis 'Niobe' growing on a nearby trellis, a fortuitous combination, indeed!

Like other species of phlomis, P. cashmerii is partially evergreen, meaning that it retains leaves through the winter, although these are always the worse for wear come spring. If you get around to it, cut all the old foliage down and it will push up new, fresh ones. Or, if you forget, the plant will still push new leaves up, which tend to push the old ones down and out of sight. We usually cut the old leaves off, though, to avoid a soggy, rot-inducing collar of old foliage around the base of the plant.

We usually let the seed heads remain on the plant, which add architectural interest in the late summer garden, at least until my sweetie gets tired of looking at them and chops them down.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer Bounty

Apricot and RaspberriesWhat a great pairing.

Luscious organic apricots from the Yakima, Washington area and local Puget Sound raspberries that are just perfect.

So simple, and so good.

It's really difficult to stop eating this combo…

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cooking: Scallops

Pan-Seared ScallopsWhile at the grocery this morning, I noticed these succulent scallops, labeled "Wild - Chemical Free." Not sure how they know they're chemical free if they're wild, but they were irresistible. Into the cart they went.

We're changing the way we eat around here, eating less protein and grains and more vegetables and fruit. We're also avoiding dairy for the time being, so sautéing in butter, what I would usually do, was out.

Here's how I decided to do them (I made this up as I went along).

Pan-Seared Scallops
serves 2 (you might want more)

4 large scallops
1/2 Yukon gold potato, sliced 1/4 inch thick
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper (I used Mignonette pepper, a blend of black and white pepper with coriander seed)
1 teaspoon grated organic orange rind
1 teaspoon finely shredded fresh basil
coconut oil (or use olive oil)

In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1 teaspoon of coconut oil (it's usually solid at room temperature). When it's shimmering, lay the potato slices in a single layer. Push them around from time to time until golden, then season with salt and pepper and turn. Continue cooking until the tip of a paring knife just barely penetrates the center. Remove to a plate.

(At this point, I threw a bunch of wax beans, trimmed and cut in half, into the hot pan and cooked, shaking and flipping frequently until they started to brown in spots, then removed them and set aside.)

Add another teaspoon of coconut oil to the pan. While it's heating, dry the scallops thoroughly with paper towels. If you put them in wet, they will steam instead of browning. Season with salt and pepper, then place in the hot oil. Cook about 4-5 minutes, until bottoms are golden brown and slightly crusty, then flip them over and continue to cook another 4 minutes or so. Don't cook them until they're completely firm, or they will toughen.

A couple of minutes before the scallops are done, add the potato slices back into the pan to warm.

Pan-Seared Scallops
To plate, lay out two slices of potato and top with a scallop on each. Sprinkle with the grated orange zest and basil. Serve the remaining potatoes with the beans.

We had this with a salad made from sliced carrots, sliced snap peas, cubed avocado, and sliced orange. The orange juice, plus a small splash of walnut oil, salt and pepper makes a lovely bright-tasting dressing. Toss it all together and pile it on.

Dessert was fresh local raspberries and a Washington state apricot. So delicious.

Cooking: Curry Powder

I love curry. My sweetie likes it, too, so we enjoy making both Indian and Thai curries at home. I have always just purchased curry powder, albeit good ones, like this one from Penzey's Spices, usually supplementing it with additional cumin and/or coriander. I also use Madras curry powder in the green tin, as well as Balti seasoning (also from Penzey's).

When planning a lamb and vegetable curry for my sweetie's birthday dinner, I decided to go the extra step and blend my own. Off we went to an island purveyor of herbs, spices, coffees, teas and other good things, where we bought whole cumin seed, whole coriander seed, white peppercorns, and black peppercorns (not for the curry, but hey, you have to have black peppercorns in your arsenal).

Back at home, I put 2 tablespoons of cumin seed, 3 tablespoons of coriander seed, 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper (because this was to be a mild curry; increase for more heat), 2 teaspoons of black mustard seed, and about 10 white peppercorns in a small, dry skillet over medium heat. I kept a close eye (and nose) on the spices as they roasted in the pan. Every now and then, I gave the pan a swirl, to keep things toasting evenly, as well as to take in the luscious aroma (be careful sniffing it, though, if you have added a lot of hot pepper flakes, as the essential oils of the peppers are volatilized by heating). When the mixture was toasty brown, and the mustard seeds were just starting to pop, and the smell was heavenly, I poured it all into a bowl to cool.

When cooled, I put it all in my spice grinder (which is just a normal coffee grinder that we reserve for spices) and ground it to a medium-fine powder. After pouring it back into the bowl, I stirred in 1 tablespoon of ground termeric and a teaspoon of ground ginger.

The result was stunning. The curry powder has a wonderful, lively freshness to it, and is slightly nutty from the toasting. I used about 2/3 of it in all in making the curry, which had lamb, cauliflower, green and wax beans, carrots, cubed yam, lots of onion, ginger and garlic. Because we're not currently consuming dairy, I added coconut milk. The finished dish was so fresh and delicious, packed with vegetables and little bits of browned lamb sirloin, and redolent of exotic spices.

I was hoping for leftovers, but we ate every single bite.