Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Random thoughts on a Spring day

With so much growing and changing in the garden, I thought now would be a good time to journal a bit about the garden goings-on.

Most of the garden is in, and I was even so bold as to put in my basil, tomatoes and peppers. I'll have to see if there's any good or harm in it. Normally, I plant my tomatoes so late that I'm the last one on the block to have any. Last year, I had some sort of a blight on my tomatoes so that I had none at all, with the exception of the cherry tomatoes, which seem to be indestructible.

Yesterday Zach and I sprayed the fruit trees with sulfur, copper and rotenone. It's the first time we've sprayed any of our trees; so far, we've had good fruiting but they're always riddled with curculio worms or other little beasties. Sometimes I can just cut the fruit away, but many times the fruit is no good because it has rotted from the center. I plan to keep up with the spraying until the fruit is ripe and see if this does any good. If not, we'll have to try some more aggressive organic methods. There are plenty of fruits on all of the trees, including the cherry, plum, peach and asian pear. After spraying the apple trees this year, I'll have to determine whether they're worth keeping. There are five of them, and they're about 20 years old, planted from the seeds of a single red delicious by the children who used to live on our hill. All of the trees are different--some worth eating, and some not--but I've not tried using them for sauce so far because they're so small and usually riddled with worms and fungus. One tree has decent eating apples, so that's the one we'll likely work on the most. One is a fabulous climbing tree, and that's the one the kids want to keep. This year should tell the tale a bit.

For the first year, I have an asparagus patch that can be picked from, but it seems to be slow coming. We've had a lot of wet, cool weather this year, so I don't know if that's why. The great news is that we also found a wild patch just down the hill in the fencerow last fall, and I've found the stalks again this Spring, so between all five spots, we should have some asparagus sometime soon!

We tilled under the cherry trees and I plan to plant watermelon and cantaloupe there as soon as the weather warms a bit. Tonight calls for a low of 47F, so we're creeping that way little by little.

We saw our first hummingbird of the season last week. As Toby and I stood on the porch, a sound like a small jet engine whizzed between us. The tiny bird made its way to my violas and took a few sips then landed on the fence for a moment, and then he was gone. It's time to add the hummingbird feeders to the others.

Toby has been busy putting an archway up leading into the herb garden. The original archway was given to me by my friend Joannie from her greenhouse, but it was in need of repair, so Toby bought some posts and is building a frame for the pieces. On top, he'll mount the farm bell we bought at auction a few years ago, and I'll add a few hooks for my hand tools.

I found this fabulous copper birdbath at my favorite thrift store and sat it on top of a stump. A few floating candles will make this a real treat this summer.

Zach has been working on making a stone patio and pathway, but it will come bit by bit. The stones were from Freecycle, so we'll have to wait until we find another good deal on them before we continue the project. Anyone with extra flagstones can send them my way!

Taylor has been working hard in her perennial garden and is pleased to find new things emerging every day.

Well, it's time to head back out and put in some beets, arugula and scallions.

Get out there and garden!

Monday, May 26, 2008

All-American Baked Beans

For my eldest daughter's graduation party, I made Grandma Jane's Special Potato Salad, Barbecued Chicken and All-American Baked Beans from a cookbook I bought years ago--The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukens. On Saturday evening, I soaked the beans, and on Sunday morning, I cooked them, leaving them to drain while we were at church. When we returned on Sunday afternoon, I finished up the beans, adding the bacon and sauce and pouring them all into a big electric roaster. They were very well-received, especially by my mother-in-law Kathie who asked me several questions about the recipe throughout the afternoon. It wasn't until the next morning that she told me she'd never known that baked beans came from navy or Great Northern beans, and that she'd never seen baked beans made from scratch!

Because beans are so inexpensive, the addition of the more costly real maple syrup justifiable. These beans take a long while because you have to soak them the night before, cook them ahead of time, and then bake them for about three hours. Don't forget, like I did, to reserve the liquid in which you cooked the beans, but if you do, it's not a tragedy. If your beans are getting too dry, add a bit of water.

I multiplied this recipe by six for my party, and it half-filled my electric roaster.


All-American Baked Beans
Serves 10-12

1 pound dried navy or Great Northern beans
8 ounces slab or thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4" pieces
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 cups ketchup
6 tablespoons maple syrup
6 tablespoons dark molasses
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Rinse and pick through the beans. Soak them overnight in a large pot of water.
Rinse the soaked beans well under cold water and place them in a heavy saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender, 45 minutes to an hour. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Place a 2-quart flameproof casserole or dutch oven over medium heat and saute bacon until slightly crisp and fat is rendered, about five minutes. Add the onions and garlic, cooking until it's wilted, about 5 minutes.
Add the brown sugar and stir over medium-low heat until it has dissolved, about five minutes. Stir in the ketchup, syrup, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Add the drained beans and mix well.
Cover and transfer to the oven. Bake, stirring occasionally, for 2 1/2 hours. Make sure you scrape the bottom when you stir.
Add 3/4 cup of the reserved bean liquid, cover, and bake another 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake, stirring once, until the sauce is thick and syrupy, another 10-15 minutes. Serve hot.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chicken Bryan

There's a fancy restaurant near us that serves a dish that I crave come summer grilling time. After doing a little searching and experimenting, I decided that this was about as close as I could get to the real thing.


Chicken Bryan


6 large chicken breasts
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
8 oz goat cheese or Gruyere, softened to room temperature

Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce:

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon finely-chopped garlic
1 tablespoon finely-chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
10 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cup finely-sliced sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper

Prepare the sun-dried tomato sauce. Place the butter, garlic and onion in a large skillet over medium heat and saute until the garlic and onion are tender and transparent. Add white wine and lemon juice. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer to reduce by half.

Reduce heat to low. Add cold butter one piece at a time. Add sun-dried tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Stir to blend ingredients. Set aside.

Prepare the chicken: reduce charcoal briquettes to white-hot coals. Brush chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill chicken over hot coals 15-20 minutes or until cooked through.

Divide goat cheese evenly between chicken breasts, placing on the chicken breasts for the last two minutes of cooking.

Place cooked chicken on serving platter and spoon sun-dried tomato sauce over chicken.

Serve hot.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Galette de rhubarbe

Spring means rhubarb, and rhubarb means Galette de rhubarbe, which is just a fancy name for a rustic tart. It's like a pie, but not nearly as fussy. The hardest part is cutting the rhubarb, and waiting for it to bake!

The amount of sugar I used just cut the tartness, so you might want to add just a bit more if you don't like really tart things. We like it to be a bit on the tart side and then we serve it with a good-quality vanilla ice cream, either homemade or Breyers. Serve it warm! It will serve about eight small pieces. The pate brise recipe makes two crusts, so you can either save one for later, or make two at once!


Galette de rhubarbe

1/2 a recipe of pate brise
2 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb (washed and leaves removed!)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
pinch of cinnamon

Preheat oven the 350F

Roll the pate brise into a 9" round. You can cut off the edges to make it look prettier, if you like, but I like mine with as much crust as I can get, so I leave it on! Place the round onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Mix the rhubarb, sugar (or a bit more, if you want it sweeter), flour and a pinch of cinnamon. Toss it all together to thoroughly coat it.

Heap the rhubarb mixture onto the round of pate brise, and gently fold the edges of the dough partially over the rhubarb mixture. Brush with an egg wash and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft and the crust is golden brown and crisp.

Serve warm with ice cream.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hot Sauce for Refried Beans

This recipe goes along with the refried beans and comes from one of Mollie Katzen's books, I think. I can't remember which! It was given to me by a friend, and it far surpasses any of the store-bought hot sauces. Use it to make tostadas with deep-fried flour tortillas. Top with cheese, Greek yogurt, fresh chives. YUM!


Hot Sauce for Refried Beans

1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons dry red wine
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil

Saute the onions and garlic with 1/2 teaspoon of salt in the olive oil until onion is clear. Add spices. Transfer to a saucepan and add tomatoes, water, tomato paste and wine. Add remaining salt.

Cover and simmer 1/2 hour or longer. The longer, the better, up to several hours

You can puree some or all of this, or leave it chunky. We like it chunky. :-)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Homemade Refried Beans

Canned refried beans from the store are often filled with fat and sodium. Once you've made refried beans yourself, you'll see that the difference is astounding.

Be sure to think ahead when you want to make these refried beans, because you'll need to start soaking the beans about 3-4 hours before you need to eat. After you've made them, spread them on tortillas, either homemade or store-bought, and sprinkle on some hot sauce, cheddar cheese, green onions, olives...whatever you like, and warm them up a bit. A dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt and a bit of fresh cilantro, and you'll be hooked.



2 cups raw pinto beans, soaked for at least 1 1/2 hours
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup minced green pepper
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
olive oil

Once the pintos have been soaking for at least an hour and a half, cover them with more water and cook, partially covered, until they are soft. Be sure to keep the water level above the beans, as it cooks away. When they're done, drain them and use a potato masher to mash them very well.

Heat oil in a skillet. Add the onions, garlic, cumin and salt. Cook over low heat until the onions are soft. Add the peppers, cover and simmer until the peppers are soft, about 8 minutes. Add the veggies to the beans and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve very warm.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Barbecued Chicken with Spice Rub and Memphis-Style Barbecue Sauce

For Taylor's grad party, we'll be making oodles of barbecued chicken with sauce and keeping it warm in the electric roaster. The best recipe for barbecued chicken I've ever found comes from Fine Cooking magazine. It features a spice rub before cooking, a Memphis-style barbecue sauce to slather on towards the end and serve on the side, and a foolproof method for cooking chicken on the grill without burning it. Check out that website for full directions. This chicken, along with Grandma Jane's Special Potato Salad and a couple of Zach's Famous Cheesecakes and some fresh greens from the garden will make this a fabulous graduation meal.

Spice Rub

1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs. onion salt
1 Tbs. seasoned salt, such as Lawry's
1 Tbs. garlic salt
2 Tbs. paprika
1-1/2 tsp. chili powder
1-1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
1 Tbs. dried sage
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
1/4 tsp. cayenne

Combine all the ingredients and blend well. Store in an airtight container.

To prepare the chicken -- Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces. Sprinkle on the rub generously.

To prepare the fire -- (If you are using a gas grill, see the directions here). Using a chimney starter, light 40 to 50 pieces of good-quality lump charcoal. When the coals are glowing, transfer them from the chimney to one side of the grill. (If you don't have a chimney starter, stack the charcoal around some crumpled newspaper in a pyramid in the grill and light the newspaper. The coals will be hot in 20 to 30 min.)

If you have some pieces of apple or oak hardwood, feel free to add a couple to the stack of coals. Put a small foil or metal pan full of water next to the coals. Position the grilling grate so that one of the holes is over the coals so you can add coals and wood chips as needed.

When the coals are about 90% white, position the pieces of chicken, skin side up, on the grill anywhere except directly over the coals. Cover the grill with the lid, making sure that the air vent is opposite the fire. Cook the chicken for about 30 min., maintaining a temperature of 230° to 250°F by adjusting the vents. (Opening the vents lets in more oxygen and raises the temperature.) Add more charcoal if the temperature drops below 230°F. You'll likely need to add 15 to 20 pieces about 30 min. after putting the chicken on.

After a half hour or so, baste the chicken with some of the apple juice. Continue to cook the chicken until it's cooked through -- this will take about 3 hours -- basting it and checking the temperature of the grill every 45 min. or so. As the chicken cooks, you can move the pieces around the grill if those closest to the fire seem in danger of overcooking. But keep the chicken skin side up for the duration.

Check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer after 2-1/2 hours. Cooked chicken should read 165°F in the meatiest part of the thigh or breast. You'll also know the chicken is done when its juices run clear after being sliced into with a knife.

When the chicken is cooked, pour some of the barbecue sauce into a separate container (to avoid contaminating the whole batch) and brush it onto the chicken. Cook it an additional few minutes so that the sauce adheres to the chicken in a sticky glaze; watch the chicken carefully at this point and pull it off the grill if the sauce starts to burn.

Remove the chicken from the grill and serve with some of the barbecue sauce on the side, if you like.

Memphis-style barbecue sauce

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 Tbs. chili powder
1 Tbs. finely ground black pepper
1 Tbs. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. celery salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne (optional)
2 cups tomato ketchup
1/2 cup prepared mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. liquid smoke (optional)
2 Tbs. canola oil

In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients except the oil. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. (You may want to have a lid handy to protect yourself and your kitchen from any sputtering.) Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. With a whisk, blend in the oil until incorporated.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Current Obsession: Greek Yogurt!

I recently started a food buying club at our church, and I've already found it to be worth it.

One of the ladies there ordered some Greek Yogurt, and I decided to give it a try. I wasn't sure if about it at first, because I'm a big fan of Stonyfield Farm's Whole Milk Yogurt, but I was willing to give it a shot after my friend's glowing review.

She had described it as almost like the kind of yogurt you get when you strain plain yogurt through a cheesecloth. She was right, but the taste of the plain Greek yogurt is more like tangy sour cream. As a matter of fact, that's how I've been using the plain--like sour cream. We've used it for dipping homemade potato chips, for a replacement for sour cream in cheesecakes, in muffin recipes, and every morning in our scrambled eggs.

For years, I've made scrambled eggs with a couple dollops of sour cream added during the beating process. Last week, I decided to give the Greek yogurt a shot, and the recipe got rave reviews. It adds just a hint of tang and creaminess to the eggs, but the most important thing is that it makes the eggs light and fluffy, and they retain the moisture and warmth much longer.

Here's how it's done...

Scrambled Eggs with Greek Yogurt

6 farm-fresh free-range eggs (if you can get them)
a handful of garden-fresh chives, chopped
2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt (the brand I've been using is The Greek Gods)
A dash of salt
A dash of pepper

Beat the eggs, and then add the chives, yogurt, salt and pepper. You can also toss in just a smidgen (maybe 2 teaspoons) of fresh chopped tarragon.

Heat a cast-iron skillet (or other skillet) and melt a tablespoon of butter, swirling it around to cover the bottom of the pan.

Pour the eggs into the pan and cook over medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure the eggs don't stick.

Cook until the eggs are all soft and fluffy.

Serve immediately with English muffins or toast.

You can add the greek yogurt to your other egg dishes, too, like fritattas or omelets.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Asparagus-Mint Frittata

Andrea's Recipes is featuring a food blogging event that celebrates the foods we grow or raise ourselves and the dishes we make using our homegrown products called Grow Your Own. I'm submitting this recipe, the Asparagus-Mint Frittata, which comes from Cook's Illustrated's Best Recipes cookbook. The asparagus, parsley and mint came from my own garden, and the eggs came from my friends, the Stockdales, who raise much of their own foods, including the free-range eggs I used in my recipe.


Asparagus-Mint Frittata

Blanch the asparagus pieces in salted boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1/3 pound fresh asparagus, tough ends snapped off, cut into 1 inch pieces
5 tablespoons freshly-grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten

Set oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat the oil in a 10" skillet over medium heat, swirling to cover bottom and sides.
Add the shallot and saute until softened, 3-4 minutes.
Add the mint, parsley and asparagus and toss to coat.
Spread asparagus in a single layer.
Beat 3 tablespoons of the parmesan into the eggs, and add the salt and pepper.
Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and stir lightly with a fork until the eggs start to set.
Once the bottom is firm, use a think plastic spatula to lift the frittata edge closest to you, then tilt the pan towards you to let the uncoooked egg run underneath. Level the skillet and redistribute the egg. Cook for about 40 seconds, then repeat the lifting/redistributing procedure until there is no more runny egg.
Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of parmesan on top.
Pop the skillet in the oven and bake until the top is set and dry to the touch, 2-4 minutes.
Invert onto a serving plate and serve warm, at room temp, or chilled.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Awesome Marinated Chicken

The time this takes is the overnight marinading, but there couldn't be anything simpler. Or tastier! The perfect grilled chicken for a sunny Spring day.

Awesome Marinated Chicken

Boneless chicken breasts
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried, but, trust me, you'll like the fresh stuff better)
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram (same as above)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1-4 cloves of minced garlic (garlic to taste)

Combine all of the ingredients in a zip-type bag. Marinate overnight. Grill on medium-heat charcoal grill about six minutes per side. Serve with a delicious vegetable, like fresh asparagus!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Taylor's Favorite Banana Bread

This was my daughter's first baking project. At age 8, she was very proud to be able to whip up a batch of her favorite banana bread for the family. Now, at 18, she can make a delicious meal from scratch, but she still comes back to this one when we have some very ripe bananas just screaming to be baked.


Taylor's Favorite Banana Bread

3/4 cups sugar
1 cup (about two) very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup sour cream or greek yogurt
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Grease a loaf pan with cooking spray.
Mix sugar, bananas, oil and eggs in a large bowl. For younger ones, use a wooden spoon. I use a stand mixer.
Stir in remaining ingredients, just until mixed.
Pour into pan.
Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
Cool for ten minutes.
Remove from pan.
Let cool a bit before slicing.
Can also be made as muffins. Reduce time to 25-30 minutes.