This week the garden and yard work were in full swing. We would come home from a full day of work to begin working in the garden. One evening while my husband mowed I gathered the grass clippings and layed them between the garden rows to keep moisture in and discourage weeds. The plants are still small and not producing food yet, but we are working towards a pantry full of food this fall.
The only plants currently producing food in our area that I can think of are rhubarb and asparagus, so we have been busy gathering those and hopefully we will gather enough to put some in the freezer for several meals this winter.
Though the garden isn't producing yet, some of our food is grown or raised locally. After working in the garden I came in and made a steak and asparagus pasta with beef from our family's farm, locally foraged asparagus, pasta made just 30 minutes north using local wheat, basil from my backyard, dried red pepper, and cherry tomatoes.
The cherry tomatoes I used were frozen from last years harvest. My cherry tomatoes have blossoms, but no tomatoes yet.
Here is my favorite bechamel sauce recipe. I just add whatever vegetables are in season and sometimes meat that I have on hand.
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
freshly grated nutmeg
In large saute' pan heat butter over medium heat until melted. Add flour and whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat until mixture turns a golden color. Slowly add milk to butter mixture whisking to a smooth consistency. Bring to boil whisking continually, cook 10 minutes. Add salt and nutmeg.
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups wholewheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
2 cups diced rhubarb
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a loaf pan. Combine in a bowl the brown sugar and oil, stir well until smooth. Add the egg, buttermilk, salt, baking soda, vanilla and flour. Blend until moist. Fold in the diced rhubarb and chopped nuts. Turn batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
This recipe has been in my family for as long as I can remember. My grandmother used to make this cake every year during rhubarb season. Monday evening I got a craving for this cake and picked rhubarb in pouring rain so I could bake it, that tart and sweet combination is so good.
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
2 cup flour
2 cup rhubarb, diced
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix all ingredients and pour into a 13 x 9 greased and floured cake pan.
Then mix together
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
and sprinkle on top of batter.
Rhubarb is an easy to grow perennial, however it does not do well in areas that do not freeze. This is one plant that prefers to live where there is a hard freeze. I have relatives that live in southern California and they have been disappointed that rhubarb will not grow in their area.
Rhubarb likes rich, slightly acidic soil in a site with full sun to partial shade. It does well in a corner or along the edge of a garden where it can grow without shading or competing with other plants. Rhubarb grows to be a large plant some plants around here getting to be three or four feet in diameter and about three feet tall, give it plenty of space.
As rhubarb grows larger it can be dug up and divided, shared with friends and neighbors or provide more plants for your own yard. This year I dug up and transplanted the two plants that I received from my daughter last summer, I was able to divide the plant into five new rhubarb plants and I transplanted them in a space with more room to grow. Plant or transplant in early spring or fall. Dig a hole deeper than the root and mix in compost or well-rotted manure with the soil you removed. Plant the root and replace some of the amended soil, making a mound high enough so the crown (where the roots and leaf stalks meet) will be just below the soil surface. Replace the rest of the soil, creating a gentle slope away from the plant. Rhubarb is hardy and takes to transplanting very well.
Water well after planting and keep the soil moist throughout the growing season. Rhubarb can be grown as an ornamental, if so let it flower. If you are like me and you are looking at the plant as a food source, then cut off flower shoots as they appear so the plant can put its energy into the vegetable stalks.
Rhubarb grows quickly once established and can become crowded. To rejuvenate the plants, divide by slicing through the crown with a spade.
Avoid harvesting the first year after planting, newly set plants need all their foliage to build a strong root system. Rhubarb is most flavorful in the spring, but can be harvested until the heat and dry weather cut production. Leave enough leaves and stalk for the roots to thrive.
Rhubarb freezes well and a couple plants will provide you with a choice of pie, jam, juice, cake, muffins, crisps, sauce and many other treats throughout the year. To freeze just wash stalk and dice. As most of my recipes call for 2 cups of rhubarb, I place two cups of diced rhubarb into a freezer container and freeze, no blanching needed.
Healthwise, rhubarb is considered a good source of calcium, fiber and vitamin C and is thought to extinguish heartburn, reduce cholesterol, decrease hot flashes in menopausal women and protect against infection. It also contains vitamin K, A Folic Acid and Potassium.
The rhubarb is producing well around here and since I have just transplanted mine I picked some at my grandmother's house for a couple of recipes that will appear in posts the next couple of days.
Summer weather calls for ice cream. Temperatures last week were in the upper 70s lower 80s and they are calling for the same this week, that's close enough to summer weather for ice cream despite the calendar (didn't we just have snow less then three weeks ago?). Then between Sunday and Monday we received nearly three inches of rain. The rain barrel is full again so I will be able to keep the potted plants hydrated with rain water, not tap water. The garden is growing like gang-busters, you could just about watch the mammoth sunflowers grow.
Anyway, Saturday evening I decided it was time to make ice cream, and with strawberries in season I made strawberry ice cream. This recipe is rich and you don't need more than a scoop or two to satisfy.
Strawberry Ice Cream
2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup half and half
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Place strawberries in blender and process at low speed until chopped. Pour into bowl and add remaining ingredients. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Freeze in ice cream maker according to directions. Place in freezer to harden and enjoy.
This is a quick simple salad for a lunch or side dish at dinner. After being at an afternoon gathering with friends and a kitchen island full of delicious appetizers, I came home and turned on music by The National, both the "Alligator" and "Boxer" albums, and made this salad for a late dinner. I also made strawberry ice cream, but that is a post for tomorrow.
I was able to use the sun-dried tomaotes that I made last fall and they were very good. I wasn't sure how they would turn out since I didn't have any directions for making them. I simply dried the tomatoes and poured olive oil over them and put them in the refrigerator. I'm not sure I needed to put them in the refrigerator, but I didn't know when I would be using them and I didn't want the oil to get rancid. Of course the oil solidified and the jar of tomatoes looked rather disgusting, but once I took them out and wiped of the oil they were very tasty, and worth the effort.
I had a salad similar to this at a large gathering and despite asking several people who brought this delicious salad, I never did find out. So I located a recipe in Bon Appetit that was similar, though something is missing from this salad and I can't quite figure it out. I couldn't locate cumin seeds so I had to use ground cumin, not sure how much difference that made. It was good though and I have copied the recipe as Bon Appetit had it with the addition of artichokes.
Chickpea Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes adapted from Bon Appetit July 2002
Makes 6 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 - 15 1/2 ounce cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained, rinsed
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, chopped (about 1 1/3 cups)
1 15 ounce can artichoke hearts, drained, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup thinly sliced drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
Combine oil and cumin seeds in heavy small saucepan. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes to blend flavors, stirring occasionally. Cool completely.
Combine remaining ingredients in large bowl. Add cumin oil and toss to blend. Season salad to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
I grew up with lilac bushes. One bush, really several bushes grown together, was so large I used to crawl inside and play house. It was so overgrown that the middle had died, perhaps from a lack of sun, anyway, it was a perfect spot for a young girl to play house in. It was large enough inside to stand up and still be hidden by lilac leaves. I love the smell of lilacs. It smells like home to me.
The first house I owned also had lilac bushes. Last year I decided it was time this house have lilac bushes. The neighbors bushes were not enough for me, I needed my own. I placed five bushes close to the edge of our property, knowing that they will grow together and make a privacy hedge for the backyard.
There are over 500 varieties of lilac. I bought three Common Purple Lilacs (the ones I grew up with) and two Pocahontas. The Common Purple are very fragrant, just the smell brings back memories. And they make excellent cut flowers for the house.
Anyone else have plants that bring back childhood memories?
I had a chance to go foraging for asparagus with a friend yesterday, she has been foraging for years so I jumped at the chance to learn from her experience and took the afternoon off work. She taught me where to look for asparagus. These two stalks were growing in a ditch along the road, she said to look for clumps of last year's dry stalks.
Then to search around the grass, pushing it aside. Sometimes you can be looking right at a asparagus spear and not even see it since it blends in so well, you have to train your eye to look for a shade difference or she said to watch as the grass blows in the wind, the asparagus does not move. She also said to walk around the old stalk and look at it from all different angles. I found myself reaching right over the top of a spear to pick another one, never seeing the first until she pointed it out. The spear in the photo below is right behind the dried flower.
We found clumps of asparagus along railroad tracks, in ditches and on the side of a hill right in town, which is beside a busy road, growing among the sumac.
My friend said asparagus will continue to grow in those same spots sending up more shoots every few days or so. She said it can be picked until the middle of June and then needs to be left alone so the plant can continue to grow and thrive. The female plants will flower and grow berries that the birds will eat and then deposit seeds to grow in other areas. I came home with a fair amount of asparagus and a head full of knowledge about where to look and how to spot asparagus. We enjoyed roasted asparagus for dinner, along with leftover quiche. I drizzled olive over the asparagus in a pan and roasted it at 400 degrees, sprinkled with salt as it came out, mmm. My favorite way to eat asparagus though, is fresh and raw, tastes like fresh garden peas.
These whole wheat sesame crackers were perfect for the garlic Chevre that I purchased from a local family farm, and a sprig of fresh basil.
Whole Wheat Sesame Crackers
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup yogurt
Scant 2/3 cup ice water
kosher salt (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast sesame seeds in small pan over med-high heat, watching and shaking pan so they do not burn. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Using a pastry cutter, cut in butter and yogurt. Add toasted seeds to the batter. Mix in the ice water, kneading lightly.
Roll dough to 1/8 inch thick; any thicker will make the crackers tough rather than crisp. Cut with pizza cutter to the size you want. Prick all over with a fork. Sprinkle with kosher salt if using. Bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet for 10 minutes, or until lightly brown. Cool on a rack.
1 cup of ham or 10 strips bacon, crisply cooked, drained then crumbled
1 1/4 cup diced Swiss or gruyere cheese, cubed
1 1/4 cup half and half (light cream)
1/2 cup milk
freshly grated nutmeg
1 pie crust (recipe below)
Line a quiche or deep pie pan with pie crust (see below). Poke a few holes in the crust with a fork to prevent bubbles. Bake unfilled 15 minutes at 425 degrees. The pastry shell can be baked in the early morning and the quiche filling can be added in the evening.
Scatter bacon or ham in the pastry shell and sprinkle with cheese. Beat eggs, cream and milk until blended; pour into pastry shell. Sprinkle with nutmeg.
Bake in 350 degree oven for about 1 hour or until quiche is slightly puffed and appears set when gently shaken. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting wedges.
Makes 2 crusts
(use just one crust for the quiche, other ball of dough may be frozen and used later)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold butter
1/4 cup ice cold water
Mix flour and salt together. Cut butter into flour mixture using a pastry cutter until mixture is pea size crumbs. Then add water and mix with hands just until it forms a ball, do not overwork. Add more water by the tablespoon is dough is too dry to form a ball, however the ball should be on the dry side and not be too moist or sticky.
Flour working surface, divide dough into two balls, roll out dough into a circle to fit your pan. Flour rolling pin and starting on one side roll dough onto pin (as in photo below) and unroll into ungreased pie pan. Flute edges with thumb on one hand and thumb and index finger on the next, pinching the dough to make points. Bake according to quiche or pie recipe.