Friday, May 31, 2013

Farm Fridays: Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

First canning project of the year! I must say that canning is pretty easy once you've got the hang of it. At the beginning of my third canning season I have no problem throwing down a batch of jam in the middle of the afternoon, working alone while also working on some bread dough. (Obviously, since I was making jam, I needed to bake some bread to slather it on. Isn't that how everyone does it?)

I learned that baking bread and canning jam actually go pretty well together. The heat and humidity produced by my boiling water canner created a wonderful environment near the top of my fridge for my dough to rise in. I've been having a lot of trouble lately with dead yeast, but this time either I got a really live batch or the conditions were ideal, because my dough rose like crazy! It's so big that it doesn't fit in any of my tupperwares (usually I have to squish the top of the loaf a little, but even squished, these loaves don't come close to fitting). I finally found a container to fit one loaf after Jeff suggested cutting large slices off to leave out for French toast tomorrow morning. (Did I mention that my husband is a genius?) But I digress . . .

Jam had to be made because I am now officially on a rhubarb kick. I'd never had it before last week - I'd been wondering what all the hype was about, so I decided to make a strawberry rhubarb crumble I found on smitten kitchen. It was glorious - the sour tartness of the rhubarb was a lovely complement to the sweetness of the strawberries. And the filling turned out rather jam-like, planting the seed of an idea in my brain. I found myself, late at night, combing the internet for a great strawberry rhubarb jam recipe to try. Lo and behold, I found one by one of my favorite bloggers, Marisa from Food in Jars, posted on Food52. The recipe was really simple - just strawberries, rhubarb and sugar - and straightforward. The jam cooked down exactly as she said it would, into a bubbly, rich red mass. I got so excited by my success that I failed to take any pictures of the jam before getting it into the jars. No matter how many times I do this, I can't get over how easy it can be. If I can do it beautifully in the middle of the afternoon, with no help, only half paying attention, I think there will be a lot of small-batch jam making this summer!

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Recipe by Marisa from Food in Jars, posting on Food52.

1 lb strawberries, cleaned, hulled and diced
1 lb rhubarb stems, cleaned and sliced into 1/2" pieces
1 1/2 c sugar

Add the strawberries and rhubarb to a glass or ceramic bowl and cover with sugar. Stir it around a few times so that all the fruit is coated. Let sit for at least an hour, until the sugar draws the juices out of the fruit.

Pour the contents of the bowl into a stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a rapid boil, then cook about 8-12 minutes (on my powerful burners in a wide skillet, I think it was done even before 8 minutes). Marisa says " It is done when it is quite thick; you can tell that it's ready when you draw your spoon or spatula through the jam and it doesn't immediately rush in to fill that space. It will also make a vigorous sizzling noise when stirred." (I knew I was done when that sizzling noise became more pronounced.)

(I wish I had pictures of the jam cooking to share, but as I said above, I got excited and filled my jars too quickly!)

Spoon the jam through a funnel into half-pint canning jars. Depending on how much moisture you got to evaporate, you may get three half-pints (I got just shy of three - you want 1/4" of headspace for jam, so that third jar was too low for me to try to seal). Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

Happy canning!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Farfalle with Broccoli Rabe, Garlic and Almonds

My summer course started yesterday. So, of course, on Monday I woke up with a bit of a sore throat that has developed into an icky summer cold. Yesterday, after lecturing for two hours, I came home to crash on the couch and then sleep for eleven hours. Hopefully I'll be able to shake this thing soon. I'm not exactly at my most productive right now.

I am being productive today by finally posting this delicious recipe I made last week. When I made my usual stop at the farmer's market on Friday, I visited the ladies at the Cedarville Farms stand. Instead of the spinach I'd hoped to get from them, I found little bouquets of broccoli rabe. While I've had broccoli rabe before, I've never cooked with it myself. Always up for the challenge, I bought a bunch assuming I'd fit it into my weekly menu somehow.

I ended up making it for lunch that day, with some leftover farfalle, some garlic scapes from my freezer and toasted sliced almonds. I know I impressed Jeff, who wasn't expecting to come home to such a gourmet-looking dish. It tasted as great as it looked. The broccoli rabe was a bit on the bitter side, but the blanching and the red wine vinegar balanced it out. If it's still available this week, I'll be sure to grab more for another tasty lunch!

Farfalle with Broccoli Rabe, Garlic and Almonds
Loosely adapted from the Broccoli Rabe with Garlic recipe in Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy.

4-5 oz whole wheat farfalle
1 bunch broccoli rabe
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp garlic scapes
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1/3 c sliced almonds, toasted

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

In the same pot, blanch the broccoli rabe for about 5 minutes (nearly all of it remained floating at the top of my pot, so it was easy to scoop out with a slotted spoon without disturbing the pasta below).

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add the broccoli rabe and stir to coat with the garlicky oil. Drizzle with vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the pasta and almonds to the pan and stir to combine (you may want to reserve some pasta water to add as well, to make it saucier, but I found the water left clinging to the farfalle was sufficient). Enjoy!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Farm Fridays: Strawberry and Arugula Salad with Gruyere Fricos

The CSA season has officially begun! I'm really psyched. In fact, I've been so excited to get back to the farm that when I finished gathering my share, I stood around lamely in the farm stand for a minute or so, looking for a reason to linger.

Because we've had this strange spring - alternating unseasonable cold with spurts of summer heat - there wasn't much available yet. I took home four heads of lettuce, some arugula, some herbs, and a quart of strawberries. The strawberries look great this year - in the preceding two years of my membership, the Pennington strawberry fields have had issues with fungus, resulting in very low production. Last year the existing fields were torn up and a new strawberry patch was planted. I think it's a huge improvement - the plants are small yet, but they are producing well and look very healthy. I'm looking forward to a great strawberry season! My own strawberries also look very promising - we picked the first two red ones today and they were delicious.

Since the ripening of the strawberries marks the beginning of Honey Brook's CSA season, I thought it fitting to inaugurate this season's Farm Fridays with a strawberry recipe. My last Better Homes and Gardens (which they persist in sending me even though I let my subscription run out in December) had a recipe for a strawberry-arugula salad with cheese crisps. We had it for dinner tonight (served with a balsamic, Dijon and garlic grilled chicken breast and some grilled asparagus), swapping out the recipe's Manchego for the Gruyere in our fridge, and it was every bit as good as it sounded. This salad is all about strong flavors: sweet, juicy strawberries, peppery arugula, crispy, salty Gruyere crisps and a rich balsamic dressing. The recipe is simple, but the flavors were complex. It's the sort of dish that celebrates spring (even when it's 50 degrees and drizzling outside).

Strawberry and Arugula Salad with Gruyere Fricos
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens June 2013.

3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 c arugula
1 1/2-2 c strawberries, halved or quartered (depending on their size)
3 oz shredded Gruyere

Combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Toss the arugula and strawberries together in a large bowl.

To make the fricos, heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Quickly sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese evenly onto the pan.

Cook 2-3 minutes, until the edges are golden.

Remove the skillet from the heat for about 30 seconds, then carefully lift the frico out with a spatula. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining cheese. (Yes, each of these pictures is from a different frico - I had difficulty working quickly and taking pictures!)

Toss the salad with the dressing. Break the fricos into chunks to garnish. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

May Garden Update

My summer vegetables are finally planted, the danger of frost is passed and the lawn-jungle has finally been mowed, so I thought it was time for another garden update. The above view of the back deck shows the herb garden on the lawn to the left of the stairs and the strawberry patch to the right. In the raised bed alongside the big lilac (which has, alas, just finished its glorious flowering), many more vegetables are hiding.

My radishes are progressing nicely despite the continued encroachment of other plants on the bit of space I cleared earlier this spring (next year those echinacea and whatever that plant on the right is - astilbe? - will have to go somewhere else). I think the near row of early red globe radishes will be ready next week. Behind them is a smaller row of French breakfast radishes which still need time. In between are carrots, which always seem to struggle when I plant them. We'll see how they do when the radishes are gone. Behind all of those, and difficult to see, are two yellow plum tomato plants surrounded by cages. I've had great luck with tomatoes in this spot before, so I'm trying to stick with what works. In between, around the greenish post, are a few spring peas. I planted all my peas far later than I should have, but the shoots look good so far, so I'm rooting for them to flower soon so I can have peas before it gets too hot.

The strawberries seem to have survived the very late frost without any damage. There have been tons and tons of blossoms this year, so I'm hoping for a bumper crop. The strawberry plants are interspersed with hostas and daisies, which have dwarfed them at this point in the year. This works out well, though, because the berries are protected from squirrels. And it means a fun treasure hunt for me once they get ripe!

Here are the rest of my peas, behind the lilac bush. When I originally scoped out this spot, I had thought it would get a reasonable amount of sun. I think I must have checked it out at the one time of day when it's actually sunny over there. I'm doing my best to keep the foliage back and give the peas some room to grow. I think they'll do better once they get a bit taller.

The spinach and chard I planted underneath the lilac is in a very shady spot. It's still growing, but slowly.

The herb garden is flourishing. It looks far better than this picture lets on - it's really hard to get a picture of because the light is almost always uneven. I haven't done much with this space this year - I'm really considering it a holding pen, at this point, for the herbs that will be moving to the front when the landscaping is done (we're on the schedule for June 7!). After that, I might try to squeeze some more summer vegetables in the vacant space.

I have all my containers lining the driveway right now. They usually go on the deck, but we're having some roofing work done next week, so I decided to keep them out of the way for now. As it turns out, they seem to be getting more morning sun where they are, so they might stay there. Three of the pots have tomatoes and basil, one has cucumber and there's a potato bucket at the end. On the right side I planted containers of chard and spinach. The box of squash in the middle of the driveway is definitely going to stay - I plan to let the vines run wild over the pavement (which we never use anyway) and get as big as they like. The other thing that's staying is Jeff's spring project - the raised, rolling bed.

This was something I'd conceived of as a fantasy (since the driveway gets more sun than our actual raised garden bed), and Jeff managed to find an internet tutorial and pull it off for me. I'm thrilled with it. It's a 4' x 4' x 18" box of dirt, suspended over heavy duty casters. It can be moved, but once that dirt gets wet, it's extremely difficult (we learned this the hard way). I currently have seventeen pepper plants in there - if you're having trouble seeing them, it's because I started them from seed indoors and they haven't gotten very big. I'm hoping that now that they're in some dirt in actual sunlight, they'll soon make up for lost time.

The raised bed, back in the shady part of the yard, looks good for now (but it always manages to look good in the spring). From left to right I've got rows of green onions, basil, flowering kale, mystery tomatoes (aka things that came up from the compost and I decided to keep), spinach, yellow plum tomatoes (with a rogue Thai basil plant in front), cucumbers, chard, radishes, arugula, leeks and collards. I tried to put more leafy greens in this area, since they don't mind the lack of light as much, but I ended up with more tomatoes and cucumbers than I had space for elsewhere.

That brings us to what I'm now calling the pumpkin patch. Last year I tried to do too much in this space. This year I've toned it down a bit. There are two Amish neck pumpkins and, on the left, two summer squashes. It was just going to be the pumpkins, but I ran out of room for the squash elsewhere, so I squeezed it in. I'm planning to let these plants run wild in this area. Hopefully I'll get some good pumpkins come fall! 

So that's the tour. I'll check back in after a few more weeks - when I'll hopefully be able to present the results of the front yard makeover! Happy gardening!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Indian-Spiced Chicken and Asparagus

I am totally an asparagus junkie. I bookmark piles and piles of asparagus recipes every spring. Unfortunately, I never seem to make as many of them as I'd like - when we have a bunch of asparagus we usually just throw it on the grill. Grilled asparagus is one of life's great pleasures - just toss the spears with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. So simple, so fast and so delicious.

After grilling several bunches of asparagus last week, I did manage to bring myself to use some in a real dish. This is a recipe that I bookmarked two years ago - only now have we gotten around to making it (you see what I mean about my backlog).

I loved the creaminess of this dish. It has lots of flavors going on, with the spices, the chile, the ginger, the garlic, and the asparagus itself, but the coconut milk manages to bind everything together into a tasty whole. The wet, crunchy texture of the asparagus provided a nice contrast with the soft chicken and rice. It made for a yummy dinner - and the leftovers were even better for lunch the next day.

Indian-Spiced Chicken and Asparagus
From Eating Well March/April 2011.

1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 lb chicken breast, cut into 1" cubes
3/4 tsp salt, divided
2 tbsp canola oil, divided
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 1/2 lb asparagus, woody ends snapped off
1/2 c light coconut milk
1/2 c cilantro, roughly chopped

In a small, dry skillet, toast the cumin and fennel seeds over medium heat until they begin to brown (keep an eye on them so they don't burn - I overdid mine a bit, though they ended up tasting fine). Transfer to a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Toss the chicken with half the spice mixture and 1/4 tsp salt.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chicken and cook, stirring, until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the other 1 tbsp oil to the pan. When hot, add the onions, garlic, jalapeno, and ginger. Cook 2-4 minutes, until softened. Add the asparagus and the remaining spice mixture, stir well, and cook another 2 min.

Add the coconut milk and remaining 1/2 tsp salt and cook another 2 min. Return the chicken to the pan and cook 2 minutes more, until asparagus is tender but still crisp. Garnish with cilantro and serve over rice.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fettucine with Kale, Green Garlic and Lemon

I can't believe we had a frost last night. I planted all my summer vegetables over the weekend, so I had to frantically put tarps down and carry all my containers to the garage. I actually did all this Sunday night and left it in place until this morning, since yesterday was so cold. I really hope that this was winter's last hurrah - I want to be eating fresh spring veggies from my garden soon!

Since strawberries and radishes and peas aren't ready, I've been contenting myself with cold-hardy greens from the farmer's market (and gorging myself on asparagus - one of those recipes is coming soon). I threw this dish together for lunch the other day. It's fast, fresh and tasty.

If you've never used green garlic before, I recommend trying to get your hands on some. I got mine from the farmers market a few weeks ago. My guess is that the farm was thinning its rows of garlic and decided to sell the thinnings - and why not? They have a delicious fresh garlic flavor - strong, but without the bite of storage garlic cloves. Green garlic looks like a green onion, but should be treated like a leek - strip the old layers off, cut off the roots, and slice up the white and light green portions to use. The leaves go in the compost (or the stock bag!). It added a nice fresh flavor to the kale. If you can't find green garlic, regular garlic cloves or garlic scapes would work well here, too.

Fettucine with Kale, Green Garlic and Lemon
serves 2

6 oz whole wheat fettucine
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 stems green garlic (about 1 - 1 1/2 tbsp)
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3-4 c kale leaves, stripped from stems and ripped into bite-size pieces
zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
2 oz Pecorino-Romano cheese, shredded

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the green garlic and red pepper flakes and saute about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the kale and saute 3-4 minutes, tossing with garlic.

If the kale does not look cooked through at the end of 3-4 minutes, toss 2 tbsp water in the pan and quickly cover. Let the kale steam for a minute or two to finish cooking.

When the pasta is finished, drain (reserving 1/4 c water) and add to the pan with the kale. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to combine. Add a bit of pasta water if necessary (I only needed a 2-3 tbsps). Serve topped with grated Pecorino-Romano.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pigalle, New York

Last weekend, Jeff and I went to the city with several of his many siblings. ("The city," by the way, always refers to New York - specifically Manhattan. Even though we now live closer to Philly. Philly is nice, but New York is THE city.) We saw a matinee of Pippin and an Accidental Shakespeare production of Love's Labor Lost.

In between shows, we had an early dinner at Pigalle, a bustling French restaurant in the theater district. (Props to Andrea for yet another excellent restaurant pick.) Now, I'm not always big on French cuisine - they serve many things I should not be eating (high sat fat and cholesterol) and adorn otherwise perfect dishes with things I don't want (olives, anchovies, blue cheese). There was a lovely roasted half chicken on the menu, but I can't eat that much meat anymore - most of the last half chicken I ordered (at David Burke Fromagerie) came home with us. I ended up creating my own entree, adding a garden salad (sans blue cheese dressing) to a small onion tart to make a delicious light meal. Supplemented with half an appetizer and a whole dessert, I was pretty full (the half chicken would have been way over my limit).

I did not get a picture of our appetizer, it disappeared so quickly, but I shared crab cakes with Jeff's sister Carolyn. One order had only two very small crab cakes, but their deliciousness made up for their smallness. They were not packed with crab like the crab cakes Jeff recently made for us (and I totally wish I'd blogged about). There was a substantial amount of breading and other stuff in there, but the texture was wonderfully creamy. The bread crumbs on the outside gave them just a touch of crunch. They were accompanied by a spicy remoulade - not something I normally like, because I'm not a mayonnaise fan, but this had great flavor and complimented the crab perfectly.

My salad came as an entree, as I'd requested (though I wish I'd requested slightly smaller plates so they could fit in front of me!). It was just a garden salad, but had a very nice mixture of vegetables - a variety of lettuces with radish, bell pepper, carrot and tomato. The vinaigrette they substituted for the menu's blue cheese dressing was lovely. It wasn't an exciting choice, but it was a good one. I love salads.

My other entree was the onion tart. This was tucked away in a corner of the menu without any description, so I didn't know what to expect (apart from the size, which I'd already inquired about). I'd love to know what was in there, though, because the tart had a wonderful creamy filling. The onions were caramelized to perfection and the crust was light and flaky. What else could I have asked for? There was even more salad on the plate with it!

Jeff went crazy with his entree and ordered the trio of pork - one of the day's specials. It came with a sadly small salad of sauteed Brussels sprouts. They were a bit undercooked, to our taste, and there could have been more of them. Still, the pork was delicious. There was a pork chop with a simple glaze, a small link of pork sausage and some pork belly. Jeff thought the portions were sized just right - just enough that he was satisfied and not so much that he was tired of any one thing.

We went all out for dessert. Jeff ordered the peanut butter and fudge brownie - a nutty brownie with a layer of peanut butter filling topped with a layer of very shiny ganache served with plenty of chocolate sauce and ice cream. I thought the brownie itself was rather dry, but with all the other gooey things on the plate, it was hard to notice. The peanut butter flavor was excellent and the deep, dark ganache added a richness to the plate.

For my dessert, I ordered the bittersweet chocolate mousse with almond brittle. I haven't had chocolate mousse for ages, and it was just as I remembered. I love desserts that are soft, light and creamy and this fit the bill perfectly (although it did contain far more cream than I should ever be eating). The almond brittle came in the form of a crumbly, almost sticky almond cookie that added interest to what is otherwise a monotextural dessert. I appreciated that they didn't add too much coffee flavor to the mousse - there was a touch of mocha, but that's all. Since I'm a chocolate fan, but not a coffee fan, that was perfect for me.

Overall, while I hadn't initially been excited about Pigalle's menu (which featured pretty standard French fare), I was very happy with the experience. Everything that came out of the kitchen was beautifully executed. And, while far from healthy, I was able to put together a lighter meal out of what they had to offer (when I say "light," I'm not counting dessert - a light meal is just a means by which to ensure there's room for a fancy dessert!). I'm going to file this one away for the next time I need a good, solid meal in the theater district - assuming Andrea isn't around to recommend somewhere else awesome!