Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cherry Walnut Relish

Oops. I seem to have missed Farm Fridays this week. Yesterday turned out to be quite a busy day when my usual Friday errands turned into an all-out shopping spree. I spent money on a level that I've never reached before (at least, not in a single day!). Slipping into Sur La Table at the mall for a new tea kettle (I sorta melted the top of the old one) meant getting sucked into several stores having awesome sales and dropping into Sephora to replenish my foundation led me into a long conversation with a saleswoman who evaluated my skin and recommended several products that I really should have been using already (somehow in all these years I never learned about primer). And after months of mostly vain searching for shoes that I can wear with my bulky orthopedic inserts, I hit the jackpot, coming home with five new pairs. The gist of all this is that I spent far more time shopping than originally planned, which didn't get me home in time to make all the dinner recipes I'd had planned. And the stuff we did manage was done before I thought to grab my camera.

But I thought I'd make it up to you with a few of the cherry recipes we worked on last week. Last Saturday Terhune Orchards opened for cherry picking! You may remember that I went last year and blogged about how much fun I had. This year Jeff was available to come along and help, so we planned a big day of cherry picking and canning. Cherry picking is so easy, and cherries are so delicious and tempting, that we picked far more than we'd intended - we brought home thirteen pounds of cherries (see the above picture of our dining room table laden with cleaned and sorted fruit). And by the end of the weekend, most of them had been dispatched in a variety of tasty recipes.

We made this cherry-walnut relish, cherry preserves and almond and sweet cherry galette on Saturday and on Sunday, after I'd realized how much we still had (and fearing we wouldn't get through them before they started to go bad), I obsessively searched through my files and the internet to find more possibilities: brandied cherries, individual cherry crisps and roasted cherry brownies (don't worry - those are the subject of my next post!). The crisps and the brownies were frozen for future consumption, so we will be enjoying cherries for several weeks to come.

This cherry walnut relish was the first project that came to mind when we decided to go cherry picking. When I got my copy of Put 'Em Up a few years ago and prepared to start canning, it was one of the first recipes that caught my eye. I jumped at the chance to do it this year. I chose the most luscious and velvety of the cherry varieties we had (while I divided them all into bags and pint boxes to keep the varieties separate, I of course failed to remember the names of the cherries we'd picked) to go with the richness of the spices and nuts. While cherries are a summer fruit, I thought this sounded like a winter treat, to top pork roasts or a turkey sandwich (I have my heart set on a roasted turkey panini with this relish and some Gruyere some time this fall). I was absolutely right -the tang of the vinegar lends complexity to the rich sweetness of the cherries. Even though the walnuts were added all the way at the end, their flavor manages to permeate the relish as well and the bigger pieces add a nice crunchy texture. I look forward to putting this on many winter sandwiches!

Cherry Walnut Relish
From Put 'Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton. 

4 c sweet cherries, stems and pits removed
1 c sugar
1 c cider vinegar
1 onion, diced
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 c crushed walnuts

Add the cherries, sugar and a splash of water to a large, nonreactive pot (I prefer my enameled Dutch oven for all canning activities) and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring and crushing the cherries with a potato masher to help them release their juices.

Add the vinegar, onion and cinnamon stick, stir to combine, and return the mixture to a simmer. Cook until thickened (but not dry), about 20 minutes

Add the walnuts and return to a boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and take out the cinnamon stick.

Spoon into half-pint canning jars, covering the solids with 1/4" of liquid and leaving 1/4" headspace. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Potatoes

A few weeks ago, when it was still the height of asparagus season (which is not relevant except that this dish was served with some asparagus), we made a bold decision. We decided to make steak for dinner.

I honestly can't remember the last time we made steak. And I'm not talking flank steak tacos or an Asian stir fry - we bought two sirloin steaks to grill and eat. It has literally been years since this happened. Definitely not since we moved into our house in 2009.

Back when we lived in our apartment, when I didn't know I had a cholesterol problem to deal with, when I didn't really know how to cook many things, when I had no conception of what a reasonable portion of meat looked like . . . back then we ate steak a lot. When it came time to plan dinner (often after Jeff got home from work), the question would be "chicken or steak?" ("Chicken," by the way, meant an entire chicken breast for each of us. We were clueless back then.)

I'm actually not a big fan of steak itself - I like the things that get put on steak. I like steak sauce and tasty marinades and rubs. Those are the reasons to have steak, in my opinion. A large hunk of meat without any adornment doesn't really do it for me.

Except this time. I was actually craving steak, and had been through much of our meatless Lent. I have no idea why. Maybe my body needed more protein or something. Whatever the reason, I spent a lot of time drooling over a recipe for steak with red wine sauce from April's Cooking Light. When we finally did it, it was awesome. Just as delicious as it sounded to my meat-deprived imagination.

So why am I telling you about this steak in a post about potatoes? When I decided on a steak dinner, a side of potatoes was an absolute must. And tender asparagus tossed in a vinaigrette. But potatoes came to mind first. We made this unassuming sounding dish from the same Cooking Light - rosemary and garlic roasted potatoes. It was blissfully simple - sprigs of rosemary and thyme tossed with halved fingerling potatoes and unpeeled garlic and roasted in the oven. It made for a gorgeously rustic dish. I loved squeezing the roasted garlic cloves from their skins onto the golden-brown potatoes before I popped them in my mouth.

After eating this meal, my steak craving was satisfied. I haven't had any since and I haven't really thought about it. But I still crave these potatoes. I could eat trays of them on my own. While the steak recipe will languish in my recipe card file, these potatoes are going to become a workhorse in my kitchen, accompanying everything from elegant chicken dishes to vegetarian casseroles and stir fries. And maybe even, after a few more years, another steak.  

Rosemary and Garlic Roasted Potatoes
Slightly adapted from Cooking Light April 2013.

1 head garlic, papery covering removed and cloves separated but not peeled
2 tbsp olive oil
20 oz fingerling potatoes
3 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs rosemary
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 450. Toss garlic, oil, potatoes, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper together in a large bowl, making sure everything is well coated in the oil. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Remove from the oven when the potatoes have softened and have turned golden brown.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

June Garden Update

It's about time for another garden update. Things are . . . patchy. Performance in some areas is far better than expected, but other areas are severely underperforming. We'll see what happens.

The biggest change is that our front landscaping finally got done! The towering butterfly bushes of destruction (translation: the branches fall on my car and scratch it up) are gone - instead, we have miniature butterfly bushes and an assortment of other easy-to-care-for flowering shrubs. But at the end of that lovely flagstone cul-de-sac, my friends, is the best part: my new herb garden. Now with full sun.

The herbs have been in their new home for about two weeks now and they're doing beautifully. My thyme is actually beginning to flower, which it never did in its three years in the back. And I'm really enjoying striding out my front door in my apron and waving to the neighbors as I pick herbs for dinner.

In the raised bed in the back, things are looking really great, too. This is surprising, since this is the area I've taken to calling my shade garden. Yet, this year, everything seems to be thriving, especially my tomatoes and cucumbers. If everything finishes as well as it has started, we'll have more cucumbers than we know what to do with. I've had some pest problems in this back bed. I used organic pesticide (mostly rosemary oil) to fend off an invasion of whiteflies on my collard greens and killed two separate waves of caterpillars munching holes through them. The greens looked pretty awful after this treatment, but have since developed new leaves and begun to flourish again. There was also a burgeoning potato aphid infestation on the tomatoes, but some baby praying mantises seem to have taken care of it for me. Go beneficial insects!

The squash patch next to the raised bed is looking great. The two big pumpkin vines had some trouble with mildew, but they seem to have recovered. The yellow summer squash plants are huge and I can't wait until they start producing! I've also acquired two mystery squash plants - they came up on their own at the edge of the patch and I just let them be. By the size and shape, I'm guessing they're acorn or carnival squash.

The mobile raised bed in the driveway has been the biggest disappointment. My peppers refuse to grow (there are seventeen pepper plants in this bed - trust me). I replaced some of my seedlings with Italian frying peppers from the farmer's market, but they're not doing well either. I'm not sure what's up. I'm going to have to test the soil. I'm also planning on planting new things (like carrots) in between the peppers (which I refuse to give up on) to make better use of the space. So far, though, this has been a big bummer.

None of the driveway plants are doing particularly well (except, perhaps, the potatoes in the bucket - they seem to be chugging forward as planned). My best explanation is that they were stunted in that post-Mother's Day frost we had, but I would have expected them to recover by now. Most surprising is that the squash in the GrowBox look absolutely pathetic - they're not dead, but that's all that can be said. It's designed to wick water up from the bottom section to provide plants with even moisture, and yet it has the same problem the rest of the pots do. I'm just scratching my head. At least the middle tomato plant seems to have made some progress recently.

The driveway greens are also a mystery. I planted the same greens in the same pots last year, except they were on the deck. Last year, the spinach did nearly nothing and the chard looked great (although stayed rather small). This year, the chard has barely sprouted and the spinach was small but productive (until it bolted the other day). I've moved the chard pots up to the deck to see if a change in location will help them out a bit.

The peas behind the lilacs are also doing poorly. When I planted them, before all those other plants got big, the spot seemed to get a good amount of sun. Now, not so much. The few peas that have gotten big enough to peek out above that iris are starting to produce, but it will be to hot for them soon. I think that one's going to be filed under the crop failure category.

I'm not sure anything can really be distinguished in this picture: there's a row of carrots at the bottom, some radishes (which refused to develop roots) behind them, and two tomato plants in cages on either side of that post. Those tomato plants look ok - they just need to get a little bigger to escape the crush of other leaves and they will be fine. This has proved to be a great (albeit crowded) spot for tomatoes in the past, so I have high hopes. The front row of carrots also looks promising - no roots yet, but very healthy greens.

The last tomato plant, hiding among the daisies, will also do well as soon as it can outgrow its competitors. The strawberries that are hidden among these did really well this year. The raspberry bush on the other side of this patch is also flourishing. The blackberries, despite having a million blossoms, may not do as well as I thought - the berries are developing really unevenly, so I'm not sure how many we'll really get.

Overall, I've been a bit disappointed but I never lose hope. I'll be testing my soil sometime soon to see if the ph is balanced and I'll be replanting some disappointing areas with fall-bearing crops. I've been heartened by some of the things I've learned, like that arugula does nicely in the shady raised bed and how to effectively deal with several pest infestations. This accumulation of knowledge has to pay off some time, right?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Farm Fridays: Tangled Collard Greens and Sesame over Rice

I'm trying to get things back on track around here. My stupid, stupid cold is still hanging around. I thought I was over it last weekend, but as soon as I started going about my normal business (especially going to the gym again), things went back a few steps. I've been holding it together well enough to teach, but as soon as I get home from class, I crash. Very little is getting done around here, which is definitely not ideal this particular summer.

But I'm going to try to ignore it and get things done. First thing on the list is to work on my backlog of blog posts. I've managed to upload and edit the pictures I've been taking, so expect to hear more from me soon.

I know my last Farm Fridays post was about collards, too, but I just can't resist them. I love the thick, smooth leaves. This time I went with a more Asian direction, based on a recipe from Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy. With a little soy and a little sesame, these unassuming greens are kicked up a notch. This dish is really simple - the first time I had it was for a quick lunch with a few leftover leaves - and really delicious. This time I sized it up a bit - enough for dinner and leftovers. The fresh, thick greens are pleasantly toothy over the soft rice. If you have extra collards in your crisper, this is a great way to use them.

Tangled Collard Greens and Sesame over Rice 
Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy.

1 c white rice
2 c vegetable stock
1 tbsp sesame oil (regular is fine - I used toasted sesame oil because I have so much of it!)
1 small shallot, minced
1 bunch collard greens (about 8 oz)
splash tamari
splash rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

To cook the rice, bring the stock to a boil. Add rice, reduce to a simmer and cook 15-18 minutes, until liquid is gone and rice is fluffy.

Remove the stems from the collard greens. Stack the leaves and roll into a cylinder, then slice into 1/2" thick ribbons.

Preheat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook 1-2 minutes, until softened

Add the collards to the pan and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 4-6 minutes. When the greens are softened, add a splash of tamari, a splash of rice vinegar and sesame seeds. Drizzle with a bit more toasted sesame oil, if desired. Serve over rice.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Farm Fridays: Lemony Collard Greens Pasta

Today was an icky day. Besides the unending rain brought by this tropical storm, the extremely irritating cold I've been fighting for nearly two weeks decided to strengthen this morning. Every time I seem to be recovering, I have a busy day and end up relapsing. Yesterday morning I got up early, went to the farm, got home, showered, changed, drove through traffic to campus and lectured for two hours, did grocery shopping and went to the podiatrist. I couldn't even relax in the evening since I had promised my students that I would comment on their paper drafts when I got home. So I wasn't surprised when I woke up after 10 this morning with my head clogged and throbbing. Very little got done today. Hopefully all this rest will help me shake this thing.

I did manage to do some of my weekend food projects today. I made a big batch of vegetable stock and another of maple pecan granola. My vegetable garden also got watered (ok, I guess I can't really take credit for the inch and a half of rain that fell today - it did save me some work, though!).

On icky, lazy days like this, I don't want to spend time cooking. This is a good recipe for days like these. Just cook some pasta, saute some greens, and toss everything together. No fuss, tasty food, and back lazing on the couch within minutes.

Lemony Collard Greens Pasta
Slightly adapted from Cookie and Kate.
8 oz collard greens
8 oz whole wheat pasta (I used gobbetti)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 c sunflower seeds
1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
juice of 1/2 lemon

Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 c of pasta water.

Meanwhile, remove the stems from the collard greens (fold each one in half and gently pull down to tear the leaves away from the thick stem). Roll the leaves up into a log and slice them into a chiffonade.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the collard greens and saute 4-5 minutes, until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When the pasta is done, drain (reserving 1/2 c water) and return to the pot. Combine with the collards mixture, sunflower seeds, Parmesan cheese, and lemon juice. If necessary, add some of the pasta water as well.