Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Salad (Vol. 1)

The finished product ready to take to work for lunch

There isn't much simpler than salad. At its most basic, it's leafy greens and raw vegetables. If you want to get fancy you can add cold vegetables- like peas, corn or even asparagus; a meat like cooked salmon, chicken or steak; fruits like apples, grapefruit or pomegranate; cubed or grated cheese and any combination of croutons, nuts, olives, artichokes, cooked pasta or anything else that is taking up space in your fridge.
All this can be packed into a container the night before for an easy lunch to take to work the next day.
It seems silly to give a recipe for salad but most people today think of salad as a bunch of iceberg lettuce with a few shreds and cabbage and carrot thrown in for color.
By comparison, salads from the garden include romaine, bibb, red garnet romaine, buttercrunch, oak leaf, rouge d'hiver and red sails lettuces along with arugula, baby mustard, kale, bok choi and swiss chard, malabar spinach, and french sorrel and every combination tastes a little bit different.
The only thing we don't have is iceberg.
On thing people often overlook in a salad is fresh herbs. Cilantro, basil, thyme, oregano and chives all add fresh flavor to otherwise boring assortments of leaves.
A tip on how to make a satisfying salad that I learned from a restaurant vet - don't forget the salt and pepper.
You don't serve any other dish without a healthy dose of salt and pepper and don't serve a salad without it either.

What you need   

Red garnet romaine, baby mustard, cilantro and radishes- all from the garden
20 leaves assorted lettuce
Pick the larger lettuce leaves from the bottom edge of the plant 
5-10 leaves of baby kale and mustard
Choose young leaves from the inner parts of the plant- save the outer leaves for cooking. Also, mustard is a bit spicy - like horseradish - I like a lot of it but some might want less mustard in the mix
4 radishes
1 carrot
Cheddar cheese

What you do 

Wash the lettuce, greens and vegetables in a tub of water
Spin them dry and rough chop them
Cut the radishes and carrots into rounds
Cut as much broccoli as you want into small florets
Cube the cheese
Mix everything together and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper and salt
Toss and serve

Garden Eggs (Vol. 1)

The finished product tastes bette than this picture looks

I'm not a big fan of breakfast. Coffee and maybe a banana are about as fancy as I can muster before noon and, while I like bacon, I never really understood the bacon obsession. I like to sleep late and I guess my stomach does too, even when the rest of me wakes up early.
BUT- if I am in the mood for a more substantial breakfast I make garden eggs. 
Eggs scrambled up with whatever vegetables are in the garden and some cheese. Add in a bagel or some toast and jam, a cup of coffee and nice table outside and you have the perfect start to a perfect day. I know the bacon enthusiasts out there are going to scream for swine but I feel better and have more energy when I have more greens and less grease for breakfast.
Kinda like garden cream cheese (see the recipe XXXX) the ingredients for garden eggs are fluid - it just depends on what you have in the garden. 
This recipe calls for leeks and greens but I have used both hot and bell peppers, tomatoes, green onions, spinach, parsley, rosemary, basil, oregano and even eggplant in the past. You can put in bacon or sausage if you have a dedicated carnivore to cook for but it tends to overpower the vegetables. 

What you need 
Two small leeks, chopped swiss chard and kale- all from the garden

2 leeks
6 leaves red swiss chard
6 leaves kale
3 eggs
1/2 cup grated swiss cheese

butter for the pan

What you do

Clean the leaks and chop them into thin slices
I usually just wash them and cut the roots and most of green top off and then peel back the layers a bit to get out any grit but if you want to be more thorough here are some instructions http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_clean_leeks/
Wash the greens 
To wash greens I usually soak them in a basin of water for 15 minutes and spin them dry
Clean and chop the greens
For the kale you will want to pull much of the tough center rib but for the chard you can chop the brightly colored center rib and it will become tender as it cooks
Melt butter (maybe 2 tablespoons) and saute the leeks over medium-low heat
You can start with while you clean and chop the greens

Cook the leeks slowly and don't let them brown

When the leeks become translucent add the greens and saute until wilted and darker
Depending on the type of pan you have you may need to add butter periodically through the recipe
All the vegetables will cook down much smaller than you expect
Scramble three eggs and add them to the pan
Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring regularly
After the eggs begin to solidify grate the cheese and add it on top
I have done this very late and very early in the process and both work just fine

I usually add a bit more cheese than the recipe requires

Continue to cook until the cheese is melted and the eggs are the desired consistency

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Soba noodle stir fry

Stir-fried vegetables with seitan and soba noodles

Stir fries are the ultimate spring garden dish. The melting pot of soups and stews is for the cold windy days of winter but once spring arrives, complete with soft sunsets and gentle humid breezes its time for something lighter and quicker.
Enter stir fried vegetables and ...... and whatever else you want or nothing else at all.
This recipe calls for soba noodles, which hold up well and pick up the flavors of the sauce but thicker rice noodles work well or you can serve it over brown rice.
Stir fries can include anything- whatever vegetables you have are fine - but the backbone of mine are onions, garlic and ginger. With these three staples in place everything else falls into place.
Broccoli and onion ready for the wok

Peppers - Not from the garden but hopefully we'll have some this summer
You don't have to have a wok to do a stir fry but I highly recommend it.
The size is great for making enough for a couple meals and the high sides keep things in the wok and your stove top clean.
I think I bought mine for maybe $15 at Walmart and it has lasted for almost 10 years. Buy one, take care of it and it will take care of you.
One key to doing a proper stir fry is chopping things thinly and evenly. You can use a mandolin if you are cooking a lot at once but a knife works fine.
Also, cook each thing separately. Take out each vegetable when its done. They can all go into one large communal bowl that will eventually be poured back in to get covered in sauce but don't try to cook everything at once.
And under-cook everything. If the vegetables start to lighten in color, pull them out. They will continue to steam in the bowl while you cook other ingredients and will soften even more when added back into the wok to mix with the sauce. You cannot under cook stir fry and overcooking is easy.
Finally, a note on the sauce.
This recipe comes from my dad and is the most simple sauce you will ever make. I used to experiment with all kinds of other concoctions that had a lot more ingredients and were more difficult to make, only to be told that they weren't as good as this one. It's easy, it's delicious and its consistent. Use it.

What do I need?

(This is what I cooked for this recipe but feel free to add in whatever vegetables you have

Bok Choi from the community garden

1 red pepper
6 cloves garlic
1 piece of fresh ginger - 1 inch by 1 inch or
I like a lot of garlic and ginger so I often double it
1 onion
1 package seitan
1 package mushrooms
Lots and lots of greens- 
I used kale and bok choi from the garden but mustard is great too
1 broccoli crown
Cooking oil

Chopped kale from the garden


Mix in a bowl or jar
1 and 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 T oyster sauce
1/2 c dark Karo syrup
3 T corn starch
1/2 of the total garlic and ginger
Hot pepper (optional)
2 packages soba noobles

What do I do?

Make the sauce first and set it aside
Boil water and cook the soba noodles according to the instructions on the package. You can do this while you cook the stir fry or take care of it ahead of time. Drain and set aside when they are done.

Wash vegetables
-Chop into uniform pieces but keep each vegetable separate
-For the garlic and ginger, you can finely chop them together or even throw them all in a food processor.
Put half the garlic and ginger in with the sauce and cook the other half with the seitan 
-Put oil in the wok
-Heat up the wok on as high a temperature as you can get without the oil smoking
I usually cook in this order- onions, seitan/garlic, broccoli, pepper, greens, mushrooms-
-With each one, cook it briefly over high heat and then take it out and put it in a bowl- At this point they can all go in the same bowl
Do not overcook- err on the side of raw
Add oil as needed to the wok but be sure to let it heat up each time after adding
-Once the last of the vegetable have been cooked and set aside, put the sauce in the wok and reduce to medium heat.
-When it just starts to boil add everything for the stir fry back into the wok, including the noodles
-Boil gently for a minute or so, stirring continuously to get an even distribution of the sauce, noodles and vegetables


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lentil and Rutabaga Stew

Lentil stew served over quinoa and topped with fresh cilantro
Learn to love lentils. I know I am always admonishing you to learn to love things (like green papayas) but if you learn to love nothing else learn to love lentils.
Lentils are like fast-food beans. They don’t require hours of soaking and cooking and still make the hearty backbone of a hundred garden meals. You can eat them hot or cold, pureed or whole and they take whatever seasoning you throw at them at hold it tight.
A plus for the really lazy gardener, a vegetarian lentil stew lasts in the fridge for a week or more – and anything leftover beyond that can go in the freezer.
I make a variety of lentil dishes – most of them involve greens in some shape or form – and many of them have a similar set of seasonings.
For me, the standard lentil accoutrements are cumin, smoked paprika, rosemary and thyme (in addition to salt and pepper) – other seasonings that often make an appearance include sage, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and liquid smoke.  
Lentil stew is great by itself or you can serve it over a grain like rice, bulgur or quinoa.
This variation calls for rutabagas, a root vegetable sort of like turnips or parsnips but – to me at least – slightly sweeter and more tender.
We grew a handful of rutabagas in the garden as an experiment with so-so results. 
A few grew well, a few ended up kind of tough and a few didn’t develop the bulbs expected of a root vegetable.
Like other root vegetables, the green top of the rutabaga is just as edible as the root and so I use both in the recipe.
If you buy rutabagas from the store and they don’t have the tops on them, you can always add another leafy green like collards, kale or mustard.
You can also add other vegetables like carrots, celery or potatoes. 

What do I need?

Rutabaga greens soaking in the sink


5 Rutabagas – including greens
1 onion
7 cloves garlic
1 pound (one small package) lentils
1 T dried thyme
1 t smoked paprika
1 T cumin
1 sprig rosemary- stripped and crushed
4 cubes vegetable bullion
3 dashed of liquid smoke
Salt and pepper to taste (but use a lot of both)









What do I do?

Chopped rutabagas


-Put the lentils in a pot with 6-8 cups of water and a bit of salt- (adding salt early helps the lentils keep their shape and makes them a bit tougher. If you want a smoother stew add the salt at the end.) You can pick through the lentils to make sure there are no deformed ones or, as in the last batch I cooked, a small pebble (For some reason the pebble is more common than you would think- keep an eye out for it)
- Bring the lentils to a boil, stirring occasionally.
- Add the herbs/spices and bullion
- Dice the onion and add it to the pot.
- Soak the rutabaga (or other) greens in the sink for 15 minutes and then roughly chop them
- Wash, peel and dice the rutabagas
- Add the diced rutabagas and roughed chopped greens after the lentils have boiled for about 15 minutes-
- Cook another 15 minutes or so
- Correct the seasoning and also the consistency- If you want a soup you may need to add a bit of water, if you want a thicker dish to go on top of rice then you might want to cook it a bit longer to thicken it up.
The key to any dish like this is to taste it and correct the seasoning repeatedly. Put some in a bowl and taste it. I rarely measure the spices I use in a stew. I throw in a bunch and let it cook 10 minutes and then I taste it and add whatever is needed. There is no right way for something like this to taste. Either you like it or you don’t – if you don’t, then add spices/flavors that you like until it tastes good. If you can’t get it to taste good then buy some cheap wine and have a dinner party – after an appetizer and a couple glasses of wine, your friends will be crowning you the next Julia Child.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Garden Cream Cheese

Garden Herb Cream Cheese

This recipe is so simple that I’ve seen three-year-old twins make it from start to finish.
Blend vegetables and cream cheese. When you are done you can put it on anything and eat it for all three meals.
It’s great on bagels in the morning. It makes a better base for a lunch-time sandwich than mayonnaise. It is light enough to use as a dip for carrots, crackers or chips for an appetizer or on bread as a side dish to a soup or salad.
I use whatever vegetables and herbs are in season. When the basil is growing like a weed in the summer I use lots of basil and in the winter I tend to use more garlic chives. I always use greens of some sort - especially arugula and a little spicy mustard – but beyond that I have used anything you can eat raw including green peppers, radishes, beans, peas and carrots.
It is a bit tough to estimate how many vegetables you need but I like to shoot for an even amount of blended vegetables and cheese.
Try something like 5 leaves of kale, 10-15 small arugula leaves, two smallish mustard leaves, half green pepper or a couple radishes, five chive sprigs and some rosemary.
Or just put in buckets of basil and some leaks. 
Experiment - you'll find what you like- but also don't be afraid to mix up a batch of whatever is in season.
I usually just pick a bunch of stuff and whatever I don’t use will used for something else in the next few days.
For cheese, I like Neufchatel because it is a little bit lighter but anything works. I usually make a double batch because it goes fast and I would rather clean the blender once than twice.

What you need
Basil is always a great start to garden cream cheese

Fresh Vegetables
1-2 packages Neufchatel or cream cheese

What you do
~Clean your vegetables and put them in a food processor
           I use a hand blender that has a small plastic bowl attachment. Before that I used to use a cheap food chopper from Wal-Mart. You probably could finely chop everything my hand and then stir it in manually as well but that sounds like a lot of work.
~ Blend them up into a fine paste
                You can also leave them in small pieces but I think really blending them up gives you a more even flavor and consistency
~ Add cream cheese
~ Blend until it has an even light green color and consistency
~ Put into a covered container and refrigerate

Monday, January 27, 2014

Potato and Leek Soup

Potato and Leek Soup
This picture is not quite as great as this soup

Oh baby, it’s cold outside.
But luckily there are leeks – lots and lots (and lots and lots) of leeks.
If you aren’t familiar with leeks get to know them quickly.
Leeks are in the onion family and look like large green onions, with a long green top and a straight white bulb underneath the ground.
The main difference is that unlike onions, the green tops of leeks are much flatter and tougher than onions and generally aren’t that great to eat, whereas the tops of onions are tender and can be eaten raw or cooked.
On leaks, you trim off much of the dark green top and use only the light green and white bottom portion of the plant. 
But if the tops of leaks are tough, they make up for it with a tender and mild white bottom that is great for broiling, grilling and most of all soup.
Leek and potato soup harkens back to the cold rainy climes of Ireland, Wales and Scotland even though many identify it as French. There are hundreds of recipes out there for such a simple dish but I like this one the best because it is just that – simple.
So when the wind starts to feel like it’s coming off the frigid North Sea rather than the balmy Gulf of Mexico it’s time to start simmering the leeks.
One note: If you want to get classy about the operation – or it’s one of those perfect winter days when you don’t need to wrap your hands around a cup of hot soup - you can easily make Vichyssoise. Despite its French moniker, the dish was invented in the US and it requires just a minor tweak to the recipe.
When you are done with your soup, put it in the fridge to chill. Once it is cold, top it with some heavy cream and give it a stir. This can be done in the pot or in each individual bowl. The amount of cream obviously depends on the amount of soup but no one ever got in trouble for going heavy on the cream. Stir, garnish with a bit of chive (or save a little of the tender light green leek top) and serve. Voila! Your dinner date will think you are feting them with complex French cooking and (with enough white wine) who knows what might happen next.

What do I need?
A soup-sized bundle of leeks

  • 3 large leeks (or one handful of smaller leeks)
  • 2 Tbsp butter (I usually double this)
  • 2 cups water (I have subbed in 1 cup of white wine with good results)
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 lbs potatoes (I think this is around 3 large potatoes)
  • Marjoram - dash
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (if you don't have fresh use dried but it can also be cut altogether)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt & Pepper
What do I do?
     Leeks are tricky to clean. I highly recommend you have a look at this link How to Clean Leeks. I usually skip the part about rinsing them after they are chopped but I am willing to take a chance on a bit of grit in exchange for cutting time in the kitchen.
After you have cleaned your leaks, chop them. 
Peel the potatoes and dice into 1/2 inch pieces
Cook leeks in butter with salt and pepper in a medium sized sauce pan.
Cover pan, cook on low heat for 10 minutes.
     Do not brown the leeks (but if you do it will still turn out fine)
Add water, broth, and potatoes. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
Blend the soup so smooth out the consistency. 
     This can be done by scooping it into a blender or I use a hand blender to puree it right in the pot. If you don’t have one of these I highly recommend them and you just might see an ode to a hand blender in a future post.
Add marjoram, parsley, and thyme. 
     (Feel free to add more herbs for a stronger flavor)
Salt and pepper to taste
    I often serve it with a bit of grated cheddar cheese on top because cheese is pretty much the best thing in the world