Sunday, May 31, 2009

Holding Patterns

At the end of May I'm always just waiting to be able to cook right out of the garden. Some years I've managed to avoid the grocery store, for daily edibles at least, from mid-June through early October. This year we'll have beans, eggplants, tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, corn, snowpeas, greens, carrots, garlic, cukes, pumpkins and squash, as well as raspberries and blackberries, so there are going to be a lot of great meals.

But today the only thing I could harvest was some young radish greens (can't even use the green onions anymore, as the new neighbor is dumping chemicals onto his roses just on the other side of the fence, keeping his roses weed-free but incidentally poisoning my food).

So I chopped up the greens, added some onions and bacon, and added them to this old-faithful quiche, from The Vegetarian Epicure. I use purchased, frozen crusts, but feel free to make your own.

Basic Quiche
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups cream or half and half
6 to 8 oz. of gruyere cheese (they say cubed, but I like to grate it for a smoother texture)

Some additional ingredients that I have added to this in the past:
Sauteed chard, bacon and onions, chopped fresh basil or parsley, sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese

Saute the additional ingredient, as appropriate (bacon, ham, onions, greens). Sprinkle them on the bottom of a crust. On top of this, spread the cheese. Now combine the eggs with salt and pepper and beat til frothy. Add the cream and beat again. Pour this mixture over the cheese. Bake for 15 minutes at 450, then turn the heat down to 350 and continue baking another 10 to 15 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and a knife comes out clean.

Let sit until it cools enough to retain its pie shape when cut. This can also be served cold.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sight, sound, touch, taste, scent

There is a “Savory Walk” in my garden—a 12 by 16 foot plot filled with herbs and aromatics. Basil, oregano, 3 kinds of mint; parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Rue for the poetic name. Salad burnett because it's mentioned in Shakespeare. Savory, summer and winter, chamomile, caraway, coriander. Wormwood and Russian sage, with the added bonus of beautiful silver foliage.

Elsewhere in the garden are other herbs and aromatics, as well as medicinal plants—basil, cilantro, marigold, and parsley as companions in the vegetable plots, lavender in one flower bed, fennel in another. Borage for strength, beebalm for the bees, and of course, since this is Chicago, our own wild onions, everywhere.

Marigolds are one of those stealth aromatics— you always forget that marigold is an herb, and that it has a wonderful smell. I want to say strong smell, but that’s misleading. What I mean is that the smell makes you think “strength.”

I love to walk past the fennel. If you brush against it the whole yard gets a whisper of the anise scent. Sage will do this too. It was this that inspired the Savory Walk—a slightly-too-narrow path lined with aromatics so that you have to brush them on your way past.

A garden is sensory. You can experience it in so many ways. There’s sight of course— what most people think of when they see a garden— it looks nice. And taste— you can grow the things you eat. This is where gardeners start, I think, with a desire for beauty and food. But gardens also have sound. Buzzing insects, and singing birds. Rustling of small animals in the brush, maybe running water. Gardeners know about touch. The fuzz of a lambs ear, or the prick of a rose. A crisp forsythia leaf, the hard shell of a nut, the heavy sun on the back of your neck and of course the wonderful feel of the soil around your hands.

Scent is subtlest sensory benefit of a garden. It’s why I feel you can’t really plant too many herbs. I never feel bad about not harvesting all of them, because the dried and dead plants will retain their scent right into the winter. You can brush your hand over dead thyme in the middle of January and get a rush of midsummer hitting your nose.

Mint-Lavender Soda

2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups water + 1/2 cup water
splash of lemon juice
one cup of lavender blossoms
one cup whole mint leaves

Bring the sugar, lemon, and 2 1/2 c. water to 200° F and maintain for 10 minutes. The sugar should be completely dissolved and the syrup clear. Add the rest of the water, the mint and lavender, and bring back to 200 and boil for 10 more minutes or until the liquid is reduced to two cups.

Add 2 oz. to a 12 oz. glass of sparkling water with ice, with fresh mint leaves to garnish.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Is it Spring yet?

Springtime in Chicago is not really winter, but it's not really spring either. Everything gets green and the flowers come up, but the nighttime temps still drop into the low 40s, especially here by the lake. So a good sturdy soup is in order, hence this totally made-up recipe for some real stick-to-your-ribs goodness.

Potato-Leek soup with Feta cheese

1 medium leek for each 2 servings
1 medium-sized potato for each serving
vegetable or chicken stock
feta cheese

Cut the greens off the leeks and skin the potatoes. (Place the peeled potatoes in cold water to keep them from going brown) Boil these with some sea salt and peppercorns in 2-3 cups of water to make stock.

Cut up and boil the potatoes until soft. Dice and saute the leeks in 2 tablespoons of butter, until golden, add the stock. Drain the potatoes and add to the leeks and stock. Cream this using an immersible blender; thin with more stock or with half-and-half. Add fresh or dried parsley, salt and pepper to taste.

Ladel into bowls and garnish with crumbled feta cheese.

A nice side salad completes this. Nora makes one with garbanzos, grape tomatoes, sliced cucumber and a sesame-balsamic dressing.