Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You don't always have to cook from scratch

The house is freezing cold. I refuse on principal to turn on the heat before October 15.

Oriental ramen with garden vegetables

More stone soup. A small turnip, a small carrott diced Cambells-soup small, a handful of baby brussels sprouts. Boil them for 5 minutes then ramen per package.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Of the lunar events that mark the calendar, I think the fall equinox is my favorite. There is such a sense of balance as the garden stands poised between summer and winter. There is still food to harvest, and a few 3-season flowers like cleome and black eyed susans won’t give in to the cool nights. The main color has changed from the neons of summer to subtle reds and purples of fall. The canterbury bells, whose blue insistence marks the beginning of July’s peak, have formed hard seed pods and the leaves are turning yellow. The delphiniums and baby’s breath breathe one more bloom into the chilly morning air. The banes are flowering— bugbane, fleabane, wolfsbane, leopardsbane.

The goddess sends her winter scouts in the guise of spiders the size of a finger joint, and the cicadas scream out one more chorus before the chill takes them underground. The morning dew has that heavy cold sparkle that says “I want to be frost”.

I'll be eating leftovers all week, as there's a fridge-full of the pumpkin variations, as well as some pilaf. Towards the end of the week I'll pick the rest of the black beans and make chili; I need to figure out something to do with 9 turnips (the lo bak gau was a dismal failure). In the meantime, here's another family favorite.

Beef stew
I know lots of people like the supposed no-work method of using a slow cooker for beef stew; this recipe can be put together easily in 15 minutes, then simmered for an hour after getting home from work.

1/4 to 1/3 lb. per person, of any beef cut you like. Don't feel like you have to buy "beef for stew" which is the cheap awful tough stuff they can't sell any other way. Get a nice cut and you'll have a better stew. If you get a bone-in cut, you can use the bone and fat trimmings to make a nice stock*

large onion*, sliced
1 large carrot*, sliced
2-3 celery stalks*, sliced
4 large tomatoes or 1 small can of whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups beef or vegetable stock*
dried oregano
salt and pepper

broccoli or green beans
1 large potato for every two diners
additional water or stock as needed

To make stock: Trim the meat and all the vegetables. Put all the trimmed items (bones, fat, carrot ends, onion skins, potato skins, celery leaves) in a 2 quart pot filled with water. Add peppercorns and salt and boil; simmer until it is reduced to half; strain.

Place the onions in about a half cup of water in a large stew pot and saute until all the moisture is gone. Add 3 Tablespoons of olive oil, the oregano, and the meat; brown the beef (meaning, sear it until all pieces are browned on one side at least; okay if there's still a lot of red on the meat when you add the other ingredients). Add the celery and a small amount of water and saute until the celery starts to get translucent. Add the tomatoes and about a cup of water, simmer until the skin comes off easily. (If using canned tomatoes, skip the simmering and move straight to the next ingredient). Add the stock, carrots, and potatoes, then add enough water to cover all the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Let this simmer for about 30 minutes, adjusting the seasoning. Add water if you like your stew with more sauce. Add the green vegetables 5 minutes (for store bought or frozen) to 10 minutes (for garden fresh) before serving and continue to simmer covered-- you want these to be al dente not mushy.

Serve over rice.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

That's right, still more pumpkins

One of the things that garden geeks strive for is a meal made completely and only from garden ingredients. Here's one tonight that could fit the bill (except I added sausage for the local carnivore). Everything except the water and the spices came from the garden, and I suppose I could have sterilized water from the rain barrel if I'd wanted to be really crazy. Spices also could be garden herbs like cilantro, parsley and tarragon, but I wanted it spicy.

Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup

1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
3 cups vegetable stock (I used a stock made from carrot greens)
2-3 cups pumpkin puree
3 large tomatoes, seeded, cut into chunks
15 oz black beans

1 T curry powder
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt to taste

Simmer the black beans in about a quart of water until soft, about an hour. Drain.

Saute the onions and pepper in olive oil. Add broth, tomatoes, beans, and pumpkin. Bring to a light boil. Reduce heat and add spices. Simmer a few minutes, adjust taste. Serve, adding cream or yogurt for a creamy texture. Garnish with parsley and roasted savory pumpkin seeds (see prior post).

Still more pumpkins

Chilly, grey, not quite fall day, and I've still got 2 30" pumpkins on the vine and 4 cups in the fridge. So it's pumpkin-palooza today, in two separate posts. Needed something to use up the ginger-pear sauce I was left with after making pear syrup the other day, so I took a chance and adapted my mother's pineapple upside down cake recipe, and came up with this.

Pumpkin-pear Upside Down Cake

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup margarine or butter, melted
1 cup pear compote
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 pear, sliced thin

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon baking powder

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup cooking oil

Combine brown sugar, melted margarine or butter, and cornstarch in a small bowl. . Stir pear compote into brown sugar mixture. Pour
mixture into a 10x2-inch round baking pan or a 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Arrange pear slices on the syrup in the pan

Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl; set aside. In another mixing bowl beat egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Using low speed, beat in pumpkin and oil. Fold flour mixture into pumpkin mixture just until moistened. Carefully spoon over pears. Spread mixture evenly with back of spoon.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Invert onto a serving plate.

And then of course, there's all those seeds (about 2 cups from 3 pumpkins). The sweet version is from About.com's Southern Food set, the savory version is my own. Scale the recipe, depending on how many cups of seeds you have. I don't like pumpkin seeds, but these were amazing.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon melted butter or vegetable oil

for sweet:
1 tablespoon granulated sugar, or more, to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice

for savory:
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne paper
1 tsp sugar

Rinse seeds well and get as much of the pumpkin pulp off of them as possible. Some of the small pieces are going to adhere, but they won't hurt the seeds at all, and might even add a little more flavor. Pat dry with paper towels. Don't let them dry completely on the paper towels, because they might stick! I dried mine thoroughly on a dish towel before using. Toss seeds with the butter, sugar, and spices.

Heat oven to 300°. Spread coated seeds in a shallow baking sheet (I lined it with baking parchment) for about 45 to 60 minutes, or until nicely browned and crunchy.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tell me this is not how you spend Friday night

Yes. Yes it is. In my defense, while I'm sitting here eating this delicious garden ratatouille in front of the computer, a cake is baking (just a mix this time, but I have homemade pear and pumpkin pulp just waiting for some ideas).

I call it ratatouille, but it's another "what's ready to harvest" meal. Late in the season now, nothing (not even the tomatoes this year) are producing more than a meal's worth each day, so it becomes a creative exercise to see what you can come up with. Tired of stir fry, no pita to go with baba ganoush, the fish I bought is still frozen...

So, stone soup. I have a smallish eggplant, 5 cherry tomatoes and one fist-sized brandywine, a couple of cups of broccoli florets, some carrots, some onions, garlic, chard,and a reddish pepper. In the cabinet, half a bag of fettucini. Sounds like ratatouille to me.

Garden ratatouille

Must haves:
Large eggplant
2-3 tomatoes
large onion, sliced Greek- style*
Red or green pepper (or both)
1 large carrot
2-3 cloves garlic

Also in here:
a couple of green beans
Large handful of swiss chard
7 small brussels sprouts, halved

Cut the eggplant into large chunks, place in a deep bowl and drench with olive oil. Mix it well, making sure the olive oil covers every chunk. Salt well and set aside. Soaking olive oil into eggplant is the secret to getting these to come out savory and tender rather than bitter and tough.

Cut other vegetables into slices or chunks. Put the onions and peppers in an 1/8th cup of water in a deep saucepan, saute until all the liquid is gone (including the liquid released by the vegetables), immediately put in the oil-drenched eggplants, adding more oil to keep it from sticking. Saute until eggplant starts to lose its color a little (it will turn greenish and then back to white), then add all the other vegetables. Saute until the broccoli is bright green and al dente.

Serve as a side dish with meat or polenta, or as I did, as a sauce for fettucini or your pasta of choice.

*to cut an onion Greek-style:

Cut off the ends. Balance the onion on one of these cut ends, and slice in half. Place the slice side down. Cut each slice angling in to the center-- never cut straight down. Cutting this way gives you every slice the exact same size.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bloom Day, September

Sweet Autumn Clematis

There are moments in a garden. Small quiet places full of wonder and power. They are easy to miss-- gardens are one of the "macros" of our lives. We tend to drink them in large gulps, instead of sipping and tasting. Even gardeners, down in the dirt, with the plants in our faces, sometimes miss these moments as we plow through the worms or collect the harvest, or even just follow the task list, trying to get done before it rains.

Bloom Day is a day for moments. So here are my September moments. No tasks, no meals, no panoramas. Small, quiet places where color and scent take over.

Bloom Day set at Flickr.

Head over to May Dreams for everyone's September Bloom Day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Back to family favorites

Fortuitously, the bell peppers are ready to harvest for Nora's last dinner at home before she's off to Europe. Stuffed green peppers are another dish that I learned from my mother, and I think one of the ones that I've duplicated her recipe, from memory, the best. I almost never make this from store bought peppers for some reason, but only in late summer from the garden grown ones. I really wanted all of the vegetables to come from the garden this year, but the onions didn't do well, I chickened out on growing potatoes, (and I just didn't think it would be the same with turnips, which are too bitter for this dish).

This dish falls under the comfort food category in our household, as it's a huge favorite with everyone. You can tell it's Greek because you end up using every pot in the house to make it.

Stuffed Bell Peppers
(for 4)

• 5-6 large green peppers
• 1 pound chop meat
• 2 medium potatoes, diced
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 2 cups tomato sauce
• 1 large tomato, diced
• fresh or dried parlsey
• fresh or dried mint
• salt and pepper

Cut off the tops of the peppers (save these) and clean out the seeds. Blanch the peppers by immersing them for about 5 minutes in boiling water. Drain and arrange in a casserole (make sure you use a casserole with a cover). Set aside.

Cook the rice per package instructions. Please do not use minute rice or I will have to cry. Extra long grain or basmati is fine. Boil the diced potatoes until just soft.

Saute the onions in about a quarter cup of water; cook until transparent, or until all moisture has boiled away, whichever comes first. Add the chop meat and sauté until completely brown. Add herbs about half way through. Once the rice and potatoes are done, mix them together with the meat. Add the diced tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Fill each pepper to the rim with the meat/rice mixture, and put its top back on. With any leftover meat fill in the casserole so that the peppers are sitting in a bed of meat/rice mixture. Pour the tomato sauce over the top. Cover and bake in a 350F/175C oven for 30 minutes.

For a vegetarian version, substitute pine nuts and blanched raisins for the meat. A Facebook friend also sent a wonderful recipe for polenta-stuffed peppers. I'll post it when I try it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A grown-up meal

I love to dream up flavor combinations; this week's brainstorm was pumpkin, coconut, and feta cheese. I think this might have been the most delicious meal I have ever eaten. My daughter had other ideas: "too grown up for me!"

Pumpkin coconut soup with feta cheese biscuits

2 cups pumpkin puree (or 1 15 oz can)
1/2 cup diced onion (about 1 medium onion)
2 tablespoons butter
1 quart vegetable stock
1/2 cup half and half
3/4 cup coconut milk (about 1/2 can)

Sautee onions in butter, about 2 minutes, add pumpkin and liquids, stir until smooth. Season with coriander, curry, salt and pepper to taste. Dice cucumber and sautee lightly until bright green. Put cucumber in soup bowl and pour the hot soup over it.

Serve with feta cheese biscuits (standard bisquik or baking soda biscuits with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup crumbled feta added to dough)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A morning in the kitchen

September is a waiting month for garden tasks. The next big push outside is prepping for winter-- bringing in the tender exotics, rebuilding soil, removing this year's stalks and roots. Instead, the garden comes inside. September is for canning, and drying, and pureeing, freezing, baking and storing.

This morning I used the two cups of pumpkin puree I made a couple of weeks ago to bake this wonderful pumpkin bread from Orangette (with a most apt post title), as well as drying herbs.

While a still room is a charming atavism, it loses some of its appeal when in fact got herbs spread out all across the radiator in the living room, and the one in the dining room, and in fact every available surface, or have them hanging from pegs tucked here and there. For herb drying I am ALL ABOUT the 21st century.

My oregano is a decade-old nursery start that's been in numerous spots in the garden-- under a big spirea bush, where it acted like ground cover, out in the main bed where it turned into huge shrub, back in the shade of the garage (where it behaved itself, so I might move it back) and in my "Savory Walk" where once again it just took over. Today I cut it back by half and trimmed all the wayward branches, then dried the leaves, ending up with more than a cup of dried oregano from a large basketful of leaves. I also potted up the rosemary, currently on its second year, trimming back about 10 long stalks and ending with a standard spice jar's worth dried.

Microwave drying herbs

Remove leaves from stalks and rinse thoroughly. Place no more than 2 cups wet of leaves on a double layer of paper towels with a second double layer laid over the top. Place in microwave. I use a moderately powerful 900 watt microwave. For other wattage % power may need to be adjusted. This is a fairly fool-proof method, so play around.

Oregano. 80% power for 4 minutes, then turn the "sandwich" over, replace the wet towels on top with a dry one and zap in 1 minute bursts until completely dry.

Rosemary. Surprisingly watery. Took 6 minutes. I did this in 1 minutes intervals and had to change towels twice. Last minute on 60% power. Started with 3c, dried down to about 1c. (sorry, those of you who think in either ounces or metric).

Sage. 7 minutes in 6 1-minute bursts and two 30sec; again very watery, changed towels twice. This was difficult because the leaves were quite heavy and the towels boiling hot (duh). Changed towels at 2 min and 4 min, last two zaps without turning at 70% power.

Mint. This went down by half, but it only two 3:20, in six 30sec bursts and 1 final 20sec at 70% power. Removed bottom towel at 2min, but just folded over the top one because there was so little. Ended up with about 3/8c.

Highly recommended method. You can also use purchased fresh grocery store herbs, especially parsley which comes in large bunches. Herbs retain color, shape, and scent, and the whole house smells absolutely amazing. (Photos are from last year's marathon herb drying session)