Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dinner on the grill

It's summer.  For me, that means there is nothing better than cooking all of your dinner on the grill.  Salmon is one of my favorite foods, so when I discovered this great simple sauce I was ready to give it a try...happy I did.
Maple-Soy-Glazed Salmon
from Bon Appetit
Yield: 4 servings
1/3 C maple syrup
1/4 C soy sauce
1 tsp adobo sauce from canned chipotles in adobo
4 6 oz skinless salmon fillets

Whisk syrup, soy sauce, and adobo in dish to blend.  Add salmon, turn to coat.  Let marinate 30 minutes, turning occasionally.  Drain marinade into small saucepan.
Heat heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add salmon and cook until slightly charred outside and just opaque in center, about 3 minutes per side.
Meanwhile, boil marinade until reduced to scant 1/4 C sauce, about 4 minutes.  Place 1 salmon fillet on each of 4 plates, drizzle with sauce, and serve.
I'm sure I've said this before, I am a big fan of zucchini, especially when it comes out of my garden.  Let's put it this way...if the vegetable is green, just assume that I love it.  A little olive oil, and garlic pepper tossed with the fresh zucchini, and it's ready for the grill.  A few minutes on each side, then shave a bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano on top when it comes off and you've got yourself a delicious side.
Now, this  Kale salad I did not cook on the grill.  The only cooking was for the wheat berries, and that was done the day before, so then it was only a matter of tossing everything together.  I used the last of my spring kale in this salad.  The recipe is from Cookbooks101, a food blog that I follow. 

Kale Market Salad
Green Garlic Dressing:
2 stalks green garlic (or scallions), rinsed and chopped (~1/4 cup)
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons ripe avocado
1 teaspoon honey, or to taste
fresh pepper to taste
1/2 bunch kale, destemmed, torn into pieces
1 cup cooked farro or wheat berries (semi-pearled or whole)
4-5 farmers' market carrots, very thinly sliced
1 small bulb of fennel, thinly sliced
1 avocado, cut into small cubes
a big handful of almond slices, toasted
Make the dressing by using a hand blender or food processor to puree the green garlic, salt, lemon juice, olive oil, avocado, honey, and pepper until smooth.  Taste, and adjust with more salt, or honey, or lemon juice.
Before you're ready to serve, combine the kale with about half of the dressing in a large bowl and use your hands to work the dressing into the kale, softening up the kale a bit in the process.  Add the farro (or wheat berries), carrots, and fennel, more dressing, and a couple pinches of salt, and toss again.  Taste, and add the last of the dressing if needed. This salad is meant to be quite heavily dressed.  Add the avocados and almonds and give one last gentle toss.
Serves 2-4.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Day of Lilies

These Stargazer lilies are a hybrid of the Oriental group, known for their incredible fragrance.  I bought this pot of four a few days ago, and plan on putting them in one of the flower beds after they've finished blooming.  Right now they are filling the house with their heavenly scent.
The Ruby Spider daylily is also stunning with it's yellow throat and 5" blooms.
True to their name, these 3' tall pale yellow lilies bloom for a day, starting in the early morning, lasting until evening.  
Unlike the daylilies, Red hot pokers, also called Torch lilies, keep their bloom longer than a day while attracting hummingbirds.
The Stella de Oro is the most popular daylily, growing well in all zones and flowering for months.  It grows low to the ground in dense clumps of green foliage with small golden-yellow trumpet flowers.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

If you are looking for a really good creamy dressing, look no further, here it is.  Bon Appetit's test kitchen did a blind taste comparison of bottled ranch dressing and homemade ranch dressing to determine which had better flavor.  The winner will probably not surprise you.  Ina Garten's recipe does require a few more ingredients than most ranch dressings, but it is worth the effort.  Once you've got all your ingredients, everything goes together quickly in the food processor.  Chill for an hour, then enjoy the outstanding fresh tangy flavor.
Ina Garten’s Buttermilk Ranch dressing 

3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Greek-style yogurt
1/2 cup buttermilk, shaken

Place the scallions, basil, lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree for 15 to 20 seconds to make a smooth mixture. Add the mayonnaise, yogurt, and buttermilk and blend until smooth. Transfer the dressing to a container, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour for the flavors to develop.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fava beans are ready

It's time for the trellis that supports the fava beans and snap peas to come down.  They have produced longer than I thought they would, and now my tomato plants are demanding more space. 
One of the prettiest blossoms is the zucchini flower, but you can only catch it in the morning.  One of these days I'm going to pick some to stuff and deep fry. 
As luck would have it, after picking all the fava beans I found a recipe on Food52 for grilling favas.  
Ignacio Mattos’s Grilled Favas
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound fresh fava beans in their pods, the younger the better

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground chile pepper
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary

3 or 4 cloves chopped garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish

2 tablespoons water
1 whole lemon, for juice

7 or 8 canned anchovies, in oil
, chopped fine

Mix first 7 ingredients together in a large bowl. Toss well to coat the fava pods, then place them on the grill over a medium-high heat.
Grill favas for several minutes, until charred, then flip them over and char the other side, cooking until the pods seem about to open.
Remove pods from grill, return them to the mixing bowl and squeeze the lemon over them. Toss the pods to coat. Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary.  Add the finely chopped anchovies to the bowl, mixing well.
Place the pods on a serving platter and drizzle with olive oil. Serve hot or at room temperature; eat with your hands or with forks and knives, depending on how messy you want to get.

Notes: I found there to be plenty of oil still in the bowl, and not necessary to drizzle more.  Also, don't be put off by the anchovies.  My in-house taste tester doesn't care for them, and didn't notice their slight presence.  Eat them with your hands, it's fun to lick your fingers.

Friday, June 15, 2012

In the the garden..

Here are a few of the seasonal blooms gracing my gardens right now.
This Penstemon, or beards tongue, has dark green leaves with deep purple running down the center vein. It's white flowers are a stunning contrast for this perennial that blooms in late spring through July.
Honeysuckle vines are hardy, vigorous plants that require sturdy support.  This Pink Lemonade honeysuckle attracts hummingbirds for it's nectar, and then in autumn the berries are a source of food for wild birds.
I planted this Black Lace Elderberry in 2011.  The  fine cut, intense purple-black foliage has a similar effect to that of a Japanese maple and looks great all season.  The soft pink May flowers that fade to white as they age, give off a light lemon scent and remain for 3-4 weeks.  Birds are also drawn to the berries that form later.
Potentilla, or Cinquefoil, makes a lovely dense shrub that does best in full sun and is often planted in groups as an informal hedge.  In early spring, remove 1/3 of the oldest stems to make way for new growth and blossoms that emerge in late May and continue on through frost.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Spaghetti with broccoli, walnuts and ricotta

With broccoli being one of my favorite vegetables, it was no surprise that I was drawn to this recipe.  I always find something delicious when I browse through this cookbook by Ross Dobson.  That fact that it only requires a few ingredients and goes together quickly, makes it even more of a hit.
Having succeeded in my first attempt with homemade ricotta and there being broccoli in the garden that needed to be used, this was the perfect choice for dinner.
Spaghetti with broccoli, walnuts and ricotta
2/3 C walnut halves
1 head of broccoli, about 1 lb
3 Tb olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
7 oz fresh ricotta cheese
14 oz spaghetti
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Serves 4

Preheat the oven to 350.  Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for about 8 minutes, shaking the sheet occasionally, until they start to brown.
To prepare the broccoli, trim off about 1 inch from the stem end, and discard.  Thinly slice the stem until you reach the point where it starts to branch into florets.  Slice off the individual florets.  Heat the oil in a skillet, add the stems, and cook for about 2-3 minutes, turning often, then add the florets and cook for 5 minutes until the broccoli has softened.  Add the garlic, parsley, lemon zest, and walnuts and cook for  another 5 minutes, stirring often.  Reduce the heat to medium and stir through the ricotta and lemon juice.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and leave in the skillet to keep warm. 
Cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions.  Drain well and return it to the warm pan with the sauce.  Stir gently to combine and serve immediately.
Notes:  I cooked the pasta first, so that everything was ready to go when the sauce was done.  My microwave has a setting for toasting nuts, check to see if yours does.  I hope you enjoy these great fresh flavors as much as I did.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Berry green with envy

My yard is a full time job for the bees, and it seems they are up for the pollinating task.  As the fruit ripen, my mouth begins to water.  There have been strawberries already, but mostly everything is still green.  The raspberries will probably be the next to ripen.
I picked up 106 apples in the grass under the apple tree.  Of course some of them were due to the tree's self drop preservation, in order to be able to adequately nourish and ripen the fruit on the tree, but at least 15% were taste tested by our frequent squirrel visitors and dropped because they weren't ripe yet.
Happily, the grapes are hidden below the arbor, under the leaves, with no secure access for the squirrels, so I'm hoping to pick them before they do.  Since pear trees tend to grow columnar, the fruit at the top of the tree that I can't get to, should be enticing enough for our furry friends.
I picked 3 dozen sugar snap peas this afternoon.  I suppose that means it's time for a stir fry.
I'll leave you with this photo of the beautiful Apache Plume.  This evergreen shrub is a member of the Rose family.  The pink puffs are seed heads that come after the small white flowers bloom from April through June.  According to Desert USA , this plant's common name is derived from the fact that it resembles Apache war bonnets. Tewa and other native peoples used the stems of Apache Plumes to make brooms and arrow shafts.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Homemade Ricotta

I use ricotta in a variety of dishes, and I've heard that fresh ricotta is better than anything you can find even in the best store.  This morning before I started working out in my gardens, I decided to give it a try so that I would have it for tonight's dinner.  It really is a simple process.
I found this recipe on  The author gives step-by-step instructions and photographs.  

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Makes 1 cup
Active time: 10 min
4 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons distilled vinegar, fresh lemon or lime juice
fine cheesecloth
Place the milk in a heavy bottom pot.  Add the salt and heat over medium-high heat.  Stir occasionally so the milk doesn’t scorch.  Heat milk to 180ºF to 190ºF.  If you don’t have a thermometer, heat the milk until it foams at the sides of the pan and starts simmering, but doesn’t boil.
Remove pan from heat and add vinegar, lemon or lime juice.  Stir only a couple of times.  Almost immediately, curds will start to form.  Make sure not to stir any more so as not to disturb the curds.  Let stand for 5 minutes.
Line a medium sieve with the cheesecloth and carefully pour the milk mixture into the cheesecloth, disturbing the curds as little as possible. 
Let drain for 5 to 20 minutes to the desired consistency.  Draining for 5 minutes will give you a moist and creamy cheese.  Draining for 20 minutes will give you a drier ricotta.  You can drain the ricotta for longer of course, just remember that the longer it drains, the drier it’ll be. 
Transfer the ricotta to a container and cool to room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate for up to 7 days.  You can save the whey, the liquid that is drained from the curds, and use it in soups.

Note: I used vinegar and drained the cheese for 10 minutes, and that was a nice combination of creamy yet dry.  The only disappointment is that the yield is only 6.5 oz.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Shrimp pancakes with roasted broccoli

What's for dinner?  Unlike most people, my answer will never be 'a reservation.'  Tonight it's Okonomiyaki, or shrimp pancakes, and grilled broccoli. 
These savory little pancakes with tender morsels of shrimp, thin ribbons of cabbage and scallion rings through out, originated in Japan.  The creator of this recipe won the contest for 'Best Street Food' last year on when she replicated the dish she ate in Kyoto ten years earlier.  It's a winner for me, thanks Midge.
This recipe makes a dozen  4-5" pancakes. 

1/2 cup mayonnaise(I use Veganaise)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sriracha, more or less to taste

5 large eggs
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 cups cabbage, shredded with a mandoline or finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
3/4 cup chopped shrimp
canola oil for frying
1-2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
bonito flakes (optional)

Whisk the sauce ingredients together and set aside while you make the pancakes.
  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs with the soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt. Gradually add the flour until incorporated.  Fold in cabbage, scallions, and shrimp.
  2. Warm two tablespoons of canola oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until glistening.  Ladle the batter onto the skillet as you would for regular pancakes. Cook on each side for about 3 minutes or until golden brown.  Keep pancakes covered in a warm oven as you make the rest.  Scatter sesame seeds and/or bonito flakes on top of pancakes and serve with dipping sauce.
Notes:  I added more shrimp and 1 tsp of smoked Spanish paprika.  They were really good.   What a tasty and unusual appetizer for a gathering if made in smaller half size cakes.
Fresh broccoli tossed with homemade rosemary-garlic oil, then roasted on the grill until slightly charred.  This is my favorite summer vegetable..quick and healthy.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

How does your garden grow?

I just love this time of year, plants and vegetables are pushing up out of the ground faster than I can snap a photo.  From week to week the changes are amazing.   I like to border my garden with colorful lettuce heads.
Every year I add something new.  When my sister told me she buys frozen leeks at Trader Joe's that started me thinking.  So this year I planted a leek field.  Actually I planted them all over, in mini fields, and amongst the lettuce, which will be long gone before the leeks are ready, giving them plenty of room to grow.
The tedious part was separating and hand planting 100 leeks.  I must have forgotten the painstaking process of doing that three weeks ago, because I just planted another 50 today.  I put in several rows bordering some of the tomato plants.
Here the green onions are blooming.  Who would think an onion would have such a beautiful flower?
Fava beans are a new item for me this year.  Their little flower clusters remind me of pansies.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Two Great Salads

I'm always looking for a good side dish that can be made ahead of time.  Here are two I made for the past holiday weekend, both of which I will be making again. The first one is from the May issue of Bon Appetit.

Eggy Potato Salad with Pickles
8-10 Servings
Sweet pickle juice and a mustard consistency give this Southern potato salad, inspired by one at Sally Bell's Kitchen, its character.
2 3/4 lb medium red-skinned potatoes, peeled (about 8)
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt plus more 
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sweet pickle juice from jar plus 8-10 sweet-pickle chips
1 1/2 Tbs Dijon mustard 
1 tsp sugar 
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper plus more 
5 large hard-boiled egg yolks 
2 Tbs chopped red onion
2 Tbs chopped flat-leaf parsley 
Place potatoes in a large pot.  Add water to cover by 2", season with salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, 20-30 minutes.  Drain and place potatoes in a large bowl and let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, pickle juice, Dijon mustard, sugar, 1/4 tsp pepper, and 1 1/4 tsp salt into a small bowl for dressing.
Using a large wooden spoon, coarsely smash potatoes, leaving some larger pieces with some well-mashed pieces.
Add dressing and egg yolks to potatoes and toss to coat, coarsely smashing egg yolks.  Add onion and parsley; gently mix to incorporate.  Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if desired. 
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover and chill.
Divide potato salad among bowls; dust with paprika. Top each serving with a pickle chip.
Notes:  I leave the skin on the potatoes and use Veganaise, an eggless mayonnaise since there are eggs in the salad.  My taste tester has stated that we should have a bowl of this potato salad in the refrigerator at all times. 

For a tasty and healthy grain-type salad, I found this in 201 Quinoa Recipes.

Quinoa & Black Bean Salad
1 1/2 C quinoa
2 1/4 C water
1 1/2 C black beans
1 1/2 Tb red wine vinegar
1 1/2 C cooked corn (fresh, canned or frozen)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 scallions, chopped
1 tsp garlic, minced fine
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 C cilantro, chopped fine
1/3 C fresh lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/3 C olive oil

Rinse quinoa in a fine sieve under cold running water until water runs clear.  Put quinoa and water in a pot, bring to boil, then cover and simmer 20 minutes or until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender.  Fluff quinoa with a fork and transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool. 
While quinoa is cooking, in a small bowl toss beans with vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.  Add beans, corn, bell pepper, scallions, garlic, cayenne and cilantro to the cooled quinoa.  Toss well.
In a small bowl whisk together lime juice, salt, cumin and slowly add the oil while whisking.  Drizzle over salad and toss well with salt and pepper.  Salad my be made a day ahead, in fact the flavors blend better if left in the refrigerator over night.  Bring to room temperature before serving. 

Notes:  Since there was a large amount of cooked quinoa, I doubled the amount of corn and beans and used a roasted red pepper for more depth of flavor.  Also, I prefer biting into fresh kernels of corn in my summer salads, no cooking, just slice it off the cob and into the bowl.  For good measure I mixed in a tablespoon of Penzy's Greek Seasoning.  A light and refreshing mix of flavors and textures.