Food & Garden

Fall Foods! Apples, acorn squash, and kale

I haven’t posted much on food and foodways recently, but I have been definitely been making the most of the autumn season in the kitchen. Since Thanksgiving is this week, I thought I’d share a little about the recipes I’ve been cooking and the stories behind the dishes. As it turns out, the stories about why I cooked these foods are part of what makes cooking them meaningful.

Apple Hill Apple Butter

This fall marks my first visit to Apple Hill—an area  just past Placerville with a large association of growers who attract tons of visitors to their ranches. Besides tasting the apple cider and apple cider donuts (which were as amazing as described!) my priority was to find a great U-Pick apple place and try a bunch of heirloom apple varieties.

I was not disappointed. The four of us who carpooled up there together had an awesome day filled with apple picking.

This was our haul—that’s my bucket with the scarf on the right. That night when we got home, two of us got together and made apple butter. Thus this recipe will forever remind me of Apple Hill Day.

Apple butter recipe*

Ingredients:

5  1/2 pounds tart apples – peeled, cored and finely chopped

2 cups sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

Instructions:

Prepare the apples and put them in the slow cooker. Add other ingredients and mix. Cook on high setting for 1 hour. Reduce temperature to low and cook for 9 or 10 hours. Towards the end of this time, check on the apple butter and use a potato masher or a whisk to make the mixture smoother. Place in glass jars and refrigerate.

*This recipe is a variation on the All Day Apple Butter recipe from allrecipes.com. The main difference is that I use about half the sugar and no cloves. I find that two cups of sugar is plenty sweet! It was also all I had in the house at the time. You can also omit the sugar completely—we did this with a second batch and it also turned out well:

This batch was made with much sweeter apples. One thing we noticed with this variation was that it cooked down much quicker—it’s possible that was just due to the crock pot used, but keep an eye on it if you try this version.

bonus apple recipe: apple rings!

I still had a bunch of apples after making apple butter, so I also made apple rings.

Ingredients:

Apples

Instructions:

Core and thinly slice apples. Place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 200 degrees F for about 30 minutes or until apples appear dry.

I pretty much winged it with this one—I took a look at a couple of recipes online to figure out the gist and then I went for it. If, like me, you don’t have a mandolin or a corer, I suggest slicing the apple whole until you get to the seeds, then core it, and then slice the rest. This worked the best for me. I used a bunch of different apple varieties and found that each takes a different time to cook, so some of my rings were crispy, some were chewy, and the rest were in between. I have no idea how long there would keep, because they were all gone within 24 hours.

 

Acorn Squash Election Night Soup (aka Ba-roth Obama Soup)

I have made this soup many times, but it gets its name from the time I made it on Election Night in 2008. Me and my roommate at the time were both home that night, watching the election returns. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I think it came up that she had pronounced broth (as in the broth I bought to make soup) as “ba-roth” as if it had two syllables. Somehow this turned into a pun on Barak Obama’s name, and before I knew it, my soup had a new moniker:  Ba-roth Obama soup.

[sorry, I don’t have any before photos of acorn squash, except for the little bit you can see in the apple butter photo. Enjoy this alternate squash photo instead.]

Acorn Squash Soup recipe

Ingredients:
2 medium acorn squash
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (er, ba-roth)
1 small lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt and pepper, to taste
smoked paprika (OR sazon goya con azafran, if you can find it!), to taste

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut acorn squashes in half with a good sharp knife. Scoop out and save the seeds for later. Set the halves face up on a baking sheet. Drizzle some olive oil on them and bake until tender, about 45 minutes. Put seeds on a separate sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stick them in for the last 10-15 minutes. When the squash start looking brown they are most definitely done. When the seeds start making popping sounds, they are also done.

Remove squash from oven and wait for them to cool down enough to touch. (I tend to rush this step and I usually regret it). Scoop the flesh from the skin and place into a blender with the broth. Blend.

Pour the mixture into a pot and heat it on the stove as you add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Serve with parmesan cheese and/or roasted seeds on top.

I made this soup again on Election Night 2012 two weeks ago, and it was just as delicious. I’m pretty sure that I have started a new tradition. You can use other squash of course, but I really like the flavor of the acorn. I have no idea what originally inspired this recipe. I know that I first made it with sazon goya con azafran seasoning, which is amazing and which you should totally try. I haven’t had any luck finding it in a local grocery store though, so smoked paprika is my substitute. Still delicious!

Super Bowl Kale Chips

Store bought kale chips seem to be everywhere now (ok at least at Trader Joes and Whole Foods), but I distinctly remember the first time I tried one, it was homemade and delicious. It was at a Super Bowl party this year, and it was one of the tastier things among a sea of typical game day food. Do I remember who was playing in the game? No. Do I remember the kale chips? Yes. Because they tasted way better than I thought kale could taste. I will probably make them myself come January.

Bottom: uncooked kale  Top: cooked kale chips

Kale Chips

Ingredients:

Kale

olive oil

salt and pepper

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 175 degrees F (or 200 if you oven will not go lower than that). Wash and dry kale and remove center stalks. Cut into pieces and place on baking sheet. Drizzle all over with olive oil and turn pieces to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the pieces over with tongs. Cook an additional 10-15 minutes until pieces are crispy.

Ok with this recipe the temperature and the timing are actually pretty important. Basically, you want kale to cook at a low temp for a long time. A high temp with burn the thinest parts before the thick parts cook. Keep that in mind and you can’t go wrong!

 

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Food & Garden

Garden recipes for the lazy

In spite of my vegetable garden’s best efforts to off itself, I now find myself with an abundance of fresh produce. Late August never fails to be a period of peak production among my plots—no matter that they were planted weeks apart. Here’s just some of what I harvested in the last two weeks:

close ups of the various vegetables in that photo:

 

And a different day’s harvest:

If you’re keeping track, you may see that I have corn, cucumbers, peppers, green beans, okra, tomatillos, and four kinds of tomatoes!

However, since it is still in the mid 90s most days, I don’t often feel like spending a lot of time cooking. Which is why the foods I make with my garden bounty this time of year are really super basic. Lazy even. But they work, because if you are using fresh stuff that you love, sometimes it’s best to just enjoy it in its purest form.

Stoplight Salad (tomato, cucumber, pepper salad)

I have an embarrassment of tomatoes (especially big beef and shady lady) and a surprising number of resilient cucumbers (more lemon ones that Armenian). The easiest thing to make with them is this salad:

This is about as basic as it gets—cut up the tomatoes and cucumbers, add vinegar, oil, salt and pepper, and eat. It gets even better if you can chill it for like 30 minutes and let the vinegar soak in (but not too long—we’re not making pickles here). Any vinegar will work, but my favorites are rice vinegar and balsamic vinegar. I used rice vinegar in the version pictured. You can also add pretty much any other vegetable you that would eat raw in a salad to this dish, like bell peppers and green beans. Since my lemon cucumbers are yellow, this is why I think of it as “stoplight salad”:

Besides the beautiful colors, this salad has the benefit of being highly adaptable—there’s really no minimum amount of vegetables you need to make it. You don’t even need anything beyond tomatoes if, like me, you grow them in enough different colors:

Ok, so I didn’t even combine these guys in true salad form—really that photo is just an excuse to show off my multicolored tomatoes! (From top to bottom: green zebra, kellogg’s breakfast, shady lady)

Smokin’ a Corn Cob

This is the first year I successfully grew corn. Corn! I really doubted these stalks for a while, but I was thrilled at what I found when I shucked the first ears. How thrilled? This thrilled:

 

This corn is best when eaten super fresh—it’s much sweeter and less starchy that way. So as soon as I picked it, I rinsed it, wrapped it in foil, and stuck it in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Yes, I realize this requires turning the oven on in August. But itt also requires basically no other prep and thus little time in the kitchen. When it was done, I added butter, pepper, smoked paprika and smoked sea salt for a delicious, smokin’ ear of corn:

I ate it with some spinach feta ravioli and some sautéed mushrooms and okra (and yes, that is the red okra from the garden—since I only have a few plants, I  often add it to whatever I’m cooking). Delicious.

Isabel’s Salsa Verde

This recipe is slightly less lazy than the other two, but I did make it for the first time while in a hurry to get to campus, so I don’t think it’s that involved. Also: so worth it. And since I changed it enough from the other recipes I found, I think it’s fair to call it my own green salsa recipe (Isabel was my “Spanish name” in Spanish class throughout most of high school, since my name doesn’t exactly translate).

I love green salsa, and I didn’t get a chance to use any of the tomatillos I planted last year. I was disappointed. And then, out of nowhere, they came back this year. As it turns out, heirloom tomatillos are the glitter of the plant world—once you plant them, good luck ever getting rid of them. If one overripe fruit falls on the ground and seeds itself, it’s over—tomatillos everywhere.

I used a combination of these instructions from andrea’s recipes, this other recipe, and my friend Amber’s “salsa concept” list (see below) to get an idea for how to make green salsa. I’m especially proud of my creativity in substituting what I grew in my garden for other ingredients—except for the garlic (which was thankfully leftover from making quesadillas), everything below came from my yard:

 

Ingredients  (approximate amounts as I remember them):

6-8 tomatillos, husked, washed and halved

2 cloves garlic

1 small onion (or equivalent thereof)

1/4 to 1/3 cup cilantro

2 thai dragon hot peppers, dried and with seeds removed

about 2 Tablespoons juice from a grapefruit

salt and pepper to taste

 

Using my cast iron skillet lined with foil, I roasted the tomatillos and garlic for a few minutes on each side, until they were a bit browned:

 

Meanwhile, I chopped up the other ingredients, taking care to wear gloves and using a separate cutting board for the Thai Dragon peppers, because they can be hot (50,000 to 100,000 scoville units if that means anything to you).When all of that was ready, I threw it in a blender for a minute, maybe less. That was it. Done:It didn’t make a ton of salsa, but I was looking to see how this recipe turned out before making a huge batch. The results were excellent— exactly what I was hoping for. And it made just enough to almost fill my old salsa jar, which was plenty for me. Despite the “medium” label on the lid below, I would classify this salsa as “hot.” Not too hot, but it definitely had its share of heat, depending on how many pieces of hot pepper in your bite. I think it would be just fine without the peppers if capsaicin is not your thing.

If you want to improvise ingredients with salsa, I recommend my friend’s salsa concept list, which she describes thusly…

“here’s the concept:
1) something to bulk it up and provide most of the flavor (tomatoes, tomatillos, grapefruit, mango, avo, etc.)
2) a hot pepper (jalapeño, serrano, bird chile, habanero, ancho, etc.)
3) an herb (usually cilantro, but sometimes other stuff works)
4) minced onions (whatever seems to work best with what you’ve got, scallions, red, white, shallots, etc.)
5) lime
6) salt
optional: additional spices/ flavors (garlic, booze, cumin, etc.)”
I would even add that you can substitute other citrus for lime, especially lemon or grapefruit, in a pinch.
I still have plans to make some slightly more involved recipes with my vegetables. But for now, I’m sticking to (mostly) lazy recipes.

 

 

 

 

 

Food & Garden

Spinach and berry salad: three ways

As you may have seen in my last post if you waded through all of the garden photos, I had a lot of spinach from my winter garden. It’s going to flower soon but I thought I’d share my favorite way to eat it—well, really three ways to eat it :

1. Spinach salad with strawberries and blueberries

Ingredients: 

fresh spinach, 1 1/2 to 2 cups

sliced strawberries, 1/2 to 1 cup

blueberries, 1/2 to 1 cup

(note: all measurements are approximate, I always just eyeball it)

This salad has a small story to it. It was the first food I prepared for myself after being in a major car accident seven years ago. I was still on crutches but out of the hospital, and an occupational therapist was helping me learn how to get around a kitchen with my injuries. She had me make a version of this salad as a project, to get me used to doing everyday tasks again.

I’d never had this salad before then, and it has become one of my favorites. It’s like the best of a green salad and a fruit salad combined. It is so refreshing. I know people who don’t like sweet things in their green salads, but these two berries are flavorful without being that sweet. And there’s something about the deep green, blue and red colors together that just looks nice. If you add enough berries, you almost don’t need dressing. Plus, I got lucky this week because strawberries and blueberries were both 99 cents at grocery outlet, so this salad was incredibly cheap to make.

2. Spinach salad with strawberries, blueberries, almonds and vinaigrette 

Additional ingredients:

sliced almonds, 1/2 cup

balsamic vinegar, 1/8 cup

extra virgin olive oil, 1/8 cup

Nuts go well with this salad—I probably would have preferred thinly sliced ones as opposed to these slivered ones, but that’s what I had on hand. I think walnuts or pecans would probably also go well in it.

I can’t remember what kind of vinaigrette was on this salad the first time I had it, but I usually make a balsamic one. Go easy on the dressing, as the salad is tasty as it is. I would love to try a lemon vinaigrette on it sometime, which seems like it would be a nice refreshing pairing with the salad—but I’m sure its obvious by now that I like all things lemon.

3. Spinach salad with strawberries, blueberries, almonds, vinaigrette, and grilled meat

Additional ingredients:

option 1:

1 small to medium sized steak

steak seasoning or salt and pepper, to taste

option 2:

1 small to medium sized chicken breast

soy sauce, 2 tablespoons

chicken seasoning, to taste

Yep—this salad is great on its own, but delicious with grilled meats. My dinning hall in the dorms regularly held “sizzling salad” nights where they would make whatever crazy combo of  salad vegetables you wanted and top it with the meat of your choice. This taught me that just about any salad tastes good with grilled meat on top.

In the version pictured, I just grilled a fresh steak on my George Foreman grill for a few minutes with steak seasons on either side, then let it sit for a few minutes before I cut it into strips. I meant to make it more medium rare than well done, but what can I say, I was multitasking in the kitchen and I’ve only used the foreman a few times. Either way, it tasted delicious.

Normally, I top this salad with chicken, using frozen chicken breasts I have on hand. It may sound like shoddy cooking to some, but here’s how get it ready fast: I microwave it. First, I defrost it according to however long it suggests (3-4 minutes usually) then I set it to full power and cook it (also about 3-4 minutes). I aim for a little bit on the shorter time for the cooking part, pierce it to see if the juices are running clear to indicate doneness, then add the soy sauce and chicken seasoning and zap it for another 30 seconds to a minute.

I know it sounds meh to cook chicken like that in a microwave, but what can I say? By the time I am hungry for this salad I often don’t want to wait too long for it. The chicken turns out tasty and I haven’t died yet! Depending on how much meat you add and how much salad you make, this can qualify for a meal in my book.

Food & Garden

Day of Thanks

Pilgrims! etc.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Being in a house with TV today, I woke up this morning to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I was still a little sleepy but one of the the first  floats I saw, I swear, was a turkey surrounded by Pilgrims and  Avril Lavegne lipsynching. Yay weird American traditions!  Sometimes I think humor is the only way to handle the sort gross missrepresentation of American history one sees around this holiday. This image below, for example, made me chuckle:

Of course, there are always exceptions—last Thansksgiving, the NY Times has an excellent article by Jill Lepore on what life was really like for Ben Franklin—as compared to his sister Jane. Really fascinating stuff from a historian I admire.

Our bountiful table    thanksgiving1

Thanksgiving was a small but good one . I threw these decorations together at the last minute with other decorations my mom had and some leaves from outside. I was thinking that I wish I had brought my knitted pumpkins from my apartment—they would have fit right in:

I used this ravelry pattern, but after I made them I came across a ton of others that were even more elaborate. I’m pretty happy with how these turned out, though I never did get around to using thread to make the different sections. I bet it could be modified to make a gourd too. The best thing about these pumpkins is that you can use up small bits of really cool looking yarn that you have left over.

What I did “craft” to put on the table this holiday was the dessert. For some reason I wanted to make a tart. A lemon tart, specifically. And this turned out to be a lot more work than I bargined for

I used a Martha Stewart recipe for a caramelized lemon tart. While making the crust recipe  I discovered two things. 1. The tart pan I was had a raised bottom but not a removable one. The first time I tried to make a crust in this, it was a disaster, bubbling in the center and with no edges. But thankfully I discovered 2. The recipe was made for a much larger tart pan, so I had enough to do a second, improved crust:

Then I made the filling—squeezing 6 lemons and separating a dozen yokes from whites took forever, as did cooking it. I was in a hurry at this point, so the photo is pretty blurry.

But finally, I got to the really fun part: caramelizing the top. There was a brief moment where it looked like we were out of sugar (!) but it turned out okay because there was some left in the sugar bowl on the table. I used the broiler to get it to brown. Again, I wish I’d put on more and taken more time to do this, but the results were delicious.

I’m really pleased with the effect—the crunchy caramelized top is a great contrast with the smooth tangy lemon filling. But seriously: so much work!