Monday, June 21, 2010

Garden Growth & Fish Firsts

Here's some photos of the garden over the last few weeks. It's grown a ton since we first got our plants in the ground a little over a month ago. The tomato plants are about four feet high, the cucumber vines are flowering and curling, and the peppers are starting to show themselves.

We've gotten a dozen or so yellow squash, some basil, a handful of sungold tomatoes, and a single cucumber in our first week of harvesting. The tomatoes have a few more weeks until they fully ripen, but the big guys (Cherokee Purple and Better Boy) have a few fruits on each plant. We're proud of how it's going so far!

Of course, a first vegetable garden for gardeners with limited experience has its moments of sadness as well. Three of our four yellow squash plants have completely died, even after giving us a few squash each. Our neighbor Sammy came over today as I was digging up the most recent plant. He showed me the shriveled stem and explained that the cause of death is vine borer worm, which wriggles its way into the stem and kills the plant in the process. Like a parasite, the only way to save the plant is risky surgery involving cutting a slit in the stem and pulling out the worm. Blech. Our last squash plant is in the opposite corner of the garden and is still growing strong. I'm worried about the cucumbers, which grow right next to the former yellow squash, but its too early to do exploratory vine borer surgery yet.

Despite the loss of these plants, the squash we've grown is the sweetest I've had. Our other neighbor, Charlie, recommended we harvest them while they're still small. I fried some slices up last night with basil and some salt and pepper, and they were sweet, crunchy, and delicious.

In other exciting foodie news, I joined a fish CSA with my friend Sara. We get weekly deliveries of 2-3 pounds of freshly caught fish and seafood, all cleaned up and delivered to Carrboro from Beaufort County NC via the Core Sound Seafood Community Supported Fishery. It's Sara's first venture back into eating fish after 14 years as a vegetarian, so we went all out our first week. We got a delivery of flounder and shrimp.

Thursday night Sara and I made Flounder Poached in Coconut, Ginger, and Basil Broth. It smelled incredible simmering on the stove and tasted like restaurant-worthy Thai food.

Friday night Erin and I cooked Stir-Fried Ginger Shrimp using a recipe from The Splendid Table. Easy and fresh and messy and tasty.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Granola and Asparagus Mushroom Bread Pudding

As a head's up, the garden is looking incredible, and we've harvested our first bounty! Photos and details to come. For now, onto crunchier topics: granola.

I've made several batches of granola recently, based on the Cook's Illustrated recipe. Making this hippie goodness from scratch brings into perspective how incredibly overpriced the premade stuff is. Really, the ingredients are pretty cheap: a bunch of oats, some nuts, some seeds, some dried fruit. Once you've invested in one jar of good maple syrup and one of honey, the rest is really inexpensive, and the cooking process is terribly easy - to call it cooking might even be an overstatement. In reality it's just throwing a few items on a pan and stirring it up every few minutes. I made a half recipe the second go-around - the first batch got a bit stale (which, in granola terms, means soggy and uncrunchy) after two weeks or so.

Cook's Illustrated Classic Granola
1 cup walnuts , broken into 1/4-1/2-inch pieces
3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup blanched almonds , halved
1/4 cup sesame seeds (I had none, so I upped the sunflower and nut content a bit to make up)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup raisins

1. Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix first 6 ingredients together in large bowl.

  1. 2. Heat maple syrup and honey together with oil in small saucepan, whisking occasionally until warm. Pour mixture over dry ingredients; stir with spatula until mixture is thoroughly coated. Turn mixture onto an 11-by-7-inch jelly roll pan, spreading mixture in an even layer.

  2. 3. Bake, stirring and respreading mixture into an even layer every 5 minutes, until granola is light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Immediately turn granola onto another jelly roll pan to stop cooking process. Stir in raisins, then spread granola evely in pan; set on a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Loosen dried granola with a spatula; store in airtight container.

Several scoopfuls on vanilla yogurt in the morning before work? Yes please.

I receive almost daily emails from Vegetarian Times with recipe suggestions, and though I tend not to make them, I enjoy the food inspiration. I decided to try this one out as a way to appropriately use my stash of frozen asparagus. I figured the frozen stuff would need something that requries a fair amount of cooking as the defrosting process would leave them a bit soggy, and no good for grilling or other methods that would normally make raw asparagus shine.

Asparagus-Mushroom Bread Pudding

1 leek, white part finely chopped (1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
2 lb. fresh
asparagus (36 to 40 medium spears),
cut into 1-inch pieces
12 oz. white mushrooms, sliced (2 cups)
4 cups skim milk
4 large eggs
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbs.
chopped fresh basil
1 1-lb. loaf crusty
bread, cut into cubes
16 oz. soft goat cheese log, sliced

1. Coat skillet with nonstick cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Add leek and garlic, and sauté 8 minutes, or until soft. Add asparagus and mushrooms, and cook 4 minutes more, or until asparagus is tender. Set aside.

2. Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard, and basil in bowl. Set aside.

3. Coat 13- x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread half of bread cubes in single layer in baking dish. Spoon asparagus mixture over top, and cover with remaining bread cubes.

Arrange goat cheese rounds over top. Pour egg mixture over all, pressing down with spoon to submerge bread. Cover, and chill 2 hours, or overnight.

4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake bread pudding 45 minutes, or until center is set. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

This meal came out pretty good, and in fact was better the second day, though I should know to be wary of recipes that don't call for salt. It definitely needed some. It's flavorful, though nowhere near as incredible as the butternut squash and kale bread pudding of last fall, but this was admittedly easier to prepare.

Alright, look out for garden updates soon. Squash! Tomatoes! Beautiful sprawling cucumber vines!