Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Southern Snapshot

There's something magical about the fact that it took this very meal to bring me out of blog hibernation. It's unmistakable, it's extraordinary, it's just exactly right. It's perfect that a truly Southern meal - the truest, the Southernest of meals - has inspired me enough to tell you about it.

Collard greens.
Pinto beans.

Nothing fancy. You've heard it before. But for real. For. Real. So good.

Last weekend at the market, I had a bit of extra cash despite being close to the end of the month, so I went all out, buying whatever I felt like. The first winter carrots from David Heeks, beautiful orange sweet potatoes, daikon radishes, broccoli, a stray head of cabbage, and best of all, four glorious bunches of collard greens. FOUR. This is a lot.

Jamie and I ate some as Marie's famous collard wraps with tahini and sauerkraut. Half of one bunch went into an African peanut and pineapple stew over the weekend. Some turned into a breakfast sautee with garlic and fried eggs. One bunch is still waiting to be eaten (but now I have an idea where it might go...)

But tonight, oh tonight. I finally took a dear friend's advice and decided to cook collards the old Southern way, with meat. But still somewhat averse to the traditional bacon-and-grease method, I took a more subdued approach, using a hearty beef bouillon in large quantity to flavor the stock for the collards along with my favorite spice, smoked paprika. And since I was making collards, I figured I'd make some barbecue baked pinto beans. And then, since I was cooking collards and greens and the oven was already on and I had a box of Jiffy mix, I decided to make some cornbread.

What a perfect array.

I'm so thankful that we're still early into collard season. This is the first of many nights of this exact, perfect dinner. Yes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fall Garden, here again...

It finally rained in early August after a dry, dry summer, and I mustered up the energy to rip out all the monstrously large tomato vines and other vestiges of summer plants. What a project! I filled up the massive yard waste bin in no time. But it's always so exciting to see the garden empty, full of dirt and possibility for another season.

This fall, for the first time, I started some plants from seed. I chose lettuce, kale, collards, and Brussels sprouts to begin. Here's how they looked just after starting to sprout, back in mid-August:

After they got bigger and stronger for about two weeks, I started a second planting of lettuce, kale, and collards. I also started some green cabbage and red cabbage, and there's beets in the separate containers. They're all really thriving now! You can see the first planting in the lefthand four rows and the second planting in all the other spots.

The benefit of starting them in increments is that they won't all ripen at the same time. Tomorrow I'm planning to transplant the oldest seedlings, the ones there on the far left, the ones I started first. They'll go into the garden and get bigger and stronger and ready to harvest in a month or so. In two weeks I'll begin to transplant the rest of the seedlings into the garden, and they'll grow too, but they won't be ready to harvest until after I've started harvesting the first batch. So it should allow me to have more to eat over a longer period of time.

I'm looking forward to seeing how these little seedlings do once they get transplanted to the garden. It's really amazing to see these tiny green leaves sprout right up out of the ground when I know all that's gone in there is a little seed in a pile of dirt with some water and sun mixed in. The idea that these little green stalks will ultimately feed me and many friends through the winter is just unreal. Watching growth happen - I love it.

I'm also hoping to over-winter the collards, kale, beets, and Brussels sprouts. That means I'll harvest some from them this fall/early winter, and then, instead of taking them out of the ground and planting new ones in the spring, I'll cover up these plants in the garden to protect them from frost, and uncover then again in the spring for another round of harvesting. Some folks even say that the frost helps improve flavor! In fact, there's a farmer I heard about on NPR once who has a special variety of spinach he calls "ice spinach" that gets such lovely flavor from frosting and defrosting over and over, and getting sweeter and sweeter in the process.

There are also some vegetable seeds you can start by planting them directly in the garden, and in fact it is recommended to do this as they do not transplant well. (In fact, you can start most things in the garden this time of year since the ground is nice and warm - it's better to start some plants indoor for spring plantings because the ground is still cold from the winter frosts and low temperatures.) Jamie and I planted a row of French breakfast radishes, the long thin variety with pink tops and white bottoms. The sprouts started coming up just a few days after sprinkling the seeds into the ground! And they only take a few weeks to fully ripen. In a few days we'll need to go through and thin these out so there's only one plant every inch.

Since the seeds take a while to start, and I wanted to be able to start harvesting something sooner, as well as have a guarantee that I'd have something growing in the garden in case the seeds didn't work out, I purchased a few starter plants from the farmer's market. They look so huge next to the tiny radish seedlings! There's four arugula and then a few different Asian green varieties, including mizuna and tatsoi.

I also got some truly wonderful treats at this week's market. First winter squash of the season! I can't believe it's time already. Also, some beets from David Heeks of Heeks Farm - he only does winter vegetables, and I'm so glad he's back at market. Some garlic, and also exciting, fresh ginger from Alex Hitt at Peregrine Farms! I'd never seen fresh ginger at the market here before. It looks so different from the dark brown stuff in the grocery store, doesn't it?

I also bought a ton of Keenan McDonald's oh-so-unbelievably-tasty pork sausage, as well as some delicious rosemary bread, string beans, and a bag of unreal watercress. This stuff starts out tasting like an apple or something really fruity, and after a few bites turns into the pepperiest, herbiest arugula you've ever eaten. Amazing stuff. Thanks, Hickory Mountain Farm!

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Generally, these days, there's a pile on the counter that looks a little something like this:

This is due to the tomato plants in the garden looking a little something like this:

It's a full time job to keep the garden and the kitchen tomato pile manageable. I've mostly given up on the garden, but I'm wholeheartedly trying to keep the number of countertop-tomatoes-to-be-eaten-as-soon-as-possible down. I've been trying variety of techniques - one is eating a lot of dinners that look like this:

I've also been regularly roasting sungolds on big baking sheets, cut in half with olive oil and salt and pepper and salt and sugar, and throwing them in everything from grits to salad to pasta:

Last week, I made a Tomato Tarte Tatin from Bon Appetit. I'd been told it was incredible; the recipe describes it as "a revelation."

First, you blanch, peel, seed, and slice a bunch of tomatoes. I used a mix of Romas and an heirloom called Jaune Flame, purchased from Rob at the market.

Then you cook the tomatoes in a mix of butter and sugar (secrets of deliciousness revealed) in a skillet.

Then you top the skillet with puff pastry and put it in the oven.

Then you turn it upside-down onto a plate and swoon at how beautiful it is.

Then you put ice cream on top and drool and take a bite and then take another and then cut yourself another piece and put ice cream on that and eat it all up because how could anyone ever stop eating caramelized tomatoes cooked as a dessert item?

  • 1 3/4 pounds plum tomatoes (8 large)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3-ounce package), thawed, corners cut off to make very rough 9- to 10-inch round

  • Preheat oven to 425°F. Bring large saucepan of water to boil. Cut shallow X in bottom of each tomato. Add 4 tomatoes to boiling water. Blanch tomatoes just until skins at X begin to peel back, 15 to 30 seconds. Using slotted spoon, transfer blanched tomatoes to bowl of ice water to cool quickly. Repeat with remaining tomatoes. Peel tomatoes. Cut out cores, halve lengthwise, and remove seeds.

    Spread butter over bottom of 91/2-inch-diameter, 2- to 3-inch-deep ovenproof skillet (preferably cast-iron). Sprinkle 3/4 cup sugar over butter. Arrange tomato halves, rounded side down and close together, in concentric circles in skillet to fill completely.

    Place skillet over medium heat. Cook until sugar and butter are reduced to thickly bubbling, deep amber syrup (about 1/4 inch deep in bottom of skillet), moving tomatoes occasionally to prevent burning, about 25 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Immediately drizzle vanilla over tomatoes. Top with pastry round. Using knife, tuck in edges of pastry. Cut 2 or 3 small slits in pastry. Place skillet in oven and bake tart until pastry is deep golden brown, about 24 minutes.

    Cool tart in skillet 10 minutes. Cut around sides of skillet to loosen pastry. Place large platter over skillet. Using oven mitts as aid, hold skillet and platter firmly together and invert, allowing tart to settle onto platter. Carefully lift off skillet. Rearrange any tomato halves that may have become dislodged.

    I've also been keeping busy with plenty of other kitchen projects. Today I baked oatmeal sandwhich bread out of Baker's Illustrated:

    We had a ton of peaches sitting on the counter and threatening to go bad, as well as pitted cherries from my birthday present to myself in the freezer. Since the oven was already on for the bread and to roast tomatoes, I threw together a peach-cherry crumble based on my favorite strawberry rhubarb recipe:

    Last weekend I spent one day experimenting with various bread recipes in the cobb oven out at Duck Run Farm with Keenan and Elizabeth. We made soft pretzels, two kinds of focaccia, and some incredible cinnamon rolls. Keenan also made us a beer can chicken. It was all real damn good.

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    Life is just a chair of bowlies.

    Last weekend, Ruby and Marie came to visit me from Brooklyn. We made a vegan, gluten-free feast! They were super excited about fried green tomatoes, and they were here right in time to pick some off of the tomato plants that had yet to ripen but were falling over from their own weight.

    We coated them in a mix of cornmeal and our collective favorite spice, smoked paprika. Marie and I went to a cooking demo once at the famous Park Slope Food Coop where smoked paprika was introduced to both of us, and we've been hooked since.

    We also made some potato hash and a raw kale salad with tahini dressing.

    Marie and Ruby were impressed with the kale plants, as I have been too, since they've lasted so much longer than I expected them too. I planted them way back in April! Friends, you saw them in person just in time. Over the past week, what with all the rain and humidity, the kale has been totally taken over by a friendly but hungry little bug.

    Oh well! More kale in the fall. I'll pull the plants out of the garden as soon as it stops being almost too hot and sticky to breathe outside.

    And speaking of the garden! The tomatoes are out of control! As much as I tried to prune them this year, at a certain point they just get so huge and wild that it feels almost useless to cut them back. Though I'll admit that every time it rains, the plants fall down a little bit more, and I have to use reinforcements like twine and rocks and bricks to hold them upright.

    There are tons and tons of sungolds, and the plants just keep getting bigger.

    The celebrity tomatoes have started to ripen too! This week starts tomatosplosion. I'm planning for gazpacho, salsa, maybe some chutney, and hopefully a dessert tomato tart coming soon, since these bad boys are going to all ripen within a very short window of time.

    Sadly, a few of the tomatos are getting dive-bombed by birds. I love my backyard, in part because there's tons and tons of beautiful birds that fly back there, but they also do annoying things like poop everywhere, eat my beet seedlings (next time I'll cover them with chicken wire or buy bigger transplants or start them inside), and take bite-sized chunks out of my tomatoes.
    Silly birds! Tomatoes are for humans! The second planting of tomatoes are growing strong too, the pink girls, but none have ripened yet. Hopefully it'll be a while before they do, since I'm inundated with celebrities and sungolds now anyway! One of the four plants is mostly dead - I'm not sure why, but the leaves are all dead and crispy - but the other three plants seem to be thriving reasonably well.

    The bell peppers continue to grow as well - I wish they would turn red as they're supposed to, but I may need to go ahead and harvest them anyway since they're definitely the right size to take off the plant, if not even a bit on the big side at this point.

    My container plant project took a turn for the better, too! For a while there the Italian basil transplant was dying - I had it inside, and moved it outdoors a few weeks ago, and since then it's looked much better. New leaves have grown in around the ones that were dying. And check out the two purple basils in the middle! I love those huge green leaves with purple stripes coming out of the righthand one - I can't figure out how those leaves look so different than the other purple leaves, since they all came from the same seed packet, but they're pretty cool looking! And the cilantro is growing too, especially after I added some more seeds.

    Whole Foods is having a super duper one-day-only cherry sale today. They have these sometimes at the peak of certain produce seasons; during strawberry season, they had a one-day-super-duper-discount type deal as well. As a mini-pre-birthday present to myself, I indulged in fruit. Cherries! And, my all time favorite fruit, figs.

    Thank you, West Coast, for producing beautiful tasty fruit for my birthday week. It's hard for me to explain just how much I enjoy biting into a ripe fig, so let me express my sincere gratitude for having some of my very own as I wait for my own fig tree to (hopefully, someday soon) ripen. California, I look forward to meeting you in person for the first time in a few weeks and eating some of our produce straight from your trees!

    Sunday, June 26, 2011

    Local Pizza and First Sungolds

    Harvested the first full pint of sungolds of the season!

    For these next summer weeks, there will be sungolds to harvest most every day. After I harvested almost a full pint this morning, I picked another half-pint or so this evening. You can sit and watch the tomatoes ripen if you're really dedicated!

    Kate and I made a stellar local pizza last night. I threw together some sauce by mixing a can of tomato paste, some extra virgin olive oil, a bit more water than the amount of olive oil, some salt and pepper and minced garlic and whatever Italian dried herbs I had on hand, which in this case was oregano and thyme.

    I used my standard Barbara Kingsolver pizza dough recipe and chopped up some mozzarella from last week's CSA, and Kate cooked up the spicy pork sausage from this week's CSA.

    We picked some fresh basil from the garden and tossed it on at the end.

    So fresh, so easy, so good, so local!
    I'm really excited to have leftovers of this for lunch this week alongside my fresh sungolds. Coworkers, try not to be jealous.

    Saturday, June 25, 2011

    Lunch today

    For lunch today, as on many weekend days, a hash: potatoes from Hickory Mountain Farm, sauteed with oil, kale from the backyard garden, and garlic from Whitted Bowers Farm; topped with sungolds from the backyard garden, and dressed with soy sauce from Lord knows where.

    Market Morning

    Just home from picking up the season's last CSA box. It's been so wonderful getting these weekly treasures from Keenan at Hickory Mountain Farm. I'm looking forward to continuing to buy produce and other farm items from Keenan over the rest of the summer and fall. This week we got another motherlode of potatoes, cured onions, and cucumbers, as well as some yellow squash, hot pork sausage, and yummy salty feta cheese.

    I also got some goodies from the Carrboro market. On my first circle around the market I picked up four green bell peppers and a lovely little watermelon from Rob at Whitted Bowers Farm, and on my second go-around I couldn't resist picking up another melon. Rob had samples out, and they're just so tasty! Plus Sara got a beautiful sunflower from Rob as well, and I chose some string beans from another farmer.
    The kitchen counter is looking mighty tasty these days! Gotta get to cookin'....

    Friday, June 24, 2011

    An Unbeatable Bargain

    I know. This is not quite in the spirit of gardens and farmer's markets and vegetables and fresh food. I am fully aware. But I have to share this with you anyway.

    Yes, it's true. This is a picture of eleven (eleven!!) pints of Ben and Jerry's ice cream on my kitchen counter. It is not my birthday. I did not get my wisdom teeth out. No, nothing like that. This beautiful sight is the result of an extraordinary good deal that I stumbled upon at Food Lion today.

    Normally I don't go to Food Lion, but I stopped by briefly today with the intent of buying orange juice (for margaritas, and Vitamin C) and tonic water (for gin, and, well, for gin). As I turned the corner down the freezer aisle on my way to check out, I was confronted with a most amazing sight: Ben and Jerry's ice cream on sale. And this was no ordinary sale, oh no. Ben and Jerry's costs at least $4 in most stores, and admittedly, it is regularly $3.50 at Food Lion, already a decent discount. But today, oh today, each pint was on sale for $1.67. I truly could not believe my eyes. An entire pint of glorious Ben and Jerry's ice cream for less than two smackeroos! It could not be! I immediately went to the front of the store to get a basket, which of course I had not picked up at the start of my grocery shopping venture as I had planned on only getting my two items. I skipped and hopped my way back to the freezer aisle. I called my roommate to tell her the wonderful news and solicit flavor requests. I called my friend Kate who was stuck in an interminably long Friday at work with words of encouragement and promises of ice cream. And I began to fill my basket with lovely pints.

    And that is not all! Oh no. I selected my pints and entered the check-yourself-out line. As I was ringing up my items, cheerfully watching the discounts ring up on the screen, I noticed a coupon spit out of the register behind the check out screen...for $2 off three pints of Ben and Jerry's! I was already getting an incredible deal, and now Food Lion wanted to give me more of a discount. Unreal! I had to do one sneaky move, as there was a limit of four pints per transaction, which was to purchase my ice creams in three separate swipes of the credit card - but this was suggested by a friendly and helpful cashier, so I think I'm in the clear in terms of grocery store fraud. The grand total for ice cream came to under $14 for eleven pints. My freezer has never looked finer, or more inexpensively filled. My dad and I like to compete for who can get the most savings in a single grocery store trip - this might take the cake.

    In more produce-oriented news, check out this beautiful cabbage, recently harvested from the garden. They're so elegant with all those protective leaves, almost like a multi-layered skirt of sorts.
    I chopped the cabbage up, shredded some carrots, sliced some cucumber, and ripped up some Thai basil, Italian basil, mint, parsley, and cilantro. Tossed it all together, mixed up a bit of white miso and lime and sesame oil, and threw it all together in a tupperware. Simple, refreshing lunch today.
    Not all of the cabbages looked so nice coming out of the ground. This one was befriended by a cute but destructive little worm - you can see him there on the left if you look real close. Little wormy took some big chunks out of this cabbage, and didn't leave me enough worth saving. Can't win 'em all! It was pretty cool taking a good long look at how the little worm demolished the cabbage, though.

    I did a mini art project this morning, painting this little plant holder a nice shade of red. I discovered that paint can be very inexpensive, and made a splurge purchase of a tiny one dollar bottle of ruby red at my last trip to the craft store, along with a small paintbrush, thinking I could paint some of my tin cans or other improvised home plant holders. I was a bit scared of how this would turn out, but I like how it matches my other red kitchen items from its new spot on the kitchen windowsill. Soon I'll find a nice green friend to fill it.

    Remember I had thrown some purple basil and cilantro seeds into some containers a few weeks ago? They're sprouting! Looking cute.

    The sungolds are starting to ripen! They look so colorful on the vine.

    Here's the fruits of the first harvest. Soon there will be handfuls of sungolds ripening every day!

    Also, remember the lettuce seeds I tossed on the ground underneath the tomato plants? They're started to sprout up as well! Hopefully the tomatoes continue to provide enough shade that they can grow in this heat.

    Even more exciting, the beet seeds have sprouted too! I think the mulch helped keep them cool, and the ones with the most shade have come up the strongest, so it's possible the heat is still too much for the others.

    And last but certainly not least, last weekend's CSA. I got some meat and eggs as we've been so overloaded with vegetables recently. Squash blossoms, chicken eggs, cucumbers, pork sausage, spicy radishes, and mozzarella cheese.

    Next week is the last CSA! I'll still be buying plenty of vegetables from the markets, though I'll be sad not to walk down the road with my big box full of grub after next weekend.