Saving it for a Rainy Day

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This gorgeously wet day has inspired a blog entry.  This morning I did the amazing and pinched my first yellow pear tomato from my vine outside, and it was delicious.  My brandywine tomatoes are coming along but a bit more slowly.  The calendula flowers have finally shouted orange and there is a claw of a hot pepper emerging on a neighboring vine.  Basically, besides it being hot, life is good.  My advice is this–if you’re depressed and miserable, begin a garden and watch it slowly creep into life, pluck it’s fruits and brush its hair once in a while, and you will feel atleast an ounce better about it all.

This morning I received my regular online Land Stewardship Project (see ‘links and curiosities’ above) newsletter.  A few things caught my attention regarding upcoming events.   First, Farm Beginnings (which appears to be a project via the LSP that encourages and supports new farmers, I’ll look more into it and let you know) will hold a public tour of Featherstone Farm CSA, July 21-22 near the south east Minnesota community of Rushford.  For details on that contact LSP’s Karen Stettler at 507.523.3366 or stettler@landstewardshiproject.org.  There is also information in the newsletter regarding a new something called “Eco Experience” at the Minnesota State Fair this year and news on Minnesota Cooks, also at the fair where local chefs who support local, seasonal, and organic foods give cooking demos and distribute free samples.  Really, I just encourage you to sign up for the Land Stewardship newsletter, for they are such an incredible organization and there are always a lot of goings-on farm and food related through them. 

In other news, I will be in the press quite a bit in the coming up months and tomorrow an interview between me and Kathie Jenkins, restaurant critic for our good ol’ Pioneer Press, will be in the ‘Eat’ section of the paper.  Look for the photo of the sweaty and dishevelled chef, for that is me with my wilting sweet corn fritters on a 90 degree day in my sauna of a kitchen.  As well, I will be included in an article on organics in that new glossy Twin Cities publication called St. Paul Illustrated.  On August 5th I will be on the radio with Andrew Zimmern, restaurant critic for Mpls. St. Paul magazine and all around good guy, on his Saturday morning show on 107 FM called Chowhounds.  I think he wants all the nasty bits about my time at the quirky and wonderful Ballymaloe Culinary School in Ireland, and there certainly are some stories there.  Finally, if you feel I haven’t boasted or promoted myself enough, I will have a coupon in the newest edition of the Blue Sky Guide, coming to stands on September 1.  The coupon is for $25 off the purchase of a Farm to Fork gift certificate or a first time cooking session.  Really, what an impressive gift to give your sister-in-law who’s just had a baby and is too busy doing the laundry and assembling IKEA children’s furniture to even consider cooking a few square meals.  I’ll be sure to make links to these news bits and special offers when they are available. 

Whenever Nate and I invite friends over for a supper we almost always encourage Sunday nights.  This last Sunday I did the usual and browsed the St. Paul Farmers Market looking for ideas for dinner.  I decided to just buy a variety of things I could mainly steam or saute in order to make a platter of seasonal vegetables.  I picked up sweet baby carrots, tiny new red potatoes, yellow and green summer squash (the shortest ones I could find), little sweet onions, and some butter-yellow wax beans.  I also bought a pile of basil and a few other herbs.  I passed up the beautiful variegated amaranth greens and beets, although I could have added them into the mix.  I made a batch of pesto with the basil and steamed or sauted each vegetable separately with an appropriate herb (carrots with mint, potatoes with dill, summer squash with marjoram), and tossed in a bit of olive oil, lemon zest, sea salt and pepper.  Finally I sliced a ciabatta loaf and made a tall stack of bruschetta slices (toasted with a smear of olive oil and rubbed garlic).  You can’t imagine how versatile pesto is this time of year.  Make a batch and literally serve it with anything you bring home from the market.   A kind of do-it-yourself, delicious, and easy to eat kind of summer feast.  And remember, when you’re eyeing that pile of gigantic zucchini or beets or any such vegetable, to pass it up for the slimmer and smaller sized ones.  Smaller is better, the taste is concentrated in that little vegetable and that is good.   Happy eating!

A Season to Taste

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Let’s talk about what’s in season now and what we should probably be savoring.  Well, if you haven’t already consumed your seasonal strawberries, now is the time to do so, only a few moments left for those.  Here’s a fast recipe for those sweet red things:

Sugared Strawberries, a recipe composed in Elizabeth David fashion.  Rinse, hull, and slice 2 quarts of strawberries.  Toss them with 1/2 cup sugar (shouldn’t need much more than that, especially when at the end of the season they are small and very sweet) and let them relax at room temperature for a bit until juicy.  Please, serve with some cream (ice, whipped, or chantilly). 

I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the first blueberries to appear.  I just phoned Natura Farms in Forest Lake, where I certainly intend on picking a few good buckets of my own berries this week.  They told me that blueberries may appear Monday, but to call ahead first to confirm.  They also suggested I come to pick raspberries, currants, and the remains of the strawberries which they will allow anyone to take for free (to clear out the fields).  Natura Farms functions as an organic farm (no sprays of any sort and use sustainable farming practices) but like many small farms are not certified organic.  Just to puff them up a bit I want to advertise that they are certified by Food Alliance Midwest.  Anyhow, with all that said, I look forward to getting my paws blue and perhaps red in the next week or two.  I’ll let you know what I’ll be making with all of those berries.

It is not just berry season.  Look for sweet stone-fruits (plums, pluots, nectarines, and the like), broccoli, cauliflower, peas (snap and snow), radishes, and soon our beloved sweet corn.  As well, I just pulled some healthy looking chioggia beets from my own modest garden and I suppose it is time to indulge in those.  Here is a striking and delicious sounding recipe for golden beets I just found today.  It is from Ready When You Are by Martha Rose Shulman. 

Beet Green Gratin with Golden Beet Crust

2 bunches (6-8) golden beets

2 lbs golden beet greens (from about 4 large bunches; note: you may want to ask at the farmers market if they have any extra beet greens hanging about), stemmed and washed

salt

4 eggs, beaten

freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup milk

1 lg. garlic clove, minced or pressed

2 oz. grated Gruyere cheese, grated (1/2 cup)

1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (1/4 cup)

1 tbs. olive oil, plus more for oiling the gratin dish

 

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Cut the greens off of the beets, leaving about 1/2 in. of the stems attached.  Scrub the beets and place in a baking dish or ovenproof casserole.  Add about 1/4 in. water to the pot.  Cover tightly with a lid or foil, and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the beets are tender.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.  If not using right away, refrigerate in a covered bowl. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil while you stem and wash the greens.  Add a tablespoon of salt to the water, and blanch the greens for a minute or two (you will probably need to do this in two batches).  Transfer the greens to a bowl of cold water, then drain and squeeze out the water.  Chop coarsely.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Oil a 2-quart gratin dish generously with olive oil.  Slip the skins off the beets, and slice very thin across the equator.  Line the bottom and sides of the gratin dish with sliced beets.  Beat together the eggs, 3/4 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, the milk, garlic, and all but 2 tablespoons of the cheeses.  Stir in the greens and turn into the gratin dish.  Cover the top of the gratin with the remaining beet slices, overlapping them slightly.  Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese over the beets, and drizzle on the olive oil.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, until set and lightly browned on the top.  Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve hot or warm.  

Serves 4