Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What I Ate Yesterday

With this most recent heat wave, my tomatoes have finally gotten with the program and started ripening.  I started all my tomatoes from seed, using seeds I got for Mother's Day a few years ago.  I used 5 different packets, ending up with about 45 plants.  They were in these silly seed starter things (this is the first year I've done anything from seed, not counting beans and peas a 3 year old could grow) and they quickly outgrew the little space they had, not to mention I had put like 10 seeds a spot (I told you, my first time!!) and I was having trouble confronting thinning them.  Eventually I transplanted some into bigger containers, I finally built some raised beds for them and slowly one or two was planted here and there.  In the end I had no idea what I had planted.  I lost the seed packets and the little plants had been rearranged so many times and half died, anyhow. 

Now that the tomatoes are starting to ripen, I'm seeing what it is I have.  It's like tomato surprise.  So far it looks like I have mostly black krim and possibly some yellow brandywine?  I have some bright red-orange ones, too, but I don't know what they are.  I had thought I did green zebra till I found the full seed packet in my box of seeds.  Either way, it's been fun to see the tomatoes change color and thankfully I love black krim, since I have a bazillion of those.  I'll keep that in mind for next year!

For lunch I was finally able to enjoy a homegrown caprese salad.  As usual, it was amazing.  Certainly my all time favorite dish. 

The cucumbers have been piling up in the fridge.  I have to admit, the salad ones I grew just haven't tasted that great.  They are supposed to grow to 6-8" but I've been having to harvest them at about 4" or they are bitter and even not bitter, their flavor seems off.  I'll be shooting for a different variety next year.  Regardless, I couldn't let all these tiny cucumbers go to waste.  I peeled and sliced them and let them sit in a bowl of apple cider vinegar, water and ice.  After they had soaked for an hour or two I drained them and tossed in some full fat Greek yogurt, a splash more apple cider vinegar, a pinch of salt and some dill.  This was the starter for our dinner last night. 

I got an organic grass-fed steak through my CSA over the weekend.  I'm not sure where my head was when I did the math, but it was about $20 for a tiny 8oz turned out amazing, but still, I get far, far better deals at the farmer's market from my favorite local family farm.  The steak was a small, super thick chunk of tenderloin and I'd forgotten to chuck it in the fridge to thaw till late morning, so the center was still a bit frozen.  I took my cast iron skillet (how I lived without one for so many years, I really don't know), added some grapeseed oil and got it nice and hot.  I seasoned the steak and tossed it on.  Since it was so fat I seared each side and then simply took it off the heat and let it sit for about 10 mins.  Came out perfectly.

I also had this leaning tower of potatoes that has been growing for the past many months.  I have an aversion to preparing potatoes, I don't know why, but I do.  I love eating them and they are simple to cook, but I never end up using them.  I've been getting several in my CSA box for the last many months, equating to a large bowl and adjacent pile.  I've given potatoes away, sprouted some, composted some, set some out for the neighborhood rats, but still, the pile grows.  So yesterday I finally decided I'd make mashed potatoes to go with our steak.  I chopped and boiled the potatoes in chicken stock till they were soft, drained and added lots of butter, parmesean cheese, some more Greek yogurt and some half and half since they seemed to sticky.  And of course some fresh ground pepper and sea salt. 

My husband isn't a huge fan of beets, but I love them and I had several golden beets from the garden to use, along with the greens.  I decided to change it up from my usual roasted beets recipe and make a spicy beet puree.  I peeled and chopped the beets up along with one small red onion.  I tossed in some red chili pepper flakes, salt, pepper, olive oil and a tiny pinch of tumeric to make sure the puree kept that bright golden color of the beets.  I simmered them on low till they were soft and then I pureed them with the immersion blender and served on top of the lightly sautéed greens.

A close up of the puree, the picture doesn't do the color justice

Dinner was amazing.  I have to admit, it was a lot more prep work than I usually feel like doing.  I'm a lazy, quick, easy cook and I hate prep.  To make it easier I did all my prep ahead of time.  I cleaned the kitchen around lunch time and then quickly chopped all my veggies, putting the potatoes in their pot with the stock and sticking it in the fridge.  I put the oil, seasoning and chopped beets and onions in their little pot and also stuck that in the fridge.  The cukes sat on the counter and the yogurt dressing was made ahead of time and sitting in a bowl in the fridge.  Other than the dressing bowl, no extra dishes were dirtied and everything just had to be chucked on the stove top about 30 mins before dinner.  I had a nice clean kitchen, not marred by my sloppy prep work and I could kick back and drink a beer while everything cooked. 

And that is what I ate yesterday, along with some fresh baked croissants, coffee and a bowl of cereal for breakfast.  Pretty lucky girl, I must say. 

PS, if you've been lusting over the plates I've been using in my last couple posts (as you should be) check out the artist's etsy shop and his blog.  I love the plates and have been getting good use out of them!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Summer Lovin'

Fresh figs make the best summer dessert, dip them in some mascarpone with a bit of brown sugar and vanilla-YUM!

I'm in love with all the amazing produce I've consumed this summer.  I know some people (you know who I'm talking to) think that here in Southern California we get pretty much everything all year, but we have seasons, too.  I think the fruit helps mark our seasons the best.  It's peach, fig and tomato season right now.  Hot, dry, summery and we have peaches and tomatoes galore.  When it's cold, we have oranges and a lot of kale.  We are spoiled rotten, no doubt about that, but if you eat the way I do, you love the abundance of choice that comes with summer. 

Zucchini has been one of the easiest things I've grown this year.  The plants are huge, with leaves well over a foot across, bigger than my pumpkin plant leaves.  They steadily produce several zucchinis a week and I sure wish I'd thought ahead and made sure I had a vacuum sealer and deep freeze for all the extra zucchini.  It would be nice to prepare some sautés for the winter months that I could just toss in a pan when I don't feel like cooking.  Recently, one of my favorite things to do is chop a bunch of summer veggies up and toss them all in olive oil, seasonings and pop in the oven on a cookie sheet for about 20 mins at 450.  I usually toss them once about mid-way.  Cooking fast and hot works a lot better so you don't end up with mushy squash.  That with a bit of meat or even a big caprese salad is so good and zero effort.

Roasted summer veggies (eggplant, zucchini, patty-pan squash, bell pepper, onions), pork tenderloin and my mother-in-law's amazing peach chutney.

Roasted summer veggies

My most favorite thing to eat in the summer are caprese salads, or tomato salads or whatever you want to call them.  Fresh picked tomatoes and basil and sometimes some cucumbers just for fun, fresh mozzarella, bit of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and you are good to go.  Super filling and incredibly delicious.  Nothing better on a hot day than a huge, cold caprese salad for dinner. 

Caprese salad and Italian sausage

I'm sure you can sense a theme.  Easy and delicious.  I don't have time to slave and more importantly,  with kids to referee on a constant basis and existing in a state of continual sleep deprivation, I don't have the brain power.  I just want to be able to sit down to a yummy dinner and maybe a glass of wine after a day of laundry, dishes and breaking up fights and cleaning up spilled food and all that other fun stuff that comes with kids.

Brain saver-one of my new favorite champagnes, $17 at Canyon Gourmet, dry, lightly pink, tiny bubbles and oh so tasty

Don't Be a Whiny Picky Eater, You'll Thank Me Later

Produce from my CSA, the raw milk, butter and grass fed ground beef are optional add-on's from my CSA.  The eggs are from my local egg lady and the jar on the left is coconut oil with some raw chocolate in the blue packages on top, both produced here in Topanga by Zenbunni.

Anyone who knew me growing up knows that I was a picky eater.  I didn't like onions, cooked bell peppers, squash, eggplant, beets, peas, cooked carrots, cooked green beans, eggs, pork chops, any sea food, I wanted my steak cooked well and I only liked white chicken meat.  I liked my pizza with mushrooms, olives and pepperoni and wouldn't touch it if it had other veggies.  I was a meat and potatoes kind of girl and that was fine with me.  As an adult I developed the habit of always ordering steak when we would go out.  Always.  A filet mignon.  It was my favorite.  Eventually I figured out that you didn't need to cook the crap out of steak and that it actually tasted a heck of a lot better the rarer it was.

Once, as a teen, I ate some leftovers from my sister's fridge.  I thought it was steak or some kind of beef and mashed potatoes.  It was insanely good.  When I later mentioned to my sister that I'd thieved her (probably expensive) leftovers, she told me it was lamb.  I was in love.  I never would have tried it had I known from the start that it was a sweet little lamb, but since I knew it was good there was no going back.  The fact that I loved lamb was my one up on my fellow picky eaters.

After I had the bean we joined a CSA and I was inundated with all sorts of funky looking greens and kohlrabi and squash and beets and eggplant, etc, etc.  I looked for recipes for these things, once I'd identified them, and started making them.  As I was paying good money for this local and fresh produce I didn't want it to go to waste and there was only so much I could justify giving away to the neighbors.  I played with recipes and found that if you cooked summer squash chopped up with some mushrooms and a bit of soy sauce, garlic and oil it tasted pretty good.  I also learned that you could hide summer squash in just about anything, a little Parmesan cheese went a long way with it, too.  I discovered that I liked kale and loved swiss chard.  I found that after eating beets enough, that earthy flavor that had always put me off grew on me and I started loving and craving the sweet earthiness that only a beet could provide.  I found that you could prepare beets in savory ways, roasted with some olive oil, salt, pepper and maybe a little rosemary or whatever was out in the garden, and the saltiness was a perfect marriage with the beet's sweetness. 

Home grown beets, zucchini, basil and fennel

I love how much food I know how to cook and the variety of delicious veggies I am lucky enough to enjoy year round.  I wish fellow picky eaters would give the poor veggies a shot!  Most of them are pretty damn good if you only find a good recipe and don't cook them till they are a pile of mush. 

Caramelized onion, garlic and fennel pizza, roasted zucchini, beet and goat cheese salad

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Garden

My garden has been keeping me busy these days.  Several of the tomato plants are going on 7 feet tall (really should learn how to curb that, not that they aren't also hugely bushy...) and the number of fruit must be over 100, though they are all still green.  The tomatillos are literally trying to take over the world.  I have staked them, tied them back with twine, over and over again, and they just snake over, towering over the other plants I sadly dared to plant in their vicinity.  They are climbing out of their planter reaching in to the planters several feet away trying to steal sunlight and space.  I think I planted 4-5 plants in the one spot I'm mostly talking about, and they are going to have a bumper crop.  Every day I can count 10-20 new tomatillos springing up on the plants.

The back of the tomatillos, spilling out of both sides of the planter
Some tomatoes, tomatillos and cucumbers
Pretty tomatillos!
A bunch of tomatoes.  That one on the bottom ended up being pushed off by the others and we made fried green tomatoes with it.  Yum!
More tomatoes!  Remember how tiny these plants were last time I posted a pic?!

We had a pumpkin growing on the fence which we finally had to harvest.  I was having a hard time supporting it and the bird netting I'd gone to after the frost cloth started giving away was cutting into the pumpkin and scarring it.  It came in at 24lbs.  Pretty good if I do say so myself!  The whole pumpkin plant has decided it's done.  I think it kind of pooped out on me while we were away in Oceanside, it was very hot and underwatered  and I think it decided that meant it was done.  We have one more pumpkin to harvest from the plant, but it continues to grow and mature every day.  I'm guessing the second pumpkin will weigh in around 30lbs.  Two pumpkins is all I need, just want them for the boys for Halloween.  I don't like eating pumpkin, so it'll work out well.

The pumpkin on the fence, before harvesting
Fence pumpkin, curing in the sun on our stump
Our second pumpkin

I've lost count how many zucchinis we have harvested.  I planted two plants, they are both huge but one is barely producing, while the other is in overdrive.  They were planted too close together, as I thought they would climb up the fence, but pulling the pumpkin in a couple weeks should give them more room.

Pretty zucchinis!  I should have taken this picture before this morning's harvest!

My cukes are also doing fantastically.  I've harvested loads of pickling cukes (most of which we've eaten straight off the vine) and two salad cukes.  There are about 10 salad cukes going and tons more pickling cukes.  I finally managed to stow away enough pickling cukes that I can try out this recipe on a quart this afternoon.  I'm really looking forward to it.  I've never had traditional pickles made this way, so I hope my love of the vinegar ones doesn't get in the way of me liking these.

I planted 3 types of beans, yellow wax beans, scarlet runner beans and royal burgundy beans.  The yellow wax beans were not my favorite.  They were pretty and tasted okay, but they paled in comparison to the royal burgundy beans.  The royal burgundy beans are a gorgeous, deep purple.  Raw, they have this sweet, fresh taste that is just so good.  They are bush beans and supposedly are only supposed to give one good harvest, but I have continued to harvest little piles of beans for the last couple months and there are still new ones appearing every day.  They rarely make it in the house.  I munch on them as I check out the rest of my garden and can easily plow through the whole pile.  The scarlet runner beans are a pole bean.  They have gorgeous bright red flowers and are good for attracting hummingbirds and bees.  Honestly, my yard is full of both all on it's own.  I've never lived in a home with so many hummingbirds. And the scarlet runner beans certainly seem to be well loved by the birds.  I planted those to dry the beans.  I only have 5 plants, from 5 beans I got off a friend, so most of the beans from these plants will go towards beans for seeds next year.  I have a good sized bunch hanging from a beam in my ceiling, drying, and hopefully will have another bunch ready to hang when those are done. 

Scarlet runner beans drying

I think I'm most excited about my eggplants.  I planted these gorgeous Rosa Bianca eggplants, the pretty purple and white streaked ones.  I can't wait to make a roasted veggie salad with them or my very well loved eggplant parm.  And they are just so pretty.  I don't think I've ever seen a blossom take so ridiculously long to open as I have with the initial blossoms on these plants.  Once they opened they were these huge, gorgeous and vibrant purple flowers.  After the initial flowers opened, each plant instantly popped up about 6 more.  Thankfully it looks as though all the initial flowers are now slowly growing fruit inside, along with some of the smaller blossoms that came later.  I think in 1-2 weeks I'll be ready to harvest my first couple eggplants.

Finally, I can see fruit!

I also have loads of herbs still going (my African blue basil is out of control), my strawberries are competing with the tomatillos on their quest to take over the world, I have loads of carrots and a pretty and quickly growing row of golden beets.  My onions have been a total failure, not only have they grown excruciatingly slowly, but most of them have just gone and disappeared.  I think I'll simply replant in the fall, with different seeds and hopefully more appropriate weather, and see what I get in the spring.

Our golden beets have grown so easily and quickly, definitely be planting some more soon!

I've learned a lot this summer, with my first real garden.  The first thing I learned is to start seeds earlier inside, and even more importantly, to start them in bigger containers.  Being a total newbie, I had no idea that keeping my plants in the seed starter containers would stunt their growth so dramatically.  It's definitely a lesson learned.  Additionally, I will do a combination of both heirloom and basic plants.  Right now almost every single thing in my garden is an heirloom variety.  While tasty and beautiful, I'm finding (obviously) that a lot of them tend to produce fruit more slowly and in smaller quantity.  Not all of them, like the purple tomatillos, are doing this, but a lot are.  So next year will be a mixture and we'll see how that goes.  I've also learned a lot about my yard, where the sun moves to, what areas get more sun, what starts off with lots of sun and becomes shady as trees get their leaves back, etc.  The sun has shifted on me once more and as the summer winds down it'll be interesting to see where I'll put my fall plants. 

These guys are why I cook and garden and live the way I do.  I want them to have the healthiest, freshest and best I can provide so they can grow up well and have healthy habits they will pass on to their own families. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011


This post really has nothing to do with food, but I'm posting about it anyhow.

Last week we were in Oceanside.  We rented a cute little apartment right on the sand (bottom level of a triplex).  It was amazing.  There is simply nothing like drifting off to sleep to the sound of the crashing surf.  The weather was perfect and gorgeous.

My little white bean! Photo by G. Nolan
The boys loved the beach and had a blast playing in the waves and sand.  I easily became sick of the incessant sand clean up, but the boys didn't mind.

We did manage to get out once to go to Pizza Port for dinner.  If you haven't been and you are in the San Diego area, highly recommend.  Fantastic pizza and even better beer and very family friendly.  We took home a growler of the Poor Man's IPA, I wish we'd brought home more!

Pardon the cell phone pic, but it's a good one!  Pizza Port, Oceanside
One of my favorite nights of the trip was when my father-in-law made his famous chicken and sadza.  My kids rarely eat while we are out at other people's homes.  Both boys chowed down on their Grandad's chicken and sadza, though.  I love how special that meal is to my husband's family and having the whole family (or at least a good chunk of it) together for Oceanside was just awesome.  The boys got more playtime with their cousins than they do the rest of the year combined.

The family after our chicken and sadza meal.  Photo by G. Nolan
We also had a blast another night when my brother-in-law did a big bonfire and the kids stuffed themselves with smores...I may have had a few myself.  There was even a Nolan beach race, both kids and adults combined, and one of the most gorgeous sunsets I've seen in a long time.

Daddy and the bean.  Photo by G. Nolan
Bonfire night!  Photo by G. Nolan