Thursday, July 31, 2008

From the garden.

In addition to our weekly CSA share, we have been getting more and more from our tiny garden. We are fermenting sauerkraut, just made lacto-fermented cucumbers as well as traditional vinegar based pickles, and are drying excess herbs as we go.

For the past week I have not been able to get out much but to water due to a back problem, but the garden keeps growing whether you are ready or not! So today I stretched my back for a bit first, dressed heavy for bugs, and headed out!

I picked bugs, pulled weeds, watered, and picked as I went. I picked: beans, swiss chard, parsley, beets, carrots, dill, cucumbers, a few small tomatoes, and a lot of herbs. Looking at everything I can see that the cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and peppers are almost ready to explode, and the pumpkins and butternut squash are out of control - growing all the way down to the alley! I planted some onions, spinach and radishes in the spots I pulled beets so we can have some more veggies this fall. I think I am going to make some beet greens soup!

CSA Box This Week

This week in our CSA box: lettuce, onion, radishes, tomato, broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, eggplant, new garlic.

Here is what we had in our box last year.

Monday, July 28, 2008

blueberry rhubarb bread pudding.

It is that time of year! Blueberries. And of course a last little hurrah of rhubarb. Today I wanted to make a bread pudding using blueberries and rhubarb together. I took my base bread pudding recipe and tweaked it to include both - and it is GOOD! The tartness of the rhubarb mixes well with the sweetness of the honey and blueberries.

1 1/2 cups finely chopped rhubarb (fresh)
1 1/2 cups blueberries (frozen or fresh)
8 cups bread, cubed
1 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp ground flax
2 cups milk
3 eggs

Whisk the liquid ingredients together in a large bowl (easier to mix if you slightly warm the honey). Fold in the bread and flax, stir, and then add the berries and rhubarb. Stir. Let sit for at least 15 minutes - gently turn once during that time to soak all bread.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spoon the mix into a greased13" x 9" baking pan. I used coconut oil lightly to grease a glass pan. Bake for 40 minutes. Serve a little warm.

I made fresh whipped cream to dollop on top. I just mixed a cup of fresh heavy cream, a drizzle of honey, and a 1/2 tsp vanilla extract into a bowl. Using a whisk, beat until soft peaks form. Spoon over the top of the bread pudding!

Friday, July 25, 2008

cold cucumber soup.

Ages ago, when I was the cook in little bistro's and cafes in Chicago cold soups were a summer staple. When it started to get hot they were at the top of my menu planning list. I love whizzing together fresh fruits and veggies to make something so light and refreshing. With all of the cucumbers we are getting both in our yard and CSA, I had to make a cold cucumber soup.

I tend to mix it up a bit with whatever I have on hand from the garden, but this recipe is quick and easy and has such a nice flavor that I return to it often. I had it for lunch several times this week. Tasty!

2 large hothouse cucumbers (or 4-5 smaller cucumbers)
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup creme fraiche*
1-2 cloves of raw or roasted garlic, smashed
2 tsp raw apple cider vinegar
handful of fresh dill, chopped finely (or you could use mint)
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Peel and slice the cucumbers and put into your food processor. Add the stock, creme fraiche*, garlic, cider vinegar, most of the dill, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a pinch (to start) of celtic sea salt. Blend until smooth. Taste and add additional salt plus a few cranks of fresh pepper to taste. You can also put all of the ingredients into a bowl and use an immersion blender.

Chill. Serve cold. Garnish with a little bit of the chopped dill.

If you don't have creme fraiche available and are not able to make your own, you can substitute good quality sour cream.

*creme fraiche::
Creme fraiche is a cultured cream - almost like sour cream, but with a creamier and milder flavor. We are lucky to have access to local creme fraiche from grass fed cows - or it is usually available at most coops or specialty stores. You can also make your own - I like the recipe from Nourishing Traditions:

1 pint good quality fresh cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 Tbsp whole-milk buttermilk

Place fresh cream in a glass container. Add the buttermilk, stir well, cover tightly, and place in a warm spot for 20-24 hours. Chill well.

To find good quality cultures to make your buttermilk (if you don't want to make it using the counter-top method), go here. They are awesome!

CSA Box This Week

In our box this week: yellow beans, head of lettuce, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, tomatoes.

Click here to see what we had in our box this week last year.

Tonight for dinner we had a salad using the lettuce, tomatoes, all of the broccoli and part of the cauliflower steamed, fresh basil from our garden and a homemade dressing.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

pesto season.

Once the sun and heat start to stay with us, the basil starts to flourish. We get basil from our CSA usually, and also grow several plants in our garden as well. Basil is a fun plant for kids to harvest, as it is very easy to pick, and there isn't any question of  is it-or-is it not ready.

We are not big pasta eaters, but when pesto season arrives, it is a great excuse to eat a big bowl of pasta, make a loaf of fresh bread to spread it on, or find those yummy bread sticks to dip into a bowl.

I know most people probably have a good pesto recipe, but if you don't, try this. It is delicious, and whatever you don't use for dinner can go in the fridge for later!

2 cups fresh basil leaves
4-5 garlic scapes (or use 2 cloves of fresh garlic)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pan roasted pine nuts
1/3 cup freshly grated good Parmesan cheese
sea salt to taste (start with just a pinch, depends on how salty your cheese is!)
fresh ground pepper

Place the pine nuts in a hot skillet and stirring often, cook for a minute until just turning golden brown - pull off heat and place in food processor. Roughly chop basil and garlic scapes and add to the food processor. Toss in the cheese, a pinch of sea salt, and a crank or two of fresh pepper. Add a small squeeze of fresh lemon (or adjust for your taste). Whiz for a few seconds and then begin adding the olive oil and process until smooth. You might need to scrape down the side once to get it all incorporated.

Use over fresh pasta or on bruchetta. It is so good and fresh tasting!

Store any extra in a canning jar. Be sure to cover with olive oil in the jar before refrigerating so it stays bright green.


"Pine nuts are nature's only source of pinoleic acid, which stimulates hormones and helps diminish your appetite. Pine nuts have the highest concentration of oleic acid which is a monounsaturated fat that aids the liver in eliminating harmful triglycerides from our body. Pine nuts are packed with 3mg of iron per one ounce serving. Iron is a key component of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying pigment in blood that supplies energy, and they are rich in magnesium which helps alleviate muscle cramps, tension and fatigue."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

i love beets.

I love beets. I grate them raw for salads or slaw. They are great in soup, with stir fry, sautéed with other root veggies, or juiced for breakfast. But my favorite way to prepare beets is baking. It brings out their natural sweetness.

To prepare, I scrub the beets, cut them in half and put them in a baking pan. After a drizzle with olive oil and sea salt I bake them at 350ºF or so for about 45 minutes to an hour (depends on how big the beets are) until tender. Once cool the outer skin easily peels off. Serve warm with another drizzle of good olive oil and some fresh thyme. So good!

"Beets are an excellent source of the B vitamin, folate, and a very good source of manganese and potassium. Beets are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus. They also contain powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

fresh currant scones.

We love scones. It is one of those things that both kids and adults like for breakfast or snacks. Each year we get a small amount of currants in our CSA box. It isn't enough to make jam or sauce for a whole dinner - and so what to do with the currants is a question people often ask me. Most recipes call for dried currants, which is a whole different taste and texture. Today we made scones using our fresh currants (and a few gooseberries) - they turned out perfectly. This recipe makes a very moist and tasty scone with only a slight tang and a nice fruit flavor.

Yes, this recipe uses whole wheat pastry flour and oatmeal and is still light and moist!

fresh currant scones::

2 cups organic whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup steel cut oats
6 Tbsp raw sugar (you could also use rapidura or honey)
3 Tbsp ground flax
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
10 Tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (make your own fresh butter!)
1/2 cup currant mix (see below)
3/4 cup cold buttermilk (make your own buttermilk)

Preheat the oven to 375ºF

In a bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, flax and salt. Using a pastry blender or a fork, cut the chilled butter into the dry ingredients until the dough is crumbly. Fold in the currant mix (see below). Add the buttermilk and stir lightly with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together to form a ball. (The dough will be sticky, but don't overwork it - you want a moist tender scone!)

I like to use scone pans. It keeps me from overworking the dough and also creates nice child sized neatly shaped scones - which is good for my picky eaters. If you have a scone pan, at this point gently scoop the dough into your greased scone pan (I like using coconut oil). Gently smooth.

If you don't have a scone pan, no biggie. On a lightly floured surface, pat the dough into a large circle about 2 inches thick. Cut the dough into wedges. With a spatula, transfer the wedges to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

If you like, before baking brush the top of the scones with cream and sprinkle raw sugar over the top to add a bit of sweetness.

Bake for 22 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Best served warm - we ate ours with the strawberry freezer jam we made a few weeks back. Oh so good.

currant mix:
Currants tend to be very tangy and tart. To sweeten them a bit and break the berries down to smaller bits throughout the scone, I like to make a quick blend to use in the recipe:

3/4 cup fruit...I used fresh red currants (with a few gooseberries)
1 tbsp honey

In a skillet heat the fruit and honey for a minute on high to bubble. Take off of heat immediately, smash fruit a little with fork. Scoop out into a bowl right away to cool. Use this mix in the scones!

ingredient tip::
We used fresh heavy cream to make our own butter and buttermilk for this recipe. This is a fun way for the kids to participate. Click here to find out how!

making butter and buttermilk. scones pt. 1.

I know that I have blogged about making butter before. It is one of those fun projects that the boys just love, but also one that we do often. Since we get farm fresh milk, we love using it fully. So making our own buttermilk and butter in just 15-20 minutes is great-especially when it will be used in a fresh scone recipe! YUM.

So a re-cap about how to make butter and buttermilk. It is easy, really!

For my scone recipe, I need 10 Tbsp cold butter and 3/4 cup buttermilk. So, we started with 1 3/4 cups of heavy cream in a quart mason jar. Add 3 marbles. Screw on the lid tight, and start to shake. We like to put on some fun music, and let the boys dance around shaking the marbles in there as the music blasts.

We all take turns shaking - lots of fun.

After 15-20 or so minutes of shaking it will start to get thick - keep shaking. Suddenly it will separate - you will know when it has happened.

Drain the buttermilk to use in your recipe. Then take that fresh butter, rinse it with cold water, and smush it around on a cutting board with a wooden spatula to get out the excess buttermilk. How much butter vs. buttermilk you get depends on the cream, so will vary. This made us almost 10 Tbsp of butter and plenty of buttermilk to fill our 3/4 cup recipe requirement!

So now that you have fresh butter and buttermilk, you have to try our awesome scone recipe!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

CSA Box This Week

This week in our box: beets, kale, onions, cucumbers, kohlrabi, yellow & green beans, and a few currants and gooseberries.

(Here is what we had last year in the same week...).

A small box again this week - hopefully things will start catching up after the crazy spring and we will have a more bountiful late summer and fall with our CSA! It is a good thing that we have expanded our home garden this summer. We have been getting a full share for many years now and it has always been a good amount to last two adults about the whole week. Last fall was a bit smaller with all of the flooding and then this spring was just over the top and seems to really have affected many farms. With the reduced produce, a full share is not enough for two adults for a week (not to mention 2 kids), so we have really needed the extra produce from our garden to supplement our share. It is motivating me to plan an even larger garden next summer, and perhaps get some sort of season extender (cold frames, lean-to greenhouse) to supplement!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

strawberry tea.

Ok, Ok. More strawberries. I have been cooking and photographing all kinds of food, but somehow keep returning to strawberries for the posts! They epitomize summer, and their tangy sweetness is so wonderful while it lasts.

I have been making strawberry tea and my husband is drinking it by the gallon, it seems. I think it is a popular drink! It is easy to make and really captures the strawberry flavor without being overbearing-and is very refreshing in this heat!

2 cups strawberries
6 tea bags (I use a good quality organic green tea)
6 cups of water
agave or honey
fresh herbs - mint, pineapple sage or lemon verbena would all be great

I make a strawberry liquid by taking 2 cups of frozen strawberries and letting them thaw in a freezer bag. Mash the bag a bit and then pour through a strainer. You get a good amount of strawberry liquid this way. If you only have fresh strawberries, you can also heat them gently in a pot for 15 minutes or so on low/med heat - then smash and strain that to get the liquid. Use the pulpy part over your yogurt, and pour the liquid into a cup.

Pour almost boiling water over the tea bags and let steep. While the tea is steeping, pound your fresh herbs (I used 7 pineapple sage leaves) a little to get the oils going. Put those into the pitcher with your tea bags. Let it all steep together for about 10 minutes. Add agave or honey to taste. Strain out the herbs and teabags, add the strawberry liquid. Let it come to room temperature before serving over ice!

ingredient tip::

Buy fair trade organic tea. Tea production is land- and labor-intensive--crops are frequently treated with many chemicals in order to produce cheap, high yields. Organic tea is free of these chemicals; fair trade tea provides a living wage for those involved in its production, and improves quality of life for the workers while maintaining a healthier ecosystem.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

pickled cucumber slices

While I love the tangy crunch of the traditional vinegar pickles, I also love the mellow flavor of lacto-fermented cucumbers. They have far less acid than those pickled in vinegar, and go well with all types of dishes and cool salads.

pickled cucumber slices

1 large hot house cucumber, or more if cucumbers are small
1/2 Tbsp mustard seeds
2-3 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
3 garlic scapes, chopped - optional
1 Tbsp sea salt
4 Tbsp whey (if you don't have whey, use 1 additional Tbsp sea salt)
1-2 cups filtered water
Clean quart sized wide mouth mason jar with lid

Wash your cucumber and slice into 1/4 inch slices. Put the slices into a mason jar - arrange so they are pretty tight. Add a bit of the dill and garlic scapes as you put in each layer of the cucumbers.

Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over the cucumbers - add more water if you need, to cover. The top of the liquid should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Press down your cucumbers if they have a lot of space or are popping out of the top of the liquid.

Screw on the lid tightly, and keep at room temperature for 2 days (not in direct sun, not extremely hot). Transfer to the refrigerator and chill before eating. Should keep in the fridge for a month.

more on lacto-fermentation::

"A traditional method of food preservation is lacto-fermentation. The best part about lacto-fermentation is two-fold. First, it is the easiest and most low-tech way to preserve food. No canning equipment or freezers are needed. Secondly, lacto-fermented foods are believed to be extremely healthy for a number of reasons. The proliferation of beneficial bacteria from the fermentation aids digestion and contributes to thriving intestinal flora.

Fresh healthy vegetables naturally bear lactic-acid-producing bacteria (lactobacilli) on their surfaces. When the produce is washed and mixed with non-iodized salt, the salt draws out the juices, inhibits spoilage organisms, and regulated the fermentation process. Sealed and sitting at room temperature (65-80) gets this process going.

Over the next several days, the lactobacilli begin breaking down sugars in the vegetables and producing lactic acid, along with small amounts of carbon dioxide, benzoic acid, and other substances. Lactic acid is an excellent preservative, and it gives traditionally pickled vegetables their characteristic aroma and taste.

When the pickles are done fermenting, they are placed in cold storage to stop the fermentation. In cold storage, raw, lacto-fermented pickles will last for many months."

The French traditionally make lacto-termented cucumbers - called cornichons.

Friday, July 11, 2008

CSA Box This Week

It seems like each week we pick up our CSA box this year, there is a big storm. I know in WI this summer we are having (too) many big storms, but Thursday seems to be we go as early as we can to beat what we see coming in on the radar.

This week in our box: strawberries, garlic scapes, cauliflower, kale, beets, snow peas, snap peas, onions, & cucumber.

I'm excited to get peas and beets - yay!

(Here is what we had last year in the same week...).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

CSA Box This Week

This week: Cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, lettuce, basil, peas, strawberries.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

strawberry dessert topping.

Fresh strawberries are so delicious on their own - but when we have a large quantity of strawberries, I always make a special batch of strawberry compote, which is a great dessert topping. It is so good drizzled over ice cream, yogurt, pancakes or pound cake.

strawberry dessert topping

1 quart ripe strawberries, rinsed, top greens cut off
3-4 Tbsp sugar, or 2 Tbsp agave or honey (to taste - if you like it sweet, add a bit more)

Put the strawberries in a pot and pour sugar over the top. Mash a bit with a fork or potato masher (don't pulverize, just mash a bit to get liquid flowing). Cook the mixture on medium heat for about 7-10 minutes (stir often!!!). Put a lid on it, turn off the burner, and let it sit for 20-30 minutes.

You can store it in the fridge for a few weeks or freeze it.

Oh - and yes, this is our homemade vanilla frozen custard. It is yellow because our super farm fresh eggs are so golden. Recipe coming soon, I promise!