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Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

I have a skinny husband. As a cook I feel ashamed of this. I do feed him, I really do, but he stays skinny. And recently he has lost some weight. It probably has something to do with how very hard he is working to get our new house finished, but in any case he can’t afford to lose weight. When he told me that he has had to punch a third new hole in his belt, just so his pants will stay up, I decided it was time to do something. So now I am on a mission to put some meat on his bony body and it’s pretty fun. I love thinking up ways to get more calories into something instead of less. The problem of course is that I do not need fattening up. I have been making Robert a special extra creamy Ovaltine drink every evening and even though I am not drinking it I can feel my body reacting like I am. It seems that the act of cooking up something decadent is the same as eating it. Not fair. (By the way, have you had Ovaltine lately? It’s pretty darn good. Especially if you make it with hazelnut milk instead of regular milk and you add a couple tablespoons of cream to your cup. But I’m not drinking it, I just had a sip, I swear.)

I made a great quiche the other night in my effort to plump Robert up. Quiche by nature is pretty rich so I don’t make it that often, but it sounded like a good thing for him to take in his lunch. And it sounded pretty good for dinner too. I have a recipe that came from a teacher I had in cooking school that calls for six eggs and a pint, yes a pint, of cream per nine inch quiche. It’s very good that way, oh yes, and great for a treat, but I usually use half milk and half cream and it’s perfectly acceptable. I put in some delicious leeks that I got from my friend Lauren who works at Wobbly Cart Farm, a few stray leaves of chard, and some good gruyere cheese. Here is the un-recipe.

Leek and Gruyere Quiche

1 recipe of pie dough (I like to use half whole wheat flour when making quiche, but it’s up to you.)

6 eggs

2 cups cream or a combination of cream and milk

a little freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper (white pepper is especially good here)

olive oil

2-3 leeks, depending on the size

a little fresh or dried thyme

1 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese

Roll out your pie crust, put it in your dish and crimp the edge. I like to blind bake (pre-cook) my crust so that it is nice and crisp. Line the inside of the crust with parchment paper and put in a cup or so of dried beans and then bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Carefully lift out the parchment and beans and continue to bake it for another 10 minutes or until it starts to get brown. Make sure you keep an eye on the crust during the last part of the cooking to make sure it isn’t puffing up. If it does, just pat it down gently or poke a little hole in it with a fork.

While the crust is baking, clean and chop your leeks, the white and tender green parts. Saute them in a little oil and until they are tender and just starting to brown. If you have any chard around, you can slice up a few leaves and throw that into the leeks while they are cooking. Season to taste with salt and thyme.

Cooked leeks

Cooked leeks

Beat the eggs and cream together and season with salt, pepper and the grated nutmeg.

Egg mixture

Egg mixture

When your crust comes out of the oven, turn the heat up to 400 degrees. Layer the leeks and the grated cheese in the crust and pour the egg mixture over the top. Sprinkle on any extra cheese.

Quiche, ready to bake.

Quiche, ready to bake.

Bake on the bottom rack of your oven for 15 minutes. Turn the heat down to 325 and continue to bake until the center of the quiche is set, about 20 minutes more. You can poke into the center with the tip of a knife to check on it.

Finished quiche

Oops! I forgot to take a picture before cutting into it!

Quiche is great any time of day but I especially like it for lunch with a simple salad dressed with lemon and olive oil. Though this is pretty rich, it is not unhealthful and winter is coming so a little fattening up is not a bad thing!

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There aren’t words in this language to express my love of artichokes. At my wedding I carried a bouquet of dried purple artichokes. And while I wasn’t marrying the chokes, my love for them is eternal. It will always be true. It will never die. You may think I’m just being silly, but they have a treasured place in my heart. And their hearts have a treasured place in my mouth.

Artichokes

Artichokes

On Friday afternoon Robert and Lola and I drove to Sequim, about an hour and a half from here, to pick up a case of artichokes at Nash’s Organic Produce. I didn’t get any pictures of the farm store, but it is most charming, and all the people I have ever dealt with there have been kind, helpful, and passionate about what they do. Here on Bainbridge Island, we have access to beautiful produce, but it comes at a cost. This is an expensive place to live, and a very expensive place to farm so we pay through the nose for the food that we get here. Nash’s farm is much more earthy than anything we have on the island and the prices are more than reasonable. For a small farm it is pretty large, if that makes sense, and they are able to devote land to crops that take up a lot of room, like artichokes. Usually their chokes are ready at the beginning of the summer but this year they had new plants in that weren’t producing until now. I have been waiting and waiting for them!

Lola and 22 pounds of artichokes

Lola and 22 pounds of artichokes

Today I finally got around to dealing with all 22 pounds of chokey goodness. A few years ago, my aunt Chris and I roasted 2 cases of them with shallots and canned them with a slice of meyer lemon in each jar. They were beyond fabulous. This year I decided I wanted to do that again, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on a pressure canner (necessary for canning artichokes) so I decided to try the same thing but to freeze them instead of can them.

Lola hung out with me for most of the time that I was trimming artichokes this afternoon. She collected the fuzz from the insides and has grand plans for making winter coats for her chickens out of it. Who knew that we could clothe our chickens with vegetable trimmings? I learn something new everyday!

Most people have never eaten an artichoke any way but steamed and this is so sad. Not that a steamed artichoke is bad, it just doesn’t do the vegetable justice. Think about the difference between a steamed carrot and a roasted carrot. Or a steamed potato and a fried potato. You get the idea. I think that preparing artichokes is intimidating to many people and the reason they so often don’t get the treatment they deserve. I will admit that it is time consuming, but once you get the hang of it it is not difficult. I am here to walk you trough the process (with pictures), and I promise you it is worth it. So worth it.

Roasted Artichokes

Start with an artichoke:

Artichoke

Artichoke

The artichokes I got from Nash’s were on the small side, not babies, but not like the huge ones you get at the grocery store. You can use any size. Smaller ones need less trimming, but you need to prepare more of them. And the taste of a fully mature choke is different from a younger one. All are good.

First thing you need to do is to break off all the tough outer leaves. The trick is to do this without losing all the meat on the end. To do this you need to break off the leaves part way down, leaving the end still attached. The first layer or two will come off completely, and that is okay, but as you get into the artichoke a little ways, be sure to leave the end attached. In this picture, the leaf on the left was all the way broken off (incorrect), and the one on the right is broken off at the correct place:

Artichoke leaves

Artichoke leaves

When you get to a point where the leaves feel tender you can stop pulling them off. Chop off the top third, or thereabouts, leaving whatever is tender. Next, check out the stem of your artichoke. Fresh, young artichokes have delicious stems and you can just peel them and cook them along with everything else. As artichokes get more mature the stems get stringy and unpleasant. Use your judgment. Most of the stems I got were long and tender. Use a sharp knife and trim off all the stringy bits. Also trim around the base of the artichoke to take off any tough skin or bits of leaf left on there.

Preparing an artichoke

Preparing an artichoke

Now, cut your artichoke in half lengthwise. Most with have a furry center with some sharp purple spines around it. This is the “choke”. All that needs to come out. Take your knife and insert it just under the furry stuff and cut it out. This takes a little practice but you will get the hang of it. Smaller, less mature artichokes might not have a choke and then you don’t have to do anything to the inside.

Inside an artichoke

Inside an artichoke

Removing the choke

Removing the choke

Depending on the size of the artichokes, I cut them into quarters or smaller.

Most recipes you will read tell you to put your cut artichokes into lemon water so they won’t discolor. This is a total waste of time. They will discolor when you cook them anyway, and it doesn’t make any difference in the way they taste.

Now for the roasting. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. When you have a good sized pile of trimmed and rinsed artichokes, put them into a big shallow pan (cast iron is good). I like to add some sliced up shallots, but you don’t have to. Toss them with a bunch of olive oil and salt. A grind of pepper is good too.

Ready for roasting

Ready for roasting

Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every once in a while, until they are brown and caramelized. They are wonderful just on their own or you can toss them with pasta, put them in an omelet or frittata, or serve them on bruschetta for an appetizer. Let me know what you do with them.

I trimmed and roasted almost my entire case of artichokes in about two hours. So, yes, it does take a while, but if you are just fixing enough for one meal it’s not too overwhelming.

Roasted artichokes

Roasted artichokes


P.S. A word to the wise: Eating copious amounts of artichokes, in any form, has been known to cause some indigestion. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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When got up this morning I found this on my doorstep:

Squash blossoms on my porch

Squash blossoms on my porch

Am I not the luckiest lady around? It was a gorgeous, sunny morning and there was a gorgeous, sunny plate of squash blossoms welcoming me to the day. It was like magic had happened right on my porch! Someone had gotten up early, harvested their precious blossoms and brought them to my house while I was still in bed. Some of them even had little two inch long yellow crook neck squash attached! I took them out into the light immediately so I could capture a little bit of a July morning on camera.

Squash blossoms in the sun

Squash blossoms in the sun

Whew! Isn’t that something?

I made a pasta for dinner with cherry tomatoes, chicken breast and some other summer squash that I had. I sauted the blossoms very lightly with a bit garlic and put them on top as a tasty garnish.

Summer pasta

Summer pasta

Thank you Lyn! Much love from me to you.

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Garden Gifts

Someday I will have a vegetable garden.  I will learn how to amend my soil, keep away bugs and deer, start things in a cold frame.  I will enjoy weeding and tilling and mulching.  I will remember to water.  I will take pleasure in the process, not just the end result.  But for now I have lovely, generous friends and neighbors who bring me the fruits of their labor.  I am so lucky!

Last week I hit the jackpot in the garden gifts department.  My friend Sue harvested the most beautiful head of broccoli for us, and some red butter lettuce that blew my mind.  I so wish I had gotten a picture because it was all just perfect, but we scarfed it down before I had a chance.  She also gave us some thyme.  I love thyme, don’t you?  I was feeling very lucky but that’s not all I got, oh no.

Check out this head of romaine from my neighbor Betsy:

A head of lettuce the size of a small child

A head of lettuce the size of a small child

The thing was so big I thought about naming it!  Part of it became a Caesar salad we had for dinner last week.  We are still working on the rest.

Now, look at this basket of greens I got from my friend Lyn:

Mmmm!

Mmmm!

There are all kinds of goodies in there.  Kale, mustard greens, and arugula.  The arugula had just gone to flower and was a little spicy for salad but wonderful for cooking.  When I am lucky enough to receive a treasure like this I make Greens with Bacon and Cream.  No matter how much of this I make it always gets eaten.  Robert has southern roots so he can consume copious amounts of both greens and bacon.  And Lola, bless her, woke up the other morning and first thing said “I want greens with bacon and cream!”   This was before she even got out of bed, the crazy kid.  There is no doubt she belongs to us!  I first had this dish at my friend Kathy’s house and it has become one of our favorites.  Here is the un-recipe so that you too can cause your family to fight over kale.

Greens with Bacon andCream

First off I have to tell you about the kind of bacon I use.  I hardly ever cook slices of bacon, I always use it chopped up.  Our grocery store carries many kinds of gourmet bacon, including Hempler’s, which is great.  But they also carry packages of Hempler’s ‘Ends and Pieces’, which is what I buy.  It is just chunks and funny shaped bits but if you are chopping it up anyway it doesn’t matter.  Plus, it tends to be really meaty.  So meaty that sometimes I have to add a little oil to the pan when I cook it.  I keep it in the freezer and just pull out a bit when I need it.  Great stuff.  Anyway, onto the greens…

Chop some bacon, maybe a third of a cup.  Cook it in a big deep skillet over medium heat until it’s crispy, then take it out of the pan and drain it on paper towels.  Check and see how much grease is in the pan.  If there is a lot, pour some out.  Add some chopped onion to the skillet and cook until it’s soft and starting to brown.  To the onion add a LARGE amount of coarsely chopped greens.  They are going to cook down to nothing, so trust me, use a lot.  When I made this last night I had two dinner plates heaping with cleaned chopped greens and I could definitely have used even more than that.  You can use any kind of greens you’ve got, chard, kale, mustard, collard, beet tops, whatever.  The only thing I wouldn’t use would be spinach, it’s too watery.  After you add the greens to the pan, put a lid on it and cook over medium heat until the greens wilt.  If you have lots of greens you may need to wait until some have wilted before adding more to the pan.  After they are all wilted, take off the lid.  They will have given off some water, a lot or a little depending on what kind of greens you used.  Keep cooking them until the water is almost all gone.  Then pour in some cream, how much depends on how decadent you are feeling.  Last night I used about a quarter cup and I wouldn’t recommend using any less than that.   Cook for a few more minutes so the cream can reduce a bit and everything can meld together.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in the bacon and serve.  I’m feeling envious of your first bite.

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Potato-Leek Soup for a Sad Day

Potato-Leek Soup for a Sad Day

Today was not a good day. I was intending to do a different kind of post, but life got in the way. Our very special kitty named Olive is missing and I have some furry evidence that points to a coyote. I spent the morning looking for her, calling and calling, but to no avail. I had to break the news to Lola this afternoon and it’s just wretched to have to bring that kind of pain into someone’s life. She and Olive have a special bond. Ever since Lola was born, Olive has run to her side whenever she cries, which is a lot. She put up with all the abuses that a little person can dish out without ever scratching or biting. Lola’s first word was not ‘mama’, but ‘kitty’. She is handling it remarkably well, considering, but it’s hard to know if a little girl really comprehends the whole life and death thing, especially when we can’t tell her for sure what happened.

It was a day full of strife. Full of parental angst and tears all around. So I made potato-leek soup. With trouble comes food, but different food than usual. After Lola had a good cry this afternoon I just wanted to make her feel better no matter what it took. “Do you want tea? Do you want honey in it? How about two spoonfuls? How about a popsicle? Bread with jam? Candy? A big bowl of sugar?” But it came down to potato-leek soup. There is nothing like potatoes and cream for soothing the soul.

I had planed to do a post today about ‘Un-Recipes’. I rarely cook using a recipe and I think that food suffers when people just follow along in a cookbook doing whatever they are told. To really cook, you need to look at your food, not the recipe. You need to taste, to watch, to listen to the food and adjust it when necessary. You need to start with an idea and then adapt it to what you have in your kitchen. When you cook this way you are free to really give yourself to the dish and consequentially to the people who eat it. You are able to let go and fill up that bubbling pot with love.

This is not to say that I don’t like recipes. I read cookbooks all the time. I am constantly getting new ideas or learning new techniques from reading a recipe. When I bake I am much more precise and hang on a little tighter to the words on the page. But it is rare that I follow any recipe exactly. Something in my makeup won’t let me stop fiddling around and making it my own. This means that I am not always very consistent, but it also means that my food was made for that time and that place and that person. For better or worse.

Here is my un-recipe for potato-leek soup. Feel free to change it as you see fit!

Potato-Leek Soup for a Sad Day

Melt a goodly amount of butter in your soup pot, at least a few tablespoons. Clean and chop a bunch of leeks (I used four large ones, but it doesn’t matter that much) into the shape that pleases you and put them in the pot with the butter. Cook the leeks with the butter until they are melted and starting to get a little brown and sticky. I like to cook the leeks with the lid on the pot. Then add some chicken stock, I think I used about two quarts or so. The better the quality of your stock, the better your soup will be. Thinly slice some potatoes, I like little red and yellow ones but any kind will do, and add them to the pot. I don’t peel mine unless they look like they need it. Bring to a simmer and add salt to taste and a little freshly grated nutmeg (or not, I have made it without and that is good too). Cook until the potatoes are tender and then add a bunch of chopped up chard. I always use the kind with the white stems, not the red ones because they turn the soup an icky color. Cook for another five minutes or so and then add some cream, maybe half a cup. Taste for salt and add some white pepper. Serve with snipped chives on top.

Tonight I cut some nice little island grown zucchini up into strips and cooked them in butter to put on top of the soup with the chives. You could also add a swirl of sour cream or some grated Parmesan.

I made some little toasts with herbed goat cheese on them to go with the soup but I left them under the broiler too long and had to trim off the edges. They were too ugly to take a picture of but they tasted good. Lola thought that the little pieces of thyme on hers were dead bugs. So much for presentation.

P.S. Thank you all for your kind comments and encouragement. It means a lot to me to have that sort of support in this new endeavor.

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