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Saturday, July 30, 2011

I can't stop thinking about food

I live in Southern California; Last week I traveled to Central California. This is an important distinction.

I live (15 miles from Los Angeles) in a suburban suburbia. I live in a neighborhood in a house with a small backyard. I love walking to school, riding bikes past our neighbors' houses, and living within walking distance of two large grocery stores, a drugstore, as well as countless places to dine. There are winding sidewalks, Homeowners Associations, community pools and public schools. There are playgrounds, shopping centers, department stores and bowling alleys. I live near an ice skating rink, several post offices, Target and Walmart, bookstores and libraries.  What I don't live near is any sort of farmland. The closest we get is the weekly Farmer's Market, and those farmers are coming from 30-100 miles in the opposite direction of LA. Which is to say, in the opposite direction of where I am used to focusing.

Until I started subscribing to Abundant Harvest, I didn't really think about where my food came from. It came from the store. Once in a while, if I needed a specialty ingredient,  it came from a different store. Of course, I'm not an idiot. I know it came from farms, factories, processing plants, bottling companies, etc.  I even noticed, once in a while, the sticker that said my bananas are from Ecuador or my cheese is from Wisconsin. But I never worried myself about any of that. I read the ads, made my shopping list, and got stuff. I got my stuff from the store that is right around the corner, and where the store got the stuff was their concern, not mine.

This past week, I happened to drive right up the middle of California's Central Valley. It is a wide valley (you wouldn't know there were actually mountains on either side of you just by looking, in some parts). This wide, flat, open, hot, sunny valley is just perfect for growing things. As a matter of fact, if you have bought produce that comes with a label that says "California Grown," it most likely came from the Central Valley. And chances are, you have bought produce from this valley many many times. It is one of the main places where food is grown in the United States.

This was the first time I drove up highway 99, which cuts straight up the Central Valley, since subscribing to Abundant Harvest. That is to say, this was the first time I drove up Highway 99 since I began to think about food almost constantly.

Let's take a moment for a disclaimer. I am not stuck in an unhealthy food obsession or eating disorder. I am not always thinking about eating -- or not eating -- food. I am just mulling over the sources and the pros and the cons of all the different types and origins of the stuff I am feeding my family. In a good way.

Anyway, as I drove, I looked out both sides of the car. Growing right up to the edge of the highway, are fields and fields and fields of crops. There are oranges, pecans, corn, tomatoes, peaches, and grapes. I know there are many many other things growing, but those are the main things I could make out at 70 miles an hour. There were lots of other fields that I never did quite figure out as we flew past them.

Since it is July, and the height of summer harvesting time, there were also farm employees all along the highway. I could see people picking and boxing up produce as we went. It made me wonder how many of them were migrant workers, just here for the summer. How many are illegal aliens? How many of them are getting cancer from the chemicals sprayed on the fields they work? How many of them are underpaid and overworked?

There were also cows and pigs, barns and farmhouses. They also made me wonder. Are the cows for milk or for steaks? How long does a pig live before it is butchered? How many of the farmhouses are still occupied by a farmer and his family? How many of these farms are selling their food to large corporations and how many are selling their food to people?  Will the food be eaten as fruits and veggies? Or will it be fed to animals? Or made into juice? Or used as ingredients in food that comes in cans and boxes?

Do you see what I mean when I say I am obsessed with food and farms?

Our destination was a campground in the mountains just to the east of Fresno, adjacent to the heart of California's farmland. While we were there, we picked up the daily Fresno Bee, which made me realize just how far removed from food production I am here in LA. And just how much the concepts of growing, eating, and farming permeate life if you live in the middle of it.

For example, on the day we arrived, the Fresno Bee ran as its top news story:

Valley raisin farmers enjoy near-record prices

Meanwhile, my hometown newspaper ran an article that same day, about people attending a meeting to suggest how businesses along a particular street could develop a "consistent look." Like I said, I live in suburbia.

But the farm culture ran deeper than the front page. I also noticed that the SaveMart grocery store ad that came with the Fresno Bee announced, with portraits, that I could buy strawberries grown by Mike Miller in Salinas, or peaches from Mike Thurlow in Kingsburg. What?! The locally grown food is advertised and prominently displayed as such? The farmer is someone the people know and recognize? I think it would be amazing if I could find out which items in my local produce department are local and which farmer grew them. I wonder if perhaps more people would choose to buy local food if it was that easy to know what foods were local.  

We don't tend to think about the farmer or the farm, or even the concept of a farm or a plant when we buy our food here in the city. But it is time I turned away from Los Angeles to face that valley to the north a little more often. After all, it is feeding me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Roast Baby Potatoes

while you are reading this, I am camping far far away from my computer. I am off where cell signal doesn't exist, and if there is wifi, I don't want to know about it. I may come down from the mountain once or twice during the week to check in with the housesitter, but I may not. Hopefully I am cooking up lots of great meals and even greater memories that I will share with you when I get back.

I am learning that the potato, she does not stop. Apparently the infinite number of varieties of potatoes can grow all year round. The most recent potatoes to come to my house, though, have been these adorable little guys.

And they're not just another pretty face. They're yummy! They are much creamier than their big hulking cousins, and they have a rather sweet flavor. I am not going to fawn over them the way I made a corn spectacle of myself yesterday, but I am going to say that once again, I am becoming a veggie snob. I don't think I can ever go back to plain old grocery store potatoes that don't really taste like much of anything. Not after enjoying these sweet little guys.

To prepare these potatoes, I simply tossed them in oil and herbs and roasted them in the oven, whole. They are the perfect size for popping in your mouth, and the crispy skin and creamy inside is absolutely to die for.

Roast Baby Potatoes

1 pound baby potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
salt and pepper

Wash the potatoes. Toss with olive oil and remaining ingredients. Spread on a baking sheet and roast at 450 for about 30 minutes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Southern Skillet Corn

while you are reading this, I am camping far far away from my computer. I am off where cell signal doesn't exist, and if there is wifi, I don't want to know about it. I may come down from the mountain once or twice during the week to check in with the housesitter, but I may not. Hopefully I am cooking up lots of great meals and even greater memories that I will share with you when I get back.

This is the post in which I embarrass myself by losing control over ... corn. Yes, it's true. I can't express in words how much this vegetable has overcome me this month. I'm not proud of it, but I'm not exactly in control of this obsession either.

I got several ears of corn in the AHO box the past couple of weeks. That makes me so happy I could dance. I absolutely love fresh corn, and this so happens to be some of the very best corn I have ever eaten in my life. I am not at all exaggerating when I say that. This corn is so very sweet and crisp and juicy. It is so very amazing. However, I looked ahead at what I will get in the box next week, and I am almost in tears as I report that corn is not on the list. I may not make it another 49 weeks until corn season again.

Most of the corn went straight to the grill and then straight to my belly. Okay, I shared some with my family, and even managed to be gracious to some dinner guests and offered them some too. For the most part, though, that delicious corn was gnawed straight from the ears. The way corn should be eaten.

However, there was one corn recipe that I stumbled across and just couldn't resist trying. I hated to sacrifice the corn it required, but as it turns out, it is so very delicious. I can't decide which way I like the corn better. On the one hand, straight from the cob is heavenly. On the other hand, this Southern Skillet Corn somehow manages to take all of the best aspects of the corn and enhance them. It's an even better heaven. It is sweet and peppery, creamy but still crisp. I really want to eat it every day for the rest of my life. It makes me want to go buy some corn from the market and make more this very minute, but I am afraid that I have been spoiled and no other corn will ever compare to the corn I get from Abundant Harvest.

This recipe, which I found here, isn't exactly the healthiest thing to do to a vegetable. What with adding butter and flour and sugar, I can't say it is health food. But it's worth it. Soooo worth it.

Southern Skillet Corn

6 ears corn
3 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons butter

First, shuck and clean the corn.  Cut the corn from the cob, and then scrape the remaining cob to get all the milk out of it. That sweet milk is what you really really want to be able to taste. 

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add the water, and whisk together to combine it all.

Melt butter over medium-low heat in a large, heavy bottomed skillet. Add the corn and the flour mixture and cook it all over medium-low heat for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will go from corn floating in milky liquid to a creamy, thickened, buttery, amazing dish. And you'll wish you had been eating it all your life. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

grilled veggie pizza

while you are reading this, I am camping far far away from my computer. I am off where cell signal doesn't exist, and if there is wifi, I don't want to know about it. I may come down from the mountain once or twice during the week to check in with the housesitter, but I may not. Hopefully I am cooking up lots of great meals and even greater memories that I will share with you when I get back.

It seems like no matter how hard I try, I can't ever quite use up everything that comes in my AHO box. Oh, it all gets used up eventually. It seems, though, that when I pick up the box on Saturday morning, I have to move some of last week's produce into prime fridge real estate, and put the new stuff behind and below it. I am, I guess, rotating my stock. It would be so freeing to bring home the new box and put the veggies away into an empty fridge. However, I am accepting that that may never happen.

One thing I have been doing, though, is using up some of whatever is left by making a veggie pizza at the end of the week. I have recently caught onto the trend of grilling the pizza, which I guess makes it a little bit more like a wood-burning oven, and less like a regular electric oven like most of us use. At any rate, it gets a little bit smoked in the grill, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Here is my pizza crust recipe:
(this makes enough for 3 medium pizzas. If you don't use it all up, just freeze the extra for use at another time)
(I got this recipe from here.)

4 1/2 cups flour plus some for rolling
1 3/4  teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups ice-cold water

First, add all the dry ingredients to a mixer. Mix on low with the paddle attachment and slowly add in the oil and water. Mix until it is all combined. Switch to the dough hook, and mix on medium for 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and not sticking to the sides of the bowl (it will still be stuck to the bottom).

Now you can either use this or freeze it. Or do some of both.

If you are ready to use it, go fire up your grill. You want it to be just about as hot as it will go, so get all the burners going at full tilt and close the lid. When it gets well up over 400 degrees inside, you are set.

Roll out the dough and cover it with the toppings of your choice. The day I made this one, we had tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, and onions. I didn't use a pizza sauce, but instead drizzled oil and garlic on the crust, covered that in slices of fresh mozzarella, and then piled on the veggies.

Take the whole schebang out to the grill, and put the pizza, still on its pan, onto the grill. Close it up and wait a few minutes. It will cook right quick, considering how hot you made it.

It's done when the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly.

This goes great with a cold beer (you've been sweating next to an extremely hot barbecue. You need to regulate your temperature). Cheers!

Monday, July 25, 2011

veggie fries

while you are reading this, I am camping far far away from my computer. I am off where cell signal doesn't exist, and if there is wifi, I don't want to know about it. I may come down from the mountain once or twice during the week to check in with the housesitter, but I may not. Hopefully I am cooking up lots of great meals and even greater memories that I will share with you when I get back.

In my quest to make room in the fridge for the food I was prepping for the camping trip, I found I needed to get rid of a fair amount of vegetable matter. Which should come as no surprise to you.

I have recently become addicted to pinterest, where I find that I am pinning all sorts of recipe ideas. Which should come as no surprise to you.

One of the recipes I pinned (actually twice without realizing it) was for zucchini fries. Ohhhhh my. 

I started working on making the fries (with yellow squash instead, since that is what I have right now), but in order to get to the yellow squash I had to shove my way past some green beans. Hmmm, I thought. Green bean fries? Why the heck not? Why the heck not, indeed. I actually liked the green bean fries better than the squash fries. But I like green beans better than zucchini or yellow squash, so there you go.

I am happy to report that this recipe works well for both yellow squash and green beans. Which means that soon I will be trying it with.... butternut squash, sweet potatoes, asparagus, onion.... everything I can't figure out how to otherwise use up!

Veggie Fries

1/4 cup flour
2 eggs
2 cups panko bread crumbs
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley
veggies (I used 2 small yellow squash and a large handful of green beans)

Preheat the oven to 425.

Place the flour into a large ziploc bag and set aside.

Whisk the eggs with about 2 tablespoons of water in a shallow bowl.

Combine the bread crumbs and seasonings in another bowl.

Cut up the veggies (just trim the ends of the green beans, and cut the zucchini into 1/2 inch diameter sticks).

Toss all of the veggies in the bag of flour, until they are coated. Dip each into the egg mixture, and then into the crumb mixture.

Lay them out on a baking sheet (I recommend covering it in foil or parchment first).

Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until they are golden brown. These are best eaten warm and fresh, dipped into some sort of aioli or yogurt-based dip.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tomato, Basil, and Feta Salad

Although yesterday I admitted to buying a whole bunch of fruit just before we head out of town for a week, I really am working furiously to get all of the perishable fruits and veggies eaten up before we leave them to die a lonely death in an unoccupied home.

Plus, there is just something about a picnic at the beach that begs to include a nice crisp cool veggie salad.

As luck would have it, I happened to glance down at the Abundant Harvest Organics newsletter while I was bustling around in the kitchen doing way too many things at the same time. And, as luck would have it, there was a recipe for Tomato, Basil, and Feta salad right there at the bottom of the newsletter. Asking only for things I already had on hand. Especially cucumbers. I had just gotten ahold of the zucchini population when I was overwhelmed with the cucumbers. I need to use up the cucumbers.

So, I quickly abandoned everything else going on in the kitchen, got out my trusty cutting board, and got to work slicing and dicing.

The results? A cool, fresh salad that travels well, tastes delicious, and makes you feel good about stuffing yourself silly.

Tomato, Basil, and Feta Salad

    • 1 pint cherry tomatoes or 3-4 tomatoes halved and diced
    • 1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves cut into thin strips
    • 3 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
    • 3 tbsp crumbled feta cheese
    • Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl toss together tomatoes, cucumber, olive oil, basil, onion, balsamic vinegar, and feta cheese. Season with salt and pepper. 

I enjoyed this salad immediately, a few hours later, and the next day at the beach. I have to say it is good fresh and after a day of sitting. Feel free to make it ahead if you want!

In other exciting news, the route to our secret campground takes us directly past the Peterson Family Farms, where Vernon Peterson reigns supreme. What? You don't know Uncle Vern? You're missing out. He's the wonderful man who had a vision for people to be able to afford good, fresh, organic produce without paying a premium for the pleasure. He started and runs Abundant Harvest Organics. In other words, he has changed my life for the better. And, I'd be willing to bet, thousands of others.

Since his farm is right on my path to camping bliss, I have arranged to meet him at his farm and let the kids see from whence their produce comes. I am so excited!!!  I hope to have pictures to show you when we get back. Plus, we'll be picking up our weekly box of produce on our way out of town, so after I get back, perhaps I will have some pictures and descriptions of how we tackled the box in the great outdoors.

Meanwhile, I am hoping to get a couple of posts done ahead of time to keep you coming around while I'm gone.  After all, I have been furiously cookin' up the surplus around here!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

strawberry lemonade

In a mad, desperate, last-ditch effort to use up all of our perishables before we head out to the great outdoors for a week, I went and bought a bunch of fruit. What?

I couldn't help it. I was driving past a farm stand on my way home from the beach, and the strawberries begged me to give them a decent place to live out their last days. So I bought a half-flat (see? Such restraint! Only a half-flat!)

I also happened to find a couple of bags of lemons in my hand as I handed over my hard-earned cash.

So what's a gal to do?

To quote the cute poster of a kitty-cat that hung in the nurse's office of my elementary school, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!" (What a kitty has to do with lemonade is beyond me as much today as it was back in second grade while I lay there waiting for my mother to come pick up my pukey self).

Regardless of kitties and posters and second grade, I am feeling quite well these days and thusly interested in enjoying myself. Plus, life (by which I mean my own consumerism) gave me lemons. And strawberries.


Strawberry lemonade

1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 5-6 lemons)
4-5 cups water
1-1 1/2 pints strawberries
1 cup sugar

First, rinse, and hull the strawberries. Place them in a blender with about a half cup of water and blend until pureed.

Mix the lemon juice, strawberry puree, sugar and water in a large pitcher with ice. Taste and add more water as desired.

If you choose, you can add a shot of vodka to each serving (or if this is going to be an adults-only treat, add a cup of vodka to the pitcher). It makes a lovely way to relax after a long day of relaxing at the beach.

This post is linked to Cast Party Wednesday.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

chocolate chip cookies

My family (and by family I mean about 12 people I am related to by blood and another 12 or so I'm related to by history) is going camping next week.

We return to the same campground every year (and more often than not, the same campsite every year). I've been going there since I was a bitty little kid. Things haven't changed much. There was the year that there was a nearby forest fire and we had to delay entering the campground for a night. And there was the year they updated the bathrooms. Other than that, though, the campground, the creek, the tiny little general store, and even the handlebar mustache on the ranger who checks us in, are deliciously familiar and unchanged, year after year after year. Don't ask me the name of this campground, though. My mother is convinced that if I tell anyone about this little corner of paradise, soon it will be overrun with people. People other than the 25 or so of us, that is.

One thing that did change, though, was that somehow, gradually, I went from being a child to being a parent. I went from hopping in the car on departure morning to packing the car. I went from showing up at mealtimes to planning, shopping for, preparing, cooking, and cleaning up mealtimes. I went from sleeping in and waking up to a hot breakfast to... okay, I still sleep in and wake up to a hot breakfast. I'm a lucky gal.

Which brings me to this week. T-minus 6 days 'til we head north into the Sierra National Forest. That puts me into full preparation mode. I am cooking and freezing and repackaging and condensing food this week.  I started yesterday with baking and freezing cookies. Just in case I don't get around to everything on my list, I want the important things done!

Of course, though, as you surely know by now, my first thought, with any kitchen endeavor, is How do I use up these vegetables?

No, you're thinking, (especially if you are one of the aforementioned relatives), she didn't put vegetables in the cookies?

Oh yes, my friend, I did.

In the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (which I am still reading, and still planning to review in its entirety but how can I get through it when I have to stop and try her recipes?), there is a segment that discusses how everyone who has ever grown zucchini ends up with more zucchini than he or she can possibly handle.  More vegetables than she can handle? I can relate to that!

One of her solutions is zucchini chocolate chip cookies. In the book she swears that her cookies were served at a child's birthday party, and that not a single guest had a clue that there was any plant matter baked in.

I followed the recipe exactly (almost!), except that I used yellow patty-pan squash instead of zucchini. They are just so cute that they seemed right for cookies. In as much as vegetables can be right for cookies. Plus, I thought that the yellow would blend in a bit better than green zucchini. I gave two cookies to two children, and they both loved their treat. The older, wiser child, though, asked "What's in them?" I replied, "Chocolate chips." She countered, "No, I mean like carrots? Or some other vegetable?"

This is a picture I stole from this website, because I forgot to take one before I shredded my squashes. Just in case you, like me, had never heard of patty pan squashes. 

Foiled again. However, I didn't see anyone refuse seconds. They really are delicious cookies ... light and fluffy and sweet and chocolatey.

ZUCCHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle)
(Makes about two dozen)
1 egg, beaten 
1⁄2 cup butter, softened 
1⁄2 cup brown sugar 
1/3 cup honey 
1 tbsp. vanilla extract 

Combine in large bowl.

1 cup white flour 
1 cup whole wheat flour 
1⁄2 tsp baking soda 
1⁄4 tsp salt 
1⁄4 tsp cinnamon 
1⁄4 tsp nutmeg 

Combine in a separate, small bowl and blend into liquid mixture

1 cup finely shredded zucchini 
12 oz chocolate chips 

Stir these into other ingredients, mix well. Drop by spoonful onto greased baking sheet, and flatten with the back of a spoon. Bake at 350°, 10 to 15 minutes.

This post is linked to Cast Party Wednesday.

Monday, July 18, 2011

plum syrup and plum grilling sauce

And so, after making plum sauce and plum jam and plum galette and plum cake, my plum supply was dwindling. Finally.

Dwindling but not gone, that is. Luckily, I found another recipe to use up the rest of the plums. This one, happily, makes two different products at the same time! And it's easy! I promise!

Using a big pile of plums, you cook them for a bit, and strain out the syrup to store for use on pancakes and whatnot. Then you take the leftover plum solids, add a few more ingredients and puree it into a sauce for grilling ribs, chicken, pork, or whatever else you like to put on your grill.

Plum Syrup and Plum Grilling sauce

3 pounds very ripe plums
1-2 cups sugar
1 jalapeno pepper
1-2 teaspoons salt
1 red onion
1 Tablespoon olive oil

First, we make the syrup. Take all the plums and mush out, smoosh out the pits. Don't worry about how much you destroy them in the process, it's all getting pureed later. Just get the pits out the best you can, and save all the juice, pulp, and skins.

Add some of the sugar to the plums in a large pot, and simmer it all for about 15-20 minutes. If it is dry, you can add water. If your plums were super ripe, they should be juicy enough, though. While it simmers, you can add more sugar if you like. I used about 1 cup total, and it tasted great. (My plums were extremely sweet and ripe when I started.)

After 20 minutes or so, turn off the heat and let it cool a bit. Place a colander into a large bowl, and strain out the syrup. 

Now, we make the grilling sauce.

Meanwhile, chop the onion and caramelize it in a pan with the olive oil. 

Add the cooked onions, the plum solids, the pepper, and the salt to a blender. Puree it all until it is smooth. Voila! You're done! It's a great sauce to grill with!

You can keep both the sauce and the syrup in the fridge to use up int he next few weeks. If, like me, though, you have too much food in your fridge and you want to save it for future use, let's can it.

Pour both into your jars, and be sure to label which is which!

If you need to read about how to can, I suggest this document.

If you already know about canning, here is a chart for how long to process it:

( I couldn't find the processing time for plum syrup, but every other syrup I found was 10 minutes for pints or quarts at 0-1,000 feet, 15 minutes at 1,001-6,000 feet, so that is what I went with.)

Table 1. Recommended process time for Fruit Purees in a boiling-water canner.
 Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of PackJar Size0 - 1,000 ft1,001 - 6,000 ftAbove 6,000 ft
HotPints or Quarts15 min2025

Friday, July 15, 2011

plum galette

Although I took a momentary plum vacation in order to hang out at the pool with my kids, my friends, my friend's kids and my kid's friends, it didn't last nearly long enough. On the other hand, in terms of how quickly fruit ripens during these hot summer days, an afternoon at the pool is perhaps a bit too long to stay out of the kitchen. Ay me.

Anyway, before I took a break to talk about salads and swimming and hot dogs, we had been discussing plums. And by "we," I mean me. And by "discussing," I mean I was spouting off information and opinions that you may or may not give a whiff about. And by "you," I mean... is there a you? Is anyone out there reading this? Hello? Anyone there?

Right. So back to the plums. Remember how I said that plums are clingstone fruits, and that when they are fully ripened they are all but impossible to get away from their pits?

Despair not! There are great things you can do with them while they are still a bit firm. When they have gotten their beautiful red skin, but before they are too soft, they are tart (but still flavorful), and much easier to pit without destroying the shape. In other words, perfect for baking.

During the course of this chaotic frantic bountiful fruit-filled season, I have made cakes, pies, muffins, and cookies. Being as I am one to get bored easily, I felt a need to try something different this time. 

I went for a galette. Look up any recipe for a galette of any variety, and somewhere in that recipe you will find the word "rustic." I am not saying it's a bad thing, it is simply true. One can't bake a galette without appreciating its rusticness (rusticity?). At least those are the findings of my anthropological study of galette recipes.

Be that as it may, I made a rustic galette. The rusticness refers to the free-form, casual shape and lack of fussiness in this almost-pie. (By "almost" I mean it really is a pie, but there is no pie dish involved, so we have to call it something else. Something a little more... rustic). It couldn't be easier to make... plums tossed with a little sugar and flour, piled onto a crust that doesn't have to fit a pie or tart pan, folded up and thrown in the oven. Voila! 

Served alongside vanilla ice cream, the tartness of the plums, the sweet syrupy filling and the buttery crust are to die for. It's just a perfect balance of sweet and tart, warm and cold. This dessert, as easy to put together as it is, is a sight to behold with the yellow egg-brushed crust and the ruby red plum juice. It's even better to taste.

Plum Galette
(Everyday Food)

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 cup fine yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 pounds red plums, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water

In a food processor, pulse flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and butter until mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sized pieces still remaining. Add 2 tablespoons ice water. Pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed. If needed, add a teeny bit more ice water. 
Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and knead a couple of times. Flatten dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate at least one hour.
After your dough has chilled, line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. (It will leak juice later as it bakes, and you'll be glad you don't have to scrub baked-on plum juice off of your pan).   Flour your work surface and the top of the dough and roll out to a 1/4 inch thickness. Transfer dough to prepared baking sheet. 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together plums, sugar, and flour. Mound plum mixture in center of prepared crust, leaving a 2 inch border all around. Fold border over edges of fruit, as rustically as you want. Brush dough with egg.
Bake tart until crust is brown and filling is bubbling and leaking all over your tin foil-covered pan, about 45 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a rack, and let cool for 20 minutes. Slice and serve warm, with vanilla ice cream.

This post has been linked to Cast Party Wednesday

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Quinoa Caprese Salad

For most of the summer, I spend my Friday afternoons at the pool. Quite a few mothers (the number ranges from 5-15 on any given Friday) and anywhere between 10 and 40 kids take over the neighborhood pool for a few hours. There is no structure to our afternoon... other than the fact that there are always more hot dogs than there are kids, plenty of junk food to go along with the hot dogs, and something a wee bit more nutritious for us moms to eat.  

If you have been reading my blog for any amount of time whatsoever, it will not surprise you to learn that I usually volunteer to bring some sort of salad or vegetable to our poolside potlucks. 

Last week, it was Quinoa Caprese Salad. I love tomatoes and fresh basil, and both are flourishing in my garden (and my AHO box) this week.  I decided to combine the tomatoes and basil with some quinoa to make a salad that would be easy to transport to the pool, gets better and better as it sits and the flavors meld, and is fresh and yummy. Of course, since there are always plenty of extra veggies around here, I added in a few others. Why not, eh? You can add more veggies if you have them, or skip some if you don't. I had zucchini, celery, and shallots in the fridge, so that is what I used. You could also add diced bell peppers, corn, parsley, peas, or really anything else you want. I don't think there is a possible way to ruin this one.

Quinoa Caprese Salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 small shallot (minced)
1 medium zucchini (diced)
2 ribs of celery (diced)
8 ounces grape tomatoes (cut in half)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella (cut into small cubes)
about 10-12 leaves of basil, chopped finely
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the quinoa well ahead of time, to give it time to cool. Bring two cups of water to a boil. As soon as it boils, add the quinoa, lower the heat to low, cover and let it simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, fluff it with a fork. Let it cool completely.

Stir the olive oil and vinegar into the quinoa. Chop the veggie and cheese and stir them in. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Chill completely before serving.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

plum jam

I am really starting to hate big pots of boiling stuff. Especially big pots of boiling jam that is viscous and therefore clings to the back of your fingers and burns them when you spill some of it. And makes lots of blisters that continually get brushed against or bumped and make your eyes well up. And still there are piles of fruit that you can't just ignore.

Amongst other things. There are other things I hate too, but that is the main one for today.

But, onward! Forward march!

Today, it was plum jam. Despite the burns and the exhaustion, despite the sweat and the tears, plum jam is just so sweet and delicious.  It's worth it all.

Plum Jam
(This recipe makes about 8 1-pint jars)

Rinse, chop, and remove pits from about 4 pounds of plums. This is another recipe that works great for those really really ripe soft plums. Just squish them in half, and mush/pull/scrape as much fruit as you can from the pit. You can keep some skins and throw away some. Whichever skins separate easily from the flesh went into my composting bin. Those that stuck a little more carefully stayed in the pot. The skins contain the most tartness, so consider that in how many you want keep. Keep on pitting and chopping and squeezing until you have two quarts of plum bits.

Combine the plums, 6 cups of sugar, 1 1/2 cups of water, and 1/4 cup lemon juice in a large stockpot. Depending on how juicy your plums are, you may not need all of the water. It just needs to be liquidy enough to dissolve the sugar.

Cook, stirring constantly, until it reaches the jellying point (about 220 degrees at sea level). Just be careful. 220 degrees does not feel good spilled on your hand.

Here is that fabulous explanation for knowing when your jam is done.

When it is done, you are ready to can it for future use!

If you need to read about how to can, I suggest this document.

If you already know about canning, here is a chart for how long to process it:

Table 1. Recommended process time for Plum Jam in a boiling water canner.
 Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of PackJar Size0 - 1,000 ft1,001 - 6,000 ftAbove 6,000 ft
or Pints
5 min1015

*This chart is from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. How official is that?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

quinoa with green beans and chicken in plum sauce

As I promised yesterday, here is an easy-peasy dinner to make with your new plum sauce! The plum sauce has enough complexity and enough different ingredients that you get to take tonight off and create dinner out of just five ingredients, but it will taste like you slaved all day. Lucky you!

I used the plum sauce that I made out of a very small percentage   a tiny little dent in the pile   some of the plums we graciously received from a friend. You can use my plum sauce recipe, of course, or you can buy plum sauce in a jar. It should be on the Asian/Ethnic Foods aisle of your market, and if it isn't, it will surely be in any Asian market.

All of my kids ate this up... and the little one asked for seconds, and then asked for thirds! Will wonders never cease. Of course, I must add the caveat that he had spent the day at karate camp. He needed to replace many many burned calories, and he was also interested in consuming some vegetables in the hopes of someday being as strong as Casey, one of the camp instructors and my son's new idol.

So, combine a day full of exercise, one strong and fun teenager to look up to, and some delicious plum sauce, and any kid will eat his green beans.

As a matter of fact, they ate it all up before I got a single picture. Sorry!!

Quinoa with green beans and chicken in plum sauce
(serves four)

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 pound green beans, rinsed, ends trimmed, and cut into 2 inch lengths
olive oil
1/2 pound chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup Asian plum sauce

Bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Add green beans and cook for about 5 minutes, until they are tender-crisp.

Meanwhile, heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add oil to hot pan.

When the beans are ready, lift them out of the boiling water with tongs, allowing the water to continue boiling. Shake excess water off each tong-full of beans, and toss them into the wok. (Be careful, the water droplets left on the beans will spit in the hot oil).

Add the quinoa to the pot of boiling water, and turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the chicken breasts to the green beans, and stir fry until the chicken is cooked through. Add the plum sauce and stir until it is all coated.

Transfer the quinoa to a serving bowl, top with the green bean/chicken mixture, and serve warm.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Asian Plum Sauce

Okay, so I mentioned that we were given a gift of plums. Lots of plums.

I am thrilled, of course. It is lovely to receive such a wonderful gift. It is nice that there this person who has a very fruitful tree, who knows that she can't use all of the fruit, and who wants to share it with friends. It is also wonderful that there is this other person who has become obsessed with saving every living piece of vegetable matter in the world and using it for the greater good. And therefore she can't say no to saving the plums from rotting into the soil under the tree.

It's just that I think I have a problem. I keep reading things that tell me how important it is to eat and feed my family organic produce. And how imperative it is to eat things that are in season and locally grown. How doing this will save the environment, protect against cancer, insure that the labor force on the farms is protected, and allow me to enjoy amazing quality fruits and vegetables in their prime, the way they are meant to be enjoyed. I also read about how the USA is exporting potatoes... and importing even more.  And how there are people starving all over the world, because we are growing (and purchasing) huge industrial crops, which have to be altered to be edible, instead of growing food that we can eat and letting everyone else grow food that they can eat.

Okay, so all that adds up to the fact that when there is a piece of fruit, grown in my own neighborhood without pesticides, and there is no fuel consumption or labor force or huge conglomerate corporation to feel guilty about, I feel like I have found the holy grail. It feels sinful to waste the very thing that I am searching for.

Never mind that fact that there are about 700 holy grails in my kitchen right now. I can save each and every one of them. I can!!

So, this week it is the plum. We canned and baked and froze and ate 23 pounds of cherries. Then we canned and cooked and ate close to the same amount of apricots. And now, we have plums.

Remember when I talked about stone fruits? And how there are clingstones and freestones? And how the apricots are so fun and easy to work with because they are freestones and the pit practically jumps out of the fruit?

Well, meet the plum. The clingstone plum.

Here is the irony: If a plum is ripe, it is so amazingly soft and sweet that you want to freeze forever the flavor, scent, and texture. But, the fruit clings so forcefully to the pit that you also want to curse and cry and hire someone to get the fruit out for you. On the other hand, if you can get to the fruit before it gets quite so ripe, the pit is a little easier to get out.  Of course, the fruit is tart and makes your face squinch up when you eat it. What is a plum eater to do? Use the different stages of ripeness for different purposes, and just accept that the path isn't going to be easy, but the destination is all worth it. Like many things in life, it is worth working for.

Here is an almost-ripe plum cut in half. See how the stone is pretty much free of the fruit? But the fruit is pretty firm still, and not very juicy (or sweet).

Here, on the other hand, is a very ripe plum. The fruit clung to the pit, and almost none came off with the peel. But it sure is nice and soft... and sweet and juicy!

This very ripe plum will require some effort to get the pit out. My recommendation is to use these very ripe fruits for sauces and jams, because the fruit all gets mushed up together anyway, and it doesn't matter how much you mangle it in your efforts to get the pit out. Save the lesser-ripe fruits for recipes where you are going to want pieces of plums to look like pieces of plums.

The first thing I did with the plums was to make plum sauce... the sauce that is used in many Asian recipes as a base for stir-frys. I LOVE plum sauce, and it makes meals very easy to put together on busy weeknights. Having a few jars of this in the house is going to make life much simpler in the months to come. Tomorrow I will give you one suggestion of how to use plum sauce in a very simple, quick stir-fry dinner.

For now, though, we must start by making the sauce. I actually tried two different recipes, and one seemed so very far superior in the final flavor that I am not going to bother giving you the other recipe.

I selected the darkest and softest plums for this sauce. I wanted to get to them before they rotted, and it worked well to have them mushy in cooking this sauce.

I started to cut them in half and twist apart the sides, but they were so soft and ripe that I ended up just squeezing the pit out with my fingers, and trying to pull as much fruit off of it as possible. You want a balance of the sweet fruit and the tart skin for this recipe, but in cases where the plum was so ripe that the fruit easily slid off of the skin, I went ahead and threw out the skin. I probably used about half of the skins in the long run. Other than getting the plums pitted, and measuring out ingredients, this recipe is very easy (although time-consuming).

Asian Plum Sauce

6 cups chopped, pitted red plums
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 small onion, minced
1 teaspoon crushed cried red chili pepper flakes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced

Combine all ingredients in a large stockpot, and cook over medium heat for about 1 1 /2 hours, until thick and syrupy.

Fill jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims of the jars, place lids and rings (fingertip tight) and process in boiling water for 15 minutes (adding time for elevation). Turn off heat and let jars sit for 5 minutes before removing from water bath. Remove from water and let sit, undisturbed, for 12 hours before touching.

Come back tomorrow for a suggestion for using the plum sauce!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Green Bean Salad

I know. I know. There is this huge pile of plums I promised to work with... and I am working with them. Furiously.  But I had to take a minute, before showing you the fruits of those labors, to do something else.

Hee hee. Get it? Fruits? Oh, I kill myself.


I don't know about you, but I am getting awfully tired of looking at stuff in jars. Don't get me wrong. I love the stuff, I love the jars. I love how I will have the stuff all year long, and I will have my own little happy healthy version of "fast food." But I may scream if I have to look at one more jar this week. It seems like time for something green.

So, to take a little break from stirring sauce and canning it, I made a green bean salad.

I for one, cannot stomach canned green beans. I also cannot stomach frozen green beans. They somehow manage to retain all of the bitter earthy flavor without keeping any of the fresh green flavor. On the other hand, there isn't much I like better than fresh green beans.

Lucky for me, the AHO box came with an abundance of green beans this week. It also came with this recipe, happily.

This salad is easy to prepare, can be done ahead of time, should be served room temperature, and the limited ingredients do a fabulous job of enhancing the delicious green beans without masking their flavor at all.

Green Bean Salad

1/2 pound green beans, rinsed and ends trimmed
2 Tbsp. chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. sliced green onions
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. brown mustard
salt and pepper

First, steam the green beans until they are tender but still crunchy. Immediately plunge them into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.

Meanwhile, in a dry skillet, toast the walnuts over medium heat. Toss them frequently, and cook until they are fragrant. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.

Whisk together the oil, vinegar, and mustard. Toss this dressing with the green beans.

Chop the parsley and green onions, and combine with the cooled walnuts.

Top the green beans with the walnut mixture, and add salt and pepper to taste.