Monday, August 26, 2013

Japanese Eggplant

The eggplant harvest continues to provide. Today I try my hand at making Indian Eggplant Bharta.

There's a great little Indian cooking channel on the Roku box (if you use that technology.) Puts you right inside the kitchen of Indian cooks. It's all on the web too.

As per usual, I will take the nuts and bolts of their cooking method then tweak the recipe to use what I have on hand or to what my taste preference dictates (fewer chilli peppers for instance, due to sensitive tummy).

I really think this is the secret to all cooking. See what works in broad strokes, then adapt for your table. Recipes, although based on chemistry and the alchemy of the properties of foods, should not be held to as hard and fast rules. They are guidelines. No oven holds heat at the same temperature. Few pots and pans have similar bottoms and shapes. Gas or electric stovetops change everything. And if you get a "celebrity" chef's recipe from their book that you hope to emulate, you can't expect it to turn out just like the dish you ordered in their restaurant. The reason? They often leave out a few secret ingredients in the printed recipe. (I got that tidbit direct from a celebrity chef's mouth.)

So, making the dish your own is always the goal. And also the adventure.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Things That Happen When You Have Canned Goods On Hand

Spontaneous cooking occurs. Like this cheesy goodness. Homemade lasagna from last night's canning extravaganza. Boy 'o boy, is it tasty!

Bottom layer is yellow tomato sauce. Followed by lasagna noodles. If I don't make my noodles fresh I use Molisana Regina, imported from Italy. No need to pre-cook their noodles. 35 minutes of cooking time in the oven.

Second layer is a mix of minced Italian sausage (seasoned pork) and minced hamburger which I pre-cooked in a skillet with olive oil and onions and some of the red tomato sauce. The next layer is a nice thick slab of ricotta. Another layer of red tomato sauce. Noodles. Topped with yellow tomato sauce and shredded mozarella. Final topping, shaved parmesan. And a good helping of it. Into a 390 degree oven for 35 minutes. I turn it down to 375 half way through the cooking.

This is a rich, cheesy lasagne perfect for home canned sauce. Vegetarians, use your meat substitutes.

You'll need:
2 pints of tomato sauce - 1 red, 1 yellow
Chopped onion
Seasoned minced Italian sausage
Hamburger meat
Lasagne noodles (I prefer Molisana Regina - because you don't have to precook them)
Tub of ricotta (or make your own - super easy - heat milk, add vinegar, drain off the whey)
Shredded mozzarella
Shaved parmesan

Wing the amounts to your taste and pan size. More tomato sauce for larger pans.

THE LAYERS (top to bottom):
Shaved Parmesan
Shredded Mozzarella
Yellow Tomato Sauce
Lasagna Noodles
Thin layer of red tomato sauce atop...
Thick layer of ricotta cheese
Lasagna noodles
Seasoned minced Italian sausage and hamburger meat sauteed with onions and red tomato sauce
Lasagne Noodles
Yellow Tomato Sauce

390 degree oven for 35 minutes (turn down to 375 halfway through)
Middle rack of oven. Ensure you have a pan on bottom rack to catch drips.

Who knows, you might have leftovers if there are only two of you. But don't count on it.

The Days of Reckoning

It's so much fun to sow the seeds. Exciting to watch them sprout and grow. You leap with joy as the first fruits are harvested... but there's always the inevitable day of reckoning when you have to start canning. I have more tomatoes than I need and my neighbors and friends have had their fill. Time to put up.

My favorite part is the knowledge that every single ingredient was picked the day it was canned. And it is all from my own garden (ok, except for the Port wine and olive oil that I added.) The garlic, onion, basil, marjoram, parsley, peppers, celery and the tomatoes were all grown in my backyard organically. 

It's a long, steamy exasperating day. But there are moments. Like when the aroma from the sauteed onion and garlic fills the room.

Or that first chef's sip of the tomato sauce and you realize this is a thousand times better than anything you've ever been served in a restaurant. That's when the magic begins. 

You tweak your recipe and sterilize your jars and know you are about to put up part of the summer that will wow you in the winter.

I made two batches of tomato sauce with the first wave of the harvest - yellow and red. I love the yellow tomato sauce in lentil soups. The red sauce I'll save for lasagna, creamed rose pastas or pizzas.

Can't wait to open a jar.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Stinging Nettle Treatment

Seems I get stung at least once every year now. Can you spot the stinging nettle in my lettuce patch? It's right in the center of this photo. Nailed me good. Every finger on the left hand. And boy does it sting.

Thought I'd pass along my treatment. You'll often find dock growing nearby nettle. I did find some of the weed on the ground nearby and rubbed it on the sting. Then I leapt to the fridge for some cider vinegar. I always keep cider vinegar in the fridge to treat minor burns. It is great at dulling the pain and sometimes eliminating it altogether. My other instrument of relief is the crevice tool on my vacuum cleaner. Vinegar helps take away the sting but the crevice tool helps dislodge any nettles still hanging out in the flesh.

  1. Dock
  2. Vinegar
  3. Vacuum cleaner crevice tool.

A winning combination. (Note: You can also use tape to help remove any lurking nettles.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Blossom End Rot

I've had blossom end rot (BER) on virtually every San Marzano (Roma style) tomato in both my community garden and my home garden. The scourge has not struck any of the other tomato varieties. Apparently paste tomatoes are more prone. I wondered at first if it was my seed, but two other urban gardeners to whom I gifted some of my seedlings, have not encountered such problems. I realized it must be the soil and a lack of calcium.

As a quickie measure I crushed up some of my calcium vitamins and sprinkled them over the soil around the San Marzanos a week ago. The results have been remarkable. Take a look at the these four tomatoes. You can almost see the tomatoes in four stages of healing themselves. The first on the left is full blown BER. The next has survived a little further. The third bulged out a new section of growth from where it had begun to rot and the forth has survived.

It's been a drag losing so many paste tomatoes to BER. I've been cutting the end rot away and making sauce, adding in some yellow tomatoes to fill out the pan.

I have plenty of yellow tomatoes to spare.

With the addition of the calcium I have hope to harvest more paste tomato sauce for my winter storage.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Black Russian Heirloom Tomato

I've had some big tomatoes before, but none like the Black Russian.

These delicious heirlooms darken and offer a unique, slightly lemony flavor. Here they are in their three stages of ripening.

Great slicing tomatoes and a wonderful addition to a salad because of their interesting color, which carries through to the interior of the fruit.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chicory Harvest

Today I'm harvesting some chicory for a sauté. I have a lot of gigantic garlic to enjoy and thought I'd put these two to use.


A quick boil of the chicory to reduce bitterness, then a sauté in a cast iron pan with olive oil and garlic and later a drizzle of balsamic vingear. What could be simpler.

I really have a need to start using up some veggies since the daily harvest has started to get the better of me. I've been giving away food left and right.

Heirloom Tomatoes, Pole Beans, Radicchio, Tomatillos, Pickling Cukes

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mint Chutney

My project for the fall is to learn how to cook my favorite Indian dishes. You used to be able to get great Indian food at fairly reasonable prices. Not anymore. So it's high time I added new dishes to my repertoire. My eggplants are plumping up fast, and that was much of the inspiration for this decision. I'm looking forward to some bharta.

Yesterday I harvested some mint, cilantro, garlic and shallots and whipped up some mint chutney to dip pappadam in.

Searching recipes online I discovered that there are endless recipes for mint chutney. Here's mine.


bunch of mint
bunch of cilantro
6 fresh garlic cloves
2 shallots
3 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lime juice
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of ice water
1/2 tsp cumin

it all goes in a blender to emulsify