The Good, the Bad, the Chocolate

Since I’m using you all as a lifesaving device during this tight spot, I carry you with me throughout my day. It’s true. Sad, perhaps. Modern, for certain. The little virtual angels on my shoulder, encouraging me to take heart, go forth and do good things. Or lock myself in the bathroom and ball my eyes out, depending on the situation.

I kept my camera at hand yesterday, and thought I’d share with you some high points and low.

We had breakfast with a friend (thank you!) and then rode over to the community garden to water. It’s officially summer here. Hot. Time to water every other day. And the harvests are rolling in. More chard. Even with the trickiest muffin recipe ever, I still didn’t manage to use up all the stalks from the last bunch. Into the compost. Enter the new beauties.

The carrots are sizing up, just in the nick of time. I do so adore garden carrots– for taste, and even just for looking at. Gorgeous.

My garlic on the other hand is meeting the same sad fate my onions met last month. I don’t understand this. I planted both last fall, they grew fantastically all winter, thick as leeks some of them. I was counting my chickens, certain I would be getting huge bulbs. Then the onions started to die off. Sweet! I thought at first, the bulbs must be about ready. But no, nothing down there. I kept waiting, thinking maybe this was a normal part of the process. My local garden guru doesn’t do onions, so had no advice for me.

Soon they just flat out were rotting. I pulled what was left, peeled off the rotten layers and got some decent green onions at least. When the formerly verdant green garlic started to lose it’s luster, I didn’t wait so long. I gave them a little time, with a kernal of hope. Then I started pulling them. Same deal, dying and starting to rot from the outside in, but no bulbs.

Boo hoo! I am crushed! This time, I’m eatin’ those suckers before the rot really sets in.

Last week we were gone, so I didn’t get a chance to harvest salad greens, and of course this week it was just out of control.

Am I the only one who can’t get the salad greens thing figured out? It’s always feast or famine. Especially the lettuces. This mix has precious little lettuce in it, and hey, I like me some spice, but pure chicory and arugula makes for a burly salad. Especially when you’ve let the leaves get so big.

Here’s my tactic for large quantities of greens. Wash, drain, dump into a pillow case. Drain more into the tub, then go out in the yard and wing that MF like a helicopter. Then just store in the fridge as is. This lets some of that extra moisture wick out into the fridge’s dry air. When the pillow case starts to feel dry, in a day or two, put the lot into a garbage bag. Don’t forget that part, it won’t last long in the cloth before it starts to dry out too much.

I had to clean out my fridge to accommodate the new batch of garden lovelies. Time to get cookin! I made stir fried rice with carrots, garlic greens and chard stems for dinner. (That’s some beet and cabbage sauerkraut on the left there from last month’s big cabbage harvest. Gotta love that color, right?)

Of course, my day wasn’t all playing with vegetables. In fact, the 1YO who fell perfectly asleep in the bike trailer on the way home from the garden, didn’t transfer. He woke up when I tried to put him in his crib, and once he’s gotten more that 2 minutes of sleep he thinks he’s done napping.

It was a rough afternoon.

There were some sweetnesses–

Some mama guilt (yes, that’s an iPad, and yes, I’m embarrassed)–

And plenty of messes, on every available surface–

Including (no picture here, you lucky devils) the 3YO peeing in a box of unpacked clothes, and subsequent cussing by yours truly. I tried to at least keep the F word out of it.

Fortunately, I made up a batch of mama treats last week. It’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve. This easier-than-pie recipe stretches that expensive fair trade chocolate nicely. And doesn’t require a hot oven.

Gotta keep these in the fridge in this climate. I prefer a camo container, such as this Nancy’s yogurt tub. Keep your secret secret.

Of Green Tomatoes and Turkey Enchiladas

A couple of weeks ago, I sorted what was left of my slowly ripening tomatoes. The ones that were still very green, I decided to make into a green tomato jam. I had been enjoying slices of green tomato, fried simply (unbreaded) with my eggs in the morning, and then stacked all together on whole wheat toast. Yum. I imagined a savory jam which captured that fried green tomato flavor, and I could use it in the same toasty egg combination. I quartered them, roasted them at 350 for an hour (since I had the oven on anyway) then promptly forgot about them. Still in the oven, yes, days later when I remembered. They looked fine, it’s been cool here.

I chucked them into a pot, covered with water and boiled them for some long time, till they were falling apart soft, then rubbed them through a fine mesh strainer to puree them. Then I stopped for a moment and noticed they didn’t smell… that good. I mean, they smelled fine, but extremely vegetal. Not like anything I could imagine calling ‘jam,’ even of the savory variety. I shoved the pot to the back of the fridge to think more about later.

Or preferably to try to forget until rotten so I could dump it.

Yesterday I finally pulled the pot out, sure they had reached “dumpable” by now. I took the lid off and tentatively sniffed. Damn. Still fine. Still that sort of weird smell, but not remotely rotten. Guess I really have to figure out how to use these, I sighed to myself.

I kept ‘green tomato puree ideas’ in the background of my mind overnight, hoping for a brainstorm.

Eureka!

Green enchiladas!

That slightly weird smell was in fact quite a lot like a tomatillo smell. Hmmm, green enchiladas have chicken, but I didn’t have any chicken. If I got a whole chicken at the farmers market, it would have to thaw, then cook and wouldn’t be ready for enchiladas for days. Hmmmm…

Turkey!

I still had several packs of Thanksgiving turkey left in the freezer. It seemed like I’d even heard of turkey enchiladas with green sauce. It was brilliant!

Or rather, the idea was brilliant. I still had some trepidation as I committed lots of time and good ingredients to that slightly weird smelling sauce. I assembled it in the afternoon, so the suspense was at a fever pitch by 5 o’clock when I set it on the table, with a nice Mexican slaw alongside.

Yum! After all that neglect and weirdness, it came out sooooo good. It was like spinning straw into gold, without any fear of losing a first-born child to a tricky dwarf.

Most likely y’all are done using up green tomatoes in any way possible, but in case you have any still kicking around– fresh, jarred or frozen (I chucked some into a ziplock in the freezer back in my early December panic)– I can’t recommend this highly enough. Of course I don’t have any kind of real recipe to offer up, but here’s the basics.

Fry an onion. Add some garlic. Shake on not too much cumin, and whatever other mexican spices are your faves. I had a jar of chipotle sauce, so added a tablespoon of that and let it fry for a minute. Then I stirred in about 1/2 cup of dark beer. I love cooking with beer, not only does it give a great flavor, but then– oh darn, what am I gonna do with the rest of this beer?

I dumped in the green tomato puree (oh, something like 3 cups) and the juice of one blood orange. Hey, it needed to get used up. Think creatively, right? Then I added my defrosted turkey scraps and let the whole thing simmer for an hour or more. Salt to taste.

(If you had any green chiles they would be ever so appropriate here. I was actually concerned about the quality of green enchiladas without green chiles, but they turned out dandy.)

Grate plenty of cheese, I used a mix of cheddar and mozzarella.

Fry your corn tortillas. This is a must for really good enchiladas, whatever the color. I used about 12, I think.

Then I strained the sauce off of the turkey mixture (reserve sauce of course) and kind of mashed the turkey around to shred it, it was super tender by now. I mixed the turkey with a cup of cottage cheese– again, cuz I had it– and because I was adding the cottage cheese I thought I’d better throw in an egg. Then a big heap of cilantro from my garden. Check the salt.

I used a 7×11 inch pyrex. A smear of sauce in the bottom, then 3 tortillas, evenly spaced and overlapped. Lump a third of the turkey filling over the tortillas and spread it evenly, not to the edge of the pan, but just to the edge of the tortillas. Thin sprinkle of cheese, 3 more tortillas, and repeat for two more layers. Finish off with tortillas, the rest of the sauce, a bit of cilantro and cheese. If you have what seems like too much sauce, and it pools down into the space between the tortilla stack and the edges of the pan, don’t worry– it thickens right up into a nice extra tangy side spooge.

We’re big fans of coleslaw round these parts. Particularly, the 3YO who can shovel away a good pint of it all to herself if she hasn’t had it in awhile. And who am I to stop her? Whenever we eat Tex-Mex, I add a bit of cilantro to my regular slaw, and lime juice instead of vinegar if I have it. It adds just the right lift to the otherwise heavy Americanized Mexican food. Plus, well did you see the size of the cabbage in the last post? We’ve been at it for weeks already.

(Sorry I don’t have any photos, our camera is in a bad mood lately. But honestly, it wasn’t pretty food. Delicious, yes. Pretty, not so much.)

Here’s to green tomatoes and using up the harvest!

Harvests! + Stop Buying Salad Dressing NOW

I am positively quivering with excitement. My garden is growing fantastically! Finally, I have a garden! And this Southern climate is giving me her goodness– a few of my earlier planted things are ready for harvest!

I bought some collard and chard starts last fall, thinking I’d have my garden bed much sooner. They sat in a planter on our porch all winter (meaning December-February) not doing much, and I figured them for stunted. But when my garden bed was finally ready to plant, and I didn’t have anything to put in yet, I thought what the hell? I’ll throw ’em in. Can’t hurt. And those puppies took off like a house afire! I mean, seriously. I put the starts in little more than a month ago, and the collards are now mammoth, almost archaicly huge green monsters, fully a foot and a half across. I cut two of them straight down, as they were just barely beginning to bolt, and took the big leaves off of the other two. And got this mess of greens.

my new favorite vegetable

Back in Cordova, my most beloved garden plant was kale. For her tenacity, vibrancy, and forceful desire to grow. I can see that collards will be taking that place in my heart for these southern years.

Of course, growing greens doesn’t mean much if you don’t like to eat ’em. I love to eat ’em. Homegrown collards, I should have known, are so much more tender and sweet than even the stuff I was getting at the farmer’s market. Downright Delish. Follow that kale-ey link above for my fave homegrown greens recipe. So simple. So good.

Here at home I made my first cutting of salad greens. I had planted them all around my tomato, pepper and bean plants, in my self irrigated planters. Let the gorgeous, flavorful salads begin!

In case any readers out there are still buying salad dressing, or are less than in love with their regular recipe, here’s how I do mine, and people often ask for the recipe. It’s knock-out. But it’s incredibly simple. Simple technique, short ingredient list. The secret is white balsamic vinegar. Look around in your local shop for it. It’s worth tracking down. My aunt first introduced me to the stuff, in a gourmet care package years ago. I have gone to great lengths since to keep my small town kitchen supplied with the stuff. Note that it’s sometimes also called “golden balsamic.” Same, same. It’s just white wine, done up in casks like regular balsamic (which is from red wine). It’s got the same sweet, woody flavor, but not so overpowering.

This recipe is also pretty damn fine with fresh squeezed lemon. In fact, I often prefer lemon when the weather is hot, and the balsamic when the weather is cooler…

The other secrets here are top quality ingredients. Do not expect to substitute canola, or even super cheap olive oil and still have your skirt blown up. It’s only fair to mention that this dressing is not cheaper than store bought, just heaps better.

Lastly, a decent dressing can be done quicky-style, just pouring the vinegar and oil straight onto your salad, but leaving out the garlic will also leave out the real fantastic-ness.

Well, that pretty much gives it away. That’s the recipe. White (or golden) balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, fresh ground pepper and freshly smashed garlic. Zat’s it.

I proceed as so, for a 2-3 person salad:

Finely slice a small clove of garlic (or half a medium one), then turn your knife on its side and drag the blade over, at somewhat of an angle, pressing down at the same time, until your garlic is a fine almost paste. You can use a garlic press too, but it’s as much work (‘cuz you have to wash the thing) and lots less fun.

Scrape up that lovely paste and deposit into the bottom of your salad bowl. Add salt (say 1/8-1/4 teaspoon) and black pepper (1/8 t).

Now splash in your balsamic, lemon juice or a combination. This time I used a little grapefruit that was heading toward ferment, along with my balsamic (apx 2 Tablespoons total). Let the whole thing alchemify while you go pick your greens.

Then pour in your decent quality olive oil. Doesn’t need to be top shelf, though if it is, your dressing will be top shelf too. Apx 3 Tablespoon of that should looks like so:

Now whip it up with a fork, it may or may not emulsify a bit. Dump your greens in. I’m not much for the classic romaine, tomato and cucumber salad. Head lettuce simply does not have much flavor. If I’m going to eat salad I want it to have taste! Apart from the divine dressing! And for whatever reason, I love chunky salads, and I love leafy salads, but I don’t like both together. So my greens salad is just that. Baby lettuce, arugula, chicories, kale, sorrel and fresh mint and chives if I have them. Roughly chop, and toss with dressing.

And there you have it. Insalada Divina. Dig in.