Soy and Corriander Marinaded Grilled Eggplant

Fall is definitely in the air here in California’s central valley. Already I am seeing winter squash at the Farmers Market and pumpkins being harvested in several fields adjacent to the river. Day and night time temps have cooled by at least ten degrees and my garden’s production has cooled down too. I’m getting a squash, a cucumber and a few eggplant every now and then.

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Recently a friend shared an eggplant marinade with me that used coriander, aka cilantro leaves, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. It sounded pretty good there were a couple of eggplants in the garden that would be ripe soon so I printed out the recipe, picked up some fresh coriander at the farmers market and waited for the eggplants to get eat’n size.

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The eggplants finally being big enough to pick, it was time to give the new recipe a try. It’s a pretty simple recipe, although there is a 45 minute marinade time so it’s not something you can throw together last minute. You put all the marinade ingredients in to a blender jar, hit the switch until its well mixed then rub marinade into the eggplant’s cut side, place them in pan with remaining marinade and wait.  The recipe recommends microwaving the marinaded eggplants but I’m not much for microwaving veggies so I grilled them. The link to the recipe can be found here.

All in all I thought the dish turned out pretty tasty. I was worried that I might have put in too much ginger but it seemed to be just the right amount and for those of you who who don’t especially like the strong flavor of coriander/cilantro I didn’t feel it was overpowering in any way.  I think that a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds would be a nice way to finish the dish. I not sure If I like this marinade better than my favorite green onion marinade but it’s a nice alternative I’ll use again. You can find my recipe for Sesame Eggplant with Green Onion here if you want to try a nice eggplant marinade but really don’t like coriander/cilantro.

As I started writing this I got curious about coriander/cilantro. I found out it is not only an herb it is also considered a spice, it has been cultivated and used as a medicinal and culinary herb for at least 3,000 years tracking back to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions. It’s Asian use goes back several thousand years. Its also unusual as all parts of the plant; root, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds can be used. I found the site The World’s Healthiest Foods to have good information for those of you, who like me always, want who want to learn more.

Carrot Zucchini Cupcake Tailgate Snack

Mexican Free-tail bat flyout at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

Recently two grandmas and five grandchildren headed west looking for adventure. We had reserved spaces at Yolo Basin Foundation’s Bat Walk & Talk, a presentation by Corky Quirk, the renowned “Bat Lady” of Northern California, followed by a trip out to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area to watch thousands of Mexican Free-tailed bats emerge from their daytime sleeping space under the Yolo Causeway and fly into sunset tinted skies.

Corky’s presentation was about 45 minutes long it’s content great for both adults and kids. It’s informative and fun and towards the shared up close projected images of three different live bats showing us their differences. She even fed one mealworms and we watched it munch them down.

Now it was time to load into our cars and caravan out to the Wildlife Area to see the bats fly into the night sky where they would spend their time hunting moths. We followed the line of cars, led by Corky, to a spot far on the eastern side of the property. There we parked and gathered at a place not too far from where the bats would emerge from under the causeway. We stood and waited and then they appeared, thousands of little Mexican Free-tailed bats flying in a long ribbon like formation into the evening sky. It was a beautiful sight.

muffin tail gate party

Carrot Zucchini cupcake tailgate snack

Since there are literally thousands (estimated to be around 250,000 at last count) of bats that need to emerge, the flights come in waves and there can be some time in between where no bats are visible. Just the perfect amount of time for boys of 8 & 9 and girls aged 6 to become totally distracted and start looking for something to do. During one of these breaks I had the kids follow me back to our car for a little tailgate snack; homemade Cream Cheese frosted Carrot Zucchini cupcakes and a glass of pineapple/mango/passion fruit juice. Since I had a few finicky eaters, when asked what kind of cupcakes they were, I just said carrot cake; no sense complicating the veggie issue by mentioning that there was also grated summer squash in them. Two of the kids decided they loved the icing, which they licked completely off of the cupcake before returning it to me to say they didn’t like the cake part even though they didn’t even try it. The other three grandkids and the grandmas ate theirs without complaint and in fact, we found them to be delicious.  After our snack it was back down to watch more bats and a peregrine falcon that had come to see if it could catch a few snacks of its own. It was pretty exciting to watch it cut through the ribbon of bats and snatch one.  The excitement of the evening over we caravanned back through the wildlife area listening to the sounds of the frogs and seeing lots of Black-crowned Night herons flying around, also out hunting. It was deemed a good adventure by all and one we would recommend to all that have not had a chance to see this amazing spectacular.

Carrot Zucchini Cupcake

Carrot Zucchini Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting

The recipe I used for the cupcakes was a modification of Carrot and Zucchini Bars with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting, published by Real Mom Kitchen, Aug, 2011 a recipe she adapted from a Better Homes & Gardens recipe. I omitted the ginger and instead added the zest of one lemon and the juice of half a lemon. I didn’t put any zest in the frosting only because I didn’t have any more lemons. This is a great little recipe that I’ll be using again and again.

You can find other cake-like recipes where I have used zucchini on the following links:

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

A California Gal Makes Hawaiian Muffins

A Tangelo and a Zucchini Met One Morning

Spaghetti With Grated Summer Squash and Classic Fresh Pesto Sauce

pasta final

I’ve had a printout of a recipe for Classic Fresh Pesto Sauce on my kitchen counter for over a week now. Every morning when I come in from the garden I think to myself, I should have cut basil so I could make pesto but, then I think about the weather forecast and how hot it will be and fixing pasta which was the whole reason I was going to make the pesto, doesn’t sound like a great idea anymore.

But finally, the weather has cooled down and we’re enjoying temps in the 50s overnight and into the mid 80s during the day. Beautiful weather. Weather that makes me feel like cooking pasta. So this morning I gathered pesto ingredients; fresh basil, parsley and oregano and took them to the kitchen along with some summer squash and cherry tomatoes that were ready to pick. Today I would make pasta with the Classic Fresh Pesto Sauce for lunch.

pasta, squash & pestoWith no real recipe in mind but the pesto sauce I decided that I would cook up some brown rice spaghetti and toss it with uncooked, shredded summer squash and the pesto. The final touches would be halved cherry tomatoes from my garden, shredded parmesan cheese and ground pepper.

I have to say I think the squash idea turned out great. If you didn’t see me put it in the dish you wouldn’t even know it was in there. The taste of the raw squash is very mild, so when you add the pesto and toss the mixture the squash just blends in.

roasted garlicThe pesto sauce recipe I used is from Renee’s Garden Blog, June-2013 and it’s one that will become a standard for me. I did change one thing from the original recipe, instead of adding fresh garlic as noted in the recipe, I added a whole head of roasted garlic. Roasted garlic is one of the staples I try to keep in the refrigerator. Its is easy to make, has a more mellow taste than the raw. To make roasted garlic you start with whole fresh heads. Cut the tops off of each head and place in foil, pour olive oil over the heads just so it seeps down amongst the cloves, you won’t need a lot, maybe a tablespoon or less per head depending on head size. Seal the packet tightly then roast in a 350° oven for about an hour or until the garlic is soft to the touch. Let the packet cool, then refrigerate. It’s that simple. To use just squeeze the cloves from the head if you’re using the whole thing.  If you want to extract just a few cloves, I find a fork or the tip of a knife works well for scooping them out.  If you’ve never tried roasted garlic in pesto or other sauces give it a try you just might find that you like it as much as I do.

Grilled Corn, Avocado and Tomato Salad

grilled corn on the cob

I love corn on the cob, doesn’t matter if it’s steamed, boiled or grilled, just add some butter and a light sprinkling of salt and I’m in heaven. But even when you love something there is a limit to how much is too much.

grilled corn saladLast week was the first week for fresh sweet corn at our local Farmers Market. So I bought five ears. Some of you would think that’s not an unusually large number but I’m the only one eating it. I happily gorged myself on two ears that evening knowing that there were still three left. Plenty to satisfy my corn cravings. Two more were happily consumed the next day but somehow I just couldn’t eat that last ear in the same sitting. Was my corn craving slowing down?

Having corn somewhat on the brain by now, I noticed a recipe for Grilled Corn, Avocado and Tomato Salad with Honey Lime Dressing while browsing some recipes online. Having all the ingredients on hand I decided to give it a try. Not only did it sound good it would use up the last ear of corn. The only deviation from the recipe I made was the addition of some fresh salad shrimp that needed to be eaten. The combination of ingredients was tasty and made the perfect light meal for a hot summer evening.

Now it’s the fourth day and there is no more corn to enjoy or worry about eating. The pressure is off but deep down I can hear the tiniest voice saying “You should have gotten more than five”.

You can find the recipe here.  It’s from For The Love of Cooking, July 2009.

Angelcots, The Sweet White Apricot

white apricots

Sometimes when I buy fruit at the Farmers Market the vendor will put a couple more pieces of small fruit in the bag after he weighs what I have selected. A nice gesture but sometimes its something that I don’t like (yes there are fruits I’m not crazy about.) or it might be something I may not have even tried before. That’s what recently happened. I carefully selected some white nectarinesDonut peaches and apricots placing them carefully in my market bag.  After weighing my purchase the vendor popped three small light colored fruits that were shaped like apricots into the bag, saying as he handed it to me, “they are very sweet, you would like them”. I was curious as to what they were but didn’t ask and didn’t think about them again until I was shopping at Trader Joe’s later that morning and saw a plastic container, in the fresh fruit section, with fruit that looked just like the ones I was given, that was labeled Angelcots. Humm, wonder if that could be the same thing he put in with the fruit I bought at the Farmers Market?

sliced white apricots

The difference in color between white apricots and Blenheim apricots.

Turns out it was. The fruit is truly angelic, tasting light, sweet and juicy.  After trying these sweet gifts, I wished I had a lot more than the three I was given.

Remembering the plastic container of Angelcots at Trader Joe’s I made a trip across town to get some and give them a try. Sure enough, they tasted the same and now I had more than three to enjoy. I ate them out of hand as snacks whenever I passed the kitchen counter where they lay seductively waiting for my visits and tried them cut into quarters topped with Greek yogurt and roasted sliced almonds for breakfast. They were gone all too soon but definitely not forgotten. You can bet I’ll be looking to buy more at the market this weekend if I can find them.

I hope you can find them at a market near you. If you do, give em a try. You just might discover why they were named Angelcots.

To learn more about the history of the Angelcot check out this Nov 2002 SF Gate article on Ross Sanborn the passionate pomologist, who after receiving the white apricot seeds from a cousin’s husband who was living and working in Iran in the late 70s, planted the seeds at his home in Lafayette, CA, and as they say “the rest is history”.

Angelcot article link

Veggies for Breakfast

Zepher squash blossomsMy garden is thriving and has already started producing squash. Many folks don’t like summer squash, but I do and have learned, over the years, to use it in various ways. This spring I planted two kinds of squash, Zephyr, which I have planted in the past and Papaya Pear which is advertised as fast growing, high yielding plant that bears small, rounded yellow fruits. So far the Papaya is exactly as advertised. It’s also very tasty.

DSCN4168On the mornings I pick squash, which right now is about every other day or so,  I use it in a veggie scramble. It’s a great way to incorporate fresh veggies into your morning meal.  This mornings combination included; chopped sweet onions, sliced crimini mushrooms, grated summer squash, cubed Halvarti cheese, and two eggs. I topped the finished scramble with chopped garlic chives and crumbled sage leaves that had been sauteed in butter and olive oil until crisp. The best thing about a scramble is you use what you have on hand. The only constant is the eggs.  If you’ve never considered using fresh veggies in a scramble for breakfast you should give it a try. It’s a very yummy way to start the day.

The squash, garlic chives and sage came from my garden. The mushrooms, onions, and eggs came from my local Farmers’ Market.

Curiosity

When you’re shopping and you see veggies or fruits that you don’t recognize do they peak your curiosity? Have you ever bought something at the Farmers Market just because you wondered what it would taste like or you were just intrigued by the way it looked? Well I am curious and really love finding things that I don’t know about.

The other day while shopping at the Davis Farmers Market I noticed something that looked like a pointed cabbage and inquired about it. The conversation went something like this: What is this? It’s a cabbage. OK, why is it pointed and not round? It’s pointed so that there is more to use. The core isn’t as large as in the round cabbages. Made sense so I bought one to try.  The other thing that sold me was that the head wasn’t too large. Most cabbage are big enough to feed a football team. These weren’t.

It had good cabbage flavor that wasn’t overpowering, the leaves were crisp and the sliced pieces came apart easily. And he was right there is more to use, the core was very small compared to conventional round cabbage heads.. I sliced mine in half and made a slaw with  with one half. Very nice on an evening where the temperature is hovering just below 100. The other half I’m saving to use in fish tacos  later this week.

Poking around on the internet I found that this cabbage is quite easy to grow from seed and that the heads can be stored for up to 10 weeks. Maybe I’ll try to plant some this fall. The plant itself is quite pretty and might look great in the flower bed. Caraflex will definitely be added to my list of veggies to keep an eye out for.

Cole Slaw

A recipe from Omega Nu’s Recipes in Review 1948 – 1976, a compilation of recipes from the Alpha Gamma Chapter of Omega Nu, Woodland, CA.

I received this cookbook from someone I used to work for as a gift many years ago. It’s quite a hoot to read some recipes that were in vogue at that time, like Mandarin Orange Salad with Topping, which uses canned mandarin oranges, mayo, crushed pineapple and Cool Whip. Cool Whip was a very “in” ingredient during the ’70s.  I’m sure this book could fetch a nice price in an antique store but I could never part with it. The person who gave it to me used a red pen to note her favorite recipes and put little tips like, Our favorite!, Outstanding!, Excellent!, and my favorite at the bottom of the Hot Crabmeat Dip recipe,  P.S. Use the cheapest crab you can find. The best entry though was a note she wrote on the inside cover:

Dear Ann,
I thought about getting you a “gold watch”—but decided, since you’ll now have plenty of time, this would help you fill those empty hours ( and tummies!) Many, many thanks — how I will miss you!
 
Fondly,
Jan & the rest of the family

She was a very gracious lady, generous and kind,  a very good employer.

Cole Slaw
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 T vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 T + 1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp pepper
2 carrots
6 cups cabbage, finely sliced
1/2 cup snap peas, finely sliced*
1/2 to 1 cup salad shrimp*
2 T roasted sunflower seeds*
2 T chopped chives*
(additions to the original recipe)
 
Mix together and chill. Serves 6
 

What a difference a month makes.

Koralik Russian Heirloom Cherry tomato

Well it’s warming up here in the Central Valley and the garden is growing quite nicely so thought I’d give you an update. Tomatoes are ripening and I have enjoyed several of the little jewels as I wander through the garden early in the morning. My favorite time in the garden is around 6 or 6:30am. It’s perfect then, not too hot or cold and it’s quiet with only the songs of the birds to break the stillness.

The first fruit from the Ichiban Japanese eggplant is ready to pick, which I’ll do in the morning and the Astia zucchini has been producing just fast enough that I don’t have to eat one a day. They are nice little (I pick em small) squash and are a really good dipper for the edamame hummus that I have been buying at Trader Joe’s. I haven’t tried any cooked yet. They taste too yummy raw.

 Here’s the difference a month can make. On the left is how they looked on May 9 and on the right June 10.

Here’s a look at the rest of my little plot.

On the left is my bean tepee which is growing green, yellow and purple pole beans, the squash is a zucchini called Zephyr. I’ve grown this one for a couple of years and really like it. Two thirds of it is yellow and the blossom end is light green. Quite pretty. If you look closely you can see one just to the right of the chives.  Squished just past the squash are Persian Baby cucumbers (Green Fingers), an Ambrosia melon and a Romanian Sweet Pepper, that isn’t really taking off like everything else. Think it needs more heat, which is forecast for this week. The little green berry basket is protecting some parsley seedlings from the snails. Herbs are thyme by the beans, chives by the squash and tarragon by the cukes and melon. Tarragon is supposed to be a good companion plant for just about everything so we’ll see how happy the melon is when I taste it later this summer. There are already several 1″ melons growing so that’s a good sign of things to come. The beans have only recently started blooming and I’m looking forward to seeing some sets in the next week or so. The other plants in the foreground are; Sweet Alyssum, Snow in Summer and Santa Barbara Daisy, which was recently clipped to encourage a second bloom and also give the melon and cukes room to spread. Later in the season the squash will flow out over the Snow in Summer which it did last year. That arrangement didn’t seem to hurt either plant.

The beans, cucumbers, container zucchini and parsley were all grown from seed from Renee’s Garden, local seed company. The other plants were from starts I picked up at various local Farmers Markets. The size of the plot is 4′ x 10′ and this is it’s second season as a veggie garden. Last year I had beans, squash peppers, melon and cukes too but this year I rotated the positions of the plants putting the squash where. A mini crop rotation if you please. I also added organic manure before the rains last winter and let it soak into the ground not mixing it into the soil until this spring. Think I’ll try to plant a cover crop of legumes or clover this fall and see what that’s like. Must be why I love gardening so much, there’s always something to learn and it’s always an adventure.

How’s your  garden doin?

A One of a Kind California Farmers’ Market

While on vacation at Packer Lake in Sierra County I learned about a farmers market that is touted as the only “on-farm” farmers market in the state of California. Locals call it the The Romano’s Farmers Market, aka Sierra Valley Farms Farmers Market . It is not large, it hosts only 10 – 12 hand-selected vendors. It typically opens the first Friday in June and continues for 15 weeks until the second Friday in September. We were in luck it was only the first Friday in September when my sister, Gwen, and I decided to leave the solitude of Packer Lake and travel over to Sierra Valley and see what all the talk was about.

The farm sits on the northern part of Sierra Valley. This valley sits at approximately 4850 feet and is surrounded by mountains ranging in elevation from 6 to 8000 feet.  The former lakebed covers 120,000 acres and receives an annual rainfall of less than twenty inches, most falling as snow. It is what I call high desert, filled with grassland, sagebrush and extensive freshwater marshes that drain into the middle fork of the Feather River. It is an important area for migratory bird species that stop over in the fall and nest there in the spring.

It was in the 80s when we arrived around 11am and the wind, which can blow pretty hard here, was gentle, a perfect vacation day. We pulled in to a dirt parking lot, found a spot, grabbed a reusable bag from the back of my car and headed off to do some serious exploring. We had heard that the farmers market is presented among unique old farm buildings; an old grainery built in 1939, now houses a produce stand and walk-in cooler and the quaint farm store, that contains the checkout stand and hand made items for sale, is part of the old chicken shed. To say the setting is quite unique is an understatement.

We wandered through looking at everything from hand made pottery to some tasty looking bakery items, from gorgeous produce to some pretty interesting pasta and olive oils from Pappardelle Pasta (a pretty large company that sells directly at farmers’ markets and a few specialty gourmet retail stores throughout the country). For not needing anything and thinking we would just take a look, we walked out with one of the biggest pineapple heirloom tomatoes I have ever seen (and now that I have eaten the softball sized wonder I can say it was one of the best I have ever tasted), a small package of Southwestern Blend (Blue Corn Ziti, Red Southwestern Chile Lumache, Green Jalapeno Fusilli and Yellow Maize Amore) that I want to use in soup this fall, Smoked Mozzarella Ravioli,  a beautiful little cantaloupe, some lovely orange peppers and a couple of bottles of cold water from the cooler in the old grainery.

As we were leaving Sean Conroy, chef at Longboards Bar & Grill, Plumas Pines Golf Resort was setting up for a cooking demonstration. They evidently have one each week, something I have seen at urban farmers markets but out here in the middle of nowhere (sorry Sierra Valley folks), it was really unexpected, but a very nice touch.

Later I read on the market’s website that they also host a \”Dinner in the Barn\”, a four course gourmet meal featuring farm-fresh produce harvested specifically for the dinner. The setting is inside a historic rustic barn overlooking the farm fields. There is a farm tour before the dinner, which is catered by Moody’s Catering in Truckee. If they have one of these during the time I’m at Packer Lake next year I’d really like to go.

If you’re ever up in this neck of the woods during the summer months, seek out this market. It is definitely worth a visit.

How Can I Tell If It’s Ripe?

You would think that a person that has gardened off and on, for fourty years or so would know just about everything there is to know about gardening and harvesting. Not so.  That’s one of the things I love about gardening. Every year it’s different. Every year I learn something new. So join an old dog like me in learning a few new tricks.

Not quite there yet.

So our gardens are doing well. The plants are healthy and they are starting to produce. That’s terrific, but how do you know when it’s time to start harvesting? Trial and error is how most of us learn this phase but there is an easier way.

This one is ripe.

One of my favorite gardening sites is Renee’s Garden. I received an email the other day with an article by guest author, Alice Formiga, it was called When the Time is Ripe: Harvesting Vegetables for Best Flavor. I immediately wrote Renee’s and asked permission to share the article with all of you. Heidi Harris their Customer Service Representative’s response “We would love you to use the article!” The active link to the article is here.

OK, so a few of you are saying to yourselves. Well I don’t garden so this article isn’t important to me. Well it is important if you buy fresh produce (and I hope you do). Just because it’s fresh doesn’t mean it was harvested at it’s peak. You the consumer have to know what you are buying. You have to know what to look for. Alice’s article will give you the tips you’ll need for choosing the veggies that will give you the best flavor.

A personal note:

Renee’s Garden is one of my favorite sources for seeds. This year I’m trying Persian Baby Cucumbers, Green Fingers, French Baby Carrots, Babette, Pole Beans, Tricolor Mix, and Old Fashioned Zinnias, Cut and Come Again. Like the other seeds I have purchased from Renee’s they all germinated well and are growing vigorously. You can read more about Renee’s Garden by visiting her website which also includes more “How to” articles, cookbooks and recipes and a nice gardener’s resources page. They also have a Facebook page.