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.

Foraging Breakfast On My Morning Ride

There is a certain fig tree growing along a sometime part of the trail that I ride my bike along on summer mornings that becomes a passionate object of my curiosity each year starting late July. Really it’s an obsession that started several years ago when I stopped and tasted its succulent sweet fruits. This part of the trail also has an abundance of wild blackberry so during the late summer months you can not only get a nice ride in, you can forage a pretty sweet breakfast too. The blackberries are wonderfully sweet and abundant until the scorching days of August when only those fruiting in partial or full shade can survive. It is these times when the hunt for a wild blackberry breakfast on the trail becomes more challenging that the fig tree starts bearing ripe fruit, and this year, much to my delight, it’s loaded. From the look of things from my last couple of visits it doesn’t appear that that many fig aficionados are as interested in it as I am. I can’t say that for another tree that sits along the river road that I have only been able to get one or two ripe figs off of so far and I’m positive it isn’t the birds that have plucked the ripe ones. This situation is upsetting because it’s a fifteen mile round-trip to that particular tree and when the pay off is two figs it’s kinda depressing. It’s not that the ride is awful, it isn’t it’s a beautiful ride, it’s just my expectations are high all the way there. To find two or nothing is not what I call a good pay off.

This morning I needed to go back to the tree along the bike trail to look for the clip to my garage door opener that was missing when I got home. I always carry it clipped to my bike shorts so I can easily open the garage door as I approach the house.  I was sure that’s where it had popped off, or maybe that was only my excuse to myself to visit the tree again. So, before I went to the Farmers Market this morning, I headed in the opposite direction, down the river road. First to the fig tree along the road, not to look for the garage door opener clip, to look for figs. No surprise here, there were tons of hard green figs but only two ripe enough to eat, which I did. I guess I should be grateful there were two.  Satisfied that there were no figs to be had, I headed back down the road to the tree along the bike path which I know how to also access via a near by country road. I didn’t dare go to the tree first, I went to the area I had put my bike down yesterday and hunted for the garage door opener clip. A through search found nothing but weeds and gravel. My mission, or should I say my excuse for coming complete, I headed straight to the fig tree where I saw lots of ripe juicy figs just waiting for me. I didn’t have anything to put them in but the pockets in my fleece jacket I was wearing so that’s where they went. I ate and picked and stuffed my pockets until they were filled, then popped a few more into my mouth. All of this was accomplished carrying my handy little camera that I had brought along to take a few pics of the figs on the tree. Hands sticky, pockets sticky and stuffed with figs and fig sap adorning my camera I headed back to the car, a very happy girl.

I found this recipe the other day and for the life of me I can’t remember where. A Google search says it’s from Asweetspoonful.com and was published in Sept 2010, so that’s whom I’ll give the credit to. I made a few changes; I cut the amounts in half and I used regular pie dough instead of the pate brisee (which if you have the time would definitely be the better choice). I also used the figs I picked which were not black Mission figs and only sliced the figs in half not in slices and sprinkled the whole galette with turbinado sugar after the crust was brushed with the egg wash. It’s a nice way to celebrate this beautifully delicious fruit but I the way I like them best is straight from the tree, early in the morning.

You can find the recipe: Rustic Fig and Almond Cream Galette here

Hungry Hollow Asparagus

Undoubtedly, asparagus is my favorite spring vegetable. At this time of year I always look for it at the Farmers’ Market. There was fresh asparagus at the market on Sunday but I didn’t buy it. Instead, I stopped at my neighborhood grocery store and  bought some. I didn’t buy it there because the price was better. It was actually about the same. I bought it because it was from Durst Organic Growers, local fourth generation farmers from the “Hungry Hollow” area at the mouth of the Capay Valley.

Capay Valley, about 45 miles from where I now live, is where I lived during my last two years of High School. We had a 40-acre Almond ranch there and the elementary and high School, in Esparto is where all the kids from up-the-valley and all the areas surrounding Esparto went. Some kids spent an hour on the bus getting to school and another getting home. The buses carried both elementary and high school (there was no middle or Jr. High) kids, so if you were from a large family like me, you rode to school on the same bus as your brothers and sisters.  The schools were very small by today’s standards, about a couple hundred of us at the high school and that’s probably being generous. My senior class had thirty-two. It was a wonderful place to live in those days, a little like Mayberry RFD. The Durst kids went to school with my younger sisters. Some of their cousins were in my class. In small towns everybody is somebody’s cousin, unless like me, you moved there.  So maybe it was nostalgia that brought me to buy their asparagus. But really, I don’t think nostalgia was the reason. Durst Organic Growers bring beautiful products to market so while nostalgia may have played some small part in my choice I was really just looking for the very best asparagus available. The only asparagus I’ve had that beat theirs was some wild asparagus I found growing in a meadow along a trail where I was walking. It was so beautiful, some of the spears had leafed out into their fern-like foliage and tucked below it were perfectly shaped spears, some  about 7 inches tall and no bigger around than a pencil. The temptation was too great. I had to to taste this perfection.  I broke off the spears and ate them, slowly, one by one, relishing their taste and texture. They were sheer heaven.  I don’t know what there is about foraging food but to me it always tastes much better than anything I can buy.

To celebrate my asparagus bounty I grilled some and added it to a penne pasta recipe I came across on one of my recent digs (through recipe clippings of which I have more than I probably need). This is not heavy, although with all that cream one would think it would be. I didn’t feel it over whelmed the vegetables. I could still taste their bright spring flavors.

Penne with Asparagus, Peas, Mushrooms & Cream

8 – 10 servings

1 lb thin asparagus

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 medium shallots, minced

¾ pound shitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thinly sliced

2 ¼ cups heavy cream

1 ½ lbs penne rigate

1 ½ cups fresh or frozen baby peas (if frozen thaw them before using)

¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat a cast-iron grill pan. Brush the asparagus with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus over high heat, turning until it is lightly charred and very tender, about 6 minutes. Cut the asparagus to 1-inch lengths. (I used my BBQ instead of the cast-iron grill pan)

2. In a very large, deep skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the shallots and cook, stirring once or twice until the mushrooms are golden and tender, about 8 minutes. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Simmer until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving ¾ cup of the cooking water.

4. Add the pasta to the skillet along with the asparagus, peas and grated cheese and toss well. Add the reserved pasta water and simmer, tossing, until the pasta is nicely coated. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley. Serve right away.

More asparagus ideas from Annie:

Grill’n Between Storms

Early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans Prized Asparagus. Me too.

Slow Post for a Quick Stir-Fry

Spring Musings

I follow a considerable number of blogs, many of them on food, others on nature; its mysteries and wonder. To me they are all related for they all have one thing in common, earth and all that it has to offer, nutritionally and visually. But the earth like anything else can throw me a curve now and then offering up trying scenarios.

This weekend has been rainy and windy, encouraging me to deny my urge to get outside and instead stay inside and finish my income taxes and some other chores I have been procrastinating about. Thankfully, I completed those yesterday.

Those chores done, I have one more glorious day to myself. This morning my itch to get outside hasn’t lessened. It is the first day of Spring but unfortunately it is still very wet and very windy, so to ease the itch I donned my raincoat and headed out to take myself to breakfast, then over to the Farmers’ Market, which considering the weather was surprisingly well attended by both vendors and customers although I noticed a considerable lack of “easy-ups” because of the wind. We are lucky that our market is situated under an elevated part of the freeway so there is some shelter from the elements. Not the most beautiful location but definitely functional. This morning I bought Brussels sprouts, yellow onions, a small sized acorn squash, shitake mushrooms, Fuji apples and Purple Haze carrots, the subject of today’s post.

If you have never seen Purple Haze carrots you are missing a truly beautiful vegetable. Their wine colored skins encase bright orange cores that retain their color when lightly cooked or used raw. They are not only beautiful to look at they are heavenly to eat having and earthy sweet taste and crisp texture.

When I researched them I found several interesting facts:

1. Purple carrot varieties are actually one of the first originally cultivated varieties among all carrot colors. They can trace their origins back to the 10th century in what is modern day Afghanistan.

2.  Carrots are the second most popular vegetable in the world, second only to the potato. In my book they are above the potato.

3.  The hybrid variety, Purple Haze, was named after the 1967 song of the same name by Jimi Hendrix.

Now as far as facts go the last fact was definitely the most interesting fact that I dug up. If you, like me, are curious about what the connection might be you can read more about the song and its inspiration here. I’m still not sure I get the “why” of it but I definitely think it interesting.

I did several things with this bunch of carrots; I shredded some and mixed them with equal amounts of shredded Fuji apple, roasted walnuts and just a hint of mayonnaise for a salad and the balance of them I used in a recipe for a coconut carrot muffin another nice way to eat your veggies!

Coconut Carrot Muffin and a cup of hot ginger tea

Coconut Carrot Muffins with Mascarpone and Toasted Walnuts

1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (½ cup for muffins, ½ cup for topping)

1 cup oat flour (you can use whole wheat if you prefer)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup canola oil

¼ cup buttermilk

¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

¾ cup sugar

½ lb carrots, washed and shredded

½ cup shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 325°. Oil muffin pan (I used a Texas sized pan that makes 6).

Roast walnuts on baking sheet until just browned. Set aside to cool. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt together. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla until mixed. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until pale, 5 minutes. Beat in the liquid ingredients. Mix in the dry ingredients until just mixed. Stir in the carrots, walnuts and coconut. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until springy and golden. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from pan.

After the muffins were cooled I just barely warmed some Mascarpone cheese, then liberally topped each muffin and sprinkled them with chopped toasted walnuts. It’s best to serve these immediately after adding the topping. The muffins, without topping, will store for several days if kept in an airtight container.

As I sit here typing I keep thinking about getting outside. There seems to be a storm inside as well as outside, one minute I’m ready to put on some rain garb and join mother nature and her blustery wet weather. I could fill the bird feeders and check on the section of fence that blew down last night, make sure there’s not more.  The next minute I decide to stay inside for a little longer, hoping for a break in the action, I enjoy my hot ginger tea and muffin.

Spring Artichokes

These beautiful artichokes spoke to me as I passed amongst the merchants at the Sunday Farmers’ Market. They knew I had just purchased some Spring lamb chops and wanted to be part of my Valentine celebration dinner. So not wanting to disappoint them, I put them in my basket and brought them home. I can’t think of a better combination than grilled Spring lamb chops and artichokes.

The other reason, and more likely the true reason I bought artichokes and lamb, was that I’m sick of eating chicken and chard. As much as I like both chicken and chard I figured that if I’m treating myself to a special Valentine’s dinner it should be something new and exciting, something special.

Since I haven’t written about anything for a week or so, I decided that today was the day and since I had the beautiful artichokes to inspire me, they are the subject of today’s post.

ARTICHOKE HISTORY

Historically artichokes have been around since the middle of the 9th century. Modern scholar, Le Roy Laduire, in his book Les Paysans de Languedoc (1966) has documented the spread of the artichoke:

“The blossom of the thistle, improved by the Arabs, passed from Naples to Florence in 1466, carried by Filippo Strozzi. Towards 1480 it is noticed in Venice, as a curiosity. But very soon veers towards the north-west…Arctichoke beds are mentioned in Avignon by the notaries from 1532 onward; from the principle towns they spread into the hinterlands…appearing as carchofas at Cavallion in 1541, at Chateauneuf du Pape in 1553, at Orange in 1554. The local name remains carchofas, from the Italian carciofo…They are very small, the size of a hen’s egg…and are still considered a luxury, a vaguely aphrodisiac tidbit which one preserved in sugar syrup.” Preserved in a sugar syrup, really?

French immigrants brought them to the United States in 1806 when they settled in the Louisiana Territory. Though the first commercial artichoke fields were developed in Louisiana, by 1940 they had mysteriously disappeared. The Spaniards later established them in California in the Monterey area during the later 1800s and that’s where the two I bought today came from. Every Sunday Contreras Flowers, who also sells at the Palo Alto Farmers’ Market, brings flowers and “cool weather” vegetables, from the Moss Beach area, to our market here in Sacramento and while they don’t meet the 100 mile “local” criteria that is spoken so much about lately,  they definitely qualify as fresh having been picked just yesterday. Today, nearly 100 percent of the United States crop of artichokes is grown in California. Worldwide they are also cultivated in France, Italy, and Spain.

Here’s a bit of artichoke trivia I found.  It’s from the site, What\’s Cooking America by Linda Stradley.

“In the 1920s, Ciro Terranova “Whitey” (1889-1938), a member of the mafia and known as the “Artichoke King,” began his monopoly of the artichoke market by purchasing all the produce shipped to New York from California at $6 a crate. He created a produce company and resold the artichokes at 30 to 40 percent profit. Not only did he terrorize distributors and produce merchants, he even launched an attack on the artichoke fields from Montara to Pescadero, hacking down the plants with machetes in the dead of night. These “artichoke wars” led the Mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia, to declare “the sale, display, and possession” of artichokes in New York illegal. Mayor La Guardia publicly admitted that he himself loved the vegetable and after only one week he lifted the ban.”

You can find more history and artichoke lore at What\’s Cooking America. There’s some very interesting reading here.

WHEN AND HOW TO BUY ARTICHOKES

The peak seasons for artichokes are spring and fall. You want to look for artchokes with a tight leaf formation, and those that feel heavy for their size. To test for freshness, press the leaves against each other and you should hear a squeaking sound. Browning of the tips can indicate age, but can also indicate frost damage.

Fall artichokes may be darker or bronze–tipped or have a whitish, blistered appearance due to exposure to light frost. This is called “winter-kissed” and many consider these frosted artichokes to have a more intense flavor and be the most tender.

Baby artichokes are not a separate variety but a “baby” version of larger artichokes. Their size comes from their location on the artichoke plant. They are picked from the lower parts of the artichoke plant where the plant fronds protect them from the sun, in effect stunting their growth. These tend to be the most tender and are most often more expensive than the regular mature artichokes.

COOKING THEM

Artichokes can be steamed, grilled or baked and can be added to just about anything from pizza to an omelet. Very often, they are served with sauces or herbed oils that the leaves can be dipped into.

Today I tried a nice recipe for grilled artichokes that I found in My Nepenthe by Romney Steele, a delightful cookbook and history of Nepenthe, an iconic historic restaurant on the California coast, that I received as a gift from a friend last year.

Grilled California Artichokes with Garlic Basil Aioli

(I didn’t serve them with the Garlic Basil Aioli but have included the recipe incase you want to try it. I really liked this recipe and will definitely try it again, next time I’ll try the  Garlic Basil Aioli too)

Serves 4 to 6

4 to 6 small or 3 large artichokes, stems trimmed

Juice of 1 lemon

1 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Handful arugula or mache (optional)

Garlic Basil Aioli (recipe follows), for serving

Lemon Wedges, for serving

Trim off the thorny tips of each artichoke and rub the cut ends with a little lemon juice. Place them cut side up in a steamer with ½ inch of water at the bottom. Steam the artichokes, covered, over medium heat, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until just tender (make sure that the water doesn’t run dry). Transfer them to a towel-lined plate to drain.

Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.

When the artichokes are cool, cut them in half and discard the thistly choke, leaving the heart intact. Drizzle the artichokes with the olive oil and fresh lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Grill over a medium-high flame, turning on occasion, until well marked and warmed through, about 5 minutes.

Arrange on plates with a tussle of arugula and dollops of the aioli. Serve with lemon wedges and the remaining aioli in a bowl for dipping.

Garlic Basil Aioli

Makes about 1 cup

2 clocves garlic, peeled

Salt

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup vegetable oil

½ cup olive oil

White pepper

2 teaspoons finely chopped basil

With a fork mash the garlic with a pinch of slat until it makes a paste. Combine half the paste with the yolk, lemon juice and mustard in a large bowl. Combine the oils, then add a drop or two to the yolk mixture, whisking well to emulsify: Slowly add the remaining oil in a steady stream, whisking rapidly to combine. Add a pinch of white pepper and the remaining garlic to taste, if desired. Stir in the basil.

More Recipies

You can find more recipes on the Artichoke Advisory Board of California‘s site, Simply Recipes, posted by Elise on Apr 16, 2007 (how to cook and eat) and My Recipes from Southern Living, 2009 (fresh grilled artichokes).

How do you cook and eat artichokes? What are your favorite dipping sauces, that includes what kind of mayonnaise if that’s what you dip into?

Last Year’s Valentine’s Day Recipe Revisited

I love this recipe but it’s not easy to get macadamia nuts and for most of us they’re not local. So I thought I’d try it substituting toasted almonds, which, for me, are local. I really liked how it turned out, which is no surprise since I love the combination of dark chocolate and almonds.  Just ask See\’s Candies they can tell you that out of all they wonderful candies they offer the one I buy most often is their dark chocolate covered almonds. Simply delicious.

If you’re looking for something special to make for Valentines or any special day give this a try. It’s not only yummy it’s very easy to make.

Macadamia Heaven - A Valentine From Me To You! This is, far and away, my favorite Valentines’ Day dessert. It’s a luscious combination of dense chocolate cake studded with chopped roasted macadamia nuts, topped with a semi-sweet chocolate ganache, and all sitting atop a beautiful raspberry coulis. It might look complicated but it’s quite easy to prepare and more than easy to enjoy. Happy Valentines Day! MACADAMIA HEAVEN Cake ¾ cup roasted macadamia nuts 1 tablespoon flour 8 oz. semi-sweet cho … Read More

via Anniespickns’s Blog

Abundance

Ichiban eggplant

Abundance, when defined in an ecologic way, refers to the relative representation of a species in a particular ecosystem. That’s what’s going on in the ecosystem that is my backyard. My Japanese eggplant is producing like crazy, which is good and bad at the same time. How much eggplant can one person eat? The other veggie that is producing heavily is a Butterstick zucchini. This abundance is one of the reasons I sometimes wish I didn’t’ have my own plants and could just buy what I really want at the Farmers’ Market. But then there’s that other part of me that just loves being able to pick something and then take it straight to the kitchen. This year that is the side that won out so, I’m dealing with my abundance by eating a lot of eggplant and zucchini and sharing with my friends for as long as they will accept. Abundance has brought about need, the need to find interesting ways to fix both zucchini and eggplant.

About three years ago I found this recipe in Bon Appetite and have been using it every summer since. But, while the recipe is only focused on eggplant preparation I want to recommend that you also try it on summer squash. For this version I used the Japanese eggplant and the Butterstick zucchini in almost equal amounts slicing them to ½-inch thickness then placing them in a zip-lock with the marinade and refrigerating it for the afternoon, if you can, for 1-hour minimum. Bring the package room temperature before you grill. I usually take it out about an hour before grilling time. Grill until they are browned nicely on one side then turn. As in the original these are good right off the grill or served at room temperature.

Enjoy your weekend and don’t forget that shopping your local Farmers’ Market is the best way to buy the freshest fruits and vegetables possible. The only way to get fresher is to grow your own. Another bonus of shopping the Farmers’ Market is you can  sample before you buy and you can’t do that at your local market.

Sesame eggplant & zucchini

Sesame Eggplant with Green Onions

Bon Appetite, Jun 2007

½ cup olive oil

4 large green onions coarsely chopped

2 T soy sauce

2 t Asian sesame oil

2 t sesame seeds

2 eggplants (about 2 ½ lbs cut crosswise into ½-inch thick slices

Puree olive oil, chopped green onions, soy sauce, and sesame oil in blender. Transfer mixture to small bowl. Stir in sesame seeds; season mixture with pepper. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Generously brush 1 side each eggplant slice with green onion mixture. Cook until tender and charred in spots, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to platter. Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Serves 6