“What’s in the Fridge?” Salad.

Today is our second day of 100+ temperatures. Last week it was the 80s so we really haven’t had time to adjust to days in the 100s. Truth is, I never adjust to that kind of heat. The only good thing about hot days is the mornings. I love puttering in my garden or sometimes just enjoy sitting in my swing drinking coffee and watching the birds on their morning quest for seeds or nectar. It’s definitely my favorite time of day during the summer months.

My appetite and energy related to cooking takes a nosedive during the heat (I consider heat any temperature over 90). So today when I was hungry but didn’t want to heat up the kitchen by cooking I decided to make one of my “What’s in the fridge?” salads. I like this salad because it’s light, refreshing and uses up of all kinds of veggies. It’s also a good place to use leftover chicken or chunks of cheese. If I have leftover cooked bacon that’s a definite addition.  It’s literally what ever I have on hand in the fridge, hence the name.

Today’s mix included sliced Crimini mushrooms, shredded carrot and summer squash (from my garden), sugar snap peas, sliced at a diagonal into 1/2″ pieces, spinach, chard, radicchio leaves torn into bite size pieces  and a mix of baby lettuce leaves. I chop and shred the veggies, holding the leafy veggies and meat cheese, etc aside and place it all in a bowl. Then I toss the mix with a nice vinaigrette (I make my own using 6T olive oil, 3 T red wine vinegar, 1 t Dijon mustard and one crushed garlic clove), then add the chicken, bacon or cheese (today a very nice crumbly Gorgonzola) and toss again. I always add the leaf veggies last and toss the whole mixture just before serving. If you want to expand beyond the fridge for ingredients you might check your cupboards for croutons or toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds. They are all nice additions. Be creative and just use what you have.

Annie’s Asian Slaw is another favorite hot weather meal of mine. You can find the recipe for that one here.

The forecast says the weather should start to cool down after tomorrow. I hope so! Meanwhile, I’ll be heading to the fridge for ice cold peppermint tea and salad ingredients.

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Mange-tout – Eat The Whole Thing

Sunday while at the Farmers’ Market I bought some Sugar Snap peas. The French call them mange-tout, or eat the whole thing and they area absolutely right, there’s no shelling involved. I love these crisp peas and often eat them raw like carrot sticks. In fact, I’ve had them twice this week in my lunch just that way. But when it comes to preparing them as a vegetable with my dinner I usually sauté them until just crisp-tender. Tonight I sautéed some sliced Crimini then tossed in Snap Peas than had been cut in half diagonally. When the peas were crisp-tender I added a touch of Sesame Oil and a splash of Tamari, quick, simple and delicious.

To make a one-pan meal of this add some cooked diced chicken or pork after you add the peas. You could substitute Snow peas for the recipe above if you can’t find the Sugar Snap.

Peas are a cool weather crop here in the Central Valley. May has a tendency to get much warmer than the peas like so we should be at the end of the season but it’s been cool and rainy so the peas are still happily producing and I’m still buying them and enjoying them.

Here are a couple of sites that I found while surfing around that I thought you might enjoy. The first one is from a blog called Vegetarians in Paradise. The article includes more history than you might ever want to know, but it’s interesting all the same. Included were sections on: Folklore and Oddities, Genetics, Cuisine, Growing, Nutritional benefits, Preparation and Recipes.

Next was Formula For Life, there you can find Nutritional information, Varieties, Selection, Storage, Preparation Information, Historical Information and Recipes.

Last was a very cool historical timeline of the pea (1650 – 2011) on Google. I love timelines so naturally I found this interesting. If you’re not enamored with them, you’ll probably want to skip this one.

Try some peas while they are still in season. You might find you love them too!

Shopping Placerville Farmers’ Market, Backroad Exploring and Baking Pudding Cake

After some late in the week conversations I decided to spend the weekend with my sister in Nevada. I left for her place early Saturday morning, stopping in Placerville to shop the Farmers\’ Market. I love this little market and often stop when I’m headed up Highway 50 on a Saturday morning. It has a delightful assortment of offerings; of course there’s a good selection of fruit and vegetables, this weekend there was also a nice selection of vegetable plants in various stages of development, several craft, jewelery and import vendors and some producers of very yummy foods. One of my favorites is Spicegrills, specializing in East Indian foods. They have great salesman and he’s very generous with his tasty samples. He’s very patient and explains everything with such beautiful adjectives it’s hard to resist trying everything, of course I never do. After a generous variety of tastings I promised I’d be back to buy a couple of items. A meander through the rest of the market filled my basket with one-half dozen duck eggs (which I haven’t had since I was a kid), 1 dozen free range chicken eggs, ½ lb sugar snap peas (which were oh, so sweet), 1 basket small, very fragrant strawberries and 1 lb rhubarb (which I needed for the recipe that is ultimately the subject of this post), then back to Spicegrills for a couple of samosas for my eat-and-go breakfast, a jar of Mango Ginger Chutney, Garlic Naan and 8 ozs of Pickle Chilli Chicken, which later became lunch.

After lunch we loaded up Miss El (Judy’s black lab) and took off for a backroads drive in an area around Monitor Pass. The views of the snow-capped peaks were spectacular and the high desert wildflowers added a rainbow of colors to the grey-green palette of the chaparral-studded hills. We stopped often to wander and photograph the wildflowers. Some were large and showy and others were very small and discrete, trying their best to hide from discovery. As we wandered  we came across a large patch of very fragrant wild onion in full bloom and after much concentrated effort, without the aid of a shovel or proper digging tool, we extracted a handful of the little beauties. Little they are, with the whole plant only standing about six inches or so, with a bulb the size of a walnut. I brought them home and will give them a try this week.

When we got back to the house we decided to make the Strawberry Rhubarb Buttermilk Pudding cake that I had recently seen on a post by Sassy Radish. Working as a team we chopped, measured and mixed and in no time the cake was ready for the oven. There was some discussion about the temperature, 400° F seemed pretty hot for baking with a glass pan, but we decided to give it a try and just keep a close watch while it was in the oven. The other thing that didn’t seem quite right was that the strawberry-rhubarb mixture contained, what seemed to us was, too much liquid. I always give a recipe the benefit of the doubt the first time, so into the oven it went, concerns and all. The results were spot on. It was beautiful and tasted wonderful. That night we had our pudding cake warm topped with vanilla bean ice cream (definitely good). The second night we had it warm again but this time with whipped cream topped with lemon zest. I really liked the last version and next time I think I’ll add lemon zest to the cake batter. I’d also like to try a blueberry-peach version when peaches come into season.

Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake

Adapted from Gourmet Today by Sassy Radish
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar
2 cups chopped rhubarb stalks (about 3-4 stalks)
1 cup chopped strawberries
1 cup AP flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (don’t discard the butter wrapper, use it to butter the baking dish!)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400F. Butter an 8 inch square glass or ceramic baking dish, using the butter wrapper from your stick of butter – it’ll have enough butter for adequately buttering the dish.

In a small saucepan, stir together water, cornstarch and 1/2 cup sugar, then stir in rhubarb to coat evenly. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Once simmering, stir occasionally and let cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and remaining sugar.

In a large bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla. Whisk in the flour mixture until just combined – careful do not over mix.

Add 1/2 cup of the fruit mixture to the baking dish, spreading it evenly over the bottom of the dish. Pour batter over fruit, spreading it evenly. Don’t just pour the batter in one spot, pour it over fruit throughout the dish and then use a spatula to make sure it’s spread out evenly. If you just dump the batter into one spot and then try to distribute the batter throughout, you’ll run into mixing the fruit with the batter. Spoon the rest of the fruit mixture over the batter, making sure to distribute that evenly as well.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until a wooden toothpick or a cake tester inserted into center of cake (not fruit!) comes out clean.

Cool in pan on a rack for 5 minutes before serving.

Here’s the info on the Placerville Farmers’ Market: Since they’re a seasonal market they opened May 8 and will close October 30. They are located at the Corner of Cedar Ravine and Main Street (Google map) every Saturday from 8 AM – Noon.

Pickled Beets Can Be Truly Delicious!

This morning I decided to run over to the Oak Park Farmers Market. I went to the grand opening of  this new farmers’ market, in Sacramento’s oldest neighborhood, last weekend and while the market is small compared to the Sunday market I shop, there’s good variety and the quality of the produce is excellent. The market’s a short drive or bike ride from Midtown, Curtis Park, Elmhurst, or South Sac and there’s plenty of free parking. Please pass the word about this little gem and check it out yourself. You can find more information here; Sacramento Bee or on Facebook under Oak Park Farmers Market (Sacramento).

Today I bought some beautiful little beets, sugar snap peas and some green beans. Shopping done I decided to pop across the street to check out Old Soul Co., the local coffee spot.  After a quick review of the menu board and the baked goods on display I placed my order. In no time at all  I was gathering up my beautifully prepared latte and tempting muffin and heading towards the counter in front of the large windows facing the bustling farmers’ market. There I found the perfect place to settle in and enjoy my morning snack.  Just as I was finishing up my muffin a friend showed up, so we sat and chatted awhile, then headed back across the street to the market to pick up an heirloom tomato plant for her dad.

On the drive home, thinking about the veggies I had bought, I decided I would pickle the beets, something I haven’t done for ages and tomorrow, at the Sunday market, I will get some shitake mushrooms to go with the peas and beans, more about that another time.

This time it’s all about the beets! Beets are one of those vegetables you either love, or you hate. I happen to be in the love group. I even enjoy the greens. In fact, I enjoyed them for lunch today since they don’t tend to keep well. Just sautéed some chopped onion and garlic in a little olive oil, threw in a small handful of currants, added the shredded greens and a touch of water, covered the pan and cooked it until the greens wilted then finished it off with a pat of butter. I served it over brown rice along side a grilled chicken breast. It was love at first bite.

Satisfied after my nice lunch, I started my quest for a pickled beet recipe. After searching my cookbooks and the internet I decided on this one posted in 2006, by Elise, on Simply Recipes. There’s another recipe for beet greens in the recipe below. Just click on the “beet greens recipe” link. It sounds pretty yummy. I’ll have to give it a try.

Pickled Beets

1 bunch (4 or 5) beets

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Salt and pepper

1 Remove greens from beets, save for future use (see beet greens recipe). Cut beets to uniform sizes so they will cook evenly. Steam or boil around 30 minutes or until done. (Alternatively, you can roast them by wrapping them whole in foil and cooking them in a 350°F oven for about an hour.) A fork easily inserted into the beet will tell you if the beets are done or not.

2 Drain the beets, rinsing them in cold water. Use your fingers to slip the peels off of the beets. The peels should come off easily. Discard the peels. Slice the beets.

3 Make the vinaigrette by combining the cider vinegar, sugar, olive oil, and dry mustard. Whisk ingredients together with a fork. The dry mustard will help to emulsify the vinaigrette. Adjust to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Combine beets and vinaigrette in a bowl and allow to marinate for a half hour at room temperature.

Serves four.

Simple and delicious!