Friday, July 22, 2011

Squash Blossom, Anchovy and Sun-Dried Tomato Pizza

Squash blossoms are a delicate summer treat. The blossoms of summer squashes like zucchini are the best, because they are tender and mild-tasting. Winter squash blossoms are often bitter, but they may be ok if you remove the pollen-bearing part. 

I always wondered - if you pick the blossoms, doesn't that mean you won't have any squash? Once I started growing my own squash, it became clear. It's easy to tell the difference between male and female squash blossoms, because the females have tiny baby squashes already forming. There are more than enough male blossoms and if you leave at least one on the plant, the females will still get fertilized and you'll have squash. Even if you pick some of the female blossoms, I doubt you'll have the problem of not enough zucchini.

Photo by Sergio Salvador
You can often buy squash blossoms at the Santa Fe farmers' market, and maybe other markets too, especially if you get there early. Local dairies, South Mountain and Old Windmill, sell wonderful soft goat cheeses. I love anchovies, but if you don't, just go with the sun-dried tomatoes on this delicious pizza. They add a nice, rich umami flavor to complement the earthiness of the goat cheese. Nolina's Organics sells fantastic sun-dried heirloom tomatoes at the downtown Albuquerque farmers' market.

1 package active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
1 t. sugar
1 2/3 C. flour
3/4 t. salt
2 t. oil
Oil and cornmeal for the pan

1 T. olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. anchovy paste, or as many anchovies as you like
6-8 squash blossoms
6-8 sun-dried tomatoes
4 ounces soft goat cheese

Combine the yeast, sugar and warm water and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Mix the flour and salt in a food processor or bowl. Add yeast mixture and mix thoroughly (or process for 45 seconds, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl). Add oil and knead or process for about a minute. If the dough sticks to the sides of the bowl, add more flour. Roll out to about 12 inches on a floured surface. Lightly oil the pizza pan and dust it with cornmeal, then spread the crust over it.

Mix the olive oil and garlic with the anchovy paste (if using, otherwise save the anchovies for sprinkling around with the other toppings). Brush evenly over the crust. Very gently wash the squash blossoms, if desired, and slice them into ribbons. If the sun-dried tomatoes are very dry, soak them in boiling water for a few minutes. Dot the crust with goat cheese, tomatoes and anchovies, then sprinkle evenly with the squash blossom ribbons. Bake about 20 minutes, until the goat cheese is bubbly. Serves 2 to 4.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cornichons a Cru

So many different kinds of pickles, and they all taste different. If you've only had the grocery store kind, you're really missing out. You don't have to ferment them in a crock, though it's easier than you might think. You can add so many lovely spice combinations to basic vinegar pickles, and you don't have to can them, just marinate them in a clean jar in the back of the fridge and you'll always have wonderful pickles on hand. These are some of the most unusually crunchy, fresh and delicately-flavored pickles I've ever made. The clear, bright flavors are elegantly simple - just tarragon, bay leaf, black pepper and shallots.

The only tricky part of making your own pickles is finding the right cucumbers. Regular ones from the grocery store just won't do, but the next few weeks are prime time to find them at the farmers' markets. Growing your own is not too hard, and very satisfying. I've been buying the most perfect little gherkins from East Mountain Organics this year, but next year maybe I'll try growing cornichons.

1 1/4 pounds small pickling cucumbers (or cornichons, or gherkins)
3 T. pickling salt or kosher salt
4 shallots, peeled and trimmed
1 bay leaf
2 tarragon sprigs
10 black peppercorns
2 C. white wine vinegar

Wash the cucumbers gently, and cut a tiny slice off each end. In a bowl, mix the cucumbers with the salt and refrigerate 24 hours, then drain and rinse in cold water. (Or if you're in a rush like I was, the night before we were going out of town for a week, you can just pack them in the jar with everything, and only use about half the salt.) Put the shallots in a shallow dish and pour boiling water over them. Let them stand for a few minutes, then drain. This prevents them from developing a funky sulfur flavor when pickled. Pack the cucumbers into a jar, interspersing with the shallots, bay leaf, tarragon and peppercorns. Fill to the brim with vinegar. Cap and refrigerate for at least a week before eating.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Garden Journal - July 15

Gosh, I feel so depressed about the garden in July.  It seems like half the stuff I planted in spring is dead, or at least half-dead. I told you I wasn't the greatest gardener. But... it's not so bad, as long as the tomatoes are doing ok.

The Sungold has already produced a handful of little orange beauties. These are probably the earliest tomatoes we've ever had! And the Japanese Black Trifele has set its first fruit.

The melons are flowering, and the bees are all over them. This is the Desert King watermelon. I love those deeply lobed leaves.

And here's the Charentais canteloupe. We only have one now - the other just died for some unknown reason. In its place, I planted the seeds we saved from the "mystery melon" that grew from the compost a few years ago (it was something like a Canary melon, oblong with yellow-green skin). Hopefully those will do well - they certainly came from hardy stock, and since our first frost won't come until October, it's not too late for planting melons.

The volunteer squash has produced a fruit! I still can't tell what it is. It looks like some summer squash I've seen, and that would mean this little guy is ready to pick... but it felt so hard when I squeezed it, I decided maybe not. We'll just have to wait a little longer to see how it turns out.

The Hopi squash has a very different growth habit - look how upright it is. No flowers yet, but the stems are incredibly thick! That's a tendril of the other squash cruising on by next to it.

The Tarahumara squash never sprouted, so I planted a few "mystery melon" seeds there instead.

Here are the first chiles (Espanola Improved). And Dave just planted a few black beans (Turtle, which is a bush bean), to fill in the patch. We've never tried growing these before, so it will be neat to see how they do.

So, for the summary:
Things that are doing well include yard-long beans, okra, tomatoes, marigolds, chiles, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, basil, and pears. The grapes I planted last year (Roberts Red) and this year (Himrod) seem to be doing fine.

Things that are not doing particularly well include artichokes, cabbages, dino kale, beets - these are all in one bed, so maybe it's the soil, or the afternoon sun. These are all moderate to heavy feeders, so next year I'll have to pay more attention to enriching the soil. They're doing much better on the side that gets more shade, so maybe I'll try them all in a shadier spot next year. Except the artichokes are perennials, so I'd like to try to make them work in this spot.

The fava beans, chervil, and green onions I planted in the beds under the Tree of Heaven didn't make it either - maybe it's the soil in these beds, or the shade, or quite likely just the heat. The sorrel is hanging on for dear life in there. But the upland cress was a definite success there in the spring.

Frying peppers and Tarahumara squash never came up - maybe they need a bit more coddling, so I'll try to start them inside next year. And the potatoes in barrels - not a huge success, but they're hanging in there, so we'll see what happens. Next year, I think I'll go back to growing them in the ground, in a sunnier spot than we did last year.

As for the perennials, the hop vine is still tiny, and I'm not sure if it's just because this is its first year, or the soil, or what. The strawberries are doing ok but not great - maybe I should try covering the soil with white plastic to cool it and keep the pillbugs and sowbugs off the berries. And I'm afraid the raspberries and blackberries I planted along the front fence have died. I'm guessing it's the heavy clay soil... I didn't prepare the soil very carefully, and I think they need some coddling in this climate. The Fall Gold raspberry I planted in the back yard, in better soil, is doing ok but not great.

All in all, maybe a 50% success rate. Every year I learn something new. It looks bad now, but come September, I'll be singing a different song. Everything that does survive July goes crazy once the monsoons arrive and the temperatures cool down a bit. If they ever come... this year is just scary dry.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Carrot, Apple and Fennel Slaw

Photo by Sergio Salvador
Wow, I love this photo. And I love this super-crunchy slaw, with a clean, tangy lemon dressing. It goes well with practically anything - the ideal thing to bring to a summer barbecue.

The delicate licorice flavor of tarragon and fennel complements the sweet carrots and apples. Gorgeous multicolored carrots are abundant at the farmers' markets now. If you get there early, you might even find some baby fennel bulbs, which are worth seeking out because they're so tender and flavorful.

2 crisp, tart apples
4 large carrots or several small ones
2 or 3 baby fennel bulbs
2 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Shred or slice the apples and carrots into thin strips. Slice the fennel crosswise as thinly as possible, and chop the fronds coarsely. Toss with remaining ingredients in a large bowl.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Harissa-Rubbed Lamb Chops with Beet, Lentil and Preserved Lemon Salad

Photo by Sergio Salvador
Beets are at their best this month - planted in the cool of spring, they grow to full size in June or July. Roasting them intensifies their sweetness, but it usually takes so long... if you cut them smaller, it's actually pretty quick. Or, if you don't want to heat up the oven, try grilling them! Preserved lemons and harissa can be found at Middle Eastern markets or at The Spanish Table in Santa Fe, but they're super-easy to make (see these earlier posts for harissa and preserved lemon recipes). Local lamb chops are a great pairing with this hearty salad. At the Santa Fe Farmers' Market, Shepherd's Lamb sells organic lamb raised on the range in northern New Mexico. Keller's Farm Store sells lamb raised in Colorado.

4 lamb chops
2 T. harissa
1 C. lentils (preferably French black lentils, but regular green lentils will do)
2 C. water
1 large beet
1/4 C. olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 green onions, chopped
1 C. chopped cilantro leaves and/or 1 C. purslane
One quarter of a preserved lemon
Salt and pepper

Rub lamb chops with about 1 T. harissa, about half an hour before you are ready to cook them. Bring lentils and water to a boil in a medium saucepan, simmer about 20 minutes or until tender, then drain well.

Chop the beets into cubes, about 1/2 inch, and toss them with a little olive oil and salt. To grill, cook them in a grill pan over medium to high heat until tender. Otherwise, preheat oven to 400°F, spread the beets in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast about 20 minutes.

Grill the chops (or just fry them in a skillet) over medium heat, turning frequently to keep the spices from burning, until they reach an internal temperature of 145° (medium rare) to 170°F (well done). If the chops are thick enough to stand on edge, cook on each side.

Whisk remaining olive oil with lemon juice, remaining harissa, green onions and cilantro in a medium bowl, reserving a few cilantro leaves for garnish. If you'd like to try the purslane, you can either rub the whole plant with oil and set it on the grill for a few minutes until it wilts, or just leave it raw. Chop it coarsely or snip it into the bowl with kitchen scissors. Chop the preserved lemon coarsely, and toss with beets and lentils in the bowl with the dressing. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Place each chop atop a mound of salad and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serves 4.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Blueberry Basil Soda

A few leaves of basil
A handful of blueberries
About 2Tbs simple syrup
Sparkling water

Muddle blueberries with basil in a pint glass.  Add simple syrup.  Fill glass with ice, and top off with sparkling water.  Stir gently.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Garden Journal - July 4

July always seems like a slow time for the garden - not much is ready to eat, and I always see a few things die in the heat. The battery went out in our timer last week, and the fava beans just shriveled up. I always worry about my water consumption, but I feel the need to water every day because it's so hot. This year I mulched everything with straw, now that the wind has finally died down, and I think I'll try switching to 1 hour every other day with the drip system. A few new things have started blooming in the last couple weeks - at the right is bee balm, which I planted last year, and now it's finally getting established.

The Rose of Sharon in our tiny back courtyard is in full bloom - one of my favorite plants that puts on a great show with very little water.

And the daylilies Dave's mom gave me - the blooms only last a day, but they are so beautiful. Every part of the daylily plant is edible (but make sure you don't confuse them with other, non-edible, types of lilies). I think I'll try using them like squash blossoms!  I also have a few great varieties I bought last year from the daylily society, but they don't seem to be doing much yet. I may need to move some of them to a spot where they can get more water, but I'm afraid to transplant them now - I think it's the wrong time of year. I've heard you're supposed to divide spring-blooming plants like irises in the fall, and summer-blooming plants like daylilies in the spring.

The Stupice (left) and Sungold (right) tomatoes have set their first clusters of fruit!!  I had heard that Stupice was one of the earliest-fruiting tomatoes, and I didn't have good luck with it last year, but this year I am duly impressed.

We made these fabulous tomato cages out of re-mesh, which you can buy at the hardware store in 5x7-foot sheets (it's made for reinforcing concrete slabs). It's my new favorite garden material - great for bean and pea trellises, too. Those tiny tomato cages you get at nurseries just don't cut it here.

Oh gosh - I have a confession to make. You may have noticed, the varieties I started from seed in March are not the same varieties I ended up planting out.  I'm really not so good at starting seedlings!  I had such high hopes for the fluorescent light plan, but I guess I didn't put the light close enough to the plants, because they just never grew more than about 3 inches tall.

I ended up buying starts from the Master Gardener plant sale, and got a few of the same varieties, but I also got a few varieties that I'm much more excited about, that I didn't have seeds for - Black Sea Man, Mortgage Lifter, Japanese Black Trifele, and Costoluto Genovese. Oh, and the Stupice came from the Santa Fe farmers' market.

Anyway, the one that I had started in March that I couldn't live without was the Speckled Roman, which I got from Amyo Farms last year and it was so delicious that I had to save the seeds. So I just planted it outside from seed, and it is coming along nicely... it's about 6 inches tall, and our growing season is long enough that I bet we'll still get a decent crop. It's an incredibly sweet and flavorful paste tomato, perfect for making sauce.

The okra and beans have sprouted and are coming along fine.

And the squash I planted a few weeks ago has sprouted!  I'm not sure whether this is the Tarahumara or Hopi squash, because I forgot to mark which one I planted in each spot.

The volunteer squash in Dave's chile patch is getting huge. We don't have a clue what it is, but it has delicious blossoms!

The Espanola Improved chiles are flowering... this is a variety of New Mexico chile that was bred for the shorter growing season up north. They can be eaten green - they are supposed to be pretty meaty - but they can also be dried for red chile.

Also, there are a couple of volunteer tomato plants in there - probably Yellow Pear. It's such an incredibly vigorous variety, we just keep getting volunteers all over the place. Which is great, because we never have to buy it or save seeds, just wait, and one will surely pop up somewhere.

Oh yeah, and how could I forget? We harvested our first garlic! It's a hardneck variety, I don't remember what, that we got from Eli at Chispas Farm last fall. This spring, he gave me great advice on when to harvest it - wait until all but about 5 leaves turn brown, because each leaf corresponds to a layer of the husk that encases the whole head, and you want those to protect the garlic for storage. I even braided it to hang on the wall until we're ready to use it. 

Now that the garlic is out, I think I'll plant some bush beans in its place. I'd like to try lima beans again - baby lima beans fresh from the garden are sublime. And I picked up some seeds for those wonderful Dragon's Tongue beans at the Urban Store up on Silver, in Nob Hill. They also sell locally produced chicken feed!  It's much cheaper than the organic feed (which you can get from Los Poblanos Organics if you call and ask for it), and this place is closer to us than the feed stores in the valley.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Brandied Cherries

I have really been working out the kinks with this brandied cherry thing. Real brandied cherries are so much better than the day-glo maraschino cherries you can buy at the grocery store, and a Manhattan is my favorite cocktail. Perfect way to preserve summer's glory, right? Not so easy, perhaps.

First I tried just packing the cherries in the jar with a solution of equal parts brandy and sugar. I thought this was a sure thing, because there are lots of recipes like this online, and I figured the brandy would definitely preserve them, so that's the recipe I gave on the Edible Santa Fe website. They were delicious after a few days, but a few weeks later, they are kind of soft and actually fermenting a little. I don't think this is bad, just surprising. 

I also tried one with equal parts brandy, water and sugar. There are lots of recipes like this out there too - most just say to pack the raw cherries in this solution and you should be all set. I noticed that these started fermenting within a few days, but according to Leslie Land, that's a good thing. I just discovered her fabulous blog - she has been a New York Times garden columnist and a chef at Chez Panisse, so I'd guess her advice is pretty reliable! Finally I settled on following her recipe pretty closely, to avoid any further mishaps. I made 9 half-pints, some with rum, some with Jack Daniels, because I ran out of brandy.

It's up to you whether to pit the cherries or not. Some say the pits add a deeper almond note to the flavor, but be sure to warn your guests if you do leave them in!  I had the most amazing brandied cherry in a whiskey sour with evergreen syrup at the Seattle Art Museum cafe last year, and the bartender had made them herself with black pepper and tarragon, so I wanted to try adding those. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla would also be great additions. I won't bother to post a recipe, just point you to Leslie's - Real-Deal Brandied Cherries. I added the black pepper and tarragon to one of the jars, but for the others I think I'll just wait a few weeks or maybe until they finish fermenting before adding anything.

Cherry Picking and Wildfires

Ok, I know, it's been way too long since I updated the blog. Yikes, time flies! We were out of town, and then I was a bit overwhelmed with work.... We went cherry-picking down near Tularosa last weekend, and then I was overwhelmed with cherries. Plus, all of a sudden the apricots are ripe too! More on that later.

We had a great time at Nichols Ranch and Orchards - they have 16 different varieties of cherries planted, and you can just wander and pick whatever you like. 

We picked 9 pounds of sour pie cherries, and 14 pounds of different kinds of sweet cherries - about half Bing, half Lambert, and a handful (maybe a pound) of Royal Anne. Bing have the firmest texture and sweetest flavor, which is why they are so deservedly popular, and I never knew they could get so black! It's a bit late in the season, so they're incredibly dark and sweet. Lambert are redder, more tart, and heart-shaped. Royal Anne are bright red, blushing with yellow, and fantastically sweet. They go fast, so we could only find a few.

And of course we had to stop at the "world's largest pistachio" at the McGinn's Orchard store - this is pecan and pistachio country. They have about a dozen kinds of flavored pistachios, which are all good, but we just bought a pound of plain ones. And some Carrizozo Cherry Cider, which is pretty tasty... but not nearly as good as actual cherries. Pecans were expensive at the gift shop, but much cheaper at the gas station convenience store! It's amazing what you can get at gas stations in serious agricultural or fishing towns - I once bought a mesh bag of oysters in the shell at a gas station in Willapa Bay, out on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, and they were incredible.

Back home, it took us about two hours to pit the pie cherries, which were just enough for 3-4 pies, then we froze them. With these, you can poke a small paper clip or bobby pin through the stem end and the seed pops right out. The sweet cherries were much more difficult to pit - the seeds just seem to be attached more firmly to the flesh, so it was easier just to use our fingers to split the cherry and dig out the seed. Still, it didn't take that much longer. I made a Danish Cherry Sauce with about 4 pounds, a pie with about 2 1/2 pounds, and Brandied Cherries with another 4 or 5 pounds, but where did the other 3 pounds go? I guess we must have just eaten them!

The drive was just gorgeous - especially the sunset behind Socorro, but the scary thing was that we saw three different fires on our way back to Albuquerque. Warning:  I'm about to go on a bit of a tangent here, because it is breaking my heart. The first was a small grass fire, right on the stretch of road before where this picture was taken. 

The second was a bosque fire (along the river) south of Belen, which has now burned 250 acres. And the third was the Las Conchas fire which has now burned over 100,000 acres of the Jemez Mountains, making it the largest in New Mexico's history. From the freeway near Isleta, south of Albuquerque, we could see the flames in the dark... over 60 miles away. It looked like an erupting volcano. My husband's parents live up there. They were supposed to evacuate, but chose to stay. It looks like they will be fine, and the fire crews have done an amazing job of keeping the fire from getting to Los Alamos National Lab. The ironic thing is that they were helped enormously by the fact that the Cerro Grande fire, which destroyed hundreds of homes in Los Alamos 11 years ago, had already burned up most of the fuel load in the area and that's a big part of what actually kept the town safe this time.

Other communities haven't been so lucky - let's just hope the destruction isn't too devastating for Santa Clara Pueblo as the fire moves north. The loss of trees in their watershed alone will cause major erosion problems for them this fall when it finally starts to rain, and again in spring when the snow melts. Dixon's Apple Orchard, where we love to go in the fall for the beautiful scenery and their special Champagne and Sparkling Burgundy apples, is to the south, where the fire first spread on Monday night. They had already lost some of their crop to the extreme freeze we had in February, and now their home and a tenth of the orchard have burned. It makes me want to cry, because this landscape I love will never be the same again in our lifetimes.

We had thought about going camping this weekend, but now I guess not, because half the state is on fire... and anywhere else we might go is at extreme fire risk too. Sandia Crest is closed, and we can't even ride our bikes along the river trail now, because the bosque is closed. Less than one inch of rain in Albuquerque so far this year, and that's what happens. But you can probably still go cherry-picking.

Chicken and Cherry Salad

Cherries are here!!  Danielle from Beet Happening had some gorgeous sweet cherries at the farmers' market last week - you just have to get there early enough to buy some. This salad, adapted from Bon Appetit's recent issue, is absolutely fabulous. The combination of spring radishes and early summer cherries captures the essence of June, this wonderful in-between time. And Vida Verde farm is growing the fantastic Little Gem lettuce this year, which looks like tiny Romaine, but has the texture of butterhead. This is great with leftover roast chicken, but for a vegetarian option I'd try pecans. I love the dressing, and I made a big bottle of it to use on other salads. 

The croutons are deliciously decadent - frying them in duck fat makes them ultra-crunchy. I had some left over from when I made duck confit and duck prosciutto with my friend Joey a few months ago. The original recipe called for frying them in chicken fat (did you know that's where the word schmaltz comes from? it means chicken fat, which was often used to add a little extra flavor to a dish.) Of course you could always fry them in olive oil, but however you do it, I guess croutons couldn't exactly be called health food.

1 pound sweet cherries
2 cooked chicken thighs
4 radishes, sliced
1/2 pound lettuce (preferably Little Gem or butterhead)
3 T. duck or chicken fat, butter or olive oil
1 cup cubed dry bread
3 T Sherry vinegar
3 T Dijon mustard
1 T honey
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 C. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Pit cherries by squeezing them over a bowl to catch the juice. Slice meat from chicken thighs, reserving any skin. Wash lettuce, dry thoroughly, and tear into bite-size pieces Arrange cherries, chicken and radishes over the lettuce on four plates. Melt fat in a skillet on medium heat, and toss the bread cubes to coat. Fry until browned on all sides, and season with salt while still hot. Whisk vinegar, mustard, honey, garlic and olive oil together and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle croutons over salad and drizzle with dressing. Serves 4.