Grains, Like a Tomato

Today is November 6, 2016. There are so many reasons to be anxious. But in keeping with the theme of food, I’ll focus on my tomato anxiety.

If you were to ask me what my favorite food is, I would  start by listing the vegetables that I look forward to during the height of the Midwestern growing season. I would spout long lists, put them in order of the most-favorite, rearrange the lists and explain why the answer is complicated, and ultimately refuse to pick something.

But at times like this--Illinois winter looming, there is clarity. I know this, I think, because I start doing weird things. I count the packages of tomatoes that I froze over the summer, and I arrange them between my freezers--should I separate them so I will “forget” about some and be surprised later? Or should I make a list, and allocate them to certain months -- according to what holidays are coming, or how February it happens to be?

This year has been particularly terrible, because the process has been prolonged. The unpredictable weather has been creepily warm. So I have not been able to rip out my tomato plants. It’s not like they are ripening or anything, but there they sit, green, frozen in time, rather than just frozen. So as a way to distract myself, and encourage my hoarding behavior, we are eating a lot of green tomatoes around here.

There are a surprising number of recipes out there in the internet-recipe-world, so it may seem dull that I will focus on fried green tomatoes. But these are different. These are made with locally grown, organic, freshly ground cornmeal. And that, I discovered, is like a tomato.

There is a common understanding, I think, that there is nothing like a homegrown tomato. Once you have either grown your own, or picked one up from a farmers’ market, you will never buy a supermarket tomato again. The plump, juicy, tangy-sweet tomato you eat like an apple over the sink makes it impossible to put that mealy packing-material thing that was red, round, and had sign on it that said tomato into your mouth. And grains, I discovered, are quite the same. The package of tasteless tooth-breaking cornmeal that you get at the grocery store is not the same thing as the freshly milled cornmeal you get directly from your farmer-- that actually tastes like corn!

Now for the math. Use your freshly ground cornmeal, and your green tomatoes, and make something new--a fried green tomato that is fit for a meal. I went ahead and stacked it with a salmon burger, and it made for a mouth watering summer send-off.

Recipes

Yogurt Dill Sauce

Ingredients

1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
2 T fresh dill, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients, mix well, and keep in refrigerator while you prepare the salmon and tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

Ingredients

10 small to medium green tomatoes
1 cup freshly ground corn meal
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 egg, beaten
3 T olive oil

Instructions

  1. Slice tomatoes in 1/4 inch slices
  2. Mix cornmeal, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish
  3. Dip slices, one at a time, into beaten egg
  4. Dredge in cornmeal, salt, and pepper mixture
  5. Arrange in one layer in a hot cast-iron pan (or other frying pan)
  6. Cook for about 1 minute on each side
  7. Remove and set on a paper towel lined plate

Salmon burgers

Ingredients

1 pound flaked salmon, drained
1 large shallot, minced
1 T chives, minced
1 medium celeriac root, peeled and grated (may substitute sliced celery)
1 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 T fresh dill, chopped
oil to coat pan

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well with hands or a fork
  2. Shape into 3/4 inch patties, will make 8-10 small burgers
  3. Cook in an oil coated  hot cast-iron pan for 1-2 minutes on each side
  4. Arrange patties on plates with a few fried green tomato slices and a dollop of yogurt-dill sauce
     

 

 

The thing about okra

 

The tomato and cucumber vines have started to wither, the eggplants seem to be frozen in time (they have stopped growing altogether) and the fall crop of greens that came up so beautifully, now looks like freshly mowed grass (thanks, bunny), but the pace suddenly seems manageable. All of the plans that I’d had in March, the ones that disappeared in in a blur of jungle-like vines and mosquitoes (the White Street swamp) drifted back into focus, and seemed possible on a sunny Saturday morning in September.

 

Back in February when I was ordering seeds for this year’s garden, I chose varieties partially because they looked like something I wanted to paint. And I thought that because my garden was so big this year, that I would spend my evenings trying out new recipes, and then flit off to my studio to paint the very heirloominous models that I had made new, spectacular dishes with, and the whole thing would be so romantic, and I would be so productive. And of course none of that happened. I spent evenings fighting with my tomatoes that had fallen down, again. And again. And digging out the tomatoes that were not rotting on the vines (but more than occasionally ending up with handfulls of drippy, stinky, slimy tomato goo). I’d haul my trays of harvested vegetables into the house and look at the clock...and into the freezer they’d go. Not so gourmet. And if they did somehow make it up the stairs to the studio, they’d sit on that desk and rot.

So when I was presented with that glorious feeling of almost-fall-in-the-garden-resignation on Saturday morning, I ignored the massive bent over heap of tomato plants, the shabby cucumber tendrils that had buried the heavily laden pepper plants, the piles of tomatillos and ground cherries that I knew full well were under the heavy mats of soggy plant material, and I headed straight for the three proper plants that stood upright, green, healthy, with gorgeous flowers, and unblemished tender fruits. Okra.

In order to learn as much as I could in a day, I used the tools I am most comfortable with: a camera, a knife, a magnifying glass, and pencil and paper. The result of being an art-turned-biology major landed me in a scientific illustration class in college (the second of two classes that I credit with heavily impacting where I am today), is that I am better at both of those things now. I started with my camera, as that is the least destructive way to look at things--and it is a great way to notice what is happening, the architecture of the plant, and who else is hanging out there, and why. The visitors to the flower got me to thinking about how okra is pollinated. It turns out, as farmers already know, that okra flowers are perfect, meaning they have both male and female parts, and in the case of okra, they are capable of self pollination.

And then I lopped off a leaf, a flower, and some fruits, and took them to my studio. Time for the dissection. On my wishlist is a dissecting microscope, but in my reality is a magnifying glass. I hopped back and forth between my painting table where I took apart and sketched the desiccating plant parts,  and my computer where I looked up answers to the questions that kept surfacing.

I sliced open a flower--good thing I got it in the morning, because they close in the afternoon--and a few of the seed pods, and had a look inside. As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself a botanist-artist hybrid, so as I pulled the plant apart, I also sketched. And by mid-afternoon I had five paintings started, that I worked on through the evening. Kind of like ordering seeds in February, what I think I can accomplish, and what ends up as a finished painting are two different things. We’ll see.

By morning the never-ending weekend feeling was giving way to the anxiety of the onset of the Sunday blues. So the paintings were left to sit, and the intact okra was hustled to the kitchen. I didn’t have a lot, but I’d had a request for some to be pickled, and I wanted some as curry, lime, cilantro stir fry kind of thing I had tried a couple of weeks ago. I managed to photograph the latter recipe, and will share it here.

Curry Lime Cilantro Okra

--all fried up in a cast iron pan

 

Ingredients

12-15 small okra pods (lady finger size 2-4 inches long), sliced into nickel sized rounds

Curry powder to coat

Salt to taste

1 lime

10 sprigs cilantro

2 tablespoons olive oil

 

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in a cast iron (or other frying pan) over medium/high heat

  2. Cover okra slices in curry powder and sprinkle with salt

  3. Carefully place slices in single layer in pan

  4. Cook until brown, then flip with a spatula or tongs (a couple of minutes on each side)

  5. Place cooked okra on a plate or in a bowl and squeeze lime over okra

  6. Sprinkle chopped cilantro over the top

  7. Serve and enjoy

*Add cayenne or other pepper if you like it spicy!



 

Blizzardish and the White Street Girls

Today is Tuesday, and there is a blizzard going on out my window. I am thinking about spring, perhaps a leftover feeling from Saturday, when it was 70 degrees. Or maybe it is the wind and snow and cold that make me want to have dirty fingernails and grubby ankles even more. It is hard to tell, but the feeling is real. And it is not just me. All the pictures of seedlings emerging, from the safety of their heated greenhouses, on my social media feeds make me ache to grow even more of my own food.

 

I always have big plans for the garden. That is the best part about winter in the Midwest, the dreams of the biggest garden yet, with more varieties of tomatoes than you can count, and a few ducks to go along with chickens. Because duck eggs, that’s why. And mushrooms! More shiitake logs, and potato towers, and cucumbers growing out of hanging baskets, and herbs--so many herbs! And flowers, flowers to eat, flowers to pick, flowers for the pollinators! And speaking of pollinators--BEES. I also want bees.

So as the snow falls and the wind howls, more wind than snow, actually, I make plans in my mind for how I will tear out all of the old raised beds and build bigger ones, how I will fence off the chickens so that they don’t destroy everything, and ponder where to put the  beehives and the mushroom logs. I ordered way too many seeds, as usual. But at least this year I, with the help of John, have a great seed starting shelf-heat-light system, and so there is hope that I will grow some decent starts.

 

 

Wheat Berry Salad with Greens and Feta

While working on The Land Connection’s 2016 calendar, which will feature foods and recipes that are in season in the Midwest, I discovered wheat berries.

Wheat Berries with Feta

It’s not that I had never heard of them before, it was just that I had never cooked wheat berries myself. I really wanted to include local grains in the calendar, and knew that there are some great small and medium sized farms in Illinois that are growing all kinds of interesting small grains. So when I brought home a bag of the beautiful reddish berries  from our local co-op--that had been grown by Hazzard Free Farm--I was thrilled by the flavor and incredible texture these high protein, whole-grains had. And that was before I even added any of the additional ingredients to the salad.

Ingredients

2 Cups wheat berries

2 Shallots, sliced thinly

Herbs from your garden, chopped--use your favorite

1 Tablespoon salt

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Pepper to taste

1 Bunch kale (or other greens), torn into pieces

1/2 Lemon, juiced

1 Cup of crumbled feta

 

Instructions

Cover the wheat berries with a couple of inches of water--you may end up draining the excess water at the end. Add salt and herbs to the water, bring to a boil and the and cook over medium until the wheat berries are soft--up to an hour. When they are done to your liking, remove from heat, drain, and set aside.

When the berries are done, cook the shallots in a cast iron skillet in olive oil until translucent, and then add the kale or other greens just until wilted. Toss the shallots, greens, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and top with feta cheese.

Wheat Berry Salad with Greens and Feta



The Midwest, not the Mediterranean

One of the things about the Midwest is that it is not the Mediterranean. And neither, actually, is California (despite it's Med-like climate). Even though the central coast of California and central Illinois are their own sort of middle lands, only one of them is good for growing figs, lemons, olive [oil], passion fruit, avocados, figs, figs, figs. To be fair, you can grow fig trees and passion fruit vines in Illinois, but getting fruit is another, more challenging, story. 

This is where, in my mind, imported foods have a place--the things we can not grow here are things that I allow myself to enjoy as a treat (hello, coffee?). And so when I saw figs at the co-op the other day, I plunked my money down for a couple of clamshells full of candy striped and black mission figs. I ate half of them before I was even two blocks away from the store, so I tossed a scarf over them--out of sight, out of mind. When I got home I put them not on the butcher block with the rest of the fruit, but hidden amongst the jars of bulk grains and nuts where I was more likely to forget about them for a while. 

Figs on a Cherry Heart-well board

As much as I love figs just as they are, I wanted to savor them, so I forced myself to slow down and enjoy them with other flavors that compliment them, and also to marvel at how stunningly beautiful they are.

Heart-well board

I took a few of them and cut them in half, exposing the sweet, soft yet lightly crunchy, pink flowers, or the part that we think of as the fruit (that is another reason I like figs, because I love that they are really flowers) and served them with chevre and prosciutto. I served them on my cherry serving board with the heart-well carved out to hold the chevre, because to me, presentation matters.

Fig on Perfect Bite Board

And for the last few figs I decided to stretch them as far as possible, and make a tart. This is where you can really impress your friends and family, as the tart is simple to make, but looks really impressive!

fig_tart_long.jpg


Ingredients

5-10 Figs (depending on size)

⅓ Cup fresh chevre

2 Tablespoons honey

2 Slices prosciutto

A few sprigs of fresh mint

Crust

1 Cup flour

1 Tablespoon sugar

1/2 Teaspoon salt

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 Egg, beaten

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. Blend flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and salt in a bowl with a fork or a whis
  3. Add butter to flour mixture and crumble together with your fingers until there are pea-sized pieces or smaller of the flour-butter mixture
  4. Add the beaten egg and mix until a dough forms
  5. Gently knead the dough on a floured surface and form into a disk
  6. Put the dough in the refrigerator to cool for about an hour
  7. Roll the dough out on a floured surface, place in a tart pan or on a cookie sheet
  8. Crumble the chevre into the tart pan so that the bottom is lightly covered
  9. Drizzle one tablespoon honey over the chevre
  10. Arrange the sliced figs over the chevre
  11. Sprinkle torn mint leaves over the top (reserve some fresh leaves, and flowers if you have them, for a garnish)
  12. Place on the center of rack of the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown
  13. Drizzle the remaining honey over the tart after it comes out of the oven, garnish with the remaining mint leaves, and serve (the tart can also be served cold)

 


Dragonfly Farm, and a Crabapple Tart

Waking up in Maine.

Fence

The cool morning air coming through the open window was inviting me to walk around the burgeoning Dragonfly Farm with my camera, but the warm blankets that only my face was poking out of were almost impossible to part with.

Tree Bark

The crisp, inviting New England morning air won, and I climbed out of bed, gathered my camera and a basket, and set out to see what had changed in the months since I last visited. I met met my cousin walking across the wet field as she was on her way to let the new flock of laying hens out for the day. The White Plymouth Rock pullets were excited to get out and eat their way through the acres that are richly stocked with bugs, greens, flowers, and wild berries. Because they live with a family of excited people who have never had chickens before, they have been handled a lot, and so are very friendly.

Hens

After meeting the chickens, I continued my tour through the August version of the farm, and was delighted to find wild blackberries, raspberries, and crabapples nestled among the edges of the encroaching forest.

Crabapples

With the help of Wilson, the golden retriever, I collected enough fruit to make a breakfast tart--although by the time I made it back to the kitchen, the berries were gone. So the tart ended up being crabapple only, and it was wonderful.

Wilson
Crabapples Feet

Ingredients

Topping

10-20 Crabapples, depending on their size*

1-2 Handfuls of wild berries

1/2 Cup of sugar, divided

1 Stick of butter, divided

Crust

1 Cup flour

1 Tablespoon sugar

1/2 Teaspoon salt

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 Egg, beaten

Glaze

1/2 Cup sugar

1/2 Cup water

Optional: 1 Tablespoon lemon, and/or 1/2 cup sliced of crabapple

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. Blend flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, and salt in a bowl with a fork or a whis
  3. Add butter to flour mixture and crumble together with your fingers until there are pea-sized pieces or smaller of the flour-butter mixture
  4. Add the beaten egg and mix until a dough forms
  5. Gently knead the dough on a floured surface and form into a disk
  6. Put the dough in the refrigerator to cool**

While the dough is cooling...

  1. Slice the crabapples into thin pieces
  2. Cook the sliced apples in a skillet with 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon sugar until the apples are tender***
  3. Roll the dough out on a floured surface, place in a tart pan or on a cookie sheet
  4. Arrange the apples (and berries if you have them!) on the tart crust
  5. Place on the center of rack of the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown

While the tart is baking...

  1. For the glaze (which is just a flavored simple syrup), add the sugar, water, and lemon or fruit if you are using it, to a small skillet over low heat until the sugar has dissolved
  2. Strain the fruit out of the mixture, and set aside to cool
  3. When the tart comes out of the oven, drizzle the glaze over the fruit, and serve (can be served warm or allow to cool)

Notes

* Crabapples can vary in size, and they cook down quite a bit, so cut up more than you think you need--it is okay to pile them up!

** Most recipes call for cooling the dough for two hours--I am rearely that patient, and have had pretty good luck putting the dough in the freezer while I am preparing the filling, about 30 minutes

***I pre-cooked the apples because they were very tart and very firm. If they are sweeter, this step may not be necessary

Tart


Market tomatoes, garden herbs, and a fresh egg

The best tasting tomatoes, freshest herbs, local farmstead cheese, and eggs from my own urban mini farmette. Breakfast. Also, an olive oil tart crust--not so local.

My mind is full this time of year, and my kitchen a mess. I have so many recipe ideas, not nearly enough time to execute them all-- and yet some ding-bat idea that I should give them all a go in the short bits of time that I have between work, gardening, and wood carving.

Like this morning when I was daydreaming, over a cup of coffee, about the basket of tomatoes that was waiting downstairs. I had this thought that I wanted tomatoes, and eggs, and some amazing cheese that I had from the Tuesday evening farmers’ market. What I wanted was a tart. And it was a work day. And I had not made any crust dough ahead of time.

And that is where this amazing savory olive oil crust comes in. It is a crust that I can make on the spot and put right into the oven. I am the kind of person who likes to have plenty of time to tinker around in the morning before I go to work--this does not mean that I like to get up early, it just means that I like to be up early. So even though I did not make the crust the night before, I still need about a half an hour to make this happen. It is totally worth it.

Ingredients

2 Cups whole wheat (or all purpose) flour

1 Teaspoon salt

¼ Cup olive oil

½ Cup cold water

1 Egg

5-10 Cherry tomatoes, cut in half

¼ Cup grated cheese (use your favorite, I use a hard cheese like pecorino)

2 Teaspoons fresh herbs, minced (use whatever is fresh from your garden or the farmers’ market--I used rosemary)

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees

  2. Combine flour, salt, 1 teaspoon herbs, and olive oil, mix with a fork

  3. Add cold water and mix with a fork, and then your hands until the dough forms a ball

    This makes enough for one 12 inch tart pan, or three 4 inch tart pans

  4. Roll the dough out on a floured surface and gently press into your tart pan

  5. While you are waiting for your oven to heat, place your crust in the refrigerator (when I am in a hurry, and if the oven is already hot, I skip this step)

  6. Bake for 15 minutes and remove from the oven

  7. Crack an egg into the tart pan, arrange cherry tomatoes around the egg

  8. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and the remaining herbs

  9. Put the tart back in the oven and cook for another 12-15 minutes (you will need to check your egg and see that the white is no longer translucent--and that the yolk is as firm as you like it)

  10. Serve!

Somewhere, deep inside my Italian self, there is a pizza dough.

Somewhere, deep inside my Italian self, there is a pizza dough.

Pizza_whole.jpg

But for now, I am just a pizza crust fraud. I use a crust that I get at my local food co-op, that is awesome, and comes out of the freezer in a lump that I leave on the counter all day and pretend to be “making.” Or if I am brave, I try someone else’s recipe (usually a so-so endeavour). I do want to learn, and I will. But just not now. Because now is tomato season--and there are so many pizzas to make, and so many pizza sauces to make, and so many bags of pizza toppings to make and freeze--so that I can have garden fresh pizza in January (when I am teaching myself how to make a good dough).

And now that I have confessed, on to the good stuff. Which is to say that once you have an awesome dough to work with, the rest is cheese and tomatoes.

Rainbows of tomatoes. The definition of Midwestern garden and farmers’ market in July. There are a few weeks in the middle of the summer when everything is just so juicy and beautiful that my counters disappear under mountains of color, and I have a million ideas for what I want to cook, and there are just not enough hours in the day. The main thing to remember when this happens, is to let the ingredients speak for themselves. When the tomatoes are perfect, let them be. Which is just what I did after the market this week. I made a tomato rainbow pizza, and it tasted just like this:

Pizza_steam.jpg

Ingredients

1 Pizza dough (the one that you love the most)

1 Tablespoon sesame seeds

½ cup flour

1 Splash of extra virgin olive oil

1 Ball of mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly

A rainbow of tomatoes -- 4-10 depending on the size, sliced

2 sprigs of fresh basil, torn into pieces

Salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 550 degrees

  2. Sprinkle sesame seeds and salt  on your baking surface

  3. Shape dough into round using flour to keep it from sticking to your hands, matching the size of your pizza stone or baking sheet

  4. Place your dough on top of the sesame seeds and salt

  5. Pour enough olive oil on the surface to lightly cover when rubbed over with your hand

  6. Place the slices evenly across the pizza dough

  7. Place the tomatoes on top of the cheese in a circular rainbow pattern

  8. Scatter the torn basil on top of the tomatoes

  9. Bake the pizza until the crust is golden-brown and the cheese is bubbly, about 15-20 minutes

  10. Remove from the oven, let sit for a few minutes, slice, and serve

Peaches are Magic

Summer appeared all at once at the farmers’ market today. It happened in the form a rainbow explosion of fruit--and now that I live in central Illinois, I am aware of how special that is. There are not a lot of fruit growers here, so when it shows up at the market you have seize the opportunity and if you can, overindulge a bit.

So I did. My trip through the downtown Champaign Farmers’ Market happened after a fast, but intense thunderstorm that left tents tangled and farmers soaked. But the skies cleared and the smiles returned, and there was so much fruit. I came home with blackberries, peaches, pears, nectarines, and late strawberries. (And then there were the tomatoes, but I’ll get to that later, in a pizza post.)

The thing about fresh fruit, that is actually picked when it is ripe, is that the flavor is unparalleled. It is just a different thing than the stuff you buy at a commercial grocery store. But it also means that you have to work fast--no letting it sit around on the counter for a week (not a problem at our house). I made myself stop eating berries so that I could do something special with them. And for tonight that meant tart. A peach, berry tart with chevre, and an almond crust.

Peach Berry Tart

Ingredients

1 Cup almond meal (or almond flour)

¼ Cup honey + 1 tablespoon honey reserved for glaze

1 Tablespoon butter

¼ Cup water

⅓ Cup chevre (soft, spreadable goat milk cheese)

2-3 Peaches, sliced

1 Cup blackberries


Instructions

Make the crust first:

  1. Combine the almond meal, 1 tablespoon of honey, and one teaspoon of sugar in a bowl and mix with a fork (if necessary, use your fingers to break up big lumps), it should be a slightly sticky crumbly texture

  2. Press the mixture gently into a 4” mini tart pan

  3. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes

While the crust is in the oven, make the glaze:

  1. Combine ¼ cup honey, water, and 4-5 berries in a small saucepan over medium heat

  2. When honey is melted into the water, mash the berries into the mixture, and remove from the heat

  3. Set the mixture aside

  4. Optional: You can strain the berry chunks out of the mixture if you like

Assemble the tart:

  1. Crumble the chevre into the tart crust, and press gently into a thin layer at the bottom of the frust

  2. Arrange the peaches and berries decoratively in the tart crust

  3. Drizzle the glaze over the fruit

  4. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve, then carefully remove from the tart pan




Rainbow Salad Season

The height of summer means a rainbow of vegetables. I love the simplicity of beautiful, delicious vegetables from the garden or the farmers' market speaking for themselves. This carrot salad is so simple, but a few herbs from the garden a a squeeze of lemon are a delightful addition to the summer dinner table. 

Rainbow Carrot Salad

Rainbow Carrot Salad

Ingredients

1 pound carrots (lots of colors make for a beautiful salad), peeled and cut into matchsticks

1 lemon, juiced

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped parsley (or any fresh herbs)

Salt pepper to taste

Instructions

1. Cut carrots and set aside in a bowl

2. Combine lemon juice, oil, and herbs

3. Pour over carrots, and toss

4. Add salt and pepper to taste

Notes

Serves 4 as a side dish

Summer Salmon Burgers with Dill Flowers

In the summer, dinner starts with herbs. My after-work walk through the garden is usually when I start thinking about what I want to make for dinner, and the inspiration usually comes from the herb bed. By mid-summer, depending on how much attention I have given the herbs, I can find myself challenged, as I may be dealing with flowers, seeds, and rather scruffy looking plants.

Dill Flowers

Yesterday, as I was pondering the herb garden (some might say spacing out), I became inspired by the dill that was no longer a source of leaves (or, dill weed), and not quite mature seeds, but in the flower--or just past flower--stage.

Salmon Burger Ingredients

I decided that they would pair beautifully with the flakes of salmon meat that I had in the fridge. I also had a half a bag of bagel chips, made by a local baker and purchased at the farmers’ market. The obvious answer was summer salmon burgers!


Salmon Burger Ingredients

½ pound salmon flakes (or “burger meat”)

2 tablespoons capers

1 cup crushed bagel chips (or bread crumbs)

¼ cup olive oil

½ cup green onions, minced

4  heads of dill flowers, divided--reserve one flower head for yogurt sauce and one for garnish (or substitute 2 tablespoons  chopped dill weed)

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients  in a bowl and mix gently with a wooden spoon or your hands

  2. Form the salmon mixture into burgers

  3. Heat a cast iron skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat with enough olive oil to coat the pan

  4. Add the burgers to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes, flip with a large spatula, and cook for another 2-3 minutes

Yogurt Sauce

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

½ lemon, juiced

Flowers from one head of dill flowers

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

1 medium cucumber, sliced thinly

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix with a spoon

  2. Place a few cucumber slices and a dollop of yogurt sauce on top of each salmon burger

  3. Garnish with the remaining dill flowers, and serve

Note

Burgers can be eaten on your favorite bun, or alone. I prefer to eat them without any bread, as the flavor is so wonderful!

I served the burgers with a sweet corn salad, making for a fabulous summer meal.




Breakfast Sangria with Sweet Summer Fruits and Herbs

I have started out lying to you. Sangria is a word similar to Champagne--meaning its use in labeling is restricted to a geographical location--although the word itself does not represent a region. Sangria is a drink that comes from Spain and Portugal, so it must be from there if it is going to be labeled so.

But we use the name to describe the refreshing summer drink that typically has some combination of wine, fruit, juice, and possibly a syrup, brandy, and fizzy water.

My favorite season is summer, even here in the Midwest where it can be hot and humid--I love tropical weather! And the perfect afternoon drink, in my opinion is something fruity (but not too sweet) and a bit sparkly.

So when I was preparing for a cooking class that I will be teaching this week that will focus on cool summer salads, I wanted to add a sangria to the mix. But I am not allowed to use alcohol for the class, so I decided to try a nonalcoholic version. So this drink has strayed quite far from a true sangria, but it is inspired by the spirit! (and you can always add the wine if you like)

I was working on the first batch in the morning, which is when I realized that it is actually a lovely summer breakfast drink, hence the name breakfast sangria.

This recipe is based on what is in season now, and is really just a guideline--you can use whatever you have available in your garden or at your local farmers’ market.

Ingredients

½ cup raspberry simple syrup (instructions below)

2 cups fresh raspberries, divided

2 peaches, cubed

2 sprigs basil, one torn, one for garnish

1 quart club soda or other sparkling water

Optional: Juice of 1 lemon or lime

Instructions

Combine raspberries, peaches, torn basil, and syrup in a pitcher (and lemon or lime if you like). Add club soda and stir lightly when you are ready to serve, and pour over a glass of ice.

Raspberry Simple Syrup Ingredients

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 cup raspberries

Instructions

Combine 1 cup water and one cup sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir mixture until sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat just as the mixture starts to boil and add the raspberries. Mash the raspberries in the sugar water mixture and let steep for several minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer and let cool. Mixture will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Green Coriander, My New Favorite Thing!

It has been a while. More than a season. Spring somehow came and went, and I didn’t visit much, but not because I didn’t have a lot to say. It was, after all, the lead up to my favorite time (summer)--the snow melted, I planted my garden, my anticipation grew for all of the things I was going to accomplish! And then it started raining, and it never stopped.

I don’t make my living growing food, so unlike a lot of my farmer friends, it was just a frustration for me when my plants started looking puny and rotting--at least the ones in the low part of the garden. But some plants did do well, including things that may have gone unnoticed if I was not forced to be a bit more creative when thinking about how to get dinner out of the garden.

One of those discoveries was green coriander. I love cilantro, and I’m always disappointed that it bolts so soon in the spring (although it lasted a bit longer in a raised bed due to the cool wet weather we’ve had). So when sweet corn season arrived, and I started to think about putting together a recipe for a sweet corn salsa/salad, I pined for cilantro, but mine was a spindly mess in the corner of my herb box. In an attempt to find a few usable leaves, I discovered that there were also tons of little green seed pods just waiting to be plucked. And OH MY GOSH, they are delicious. I played around a little bit with my recipe, and this is what I came up with:

Sweet Corn Salsa/Salad with Green Coriander:

Ingredients:

6 ears fresh sweet corn, kernels removed

1/8 cup green Coriander seeds (or Cilantro leaves)

2 large (or 4-5 small) tomatoes, diced (use lots of interesting colors!)

Fresh pepper: this is to taste, depending on how hot you like it. Try 1 minced jalapeno (seeded)

1 lemon, juiced

1/2 onion, chopped

Salt to taste

Optional:

2 cups arugula, torn 

1 avocado, diced

Instructions:

1.    Heat a large cast iron skillet over a medium-high flame and coat with olive oil. When skillet is hot, add the corn kernels, covering bottom of pan in a single layer, and cook until lightly browned. Set cooked kernels aside and continue until all the kernels are cooked

2.     Continue the same process with the onions, adding more oil if necessary

3.     Combine all ingredients in a bowl and serve

Tip:

This dish can be used on its own as a side salad, with arugula or another green as a meal sized salad, or  filling for tacos!


Planning My Food Year

Spring is when I start planning my food year--slightly different than the calendar year. As the winter comes to an end the daydreams about what I will plant in the garden start to occupy more of my mind, I am jarred into finally allowing myself to eat all of the fruits and vegetables that I had frozen, and have been hoarding since last summer. It is also the time to get my order in for meat from the livestock farmers I know--this year I am getting a half a lamb, half a goat, and chickens. I’d love to find duck, but I may have to wait until I have my own farm for that.

Roasted tomatoes  and dried oregano from the summer 2014 garden

Roasted tomatoes  and dried oregano from the summer 2014 garden

The other thing that happens in the spring, of course, is that the chickens start laying like crazy again (more on that in my blog for The Land Connection), and if I happened to have any dairy animals it would be time for babies--and of course milk. I do, however, have friends with dairy animals on their farms, so I was able to make goat milk caramels and chevre (check out my blog for The Land Connection for a lot goat product recipes). The point is that even though we won’t be seeing a whole lot of veggies for a while, the local food season is in full swing.

Baby goat from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery

Baby goat from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery

I always have ambitious plans for my own little garden, and this year is no exception. I have been debating adding bees and laying ducks to the livestock side of things, but I am not sure it will happen in this limited space this year. My focus may have to be on things that grow out of the soil, which means adding more raised beds, and new this year--potato towers, garlic (that I actually remembered to plant las fall), and onions. I am realizing, living in the Midwest, that storage food is key to getting through the long winters.

Garden plan from 2012 when I only had one raised bed!

Garden plan from 2012 when I only had one raised bed!

And in addition to the actual food I will be growing, I plan on spending a lot of time making things for the kitchen out of wood. I did get out there over the winter, including some close to zero degree days, but that is rough on the creativity--it’s mostly about finishing something before your hands go numb.

The first spoon carved in the shop this season--spalted maple

The first spoon carved in the shop this season--spalted maple

Quiet in the Garden

Things are quiet in the garden, but certainly not silent. This winter is different than last for several reasons. The first being the chickens. Having them means that I have to go out into the back garden every day. Even when it is negative 2 degrees outside. Especially when it is negative 2 degrees outside. Before I got the hens I could not imagine how they could survive a central Illinois winter without a heated coop. But low and behold, they are alive, and they are still laying eggs (well, we are holding strong at one a day--not sure if it is one badass chick, or if a few of them are rotating). And we made it past the winter solstice, so as the days continue to get longer, we should start to see more eggs again soon.

Ginger braving the snow storm

Ginger braving the snow storm

It is also busier out back because we are keeping the compost going--I have to admit that there were days (weeks?) during the polar vortex last year that I didn’t make it past the back door. And the last reason there is more activity in the garden--which has been made possible by the spring-like-winter-days that keep making appearances--is the wood shop. When we have those 35-45 degree days the excitement gets the best of me and I don the padded overalls and coat and head out to the shop to carve spoons, shape serving boards, and find other kitchen tools in the precious bits of wood that I save from the cut offs of other projects.

Shop in a snow storm

Shop in a snow storm

Each of the pieces is hand carved using gouges and carving knives. If it is a spoon that I am making, I scoop out the spoon bowl first, and then I cut the shape out with the band saw. I continue to shape the handle and the outside of the spoon bowl  with knives, and then start sanding, and sanding, and sanding. I will take of some of the thick spots with a belt sander, but for the most part, it is done by hand. So each spoon takes several hours to make. After I have sanded down to about 320 grit, I put the piece in boiling water to raise the grain, and then I sand some more...when I am satisfied (because it is never really done, right?), I soak the piece in mineral oil and then wax it with a beeswax mineral oil butter and let it dry.

wood_shop.jpg

Being outside every day gives me time to think about my garden plan for the coming season. I walk past the heavily mulched garlic bed and am excited that there will be tender green scapes in the early spring.