Thursday, July 28, 2011

Attack of the Roasted Cherry Tomato Plants

Recipe: Mediterranean Pasta 
I've written about my crazy tomato plants in previous posts, but they have gotten a bit crazier lately.  I'm not quite sure how to describe them, but if they were human, I'd say they are bionic or maybe some kind of mutant possessing super human strength.   Last year I grew one of these crazy Sweet Millions tomato plants.  I named her Audrey II.  Remember Little Shop of Horrors?  It took on a life of its own.  This year I have two Sweet Millions.  Well, two that I planted.  Remember that cult movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"?  I'm beginning to wonder about mine.  Let me show you.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harvesting Fresh Herbs for Pesto

With every vegetable garden comes responsibility.  I planned for hours, planted the seeds, tended and nurtured the little seedlings, then patiently watched them grow.  The excitement at the appearance of the first flower or fruit, made me feel like a proud mama.  As the days grow hotter,  my garden has begun to look like a jungle.  Now we are into the thick of summer and for the most part my garden has been a success. My herbs did particularly well this year.  I love to use fresh herbs in my cooking.  I feel the addition of fresh herbs to a dish can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Some of the more tender herbs will not be around forever.  I feel like I have a responsibility to use my herbs as they reach their peak and before they go to seed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

When Life Hands You Cucumbers, Make Pickles

Summer is in full swing and so is my garden.  The past few weeks have been full of broccoli, zucchini, green beans and finally...tomatoes and cucumbers.  I've been training my cucumber vines to grow up a trellis that was the former home of my spring sweet peas.  I don't recall the exact variety of cucumber I planted, but I do know they were in the Kirby family.  Before I had a garden, I would seek Kirby cukes out at the produce market.  Sadly, they were not always available.  I love their crisp crunch, their fresh flavor and their thin, edible skin.  Kirby cucumbers are pickle cucumbers.
When I planted my cukes, I had pickles in mind.  I've never made pickles before and when I got to thinking about actually making pickles, I came to the realization that I am very picky about pickles.  I like pickles from "The Pickle Guy" at the farmer's market.  I used to love pickles from a pickle barrel at good deli, but stopped buying them because the thought of other people fishing around in the pickle barrel sort of grosses me out.  I like pickles that are in the refrigerator section of the grocery store and generally avoid the sad looking pickles on the shelves.  It's early in the season so I'm not yet knee deep in cucumbers.  I wanted to experiment with small batch refrigerator pickles before the bumper crop starts happening.  After doing some research and experimentation I turned to a recipe that was posted by Marisa from Food In Jars.  It looked looked like a great starting point for this pickle novice.
The greener the pickle the better.  The ones with the white on the ends are beginning to bloat
and are not the best for making pickles.
How I love these pickles!  They are everything a dill pickle should be.  I feel like kicking myself for never having made pickles before.  This was absolutely the simplest recipe to make.  I think the key to a good pickle is to start off with good, fresh cucumber.  The other secret of success is to have a balanced brine.  I added some mustard seed to the brine since I noticed one of my favorite commercial brands listed mustard seed in its ingredients.  I'm also partial to a garlicky pickle, but be careful!  Garlic is a powerful thing when it sits in pickle brine.  I lightly smashed my garlic to give my pickles some extra punch...perfection!  

Small Batch Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Recipe slightly adapted from Food In Jars, Urban Preserving Refrigerator Dill Pickles
Yields 2 pints of pickles

  • 1 1/2 pounds of Kirby cucumbers - I used 6 cukes
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup spring or filtered water
  • 2 teaspoons of pickling salt or sea salt (do not use table salt)
  • 2 teaspoons dill seed
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 4 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed (or leave whole for less punch)
  • 1 shallot cut in half and thinly sliced, about 2 tablespoons (or use a small mild onion) 
Have 2 pint size jars with lids, clean and ready.  Since these are refrigerator pickles and have a limited shelf life - about a month- you do not have to sterilize the jars.  Running them through the dishwasher or washing them with hot, soapy water should do.

Heat vinegar, water and salt in a non-reactive saucepan. Bring just to a boil.

While vinegar mixture is heating, scrub your cucumbers.  Cut off both ends of the cucumbers and cut each cucumber into quarters (spears).  Ideally, they should be the same length. 

Add 1 teaspoon of dill seed, 1 teaspoon of mustard seed, and 2 smashed cloves of garlic to each jar.  Add the sliced shallot divided between the 2 jars. 

Pack the cucumber spears into the jars so they are a snug fit.

When the vinegar mixture reaches a boil, remove from heat and carefully pour mixture into the jars of pickles, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace in each jar.

Screw on lids, and pop them into the refrigerator and allow to cure for at least 24 hours...48 is even better!   Remember, these are not processed so the must go in the fridge, they are not shelf stable.

That's it!  Why didn't I do this sooner?  I may turn into a pickling fool this summer....I have some cauliflower that's calling my name.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cedar Planked Salmon with Dill Sauce, Heaven on a Plank

Have you ever tried cedar planked salmon?  For that matter, have you ever tried cedar planked anything?  Well if you haven't, it's time you did.  You can cook almost anything on a cedar plank, but my favorite is salmon.  The cedar imparts a wonderful flavor to the fish.  I have converted non-salmon loving people into salmon-eating monsters.  As salmon recipes go, I think this one is my favorite.

Until recent years, I didn't have a whole lot of experience with salmon.  Having grown up in New York,  salmon conjured up visions of lox served with cream cheese and bagels.....not the kind of salmon I'm talking about.  I'm talking about fresh wild caught salmon.  I remember when my mother returned from a trip to Ireland, how she raved about the wonderful poached salmon served with dill sauce that she had eaten several times on her journey.  She said the salmon and fresh dill were the perfect combination and worth a trip to Ireland just to experience it!
I've experimented preparing salmon with glazes and breadcrumbs and sauces and different cooking techniques over the years, and then last weekend I came to the realization,  this is the one!  I made this recipe for a small gathering last winter and everyone asked how the salmon stayed so moist.  Sure I could poach the salmon to keep it moist and juicy, but once again I have to remind you that I hate the smell of fish cooking in the house.  If a fish dish can be prepared outdoors, I'm a happy camper.  I think by basting and planking the salmon,  keeping the fish off of the direct flame, the salmon cooks up moist, flakey and delicious.   The dill sauce is the perfect accompaniment.  Serve it with a seasonal green vegetable and some garlic-dill roast potatoes.  Add a nice glass of Pinot Noir, and I am in heaven!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Summer Fresh Corn Chowder

Sometimes a vegetable just speaks to me.  It tells me what it wants to be.  This corn was so fresh the kernels looked as if they were going to burst.  It just screamed corn chowder to me.  Seriously, it must have screamed because I would never even think of making soup in the summer with the exception of something cold like gazpacho.  Corn is one of those vegetables that I only buy in the summer.  Its silk has to look fresh, shiny and yellow.  Corn is best when it is eaten within hours of being picked.  Since I have no control over how long the corn takes to  get to my market,  the rule of my kitchen is to cook the corn the day it come into the house.  I usually serve corn on the cob when I BBQ or maybe in a clam bake.  This corn deserved to be center stage, hence my decision to make a hot soup in the summer.  I figure to have a truly fresh corn chowder, you have to make it when the corn is at its best.  So that's exactly what I did and it did not disappoint.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Grill Master Paul Does Ribs

Did that title get your attention?  He may be a self-proclaimed Grill Master, but nevertheless he is my Grill Master.  After all, I did buy him the grill for father's day three years ago.  I think he likes grilling because it gives him the opportunity to cook something without my interference.  Yes, he may ask me what the internal temperature of a pork tenderloin should be, but for the most part he is on his own.  There are four things I will never, ever, ever cook in the house...steak, hamburgers, fish (excluding shell fish) and ribs.  I dabble with the outdoor preparation of fish, but the meat is his domain.  He also makes an awesome beer can chicken.
Last summer, Paul, I mean the Grill Master, spent quite a bit of time perfecting his ribs.  He did a lot of experimenting with dry rubs which impart flavor throughout the meat.  As the ribs cook, they form a nice crust and seal in the juices.  He would cook the ribs long, low, and slow over indirect heat  to produce moist, succulent and tender ribs.  Since he cooks on a gas grill, he adds some wood chips to give it that smoked flavor.  At the very end, he brushes on just a bit of BBQ sauce which makes those ribs finger lickin' good.  I have to admit, dry rubbed ribs without any sauce taste mighty fine on their own.  I suggest you try some both ways.

These ribs take a bit of time to make, so you can't decide you want to make ribs an hour before you want to eat.   I think I will run through the actual process for you before I get to the recipe so you see what I mean.  First thing you will do is buy your ribs and trim them of excess fat and any silver skin.  Next you will massage the ribs with the dry rub (recipe to follow) and seal in a plastic bag for at least 8 hours.  Now go to the beach for a while or clean your house.  I chose the beach.  By the way, these are made on a gas grill, but you can certainly make them over charcoal using an indirect method of cooking. You're on your own as far as the timing goes if you use charcoal.
1/2 hour before you start grilling, soak your hickory chips in water.
Fill a can with water and cut up pieces of citrus - to be used for mopping and cooling (and adding some moisture to the environment)
3 hours before you want the ribs to be ready, get your grill warm and your wood chips smoking and get to grilling!
Remember, keep it low and slow....

Just a note about buying ribs:  Generally speaking, spare ribs are have more meat than baby back ribs.  Of course the amount of meat on a rack will vary.   A portion of baby backs is a half a slab.  A rack of meaty spareribs will feed 3 hungry people.  Multiply recipe to feed as many as your grill can hold and feed a crowd.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Saucy BBQ Sauce

The July 4th is just a few days away.  In our house, the 4th of July usually means beach, BBQ and fireworks.  We head out to the beach early in the day.  I usually cut up some melon and berries for a fruit salad, throw some yogurt in the cooler, and pick up some bagels on the way down to the beach.  Long Island beaches get rather crowded on the Fourth, so when Paul finishes eating all the food, by the time the crowd gets thick, we head home.  Late in the afternoon,  Paul fires up the Weber and gets into serious BBQ mode.  If anyone is coming to watch the fireworks later that night, they have to arrive to our house by 5:00.   Our neighborhood gets blocked off by the Village to prepare for the invasion of the firework gawkers.  Sometimes dinner can be elaborate and sometimes dinner can be straightforward BBQ fare. Whichever it is, you can always count on something being slathered in a little BBQ sauce.  After dinner everyone grabs a beach chair and walks down the road to watch the fireworks with a cold drink in hand.   We come back to the house for dessert...and that pretty much sums up our Fourth.  Tradition...isn't that what holidays are about?

So if you are a true American, or if you are not an American but would like to prepare an American BBQ, you might consider making your own BBQ sauce this year.  Homemade BBQ sauce beats the heck out any bottled sauce I've ever tried.  I'm not just talking about taste, I'm talking about having control over the viscosity of the sauce (is it OK to use the word viscosity here isn't it?), its texture, sodium and my desire to have a BBQ sauce that does not contain high fructose corn syrup.   I'm sure you can get  a decent "gourmet" BBQ sauce, but why not make your own and control EVERYTHING?  I guess I am a bit of a control freak.  Hey, nobody's perfect.

Homemade BBQ Sauce (with a little heat)
Click for Printable Page
Makes 1 pint
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 1/4 cups ketchup -look for brands without high fructose corn syrup like Muir Glen or Whole Foods 365
  • 1 tablespoon Srirachi chili sauce
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (you will add to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chili pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan.  Add diced onion and cook over a medium heat until onion is nicely caramelized.
  2. Add the ketchup, Srirachi, molasses, spices and 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar to the pan containing the  cooked onion.  
  3. Combine and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.  Stir sauce often.
  4. After 20 minutes, taste and add the additional vinegar if needed.  (If you are using sauce for chicken or ribs I recommend using the additional vinegar)
  5. Cook another 5-10 minutes.  Cook longer if you desire a thicker consistency.
  6. Remove from heat and transfer sauce to a bowl or jar.  Allow to cool and refrigerate.  
  7. Sauce keeps 2 weeks in the fridge.