Growing Garlic, Making Pesto

4 Aug

This year I grew garlic in the back yard.

It started with just three heads of an heirloom hardneck garlic variety ‘Music’ grown and seed-saved year after year by my parents.

I stored the cloves in the fridge for a week before planting (in case that helps with vernalization in our mild winter climate– unclear), then planted them in a raised bed in January (about an inch down, 4″ apart):

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Three weeks later, they’d sprouted:

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By mid-spring every clove had grown into a healthy-looking plant:IMG_20170319_175001 (1)

In May the garlic started putting out scapes, these smooth, curving shoots with the beginnings of bulbs at the end. These could become the garlic flower…IMG_20170524_200132_599

But instead we harvested them, to leave the garlic growing underground and also to cook with:IMG_20170524_193715

They make a delicious, spicy pesto (with some parsley, olive oil, pepitas, parmesan, and salt) that we ate that night and froze (in an ice cube tray) for future meals:IMG_20170524_200536

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By early July, the garlic was showing signs of being ready to harvest– the tops were about half brown and dead:

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I picked a test bulb (each of the 12 cloves planted grows into a whole new bulb) and checked it out. Good external paper beginning to peel off:

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Pretty good internal form: individual cloves, each in a papery skin. Perhaps still a bit thin/moist? I decided to leave it another week or two.

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In mid July, I picked the rest:

IMG_20170708_203958H braided them and we hung them up outdoors to dry for a few weeks before moving them to the kitchen:IMG_20170709_205438 (1)

And at last, our first batch of basil pesto that used both basil and garlic from the garden:

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Growing (and pickling) Mouse Melons / Cucamelons

31 Jul

Back in mid-February I started some mouse melon seeds indoors under a grow light. Within a few weeks:

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Six weeks later, they were reaching out to grab onto anything nearby:

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Finally in mid-April I was able to plant them out (after “hardening them off” for a week by setting the seedlings outdoors under an awning in partial shade, to acclimate them to the outdoor weather). A makeshift trellis made from wire mesh and pieces of bamboo, at the end of a raised bed with compost and some drip irrigation along the roots:

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They grew slowly and tentatively at first, only gradually climbing the trellis as single vines… but as the weather warmed up and they got their roots established, they exploded, covering the entire trellis edge to edge.

By July they’re pumping out hundreds of tiny, crisp vegetables that look like a miniature melon and taste like a cucumber injected with a bit of lime juice. There are several dozen in this photo alone if you look carefully:

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Close-up:

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We’ve been eating them raw straight off the vine (they’re especially good when picked just slightly below peak size), put some in salads, and I turned a few quarts into kosher-style dill pickles– lactofermenting them at room temperature in a 5% sea salt brine with dill and garlic from the garden as well as mustard seed and peppercorns (and in one case, some leftover brine from a previous Jimmy Nardello ferment). They worked well as pickles, keeping their crispness, and developing that nice half-sour pickle tang after 4 days fermenting at room temperature and a few weeks in the fridge…

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[the left jar is a new batch about to ferment, the right jar is pickled and ready to eat]

They work well as snacks, and I look forward to trying them as a cocktail garnish…

 

 

 

Hand-churned Strawberry Ice Cream

22 Jul

For years, I’ve been thinking back to the strawberry ice cream of my youth– made from strawberries picked down the road that day and painstaking hand-cranked by kids and adults on the front porch in a wood bucket leaking salty ice.

I finally had a chance to try to recreate it, at a 4th of July BBQ we threw for a few dozen friends and their kids, and it was all I remembered and more:

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If I’m going to make strawberry ice cream, the ingredients had better be good– so we took a day trip down to the U-Pick at Swanton Berry Farm to fill a flat with about 9 pounds of berries:

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I wanted to let the strawberries shine, so after some poking around online to see what others have done I decided to stick with a simple Philadelphia-style ice cream base (cream, milk, and sugar– no eggs). Since the strawberries will bring along a lot of water on their own (I pureed them and passed them through a coarse strainer to take out some of the thicker pulp and some of the seeds), I left out the milk and went with pure half-and-half.

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I also took a hint from the Serious Eats recipe and swapped in a little corn syrup (non-HFCS) for sugar, to reduce the sweetness and add a sugar that wouldn’t easily crystallize.

My final recipe, for 3 quarts of ice cream base (which churned up into a nearly-full 6-quart container of ice cream), was:

  • 4.5 lbs of picked-just-the-day-before strawberries, hulled, pureed, and strained (producing about 5 cups of strawberry juice)
  • 3 pints of Strauss half-and-half
  • 2 1/4 cups of white sugar
  • 1 cup of Karo light corn syrup
  • about 1 tsp of salt

I whisked these together, let them chill in the fridge overnight, then churned them surrounded by ice and many cups of salt*… and the end result was magical. Creamy, not too sweet, no ice crystals, and just the pure cold essence of a summer strawberry.

 

* Technical sidebar: The salt is there to lower the freezing temperature of the ice and help it melt (it’s really the phase change from solid ice to water that matters). Briefly: salt reduces the freezing temperature of water -> more ice melts -> large amounts of energy (heat) are sucked out of the surrounding environment during the phase change from ice to water. This cools the ice cream far more rapidly than just a cold bath of for example antifreeze (or pebbles, or anything without a phase change) at the same temperature would.

It also took me a while to find a good-quality hand-cranked ice cream maker– most of the ones for sale these days have plastic gears or are small KitchenAid-accessory ice cream makers that require you to pre-freeze a special container first (and I don’t currently own a KitchenAid). I wanted a solid, metal-geared (ideally, stainless steel) machine, both for the nostalgia factory, and to make 6+ quarts of ice cream in for a party in one go. I looked at used ice cream makers on craigslist and ebay, but finally found what I wanted through Lehman’s, an Amish supply company.

It took more elbow grease than I remembered (even with me expecting that to be the case)– perhaps 30-40 minutes of solid churning between three adults and three enthusiastic kids. But the result was worth it, 100%.

Fish tacos in Tulum

15 Jul

My Platonic ideal of a fish taco is fresh fish, simply grilled (not breaded or fried), with some salad and lime juice and maybe salsa, but no crema or other dairy-based sauce.

When visiting Tulum (a few times 10 years ago, and again in 2017), my favorite fish tacos were at the cheap beach hotel Los Arrecifes:

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The setting is decidedly low-key– it often feels almost abandoned, without much signage and with one employee (if you’re lucky) working in a kitchen, and a patch of sand covered in campers’ tents… but the tacos were fresh and simple– very different from any number of bars along the Tulum beach that advertise “Tulum’s best fish taco” (but whose focuses are just as much the bar, music, and a place to hang out).

 

Chamico’s (ceviche on the beach, Yucatan peninsula)

9 Jul

One highlight of a spring trip to the Yucatan peninsula was spending a post-cenote-snorkeling afternoon at Chamico’s, a small restaurant on a beach about a 25-minute drive from Tulum:

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They had great ceviche doused in lime juice and served with vinegar and hot peppers. We sat around a table and ate fish and drank beer and talked… and when at one point I moved to a nearby hammock to doze for a bit, a passing waiter moved a plastic chair next to the hammock to put my michelada within arm’s reach.

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Grilled Pizza

28 Mar

Still working on getting a pizza stone hot enough and where exactly in the grill it and the fire should go, but these were good…

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Using my father’s some-whole-wheat-flour high-moisture-content long-rising dough recipe:

IMG_20170327_200102Butternut squash, red onion, buffalo mozzarella, gremolata:

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Tomato sauce, anchovies, bitter greens, salted olives, chili flakes:

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Pesto, ricotta, asparagus:IMG_20170327_205546

Radicchio-Kale-Bacon Omelet

12 Mar

From the back yard garden, kale and radicchio that’s finally forming heads (planted last fall).

With fermented Jimmy Nardello pepper paste…