Archive | cooking RSS feed for this section

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):

IMG_20170116_103449

Three weeks later, they’d sprouted:

IMG_20170128_155435

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

IMG_20170726_193342_638.jpg

IMG_20170524_201058.jpg

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

IMG_20170708_102253

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:

IMG_20170630_164054

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.

IMG_20170630_165932

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:

IMG_20170630_164754.jpg

IMG_20170630_171239

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:

IMG_2835 (1)

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:

IMG_20170703_154016

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.

IMG_20170703_224750IMG_20170703_235306

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%.

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…

IMG_20170327_192051

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

IMG_20170327_200102Butternut squash, red onion, buffalo mozzarella, gremolata:

IMG_20170327_201437

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

IMG_20170327_203839

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…

Fast Fajita Friday

5 Mar

img_20170303_211322

A excellent, relatively quick dinner– Grilled steak, onions, and peppers. A fiery, fruity salsa made from grilled/blistered rocoto peppers, olive oil, lime juice, and salt. And tortillas also cooked on the grill as an experiment….

Starting each tortilla on a cast iron skillet for a minute gave it a skin on the bottom that prevented the soft masa from drooping down through the grating– then I transferred each tortilla to the grill, making it easy to quickly cook 4-6 in parallel.

Savory cornmeal pancakes from flint corn, backyard greens

15 Jan

For a savory brunch, we made cornmeal pancakes from some beautiful Floriani red flint corn my sister grew and ground:

img_20170108_091830

img_20170108_100529

I took a ‘Johnnycakes’ approach, which is more like a thin griddled cornbread or polenta, with no baking powder or flour. The general recipe (made 12 hearty pancakes, for 4 adults + 2 kids with toppings):

  • Mix 2 cups of cornmeal, 2 cups boiling water, and 1 tsp salt, stir and cover for 10 minutes, to let the hot water soften the cornmeal
  • Stir in  between 1/2 and 3/4 cup milk, gradually, stopping when it’s a very thick but spreadable batter (when I did this a few months ago and added too much milk, the batter was too runny and I ended up making thin crisp corn wafers).
    • [update] When I made these again from fresh-ground fine blue cornmeal a few months later, I ended up using about twice as much milk to make this closer to a thick pancake batter
  • Mix in 1.5 Tbsp olive oil
  • Cook in an oiled skillet on medium (or medium-low) heat, flipping when golden brown. I found it took about 4 minutes per side.

I made test pancakes with and without egg in the batter, and the one with egg and a bit more liquid made a thinner, smoother, more traditional-looking pancake (on the right)– but while both were delicious we preferred the texture of the eggless, thicker version on the left:

img_20170108_094645

We served them with a buffet of savory toppings– black-and-white orca beans, cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs, avocado, and a collection of beautiful greens from the back yard ‘winter garden’ (which in Oakland has been just hugging the edge of frost at night)– mizuna, broccoli greens, kale, arugula, daikon greens, and some oregano and thyme, sautéed with caramelized red onions and garlic. The daikon greens have been a surprisingly good addition to many sautés– they give off a puff of mustardy spice when you first start to cook them but then mellow out.

img_20170108_095511

This quick cell phone photo of a plate doesn’t make it look especially appealing, but this was a delicious (and relatively simple) combination I’d make again:

img_2563

Paletas (lime-mezcal-chili and toasted coconut)

7 Jan

Reflecting recently how much I like a good paleta (Mexican popsicles, often made with fresh fruit and a little sweetener), I picked up a few molds and a book for inspiration.

And then for a New Year’s Eve party I made two flavors: toasted coconut and lime-mezcal-chili. The latter used limes, cayenne peppers, and limequats from our back yard (the limequat is the edible kumquat-sized citrus sliced thin and frozen into the paleta below, mostly for appearance):

 

img_20161231_143606_765

These were easy and successful…

Lime-mezcal-chili paleta (makes about 10 regular-size):

  • Infused lime-chili syrup (bring the following to a simmer for 5 minutes and then cool and strain):
    • 2 cups water
    • zest of three medium limes
    • One small 2″ long green cayenne pepper from the garden, including seeds
    • 3/4 cups brown sugar (I was out of white sugar, but would use it next time to keep the color lighter)
  • 3/4 cup lime juice
  • One thin-sliced limequat for every two paletas
  • a pinch of red chili flake (chinese chili) per paleta

I loved the way these turned out– with our Bearss limes the result is quite tart (which is good), and there’s just a hint of pepper heat. The mezcal adds some smokiness and a bit of liquor flavor while still being little enough alcohol that the paleta freezes (I estimate this works out to about 1/6th of a beer’s worth of alcohol per popsicle, so it’s not going to get anyone tipsy).

The red chili flake did tend to all settle to the bottom or float to the top, so if I did this again I might infuse it into the syrup and then strain it out, or try freezing the paletas for an hour to a slushy form and then mixing in the chili flakes, on the theory they’d stay more distributed.

Toasted coconut paleta (makes about 12 regular size):

(I based this on the ‘quick coconut paleta’ recipe in the book above)

  • One can (14oz) coconut milk
  • One can (14oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup finely shredded coconut, toasted in a 300F oven for just 2-3 minutes until golden brown

These were pretty good– they had an amazingly creamy texture, and I like the toasted coconut. They were sweeter than I  like, so if I did it again I’d put in significantly less sugar (maybe half as much condensed milk, and more coconut milk) and buy or make coarser shredded coconut (and use less of it) for some more variation in texture.