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Nanakusa No Sekku (Festival of Seven Herbs) (draft)

13 Jan

I traveled with friends to Japan over the holidays and had a range of interesting meals, from many-small-dishes breakfasts to a few kaiseki-style set menus working through a formal progression of dishes, to excellent ramen in a museum, to dinners we cooked in a rental house in the mountains from the wide variety of product available in one of the markets.

We came home inspired to learn and try to periodically cook in this style, and with some special rice from the rural Noto peninsula where we’d taken a side trip.

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H read somewhere about Nanakusa No Sekku (the Festival of Seven Herbs), a meal traditionally prepared and eaten on January 7th involving seven herbs and rice porridge, and last weekend we took that as inspiration to do our own hybrid Bay Area version of that on the 7th.

We spent the afternoon before foraging for some of the meal’s traditional herbs in a park in the East Bay hills, finding chickweed and what we think was shepherd’s purse or at least a dandelion variant (top middle), as well as sorrel and miner’s lettuce (not pictured), but held off on foraging any water dropwort as there are many highly poisonous variants. And from our back yard / garden we collected young greens from daikon, mustard, shiso, and mizuna (all grown last summer from seeds or seedlings from Kitazawa Seed or Namu Farm):

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We cooked most of these (except the shiso, saved for a garnish) briefly and combined them with rice porridge (rinsed rice + water in a 1:8 ratio, brought to a boil and then turned down to a low simmer and steamed, covered, for about 45 minutes), grilled salmon (marinated in yuzu kosho (a fermented mix of chili peppers, yuzu peel, and salt– not homemade, yet) and then grilled on high heat skin-down for about 8 minutes, then briefly seared on the other side), a vinegar and Meyer lemon pickled purple radish, and some umeshu:

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It was a comforting meal, with a bit of challenging bitterness from some of the herbs but a reassuring buttery heat from the salmon.

Braised Radishes in Miso Butter… and Soba in Broth

9 Jan

Another day, another need to use radishes from the backyard ‘winter garden’. I’ve pickled so often I was looking for something new (and not everyone wants a acidic, fiery pickle as often as I do…), and browsed a few articles about braised daikon like this one on Serious Eats.

My very similar adaptation was pleasantly successful– a tender texture with some radish flavor but without the normal bite, and a ready vehicle for a rich miso+butter sauce:

  • Peel and roughly slice some thick winter radishes (I used a mix of daikon and a purple Japanese radish whose name I don’t know)
  • Simmer in water for about 30 minutes
    • I included a tablespoon of rice in a tea strainer in the same pot– copied from an article above though without really thinking what it would be doing– making the water starchier because ______?
  • Drain and discard the water and rice, then cover the daikon with broth** and simmer another 15 minutes or so until at the desired tenderness
  • In parallel, mix 1 Tbsp of miso paste, 1 Tbsp of butter, 1 tsp vinegar (I used a white wine vinegar I’d made), and a few tsp water and briefly heat on low to make a glaze, adding a little water to get the consistently, then cover the drained radishes and serve.
  • Delicious!

**And in this case, this was part of a dinner where we also made soba in broth:

Broth: a savory chicken stock from the last time we roasted a chicken + kombu + dried porcini mushrooms + celery + carrots + onions + the radish greens, simmered on low for about 3 hours, then strained and seasoned with salt, soy sauce, miso.

Into the Broth: Soft-boiled eggs, flower-cut carrots, roasted baby carrots, sautéed broccoli, and soba noodles (boiled in water and drained in cold water).

 

 

Quick Pickled Radishes w/ Lemon Zest

3 Jan

IMG_20180103_192851I’ve made quick pickles many times– usually just soaking thinly-sliced vegetables in vinegar, but this simple variant turned out especially well so I’m jotting it down.

I started with a daikon and some sort of purple Japanese radish from the winter garden:

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I sliced them thinly and tossed them with a few tsp of salt, massaging/mixing them with the salt again after 5 minutes. After about 10 minutes the salt had drawn a large amount of moisture out of the radish slices, and I quickly rinsed them and patted them dry.

I then covered them in a little white wine vinegar and Meyer lemon zest and let them sit another 20 minutes. Voila! A nicely supple texture (firm but not as crunchy as a raw radish), fresh and tart with minimal bitterness.

 

Cornmeal Pancakes

10 Dec

For a less traditional savory breakfast, I enjoy the polenta-like, 100%-cornmeal, ‘Johnnycakes’ style of pancake.

But for eating with maple syrup or a special occasion, I like a fluffy cornmeal-and-wheat-flour mix:

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From a little bit of experimentation, my current favorite recipe goes heavier on the cornmeal (50/50 mix with flour) for flavor and texture, and includes either buttermilk or some yogurt. For a small batch of about 7 pancakes (2 people):

Mix together dry:

  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda**
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Then add and lightly whisk in:

  • 2/3 to 1 cup* buttermilk depending on your desired texture
    • I’ve also had success substituting a 50/50 mix of milk and greek yogurt when I didn’t have buttermilk  (you need something acidic beyond just milk to activate the baking soda)
  • 1 egg
  • 1.5 T melted butter

Pre-heat a skillet on medium-low (especially if it’s large compared to the burner, to ensure more uniform edge-to-center heat), cook batter until bubbles start to pop through on the top and the bottom’s browned, flip, cook a few more minutes.

For extra credit and a really fresh corn taste, use fresh-ground dried flour corn you grew in your garden:

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And then cook over a wood stove in an off-the-grid cabin:

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* Side note: Varying the amount of liquid really changed the pancakes. 2/3 cup buttermilk made a thick, almost cornbread-like batter (shown in the image on the wood stove above), which resulted in a delicious, thicker, slower-cooking pancake part of the way to bread. We actually preferred the texture of this one even though it’s not a traditional pancake. On the other hand, 1/2 cup yogurt + a bit over 1/2 cup milk made a thin pancake batter that led to the pancakes at the top of this post– light, spongey, and fluffy (and faster-cooking).

** Side note: Some day I’ll read and experiment more to get to the bottom of the baking powder vs. baking soda question— it’s not clear to me why some recipes combine both baking powder and baking soda– if the recipe includes acidic liquid like buttermilk or yogurt, I’d think that baking soda should suffice, whereas if you’re using double-acting baking powder with any liquid, I don’t see why you’d also need baking soda…

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…

 

 

 

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…