Thursday, August 21, 2014

Honey Nasturtium Muffins

So, I have to admit...the kitchen alchemist in me has been at work again.  This time, I present to you: Honey Nasturtium Muffins!

The inspiration behind this was pretty basic.  Flowers and honey.  I started looking at the nasturtiums growing in my garden and trying to think of new ways to use them.  Nasturtiums have a radish-like peppery flavor, and as I watch a bee dive in and out of flowers, I started thinking about how that might work with the sweetness of honey.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Preheat your oven to 400.  Prepare a muffin pan.  Melt 1/4 cup of butter.

Grab some fresh nasturtiums.  If you don't have them in your garden, check in the produce department with the containers of herbs, or at farmers' markets and garden centers.  Make sure to give them a quick rinse and shake, because one of the reasons they're so great in the garden is that they attract insects and keep them away from your other plants.  They may have buggie little friends along for the ride, which is not great eating.  Chop up the flowers, and feel free to use the leaves as well.  They have the same great flavor.

In a mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 3 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Toss the chopped nasturtiums in with the flour mixture.

In a 2-cup measure or larger, combine 1 cup milk, 1 egg, 1/4 cup of honey, and the melted butter.  Make sure to mix in the honey well, as it will tend to settle to the bottom.

Combine the wet with the dry and mix until just combined.

Fill the muffin cups 3/4s full, then bake for 15-18 minutes.  When the muffins are golden and smell like heaven, let the cool a bit, then feel free to drizzle a little extra honey on top.

These muffins are sweet, but not too sweet, and the nasturtium adds just enough of a kick to keep things interesting.  My kids couldn't get enough of them!  I slathered mine with butter and sighed with happiness as I took each bite.

Good food just makes you feel good.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

CSA: Summer Week 4 and Ground Cherry Crumble

Week 4 of our bi-weekly CSA share brought a huge bounty, and included some pleasant surprises.  

Beets, carrots, tomatoes, thyme, pattypan, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and summer squash, and u-pick options of both green beans and cherry tomatoes...which also included ground cherries!  Seeing as how we have cherry tomatoes out the wazoo in our home garden, we just went full out on the ground cherries.  I had to stop my middle kiddo from snacking her way through the bush as we picked, because she loves these little suckers so much.

We'll get back to those ground cherries soon, I promise.

As for the rest of the share, I quickly roasted the beets and pureed them to freeze.  While they were in the oven, I skinned, crushed, and bagged the tomatoes to freeze.  The carrots will be used for lunches and snacking, as will the green beans.  I made a delicious creamy garlic potato dish with the potatoes and some of the thyme that supposedly is the recipe used at Disneyland...aah, the power of the internet.  More of the time went in a saute with the zucchini as another veggie side.  The other squash will probably follow suit later this week.

As for the ground cherries...despite their heritage as a nightshade, related to tomatoes and eggplants, and in spite of the fact that we could just snack on these gems of flavor raw until they were all devoured...they were meant to be a dessert.

In fact, I actually picked extra ground cherries up at the city farmers' market, because I knew that it would be a dessert that we didn't want to share.  I'm not known for my willingness to share desserts.  The hubs loves to tell the story of one of our first dates, where he went to sample a forkful of the dessert I ordered and I, in a gut reaction, deftly swept his fork away with my knife.  He quickly learned that the best approach is to offer me some of his dessert, and then politely ask permission for a bite of mine.  Even then, not guaranteed.  I am serious about my sweets.

So, with the hereditary stinginess of desserts in mind, I decided to make individual Ground Cherry Crumbles.  You could also make this into one large crumble, but it's an easy enough dessert to make that everyone can delight in their own little dish.

Ground cherries are really hard to describe, flavor-wise.  They have the texture of a tomato, but the flavor is reminiscent of pineapple and other tropical fruits.  They are very versatile, and can dart on either side of the line between sweet and savory.  But you already know where I landed on that one.

So, on to the recipe.  Get as many ground cherries as you can, and take the paper husks off.  I enlisted the help of my girls, who made short work of the job.  And only ate a few.  It helped that I let them make the rest of the dessert with me as well.  We ended up with just shy of 4 cups of ground cherries.

Give them a quick rinse and dry, and then put them into individual oven-proof dishes, or one big dish, if you'd like.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Mix 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour together, and sprinkle that over the ground cherries.  Toss them together a bit.  Once they start baking and release their juice, this will turn it into a nice syrup.

Mix another 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar with a cup of oats and 4 tablespoons (half a stick) of butter, chopped up, until it looks like coarse crumbs.

Sprinkle the crumble over the ground cherry mixture, and give it a little press down.

Pop into the oven for about 30-40 minutes for individual dishes, longer for one large dish.  You might want to put the dishes on a baking tray, in case things bubble over a bit.  You want the filling to be bubbly and the top to be golden and firm.

Serve as is, or top with a scoop of ice cream or some whipped cream.

CSA - Summer Week 3 and Summer Veg Empanadas with Kohrabi, Kale, and Summer Squash

Week 3 of the summer CSA was a huge haul:

Kohlrabi, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, potatoes, onions, lettuce, basil, and kale.  Leaning towards the green side this week, but I had some immediate thoughts as to what would be made in the kitchen.

The cukes and lettuce will be used in salads and for snacking, along with some of the kale.  The potatoes will make a great side for a dinner, and so will the zucchini with some of the onions.  I'm thinking of making a basil cake with the basil.  But the main dish to come out of this haul uses the kohlrabi, some kale, some onion, and summer squash: Summer Veg Empanadas.

Empanadas are basically a type of hand pie, but the name sounds so much nicer.  I'm not sure how "authentic" my version is, but they are delicious, and the kids tend to go for anything in pocket form, so this is a good way to get extra veg in them.

If you have a fantastic homemade pie crust recipe and the time to make it, do that!  But honestly, I'm usually scrambling around dinner time, so I go with an organic pre-made dough most times.  Whichever you choose, prep your pie crust dough.

Next, you're going to need a couple of kohlrabi.  You might only need one big one, as some of them can be huge!  Kohlrabi look like an alien veg, but they are really delicious.  They taste similar to broccoli stems to me, mild and crisp.

Cut off the skins of the kohlrabi, then cut them into small cubes.  Set them aside for now.

 Dice up a medium onion, crush a couple of cloves of garlic, and grate some fresh ginger.  Saute all those in some butter and/or olive oil until the onion starts to get translucent and your kitchen smells fantastic.

Add in the kohlrabi and some salt and pepper.  Cook over medium to low heat for 5 minutes.

While that's cooking, slice up some summer squash into pieces the same size as your kohlrabi pieces.

Chop up some fresh kale until you have about a half cup chopped.  Add the squash and kale to the pan and cook for another 5 minutes, until the squash is tender.

Test it for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Take it off the heat and let cool a bit.

While the filling is cooling, get your dough ready.  You can cut large circles and fold them in half when filled, which is more traditional, or you can use a smaller circle, like a glass or jar, and make little round pies.

Cut all the rounds you can, and feel free to re-roll dough scraps to make more.

Preheat your oven to 425.

Fill the rounds with the veg filling, leaving room around the edges to seal.

Cover or fold, and seal with a fork.  My kids love this job.

 Place the prepared empanadas on baking sheets covered with parchment.  I usually end up with 2 sheets full, about 32 small empanadas.

In a small bowl, mix an egg yolk with a tablespoon of milk.

Use a basting brush to gently brush the empanadas with the egg wash.  This will give them a lovely glossy tan color as they bake.

Bake the empanadas for 6-8 minutes, until they are crispy and golden.

These can be a side dish, or a meat-free main course.  They are also great little snacks.  Heck, I'd even serve these for breakfast.  Empanadas and bacon for everyone!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Asian Inspired Lemon Cucumber and Tomato Salad

The lemon cucumbers is my garden are going absolutely bonkers this year, and I'm hearing from fellow lem-cuke lovers that they are finding the same thing.  Personally, I could eat these babies raw all day long, but it seemed like people were looking for something more to do with them.  And so, I give to you, this Asian Inspired Lemon Cucumber and Tomato Salad!

Cukes and tomatoes are a pretty standard combination, and a lot of times you'll find cucumber tomato salads dressed with a vinaigrette or a nice Greek dressing, or a fancy tutu.  But one of my favorite directions to go with cucumber is Asian.  I'm addicted to cucumber rolls when we have sushi.  I will gladly sprinkle on a little soy sauce onto cucumber spears and dig in.  And here, I've whipped up a little dressing that brings that savory, salty punch of Asian to the clean, crisp flavors of the fresh veg.

I made the dressing in a small amount, in case you're like me and might have only one or two people at your place for lunch, but you can easily double/triple the amounts for a bigger crowd.  You can also store leftover dressing in the fridge for about a week and use it for another salad, or to dip veggie spears in later.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 teaspoon of white miso, one teaspoon soy sauce, one teaspoon mirin, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, half a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon of finely chopped or grated sweet onion, and 2 tablespoons of a mild olive oil.  Dressing complete.

Wash, dry, and slice a lemon cucumber.  Mine was huge, so I did quarter-inch slices and then cut those into quarters, to make it more bite-sized.  Slice up some tomatoes the same way.  I used my Blue Berry tomatoes, because I like the contrast in color, and they are a bit on the sweet side.  You want about equal amounts of cucumber and tomato.  Feel free to use a regular cucumber, or any other variety of tomato...find what works for you!  There will be subtle differences, but I'm pretty sure that this salad would be delicious anyway.

Layer the veggies, or, if you're less fussy, just toss them together.  Drizzle on some of the dressing, and you're good to go!  If you want to get fancy, garnish the salad with some crumbled nori (dried seaweed) and/or sesame seeds.

I know that lemon cucumbers are not your typical grocery fare, but they are becoming more are more popular at farmers' markets and if you ever see them, I highly recommend picking up a couple!  Great clean flavor, and a fantastic crunch!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Strawsmopolitan and a Splash Party

Do you ever feel like someone pushed the fast forward button on your life?  This summer has been totally like that for me.  I don't know where the time has gone, but I know that it's gone too quickly!

You know what this calls for?

A drink poolside.

Sure, my pool is inflatable and only about 3 feet deep.  Doesn't matter.  I have a very active imagination, and besides, I'm pretty darn happy on my own deck, overlooking the garden and watching my kids play, and sipping my newest creation: the Strawsmopolitan.

Remember back when I went strawberry picking and ended up with a ton of strawberries to use?  Well, I put some of them to use in making my own strawberry vodka.  Sure, you can find all sorts of flavored vodkas these days, but using fresh fruit to make your own is super easy, and it tastes sooooooo much better!  This vodka is the essence of strawberries, bottled.  My only regret is that I didn't make more of it.

Like I said, super easy to make: Take a large jar or sealable container.  Fill it with fresh strawberries that have been cleaned, destemmed, and cut in half.  Scoop a little sugar on top of the berries if you want...totally optional, but I have a sweets addiction, so I do.

Then fill the rest of the jar with vodka, and let it sit in a cabinet or other out-of-the way place for at least 3 weeks.  The berries will release their color, flavor, and probably their souls into the vodka.  It's awesome.

Strain the liquid through a fine sieve, and there you go!  I like to keep mine in the freezer, so that it's nice and cold. 

Maybe a little too cold, because it gets kind of slushy, but that's not an awful problem to have.

Now for the Strawsmo:

2 parts Strawberry Vodka
1 part Triple Sec
The juice of half a lime

Fill a shaker with ice, then pour all the ingredients in.  Cover, shake, and strain into a martini glass.  Garnish with lime, a strawberry, or both!  

Kick back, sip, and stretch out these last days of summer.  Drink it all in.  Summer, I mean, not the drink. 

Well, the drink too.  

You totally deserve it, don't you think?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day - Garden Zucchini Burgers

Yes, you read that right.  And yes, it's a real thing.  August 8th is Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day.  Seriously.  At least, here in America.  Google it.  I can't make this stuff up.

So...what are you going to do when you find those green garden zuccs on your porch?  

Well, you could whip up some lemon zucchini muffins, or maybe gingered zucchini carrot bread...

Or, you could make yourself these awesomely delicious Garden Zucchini Burgers.  

They are juicy, tender, healthy, and full of delicious flavor, thanks to some roasted garlic and fresh rosemary.

First, you need to make some roasted garlic.  If you just happen to have some on hand, fantastic!  Use that!  If, however you are normal, and don't, here's how you do it: Heat your oven to 375.  Cut off the top of a whole head of garlic, exposing the open bulbs.  Wrap the garlic in foil, but leave the top open.  Drizzle the garlic with a little olive oil,  Seal it.  Put it in the oven and bake for about an hour.

When it's ready, the garlic will be soft and caramelized.  You can do my favorite thing ever and just spread it on toasted baguette...oh oh, should have made two.  Okay, so do that another time.  You need a whole head for this recipe!

Take a pound of lean ground beef.  You could also use ground turkey or chicken, just adjust the cooking time as needed.

Grate up 1-2 small to medium zucchini.  You want about a cup of grated zucchini total.

Here's my other "secret" ingredient: nasturtiums.  These edible flowers are peppery, like a radish, but with a slightly sweet edge.  They are great in the garden because not only are they pretty, they distract pests from your precious vegetables.  A lot of farmers grow them for that very reason, and you may be able to find them in good farmer's markets, or some groceries.  If you can't, or if you don't feel so flowery, freshly ground black pepper is a completely acceptable substitute here.  I just like the color pop that the nasturtiums add, so I took about a dozen blossoms and chopped them up.

Chop up a sprig or two worth of fresh rosemary, and grab about a teaspoon of kosher salt.

Toss all of that in a bowl, squeeze your roasted garlic cloves into the bowl, and then mix well.  I'm going to go with what I'm pretty sure is Italian law and tell you that this should be done by hand.  All good meat mixing is.

Form it into 5-6 firm patties.  If you are lucky enough to have a burger press, it can be very helpful here.  But not essential.

Heat your grill, or a grill pan.  Grill the patties on medium heat for 5-7 minutes each side, until they are cooked through to your liking.  Gentle with these, they can be a little delicate, especially if you haven't packed them tightly.

Serve on a good sturdy bun, like a whole grain wheat bun.  Top with whatever you'd like, but keep in mind that the flavors in the burger stand on their own.  A little lettuce, maybe tomato, some mustard or a great aioli, and you should be set to grind. 

Oh, and that on the side?  Why pan-fried zucchini blossoms, of course.

So, if you're the zucchini sneaker, be sure to save yourself a zucc or two for this, and if you're the sneakee, rejoice in your luck to have such generous neighbors, then invite them over for a barbecue and show them what they gave up.  Suckas.