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I’ve long been an advocate of every season BUT summer. Hot, humid, languid, permanent afro — none of these qualities are particularly endearing to me. However, while there are rewarding things about gardening in the spring and summer, there is something about a summer garden that is steadily transforming me into a summer lover.

I realized this yesterday morning, which Sprout and I spent under the fig tree. Teaching her how to pick fruit and vegetables for herself and pop them right in her mouth — there is something undeniably fulfilling and magical about this act — and then I remember that it’s not magic — this is one of God’s carefully crafted perfect provisions for us. And that we are richly blessed to have a tangible reminder of the truth that is very, very true, whether we recognize it or not — that God faithfully provides for us every single moment of every single day. That he protects us like he protects the seedings when they’re young and growing. That he lovingly re-shapes us into something even more beautiful when we acknowledge that we’re totally wrecked, like our garden this spring. That he delights in us when we bear fruit.

“These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” Psalm 104:27-28

And as a side note, is there any fruit prettier than a fig?

So, as we’ve harvested veggies from our garden, here are a few of my go-to recipes for fresh summer produce.

Fig Preserves

8 cups of figs
1/2 Tbsp baking soda
6 cups of boiling water
4 cups white sugar
2 cups water
1/2 sliced lemon

In a large mixing bowl place figs and sprinkle with baking soda. Pour the boiling water over the figs and soak for 1 hour.
Drain figs and rinse thoroughly with cold water. In a large Dutch oven combine the sugar and the 4 cups of water; bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.
Add the figs and lemon slices to the syrup in the Dutch oven and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Spoon figs into hot, sterilized jars and spoon syrup over figs, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Top jars with lids and screw bands on tightly. Process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

Tomato Sauce

Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh garlic, coarsely chopped with some nice salt and allowed to sit 10 minutes if possible
Plenty of vine-ripened, garden fresh tomatoes cut into chunks (I use a serrated knife)
Fresh basil (at least twice as much as you think seems like the right amount—I measure fresh basil by the handful)
Fresh oregano (more than you’re about to put in)

Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Do not allow the garlic to brown.

Add the tomatoes, basil, and oregano and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid cooks out. Cooking time will depend on the juiciness of the tomatoes.


When there is still some liquid left in the pan, carefully puree the sauce using a blender or a food processor.

Bring the sauce back to a boil and continue simmering until desired consistency. Let cool, then spread on pizza dough. (I have a great pizza dough recipe, too — I will get that on here another day)

Squash Cakes (from the kitchen of Brooke Burgess)

2 cups cooked squash, mashed
2/3 cup Jiffy corn muffin mix
1/2 cup chopped onion (I do this in the food processor to get it finely chopped)
1 egg
1/2 c Canola oil

Mix together corn muffin mix, onion, and egg. Add this mixture to the mashed, cooked squash. Heat Canola oil in skillet, then drop large spoonfuls of the batter onto the skillet, and cook a few minutes on each side until golden. The Sprout LOVES these.

Zucchini Bread (also from Brooke’s kitchen)

3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini
3 tsp vanilla
1 c all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon
1 c chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs and sugars together. Mix in oil, zucchini, and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and beat into mixture. Stir in chopped nuts. Pour batter into two greased and floured 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Check at 40 minutes, but cook for one hour. Best if allowed to cool for a few hours after baking.

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There’s really no accounting for the long gap between posts, other than that the spark of writing inspiration somehow got buried deep in a pile of dirty laundry.

The storm damage clean-up in our yard (which was paltry compared to the heavily damaged parts of town) has been a gradual process. The upside is that I’m now proficient at dealing with all manner of tree men.

We went to the beach. At the time we had a crawling toothless baby.

Two months later I have a toddler with a mouthful of teeth who runs wind sprints with our dog around the back yard.

We had a garden party for the Sprout. She was shockingly delicate with her first bites of chocolate.

If I’m judging by the jars she foraged around for in the pantry this morning and brought into the den, she has now moved on and has a taste for capers and Caesar dressing. [To the worried grandmothers: don’t worry, the bottles were closed.]

The Goose has acquiesced to her new role as the Sprout’s best friend. I assume because of the added perks of the job [read: apricots, cheerios, popsicles].

We went to the lake with sweet friends. Absolutely no fun was had.

Against all my expectations, our resilient garden, after being crushed by a 100 year old oak tree in April, has grown back beautifully. Sprout likes to pick black eyed susans and cherry tomatoes. I am trying to get her to enjoy the squash and zucchini.

Does anyone have a good recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce using your own tomatoes? I have 13 juicy red ones in the window that I’m hoping to transform into some kind of sauce this week.

We ate our first ripe figs yesterday. Hooray. Sprout is eating them by the handful

We’ve enjoyed time with family as they’ve come through town, a family reunion, an unexpected funeral, and through the magic of Skype.

FCL has put in long hours this summer on a big work project, but it has made our time with him that much more precious. One byproduct is that we’ve gotten to scatter Cheerios all over the floor of his fancy downtown office on our visits there. It has also made our sweet neighbors that much more dear, as Sprout and I have spent many nights sharing a dinner table with them instead of eating alone.

So, the summer is zipping by. And on that note I will zip off of my computer.

We recently hosted our first dinner party of the year. I love winter dinner parties. They are cozy and twinkly and warm and unrushed.

Here’s the run down on the menu:

Goat Cheese with Pistachios and Cranberries (from Real Simple)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons roasted pistachios, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1 8-10 oz log of fresh goat cheese
  • crackers or bread, for serving

1. On a large plate, combine the pistachios and cranberries.

2. Roll the goat cheese in the fruit-and-nut mixture to coat. Serve with the crackers or bread.

Fresh Rosemary Focaccia Bread (from The Painted Garden cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp unbleached white bread flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (one packet)
  • 1 tbsp castor (superfine) sugar (I use regular sugar and it works fine)
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 large egg
  • 12 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • coarse sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 475. Grease a 12 x 8 baking sheet.

2. Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center of the flour; add the yeast, sugar and salt in the well. Gradually pour the water into the well, stirring until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead for 2-3 minutes, until it feels smooth and elastic and does not stick to the board, adding more flour as necessary. The more you knead the lighter the texture of the bread will be. Return the dough to the large mixing bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1-2 hours, depending on the humidity.

3. Turn the risen dough onto a well floured board, making a well in the center, and crack the egg into the hollow. Bring the edges of the dough into the center, gradually kneading in the egg. This is meant to be a sticky job; egg will ooze everywhere. Don’t be tempted to add more flour, as this will make the bread denser. Wash and flour hands halfway through, if necessary. Eventually, when the egg is fully incorporated, the dough should be very soft and smooth. Once you have a smooth, almost manageable bulk, shape it to cover the base of the greased baking sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place to rise a second time, for 30 to 40 minutes until doubled in bulk.

4. When it looks nicely puffed up, press the rosemary into the dough, covering the surface evenly. Don’t  be too gentle in pressing in the topping; you want to create small hollows to collect puddles of the olive oil. Drizzle the oil over the top followed by a generous sprinkling of coarse sea salt crystals. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the focaccia is golden brown. Remove from the baking sheet as soon as it’s cool enough to handle, and cool on a wire rack.

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad (from Southern Living)


Total: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2  large sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 lb.)
  • 4  large parsnips (about 1 lb.)
  • 6  medium beets (about 1 1/2 lb.)
  • 3  tablespoons  olive oil, divided
  • 1 3/4  teaspoons  salt, divided
  • 1  teaspoon  pepper, divided
  • 1/2  cup  bottled olive oil-and-vinegar dressing
  • 1  tablespoon  chopped fresh parsley
  • 1  tablespoon  horseradish
  • 1  teaspoon  Dijon mustard
  • Fresh arugula

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Peel sweet potatoes, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes. Peel parsnips, and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Peel beets, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges.

2. Toss sweet potatoes and parsnips with 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large bowl; place in a single layer in a lightly greased 15- x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Sprinkle with 1 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper.

3. Toss beets with remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil; arrange beets in a single layer on a separate aluminum foil-lined 15- x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper.

4. Bake at 400° for 40 to 45 minutes or just until tender. Let cool completely (about 20 minutes).

5. Meanwhile, whisk together dressing and next 3 ingredients. Place vegetables in a large bowl, and drizzle with desired amount of dressing; toss gently to coat. Serve at room temperature or chilled over arugula with any remaining dressing.

I felt a close kinship to Dwight Schrute as I chopped my beets.

Potato Gratin with Rosemary Crust (from Southern Living)


Total: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Yield: Makes 10 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1  (14.1-oz.) package refrigerated piecrusts
  • 1  tablespoon  chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground pepper
  • 2  cups  (8 oz.) shredded Gruyère cheese, divided
  • 1 1/2  pounds  Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 1/2  pounds  sweet potatoes
  • 1  teaspoon  kosher salt
  • 2/3  cup  heavy cream
  • 1  garlic clove, minced
  • Garnish: fresh rosemary sprigs

1. Preheat oven to 450°. Unroll piecrusts on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle rosemary, pepper, and 1/2 cup cheese over 1 piecrust; top with remaining piecrust. Roll into a 13-inch circle. Press on bottom and up sides of a 9-inch springform pan; fold edges under. Chill.

2. Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice Yukon gold and sweet potatoes.

3. Layer one-third each of Yukon gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, and salt in prepared crust. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat layers twice, pressing layers down slightly to fit.

4. Microwave cream and garlic in a 1-cup microwave-safe measuring cup at HIGH 45 seconds; pour over potato layers in pan. Sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese. Cover pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet.

5. Bake at 450° for 1 hour. Uncover and bake 25 minutes or until potatoes are done and crust is richly browned. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully transfer to a serving plate, and remove sides of pan. If desired, carefully slide gratin off bottom of pan using a long knife or narrow spatula. Garnish, if desired.

Bev’s Pork Tenderloin

Credit to the lovely Beverly Bendall for this delicious recipe — our favorite way to eat pork tenderloin.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ready in: 6.5 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp sherry
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried minced onions
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pinch garlic powder
  • 2 (3/4 pound) pork tenderloins (we usually get 2 1.5 pound tenderloins)

1. Place above ingredients, except pork, in a large ziploc bag. Seal, and shake to mix. Place tenderloins in bag, seal, and refrigerate for 6-12 hours.

2. Preheat grill for high heat.

3. Lightly oil grate. Place tenderloins on grill, and discard marinade. Cook 20 minutes, or to desired doneness. Slice into medallions and serve.

and… Ice Cream Sprinkle Creations for dessert

The last days have been spent offline doing wintry things.

Wintry things like changing my sprout’s explosive diaper in the backseat of my car in 20 degree weather – resulting in widespread poop distribution from the car seat, to my arms, to her head. Oops.

Wintry things like dissecting the contents of my favorite seed catalog. You can order one for free (or download it, if you’d rather) from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Much, much more on seed-related things to come.

Wintry things like contemplating the below record album photos (front and back) and wondering if it is the genesis of my fascination with copiously coiffed facial hair.

The latter is like a Who’s Who of strange. Cocker spaniel? Yep. Snoopy? Roses? Clown? Cabbage Patch dolls? Check, check, check, check. French horn? Of course.

Please note that I propped the record on a giant pile of laundry to take this picture. Obviously my priorities are in order. Sorry, FCL.

Wintry things like laying curled up in bed with my nightly before-sleep ritual: checking the Weather Channel app on my iphone. Forecast for Christmas day in Tennessee? 30% chance of snow.

And of course, wintry things like watching White Christmas with Sprout (she may have inherited my love of musicals…and Christmas) and making gingerbread cookies with mom.

… and wintry ornament swaps and Christmas parties.

And just to think that winter doesn’t even officially begin until tomorrow.