Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

County Ham, how to cook a

November 25, 2017

How to cook a country ham:

Glazed Country Ham 1

There are very few places left that cure country ham the way they used to when I was a child.  It was a simple process, overall.  Brown sugar and salt, hang the ham in a sack tied off with hemp twine from a rafter in a barn or a curing shed, and wait.  9 months, a year, 2 years.

Most places that do this as a business these days go to extra effort. They may use humidity controlled, temperature controlled buildings. They may add other ingredients to the cure, or other processes.

In recent years there has been an expansion of these and other techniques and there are places that turn out some fancy ham; or prosciutto, or other cured meat product.  And I order and eat these things, and generally really like them.  The Pig, for example, in Chapel Hill makes a prosciutto like country ham that has wide bands of soft gentle white fat and a hard dark red meat. It’s great.

This year when I decided to cook a country ham like I grew up with, I researched where I’d get my ham for a couple of hours on the internet, looking at all the great places, including Edward’s Country Hams (Surry, VA), Johnson County hams (guess where), Smithfield hams, Benton’s Country Hams (TN), etc.

One of my uncles has a Smithfield country ham every year at the holidays on their table, and it’s a good one. I have been personally familiar with the greatness of Edward’s pork products from Virginia for decades.

But at the end of the day I picked up the phone and called Nancy at A.B. Vannoy Hams, as I usually do. It’s a great product at a great price and you won’t be sorry.

Ham Tag

ABVANNOYHAMS

Step one: buy your ham and have it shipped to you.

When it arrives it is going to be in a bag, and it is going to be moldy and gnarly and look like ick.  Don’t worry.  Store it somewhere cool per instructions and it will be fine when you need it.

Step two: You want to wash your ham overnight, and then cook the ham on the second day, and then serve it on the 3rd day.

48 hours before you want to serve your ham, take it out of the bag and put it in a sink of fresh water.  I do this to remove all the mold and clean it thoroughly. I’m not really trying to do anything else with it; it doesn’t need brining, ha-ha, and I haven’t noticed that it changes any flavor profiles; it’s just easier to clean by soaking.

First Rinse

(after 1st rinse)

Come back in 6-8 hours and change the water.  Come back in another 8-12 hours and do it again.  I find that anywhere from 2-3 rinses over a 12-16 hr period is more than enough.  An hour before you begin the cooking process, scrub it with paper towels or a rag or a sponge, rinse it off one final time, and remove it from the water and dry it off.

Second Rinse

(after second rinse)

Step Three:  Final preparation

Most folks cut off a few inches on the hock in with a saw.  I don’t because I like the extra length of bone to hold onto as I slice the ham.

There is debate about when to remove the skin.  I prefer to cook the ham in the skin and remove after cooking. You can also cut it off now.  Just below the skin is the fat. If you decide to remove the skin now, be careful not cut too deeply into the fat.  A small curved paring knife is excellent for this.

Washed and ScrubbedTop in Rack2

But me, I don’t do it now, I just wrap the ham completely in heavy duty aluminum foil.  The only seams are near the top of the ham because you want to pour 1 cup of water and 1 cup of red wine (I use sweet Marsala) into the foil with the ham, then finish closing off the foil.

Wrapped in Foil with Water & Wine In the Oven

Step Four:  Cooking the Ham

Put into a roasting pan on an elevated cooking rack, and bake in the oven for 17-20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees.  A 15-lb ham will therefore take about 4 hours and 15 minutes to 5 hours.

Make some strong coffee and set aside, 3-4 cups.  This is for step 5.

At the end of the cooking time take it out.

Peeling off Foil & Skin

(peeling skin on left, see the skin still on the right side)

Fat on top, skin on front side peeling

(skin still on lower right side)

Skill peeled off

Bowl of skin & foil

(lots of skin and bits and foil)

Remove the foil, and now skin the ham. Score the fat.

Skill Peeled off2

Side view fat

Fat surface

Right side1

Scored fat close-up

Step Five:  Stop here for a diversion

Make Red-Eye Gravy Glaze:

While this is happened, take a iron skillet or a stainless steel one to make the Glaze.

Melt 3 cups of dark brown sugar and ½ lb of unsalted butter in the skillet.  Add some of the ham drippings (no more than 1 cup) and bring to a bubble. Thickly coat the surface of the pan with ground black pepper.  Add the coffee to deglaze and start stirring.  Stop and coat the surface of the pan again with ground black pepper. Do this one more time. Reduce the mixture in the pan until it is about the thickness of A1 sauce.  Turn off heat and let it cool off and thicken a bit.

Cooking the Glaze

This is also called red-eye gravy.  You can serve it with the sliced ham, or spread some on biscuits when you make ham biscuits.

Back to the ham!

Put it back on the rack in the roasting pan minus any foil.  Spoon the glaze over the ham.

Scored fat with glaze 2

Glazed close-up

Turn the oven up to 450 degrees and re-bake the ham uncovered for about 8 minutes.  This should be long enough to fix the glaze.

Take it out and let it rest for a few hours.  After this, you can slice and serve any time you want.  There are any number of online videos on how to cut up a ham.  I learned the most from watching butchers debone a ham rather than those tidy little 3 minute videos where they show you how to cut a wedge on a ham.  My advice is to make sure you have at least an hour of time to slice the ham, and use *sharp* knives.  You will want to slice the ham as thin as you possibly can, and against the grain.  Some people say that you want to slice country ham at about one-quarter inch thickness.  They are wrong.  1/16th is more like it, as near to shaving it and still having a coherent slice as you can cut.  As you carve the ham and get tired you will want to make thicker slices – resist this.  Pretend you have to serve 100 people with this ham, and therefore it needs to be sliced as thinly as possible.  Your guests will thank you for your labors later.

Right side end removed down to HipJoint2

(ready to slice, I trimmed a lot of the thickness of the fat off, but feel free not to)

Carving Ham turned on narrow side

Carving the Ham 1Starting Slices

Pile o' Country Ham 2

ENJOY!

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Rotkohl – Braised red cabbage

July 10, 2013

Rotkohl (Braised Red Cabbage)

Rotkohl is a traditional German dish that is often served with rouladen.  See my rouladen post/recipe here.

This “recipe” (I don’t really cook with exact measurements unless I’m baking) is one I came up with, based largely on some tips I read about on Epicurious and my memory of the rotkohl my mother made.   Total braising time is about 90 minutes and it’s important you allow it to go this long in order to marry all of the flavors together and end with tender cabbage.

Ingredients:

Ingredients sans red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper

Ingredients sans red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper

(Please note: I forgot to include the red wine vinegar bottle and the salt and pepper in the picture).

A large head of red cabbage, thinly sliced – you can do this by hand or, like me, use the slicing blade on your food processor.   (The picture shows 3 smaller heads of homegrown red cabbage and half a head of a small store-bought cabbage.  I ended up not using one of the homegrown heads; I estimate the volume I made was one large head of store-bought red cabbage).

2 small onions, diced (I usually use red onion – ½ of a large head – when making this dish but we just cured all of our homegrown sweet onions so I used them instead – the result was exactly the same, so use whatever type of onion you want)

2 small cored, peeled, and diced granny smith apples (or 1 large one).  Must be a tart apple – do not use a sweeter apple in this recipe.

2 tablespoons butter

3 bay leaves

Ground cloves, to taste – I use about 4 pinches

Salt and pepper, to taste

Vegetable broth (about 2/3 of a quart)

Dry hearty red wine, about 5 ounces

Red wine vinegar, large splash

Process:

I use a large (11”) covered skillet that’s about 3” deep when making this dish.

Onions into the pan

Onions into the pan

Melt the butter, add the onions, and cover.  Sweat/brown the onions over medium heat (covering the skillet results in better sweating, less browning).  Stir occasionally.

Browned and sweated onions

Browned and sweated onions

Sliced and ready to go

Sliced and ready to go

Peeled and cored granny smiths

Peeled and cored granny smiths

Once the onions are browned/sweated, add the cabbage and diced apples to the skillet and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring a couple of times.

Cabbage & diced apples added to onions in pan

Cabbage & diced apples added to onions in pan

Add the bay leaves, salt, pepper, cloves, and enough vegetable broth to almost cover the mixture in the skillet.  Stir.  Cover and simmer for an hour, stirring once or twice.

Bay leaves and seasonings added

Bay leaves and seasonings added

Add the red wine, stir, and continue simmering (covered) for 15-20 minutes.  Add a big splash of red wine vinegar, stir, and simmer for 10-15 more minutes.  Do not allow the moisture to dry out at any point during the braising process – add more broth if necessary.  However, at the end of the braising, you do not want too much liquid at the bottom of the skillet – allow some of the liquid to cook off before serving, if necessary.  Remove the bay leaves before serving as well.

Finished

Finished

Rouladen, a beef recipe

July 10, 2013

My parents are German immigrants and my mother made this dish a few times a year when I was growing up.  To this day, it’s one of my brother’s favorite meals (sans the Rotkohl).  It’s a very typical German meal but somewhat time consuming to make.  Unfortunately, my mother never really taught me how to cook and I was over 30 years old before I became interested in something involving me, a kitchen, and anything more challenging/strenuous than a basic crock pot recipe and mashing some potatoes.  My how people change as they age!

Plated

Plated

In late 2007 (I kept the e-mail), I asked my brother how Mom made rouladen and I’ve been making it once or twice a year since.  If you do an internet search, you’ll see that some people add a pickle and/or carrots to their rouladen.  That’s not how my Mom made them (different part of Germany) and so that’s not how I make them.  This is good comfort food to me and you don’t want to mess with tradition when it comes to comfort food…

Traditionally, rouladen are served with boiled potatoes, gravy made from the drippings (a *must* in my book), and rotkohl (braised red cabbage).  I never liked the cabbage growing up but my tastes have changed a wee bit since then and I now make my own version of rotkohl (based mainly off some tips I read about on Epicurious along with what I think would be good).  See my rotkohl recipe/process in this post.

When I make rouladen, I make a lot of them because of the cooking time involved.  If making them for a crowd (since we want leftovers!), I’ve been known to make two skillets worth.  The skillet I use when making it just for us is large:  13” wide and 3” deep.  So it’s a larger skillet than many people have in their kitchens.  Use your largest covered skillet.

The meat:  I typically use London Broil but Top Round is the more traditional cut.  I use London Broil because the way we source our meat (from local farmers) means we have to slice the meat to the desired thickness ourselves which can be a bit difficult.  If you’re buying your meat from the grocery store, have the butcher slice it no more than ¼” thick (slightly thinner – down to 1/8” – is even better but you don’t want it so thin that it’s falling apart).  The slices need to be long enough to roll – 6” minimum, 8 to 10 inches is better.   The slices also need to be a minimum of 3 inches wide (4-6 inches is better) to hold together well.

The process:

Ingredients

Ingredients

Thinly sliced beef – however many rouladen you want to make.  I made 12 in these pictures. (The meat in the picture is not marinated – it’s sitting in its own juices after being sliced the day before and refrigerated)

Sliced bacon strips – one strip per roulade

¼ to ½ cup mustard – we like Kosciusko brown mustard but any type is OK, including plain yellow American

1 quart beef broth

Garlic powder, salt, and pepper (to taste – we tend to be heavy with the spicing)

One small onion, sliced (the picture shows 2 but I ended up only using one)

Cooking string (some people use toothpicks; I can’t imagine toothpicks work all that great – take the time to tie each roulade)

Get your assembly line going

Get your assembly line going

Lay out several slices of beef on your work surface and spread mustard on each slice.  Sprinkle garlic powder, salt, and pepper on each slice.  Lay a piece of bacon down the center of the slice and add 3 or 4 onion slices to one end.  Starting at the onion end, roll the meat up.  Place roll in the center of a piece of cooking string and tie.  (Note: depending on the width of your rolls, you may need to use a tie on each end of the roll.  The slices I used this time were narrow enough that I could use just one string in the center of each roll).  Trim the ends of the strings after knotting them.

First 5 tied and ready

First 5 tied and ready

Everyone into the pan

Everyone into the pan

Place the first batch in the skillet and repeat process until all of your rouladen are tied and ready for browning.  You may not have enough room in your skillet to brown them all at once (since you don’t want to crowd your meat when browning) but the rouladen shrink so once some of them are on their way to browning, you can add more to the same skillet.  Heat the skillet to medium-high and brown on all (or at least two) sides.  (Note that I do not coat the skillet with anything – the browned meat will release from the skillet with a gentle tug from the tongs once it is adequately browned).

Browning in stages as space becomes available

Browning in stages as space becomes available

Once all of the rouladen are browned, add enough beef broth to come up about ½ way on the rouladen.  Cover and bring to a simmer. (If you’re making rotkohl to go along with the meal, get it started now if you haven’t already).

All browned and beef broth added

All browned and beef broth added

Simmer the rouladen (adding more broth as necessary) for at least 90 minutes (2 hours is better), turning every 20 to 30 minutes.

Finished braising

Finished braising

Remove the rouladen to a platter and get started on the gravy.  (If you’re making boiled potatoes get them boiling now if you haven’t already – be sure not to overcook them though since you want them to hold their shape).

Starting the gravy

Starting the gravy

For the gravy this time, I just added about 1/3 cup flour to a 2-cup mixing cup along with a cup of beef broth and whisked until the flour was fully incorporated.  I then added this slurry to the skillet along with the rest of the beef broth in the quart container and seasoned with salt and pepper and let the gravy simmer until it had cooked down to an acceptable gravy consistency.

When making a gravy, starting with a roux is preferable but we’re trying to cut out a few calories so I made this more basic gravy this time…

While the gravy is simmering, cut the strings off the rouladen.  You want to handle them a bit carefully so they don’t fall apart, but they’ve been cooked into their shape.

On the platter - strings to be removed

On the platter – strings to be removed

Once the gravy is ready, place the rouladen back in the skillet with the gravy and spoon gravy over the tops of the rouladen.  Plate and serve.

Finished and sitting in gravy

Finished and sitting in gravy

Freshly dug Kennebec potatoes ready for peeling and boiling

Freshly dug Kennebec potatoes ready for peeling and boiling

7 July Weekly Update

July 7, 2013
Yield from 5 Kennebec Plants

Yield from 5 Kennebec Plants

Wow, we definitely got enough rain in the past week!  More than 6 inches; and that’s on top of the plentiful amount the previous week.  Everything is very wet and we had to deal with some erosion in the center aisles and rake mulch back up the slope.

Potatoes unearthed by heavy rains

Potatoes unearthed by heavy rains

This week’s pickings were very similar to the past couple of weeks…  four potatoes on Monday that were unearthed in the torrential downpours we had on Sunday afternoon, plenty of summer squash, cucumbers, green beans and haricot vert, tomatillos, a few celery stalks, three small red cabbages, and some Kennebec new potatoes.

One day of harvests

One day of harvests

Haricot verts

Haricot verts

Another day's worth

Another day’s worth

Yup, another day

Yup, another day

Celery, squash, and a few beans

Celery, squash, and a few beans

She is going to make rouladen and “rotkohl” (braised red cabbage) along with boiled new potatoes and gravy from the rouladen for supper tonight plus some lunches during the week.  She’s planning on writing/taking pictures for tutorial-type recipe posts for both of these German dishes so, if you’re interested, check back later in the week to see if they’re up.

Early in the week, we sprayed copper fungicide on all of the various cucurbits (summer and winter squash, cucumbers, and various melons) because some of the squash in particular are showing signs of powdery mildew.  We also went ahead and did the tomatoes again as a preventative measure – they’re actually doing pretty well in the disease department at this point, maybe because we’ve been pretty diligent about spraying them regularly…

We removed one tomato plant “that was not like the others.”  It was supposed to be an Amish Paste (came out of the AP seed packet) but after it got past the transplant stage, it became pretty apparent that it wasn’t an Amish Paste.  It was obviously a determinate and it didn’t do well in our climate – a lot of disease problems.  I didn’t think it was worth trying to keep it with the potential of spreading its diseases to the other tomato plants.  There is another plant that I’m doubtful is an Amish Paste as well but so far I’m letting it stay put since it seems to be an indeterminate.  It’s like the workers at the seed factory dropped the seeds one day and just swept them up into the Amish Paste pile…

On Wednesday after work, she donned long sleeves (never fun in the NC heat but sometimes necessary to avoid irritation from the prickly stalks/vines) and cut back dead, dying, and diseased squash leaves/stalks.  We learned about three years ago that this is fairly necessary to keep pests at bay since squash bugs and stink bugs like to hide/live under the dead leaves.

We spent *a lot* on time on Friday preserving the harvests.  We canned 7 pints of diced carrots and made salsa verde (which we refrigerated until we canned it on Sunday).  We also trimmed all of the small and medium onions we pulled two weeks ago, diced them, and froze them (see here for the Onion Preservation post).  We left the larger onions on the curing “rack” for now – they’ll be used fresh in the coming months and there are about 25 or so onions that we pulled just a week ago that are still drying/curing.  PLUS we made 9-1/2 quarts of chicken stock (7 of which we froze and 2-1/2 went into a vegetable soup we made for eatin’ this week).  We save our chicken carcasses/bones in freezer bags and periodically make stock.  We do the same with duck carcasses and seafood (such as shrimp shells or any lobster/crab shells we may periodically have).  Our annual Thanksgiving turkey carcass also is made into stock.  I feel like Little House on the Prairie around here sometimes!  We use the Ball quart sized freezer containers to freeze stock and we’ve been very satisfied with them.  We used to use gallon sized zip lock bags but they have a tendency to spring leaks (which you don’t discover until you’re defrosting) and they’re messier to load up plus they don’t store as efficiently space-wise.

Carrots ready for canning

Carrots ready for canning

7 Pints of canned carrots

7 Pints of canned carrots

On Saturday we got around to making a mesh “cage” for the blueberry bush that is laden with berries, some of which have started to turn blue.  Last year we got very few berries because the birds beat us to them.  We’re trying to rectify that this year…

We sprayed everything with fish emulsion on Sunday morning and started some of the Fall crops in the basement – broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage (red and green).  Kale and mustard will be started inside in a couple of weeks and things like lettuce, carrots and beets get direct sown next month.  We have to show a bit of restraint since our Fall/winter garden will be a smaller this year since we plan to replace the large majority of our beds shortly after the first frost this Fall, so we have fewer beds available for a Fall/winter garden.

Lastly, we want to report that we put two pints of the summer squash we canned last week into the vegetable soup we made on Friday.  We wanted to make sure canning was going to result in something we’re willing to eat before we potentially can more…  We deemed the squash to be perfectly fine to add to things like soup, pasta sauces, or casseroles.  We added it in the last 10 minutes of simmering to heat it through.  You probably don’t want to cook canned squash for very long or it will break apart too much.  We’re glad to have discovered that we can pressure can plain summer squash for acceptable uses later in the year since our abundant squash season usually ends very abruptly once the squash vine borers become active.  For anyone interested in attempting to can summer squash:  we packed uncooked diced summer squash into pint jars, added a tablespoon of white vinegar per jar, and boiling water to top off.  We then processed the jars in a pressure canner at 15 psi for 12 minutes.  Our internet research tended to indicate that if you cook the squash at all before putting it in the jars you’re likely to end up with mush.  We can see how this can happen since the canned squash we opened is plenty soft after 12 minutes at 15 psi.

Canned haricot vert & summer squash

Canned haricot vert & summer squash

Watermelon plants

Watermelon plants

Tomatoes waiting to be painted red

Tomatoes waiting to be painted red

Sweet potatoes vining out

Sweet potatoes vining out

Patty pans

Patty pans on the vine

Paste tomatoes waiting for the red fairies

Paste tomatoes waiting for the red fairies

Netting cage for blueberries

Netting cage for blueberries

Close up of blueberries

Close up of blueberries

Lettuce experiment on the mostly shaded (north facing) front porch

Lettuce experiment on the mostly shaded (north facing) front porch

Jalapeno pepper

Jalapeno pepper

Serrano Peppers

Serrano Peppers

Green bell peppers

Green bell pepper

Garden 1

Garden 1

First coneflowers

First coneflowers

Fig Trees

Fig Trees have gotten quite large!

A fig

A fig

Eggplant flower

Eggplant flower and buds

Day lilies!

Day lilies!

Day Lily!

Day Lily!

Cilantro experiment - wilted in the Heat

Cilantro experiment – wilted in the Heat

Butter beans - 7 days old

Butter beans – seeded 7 days ago

Apples

Apples

Enjoy!

Food Preservation – Onions

July 6, 2013

Freezing Onions Using the Food Processor

We trimmed all of our cured small and medium sized onions on Friday morning.  We grow sweet onions (not known for their long storage capabilities) and experienced a fair amount of loss of last year’s harvest after a few months due to rotting, as well as having the centers start to sprout.  So we decided that we would preserve some of this year’s harvest via freezing to use into the winter (and beyond).

Cured and trimmed onions

Cured and trimmed onions

After researching this a bit on the internet, she decided that dicing the onions and being able to break off whatever you need from the freezer bag was going to work best for us.  She decided to use the small and medium sized onions for this endeavor but when faced with having to dice this many onions at one time (and the accompanying attack of the onions;  aka, eye irritation) eyed the food processor for help (did a brief internet search for any insight) and decided to experiment with the different blades.

First batch rinsed and peeled

First batch rinsed and peeled

First up was the shredding blade.

Shredding Blade

Shredding Blade

One round (about 12 small onions) showed that this blade resulted in more of a mince than a dice.  Too small but, since we don’t waste for reasons such as this, these were frozen along with the others.

Next up was the slicing blade.  Still not the type of result she was looking for.

Shredded on left, Sliced on Right

Shredded on left, Sliced on Right

So she decided to go with using the regular blade set up and pulsing several times to achieve more of a dice.

Regular Blade Setup

Regular Blade Setup

The result was acceptable but not as great as dicing by hand.  The dice in the food processor was finer than we normally cook with.  However, given the number of onions involved and the time it took just to cut off the ends and peel them, it was “good enough”.

Diced pile on left, Shredding blade upper right, Slicing lower right

Diced pile on left, Shredding blade upper right, Slicing lower right

The onions were then spread fairly thinly on a cookie sheet and put in the freezer for about 30 minutes or so.  This amount of time doesn’t freeze them solid but gets them individually frozen enough to put in a freezer bag in a manner that will allow you to break off the amount you need instead of having a solid clump of diced onions.  If you have time to freeze them solid, by all means do so.  But we had three batches to do and were trying to dirty only one cookie sheet…

Cookie Sheet for Individual Freezing

Cookie Sheet for Individual Freezing

All in all, we ended up with two gallon sized freezer bags.  Not bad for “small and medium” onions!  They accumulate volume quickly!

Diced and Frozen and Bagged

Diced and Frozen and Bagged

This is our first year preserving onions by freezing but our internet research shows other people do it this way with acceptable results.  We preserve blanched celery in the same way and have been pleased with the results so we have hopes for the onions as well.

 

 

 

23 December Update!

December 23, 2012

We went on vacation.  The carribean sea is nice this time of year, and St. Martin remains one of our favorite islands. Of course we missed 2 posts because of it, but there really hasn’t been too much to report.

This week we had some stuff  happen though – I mean, other than the world not ending.

Harvest

Harvest

Lettuces

Lettuces

Harvests:  lettuces, radishes, carrots, cilantro, parsley, dill, mustards, kales, mature arugula leaves (to use as more greens, we eat the young stuff in salads raw) – all multiple harvests.

Greens

Greens

Dill, cabbage, etc.

Dill, cabbage, etc.

 

And this week we got a small cabbage, and broccoli!

broccoli

We have a cauliflower plant that is starting to form a head, and another looks interested in doing the same. All 5 remaining cabbages are heading up and are well on their way to harvesting. All of the radish plants have now been pulled up. We figured if they hadn’t formed a radish yet, they weren’t going to.

Yes, we have no bananas

Yes, we have no bananas

One of the mustard plant stems started to rot so we removed the plant, also one of the cauliflower plants.

Saturday night (last night) it got down to 26 again, and yesterday evening we raced the sun to dusk as we covered the boxes to protect them.

Last night we put up and trimmed the tree and put lights and decorations everywhere.  We made our own cocoa mix from dutch cocoa and sweetened condensed milk (add boiling water and the mix to mugs and YUM!). We’re baking today, making cookies and cheese straws and homemade chex mix.  Our christmas day menu will feature rack of lamb, beef rouladen, and wonderful stuff from the garden. Family is coming over, and we’re looking forward to it.

 

2 December 2012 Weekly Update

December 2, 2012
The pickings this week consisted of just 3 carrots to be sliced into salads.  The smallest carrot was accidentally pulled up while we were weeding.
Carrots!

Carrots!

We got out and did quite a bit of weeding on Sunday and removed many of the leaves that had fallen into the boxes in which we’re growing something.  It was a glorious day – mid 60’s; not too hot, not too cold.  We also removed all of the covers as temperatures are forecast to be relatively warm all this week.  Additionally, we gave everything a good drink.
We have quite a bit of harvestable cilantro but no need for it this week so hopefully it’ll hang on another week or so.  The two small broccoli heads have grown in size only a little this past week.  We also have lots of lettuce – I may need to cut some to take into work for sharing.  I’ve been taking salads for lunch quite often the past 3 weeks in an attempt to consume it all but you can only eat so many salads…

All in all, things are fairly slow in the garden.  It’s nice to have a bit of a break!

 

16 September Weekly Update

September 16, 2012

Harvests this week:

Harvest 1

butter beans, field peas, the very last green beans (hurrah, we’re tired of picking and canning them at this point and they’re just relentless), cucumbers! and yellow summer squash! (in Mid-Sept!), sweet and hot peppers of all kinds.

A day’s picking from the Garden

Seeded another box of carrots this week. The box was slated to be our early spring carrot box but since the tomatoes were removed and the fall carrot box germination is less than stellar (too much August heat), we decided to go for a second fall box. It’s probably a bit late for a good fall harvest crop; so maybe they’ll have to be overwintered. We also seeded some more head lettuces in the box where heavy rain did a number on our lettuce seedlings.

Fresh lettuces

Even more

We looked critically at the watermelon and winter squash plants – they made it through this week, but the upcoming week doesn’t look good for them in our plans.  We also reseeded a few lacinato kale seeds, which are being slow getting up and running so far. One of the california wonder pepper plants started wilting all over for no apparent reason; we picked the 4 mostly red peppers and pulled up the plant.

Just yesterday we had noted that we needed rain; today it is raining.

I verbalized (in my brain) the slow-down on the cooking part of this blog this week.  In the past 3 years I’ve really refocused on my cooking – I’ve had experience cooking all my life, known some famous chef people, cooked in restaurants, done all manner of things related to it.  And I really thought when we started this blog that I’d be contributing regularly to the cooking side of what we do.  And while there have been, and will continue to be, recipes that I’m particularly fond of that I want to put up here, most of what I’d have to relay to others isn’t about recipes at all.  It’s about techniques. If you know techniques and styles, then recipes start to become superfluous.  Cookbooks find themselves at a loss for “yellow squash” recipes; but the truth of the matter is that I know a score of different ways to do a squash – but they’re all simple and should be fairly obvious to almost anyone.  Molecular gastronomy isn’t necessary for great food – in fact, my opinion is that you have to be five times the cook to get equally pleasant results from molecular gastronomy as someone else can do by steaming whatever it is you’re cooking.

Some of the fun things I know about cooking, for example, are:  a) make your own baking powder (baking soda & cream of tartar only); b) a convection oven (a real one) lets you get textures on food that you otherwise only see in a restaurant; c) bakers in bakeries use a different high quality flour that you can’t buy in your typical grocery store, thereby giving them an edge in baking, d) commercial cake mixes are one of the few processed food products that are superior to what you can typically do on your own due to the wonders of chemistry, e) small amounts of unrefined peanut oil do wonders for a lot of dishes.

I own oodles of cookbooks with recipes (actually, far fewer than I used to, but still oodles).  But honestly, I get more from the technique sections of The Art of French Cooking, from Pepin’s “Methode” and “Technique”, from the CIA’s Professional Chef than I do from any number of recipe books.

You want to make great potato salad?  Then put in a couple tablespoons of distilled vinegar when you boil the potatoes, then let them cool a bit before cutting them up – the texture will be superior and the potatoes won’t tend to disintegrate on you.  Use minimal ingredients and the style of them will shine through much more than if you add many different things.

My “southern potato salad” is pretty much:

White potatoes (not yellow) boiled in water with white distilled vinegar added.

Chop into cubes

Toss with celery seed, salt, pepper.

Add a little chopped dill and sweet pickle relish, a smidgeon of brown mustard, and a bare dollop of mayonnaise (you should need to check twice to be absolutely sure that’s mayonnaise in it).

Serve and eat.

It doesn’t need onions, carrots, or a lot of other things added to it to be good.  The best things in life are elegant in their simplicity, from my perspective. So I was thinking about all this in the past week, and decided to include in today’s blog, in case any of the regular readers wonder about the irregularity of things added to the cooking side.

You could change the above potato salad completely by putting in dill instead of celery seed, cracking a bit of rosemary over it, and going with some dijon mustard and no mayonnaise.  Or leave out the pickle relishes, mustard and mayonnaise – add some herbs de provence, a crumble of sheep’s milk feta, and use fresh celery.  Radically different dishes. And none of this is written down anywhere in my stuff (until now, oh well).  It’s all fun to do, and will free you from the tyranny of worrying about “cooking to the recipe” once you discover it.

9 September Weekly Update

September 9, 2012

Both of us have birthdays in September.  Sometime after I met my wife, I wanted to make a dish just for her as a “special occasion” kind of thing.  So I invited “Crepes _insertnamehere_”.   I can’t improve on Julia Child’s crepes recipe, so I use that to make the crepes. The stuffing consists of ricotta cheese, grated romano, shredded gruyere, peppadew peppers, carmelized onions, fresh chopped red or orange bell peppers, dill, and black pepper.  Put the stuffed crepes in a casserole dish, sprinkle with a bit more cheese and some sweet paprika, and warm in the oven.  I only make this recipe for her, and only on special days for her.  We had them this morning, since this is her birthday week. I’ve always gotten the impression that she likes having a dish named after her as much as she likes the dish!

It’s after Labor Day and the weather is finally changing, thank goodness.  Though the rains lately have been amazingly hard, dumping more water in a shorter time than I would normally expect. On Monday afternoon a storm came through and we got about 1 & 3/4″ rain. This was on top of the 1/2-inch we got last Sunday night (which fully filled the rain barrels). Don’t have to worry about irrigating *this* week. Unfortunately the hard rains weren’t kind to our newly transplanted lettuce starts and other smaller plants. Then on Thursday we got 2″ of rain in a hour, obliterating half of our lettuce starts.  And the beet sprouts aren’t looking any too happy either.

Harvests this week sounds like a broken record and are:  Green beans, field peas, and butter beans, the very last tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, basil (made pesto for freezing in muffin tins), 1 small volunteer carrot, cucumbers!, lettuces!, cilantro (which went into a fresh salsa made with the last tomatoes).  More canning, more freezing.

Pickin’s

More

Lettuce & Cilantro

Melons cut up and ready for eatin’

Melons cut open

Pesto Pucks ready for freezing

Field Peas blanched and drying

Basil

Yet again

We seeded beets in one of the front yard small square boxes where melons had been removed. Seeded radishes along the edge of 2 boxes where there was room for a row of radishes. Seeded cilantro in the area where the two cabbage transplants didn’t make it. On Monday we removed the last charentais melon vine (after cutting the small melon) and seeded carrots in the box. We also transplanted out the head lettuces we had started in the basement.  (me again – she has the very best green thumb for growing lettuces – I grew up in NC and if you’d *ever* told me we could grow lettuces like she does – well I’d have laughed).  The seed starting setup is now on hiatus until January, when it all starts again. We also seeded more head lettuce since we had room in the box and in a different box we seeded mache & leaf lettuces.

Weeded the herb bed, and took stock of it.  The now over 6′ tall lemongrass plant needs to be moved to the very end edge of the box.  The oregano grows faster and hardier than the thyme or the french tarragon – it needs to be moved next to the lemongrass plant, and then ruthlessly cut back regularly next year.  The rosemary is great at the other end.  We’ll keep seeding dill in the same place until it begins to thoroughly reseed itself. The thyme and the tarragon will probably need to be planted with new transplants in the spring.  We have a lavender plant that is decently happy, and I finally pulled up all the horseradish – it just never would make a decent root.

The 4 little charentais melons yielded 1 serving of melon. Like the watermelons it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had (nor the worst) – since we grew it, we eating it!

Yesterday we removed the last of the tomatoes, the haricot vert, and the disappointing tomatillos. The tomatillos didn’t do much this year – we had enough of a harvest to make a couple of pints of salsa verde a couple of months ago, and then nothing. I suspect the main problem was the the box they were planted in is less than full sun. The only thing more disappointing this year were the eggplants, which have yielded all of 2 small sad looking fruits.

Radish sprouts and cabbage plants

Radishes sprouting along with tomatoes and a squash or two. It’s amazing how the worm compost always yields lots of sprouting tomatoes and squash. It’s a bit of a pain because we have to treat them as weeds and pull them.

Fall Asparagus Spear

Fall asparagus spear. I’ve seen a few of these. Also note the berries on the supposedly all-male plants.

Butter beans – the younger ones seeded at the beginning of August

Butter Beans in bloom (second time)

Basil after its major haircut & Leeks

Battered, but not fried

Rain battered lettuce.

Garden 1

Tabasco peppers getting ripe

Tabasco

Mustard and Kale

September Summer Squash

September Cucumbers!

19 August Weekly Update

August 19, 2012

This week we picked:

Harvest

green beans and haricot verts, sweet & hot peppers, 2 types of field peas, butter beans, tomatoes, a few more raspberries eaten right in the garden

One pass through the garden

We seeded beets along one long edge each of the two long boxes the broccoli and cauliflower starts were also transplanted into. We restarted some lacinato kale.  Only 3 came up and since this is our favorite kale we’d like at least 5 plants, if not 6. It appears that the majority of the latest carrots that germinated haven’t made it, despite our efforts to keep them moist. We’ll reseed in September for over-wintering and an early spring crop. One of the cabbage plants didn’t survive but the other 7 are doing ok.

At this point we’re picking the tomatoes when they just start to turn red, due to the various blight and caterpillar problems. Most of them ripen fine on the counter and we made tomato sauce again yesterday. We also dried 3 trays of hot peppers this week.

We put mulch down across the garden aisles, around the blueberry bushes, and all around the fig trees, and put some more dirt  in a couple of boxes that are only 1/2 full.  We would have a picture of the newly-groomed look but it’s raining quite a bit today so we’re not outside.

We sprayed neem on the winter squash and charentais melons – they were getting some powdery mildew. We also sprayed the eggplant with pyrethrin – they still have some flea beetles and our production of eggplants this year has been practically nil.

My son spent the last 9 days with us, after graduating from basic training in the army.  Today he left for his sophomore year in college.  We celebrated last night with a big seafood feast, including oysters on the half-shell, shrimp cocktail, homemade clam chowder (with potatoes and onions from the garden), garlic bread, corn pudding, cole slaw, 2 lb lobsters, and a meyer lemon cheesecake. And for drinks we had sparkling white sangria we made with asti, white grape juice, pear nectar, and grapefruit bitters.  A good time was had by all.

Today we are making seafood stock with some of the lobster shells and some shrimp shells we had in the freezer.  We usually freeze items that can be used for stock in zip bags until we have enough to cook up some stock (about half of the remaining lobster shells are in the freezer waiting to be made into stock the next time we make it).  We then freeze the stock until we have use for it – most of our homemade stock is used for soup.  We’ve found the Ball quart freezer containers work great for freezing stock.

Harvest 1