The Best Laid Plans…

I think that August is, by far, the juiciest month. Mine was filled with luscious peaches, tomatoes about to split with ripeness (and some that were not caught in time). July was juicy, too, hot early this summer season, our fruit CSA sending us home every week with at least one heavy bag of stone fruit. We’ve moved into apples now, and we even had pears last week, but the peaches persist despite the weather turning autumnal, handfuls of juicy brightness for these newly crisp days and cool nights.

July and August were full of other things, too, of summer colds and vacations and papers to write, of finishing school and taking a state licensing exam and waiting (I am still waiting) for the results, of cooking and canning and making some cheese, taking pictures of kitchen projects with every intention of blogging (the best laid plans) and then getting caught up in other things just long enough for those photos to feel untimely.

But I will be back with some pictures soon, recaps of things that feel worthy of recapping, new projects in the pipes to busy my hands as this waiting drags on, pictures and posts to make up for the unplanned hiatus at the juiciest time of year.

Back to the City

The fourth of July was wonderful again this year: perfect days in Vermont, green grass, loved ones, cooking on campfire, dappled sunlight by the brook, and the coldest, clearest water.

I will catch up soon on kitchen projects, CSA plans. The fruit share started this week. It wasn’t supposed to start until next week, but the weather has been in the triple digits, and even peaches were plump and ready in early July, and we received a satisfying, handled bag of them with our share last night, accompanied by some wonderful berries, balms to sooth the re-entry, the easing back from three perfect days into heatwave, city grit, the grind of non-vacation life.

I will catch up on these things soon, for sure. In the meantime, I am savoring the peace still lingering from those recent, perfect days, celebrating summer and the glow of recent memories.



Fried Squash Blossoms

I mentioned in a recent post that squash blossoms were the first thing I had ever fried, and that they were wonderful. I was delighted to receive squash blossoms from our CSA two weeks in a row and even more delighted to finally eat them this evening.

The batter provides a light crunch to these babies, and the delicate texture of the blossoms screams of early summer. Better yet, they take mere minutes to prepare.

Recipe: Fried Squash Blossoms

Ingredients:

  • Squash blossoms (I had 10, but I’ve made as few as four at a time)
  • White flour (1 cup or so)
  • club soda (1 cup or so, again)
  • vegetable oil (I mixed canola with olive oil)
  • salt + pepper

How to do it:

OK, for the sake of full disclosure, I admit that I stuffed my blossoms to make them extra delicious. I had some leftover tofu-pesto alfredo in the fridge (recipe to appear here one of these days), which I mushed up with some goat cheese and spooned into the center of the blossoms.  I have previously filled these guys with goat cheese and basil or ricotta with a little bit of pesto. It’s hard to go wrong with creamy cheese and fresh herbs. If you’d like to fill your blossoms, peel the petals back carefully and spoon the filling in. For smaller blossoms where a spoon would not do, I put my filling in a sandwich bag and cut the corner off so that I could pipe it into the little flowers.

Now back to the frying steps…

  1. Whisk flour lightly in a bowl to break up any lumps (not worth sifting, really). I added a little bit of chickpea flour tonight, but I don’t think it added much.
  2. Whisk in club soda until the batter is relatively thin, maybe like heavy cream that’s been beaten for a minute or so, just before it’s whipped.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste. I used a very light sprinkle of cayenne pepper and a relatively hefty pinch of kosher salt.
  4. Heat 1/2 inch or so of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Heat it up until a drop of water sizzles and pops when dropped into the pan.
  5. Quickly dunk each blossom into batter and drop it in the pan. Fry for a minute or two on one side, then flip over (unless you want to get into deep frying, for which I have no advice)
  6. Remove from pan and drain on doubled up paper towels to remove excess oil. I flipped mine over to get both sides.
  7. Most important! Eat while hot! Enjoy!

CSA: Week 3

Tonight, we are getting:

  • 1 Head Deep Red Leaf Lettuce
  • 1 bu. Hakurei Red Salad Turnips
  • 2 bulbs Kohlrabi
  • 1 Head Green Iceberg Lettuce
  • 1 Head Bok Choy
  • 6 Squash Blossoms
  • 1 bu. Mixed colored Beets
  • 1 bu. Italian Parsley
  • 1 Greenhouse Cucumber
  • 2 pc. Baby Bok Choy

The meals that will spring from this will likely look like this:

  1. Salad for lunch: It seems that we are going to remain mired in salads for a bit — we still have a little lettuce from last week. The cucumber will be a welcome addition.
  2. Fried Squash Blossoms: We did not get around to cooking last week’s squash blossoms (travels interfered), so we will now have 10 to delicately fry and savor, a nice treat to share with an out of town guest.
  3. Weeknight Barbecue: Baby bok choy will likely be marinated and grilled at a potluck double date later this week. I wonder how kohlrabi would do on the grill? Perhaps it is time to find out. Or perhaps the kohlrabi will be julienned and added to a soba noodle salad for a little bit of crunch.
  4. Turnip Salad: I have been eagerly awaiting the return of Harukei turnips. Though we have not had red ones before, white Harukei turnips proved to be one of my favorite new discoveries from last year’s CSA. The early season turnips were sweet and mild with a refreshing crunch, and I loved them in a simple salad with sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. We still have some cilantro from last week’s CSA, which will be wonderful here.
  5. Bok Choy Sauerkraut: This week’s big bok choy + last week’s big bok choy = time to bust out the pickling crock. Not sure what spices I will use for this yet, but I’m looking forward to my first fermentation project of the season.

Not sure yet what will become of the beets and parsley. Pickled beets? Light borscht? Ravioli with beets and goat cheese? Mmmm…Whatever happens with my straggler veggies, I am very much looking forward to a weekend at home (I’ve been away too much lately), to grounding myself in my little kitchen, tearing through vegetables after a few days of unhealthy eating on the road, and hopefully reporting back on the projects ahead.

Return of Rhubarb = My Favorite Beverage, Round 2

Rhubarb is more striking-looking with its leaves, but don't eat them. They are poisonous.

Since getting engaged a few months back, I’ve talked several times about making gallons of rhubarb liqueur for my wedding next year. As we have not set a date, I reasoned, I’d better make it now in case we run into crunch time next spring. I think some people might have thought I was joking, but, if there’s one thing I’m serious about, it’s gin. If there’s another, I suppose it’s local produce. And so I am here to restate my commitment to the rhubarb booze, to making as much of it as possible for signature cocktails for Shawn’s and my special day. Now to find a date and a venue that will allow said cocktails…minor details…

I am also here to provide better photos than I did in my last post on this topic.

Once again, ladies and gentlemen, How to Make Rhubarb Liqueur:

Step 1: Chop Rhubarb, however much you have on hand, and put it in a great, big jar. Here we see four large stalks of rhubarb, courtesy of our CSA. That is a gallon jar.

Step 2: Add a little sugar and the zest of one lemon. Give it a shake. It will look shimmery and juicy all at once. You will be pleased.

Step 3: Add gin. The first time I made this, I used vodka, noting that gin would probably be tasty. I then made another batch with gin and confirmed that this yielded a vastly superior beverage. Here I have used a handle (that’s a legitimate unit of measurement, right?) of meh-quality gin. It’s not really worth it to use the good stuff. It will all mellow out in the end.

Steps 4-5: Not pictured. Step 4 is straining. Through a coffee filter is best, but a fine sieve will do if you are feeling impatient (the coffee filter straining takes, approximately, forever). Step 5 is adding simple syrup to taste and pouring it all into a bottle.

Here we see my second batch of the season sitting next to batch #1, strained and bottled earlier this week.

Last year, the first batch of the season was a pale pink due to the pale green stalks of rhubarb that were available early in the season. The second batch looked more like Hawaiian Punch™ due to brighter, rosier stalks. Re-visiting my second batch of liqueur after a mere one day of infusion reveals that this is going to be the case again. Look at the color on this stuff!

OK, so maybe they don’t look that different now, but trust me: the color will deepen in the next week or two. I will give the jar a good shake every couple of days, then strain it, add simple syrup, and let my liqueur join its paler friend waiting for next year. That is, if I can resist the temptation to serve this up at every cocktail party between now and then. It’s spring in a cup, people! Irresistible!

CSA: Week 2, making plans

Week 2 of the CSA brought exciting goodies like squash blossoms and garlic scapes. Only 4 of each, but exciting just the same. A good friend came over before pickup to help with last week’s bok choy over lunch (sauteed and tossed with radishes, wrapped up in chickpea pancakes), so we were mostly finished with last week’s goods — an accomplishment in my mind as we were away over the weekend — but there was still a full head of lettuce, plus some carrots and radishes kicking around, and the heads of lettuce are getting bigger as the season progresses, so we clearly need to step up our salad eating game if we wish to stay abreast of things.

This week, we got:

  • 1 Head of Red Oak Lettuce
  • 8 oz. Sugar Snap Peas
  • 1 Head of Green Romaine Lettuce
  • 1 Head Green Boston Lettuce
  • 1 Head of Bok Choy
  • 3 Red Beets
  • 4 Garlic Scapes
  • 1 bu. Cilantro
  • 4 pcs. of Rhubarb
  • 4 pieces of Squash Blossoms

I am very excited about the beets, scapes, and squash blossoms in particular. Squash blossoms are the first thing I ever fried, and they remain one of the few things I am willing to cook in any significant amount of oil. I lightly batter them, sometimes filled with ricotta and herbs. I happen to have some leftover pesto-tofu alfredo in the fridge, four spoonfuls or so, just enough to fill these babies up and get them cooking for a simple supper tomorrow night.

As for the beets, I recently came across this gorgeous recipe for beet gnocchi on CakeWalk. These will be made tonight, served up to an impromptu dinner guest with goat cheese and garlic scapes. I just might be more excited than I should be. Time will tell. All I know for now is that my beets are roasted and beautiful, and I’m looking forward to a colorful meal.

We ate a big salad last night with a sesame-cilantro dressing and last week’s radishes, tossed up with pickled beets still lingering (and still good) from last season, and some sliced up, fresh and tasty sugar snap peas. I see more salads in our future. Lots more salads.

I’m hanging onto the big old head of bok choy. We got a lot of bok choy last year, and I’m waiting to see if we get more next week, waiting, too, until I’m not going away for the weekend, to get going on some bok choy kraut. I was skeptical of my ability to burn through a big jar of fermented bok choy last summer, but it turned out that it went great in pad thai inspired noodles, peanut sauces, etc. — the brininess replaced fish sauce and rice wine vinegar, and it was delicious.

The rhubarb, which was truly beautiful with its lovely (but poisonous) leaves, has been chopped and combined with a good bit of gin to make my favorite summer cocktail treat. More on that later, and more plans next week, hopefully recipes instead of a hurried list of food uses. In the meantime, I am excited about the lovely colors gracing my table, still delighted by the freshness coming through on Tuesday nights. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some hot pink gnocchi to make.

CSA Teaser

Our CSA started!

No pictures this week, but I’m getting excited for the summer of vegetables laid out before us.

This week, we got:

  • lettuce, lettuce, lettuce (red oak, red romaine, green Boston)
  • sugar snap peas
  • 1 bunch radishes
  • 1 bunch fancy, multi-colored carrots
  • 1 bunch tall and slender asparagus
  • baby bok choy (and so it begins — last year there was more bok choy than I ever could have imagined)
  • 1/2 pint strawberries

Peas were consumed standing at my kitchen island in bare feet, snapping strings from pods and munching away. I don’t believe there is a better way to eat these crisp, sweet things when fresh than plain and raw. Sautéed in butter with sea salt and mint takes second place, but I so rarely get that far.

Asparagus was roasted last night. I will admit to eating some of this, too, with my fingers, standing barefoot at the kitchen island. Some of it made its way onto a plate, though, for my solitary dinner. Shawn took the rest to work today for lunch. I will be living on salad lunches for a bit, tender lettuce leaves, pretty carrots, radishes steeped in lemon juice to take out a little bit of their bite.

And the strawberries…oh the strawberries…strawberries made their appearance at the greenmarket a few weeks ago, fragrant and bright red, but I had not gotten around to buying them yet. We’re participating in a fruit share this year, which won’t start until a little later in the season. But, as with last year, our farmer treated us to a wee half pint to kick off the season. The flavor in these things is insane. We’ve been eating them bit by bit, plucking them one by one from their little green carton, oohing and aahing  at their splendor.

It’s the start of the season, so the haul was fairly light, and no major plans were required to ensure consumption of vegetables. But I will be posting as the weeks go on, as more things spring up and make their way into our weekly share, and as our winter diet of starch and cheese gives way to veggies day and night. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, get thee to your local farmer’s market. Snatch up some snap peas and strawberries, some asparagus if it’s still hanging on. These things are fleeting and delicious and demand your attention!