Monday, July 26, 2010

Create a garden gift of beet pasta

I enjoy giving friends gifts from my garden. Whether it’s something I’ve just picked, a jar of sun-dried tomatoes, a butter made special with fresh herbs or something else, it feels good to know I’ve put my care and affection into the gift twice—while raising it and while preparing it.

So I undertook an experiment this weekend. A few years ago I read an article in Martha Stewart Living about making pasta with vegetables. Since I always have more beets than I can use, and because the color of beets is so appealing to me, I decided to make beet pasta to take to our friends who we’ll be visiting in Montana. Keep in mind, I’ve made pasta before but always used it fresh or froze it. To transport it, I had to dry it, a first for me. And I’ve never made pasta with beets.

I read through the recipe and got started. Roast the beets and puree. That proved to be the first point of question when the beets didn’t puree smoothly. I added water and they pureed, sort of, but were a bit lumpy for my liking. Nonetheless, I forged ahead.

Mix in the eggs and salt. Add flour. This is when I discovered I had used all of my all-purpose white flour. I prefer to always use at least some whole-wheat flour, but would not have chosen to use all whole-wheat pastry flour except that it was the best thing I had on hand. Into the food processor it went.

Instead of getting a nice, silky-looking pasta dough, it was barely sticking together. Maybe my eggs weren’t large enough. The recipe had called for two eggs and one egg yolk. I added the extra white in anyway to moisten the mixture. That worked so I a little water then gathered it all into a ball to wrap in plastic and rest for awhile.

Finally, the fun part had arrived. I’ve had a pasta maker for several years—a manual, hand crank pasta maker that I feed the pasta through several times to continue to work the dough, then cut it and make fettuccine or tagliatelle, if I choose those options instead of something I can hand-cut like ravioli or lasagna. When I unwrapped the dough, it felt much more like the silky product it should be. Relief. Next I began to feed it through the machine. It looked beautiful—so reddish, pink just like the beets.

As I said earlier, I had never dried pasta. I also didn’t have a drying rack. I found as many narrow, wooden kitchen tools as I could and propped them between chairs in the dining room to hang the pasta on. (My cat had to stay outside; I’m sure she would have thought it was there for her to play with.) By this morning, it was perfectly dried. I bagged it and looked upon my creation with a smile.

Now if I can just get it into my bag without crushing it to bits.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Try this easy berry cobbler

Berries are a wonderful source of nutrients to work into your meal. We grow raspberries, blueberries and strawberries that I love to eat fresh as well as freeze so I can enjoy their summer bursts of flavor throughout the year. In Kentucky, we’re now in blackberry season. Blackberries are a wonderful source of fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin K.

My friend Pat asked for the blackberry cobbler recipe. This came from one of those scraps of newspaper that I ripped out of the food section so I have to credit Sharon Thompson, food writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper.

Easy cobbler
2 cups fresh blackberries
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp. baking powder
1 stick butter, melted
½ cup milk
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup sugar
½ cup hot water

Place blackberries in the bottom of a 9 x 9 inch square pan. Combine flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, melted butter, milk and vanilla. Pour over fruit. Combine remaining ½ cup sugar and water, and pour over flour mixture. Bake in 350 degree oven about 45 minutes. Canned or frozen fruit may be used.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Satisfying a meat lover during vegetable season

This is the time of year when I could be happily vegetarian. Give me that good squash, beets, greens, corn, tomatoes and beans and I can sauté, roast or grill my way to a wonderful meal.

But I live with a meat-lover—the kind of man who would be happy with a steak as big as his plate, a slice of bread and potatoes of any kind. That’s not my idea of an appealing or healthy meal. So, the past few weeks have been challenge time. Can I actually prepare dishes that are so good that they don’t leave Jim asking for that plate of steak?

He tells me I’ve been doing well. I’m even on a streak of preparing dishes he rates a “10.” So, here are a few of the things I’ve been cooking with our garden vegetables:
Broccoli and cheese soup—it’s an Emeril recipe that includes butter; you can’t go wrong on flavor with that.
Zucchini soup—a favorite I became familiar with in Mexico. You sauté, add broth and boil until soft, puree then add a little cream. It works with any vegetable.
Yellow squash casserole—I like the recipe from The Joy of Cooking. Jim even said it tastes like his grandmother’s.
Swiss chard and ricotta pie—adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook, I turned one of my favorites into one of Jim’s by adding leftover, shredded chicken.
Blackberry cobbler—made with wild berries, which Jim insists tastes better.

None of the recipes are complicated; the leftovers are good. None of them have unique ingredients. But I made them all with freshly harvested, locally grown vegetables and fruits. That adds flavor you can’t buy, flavor that will please even a meat and potatoes man.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A tour through the early July garden

Welcome to a tour of my early July garden. It's been dry and hot, but so far, the plants and the gardener are surviving.
Last night Jim and I made a trellis of sticks and strings for the kidney and pinto bean plants. The package said they were bush beans. When they started putting out runners, I knew someone had gotten confused.
We picked our first ripe tomato on Sunday. This is one of our favorite heirloom varieties--Oxheart.
Jim set the racoon trap a couple of nights ago after I noticed some downed corn stalks. The ears aren't ready yet but perhaps the varmints are extra hungry this year. So far, they've evaded us although this trap and bate (a Honey Bunn) have worked in years past. Next to the corn are hot peppers, beets (I roasted some of those yesterday) and squash. We have four types of sqush in the garden, divided by rows so they won't cross fertilizer and come out with a vegetable we don't recognize. It has happened to me before!
Growing pumpkin.
Growing butternut squash.
This year I have zinnias, marigolds and geranimums planted in the garden to help ward off bugs. The nasturtiums haven't really surfaced and I miss their pretty flowers.
The Swiss chard will continue producing until frost. I love that crop. In the background is lettuce that is developing seed; I'm hoping to collect more seeds this year.
On the side of our house we turned a fertile patch of soil that previously housed a tall fir tree (downed by an ice storm) into another garden. It has tomatoes, bell peppers and basil.

If you have a favorite plant in your garden this year, comment with a photo so we can all share with you!