Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tomato Jam

I don't think anyone would disagree that one of summer's most generous gifts comes in the form of homegrown vine ripened tomatoes. A healthy harvest of plump, brightly colored, sweet and juicy tomatoes is just about as great a reward that any home gardener could wish for. Alas, as wonderful as the bounty of the tomato vine is, the harsh reality is that it is a fleeting reward. Aside from canning and freezing homegrown tomatoes, one of the tastiest ways I've found to preserve this fine summer fruit is to put up a few jars of tomato jam. My favorite version is Mark Bittman's recipe that he shared in his August 8, 2008 New York Times Dining & Wine column. This stuff is amazing on hot buttered biscuits, crusty toasted artisan bread, or as a topping for goat cheese or a wheel of gooey brie.

Fried Chicken

Tonight, I fried up some of our Cornish Cross chicken from Bramble Hollow Farm for dinner. I took it out of the freezer late this morning and let it thaw in a pan of buttermilk which, by the way, is a fantastic marinade for chicken. When it was time to cook, I shook off the excess buttermilk, dredged the pieces through some seasoned flour, and plopped them into a pan of moderately hot oil. I let the chicken brown nicely on the first side without disturbing the pieces. When a good crust had formed on that side, I carefully turned to brown the other side. After the second side had browned, I started "working" the chicken by gently turning and rotating all of the pieces until it was cooked throughout to an internal temperature of about 180º.

Mom made a pan of gravy to go with my mashed potatoes. I cooked some English peas from out of the freezer and I made a pan of what I call "melted tomatoes"(I'll explain that in a later post). Needless to say, the five of us cleaned our plates. I think I'll coma now...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Garlicky Marinated Zucchini With Soy And Sesame

First of all, why does the "k" get added to "garlic" in its "garlicky" form?

Now, here's another delicious way with zucchini. This one is a raw salad, if you want to call it that. I do. Thanks to "Not Eating Out in New York" for the inspiration.

Zucchini Marinated with Garlic, Soy Sauce, & Sesame Oil
(makes about 6 side dish servings)

1 lb. (weight after prepping) zucchini, halved lengthwise (quartered if large), then seeded
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/2 tsp. Asian sesame oil

Slice the halved or quartered zucchini crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Place zucchini in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Toss to combine well. Place in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 hours to marinate and chill thoroughly. Eat.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Color. It's What's For Dinner.

Tonight we ate our colors for dinner. We had a Capri salad of juicy garden tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and bright green basil leaves. The only enhancement the salad got was some good crunchy salt, a grind of black pepper, and a drizzle of good olive oil, and that made it perfect. For the main course, there were sweet potatoes that Mom & Dick found at the Food Co-Op this week and some Bright Lights chard that Dick brought in from the sweltering heat this afternoon. (By the way, at 8:00 p.m. as I write this post it's 93º outside.) Mom simply baked the sweet potatoes in their skins which we peeled off before plopping them onto our plates and dressing them with butter and a bit of crunchy salt. The chard was sautéed in a smoking hot pan in a drizzle of olive oil with some of our homegrown garlic. So simple, so good.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bread & Butter Pickles

The pickle of choice for egg salad, potato salad, and tuna salad in Real Life Kitchen is the humble homemade bread & butter pickle. It's a slightly sour sweet pickle made from cucumbers, onions, and bell peppers with garlic, celery seed, mustard seed, and turmeric. It's also a great grilled cheese, pimiento cheese sandwich, or hamburger pickle. Each summer we make a couple of batches, some with real sugar for me, and some with that sugar substitute stuff that comes in the yellow bag for our resident diabetic, Dick. Both are tasty, but the fake sugar ones have that tell-tale fake sugar aftertaste that always trips me up. Today, I made eight pints of the real sugar ones that are making that satisfying "pop" that means SUCCESS! at this very moment.

Bread & Butter Pickles

Makes 8 pints:
4 quarts sliced medium cucumbers, not pared
6 medium yellow or white onions, sliced
2 green bell peppers, diced
3 or 4 cloves garlic, halved or quartered depending on their size
1/3 cup kosher salt

For the brine:
5 cups sugar
3 cups cider vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1-1/2 teaspoons celery seed
2 tablespoons mustard seed

Combine cucumbers, onions, peppers, and garlic in a large stainless steel or glass bowl. Add the salt and cover with ice cubes or crushed ice. Toss to combine the vegetables, salt, and ice thoroughly. Let stand for 3 hours, tossing 2 or 3 times during that time. Drain well and pick out any remaining chunks of ice.
Combine the brine ingredients and stir well to dissolve the sugar. Place the well-drained vegetables in a large pot and pour the brine over. Heat just to boiling then turn off heat. Ladle into hot sterilized jars, making sure the vegetables are completely covered with the brine. Top each jar with a new sterilized lid then tighten the rings down. Leave the jars to cool and seal on the counter for several hours. Any jars that do not seal need to be stored in the refrigerator or placed in a hot water bath for 15 minutes then allowed to cool and seal.

Fourth Of July Dinner

Our Fourth of July dinner menu centered around the ribs from our Bramble Hollow Farm hog which we picked up last week. Mom made a really fabulous dry rub out of sage, thyme, salt & pepper, and crushed juniper berries that she rubbed on the ribs a couple of days ago. Today, I roasted the seasoned ribs slowly in a covered shallow pan for a couple of hours before uncovering and brushing them with Annie's Original BBQ Sauce then letting them finish for another half-hour, or so. In the meantime, I finely shredded a couple of small heads of our homegrown cabbage and turned them into coleslaw. Also, I had picked up a couple of heads of radicchio at the Grandin Road Community Market last Saturday that were fading in a dark corner of the refrigerator. I was consumed by an extraordinarily busy week at Kroger and had been unable to muster the after-work strength to do anything with them, thus far. So, I combined the radicchio with some beet greens from the garden and made garlic and olive oil braised greens which I found to be amazing. I cooked some corn on the cob, sliced up some ripe tomatoes, and made a blackberry-raspberry cobbler to round out dinner. Fingers were licked.

Again, I apologize for the poor quality of the photos. I hope to have this remedied soon. The pics of the ribs weren't even worth posting. Boo.

Technical Difficulties

My little digital camera has decided to go belly up. Until I replace it, the photos you'll be seeing here are either coming out of my extensive food porn library, or being taken with my phone camera which is less than adequate but better than nothing. Please bear with me.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Best Zucchini Pickles Ever

Now is the time of year that our gardens and farmers markets are running over with zucchini squash. This abundance leads to our kitchen counters and coolers being piled high with those beautiful green fruits, which is a good thing and a bad thing. So many of us use up loads of brain power and creativity trying to figure out new and exciting things to prepare in our kitchens to keep up with the squash that Mother Nature is steadily shoveling in our direction. Inevitably, we end up feeling like we've been stricken with a zucchini plague rather than being blessed with a bountiful summer harvest. So, to take the heat off of the urge to eat all of those fine zucchini at once, why not make these amazingly yummy zucchini pickles? It's an easy pickle to make and you'll be able to enjoy some of this summer's sunshine all year long just by popping open a jar. This recipe comes from one of my all-time favorite food books, The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers.

Zuni Café Zucchini Pickles

Makes about 2 pints:
1 pound zucchini squash
1 small yellow onion
2 tablespoons salt (a little more if using kosher salt)

For the brine:
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
Scant 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

Wash and trim the zucchini, then slice thinly (about 1/16 inch) using a mandoline, preferably. Slice the onion very thinly, as well. Place the zucchini and the onion together in a large shallow bowl, add the salt and toss well to distribute. Add a few ice cubes and cold water to cover, then stir to dissolve the salt.

After about an hour, taste and feel a piece of zucchini - it should be faintly salty and softened. Drain, making sure to remove any remaining ice cubes. Dry very thoroughly between dish towels, or spin dry, a few handfuls at a time, in a salad spinner. {Excess water with dilute the flavor and spoil the pickle.} Rinse and dry the bowl.

Combine the vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds, and turmeric in a saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 3 minutes. This can be done while the zucchini and onion are in the icy brine. Set the vinegar mixture aside until it's just warm to the touch. If the liquid is too hot, it will cook the vegetables and make the pickles soft instead of crisp.

Return the zucchini and onion to the bowl and add the cooled vinegar brine. Stir to combine well.

Transfer the pickles to clean pint jars, preferably ones that have "shoulders" to help hold the zucchini beneath the surface of the brine. Cover and refrigerate for at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to mellow and permeate the vegetables, turning them a brilliant chartreuse color. These keep indefinitely in the refrigerator. DO NOT store these at room temperature.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bramble Hollow Farm

This past Saturday we travelled a few miles east on US 460 to the Bedford County community of Montvale, VA. We enjoy this trip every time we make it and it was especially nice this time because brother Scott was here visiting from Oregon and he got to go with us. Brent and Anna Wills are the super-nice young couple who live there with their son, Jack, and raise wonderful pastured pork and poultry. This was our second pick-up day of the year and we were looking forward to those fine Freedom Ranger broilers and our half-hog that we had ordered back in the fall. There are four pick-up days this year and we have ordered six chickens for each of those days. We ordered two half-hogs from the Wills' this year, too. We picked one up on this Saturday and the other will be ready later in the fall. That fall pig will produce our Christmas ham just as last year's fall pig did. You can find out more about Bramble Hollow Farm on their Facebook page.

Scott took a few photos of the farm and its inhabitants, as well as a nifty little video of the current lot of piglets and their moms.

Richard The Tomato-Hearted

My step-father, Dick, is the man responsible for our having all of the wonderful tasty vegetables that you see here in Real Life Kitchen. His favorites, by far, are the homegrown tomatoes that come in so many shapes, sizes, and colors. I think you can tell by his expression how much enjoys not only eating them, but growing these beauties, as well.

You Know It's Summer When...

... dinner each night is a bounty of fresh vegetables from the backyard garden. Here's a sampling of a few dinner items from this week, so far.

Sweet corn on the cob. Creamed yellow squash. Mom's best-ever cornbread. Roasted carrots, celery, and onions. A salad of tiny potatoes, thin green beans, tomatoes, parsley, tarragon, and lovage with anchovy vinaigrette. Char-grilled eggplants, yellow and zucchini squashes, onions, and banana peppers with fresh herbs. Sliced tomatoes with cracked pepper and flaky salt. Green beans simmered with tomatoes, garlic, and savory. Simple roasted new potatoes. Steamed broccoli with crunchy Dijon-mustard bread crumbs. Cucumber salad. Boiled cabbage. Multi-colored tomato and avocado salad. Oh, and we did grill some pork chops one night.

Everything pictured here grew in the backyard garden with the exception of the corn, celery, avocados, and the cornmeal that we use in the cornbread.