Thursday, July 31, 2008

My garlic harvest

Last October, I planted garlic in my garden. As with other bulbs, like daffodils or irises, you plant garlic bulbs in the fall, then come spring they sprout, and round about the end of July, the garlic is ready for harvest. (Click here for information on planting garlic.)

When I first started planting garlic about 10 years ago, I judged when to harvest the garlic by the fact that the lower leaves had started to turn brown. Then I stumbled on the best advice ever. It all has to do with garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes are the hollow stalks that a garlic plant sends up. It has a flower bud on its end and the scape is curled over in a kind of gooseneck shape [Photo 1]. The theory is that if you cut off the scapes, you will force the plant to put all its energy into growing a big bulb instead of growing a flower. The cut scapes [Photo 2] are actually quite tender and you can cook with them; they have a nice mild garlic flavor.

Now here's the trick I learned about knowing when to harvest garlic. When a garlic scape UNcurls and points straight up [Photo 3] in preparation for opening the flower, it's time to harvest the garlic. So when you cut off the scapes earlier in the summer, leave one scape to use as your barometer for the harvest.

Here's my harvested garlic [Photo 4]. The garlic in a freshly picked bulb is nicely pungent and almost crisp in texture. It's really rewarding to cook with your own homegrown garlic.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An old-fashioned remedy

In the course of my research for a history-oriented feature (for Hallmark Magazine) called "Signature Dish," I spent a lot of time looking through really old cookbooks (you can get almost anything these days from the used booksellers at Amazon and Barnes & Noble) as well as websites that specialize in food history. (If you're interested, a particularly good one is called Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project.)

Once you spend any time checking out food history, you'll discover that many of the books from earlier generations were more than just cookbooks. They also dealt with the topic of household management. There was advice on everything from how to make stucco to removing ink stains from a mahogany desk to getting rid of crickets.

One of my favorite tips comes from a book called The House Servant's Directory. This landmark book was written in 1827 by Robert Roberts, a professional manservant and a prominent figure in the African-American community in 19th-century Boston. Along with advice for those wishing to enter into "gentlemen's service," Roberts also included such practical advice as this:

"To remove flies from rooms. Take half a teaspoonful of black pepper, in powder, one teaspoonful of brown sugar, and one tablespoonful of cream; mix them well together, and place them in the room, on a plate, where the flies are troublesome, and they will soon disappear."

It sounds oddly tasty, doesn't it? I'm very curious to know if it actually works. If any of you has a problem with houseflies, give this remedy a try and let me know how it goes.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beautiful handmade papers....from food

Foods in cross-section can be quite beautiful (think of the starfruit, the kiwi or even an apple). Apparently a German art paper company thought the same thing and took ultra-thin slices of different fruits and vegetables to make what they call papyrus. Some of the more ordinary vegetables--like carrot and cucumber--were surprisingly neat looking. See if you can guess the fruits or vegetables in the photographs above (see below for answers).

If you're actually interested in purchasing any of these papers (they would be great for craft projects, especially anything where a light could shine through to show off the patterns...a lamp shade?), check them out at Hiromi Paper. They cost $9-14 per sheet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Raspberries, yum

My raspberries bushes have gone crazy. It seems like a good year for these luscious little fruits, at least in my neck of the woods. So time to indulge in the real (locally grown) thing.

For inspiration, I recommend checking in with the Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission. They really know their stuff. You'll find the latest research on the healthful compounds in berries and you'll also find a collection of cool-sounding berry recipes, like Chocolate Raspberry Napoleons, Key Lime Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce, Berry Empanadas, Raspberry Tiramisu.... But here's the one that I'm saving up (my berries) to try:

Raspberry–Blackberry Cobbler with Triple Ginger Biscuit Topping

1 cup sugar
6-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
6 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chilled heavy cream

1. Prepare the fruit: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish.
2. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch and lemon zest. Add the berries and lemon juice, and toss to blend. Transfer to the baking dish and dot with the butter
3. Bake for 30 minutes or until the mixture begins to bubble.
4. Meanwhile, make the topping and biscuits:In a small bowl, blend all the topping ingredients and set aside.
5. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, crystallized ginger, baking powder, fresh ginger, ground ginger, lemon zest and salt.
6. Using fingertips, rub in the chilled butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal (or process in the bowl of a food processor for 30 seconds). Add the cream and stir until a dough forms.
7. Turn the dough out onto floured surface and knead gently until smooth, about 6 turns. Roll out to 3/4-inch thickness. Using 2-inch shaped cookie cutter or round biscuit cutter, cut out biscuits. Re-roll dough scraps; cut out additional biscuits.
8. After the fruit has been baking for 30 minutes, place biscuits atop hot fruit, spacing closely. Sprinkle the reserved topping over biscuits. Bake cobbler until fruit is tender and biscuits are golden, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The perfect pitcher

My friend Meg mentioned to me the other day that her husband was on an iced tea kick, possibly inspired by the pitcher she gave him for Father's Day. This got me to thinking about how summertime is when you haul out your pitchers. But if you're like me, your "pitchers" may only be a ratty collection of plastic juice containers with broken or mismatched tops. So I decided to look around for some inspiration to bring my pitcher game up. I found lots of good stuff.

1 Here's a good example of a pitcher that's perfect for iced tea. It has a center chamber that you fill with ice, which keeps the tea cold but doesn't dilute it. The 2.75-quart Samoa glass pitcher by Frigoverre is $21.99 from Chefs Catalog.
2 Same idea, different method. The 2-quart DuraClear® (polycarbonate) Icing Pitcher has a removable insert that sits on the side of the pitcher instead of down the middle. It's $45 from Williams-Sonoma.
3 Ah, these Bormioli Rocco Gelo refrigerator jugs remind me of the iced tea jars my grandmother had. They're not elegant, just practical, because they fit in the refrigerator door. About $15 for a set of two.
4 Practical like the Gelo jugs, but bigger, this almost 2-quart Quadro glass pitcher from Luminarc is a reasonable $8.
5 Or go the old-fashioned route with a nice ceramic pitcher. This 2-quart Le Creuset ceramic pitcher is $34.95 at Broadway Panhandler.
6 The Bordalo green earthenware pitcher, made in Portugal, holds 1 quart and is dishwasher safe. It's $19.95 from Sur la Table.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cupcakes Take the Cake

I'm the first to confess that I'm not a cupcake fan. But when I found this blog, Cupcakes Take the Cake: All Cupcakes, All the Time, I was blown away. It's hard to imagine that there could actually be so much information about cupcakes out there. But if it exists, I'm pretty sure that it's somewhere in this blog.

In addition to great photographs that go with the posts, the blog has the world's longest list of cupcake bakeries (with websites) around the nation. I swear, I'm on the verge of caving in and craving a cupcake.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Love Affair with Southern Cooking

Jean Anderson, a well-known food writer and cookbook author, recently won a James Beard award for her cookbook A Love Affair with Southern Cooking. (Congratulations, Jean!) The love affair in the book's title comes not only from Jean's considerable talents and expertise as a food historian and cookbook author, but also from her birthright. Jean is a natural-born Southerner and currently lives in North Carolina.

The book is filled with great recipes, of course, but also lots of sidebars and timelines and interesting nuggets of Southern food lore. In collecting the recipes for the book, Jean drew heavily on her own upbringing as well as that of friends; and many of the recipes are Southern classics, like Jefferson Davis Pie, Robert E. Lee Cake, Country Captain or Hoppin' John.

When I was thinking what recipe I would like to share with you from Jean's book, I decided it had to be something typically North Carolina, so to me that meant something barbecued. As Jean puts it: "Of course, every southern state believes its barbecue to be 'the best in the world' and as a Tar Heel, I devoutly make that claim for North Carolina." [Scroll down for Jean's list of favorite North Carolina barbecue joints.]

The following recipe is not for a North Carolina-style barbecue (since I believe that involves a giant smoke pit and a whole hog), but for a really interesting sounding grilled pork tenderloin.

Spicy Grilled Pork Tenderloin
(adapted from A Love Affair with Southern Cooking by Jean Anderson. William Morrow, 2007)
Makes 4 to 6 servings
I hesitate to call this "barbecue" although some people might. It's unlike any barbecue I've eaten; still it's a popular way to prepare pork tenderloin down south.

— 2 large whole garlic cloves
— 4 large scallions, trimmed and chunked (white part only)
— 3/4 cup pineapple juice
— 1/2 cup cider vinegar
— One 8-ounce can tomato sauce
— 2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
— 2 tablespoons molasses (not too dark)
— 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
— 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
— 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
— 1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
— Two 1-pound pork tenderloins
— 2 tablespoons cold butter, dice

1. Whiz the garlic, scallions, pineapple juice, and vinegar in an electric blender at high speed until smooth. Pour into a jumbo-size plastic zipper bag, add all remaining ingredients except the pork and butter, seal, and shake well to combine.
2. Add the pork tenderloins to the bag and reseal. Refrigerate overnight, turning the bag from time to time so the pork marinates evenly.
3. When ready to proceed, pour about 1/3 cup of the marinade into a measuring cup and reserve. Pour the balance into a heavy, nonreactive saucepan and set aside. Preheat the grill to moderate heat (375°F).
4. Grill the tenderloins with the lid up, turning and brushing now and then with the reserved 1/3 cup marinade, for 25 to 30 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer, thrust into the center of a tenderloin, reads 150°F.
5. Meanwhile, bring the pan of marinade to a boil over moderately high heat, reduce the heat to its lowest point, set the lid on the pan askew, and keep the sauce warm while the tenderloins grill.
6. Transfer the tenderloins to a carving board, tent with foil, and let stand for 5 minutes. Add any leftover basting marinade to that in the saucepan and simmer uncovered while the tenderloins rest. Just before serving, add the diced butter to the hot marinade bit by bit and whisk until smooth.
7. To serve, slice the tenderloins 1/2 inch thick, slightly on the bias. Fan out on heated dinner plates and top each portion with some of the hot marinade.

Here's a list of 'cue joints from Jean's book:
• Lexington Number One, Lexington, NC
• Stamey's, Greensboro, NC
• Short Sugar's, Reidsville, NC
• Melton's, Rocky Mount, NC
• Parker's, Wilson, NC
• Flip's, Wilmington, NC
• Wilber's, Goldsboro, NC
• Scott's, Goldsboro, NC
• Skylight, Ayden, NC
• A&M, Mebane, NC
• Scott Howell's Q Shack, Durham, NC

To find out more about Jean Anderson--she's written tons of other cookbooks and also won other James Beard awards--check out her website JeanAndersonCooks.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Eat local

I'm so happy about the recent groundswell of interest in eating food that's been grown locally. It has a threefold impact on our lives: 1) the food you buy will be fresher because it's picked closer to actual ripeness and has to travel shorter distances to get to market, 2) because it travels a shorter distance there is less fuel expended to get the food to you, and 3) it helps support local farmers.

So here is a cool little tool to help you if you decide to jump on this bandwagon. A website called Local Harvest has an interactive map of the United States with local farms and farmer's markets (plus other food sources such as CSAs and online stores). There is a Search that lets you plug in an ingredient and then a zip code, city or state. When I plugged in Strawberries and Nevada, I got 14 matches.

Keep in mind that the map relies on the individual farmer's markets and other food vendors for the information in the map, so there may possibly be some inaccuracies. For example, it told me that I could buy artichokes at a farmer's market in New Jersey. My guess is that if they have them, they come from California, so not local. But who knows, maybe there is an enterprising farmer in New Jersey who has decided to grow artichokes. That would be cool.