Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Open-face Broccoli Melt

I've been hearing a lot of hype about this Cleveland restaurant that's just opened up a branch on the east side. The place is called Melt, and I have never been there. I must admit, I've been intrigued. I've even had people recommend that I go there, but Art put his foot down. I can't help but agree with him. Why pay restaurant prices for grilled cheese?

Instead, having too much broccoli in the frig and not enough time to use it in, I looked to the Moosewood Simple Suppers cookbook for a little hometoasted melt of my own.

Open-face Broccoli Melt
(adjusted from the broccolini cheddar melt)
What you need:
1 large broccoli crown
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2 slices of whole wheat bread
3 oz. shredded cheese (I used a mix of cheddar-jack)
Dijon or yellow mustard

1. Get out broccoli. Realize half of broccoli is too old to use anymore. Shake your head while tossing an entire large crown into the trash can. It is acceptable to mutter casual obscenities under your breath as you do so. Place remaining broccoli on a cutting board. Chop broccoli into 1/2 in long florets.
2.In skillet on high heat, cook broccoli with garlic in oil for 4-5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 1/4 c. water to pan and steam broccoli until water evaporates. Remove from heat.
3. As broccoli steams, get out your toaster. Look for your whole wheat bread. Fail to find the bread. Rummage around the kitchen muttering about vanishing bread until you remember you put the last open loaf in the refrigerator, because the last one you left out developed mold. Put one slice in the toaster. Be careful to place it at a low enough time setting so as not to burn it.
4. Congratulate yourself on not burning the toast. Spread mustard on the toast and place on a broiler pan. Top toast with broccoli, then cheese. Broil until cheese melts and is bubbly, 3-5 minutes. Serve hot, open faced.

I must say that over the years, I have grown fond of cheese and broccoli, broccoli and cheese. I haven't been to Melt yet, but that's fine by me. I make a mean melt myself.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Kale Spiders

The garden is filled with good insects this time of year, none so much as in my kale bush, where a nest of hunting spiders have taken residence.
They are of a docile variety, who apparently also are camera shy, but every time I harvest the kale, I have to shake them, gently so as not to rip the tips of the leaves, to force off any spiders hiding along the curly edges. I once had three quite frazzled spiders fall haphazard from one large leaf. Uncertain of where they were and what had happened, they ventured for cover, one toward the zucchini, one toward my pant-leg, and one lucky critter headed back to the kale.
The next kale harvest, soon approaching, I will take the camera back to the garden in hopes of capturing a kale spider or two. And though I know that the spiders are keeping my greens safe from vegetarian insects, I can't help it; my skin crawls for an hour after shaking them off, mere inches from where my fingers grasp the stem.

Another carnivorous insect find: a praying mantis in the purple cherokee tomatoes.
Art spotted her while watering. I had missed her, despite the fact that I had plucked a tomato not centimeters from where she was stationed on the plant. She stood nice and still and allowed us to photograph her, begrudgingly putting up with the bright flash, but it wasn't long after that the shrieks and touchy mitts of the six-year-old boy scared her off.

Outside of our little plot, there is is flurry of activity at the sunflower garden:

While honeybees have been dying off at an alarming rate all over the country, there are plenty right by our tomato patch. Bees sometimes dangle from a sunflower, five or six at a time, hording that much-loved nectar on their tiny knees. No fear of stings here. You can walk right by them on the way to get water from the spigot (or stand directly in front of them to take upteen pictures) and they don't so much as flinch.

Insects aside, the plants themselves are really starting to produce. The cucumbers, long-dead, have been torn up in favor of a fall crop of red-leaf lettuce. But the soybeans are coming in.

There are copious amounts of eggplant.

The peppers are finally putting out.

And the Mr. Stripey tomato plant is actually developing good-sized green tomatoes, hopefully soon to turn pink-and-yellow-striped. This particular bush has been a wild one, flopping its many tentacles all over regardless of where it belongs. There was no reigning it in, but through all of June, July,and early August, not so much as a single tiny bud-like tomato. Suddenly, Mr. Stripey is beginning to show his feminine side with large and abundant offspring. 

All I can say is: it's about time.

Now don't think that just because I've spent a blog on nothing but gardening that I have gotten behind on the recipe testing. On the contrary, I have about five recipe cards sitting next to me with pictures already loaded of various attempts, usually involving one of more of the vegetables obtained from my garden. The problem is I've been working so hard making sure I have all my lesson planning ready for the start of classes at CSU in the morning that I haven't had time to post my blogs. Consider this a promise for many, many tasty dishes to come.
That, and I am so excited by my first garden and the many new insights it provides, the many ways it helps me see this city and its nonhuman occupants in a clearer light.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Using up my fresh garden veggies

The garden explosion is on. The zucchini have hit a lull, though any minute now, they look like they could just burst forth another brood of offspring. Eggplant are weighing down the eggplant vine to the dirty ground. Tomatoes abound. And the Kale...

My frig is stockpiled and all I can think is: I need some new recipes stat. On google, I typed "tomato and eggplant recipes" into the engine. Lo and behold, I happen upon a bounty of recipes, but one it particular seemed the order of the day.

Whole Wheat Penne w/ Eggplant, Zucchini, Kale, and Tomatoes. It seemed the recipe created specifically for my August garden. 
What you need:
2 T olive oil
2 med eggplants, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 med. zucchini, diced
1 c. Kale
1 c. tomato (about one large one)
3T parmesan
salt and pepper
2 portions whole wheat penne

1. Boil the pasta.That's easy enough...
2. Heat large skillet over med. heat. Add oil and onion and saute 2 minutes. Not having 2 medium eggplants, dice up an assortment of mini fairytales and another non-globe variety. Realize you didn't cut up enough eggplant. Worry that you are running out of time and the oil is still sizzling. Enlist a kitchen helper (by way of handy cooking pseudo house husband) to help in the dicing. Manage to get all necessary eggplant. Add eggplant, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt. This will make for an oddly pretty mix of light brown with edges of purple ranging from lavender to aubergine and spots of red and dark brown. Cook until eggplant is browned, stirring, 6-8 minutes.
3. Realize you only have a tiny zucchini left from the garden's first zucchini onslaught. Dice it up anyway, aware that your meal will be light on the zucchini. Add zucchini and cook another 2 minutes. Add kale and cook one minute more. Add tomato, freshly plucked.
4. Stir and simmer about 1 to 2 more minutes. Add pasta water as needed so that the pan doesn't get too dry and the vegetables don't stick to the bottom of the pan. Add pasta to skillet. Add parmesan (The recipe originally calls for goat cheese. Who just keeps goat cheese lying around the refrigerator anyway?). Toss. Serve in bowls with an extra sprinkle of shredded cheese if desired.

The end result was very picture worthy, but very bland. I'm sure a few more spices could give it that needed pick-me-up. In my case, I hadn't had a lot of protein that day anyway, so I cooked up some fake sausage, cut it up, and added it to my bowl. Then there was plenty of spice to go around.


Even with the additions, I'm not sure I'd make this one again. There are so many great recipes out there to waste a re-do on mediocrity. Even so, I suppose it is a handy way to use the fresh veggies from the garden and that stockpile of pasta noodles we have in the pantry. I might just Kate-ify this one yet. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Baked "Fried" Green Tomatoes (with accompanying omelet)

So, it happened. Finally, I get those first red tomatoes, those bright, shiny fire-engine beauties I've been waiting for since I shelled out the two-bucks-a-pop for tomato cages this spring. I recall clearly walking briskly back and forth between the tomato tables at the greenhouse (partly from excitement and partly because I had a cup of tea right before I left the apartment and I really had to pee). I read those little cards about each variety of plant, absent-mindedly stroking each tiny leaf. This one has low acidity. That one will be yellow with pink stripes. These over here, they bloom early.

The early-bloomers started to turn a few weeks ago, and I picked one early and watched it turn full-on purple-red on my mother's kitchen window ledge. The rest were a while in coming though. Admittedly, the events that are about to be described happened last week. In my tumult of over-booked activity, I have accrued a large stack of recipes next to the computer, taunting me with their unblogged-about smugness.

We were at the garden, a small plot at the far right corner of an episcopal churchyard. I was weeding. Art was watering. Garet, due to some strange juvenile need to be squirrelly, was planting a pine cone happily into the dirt beside a copse of coniferous trees... or at least, he called it a pine cone. That's when I spotted it: the first red Beefsteak. Eagerly, one-handed, I plucked the tender fruit from its vine and snap, the two adjacent green tomatoes beside it came too. I held them up mournfully to Art, and then, in a sudden spark of genius, I announced, "I could make fried green tomatoes."

Fried Green Tomatoes. It's a movie title I know well. In my youth, I was blessed with very overprotective parents who did not allow the viewing of movies until you had reached the age deemed appropriate for viewing by whatever lunatic organization that rates movies. My siblings and I contented ourselves with the meager movie options by repeatedly watching beloved movies over and over again. When my brother watched Forest Gump three times a day, I must admit, I grew tired of it, but I never lost my love, ever, for Fried Green Tomatoes. Perhaps it was the cultural significance. Perhaps it was the underlying lesbian implications. I like to think it was the food.

I never so much as tasted a fried green tomato before, but watching them sizzling in the diner pans of the Whistle Stop Cafe made me pine for them. Now, I had my chance. I googled, and found this site, run by a follow Michigander Katie, for nonfried green tomatoes. Here, I could fry my tomatoes and bake them too!

Baked Fried Green Tomatoes
What you need:
2/3 c bread crumbs
1 T Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 T cumin
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten (or the egg beaters equivalent)
2 green tomatoes

The logic of this is similar to what you do to bread the eggplant in this recipe.
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the bread crumbs, parmesan, cayenne, cumin, and salt in one bowl. Mix. Put the egg in a second bowl.
2. Cut up the green tomatoes into thin, round slices.
3. Submerge a slice of tomato into the egg. Then, press both sides, alternately, into the bread crumb mixture for a light coat. Recoat in egg. Then, recoat both sides of slice in bread crumbs. Place slice on a tin-foiled baking sheet.
4. Cont. the same process for each tomato slice until all are coated and on the cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet in the oven for 20 minutes. Flip the slices and return them to the oven for another 10-20 minutes. Serve.

As an added bonus, the leftover egg makes a lovely omelet, if cooked in a small skillet on low heat. Add an optional slice of cheese, if desired.

These nonfried beauties have opened my midwestern eyes to the possibilities of southern cooking. Each breaded slice resulted in a taste combination that was both complex and enjoyable. The tomato was tangy with a bittersweet edge to it that was nicely complimented by the earthly taste of cumin and the subtle fiery finish of the cayenne. I'm usually not a fan of a lot of heat in my food but it was just spicy enough. Luckily for me, if my weak taste buds became too overburdened with heat, I had a nice egg and cheese palette-cleanser right there on my plate.