Archive | May, 2011

Southern Comfort in Central Iowa

31 May

I have never lived anywhere near South of the Mason-Dixon Line, and although he did learn “Dixie” when he was in Montessori School, Eric is so Scandinavian and thusly a Yankee, it often surprises people to learn how much we enjoy eating “Southern” foods, namely greens.  Collards, mustard greens, kale, you name it, we eat it; steamed, boiled, fried, sometimes raw.  So this is the perfect time of year for us to enjoy Southern food right here in the heart of Iowa.

Broccoli raab, Chinese cabbage and mustard greens sprinkled with olive oil, salt and black pepper are this week’s featured CSA treat.

To go along with his love of greens, Eric brought to our relationship a penchant for catfish and introduced me to grits for the first time at a Waffle House in Indiana.  Despite her own love for Cajun food, it still perplexes and gives my mother a laugh when we talk about eating grits and greens.  We of course, had two catfish fillets ready to go for this evening.  Since our hot humid Midwest summer has risen early, we grill out every chance we get to keep the house from filling with heat from the stove or oven.  Eric prepared the catfish for grilling with a dry rub of magic spices (I never get to know what exactly he does and I’m okay with that!) and some butter and wrapped the fish in foil.

Behind the greens and fish is a pitcher of iced green tea.  We’ve been drinking the stuff by the gallon, I don’t know what I would do without it this summer!  And after a little bit on the grill, we are ready to enjoy our meal with a small side of mashed potatoes with green garlic and provolone cheese.


Tomato Trellis 101

30 May

Finally!  A tomato update!  I know I haven’t written about my babies in a while.  After weeks of waiting for the weather to settle down and for excavation of the side yard to be complete, they are finally in the ground and ready to spread their roots.  And none too soon; a lot of them were becoming root bound in their tiny pots.

Here is the new tomato patch after we turned the sod over, and right before we planted

Tomato enthusiasts the world over are constantly looking for a better support system than those flimsy wire cages that always end up overpriced and useless in the face of a big healthy indeterminate tomato plant.  Two years ago we made our own cages out of stray sticks, and that seemed to work well.  They were free, looked delightfully organic, and did the trick holding up the handful of plants I had.  Last year, we learned that stick tepees were no match for my insatiable lust for a bigger tomato patch.

In preparation for this year’s crop, I shopped around.  It’s kind of disgusting how many different pre-fab tomato support systems there are out there and the prices people are apparently willing to pay for them.  Being somewhat novice DIY’ers, Eric and I weren’t up to the task of mummifying the plants in chicken wire or wire fencing, but I did find something that caught my eye on both aesthetic and do-ability levels.  I watched an excellent video of a tomato trellis system and knew that would be my next tomato forest project.  It was simple enough in design and used supplies I knew I could get a hold of cheaply and could re-use for many years, and looks to be the best solution to the rambling heirloom varieties I like to grow.

One drill, 15 cedar poles, a shovel, a hoe, a ball of cotton twine, 30 tomato plants, and several hours later…

…We have the beginnings of what I hope will grow into a successful tomato forest!  There are five rows and in each row 6-7 plants.  The far right side of the patch is reserved for basil, peppers and eggplants if I can get my hands on something more interesting than the Black Beauty variety.  Through the haze of my tired sweaty exhaustion, I am incredibly excited for this year’s garden.

Puffed Up; Goat Cheese Tart

24 May

Week Three of the Compass Plant CSA came in like a lion; wind, a downpour, and even a moment of hail, before fading away into complacent stormy clouds.  Inside the barn next to boxes of newly hatched chicks we had out pick of yet more crisp lettuces, cooking greens and more rhubarb than I care to count.

This week’s recipe is inspired not only by the fresh produce we picked up in the rain, but also by someone who has been inspiring me to cook for a long time.  Of course it’s my mom.  This weekend, I went home to Minnesota to see my big sister officially get her Master’s Degree in Library Science.  Of course there was a party to celebrate, and I got a chance to help my mom a little with the preparations.  One dish she made stuck with me; a tart of goat cheese and roasted cherry tomatoes on a puff pastry.  Like a lot of my kitchen experiments, I’d only ever tried puff pastry once, and it ended in disaster, so I wanted to give it another shot.

After I got the email today reporting there was more asparagus and baby leeks in our share, I knew what I wanted to make.

Goat cheese tart with grilled asparagus, baby leeks and radishes:

Follow directions for 1 package of puff pastry (thaw 30-40 minutes prior to use)

Mix 2 4 oz packages of goat cheese (I used one plain, and one herb) let sit at room temp.

Grilled veggies:

Adjust based on on how much filling you want.  Coat in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt

8-10 asparagus spears cut into thirds

10 small radishes, cut into slices

5 baby leeks cut into large chunks

One of the best gifts we got for our wedding was a panini press.  It’s not only awesome for making grilled sandwiches in a snap, but makes grilled veggies easy without having to fire up the actual grill.  After I coat the vegetables in oil and whatever else I want to use, I pour the whole shebang into the hot press, close it, and wait.  Depending on how you like your veggies grilled, you can wait any amount of time.  I’d say around 5 minutes is usually good.  Before I had this press, I just used a sauce pan on the stove, and that usually did the trick.

Once the veggies are grilled and the puff pastry thawed, place one puff pastry sheet in a baking pan and cover with goat cheese.  Leave some room around the outside.  Place the veggies evenly across the goat cheese.  Whisk one egg.  Brush the sides of the bottom puff pastry with egg.  Place the second sheet of puff pastry over the top, and press the sides down to seal.  Coat the top layer with egg, and make several slices with a sharp knife.  Place in the oven preheated to 425, and cook for 20-25 minutes.

Enjoy with friends and watch out for this guy:


18 May

Okay, I know, I know, it’s a day late, but better late than never, right?  So here it is: Week two CSA pickup was yesterday.  We walked to the farm- over 3 miles round trip- to pick up our greens, asparagus, onions, garlic, radishes and fresh eggs.  I think my favorite thing so far has been the eggs.  Last week there was a skunk invasion at the farm, so there were no eggs, and I was pretty disappointed, but this week we were able to get a carton of the colorful things.  The person in charge of our CSA sends out an email every week letting us know what we are getting.  Sometimes there are a few extras, but mostly we will know ahead of time, which is really nice for planning a meal.

This week was a tossup between egg bake and fried rice.  Fried rice with a side salad of fresh greens and rhubarb dressing won, and probably for the best since both Eric and I were starving when we finally got home.  Since I had prepared the rice earlier during the day, it was a snap to throw together.  Here’s how you can too:

Throw 2 cups uncooked brown rice into your handy rice cooker (best kitchen appliance yet, if you don’t have one, get one!) Chill in the refrigerator prior to use.

In 2 Tbsp sesame oil, cook green onions, asparagus, green garlic for a few minutes until soft.

Add rice.

At this point I put in a splash of rice vinegar and oyster sauce, I didn’t need any other seasonings.

whisk 2-3 eggs, mix eggs and rice mixture for a few minutes over heat.

Remove from heat, egg will cook on the residual heat from the rice.

In my case, enjoy, and immediately collapse in bed!  Enjoy your eggs 🙂

On The Chopping Block: Rhubarb

15 May

This one’s mostly pictures.  I’ve spent over three hours in a hot kitchen, so my brain is a little steamed, I guess.

We inherited four rhubarb plants when we started renting because our landlord requested we keep them for his own use.  I was okay with that.  Until the things got to be humongous, and our landlord had yet to make an appearance to pick any.  So on Thursday, I decided to trim them back a little bit.  I wound up with four gallon freezer bags of the chopped stuff, which incidentally I don’t really care much for.  What I cut was only about a third of the plants, so I immediately began looking for people to take the plant off my hands and ways to put it to use.  Lucky for me, my beloved magazine, Mother Earth News Had just arrived with a whole article on new and improved uses for rhubarb.  I had a few ideas, and with an afternoon to myself today, I began to work. (FYI, my rhubarb is apparently mostly green, which is totally okay!)

I started a pot of what would become jam cooking away on the stove, packed jars with slices that would be pickles, and started chopping for a chunky vinaigrette.

It doesn’t look pretty, but I’m sure it will taste great:

After dusting off the canner, using up most of the vinegar and sugar in the house, and over 3 hours standing and stirring, pouring and dicing, one of the bags was gone, leaving me with a finished product I hope I enjoy more than the standard pie and crisp (which is, incidentally, next up on the docket)

L to R, 5 half pint jars of rhubarb orange jam, 2 pint jars of rhubarb refrigerator pickles (supposedly delicious on grilled meats) and 2 pint jars of rhubarb vinaigrette (hopefully to be eaten in the next few days with the fresh greens we picked up from the farmer’s market yesterday!)

Enjoy eating in season everyone!

Colors of Spring v. 2.0

14 May

A while back I was celebrating the arrival of Spring with a photo project.  I went around town taking photos of the first brave plants to emerge in the sometimes unpredictable Iowa Spring.  These plants kept me from going stir-crazy, and now that most of them are gone (My how time does fly!) I want to pay tribute to them.  The photos I posted in the end of April were those I edited very little, but some of my favorites I got to play around with quite a bit, and here they are!

Spring Colors; the Extreme Edition!

A Rose by Any Other Name…

13 May

…would smell as sweet… Unless you’re me, and in that case, you can’t smell anything, so flowers just look pretty.  It’s been an exciting spring for me; watching green leaves unfurl and being witness to the first brilliant colors of the season coming and going.  My own garden is starting to take on a more polished appearance than just a yard full of overturned sod with the first bean and pea sprouts poking their heads up into the sunlight.  But the flower that fills me with the most joy and anticipation is always the simplest and the slowest to emerge.

As they say, “fortune favors the bold” and the truth of this statement is no less evident in a region where the weather can still turn frosty after a string of 80 degree days.  This bold little plant from Russia has favored me with the first flower of the season, and the promise that a sweet, tangy, juicy tomato is not so far in my future after all.