Hello! We're happy to have you!

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Brined and Fried Potatoes with Rosemary

 


Alright, alright - you don't get these potatoes out of the sea. You do, however, boil them in a brine to give them a salty crust around the outside. This seasons them perfectly, allows you to keep useful vitamins inside by boiling them inside the skin, and lets you have potatoes in a way you may not have ever had them before. I first learned the brine-boiling technique in culinary school, back before the earth's crust cooled. I don't remember who or what put it in my head to smash and then fry them on a griddle, but I've been hooked ever since. It's easily one of my favorite ways to cook waxy potatoes, and it's especially fun to present these at a summer party while people get to ask "oooh how did you do that?!" 

Here's how you do it!

Brined and Fried Potatoes with Rosemary
serves 4

  • 16-20 waxy potatoes
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 c kosher salt
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Good olive oil or butter as needed
  • Fresh herbs, finely minced
    • Flat leaf parsley, rosemary, and garlic chives are lovely
A quick note on waxy potatoes:

Generally speaking, potatoes can be categorized into two groups: the starchy and the waxy types. Your standard starchy potatoes will be your big Idaho potatoes that you'd likely use as baking potatoes. Most agree that these are best for mashing or for making latkes because they're full of - you guessed it! - starch. Waxy potatoes are thin-skinned and will be the kind you'll see in the supermarket that will be either red, yellow, or even blue. You can eat the skins of both kinds, but most prefer to eat the skins of the waxy ones because the skin is quite thin. I was fortunate enough to receive beautiful waxy potatoes from the farm this week, but if you're buying from the store then select "B" potatoes, which correlate to the size of the ones I used.


The real trick to cooking potatoes is to start them in cold water. Begin with your washed potatoes in a medium saucepot and cover with the water and kosher salt. Add your bay leaf and rosemary and turn on your stove to a high flame to cook. Once your water boils, set your timer for 15 minutes. Yes, that's right - you're boiling for 15 minutes, not simmering.

When your timer is up, check your potatoes for doneness. When pierced with a small paring knife, they should give little-to-no resistance. Evacuate immediately from the brine and let air dry in a colander or some other container in which plenty of airflow will occur. The next part of this fun chemical reaction will depend on the temperature of the air versus the temperature of the potato. I do advise you, however, to not stick these in the fridge! Just let these cool naturally on the counter and watch the magic happen. This "magic" will take at least 15 minutes but it's truly better to make these an hour or so ahead of your planned meal so that they can truly cool and crust over with a pretty brine of salt. While we're waiting, let's have a little chat about potatoes!



When you think of them, most Americans will think of Ireland. The fact of the matter is, though, that potatoes originate from South America, specifically Peru. There are over 4,000 different varieties of potatoes, most of which are in the Andes. I feel like potatoes get a lot of flack for not being 'healthy' starches, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Shall I explain? I was hoping I'd be able to.

I could go over hundreds of words' worth of why culinary anthropology and nutritional science clash on this, and it would cover everything from colonialism to societal norms to lifestyles to times of the year to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel to - oh my I've gone cross-eyed... The point: 

Calories needed to be efficient to run empires

Let's say you're a farmer, way back in the past. You have two fields, side-by-side. Let's say that each field is about an acre, and it is your sole responsibility to till and care for this field. Let's say you plant spinach in one field and potatoes in the other. I realize that spinach is a leafy green and potatoes are a starch but bear with me.

The spinach is fast-growing and you'll almost immediately get a harvest. You can harvest some every day, in fact, for a daily meal! Harvesting spinach, though, en masse, is hard work for not a lot of calories. You can feed yourself a salad of spinach and while they are full of iron and vitamins, think of how much spinach cooks down to almost nothing when applied to heat. Furthermore, you're only going to get a few harvests out of spinach before it gets hot...and you can't store it for later. But, hey, once it gets too hot for the spinach, you can till up the field and plant a new crop. Whee. More work.

Now look over into your potato field. When your potato greens begin to brown and die back, you can take your pitch fork and harvest, straight out of the ground. An acre of potatoes versus an acre of spinach - by volume - is going to be quite a bit higher for the same amount of ground you've used. Even better, you can have two or three smaller potatoes per person, per day, and the rest can store well. Calorie-wise, the potato is much more efficient, and therefore it's better for a hard day's work. But what about the vitamins?!

Oddly enough, potatoes are a moderate source of iron, phosphorus, calcium, and a surprisingly good provider of vitamin C for being a starch. Potatoes are quite healthy for you! So let's not bash on the beautiful and humble potato anymore, shall we? They're an excellent grain that helped build the Incan empire. 




When your potatoes are cool enough to handle, you're ready to heat them for your meal. To cook them, I use my cast iron griddle on high heat with a good quality olive oil. Simply take them on a clean flat surface and press them down with either a fork or wide spatula to create the messy disc shape. You can also use the flat of your hand to get this effect.



When your oil is hot, all that must be done is fry all of your smashed potatoes. Mine take about 3 minutes per side on medium-high heat because I love a good brown color. In the meantime, mince your herbs for garnish. I had this gorgeous flat-leaf parsley as well as fresh rosemary, and I chopped this together with some garlic chives from my garden. I invite you to use whichever fresh herbs you prefer for this garnish!

To serve, simply transfer to a serving dish and garnish it. Take loads of pictures and get ready for some compliments, because these are simply fabulous. I suggest serving these alongside anything from a grilled fish dish to a simple meatloaf. If you fry them hard enough, you can even pick them up with your hands and dip them in ketchup. I love them as a summer food, especially, because you can zest them up with herbs, lemon, whatever you like. Heck, put ranch all over them! 

I hope you've enjoyed spending this time with me. I must admit that I racked my brain quite a bit to think of a potato recipe that the average bear may not have tried before. I hope that this fit the bill. Even if it's too late to get involved with a CSA program, get yourself down to a farmers market and get yourself some beautiful fresh produce. The farmer is the legs on which the country stands, so show them some love and respect by buying directly. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Strawberry Rose Popsicles


Something wicked this way comes...and that wicked thing is the Kansas summer. 

I grew up in Arizona, where the summers are brutal, but at least it's a dry heat that you can escape with shade and a cool cross-breeze. Better and better still, it cools significantly at night so summer nights in Tucson are a nonstop party of beautiful dresses, bonfires, howling at the moon, and more. Just do yourself a favor and never drive in the desert with an empty front seat. Put your purse in there, make sure a friend is sitting with you, but take it from me to not do it. And don't look in the back seat for anything until sunrise. Just trust me.

I consider myself a popsicle aficionado. I was privileged enough to be featured on a local TV show, KC Live, where I featured my mango lassi popsicles. Nowadays, since I'm taking a slower approach to food, I tend to go with what is most seasonally appropriate. I had a massive flux of strawberries in my strawberry patch this year, enough to make a large cake from! When there were still a few stragglers left, and when the summer's heat began creeping in as we approached the solstice, I simply had to break out my trusty popsicle molds and make some. 

Strawberry Rose Popsicles
yields 10 popsicles

  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 pt strawberries, washed and halved
  • 1/3 + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided
  • A pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp rose extract or 3/4 tsp of rose water
    • I used homemade but you can use store-bought 
  • 2 egg yolks
Toss the strawberries in the 2 Tbsp of sugar and kosher salt and cover with clingfilm. Let sit for about 1 hour on the counter, or until you get a nice amount of beautiful strawberry liquid from your berries. It should be fragrant and make you smile. 

Mix the egg yolks with 1/3 cup of sugar with either a small whisk or spatula until the sugar has wholly dissolved and the color of the yolks has turned a lemony yellow color. Add in the liquid from the strawberries and stir until totally incorporated. Shake the can of coconut milk well and add to the strawberry-yolk mixture, whisking until completely homogenous.

Put your mixture in a saucepot and whisk gently over a medium flame until thick, or until the mixture reaches 180 degrees F. Remove from the heat and immediately add the whole strawberries. Stir well and transfer to a plastic container where it can cool in the fridge overnight. You really do want to let any popsicle or ice cream base to let hang out overnight so the flavors mellow and meld, if at all possible. 

The next morning, prepare your popsicle molds with a quick rinse and pat dry. I use bamboo popsicle sticks for my own use, and like to give them a nice long rinse to make sure there's no dust happening. Take your strawberry mixture and pour it into the pitcher of your blender. Puree your mix on medium-low speed for at least 1 minute and give it a quick taste for salt and rose flavor. Did you know that salty flavors go away when foods are cold? You're only tasting to make sure that you can both taste the salt and the little hint of rose before you freeze your popsicles. If you're satisfied with your flavor profile, pour your custard into the popsicle molds, add the top, add the sticks, and freeze for 4 hours or overnight.



To remove, all one must do is run the mold under warm water for 10 seconds before pulling it straight out. You'll get a beautiful and fragrant popsicle that is delightfully pink. I love the combinations of strawberries and roses together because the floral fragrance seems to bring out delicate notes that you would normally miss in the sour-sweet strawberry. 

Like good partners, the rose elevates with its playful nature while the strawberry grounds, resulting in harmony. Furthermore, I love the idea of pairing foods together that grow and flower at the same time naturally. Paying attention to nature and how my own garden grows has given me peace over the years, and I invite you to do the same. 

You can store these in the freezer for up to 3 months, but I doubt they'll last that long. They're a beautiful summer treat that's hard to beat. Thank you so much for spending a piece of your day with me. Happy cooking and happy eating!



Friday, June 18, 2021

Chicken Adobo with Spring Garlic and Summer Beets

 

Not your nanay's adobo...

I love that Filipino food is having a moment right now. I especially love that Filipino culture is having a moment right now. While a part of me is bitter and screaming "we shouldn't have had to wait this long for visibility", most of me is thinking about how happy I am and how seen I would have felt as a child for having these eyes that kiss the corners along with my dark skin finally recognized. I am excited and relieved for mga anak ni pinoy that will grow up in a more colorful and intersectional America. I don't often like to jump on bandwagons, but if I'm going to do it, I must do it right.

I would never share my personal adobo recipe that I do all the time. That's mine and mine alone. All that being said, I do make versions of my classic Adobo Manok at Baboy that change depend on what ingredients I have available. What you should know first and last about Filipino food is that it is highly individualistic. You will never find two Pinoys that agree on what an adobo should be or what it should not be. No seriously. We like to fight about it. We all agree that our moms make the best adobo, but that's about it. 

The word "adobo" is kind of like the equivalent of the word "braise." It's an adjective, a noun, and a verb to describe a dish and how it's prepared. An adobo is anything stewed in vinegar with garlic, bay, and usually black peppercorns. You'll find as many variations of adobo as you'll find stars in the heavens. For the sake of this recipe, we'll be sticking to the Adobo Manok at Baboy base, which is considered to be the classic adobo that is - as far as I'm aware - the national dish of the Philippines. Adobo Manok at Baboy translates to "chicken adobo with soy sauce." My mom makes hers with potatoes and baby bok choi. I make mine with longanisa and tons of onions. This week for my CSA box I got a ton of spring garlic as well as some beautiful summer beets. I'm sure you know that I simply had to use them. Here's how I made this adobo!

Chicken Adobo with Spring Garlic and Summer Beets
serves 4-6

  • 4 chicken leg quarters, bone-in, skin on, about 3.5 - 4 lbs
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed, plus one whole head of spring garlic
  • 1 c white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 c dark soy sauce
  • 2 c distilled water
  • 2/3 c white sugar
  • 3 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 2 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 small beets, greens attached
  • 1/4 c minced fennel bulb
  • 1 longanisa sausage, sliced thin while frozen
    • Trust me, it's easier to slice thin when it's frozen
  • Coconut rice or steamed rice, as needed
Crush your garlic with your kosher salt and sugar to make a sort of paste. Mix this with the vinegar until dissolved, and add in the soy sauce, water, peppercorns, and bay leaves all to a large bowl. Add your chicken leg quarters and mix well. Ideally, marinate this overnight, but two and a half hours is sufficient. 



For the spring garlic I simply cut the whole bulb straight in half crosswise, and then sliced 1/4" discs from the whole shaft. The beet greens were cut thin into ribbon cuts, and the beet root was quartered. Of course you can add more vegetables, as you like, but I felt that the beets, greens, garlic, and fennel was more than sufficient. Again, there are no real rules in adobo so long as those flavors of sour are balanced with spice and salt and even a tish of sweetness. I don't like my adobo to be too sweet but - again - this is highly variable.




When you're ready to cook, remove your leg quarters from the marinade and set on a sheet tray. Don't discard the marinade! Pat dry with paper towels so the skin is dry. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a large casserole pot. Add the garlic head, cut-side down and fry until brown. Remove the garlic. Sear each leg quarter, one at a time, until the skin is nice and brown, and set aside. Add your beets, greens, garlic greens, fennel, longanisa, and garlic head and saute briefly. Add back the chicken and pour in the marinade. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for about 25 minutes on medium-low heat. 


When you're ready to serve, uncover your pot and remove the chicken pieces from the broth and set aside on a plate. Bring the entire pot back to a boil and cook until reduced by about half, or until the broth has turned into a gorgeous sauce. Make sure to adjust for seasoning! It should be bright and sour with a big punch of salty garlic-ness(that's definitely a word). When your sauce is ready and thick, return the chicken to the pot, toss well in the sauce, and serve with rice.

This dish serves a family of four to six, but my husband and I consume it with regularity, as the leftovers are masarap, or "delicious." If you're curious about adobo or Filipino food and culture, I highly recommend the book I Am Filipino: And This Is How We Cook by Nicole Ponseca. This is a wonderfully comprehensive volume with beautiful pictures.

I love this version of the classic adobo because the beets give it such a beautiful color. Beets are wonderfully earthy and they add a certain depth of flavor to such an acidic and bright dish. The greens are naturally high in iron, potassium, and - oddly enough - vitamin C! When eating healthy, it's great to look for foods that are naturally beautiful colors, like the beautiful red beet. Any red-colored food is going to be naturally good for heart health, so do keep that in mind. 

I hope you've enjoyed spending a little time with me this day, and that you're excited to get a taste of the Philippines. I can't tell you how much joy it brings me to share a piece of me, my culture, and my own history with you. Happy cooking and happy eating!



Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Gochujang Strip Steak with Nasturtium Celery Salad and Celery Butter

Yes, that's how big it actually is. Or, rather, should be.

When you think of the word 'underrated' in terms of vegetables, you're not likely going to think of celery. In fact, celery may not even register on the "vegetable" radar. For some reason, it ends up in some other plane in the ether of forgotten foods. Regardless, you see it in the grocery store, sitting right next to the carrots. Celery is an essential aromatic, but who would think to put it as the star of a dish? It's certainly been ignored by chefs that will often pass it up for kale or heirloom tomatoes. These vegetables are stars, of course, but so is celery. We'll get into that later... 

The picture above is my hand holding three bunches of freshly harvested celery. Yes, it's that small. Most celery is similar to watermelon in that its volume is mostly water. If you have an especially hot or dry spring or summer, your celery will look more similar to this instead of the stuff you may get in the grocery store. The grocery store celery is chock-full of delicious water, but the farm-fresh kind like this is chock-full of delicious flavor. This means you can use exponentially less by volume and utilize it in ways you may not have known you could. Here's how to highlight celery:

Gochujang Strip Steak with Nasturtium Celery Salad and Celery Butter
for a dinner for two

Strip steaks

  • 2 strip steaks, patted dry
  • 3 Tbsp red gochujang paste
    • You can find this at any Asian grocery store
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 c canola or vegetable oil
Celery Butter
  • 4 oz butter or vegan butter substitute
    • I prefer Miyoko's brand, but use what you like
  • 1 large clove of garlic or 2 Tbsp spring garlic stems, sliced
  • 3 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 3 farm fresh celery sticks, minced (equivalent to 2 Tbsp celery mince, if I had to guess)
  • Cracked black pepper
Nasturtium Celery Salad
  • About two dozen or so large nasturtium leaves, with flowers as well, if possible
  • Leaves of about 4 stalks of celery, chiffonade
  • Leaves from 3 oregano sprigs
  • 6-7 leaves lemon mint, hand torn

Start with the steaks. Please note that you can also use a medium flank steak for this meal, if you so choose. Either way, pat your meat dry with paper towels before beginning and let sit uncovered while you create your marinade. 


I like to crush my garlic with salt using a mortar and pestle, but the most important part of this piece of the recipe is that it is either crushed or minced into a salty garlic paste. Add the gochujang and stir well. Add in the oil, in a thin stream, until it becomes a delicious orange-red sort of slurry, full of flavor. Smear this on all sides of the steaks, as evenly as possible, and let sit. I let this sit for about 40 minutes, uncovered, on my counter, so that my steaks got up to room temperature. Don't scoff - you've got about a two-hour window before the legal amount of 'food safety' will get mad at you. Besides, it's better to cook steaks from room temperature anyhow!

You can do this on a stovetop, but this is quicker and easier!

To make the celery butter you'll want to simply add your butter, herbs, garlic, and celery to a microwave-safe bowl and cover tight with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 75 seconds and stick immediately in the fridge. The steam will help quite a bit with thermal regulation and flavor extraction when it comes to this compound butter. You'll love this, I just know it! Shall we take the quick opportunity to talk about celery?

This author's opinion that celery in the USA gets a bad rap is simply because of Elder Millenial diet culture makes it the "IT" snack for weight loss. Does anybody else remember that phase in noveau American modern life where we were suddenly obsessed with fitness in popular culture? Does anyone else remember feathered bangs in cotton leotards, fuzzy leg warmers and crop tops? Some of my earliest memories are of "Saved By The Bell" and watching the teens wearing what my very young mind interpreted as 'workout clothes' as regular clothes. I also remember celery being the chosen snack of housewives on TV, desperate to lose weight. Are we all so traumatized by these images that we can't give celery a revamp the way we have given kale? I will admit, celery is a bit of a double-edged sword.


Celery is full of both soluble and insoluble fiber. You'll hear some say that this is 'hard' on the digestive system, and this is absolutely true for some people with certain gastrointestinal conditions. Most individuals need that balance of soluble and insoluble fibers to keep everything running as it should be. It's not sexy to think about, but consider it to be Draino for your colon. Many members of the celery family are incredibly poisonous as well. Water hemlock is a cousin to celery, which Socrates famously died of.

With all of this in mind, celery is still an odd staple ingredient everywhere from the Mediterranean to China, likely because of the famous trade route known only as The Silk Road. Be it sauteed simply with olive oil, salt and pepper, braised with chicken stock, or chopped and tossed in with congee and salted egg, you're going to find traces of celery. It's likely the one thing you've missed when building flavors in classical European, or that little bit of bitter-pungent crunch that you need to balance out the fattiness of ranch dressing in a crudite platter. 

Celery has been playing as a background player for a long time and it's high time we gave it some respect. Even pop culture is catching on with Portlandia's "The Celery Incident". I could not agree more that celery deserves a little pick-me-up. Maybe we can all get celery trending on Instagram? Well, enough about that. I think it's time to get cooking.

I chose to grill these steaks because I believe the smokiness of the grill will lend itself to the peppery gochujang. Furthermore, I didn't want to heat up my house more than necessary, considering it is not only summer but I am currently in the process of growing a tiny human. I prefer a charcoal grill to a propane grill. Go ahead! Call me an old-fashioned stick-in-the-mud if you like. I won't even bat an eye at it. Cooking with fire is my favorite thing to do in the summer, and I invite you to get outside and grill as well. 

Nasturtium is easy to grow, but you can find it in many stores. Check around!

I like my steaks medium-rare, so that means I cook them on a high flame for 4 minutes per side, then let them rest for another 6 minutes on a plate before serving. To assemble the salad, all you must do is tear and toss the greens together and keep cool until ready to serve. Top the steak with the salad and pour the warm butter over it to serve. The nasturtium is peppery and high in vitamin C, the mint adds a 'cold-spicy' note which is nice for summer, and deliciously aromatic oregano dance with the celery leaves like no tomorrow. Add on the butter and you've got yourself a lovely treat that's hard to beat. 


For my sides to this dish, I love brine-cooked yellow potatoes and grilled corn. You, of course, may do what you like according to your family's preference. Brine-cooked potatoes is simply boiling your potatoes in a salt water solution instead of just plain water, draining, and let air cool for about 15 minutes so a salty crust forms around it. Crush gently and then serve. I grill the corn straight inside the husk and slather butter and salt on top. May I suggest using the celery butter you've just made?  I doubt you'll regret it...just like I doubt you've ever had a meal quite like this before. 

I thank you for sticking around with me on a journey with celery. Consider this a call to action, or a challenge, to find a way to make celery sexy and give it the revamp it deserves. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Celebrating Mulberry Season with Mulberry Streusel Pie with a Semolina Crust

There's a secret ingredient in this crust that will soon not be a secret anymore...


Time isn't real. This has been shown to me over the last year and change. The things I would normally mark the day with would be work, school, et cetera, but what last year taught me about living at home with my own tiny bit of land is that I have my own calendar in my backyard.

Living seasonally came as a happy accident, and now that my household is vaccinated, healthy, and happy, we're ready to celebrate with our neighbors. I'll talk more about mulberries later, so let's get to the mulberry pie first. 

Mulberry Streusel Pie

Crust

  • 12 oz all-purpose flour
  • 4 Tbsp semolina or corn meal
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 3 oz butter or vegan butter substitute
    • I love Earth Balance or Miyoko's for baking
  • 3 oz shortening
  • 2 oz vodka or aronia berry spirits**
  • Ice water, as needed
Mulberry Filling
  • 3 1/2 cups mulberries, fresh or frozen
  • 2/3 c granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • A fat pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp tapioca starch
Streusel Topping
  • 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c semolina
  • 2 oz cold butter or vegan butter substitute
  • 1/3 c brown sugar
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
Let's start with the filling! All you need to do is crush half of the berries with the back of a spoon or spatula and add them to a bowl with both of the sugars, the salt, and the vinegar. Stir well to coat everything and let sit, at room temperature, while you work on everything else. Ideally, you'll let things mascerate for two hours, but the 30 minutes it takes you to put this entire recipe together will be just fine.

I love using brown sugar in this recipe because I feel it adds just another hair of depth of flavor to the pie. Mulberries are wonderfully sweet, so the bitterness of the brown sugar balances it out!


To make the crust, combine the shortening and butter together with the flour, sugar, and semolina. I love semolina in this because I feel it gives the crust such a gorgeous texture that reminds me a little of cornmeal biscuits. I love corn in the summer, and I think that if you have it lying around you should certainly use it. You can cut the fat into the dry ingredients using a food processor, pulsing until everything is cut in, but I truly prefer to use a wire pastry blender because it keeps the heat of my hands from melting too much of the fat and warming the dough, and it's just as good. You can buy them most anywhere they sell kitchen supplies, but I found mine at a garage sale for $0.50. It's summer here so that means it's garage sale season. 

To combine the liquids with the solids, I use a fork or a pair of chopsticks. I had a beautiful aronia berry cordial that I love to use in baking, so I added an ounce of two for my liquid to make sure that I didn't get too-tough a dough. Now, how do you mix a perfect pie dough by hand? Allow me to show you !




It's just that simple. Now squish everything into a ball and let set in your fridge for at least 20 minutes, in a bowl, uncovered, while you clean up a little and get ready to make your streusel topping.

To do so, simply mix all ingredients with either a spoon or your pastry blender until the fat is chunky and well-coated. If you would like some extra texture in this streusel, you may add some steel cut oats or perhaps some chopped nuts. Don't forget: although this is my recipe, you're ultimately going to be the one that eats it and so long as you respect the mulberry and all of its seasonal glory, I'll not be offended. While we're waiting, I'd love to chat with you about mulberries, mulberry season, and what it's all meant to me. 



In March of 2020, I got a call from the job that I loved telling me that they were closing their doors until further notice. Naturally, I was heartbroken. Like so many others in the restaurant industry, my source of income was taken away, along with a fair bit of my independence. I was and am so grateful and fortunate to have had an incredible spouse to support me during that time, and that was able to continue working from home. With this time to reflect, I took on many projects such as volunteering and remodeling my home office, and as weeks turned into months, I found myself marking them with what was growing in my garden. Between that, medical scares with my beloved dog, and wrestling with my own life transitions, 2020 was definitely a year of transformation. This was also the year I decided to have some fun revamping the layout and look of my blog. I can't even tell you how many new fonts and new fun cursive-y handwriting styles I tried. ((I had a ton of fun with it, though!))



I soon let myself get overwhelmed with filling the days, and began to feel quite anxious about the entire thing. Then, like a playful spirit, my mulberry tree - which I can see from my office window - waved at me to come outside and play. When I approached, I found it full and ripe with beautiful purple berries saying: "Here. Eat." As I tasted the sweet berries, full of flavor and not a bit of sourness, I was able to look up and see that summer had arrived. Now was the time to get outside, to be in the sun, to plant new crops and reap those that I had planted in spring. 

The same day I harvested mulberries, I planted my corn, squash, beans, and other crops for fall, and it was easily the best year I've had. I even had a new breed of squash pop up that I fell in love with. I was even able to make a pie out of it! The point of all of this: nature has a clock of its own, and learning to listen to it and read the signs has been immeasurably beneficial for my own mental health and well-being. 



I think that's causation to celebrate, don't you?

When preparing for a "just because it's mulberry season" party, keep it on the smaller side unless you have an absolute plethora of berries. I only have one tree, so I'm only going to have six or seven people over, including my husband and myself. Crushing the berries in to mulberry mojitos or making a mulberry lemonade as a drink cooler will leave everyone plenty satisfied. Any berry goes great with chicken thighs or grilled pork tenderloin, and you can even make a mulberry barbecue sauce if you plan to grill.

No matter how big or small your celebratory mulberry seasonal party is, do yourself a favor and spark some joy in both you and your party guests by making proper invitations. I am completely in love with this free handwriting fonts site for a fancy-looking invitation or flyer that you can get for your computer. You can use the stuff on your website, make pretty cards, and more. It's the little extra touches in invitations that make people more likely to come. Why's this? Why, you can smell the effort, of course! 

The mulberry itself appears all over the globe. The red mulberry is native to North America, while other varieties are found with origins everywhere from China to Southern Europe to the Middle East. It's a fabulous tree that has naturalized itself just about everywhere, self-pollinating, and has wonderful properties about it. You can feel good about having a mulberry-heavy menu when inviting friends over for a backyard celebration of the wonderful fruit.

Drying mulberries is a wonderful way to preserve them if you don't intend to make a big batch of mulberry jam, and I prefer to do this because I can add the dried berries to everything from my ceral to my tea blends.  You can crush them and add them to a lemonade for a cooling summer drink. You can use them in pancakes and muffins, and you can make gorgeous ice creams from them as well. Best of all, they're absolutely packed with various anti-cancer antioxidants. Have I convinced you to celebrate mulberry season, yet?

Now that we've had that wonderful chat, it's probably time for you to roll out your pie crust and get your oven heating to 350 degrees F! Go ahead and set your rack to the lowest part of the oven, too, because that's going to be the hottest part for your crust, and we don't want a soggy bottom. 




You've heard me speak over and over again about the virtues of rolling out pie dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or greased parchment paper. While that's all well and good, I've decided to change my efforts to a more eco-friendly alternative by using tea towels, dusted with plenty of flour. This is washable, reusable, and therefore way more eco-friendly than using plastic wrap. Roll out your dough, let it fall into your chosen pie dish, and make sure you let it rest for at least 5 minutes before trimming the edges. This is to let the glutens relax so you don't have a pie crust that shrinks while baking; you don't want that. 

I trimmed the edges and did a very simple fluting pattern before I rolled all of my excess pie crust together and stuck it in the freezer for later use. You can also use it to make decorations for the top, but I opted against it today because I really wanted a strusel topping on this one. Take your mascerated mulberry filling, give it a good stir, and make sure you taste it for sugar, salt, and acid before you add your tapioca starch. If you do not like the taste of the filling, you really won't like it once it's all cooked. If you're happy with it, add in your tapioca starch, stir to coat, and add to your prepared pie dish. Pile your filling evenly before topping with strusel. 




Lower your oven to 325 degrees F and bake for 55-75 minutes, rotating once halfway through the baking process, or until the filling begins to just barely bubble around the edges. Once that's happening, you know that the filling has reached the correct temperature, and you're able to evacuate it from the oven. Let it cool at room temperature on the counter for at least 3 hours. This will allow the small-yet-mighty amount of pectin in the berries to set so when you cut it, it won't fly out into a gloopy mess.

Serve this pie as the pièce de résistance of the evening for your seasonal mulberry celebration! Just make sure you grill lots of good things so your guests can have plenty of options. You can even do fun signs if you have a buffet table! 

I hope I've sold you the idea of putting on a seasonal farm-to-table celebration of mulberries. Something as silly and innocuous as seasonal native fruits can become a spectacular occasion with the right personal touches. I hope I get to see pictures of your pretty invitations to your mulberry party, and the pretty pies and ice creams you'll make from them. Thank you so much for spending a piece of your day with me.

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Fresh Strawberry Cake

Although this recipe is entirely dairy-free, you wouldn't ever know it, as I've fooled several people already with it. Hooray!

Are we going to get right to the recipe this time? Yes. The story will come later. 

Fresh Strawberry Cake

  • 10 oz all-purpose flour(or 2 c, sifted)
  • 4 oz tapioca flour(roughly 1 c sifted)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 c strawberry stuff
    • Don't worry, I'll explain this in the recipe
  • 1/3 c almond milk
    • Of course, you can use dairy milk; I just used almond milk here
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 c vegetable oil
  • 14 oz granulated sugar (or 2 c)
  • 8-10 drops of pink/red food coloring**
Strawberry "Cream Cheese" Frosting
  • 8 oz cream cheese
    • I used Miyoko's cream cheese, but you can use whatever you like
  • 4 oz vegan butter, divided
  • 1 c strawberry stuff + 1/2 c granulated sugar
    • I'll explain this!
  • 1 1/2 c powdered sugar




First and foremost, let me explain the strawberry stuff. 

I've had a bounty of strawberries in my garden this spring and early summer, so I naturally wanted to do them justice. My strawberry patch is about five years old, and that means that my strawberries are coming from good, mature plants. This means that the root systems have developed enough to get a lot of sugars and othersuch nutrients stored up to make incredibly flavorful berries. Even better, we've had a massively rainy spring, which is good news for fruits. To say that my cup runneth over with bright-red strawberries is an understatement!

A quick note about strawberries: they're excellent edible ground cover. If you like an unusual look, especially in a sunnier spot, please consider having a strawberry patch in your landscaping. Not only do strawberries survive easily in most climates, the plants themselves are quite interesting to look at, and do well over winter, so long as they are properly mulched and cared for. Even better, they do have some fall interest. I am a big fan of edible landscaping, and because my strawberries grow the way they do, I have lots and lots of them to transplant all over my yard. Consider the long game when planting strawberries, as they're meant to spread out!

To tell you the truth, this was a massive gamble considering that I had never made a fresh strawberry cake before, nor had I any idea on how to do it. I was basically pouring several days' worth of strawberry harvest into a total lark of an idea that may or may not work. With the right research, the right understanding of cakes, and the right tools, I'm happy to say that I was able to produce an incredibly tasty and tender cake. All of this has to stem from the respect of the ingredients...which, of course, has to start with the right ingredients.

It is no surprise that I am a big fan of seasonal eating. This is my absolute privilege because I have enough land to grow my own produce, enough good relationships with farmers and friends that I can get this good stuff, but with a little hunting and early-rising, you can get the good stuff, too. You really do want local, smaller strawberries because the kind you usually buy in the store are - while often big enough - tend to be flavorless in comparison to their homegrown cousins. If you can get this, awesome. if not, don't worry too much about it.

No matter what, you're going to take approximately 1 1/2 to 2 pints of strawberries, wash them, stem them, quarter them, and place them in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with one pinch of kosher salt and two pinches of granulated sugar. Stir well, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes, to overnight, at room temperature. Yes, you can leave strawberries out at room temperature for that long. Trust me, you'll get much more liquid out of it!



Once your chosen amount of time is up, puree your strawberries and strawberry liquid with either an immersion blender or a standard pitcher blender. Scrape as much of this beautiful red goodness into a small saucepot and bring to a boil before immediately reducing the heat to a simmer. You're going to want to simmer this for about 15 minutes, or until it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon quite well. This will be your strawberry stuff! You should have roughly 2 cups. Make sure you chill this either in an ice bath or in the fridge. Don't you dare use it until it's cooled!

To make the cake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a 1/2 sheet pan with a silpat mat or with parchment paper. Sift together your flours, baking powder, and salt, and set aside. Mix together your milk and half of the strawberry stuff, which is one cup of it. If you'd like to add a few drops of red food coloring for the strawberry effect, I'd say go ahead and do so. This is an optional step, but I felt that it made the cakes look a lovely natural pink color and gave it a lift so that it didn't look too grayish. 

In the bowl of a standing mixer, separate the egg whites from the yolks, leaving the yolks in a large mixing bowl, ideally the largest you have. Whisk your egg yolks together with half of the sugar until light and fluffy, and of a lemony-yellow color. Add in your oil in a thin stream. Take the other half of the sugar and add it to the egg whites. Whisk your egg whites until stiff, glossy peaks form, and fold in your meringue to the cake batter, one third at a time, gently as you can, so as not to lose any of the volume. You should have a gorgeous batter that is light as the day as long. 

Sift in a third of your flour, fold in gently, and add half of the strawberry stuff-milk mixture. Mix until smooth, and repeat the steps until everything is incorporated, alternating, ending with the flour. You're going to have a large amount of fluffy, beautiful batter, that will all spread nicely into your cake pan. Make sure you don't have any lumps of meringue or flour, as best you can! 

It'll be such a pretty color when it's baked!

Gently pour your batter into the pan, spread evenly, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until done. Let cool completely before trimming the edges and turning out onto the counter so you may assemble. This cake freezes perfectly, but you don't have to freeze it to work with it.

To make the buttercream. add the remaining cup of strawberry stuff back to a saucepot along with 1/2 a cup of granulated sugar. You're going to cook this down at a simmer until it becomes - in essence -  a jam. It's going to get thick and gloopy, but please oh please be careful not to burn it! When it's thick enough to drop in gentle clumps from the spoon, add half of your butter to stop the cooking. Mix well until it comes together smoothly, and chill to at least room temperature. 



Whip the cream cheese with the remaining butter in the bowl of a standing mixer until totally homogenous and add the powdered sugar, whipping until light and fluffy. If you like, you may add a drop or two of vanilla or rose extract, but it is completely optional. The only reason I suggest rose is because I ended up adding about 1/2 tsp of my homemade rose extract, which is delightfully pink on its own. Next, add your strawberry jam and whip at a medium speed until combined, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and whip on high until you get the most deliciously delightful pink-colored frosting you've ever seen. 

This will make sense in assembly, I promise. 

The benefit of baking your cake in a sheet pan instead of cake rounds is that it's essentially the easiest cake you'll ever assemble. Simply trim the edges to make a lovely straight-sided rectangle and spread 3/4 of the icing all on top. Then, cut the cake into 4 equal rectangles and stack. Like this!


See? I'm not just a pretty face over here! 



Next, all you'll have to do is frost the sides and top with the remaining icing and finish with any fresh berries, sprinkles, or any other embellishments you do so choose. I wanted to keep it really simple, so that's what I did. You can chill this to serve later, or have some immediately! This cake is enough to feed a family, share with your neighbors, or get you through one really bad night after crying in the shower. Listen, I'm not judging, and neither is the cake. 

Thanks so much for sticking around with me! I'm so glad to share this recipe with you. I hope you try it, like it, and let me know how it goes! If you do try it, please comment below and tell me how it went. I can't wait to hear from you. Happy cooking and happy eating!



Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Orecchiette with Garlic Scapes and Carrot Top Pesto

 


Orichiette translates to"ear" in Italian. This means you should listen to me when I say that carrot tops are not to be thrown away!

Being a Chef has been an incredibly rewarding and educational career. I am not exaggerating when I say that everything good in my life came because of the education I gained while learning to cook. I am more than blessed with my mother's energy, and the natural curiosity of my father, to seek out new ideas and new ways of doing things. I confess that I learned how to make pesto from watching videos of old Italian nonnas doing it, and I only ever heard of carrot pesto - never made it. With all of that being said, I've gotten plenty of practice making pesto at a fabulous classic French restaurant where I was able to spend a portion of my young career. Among many things, we made red pepper pesto, which introduced me to the idea: you can make pesto with many things. Carrot tops are not a far stretch. 

When you grow carrots, you're going to likely have a few seeds that have sprouted and have crowded the others. These will have pathetically tiny carrots on them with big, leafy, giant greens. This is a natural occurrence in a garden/farm setting, so it's best to learn how to cook your happy accidents. Carrot greens are excellent in quiches, soups, smoothies, or - my personal favorite - stewed in a heavy curry. These, of course, can be ambitious undertakings, so let's just start with something simple for you today. 

Naturally, you'll want to utilize fresh herbs for this, and the herbs are able to be changed. This particular recipe has no basil in it, simply because I never grow basil in my garden at home since I usually have such terrible luck with it. I use many herbs from my own garden to complete the aromatic goodness of this recipe, but feel free to substitute with what you have on-hand. Here's how I made my carrot top pesto!

Carrot Top Pesto

  • Tops of 4 small carrots, chopped
  • 1 c fresh spinach
  • 3/4 c soft herbs
    • I had parsley, thyme, oregano, and onion chives
  • 1/2 c maple seeds**
    • I foraged these myself! You, of course, can use pine nuts, sunflower seeds, or any other soft and fatty seed/nut you have lying around. Pistachios make an especially tasty pesto!
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 3 garlic scapes, chopped
  • 2/3 c parmesan 
    • I used a vegan parmesan substitute from Follow Your Heart
  • Approx. 1 c GOOD olive oil!
    • You may need more or less, depending
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
Simply grind everything together in a blender, starting on a low speed and ending on high. This takes quite a bit of time, relative to other sauces you might think to puree, but this is because everything is so fibrous. You do want a bit of noise and texture there, still, but the idea is that everything is relatively sauce/salsa-like and that the oils have been emulsified. You can, of course, do this with a food processor or even with a mortar and pestle. If you choose that method, I suggest that you start with the nuts, garlic, salt, and herbs first, and grind into a paste. Chop the carrot greens, garlic scapes, and spinach finely before grinding together, too. Add the cheese, grind...then add the oil, and grind! It's quite a bit more intense to do it this way, but good effort does make it taste better!

You can make this pesto up to a week ahead of time, kept safe in a container in the refrigerator, but I simply cannot wait that long when I make such a fragrant and delicious sauce, so I usually will give into my own self-indulgence and cook it with pasta. Here's how to make the delicious dish above!

Orechiette with Garlic Scapes and Carrot Top Pesto
feeds 4-6 people
  • 1 lb dry orecchiette
  • 4 garlic scapes, chopped
  • 4 small carrots, or 2 large ones, sliced diagonally in thin coins, about 1/4" thick
  • 1 large spring onion, shaved
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, as needed
  • 1 Recipe's worth of Carrot Top Pesto
  • **A protein of your choice would be lovely; I happened to have some leftover roasted chicken in my fridge when I made this dish, but of course this is entirely optional. 
I hope it goes without saying that you need to cook your orecchiette in plenty of salted water for 8-10 minutes. If it need be saying, please cook your orecchiette in plenty of salted water, for 8-10 minutes. While that is boiling, prepare a large saute pan by heating your olive oil. I had my chicken already cooked and shredded, so I added that to the pan first. If you have any protein of choice, now would be the time to add it to heat through. Add in your carrots and garlic scapes, and saute gently for 2 minutes. Add your spring onion and saute for 1 minute.

Reduce your heat to a medium-low and add two heaping spoonfuls of pesto to heat. Stir gently while everything melds together in a beautiful embrace of fragrant herbs. When your pasta is done cooking, add about 1/3 c of pasta water to your pan to help make the sauce. Drain the pasta of the remaining water, and add everything together in your big saute pan. Add the remainder of your pesto, stir well, and bring up to a simmer to ensure that the sauce is hot. Immediately transfer into a serving dish and garnish with either more shredded parmesan, fresh herbs, shaved onion, or even some edible flowers. All of this should be to your liking! Make sure that you like it - you are the one that's going to eat it, after all.

Briefly, I'd like to make a note on garlic scapes



Garlic scapes are what we call the greens that grow out of the ground when you plant garlic bulbs in the fall. If you leave them unharvested, the scapes will bloom into beautiful flowers, and then die back to let you know that your garlic is ready to harvest. If you want to know when spring comes, do yourself a favor and plant your garlic in the fall just before the frost, around the same time you plant your tulip bulbs. Cover with plenty of mulch and compost, mostly because it'll help you harvest them in the spring with a touch more ease. When the garlic emerges, in neat little rows of green pops, you'll know that it's time to plant your potatoes! (That is, of course, if you grow potatoes.)

Garlic scapes are wonderfully versatile, and most farmers' markets will have them available. We're in the height of the spring/summer seasonal change, so that means that more fun goodies are making their headway in the stalls. If you can at all help it, find your way to a farmer's market or a farm near you. So many small farms and growers are still struggling from the P*ndemic last year and I know that they'd love your support. My personal favorite way to use garlic scapes is shaved thin and folded into scrambled eggs, or even in place of scallions in a stir fry. 

I hope you've enjoyed reading about and learning about carrot tops and garlic scapes. This post was brought to you by KC Farm School at Gibbs Road. This teaching farm empowers individuals through vocational training with the hope that anyone and everyone that visits this farm will happily experience a beautiful community connection with the land, the soil, and the food grown from it. 

Happy cooking and happy eating!