Friday, May 21, 2010

Plants & Pipes: Things Are Growing

These pictures are from May 19. The garden has received regular rain.

This basil self seeded from last year's plants. It's healthier and bigger than the seeds I planted myself.

The sage is lush and the purple blooms are evident. When the flowers dry, you can collect the round, black seeds and plant new sage plants.

This is a sunflower plant that also self seeded, probably thanks to a bird visiting a birdfeeder. It's over 3' tall now.

This is a bloom on the snap pea plant. They're climbing as they can. The longest is close to 3' tall.

This jalepeno plant looks good so far. Last year I didn't get much of a crop, so I hope this year is better. I like to put a few slices on sandwiches and nachos. The wife has a delicate palate and does not want added heat.

Our lettuce looks better. This variety is supposed to be more heat resistent. The temperature is supposed to reach the low 90s this weekend, so we'll see. One of the wife's co-workers gave us a large head of romaine-type lettuce from his garden. Once we finish that, we'll move to our own.

This is a transplanted okra seedling. I bought a few plants to get a jump on the harvest.
And this is a seedling from seeds I planted the week before. We'll see if the plants I started can catch up with the ones I bought and transplanted.

This shows the net fencing I installed to keep the dogs out of the garden. So far it's worked. No Alys-abducted asparagus, no deep holes dug, no uprooted transplants, and no unauthorized "fertilizing" from my canine helpers.

Alys is thwarted by the fence. She's not happy. She wants to help father with the garden.

So she takes her frustrations out on the pipe. Alys and Zoe attack each end of this section of drain pipe. Occasionally, chipmunks will run through the pipe going from one hole to another. I think the dogs smell them and really go after the pipe. Zoe just bites the pipe and barks; Alys bites it and shakes it vigorously left and right. They wear themselves out doing this.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spring Garden Report

Some things are happing in the garden. I didn't do a traditional spring garden this year, but some fruits of previous years' labors are evident.
Rosemary is a perenial herb and usually survives our winters. We use it a lot with roasted or mashed potatoes, chicken, and lamb.

The sage survived and is now blooming. The purple flowers are a favorite with bees.

The oregano came back with a vengeance. It will take over a garden area like mint does.
Speaking of mint.... I've cut several sprigs to make mint tea.

Our dill self seeded and is lush with growth. I've cut several sprigs to put in salads at night. If only the cucumbers were ready now.

Our cilantro also self seeded. We've enjoyed that with some sauteed fresh corn the wife fixed and in salads.

I planted some sugar snap pea seeds this spring, but I may have started them too late. They don't like hot weather. We'll see.

We also planted lettuce. It's nice to pick your salad fresh that day.

The big hit so far is asparagus. We've enjoyed fresh asparagus for the past several weeks. Two years ago when we started the garden, I planted some asparagus roots. Last year I planted some more. The older ones are producing well.

I cut the spears when they're 9-10" tall. The spears need to be thicker than a pencil. We would have enjoyed more, were it not for our newfound imp...

named Alys. She looks innocent enough. You wouldn't think she'd pester her sister, dig in the garden, hop in the compost bin to enjoy vegetable scraps, and eat asparagus, but I've caught her doing all of that. The other day I caught her in the asparagus bed munching on a fresh spear. She didn't even ask for butter or lemon. Earlier I saw a partial spear in the lawn and didn't make the connection. And I had several cut spears in a cup of water by the back door. She helped herself to one of those, too. Her latest transgression was digging up a just-transplanted tomato plant. I'm having to fence the garden to keep her out. On the positive side, she does deter squirrels and chipmunks. She left one chipmunk carcass by the back door and delivered another to us in the kitchen. No, I didn't prepare sauteed chipmunk!
I've transplanted tomato, squash, cucumber, and okra plants. I need to sow more okra and green bean seeds. We'll see how they do.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lamb Chops: Simply Done, Simply Delicious

The wife and I enjoy leg of lamb, rack of lamb, and lamb loin chops. This is a simple preparation of the loin chop, which I think is the lamb equivalent of a beef T bone or porterhouse steak. Lamb chops are one of the few meats I prefer to pan saute rather than grill.

Depending upon the thickness of your chops, I usually eat two and the wife usually eats one at one meal. I wanted leftovers, so I bought almost a dozen. Take your chops out of the fridge a couple of hours before cooking so the meat will come to room temperature.

Have a bottle of everyday merlot or cabernet sauvignon open. Yes, you can taste it while you prepare dinner. You remember the famous saying, "I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food". I also got some rosemary sprigs from the garden. Remove the needles from the stem and roughly chop. You can use dried rosemary.

Get a large pan heating over medium to high heat. When it's hot, add your olive oil.

Add your lamb chops and season with salt and pepper.

After a few minutes, depending upon how hot your pan is, turn the chops over and brown the other side. You want a dark brown on each side. The hot pan is important because you want the browning on the exterior but you don't want to overcook the interior. We try to keep the middle pink.

When cooked on both sides, remove to a platter and keep warm. You can cover with foil or put in a low oven.

If there's a lot of fat in the pan, pour it out (not down the drain!).

Add your basic red wine to the pan and reduce, while scraping any cooked on goodies from the bottom of the pan. Refill your glass while you're at it.

Add your chopped rosemary to the pan. You probably could add some chopped garlic too. Reduce the pan sauce until it starts to thicken. It can get quite syrupy. Pour any accumulated juices from the cooked lamb chops into the pan.

When the sauce's consistency is to your liking, add a pat of butter, turn off the heat, and swirl the pan to incorporate the butter. The butter adds some richness and glossiness to the pan sauce. Begin your plating.

Spoon some of the pan sauce over your lamb chops. Here we enjoyed the chops with mashed potatoes and Auburn field peas.

We enjoyed the lamb chops with a Cline "small berry" mourvedre that our kind friends Steve and Amy gave us. Steve enjoys mourvedre with lamb, and after this dinner, we heartily concur. The label says the winery "dry farms" the grapes for this wine. This produces a more concentrated, flavorful wine. Cline also makes a widely available, good red wine called "Cashmere", which as its name implies, contains supple fruit. We also have enjoyed lamb with cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The meat can be rich, so a sturdy wine will match well.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tuna Steaks au Poivre

Traditional steak au poivre ("poivre" is pepper) is a French bistro dish using strip steaks coated in cracked peppercorns, sauted quickly over high heat. The cracked pepper is not as hot as regular ground pepper.

One of my favorite TV chefs is Jacques Pepin. He had several cooking series on PBS, some with only himself, some with his daughter, and one with Julia Child. One of the accompanying cookbooks had a recipe for tuna steaks au poivre, a variation on the classic method. Here's my take:

The Fresh Market had sashimi grade tuna steaks on sale and I got three. Take out of the fridge about 30 minutes to an hour before cooking.

Our friends Steve and Amy gave us this peppercorn blend for Christmas. Put several tablespoons in your mortar and pestle and crack them. If you don't have a blend, use regular black peppercorns. If you lack a mortar and pestle, crack the peppercorns with a large heavy skillet (put them on the counter or cutting board and press the skillet on them to crack them) or rolling pin (you might want to put them in a ziplock bag first).

Sprinkle both sides with the cracked peppercorns and press in. Sprinkle the steaks with salt.

Get your skillet hot, add some olive oil, add the tuna steaks.

Turn steaks over after a minute or two. Time depends on how thick the steaks are and how well you like them cooked. I try to cook mine to medium rare, but the wife likes her seafood fully cooked. Remove from pan when done and pour out extra oil. In the original Pepin recipe, this was the end. I've added a sauce.

Pour some red wine (merlot or cabernet sauvignon) in the pan and reduce this over medium-to-high heat. Scrape any cooked-on goodies from the pan so they dissolve in the wine. You want about 1/4 cup of liquid left; it starts to thicken and get syrupy.

When ready, add a pat of butter and turn off the heat. Swirl to incorporate butter.

Serve the tuna and spoon some of the sauce over it. Here we had fresh asparagus and brown rice. We enjoyed the dish with a Seghesio Family Vineyards 2008 Zinfandel. Two and a half years ago our friends Clark and Henrik introduced us to a Seghesio 2005 zin and we really liked it. We still have a few bottles left from the case(s) we later bought. Recently the 2008 version was out and I got a bottle to see if it was as good as its earlier version. It was. Both have generous fruit flavors. Some red wines work with some fish, i.e. pinot noir and wild salmon. I was thinking that the peppery notes in a zinfandel would match the tuna, but the Seghesio has little peppery notes. Still, the concentrated fruit made it a joy to drink.

If you don't drink red wine, you can try making your sauce with a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, and drink either varietal with the dish.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Grilled "Woo Woo" Chicken

“Woo woo” was my mother’s term for Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce. She used to do a baked chicken breast dish with Worcestershire sauce, margarine, and lemon juice. I’ve modified it and now it’s my favorite grilled chicken recipe.
The basic marinade ingredients are Worcestershire sauce, citrus juice, wine, garlic, and olive oil. For a standard package of 4 split chicken breasts, I use about ¾ cup of Worcestershire sauce, the juice of a lemon or two limes, several garlic cloves put through a garlic press, ¼ cup olive oil, an enough red or white wine to cover the chicken. I usually do lemon juice with white wine and lime juice with red wine. Both are good.

Mix your marinade ingredients in a bowl or large pan. I use a large mixing bowl with a pour spout. This aids pouring the marinade out when I’m ready to grill.
I remove the skin from the chicken because it flares less on the grill without the extra fat. Immerse your chicken in the marinade. I like to marinate the chicken for several hours. You can stir the chicken around once or twice if you like. Remove from the fridge about 2 hours before you plan to grill them. Drain the marinade right before you grill them.

Place chicken breast-side down on grill. Cover. Turn after about 6 minutes and grill the other side. Alternatively, you can broil or roast the chicken in your oven. Cooking times vary; use your judgment.

This is how they look after they’re finished. You can test doneness by pressing on the chicken (it’s firm when done), cutting into it, or using an instant read thermometer.

The breasts are so large, the wife and I usually split one. I cut it off the bone and then cut it in half. Here it’s served with Auburn field peas and the wife’s polenta. Yum!

The chicken goes very well with a good chardonnay, like this one we received as a birthday gift from friends Ralph and Anne. Thank you!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Flip the Bird @ Thanksgiving

In 1984 my sister just finished college and started work in St. Louis. She had to work the Friday after Thanksgiving and thus could not make it home for the holiday. I took Amtrak from LR to St. Louis to spend the holiday weekend with her. She cooked a turkey and I prepared to carve it. I wondered why there was so little meat coming off the bone. I turned it over and realized she cooked the turkey breast-side-down. Years later I read several recipes for roast chicken or turkey that recommended starting the bird breast-side-down to slow the cooking of the white meat and keep it moist. Now I do all roast chickens and turkeys this way.

Flip the Bird 1 Turkey Towel Eat Arkansas.jpg

I’m holding what used to be a white kitchen towel over a roasting pan and rack. Some turkey roasting recipes recommend placing moistened cheesecloth over the breast to keep the breast meat moist and slow its cooking. Dark meat takes longer to cook than white meat, so this method is designed to keep the white meat from overcooking when the dark meat is done.

I don’t have cheesecloth, so I use a kitchen towel. After several Thanksgivings, our “turkey towel” is almost the same color as the skin of the roast turkey. In the days before Thanksgiving, we begin our annual search for the turkey towel.

Flip the Bird 2 Herbs Eat Arkansas.jpg

We used bay leaves, rosemary, and sage from our garden. Moisten the turkey towel with water or white wine, place on your rack, drizzle with olive oil. Place a bay leave and some herbs in the turkey’s large cavity and neck cavity. Add some carrot, celery, and onion. Place more of the same herbs and aromatic vegetables in the roasting pan.

Flip the Bird 3 Naked Bird Eat Arkansas.jpg

Place turkey breast-side-down on the towel on the rack.

Rub the skin with softened butter or drizzle with oil.

Sprinkle with S & P.

Pour some water or white wine in the roasting pan.

Place in preheated 350 degree oven.

Flip the Bird 4 Turkey Neck Eat Arkansas.jpg

Meanwhile, place onion, carrot, celery, a bay leaf, and the turkey neck in a pot with cold water and bring to a simmer. This will make a turkey stock you’ll use in your gravy.

Flip the Bird 5 Turkey Broth Eat Arkansas.jpg

To baste the bird, melt a stick of butter and add dry sherry and some garlic. Smells great!

Flip the Bird 6 Turkey Back Eat Arkansas.jpg

After about 1 ½ hours, it’s time to … flip the bird!

Flip the Bird 7 Flip Prep Eat Arkansas.jpg

Take 2 large ziplock bags, turn them inside out, put them over your oven mitts, and secure with a rubber band. Why inside out, you ask? When done, turn them right-side out and you can put leftover turkey in them. Great for sending relatives off with some leftovers.

Grab the bird and towel and flip. Baste the turkey-towel-covered breast with your butter/sherry mixture. Return to oven.

Check doneness with an instant-read thermometer. Remove when done, tilting bird to let cavity juices run into roasting pan. Place bird on cutting board, cover with aluminum foil, and let rest while you make the gravy.

Flip the Bird 8 Bird Done Flipped Eat Arkansas.jpg

It may not be pretty, but it tastes good.

You know the gravy drill. Strain and de-fat your turkey stock. Remove vegetables and herbs from roasting pan and de-fat the pan juices*. Deglaze pan with wine or sherry, add de-fatted pan juices and turkey stock, plus additional chicken stock, and reduce. Thicken with a mixture of cornstarch and wine. *or you can make a roux of some of the fat from the drippings in which you cook some flour. After cooking the flour a little bit, add the liquids and heat until thickened. I prefer the cornstarch method because I can reduce the liquids first, concentrating the flavor. And it’s lower in fat than a roux-thickened gravy.