Over the past few weeks, warmish temperatures and a steady dose of rain have helped our beans — bush beans, pole beans, and string beans — proliferate like mad! The beans have been growing far faster than we could ever eat them, and this past weekend, we found ourselves with a definite surplus.
We also made our first harvest of shelling beans!
These turned out to be Tiger Eye beans (a bush variety) and Fort Portal Jade (a pole variety).
While there are more Fort Portal beans to come, it looks like the Tiger Eye plants have had their say. As with beans, they might be done, or they might re-blossom later in the summer.
But, back to the busload of string beans. A much as we’ve been enjoying them simply steamed with dinner, we decided to do something a little different this past weekend, and make them into a light and delicious salad. We regularly make a Three-Bean Salad, but we wanted something a little different, so we turned to our trust Betty Crocker recipe book and found a little inspiration in the form of a “Tangy Vegetable Salad.” But we didn’t have everything on hand for that particular recipe, so we improvised. Here’s our version, which we’ll call “Simple Vegetable Salad (That’s Mostly String Beans).”
approximately 1/2 cup (or so) each of chopped onion, carrots, peppers, and squash (we used a red pepper and summer squash, but any varieties could work)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1. Gather all vegetables together; gather together ingredients for dressing.
2. Boil a little water (about 1/2 cup or so) in a large saucepan, and dump in the vegetables. Cook in boiling water for five minutes.
3. After five minutes, drain the vegetable and rinse with cool water. Set aside.
4. Place dressing ingredients into a small screw-top jar and shake vigorously to combine.
5. Place drained vegetables in a large bowl and pour over dressing. Stir gently, cover bowl, then place bowl in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours before serving.
5. While salad is chilling, stir occasionally until ready to serve. When serving, use a slotted spoon.
This is an excellent summer salad – light, filling, and refreshing. And it’s super quick to make! (Who wants to turn on the oven in 100 degree heat, anyway?!) One thing to note is that you could also used white wine or red wine vinegar for the dressing. And really, you could use just about any combination of vegetables. The original recipe called for cauliflower and the addition of sliced olives at the end. But our results turned out to be simply delicious. And that’s what’s important. 🙂
If there’s one thing that we’ve wanted to do ever since starting strawberries, it’s make a strawberry pie. Okay, so maybe it’s not the most groundbreaking goal, but it’s a goal nonetheless. And as trite as it might sound, it really comes down to the true goal: get enough strawberries to make a pie. Well, this year, the strawberries haven’t disappointed.
Last week we lamented a bit on how much critters, like slugs and squirrels, like strawberries too. (And we swear we saw a shrew in the strawberry patch the other day, too.) Last week, we were also dealing with a bout of grim, wet weather. So far this week, not only have we had clear skies, but it’s been sunny and hot. Like record-breaking H.O.T., which stinks for the humans, but is great for the strawberries. In fact, it’s possible we might have too many strawberries…
Anyway, back to the pie. The recipe for the pie we had in mind came from our trusty Better Homes and Garden cookbook: Berry Glacé Pie. It sounds fancy, but it’s super simple, requires no cooking save for a baked pie shell, and as it turns out, totally delicious. (As much as we’ve wanted to make a strawberry pie, the worry remained that a baked pie would result in mushy, nearly non-existent berries, which is pretty unappetizing. Because this is a chilled pie, the berries stay nice and firm, softening up only slightly over time.)
Berry Glacé Pie
1 baked pie shell (homemade, store-bought, your choice)
8 cups fresh strawberries (the smaller, the better)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
(Yes, 4 ingredients; that’s it!)
Prepare you pie shell in whatever manner is necessary.
For strawberries, remove stems and leaves. Cut any large strawberries in half lengthwise and set aside in a bowl.
(Note: since all our strawberries have to be vetted for anything that might have burrowed their way inside [yuck], we cut all our strawberries in half. The prettier version of the pie, as listed below, contains whole strawberries that are neatly arranged with their pointy ends up. We just layered our berries as they seemed to best fit.)
For the glaze, in a blender container or food processor bowl combine 1 cup of the strawberries and 2/3 water. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Add enough additional water to the mixture to equal 1 1/2 cups. In a medium saucepan combine sugar and cornstarch; stir in blended berry mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. (Optional: stir in a few drops red food coloring.) Cool for 10 minutes without stirring.
Spread about 1/4 cup of the glaze over bottom and sides of pie crust. Arrange half of the remaining strawberries, stem ends down, in pastry.
Carefully spoon half of the remaining glaze over berries, making sure all berries are covered. Arrange remaining berries over first layer. Spoon remaining glaze over berries, covering each. Chill for 1 to 2 hours. (After 2 hours, filling may begin to water out). Garnish with whipped cream.
The most surprising thing about this pie, and maybe it shouldn’t be surprising at all, is how refreshingly bright it tastes. Because our berries are a little tart and the glaze is very sweet, the pie is perfectly balanced, neither too sweet nor too tart. It’s also kept pretty well over several days, despite the recipe’ s warning that the glaze might become watery. Ours hasn’t, though it has congealed, darkened, and become a little cloudy. It’s probably best, indeed, that the pie is eaten sooner rather than later, but as much as we could probably eat a single pie in a day, we probably shouldn’t. Probably.
Presently, the strawberry crop is slowing down a little, though new growth is appearing, as are new flowers. Right now, we’ve got enough berries for another pie, but maybe we should aim to make jam or something. We’ll see.
Meanwhile in the garden, things are doing okay. It’s looking like the majority of tomato seedling are starting to really take root. Can’t say the same about the peppers, sadly. Looks like another slim year there. But the cucumber, beans, and squash are all taking off, as are some of the radishes. Peas are another story. (Maybe we’ll get to that lament week.) And we’ve got greens for days. Delicious!
Despite the fact that we got the garden started later than usual this year, the strawberries are right on time! June is strawberry month round these parts, and we were heartily rewarded this past week with a host of ripened and ripening berries.
So far, we’re on track for our largest harvest yet, and that just from looking at all the berries to be that are still outside. In the past, not only was our strawberry spread not as large, but it always seemed as though the birds and squirrel got to them before we ever did. This year, the rainy weather has kept most of the critters at bay. Plus, we’re picking the berries just before they get to their sweetest points, and then we’re ripening them indoors. The results aren’t perfect – the berries remain a little tart – but we’d rather get a sizeable harvest than a totally perfect harvest.
Unfortunately, the rainy weather has has its downside for the berries in the form of slugs. Ick. There’s nothing more disappointing than seeing what looks like a perfect berry only to turn it around and find it either half-eaten or worse, with a slug still in residence. Bad berries with slugs get tossed; bad berries without them get squished back into the soil in the hope for more berries in the years to come. Interestingly, bugs in general haven’t seemed to bother the berries. It’s really only the slugs that have been a problem. Because of them, all berries get thoroughly washed and checked before any eating happens. Biting into a bad berry…well…that’d be no fun.
But enough talk about slugs. The point is, we have strawberries, and they are delicious! We hope to have strawberries spread into the garden bed that sits right on the side of the house. Because the more strawberries we grow, the better our chances are of getting good harvests. After all, it’s not like the slugs or birds or squirrel can eat ALL the berries, right?
Well that’s an odd title for a post here, now isn’t it? But it isn’t if you consider that today, 3/14, is Pi Day! Y’know…Pi? As in 3.14 etc. etc.? High School math class, and such? For whatever reason, perhaps because there’s a dearth of Springtime holidays, people started celebrating “Pi Day” some years ago. And because people are people, it was easily transformed into “Pie Day” for some. Be it fruit pies, or custard pies, or pizza pies, every March 14th is all about the pies!
Why are we talking about pies? A few reasons.
It is Pie Day.
We don’t have much of an update on the seeds. We have a number of seedlings now, and they’re doing very well. We’ll catch up with them next week.
We really don’t want to talk about all the ice/sleet/slush that’s outside. (Thanks, Winter Storm Stella.)
As great as just about any pie is, we decided to celebrate this Pie Day with pumpkin pie…Long Pie Pumpkin pie, that is. At the end of last season, we had a number of Long Pie Pumpkins left in the garden — these plants were incredibly prolific! We rescued a whole batch of them, and slowly, over the winter, we used them to make pies, breads, and even pumpkin soup (which was as little sweet but very good). After New Year’s, we were left with four of the smallest ones, and most of them were still ripening. We had read that these squashes could be kept indoors for many months after harvesting. We almost didn’t believe it; but sure enough, by the time March rolled around, three of the four Long Pies were bright orange. We decided that Pie Day would be the perfect time to use them. (The fourth squash remains very green and doesn’t show any signs of becoming orange, so we’re not sure what’s going on there. It might be a dud. It might be a different type of squash entirely!)
Over the weekend, we roasted and prepped the Long Pies. It took a good hour in a 350 degree oven to complete the roasting process. After that, all the squash bits were pureed in the blender – we were careful to make sure none of the skin got in as it turns extremely tough when cooked. Then we strained out any stringy bits.
After that, making the pie was the easy part. We ended up with a little more than 2 cups of puree — plenty for the pie. Mix with that eggs; sweetened condensed milk; ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon,; and then pour it all into a frozen pie crust (or a homemade single crust, if you’re not lazy like us 🙂 ). Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, and then lower the oven temp to 325 degrees and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour, until the center of the pie has just set. Cool, cut, and serve with whipped cream.
This time around, we made enough filling for two moderately-filled pies. (Which sounded better than one overly-overstuffed pie. Bonus: there’s plenty of pie to go around!)
Though it hasn’t been a banner year for us with the garden, there’s still plenty to keep us occupied. And rather than preserving, say, a million pounds of tomatoes like we did last year, we’re eating most of what we take in soon after it’s picked. Well, for the most part, that is. There’s still the matter of our basket full of the biggest zucchini in the universe. (Okay, not really, but still…) But! Guess what we found growing the other day:
Yup, that’s a baby White Scallop or “pattypan” squash! It’s been hiding all by its lonesome among the huge (and now dying) zucchini plants. So far this is the only non-zucchini of the year, and we’re keeping a close eye on it. Hopefully it’ll mature easily. Not too sure what we’d do with just this one squash, but we sure are glad to see it growing!
Back in the kitchen, we’ve been making all sorts of things, from the typical, like zucchini bread:
To the new (to us),a light and lovely Three-Bean Salad with a Dijon vinaigrette, here made with some of our string beans and Rattlesnake beans (both lightly blanched), and though you wouldn’t know it, a handful of our Pinto beans. (Canned pinto beans and garbanzo beans complete the mix.)
Moving on from baking and salads, we’ve also done some quick pickling of our radishes and cucumbers. (It’s been far too hot here lately to stand in the stove for hours to do actual canning, so quick pickling in the way to go! And the food still keeps well for 4-6 weeks in the fridge.)
The radishes were done easily with just white vinegar, sugar, and salt.
Then, it was onto the cucumbers. Our cucumber crop has been moderate this year — the extremely warmth (we’re on, what, our fourth or fifth heatwave of the summer!) likely both helps a little and hinders a lot. We have gotten a few nice-sized pickling cucumbers (Homemade Pickles), but the new variety we tried this year, Alibi, have all come in short and spherical. And unlike last year, we haven’t gotten in a single Crystal Apple. But a cucumber is a cucumber, and cucumber are perfect for pickles! We started out with dill pickles first, following a recipe we found online.
Then we moved on to trying to make bread and butter quick pickles. After a good bit of searching for a good recipe, we landed here: Easy Bread and Butter Pickles. The results were perfect, and the pickles are d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!
As of right now, the search for zucchini recipes is our number one priority. One can only eat so much zucchini bread and Zucchini Parmesan and zucchini fritters, after all. An article in one of our local papers pointed us to the idea of using zucchini in quiche (don’t know why we didn’t think of that before — and we love quiche!), which led to the discovery of Zucchini Clafoutis. While this idea is new to us, clafoutis (kla-foo-tee) is anything but. And it’s actually known as a baked desert, usually made with cherries, apricots, plums, and the like. Turns out that it’s somewhat like a quiche, it contains eggs and milk and bakes up all puffy-like, but there’s no crust and it’s a little less rich. After coming across dozens of zucchini clafoutis recipes, here’s what we settled on, based mostly on what we had available in the kitchen and garden. It makes for an excellent vegetarian entree. (Though you could certainly add in meat. Bacon or ham sound like they’d do quite well.)
(Makes 4 servings)
1 half of a foot-long zucchini, peeled and cut into small cubes (about 2 cups, and peeled because the skins on our tend to be a little on the tough side)
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
8 cherry tomatoes, sliced
A couple dozen leaves of fresh basil
1/4 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup lowfat half-and-half
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spray a little cooking spray on the bottom and sides of an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish
In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium-high heat, add onion and saute for 4-5 minutes, until translucent
Add in the cubed zucchini and saute with onions for 6-8 minutes, until cooked through and browned
Once done, place mixture in the prepared baking dish
Layer the tomatoes, basil, and cheese over the zucchini and onions
In a separate bowl, beat eggs together, then completely mix in the flour and the red pepper flakes
Slowly whisk milk into egg and flour mixture until fully combined and add salt and pepper to taste
Pour batter over the vegetables in the baking dish
Cook for 45 minutes until set — top should be golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean
Things remain steady in the garden. It’s been a slow week generally; watching the plants grow is akin to watching paint dry! But everything is doing relatively well. We continue to shoo away bunnies when we see them, put down our grass clippings, and try to make sure everything is watered well enough. And weeding continues — that is a never-ending task, for sure. Last week was very, very warm with temperatures soaring well into the 90s. Many plants got a little wilty, as such, but we didn’t lose anything to the heat. If anything, a number of the plants seemed to really enjoy the warm weather.
As for harvests, small ones of lettuces and basil continue. A number of our shelling bean plants are finally producing, and we’ve even got a teensy-weensy watermelon starting to grow! The one things that’s going like gangbusters is the squash. The plants are getting really large to the point of falling over as we discovered one had yesterday. (Thankfully, the root was still in tact, but a number of the stems had broken.) Over the weekend, we picked these two beasts!
We took pictures of these guys still on the plants in our last post, and even then we knew they were going to be monsters. Indeed, each weighs a good several pounds and will provide for us many meals to come! From half of one, we’ve already made zucchini parmesan. Then from the other half, we made some delicious zucchini fritters! We wish we had remembered to take a picture of the final product, but we were too busy eating them to bother. 🙂 Still, here’s our recipe for them. And if you want to picture them, imagine little pancakes peppered with shredded zucchini — that’s pretty much what they look like!
(Makes four 3-inch fritters)
1 cup of shredded zucchini
1/4 of an onion, shredded
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup of flour
1/3 cup shredded parmesan or swiss cheese (any hard cheese will do)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 ground pepper
oil for the frying pan
1. Shred zucchini and onion together and dump the mixture into a colander. Using towels or paper towels, press out as much liquid as possible. (You want the zucchini and onion as dry as can be.)
2. In a bowl, mix together the zucchini, onion, garlic, flour, cheese, egg, salt, and pepper. The mixture should resemble a thick batter and stick to a spoon. (If it’s too thin, add in more flour.)
3. Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
4. Once the pan is warm, drop in the zucchini mixture by large spoonfuls. Flatten out each fritter once it’s in the pan.
5. Cook for 3-5 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Remove fritter to a drying rack or plate with paper towels to cool. (The final fritters should be slightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. They shouldn’t be runny or overly fried.)
6. Serve alone or with your favorite sauce. (Spaghetti sauce or horseradish ranch dressing are two of our favorites!)
Happy September, everyone! It’s that time of year when we start really racking our brains to figure out how to best use our waning harvests. Of special concern this year is the tomatoes, simply because we have so many of them. As the majority of plants are on their way out, the tomatoes that remain are often, but not always, a little tougher than those from more timely harvests. Since we’ve been fiddling around with a teensy kitchen remodel this summer, and since we didn’t feel like dragging out all the canning supplies this past weekend, we decided to make some sauce!
Fact is, we’ve been making tomato sauces of this or that kind since harvesting began. It’s just about the best way we can think of to use up tomatoes that are in any state – from not quite ripe to overripe and everything in between. Because we use tomato sauces frequently throughout the year, we always look forward to making the best of the best during the summer. (This year we also tried freezing some sauce that we made a couple months ago; hopefully it’ll survive into the winter.) In any event, this week we thought we’d go through our sauce-making process, not that it’s anything particularly groundbreaking. If you have a favorite recipe, we’d love to see it in the comments!
First off, you need, well…tomatoes, and lots of them, of any variety you like. Set your oven to 400 degrees and place your tomatoes on sheet pans that have been sprayed with a little cooking spray and/or covered with foil. Cut large tomatoes in half and place them cut side down on the pans. Small tomatoes don’t have to be cut, but you can if you like. While not totally necessary, you can also season them with a little drizzled olive oil, salt, and pepper. Once the oven is heated, roast the tomatoes for 20-25 minutes, or until the skins have browned and shriveled. Remove the pans from the oven and let the tomatoes cool for 30 minutes. If you use mostly regular tomatoes, be careful when removing the pans from the oven because the tomatoes will likely be swimming in juice.
As a general rule, paste tomatoes, like Roma and San Marzano, make the best sauces because they contain lots of flesh and little moisture compared to your standard round sandwich tomatoes. So the resulting sauce tends to be thicker. While we had some paste tomatoes on hand, most weren’t, but we have a trick on how to deal with those juicy tomatoes — strain them!
Okay, so it’s not a very fancy trick, but once the tomatoes have cooled, just plop them all into a strainer and let them sit for as long as you like. The longer the cooked tomatoes strain, the less watery the sauce will be. We usually let them strain for 20 minutes or so.
Once strained, it’s time to mash them up. For this, you can either work in batches by ladling the cooked tomatoes into a blender and grinding them, or, like we do, place all the tomatoes into a large bowl and use a hand mixer to puree them.
Continue with whichever process until all the tomatoes are blended. If using a blender, transfer the puree into a large bowl.
Now, if you don’t mind a sauce that contains tomatoes seeds and skin, you could use this puree as is, cooking it down with whatever spices you like. We tried that awhile back but didn’t care for the texture, so that’s when we started straining our tomato puree. If you’re going to cook the puree right away, you can strain it into a saucepan like we show below. If not, then you can strain it into another large bowl or directly into storage containers of your choosing.
So besides a large vessel of some sort, you’ll also need a fine strainer — one with little handles that rest on a containers’ edges is quite helpful. First, situate the strainer and pour in some puree.
Then with a spatula or spoon, start working the sauce through the strainer.
How long this process takes depends on the thickness of the puree. Thinner puree with obviously go through a little quicker than thicker stuff. But either way, it’s worth it. You’ll know your done with a batch of puree when you’re left with a paste of tomato detritus in the strainer. (We usually discard this paste in the compost, but if there’s something else we can do with it, please let us know! Can the seeds be saved and replanted? We figured not since the tomatoes have been cooked.)
Continue straining the mixture until you’re left with a very smooth puree.
From this point on, the process is up to you: save or cook. For a simple sauce, we add in salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a little sugar, and bring the puree to a boil. Then we let it simmer for up to an hour. (This sauce makes a great base for more complicated sauces, such as enchilada sauce or veggie/meat spaghetti sauce.) Since we like to have a simple red sauce on hand at all times for pasta and pizza, we usually put in dried basil and oregano as well. Once the mixture has simmer and thickened up a little, we transfer it into storage containers.
For this not-quite quart of sauce, we used two sheet pans of a variety of tomatoes – somewhere around 5-7 pounds. It may not seem like a lot results from this labor of love, but this sauce goes a long way. It knocks the socks off the stuff you get in the grocery store taste-wise, so you don’t need to slather your food in gobs of it. Mmmm…now all we need is a plate of warm pasta and some bread salad…
Our red sauce-making days aren’t nearly over as the tomatoes simply won’t quit. Yum and yum!
In non-tomato news, we also cooked up a quick hot pepper sauce, which is nothing more than hot peppers and vinegar. (This is bound to warm up all the bean and squash soups we’ll be making this winter!)
First, we grabbed all the cayenne peppers that we had harvested and cut off all their green tops.
Then we poured a pint of white vinegar into a sauce pan and slowly heated it up to almost boiling. As the vinegar was warming, we cut small slits into each pepper and placed them in the pan. (The cuts helps release the flavor of the peppers into the vinegar over time.)
Bring the mixture to a light boil. Once your kitchen smells like peppers and vinegar (it won’t take long!) carefully transfer peppers and vinegar into a storage container.
Let the mixture cool down to room temperature, and then close up the container and store. Most of the recipes we read said that the sauce could be ready in as little as two weeks, but the longer it sits, the more potent it’ll get. The container should be shelf stable until opened, at which point it should probably be stored in the fridge.
A now the house smells delicious. Not a bad way to start off the fall. 🙂