Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Blueberry Bonanza

As I have mentioned before, I consider myself to be an urban forager, and that includes going to pick-your-own farms to gather the fruits of the field. Well, blueberry season came early this year to Maine. And although I was unable to go picking with the friend who took me strawberry picking, I did manage to squeeze in a trip after work and between thunderstorms one day.

The farm was a bit out of the way, and the owner’s wife didn’t sound very enthusiastic when I called to check picking times. But force myself upon that farm I did! When I got there, the rain had just subsided and an intense damp humidity was still sticking in the air. But, I pulled up into the lonely parking area, and walked to the picking shed for containers and instructions.

The fields were completely empty, except for the family of wild turkeys sneaking in to eat blueberries. I was directed to one bush and told to work my way up from the bottom, so that the weighed down branches would pick themselves up off the ground. There were so many blueberries that I only had to pick one side of the blueberry bush before I had my 5 quarts filled. And if you know me at all, I looked at those five quarts, looked at all the other bushes and thought; Well, maybe I should pick some more. Five quarts isn’t THAT much.
But thankfully I restrained myself and only went home with five quarts. Which really is restraint on my part. Especially after I popped one into my mouth and actually said out loud to the family of wild turkeys “Holy Crap”. These were the biggest, juiciest, sweetest blueberries I had ever had. I have met people who claim to not like blueberries – but I am sure that these little beauties would change their minds.
The next step was to see what I was going to do with 5 quarts of blueberries. Since the weather has been hot and humid recently, the thought of making jam was out of the question. But blueberries freeze very well, and have a decent texture once unfrozen. I kept one and a half quarts out for me to eat and share (and I have been having handfuls of blueberries on ice cream, cereal, and alone all week) which, left three and a half for freezing. Apparently the trick to freezing blueberries is to not wash them before freezing, but I washed and dried some, and then just dumped the rest into reseal-able bags and tossed them into the freezer.
My freezer now has so much fruit in there; we don’t have much room for anything else – which is not necessarily a bad thing. And since this summer has been so warm, we are starting to get all of the other summer produce in gardens and at farmer’s markets. Which of course means zucchini.
A friend had brought over some zucchini, and has made me swear to not spend any money on zucchini for the remainder of the summer. Where I am going with this is a combination of blueberries and zucchini. I love zucchini bread, and I believe that you can add almost anything to zucchini bread and have it taste great. So Blueberry Zucchini bread was born. Although it turns out that I am not the first person to come to this epiphany. I managed to find a recipe I like, tweak it, and add some blueberries for a bread that is good for dessert, but according to Joe, can count for breakfast as well.
Blueberry Zucchini Bread
Adapted from SmittenKitchen.com

3 eggs
1 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch all spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup blueberries (or more if you want)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease and flour two 8×4 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Mix in oil and sugar, then zucchini and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt, and nuts.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients until just mixed through, then add the blueberries and mix until just combined. Divide the batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (I had to cover my loaves to stop them from browning too much before they finished cooking.)

Makes 2 loaves

Friday, July 16, 2010

For the Love of Leeks

I love leeks. Love. I even have a few planted in a garden box in my backyard, although I fear they will not turn into anything more than the spindly shoots of green they are currently. It’s been hard to find nice leeks in the places I have lived so far in my life. Here in Maine it has been easier, but they tend to be rather pricey. If they were less expensive I would put them in everything. But as is, I must restrain myself and use them sparingly and only when a truly great recipe calls for them.

There is of course potato leek soup – of which I make a pretty good version, but it is far too hot outside to mention the words ‘hot and hearty soup’ right now. And a leek tart is also subtle and delicious that more pieces of it then necessary are usually consumed on my part. But there is a recipe that uses as many leeks as you have, and satisfies that leek flavor craving without making you feel guilty about ingesting too much.
Usually, vegetable side dishes are always a little boring, I think. It’s hard to incorporate variety sometimes onto the plate for dinner. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of meat, carb, veg and the only way to spruce it up is to change up the carb or add a sauce to the meat. Of course now that there are tons of vegetables begging to be picked from the ground and the farmer’s market, but even still it’s nice to add a little variety to cooking methods now and again.
This recipe is a great vegetable side dish, and is very easy and fairly healthy to make. As long as you like a little vinegar flavor, you will love this recipe. I know I just shared with you a German potato salad recipe that is heavy on the red wine vinegar –but this one, I promise, is not. It really lets the leeks and carrots shine and I think the whole thing tastes even better the next day for lunch.
Leeks and Carrots
as Adapted from Gourmet May 2008

This recipe can be multiplied easily. But this is just enough to make a side for 1 person. If you are making a larger batch, increase the cooking times as well. With the smaller, younger carrots, you won’t need to cook them that long at all.

1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only)
1 Tb unsalted butter
Salt and Pepper
3 medium carrots, cut diagonally into ¼ inch wide pieces
1/2 c water
2 Tb red-wine vinegar

Halve leeks lengthwise, rinse, and cut into ½ inch pieces

Sauté leeks in butter with a dash salt and pepper in a skillet over medium-high heat until softened, 3 to 4 minutes.

Stir in carrots, water, and vinegar. Cook, covered, over medium-high heat until carrots are tender, 12 to 18 minutes.

Boil, uncovered, until liquid has mostly evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

Friday, July 9, 2010

German Potato Salad

Since the title of this blog is German, I thought it would be nice if I shared another German recipe. Although, this one isn’t as authentic perhaps as others I will or have shared here. This is a Daggon family recipe. There were always a few German recipes that my mom would make for us throughout the year and this was always a favorite. You can make it all in one pot, and then keep it warm in the crock-pot all day, or you can put it in the fridge and eat it cold whenever the mood strikes you.

I have made this recipe before on several occasions, not to mention for dinner fairly regularly. It usually goes over well, as long as the diners like vinegar. The original recipe is from my grandmother’s 1968 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens “New” Cookbook, which I inherited after my grandmother passed away.
I love that cookbook. The pictures in it are startlingly unappetizing, but there is something about it that always makes me want to produce a jello mold or host the perfect bridge party. I like that all my standard questions regarding cooking can be answered easily in that book. How to bone a chicken, what table settings are appropriate for a dinner party, what fruit punch will dazzle your guests. The recipes are tested and true, and I find, are easily adaptable to today’s palate.
For the German Potato Salad, you can increase the quantity or decrease it to fit the number of servings you need. It doubles, or quadruples nicely – especially when you are bringing 40 pounds of it to a pot-luck for all the employees at the bakery you work in. The one-potted-ness of it works well too, when the thought of washing more dishes in your already full sink turns your stomach.

So even though the heat here this past week has made me want to eat nothing but ice cream for dinner, I managed to sweat through making this meal. And to be honest it doesn’t even take that long to pull together. You can always let the potatoes boil and leave the room to splash cold water on yourself. And the smell of bacon and onions can make you forget that your kitchen fan doesn’t work.
German Potato Salad
As adapted from the 1968 edition of Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook
And Jill Daggon

I used tri-color potatoes I had left over from making a patriotic potato salad for the 4th, but if you are using blue potatoes, be careful, as they do tend to fall apart more easily than their “stars and stripes” counterparts.

6 c. potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
½ lb bacon, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 lb kielbasa, sliced
2 Tb sugar
1 ½ tsp celery seed
1 tsp caraway seed
1 tsp salt
2 Tb flour
1 c. red wine vinegar
½ c. water
Pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes in salted water, until they are fork tender, about 15 minutes (depending on the size of your pieces). Then drain and run cold water over the potatoes to slow the cooking.

In the now empty potato pot, place diced bacon pieces and begin to render out the fat. When the bacon has rendered most of its fat, but before the pieces are crisp, add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced kielbasa, celery seed, caraway seed and salt and stir until everything is evenly coated. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. You should have no more bacon grease on the bottom of your pot, if you do - add more flour. Once the flour has browned slightly, add the vinegar and water and stir vigorously to work in all the flour bits. Bring this mixture up to a boil to thicken, and simmer until the sauce will coat the back of a spoon.

Remove the pot from the heat, and add back in your potatoes, stirring to coat. Add salt and pepper as needed. Serve immediately, or let sit and refrigerate for later.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sensational Scapes

Last year was the first time I had ever seen or heard of, for that matter, garlic scapes. I had made a pact with myself to buy and eat any new item at the farmer’s market that I had not tried before. So far, this has only proven to be beneficial to me. Well, last year I saw garlic scapes as one of the first items to be stocked once the market opened for the spring. Here in Maine, the growing season is a little slower than the rest of the country, so when the market opens in May, these little beauties are first to arrive, alongside radishes and baby greens.

Garlic scapes are the flowering stalk of a growing bulb of garlic. In these pictures you can see the light green bulbous part of the plant - that is where the flower will open if left to continue growing. If the flower does open, the garlic bulb will not continue to mature, and so the stem is neatly plucked off the plant after the top of it has curled. The exciting thing is though, that this piece is almost entirely edible. It can get a little woody towards the bottom of the stalk, but as far as I know, the blades of grass-like protrusions, stem, bulb and curl, are all edible.
The taste is like a vegetal raw garlic flavor, so a “green garlic’. It can be very pungent, as I recently learned after microwaving the leftover pasta and scape pesto at work today. But garlic never seems to bother me. I can’t smell it on other people or myself. Which may or may not be a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I know if I have garlic breath, but I have never met anyone who seemed to exude garlic. In my mind, you can (almost) never eat too much garlic.
I use the 'almost' because I do believe that I once crossed that threshold. On a trip to San Francisco there was a garlic themed restaurant that my mother and I went to. It’s a little kitschy, but come on, who would say no to garlic scented Chardonnay? You mean you would say no to garlic Chardonnay? Hmmmm, perhaps I should have as well. But I am not one to pass up odd food/drink options. Without giving you all of the gory details, I realized I had crossed the garlic line, when that night, asleep, face down in the bed; I woke myself up from my own stinky burp. Yes that’s right a stinky burp woke me up. I’m a little ashamed, and admitting it here to you is a little frightening. At least I learned what my limits are when it comes to garlic.

This pesto is pretty strong, but can be cut with more cheese, olive oil and lemon juice if desired. I like the addition of lemon juice because you do need to take the biting edge off the raw garlic flavor. Feel free to toss this with pasta or spread on toast like bruschetta; just don’t pair it with garlic Chardonnay.
Garlic Scape Pesto
As seen in a myriad of recipes online

2 c garlic scape pieces, about ½” long (about ½ a pound)
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
Juice of ½ a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil as needed

Combine garlic scapes, Parmesan, lemon juice salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until combined. You may have to scrape down the sides to ensure that all the garlic scape pieces have met with the blades. Once the mixture has been chopped roughly, turn on the food processor and slowly drizzle in the olive oil, until a paste forms. You can make your pesto smoother, should you want to, with the addition of more olive oil.