August 16, 2008 § 2 Comments
Every time I plant cucumbers, I am looking forward to crispy crunchy summer cucumber goodness. But when the summer hits, the cucumbers start growing, and growing, and growing, and I find that my limited number of plants has produced a massive simultaneous bounty of cukes! This year,to avoid such a situation, I planted a single plant. Unfortunately, it met an early demise when my boyfriend was preparing part of the garden to plant beans and got a little carried away, straying into already planted territory with his hoe. We planted a few lemon cucumbers to replace our little slicer, but they won’t be ready until September. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my friend had planted an ambitious amount of slicing cucumbers and was already overwhelmed with the harvest — I now have no fear of missing out on cucumbers this summer.
In years past, I have planted pickling cucumbers and found myself in my kitchen at late hours of the evening making a simple spicy, garlic dill pickle. Pickling cucumbers have a bitter flavor that seems to suck the moisture out of your mouth, and are really only good for pickling (a friend won’t even grow them for pickling, her strategy is to use slicing cucumbers for pickling instead). I find that pickling in the evening is best because cucumbers ripen during the hottest part of the year, and the last thing I want to do on a 100-degree day is stand over a pot of boiling water next to a pot of boiling brine. Luckily, I did so much pickling in the past two years that I get to skip it all this year and instead enjoy the cool evenings without the mess and heat of pickling activities.
Slicing cucumbers tend to come on and ripen in an unabated manner, providing loads of cucumbers to deal with all at once. If you grew your own cukes and are feeling overwhelmed, have no fear, there are some tasty things you can do with them that will help you consume your bounty and maybe even look forward to more.
One of my favorite options is Japanese cucumber salad. I often order this when I go to a sushi restaurant as a starter, and I discovered that it is extremely simple. To spice mine up a bit, I add about a tablespoon of fresh diced ginger, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and about 1 tablespoon of sriracha or diced hot chili peppers (last year we had an abundance of hot peppers, so I froze a gallon bag of them and I am just reaching the end of that supply). I slice my cucumbers after peeling them using cheese-grater slicing blade. My boyfriend has warned me that this blade is highly dangerous, so I pass on that wisdom here: watch your fingers! It produces evenly thin-sliced cucumbers that are very easily able to absorb the rice-vinegar and seasoning as they marinate (and it’s easier than getting out the food processor).
Another tasty option is tzatziki, a Greek sauce used as an appetizer or in gyros (see Kalyn’s World’s Best Tzatziki Sauce recipe). My variation on tzatziki is to peel the cucumber and then grate it with the fine side of my cheese grater. Instead of chunky sauce, this produces a “stringy” cucumber consistency in the sauce, but I find that it’s easier to neatly get on a piece of pita bread.
A similar dish is cucumber raita, an Indian salad commonly served at my favorite Indian restaurants (in Eugene, Evergreen and Taste of India). With a minty flavor, this dish is refreshing and pairs well with curries and spicy dishes.
One common trick to using cucumbers is to salt them and let them rest and then squeeze the excess moisture out. This is important in the Japanese salad because it allows the cucumbers to better absorb the vinegar mixture. With the tzatziki, the excess moisture would make the sauce significantly more runny.
Another recipe to consider is the Spanish gazpacho. My mom used to make a version of this using about half cucumbers and half tomato. The cold soup is quite tasty on a summer evening, and I’ve heard many describe it as the perfect “summer” dish.
For more ideas, check out this cucumber recipe page, courtesy of Dr. Barbara Cohen, planetary scientist, and apparent cucumber aficionado. I found that Allrecipes.com had 272 cucumber recipes, so there’s certainly no shortage of ideas. Also, you may want to visit this informative site about the different varieties of cucumbers, or this time line of pickle history.
June 22, 2008 § Leave a comment
I was very excited when I got to the Lane County Farmer’s Market this weekend and discovered that the strawberries had arrived in force. At least five booths boasted flats and flats of the ripe red berries, and the price was about $3 per pint. The unusually cool spring we had delayed the onset of the berries, and I was delighted to see them at the market.
I picked up two particularly lush looking pints of strawberries, with no specific intention other than enjoying them. I also purchased a loaf of whole wheat Levain from Marche Provisions.
So this morning my boyfriend suggested that we make pancakes with strawberries cooked in… I thought about it and thought the strawberries would have too much moisture and they would make soggy pancakes. Instead, I suggested we just make pancakes and serve them with sliced strawberries and whipped cream. He countered with french toast and strawberries. It was settled, we would have a locally-sourced breakfast.
The whipping cream was actually sugar-free Cool Whip, so it wasn’t really that local or natural (but it reduced the caloric content of the meal); it could be substituted by local Lochmead fresh-made whippingcream to enhance the local content. The eggs were local, and the milk in the batter was Lochmead 2%. The vanilla was organic and was contained in a reused bottle that was refilled at my neighborhood’s Red Barn Natural Grocery. Lastly, that cute little garnish of mint was local — from our mint pot on the front porch.
I was also excited to find the first pints of cherries at the market — my reminder that it is time to go to the orchards for u-pick. But, after putting in a call to the folks at Detering Orchards today, I discovered that the cool spring has caused the cherries to delay as well, with u-pick unavailable until after July 7th.
May 22, 2008 § Leave a comment
I ran across this article on the best way to prepare vegetables (New York Times), and thought it had a lot of good information. Fresh fruit and vegetables hold valuable and important vitamins and minerals within their bodies, but how can our bodies most efficiently make use of the available nutrition? The raw food movement is gaining steam (especially in the Eugene area), but perhaps raw is not always the best and most efficient use of fruits and veggies. It’s an interesting read, and (forgive the pun) good food for thought. One of the most interesting statistics is that microwaving some vegetables allows the veggies to retain 90% of their nutritional value compared to steaming or boiling. The microwave method is my personal favorite, both for speed and flavor, so it’s great to be “vindicated” a bit.
When we started this blog, one of the stumbling points that we wanted to tackle was how to prepare and enjoy the local bounty. The Willamette Valley can grow a lot of standard delicious fruit and vegetables, and we are quite privileged to live in such a great food system; but, not everyone was raised on an organic farm with good information and ideas of what to do with Swiss Chard, or the deliciousness of beet greens.
If you have good recipes for non-mainstream foods, please write them in a comment or shoot me an email with your contribution (photos always welcome).
May 14, 2008 § Leave a comment
On Saturday, May 10, 2008, I headed to the Lane County Farmer’s Market to check out what was available, and to pick up a Yacon start (previously discussed here).
I also picked up a green and purple tomatillo with the intent of making some good salsa verde this summer.
I checked out the consignment booth and found a large quantity of asparagus. I just couldn’t resist and had to buy two bunches. I like it steamed with garlic or lemon. I used part of one bunch to freshen-up a can of Cambell’s Cream of Asparagus soup (also adding about a tablespoon of fresh garlic and precooking the asparagus in the pot before adding the soup mix and milk). But my real desire was to make a fresh asparagus quiche using my farm-fresh eggs.
1/2-3/4 cup milk
1/2-1 cup grated sharp Tillamook cheddar cheese
2/3 lb or 2 cups asparagus cut into 2-3 inch sections
3 Tbs chopped garlic
1/2 cup butter/shortening
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3 Tbs cold water
1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (Bob’s Red Mill)
1/2 tsp baking powder
*Preheat oven to 350 F
*Mix crust ingredients together, cutting shortening or butter with pastry blender or knife.
*Add sifted whole wheat flour and baking powder, cut together until “crumbly.”
*Add water, vinegar, and egg and blend well. Use hands to shape dough and mix ingredients well until smooth
*Place dough on floured surface and roll out to round shape
*Place in 12″ diameter springform pan, pressing dough to edges and ensuring uniform coverage (remove excess dough that is higher than the edge of the pan, and use it to fill in the gaps left in other areas)
*Place crust in oven and bake for 15 minutes
*Beat eggs with milk in bowl
*Place chopped asparagus in crust
*Sprinkle chopped garlic over it and cover with grated cheese
*Pour in egg/milk mixture, and try to make sure that the egg batter completely covers filling ingredients
*Place in oven and bake at 350 for 1 hour
*Cool for 15 minutes and then remove from springform pan, or place in refrigerator and serve cold