Thursday, April 23, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

We're about six weeks into the spring/summer/fall garden and things are growing great. There were some lofty plans to take the space and build a huge raised bed, but time and bad backs got in the way. So we're going ahead with the usual container/wine barrel garden we've had for the past five or six years. And like every spring, we've added a few more containers.

What's growing? Tomatoes (13 and counting, we added a Northern Lights that we discovered at the HFM last weekend), Japanese eggplant, Persian cucumbers (the best for the hundreds of Greek salads we eat during the summer), serrano peppers, Charentrais melons, 4 kinds of beets, swiss chard, silverbeet spinach, spring onions, rainbow carrots, turnips, strawberries (with actually berries, for the first time ever!), 4 kinds of basil, rosemary, 2 kinds of thyme, lemon verbena, oregano, Bob Marley mint (it smells smokey when you rub it, another HFM find), tarragon, sage (the flowers are below) and lavender.
And that's just for now. We're bound to adopt a few more things over the course of the spring/summer. Including, hopefully, a fig tree. To go with the Meyer lemon tree I forgot to mention. As you can imagine, my other career option is farming.

The early mornings would be tough, though.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Make Your Own Booze - Limoncello

I've been reading a few books about Italy (living there, cooking there, etc...) and man does it sound lovely. And with several 95+ degree days in LA this week, I keep dreaming about that tasty, frosty Italian liqueur known as limoncello.

Limoncello is damned fine and, if I remembered the recipe I'd read a while back in the LA Times, damned easy to make. And I did have several Meyer lemons sitting around, just waiting to be used up...

So Saturday I did some internet recon, then some liquor store recon, then some microplane zesting and now I am only weeks away from enjoying my own frosty Italian liqueur. Which may or may not be served to some select guests at Craig & Sharra's baby shower.
You don't add the simple syrup until the second step of the process (which takes place two weeks after the initial zest 'n dump) and I'm considering experimenting a little. In addition to a straight up simple syrup, I was thinking of making one that's infused with basil and another that's infused with lavender and making two smaller limoncello batches with each. There's enough stuff for 2+ bottles of limoncello, so I'd probably split the second bottle and mix the flavored syrups with them. The guys at the Carmela Ice Cream & Sorbet stand inspired the first mix, my super awesome imagination inspired the second.

In the mean time, I have the juice of 12 Meyer lemons sitting in the fridge just begging me to make sorbet or something with them. Which would be a good thing in this heat.

Meyer Limoncello
from The LA Times

12 lemons
2 (750-ml) bottles 100-proof vodka, divided [*I used regular 80 proof vodka, which is fine, too]
2 cups water
2 cups sugar

1. Remove the yellow part of the lemon peel with a sharp peeler or fine grater, carefully avoiding the bitter white pith. If any pith remains on the back of a strip of peel, scrape it off.

2. Put the yellow peels in a jar or bottle, add 1 bottle vodka and seal tightly. Leave the bottle to steep until the peels lose their color, at least 2 weeks.

3. Put the water and sugar in a saucepan and boil until it turns clear. Let the syrup cool.

4. Strain the vodka from the peels and mix it with the remaining bottle of vodka and the syrup. Put the liqueur in bottles, seal tightly and let the components marry for at least 1 week before using. For drinking straight, store the limoncello in the freezer.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Begin Your Day on a Wholesome Note

These dense whole grain muffins are just the thing to get you going (literally) in the morning and they are extra good as a mid morning snack with a cup of tea.

Whole Wheat, Oatmeal & Raisin Muffins
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar (splenda works just as well)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar (again brown sugar splenda works great)
2 TB untoasted wheat germ
2 TB wheat bran
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1/3 cup pitted dates
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup boiling water
cooking spray

Lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup, level with a knife. Combine flour with next 7 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Stir in oats, dates, raisins, and cranberries. Make a well in center of mixture. Combine buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and egg and add to flour mixture. Stir just until moist. Stir in boiling water and then let stand for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375
spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched. Remove muffins from pans immediately and place on wire rack. Yield is 12 servings.

calories: 204 fat: 6.4 grams, protein: 4.6 grams carbs: 34.7 grams fiber 3.4 grams

La Fête du Fromage - Andante's Picolo

When it comes to my desert island food - you know, that "you're stranded on a desert island and you can only eat one thing for the rest of your life" type scenario - I think I would have a seriously tough time choosing between pork (all forms) and cheese. You've heard me go on and on about pork, so today it's all about cheese.

One of my favorite blogs, Chez Loulou, does a weekly "Fête du Fromage", a tasting and write up of one of the many, many French cheeses on offer (CL is based in the Minervois region of France). And each month, she opens it up to her readers and fellow bloggers, to submit their own fromage to fête. I've been meaning to come up with a post for a while now, but I really wanted my first to be one of the Andante cheeses. Only problem? They can be difficult to find outside of the Bay Area.

I first discovered Andante on a visit to the family up in Marin, at the Sunday Farmers Market at the Civic Center. They are a local dairy, making a variety of cow and goats milk cheeses, which are also sold at the Ferry Building Farmers Market in the City. In addition, they supply many Bay Area and SoCal restaurants and wholesale to a few stores, including Whole Foods. Which is where Noah and I stumbled upon their Picolo cheese down here in Los Angeles.

To say that I was excited to see this little cheese in my neck of the woods is an understatement. In fact, Noah practically shouted across the cheese section to alert me to its presence. He'd been through many an Andante cheesehunting expedtion with me down here, all fruitless.
But enough about the search, more about the cheese! Picolo is a triple creme, one of my favorite kinds of cheese. It's rich and, obviously, incredibly creamy. The flavor was nice and buttery, with a hint of mushroom and an underlying pleasant grassiness. The rind is edible and I enjoyed it, though it might be too agressive for some. We paired it with a nice Provencal rosè, but the Andante folks also recommend it with a Gruner Veltliner or other minerally, melony white. There was some sliced baguette to go along with it, but Noah and I ended up eating pretty much the whole round on its own.

If you're in California, check your local cheesemongers for this cheese. It's a lovely, rich, artisnal treat.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dessert Whore. Who, Me?

You know when you have one of those days where you look at the fridge/pantry/fruit stand and realize - "Oh crap, I need to use this NOW or we're going to have a serious, stinky problem on our hands?" That was me earlier this week when I realized that all at once I had bananas, yogurt and creme fraiche thisclose to nasty.

Maybe I'm being a bit uninventive, but it seems like you can only go sweet with bananas - bread, cake, pie, cookies. You see where I'm going with this? But if I make one more banana bread or banana muffin recipe, Noah might protest. Then I remembered reading a recipe for a simple yogurt cake in On Rue Tatin and figured it could be modified into a banana yogurt cake. Okay, so it's not so far from banana bread, but at least I could pretend. Of course, I'm a meddler, and I looked up recipes for the traditional French yogurt cake at a few other French blog sites and found one I liked slightly better here.

I love baking, even though I am only moderately good at it. Mostly I blame my spotty oven for my many failed baking endeavors, even when it's clearly not Oven's fault. But I got this one mostly right - next time I might decrease the liquid or increase the flour a bit to compensate for the denseness of the bananas. Still, served warm (or cold, a few days later when the flavors have really set) with a dollop of creme fraiche mixed with cinnamon and vanilla sugar, this cake pretty much rocked.

If you're looking for a nice, moderately sweet cake, this is your girl.

Gâteau au Yaourt

modified from a recipe by Clotilde at Chocolate & Zucchini

- 2 eggs
- 250ml (1 cup) whole milk plain unsweetened yogurt (if you use two 125ml or 4oz tubs, you can use them to measure out the rest of the ingredients) [*I used half yogurt and half creme fraiche]
- 200g (1 cup) sugar (you can use an empty tub of yogurt and measure the equivalent of 2 yogurt tubs if you used the 125ml or 4oz kind) [*Because of the added banana, I halved the sugar]
- 80ml (1/3 cup) vegetable oil (or a bit less than 1 yogurt tub) [*With banana, I tend to use less oils/butter so instead I melted 2 tbsp of butter and added it to the mix in place of oil]
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (or 4 yogurt tubs)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla paste/extract
- 1 tablespoon light rum [*I didn't have it, so I left it out]

- *Additionally, I added: 1 tsp. cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. nutmeg to bring out the flavor of the bananas

Preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F), line the bottom of a round 25-cm (10-inch) cake pan with parchment paper and grease the sides. In a large mixing-bowl, gently combine the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, oil, and rum. In another bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the flour mixture into the yogurt mixture, and blend together -- don't overwork the dough. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let stand for ten minutes, and transfer onto a rack to cool.

Creme Fraiche Topping (for 2-4 slices)

1/4 c. creme fraiche
1 tbsp. vanilla sugar
a few sprinkles of cinnamon, to taste (about 1/8 tsp)

Mix together, let it sit for a few minutes so the flavors blend, then top the cake with it. You may thin it with a dash of milk if it's too thick for your taste.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

25 Things I Love About LA #4 - Tomatomania

Last weekend was the annual Tomatomania sale at the Tapia Brothers Farm Stand in Encino. It's the fourth year Noah and I have gone and we always end up buying more plants than we have room for in our backyard container garden. And yet, we've managed to find a way...
Above are our tomato choices, twelve in all, as well as some basil. We grabbed strawberry plants later, too. A quick list of our tomatoes, from memory - Siberia, Pineapple, Reisentraube, Enchanted, Indian Moon, Bi-Color Cherry, Matt's Gold Cherry, Black Krim, Black Truffle (a hybrid of the Black Trifele, which we grew with moderate success last year), Chocolate Stripe, Copia and Costoluto Genovese. Holy crap, I can't believe I remembered them all. Okay, Noah remembered that last one.
The tomatoes they sell are like 99% heirlooms, with some old standbys like Early Girls and Best Boys thrown in for the non-adventurous. Which always confuses me - if you're at a huge, well known heirloom tomato event with hundreds of tasty varieties, why the hell do you buy the ones you can get at Home Depot?

You can see how many flats they have filled with seedlings. The picture above is about 1/5 of the entire sale area. The only variety we really wanted and couldn't find this year was Northern Lights. It's a great yellow/orange beefsteak with red stripes that was a prolific plant for us a few years back.
The farm stand only hosts the event, but sells it's own fruits, flowers and plants and is a pretty cool place. They've expanded their chicken coop (above) and you get the pleasure of listening to the chickens cluck away while you shop. It's great fun and makes me yearn for my own urban chicken coop. I love this little farm that's only 20 minutes from the heart of Hollywood
But it's not just us lucky Angelenos that get to attend Tomatomania events. The company does a variety of events in California and back east in Lothian, MD and Litchfield, CT. Dates are below. And whether you get your tomatoes there or from your local nursery or on the internet from places like Seed Savers, it's time to start looking. SPRING IS HERE!

Fillmore, CA *NEW
April 4 Only Otto and Sons Nursery
Beverly Hills, CA
April 18 PartyPaperLife
Sonoma, CA
April 25 - 26 Cornerstone Place
Arcadia, CA
May 1 - 3 LA Garden Show
Lothian, MD *NEW
May 8 - 10 Greenstreet Gardens
Litchfield, CT
May 15 - 17 White Flower Farm