happy Thanksgiving

Who doesn’t love a holiday that’s all about feasting and giving thanks? Here’s a quick overview of my Thanksgiving. Whether you cooked all day like me or ate a cylinder of cranberry sauce from a can. I hope you had a good holiday and plenty to be thankful for. Buen provecho!

thanksgiving desserts

The array of desserts is obviously the most important part of the meal–at least to my daughters! Carrot coconut bites, my vegan offering. Almond and persimmon tort, and a pumpkin pie.

Sweet potatoes with pecan topping

Sweet potatoes with caramelized bourbon maple pecan topping

Roasted orange and yellow carrots with turnips

Roasted orange and yellow carrots with turnips

These baby brussels sprouts look like a combination between a pea and a cabbage! Very sweet and tender.

These baby brussels sprouts look like a combination between a pea and a cabbage! Very sweet and tender.

Cranberry sauce, not too sweet

Clove, cinnamon, ginger cranberry sauce, not too sweet

Duck confit

Duck confit

Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving dinner. Buen Provecho!


Mary’s cousin’s squash

The mystery squash, gourd, or melon that grew in my garden in 2014

This strange squash/melon did not look like much when it started to grow, and for all its foliage it only produced a single fruit. But it turned out to be my favorite surprise from the garden this year!

I had a great time this year in the garden growing new things. Different types of beans, brussels sprouts, cucuzza (a kind of squash), just to mention a few. But the most intriguing of them all was the strange Italian squash that grew from a seed that Mary Menetti gave me. Mary runs the Italian Garden Project. She’s always on the lookout for gardeners to grow a few of her heirloom seeds each year, and this year I tried a bunch of different things including this nameless squash. We weren’t really able to gather much more information about it–just that a cousin of Mary’s from Italy gave her the seeds. I’m still trying to find out more about it.

I had pretty much forgotten about this plant. I saw it growing by the pole beans, but I didn’t give it much attention. Then I noticed as it grew it started to climb up the pole beans, all the way up to the top and then all across them. At this point it was hard to miss. A few flowers appeared–not many. And only one became fruit. This squash started looking like, well, a squash, like one of those round zucchini. Then it got bigger and started to look like a small pumpkin. It was just different than any other squash I had grown before. I grew very intrigued as time to harvest it approached. The only way to find out more about it was to cut into it.

When I cut into it I found a sweet-smelling squash, with almost a fruity aroma, like spaghetti squash in texture but with whiter flesh and fewer seeds.

I roasted it in the oven like you would a spaghetti squash and ate a portion of it one night for dinner with nothing on it, not even salt. I wanted to get an idea of its most basic taste. And it was sweet! Sweeter than any other squash I had ever had. I didn’t care for it for a savory preparation, but something else came to mind. It reminded me of siam pumpkin (“cucurbita ficifolia“). This melon-looking thing is actually a squash, and it’s used in Spain and other countries for sweet preparations, fillings and jellies. Believe me, it’s good. One of my favorite treats when I was a kid.

So, I added a little sugar, not much, and cooked the squash down until it achieved the consistency of the “cabello de angel” that I remember from my childhood. Looks like golden strands of hair, like an angel’s hair. It is incredibly similar and I can’t get over it! I have saved some seeds and I will definitely try growing it again next year.

This is what the squash or melon looks like cut open

Cut open, the mystery squash has firm, white, stringy flesh and a hint of melon aroma.

The flesh of the squash resembled spaghetti squash, but it had a milder, sweeter, more floral smell.

The flesh of the squash resembled spaghetti squash, but it had a milder, sweeter, more floral smell.

With just a little sugar, the squash cooked up just as I had hoped. It really resembles cabello de angel--angel's hair preserves. This is getting exciting!

With just a little sugar, the squash cooked up just as I had hoped. It really resembles cabello de angel–angel’s hair preserves.

I made a little nest of dough and filled it with the squash preserves. Delicious! It was a big hit--much more exotic than pumpkin pie.

Cabello de Angel in puff pastry bird’s nests. Delicious! It was a big hit.

garden pe(s)ts

Seasons are changing and wild animals are on the move. Our proximity to wild life can be charming. On any given day on my way to or from work I see possums, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, groundhogs, wild turkeys, hawks, geese, and probably too many deer. All within the city limits.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that all these creatures and probably some others wander in and out of my yard.

Last year when bunnies were eating my green beans, I decided to get a humane cage-trap. Lately I haven’t noticed any rabbits in the garden, but I was leaving some fruit in the cage, just in case. When you have two 4-year-old daughters, half-eaten random pieces of fruit are readily available and are a great bait.

For a while the same raccoon would get in the cage, eat the fruit and have to wait for me to get back from work to let her out. I have never noticed any raccoon damage, so I would just release her. I open the cage, she walks out slowly, and looks back at me as if to say, “Get some more juicy fruit in there, and I’ll see you later.” I haven’t been leaving fruit in the cage, so it’s been a while since last time I saw my raccoon pet.

But, without fruit or anything else, last week I came home to find a possum in the cage. I let it out and off it went into the bushes. I really want to know what made it go inside the trap. A week later there it was again! No fruit either. All I can figure is that this poor possum had heard the stories from the raccoon about the cage with the tasty fruit…

An opossum in my garden varmint cage

Last time I let the possum out it was so sleepy that it took a few steps out of the cage and went to sleep until dark.

green coriander

One of my most vivid memories of Iran is the incredibly fresh and fragrant spice markets. Most of those spices can now be found in good spice markets all over the world. Green coriander is not one of them. These seeds are hard to find in the western world, unless you grow your own cilantro. Coriander seeds are a vibrant green before they turn into the coriander seeds we all know. As the cilantro plants start to go to seed–right after tiny beautiful white flowers appear–seemingly thousands of these seeds will start to appear at the top of the plants.

green coriander

As the plant goes to seed is hard to find good cilantro leaves for my salsa. But a handful of green coriander is a great substitute.

Often when I’m around the cilantro, I’ll pick a few of these seeds, pop them in my mouth and chew on them as I garden. Their flavor is a combination of mild cilantro and “orangy-citrusy” coriander. Much bigger range of flavor than what you would get from dried coriander. I love them! I always keep some in my freezer. They stay green this way. Definitely worth trying!

roasted chicken seasoned with green coriander and lime

Green coriander and lime are a great addition to roasted chicken.

beets, broccoli, and beans

beets, broccoli, and beans

beets, broccoli, and beans

Don’t they look delicious? But I forgot to weigh them. Next time!

July garden update

Tiny garden--big crop!

It’s just a small backyard garden, but at times it produces so much that it’s hard to keep up with it! Especially since I don’t have much free time to spend gardening.

We are into July and I have been keeping track of everything that we have harvested from our little garden, as promised.

The beginning of the growing season seemed slower than usual. And some plants had a harder time than others. My pepper plants are even now not doing as well as usual, but on the other hand the collard greens had a great start. But for the most part we are getting lots of tasty veggies.

We also have enjoyed a good amount of salad greens, asparagus, radishes, rhubarb, rappini, beets and beet greens, and blueberries. This week we started getting carrots, zucchini, patty pans and a few green beans. Fresh mint, basil, cilantro, oregano, marjoram, chives, bay leaf and “baby” leeks, as well as nasturtiums and pansies, have also been adding lots of flavor and color to our meals. Tomatoes have yet a few weeks, but are looking good. And the cucumber and butternut squash vines are taking over!

Amazes me to see all this produce come out of our little garden every year. I can’t wait for the first tomatoes.

cherry gleaning

picking cherries in the neighborhood

Who is that handsome devil picking cherries?

Since I was a child, picking cherries has been a favorite activity of mine. As a kid we used to climb the large cherry trees on my uncle’s farm, perch on a branch and eat cherries. Spitting the pits was part of the fun. We imagined multiple kinds of weaponry as my brother and I tried to hit each other with the pits. If you’re going to try this, make sure you are always higher up then your opponent!

I don’t practice my cherry pit machine gun technique anymore, or…maybe if no one is watching. :-)

The cherry trees in our neighborhood are ready for picking, so an afternoon of gleaning with the kids was in order. First we picked our favorite, sour cherries. Makes the perfect filling for Sunday morning clafoutis. Then sweet cherries, many of these are enjoyed onsite. It’s hard to walk away from all the other cherries left on the tree, but we had a great time.

At home the girls and Laura pitted the cherries. Many were consumed as payment for this task. And then Laura froze the remaining cherries IQF (“IQF” is kitchen lingo, meaning “individually quick frozen”) for future use. Now, that’s true love!

Buen Provecho!

pitting cherries

This is a good cherry pitter, but these little wild sweet cherries were not much bigger than their own pits. It made pitting them a real challenge. Fun fact: in Spanish, we say “deshuesador de cerezas,” which in English would be “deboning” the cherry.

backyard blueberry harvest

This is shaping up to be a strange growing season–great rain for the garden, but maybe out of balance with the amount of sun. The plants are growing, but not as well as I would like.

At least the blueberries are doing well so far. I first planted them a couple of years ago. Last year a chipmunk stole all the fruit. This year, my girls were able to pick their first blueberries!

backyard blueberry harvesting with my daughters

I had some enthusiastic helpers, but none of the berries made it back to the kitchen!

gundruk in the Burgh

gundruk suruwa

Gundruk suruwa is a soup made with fermented greens typical of Bhutanese cuisine

Over the past few months I’ve been getting to know a little bit about Pittsburgh’s refugee community, particularly the Bhutanese refugees who have been coming to Pittsburgh over the past several years.  But I always say, you don’t really know somebody until they cook for you. Food is a good way to get close to an unfamiliar culture, so… let’s eat!

A couple of weeks ago I made a special “climb” to Everest Restaurant (map) to sample some Bhutanese cuisine. The restaurant is right next to the Nepali market on Saw Mill Run Boulevard. The menu included many Indian (Punjabi) standards we’re all used to, but one of the dishes we tried was a very typical Bhutanese dish: a soup made with gundruk, which I had never had before. And like any chef, when you serve me something I’ve never seen or heard of before, YOU HAVE MY ATTENTION!

Gundruk is a combination of multiple fermented leafy greens traditional in Nepal, Bhutan, and even India. This vegetables are then used as an appetizer, a side dish, or in soups. Like many foods pickled and preserved in traditional cuisine, Gundruk is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals during the long winter months.

The restaurant owner, Rup Timsina, tells me that they are currently working on the menu to have broader appeal since right now they basically only cater to their community. I say don’t change it too much.

The soup, gundruk suruwa, is incredibly delicious! It’s full of flavor, different textures you wouldn’t think of having with just vegetables, almost like dried mushrooms and seaweed, nothing but umami. A spoonfull of gundruk suruwa and I was transported to a different world. I couldn’t get enough of it!

grow and measure

Chef Daniel in the kitchen with Asturian kale grown in his home garden

Last August, my garden produced a good crop of Asturian kale. This year, I’m going to measure everything my garden produces.

I’ve been gardening for many years, and often wonder how much food my garden actually produces. Years ago, my summer garden covered a whole field. Now that I have kids, I only have time for a small plot — 112 square feet. Pretty small and manageable for a busy guy like me, right?

I garden for the love of it, and of course it provides organic food for my family. But how much food comes from this small garden?

This year I decided to find out.

At harvest time, I’m going to try to count and maybe even weigh every vegetable and fruit (yes, we even have fruit: young blueberry bushes, a fig tree, a sour cherry tree and two plum trees) that we harvest from our yard. Besides the main garden, I also have two secondary plots that measure 9’x3′ and 24’x3′. That’s a total of 211 square feet under cultivation.

I’ll probably wish I had never started this project by the time the zucchini comes in, but maybe this way I’ll be able to see if gardening is more than a hobby that is good for my soul :-)

Happy gardening!

rhubarb shoots in my backyard on April 18

The garden is already showing a few signs of life, like these little rhubarb shoots.