laurino

Northern Spain has a long tradition of flavored spirits called orujo, which is similar to Italy’s grappa. In Spain you can buy these flavored spirits at the store, but it’s also something of a family tradition and a hobby to make them at home. People use many different flavorings, from fruity to very savory, from strawberry to radish. Cherry is popular. One of my aunts has a sour cherry tree for the sole purpose of flavoring her “orujo de guindas.” I don’t think the thought of making a pie or other dessert with these cherries ever occurred to her.

When Michele Savoia from Dish Osteria told me about liquore alloro, also called laurino, I couldn’t wait to try it. Laurino is traditionally made in Sicily and bay leaves are used to flavor the spirit. It was a great after meal beverage.

I have my own bay leaf trees and I never knew of this. So, under the instruction of Michele I made my own. I used locally produced Boyd & Blair Vodka. My laurino was a little different than Michele’s. I made it less sweet but it’s still floral and delicious. Swirling a little glass of this laurino under my nose, I can be transported right into the middle of my garden on a nice summer day, even though my garden is covered in layers of snow. It’s magic.

Believe me, this only my first batch–I look forward to tinkering with the recipe.

bayleaves

Straining the bay leaves

 

Buen provecho!

notes from the windowsill: rutabaga micro greens

I continually experiment with different foods, veggies, seeds, just about anything that could be edible. Lots of times these experiments or projects reside on my kitchen’s window sill. When light and temperature are needed, I find the kitchen’s window sill ideal. Sometimes, some of these experiments might be on the window longer than others might care for, but, hey! It’s all in the name of science!

So when I noticed that one of the rutabagas in the kitchen looked like it was starting to sprout,  I had to find out: If I cut the top off and kept it moist, would it produce enough tiny leaves to be a viable source of micro greens?

This discarded rutabaga top sprouts new, edible greens when kept in water

As you can see, this rutabaga top is flourishing on the windowsill, producing edible micro greens

Young rutabaga leaves are tasty. They can be prepared in the same way as turnip greens, adding zest to a salad, stir fry, or other good old fashioned greens.

After a couple of weeks I came to the conclusion that if these rutabaga tops are kept and planted, they will produce plenty of greens. I even learned that eventually these top “cutoffs” will go to seed!

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!