July garden update

beets from my backyard garden
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.

hen of the woods

This is my largest skillet and it's pretty much full of hen of the woods mushrooms. This was a great haul.
This is my largest skillet and it’s pretty much full of hen of the woods mushrooms. This was a great haul.

This year has been great for wild mushrooms, and even now as we enter autumn, a favorite among mushroom lovers is ready for picking. I’m talking about hen-of-the-woods, ram’s head, sheep’s head, maitake, signorina, grifola frondosa, the king of mushrooms some say. This mushroom is highly valued in traditional medicine, but it’s also very tasty and versatile in the kitchen.

In the past two weeks I have foraged around 5 pounds of grifola frondosa. The first day we had them with ham, collard greens and smoked gouda. I also made a creamy mushroom soup a few days later. And the leftover cream of mushroom I used to flavor a rice and chicken casserole—better than Campbell’s!

The rest I pickled in a simple solution of vinegar, water, and salt. I also used a little fresh thyme and a green onion from the garden. My philosophy on pickling is keep it simple, so that whatever you’re preserving can be as versatile as possible when you later use it in a dish.

Mushrooms are a great addition to any meal: fun to work with and even more fun if you are able to forage them yourself.

Buen provecho!

3 jars of pickled mushrooms. Pickling is a good way to preserve this wild mushroom harvest. I go light on the seasonings because I want to be able to use a variety of seasonings when I eventually cook with these mushrooms.
Pickling is a good way to preserve this wild mushroom harvest. I go light on the seasonings because I want to be able to use a variety of seasonings when I eventually cook with these mushrooms.
A bowl of mushroom soup, topped with croutons fried in olive oil just as my grandma used to do
Puree of mushroom soup, topped with croutons fried in olive oil just as my grandma used to do

bread and salt

Rick Easton and Cavan Patterson
Rick Easton and Cavan Patterson welcome guests to a family style dinner at Wild Purveyors featuring Rick’s artisanal bread

Recently I met a peculiar yet endearing character. He shares my love for good ingredients and great uncomplicated food. But above all, he’s incredibly passionate about bread. He can keep you enthralled in a conversation about bread, different types of flours, ovens and anything else to do with the bread making process for hours. He’s one of few that still makes bread the truly “old fashioned” way, without any commercial yeasts and spending the long hours (sometimes 36 hours at a stretch) required to produce these amazing breads. He’s an artisan baker and his name is Rick Easton.

breaking bread with Rick Easton and Wild Purveyors
You don’t get a chance to eat bread like this every day!

So when I had the opportunity to attend a “Bread and Salt” dinner hosted by Rick at Wild Purveyors in Lawrenceville, I couldn’t wait. Rick put together a delicious menu featuring local ingredients provided by Wild Purveyors. As you might expect, his bread was the star of the night. I had bread before dinner, with every course and in-between courses, and I wanted more. His bread is crunchy on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside and the flavor is incomparable.

Rick is fond of saying that bread is best enjoyed with a meal. I would add that a meal is best enjoyed with good company, which we had in abundance at this dinner. (And wine, but that’s another story. Stories, actually….) Watch Wild Purveyors and Rick on Facebook for your next opportunity to attend a dinner like this one. Until Rick gets set up in a more permanent location, events like these will be your only opportunity to try his bread. I can’t wait for the next chance.

Buen Provecho!


Sorrel purslane soup
Sorrel purslane soup

cider trees

pouring cider in Asturias, Spain
You always pour cider from a height in order to aerate it. The servers become quite expert at this maneuver!

Spain has a rich wine culture as we all know. But the region I’m from venerates cider (hard cider). Cider has its own culture, festivals and folklore. Cider is truly an art form in Asturias.

As an Asturian I learned to appreciate it very early on. The showmanship of the pour and the aroma permeating an afternoon of tapas are a defining part of the experience at a Chigre (Asturian pub). Many dishes with cider are part of everyday menus, like “chorizo a la sidra” (chorizo sausage cooked in cider) or “almejas a la sidra” (clams cooked in cider).

I’ve witnessed and partaken in the cider making process from a very early age. My uncle Zoilo has an apple orchard and every fall we would help pick the apples that he would later press into cider.

For a long time I have imagined having a few apple trees of my own for cider. This year I finally took the plunge and got a few trees. Regular eating apples don’t make good cider, just like good table grapes don’t make good wine.

After a lot of reseach I ordered from Trees of Antiquity. Everyone at Trees of Antiquity was incredibly helpful and knowledgable. I think I got some great advice to help me begin my front-yard orchard.

cider trees
With just five trees, my small front-yard orchard has five different varieties of heirloom trees. I can already taste the cider…!

I started with five very distinct cider apple varieties: Spitzenburg, Golden Russet, Black Twig, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Bramley’s Seedling. Every tree is special in its history and properties, and all of them have an story that’s part of American history. Like, the Spitzenburg apple has a recorded history in the States from before the 1800s and was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple. This apple is sharp and sweet. With these heirloom trees and the help from local orchards I hope to make some tasty cider.

Until my own cider is ready–this could take a while–I’ll be buying cider. Angry Orchard has become a popular option and is widely available. If you are in the Pittsburgh area, you must try Arsenal’s ciders.

If you haven’t tried cider yet, please give it a try. It’s a refreshing beverage for a hot summer day, or any day.

Buen provecho!


putting the garden to bed

herbs and scallions
Herbs and scallions gathered from the garden in October. They are on my cutting board, about to become a part of Sunday's roasted chicken dinner.

Anybody who knows me knows how much I love to garden. If I ever win the lottery, I’ll be building a big, beautiful greenhouse, but until then my gardening is a very seasonal thing. Like most gardeners at this time of year, I am putting my garden to bed–clearing out the plants that have reached the end of the growing season, putting down a layer of horse manure (many thanks to Chuck, my coworker who keeps horses!), and so on. Getting ready for winter.

But just because it’s October and we’ve had our first frost, that doesn’t mean that the harvest is finished. I am still picking lots of fresh food for our table. This weekend we’ve eaten soup from fresh greens. I picked scallions and herbs for roasted chicken. And we’re still getting good lettuce for salad.

In the summer you get a lot of produce from the garden, but you work a lot for it, too–watering, weeding, and fighting pests. The fall is much less labor intensive. When you get meals from the garden at this time of year, you almost feel like you’re getting away with something!

I actually wish I had planted more root vegetables to extend the fall harvest. I planted a few beets, but I’m not sure if they’ll be ready to eat before wintertime.

Below are a few photos of the produce from my garden in the past couple of weeks. Is anybody else still harvesting? What are your favorite fall crops?

Buen provecho!

Fall tomatoes
Not all the tomatoes ripened before the frost, but you can still make good use of them in relish, soup base, or even fried green tomatoes.
fall greens from the garden
These are collard greens. I like to plant them in the garden every year. This is probably the most I've ever planted, and they have been a great addition to our meals this year.

tomato time

Ahh, the smell of herbs and tomatoes!
Ahh, the smell of herbs, garlic, and tomatoes!

Despite the lack of rain and the high temperatures, this was a great year for our vegetable garden. We had plenty of collard greens, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, and a lot of tomatoes.

I’m always worried about creature damage to the garden–deer, rabbits and other such visitors. But it was very minor this year. We only noticed a few green beans that were chewed by rabbits. I can imagine those bunnies reclining in the garden, green beans dangling above their heads, while they nibbled them from the bottom up. I think–or hope–that we actually ate more than the bunnies did.

Herbs and oil in the mortar
Fresh garden herbs and oil in the mortar

In keeping with my philosophy of preserving the harvest, I roasted many tomatoes and dried some, too. And of course we enjoyed many fresh from the vine.

Roasting tomatoes is a very simple process, and also allows me to use fresh herbs from the garden: marjoram, oregano and thyme.

To the herbs, I added a little garlic, olive oil, salt and black pepper, and this is really all that you need.

Pour this over your tomato halves and roast them in the oven at 325 F for about two hours.

Yes, it takes a little time, but it makes the house smell amazing and you can use roasted tomatoes in so many ways–it’s really worth it.

As soon as the tomatoes were ready, I immediately used some of them to make Italian meatloaf. Delicious!

I hope all of you who had a garden this year enjoyed a great harvest. And if you don’t have a garden, hopefully you were able to find some great produce from your local farmers.

Buen provecho!

Dressing the halved tomatoes with herbs and oil
Dressing the halved tomatoes with herbs and oil
Herbed roasted tomatoes
Pulling the roasted tomatoes out of the oven
Fresh roasted tomatoes on the meatloaf
Fresh roasted tomatoes on the meatloaf

turnip revelation

Tokyo turnips served with fish
Tokyo turnips served with fish for our family dinner

Yes, yes–more about my garden.

I am really enjoying my garden this year. So far it has been great and not a lot of damage from the usual visitors.

This season I’ve tried something new. Ok, maybe not so new–turnips are turnips, right? But these are Tokyo turnips.

I’ve always liked turnip greens, but truth be told, I don’t care much for the root. These Tokyo turnips are a bit different from the turnips I’m used to. The flavor is sweeter with a hint of cauliflower. Now, this revives my interest in turnips.

Roasting turnips is one of my favorite methods of cooking them. It enhances the sweet flavor. They were a great addition to tonight’s dinner alongside this fish with mango salsa.

Try some Tokyo turnips and tell me what you think.

Buen Provecho!


picking Tokyo turnips
Picking Tokyo turnips from my garden. (I'm not wearing fishnet stockings; that's a net to keep the birds out. Really!)

Would you drink raw, unpasteurized milk? We do.

Bedtime milk
We go through a lot of milk at our house. (Babies are staying incognito!)

Of course I have always been interested in food, and as a chef it is a professional necessity to recognize and use quality ingredients. But becoming a parent gives you a whole new level of interest in food quality, especially nutritional value.

My girls have been eating “big kid” food for a long time, but each of them still drinks at least a pint of milk per day, so the quality of the milk they drink is very important. After a lot of research and discussion, we decided to feed them organic raw milk–milk that has not been pasteurized. Maybe you’re wondering–is this safe? I could say a lot about this, but the short answer is yes. We get our milk from Your Family Cow, a certified organic farm in Chambersburg, PA that’s run by Dawn and Edwin Shank. We trust the Shank family to keep our family safe and healthy.

We pick up our milk once every two weeks at one of Your Family Cow’s drop off points. We could also pick it up at the East End Food Co-Op if we wanted. This week, we heard that 3 new stores will be carrying Your Family Cow’s raw cow’s milk along with cheese, butter, cream, eggs, honey, and so on. This is good news. If you are interested in raw milk, one of these new retailers might make it easier for you to try it and see what you think:

Nature’s Pickins
464 Connellsville Street, Uniontown, PA 15401

Nature’s Way Market
796 Highland Ave. Greensburg, PA 15601

Eichner’s Farm Market
285 Richard Road, Wexford, PA 15090

Congratulations to the Shanks on expanding their network of partners in organic food.

Buen provecho!

serendipity spreads

a delicious selection of Serendipity Spreads

I am a strong supporter of everything local–I will do whatever possible to make sure most of my ingredients are locally grown.

With this said, once in a while I like to see what other people are doing with their local produce and ingredients.

My friends from Serendipity Spreads in Santa Cruz, CA are a great example. Family tradition, many years of experience and only the best ingredients are the components to these great products.

Kristen Cederquist sent me a sample of a few of their great offerings. Brandied Apricot Preserves; Spiced Tangerines; Spiced Carrot Jam; Blood Orange and Meyer Lemon Marmalade; Caramelized Onion, Fig, and Balsamic Spread; East Meets West Peach Preserves; and Salt Preserved Meyer Lemons. All of them look great and taste even better. These would make an excellent gift for any foodie.

spiced tangerines
CA spiced tangerines and PA red cabbage

I had so many options here that I didn’t know where to begin, so I went with the Spiced Tangerines. I was using red cabbage for one of my side dishes that night and I decided to finish it off with the Spiced Tangerines. Something so simple elevated this side dish to another dimension–my Pennsylvania red cabbages were touched by sunny California Spiced Tangerines and together they were delicious.

For more information on Serendipity Spreads, visit:

http://www.serendipityspreads.com/Home.html or