Monthly Archives: July 2013

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Savory Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tart

mushroom_goat_cheese_tart_cut

Last Saturday, I had big plans. First, it was off to the Farmer’s Market in search of fruit, and then I was going to fire up the outdoor canning station and make jar after jar of plum butter and peach basil jam.

But when I got there, the only peaches were already in jars — they’d sold out of fresh peaches within 15 minutes of the market opening. And what’s worse, the farmer told me that the late spring blizzards this year killed off all their cherry and plum blossoms. On the bright side, they still have peaches and I like them better in August anyway, when there are freestone peaches instead of cling.

Still, the thought of a year with no plum butter followed me around the market like a little black raincloud. That is, until I spotted the sign for Hazel Dell Mushrooms. They were pretty picked over too, having already sold out of their lion’s mane (my favorite), but they still had some shiitake and oyster mushrooms left. A quick stop to grab some Haystack Mountain goat cheese, and I was on my way home with an idea already starting to take shape in my head.

ingredients_for_mushroom_tart

Every once in a while, I get really lucky. I’ll come up with some half-baked plan, and it turns out exactly as I imagined it on the first run. This is rare, though it happens slightly more often now that I’ve had more practice in the kitchen and have learned from my previous disasters (luck favors the prepared mind, right?).

But if I happen to be working with expensive ingredients in short supply, my experiments are pretty much guaranteed to flop the first time. It’s Murphy’s Law.

fresh_shiitake_and_oyster_mushrooms

saute_mushrooms_until_liquid_is_reabsorbed

whisk_eggs_and_milk_into_goat_cheese

pour_filling_into_tart_shell

So you’ll imagine my surprise when this tart, basically a savory mushroom cheesecake, turned out almost exactly as I envisioned it. I cobbled it together from bits and pieces of various recipes, and for once ended up with a great result on my first test run. It may just be my favorite thing I’ve ever invented, but I’ll probably need to make it again next weekend just to be sure.

Savory Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tart

51

Prep Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Savory Mushroom and Goat Cheese Tart

Rich and flaky, with a silky layer of goat cheese underneath, this mushroom tart is even better the next morning alongside a green salad and some scrambled eggs.

Ingredients

    For the tart dough:
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons cold salted butter, cut into cubes
  • 4-5 tablespoons ice water
  • For the filling:
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 pound fresh oyster mushrooms
  • 1/4 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons minced white onion
  • 1 small clove garlic (or half of a large clove), minced
  • 1 tightly-packed teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, removed from stem and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 small handful fresh chives (to equal about 2 tablespoons minced)
  • 5 ounces fresh chèvre or other soft mild goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg (I used 2 medium)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Special equipment:
  • A 9" fluted tart pan with removable bottom

Instructions

    Make the tart dough:
  1. Combine flour, salt, and butter and mix with a dough cutter until the lumps of butter are pea-sized (you can also pulse it in a food processor)
  2. Dribble ice water across the top, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together in a ball. Shape it into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least an hour while you make the filling.
  3. Make the filling:
  4. Whisk together goat cheese, eggs, and cream in a large bowl and stir in chives. Set aside.
  5. Chop mushrooms (I left a few larger slices of shiitake for decoration)
  6. Heat butter in a large heavy skillet and add onions and mushrooms, cooking over low-medium heat until the mushrooms have given off their liquid and are mostly dry. Add sherry, thyme, and garlic, and cook a few minutes longer until the liquid is absorbed and remove from heat. Set aside.
  7. Assemble and bake the tart:
  8. Preheat over to 375F
  9. Remove the chilled dough from the fridge and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Try to get it about 1/8" thin, and don't worry too much if it cracks at the edges -- you'll have plenty of overhang and some leftover dough.
  10. Gently drape dough across your tart pan and tamp down the bottom edges and sides. Leave a section of dough hanging over the pan if you can (I forgot) to reinforce the edge, as the dough will shrink a bit.
  11. Use a fork to prick holes all over the bottom of your tart shell, this keeps it from puffing up when it bakes.
  12. Pour goat cheese mixture into the tart shell and bake until set, about 6 minutes. Carefully spread mushrooms across the top and bake until the edges of the shell are golden brown, about 35-45 minutes. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes and then move to a rack to finish cooling. Serve warm or at room temperature.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/savory-mushroom-and-goat-cheese-tart/

Making the best of sour grapes: Ver Jus

verjus

Last weekend, I helped my favorite neighbor put nets up over her grapes. With four of us chattering as we worked our way down the rows, the morning flew by and soon we were celebrating our victory over the birds and raccoons with a glass of Haymaker’s Punch in the shade. As she put it, “many hands make light work.”

In the process, we clipped about 3 pounds of unripe grapes that were blocking the nets or too close to the ground. I immediately thought of ver jus, a sour grape juice that I learned about from a winemaker friend in Sonoma.

unripe_grapes

Ver jus (also vert jus, or “green juice”) has been around since the Middle Ages, and can also be made from unripe apples and berries, or from sorrel (which is taking over my herb garden, so I’ll definitely be trying that soon). It’s used in place of citrus or vinegar, and it’s “wine-friendly,” meaning it won’t overpower the palate as vinegar will if you’re drinking something fancy.

The last place I lived had a big fence full of concord grapes, and I once made a wildly unsuccessful batch of ver jus there. I’d just used up the last of the bottle I bought in Sonoma, and I had several clusters of grapes that were refusing to ripen, so I just ground them up, put the juice through a sieve, and bottled it — sediment and all.

It went moldy within a few weeks.

I’ve been pining for a second chance ever since, so I was overjoyed when the entire basket of sour grapes appeared on my porch last weekend. This time, I did my research first.

in_the_hopper

To make verjus, you’ll need at least a few pounds of unripe grapes, plus some citric acid to help prevent oxidation. You’ll also need a food mill — I used a Foley mill last time, which works great but requires some elbow grease. This time, I had the food mill attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer and it made quick work of the grapes. I just put them in the hopper, and watched as it churned out a big carafe of juice and a pile of dried skins and seeds. If you have a juicer, it’ll probably work great too.

first_of_the_juice

I highly recommend having a machine do the juicing if you can, especially because the faster you work the prettier your verjus will be (it turns brown as it oxidizes). For 3 pounds of unripe grapes, put about 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid in the collection vessel and swirl it periodically as the juice collects — this will also help to preserve the delicate green color of your ver jus.

And even if you’re not milling them by hand, don’t underestimate the time you’ll need to remove all the grapes from their stems before you juice them — it’s time-consuming to be sure. So pour a glass of wine, put on a movie, call a friend, whatever you need to do to make it fun instead of tedious.

Once you’ve pressed all the juice from your grapes, put it through a fine-mesh sieve and pour it into a sealed jar without much airspace.

pour_and_let_settle

There’s still some stuff that needs to be filtered out, but it’s too fine to get trapped in a sieve — so just let it settle completely, then carefully pour your juice off the top. The smaller the neck of your jar in relation to the sides, the easier this will be (i.e. don’t use a wide-mouth jar).

decant_juice_off_solids

When made this way, ver jus can be kept in the refrigerator for about 3 months. Some people also add grain alcohol, sugar, and sometimes sulfites to preserve it for long-term storage, but I’ve never had a big enough crop to warrant that. From 3 lbs I got about 30 ounces of ver jus, and my neighbor and I have both made a sizeable dent in our bottles already.

Use it on garden salads, fish, desserts, quick pickles, any dish where you want to add bright acidity without overpowering the flavor.

Ver Jus

Prep Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours

Yield: 30 fluid ounces

Ver Jus

This is a great way to use sour (unripe) grapes. Use anywhere you want acidity but not the intense flavor of vinegar or citrus -- this is delicate enough that it won't clash with wine.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds unripe grapes
  • 1/2 teaspoon citric acid
  • Special Equipment
  • Food mill or juicer
  • Fine-mesh sieve

Instructions

  1. Remove all stems from grapes, weeding out any grapes that are wrinkled or very small.
  2. Wash grapes thoroughly.
  3. Put 1/2 teaspoon citric acid in the bottom of your collection vessel.
  4. Begin juicing grapes, working as quickly as possible. Swirl collection vessel as you go to incorporate citric acid.
  5. Pour juice through a sieve and collect in a sealed jar without much airspace. Let stand until the sediment finishes settling at the bottom.
  6. Carefully pour the juice off the top without disturbing the sediment at the bottom. If some of it gets in the bottle, just let it settle and pour it off once more.
  7. Store bottles in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/making-the-best-of-sour-grapes-ver-jus/

The upstairs neighbors

kestrel_on_roof

The chickens live in a big 1950s-era coop with birdhouses mounted on the north and south sides. These houses have been home to many different birds in the few years we’ve lived here, and just recently I noticed some young, very noisy kestrels sticking their heads out.

young_kestrel_in_birdhouse

They’ve all left the nest now, and we have a family of 5 (I think) little falcons living around the coop. I love these birds: They’re smart, beautiful, and they chase away big hawks that might otherwise try to prey on the chickens.

And, most importantly, they’re mouse-killing machines. Living on 40 acres of pasture, it’s a constant battle to keep field mice out of the coop, the shed, and the cellar. But I haven’t seen any trace of a mouse for months, and now I know why.

kestrel_in_tree

It also explains the very agitated kestrel I found in the coop 3 mornings in a row last winter — the birdhouses are right beneath the open eaves of the chicken coop, so it must’ve gone in the wrong entrance when it went home for the night.

Kestrels do hunt small birds, but they’re way too tiny to take down any of the chickens we have now. Week-old chicks are a totally different story though, so I did what I could to raptor-proof the brooder room last spring (and I’ll definitely be double checking it before I put any more small chicks in there!)

juvenile_kestrel

But what’s a little extra hardware cloth when you can look at this face every morning?

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

half-eaten

It’s summer squash season, and the piles of fresh zucchini are starting to lose their novelty. So when I’m staring at a fridge full of squash or a zucchini the size of my leg, I usually resort to shredding and hiding them in baked goods. Or at the very least, shredding and hiding them in the freezer for a snowy day.

cocozelle_squash

shredded_zucchini

Zucchini does wonderful things for muffins. It makes for a soft, delicate crumb; and more importantly, it enables you to call them “muffins” when really they taste like cupcakes.dry_ingredients

I used black cocoa powder, which is basically Dutch-processed cocoa taken a step further so that it’s even darker and less bitter. It’s great to have on hand if you want baked goods with a mellow chocolate flavor and super dark color, i.e. Oreo-type cookies or ice cream sandwiches.

A note on cocoa powder: You can usually use natural cocoa powder in place of Dutch (NOT vice versa, at least for cakes and cookies). But be warned that the natural acidity will react with the baking soda in this recipe and your muffins will have a reddish tint, like Devil’s Food cake. And I can’t promise they won’t be a little taller or flatter than they should be, since I haven’t made that substitution in this particular recipe.

coconut_oil

Finally, I find that coconut oil makes these extra delicious and “healthier,” giving us all the more reason to eat cake for breakfast. You’re welcome.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 12 muffins

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

A delicious, kid-friendly way to use up extra zucchini.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup white flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder ("black" cocoa powder if you have it)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin coconut oil (I like Nutiva)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 pound zucchini (1 cup grated)
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • Special equipment
  • Electric mixer
  • 12-cup muffin tin
  • Cupcake liners

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and coarsely grate zucchini. If you're using a big monster zucchini, scrape out the seeds first.
  2. Whisk together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Beat together sugar, oil, egg, and vanilla using an electric mixer until creamy, about 3 minutes.
  4. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in zucchini and chocolate chips.
  5. Divide among 12 lined muffin cups and bake until tops spring back when lightly pressed, about 30 minutes.
  6. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove from pan to cool completely.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/chocolate-zucchini-muffins/

Brown-buttered Zucchini with Basil

patty_pan

It’s summer squash season, and you know what that means: It’s best to keep your car windows rolled up and your doors locked, or you might come back to find that someone’s “gifted” you a zucchini that could double as a baseball bat.

gold_rush_zucchini_blossom

Gold Rush zucchini — easier to spot than the green ones

I don’t resort to that anymore though, mainly because I mostly grow squash that aren’t green. They’re easier to catch while they’re small, so as long as I check the plants daily I don’t often find myself staring down a squash that’s bigger than my femur.

cocozelle squash

Cocozelle

The one exception this year is a variety called Cocozelle, and it’s proving to be a bit of a challenge because the scalloped green zucchini look a lot like stems. I love the way it looks though, and it’s definitely our top producer right now.

zephyr squash

Little two-toned Zephyr squash — they won’t seem so innocent in a few days.

So in honor of high squash season, I’ll be putting up some of my favorite recipes in the coming weeks. This is one of my very favorite simple dishes — zucchini sliced very thin and sautéed for just a few minutes in a simple brown butter sauce, then brightened with shards of fresh basil.

brown_butter_then_add_zucchini_and_onions

And if you have some fresh parmesan on hand, grate some on top to make it even better. Try doubling the butter and serving it over pasta for a simple vegetarian meal. If you have some fresh sweet corn? Throw it in. The brown butter and basil combination makes magic with almost any summer vegetable.

zucchini_with_brown_butter_and_basil

However: This is not one of those recipes for dealing with big, hulking squash that are watery and full of seeds (I’ll be posting one of those next time) — if you’re using zucchini, they should be market-sized (about eight inches long).

Brown-buttered Zucchini with Basil

Prep Time: 2 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 7 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Serving Size: 1/2 zucchini

Brown-buttered Zucchini with Basil

A simple and delicious way to deal with too much zucchini (if there is such a thing).

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini (about 8 inches long) or summer squash
  • 1-2 tablespoons white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp salted butter
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh basil

Instructions

  1. Cut squash as thin as you can manage and set aside.
  2. Put butter in a large skillet and melt it over low-medium heat. Cook butter just until it starts to brown, you'll need to watch it like a hawk as it goes from brown to burned in seconds.
  3. Immediately throw onion into skillet and stir, cook until translucent.
  4. Add squash and cook a few minutes, until heated through but not mushy.
  5. Remove from heat and finely chop fresh basil leaves. Sprinkle across the top and serve hot.
http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/brown-buttered-zucchini-with-basil/

How to Know Before They Crow

The spring chickens turn 12 weeks old today! Seems like just yesterday we were watching them hatch.

They’re old enough now that we can tell who’s going to be staying with us long-term. Mostly.

“Chick sexing,” or gender identification in chickens, can be pretty tricky. Last time we ended up with 2/2 boys, and because I’m an optimist, for months tried to explain away obvious rooster traits as “early-blooming hens.” Nope. Not this time.

With 23 young chickens all the same age, it’s been a lot easier to tell the girls and boys apart with this hatch. But we won’t know for certain until they crow or lay an egg (probably at least another 6 weeks).

chicken_sexing_11_weeks_EE_SS

Most of our chicks are barnyard mutts and Easter Eggers (also technically mutts), which can be especially difficult to sex because they have a lot of variation in appearance. Luckily, it looks like we got males AND females from most of our known crosses, so I have a decent basis for comparison this time.

I’m no expert, as you may have gathered from the first few sentences, but I have done a fair amount of research (and taken a lot of pictures.) So without further ado, here’s all I know about sexing chickens:

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Haymaker’s Punch

in_the_field_with_straw

As we head into the Dog Days of summer, we’re just starting to hit that exciting, abundant time where there’s something to harvest everywhere I look. But the glaring sun and 90-plus temperatures already have me daydreaming of fall. I can’t wait to feel the chill in the air as I harvest tomatoes and winter squash, and it’ll be here before we know it.

But for now, here’s my new favorite way to stay cool and refreshed whether I’m sweating out in the garden, or at my desk.

ginger_root

Actually, it’s a very old formula that supposedly originated in the West Indies, before becoming popular during the 1600s in the American colonies (where it was known as “Switchel.”) It was also a popular beverage for tired farmers in the 1800s, hence the name “Haymaker’s Punch.”

And I’m pretty sure my ancestors would roll their eyes at my excitement over something that was as ubiquitous as gatorade in their day.

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Crushed Peas with Smoky Sesame Dressing

pea_blossoms

As I crouched harvesting peas in the blinding sunshine, I noticed a whole lot of big, fat pods and no more blossoms. Our “heat-resistant” peas have finally hit their limit with the temperatures being consistently in the 90s, and I feel their pain.

not_ready_yet

So the peas and I got a brief respite. I yanked them all out of the ground, to be replanted next month for a fall crop. And then I separated the pea pods from the plants while sitting in the shade with my iced coffee.

peas_in_a_pod

 

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A bluejay’s breakfast

I heard a racket outside my office, and glanced outside just in time to see a young bluejay perched on the clothesline, being fed by its mother (or father? Apparently they all look alike.)

still_hungry

So naturally, I crept outside with my camera and waited for the next course.

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Allen Lim’s Rice Cakes

wrapped_stack

If you know me in real life this won’t be news to you, but I love bikes. Whether I’m exploring country roads or rolling across singletrack, I’m happiest on two wheels. It’s so much fun that it doesn’t feel like exercise, but it counteracts the cake and keeps me from needing to buy larger pants.

use_6x9_inch_rectangle

And with it being Tour de France season, it’s a perfect time to share with you my very favorite bike snack, also a favorite in the pro peloton (or so I’m told.) This is adapted from The Feed Zone Cookbook, which I’d highly recommend if you’re any sort of athlete, or just looking for portable snack ideas.

These rice cakes are a great “real food” replacement for bars or gels, and the sweet-and-salty combination is just what I need for the return trip of a long ride. They’re fast-burning and easy to digest, and they taste like bacon, brown sugar, and soy sauce. Can you imagine anything better?

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