Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kitchen Garden

I've never been much of a gardener... but I have been expanding and working on an herb and vegetable garden ever since we bought our home 5 years ago. I planted the oregano and rosemary plants then... and every year I try to make it bigger and better. This year I have a bunch of banana pepper plants, a mystery squash (born of the compost and left to do what it will) and a HUGE tomato plant. As far as herbs go I have the original oregano and rosemary... along with basil, lavendar, mint, lemon balm, lemon thyme, Texas tarrigon, sage... and some herb from Thai cooking that I forget the name of... The garden needs weeding and it is certainly not perfect... but the kids love it and I do too...
Here are a couple of views of the original herb garden... it is a bit disorganized and many of the herbs are in pots due to the fact that my dogs love to dig and lay in the garden... Next year I hope to find a way to fence it and keep the dogs out.

Here is my monster tomato plant in all it's glory. It takes 3 tomato cages to hold it up. I bought the seedling at the San Marcos farmers market and I can't wait to start harvesting tomatoes from that monster.

I have 6 banana pepper plants that are all full of peppers that will be ready to pick soon... gonna pick a peck and pickle them peppers...

Here is my mystery squash... I don't know if I'll ever know exactly what it is the way the bugs go after it. I have such a hard time with squash plants.

And last but not least here are my mint and lemon balm plants... They weathered the winter and looked like hell at the beginning of spring... but man-o-man have they come back!


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cool Neutrality

A cucumber is “about as close to neutrality as a vegetable can get without ceasing to exist.”...or at least that is what food historian Waverley Root believed. That neutrality is what makes a cucumber perfect for a summer salad... That and the fact that they really are as cool as a cucumber... A cut cucumber feels chilly to the touch and that makes them so refreshing!
Cucumbers not only make a great addition to a Summer meal they are also used in many home beauty treatments. When imagining a relaxing spa weekend who doesn't picture themselves dripping with mud with a cucumber slice over each eye?
I didn't plant cucumbers in my garden this year... but I plan to next year. According to the book Keep the Buttered Side Up "cucumbers are said to grow best if planted by a virile young man, preferably naked." Hmmmm think about that next time you are munching on cucumber sandwiches at some boring ladies function...

Basic Cucumber Salad

This is a great basic salad. You can use different types of oils or vinegars to change the flavor. You can even use lemon juice in place of the vinegar. Add slices of hot chilies or a dab of chili paste for an interesting contrast.

2 small cukes, sliced
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
1/2 C. white vinegar
1 T. oil (olive)
1 1/2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1/2 t. garlic powder (or just a clove or two of minced fresh stuff)
1/2 T. sugar

Mix all ingredients and marinate for at least 30 minutes. Chill and serve.

Korean-Style Cucumber Salad

The combination of cucumbers and sesame in this recipe is truly exceptional. It is a great salad on a hot day because it is wonderfully refreshing.

3 pounds cucumbers, peeled
1 medium sized onion
1 T. salt
3 1/2 T. lemon juice
1/4-1/2 t. cayenne pepper
2 T. roasted sesame seeds
1 1/2 T. sesame oil

Cut the cucumber and onion into very fine slices. Sprinkle with salt and set aside for an hour. Drain all accumulated juice and discard. Add the lemon juice, cayenne pepper and sesame seeds & oil. Mix well.

Mint and Cucumber Salad

I adapted a raita recipe to make this cool and wonderful salad. This is a great accompaniment to vegetable biryani or any Indian food meal.

1-2 peeled and sliced cucumbers
1 large tomato chopped
2 scallions chopped (both white and green parts)
1 T. minced ginger
large handful fresh mint leaves, chopped
salt to taste
1/4-1/2 C. yogurt

Mix all ingredients and garnish with mint leaves


This is a must for any Indian dinner. For a thinner consistency you might want to process it in a blender or food processor. You can also garnish this with a sprinkle of garam masala. Raita is an excellent dip for bread and vegetables. You can also use it as a salad dressing or a condiment for any Indian meal. Lightly fried or toasted cumin and/or mustard seeds also make an delicious addition.

1 cucumber peeled and grated
2 C. yogurt
1 t. salt
pepper to taste
1/4 t ground coriander
1/4 t. ground cumin
cilantro for garnish.

Mix all and Serve in bowl garnished with coriander. Serve as a dip for naan or as a side salad.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Tapas are little dishes. In Spain tapas are served before lunch and dinner in bars and taverns. They are also late night fare for bar goers. One legend about the origin of Tapas is this: In Spanish tapar means "to cover" and the first tapa was a slice of ham served on top of a glass to keep out the flies...because the saltiness of the ham increased sales the tradition followed. Another tale says that the Spanish king Alfonso the 10th was ill. His doctors prescribed that he have small bites of food with some wine between meals. The king then ordered that all the local inns couldn't sell wine without small dishes of food. Whatever the reason Tapas are wonderful.

For a simple tapas presentation I like to get cucumbers, tomatoes, and red bell peppers. Chop them up and put them on a platter. Serve with lemon wedges and drizzle with olive oil. Serve a variety of cheeses and meats with crackers and bread rounds are also a tasty addition. Maybe even some smoked salmon. Fresh fruits, small salads, and olives are also nice. If you want to make heartier fare then add some fried fish, steamed shell fish, shrimp cocktail or seasoned veggies like potatoes or mushrooms. Another common addition is the tortilla espanola. Presentation is important. Put everything on nice serving platters and garnish appropriately. Enjoy!

This past weekend we threw a party to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. For the party we had a selection of tapas and some cold beer (brewed by one of the guests), and some wine. Here is a list of the tapas we made for the party:

Stuffed Mushrooms (cooked on the grill)

Hummus with Bread Rounds

Peel and Eat Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce (I boiled the shrimp for a few minutes, chilled them and then mixed up some ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire and lemon)

Spanish Spinach and Tomato Pizza
I sautéed 2 cloves of garlic and 1 onion in olive oil. I added a can of chopped tomatoes and cooked until the liquid was absorbed. I then add about 3 C. fresh spinach (I just added it by the handful until it looked right) and cooked until spinach wilted a bit. Then I spread it on a prepared pizza crust (you can use a "from scratch" crust... or for simplicity one of the Bobali types... the recipe I based this on made a pizza crust and cut it into small rounds for finger food size portions) and sprinkled it with pine nuts. I baked it for 10-15 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Garlic Tomatoes
I cut several tomatoes in half and surrounded them with garlic cloves and topped with fresh thyme and salt and pepper. We then cooked them on the grill using indirect heat (at about 400 degrees) for about 40-45 minutes. To eat simply squeeze garlic on a tomato half and eat!

Berries and Melon

We also had some wonderful olives, shrimp stuffed cherry tomatoes, and other contributions by guests.


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