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Harvest Minestrone Soup

Harvest Minestrone Soup

A good pot of soup, thrown together from a harvest of fall vegetables and herbs. In my last post, I promised a recipe. Here is how I created my tomato, veggie, and herb minestrone soup yesterday.

Mix together the following:

1 quart of quartered fresh tomatoes and juice or stewed tomatoes
1 cup of diced onion
cloves of one garlic, minced
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/2 medium radicchio chopped
1/2 cup chopped mixed garden herbs: oregano, thyme, sage, marjoram, savory, etc.
1 medium zucchini, sliced
2 tsp salt
1 can of light or dark red kidney beans, not drained
optional: pepper to taste
optional: throw in one chili pepper whole

Add water to almost cover if the tomato juice isn’t quite there. Heat to boiling over medium-high heat, reduce heat and simmer, covered until veggies are tender.

I was quite impressed by the flavor of this soup without having to add any vegetable bouillon, but save any leaves or onion tops, etc. for a future soup stock. This soup was delish sprinkled with a little bit of feta cheese.

In honor of Halloween, I am reblogging this scrumptious-sounding recipe from Stitchknit. Check out her blog if you get a chance!–Shelley

stitchknit

One of my favorite traditions during this time of year is to serve Dinner in a Pumpkin.  Kids love the idea of it first off……….and once they taste the mixture inside, they are just as wowed with the flavors as the adults are.  I’ve even had people say they couldn’t even eat ANY squash come away from the table a true convert!

If you’re lucky enough to have your own pumpkin patch, go out back and bring in one that’s the size of a large serving dish.  Otherwise, start at your local grocery store!

                                                                     Dinner In A Pumpkin

Ingredients

  • 1 medium pumpkin (needs to be at least the size the ingredients listed here….and it has to fit in your oven!)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 (4 ounce) cans sliced mushrooms
  • 1 (15 ounce) can…

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Pumpkin Star

Pumpkin Blossom

Dear Reader:

‘Tis the season of squash–zucchini, yellow, pumpkin. The blossoms burst open every morning, surprising beneath the dark green plates of the light-gathering leaves. I stand at the window with my morning coffee and gaze out at the beautiful golden-orange stars and wonder, “Will I actually get any fruits from these flowers?”

The answer, I am happy to report is “Yes!” In spite of some weird blossom die-off and more than a couple of shriveled, aborted little summer squash that died on the vine, this morning I was pleased to pick not only one, but TWO good-sized summer squash.

They are reclining inside on my windowsill now, keeping my first heirloom Brandywine tomato company. Tonight I will slice them up and sautee them in a little bit of olive oil along with some green garlic from around the crab-apple tree and basil and oregano from the garden.

Eggplant

And look how pretty the eggplant blossoms are. I love the delicate pink-purple color and the shy way the blossoms bend their heads toward the ground, like Victorian young ladies demurely casting their eyes down and waiting for some eligible young scions from good families to ask them to dance.

Ladybug on the Dill

All is not sweetness and light in the garden today, however. I was disgusted to discover the extra-large “leavings” of some large-breed’s morning constitutional right IN MY GARDEN BOX. The stupid dog must have had to work really hard to balance just so over the corner of that box. I will spare you photo evidence, but I’m considering buying a super-soaker water gun to fill with dye. Red? Green? What do you think would be the most annoying splotch on the backside of a purebred Collie? (I’m pretty sure the neighbor’s male is the culprit).

Anyway, the star of the day is the pumpkin blossom. I’ve been reading about stuffed squash blossoms and thought I might look up a recipe or two. The favorite combination seems to be a soft cheese with herbs for the stuffing, dipping the blossom in egg and beer batter, and frying until golden brown. Click HERE for a recipe from the 99 Cent Chef blog if you also have a bunch of squash blossoms sparkling in the firmament of your summer garden. (Of course, I recommend finding a local source of chevre or some other soft cheese, local eggs, and a good local microbrew for your recipe. It’s also the perfect time of year for a nice basil pesto to go along with the stuffed blossoms.)

And that’s it for today…Outside the Box.

Strawberry Chocolate Mint Jam

Beautiful Locally-grown Strawberry

Dear Reader:

I finally got up to the local fruit farm, Dole’s Orchards, where I lucked out. It was the last day of strawberry picking and the picking, I must say, was GOOD. I filled seven quart containers in about an hour, and a quick taste test proved that all the sunshine and copious amounts of rain had come at just the right times and in the right amounts to create plump, sweet, flavorful berries–the best I’ve tasted in a few years.

Dole’s is located on top of a hill, apple and peach and plum orchards spreading out from an old yellow farmhouse and barn and neighboring hillsides in the distance drawing the eye with various shades of blue. The air is sweet up there on the hill. In a week there will be raspberries ripe and fat on thick canes and new peaches to pluck from leafy branches. Blueberries are ready for picking, an early season. Come fall, the Dole’s will be open for apple and plum picking, and on three consecutive Sunday afternoons there will be a hay-bale maze, music performances, a long stack of pumpkins from which to chose your jack o-lantern, and a farm store full of cider and Nancy’s deep-dish apple pie…

Chocolate Mint

But now it is summer, and I have a hankering to experiment with fruit jams. In the past I tried a recipe for blueberry-chili pepper jam with cilantro and thought it was fabulous–sweet, zippy, fragrant. What could I do with strawberries? What did I have growing in my garden boxes? The answer was obvious: Chocolate Mint.

Chocolate mint does really have a taste of chocolate. The more I learn about mint, the more admiration I have for this vigorous, hardy, versatile plant. You can find spearmint, peppermint, lemon, and many other varieties. It can be used for desserts, teas, baking, and jams. My grandmother used to make a beautiful green mint-apple jelly. What could be more perfect for strawberries, I thought, than chocolate and mint?

Strawberry Chocolate Mint Jam

The recipe is simple, based on one from the Betty Crocker cookbook:

4 cups ripe strawberries, crushed
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice, fresh squeezed
2 tablespoons chocolate mint leaves, snipped very fine with kitchen scissors

Prepare 2 half-pint canning jars on 1 one-pint jar. Boil in water to sterilize. Follow canning directions if you plan to store these unrefrigerated.

Put strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan on high. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to keep a boil, stir occasionally, cook for about 25 minutes. Skim the light pink foam from the top. Mix in the mint and stir for one minute. Remove from heat.

Pour into jar(s). Finish processing if you are storing them outside the ‘fridge. This is such a small amount that I simply put the lid and screw-cap on and will eat it within the next couple of weeks. The sugar is a preservative.

Here is the finished product. I “tasted” the jam from the spoon, but the real test will be when the preserves have cooled and I’ve spread some on a homemade scone. I’ll let you know! In the meantime, don’t be afraid to experiment with jams, jellies, preserves, and chutneys. You can generally make a small batch and eat it up without having to invest the time to process it in a canner. If you like the results, well then, make a big batch to can and give away to your lucky friends and family. What special or unusual recipes have you tried lately? Drop me a recipe…Outside the Box.

Strawberry Chocolate Mint Jam

Bean on the 4th of July

Bean Pot

Dear Reader:

What could be more Maine than a pot of baked beans on the 4th of July?

The tradition of slow-cooking beans with molasses, salt pork, and salt goes way back to Puritan New England when the church-people were not allowed to cook on Sundays. Using the Yankee ingenuity we still celebrate today, those good church-going Protestants figured out that if they put beans into a hole lined with hot coals on Saturday, they would have a steaming, wholesome meal to eat on Sunday–without lifting a banned wooden spoon! The Puritans came from a part of England where foods were baked into stews and pies rather than frying, so it was natural for them to incorporate traditional cooking methods when they transplanted themselves here to the New World (see Wikipedia article for some dubiously-fact-checked reference material for these statements.)

While Massachusetts is known as the official “Baked Bean State,” we Mainers can also claim this savory dish for ourselves. After all, Maine was once part of Massachusetts, and like it or not, we do share some cultural quirks with our counterparts just south of us on I-95. Maine baked beans are a Saturday-night supper staple. You will also find a pot or two served at just about any public supper, family reunion, or informal celebratory event…like the 4th of July.

Canoe on the Saco River

In honor of my traditional Maine roots, I put a pot of beans into the oven on Independence Day and left them there to simmer and bubble for six hours. Later, following a leisurely afternoon kayaking with friends down a sleepy stream, we all tucked into the beans served with potato salad, coleslaw, pickles hamburgers, and radishes from the garden–a feast in honor of great American cuisine on America’s Independence Day.

Hope you all had a Happy 4th of July. Here is a family recipe for Maine Baked Beans. Enjoy!

Maine Baked Beans

2 pounds beans (we like yellow-eye; Maine-grown if you can find them)
1/2 pound salt pork (or 1/8 lb butter or even olive oil if you are vegetarian)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1 1/2 Tbs. salt
1 medium onion

Rinse beans and soak overnight in water. In morning, parboil beans until skins crack when you lift them out and blow on them (use a wooden spoon to lift a few out). Cut up the onion into fourths and put in bottom of your bean pot. Drain the beans, reserving the liquid in a bowl. Put beans into bean pot. Put pork on top of beans. Mix brown sugar, molasses, mustard, pepper and salt with one pint of the bean liquor. Pour this mixture over the beans. Bake at 300 degrees for 6 hours or more, adding more boiling water if the beans begin to dry out on top. Serve with slaw or potato salad, brown bread or biscuits (really good to eat biscuits with butter and molasses…yummy!)

You can also put this all into a crock-pot and cook on low for ten to twelve hours. The beans get better as leftovers, too, soaking up more and more flavor from the molasses and spices. You can also freeze leftovers to warm up later for quick meals.

Well, the buzzer on the stove just went off, telling me that the strawberry-rhubarb pie I stuck in there forty-five minutes ago is done. More on that next time…Outside the Box.

Radishical Propaganda

Easter Egg Radish Bouquet

Dear Reader:

I am in love with radishes at the moment. I bought these cute little Easter Egg radishes from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and planted them in the garden box with the carrots, miniature onions, and parsnips. This idea came from a really informative and inspiring book on container gardening by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey called THE BOUNTIFUL CONTAINER.

The book is chock full of ideas for themed container-gardens along with recipes and basic know-how. The radish/carrot/parsnip idea came from the “A Kid’s Garden” theme. In this scheme, pots are planted in the spring with pansies, radishes, and carrots. The idea is that the pansies will be pretty while the veggies grow. The radishes mature quickly and keep the soil surface loose which helps the carrots, and by the time you pull the radishes, the carrots have space to develop. The authors also say to stick in a pumpkin seed or seedling in June…

First Radish–pinky purple!

Now, I have my pumpkins growing at the ends of my tomato hay-bales, so obviously I didn’t follow the scheme to the letter. My garden box has the radishes, carrots, parnips, onions, an eggplant, and a bright pink geranium instead of a pansy.

Root Veg Box

Soon after I planted this lovely box, torrential downpours swept through the land; I was afraid the teeny-tiny seeds would be swamped, flooded, pushed too far below the surface, or rotted. For a week or so I waited, hoping against hope that my seeds had managed to survive. Amazed one morning to see those evenly spaced rows of miniature seedlings, my heart rejoiced. The radishes emerged and burst into a growing green frenzy. Soon, I spotted color beneath the green just atop the soil. A week or so later, the colored stems began to swell into the cutest little Easter Egg-colored globes of peppery goodness.

I pulled the first purple-pink radish, sliced it thinly on top of the disappointing micro-greens (too micro!) and ate my miniature salad with a degree of satisfaction far out of proportion to the portion size.

The carrots and parsnips are holding their own as I gently harvest the rapidly-ripening radishes. If you are new to gardening or want to entice children to the joys of soil and seed, try some multi-colored, quick-growing, sow-easy-to-grow radishes. You really can’t mess them up, they provide practically instantaneous (for a garden) gratification, and add a nice little spicy crunch to your dinner salad.

Radish Growing and Glowing

Easy Button Pickled Radish Recipe

I am modifying a pickled radish recipe I found on Martha Stewart’s website which has a bunch more radish recipes you might want to try. Really, it’s as hard to mess up quick pickles as it is to mess up growing radishes. These babies are the ultimate “Easy Buttons.”

1. A bunch of nice-looking, home-grown Easter Egg radishes, slice thin.
2. 1/4 red onion, slice thin.
3. Enough red-wine vinegar to cover veggies.
4. 2 teaspoons course-ground sea salt.
5. 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)

Mix everything in a bowl and let sit for 1/2 hour. Use right away or refrigerate for up to a day. Nice served with grilled turkey burgers or homemade veggie burgers and some new greens from your garden or the farmer’s market.