Garlic Scape Pesto

I grow hardneck garlic , and one of the benefits of it is that you can eat the unopened flower buds, called scapes, in the early summer. I have put them in stir-fries before, and they are really tasty, greener, milder chunks of garlic.

My subsistence garlic farm- a year's worth in about 2 square feet.

My subsistence garlic farm- a year’s worth in about 2 square feet.

Then on Pinterest (Pinterest gets me into more trouble- are you supposed to do the stuff you pin, or just pin it, and let your social network believe you do it- like all those ab workouts I see pinned, I mean really? We’re supposed to do how many crunches? (all those not on Pinterest, disregard previous rant)) I saw a pin of garlic scape pesto recipe. Now, here’s where I get in trouble, because I saw it, I don’t think I even pinned it, and I certainly didn’t click through to see the recipe, I just let the idea sink to the bottom of my mind like a pebble in a pond, and then weeks later when I saw the scapes forming on my garlic, I was like, “yeah, so it is probably just like when you make it with basil, maybe I’ll put in a little parsley, so it won’t be too…sharp.” After all, one of the things I don’t really like about basil pesto is that it is kind of bland, so really garlicky pesto would be a good thing, right?

So then I picked all my scapes (picking them is supposed to help the bulbs become bigger, also, rather than sending energy into forming seeds, it adds mass to the roots) and I got out the food processor and started to puree stuff.  It smelled amazing.  I planted roughly 20 garlic cloves last year, which has turned into 20 plants, with 20 scapes.  Which is a lot, for the half cup or so of leaves I snipped off my parsley plant, and the corner of a  chunk of parmesan, and the little baggie of pine nuts and the quarter cup of olive oil.

I have since done some research on official scape pesto recipes, and let’s just say my proportions are off. Here’s one from Dorie Greenspan- calling for about twice as much cheese and nuts as I used, and half as much garlic. Well.

Let’s have some pasta. It will keep the vampires away. If you are making some, can I recommend that you use Dorie’s recipe?


Potato Leek Soup

It is soup weather here at Chez Katsmama, and after doing a pot of homemade stock for grandma noodles yesterday, I am making a big batch of potato leek to take to school for a birthday potluck.
I didn’t grow up with leeks, and in case you didn’t either, they are in the onion family, but milder, with a different texture. I dislike big slimy pieces of onion in soup or chili, but leek has a toothsomeness to it, so it doesn’t feel nasty.

As leeks grow, soil gets in between the layers and builds up between their leaves.

Think about ratios for this recipe- about twice as much potato by volume as leek, then about an equal volume of liquid. For a pot luck, 4 cups chopped potatoes, 2 cups leeks, 6 cups liquid. For lunch, 1 cup potato, 1/2 cup leek, 1 1/2 cup liquid.
Slit leeks in half, chop into 1/2 inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Spray with water and stir around with your hands, popping the layers apart as much as possible to get rid of any soil stuck between the layers.
Lift the cut pieces out of the water and place in a colander, then rinse again. There will be some silt in the mixing bowl. Lifting out the cut pieces prevents that silt from getting in your soup. You’re welcome.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a heavy pan, then add leeks.( you could use bacon grease here, which is delicious, and all you have to do is fry the bacon, pull it out of the pan, then crumble bacon into the finished soup as a very last step. Or eat all the bacon. Whatever.)

This was two large leeks, without the dark green leaves.

Stir a bit, toss in a pinch of salt, then cover. Allow leeks to sweat while you peel and chop potatoes.
I have been known to just scrub my potatoes really well, and leave the peel on, since that is where the fiber is, but this is for people at school, and…I don’t know. Maybe the people in the teachers’ lounge do need more fiber, but I am not going to be the one to tell them.
After the leeks have sweated for about 10 minutes at medium, add the chunks of potato, put the lid on again and let them sweat for a bit.
Add water (if you are using bacon) or stock (if you have it) or bouillon and simmer until the potatoes and leeks are soft.
Blend either with a stick blender, or in a regular blender, in batches, until soupy. I like to leave some chunks for texture. If it is too thick, add more liquid.
Crumble in bacon, if using, add a dollop of sour cream, and enjoy.

Roasting Tomatoes

Tomatoes with tags. Sigh.

There are no more homegrown tomatoes in my freezer. A moment of silence please. Thank you.

I have been making this weird gruel to pack in my lunches- brown rice and lentils cooked in homemade chicken stock, with cherry tomatoes added after cooking. So yummy, and pretty good for me, but no one at home will try it. Maybe if I stop calling it “this weird gruel?” Who knows.

Last week when I saw that I had used up the last of my tomatoes, I bought some canned stewed tomatoes and added it to the weird gruel. Ack. Bleah. Disappointing. I still ate it, but I didn’t love it.

This just isn’t a good time of year for tomatoes, as I probably don’t need to tell you. I probably could  and should be eating some kind of winter vegetable instead, like squash or rutabaga or something. Sigh. Next summer, I’ll make sure I don’t run out of tomatoes in February…

I found some “hothouse tomatoes” from Mexico for 88 cents a pound, and figured I would roast them. Roasting vegetables concentrates the flavor by evaporating the water and caramelizing the sugar. These were monsters- a little under a pound each, and pale. I sliced them into wedges, put them on a sheet pan and drizzled them with olive oil and basalmic vinegar, then a sprinkle of pepper and salt.

Photo credit: The Girl

I roasted them at 225 for about 2 hours. Then I forgot to take a picture.

This is another one of those non-recipe recipes- it is more about technique than ingredients. You can roast pretty much anything this way- peppers, squash, probably even rutabagas.

Pumpkins!!!! Adorable Little Pumpkins!!!!!!

Que pasa, calabasa? That's Spanish for what's happening, pumpkin?

I got a Wee Be Little pumpkin plant last spring, because they are just so darn adorable. No other reason.  We just harvested, in time for a jack o’lantern. We have a total of 7, and 6 of them will go to pie and bread.

Don't fear the reaper- actually, there was an unfortunate mishap with the scythe. It got sliced off, but we plan to replace it...

The Girl brought home a lovely cinderella-coach-shaped squash from a bonfire/fall party, and carved an intricate grim reaper scene into it. We roasted the seeds, and they were really tasty- thin hulls and nutty insides. I may try to figure out what variety it was, and plant it next year, because it is so darn adorable, in its own way.
The wee be little doesn’t take up much space, about a 4×4 foot square. I planted it in the former location of the compost bin, so there was a ton of rich compost for it to feed off of. It did sprawl in the wrong direction, I tried to nudge it the other way, but it kept encroaching into the sugar snap peas. By July it didn’t matter, because the peas were finished anyway.
The Boy was able to carve this independently, which is nice- I really hate getting my hands in pumpkin guts. It’s just gross.
We will probably wind up getting a big grocery store pumpkin, so we can have the classic picture of the monstrous jack o’ lantern eating the tiny one.

And when I said we would make pies from 6, I must have meant 5, because the Boy is carving another one.

He said, "write on your blog that I'm performing plastic surgery."

A year’s worth of garlic, part 2

I saved the largest bulb of my “harvest” to plant, and ordered some from eBay.  The kind I saved from what I planted last year is soft-neck, which is ordinary grocery store garlic, and in fact, this came from an ordinary grocery store. The kind I got on eBay is a hardneck variety, which is supposed to have a different flavor (there’s a question- how different can it be, and still be garlic?) and also it forms flower stocks and blossoms, which are called scapes.

We got some scapes in our CSA veggie box a few years ago and I had never seen them before- they’re really interesting. You could wear them as bracelets to ward off vampires- long green spirals. I sliced them for stir fry, and they had a bright, super-garlicky taste. Growing hard-neck garlic  means you get an earlier harvest, something to pick before the garlic is actually ready to dig. This helps with the year’s worth deal. Once the bulbs in the basket have either been eaten or started to sprout, there is something to pick that tastes like garlic.

Yes, I know I could just go to the grocery store.

Why bother growing my own? Honestly, carbon. How much diesel fuel is used to plow, plant and harvest garlic in California, or China?  how much energy to ship it here?

I am okay buying olive oil, because I can’t grow that here in zone 5, but I swear, garlic grows itself.

Before the fall equinox, I loosened some soil, broke the garlic heads into individual cloves and planted them. I put them in an area where the compost pile was, so there’s plenty of humus. I’ll cover with mulch, and wait until spring. I won’t water at all until next summer, and then it will still take less water than most people use on their lawns.

Grow garlic!!!!! Seriously!

No photo on this one- better artists than I can take beautiful pictures of bare soil.

She’s a sad tomato

One lonely ripe tomato was all I had as of August 29.

Up until this past weekend, I had only picked one ripe tomato off the Mexican Jungle that my veggie garden has become this year.  Because of the Mexican Jungle effect, I can’t tell you the name of the variety, because the little tag got swallowed up by greenery. Let’s just say  I planted things too close together, again.

On Friday, before we left for the mountains, I picked some beautiful chocolate cherry tomatoes, and a couple of Romas, and some more of these, whose name I don’t know. There are a ton more green ones, threatening to knock over the trellises. As long as we don’t get an early freeze (average first frost date here is September 15, but last year it didn’t happen until early October) the green ones will get a chance to ripen and become salsa, and salads and tomato sauce, and maybe dried tomatoes. Nom nom nom.

The grape tomatoes ripen a deep purple, and taste great on their own, but with these, I sliced them in half and threw them in with some pasta and vinaigrette. Now I have lunch this week.

According to my journal, these are "Chocolate Cherry", started from seed by a friend. They go dark, almost army green before they go purple. They are rich and sweet and filled with jelly.

Heating the house with tea

The tea stein.

So, as rain turns to snow outside my window, I have begun the yearly process of trying to heat the house with tea. It works, somewhat. After a gloriously warm and dry fall, we are finally getting some cold weather.
We live in an older house, a mid-century-fabulous, low-slung ranch, with huge windows facing East and West in the living room. Love the house, but it isn’t very draft proof. DH said something about using a stick of incense to find the drafts in the front window, and I said, “Oh, so you can caulk the cracks?” He looked shifty eyed- he hadn’t thought about it that far. We don’t have a caulking gun, so it would involve a trip to Home Depot. Home Depot is a place that makes DH very uncomfortable.
So, I am heating my house with tea. In the past I have tried heating with a pot of soup, simmering away all afternoon. I have also tried it with chocolate chip cookies, but I’d like to be able to zip my ski pants, so instead, it’s tea.
Before I got my electric tea pot, I used to fill the kettle, turn it on high, walk away. When I eventually returned, it would be boiled away. I would have heard the whistle, if the whistle hadn’t broken. This runs in the family. My dad would do the same thing, walk away, get caught up in something, and when he came back, the pot would have boiled dry and started to melt. He burned through the bottom of several tea kettles this way. Eventually, he started making tea in the microwave. This has been suggested to me, but with the microwave you don’t have the advantage of heating up the house as well.

To me, winter interest means it looks good through a window, covered with snow, while I drink tea.

It is probably only psychological, that the house is warmer when the teapot is going, but the placebo effect can’t explain everything. So, once the water is boiling, I slosh some sugar into my big pottery stein, add a teabag and fill it with water. I cup the mug in my hands to warm them, try a sip, but of course it is far too hot to even slurp carefully, so I bring it to the couch, and set it on the end table to cool. Or, sometimes I sit cross legged and put it in my lap, although that sounds kind of creepy, now that I see it written down in black and white. I hear your diagnosis, “deep rooted psycho-sexual problems.”
The tea finally cools enough to drink, and the pottery mug keeps it warm for a longish time, but by the time it is half done, it is too cold, so, I turn on the kettle again, go to the bathroom, and when I get back the water is hot, and I refill. Now, here is the beautiful part, since it is half cold, the tea is just right, immediately, so with the second round, I don’t have to wait as long. The tea might be weak, though, so I tip some more sugar in from the bowl, and add another tea bag. The process repeats itself all afternoon, all winter.

This is a broccoli plant- and after the snow melted, I actually picked the broccoli- and it's fine!

Rustic Apple Tart and Hand Pies

Hand pie- it’s a perfectly cromulent word.

These could have stayed in the oven for another five minutes for that golden brown deliciousness.

Worlds collided today when the girl brought home My First Cookbook, which  has a pastry recipe, and I picked a zillion apples from our tree. A surprising number of them weren’t wormy.

Look how many of them don't have worm holes! We don't spray or anything, so worms are the rule rather than the exception.

I chopped enough for a crockpot full of apple sauce, and a pie. Then the girl’s recipe turned out to be for tarts, and I said, what about hand pies? Hand pies, she asked, did you just make that up? Ummmm, no. I’m sure I’ve heard it somewhere.  So, we’ll cut circles, put in apples, then fold them over.  The circle we chose to use was the ring from a half gallon sized canning jar, which made lilliputian sized pies…They’re very cute.  The girl made pie crust for the first time, and we actually should have asked Grandma or Great-grandma for lessons, because I think I’ve only made pie crust twice before in my life.  The girl did a good job, though, it’s nice and flaky.

Baked them for a surprisingly long time- I guess I’ve learned something with this project, because I keep saying how surprised I am. It took about 25 minutes at 350, which was enough to brown the bottoms and lightly brown the tops. The apples are still a touch crisp, so it could have gone even longer. We had enough for 6 half moon shaped pies, and I rolled the scraps into a freeform circle, dumped the rest of the seasoned apples into the center, then folded the edges up over it, into a rustic apple tart.  “Rustic?” she says, as if that isn’t a real word. Rustic is totally a word! The rusitc tart held together beautifully when cooled and sliced.

Promise me you'll eat this with ice cream.

Rustic apple Tart

3 cups sour apples, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon flour

your favorite pie crust recipe, or whatever instant pie dough solution you like best.

Toss the apples, sugar cinnamon and flour together in a bowl. Roll out the crust and cut reasonable-sized circles. On reflection, the canning lids, about 3 inch diameter, made very small pies. Place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet, fill with the apple mixture, fold over and bake for 25 or more minutes. For once, we forgot to put sprinkles on top, but sprinkles would have been good.

For the rustic tart, I was recalling something I read in Cook’s Illustrated a year ago, so there are probably better sources of instructions. Roll out the dough, place apple mix in the middle, with a good 2 inches of border. Fold up the edges and crimp it, then bake for 35 to 40 minutes.  Because the top is open, it is easier to test these for doneness- just stab an apple with a paring knife to see if they are soft enough.