Cheddar cauliflower

Cheddar cauliflower

I just got back from Thanksgiving in VA with the fam, and things are happening in the garden. For an obsessive like me, who can’t get enough of checking the beds to see if anything has sprouted, leafed or fattened even the slightest bit, it’s delightful to be 3000 miles away for five days and return to some REAL action.

Check out my single cauliflower.

It’s of the “Cheddar” variety, which explains the orange hue. I tried a few rows of seeds, which germinated but were soon devoured by unknown bugs. I was enlighted by Tara at Silverlake Farms that I needed to check the leaves daily for “little green worms” (check.) and “tiny, off-white larvae” (check.). And that I needed to pick them off by hand and squish them. That seems to be working. Will try the seeds again, but it looks like the cabbage family plants, grown organically, are higher maintenance than I knew.

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Some of you have asked about growing lettuce. Once you start growing it yourself, you will see what a horrendous rip-off store-bought lettuce can be. Home-grown is crunchier, tastes better and the fancy/exotic “spring mix” type greens are just as easy to grow as a delicious head of butter lettuce. The big plus I’ve found is that you get what seems like 100% germination. It all comes up. The first batch takes about 50-60 days to fully mature. Then you just cut the leaves off (without pulling the roots) and it just grows back.

This year I’ve got “Tom Thumb” (big, green, almost spinach-y leaves), Buttercrunch (soft leaves, big tight, crunchy heads) and “French mix” which is a blend of differently colored and shaped greens including romaine and chicory. I’ve also got a row of arugula for spice. Last year I grew our lettuce in one of those wooden window boxes, set on the ground. This year, with the wider, raised beds, I’ve got even more. So…anyone out there with an avocado tree want to trade?

Bettunya\'s quick pickles

Quick pickles are really delicious and easy. I had 5 medium cucumbers from the garden. Peeled them, then using a mandoline, sliced them thin. Same with 1/2 white onion, 3 cloves of garlic. Here is the rest of my new quick pickle recipe, adapted from a recipe for sunomono on epicurious.com:

Set aside in a bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons salt. Let sit for twenty minutes. Drain off excess water.

Over vegetables, sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh cut dill, four coriander seeds (crushed), 1 tsp. fresh ground pepper, leaves from three-ish sprigs of thyme. I also added a few tarragon leaves but only do that if you like that licorice-like taste.

In another bowl, 1 1/2 cup rice vinegar or white wine vinegar + 3/4 cup sugar. Mix until sugar is dissolved. Pour over vegetable mixture. Lightly stir, cover and put in the fridge for a couple of hours. So good.

I just made another batch yesterday with yellow squash and carrots added. It works. We have so much squash now, it’s nice to have something easy to do with them that doesn’t involve turning the oven on.

Squash blossoms with batter

I’ve always wanted to make fried squash blossoms and the moment was about an hour ago. I cut about seven from the garden and followed the recipe in Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cookbook”, which is astoundingly easy to get my head around. The way she writes and her recipes, that is. There aren’t many illustrations, but the few there are, are strategically placed. And I love how she numbers the steps in her recipes.

So the process is super simple — the batter is a pastella, the same as you’d use for fried squash, eggplant, etc. Just whisk flour into a bowl containing a cup of water until it is the consistency of sour cream. Add the flour in very small amounts to keep it smooth. I added a little salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pour enough oil in a frying pan that it comes up 3/4 of an inch on the side. Heat the oil — get it very, very hot.

squash blossoms

Lightly, barely rinse off the blossoms in cold water and pat dry. Really, the less you touch them, the better.

Make a slit in the base of the flower on one side and gently flatten it, like you were butterflying a chicken breast.

NB: Check inside the flowers before using the knife. A honeybee buzzed from one of them just as I was getting ready to cut. Disaster averted. But the bee population being what it is, accidentally frying one would have been a serious downer.

Then drag the blossoms by the stem through the batter and drop into the very hot oil. Flip over when they start looking crispy — mine took about a minute or so. The batter will lightly brown.

Drain on a towel for a couple of minutes and serve immediately. They should be crisp on the outside, with a soft, fragile texture inside. The taste is really subtle and they’re pretty to look at.

fried squash blossoms

I love artichokes–baked, steamed, pickled, whatever. It’s difficult not to wonder how anyone figured out that you could pull off all that prickly armor and find something so delicious inside. Hats off to the first artichoke eater! I applaud your work!

Anyway, I’ve become very interested in growing our own. I’ve read that all of the chokes sold in the U.S. are grown in Cali and they are perennials so they supposedly will keep producing for years. They grow to 4-5 feet wide, too, so if it works out, they’ll fill out that empty spot out front where the agaves used to be. I bought five at the nursery and have grown 8 from seed — these will go into the ground in a few weeks. If anyone out there has experience growing artichokes, I welcome your tips.

That’s how it stands.

Keeping fingers crossed.

Here is the sole artichoke we’ve had so far. The biggest plant from the nursery already had a bud, which quickly grew fat enough to eat. Just added a couple garlic cloves and a bay leaf to the water, and steamed until the bottom leaves pulled off easily. Sauteed chopped garlic in butter for dipping and voila. Mmmmm.

It’s really happening. We’ve got our first squashes. The chard is thriving and I’ve found that homegrown arugula will spoil you for store bought forever. After last year’s meager harvest, I had no idea how successful the crops would be from the raised beds. It’s something wholly other. Here is the current situation, at left:

I’ve been receiving messages that Brioche readers are as interested in photos as in my cuisine. Here are a few things I was up to during my long absence. Thank you, Kathy, by the way! I was, indeed, so sick. With the tail end of my cold still in effect during our Hawaii trip. But the rose hip tea was key to my turnaround, without a doubt.

So I have been cooking, but primarily working on the garden. The plants give me so much joy. I have always loved the scent of dirt and I love watching the bugs that take up residence in the garden. Mine is seriously loaded with ladybugs — they are awesome helpers. They make their ways over the plants (really seem to love the lemon verbena and lavender) like tiny red tanks and devour the aphids. Very, very cool to watch.

Mark built amazing raised beds that cover the entire side of the yard that gets sun. So far I’ve planted yellow squash, snap peas, an ENTIRE bed of strawberries, and about 8 tomato plants. I am barely dealing with heirlooms this year. Last year’s were a completely failed story. One here, one there. Who’s got the time? I have one heirloom this year, an italian plum shaped or such. The rest are celebrity, champion, better boys and early girls. Hurray for hybrid technology!

Mark built these raised beds so I can grow root veggies