Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Green Bean Baked Potato Parmesan Salad...and sauceless Peach Melba

Tepid veggie salads have a Goldilocks appeal and an ease in preparation as they can lay about a bit before serving without any challenge to their ambient temperature. Green beans are providing harvests at intervals of several days as frequent picking increases production.

Modus is a delectable & stringless bush green bean variety.

Desiree potatoes, red-skinned and large, are not yet fully mature though a few harvested plants are giving us smaller spuds. Tater skins contain as much potassium as the flesh. It's a mineral that many don't get enough of because the adult requirement is nearly 5,000 milligrams! A large potato with skin intact provides around 1,000 milligrams.

Potassium deficiency results in fatigue and muscle weakness.

The only way I will eat the skin is if it's roasted into a crackly, toasty state. They were baked for about thirty minutes at 350 degrees F. During that time, the green beans were snapped into pieces and steamed till tender which takes about eight to ten minutes. The spuds were halved and tossed with the beans along with Parmesan shavings, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, and freshly ground pepper. The salad was both earthy and fresh-tasting.

Our peach tree has responded well to its winter and early-spring sprayings by producing a small harvest of fruit free from the sticky detritus of various bugs.

Filling the hollows of a halved peach with coffee ice cream made a refreshing ending to a simple meal.

Peaches and cream can't be beat.

Liguria, an Italian beef-heart variety, is stunning when still green . . .

... and when fully ripe and red, it's breath-taking.

Though delayed because of later-than-usual planting, the tomato harvest promises to be a good one.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Plum & Blue/Blackberry Melba

Peach Melba is a classic dessert consisting of a poached-in-syrup, vanilla-ice-cream-filled peach-half dressed with raspberry sauce. Simple but scrumptious at the same time, it's wonderful on a late-summer day, echoing the season's mellowing towards autumn. However, there were only plums along with blue and blackberries available from our potager. The smaller plum pinch-hitting for a peach meant a reasonable serving can consist of both halves, hence, two different ice cream flavours could be chosen without any loss of decorum.

Scoops of vanilla & coffee ice cream topped with peeled plums and blue/blackberry coulis

Plums, unlike peaches, when very ripe, can be peeled without poaching. The plum I used was so ripe, it resembled a small, water-filled purple balloon. Once halved and pitted, its skin was eased off with a sharp knife. Not poaching the plum means this version is easier and quicker to make than the original while augmenting its fresh impact.

Variety of plum is d'Ente which is often dried to make prunes

Put a handful of berries (three-quarters blackberries, the rest blueberries) in a sieve placed over a bowl. Squash them first between your fingers, then finish mashing them with a fork against the strainer. Sweeten the juice to taste with confectioner's/powdered sugar. Position a scoop of vanilla ice cream next to one of coffee on a dessert plate. Drape a plum-half over each and douse with berry coulis. Garnish with a few berries.

Instead of filling the halves, topping with plums allows for much more ice cream!

Here's the vanilla ice cream.

It brightens the heavier flavours of plum and berries

And the coffee ice cream.

Coffee, blackberry & plum comprise a heady trio

Halfway through eating, I unexpectedly heard myself exclaiming, this is the best dessert I have ever had. The words were uttered, it seemed, on their own accord. And I doubt that my experience will be duplicated. Perfection often can't be repeated. The ripeness, temperature, depth of flavour of the fruits, proportion of ingredients, and other variables like the eater's sensory perception and psychological state at the moment are all an one-off. But I am sure that any future ones will be pretty good! Who knows, I may tempt fate and add a splash of fruity red wine to the coulis.

Ice cream well marbled with berry coulis & a glistening chunk of plum

In the potager, Joie de la Table, a French variety, carries its medium-sized tomatoes en grappes (in clusters).

The Calm One's tomato structure has proven worthy:  all 12 tuteurs are holding their own

Haricots verts (green beans) flowered well, and now, tiny, adorable pods are beginning to form. Since they grow so fast, it's important to check daily so they are picked before becoming fibrous and, therefore, less delectable.

Growing your own makes it possible to harvest green beans at their most tender

Corno di Toro Rosso red peppers are impressive in their size and taste. This Italian variety is piquant and juicy. Hopefully, enough will mature by the end of September so tons of Roasted Sweet Red Pepper & Garlic Spread/Dip can be made.

Shaped like a bull's horn (per its name), this particular pepper is nearly a foot (30 cm) long

Honeysuckle continues to flower as it wraps itself over a heap of slow-decomposing prunings from trees and shrubs. Their incomparable and exceeding lovely fragrance makes bringing garden and kitchen detritus to a nearby fast-compost pile a delight.

NOTE:  Souped-up Garden will be taking a two-week break. See you then!


Musings about Peach Melba and my attempt to make it

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Spider bite? Ice packs and a Blackberry Parfait please!

This past Sunday evening marked the first time I experienced a spider sinking its fangs and releasing venom into me. It hurt tremendously at the moment of my foot being bitten. Oh why oh why did I forsake socks that day! My yelp of pain woke up Dirac the Cat who was napping on the pergola roof under which I was sitting. First his ambling steps could be heard. Then his face peeked down over the edge. He was reassured that if I died, The Calm One would feed him. Then the real fun began. The swelling intensified so that within an hour my foot resembled a blooming flower, huge, floppy, pink, but not pretty like its nearby counterparts. Blackberries got picked shortly after the incident when I was under the misconception that the perpetrator of my injury was a wasp. They remained in the fridge while I researched insect bites. Frequent ice packs and rest lessened the pain and puffiness within two days. When noticing today the sleek, shining berries, I mused a parfait could take the focus off the woeful condition of my flipper-like appendage. And if one parfait didn't do the trick, then a second might.

Topped with vanilla ice cream

To fill a 250 ml/8 fluid ounce glass, take several large handfuls of blackberries, put them in a fine-mesh sieve, and rinse. Reserve ten of the plumpest and most ripe of the berries (more if they are on the smallish side).

Our thornless bush so far has given us around 3 litres of jumbo berries!

Place the sieve over a bowl and squash the berries with your hands (ensure they are clean, including their nails!). Finish the extraction with a fork, remembering to use an utensil other than the mashing fork when scraping the outside of the strainer to prevent getting seeds into the sieved coulis.

Add powdered sugar to taste, whisk till smooth, and set aside. Mine was fairly sweet to offset the unsweetened whipped cream.

Combine one heaping tablespoon of crème fraîche with six tablespoons heavy cream in a tall container. Slosh some vanilla extract (1/4 to 1/2 tsp) and whip with an electric stick-mixer's balloon whisk until soft peaks form.

Start with a layer of whipped cream and follow with a half of the berries. Douse with several tablespoons of the coulis. Repeat with some more whipped cream, ending with the rest of the fruit and coulis. Top with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream and a spearmint sprig. Any surplus coulis can be frozen or served on the side with the parfait.

The delicate tops of our potted spearmint are kept available for garnishing in a small vase (originally a vanilla extract bottle) of water.

Such a garnish delights the eye while its glacial fragrance gives the nose a whiff of the refreshing treat to follow. The dollop of ice cream furthers this sensual preparation for the heady burst of flavour from the juicy berries, syrupy coulis, and airy, slightly sour whipped cream.

Happy to say, I was a completely compliant patient.

This is the patio chair which concealed the spider! It and three others are now thoroughly clean and spider-free.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Midsummer Garden

The potager is brimming with potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, onions, beets, green beans, and carrots close to harvest in addition to plums, peaches, and blackberries. However it quickly can become desiccated because rainfall is infrequent during July and August. Hence my morning and nightly dates with the water hose because during those times the rate of evaporation is less. Thinning beets are advantageous in two ways: allows room for the remaining to become full-sized and gives abundant greens for the cook pot.

I prefer beet greens to spinach though I would never refuse the later

A chiffonade is an effective way to cut herbs and leafy greens by stacking them in a pile, rolling-up that pile up into a fat cigar, and then thinly slicing it.

Cold drink and food are refreshing ways to withstand hot days, but a different response works also which is surrendering wholeheartedly to the heat and melting along with it till the only reasonable response is a nap. And to aid that giving-in is a nice soup plate of minestrone containing among other ingredients, beet greens, basil, and potatoes from our garden.

Tomatoes which were planted late in the season due to unfavourable weather are beginning to redden.

Happily there were enough ripe ones to slice for topping macaroni and cheese.

In order to stay bushy, and therefore productive, spearmint is no different from other herbs which all require frequent pinching. These leaves got washed and then towel-dried. Spread evenly on a plate, they lost all moisture within two weeks. There is now a filled jar chez nous that will provide some lovely iced mint tea.

Some of the strawberries put out baby plants, from three to five on a runner, which were cut off and placed in shallow flats of potting mix. They will be planted in about a month.

The lush, silky blooms of the hydrangea have reached their peak.

Dirac the Cat loves twilight and twilight loves him, bringing out the blue in his coat.

The wild area and dusk is a perfect pairing for him

He doesn't need warm food to go with the flow, just a good stretch thank you very much.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fresh Berryade

Each summer I reserve enough blueberries harvested from our potager to make blueberry cupcakes, and each summer I actually make something else with those precious berries. Something cool. Something that doesn't require any more baking than the self-roasting I have achieved by picking them in the hot sun. Something which highlights their sparkle and tart sweetness.

Thirty-year-old pitcher with FRESH juice

per sweetness and consistency desired, makes a pint to a quart

  • 3 cups of berries (several large handfuls)
  • simple sugar syrup made from 1 cup sugar/1 cup water (mix in pot, simmer until mixture is clear, about five minutes)
  • berries for garnishing
  • additional water for desired dilution

A few raspberries and strawberries along with a handful of blackberries were added to the abundant blueberries.

All from our potager

Eschewing various aides of the electric persuasion, I just put the sieve of washed and trimmed berries over a mixing bowl. My fingers did the rest. You be surprised how much fun it is to squash them, especially the blueberries, almost equal to the pleasure of popping bubblewrap. Those grape-stompers have nothing on me.

This gorgeous pulpy mass will find a loving home on the compost pile

A fork and a wooden spoon was used at the end to finish mashing and to press juice through the sieve. Make sure to use a clean spoon for scraping the outside of the strainer.

Burgundy bliss!

With a small amount of syrup and water added, the 'ade was closer to juice. With more syrup and water, it became cloudy, somewhat dulling the fresh edge, but still so much better than any packaged/bottled versions. If the syrup, berries, and water are cold, then one can enjoy it right away. If not, refrigerate or add ice.

The pink froth tickled in a welcoming way

In the potager, various plantings done in March and April are either close to harvest like onions and potatoes or are being harvested as in the case of shallots. They are a valued ingredient for bringing a delicate piquantness to dishes. For my first crop, I had chosen a rose-coloured variety. It seems that the grise (gray) shallot is more esteemed so I will try those next season.

Jermor variety curing in the shade

Basil, like all annual herbs, need to be pinched back frequently to keep the plants nice and bushy. When I have some in hand, I sneak them in wherever I can, for example, by tucking a few leaves in grilled cheese sandwiches.

Next time, I will add minced shallots

During a late-evening perusal of the garden, I was delighted to see flowering fennel transforming itself into the likeness of a delicate Asian print.

Living artwork flanking one side of our house

In the flower garden, a trio of lavender, perennial snapdragons, and roses form a calming melange.

In the front garden, hydrangeas add a bright accent to foliage, rocks, and brick path.

À la prochaine!