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whole grains
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caprese skewers

plate o' caprese skewers

Want an easy, colorful, summery, fancy-schmancy looking appetizer to serve guests? These little fellas fit the bill, the bright crunch of juicy tomato mingling with sweet basil and fresh mozzarella, all drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.

There. The food porn description is out of the way.

tomato, basil, mozzarella, together at last. just like nuts and gum.

We threw a surprise party for Mom Saturday. As I apparently noted several times near the end of the night, it was a smashing success. Why several times? Seems I got drunk off my ass by the end. As planned. It wasn’t an accident ffs.

Look at that awesome cake Stacy’s mom made for the surprise party

Mom's birthday cake

People kept asking ahead of time how surprisey it was going to be. I briefly wondered at the wisdom of shocking someone with a history of heart problems, and laconically waved those concerns aside. “Not much, I think,” I told them. “We’re doing family pictures right before the party, and we expect people will begin showing up and we’ll be setting up right in front of her.”

Thanks to the big ass house, though, we were able to pull off a complete surprise. While the final pictures were being shot in the living room, Jennifer and I rushed off to the family room to get tables and chairs out and set out the cake. By the time we led Mom to the family room, most of the partygoers had arrived, and wound up giving her a proper “Surprise!” shout.

They're like little tomato soldiers, aren't they?

Oh, my point? One of the things I made was caprese skewers. I also made corn and crab dip. Crap. It’s gone. I didn’t get pics of it. Oh well, caprese skewers will do for now.

P.S. two to three of these is a 100-calorie snack. Believe me, you won’t have a chance to get your hands on more. Go for three. The calorie listing includes all of the balsamic vinaigrette, and I only wound up using about half of it. Read more on caprese skewers…

how to freeze sweet corn

mmm corn

Dad plants sweet corn for all of us every year, staggered a week or two apart so we have sweet corn for longer. I don’t know exactly how far apart; I’m sure someone will read this and correct me since I seem to get something wrong in every post.

getting the silk off, a stack of corn, another stack by the stove, and corncobs with the corn cutter

It’s like when there’s a story in the paper that you were part of or know everything about. You read the article, and you find one thing reported incorrectly, then another, and another, and you come away wondering why you bother to believe anything you read or hear on the news ever.

cooling the just-blanched sweet corn!

Sweet corn is one vegetable that you want to freeze yourself if you can get hold of some fresh in season, because frozen store-bought just isn’t the same. Now, this isn’t true for all vegetables, as Mom and I concurred the other day. Yes, we talk about this kind of thing. We’re boring. We agreed that green beans, on the other hand, are pretty damn awesome frozen from the store. But sweet corn? Not so much.

no, she is not high

linda's using the kickass corn cutter

So get to a farmer’s market or a roadside stand right quick, get yourself some just-picked sweet corn, cajole a partner — you really, really want to do this with a partner — and set aside a few hours to freeze sweet corn. Read more on how to freeze sweet corn…

fresh blueberry pie

i had to rip this out of someone's hands to get a pic before the whole pie was gone

Blueberry pie ranks right up there. Number two after sour cherry pie, for sure. I’d always had blueberry pie that was baked, but the blueberries this year are so fabulous — large, and the perfect sweet-tart combination — that I wanted to do one that was more strawberry pie-style.

the blueberry and cornstarch mixture just as it begins to cook

In other words, blueberries mixed with a thickening agent and set inside a prebaked shell of some sort. So the flavor of the fresh berries would burst through.

the cooked and thickened blueberry mixture. time to add in the fresh ones!

KAF came through! That’s the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book. Remember that, because I’m not going to repeat it.

cool, we've dumped in the fresh blueberries!

The original recipe in KAF called for 1 cup of sugar. Based on scientific evidence — Mom had just made a fresh blueberry pie using another recipe calling for 3/4 cup sugar and turns out is was JUST. TOO. SWEET. — I cut it to 1/4 cup. I don’t know why you’d want more, unless you’re some kind of stereotypical sugar-loving animal whose name escapes me at the moment. Plus if you use the walnut-oat crust, you’re getting some more sugar there. Read more on fresh blueberry pie…

August 23, 2009 in desserts, gluten-free, PIE, vegetarian23 comments

walnut-oat pie crust

mmm, gluten-free walnut-oat pie or tart crust, ready for your abuse

Now there’s a mouthful. Know why? Because it’s so versatile. It works for the gluten-free folks. It works for the pie folks. It works for the tart folks. It works for the don’t-make-me-get-out-the-rolling-pin folks.

Even better, this walnut-oat pie crust recipe is just a prelude to the fresh blueberry pie I made it with, coming up soon. Thought I’d get you going with this amazing crust first, because it will work with more than just blueberry pies. It’ll work with cheesecake, other pies, all sorts of tarts.

And it’s press-in-the-pan easy. Read more on walnut-oat pie crust…

how to flash freeze blueberries

flash frozen blueberries in a freezer bag

Skip ahead to to the blue text if you want the instructions without the incoherent babbling.

Flash freezing has been done in the food industry for ages to quickly preserve and seal in nutrients and freshness. It’s why nutritionists say frozen seafood, vegetables, and so forth are technically “fresher” than their fresh cousins you find in the grocery store.

Of course, if you’re practicing locavore-oriented shopping, you don’t have that problem now, do you? It’s not hard, and you don’t have to be a hardass about it. You’re just growing a garden, or befriending people who do, or participating in a CSA. Okay, I had to act like I knew what a CSA was. Hey look, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture.

Oh, wow. There’s one in my area. Crap, now you know where I live. No stalking!

Back to locavore stuff. You’re doing the above, and/or you’re looking for locally-grown produce at the supermarket, you’re befriending people with chickens for eggs, etc. It doesn’t have to be all intensive like the people who do “we’ll only eat anything grown within 100 miles” experiments.

So if you’re me, one locavore thing you’ve done recently is go to a local orchard and buy or pick blueberries. You picked a lot of blueberries. And you might as well throw some in the freezer for winter.

There’s something sparkly about pulling berries out of the freezer in the dead of winter, and making a smoothie, or cobbler, or pie. In like, February. You want to do this with your pretty local berries.

Note: This method can be used with nearly anything solid. I freeze tablespoons of tomato paste this way. Adobo chiles. Some people flash freeze lemon slices, or mushrooms. I don’t know if I trust frozen mushrooms, but they can’t hurt if being thrown into a lasagna or something. Read more on how to flash freeze blueberries…

what to do with fresh blueberries

What *I* like to do with fresh blueberries!

I have a confession to make.

I cannot bring myself to bake or cook with fresh berries.

Why not? Their season is so short, it seems such a waste to transform them with heat, when frozen berries will do the job just as well. And you can whip out frozen blueberries in the dead of winter, anytime.

But fresh berries in the dead of winter? You know they’re out of season, so they’re being shipped thousands of miles, and hey! *snaps fingers* we’re trying to eat more local here. In that process of being shipped across continents, they’re losing freshness and flavor, and won’t be worth much fresh anyway, in my opinion.

Why not practice a more seasonally-aware cuisine? Gorge on fresh when it’s available, and freeze or preserve once you’ve gotten sick on fresh blueberries. (Tomorrow I’ll be freezing blueberries, and show you how, which is hardly necessary, as it’s so damn easy you’ll wonder why you haven’t done it before.)

In the spirit of practicing a more seasonally-aware cuisine, we’re now eating 99% blueberries and sweet corn. Ha ha.

13 ways of looking at a blueberry

Simple, as usual, is better. There are approximately 3 general ways to go with fresh blueberries. First is sweet, and mixed with dairy and/or grains. Second and third are savory, in salads or salsa.

We’ll get the obvious out of the way first. Read more on what to do with fresh blueberries…

August 15, 2009 in garden porn6 comments

first tomato of the season

ugly little thing, ain't it?

Hell yeah. Time to inaugurate the “tomato” tag.

I’d go on about heirlooms and brandywines and tell cute little stories involving one of my grandmas, or, if it were of special import requiring massive genetic support, both grandmas. Read more on first tomato of the season…

german chocolate cake with coconut-pecan frosting

a wee slice of German chocolate cake

Today is Mom’s birthday. Go Mom! I won’t tell you which birthday it is, since she’s a tad shy about that. I’m just gonna say she had me when she was very very young. Nearly criminally young. Not that she’s a criminal. I don’t think.

Got anything to confess, Mom?

Grandma used to make this, her favorite cake, for her on her birthday. Which was pretty nice of her considering she wasn’t her mom, but her mother-in-law.

german chocolate cake

Naturally I assumed it was some secret family recipe, scrawled in chickenscratch cursive on a spattered and yellowed recipe card. Lovingly tucked into a battered tin box. Like something in a soft-focus “Mom, what do you do on those not so fresh days?” commercial.

I asked Mom the other day where to find the recipe.

“It’s on the back of the Baker’s Sweet Chocolate box,” she said.

Oh. Okay, then.

the cake is a lie

It’s not handed down from German immigrants. It’s named after the guy who owned the Baker’s chocolate company. His last name was German. No, it wasn’t German. It was German. As in Bob German. Or Phil German.

I know. It’s confusing. Have some cake; you’ll feel better. And for gods’ sake, whatever you do, do not read the nutrition information at the bottom of the recipe. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

egg whites: soft peaks v. stiff peaks

And the recipe was invented by a homemaker in 1957 and published in a Dallas newspaper. The rest, as they say, is history.

I’m going to keep calling it “German chocolate cake” though. It just makes life easier.

the cake is real. ta da.

Ta da. German chocolate cake

It turned out really well. I used pecans Aunt Geri sent as packing material in the gift box a couple Christmases back. Pretty handy having relatives with pecan trees.

Mom and Sis said it was as good as Grandma made it. It’s a pretty sweet cake, not in the cool sense but in the omg diabetic coma sense. I made it as written, because for some reason my white whole wheat flour, which is my go-to flour for quick substitution, tastes stale. I think it came that way, because I got it into the freezer the moment I brought it home.

So what we have here is a very moist cake made with 4 ounces of sweet German chocolate. It’s a bit labor intensive what with the beating of the egg whites and stuff, but that’s what keeps it light as well. It’s not dense-feeling at all.

buttermilk, pecans, and flour/soda/salt

The frosting is sheer decadence. Four egg yolks, butter, sugar, evaporated milk, sweetened coconut, and chopped toasted pecans. I mean shit, this cake has everything.

Look. You don’t frost the sides. You’re not supposed to frost the sides on this cake. Trust me. You’ve had enough sugar already. I don’t need you bouncing off the walls even more. Read more on german chocolate cake with coconut-pecan frosting…

August 11, 2009 in garden porn4 comments

how does your garden grow? 8-11-09

Warning: massive photo post ahead. Like, 30 photos. All of my garden. Yeah, real exciting.

Inspired by the lovely Diana and her garden porn.

First, let’s try and get an idea of the scope of this garden. It’s roughly triangular.

The whole bigass garden, looking west from the acute angle

Sheesh, it’s so big you can’t pick anything out.

The garden, looking southeast from the right angle

At least now we can pick some stuff out. Looks like some big ass tomatoes.

The garden, looking south-southwest from the middle

Wow. Taking pictures at midday was so not a good idea. But see, we’re getting some perspective. There’s those tomatoes again, with a rogue muskmelon (we think) growing between the first two, oregano, rosemary, and peppers in view.

of cages and flowerpots

Basil and parsley, together at last

Parsley and basil, both nice and gigantic. I should make some pesto, shouldn’t I? The basil keeps sending up flower stalks and I keep having to pinch them off.

I fear the basil is in some sort of willful reproductive battle with me.

See that flowerpot? I used it to cover the basil after it was transplanted, when we got some low-temperature nights in early June. It was once that small.

opalka plum heirloom tomato

Here’s an opalka plum heirloom tomato. I tried these and Amish paste last year, and the opalkas won by a mile. They taste great and they’re pure flesh — nearly no seeds and little juice. They’re great for sauces and supposedly paste too, but I’m not anal enough to make my own tomato paste.

I just might be anal enough to make my own ketchup this year, though. But seriously, if you’re going to try a plum/paste tomato, forget the overrated Amish, get an opalka.

The tomato cages? About five feet high. The tomatoes are kind of short this year due to the cool season we’re having.

aww, those poor beets

beets, carrots, green beans

Don’t laugh at my poor beets. Please. The carrots are nice and fluffy though. Check out the dying peas to the right and their pathetic fence.

weird blight on the beets

Many of the beets are showing this weird blight. I have no idea what it is, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. My gardening philosophy is, if it doesn’t destroy the part I eat, let it slide. However, if you know what it is, let me know!

broccoli gives good head

broccoli and some rogue tomatoes

Ha, the broccoli leaves are getting chewed up too. Wait til you see the chard. But the plants are making damn nice heads. Which is a surprise, since they got chewed down to nubs by baby bunnies right after transplanting. They recovered. Obviously.

To the right you see a few of the 4 brazillion rogue tomatoes that came up. We saved a few because I have a soft spot for plants tenacious enough to come back. Even after I beat them down repeatedly. Read more on how does your garden grow? 8-11-09…

the best dill dip evar

the best dill dip evar

Oh my. The garden asplode. Zucchini, broccoli, carrots, green beans, broccoli. And the broccoli isn’t sporting those horribly invisible green worms yet. I think.

There’s still lettuce and peas, though that’s ending now that hot temps have arrived, and cucumbers coming along, and some poblanos that are looking mighty big, and swiss chard with leaves 2 feet long, I kid you not.

fresh dill, about to get snipped to a zillion little pieces

Not to mention dill.

Rather than dump it in, I sprinkled it in JUST FOR YOU

I haven’t felt much like cooking the veggies yet, so I mixed up this dill dip that I love. Did I mention there’s dill in the garden too? Oh, I did. Guess what, it’s a perennial if you let it be so. Well, it’ll die away completely in the fall. But it’ll drop a zillion seeds, all of which will come right on up the next spring. So now there’s a loosely-defined “dill section” in the garden. Get some dill seed or plants for yourself, and you too can effortlessly have fresh dill from spring to fall, every year.

ha ha, she said “dip”

now it's time to stir the whole dill dip shebang together!

This dill dip is polite, yet ruthlessly efficient at what it does — delicately seasoned with a bit of parsley and a touch of seasoned salt and onion warming the background, it’s a dip where the freshness of dill dominates. I just consumed 1 large zucchini, 2 small carrots, and a good number of broccoli florets thanks to this dip. Go veggies! Read more on the best dill dip evar…