Monday, March 30, 2009

Frittata with Leeks and Sun Dried Tomato

Frittatas are one of my favorites meals - they are quick and easy enough to make when you're feeling rushed to get dinner on the table, but provide a hearty, well-rounded one-dish meal. They are also incredibly versatile. They always include some combination of eggs, cheese, fresh herbs and vegetables but what combination can depend entirely on what you have on hand. Served with a salad this Frittata makes a simple yet substantial meal for two. Serve it with fresh fruit, and muffins and it will be brunch for four.

4 eggs beaten lightly and set aside
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 small leeks rinsed thoroughly and sliced
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary minced fine
2 oz package chevre cut into small bits
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
a pinch kosher salt
fresh ground white pepper

Beat the eggs lightly in a dish and set aside. Pre-heat your broiler. On the stove, heat the oil in a flameproof saute pan and cook the leeks until just tender. Add the sun dried tomatoes and the rosemary and cook for an additional minute or two. Pour the eggs into the pan to cover the vegetables. Cook covered for about 8 minutes until the eggs are mostly set. Add the chevre, the Parmesan, and the salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the stove and put it in the pre-heated broiler for about 2 minutes until the top is slightly golden.

As always, the ingredients make the dish. When I make this frittata I use organic eggs from grass fed hens, local artisan cheeses, organic leeks when they are in season, and fresh rosemary from my garden.

Serves 2-4


Fritatta on Foodista

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Kitchen Garden Accomplished - Part III

Out there in the once hardscrabble piece of dirt there is now a healthy array of edibles. Over the course of 3 weekends I planted my little corner of the world with the types of produce I love most. With a little bit of sweat, and not too much trouble the new kitchen garden has come to fruition.

During the last week of February, after the side yard had been cleared and the raised beds had been built, I got busy sewing the first batch of seeds. I devoted one whole 4' x 4' bed to vegetables of the green leafy variety - an assortment of lettuces, spinach, and chard namely. I intentionally planted this entire bed with plants that would mature and be consumed early in the season. I am always on-board for a taste of instant gratification.

I planted an assortment of herbs this first week also - some from seed, but most as transplants. I limited the seeds to an heirloom Lemon Basil and a Slow-Bolt Cilantro. I have read that the "Slow Bolt" varieties are the only cilantro varieties worth planting here in Central Texas, as cilantro is notorious for its intolerance of the blistering heat. But I've also been told that even the slow bolt types won't do particularly well if they are planted too late, or if we experience a hotter-than-usual month of May. I have to say I feel a certain empathy for the cilantro. Over the course of just two summers here in Texas, I have also gained a near-infamous reputation as being particularly intolerant of the Texas heat.

I shouldn't have to worry about the rest of my herbs; they are tougher, and more tolerant of the heat. My collection of culinary herbs includes all the usual suspects- both a Garlic and an Onion Chive, Greek Oregano, Russian Tarragon, Sweet Marjoram, an English Thyme and a Mother of Thyme, Golden Sage, and some Curly Parsley. I love to cook with fresh herbs and immediately started to take advantage of the fact that they were now so conveniently available to me - a few sprigs of Thyme for a potato leek soup, and some fresh-cut Chives as a garnish. There is something so deeply satisfying in walking out the front door, scissors in hand, and returning with ingredients you will cook with that very minute.

I have missed this sense of satisfaction.

And finally, this last weekend in February I planted my first batch of Radish seeds. They were, of course, the first thing to sprout, and strictly speaking, the first harvest from the new kitchen garden. When I thinned the seedlings, I saved to sprouts, carefully washing and trimming them. The sprouts have a mildly peppery flavor very similar to the actual radish, and I enjoyed them on my salads and sandwiches for a week.

The next weekend, the first weekend in March, I got out of bed extra early on Saturday, and postponed my run until Sunday, so I could attend the Sunshine Community Garden Annual Plant Sale. The sale is the annual fundraiser for the garden, and as I was later informed "a classic Austin endurance test". I wanted to be supportive of the community garden, but apparently so did every other gardener in the city of Austin. When my partner and I arrived I was both shocked and disappointed to discover a sea of people. And oddly enough they all seemed to be just standing around - there was no milling about or browsing. My confusion must have shown because I was promptly approached by a helpful volunteer who very sincerely asked "are you looking for which line to choose?" I was speechless, and slack-jawed. He politely pointed out that the "...line for herbs was there. Line for tomatoes there. Peppers and eggplants there. And then the line to pay is way back there." By my estimation it would have taken 3 to 4 hours of standing in slow-moving lines to buy a few veggies. I wish that I had the virtue of patience, but I do not. I left empty handed.

Because I was up early and had sacrificed my run, I decided to spend the rest of the morning downtown wandering the Farmer's Market with my partner instead. Only one farmer had transplants available - from him I purchased a Roma Tomato, an Anaheim Pepper, and a Basil plant. A small, but reasonable consolation for the Plant Sale gone bad.

On Sunday, still in need of plants, I went to my favorite nursery and was able to find most, but not everything, I want to grow. For Tomatoes I picked a Sun Gold, and a Viva Italia. For Peppers I chose Red Beauty, Golden Summer, Sweet Banana, Habenero, Gypsy, and a Cubanelle. What I didn't get was eggplants, and a few additional heirloom tomatoes that were recommended to me by a friend. The nursery had not yet seen any of the heirloom tomatoes, and had already sold out of eggplants, but they were expecting another shipment mid-week.

All of these transplants went into the ground on Monday morning, along with another batch of Cilantro seeds, Bush Bean seeds, and a small hill of Summer Squash from seed. I was hoping to take advantage of a forecast that called for rain, although I didn't entirely believe it. I've learned to not hold my breath when the forecast calls for rain.

But, it did rain. It rained steady for 3 days straight. It was the most rain we have seen here in Austin since August of 2007, with totals that ranged from 3-4 inches. It was gloriuos. Sadly, it is not enough to provide much relief to the ranchers or the rivers, but it was certainly enough to feed my new garden.

I made one last trip to the nursery on one of those rainy days, after the mid-week shipment had been predicted to arrive, and before the weekend crowds. I was able to find all that I was looking for to complete my garden, and little bit extra to boot. I have the 3 heirloom Tomatoes - a Mr. Stripey, Cherokee Purple, and a Rainbow BL. I filled out my pepper collection with a Jalapeno and a Serrano. And they had indeed received another shipment of Eggplant - I picked two each of Calliope and Ichiban. On impulse I also added some Pickling Cukes, Garlic sets, a small army of Basil plants, and Marigolds and Cosmos as companion plants.

The skies cleared up, and I planted all of this, along with a second sewing of Radishes and some Shallots from my kitchen, on Monday, March 16th, the day before St. Patrick's Day.

My new kitchen garden is densely and diversely planted. It is a well-stocked 112 sq. ft. and I am hopeful that the harvest will be plentiful. In some ways the effort to pull together this new kitchen garden was substantial - the tilling, the construction, the truckload of soil, and the multiple trips to multiple suppliers for the plants. But there was also a healthy amount of pleasure in these efforts - time spent with my sturdy helper, gifting the extra soil to a friend, and time spent outside enjoying the weather and getting to know my community. Overall, the effort, and certainly the money, are a small price to pay for the continued enjoyment and the fresh organic produce it promises to provide.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I haven't forgotten about part III of the Garden Series of posts, it's only been delayed by the weather. We've been having what will most certainly be the final cold front of the season here in Central Texas. We've also had rain. Much needed long over-due rain. In fact, in the last four days we've had more rain here in Austin than we've had since August of 2007!

When the blustery weather chases me out of the garden, I retreat to the kitchen.

The cold, gray, damp days were perfect for comfort foods, and one of my favorite comfort foods is risotto. Risotto originated in Northern Italy. It is a creamy, hearty dish that is substantial enough to serve as a main dish. For larger groups, or especially big appetites, risotto pairs beautifully with fish. Risotto is traditionally made with Arborio rice - a short grained Italian rice. Arborio is an essential staple in any well-stocked pantry.

Risotto with Zucchini and Parmesan

1 1/2 cups Arborio Rice
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock heated
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion diced
2 gloves garlic minced
1 medium zucchini chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup grated Parmesan
kosher salt
fresh ground white pepper
6 fresh basil leaves (for garnish)

Heat the stock in a saucepan, and set to simmer. In a separate saucepan heat the 2 tablespoons of butter and the olive oil. Add the onions and cook until tender. Add the garlic and zucchini and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir until toasted, about 1 minute. Add one ladle of the hot stock to the rice mixture and stir until absorbed. Continue to add the stock one ladle - about 1/4 of a cup - at a time, stirring until absorbed and then adding another, until all of the stock is gone. The rice should be tender, and the risotto should have a creamy texture. (If not, add a bit more hot water.) Remove from heat. Add the lemon juice, the 1 tablespoon of butter, and 3/4 of the Parmesan cheese. Stir until the cheese melts. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each serving with a sprinkling of the remaining Parmesan cheese and a chiffonade of fresh basil.

Serves 4-5 as a main dish

Risotto is a very versatile dish. I have included zucchini but that could be replaced with asparagus, or spinach. I've also used fresh goat cheese instead of the Parmesan. Risotto is a little labor intensive - it can take up to 45 minutes for all the stock to be absorbed. I recommend that you put on a favorite CD and pour yourself a glass a wine while you cook.


Risotto on Foodista

Monday, March 9, 2009

Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing

What do you do when your organic grocery delivery service surprises you with a stalk of local, organic celery? If you're me, you make a Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing for dipping. I whipped up this dressing with what I had on hand, which by a stroke of either luck or genius, included a good-sized hunk of artisan Blue Cheese from Brazos Valley Cheeses. I had picked up the cheese at the Farmer's Market about a week prior, and had only indulged in about half of it. This dressing can be stored in the fridge for several days in an airtight container. I love it as a dip for celery and "lathe-turned" carrots - Crudite if you're fancy or French. You could of course use it on a salad, and if it suits you - buffalo wings.

4 ounces of a good blue cheese
1/2 cup organic sour cream
1/4 cup organic plain yogurt
2 Tablespoons fresh chives finely minced

Combine the cheese, sour cream, and yogurt in the food processor and puree until creamy. Transfer to a bowl if using right away, or your airtight container if you intend to have it around for a few days. Stir in the chives. Chill and enjoy!

Makes 1 cup

Blue Cheese Dressing on Foodista

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Building the Kitchen Garden - Part II

The new kitchen garden is well underway, the construction is complete, and I couldn't be more pleased. Last weekend my sturdy helper and I woke up early, got our run out of the way, and headed to the local mega-home improvement store to rent a roto-tiller. For a sum well under $100 we had the use of a powerful power tool for a 24-hour period.

We proceeded to remove the turf from the entire side yard. The only thing we would spare is the spindly Fig Tree we rescued from someone's trash and planted last year. I chose the location based mostly on the fact that it is the only piece of our yard that gets full sun. This piece of the front yard was hardscrabble at best: I have never really taken care of it. It had been reseeded at some point with a type of grass completely inappropriate for the blistering Central Texas summers. And unfortunately, because it sits on the corner of our lot it gets a lot of dog traffic, and not all of my neighbors are as consistent about cleaning up after their dogs as I am.

I harbor high hopes that by revamping this area from a rough-and-tumble piece of turf into a thriving garden it will curb some of the ill-mannered littering that goes on there. I know for sure it will look better- lusher, greener, and more lived-in. These are the added benefits of my new kitchen garden.

My sturdy helper ran that tiller all day. I followed behind. Slowly, and with much tedium we picked and plucked every bit of old grass and weeds out of the area. We raked and re-raked. And at the end of a very long day we retired to the couch with take-out, a bottle of Vihno Verde, and a Woody Allen movie.

Sunday we rose again, feeling rested, refreshed, and pleased as punch with ourselves for what we had accomplished on Saturday. We loaded the rented tool into the back of my tiny car, and made the quick trip back to return the rental and purchase the lumber we would need to finish the job.

We spent a good portion of the day building the beds. We used untreated lumber, and I highly recommend that if you try this at home you also use untreated lumber. The chemicals used to weatherproof lumber can leech into your soil, and therefore your food. We built a total of seven 4' x 4' raised beds and arranged them randomly around our newly tilled piece of land. These beds will give me a total of 112 sq. ft. of kitchen garden, which isn't overly ambitious by anyone's standards, but is plenty for a household of two.

The previous week I had made the trip out to The Natural Gardner - my local organic garden center and nursery. When I walked in I asked for help, and I was lucky enough to have asked someone who was not only willing but able to help a lot. I told her my plan, showed her my drawings, and made it clear that I was a transplant from Minnesota and that this was my first attempt at gardening in Texas. She was a fountain of useful information; providing me with charts of what to plant when, and which varieties are best adapted to our growing conditions. She showed me the seeds, talked about soil amendments, and then marched me off to the dispatch office to hook me up with some dirt.

That truckload of organic soil was delivered to me and my waiting raised beds mid-week. Based on a bit of complicated math, I had ordered 3 cubic yards, which is a lot. Not being one to sit around when there's work to be done, and motivated by my excitement and enthusiasm, I filled all of my beds that same afternoon. Wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load, I got the job done. Then I added the recommended soil amendments; Glistening Green Sand, which is basically potash and iron, Cottonseed Meal, and worm castings.

As it turned out, I had too much dirt for the job. About 1 cubic yard too much. I blame the math. Fortunately, I have friends who garden and I was able to gift the extra dirt to them. I was glad to do it, and they were glad to have it.

By dinner on Sunday the construction of the new kitchen garden was complete. The best thing about the construction process was a realization that I had picked an ideal location for my new kitchen garden. Not just for all the reasons I stated above, but because I was out there in plain view while I worked and people noticed. Countless folks stopped to chat, ask questions and offer their encouragement. It became clear that I would not only harvest edibles from this space, I will also get to know my neighbors, and the folks who travel around the neighborhood. This is a benefit I had not forecast, but which I welcome.

Stay tuned for Part III - In which I plant the Kitchen Garden.