The Kitchen Garden

When Jon and I first met he loved telling his friends that I grew my own herbs. At that point, it was just a couple pots outside my front door. He also liked to garden - one of his first gifts to me was a homemade wooden box filled with his own tomatoes. Half of which were delicious, and half of which were a strange spongy consistency, and well, not something you'd want to eat. But out of guilt I chopped them up and put them in an omelet, just to say I'd used them. The next year we both started our basil in the cool wet spring that seemed to go on forever and found it shrinking back to nothing. I brought mine inside and nursed it back to health and eventually had an abundant crop by mid summer, and Jon's shriveled back to a single brown stem about 3" high. He kept it all season long, right there along with his other plants. He also managed to grow some unappetizing looking round yellow cucumbers along with a healthy crop of grape and cherry tomatoes and some very lush cilantro, dill and fennel.

This year, we decided to take it up a notch and grow from seed. Because a) it's a lot more impressive, and b) if your basil plant dies it only takes a few weeks to grow a new one, and at a fraction of the cost. I think the most important thing with gardening, especially on windy balconies that get limited amounts of sun, is to just have fun and hope for the best. If you set yourself up to expect a full garden all summer long that will replace trips to the grocery store or save you bundles of money, you're going to be disappointed. Gardening is unpredictable, time consuming, and sometimes expensive - 3 months of grow lights, bundles of pots, and bag after bag of potting soil and seed starting medium start to add up. But it's really fun to see something go from a tiny seed to a thriving plant and better yet, one you can cook with. And it's really great to come home at night and be able to pick something fresh from the garden for dinner.

Our herbs - started in February, repotted twice, and transitioned to the outdoors in the last 2 weeks. From left - Italian Basil, Dill, Parsley (supposedly flat leaf, but rather wavy), Thai Basil, Cilantro. We also have Rosemary, Chives, and Lemon Thyme to round out our summer collection.

Lettuces - Romain, Merlot Leaf, Mesculin Mix, 'Mervielle de Quatr Saisons' Butterhead, and below, the last of our arugula crop which started the bolt last week. Lettuces, especially those you eat as babies can be planted every few weeks in the summer. In warm sunny weather they only take a few weeks to go full circle so this will ensure a near constant supply.

And our vegetables - French green beans (just starting out), fava beans, tomatoes. We have 3 varieties of tomatoes, which one day I lost track of when moving the pots around, so it'll be a suprise when they actually start to produce fruit. One of the three varieties is rather runtish and is still small and weak whereas the others have become a couple feet tall, full, and covered in little buds. Actually, I threated to toss them and Jon has adopted them as 'his' tomatoes that he plans to bring back to health. They are a bit stronger these days. We'll have to let you know how they turn out.

Our balcony garden with a few flowers mixed in.


What to Serve with Mashed Potatoes

I love potatoes! All kinds of potatoes prepared all sorts of ways - potato soup, potato salad, roasted potatoes, fried potatoes, and of course mashed potatoes. But for way too long I struggled with what to serve with mashed potatoes. They make sense with meat. All you need is a big slab of meat and mashed potatoes and you've got a meal. But what do you serve when you want that 'meat and potatoes' feel, but you don't care for the meat?

I'm fond of these lentil walnut patties. They're rich and, um kinda meaty, and can be dressed up with some mushroom gravy for special occasions. And hey can be prepared in advance and cooked or reheated later.

Lentil Walnut Patties
Serves 2

1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for frying patties
6-8 crimini mushrooms, washed and sliced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp dried rosemary or thyme
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 cup crumbled tofu
1 cup cooked lentils
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
3 tbsp white wine, or vegetable stock
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1/4-1/2 cup bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a small skillet, add mushrooms and onions and saute over medium low heat until caramelized and soft. Add white wine, herbs, and pepper flakes and allow liquid to evaporate. Remove from heat.

Combine mushroom mixture with lentils and walnuts in a food processor and pulse to make a coarse puree. Spoon mixture into a bowl and combine with remaining ingredients holding back last 1/4 cup of bread crumbs. Thoroughly mix ingredients until mixture comes together into balls adding remaining bread crumbs until mixture is no longer sticky.

Preheat an oven to 350. Form 4 patties about 3/4" thick. Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add patties only after the pan is heated through (to avoid sticking). Cook for 2-3 minutes per side until they are crisp and golden brown. Then move to the oven to finish cooking for about 10 minutes.

Serve plane or topped with gravy or white sauce.


White Bean & Crimini Bruschetta

I love white bean bruschetta in it's simpler forms, with some roasted garlic and a bit of rosemary or thyme it's creamy and earthy and so easy to bring together. This is a slightly dressed up version that adds sauteed mushrooms both as a juicy topping and combined in the puree for another earthy component adding depth and richness.

This can be made in advance, but is best served at room temperature so remove from the fridge well before serving.

White Bean and Crimini Bruschetta
Serves 4

6-8 crimini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
4 sprigs lemon thyme
1-2 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp white wine or dry vermouth, optional
4 tsp olive oil
1 14.5 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper to taste
baguette, sliced into 1/2" pieces

In a medium skillet, saute the mushrooms in 2 tsp olive oil. When they begin to darken in color, add garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Remove thyme leaves from stems reserving tops for garnish. Add thyme and wine, if using, to mushrooms and remove from heat when crisp and browned around the edges. In a food processor, combine drained beans with half of mushroom mixture and remaining olive oil. Pulse until well combined and taste for seasoning.

Toast baguette slices under the broiler for a minute or two until lightly browned and crisp, flip and briefly toast other side. Spoon bean puree onto toasts and top with reserved mushrooms and thyme sprigs. Serve at room temperature.


Indian Spiced Chickpea Salad

Last fall I'd eagerly awaited the opening of Poppy, Jerry Traunfeld's experiment with Indian influenced dishes in a 10 dish thali presentation. He offers 2 a night - one with meat and one vegetarian, as well as an abbreviated 6 dish thali of each. Perhaps it was just that our expectations were set so high from months of chatter and promises that this would be one of the best new restaurants of 2008, but we were less than impressed with our meals. It's difficult to make 10 stand out dishes and many just seemed like filler. But there were a few stand outs - my chanterell croquettes were amazing and so rich you wouldn't want a larger serving. And the yogurty chickpea dish was perfectly balanced with nuanced flavors. And luckily, the recipe was featured in Food and Wine later that month.

The recipe calls for whole seeds of brown mustard, cumin, and fennel, and I would suggest you try to find them whole rather than ground, but you can make substitutions if necessary.

Indian Spiced Chickpea Salad
Adapted from Jerry Traunfeld, F&W 9/08

Serves 3

1 15-ouce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tsp canola oil (or other mild oil)
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/8-1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/3 cup plain yogurt (nonfat or lowfat will work)
2 tsp lemon juice
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/8 cup chopped mint
1/8 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp salt

Heat oil in a medium skillet until they begin to pop. Add cumin, fennel, and red pepper and saute until fragrant. Scrape into a mixing bowl.

Add drained chickpeas and remaining ingredients. Mix until throuroughly combined. Serve immediately or refrigarate. If refrigarated, remove from fridge atleast 15 minutes before serving to bring to room temperature.

Orzo with Favas and Peas

Before moving to Seattle I'd never eaten fava beans, and rarely heard anyone talk about them. Since then they seem to be becoming more and more trendy. My first summer here, I ended up at Restaurant Zoe and had the most amazing meal. The only vegetarian main course portion they serve is a seasonal risotto. Which is fine by me - they serve some of the most delicious risotto you've ever had. But on my first visit, I had the fava bean risotto which was so good that I couldn't stop eating it, even though we'd ordered way too much food and felt stuffed for hours afterward. Two and a half years later, I've finally started cooking with fava beans myself. I'm not sure how easy they are to find elesewhere in the country, apparently you can sometimes find them already shelled and frozen. But if you do see them fresh and in their pods, they're definately worth the effort.

You'll need to shell them, boil them briefly to loosen the skins, and then remove the inner pod. While you don't want to leave these for too long, you can refrigerate them for a a day or two after this is done. They're also quite tasty in spring salads or as a topping for bruschetta. They're nutty but still bright and pair well with other spring vegetables. For more information and recipe ideas with fava beans check out this article from npr.

Orzo with Favas and Peas
Serves 2

1/2 cup shelled fava beans*
3/4 cup frozen peas (or fresh if you can find them)
zest from 1/2 lemon
juice from 1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced
1/2 cup orzo
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped mint and/or chives
sliced parmesan

*Note: For 1/2 a cup shelled beans, you'll need about 1/2-3/4 lb beans. To shell fava beans, remove beans from outer pods, bring water to a boil and cook beans for approximately 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in ice water to cool completely. Pinch out skin and gently pop out inner beans. This can be done up to 2 days in advance. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Combine beans, peas, lemon, olive oil and garlic in a food processor and puslse until well combined but still slightly chunky. Cook orzo according to package instructions. Drain orzo and return to pan. Mix in pea mixture and 1/2 of chopped herbs. Season to taste. Add pasta cooking water to this if necessary. Serve topped with parmesan and chopped herbs.


Sophisticated Ice Box Cookies

I've been researching cookies for the last couple weeks trying to find just the right thing to make for mother's day. I wanted to find something that was delicate (and feminine) enough for the holiday - something that would pair well with a cup of afternoon tea. And something appropriate for the time of year - nothing too rich, or dark, or dense. And, because I live across the country from my mother, it would also need to be rather sturdy and prime for shipping. I was inspired by this recipe on Lottie + Doof for Claudia Fleming's Lemon-Poppy Seed Shortbread, but I didn't want to stop at one variety. So, still looking along the lines of shortbread, I thought about this Earl Grey Ice Box Cookie from Martha Stewart. Since I'd made these as part of my Christmas package this past year I wanted to find a variation on the flavor. Which then lead me to these recipes from Smitten Kitchen and Martha Stewart for "slice and bake" or icebox cookies that can be adapted for various flavorings. In the end I went with a recipe from Martha's Baking Handbook, that wasn't so much a shortbread but a crisp butter cookie with eggs and granulated sugar.

And while I had my base recipe set, I still had to determine the flavorings. I still liked the lemon poppy seed idea, it's classic, and something my mom would like. But I wanted to step outside the box a bit for the others. I doubled the recipe and made 4 variations. There would need to be something chocolatey. And perhaps some espresso. And lots of citrus, and a few nuts. And maybe some dried fruit. Or tea, I do really love the earl grey cookies. And I made some lemon chamomile shortbread growing up that was absolutely delicious. And maybe some spices and herbs like tyme or rosemary. So after much brainstorming, I came up with the following: Lemon Poppy-Seed, Chocolate Orange Espresso, Rosemary Grapefruit, and Almond Chai. But then I thought about it some more, and decided to change things around a bit: Lemon Poppy-Seed, Grapefruit White Chocolate, Espresso Cardamom, and Orange Espresso. It didn't help that I kept reading recipes and kept looking for flavor combinations. And then I discovered that my white chocolate had been, emm, invaded by some little creatures, and decided that would be scrapped. So the final combination was Lemon Poppy-Seed, Orange Pistachio Dark Chocolate, Espresso Cardamom Walnut, and Ginger Grapfruit Almond.

Icebox Butter Cookie
Adapted From Martha Stewart Baking Handbook

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sanding or granulated sugar, for rolling

Cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 min. Add egg and vanilla, beat to combine. Slowly add flour until thoroughly combined. Divide dough for desired flavors.

Note: To make all 4 varieties described below, you will need a double batch of the above recipe.

Add ins -

Lemon Poppy-Seed Variation
1/2 tsp lemon extract
Zest of 2 lemons (about 2-3 tbsp)
2 tsp poppy seeds

Orange Pistachio Dark Chocolate Variation
Zest of 1 orange (about 2-3 tbsp)
3 tbsp finely chopped unsalted pistachios
2 tbsp finely chopped dark or bittersweet chocolate

Espresso Cardamom Walnut Variation
2 tbsp instant espresso powder
2 tbsp finely chopped walnuts (raw)
1/2 tsp ground cardamom

Ginger Grapfruit Almond Variation
2 tbsp finely chopped candied ginger
Zest of 1 grapefruit (about 3 tbsp)
2 tbsp chopped sliced almonds

Add flavorings described above, mix to combine thoroughly. It's easiest to do this with your hands since the dough is quite firm at this point.

Preheat oven to 350. Shape dough into long tube shape, wrap in parchment paper and squeeze with a straight edge to make a uniform tube. Slip into a paper towel cardboard tube and twist ends to compress. Freeze for approximately 20 minutes. Remove from tube and roll in sugar to evenly coat perimeter.

Slice into 1/4" rounds. If you're using larger add ins such as nuts of dried fruit, the cookies may break apart when slicing. Form them back together and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or foil. Bake for 15 minutes until edged are slightly golden. Transfer to a cooling rack. Cookies should last about a week stored in an airtight container at room temperature, or longer in the freezer.

Alternately, you can save the uncooked sliced dough for baking later. Dough will last about a month.