30 May 2008

What a difference a month makes

The pictures above were taken middle March and 30 May, respectively. The unique tree trunk planter is my favorite piece in the yard, and hens and chicks is my favorite plant, so I tend to use it as the barometer for plant health in my yard. This little guy grew so much in the past couple of months that I need to dig out the overgrowth that mixed in with my low evergreens (which you can barely see above the planter).

The last three pics are great because they really demonstrate the lengths to which my garden has grown in such a short amount of time. In one pic, the bare trees and shrubs in my side yard garden are depressing; in another, they are lush and absolutely gorgeous. I lucked out this year. The tulips are also where many of my garden veggies and herbs are planted, and I have to admit that tulips alongside edibles was a great idea--I see beauty whenever I feel hungry.

29 May 2008

Beans, Greens and the Fourth

Kale is one of my favorites. I can't quite explain my obsession with it, but I think it has something to do with my dad. My dad didn't cook when I was growing up, but when he did, it was awesome. Of course, my mom was a much better cook, yet for some reason I remember a dish he made with kale pretty recently that has stuck with me. In fact, I think he's responsible for my obsession with kale and Italian food. Blame him for any or all of the butter that ends up in my recipes.

My own recipe is derived from a number of sources, one of those recipes that you can't quite attribute to one source but you can't say is your own. My dad made a side dish with kale, cannellini beans and day-old bread (and the requisite ton o'garlic) that blew me away, but I needed a dish that would serve as the top dog. Here's my recipe for beans and greens:

Beans and Green Pasta

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced (feel free to use much less than this of course)

1 bunch of kale, chopped into long pieces

4 tsp. chopped sun dried tomatoes, packed in oil and drained

6 links precooked sun dried tomato chicken sausage

Salt and pepper

12 oz. farfalle or fusilli pasta (feel free to sub but shorter pastas work best with this dish)

Grated Romano cheese


Heat oil in skillet and add onion and garlic. Cook until translucent and fragrant. Add kale in handfuls, stirring to coat kale in olive oil mixture. When kale begins to wilt (about three minutes), add chicken sausage and sundried tomatoes. Once the dish is cooked all the way through, add a little pepper (or salt if you need it..I don't add salt to my food usually) and add pasta, cooked according to package directions. Serve immediately with grated romano cheese.

Flank Steak: Or, What to Do With a Big Slab of Beef

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved flank steak. While other kids begged to go to Chuck E. Cheese for their birthday, I requested my mom's succulent, beautifully cooked flank steak and baked potatoes. While other kids couldn't wait for sweet chocolate birthday cake, I was always too full to even think about rainbow chip icing, due to the giant plate of cow that took up residence in my wee little tummy.

So when the local grocery market had a pretty cheap (what does that mean these days, really??) cut on display, I leapt at it like a wild dog. To my amazement, the husband didn't even know what flank steak was. I was determined to show my crazily carnivorous companion how wonderful my youthful obsession could be after a marination session that lasted all day.

Using fresh ginger, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, green onions and a bit of brown sugar, I wrapped that slab o' heaven up in a ziplock bag and proceeded to spend the rest of the day resisting the urge to consume raw meat. Once fully infused with a scent that faithfully invoked my childhood memories of extreme meat elation, I made a quick stir fry using tastes-like-egg noodles, baby bok choy, sugar snap peas and other garden treasures (yes, the love affair with the garden continues), and the husband grilled my obsession to medium rare perfection. I added a sliced avocado on the side of the plate since my favorite fruit has occupied my plate almost daily since childhood. In true "me" fashion, I searched for the least done pieces of the flank steak and embarked on a culinary trip down memory lane. The husband seemed proud when the red juices flowed down my face and I didn't bother to wipe them.
Flank Steak Marinade
1 tsp. fresh ginger
3 tbl. reduced sodium soy sauce
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 green onions, diced, mostly white parts
1 tsp. brown sugar
Directions: Place all ingredients in large zip-lock bag with flank steak, after trimming any visible fat. Marinade for at least 4 hours (I always prepare it in the morning before I teach). Once ready to grill, remove steak and discard leftover marinade. Be sure to remove all pieces of green onion from steak, as they will cook onto and char the steak.

27 May 2008

Tasty Taco Van Invades Pullman

I've been raving for some time about the wonderful taco vans that can be found throughout Chicago. I can also be found lamenting my want for quality taco vans in the Inland Northwest (or for that matter, REAL FOOD in the NW--sorry Seattle folk, that means you too). There was an excellent van in Moscow, Idaho, which is about eight miles from Pullman, WA for those not in the know, but it vanished one fine day when husband and I went searching for comfort food. Said taco van later resurfaced of course, but in its own restaurant venue, where it was subsequently stripped of its tastiness and transformed into the sad Northwest restaurant menu/atmosphere/wasteland that consumes one too many good ideas here.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I drove home from work in Lewiston, Idaho one day to discover what resembled a taco van on the side of the road, and a few people lingering around with disguised food in aluminum foil.

I turned around.

What I saw was so heartwarming that I almost cried--a sign with the usual taco van carnivorous culprits, INCLUDING TONGUE. Most of the time I am happy to even see a taco van around here let alone one with seasoned pork and/or lengua. I snatched hubby for some grub soon after, and an obsession was born. No more eating at the dive "Mexican" joints in Pullman; no more cheddar cheese on tacos or lust for chorizo. It isn't the greatest food I've ever had, and it isn't the most authentic, but I have to admit, it doesn't have the Pullman "Eat this and be branded by our tasteless ambivalence" sticker on it either.

The taco van has arrived. I can now die happy. And full. Sorry for the shaky pictures--it must've been the hunger or the excited anticipation.

13 May 2008

Sustainable spring cooking

I forgot to take a picture (well and my camera won't turn the flash off so until I figure out what's wrong with it I refuse to facilitate its inefficiency) but tonight I made chicken breaded with panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) and almonds, but I also got to use my garden garlic and shallots! It feels amazing to eat the fruit of my soil--kind of triumphant. The recipe didn't call for garlic but I consider it blasphemous not to add it. I also made roasted potatoes coated in whole grain mustard, Italian parsley (from garden) and olive oil, and garden green beans.

You can picture it in your head, right?

02 May 2008

Mushroom ravioli with green pea puree

In the mood for some spring-like fare, I leafed through some magazines and settled on mushroom ravioli with green pea puree. I bought a copy of Vegetarian Times a few months ago on a whim, and I never thought I'd make any of the recipes I found so tantalizing. Hubby is a carnivore, and a very adamant one at that, but there are quite a few nights that he is at work so I decided to make a veg meal. Recipe below, and food pornography above. I added some crumbled goat cheese on top since cheese is kind of a sick fetish for me.

Mushroom Ravioli

2 Tbs. olive oil

1/2 small onion chopped (1/2 cup)

1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)

1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

8 oz. wild mushroom mix or assorted mushrooms, chopped (3 cups)

2 Tbs. sherry

24 won ton wrappers

Green Pea Purée

2 cups frozen peas, thawed

3/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish, if desired

1. To make Mushroom Ravioli: Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until translucent and starting to brown. Stir in garlic and thyme, and cook 1 minute more. Add mushrooms, and increase heat to high. Sauté mushrooms 7 minutes, or until all liquid has evaporated. Add sherry to pan and cook 1 minute, or until sherry has evaporated. Transfer to bowl, and cool 20 minutes.

2. Place 1 won ton wrapper on work surface. Brush edges with water. Spoon 1 tsp. mushroom mixture in center of wrapper and fold into triangle, pressing edges to seal. Repeat with remaining wrappers and mushroom mixture.

3. To make Green Pea Purée: Blend peas, broth, and cheese in blender until smooth. Transfer to saucepan, and warm over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

4. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add ravioli and cook 2 minutes, or until cooked through. Drain. Spoon pea purée onto plates, and top with ravioli. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Metaphorical possibilities of a late blooming spring...for my psyche and my salad plates

Last week was a sad week--saying goodbye to students in my classes whom I have come to enjoy seeing on a regular basis, wishing well friends who are graduating with PhDs and MAs and BAs, grading exams and essays for one final grade column in my grade books, and....desperately attempting to salvage plants and flowers that have been severely damaged by the harsh winter and the absence of a healing spring climate.

But this week has brought with it amazing growth and fortified resilience for my garden, and I couldn't be happier with the results. I hadn't expected my trailing vine to return this year, and before yesterday I saw no signs of budding or life in the sad plot, where last year it crept slowly in March and then soared to the top of the ladder it attaches to in June.

Then I found it. Under the rubble of leaves yet to be composted, overgrown day lilies and hardy foliage that needs no water to courageously survive, my tender vine plant grew six inches above ground in two days.

Somehow saying my goodbyes to people last week has taken on a whole new meaning, and my garden is regenerating, ready for a new year of sun and nourishment. Suddenly the prospect of staying in Pullman doesn't seem so boring, and the idea of watching grass grow no longer a ludicrous cliche.

The best part about my late bloomers? They are stronger than last year's crop, and the onions and garlic and herbs I'm growing will be potent, sustainable (and welcome) additions to my salad plate this summer. I'm hoping to save money (since summer money is tighter than the space on my climbing vine ladder in full bloom) and grow as much as I can this summer.

My new wish: is a large bumper crop of tomatoes that will make fresh tomato sauce for the year too lofty a wish?