Snacks For Dinner

They go by many names – antipasto, mezze platter, crudite platter, charcuterie. These usually have a specific theme assigned to each but in our home we simply call them snack tray.

A snack tray meal often happens on a night we have overworked ourselves and have failed to take something out of the freezer. Not wanting to heat up the kitchen we resort to ravaging the fridge for bits and pieces of leftover and maybe making a simple cold dip. There are always slabs, slices or chunks of off the wall bread to add for the dipping part and there is almost always some bits of cheeses. Add something pickled and a meal is born.

I have yet to grow a crop of garbanzo beans for hummus making – a couple of plants produced great pods one year, long ago but only that. The tomatoes yes, along with garlic, onions, the herbs and cucumber.

Our snack trays are usually heavier on vegetable matter but this is what we had last night!

I have been especially fond of tzatziki since visiting Greece in 2006 with my sister. We stayed for the better part of a month and never tired of Greek cooking. I returned home with several tins of olive oil, a bag full of recipe books and the determination to prepare tzatziki, skordalia, spanakopita, baklava, saganaki, halvas, souvlaki and some of those delicious semolina cakes. .

You can sometimes find a very fine spanakopita in my kitchen along with several other items but tzatziki eluded me and I had given up on it. Every tzatziki recipe instructed to chop the cucumber and stir it into the Greek yogurt. Every time I ended up with a gloppy mess. And I gave up on tzatziki.

Recently I ran across a recipe that changed my tzatziki world. Strain the (Americanized) yogurt and grate and wring dry those cucumbers! It is magic!

The following recipe is what I make for the two of us for a single meal. It is far better fresh than day old.

Tzatziki

1 – 1/2  cup plain yogurt, well strained (leaving about 3/4 cup yogurt)
1 medium-large cucumber
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 – 3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mint, crushed
1 teaspoon dry dill, crushed

Measure and set the yogurt to drain in a wire mesh strainer over a bowl for about thirty minutes.

Meanwhile peel the cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. I have a melon baller with a small spiky end that is perfect. Grate the cucumber on the coarse side of a cheese grater. Place the grated cucumber on a square of cheesecloth and gather the corners up. Turn the neck of the cheesecloth tight and squeeze over the sink until the cucumber is almost dry and no longer drips. You want to get rid of that fluid.

Prepare the garlic or you can use garlic powder or granules to your liking.

Add all of the ingredients to a medium bowl and stir well. Let sit for a half hour or so if you have time.

Tzatziki should be quite thick – not watery – and almost pungent. Serve it with naan, pita, crackers, your favorite crudites, souvlaki or as a dip with chips. Adjust the seasonings to suit your own taste. Do remember to use plain yogurt!

A few food related photos from our Greece trip.

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If you try the tzatziki recipe let me know how it turns out for you!

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A Quick Garden Update

It’s been the busiest best little garden I have ever had! Last year August was our biggest harvest of 2016 and this August looks like we will double that.

Part of today’s harvest. Additionally there was 7 honeydews, 5 pounds of sweet potatoes from a test hill, a mess of green beans and a bowl of tomatillos.

I have learned some important things this summer garden season and the last one. I love edamame but they are too much work. I really should stop growing okra – we hardly ever eat it. Do NOT buy a case or even five pounds of Hatch green chilis in August when they are fresh out of the field no matter how much I like them! We spent hours learning how to roast just right, then steam just right then peel just right those beautiful fragrant peppers that I love so much. Too. Much. Work. I have a new respect for the price of a can of them.

Gene says hello and he is tired of mowing tall wet grass.

And I am willing to pay it. Additionally. I do not like growing honeydew melons. I cannot get a handle on them. Too small, too fragile, and we either pick them too soon or too late. We have had several really good ones but they are so tiny. Just right for one meal I guess. Shrug.

I am thinking about a French honeydew and darn if the variety name isn’t eluding me right now. Bigger, easier to determine ripeness, etc.

 

 

The self seeded marigolds have grown to almost three feet tall with all the rain.

This has become our favorite summer salad. Rotini with plenty of chopped cucumber, red onion, black olives and dressed with a cucumber ranch dressing. Light and delicious.

How is your garden? Are you planting for the fall?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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31 Staves – a visit to Crystal Bridges & Chihuly

It’s been quite the summer and Gene and I have taken a break to visit Crystal Bridges Museum in NE Arkansas before the Chihuly exhibit closes. The out door part of the exhibit will be open another month or so but yesterday was the finale for the indoor pieces and they will move along to the next stop. Feel free to do a Google search for info about Dale Chihuly, his work and a schedule of exhibitions.

It was a surprise to find the smaller indoor pieces more enjoyable than the outdoor installations. Maybe because there was so much hype and I had seen scads of photos beforehand. Maybe it was the cloudy day lighting and the rain. Regardless it was a spectacular show of beautiful immense glass works. I will not try to explain or describe these pieces but just allow them to be viewed. Remember – all these pieces measure in feet plus.

All photos by Sarah Denton. Please do not share without giving credit.

 

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Mid Summer Garden Update

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Most of these photos were taken about ten days ago. You know how fast things grow in the heat of summer? Some of this stuff has doubled since then.

We are having a lot of pest problems – first a huge infestation of tomato hornworms which we dealt with by hand picking twice a day until all gone. Then the aphids took over and we placed three rounds of lacewings among the tomato plants along with spent banana peels around the base. The aphids are gone! Now we have some kind of black winged bug that is pooping all over the tomatoes and eating their leaves. In spite of all that we have harvested many beautiful tomatoes. The squash bugs have been held at bay by carefully applying diatomaceous earth to the base of squash plants and checking leaves for eggs near daily. We are holding them off but just barely. A few flea beetles on the eggplants are easily controlled with a little insecticidal soap. We also covered the plants right away with row cover to keep the pests away. All effective.

This years summer plants include, tomatoes (Celebrity, Black Krim and green Zebra), peppers (bells, jalapeno, banana, Thai, lemon drop, Pablano and pepperoncini), corn, bush beans, tomatillo, zucchini, basil, sweet potatoes, okra, Butternut squash, cucumbers, pole beans, watermelon, honeydew melon and lots of volunteer marigolds, Mexican sunflowers and giant sunflowers.

WE placed the herb bed and planted it with chives, Mexican oregano, parsley, sage, lavender, dill, lovage (which continues to struggle some) and plenty of marigolds and other small flowers to fill space while the herbs are getting established. Still to come are some stepping-stones, securing the decorative fencing and creating two gates. After the stones are placed we will add another several inches of bark mulch and some decorative lighting and other elements. I am having a lot of fun with this part of the garden!

Gene completed the supportive structures in the two big tractor tire beds. The soil sorely needs amending and mulching. Hopefully something will go in these two beds this fall and be tented with plastic. I don’t seem to have a photo of them yet. Soon!

The outdoor sink has been placed and the solar shower is installed. The blackberry fence is secure but not really done yet. Still some walkways to complete. And THEN we will begin work on meandering wildflower beds east of the cornfield. This fall – when the weeds die back. I don’t have a clear picture of how this will turn out yet but it should be fun too.

AND it is time to plan, start and get to planting those fall crops.

We have had some extraordinary flavor sensations while experimenting with new recipes this year and I hope to share some of them with you later.

What’s happening in your garden this summer?

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Easy As Cake

Hmmmm… I wrote this on January 7, 2017 and never did post it. So here it is now. And to top that off I will even throw in a recent photo of our onions! They were all harvested last week because we discovered the begginngs of a thrip invasion and that was followed by another aphid attack. There is no end to it. Gene ordered, received and distributed a batch of lacewings because ladybugs are in short supply this year. It seems ladybugs are wild harvested in the Rocky Mountains and they just are not present. That concerns me almost as much as the thrips especially with the corn being knee high and all.

The largest onions are weighing in at around a pound each. More onion talk later. I am so excited to have grown great onions!

And now – the January article.

I have been mulling over at least a dozen ideas today on topics to blog about. Pie, cake, failure of the fall garden, lack of a winter garden, leeks, winter meals, a new garden bed – well you get the idea – they have all been swimming around there and it is just too much. Besides that I don’t have a single new photo to share. How boring is a blog post without pictures!? Pretty boring.

Lack of new photos has been not pure laziness but lack of sunshine aka inspiration. I really like natural light and do not have the time or inclination to set up special lighting for kitchen or garden photos. Maybe it is laziness…

We officially started the 2017 gardening season today by assessing the yard and garden, and throwing together a new and very small bed. Yes! I built a new garden bed today. In an out of the way spot there had lain several spent bales of straw and they and the soil below were perfect for a short narrow bed. So. There it is. Done except for some amendments – worm castings and a little blood and bone meal. Heaped on plenty of winter compost and with rain coming soon it will be ready to plant when the new kale plants are ready.

Speaking of fresh kale plants – tomorrow I will set up a mini greenhouse on the south patio with jugs of black water and a lean-to glass front. Simple. Having recently ran across a short article on winter sowing for spring and summer I am inspired to give it a try. You will hear more about that and if the sun will shine a little bit tomorrow, pictures also.

Someone recently said to me “…oh it’s such a simple cake to make…” in reference to a cake I make once a year and LOVE (it’s that Poppy Seed Cake Gene likes for his birthday).  But simple? I ain’t so sure about that. A simple cake is the one on page 67 of my Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book circa early 1970’s titled Busy-Day Cake. Throw out the word sift, count the number of bowls – one – count ’em – one, and the word simple comes to my mind. Unlike the aforementioned cake requiring 4 bowls, several glass measuring cups, regular measuring cups, two mixers, a bundt pan (that never seems to be greased enough), and countless spatulas and other accoutrements – simple is not a word this cake can claim.

The Busy-Day Cake has a pleasant flavor and a rustic crumb. Perfect. Especially if you want to make it a pineapple upside down.

I know there must be more complicated cakes in the world. In fact I still fantasize about making the Black Forest Cake on page 73 of the same cook book. The instructions are a full half page and in 1972 ingredients like kirsch and almond extract were not part of my baking reality! So intimidating I still haven’t made it.

Since we are discussing dessert how about pie. I will admit to being a total snob when it comes to pie crust. This will offend almost everyone I know who makes pie but… I have never met a pie crust I liked beyond my Mother’s pie crust. And she taught me. Her pie crust is so light and flakey and delicate and tender. It almost melts in your mouth. Mine is a close second (usually. You know we all have our days). I’m confident Mom used lard while growing up and did I mention she learned to bake on a wood fired stove? But Crisco was the only thing I ever saw go into her pie crust. Not butter flavored Crisco but plain old Crisco. Nothing else would do. Well I was a Crisco gal too. Until I started making my own heirloom field raised lard rendered right in my own back porch by myself and Gene. Now I am a lard pie crust kinda gal. And my pie crust is almost as good as my Mom’s but not quite.

Don’t ask me how that store bought crust is next time we’re at a pot luck or how that dry as a bone stick in yer craw faux crust is because it is not my cup of tea. If I have offended you well come on over and we will have us a pie crust making session. It’s all technique. And ingredients. Don’t skimp on the grease. Pie crust is not a health food.

Okay that’s enough about pie.

The fall garden was a near fail. Too hot too long, too cold, too late, too much rain and not enough. What is thriving is the alliums. Garlic, shallots, green onions and leeks. There are leeks I planted from seed about eight months ago, and about a hundred leeks from Pat, and some more from seed ready to go into the ground. Sounds like a lot of leeks but as a side vegetable we can easily consume eight to ten in one meal. As an aside we just ordered a few bunches of onions from Dixondale Farms and are looking forward to our first foray into real onion growing. A tiny lettuce patch has made it through the cold and gave us salad once a week. And a dozen kale plants once again peeking out from the thick leaf mulch. There are two surviving Brussels Sprouts under cover of milk jug still holding their own. Ah! I really tiny patch of parsnips that finally germinated under a plastic dome are several inches high! This is the first time I have gotten parsnips to actually germinate!

I guess that doesn’t really sound like a fail does it? Except for the broccoli, cabbage, carrots, choy, peas. I missed those.

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So that was the January post! It’s June and I am already planning this year’s fall garden. How about you?

 

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The Dangers of Pea Salad

I know that you know peas to be one of my favorite topics. I love to plant them, tend them, harvest peas, and eat peas of all kinds especially snow peas and fresh English peas. Sugar snaps – not so much. No.

So another article about peas should come as no surprise. Except for that word “danger”.

My mother made pea salad when I was a child. She used Velveeta cheese, canned peas, a bit of onion I’m sure and plenty of Miracle Whip. I don’t remember anything about bacon but there might have been some tuna or a little elbow macaroni even. Maybe. I hated it!

Canned peas get mushy and I did not care for that one bit! So I was surprised when adulthood came and I wanted pea salad. I still didn’t like it. Some decades passed and earlier this spring I thought, “self, all these delicious fresh English peas available you should try that pea salad thing again”. So I did.

I looked at the recipe from Ree, the Pioneer Woman, I looked at the New York Times recipe and all manner of recipe in between. They were all pretty much the same. Peas, cheese, onion, S & P, a little vinegary stuff and some dressing of mayo and/or sour cream. Crumbled bacon seemed to be a popular option too.

So I put the best of the best from all those similar recipes and made us some pea salad.

Boy was it good!

My mistake was in serving it as a main dish for dinner with a slice of crusty bread and some fruit. We are not vegetarians but we do often eat meatless meals and this one offered the cheese as a partial protein. Nonetheless it was a mistake. Be forewarned.

We ate the whole thing. Because you know… main dish. Let us take this recipe apart.

THERE IS NOTHING IN IT EXCEPT FAT!!

Well, there is that little bit of onion and the egg I added but it can hardly balance all that fat! That said, the pea salad was totally delicious. And next time I will serve it as a salad (which it is called after all) and make sure there isn’t any other fat-rich dishes alongside it.

Here is what I did.

Pea Salad

by Moonmooring

a few slices bacon cooked crisp and crumbled

1 hard-cooked egg diced

6 ounces smoked cheddar, diced

1/3 cup Miracle Whip (your choice here)

1/3 cup sour cream

1/2 fresh lemon squeezed to make juice, seeds removed

1 small clove garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons minced parsley

dash smoked paprika

salt and pepper

1/2 small red onion sliced thin

2 cups fresh English peas, I used them raw

Prepare the bacon and drain. Prepare the cooled egg and dice the cheese. Mix the dressing ingredients – mayo, sour cream, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, paprika, and salt & pepper, into a bowl big enough to hold everything. Add all the other ingredients except the peas and stir to coat with the dressing. Taste and adjust the seasonings if need be. Stir in the peas last. Serve immediately or allow to sit for a few hours.

Save yourself a tummy ache and remember to serve this as a side dish with something light. Poached or braised chicken would be nice.

PRINT THIS RECIPE

Bonnie Appetite ya’all!

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Phrankenstein Phaucets

Sweet potato starts in the kitchen window.

You may remember last summer and the stunning cardboard patio flooring we had…eh? No? Well, no worries. There has been an upgrade. We now have a few pavers and an herb bed instead. As always a garden and its associated accoutrements are a work in progress. The herb bed will fill in by next year or the one after. Right now it contains thyme, dill, lovage, French tarragon (which I plan to baby along and keep alive through the winter), parsley, chives, Mexican oregano, sage, lemongrass, lavender and a smattering of marigolds, ageratum and some kinda posey thing to fill in while the herbs are thinking about it.

This bed also has a lovely vintage headboard and footboard (still to be placed). In fact this frame belonged to the very bed my parents slept in on their wedding night. I was conceived here, and my brother too. Isn’t that an unexpected story.

the herb bed

We still need to place the footboard, add a couple of (surprise) decorative elements, solar twinkle lights and wait patiently for the herbs to take over. Meanwhile I have been taking snips here and there to grace my cooking. Fencing is a requirement as my two dogs, Rover and Sissy, know not what a boundary is unless it bumps them in the snout. Surprisingly they do not jump over anything taller than their own knees.

Does anyone have a suggestion for what to plant in the two chimney flue pieces? Realize it gets very hot in this area of the yard. Meanwhile I am chucking small rocks in as fill.

We also have rosemary, fennel, cilantro/coriander, a few basil, garlic chives, Greek oregano and three kinds of mint – garden mint, peppermint and mojito mint. I have not been able to find epazote locally but Joey at Crossroads says he may start some next year so there is hope.

My outdoor kitchen finally has a start point! True it is a temporary faucet but one that can be used to rinse off veggies before they come into the house. There will be a side table with four of those ceramic tiles as the top (they came from the Restore and were a song). Gene also found an industrial dish machine drain rack to incorporate into the set up. I can drain rinsed veggies there to drip dry/er before heading in the house. In the meanwhile the patio table fills in just fine. A better faucet and a drain pipe to carry away the water and it will be functional. This is going to save me a lot of mess in the kitchen.

Gene rinsing out his unders… no wait – cleaning my outdoor kitchen sink – once again in his garden uniform of t-shirt and briefs.

Here we have what has become the Frankenstein of Faucets. A temporary condition I am told. Time will tell. I think it will actually get worse by the time he hooks up a few more things to the whole mess. Stay tuned.

The summer garden is all planted with the exception of the second variety of corn and perhaps pole beans. For sure more bush beans soon as a bed is empty. But otherwise it is all planted!

We have many tomatoes – Black Krim, Green Zebra and Celebrity – peppers  – Thai, pablano, lemon drop, jalapeno, red & yellow bells, pepperoncini (thank you Marideth!) and banana. I am sorry to miss the Jimmy Nardelos and Marconi this year. We have ping tung eggplants, Genovese basil, English peas finishing up, potatoes, beets, yellow & red onions, Contender bush beans, Danvers half long carrots and Little Fingers, big white radish, strawberries, zucchini & yellow squash, first year blackberries, kale, tomatillos, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, okra, cucumbers, muskmelon, and a stand of ginger. Have I missed anything?

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It’s near time to pickle beets and can potatoes. I expect a bit of a lull while we then wait for the summer crops to mature. The wait will give us good opportunity to clear the freezer of the last of last years frozen produce.

Adieu for today – I must cook the greens and dress the tomatoes with compost.

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