Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pear & Persimmon Crisp

The other day my husband asked me to make something with pears. Baked, that's as specific as he could get, so I decided to make a crisp. It came out really tasty. So, before I forget what I did (could be any minute now) I want to get it in writing so I can make it again. I don't like overly sweet desserts so I'm always happy to come up with a yummy dessert that doesn't just taste like sugar. I'm also not crazy about desserts that are overly spiced with cinnamon, which I like, just not to the point that it overwhelms the rest of the flavors in the dish. On a hunch, I decided to add a little cardamom, it just seemed like a it would be a nice compliment to the pear. That did turn out to be a nice flavor combination. I don't use cardamom a lot so I don't keep ground cardamom around. I have a jar of the whole seed pods and when I want to use it I extract the seeds from the pods and grind them in a little porcelain mortar - much more flavorful than the ground stuff that's been sitting around. Cardamom is also great with coffee, every once in a while I toss a seed pod in with the coffee beans when I grind them up for the one and only cup of the day.

Pear & Persimmon Crisp

2 ripe but firm pears
2 tablespoons sugar
Cinnamon to taste (I like just a little)
Seeds from 3 cardamom pods, ground
1 ripe but not too mushy hachiya type persimmon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Quarter, core, and cut the pears into pieces. Toss the pears with the 2 tablespoons of sugar, cinnamon to taste, and the ground cardamom. Spread the fruit in a 4 cup gratin or other baking dish. Scoop the ripe persimmon flesh out of its skin, cut it into chunks, and scatter the chunks over the pears, be sure to plop any gooey bits in there as well. Make the topping: put the flour, sugar, and rolled oats into a bowl and toss together. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the bowl, rub into the dry ingredients with your fingers. Mix the walnuts into the topping and then scatter evenly over the fruit. Sprinkle very lightly with a bit more cinnamon. Bake in a preheated 350 F. oven for (here's where I'm starting to forget) about 1 hour, until the top is browned and the crisp is bubbling around the edges. Serve warm, and for an extra indulgence, pour a little cream over it. Makes about 3 servings.

I think a crisp fuyu type persimmon would also be good, cut up and tossed with the pears and sugar.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The Last of the Eggplant

Yesterday the weather forecast was for this:

Today's gloomy skies making flirtatious half promises of rain.

In anticipation of real rain I picked most of the tomatoes with any bit of color, the last of the Calliope eggplant, and the last of the Doux d'Espagne peppers. There are still a few Andine Cornue tomatoes left and one Grappoli d'Inverno plant full of tomatoes that I've not yet uprooted as part of my winter tomato experiment. I had purchased some mild green chiles from the farmer's market with the eggplant in mind so I could make one of my favorite vegetable stews. The eggplants set weeks ago and grew to a certain size and then they just stopped growing. They remained shiny and beautiful, but they were not getting larger. So today I will be making Eggplant and Lentil Stew With Pomegranate Molasses. Click on the link to go to the recipe if you like, I highly recommend it.

Yesterday's Harvest

There has been a little bit of rain so far today, but not nearly enough to satisfy our thirsty landscape.

Eggplant & Lentil Stew Ready to Cook

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lovely Garden Spider (Arachnophobes Don't Look!)

I was busily picking tender young shoots of rosemary when, oops, I almost put my hand right on a lovely fat Garden Spider (a Banded Garden Spider I think). After years of encountering spiders and other crawly critters in the garden I've overcome the urge to freak out with every encounter. So, rather than jumping two feet in the air and running shrieking back into the house, I zoomed in for a closer look. What a beauty! Gotta get the camera!

So, here she is for your viewing pleasure.....

My latest spider buddy

Side View

The Top, taken from below

I like the way the sun is shining through her legs

The Bottom, taken from above

The last photo was taken in different light which shows off her color better. It's definitely a female garden spider, the males are much smaller, slimmer, and less colorful. The poor males also seem to have a rather shorter life span. Come mating time they focus so much on doing it that they don't take the time to eat and eventually starve to death (if she doesn't consume him first)! The females tend to find a nice spot and hang around for quite a while. There was one that strung a web between a couple of cypresses that I could see from my dining room. Every evening at sunset I could see her silhouetted between the trees. She was there for a few months, until we had a good storm that tore her web apart.

I think I've figured out that Spider Mom is some type of lynx spider. They are commonly found guarding egg sacs and do not make webs. She certainly looks like lynx spiders that I found photos of on the web, so I'm pretty comfortable in thinking that that is what she is.

Messy spider might be a Trashline orbweaver. Her line of trash decorating her web continues to grow.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Soup From The Garden

Most of yesterday's harvest was the basis for last night's soup. I picked the first Spigariello broccoli, the last of the "Kermit" eggplant, probably the last of the "Carmello" tomatoes, the first "Atitlan" snow peas, some "Aromato" basil, a couple of "Argentina" chiles, and the last of the ripe piquillo peppers.

So the soup started with sweet onions browned in a little pancetta fat (I can't bear to waste any yummy Boccalone stuff) a fresh bay leaf and a couple sprigs of fresh thyme. Then a huge clove of Tochliavri garlic, minced (yikes, I'm running out already). I chopped up the Spigariello and threw it into the pot and then a quart of good home made chicken broth. The tomates and eggplant, and a sweet red pepper picked previously were chopped and added. Added a few cups of water. Everything brought to a boil and then simmered for a bit.

Soup in Progress

Just before serving I sliced the snow peas and added them to the pot. Then some shredded duck confit and some brown jasmine rice that I had cooked on the side (1/2 cup rice to 1 1/2 cups water) went in. A touch of salt and fresh ground black pepper. To serve, sprinkle with some chopped basil and a drizzle of McEvoy's Olio Nuovo (get it now!). A complete meal in a bowl.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another Chard Stem Recipe

I had nearly 2 pounds of chard stems taking up room in the fridge so I finally got around to trying a chard stem gratin a la Alice Waters. She has a method, not really a recipe, for the gratin in her book Chez Panisse Vegetables. So here's my version with quite a few deviations from the original. You will have to use your imagination to picture it since I don't have the patience to photograph dishes hot out of the oven, I want to eat!

Chard Stem Gratin

1/4 pound pancetta
1 pound chard stems (I'll use 1 1/2 lbs next time)
1/2 cup cream
chopped Italian parsley
fresh ground black pepper
fresh grated nutmeg
2 ounces gruyere, coarsely grated
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs

Cut the pancetta into thin slices and then into 1/2 inch pieces. Cook in a medium size saute pan over medium heat until crisp. Remove from the pan and set aside. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan. Reserve another tablespoon of the fat on the side.

Cut the chard stems on the diagonal into about 1/2 to 1-inch pieces, a mix of sizes is nice. Saute them briefly over medium heat in the pancetta fat. I used a little salt at this point but won't next time I make it because the final dish was a little salty for my taste. Add about 1/2 cup of water to the pan, cover the pan, allow to come to a boil, turn the heat down and cook until tender. I think it took about 10 minutes. Most of the liquid should be cooked away at this point.

Put the cooked stems into a lightly oiled 6-cup gratin dish. Sprinkle the pancetta bits over the top. Add the cream to the dish. Grind fresh black pepper over all. Grate a bit of nutmeg over all. Sprinkle with the parsley, I used a few tablespoons. Sprinkle on the grated grated gruyere. Toss the dried bread crumbs with the reserved pancetta fat and sprinkle evenly over the gratin. Bake at 450 F. for about 30 minutes, until the top is crispy and nicely browned.

It's a pretty rich dish. We had that for dinner last night along with a simple green salad with fresh figs (still in the market!) that I had roasted with a bit of blue cheese, walnuts, walnut oil and balsamico.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November Tomatoes

I'm amazed by what I've been able to harvest in the middle of November. Yesterday I picked tomatoes (mostly Paul Robeson, usually the first and last to produce), padron peppers, a sweet ripe red pepper, a Painted Serpent cucumber, a handful of cherry tomatoes (Isis Candy and Black), and fresh lovely basil. I also harvested the first Piracicaba broccoli.

Mid-November Harvest

So last night we had a nice salad of chopped tomato, cucumber, sweet pepper, red onion, and basil. The tomatoes didn't have quite the flavor that they would have at their peak, but they certainly beat those pink rocks that pass as tomatoes at the grocery store.

There are still plenty of green tomatoes left on the vines, a few more cucumbers coming along, and more padron peppers on the way as well. This is not a typical November harvest. On the other hand, all the zucchini plants were encrusted with powdery mildew and had quit producing so they got yanked. I actually kept the zucchinis relatively PM free for quite a while with almost weekly treatments of Neem oil, but I wearied of zucchini so I quit the treatments and they succumbed pretty quickly. Now I can prepare that area for planting fava beans.

Potato Smashers

As I've stated in a previous post, potatoes are not a huge favorite of mine, however, there is one dish I make that is a favorite. My husband calls them Smashers. There is no hard and fast recipe, it's more of a formula. So here's last night's version using the first fresh picked Piracicaba broccoli from the garden.


1 pound potatoes, such as Yukon Gold
1/2 pound sprouting broccoli, or rapini, kale, mustard greens, etc.
2 tablespoons fat of your choice (olive oil, butter, duck fat)
1 large shallot, minced, or chopped onion, scallions, garlic, leeks, etc.
1 hot chile, sliced thin, or chile pepper flakes (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
creme fraiche or sour cream

Wash but don't peel the potatoes. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with water, add salt to taste, bring to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and cook the potatoes until tender.

While the potatoes are cooking, steam the broccoli until tender. When I use bitter greens I usually blanch them in boiling salted water which reduces the bitterness. Shock the hot greens in ice water to stop the cooking and retain the color. Drain, pat dry or spin in a salad spinner to remove excess water. Chop and set aside.

When the potatoes are done, heat the fat of your choice in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the allium of your choice and the chile if using, saute until softened and translucent. Drain the potatoes and add them to the saute pan. Turn the heat down, gently smash the potatoes with a potato masher and then break them up a bit with a wooden spatula or spoon while stirring them gently into the allium mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the chopped greens and gently stir them in. Add a few tablespoons, or more to taste, of creme fraiche or sour cream. Stir gently until just heated through, the mixture will smooth out a bit but should still be quite chunky, don't over stir. Serve warm.

This dish makes a nice side dish or a light main course. Sometimes I chop up bacon and start with that instead of olive oil, or what ever. Sometimes I'll stir in some shredded duck confit, or left over diced meat. Smoked trout or salmon is also good. Roasted brussels sprouts are a great addition also. Basically, anything that you like to eat with potatoes is a great addition. Of course, the more fat you use the more tasty it is, but I usually try to keep it on the lighter side.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Where Are The Lady Beetles Spending The Winter?

Why, in the dining room, of course!

We've been having record breaking warm weather here lately so doors and windows have been left open. I noticed a few lady beetles flying in the other day, and then they disappeared so I thought nothing of it. Then yesterday I noticed a blob way up in the corner of the the dining room and the blob turned out to be a cluster of lady beetles. I think that they are Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles which the UC IPM website says will overwinter indoors in colder parts of the States. I wonder if this means we're going to have a cold winter?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Spider Mom Update

Spider Mom seems to have left the kids to fend for themselves. They're still hanging around the nest...

But mom seems to have moved over to happier hunting grounds...

Mmmm, Tasty Cabbage Looper

Meanwhile, over in the Lime Tree...

Messy Spider is keeping other pests under control, but doesn't bother to clean up after a meal, just leaves the leftovers hanging around.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Chard Stems

All too often, the lovely chard stems that I photographed back on November 7 end up in the worm bin. I love sauteed chard leaves and don't seem to get around to cooking the stems. So, last night I got home late and needed a vegetable to accompany the Duck with Prunes and Olives that I had pulled out of the freezer. I was not going to go out into the garden with a flashlight to forage for something. What was in the fridge? A big bunch of Golden Chard stems. Okay, what shall I do with you?

Here's what I came up with, sorry there are no measurements, it all went together quickly on the fly.

Savory Chard Stems Braised in Their Own Juices

Chop about a dozen chard stems crosswise into 1/4 to 1/2-inch slices. Heat a couple of tablespoons olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Toss in 2 cloves of minced garlic, 2 chopped fresh chiles (I used a couple of Argentina chiles, photo on Nov 12 post), and a handful of pine nuts. Cook for a minute or two. Add the chopped chard stems and sprinkle with a pinch of salt (helps to pull the liquid from the chard). Cook for a few minutes until the chard starts releasing its liquid. Turn the heat to low and cover the pan. Allow the chard to braise in its own juices for about ten minutes. Season with a splash of vietnamese fish sauce (my secret savory sauce - good stuff!) and a couple of splashes of vinegar (sherry), and a pinch of sugar. Cook a bit more to allow the flavors to meld.

Not a pretty dish, but it was tasty.

Ground Chile Peppers

Ground Aleppo Chile

I have been trying to figure out how to coarsely grind dried chile peppers. My aim has been to end up with something similar to store bought chile pepper flakes, only better because it would be home grown! I've been using a little coffee mill for a long time, but it produces less than satisfactory results - too powdery. Hand crumbling - out of the question. Chopping with a knife, way too messy. This morning I had one of those Ah Ha! moments - the meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer. Yes indeed, it works. I used the plate with the small holes. The hardest part was that I had to hold the mixer up in the air so that the last of the chiles would fall through the holes - no problemo, I'm a strong woman.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Charred Tomato Salsa

I realized today that I had not yet made any salsa with this season's home grown tomatoes. How could that be?! It's one of my husband's 4 favorite food groups - tortilla chips, salsa, bread, and cheese. There weren't many ripe tomatoes left in the garden today, but fortunately I had enough left from previous pickings to make a batch of my favorite salsa (he likes it too).

Charred Tomato Salsa

3 fresh green New Mexico type chiles, OR 3 dried Ancho chiles
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 pound sweet onions, peeled, trimmed and cut crosswise into 3 thick slices
4 serrano or other hot chiles
2 pounds ripe tomatoes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
sugar if needed, to taste

Heat a griddle or large fry pan over medium heat.

If using the fresh chiles, blacken them over an open flame or under a broiler, place in a bowl and cover. Set them aside while preparing the rest of the ingredients. Before putting the salsa together, remove the blacken skins, the cores, and the seeds.

If using the dried chiles, cut them open so that they can lay flat and remove the core and seeds. Press them with a large spatula for just a few seconds on the hot griddle to toast them lightly, don't allow them to blacken. Place in a bowl and cover with very hot water, weight them down to keep them submerged. Set aside while preparing the rest of the ingredients. Once the flesh of the chiles has softened, scrape it off the skin and set it aside. Don't try to get every bit of flesh off the skin (impossible) and don't worry about little bits of skin that star with the flesh. If it seems a bit chunky plop it onto your cutting board and mince it into a puree.

Place the garlic, onion, and hot chiles on the griddle, no greasing is required. Cook, turning a few times, until everything is softened and has nice brown spots. Set aside to cool. Remove the stems and the cores and seeds from the chiles.

While the garlic, onion, and hot chiles are browning, char the tomatoes over an open flame or under a broiler until the skin becomes blackened. It's not necessary to blacken the entire tomato and it will not be cooked completely through. Set the tomatoes aside.

To put the salsa together you can mince the garlic, and chop the green chiles (if using), onion, and tomatoes, and mix everything together. OR you can use a food processor. To process the salsa, first mince the garlic and a couple of the hot chiles by dropping them through the feed tube into the processor while it is running, then add the green chiles or ancho chile puree, the onions, and the tomatoes and pulse to a desired consistency (I like mine a little chunky). Put into a mixing bowl and mix in the rest of the ingredients. I recommend putting in half of the hot chiles and tasting and adding more minced hot chile to taste. Taste to see if it needs a little bit of sugar.

Browning the onions, hot chiles, and garlic

Charring the tomatoes


I didn't have a green chiles to use for the salsa (my favorite version), but I did have dried ancho chiles from 2 years ago that were still great.

One More Un-Vegetable Post

Maybe I should amend the subtitle to my blog to include frequent forays into the un-vegetable garden.

I've been trying to take some half decent photos of the tree dahlia ever since it started to bloom. Yikes, what a challenge, the blossoms are waving around about 12 feet off the ground. My tree dahlia is a runt since it's growing in a pot. The last one I had that was growing in the ground was about 20 feet high. Try taking a shot straight up into the sky, getting the correct exposure is almost impossible - at least with my camera and photographic skills.

Today I got a 6 foot ladder out and took about 50 different shots. Thank goodness for digital cameras. So, could be better, but here they are:

Here's the dahlia showing above the top of the 6 foot ladder.

A little closer....

A little closer still...

As close as I could get. Hi Mr. Bumble Bee!

Just Some Pretty Pictures

Mr. Bumble seems to have spent the night here.

A rare touch of fall color.

I know, it's just a weed, but it is pretty.

Sidetracked by Succulents

My vegetable garden is supposed to be the focus of this blog, but I can't help taking pictures of some of my favorite plants - succulents.




Aeoniums are particular favorites.

Aeonium tabuliforme

Aeonium 'Sunburst'

Aeonium nobile

Aeonium atropurpureum

Aeonium balsamiferum

Aeonium ?

Aeonium undulatum

Aeonium rubrolineatum

Vegetable Photos

Two of the Piracicaba Broccoli plants have formed tiny heads. These will only provide a preview, the main picking will be from the side shoots.

Piracaba Broccoli

The Spigariello Broccoli is also just starting to form flower buds. This broccoli is really grown for the leaves, the flower heads are tiny. I think that Spigariello is used primarily in soup.

Spigariello Broccoli

Dewey Romanesco Leaves

Lot of teeny tiny rainbows.

Dew on Cavolo Nero

Ripening Venezuela Sweet chiles

Tobago Seasoning chiles

'Argentina' chiles

Aji 'Pineapple'

Monday, November 10, 2008

Spicy Cornmeal Sticks

The Czech Black chiles are finally living up to the description in the seed catalog as being something like a jalapeno. Until just recently, all of them have been rather wimpy, with just a bit of heat in the seeds and ribs. The heat level in the chiles that I've picked recently has been closer to a jalapeno. I'm not usually a fan of green jalapenos, they have a harsh, green flavor that I'm not fond of. The Czech Blacks are much better tasting, in my opinion, perhaps because I'm not picking them green, and now they finally seem to have a nice heat level as well. The color of these chiles is interesting, the skin turns partially red when they're ripe, usually less than half the chile, but the flesh of the entire chile is red.

Spicy Cornmeal Sticks

2 to 4 jalapeno or similar chiles, to taste
1 cup cornmeal, preferably blue
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter, melted (part rendered duck fat is yummy)
1 large egg
vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Roast the chiles over an open flame or under the broiler until blackened. Set aside to cool. Rub off the skins, remove the stems and seeds, and finely chop, set aside.

Mix the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk the milk, butter, egg, and chiles together in a large bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into the liquid mixture until just combined. Scrape the batter into a pastry bag.

Brush 2 well seasoned cast iron cornstick pans with oil. Heat the pans in the oven until the oil smokes slightly, about 10 minutes. Pour off any excess oil. Pipe the batter into the molds. Alternatively, the batter can be spooned into the molds, but piping is much easier. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Makes 14 cornsticks.

Spicy Cornmeal Sticks

This batch of cornmeal sticks came out more brown than they should be. It's nearly impossible to gauge the heat in the ovens in my La Crappe.. uh.. La Canche range, there seems to be three settings, hot, toast, and incinerate. Make that four settings, the gas side has the 'I don't want to stay lit' setting also. I regularly curse the people who put that thing in my kitchen. One day soon, that baby is going to make a nice garden ornament, or maybe it will work as a potting bench.

Friday, November 7, 2008

More Vegetable Garden Pictures

I really should be tearing stuff out, digging in compost, making more compost, and planting fava beans, but I've been having too much fun in the blogosphere. While I was out and about enjoying the critters I also took a few other shots.

This guy below was strutting around showing off his family all through the month of June. He would find a perch somewhere, usually up in the oak trees, but this time it was a fence post in front of the house. Mom would be down in the garden somewhere, trailed by her ten chicks. I inched my way toward him, taking shots all the way, and this was as close as I could get.

So, he and his family inspired the bit of garden decoration in the next photo....

Quail Gate

Some rusted steel cuties from a local nursery that I just could not pass up.

Snow Pea 'Atitilan'

The snow peas have started to bloom. This variety is a dwarf with incredible tendrils that are more like tentacles.

Passiflora edulis 'Frederick'

I've got this growing in a large pot in the vegetable garden. It has been blooming just a bit, but has not set any fruit. The deer love to nibble on any shoots foolhardy enough to poke through the fence.

'Painted Serpent' Cucumber

Dare I hope for just a few more cucumbers? The plant is making a valiant effort.

Orach 'Aurora Mix'

The Orach seed heads are so pretty that I picked some today to put into a flower arrangement. I won't be saving any of the seeds since I had plenty of pigweed, truly a weed and a related plant, and I don't want to chance any crossing. I still have a lot of seeds left in the packet. I need to figure out if it will grow in our mild winter. The young leaves are a tasty and lovely addition to baby salad greens.


The brassicas are growing by leaps and bounds in this mild weather. In front is Portuguese cabbage. To the right is Cavolo Nero, trimmed of a few leaves for use in the other night's soup. Behind is the Romanesco Broccoli.

Golden Chard

I know, I've shown the Golden Chard before, but it's so beautiful that I couldn't resist another shot.