Saturday, August 30, 2008

Gardening and Cooking with Noodle Beans

The teepee of Chinese noodle beans (or yard-long beans) has really come into harvest in the last week. I am growing this unusually long and tender pole bean for the first time this season and am very pleased. After a slow start with our cool spring, the noodle beans have covered the wooden frame that Dan made for our vine crops and they are a beautiful and prolific addition to our garden.

I planted purple noodle beans, but must've gotten a few green bean seeds in the mix, because they produced first and have a slightly different colored flower. I have made a couple of lovely stir-fries with the noodle beans, hacked up into manageable lengths from their impressive size, and they remain tender and stringless even when fully grown. The purple noodle beans still remain dark purple when they are stir-fried, unlike other kinds of purple string beans that revert to green when cooked, so this is interesting.

The noodle beans have a firm and springy texture, almost like licorice whips, so they stand up to long cooking times and now I am interested in seeking out some traditional Chinese recipes for braising them. Next up will probably be this recipe for Chinese Peppered Yard-Long Beans. Now to get wokking!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Go Ahead, Honey, it's Cauliflower!

The garden continues to pump out an astonishing amount of produce, which Dan and the girls and I are valiantly trying to eat, give away or preserve for the winter like a bunch of crazed squirrels. The latest produce to pop are some beautiful heads of cauliflower. I've tried growing cauliflower before, but been skunked by bad soil or growing conditions, but now I've got lots of lovely yellowish heads of cauliflower to play with. If I had been vigilant and tied up the leaves over their heads they would have been snowier white, but I don't mind little yellowing of my cauliflowers.

Naomi, of Straight into Bed Cakefree and Dried, the founder of the Go Ahead, Honey, It's Gluten-Free blog event, is off on holiday, so I am this month's host for that fun cooking event. The theme for this round of GAHIGF is "Seasonal Vegetables", so I came up with a delicate mushroomy saute to feature my beautiful cauliflower bounty as my contribution:

Cauliflower and Mushroom Saute

1 big head of cauliflower, separated into small flowerets
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 lb. mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Steam cauliflower flowerets in lightly salted water until crisp-tender, about 7-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add onions, and saute until softened, about 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring often, another 4 minutes. Add cauliflower flowerets, salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook another couple of minutes, until heated through.

This delicate dish is lovely served over rice or GF egg noodles.

Serves 4-6.

The Seasonal Veggies Round of Go Ahead, Honey, It's Gluten-Free, continues through Sept. 7th, so feel free to join in the fun until then. There are already a colorful array of veggie entries that will tempt you all, I'm sure. The details for submitting an entry in this foodie blog event are found here. I believe Naomi is also looking for a guest host for the next round of GAHIGF, so feel free to contact her if you are interested.

Back to harvest....

Thursday, August 28, 2008

You're Still the One, One, One....

Before la vida Gluten-free, Dan and I used to like to splurge on a nice meal at One One One, located at 111 Main Street in the historic Washington County, NY village of Greenwich (pronounced "Green Witch"). It has a funky decor with dark blue walls peppered with painted and encrusted constellations and lots of warm wood. The food is great, reasonably-priced and cooked to order.

We hadn't been back in the last couple of years because it's just so much easier to cook at home and avoid gluten-phobia, but it was recently our 20th wedding anniversary and we wanted to celebrate this milestone with a romantic dinner at our of our favorite restaurants. The call was made for reservations and a vetting of the menu. The person answering the phone knew about gluten-free options, so I didn't have to educate them about the wheat family, cross-contamination issues and problematic soy sauces, so we made a reservation.

111 was just as lovely an dining experience as before. We checked in with our waitress to make sure the chef was expecting a gluten-free diner and there was no problem. We settled in for a lovely, candle-lit meal, with many gluten-free deviations from the regular menu items offered to us by the chef and waitress. It was so hassle-free and enjoyable, and the grilled scallops, cumin-scented squash and smoked trout appetizers are highly recommended!

Thank you One One One for such a great celebration and for making it so easy to enjoy a restaurant meal without fear of being glutened. We really felt pampered.

You can visit the restaurant at 111 Main Street, Greenwich NY 12834 from Wednesday through Sunday from 5 pm to 9 pm. Call (518) 692-8016 to make reservations.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Canning Spicy Salsa

Yesterday was a gorgeous and warm summer day, perfect for visiting the Washington County Fair on its last day. We saw crazy crested chickens, lop-eared goats, prize-winning pumpkins and sampled lots of great maple syrup treats. Not to mention the people watching!

The highlight for me was talking to some of the farmers and young kids exhibiting their prize animals and of course, checking out the blue-ribbon preserves. I grabbed up a leaflet from a Master Gardener at the Agricultural Extension booth about canning tomatoes and was inspired to keep chipping away at my tomato harvest with some Spicy Salsa. I kicked up the heat in the recipe with a can of smoky chipotles in adobo sauce and now I have four quarts of summer gold for winter meals.

Smoky Chipotle Salsa

7 lbs. tomatoes
1 lb. hot peppers, seeded and chopped
1 lb. sweet peppers, seeded and chopped
1 lb. onions, chopped
1 (7 oz.) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 cup cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. pickling salt

Bring a pot of water to boil and dip tomatoes in pot, several at a time, for 1 minute. Remove with slotted spoon and plunge into cold water. Slip off skins, core and chop coarsely.

Place all ingredients in large kettle and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Ladle hot salsa into hot, sterilized jars and fill up, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Add lids and screw on rings to seal. Place in boiling hot water bath and process 20 minutes.

Makes 4 Quarts.

I am submitting this bold, red recipe to the "Food in Colours" food blog event sponsored by Tongue Ticklers. The featured color is RED, so this salsa fits the bill nicely. There is still time to submit a red vegetarian food entry (the deadline is August 27th) so if red is your color, check it out!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dehydrating the Summer Harvest

The summer garden harvest train keeps chugging along and we are still on track cooking up tomato sauce to freeze, canning and making refrigerator pickles, throwing veggies in the oven to roast and freeze for later and using our dehydrator quite a bit. I got this dehydrator several years ago at a thrift shop and just didn't pull it into service for whatever inexplicable reason, but it's been a scene stealer in our summer kitchen of late.

I have tried drying string beans, zucchini slices and grape tomatoes destined for the winter soup pot, but the quickest and easiest use is for drying herbs. We always have fresh basil in the garden and I usually keep making pesto for the freezer, but this year I whipped out the dehydrator and got it going early in drying my herbs. It's been great for drying mint and keeping the creeping lemon balm from taking over the other plants. I just wash the herbs, dry them in the salad spinner and then spread them on the dehydrator trays. The dehydrator gets plugged in and I leave the herbs overnight and they are CRISPY by morning.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Nunzio's Pink Store Pizza

I had been told many times by friends to check out the gluten-free pizza at Nunzio's, the peptic pink storefront deli on Clinton Street in Saratoga Springs and just somehow never got around to it. However, last week, in between back-to-schools rounds of dental and doctor visits in the "City", I managed to get it together and order one of their gluten-free pizzas. You need to do so at least an hour in advance, but it was worth it to bring home a CRISPY, cheesy mushroom pizza for a surprise dinner delight for my sweetie and hear him gush that it was the best pizza he's eaten in the 2-1/2 years since Glutenzilla entered our lives.

An 8-cut pizza at Nunzio's is $11.95 plus toppings. The menu, which is now firmly ensconced in our fridge hall of fame, indicates that there are other Italian gluten-free dinners available, such as eggplant parmigiana, meatballs, sandwiches, but advises calling ahead. Do so at 518-584-3840. Nunzio's is located at 119 Clinton Street, Saratoga Springs, NY (one block north of intersection of Clinton and Church Streets).

Friday, August 22, 2008

Gluten-Free Movie Recommendation: Snow Cake

Dan and I rented the film "Snow Cake" last week and were charmed enough to watch it twice. It was really a treat to watch a movie with smart writing, world-class acting and an intelligent and thoughtful plot-line. And it was gluten-free for added charm!

Alan Rickman plays a morose man, Alex Hughes, who is driving across Canada for an important meeting, subject unknown until the end of the film. He stops at a diner for a meal where Vivienne (played by Emily Hampshire) a 20-ish free spirit with purple hair and Goth makeup, attaches herself to him like a limpet and he ends up reluctantly offering to give her a ride to her hometown of Wawa, Ontario. They are blindsided by a tractor trailer as they leave a gift shop and the car is totaled. Alex stumbles out of the crash with minor injuries, but Vivienne is dead.

Reeling from shock, Alex decides to explain the crash in person to Vivienne's mother, Linda (Sigourney Weaver), whom we quickly find out is autistic. The rest of the film shows how the characters adjust to Vivienne's death in the days leading up to her memorial service. Linda eats gluten-free, and hearing Alex proffer snacks at the post-funeral gathering at Linda's house is just hilarious.

Snow Cake came out in 2006 as an independent film, so you may not have seen it at your local cinema, but be sure to check out at the video store or library. The film is unrated, but is geared for an adult audience with some strong language, bedroom scenes and of course, a traumatic accident right at the get-go, so it probably would have received a R-rating.

The screenwriter, Angela Pell, has an autistic son and her scenes and dialogue between Alex and Linda are so interesting, not to mention some of shots depicting Linda's version of events. I picked out the film because I am a huge Rickman fan and would pay to hear that velvet baritone say any language...but the entire cast is brilliant and the plot is so intriguing. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Canning Sweet Pickle Relish

All the rainy weather has given us a bumper crop of cucumbers, so I consulted my trusty Ball Blue Book and decided to try a sweet cucumber relish for the first time. It only used up 6 cucumbers, but every day I'm trying to keep up with the garden, so it helps.

Sweet Pickle Relish

6 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup salt
3 cups sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. celery seed
1 Tbsp. mustard seed

I put the cucumbers, onions and peppers in chunks into my food processor and whirred them around until they were in small pieces, but you can also hand chop your vegetables.

Place vegetables in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and mix around. Cover with cold water and let stand 2 hours, or overnight.

Drain and press out excess liquid in a colander.

Combine sugar, vinegar, celery seed and mustard seed in a non-reactive large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.

Add drained vegetables and bring to boil again. Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes.

Pack into hot sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Place caps on and tighten. Place in hot water bath and process for 10 minutes.

Makes 4 pint jars.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Five Favorite Kitchen Tools Meme

Carrie, the Ginger Lemon Girl (tasty Southern-style gluten-free cooking), also blogs about frugal living and homemaking over at the Heart of a Servant, and tagged me for an interesting meme last month about my five favorite kitchen tools. Carrie loves her whisk, silicone spatulas, her heirloom cast iron skillet, a collection of recycled glass jars and a large metal mixing bowl. Great picks!

I have had some time to ruminate over this and so I present to you my five favorites. I also almost picked my huge cast iron skillet, alias "Big Mama", because cast iron always makes things so delightfully CRISPY, but instead went with this hard working quintet:

1. My Aloe Plant - It looks a little scraggly now because I put it outside for its annual summer hiatus to soak up the sun and flesh out a bit. We've had daily rainshowers for the last six weeks, punctuated by torrential thunderstorms, so this succulent has suffered from severe waterlogging. I keep it in the kitchen and break off parts of the fleshy leaves and squeeze out the slimy aloe juice to put on any burns I might get from cooking. It takes out the sting and there is usually no blistering later.

2. Measuring Glass - Dan spied this great measuring glass at the Dollar Store and so we stocked up on a half-dozen. We drink out of them, we cook with them daily and they are very sturdy, having survived many clonks in our enameled iron sink. Metric measurements are on one side, English measurements are on the other.

3. Swivel Peeler - It's a simple design, but I've found nothing better for peeling carrots, apples, cucumbers and other members of the Plant Kingdom. I had a swivel peeler for about twenty years and it finally rusted out at the base, so I replaced it with some fancier designer peeler from the supermarket that turned out to be a dud. It looked pretty but it didn't easily peel. Another designer peeler followed, because I couldn't find another basic swivel peeler, and that was another lemon. Finally, I was able to replace my beloved swiveler and we haven't been parted since.

4. Orange frying pan - This is a well-seasoned and well-loved little number that sautes most of my peppers and onions in preparation for many a family supper. I love it because it not only cooks things beautifully and evenly, but was one of my first new kitchen things when I was in my first apartment. My friend Marie often used to stay overnight on my couch when she was in town on business and would bring me little hostess presents: a jar of imported pesto, a paring knife, my first jar of sun-dried tomatoes. Best of all, and totally an extravagance, was this heavy, lovely orange frying pan which I have wielded for over twenty years now. I smile and thing of Marie every time.

5. Beloved Wooden Spoon - Saving my favorite for last, here is my all-time favorite kitchen implement, my wooden stirring spoon/spatula thingy. I love its lines, and the way it moves food around my pans without scraping the metal surface. It's gotten fuzzy around the edges and will no doubt crack one day and cause me great anguish, because I have so many great culinary memories bound up in that little wooden guy.

I am tagging a few other bloggers I thought might enjoy this exercise, including:

Gluten Free Kay
Maureen at Hold the Gluten

Tiffany at Make Mine Gluten Free

So, what are your five favorite kitchen tools?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Rebecca Reilly: Gluten-Free Baker

I just bought a copy of Rebecca Reilly's "Gluten-Free Baking" (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2002) and am delighted with it. Baking has never been my strength, even in the days before gluten became our nemesis, so I having several gluten-free cookbooks for my baking library is essential. Reilly is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, former restaurant owner and caterer and is gluten-intolerant herself, so she is obviously an expert Gluten-Free Baker.

My daughter and I went a little wild at the grocery store in buying up seasonal fruit and couldn't eat up all the blueberries, nectarines and plums we had overbought so I thought I'd make up a dessert and freeze some extras. The cookbook had a lovely photo of a Plum Coffee Cake (recipe on page 62) and after reminding myself to follow the recipe exactly, it came out beautifully. Best of all, Reilly's recipe made two cakes, so we devoured one and I smuggled out the other to frozen for later consumption.

I'm not going to share the recipe for this excellent edible without the author's permission, but I can recommend her cookbook highly. The recipes are very detailed, but don't have overwhelming, difficult bakery tricks to master, so I found this plum project easy enough. There are also many unusual recipes, like Fresh Nectarine Almond Cake, Crostata di Riso, six kinds of biscotti and Raisin Cream Scones, mixed in with more common recipes, to make the cookbook a worthwhile purchase.

I can, however, pass along the link to four of Reilly's recipes which are posted online at this site. She is going to be a presenter at a Gluten-Free Cooking Expo - what fun! -- in Oakbrook, Illinois on Sept. 12-13,2008. Click on the above link to get her gluten-free recipes for: Moroccan Quinoa, Cream of Vidalia Soup, Brownie Cheesecake and Caldo Verde.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Symphony in Celadon

The summer garden harvest is set on Mach 5 right now from all the rain and warm weather we've been having. We haven't had to unroll the garden hose in over six weeks! Moss and watercress aren't yet sprouting in the garden patch, but needless to say, there is an abundance of veggie vitality. We've gone from hauling in the daily harvest in a colander, to a stock pot and now to a 5 gallon joint compound bucket! I have been diligent in attempting to cook up and preserve stuff each day so that we can enjoy our tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, massive amounts of cucumbers and herbs over the winter and spring when we need some green tonic.

Today's project was to cook up and freeze some of our peppers. I have some peppers left on the plants to ripen red, but these pale green beauties shown in the photo were destined to be cooked up like my Italian grandfather used to do with garlic and onions and a little hot pepper thrown in for seasoning. I remember thinking that this was pretty revolting when I was a little kid, but as an adult I can't get enough. Fried peppers can be served on bread, in omelettes and quiches, and as the basis for a lot of sauces and one-pot suppers. My Czech-born father-in-law prefers red peppers prepared this way (but hold the hot pepper!) and served with scrambled eggs, which he calls "Lecho".

I got some Cubanelle pepper plants and this pale green bell pepper variety (name forgotten) from our local garden plant grower and they have loved this summer's heat and rain combo. I planted them close together as an old gardener once advised me, for "peppers are lovers" and like to brush leaves when they are fully grown so that the plants can pollinate among themselves more easily.

Here's our Classic Fried Peppers Recipe:

1 large onion, diced
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. frying peppers, seeded and sliced into thin strips
1 small hot pepper (cherry bombs are great), seeded and diced (wear gloves!)

Heat olive oil in heavy frying pan. Add garlic and stir 1 minute. Add onions and peppers and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Cover pan and turn heat to low and cook 30 minutes, so that peppers get silky soft and absorb maximum onion-garlic flavor. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Makes 2 cups.

I am submitting this recipe to Andrea's Recipes Grow Your Own event, which is celebrating its one-year anniversary. This fun event features seasonal, home-grown and -gathered edibles and I am delighted to join other food bloggers around the globe in celebrating our garden bounty.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Garlicky Cucumber Refrigerator Pickles

The cucumber rules in our household. We like to grow the Suyo Long cucumbers that curl and twist as they grow and stay deliciously sweet and small-seeded even when they are big, but this year my old seed packet didn't germinate during our cool spring weather, so I was forced to buy some cucumber plants. Our local garden spot had Marketmore cucumbers, which are basically a standard straight-growing dark green cuke. They have been fabulously prolific in our damp summer so we've been gorging on cucumber salads and cucumber and tomato salads and cucumber and mint and tomato salads, etc.

There are so many cukes though, that we're also giving them away at the store and to our neighbors and there are even more left over to make deliciously crisp Refrigerator Pickles. The following recipe is one we've adapted over the last several years from various canning and vegetable cookbooks and they are really tasty.

Garlicky Cucumber Refrigerator Pickles

10-12 large cucumbers, cut into thin spears or slices
2 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed and cut in half
6 heads of fresh dill, preferably with dill seeds hanging off
1 tsp. pickling spice (or mix of mustard seeds, bay leaves, and hot pepper flakes)
1/4 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup white vinegar
2-1/2 qts. water

Trim ends of cucumbers and peel if skin is really thick or damaged. Otherwise leave skin on. For cucumber slices, the food processor gets them delectably thin.

Place cucumbers, garlic, dill, and pickling spices in a non-reactive, non-metal pot. Put salt, vinegar and water in another large non-reactive pot and bring to boil. Boil at least 2 minutes to make brine. Pour over cucumbers in original pot. Place a china or stoneware plate over cucumbers to weigh them down and add another weight (like a heavy jar or can). Cover with lid or plastic wrap.

Leave at room temperature at least 8 hours or overnight. Pack cucumbers into six squeaky clean half-pint jars. Pour brine over and seal. Refrigerate at least 2 days before opening to let flavors mingle.

Pickles keep up to six months and stay deliciously crisp. Discard any jar that has a funky smell when you open it. The pickles should just smell garlicky and taste lightly salty and herby.

Makes 6 half pints.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gansevoort Farmers Market Offerings

The Gansevoort, New York Farmers Market is in full gear now and meets on Thursdays from 3 pm to 6 pm at the Village Green (corner of State Route 32 and Wilton-Gansevoort Road). If you live in the area you should definitely come over to check out the fresh vegetables, fruits, baked goods, honey and even locally-made wine.

I made a beeline for the table manned by Jeanne of Saratoga Gluten-Free Goods and scored a half-loaf of delicious looking whole wheat bread and some of the chewy rolls Dan has been enjoying with our finally-ripened garden tomatoes. I even met up with the
same pregnant lady I scuffled with over a baguette at my last market outing. Back then, I let her have it. The baguette, I mean. But this week the lone baguette was mine, all mine.

Next stop was to sample the fermented fruit and grape delights of
Colebrook Country Wines. The owner had samples of a nice crisp Pinot Grigio and fragrant and slightly sweet Red Raspberry Wine so I picked up a bottle of each. She indicated that in between nine farmers' markets a week she is happy to offer tours and tastings at her winery.

The gorgeous vegetables and fruits at the Gifford Family farmstand was next. There were baskets of perfect frying peppers, pears, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, squashes, and several kinds of string beans and some hot cherry peppers I just couldn't resist.

The Farmers Market will run each Thursday through the month of October, so be sure to stop by to sample some great food and support a local farmer, vintner or baker. I promise it will be a delicious outing!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Props to Prapawadee

The Leftover Queen is holding her August Foodie Joust and the three ingredients that jousters must use to prepare their royal offerings are whole grains, ginger and citrus. While the very word "grain" might strike fear in the hearts of most gluten-free diners, there are a number of safe to eat grains that are blessedly wheat- and gluten-free, including buckwheat groats (kasha), amaranth (have to try that), quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, teff (have to try that too), and millet (aka parakeet food, never want to try that again). Whole grains are wonderful sources of fiber and protein for any diet, so I wanted to be sure to joust this month.

My first stab at the joust was to cook up some kasha with a little water and salt for a supper salad. For the citrus, I had the mistaken thought that canned mandarin oranges might pair well with the kasha and I made this horrendous looking and tasting kasha salad that deserves no further description. Suffice it to say, Dan would have none of it, and I tried to make myself eat it for lunch at the bookstore, but was sufficiently turned off to just go lunchless that day.

However, a true culinary knight must keep jousting, so I thought I would do something a little less weirdo and cook up some brown rice. I made a double batch so that we'd have enough for supper to go with that awesome Barbecued Tempeh recipe and some for experimenting. The next night I planned to do something Thai-inspired with the funky yard-long noodle beans I'm growing for the first time. I am happy to report that this second whole grain experiment turned out really well and I am delighted to dedicate this recipe to the female weightlifter, Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon (now there's another mouthful!) who is bringing Thailand home a gold medal from the Beijing Olympics after lifting 126 kg (278 lbs) over her 53 kg frame (117 lbs). Congratulations Prapawadee!

I reheated the brown rice and topped it with stir-fried noodle beans and tofu cubes marinated in grated ginger, lemon juice, strips of basil and salt and pepper. It was really fragrant and flavorful and a wonderful light summer meal. If you don't have access to noodle beans I'm sure other slender string beans would we suitable replacements. Without further ado, here's the recipe for:

Noodle Beans with Ginger-Lemon Tofu a la Prapawadee

2 cups cooked brown rice

1/2 lb. yard-long or noodle beans, sliced into 1 inch lengths (makes 1 cup)
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 (1 inch) piece of gingerroot, peeled and grated
1/3 lb. tofu, diced small (refrigerate and use rest of tofu the next day)
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup fresh basil, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together lemon juice, grated ginger, garlic, basil and salt and pepper. Add tofu cubes and stir to coat well. Set aside.

Cook rice and set aside to keep warm.

Heat olive oil in frying pan or wok. When hot add beans and stir-fry about 4-5 minutes. The noodle beans are very slender, so if you are substituting thicker, fleshier beans give them a few more minutes or until they are crisp-tender.

Add tofu cubes and marinade and stir-fry just until heated through.

Serve immediately over hot brown rice.

Serves 2. I threw some diced plum tomatoes on the side for color, but this is optional.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When Life Hands You Lemon Balm.....

Last year a friend gave me two fat clumps of lemon balm, a perennial member of the mint family that smells heavenly and is wonderful chopped into salads, both savory and fruity, and dried as tea. My mom grew lemon balm in her garden when I was a child and I remember enjoying it then (but just a little bit!) over buttered noodles. This year the clumps have really become overgrown and put forth little lemon balm babies amidst my other garden patches, so I have been enjoyably plucking them out for kitchen use.

There is a lot of great botanical information about cultivating lemon balm and a number of recipes at the Seeds of Knowledge site. Lemon Balm is a native plant from Europe, where it has historically been used as a remedy for insomnia and cold sores and as an aid in calming the digestive tract. The leaves bruise easily, so you should rinse them gently and cut with a pretty sharp knife or they will look dark and unappetizing, like basil leaves do when you are too rough with them. I have dried a bunch of lemon balm for winter teas in my new dehydrator (a tasty and CRISPY post to follow shortly on that subject) but I wanted to make something in the oven that would showcase the bright lemony flavor of this delicate herb.

I found a toothsome sounding recipe for Lemon Balm Tea Cake on an Australian gardening web forum and tried to make a gluten-free version for my husband. For the trial run I subbed in 1-1/2 cups of white rice flour and 1/2 cup of cornstarch for the regular flour because I thought that was appropriately delicate, but the cake was just too insubstantial to hold up to a hot lemon balm glaze poured over the top. It crumbled into mush.

A second stab at this lovely, well-perfumed, but terribly inedible, treat was attempted in the Crispy Cook test kitchen, this time trying 1 cup of brown rice flour, 1 cup of potato starch and some chopped pecans. The cake certainly turned out sturdier; and in fact collapsed into a lemon-scented brick once it cooled. I couldn't even salvage it by cutting it up into cubes for a bread pudding. Martha the dog sniffed at it hopefully, but I just launched it into the compost pile where it will perhaps degrade someday into loamy soil. Perhaps.

I was going to try a third round, but my gentle husband interrupted my kitchen frowning to tell me that he really wasn't all that interested in the whole Lemon Balm Cake idea anyway, and would just as soon have a nice pitcher of iced Lemon Balm tea. I untied the apron strings, pulled off my oven mitts and produced a cooling beverage for my sweaty sweetheart in short order. It is easy enough:

Lemon Balm Iced Tea

3 cups chopped fresh lemon balm
6 cups water
Honey to taste

Place water and lemon balm leaves in saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let steep another 10 minutes.

Swirl in honey to dissolve. Pour in pitcher filled with ice cubes and chill in refrigerator until suitably cold.

Makes 2 quarts.

I am submitting this recipe to the wonderful Weekend Herb Blogging Event started by Kalyn's Kitchen almost three years ago (!) and hosted this week by Marija at Palachinka, a Serbian food blogger with some mighty tasty recipes and ethereal photography. Check out her latest post about Peach and Poppy Seed Jam.

GF Food Find of the Week: Smoked Paprika

We've got a new spice favorite in our house: Smoked Paprika. Wow, this is a great new flavor for us and resides proudly on the dinner table between the salt and pepper chickens. I indulged in a bottle to use in a recipe I have yet to make, but in the meantime we've been sprinkling this smoky, earthy sweet pepper spice on lots of things: omelettes, baked and boiled potatoes, pasta, and salads.

Smoked Paprika is no mere red dust, like the plain old paprikas one uses to adorn deviled eggs and other pale edibles, but has a wonderfully rich taste. Don't be the last foodie on the planet (or is that me?) to investigate this delightful addition to the spice cabinet. I'd love to hear about other uses for my new favorite spice if others are as enamored as I am.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Mardi Gras in Your Mouth

Joelen's Culinary Adventures is having a blog event featuring New Orleans cuisine and chefs' recipes and I thought I would join in the fun. I brought home a copy of Every Day's A Party: Louisiana Recipes for Celebrating with Family and Friends, by Emeril Lagasse (NY: William Morrow, 1999) from the bookshop for inspiration. I saw a great recipe for a Shrimp and Corn Salad that featured lots of fresh garden produce, but I didn't have any shrimp in the freezer and the nearest bayou was too far away, so I rustled around and came up with some frozen bay scallops that I thawed for this delicious dinner salad adaptation of Emeril's recipe.

I got a lot of choruses of "Bam!" from my husband during the cooking process, but he was spectacularly quiet while chowing down this vibrantly-flavored dish. It's a veritable Mardi Gras of colors and tastes and perfect for this time of year when the farm stands and backyard gardens are full of the freshest vegetables and herbs.

Scallop and Corn Salad

4 cups water
1 lb. bay scallops, fresh or thawed
1 tsp. salt
1/2 lemon, juiced and rind reserved

Corn kernels cut from 2 ears of fresh cooked corn (or 1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 clove minced garlic (or 1 Tbsp. onion powder)
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1 tomato, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced

Bring water to boil. Add salt, lemon rind and scallops and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer until scallops are just cooked, about 4-5 minutes.

Drain scallops and cool.

Mix dressing from olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, hot sauce, basil and garlic (or onion powder). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Toss peppers, tomatoes and corn with dressing. Add scallops and mix well.

Cover and chill at least 1-2 hours before serving.

This is a dish we will make again and again, maybe with shrimp next time, and look forward to sharing it with friends later this month.

Joelen's New Orleans blog event runs until midnight tonight (I'm just under the wire!), so be sure to check out in a few days for a tasty roundup.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Go Ahead Honey - Seasonal Veggies Version

I am delighted to be hosting the latest round of the "Go Ahead, Honey - It's Gluten-Free" blog event started way back in the wintry depths of February by Naomi of Straight into Bed Cake-Free and Dried. GAHIGF has explored tea-time treats, one-pot meals, children's birthday party baking, breakfast and finger foods. The last event was hosted by Cheryl at Gluten-Free Goodness and focused on raw and uncooked recipes. Delicious!

The theme of this this month's event is Seasonal Vegetables. In the Northern Hemisphere, gardens are at their peak and pumping out produce at bountiful rates, but I'd also love to see what seasonal veggies folks are cooking with in the southern parts of the globe. Perhaps you have a favorite standard recipe for your favorite August vegetable or have experimented with a new recipe to share. As long as it's gluten-free, Go Ahead Honey, and submit your post by Sunday, September 7th, midnight, Eastern Standard Time, and I will put together a vegtastic roundup soon after.

To participate in the fun send me an email at info [at] oldsaratogabooks [dot] com with the URL of your blog post, an attached photo, your name and recipe name. If you don't have a blog, send me an email and I'll be happy to guest-host your entry.

Gotta plunge back into that garden and dive up with some more vegetable matter. Here's a photo of yesterday's harvest: basil and thyme to pop into the dehydrator for the winter, some rabbit-gnawed peppers to roast up with some tomatoes and onions and the first few yard-long string beans that I'm growing for the first time. Perhaps I will post a recipe about these floppy beans for my GAHIGF entry!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Canning Sweet and Sour Wax Beans

Despite only having ten or so plants from my mole-ravaged row of yellow Rocdor wax beans, these plants have been incredibly prolific and have kept pumping out produce for our table which we have enjoyed simply steamed and in a delicious Yellow String Bean and Tomato Salad, which is my new favorite bean salad. Since the beans are still streaming in and now we are entering the fertile tomato-zucchini crescendo, I thought I would try canning some for the winter.

I still have a couple of jars of Dilly Beans from last year, so I was searching for a new pickling recipe. The library had a few canning and preserving books left on their shelves and this old-fashioned recipe jumped out at me from "Pickles, Relishes, Chutneys, Sauces & Catsups, Mincemeats, Beverages & Syrups" (Emmaus, PA: Yankee Books, 1992). I didn't have summer savory as called for in the original recipe so I subbed in some chopped basil. I also forgot to pop in the bay leaves I had laid out when filling the jars, but this will hopefully not put me in a pickle later on. Here's my adaptation of:

Sweet-Sour Wax Beans

2 lbs. wax beans, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. dried summer savory or basil (or 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs)
Bay leaves

Get all of your pickling jars and implements washed and sterilized in hot water. Get the canning kettle ready on the stove and heat until boiling. Cover until ready to can.

Place beans in a pot and cover with water. Add a little bit of salt and cook until just barely tender, about 4 minutes, once the water has begun to boil.

Drain beans, saving about 2 cups of cooking liquid. Mix cooking liquid with vinegar, sugar, celery seed, ginger and savory/basil to make a pickling brine. Bring to a boil. Add beans and bring to a boil again.

Pack clean, hot pint jars with beans, pop in bay leaves, and cover with hot brine, leaving 1/2 inch headspace at top. Cap jars and add to canning kettle. Bring to boil again and process 5 minutes.

Remove jars to cool overnight. Check to make sure all lids have popped down in the center before storing in a cool, dry pantry. If one or more of the lids haven't popped down, store jars in the refrigerator.

Makes 4 pints.

The library cookbook recommends serving this with pork, but I think I will pop the pickled beans into potato salads and serve on a relish tray.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Go Ahead, Honey - Extreme Raw and Uncooked Edition

Cheryl of Gluten-Free Goodness is hosting this round of Go Ahead, Honey - It's Gluten Free!, the always delicious and often humorous gluten-free blog event started by Naomi of Straight Into Bed Cakefree and Dried. The focus of this round of GAHIGF is on raw and uncooked foods, perfect for steamy summer kitchens.

You might think that coming up with an uncooked food idea would be easy enough, but I didn't want to just submit a boring entry, like a peanut butter sandwich or cold leftovers, which is what we've been chowing down on in these busy and hot July days. Like our host Cheryl, I had a few fits and starts with this Extreme Raw and Uncooked Edition. At first I made a simple pineapple sorbet as bookmarked from the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, but my family thought it was too sour, so I was forced to scarf it up all by my lonesome. It is a great recipe for a hot summer night, but you have to be a dedicated pineapple lover, and while my tribe loves grilled pineapple and upside-down pineapple cake, that's as far as they go, alas.

What to do...what to do....

Then I went into the garden for inspiration. I rummaged through many tomato leaves, finally scoring the first beautiful eating tomato of the season: all sun-ripened and ready to pick. The Striped German Tomato is really a gorgeous fruit. It is an heirloom variety with lots of ridges, bumps and splits; a sunrise of a tomato with yellow and red striped flesh that has the soft texture and colors of a nectarine. It is very, very juicy and has a mellow, sweet tomato flavor. You WON'T find this delectable treat at a supermarket, but will have to grow it yourself or hopefully find one at a farmer's market.

The Striped German Tomato is perfect for drippy tomato sandwiches and is wonderful sliced and macerated with a little dressing and sliced basil leaves. Pair it with some bread or rolls and you've got dinner.

Striped German Tomato Salad

1 large Striped German tomato, cored and sliced
Handful of fresh basil leaves, sliced thin
Splash of rice vinegar
Splash of extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Spread tomato slices on a serving plate or shallow bowl. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil. Sprinkle with basil leaves and salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes to marinate and exude tomato juices.

After you gobble this down, you can save the juice for a tomato salad dressing for sliced cucumbers and greens.

Be sure to check back with Cheryl's blog for the roundup of easy, uncooked recipes in the next couple of days.