Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Get Your Garden On!

Ok, I think we're finally past our last freeze (fingers crossed). For those of you in southern climes who are chuckling, I'll have you know that we almost got down to freezing temps last Thursday night! No now comes the mad dash to get everything into the ground so that we have enough time to make it to harvest before the first snows (sometimes in October). Gotta love the North Country! I haven't done the big vegetable garden(s) yet, though my amazing next-door neighbor has already done the rototilling for me--bless his heart! But I did manage to finish weeding and restocking the herb bed this past weekend. It really was a sad sight. Since I was so busy with the farmer's market last year, the herb garden was shamefully ignored, and the crabgrass took over and crowded out more than half of my established herbs and all of my beautiful little wild strawberries that I babied on the plane all the way home from California many years ago. BOO HISS! Oh well, that'll teach me. But now I've almost got it back to a semblance of its former glory. I'm currently growing:

basil--Italian large leaf , Opal (purple), spicy globe, Perpetual Pesto (variegated), lemon, and African Blue
chives--regular and garlic
English lavender
fernleaf dill
golden sage
Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
lemon balm
mint--orange and Kentucky Colonel (the traditional mint julep mint)
oregano--Greek and hot & spicy
thyme--lime and golden

In addition to the herbs, I also have lettuces at each end of the bed--green leaf, ruby, red oak leaf, and Boston/bibb--and everbearing strawberry plants along the sides. Then to fill in the gaps, I will sow some carrots and radishes in and among everything else. It really is a lovely planting bed that gets a lot of use during the season--truly, my kitchen garden. In fact, to celebrate its rebirth, I decided that we needed to have something for dinner that really showcased several of these wonderfully fragrant, fresh herbs. So I excavated one shelf of the big freezer and uncovered two flat-iron steaks which I thawed and marinated in equal parts olive oil and lime juice, lots of the house steak rub, extra cumin, and fresh minced garlic (marinate for at least two hours, though four would be better, and overnight would be best). Then we grilled them up, let them rest for ten minutes, sliced them very thinly, and served them with a fabulous mixed herb chimichurri that was not unlike the persillade I made all last summer. Along with the gaucho flat-irons and chimichurri, Cyd sauteed a big mess of fiddleheads, I did a Greek-style lemony roast of my La Ratte fingerlings, and that made for a simply scrumptious spring supper!

To make the chimichurri, I mixed in the blender:

2 cups fresh herbs (it can be all parsley, but I also added chervil, basil, oregano, and cilantro)
1 cup olive oil (start with 1/2 cup and add as much as you need/prefer from there)
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
4-8 garlic cloves (4 for normal people, 8 for us!)
juice of two lemons (about 1/2 cup--next time, I may try swapping this out with red wine vinegar)
salt and pepper to taste

Store leftover chimichurri in an airtight container in the fridge.

Working in the garden put me in the mood to start harvesting and canning, but alas, there ain't much to put up yet. But you know what IS in season? V-I-D-A-L-I-A-S! While I watched the semi-finals of the National Spelling Bee as I do every year (yes, I AM a nerd and a former spelling champ myself..."Can you use it in a sentence, please?"), I made nine pints of the most rocking Vidalia onion relish that is going to be SO GOOD on all those burgers and dogs that we grill out this summer. It would also be good mixed into tuna salad, potato salad, devilled eggs, and so on. I proclaim it the condiment of the summer!

Zesty Vidalia Onion Relish
(adapted from
The Official Vidalia Onion Website, my changes/notes in red)

1 1/2 gallons (that's 24 cups for the math-impaired) ground Vidalia onions (16 to 20, about 10 lbs.)
1/2 cup canning /pickling salt
1 quart cider vinegar
1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar*
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons pickling spice
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

8 oz. roasted red pepper strips (or pimentos), chopped
1 teaspoon powdered ascorbic acid, optional**

Grind or use food processor for enough Vidalia onions to yield 1 1/2 gallons (I used 17 big ones and 3 small ones), add salt and let stand 30 minutes. Squeeze juice from mixture and discard juice. (I drained mine in a big colander and pressed the mash to remove most of the liquid.) To onions, add vinegar, sugar, spices and red pepper. (You can add the spices in a cheesecloth sachet or tea ball, but I like the look and the flavor of the spices floating around in the final product.) Bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes, stirring often.

Pack both onions and cooking liquid to cover in sterilized jars, leaving 1/2" headspace. Add 1/8 teaspoon of ascorbic acid to each jar (if using), and stir it in all the way to the bottom, removing air bubbles as you do. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Makes about 8 pints or 16 half-pints (I got 9 pints).

*The original recipe called for 4 1/2 cups of sugar, so if you prefer a sweet relish, go for it! But I like my pickles and relishes much less sweet, plus the onions are sweet enough on their own, especially after cooking them for a half an hour.

**Others who have made this relish reported that it sometimes oxidizes and darkens in color over time. So I added a little bit of ascorbic acid to each jar to prevent discoloration. It might work...we'll see.

You'd think all that gardening and canning would be enough for one (long) weekend. But Cyd pointed out that there was no chocolate in the house and how wrong that was. So while I watched the finals of the spelling bee, I made some awesome giant chocolate, toffee and walnut cookies from Bon Appetit that I recently spied and drooled over on the website, Cream Puffs in Venice. I encourage you to make some for yourself, but I advise either halving the recipe, or do as I did and keep the dough in the fridge, baking off only a few cookies at a time as you "need" them. YUM!

Giant Chocolate-Toffee Cookies

(Source: Bon Appetit, March 2000)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chips)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar (I might cut this back by as much as a half cup next time)
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath or Skor), coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped (I might increase this to 1 1/2 cups next time)

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; whisk to blend. Stir chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture, then toffee and nuts. Chill batter until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper (I used Silpats). Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto sheets, spacing 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 15-17 minutes. Cool on sheets.

Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.


Randi said...

I might just have to make that relish. Hopefully, Vidalias will still be around when I get back from FL.

Randi said...

I want to make this over the weekend. Do you think I could cut the recipe in half? btw, what is canning salt? I know you've already told me once. Can I use Kosher salt?

JoyBugaloo said...

Hi, Randi! You can certainly cut the recipe in half (you'll end up with about 4 pints, give or take).

And canning/pickling salt is just plain, non-iodized salt, but without the anti-caking ingredients found in table salt. (If you use table salt for canning, those additives can make your pickles cloudy.) Kosher salt is a fine substitute, but because it's not as dense, you usually have to use a little more kosher salt than canning salt. Depending on the brand, you might want to use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of (Morton's) kosher salt for every cup of canning/pickling salt. So if you're making half of this recipe, I would use perhaps a third a cup of kosher salt to add to the onions to leech the water out of them.

Good luck, and be sure to report back on the finished product! --Gina

Anna said...

Just saw your comment on Cookie Madness. I LOVE that Bon Appetit toffee cookie recipe, but I usually leave out the toffee because I’ve developed this weird aversion to crisp toffee in soft cookies. I was excited about Smitten Kitchen’s recipe because her photo shows a cookie that looks almost crumbly or crunchy. And yet, she used the BA recipe. I wonder why her cookies look so different than yours and mine?