Tag Archives: summer

Red and Blue Crumble Pie

I admit it, okay? No need to give me the third degree. I stole it, and I would do it again. I stole the strawberry from the strawberry plant at the greenhouse, the tiny, red one that was almost too ripe. I did it because I couldn’t stand to see it go to waste.

It’s that lovely season where the weather isn’t roasting just yet, berries are cheap, and I’m in a baking mood. All of these factors collide into a mixed berry pie of blueberries and strawberries, just in time for your summer savoring.

Red and Blue Crumble Pie

Ingredients:

Filling:

  • 2 1/2 cups of sliced fresh strawberries
  • 2 1/2 cups of fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 tbsp of tapioca
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup of white sugar
  • 1 premade pie-crust (or make your own)

Topping:

  • 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour (or a mixture of 1/3 cup oats, 1/3 cup flour)
  • 1/3 cup of butter, slightly chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar

 Directions:


  1. Preheat oven to 375°. In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients and let macerate for 15 minutes.
  2. In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar and stir well. Cut in the butter until it forms small chunks.
  3. After fifteen minutes, pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and cover with topping. Put pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet (for easier clean up, cover with foil).
  4. Bake in the oven for approximately 50 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!

 

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Weeds, weeds, and more weeds

The old cliche “kids grow like weeds” only gets more true the more kids I have and the bigger my garden gets. My kids now grow out of clothing every few months and are both old enough to alternatively shove and hug eachother. Kids, thus, are cute, at least in the non-shoving moments.

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Weeds. Are. Not. Cute.

A few hints to newbie gardeners for eradicating — or better yet, preventing– weeds (chemical free) in the garden.

  1. Grass clippings (or shredded newspaper). After a good lawn mowing, spread the clippings around your already planted garden plot. Like the more expensive options below, the clippings will form a layer which heats the ground beneath it (to kill seedlings) and also gives less space for weeds to grow than open ground. I love grass clippings because they add extra nutrients to the soil, as well!

Unfortunately, my husband let some of the grass go to seed and so the most recent spread of mulch caused a little lawn to appear in my garden… so….

2. Landscaper’s cloth. Held in by metal landscaping staples (or biodegradable staples), this cloth works even more fully to provide the heat because of its reflective black surface. It’s not pretty, but it does the job. I cut “x”s in the material to make room for my plants which I WANT to be there and picked most of the weeds and grass before I laid it down.

before
My tomatoes, kohlrabi, and peppers surrounded by grass seeds and weeds.

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Landscaper’s cloth before it’s fully tacked down… still, much better!
A caveat here: unless you use the biodegradable staples, you’ll have to dig around for the metal later in the season when you clean up the garden. For me, the little bit of effort on the back end is worth the time saved on this side.

3. Burlap. Another option, which my sister-in-law uses is burlap material between her plant rows. On many websites you can purchase old coffee bags and cut them into sizes useful to you in the garden. Unlike the artificial-looking black landscaping cloth, burlap softens in color to a natural-looking gray as the season progresses and works quite well to reduce weed growth.

There are many chemicals out there– we’re lucky to live in an age of agricultural wonder– but one of the pleasures of growing my own food is the simplicity of the process. Just like I like food with simple ingredients I can pronounce, I like that take on gardening, too.

A general garden update:

Perennials: Asparagus, Chives, Dill (just barely), Raspberries (but no flowers yet)

Annual Vegetables: sugar snap peas, “seed” potatoes, onion sets, green beans (one row, with another to follow next week), two blocks of sweet corn (with one more to follow next week), zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, banana and sweet peppers

 

BLTs that are Built Lovingly Tall

To me, the tastes of summer have always included watermelon and peaches and corn… But the thing that speaks summer to me the most is the good old-fashioned tomato. Whenever I tell my husband that tomatoes are ripening in my garden, he gets disappointed when I bring in a handful of cherry tomatoes. When the big guys start getting ripe, that’s when the real fun begins.

One of the foods that I hated as a child but love now would be the BLT sandwich. I’m not a big bacon person, which puts me at odds with the rest of Iowa. We Iowans have the blue ribbon bacon festival every year, which sports everything from bacon-flavored beer to bacon-flavored ice cream, not counting bacon-wrapped everything.

This version of the old classic includes some elements which really highlight the tomato and lettuce aspects of this dish. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did last night…

World’s Best BLT (adapted from MarieRnyr)

  • 1 good quality fresh baguette, split lengthwise in half, but not separated, soft centers removed
  • 5 tablespoons mayo
  • 3 tablespoons basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)
  • 10 slices bacon
  • 2 large good quality tomatoes or 4 small good quality tomatoes
  • 1 head red leaf lettuce, leaves separated, washed, and dried

HOUSE DRESSING use 3 to 4 Tablespoons

  • 14 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 12 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 12 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Make your bacon by your preferred method. I like to do it this way:

Line a baking pan with aluminum foil, and place raw bacon down directly on the foil (not on a rack). Put pan in a cold oven and set for 400. Bake bacon for 20 minutes, or until reaches your desired level of crispiness. Remove pan from oven and transfer bacon to paper towels to remove extra oil.

  1. Next, make the house dressing, by combining all ingredients in a mason jar. Shake thoroughly.
  2. Under a broiler or on a griddle, lightly toast the inside of the baguette.
  1. Combine the mayonnaise and pesto.
  2. Spread the pesto mayonnaise all over the inside of both halves of the baguette.
  3. Lay the bacon along the length of the bottom half of the bread.
  4. Lay the tomato slices on top of the bacon and drizzle with the house dressing.
  5. Fill the remaining cavity with the lettuce leaves.
  6. Close the sandwich tightly.
  7. Cut on the diagonal with a sharp serrated knife into 2 to 4 pieces, depending on your hunger level. You may need a toothpick to hold the sandwich together.
  8. Pig out. (Quite fittingly.)
bacon layout
Before baking
lettuce
Lettuce share this sandwich… it’s really too much for one person.
bacon
Perfect bacon.
BLT
The finished product!

My husband re-proposed after taking a bite.  Hope you have a similarly good experience!

Potato Salad…. on the Go

I have a wandering (and wondering?) (and wonderful) toddler.  The above picture was taken on a recent outing to the park, where, luckily, he has little trouble to get into if he scurries a bit out of reach.  More troubling is when he gets loose at the gym while I’m trying to wrangle his sister into the car seat, and he runs into the gym where some boys are trying to play a game of basketball. Or most frighteningly of all, when he took his little hand out of mine in the parking lot and started to run towards the car. We had a big talk after that one. The truth about all of these runnings is that he knows he’s not supposed to run too far ahead of us. He looks back at us and gives us a devilish smile as if to say, “Come and get me!” It makes it hard to get mad at the situation for too long.

In our back yard, his favorite game is to go to the only place I tell him to keep out of: my garden. Just like Peter Rabbit.  Once he shimmies down the back stairs, he’s off and running to the edge of my garden, which wouldn’t matter except that I mulch the entire bed with grass clippings and he’s likely to roll around in it if not watched… His dad does the vacuuming and doesn’t appreciate these escapades.  Soon, he’ll be old enough to help me dig and pick, but this summer is all about damage control.  I can’t wait until he understands how his food comes from these plants.

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Potatoes boiling!

One plant currently overgrown in our garden is the dill, which is so fragrant that if the wind blows you can catch a whiff from the other side of the lawn. Dill belongs in potato salad, in my opinion, and so we’ve been chowing down on this recipe all summer. Don’t leave out the relish! It makes it something special.

 

Amazing Dill and Relish Potato Salad

Base Ingredients

  • 3 large yellow potatoes, cubed and peeled (though I didn’t peel this time)
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

Dressing

  • 2 heaping tablespoons sweet pickle relish, with liquid
  • 1/2 cup Miracle Whip (mine was the low-fat, olive oil version)
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • Salt (to taste)

Directions

Boil cubed potatoes until they are tender, about ten minutes. Transfer to a colander and rinse with cold water. In a large bowl add celery, onion, eggs, and cooled potatoes.

In a separate bowl, mix dressing ingredients. Add dressing to base, and let potato salad chill for at least 2 hours. Salt to taste before serving.

Dill flower
Dill flower

Blueberry Peach Crisp

My toddler, newborn, and I went blueberry picking yesterday at a local patch.  Here’s where I would insert a quaint picture of this “family first” if such a picture existed. Sadly, it does not! I had the newborn in the Moby in front of me, the toddler rolling in the mud, and me, the only one intent on squatting precariously in the muck to pick ripe berries.  The temperature was already almost 90 at 9 AM, and I had to move fast.  Eventually the toddler got interested in picking, but he was more interested in picking the berries from the mud.  I had to take them from his hands before they landed in the bucket.

I had been aiming for a blueberry pie, but with only twenty minutes of newborn’s patience, I got about a cup and a half out of the four I would need… Thank goodness it’s also peach season!

Peach and Blueberry Crumble

(very slightly edited from Ina Garten)

Ingredients

For the fruit:
2 pounds firm, ripe peaches (6 to 8 peaches)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar (less if your peaches are very sweet)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 ½ cups fresh blueberries
For the crumble:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Immerse the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until their skins peel off easily. Place them immediately in cold water. Peel the peaches, slice them into thick wedges, and place them in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla extract, granulated sugar, and cornstarch. Toss well. Gently mix in the blueberries. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Spoon the a 7×11 glass pan or small ramekins.

For the topping, combine the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas. Rub the mixture with your fingertips until it’s in big crumbles, then sprinkle evenly over the fruit. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and bake for 40 to 45 minutes for ramekins, about 45-50 for a glass pan, or until the tops are browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you want to make these early, store the unbaked crisp in the refrigerator and bake before dinner.

lemons
I love fruit photography

I went searching for a delectable peach-blueberry crisp and broke the sacred rule of hot Julys— I turned on my oven! (gasp!). I hope I can tempt you to do the same.

berries and peaches
Another close up of the stars
batter
The topping ingredients
Blueberry Peach Cobbler
The finished, buttery product

Freezing Tomatoes

If you’re like me, you hate grocery store tomatoes.  Anemic.  Pale pink.  Pathetic.  They just don’t taste as good. I don’t even like to used canned tomatoes, if I can avoid them because of the metallic taste that you can’t get rid of.  Boxed tomatoes are tasty, but expensive.  I’m still slightly intimidated by canning, but I like to preserve my food.  So, if you’re cheap, have an extra hour, and have access to a farmer’s market or a tomato plant of your own, freezing tomatoes can be a great option to enjoy that tomato flavor through the winter. 

This was my project today, and the little guy even helped (or at least watched with fascination.)

 

Materials needed:

Ripe tomatoes (larger varieties work best; don’t try to do this with cherries or you will drive yourself crazy!)

Large Pot

Paring knife

Several Large Bowls

Mesh Strainer

Quart freezer bags

Kitchen scale (optional)

Tomatoes, ripe and ready
Tomatoes, ripe and ready
  1. First, collect ripe tomatoes (though not over ripe or they may be difficult to work with) and wash them gently.  Don’t worry if their skins aren’t perfect since soon you’re going to get these tomatoes naked.  Scandalous!
  2. Prepare your work area, since you’ll need a lot of bowls for this project.  Place a large pot of water to boil and prepare a bowl of ice water near by.  Lay out another clean bowl next to that and finally, place your strainer over a final bowl.
  3. Make a tiny “x” on the bottom of each tomato, just deep enough to pierce the skin but not so deep as to cut into the seeds.  Working in batches, blanch the tomatoes for two minutes.  Place the blanched tomatoes in a bin of ice water. Once iced, the skins should slide easily from the tomatoes.
  4. With your paring knife (or a strawberry huller), remove the stem area from the tomato and seed.  Don’t be afraid to squish and squeeze the tomatoes a bit to get the seeds out.  Place the seeded and stemmed tomatoes in the mesh strainer to drain into a bowl.
  5. If desired, measure out preset quantities of your tomatoes for easy kitchen work.  I always do 1 lb bags for simplicity’s sake.  Press out all of the air and freeze flat for easy stacking.  The tomatoes should last at least three months, and for most freezers, could last much more than that without any loss of flavor. 
  6. Remember that bowl you were straining into?  Fresh tomato juice! Feel free to pass it though the strainer one more time for good measure.
  7. Ready for Bloody Marys!
    Ready for Bloody Marys!

Chili and Cinnamon Apple Cornbread

Yes, this is going to be as delicious a post as the title suggests…

I think we all have those foods that, as a kid, we pooh-poohed without giving them a chance.  For my husband, it was eggplant.  For me, tuna, chicken salad, and chili.  The dislike for chili came from being served it so often that I just couldn’t appreciate it.  Now, my family served up chili with a big scoop of cottage cheese in the middle and sometimes macaroni noodles, but otherwise the flavor was pretty standard fare… except that we were always eating tomatoes my father had canned.  I realize now (older, wiser, blah blah blah) that garden fresh tomatoes can really make the best chili. And so do fresh peppers and fresh onions, if you’ve got them on hand.  I was pretty pleased that all I had to buy for this recipe was the meat! Continue reading Chili and Cinnamon Apple Cornbread

Azteca Squash Soup and Freezer Craziness

I teach, and so the past few weeks have been a mixture of abandonment to the joys of summer and disillusionment at its ending.  The family and I have tried to go on lots of walks and hikes, and we’ve been using the ‘taj mahal’ of hiking backpacks, complete with bug net and sun cover.

Riding in comfort
Riding in comfort

But along with the fun of the summer, I’ve been starting to look forward to the semester ahead.  I know that with my schedule (which stretches into the evening hours), dinner will often not even be on a back burner… I usually turn to the crockpot on days that I work, and so this past week I sent the babe to the sitter’s and cranked out 40 meals in what should have been just four hours, but really took about eight. I can’t vouch for any of them yet, but reviews will follow later once we pop these guys out of our nearly-full freezer.

The one freeze ahead that I prepared just today that I can vouch for is a recipe for butternut squash soup that we’ve been making for years and that we realized freezes quite well.  We like it so much, and it makes us feel so gosh-darn healthy, that we’ve nicknamed it “spa soup.” Continue reading Azteca Squash Soup and Freezer Craziness

Eggplant “Pizzas”

I might be the only person in the world to absolutely adore eggplants; heart, soul, and mind.  Their color is gorgeous (even the word “aubergine” is delectable).  When eggplant season comes around, you better believe I’m eating eggplant every day.

My husband had never had an eggplant before I met him. My husband had never had good eggplant before I met him.  His grandmother had made a gloppy mess: seedy, flavorless, and unsalted.  He was noticeably not excited when I mentioned eggplant was on the menu.  I changed his mind, and if you give me the chance, I can change yours, too.

Continue reading Eggplant “Pizzas”