Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The garden

It’s spring in Ohio and I had forgotten how sudden and lovely and tremulous the change is. The air turns warm before the plants start to poke their heads up, and there are days when I can’t quite believe that the trees will ever be green again. The birds are taking it on faith and making a great deal of noise about their return from the south. Our feeder has been taken over by grackles who squawk and spill the seed. One of the women I work with says you know it’s spring when you start seeing dead skunks at the side of the road. I can smell them sometimes when I leave for work in the morning, and I know they’ve woken up from winter hungry and have been checking our trashcans for early morning snacks. Last weekend, even though things were just beginning to turn green, we spent Sunday in the garden. We are sharing our garden, the work and the bounty, with our friends Andrew and Adrianne. They’ve had a garden before and it’s nice to have some experience to rely on, although I can’t say I ever imagined that I’d be asking Andrew for advice on mulch and cucumbers trellises. I grew up with him, and most of my memories involve his sudden movements and then giving me “two for flinching.” We ordered our seeds months ago from heirloomseeds.com and I have been poring over the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog. We ordered way too much, but it all sounded so good. We are also going to buy heirloom tomato and pepper plants from a local nursery, but that’s still a few weeks away. For now, we’ve planted 4 kinds of lettuce, 3 kinds of radishes, 2 kinds of Swiss chard and peas.

How the Garden Grows:
Heirloom Salad Blend
Mesclun Mix
Key Lime Lettuce
Black Seed Simpson Lettuce
Rainbow Swiss Chard
Swiss Chard
Early Frosty Pea
Borettana Yellow Onion
French Breakfast Radish
Long Scarlet Cincinnati Radish
Red Globe Radish
Golden Globe Turnip
Kentucky Wonder Bush Bean
Choggia Beet
Golden Detroit Beet
Golden Bantam Corn
Muncher Cucumber
Boston Pickling Cucumber
Butternut Squash
Golden Scallop Squash

On following the recipe...

I have always felt that weekends should include one special dinner: a dish that requires a fair amount of kitchen time and a lovely dessert, or a restaurant with friends. This past Saturday Brad was working on music, so I decided to linger in the kitchen. I had a recipe for Almond Olive Oil Cake from seriouseats and some pork chops. I have a bad habit of starting a recipe and then changing things that "sound wrong.” Then, when my cake falls or rice burns or it just turns out bad, I don't know if it was the recipe or me. I'm trying to break myself of this, so I followed the cake recipe to the letter... ok, except for the 1/2 cup orange juice. I didn't have any, so I used lemon juice and honey... but that hardly counts. Now, I had no recipe for the pork chops, just potatoes and turnips that needed eating and an apple in the fruit bowl. The main dish turned out perfect--molasses brined pork chops with thyme, sautéed apple, mashed potatoes and turnips, and arugala fresh from the farmers’ market. Dessert was another matter. The almond cake looked and smelled lovely, and I managed to make the brown butter icing without scorching anything. Everything seemed perfect, but the bottom of the cake was salty, way, way too salty.... I have no idea what I did. I'll try the cake again, reduce the salt, taste the batter as I go, but it reminded me that some times things work out best if you just make it up as you go along.

No Recipe Pork Chop Dinner

Pork chops


Brine chops (I used 2 cups water, 1/4 cup salt, 1/4 cup molasses)

Peel turnips and potatoes and cut into chunks (pick the potato to turnip ratio that you prefer). Put in a pan with tight fitting lid and add water until chunks are half covered. Bring to a boil, throw in a chunk of butter, cover and lower to a simmer. Cook until potatoes and turnips are soft and mashable, this should take about 15-20 minutes. Mash--if things seem watery, cook with the lid off to thicken. Taste, add salt, pepper, butter as you see fit. Keep warm while you make the pork chops.

Heat a frying pan on medium high and brown chops on all side. Place them on an oven-safe dish and put them in a 350° oven to finish cooking. Add peeled and sliced apple to pan, sprinkle with thyme and sauté until they begin to color. Deglaze pan with vermouth and simmer until apples are tender but still hold their shape. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Pick a pretty plate, lean the pork chop against the mashed potatoes and turnips, spoon the apples over the pork, green salad on the side. Perfect.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Onion Rolls

Brad wanted onion rolls. Well, actually he mentioned in passing that he would like a roast beef sandwich on a soft roll like he use to get in New York. He was very specific about the roll. It's possible he was thinking of going to the grocery store and purchasing some rolls. I doubt that he thought I would spend the day making them for him. I figure that since he tolerates my kitchen bossiness, I should make the things he likes. After much discussion about the differences between onion, kaiser, and hard rolls, I found this recipe online. They turned out absolutely amazing. In my version of the recipe, I've increased the salt and reduced the sugar, which is something I usually do to any bread recipe. I will also make less of the onion topping next time--I love the way it tastes, but at a certain point physics comes into play and there is no way to balance 2 cups of soft wet onions on top of 14 rolls....

Onion Rolls

* 3 T. dry yeast
* 1 1/2 cup water (100°F.)
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 6 cups bread flour
* 6 T. canola oil
* 1/4 cup sugar
* 1 T. salt
* 3 large eggs
* 1 cups chopped onion
* 1 large egg, beaten
* 3 T. black poppy seeds

Oven Temp: 400°F.; change to 375°F. when rolls go into the oven.

Grease two cookie sheets with oil.

Yield: 14 rolls

Dissolve yeast in water, add 1 tsp. sugar and let the mixture sit for 1 minute to become creamy.

Put flour, 3 T. oil, sugar, salt, and 3 eggs in the work-bowl of a food processor fitted with the plastic blade. With the motor running, add the yeast/water mixture. Continue kneading in the processor until the dough is smooth and elastic, the texture of your earlobe. Grease a large bowl with 1 T. oil; put the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough is doubled in size.

Meanwhile, heat 2 T. oil with 2 T. water in a small saucepan. Add the chopped onions, and cook slowly for 2 minutes until the onions are just beginning to appear translucent. Cover the pan, and remove it from the heat. By the time the rolls are ready to bake, the onions will be perfect.

Punch down the dough; divide into 14 pieces. Form smooth balls of dough and place on greased cookie sheets. With your fist, make indentations first in one direction, then turned 90°. Cover the rolls with plastic wrap and let rise 20 min. With your fist, make the indentations again; fill the indentations with the cooked onions; brush with beaten egg; sprinkle with seeds.

Place rolls in oven and put a shallow pan with cold water on the bottom rack of the oven; turn the temperature down to 375°F. Bake rolls for 20-25 minutes, rotate them midway through the baking. Cool 15-20 minutes on a rack before serving.