Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Potatoes, Favas and Garlic - Oh My!

Welcome to the experiment of my backyard garden, where I am growing a series of new plants just to see what will grow well where I live.

Exhibit #1: Potatoes gone wild!
See all of those containers? Every one of them contains potatoes! These have been growing since February and contain 3 varieties: Yukon Gold, Purple, and Fingerlings. After learning one year ago that potato plants will die once the temperature reaches 80 degrees, I have moved them into the shade in anticipation of this weekend's heat wave (high 80's for Sacramento). I hope by taking this precaution to extend their growing season and get some decent sized tubers this year... A lot of them!

Exhibit #2: Fava beans!
My Portuguese grandma gave me these seeds, and this is my first time growing them. I am surprised by how lovely the flowers are, and happy that favas will fix nitrogen in my soil so future plants growing in those spots can be happier.

Exhibit #3: Green Garlic! I planted elephant garlic last fall, and where I live, last fall's garlic is ready for harvest around summer or late summer. That's if you want the bulb kind you can store. Or, for the impatient or curious ones, you can pull up your garlic in spring before the bulbs form and enjoy green garlic. I couldn't resist this experiment this week, and here is what my green garlic looked like:
Close up on those just-starting-to-form bulbs. Cool!
As for the taste, green garlic is softer and milder than regular garlic. It's certainly worth trying!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mexican Tortilla Casserole

I made this Mexican Tortilla Casserole last night, thanks to my weekly recipe e-mail from The Splendid Table. It was easy to make, flexible, delicious, filling, good enough for company and simple enough for a Monday night supper. What made me love it even more was the fact that it was extremely economical and meatless to boot. When you find a recipe that has it all, it's only nice to share.

I didn't find the dish to be a typical casserole; it reminded me more of enchiladas, with the layers of tortilla, cheese, veggies, beans and tomato sauce. I made mine in a springform pan. I served wedges of this "Mexican Pie" ( a better name, I thought) with tomato salsa and sour cream, and the three males for whom I was cooking absolutely loved it. Their hearty appetites wiped away any hope of leftovers I may have had while preparing this dish, but I felt grateful that they enjoyed it so much, and complimented by the empty dish.

Mexican Tortilla CasseroleFrom The Mom 100 Cookbook: 100 Recipes Every Mom Needs in Her Back Pocket by Katie Workman; Serves 4 to 6

"Essentially a lasagna with tortillas standing in for noodles, this is one of those dishes that can miraculously be on the table in short order, made from things you most likely have in your pantry and fridge. If you don't like, or you don't have, one of the ingredients, skip it. Or, if you have something else that you think might be appealing all layered in (like slivered bell peppers to sauté with the onions, kale, chopped, cooked broccoli -- whatever the people in your home will eat), then fling it on in."

Nonstick cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive, vegetable, or canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 can (14 ounces) chopped tomatoes, drained, with 1/3 cup juice reserved
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cans (15.5 ounces each) white, black, or kidney beans (or a mixture of any two), rinsed and drained
Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 can (15 ounces) sweet corn kernels, drained, or 1-1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed
3 cups coarsely chopped spinach
4 medium-size (8-inch) flour tortillas
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh cilantro (optional), for garnish
Sour cream (optional), for serving
Salsa (optional), for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan, springform pan, or baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, cumin, chili powder, and garlic and cook until you can smell the spices and the onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes with the 1/3 cup of reserved juice and the tomato paste, then stir in the beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the bean mixture simmer until everything is hot, about 3 minutes. Add the corn and spinach and stir until the spinach has wilted and everything is well blended and hot, about 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper as necessary.

3. Place 1 tortilla in the prepared cake pan. Spread one fourth of the bean and vegetable mixture evenly over the tortilla, then sprinkle 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese evenly over the top. Repeat with 3 more layers, ending with the last quarter of the bean mixture and then the last 1/2 cup of shredded cheese.

4. Bake the tortilla casserole until it is hot throughout and the top is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Let the casserole sit for about 5 minutes, then cut it into wedges using a sharp knife and serve it with a spatula or better yet a pie server. Sprinkle the top with cilantro, if desired, and serve with sour cream and/or salsa on the side, if you like.

Cooking Tip: You can make the tortilla casserole a day ahead of time, cover it with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and put it in the fridge overnight; just take it out and let it sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes while the oven preheats to 400F. Bake the casserole uncovered. You can also reheat the cooked casserole at 350F for 15 to 20 minutes, until warm.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How To: Granola

A while back, I bought some gourmet granola for a friend. It looked wonderful: chia seeds, dried cherries, and sunflower seeds. Yogurt and granola make a fabulous breakfast, both delicious and healthy, but that store-bought granola set me back $8. Yeah... That's not an item I could afford to purchase on a regular basis. So I set about learning the basics of granola-making at home.

I started with a basic recipe from Sugar Sweet Bean, coming up with a bare bones template that could be altered for endless variation. I have enjoyed many variations on this granola theme in the past several months, and all have been lovely. (Except that one where I added the dried fruit before baking and they turned into burnt pieces of ash.)

And I have to say, it so, so easy. I will probably never buy granola again now that I know how simple it is to make at home. I basically just toss together whatever combination of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and spices I have in the pantry (bought cheaply in the bulk section of the grocery store). Bake it for 30 minutes and I have a new stash of wonderful homemade granola. Here's to a future of wholesome, exciting breakfasts!

Basic Granola Formula

3 c. old-fashioned oats
1 c. nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, etc.)
1/2 c. mixed seeds (sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, poppyseeds, flaxseeds, etc.)
3/4 c. coconut (optional)
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1-2 pinches of coarse salt
5 T. liquid sweetener (pure maple syrup, honey, agave syrup, etc)
4 T. neutral oil (canola, olive oil, vegetable oil, etc.)

1 1/2 c. dried fruit of your choice (cranberries, blueberries, cherries, apricots, dates, etc.)

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl (do not add the dried fruit yet!). Stir in the sweetener and oil of your choice. If you want it sweeter, add more sweetener; feel it needs more oil, then add more. Line a bake sheet with aluminum foil, and spread the granola evenly. In a preheated 350 degree oven, bake for 15 minutes, then stir around, and bake another 12-15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool for a bit before adding the dried cranberries. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.