Monday, July 30, 2012


Peaches are my favorite fruit.  Over my birthday weekend, my husband and I took a road trip to a pick-your-own orchard to pick peaches.  The plan was to get enough peaches to make some jam (a hobby of ours... that oddly enough I haven't written about here yet), some deserts, and just have fresh peaches around to eat.  We love the fun of picking the fruit straight from the farm, where we know exactly where it came from.  A rare phenomenon these days. 

We set out early to make the scenic drive to St. Joseph Missouri.  There weren't any closer orchards that had peaches ready to pick.  We ended up at Schweizer Orchards in the near 100 degree heat in the early afternoon.  Pick-your-own peaches were $1.19 per pound and we planned to pick about 12 pounds.  When we got to the rows and rows of peach trees, we noticed that the air smelled sweetly of peaches.  It was incredible.  Rows were kindly marked with the name of the variety of peaches  and noted with blue ribbons if they were ready for picking. We began to survey the trees and feared that they had already been picked over for the day.  The ripe peaches were few and far between... or too high for us to reach.  Sooner or later we began to fill up our baskets with a few good peaches.  It was hard to resist, so we shared a sun warmed, perfectly ripe peach.  Wow.

After trying a few more rows, we got into the groove and found trees that hadn't been picked much at all.  Ryan developed a method for shaking the branches gently and when peaches began to tumble off, that meant they were ripe.  Though we had to be careful not to mix ours up with the peaches that had fallen to the ground.  There were so many!!  After a sweaty hour we realized that we had filled at least 4 baskets to overflowing and that we should stop... even though we were having fun.  All told, we left he farm with roughly 30 pounds of delicious peaches. 

our peach haul laid out on the table that evening

We made two dozen jars of peach jam... plain delicious peach, honey-peach, and my favorite ginger peach. 

We made this amazing peach cobbler.  And peach ice cream (ridiculously good).

We even mixed the peaches with bacon for this salad (it was so good it was gone before I got a picture).

Just before I sat down to write this, I salvaged the remainder of the peaches (it's been a week since they were picked... some were in bad shape) and sliced them for freezing. 

The day was a wonderful way to spend part of my birthday.  Whether you are going to get bushels of fruit for recipes or just want the experience of seeing fruit in its natural habitat, I highly recommending going to a pick-your-own farm.  Because you are providing the labor, the fruit is generally a lot cheaper than pre-picked fruits from a farmers' market and definitely cheaper than the supermarket.  Find more information about pick your own farms and orchards here

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Seasonal Summer Cooking: Sweet Corn!

It's finally here.  Iowa Sweet Corn!  A few ears may be found early in the summer, but a sure sign that sweet corn is in its prime are the appearance of roadside stands and mountains of the beautiful ears in supermarkets.  Sweet corn is an Iowa icon... and from now until the end of sweet corn season, it will be eaten several times a week.  You better believe that when I get a good chunk of time, I'll buy an embarrassingly large quantity of corn to stash in the freezer!

A delicious, local summer traditional treat!! 

But what will I do with this mountain of corn?

While corn is great on its own as a side or a main dish ( and if its really good and fresh it doesn't even need butter or salt!) last night I used corn to dress up pasta dish.

1/2 box whole wheat spaghetti
2 cups corn kernels
2 or 3 strips of bacon
1-2 cloves of garlic
2 Tablespoons fresh basil pesto
parmesan cheese

bring a large pot of water to boil.
meanwhile, cut the kernels off corncobs. (2 or 3 should make 2 cups)
cook the bacon in a skillet until brown, set aside on paper towels to drain.
wipe most of the bacon grease from the skillet, saving a very small amount in the pan for cooking in the next step.
hopefully your water will be boiling at this time.  add pasta.
while pasta cooks, grate or mince the garlic.
heat the skillet to medium and add corn and garlic.
chop the bacon into small pieces.
when pasta is finished, drain and bring pack to pot.
add corn and garlic mixture, bacon and the pesto.  mix well.
serve with generous amount of grated parmesan cheeese.

if you have extra corn, throw some in your side salad with fresh summer tomatoes!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer Cooking: Kohlrabi Slaw

Up until I became an enthusiastic home cook, I thought coleslaw was defined as that milky sweet stuff in a styrofoam cup from a certain fried chicken chain restaurant and only a few if any bites were eaten.  Now, I've got an all new take on "slaw".  I've made it a few times in the past and recently created a new recipe. While technically to be coleslaw it should contain cabbage, I  suppose, if asked, I'd (potentially incorrectly) broaden the definition to include earthy, grated vegetables such as beets, carrots, and now kohlrabi.

what IS this thing?! you may ask yourself...

This was my first time cooking with kohlrabi. I had never seen or heard of it until about five years ago.  I found one over the weekend at a farmstand for only 25 cents... so I decided to give it a whirl.

First, I looked for some information on it in my favorite reference cookbook for vegetables, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.  While kohlrabi didn't have its own entry (surprisingly, because Madison's book is very thorough) it was found in the index among recipes for grated vegetable salads.  Which, if you are a purist, my recipe would be called rather than a slaw. Next, I went to my favorite visual internet resource, Foodgawker, to search for kohlrabi slaw recipes.

After searching for inspiration and some thinking about what would taste good for lunch, this is what I ended up with:

Kohlrabi Slaw aka "kohl slaw" 
Grated Kohlrabi, Carrot and Apple salad

2 cups raw kohlrabi, grated
2 medium sized carrots, grated
2 apples, grated
1 Tablespoon grated ginger
1/2 cup walnuts

1 teaspoon mustard
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil

grate kohlrabi, carrots and apples in food processor with the grating attachment, or box grater.
grate ginger using a finer grater, such as a microplane.
place vegetables, ginger and walnuts in a bowl. mix well... hands work best to get separate and combine the tiny match-stick pieces of vegetables.
in a separate bowl, mix mustard, vinegar and oil to make a dressing then add to salad.
serve right away at room temperature or cover and refrigerate until lunch time. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Growing (and eating!) Our Own Food: Beets!

My Mom gave me these beets for my birthday (Thanks!!) As you might have read, the beet crop from my own garden was a little disappointing.  None the less I cooked, ate and wrote about my beets with pride.  Anyway, Mom's beets were bigger and growing more frequently than mine so she had some to spare.

Inspired by a delicious raw golden beet salad a friend shared with me recently, I veered from my usual path of roasting the beets to have on my own raw beet salad adventure.  Not surprisingly, I found a Bittman recipe online for raw beet salad that included a nice variation on the raw slaw like salad that paired beets with with carrots and ginger.  YUM!

I made a few changes. Here's what I did:

Raw Beet Salad

4 medium sized beets (about .75 pound), washed and trimmed
equal amount of carrots about 5 to 6 carrots (about .75 pound), washed and trimmed
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
a handful of cilantro, chopped

Grate the beets, carrots and ginger -- I used the food processor grating attachment.  Place in large bowl.
Mix the mustard, oil, and vinegar, pour into beet mixture.
Sprinkle with cilantro.

The dressing was subtle, allowing the beet flavor to shine.  I wonder what this would be like with mint in place of the cilantro... 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

South Indian Lemon Rice

Hello KTF! I'm back from my little vacation in Maine, and am pulling together some ideas for a blog post on camping food ideas. I'll have more to share with you on that subject soon, but for now I'm posting a super quick and easy lunch or picnic food, Lemon Rice!

This is my own version, inspired by the South Indian cooking I found when I was in India this past spring. Using leftover rice and then just a few minutes of cooking on the stove top, this is a great homecooked meal when you don't want to heat up your whole kitchen on these hot summer days.

I've mentioned this dish on the blog before and have had a reader request that I share the recipe, so here we go:

South Indian Lemon Rice
serves 2

1 cup Basmati or Brown Rice
1 Tbsp oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 heaping Tbsp peanuts
2 heaping Tbsp cashews
1/4 tsp asafoetida/hing (taste similar to garlic, found at asian grocery stores)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 inch piece of ginger, grated
3 red chillies, dried
1 small lemon, or half a large lemon, juiced
1 handful cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
salt to taste

Cook the basmati rice in 2 cups water for 10 to 15 minutes, or until rice is cooked. Allow to cool, so grains stay separate. Left over rice works best.

Heat oil over medium heat in a heavy bottomed skillet. Add mustard seeds. When seeds begin to splutter and pop, add peanuts, cashews, asafoetida, turmeric, ginger and chillies. Saute for a few minutes, just until peanuts and cashews begin to brown.

Remove from heat. Add lemon juice and salt. Add lemon mixture and cilantro leaves to the rice, mixing slowly so as not to break the rice grains. Serve at room temperature or pack it in your tiffin for a picnic lunch.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Growing (and eating!) Our Own Food: basil

I mentioned the other day, that I used my garden basil to make pesto using the Mark Bittman basil pesto recipe.  With garden basil, it needs to be tended and used regularly so that it doesn't flower.  I spent about 5 minutes cutting basil yesterday that yielded about 2 cups of leaves.  Until our tomatoes start appearing in droves, I can't use that much basil raw.  So I started making pesto!  I managed to keep a little in the fridge and some to freeze.   I'm hoping I can do a couple more rounds of this before the tomatoes start because it's so handy to have it on hand to put on, well, everything.... sandwiches, pasta, soup, etc.

Here's a link again to the recipe.  It's super easy and more than delicious.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kitchen Thrifting

Ever since I was young, going to thrift stores, has been a frequent past-time.  My mom would take my sister and I along thrifting around Iowa.  She used to collect  lamps  and ashtrays and mid-century modern furniture, vintage clothes... some things I despised as a kid but would probably kill to have some of that stuff now!! When I got bored while she'd be scoping out lamps I'd would start looking for cool toys and later on clothes.  Thrifting is fun, like a treasure hunt where you never knew what you'd end up with. And recently, I've discovered, that often the old things you find in thrift shops or salvage shops are better quality than the new stuff you can buy at Target.  It's convenient to just go and pick out what you want when you want it.  But, there's something satisfying about finding an item, previously discarded, that's in good condition and still works.  Something made in the USA, that was built to last, unlike many products today that are so cheaply made they are almost replaceable/disposable. 

When Ryan and I started dating many years ago, we'd take trips to thrift stores around town to find clothes or old board games.  It's a weekend hobby we still enjoy.  I've found a lot of cool, fun and functional stuff for our home through thrifting.  I love looking for kitchen stuff.

Today I had a nice find.  A Sunbeam Mixmaster. 

My Grandma had (still has?) one and I remember helping her mix cookies with it.  It's got to be at least 20 years old, has a nice retro appearance yet still works!  I'm not big into baking, but for $7 and the 45 minutes I spent cleaning it, I know it will come in handy. 

I'm not big on kitchen gadgets that only perform one function, but I do have my fair share of useful kitchen appliances. (I love my food processor Ryan gave me for my birthday last year!) I always check the appliances section at Good Will for anything that looks interesting, or retro.  I am currently/still looking for a food dehydrator.  I don't need one, but think it would fun to have one, but am not totally sure I'd use it enough to justify spending hundreds of dollars on it. Don't get sucked in by the infomercial... check your local thrift shop.  If you  are ever thinking of getting a bread machine, I guarantee you can choose from a wide selection of at any Goodwill store in Des Moines.  Buy one for five dollars and try it out!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Growing (and eating!) Our Own Food: Summer Squash

Slowly but surely more food is coming out of the garden.  The latest: summer squash.  Several of these delicious yellow or green veggies have found their way into my current staple, the veggie quinoa bowl. However, for a recent dinner party with friends, I wanted to make a starter rather than a main dish.  I based it on a summer food memory of breaded, fried zucchini, that I used to help my mom make years ago (Thanks MOM!).

summer squash/zucchini "fries"

1 large summer squash, cut into rounds
1-2 Cups bread crumbs*
1-2 Tablespoons grated parmesan
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 eggs,beaten
splash of milk
salt and pepper
neutral oil for frying

wash, then cut the squash into rounds (I prefer rounds based on the way my mom made them, while I found pictures on the internet of thick cut french fry shapes... )

*DIY bread crumbs in three steps: 
     1. save bread ends in the freezer
     2. toast bread as needed 
     3. grind the toast to thin powdery crumbs in the food processor

Mix the  parmesan and seasonings with the breadcrumbs on a plate.
Beat two eggs with a splash of milk.

Dunk each piece of squash in the egg and milk mixture, then coat it with bread crumbs.  Set aside until all are covered.

Add oil and heat it in a shallow pan, so there is a small pool covering the bottom, (I don't know the measurement on this, you need enough to make the breading sizzle, but you aren't "deep frying" here.)

Starting with the thickest slices of squash since they'll need longer to cook, place squash in pan, fry until brown on both sides (approximately 3-4 minutes on each side).

Sprinkle with extra parmesan! 

We ate ours with some pesto I made from basil that is also plentifully growing in our garden.  You won't be surprised that I turned to Mark Bittman's recipe pesto.  So simple, so delicious!!
Someone was kind enough to write up the recipe here!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chefs for a Day

Not a day goes by I don't think of something special, funny, or delicious I experienced in France.  One of the highlights of my trip was cooking in a restaurant kitchen in Paris.  I've been waiting for just the right moment to tell you about it and finally that moment is upon us.

Kelsy (who you may remember guest blogged here about those delicious sloppy joes!) was searching for cooking classes and stumbled upon an opportunity of a lifetime.  She told me about Un Jour Un Chef's concept...   Vouz vez les recettes, nous avons le restaurant (you have the recipes, we have the restaurant).  This means that we'd get to work in a professional kitchen with professional chefs who would help us execute our own menu!  My immediate reaction was that it sounded terrifying, but something that we had to do, and would be reminiscing about forever.  The next thing I knew, we were planning our menu with an American food theme and writing a bio that would be posted on their website along with our menu. We were locked in for June 1st.  We wanted to represent classic American food (which I hear is a growing trend in Paris right now) with a home-made, dressed up spin.  

Our menu:

spicy fried chicken strips 
on a green salad with herb buttermilk "ranch" dressing and cornbread croutons
Petits beignets de poulet épicé sur lit de salade 

bourbon and beer BBQ marinade pork ribs 
with green bean casserole and fennel garlic mashed potatoes. 
Ribs de porc caramélisés bourbon/bière, sauce BBQ, haricots verts à l'américaine

red wine brownie, carrot cake cupcake, and peanut butter cookie
Brownie, cupcake carottes et cookie au beurre de cacahuètes 

Les chefs du jour!

Kelsy and I set out early for a  coffee and croissant as we imagined what our big day would be like.  Giddy with excitement but not sure how much we'd get to do, or how everything was going to work we quickly headed to the restaurant after breakfast to make sure we'd be on time!  We arrived at the restaurant at 9 a.m. to find Ludovic, one of the chefs who would help us all day, putting away vegetables.  He showed us where to put our things and where to find chef jackets to change into.  Chef Jackets?!  We were in the big time now.  Very official.

 We got right to work in the kitchen, which was tiny by the way, chopping vegetables.  We were set free at the counter,where a long magnet stocked with knives hung along the wall at eye level.  We set to work on a large pile of potatoes, fennel, mushrooms, and onions.  Then, Ludo left us alone to finish preparing the pork ribs, which had been marinading over night.  It was here where we quickly picked up on the rhythm of the how this day in the kitchen was going to play out.

We got to work and the work didn't stop until after lunch service when everything was clean.  But it didn't feel like work since we were having a ball!  

As you know, I love to chop things, so this was a comforting way for me to get my bearings in a kitchen  where I didn't speak much of the language. The food was the one way I was certain I could communicate what I was capable of.  I really appreciated how we were trusted in the kitchen and nobody was overly concerned as to just how were were cutting the mushrooms, only that we were being safe.  Our second chef arrived, Pauline, the pastry chef/sous chef who spoke some English.  Between that and my limited French and Kelsy's translations, it was smooth sailing. 

we chopped giant bag of onions
While the chefs were not hanging over our shoulder at all, they were aware of what we were up to the entire time.  Every so often, we'd hear "les filles, cava?" (girls are you ok?) to which I'd reply "tres bien chef! oui!"  They loved to teach and share their love of cooking,  and stop to give us a good kitchen tip now and then.  They also never wasted a minute.  Every time we ran out of vegetables to chop, something new to do arrived in the kitchen as Ludo seemed to disappear every few minutes to retrieve ingredients or run a quick load of dishes through the dish machine. 


pork ribs marinating

green bean casserole!

After about 90 minutes of chopping vegetables, Kelsy and I prepared our chicken for the salad.  This included making a spice mixture, dredging and frying the chicken strips.  Then in came Ludo with a huge pile of fresh herbs for our ranch dressing.  Kelsy and I tried to get this dressing to a beautiful creamy consistency by whisking buttermilk but it just wasn't working.  We added cream cheese and mascarpone to the buttermilk and herb mixture, but it just wouldn't thicken.  Then Pauline stepped in and saved the day.  She taught us to mix the thinner liquid into the thick liquid to get the right consistency.  Ah-hah!!

I didn't get a picture of us making the chicken, so here is Kelsy stirring a gigantic vat of our mashed potatoes!!

At about 11:30 the restaurant manager peeked into the kitchen to see if things were ready to taste before lunch service began at noon.  When we finally got everything together, he tasted our dishes. 

"wee!! they liked our food!"

First the salad, then the pork, then deserts.  Every time we presented our dishes, which Ludo and Pauline showed us how to plate exquisitely (and instructionally since we'd be preparing each plate during service!!) , Eric would taste and we'd anxiously wait his reaction. 


It was nothing but mmmmmmmmmms as he shared it with the rest of the staff.  Our ingredients were prepared and our dishes had passed the taste test!  We were open for business.

It seems that this restaurant, which seats around 40-50 diners at a time, was a lunch spot for locals. They could choose any dish from our menu, the chefs menu or a traditional menu. 

As soon as customers began to arrive, Ludovic began calling out orders in the kitchen, "deux entrees du chef, un plat du chef, !"  It was time to work!  Funny side note here... in French, the appetizer is called the "entree" which threw me for a loop since in America the entree is the main dish... but  thanks to Kelsy I figured out that when he said entree I needed to make my salads asap!

So the service continued for two hours.  Orders would arrive, Kelsy and I would heat things up and plate them, place them in the window for pick up and hit the bell... ding!


Kelsy plating the ribs, potatoes and beans.  I think that I was one drizzling the sauce while holding the camera with my other hand!

The four of us worked in harmony during the busy service and whenever there was a lull, Pauline put me to work preparing the deserts as they were going to be flying out of the kitchen any minute!  

At the end of lunch, the manager called us into the dining room.  There sat six people finishing the last crumbs of their dinner and when Kelsy and I appeared out of the kitchen they started to applaud.  I took a little bow and said "merci, merci!" while Kelsy and the diners started having a conversation in French.  I tried to follow along, but the words began to flood together as my mind wandered and I took in the moment in.  Here I was, with one of my best friends, in France, having just served our American themed lunch to Parisians.  My feet hurt, my chef jacket was utterly food-stained but my heart was soaring.  

Find out about more Un Jour Un Chef here.  If you are ever planning a trip to Paris, I highly recommend this as an adventure.  It's free, but they really put you to work for the day!  It was fantastic. 

Kelsy has also blogged about our experiences on her blog A l'Americaine.

Les gourmandes!!!

Monday, July 2, 2012

In lieu of a weekly menu...

With new veggies popping up in my garden every few days, and a lot more time in my schedule I haven't been planning weekly menus (or taking many pictures-- sorry!). 

But don't worry, we've been eating!
a nice fresh salad from garden greens

There have been a lot of salads from our abundant crop of arugula.

And lot of quinoa with garden veggies mixed with produce from the farmers market or supermarket.

our rhubarb red swiss chard-- see recipe below!

The other night, I pulled all the beets from the garden.  They were tiny, but Ryan and I grew them!  I was excited.  They made a great little salad.  I almost felt bad eating them.  Almost.

they had cool white spirals!

 I sliced the little beets and roasted them at 400 for about 15 minutes and put them with the arugula.  
I saved the beet greens and sauteed them like spinach for dinner the next day.  I have also been putting them in salads.  Don't throw them out, unless they are wilted or damaged.  Eat them! Here's an idea....
simple recipe for swiss chard 
or beet greens 
or any other greens!

greens, from a bunch of beets for instance, washed
olive oil
salt and pepper
walnuts or pinenuts
fresh lemon juice (greens go well with citrus, try lime or flavored vinegar!)
garlic, minced

heat olive oil in sautee pan
add garlic until softened
add greens and nuts, season with salt and pepper
sautee until greens have wilted
add lemon juice at the last minute, stir and cook for 30-60 more seconds
transfer to serving dish

The other night, as a friend and I were parting ways to head to our respective homes for dinner, she asked me what I usually made... did I cook vegan or organic?? 
No, I said... I just... 
-- cook yummy?  she interjected.
Well, yes, of course... 

I've been thinking about that a lot lately.  How do I describe what I cook in a simple conversation? 
I cook simple.
I appreciate complicated dishes, but usually leave that to the professionals.  At home, I really focus on the simple, solid flavors I have come to know and love, such as adding the citrus to the greens.  Knowing that cumin and coriander go well together.  That adding a drizzle of basalmic and olive oil to a tomato, basil mozzarella sandwich is divine.  Oh and you must add salt and freshly ground pepper.  That's how I do it...   it's simple and it makes me (and Ryan!) very happy in our kitchen. 

I hope you're enjoying your summer.