In My Kitchen – September 2019

In My Kitchen – September 2019

It’s been several months since my last “In My Kitchen” post. Why has it taken so long? I honestly don’t know since there has been a lot of cooking going on. But the type of cooking that happens in the summer months is quite different from that in the fall and winter. We eat a lot of salads, and grilled vegetables. I don’t do a lot of shopping because we have been eating out of the garden (my own, farmer’s markets and friends) whenever possible. Our ‘meat’ is often a sous-vide chicken breast or sausage tossed on the grill to brown at the last minute. Simple food, and light, which is appropriate for the season. During the summer months I would much rather spend my time in the garden than the kitchen. That will change once the weather cools and our rainy season starts.

Local Tomatoes

So, In My Kitchen I have salads.

And in my kitchen I have grilled vegetables from my own and other local gardens.

I learned a trick this year when grilling vegetables. Wait to toss them with oil until they come off the grill. Once warm and cooked they absorb whatever dressing you would like to add quickly. If you coat them with olive oil before grilling, the oil can turn rancid in the high heat and have an “off” flavor.

I cooked the carrots sous vide before tossing them on the grill to char. The artichokes were par boiled first.

In my kitchen I had half a flat of fresh figs from our warmer inland area. I did try to grow a fig tree here on the coast and it was a colossal failure. I don’t think it is hot enough here. I had one in a container on my deck in Oakland, it did really well but I had to fight the critters for the figs. These are Black Mission Figs, I made fig jam and we have been enjoying them fresh in salads (as well as in hand).

Black Mission Figs and Fig Jam

In My Kitchen I have homemade taco seasoning, this recipe came from Mollie and her blog, Frugal Hausfrau.

I used it to coat a chicken  chicken breast before cooking it sous-vide. We then quickly browned it on the grill. It was delicious.

Once you cook a chicken breast sous vide, you will never go back to another method. This one cooked away to perfection in the water bath while we attended a neighborhood meeting. It only took a few minutes to toss it on the grill once we returned home.

In my kitchen I have fresh herb sauces to use on vegetables or grilled meat.

This Salsa Verde contained cilantro, mint, fresh thyme, scallions, jalapeno, and garlic with olive oil, cumin, lime juice, and harissa. It was delicious on simply grilled vegetables.

Trader Joe’s has had some interesting new products. These artichoke hearts were preserved in a simple brine, wonderful tossed into a mixed vegetable salad.

They also have grilled ones in olive oil and sun dried cherry tomatoes in olive oil. The grilled ones were a little stringy. There is not a Trader Joe’s up here on the coast but I stock up when I am at the Oakland apartment.

At our holiday craft’s fair I picked up this European butter keeper. It was made by a friend’s brother who is a potter. I’ve never used one before but it is supposed to keep butter fresh at room temperature. You fill the top part with butter, then turn it upside down on the bottom which is filled with water.

I really like the tree on the top. Do any of you readers preserve butter this way?

This post is part of a monthly gathering of bloggers. Click on the link to Sherry’s Pickings for a look at what is happening around the world.

In My Kitchen
Sherry’s Pickings

That’s all for now, I will see you all again in October. Thank you for visiting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In My Garden – August 2019

In My Garden – August 2019

Can you believe it is August and fall is just around the corner? I certainly cannot. It has been beautiful here with highs mostly in the 60’s and an occasional foray into the low 70’s. We live in the banana belt of the Mendocino coast, it’s both slightly warmer and sunnier because of the shape of the coast. The city of Fort Bragg is only a couple of miles south of us, but it’s often foggy while we are clear.

Fog rolling in along the coast

So, what’s going on the garden? I’ve been concentrating on the edges of the borders and filling in some of the bare spots with low plants and succulents. My target goal is to not have any dirt showing, it’s a long range plan as many of the plants are still small.

I’m after a style called ‘intermingling’ with a high density of perennials. Annuals will self seed and find their spots in any bare areas. The following is from an English gardening blog I read, (Noel’s Garden):

Modern thinking on perennial planting density tends to favor around seven to nine plants per square meter, considerably more so than conventionally. Plantings quickly look full and potentially a good canopy can develop, but only if the plant forms used mesh together – which single cultivar blocks of upright growers often never do, which is a good reason for using an ‘intermingled’ approach to planting. Both German Mixed Planting systems and Piet Oudolf use plants at this density, with the former filling in quickly and the latter potentially so, depending on what is being used. Management, which conventionally has always been focussed on the integrity of individual plants tends to prevent meshing together. Spreading and seeding can fill, and perhaps should, fill the gaps.

Speaking of bare spots, nothing seems to grow in the very center of one of the back island beds. I couldn’t figure out why nothing was thriving until I discovered it’s the favorite spot for our elderly cat, Lucy, to doze and watch the birds. Thankfully she is too old and well fed to hunt them.

Last month I said I would list some of my favorite plant combinations, those that have done well in my zone 9b climate. The combinations all need similar water and light requirements. There is a delightful book, Plant Partners by Anna Pavord, that I was given a couple of decades ago when I was starting the Oakland garden. The pictures of the combinations are truly stunning and inspiring. However, the plants require different growing conditions…water, sun, soil, etc. In reality you can’t grow them together successfully. Additionally many of them were unsuitable for our dry summer climate. It was a big disappointment because, as a beginning gardener, I tried some of them with unfortunate results.

Anyway, here us a snapshot of my favorite combinations. They have been both beautiful and successful.

Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ with Geum coccineum ‘Totally Tangerine’, with Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Margareta BOP’, with Scabiosa caucasica ‘Fama Blue’, with the yarrow Achillea millefolium ‘Salmon Beauty’. In spring and early summer there are also red annual poppies, orange California poppies and the native wild flower ‘Baby Blue Eyes’. The Deschampsia “Tufted Hair Grass” is there for textural interest.

August island beds – Geum and Yarrow

 

Geum Totally Tangerine

This Geum is one of the most successful plants in my garden, growing into clumps 18″ tall and wide with flower talks of tangerine orange blooms that wave in the breeze. The bees love the flowers and they last quite a long time when cut for the house. I have other Geums, both red and yellow varieties, and they are slowly growing into respectable plants. But this variety takes off from the get go.

Marmalade

Heuchera Marmalade

The contrast of the leaves is gorgeous, but an added delight is that the foliage mirrors the tangerine blooms of the Geum.

Another favorite (and a favorite of the hummingbirds as well) combination is the bright red Nicotiana alata ‘Crimson Bedder’, with Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’, with Cuphea ‘Kristin’s Delight’ and Agastache ‘Purple Haze’. All of them are perennials and come back larger each year.  The Cupheas are sometimes called cigar plants and are native to Mexico. The blooms have a wide range of colors but all are beloved by hummingbirds. In our growing zone they seem to be in constant flower.

On some of the following pictures you will also see snapdragons, Agastache (hummingbird mint), Scabiosa (pincushion flower), and purple toadflax as well as some annual poppies and other native wildflowers.

 

I’ve repeated these combinations several times throughout the back island beds.

You may be interested in what is happening in the pollinator garden. Well, since I have decided to withhold supplemental summer water, it is drying up.

August Pollinator Garden

I was considering mowing the plants under or pulling them out. But, as I walked past the meadow, a large flock of sparrows and finches flew into the air. The birds are enjoying the seeds. So, I think I will leave the dead plants until later in the fall. The seeds that survive will sprout in the spring once the winter rains start. It will be interesting to see the changes from one year to another. It does look rather sad right now though.

I’ve always loved Kate Wolf’s song about California being brown in the summertime. It’s really true.

Coastal meadows

I think that’s all from the north coast of California. Happy gardening.

 

 

 

In My Garden – July 2019

In My Garden – July 2019

In truth I am spending more time in my garden these days than in front of the computer. It has been too long since my last update. There is so much to do outside, I am busy watering and pruning and mulching and weeding. It’s certainly a full time job as the garden has expanded over the last year. However, I find it very satisfying and great exercise. The garden has responded to my love with a plethora of flowers.

In full bloom are the roses and dahlias.

There are so many flowers that I’m having trouble finding places for them in the house, and running out of vases. I do love seeing the flowers from the kitchen and in the bedroom, they make me happy.

We have been grilling summer squash from the vegetable garden. I try to pick the zucchini before they get too large and we are overwhelmed. They are wonderful sliced thickly, lightly brushed with olive oil and cooked on an open grill.

I’m still harvesting lots of lettuce, arugula, chard, and radishes. The carrots are almost ready to harvest but the beets have not done well. I worry that it is because the soil was depleted by the previous planting of lettuce and have added some blood meal for nitrogen. My worm compost bins only contain shredded newspaper and kitchen vegetable scraps (plus egg shells), maybe too much carbon? Anyway, I have planted another row of beets in the enhanced soil, fingers crossed. It’s not warm enough here for many of the regular summer vegetables as I don’t have a green house. I’m thinking next summer of putting a hoop house over one of the raised beds, I do miss summer tomatoes and cucumbers. Thank goodness for a good friend who is providing me with her extras.

I was worried about the lack of bees earlier in the season. They are now here in abundance, almost entirely our native varieties of bumblebees and not the European bees. There is a definite buzz to the air when I am in the garden and I find sleeping bees in flowers early in the morning.

As an experiment, I put out a praying mantis egg case a month ago and was startled to see hundreds of babies this yesterday when I went out to water the pole beans.

Praying Mantis - babies

Praying Mantis babies

I am lucky to be without too many pests so I hope they find enough to eat. I think in a pinch they will eat each other.

The pollinator meadow has changed, going from reds and pinks to pinks and blues. I pulled out the red poppies once the seed pods had dried out. They will return next spring after the winter rains. Now I see mostly Clarkia, bachelor buttons, larkspur, and a few lingering poppies of different colors. Here’s a quick snapshot of the progression.

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It’s starting to dry out, as is our ‘lawn’, without any summer water.

But there are plenty of flowers in the backyard island beds.

I plan to write a post about my favorite plant combinations, there are some that I have found especially pleasing.

Time to get back out there. Thank you so much for visiting and happy gardening to you all.

In My Garden – June 2019

In My Garden – June 2019

The watering season has begun. I spend most of my garden time from now until November watering and weeding. November is when the rain usually returns (sometimes in October), but until then the only natural moisture will be from our coastal fog. The redwood tress love it because they can absorb water through their needles as well as their roots. It’s why you usually don’t see redwoods in the inland areas of the West, no fog. They don’t do well with sustained hot dry weather, although that doesn’t stop gardeners from planting them. Oh oh…I feel a rant coming on and will stop there.

So, on to my own garden. Someone recently commented it looks like an English cottage garden but with native and drought resistant plants. I think that’s a pretty good description of the effect I am going after. There have been a few plantings this month, probably the last until autumn. I’m in love with Geums and they do well here, I put in three more Totally Tangerine plants to balance out the opposite side of the bed. Also planted was a native yellow lupine, so far it is struggling and I hope it survives.

These are views of the two planting beds at the back of the house.

In the vegetable garden I am still harvesting lots of lettuce. The summer squash and bush beans are growing well but no flowers yet.

Fort Bragg CA raised bed garden

Artichokes, raised bed garden (and Casey)

We harvested our first artichoke.

The runner beans are starting to take off, since these can be perennials in our climate, I put them in a half wine barrel. The flowers are supposed to be a big draw for the hummingbirds.

Red Runner Beans

Red Runner Beans

The 4 wine barrels on the left have new rose bushes, which are now in bud. I purchased them bare root a couple of months ago.

The meadow has really taken off. I did plant a large salvia and 2 plants of Monardas didyma ‘Jacob Cline’ (bee balm) last month. It’s always an experiment to see what will grow, they certainly didn’t thrive in my Oakland garden.

Wild Flower Meadow, Fort Bragg CA

Wild Flower and Pollinator Garden June 2019

I don’t intend to water it, at least at this point.

May brought unusually heavy rain followed by a heat spell in early June. My rhododendrons were just starting to bloom and unfortunately the temperature was too warm for them to reach their full potential. Many of the flowers dried even though I watered. They were toasted.

Wilted Rhododendrons

Wilted Rhododendron Flowers

The sun and warm weather have given a growth spurt to the dahlias. There were 5 new varieties planted this spring. No flower buds yet but I don’t think it will be long.

Dahlias June 2019

Dahlia Bed

I am traveling most of the last two weeks of this month and am dependent on the skill of my house/dog sitter and my part time gardener. Leaving this time of year (even with good instructions and skilled hands) is rough. I’m sure all you gardeners out there know what I am talking about.

Here’s a glimpse into last year at this time, June 2018…no raised beds. I was trying out tomatoes and cucumbers, which did nothing at all. The ravens pecked what few tomatoes developed before they could ripen and the cucumbers immediately came down with powdery mildew. I’ll be doing garden exchanges with folks in warmer microclimates. My lettuce for their tomatoes and cucumbers.

What’s on the program this month? Water, weed and harvest. Thankfully we don’t have any more big trips planned until September.

Have you heard about Wild Garden Seed? They are a certified organic seed farm in the Northwest. Their seeds are from plants meant to be used in organic settings, so their seeds have outstanding disease and pest resistance as well as flavor. I just heard about them and will be ordering some for my fall garden. Up to now I have primarily ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, another organic company with a wide range of unusual and  heirloom varieties, also excellent. It’s really fun as a gardener to peruse seed catalogs in print or on line.

I highly recommend both these companies (I do not get anything from my endorsement).

June – Perfect Roast Chicken

June – Perfect Roast Chicken

In her classic book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (vol. 1), Julia Child states “You can always judge the quality of a cook or restaurant by roast chicken.” Roasting a chicken is certainly an important skill to master. Your own home cooked roast chicken will be miles better than any supermarket or deli chicken.

Julia’s method results in an excellent roast chicken. However it requires turning the chicken 4 times and basting every 10 minutes. Just reading the directions can be off putting. My own method doesn’t require any basting at all and only 1 turn. It results in crisp skin and juicy meat. I don’t truss because tying the legs close to the breast results in undercooked thigh or overcooked breast meat.

Here is the trick. I take advantage of the newest information on brining, and borrow a technique often used when roasting duck. I pre-salt the chicken and let it sit in the fridge (uncovered and breast up) for several hours or overnight. That’s the only preplanning that is required.

The perfect roast chicken starts with the quality of the chicken. Buy the best you can afford, preferably free range organic and air chilled. Water bath chilling results in the bird absorbing a lot of that soaking water. I also prefer the air chilled for food safety reasons, dozens of birds are not sitting in a vat of water. If one of the birds is contaminated it increases the chances that all will be contaminated as well.

The Perfect Roast Chicken

These are general directions.

Adjust the cooking time according to the weight of your chicken. I find it is done when the leg moves easily in the socket when jiggled. For a 4-5 pound chicken that will be somewhere between 50 and 70 minutes. There will be some personal preference determining the time. I don’t mind if the white meat has a very slight pink tinge, you may want to cook your own longer. Your oven temperature will also play a part. My oven runs hot, your own may run cool. It’s best to know those things, check your own with an oven thermometer. They are cheap and it will save you a lot of grief in the long run.

You can use an instant read thermometer for more precise measurements of doneness. Insert it into the thickest part of the thigh without hitting the bone. The FDA recommends cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. I take mine out just before it reaches that temperature. The bird will continue to cook with the residual heat after it comes out of the oven. Allow it to sit on your carving board or platter for 15 minutes, that allows the juices to settle back into the meat.

Salted Chicken on a Rack Ready for the Fridge

Salted Chicken Ready for the Fridge

So here we go…

There are two methods for brining a bird. The first, and older method, is to submerge it in a salt water solution. The second is a dry brine, simply rub the chicken inside and out with a generous amount of kosher salt. I don’t use method the first method anymore, I am not partial to a vat of salty water taking up space in my fridge (a spill will create a big mess…I’ve been there). In addition, a water chilled bird is what I am trying to get away from. I want to intensify flavors, not dilute them.

Dry brining intensifies flavors and will give you crisp skin. I use kosher salt because it doesn’t contain any additives and has a clean flavor.

Remove the chicken from its wrapping and dry it with paper towels. The latest food safety recommendations are to not rinse it. Rub it generously with kosher salt, both inside and out. Put it on a rack in baking dish, breast side up, and place it in the fridge for at least an hour. If you have 24 hours you will be amazed at the result. Don’t go longer than 24 unless you are brining a turkey.

Take the chicken out of the fridge while you preheat your oven to 425 degrees F (218 degrees C). I don’t use the convection fan. Rub your chicken with olive oil and any flavorings you may want (I don’t worry about the salt). I have used my confit lemon oil and lemon slices with herbs to Provence (the aroma as it roasts is incredible), paprika, chili powder, roasted fennel spice, zatar, fresh herbs, etc. You can let your imagination run wild. But you will find this chicken is delicious with only a simple coating of olive oil.

Poke a few holes in a whole lemon and place that inside the chicken. You could also add a few sprigs of whatever fresh herb you have handy. The lemon adds additional flavor. You could even use an orange or a couple of limes (especially nice if you are giving the chicken a Mexican vibe).

Line your roasting pan with foil to make clean up easier. Rub a rack (V shaped if you have one) with oil and place the chicken breast down on the rack. Once your oven has reached 425 degrees F, place the chicken in the middle of the oven and roast for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, remove it from the oven and turn it breast side up, roast for an additional 25 minutes or until done.

Let the chicken rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Perfect Roast Chicken

Perfect Roast Chicken

Look at how moist and juicy! And the skin is super crisp.

I often serve the chicken with a simple salad, I pour some of those chicken juices over the salad as a dressing with an additional squeeze of lemon juice. The fresh salad below had sliced peaches and red onion as well as some avocado. The combination was delightful.

Perfect Roast Chicken

Perfect Roast Chicken Thigh

Perfect Roast Chicken

I’m taking this to Fiesta Friday to share with Angie and the gang. It’s Fiesta #279 and I am a co-host along with Jenny from Apply to Face Blog.

Click on the links to join the party or check out all the blogs about food, the garden, and crafts. You can also add your own link.

Thank you so much for visiting and I would love to hear your comments.