Will Trade for Garlic

March 23, 2015

– Fondling the garlic clean. A most satisfying job. -

I grow enough garlic each year to feed all of Sicily, but it still never seems to be enough. Garlic is worth its weight in gold around these parts. I can’t give away even the finest specimens of my fancy heirloom squashes, no one gives a rat about my Striped Green Zebras or a fistful of my prized old timey bean pods or fragrant Holy Basil. But garlic?!

Our gutter guy will trade his hours for it. My neighbor, Sandy, calls to let me know she just needed to grab a few heads from the barn. My other neighbor (you know who you are) eyes it up and tells me a story about how his mother used to grow it and he hasn’t tasted fresh-dug garlic in, I dunno…YES! HERE! HAVE SOME GARLIC! Garlic, fresh-dug, homegrown garlic, just-like-Mama-used-to-grow, is what the people come for.

– Garlic’s cozy, cozy winter. -

Garlic starts off humbly enough: clove stuffed into ground like pimento into olive. I don’t even buy seed, but that’s mostly because I never get my timing right. I swoon over the idea of rich Rocambole cultivars from Filaree Garlic Farm showing up on my doorstep at just the right moment, but I never give it that much forethought. Garlic planting is spontaneous business – often the last thing I do before we close up the house for winter. Usually I just go down to the pantry and pilfer the fattest cloves I have on hand. Sometimes I supplement with some store-bought beauties. I’ll even buy some heads to plant at (gasp!) the Price Chopper. And I always decide to put in another row last minute – luggage loaded in the car, husband tapping his watch, fancy travel shoes on.

– Garlic scapes. Hello, wigglies! -

– Scapes. Slightly better as compost. Lots better on the table in a vase. -

Garlic is the first thing in the garden to say hello in early summer. It appears in the form of scapes, the flower of the plant that needs to be lopped off. I’ve been tempted to cook them up over the years. After all, they charge $17 a pound for them at Whole Foods, but scapes are frankly kind of terrible if you disregard all the springy romance and dear price paid. No, you must wait for garlic. Work for it. Stay clear of it. Have patience. 

– Now this is what we’ve been waiting for. -

 Fresh-dug garlic should be treated gently. In fact, the special maneuvering required between its time in the dirt and its spot in the winner’s circle is filled with more grooming, pampering and diva behavior than the Westminster Dog Show. It can’t stay out in the sun too long or it burns. It can’t be too clean while drying or too dirty when storing. It can’t be too humid or too hot or it rots. It can’t be piled too thickly or it gets a little moody and turns on you. It likes to hang out in cute, precarious places, like barn rafters and antique beams, while everyone sighs, checks their texts again, and waits for it.

– Quick! Run for the shade. -

– An antique ladder with a fan circulating just so makes for a perfect place to dangle for a few weeks. -

– It takes work to gently separate, rub and clip. -

– And more work. -

– And more work. (And a phone.)-

– But the spoils are worth it. -

There is something about fresh-dug garlic that makes me crave a roast chicken. The caramelizing skin of both perfume the kitchen after a long day of mud. While roast chicken couldn’t be a simpler meal, it’s one of the most difficult to get right. The musts for me: crisp skin, bronzed but not burnt, moist inside, dark meat cooked to the bone but breast meat glistening and edible, garlic cloves soft and squishy inside their paper.

You can’t perfectly roast a chicken until you have imperfectly roasted a dozen. It goes hand in hand with growing garlic: patience and experience result in the juiciest of perfection.  

HOW TO PERFECTLY ROAST A CHICKEN

The key (one of the keys) to perfectly roasting a chicken is the smallness of the chicken. I say no to a 4-pounder as if it were a slab of week-old fish on decorator parsley. I ask for “Under 3′s” and buy two more for the freezer. (The addition of lardo is just to humor me and purely optional.) I love to roast chicken in my mother-in-law, Mimi’s, upright pan. Mimi’s generous spirit lives on in The Muddy Kitchen – her magical mixing bowls and various kitchen do-dads, our everyday essentials. 

Ingredients:

1 small chicken (2 1/2 – under 3 lbs)

 A small handful of fresh herb sprigs (thyme, parsley, mint, oregano, even lemon balm, whatever is on hand)

A small handful of fresh chopped herbs (thyme, parsley, mint, oregano, even lemon balm, whatever is on hand)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

4 or 5 fat cloves of garlic, unpeeled.

A few slices of lardo (seriously optional)

Serves 2-4

1. Make sure your chicken is pat dry. Sprinkle the outside with salt and pepper and chopped herbs. If you can think of it, do this step in the morning and let the chicken rest in the fridge. About 90 mins before you want to eat, preheat your oven to 425. 

2. Stuff the chicken with the herb sprigs. I will sometimes use the herb stems or even some chunks of carrot – anything with flavor. I’m always sorry when I use too much rosemary for the job – too medicinal. Plunk the chicken on an upright roaster (my favorite) or in a small roasting pan.

3. Toss the garlic cloves into the bottom of the roasting pan directly below the chicken. The cloves will soften and melt as the chicken cooks and drips above it.

4. If you are going for the illest of roast chicken experiences, layer on a few slices of lardo. Lardo is basically aged fat. Yum! Lardo is to 2015 what pancetta was to 1993: life-alteringly good for you.

5. Roast the chicken. Nothing challenges my highly undependable oven settings like roasting a chicken. A small bird has cooked in my oven both too slowly and too quickly at 425. You just have to keep close watch. They say a chicken is done when the meat reaches 160 to 175. Me? I check for juice color with the poke of a sharp knife in a few spots. When the juices run clear and the skin is bronze and caramelized, it’s done. It usually takes about an hour, give or take.

6. Take bird out. Stare at cutting board. This is when it’s all-too tempting to dive in, but it’s now time to wait. Open a bottle of wine. Make the salad. Do ANYTHING except carve the bird for fifteen minutes.

7. Carve it up. This is my husband’s job so I offer no expertise here. If it were up to me, I’d just put the whole beast on my plate and start gnawing, butt-first. Husband is more genteel. Serve the soft garlic alongside the chicken pieces on the platter. If it’s just the two of you (or just the one of you!), no knife and fork required.

– Mimi’s trusty old upright roaster. -

– The chicken, in a dainty first position, waits for its garlic. -

– Lardo. I’ll have some fat with my fat. -

– Admittedly, an optional step. -

– We wait. -

– And wait. -

– We receive guests. Don’t share wine. -

– We nibble at the gunk. -

– The egg timer rings. -

– And we dig in. -

Take your boots off before you come in here!

 

 

 

 

{ 4 comments }

Hope by the Packetful

March 18, 2015

– My own private Christmas morning. -

Life seems to go completely dormant as dirt, silent as snow, pointless as pajamas, until my little packages of sunshine arrive. Seeds are happiness in a packet. They are hope by the handful. A box full of seeds means anything is possible. Soon the world will be more delicious. 

– Is it spring…yet? - 

I start dreaming of next year’s seeds each year around October or November. It is then that I make rational decisions. I will not plant stuff that I do not eat. I will not plant stuff that only grows in the tropics. I will space my seeds properly, even lavishly, so that everything is manageable as it grows. I will not get suckered into descriptions or reviews. I will only grow what Eliot Coleman grows. I will be wise. I will plan appropriately. I will exercise restraint.

 - Sikkim Cucumbers. What the hell was I thinking? -

– Who wants another bowl of Jing Okra? -

But then December rolls around and I forget all the promises of my youth. I read an article in Mother Earth News and decide that I can’t live without Supai Red Parch Corn. Maybe I should buy a pack for a friend? Maybe we could have a little seed party? Then the glut of gorgeous seed catalogs begins rolling in with all their pretty pictures and provocative descriptions. (I hate you Baker Creek Heirlooms! You and your seductive catalogs.) 

I hibernate with my reading glasses, two fingers of bourbon in a glass, and a mug full of highlighter pens. I have no restraint. Why hold back now? The kids can fix their own dinner – Can’t they see I’m WORKING! Maybe I could dig another bed?

I buy more seeds than I can plant…more than everyone I know can plant. 

– Fruit dangling from archways and beans climbing teepees? A girl can dream. -

– I will not grow okra. I will not grow okra. Well, maybe a little okra. -

– Is a garden truly complete without Mexican Sour Gherkins? -

– Such a versatile…vegetable? Fruit? Whatever it is. -

– Is this even edible? -

And so, I go for it.  Credit cards are a’ blazing. I am impulsive. I am delirious. I am a sucker for all of it. All the descriptors. All the pretty illustrations and photographs. The sex appeal of seeds. My hope for the future knows no bounds.  

On this year’s list:

Chinese Green Luobo Radish

Tokyo Market Turnip

Hinoma Kabu Turnip 

Pusa Asita Carrot 

Nelson Carrots

Lutz Salad Beet 

Cylindra Beet

Chiogga Beet

 D’Avignon Radishes

McCaslan 42 

Blue Lake 

Roma

Asian Winged Beans 

Monachelle Di Trevio 

Jacob’s Cattle

Good Mother Stallard 

Haricot Tarbais  

Lincoln Peas

Sugar Snap Snap Peas

Petite Snap-Greens 

Broad Windsor Fava

Catamint

Emily Basil

 Wild Zaatar Oregano

 Chervil

 Holy Kaprao Basil

Slo-Bolt Cilantro

Parsley (Giant of Italy)

 Lovage

 Chamomile

Dwarf Nasturtium

 Violet Bowles Black Pansy

 Canton Bok Choy

 Famosa Cabbage

Beira Kale

Diablo Brussels Sprout

 Atlantic Broccoli  

Freckles Lettuce

 Surrey Greens 

 Green Towers 

 Sparx 

 Merlot

Little Gem

Buttercrunch

Red Romaine

Red Veined Sorrel

Celtuce

Mixed Radicchio

Mixed Escarole

Chicory Bianco

Rhodos Frisse

Purplette Onion

West Indian Burr Gherkin

Parisian Pickling

 Northern Pickling

Patisson Strie MeLange

Costata Romanesco

Early Crookneck

Zucchino Rampicante 

Winter Luxury Pie

Bush Buttercup

Marino di Chioggia

Sibley Squash

Hawaiian Dance Mask

Big Apple Gourd

Bule Gourd

Eagle Pass Okra

Supai Red Parch Corn

Pink Okra

Aunt Molly Ground Cherry

Agretti

– See you in a few months! -

Take your boots off before you come in here!

{ 7 comments }

Verbless VVednesdays

April 23, 2014

Spring nubbins.

{ 0 comments }

— The Neurotic Gardener never sleeps –

I do not mind a messy sock drawer, I can leave a bed unmade for days, I discard rejected outfits at the foot of my bed like a petulant teenager, and I have gotten a ‘talking to’ from Mr. Muddy Kitchen on more than one occasion for a used strand of dental floss hardened onto my sink basin like someone’s long lost iPhone 3 charger cord, but dang if I can’t stand a single germinating onion seed flung 1/8″ off course. That just doesn’t work for me.

Hello, my name is Jennifer Solow, and (in addition to my OCC) I am a Neurotic Vegetable Gardener (clap, clap).

— Do I love Seed Tape or what?! –

So, as you might imagine, I am seriously excited about my newfound discovery: Seed Tape. And if you suffer from my particular disorder, you will be too.

Okay, so here’s the deal: the tape comes with pre-measured marks and with adhesive (already on there!) that holds just about any ordinary seed in place. The entire length of tape can be planted in the ground, seeded by you, whenever you feel like it. The tape then dissolves and the seeds are left to do their thing. I mean, hello!?

Why is this so great, you ask?

Imagine – me sitting on my ass, perhaps in my pajamas, in my comfy office, in January, February, March…hell, whenever! I meticulously place my seeds exactly where they need to go, hang them on a hanger in my office closet until I’m ready, then plant, in about 30 seconds, in the garden, in situ. 

This was particularly great this year when April’s normally tolerable outdoor temperature turned unseasonably fra-eeeezing and I found myself amidst the charming snowflakes of, like, FEBRUARY!! Instead of freezing my paws off, I simply tweezed my seeds onto my seed tape, lounged around my fireplace, sipped sherry, lounged some more, then voila — planted my entire spring planting in minutes —  without freezing my rosebuds off.

— Peas are so tempting to plant too close to each other. But no…. 4″ to 6″ away from their buddies. –

— Do I have a problem? Um…it’s not that bad. –

— Brrrr. Run back inside ASAP! –

— Gardens should be organized. Life should not. –

— Rows of Perseo radicchio are nothing if not straight. –

Of course, April food is a lot like November food, with lots of junk from the pantry, the last of the curly butternut squash, duck breasts from the freezer and glasses of yummy red vino. The good part is that I actually adore November food – duck breast, fatty junk, squash-something…all delightful! Even in April.

— Lower in fat than turkey, duck breasts are a delicious freezer staple. –

 

— Salt. Fat. Duck. A good name for a band? –

Duck breasts should sit in a puddle of salt in a pie plate for a while before searing, or so says Martha, for about 30 minutes, no more. 

— Oh, dear, Martha, how doth we sear a duck breast again? –

I don’t sear duck breasts too frequently so I forget the best way to do it every time. I always return to Martha, who seems to know best when it comes to poultry.  

— It’s spring! Get your rhubarb on! –

 The first think to pop up in my garden is rhubarb. I always do the conventional thing and stew it up with a few strawberries, but the fact is, I love the rhubarb itself and always eat the rhubarb blobs out and forget about the other stuff. Rhubarb is divine.

— When it’s un-springlike outside, do you tape inside.”

It’s April. Too cold to plant. Too cold to get dressed. Too cold to wake up too much.

SEARED DUCK BREASTS WITH JUNK FROM THE PANTRY

Ingredients

2 6-ounce duck breasts
A fair puddle of coarse sea salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock
7 ounces Bing cherries or a few spoonfuls of jam from the pantry
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
10 twists on the black pepper mill
1/2 tablespoon very cold unsalted butter
 

— It’s always nice to have everything mis en place…in it’s place. –

 
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Take the duck out of the fridge 60 minutes before you want to use it. Cover the breasts in salt and let them sit for 30 minutes in a pie pan. Transfer the duck to the freezer for another 30 minutes.
 
Brush as much of the salt off the duck as possible. Score the fat on top of the duck in a crosshatch pattern, carefully to score only the fat and not the flesh beneath it. 
 
Preheat a small cast iron skillet on medium heat. Place the duck, skin-side-down, in the hot pan and leave it alone for 10 to 12 minutes, until the skin is golden brown and the fat has rendered.
 

— Sear ‘em up! –

Take the pan off the heat, and turn the duck breasts over and let them “kiss” the pan—or so says Thomas Keller. Spoon the excess fat into a heat-proof container and keep for frying potatoes or spreading on whatever.
 
Put the duck, skin-side-up in the pan, in the oven and cook for 10 minutes. The internal temperature will be about 135°F. Let the duck breasts rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes before slicing.
 
To make a sauce for the duck, heat a small nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and the shallots. Sauté for 1 minute, just to soften the shallots. Add the wine, stock, and jam from the pantry. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the balsamic vinegar, salt to taste, and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the honey and the cold butter.
 

— Do something friendly while the duckies wait. –

 
Slice the duck. Pour the sauce onto a pretty plate and arrange the slices of duck on top. 
 

— Spring dinners as as yummy as Autumn ones. –

 

Take your boots off before you come in here!

{ 4 comments }

Verbless VVednesdays

July 24, 2013

My little friends!

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Little Fried Things

July 22, 2013

I’m no snob when it comes to fried stuff; I like it all. The crispy bits at the bottom of a barrel of KFC. The browned edges of a pancake that’s been cooked in too much oil (Oops, how did that happen?). A chunk of golden bread on the end of a skewer fresh from [...]

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From Juice to Jowl

July 18, 2013

Every morning I make and drink juice. Not the O.J. sweet-as-sunshine brunch-y sort, but the kale-cucumber-apple-beet-parsley-mint sort (K.C.A.B.P.M.J.). Green juices are super trendy and juice drinkers are fanatics about the health benefits of its live enzymes, phytonutrients, antioxidants, biophotons and cornucopia of nutrients that increase the mirco-electric potential of the cells yada yada, but I [...]

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Verbless VVednesdays

July 17, 2013

On the go.

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Verbless VVednesdays

July 10, 2013

Barn swallow egg omelet?

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Elderflowers – Make Your Own St~Germain

July 7, 2013

By the side of the road is my favorite place to find food. Why? Because I’m a sucker for free stuff. A natural swag hag. And an Elderberry bush is especially swaggish because it has two seasons: the Flower Season and the Berry Season. Two projects. One bush. I look forward to the appearance of [...]

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