Saturday, June 30, 2012

Golden beets -- bait and switch

My husband came home from the farmer's market last week with a bunch of golden beets and I was thrilled.  They were absolutely beautiful -- warm red-orange on the outside, mottled gold on the inside.  I could hardly restrain my excitement as I scrubbed and sliced them.

Decided to put them in the oven for roasting, and an hour or so later, when they seemed to be done, I was disappointed.  The surface that had been in contact with the olive-oil-coated pan was brown and appealing, but the surfaces left open in the oven had turned an unappetizing purplish-yellow.

We ate them, of course, but they tasted almost exactly like plain old red beets, namely delicious.

A couple of days later I served up the leftovers cold, fixed with a mustard-olive oil-lemon juice dressing.  They were probably a little better in this incarnation than in their previous warm life.

This script has played out many times in my life -- I buy fresh beets, expecting them to turn out really special, and they turn out kind of normal.  Frankly, I've never noticed much qualitative difference between fresh roasted beets and beets straight from the can.  I love them both.

In fact, earlier this month my friend Alyce served a wonderful salad with beets as the featured ingredient.  After we had raved about it, she confessed that the beets were canned.  We all agreed that they were just fine.

Why do I keep buying the fresh varieties, spending time on preparation and roasting, when I could open a can in one minute and heat them up in three?  The mystique of the farmer's market, the seductive allure of fresh over processed, keeps winning out over the voice of experience.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Corn in the oven

We had decided in the morning to have baked chicken, so it had been defrosting all day.  Then we acquired a huge load of vegetables from the market, including four ears of corn.  When we drifted into the kitchen at 5:15 to organize dinner, we realized -- the air conditioning wasn't working in that wing of the house!

I had spent the day in my basement studio, where it's always ten degrees cooler than upstairs.  My  husband had spent the afternoon in his office, which is on the other air conditioner (it's a sprawling house, with two separate heating/cooling systems).  Neither of us had noticed that the kitchen and its neighbors were getting hotter and hotter.

But now, cooking seemed like a really bad idea.  We were committed to the chicken, so I turned on the oven and stuck it in.  And then it crossed our minds that it would be neat to cook the corn in the oven, as long as it was on anyway, rather than our usual method of boiling water on top of the stove.

I've never cooked corn in the oven, so I did a fast google on recipes.  I checked out five different recipes, and got no guidance.  One called for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, one called for an hour at 400.  Some called for taking the husks off and wrapping the ears in foil, some called for just putting the ears on the oven rack without any preparation.  Plus your choice of any combinations and permutations and interim approaches.

I decided to do as little preparation as possible.  I sliced off the stem end of the ears, hoping that might make it easier to strip the husks and silk when the corn was done.

I was afraid the ears might ooze liquid from the pierced kernels as they baked, so I put them on a cookie sheet rather than just on the rack.  The oven was at 410 degrees.  Forty minutes later we pulled them out, opened one and did a taste test -- it was magnificent!

The husks were a little browned, and the silk rubbed off easily as we peeled off the husks and used them to grab and remove the silk.

Who knows whether the corn was just great to start with, or how much the cooking method improved the flavor.  But we'll definitely try this again, any time the oven is on for another purpose.  Much easier, not to mention cooler, than any stovetop preparation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The first tomatoes

In Louisville, the locals traditionally observe the Kentucky Derby, the first Saturday in May, by planting their tomatoes, then coming in to have a drink and watch the race on TV.  At least that's how we've done it for a long time.  As a result, we generally get our first harvest on or about the Fourth of July, although one year it wasn't until my husband's birthday, July 27.

But this year, with no winter to speak of, and a spell of unseasonably warm weather in February and March, the ground warmed up early and the tomatoes went in the ground in mid-April.  And today we had the first harvest, by far the earliest in Loomis family farm history!

We held a ceremonial eating and found them to be a little on the underdone side -- another day on the vine would have been much better -- but they were definitely homegrown, not hothouse, and at least it was us doing the eating and not the critters.

Last year we had terrible luck with the tomatoes, mainly because they didn't grow worth a damn, but also because those few that did survive got eaten by squirrels or chipmunks or birds or something.  There is nothing so demoralizing to a gardener than to see a decent-sized vegetable lying on the driveway with one or two bites out of it, like this one from last summer.

The critters don't even seem to want the food, they just want to make sure we don't get it.  This year my husband was determined that we got the first tomatoes, so as soon as these turned red he brought them in. 

I hope this means we'll have bumper crops of everything this year.  We ate the first zucchetta last week, and the big tomatoes, which always take longer than the little ones, are getting fat on the vine.  We're keeping our fingers crossed for lots of good eats this summer.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Getting a makeover???

I don't read much in the USA Weekend Sunday supplement, not having an interest in the stars of vampire movies who anchor the celebrity gossip page, but I do eyeball the recipes.  I have noticed approvingly that the magazine does include a lot of medical and fitness information, and its recipes seem to be healthier than most.

So I was intrigued to read that this week's dish was billed as "a summer side gets a makeover."

photo -- USA WEEKEND

It's a three-bean salad, made over by using edamame and fresh green beans instead of canned.  And, according to the write-up, "a sweet-tart dressing that gets its primary sweetness from apricot all-fruit preserves instead of the refined sugar in the usual recipe."  (Subtext: fruit good, refined sugar bad!)

That sounds good, until you read the recipe.  Sure, there's a quarter-cup of apricot preserves (160 calories) -- plus a tablespoon of bad old refined sugar (45 calories more).

Hmmm, where to start.

First, if it's good to get your sweetness from fruit, why add the sugar?

Second, if fruit good refined sugar bad, how come the fruit is providing almost four times the calories of the sugar?  Sounds like neither one is very good.

Third, why do we want almost 14 teaspoons of sugar in our vegetables?

I checked out the traditional recipes for three-bean salad and most of them have even more sugar than this version, so I guess this is a healthy makeover as far as it goes.  But it doesn't go very far.  As long as we're encouraging people to rethink grandma's recipes, canned vegetables with lots of sugar, why not encourage them to rethink with one teaspoon of sugar, or none?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The zucchetta returns!

No matter what we grow or don't grow in our garden, there's always zucchetta, that pale green twisty version of zucchini that we think is so much better in every way.  I've written about it in previous years, because it's such a constant in our summer menus.

And today when we inspected the plant, we found five little guys, ranging in size from five inches to barely one inch.

The tiny one is about to bump into the big stalk above its head and will then turn in another direction.  Sometimes the fruits twist themselves into beautiful helixes so that you really don't want to cut them up.

We're going to have rain today and tomorrow, so growing conditions should be ideal.  Maybe we'll have our first harvest later in the week.