We’re Cooking Again – An Old Time Recipe From My Grandma

We’ve had a bumper crop of green beans here on Glen Road and I have been thinking about a green bean soup recipe that my Grandma used to make from as far back as I can remember.  The problem was that I didn’t have the recipe and I would never be able to make the soup from memory.  So I had my mom and aunt confer and get back to me on how to make this old-time soup just like my Grandma used to make it.  There are a number of foods that I remember from when I was young and this soup was one of them.  I know to many that the idea of a green bean soup will not sound too appetizing.  However, when you add thinly sliced onions, cubed potatoes and a garlic-laced roux, you end up with a slightly thick green bean stew with lots of flavor.  My recipe is for a double batch.  Some to eat now and some to freeze for later this Fall when soups just seem to taste better.  So if you have a late season green bean harvest and don’t know what to do with them, why not give my Grandma’s green bean soup a try.  It starts with some fresh green beans:

Ingredients:

  • 4 to 5 cups of fresh green beans (cleaned and snapped into 1″ pieces)
  • 4 to 5 large potatoes (cleaned, peeled and cut into cubes.  I used Yukon Gold potatoes.)
  • 1 medium yellow onion (thinly sliced.  A mandolin works perfect.  We are onion lovers so feel free to use less onion if you wish.)
  • 6 tablespoons of flour
  • 6 tablespoons of melted butter (let the butter cool slightly before using)
  • 6 to 7 cloves of garlic
  • Salt and fresh pepper to taste

Directions:

Place green beans, potatoes and onion into a stock pot and cover with water.  Add enough water to cover all the vegetables.  Place on medium heat and boil until the vegetables are tender.

While the vegetables are boiling, start to make the roux.  Just the word “roux” makes most people think of some fancy cooking routine that takes a lot of time and patience.  Don’t let the word fool you.  A roux is nothing but a cooked mixture of flour and a cooking fat, like butter or vegetable oil, that is used to thicken sauces, soups and gravies.  A couple of things on the roux for this soup:  first, you want to cook the roux until it turns a deep golden brown.  Second, keep the garlic in the pan until it starts to brown and then remove it.  If you leave the garlic in too long and it burns, it will ruin the flavor of your roux.  Last, mix the flour and cooled, melted butter in the pan until well combined and then add the whole garlic cloves before turning the stove heat on.  Here are a few pictures showing how the roux will progress.

The beginning–the flour and cooled, melted butter combined and then the garlic cloves added before turning up the heat:

The middle–the roux is now more sauce-like and lightly simmering:

The end–when the roux is a deep golden brown, take it off the heat and let it cool a bit before you add it to the vegetable mixture.  Note that the garlic cloves are gone.  Again, make sure to remove them when they begin to brown.  If they burn, your roux will not be good and you will need to start over.

Once your vegetables are tender, add the roux into the vegetable pot and stir the roux until it combines with the water.  Once combined, add plenty of salt and pepper.  Taste buds vary, so add until you are satisfied.  I tend to add more, versus less, salt and pepper.  For me, it’s around 1 tablespoon of salt and about three teaspoons of pepper.  Remove the pot from the heat and let the soup sit for a few hours.  This is one of those dishes that is better the longer you wait to eat it.  Letting the soup sit for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator allows the flavors to combine.  When ready to eat, place the pot back on the burner and simmer until hot.  Ensure that the salt and pepper levels are adequate.  Serve it any way you like.  In our house, we eat just the soup with some fresh bread or rolls.  Any way you serve it, this hot and hearty soup is one that pleases.  At least it has in my family for almost a century.  Enjoy!!

My Garden – Back From The Dead

When I returned home from my time in Las Vegas over the 4th of July and found that woodchucks had eaten my garden down to nothing, I truly thought that my 2012 garden was finished.  It was leveled.  In my mind, there was no way that the plants could ever recover.  I mean, remember this picture of the green bean patch?

Looking at the destruction, I figured there was no way that these stripped stems and branches could ever recover, let alone produce vegetables to eat.  I was wrong!  Nature (as I have said many times before) always surprises.  Well, Nature has surprised me again and I am glad to tell you that with a number of hot and sunny days coupled with some rainy days thrown in the mix as well, my garden has come back from the dead.  Not only has it quickly grown back, but I have also picked vegetables to eat in almost every grouping that I planted this Spring.  Take a look at a few shots of the destroyed green bean patch as it looked this weekend.  Pretty amazing recovery, huh?

Not only has the patch grown back, but the plants have bloomed and started to deliver delicious green beans to pick and eat.  I would have never dreamed of picking a single bean back around July 4th.

The next hardest hit grouping were the tomatoes.  The woodchucks had done a fine job of eating them down to only their stem and branches.  Not one leaf could be found.  The tomato plants looked like weird little stick designs.  It was hard to tell that they were ever a tomato plant.  Not anymore.  The tomato plants have flourished given our weather as you can see in the shot above and they are trying their hardest to give us as many tomatoes as possible before Fall begins.  Take a look at these little fellows.

I don’t want to forget to mention the eggplant, turnips and beets as well.  They were mowed down to the top of the soil by the evil critters and have come back with a vengeance.  The eggplant, in particular, are now closing in on two feet tall!

So here is one of my learnings from the 2012 garden.  Never give up on Nature.  Just when you think you are down for the count, Mother Nature seems to always pull a fast one to bail you out.  Who says you can’t perform magic tricks in the garden?  My garden is proof to show you that Mother Nature is quite the magician.

You Can Teach An Old Garden New Tricks

To be honest about it, when I realized that my original garden was not growing very well because the plots were not getting enough sun, I was filled with many emotions.  There was disappointment and sadness because I had worked so hard to grow all of the plants from seeds under my grow light and so to see them struggling to live was hard.  Anger was present, of course.  How could I be so stupid and not realize that the sun was not going to shine through the surrounding trees once they were filled with leaves?  The money part weighed on me as well.  It wasn’t cheap to build four beds with nice gravel between them and then surround the plots with a secure fence to keep assorted critters out.  At the end of the 2011 gardening season, I thought it was over for my garden sanctuary.  It was time to dismantle the whole thing and just give up.

Over the Winter and into the beginning of the 2012 gardening season, I took some time to think about what, if anything, would grow and prosper in the area.  I came up with a list of crops that thrived in early Spring and actually would be harvested before the trees surrounding the old garden would be full of leaves.  I decided to not give up on the garden, but try planting three of the four plots with early providers–namely, a large plot of asparagus, another plot of horseradish and, last but not least, a third plot of rhubarb.

With these three groups of plantings, I am hoping to allow them to start growing in very early Spring when the surrounding trees are leaf-less.  The three groups are some of the earliest plants to show their faces (or leaves) when Spring has just barely arrived.  I also hope to get a few spears of asparagus, some off-white roots of horseradish to grind and some stalks of tangy rhubarb and be done with the plants by the time Spring has fully sprung and the area becomes more shaded.  At that point, the plants can continue to grow, but their best performance will be behind them.

At this point, the plants in the three plots are in their first year of growth.  While they seem to be growing and multiplying, it is too early to make a call if they are going to make it in the coming years and produce enough asparagus, horseradish and rhubarb for us to eat.  It’s better than nothing, right?  Keep your fingers crossed.  As well, I still have one plot left and empty.  Any ideas on something similar that I can put in my last plot of garden?

We’re Back – Random Thoughts And Shots From Las Vegas

I know that what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, but I won’t give too much away from our trip.  As usual, the weather was hot and so was the Strip.  Lots of great food, some wild cocktails, a trip to see Celine, some shopping and lots of gambling has to add up to a great time and this trip was no exception.  Turn up Elvis and enjoy my random thoughts and shots from our trip.  It’s good to be home, but Viva Las Vegas!!

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Restaurant Field Trip – The Whelk

Last year at about this time, we visited Le Farm restaurant in Westport, CT.  The restaurant’s owner and head chef, Bill Taibe, is one of the leaders in the area for the farm to table movement, where fresh food is bought from local farmers, brought into his restaurant and served to his customers.  In January of this year, Bill Taibe opened up his latest restaurant, The Whelk, along the water in Westport.  This new restaurant is heavily concentrated on seafood.  Just like Le Farm, The Whelk shares the same artisanal philosophy, using as many fresh and locally grown ingredients as possible.  The Whelk is also focused on fresh and sustainable seafood.

Question:  So, you are asking, what is a whelk?  The answer is below.

While the Whelk is just above the Saugatuck River, the windows in the rectangular dining area face the street, not the water.  Yet the interior has the feel of an informal seafood shack with large harbor lights hung above the bar and slatted picnic chairs and benches, the kind you might find outdoors at a roadside spot.  During our visit, there were eight main course offerings, but it is the smaller plates and appetizers that were the draw for us.  The food that we ate was so good, we are planning to return for a second round next week.  Come see what we ate at our first visit to The Whelk:

We started off with appetizers and small plates.  As in a typical seafood shack, our first courses were served on plates covered in newspaper.  Here is one BBQ little neck clam left from a plate of eight.  These were fresh clams with a little bit of BBQ sauce and bacon placed on top before being placed under the broiler for a few minutes.  These clams went fast.

Another favorite was the hot smoked trout dip served with trout roe and crackers and bread.

We have a friend who says she has never met a potato that she doesn’t like.  Here are some french fries with ketchup and a delicious smoked mayo.

A good wine that was recommended to us by our server.  The Whelk has a large list of by-the-glass and by-the-bottle wines.  This French selection was a little more acidic than I would normally like, but that worked well with the seafood that we ate during our visit.

One of my favorites!  Gulf shrimp and grits with pickled jalapeno-ramp butter and country ham.  Reminds me of our trip to Charleston, SC.

One of the more unique offerings the night we were there.  This is squid ink cavatelli with red shrimp, mexican chorizo and preserved tomatoes.

Cornmeal fried catfish with early summer slaw and walnut-pepper romesco (partly devoured at time of photo).

Rare seared line caught tuna with bacon and black olive and green pea dressing.  An offering that was limited, but we were lucky enough to “snag” one.  Get the seafood joke here?!?

My vote for “Best Of Show”.  Norman’s (we don’t know who Norman is, but he is a man with good taste) lobster butter with leeks, peas and fingerling potatoes.  We were told this is a lobster that is slowly poached and then removed from its shell.  The poaching liquid is then reduced and the lobster meat is added back along with the potatoes, peas and leeks.

What’s dinner without some dessert?  The Whelk offered a small and homey dessert menu for us to choose from.

A quickly devoured set of Whoopie Pies.  These pies never disappoint.

Two at a time…a magic bar in the background with butterscotch and sea salt.  In the front is a meyer lemon posset with cornmeal cookies.  Yummy!

As in our visit to Le Farm, we all left full and happy.  Like I said, we’ll be back on Tuesday so that shows how good The Whelk is.  If you are around Westport, you need to give The Whelk a try.  If you are like us, one trip just won’t be enough.

Answer:  So what is a whelk?  A predatory marine mollusk (family Buccinidae) with a heavy, pointed spiral shell, some kinds of which are edible.  As Bill Taibe has said, calling his restaurant Le Mer would have been too easy.

A Plant I Like

Most people who have seen my garden this season have asked me what the giant thistle is.  Believe it or not, the plant is a giant thistle better known as a globe artichoke.  Each year, I try to plant one or two things that I have never grown before.  In the past, this has included kholrabi, fennel and broccoli raab.  After the Notorious B. I. G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) made fried artichokes for us, I decided that the artichoke was going to be in my garden for the first time this season.

The globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a perennial thistle of the genus Cynara originating in Southern Europe around the Mediterranean. It grows tall, with arching, deeply lobed, silvery-green leaves 10–20 inches long.  The flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud about 3–5 inches in diameter with numerous triangular scales.  The individual florets are purple.  The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions and the base, known as the “heart”; the mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the “choke” or beard.  These are inedible in older larger flowers.

I grew my plants from seeds under the grow light in the basement.  The seeds are a variety known as Imperial Star.  Specifically bred for annual production, Imperial Star produces artichokes the first season from seed.  Typically 6-8 mature buds, averaging 3-4 inches in diameter, are grown per plant.  Imperial Star plants grow 3-4 feet tall.

My artichoke plants in the garden have really flourished.  They seem to grow every hot and humid day that we have.  So far, they have required little, if any, special attention.  The next phase should be the flowering of the plants and then the formation of the artichoke that we know and can eat.  I’ll keep you posted on our fun new find as the plants continue to mature during this gardening season.

P. S. –  for those of you who read the cabbage murder mystery post, notice my sad cabbage plants in the back of this picture.  As well, notice the bowl of beer or as we call it in my garden, the slug’s swimming pool.  Not looking good for some home-grown cabbage this year!!

First Casualty In The Garden…A Murder Mystery

It happens every year.  You plant your garden and know deep down inside of you that there will be some sort of problem that happens before you even harvest your first vegetable.  You get yourself ready for the disappointment.  You think about what will be the type of bug that wipes something out.  If it is not a bug, maybe some sort of critter.  You look at all of your plantings and try to figure out which one will be affected.  You vow to do your best to combat whatever it is that is hurting your garden.  Then it happens.  This year, I’m calling the problem “The Case Of The Murdered Cabbages”.  I swear to you that three hours after planting my cabbage plants, I returned to the garden to find the little plants munched down to almost nothing by some sort of villain.  The problem is that I just couldn’t figure out who the culprit was.

What would do this so quickly and thoroughly?  While I was digging some cabbages up and replacing them with new plants and trimming the little arms of others, it dawned on me.  It was a woodchuck.  Why you ask?  Well, the Notorious B. I. G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) had mentioned that she saw a furry animal running around the back yard a couple of times during the week.  Since raccoons only come out at night, I just knew it was a woodchuck she had seen and the same critter ate my baby cabbages.  Remember, the fence around the back yard keeps the deer out, so my only logical solution had to be that a woodchuck had squeezed under the fence and ate my cabbages.  Always having a flair for the dramatic, I quickly put a two-step plan of action in motion.  First, I would put a small fence around my new raised beds.  Yes, it is a fence within a fence.  I quickly worked to build a small green plastic fence around my two new raised beds and then the new secured garden would have the deer fence around it as well for added protection.  Second, I would call a local hunter that I knew from the area and have him lay a couple of humane traps.  The traps would catch the critter and then we could transport it to a far away wooded area where it could eat dead leaves and weeds.  That’s what a woodchuck eats for dinner…not baby cabbage plants.  The fence was installed….the traps were laid……all was good in cabbage land.

Then it happened again!  Nearly a week later.  When I saw the little nibbled purple cabbage plants, I got weak in my knees.  How could this happen again?  After spending $200 on my make-shift fence and trapping a raccoon, a squirrel and some other type of critter that my friend told me I didn’t want to know about, the cabbage murderer was still stalking the premises.  I felt violated.  I felt angry.  I wanted revenge.

It was off to the nursery for some more cabbage plants.  I had run out of the ones that I grew from seeds under my grow light.  At the nursery, I told my murder mystery story to anyone who would listen.  One of the nursery employees told me that it sounded like a slug infestation.  Slugs?  Those little snail-like creatures without a shell?  Could they do this much damage?  Can they eat this much?  I left with some new cabbage plants and some Sluggo, an organic pellet that kills slugs dead.  I also put out two bowls filled with beer.  Slugs like their booze.  When they reach for the beer, they fall into the suds and then that’s it for them.  They drown, but drown drunk, which is probably the best way to go in my opinion.  So far the Sluggo and beer seem to be working.  My cabbages seem to be growing.

I’ll keep you posted.  Also, if you see the displaced raccoon, squirrel and the unnamed creature that I had transported to another wooded area, let them know I am sorry and I will pick them up and bring them back to Glen Road on Saturday afternoon.  As well, let me know if you have any ideas (other than a slug) on what is eating my cabbage.  Help me solve “The Case Of The Murdered Cabbages”.