Thursday, July 12, 2012

Gardener versus cook, or why I should have weeded the beets.

Let’s start off with the facts. I don’t cook. Well I do, but although I have a huge collection of cookbooks, I find it more satisfying to read them then I do to create from them. I’m actually a baker, but since baking is fattening, my mixer doesn’t come out that often. Besides, being as I’m a bit compulsive, I can’t just make one bundt cake, I feel compelled to make three. They’ll all be from different recipes and interesting to compare, and then of course, hard to resist and as I said, very, very fattening. 

Luckily, I married a cook and my husband is fantastic in the kitchen. Hand him a couple of ingredients, and he can invent something truly inspirational. Unlike me, with my reams of recipes, my tear sheets from Gourmet, Saveur, Vegetarian Times and Cooks Illustrated and my scales and measuring cups, Dereyk is improvisational. As long as I keep the refrigerator stocked, he’ll make dinner every night and all I have to do are the dishes. It’s a great deal, and of course, as I’m a gardener, I felt compelled to plant him a vegetable garden so that he could have everything he needed just a few steps away from the kitchen.

Doesn’t that sound perfect?

Okay, so the reality doesn’t really work as well as I hoped it would. So yes Dereyk made an amazing Roasted Beets with Hazelnut Vinaigrette and Burrata salad from a recipe he skimmed the other night in my Bon Appetit, but did he use my beets from the garden? No as they were deemed, “pathetic.” An apt description for the tiny little guys I’ve been harvesting from among the crabgrass that’s overrun them, oh yes and I was bad about thinning them too. So instead of using my fabulous crop of wee, baby beets, which Dereyk tells me will take significantly more work to roast and clean he just picked up big beautiful ones up from the farm stand on the way home and made little baby beet size bites by quartering them after roasting.

I just keep thinking that maybe this year it’ll be different. It isn’t, of course, so this might be the final hurrah of the vegetable garden at the Patterson house. Especially since the chef in residence, didn’t even want me to do basil this year. “If I need basil I can just pick it up on the way home,” he tells me. Painful right?

In fact after two years, Dereyk has laid down some rules for next year’s garden. I am allowed to grow as much garlic as I like (he now considers his pesto made from the garlic scapes to be one of our personal kitchen basics, and the man is a freak about garlic cloves) but no more peas, carrots or beets. No more cilantro too, as ours has always just bolted right when he needs a handful, no more lemon grass, no more oregano or summer savory or lemon verbena. He’s right that the tarragon is pathetic, but I missed out on the big ones when they came in, so maybe I can squeak that by next year.

He’s even trying to ban basil. In fact when he made his massive pesto batch, my basil was deemed too small, so he got his from Citterella instead. I’m allowed the variegated variety since it doesn’t go to seed, but he hasn’t ever used it so I might give it up. No more lettuce, of course since it bolts. Nor am not allowed to bring home any more enormous rosemary plants. A small one is fine. No more arugula – thank you flea beetles. There’s enough thyme for the rest of our lives and the same with sage. I know it sounds strange about a cook not wanting his own home grown basil, but I sort of get it. Now that garlic scape time is past, what’s Dereyk meant to do with 12 basil plants all getting ready to flower and demanding to be harvested, when we already have a freezer filled with pre-portioned pesto?

He’s also torn over the tomatoes. The heartache of losing them each year to blight is discouraging for both of us. Plus I think the fact that I have only plum tomatoes and yellow cherry tomatoes this year might put him over the edge, but they are meant to be blight resistant so we’ll see.

On the plus side, I can grow as many beans, peppers and cucumbers as I want. Also allowed are chives and as much dill (he’s going to have to battle it out with the swallowtail butterflies, but I’ll grow it for him) and nasturtiums as I can handle. I can have eggplants and he’ll grill them as long as he doesn’t have to eat them, and I can knock myself out with wax and hot peppers, but no habanaros. And no more tomatillos, which I agree with, we’re still weeding out volunteers from last year’s single plant gone rogue. I don’t even think he’s realized that we have ground cherries (He thinks they're tomatillos so we’ll have to wait until harvest. to get his ruling.) And I’m allowed artichokes, but they need to be worked into my flowerbeds if I’m not going to remember to harvest the buds.

And finally, only one summer squash or one zucchini plant allowed. I brought home two of each and they are galloping away from us. There’s a pile on the kitchen table that’s growing out of control, and I feel bad about giving them to the chickens. So tonight I gave the chef a break and made us zucchini fritters with a dill and yogurt topping from one of my torn out recipes (and Dereyk did the dishes woo hoo!) Tomorrow I’m threatening to do a comparison Chocolate Zucchini Cake test.

Version 1 found on the blog Mama’s Minutia adapted from Julie of Dinner with Julie

½ cup butter, ¼ cup canola oil, 1 ¾ cups sugar, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 ¼ cups whole wheat or white flour, ¾ cup cocoa, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 cup sour cream, ¾ cup mini chocolate chips, 2 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream the fats and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture alternately with the sour cream. Fold in the chocolate chips and zucchini. Pour the cake batter into a greased angel food cake (or bundt) pan.

Bake for an hour or until a cake tester comes out clean (though the chips will leave some chocolate smears) and the top of the cake is cracked and boingy to the touch. While the cake is still slightly warm, invert onto a cooling rack.

Version 2 adapted from Martha Stewart Online

½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled, 1 cup sugar, 1 large egg, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 cup finely grated zucchini, ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch if available), ½ cup bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or chocolate chips, 3 tablespoons non fat yogurt (Martha says sour cream), 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract, nonstick cooking spray.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together butter, sugar, salt, and egg until combined. Add vanilla, zucchini, and yogurt and stir until incorporated. Sift flour and cocoa powder into bowl and stir until combined. Stir in chocolate.

Spray two mini muffin pans with cooking spray. Fill each cup with 2 tablespoons batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, 15 to 17 minutes. Let muffins cool slightly in pans on wire racks before serving.

Version 3 is the King Arthur Flour version, improved by the repressed baker on her site.

½ cup butter, 
1/2 cup vegetable oil, 
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar, 
1 teaspoon vanilla, 
1 teaspoon baking soda, 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 
1/2 teaspoon salt, 
2 large eggs, 
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt, 
2 ½ cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
3/4 cup, Dutch-process cocoa, 
2 teaspoons espresso powder, 
2 cups shredded zucchini, 1/2 cup chocolate chips.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly coat a 9″ x 13″ pan with baking spray.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, oil, sugar, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat in the eggs. Stir in the sour cream or yogurt alternately with the flour. Then add the cocoa and espresso powder, mixing till smooth. Finally, fold in the zucchini and ½ cup chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. 

Bake the cake for 35 – 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool on a rack. 

Test Away!

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