This is the first cucumber I harvested from my mini backyard garden. I had to photograph it in the sunshine to give it a bit of a haloed effect before scarfing it down.
Cucumbers hold a special place in my tummy and rank at the top of my favourite food list along with blueberries. Perhaps it's because of their sentimental value.
I associate cucumbers with my paternal grandmother's sprawling garden, which had dozens of rows of veggies, a thicket of raspberry bushes and sorrel growing under the shade of a nearby tree.
It was massive and you were always guaranteed to emerge with a handful of something. I mostly made the beeline for the cucumbers.
I can't honestly imagine anything better
than the taste of a small cucumber plucked fresh from the vine, sliced
up and sprinkled with salt. That's all it needs. Anything more is
And so I'm more than a little excited that after tossing a few plants in the ground, I have a tiny mess of tangled vines heavy with more blossoms than I can count. Not that I'm worried about being able to eat all of them...
Last week, at a Japanese cooking class for soon-to-be English teachers that I was helping with, I declared to my rapt audience that enoki mushrooms, with their slender stems and pinky nail-sized button tops, were the cutest vegetable I've ever seen. They snickered. I wasn't joking.
But now I've found another contender for that title -- pattypan squash. See how six of them fit in the cradle of my black ladle in the picture? Too cute. To drive home my point, here is another picture of wee squash.
Before buying them at the Metro Hall farmer's market, I asked the saleswoman how to cook them. She told me a few ways, then added as an afterthought that they also tasted good raw with dip.
As the squash seemed too cute to cook, I sliced off their stems, washed them and served them whole with a red pepper hummus dip (all the while thinking how great they would look on a vegetable platter at a party).
The taste is crisp and light, much like zucchini. But I think, in the end, their cute factor outweighs taste. It's the same problem I have with enoki, which I'm not actually a fan of except sparingly and prettily displayed in miso soup.
Since I wasn't too impressed with raw pattypan, I may give a few other recipes a whirl. I found websites that suggest, steaming them, roasting them whole or halved with oil and salt or sauteeing them in slices.
Or maybe I'll just put them on display in my ladle.
There's something undeniably special about homemade birthday cakes. Handcrafted with care for one person.
The one above was for D. Never mind handcrafted. It was slaved over. Have you ever tried to make a chocolate curl? A million different blog entries made it sound like a piece of cake. It was not.
I tried the first method I came across -- warming large chunks of semi-sweet baking chocolate in the sun then grasping the softened, gooey-edged block with my hands and pulling my vegetable peeler across it. I was rewarded with decent half curls. But because the temperature had to be just so (causing me to alternate between refrigerate and warm, refrigerate and warm, until my whole evening became absorbed by this back and forth), I decided there must be a better way.
One might think it was a safe assumption, no?
You might notice the lack of pictures. As D. knows, my camera's SD card is overflowing with food pics documenting the minutiae of every meal.
Everything but the end product got overlooked this time as I struggled not to become churlish at the lack of chocolate curls. (My fingers were also too chocolate coated to grasp a camera.)
The second method proved a bit more effective, though just as temperature fussy. It came from The Pioneer Woman Cooks! blog, and was perhaps the most thorough explanation of chocolate curl making I've ever seen or want to see.
I won't explain it all but basically it boils down to melting the chocolate with some shortening in a double boiler, spreading it on the bottom of a cookie sheet, chilling in the freezer and then scraping it off. You'll notice her curls look far fancier than mine. Not that I'm comparing.
At this point gobs of chocolate were splattered everywhere and hardened chocolate coated bowls, pots, pans, spoons, my fridge...
The easy part was the cake, made from a recipe in Cooking for Mr. Latte, a foodie's Bridget Jones-style tale written by New York Times writer Amanda Hesser. With a name like Chocolate Dump-it Cake, I thought it couldn't go wrong. Hehe. Well, I won't go into it but at one point, I thought I'd be whipping up another batch. But it all turned out in the end. Even the sour cream and melted chocolate chip icing, which was another feat of temperature control.
As I tucked the cake into my fridge and wiped down my chocolate-speckled kitchen counter, I thought about it all and figured I'd learned two lessons from the whole affair:
Pork chops don't usually elicit groans of pleasure. Usually, there are just groans. Neither flavourful like bacon or steak nor a blank tableau like chicken, pork chops have porkiness to them that make them hard to cook.
My parents almost always cooked them plain then topped with store-bought apple sauce. I remember slowly chomping on the tough pieces, with the canned apple sauce providing just enough liquid to coat my throat and help it all go down.
This recipe is nothing like that. It surprises with the unusual choice of nutmeg, but it won't disappoint. It'll leave you gnawing at the bone. And you will actually look forward to the next chance you get to make pork chops.
Start with pork chops with the bone in (it just tastes better). On a plate, sprinkle both sides with nutmeg, salt and ground pepper. Heat a slice of butter in a pan until it's bubbling. Add the pork chops. Cook on both sides until done to your liking.
Over time, you'll discover how much of each spice you like. The nutmeg flavour can be overwhelming. Douse a corner with the spice and you'll immediately know.
My aunt in the Netherlands taught me this recipe. She would always add an extra slab of butter into the pan, heat it up after the pork chops were done, then pour it into a container. We would then drizzle the browned butter in all its nutmeg-y glory onto our boiled mashed potatoes.
An all-green salad such as Boston lettuce and cucumbers drizzled with an oil and vinegar dressing finishes off the meal.