Category Archives: garden

at summer’s end

Hello. My name is Andrea. I write this food blog, Bella Eats. You may remember me, or due to my long absence you may not. I’m sorry about that, truly I am. I miss this space! Life has been busy. So so so busy. I started teaching architectural design at the University of Virginia. Teaching. At a University. !!! And before that teaching officially began there was training for teaching. And in the middle of all of that I photographed the wedding of a dear friend I’ve known since the fifth grade. Fifth grade! She was such a beautiful bride, and if you’re interested in seeing some of those images please check out the AHPhoto blog.

Oh, and I started a photography business. Because I love taking pictures of people. And buildings. And food. So if you know anybody who needs somebody to take pictures of people, or buildings, or food…feel free to send them my way. I’d appreciate it so so much. And thank you, all of you, who have commented and tweeted and emailed your support. You’re the best, truly.

And yes, I am still working for an architecture firm here in Charlottesville. So…yeah. Busy.

It feels as though summer has completely passed by Bella Eats. Since June I’ve posted about cherries, blackberries, and blueberries. There have been no luscious heirloom tomatoes, no juice-laden peaches, no golden ears of corn. I even have a new trick for releasing kernels from their cob without making a complete mess of the kitchen counter and floor, and I haven’t had the opportunity to share it with you. That is sad my friends, because this trick is a good one. It will change the way you view corn entirely. Soon, I hope.

Way back in the middle of July our dear friend Kristin celebrated her birthday. She celebrated with us, and with this lime tart topped with blackberries from our garden. Blackberry season is just about over, a sign that summer is drawing to a quick close. Our bush has shed it’s bounty completely, leaving only the tiny shriveled berries that didn’t ever come to full ripeness. Our freezer is packed full of quart-size bags of the frozen fruit, our pantry shelf stocked with various forms of blackberry jam. This tart was one of the last recipes made this summer using berries fresh from the garden, and looking at these pictures already has me feeling nostalgic.

What is it about food that stirs memories stronger than those evoked by any other sense? While blackberries don’t take me back to any point of my childhood, they do plop me down solidly in our backyard here in Charlottesville. For the past 4 years we’ve spent countless July and August evenings standing in our garden, bowls in hand, fingers stained purple, arms eaten by mosquitos, quietly and contently plucking berries one-by-one from a bush WE planted. I know that forever, no matter where we are, when I pop a freshly picked blackberry into my mouth I will be transported back to this place. I love that.

If you’re lucky you can still find pints of deep purple blackberries at your local farmers’ market, and if you do, I recommend you make this dessert before summer’s end. The crust is quite perfect, nearly the consistency and flavor of a shortbread cookie. It doesn’t flake and melt in your mouth like many pastry shells, but instead offers a firm vessel on which to carry a scoop of zippy lime curd. And scoop you will, because this tart never really sets up to a solid, sliceable state. Which is fine by me. The delightful combination of sweet shortbread, tart curd, and fresh blackberries had us all going back for seconds, despite our use of a spoon rather than a fork.

For the record, I am so unhappy with the spacing that this new WordPress theme defaults too, but I just haven’t had the time/energy to dig into the CSS code to fix it. And, we’re working on a redesign of Bella Eats to be launched right around the two year (two years!) anniversary of this site at the end of October.  So, please bear with me and the awkward/awful spacing of the text in my recipes… Thank you.

Lime Tart with Blackberries

from bon appetit, June 2010

Ingredients

for the lime curd:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

for the topping:

  • (3) 6-ounce containers fresh blackberries
  • 1 tbsp blackberry jam

for the crust:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 large pinch of salt

Method

for the lime curd:

  1. Set a fine metal strainer over a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in another medium metal bowl to blend.  Whisk in lime juice.
  2. Set bowl over large saucepan of gently simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Whisk constantly until curd thickens and an instant-read thermometer inserted into curd registers 178ºF to 180ºF, about 6 minutes.  Immediately pour curd through prepared strainer set over bowl.
  3. Add butter to warm strained curd; let stand 1 minute, then whisk until blended and smooth.  Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of curd, covering completely.  Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours.*

*Lime curd can be made up to 2 days ahead.  Keep chilled.

for the crust:

  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg yolk; beat to blend. Add flour and salt and mix on low speed until mixture resembles large peas. Using hands, knead in bowl just until dough comes together.
  2. Transfer dough to a 9-inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Break dough into pieces, then press dough evenly up sides and onto bottom of pan. Cover and chill 1 hour.**
  3. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Uncover crust and bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack.

**Dough can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

assembly:

  1. Remove sides from tart pan and place crust on plate. Spread lime curd evenly in baked crust. Arrange blackberries in concentric circles on top of tart.
  2. Place am in small microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave until jam is melted, about 15 seconds. Whisk to loosen and blend, adding water by teaspoonfuls if thick. Brush jam over berries.*** (I only brushed jam over the outer ring, because I liked how they looked without the glaze.)

***Tart can be made up to 8 hours ahead. Chill uncovered.

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happy, happy day

Last year at this time I was posting regularly about our backyard vegetable patch. I’d shared potato salad with our sugar snap peas, an earthy, herby frittata, and a rosy beet risotto. The garden was, while a bit overgrown, orderly and walkable. I visited it every day, scurrying through the gate in the morning after my runs to pick raspberries for breakfast, losing myself to daydreams as I stood with a hose each afternoon and soaked the soil under the tomatoes and peppers. I was oh-so-proud of our little plot, and oh-so-excited to share its progress with you all.

In December, after harvesting the last of the carrots for our Christmas dinner, Brian and I mourned the fact that those were probably the last vegetables we’d see come from our current backyard. We were planning to move this Summer, and didn’t think it would be very smart to put a lot of time, money, or energy into a piece of land that would no longer be ours in just six months’ time. It made me sad. Very, very, sad.

March came and went without us ordering organic compost to till into soil already rich from three years of amendment and gardening. There was no sprinkling of lettuce, kale, carrot, or beet seeds; no elaborate map drawn to show the exact location of each plant to come. May 15th, the last frost date for our part of Virginia, rolled by without us spending a Saturday planting tiny tomato, cucumber and pepper plants. The weeds grew, and grew, and grew…and I just let them.

Multiple friends who don’t know our plans to move, but do know the joy we get from growing our own food, have asked “how’s that garden of yours?”. This single question, innocent as it is, elicits a panicked look from Brian, who tries to change the subject before I can launch into our sorrowful (to me) tale. About how, no, we didn’t plant any vegetables in our backyard this year. And no, we don’t think we’ll be moving into a new house in time to establish a new garden. And yes, I am devastated that we’re not spending a portion of our weekends weeding and watering and planting and harvesting. Harumph.

In hindsight, we should have planted summer veggies. Things never move as quickly as anticipated, and our putting the house on the market was no exception. By now we could have been eating our own lettuce, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, and beets. Instead we’re buying them at the farmer’s market, which is the next best thing, but still not quite as satisfying. I’m getting over it. Really.

However…our berries have been AMAZING this year. Strawberries, red and golden raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries. Thank goodness for hardy perennial fruit that grows no matter the neglect it’s received! Those shots at the top of the page are from my visit to the garden last Friday morning, when I first noticed that the blackberries are starting to ripen. I did a little dance, hurried back inside for my camera and a bowl, and proceeded to pick every single fully-black berry on the vine. Happy, happy day.

This cake was actually made with blackberries that we grew last summer and froze. We had 8 quarts in our own freezer, and many more were given to friends. I’m betting that our harvest will be doubled this year, and we’re not moving until I am proven right.  Stubborn?  Not me.

Even if you have fresh blackberries on hand, you should still freeze them for at least 4 hours before adding them to the batter. The frozen berries, with the help of the syrup, will stay firmly rooted to the bottom of the pan without rising to the top (which will become the bottom) of the cake.

The whole wheat flour provides the cake with a dense crumb, perfect for picking up between two fingers.  I made it for dessert, but I think it is even better for breakfast.  Not too sweet, hearty with whole grains, a nice compliment to a cup of coffee.

Blackberry Upside-Down Cake

from Sweet and Natural Baking, by Mani Niall

serves 10

Ingredients

fruit

  • 1/3 cup liquid fruit juice concentrate (or, agave nectar)
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 3 cups frozen blackberries

cake

  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup liquid fruit juice concentrate (or, agave nectar)
  • 2/3 cup skim milk
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Method

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-inch ovenproof skillet or springform pan with vegetable oil spray.
  2. For the fruit:  In a small saucepan, bring the fruit juice concentrate and oil to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour into the prepared pan. Immediately arrange the blackberries in the pan in a single layer. Work quickly, as the syrup will harden rapidly. Place in the freezer while preparing the batter. (This will keep the fruit from floating to the top of the batter while baking.)
  3. For the cake:  In a medium bowl, using a handheld electric mixer at high speed, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the fruit juice concentrate, beating until stiff peaks form. Reduce the speed to low and add the milk, oil and vanilla, mixing until well combined.
  4. In another medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Add to the liquid ingredients and whisk until smooth. Remove the pan from the freezer and pour the batter over the fruit.
  5. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a cake rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the inside of the skillet or springform to loosen the cake. Invert onto a serving plate. Let stand for 5 minutes so that the cake can absorb the juices. Remove the skillet of release the sides of the spring form and carefully lift off the bottom. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

it’s better this way

Last Monday I sat on a plane at Louis Armstrong International Airport, Brian’s hand in mine as we taxied down the runway and lifted off, on our way home to Charlottesville. Out the window I watched a city that I love dearly fall away, nostalgic and missing New Orleans already.

We’d arrived Friday morning to heat and humidity that we won’t (hopefully) see in Virginia for another two months. After checking bags at our hotel, changing into shorts and slathering on sunscreen we set out into the city with two friends who’d joined us for four days of exploring, absorbing, listening and, most importantly, eating. As the veteran visitors, Brian and I had laid out an agenda based on food – our nine meals were carefully scheduled and the rest of the trip was woven loosely around their locations.

There were muffalettas and seafood po-boys, chicken andouille gumbo and spicy jambalaya, raw oysters and bags of boiled crawfish, black ham biscuits and fluffy omelets served with fries, powdered beignets and pecan-laden pralines. We sipped Pimm’s Cups as we strolled the French Quarter, cooled off with a creamy Bourbon Milk Punch at Bourbon House, swirled ice in our vodka tonics while listening to set after set of incredible jazz. We walked and biked between those meals to help counter the indulgence of the weekend, oftentimes feeling that what we really, really needed was to find a shady spot to stretch out horizontally for a nice, long nap.

As New Orleans disappeared beneath a bank of hazy clouds last Monday I found myself thinking that we could live there, Brian and I, in a cute Creole cottage just downriver from the French Quarter. We’d paint our home in shades of blue and grey with a vibrant yellow, or maybe eggplant, accent around the windows and doors. There would be bikes leaned up against the side of the house, one with a basket, ready at a moment’s notice to be ridden into the Quarter for lunch or to the Crescent City Farmer’s Market for fresh, local seafood and produce. Our yard would be tiny, just big enough for a vegetable garden and a stone terrace with an umbrella-covered picnic table. We’d string lanterns from the trees and host crawfish boils on that terrace, invite guests who would wear jaunty hats and sip frosty cocktails as they unconsciously swayed to the sounds of Doreen’s clarinet wafting from the stereo.

It is a lovely dream, one that I could see becoming a reality one day if we could just find a way to get used to the stifling heat. And the cockroaches – complete terror only scratches the surface of the affect that those little buggers have on me. And the city’s status as the murder capital of the USA…  Minor details, since I already have the biggest obstacle solved – vegetables. Did you notice that my list of traditional NOLA fare does not include even a hint of green? While we happily consumed fried / buttered / sugared food for four full days, I believe that four days must be the limit. For as I dreamt about our little blue Creole cottage and crawfish boils and lanterns strung from trees and clinking glasses of frosty beverages, I managed to squeeze a giant bowl of homegrown greens onto the linen-covered table in the middle of that backyard terrace.

A vegetable garden would be an absolute necessity to our New Orleans lifestyle.

The next day, back at work in Charlottesville and fully submerged in reality, Brian and I met a friend for lunch at Feast. I ordered a mixed salad plate, and while I couldn’t stop talking about the wonderful food in New Orleans, my mind was distracted by how amazingly satisfying the plate full of veggies in front of me was. And on Saturday, at our own City Market, we filled our basket with all the green we could get our hands on – two heads of lettuce, two bunches of both kale and collards, two pounds of asparagus.

I plan to share some of our favorite New Orleans-inspired dishes here on Bella Eats in the next month or two (along with some photographs from our trip!), but just had to give our systems a break this last 10 days.  I’d originally thought that a full month of NOLA fare on this little blog could be fun, but have decided instead to spread those rich, indulgent dishes out, to balance them with recipes like this side of wilted spinach tossed with fresh peas, garlic and scallions.  It’s better this way, I promise.

Tangles of earthy spinach play well with the sweet peas in this dish. The mild flavors are complimented nicely by the subdued bite of sliced garlic and a generous handful of scallions.  Serve alongside a fillet of white fish dressed simply with lemon, sea salt and herbs for a healthy, feel-good-to-the-core meal.

Spinach with Peas and Scallions

adapted from The Naked Chef Takes Off by Jamie Oliver

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter, divided
  • 1 bunch of scallions, dark and light green parts diced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 cups of fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 large handfulls of spinach, tough stems removed
  • sea salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in deep skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and sliced garlic, stirring to coat with oil and butter.  Let saute’ for 2-3 minutes, not letting the garlic brown.
  2. Add the peas, and saute’ for another 2-3 minutes, until the garlic starts to turn golden brown.  Add the wine, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for another 2-3 minutes.  If using fresh peas, be sure to test one before adding the spinach to be sure that it is cooked.
  3. Add the spinach, stirring to coat with liquid.  Allow spinach to heat through and wilt, 2-3 more minutes.  Add last tbsp of butter and salt and pepper to taste.

bella terra: 2009

The time has come to say farewell to 2009, and HELLO 2010!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I’ve debated various recaps for the blog, a review of the year that could include the introduction of a new president, my trials and tribulations with running, a trip to New York city, Bella Eats on the local news, Bella Eats Pie Month and many other wonderful memories, but decided instead to keep things simple and give our garden, the source of so many great meals this year, a little tribute.

Brian and I started our garden in the spring of 2007, tilling up a 20-foot by 20-foot patch of lawn on the east side of our house.  We chose the location to take advantage of the southern light that hits the space for most of the day, bathing the vegetables, fruits, and legumes that we grow with plenty of sunshine.  Four cubic yards of topsoil and Panorama Paydirt were delivered to our driveway, on the other side of our house, and we spent an entire Saturday hauling wheelbarrow-load after wheelbarrow-load nearly 100-feet to amend the soil and break up the dense Virginia clay.  Post holes were dug and a fence was constructed, the bottom animal-proofed with chicken wire and a gravel trench.

We based the plan of the garden on Square Foot Gardening, creating 4-foot by 4-foot boxes from borate-treated lumber (which doesn’t leach harmful chemicals in the soil, like pressure-treated wood) and divided those boxes into 1-foot by 1-foot squares with twine.  We left 2-foot paths between the boxes to allow for easy harvesting, and covered those paths with weed fabric and organic mulch in order to keep the maintenance as low as possible.  And then, the fun began.

Over the last three summers we’ve planted blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, every color of bell pepper, green beans, sugar snap peas, edamame, eggplant, corn, kale, yellow squash, collard greens, every type of lettuce, spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, red beets, onions, carrots, basil, thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, chives, fennel, watermelon, cantaloupe and muskmelons, some of those with great success and others with complete failure.  All are grown from organic seeds or plants, and we don’t use any sprays or chemicals.

Early each spring we spend a weekend covering each box with organic compost to prepare the soil for the seeds and plants that will grow through the next 8 months.

Bella Terra: Preparation

The chives are typically the first green in the garden, emerging from the protective cover the previous season’s growth provided through the winter.

Bella Terra: Chives for a Mushroom and Herb Frittata and Cheddar Chive Biscuits and Cheddar Chive Cornbread, among other things.

The other herbs follow shortly after.

Bella Terra: Herbs for an Earthy Risotto, among other things.

The garden really started filling out by June, with the blackberry bush loaded down with little green berries and the herb and lettuce boxes overflowing.

The Sugar Snap Peas were one of our first vegetable harvests.

Bella Terra: Sugar Snap Peas for a special Caesar Potato Salad and Spicy Pickles

In July we saw some major progress, with the garden getting close to its peak season.

Cucumbers.

Tomatoes and Bell Peppers.

Bella Terra: Beets for a Red Beet Risotto and many, many salads and roasted veggie medleys.

Bella Terra: Greens for a Greens Salad with Roasted Vegetables, and lots of sauteed kale.

Bella Terra: Cucumbers for a Guacamole-Inspired Salad.

Towards the end of July and into August, our berries, bell peppers and tomatoes exploded.  We had more than we knew what to do with, but luckily froze and preserved as much as we could to get us through the fall and winter months.

Bella Terra: Blackberries for many batches of Jam, and general munching.

Bella Terra: Raspberries for more Jam, Raspberry Almond Muffins and Raspberry Buttercream Frosting.

Bella Terra: Tomatoes for Creamy Tomato Soup and Slow-Roasted Tomatoes.

Bella Terra: Peppers for Stuffed Peppers and Chile Rellenos.

Things slowed down through mid to late Autumn, as Brian and I weren’t quite as on top of getting seeds and plants in the ground for a fall harvest.  We have eaten a lot of lettuce and greens, continued to use fresh herbs in most of our cooking and even pulled some carrots out from underneath 2-feet of snow for our Christmas dinner.

It was a great year for the garden, and it is coming to a close on a bittersweet note.  Brian and I are hoping to put our house on the market in the spring or summer, and so don’t have plans to put much into the soil this year.  Instead we’ll be getting a bunch of pots and whiskey barrels, and trying our hand at container gardening so that we can move plants with us when we find a new place.  I will be incredibly sad to say goodbye to the little patch of earth that has provided us with so much, but look forward to starting again in a different part of Charlottesville.

And now, for the final Bella Terra post of 2009…Rosemary.

Our holiday meal was a festive event this year, with my Momma and stepfather in town and 6 additional friends here to share our table.  We decided on an Italian theme, with braised short ribs in a thick tomato sauce over fresh fettucini, brussels sprouts sauteed with pancetta, the carrots pictured above in a white wine and sage glaze, garlic-full mashed potatoes.  And, as a precursor to the actual sit-down dinner, we had rosemary roasted cashews alongside bacon-wrapped dates.  Everybody was pleased, and it was a very merry Christmas day.

These nuts are salty and sweet, earthy and spicy.  They solve whatever craving you may have, and are gracing our table again this evening as we ring in a new year.

Rosemary Roasted Cashews

from the kitchen sink recipes

Ingredients

  • 1-1/4 pounds cashew nuts (roasted, unsalted)
  • 2 tbsp coarsely chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar, light or dark
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp melted butter

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375*.
  2. Place nuts on parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, mix together rosemary, pepper, sugar, salt and butter in a large bowl.  Toss the warm nuts with the mixture until well coated.

bella terra: stuffed

Hello hello! Goodness, there were a few days there that I felt like I was never going to get back to Bella Eats. Life has been busy, my friends, but in a very good way. The kind of way that makes you feel really good about what you’re doing, and very thankful for the support of your understanding husband who winds up single-handedly taking on the domestic tasks of keeping us both fed and in clean clothes, while simultaneously helping me make invitation design decisions and proofreading documents for presentations.

He’s a keeper, that one, as are all of you for your very sweet comments on my last post. I apologize for not being as present in comment response as I should be, but wanted you all to know how much each and every one means to me. If you asked a question, and I think there were only a couple, I answered it in the last day or so at the bottom of the comments. And please, if you ever have a question for me that requires a timely response, feel free to send me an email – I’m usually better with those.

Stuffed

There has been a lot of stuffing happening around our house these last few weeks, and I don’t just mean boxes full of wedding invitations for a friend or images into a presentation for a big board meeting. I mean stuffed peppers. And squash. It all started with a dinner party thrown by our dear friend Amy, who hosts fabulous gatherings at which everybody cooks a dish based on a theme for the evening. Sometimes the theme is a specific ingredient such as almonds or chocolate, and other times it is based on a method of cooking or assembly. A month or so ago the theme was “stuffed!”, and we enjoyed the food so much that Brian and I have been replicating recipes ever since.

Stuffed-5

The timing worked out perfectly, as we had just traded extra bell peppers from our garden for a friend’s over-abundance of homegrown pattypan squash. If you’ve ever grown squash, you know that two people can’t possibly consume all of the bounty from one little squash plant. Its unreal. We planted summer squash two years ago and were so over it by the end of the season that we haven’t planted any since. The same goes for eggplant. Next year we’re planning to coordinate with our friends and plan more regular produce swaps, to take advantage of the space we each have and be sure that nothing will go to waste. Our own mini version of a CSA.

Stuffed-2

Peppers are a different story. I never get tired of them, and the only reason for sharing is when I know that we can’t possibly finish them before they start to get soft. I haven’t always felt that way as growing up, I only knew of one type of bell pepper – green. They made appearances in the stir fries, fajitas and supreme pizzas of my childhood, their distinct earthy flavor permeating whatever dish they graced. I wouldn’t have called myself a fan, but I didn’t mind them either. Like milk with breakfast and  brushing my teeth before bed, the emerald bells were just an ever-present part of my life that I didn’t bother to question.

Stuffed-6

Sometime in college I discovered that bell peppers came in colors other than green, and the rainbow beauties started making their way into my cart each week at the market. I found the sunset-hued varieties to be much more versatile than the green, and added them to my usual pepper-laden dishes as well as pastas, quiches and salads. They aren’t inexpensive, so when I found out we could grow them in Virginia I was quite excited.

Our garden has seen them all. The first summer we were a little over-zealous with our pepper patch, planting green, purple, red, yellow and orange bells, along with one lone (although incredibly productive) banana pepper plant. Our kitchen saw much pepper experimentation that season, as we learned that we really weren’t fans of green bells anymore, that the beautiful eggplant color fades from the purple bells when they are cooked (leaving you, essentially, with a green bell) and that we couldn’t possibly keep up with the harvest from one banana pepper plant (although, now that we know how to pickle, I think we’ll try again next year).

Stuffed-7

As summer winds down we are cherishing the last red and yellow bell peppers coming out of the garden.  Smaller than those we were getting a couple of weeks ago, but every bit as tasty, they’ve added a mild sweetness and lovely color to frittatas, stir fry, fajitas, homemade pizzas and summer salads. Our favorite use lately has been to sauté thinly sliced red peppers with strips of onion, minced garlic and fresh kale, then to pile the whole mixture on top of grilled spicy Italian sausage drizzled with dijon mustard and encased in a crusty bun. So delicious, so summer.

And then, of course, there is the Stuffed! pepper option.  Always a winner in my book, I finally convinced Brian of their merit a few years ago when I made them using red and yellow bells instead of green.  We tried the same stuffing recipe with pattypan squash, with much success.  Pattypan has such a mild flavor that it lends itself well to a full-flavored filling.

Stuffed-8

I came up with this recipe on a whim, adding ingredients to the stuffing until it looked and tasted the way I thought it should.  The result was quite tasty but I encourage you to tweak to suit your own tastes.

Stuffed Peppers or Squash

serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 bell peppers (preferably red or yellow), 4 medium patty pan squash
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cup raw red onion
  • 1/2 cup diced bell pepper (from the tops that you’ll cut off)
  • 3 roma tomatoes, seeds removed, diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ancho chile pepper, OR 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus 2 tbsp to sprinkle on top

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400*.
  2. For Peppers:  Cut the tops off of the peppers.  Cut out the interior ribs and remove all seeds.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and drop the peppers in so that they fill with water.  Boil for 1-2 minutes, until the peppers are starting to soften and turn a brighter shade of yellow/red/green.  Remove from water, drain and set aside.
  3. For Squash:  Cut tops off of squash as you would a pumpkin.  Scrape out interior seeds and strings, discard.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and drop the squash in.  Boil for 5-8 minutes, until the squash is fork-tender.  Remove and drain, set aside.
  4. In a medium-size bowl, mix together the cooked rice, corn, red onion, diced bell pepper, and roma tomatoes.  Drain the beans and press or squish with your palms before adding to the rice mixture (some beans will remain whole, but most should be squished).  Add cumin, chile pepper, salt and pepper, mix well.  Add 1/2 cup cheese and set aside.
  5. Line a baking dish with foil and set peppers or squash in dish.  Fill with rice mixture until full, and sprinkle top with cheddar cheese.
  6. Bake at 400* for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.  Turn on broiler for last minute or two if you want to brown the cheese a bit.  Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving on a bed of rice.

Stuffed-9

Chiles Rellenos

serves 4

This recipe is nearly identical to the one above.  But, there are a couple of ingredient changes and the method for preparing the peppers is a little different.

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 medium-size poblano peppers
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 cup raw yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup diced bell pepper
  • 3 roma tomatoes, seeds removed, diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus 2 tbsp to sprinkle on top

Method:

  1. Move rack to top of oven.  Turn broiler on hi.
  2. Place peppers in a baking dish.  Place under broiler and broil until all sides are charred, turning accordingly, for 3-5 minutes.  (See photo on left below for peppers just after charring).  Remove and turn off oven.
  3. Put hot peppers in a gallon-size ziplock and seal.  Let “sweat” for 30 minutes in bag.
  4. After 30 minutes, remove peppers from bag.  Skin should be easy to peel from peppers – remove it all.  Cut a slice in one side of each pepper and remove all ribs and seeds from interior.  IMPORTANT – If you are sensitive to heat, make sure to remove ALL of the ribs as this is where the heat lies.  Also WASH YOUR HANDS many many many times with soap and water before touching your eyes, nose, mouth etc.
  5. In a medium-size bowl, mix together the cooked rice, corn, onion, diced bell pepper, and roma tomatoes.  Drain the beans and press or squish with your palms before adding to the rice mixture (some beans will remain whole, but most should be squished).  Add cumin, salt and pepper, mix well.  Add 1/2 cup cheese and set aside.
  6. Line a baking dish with foil and set peppers or squash in dish.  Fill with rice mixture until full, and sprinkle top with cheddar cheese.
  7. Bake at 400* for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.  Turn on broiler for last minute or two if you want to brown the cheese a bit.  Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving on a bed of rice.

Stuffed Merge 2

This weekend, Brian and I are off to Brooklyn for a childhood friend’s (mine) wedding.  We are so excited, even though we’ll only be in the city for about 48 hours.  As with all of our vacations, we are planning this one entirely around food (except for the wedding of course, but the lovely bride has Baked! catering the desserts!!!).  If you have any suggestions for your favorite foodie havens in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn…send them on!  And expect a full photographic review of our trip next week…!

bella eats: tomatoes part 2

As I sat on our deck steps last night listening to the cicadas and sipping a glass of vino verde while Brian threw toys for the dogs, their feet tearing through our bed of mint and releasing the most intoxicating smell into the air, I realized that the outside temperature was incredibly comfortable. A lovely 68 degrees, with the lightest breeze to whisk the hair out of your face and send goosebumps dancing up your arms, made for the perfect deck-sitting evening. I thought to myself “Fall…she’s almost here”, before picking myself up and moving inside because Summer’s mosquitos haven’t yet received the memo.

sunflowers merge

September. The first month of Autumn…how is it already upon us? The end of Summer is quite visible in the shriveling of our tomato plants, the slumber of our blackberries and the fully ripe figs on the public trees just down the street (of which I have enjoyed many…). I must admit, I’ve been feeling the fingers of Fall moving in to pull me through the last few weeks of Summer for awhile now and have not been unhappy about it. For Fall, with her crisp air, golden light, crunchy leaves under feet and produce fit for warm and hearty meals, is absolutely my favorite season.

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That’s not to say that I won’t miss Summer. I’ll miss our garden, and bemoan the fact that I didn’t have enough forethought to plant winter squash, sweet potatoes or another round of beets. I’ll miss the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that literally burst open on the vine because they are so full of juice, and the sweet taste of a peach pulled from a tree with my very own hands. I’ll miss my effervescent white wines and fresh berry tarts topped with vanilla ice cream, and simple green salads for dinner paired with a loaf of french bread. And of course there’s the kayaking, the trips to the reservoir with the dogs and the extended daylight that allows for late evening walks and runs with girlfriends.

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We’ve done our best to preserve as much of Summer’s bounty as possible. We had bigger plans for the 2009 harvest, but I’m proud that we saved so much more than last year and feel certain that we’ll do even better in 2010. We’ve made over 200 ounces of jam, in flavors ranging from strawberry rhubarb to peach lime. I’ve frozen 10 quart-bags full of blackberries and the same number full of peach slices. I’ve baked and frozen zucchini muffins and raspberry muffins to grab on the go on future rushed Autumn mornings. And I’ve slow-roasted tomatoes, 8 pounds of them, to enjoy over pasta and on sandwiches this winter when I need a little reminder of warmer days.

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Slow-roasting tomatoes concentrates their flavor into single bites that seem to explode in your mouth.  They will instantly transform a simple parmesan-laced pasta or crusty loaf of bread spread with St. Andres or another triple cream cheese into the most satisfying meal.  That is, if you can keep your husband and other fingers away from the pan as the tomatoes cool…

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If possible, I encourage you all to freeze or can as much local produce as you can this summer.  I wish I’d pushed the idea earlier on, and promise that next year I’ll have more comprehensive guides to canning and freezing.  As I’ve mentioned, Brian and I try to eat as locally and seasonally as possible.  Unfortunately, living in Virginia, there comes a time every winter when it is nearly impossible to get any fresh local produce.  This year we decided to extend out local eating season as long as possible by preserving as much as we could.  We had big plans for canned whole vegetables and fruits, salsas and tomato sauces (of which Brian did make one freezer batch).  We weren’t as productive as we had hoped, although the season isn’t quite over yet.  So, get to your local farmer’s market this weekend and pick up the last of the tomatoes, peaches, berries, okra etc, and have a little canning or freezing party in your kitchen.  Come winter, you’ll be so happy you did.

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Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

recipe from Molly Wizenburg’s A Homemade Life, pg. 192

Ingredients:

  • 3-1/2 pounds ripe Roma tomatoes, halved (about 20 tomatoes)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • ground coriander

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200*F.
  2. Wash and dry tomatoes, and cut them in half length-wise.  Place in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil.  Toss gently to coat.
  3. Arrange them on a baking sheet cut-side up, and sprinkle each with a pinch of salt and a pinch of coriander for every 4-6 tomatoes.
  4. Bake until the tomatoes crinkle at the edges and shrink to about half their original size, 4 to 6 hours.
  5. Cool to room temperature before storing them in an airtight container.  They will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week or the freezer for a few months.

**I also found this slow-roasted tomato recipe that I wanted to try, but we ran out of tomatoes in the garden too soon. I may pick some up at the market this weekend to give it a try.

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Winners!

The winners of the last two Saucy Mama Lime Chipotle Marinade (picked by random.org) are:

#15 Bev

#31  Melissa, of Melissa’s Journey

Congratulations Ladies!  I know you’ll love the sauce.  Please send me an email at bellaeats[at]gmail[dot]com with your full name and address.

All other winners, of Saucy Mama marinade and jam, your treats are going out this week!  I promise!

Other Bella Terra posts this season:

bella terra: pick-me-up

When I bought three raspberry plants (two red, one golden) from my local nursery last year I had no idea what to expect. We’d had mixed luck with berries – the blackberry bush we’d planted the year before was showing a lot of promise for its second summer but the blueberry bush we’d put in 3 years prior hadn’t grown a bit and typically yielded a harvest of only one dozen berries each season. I was taking a chance, but the raspberry plants were inexpensive and I was determined to have long branches loaded with berries twining through the fence surrounding our garden.

RasMuffins - Merge 1

We got lucky.  Their first year the raspberries didn’t do much.  We were rewarded with a couple of small handfuls of fruit – really only enough to snack on as you wandered through the garden checking on other plants, certainly not enough to actually do something with.  But this year – the berries’ second year – has been quite the surprise.  Maybe its because I wasn’t expecting much from them, or maybe its that their location in the garden is a bit out of the way, but just a few weeks ago I was shocked (shocked!) to discover that the raspberry branches had reached clear out of their intended boundaries and were loaded (loaded!) with plump berries.  I wish I could show you photos of their progress, but the general unruliness of the garden has left me embarrassed to share the evidence.

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Its hard to not get excited about being in the kitchen, concocting new recipes when your fridge has a constantly rotating bowl full of red raspberries, golden raspberries and blackberries.   Unless, like me last week, you come down with a bug right in the middle of berry season.  It was nothing too serious, but provided enough sour feelings to keep me completely out of the kitchen and away from the blog. I had no interest in cooking food, writing about food or editing images of food for five full days. It was all I could do to get the tomato soup post up Tuesday night, and the next day I couldn’t even bring myself to read comments because the mere thought of tomatoes gave me a queazy feeling. Finally, on Saturday, as I was laying on a towel in the middle of our living room floor after a particularly hard 4-mile run, thoughts of homemade muffins popped into my head.

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I jumped up, so excited to have the urge to bake without a queazy feeling following along behind that urge. It was getting worrisome, this lack of desire to stand at my kitchen counter, because I had promised some dear friends that I would make cupcakes for their daughter’s third birthday party the next day. And, we had raspberries. Several bowls of raspberries freshly picked from our garden just waiting to be folded into muffin batters and buttercream frostings and made into jam (peach + raspberry = yum!). The opportunities were endless, yet until Saturday I’d done nothing to seize them.

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These little raspberry almond muffins pulled me out of my funk, with some help from Ellie Krieger, whose book I had picked up at the library a few weeks prior. They are hearty, made with a mix of all-purpose and whole-grain flours, and pack nice little raspberry punches into each bite.  Made moist by applesauce instead of butter, and topped with a crunchy cinnamon and almond topping, they provide an adequate amount of sweetness countered by the slightly tart raspberries – a sure pick-me-up for any slow morning or afternoon.  I’ve frozen a bunch of them to use as my own little weapon against future kitchen blues…

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Raspberry-Almond Muffins

makes 16 muffins

adapted from Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave, Apple-Pecan Muffins, pg 22

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, chopped finely
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-grain pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup natural unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup fat free buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400*.  Coat a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray, along with 4 wells in a second muffin pan.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tbsp of the brown sugar, the almonds and the cinnamon.  Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda and salt.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar and the oil until combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition.  Whisk in the applesauce and vanilla.  Stir in the flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the buttermilk, just until combined.  Gently stir in the raspberries.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each about 2/3’s full, and sprinkle evenly with almond mixture.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
  6. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing from pan.

RasMuffins - Merge 2

What about those cupcakes I mentioned before?  Well, I made these again, along with a vanilla version for the adorable 3-year-old’s birthday party.  They were a big hit with the young-uns, but I think the adults enjoyed them even more…

Cupcakes-Merge

Other Bella Terra posts this season:

Bella Terra: Preparation

Bella Terra: Chives

Bella Terra: Herbs

Bella Terra: Sugar Snaps

Bella Terra: Red Beets

Bella Terra: Kale

Bella Terra: Cucumbers

Bella Terra: Blackberries

Bella Terra: Tomatoes, Part 1