Magnolia Gardens: Winter, 2016

My winter planting started in November. Initially, it was radish and cilantro that would ‘test’ my soil – freshly turned with E.B. Stone Organic Planting Mix as well as their ‘Sure Start’ Fertilizer. The drought ravaged my garden throughout the summer, and the impending El Niño was a prime time to revitalize the earth in and around Magnolia Gardens. I figured I’d get a head start.

Radish grows and harvests rather easily, so within four-five weeks we pulled up a few dozen and enjoyed the veggies of our labor. The cilantro was a bit spottier, as we really only had about three bunches that grew proudly. As the calendar turned to 2016, it was time to get serious about a plan: I would focus on what pass for ‘winter’ vegetables in Southern California, and despite the threat of El Niño being more firm than the actual El Niño, we had enough rain to really produce a bounty for the winter harvest.

Here are some of my favorite photos from this past weekend:

 singlepea
a single pea pod amongst tendrils
peas
a gaggle of pea pods
 broccolini
 budding broccoli
arugula
arugula
epazote
epazote
basil
basil, surviving the ‘harsh’ winter
celery
elery stalks shooting up
spinach
spinach!!!
peaharvest
fine harvest of peas
russiankale
russian kale
bloodOblossom
blood orange blossom
 arugulaflowers
 arugula blossom
broccoliflowers
broccoli flowernavel orange blossom
orangeblossom
navel orange blossom

Looking forward to Spring, when we can start to get some serious color and variety in the garden, kitchen and on our plates.

Simple, Quick Lamb Chops, Eggplant and Chickpeas

The Nigel Slater tome, Eat, has provided me with not only an awesome perspective on food and cooking, but accessible, realistic recipes that are more simplistic than they appear – thus perfect for somebody with slightly-better-than-novice skills such as myself.

My meal last night was both inspired by (lamb w/ yogurt) and adapted from (eggplant & chickpea puree) recipes in the book. The Middle Eastern influence (from a British chef/ author, haaa!) was definitely outside of my typical kitchen paradigm, but I have to admit it came out awesome. And the entire meal was on the plate within 30 minutes of start time. Pretty awesome.

Hope you enjoy.

Lamb

Ingredients

  • 6 smaller lamb chops, frenched and cleaned
  • EVOO
  • head of garlic
  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 can, chickpeas
  • handful of fresh thyme
  • handful of mint lives, minced
  • greek yogurt
  • 1 lemon
  • salt
  • pepper
  • paprika

Directions

  • slice eggplant in half, salt and let sit for 20-30 minutes to draw water out
  • marinate lamb in olive oil, salt, pepper, sliced garlic for at least one hour
  • rinse eggplant and let dry over paper towels, then slice into half-rounds
  • preheat oven to 400°F
  • prepare yogurt accompaniment by whisking yogurt, juice from 1/2 lemon, mint, paprika, salt, pepper & minced garlic
  • take half of the eggplant half-moons, put on baking sheet with garlic and thyme and generous EVOO. place in oven.
  • heat cast-iron skillet to high with a handful of garlic cloves
  • heat dutch oven or other high-sided pan, pour in generous EVOO – when heated, layer in the remaining rounds of eggplant. sauté the eggplant until browned, then flip for 2 minutes to brown on other side
  • sear the lamb chops thoroughly on both sides – should take about 3 to 4 minutes per side – when done, put the lamb chops in the oven to finish for 2-4 more minutes
  • add chickpeas to the eggplant in dutch oven, as well as more salt/pepper. turn off heat, cover
  • pull lamb and eggplant from oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes
  • use handblender to puree half the eggplant & chickpeas, leaving the rest in tact for both textural and aesthetic purposes
  • plate as desired, with or without couscous, rice, and enjoy

 

Magnolia Gardens

I never thought I would be a gardener.

In fact, I never even anticipated growing my own food, or tending to produce, or wondering when the next harvest would be ready. I really never thought I’d be dealing with slugs, aphids, grasshoppers and caterpillars. I also never knew that I’d appreciate just how cathartic and invigorating heading into the garden on a brisk morning with my gloves, compost, shears and fertilizer would be.

I also didn’t realize how rewarding it would be to pull a radish, a strawberry, a snow pea and just eat it right off the plant, becoming mesmerized with both the beauty of the flavor and the resonance of the idea that I created this vegetable, nurturing it from seed to bloom.

I also never thought that I’d name my garden, but here we are – Magnolia Gardens is in full swing, and now that it’s yet another beautiful Spring in Sherman Oaks, I wanted to share some of the images from my various garden experiences that have helped inspire me to continue to expand my repertoire and my palette.

I hope you enjoy.

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hydrange

Quinoa Risotto. Seriously.

I’m not a huge quinoa fan. I know, I know – take away my ‘foodie’ card. I hate that word anyway, foodie, but that’s a different story. Point is, every preparation I’ve made – or tasted – has been too grainy, too gritty. Even when we went to Peru, I just wasn’t a fan. I don’t dislike it, but. . .

So when I saw the latest issue of Food & Wine magazine list quinoa as the #3 favorite ingredient of 2013 of it’s readers, I had two thoughts:

  1. the readers are nuts -and-
  2. I have to give quinoa yet another whirl; the umpteenth time.

They did include one recipe with each of the top ten ingredients, and this one happened to catch my eye. Why not, I figured? I sure do love san marzano tomatoes, and any excuse to imbibe is a good one so hopefully their magic would rub off on the quinoa, and with a little help of my good friends creme fraiche & parmesano reggiano, I’d enjoy a good meal.

And enjoy I did. Behold, my favorite quinoa dish – and the gateway to hopefully more quinoa quaziness (jk, but seriously):

quinoarisotto

note: this is a long recipe but honestly it’s easier than it reads. nothing here is difficult and none of the ingredients are foreign. here’s your list followed by your directions:
Ingredients
  • quinoa. rinse the quinoa before making. they tell you to let it sit for hours in water or run it under water for 10 minutes (literally) which i find wasteful. what i do is get a real tight strainer, dump the quinoa in there and water it until the water runs clear through the strainer.
  • whole peeled tomatoes. san marzano brand is literally the best and most renowned tomatoes in the world. period. cheap too and you can get them at ralphs or whole foods. you’ll only need like four or five so save the rest in a tupperware or honestly eat them whole. they’re THAT good.
  • garlic, four cloves, minced
  • parmesan cheese (real deal, grate it yourself, so worth it)
  • creme fraiche, which is so indulgent. i actually would probably use sour cream if I made this again. CF was too rich.
  • shallot, minced
  • parsley. i was about to omit this but i’m glad i didn’t. it’s necessary at the end.
  • small lemon (which I just realized I omitted in the descriptor).
  • panko (which you should have in your house anyway, it’s literally so versatile and adds crunch to whatever you need)
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1 lemon, peeled with pith removed and cut into sections, then cut further into 1/2 inch cubes <–annoying as heck but kind of fun too. the pith is where all the bitter comes from so use a small, manageable knife to rid yourself of it.
  • salt pepper duh
  • olive oil, and a ton.
  • 1.5 cups chicken broth, low sodium (important)
RECIPE
  • heat oven to 375°.
  • boil quinoa in 2.5 cups water with pinch of salt <–important. i usually boil in a ton of salt w/ pasta or rice but I guess quinoa absorbs the salt more efficiently. mine was a bit too salty so literally use a pinch.
  • once its boiling, cover it – count on 20 minutes, but peek every few minutes or so after 15 – as soon as the water is evaporated, take it off the heat (but leave cover on)
  • while its boiling, slice four or five of the san marzanos in half LENGTHwise
  • let them sit and drain (cutting board is fine, paper towel on cutting board is better) and make the ‘topping’ for them – mix panko (1/2 cup) with EVOO (2 tbsp), salt, pepper and two cloves minced garlic
  • throw them in the oven for 25 minutes or eyeball them until the topping browns and crisps. honestly makes me hungry just reliving this part in my mind man that was good. sidenote: you can serve those as an hors d oeuvre and you’d be lauded amongst your friends. i hope i remember this, it’s a knockout. anyway, that’s neither here nor there so back to the recipe
  • the tomatoes should be coming out of the oven around the same time your quinoa has been on the stove ‘resting’ post-removal from heat. put them aside. and maybe eat one just to be in tomato heaven.
  • heat medium sauce pan with 4 tbsp (a ton, i know, but trust me) EVOO medium hot. add minced shallots (1/2 shallot) and 2 more minced garlic cloves and sautée for four minutes or until they’re just starting to crisp – add the rosemary to the pan and stir stir stir so you don’t burn the shallot/garlic.
  • THIS IS THE ONLY TRICKY MOVE: get the quinoa into that same sauce pan. it’s going to fry quick, so add the  broth as fast as you can and slam the heat down to low. you want to get a calm simmer going, which you’ll maintain until the ‘loose’ liquid has evaporated. for me it took about 10 minutes
  • once the quinoa resembles a ‘thick sauce’ in consistency, add 1/4 cup creme fraiche, 1/3 cup grated parmesan and lemon segments (!!!), remove from heat and stir
  • Spoon the risotto into bowls, top with the tomatoes and garnish with crème fraîche, grated cheese and chopped parsley; serve.

 

Asparagus Egg Delight

Delicious. Elegant. Artistic. Seasonal. Simple.

This dish, inspired by both our local farmers market as well as Roy Choi’s L.A. Son, was absolutely incredible. And so, so easy – 12 minutes total cook time.

I love asparagus, and this was a real treat. I was pretty shocked when I saw Choi’s recipe, but it made sense – the Flavor Bible lists egg as a flavor affiliate of asparagus, so off I went; poaching and sautéing and shaving and lapping up yolk. Incredible.

And if you’re cooking for your mate, be sure to put this on the menu – it will elicit moans of delight. Enjoy.

asaparagusegg

Ingredients

  • large brown egg
  • white asparagus tips
  • handful of parsley, roughly chopped or torn
  • red pepper flakes
  • cracked black pepper, to taste
  • crystalline salt, to taste
  • kosher salt, for water
  • parmesan cheese block
  • 2 tbsp, butter
  • 1 tbsp, EVOO
  • 1 tsp, vinegar
  • 1/2 lemon (optional)

Directions

  • boil pot of kosher salted water and vinegar
  • heat EVOO in large skillet on medium heat with 1 tbsp butter
  • sauté asparagus until barely colored, should still be somewhat crisp
  • remove asparagus to paper towel lined plate, add salt and a pinch of pepper
  • drop egg in boiling water and remove from heat
  • let stand for 2 1/2 minutes
  • remove egg with slotted spoon, put on paper towel-lined plate
  • move asparagus to serving plate, add egg on top
  • shave parmesan generously
  • crack pepper, generously
  • add parsley and a decent sprinkling of salt crystals
  • serve with squeeze of lemon for a counterbalanced acid flavor*

*this is Choi’s recommendation. he has a much more astute palate than myself, but honestly I prefer sans lemon – hit me with the pure rich lusciousness of this bad boy and wowza. 

Easy Holiday Apple-tizer

Appetizers have always been my favorite course to prepare. With limitless possibilities stylistically as well as aesthetically, the course lends itself to fun. Plus, where there are appetizers, there is a party – always a good thing. Perhaps most importantly, they’re mentally more manageable for me. As a cook with literally zero training, prepping & serving bite-sized pieces was less of a wide-reaching endeavor: Find something you like, shrink it down and make sure it pops with color and flavor and there ya go. Plus you get to use cute little plates and make good use of negative space. Enjoyable.

This one right here was perfect for time & place as well – apples are in prime season, and red and green are. . .well, they match the color palette of the Holidays. Add a little bacon for texture and flavor, my ‘Ingredient of the Year, 2014’ pomegranate seeds for literal pop and you have an awesome, awesome – and SIMPLE – Holiday (or anytime) appetizer.

applebaconpomegranate

Ingredients

  • red and green apples, sliced
  • juice of two lemons
  • goat cheese
  • cracked black pepper
  • baby arugula
  • pomegranate seeds
  • crisped bacon

Directions

  • soak apple  in lemon immediately after slicing
  • remove, drain on paper towels
  • crisp bacon and drain on paper towels to dry
  •  spread goat cheese on apples
  • crack black pepper generously on apple/cheese
  • add one baby arugula leaf to each slice
  • break bacon into small pieces, adding one piece to each slice
  • add one pomegranate seed
  • serve and say ‘Happy Holidays’apple2