Monday, August 13, 2012

Il Nostro Giardino (Our Garden)

  (Our Garden's Harvest In NJ This Past July)

I was told a while ago (as a blog idea) to write about what I did over the summer as a CIA student. Just to clarify, us culinary kids certainly are unique, but we do indeed have normal lives when it comes to going on break. I usually flee to the beach in NJ, take a weekend getaway somewhere on the East Coast and have just enough time to meet up with some old friends and family members within our three week vacation in July. This summer though, I focused on the art of canning and baking (my weaknesses in the kitchen).

I bought a magazine a while ago on a flight to Italy that explained the process of canning and preserving meats, jellies and jams. I thought it would just be an easy read to take up the eight hours of travel on the plane, but I actually found myself circling and highlighting multiple recipes and gift ideas. As soon as I got home in July, I sat down and talked to my father about what produce and fruits were about to be harvested in our garden. Tomatoes and figs were traditionally picked in August/September, so I concentrated on recipes involving zucchini, herbs, beets and most of all, blackberries.

My ultimate pet peeve is to see food go to waste. This could be derived from my years at CIA, or just because I love to eat! Anyway, I had to figure out what I could do with pounds and pounds of blackberries. Jelly was an obvious answer, but I wanted to be a bit more creative than that (my mother and I did make blackberry-lime jelly with extra berries at the end of the month). All of a sudden, I came up with the idea of infusing a 750 mL bottle of cheap vodka with handfuls of blackberries and a drizzle of simple syrup. My research showed me that if I let that sit for ten days in a cool, dark area, I would have homemade Blackberry Liqueur. Sure enough, it was a success! The color of the final product was a ruby, rich burgundy with a mild essence of macerated blackberries. Simply delightful.

(Blackberry Goodness!)

Next on the list was zucchini, loads of it too. After pickling some beets from the garden, I felt rather confident that I was on a roll and mustered up the courage to make some zucchini relish and bread. Yes, baking. My ultimate flaw (hey, that’s why I’m a cook!).

(Fresh Beets!)

First, the easier out of the two, Zucchini Relish! The hardest part of this recipe was definitely slicing bunches of zucchini on the mandolin into thin strips. After that was done, I julienned some carrots, onions and red peppers and packed all of the vegetables in salt. Once the liquid was drained out and salt rinsed off, the next step was to slowly cook them in a sugar based vinegar mixture (with spices of course). The canning part was the easiest, but I had to remember to sterilize the jars first, take them out carefully and add in appropriate parts of relish to liquid. Then, I had to boil the jars for ten minutes to make sure the lids would snap when opened, indicating the preservation of the product. Overall, the relish was better than I thought! It’s a refreshing pickle alternative for hotdogs, tacos, sandwiches, etc. With the Pickled Beets, the process was similar in technique, only I added some sliced red onions and the actual beet stems and greens to the pickling mixture, which came out tender exemplifying a bright pink color.

Now for the Zucchini Bread saga. Just kidding, it didn’t take THAT long. I purposely drove back home from my best friend’s house in the rain on a stormy summer night to get baking. Her parents urged me not to drive so late (it was 11pm) and I felt so silly saying that I had to bake zucchini bread. Yet, duty called! I got home safe and my brother and I started banging out thin slices of zucchini.

(Wonderful Zucchini Bread...)

I followed a recipe off-line (no judgment here). I also added in sliced carrots fromthe garden to the mixture as well as pignoli nuts to give the bread more texture. I baked the bread two ways: one in a bundt pan and the other in a cake pan. Also, I am guilty of manipulating the recipe in more ways than one. Instead of AP flour, I used cake flour because we had little to no regular flour and it was too late at night to run to the store. Also, as horrible as it sounds, I did not have baking soda around the house so I substituted baking powder. To all you bakers out there don’t frown upon this please, for my zucchini bread came out delicate and heavenly. When heated up with some butter, my stomach was surely satisfied.

Well folks, I hope you appreciate my recipe testing stories! I had a blast over break researching ways to preserve our garden’s harvest. I hope this inspires you all to do the same! Stay strong CIA!


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