Blueberry Lemon Ice Cream Topping

WIN_20150725_110857

Once you make homemade ice cream topping, you’ll never buy the stuff sold in little jars (or squirt bottles!) at the supermarket again. There’s just nothing quite like fresh, seasonal fruit cooked into luscious ice cream toppings. If you have children in your home, feel free to use them as a perfect excuse to try this recipe. I won’t tell.

WIN_20150725_101234Ingredients (Makes 1 pint)

2 cups blueberries

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons finely diced lemon (peel included)

WIN_20150725_1038521 teaspoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

Directions

Step 1) Combine blueberries, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon in a medium saucepan. Cook over low-medium heat with WIN_20150725_103350stirring until berries open and sugar dissolves.

Step 2) Bring blueberry mixture to a gentle boil and boil (gently!) with stirring for 5 minutes. Be sure to stir along the bottom of the saucepan so that the bottom does not burn.

Step 3) Whisk together cornstarch and water. Pour cornstarch mixture into the blueberry mixture and stir well. Allow blueberry mixture to boil for 1 more minute. Remove from heat.

Step 4) Allow to cool, then transfer to a pint size mason jar. Ladle over ice cream! Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Strawberry Balsamic Sorbet

WIN_20150719_203628Recently, we spent a morning at a local farm picking strawberries. We brought home approximately twenty pounds of berries, in addition to the pound that Half-Pint managed to eat while scampering around in the field.  ;)  Fresh picked strawberries are small, flavor packed morsels of summer goodness, and taste oh so much better than the big-but-bland strawberries sold in most supermarkets. It would be tempting to pick berries all day long, but there’s a catch… strawberries can spoil alarmingly quickly. Forget about having a few days to leisurely make jams, jellies, and other goodies. If you bring strawberries home from the field, you better preserve them the same day.

WIN_20150702_133549

Don’t panic – Freeze! As explained in a previous post, summer fruit is easy to freeze. You can thaw berries later to make jams and jellies (the end product is just as delicious). Today, we’re using frozen strawberries to make what just might be the Easiest Sorbet In The Entire World. Because the berries are already frozen, all we need to do is blend three ingredients together. In less time than it would take to pour a glass of lemonade for your dinner guests, you can make them a dish of Strawberry Balsamic Sorbet. How cool is that?

Ingredients (Makes 4 servings)

2 cups small, frozen strawberries

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Mint sprigs for garnish

WIN_20150719_201853Directions

Place all ingredients in a blender, but don’t blend right away! Let the ingredients sit in the blender at room temperature for approximately ten minutes. When berries are still partially frozen but not rock hard (you should be able to pierce them with a fork), puree the ingredients together. Scoop into small dishes with an ice cream scoop and garnish with mint. Serve immediately.

Summer Squash Spaceships

WIN_20150719_193616Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we grow spaceships in the garden. Known to many grown-ups as patty pan squash, “spaceships” are a fun vegetable for children of all ages. We’re combining this crisp, low calorie, nutritious summer squash with fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes, and basil for a classic flavor combination. Go ahead – play with your food!

WIN_20150719_191833

Patty Pan Squash

WIN_20150719_192528Ingredients (Makes 4 side dish servings)

1 patty pan squash, approximately 6 inches in diameter, sliced into thin rings

8 oz ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced into thin circles

1 ripe tomato, sliced into thin circles

6 – 8 basil leaves

1 long wooden skewer

balsamic vinegar and olive oil to garnish

WIN_20150719_192749

Place the first slice of patty pan squash on a plate, and push the flat end of a skewer into the squash. This will serve as your base. Slowly lower slices of tomato, basil, and mozzarella over the pointed end of the skewer and down to the base. Repeat layers until you have used the entire patty pan squash. Top with a triangle “flag” cut from a basil leaf. Serve immediately with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

In The Garden: First Harvests

Moving into late July, my Northern vegetable garden has been growing for almost eight weeks. This means – finally! – the first vegetables are being harvested here at Crowded Earth Kitchen! Weather permitting, we’ll enjoy increasingly bountiful harvesting for the next six to eight weeks. So exciting!

Here’s a peek at some of what’s happening In The Garden:

WIN_20150719_185600

Banana peppers, always the first peppers of summer, are bountiful this year.

WIN_20150719_185823

Ground cherries, a new garden addition, are coming along nicely.

WIN_20150719_185859

The first of the hot peppers are turning red!

WIN_20150719_185917

Broccoli heads are about six inches in diameter.

WIN_20150719_190005

Zucchini are surprisingly late this year, but are finally growing strong.

WIN_20150719_190027

We’ve picked about two quarts of beans so far.

WIN_20150719_190053

With a new net to protect raspberries from the birds, we’ve harvested a whole quart of berries so far. Happily, we’ll be able to pick again tomorrow!

WIN_20150719_190137

Poblano peppers, typically harvested near the end of summer, are already growing rapidly. So delicious…

WIN_20150719_190217

Cucumber vines are just beginning to produce. We hope to begin canning pickles in another week or two.

WIN_20150719_190612

The greens bed has exploded with chard and kale. Self-seeded tomato plants are peeking through the chard leaves, and will offer a cherry tomato bonus in September.

Strawberry Mint Mojitos

WIN_20150527_230412I have a sister who has a talent for mixing drinks. When she shakes something up in her kitchen, it looks and tastes like a beverage you’d pay a high price for in a fancy bar. I’ve asked her for her bloody mary recipe so many times that she has threatened to charge me next time… I think she means it. This summer, rather than driving my sister crazy, I’ve decided to channel my inner mixologist and have some fun! With fresh herbs and ripe fruits readily available, even I (a bartending rookie) ought to be able to make something tasty, right? These Strawberry Mint Mojitos are delightful – let me know what you think!

WIN_20150527_225427Ingredients (Makes 2 tall glass servings)

1/2 cup fresh, very ripe strawberries

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves (spearmint or pineapple mint)

1/3 cup light rum

1/3 cup frozen limeade concentrate

ice

seltzer water

Directions

Step 1) Pulse strawberries, mint, rum, and limeade concentrate in a small food processor or blender until well blended.

Step 2) Pour over ice into two tall glasses. Top with seltzer water and stir quickly.

Step 3) Garnish with a strawberry, a mint leaf, and an umbrella (of course!). Serve immediately.

Freezing Summer Fruit

WIN_20150702_135149

Freezing mango slices on trays before packing in freezer bags keeps them from sticking together!

If you’ve been following Crowded Earth Kitchen for a while, you know that we do a lot of canning. You also know we do a lot of shopping at Aldi. It won’t surprise you, then, that the ridiculously inexpensive summer fruit prices at Aldi have us giddy with delight!

Whole pineapples for $1.39! Mangoes for $0.49! Pints of blueberries for $0.69! Nectarines, peaches, and plums for $0.78 per pound!

It’s enough to make cooks passionate about food preservation dance for joy… but here’s the conundrum:

Who wants to stand over a canning pot all day in July???

WIN_20150702_135249

Use a straw to suck the air out of your freezer bags before sealing. This helps prevent ice crystals and freezer burn!

Not us, not even with those prices dangled before our eyes. July is for swimming with the kids, reading romance novels on a hammock, and sipping mojitos (great recipe coming up for those) with friends. So what’s a frugal cook to do?

Freeze!

All you need to do in order to take advantage of these prices without sacrificing pool/hammock/mojito time is place whole berries and/or bite size chunks of pineapple, mango, nectarines, peaches, and plums in a single layer (not touching each other) on a baking sheet or small tray. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for a few hours. As soon as the fruit is frozen, transfer the fruit to quart size freezer bags. Finally, use a straw to suck the air out of the bags before zipping completely closed. Tuck those bags back in your freezer, as quickly as possible.

WIN_20150702_135202

The individually frozen fruit slices in these airtight bags will taste like fresh summer fruit when allowed to thaw!

When winter arrives, you’ll be able to easily scoop individual pieces of fruit from your freezer bags and enjoy summer goodness long after the warm sunshine is gone!

Now, back to my romance novel…  ;)

WIN_20150702_164813

Berries may be frozen whole, but should still be individually frozen on baking sheets before packing into freezer bags.

Purslane, the Free Superfood!

WIN_20150714_130402I’ve known for a while that the Hmong women at my local farmers market possess an extraordinary amount of knowledge, having immigrated with many generations of organic agricultural experience, skill, and lore. Even so, I was surprised to see small bundles of pink stemmed plants with small, succulent leaves for sale at their booth.

Earlier the same day, I spent hours picking and discarding these very same “weeds” from my vegetable garden!

WIN_20150714_133026After only a few minutes of research, I discovered that the “weed” I have been hoeing right out of my garden is purslane, sometimes known as pigweed (no respect, I tell you!). Purslane is a highly prized edible plant in much of Asia, and no wonder! Apparently purslane contains more Vitamin A and more Vitamin C per serving than most dark green leafy vegetables, including spinach! In addition… get this… purslane is remarkably high in Omega 3 fatty acids, containing more heart healthy Omega 3s than some fish oils!

Who knew?

Perhaps a better question is, how do I use it?

WIN_20150714_133519Enjoying the bright, citrusy flavor of purslane can be as simple as plucking off the small leaves and tossing them into a salad or sprinkling them over grilled vegetables. Feeling a little more adventurous? In addition to being a nutritional powerhouse, purslane has thickening properties. To take advantage, simply dry purslane in a food dehydrator or oven (lowest temperature) and grind into powder using a food processor or coffee grinder. Then, add powdered purslane to soups and stews in place of cornstarch or roux.

The possibilities are endless. I’d love to hear your ideas for this underappreciated “weed!”