Easy Garden Bruschetta

WIN_20150722_124558Today’s recipe isn’t rocket science, folks – bruschetta is peasant food. Like most peasant food, making bruschetta is a way of taking little bits and specks of leftovers and reimagining them into something delicious! You’ll need small quantities of fresh vegetables, a few slices of not-very-fresh bread, and a bit of cheese. Surely you have all of that lurking in your kitchen, right?

The key to delicious bruschetta is warm toasted bread combined with cold toppings, served immediately. Let’s get started!

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I wasn’t kidding – we’re using up leftovers today!

Ingredients (Makes 2 lunch servings)

2 large or 4 small slices of day old bread

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup diced tomato

1/4 cup diced peppers, garlic, and/or onion (any combination you like)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

WIN_20150722_1237422 ounces diced cheese (I used fresh mozzarella)

A few basil leaves, sliced into thin shreds

Directions

Step 1) Combine diced tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onion, and balsamic vinegar in a WIN_20150722_123947small bowl. Place in the refrigerator to chill.

Step 2) Cut bread slices into 2 inch strips and place on a baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, coat top sides of bread strips with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt if desired (optional). Broil on a low setting for about 3 minutes. Watch carefully – bread should be toasted but not burned!

Step 3) Arrange bread on serving plates. Top with diced vegetables, diced cheese, and shredded basil. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top, and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Green Tomato Cinnamon Bread

WIN_20150724_120008My garden has more green tomatoes than red tomatoes right now, and that’s just fine. Green tomatoes are delicious in many recipes, and this recipe for Green Tomato Cinnamon Bread is one of my very favorites. What I’ve written below is a lower-fat adaptation on a recipe I read years ago on frugalupstate.com. When I first read about baking bread with green tomatoes, I was skeptical. If you’re raising your eyebrows, I understand. Seriously, give this a try. When it becomes one of your favorite recipes, send me a message!  🙂

WIN_20150724_095635Ingredients (Makes 2 loaves)

2 cups of pureed, whole green tomatoes (small chunks are OK)

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup vegetable oil

WIN_20150724_1004111/2 cup applesauce (real applesauce, no sugar added)

2 eggs

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups sugar

WIN_20150724_1000401 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3 cups flour

Directions

Step 1) Grease two bread pans and “flour” using granulated sugar. This adds a WIN_20150724_101754wonderful flavor to the bread, and actually allows us to use less sugar overall, because some of the sugar is concentrated on the outside of each slice.

Step 2) Mix together pureed tomatoes, almond extract, oil, applesauce, and eggs. Add sugar and stir until well combined.

Step 3) Add remaining dry ingredients, a little at a while, until all ingredients are incorporated. The batter will be pretty stiff, and that’s OK. As the bread bakes, any little chunks of tomatoes will release liquid, and your bread will not be dry.

Step 4) Bake loaves in a preheated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Bread is done when a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

This bread freezes wonderfully – just cool and wrap in foil. When thawed, it will taste as good as fresh. Slices of this bread are delicious packed in school lunches!

Blueberry Lemon Ice Cream Topping

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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.

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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!

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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

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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:

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

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

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The first of the hot peppers are turning red!

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Broccoli heads are about six inches in diameter.

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

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

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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!

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

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

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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

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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???

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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.

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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…  😉

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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!”

Chocolate Raspberry Waffle Cone Cannoli

WIN_20150713_195927Here’s a super easy, amazingly delicious way to incorporate summertime raspberries into dessert! Preparing this dessert takes only a few minutes, allowing you to hurry back outside to catch every precious ray of sunshine before the snow falls again!

WIN_20150713_192328Ingredients (Serves 4)

4 waffle cones

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon triple sec

grated zest from 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

1 cup fresh raspberries

WIN_20150713_194247Directions

Step 1) Blend together ricotta cheese, powdered sugar, triple sec, and lemon zest.

Step 2) Using the back of a teaspoon, spread ricotta filling along the insides of the waffle cones.

Step 3) Sprinkle mini chocolate chips on top of filling.

Step 4) Fill each cone with 1/4 cup fresh raspberries and serve immediately!

Enjoy!