Summer Salads

I am very excited about the food growing in my back yard. Ever since I sowed the first seeds, I've been going out almost every morning to survey my back yard in search of new ripe veggies. I keep looking at my fennel and inspecting my carrots and zucchinis, waiting for the day I can pick something to eat. It is an inexplicable feeling but I really enjoy seeing how things take shape in my garden. I have been eating the fruits of my labor for several weeks now. I'll tell you, it is not bad for an inexperienced gardener! Things are tasting mighty good!

I made this salad with my first summer squash and tomatoes. Just thinly slice the squash and halve the tomatoes. Toss them with some avocado oil and season them with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Sprinkle with fresh mint.

With these three ingredients I prepared another salad. Roast some beets in a 400° oven for 25 minutes. When cool, peel and slice them. Clean and slice the fennel and the tomato. Arrange all three ingredients on a plate and season with salt and ground black pepper plus a little bit of sumac. Sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil and the juice of half lemon. Garnish with fennel fronds.

Mmm, summer salads, what a treat!


Homemade Yogurt

I love cheese and most dairy products but I've never been a fan of milk or eating dishes prepared with milk (rice pudding, for example). Yogurt is another food I used to hate! I always associated it with my dislike for milk. My mother always had a jar with yogurt starter on the kitchen counter. She would change the milk every other day (I think; I don't remember exactly how often) and it produced a thick liquid yogurt. She used to mix it with fresh fruit in her blender and my sisters drank it as a healthy breakfast - I never liked it.

Last year, Kim, The Farmer's Marketer, posted a recipe for homemade yogurt. Kim uses a different method than my mother. My mom's recipe seemed to need more tending, which is something that turned me off. Since I have been trying to eat healthier food, I decided to incorporate yogurt into my diet and to give Kim's recipe a try.

After making yogurt for the first time, I fell in love with it! I have been making my own yogurt for several months now. I turn half a gallon of milk into yogurt every other week and store it in individual portions. I eat yogurt for breakfast every morning during the week; sometimes with dates or fresh fruit but most of the time with homemade granola (another one of Kim's recipes). I also like to make yogurt cheese to eat with bread or crackers.

If you want to make your own yogurt, you will need to buy a small container of plain commercial yogurt to start with. I only used commercial yogurt in the first batch I made. After that, I have been using the whey to make new batches; I drain some of the yogurt for two days and it produces excellent cheese and about 3/4 cup of whey. I use this to make my next batch of yogurt; it works great.

Plain Yogurt
(from Kim's recipe)

1/2 gallon organic milk, at room temperature
2-3 T. plain commercial yogurt, at room temperature
hot water (almost boiling)

You will need a candy thermometer and an insulated container like a cooler.

In a large pot with heavy bottom, warm the milk at very low heat stiring constantly to avoid scalding it (use a wooden spoon). When it reaches 185°-190°F, turn the heat off and let the milk come down to a temperature of 120°-125°F. Stir in the commercial yogurt until thoughly mixed. Pour into one or more containers and cover (I use 15 individual containers - recycled jars). Place filled containers in the cooler with a jar of hot water, cover with a kitchen towel, close the cooler and let it sit undisturbed in a warm place. If the starter was active and the temperature correct, you will have beautiful yogurt after 8 hours. (I always start my yogurt around 6:00 PM and it is ready in the morning). Cool in the refrigerator before serving.

To make cheese, add a little bit of salt to your yogurt and drain it in a fine strainer or a coffee filter over a container. Drain in the refrigerator overnight (two nights if you like thicker cheese). Save the whey for your next batch of yogurt, or use yogurt from your first batch.


Jamaica - Sun Tea

One of the things I am grateful for is that, while growing up, my mother seldom let us drink soda pop. We only drank soda when we attended a birthday party or on special occasions. Although I like the taste of soda pop, I don't like all that sugar in it. I'm glad my mother always prepared aguas frescas for us and she controlled the sugar that went into these drinks.

Aguas frescas are drinks made with fresh fruit, herbs and sometimes grains. The fruit flavors range from watermelon, strawberries, tamarind to guava. Pinole (ground-toasted corn) and horchata (ground rice) are some of the grains used for aguas frescas. But my favorite has always been jamaica.

Hibiscus flowers, or jamaica (Pronounced ha-MY-cah) in Spanish, make a wonderful drink called agua de jamaica. This is an herbal tea that is served all over Mexico. It has a vibrant ruby red color and a very refreshing taste. Most Mexican restaurants in San Diego offer this drink as an alternative to ice tea.

Although most people prefer this drink sweet, I like mine unsweetened and I brew mine under the sun as opposed to boiling it on the stove.
Jamaica - Sun Tea

1 cup dried Jamaica flowers
6 cups water

Add the water to a glass jar. Place the flowers in a tea strainer and immerse it in the water. Cover the jar and place in a sunny spot in your garden. After a couple of hours the tea will be ready. Discard the
flowers and store the tea in the refrigerator until cold. Serve over ice.

This is an alternative recipe for those of you that like it sweet.

Agua de Jamaica

1 cup dried Jamaica flowers
6 cups water
3/4 cup sugar

Bring the water to a boil. Stir in the jamaica flowers. Add the sugar, reduce the heat and cook for 10 more minutes. Strain the mixture, pressing the leaves so all the juice squeezes out. Discard the flowers. Taste. If it is too tart for your taste, add more water and/or sugar to correct for tartness and sweetness. Cover and refrigerate before serving.