Wednesday, June 9, 2010

SPRING GARDEN OR MUD PIT?

This weekend proved to be a literal washout for gardening chores. It’s been raining so much that most of the area was nothing but mud pits. The little sprouts that are already in the ground seem to be coming along very nicely – our problems seem to be centered around getting the last of our area ready for the ‘viney’ plants.

I took a muddy walk around for a peek at my neighbors units and it’s easy to see a wide range of planting methods at work. We’ve got a classic square foot gardener or two, some that look like a crazy quilt of various plants, and one that looks like they’re protecting Fort Knox in their little cages.

Cathy and I are in awe of the guy that did the cages, and may be very jealous if some creature ends up munching on our unprotected veggies come summer. We left some cage stakes out at the site in case we decide protection is in order, but for now we’re wide open.




We were both excited to find tiny tomatoes on our orange cherry plant and some ever-so-tiny pepper buds coming on. As first timers, everything has us ooohing and aaahing. We’re scratching our heads a bit over the broccoli plant – there’s something coming into focus there, but it’s purple! We’re still trying to decide whether that’s a normal broccoli or maybe we’ve gotten our hands on a purple cauliflower instead. Only time will tell and we’ll be happy either way.

Meanwhile, it stopped raining enough on Monday to allow the final plants to get grounded.  A couple rows of seed and a half dozen squash/zucchini's and we're on our way!  It feels so good to have it ready, now all

The garden offers up a variety of colors and textures for the eye as well as the palate.



BREAD FOR A YEAR!
A couple of weeks ago my friend Lynn and I bid upon, and won, a certificate for Bread for a Year from Panera.  The certificate entitiles us to visit the shop and get a free loaf of bread every week for a year.  My first pick of the year was their Tomato Basil Bread and it inspired me to make this panini for my dinner tonight. 
 
Panini's are pretty much my favorite way to have a sandwich.  Two slices of bread with just about anything you can imagine squished in between and heated on the grill makes for a yummy bite of crunchy goodness.  Add cheese and you can easily have an oooey-gooey mess, so go kind of easy on the cheese.  I don't own a fancy panini-maker, but I did invest in a good quality cast iron stove-top grill pan and a heavy iron grill press.  Take the time to preheat your grill to medium-high heat and if you have a set up like mine, you can heat the press also on another burner to make it act more like a real panini maker.
 
A sprig of basil from the plants out by the door and I really wish those tomatoes in my garden were ready for eating! 
 
TOMATO BASIL MOZZARELLA PANINI
 
2 slices tomato basil bread (or good sourdough or a ciabatta roll would work here too)
2 thin slices tomato
2-3 basil leaves, thinly shredded
2 slices fresh mozzarella
salt & pepper to taste
 
I hate to state the obvious about making a sandwich, so follow the typical procedure.  I will, however, say that the fresh mozzarella is key for this panini.  Remember that the cheese will have very little flavor unless you are generous with your salt and pepper, which will also bring out the best in your tomato.  You could also add some hot pepper flakes to this, that would be yummy too. 
 
Once assembled, heat your panini press or grill pan.  I like to spread just a bit of olive oil or butter on my bread before it hits the pan, but it's not required.  Tonight I used a bit of garlic infused olive oil and it was delicious.
 
Grill your panini according to your equipments instructions.  Make sure you get the good grill marks on it, those make your sandwich crunchy.  Heat until the cheese begins to melt.  Don't press too hard, but make sure you have a good "squish" factor.  A good panini should end up being about 3/4 of it's original height.  The bread will become toasty and crunchy and the insides warm and ooozing.


The sugars in the Panera Tomato Basil bread caramelized a bit on my grill and lent a hint of sweetness to the sandwich.  MMMMmmmm good! 

Cut these into small pieces and they'd make a terrific appetizer.

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