maestro peasThe problem with cooking, and in the Endurer’s case, cooking very, very well, is that one tends to lose one’s taste for certain types of takeout (Indian, Thai, Mediterranean are always welcome). Namely, Chinese. Specifically, General Tso’s chicken. That delightfully gooey, spicy-sweet concoction, which used to spark cravings, now leaves us feeling not-quite-sated and strangely bloated and oozing in sugar-coated guilt.

All of this leads us, by way of Seoul and back, to Margaret Xu’s Lemon Chicken.

maestro peasPeas, POD, where do the peas come it?! Well, standing in for the greenish-gray mountain of soggy broccoli that usually accompanies the good General’s dish, are a few of POD’s bright, crisp sugar snaps. Seeds that the hurricane planted back in early March.

Margaret Xu’s Lemon Chicken, Serves 2
Recipe from Phaidon’s Coco Cookbook

For the preparation and marinade
400 g corn-fed chicken fillets
1 tsp water
1 tbsp egg white
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 egg, beaten
60 g cornstarch

  1. Remove the skin and tendons from the chicken
  2. Carve grooves on the chicken about 2 mm wide, in a criss-cross pattern.
  3. Turn the chicken over and repeat step 2.
  4. Pound the chicken with a pestle to tenderize and flatten it
  5. Slice it into smaller pieces about 3 cm square and place in a large bowl.
  6. Add the water and let stand for 20 minutes.
  7. Add the egg white and light soy sauce and mix thoroughly.
  8. Add the beaten egg
  9. Place the cornstarch in a container and use it to coat the fillets evenly.

For frying and finishing
2 tbsp cooking oil
3 shallots, sliced
225 ml chicken stock
juice and zest of 1 lemon
salt and white pepper, to taste
120 g. rock sugar, crushed
2 tbsp organic honey
1 tsp cornstarch (cornflour) dissolved in 1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp lemon liquor (optional)

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil in a heavy pan over medium heat.
  2. Lay the chicken fillets in the pan, reduce the heat to low, and pan-fry on one side for about 5 minutes until golden.
  3. Add the remaining oil, flip over and pan-fry the other side in the same way. remove the chicken and keep warm
  4. Place the shallots in the pan and pan-fry slowly until translucent.
  5. Add the chicken stock and lemon juice, and bring to a boil. Add salt, pepper, sugar, and honey.
  6. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir over low to medium heat until thickened.
  7. Return the chicken to the pan for a minute. Switch off the heat, and add the lemon zest and sesame oil together with the lemon liquor, if using. Serve hot.

A Final Accounting

saucy tomatoesIt’s been a good year, and despite the late-season arrival of whiteflies, earthquakes, hurricanes (we’re not talking about the toddler variety, here, but rather the other, even more devastating type), floods, and mildews, Plants on Deck endured. And endured well, actually.

It shames this gardener to admit it, but nearly a dozen White Wonder cucumbers got composted after slowing deflating in the crisper into a gushy goo and a half dozen others are still withering away in the office fridge (come on, colleagues, eat up!). Over 40 cucumbers, all told, were harvested from a single vine. And, despite early reports of a dry, squashy texture and flavor, later-season fruits weren’t too bad.

And it was with great delight that over 15 pounds of tomatoes were plucked. Fret not, none of those went to waste. They weren’t the prettiest girls at the party (as you can see above), but we’re firm believers here at POD that it’s what’s under the pock-marked skin that matters. And these particular ladies were pretty dreamy in this simple, no-frills sauce.

Mint Fizz

mint fizzIt’s hot. POD-tenders need treats, too.

Recipe courtesy of food52 — SERVES ABOUT 2 QUARTS

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves, washed with stems removed
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ice
  • club soda

Make mint simple syrup by combining sugar, water, and mint in a saucepan and bringing it to a boil then immediately allowing it to simmer for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Strain the leaves.

To assemble the limeade, add about 1 ounce each of the simple syrup and lime juice in a tall glass filled with ice. Top with about 6 ounces of club soda. Stir. Garnish with fresh mint or a lime wedge.

(POD modification: add rum, gin, or vodka. Now that’s a treat.)

Fresh Eats

Not that there’s much on deck just yet, but the bounty out front is nicely rewarding. The unusually cool spring meant a bumper crop of Swiss chard in containers usually reserved for flowery-type things.

swiss chard pastaHappily, all this chard makes for quick, cheap, and easy [well, easy for me — the chief cook now insists on making his own pasta — not that it isn’t absolutely out-of-sight delicious] vegetarian dinner.

Simply saute the chard (diced and sliced into thin ribbons, as above) in a little olive oil with a couple cloves of thinly sliced garlic. Let it get good and wilty. The stalks should crunch a little, but not taste completely raw. This takes just a touch longer than sauteing spinach. Then toss in a little lemon zest. Serve over the pasta of your choice. No, you can’t have the hubby’s pasta. Sprinkle with a hard cheese of your choice and pepper to taste.

The Fever

Ashley and Arugula
Ashley and Arugula

Sure, there’s a column to be written. But it’s gorgeous Sunday. And Plants on Deck would waaaay rather garden than write about gardening. [Yet here I am, writing about gardening but not writing about the gardening I’m supposed to be writing about. Hmmm.]

Rasishes_MayBesides, it’s time for a reseeding update as  the fruits of the earliest labors are already being harvested! Last night’s dinner featured a salad composed entirely of Ashley lettuce, arugula, winter cress, and a variety of random radishes saved from last year’s supply (all planted around March 13). And a couple weeks earlier, the wonderful husband made his last-meal roast chicken and mashed potatoes with healthy doses of POD-grown thyme, rosemary, and chives. herbal harvest(This umami-tastic miracle meal is surely what this eater would choose should she have only one meal left on this earth. Preferably with a healthy side of More Vetri than Chang Brussels Sprouts. Hence, the “last meal” business).

While the peas aren’t sprouting nearly as quickly as hoped for, they’re not getting yanked. So, committing long-term to them, Scarlet Nantes carrots have joined the Maestro on deck to maximize the container’s use and the Prussian Blues can do what they do out front.

Bartram's Winter Cress
Bartram's Winter Cress

Strangely, for the second year running, the Baker Creek pepper cress failed to emerge (thankfully, the Bartram’s Winter Cress is doing just fine) so that widow box has been reseeded with a second round of radishes and tennis ball lettuce.

And, finally, a brave tarragon that spent most of the winter hibernating in an office window sill, joined the chives, thyme, and oregano in the well-used herb planter recently relocated from the little blue deck, to the plants out front.

Because you know you want it:

More Vetri Than Chang Brussels Sprouts
20ish small Brussels sprouts
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced into thirds lengthwise
1 tbs grape seed oil
3 thick-slice pieces of bacon, cut into lardon-sized pieces
1 tsp sherry vinegar
2 tbs butter
salt and pepper

1) Trim the root end of each sprout, and cut in half lengthwise. Rub the flat side of each half with the cut sides of the garlic clove.

2) Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add the sprouts and shake the pan to coat them with oil. Turn the sprouts cut side down and scatter the pancetta in the pan. Cook undisturbed for 6-8 minutes, or until the sprouts are deeply browned (almost black) on the cut sides.

3) Add the vinegar and butter, tossing to coat the sprouts. Season with salt and pepper.

4) Oh my.

Birthday Raita

Bird Chili RaitaThanksgiving may be around the corner, but that doesn’t mean POD’s not still providing. These hot little numbers will make a nice contributions to the birthday husband’s Indian feast.

Mooli ka Raita from Pushpesh Pant’s India Cookbook
1 mooli (daikon, although this one will feature POD radishes), peeled and grated
2 1/4 c. plain yogurt
1 green chili, de-seeded and chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and ground
cilantro leaves, chopped

Put the mooli and the yogurt in a large bowl. Add all the ingredients, season with salt and mix well. Chill 30 minutes before serving.

Gumbo z’herbes


Go ahead, say it. “Ze’hairbbsz.” Now say it again. It’s fun, right?!

Gumbo is good. Sooo good. Preferably served up with chicken and andouille. Even better? When it’s consumed after a cocktail at Arnaud’s and after a big, juicy plate of Gulf oysters. When not in Nola, though, our own Philly-bound stews have to do.

As much as we love it, the CSA tends to leave us with lots of leafy greens that we’re hard-pressed to used inventively (mmm. collards. bacon. mmm.) and the occasional veggie that evokes a shrug and an “eh” (like zucchini).

Fortunately, the house is brimming in cookbooks and this particular Mark Bittman recipe  made use of late-season homegrown herbs. The result? Well, shrug and “eh.” Until a healthy shot of vinegar, salt, and spice were added to the mix, that is. Oh, and a real roux replaced the cloying olive oil-based travesty called for by the original.

Green Gumbo with Potatoes and Zucchini
(inspired by Mark Bittman and roux by John Besh)

Serves 6-8

1/4-1/2 lb andouille sausage, sliced into 1/4″ coins
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. flour
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2-3 tbsp. minced garlic
salt and black pepper
6 c. chicken (or vegetable) stock
1 tbsp. fresh thyme
1 tbsp fresh oregano
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. cayenne, or to taste
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika, or to taste
1/2 tsp. celery salt (optional)
1 lb leafy greens (like dandelion, mustard, or radish)
1 large waxy potato, peeled and chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
1/4 cider vinegar, or to taste
parsley for garnish

  1. Saute the andouille for a couple of minutes in a large heavy-bottomed pot and set aside. (Do yourself a favor, avoid the Whole Foods stuff and go to a real butcher. If you’re from Philly, check out D’Angelo Brothers or even better, Martin’s Specialty Sausages.)
  2. In the same pot, make the roux by heating the oil over high heat. Whisk the flour into the hot oil. It will immediately begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to moderate and continue whisking until the roux takes on a deep brown color, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic and raise the heat to medium. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have softened, another 10 minutes or so.
  4. Stir in the stock, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, cayenne, paprika, greens, potatoes, and zucchini. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. Add the vinegar and taste for seasoning.
  5. Garnish, serve.