Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First Big Harvest of 2010, Part 2: Carrots

I've got a smallish garden so BIG harvests are usually few & far between...rarely does my market basket overflowth! However, yesterday the overcast morning and cooler temperatures tempted me outside to see what there was to pick.

In addition to the garlic I talked about yesterday, my pot of carrots (on the other side of the house as the garden) needed to be cleared out. The fronds of the carrots were starting to look sad and that side of the yard doesn't get much sun in the summer. Overall, I'm pleased with them. They are small, but nicely formed and taste pretty good. I'm not sure what I'll do with them yet...they are almost too pretty to eat! Currently, my thoughts are going towards pickled carrots because I think they would very pretty in a jar and I love pickled vegetables.

My carrots I planted several weeks ago in the garden, however, are not doing so great. These are new seeds but they aren't germinating well. I have no idea if this is due to lack of water, chipmunk digging or what. I think I may be too much of a control freak for direct sow vegetables! Maybe I'll plant some more in a pot in the garden.

The Haul: 8.25 oz

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

First Big Harvest of 2010, Part 1: Garlic

We now have a garden window that, fittingly, looks out into our garden. This summer has been so hot & miserable for a pregnant lady that I admit I don't go out as often to check on things as I should. However, the window does give me a great view of what's going on so that I can spot if something looks like it needs water or is getting eaten by a bug or whatever. I may not venture out into the garden much, but I still try to do good integrated pest management!

Noticeably, my garlic needed to be pulled. Some I waited entirely too long for and the stalks were all dying back. Whoops. This garlic we'll consume immediately. For the rest where only 75% of so of the leaves were brown, I'll put that in a cool, dry and dark place for a couple of weeks to "cure" it. Then you can store it. Unfortunately, most of my garlic heads are pathetic. I have no idea why but am going to investigate the reason to remedy for next year. The few head that are good and large I'm going to save for fall planting this year. Maybe I'll get the rest of my garlic for planting from the farmer's market instead of mail order.

I've still got the garlic that I planted in the spring as an experiment, but that doesn't really look like it's doing any better than the fall planted...

The Haul: 15.75 oz

Monday, June 28, 2010

Recipe: Baby Bok Choy Salad

I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater (I've sampled fried grasshoppers, pig's snout, octopus, pig's ear, cow's tongue, weird vegetables most people hate--like okra, etc.), but when I went over to my friend's house (we'll call her "E"), I was completely skeptical of the *raw* baby bok choy salad made with baby bok choy from her CSA. I mean, I've had lettuce raw and cabbages raw, but raw asian greens?!? That's crazy!

However, E is a fabulous cook as well as amazing hostess so I decided to give it a shot.

I can sum up that salad in two words: Life Altering.

It was delicious. So delicious I went back for seconds (and, um, thirds. I'm using "pregnancy" as an excuse here) and vowed to make it for myself soon. A whole new wonderful world of raw greens opened up to me. And, let's face it, your typical salad can get boring after awhile. Unfortunately, E is currently travelling & incommunicado so I was unable to get her exact recipe. Below is the recipe I hoppled together by a Google search of "baby bok choy salad recipe." I will amend this post with her recipe when she gets back. This recipe is good, but I believe hers involved lime juice as well, giving it a bit of a zing.

The key, IMO, to this recipe is using the more tender bok choy. The bigger bok choy has tougher stems and a more bitter leaf whereas the smaller ones have edible, crunchy stems and more milder flavor. The nuts add a great crunch. You could certainly add any other vegetables you may have on hand as well. Or fruits; orange slices would probably be nice here too.

Try this. You won't be sorry. In fact, you've probably got some baby bok choy in your CSA share or seen it at your local farmer's market. Really, there's no excuse unless you are allergic to delicious or bok choy! In addition, this would be an especially good & unusual dish to bring to a BBQ instead of the usual salad.

Ingredients (Serves 4 as a light lunch)
4 baby bok choy bunches cleaned & sliced (I sliced the white part rather thin)
1 cucumber, sliced (optional. E didn't have this in hers, but I had an extra one in the fridge)
Leftover roasted/grilled chicken or tofu (optional, but this makes it more of a meal)
Nuts (E used slivered, toasted almonds; I used peanuts b/c it's what I had on hand)

1.5 Tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp canola oil
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1.5 tsp sugar
1 tsp grated ginger

1. Whisk last 6 ingredients together.
2. Pour and toss over first 4 ingredients.

Do you have any good, raw greens recipes?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Got Questions?

Despite having a bunch of books on vegetable gardening sometimes it's easier to turn to electronic sources.

I happened to stumble upon Texas AgriLife Extension Service's Vegetable FAQs:

Really awesome resource! Be sure to bookmark.

First Tomato of 2010!

And it wasn't my Sungold cherry!
The winner is the Stupice tomato. This guy is the only one that's red (or anywhere near being red). They are an earlier fruiting variety and this little fella is on the small side, so that does explain some of it. I don't plant larger fruiting tomatoes anymore because my yard just doesn't get enough sun for a good harvest.

Today I also picked a large bunch of basil to use in pasta tonight (total garden yield to date: 2.28 lbs). All of my herbs are doing extremely well and are probably what will keep my garden profitable! My zucchini is flowering but thus far they all look like male flowers. The cucumbers are starting to flower now, too...I really should have given them a bigger trellis!

Big zucchini plant, no actual zucchinis!

Mexican Sour Gherkins are flowering. Is that a girl flower?!?

Pickling cucumbers just starting to flower.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Recipe: Blueberry Lime Jam

Thus far, our 2 baby blueberry bushes have yielded 5 oz of fruit. It would probably be more if it wasn't for the blasted chipmunk, but still not enough to satisfy our need for a very blueberry summer. So, we went blueberry picking. An hour and a half of hard labor in mid-90* temps yielded almost 13 lbs of the sweetest, most intense blueberries I've ever tasted (save the measly 5 oz from my garden). As a bonus, the bushes were relatively mature so I had very little stooping & bending over and they were absolutely loaded with berries.

Good times all around, except those pickers that were engaging in what I would call unethical blueberry picking behavior. We're talking grown adults picking fistfuls of berries and greedily shoving them in their mouths...not their buckets. Now, putting aside that this wasn't an organic farm (and, even if it was, washing produce is still a good idea...), it's just plain WRONG to eat that quantity of berries without paying for them! I can maybe understand picking, picking, picking and then grabbing a few for a snack or young children that just don't know better. But, this lady was seriously looking like my resident chipmunk...cheeks full of berries, berries spilling out of her mouth as she was talking, etc. And, perhaps the worst of it was that she was pushing more ethical pickers around on the bush they were working so that she could her 5-finger discount on the goods!

UGH! Farming is hard work with an uncertain for what you pick!! (And, no, I don't think she was poor because she wouldn't shut up about her upcoming trip to Italy. I just think she is entitled.)

Anyways, rant aside, what am I doing with our haul? Well, we are of course freezing some...about 2 gallons worth that we'll save for the winter when even apples aren't in season. We're keeping a bunch out for fresh eating for the next weeks or so too. The rest is becoming the point of this post: Blueberry Lime Jam.

This recipe comes to you from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving that I purchased this weekend. You'll likely to see more recipes coming from this book as there are lots & lots of interesting ideas. My philosophy on homemade jam is this: If I am going to make it, it needs to be more interesting than what I can buy at the grocery store. This is because it's more expensive than grocery store jam and it requires heating up the house when a heat wave is going on. But, otherwise, canning jam is so easy (if you follow the instructions!) and it really does taste better than homemade...especially when using freshly picked fruit.

This jam specifically will be the best blueberry jam you've ever had. I promise.

Blueberry Lime Jam (Yield 6-7 half pints)
4 1/2 c crushed blueberries (don't measure whole blueberries; measure the crushed quantity)
zest of one lime
4 Tbsp bottled lime juice (bottle has a more consistent acidity than fresh)
1 pkg/1.75 oz regular powdered fruit pectin
5 c granulated sugar

1. Prepare jars: Wash with soap & water and then boil jars, lids and rings in a canner or large stockpots for 10 minutes. When done, set aside but keep warm.
2. In large saucepan, mix crushed blueberries with lime zest & juice. Whisk in pectin until dissolved. Bring to a boil over high heat.
3. Next, add sugar and return to boil. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
4. Remove jam from heat and skim off any foam.
5. Ladle hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4" headspace. Remove bubbles by running a sanitized chopstick or knife around the edge of the jar and wipe the rim and sides of the jar clean. Center lid on jar. Screw on band fingertip-tight.
6. Place jars backing into canner/stockpot, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove from canner to let cool.
7. A few hours later, verify the jars sealed and label with date and contents.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What's Cookin'?

I haven't been posting much because...well...not much has been going on. Overall, the garden is doing well but there's still not much harvesting going on besides herbs.

Instead, I've been devoting my time to preparing for the arrival of Sprout who, coincidentally, is fully cooked (37 wks "old") as of today! Besides the usual Preparing of the Room, there is the Stockpiling Massive Quantities of Food.

I guess technically the stockpiling of food isn't strictly necessary but as someone that loves food and loves to eat, I want to make sure I have good stuff on hand. Plus, who knows if the Sproutster will be a chill sort of baby that just kind of quietly lays around (thus allowing me & the husband to leisurely cook) or the kind of kid that requires constant holding (thus making me & the husband want to pull out our hair). Best to be prepared for the latter, I think.

Anywho, the freezer is getting stocked. Note that while I love, love, love fresh fruits and veggies, it's also important to me to have their frozen and canned equivalents so that a healthy meal can always be thrown together on a weeknight. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of the take out, but my budget and waistline are not. I have no shame using canned tomatoes or frozen peas! It's still a "wholer" food than something from a box, IMO.

For the Great Stockpiling of Food, I wanted to load up on things that mostly just required 1 hand (so, just fork. No knife. This is in case I have to hold the kid in the other), had lots of veggies, didn't contain dairy (in case he can't handle lactose in my milk) and froze well. Many of these are staples that we make often. Most of them you can substitute frozen vegetables for the fresh ones making them either great pantry meals (see, no shame!) or good ways to use farmer's market/garden produce.

Here's the list:

2 loaves of Banana Bread
In one of the loaves, I added some chocolate chips. I figure, this will be handy for breakfast and snacking. When I have bananas about to go bad and zero time to make banana bread, I stick them in the freezer. Yes, they turn black, but once they are thawed they are all ready to go into some tasty baked goods...when you're ready for them!

2 loaves of Apple Cinnamon Bread
I didn't love the recipe I used, so I won't bother you with it. But, I did use up some of the apples I froze from last year's apple picking!

Chicken Kra Pow
I made it milder than usual and added some eggplant and peppers to make it more of a complete meal. My love of this is legendary and I used up the thai basil I froze last summer. Just in time too because my basil plants are really starting to take off!

BBQ Chicken
Shredded for sandwiches. I didn't really use a recipe: Just put cut-up chicken crockpot with some BBQ sauce & a bit of cider vinegar. Cook on low until done. Remove. Shred chicken, de-fat remaining sauce and add a bit of extra sauce to thicken up. We'll eat it on buns (which I'll also freeze)

Chicken with Paprika, Chickpeas and Tomatoes
My husband found this dish and it immediately became a favorite. Good, smoked paprika is *key* to this dish. I usually mix in steamed greens or cooked, frozen spinach after this is done to sneak in a green vegetable as well as stretch the meal a bit further. Also, I often use diced canned tomatoes in this, especially when tomatoes aren't in season (like now). The Muir Glen fire-roasted ones add GREAT flavor. And, if I'm feeling carb-y--let's face it, I usually am-- this gets served with white rice or couscous. We always have plain yogurt on hand, so we'll make the yogurt sauce just before we eat this. I don't think that would freeze well.

Spicy Orange Chicken Stir-Fry
This is a new recipe, so I can't yet vouch for its delicious-ness. But it looks promising...

Moosewood's Chilaquile Casserole
We love this recipe from Moosewood's Low Fat Favorites cookbook (I urge all of you to check out this cookbook. My husband was skeptical, but some of our favorite recipes, vegetarian or not, come from this one source!). It's filling, tastes far less healthy than it really is and it freezes great. Every time before a long trip, I make this and freeze it so that we have something easy and healthy to eat when we get back. Again, you can use fresh vegetables when they are available or keep frozen/canned ones on hand so that you can make this at a moment's notice. We usually double the recipe below & eat it for 3 fits into our large lasagna pan that way. Oh, and any leftover filling is really good in a quesadilla or a topping for nachos...or just put over rice.

1 c chopped onion
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 c chopped tomatoes (fresh or cannned. The Muir Glen fire-roasted diced ones here great here too. I don't drain if I use canned. I like the way the liquid softens the chips)
1 1/2 c fresh or frozen corn kernels (Trader Joe's frozen Roasted Corn is great for this)
1 1/2 c cooked black beans (a 15-oz can, drained)
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 c Swiss chard or spinach (Steam or blanch after measuring. Or use 1 box of frozen stuff, defrosted)
2 c baked tortilla chips, crushed
8 oz sharp cheddar, shredded
2 c tomato salsa

Saute onions in the oil until translucent. Add in tomatoes, corn, black beans, lime, salt, pepper, greens and salsa. Warm through and taste for seasoning. Spray/grease baking vessel. Spread thin layer of crushed chips on bottom. Add about half of filling. Top with cheese. Then, add more crushed chips, topped with filling and cheese. Repeat until you use all ingredients.

Either wrap well, label and freeze or place in preheated 350*F oven for 35-40 minute or until bubbly and brown. I usually let this thaw before I bake it (if previously frozen) to reduce cooking time.

In addition to these homemade things, I was stoked to find falafels at Costco that just need to be heated up (and topped with produce from the garden) and I also bought some pocketless pitas that would be great falafel-holders or personal pizza bases. I'm also considering making some meatballs for the freezer that can either go with spaghetti, be placed in a sandwich or turned into Swedish meatballs.

Do you have any favorite freezer recipes to share?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gardens Happen When LIfe Makes Other Plans, Too

Here are some updated photos of the garden:

And, today I harvested another 3 oz of garlic scapes, 1 oz of oregano and 2 oz of sage. The herbs are going into the food dehydrator and the garlic scapes are largely going into a freezer pesto.

I shall name this year's garden The Garden Of Least Resistance or, perhaps, the Garden That Happened When Life Got in the Way. I had grand plans for this year's garden. It was going to be creatively designed. It was going to be as visually stunning as it would be a potager or English kitchen garden. I was going to build a pyramid trellis for the cucumbers and was going to do something more attractive than sticking a bamboo pole in the ground for the tomatoes.

But then the reality of pregnancy set in: the inability to bend over, the achy back, the, the general fatigue, etc. Oh, and having the garden being in the middle of a construction zone during the cooler weather didn't help either. I still think the garden looks nice but it's a far cry from the patchwork of swiss chard I had in my head. It's OK, though. Gardening is about striving for perfection each year and never quite reaching it. After all, Mother Nature really does it best.

Instead, I will rejoice in starting everything from seed this year, growing vegetables I've never done before and still going out in the heat & humidity this late in pregnancy. By the time I get my first tomato, I'll probably be a mom!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Harvest Update

Nothing thrilling going on in the garden these days. Squash are making lots of boy flowers (but not enough to bother picking, stuffing & then frying...), Sungolds are finally putting out some baby tomatoes (that are still green) and the birds seem to have taken most of my sad-looking swiss chard seedings (oh, and some chocolate mint I transplanted for a cutting!) as nest-building material. I'm also continually pinching off new growth on the basil to get it to bush out instead of grow straight up. (When you pinch off a leaf pair on basil, the plant forks when it sets new growth, making it more of a bush & less of a tall stem with leaves on either side. You get more out of a bush, too.) But, things are getting bigger! It may feel like summer, but summer produce isn't here yet!

Today I harvested 2.5 oz of garlic scapes (the flower stalk of the garlic) and chives. Other herbs are in abundance, but I don't need them right now. Why? These lovelies are going into a bacon-goat-cheese-herb frittata tonight for dinner. And, the rest of the garlic scapes will go into a pesto destined for the freezer. I've still got probably another 20 or so garlic scapes to harvest, too!

I'm thinking soon (maybe Thursday?) doing a hard harvest of some sage and oregano. I'll throw them into the food dehydrator and make myself some dried herbs!

Anyway, by my estimation, I've harvested 1.23 lbs of produce which would have cost me about $9.23 at the farmer's market. The average cost per pound, though, is, umm..., $93.85!! Here's to hoping that number decreases by the end of the season!!!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Recipe: Peanut Soba with Vegetables

In the summer, I like most of my food raw, cold or barely cooked. This means big salads, smoothies and anything that can fit on a grill. If it must be cooked inside, it needs to be quick cooking so that the house (and the cook, aka ME) doesn't get too warm. Perhaps an exception to the "no hot food" is Asian dishes. I don't know why, but a good Thai kra pow or Japanese noodle soup are light and refreshing to me.

Thus, when the cover of Fine Cooking featured a bowl of Asian noodles, I bought it. And I was not disappointed. Inside was a variant of the recipe below (they used beef with their broccoli) which is fabulous not only because it can be eaten cold, room temperature or hot but also because with the exception of an orange you can keep all the ingredients in your pantry or freezer making this a great, last-minute summertime meal!

Plus, broccoli and spring peas are in the farmer's market right now and this would be a great dish to highlight them.

Peanut Soba with Vegetables
Adapted from Fine Cooking

3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 medium navel orange
1 1.5-in piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
1/4 c creamy peanut butter
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
8 oz soba noodles
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 bag of frozen broccoli (at least 1o oz), defrosted (Note: I find Trader Joe's frozen broccoli retains a bit of crunch)
1/2 bag of frozen peas, defrosted

Chopped peanuts (optional)
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint (optional)

1. Put pot of salted water on the stove and bring to boil.
2. Meanwhile, zest orange and juice it. Put ginger and garlic into food processor and pulse until mix. Remove all but 1 tsp of the mixture from the food processor & place into another bowl.
3. Add peanut butter, zest, 2 Tbsp of orange juice and 2 Tbsp of soy sauce to the food processor and blend until smooth, adding 1-2 Tbsp of water to thin out, if needed.
4. Put the remaining orange juice, the oyster sauce, the remaining soy sauce & 2 Tbsp of water into a small bowl.
5. Cook soba according to package. Be sure to drain well. When done, toss with peanut sauce mixture.
6. In a skillet, heat oil with the ginger/garlic mixture until fragrant. Add broccoli and peas and stir-fry. Finally, add oyster sauce mixture and stir to coat vegetables.
7. Combine soba and stir-fried vegetables. Top with mint and/or peanuts, if desired.

(This is also pretty tasty straight from the fridge)