Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sprout is here!

The little Sprout has finally "bloomed." He already seems to like looking at flowers, even! :) And, although little fuzzy seedlings are pretty cute, this "sprout" is way cuter if maybe a bit more wiggly and with black hair.

I'll be taking a break for a few weeks to get into the groove of my new life. Expect lots of harvest updates when I'm back! This is the best time of summer, after all.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Recipe: Peach-Lavender Butter

Fruit butters, of course, don't actually contain butter. This "butter" isn't quite as thick as an apple butter thanks to peach's low pectin, but it's still delicious and would be perfect slathered on a biscuit or inside a crepe.

This recipe comes from Canning & Preserving with Ashley English.

(makes about 6 half-pints)
3 lbs peaches
1/3 c water
2 Tbsp fresh or dried lavender (Do not use from craft store. Needs to be edible lavender)
3 Tbsp bottled lemon juice (Important to use bottled instead of fresh as bottled has a consistent acidity)
1.5 Tbsp lemon zest (Important to use as citrus zest provides some of pectin)
3 c granulated sugar

1. Peel peaches (either by blanching or with a vegetable peeler) and chop.
2. Bring the 1/3 c water to a boil and add lavender. Let steep 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile wash & sterilize jars and lids.
4. Combine lavender water, peaches, lemon juice & zest in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil & then reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes. Peaches should start to break down and create a thickened sauce.
5. With an immersion blender (or food processor or regular blender), puree peaches until smooth. Cool before hand, if necessary.
6. Add sugar to peach mixture and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for another 25 minutes.
7. Process in sanitized jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ground Cherries!

Our first significant ground cherry harvest. Up until this point we've had the odd one here & there to snack on while we garden. But, BAM! We've got a pint of ground cherries all at once (weighting 3.5 oz)! This is thanks to netting the plants this year as last year the wildlife enjoyed more of this deliciousness than we did. As this bounty came just days before my induction date and the same day as picking 2 pecks of peaches, coming up with an elaborate & creative use for them was not in the cards.

However, because this is the first time we've ever had more than 4-5 at once, I felt like *something* needed to be done with them. Enter chocolate, an idea from the article that first inspired me to grow them. Behold the Chocolate Covered Ground Cherry:

I love how the paper skins act as little handles!

For those that have never eaten a ground cherry, they look kind of like yellow-orange tomatillos but taste more like a persimmon (in my opinion). They are really delicious and I recommend growing them next year as it's not something you can generally find in the grocery store or farmer's markets. Plus, unlike most fruits, these are annuals that produce a bumper crop the year you plant them. No waiting for maturing!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Recipe: Chipotle Aioli

Sorry I don't have a picture of this; we consumed it all immediately on some BLTs made with garden tomatoes!

Let me preface this recipe by saying I'm not a big mayo fan. The only sandwiches I can tolerate it on are BLTs and leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Additionally, I prefer potato salads and slaws made with vinaigrettes instead of gloppy mayo dressings. All that said, this chipotle aioli is something I can greedily slather on sandwiches, burgers (try it on Moosewood's Chili Burger) and even dip roasted potatoes or fries in it a la patatas bravas.

Basically put it on anything that needs a spicy, but creamy, kick!

1/2 c mayo (or, if you want to be healthier, you could do 1/4 c mayo & 1/4 greek yogurt)
1-2 chipotle in adobo sauce, chopped (depending on how spicy you'd like)*
1 garlic clove, minced


Mix all ingredients together. This is best if it's let to set in the fridge for an hour before serving. Be aware, however, that the longer it sits, the more spicy and garlicky it becomes so if you're making it the night before, consider reducing the amount of garlic and/or chilis. It can last a few days refrigerated.

*These are available in cans in the Latin American section of the grocery store. If you don't need the whole can, simply place unused chipotles in a single layer on a plate & put in the freezer. Once frozen, you can put your individually frozen chilies in a ziptop bag so they are all ready for your next recipe.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Just Picked a POUND of Tomatoes

Stupice tomato plants, I think I love you!

I'm still having to pick them half-ripe so that the critters won't get them before we do, but that's a small price to pay. Sure, these are not giant tomatoes, but I couldn't grow those anyways. These little fellas are small but mighty! Honestly, their production is starting to rival my Sungolds. It seems like both are setting about the same number of baby fruits.

So, I really recommend checking out this heirloom variety if you're kind of lacking in the sun situation and are looking for something other than a cherry tomato (these are about 2-3" balls).

I've got lots of tiny pickling cucumbers that I'm anxiously waiting to grow.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Organic Gardening Blues

After getting tomatoes earlier this year and having a much drier spring, I felt confident that the I was out of the woods with respect to tomato diseases. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I suspected a fungus had attacked 3 of my plants and had this confirmed at Merrifield's plant help desk. An organic gardener then faces a decision: Do I rip & dispose of these plants or do I succumb to using a conventional fungicide?

It's a really hard decision. To take out those plants means taking out all the canning tomatoes that I've nurtured for months. Plus, since I have a small garden, every space counts. Removal takes out 1/3 of my total tomato crop and 1/2 of my non-cherry tomato crop. But, if I did spray, the plants would have significantly less pesticides than conventional produce in the grocery store. However, then it's not an organic garden. Do I lose potential yield or do I go against my organic beliefs?

Ultimately, I did a hybrid approach: remove the plants with significant fungal issues and spot treat the plants near it with conventional fungicide (my husband actually did this). I'm not entirely pleased with this decision, but it's the decision I made. I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, honestly. Last year I also had fungal issues (and pulled out those plants) so I think going forward I'll only purchase seeds resistant to the common tomato fungi. And, of course, I'm going continue to be as sanitary as possible when handling my tomatoes.

Perhaps next year, then, this type of decision won't have to be made.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Harvest Update & How Pregnancy is Like Growing Tomatoes

Those of you that grow tomatoes know the infamous "When Are My Green Tomatoes Going to Turn" feeling. It feels like it takes forever and ever. And, then, HOORAY!, you spy a luscious red tomato. You are so excited and pick it. And then you realize some critter has taken a huge bite out of it. Bastard.

Yeah, pregnancy can be like that too. According to Google, previously knocked-up friends and my doctor I've been exhibiting labor symptom for the past week. With every little cramp feeling I'm like "Oh! This is IT!" only for it to stop and the waiting, Waiting, WAITING to continue.

Thus, the lack of posts this past week has been due to me being wholly consumed with waiting! :) Cross your fingers that the Sprout decides to ripen...soon.

Last night while doing some garden chores I discovered not one, but TWO of my bigger, red tomatoes had chipmunk tastes taken out of them. It's time to protect them, methinks. However, I also discovered a nice-sized zucchini which was a lovely surprise.

Here's the haul (Notice I picked one of the tomatoes slightly green as to get to it before the vermin. It's sad to think I would have 4 tomatoes if it wasn't for critters!):

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Recipe: Southeast Asian BBQ

Inspired by a Malaysian cooking class today at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and a gluttonous late lunch at a Malaysian restaurant, I decided to celebrate Independence Day Eve by grilling out...Southeast Asian style.

Not only does this meal use up a ridiculous amount of herbs, especially mint and basil which many gardeners are drowning in right now, but it's also light, easy and fun to eat. Pair with some good Asian beers (When I'm not knocked-up, I really like Export 33 and Singha) and you've got a party...a party that doesn't even need utensils!

First up: Summer Rolls
These are not authentic and are serving as the "salad" for my BBQ. In fact, they are derived from Mark Bittman's recipe in The Best Recipes of the World. I've tried other recipes and often what happens is that the roll only tastes fabulous if it's liberally dipped into peanut sauce. Otherwise, it's just kind of "blah." However, Mark Bittman gave me a revelation: His recipe has almost equal parts herbs and lettuce. This, my friends, is KEY. For the rolls to taste similar to those at your favorite Vietnamese or Thai restaurant, you need to put more herbs than you think is strictly necessary. Trust me on this. The more herbs, the merrier.

Now, you could very well make these rolls an hour or so ahead of time (store in fridge with damp towel over them and don't let them touch), or you could turn it into a Summer Roll Bar. Recently I had these made more in the shape of a "taquito"/cigar than a "burrito" from a Thai restaurant. IMO, this is brilliant. It's easier to do and it really does lend itself to make-on-demand.

If you are one of those people that think cilantro tastes like soap, simply up the mint and basil by 1/4 cup each. You can get the rice paper, vermicelli and Mae Ploy at Asian supermarkets. If you'd like, you could also add some cooked, sliced tofu or shrimp. And, if you want these flavors but are feeling REALLY lazy, you could turn this into a traditional salad. Just mix all the ingredients as listed below and drizzle a thinned-out peanut sauce over top.

8 rice paper sheets (10-12 inches)
4-oz of rice vermicelli, cooked according to package instructions & well rinsed. (Beware that these cook very fast. Mushy noodles are gross, so keep an eye on these)
1/2 c mint, chopped
1/2 c cilantro, chopped
1/2 c basil (Thai basil if you have it), chopped
2 scallions, minced
2 carrots, shredded
4 leaves romaine or similar lettuce, chopped
1 tsp of Mae Ploy (sweet chili sauce), plus more for dipping

1. In one bowl, mix herbs and lettuce. In another bowl, mix Mae Ploy, scallions and vermicelli. And, finally, in the last bowl, put shredded carrots.

2. To rehydrate the rice paper, put several inches of hot tap water (110-120*F) in a low, wide bowl (a pie plate often works well). Dip a sheet of the rice paper in the hot water, flipping once, until soft. This could take about 10 seconds. Place on damp towel. If you get one too many tears in the rice paper, you can double up on wrappers.

3. Next, build your summer roll. Add desired toppings to bottom 1/3 of rehydrated rice paper and roll up like a taquito. Alternatively turn into more traditional burrito shape: roll up just enough so filling is completely enclosed in the rice paper, tuck in sides and then continue rolling.

4. Consume! Dip in Mae Ploy or peanut sauce.

Second up:
Chicken Satay
Generally, when I think "chicken satay," Thai is what comes to mind. However, satays are all over Southeast Asia. This version comes to you from His Hotness, Tyler Florence. It's almost Indian with its yogurt and curry powder marinade. But, as you know, there are lots of Indian influences in that part of the world.

One thing I want to caution you about is to use GOOD curry powder. Either make your own (I use Mark Bittman's Hot Curry Powder recipe) or get it from a place that has high curry powder an Indian market or maybe an Asian grocery (meaning, using an Asian brand. Malaysia makes some good ones). Stale curry powder is gross.

1 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp grated garlic
1 Tbsp good curry powder
1.5 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced in half
1. Put skewers in a bowl with water to soak so they won't burn on the grill.

2. Mix remaining ingredients together. Let marinate for 2 hours.

3. Thread chicken on skewers and grill 3-5 min per side.

4. Consume with peanut sauce.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

First Big Harvest of 2010, Part 3: Basil

So I've discussed my carrot & garlic harvests so it's finally time to show off my good basil harvest. I like to do a few hard harvests on my basil throughout the summer. This not only helps delay flowering (or so I've read) but it's also seems to help the plant bush out and become more productive.

Essentially, I take about 2/3rds of each plant (from the top) during a "hard" harvest. This leaves enough leaves to photosynthesize and not traumatize the basil while giving me a lot of herbs. I think for this first hard harvest, I'm going to freeze it in 1/4 cup muffin tins (just clean leaves, chop, put in muffin tin, add a bit of water and freeze). The frozen basil, especially the thai basil, was awesome during the winter when you couldn't even get fresh stuff in the grocery store! It's perfect to stir into pasta sauces or thai dishes (especially my beloved kra pow).

The Haul: 4.5 oz