Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fun "Reading" for the Winter Months

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season!  The seed catalogs are starting to arrive, but I've decided to begin my winter reading with the end result of edible gardening.

Santa was kind to me this year, getting me all the cookbooks off my wishlist: Jamie's Food Revolution, The Joy of Pickling, Nigella Kitchen and Vegetarian Planet.  I've spent some quality time with these books all curled up on the couch and marking which recipes I want to try first.

Jamie's Food Revolution is particularly awesome for the entire chapters on Indian curries and Asian stir-fries, in addition to amazing ideas for ground beef (ground beef Wellington anyone?!). The recipes are simple and rely on the freshness and quality of the ingredients so I think this cookbook will get more of a workout during the growing season.  However, there are some curries that can be adapted to winter vegetables that I'm looking forward to trying.

The Joy of Pickling just makes my mouth water as a lover of all things vinegary and salty.  Besides the usual suspects of cucumber pickles, pickled dilly beans and pickled okra, there are interesting surprises like pickled grapes (both sweet and sour recipes), pickles infused with Thai or Indian flavors and lots of chutneys.  I wish I would have bought this book in the summer so that I could be enjoying some of these pickles right now.  I've already got a long list of recipes to try out as soon as the produce becomes available from my garden or the farmer's market.

Nigella Kitchen, for me, is less about the vegetable recipes and more about the carnivorous ones...especially the quick meals. I'm planning to try out several of these as soon as I get some Korean chili paste.

And, finally, I've already posted a recipe from library-borrowed Vegetarian Planet, but now I have a copy of my very own.  Certainly, it will provide me lots of idea with what to do with produce in the spring and summer, but there are several recipes suitable for winter that I can't wait to try.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Putting Up: Pear Ginger Marmalade

I'm starting to think that what I should have done was freeze things like tomatoes, blueberries and such and save the canning for winter when the extra heat from the stove is welcome and I'm looking for things to do indoors.  Live and learn.

I spent Black Friday (um, yeah, this post is a little late) canning Pear Ginger Marmalade (from the *awesome* Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving) and Apple Cider Cardamom Butter with the help of my mom and grandmother.  We avoided the insanity of shopping, spent some quality time together and created some delicious spreads that make a simple toasted baguette a gourmet breakfast.  I've been hoarding jam since my first batch of Strawberry Balsamic Black Pepper Jam.  I'm thinking that the neighbors will be receiving a jar of jam and a bag of homemade granola sometime soon.

This recipe is not only seasonal, but versatile.  Sure, you can enjoy or bread or any other baked good, but it would also make a bowl of vanilla ice cream (just warm the jam up first) or a fat slice of brie a bit more special.  Enjoy.

Pear Ginger Marmalade (makes 4 half-pint jars)
3 limes or 2 lemons (Note: I doubled the recipe and used a mix of lemons & limes.  I found the lemons infinitely easier to peel and the peel seemed to soften up better when cooking)
8 c thinning sliced, cored and peeled ripe pears (I sliced them long-ways, but in future batches, I would make shorter slices as the longer ones can make eating awkward)
4 c granulated sugar (I've heard to not use off-brand sugar as it's often not real cane sugar and that can affect jell.  In recipes without pectin, I stay cautious and shell out for Domino or other real cane sugar)
3 tbsp chopped crystallized ginger
1.25 c water

1. Peel limes/lemons being careful not to get too much pith.  Cut peel into very thin strips and set aside.

2. In another container, juice into large non-reactive container, add in pears, sugar and ginger.  Toss to combine well.  Cover and set at room temperature for an hour.

3. Prepare jars & lids.

4. In small saucepan, add water and peel.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes.  The peel should be tender and most of the water should be reduced.

5. Bring pear mixtures to a full boil for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.  If desired, use immersion blender for a few pulses to puree some of the pears.  Add peel and boil until mixture reaches gel stage, about 5 minutes (Note: Mine did not reach gel stage after 5 minutes.  It took more like 20 and that was still iffy.  However, once it cooled, it was perfect).

6. Ladle into hot jars, remove air bubbles, wipe down rim and put on lids.  Process in boiling water for 10 minutes.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and test seal.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New Vegetable Garden!

There were a few problems with my raised beds.  First and foremost, being 3' wide and against a fence made it incredibly difficult to plant, harvest and weed.  A secondary issue was that the placement became awkward when we did a small addition last year.  And, finally, a tertiary issue was that they weren't maximizing the precious direct sunlight that side of the yard receives.

Hence, the new design:

The "arms" reaching out are to grab the sunlight that floods the center of the yard later in the day.  A wider bed just going down the center wouldn't work as there wouldn't be enough room to walk around it with a wheel barrel.  I learned my lesson last time: Don't neglect to plan for maintenance!  In total, this bed not only utilizes available light more, but also the shape of the yard...I've got 102 sqft to plant annual vegetables and fruits.

In addition to growing food, I wanted a space where we could spread out a blanket and enjoy the sun in private.  As this is the only side of our yard behind a fence that gets sun, the garden needed to be able to accommodate.  I also have formally divided the space into separate beds.  In the former design, I had a rough idea where one bed ended/began, but plants would always creep over.  Kind of defeats the point!  Each bed (represented by different colors above) is at least 24 square feet because that's what I need for my nightshade family vegetables.  The very top and bottom beds are for flowers and blueberries, respectively.  I still plan to tuck in marigolds and nasturtiums into the garden, but the flower bed will have some perennial flowers (to be determined!) to further attract pollinators and beneficials.  I think I'll also add Japanese parsley, parsley and maybe eventually perennial onions to the bed too.  We shall see.

Needless to say, I'm beyond excited at this new layout.  We're still in the construction stage as a baby tends to make tasks take a little longer, but the goal is to have the beds build (already done) and filled with the growing mix (still in progress) in the next week or so.  We'll still need to do things like some minor grading and covering the area in mulch, but that won't be too bad.