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garden recap

6 Nov

I’m in the process of putting the garden to bed. I’m a little behind on this project so I’m thankful it’s going to be nice this weekend and I can finish the job. Here is the current state of affairs…

Since I’m in garden clean up mode, I thought it would be useful to do a bit of a recap of the 2010 garden.

Looking back, I realized I didn’t write as much about the garden this year. It was kind of an off year for me and the garden – we were not in sync for some reason. It was a busy summer so I wasn’t out there as much as was needed. Because of that, I just wasn’t as excited.

First there were the thieves. Then there were the other thieves. Dang those thieves! Thanks to many of your suggestions, I was able to salvage quite a bit and learn some things along the way.

  • Marigolds are beautiful. I can’t prove they helped in pest control, but I loved how they looked in the garden.
  • Liquid fence is the bomb, but it might be one of the most foul smelling things I’ve ever encountered.
  • My lazy dog can be quite the hunter. She managed to kill one squirrel and one rabbit this summer…hopefully sending the message to their friends.

The crazy MN weather we had did not help my garden production. The major temperature swings had my plants wondering what the heck was going on.

This year I definitely made some decisions on what I want and what I don’t want in this garden going forward. This was year three of the garden and I’ve realized what vegetables we like and eat and what just gets ignored.

What I will continue to plant:

  • tomatoes – this was not a good year for my plants, but I plan to be much more attentive going forward.
  • eggplant – not only does it thrive in the garden, but it is probably our favorite vegetable. Next year, I’d like to try some new varieties.
  • kale – this year I planted lacinto kale and really liked it. I will stick with that again in 2011.
  • swiss chard – such a great green!
  • lettuces – is there anything better than cutting a salad out of your backyard?
  • peppers – I love all varieties of peppers, but I will only do 1 (instead of 4) jalapenos in the future.
  • carrots – because pulling them out of the ground is just way to much fun.
  • snap peas – these are the perfect snack to eat while tending the garden.
  • herbs – I always plant a lot of herbs. They smell awesome and I love having fresh herbs at my disposal.

What I will not plant:

  • radishes – I love the idea of radishes, but I can’t get them to grow right and after one or two, I get sick of them.
  • edamame – this year was our first time with it and it was fun. They even tasted good. However, they were fuzzier than any other edamame I’ve had and that was a bit off-putting. I’d rather give their space to something else.
  • spinach – try as I might, I do not grow spinach. I’ve tried for three years and it never works.
  • turnips – these were kind of like the radishes. I found much better ones at the farmer’s market.

What I am going to bring back or add:

  • zucchini – Brette had outlawed zucchini after it took over our yard many moons ago. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t like to eat them either. I LOVE zucchini and was buying it every week at the farmer’s market. I’m going to work on a plan to not have it take over everything.
  • cucumbers – pretty much the same story as above.
  • green beans – I’m not sure why I didn’t plant these this year, but I missed them.

What about you? Any major successes or messes in your garden this year?

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One year ago: A very good tip from Betty Crocker

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mixed nut pesto

3 Oct

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There is a word that all gardeners are afraid of come fall. It shoots fear into our hearts and can make us weep. That word is frost.

Frost can ruin what’s left of the garden (well, except for the frost tolerant brussels sprouts, kale and winter squash of course).

I heard rumblings that frost was coming this weekend. It scared me enough that I brought in a bowl full of green tomatoes, a basket of jalapenos, a small truck load of green peppers,  4 mini eggplants and more basil than you can shake a stick at.

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Well the good news is that we didn’t get any frost. This is great since I forgot to pull in the swiss chard and I still have a lot of eggplant buds that now have a chance. Yay!

The bad news (well, kind of) is that I have to do something with all the stuff I “saved”.

First on my list – pesto. There are a million ways to make pesto. The classic version consists of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and parmesan.

I decided to mix it up a bit this time around. The main reason is because of the pine nut shortage! Have you heard about this? You’ll notice the next time you buy pine nuts and they ask for your first born at the register. Seriously, the cost is out of control right now. I’m happy to tell you that you can still make a killer pesto without them.

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I opted for a mix of walnuts and almonds and then kept the rest of the recipe true to the classic. This makes a huge batch. I chose to freeze most of it and keep a small jar in the fridge.

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Mixed Nut Pesto

Note: I have heard that if you are going to freeze it, you shouldn’t add the parmesan cheese. You should wait until you’re actually ready to use it. I’ve done it both ways and can’t tell the difference so I freeze the cheese. It’s just easier. I trust you’ll do what you think is right.

 

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 cup almonds

6 cloves garlic

6 cups packed basil

Generous pinches of salt and pepper

1 cup olive oil

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

 

Preheat oven to 350.

Place the nuts on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 10 minutes. Let cool.

Place nuts and garlic in a food processor and pulse until ground.

Add basil, salt and pepper. While the processor is running, slowly stream in the olive oil until smooth.

Add the cheese and process for another 30 seconds.

Place in jars either for the fridge or freezer. I top mine with olive oil to keep things from oxidizing and extra olive oil is never a bad thing.

I’ve had no problem with pesto in the freezer for a year or even longer. In the fridge, it will last longer by keeping olive oil on top.

 

What do you do with all this pesto? Here are a few ideas.

  • Mix with hot pasta and some of the pasta water and top with more cheese.
  • Mix with mayo and have fancy sandwiches.
  • Drizzle over roasted veggies.
  • Mix with mashed potatoes – this is a great idea on St. Patrick’s Day.

 

What do you do with pesto? I could use more ideas since I now have a ton more to use!

me, blogging??

2 Sep

I know. You’re probably all thinking that Jen should just go ahead and rename this blog SHE SAID. I don’t really have much to say these days on the topics of dining out, preparing fancy meals, running a marathon, or weeding my organic garden. But alas, here I remain, behind the scenes, contemplating blog posts in my mind and then never getting around to writing them.

So, what have I been doing all summer you ask? Mainly I’ve been mothering my two children- the three year old who’s been in the throes of being THREE, and the infant who’s been in the throes of being pissy about being ignored thanks to the time and effort that I put in with the three year old. Surprisingly, I’ve actually done a fair amount of meal prep this summer. Nothing fancy or gourmet or overly time-consuming, but I’ve been utilizing some nice in-season summer fare and trying to whip up things that are fresh and healthy, and fast. ((Admittedly, I have Nickelodeon and a baby swing to thank for allowing me the time between 5:00-6:00pm most nights to throw together some semblance of a meal.))

Two things stand out in my mind that I’ve made this summer. The first, tabbouleh. Why on earth have I never made tabbouleh before?? I’m not even sure I’ve had tabbouleh until about a few months ago when I got some from Kowalski’s deli (I was told that they have “a lady” who makes it up special for them.) It was very yummy and I knew it would be easy to make, and then I came across a recipe for it in Ellie’s cookbook, and then I just so happened to actually have cucumber and tomatoes and red onion ON HAND from my husband’s OWN GARDEN and unfortunately I was missing a lemon but had a lime so I used that and it was really a very yummy and summery-perfect salad to accompany lunches and dinners for a good five days.

Secondly, this summer I baked something called Blueberry Boy Bait. How great of a name is that?? I’m lucky enough to have in my possession some of my grandma’s recipes, written out in her hand. I remember seeing the Blueberry Boy Bait recipe time and again, and I always thought that it was some really unique recipe that my grandma must have made up or had passed down from her family or something. Anyway, I was visiting my parents in early August and decided I wanted to make this. Turns out I couldn’t find the recipe in my recipe box and thought I was out of luck for making it. My wise father was the one who suggested googling it. I was doubtful; I mean, this was my grandma’s special, unique, one-of-a-kind Blueberry Boy Bait recipe. There’s no WAY it would appear on Google.

Right.

If you’re so inclined, take a moment and Google ‘blueberry boy bait’, and in the search results will appear no less than one billion entries for Blueberry Boy Bait. Turns out that back in the ’50s Pillsbury had a baking contest, and some girl made this buttery blueberry cake that made all the young teen guys swoon, and then it was coined Blueberry Boy Bait. Okay whatever, so the whole world knows about Boy Bait, and even better, now I was able to bake it even though my grandma’s recipe was missing. I think I used this recipe- Blueberry Boy Bait from Cook’s Country. The cake was flavorful and moist (if I may use that word in polite company) and buttery, but I think I did something wrong because instead of the blueberries being evenly dispersed throughout the cake, mine all sunk to the bottom. Still tasted good though, kind of like a blueberry muffin in cake form. (Come to think of it, perhaps the sinking of the blueberries was due to me using my mother’s ingredients, which included salted butter and 2% milk, instead of unsalted butter and whole milk. I’m sure the BUTTER was the whole reason. Mom! HA! hi!)

And now, I have a huge-ish zucchini on my counter waiting to be turned into something cake-like with a cream cheese frosting, but I need to be pointed towards a great recipe. That’s where you come in, dear readers. Send zucchini bread/cake/bars recipes my way!

weeknight ratatouille

22 Aug

I’ve known my husband for about 13 years and never would I have guessed that he would love eggplant. I have memories of him making wienie mac in college (ya know…mac n cheese from a box with a couple of chopped up hot dogs mixed in?). That, Jack’s Pizza, and Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies were major staples in his diet. Eggplant? Not so much.

My how the times have changed. This week, I came home after an evening out and asked what he had for dinner.

“Eggplant.”

“Just eggplant?”

“Yep,I cut into slices, grilled it and topped it with feta. What more did I need?”

Apparently nothing.

We are currently in love with eggplant and our garden is rampant with it making us very happy people.

Aside from it’s deliciousness, it’s my favorite thing to grow. It’s so beautiful.

It’s also very versatile. We like it best grilled, in pasta or in ratatouille. Today I’m talking about ratatouille but for other recipes check out my post on this awesome veggie from last summer.

I love ratatouille. It’s basically a fun way to say vegetable stew. It’s also an entertaining movie. My go-to recipe has always been this one from my Gourmet cookbook. I like that you make your own tomato sauce, cook each vegetable seperately and really give it the love it deserves. However, on a Thursday night after running a few miles, time was not on my side and I had a limited amount of love. I wanted my ratatouille fast. So, I took some major short cuts.

1. I did not salt and drain my eggplant. Because it’s fresh from my backyard, I have never found it to be bitter (which I think it part of the reasoning for salting and draining – please correct me if I’m wrong.) I just chop and go.

2. I did not make my own tomato sauce. I didn’t have enough ripe ones in the garden and I still had some canned ones from last season which was way faster. Store bought canned tomatoes would work just fine too, I promise.

3. I did not cook each vegetable separately and bring it all together in the end. I wanted one pot and I wanted ease.

The result? Tasty goodness. I couldn’t tell a big difference between this way and the more labor intensive version. To be fair, I didn’t test them side by side so I could be surprised. However, for a Thursday night – this was perfect.

I like my ratatouille a few different ways. This makes a lot so you can experiment quite a bit. Just by itself with a piece of crusty bread is delicious. It’s also great with a fried or poached egg on top (isn’t everything?). A sprinkling of feta = happiness in a bowl. Bonus if you do both the egg and the feta.

Tossing it with pasta would make a great hearty meal and a perfect one if you have a big workout planned the next day….or even if you didn’t.

This week, I tried something new. I took some leftovers and blended it a bit and used it as a pizza sauce. Loved it.

I have had success freezing this and think it’s a great way to use the oodles of produce available right now. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Weeknight Ratatouille

adapted big time from Gourmet

Note: This is a very loose recipe. I started with the first vegetable on the list and as one was cooking, I chopped the other and so on. Don’t think to hard on this one. The veggies will combine wonderfully in the end.

Serves: 6-8 depending on how much you like it.

Ingredients:

3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 large cloves of garlic, chopped

2 large onions, thinly sliced

3 bell peppers, coarsley chopped (color of your choice)

2 medium eggplant, cut into big chunks

1 giant or 4 small to medium zucchini, cut into chunks. I had one the size of Mr. T’s arm so I just used the one. Note: when, they’re huge, I cut out some of the seedy flesh – I don’t think it has any flavor.

28 oz. can of tomatoes with their juice – home canned or store bought

Handful of fresh basil, chopped

2 sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped

1 sprig of rosemary, chopped

Salt and Pepper

Instructions:

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large dutch oven. Add the onions and let them sweat out a bit. I added the garlic about 5 minutes in.

Chop and drop the peppers, eggplant, and zucchini in that order, stirring and seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. After all the chopped veggies are in the pot, I add a glug more of olive oil to keep things moving.

After they have broke down a tad, add your tomatoes with juice and stir. Add your fresh herbs and stir. Wait until your mixture is bubbling, turn down the heat and simmer, covered for 45-60 minutes, until the vegetables are super tender. Use that time to clean up your mess, take a shower (if you just got home from a run like I did), make your side dishes, or have a glass of wine. Wine is superb with ratatouille.

Let it cool a bit before serving…if you can wait that long. Check your seasonings and enjoy!

It will keep in the fridge all week making fantastic leftovers.

Do you have any fun ideas on ways to jazz up ratatouille? Favorite eggplant recipes? Please share!

thieves take II

8 Aug

I don’t know about you, but this hot weather is really killing my desire to cook. Lately, it’s been more about assembling meals instead of cooking them. Salads, sandwiches, and yogurt seem to be the favorites right now. Am I alone here?

Lucky for me, the garden is providing me with lots of things to assemble. My eggplant is out of control!

An eggplant post will be coming your way in the next week. It is my current favorite vegetable.

A close second are my tomatoes. However, I seem to be having a problem with the tomatoes.

My precious tomatoes…

I know it’s those dang squirrels. Thieves!

I had a similar problem last year and it was only with one specific tomato plant. I didn’t plant that variety this year. As it turns out, those little varmints like this new variety too. Again – just one of my plants. (I have 6 total)

What is the deal and how do I stop them?

My first plan was cayenne.

I thought this would for sure teach them a lesson. I know it would work for me.

Well, those little buggers are smart. They just went after a new one and left the cayenne infected one to rot.

I’m attempting garlic spray again tonight.

Have any of you had this problem? Any brilliant ways to fix it?

Please help me save the tomatoes!

are they supposed to be this big???

30 Jul

((I had a fun time coming up with possible post titles for this post. Decided not to go with any of those though, so as to avoid sketchy blog traffic from folks who would google such phrases.))

Imagine my surprise the other day when I walked past the garden and saw this mother of all cucumbers dangling off the vine!! This bad boy was over a foot long!

I harvested it right away, took some pictures, showed it off to the gardener, and then began slicing and dicing. We’ve been eating off of it all week! Here’s a tangy side-dish cucumber salad. One of many great uses for your summer cucumber crop.

Thai Cucumber Salad

2 T. fresh lime juice

2 T. sugar

1/4 t. crushed red pepper

Salt

1 seedless cucumber, unpeeled and thinly sliced crosswise (I’ve always used the seeded variety- works great)

1 T. snipped fresh chives

1 T. sliced basil leaves

1 T. minced cilantro leaves

1 T. chopped peanuts

In serving bowl, whisk together lime juice, sugar, crushed red pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Just before serving, add cucumber, chives, basil and cilantro, and stir to combine. Sprinkle with peanuts to serve.

the storm…it’s a comin’

22 Jul

I have a million things I should be doing right now. It’s been a crazy week and next week will be even crazier as I’ll be riding all over the state on the MS TRAM. But for now, TRAM will have to wait.

Right now I have to tell and show you about the storm that’s about to hit my house. The veggie storm.

The garden is coming into it’s second life. The spring veggies (radishes, turnips, snap peas, shelling peas, and lettuces) have come to a close. The summer crop is about to hit and I think it’s going to be big.

Here’s what’s coming:

black cherry tomatoes

These were a big hit in our house last year and it looks like we’ll have a big crop again this year. If you have a chance to get some of these at your local market, I highly recommend them.

yellow grape tomatoes

How cute are these? They taste pretty darn good too.

Eggplant

This is hands down my favorite thing to grow. They are so beautiful and fun to watch. They are even tastier to eat. Last year we made a great pasta with eggplant, which you can check out here. I’m confident I’ll find another delicious eggplant recipe to share with you soon now that they are coming into harvest.

Basil

My basil is out of control! I love it though. I see caprese salads and pesto in my future.

Peppers

Check out all of these peppers just waiting to turn orange, yellow and red. I also have a ton of jalapenos – more than this gal can probably handle. If you are in need of jalapenos, please come over and take some. Really.

Carrots

I love carrots straight out of the garden. They taste very carrot-y. Much better than those baby carrots in the store. Not to mention that pulling them out of the ground is super satisfying.

Edamame

I’m very excited about this little guy. This is my first time growing edamame and I wasn’t sure how they were going to grow or how much room they would take. Well, they couldn’t be easier and now I have a ton of these bad boys. They’re not ready to pick yet as the pods aren’t developed, but when they do, it’s going to be edamame central around here.

How’s that for a lot of produce? The next few weeks will be filled with these items plus the kale and chard that has been blooming consistently.

I love summer and the produce it brings.

What are you loving about summer?