Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Urban Farming: Baby squash, tomatillos and melon

We came back from vacation to find the garden thriving, for the most part. The only plants we lost were the pickling cucumbers – but we still have full-size cucumbers. I plan to pickle some of those; I’ll just cut them into halves and then slices.

But everything else is doing well, particularly the Roma tomatoes and jalapeno and pepperoncini peppers. But we have some new babies out there that I’m really excited about. I thought they had died while we were on vacation, but the summer squash are flowering again, and there are a few babies, so soon we will have more of those.

Baby summer squash
Baby summer squash

We also have three tomatillo plants. We really love these. Tomatillos look like small green tomatoes, hence the name, but they’re actually a relative of the gooseberry plant. They have a mildly tart flavor similar to a less pungent mix of lemon and lime. I have several recipes in mind for these:

Baby tomatillos
Baby tomatillos

And we have canteloupe again! Last year, we only got two or three fruits out of the vine, but they were juicy and sweet. I can only find one baby right now, but there are a lot of flowers.

Baby canteloupe
Baby canteloupe

I made a really delicious fruity salad with mint and vanilla-fig balsamic vinegar a few years ago, so that may be on the menu.

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Urban Farming: Garlic – an everyday necessity

There was a time, as an inexperienced cook, when I rarely used fresh garlic. It was annoying to have to buy an entire head of garlic when I only needed a clove or two for a recipe, and more annoying when the rest of them dried up or sprouted before I used them. I’m still not fond of the bite of raw garlic, but it seems like almost every recipe I cook now begins with sauteeing chopped onions and minced garlic.

Dan sometimes comes sniffing into the kitchen, asking what smells so good – often, it’s just onions and garlic so far. When that combination hits a pan of hot olive oil, the savory aroma sizzles throughout the room and you know something delicious is on the way.

Sprouting garlic
Sprouting garlic

Last November, some of the garlic in my kitchen began to sprout. We separated the cloves and planted them in the garden, hoping the critters wouldn’t find them tasty. A couple of weeks ago, Dan and I debated whether they were ready to harvest. That’s the somewhat difficult aspect of growing bulbs and root vegetables – it’s hard to tell what they’re going to look like before you pull them.

Garlic plant

We looked up tips on gardening websites and decided to go with the advice that, when about half the leaves have turned brown, they’re ready to pull. So we let them go a little longer. Last weekend, the leaves were browned and the plants were beginning to tip over. It seemed to be time to harvest our garlic.

Garlic ready to harvest

We were rewarded with four beautiful, home-grown heads of garlic and now we know how to tell when the cloves are nice and plump. These will go into something very tasty very soon.

Garlic in a basket

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Urban Farming: This is a great time of year

The vegetable garden is coming along beautifully – we got lots of gentle rain last weekend, which gave them just what they needed at just the right time. We’ve been harvesting some of the cool-weather crops for a few weeks now.

When garlic sprouts in the kitchen, I’m tempted to put it right into the garden. But if I do that now, when it gets hot for real, it will just fade and dry out. So we have to wait for fall. But here’s one we planted last fall that’s ready to pick. And lots of yummy Swiss chard is out there, too, for adding to salads or sauteeing with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Garden garlic
Garden Garlic

The chives have lovely lavender blooms right now – perfect for topping a salad. A little sprinkle of chives on top of almost any savory dish gives a mild oniony flavor without the bite of raw onion.

Chive blossoms
Chive blossoms

And here’s the most recent resident of our urban farm – Tiger Gnome, a gift from my mother-in-law to the evergreen Detroit Tigers fan in our house. Peeping out from the green-bean plants, he keeps a very close eye on the goings-on out there. Hopefully he can keep Pippen from lying on the newly planted tomatoes.

Tiger Gnome
Tiger Gnome

So the 2012 garden is well on its way.

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How to grow tomatoes + 115 ways to prepare them

Home-grown tomatoesSomeone posted this to a cooking site I like to visit. It’s a free e-book with two chapters – Chapter One is a biographical sketch of George Washington Carver, the famous African-American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor and Chapter 2 is his book “How to Grow the Tomato and 115 Ways to Prepare it for the Table.”

You can download it here: “How to Grow the Tomato and 115 Ways to Prepare it for the Table” (PDF) by George Washington Carver.

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Moroccan Preserved Lemons for Tagine

A couple of years ago, after I admired it in the Le Creuset outlet store in Williamsburg, Dan gave me a beautiful tagine (Moroccan cooking pot) for Christmas, along with a Moroccan cookbook. I haven’t used it a whole lot, but it looks great in the kitchen 😉

Tagine (Moroccan cooking pot)

I want to use it more, but it seems like most of the recipes call for preserved lemons, which I haven’t been able to find around here. Preserved lemons are used as a flavoring in Moroccan cuisine, especially stews. The preservation method softens the lemons skins, like watermelon rind pickles, and gives a sharp lemony-salty kick to the dish.

It costs $10 for two preserved lemons in a jar from an online source, which seems like a lot to me. So I’ve just kept putting it off. I’ve thought about making my own preserved lemons; there’s a recipe for them in the book. But I’ve felt uncomfortable about the idea. Would I poison us?

But then, if you look at the recipe, the lemons are brined for a month in pure lemon juice and salt. Not much could survive that environment. And since I canned homemade salsa, watermelon rind and hot peppers last summer, I feel a lot more comfortable about preserving food at home.

Then in January, Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes wrote a blog post on making preserved lemons. A couple of weeks later, another food blog I follow, Food in Jars, posted an article on preserved limes that referred to a previous post on preserved lemons. The article on preserved lemons had over 70 comments where people described different ways of using the preserves.

So finally, on March 4, I made preserved lemons. They’re still softening up in the fridge, but they should come out nicely in another 10 days or so. And they’ll keep for at least a year. Can’t wait to start using them.

Making preserved lemons

Preserved Lemons

Adapted from “Cooking at the Kasbah: Recipes from My Moroccan Kitchen” by Kitty Morse

The traditional method for preserving lemons involves cutting the lemons a different way and sprinkling salt into the cuts; I found it awkward, so I just cut the lemons into wedges. This also makes it easier to remove a small amount for a recipe.

  • 1 dozen lemons, five cut into eight wedges, the rest reserved for juicing (I bought organic lemons, since we’re eating the rind)
  • 1/2 cup pickling salt or fine sea salt (kosher salt isn’t a good choice because you want the salt to dissolve quickly)
  • 1 quart-size canning jar
  • Place the salt in a medium bowl. Press both sides of each lemon wedge into the salt and place into the canning jar. Juice the remaining lemons until the juice covers the wedges in the jar. Cover and refrigerate. Turn the jar gently every few days to redistribute the wedges. They’re ready to use after 30 days.

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Urban Farming: Mixed green salad

One of the great things about living in this area is that we can garden most of the year. We have several varieties of lettuce in the garden right now, along with spinach, bok choy and cool-weather herbs like parsley and cilantro. The romaine, red leaf lettuce and green leaf lettuce are growing beautifully and are ready to eat.

Romaine lettuce
Romaine lettuce

Slugs appear to be attacking the bok choy, though. Dan dusted them with diatomaceous earth, a natural pest control method. It’s the fossilized remains of a type of algae called diatoms available in garden centers as a fine powder; it has tiny sharp edges that irritate the soft tissues of slugs and so, when sprinkled around plants, deters them from moving close enough to eat them.

Bok choy sprinkled with diatomaceous earth
Bok choy sprinkled with diatomaceous earth

So we’re hoping they come back. In the meantime, we’re enjoying a mixed green salad with our baked rockfish tonight.

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