Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Garlic Growing Guide and THE Garlicky Spinach Artichoke Dip

So many people have asked me about growing garlic.  And lately, so many people have been needlessly lamenting the fact that they haven't gotten their garlic in yet that I thought it was high time I posted the skinny on growing garlic.  Well, the good news is that it is not too late, and if your garlic is already in, you are actually a bit early.

Here's the guide.

Choosing Seed Garlic:
Do no go to the grocery store and buy garlic to plant.  All garlic sold as food has been treated so it will not sprout in your drawer and it will not sprout in your garden either.  You need to purchase actual SEED garlic, which is just garlic that hasn't been treated.  There are lots of sources, but make sure they are not purveyors of those nasty GMO seeds.  Two outfits that I can stand behind are: Fedco ( and Peaceful Vally Farm ( There are lots more if you google organic garlic seed.  There are lots of varieties.  If you want to braid your garlic, be sure to buy the loose neck varieties (or not hard neck).  I haven't bought garlic in a long time, using part of my harvest for next year's crop, but last time I did, I bought Music and Siberian as I recall.   Each clove will become a head of garlic next year.  A very general estimate is about a dozen heads in a pound and about 5 cloves to a head, so about 60 plants per pound.  This is super general because the heads could be smaller and lighter or bigger and heavier.  You can always ask the seed company for a closer estimate.

You want to plant your garlic after there has been at least one killing frost and when you don't expect there to be a prolonged warm up before the onset of winter.  That is because you don't want your garlic to sprout immediately out of the ground and then the tender leaves to get killed in a frost.  You want the garlic to grow at an incredibly slow rate from planting until spring when it can sprout without the danger of getting frozen.  I use November 10th as my guide here in New England.  But this is only a guide.  The year that it snowed before Halloween, I had to wait until after Thanksgiving before the snow had melted and I could prep the beds and it was still fine.  On the other hand, you don't want to wait so long that the ground is frozen solid and planting is a chore and a half.  Again, November 10th is usually perfect around here. 

Prep your beds well as garlic is a heavy feeder.  Add lots of compost and/or composted manure.  Turn it over and dig furrows, at least two inches deep in rows about 10 inches to a foot apart.  Separate your heads into individual bulbs and plant FLAT SIDE DOWN, POINTY PART UP every 4 to 6 inches.  If you have a small space, you can cheat both how far apart the cloves are and how far apart the rows are a little, but you will most likely be sacrificing final head size a bit.  Really push your cloves down into the bottom of the furrow (I do a pushing, slightly twisting motion to get them lodged in their place) and cover with at least two inches of dirt.  You're done.  Until spring.

Caring for the plants:
In the spring, the little cloves will miraculously sprout maybe even before the snow has fully melted.  Garlic, as I said, is a heavy feeder.  It doesn't want to compete with weeds.  If you didn't amend your soil before planting (like I told you, tsk tsk), feel free to top dress with composted manure at this point.  Keep weeded and watered and wait for those delectable scapes!!

Scapes, or what would become garlic flowers will begin to grow the beginning to middle of June.  They will grow right out of the center of the leaves and will be sturdier than the leaves and round with a pointy head at the end that would, if left (but we won't) would become the flower.  I like to wait for the scapes to get long and curly before snapping them as I use them culinarily for a wide range of recipes.  Whether you snap them young and short or long and curly, IT IS IMPERATIVE that you snap them.  If you don't the plant will put it's energy into the scape and subsequent flower, seed cycle.  If you snap them, the plant puts its energy into bulb production.  So snap them and eat them, they are delicious!  It is kind of like two crops in one!!  Hint: sautee in a little olive oil and eat them plain, or add to pesto or to sauces, soup, pasta, in quesadillas, the list is endless.

If it makes sense in your garden to taper off watering at this point, do so.  If you are watering with a sprinkler and it doesn't make sense, don't worry about it.  That's the case in my garden and I always get big delicious heads, but I've read in more than one place that after you harvest scapes you should taper off watering.

After you've harvested your scapes, the leaves will start to die back.  You want to wait until about a third of the leaves have died back to harvest, generally about three weeks.  But feel free to pull a few, especially on the edge of your bed to check.  The heads should be tight and getting big.  If you pull one and the cloves are starting to pull apart from the heads, HARVEST IMMEDIATELY!!!  I generally harvest right after the 4th of July.  And I spot check the week prior.  The latest I've harvested is probably July 15, the earliest probably the 1st, so the window is pretty short. 

After you have harvested, there are a number of ways you can dry them.  The important thing is that you cut off the roots.  Use a sharp knife and cut just below the roots to make a clean smooth surface at the top of the head.  Then you can braid them, or hang them of lay them out on a rack.  I cut off the leaves as well, so I have a finished head of garlic.  Then I give it a one second rinse to get the bulk of the dirt off and then I lay the garlic on a screen propped up on bricks on a table so there is airflow above and below the garlic.  I put an oscillating fan on the garlic for a full month before I remove the garlic to mesh bags.  This may be overkill, but I dry in my barn which is moist and I've had mold problems in the past, so better safe than sorry.  Once dried, I separate my garlic by size, the biggest ones I reserve for next year's seed.  Since I grow enough the whole year, I check my garlic every few weeks to make sure it is neither sprouting nor molding.  Molding is caused by heads that were not dried sufficiently.  Sprouting just happens eventually.  If I see any beginning to sprout, I inspect all of them carefully and any that are sprouting go in the fridge.  This will mellow the flavor :( but will slow down or stop the sprouting.  :)

There you have it!!

Here is the recipe for the most amazing spinach artichoke dip ever!


2 or 3 cloves garlic
Two cups spinach leaves
Two can artichoke hearts or bottoms
One package cream cheese
1/3 cup romano cheese (or to taste)

In a food processor, whir up the garlic, add the spinach, process until it there is nothing left to process, add the artichokes, puree, add cream cheese and process until the cream cheese is totally incorporated, add cheese and again, process until fully incorporated.  Smoosh down any stuff that has crept up the sides and process once more for about 30 seconds for good measure.  Put dip into an oven safe bowl.  I like to make mine a day in advance and let the flavors meld in the fridge, but you can go right from processor to oven as well.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake dip for about 40 minutes or until bubbly.  I like to serve with pita chips while it is still warm.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Canning 101: Jam and Perfect Peach Jam

Canning 101

What you Will Need:
  • Fruit (the freshest, ripest, most amazing fruit makes the most amazing jam and conversely: yuck in, yuck out)
  • Sugar
  • Pomona Universal Pectin  (the one in the blue box).  This pectin has two parts: calcium water which activates the pectin and the pectin itself.  Mix the calcium water in a small jar according to the instructions and set aside.  You'll add the calcium water to the fruit and then mix your pectin in with your sugar.  Please note, this pectin reacts differently than Sure-gel.  It may take a few hours for it to set fully, even a day, so don't panic if your jam isn't completely set out of the pot or even the canner.  As long as you've added enough, it will set up.  Also unlike Sure-gel, I've never had a failure with this pectin.  And it allows you to use MUCH less sugar.

  • Water Bath Canner
  • Large mouthed funnel
  • Tongs or magnetic wand
  • Jar Grabber
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Ladle
  • Jars (pints or half pints for jam)
  • Lids and Rims (lids never used, rims can be recycled)

Step 1: Preparing the Water Bath.
Remove the rack and fill the water bath halfway and put it on the stove to simmer.  Just before you start filling your jars, turn it up to high.  

Step 2:  Preparing the Jars and Lids.
Wash jars with hot soapy water or run through the dishwasher.  Inspect for chips or cracks, especially on the rim.  Put a pan with 2 – 3 inches of water on the stove to boil and put jars face down.  Add the lids with the rubber side down (VERY IMPORTANT!).   Once they’ve gotten really steamy, you can turn the water down to simmer until you are ready.  Set the rims aside. 

Step 3:  Preparing the fruit.
If your fruit is not sandy or covered in dirt, avoid washing.  Washing adds water which adds liquid and can make your jam watery and prevent your jam from setting up.  Pick through your berries and remove any stems and leaves. If you are working with strawberries or blueberries, you may want to puree them in the food processor.  Otherwise, you can mash them with a potato masher for a chunkier jam.   

Step 4: Making the Jam.
Measure your fruit into a pot.  Mix your calcium water following directions from the pectin package.  Add the right amount of calcium water and begin cooking on medium heat.  While the fruit is cooking, mix together sugar and pectin, again following the directions from the pectin.  When fruit has boiled, add sugar mixture and stir constantly for about 2 minutes to fully incorporate.  Bring back to a boil, then remove from heat. 


Step 5:  Filling the jars.
Make sure your jars are still really hot.  If not, turn the pan back up to high for a minute or two.  Once they are hot, set them up on your counter.  Quickly sterilize your ladle, your tongs and your funnel.  Put your ladle in the berries and the funnel on one of the jars.  One by one, fill the jars with the jam, leaving half an inch of headspace in each one.  If you have one that is not full at the end, you can put this one in the refrigerator for immediate use.  Dip the end of a paper napkin or paper towel in your hot water pan.  Thoroughly clean each rim with the damp papertowel to make sure there is no jam on the rim.  Jam on the rim will prevent sealing.  Once the rims are clean, using your tongs or wand, remove a lid, place on top of a jar, cover with the rim and tighten.  Repeat for all the jars.

Step 6: Processing the Jam.
Place the jars carefully in the rack and lower into the canner.  Once the canner is boiling,, process the jars for 10 minutes. 

Remove the jars from the canner and place on a dishcloth to cool.  You will start hearing little popping sounds.  That’s GOOD!!  That is the sound of the jars sealing.  It may take awhile for all the jars to seal. Once they are cool, check to make sure they are sealed by pressing down on the middle of the lid.  If there is any give, it is not sealed and you must open it, replace with a new sterilized lid and reprocess. 

Voila!!! Jam!!!


Perfect Peach Jam

 8 cups of peaches (the fruit has been peeled, pit taken out and cut into big chunks)
1/4 cup lemon juice
zest of one lemon
4 cups sugar
Pomona Universal Pectin (the one in the blue box)

Put peaches in the food processor and process until most of it is pureed with a few bigger chunks.  Add to pot with lemon juice, zest and calcium water (from the pectin package) and then follow directions as above.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Planting a Fall Garden and Japanese Coconut Soup

When I started gardening all those many year's ago, first in my parents backyard and then in Grandma Gerarda's backyard, across the walkway from her awesome garden, I thought you planted in May and maintained whatever you planted until the frost.  When I moved to the country, the size of the space I've been gardening for the last 22 years necessitated prolonging the planting season, but that's different than succession planting.  It just took a month or more to get everything in.  Over the years, I started practicing succession planting, but it was more about planting a couple crops of lettuce because that spring lettuce bolts and unless you have more coming, you are without garden lettuce after about July 1.  That's just wrong.  My successions have extended over the years.  With the addition of the greenhouse, I can pick lettuce from about March 15 to the first of the year.  The garlic came out around the 4th of July to be replaced by fall brassicas: cabbage, cauliflower and kohlrabi.  It takes planning for brassicas, but there are plenty of veggies that just need a packet of seeds and a spot in your garden.

And it is that time: to think about planting veggies to take you into the frost.  What a weird thing to think about on July 22, when the green beans are flowing, the tomatoes are turning and you're getting the wagon dusted off so your kids can walk door to door hawking all that extra zucchini (true story: my sister and I shlepped zucchinis the size of baseball bats up and down our suburban neighborhood, selling them for 50¢.  More often than not, the wagon was still heavy with green clubs on the return loop and my family overdosed on ratatouille).

Despite today's bounty, this is your window.  Your window into fall greens.  You can plant lettuce, arugula, spinach, bok choi, kale, even beets from now until the first week of August.  With the earlier nights, nights that are getting cooler, it is the perfect time for these cool weather veggies.

Don't worry if you don't have seeds.  You have plenty of time to order, if you get on it!!  The most important thing to remember with seeds is that they are certified nonGMO.  (All organic seed is nonGMO.)  As we're learning, this is not only important for the environment, for the integrity of our food supply, to maintain the viability of small farms, but it is increasingly important for our health.  If you haven't seen Genetic Roulette or any of the other documentaries that are exploring the effects of genetically-altered food, they are real eye openers.  Here's a link to some nonGMO seed companies if you need to order:

For local folks, Roots has organic, nonGMO seeds on sale.

In case you aren't motivated, today's recipe, once you try it, will find you pulling up the flowers to make room for more bok choi in your garden.  You could say I'm a bit obsessed.  The only thing keeping me from making it twice a week is that my son doesn't like coconut, so he eats a soy dog when we have coconut soup and I can't justify him eating soy dogs more than once a week.  Sacrifice.  Parenthood is all about sacrifice.

Japanese Coconut Soup

For the Broth:
2 TBS. Miso (I like white, but any kind is fine)
4 cups water
1 tsp, crushed garlic or 2 cloves minced
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 TBS. sesame oil
1 TBS. lime juice
1 TBS. maple syrup or agave or sugar, whatever you have on hand
1 TBS. tamari, shoyu or soy sauce
1 can coconut milk
Salt and pepper

peanut oil for sauteeing (you can use olive oil as well)
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup shitake mushrooms sliced
1 package extra firm tofu, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 cup roughly chopped bok choi, tatsoi or if you do not have Asian greens, you can substitute spinach or chard or kale

Rice noodles (optional)

Add miso to a large bowl.  Boil the water and add to the miso, stirring a couple times to help the miso dissolve.  While it is dissolving, heat some oil in a pot and add carrots.  A couple minutes later, add mushrooms and onions.  Sautee for 3 to 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, add all the other ingredients for the broth to the bowl.  Stir and taste, adjust seasoning, then add the broth to the pot.  Add the tofu and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. If you are adding noodles, put the noodles in the bowl you used to make the broth, boil water and pour over the noodles.  Let stand for 4 minutes, then drain.
Just before serving, add the bok choi to the soup.  Put the noodles in the bottom of the bowl.  Ladle the soup over noodles and voila.  Perfection!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Putting the Garden to bed and Veggie Pot Pies

I've decided that the startling beauty of a New England fall's chief purpose is to mitigate the melancholy of summer's gone and the dread of a long long winter ahead.  Were it not for that neon pink shining alongside salmony red sliding into orangey yellow rubbing up against yellowy green, I may sink into the presnow blues that ain't gettin' no better as the trees get bare. 

You see, I love closure! 

All summer long, we make daily pilgrimages to our beloved lake club only to realize that the season is over one blustery day in September when we haven't been there for a week and even if the weather turns back to toasty, the water will be too cold to go in.  No closure. 

I've been working on putting my garden to sleep for the last month, but as the frost date quickly and steathily approaches, I realize just how much still needs to be done.  Lettuce and chard transplanted to the greenhouse; tomatillos, leeks,  lettuce, arugula, broccoli, bok choi, carrots and fall brassicas harvested; potato area raked out (this will never get done); rest of the tomatoes pulled and stakes stored.  The list goes on.  I'll keep working on it, but there will come an icy morning when whatever I haven't done (raking the potatoes) is going to be past doing.  The garden will be abed.  Most likely, no closure. 

But there is also something cozy and timely about this time of year.  A time to come inside, both physically and psychically.  For me, this means tackling the nether reaches of the house, spending time on the floor playing board games and puzzles, luxuriating in the tub, dusting off the sewing machine and the treadmill.  It's also a time when we never let a warm and sunny day get squandered.  It is a time of shared chores.  Just take a drive on a crisp Sunday afternoon and see all your neighbors out raking, organizing, putting summer away, just like you'll do when you get home.  It is a time of fairs and festivals, sharing community one more time in case next week's event is canceled due to poor weather.  In case the bad weather hits and there is no closure to that fall feeling.

My sister died 15 years ago, not quite 35 years old.  In the months after the accident, what I could not reconcile was that there would be no closure to our issues.  We'd never sit around the table holding our coffee cups with both hands and put all our childhood, childish drama aside.  Fifteen years later, what I've learned is that, despite my yearning for this kind of neat little box, tied with a neat little bow, there never would have been the kind of closure I imagined, probably no closure at all.  Had she died at 85, me an old lady right behind her, I'd be left with open questions, unresolved feelings and the same loss.

For me, therein lies the lesson.   I mean THE lesson.  This need to have closure, to wrap things up neatly to avoid all these mixed emotions is merely evading the present.  The reality that things never wrap up easily, that mixed emotions just means I'm engaged in this part of life.  If I stay mindful and in the present, I'll let go of yesterday's easy routine of garden, kids, lake, garden and find the next easy routine that I need to make my life NOW make sense.   

I love Buddhism because its first tenet is that everything changes.  I hate Buddhism because its first tenet is that everything changes.  But because I also love true, I love it more than I hate it, because I know that in the acceptance that closure is meaningless in the present, I'll find true contentment and I'll make room for much more.  Eckhart Tolle explains that regret and nostalgia are merely reflections of a mind fixated on the past; worry and fear reflections of a mind fixated on the future.  It is only in the present that true happiness can thrive. 

But still, they are calling for a frost on Friday night, so you know where I'll be tomorrow.  Out there in the garden, trying to get closure.

Nothing more humble and satisfying on a cold night than a pot pie.  These are super versatile and delicious.  Feel free to exchange the veggies I list with absolutely anything.  Sometimes I replace the tofu with grilled soy sausage and pair it with peppers, shitake mushrooms and loads of greens.  The recipe below is for the traditional carrots, peas, potatoes that especially appeal to my little people.

Veggie Pot Pies
Make six individual or one large

For the Dough:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick butter
4 oz. cream cheese

For the filling:
3 or 4 large cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1/2 cup carrots
1/2 cup cauliflower
1/2 cup corn
1/2 cup peas
2 to 3 medium potatoes

One brick of extra firm tofu cubed

For the sauce:
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. flour
1 cup milk
1 cup veggie broth
salt and pepper

1 egg, beaten

Make the dough:  In the food processor, fitted with the steel blade, pulse flour and salt 2 or 3 times to combine, add butter, pulse 10 times until it looks like cornmeal, add cream cheese, pulse until the dough comes together.  Turn out on floured surface.  Knead to form into a log with blunt edges.  Wrap in plastic and chill for at least an hour.

Make the filling:  Chop the veggies that need to be chopped and sautee starting with carrots and cauliflower, a minute or two later add onions and potatoes, then corn and garlic and last the peas.  Season with salt and pepper.  Reserve the tofu.  When veggies are fork tender remove from heat.

Make the Sauce: Melt butter in a sauce pan over medium heat, whisk in flour and cook for a minute or two.  Slowly add milk while whisking to keep the sauce smooth.  Let cook for a couple minutes until starting to thicken, then whisk in broth slowly.  Cook over medium heat until sauce is thickening, about 5 minutes, whisking occasionally, then remove from heat.  Stir in veggies and tofu.

Putting it all together:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  I use those ramekins with the handles for my pot pies.  If you don't have large ramekins on hand, you can make it as one giant pot pie in a deep pie plate.  If you are making them individually, cut your dough into 12 circles (otherwise, cut it into 2 and roll one for the top and one for the bottom).  Flour your work surface and roll each circle out, reserving the larger ones for the bottom of the ramekins.  Fit six of the circles into the bottom of the ramekins.  They don't have to come all the way to the top perfectly, but should come most of the way up all around.  Spoon the filling into the ramekins evenly.  Lay the remaining circles of dough on the top of the ramekins tucking the edges of the dough into the edges of the ramekins.  Beat an egg throughly.  Then paint the egg on top of each pot pie.  With a sharp knife, cut three slashes into the top of the pies to let steam escape.  Put the pies on a cookie sheet or jellyroll pan, and slide the cookie sheet into oven.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the pies are golden brown on the top.  Remove and serve!  And enjoy!!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Garden as Metaphor for Life and Sicilian Style Cauliflower

There are any number of reasons why I love gardening, but the one I want to talk about here is that gardening is a great metaphor for life.  Just as each person is on their own unique path, each person gardens in their own unique way.  No two gardens are exactly alike.  Gardens reflect the unique sensibility of the grower.  In fact, gardens are a reflection of the personality of the gardner.  I know mine is.

In my veggie garden, volunteers are often welcome to stay when they are gloriosa daisies or johnny jumpups or cosmos (or anything else that is pretty and not too invasive), so the effect is loads of color among the veggies and sometimes difficult paths to get to where you are going.  The one so justifies the other.  Perennials are left wherever they have blown off course until such time as I can scoop them up and put them back into their own habitat with other perennials; except that lovely lavendar malva that I let stay wherever it wants, often planting veggies right around it.  It is one of the loveliest cuts (twice if you deadhead it), does not transplant well and doesn't sprawl too much.  This particular malva is a finicky self seeder, so I just let it go wherever it will and that is why I've had it for the last dozen or more years; sometimes bisecting a row of carrots, sometimes in the middle of an aisle, sometimes behaving itself on the edge of a bed.

My rows are never straight.  The whole effect is somewhat disheveled, but beautiful.  Just like me.  A little haphazard, but productive.  Just like me.  It has its over the top successes and its dismal failures.  Just like me. 

But it's not just on the surface that gardens mirror life.  It was this August when I was picking snap peas that I started thinking about it.  Yes, you didn't read wrong.  August, snap peas.  Same sentence.  And no, I didn't get my peas in late.  They just lasted and lasted and lasted.  I had six weeks of peas.  And don't ask me why.  It was hot and dry in July.  Neither condition would I say is conducive to long standing peas.  But there ya go.  Just when you plan to rip out the peas to make room for the cucumbers you planted along the edge, they just keep on giving.  It was a great plan to put those cukes there.  It made total sense.  The timing was perfect.  Except it didn't work.  This year.  And something so ephemeral as peas, that is what got me thinking.  The thing about gardening is that no matter how much experience I may have; no matter how many lessons I've learned and put into practice in subsequent years; no matter how prepared I think I am, every year throws another learning curve.  Just like life.  Unexpected gifts (like the peas) stand right next to huge disappointments (this year the green beans top the list). 

Here I am going along thinking I've got it going on and that I've learned all these lessons, grown, put ego aside, put mindfulness into practice, and then whammy, life hits.  Conditions in the garden are unique from year to year and the challenge is not to get discouraged with the failures. People change too, my kids make developmental leaps that challenge me to my very core, not to mention midlife crises coming from left field.  But the thing is, it's pointless to say, I'm giving up (I did throw my hands up with the chard when some critter nearly ate my giant patch to the ground in June, only to have the critter go away and the chard come back with a vengeance late in the season when I want to be eating chard).  It's fruitless (literally) to say I'm not growing green beans again because I have these awful soft bodied beetles eating the plants and this year they got the better of me and my beans.  No, I say, I need to get out there with the red pepper wax daily next year and get on top of the (expletive deleted) critters.  And I also point to the long standing peas, the amazing corn, the carrots, yellow, gold, orange and purple that we've been eating since June and will probably enjoy into February. 

I hope I have the same philosophy with life.  I can get up from a sucker punch and keep moving forward; with joy and enthusiasm to boot.  But lest I get complacent, I need only think about the dismal green beans and eggplant that flowered but didn't fruit to know that there are challenges ahead.  And with that, I'm saving my seeds, preserving the harvest and jotting down all my little wisdoms in my garden notebook.  As if they will be relevant next year.

And since I'm writing this as my fall crop of cauliflower is coming in ever so close to the frost date, here's an old, but consistent favorite.

Sicilian Cauliflower

One head cauliflower
One head garlic
2 TBS. grating cheese (romano or parmesan)
3 TBS. bread crumbs
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Cut the cauliflower into large(ish) flowerets.  Blanch cauliflower in fully boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes.  While cauliflower is in the boiling water, put ice and cold water into a bowl.  Drain cauliflower and submerge in the ice water.  Peel and chop garlic.  Drain cauliflower from the ice bath.  Heat olive oil in a skillet, add cauliflower, garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste if you are using.  Sautee until cauliflower is browning, shaking or stirring the pan every minute or so.  Once cauliflower is somewhat brown, take off the heat and let rest for 5 or 10 minutes.  Turn oven on to broil.  Transfer cauliflower to a pie plate, making sure you get all the garlic from the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle cheese and breadcrumbs on top.  Put under the broiler for about 5 minutes until the cauliflower really colors on top.  Serve hot.  I like to serve with baked potatoes because the garlic, cheese and breadcrumbs make really yummy crunchies that you can put on top of the potatoes.  Enjoy!!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Best of 2011 and Sqash Pasta (or fancy Mac & Cheese)

The 2012 gardening season is upon us. Half a week at 80 degrees (in March) was only the exclamation point on the most mild and dry winter I can remember in New England and I've been here since 1983. Without feet of snow, there promises no mud season. With warm temperatures so early, the promise of early peas, lettuce, spinach acts as the great motivator to get outside and get digging. The sunroom is full of starts: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli and all its brassica relatives, storage onions, leeks and shallots. You can hear my little squeals all over the house as I find the first true leaves on the tomatoes and peppers. These are exciting times.

The report from the greenhouse is no less squeal inspiring (yes, I know I should have had a hyphen there, but after the boy took an enormous leap from table to couch where the computer was precariously resting and itself took a leap onto the floor, we're feeling lucky that it is only a cracked screen and a missing hyphen.) Alas, I digress. Where was I? The greenhouse. Awe inspiring. Yes. We've been harvesting spinach for a month. We ate winter carrots for in January and February that were out of this world. Lettuce is just around the corner. And we've had fresh chard all winter after I, last minute before the frost, transferred five or six plants into this warmer climate. Ahhhh!

All this looking ahead and making plans reminded me to reflect on what was successful last year and I wanted to share a few of these with you as you look to your gardens or plan your trips to farmers markets in thoughts of (sorry for bursting your bubble) next winter which may not be so forgiving. And what better way to share? A top ten list. . .

Heidi's 2011 Top Ten Super Easy Ways to Preserve the Harvest for Winter, Eat More Sustainably, More Deliciously and More Cheaply!!

10. Jam. Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Peaches, Gooseberries, sugar and some pectin and you have a winter's worth of PB&Js, thumbprint cookies, fruit bars, you name it. I used half a jar of raspberry jelly and frozen peaches (see #5) to make killer filling for turnovers a few weeks ago. Commercial jam has more sugar than fruit and is super expensive. You can make your own with much less sugar, especially if you use Universal Pectin instead of Surejell.

9. Zucchini Muffins. That's double chocolate zucchini muffins. The recipe is on this very blog back in 2009. But come on, if you garden and you grow zucchini, there is a point when you are inundated. If you don't grow your own, you can get them from farmers who are themselves inundated for next to nothing from mid July on to the end of the summer. I make double batches of muffins every two or three weeks until the zucchinis are gone (sometimes that's when the snow if falling). There's nothing like a muffin and a cup of tea on a snowy day. I can offer the kids these nutritious goodies all winter long. I also make blueberry crumb cake, apple cake and pumpkin muffins for the freezer stacked next to the zucchini muffins. A little variety.

8. Greens. For us that means chard and spinach, but for you that might mean kale, collards. It all works the same. I chop it and saute it in olive oil and then put it in baggies in the freezer. It comes out tasting just like it did when it went in! We use it in all kinds of soups (white bean and chard is a favorite!!), in enchiladas, quiche or frittata. Well worth the effort.

7. Pickles. Not just cucumbers either. Mixed veggie pickles are our favorite, with cauliflower, carrots, beans, peppers, onions and yes, cukes too. I put it in a sweet tumeric brine and it is incredible. The veggies are crunchy and tangy and sweet. Did I already say there're incredible? We also pickle beets and corn (corn relish with peppers and onions). We eat all of these all winter on salads, as a snack, as a side dish. And pickling is not as hard as you think. Just google some recipes and go to town.

6. Canning Blueberry Pie Filling. What is better than a blueberry pie in July? A "fresh" blueberry pie in February!!! We pick loads of blueberries at the height of the season. Most of them get frozen or eaten fresh. But I make sure to make one pick a pie pick. I make a huge batch of pie filling (where you sweeten it, add lemon zest and thicken it) and after making a fresh pie, I can 4 quarts and 4 pints. That's 4 pies worth for the winter. Just make a crust, fill it with a jar or two of filling and you're all set. I also just used one of the pints for turnovers and they were out of this world. You can do the same thing with peach pie filling or apple pie filling too.

5. Freezing peaches, strawberries. In years past I bought a ton of frozen fruit for the winter. But why? It never tastes that great. Not like local fruit you've picked at the height of the season and frozen. Not like the peaches that drip juices all over your arms and onto the floor. It is worth the mopping for these tasty treats all winter. And SOOOOOOO much cheaper than buying organic fruit from far away, fresh or frozen. And so easy. Strawberries, you just cut off the "greenies" as we call them and pop them in a bag. Peaches (or nectarines) you peal, slice. I put them in a huge bowl and fill the bags once the bowl is full of fruit. It cuts down on the mess of filling the bags when your hands are so juicy and you don't get as much juice in with the fruit. The juice in the bottom of the bowl, we drink or use in a smoothie afterwards. And speaking of smoothies, I make them all winter long with these delicious treats, a little apple juice and my new find, Chia Seeds! If you want to read about Chia Seeds, treat yourself to Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, a fascinating and fun read. I get the peaches by the bushel at the orchard. I tell them I want jam peaches and they sell them for next to nothing. They are usually super ripe (which is why they are in the jam box), but besides that, they are perfect. I cull through the bushels and put the perfect and not as ripe ones in the fridge for eating, then process the rest.

4. Freezing blueberries. You may be asking why I made this a separate category from #5. It is because frozen blueberries are that important. If you can't get to the strawberries and the peaches, okay. But by all means, get to the blueberries. You won't regret it. Not only are they great in smoothies and on yogurt, but you can just eat them. Completely frozen, mostly frozen, a little frozen or thawed. We have fruity dessert after dinner and my kids eat bowls of these things. I do too. When we have game night, I put out a big bowl of blueberries and a big bowl of popcorn. Around here there are lots of high bush farms where the berries are easy to pick and the season is long. We are nowhere near as fanatical as a lot of people I know around here, but we probably pick about 60 pounds for the freezer, the jar and for fresh eating (and that's in addition to the 20 high bush plants we have in our own garden.)

3. Eggplant. I just cannot bring myself to buy eggplant from far away. That used to be a problem because in this house of Italian folk, eggplant parmesan is a bigtime favorite. For the last five years or more, though, I've been freezing either the parmesan completely made or the eggplant that has been breaded and, here's the most awesome part, BAKED! A friend turned me on to baking the eggplant instead of frying it and it is way way way better. You use a fraction of the oil, it is not greasy and when you freeze it, the pieces do not stick together, so that when they are thawed, all the breading gets all over the place. These pieces stay in tact through the whole process. My new favorite is to make rollatini with the frozen eggplant. Same as parmesan only you roll a bit of filling in each piece and then put sauce on top. One layer in the pan. Quicker to make, quicker to bake. Do this. You will not be sorry. And eggplant is plentiful and delicious at farmers markets in August and September.

2. Freezing corn. If you do nothing else, I'd recommend freezing corn. It can't be easier. You just shuck the corn, cut it off the cob into a big bowl and then put however much you'd like in bags and freeze. No blanching, nothing. I keep talking about versatility, but corn is even more versatile than most anything else. We eat it half thawed and raw as a snack. I put it in soups, in Mexican dishes, in chili. I make a mean corn chowder with it. It goes in pot pies and on the plate as a veggie. I freeze five dozen ears and we still have about six gallon bags as of this writing on the eve of April. We'll get nearly to corn season with this amount. If you are one of those doubting Thomas types (as I certainly have been known to be), try a dozen or two dozen ears and I'll bet you increase your order the following year. Well, when I said it can't be easier I sort of forgot the taste testing of many ears until we eat the absolute sweetest, most amazing corn of the season. Then I run back to whichever farm or farmer I got that corn from and bargain for a deal on a lot of corn. They are always happy to give a break and I've got the best corn going. You CANNOT buy this stuff in a bag from a store!!!!!

1. Canning Tomatoes. This was the first and most important thing I learned to can 25 years ago (I'm leaning on my cane as I write). Frank's grandmother taught me and his mother tweaked my process by sharing her own. Today I don't do it quite like either of them, but I do the quantity they did, about 150 quarts per year. Why so much? For starters I am a total tomato snob. Admitted. I will not buy a can of tomatoes (let alone an already made sauce!!!) I haven't in more than 20 years and I'm not starting now. But also because we do love Italian food. I almost always have a sauce in the fridge and we eat pizza one night a week, not to mention all the soups and stews and other yummies that need tomatoes. Cans of stewed tomatoes, it has come to light, are lined with scary chemicals. Even organic tomatoes in cans have traces of chemicals you do not want to eat. And once you've canned your own from local, fresh tomatoes, you'll know that the taste of your own compared to that of the can is like comparing apples to rocks. There is no comparison. Many farmers give great deals on canning tomatoes bought by the bushel. The year we had blight and lost our tomato crop, we went to a farm stand in Milford, NH. They had a call list. When they had bushels of canning tomatoes, they'd call. You had 24 hours to call back and reserve and another 3 or 4 days to get up there and pick them up. Their canning tomatoes had hardly a blemish. Well worth the drive. Again, I've already blogged about canning tomatoes, so you can refer to my previous entry for a step by step. It is not hard and well worth the effort.

So there ya go. A top ten of preserving. I mentioned nothing about all the veggies we store without preserving: garlic, onions, potatoes and squash. Even if you don't grow any of these, with the exception of garlic, which is super expensive at farmers markets for some unknown reason, you can stock up on the rest at farm stands in September and they can last the better part of the winter just on the shelf. My recipe today (and I'm a little surprised I didn't write about this early on) is a favorite in my family. My kids call it fancy Mac & Cheese. Hope you love it as much as we do.

Pasta with Squash and Marscapone Sauce

One Large Butternut or Acorn or Delicata Squash (or 2 small to medium)
3 or 4 large garlic cloves
1 Large shallot
Olive Oil for sauteeing
Salt, pepper, nutmeg
1 to 2 cups veggie broth
One tub marscapone
1/4 cup romano cheese, finely grated (more for sprinkling at the table)
1 pound orreciette pasta

Put your pasta water on to boil when you start the process.
Peel and seed the squash and cut it into 1/2 inch cubes. Mince garlic cloves and shallot.
Heat oil in a skillet, then add squash, garlic and shallot, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes, then add just enough broth to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover and continue cooking on medium. Stir every few minutes, adding more broth as needed to keep things going. (You can add the pasta at any time.) After 10 minutes or so, test if the squash is soft with a potato masher. If it is, mash the squash. You aren't trying to get a fine puree, a little texture is fine. Then stir in the marscapone and the romano. Test the seasonings. Add salt or pepper if needed. Cook for another 2 or 3 minutes, then turn off the heat.
Once the pasta is ready, drain and combine with the sauce. Sprinkle extra romano on top to taste. Voila!!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Planning for Local - Quinoa with Grilled Vegetables, Tofu and Tempeh

Last week I caught a show on NPR with celebrated chef Dan Barber talking about eating local. He said that for him it has nothing to do with ethics. It is just about taste. Fresh food tastes better. True enough. But there is a bigger picture that cannot have escaped Dan Barber.

Whether he is weighing ethics into his choices or not, a complete disregard for where our food comes from is not sustainable. Eating food grown locally has many benefits. It uses much less energy to get to us if not to produce, it supports local economies AND the food tastes better and lasts longer. It turns out that fresher food is more nutritious as well. And what I liked the most about what he said is the idea that we can still have our bananas and Italian cheese, but we treat these far away items as a luxury and hence eat them in the proportions fitting a luxury, not everyday, all year long Basically, he's just putting it back into perspective. This is how our grandmothers regarded food. Remember the days that kids got an orange in their Christmas stockings. Oranges were a huge treat. Imagine getting back to a point where you could put a piece of fruit in your kids' stockings that they considered a special treat.

Now we just have to translate that into our own sensibility. For my family, we absolutely do not need plums in March flown on a jet plane from Chile (when they taste awful too). We can wait until we have local plums that taste delicious in July and August. If you absolutely cannot live without plums until they are in season (or any other fruit for that matter), consider getting a bushel at the height of freshness and preserving them.

On the other hand, we'll never have bananas grown within 100 miles, or 200 miles of New England. Therefore, when we want to have bananas, I bring my consiousness to the idea that this is a luxury that comes from far away. In our house, it is mangoes and avocados that are our biggest winter luxury food items. I stop buying them in the summer when there are so many other choices. When the salad choices start dwindling in October and the local apples and pears have all but disappeared in November, I put avocados and mangoes back on the grocery list. But we eat them in moderation interspersed with the applesauce I preserved and the berries I froze.

Now, if I could only apply this principle to chocolate . . .

This may seem like a conversation that is better suited to the fall, but to have preserved food available in the winter takes planning, beginning right now. Do you plant a garden? Think about what you may want to preserve and plant extra. You may be surprised by all that you can preserve. (I sauteed chard and beet greens with garlic last year and froze it in little baggies that I added to soups and stews all winter long. Delicious!!) Strawberries will be in season in just a few weeks. Simply cut off the greenies (as they are referred to in our house) and freeze in little ziplock bags. Some people like to par-freeze on cookie sheets and then put them in the baggies. This ensures that they won't stick together in the bag. The key to this is to pick clean berries. I don't pick right after a rain for two reasons: 1) the berries tend to be waterlogged and less tasty; and 2) the berries tend to be dirty. I don't like to wash berries that I'm going to freeze because they develop ice crystals. On a sunny morning, the berries are clean and tasty. Make friends with the farmers at farmers market and ask them about getting boxes of tomatoes, or a deal on several dozen corn. Whatever you can't live without all winter long, there is probably a way to preserve it.

The possibilities are endless. If you don't have a lot of freezer space, you may want to think about making an investment in a big freezer in the basement or barn. This was one of the best investments we ever made. Right now the freezer bounty is pretty sparse, as it should be in May. I'm trying to use those last bags of grated zucchini, corn cut off the cob and grilled veggies.

Which leads me to the very delicious meal I made last night. Quinoa salad with grilled vegetables with tofu and tempeh. We grill lots of veggies in the summer. Zucchini, summer squash, peppers, onions, fennel, eggplant. Whatever we don't finish, I pop into a ziplock and voila, February here we come. Or May as the case was last night. This is also my preferred way to cook tofu and tempeh which I am often asked about. So here it is.

Quinoa Salad with Grilled Vegetables, Tofu and Tempeh

For the Vegetables: Make your favorite marinade (one of mine follows). Summer choices include zucchini, summer squah, peppers, onions, whatever is ripe in the garden. Right now you could make this with asparagus, spring onions and shitake mushrooms, all available at farmers markets. Slice the vegetables and layer them in a long pyrex pan. Pour the marinade on top and cover with plastic. Once in a while, shake it, stir it, whatever you prefer to move the marinade around. Set the oven to 350. 20 minutes before you are ready to grill, put the veggies in the oven (take off the plastic). This gets them going and they don't need to spend as much time on the grill. Then grill until fork tender and each has a good char. Set aside.

For the Tofu and Tempeh:
Slice the tofu into 1/4 inch slices then cut in half to make squares. Slice the tempeh into 1/8 inch slices. Layout in one layer (as much as you can) in a pyrex dish.

Make your marinade: (this is one of my favorites, but is open to lots of interpretation)

1/4 maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespooon lime juice
1/2 cup vinegar (half balsamic, half red wine or any combination that you like)
1 Tablespoon tamari (soy sauce or shoyu are fine)
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup water

Whisk it all together. Pour over the tofu, tempeh reserving 1/2 cup.

Put tofu, tempeh in the oven at 350, uncovered for 30 minutes. Shake the dish a couple times to coat the tops of the tofu and tempeh. Sautee in olive oil on medium high until each piece has a bit of a char on both sides (this only takes a minute or two for the tempeh and a minute or two longer with the tofu). You can also grill them but you may want to leave the tofu larger.

For the Quinoa:

Combine the reserved marinade and 1 1/2 cups water in a pot. Bring to a boil. Add one cup quinoa and reduce to low. Cover and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed. About 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and let rest for 5-10 minutes.

At this point you can serve the components separately or you can cut up the veggies, the tofu and tempeh and mix into the quinoa and serve as a one bowl "salad" of sorts. I do it both ways, but find that I get more veggies into the kids if I combine the veggies and the quinoa.