Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back into the Garden

As you might have guessed, the mess in my backyard has really gotten me down and driven me out of my garden. Top that off with the hot weather that kept all my plants from producing fruits, and I was very discouraged. But, thankfully, my new roommie talked it over with her dad (a farmer) and took another look before I gave up the whole thing. And, although my squash and cukes got a fungus of some sort, some of my plants have finally started producing. I've got some green tomatoes (baby and big varieties), cukes, okra, and sweet peppers.

Here are the cukes I picked today:

With this new information and renewed enthusiasm, I started cleaning up the yard. I decided to no longer wait for my landlord to get the debris from the fallen trees out of the way. So, I cleared off the top half of the backyard and then went through and pulled out all the dying plants in the garden (lettuce, squash, peas). I also cleaned up the cukes so they take over less area and tidied up around everything else:

I have plenty of new seeds for fall and also some seedlings (Brussels sprouts and cauliflower below). This weekend I intend on finishing up much of the backyard cleanup and planting all the new seeds and seedlings. We will be focusing on greens but also have a whole lot of good stuff (kale, spinach, mesclun, radishes, kohlrabi, speghetti sqaush, lettuce, arugula, collards, and some flowers).

I'm thinking the fall crop is going to be a much bigger success than the summer. We'll see if mother nature plays along.

Canning Experiment

For over three years, I have dreamt about canning. I fantasized about having so many fruits or veggies in the summer that you just threw them in a pot and began canning. Then, when winter came around, you'd pull one of the jars out of the cabinet in the kitchen and be transported to a warmer, happier time. I bought much of the equipment years ago, as well as cookbooks and even took a pickle making class. But, still, no canning.

Until last weekend.

My new roommate learned to can with her mother. She also brought enough pears, peaches, and other goodies to feed a small army from her parents farm on the Eastern Shore of VA. So, the time was finally right to learn how to can.

We went to a nearby hardware store to get the remainder of the supplies (namely, the can rack and pot for canning). We loved the store: Strosniders in Silver Spring MD. After being in Home Depot and Ikea almost every week for the last couple months, it was wonderful to go to a real hardware store. And, they had everything we needed - on sale!

Our plan (after a successful trip to the Greenbelt Farmer's Market):

- Pears in apple juice
- Peaches in apple juice with cinnamon and cloves
- Hot pickled green beans
- Pear butter

Here is the recipe for the pickled green beans, of course I can't recommend it yet since we haven't tasted the goods. But it was very easy and looks good.

Spicy Green Bean Pickles (adapted from Okra Pickles from Preserving Summer's Bounty)

What You Need
- 5 cups water
- 3 cups vinegar
- 3 teaspoons celery seeds
- 6 quarts green beans (we cut the whole recipe and only did 1/3 of this)
- 24 baby onions (only had big onions, so we cut these up into small chunks)
- 6 garlic cloves
- 6 hot chili peppers (optional)

What You Do
1. Combine water, vinegar, and celery seed in a pot and bring to a boil.
2. Pack the green beans into a hot, scalded pint jar. In each jar, put 4 onions, 1 clove garlic, and 1 chili pepper.
3. Pour the boiling brine over the green beans, leaving 1/4 inch head space.
4. Seal and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath.
5. Let ripen for several weeks before using.

So, it was a huge success and so much fun. See me below enjoying myself with the equipment:
We only lost one can (it cracked and broke in the canner). We did learn a very important lesson though. When canning, only make one type of good. Switching between the green beans, peaches, pears, and pear butter was difficult and left us with fewer cans of each. So, when our 1 can of peaches broke, we were both very disappointed.
But, we got some great looking cans out of it:

I definitely hope that we get to doing this again very soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Update on the garden

Since the crazy rainstorm and disasters in my backyard, I've been reluctant to tend to the garden. Not only is it a bit depressing to go out there in all the mess, but every time I do I get about 1000 bug bites. My legs look like they did when I was a 10 year old at sleep away camp-- bruised and fully of bug bites-- not good. But, thankfully, we've gotten some rain recently and despite all odds things are still growing. I even have a second tomato and some baby tomatoes.
Take a look:

I hope I am able to eat something from the garden before the end of August. We will see...

The best thing to do with tomatoes

Also while visiting NJ, my sister and I prepared my favorite appetizer for my mother while she was at work. This is an amazing recipe from Food and Wine and I was shocked that it was not on my blog available for you to try. I love this! I could eat the whole thing myself. It takes patience to wait for the bruschetta but it is worth it. Try to get the two varieties of honey, but it is not a deal breaker if you can't. I've made the recipe many times with only clover honey.

Honey-Tomato Bruschetta with Ricotta (from Food and Wine)

What You Need

- 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons clover honey
- 2 teaspoons thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 12 baguette slices, cut 1/2 inch thick on the bias
- 1 cup fresh ricotta (8 ounces) (see my post on how to make it)
- 1 tablespoon buckwheat or chestnut honey (unfortunately, I only had clover so I just used 3 tablespoons clover honey)
- 6 basil leaves, thinly sliced or torn

What You Do

1. Preheat the oven to 300°.
2. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes with the olive oil, honey, thyme leaves, salt and pepper.
4. Scrape the tomatoes onto the prepared baking sheet and turn them cut side up.
5. Bake the tomatoes for about 1 hour and 25 minutes, until they begin to shrivel and brown. Let cool.
6. Preheat the broiler.
7. Spread out the baguette slices on a baking sheet.
8. Broil for about 30 seconds on each side, until the edges are golden brown.
4. Spread the ricotta over the baguette slices and top with the slow-roasted tomatoes.
5. Lightly drizzle the tomatoes with the buckwheat honey, sprinkle with the sliced basil and serve with additional buckwheat honey on the side.

This is a great dish to share with family and friends while tomatoes are at the peak!

Soup, Summer, and Roasted Red Peppers

I spent the early part of this week with my family up in NJ. It was wonderful to hang out, relax, and spend a day at the Jersey shore. We spent the day at Spring Lake, had lobster at Klein's, and got yummy salt water taffy. We also did some fun family cooking, including this wonderful summer soup. Rarely do I eat chilled soup, so I was nervous to try it. But, how can you go wrong with roasted red peppers?!

Creamy Chilled Red Pepper Soup (from About.com)

What You Need

- 4 red peppers
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (I used more)
- 5 cups vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1/2 cup cream
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- salt and pepper to taste

What You Do

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees or set to broil.
2. Slice peppers in half and remove seeds.
3. Broil peppers for about 20 minutes. (I sprinkled some olive oil before broiling)
4. In a large sauce pan, cook the onion and rosemary over medium high heat.
5. Add the peppers and vegetable broth and reduce to a simmer.
6. Add tomato paste and allow to cook for at least 20 minutes.
7. Transfer soup to a blender or food processor and process until smooth.
8. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine well.
9. Serve chilled.

Since this one was a success, I'm curious to try some more summer soups before August is over. I suggest you do to.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

One Tomato Emerges from the Mess

I'm a proud momma of a baby heirloom tomato, finally. And it is perfect timing because my yard is still a disaster zone and making me a little bit sad.