Are you planting a vegetable garden this year? Here is some good advice for newbie gardeners: How To Spot And Avoid A Crappy Seedling.
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I bailed on my cooking challenge this week. I was supposed to make something cold, something I hadn’t made before. I made vanilla ice cream. That doesn’t really count, although it was very good with a compote of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. A real Fourth of July red, white and blue dessert.
Also, posting new challenges may become spotty over the next few weeks, since we are going to be traveling a fair bit. But I’ll try to keep posting little tidbits here.
For instance, if you are a gardener, or know someone who gardens, you may find yourself inundated with peppers this time of year. What do you do with all those peppers, especially if they’re hot chiles? Last summer, I discovered the solution: make hot sauce! This recipe comes from Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It, a very useful cookbook to have (by Karen Solomon).
You will need 2 pounds hot chiles: 1 pound jalapeno and 1 pound serrano for a really hot sauce, or substitute poblano or pasillo for some of the peppers. Wear gloves!
Wash and dry the chiles. Remove the stems. Slice in half lengthwise and scrape out most of the seeds. Grill or broil the chiles, skin side toward the flame, until blackened and charred.
Chop 3 cloves garlic in a food processor. Add the chiles with 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 2-1/4 cups white vinegar and 4 tablespoons sugar. Puree until well combined.
Refrigerate in a glass jar. It will keep for months. How to use it? I use it wherever hot chiles are called for: in sauces, salsas, soups, stews, curries, etc. It is great to have in the winter when fresh chiles aren’t so plentiful.
I am patiently letting a cantaloupe ripen on the vine right now. Every day or so, I go out to the garden and tug gently on it in hopes that it will slip into my hands so I can have it for breakfast. But not yet, not yet.
I have already picked one cantaloupe, but it was a little before its time. It was starting to split and I was worried it would rot. The flavor and texture were reminiscent of cucumber, not at all the sweet, floral taste of a really ripe cantaloupe. (Actually, my homegrown cucumbers have been sweeter.)
So I wait for my second cantaloupe and try not to get impatient. Whether you get your cantaloupes from the market or the garden, Salon has posted a really useful guide to how to choose cantaloupes.
Everyone knows that tomatoes from the garden taste the best. They are warm, sweet and taste like sunshine on a plate. Nothing you can buy in the grocery store can come close to tomatoes you grow yourself.
This year, we are growing cucumbers for the first time, and I have discovered that the same is true of them. Usually, I can take or leave cucumbers. But the cucumbers from our garden actually have flavor. They are cool, crisp and herbaceous, great with just a touch of salt or lightly pickled. After eating my own homegrown cucumbers, I think I’ll have to give up supermarket cukes altogether.
My favorite way to prepare cucumbers is to marinate the slices in vinegar and seasonings. I keep a bowl of these “pickles” in the fridge and snack on them guilt-free before dinner or throw them into salads. This isn’t a recipe so much as a set of guidelines. Feel free to experiment.
Lightly Pickled Cucumbers
Peel and slice the cucumbers. For 1 lb. of cucumber slices, combine 2 cups water and 1 cup white wine vinegar. Add 1 tbsp. coarse salt plus fresh dill, hot red pepper flakes and sliced garlic, as desired. Let the cucumbers marinate at least 1 hour. Keeps up to 1 week in the refrigerator.
If I have too many cucumbers to eat fresh, I plan to make freezer pickles. Here’s a recipe from Sidewalk Shoes.
We had a big pile of mulch delivered and yesterday we spread it around all over the garden beds. Everything looks nice and neat now, and ready for flowers and herbs. Next weekend my husband promises to till up the raised beds, and then we can add more herbs and vegetables. View photos now and in the future at our family gardening blog: Food+Field.
One of my goals for this year is to get into my garden more. Not only do I want a more productive garden than we’ve had in recent years, but I crave the meditative aspects of working with dirt and plants.
I have learned that our garden is prone to weeds and needs daily (or almost daily) attention to keep it happy. But keeping a garden free of the most pestilent weeds doesn’t mean I have to take all the wildness of it. On the contrast, I’d love a garden that is overgrown with flowers, where herbs are running rampant and vegetables freely mix, regardless of type. This over on the National Wildlife Federation website has inspired me.
As with so many things, there is a middle ground to locate, a balance to be struck. I’m looking forward to discovering where it lies.
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What’s cooking in August? Tomatoes! Also zucchini, peppers, basil and blueberries, but mostly tomatoes.
We have been eating tomatoes with pretty much every meal. Having such wonderful ripe, juicy tomatoes on hand sure makes lunch easy. Think of all the sandwich possibilities. Classic BLT, of course. Tomato, avocado and basil. Plain tomato with homemade mayonnaise. Open-faced tomato and cheddar, broiled. Chopped tomato with vinegar and olive oil on bruschetta. Tomato and egg salad. And the ever-popular three tomato sandwich. That’s just in the last week alone.
This week I might make stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce for freezing. Then, I must contemplate all the herbs before they go to seed. And we picked a few pounds of blueberries yesterday. I’m thinking blueberry frozen yogurt.
So, what are you cooking out of your garden?
Here are a couple more delicious summery recipes I found on the Internet that I might make this month:
The garden is really starting to take on a life of its own — and resemble a jungle. We have been having odd weather this year, but the plants seem to love it. We’ve been getting a lot of rain, many more cool days than usual, but now are in a heat wave with temps hoving around 100 degrees.
All of the plants are doing really well. They are vibrantly green, bushy and standing tall. The zucchini in particular is going strong, but as I have read, it is not that hard to grow zucchini. I picked the first one today and I am looking forward to a summer of Italian meals. My husband also wants to pickle it. I also picked the first two sweet peppers, and both my husband and I have been eating the first cherry tomatoes straight off the vine.
The herbs are also doing very well. We planted arugula, dill, flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, several varieties of basil, thyme and sage. We already had mint, rosemary, chives and oregano overwintering. This is the first summer I’ve tried cooking a meal organized around an abundance of one or more herbs. For instance, the other night I made poached chicken breasts with a tarragon-lime pan sauce, accompanied by sugar snap peas in a tarragon compound butter. It is fun to start with the herb and see where that takes the meal.
The only disappointment are a few of the tomato plants are quite wilted, notably the heirloom varieties. Perhaps they don’t like the rain or the lack of sunny days. The hybrids from the local garden shop are doing very well, though. As my husband has noted, perhaps we are better off planting tomatoes that don’t need quite so much care, as we are strong believers in benign neglect around here.
I am really enjoying the garden this year. I can’t wait for cantaloupe, hot peppers and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!
This minestrone recipe is designed to take advantage of whatever is growing fresh in your garden right now. While you may want to stick to the combination of root vegetable, squash, beans and greens, substitutions can and should be made depending on what’s available. What makes this soup really tasty is the “garnish” of bacon, shallot and garlic that is swirled in right at the end.
This recipe is very adaptable. It can made ahead of time and then reheated before serving. Extras can be frozen, so make a big batch.
Time to make: ~45 minutes
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 sm. summer squash, diced
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 oz. bacon or prosciutto, diced
- 1 shallot, sliced thinly
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 can any beans, drained and rinsed, or the equivalent of cooked beans
- 1 bunch arugula, chopped
- 1 handful parsley, minced
Add the stock, carrots and squash to a large soup pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the bacon, onion and garlic. Cook slowly until the bacon is crisp and the onion is translucent, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add the beans to the soup and let heat through, about 5 minutes. Add the arugula and parsley. Stir in the bacon mixture. Warm through about 5 minutes to wilt the greens and blend the flavors. Serve with crusty Italian bread.
For some reason, the weather has been wild lately. On Saturday it truly felt like summer in the morning — high humidity and heat — until we had a freak thunderstorm in the afternoon that blew the power in the theater where I was watching Star Trek; then the temperature dropped about 25 degrees all at once, and the family bbq had to move inside. Today it is barely 60 degrees and gloomy. I don’t ask for much, but I would like a little consistency. Failing that, I would like the weather people to get the forecast right every now and then so I don’t have to completely change clothes after going outside for the first time.
Enough griping — on to the garden. I just bought a few flowers and herbs this weekend to fill in the remaining holes in the garden boxes and other beds in the front yard. For now, we have agreed to let things grow and see what other holes may need to be filled in as the summer progresses. I think we are going to have an outstanding yard this year. Next, I can focus on filling in our pots.
Here are a few photos showing where we started: