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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lobster and pasta and end of season garden review

We wound up going out for Mexican food last night since the lobster tails didn't defrost in time to make the lobster tails diavolo with pasta dinner I had planned. Jim said if they haven't defrosted overnight in the fridge , he' going to put them out near the pool to defrost! LOL Guess he was pretty disappointed he had to eat nachos instead of lobster last night!

I've harvested a lot of beans and other veggies the past two days and gave half the beans, squash, peppers and tomatoes away but I'm going to have to get a lot of these beans processed and in the freezer some time this afternoon.

I don't know why they've taken their  good old time, but the zucchini and summer squash are finally producing. The winter squash growing in the same area of the garden had no trouble producing fruit early, so this is another one of those garden scratch your head moments trying to figure out why it took the pollinating insects so longer to get around to doing their job on those other squash plants

The only late planting I did was another group of yellow bush beans which I started harvesting a few days ago. There's no more space here to plant anything else, unless I can find some things to pull out of my two raised beds. If so, then might see if it's not to late to plant some spinach. I won't be doing any more planting at our son and daughter-in-laws garden since they won't be coming up enough to use them and I'm running out of freezer space for anything more than what's coming in now.

I'm already starting to think about what I'll plant here next year; and it will be less of some veggies and more of others. We definitely don't need 12 tomato plants for two people unless I wanted to start canning again, which I don't. We have some very good organic gardeners selling at the local farmers markets so that is helping me decide what I want to plant in my limited growing space.

One of my neighbors actually planted asparagus in one of those wine barrel planters and they're doing great, and since my artichokes didn't produce one artichoke this year, and I have no idea why, since they did well last year, and the same artichokes I planted at our son's place this year  produced like mad, it's definitely a puzzlement. In any case, next year,  I'm going to use at least one those two big planters for asparagus next year, and maybe use the other one for a single zucchini plant, since zucchinis take up four square in my square foot gardening method.

This was year two of using the square foot gardening method and it's working very well. I even grew a lot of potatoes in my square foot raised beds, even though I had read that you can't. I also learned that 4 fava beans per square did better than 9 which I planted last year, and only on square was needed for each tomato plant if the soil is good, new compost added and with regular feeding with special tomato, pepper and eggplant fertilizer.   And since I'm always ready for a challenge and eager to break rules, (without breaking any laws of course,  that don't seem to make sense to me), I dove right in and planted Red Pontiacs and Yukon golds, and used the organic fertilizer made for root vegetables. The thing that didn't work, was my other experiment of growing potatoes in a 5 gallon bucket, because I over watered them, so if I decide to try that again next year,  I'll put them on the drip system.

Time now to trim and wash those beans!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Time to look up tomato recipes

The big beefsteaks are coming in heavily now, so much so that I'm not minding sharing some with the little furry or feathered thieves who have been helping themselves to some of this abundance.

This morning I picked at least  4 of the Brandywines from one plant,  as well as a few other beefsteak types, and cherry tomatoes. I also harvested a few cucumbers, some beans, serrano chiles and lot of Italian frying peppers, so an Italian sausage hero with fried onions and peppers looks like it will be on the dinner menu again, in a couple of days.

Lunch today will be marinated eggplant bruschetta. The eggplant has been marinating overnight, so all that garlicky, oil and balasamic marinade, herb goodness can really permeate the eggplant. I think dinner is going to be a pasta using those cherry tomatoes with some mushrooms, zucchini, some golden bush beans, and summer squash - in other words, a pasta primavera using some of the days harvest! I'll add a bit of some cream, and spice it  up a bit with some pepperonici pepper flakes, fresh basil and freshly grated parmesan reggiano. A nice Villa Antinori should go well with it, or maybe something a bit lighter. I'll let our in house wine steward, my husband Jim choose.

Tomorrow I might just make a gazpacho for lunch. I love it. Jim tolerates it; but I'm sure he will survive having it once a year, even if it means I may once again hear "cold soups are not a favorite of mine".

Time for me to dig up some price labels. I'm doing a little show/sale with other members of my women's club luncheon tomorrow and I have to price and pack some of my pottery.  I've been a member for two years and have never attended a single event or meeting, so it's time to at least meet some of my neighbor ladies and have a lovely lunch at the Rogue Valley Country club. Jim said since I've been working too hard lately, he wants us to go out for dinner tomorrow. Sounds like a good plan! 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tomato bruschetta

I have tomatoes coming in in droves, so we've had tomato bruschetta and tomato sandwiches for lunch the past few days, as well pastas made with all the cherry tomatoes. Cucumbers are also coming in faster than we can eat them and that's only from a couple of plants - the same with the beans. With all this abundance, I'm having to adjust my meal planning.

I've already frozen a bunch of beans with more to go, and other than cucumber salads and raw cucumbers for dips, I can't think of anything else to use them for. There aren't enough for pickles and too many for fresh eating, so I'm giving the excess away to friends and neighbors.

This is how I make my tomato brushetta. It's great for lunch or as an appetizers. Cut up a small bowl of ripe tomatoes into about 3/4 to 1 inch pieces Salt and pepper to taste. Add a touch of extra virgin olive oil, and a tiny touch of red wine vinegar, (it should have a slight tart taste like a mild vinaigrette),  a generous amount of fresh basil leaves that have been chopped, and a generous addition of shaved parmesan reggiano cheese pieces. Toss, and let sit to macerate while you prepare the bread. Cut 1/2" slices of some crunchy, loaf bread, like French, Italian or sour dough, which is what I use. Toast them under the broiler (I use my toaster overn for this, so I don't have to turn them), then brush one side with extra virgin olive oil and rub each oiled slice with cut pieces of fresh garlic.

I just put a basket of the bread out and put a spoon with drain slots in the bowl of the tomato mixture so everyone can serve themselves. The first time I made this was for an appetizer and my husband loved it so much that he kept eating more and more and that became dinner that night. After that I just started making these as a summer lunch or as an appetizer with drinks when porch sitting with friends.  It's really delicious. You can add your own little nuances - maybe add some pignoli nuts, or some drained, rinsed capers, or top each serving with a couple of pieces of anchovies,  for a more savory experience,

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A little zucchini goes a long way

A little zucchini goes a long way and what do you do with all of it is usually the gardeners dilemma.

We had my take on zucchini fries for lunch the other day which was a nice change from zucchini bread which is one of the go to recipes when you suddenly realize the garden has given you way more zucchini than you know what to do with. These oven fries were so good that my husband declared that they deserved a glass of wine to go with them. All that laudatory rhetoric was a real surprise since he typically, favors high fat, high sugar foods. My dad was like that - if it didn't slide off the plate he didn't want to eat it. So, needless to say, I was thrilled to come up with a recipe that he loved and it was healthy!

Here's what I did: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush a fairly light coating of olive oil on a raised sides cookie sheet. Then  cut enough zucchini  (don't peel), into French fry shapes about 3/8" on each side and 3" long. Beat two eggs in a shallow bowl. Add a little salt and pepper and stir in a couple of light shakes of cayenne pepper to the eggs. Put about a cup of Italian flavored read crumbs in a low wide bowl and add salt and pepper to taste and several shakes of garlic powder and a few shakes of cayenne pepper. Taste the crumbs and adjust seasoning to your taste.

Dip each zucchini fry in the beaten egg and then quickly dip it  in the bread crumb mixture and fill the cookie sheet without the pieces touching each other. (lay the side with the peel face down on the sheet. If there's no peel, no problem. Just set it down as is). Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, checking about half way through and turn if the bottoms are lightly browned. Continue cooking till the tops are also lightly browned.

I served these with the spicy red cocktail sauce you use for shrimp salad. They'd also be good with ranch dressing, or a creamy Caesar dressing as a dip. I just opted for the lower fat choice. The two of us finished the whole tray's worth. Since I still had half of that zucchini left, I made a zucchini and tomato casserole to go with dinner; but that recipe is for another day.

Monday, June 16, 2014

This years gardens

Our first cherry tomatoes are ripening - got the first one about four days ago. The snow pea pods have been overly abundant this year and I will definitely plant less next year. Beans, cucumbers and bell and hot peppers are in flower and I just saw one tiny okra on one of the plants. There's one green bell pepper ready to pick, and I think I'll use that tomorrow in a stir fry.. They love growing in those earth boxes, as do the tomatoes I planted in a second earth box this year.. Last year I had hot peppers in the box and this year I switched to the bell peppers in one and bought a second earth box for two heirloom tomatoes. Between both gardens, I have about two dozen tomato plants.

My garden has two 4X8 foot raised beds that are 2 feet deep for more vegetables, and a bunch of window type boxes on a ledge that have herbs, lettuce, snow peas, kale and a few bush beans. I also have a couple of artichokes in large pots, and a few of the tomatoes in five gallon pots.

This is my second year doing square foot gardening and it's working out well. I'm fertilizing more this year. In addition to the initial fertilizer application, I'm also side dressing each square with a bit organic fertilizer every two weeks, and the plants

I've already dug up a few Red Pontiac and Yukon gold potatoes for immediate use, but am letting the rest continue growing for a while. Most of the early lettuce is on it's way out, so it will be time to plant some more. The spinach is done for now, but I'll plant more later summer.

This year I planted and am maintaining two gardens - ours and our son and daughter-in-laws. Gardening and cooking and other household shopping and chores is using up all my time and energy. There's been almost no time for my pottery studio since March. I did manage to get into the studio this afternoon for a few hours after lunch; but after dinner I was back in the garden putting down snail and ear wig bait and doing some hand watering. It always amazes how much damages these critters can do in a day or two!

There's a really bad fungus/bacteria/blight around that has attacked tomatoes, beans, cucumbers squash, peppers, and even some flowers. I've been spraying both gardens every seven days with a copper solution called Soap Shield that I bought from Gardens Alive, and the tomatoes have responded well. I first removed all affected leaves, then sprayed with a heavy concentration and repeated it 7 days later and will continue this regime as long as there are signs this thing is still around. The cucumbers look like they might make it but some of the pole beans in my son and daughter-in- laws garden got hit really bad and so did all the squash. I'll wait another week and if I don't see any improvement I will probably replant them.

I've been gardening for over 50 years and I've never seen this kind of a fungus/blight or whatever it is, attacking so many vegetables and flowers. When I mentioned it on Facebook, someone from Texas said that he's dealing with the same disease. I hope that this isn't a countrywide problem.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Meatloaf heaven and spring planting update

I'm finally coming to the end of my spring planting. The garden season starts early for me, in February, when I start my first seedlings indoors. This season I'm planting two gardens - my own and my son and daughter-in-laws. Their garden is 99% planted after today. I just have to wait till I can get some okra and melon starts at the nursery. There are a few bush beans to transplant, since some hungry birds have cut/eaten the tops off quite a few of them.

I'm doing the square foot gardening in my two bed and the 6 and at our sons place. My two 4X8' beds are fully planted other than one square which I'm saving for okra. I also planted two earth boxes this year, since the one I planted last year worked so well. One is planted with 6 bell and frying peppers and the other with two tomatoes. My other 8 tomatoes are in one of the raised beds.  I also have two artichokes growing in two larger tubs and some extra lettuce and snow peas in a few larger window boxes on a ledge in the back yard. I'm also experimenting with planting potatoes in a 5 gallon bucket.

This year I took the risk and planted potatoes very early since I knew I had enough heavy duty remay to protect them from a hard freeze. They're now about 18" tall, so I will be getting some early potatoes this year. I had good luck planting them in my raised bed last year. I missed harvesting a couple and have had to dig out the volunteers and replant them.

The other thing taking up my time and energy the past couple of months has been cooking.  Yesterday I took a break from my current love affair with anything Italian, and made meatloaf, a recipe I put together from a few I saw on line and remembering some of the things my mother used in her recipe. It was delicious - no fancy ingredients, just a good, tasty, light, moist, recipe:

JUNE'S MEAT LOAF Serves: 4-5

1 1/2 lbs ground beef (chuck is most flavorful. Or use half ground beef and half ground pork for even more flavor).
2 slices of white or light whole wheat bread crust removed. Run bread under water to wet thoroughly. Squeeze well to remove the excess water and break into tiny bits and add to the meat mixture.
1/8 C. plain, dry bread crumbs.
1 egg beaten
2 cloves garlic put through a press or very finely chopped.
1 medium onion finely diced.
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
4 tablespoons ketchup
2 T finely minced flat leaf parsley
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves, crushed.
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 C  milk 
***NOTE: This will be a pretty moist mixture, but will still hold it's shape when cooked, rested and served.
Sauce to brush on top of meat loaf for baking: (or, you can skip the sauce and just lay some pieces of bacon over the top to keep it moist. Cut the bacon pieces in half horizontally and space evenly over the top of the smoothed meat loaf mixture. Just use enough to lightly coat the loaf, using a brush particularly if you want to roast potatoes in the same pan.

1 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed firm, or more or less to taste.
1/2 cup ketchup
pinch of salt 
pinch of chili powder

NOTE: You can double this sauce and some a glaze when roasting the meatloaf and pass the rest around when serving the meat loaf.
 Saute onions in a bit of butter or olive oil over medium heat, till transparent (about 5-7 minutes). Add the minced garlic and stir and cook till the garlic is fragrant (about 10 seconds or so).. Combine the onion and garlic mixture with the rest of the meat loaf ingredients. Make sure you mix all the ingredients lightly for a light, tender, meatloaf. Place in lightly oiled roasting pan and gently form into a loaf, or place into a roasting pan . I prefer to  make a free form loaf and put it in a larger rectangular baking pan and place peeled, halved or quartered depending on size, red potatoes, that have been lightly oiled, and salted around the loaf . Then sprinkle 2 peeled and sliced, large cloves of garlic among the potatoes. If you like you can add a bit of chopped fresh rosemary leaves for extra flavor, as well as a very light sprinkling of cayenne, which is what I do. The potatoes will take on more flavor from the little bit of juices released from the meat load.

If using a tomato sauce topping: Combine sauce ingredients and brush on top and sides of  the meatloaf, or you can lay some strips of uncooked bacon over the top instead, or use nothing at all.

Bake at 350°F about 1 hour or till meat thermometer reads 155F (or 165F if using part pork). Remove from oven when temperature is reached, and place on a warmed serving platter; and tent loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm. Wait 10 minutes before slicing. Meantime,  keep the potatoes warm in the oven . Remove them from the pan they were cooked in and put into another smaller pan and use the pan dripping and some beef broth and some vegetable cooking water if you have, to make a pan gravy.  Or, you can just serve the meatloaf with the extra tomato glazing sauce or ketchup or barbecue sauce of your choice.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Costco wine blog
Costco fans know that it's a good place to shop for food, office supplies, electronics, etc. etc. but it's also a very good place to fine some great wine treasures at great prices.

Our daughter who lives in Germany mentioned a new inexpensive wine she and our son-in-law recently discovered, and in my search for it I stumbled on this Costco wine blog which I've added to my blog list. I noted some of the recommendations and will see if our local Costco has them. He mentioned a Vila Antonori which we discovered years ago in a restaurant in Tusacany and we were happy to see it at Costco in recent years.

My plan for dinner is my Mexican inspired chicken, onion, tomato, serrano chili saute with margaritas. I don't use a recipe for this, just saute some one or two sliced onion in a bit of olive oil, then add a few sliced serrano chiles and  2 large cloves of garlic chopped. Saute about a minute to release the aroma of the garlic, but don't allow any browning. Then add 3 of the  4-5 or more chopped tomatoes I use, depending on how many I'm cooking for. I cook  on low/medium about 5-10 minutes or till the tomatoes start breaking down.  Then I add about a pound of boneless chicken breasts cut into about 1" pieces (I allow about 1/2 lb of the boneless chick per person), salt, pepper and some oregano. When I add the chicken, I also add the one or two reserved diced tomatoes. Saute till chicken is done which only take another couple of minutes. You can taste for heat before you add the chicken and if not hot enough you can add a bit more of the serrano chiles. This is a delicious dish, but you'll have to make it according to your own taste level with the seasonings and the heat. If I have to err, I err on the side of adding more tomatoes because they just add to the lovely, spicy sauce.

I serve this with re-fried beans topped with melted cheese, and of course margaritas. If I have company, I also serve corn tortillas with it, otherwise we skip the extra calories.

I've already started some of my seedlings and the broccoli, escarole and cauliflower and cabbage (I think) are up. The peas have sprouted on damp hand towel paper so I need to get out and plant them today. It's been raining on and off for days now, so it's going to be tricky to find an opportunity to get those planted in my raised beds. This was a small test batch, so I might just put them in a couple of seedling pots if the weather doesn't cooperate.

I ordered a new Earth Box planter for this season. They work really well and are help extend my vegetable gardening since our back yard is mainly containers and a couple of 4X8 foot, 2 foot deep raised beds I had constructed last year. The first year I had two eggplants in one and last year did  hot pepper plants. Everything did great. I think this year I'll plant bell and frying peppers in one and maybe  Eggplant and serrano chiles in the other.

My summer square foot gardening plan is done and now I just have to wait for some good weather to get out there and prep my beds. I checked them out several days ago and garlic is up, chives are coming up and even potted tulips nearby are up several inches. I'm going to have to do a major cleanup of all my potted plants. With the unusual, below zero temperatures we had over a month ago, I suspect we lost a lot of our perennials. I'll be better able to assess it all in another month.

With all the cancer causing GMO foods on the market we are eating mainly organic and I'm trying to grow as much of our spring, summer and fall veggies at home. Our son and daughter in law have a 9 large raised beds and some in ground garden space at their ranch and I will be able to do some planting there. I'll probably plant most of my potatoes, squash, fava beans, late heirloom beefsteak tomatoes, and whatever extra seedlings of everything else there.

Their ranch is right on the Rogue River, so I never mind driving over there, letting our dog Bodhi visit his furry cousins and get a good run; and if I want I can always cast a few after some garden time. It's a great fishing spot and beautiful on the eyes as well.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Foods and Wines of Spain

The other day I ordered a couple of Spanish cookbooks after watching an Anthony Bourdain show on Spain; and I'm so glad I did. It probably wasn't a good idea to watch Anthony Bourdain before breakfast, because I wound up ordering 4 cookbooks. The Spanish Table was the other Spanish cookbook I ordered as well as a vegetarian one "Fresh and Fast Vegetarian" and "Provence the Beautiful". 

We've been adding more fish and vegetarian meals and the Provence cookbook looks like it may have some nice vegetable and fish dishes, since that is pretty much the main diet in that part of France due to the very rocky terrain not being great for grazing.

Yesterday afternoon I was browsing the Penelope Casas book "The Foods and Wines of Spain" and I can't wait to try some of these recipes. The tapas section looks wonderful and there are some really nice and easy recipes there. I'm thinking I should plan a night of Tapas for dinner. Jim loves appetizers, so this would work for him.

We have a lovely Spanish Rioja that we found at Costco. It has around a 90 rating is pretty inexpensive, so I think we're set for a Tapas night. Jim wasn't up for Riojas but indulged me, liked it, and went back to Costco to buy a few more bottles.

One of the recipes I would like to try calls for Bacalao (salted cod); so I've been looking on the Internet for a quality source to the make one of the bacalao recipes in this book. So far, no luck; but I'll keep searching.
I checked but the reviews weren't great for most of what is for sale there, so I might have to search out some Italian specialty stores. Unfortunately we don't have an Italian grocery stores in Southern Oregon.

I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y in an Italian neighborhood and remember seeing this dried, salted cod in the local fish market; but never ate it. My family wasn't Italian so my mothers Italian repertoire consisted of spaghetti and meatballs or meat sauce and lasagna, which our Italian upstairs neighbor Delia, taught her to make. She probably never would have thought of asking for a fish recipe since my dad loved to do deep sea fishing and was always bringing home fish, which he rarely ate. He loved crab and lobster but that was the only thing from the sea that he wanted to see on his plate. So it was my job to give a lot of the fish to the nuns at my school who were always thrilled to get fresh fish.

Tuesday  I decided to try a batter fried chicken recipe. The meat was lovely but I wasn't thrilled with the recipe which called for a buttermilk brine, then double flour dipping before dipping in the batter. I think the double flour thing was what didn't work. In any case, I have plenty of leftovers for tonight, so dinner is going to be just a matter of reheating the chicken and mashed potatoes and corn. I'll try batter fried chicken again, but use a Bobbie Flay or other recipe. After the very messy after dinner cleanup, Colonel Sanders was sounding pretty good for a while! LOL