End-Of-Summer Roasted Salsa

IMG_2195Here’s another non-recipe for super easy, super delicious summer salsa. I have all these ingredients growing in my garden so it’s a great way to use up piles of my bounty. You can change any amounts or throw in other veggies depending on what you have on hand. If your garden is looking a little empty of these ingredients, all these items are in season for a few more weeks so you can pick them up at your farmers’ market or local supermarket at good prices.

End-Of-Summer Roasted Salsa

Possible Ingredients (use whatever salsa-type veggies you have on hand)

  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Cilantro (I like lots and lots)
  • Jalapenos
  • Bell peppers

Turn your oven to broil (high). Lay vegetables (except cilantro) on lightly greased cookie sheet and broil until just blackened  and soft but not burned, approx. 10-15 minutes. Throw all veggies plus big handfuls of cilantro into food processor or blender and process to your preferred consistency. (I like mine fairly smooth but some people prefer chunkier salsa.)  Add a pinch of salt and voila, you have delicious salsa.

The trick with this recipe is the roasting. Everyone will ask what your secret ingredient is. Many salsas made with raw ingredients are too acidy or bitey, especially if the onions are strong. Roasting mellows out all the flavors and condenses the sweetness for a more intense salsa.

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What To Grow In The Winter?

I’m really starting to feel like a bonafide suburban farmer. Terms like “fall crops” and “cover crop” are becoming an everyday part of my vocabulary. Inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, my current gardening goal is to have something edible from the garden year round, fall and winter included. For the first time I’m planting a full garden of cool-weather crops and am hopeful when temperatures plunge, the veggies will keep on coming up.

So far this season I’ve planted broccoli, carrots, kale, cilantro, parsley, lettuce (a cool-weather variety) and fava beans. For the most part they’re coming up great, especially the fava beans. Those seeds have already sprouted foot-tall plants that look like a miniature forest in the open swaths of front yard where lettuces grew just a few weeks ago. A side note about fava beans – I chose to plant them because I read they are a nitrogen-fixing cover crop. The good stuff they put back in the soil is akin to adding wonderful compost to my soil (they’re called a “green manure”) but with the return of some pretty flowers in a few months and a crop of beans next spring. Territorial Seed Company has a nice variety and some good info about planting this crop.

The only trouble I’ve encountered with my fall plantings (and granted it’s still technically summer, at least for another few days) is that something ate all my carrot seedlings in the front yard. I had these beautiful tiny rows of inch-high carrot tops before I left for camping last week. I returned to discover a bare patch of dirt. The carrots I planted out back at the same time are still there and doing well. I hope whatever mysterious creature invaded the front yard does not discover the beautiful feathery tops coming up out back. Anyone know what kind of pest eats carrot tops (we don’t have bunnies) and a way to organically keep them away?

Besides cool-weather veggies, I was reminded the other day by our local paper that fall is the best time to plant just about everything else too. Cool weather is the best time for new perennials to take root and become established plus, since most people tend to plant in the spring, nurseries have pretty good deals on plants right now. I put in a grapevine the other day and plan to soon dig up some aster and spirea starts from a friend with a gorgeous perennial garden.  Think planting now, lovely healthy garden (and less work) come spring.

I’m new to this fall/ winter crop thing. Do you plant cool-weather crops? If so what do you plant and when? I still have space for my crops but am just not sure what to put in so would love some more ideas.

Tons Of Tomatoes? Try This.

IMG_1962Summer days are waning (sniff sniff). One of the wonderful things about the end of summer is our daily trip to the tomato plants. How big of a bowl do I need today, I wonder each time? Two days ago I bypassed a bowl altogether and just gathered the bounty by holding up the bottom of my long t-shirt, akin to a farmer’s wife using the bottom of her apron.

While I love picking each shiny red globe, I’m actually not a fan of raw tomatoes. Something about that mushy texture just gets me every time. So when tomatoes are entering my house by the dozen each and every day, I have to come up with creative ways to use them up so I can enjoy them just as much as my husband (lover of raw tomatoes) and daughter (follows in her mama’s footsteps when it comes to tomatoes).

I have three favorite preparations this summer I’ll share here, two today and the third (roasted salsa) in a few days.

#1 – Easy Tomato Sauce
You can make this recipe with any ratio of ingredients you like or have on hand. Everything here is approximate. You really can’t mess this up, unless you leave the tomatoes out all together. We have all these ingredients in our garden this year so it’s especially fun to make knowing we did it all ourselves!

2 pounds fresh roma or other tomatoes, coarsely chopped (I don’t bother deseeding or skinning)
4-6 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced or crushed
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
Big handful fresh basil, 12-16 large leaves, coarsely chopped
Small jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (deseeded unless you like a lot of spice)
1-2 tsp. sugar
dash salt
olive oil

Saute the garlic and onion until soft in the olive oil. Add in the jalapeno (optional – leave it out if you don’t like spicy food). Add tomato chunks and let simmer on low for 15-30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and the tomatoes have melted into each other. Throw in the basil, sugar and salt. Serve over noodles, chicken, steak or as a delicious side dish. It’s thick, rich and delicious. I keep thinking I’ll make extra and freeze it but so far we just keep eating it all!

#2 Sauteed tomatoes and green beans
I make this when I can get a big enough handful of green beans from our two piddly bush bean plants.

Fresh green beans (1-2 dozen, or more if you have them)
2-4 cloves fresh garlic, crushed or thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/4-1/2 pound cherry tomatoes or other fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Fresh herbs from your garden (I usually go for the tarragon)
Olive oil
Salt

Blanch the green beans in boiling water for about 4 minutes, until bright green and slightly tender. In the meantime heat the olive oil in a large pan and saute the garlic and onion until soft. Add in the tomatoes and, like the sauce recipe above, let simmer until thickened and melty, about 15 minutes. Add the green beans for another 2-3 minutes of cooking time in the sauce, then stir in the herbs and salt at the very end. This makes a lovely side dish to grilled meat on a warm end-of-summer evening.

Enjoy, and please do share your ideas for cooking up all these beautiful tomatoes!

It’s Zucchini Season. Don’t Make Eye-Contact With Your Neighbor.

I read that quip on a local lumberyard sign a few years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. Zucchini season is a time when enthusiastic gardeners want to throw in the towel, er, zucchini they’re so overrun with those cute little green squashes.  Well relax one and all as I have found a delicious zucchini bread recipe that won’t make you groan and roll your eyes. It’s got chocolate in it, people. You can eat it for breakfast or dessert and still feel good about getting your vegetables.  The recipe uses a 1 1/2 cups of shredded zucchini (about one medium squash).  If you don’t want to bake 42 loaves to get through your harvest, run the lot through your food processors shredder, package in ziplocs in 1 1/2 cup portion, freeze and bake this puppy up all winter long.

The recipe is from one of my fave cooking magazines, Cooking Light. I’m publishing a link to Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread rather than the actual recipe as I’m not sure how the copyrights work with big magazines. I recommend baking a little less than the 60 minutes they suggest for a moist, slightly underdone texture (dry cakes and breads are a pet peeve).

Oh, and be sure to use fair trade cocoa (Dagoba, Equal Exchange) and chocolate chips like Rapunzel (available at Whole Foods and New Seasons).

Next up in my “Cooking Your Garden’s Harvest” series (like the name? I just made it up) is Garden Fresh Roasted Salsa.  Coming tomorrow or very, very soon.

Dill-icious Potato Salad

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OK, that title is so corny but I couldn’t resist.

Last weekend my husband made spicy dill pickles (yum!).  Due to a slight error I made in calculating how much dill we’d need, we ended up with five unused bunches of dill in the fridge even after making a dozen jars of pickles.  So even though I didn’t grow the dill myself, I thought I’d throw out the recipe for those of you who might be growing dill and/ or potatoes, peas, or any of the other ingredients in this cool, crisp salad.

From Recipes From A Kitchen Garden by Renee Shepherd and Fran Raboff

  • 1 1/2 pounds new potatoes, steamed and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup cooked peas, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery (I used cucumber instead)

Dressing:

  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 clove garlic, halved (I crushed mine)
  • 2 T white wine vinegar
  • 1 T Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 t sugar
  • 1/4 cup mayo (I used light)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 6 scallions, finely sliced
  • 6 T chopped fresh dill
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

Prepare peas, potatoes and celery/ cucumber and set aside. Mix together all dressing ingredients. Pour over peas and potatoes and mix gently together. Garnish with sprigs of dill.

I’ve still got 4 bunches of dill in the fridge. What should I do with those? One can only eat so much potato salad!

Mint – Easy To Grow, Easy To Use Up

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I planted two mint plants this year, despite warnings from friends as to how mint takes over the garden.  Considering all the weeds that seem to be usually taking over my garden, I thought a mint invasion sounded like a grand idea.  So far, it’s turned out to be just that – grand and delicious.

I planted a Moroccan Mint plant and a spearmint plant. Neither have taken over, both are beautiful and delicious as iced tea.  I’ve been brewing fresh mint tea every day or two and my whole family loves it. It’s so easy it hardly qualifies as a recipe, but here goes.

Minty Fresh Iced Tea

Clip a large bunch of fresh mint from the plant and rinse well.. I generally use 5-7 full branches. Place the branches (no need to remove leaves – use branches and all) in a large glass, heatproof container and pour boiling water over the top. Let steep for a few minutes or a few hours, depending on how strong you want it. I sometimes let it steep all day. When ready to drink remove mint leaves and pour over ice.

To make something even prettier I throw in some slices of fresh fruit and/ or berries and feel like I’m drinking a summer cocktail!

Any other ideas of ways to use large quantities of mint? Even my tea-drinking habit isn’t keeping up with the plants so I could use more ideas!

Getting Your Garden’s Bounty To The Table

Preparing, planting, watering, and weeding my garden make up the bulk of the work involved in growing my family’s own food, but true panic sets in when I go out to harvest and think “Oh my gosh, what in the world am I going to do with 5 pounds of kale?”  This year I got smart – I’ve been reading recipes all summer in anticipation of the abundance of ripe goodness to come.  I’ve decided to share some of my favorite recipes periodically on this blog as we prepare and devour them, but only the good ones of course.

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Yesterday I harvested our first tomatillos in 105 degree heat (no wonder they were so plump and juicy!). Last year I had no clue what to do with that exotic vegetable but my friend Karen shared with me a recipe then that I have been waiting, no, salivating to recreate this summer. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pork Chops with Fire-Roasted Tomatillo Sauce.

For the meat:

  • 2 T kosher salt
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 1/2 t cayenne pepper
  • 4 boneless pork chops, about 1 inch thick

For the sauce:

  • 8 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 1 poblano chile (I used 2 jalapenos since that’s what we had in the garden)
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 cup loosely packed cilantro
  • 1/2 t brown sugar
  • 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1/4 t black pepper
  • Olive oil for brushing pork chops

Brine the meat in a mixture of salt, cumin and cayenne with 2 cups water. Cover and refrigerate for 45-60 minutes.

To make the sauce, grill the tomatillos directly over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blistered and soft, 6-8 minutes. Grill the chile directly over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blistered but still holding its shape, 6-8 minutes. When the chile is cool enough to handle remove and discard skin, stem and seeds. (Side note: I did all the roasting under the broiler on high rather than on the grill).

In a medium saute pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain. Add the garlic and onion to the fat remaining in the pan and cook over medium heat until soft, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from the heat.

In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatillos and chile. Add bacon, garlic-onion mixture, cilantro, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Process until smooth. Transfer to a medium saute pan over low heat and bring to a simmer. If the sauce seems too thick stir in 2-3 T water. Keep warm over low heat.

Remove the pork chops from the brine, pat with paper towel, and lightly brush both sides with olive oil. Grill the pork chops directly over medium heat, turning once, until barely pink in the center, 9-11 minutes total.

Serve the pork chops warm with the scrumptious tomatillo sauce!

How do you use up your tomatillos? I need more ideas as the bulk of the harvest is still to come!

Tasty Tidbits From My Suburban “Farm”

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Several of my readers (you know who you are!) have been asking for more pictures of the results of my reclaimed yard.  Last summer’s gruntwork to turn our soggy front grass into a productive perennial and vegetable garden has paid off, much to my husband’s and my delight.  Our yard is small, all the more reason to use less for grass and more for flowers and good things to eat, even in the ‘burbs where forgoing grass is akin to a mortal sin. Thankfully we live at the end of a quiet street and have very kind neighbors who, quite frankly, could care less what we do with our yard. That and we give them free lettuce.

Here are a few bits of wisdom I’ve garnered through this adventure:

  • “Landscaping” is a word to be shunned. It implies some kind of gardening perfection, ultimate control of nature.  I’d have to make gardenwork my full time gig to attain said perfection not to mention it feels so sterile.  I’m notIMG_1361 sure of a better alternative, perhaps “nature-scaping?”  We put the plants in, then we let nature run wild, weeds and all.
  • I garden the way I decorate inside my house. I’m not good at visualizing an end result so instead I try out an idea, then change it if I don’t like it. Nothing in the yard is permanent. As an example, I have four rose bushes I thought would make a lovely addition and instead look like neglected orphans. They’re free for the taking to a good home – any takers?
  • Lettuce starts should not all be planted at once. Not unless you are raising rabbits. We have a lettuce explosion in our yard, which we’re eating daily plus giving away as fast as we possibly can. I just can’t stomach salad for breakfast, healthy as it may be.
  • Seeds are not scary. I’ve  never had much luck planting starts indoors but the lettuce, peas and carrots I planted from seed straight into the ground are my most prolific, healthiest crops this year.
  • I’m in love with real, rambling, chaotic, dirty, bug-ridden gardens (and I stole that line from the wonderfully messy gardening blog, Garden Rant).
  • I’ve mentioned this on this blog before, but a major gardening breakthrough for me has been the freedom to mix edible plants with flowers.  There’s no written rule that vegetable gardens need to be separate from flower gardens – it’s just the way most people garden.  Since I’ve embraced the wild look anyway, the veggies and berries fit right in.

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Tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, lettuce and cucumber surrounded by perennials

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Do you have a beautifully wild garden at your house? Inspire me with a photo and I’ll share it on this blog!

Love Your Vegetables, Even In The Front Yard

Why do I put all our flowers out front and shove my veggies out back, out of sight?

This was the question I asked myself earlier this spring when my husband and I started planning our garden.  Our house is on a small lot so our space for a dedicated vegetable garden is limited. Since we took out our front lawn last year however, we found we still had quite a bit of available soil in our front, landscaped yard.  Inspired by the urban farming craze happening here in Portland, I resolved to plant nothing new in  my yard this year, front or back, that wasn’t edible.

And why not? Vegetables are beautiful!  Soft curly lettuce leaves, rich purply salad greens, crisp spinach and stately broccoli stems line the rocky garden path. Tiny carrot seedlings encircle the hydrangea. Tomato and tomatillo plants cover a small earthen mound we had yet to landscape.  Onion starts dance merrily around the rose bushes.  Squash and cucumber vines will wind around below our landscaped native grasses.  Four blueberry bushes planted last fall are in full bloom and mark the boundary between the street and our yard.  We haven’t turned our front yard into a suburban farm. In fact, you’d hardly notice the vegetables between the tulips unless you were looking for them. But I feel the pride of a suburban farmer.

Our backyard vegetable box is getting good use too. Snap peas, bush beans, brussel sprouts, garlic, and leeks are growing in nice neat rows. In our backyard flower beds we planted a raspberry start, peppermint and spearmint plants, and the strawberries are coming back in full force. Cilantro is popping up from seed in a container on the deck. We aim to grow 3-4x what we have harvested in the past and, by using 3-4x the space we’ve planted in the past, we should be able to do just that.

Can you find the hidden vegetables in these shots of me and Grace in our yard?  Hints below.

Photo #1

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Photo #2

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Photo #3

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Hints:

Photo#1: Purple lettuce leaves along the path in front of Grace. Spinach growing on the other side of the path.

Photo#2: Onions to the left of Grace. Broccoli growing around the petunias to the right of Grace. Lettuce just beyond the tree stump.

Photo#3: Onions in the foreground, broccoli just beyond, then lots of lettuces and salad greens in the distance on opposite side of path. Yes, I am using sluggo in my yard. Those slugs devour my veggies if I don’t, and supposedly it’s non-toxic, biodegrades, etc. I certainly hope so.

Survivors of the Worst Snowstorm in 40 Years

carrotsHere in Portland we’re just coming out of two weeks of a royal snow and ice dumping. Our home saw at least two feet of snow and freezing temperatures. Today the snow is almost gone and our traditional Christmas rain is back.  This afternoon I ventured outside with two week’s worth of compost to dump in our bin. While in the backyard I discovered this pretty bunch of carrots still alive and well in the ground between our blueberry bushes. They weathered the storm well and will make a delicious addition to tonight’s pot of bean soup.

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