Homegrown Food Challenge—Day 3

October 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

Day 3 on the Homegrown Food Challenge and no fish heads were lopped off on this particular day. But the grill did get lit, and that’s always a fun thing. Here’s how our day progressed.

Breakfast:
Starting to look very familiar. Flat Black coffee with Maine’s Own Organic Milk. Stonyfield yogurt with local apple, honey and a crumbled Effie’s oatcake. We’ll get a bit more creative with breakfast on the weekend, no worries.

Lunch:
Jennifer and I both had big salads with local stuff, similar to the one I had for lunch on Day 2. Local lettuce and red pepper, pickled beets, homemade dressing, etc etc. I even made some homemade croutons from homemade bread.

Dinner:
This is where the grill gets lit—finally! We cranked it up for some pizza made with homemade pizza dough. Two pizzas are usually enough to take care of dinner plus give us enough for lunch the following day.

grilled pizza

Pizza #1: Homemade sauce using slightly green homegrown tomatoes (similar to the roasted cherry tomato sauce I make), grilled eggplant (from farmers market) and locally made mozzarella.

grilled pizza

Pizza #2: Homemade pesto using homegrown basil, grilled eggplant, roasted red pepper (from farmers market) and caramelized homegrown leeks.

Can’t have pizza without beer, right? We had some Whale’s Tale Pale Ale from Cisco Brewers on Nantucket. Pretty tasty stuff!

As I am two days behind in posting, I can hint at what awaits you for Day 4: One of the most fabulous creations to ever have been sandwiched between two pieces of bread. Think I over-exaggerate? Oh. No.

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Fall’s First Frost Predicted: How to Prepare

October 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

I listen to the local news as part of my morning ritual. But, most days I head online if I want to learn about the weather, even though sassy JC Monahan just gave me the five-day forecast five minutes ago.

My memory is a sieve when it comes to the weather. Except … when frost is predicted. It’s been a whole five hours since I heard this morning’s news, and I can still remember JC predicted frost will be in the air for Worcester County and western Massachusetts this evening. Thanks to being a “heat island” with all our brick and pavement, Boston proper will make it only down into the low 40s.

Whew.

I eased up on my fall-harvest plantings this year, but I still do have a few summer stragglers hanging on. Of what’s left, this is what will and won’t like temperatures in the low 40s:

early October zucchini

itty bitty zucchini

Zucchini/squash: Not a good year for them and they are not beefy enough to deal with temps too much colder than the low 50s. Hey, I had zucchini up until November last year. Maybe a quick one-night of 40s will be fine.

early October tomatoes

Oh, so sad.

Tomatoes: I have just two plants left and neither look great. It’s just cruel of me to keep them hangin’ on. Absolutely cruel, like pulling wings off flies. But I do it to see how far they can go.

early October carrots

Carrots - they'll be just fine.

Carrots: They’ll be just fine for a long time yet, thanks to that insulating layer of soil.

last of the season's basil

There it is - the rest of the season's basil.

Basil: Aaaaccckkk!!!!! I better go harvest that asap. It definitely won’t survive. It doesn’t even like my fridge set much below 45.

Snail-along

ick.

ps – this little guy is why it’s important to inspect your harvest before you bring it in your home – we had a few snails crawling on the walls in our fridge one morning …

early October leeks

Leeks: I have a good batch of leeks going this year. VERY excited about them. They’ll hang on for a good long time yet. I won’t have to worry about them until November or so. At that time I will try to mount them with as much soil as possible. I could be lucky enough to harvest leeks in January if I work it right.

early October jalepenos

We have jalepenos??

Jalepenos: We have jalepenos??

early October broccoli

Broccoli: It’s lovin’ this time of year.

early October chard

Chard: Back in mid August I pulled up all of my chard. Or so I thought. On a few of the smaller plants I pulled the biggest leaves off, leaving the small runts behind. A Well, wouldn’t you know but I have a batch of chard ready to go.

early October beets

The beets are so excited, they are pushing themselves outta the ground.

Beets: Happy as clams in this weather. And I have a lot of them. I’ll be harvesting them two by two for the rest of the month. I still have a whole jar of pickled beets in the fridge—maybe I need to make another.

If your ears have perked up with the sounding of the “frost predicted tonight” alarm, in all likelihood you’ll have a light frost, one that will damage only the most sensitive summer veggies in your garden. If you’re so inclined, try these techniques to help them survive a little bit longer:

-While the sun is still out, break out that old set of sheets you never use anymore and cover the most sensitive plants. The sheets will act light a light coat and keep the temps slightly elevated underneath as the soil gives off heat. Remove those covers the next day—it could really heat up under there. Plus, your neighbors will start talking about you.

Don’t have extra sheets or plant covers?

-As evening sets in, turn a hose on and water down the summer-loving veggies—the leaves, stems, fruit, etc.—and also the soil around the plants. The water around the foliage will freeze first or give up its heat first (it’s physics). Same with the moist soil.

Maybe with the temperatures climbing in the 80s starting tomorrow, I’ll be lucky enough to have some homegrown zucchini for next week’s Homegrown Food Challenge.

 

Pickled Beets

September 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

Last year I had a Ziploc bag of small red beets sitting in the hydrator for … months. Months. I had intended to pickle them. Didn’t happen. They sat for ages – actually, I was quite impressed with just how long they lasted – until one day they were just gone. I think Jennifer may have realized the pickling wasn’t going to happen. Or I chucked them and don’t remember.

Pickled Beets

Pickled beets, not quite how Grandma used to make.

The pickling didn’t happen because I couldn’t decide on exactly how to tackle it. What recipe to use? What about canning them? What if?

My god, I can’t live with the what ifs anymore. Just freakin’ pickle beets, Dainty.

That’s exactly what I did last week. And I’m happy to say I have a quart of beautiful pickled beets sitting in my fridge at this very moment.

Well, what recipe did I decide on, you ask? It’s a combo of a recipe found in the August Bon Appetit and a recipe for Vinegar Beets from my mother, which I just found out was her mother-in-law’s recipe; i.e., it’s old.

Mom’s recipe calls for boiling the beets until tender, slip off the skins, and combining  a cup cider vinegar, a half cup sugar, 1/4 tbs cinnamon stick, 1/4 tsp allspice berries, 1/4 tbs mustard seed, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp whole cloves. She boils that for 3 minutes, then adds the beets to boil again. Then she adds the beets to a jar and strains the liquid. Boiling twice?? To infuse the beets with the spices, she said defensively.

On the other hand, Bon Appetit suggested 3/4 cup each of red wine vinegar and dry red wine, 1/2 cup sugar, 1.5 tsp salt and star anise.

Compromise, compromise.

Ingredients

  • About 2lbs. beets – I used a combo of red and golden, and don’t use any that are too very large
  • 1.5+ cups red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp mustard seed
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp whole cloves

-Boil the beets until a sharp knife slips through your largest beet. Could be 20 minutes, could be more – it all depends on the size. Drain and let cool until cool enough to handle.

beets cooling

Beets cooling until they can be stripped naked

-When cool, the skins just slip right off. Pretty darn amazing how easily they come off. FYI, you’re gonna stain your hands.

removing skins from boiled beets

Skins slip off incredibly easily once beets are boiled.

Beets with skins removed

How beautiful are these??

-While those cooled, I cleaned/sterilized a 1-qt. jar. I added the cinnamon stick (which I crushed a bit), the mustard seed and the cloves.

-When the beets were cool, I left the small beets whole and put them into the. jar. The larger beets I cut into quarters, and some of them I sliced.

-Meanwhile, I combined 1.5 cups vinegar, sugar and salt in a saucepan and boiled until the sugar and salt dissolved. Then I let it cool a bit. While it was still a tad warm, I added the liquid to the jar.

-Turns out 1.5 cups vinegar wasn’t quite enough to cover the beets in the jar. Hence the “1.5+ cups vinegar in the ingredient list. I warmed another 1/4-cup-ish of red wine vinegar added with a couple pinches sugar and a nip of salt. Dissolved that, then topped off the beets.

-And then I did something crazy: I added a half-shot of Southern Comfort. Bon Appetitit’s recipe called for dry red wine, so hey, why not a glug of SoCo? Barely perceptible, but there is a hint of a sweet smokiness. Pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Cover, let sit on the counter for a day to let the flavors develop, and then give ’em a try. They’re good! And they really do only get better with time.

What? No canning them? I decided not to, and opted for the “put them in the fridge for easy access” method. I still have beets in the garden – two sets of beets, actually – one that’s ready for harvest at any time and one that I just planted a few weeks ago for a late-November harvest. The latter will likely be headed for pickling, and this time for the canner, as well. And this time I mean it.

Beets: From Seeds to Roasted

August 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

I love me some beets. Love love love.

I know beet love is not a universal thing. I don’t belittle that. There are reasons to not like them. Sometimes there’s a metallic dirt after-taste. They can stain your hands—and cutting boards and dish towels—like you just murdered someone and stored them in the freezer. Then there’s that whole … nah, I’m not gonna go there.

My first beet love was a dish an old roommate would make in summer. Fresh, julienned beets with minced garlic, evoo and balsamic. Had a real nice crunch. Tasty, but only if you’re not dating someone.

Jennifer has an awesome beet soup – that’s my second beet love. It has the kitchen sink in it, too. I don’t want to hold out on you, but when the next beet harvest comes along, it’ll go up on Dainty. That okay?

My daily beet love goes out to the roasted variety. Simple. Delicious. And really quite beautiful.

New to Dainty!

Yeah for new! I’m including growing instructions. Yup, that’s what I said. This urban farmer is going to show that you—yes, you, city kid!— can take some seeds, grow them, and put them on your tasty table.

Growing Beets

What you’ll need: Beet seeds. A patch of soil/dirt, or a big, wide, deep container. Some way to water them.

Step 1: Beets can take cool weather. And hot weather, too. Another reason to love them. Get out in the garden early in spring—Aprilish for New England peeps—to sow your seeds. OR, start some seeds in early- to mid-August (ahem, NOW!).

Step 2: Beets’ big bulbousness develops underground, in case you didn’t know. It helps if your soil (I never called it dirt, but you know what I mean) isn’t rock hard. Is your soil like cement? Then go to the DIY store and buy a bag of “garden soil,” spread it on top of your “dirt,” and dig it in with a shovel or hoe. Sounds like work … it is! Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long.

Step 3: Beet seeds. Never beet “seedlings” because root vegetables (like beets and carrots) don’t like to be moved once they begin to grow. So, get yourself some. There’s all different types. Choose whichever tickles your tastebuds.

Step 4: Sow the seeds according to the seed packet instructions. Here’s a tip: Plant them in several rows maybe 6 in. apart and in a chess board-type pattern. You can squeeze more in the space that way.

Step 5: Water the seeds in … gently. And keep the soil moist as they germinate.

Step 6: Now, you’re going to wait weeks and weeks … watering and even fertilizing with an all-purpose fertilizer (go to the store and ask for it – you’ll get something good). Your seedlings may be too close together. And when that happens, the beets under the ground kind of grow into each other. It’s ok to sacrifice some of the smaller seedlings. If one seedling is too close to another, just pull it up and discard.

Just a warning: If you spot something on your beet leaves that look like random squiggly lines, you’ve got a pest called Leafminer. These little guys tunnel between the top and bottom of the leaf surface. Crazy! They are the bane of my spring garden—because they also love spinach and chard. If you spot a leaf with these markings, remove it … from the entire garden! Put it in the trash. Do not compost. You want these suckers dead and gone far away. You’ll eat those beet tops later … or the chard or the spinach. You don’t want these guys getting to it first, do you? If you are so inclined, look along the squiggly line and you just might be able to spot the white-ish larva. It’s really gross. Okay, on second thought, don’t look.

Step 7: As your beets get bigger—yay, how awesome is that?!—they may push themselves a bit above ground. Just lightly cover with some surrounding soil to keep the beet covered. Don’t want it to get sunburned, right?

Step 8: Harvest! Pull those beets up whenever you want. You can get a good idea of the size by taking your finger and going around the top of the beet under the soil. After a few months you’ll have small beets that will be good for pickling. Three months, and you’ll get a decent beet—the size you’ll see at a market. Don’t go for massive. No one needs massive beets.

Beets and chard

Beets! and chard, too.

Step 9: Time to roast!

Roasted Beets

  • beets, 3-4
  • olive oil
  • course salt, pepper

-Set oven to 425F. Cut off a 1 ft. length of aluminum foil, place in a cast iron pan.

-Wash beets. Cut off tops just above beet. Reserve beet tops for … well, you can saute them for pasta or as a side dish …

-Arrange beets on the foil. Glug olive oil on top of each beet – don’t need a whole lot. Sprinkle with salt and a turn of pepper. Fold foil around the beets so they are snug in the packet. You’ll want the moisture to stay inside.

beets

Beets oiled and seasoned

-Slide into the oven. Cook 45-60 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. When are they done? When you can just insert a paring knife deep into its heart.

-When the knife slides in, remove the pan. Let cool until the beets can be handled. Actually, just wait until they are room temp. The skins of beet will be soooo much easier to remove when they are completely cool. And then just rub off the skins! For a cool visual, you can keep the short tops on the beet and rub the rest of the skin away if you want.

Beets, cooling.

Beets, cooling.

What to do next? Store in sealed container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Cube or slice and eat with salads. Goat cheese is in love with beets, too, so be sure to pair them whenever you can.

Peeled beets

Naked beets, ready to be sliced or cubed. How beautiful!

Beets on a salad

Roasted beets are fabulous on a salad.

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