July 9, 2012 § 1 Comment
Pesto makes me happy. It just does. Just like the pop of a champagne bottle means something celebratory is about to happen, the knowledge that pesto is in a dish means something tasty is about to be experienced.
Basil is just the tip of the pesto iceberg. It’s the easy and expected version. But when the garden presents one with an abundance of other herbs, it’s a prime opportunity to explore other pesto flavors. That’s how this batch of cilantro pesto came about. A 3-ft. row of cilantro plants was beginning to bolt (i.e. grow quickly and produce flowers), and rather than let it go to seed, I opted to harvest it all. And what’s the best way to use large amounts of herbs? Pesto.
Like anything with cilantro, this pesto goes pretty darn well with Mexican food. It’s also tasty spread inside a grilled cheese and as a base for a pizza. And the best thing about this version is … it’s accidentally vegan.
- 1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves (and I also threw in the flowers)
- 1 cup loosely packed parsley leaves
- 1/3 cup whole almonds
- 1 small fresh chili (jalapeno is good)
- 2 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
- 2 tbs fresh lime juice (I used a whole lime)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- salt and pepper to taste
-Place all ingredients except lime juice and oil in a food processor and pulse several times to chop finely.
-With the foodpro on, add the juice and oil in a steady stream. If you like your pesto saucy, add a bit more oil.
All my pesto recipes come from the The Moosewood Kitchen Garden cook-garden book. The dill pesto recipe is also a keeper. I’ll share, but first my dill needs to grow a bit more.
April 23, 2012 § 3 Comments
Stones. That’s my usual response to what fills my first harvest in my community garden in early spring. I spend days clearing the surface of these leaden balloons. But not really. They’re always right below the soil, ready to buoy themselves up. Stones float. That’s the only possible reason for their constant surfacing.
This year, though, my garden has a new, less stony epidermis. Long story short, there’s 6 inches of new soil in my garden. Stones, still, but not as in springs past. Give it some time.
This spring’s first harvest is chives. Thrilling, I know. I had never planted them in my plot. They were just sorta there, leftovers from previous gardeners. But just before that 6 inches was layered down, I thought to rescue the just-emerging greeny spikes. And because I gave them a second chase at life, I decided to fulfill their purpose. I decided to use them in some way in my kitchen.
Right. And exactly how would I do this? What does one do with chives, anyway? I’m sure something, but nothing came to mind. Google rescued me, of course, sending me to several different sites. Oh yes, biscuits were made—cheddar-chive biscuits. And a chive chip is on my wait list. But for now, let’s start with something easy. Let’s get all vinaigrette.
Epicurious, thank you for this green-as-goodness dressing. Faced with a minimalistic salad (i.e., I really didn’t have much in the fridge and the salad, therefore, was a bit weak), this vinaigrette perked up what was paltry. You could say, I suppose, that the chives did indeed fulfill their purpose.
Chive Vinaigrette, ala Epicurious:
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
- 1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
- 1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Blend the first five ingredients in a blender. Just a note here: I used white wine vinegar – didn’t have Champagne vinegar in the house. And show yourself some respect—use a good Dijon.
2. Next up, the oils. With motor running, slowing add in the veg oil and evoo. Hold off on the last quarter of that 1/3 cup evoo. Give it a taste first and see if more is needed.
3. You’re done. Well, not really. Before you’re done, give it a taste. It’ll benefit from a pinch of kosher salt. Or two.
The result: a more-beautiful-than-you-expected green green green dressing with a light but full-flavored expression. But I give you fair warning before you enjoy —you’ll want to be sure the person you kiss next has also partaken. Chives are onions, after all.
An easy DIY green wall
February 3, 2012 § 6 Comments
As soon as I whispered under my breath that I would post EVERY day in February, I promptly skipped a day.
But I have a great excuse. Really, I do. I was working.
Now, I don’t normally share my work stuff here. I’m making an exception, however, because a) I feel I need to make up for yesterday and b) I spotted a pretty cool product that is applicable to both food and garden topics. Trust me on this, it’s something you’ll think is neat. And you may even be inspired to buy one.
First, the details. Where was I? I was at a trade and educational show here in Boston called New England Grows. Lots of inspiring seminars with landscape designers, plant breeders, horticulturists, arborists, etc etc. And it has a pretty big trade show attached to it, too, with aisle upon aisle of vendors exhibiting everything from plants and pavers to forklifts and whimsical garden art. The trade show is the reason I go—to find new stuff.
Green Walls Made Simple
Green walls—whether outside along the side of a building or installed on an indoor wall—are a big thing nowadays, very trendy. I’ve seen them in stores, in and outside restaurants, in botanical gardens, in museums and all sorts of places. And they’re usually large and decorative and have intricate irrigation systems. But really, can these things be everyday items for everyday people?I had serious doubts.
But a product I saw yesterday has made me reconsider. It’s called GroVert. And it’s simple, really. It consists of a plastic tray with a number of cells. Think of it as a big ice cube tray with the cells angled a bit. When the tray is filled with potting soil and hung with just two screws on the wall, the cells, because they are angled downward, don’t lose any of the soil.
Within each cell you can plant small plants—whatever plants you want, but ones that stay kinda small are best. If the GroVert will be installed outside, then any type of colorful bedding plant will do, or fill with small evergreen groundcovers. If the GroVert will hang indoors, then the typical houseplants will work best.
Here’s a culinary twist: Plant herbs in the cells and hang near your outdoor grill or on the wall in your kitchen. Brilliant!
How do you water it? Another simple concept. Above this tray is a water reservoir. I’m not positive how it works, but I think the water slowly drips from there, trickling downward from cell to cell. And there’s a basin at the base to catch anything that leaches through.
Another cool thing about GroVert is that you can buy a wood frame that fits over and around the tray and reservoir, basically covering the black plastic and turning it into a living piece of art.
Why stop at one? Place two or more together to expand the footprint of your GroVert green wall.
The things I like about GroVert are: 1) it seems easy to install, 2) maintenance is basic enough, 3) there’s options to expand and 4) if the plants don’t do well, removing individual plants and replacing with new ones seems simple.
Where do you find GroVert? Good question! This is a new product and should be appearing in local garden retail stores soon. If I hear of where you can find it, I’ll try to let you know.
Think this will inspire you to create your own green wall? Flowers, foliage or herbs? Leave me a comment and weigh in on the subject!
Homegrown Food Challenge—Days 6 & 7
October 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
No, we did not whither away and die from lack of food after Day 5 of our Homegrown Food Challenge. We survived quite nicely, thank you very much. I’ve just not been … well … in the blogging mood, I guess. If you’re a blogger, you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down. Hey, it happens. I’m back on track now, though, no worries.
Day 6—it was all the way back last Saturday. I had promised we’d kick it up a bit with something for breakfast that was more interesting than yogurt. And we did—omelets! Not an omelet, per se, but more of a flat egg. That’s what my mom called them when I was growing up. It’s just two eggs, slightly beaten and NOTHING added to the eggs, as you would were you making omelets. Just a straight ol’ egg. We added in some local goat cheese and diced homegrown tomato right at the last second, folded and called it breakfast. A slice or two of toasted homemade bread made it a filling meal.
After, Jennifer took off for the weekend to attend to some business, leaving me to fend for myself. Lunch was … honestly, I can’t remember. Must have been the last of the grilled eggplant paninni … yum … By the way, that post was way popular. Way. Popular.
Dinner was when I got creative on Day 6. Earlier in the week I had cooked up some homegrown Vermont cranberry beans. Used the pressure cooker, actually, and the process yielded some terrific bean broth. Add some homegrown leeks, homegrown carrots, and a neighbor’s small bunch of homegrown celery, and it’s the beginning of soup! I added to that the leftover Vermont cranberry beans, some leftover homegrown/homemade tomato sauce, a fading homegrown zucchini and a couple of locally grown potatoes—along with salt, pepper, homegrown oregano and sage. Soup and bread for dinner—the end of a great gardening day.
Our weeklong Homegrown Food Challenge ended not with a big banquet ala Julie and Julia, but on a much more common, everyday note. Plans for going out with a bang—lasagna of homemade pasta, homegrown broccoli, eggplant and kale—faded with the afternoon. Instead we hunkered down, ate our soup and toasted our accomplishment with the last of the local beer.
Next year … I truly wonder what that will bring.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Carrots: They’ll be just fine for a long time yet, thanks to that insulating layer of soil.
Basil: Aaaaccckkk!!!!! I better go harvest that asap. It definitely won’t survive. It doesn’t even like my fridge set much below 45.
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 …
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.
Jalepenos: We have jalepenos??
Broccoli: It’s lovin’ this time of year.
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.
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.
Basil Pesto: Can’t be Easier
August 23, 2011 § 3 Comments
Think of all the good things in life.
Basil. Mmmm … Parmesan cheese … Olive oil … Garlic … Nuts … Chocolate … Okay, wait, drop that last one. All these are tasty on their own, very tasty. But whir them up together in a yummy pasty sauce and you have heaven on a spoon—basil pesto.
Basil is just one of the pesto varieties we make in the Dainty household. There are others. Oh, there are others. But typically, basil pesto is the shining star in so many dishes. A couple of dollops on pasta for a quick on-the-go meal. Spread it cautiously as a pizza topping. And schmear it on some rye bread for a tomato-provolone-pesto grilled cheese. Oh, yeah, I went there. Grilled. Cheese.
The secrets to good basil pesto are two-fold: Great-quality ingredients and a nice ratio of basil:parm:pine nuts:evoo. The amount of garlic, honestly, depends on your tastes. The recipe I use is from an old, back-‘n-the-day Moosewood cookbook called the Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden. Not too much cheese. Not too saucy. Plenty of basil flavor.
Pesto Genovese (from Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden)
- 3 cups loosely packed basil (avoid stems)
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
- 2-3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup evoo
-Place the basil, pine nuts parm and garlic in a food processor. I like to put in half of all the ingredients, give it a whir, and then add the other half and give it a whir. That’s just the best way in my machine – things don’t get jammed in there that way. Be sure everything is chopped evenly. Give it a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
-With the food processor on, sloooooowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. It’ll slowly become paste-like. It may bunch up on the bottom—stop the machine and get all the good stuff from the corners. DON’T add all the oil. Stop the machine, give it a tasty. Good? Needs salt and pepper? Add some. Is the consistency kinda rough and thick and you like it? Then stop. Like it a bit more smooth? Keep whirring and add the remaining oil.
NOTE: The beauty of pesto is this: It can be any way you want it to be. Chunky. Rough. Pasty. Saucy. Hey, you’re the one eating it. Eat what you like.
-When it’s whirred to your liking, use what you intended it for right away.
OR—and this is the important part—take action to keep the pesto’s vibrant, fresh-green color. Here’s how:
-Place the pesto in an airtight food storage container (glass, plastic, whatever) that is large enough to allow some room on top. Smooth the top into a flat layer.
-Drizzle a thin layer of evoo on top so it completely covers the pesto. You don’t need to much but you do need to make sure all the pesto is covered.
This keeps the air from oxidizing the basil and keeps the bright green color. But you’re smaht, I’m sure you already knew that.
Enjoy. And maybe when it’s time to harvest our parsley before the first frost, I’ll share my super-secret recipe for parsley pesto.
Greek Salad Dressing
June 23, 2011 § 3 Comments
Did I mention it’s salad season? We have a plot in the Washington-Rutland Community Garden, right across from Flour Bakery, and it’s spitting out lettuce at a pretty good clip now. What we have most of now, actually, is spinach. It’s late June, and considering the warm temps, its the end of the spinach season. As my garden neighbor said, we had March until Memorial Day, then we had August. No normal spring weather – cool days and nights – to get a really good spinach crop going. Just cold and wet, not very good for seeds to germinate. And when they did finally come up, the seedlings didn’t like the heat. They sent up flower stalks immediately – at just 2 inches tall. Yikes. So what fills my salad spinner now are small, small spinach leaves. But a lot of them. Along with some of my larger lettuce leaves.
And did I mention I recently trimmed our oregano plant? It’s massive, and it was about to flower. To keep an herb going strong through the growing season, I trim off any flowers that pop up. I have a big bag of oregano clippings wrapped in moistened paper towel and sealed in a ziploc bag, sleeping nicely in the fridge. My recipes this week are leaning towards oregano.
What to drizzle over my spinach and lettuce leaves? The Lemon Oregano Vinaigrette is fabulous, but we need a little variety now and then. I found this recipe for a Greek-style dressing online at The Food Network site – it’s by a guy named Ernie? Never heard of him, but he’s got a knack for dressing, that’s for sure.
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/8 cup white wine vinegar (equals 2 tbsp)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt – it calls for “fine salt,” but I used kosher and added a bit more to compensate
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper or dash of cayenne, optional
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
-Use a blender to combine the vinegars, mustard, salt, pepper, red pepper, and garlic on the puree setting. With the motor running, very slowly pour in a steady stream of olive oil to make a smooth dressing. Repeat with the canola oil.
-Transfer the dressing to a glass storage container and mix in the oregano. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Croutons Are Always an Option
January 12, 2011 § 3 Comments
They are facts of life: milk goes sour, lettuce wilts, and bread gets stale.
There’s only so much you can do with sour milk and wilted lettuce. Actually, the only thing I can think of is to pitch them. Stale bread, on the other hand, has more options. You can take your stale bread to the park and feed the pigeons, I suppose. You can save up a bunch of it and make a stuffing.
Or, my fave—make croutons. In fact, sometimes I make bread just for the crouton possibilities.
That oh-so-yummy loaf of whole wheat bread I baked up yesterday will get a bit dense in a couple of days, I know that. I could exclusively eat sandwiches or snack on toast spread with peanut butter for the next 48 hours to make sure the cursed touch of Stale never approaches. I also don’t want to spend all my time on the treadmill burning off the extra.
Instead, I’m perfectly fine with letting the bread take its natural course to staleness. Croutons are always an option.
Croutons are super simple. Give cubed bread a little oil, add salt and pepper to taste, and toast. All that does is give your salad or soup a bit of crunch – maybe not so much flavor.
Guy Fieri’s recipe for croutons gives the toasted bread a flavorful kick. It calls for (word for word):
* 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
* 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
* 1/2 teaspoon paprika
* 2 teaspoons dried parsley
* 1 teaspoon dried basil
* 2 teaspoons garlic paste, (2 cloves garlic smashed with the flat side of a knife and a sprinkle of salt, to make paste)
* 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 4 cups cubed stale Italian bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
Mixed the oil and herbs together. Add bread and toss, put on baking sheet. Toast at 325F for 20-ish minutes. Toss to expose other sides half way through.
Now, that’s all very fine and good. I riff on this recipe quite a bit. We never seem to have dried basil and parsley – only fresh during the gardening season, or only frozen parsley and pesto at other times. I’ll sub in a generous shake of Italian seasoning if I need to.
Plus, I proportion this down to maybe two cups of stale bread—after all, I’m eating as much of that loaf as possible before it gets stale. Watch the oil amounts—you really don’t need that much.
And, when you’re dealing with smaller amounts of croutons, there’s no reason to heat up an entire oven. Toaster ovens are perfect for this. BUT, since the mini oven heats up so much faster, 20 minutes will get you dark brown nuggets instead of flavorful toasties. DO set the toaster oven to 325F, but DON’T step away from it for too long. After 5 minutes, give ’em a look-see and a quick shake. At 10 minutes, consider taking them out to coast in and cool.
Hmm … I should have a photo. Let me get through this loaf of bread first.
Fresh, Homegrown Parsley
January 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
“Fresh garden parsley in January, yo.”
That’s from my “Linguine with Clam Sauce: The Payoff” post. I had bragged about how our homegrown parsley is like Methuselah—it just keeps on keepin’ on even after being in our fridge for nearly two months. What the hell kinda parsley are we using, after all? Plastic?
No, not plastic. In fact, it’s one of those no-named varieties of flat-leafed parsley seedlings we bought from a pop-up garden center back in May. It’s the most gutsy plant we have in our community garden plot, and we couldn’t kill it if we tried. I planted pretty much every seedling that was broadcast-sown in the 4-in. pot we purchased—and every single plant survived.
Here are the growing instructions: Nothing special; water now and then.
I’m not kidding you. Nothing special. And, as a result, the two rows of parsley grew into a small hedge. In fact, it’ll probably come back from the dead when the soil warms this spring.
Just as the living stuff is indestructible, so too is the harvested parsley. Here’s how we prepared and stored the herb:
- Gently wash with cold water.
- Remove stems. Reserve stems for your stash of veggies for making veggie stock.
- Lay leaves flattish on towel to air dry excess water. Best thing about parsley as a plant is that it’s sturdy—it’ll dry before it begins to wilt.
- Once dry, store loosely in zip-lock freezer bag. Put in refrigerator. Since the storage bags are a bit thicker, I think that helps prolong the parsley’s life.
We also stashed six or eight of these zip-locks in the freezer, where it forms frozen sheets. When we run out of the fresh stuff, we’ll break off a corner of the frozen parsley sheet and add it to soups, stews, pasta, and so forth.
More importantly, this is what we DON’T do: Store the parsley wet, wrapped in a moist paper towel in a sealed bag. The humidity just seems to build up along the bag’s sides, eventually making the leaves black and slimy. Sure, we’ll do this if we’re in a hurry or we know we’ll use the whole batch quickly. But it’s not something I’d do for long-term storage.
Will our parsley-storage technique work with the store-bought stuff? I don’t know—we haven’t had to buy the fresh stuff in years. But please do give it a try and let Dainty Dot know the results.
And did I mention, we also have fresh dill from the garden still going strong in the fridge, as well? It’s like a magic tomb, that refrigerator of ours.