Let’s Grow Mushrooms

April 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

As a child I never liked mushrooms. Strike that—I never had the opportunity to eat mushrooms because my parents didn’t like them. Entering adulthood I just stayed away from encounters with mushrooms, picking them off the late-night pizzas ordered with friends at college and steering clear of them on Chinese food take-out menus.

Time has moved on, and so have my taste buds. I now love mushrooms. The earthier the mushroom, the better. Every shopping trip sees me sorting through the bins of different kinds. What a silly kid I was, I think as I marvel at the fresh and dried fungi.

This is the year I stop relying so heavily on store-bought mushrooms and I attempt to grow my own. With the popularity of “grow-your-own” everything—from bean sprouts to dinosaur kale to heirloom tomatoes—several different companies now offer grow-your-own mushroom kits. There are two that I know of:

Back to the Roots: Probably the most well-known of the mushroom-growing kits, the Back to the Roots kit promises to produce up to 1.5 pounds of pearl oyster mushrooms in about 10 days, and can produce at least two crops worth of mushrooms—maybe even three crops. Each box, which is shaped like a cardboard milk carton, contains 100% recycled plant-based waste which performs as the growing medium. Just open the lid, mist with water, and set it by a sunny window. How convenient to grow indoors!  www.backtotheroots.com

Back to the Roots Pearl Oyster Mushroom Kit

Back to the Roots Pearl Oyster Mushroom Kit

Happy Cat Farm: This organic seed producer from Southeastern Pennsylvania offers a Shiitake Mushroom Log for outdoor mushroom growing. The log comes inoculated with a strain of mushroom spawn. Given proper shade and moisture, the log will produce shiitake mushrooms every 8-12 weeks for several years. Just place the log right on the ground in a place like a shaded mulched planting bed and keep it moist. If it dries out for more than a week, soak the log overnight in a container of water and it’ll be as good as new.  www.happycatorganics.com

Happy Cat Shiitake Mushroom Log

Happy Cat Shiitake Mushroom Log

Zucchini Tomato Mozzarella Sliders

July 27, 2012 § 4 Comments

Zucchini. It doesn’t stop.

Turn around for a minute and the long green veggie is 3 inches longer on the vine. Not kidding. Hold off on picking it for a day and … well … it becomes a billy club. Growing up, we’d throw the very large zukes into the pig pen. Healthy, zucchini-loving pigs, that’s what we had.

Lately, thoughts during my 25-minute walk back home from yoga have turned to how to use that day’s zucchini. Pizza. Pasta. Salad. I’ve done them all and wanted something different. Last night, my craving for a burger—really, the craving for something meaty between two bready buns—decided dinner for me. Why should sliders be reserved for meat eaters? Zucchini can play that game, too.

Ingredientszucchini tomato mozzarella sliders
1 5-6 in. zucchini
2 tbs olive oil
1+tbs balsamic vinegar
1 spring oregano
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 small French rolls, cut into top and bottom halves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1-2 tbs olive oil
1 deliciously red heirloom tomato
mozzarella

1. Slice zucchini into rounds slightly thicker than 1/2 in. Discard (or eat!) the smaller rounds. Shoot for using 12 rounds.

2. Combine oil, vinegar, oregano, a big pinch of kosher salt and several turns of the pepper grinder in a medium bowl. Dip your finger in there and adjust seasoning if you’d like (more vinegar? more oil? It’s your food—make it taste the way you like!). Add zucchini slices and toss. Put aside.

3. Smash those garlic cloves with the back of your chef’s knife (on a cutting board, of course) and schmear it together until the garlic becomes kinda pasty. You can add a sprinkle of salt or not. Add this to a small bowl of 1-2 tbs olive oil. Brush this oil onto the bun halves.

4. Set a grill pan onto medium-high heat. When it’s hot, place buns, cut side down, onto the pan and flatten slightly. 10-15 seconds will do. Put grilled buns into a bowl and cover with a tea towel for now. Turn off grill pan.

5. Meanwhile … we’re still waiting for the zucchini to marinate a bit. Take this time to make a small side salad and whip up a quick vinaigrette.

6. Okay, done with the salad? Time to move on. Get that grill pan back up to medium high. Place your zucchini rounds onto the grill pan. Using a brush, dab some of the liquid remaining in the bowl onto each slice. Let them sit for 4-5 min, or until they get some nice-looking grill marks on the bottom.

7. While those are grilling, slice the tomato into 6 slices and add to whatever liquid remains in the bottom of that bowl.

8. Mozzarella. Time to slice it. Slice it about 1/4 in. thick or less, and into whatever size will sit nicely on top of a zucchini round.

9. Back to those zucchinis. They should be ready to flip onto the other side. Do that. Then place a bit of mozzarella on top of each. Let them grill for a minute.

10. Get your buns ready, working with one top and bottom at a time. This part is optional: Make some room in that grill pan and place the buns cut side down into the goodness the zucchini has been cooking in. Only takes a second, and remove quickly. If not doing that: Place one zucchini slice onto the bun bottom, and overlap a second on top of that. Add a slice of tomato. Top it off with other half of the bun. Repeat with the remaining zukes and buns.

Super. Good. I ate one and a half. Coulda had two. Or three.

Enjoy. I’m off to make zucchini bread now.

Do you have a favorite zucchini recipe? Share it in the comments section.

 

Cilantro Pesto

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.

Ingredientscilantro pesto

  • 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.

Chive Vinaigrette

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:

Chive vinaigrette


  • 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.

GroVert vertical garden

GroVert vertical garden

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.

Breakfast:
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.

homegrown omelet

Lunch:
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:
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.

Day 7

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.

Homegrown Food Challenge—Day 5

October 16, 2011 § 6 Comments

Has this been the longest week ever? Were there 10 days in this particular week? God, it just seems never-ending. What is up with that, calendar?

Not to imply that the Homegrown Food Challenge is getting old. It’s not. As I said yesterday, we actually have too much food to work with, and I haven’t end gotten around to using our homegrown leeks and beets and … whaddaya know … we have a head of broccoli ready to go.

It’s just that, well, I’m realizing how boring my breakfast (or lack of it) is becoming. It’s the same, every time. Coffee, well, duh, I require daily morning intakes. It’s just the non-liquids that go along with that meal. It’s not as mind-numbing as the time in Jr. High that I ate a Toaster Strudel every day for two years. But … unless I’m going to have home-baked baked goods for breakfast, I’m not so sure I have any thrilling alternatives. Suggestions, anyone?

On to Day 5, which, I must admit, was borderline local …

Breakfast:
Flat Black coffee with Maine’s Own Organic milk. Stonyfield yogurt. Local apple. Thank god for good coffee.

Lunch:
I feel almost sinful having the grilled eggplant paninni with smoky mayo two days in a row. But I did. And I loved it. Really and truly. No tomato this time.

Dinner:
Another local eatery. This time with our new-found friend who was flying solo that night. We headed to Gaslight. No, they aren’t a struggling local place that needs our money. But the place has darn-good food and surely the fish on the menu is local, right? And the broccoli rabe under the fish, I hope. The Harpoon IPA definitely was local. Ring it up—we liked it all.

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