Wednesday, May 8, 2013

In Ground and In Pots

 I have a section of the garden that has small pots full of herbs next to the raised beds. The pots allow me to move things around as the season changes. And hopefully, when winter comes I'll be able to move some of the pots indoors, for fresh herbs all winter.

Here there's thyme, cilantro and purple basil. I want lots of purple basil, so I can use the leaves to make glorious basil jelly!

This container has my special "On The Deck" corn seeds sprouting. This type of corn is supposed to be able to bear well even in a half whiskey barrel. I have this one that's sprouted already, and a second one that is planted but not sprouted yet, to extend the hoped-for sweet corn  harvest. 

I've never grown corn before, my little raised beds are kind of small for it to be successful, but I'm hoping these new seeds from Burpee will turn out well in this container.

This raised bed has all herbs, onions and garlic. Some herbs are perennials, like rosemary, so this bed doesn't get changed out every season like some of the others. This is the bed the harvested garlic bulbs came from. See how some are lying on their sides? It's probably time to get them out, too.

It's so nice to run out to the garden, snip some parsley and rosemary, cut some cilantro and thyme, and run back in to the kitchen and use it! I used to dread it when recipes called for "fresh parsley" or "sprigs of fresh rosemary" - but now I love it!

I have onions, garlic, cilantro, two kinds of sage, rosemary, parsley and bee balm in this bed. I hope by summertime it will be tall and fragrant and bushy with fresh herbs for the kitchen. It is 4 foot by four foot in size.

Monday, May 6, 2013

It's a Yogurt Thing

This is what happens to fresh ripe strawberries. Loaded up with homemade yogurt on top of almond cake. Tastes like springtime, tart and creamy. Sometimes with a drizzle of local honey on top.

I make my own yogurt every other week. I never liked yogurt much, until I tried making it at home and tasted it. It's fantastic when it's freshly made, nothing like the store's yogurt, with its long list of ingredients.

For a starter I use 2% Fage Yogurt because it has 4 cultures in it, and for the milk I splurge and get a gallon of organic milk.
I make the yogurt in the crockpot. I've never had a batch fail, and it really doesn't take that much time.

Before I do anything, I boil water in the kettle and sterilize everything. The crockpot and its lid, the ladle and whisk. Anything that's going to touch the milk gets a boiling water bath, to make sure only the good bacteria get a chance at the milk.

This is 10 cups of organic milk in the crockpot. I turn it on high and cover with a dishtowel, checking every so often until the milk is 180 degrees F.

I check with a candy thermometer until it reaches the right temperature. I try not to boil the milk, turning the crockpot off when the milk reaches 180 degrees.

I like a thick yogurt, so I add 1/3 cup of powdered dry milk per quart. I take some of the hot milk out of the crockpot with the ladle into a sterilized two-cup measuring cup, add the dry milk to that, and use the whisk to mix together. It's too hard to get all the lumps out if you add the dry milk directly to the whole crockpot at once.

Sometimes I add the dry milk in two batches, to make sure there's enough milk to really mix them together well before putting the hot milk back into the crockpot with the remainder of the milk.

I keep the Fage yogurt out on the counter so it can reach room temperature. It isn't time to add it to the milk yet, but that way when it is time it isn't refrigerator temperature when it's added in.

If honey, sugar or vanilla extract are added, this is the time, and they are added the same way as the dry milk. Then the cover goes back on the crockpot and it cools down until it is 110 degrees F. That can take an hour or so depending on the temperature of the room.

When the thermometer reads 110 degrees F, some of the milk is taken out and put into the 2-cup measuring cup, the starter yogurt is added and whisked in well, and all of it is added back to the main crockpot mixture.

Wrapped in a large beach towel, the covered crockpot is put into the oven with the oven light on overnight. The oven light puts out just enough warmth to maintain the 110 degrees for 8 to 10 hours in the oven. But don't forget and turn the oven on!

I usually put the crockpot in the oven before bedtime and take it back out the next morning. The yogurt has firmed up, and it's ready to be ladled into sterilized mason jars. If I plan to make frozen yogurt, I will use a quart jar and make the full gallon of milk. With 10 cups, I like to use the small mason jars with lids, and use one per day at breakfast and on desserts.

Here's a week's supply or so, depending on how many I eat each day, and whether I use a recipe to cook with some of it. It's sweet, tart and thick like cream. Super deluxe on anything you add it to.

With vanilla wafers on the bottom of a bowl, bananas cut up in the middle, a generous dollup of homemade yogurt with local honey drizzled on top - it's just like banana pudding!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cooking With A Green Thumb

This is the first yellow squash of the season. It was raised from seed started in February, and already it's fruiting, here at the very beginning of May.

The garden is varied, with raised beds combined with containers and hanging planters. The main idea is to maximize the amount of food coming out of a small space, including herbs, fruits and vegetables. The raised beds are either 4 foot by 4 foot or 3 by 3, to make it easy to reach inside the beds and take care of the plants. The cedar planks separating the beds are walkways, and keep the weeds down. Plus, they look nice next to the cedar raised beds.

The lettuce is doing really well. We eat a fresh garden salad almost every night. I planted more mixed lettuce seeds yesterday, hoping to get more started before the really hot weather starts.

I've never raised strawberries before, and last October I found two of these strawberry jars on sale and bought them. This spring I filled them with strawberry plants. And look! They are making fruit already, and turning red! These strawberries are nothing like what you find in the store - they are sweet and red all the way to the center of the berry. Strawberries are perennials, so I hope to get even more plants going soon, now that I've seen what I need to do to raise them.

This is the pole bean tee-pee. They have reached the six foot high top already, and are trying for the sky now. I need to cut the growing tips off the tops, so they will bush out more from the bottom. They are blooming like crazy, and baby beans are starting on them. I planted them in February and covered them with a mini-greenhouse until they sprouted and got several inches high. They are Fortex and Kentucky Wonder pole beans. I hope to be harvesting some fresh green beans soon.

And the zucchini is starting to bloom. It always amazes me how huge their leaves get. They are inside a frame with a bug netting over them, to keep the squash bugs off of them.

Tonight the low is going to be in the lower 40 degrees. Chilly for the first week of May. But the garden seems to like the cooler temperatures. With raised beds to grow in, and containers, it's easier to cover them if the temperatures dip down too low overnight.

Eventually the squash, strawberries and beans will be harvested like the lettuce and end up on the menu!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bulbs of Flavor

In October, the garlic bulbs went into the ground in the garden beds. Not having grown garlic before, there was a sense of discovery in planting it. Over the long winter, it grew big stalks and kept an area looking alive and green in the winter garden beds in the months of short, cold days.

The garlic is called "Kilarney Red" - but the planted cloves were white. The books say that when the stalks start to fall over and the lower leaves turn brown, it's time to pull up the garlic. So a few were tentatively dug up, to find fully formed cloves underground.

Growing from October until May from a single clove each, these bulbs are now drying on a rack so they will keep for later use. The outer skins will turn papery and thin, and the bulbs sweet and mild.

It's easy to see now why the bulbs of this garlic is called Kilarney Red!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy May Day Feast

Beet, mint and lentil salad served chilled.

Fresh hot brussel sprouts pan-seared with a coating of asiago cheese, grated right before it goes into the bowl.

Mesquite grilled pork loin.
What a dinner on Sunday evening!

The brussel sprouts came home with me on Saturday from Inglewood Farm Harvest Barn, and they are so pretty. Like tiny cabbages.

Cut in half, they're rolled in a bowl with a generous dollop of olive oil before going into a hot saucepan.

Cooked flat side down first to get a nice crust, then rolled over to let the back side get toasted too. It doesn't take very long, but it adds so much to the flavor cooking them this way. When they come out of the pan, the fresh grated asiago cheese is sprinkled over them while they're still warm.
Best eaten right away, crispy and good!
There's a recipe you can check out here.

The beets also came from Inglewood Farms. I cut the tops off but saved those for a salad later. There's also fresh picked mint and dried lentils to be added to the beets.

Look at those bright red beets. Beautiful!

Boil until tender, cool slightly then cut up into small cubes. Once boiled, the outer skins just peel right off, and they are shiny red globes!

Lentils don't have to be soaked before cooking like so many dried beans. They cook up very quickly, in 20 minutes or less.

 Spread out flat into a clear pan, they will cool off quickly so they can be added to the waiting beet cubes.

Vinagrette dressing in a mason jar, fresh and waiting to go over everything, to give a lift and a zing to the flavors. Add all the dressing ingredients, put on the jar lid and give it a good shaking to mix them up well.

Rolled mint leaves, cut into thin strips, are put over the top of this salad just before serving, with the addition of the vinaigrette dressing to boot. All put together, it has a beautiful color and tastes just wonderful. Served cold, it does improve in taste the next day. All the fresh vegetables provide a flavor boost that's impossible to beat!

And healthy ... Here's a recipe to get you started.