August 31, 2008

Pushing the Limits

Last post for August - wow. It's kind of a relief and kind of a bummer to be at the end of the garden season. There isn't as much pressing on you each day - ripening, ripening, ripening - but obviously the end to the fresh veggies is a big let down. So we're making the most of every little bit and pushing our creativity with what's left. This was a side dish made from the very last of the cherry tomatoes and the little bit of green beans we harvested from our sluggish green bean plants. I sauteed some shallots in olive oil and then added the tomatoes and the steamed green beans. It was so simple but so tasty.


Another thing that dwindled out from the garden this week was eggplant. I'm not interested in the tedious process recommended to blanch, treat, and freeze eggplant, so we just used it up in as many ways as I could convince DH to try! He's not the biggest fan of the stuff and making an Eggplant Tomato Pie was certainly pushing the limits in our kitchen. Here's the pie in progress. This photo shows the part where you layer tomato slices in the middle of the eggplant filling layers - I never cease to be thrilled at the color of our tomatoes!



This is the finished product - very, very good. The topping includes bread crumbs, flax seed (because we were out of wheat germ), and a little Parmesan cheese - can't be too bad right? The recipe is from my old favorite - Joy of Gardening Cookbook.



Next we'll push the limits of our growing season. Our plan for Labor Day is to put a few fall crops in the garden. However, we've definitely reached our limit of patience in fighting weeds, so we'll see how committed we are to this fall crop idea in the end!

Well, this is all then.

August 29, 2008

Freezathon and Food Facts

I like to use a method called "flash freezing" for things like peppers, onions, rhubarb, berries - things that don't have to be blanched before they're frozen. Flash freezing just means that you spread out whatever you're freezing in a single layer and once it's frozen you transfer it into another container.

This allows you to take out just the amount you need for a recipe later on, rather than having everything frozen in a big clump. It's just as simple as wash, trim, chop and freeze. I leave some things whole, like berries and hot peppers. I use cookie sheets or another flat surface, covered with plastic wrap - that way if there's a little water on the produce it won't freeze and stick to the cookie sheet. It takes at least a couple of hours before things are completely frozen and you just have to keep checking it. Next you dump it all into freezer bags or containers, label, and put it back in the freezer. These are part of the hot peppers, rhubarb, and green peppers that I froze today - it's fast!

Now for the food safety bit - True or False? Once something is frozen, it can be kept safely in your freezer indefinitely. Answer is False. Even in a freezer there is a shelf life to everything. Food really can go bad in there. Check out this website - Clemson Extension Office. They have a chart that tells you how long you can safely freeze or refrigerate foods. You'll see that some things aren't ever recommended for the freezer. You may go running to your freezer for a grand clean-out after you read the chart!

Also, when it comes to methods for freezing or canning foods, you HAVE to educate yourself for the safety of your families. You should never take advice on storing food, including mine, without verifying that it's sound advice. There are lots of bad practices out there (like canning food in the oven - ahhh - nooo!!!) so get a good, updated book from the library or visit your local extension office to get your own sound information. There's an extension office in virtually every county in the country - Cooperative Extension System Offices - and there's a home economist in most of them (as well as a master gardener) and they have expert advice as well as many publications (free or cheap) to help you along. Lots of them hold classes on canning, etc. Lots of them also have information on the web like the site above. Some of you know that I have a degree in food science and nutrition and you may think that based on that fact, I know what I'm talking about when it comes to food preservation, but let me just say that I graduated in December of 1982 and lots of things have changed!!! I try to keep up and be informed myself, but I could easily leave out an important step when I'm blogging simply because I didn't think to include it, so again GET YOUR OWN INFORMATION BEFORE YOU BEGIN STORING FOOD FOR YOUR FAMILY! Sorry, don't mean to yell but I'm very convicted about this since bad experiences make people give up the practice of preserving and that's a shame since it's a good thing to do!

One more question - True or False? Fresh produce is always the best. Answer is False. No, I haven't lost my mind here! If you're getting your produce directly from the garden or a local farmer's market, then fresh would be best. But...if it's from the grocery store, you may not always be getting what you think you're getting. Many things come from a long distance and are picked when they aren't yet ripe so they'll arrive at the store with fewer dings - we like our produce to look pretty! The nutrients develop as the fruits and veggies ripen, so you're losing out right from the start with these items sometimes. Also, they've been bred to look good rather than taste the best, so some flavor is going to be lost as well. The other problem is that the longer something sits around in a warehouse or on the shelf at the store, the more nutrients it loses. Again, do your own research but don't be afraid to use canned or frozen fruits and veggies. These have been harvested when they are at their peak and the nutrients are basically locked in by the canning or freezing process. Some major universities have done studies showing how comparable the nutrients are in canned, frozen, and quality fresh vegetables - look on the web. Of course you want to watch out for high sodium content or fatty sauces, but again, most frozen and canned veggies and fruits are really good choices when the "fresh" stuff at the store doesn't float your boat.

Well, this is all then.

August 27, 2008

Taking Stock

I've been under the weather for the past couple of days - either a summer cold or allergies?? So on this rainy Wednesday in Iowa it's a good time to think through where we are in the garden and what still needs doing. Even though the garden looks dilapidated and weed choked, it's still pushing out the produce - eggplant, green peppers, hot peppers, cantaloupe, zucchini (one at a time!), rhubarb, green beans, a second round of chard, and of course tomatoes!

We've been thinking about what varieties of veggies we liked this year and what we didn't, how much of each do we really want or need, and then there are other aspects like the garden layout to think over. We've had to reconsider our tomato cage choices once again this year. Last year we used the useless ones you see at every garden store. They were overwhelmed in no time by our vigorous plants and after one big storm mid-summer, the whole business blew over into a giant heap of tomato plants. We thought we had it licked this year by making our own cages out of the wire shown in this shot:


BUT - when you've got these monsters coming out of the garden, this size cage is a big problem!


This is one of the heirlooms we grew this year (don't ask what kind they are - see Turnip Town). They are huge, meaty and wonderful but you can't get them out of the cages! DH had to resort to cutting the cages apart to free the tomatoes and we both have the scratch marks from the exposed wire edges to attest to the fact that this solution is not optimal! Back to the drawing board.

Taking stock of what we've put up so far - we've frozen pesto, roasted tomatoes, tomato juice, beet slices, beet puree, strawberries, and succotash. This week my plan is to add more roasted tomatoes, rhubarb, corn, peppers, and applesauce to the freezer as well. I've canned pickles and salsa, and we've stored turnips, onions and shallots. Depending on how many apples we get from Uncle J, I'd love to make some apple butter too - such a treat for Thanksgiving especially. Once I get brave enough I'll also try that elusive currant jam again! Hmm...Lord willing, it promises to be a tasty winter. I feel better already!

Well, this is all then.

August 25, 2008

Scattered Mind

My mind has been flitting wildly from one thing to the next today and that never fails to result in a disaster of some sort - as it did today. Not a big disaster but not fun either!

The first flit was taking a picture of our pond this morning since the rising mist made it look like it was smoldering. In all four seasons, we're often waylaid in the morning and evening by the beautiful scenes down there.
Then I thought I'd take a photo of the colorful pile of produce that I would soon be turning into salsa. Too bad I didn't stop flitting and just get down to making the salsa. Really a shame.

Because the next flit took me out to our front porch to take a photo of this beautiful hyacinth bean vine that I had been meaning to photograph for a couple of days. A gal from the library brought in these nice bean seeds and I took some home in early summer and poked them into the mud at the base of our porch and out came this lovely vine plant, which has now produced striking purple pods and orchid-like flowers. They're apparently not edible but they are gorgeous and it's a fast growing plant which is always nice.

O.K. Now I'm ready to get back to business and get the salsa started - except for one problem. Because we had a weekend house guest who wouldn't quit playing with the door locks, I'm locked out of the house!!! I do mean really, really locked out since we don't have a keypad on our garage door (never got around to it in two years) and the last time someone used the hidden spare key, it never got replaced. Fantastic!!! I'm in a questionable state of dress, no shoes, no phone, neighbors have gone to work, and anyone else is too far away for me to walk to on the gravel road with no shoes. So I'm stuck, I'm starting to cry like a wimp, I'm praying to God for mercy, and I'm circling the house hoping for unlocked windows, all the while looking like someone who escaped from the funny farm! I'm taking the screens off the front windows and using a piece of wire from a planter to try to move the lock on the window - no luck. Using the same wire trying to pick the lock on the door handle - no luck. About 45 min. has now passed. Then as I was about to circle the house again, out of sheer habit at this point, I noticed our security sign - that little sign you put in your yard to warn would-be burglars that you have enough home security to make it annoying for them to break in -and suddenly I had a flash back to 18 years ago when someone helped us get back into a brand new house by sliding a credit card into the crack between the door and the door frame. I felt the sign and decided that it was about the same width as a credit card and why not try it? I plucked it up, stake and all, and took it to the front door. I held onto the stake and forced the sign into the crack, slid it down... and that door popped open like Ali Baba had said "Open Sesame"!!!! Whewwwyyy!!! I was really crying now - in gratitude for answered prayer and for the memory of the "helpful" person who broke into our house 18 years ago!!!

Moral of the story - your home security sign is more useful than you think - OR - quit playing with your camera and get your salsa made!

Well, this is all then.

August 22, 2008

It's a Process

This time of year you do a lot of processing to keep up with the tomatoes! Lots of work but lots of reward. We conservatively picked 30 lbs. of tomatoes this week and when you have that much excess you get to do some of the tomato intensive things like tomato juice. We made a delicious batch by adding celery, onion, parsley and hot peppers to the tomatoes. Here's what it looked like after it was cooked and going through the food mill.

And here is the finished product! 5 quarts for the freezer and one cup for DH! Can't you just smell the vegetable soup cooking this winter? Mmmm...

And there was more processing going on in our house too. The lima beans were all ready to be shelled and blanched. Then we blanched several ears of corn as well and put them together to make succotash for the freezer. We'll use it just as it is and also in a recipe for Brunswick stew. I've lived in Georgia twice in my life and that stew was a favorite both times. What a great use for our first crop of limas! Here's a picture of DH cutting the corn off the cob for the succotash. Please forgive the garrish plastic table cloth - we needed a big workspace in a hurry! Also, ignore that messy desk in the background there - it's just a figment of your imagination anyway.


In the midst of all the processing, there's still time to make a nice dinner from the garden. This is zucchini, green beans, shallot and tomato making a sauce for pasta and shrimp. Very good and quick too. A big ripe tomato just about turns itself into a meal I think. No processing necessary!


Well, this is all then.

August 20, 2008

Farewell

We had a lovely farewell meal for our baby, who is going off for another year of school. She made pot stickers for us and of course the meal had to include a "pile" of tomatoes and two pieces of corn for each of us. This meal was a little eclectic to say the least! For the sweet finale, we had a blueberry/raspberry crisp using the berries from my Uncle J's garden - fantastic! He brought them to us last night and I think that a treat from his garden for DD before she goes off to school in the fall has become a tradition with him. Last year he shared some cantaloupe and part of his watermelon that had just won a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair - yes it was over the moon good! And so was this dessert!

On a much sadder note, we say farewell to a brother in Christ, a member of our church who was killed in a tragic accident today. We will miss his presence but rejoice in knowing that he is at peace with our Saviour. We give thanks for this comfort in our sorrow.

August 19, 2008

Beautiful

...and sweet, and juicy and one of the foods that has just recently been touted as SO good for you! Well of course it is! It can't be a coincidence that the tastiest things on God's green earth are also very good for us right?! You think maybe there was a design there???? It is interesting to know that one of the newer antioxidants discussed in food recently is lycopene and we keep hearing about it in tomatoes, but watermelon actually has three times as much as tomatoes. Right now our family can't get enough of either one of these two things from our garden. We were excited to share our first ripe watermelon and we took some down to my grandmother yesterday. And speaking of beautiful. Here is 98 and 18...truly beautiful.



Well, this is all then.

August 16, 2008

Tomato Town

Unlike Turnip Town, Tomato Town is the place you want to be! Some tomatoes pictured here are heirlooms and some the standard type. We've been picking the really large ones a little early and letting them ripen inside. If we let them go too long outside they split, which is a big bummer. They're all so beautiful but I love the yellow ones with the red blush. The taste of all of them makes it really hard to buy tomatoes in the grocery store!

Can you eat tomatoes with all three meals of the day? We love to. Cherry tomatoes are great with scrambled eggs and toast, and a typical English breakfast, like we re-create at home a lot, includes broiled tomatoes. For lunch and dinner you obviously know the many ways to enjoy tomatoes but sometimes all you need is a plain old tomato sandwich - bread, butter, tomatoes, S&P -mmm. And in DD's words, "I'll just have a PILE of tomatoes for my lunch!" She's going back to cafeteria food soon and wants to savor the real stuff before it's too late!

Of course we're eating lots of fresh tomatoes, but now we're getting into the fun stuff of preserving them as well. We're trying a very new idea to us - roasted tomato sauce. I enjoyed roasting the tomato along with the cauliflower so much that I thought we might try roasting a lot of tomatoes at once and freezing it in batches for things like pizza, spaghetti, and Mexican dishes this winter. The first attempt I made resulted in two very charred jelly roll pans (which DH very patiently cleaned up - thanks!). I kept wanting to cook them just a little more so that the liquid would evaporate, but I let it go too long. We decided that I needed to slice them thinner and we decided to squeeze the seeds out as well. I always feel like I'm murdering the poor tomato and wasting something that's tasty, but I know that the wet pulpy part is not always so useful. We tried roasting again with the seeded tomato pieces, sprayed the pans well with a high temperature canola oil spray, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled on salt and pepper and put them in a 425 degree oven. They're just a little sticky to the touch when they're done. It took about 40 minutes altogether for this batch. They turned out just how we wanted them to. The flavor is so intensified when you roast them - ohhhh!! Here's before roasting and after roasting:



This is our supper of grilled chicken with the roasted tomatoes over the top, all being soaked up by some French bread that DH made. We added olives, shallots, and basil to the tomatoes when we reheated them and the whole thing was fabulous. We watch Jamie Oliver's show on the Food Network Channel and we drool over not only the food but his gorgeous garden as well - of course he does have a gardener! He inspired our dinner here, but he made his with sausages that were roasted along with the tomatoes. Our version has a little less cholesterol but man oh man, those sausages looked heavenly!

Well, this is all then.

August 12, 2008

Olympic Inspiration


Chinese Hot Pot - or our version of it anyway! I was watching the "Today Show" a fews days ago, which you may know has been broadcasting from Beijing during the Olympics, and I saw the chef they've been using for segments on Chinese cooking. He made a Hot Pot that looked so good and seemed like a special way to use the very last of our bok choy and snow peas. I was intending to make a plain old stir-fry but this looked like something worth trying, and it was! If we had done it authentically, it would have been a bit like fondue, but cooking the meat and veggies in a hot broth rather than oil. We chose to cook everything together at one time and serve it over the rice noodles. The meat we used was a thinly sliced, marinated, flat iron steak. Yummy.

Has anyone else been drooling over the street food they've been showing over there in Beijing? Wow it looks fantastic.

Well, this is all then.

August 11, 2008

Treasure Hunt

Lots of wonderful things were hiding from us in the garden today. The most wonderful were these three ripe ears of Iowa corn!! And yes, DH was definitely the one who got to pick them. We brought it in, cooked it, and ate it right up -ohhhh, it was worth the wait. Looking forward to more, and it won't be long. So far, no raccoons have made it past the fence, so far, so far...


When your garden is a little wild like ours right now, you never know what might be hiding in the vine jungle. I found watermelon and cantaloupe growing faster than we had realized and more of them than we knew.


















The other little hidden treasures were these developing Lima beans. We opened a few pods and tested them and they are so sweet! These are one of DH's favorites and I think they're going to prove worthy of space in the garden next year too. This is another vegetable that we've never grown so it's been interesting to learn it's habits. Now we just need to figure out the perfect time to bring them in and start the shelling.


We've been eating more good things since DD's been home. Our last cabbage went into a curried, cashew coleslaw for Sunday dinner with our pastor's family. If you want the great recipe for the chicken curry that we had there, go to this site - Amanda. We made another round of eggplant Parmesan since DD pouted when she found out we had it while she was still away. We've eaten lots of fresh tomatoes, more zucchini bread, and we also tried Ellie Krieger's recipe for zucchini Parmesan crisps. They're wonderful and if you leave them sitting on the cookie sheet for just a few minutes after they come out of the oven, they firm up and are even better. Here's the link to the recipe on the Food Network site - Ellie Krieger.

Well, this is all then.

August 8, 2008

Bread 'N Butter Pickles

Mission accomplished - yeah! The pickles are done. Bread and butter pickles are our favorite of all pickles, and homemade are so different from the ones you buy. My grandmother was famous for her bread and butter pickles so they have a nostalgic value for me too. My recipe comes from the Ball canning book which is sold in most places that sell canning supplies. It's a standard and very useful. Starting last year I made one change which was to slice the cucumbers and onions on a mandoline, making them very thin of course. We all really liked them that way. I love to make these pickles but I'm honestly intimidated by the whole process of canning even after all the times I've done it. I would be devastated if I ever caused anyone to get sick from something I canned, so I'm even more particular than usual when I can anything. And don't let anyone tell you that it's not a tedious process - it is. But it's also well worth it when you can make something your family loves.

Here are some of our onions and shallots. This was our first time growing shallots and it was a good success. DH is researching various ways to store them. I'm just using them up in the meantime! I decided to experiment a little bit and use half onions and half shallots in the pickles. Shallots are so high priced in a grocery store that I would probably never have done this had I not had them available in the garden, and the result was really nice. It gives a mild garlic kind of taste to the pickles.

Here are the cucumbers and onions in the "layer with salt, cover with ice, and let them sit for 1.5 hours" step.

Everything in the pot - my new canner with the lifting rack that I've never had before, and it made a nice difference. For one thing it solved the problem of how to keep the jars hot before they're filled. I just kept the rack lifted up over the boiling water and kept the empty jars on the rack until the pickles were hot and ready to go in the jars. Much easier than other things I've tried.

The finished product, with our pond in the background, gives me a good summer feeling in spite of the weird month we've had! Updates on us - DH is healing very well and can drive again as of this morning. And, today was DD's last day of work at the camp and she was over the moon to be picked up in the "new" car we got for her today!

We are blessed again and again.

August 7, 2008

Feasting


He's feasting on all the bugs around here. In this shot he's hanging off the wall on the front porch. Go praying mantis, go!! We have more than enough bugs to go around. Any of our friends who have little entomologists - you are welcome to bring them out here anytime. You'd end up with a first class 4H project in about 15 minutes!

We've been feasting too. Things just keep rolling in from the garden. Last night's meal was deluxe. We fixed stuffed peppers, the beet salad in this picture, which was dressed with sherry vinaigrette, rosemary goat cheese and toasted walnuts (ooohhhh!), and I roasted my one and only cauliflower with one of our sliced up tomatoes until the tomato was caramelized - indescribably sweet. DH was more than happy to share the love! I thought I'd be eating that cauliflower alone but anyone would have been inspired to eat it this way or...maybe his foot surgery has changed his palette!

Some more things are done in the garden - snow peas as of last night since it's finally too hot, a turban squash vine that mysteriously died, and the zucchini plant is fading. That's fine with me since we've enjoyed just enough zucchini and not too much. Yesterday I froze beets and needed to clean out the freezer. I discovered 4 containers of grated zucchini from last year - was I nuts?!! I actually grated, blanched, and froze all that zucchini. Now as I've said, I don't like to let things go to waste, but this was insanity! Life's too short to stand over boiling water and fish out tiny bits of blanched zucchini all for the sake of a loaf of quick bread or a muffin in the future - jeesh!

All of these things will be considered as we plan for next year's garden. We're getting a pretty clear plan for what we like to grow, what we like to eat, and what's worth the trouble of preserving. It's fun to give things away too and we've done more of that this year. Last Sunday I took beets to church, along with instructions on how to roast them, and they all were taken, which surprised me. Maybe I've hit on a new idea - you can unload excess garden goodies more successfully if you provide instructions or a recipe! People just need a little inspiration and they will be feasting too!'

Well, this is all then.

August 4, 2008

Beets and Basil

We spent the weekend catching up with pressing garden tasks. DH had some foot surgery today and worked like crazy in the garden before he was sidelined for a few weeks. I've challenged him to get well soon so that he can pick the first corn himself! Here he is below, picking good things for dinner Friday night. Among other things, we made zucchini bread, grilled veggies, and a 90's style Chinese cabbage salad with a twist of added snow peas, broccoli , and thin sliced cucumbers.This shot was taken before he tilled up a good third of the garden. We're considering lettuce, spinach, cabbage, peas and brussels sprouts for an autumn planting. We'll see how much motivation we have after we finish with all the tomatoes and corn to come!

Here are the beets that I roasted over the weekend. They look kind of homely after they're cooked but they sure make pretty puree when they're done! I have Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook Deceptively Delicious, and I just love the recipes in there. The cookbook is supposed to give ideas for getting kids to eat veggies in interesting ways, but they're also very healthy - high fiber, low fat, and packed with extra nutrition because of the purees in them. I've tried a number of the recipes with good success. Some of these beet purees will probably make it into her recipe for chocolate cake - chocolate with no guilt is what it sounds like to me!

DH made pesto over the weekend too. We followed the recipe and the suggestion in Joy of Gardening and froze it in dollops on cookie sheets. Now I will admit that it's not the most appetizing looking result, but once it's thawed and tossed with hot pasta or potatoes in the dead of winter - it will be a beautiful thing for sure! You can make out two different colors of pesto here and we discovered that the globe basil makes a much prettier and tastier pesto - at least for our palates. I didn't realize how different basil varieties really are. I know that some bruise almost immediately when you tear them, which for me is not appealing in a food dish. I'll have to do some more research before we pick plants next year.

This week's preserving goal is pickles. We'll see how well we both sleep this week with a bandaged foot in the bed and whether or not we have the energy to can. I hope so!

Well, this is all then.

August 1, 2008

Pretty Happy


Here's the pretty...


It's our one and only cauliflower baby this year but boy is it a beauty. I'm the only cauliflower lover in this house so this is all mine!


And here's the happy...


So very, very happy! This eggplant Parmesan was great. I didn't know how it would work with the smaller eggplant that we grew, but I just cut each one into 4 spears and then dredged and breaded it the same way you would the larger slices, browned them in olive oil, layered them with sauce and cheese, and it worked quite well. I even skipped the step of salting the eggplant and letting it sit to leach out extra water. I hate that step and this small eggplant didn't need it apparently. Pretty happy!

Well, this is all then.