Riding the Bike with One Pedal.

Category: gardening (Page 1 of 3)

Tomato Time….

The tomatoes have been coming in, ripening fast & furious on the kitchen table….
Tomatoes 2012 - Loaded Table

I decided to do some close-ups on the stars of the table, and here are the cherry varieties:
Tomatoes 2012 - Pan o' Cherries

Left to Right:
Black Cherry, Red Grape F1, Sungold and Matt’s Wild Cherry:
Tomatoes 2012 - Cherry Lineup

Those are my fancy “dessert pedestals” I bought online a month or so ago – thinking they would be awesome for tomato pictures, as well as serving desserts. What I neglected to pay attention to was the SIZE of said pedestals – when the box arrived, I thought surely, this was something else, as only two or three could fit in this small box. Nope. I guess if we serve Christopher Elbow chocolates for dessert, though, these will be lovely….

Tomatoes in the News!

Our good friends, Todd & Julie, have photographed everything tomato-related, including plants, the finished product, James’ hands separating seedlings…. and this past Sunday, those photos were a major feature in the House + Home section of Sunday’s Kansas City Star! Along with an awesome interview with my husband, who doles out all the growing advice you can get regularly over on his blog.  Since the pictures aren’t online, I snapped the two full-pages with my phone:


As much as I detest sweating, I’m ready for some fresh, tangy, delicious, home-grown tomatoes!

Church of Stove

I got up this morning & hit the ground running!

James got a Weber smoker a week or so ago, and we had a turkey in the deep freeze, so we arranged to have our gardening friends Julie & Todd over to have a late afternoon meal. The turkey will be smoked, along with a large pan of homemade baked beans, and greens are simmering on the stove. Grandparents are also rumored to be showing up as well, so it will be a full table!

The beans are my first attempt – and a salesperson I was dining with on Friday sent me her recipe, as she also loves to cook & these beans are requested over and over again from her friends and family. I modified it a little bit (of course) by adding in some frozen Serrano peppers, and omitted the bacon because we had about half a pound of smoked pork butt that I chopped and added to the mixture. I doubled the recipe (of course) so hopefully these freeze well! Three kinds of beans – pork & beans, red kidney beans, and butter beans, plus ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, vinegar & mustard.  Here’s a shot of what didn’t fit in the pan:

Moving on from there (as I was cutting up onion after onion!) I sliced up some hot Italian sausage, and got that cooking with an onion. Added chicken broth, a huge bag of fresh spinach, and about five potatoes, cut into chunks. That’s simmering on the stove, and will get a last-minute addition of some half-and-half before serving. That’s going to be “early brunch”. Homegrown spinach is so fantastic!

On to the last onion… James went out in the rain and picked a giant tub trug of Siamese Dragon greens… basically a huge mixture of all sorts of greens, including bok choy, mustard/turnip greens, some crazy escarole-like fronds, and I started sauteing the onions and browning the delicious-looking smoked ham shank. I added a pitcher of water, a few cubes of vegetable bouillon, and got to work cleaning and stripping the greens from the tougher stems. Once a sink basin was full, in to the pot they went, and the process began again. Eventually, the huge bucket of greens compressed into a stockpot, where they will simmer all day – to be dressed at the table with some Serrano vinegar!

The house is redolent with savory smells… rain is falling outside, and it’s time for another cup of coffee. Enjoy your Sunday, no matter how you spend it!



James grew kale this year, for the first time – it’s lovely, sturdy, frilly, and I’d heard about all these kale chips, so I thought, hey, why not? Give it a whirl.
They’re terribly easy – you just tear out the thick stem, toss with a little olive oil & sea salt & throw in the oven at 350’F for 15 minutes. One recipe mentioned using some pepper flakes, so I grabbed the tub of smoked Thai chili peppers my MIL had brought us, sprinkled some over the fresh greens, and let the oven do the rest.

Should have washed my hands more thoroughly, it turns out – my bagel had a distinct afterburn, not something one normally gets from an Asiago cheese bagel, and that heat, combined with the fact my nose and corner of my mouth were EN FUEGO from an innocent face rub with the spiced-up hand, made me realize these weren’t ordinary chili pepper flakes.

Sensation confirmed after the chips came out of the oven. Delicious, though! And we’ll certainly be having more of them. I’m intrigued by the idea of crushing them and sprinkling on popcorn, too – with a little parmesan cheese. It looks like it can be prepared just like spinach, as well, which is good, since the spinach has run its course. My friend Jane puts kale in her smoothies all the time, thought she does have the mixer that makes things “disappear” – I’m a little skeptical about my two-speed Hamilton Beach retro-style blender doing more than macerating the leaves or chunking them up. We’ll see. For now, it’s just nommy salty-spicy goodness, with loads o’ vitamins!


Spinach Saturday!!!

Last Fall, James put in a bed of spinach – he watered it like crazy during the blasting heat, and then covered it up with agribond fabric (lets light & moisture through, but still protects from the elements – even a “real” winter, which we didn’t even have!) As the unseasonable weather allowed, he started peeking at it a couple months ago, and the beautiful dark-green leaves were dotting the bed. Then it just exploded! We cooked a few dishes with it last week – a  trumpet pasta with sausage, onions and cream sauce, an omelet stuffed with sauteed spinach & asparagus, and quiche this morning. Then he picked about 2/3 of the bed so we could put it up and have it later this summer:

Then I took over, and began blanching & ice-bathing all the greens. They really do cook down, so it seemed rather comical to have them go from MASSIVE SIZE ZOMG to five Foodsaver bags! But the bags are solid, heavy packets of good-for-you goodness, and will surely be a tasty alternative to store-bought.

Upcoming recipes are going to include a spinach pesto, some homemade pasta noodles (we’ve made them once before – lots of work, but worth it!) and I’m going to try frying up sliced garlic until it has a crunch, like I do for my pho topping, and then cooking a bunch of spinach with a dash of sesame oil & some chili garlic paste.  Popeye’s got nothin’ on us this Spring!  Here’s a shot of the quiche, shortly before it was devoured:

The Hottest Pepper in the WOooooorld

Yep, the Bhut Jolokia.

Well, ok, as of 9 am, my husband discovered there’s some NEW pepper that has about 130,000 more Scoville units than the Bhut, but I really don’t care. BECAUSE I ATE THE BHUT.

The Ghost Pepper (as it’s commonly called) has over 1 million Scoville units to its pedigree. That means it’s super calicrazyfucking hot. A jalapeno has about 2500 SU. A habanero has 100k-350k SU.

Keep in mind, all the dudes were gung-ho. Oh yeah, gonna eat this chili pepper. And five of them did. My brother-in-law went all out and ended up eating about half a pepper. (HE CRAZY.) I decided to try a chunk of habanero. It really, really burned, but wasn’t debilitating.
Then the Wo finally said he’d try the Bhut. I’d told him I’d do it if he did it. (Which Beth was QUICK to remind me after he’d taken his bite.) So I did. And it really didn’t do much.So I took another bite. Ah, yes, that one …. resonated.

Here’s the crazy thing, about both the habanero and the Bhut: both had an unbelievable fresh, citrus, bright clean flavor. Before the heat even began. They were utterly delicious. Like your brain’s going, “Well, what the hell, you rang up and warned me this was going to be difficult and it’s surprisingly charming and OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD” because then, yes, after that delicious milli-moment, the burn rapidly takes over and it’s as though you’ve maced your tongue. It really does burn. But the endorphin rush is also something to be reckoned with. I felt like I’d had a victorious afternoon hike, followed by a relaxing hot tub. All from a vegetable sliver no wider than a few staples.

And I did get very hot from it. My skin flushed like nobody’s bidness:


But I have bragging rights now, and I can certainly stare down any bowl of salsa in the future and say “I’ve had hotter…”

Summer’s Delight

As we hibernated indoors yesterday, away from the stifling humidity, most of our energies wound up in the kitchen. I had been wanting to make Peter Reinhart’s recipe for Casatiello, and Italian Brioche, studded with bits of spicy salami and gouda cheese. What I love about his book is the complete thoroughness of instruction; he describes the process of how the dough will evolve, and what to expect. This dough has a high butter content, and after the butter has been added, the dough is very sticky, and altogether messy, resembling cookie dough. His instructions tell you to work the dough for 12 minutes, for in that amount of time the butter will distribute evenly and your sticky mass of dough evolves into a beautifully smooth, tacky ball that cleanly rotates around the mixer bowl. It was definitely one of those angels-singing marvel moments as I watched it happen. I baked it in a square springform pan to make one loaf; you can bake it in bags and in smaller sizes more typical of Brioche, too. It’s delicious, and made me wonder about other cheeses and even adding snippets of fresh herbs, such as the French tarragon that is always looking for something to creep into…..

Italian Brioche w/ gouda, sausage

In-between my dough mixing and shaping, James took over the kitchen and used the mixer’s food grinder attachment to make an amazing tomato sauce. The food grinder is great, because you get all of the pulp and meat and juices of the tomato, while efficiently discarding the seeds and skin. We have almost all heirloom tomato plants, and the flavors of these tomatoes are out of this world. Describing a slice of Carbon uses similar language as describing wine… smokey, bold, strong finish. So when you mix all these robust, intense flavors together, and cook them down all afternoon, you have a sauce that literally sings to you. He also incorporated caramelized onions and banana peppers, plus some sauteed chicken tenders. As James put it: summer in a bowl. It was excellent.

homemade tomato sauce

So where’s dessert? Well, this is a good example of how mistakes happen – even to those of us who’ve been cooking and baking for over 30 years. We had leftover egg yolks, because earlier this week, James had made zucchini bread, and one of the most awesome ingredients he uses is candied nuts. He’d done both pecans and walnuts, and the candying process uses a bunch of egg whites. So, what to make with egg yolks? Well, certainly a custard comes to mind – and with the heat, why not ice cream? Sounded good to me. Some things you take for granted, some things you don’t think about, and sometimes, even when you’re standing right there at the stove, stirring your mixture of cream and sugar and eggs and bits of natural vanilla bean, you take your eyes off what you’re doing to talk to your spouse, and the next thing you know, you have bits of cooked egg separating rapidly from your liquid. Gah. I tried plunging it into a water bath, stirring madly, but there are chemical processes that just don’t reverse themselves. I pitched a fit, pissed-off with myself for forgetting how quickly chemistry can happen, and then had to decide what to do.

I decided to give it a try, anyway, because the flavor was amazing, and not eggy, but the big question was texture. I chilled the custard, then put it in my Krups machine that I’ve had for 20 years. And waited.
It never froze. I think it was the fact my custard was too warm, still. So what to do? This is when experience is a good thing, because it makes you more resourceful. Rather than focusing on the failure of ice cream, I focused on what was wrong with my dish, and what could I turn it into? I had it: Milkshakes. I strained the custard through a sieve, removing the bits of hardened egg proteins. Then I added frozen strawberries to the blender until it was completely full. I figured that if any of the egg had made it through the sieve, the texture would be masked by the presence of strawberries (and keep in mind, the mixture never scorched, and was utterly, vanilla-ey delicious, despite the overcooking.)

The result was stupendous. My husband declared it to be one of the top 5 milkshakes of his life.

What was leftover was poured into a dixie cup, popped in the freezer with a fork in it to make a makeshift ice cream bar. The texture on that might be a bit grainy, but at least we know it’ll taste good!

Now it’s Sunday, and I think I’d like to go out for brunch.

Ohhhh Rapiniiiiiiii You Are So Dreaaaammmmyyyyy

I love broccoli. A few years ago, the Wo planted broccoli Rabe and we snarfed it up. This year, he planted a Rapini variety called “Rapa Senza Testa”. Wellza, Weza Liked itz a Lotza!

It helps to like greens, and broccoli and spinach, if you’re going to cook with Rabe or Rapini.

Here are the cleaned leaves from the plant:
Rapini and Sausage Pasta

I picked a variety of leaves – some bigger and older, some were newer and greener. With the older leaves, I tore the leafy part into goodly-sized chunks, and avoided the stem, especially at the base. (That part can get tough.) I left more of the stem on with the younger shoots. Two plants yielded about 5 cups or so of the green stuff – and while that sounds like a lot, you will quickly see how it disappears when cooked!

I started with a big ol’ Vidalia onion, and sauteed it in olive oil until it was semi-soft. Then I added some minced garlic. (So as to not burn the garlic, since it takes a lot less time to cook.)
onions and garlic, mmmmm

Once everything’s soft and cooked, here comes the mound of Rapini:

Rapini and Sausage Pasta

Which quickly becomes this:

Rapini and Sausage Pasta

Meanwhile, a quick trip to Fritz’s yielded the protein in the dish (Sweet Italian Sausage Links):

Rapini and Sausage Pasta

Now, you can use a spicy sausage, and it doesn’t have to be in link form – you can cook it up with the onions, just drain off the fat. I’ve made similar dishes with spicy meat and it’s equally delicious. These links are pre-cooked, so I didn’t have to worry about cooking time. Just sliced them up into delicious rounds, and added them to the mixture.

Rapini and Sausage Pasta

I added freshly-ground pepper, and about a cup of water with a couple chicken bouillon cubes half-dissolved, and let it simmer. This is a brothy pasta topping, and since the bouillon already had plenty of salt, I didn’t add anything else. Since you’ve got a stronger component with the greens, balanced with the sweeter meat (or robustly complemented, if using a spicy version), you really don’t need a lot of herbs or other seasonings – of course if you want to throw in some basil, or something else, experiment away!

Spoon it over a nice curved-shape pasta – these were called “gnocchi” even though they were actually just a little fancier shell-shape. Trumpets, corkscrews, rigatoni – you want shape and the ability to grab a little extra juice. My photo got a little blurry, but you get the idea. Top it with some fancy Parmesan, or powdery, depending on what you did or did not remember to get at CostCo, pour yourself a nice cheerful white wine to keep it light, and savor the flavors!

Rapini and Sausage Pasta

In other gifts from the garden, here’s a shot of the stir fry I made the next night, with four days’ worth of snow pea harvesting:

Snowpea Stir Fry


Despite the less-than-bumper crop of tomatoes this year, and despite the fact it wasn’t blazing hot, we sure got a lot of jalapenos harvested. James made pepper jelly, and then we didn’t pick for a while – so the next harvest was filled with large, thick-walled jalapenos, and I decided to make them into jalapeno poppers, one of my favorite appetizers ever.

Man, that was an undertaking. Probably because I made over 100 of them, and I spread the steps out over a few days.

First, I thought I didn’t need gloves, because I was only coring them out. WRONG-O. I cored them and then stuffed them with cream cheese, and then put them back in the fridge. The next day, I followed a recipe that had me dunk them in milk, then in flour, then back in milk, then in bread crumbs, and I was supposed to do each type of dredging a couple of times. Perhaps if one were making, say, 12, that wouldn’t seem like a giant pain in the ass. I did get them all coated, and then I layered them on a cookie sheet, with wax paper dividers, and froze them. Eventually they got bagged in food saver bags of 12, and I must say, they’re really good. Worth all the effort. Here’s a pic of them all ready to be bagged up:


The other appetizer you can make (courtesy of my pal Bekah) is cut a slit & remove the seeds, or cut them in half (still remove the seeds), stuff with cream cheese, and wrap with bacon. I used about a third of a bacon slice per jalapeno, and the second time I made them, I didn’t even mess with toothpicks. Place them on a cookie sheet (I put down tin foil, since I prefer lazy-easy clean-up), bake in a 375′ oven until the bacon is crisp, and yuuuummmmeh time awaits. I mean, bacon and cream cheese make everything better in general, why not combine them? And you’re still getting some vegetable… lol.

Last, but not least, a really awesome addition to a crudite platter is to halve jalapenos, and stuff them with crunchy peanut butter (or you could use cream cheese) – a fantastic upgrade to celery. And there’s always the fun Russian Roulette of if you’re going to get that jalapeno that’s blazing hot! But the peanut butter helps minimize the burn fairly quickly, and most everyone I know loves ’em. So, if you’re still harvesting peppers, these are some good ways to use them now, and save some for later, when it’s actually cold outside and you want a little summer heat flavor.

Squash for Breakfast?

Yes, it’s possible. And, actually, delicious!

We’re in high harvesting mode with the garden, and while we can always freeze or can the tomatoes, coming up with a new way to eat zucchini or yellow squash can get a bit challenging. A few weeks ago, I remembered one of my favorite breakfast joints in Minneapolis, and how they specialized in egg scrambles loaded with non-traditional breakfast things – namely, vegetables. So I gave it a whirl, and darned if it isn’t just as tasty as I remembered it to be – and now I’ve created my own version, with summer squash!

I’ll admit up front, measurements and precision aren’t my thing when making dishes like this, especially because I think you can be flexible and include what you want. This isn’t a chemistry-based dish, where you need the right amount of leavening agent or a proper ratio with your flour. Experiment yourself! And you can get your veggies in before noon….

Very Veggie Scramble

1 onion, diced

1T vegetable oil

About 3 cups sliced vegetables (I used one small yellow squash and one small zucchini, a few jalapenos and a bag of frozen broccoli. Fresh broccoli is even better. Cauliflower would be delicious, too. Mushrooms. Peppers. You get my drift!)

1 fresh tomato, diced

4-5 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup cheese

salt, pepper to taste

Saute the onion until it’s softened, then add your veggies to the skillet. You want to cook the veggies to a stir-fry consistency, so there’s still some structure and bite in them, not mushy. Right as the veggies are nearing that stage, pour your beaten eggs over the whole thing, and gently stir and turn in the pan, cooking the eggs. Once the eggs are done, I added the tomato and then the cheese. I basically wanted the tomato to get to the same temperature as the dish, but without any further cooking, since it was the softest veggie in the mix. Season to taste – and devour! It reheats well in the microwave, so save your leftovers. You could extend this even further (and add a starch) if you folded in prepared hash browns right before the cheese-melting stage.

Veggie Scramble - finished

If your tomato crop is running over, hubs has a great bruschetta recipe on his tomato blog.  It’s a wonderfully tasty summer appetizer – we made this into dinner one night, it was so good. We used fresh mozzarella, which is definitely more traditional, but if you like goat cheese, I can’t recommend going that route enough. The tangy goat cheese definitely takes it to a whole new level!

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