Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Quick & Easy Carrot Soup

I can't tell you how many evenings I simply have a bowl of vegetables from the garden for dinner. Tonight it was roasted beets and fried potatoes. Last night, carrot ginger soup. I don't really crave the summer BBQ'd steaks and burgers of the past like I used to. Not since I've planted such an extensive vegetable garden.

Of course, come winter, all that will change as I launch into stew mode, but for now it's roasted beets, vegetable soups, tomato salads and fresh pasta primaveras.

This quick and easy carrot soup has three main ingredients. Carrots, Spanish onion and chicken broth. Season with ginger, salt and pepper. No need for cream when you puree the soup in a food processor.

I pulled about fifteen carrots from the ground. Washed, peeled and chopped them, and tossed them in an oiled skillet with one chopped medium-sized onion, a dab of butter and 1/4 Tsp ginger. Once the onion turned translucent and the carrot softened, I added the broth, seasoned with salt and pepper and let it simmer for about ten minutes before pureeing it in my Cuisinart. That was it.

The soup can be much thinner than this if you prefer. Add more broth (or water) to your taste. Not at all bad with a chunk of crusty bread.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Weeding Naturally

Who needs RoundUp when you have birds. These natural little weed-eaters took good care of the weed seeds growing in the lawn organically. It was fun to watch them work.

Potatoes Grow On Stems

Here's another video that demonstrates how potatoes grow on the stem of the plant. I experimented with several different planting techniques this season. These Norlands were only watered twice during the entire season. I left the poor dears to the elements to see how they would fare without much oversight. Not exactly a bumper crop, but, still, a harvest nonetheless. Look at how small they are in comparison to the larger Red Pontiacs I pulled out two days ago (see earlier post.)

The largest of these Norlands tended to be the potatoes that were closest to the surface of the ground. (More water?)

Next season I am adding the straw mulching technique to my planting repertoire. Laying a thin layer of straw on soil that has a reasonable tilth. Then tossing the potatoes directly on top and mulching over with more straw. The photo of a bunch of potatoes in a little straw nest on the bottom of this webpage, BetterVegetableGardening.com, sold me. Straw is also very easy to hill up. On the downside, it makes your crop more vulnerable to vermin.

Crop Circles

Apparently aliens visited my vegetable garden this week.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Canning and Preserving

"Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn, and caldron bubble" 

Dilly beans, pickles and tomatoes

Who knew canning, preserving and pickling would become one of the hippest things to do? ( New York Times article on Canning.) For me, it's always been a homey pastime that evokes warm memories of my grandmother and great grandmother slaving in their kitchen over bushels of fruit and vegetables. Paring knives would be flying madly through the air, slicing and dicing amid billows of hot steam rising from huge vats of jangling bottles. The sight was thrilling to behold.

At Christmas, evidence of their alchemy would be on the table before us. Dishes of cranberry, beet, mustard and icicle pickles. Even then, I knew, they were not only food chemists but mysterious culinary artists who had apprenticed at the skilful elbows of ancestors past.

This training was not handed down to me. The Ball Blue Book of Preserving was my guide. But it is all I needed to begin my food preservation adventure. I started with jams, curds and salsas. The pickles and chutney came later... and my world opened up.

The Ball Blue Book Of Canning and Preserving Recipes

There is something fantastic about preserving your own food. You plant it in good soil, tend it with loving care, shield it from poisons, harvest it with your bare hands, then seal it in time at the peak of its flavor and nutrition. The slow food movement may be back in vogue for all the right reasons -- seizing control of wholesome food quality again -- but for me, canning and preserving is more of an exercise in nostalgia, flavor and frugality.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Harvesting Potatoes

The potato harvest is underway and the backyard crop is bountiful. I still have five beds left to do (two in my neighbor's yard). Pacing is key.

The secret to growing potatoes lies in soil quality and planting depth. Get them in the ground early in the season and "hill up" the vines with loose soil as they grow.

You can also dig a trench to plant seed potatoes in, and add soil intermittently as the vines grow, bringing the soil up to ground level. 

Mother Earth News mentions a third method. It's Ruth Stout's labor-saving mulch and planting technique. Toss seed potatoes on top of the ground and mulch. Very cool. This method works because potato tubers grow on the stems. Great for the lazy gardener. Whatever gets you growing your own healthy, pesticide-free food is good.  Stout's mulch system reminds me of Masanobu Fukuoka's One-Straw Revolution.

Since my clay soil was difficult to dig into, I trenched as deep as I could go, amending the earth with sand and compost, and hilled up the vines throughout the season. 

The results have been tremendous. Here's a brief video of my harvest in progress. 

(Note: I say "Blue Caribe potato" in this video, when I should have said "Purple Caribe." Purple Caribe's are not to be confused with the "Russian Blues" I harvested earlier in the day. This is what comes from shooting video with your right hand, while harvesting potatoes with your left and trying to narrate at the same time.) 

Purple Caribe vs Russian Blue
The Caribe is on the left. Russian Blue on the right. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Minimum Size, Maximum Flavor

First official butternut squash of the season. It was relatively small in size, but big on flavor. I lost a couple of squash to raccoons before this lovely specimen made it to full term, so I'm really thrilled to see the squash plant has begun to stretch its legs in the garden and develop a lot more fruit.

It needed much more space and was happy for the room once I cleared the Russian Blue potatoes out of that bed.

There are about ten blossoms forming fruit already.


Although small, that mini-squash had plenty of flesh inside. Enough for a large side dish of roasted, candied squash. I keep the recipe for the dish fairly simple so that I'll make it frequently.

I peel the squash first, clean out the seeds, (which I reserve for later) and basically chop the meaty flesh into bite-sized squares. Drizzle with butter, a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover with foil and bake. Anywhere from 325 degrees to 375 degrees, depending on what else is in the oven. Halfway through the baking I remove the foil, sprinkle brown sugar over the squash, or maybe maple syrup, (sometimes both) and finish roasting until I see some nice caramelized edges. I can't give you a definite time for baking because it really depends on how small you chop the squares. Count on around 20 minutes at least. Smaller squares, faster baking. Check frequently once you add the sugar.

The reserved seeds become a great little snack for later. Like pumpkin seeds, I soak them in a salty brine and roast them in a toaster oven for snacking. Waste not, want not. Delicious.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Swedish Pancakes with Raspberries

The raspberries are coming on strong now and a visit to the berry patch this morning inspired a breakfast of Swedish pancakes.

Swedish pancakes are traditionally very thin. No baking powder is used to give a rise in the batter. 

They're quick to make and impressive morning fare, given the minimal amount of effort required. Roll them like a crepe or simply serve flat, as shown here. 

SWEDISH PANCAKES (recipe for 2)

2 eggs whisked
1 1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 Tbsp melted butter
1 Tbsp sugar
Pinch salt

(Adjust amount of flour depending on your preference of thickness. Add more as needed.)

Berries, Fruit or Jam
Confectioner's powdered icing sugar or
Real Maple Syrup