Monthly Archives: March 2011

Update from a Garden Nerd

This is the time of year when things feel like they’re in turbo drive. That’s probably because for a gardener, the winter can feel interminable. After a whole season of waiting, suddenly, the weather starts changing, there are seeds to be started, and garden things to be tended to. In the span of just a few weeks, my garden went from being asleep and slightly desolate, to being planted, cloched, and at work. Things in the garden happen so fast, I wanted to catch a glimpse of it all before the time and these miraculous changes escape me. The pictures don’t really do it all justice with all the artificial light going on, from the brooder heat lamp to the grow lights, but for now, they’ll have to do. 

Tomorrow, Louise and Camila will be four weeks old. How is it possible that the chicks are already a month old?

The heirloom tomato seeds I started in February…

are vibrant and healthy. I’m upping my tomato crop this year – from the four I planted last year (not including all the tomatillos) to 18 tomato plants this year (again, not including the tomatillos I plan to plant).

I began hardening them off this week and will probably plant them out in their warm, toasty cloche bed in early April. I always push the envelop when planting my tomatoes. I remember last year, sitting at the farmers’ market table as my fellow Master Gardeners recommended that people not plant out their tomatoes yet because it’s just too cold, while meanwhile mine were already in the ground. But come June, I was getting my first ripe tomatoes despite our undesirable summer. I’m going to go for it again this year and hope for the best. We’ll see what happens.

My heirloom brassica seeds (Romanesco, Rapini broccoli, and Brussels Sprouts), which I also started inside a few weeks ago, have taken their time, but were finally ready to be potted up this weekend. I’m hoping to plant eight Romanesco plants, so I hope they pick it up a bit. I want to have those amazing vegetables growing in my yard!

I created three potato towers a la Sunset to grow my potatoes in this year. This will be an experiment, as usual since I have yet to master a solid, successful potato planting technique. I used materials I had on-hand to create these (left over chicken wire, a roll of screen, oil cloth, a hole punch, and some garden twine), so they don’t look as uniformly attractive as the ones in the Sunset tutorial. But they get the job done and kind of fit my garden’s reclaimed material, shabby chic aesthetic. I’ll have to keep you posted on how they’re working out.

My salad bed (and beets!!!) are coming along – I can hardly wait for some fresh garden salads!

I splurged and bought some starts from local farm, Rents Due Ranch. I planted six savoy cabbage plants and six cauliflower plants (thanks to my new Indian food obsession), which I am vigilantly protecting from slugs and chickens. I planted and cloched (via an up-turned vase and quart jar) lacinato kale seeds too. I feel like I maybe missed the good kale planting window some where, which is unfortunate because it’s probably my most favorite thing to grow and eat.  I’m hoping I didn’t start them too late and  am sending them all my green thumb vibes.

Finally, I have to leave you with these precious pictures of my little chickies learning to roost. I built them a little perch this weekend and it is really the cutest thing ever to watch them flap their wings for balance as they teeter unsteadily on the dowel. They’re still building up their roosting and balancing skills, but as you can see from the picture below, they’re starting to get the hang of it.

My brother-in-law just asked me about the light I’m using for my tomato plants and I proceeded to work myself up into an enthusiastic tizzy going off on topics from heirloom seeds, to soil and the beauty of worms, to monocultures and Round-up. I’ll I can say is thank goodness for this blog. My family would go crazy putting up with all this garden nerdiness on their own…especially in the spring time.

Sunday Supper: Baked Farro with Italian Sausage

The date: Sunday, March 27, 2011

The menu: Just a one-dish, one-bowl meal tonight – baked farro with Italian sausage

The inspiration: 101 Cookbooks

I recently got turned on to the food blog I Made That! and I promptly put it into my Google blog reader when I read her latest post, which began like this, “Dear Pork, We meet again.” Because I have a little thing for pork too.

I tend to have vegetarian tendencies. I hardly ever cook meat and when I go out to restaurants, I almost always choose the fish or vegetarian option. But, not lately. If there’s pork on the menu, especially anything that’s been braised, that’s probably what I’ll order. And that’s just not like me. I can’t ignore it though. My body’s sending me some clear signals that I need to be consuming more fatty, salty meat products right now. And when my body talks, I listen.

I made this baked farro recipe, which comes from Heidi Swanson, the way it was intended to be enjoyed the first time around. It was amazingly delicious, besides that fact that we all know I’m already a huge fan of farro. I think it was the fact that it somehow reminded me of lasagna that really appealed to me. Giving up dairy (read cheese!!!) was not an easy feat! I love cheese and love to make casseroles and baked one-dish meals that are held together with the rich, lactose-ridden ingredient. But, I’ve had to shift gears and look for alternatives. And as I ate my way through my first batch of this baked farro sans cheese, I thought to myself, what this needs is some sausage.

I was loving this dish so much, I made my version of this casserole with Italian sausage the very next weekend. And here I am, making it again. So, technically folks, this is not an experimental recipe as I make it tonight. It is now an old favorite and I just couldn’t wait to eat it again. Obviously, as a school teacher, I don’t go out to lunch. I’m a religious lunch packer. So the true test of a recipe for me is how I feel in the hours leading up to lunch. There’s nothing better than realizing it’s an hour until lunch time and  then remembering that I have a delicious Pyrex container filled with something I love to eat just waiting for me. This farro is exactly that – a lunch that still excites me by Friday.

Baked Farro with Italian Sausage
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking pan
1 medium onion
fine grain sea salt
1 1/2 cups uncooked farro
~ 1/2 lb. ground Italian sausage
2 cup tomato sauce*
1 1/2 cups water

Preheat oven to 400F, with a rack in the top third. Rub olive oil across an 8×8-inch baking dish, or equivalent.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan, then crumble and brown the sausage. When the sausage is just about cooked through, add the onion and a couple pinches of salt. Cook until the onions soften up and begin to become translucent, a few minutes. Add the farro, stir until well-coated, and cook for another minute or two. Stir in the tomato sauce and the broth. Bring just to a simmer, remove from heat, and carefully taste a bit of the brothy liquid, and adjust the seasoning if needed. Transfer to the prepared baking dish, cover with foil, poke a few slits in the foil, and bake for about 45 minutes or until the grains are cooked through. You can uncover in the last few minutes to get a bit of color on the top of the farro. Alternatively, you can brown the top carefully under a broiler for a few minutes, which is what I did. Enjoy!

* For the tomato sauce in this recipe, I used the following process as per Heidi’s recipe, but instead of using a cup of tomatoes, I upped it to an entire 14.5 oz. can of fire roasted tomatoes, which yields just under 2 cups of sauce.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, stir in a clove of garlic smashed into a paste with a couple pinches of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Cook just until the garlic starts to take on color, not more than 10-20 seconds, and stir in one 14.5 oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes. Simmer for a few minutes more and remove from heat. Taste and add a bit more salt if needed.

No thanks!

My friend Shango, who knows I’m kind of a crazy chicken lady, is good about keeping me abreast of interesting chicken information and garden-geek related tidbits. He sent me a link this week to this article on boingboing about using a new egg-bot template to print nutritional information on eggs. While I’ll concede that the technology is pretty impressive, I think I’ll have to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I prefer the beautiful simplicity of the eggs I get everyday, just the way they are.

* image from boingboing

Sunday Supper: Red Lentils with Cumin and Cabbage

The date: Sunday, March 20, 2011 – the first day of spring

The menu: Red Lentils with Cumin and Cabbage over basmati rice

The inspiration: Smitten Kitchen and Madhur Jaffrey

A few weeks ago on my drive home, in the midst of my obsession with Indian food, I heard an interview on NPR with Indian chef, Madhur Jaffrey. She was talking about her latest cookbook, At Home with Madhur Jaffrey, and I was enthralled. I grabbed a piece of paper from the console of my car, precariously held it in place on the steering wheel, and hurriedly scribbled down her name. I know, Dad, I might as well have been texting. I realize in hind sight that this wasn’t a good choice, but I couldn’t let this resource slip away! A good Indian cookbook is just what I need to take this obsession with Indian food to the next level. Radhi said she was going to get it for me for my upcoming birthday, which is really quite fitting now that I think about it, since she’s the one that got me hooked.

I later realized that all of the Indian recipes I was making from Deb at Smitten Kitchen were adapted or inspired by the aforementioned Mahdur Jaffrey, so I think it’s meant to be. Yep, I foresee many an Indian dish in my future. So this Sunday, I made another one and it really hit the spot, not to mention being easy on the budget, which is especially important to me this late in the month.

I initially had a hankering for some more cauliflower aloo gobi, but there was no cauliflower to be had at the market. After all, it’s still pretty early in the season for that. What I did find was beautiful savoy cabbage, so I changed gears and went with Deb’s recipe for red lentils and cabbage.

I had a culinary flashback the moment I tasted the cumin seeds that were toasted and then flavoring the sauted cabbage. I immediately texted Radhi and asked her if the potato curry she used to cook for me in college had cumin seeds and sure enough, they did. I am generally not a big fan of cumin, but cumin seeds are a different story. They taste exotic and aromatic and best of all, reminded me of an amazing friend.

Red Lentils with Cumin and Cabbage
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

The original recipe suggests boiling the lentils for twice as long as I did. I find, however, that every time I cook with red lentils, they cook to the point of tenderness/mush very quickly. In my version of the recipe below, I’ve outlined how long it took me. I’d just keep an eye on them though, try them often, and call it good when they’re tender and cooked through. Also, the original recipe says to cook the cabbage until it begins to brown and turns slightly crisp, but I think I might have used too much cabbage and too little oil to achieve that. I’d do it the same way again though.

Serves 4 to 6

1 1/4 cups red split lentils (masoor dal), picked over, washed and drained
5 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into fine slices
1/2 pound cored and finely shredded cabbage (half of a medium head of cabbage)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 medium tomato, peeled and finely chopped (I used one from a can of organic canned tomatoes)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
red pepper flakes

Put the lentils and water into a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Remove any scum that collects at the top. Add the turmeric and stir to mix. Cover, leaving the lid very slightly ajar, turn heat down to low, and simmer gently for about a half hour. Stir a few times while lentils are cooking.

When the lentils cook, heat the oil in a large (8 to 9 inch) skillet or frying pan over medium heat. When hot, put in the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for 3 to 4 seconds. Now put in the garlic. As soon as the garlic pieces begin to brown, put in the onion, cabbage and a few good pinches of red pepper flakes. Stir and fry the cabbage mixture for about 10 minutes or until it is tender. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Turn off the heat under the frying pan.

When the lentils are just about done, add the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoon salt, the tomato and ginger to the pot. Stir to mix. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Add the cabbage mixture and any remaining oil in the frying pan. Stir to mix and bring to a simmer.

Simmer uncovered for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cabbage is heated through.

Serve over basmati rice and enjoy!