recipe

Strawberry Season is Here!

And a very popular time for kids in the garden! Okay, at least for mine, anyway. And grandma. Don’t forget her. Exciting outings are usually her idea, and strawberry picking tops the list.

February and March are peak strawberry months in Florida. For those who live in and around the Central Florida area, the Plant City Strawberry Festival takes place from March 2-12th and includes headline country music stars, like Willie Nelson, the Gatlin Brothers, Rascal Flatts, 3 Doors Down and more! From the Strawberry Festival to our local Strawberry Farm, we love this time of year!

Sweetens school lunches.  “Peanut butter and jelly, Mom, and make it fresh strawberry!”

And afternoon snack time.  “Can we make strawberry smoothies?  Pleeeeeease.”

Of course we can!   If that’s how I get fresh strawberries in your belly, then that’s how we do it. (Beats the ice cream alternative.)

We in the gardenfrisk household used to grow our own strawberries, though for some reason, they never turned out quite as large and luscious as the ones at the farm.   Pesticides? Maybe. Commercial strength fertilizer? Could be. But since I don’t know for sure, let’s just say the kids and I have some work to do this season to compete with Farmer Jones down the road.

 

Pine needle mulch is the first key.  Strawberries prefer acid soil. As for food, I hope they like fish emulsion. It’s stinky, but seems effective. So long as we don’t drench them in the stuff while the fruit is blossoming, we should be good to go, right? You can grow them in containers and allowing them to climb on a trellis. They love it! For a complete review on the subject of growing strawberries, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association provides a fantastic educational download for kids and adults alike.

Another great use for strawberries is to make your own preserves. For easy instructions, check my recipe page. It’s great fun and could be the perfect spring gift!

If you’d like to find a farm near you (this is an international source, mind you), check this link.   In addition to strawberries, you’ll be able to locate blueberry farms, pumpkin patches–all kinds of stuff!

Pesto Perfection

I love pesto–on most anything. From bread to pasta, cheese to chicken, its sharp distinct flavor and powerful punch makes me reel with delight. Even in the garden, it’s one of my favorite herbs to grow. One simple “brush” with this plant, and I carry its fragrance for hours.

pesto-toast

And for you garden and foodie enthusiasts, it’s very easy to grow. Sunlight, tad bit of fertilizer, well-drained soil and you’re off to the gourmet section right in your very own kitchen. If you grow it out in the garden, basil prefers to be near its “bestie” the tomato plant. Basil is said to improve the flavor of your tomatoes. Love it!

basil-and-tomato-companions

Making pesto is easy. Basil, Parmesan, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, DONE. (I don’t use salt, but it’s definitely a classic addition for this recipe.)

pesto-ingredients

My Cuisinart makes the process of preparing pesto all the more simple, though you can use any blender, really.

pesto-blend

Which is about all you need to do. Basically, you blend everything until a smooth paste forms. (Told you it was easy!) Better yet, you can make this recipe 1 day ahead. A tip for preserving its freshness: cover the top of your sauce with a 1/2 inch layer of olive oil before chilling.

Next, enjoy–over warm pasta, fresh bread, or that boring chicken you needed to spruce up. Or dare I say…turkey?

No worries. It’s all good!

Classic Pesto Sauce

4 cups fresh basil leaves (about 3 large bunches)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 pine nuts

2 garlic cloves

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1 tsp coarse kosher salt (I like Himalayan salt!)

Combine basil, olive oil, pine nuts, and garlic in a blender. Blend until a paste forms. If your basil flies up the sides of your blender, gently push it back down and encourage assimilation with the other ingredients. Add cheese and salt and blend until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and enjoy!

pesto

Variations abound for pesto sauce, including choice of nuts, choice of greens, choice of cheese. For example, walnuts can provide an omega-3 advantage while your cheese can be a combination of Parmesan and Pecorino Sardo, Asiago–have fun with it! How about adding parsley leaves to the mix? Maybe a cilantro version? Mint? Feel free to experiment!

Infusing your passion for gardening with the joy of cooking…

Maple-Orange Pumpkin Granola

This time of year, I love everything pumpkin–coffee, cupcakes, bread, bagels, and now, granola. Yep, granola. Healthy granola, too! Sort of. Everything but the maple syrup, anyway. And really, can’t a girl splurge during the holidays? (My holiday season officially begins when the pumpkin-fall menus enter the scene.)

fall pumpkin granola

I would have to answer, yes, I believe so. This granola is so delicious, you’ll want to eat it with ice cream, yogurt, or straight out of the pan. And while it’s high in fat, it’s mostly healthy fat, I can rationalize it as healthy, because pumpkin and flax seeds are so good for you. Really good.

So how do you make decadent pumpkin granola? That’s also easy. Simply mix oats and seeds, add some of what I call “granola glue” — the stuff that makes granola clumps — and bake.

Decadent Pumpkin Granola

pumpkin granola2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup pumpkin seed, natural, not salted or roasted

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup melted butter

1 tsp orange zest

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, combine rolled oats, pumpkin and flax seed. Mix well. For the granola glue, mix together maple syrup, melted butter, orange zest and vanilla extract. Whisk well and pour over oat and seed mixture. Mix all ingredients until well blended. Note: this might be easier done with your hands. If you like the orange zest, go ahead and add some more. It’s a nice compliment to the maple syrup. More

Spring Dessert

Looking for the perfect dessert this Easter? This carrot cake is perfect and differs from most in that it’s light, fluffy and kid-friendly—from the making to the eating! Not only can they help by harvesting and shredding the carrots, they’ll love to decorate this spring treat (bunnies, anyone?).

bunny cake

While this recipe calls for cream cheese frosting, a bit tangy for some youngsters, it would also be great with a creamy white/vanilla frosting, too.

Fluffiest Carrot Cake

2 cups self-rising flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

3 cups freshly grated carrots

½ cup raisins (optional)

½ cup walnuts, finely chopped (optional)

pre-made fondant for decorations

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Grease or butter 9 x 13 or 2 8-inch round pans. In a large bowl, combine oil, eggs and sugar and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour and cinnamon. Add dry ingredients to wet and blend well until creamy smooth. Fold in grated carrots, followed by any optional items of your liking!

Pour batter into pan and bake for about 35-45 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Serve with cream cheese frosting (even plain, this cake is so good).

Approximately 1 large or 2 8-inch cakes.

light and fluffy slice

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, refrigerated

2 TBSP unsalted butter, softened (at room temperature)

1 ½ – 2 cups powdered sugar (depending on how thick you like your frosting!)

1 tsp vanilla extract

dash of grated orange zest (optional)

Combine cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract and blend until smooth. Add sugar gradually, 1/2 cup at a time, beating until blended. Stop when you have reached your desired consistency. For stiffer frosting, use more sugar. For creamy frosting, use less. Stir in optional flavorings at end. Spread (or drizzle) frosting over cake and enjoy!

You can purchase packages of pre-made fondant at most major craft stores (Joann’s Fabrics, Michael’s…) and forming your figures is easy. We used a tube of green cake decorating color for the greens on our carrots—for a more feathery effect. Don’t forget the pre-made flowers and sprinkles—talk about EASY! You’ll have a stylin’ cake in no time!

Mixed Kernels

It’s a sad day when you harvest your corn–the one cob you’ve been watching and waiting for the silks to turn brown–only to discover you have missing kernels when you peel back the husk. It’s like, your cob was forming, doing a great job, and *poof* suddenly became too tired to finish the job.

corn missing kernels

Hmph. It’s a disappointment, to be sure. Most likely occurred during pollination, or the lack thereof. If you planted your corn in one single row, pollination can be tricky. I mean, there’s a reason those commercial growers plant all those corn plants so close together–proximity packs a more powerful pollination! It’s power in numbers when it comes to wind, too. Corn is very susceptible to wind, and tends to be blown over at the first kiss of a summer breeze.

corn by storm

Missing kernels can also be caused by poor watering/feeding during pollination. Corn is a heavy feeder, and if you don’t give it what it needs when it needs it, well, you know… It kind of poops out on you. It happens. But I’m here to tell you, chin up, friendly gardener. It’s not the end of the world. So what if you can’t serve perfectly-formed cobs of corn to your family and friends, you can do one better (or different!). Roast them!

That’s right. Wipe those tears away and listen up. You’re going to scrape those beautiful kernels from the cob, toss them in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper, a little parsley and heck, while we’re at it, a sliced jalapeno pepper (mine was red) and roast those babies. Ta-da! You’ve made lemonade from your lemons.

roasted corn

I preheated the broiler to high, spread my mixture on a cookie sheet lined with nonstick foil, and then spread the corn mixture out in a single layer. Cooking time was about 15 minutes, with me turning the corn mixture once or twice during the process for even browning. Just keep an eye on them and roast to YOUR idea of perfection.

The flavor was divine; a wonderfully sweet corn flavor with a hint of popcorn that results in a belly full of pride and pleasure. YUM. I served mine with some garden broccoli and a filet of plank-roasted salmon for a fabulous weeknight dinner. The family was pleased!

Now it’s your turn. Enjoy!

Fall Favorites From the Kitchen

Fall is my favorite time of year and translates to comfort food in my household. In addition to pumpkin spiced coffee and cupcakes, here are some of my favorites.

Cabbage and Potato Bake

potatoes and cabbage steaming hot out of the oven

Decadent Maple Granola

fall pumpkin granola

French Onion Soup

French Onion soup

More

Homemade Hummus From The Garden

One of best things about having a garden is the ability to create healthy dishes using ingredients you KNOW. You know where they came from, how they were handled, what’s in them, etc.  I don’t know about you, but this is a definite plus, for me. And my kids, though I don’t think they can totally appreciate this aspect, yet!

Homemade Hummus

But they can appreciate a good meal, and both adore hummus. And what’s not to love about hummus? It’s easy to snack on, delicious and healthy–perfect on pretzels or simple crackers. We added roasted red pepper to this recipe because we have peppers in our garden and happen to love the taste. We also grow chickpeas, garlic and lemons, a few other important ingredients in this recipe. More

4th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop!

Including a grand prize ereader and $$!! Yep, it’s time for the 4th Annual Authors in Bloom Blog Hop and that means sharing great recipes and gardening tips.

AIB LogoThis year I’m sharing a favorite recipe. With Brussels sprout season closing down in Central Florida, it’s time to consume the last of your harvest and this dish does that with savory flair. How about we call it Savory Brussels? More

Homemade Sweet Potato Pie

During the holidays, pies seem to take center stage. We’ve already gone through our first apple pie, looking forward to our pumpkin, sweet potato and caramel apple pies later this week!  Well, it is that time of year, isn’t it? This version of sweet potato pie is one of our favorites. Made with garden fresh sweets (yes, they’re coming out of the ground this time of year!), it’s creamy and sumptuous and oh-so-good.

sweet potato pie2 cups sweet potatoes, cooked

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

pre-made pie crust (unless you can make your own!)

whipped cream (optional but totally necessary on MY pie)

Preheat oven to 350°.  Pre-bake pie crust to near golden completion, but not completely.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, combine potatoes, cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla and all spices and blend well.  I used a Cuisinart type blender for as it made the process easy and the result oh-so-smooth and silky.  Pour batter into awaiting pie crust and bake for 35-45 minutes.  Time may vary, depending on your oven.  When done, knife inserted should come out clean.

Place on rack to cool.  This pie is best served warm, though allowing it to cool somewhat will make for easier slicing.  Add a dollop of whipped cream and enjoy!

Recipe doubles well.

Beautiful Broccoli

I know most folks don’t care for the cold weather, but here in Florida it marks broccoli season and around my house, that’s one of the few vegetables everyone can agree on. Okay, that’s a lie. My son doesn’t prefer it–unless it’s covered with cheese and appears on his plate without stems.

Ack. What do kids know, anyway? Broccoli is beautiful, good for you, and fairly easy to grow. And it thrives this time of year.

broccoli head

While my son might not like to eat broccoli, he doesn’t mind helping with the harvest. We cut two nice sized heads this morning and plan to cook them alongside our spaghetti and meatballs this evening for dinner. I’ll steam them first, to soften them up, then pan sauté. Once browned, I’ll cover them with shredded cheddar and a sprinkle of garlic powder and pepper. It might sound a bit crazy to some, but it sure does taste good. And in the end, isn’t that what counts?

If you haven’t planted your broccoli yet and you live where the ground doesn’t freeze, rendering your garden about as plantable as a cement parking lot, it’s not to late to give these babies a try. They’ll take about 2 months of growing before you can harvest, but if you plant now, your January dinner table will thank you. For complete details, tips & tricks, check out my how-to grow section on the sidebar. Happy gardening!