recipes

Bloggers in Bloom!

Taking part this year in the Authors in Bloom Blog Hop where you’ll find ten days of gardening tips, recipes and giveaways! Decided the more the merrier and why not? Gardening is merry and fun. :)

authors in bloom

Better yet, creating scrumptuous dishes with our produce makes it all the better. For new gardeners, herbs are a great way to begin the adventure and lend themselves to all types of recipes. A simple way to use herbs are by making pastes and freezing them. Not only will you lock in the flavor, but you’ll make it easy to enjoy the fresh taste of herbs all year round.

For a simple basil paste, I use about 4 cups of basil (or 4 oz. stemmed) and approx. 1/4 cup olive oil. Place the leaves in a food processor and drizzle with olive oil. I pulse to begin and then hit a steady high if need be. Transfer paste to freezer-safe bags, flatten to remove all air and place in freeze. That’s it! Fresh herb paste ready to use when you’re ready.

basil paste

Variations include oregano and parsley. Use other herbs that don’t keep their same bright flavor when dried such as the mints, lemon basil, lemon balm or lemon verbena, and use cold-pressed nut or seed oils. Be sure to label the containers. More

Harvesting Sweets for Thanksgiving!

Oh, what a fabulous day when the sweet potatoes are ready! Now mind you, we could have harvested these babies a few weeks back, but it’s oh-so-much more fun to harvest them in time for the holidays. Sweet potatoes are a staple on our Thanksgiving table. Actually, in our house these potatoes make a year round appearance because not only are they delicious, they’re healthy.

Wonderful! We do love healthy. But now is the time when sweet potatoes are actually “in season” in Central Florida. So, with this in mind, we scooped away the dirt and voilá ~ potatoes!

Kids LOVE this part. Harvesting potatoes is commonly referred to as “swimming” for potatoes and once you let that cat out of the bag, the kids come running. Really puts a nick in my child’s playover when their friends want to garden (ugh-moan) instead of kick the soccer ball around. But gardening is that much fun.

Now, when digging for these guys, one must be careful. An aggressive scrape from your shovel WILL leave a mark on that potato you don’t see until you hit it. Gashes detract from your potato’s storage ability so do be aware.

swimming for sweet potatoes

Best tactic is to don the gloves and get to fingering your way through the dirt.  Most potatoes will be collected under the main root system, however, don’t be surprised if you find potatoes on extended vines several feet away. In our case, we actually found some beneath my lovely black-papered walkways!

our school harvest sweet treats

It’s an adventure. Anyhoo, once you’ve gathered a basket full, gently rinse the dirt from their bodies and set in a cool, dry place to store. Anxious to cook them? Thought you would be. Why not try this Deep Dish Casserole? It has an orange twist to it and is absolutely divine on the tastebuds.  Sweet Potato French Fries are also delightful and of course, Sweet Potato Pie proves a huge hit with everyone. No matter how you slice these golden girls you’ll be pleased with the outcome. And remember, sweet potatoes are healthy. Loaded with vitamins A and C, these are superfoods when it comes to anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory power. Enjoy!

Food for Heart

As I age, I find I’m riddled with aches and pains. And I’m stumped. What the heck happened? I look like I’m in shape. I eat healthy. I exercise. What’s going on?

Blueberry & yogurt stock photo

My first impulse is to scream and whine and jump up and down, screeching “This isn’t fair! I’m too young for this!” While I might feel better afterward, my family would be peer at me quizzically whispering, ”She’s done it. She’s finally gone over the edge.”

Hmph. So much for sympathy from the ones who love me.  On a positive note, it would behoove me to remember that aches and pains and old age beat the alternative. I’m alive. I’m having a good time. So what if I have to bend over and stretch every now again (careful–the lower back discs can’t take too much of it) or slowly ease my way out of bed in the morning (so I don’t pull something on the way out). Once I get warmed up, I’m good to go, ready to hit the ground running!

But with age, I feel I’m growing in wisdom. Granted this is a highly debatable subject among my inner circle but I’m going to ignore debate and share a little secret. Eating healthy is a mindset. It’s an attitude, one that seeps into your behavior and becomes your lifestyle. I never feel deprived, I never go without–eating the occasional danish helps, the surprise donut from hubby–but sometimes I find myself asking, “Can I do more?” More

Zucchini Tomato Sauce

When it comes to my garden, my motto is “eat what’s blooming.”  So, with my zucchini in full bloom, I came up with a little comfort sauce for my pasta.  Now I prefer roasted zucchini, but since I’ve already had that three times this month, I decided to try something new.  While making pasta and red sauce for the family, I decided to have mine with zucchini.  Mind you, I’m the only one in the family who cares for zucchini, but we have an entire bed of the stuff because I am the head gardener which means I get a say in what grows where.  Leadership has its privileges.

Anyhoo, this sauce is easy and delicious and can be expounded upon exponentially (can you tell my daughter is learning algebra?).  The ingredients are zucchini, garlic, tomatoes, basil and parsley.

Olive oil and butter, too, but I can’t grow those in the garden.  The basil I used is cinnamon basil, but plain old sweet basil is also delicious (yes, I’ve made this twice, now). More

Martha Stewart and Me

I’m a fan of Martha Stewart. I love her magazine, would love her show (if I had time to watch during the day) and I love her savvy business sense.  But one of the things I like best of all is that she gives great advice.  Really helpful stuff.  This month in her magazine (get the iPad version—its awesome!) she discusses the benefits of companion eating.  In the garden, we often talk companion planting, but companion eating?

You know I was intrigued.  What was this strange new concept of pairing foods according to the laws of nature?  What were the benefits?  As a born-to-sell kinda gal, I think in terms of features and benefits, goals and rewards (a tough sell in my role as stay at home mom) and I wanted to know more.  Talk to me, Martha!  How can you help?

According to her panel of health experts, some foods are most effective—nutritionally speaking—when eaten together.  By pairing them, you maximize nutritional output by increasing absorption potential.  Have I got your attention, yet?  Snagged me right off the garden bed.

Spinach is packed  full of plant-based iron—not easily absorbed by the body.  Summon the lemon!  (Or grapefruit, oranges—anything high in vitamin C.)  Why?  They say the Vitamin C changes the molecular structure of this type of iron which makes it more digestible. Looking for a healthy breakfast?  Go for a similar effect with oatmeal and OJ.

Now here’s a kicker:  did you know that lycopene needs to be combined with fat to be absorbed via the intestinal wall?  And of course non-saturated fats are best.  Think: olive oil, avocados, nuts and fish.  I do love fresh garden tomatoes drenched olive oil.  Mozzarella and basil only intensify my delight.

Next time your child asks for a banana-peanut butter sandwich, run to the pantry, grab the bread, slice the banana, smear the butter and slap that baby together—quick!—before they change their mind. It seems the potassium in bananas inhibits the retention of sodium; a good thing!  Tuna and soy sauce work the same way as do romaine lettuce and Caesar dressing.  Very cool news.  While my low blood pressure appreciates the extra sodium, my old lady eyes do not .  At all.  :) 

And speaking of kids, keep on serving up those whole grain cereals with milk because calcium can be rendered ineffective without magnesium (found in whole grains, nuts and soy).  Try serving their next grilled cheese with whole grain bread.  YUM and healthy.

Okay. Now this last one made me rethink the entire article. You mean to tell me there’s an actual science to why chicken soup is good for you?

Apparently.  According to Martha’s experts, the zinc in poultry, shellfish, nuts and beans produce a protein that transports vitamin A (found in carrots, sweet potatoes, leafy greens) to the retina.  Very important to sight.

While we’re on the subject of soup, Martha has one of the best recipes for basic chicken soup.  But for those non-soup fans, take heart.  Turkey and sweet potatoes work, as do beans and cheddar cheese.  Hmmm…  Are you with me?  How about a little bean chili for dinner tonight?

Whatever you do, don’t miss Martha Stewart Living.  Bright colors, vivid photography, savory and creative recipes, this is a subscription I look forward to each and every month.  Especially my iPad version.  Not only is it animated, but it includes videos, links, recipes I can click save (to a photo album) for later use in the kitchen.  LOVE it!

**This article is from the current issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine ~ pick yours up today!

Time to Harvest the Carrots!

Talk about exciting days in the garden, the kids have been waiting a LONG time for this day.  It’s time to harvest the carrots! Not only are there plenty of carrots to go around–one for you, one for you, one for you–but these kids remember the carrot cake we made from our last batch and their tongues are wagging.  Mm…  Fluffy and oh-so-yummy!

Yep.  These guys and gals would like nothing more than to feast on some more carrot cake and cream cheese frosting, but this time how about we try something different?  WHAT?  No carrot cake? 

Ah, c’mon. Now that would be just plain crazy talk.  How about a little bit of both?  Carrot juice to go with that cake, anyone?

Start grabbing carrots!  But hey–what happened to the rest of mine?

And why is my carrot so funky looking?

Hm.  Interesting.  As experienced gardeners, we know that carrots like soft beds of dirt.  All plants prefer soft dirt!  It allows their roots to grow nice and deep.  Since carrots are actually the “roots,” they try to grow nice and deep, which gives them the pretty cone-shaped appearance we’ve come to know and love. 

If the dirt is too packed?  It’s hard.  And hard dirt is “hard” for a carrot to push through as they grow.  Ah-ha!  No wonder they couldn’t grow deep.  True.  Could have been a rock or something.  But our carrots are strong-willed (like many of us children) and are determined to continue growing.  If they can’t go down?  They’ll go sideways.  Yep.  Or they’ll pour all their energy into growing wider.

But with spring break bouncing in our way this month, the kids will have a lesson in “delayed gratification.”  No fun, I know.  But definitely a fact of life.  So how will we store them until our return?

I’m glad you asked.  One of the easiest ways to store carrots (without losing half your refrigerator space) is to layer them in damp sand–sawdust will work, too!  Find a bin, box or even plastic bucket and gather (aka: purchase) your sand. 

Choosing only your best carrots, clip the greens about an inch away from the carrot end and layer them  within the damp sand/sawdust. 

Couple of things to keep in mind:  if you plan to store these long-term, choose a dark space where it remains somewhat cool.   For many of my Arctic Amigos, this will be a root cellar.  But warm region folks like us will need to find a dark corner in our garage or garden shed.  One of the keys to this storage system is to keep the ”filler” sand damp throughout the length of your storage.  Now we’ll only need to store ours for a couple of weeks, but it sure was fun to learn how to keep them longer if we needed! :)  Knowledge = fun

Also, standing your carrots upright and sifting the sand/sawdust over and around them will help when it comes time to use them.  Simply pluck and pull! 

Wunderbar.  Now start dreaming of that carrot cake!  It’s not so very far away…

Make Your Own Sun-dried Tomatoes

Ever wondered how to sun dry a tomato? I mean, the flavor of sun-dried tomatoes is exquisitely intense, wonderfully versatile–and I learned–the perfect addition to any raw diet.  It makes an awesome base for uncooked tomato sauce.

But I digress. Personally I never wondered about sun-dried tomatoes and how they were created. I figured the name said it all, right?  I imagined them splayed out across specialty terra-cotta baking stones in Italy or California, sunning until they reached crispy, crunchy chewy perfection (depending on how you like them!).

It wasn’t until I witnessed Mother Nature’s first sun-dried tomatoes in my garden this spring that it dawned on me.  Actually, it was the scorch of summer and my lack of attention that did it, but who’s checking? I planted these gorgeous Romas this spring and they dried by summertime, all by themselves.  Don’t you love an independent vegetable?

Nothing I like better than a vegetable that will grow itself or a child that will do his or her own laundry. It’s heaven!  But seriously, are these not feats to be coveted? At least respected, admired?  In my house they are and when my tomatoes began to sun dry themselves well, I celebrated.  Hip-hip-hooray!  We have sun-dried tomatoes!

For all of you cringing right now thinking, please no, tell me you didn’t actually eat those rotten things.  Rest assured, I didn’t. Who knows what may have tainted those shriveled beauties? Not me and I don’t eat anything from my garden without full certainty of its “wholesome goodness” prior to ingestion.  I have kids watching my every move. Never know which “moves” they may wish to emulate and trust me–rushing them to the ER is not on my list of things to do!

So how does one sun-dry tomatoes?

Easy. Same way you dry those herbs in your garden–set the oven to low (150-200) and bake them for about 4-5 hours, depending on the size of your tomatoes and the heat strength of your oven.  Cut them into quarters and push the seeds out (or not).

These are a mix of Roma style and regular.  (Is there such a thing as regular tomatoes?)  Next, spread them across a baking sheet.  I used this vented one for more even “drying.”

At this point, your best course of action is to monitor them throughout the process, turning when necessary. If this seems like too much work, you can always lay them out in the sunshine for a hot couple of days.  Mother Nature does know what she’s doing!

After about 4 hours, my small batch was ready; crispy-crunchy-ready. 

I imagine if I immerse these in olive oil they’ll return to a more palatable texture (like mine chewy), but these would still be great as a salad sprinkle.  The raw diet recipes we used during our challenge called for soaking the sun-dried tomatoes in water prior to use.  Good idea.

Tasty, toasty and easy, you’ll want to try this one for yourself!

Zucchini and Squash a plenty!

 

Nothing says summer like zucchini and squash.   Warm weather, plenty of water and you’ll have more zucchini and squash than you know what to do with!   My son and I went out to harvest last evening and boy did we find some doozies.  Always eager to rummage through the plants, he was eager to pull and pick and beam with pleasure over a job well done.  When he found this fat boy he could barely contain himself.  “Look at this one, mom!  It’s a monster!”

While I don’t like to equate my beautiful produce with monsters, I had to agree with him.  

Apparently I missed this one on my evening stroll the evening before, otherwise I would have grabbed it.  Something tells me you’re not supposed to let them grow this large — might toughen the taste — but since I’m no expert and don’t know for sure, I oohed and aahed like any good mother would.   ”Wow.   See what you grew?”  Any encouragement while he’s in the garden is a good idea, as it helps overcome the protests to weeding.  “How awesome!” 

Pleased with himself, he continued his harvest and filled his basket.  Note of caution: when harvesting zucchini, be careful of sharp objects, namely fingernails.  Adjusting my zucchini and squash in the basket for photos, I must have scarred my harvest a dozen times.   (Who knew?)

Now, YOU do.  Go easy on the squash family.  You’ll be glad you did. 

“One more thing,” I told him.  “We need more peppers for Daddy.”

Taking the corner with skill and speed (the kind that makes me nervous when zipping down garden aisles),  he was distracted by a ripe cucumber.  “Hey Mom, the cucumbers are ready!”  Without hesitation, he yanked it from the vine and held it out for my inspection. 

“You’re getting pretty good at this harvest thing, aren’t  you?”

Of course he was, and with an added boost to his measure, he pulled out another one.  When  I saw him heading for a large cucumber still half ripe, I warned him off.  “That one’s not ready, yet.”

He turned and looked at me queerly.  “I know that.  It’s still yellow.”

I smiled.  Of course.  I should have known.  When a child spends a lot of time in the garden, they come to understand these things.  My kids can even recognize plants by their leaves.  Some plants are easy, like corn and watermelon, but while tomatoes and potatoes resemble one another, they are different and my two can tell the difference.  It makes a momma proud.

Collecting the last of our wax peppers, we headed into the house, specifically the kitchen.  Tonight would be busy.  My daughter was making homemade chocolate frosting; a recipe she found while perusing a magazine at the dentist’s office.  When the hygienist called her back, I was given the assignment to copy down the recipe and NOT miss a word.  “I want to make that tonight!” 

Of course you do, I thought, praying she wouldn’t come back with a cavity report, dutifully following my instructions.  And what do you know, half hour later, recipe securely copied into my iphone, both children came back cavity-free.   Do the ironies ever cease?

So she made her frosting, I tried a new recipe from my Cuisine at Home magazine for Onions au Gratin (which was fabulous), and we sautéed our fresh zucchini alongside the chicken strips.  Does it get any better?