Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wrapping it up....

The growing season, I mean. Not Christmas presents (haven't got a thing), not the blog (Love this too much).  Yesterday I picked a couple of gallons of green beans again. In weather so cold I had to wear gloves.  And looking across the yard, I saw the forsythia blooming. It was 75 degrees for 2 weeks! In October !  Everything is so crazy... I have garlic and onions that are 6 inches high.  And now we have been having to put covers over everything this past week so they don't freeze.  (The temps dropped 30 degrees in one night) Sigh....But, I picked half a 5 gallon bucket of mostly green and some ripe tomatoes yesterday too, and so now those plants can die back. The squash is gone too. The snow peas are radiant, on the other hand, and my 2 lettuces are jubilant. lol  The kale loves this weather and the chard is doing okay too.  We'll see what happens. So today I'll be canning this last batch of green beans and drying the few tomatoes. The green ones I'll set out on newspapers to hopefully ripen slowly.  I was going to try pickling some of the tiny ones, and I still might, but I'm not sure just how many of those are in there.  My friend Cathy does that, and I thought I'd give it a try. (Maybe I should taste some first and make sure I even like them. lol)

  It's been a very good year, harvest-wise, in spite of the drought and the outrageous heat. We broke records all over the midwest.  Not in a good way. lol   Weeks and weeks of killer heat and nary a drop of rain. I credit all the success I had this year to my organic raised beds.  And massive amounts of mulch to hold what little water they got in.  I am a devotee of this method of gardening and will never do it any other way.  So, this time of year, I spend a lot of time out there, returning things back to the Mother earth. The vertical composting of dead plants, the applying of more compost, more dead leaves (a major FREE component of our fertilization process). And topping it off with the old used mulching straw. Then settling it down for a long winters nap. In about March, we will put heavy black plastic on all the beds to warm the soil and speed up the decomp process.  In late March, we will start it all again,. putting potatoes in the ground and uncovering the bed where the onions and garlic are planted.  Assuming it's starting to look like spring, and we're not buried under 3 feet of snow.. lol  And if we are--then a few more weeks of vacation for us.  We play by Mother Nature's rules.  There is no getting around that.  I don't know if I will try to start seedlings inside or not. I never have very good luck with that. It disturbs me...I have a very green thumb. But for the life of me I cannot seem to raise any seedlings except squash.  Go figure. 

  I have saved some seed this year...not as much as I should. But edamame and squash and bee balm and fennel and anise hyssop and tomatoes. I will have my own seed potatoes and sweet potato slips too (I hope).  And I can hopefully keep the lemon grass alive through the winter so I can replant. Same for the parsley. The chives will reseed themselves, but I have collected some seed from the garlic chives, just in case. They  have come back 3 years running now.  I also have a Survival Seed vault that I contains all the basics. And some seed left that didn't get used this past year. So, all in all, I shouldn't have to buy much.  I need to get better about saving seed and starting my own indoor seedlings.

  Any minute now, I will start rearranging the pantries and seeing just how much of what I have. And rotate..old to the front and get things used up. I just finished my last jar of 2011's green beans the other day. I finished up the tomatoes a long time ago, except for the dried ones and the marinara (2 jars left).  I am already 3 jars into this years salsa. I may be in trouble there...but I can't remember offhand how much I canned this year. And somehow, that particular days bounty never made it into the garden journal. lol I did put lots of things in there, but I probably missed a lot too. Looking over it, I feel pretty proud of myself.  I have 13 jars of green beans sitting on my counter that need putting away so I can have room to can the ones from today...when it's all said and done, I should have about 45 jars of beans. That's about right--a few more wouldn't have hurt, but we ate a lot of fresh beans too, and gave some to neighbors. The tomatoes got canned into marinara, salsa, tomato sauce and tomato preserves. And dried. I dried a buttload of those babies. And I'll dry a few more. Maybe. 

  All in all...a good year of putting food by. Got peaches, apples, pears and blackberries and cherries in the way of fruit. Some frozen, some made into jellies, some canned and some dried.  I wanted to dry some pears, but didn't get to that. Maybe next year--or I might give my friend Kay a call and see if she has more she wants to get rid of. Might be way too late though, I don't know. I dried button mushrooms, red and white onions, okra, tomatoes, carrots, lemon grass, chives, walking onions, parsley, basil, fennel, hyssop and bergamot. I dried squash, lima beans, broccoli, cauliflower and peaches. I canned 21 pints of pinto beans so they would be ready to use on a moments notice. I froze edamame (a lot!) about 15 quarts.  I have some frozen ear corn that I am going to dig out of my big freezer and cut off the cob and dry. It is SO good thrown into a pot of soup!  The corn crop this year was a catastrophe because of the drought, so I didn't get any extra to do. We don't eat that much corn anyway...and the older stuff is taking up room in the freezer.  I made only 1 or 2 batches of peach jam and just froze the rest. Some of that I will make jam with later when I don't have anything better to do (as if) and there are some older blackberries in there somewhere too, and they need to be made into jelly.

  I hope that your year was good. We work really hard in our gardens and  it's so disappointing when we lose the battle to Mother nature, like the year the big tree came down in the storm and smashed my bean trellises and killed my beans and smashed all the tomatoes into oblivion. Or it rained too much too long and killed lots of things., Or it didn't rain enough...and on and on, ad infinitum. But--we roll with the punches and we tell ourselves it will be better next year. And we push up our sleeves and we do it all over again...having faith that the seeds we plant will sprout, that the soil we've nurtured will bring forth healthy nutritious food, and that we'll manage to get it all done...just in time.

  Have a restful season.....

Monday, October 22, 2012

Polenta is the word of the day !

 One of the things I love (but don't make real often- for several reasons) is polenta. It's an age old food, peasant food mostly, of the northern Italians.  Over the centuries, it's been made with everything from faro to spelt to millet to buckwheat.  In the 15th or 16th century, maize arrived from the New World. And the rest is history. It was a staple of the mighty Roman Legions and a subsistence food for the peasants.  Today it enjoys a gourmet renaissance around the world.  Being made with corn has significantly lowered it's  nutritive value, compared to buckwheat or spelt, but it is a tasty and filling food that lends itself to diverse variations.

  I buy Bob's Red Mill Polenta to make sure I'm getting non-GMO corn.  It's a very nice coarse ground corn meal and cooks up well, in about 30 minutes.  Tonight I made a polenta with braised kale and mushrooms. The first thing is to make the polenta :

  In a deep saucepan, bring 6 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt to a rolling boil.  Using a long handled spoon (I prefer a stout wooden spoon)  slowly pour 2 cups of polenta grits in a thin stream into the water, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.  Bring this to a boil and then turn the heat to low and stir often to prevent burning. It will take about 30 minutes to cook. It will be very thick.Make sure to stir it hard all around the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking and stirring, and about 15 minutes into it, add 3 tablespoons of butter. 

  NOTE*  This is one of the reasons I don't make polenta all that often. It is labor intensive. You can't go off and leave it, you can't cover it and let it go. You have to be right on top of it the entire cooking time.  The other reason is that corn isn't really all that good for humans. But we love it anyway.  lol  *

You'll need a 9 inch square pan or a bowl that you have oiled well with olive oil.  When the cooking time is finished, use a rubber spatula and turn the thick gloppy mixture into the oiled bowl. It needs to sit a minimum of 10 minutes.  Then you can turn it out onto a plate and it will hold it's shape. You use a knife and cut off the size and number of slices you need. 

 This is what it will look like.  Pretty, isn't it?

  Next, you can choose what you want to top it with.  I almost always use some type of marinara sauce...this year I canned a lot of sauce to have on hand for just such occasions. You can use commercial sauce if you like, or you can make your own concoction.  I heated up a pint jar of sauce, put it on top of the polenta (on the plate)...topped it with some shredded parmesan and romano cheese. I then rolled up some kale leaves that I ribbon sliced and sauteed them quickly over a medium high heat with some minced garlic and thin sliced mushrooms in olive oil and butter.

 The kale is out of the garden, of course.  It was beautiful.

  As a different kind of a side dish, I had some fresh Christmas  Pole Limas that I had just shelled, so I looked around and found a no-nonsense  recipe that suited me and went to work on those too. They cooked while I was cutting the kale, and took only 15 or 20 minutes. Very simple.

Heat the skillet on medium heat, 1 tbsp. EACH butter and olive oil. Add the beans, and cook, stirring occasionally about 15 minutes. Add some minced garlic and cracked pepper and sea salt the last 5 minutes. It was wicked good!

  Here's a picture of the finished plate. Pronounced "Excellent" by the Irishman and eaten in entirety by us both.

   (Click to biggify all pictures!)

Bon Appetit !

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Egg Foo Yung, anyone??

 No silly, this isn't the egg foo yung. This is the salad that accompanied it for tonight's supper. You can click the picture to biggify was awesome.  Many of the ingredients came from my yard and garden. Many of the ingredients for the egg foo yung came from here as well.  It was all around a very economical meal that was tasty and very satisfying. 

  The salad greens consisted of the two lettuces growing in the garden,  bronze mignonette and a red romaine. I added some young kale leaves and some young chard.  Then I looked around and spotted some beautiful new chickweed growing in the old kale bed and next to that was some pretty wood sorrel. I grabbed some parsley and the tops from some of the Egyptian walking onions.  I brought them in and washed them and laid them out to dry. Then I chopped it into bite sized pieces.  I sliced a very small Honey Crisp apple onto it, put the last of the gorgonzola on it, threw in a tiny last bit of walnuts (need to put that on the grocery list) and finished it off with some great pecan halves.  I dressed that bad boy with fresh squeezed lemon and olive oil right before supper. Mmmmm....

  The egg foo yung is yet another tasty way to use up eggs when they start accumulating. I only have 7 hens, but they lay from 4-6 eggs per day, and that starts adding up.  I keep hard boiled eggs on hand all the time too. A tasty snack that's high in protein and good for you...and a quick egg salad sandwich for lunch. A lot of time it's my breakfast too.  For the egg dish, I started with a small skillet full of carrots, celery, baby bella mushrooms (sliced thin), a can of mung bean sprouts (I often have my sprouting jar going, but not I always try to keep a can or two of those sprouts in the pantry), onions and green onion tops.  I sauteed them just a little, to bring out their flavors, then I dumped them in a bowl to cool.  I got out my 2 cup glass measurer, and cracked 7 eggs into it. I beat them lightly with a fork and set them aside.

  Next I made a light mushroom and onion gravy to go over the egg foo yung patties. It's not like that thick brown goo that comes over them in the restaurant...more of a delicate gravy that I saute thinly sliced mushrooms and onions, season, add soy sauce, and  hot water, then thicken with cornstarch. I usually put a little Kitchen Bouquet in too, and that turns it a rich brown.  I make this and set on the back burner.

  The sauteed vegetables have cooled down enough by now...I season them with a little salt and pepper, maybe some garlic granules.  I mix it up again, mix up the eggs again too, and combine the whole thing until the veggies are good and covered by the egg. This gets ladled into a skillet with a small amount (or more, lol) of vegetable oil, my big cast iron skillet will fit 3 patties at a time. Make sure the oil is hot before you ladle in the egg mixture.

Fry them until they are a delicious golden brown on both sides, then drain on paper towels. Keep them warm, and put on a plate with a ladle of gravy across the top.

Served with a salad, this makes a wonderful Thursday night supper.  The Irishman had seconds...but you could serve him a bicycle tire, if you put gravy on it.  lol   I'm trying to do a better job of eating out of my pantry and gardens as long as I can. We still have quite a bit of stuff out there, so it's still relatively easy.  

  I started making pear butter with the riper pears I my kitchen is a disorganized chaotic wonderland.  A new friend gave me about 3 bushels of pears from the trees in her yard, all in various stages of ripeness. I was able to use up all the softer ones, the ones with spots and the less pretty ones in the pear butter. I have a 7 quart crock pot full of it, bubbling happily away. It makes the house smell grand, all cinnamon-y, nutmeg-y and clove-y.  Perfect trio of autumn smells.  But--that's another post....try the egg dish if you like that sort of thing.  It was really good, and I think the leftover patties will make a great breakfast sandwich, with a little melted cheese and sliced rip tomato on it!!

Bon Apetit!