Posts Tagged ‘garden’

We eat a ton of pesto at home, and I’m amazed at how much my 10-year-old daughter loves the stuff. Most of the time, it’s simply mixed with pasta. But we stir it into tomato sauce and smear it on grilled chicken or beef as well.

The herb garden, with basil in the foreground. Happy cucumbers are growing on the trellis in the background.

Basil is the main ingredient in my pesto, and it’s growing rapidly under the summer sun in my garden right now. And that’s key to great pesto: when Mother Nature says the basil’s ready, be sure you have all the other ingredients and get to work!

Basil, ready to be picked.

Besides that it tastes old, the problem with store-bought pesto is that it’s expensive. Although homemade pesto isn’t cheap, you can still save a lot of money by making it yourself.
Some of my tips for saving money: buy good quality ingredients in bulk. My go-to olive oil is California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It gets high ratings, tastes amazing, and can be found in those large cans at most supermarkets and in quantity on Amazon.
There’s been a rash of articles about already-grated parmesan cheese that is 50% wood fiber. Stay away from that junk and buy yourself a nice chunk of the real deal: Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Mario Batali calls it the “undisputed king of cheeses.”) Grate it yourself and taste the difference!
The most expensive (and questionable) ingredient in basic pesto is pine nuts. If you look on the back of the package (and you always should!) you’ll see that most pine nuts come from China. I don’t buy any food products from China…period. So sourcing “safe” pine nuts can be difficult. Again, Amazon can be a help with that.
One of the reasons you want real pine nuts and not some look-alike from China is something called “pine mouth” or “pine nut mouth.” A small percentage of people experience a reaction after eating pine nuts that makes their mouth taste like metal–imagine putting a handful of pennies in your mouth–and the taste stays in their mouths for a couple of weeks, ruining their taste buds for the foods they love. (Eventually, it wears off.) Some scientists say you get “pine mouth” by eating counterfeit pine nuts–varieties like those from China that are not the same species. Others say that you can get the reaction even from real pine nuts. Research on this continues, but all the more reason not to buy any foods from China and other questionable countries.
There are alternatives to pine nuts, and you’ll find many pesto recipes that substitute with almonds, pistachios or walnuts. I think those nuts change the taste of the pesto, plus they have a skin that leaves a gritty residue, which I don’t like. So I don’t use them. The one nut that I’ve found that does a pretty good job filling in for pine nuts is macadamia nuts. They are less expensive and usually come from Hawaii. Just remember to buy raw, unsalted macadamias.
So here’s my sure-fire pesto recipe. I make massive amounts of it, store it in plastic storage containers with a tightly sealing screw-top lid, and put them in the deep freeze. They last all year, and thaw out easily.
2 cups fresh basil, packed down a little
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1/2 cup pine nuts (or raw, unsalted macadamia nuts)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
Put all the ingredients in a food processor and let it rip!
 

KOHL-SLAW

Posted: July 5, 2017 in Food, garden, Recipes
Tags: , , , , ,

Kohlrabi is probably one of the most misunderstood vegetables around. Most people don’t know what to do with them. Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family and can be eaten raw as well as cooked.

For me, the real joy of kohlrabi is biting into a crunchy, sweet, freshly picked and peeled bulb right out of the garden. Unfortunately, much of the kohlrabi you find in a supermarket (or even a farm stand) is grown larger than a tennis ball, making it tough, woody and dry…and they usually remove all the leaves, which are delicious.

The kohlrabi harvest has begun in my home garden, and I make a slaw with the leaves and the bulb. I use my Awesomesauce recipe as the dressing.

FullSizeRender (10)

 

2 kohlrabi bulbs with leaves, de-stemmed
1 carrot, peeled
Awesomesauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon dill pickle relish
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper

Combine the Awesomesauce ingredients in a bowl and keep it in the fridge.

Wash the veggies thoroughly before using. Pull the leaves off the kohlrabi bulb, and remove the stems. Grab a bunch of leaves at a time, roll them up tightly, and slice as thinly as you can into thin ribbons. Place in a bowl. Do this with all the leaves.

Peel the thick skin off the kohlrabi bulb and slice it as thinly as you can. Then take the slices and cut thin sticks out of them. Toss into the bowl.

I like to peel the carrot with a veggie peeler, then finely chop the slices. Toss into the bowl.

Add Awesomesauce to taste and toss well.

FullSizeRender (9)

Cover and refrigerate, letting the flavors blend for a couple of hours before serving.

Successful gardening is a combination of art, science and luck. You can do everything by the book, and one season, Mother Nature will reward you with a bountiful harvest. The next season, when you think you’ve got it all figured out, she’ll give you nothing more than a cluster of dead plants.

That’s why, if there’s such a thing as a foolproof plant, I grow it. Perennials are the perfect example: you plant them once, and they come back year after year, with little or no work, sometimes bigger and stronger with every season. In the vegetable garden, asparagus is one of those delicious, reliable crops that comes back every year. Onions, chives and some herbs are favorites as well.

I’ve grown peas for over 50 years…from my very first gardening season. In my young days, I sowed the standard English peas that everyone is familiar with. Able to withstand cold and damp soil, peas have always been the first to go in the ground. I still go by the old saying: “Plant your peas on St. Patrick’s Day.”

But in the late 60’s, the Sugar Snap pea was introduced. It became an AAS winner in 1979, and later was awarded the most popular vegetable of all time! What made it different from standard peas was that you could eat the entire pod: the peas and the outside shell. They were sweet, they were prolific, and incredibly easy to grow. Once I discovered Sugar Snaps, I grew no other pea.

If you let Sugar Snap pea pods grow to their fullest, you’ll get a nice, plump crunchy pod with sweet, juicy peas on the inside. There’s no need to cook these peas…they’re at their most flavorful when eaten raw, straight off the vine.

Sugar Snap peas in early June: well over 6′ tall!

But what makes Sugar Snaps foolproof is that you can eat them at any point during the growing season. Pick them early, when they’re flat and small, and use them in a stir fry. Wait until they plump up, and they make a refreshing crunchy treat. And when the season ends, when your pea plants start to wither in the summer sun and it’s time to pull the plants out of the ground and toss them in the compost pile, you can still pick off every single tiny pod left on the plants for that last farewell snack.

They say you can grow peas in the fall, but I’ve had limited success. There’s something magical about growing peas in the spring. They’re one of the first plants to grow, when the weather is still cold and damp, tiny green shoots sprouting out of the cold (sometimes snow-covered) soil…a sign of better, warmer, sweeter days to come.

It’s Father’s Day. Here’s a story about my Mom’s dad, my grandfather. Born in Lithuania, he came here during WWII. He was a short man, barely 5’5″ tall, but he was the strongest man I ever knew. As a kid, I watched him crush walnuts, and even hazelnuts, in his bare hands. He would go out into the water at Rockaway Beach, and the waves would hit him head-on, but never knock him down. He had little or no formal education, but he could fix or build anything, from concrete driveways to dog houses. And no matter what chore he took on, he wore a white shirt and tie with a vest while he did it. He never became a US citizen because he had a hard time with the English language, but he maintained his legal alien status, and spoke enough to work in the kitchens of several high-end restaurants in Queens, NY.

My grandfather, Vaclovas Lukosevicius. A helluva name and a helluva guy. Now I know where I got my receding hairline!

I smoked my first cigarette with him when I was 12, and we had a good talk about it after my face returned to a lighter shade of blue-green. We would walk to his favorite bar on Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill, the Triangle Hofbrau (it’s still there) and they let me sit at the bar, snacking on pretzels with a 7-Up while he enjoyed a beer. My Mom was an only child, so I was the only grandson, and nobody made me feel more special than he did.

One of my grandfather’s passions was horseradish…homegrown, homemade horseradish.

It’s been almost 50 years since I watched my grandfather dig the long, dirty, gnarled horseradish roots out of his garden with a sharp spade, lunging at the ground with all of his strength to cut through the thick fibers of the plant.

After harvesting a large piece, he would wash the dirt from it and then peel it, leaving behind a beautifully smooth white root.

He had a large bowl set under a grater, and he would hand grate the horseradish root with incredible speed. But no matter how fast he went, the potent vapors released by the root would make their way to his eyes, and he was forced to stop several times to wipe the tears away with his old handkerchief and regain his composure before returning to grate the root again.

Onions were child’s play compared to horseradish, and I understood why he did all the preparation just outside of the kitchen door of his Queens, NY home.

Once grated, he would add some water, vinegar, and salt, and his prepared horseradish was complete. He’d store it in tightly sealed glass jars in the fridge, and when it was time to sample the goods, he would carefully open a jar, poke his knife in, and spread the prepared horseradish over beef, beets, twice-smoked bacon, or anything else he desired.
I’d watch his face slowly turn red, small beads of perspiration developing on his forehead, and he’d turn and smile at me and tell me in Lithuanian: “Labai skanu!” (Very tasty!)

At the age of 10, I couldn’t figure out what he saw in horseradish, but it didn’t take long before I was hooked myself, as it was a staple at every family dinner table.

Opting for the stuff that came in a jar in the supermarket, I never made my own prepared horseradish until almost 50 years later.

I’ve had a huge horseradish plant growing in my garden for years, and I just never got around to doing anything with it. But the other night, as I was preparing my cocktail sauce recipe and I realized that I was out of prepared horseradish, it became clear that the time of reckoning had arrived. It was time, in the finest tradition of my grandfather, to make my own prepared horseradish.

Freshly harvested horseradish roots

Freshly harvested horseradish roots

I went out to the yard with a sharp shovel and lunged at the horseradish plant, splitting a few roots off of the main crown. I pulled them out of the ground, detached the long leaves, and headed back to the kitchen.
Today’s kitchen technology gave me a distinct advantage over my grandfather, and after washing and peeling the root, I chopped it into smaller pieces and tossed them into a food processor. No hand grating necessary!
The processor pulverized the root in no time, and I added water, vinegar and salt as my grandfather did, being very careful not to stick my face too close to the opening of the processor where the vapors were their most powerful.
A small taste on my tongue just about had my eyeballs shoot out of my head, and I muttered silently to myself: “Labai skanu!”

My grandfather would be proud.

Horseradish is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes mustard, cabbage, wasabi, and broccoli. The horseradish root itself hardly has any aroma. But when you crush it, enzymes from the broken plant cells produce mustard oil, which irritates the mucous membranes of the sinuses and eyes. To keep the horseradish from losing its pungency and freshness, vinegar must be added immediately.

Prepared Horseradish

6 oz. fresh horseradish root, peeled
6 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons white vinegar
3 pinches of salt

Chop the horseradish root into small pieces and add water, vinegar and salt. Process until proper consistency is reached.
Careful! Use proper ventilation or the vapors will blow your eyeballs and sinuses out!

Every other year, the Master Gardeners of the University of Rhode Island host “Gardening with the Masters,” a tour which showcases over 2 dozen home gardens. Some big, some small, these gardens are the passion and obsession of 26 Master Gardeners in Rhode Island and nearby Connecticut.  This year, 14 gardens on the tour have never been on the tour before…including mine!

The Gardening with the Masters tour happens from 10AM to 4PM on June 24 and 25, rain or shine, so make plans to visit our area and get some great ideas and tips for your own home garden.

You’ve just got 2 weeks to buy your tickets online!

Your ticket to the event is a booklet that lists all the gardens on the tour, along with maps that help you get to each location. Tickets are $20 (good for both days) and can be purchased at: www.uri.edu/mastergardener up to June 15. They will be mailed out. Call 401-874-2900 for details.

I gave my garden the title of “Space, the Final Frontier,” because my particular garden challenges include managing an almost 2-acre yard backed by 6 acres of forest and protected wetlands. You’ll see stands of bamboo, fruit trees, native plants, a vegetable and herb garden, a greenhouse, and my wife’s art studio (http://farmcoast.com/blog/tag/bow-house-studio/) will be open to the public that weekend as well. We’re right down the road from historic Tiverton Four Corners, featuring shops, art galleries and restaurants.

URI Master Gardeners (and others who know their stuff) will be on site to answer questions about plants, composting, and good gardening practices.

Ask questions, bring your camera, bring a picnic lunch, take notes, but most importantly enjoy the beauty created in these gardens!

My garden and yard is accessible for the handicapped in most areas.

 

 

The corn is still out on farm stands in my neighborhood, and it’s really hard to resist, despite the fact that corn is at the top of the loaded-with-pesticides list of veggies. Organic farmers struggle with corn because it demands a lot and produces little in return, but you can find it if you look hard enough. It’s easier to find it frozen, but that’s something you don’t want to do in season, especially when you see those beautiful ears just waiting for you at the local farm stand!

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen those videos where the person takes corn still in the husk, pops it in the microwave, and then slips out a perfect ear of corn without any silk minutes later. If you haven’t, here’s one of them…

There are 2 problems with this method: 1) It takes forever to do a dozen ears…and 2) It ruins the damn corn!

corn1

Why would anyone who’s passionate about fresh corn, stick it in a microwave and nuke the living hell out of it? Fresh corn needs a minimalist approach. It should be eaten practically raw…not bombarded with gamma rays and dehydrated in to shriveled kernels.

I love my corn right off the cob…and I still stick to the tried-and-true method of putting it in a pot of water and boiling it for a very short time. Do I get a few strands of silk? Sure. That’s part of the deal. Real corn has silk…just like real fish has bones. Get over it.

My wife and daughter like their corn off the cob. In that case, I shuck the corn, standing the raw ear up in a bowl or bundt pan, slicing down with a knife to remove the kernels. I then lightly saute the corn in a pan with unsalted organic butter and a pinch of Fleur de Sel. Those pieces that have several rows of kernels stuck together, across and down, are the favorites.

corn2

 

One other way I’ve cooked corn is the “cooler corn” method, which is great when you have a really large crowd to feed. Get your favorite cooler and make sure it’s clean inside. Shuck your corn and place the ears in the cooler. Boil a large pot of water on the stove and then pour the hot water over the corn. Close the cooler lid tightly and let it sit for about 20 minutes. You’ll have perfect corn for a crowd every time.

 

 

 

At a recent summer garden dinner for 12 of our friends, I wanted to serve my corn and tomato salsa that I featured here a few weeks ago.

We “smuggled” a few treats from a recent visit to Santorini Greece: capers, caper leaves and sun-dried tomatoes. Adding them to fresh corn and tomatoes gave it that salty bite that. I usually use feta cheese in this recipe, but we served a cheese plate as an appetizer, so I left the feta out. Turns out we like it even better this way…

1 dozen fresh ears of corn, lightly sautéed in olive oil
2 dozen (or more) tiny tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon caper leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (in addition to what you saute the corn with)

Slice the kernels of corn off the ears with a sharp knife. Saute them in a little olive oil, just to remove the raw taste. Don’t over cook them!

Combine the corn with all the other ingredients and place in a bowl in the fridge.

Just before serving, let it come back to cool, not cold, and check for seasoning. The capers and caper leaves are salty, so I’m careful not to over-salt.

The definition of a consomme is: “a clear soup made with concentrated stock.” I might add “mind-blowing” to that sentence, especially with this recipe. The key to success– and this is crucial–is to use absolutely garden-fresh, in-season ingredients. If you try this with greenhouse or supermarket tomatoes, you’re just wasting your time.

FullSizeRender (9)

4 1/2 lbs. of fresh garden tomatoes (my favorite is the heirloom: Brandywine)
1 large bunch of fresh basil, leaves and stems
1 2-inch piece of fresh horseradish, peeled
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I use Alessi)
2 oz. vodka (I use Tito’s)
sea salt and pepper

 

Remove the core of the tomatoes, but leave everything else, including seeds and skin.

Put all the tomatoes, basil, horseradish, garlic, vinegar and vodka in a blender or food processor. You might need to do this in batches if your equipment can’t handle it all.

Process until you get a kind of slush.

Line a mixing bowl with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the tomato slush mixture into it. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth carefully, and tie them securely so you can lift the bundle up by the knot. Hang the bundle from a hook over a clean bowl in the fridge so that it catches the liquid that drips out, and leave the whole thing in there overnight. The liquid that drips out will be clear. (You can place an optional slice of beet in the bowl to add color, but I choose not to, because I think it changes the flavor.)

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

To serve, chill bowls (or in this case: the sipping glasses) in the fridge. When ready to serve, ladle out the consomme and garnish with a tiny basil leaf. A drop of excellent quality olive oil is optional.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

 

I tried using a synthetic cheesecloth for this recipe, and I found that it doesn’t filter out enough of the solids to make a clear consomme. You could use it along with real cheesecloth, just to use the stand, or just hang it all in real cheesecloth, as described in this recipe.

KOHL-SLAW

Posted: July 10, 2016 in Food, garden, Recipes
Tags: , , , , ,

Kohlrabi is probably one of the most misunderstood vegetables around. Most people don’t know what to do with them. Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family and can be eaten raw as well as cooked.

For me, the real joy of kohlrabi is biting into a crunchy, sweet, freshly picked and peeled bulb right out of the garden. Unfortunately, much of the kohlrabi you find in a supermarket (or even a farm stand) is grown larger than a tennis ball, making it tough, woody and dry. And they usually remove all the leaves, which are delicious.

The kohlrabi harvest has just begun in my home garden, and I make a slaw with the leaves and the bulb. I use my Awesomesauce recipe as the dressing.

FullSizeRender (10)

 

s into the bowl.
2 kohlrabi bulbs with leaves, de-stemmed
1 carrot, peeled
For the Awesomesauce:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon dill pickle relish
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper

Combine the Awesomesauce ingredients in a bowl and keep it in the fridge.

Wash the veggies thoroughly before using. Pull the leaves off the kohlrabi bulb, and remove the stems. Grab a bunch of leaves at a time, roll them up tightly, and slice as thinly as you can into thin ribbons. Place in a bowl. Do this with all the leaves.

Peel the thick skin off the kohlrabi bulb and slice it as thinly as you can. Then take the slices and cut thin sticks out of them. Toss into the bowl.

I like to peel the carrot with a veggie peeler, then finely chop the slices. Toss into the bowl.

Add Awesomesauce to taste and toss well.

FullSizeRender (9)

Cover and refrigerate, letting the flavors blend for a couple of hours before serving.

With a week of rain followed by a week of sunshine, the garden has really taken off. Nights are still too cool (in the 40’s) for tomatoes to go out, so they’re hanging out in my greenhouse until they’re ready to be transplanted.

Happy bees buzzing around the blossoms of my old and still productive apple tree.

Happy bees buzzing around the blossoms of my old and still productive apple tree.

 

Strawberries and asparagus share the same bed. A good combination: by the time the asparagus harvest is over, the strawberries fill in the bed. And by the time the strawberries are all picked, the asparagus stalks shoot upward to produce the ferns that will recharge the plants for next year's crop.

Strawberries and asparagus share the same bed. A good combination: by the time the asparagus harvest is over, the strawberries fill in the bed. And by the time the strawberries are all picked, the asparagus stalks shoot upward to produce the ferns that will recharge the plants for next year’s crop.

 

...And a check on the first bed I sowed this season: peas on the left, happy arugula, Asian greens, spinach and more on the right.

…And a check on the first bed I sowed this season: peas on the left, happy arugula, Asian greens, lettuce, spinach and more on the right.

Here’s the bed from 3 weeks ago…and the start of the season…

FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

Fresh salads from the garden have already included: lettuce, Asian greens, scallions, arugula, spinach, asparagus, pea tendrils, fresh oregano, and kale.