30 August 2014

The August 2014 garden

The August 2014 garden

First things first: the garden has indeed been affected by drought. It may not look like it to the naked eye, but when you compare it to the 2013 garden there's a difference. And when you compare it to the 2012 garden? Yeah.

Granted, I personally caused some of the difference. I have been watering less and encouraging deep root growth with infrequent but thorough soakings. I learned not to overcrowd the beds quite as much as usual, and I pinched off the tops of the tomato plants when they got to be about eight feet tall. I also got myself together enough to plant half the tomatoes in the side bed instead of the main bed, which obviously leaves some extra space here.

Still. I haven't had to fight with the tomatoes at ALL compared to the constant staking and tying and pinching of years past. That in itself is a big difference.

On the left: Caspian Pink tomato #1, with garlic and a volunteer potato hidden behind it. To its right, there are lots of scallions surrounding two jalapeño peppers and a red pepper. Next, there is basil, Caspian Pink tomato #2, and, at the edge of the frame, three tiny green beans. Not pictured: I also have some scarlet runner beans and cucumbers tucked into odd corners around the yard, and the other two tomato plants in the side bed.

You can see some of my anti-drought, anti-neighborhood-cat cardboard mulch on the right. I just flattened whatever cardboard boxes I could get my hands on and fit them in around my biggest plants. This was a good plan and really did help the beds retain moisture. Next year I might get some hay for mulching the more crowded scallion & garlic sections.

The August 2014 garden: scallions

The scallions have been quite successful. These guys consistently get up to three feet high, no problem.

Over the winter I scattered last year's seedheads all over the bed and waited to see what came up. Then I moved the most crowded seedlings around to fill in the bare patches in the bed while also thinning reasonably. Scallions have no problem with transplanting like this, in my experience. It's a really good way to get the most out of a crowded planting.

When I harvest, I find the biggest scallion that is also in a crowded location. This lets the other scallions around it get even bigger. It's more or less late-stage thinning.

Sometimes I cut off a few greens and just leave the plant in the ground to recover, so we have multiple harvests. Not that I really need to do such a thing, considering the amount of scallions around.

The August 2014 garden: bolting basil

I started the basil from seed inside and transplanted it into the garden at about four inches high.

The basil more or less tries to bolt as soon as I get it established every year. This year was no exception. I'm thinking I will let some of these go completely to seed and see how many baby basil plants pop up next spring.

Also, I really need to go cut a bunch of basil stems and dry all the leaves for our winter basil supply.

The August 2014 garden: bell peppers

Here we see the two biggest bell peppers on the plant. I'm super excited for homegrown red pepper!

We only have a few fruits on this plant, though. I'm thinking this has been due to the serious amount of wind around over the past few months. All summer I would regularly find tiny baby pepper buds blown off the plant and into the dirt. Happily, a few more have established themselves more firmly in the past month or so. Crossing fingers for October.

The August 2014 garden: jalapenos

Here you can see some of the jalapeños peeking out from in between the massive amounts of scallions. Hooray, jalapeños!

These guys have been pretty prolific, although neither plant is anywhere near as large as the one I grew last year -- the bigger of the two is about half as large. Is this due to crowding, or lack of water? Last year the jalapeños were super crowded by marauding tomato vines, but they still grew to be about three feet tall, so I'm inclined to blame the lack of water.

We aren't going to need to buy any jalapeños for the next few months, though! That's really saying something when you eat as much spicy food as we do.

The August 2014 garden: garlic harvest

I actually dug up the garlic just yesterday. This is the entire harvest. I'm curing it by just leaving it spread out in one layer in a dark yet airy place for a few weeks. "Curing" just means "drying" in onion and garlic parlance.

You can see that these guys are pretty small -- that's a full-sized dinner plate -- but that's no huge surprise, considering how late I planted them (February?). I'm frankly pretty happy that any of them had time to head up at all.

I am super excited to eat these. Homegrown garlic!!

So that's how our garden is going. I feel pretty good about the amount of food we're producing, certainly. With the garden plus the CSA box, we haven't had to buy very much of any other vegetables in months. But at this point drought is just a constant specter, hovering. We'll see what happens in January.

How is your late summer garden doing?

26 August 2014

Homegrown garden tomato harvest!

Homegrown garden tomato harvest: Caspian pink tomatoes

It is finally tomato season! HOORAY. The plants are all doing fairly well, even with limited watering.

These guys are Caspian Pinks, the same variety I grew last year. They're large, heavy pink heirlooms with some ribbing at the top and a lovely intense flavor. I got a few volunteer seedlings, transplanted two of them for reasonable spacing, and let them go to town.

Some of the blossoms bloom and then dry to a crisp immediately, but plenty of them go ahead and set fruit too. Considering how big these tomatoes tend to get -- both plants and fruit -- I'm fine with that. The flavor is worth it.

Homegrown garden tomato harvest: Caspian pink tomatoes

As you can see, they also tend to split a bit at the top. It's nothing too serious, though.

Evidently tomato splits are caused by lots of different things, from irregular watering to lack of calcium to lack of mulch. The shape of the varietal also makes a difference. I'm certainly guilty of irregular watering, since, you know, there's a drought, but I have plenty of calcium via eggshell soil supplements, and I mulched with cardboard, at least. In any case, the fruit is reasonably well yielding and delicious.

Homegrown garden tomato harvest: Dona tomatoes

My two other tomato plants are new-to-me heirlooms from the farmer's market tomato guys. These are Dona tomatoes, which are evidently a standard in French markets and prized for their balance. They're medium-sized and a classic orangey-red, and are by far the most prolific tomato I have this year. Look at that huge cluster of fruit!

Most of these are not quite ripe yet, so I can't report back on their taste. I can say that the stakes and cage are intent on falling over at every single opportunity, however.

Homegrown garden tomato harvest: Green Grape tomatoes

Next we have the Green Grape. Check out those striations!

This guy is a large grape tomato, maybe two inches long, that starts out green and ripens to gain a crown of orange stripes. Very nice. The fruit grows in smaller clusters, much like actual grapes.

Homegrown garden tomato harvest: Green Grape tomatoes

They're excellent for snacking, but not as full-flavored as some other grape and cherry tomatoes I've tried. So the next best idea is to make all the tomato salad in the land. It's clearly time to cut a big handful of them in half, sprinkle with with salt, and go to town. And, of course, since they're so strikingly colored, they would be a perfect addition to a mixed tomato salad.

Tomorrow: the rest of the garden!

22 August 2014

Green curry with tofu and CSA veg

Green curry with tofu and CSA veg

When I find myself in need of a spicy, delectable, and comforting dinner, my thoughts turn lightly to coconut milk curry.

Curry is one of those dishes that can take anything you throw at it. This makes it particularly vital as a tool for coping with the weekly CSA onslaught.

For instance, in this pan, we have:

- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 purple kohlrabi, peeled and cubed
- 1 small white turnip, peeled and cubed
- 1 random broccoli stem, peeled and cubed
- 1 purple bell pepper, chopped
- 1 handful mixed green bush beans and scarlet runner beans, chopped
- 3 green onions, whites only, chopped

Green curry with tofu and CSA veg

With cubed, seared tofu, coconut milk, and green curry paste, plus a base of jasmine rice, this made a totally delightful dinner. And, as an added bonus, the crisper was substantially roomier afterward.

Hooray for curry!

Green curry with tofu and CSA veg

1 block firm tofu
peanut oil
1 medium to large onion
2-3 cups mixed vegetables of your choice (or as above, if you happen to subscribe to my CSA)
1 cup coconut milk
~2 tbsp green curry paste, adjusted to taste
scallion greens or cilantro to garnish
your choice of grain or noodle accompaniment

Start an hour or two ahead of time by pressing your tofu. Cut your block of tofu in half, creating two thin, wide slabs. Put your tofu between two cutting boards and weigh it down with a heavy cast-iron pot or a bowlful of water. If you like, put a towel under one end of the bottom cutting board to keep the whole contraption at a slight angle. Let your tofu press for at least an hour to eliminate excess water.

When you're ready to cook, slice your tofu into cubes. Heat a wide saute pan, preferably nonstick or cast-iron, on medium to hot. Add a generous slug of peanut oil. Sear your tofu cubes, turning occasionally. When your tofu is golden brown on all sides, remove it to a plate and set it aside.

Now it's time to tackle your vegetables. Chop your onion into 1-inch chunks and add it to the residual oil in the pan. Cook, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally, for about 5-7 minutes, or until the onions begin to soften.

While the onions are cooking, start peeling and chopping all the rest of your vegetables, beginning with those that take the longest to cook. After your onions are tender, add the longer-cooking vegetables to the pan. Cook them for about ten minutes before adding any delicate vegetables. I started with kohlrabi, turnip, and broccoli stem, and reserved my peppers and beans until the end.

When all your vegetables are just barely tender, it's time to get your curry on. Add your coconut milk and curry paste to the pan and stir to mix. Bring everything to a simmer. Put the lid on the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about five to ten minutes. Taste and correct seasonings as necessary.

Add your reserved tofu to the pan for the last two to three minutes of cooking. When the tofu is hot through, you are done. Hooray!

Green curry with tofu and CSA veg

We ladled our delightful green curry over big spoonfuls of jasmine rice and garnished it with scallion greens. You can eat yours over any grain you choose, or over a pile of slippery rice noodles if you prefer. It's all good.

What strategies do you use to transform your kohlrabi and turnips into a feast?

14 August 2014

Emergency dinner: mashed potatoes with homemade ranch & salad with green beans & eggs

Emergency dinner: mashed potatoes with homemade ranch & salad with green beans & eggs

Sometimes you just need emergency dinner.

First, put a pot of salted water on to boil. Scrub your potatoes under running water, cut into quarters, and simmer until tender.

Put your eggs into the potato pot to cook along with them. Scoop them out after about eight minutes and put them in a bowl of ice water to cool. When you're ready, whack them all over with the back of a spoon, peel them, and cut them into quarters.

Wash and trim your green beans. Put them in a steamer that fits over your potato pot. Put the steamer over the pot and steam until done to your liking. Shock briefly in cold water.

While your potatoes finish cooking, make a batch of The Chubby Vegetarian's yogurt ranch dressing. Put it in the fridge until you're ready to serve.

When the potatoes are done, drain them well and mash them with butter, salt, and pepper. Mash in some ranch dressing if you don't have any yogurt-haters in the house.

Get out a dinner plate. On one side, throw down a handful of the clean salad leaves of your choice. Top with green beans and eggs; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle on some olive oil if you so choose. On the other side of the plate, deposit a huge scoop of mashed potatoes. Top the potatoes with as much ranch dressing as you like.

Now eat it. Eat it all.

And for those of you watching at home, here's what it looks like when you hard-boil a double-yolked egg.

Emergency dinner: mashed potatoes with homemade ranch & salad with green beans & eggs

I've been saving this picture for months! And now, finally, there is a reason to post it. Eggs are the best, you guys.

What do you eat for emergency midsummer dinner?

11 August 2014

Spinach salad with lemon cucumber, toasted almonds, and summer cherries

Spinach salad with lemon cucumber, toasted almonds, and summer cherries

Well, we are still essentially buried under a massive amount of fresh CSA veg at all times.

This means salads. Lots of salads. Salads at dinner, yes; salads at lunch, yes. Salads at breakfast? Also yes.

Breakfast salads are one of my favorite things. This stems from our year and a half living in Brooklyn, during which we tried our best to eat at every restaurant possible, and consequently ended up eating a lot of brunch. I mean, we would have ended up eating lots of brunch anyway, but Brooklyn is one of those towns in which brunch is practically an institution. So we ate lots of brunch at lots of different places, and the main thing those places had in common was salad. Every time we ate brunch anywhere even the smallest step up from the classic diner, we discovered that our orders came with a handful of mesclun and shredded carrot, tossed with vinaigrette and deposited next to the egg of our choice.

And now I don't really want to eat breakfast without some sort of serious vegetable content.

So. Salad for breakfast?

We received both a bag of baby spinach and a few lemon cucumbers in the last CSA box. Clearly, those were the basis for an excellent salad.

Lemon cucumber is not a variety I use much, mostly because it's not the best choice for pickling. But when I'm not making pickles, I find its mild flavor and subtle crunch to be delicious in salads and sandwiches.

The cherries came into play after we found bags of them on sale for $2 per pound. You can't say no to that. And once you have cherries, you have to have a handful of crunchy, rich almonds as well.

Boom. Salad.

Spinach salad with lemon cucumber, toasted almonds, and summer cherries

Spinach salad with lemon cucumber, toasted almonds, and summer cherries

baby spinach
lemon cucumber
toasted almonds
sweet cherries
olive oil
salt, pepper
lemon juice

Arrange a few handfuls of spinach on each salad plate. Scatter a few drops of olive oil over them.

Trim your lemon cucumber, halve it, and slice it into thin slices. Arrange half a cucumber's worth of slices over each salad.

Roughly chop a handful of almonds and scatter them over each salad.

Pit your cherries, either using a cherry pitter or the paperclip method. Cut them in half. Strew a generous handful of cherry halves over each salad.

Dress your salads with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some salt and pepper. Done.

While these salads are excellent alongside a plate of traditional breakfast eggs and toast, they would also clearly be fine additions to the lunch or dinner table. Eat them with a huge sandwich, a seared piece of halibut and a side of green beans, a bowlful of rice and curry. It's all good.

What is your favorite summertime salad?

07 August 2014

Red cabbage curtido de repollo

Red cabbage curtido de repollo

If you want to make the pinkest pickle imaginable, I have just the recipe for you!

I've been making gigantic batches of curtido de repollo -- essentially, spicy pickled cabbage slaw -- ever since I first tasted it at our local Salvadorean restaurant. There, you stuff platefuls of pupusas with as much curtido as you so desire. The contrast between soft, chewy masa, creamy beans, and crunchy, tangy curtido is pretty spectacular.

At home, I've never yet attempted a batch of pupusas. Note to self: this really needs to happen as soon as possible. However, the curtido has been flowing freely. We eat it in tacos, in burritos, on top of big bowls of chili, and occasionally all by itself. SO good.

Normally, I use standard green cabbage and yellow onion to make curtido. This time, I had a lot of red cabbage and red onion from our CSA. Pink curtido it is!

Red cabbage curtido de repollo

1 small or 1/2 large red cabbage
a carrot
half a small red onion
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 cup water
2 serrano peppers, or whatever works for your spice tolerance
1 tbsp salt

Start by coring and shredding your cabbage and dicing your carrot and red onion. Put them in a large non-metal mixing bowl (mine is 4 quarts) and toss to mix.

Put your vinegar, water, peppers (chopped roughly), and salt in a blender. Liquefy. Be sure to keep your hand and maybe a towel over the top of the blender, so you can combat any liquid leaks. The result will be a light green brine with a layer of foam on top.

Red cabbage curtido de repollo

Pour your completed brine over your bowl of vegetables. Stir, getting all the vegetables wet.

The brine will not come up to the top of the bowl; this is fine. As the cabbage pickles, it will wilt and exude liquid, so the amount of brine will increase to cover all the veg within a few hours.

It will also turn pink from the red onion and cabbage. Hooray! Pink pickles!

Red cabbage curtido de repollo

Cover the bowl, put it in the refrigerator, and let it sit for at least three to four hours. Mix every so often, so the surface cabbage gets submerged in the brine. When the liquid level comes up to the top of the vegetables, you can stop mixing.

Congratulations! You are the proud owner of a big batch of curtido -- about 8 to 10 cups, depending on the size of your cabbage. It will keep well in the refrigerator for a good two weeks, getting gradually more and more pickley as it ages.

Eat your curtido with pupusas or arepas, on tacos, in burritos, on top of servings of chili, or alongside big bowls of tortilla soup. So crispy and tangy and delicious!

What's your favorite bright pink food?

05 August 2014

Lamb meatballs with chive tzatziki

Lamb meatballs with chive tzatziki

As most of you know, although the typical meal at our house is either vegetarian or vegan, I am actually an omnivore. Meat happens on limited occasion. This was one of them.

This time, I wanted to make a freezer stockpile of little juicy meatballs to use for emergency solo lunches. I wanted them to be full of flavor, but not so particularly spiced that I couldn't use them for a variety of applications. So I grabbed some lamb (the best of all red meats), added a handful of garlic, onion, and parsley, and went to town.

I decided to oven-bake these instead of frying them for several reasons. First, baked items cook with minimal attention. Second, you can sidestep the otherwise unavoidable barrage of hot fat particles burning you intermittently and greasifying everything in your kitchen. Third, this batch was big enough that it wouldn't all fit in my biggest frying pan at once. However, if you want to brave all these issues, you can absolutely cook these guys in the frying pan or cast-iron skillet of your choice. The latter would certainly let you achieve an excellent crust!

If you don't like lamb, you can go for pretty much any other ground meat you prefer, or use a blend of different meats. If you're planning on going for a very lean meat, such as ground turkey, you may want to mix it with some ground pork, so the fat content is still high enough to make a juicy meatball.

And, of course, you can always double or triple the recipe if you want to have meatballs in the freezer for the next few months. Either freeze the cooked meatballs in one layer on a cookie sheet and remove to a freezer bag when solid, or portion them into containers and freeze them that way. It's all good.

Lamb meatballs with chive tzatziki

Lamb meatballs
Makes 4 dozen small meatballs or 2 dozen large meatballs.

2 pieces bread to make approx 3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup milk or another soaking liquid of your choice
1/2 small red onion
4-5 cloves garlic
1/2 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper
a mushroom or two if you have them lying around
1/4 bunch (approx 2 tbsp) chopped parsley
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp dried red New Mexico chile/your choice of red pepper flake
as much freshly ground pepper as you desire
1 lb ground lamb

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Start by making breadcrumbs. Grab a couple slices of bread and finely chop them with a chef's knife or in a food processor. Of course, if you have premade breadcrumbs around, you can definitely use those instead.

Put your breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Add your milk and let the breadcrumbs soak it up while you prep your other ingredients.

Mince your red onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, and parsley as finely as you can. It's important to chop everything super-finely so your meatballs cohere well. Again, if you have a food processor, you may want to use it.

Add all your chopped veg and herbs to the bowl, along with your salt, pepper, chile, and ground lamb. Mix well, using your hands to distribute all the different elements as evenly as possible.

Form your meatballs by pinching off a small chunk of your meat mixture and patting or rolling it together. I like small meatballs, so I made mine a bit smaller than a ping-pong ball. You can go up to the size of a golf ball or even larger if you prefer. Arrange your meatballs in rows, either on a rimmed cookie sheet or in a glass casserole dish with sides.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until your meatballs are cooked through but still juicy and tender inside. If you're making much bigger meatballs, you'll probably need to extend the cooking time to 30 or 35 minutes. They will be brown on the outside and exuding several tablespoons of hot liquid fat. (This is why it's important to use rimmed cookie sheets instead of flat ones.) If you like, pour off the fat and save it for sauteing greens later. Won't that be excellent?

Test for doneness by cutting a meatball in half, checking the color, and eating it. The tray above needed just a few more minutes in the oven to be fully browned.

Now you can either eat your meatballs right away or freeze them for later. I kept a few out for immediate eating and froze the rest, portioned out into small containers. This way, I'll be able to defrost and reheat one container's worth at a time. Then they'll go into soup, into a pasta sauce, on top of a big salad, or into a sandwich. Hooray!

What did I do with my first serving of meatballs? I put them in a wrap and had the most satisfying lunch on the planet.

I made a tiny batch of tzatziki to go along with my meatballs. There was no fresh dill in the house (although there is now plenty of dried dill around!), so I decided to change it up with some chives. Super simple.

Chive tzatziki for one

2 tbsp Greek yogurt, labneh, or strained full-fat yogurt
~2 tbsp chopped chives
~2 tbsp shredded or julienned cucumber, seeds removed
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all your ingredients together. Taste and adjust seasonings. Voila!

Next, use it to make:

Lamb meatballs with chive tzatziki

A delightful lamb meatball wrap

flatbread, tortilla, pita, or naan of your choice
hot meatballs
chive tzatziki
avocado slices
lettuce leaves

Warm a piece of flatbread in the toaster oven until flexible. This should take about 2-3 minutes at 275F. You can also do this on the stovetop in a frying pan.

Fill the warm flatbread with leaf lettuce, meatballs, tzatziki, avocado slices, and any other vegetable that sounds good to you.

Roll it up, skewer it with a toothpick or encase it in foil, and eat it with gusto.

Hooray! A delicious and satisfying lunch.

What are your favorite sandwiches lately?