Friday, September 30, 2011

Fall Raspberries

Sadly, the season for fall raspberries is over already. I grow an everbearing variety call Jaclyn and I would highly recommend it. The berries are large and have an excellent flavor, and the canes are very productive. Even been, the fall fruiting canes will go on to produce another crop of berries the following summer.

I'd like to try my hand at rooting some canes next year in order to expand my patch. However, I noticed that this variety is patented. I wonder this would prevent me from doing so even if I don't plan on selling my rooted canes.

The Suburban-Urban Farmer

Who Grows Your Food? from Anthony-Masterson on Vimeo.

This is a great video. I think Lori Mason, the suburban farmer featured, expresses beautifully the reasons why many of us grow a vegetable garden. I wish I had a market garden like hers!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In the Kitchen - Stir-fried Chicken with Mixed Vegetables and Thai Basil

Need to find new ways to prepare your fall greens? Try this stir-fry recipe. It's one of our favorites and never fails to satisfy. I love to serve it on top of sushi rice as the sauce coats the individual grains to add a certain level of creaminess with each bite.

Stir-fried Chicken with Mixed Vegetables and Thai Basil

Chicken and Marinade
1 boneless and skinless chicken breast
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

3 tablespoons chicken broth
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
pinch of sugar

5 cups sliced mixed vegetables
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 tablespoon canola oil
12 whole Thai basil leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)

1 tablespoon chicken broth
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Cut the chicken breast against the grain into thin slices. Add the marinade ingredients and stir until the chicken is evenly coated. Set aside.

In a small bowl, add the sauce ingredients and stir until the mixture is smooth. In a separate small bowl, combine the tablespoon of chicken broth and teaspoon of cornstarch. Set both aside.

Heat a large wok or skillet on high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact with the cooking surface. Swirl 2 tablespoons of canola oil into wok (it will smoke) and add the chicken. Using a spatula, spread the chicken evenly into single layer. Allow the chicken to sear undisturbed for 1 minute. Then move the chicken around and stir-fry for another minute or until it is cooked through but still tender. Transfer to a small plate and set aside.

Swirl the remaining tablespoon of canola oil into the wok and add the minced garlic and ginger. Stir for about 5 - 10 seconds or until fragrant and slightly browned. Add your sliced vegetables (and dried red pepper flakes if using) and stir-fry for 1 - 2 minutes (depending on what veggies you use). Pour the sauce into the wok and toss the veggies to combine. Stir-fry for another minute or until the sauce boils vigorously.

At this point, move the veggies away from the center of the wok. Using a small spoon, mix together the 1 tablespoon of chicken broth and cornstarch and then pour it into the sauce. Stir the sauce. As it returns to a boil, it will thicken. Add the chicken back into the wok along with the Thai basil and and stir-fry for another minute until everything is well combined. Serve immediately.

Helpful tips - The key to a good stir-fry is to make sure that your wok or skillet is hot enough. Your veggies should cook quickly and on high or medium-high heat. I'm pretty flexible when it comes to what types of veggies to use in this recipe. However, I always try to add half of a red pepper into the mix as the dish just isn't the same without it. Also, be sure to use vegetables that contain varying degrees of moisture. For instance, if you use only bok choy in this dish, which has a high water content, you will end up with a thinner and less flavorful sauce. Broccoli, green beans, asparagus, carrots and/or peppers work well in combination with Asian greens, cabbage and/or mushrooms. Finally, allowing the meat to sear undisturbed not only ups the flavor of the stir-fry but also prevents it from sticking to the wok.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Good Year for Fall Broccoli

Our broccoli is doing fantastic this year. This may well be the best crop I've ever grown. I have a dozen plants setting crowns right now and each one is about 6 inches in diameter. I harvested about half of them today.

Unlike my Asian greens, the slugs, leafminers and cabbage warms don't seem to be bothering the broccoli all too much. This is my second year growing 'Bonanza' and I couldn't be happier with it. This variety matures relatively early and produces lots of side shoots long after the main head is cut. Last year, I was still harvesting them in early December.

There's nothing like eating broccoli that's been cooked within minutes of being harvested. Homegrown broccoli is sweeter, crispier and less stringy than what you find at the supermarket, which is why I like to slice up and stir-fry a good amount of the stem as well.

How is your broccoli doing this fall?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sharing the Harvest

I didn't harvest too much from the garden this past week. Our fridge is still packed with greens brought in from the week before, and sometimes the best place to store your veggies is in the ground.

Yesterday our friends Sarah and Doug came to visit us for Jonathan's 4th birthday party. Sarah writes her own blog called "The Gaga Diaries," documenting her first pregnancy and adventures as new mother. I was able to send them home with a bag filled with goodies. As we toured the garden, we picked a nice bouquet of Swiss chard and Red Russian kale, as well as some Napoli carrots, American Flag leeks, Hungarian Wax peppers and herbs. It's always nice to share your homegrown produce with friends who are equally as passionate about food as you are.

This upcoming week's harvest should be a bountiful one. The broccoli is looking absolutely fantastic this year!

The Last Watermelon

The last watermelon of the year is by far the largest one. I only hope that there's enough warmth left to allow it to ripen in the coming weeks. The tendril closest to the melon is still looking pretty green. This yellow fleshed variety is called sunshine. Let's cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Onset of Fall

Happy Fall Equinox everyone! I always think of this song during this time of year, when the early evening hours are noticeably darker, the air is crisp and you catch the scent of damp leaves and burning firewood when you step outside. I need to stock up on some marshmallows.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fall Strawberries

After months of doing virtually nothing, my 'Seascape' day-neutral strawberries are finally starting to take off. I had planted my crowns earlier this year and wasn't able to harvest a single strawberry all summer long because of the garden rodents. A better gardener would have applied some protection early on, but admittedly, I was rather ambivalent until now.

Now that the plants are starting to flower and fruit in abundance, I'm finally realizing that it would be foolish to let the critters continue to have their way.

Seascape isn't the only variety I'm growing currently. I have another ever-bearer called 'Sarian' that I started from seed. The plants are relatively compact and disease resistant and the small berries are somewhat elongated. Unfortunately, Sarian is nowhere near as tasty as Seascape.

It took me about 15 minutes to cover my strawberry bed with some bird netting. (Why did I wait so long to do this?) I'm sure the field mice would be able get though if they really wanted to, but I'm hoping that the netting will at least encourage them to move on to an easier target. We'll see I guess.

Now is also the time to root some runners. Surprisingly, my two dozen or so plants have collectively produced only five runners. Hopefully, they will be a little more vigorous next year now that the crowns and roots are well established.

For the longest time, I felt as though it was futile to try and keep the rodents away from my berries. Then the other day, I picked this perfectly ripe strawberry and yes, it tasted as good as (if not better than) it looked. Now I'm more determined than ever to protect my plants from any would-be attacker.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Learning to Crawl - My First Attempt at Making Cheese

It started out well enough, but then things quickly began to fall apart. Not too long ago, I tried my hand at making cheese for the first time. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out the way I would have wanted.

When we were in Vermont this summer, I decided to buy Ricki Carroll's (the self-described 'cheese queen') mozzarella and ricotta cheesemaking kit at Shelburne Farms to take home with me. Recently, I picked up a gallon of pasteurized whole milk from our local dairy farm in order to make mozzarella cheese. Ricki's recipe seemed simple enough - I slowly heated the milk to the desired temperature, then added the citric acid and eventually the rennet.

Unfortunately, I was never able to get the curds to form properly. I could tell shortly adding the rennet that something was wrong. Two possible explanations for this could be that either I stirred for too long when mixing in the rennet (which is highly doubtful) or the milk was pasteurized at a higher temperature by the dairy (ultra-pasteurized), which would render the milk unsuitable for cheesemaking. I guess the only way to find out for sure is to get another gallon of whole milk from the same dairy and try again.

I felt terribly disappointed. My initial thought was to dump everything down the drain. Fortunately, my frugal side prevailed and I decided to collect and press together the curled bits with some cheesecloth. To my delight, it was more than edible. It was actually pretty good. Granted, the texture was more like a stiff cream cheese than a mozzarella, but it still had that fresh cow's milk cheese taste.

I ended up using it in a lasagna in place of the usual ricotta cheese. To our delight, it melted into an rich and creamy consistency. It was goooood.

Hopefully my next attempt at cheesemaking will yield better results. However, it's nice to know that all is not lost even when you screw up royally.

Growing in a Bad Economy

The New York Times ran an interesting piece on the resurgence of vegetable gardens during these tough economic times. I have to admit, it has kept me thinking these last few days. Sure it makes sense that more people would want to grow their own food, buy in bulk and cut back when times are tough, but I can't help wondering whether there is something simmering underneath all of this.

'Vegetable Gardens Are Booming in a Fallow Economy' - New York Times, September 8, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fall Garden Tour

Now that summer is coming to an end, here's a preview of this year's fall garden. All in all, I was good about getting our fall crops started on time. In a few weeks we'll have to break out the row cover at night, but nonetheless, I'm hoping that we'll be able to harvest continually from the garden until at least early December.

In no particular order, here is what we'll be eating (hopefully) during the next few months:

The fall beets (lower right) are slowly sizing up while the fast growing Tokyo Market turnips should be ready in a couple of weeks.

The spinach is practically ready for us to harvest. The winter carrots (right) on the other hand will be pulled in December and January, that is if the voles don't get to them first.

Red russian kale in the background and gai lan (Chinese broccoli) in the foreground. I have another bed of gai lan that should be ready in a week or two.

Here's a bed of Asian greens.

I am growing a ton of leeks this year and they are looking really good. They are much fatter than last year's crop.

I have two Jade Cross Brussel sprout plants that survived the groundhog attacks earlier this year. Can we defeat the cabbage worms and actually get a harvest this year?

My fall carrots should be ready in another month or so.

The Bonanza broccoli is doing well and should be ready soon. On the other hand, I'm worried that our cauliflower won't head up in time.

This will most likely be my last year of growing Napa cabbage. It's impossible to keep the slugs away from this plant. Also, our fall crop has bolted prematurely due to the sudden change in temperatures. I think I'll stick to other Asian greens that are easier and faster to grow.

I don't expect much from our fall snow peas but that won't stop me from trying to grow them.

Finally, I have several varieties of winter lettuce this year. These will have to be harvested by early December their quality quickly diminishes after that point.

In addition to this, I sowed some mache, claytonia and French Breakfast radishes the other day. What's growing in your fall garden?

Mid-September Harvest

This week will officially mark the end of our summer growing season. Strangely and unlike years past, I'm actually looking forward to the fall and winter. Growing you own food teaches you many virtues, including patience, and the fact that there's a time for everything. As the colder and darker months approach, the garden will rest and I'll get to take a break from the daily chores associated with it. Maybe I'll even find the time and focus to work on that cookbook I've been neglecting. Maybe.

It's only appropriate that we should celebrate the end of summer by harvesting our one and only pumpkin. I hadn't planned on growing pumpkin this year but Jonathan suggested it during one of our many trips to the plant nursery. This will be the first time we get to carve a pumpkin we grew ourselves.

Also, I couldn't help thinking of the recent cantaloupe recall when I picked the last cantaloupe of the year.

This might also be the end of our tomatoes and cucumbers. We can't be too heartbroken because we've had a good harvest this year. I also picked most of our Poblano peppers, which are tasting quite hot. The long beans continue to produce even when the bush beans are long gone.

This is most definitely the last of our slicing tomatoes. The vines are screaming to be pulled up. Anyway, they were delicious in a BLT sandwich I made the other day.

Finally, I harvested the first of our fall bok choy yesterday and they are looking terrible. The slugs and cabbage worms are really active right now, much more so than last year. The delicate green parts of the leaves were too hole-y to eat, but fortunately for us, the white crunchy bits (my favorite part) are still flawless. Thank goodness for small miracles.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

It's Good to be Home - Peppers

I'll say it again - I feels really good to be home. For much of this week, I was in Phoenix, Arizona for work. It felt a bit strange to go from our New England weather to a desert climate where temperatures reached into the upper 90's during the day and 80's during the night. Even stranger was the fact that everyone I ran into seemed to be happy about it, or more specifically, happy that it wasn't 110 degrees F. I will admit that I felt a sense of relief when I got into my car at Logan airport tonight and the thermometer read 53 degrees.

Despite the weather, I rather enjoyed my time in Phoenix. I loved the desert foliage and the Spanish-style homes. And I'm sure that some of our summer veggies would love the dry heat and brilliant sun that the southwest has to offer. Nevertheless, earlier this week, I noticed that my zone 6 Poblano pepper plants are over 6 feet tall now! Amazingly, they still look perfectly healthy unlike our tomatoes.

I've been purposefully waiting to harvest most of my Poblano peppers. If you pick them too early, the flesh will be too thin to be worth the hassle of roasting and pealing them.

Finally, I noticed that my Pepperoncini peppers have turned a bright lipstick red color. I think this will be the last year I'll grow them. As much as I tried to like them, I'm not too fond of their slightly bitter taste.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In the Kitchen - HOMEMADE BUTTER

A few months ago, I saw a rather disturbing video evidencing the cruel treatment of dairy cows at an industrial farm located west of us in New York. It was upsetting to think that in all probability we've consumed foods derived from the milk produced at this farm. For a long time, I couldn't get the awful images out of my head and was hesitant to blog about it until now. I'd seen videos like this before but was never personally driven to the point where I felt like we needed to make some difficult changes to our buying/eating habits. It's human nature to want to ignore the reality of things when something as important as "convenience" is on the line. I get a headache just thinking about all of the packaged foods we'd have to give up if we were to swear off industrial dairy completely.

I don't think we'll ever be able to cut it completely from our lives, but at this point, I'm determined to make some slow/real/significant changes to our industrial dairy consumption. We now try to buy all of our milk and half and half from Shaw Farm, a local dairy that offers weekly tours of its facilities to the public. Their milk is excellent and only slightly more expensive than the generic supermarket brand. As an added bonus, most of their products are still sold in heavy returnable glass quarts so we're also lessening our plastic consumption. If for some reason we're unable to buy their milk on a given day, then our back up plan is to buy organic at the supermarket. For me, local usually trumps organic, but the brand we buy is 'Horizon' in case anyone has any information on this company that we should consider.

Deciding to buy local milk was the easy part. The hard part is trying to replace all of the other dairy products we consume on a regular basis like butter, cheese and yoghurt. This means either making our own from the local milk and cream we buy or paying huge premium for an organic or artisan brand. Personally, I'm more interested in the former.

My first goal was to start making our own butter and from the taste alone, I'm determined to stick to this plan. If you've never made butter before, you'd be surprised by how easy it is. Essentially you whisk the cream beyond the point of being whipped until the butterfat begins to separate from the buttermilk.

If I was a proper milkmaid, I'd invest in traditional butter churner. But alas, I've opted for a more practical approach and use an electric hand mixer with a balloon whisk attachment. A few minutes into the process, just when you think the cream will never turn, the soft peaks slowly subside and you start to see small butterfat granules form.

Eventually, the butterfat accumulates to form a large mass and complete separation from the buttermilk is achieved.

The next step is to pour off most of the buttermilk, transfer the mass to a muslin or cheese cloth lined strainer and squeeze the remaining liquid from the butter. At this point, some instructions will tell you to gently pour cold water over the butter until it runs clear, followed by another squeeze. I've skipped this step when making sweet cream butter and in my experience it doesn't seem to have a noticeable affect on the taste or shelf life of the butter.

From one quart of heavy cream, you get about a pound of butter and a pint of buttermilk.

Place the butter into the fridge for about 15 - 30 minutes to allow it to stiffen up a bit. Afterwards, transfer it to a large shallow bowl and sprinkle 1 to 1 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt on top (if making salted butter). Smear the butter to incorporate the salt and pour off any additional liquid that is released.

Spoon the soft butter onto a piece of parchment paper and fold the sides to form a thick square block. I usually let the flavors in the butter develop overnight in the fridge before using it.

So far, I've only made sweet cream butter but am excited to try my hand at tangy cultured butter. The only difference is that you let the cream sit and sour a bit at room temperature for six hours before you whisk/churn it.

Hopefully, this is another small step in the direction of eating more humanely. If you have any additional butter making advice you'd like to share, please do! Also, what do you think? Can something as simple as buying local milk and making your own butter really make a difference?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Early September Harvest

Can you believe we're approaching the middle of September already? I consider September to be a fleeting month in the gardening calendar but this is ridiculous. The garden is transitioning quickly right before our eyes (too quickly if you ask me) and before before you know it, most of our summer crops will be reduced to dust. The daily highs are expected to reach only into the 60's later on this week. Something tells me that our first fall frost will arrive earlier than usual this year.

This weekend, I picked all of my Sweet Banana peppers and pulled the plants to make room for some fall sowings of radishes, claytonia and mache. I'm a bit late with these this year but that's what happens when your garden is overtaken by mosquitoes.

The tomato vines are looking horrible now. Our paste tomatoes are still producing but the rest have succumb to disease.


The fall berries are coming in consistently, but a little at a time. I might try to root some raspberry canes next year to expand our current patch.

Finally, I ripped out our zucchini vines last week and discovered these two monsters. They are hard and heavy at this point. I wonder if they are even edible at this stage. At the very least, we can use them as fall decorations.