Sunday, July 31, 2011

Waiting for your Tomatoes...the Agony & the Ecstacy

Waiting for tomatoes to ripen is a lot like waiting for grass to grow.  It always happens when you aren't looking.  We have so many purchased tomato well as a large quantity of rogue tomato plants!  All of them are brimming with fruit...all of them are green.

How frustrating is it that we ran out of tomatoes this week and I had to add them to the grocery list.  When I look at our garden and see a restaurant supply of tomatoes...there's only problem...they're GREEN!

Turns out thats really not a problem...I found a few recipes that called for green tomatoes.

First, get 1/3 cup of yellow cornmeal, 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, 1/4 tsp black pepper and a dash of salt.  Combine and add to a dredging dish.

Next cook bacon strips.   Just about anyone can do that...even me!   (just make sure to reserve 2 tsp worth of bacon drippings for the tomatoes.

The recipe called for red lettuce (probably because the tomatoes were green, so a nice contrast) but since we didn't have any at hand...we just grabbed the green we had growing.

Wash off a green tomato (or two if you have several hungry folks).  Dry it off then slice into semi-thick slices.  Ches went with burger thickness...and they were very firm for a sandwich.  Dredge the slices thru the cornmeal mix and drop into the still hot frying pan from the bacon.  The recipe calls for adding 2 tsp of olive oil to the bacon drippings and frying the tomatoes in that.    

Fry until golden brown...

This is the fun part!  You toast some brown bread, add mayo, then lettuce greens, then tomato and lastly the crisp bacon!

It was WAY better than I expected and we will definitely make this one again.  Now I wish that the tomatoes will take a long long time to will give me more excuses to make this dish!!!

We sat outside and thought of hot summer nights in Georgia...we had beer instead of lemonade.  I whipped up some guacomole for a cool side.  Ches ate his sandwich topped with the guac!

Monday, July 25, 2011

How to blanch and store yer Beans!

When I first met my husband, I knew how to garden, but that was about it.  Along with being a stand up guy, he's also a chef by trade.  You would think that would be wonderful!  Sadly, with him working 3-4 jobs at any given point, he doesn't have a lot of time for cooking at home.  He does, however, have a wealth of knowledge in the if you can get him in there, you can learn a lot.

We gardened for some years before we considered storing the food we grew.  In hindsight, it seemed a little silly.  Eating beans for weeks at a time, so they didn't go bad and go to waste.  It definitely put our tastebuds through the wringer.  Nowadays we consider storage as a way to keep our garden giving throughout the year.  We have put some effort into investigating how you store different veggies. 

For our beans, we freeze them.  Pickling can be hard on the heart, what with all the salt.  We freeze our beans and they get added to soups and stews all winter, but my personal favorite is throwing them into Sheppard's Pie.  Mmmmmm.

As we found out the first year we froze beans, you MUST blanch them first BEFORE you freeze them.  Otherwise they turn brown when they hit the water or they leave everything else looking greenish.  (Like I said, gardening is VERY trial-and-error with us)

Now, let me start out by saying the only blanch I knew about was Blanche Devereaux from the Golden Girls.  So hubbie definitely came in handy on this one.  He knew how to blanch properly and he showed me how (with a lot of patience I might add).

The first step may seem obvious...but first you must pick your beans...I grab them when they are approx. 4-5 inches long...the longer they get the less sweet they are.  We grow green beans, yellow beans and purple beans!  That being said, we tried to blanch the purple beans and low and behold they turned back to GREEN!  Now we only pick the purple ones and eat them with dip or home made hummus.  So green and yellow beans get picked.

The you give them a GOOD rinse.  There will be dirt, bugs and/or wilted bean flowers stuck to them.  The outside of the beans are soft and lightly hairy, so stuff sticks to them quite easily.

Once washed, you'll want to dry them off a bit in a drainer.  Then you'll fill a big pot of water and get it on the stove now.  By the time that big pot comes to a boil, you should be all done preparing the beans.

When I prepare beans, I have old fashioned images of ladies on the porch snapping them by hand.  Your beans should snap when you break them, or they are not fresh.  I use a knife by the way, only because I'm doing a LOT of them and it takes less time.  Take off the ends and cut them into 1 inch pieces.  Any longer and you'll regret it when you add them to things in the winter.  you want bite-sized chucks, not long you may not know what you'll be adding them to later on.

When your pot is at a rolling boil, add the prepared beans.  Let boil for 1 min or until the beans change colour slightly.  Remember, you aren't cooking your beans, just par-boiling them.

After 1 min, you remove the pot from the stove and pour out all hot water.  You can use a strainer again here for this task.  I run cold water over my beans to halt the cooking process.  You can also set them in a sink of ice water if you so choose.

Allow the beans to cool a bit before you put them in a large freezer bag.

You don't want to PACK your beans in the bag.  You'll want to add a bunch, then flatten them out as thin as you can without crushing the poor veggies.  Lay the flattened bag in the freezer until frozen (approx 24 hrs).  Later on you can blanch more beans and use the same procedure for freezing.  When the beans are all done for the season, I add all the flattened bags into one.  At that point all the individual beans are frozen thoroughly and you'll also avoid "clumping".

Allow me to elaborate here.  "Clumping" was something that happened the first year we froze our beans.  Over the winter I encountered a large mass of beans frozen together.  Try adding a few beans when you have one solid block of beans (approx 3 cups worth)...not easy.  You'll either end of chipping away until you get beans shards...or you get mushy beans.  Again, trial and error....we live, we learn.

So now I take my flattened bags and add them to one or two freezer bags until each bag is full.  It may seem very labour intensive compared to the cheap bgs of Green Giant beans at the grocery store.  A relative once remarked..."Aren't those beans cheaper at the store?"  While I agree that beans at the grocery store are cheaper costing and easier than our beans, I have to mention that our beans have ZERO carbon footprint.  They were grown in our backyard and didn't have to be produced in a factory or trucked from a far away locale.  Part of our new mindset is that cheap isn't always desireable.  Cheap only means that I don't pay much money for something that costs the planet far more.

Our beans are healthy and pesticide free!  Our beans were grown with love (so they taste better!  or at least I think so) and my children understand what it takes to enjoy these green power veggies.

These beans make me feel more connected. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Rawlicious and the Delicious NO COOK Marinara Recipe...

As many of you are already well aware...its been HOT out there...

I won't go on about it...just that with the humidity and the has not been a very active few days.  We haven't had rain in a our rain barrels have been rendered useless.  The sun beats down like a laser.  I look at my garden and see the poor plants having a hard time with the air!

I also had a hard time thinking about feeding ourselves using any sort of heating device.  I would cringe at the sight of the oven.

It was this week that I dug up one of the Raw recipes I got out of Best Health magazine.  There was a recent issue that focused on the raw food diet.  Raw is not a new idea, but I just discovered it.  According to

"The raw food diet is based on the belief that the most healthful food for the body is uncooked. Although most food is eaten raw, heating food is acceptable as long as the temperature stays below 104 to 118 degrees Fahrenheit (the cutoff temperature varies among those in the raw food community).
Cooking is thought to denature the enzymes naturally present in food. According to raw foodists, enyzymes are the life force of a food, helping us to digest food and absorb nutrients. If we overconsume cooked food, our bodies are forced to work harder by producing more enzymes. Over time, a lack of enzymes from food is thought to lead to digestive problems, nutrient deficiency, accelerated aging, and weight gain."

I was intrigued by the idea and did some digging.  I liked some of the recipes I found, however, you would probably need to live near a tropical or sub-tropical area in order for this diet to be kind to the environment.  It just isn't doable in Canada AND maintain a low carbon footprint.  I do appreciate its benefits though...and thought I would benefit from some of the recipes while the ingredients were ripening in my garden.  I would probably have to put raw dietism on hold in winter though.  Could you imagine the carbon footprint of the meal posted below in February???  **Shudders**

So I kept one of the recipes in Best Health Magazine and decided it would come in handy one day....that day came when the temp in our back porch was almost 100 degrees F and I wanted to disown my stove.

I grabbed it and went hunting in the garden for virtually all of the ingredients:

2 Tomatoes
1 cup of sundried tomatoes coaked in warm water
1/4 red bell pepper
2 tbsp chopped red onion
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic peeled
1 tbsp agave or maple syrup
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
4 large leaves of fresh basil
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 black pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp marjoram (optional)
1 small-medium green zucchini
1 small-medium yellow zucchini

You also need a food processor...

Put everything in the blender...except the zucchinis and blend a bit (thats the key...don't blend too much or it will be veggie juice).

I just rinsed off the zukes and went at them with a peeler.  I made the "noodles" about fettucini width or close enough.  They made pretty striped noodles on my plate!  Even the "noodles" aren't I could have my marinara AND not cook it too!

I blended the fresh ingredients...

See what I mean about veggie juice?  My substitutions are below:

I didn't have a red onion, so I used a white one. 
I didn't have dried oregano, so I used fresh.
I didn't have sundried tomatoes, so I used a bit more red pepper and a bit more regular tomato.
I didn't have agave, so I used pure maple syrup instead.

I spooned the mix onto my "noodles"...

The recipe was in the article in Best Health magazine, but it originally came from a restaurant called "Rawlicious".

In the end, this meal satisfied me on a number of levels.  First, I didn't have to turn on one thing that generated heat.  Secondly, I ate a really hearty meal!  Third, I got to pick the bulk of this recipe from my backyard.  And lastly, it made a really pretty post!!!

I will continue to research the raw phenomenon...but I will also consider its impact on the environment as well as my body.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to Prune a Tomato Plant...

So you've weeded your garden....and you are still having troubles seeing your plants!  I turned around one day and noticed that even though we had weeded our garden...we still had what can only be described as tomato bushes.  These things have formed a nice fence along the eastern border of our property.  Just glancing at these plants, and you'd never know we actually had tomatoes growing in there.


You've have to be proactive in caring for your can't always let everything just go wild.  If you intend to maximize your'll want to do some maintenance. 

You'll have to lift up the leaves to see what you are seeing in thepicture above.  Basically you have your main stalk, the leaf branch and another branch that will eventually be home to the flowers and then the tomatoes.  I will go along and snap off the leaf branch so the plant looks like the picture below:

I find this process actually takes some of the weight off of the plant's branches and allows the sun to get at the tomatoes.  The tomatoes themselves probably don't need sunlight...but I find that air circulation and room to grow will produce a better tomato.  Plus, the plant sends more energy to the fruit rather than the large lovely leaves.

I'll provide another example of pruning below...where the fruit branch is smaller...


Obviously I'm not using any technical I have very little scientific basis for this post at all.  This is just something I've been doing for years to our tomato plants.  The area where I snap off the branches is an open wound, and probably attracts insects or diseases...but I've never experienced that to any great degree with our plants (otherwise I probably would have stopped this practise years ago and not bothered doing a whole post about it).

The bottom leaves will eventually yellow and die off I figure I'm just speeding the process along and helping the plant in the end.  Also, you want to take care and not snap off everything you see...mostly because the plant will need SOME leaves to continue photosynthesizing (using sunlight to make food).  For that reason I usually leave the top branches alone...and stick with the bottom branches that aren't getting a lot of sun anyway.

The point is, what you have after this pruning practise is a tidy tomato plant, as shown below:

(Instead of a shrub!)

Happy pruning!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Milkweed capers on fresh caught bass...

So I've been pretty busy, in my non-gardening life.  I recently got a new job, and the hoops I've been jumping through has left me precious little time in our garden.  Luckily, my darling hubbie has had more time in the it isn't being neglected...but I do miss those sweet hours passing by as I weed and inspect all the plants growing.

Weeding gives you a chance to kill  many hours of your day, but it also gives you an up close and personal view of how your plants are doing, how they are growing and if anything edible has sprouted!  It like giving yourself an excuse to just stare at the wonder of gardening.  Boy do I miss that.

On the other hand, my hubbie was wonderful enough to follow my lead when I picked milkweed blossums one day and he pickled them.  (I left open the browser window that showed the link to The 3 Foragers website where we first got the idea)

Its a pretty simple case anyone was wondering.  The 3 Foragers offer up two different pickling recipes.  Ches did the one where you soak the capers in salt brine for 3 days, strain it, then proceed with the recipe.  Check out the above link for the actual recipe. 

I picked these mlkweeds on the side road that takes us to the mini-park in Verona.  I'm pretty sure anyone walking their dog that day thought I was truly nuts.  Its not a very busy road, so I thought it might be a safe location to forage the milkweed blossums.  Its recommend that you don't forage beside roads...due to the emissions from passing cars getting absorbed by the local plant life.  While I agree...I was willing to risk it on this quiet little road.  When I say blossums, I mean when the buds are still little green balls, not the highly identifiable clusters of pink blossums (as shown below).  

The other night, I came home from a first aid course (something I had to do over my weekend) and found my family getting ready for a fishing trip!  They had packed up a car with lifejackets, fishing tackle and snacks.  Both boys were ready to go and my husband was just getting the last few things together.  I changed and we were out the door.  I wished I had of brought my camera, to document the adventure we had that afternoon.  I feel that the story behind the meal is just as important as the meal itself.

However that was not the case.  I didn't bring a camera and of course we had a blast just makes for a less interesting blog entry.  

Our meal this evening...fresh caught bass, breaded with homemade whole wheat bread brumbs, fresh picked lettuce and spinach greens from the garden, topped with purslane and homemade balsamic vinegrette, and hand cut, baked french fries.  

There isn't anything very complex about this was simplicity itself.  The bright shining star (for me and hubbie anyway) was the capers we had recently pickled out of milkweed blossums.  It was their first taste drive!  They were lovely!!!  I really have no idea what REAL capers fact I don't care...because all I know is that we can now make all of the capers I would ever want to eat...right in our own neighbourhood.  That's pretty exciting, especially if you like capers and you don't like paying capers prices.    

Some of us preferred to skip the milkweed capers...and just enjoy the love of fresh caught bass...especially when you were the one who caught the bass....see fisherman below...

Anyone else have any good fishing tales (now that bass has opened) or foraging yarns to tell?  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wild Black Raspberries....rubus occidentalis

A few of the places we've lived have been in rural locations.  Sometimes we've been luck enough to spy the telltale red spikey canes of raspberries!  We cultivate these canes and low and behold, they take over.  We allow these tangles to grow and flourish because we know how awesome the black raspberry is.  It may look like we're the sort of neighbours who let our property go wild.  That just may be the case!  What may look like an unruly yard to some, our boys look at it like its a veritable grocery store.  Case in point, the picture below!

Looks wild...but its really yummy.
 Turns out these yummy wild treats are actually called wild black raspberries or rubus occidentalis by their proper name.  I've included some info that I borrowed from Wikipedia:

Rubus occidentalis is a species of Rubus native to eastern North America. Its common name black raspberry is shared with the closely related western American species Rubus leucodermis. Other names occasionally used include wild black raspberry, black caps, black cap raspberry, thimbleberry,[1][2] and scotch cap.[3]
Rubus occidentalis is a deciduous shrub growing to 2–3 m tall, with prickly shoots. The leaves are pinnate, with five leaflets on leaves strong-growing stems in their first year, and three leaflets on leaves on flowering branchlets. The flowers are distinct in having long, slender sepals 6–8 mm long, more than twice as long as the petals. The round-shaped fruit is a 12–15 mm diameter aggregation of drupelets; it is edible, and has a high content of anthocyanins and ellagic acid.[4][5]
Black raspberries are high in anthocyanins. This has led to their being very useful as natural dyes and, since anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants, to a great deal of interest in them for their potential nutraceutical value. Extensive work has been ongoing at Ohio State University to evaluate their benefit for cancer treatment in mammalian test systems,[6] and the first clinical trials on patients with esophageal cancer.[7]
(source:  Wikipedia, Rubus Occidentalis)

A closer view of the wild black raspberry...the trick is to wait until they turn black, as their name suggests.  The red one are too tough and they don't "fall" off the cane very easily.  You know you have a ripe berry when you touch it and it basically falls into your palm.  Our neighbourly birds do love them too, but thankfully the canes are thorny, so the birds don't get out of control like they do with our poor strawberries.  They neighbourhood animals appreciate our wild yards...even if our neighbours don't.  Tee hee!

I send the boys out with baskets in the mornings and they pick (and eat) until they are full...then we throw them into pancakes or muffins.  They keep their shape better than commercial raspberries or traditional raspberries.  They are smaller, tougher and sweeter, I find.

If you let enough of the canes take hold, you'll have plenty of berries for freezing, eating and cooking with.  I had some this morning with yoghurt, flax seeds, raw almonds and honey.  YUM!  Since we've identified these wild berries, I can't help but see these canes everywhere!  I spotted some in the back of the parking lot in an industrial area of Kingston, I've seen them all over. 

Look for red canes with small thorns.  They almost look like dogwood, but dogwood has a slightly different colour of red and no spikes.