Monday, May 30, 2011

The Garden Journal - May 30

Each week it seems like there's not much new in the garden, but when I go out there to take a few photos I discover lots of things have changed! So I guess this journal is a good thing, because it makes me notice more.

For one thing, the hollyhocks are blooming. Yeah, I know they're not a veggie, but they are beautiful and they just grow themselves. I never noticed they didn't start blooming until around Memorial Day. The honeysuckle is done already, sadly, and I didn't get around to making honeysuckle syrup.

The gaura is blooming too. And all around it, the bane of my existence - bermudagrass - is setting seed. Behind it is another of my least favorite plants, a Siberian elm. Eventually we'll get around to covering this area with weed fabric and mulch, but it's suddenly too hot to want to tackle such a big project. Last week it was in the 70s-80s and cool at night, now it's in the 90s during the day and 60s at night.

The gold plate yarrow is blooming! Dave's mom gave these to me a couple years ago, and they are finally looking happy. It's a cutting from her mother-in-law's plant in Denver.

And the most exciting thing - the garlic has sent up its scapes! As soon as they all curl like this one, I'll cut them off and eat them. This allows the plant to put more energy into its bulb. I learned this week from Eli, of Chispas Farm, that the garlic will be ready to harvest once all but 3 to 5 leaves turn brown.

The pomegranate tree has started sending up some strong new shoots. I am afraid it the rest of it really is dead, but we're so lucky its roots survived! I doubt we'll get any pomegranates this year.

Tonight I picked 2 pounds of sugar snaps and one pound of Oregon Trail shelling peas! Shelling them always reminds me of sitting on the back porch of my grandma's house in Illinois.

Now that the peas are pretty much finished, maybe I'll try eating some of the shoots. I tasted these little tips off the sugar snaps and the regular peas, and I think the regular ones actually had sweeter shoots.

Our first strawberry is almost ripe! Unfortunately something got to it before we did - a continual problem. Not sure if this was a bird or a snail. You would think living in such a dry climate we wouldn't have to worry about things like snails, but no! Just add water... and they come out of nowhere, to feast on my strawberries.

The fava beans are blooming (below), but they are looking a bit tired in the heat. I think I planted them way too late. Unlike other beans, they like cool weather and can germinate in barely warmed soil. Next year maybe I'll get serious about fava beans and plant them at the same time as the peas.

The basil seeds I planted a few weeks ago have sprouted (and with them, one of our ubiquitous weeds - I'm never sure if this is knotweed or spurge).

My cabbages are getting eaten alive by cabbage loopers, as I knew they would when I saw that little white butterfly.  So I sprayed them with Bt - Bacillus thuringensis, a bacterial strain that infects the caterpillars when they eat it. It's a pretty safe, organic treatment, and it should work pretty quickly. I guess I'll have to keep doing this once a week until I don't see the butterflies anymore. They seem to like the green cabbages better than red, and they love the kale most!

I discovered something even worse on the biggest, healthiest artichoke plant. Ants... which mean aphids, and sure enough there they are on the undersides of the leaves. Ugh. I feel like they are the hardest thing to get rid of. I guess I'll have to try Michele's idea of the Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap spray.

And finally, I planted my Yard-Long Beans in the front yard, along with a few rows of okra. Two crops that are generally problem-free.  Hooray!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bread-and-Butter Pickles

Last weekend, I was delighted and amazed to find the most perfect little pickling cucumbers I have ever seen at the Los Ranchos Farmers' Market! Cucumbers, this early?? East Mountain Organics has a new greenhouse, and they're trying out these adorable gherkins. They are incredibly crunchy and sweet, small and dense - the smaller the better for pickling.

I've written about fermented pickles before, but here's a nice quick recipe for sweet pickles, adapted from Linda Ziedrich's The Joy of Pickling. The ice technique helps keep the cucumbers extra-crisp. I like my pickles a bit less sweet, so I use the lesser amount of sugar. They taste best after resting about 3 weeks to let the flavors infuse, but they are still quite delicious if you just want to eat them right away. These sweet, spiced slices are great on burgers or roast pork sandwiches.

2 pounds 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers
1 medium onion
2 1/2 T. pickling or kosher salt
2 trays of ice cubes
2 T. yellow mustard seeds
1/2 t. celery seeds
1/2 t. red chile flakes
1 1/2 C. cider vinegar
1/2 to 1 C. brown sugar
1/2 t. ground turmeric
1/8 t. ground cloves or ginger

Gently wash the cucumbers and remove the ends. Slice them into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Quarter the onions and slice them thinly. Toss the cucumbers and onions with salt, then cover them with ice cubes. Let stand 3 to 4 hours, then drain.

Combine the vegetables with all remaining ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan (not aluminum or copper), and bring to a boil. Pack into jars with enough liquid to cover. If you wish, you can seal them with two piece lids and process them in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes (this time is adjusted for Albuquerque's altitude – add 5 more minutes for Santa Fe). This extra cooking tends to make them less crunchy, so I prefer to just refrigerate them. Makes about 3 pints.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pea Puree with Preserved Lemon Salsa

Wow! This pea puree is so wonderful, and the preserved lemon goes just perfectly with it. It's adapted from a recipe in this month's Bon Appetit, from Lucques restaurant in L.A. The original dish was more focused on pea shoots, but I can't bring myself to snip off any of my pea shoots, because that would mean fewer peas! I didn't have all the ingredients so I just left stuff out, and I followed the recipe very loosely, mixing up some of the components. I'm always looking for more ways to use preserved lemons, because I love them, and this is a real winner. We enjoyed it with a nice Pacific Halibut fillet, but I think it would be great on lamb, chicken, pasta, or maybe a grilled slice of halloumi (a firm Middle Eastern cheese).

4 6-oz. halibut fillets
3 sprigs fresh thyme (or better yet, lemon thyme)
Juice of 1 lemon (preferably Meyer) or 1 tsp lemon zest

Pea Puree:
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 cup packed fresh spinach leaves (I actually left these out but want to try it)
1/3 cup ice water
Juice of 1 lemon (preferably Meyer)
2 Tbs olive oil
Generous pinch of sugar
2 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro or mint
Salt and pepper

Preserved Lemon Salsa:
1 preserved lemon (or zest of 1 fresh lemon, but it will be a whole different thing, more like a shallot salsa with a little lemon flavor)
1 medium shallot
2 tsp Champagne or white wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp honey
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 Tbs chopped fresh cilantro or mint
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the fish and marinade together in a plastic bag and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Cook the peas in boiling salted water for 1 minute, or in the microwave for a few minutes until just tender. Cook the spinach in the same pot for a few seconds (or in the microwave with just the water that clings to the leaves after washing), until just wilted. Puree the spinach and peas with the ice water. Whisk in lemon juice, oil, sugar and cilantro, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Slice the preserved lemon and shallots very thinly. Combine the shallots with vinegar and a pinch of salt, and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in honey to dissolve. Toss with preserved lemon (or lemon zest) and remaining ingredients. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the fish as desired (we just fried it in olive oil for about 3 minutes on each side). Pour pea puree on each plate, set the fish on it, then top with lemon salsa. Serves 4.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Garden Journal - May 22

I finally got the tubs to plant my last few tomato plants - I've been stopping by Lowe's every week or so to see if they have them, but no luck. Last year they had these great 20-gallon tubs displayed prominently for a long time - the perfect size for a keg, or a tomato plant. So I finally asked somebody, and we found them way back in a corner by the storage bins. Each holds about 2.5 cubic feet of potting soil, which costs about $5. I drilled 3 holes in the bottom of each, and now the Stupice, Black Brandywine, and Aunt Ruby's German Green are ready to go. I think this nice blue looks pretty good on the patio.

The chollas are blooming - aren't they just gorgeous? The flowers kind of close up in the evening.

And the hollyhocks (right) are about to burst into bloom. They are so amazing - they come up in all kinds of random places, and survive with no intentional watering. But if I try to plant them somewhere, they never seem to take. They just do their own thing. What a gift!

Not too much else is new since last week, except... the sugar snap peas are fat and sweet, and we ate about a pound of them this weekend! Since I planted them on Presidents' Day, I calculate that it took about 90 days to harvest. This is interesting, because the packet says 60-70 days. I usually don't remember to compare, but I feel like things always take longer for me! Now I wonder if planting them later would be better.

I planted some cilantro in the back yard in the shade, and some marigold and basil seeds around the edges of the tomato beds.

Mulberry Lime Tart

It's mulberry season! Just for the next few weeks... so if you've never tasted a mulberry, now's the time to take a walk around your neighborhood and see if you can find some. Yes, that mulberry, the one whose pollen you're probably allergic to. The male trees produce tons of pollen, but the female trees produce tasty berries! Look for purple spots on the sidewalk, then look up. They are seriously delicious – kind of like blackberries but with a nice chewy texture. 

This tart is very tart! Mulberries are not very acidic, so the tartness of the lime really compliments their flavor. The recipe is adapted from a lemon and fresh raspberry tart in the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Cookbook, so keep it in mind when raspberry season comes around later in the summer. The crust is so easy, even I was willing to make it.

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup powdered sugar

2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
2 T. all-purpose flour
½ t. baking powder
¼ C. lime juice
Zest of 1 lime
2 C. fresh mulberries, thoroughly washed

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix butter, flour and sugar until the dough starts to come together. It should be somewhat crumbly. Press evenly into a pie plate or 9-inch square pan. Bake until very lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely.

Combine eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder, lime juice and zest in a bowl, and beat until the mixture is frothy. Pour into crust and bake about 20 minutes, until the filling is set but not browned on top. Cool to room temperature.

If your mulberries are very juicy, just press them gently into the top, covering the entire surface. If they are not particularly juicy, sprinkle them with a little sugar and mash them with a fork, then spread over the top. If you like your berries cooked, I think it would probably work fine to put them on top before you bake the filling, but I didn't try it. Serves 8.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Garden Journal - May 15

Another installment of the garden journal right away, since I'm just so excited about spring! I finally decided this year to plant edible vines to cover our front fence, and ordered several varieties recommended by Cooperative Extension from Indiana Berry (they are fabulous!)

The new grape vine (Himrod, a white table grape) seems to be doing pretty well. And the blackberry (Navajo) is finally growing a few leaves.

The grape vine I planted last year (Roberts Red, from Plants of the Southwest) is coming back strong, with vines about 5 feet long already.

The new raspberry (Caroline) is about 6 inches tall. The raspberry I planted last year (Fall Gold, from Plants of the Southwest) is about 18 inches tall already. It's on the north side of the house, while the new one is on the west side. We'll see how they do!

Something is eating my blueberry bush - see, holes in the leaves and even in the blossoms (at the bottom)! Anyone know what this could be? I grow it in a container so we can try to keep the soil more acidic. We really can't grow them in the ground here, because our soil is so alkaline.

The apricot and plum trees didn't bloom at all this year - I'm so sad we won't have any fruit... I guess the super-cold temperatures actually killed the buds. But they are putting on tons of leafy growth! Unfortunately, the pomegranate tree may not be so lucky. No leaves yet, and according to my notebook, it had leafed out by April 15 last year. But Lloyd (the Fig Man) said to wait another month, so I haven't given up hope yet.

The apple and pear trees have set fruit (below). We have an Arkansas Black and a Cort Pendu Plat planted in the same hole (to keep them small) in the front yard. And we have a White Doyenne pear in the back yard that used to have a Brandy pear planted with it (for making pear brandy!) But it was too sensitive to the alkaline soil and was always iron-deficient, until it finally died.

The hop rhizome that I planted on the south side of the porch just finally sprouted in the last week or two. It's Cascade, my favorite grapefruity-flavored hop. Not sure if we'll try brewing with it or just enjoy its funky scent.

Ok, so I do grow a few flowers. Larkspurs (right, above) are one of the hardiest flowers I know, although not edible - they reseed themselves all over my friend Margarita's yard, and she transplanted some into a pot for me. I know hummingbirds are supposed to like red flowers, but I have actually seen them visiting these. A black-chinned hummingbird has her nest in our front yard!

The honeysuckle (edible) and Spanish broom (not edible) are both in bloom, and I love their sweet scent. Unfortunately, the Tree of Heaven is also in bloom in the back yard and it's fragrance tends to overpower everything else.

Here are some pansies that I planted last fall, that I hardly watered, and was absolutely stunned when they reappeared in the spring. Soon I'll have to get around to candying some of them - aren't they gorgeous? Totally edible. And the huge leaves next to them are horseradish.

And finally, some of the irises (not edible) Dave's mom gave me two years ago. The light and dark purple ones bloomed first, but now they're gone and the yellow ones have started. Glorious!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Garden Journal - May 14

I started this blog as much for myself as for anyone else to read, because it helps me remember the recipes I love and keep track of how I've modified them. And suddenly this week, I had the realization that I could do that for the garden as well! As you might expect, I mostly only like to grow vegetables (and other edible things, like fruits and herbs, and sometimes even edible flowers). I'm always experimenting, and I don't consider myself the greatest gardener in the world, but the best way to get better is to keep a journal. So I've decided to start posting my garden journal here from time to time, because it's fun to take photos of plants.

The front yard vegetable beds have artichokes, which are mighty good-looking perennials! They overwintered under a thick bed of leaves from the mulberry trees, even with our cold snap of -10F! I'm not sure why the one artichoke on the left is doing so much better, but they are supposed to become more productive as they get older, so maybe we'll get more than one this year.

Under the cover, cabbages and kale are about 6 inches tall. I hoped the Reemay cover would keep the cabbage-white butterflies off them, but I didn't make it long enough, and sure thing - I saw that little butterfly just cruising through the other day. But I do think the shade is helping. 

In another front-yard bed, I planted Desert King watermelons and Charentais melons (a type of heirloom cantaloupe). I actually direct-seeded these in late April, and not only did they come up, they actually survived the light frost on May 2!

At the other end of this bed is the strawberry patch, with 25 everbearing plants (Seascape, a variety recommended by our Cooperative Extension) from Indiana Berry. They're just little, and one didn't make it, over there on the left. I couldn't resist buying a couple more plants (Tribute, another variety recommended for NM) at the farmers' market this morning, because they already had fruit on them! I think they must have been grown in a hoop house to be so big already.

I planted borage (on the left) next to the strawberry patch, because it is supposed to be a good companion for them, and the gorgeous blue flowers are edible. They taste like cucumbers, and are so pretty in a glass of lemonade! And another weird herb (on the right) - lovage, which tastes like celery. It has lots of tiny flowers in summer that attract pollinators.

The herb bed by the back door is in full bloom - gorgeous! In the left photo, we have chives at the bottom, sage to the left, and behind that, rue and yarrow. At the very back is French tarragon (right photo) - it's pretty fantastic that all these made it through this weird winter.

The oregano (left) is coming back, too - I was a little worried. I'm so excited that the lemon verbena (right) made it through, and I'm always a little nervous because it's so late to leaf out. Like the oregano, it comes back from the roots every year, not from the old stems. The one thing that didn't make it was the pineapple sage. And surprisingly, the rosemary died back a lot, but about half the plant is still ok.

The rhubarb I planted last year is getting really big. Maybe next year I'll actually harvest some. It started leafing out in March, before the lilacs bloomed. I think the key to keeping rhubarb happy is to have it in the middle of the garden, where it gets plenty of water and a little shade from all around.

I'm trying potatoes in a barrel this year, planted in 6 inches of soil at the bottom, with straw piled around them as they grow taller. This should make it easy to harvest the potatoes, but we'll see. There's about 6 inches of straw in there already, and the potatoes are about 6 inches tall above that.

I bought about a dozen starts of different heirloom tomatoes at the Master Gardeners' plant sale - this year was their best ever. They are about 8 inches tall right now. I pinched off the bottom leaves and planted them with as much of the stem covered as seemed reasonable. This helps them grow a more extensive root system.

I gave several away, but the ones I planted in the backyard are Black Krim, Black Sea Man, Sungold, Japanese Black Trifele, Costeluto Genovese, and Mortgage Lifter (ok, that one was from the farmers' market - it's so hard to stop!)  I'm hoping to still plant Black Brandywine, Aunt Ruby's German Green, Stupice, Rio Grande, and Speckled Roman - in keg tubs on the patio.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Snap Pea and Pistachio Pasta Salad

Photo by Sergio Salvador
This pasta salad is really a winner, and my peas are just starting to fill out in my front-yard raised bed!

Peas are a symbol of spring because they are so frost-hardy, and they need cool weather to grow well. We're already getting peas from California, but here in Albuquerque they usually won't be ready until the end of May. I planted my peas on Presidents' Day according to tradition, and by late June they will be withering in our summer heat.

For me, a great pasta salad is all about the vegetables. This one is absolutely fabulous with fresh peas and pistachios, but it would also be nice with green beans later in the summer. There are a few other tricks to creating a truly excellent pasta salad. Champagne vinegar is wonderful because it is very mild and not bitter. High-quality pasta makes a difference, because it is denser and doesn't fall apart as easily (I recently fell in love with Garofalo pasta). Fresh herbs make it really special. Lemon thyme has become one of my favorite herbs since I planted it last year, but thyme in general is one of the most versatile herbs - it tastes great in everything.. And my final trick... I don't like raw garlic, so I cook it briefly with the pasta, which makes it sweet and mild. This recipe is adapted from one in a recent issue of Cooking Light.

8 oz. uncooked gemelli or other curly pasta
½ lb. sugar snap peas
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 T. champagne vinegar or lemon juice
5 T. olive oil
½ t. coarse salt
½ t. freshly ground black pepper
½ cup shelled pistachios, chopped
2 large sprigs thyme or lemon thyme
2 green onions
1 ounce shaved Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, until almost tender. Add the peas and garlic cloves during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain and rinse the pasta and vegetables with cold water. Mince the garlic. Trim tops and tails off the snap peas and cut into bite-size pieces. Whisk the vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the pasta, peas and garlic along with all remaining ingredients and toss well. Serves 4 as a light meal.

Chermoula-Rubbed Fish with Zucchini and Pistachio Couscous

Yikes, Blogger seems to have "disappeared" this one too. Please excuse any weirdness.

Ok, so chermoula is one great way to use the preserved lemons I wrote about earlier. It's another North African spice paste, especially good for grilling fish, but great on vegetables too. I know, preserved lemons have been all over the food blog world lately, and still not many people have recipes to use them. And the zucchini-pistachio couscous - divine. It makes me like zucchini and couscous more than I've ever liked either one before. Must be the pistachios. Have I mentioned that pistachios make everything better? I'll admit, this is adapted from a Rachael Ray Everyday recipe, but she didn't use pistachios in her couscous or preserved lemons in her chermoula.

2 garlic cloves
1 small bunch fresh cilantro or parsley
1/2 preserved lemon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp hot paprika or red chile powder
Small pinch of saffron (optional)
4 T olive oil
Salt to taste

Mince the garlic, cilantro and preserved lemon very finely, or puree in a food processor. Mix in remaining ingredients. Rub on fish or chicken pieces and grill, bake or fry as desired. I like to just pan-fry a fillet of Pacific cod about 2 minutes on each side.

Zucchini Couscous:
1 small zucchini
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup couscous
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/4 cup shelled, chopped pistachios

Dice and saute the zucchini in oil until soft and lightly browned. Add salt, boiling water and couscous. Stir gently, and cover tightly for 5 minutes. Add pistachios and fluff with a fork.

Lemon Thyme Fettuccine with Asparagus and Pancetta

Whoa, it's Friday the 13th and Blogger "disappeared" my last two posts - let's try this again.

I'm so excited that the Los Ranchos Farmers' Market is open for the season, every Saturday from now until October!  As far as I know, the growers' markets are the only place to get all the wonderful varieties of Pasta Divina's organic fresh pasta - they sell a few basic varieties at Whole Foods (congratulations to them!) but the really interesting stuff is at the markets. This week they had fettuccine flavored with lemon thyme, one of my favorite herbs since I started growing it last summer. It was absolutely divine with fresh asparagus, homemade pancetta, and a white wine cream sauce.

1 pound fresh asparagus
Several thin slices of pancetta or bacon
1 Tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup cream
Salt and pepper
8 oz. fresh pasta

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and break them into 1-2 inch pieces. Heat the oil in a wide skillet on medium flame, and cook the garlic and pancetta until just beginning to brown. Add asparagus and cook until bright green. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half. Turn the heat to low and add the cream. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the pasta in boiling water about 2 minutes. Add 2 Tbs of the pasta water to the sauce, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss gently. Serve immediately with chilled glasses of white wine! Serves 2.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Roasted Asparagus with Pistachio Citrus Dressing

Photo by Sergio Salvador
Asparagus is the quintessential spring delicacy – because of the way it grows, we can only enjoy it for a few months. A long-lived perennial, my grandmother's asparagus grew in the same patch for over 30 years. Each spring she would cut the new shoots before they were about eight inches tall, until early June, when she would stop harvesting and let them grow into bushy fernlike plants to feed the roots for another year. By the end of summer, they're about four feet tall, and the female plants develop small red berries, which are poisonous. 

Asparagus is easy to grow, but it takes patience – you won't be able to harvest for the first two years, in order to allow strong root development. White asparagus is produced by covering the plants so that they grow with no light, resulting in less bitterness.

At the market, choose crisp, bright green asparagus with tightly closed heads. Fatter stalks come from older plants, but that doesn't mean they'll be any more or less sweet. Freshness is what matters most – once the stalks are cut, the sugars begin to change to starches. Many people don't like asparagus because they've only had it overcooked. The key to perfect asparagus is cooking it only until it is bright green and tender, but still a bit crisp. Roasting or grilling it brings out a little extra sweetness, but steaming is faster. Asparagus and citrus are a classic combination, but the addition of pistachios is genius – this recipe is adapted from Anya Von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table.

1 pound asparagus
2 T. olive oil
1/4 t. coarse salt
Zest and juice of 1 orange (or 1 Meyer lemon, or 2 tangerines)
¼ cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 t. freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus (just bend them gently and they will naturally snap at the right place!) Toss with olive oil and salt in a baking pan. Roast 20 to 25 minutes, until asparagus is tender but still a bit crisp. Toss all remaining ingredients with asparagus and enjoy hot or cold. Serves 4 as an appetizer or side.