Monday 29 December 2014

Harvest Monday: December 29, 2014 ... And On Preserving Herbs

It's been about 6 weeks since I've had anything to harvest and it's only the luck of the recent warm weather we've had that I have something to talk about this week.  ALL of the snow shown in the main picture on my previous post has disappeared.  A completely green Christmas which is quite rare in Eastern Ontario (and I'm more than a little happy about it).

That being said, there wasn't much in the garden to harvest other than the hardiest of herbs (thyme, rosemary and sage) - but I'll take what I can get (I also had enough kale to nibble on while I snipped the herbs).  And so I finally took the opportunity to preserve some herbs.  Although I'm not sure why I bothered with the little bit of rosemary I had since I had previously dug up one of my plants and brought it in for the winter - seems to be keeping healthy enough (alongside geraniums).

I've dried herbs in the past but have generally found it to be messy.  And then, with the most common herbs I would use in winter (thyme and rosemary), I seem to end up buying them fresh from the store anyway.

I have jars (and jars and jars!) of basil preserved in the form of pesto - sometimes just the basil and olive oil without any nuts (and I never use cheese when I store pesto - best when added during cooking).  So it seems the combination of herbs and oil works for my needs.

I chopped some herbs and put a teaspoon or so of each into ice cube trays (OK, this isn't actually an ice cube tray but it's what I had on hand).  For the thyme and rosemary, I followed with olive oil; for the sage, I used melted butter because that's how I usually use sage ... like in this Chard and Ricotta Ravioli with Sage Butter Sauce.

And into the freezer it went.  I had a bit of  hard time getting it out of this container - but just like ice cubes, you can either let it melt a teeny bit to loosen them or run a bit of warm water on the other side (have a bowl underneath to catch them as they'll slide right out!).

And voila ... some little gems to toss into a soup, stew, or hmm ... maybe some mashed potatoes?!

Check out Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday to see what other gardeners are keeping themselves busy with at this time of the year.

Saturday 13 December 2014

2014: My Year in the Vegetable Garden

With the amount of snow I already have, the 2014 gardening season seems so long ago!

I've only been growing vegetables for about a decade now and the first few years I was growing only the basics (for me that means tomatoes, potatoes and lettuce).  I am still learning so much every year and trying new techniques to figure out what works best.  And just when I thought I had at least a few things figured out, I moved - this was only the second season in this new location.  So the soil, moisture levels, weeds ... even the bugs are different though I am only an hour or two from where I used to garden (thank goodness I don't have wild parsnip to deal with here).

So here are some of the new things I tried this year, with some being more successful than others.

The 3 sisters garden.  Verdict: Total Failure.
I've grown plenty of squash before and have dabbled with beans.  But this is the first time I've tried to grow corn and the first time I put all three in the same plot.  None of them grew well so I can't comment on the benefits of growing them together.  I had intentionally planted this away from my other gardens simply because I was worried the corn would attract more pests (namely raccoons).  And I think I just put it in a spot that didn't get enough sun.  I only got a handful of beans, the corn never got past two feet tall and the red kuri squash plants were rather pathetic with no squash to show for my efforts.  Now that I've dug up this bit of my lawn, I'll find something else to put there that can manage with less sunlight.  But I do want to try corn again and might still try these three items together again next year.

Kale.  Verdict: Awesome.


I have never even eaten kale before this year!  I planted two types - Nero di Toscana (seeds from William Dam) and some seeds that I picked up at a seed swap when visiting my family in BC that turned out to be Red Russian Kale.  It is super easy to grow and required very little effort.  This is one of those "cut and come again" veggies - trim off the tops and it just keeps coming up.  And a very hardy plant - it is still standing up tall in my garden under all that snow!

Bamboo Poles for Peas/Beans.  Verdict: Useless.
But it wasn't entirely the fault of the poles.  In my ignorance, I somehow expected the plants to wind themselves around the poles so I didn't even give them so much as a nudge.  I had grown them up a trellis the previous year (my first year with either beans or peas) and they seemed to just take to it on their own. I kind of thought they'd do the same with the poles but ... no.  Anyway, I think I prefer the trellis concept simply because it is easier to manage in straight rows.  But I'm still working on exactly what those trellises will be made with next year.
Wood Ash in the Garden.  Verdict: Unclear.
I have a woodstove that I use throughout the winter.  I have geothermal heating and once the temperature drops below -25°C (which it does quite often around here), it simply isn't as effective in heating the house.  So I use the woodstove quite a bit which produces plenty of ash.  I keep the ash in a barrel near the garden and so I added some to the soil for the peas.  Ash is alkaline so I figured it would be good for peas.  Although the peas didn't magically work their way up the bamboo poles, I still had plenty of them.  I just can't say it was due to the ash.  But I'll do this again next year and also see what other veggies I can try it with.

Spaghetti Squash.  Verdict: Awesome.


This is the first time I grew spaghetti squash and also the first time I saved seeds from a store-bought veggie.  So I don't know the variety but they grew well and taste great.  But I think I'll purchase some seeds for next year just so I know what kind I'm growing.

Composting.  Verdict:  Total Success.
Okay, this is definitely not the first year that I composted.  But this is the first year that I successfully created useable compost in a single growing season.  I always had a good idea of mixing up browns and greens in the compost pile, but it took the spring seminar on composting to really teach me proper techniques - mostly I just wasn't turning it over enough.  I only had enough to cover a 10' x 10' space this year but I'm going to build a much larger compost area next year.

My Own Seed Potatoes.  Verdict:  Success.
This was more of a coincidence than anything intentional.  But when spring rolled around, I still had a lot of potatoes left from the previous year's harvest.  And they had started to sprout down in the cold room - I mean really sprout!  It's the first time I used my own potatoes to grow more potatoes.  I will definitely make that a plan again for 2015.

Harvest Mondays.  Verdict:  Super Fun!
This was the first year that I shared my gardening posts on Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday collection.  I had a lot of fun with it and have learned a lot from the many gardeners who also share their own successes and failures in the garden.

Next season will have plenty more firsts for me in the garden, I'm sure (one of them being kohlrabi as I tasted it for the first time this year and definitely want to grow some).  But I have plenty of time to check out other blogs and get my plans ready.  And I look forward to hearing about other gardener's new ideas for 2015!

Thursday 4 December 2014

Rigatoni with Acorn Squash, Kale and Mushrooms

I put this together a few weeks ago when I still had fresh kale from the garden ... but I could just as easily have used some of the kale I have frozen for use through the winter.  It was one of those "anything-available" kind of dishes - I realized afterwards that I hadn't even bothered with an onion!

I really enjoyed the extra flavour from cooking the squash in almond milk, but it can also be cooked in chicken stock or just plain water.

1 1/2 cups dry rigatoni, cooked
1 cup cubed acorn squash
2 cups almond milk
4 pieces bacon, chopped
6 oz shiitake, chopped or diced
8 oz cremini, chopped or diced
2 cups kale, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh thyme
Aged cheddar, cubed or grated parmesan (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water to al dente.  Drain and set aside. Heat the almond milk to a simmer, add the squash and cook until tender.

Heat a saute pan and add the chopped bacon.  Saute 3-4 minutes to render some of the fat then add the mushroooms and fresh thyme.  Cook on medium-high heat until mushrooms are browned.  Add in the kale and toss to combine all ingredients.  Remove from heat.  Season to taste with salt and pepper (lots of pepper!).

Add the pasta and mushroom/kale mixture into a casserole dish.  Remove squash from milk with a slotted spoon and add to the casserole dish.  If your pasta is well cooked, you might not want to add any more liquid.  But if you want a creamier dish, add some of the almond milk as well.  Toss in some cubed cheese if using (or just top with grated parmesan for a bit of extra flavour).

Toss to combine all ingredients.  Bake in preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes to heat through all ingredients and let the flavours come together.

Monday 24 November 2014

Harvest Monday: November 24, 2014 - Update on Brussels Sprouts

Note to Self:  When friends say that hanging brussels sprouts upside down in your basement will keep them growing after they have been harvested ... don't believe them. They just shrivel up and look even smaller than they were to begin with.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Baby Savoy Cabbage Salad with Pomegranate and Feta

This was supposed to be a salad with shaved brussels sprouts.  But I need to give those another week or two before using (hoping they'll continue to grow on the stalk).  So I decided to try the cabbage I had recently harvested.  The technique of tossing it with the dressing and keeping overnight is something I've seen (but not used before) with kale in order to soften the texture.  It worked well with the cabbage here, although the cabbage was more tender due to its size than had it been fully grown.

The bitterness is offset by the sweetness of the pomegranate and tangy feta cheese.  I also tossed on some roasted pistachio nuts.  Delicious!!
For the dressing, put the following into a small mason jar and shake it up: 1 1/2 Tbsp grapeseed oil, 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, 3/4 tsp grainy mustard, 2 cloves garlic minced, pinch of salt (or you can pretty much use any vinaigrette).

Slice the cabbage.   Place in a seal-able container and pour some of the dressing over top.  Give it a massage with your fingers to ensure it is well coated - add more dressing if needed (I used about 3/4's of it).  Pop the lid on and leave in the fridge overnight or at least a few hours.

Rather than the pomegranate-feta-pistachio combo, it would also go well with dried cranberries, pecans and some shaved parmesan cheese.

Monday 17 November 2014

Harvest Monday: November 17, 2014

By the time Friday evening arrived, I decided to pull up what I had left in the garden.  The brussels sprouts, etc. had already gone through a few nights of -5C, but I thought -8C might be too much (but not really sure how cold they can take it?).

So out I went with the very dim flashlight in the dark to gather what I could.

I pulled the two largest of the brussels sprouts, root ball and all.  I bagged up the bottom to keep the dirt from getting everywhere and they are now hanging in the basement in the hopes of getting a bit more size out of them.

Plus a smaller plant which yielded all of 1/2 a cup of these teeny marbles.

And I grabbed the 2 largest savoy cabbage heads ... as you can see, they didn't get too big.

I nibbled on one of the broccoli side shoots left but it was a bit mealy so chucked the rest in the compost.  And the cauliflower never really did anything anyway so I've just left it there for now.

Other than herbs, I have nothing left.  I had some beets and carrots planted but they aren't big enough to harvest.  The 5 cm of snow on Sunday hasn't helped ...

 But I'll definitely be checking in regularly at Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday collection to see what other gardeners (in warmer climes than mine) have going on.

Saturday 15 November 2014

Baked Persimmon with Candied Ginger and Honey


It's persimmon season again!  They don't come around often in these parts so I grab a bagful when I can.  I usually only see Fuyu which are the firmer variety.  Hachiya is the other most common variety that might be found here in Eastern Canada (imported from the U.S.).  Hachiya is very soft and custardy when ripe.

These are Fuyu - even after baking, they retain their shape.  Wonderful served with custard for a simple dessert.  I really like the bite that candied ginger gives to the dish. 

4 persimmon, halved horizontally
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 pieces candied ginger
3 Tbsp honey
1 lemon, zest and juice
1/3 cup boiling water

Place persimmons in a 9x9 pan. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl (boiling water poured in last) and let sit several minutes.  Pour over persimmons.  Cover the dish with tinfoil.

Bake @ 375 degrees F for about 45 minutes.  Halfway through, remove the pan from the oven. Tilt slightly to get at the liquid from the bottom of the pan and spoon it over the persimmons.

After an hour, remove from oven and spoon any remaining liquid over top.  Remove the cinnamon stick (or it will burn) and keep the tinfoil off. Put under the broiler for 5-10 minutes until the tops have caramelized.  Serve with ice cream, custard or yogurt. Served below with a Tbsp of mascarpone cheese.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Current State of the Brassicas


I am anxiously watching the weather forecast these days.  Yesterday was fabulous ... a high of 17 degrees C!  But we have already had several nights below zero in the past few weeks and similar lows expected in just a few days.

But I wait patiently for the brussels sprouts and cabbage to get a bit bigger before I harvest them.  I intentionally started them later than the previous year to avoid having them bolt in the summer heat - naturally it turned out to be a cool summer.  :)

The sprouts should be okay (I only have 4 plants) ... another week in the garden then they'll still get a bit bigger if I hang them for another week or so.  I don't imagine the savoy cabbage will get much bigger but the 4 plants I have should provide enough for a meal or two.

After Margaret showed her broccoli side shoots a couple of days ago, I thought I should take a look myself as I had not expected to have the time for any to grow this season.   Wouldn't you know it, there are side shoots on most of the plants!

And it looks like I should still get a broccoli (or four), small as they may be - this one is only an inch or so across.

As for the cauliflower, not so much.  Second year in a row with no real heads to harvest (except for this teeny little purple one pulled a week ago).

Last year, the entire plants were duds.  This year, I have large plants (pic below) with plenty of leaf but no head (or maybe a little head wrapped in those inner little leaves).  I'll see if I can work out that problem before next year.  I know I had peas growing in that bed just before I put in the brussels sprouts and cauliflower and the brussels sprouts seem fine. I assume I have too much or too little of something ...

Monday 10 November 2014

Harvest Monday: November 10, 2014 - Jerusalem Artichokes and a Recipe for White Bean, Bread, and Tomato Skillet Casserole

I decided to pull some jerusalem artichoke yesterday - the first since I planted it two years ago.  I have left it alone to spread out.  The first 10 plants became about 40-50 this year; naturally they are very close together.  I want to have a field (well, a partial field) of them eventually as the flowers can be pretty when seen in large bunches (rather plain individually).  Mind you, it will probably only take a few more years at the rate they multiply.

Unfortunately, they didn't even flower this year.  And the tubers themselves aren't looking too great.  As I mentioned above, I only pulled a few and didn't really dig too deep - they are very small!  I don't eat a lot of these but it would be nice to take advantage of them now and then, especially once they really start to multiply as I'll need to dig them up to control the spread.

I am used to them being larger.  The ones in the picture below were from our farm a few years ago.  Maybe a different variety?


Mind you, the patch of jerusalem artichokes there was probably 3 feet wide and 15-20 feet long.  And the soil was not at all as compact as mine is here.

Jerusalem Artichoke - McDonald's Corners 2011

I think I'll dig around the current patch and loosen up the soil a bit to see if I can improve things for next year.  And I suppose they could use some additional nutrition although what I'm not sure (will google that unless anyone has ideas?).

And that is my limited contribution to the weekly harvest topic at Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday collection.  Stop by to see what other gardeners are up to.

The rest of the post is what I've done with a previous harvest - Tarbais beans.  This dish includes so many of my favourite combinations (tomatoes and bread, beans and cheese, bread and cheese, tomatoes and cheese!!) I couldn't help but love it.

BUT ... I have to admit the Tarbais beans were a bit bland.  These were the beans I harvested earlier this year.  Does anyone know if Tarbais beans are always so bland?  It is the first time I have grown them.  I realize most beans don't have a ton of flavour on their own, but the borlotti beans are considerably tastier.  I'm just not sure that I want to devote the space for Tarbais next year ...

The dish is delicious either way but I might try another bean (cannellini comes to mind) the next time.   As for the rest of the Tarbais bean harvest, I've seen the beans used in dessert recipes where the sugar can help with the bland flavour.

Read on for the casserole recipe.

Monday 3 November 2014

Harvest Monday: November 3, 2014 - Fresh Horseradish and Aged Cheddar Dip

Here is my weekly harvest report for Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday.  It is a great way to learn from other gardeners and see what they have going on in their gardens each week.

I've been away from home quite a bit lately so not much time around the garden (or in the kitchen).  But I suppose it was good timing as there hasn't been much to harvest anyway. 

The brassicas are still on their way .. brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower.  Hopefully the weather will hold out long enough to get something worthy of a meal (well, just a side dish would be nice!) although it was already below zero a few nights recently.

In the meantime, this week's harvest consists of a few horseradish roots (also a brassica) that I pulled out of the pot I grow it in.  I grow it to keep around potatoes as it is supposed to keep the bugs away. But because it can be invasive, I grow only a small amount in a pot - its effectiveness as a deterrent for potato beetles is questionable to begin with and I suspect the small amount I have is not much use, but I have had no potato bugs the past couple of years.

After peeling the skinny little roots, it was grated then made into a veggie dip / cracker spread.  Delicious!

1/2 cup cream cheese
3 Tbsp aged cheddar spread (I used Balderson 3 year aged spreadable cheddar)
1 1/2 tsp freshly grated horseradish
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika

Whip the cheese together then stir in remaining ingredients.  Refrigerate a couple of hours then serve with veggies or crackers.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Pumpkin Waffles with Fresh Cranberries

Although the whole pumpkin spice everything craze seems a bit overboard to me, I have to admit I'm still loving the pumpkin flavours at home.   I've recently made Pumpkin and Maple Granola as well as Cranberry and Pumpkin Muffins.  Right around the same time as the muffins, I also made these waffles (hence the fresh cranberries on top).

I've been away from home quite a lot lately starting with a trip to Vancouver in early October - that is when my mom gave me a brand-new Cuisinart Waffle Iron!  Naturally, I had to try it immediately.

This recipe makes 5 or 6 of this style (my other waffle iron is much smaller so depends on what you have).

2 cups flour (I used 1 cup multi-blend and 1 cup unbleached white)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup less 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree

Place the first 6 (dry) ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine.  Add remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Cover with plastic and set in refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.
Prepare your waffle iron.  When heated, brush surface lightly with oil/butter or use a cooking spray to coat.  Add 3/4 to 1 cup of batter.   Close lid and cook until indicator light turns green (or whatever your iron does to tell you it's ready!).

Serve with your fave toppings (I'm pretty simple with some fruit, butter and maple syrup).

Saturday 25 October 2014

Baked Acorn Squash with Rice, Cranberries, Pecans and Feta

Mmm ... baked squash!  A fall favourite of mine.  Here it is baked then stuffed with goodies including rice, cranberries and nuts then topped with some feta cheese.

I used two small squashes from my garden, but this amount of ingredients should be enough for one medium sized squash. 

Acorn squash, halved and seeded
1 shallot, minced
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 cups cooked brown and wild rice
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup feta

 Bake the squash halves at 350 degrees F (cut side down on a baking sheet) until fork tender.

Saute the shallot in 2 Tbsp of the butter.  Add the cooked rice and toss to coat with the butter.  Remove from heat then add the cranberries and nuts.  Season if needed, but remember the feta will add some saltiness. 

Place the squash halves cut side up on a baking pan (if necessary, cut a thin slice from the bottom so it will sit flat).  Split the remaining butter between the two halves then fill with the rice mixture.

Bake at 350 F about 10 minutes.  Top with feta before serving.

Monday 20 October 2014

Harvest Monday: October 20, 2014

Arugula!  I can't recall when I planted this ... either late August or early September.  Very nice to have a fall planting of some fresh greens.

And it's nice to still have something to contribute to Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday collection!  I look forward to seeing what the more southerly gardeners are showing off this week.

In addition to the arugula, I have more kale - the stalks of the russian kale is getting tough but the leaves are just fine.  The tuscan black kale is still quite tender.

While cleaning up the gardens, I continue to find wayward potatoes (and this single Paris Market Atlas carrot) that I missed the first time around.  And these spring onions are getting nibbled too much so I decided to just pull them (almost nothing left of the greens on most of them).

And finally, some tarragon.  I noticed that most of two tarragon plants had either turned brown or the leaves had come right off.  So I salvaged what I could from the third plant and will dry it or freeze it (not sure the best way to save tarragon) as I have no use for it right now.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Fresh Cranberry and Pumpkin Muffins with Maple Glaze

I still have a few recipes to share from the fresh pumpkins I bought a couple of weeks ago. Once the pumpkins are baked and pureed, the puree can also be frozen for months - but I had several recipes I wanted to make.

Last week was Pumpkin and Maple Granola.  And as mentioned on my Harvest Monday post this week, I also used some pumpkin in a pasta (delicious when combined with sage, kale and sausage).

And now for the next recipe - these delicious muffins!  In addition to the freshly made pumpkin puree, I also used fresh cranberries.  I find most muffin recipes use dried cranberries.  But with Thanksgiving taking place recently, there is an abundance of fresh cranberries in every store!

As for some of the other ingredients, I used a 50/50 split of multi-blend flour and white flour.  All white flour is perfectly fine for this recipe if preferred.  And I used muscovada sugar as I wanted a bit of molasses flavour without actually using molasses.  Regular brown sugar is also fine here.

Makes 10-12 muffins depending on size.

2 cups flour
3/4 cup muscovada sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
3/4 cup fresh cranberries
Maple Glaze (see below)

Put all dry ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to combine.  In a large bowl, add all remaining ingredients except the cranberries.  Stir to combine the wet ingredients.  Pour the dry into the wet and fold gently to combine without over mixing.  Add the cranberries and give another short stir to mix them in.

Spread batter among the cups in a 12-muffin tin.  I made 11 the first time around and only 10 the second batch.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Maple Glaze:  While baking, make the glaze by combining 1 cup powdered sugar, 2 Tbsp maple syrup, squirt of vanilla and up to 1 Tbsp milk (use only enough milk to create the consistency you want).  Once muffins have cooled slightly, remove from the tin and place on a rack.  Drizzle the glaze over top so it also runs down the sides.