Archive for the 'Vegetables' Category

I am more compulsive in other areas of my life

Apparently, over the winter, someone decided to throw approximately 1,000 small twigs into my garden plot. It’s lucky that, although I definitely have areas in which I exhibit great symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the garden is not one of those areas. Therefore, on Sunday evening, I picked about 428 of those twigs out of the garden before giving up and just deciding that the remaining ones provided some interest, and also a good challenge for the seedlings to come. The really strong ones, after all, ought to be able to push the twigs out of the way, right?

Don’t worry, Master Gardeners. I’ll pick more out in the next couple of days.

Besides the twigs, I needed to remove the clumps of grass that had infiltrated the plot over the winter, which is miraculous, because how the grass was able to be all sneaky like that underneath 20 inches of snow baffles me considerably. I also yanked any dead plants that would have come out if said snow hadn’t snuck up on me itself before I had time to clean much up last year.

Sage coming back to lifeBut there were signs of life. Besides the garlic and the aforementioned baby spinach that is just coming up all on its own, it appears that one of my sage plants is resurrecting itself. There were some green baby leaves that are destined to become tasty treats sooner rather than later.

I yanked the rest of the sage plants as carefully as I could so I wouldn’t disturb the newcomers, and took all the dead plants over to the compost pile. Then I set about turning over the soil, unearthing all manner of worms who were not particularly thrilled to see me hanging out. Then I got moving on dropping in seeds in my normal, laissez faire manner, starting with the chard, which has bony little seeds that I loved from the moment I saw them.

These are the cutest seeds ever.

After the chard, I moved on to the rest: spinach, rosemary, sage, Italian parsley and some green beans. Once I had put far too many seeds in, as usual, ignoring the wise advice of the back of the seed packet, I covered everything up. Then I stepped back from the garden plot, the sun setting behind me, and nodded. Oh, tasty spinach. Oh, tasty chard. Oh, delicious herbs. I hope some of you come up soon, despite my best efforts to plant you incorrectly.

Starting, with seeds

This garden plot has absolutely nothing going for it.I have been struggling with a distinct lack of gardening momentum. The weather finally kicked into gear and warmed up, and yet my garden plot sat, in the backyard, untidy and neglected. Sure, there’s some garlic poking up through the ground, but the rest? Home to dead sage, dead Texas Tarragon, dead rosemary, dead greens…well, you get the idea.

I never even put in a seed order. How ridiculous is that? Every other gardener I know spent the miserable winter ordering seeds willy-nilly, but I couldn’t even get myself to imagine that far in advance, so I skipped that whole process. I mean, yeah, I did buy those Italian seeds back in February, but that doesn’t possibly compete with all those gardeners who spend time plotting out their gardens on graph paper long before winter winds to a close.

On Sunday afternoon, though, after reading the Michael Pollan article I mentioned on Monday, I couldn’t hold out any longer. I took a walk over to the co-op to get a few things, and availed myself of their rack of Seed Savers seed packets. Thank you, New Pioneer Co-op, for not only providing me with a source for my favorite single source honey and a prodigious amount of wine, but for also allowing me to be utterly lazy about planning my garden yet still buy really quality seeds from a cool source.

I went for things I could plant this early in the season, because it looks like we still have some fairly chilly nights ahead. In other words, I did not pick out basil, but I did grab spinach, chard, green beans, rosemary, sage and Italian parsley.

I headed home again, seeds in my Inadvertent Gardener tote bag, glad that even though I’d procrastinated into the late afternoon, there was still plenty of light out in the garden. As I walked down Washington Street toward home, imagining how I’d lay out the seeds I just bought. Who needs graph paper, anyway?

Sautéed Swiss Chard and Spinach

Mixing in the greensNot long ago, Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen posted a fabulous-looking recipe for chard stems. It had never occurred to me to cook chard stems separately from the rest of the chard—while I realize they’re tougher than the leaves and require a slightly longer cooking time, I’ve always circumvented that issue by just cooking them first, then adding the leaves later.

I’ll admit a little laziness is at play, too. I’m not one to spend the time actually slicing the leaves from the chard stems. I tend, instead, to take my bunch of chard and chop it up almost like I’m chiffonading basil—I roll it into a monster log of leaves, then slice narrow ribbons by cutting perpendicular to the log. It’s effective, albeit unorthodox.

When I have worked my way through the leaves, I just chop up the part of the stems that stick out at the bottom, and keep those in a separate pile. I usually trim the bottom Stems and garlicquarter-inch or so of the stems, just to keep the raggedy pieces out of whatever I’m cooking.

When I actually get to the cooking part, I usually toss in the stems and garlic (in the case of the garlic photographed to the left, it’s garlic I actually grew in my very own garden, and therefore I swear it’s that much more delicious…) at the same time—that seems to create just the right balance of cooking time. In this case, I mix spinach and the chard leaves, and put them in later, and generally cook them just long enough to wilt them down. The result? Perfectly cooked stems, perfectly cooked leaves, and a delicious side dish that I could eat just about every day.

Sauteed chard and spinachSautéed Swiss Chard and Spinach
(Serves 4 as a side dish)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 10 oz. bag baby spinach leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Wash and dry the chard, then remove the stems from the leaves in any method you deem appropriate (To do this IG-style, chop the stems off at the base of the leaves, and be sure to trim the very bottom parts). Chop the stems into 1/2-inch lengths and set them aside.
  2. Roll the leaves together into a big log, as if you were making a chiffonade of basil, and slice thin strips by cutting perpendicular to the log.
  3. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large sauté pan, and when it is hot, add the garlic and the chard stems. Sauté, stirring often, until the garlic just starts to brown and the stems are softening up.
  4. Add the sliced chard leaves and the spinach a few handfuls at a time, stirring the mixture until what you’ve put in is cooked down enough to make room for the next handfuls. Once all the chard and spinach is in the pan, put a lid on it and wait for about a minute or two.
  5. Remove the lid, stir, add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

This is my post for Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being hosted this week by Ramona from the Houndstooth Gourmet. Stop by Ramona’s place on Monday to see the full round-up!

Spinach, reseeded

I did, after my extended stay at O’Hare, finally arrive home over the weekend. I’d been gone for 12 days on what felt like the longest business trip of my life, including stops in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.

When I left Iowa, the snow had indeed begun to melt, but was still shoulder-high and causing trouble. I returned to a mostly snow-free landscape, although the disappearance of the white has left Iowa khaki-dreary—no blossoms, no green grass, no growth. This happens every year—there’s always a period of time between winter and spring (and by Garden messspring, I’m not talking about the post-equinox season, but the actual reappearance of color) when the landscape offers nothing to the eye other than wide swaths of blandness.

In my backyard, a small patch of snow survived in an area of the yard that’s shady most of the day. But the garden is, once again, uncovered, and what a mess it is, although it’s a mess that’s going to feed the garden nicely once the growing season starts up in earnest. Most of the bed is matted with leaves and decaying plants that I never pulled up before the snow brought any hope of that abruptly to an end, and I think I can probably just turn that stuff under so last year’s plants and leaves give this year’s plants a little bit of boost.

But on one end of the garden, garlic is already sprouting through the layer of mulch I put down when I planted it last fall, and when I crouched down to take a look, I noticed something particularly exciting. Baby spinach that I did not even have to plant!Not only is the garlic getting its grow on, but there are some baby spinach leaves coming up out of the ground.

I suspect my poor gardening practice of letting the spinach bolt and not dealing with it in a timely fashion has resulted in some inadvertent reseeding, and that means I’m all set up for fresh greens without any work on my part whatsoever.

Rock on.

Just-about-spoonbread quick corn muffins

No matter where I live, no matter where I go, I will always hold the standard high for Iowa sweet corn. It’s hands-down fabulous, whether in a dish or on its own, and I plan to eat at least a few corn-only meals this summer, just in honor of its sheer amazingness. I don’t know if it’s what’s in the soil, or the water, or just that there’s so much of it the farmers have to get it right, but whatever it is, it’s working for this state.

I froze some of that sweet corn last summer—in fact, if I recall correctly, the corn I froze was purchased on the day the farmers were yelling to customers at the farmer’s market that it was the last day it would be available—and repurposed it to some Sunday afternoon corn muffins that made a regular Sunday afternoon taste much more like a Saturday night.

These muffins start with a basic cornbread and muffin mix (I used a pouch of Betty Crocker’s Cornbread and Muffin Mix as my starter), but I added or changed a few key ingredients to take it from normal to sublime.

Sure, it would probably be amazing if you made the muffin batter from scratch, but I had a lot to do on SCorn muffins pre-bakingunday and wanted muffins in a speedy fashion. I chose the shortcut option, but didn’t suffer for it.

The sweet corn studded the sunny batter and made it look interesting even before it went into the oven. I had made them in brightly colored, rubber-ducky paper muffin cups that were probably more appropriate to a baby shower than a Sunday afternoon brunch, but hey, one does what one can with what one inadvertently bought and abandoned in one’s kitchen closet.

The muffins came out of the oven browned and piping and ready for a pat of butter. A word to the wise: these aren’t nearly as crumbly as standard muffins – the addition of the corn and the cheese contribute to a spoon-bready texture. But let that butter soften or, like Patsy Cline, these muffins will fall to pieces.

Corn muffin post-bakingJust-About-Spoonbread Quick Corn Muffins
(Makes 6 muffins)

1 package cornbread and muffin mix (any commercial kind that requires the addition of butter and that says it makes 6 muffins)
Olive oil
1 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels (I recommend Iowa sweet corn, but that’s a limited-time-option in a very localized area)
1 handful shredded cheddar cheese

  1. Preheat the oven as directed on the package. In my case, it was 400 degrees F.
  2. Prepare the cornbread and muffin mix as directed, with these exceptions: Substitute extra-virgin or virgin olive oil for the butter, and add just less than the amount of milk called for. In my case, the package called for 1/3 c. milk, and I poured about 90 percent of that into the bowl. You can add the eggs exactly as the mix directs.
  3. Fold in the corn and cheese.
  4. Bake as directed, until the muffins are firm and brown on top. Serve immediately with butter.

This is my contribution for Weekend Herb Blogging, which will be hosted this week by Kel from Green Olive Tree. Stop by Kel’s place after the weekend for a full round-up of recipes!

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