vegetables

growing our grub: an update on our urban garden

I may cook the food, but the hubs grows the food. Yup, that’s an aerial view of our urban garden above.

The hubs and I began our garden adventures a few years ago after we’d moved into our current home, which had a small (but garden beckoning) backyard. We started off with herbs in a few planters and then expanded to a raised garden bed made from trapezoidal wooden boards purchased from Costco. The hubs has since graduated to making his own wooden garden beds with cedar planks freshly cut at Home Depot. This year, we currently have three rectangular garden beds and fig, lemon, and lime trees (the latter which will come in handy in the face of this crazy lime shortage). The hubs has moved all of our herbs from their pots into the garden bed, and now we have a good amount of greens to sustain our gastronomic needs.

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sweet creole corn

I love corn and have to have it every Thanksgiving. It adds a nice crispy texture next to the creamy potatoes and casseroles. Back when I was an amateur cook, I used to serve them straight out of a can with some butter, salt, and pepper. Now I’ve graduated to cutting them off the cob and increasing the number of ingredients used.
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whipped potatoes

When I think of American comfort food, I think of potatoes. I love potatoes in all forms: fried, baked, mashed, smashed, or whipped.

What, you might ask, is the difference between mashed potatoes, smashed potatoes, and whipped potatoes? After digging around online, I’ve come up with this answer.
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roasted brussels sprouts with candied bacon

Brussels sprouts, as they’re named, are of Belgian and Roman origin. They resemble miniature heads of cabbage, and while that may not sound appealing, Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables of late. They’re nutritious and delicious with their anti-cancer properties and earthy, nutty flavor. Overcook them, and they’ll be gross. But when made right, Brussels sprouts offer just the right balance of texture: tender yet crispy. So forget those soggy, bland, dull gray Brussels sprouts of yesteryear. Roast and/or broil them, and you’ll get some stellar sprouts. My foodie twin, Sherry, fed me Brussels sprouts tossed with candied bacon and a classic homemade vinaigrette, and I’ve been dreaming of them ever since. The candied bacon combine both salty and sweet components and add an oomph of flavor to the Brussels sprouts. Then the vinaigrette pushes it into bliss with the acidity edge. Serve them as a first course salad or as a vegetable side component like I did with the dirty rice stuffed Cornish hens. If the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

 

Recipe: Candied Bacon

Ingredients

  1. 12 slices bacon
  2. Ground black pepper
  3. 1/3 c. Light brown sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Put bacon slices in a bowl. Season with pepper and toss with brown sugar. Cover baking sheets with parchment or foil and arrange in a single layer. Sprinkle any leftover sugar from bowl over the bacon. Top with another layer of parchment or foil, and top it squarely with a second baking sheet. (This will flatten the bacon as it cooks.)
  3. Place tray in center of oven and bake for 12 to 16 min. Halfway through cooking, flip bacon and drag through syrupy liquid. If bacon is not yet golden brown after 16 min., bake for another 5 to 10 min or until dark as mahogany.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 20 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

Recipe: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

  1. 2 lbs. brussels sprouts, unwashed & halved lengthwise
  2. 3 tbsp. Cooking oil
  3. 2 tbsp. Melted Butter
  4. Salt & pepper
  5. Candied bacon, cut into bite-sized pcs. (see recipe – 2 servings)
  6. 4 tbsp. Vinaigrette dressing (see recipe – add 3 tbsp. reserved bacon fat)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 or 420°F.
  2. Toss brussels sprouts with oil, butter, salt & pepper. Arrange sprouts, cut side down, in one layer on a baking sheet covered with foil. Roast sprouts for 30 to 35 min. Until crispy on top.
  3. Combine sprouts with bacon. Right before serving, toss with vinaigrette dressing.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 35 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

Recipe: Vinaigrette Dressing

Ingredients

  1. 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil and/or bacon fat
  2. 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
  3. 1 heaping tbsp. Brown sugar
  4. 1 generous tbsp. honey
  5. Juice from 1/2 lemon
  6. 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  7. Salt & pepper

Instructions

  1. In a sm. Bowl, combine ingredients and whisk until blended.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

smashed purple potatoes

Smashed purple potatoes

Smashingly delicious.

Back in October, I had taken a trip to the Bay area and upon a dinner at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc Restaurant, I came across these wonderful purple potatoes that were the highlight of my evening meal. They stole the show even next to the Wagyu beef skewers. After returning to home sweet home in Houston, I had to find and cook these purple potatoes myself.

Indeed I found them in the potato section of H-E-B, and John kindly reminded me that he’d suggested I try these purple potatoes long ago but that I was initially repulsed by the idea of my spuds looking like Barney. Alas, I’ve changed my mind.

I was so enamored with purple potatoes that I wrote a Ingredient of the Week post for Eating Our Words, and now I present to you a simple yet delicious method for preparing these smashingly good smashed purple potatoes. Remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

 

: Smashed Purple Potatoes

 

  1. 1 lb. purple potatoes, scrubbed
  2. 1/3 c. whole milk
  3. 2 tbsp. butter
  4. 1 tsp. salt
  5. 1/2 tsp. pepper

 

  1. In a med. saucepan, boil potatoes in salted water for approx. 15 min. or until tender but not mushy.
  2. Meanwhile, combine milk and butter in a sm. saucepan. Heat to a simmer and set aside.
  3. Drain potatoes and return to low heat to dry.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  5. Line potatoes in a single layer in a baking dish. Using a fork, lightly smash each potato, making sure each potato remains whole. Then in a med. bowl, toss potatoes with buttermilk mixture, salt, and pepper. Re-line potatoes in the baking dish. Roast for 10 to 15 min. or until slightly crispy.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 30 minute(s)

how to keep your garden alive during drought

The last time I posted an urban garden update, it was before Houston hit its hottest time of year–that is, the month of August. This year’s summer has had record-breaking heat, record-breaking lack of rain. For every single day in August (and I’m not even exaggerating), we had highs above 100, and I can only recall one morning when it sprinkled. You can imagine how desert-like our city has become.

The drought and extreme heat have not left our garden very viable. In fact, the only thing that seems to be thriving is our Thai basil which, I guess, thinks it’s back at home with this climate. Most everything else has withered like a great-grandma’s toes. I recently wrote a piece for Eating Our Words about what we can do to drought-proof our urban gardens (or at least make it drought-resistant). Got any tips on how to protect your crops from this crazy weather? Help us turn our brown thumbs green, and share the knowledge. Click on the link below to read my Houston Press post.

6-month urban garden update

Garden - June 2011

It’s been six months since we planted the first of our urban garden. Since then, we’ve expanded a little; the backyard is now home to all the original herbs–rosemary, parsley, thyme, cilantro, and oregano–in addition to the original broccoli heads. In February, we purchased lemon and lime trees, roma tomato plants, Italian basil, and Thai basil. We had to show up bright and early at the nursery and elbow all the old people out of the way to get to the tomatoes and basil–those things sell like hotcakes. We were happy to get our hands on some but ended up destroying so many of them anyway. So here are the lessons learned during the first six months of our brown-thumb urban gardening.

TOP 5 BROWN-THUMB LESSONS LEARNED IN THE FIRST SIX MONTHS

  • Lesson #5: Don’t plant your lemon and lime trees in terracotta pots. Terracotta clay is too hot for the heat of Houston summers and will likely burn the roots of your trees. We learned this only after we already bought the terracotta pots and planted our dwarf lemon and lime trees in them. All other pots were either ugly or too expensive so we left our trees in them with the hopes that excessive watering will keep the roots cool. (Who said trees can’t be fashionable?) Too bad we are probably not watering them as often as we should. The curse of a lazy gardener.
  • Lesson #4: Give your tomatoes plenty of room because those suckers are wild. The roma tomatoes were rampant which you think would be a good thing, but we used weak bamboo sticks to hold up the vines a la zip ties, and the result is a crazy looking mess. Better to buy tomato cages and give the tomatoes plenty of space. We planted our Thai and Italian basil too close to the tomatoes, and now the crazy tomato vines have overshadowed the basil and stunted their growth.
  • Lesson #3: Make sure you use the right ratio of soil-to-fertilizer for each plant. In other words, check the chemical levels of the soil and fertilizer used because different plants require different ratios. The Black Kow fertilizer was fine for the herbs but virtually burnt our tomatoes. The tomato plant bore scores of little tomatoes but they all had burnt black bottoms, a result of too much nitrogen in their diet, I believe. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)
  • Lesson #2: Watch your dogs very carefully. My delinquent dogs have been eating all my Thai basil. I didn’t even know until I smelled it all over their breath. Why couldn’t you dogs at least eat the parsley which is better for your breath and more plentiful anyway? I haven’t even had a taste of my Thai basil because they’ve all gone in my dogs’s tummies! And to think I blamed it all on the crazy tomatoes.
  • Lesson #1: Don’t be lazy about watering. The problem with the Houston heat is it truly makes one lazy. It’s so hot and humid outside–we’ve already hit a record-breaking 100 degrees the first week of June!–that nobody ever wants to venture outside. The downside is our plants are also dying of thirst. The broccoli is probably having a heat stroke right now as I type this. To combat our weariness, my husband rigged a homemade irrigation system: he made a rain water collector out of a garbage can and some piping which he attached to a porous hose that seeps water out through its gauze-like exterior. He also bought a water timer so now promptly at 7:30 CDT every other day, the garden gets a drink.

John is already talking about building another garden bed–the Beta Bed, it would be called. This garden bed would be built from scratch (rather than from the Costco kit) so that exact dimensions are achieved at a fraction of the cost. In this Beta Bed, we will employ all of our lessons learned in the first six months of urban gardening and try our hand at bettering our brown thumbs–maybe they can become beige. We’ll use the correct dirt, give plants enough space, use an efficient crop rotation. Check back later for more updates.

starting our urban (and hopefully organic) garden

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. I’m a firm believer in creating goals as soon as you find the need or desire to do so rather than waiting for the dawn of a new year to tell yourself you need to do something you should’ve done long ago. Last weekend, my husband and I finally planted our first greens in our urban garden, and even though it just happen to happen on New year’s weekend, it had been something I’d wanted to do for years. The original plan for a garden was delayed after I realized I would eventually put my old home on the market and move. Then when we settled into our current house a little over a year ago, there were just other things that took priority, e.g. furnishing the place. We purchased a cedar raised garden bed kit from Costco several months ago, and it wasn’t assembled until more recently after I’d declared a new household rule that for every time John played a round of golf, he’d have to accomplish some task around the house. (And tasks I considered maintenance (e.g. mowing the lawn) didn’t count–they had to be “new” tasks.) Even after assembly, it took some time for us to get around to doing the research for optimal urban organic gardening. John’s boss, who is an organic gardener himself, recommended us this book entitled How to Grow More Vegetables…. Can you say there is a lot to learn for gardening? I think John cracked open the book a few times and then gave up. We drove straight to Lowe’s and bought Black Kow manure which was then stored in our garage for quite some time. You can imagine how nicely our garage smelled for those several months of cow poop storage. Finally, on the day after New Year’s Day, we ventured over to Buchanan’s Native Plants, a nearby nursery specializing in Texas plants. The employees were incredibly patient and helpful, holding our hands through the entire timid process of popping our garden cherry. We ended up walking away with cilantro, oregano, Sicilian (or flat-leaf) parsley, rosemary, thyme, and broccoli for our vegetable garden. For the shaded area next to our front door, we bought a dormant hydrangea and several aureas which John planted in the half barrel whisky cask we’d also bought from Lowe’s last year. Hopefully the hydrangea will bloom nice and big once spring and summer come.

In February, we plan to return to Buchanan’s for some tomato plants and basil which fare better in slightly warmer weather. I don’t even know if the plants we’d already purchased will survive the rest of winter; we don’t have a clue as to what we’re doing so don’t take this post as advice of any kind–it’s more of an update in our culinary lives. Yes, with our new urban garden, John and I hope to cut the spending at grocery stores all the while learning to appreciate the care that goes into growing our own food and enjoying the delicious and healthier alternative of self-sustainability. I know it’s silly but I’ve been going outside almost every day and sticking my nose into the herbs and inhaling the magical scents. (Hey, how else can a blind person monitor the growth process of her plants?) More updates on our gardening experiences to come. In the meantime, here’s a picture of our humble garden. Also, feel free to leave some gardening tips for us in the comments section. We can use all the help we can get. Remember, this is a couple who’s killed a cactus and just about every plant they’ve ever come across.



Garden

Starting off small

roasted new red potatoes

2010 will be our first Christmas celebrated as husband and wife. To mark this mini milestone, John and I are hosting Christmas lunch for some of our family. So what’s on the menu this time?

Well, I started off the month of December with a cold, and so the rather unfortunate circumstance had me rethinking whether we should even host a holiday gathering at our house at all. But then after some of the Nyquil fog cleared from my head, I decided maybe we’ll just buy pre-marinated meats from Costco, pop it in the oven Saturday morning, and call it a meal. But when we went to Costco to look for something, there weren’t really many options. And so back to the ol’ drawing board it was; time to go to plan B.

Then I found a recipe for [insert mystery meat here] online and decided the [insert mystery meat here] wouldn’t be too difficult to make. So after running it by my husband, we’ve decided to go ahead and attempt yet another fancy dinner from scratch. So what is the mystery entree? You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to find out. What I will tell you is that this side dish and the quick and easy and delicious country green beans are what we’ll be serving alongside the main entree. Can you guess what it’ll be?

Potatoes are so versatile and yummy. They can go in soups, stews, or salads. They can be baked, mashed, pan-fried, or deep-fried. At the grocery store, there are mountains of potatoes, and I’m talking potatoes of all kinds: russet, white, yellow, gold, red, new, fingerlings…The options are endless. So how do you go about choosing the perfect potato? It all depends on what you are trying to do with the spud. This calls for a lesson in potatoes, which I’ll be posting soon. But for now, let’s cut to the chase. We’ve got four days till the Noel and no time for B.S.

These potatoes should be fabulous complements to a savory meat. Serve a few as a side next to roasted chicken, roasted duck, rack of lamb, strip steak. Their simplicity should add to the dynamic flavors of the dish, not vie for center stage. And with only four ingredients and two cooking steps, this is definitely a dish the Blind can Cook.


Recipe: Roasted New Red Potatoes

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes.

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs. small new red potatoes, halved
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt & freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Adjust rack to lowest position and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss potatoes with oil, salt & pepper. Arrange, cut side down, on a single layer on a lg. lipped cookie sheet or baking pan.
  2. Roast until tender and golden brown, about 30 min. (Check after 20 min.) Transfer to a serving bowl.

Variations

For something a little extra, try sprinkling rosemary, parsley, or basil over the potatoes halfway through roasting.

Cooking time (duration): 40

Diet type: Vegan

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (General)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

slow-cooker mashed potatoes

Happy “Gobble, Gobble” Day! You didn’t think I would forget to post anything on the biggest binge eating day of the year, did you?

As mentioned in a previous post, I always serve up fried turkey, broccoli rice casserole, StoveTop stuffing (I like the chicken flavor best), kernel corn, and Betty Crocker Homestyle mashed potatoes (get the butter & herb flavor). This year, I’m going the extra mile and will make the mashed potatoes from scratch.

I’ve made mashed potatoes from scratch before in college, and it’s often turned out to be a disaster. It’s utterly time consuming; even with a hand mixer, my arms ache from mashing pounds and pounds of potatoes; and the end result is never as good as that darn Betty Crocker woman’s boxed kind. Regardless, I’m going to try this recipe I found online this year. What attracted me to it (besides the positive reviews, of course) was that it utilizes the slow-cooker. I am a fan of the slow-cooker–even though most of the dishes I’ve had that came from a slow-cooker were never anything to rave about, I like that you can just throw in all the ingredients and forget about it for hours. With John and I having such busy lives, anything convenient is welcome in our kitchen. Of course, I don’t like to sacrifice quality and taste for convenience, so if this pot of potatoes turns out under par, you can bet I won’t hesitate to throw the recipe out.

Making these mashed potatoes will give us the chance to try out this Cuisinart hand blender that we received for our wedding shower. A friend had told us it was the “new thing” in contemporary kitchens, but the last few times I’ve tried to use it, I only managed to make a mess in the kitchen. I think of it as a substitute for a hand mixer, but I think it’s more of a blender. All the cookie dough I’ve used it on ended up splattered across our blacksplash. Oops. Hopefully it will redeem itself with these mashed potatoes. If not, it’s time to get one of these for future baking and just use the fooc processor for mashing potatoes.

Recipe: Slow-Cooker Mashed Potatoes

Summary: Original recipe from All Recipes

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs. red potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic or to taste
  • 3 cubes chicken bouillon
  • 1 (8 oz.) container sour cream
  • 1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 c. butter
  • salt & pepper

Instructions

  1. In a lg. pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook the potatoes, garlic, and bouillon until potatoes are tender but firm, about 15 min. Drain, reserving water.
  2. In a lg. bowl, mash potatoes with sour cream and cream cheese, adding reserved water as needed to obtain desired consistency.
  3. li>Transfer mixture to a slow-cooker, cover, and cook on low for 2-3 hrs. Just before serving, stir in butter and season with salt & pepper.

Quick Notes

I like to leave the peels on the potatoes because: (1) it’s less work, (2) it adds taste and texture, and (3) it’s where the nutrition is.

Cooking time (duration): 30

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: USA (Traditional)

Microformatting by hRecipe.

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