How to make dilly beans

I’ve never made dilly beans before.  In fact, the only pickled thing I’ve made is refrigerator pickles, so this seemed like a step up because of the canning process to make them shelf stable.  But they are really easy to make–I made a batch in about an hour and a half.  Not bad.  And they’re really tasty!  Check out how I made them in the video below:

Roasted Eggplant Parmesan

Do you love eggplant Parmesan?  I do, but I don’t really like the extra calories of battered, deep fried eggplant.  And if I’m making it myself, I don’t enjoy battering, breading, and frying it.  It’s time consuming and messy and again…there’s those extra calories.

So why not roast the eggplant?  It’s easy, you can limit the oil, and it’s absolutely delicious.  Did I mention it’s easy?  Don’t believe me?  Check out the video below.

This is no grocery store potato salad

This potato salad is covered in a tangy Dijon vinaigrette!  In short: make this.  You won’t regret it.  Bonus: it’s really quick to throw together–great for potlucks and parties. Recipe is here.  Enjoy!

Roasted garlic & arugula spread

I know I’m a little late posting this video this week, but I think the wait was worth it!  This is a 2-part recipe: a roasted garlic & arugula 1) butter and 2) cream cheese.  I put the garlic arugula butter on some toasted bread and it was terrific!  Then I made a sandwich with the cream cheese and loaded it up with some cucumber and turnip slices–that was one of the most delicious, most refreshing lunches I’ve eaten in a while!  Intrigued?  Check it out and make it!  It’s so easy and so yummy.

 

Asparagus with carrot crepes

This recipe is delicious.  I’m just going to throw that out there right now.  It’s time consuming to make, but not difficult.  Crepes can be tricky, but you just need to make sure you cook them well on one side before you try to flip them.  Otherwise you’ll end up with a “beautiful mess” like the one featured near the end of the video.  If you have some asparagus just waiting to be used, I hope you’ll give this recipe a try!

 

 

 

Garden Pop! And…my favorite way to preserve spinach.

I got back from my long and very awesome trip back to the Motherland a little more than a week ago.  One of the first things I noticed when I got home was the lack of snow!  I left the day after a 3 inch snow dump, then there was a 6 inch snowstorm while I was away.  I also saw a fair share of snow along my trip–so I wasn’t expecting to see green grass in the yard and all sorts of things popping up in the garden boxes.  But when I peeled back the thick mulch I put down last fall, there was all sorts of things to be found: baby lettuces EVERYWHERE (they are even popping up in the grass outside the boxes), chives, oregano, garlic, Swiss chard, garlic, Egyptian walking onions, new strawberry leaves, garlic, violets, and spinach. Did I mention the garlic?  Spring has sprung!

Spinach is coming up in four different boxes because last fall, when I let my spinach go to seed, I sprinkled seed all over several boxes so I would have gobs of spinach this spring.  Right now just the long, slender cotyledons are out (some still with the seed coat stuck to the ends) where I tossed out seeds with reckless abandon, but in places where I had spinach plants last fall–and they overwintered–I’ve got tiny, but edible, spinach already!

Why would I want four 8’x4′ garden boxes filled with spinach?  Well, I hope to sell some it to the CSA this year but I also love spinach and I add it to just about everything I eat.  Plus, I can afford to fill four garden boxes with spinach early on because it will be done by early summer and I can plant something else in its place by late June.  I’ll let some plants go to seed, and I’ll get another flush of spinach in the fall.  Then I’ll sprinkle more seed right before I mulch the boxes in late fall so I can do it all over again next year.  I haven’t had to buy spinach seed in years–so that initial packet of seed I bought for a few bucks has paid for itself many times over by now.

You might be thinking, “But all of that spinach is going to mature at once, how are you going to deal with it?” That’s true, it will all mature at once if I don’t cut leaves here and there throughout the spring (which is what I do).  But when it starts to overwhelm me, and I if have no buyers, then I will freeze it.  Spinach freezes incredibly well.  Most sources will tell you to blanch the spinach before you freeze it, but I don’t do that.  I wash the leaves, spin them dry in my salad spinner, chop them roughly and toss ’em right into a zippered freezer bag.  I have blanched my spinach in the past, but it ends up as one huge frozen wad of spinach unless I parse it out into tiny little packages.  I prefer to throw my spinach into a single large bag and I don’t want to hack pieces of the humongous frozen spinach wad when I want to cook with it.  Instead, the leaves stay separated from one another and I can reach into the bag, grab a handful of frozen leaves, and toss them into a soup, casserole, stir fry, bread batter…whatever.  No hacking, AND…no thawing required.  I find the quality of the leaves is just as good, perhaps even BETTER than if I had taken the extra time to blanch before freezing…so it’s not just because I’m lazy when I have tons of spinach to process.  This works well for other leafy greens, too, like Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens.  Just be sure to squeeze most of the air out of the bag each time you open it and the leaves will stay just as beautiful as the day you froze them.  I’m still eating frozen Swiss chard from last summer and it’s still delicious.  Maybe you’ll try this method and like it too!

The mosaic below shows what else is emerging in my garden right now.  I spent last weekend tidying up the garden, turning compost, removing mulch, planting snow peas, and planting out the artichokes I overwintered in the basement (unfortunately the aphids got to most of them so I only had 2 survivors).  This weekend I need to separate the garlic that is coming up and replant individual cloves.  That will be a huge task in and of itself, but it’s now or never if I want decent-sized bulbs this summer!

 

Cleaning garlic late is better than never cleaning it at all

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Last summer when it was time to harvest my garlic, I was busy working 5 part time jobs.  When I finally got around to harvesting my garlic, a lot of it was past its prime.  In addition, I had a lot of cilantro, dill, and violet volunteers that made themselves cozy in my garlic beds.  Garlic does not like to share space with others.  I understand.  I need my personal space, too.  Because I was so busy, and in part because I have a hard time ripping plants out of the garden and getting rid of them, I did not weed my garlic beds.  The result was many of my garlic bulbs did not grow big and fat like they have forthe past few years.  My bad.  And so I declared a garlic crop failure for last season.  Not a total failure, but it was a huge disappointment.

I only harvested maybe one third to half of my garlic (out of over 600 plants) last summer because it was so late and many of the leaves were completely dead and straw colored.  Ideally, you should harvest garlic when 40-50% of the leaves are still green, especially if you want to store you garlic long term.  Why?  Each of those leaves on the garlic stem equates to one layer of wrapping around the bulb.  You need a few layers of bulb wrappers to keep your garlic in primo condition while it sits in your basement or cellar.  If you wait until all of the leaves have turned brown, then that means the bulb wrappers have already begun to disintegrate.   Green leaves mean the bulb wrappers are still in good condition.

So I only harvested a few varieties–out of the over 20 varieties I grow– and left the rest in the ground.  When they come up this spring, I will dig them, separate the cloves and replant.  I may or may not get good bulbs this summer by doing it this way, but I figured it was better to leave them in the ground to overwinter than to risk losing all of my garlic to rot or desiccation in storage.  Or worse–I could have eaten all of it!

Hubby was kind enough to help me harvest last summer, late at night when the sun was setting around 10pm, and I threw it all in the basement to clean after it had dried and cured for a few weeks.  Well, for most of the garlic, a few weeks turned into a few months…or several months.  This weekend I made a promise to myself that I would clean the remaining garlic because I risked losing it to desiccation and I should either clean it and eat it or it was going to go to waste.  And I hate letting things go to waste.  Especially garlic.

The nice thing about letting it sit for so long is the outer bulb wrappers are really dry, so cleaning goes very quickly.  But some of the bulbs felt soft and that means it is beginning to dry out.  Drat.  When it hits that state, it’s not good for eating, but garlic is a hardy plant, and if I throw some of those shriveled up cloves in the ground this spring, I’ll probably get a few bulbs out of them.  One of the reasons why I love garlic so much–its will to live!  Glancing at a few of the cloves, I noticed the basal plate is beginning to show some root budding.  And I’m sure if I sliced a clove in half, I would see a small green shoot in the center of the clove.  They are alive, after all.  So I saved a few bulbs that were still nice and big and firm, as well as a few of the not-so-firm, and put them back in the basement.  They will go out in the garden early this spring as soon as my raised beds thaw.  The rest of the garlic I threw into a bowl on my counter so I see it and put garlic in just about everything I eat.  Actually, most of what is remaining I will dehydrate to make homemade garlic powder, which, by the way, may be the best herb/spice on Earth.  But I need to be prepared for the entire house to smell of garlic for about 3 days while it dries.  Another reason I keep my garlic on the counter?  I love admiring the beautiful browns, purples, and pinkish-reds on the bulb wrappers.  Yet one more reason why I am infatuated with garlic–I think the bulbs are downright beautiful.

One of my favorite varieties that does really well in my garden is Duganski.  It’s super-hardy and has a great flavor.  This photo is from my first harvest of Duganski back in 2014.  duganski_compress

When I first started growing garlic, I got really nerdy with my harvest and measured every. single. bulb.  Then I created histograms based on bulb diameter.  I measured every. single. bulb. again in 2015 and graphed the data side-by-side to see if my garlic was larger or smaller, and thus giving me an idea of whether or not that variety was acclimating to my climate.  It turns out that Duganski didn’t get larger in 2015, but some varieties did.  Of course, conditions weren’t exactly the same–the bulbs were planted in different beds, the weather/watering regime was different in 2015, and weeds might have been different between the two years, among other things.  So I won’t say this particular variety doesn’t grow well in my garden, because it does.  In the long run I think having this data will help inform me which varieties will do well here.  And if at some point I need to scale back the number of varieties, or focus more on a few varieties that grow  big for market, then I can make a more informed decision.

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Truthfully, the scientist in me just loves geeking out on data.  It’s too bad I didn’t have any data for 2016, but I will try again next summer and hope I am able to add to my histograms next fall!