Living Ingredients

Although I have grown herbs indoors for each of the last 5 winters, my indoor garden has always been in a designated growing area and not particularly convenient to the kitchen.  So in a kitchen that is already small on space, I gave over fully 1/2 of my breakfast bar to try the AeroGarden, because the idea of growing fresh, green herbs right where I cook this winter is very appealing.

AeroGarden and Microgreens That probably also explains the microgreens taking up the other 1/2 of my breakfast bar now.

MicrogreensMicrogreens are a great choice for indoor veggies in the off seasons since they aren’t usually around long enough for pests or disease to become a problem and can be used in a variety of dishes.  They do need a little more attention in terms of keeping them moist and harvesting on time, but that is all the easier when they are located in the heart of a home.

My breakfast bar has become a living pantry 🙂

Posted in AeroGarden, Herbs, Hydroponics, Indoor growing, Kitchen Implements, Meal Planning, Microgreens, Non-GMO, Organic, Sustainable | Leave a comment

AeroGarden – Day 18

A quick update on the AeroGarden:

Touch Screen on AeroGardenDay 18, I topped off the water a couple of days ago when it was time to the second application of nutrients.

Day 18 of AeroGardenThe basils are doing great and the mint is beginning to peek out…otherwise, not much happening in the other 5 starter sponges.  I have some replacement starter sponges I purchased with the garden as well as some fresh herb seeds on their way from Baker Creek.  I think a replant with new seed will get the empty spots going.

Posted in AeroGarden, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Basil, Herbs, Hydroponics | Leave a comment

Cooking Up A Hurricane – Mozzarella (Part 2)

As a cook (and human being) I am much more comfortable in the zone where I am critiquing past performance and looking for areas for improvement over standing on the precipice of something I have never tried.  To that end, one of my favorite phrases is the French culinary phrase ‘mise en place”, which means “putting in place” and is a practice used in recipes that benefit from having all the ingredients measured and prepared before beginning.

For my first ever adventure into home cheese making, mise en place was required…and possibly wine…

Mozzarella Mise En PlaceSoft-cheese making is pretty straight forward (for the practiced) but with some specific temperatures serving as prompts to move to the next phase.  Since this was my first go at it, that translated into me constantly monitoring temps so as not to pass or miss an important temperature window.

Forming CurdsWith the first attempt at anything there are questions…are my curds curdy enough?  Is the mesh in my strainer too large (or too small) that I have curds filling the holes?

Curds and WheyBut then magic!  I made cheese!!

Taste Test of MozzarellaIn the end, like any new recipe, it went mostly well with a decent and edible result.  Then I begin the process of #Kaizen – constant, incremental improvement:

  • The cheese was a little firmer than most of the purchased mozzarellas I am familiar with – did I over work the curd?
  • The cheese was good, but a little on the salty side – I need to cut the salt in 1/2 for the next attempt.
  • My mozzarella was a little more yellow than the milky white mozzarellas I buy – is that related to the milk I purchased, something I did…I need to spend some time on google…

My favorite recipes rarely began as they are today and I am happy to add cheese-making to the list that is being constantly improved and refined until it reaches the point of second nature.

Posted in Cheese Making, Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Kaizen, Mozzarella, Organic, Recipe, Resources, Slow Food, Sustainable | Leave a comment

Cooking Up A Hurricane – Applesauce (Part 1)

Hurricane Matthew made landfall in the Carolinas this morning, just north of Charleston, SC, and more than 5″ of rainfall is expected for the Raleigh region over the next 24 hours.  With the cool, windy and very wet weather keeping most of the Mid-Atlantic seaboard indoors until late Sunday it was time to get cooking.

Ginger Gold ApplesAs part of this week’s CSA delivery from The Produce Box I special ordered 15 lbs of slightly blemished Ginger Gold Apples from a local farmer to make applesauce in my pressure cooker.

Prepping ApplesApples were peeled (not guaranteed organic), cored and cut into 16ths.  Some very small bruises were present and easily cut out.

The Makings of ApplesauceThe apple chunks and spices were placed in the pressure cooker – I used Flo Lum’s recipe with two variations, I added a bit of freshly ground nutmeg and cut my apple chunks a bit smaller for a smoother texture.

ApplesauceThe end result was a delicious treat that will not last long enough to worry about freezing.

I know apples are traditionally paired with pork, but try pairing them with homemade cheese quesadillas, especially for the under 10 yo set!

Posted in Apples, Community Supported Agriculture, Food Preparation, Kitchen Implements, Local Farms, NC 10% Campaign, Pressure Cooker, Sustainable, Technology | Leave a comment

Collards – From Garden to Table

Collards in the GardenThis year I grew the heirloom collards called Georgia Southern Creole, a pre-1880 southern variety that has done quite well overall.

Growing organically means that some of the leaves were ventilated by a mid-summer cross-striped cabbage worm invasion (treated with BT) and that I am currently trying to diminish the whitefly population with a hose and organic soap.  Having no pests is not an option, keeping them in check is the goal.

No matter how your collards were grown, its always best to give them a good soak and cleaning before cooking and the easiest way to do that is to fill up a sink with enough water to cover then swish, swirl and agitate, drain and repeat.

Washing CollardsI have tried a number of collards recipes and variations since moving to the south 3 years ago and this is the one I like best so far:

Braised Collards:

  • 1 lb of washed collards, stems still on
  • 1 TBS oil (I use an extra virgin olive that is good for cooking, but any vegetable oil should work)
  • 3 slices of thick sliced bacon, cut into lardons
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less depending on preference)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 TBS red wine vinegar
  • 6 TBS stock (chicken, vegetable or mushroom)
  • Salt to season

Remove stems from collards and stack leaves and stems separately.  Finely dice the stems and set aside.  Stack a few collard leaves and roll into a cigar shape and cut crosswise (chiffonade) into 3/4″ pieces, repeat until all leaves are cut and set aside separate from the stems.

In a large frying pan (I like to use my 10″ straight walled pan) on medium-high, heat oil until hot but not smoking.  Add bacon and red pepper flakes and stir until bacon begins to crisp.  Add onion and diced collard stems.  Cook until onions are translucent and stems have begun to soften, about 10 minutes.

Add the chopped leaves one handful at a time, turning into the bacon and onion mixture after each handful before adding the next.  When all of the collards have been added and turned into the mixture, salt to season.  When the mixture begins to sizzle, add the red wine vinegar and use a wooden spoon to gently deglaze the pan while turning the mixture.

Add your stock* and turn into mixture, cover and turn heat to low.  Let cook another 10-15 minutes until greens reach desired softness.  If necessary, add more stock to keep from drying out.

*Note – I filter and freeze the water after I have rehydrated morels and use this to add liquid and a delicious umame component to many dishes, including this one.

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Collards, Food Preparation, Heirloom Varieties, Raised Bed Gardening, Recipe, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Fall Harvest Asparagus

This post comes after more than a year of researching every way I can think of and completely failing to find anything related to the matter at hand.  The matter at hand is the second growth of asparagus spears in the early fall, long after the asparagus crowns have been allowed to grow the long, bushy fronds they need in order to feed the crown for next year’s growth and more specifically, whether or not a small portion of the second growth can be harvested.

Fall Asparagus SpearUnable to find any information either for or against sneaking a few of these late season spears, I have had to reason this out for myself for the past two years and while the result is probably entirely predictable (Garden fresh asparagus in fall? Yes please!), I like to think my reasoning well rooted in a layman’s pseudo-botany.  The rationale goes something like this:  the individual asparagus crowns have been photosynthesizing since May, and of the new spears coming up in September/October I am only taking about 1 out of every 3 of the new growth spears and then only off of crowns that already have more than 3 stems that have fully grown out and are working hard to supply nourishment to the crown to take it through winter and make a stronger growth next year.

Fall AsparagusWith 16 crowns all together (8 Jersey Knight and 8 Purple Passion) all of which are enjoying a youthful resurgence right now, this equals out to around 4-5 spears per week that are coming indoors and leading to some interesting, not-normally-on-the-same-plate combinations.  This afternoon for lunch, I sauteed some asparagus picked 30 minutes earlier along with some Italian kale harvested at the same time.

Asparagus and Italian KaleBut my favorite has been adding asparagus to my Whatever Is Fresh Scrambles!

Scramble IngredientsThis one featured rehydrated morels, 4 spears of asparagus, 4 cherry tomatoes and 2 red serrano peppers – all from the garden except for the morels.  I saute all ingredients except the more delicate tomatoes in butter with a little olive oil until the asparagus is just shy of done.

Sauteeing Scramble IngredientsWhen the asparagus has softened, add scrambled eggs to the mix then fold in the quartered cherry tomatoes.

Asparagus Mushroom Serano and Cherry Tomato ScrambleWhen the eggs have finished cooking, plate with a little shredded cheese of your choosing – I have used both colby-jack and mozzarella and both have worked wonderfully.  Top with your choice of fresh herb (I alternate between basil and dill) and voila – delicious and nutritious meal in just a few minutes!

Posted in Asparagus, Backyard Gardening, Chef John, Cherry Tomatoes, Food Preparation, Jersey Knight Asparagus, Kale, Morel Mushrooms, Mushrooms, Non-GMO, Permaculture, Purple Passion Asparagus, Raised Bed Gardening, Recipe, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Taking The (hydroponics) Plunge

It all started so simply…I was looking for a birthday gift for a friend.  She does some gardening and is always looking to eat healthier so I went to a few of my favorite online shops and searched Gifts For Gardeners to see what came up.

What came up (over and over) were the counter-top, hydroponic growing contraptions that promise fresh herbs, greens and veggies faster than their soil bound counterparts.  The reviews spanned the positive to strongly positive and some of the user videos showed amazing results.

I have been resistant to the idea of hydroponics because it is not a natural system and doesn’t even attempt to mimic a natural system.  Food plants grown hydroponically are not dining at the full banquet of known and unknown plant (and human) nutrients, minerals and components found in organically rich soil, but instead are fed a simplified diet of nitrogen, phosphate, calcium and magnesium diluted in water.  What does that mean for the creatures that are eating them?  But there is the not-so-small matter of having fresh herbs to cook and garnish with through the winter months…  Many of my outdoor herbs are still doing very well, though my beloved basil is already beginning to look pretty rough and with fall officially here, some of the others will begin to say good-bye for 2016 in the coming weeks.  This is the time of year I usually begin my indoor herb garden in the dormer nook upstairs as a stop-gap measure to cover the basics (basil, rosemary, oregano, cilantro) until they can be sown outdoors again.

Overall, my indoor herbs usually do pretty well each year in their little corner of the house, though they do have to cope with occasional fungus flies, aphids, powdery mildew outbreaks and a water deficit when I travel.  The more I considered it, the more it seemed that growing a mix of fresh herbs through the winter months right on my kitchen counter, right where I cook and where I can be a bit more attentive on a day-to-day basis, even if it is hydroponically, is maybe not such a bad idea.  Herbs are especially dense on flavor and hopefully will not have a watered down taste.  Enter the AeroGarden for my friend and myself.

Unboxing AeroGarden Bounty EliteI opted for the Bounty Elite from William Sonoma because it has the most space for plants (up to 9 depending on variety) and the LED light can raise from 15″ to 24″ as plants grow.

Hi-Tech Control PanelI have to admit, I was impressed by the touch screen display that shows days since planting, days until nutrient add and monitors and alerts for water level.  It is programmable by plant group being grown (herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, flowers, etc).

Seed PodsIf you happen to have kids under the age of 10 in the house, the space age looking pod domes are an added bonus.

So I am taking the plunge, I hope this particular horticultural/culinary experiment works out well – if the herbs I am growing are as robustly flavored as their soil bound brethren, it will mean my indoor garden upstairs is relegated to spring seed starting and even more herbs are making into everyday meals than they already are.  Updates to follow!

Posted in Herbs, Hydroponics, Indoor growing, Inventions, Kitchen Implements, Non-GMO, Technology | 1 Comment

Saving (Pretty) Seed – Glass Gem Corn

Drying Glass Gem CornMy Glass Gem Corn has been happily drying above my home office and today was the day to strip the cobs and put up the kernels for popcorn and next year’s planting.  If you have been following my blog for any amount of time you know that I have an abundant affection for this particular varietal which translates into an excess of photos…

I stripped all the multi-color cobs leaving the two almost entirely blue cobs for last.

Glass Gem Kernels and CobsSome of the kernels will be seed for next year and some will be popcorn, but in the meantime, they are still decorating my home office.

Glass Gem Kernels

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Corn, Drying, Flint Corn, Glass Gem Corn, Heirloom Varieties, Non-GMO, Organic, Saving Seed, Sustainable, Trench Composting, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Herbal Remedy

My experiment with the front yard herb garden has come to a close.

On Sunday I thinned my 150+ strawberry plants that were spread over two beds down to 32 first-year runners in one bed.  Back in April I wrote about a New Zealand farmer that said first-year plants produce larger quantities of bigger berries and determined that I would try to save enough runners to have a fresh bed for 2017.  This opened up a whole 4’x4′ box to overwinter herbs in.

Overall the herbs did fairly well in the front, though the bunnies enjoyed the french tarragon for a while this spring and the chives were eaten down to nubs repeatedly. I did a little research and it seems that the tarragon may over winter in my zone, and I am sure the sage and oregano will do fine.  The rosemary is a maybe and I have no idea about the thyme or dill, but I planted everyone in a checkerboard pattern to allow for some sprawling and hopefully some self sowing for a perpetual herb garden.

Once established, I will trim back the herbs and dry the cuttings for my fall/winter use and mulch the plants with leaves to retain heat, moisture and feed the soil.

Herb Box

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Chives, French Tarragon, Front Yard Gardening, Herbs, Oregano, Parsley, Raised Bed Gardening, Rosemary, Sage, Square Foot Gardening, Thyme | Leave a comment

Better With Basil – Pasta Maker

Late blight is wrecking havoc on North Carolina tomatoes this year, particularly the heirloom varieties.  Last year I was pulling down green tomatoes in late November and this year they were pretty much done by late August.  C’est la vie.

Luckily, there are some good things happening in the kitchen while I wait for the fall lettuce and spinach to fill in the garden.  I have been working with my pasta maker, trying different shapers and getting the hang of the process.  This week I wanted to try adding some fresh basil into the mix so I chopped it very finely and tossed 1 gram of it with the Anson Mills pasta flour before adding it to the maker using the angel hair shaper.

Extruding Basil Herbed PastaThe result was very pretty and did have a hint of basil taste.  I was concerned that the basil would interfere with extruding and/or the pasta’s ability to hold together when cooking, it did neither.

Basil Herbed Pasta with SauceI want to try the experiment again with a little more basil which means I should probably use the spaghetti shaper to be safe.  I had already started the sauce when I decided to try adding basil to the pasta but next time I would like to try it with a simple butter garlic sauce that won’t overpower the flavor of the pasta like the thick, homemade tomato sauce in the photo above.

I am also wondering if I can do the same thing with finely chopped, fresh spinach and a thicker noodle.

With fall/soup season just around the corner I have also ordered some kansui, the alkaline ingredient that gives ramen noodles their distinctive texture and the ability to hold up well in soups.

I am beginning to suspect that the folks that sell fresh pasta and noodles at the Farmer’s Market aren’t doing it to make money, they just want an excuse to make more than they can personally eat…

Posted in Anson Mills, Basil, Food Porn, Food Preparation, Herbs, Kitchen Implements, Organic, Pasta, Pasta Maker, Ramen, Recipe, Slow Food, Sustainable, Technology | Leave a comment

Getting Wired in the Garden

Early this spring I had high hopes when I reworked my square foot grids with outdoor nylon rope.  It lasted only 2 seasons.

Formerly Nylon GridThe needles and leaves are a results of Hurricane Hermine’s winds coming through earlier this weekend, but the nylon grid had disintegrated well before the storm.

I spent some time in Lowe’s yesterday finding what I hope will be the last grid material I need.  I have tried coated wire before, but the wire was purchased for supports for climbing squash and was too stiff in the garden.  This wire has a great blend of sturdy but flexible.

Cable and Wire CuttersThis wire also marks a change in direction for grid color.  I have always marked out my grids in white, liking the crisp contrast.  This time I went with black, to blend into the soil visually.

Cable GridA note if you decide to use wire in your beds for grids or anything else – I specifically wanted a coated wire because uncoated may get pretty hot in the summer sun and burn the plants that brush up against it.

Now that I am back on the grid (again), time to get my fall lettuce and spinach seeds planted!

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Kaizen, Pro Tip, Raised Bed Gardening, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable | Leave a comment

10% Campaign and Starfish

In 2010, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) teamed up with the NC Cooperative Extension at North Carolina A&T State University and the North Carolina State University to launch the NC 10% Campaign to encourage individuals and businesses to make locally grown, caught and produced foods 10% of their food budget.  Over $35B is spent on food annually by North Carolinians meaning a whopping $3.5B would stay in state to support local farmers, fishermen and food producers if the campaign was adopted universally.

North Carolina has an embarrassment of food producing resources in the form of abundant sunshine, rainfall, land and coastal waters for seafood.  The campaign produced this wonderful seasonality chart that highlights just how bountiful our state is.  Designating 10% of food dollars to stay in state and supporting our local food producers couldn’t be easier or more delicious!  For North Carolinians, eating seasonally means eating fresher more nutritious food, enjoying a greater variety in our diets and eating locally means reducing the carbon footprint of each meal in terms of the energy needed to transport temperature controlled food long distances across the country or globe.

The 10% goal may seem to be a rather low bar for those that already support local food producers with a significant percentage of their food dollars, but it is the low threshold that makes it possible to be accepted and adopted by a larger proportion of North Carolinians thereby making a bigger difference in the lives of our food producers, our state economy, the sustainability of our food system.

Thinking about this challenge reminded me of the Starfish Story*

A man was walking along a beach and as he walked he could see a young boy in the distance.  The boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water.  As the man drew closer he saw that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and was throwing them back into the water.  The man asked the boy what he was doing, and the boy replied, “I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die.”  “But you can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.”, said the man.  The boy smiled, bent down and picked up another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied, “I made a difference to that one.”

If you want to make a difference too, visit the NC 10% Campaign Partners Page to find restaurants, grocery stores, you pick farms and farmers working with the program to make North Carolina an even better place to eat.

*The Starfish Story has made the rounds over the decades and been adapted many times.

Posted in Local Farms, Local Food, NC 10% Campaign, Profitable Farming, Seasonality Chart, Sustainable | Leave a comment

Easy Decision Dinner

Morel and Kale Egg Scramble and Pan Roasted TomatoesEgg scrambles for dinner with almost any leftover veggies in the fridge is a quick and easy decision for nights that lack a dinner plan.

I had a small bunch of kale leftover after an Italian soup earlier in the week so I chopped it up and sauteed with some rehydrated morels.  Add in scrambled eggs and herbs/seasoning of choice (I used fresh tarragon and a little cayenne), top with a little cheese and viola – a delicious, nutritious and frugal dinner!

Morel and Kale Egg Scramble and Pan Roasted Tomatoes with Homemade White-Wheat-Rye BreadAs a side note on a side dish – a couple of weekends ago I processed 15lbs of my Roma Tomatoes into sauce.  2lbs of sauce to be exact.  I divvied up the sauce into freezer bags and started looking for other uses for the Romas I am growing.  I have diced them up into tomato salads along side the slicing and cherry tomatoes and lately I have been working on pan roasted tomatoes (above).  They taste delicious but the skins are a bit like tough paper after the roasting…still a work in progress.

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Food Porn, Food Preparation, French Tarragon, Kale, Morel Mushrooms, Mushrooms, Raised Bed Gardening, Roma Tomato, Slow Food, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable | Leave a comment

Fill the Freezer

With only 7 Saturdays left before the end of the shopping season, the Apex Farmer’s Market shopping season I mean, it is time to start asking my favorite protein farmers about bulk purchases before the end of season and off season sales at their farms.

Carolina Catch Seafood – Seafood, part of a coastal catcher’s cooperative, possible off season sales at a location in Holly Springs

Heston Farms – Beef, family farmers, will do off season sales either at their farm in Roxboro, NC or possibly meeting in Durham so it is still a good idea to stock up

Little River Eco Farm – Pork (they also sell chicken, eggs, beef, turkeys), off season sales are unlikely so I will be placing a bulk order for the Mexican Chorizo and Sweet Italian Sausage that are mainstays in my kitchen

On a related note, the Apex Farmers Market is trying to go year round, possibly one market a month during the off season, but they need an enclosed winter location.  Fingers crossed they can find something!

Posted in Farmers' Market, Farms, Local Farms, Protein Farmers, Resources, Sustainable | Leave a comment


History and the culinary arts have collided in these fantastic 18th Century Cooking videos from Jas. Townsend and Son.

Half video recipe, half historical reenactment and with just a pinch of historical reproduction entrepreneurship thrown in for seasoning, I am loving learning “what’s for dinner” from the early 1700s through the early 1800s and some of these look good enough to try in 2016!

Posted in Food Preparation, Historic Cooking, Historic Recipes, Jas. Towsend and Son, Resources, Slow Food | Leave a comment