Book Recommendation: The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible

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I am often asked questions regarding when to plant, how to control pests and which crops grow well in certain conditions.  While most of this knowledge can be gained from trial and error, it’s definitely helpful to have a few points of reference when you are deciding what to plant and how to care for your garden.

One of my favorite resources is The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith.

When it comes to vegetable garden books, this volume is an invaluable resource of planting information, pest control ideas and methods for increasing the quality and quantity of your garden produce. My copy is always at my side during spring planting time (so I can reference seed depth and spacing), amid the heat of summer when I am on bug control duty, come fall time when the harvest is bountiful, and during winter when I’m busy planning the next year’s crops.

I have used Smith’s wide row format to design several gardens over the last 10 years.  His use of deep soil and low tillage methods are perfect for the raised-bed planting style of many desert gardeners.  If you have questions regarding how, when and what to plant or just want a great all-in-one reference for your garden, pick up a copy of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible.

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Butternut Squash Bisque

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It almost never snows where I live, so when it does, making soup is a requirement.  Today we saw the first, and possibly last, white flurries of the season and while the kids were wildly planning to build a gigantic snowman with the 0.047 inches of snow, I was dreaming of a rich, luscious bowl of soup.

I still have a few butternut squash from our garden in storage and I have been brainstorming the perfect recipe for weeks now.  I wanted it to have layers of flavor, like my favorite tomato bisque (I PROMISE to post that recipe this week as well) and be creamy without masking the flavor of the squash.

I used several recipes as a baseline for this one, and I think it turned out to be the perfect combo of easy prep and gourmet taste.  You’ll want to pull out your blender, one of these amazing jelly roll pans and a heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven.   I love this one and may in fact consider saving it during a house fire if all my people were safely accounted for. Other than that, you’ll be sitting down to a steaming bowl within 45 minutes.  If you served it with a side of sourdough bread and butter, I’m certain no one would mind.

Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque

1 large or 2 medium butternut squash peeled and sliced (or use a combo of butternut and white acorn, which you won’t need to peel)
4 medium carrots, cut lengthwise
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
½ a large onion, cut into large chunks
olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
salt
pepper
4-5 cups chicken stock
2 large fresh sage leaves or a pinch of dried
salt and pepper to taste
¾-1 cup heavy cream

2 -3 cups mushrooms
1 Tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 450° F.

Prepare squash, carrots, garlic and onion and arrange on a jelly roll pan.  Drizzle liberally with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Slice 2 Tbsp of butter and place on top of veggies.

Roast for about 20-35 minutes, or until everything is beginning to char, but before it really burns.

Remove from oven and transfer veggies to blender with about 3 cups of the stock.  Puree until smooth.

Combine puree with as much remaining stock as necessary to reach the desired consistency. Add sage leaves and simmer gently for 10 minutes or so to combine flavors, stirring often.

Meanwhile, clean and slice mushrooms and saute in a little butter.  They will sweat out a lot of liquid.  Keep sauteing until the liquid is evaporated and the mushrooms are coated in a golden glaze.  

Taste for seasoning and adjust.  Stir in the heavy cream and heat through, but DO NOT ALLOW to boil.  Remove sage leaves or inform your guests that they may find a “lucky leaf” in their bowl.

Serve drizzled with plain or flavored olive oil and with a spoonful of mushrooms for garnish.  Sourdough bread with butter is the perfect accompaniment.

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Easy Roasted Vegetables 

By request, I give you:

Easy Roasted Vegetables

Vegetables, of course! (We use this technique for Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, thick slices of cabbage, and butternut squash (or other winter varieties)

Olive oil (or avocado oil)

Kosher or coarse salt

Freshly-ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Wash and prep all veggies.

  • Broccoli/Cauliflower: separate large clusters into single pieces about the size you’d see on a raw veggie tray and then slice in half, exposing a flat side.
  • Brussels Sprouts: peel outer layer away. Trim stem ends and slice in half the long way (hot-dog style!).
  • Cabbage: peel outer layer and cut 1 inch slices (they will be a circle) from the whole head.
  • Winter Squash: peel (this peeler will change your life for under $10, promise!) and either cube or cut into 1/2 inch-thick slices.

Toss veggies in olive oil until well coated. (Except cabbage, which you will put directly on the pan and then drizzle with oil).

Arrange veggies, cut side down, on a baking sheet. You won’t need to grease it as long as you’ve oiled your vegetables well.

Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Roast at 450 until the underside that is contact with the pan is nice and golden. Use a spatula to lift a few specimens from the pan to check for doneness. Resist the urge to flip them or turn the oven down. I promise they will be perfection!

Enjoy!

Simple Cabbage Salad With Lemon

The cabbage of my childhood came in a Styrofoam container with the red initials, “K.F.C.” on the outside.  Truth be told, I’m not sure I even knew there was cabbage in that slaw.  My dad loved it, and still does to this day.  Personally, the combination of mayonnaise and cabbage don’t do much for me.  Give me a good potato salad, or a creamy chicken salad with purple grapes bursting with juiciness, but coleslaw?  I’ll pass.  It’s simultaneously too heavy and sweet for my taste.

So, I really hadn’t actually eaten much cabbage until three years ago, when my husband and I took a trip to Israel.  I am not exaggerating when I say that we saw cabbages the size of beach balls.  I was flabbergasted!  Cabbage was everywhere at the roadside stands and in the city markets, which were sometimes nothing more than a woman with a few bags and piles of produce.  We found it pickled and dressed in every imaginable way at lunches and dinners.  Though it sometimes lay hooded in mayo-based sauces, it was also bright and crisp, sleekly dressed with the simplest of ingredients.

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I found that I loved cabbage, though I still preferred it sans the white sauce.  This salad was born of that trip, and is now a staple at my house.  We keep a big container in the refrigerator and eat it with everything: soups, sandwiches, meat that’s been roasted or grilled and even a plate full of quickly scrambled eggs.  You probably already have everything you need for the dressing on hand, which means this side dish comes together in five minutes or less.  It keeps great in the refrigerator up to a week and is equally delicious leftover.  Even my daughter, who for the first five years of her life claimed to hate salad, comes upon me slicing huge heaps of cabbage and cries out, “Are we having cabbage salad?” in an excitement she rarely bestows upon vegetables.

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Simple Cabbage Salad With Lemon

1/2 head green cabbage, sliced thinly
1/2 head purple (I refuse to call it red) cabbage, sliced thinly
Juice of one lemon
¼ – 1/3 cup tasty olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Remove the outer leaves of the cabbages, rinse the heads well and cut in half.  Remove cores, slice thinly and toss in a big bowl.  Drizzle the olive oil over the sliced cabbage and then squeeze half the lemon over the top.  Add about two teaspoons kosher salt and a good helping of freshly ground pepper.

Toss everything together to combine and then taste it for flavor.  It will likely need more lemon juice, though perhaps not the entire second half.  Depending on the size of your cabbages, it may also need more of salt, but taste it first to be sure.  It should be zippy from the lemon juice and well salted.  If you’re puckering up after the first bite, drizzle on a little more olive oil.  Ideally, you would prepare this and let it sit while you work on the main dish, but feel free to eat it right away if needs be.  Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Beets Are Beautiful

Beets are one of the treasures of the garden!  They are dirty and rough on the outside, but inside they are gorgeous in color and taste. Like most root vegetables, beets are high in natural sugar, making them attractive to most kids.  I love them adorned simply with salt and butter.

The real challenge with beets is to get past the thick skin without cooking them to death. Roasting can take quite awhile and boiling them whole makes a huge mess, takes time and leaves your hands a nice dingy tint for several days if you don’t use gloves when you slip the skins off after cooking.

Enter the Messermeister peeler. 

I have been telling people for years that if I were stuck on a deserted island and could bring only one kitchen tool with me, this would be it.  Yes, I would choose this over my chef’s knife because it would peel the coconut and mango alike.  There is absolutely no peeler on the market as good as this one.  I own two so that one is always sure to be clean when I need it.  It easily peels yams, fresh tomatoes and peaches, beets, carrots, butternut squash and even potatoes.

It will peel ANYTHING (including your finger-don’t say I didn’t warn you).  The blade is actually serrated, which means it’s sharp as razors but also handles delicate produce without ripping or bruising the flesh.  There is also a non-serrated version, but it is not the same magician as it’s cousin and I therefore don’t even own one.

Back to the beets…using your serrated peeler, quickly peel the skins right off!  Check out the tiny little grooves created by the peeler in the photo below.  Then dice into uniform size pieces and steam for about 7 minutes.

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Add the tops of the beets (remove the stems) during the last minute or two of cooking time.  At my house I am the only one who eats the greens–they are delicious in their own right, but not nearly as sweet as the root.  Beets are done cooking when you can poke them with a fork and not meet much resistance.  Diced, they cook quite quickly.  Add salt, pepper and butter and serve steaming hot.  Yum!

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**If you enjoy beets as much as I do, don’t be alarmed if your outputs change color during the 24 hours after enjoying your meal.  Read here for more info on that non-dinner table topic.

Greek Salad

In our final ode to the tomato, let’s make some quick and tasty Greek Salad!  It’s a beautiful time of year when you can return from the yard with this still life:

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Give that cucumber, peppers and olives a chopping and remove the tomato stems:IMG_0281

Assemble the dressing ingredients:IMG_0286

Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper and then whisk the oil and vinegar together and toss over everything:IMG_0287

Greek Salad
2-3 cups cherry sized tomatoes
1 large cucumber, roughly chopped
2-3 large bell peppers, any color, roughly chopped
1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, chopped
2 tsp Kosher Real Salt* and freshly ground pepper to taste (if using a finer table salt, use half as much)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Chop all veggies and combine in a bowl.  Top with chopped olives, feta, salt and pepper.  In a liquid measure, add 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and then add the olive oil until you reach the 1/2 cup mark (this is around 1/3 cup).  Whisk oil and vinegar to combine and drizzle over salad.  Toss gently to combine.    Also delicious served inside a pita bread with a little hummus spread inside.

*Not all salt is created equal!  Some salts are more processed than others and that will affect the taste of your dish.  Also, Real Salt is naturally mined and contains minerals.  Read more about it *here*.

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Marinated Tomatoes

I’m always happy to eat a tomato adorned with only a little salt.  However, the family is likely to grumble a little if all that shows up on the dinner table are sliced tomatoes and a salt!  Here’s a quick little recipe that dresses them up enough to be served as a meal.  Marinated tomatoes are great over simple grilled chicken or a slice of cheese toast!  Toss in some small fresh mozzarella balls or diced mozzarella for a delicious salad, or serve them over a scrambled or fried egg.  Plus I’ve included a little French trick to make it all look a little fancier!  IMG_0458

Marinated Tomatoes

2 cups sliced and/or cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp delicious olive oil (you really want a flavorful oil here)
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
5 large basil leaves, cut chiffonade (read on for instructions!)
1-2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
A drizzle of balsamic vinegar, optional (at our house we add this at the table allowing those who don’t want it to go without)

Combine all ingredients and gently toss.  Allow to marinate while you prepare whatever you’re serving them with.

How-to cut a chiffonade:

First, start with 5 or so leaves of basil:
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Stack them with the largest on the bottom and the smallest on top:
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Roll it up:
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Then using a sharp knife (this one is my favorite for small tasks), slice the roll thinly:
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The perfect way to dress up the dish:
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Five-Minute Fajitas

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Those of you with little people home during the lunch hour know that it can be hard to balance the desire for cheese quesadillas (or other kid fare) with the want of a salad or something a little more grown up.

Fajitas are a quick adult lunch (or dinner!) concocted from humble quesadilla beginnings.  No matter where you are geographically, peppers should be abundant this time of the year.  So, go grab some and dress up your next lunch!  Maybe the kiddos will even try a bite of the veggies!

Don’t be frightened off by the smoked paprika.  It’s neither spicy nor strange.  It is probably my favorite spice after salt, pepper and garlic.  It lends a smoky flavor even in small amounts.  I love to add it to rubs, marinades, soups, and all my southwestern dishes.  It really is key to the deep flavor here.

Cutting down on carbs?  No problem!  I often eat this same fajita mix over two scrambled eggs, for a protein packed southwestern lunch or dinner.

Five Minute Fajitas
makes enough filling for 4 tortillas or  2 large scrambles

1 Tbsp avocado or olive oil
1/2 onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, any color, cut into strips
1 can black beans (or other protein: a handful of shredded cooked chicken, a few strips of cooked steak.)
1/4 tsp granular garlic (or garlic powder)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
dash cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 lime
1 Tbsp good quality olive oil

4 whole-wheat or other variety tortillas (or a couple of scrambled eggs)
4 slices cheddar cheese  (or jack or pepper jack).
Optional extras for topping: salsa, sour cream, avocado, sliced black olives

Directions:
Heat a saute pan on medium for half a minute and then add a little avocado or olive oil.  Add your sliced onions and saute 3 minutes until starting to brown.  Add peppers and saute 1 more minute.  Add all spices and allow to toast 30 seconds while stirring.  Add lime juice, olive oil and beans or other protein.  Stir around until everything is coated nicely.

Gently melt a slice of cheese on each tortilla in the microwave.  If using eggs, grate the cheese and add it at the end with the other toppings.  Top each tortilla with a scoop of fajita filling and any additional toppings.  Enjoy!

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