March 27, 2009

First Transplants

Yesterday I transplanted my Brussels sprouts, broccoli, romaine, and butterhead. I put them in 3" pots. They definitely needed it. They were all flopping onto each other and were running out of space. When I picked up the little guys, there were lots of healthy roots growing through the netting. I tried hard not to damage any, but a few were sacrificed. I took them outside on the deck, in the sun. I thought it might be good for them to harden off a little. I've been brushing my hand over the leaves to simulate wind while they've been inside. By the end of the transplanting session, they were all rather limp and unimpressive looking. I got them back inside, gave them some water and rest. Today, they are looking strong and happy.

A few of of my pepper plants are putting on their first set of leaves. They seem to be doing very well.

March 26, 2009

Barefoot Blogger: Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts

Today's recipe was chosen by Anne of Anne Strawberry. Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts. Seriously. How could this be bad?

Recipe can be found here.

A quick read-through of the ingredients had me cringing. I've never, ever used puff pastry. I've always wanted to, but never had the gumption to give it a try. Ina makes it look so easy. But then again, she makes everything look simple.

I assembled all my ingredients at the store yesterday. I picked up pre-shredded parmesan (I know!) and pre-crumbled goat cheese while also skipping the basil for cost savings. I thought of using sun-dried tomatoes as tomato season is still a few months away, but I went ahead and bought a grocery store-style cardboard tomato to stay true to the recipe.

The onions cooked down perfectly.

(I'm writing this while they are baking in the oven. The smell drove me to check on them - oohh my! Lovely little golden brown tarts. I can hardly stand the seven minute wait!)

The puff pastry took a little patience to work with. I attempted rolling it out to the 11" square Ina insisted on, but it was sticking and I didn't want to ruin it as it already had holes from the folds. I made the circles using a small bowl as my template. The rest of the assembly went without a hitch.

Results: YUM! The flavors are perfect. I only used one large onion and felt there were more than enough onions on each tart. The pastry was flaky and the goat cheese slightly melted into the onions. I want these flavors on an entire pizza pie! I do think substituting sun-dried tomatoes until my heirloom tomatoes are ready to be picked out of my garden would be an acceptable substitution and wouldn't affect the flavor at all, perhaps even enhance it. I found the sliced tomato to be a little too wet for the crispy pastry. Maybe I'll roast the summer tomatoes before placing them on top. Now, what to do with all that leftover puff pastry?

Final Grade: A

March 21, 2009

Black Gold

What a day!

As I mentioned before, Jeremy picked up the compost. I took over from there using our newest garden tool, the wheelbarrow, to unload it and put it in the garden. Before doing that, though, I had to rake over the soil the I had tilled last week. It was wet and difficult to move. I had planned on grading it out today and doing another till - but it's a no go. We'll see how it is tomorrow

I caught sight of a cardinal in our tree. Then I noticed how big all the buds are. Plus, I found a little surprise in the compost! (and yes, I squealed like a little five year old girl, but only because my husband still acts like an eight year old boy.)

Hmph. My body feels like I did much more than that today. On paper, it's not nearly as impressive.

What you think, shall become

Just yesterday, I was talking to my husband about farmer's markets. I wished that I had enough space to not only feed our family, but have enough to sell to others that wanted to buy local produce. Today, that wish is now a possibility.

A few weeks ago I was making the rounds, calling all the local nurseries for the pricing of a cubic yard of compost. It was abundantly clear that I would not be able to afford as much as I wanted, being roughly $29-35/cu. yd. - I needed about eight for a raised bed. At the suggestion of a forum member, I emailed local horse stables for free or cheap horse manure. By that night, Steven of BriarCroft Stables and Tack returned my email stating that he had two year old composting manure and it was free. Hallelujah!

This morning, Jeremy went to the stables to pick up the compost. Unfortunately I had to stay home with the kids (no room in the truck). I really would have liked to meet Steven and speak with him. When Jeremy returned home, he told me about the meeting. There was the suggestion that if this garden goes according to plan, he would allow us to use his property for a large-scale garden so long we keep his family in fresh produce. The rest can go to the farmer's market, CSA, whatever we choose (insert BIG, HAPPY, blow my mind grin here). Hopefully we can build a good relationship over this year's growing season and discuss how to proceed.

Of course, this opens a whole new can of worms. Will my backyard garden be successful enough to give me the confidence to try it on a large scale? I need to learn how to save seeds in order to plant such a large garden. How will I find the time to care for my family, work a full-time job, and take care of two gardens? That's just the tip of the iceberg, I'm afraid.

I have to keep in mind what Jeremy always tells me:

Stop putting up roadblocks. If you think it, it can be done.

March 15, 2009

Look how they've grown

The brussels and broccoli seedlings are growing up fast. They look strong and healthy. The lettuce is looking good, as well. I had to move the cauliflower, peppers, and herbs to a more humid area. They hadn't sprouted yet and we're drying out fast due from the unprotected warmth of a grow light. I rearranged them in my second jiffy greenhouse, placed the lid on and moved to the laundry room. When I woke the next morrning, humidity! Today, I moved the cauliflower and thyme seedlings as they had germinated, although the cauliflower is leggy. I waited too long.

We worked all day today. I cleaned up the yard then tilled up the 15x15 designated garden area. Jeremy put up our new shed and finished off the garden gate. He seemed surprised that I could till the soil so well. I guess he doesn't understand my passion. I'll admit, I am sore. Blisters to boot. We finished off our hard work with our favorite summer fair: barbecue chicken.

March 12, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Chicken Piccata

Lindsey of Noodle Nights and Muffin Mornings chose Chicken Piccata for the recipe this week. I've always wanted to try it - so here was my big chance!

The recipe from Food Network, courtesy of Ina Garten, of course.

The chicken was easily pounded to 1/4-1/2". I find the breading process tedious and time consuming, however that has much more to do with my kitchen setup and lack of appropriate breading trays than the actual process. The chicken breasts cooked quickly in the pan and then moved to the oven for a final heat through while I made the sauce.

Oh, the sauce. I reduced the amount of lemon from the start knowing my husband is not fond of lemon, but holy cow! That was one tart sauce. I added in capers and a small garlic clove. After tasting several times, I smoothed it out with a touch more butter. I tossed capellini quickly in the sauce and served the baked chicken on top with a touch of the remaining sauce.

Results: My husband wasn't fond of the sauce on the pasta, but loved it on the chicken. I thought the sauce tasted much better on the food than alone - it reduced the tartness. The chicken, though, was superb! The breading was perfect. The chicken moist and delicious. I can't wait to use it for chicken parmigiana. I'm not sure I'll make the "piccata" part again.

Final Grade: B

March 9, 2009

Introducing Barefoot Bloggers

Ina Garten is my kind of cook. She keeps it simple yet elegant. Her recipes are classics - from chicken salad to Coq a vin. She uses quality ingredients, too. Often, she takes a walk from her Hampton home into her own backyard garden to snip fresh herbs for the dishes.

Four years ago, I made my first Barefoot recipe: "outrageous brownies" Yumm! I've watched episode after episode, read most of her recipes, and now, I have a community to cook with.

The Barefoot Bloggers (see link to the left) is a site dedicated to food and all things Ina. Each month, two recipes are chosen by the current participants. Each member of the blog is responsible for making the recipe, photography, and blogging about the results. Then, we are able to read other blogger's experiences with the recipe. I'm way down on the list. I'm not sure I'll have anything to pick when the choice comes my way. Another reason I like the idea of this group is that it forces you to cook outside your comfort zone. I'm not sure I would have ever made a tomato/goat cheese tart - yet it's due later this month - so I will. It certainly sounds delicious, just a little fancier than my husband and I require for dinner.

Tonight I will make Chicken Piccata. Check back for my review.

Little Greens

I placed the tray of peat pellets in the laundry room a few days ago to provide more adequate heat. I checked on them this morning and much to my surprise, I had little sprouts! I didn't expect anything so soon. It's only been four days and my brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuces are up. I propped open the lid, since there are still ungerminated seed, and placed them as close to the grow lights as I could.

March 8, 2009

Seeds Sown


Brussels Sprouts, Diablo
Broccoli, Beaumont
Cauliflower, Early Dawn
Lettuces, Jericho and Matina Sweet Butterhead


Parsley, Gigante d'Italia
Thyme, English
Jalepenos, Jalisco
Bell Pepper, Quadrato d'Asti
Hot Pepper Mix, Hungarian Wax, Anaheim. Large Cherry and Long Red Cayenne plus Jalapeno

I kinda jumped the gun with the peppers. Most sites say 3/14 for my climate, but I know they had a pretty rough start last year and had extremely stunted growth. My jalepenos were still prolific. The bell pepper only gave up one. Hopefully I'll be able to baby and nourish them better this year. Frankly, I had no idea when to start the herbs. I took a stab in the dark. I didn't sow nearly as many seeds this time. Last year I placed about 10 of each type of seed into a peat pellet. No wonder they died.

Project: Backyard

My husband and I were busy bees these past few days. I needed to clean up the garden area and my husband got to work building a fence to separate the dogs from the rest of the yard. The yard will basically be divided into four sections: the garden, play area (with grass), dog run, and the deck.

1) The garden still needs to be tilled. The ground is soft and workable, but more rain came and my husband was tired from building the fence. We have one little strip worked. More importantly, though, we definitely determined that the garden will be 15'x15'. It's smaller than I anticipated, which will reduce our yield a little, but I think it will be more manageable, for now. I'll find more creative ways of growing food later. It does leave us plenty of room to maneuver around, allow for a storage shed, and hopefully a compost bin in the corner. We are buying a rain barrel (hopefully soon!) and attaching soaker hoses, which will be run down the length of each big row. We haven't yet figured out how to avoid soil erosion and promote good drainage, since the garden will be on a slight downhill slope leading to boggy, flooding land. Still working the brains on that one.

2) Dog Run: My stronger half was hard at work building a fence for the dogs these past few days. He set the posts in the ground and then yesterday nailed in the hog wire fencing. The fencing is not particularly strong so we'll see how it goes. Our little Daisy (a beagle) is the one we have to worry about. If anybody makes it through the fence, it's her. Unfortunately, since we aren't professionals, the posts didn't square up well - so we'll be building our own custom gate, too! We plan on putting some sort of small tree in the dog area to provide shade and using mulch. If we try grass, they will just trample it down.

3) Play area: This is the area from the newly built dog fence to the garden. We will be seeding it with our Eco Lawn seed this spring. We want a nice bit of area for little Jacob to play around in . The dogs will be able to use it too when we decide to let them out of the run. On this side of the fence, I'm going to grow morning glories, clematis, or black eyed susan - something to grow up the fence and look pretty. Along the wood fence, I'm planting sunflowers.

4) Deck: The deck is an already existing structure. We have a few chairs, a charcoal grill and a firepit. We'd like to add a canopy/tent, a side table, and possibly a hammock. The canopy will be great - our deck faces the west. It's impossible to spend a nice afternoon/evening out there because the sun is in your eyes.

March 2, 2009

Seeds of Life

The order from Kitchen Garden Seeds arrived a little over a week ago. I've supplemented that with a few packets from Lowe's - including a great buy on seed potatoes. Next week I sow the broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and lettuces indoors. I could probably do it now, but I don't want to run the risk of any one of them becoming "leggy" due to a late cold snap.