Monday, March 27, 2017

What Survives the Winter

I love snow drops.  They are the earliest blooming flower I know of that grows in my climate.  They bloom so early that they often have to poke up through not only soil, but also snow to make their first appearance.  You may measure by day length, temperature, or the return of the robin, but for me these little flowers deliver the promise that winter will end, and spring is coming.  I have made it through another winter.

My yard is full of signs that winter has really finished, and we can truly believe that spring is here.  Lots of plants are sending up their first shoots or forming their first buds.  

These alien red knobs will grow into clusters of rhubarb leaves.

On the left, the leaves and flower buds of my Lenten Rose.  It has 3 more weeks if it's going to open those flowers during lent this year.  On the right are the first flower buds to turn white on my pieris japonica.

I've been playing with techniques to extent my vegetable harvest into the winter.  My ultimate goal is to be able to keep harvesting fresh veg throughout the entire year.  Much of what I grew undercover this year we ate for Christmas dinner.  Some of what was left succumbed to the cold, but there were some survivors.  

The lettuce I grew in a cold frame only survived until Christmas dinner, which was my goal for it.  Most lettuce is too tender to make it through my zone 5 winter, even in a cold frame, and I hadn't planted winter hardy varieties, just a general mix.  Even so, it was a delight to open the frame and find that from that mix one arugula plant and what I think is frisee, have survived.  I gave them compost and then planted new tender lettuce greens around them.  While the soil in the exposed parts of my garden is still much too cold and sodden for planting, the soil inside the frame is ready.  The rest of the garden will most likely not be ready like this until the middle of April, so even though there isn't exactly a meal in here, by leaving the cold frame in place all winter I'll be harvesting baby salad greens from what I just planted by the end of April.

I also covered one garden bed with a mini hoop tunnel for the winter, and filled it with hearty winter greens.  Interestingly all of the arugula in here died in January or February, as did the tatsoi and some of the kale.  My favorite cooking green, red giant mustard, did great this winter, as usual.  It's the green and purple leaves in the front of this pic, with some of the kale (yellow brown around the edges) in the background.

This is the hoop tunnel with the plastic pulled back for planting:

I raked back the leaf mulch from fall, spread an inch of compost, raked back the mulch and planted rows of early greens, with mulch mounded between them.  The trick now is knowing when to cover the tunnel fully with plastic to keep the seedlings warm, and when to vent or even fully uncover during the day so that they can get full sun.  On a warm day the tunnel will get too hot and fry all the little seedlings inside, or so I've read.

This is only the second winter that I've used the tunnel, so I am still experimenting with varieties, hardware, and planting times to optimize my late fall and early spring growing.  I have big plans to expand my veg production through next winter and to make it easier to harvest in snow.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Erica's Science Corner: Grow Lights or Proof I Should Have Listened to My Dad In The First Place

For me, starting seeds indoors has had a steep learning curve.  I've improved my soil mixture, watering techniques, and started sterilizing my pots in bleach  before using them, all of which led to a moderately successful batch of seedlings last year.

My father advised me to use shop lights and regular florescent bulbs like he does, but not having the time or tools to build a wooden stand for the lights, I thought I would save myself the trouble and buy really expensive grow lights that come with their own stand.  They haven't been everything i hoped for.  My seedlings seem smaller than they should be, and the lights fall off the stand every third time my arm brushes up against it.

Since starting, I've seen some great set-ups online using wire utility shelves to hang shop lights above rows of plants.  I wanted to double my growing space this year, so I bought a utility shelf, a shop light, and LED bulbs for less than half the cost of those fancy grow lights.

I still worried that the shop light wouldn't work as well as the official grow lights, and had no idea if LED was a good idea, so I set up an experiment.

Two identical flower pots, with equal amounts of the same potting mix and a teaspoon of micro green seed mix planted in each.  I like using micro greens when I'm testing a new procedure or potting mix because they germinate quickly and grow well.  Plus I can eat them any time of year.

I was careful to keep the lights at the same height above the pots and to water equally.  The only variable was which light each pot was under.

The pot on the left was under the grow light, the right was under the LED shop light.

It isn't night and day, but there's a distinct difference.  The shop light with the LED bulbs is the clear winner.  Science has proven that I should have listened to my Dad (the science teacher) in the first place.

Anyone want some used grow lights?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

These are protein packed and satisfying vegetarian stuffed peppers.  Leave out the cheese, or use a substitute and they can easily be made vegan.

Preheat the oven to 375.  In a small casserole dish (about 6 x 9) combine
  • 8 oz package of tempeh, crumbled
  • 1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tempeh is brown with crispy edges.  Leave the oven on after removing the tempeh.

Meanwhile, rinse
  • 1/3 c quinoa
  • 1/2 c brown lentils
Add to a rice cooker along with
  • 2 1/2 cups water
Cover, and cook the quinoa, lentils and water in the rice cooker until finished.  Coat a 9 x 12 casserole dish with olive oil.  Remove stems and cut in half

  • 4 bell peppers
place the halves, cut side up, in the oiled casserole dish and set aside.  In a large pan, saute until transluscent

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, about 2 cups, chopped, or 15 oz can of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/4 C fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cook, stirring often until the tomatoes have softened and the mixture has become juicy.  Add the tempeh and the mixture from the rice cooker when they are ready and stir well.  Turn heat to low and stir in
  • 1/4 grated parmesan
Remove from heat and spoon mixture into pepper halves.  For some extra cheesy goodness, get
  • 8 ciliegine--tiny balls of fresh mozzarella
poke one into the center of each stuffed pepper.  Bake the stuffed peppers for 20 minutes, or until they are heated through and the pepper cups have begun to soften.

Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Portobello tempeh Rueben

In order to improve my health and lose weight, I've changed my diet following the guidelines in the book "Always Hungry?"by Dr. David Ludwig.  I'm eating whole foods with more fat and protein than I was used to, low glycemic indexes, and no sugar or sweeteners.  I feel great and love what I am eating!

I love the tempeh Rueben sandwich that they serve at The Autumn Cafe in Oneonta NY.  This is a way to combine all of those great flavors without the bread, and to do it on a grill in good weather!  In winter, just do the same thing on a baking sheet in a 350*F oven.  Year 'round tasty-ness.

Use 4 or 5 large portobellos when serving these as a main course.  Use smaller portobellos to serve as an appetizer or side dish.  These are very filling!

Serves 4 as a meal, more as an app or side

Preheat grill or oven to 350*F.

Cut into thin strips

  • 8 oz tempeh
In a cast iron pan heat
  • 1 Tbs olive oil

Spread the tempeh strips in a single layer in the pan and fry for 5-6 minutes, until the underside has browned.  Then turn and fry the second side until brown.  Add more oil to the pan if needed.  Drain on a paper towel and set aside.

Brush both sides of
  • 14 oz portobello mushrooms, stems removed
Brush surface of grill with olive oil, or if using an oven, line a baking pan with parchment paper.  Once grill/oven is up to temperature, place mushrooms gill side down on grill or baking pan and place pan in oven.  Grill/Bake for 5-8 minutes, or until the mushrooms begin to soften but still hold their shape.  Turn mushrooms gill side up and top each one with
  • scoop of sourkraut about 12 oz total
  • sliced tempeh
  • Russian dressing (I use close to the whole recipe for 14 oz of mushrooms)
  • sliced Swiss cheese 8-10 oz total
Grill/bake until the toppings are hot all the way through and the cheese has melted.  Another 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your mushrooms.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Russian Dressing, Homemade and Sugar-Free

Traditional Russian dressing is often packed with sugar.  This is an easy to make, healthier, sugar-free version.  An immersion blender makes homemade dressings a breeze, but if you don't have one you could also do this in a traditional blender or even whisked together in a bowl.

Makes approximately 1 1/3 cup.

In a 1 pint wide mouth canning jar, or in the measuring cup of an immersion blender, combine
  • 1 c sugar-free real mayonnaise.  I use a variation of this recipe
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 4 tsp prepared horseradish
  • 1 Tbs minced shallot
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Blend with immersion blender until thoroughly mixed.  Refrigerate for at least one hour, but preferably a day before using.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Chickpea Cheddar Biscuits

I've been experimenting with several recipes to make a really good grain-free biscuit.  There are other cheddar biscuit recipes out there, but I believe this to be an improved version.  I love to eat these with soup, or split in half and use them for a breakfast sandwich or in place of the English muffin with eggs benedict.

Chickpea flour is the same thing as garbanzo flour or gram flour or besan.

Makes 5 really hearty biscuits.

Preheat the oven to 500*F  Butter a 6"-7" oven safe dish or ramekin.

Combine in the bowl of a food processor:

  • 1 C chickpea flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Pulse a few times to mix.  Cut into approx. 1/4 pieces and add to the food processor:

  • 2 T butter

Pulse 8-10 times to incorporate the butter.  You may still see small chunks of it, and that's ok.  Pour the contents of the food processor into a medium sized mixing bowl and add:

  • 1/2 C buttermilk or yogurt
  • 1 C shredded sharp cheddar

Stir with a rubber spatula until you have a consistently wet, sticky, lumpy dough.  Place about a 1/4 cup of chickpea flour in a bowl and line up the bowl of dough, followed by the bowl of flour, and then the buttered oven safe dish.  Use a 1/4 C measuring cup to scoop dough out of the first bowl.  Drop it into the flour and roll it around to coat, then toss it gently from hand to hand over the bowl to shake off any excess flour.  Place it into the buttered dish.  Continue with the rest of the dough, arranging the biscuits touching each other in a circle in the dish.  You'll make about 5 balls total.

Bake in the 500*F oven for 5 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 450 for an additional 12-15 minutes.  They are done when golden with some browning on top, and cooked all the way through.  Turn out onto a plate to cool, and break the biscuits apart when cool enough to handle.

These are a bit too crowded in only a 5" dish.  If you make a double batch, a 9" pie plate will hold them perfectly.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Inspired by Michael Pollen's book Cooked and several Science Friday guests, I started experimenting with whole wheat sourdough bread about a year ago.  I've played around with the recipe, and now that I have something that I like, and that gives me consistent results, I'm sharing it here.

First you need a starter, which you can make or purchase.  I don't honestly remember whose instructions I followed to make mine, but I'd suggest trying these from King Arthur Flour.

Once the starter exists, store it in the fridge and feed once a week with 1/2 cup of all purpose flour and 1/3 cup of filtered water.  Filtered or distilled water is crucial, because tap water is treated with chlorine to prevent microbes from growing in it.  This is great for our well-being, but terrible for sourdough, as it may kill the microbes you're working so hard to feed!

Get the starter out of the fridge at least 2 feedings before you plan to mix your dough.  Pour off the layer of alcohol on top (this is normal) and then feed with:

1/2 c all purpose flour
1/3 c filtered water

Keep the starter at room temperature, and feed every 12 hours.

To make the bread:

Mix together in a medium sized bowl:

1 c starter
3/4 c filtered water


2 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1 1/4 t salt

stir with a spoon or spatula to form a shaggy dough.  

This is what a shaggy dough looks like:

(I had to look that up the first time I read it in a bread recipe.)

Close the bowl with a lid (Tupperware is great for this!) and allow to rest for 12 to 24 hours.  How long depends on your climate, your sourdough starter (it is different in different locations) and the time of year.  The yeast and other microbes in your sourdough need time to do their work.  Your dough is ready for the next step when it has grown and looks like this:

At this point, for a less tangy bread, knead in:

1 tsp baking soda

If you would like the full sourdough bite, skip the baking soda and kneading.

Form into a ball, 

close the bowl with its lid, and let rest a few hours until doubled in size.

Place a covered casserole (the cool kids use a dutch oven) in the oven and preheat both casserole and oven to 425*F.

Once the oven is up to temperature, bake in the covered casserole or dutch oven for 35 minutes.

 before baking

after baking

Remove from the dish and cool on a wire rack.

You can test if your bread is done by holding it in one oven-mitted hand, and "thumping" it with the other.  A loaf that is fully baked will give a full satisfying thump. 

Sourdough is interesting stuff.  The wild yeast and other microbes in the starter are a combination of yeasts and microbes that were already living in your flour, and the yeasts and microbes in your kitchen.  This is why sourdoughs from different places will have a different flavor.  I brought my starter with me to my summer job, only a 4 hour drive away, and it was different there than at home.  I didn't taste a big difference, but it was much more active--generally lighter and frothier at my summer residence than it is at home.

Keeping this in mind, I encourage you to use this recipe as a launching off place.  Your kitchen is different than mine, and your sourdough will be different too.  Feel free to experiment with the amount of moisture in your recipe, resting times, cooking time, and anything else you care to play with.  A good scientist changes only one variable at a time, and records his/her methods and results each time!

Once you know how long your dough needs to rest at each step in your kitchen and climate, you should be able to bake bread any day, even in the middle of your work week, if most of your intervals work out to 12 or 24 hours.  I love that this recipe doesn't require a lot of time at any given step since there is almost no kneading, so while you make it over the course of 3 days (including starter feedings), it takes less than an hour of actual effort.

Here's the short and sweet version of the recipe, easy to copy and print and without the pictures:

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Remove starter from refrigerator at least two feedings before use.

Mix together in a medium sized bowl:

1 c starter
3/4 c filtered water


2 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1 1/4 t salt

stir with a spoon or spatula to form a shaggy dough. 

Seal bowl and rest for 12-24 hours.

* optional:   At this point, for a less tangy bread, knead in:

1 tsp baking soda

Form into a ball,, seal bowl, and let rise a few (up to 12, depending) hours until doubled in size.

Preheat covered casserole and oven to 425*F

Bake in covered casserole at 425*F for 35 minutes.

Remove loaf from casserole and cool on wire rack.