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2012 tomato round-up, part 1

2 Sep

Homegrown tomato season is finally here!  I’ve been waiting for this moment for months and months; tasting that first grape tomato could not have been sweeter (both literally and figuratively)!  Since then, we’ve had a few different types of tomatoes ripen, so here’s a round-up of our tomato harvest thus far.

For our “normal” large, slicing tomato, we planted nine Siletz tomatoes.  These guys are great because they show up super early.  Even in our questionable Oregon growing season, we can rely on getting several Siletz tomatoes.

This pretty purple tomato is the Indigo Rose.  Released this year by the Oregon State University, this tomato has been bred to have high levels of anti-oxidants (you can read more about Indigo Rose tomatoes from the OSU extension service).  They’re a pretty rose color inside.  This is the only type of tomato in this post that I did not start from seed myself, but that doesn’t mean I love them any less!

These Chocolate-Cherry tomatoes are my favorite! We planted one of these guys last year and I loved them so much they were on the top of my list of “must plant food of 2012.”  We have six or seven plants this year, so let me know if you’d like to try some.  They really do taste chocolatey and they’re super-sized for a cherry tomato.

These Green Zebra tomatoes might win a contest for coolest looking tomatoes we’re growing this year.  Despite the green/yellow color, these babies are good ‘n ripe.  We traded away for a Green Zebra plant last year and Nate made a special request for them again this year.  This is the tomato that we have the most plants of, with a whopping 13.  I might have gotten a little carried away…

One of the coolest things about composting (besides free plant-food) are the little volunteer plants that pop up.  These SunGold cherry tomatoes were a favorite from years past but we didn’t get around to planting any this year.  I saved a few of the volunteer tomato plants that popped up this spring, hoping that one would be a SunGold.  I’ve been so excited to watch the fruit ripen to this bright orange color this past week.  SunGolds are super sweet, not for the faint of heart.

We also wound up with two volunteer grape tomato plants this year!  These babies were the first to ripen and I could not have been happier to see them.  Surprise tomato plants are among the best surprises!

We’re still waiting on some tomato varieties to ripen (Black Krim, Moskovitz, Old German) but we’re already deep in tomatoes.  Anyone interested in a tomato party with tomato jam, tomato salad, or maybe some truly homemade Bloody Marys?

Stay cool

4 Aug

Here in the Pacific Northwest we’ve managed to avoid the heatwave that’s been plaguing the rest of the U.S up until this point.  That’s all supposed to change this weekend as we make it into the triple digit temperatures for the first time this year.

While I’m looking forward to some of the effects of this heat (hello, homegrown tomatoes!), I’m not much of a fan of hot weather.  So, I’ve been trying to keep in mind some of my favorite tips and recipes for staying cool.

The kitchen is the prime source of unwanted heat, so I try to switch up the kind of cooking that I do when the sun is out.  The key is to avoid turning the oven on at all costs, and the stove-top should be used as little as possible.  Thankfully, there are tons of recipes that are seasonal, tasty, and use little to no heat.  The Kitchn just did a recipe roundup of 20 no-heat or low-heat recipes.  Lots of smoothies and salads there.  I’ll be making lots and lots of gazpacho once our tomatoes come around.

If you do want to cook with heat, keep your wits about you.  I’ve found that using the crock pot to cook dried beans takes longer but keeps the house much cooler than using the stove.  Couscous takes less time and heat to cook than pasta does.  Cook extra so that you can reuse leftovers rather than heating your house again to make another batch.  And just about anything can be made outdoors if you have a decent grill.  Grilled pizza is a favorite around here.

When it’s hot out, there’s no shame in cheating a little.  Pre-cooked food items are fair game.  Shred some chicken from your local deli for taco night or slice a little roast beef to use as a salad topper.  Tofu and tempeh are pre-cooked and can be added to your dinner straight from the package.

One of our favorite hot weather foods is the classic salad roll.  It’s great because you can adapt it to include whatever ingredients you already have around.  These bad boys are vegetarian, with chunks of tofu and hard-boiled egg inside.  You could easily vegan-ize them by leaving out the egg, if you so desire.  Lots of fresh veggies and herbs are required, though!

Salad rolls:

  • 1 package of rice papers
  • rice noodles, cooked according to package directions (usually soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained)
  • 2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 cucumber, cut into matchsticks
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
  • 1/2 package tofu, sliced
  • Lettuce leaves
  • Bean sprouts
  • Fresh herbs (mint, basil, cilantro)
  • Peanut sauce (see below)

Soak the rice paper wrapper in warm water until pliable, about 30 seconds.  Place on a work surface and load on your desired ingredients.  Wrap up like a burrito, both ends folded in and rolled up tight.  They don’t have to be perfect!

Perhaps the best thing about salad rolls is that they act as a vessel for one of the world’s greatest condiments: peanut sauce.  Here’s my go-to recipe; it’s super easy and you probably already have all the ingredients already.

Peanut sauce

  • 4 T smooth peanut butter (natural is best, if you use something else you may want to use less sweetener)
  • 1 T rice vinegar
  • 2 t soy sauce
  • 2 t honey or agave syrup
  • 2 t minced ginger
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced fine
  • Water
  • Sriracha hot sauce to taste (optional)

Mix first six ingredients in small bowl.  Add water until desired consistency is reached, approximately 3-4 tablespoons.  Mix in a squirt of Sriracha if you so desire (you know I do).

Stay cool out there!

Meggie loves veggies

3 Aug

After an accidental hiatus in which I finished up my very first Master’s degree, I’m back to blogging! While this blog has been put on hold while I completed my scholarly pursuits, the garden waits for no one.

Photo of a head of Tom Thumb butterhead lettuce

We’re just about to the end of our lettuce season.  In the foreground is the Tom Thumb butterhead lettuce I said I was excited about growing.  There’s a head each of Freckle romaine, red and oak leaf lettuce in the back.

Photo of a person holding tiny red and orange carrots

Forget what they sell at the store; these are baby carrots!  These carrots are the results of an early thinning session.  The pink colored carrots are the Dragon carrots I’ve been so excited about growing.  They’ve since turned a deeper purple color.  The orange carrots are a variety called Littlefinger that stay relatively short.  I hoped they would work better in our dense soil that is not the most habitable for root veggies.  So far, so good.

Photo of a short-haired fat woman in a green and white dress holding up a garlic braid

If you pay close attention to my Facebook page, you may have seen me post a picture of some homegrown garlic a while back.  Nate and I decided to try braiding these suckers, following these instructions for a garlic braid.  It is far from perfect, but as you can tell by the photo, we were rather pleased with the results.  We have more garlic growing in the garden so we’ll have the chance to give it a second try.  The garlic pictured here is Spanish Roja hard-neck garlic and it is delicious!

In other gardening news, we’re about to harvest our first zucchini and we’re eagerly awaiting the coming tomato season.  The next few days are supposed to be hot-hot-hot; hopefully that will help our 30+ tomato plants along.

I hope you’re having as much fun in the garden as I am!

What’s up?

19 Jun

It’s been a while.  I’ve been…

…buying bright pink lipstick and actually wearing it.

…co-hosting a baby shower for the cutest parents-to-be.

…designing a new online presence.

…making homemade bagels and buying a vintage fan at Nate’s first estate sale.

…eating said bagels.

I’ll be back soon!

Good seeds

22 May

The past week or so it has felt as if summer was at our doorstep.  We had several clear skies in a row (which is almost unheard of in Oregon until June rolls around).  However, the skies are grey again and the rain has returned.

I took some photos last week when the sun was out but am just now getting around to constructing a post.  It’s really hard to blog about gardening this time of year because the plants are growing so quickly.  If I don’t post photos the same day they’re taken, they’re out of date!

Until I get the chance to snap some new pictures, I thought I would post about some of the things I am most excited about growing this year.  We’re growing a mix of old standbys and new favorites.

Six seed packets

From left to right: Tom Thumb butterhead lettuce, Baby Blue hubbard winter squash, Chocolate Cherry cherry tomato, Little Prince container eggplant, Green Zebra tomato, Dragon carrot.

Tom Thumb butterhead lettuce – this has been a favorite lettuce of ours for about three years now.  The heads are small, compact, and super cute.  The leaves are delicious and the small size makes it great for edible landscaping or gardening in containers.  We’ve always purchased our Tom Thumb seeds from Botanical Interests but so far this year we’ve had a low germination rate.  We’ll be planting more as the season progresses and hoping for better luck!

Baby Blue hubbard winter squash – we had one regular hubbard squash plant last year.  The plant didn’t produce very much (in large part due to some user error on our part) but the squash was delicious!  We added it to soups and stews and I made a hubbard squash pie.  This year, we’re trying out this variety that grows “mini” hubbard squash, which should weigh in at 7-10 lbs.  Hubbard squash are supposed to store really well so I’m hoping we can use it throughout the winter months.

Chocolate Cherry cherry tomato – this is my first time trying to grow this variety of tomato from seed.  Last year, I picked up a Chocolate Cherry plant from my friendly neighborhood BiMart on a whim.  It turned out to be my favorite variety out of the 10 or so we grew last year.  This year, it’s replacing Sungold as our cherry tomato of choice due to its sweet but complex flavor.

Little Prince eggplant – these mini eggplants are an oldy-but-goody around here.  The bushy plants are great for containers, close quarters, or for adding a little interest to a landscaped area.  The plants produce beautiful purple flowers followed by small fruit, about the size of a fist.  We love to grill these and make them into homemade baba ghanouj.

Green Zebra tomato – last year, I acquired one of these tomato plants through a trade with our friend, the master urban farmer Emily.  This year, the variety was Nate’s number request for the garden.  They taste great and look pretty cool, too.

Dragon carrot – I’ve grown carrots several times before, but with mixed success due to our muddy, clay-heavy soil.  That said, when I saw these purple and orange carrots at the gardening shop, I couldn’t say no!  How fun are these?  I think these Dragon carrots would be the perfect way to get a kiddo to eat more veg.  I know at my house growing up, any food with a bad ass name was consumed straight away.

These aren’t the only plants we’re growing this year, but they are definitely the ones that I’m most excited about.  While I think there’s no shame in buying veggie starts from the store, there’s something really special about planting tiny brown seeds and watching them turn into big green plants.

There are a few plants that I’m excited about that I didn’t actually plant myself.  We do some DIY composting and last autumn all of our leftover tomatillo plant matter went into the bins.  As you might imagine, this spring we now have tons of little volunteer tomatillo plants popping up everywhere.  I’m not one to look a gift horse (or seed) in the mouth so I’ve been replanting these little volunteers and I’m hoping that they grow big and strong, and produce some good eats.

Now I want to know:

  • How are things looking in your garden?
  • Are there any plants or varieties that you’re especially excited about this year?
  • What are the super awesome plants that I should absolutely not miss out on?

Local little free library

16 May

There’s a beautiful house two blocks away from ours that I always envy for it’s great yard and amazing mosaics.  A week or so ago, while walking to the local co-op grocery store with my mom, we noticed a new post in their front yard.  “I wonder what that’s going to be,” she wondered.

I’d like to introduce our new neighbor, Little Free Library!  I’ve heard of these from my classmates before but this is the first one I’ve seen up close and personal.  It’s a beauty!

This is Little Free Library number 1603!  The slogan is “reading is the KEY to imagination” and it’s decorated with mismatched keys.  So stinking cute!

We had a chance to talk owners Ella and Bruce who said that the library had already gotten quite a bit of attention.  They said that someone had even dropped off a zucchini plant for them in the little nook.  Ella said she planted it in their backyard garden.

The people at Little Free Library maintain a Google map with all of the libraries across the country.  This is the first of its kind in Corvallis.  Is there a Little Free Library in your area?  Will you make the first one?

Grillin’ it

14 May

The past few weeks have been just short of chaos at our house.  I attended the OLA annual conference in Bend in the end of April and did a poster session on some work I’ve been doing on using popular culture to teach information literacy.  The whole conference was a blur of engaging sessions, library-related swag, and watching late night TV with my friend and hotel roomie Amy.  Overall, it was a great experience and I would absolutely recommend participating in the poster session to any interested students.

That said, I would recommend that you do not wait until the last minute to create your poster board.  I believe that poster boards are actually portals to alternate dimensions where time moves at a much quicker rate.  You would be amazed at the amount of time it takes to make a mediocre poster board.  Hours and hours and hours.

Also don’t wait until the last minute because as you’re finishing up your poster board at 11pm in the hotel room, you might realize that you forgot to print off half of your reference list.  Not that I know this from experience…

OLA was also cool because Amy and I got to eat here:

Why, yes, that is an old double-decker bus that has been converted into a food cart called “The Codfather.”

The only problem with the OLA conference is that it was scheduled for the second half of my dead week in school, taking up very valuable studying time.  This term I was far less organized than usual; finals week this term definitely tested my studying abilities.  Miraculously, I survived!

Thankfully, that means that this past week has been my summer break.  My school program goes through the summer so as of today I’ve started new classes and my summer vacation is through.  I definitely milked the blessed seven days off of school for all they were worth with plenty of gardening and relaxing.

Summer vacation culminated with the annual Librarian Prom on Saturday night.  I made a giant batch of sangria based off a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.  The sangria was well received at the party but not so well received the next morning, from what I hear.

I wore too much eyeliner and my favorite dress: a red caftan with Egyptian motif and many, many sequins.

Thankfully, Nate and I weren’t too hung over after the prom so we were able to spend some time with our mothers the next day for mother’s day.  The weather was beautiful, so we cooked up a great dinner on the grill for my momma.

burgundy plate with grilled broccoli, veggie couscous, and grilled chicken

Grilled chicken with a curry yogurt sauce, grilled vegetable couscous, grilled broccoli with feta, and flat bread made on the (you guessed it) grill!  Nate was responsible for the broccoli and it was truly out of this world.  I’ll see if I can convince him to share the recipe.

burgundy plate with grilled broccoli, veggie couscous and grilled chicken

What is it about eating outside that makes food taste so dang good?  My summer vacation may be over but I’m looking forward to more of this weather!

Show me, shoyu

20 Apr

For the grilled, marinated tofu that we put on our homemade banh mi sandwiches, I used both light and dark soy sauce in the marinade.  Have you ever tried to recreate an Asian dish from a restaurant and found it to be too salty or lacking in sweetness with a thin, runny sauce?  It may be due to using the wrong kind of soy sauce.

It wasn’t until recently that I found out that there was more than one type of soy sauce.  I’d only used the Kikkoman-esque stuff that you find on the tables of every Asian restaurants.  Turns out what many of us consider to be just plain ‘ol soy sauce is really light soy sauce.  In this case, light is not referring to reduced calories or sodium, though there is light sodium light soy sauce.  The “light” in light soy sauce refers to the thickness or viscosity of the soy sauce.  Light soy sauce is thin and runny, with a distinct, salty taste.

Dark soy sauce, on the other hand, is called so because it’s thicker.  Dark soy sauce has been aged and often blended with molasses or another sweetener.  While light soy sauce is usually added at the end to add salt and flavor, dark soy sauce is added early in the cooking process.  Cooking helps to develop flavors and sweetness; the first time I heard of dark soy sauce was in a recipe from HFW for Chinese style soy glazed pig’s feet.  I’m not sure if this was due to the dark soy sauce, but it was probably the best Chinese food I’ve made!

Recently, The Splendid Table did a segment where host Lynne Rosetto Kasper tasted five different types of light soy sauce straight from the supermarket in a blind test.  The contenders were:

  1. Kikkoman, $1.19
  2. Pearl River Bridge, $1.29
  3. Eden Organic Tamari, $5.39
  4. La Choy, $1.12
  5. San-J Organic Tamari (Gluten-Free), $4.89

You can see the results (and the tasting) in this video:

Who would of thought that the soy sauce in cabinets and refrigerators across the U.S. would be a taste-test winner?  I guess Lynne has confirmed what Kikkoman has been saying all along: the moment you pour Kikkoman soy sauce, food becomes incredibly delicious.

You can find Kikkoman light soy sauce at any grocery store.  Check your local Asian market for dark soy sauce and try it out the next time you cook Asian food.

Keepin’ it real

16 Apr

Burnt mini-quiche on a plate, with a cup of coffee and rumpled napkin in the background

One of the things that ticks me off about most blogs out there is that the author makes themselves out to be an expert on the subject.  Let me be the first to say that I am NOT an expert.  I can cook well enough to get by and often enough have a pretty tasty meal but I definitely still make mistakes.  Do you see where this is going..?

I made about 500 of these crust-less mini quiche for our wedding reception last summer.  Not only are they really tasty but they freeze and reheat really well.  We were having a super casual, DIY brunch for our reception so they really were perfect.  The recipe is such that you can adapt the flavors to whatever suits your mood.  The recipe on TheKitchn is for zucchini and basil quiche, but for our wedding I made three different kinds: cheddar and (veggie) chorizo, green chili with jack cheese and cilantro, and spicy jalapeno with cotija cheese.  I churned out a ton of them all by myself over the course of a couple days and they all turned out great.

After that, it took a while before I wanted to see, much less eat, quiche again.  But on Saturday when we found a bunch of good looking chanterelle mushrooms at the Corvallis farmer’s market, the first thing that came to mind were the mini-quiche and how easy/tasty they were.  We decided to make up a big batch of chanterelle, Swiss cheese, and caramelized onion mini-quiche.

Grated swiss cheese on a plate, with a piece of cheese and grater in the background

I caramelized half of a chopped onion while prepping the egg mixture and grating the cheese.  I chopped up the mushrooms roughly and sauteed them briefly.

We assembled the quiche in our mini-muffin pans: cheese on the bottom, some onion, a little sauteed mushroom, and then poured the egg mixture over the top.  Would could go wrong with that?

Well, the flavor combination was great but I forgot one very important step: to grease the muffin tin.  Don’t these lil’ quiche look so cute still in the pan?  Good, because they didn’t look so hot after we scraped them out.

Mini-quiche, still in the muffin tin, with a cup of coffee in the background

Mini-muffin tin with remnants of quiche, due to forgetting to grease the pan

This just about breaks my heart.  These would have been such a success, if only I hadn’t messed up!  I would definitely recommend you try this recipe, with one of my flavor combos or your own.   Just don’t forget to grease your pan, and grease it well!  I think I’ll be chipping quiche out of this muffin tin for the rest of my life.

I put one tray of the quiche back in the oven to see if they would release from the pan easier if they cooked a little longer.  They didn’t! I just got burnt quiche that was stuck in the pan.  Thankfully, it still tasted good.  It sure ain’t pretty, though.

Burnt mini-quiche on a plate, with a cup of coffee and rumpled napkin in the background

The next time you mess up in the kitchen, just remember me and these mutilated, burnt-to-a-crisp quiche.  And jeez, I have the audacity to have a food blog!  But now there’s proof that having a blog definitely does not necessarily make one (or at least, me) a pro in the kitchen.

Happy spring

7 Apr

They say that sex, politics, and religion shouldn’t be discussed at parties.  But what about on blogs?

Tomorrow is Easter.  While both Nate and I were raised in fairly religious families, we aren’t currently practicing any religion.  However, we never turn down an opportunity to spend time with friends and family, so we’re planning on attending multiple Easter festivities tomorrow.

It’s always seemed weird to me that non-Christians would celebrate Easter, for some reason far stranger than celebrating Christmas.  I guess it’s because Easter hasn’t been quite as commercialized.  I’ve also always seen Easter and the story of Jesus’ resurrection as being a pillar of Christianity, a confirmation of Jesus’ position as the son of God.  It seems weird to me, then, that non-believers would celebrate such a religious holiday even if their celebrations are supposed to be secular.  Can you really have a secular celebration of a day that is so tied to a specific religion?

That said, now that I’m guilty of “joining the party,” it hasn’t really been bothering me all that much.  I’m just seeing it as an opportunity to spend time with loved ones and partake in some fun traditions.  Can you say hypocrite?!

But today the sun is out and the weather is beautiful.  It looks like spring is here (at least for now) and that is definitely a reason to celebrate!

Anyway, Nate is almost solely responsible for this asparagus gallette with goat cheese.  All I did is assemble it and snap some photos.  It’s super easy (I’m not just saying that because Nate made it) and would be perfect for your Easter festivities or just to help welcome the spring season.

Asparagus galette with goat cheese

Adapted from a recipe from Feast on the Cheap

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet of pre-made puff pastry
  • 1 half of an onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Splash of balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 3 oz. goat cheese

Preheat your oven to 400F degrees.  Roll out puff pastry into a rectangle approximately 15″ by 10″.  Make a score mark around the edge of the puff pastry, about 1 inch from the edge.  Pierce the puff pastry inside of the score mark with a fork, place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Heat a saute pan over medium heat.  Add 1 Tbsp of the oil, and then the chopped onion.  Saute until translucent.  Add the garlic and saute until fragrant.  Add the balsamic vinegar, if using.

Put the trimmed asparagus to a large bowl and toss with the remaining olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the par-baked puff pastry from the oven.  Evenly distribute the onion mixture over the crust, followed by the cottage cheese and goat cheese.  Place the asparagus on top.

Bake in your 400F degree oven for about 15 minutes.

Bella offered to act as a taste tester for you.  That’s so nice of her, isn’t it?

Slice and serve warm.  I bet squeezing a little fresh lemon juice over the top would be good too.  Happy spring!