Remember the mystery plants that appeared in the compost pile back in April? They did turn out to be pumpkins!
Making homemade pickles is an easy way to use a lot of cucumbers at one time. I usually plant the cucumber variety called Homemade Pickles, which grow to be about five to six inches long. Word of warning…they will get much bigger if you keep overlooking them when picking the garden as I sometimes do! If they are bigger than about six inches, I just eat those raw rather than pickling as it seems the larger they get, the greater chance of a mushy pickle. And, don’t forget to remove the blossom end of the cucumber. It has an enzyme that will cause the pickles to be soft.
My go to recipe is Classic Dill Pickles from the book Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan. I like this recipe because it has a short processing time and consistently results in a crisp, crunchy pickle.
I usually cut about four pounds of cucumbers into spears and double the pickling liquid called for in the book’s recipe to ensure that I have enough. This quantity will end up making about eight pints of pickles, rather than the four pints yielded in the book’s recipe. Food in Jar’s website has the recipe written to yield 8 pints, so refer to that recipe version if you want to make 8 pints, or cut the recipe in half to make only 4. When I have whole dried chiles, I put one in each jar instead of using red pepper flakes. If you prefer the pickles to not be spicy, it is fine to skip using the peppers. Happy pickling!
Tomatoes are abundant now, and making tomato soup is a great way to use a lot of them at one time. My recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup from the cookbook Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.
First, roughly chop about four pounds of tomatoes and dice the onions and carrots.
Heat the olive oil, and sauté the onions and carrots until tender. Add the garlic.
Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, chicken broth, salt and pepper.
After the soup has cooked for about 40 minutes, add the cream and then process the soup through a food mill. I have the OXO Good Grips food mill, and it is a very functional tool to use when it comes to processing tomatoes to remove the skins and seeds.
Discard the pulp and serve the soup with homemade croutons.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1½ cups diced onion
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 pounds tomatoes, chopped
- 1 six ounce can tomato paste
- ¼ cup chopped basil leaves
- 4 cups of chicken broth or stock
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat.
- Add the onions and carrots and saute for about 10 minutes, until very tender.
- Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, chicken stock, salt, and pepper and stir well.
- Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are very tender.
- Add the cream to the soup and process it through a food mill into a bowl, discarding only the dry pulp that's left.
- Serve with homemade croutons.
A mystery plant appeared in the compost pile in late April. It seemed to be in the melon family, but I wasn’t sure. Turned out to be pumpkins…two different varieties! I composted the decorative pumpkins that I had for Halloween & Thanksgiving…it didn’t occur to me that I was planting pumpkins. I can’t wait to see how the pumpkin patch turns out!
I steamed a bag of washed spinach and then drained it. Next, I diced the artichokes, chopped the spinach, and then mixed it along with the other ingredients. (If your container of artichokes is larger than 14 ounces, you need to use about 10 artichoke hearts). I put it all in an oven-safe dish.
Next, I topped it with grated parmigiano reggiano and baked it for about 30 minutes until the dip was bubbly and heated through. I think I topped it with about 1/2 cup of cheese, but you can use more or less to your taste. Serve with tortilla chips and watch it disappear!
- ⅓ cup cream cheese
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- ⅓ cup light sour cream
- 14 oz. can artichoke hearts, chopped
- 4 cups spinach, cooked, drained and chopped (alternately, use a 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (use more or less to your liking)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- grated parmigiano reggiano, parmesan, or asiago (or use a blend of all three)
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Mix all ingredients together in an oven safe dish.
- Top with grated cheese to your liking.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until the dip is heated through and bubbly.
One of my favorite cookbooks is John Besh’s My Family Table. A particular recipe, Creamy Any Vegetable Soup, has become one I turn to regularly, mainly because it is easily adaptable to whatever veg is coming out of the garden. We have quite a bit of celery and fennel that needs to be used, so in this version of the recipe, these vegetables are my inspiration. I also like to make this soup using cauliflower substituted for the fennel. In the book, Besh stresses that this recipe is a building block for any number of creamy soups, so feel free to substitute ingredients depending on what you have on hand.
Next, I sliced a couple of fennel bulbs and added these to the pot to sauté along with two cloves of minced garlic.
We also had the first harvest of new potatoes on hand, so I diced these and added them to the pot along with the chicken broth, salt and pepper. The recipe calls for one potato, but I use two or three depending on how thick I want the soup. Also, at this point, John Besh says to add the cream, but I wait until after I’ve finished simmering the soup to add it.
After about 20 minutes, I stirred in the cream and removed the soup from heat. With my immersion blender, I blended the soup into a chunky purée.
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 or 2 celery stalks, diced
- 2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 medium new potatoes, unpeeled and roughly chopped
- 4 cups chicken broth
- ½ cup cream
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.
- Add the onion, celery and carrots and sauté until almost softened.
- Add the fennel and sauté along with the other vegetables until softened.
- Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more.
- Add the potatoes and chicken broth along with a teaspoon of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce immediately to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes.
- Stir in the cream and remove from heat.
- Using an immersion blender, purée the soup.
Spring is here! Temperatures are rising, and the fall veggies are winding down. We’ve harvested the last of the lettuce and cabbage, and the cilantro is going to seed. We’ll pick the last of the fennel and celery in the coming weeks.
The tomatoes that were planted in January are doing great. They have lots of green tomatoes and will be ready by the end of the month (or maybe sooner). The potato plants are starting to bloom, which means little new potatoes can be harvested anytime now. The onions are beginning to form bulbs and should be ready to harvest in late April or early May.
In the first week of March, we planted 6 Tycoon tomato plants, 6 Charger tomato plants, 6 jalapeno plants, 6 cayenne pepper plants, and 6 bell pepper plants. We also planted marigolds, rosemary and thyme.
Homemade Pickles cucumber plants as well as 4 free zucchini plants from Green Gate that will be going in soon.
In Fall 2014, I planted two fennel plants. They grew to be big, unwieldy monsters that I never harvested and just let go to seed. The seed heads were big and beautiful, and Frank could not resist shaking the seeds everywhere! I thought little of this, until this season, when we now have a fennel frenzy! It is coming up in the garden willy-nilly, and is even coming up in our yard in random places. I think it is coming up in the neighbors’ yards, too!
I’ve been harvesting bulbs that are fairly small (about three inches across) because if they get too big, the outside is woody.
So, how to use this bonanza? I remembered having a citrus and fennel salad at a Central Market cooking class, so I searched online for a recipe. The original recipe can be found here, and I have adapted it to use only one fennel bulb and one large orange to serve two people.
To cut up a fennel, first cut the stalks off even with the top of the bulb. These can be reserved for another use, such as a vegetable stock. You could also dry the fronds to use as you would any dried herb. Then, cut the bulb in half and remove the core. Be certain to wash it carefully; you may need to pull apart the two outside layers to remove all the dirt.
- One bulb of fennel, cored and thinly sliced
- One large orange, peeled, with pith removed, and thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
- 6 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- In a small bowl, whisk together the oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper.
- Add the sliced oranges along with any juices that have accumulated.
- Add the sliced fennel.
- Chop about a teaspoon of the fennel fronds and add to the bowl.
- Toss together and serve.
It’s the end of January, and the garden is in full swing. We’re harvesting broccoli, kale, lettuce, swiss chard, fennel, cilantro, parsley, dill and cabbages, and the final cauliflower was picked today.
Last weekend, the red potatoes were planted where the cauliflower plants used to be.
I tied string around the celery plants to help them grow more upright…they were almost laying on the ground. I have pulled off individual stalks a few times when I needed to cook with celery, but I’m going to wait a bit before harvesting the entire plants.
It hasn’t been very cold this winter and as a result, we have had several volunteer tomato plants that started growing in random places in the garden. Frank transplanted them into pots and then began to research how to keep them going through the winter. We needed something that could be protected until the danger of freezing weather has passed. He decided to build some portable garden containers and took his main inspiration from instructions that you can read here.
We had several old totes, so Frank repurposed them to become the containers for our plants. This portable garden container is a self-watering device that has a reservoir in the bottom that is kept filled with water. To make the reservoir, Frank cut pieces of pipe to lay in the bottom that hold up the divider that separates the water and the dirt.
He fashioned dividers out of the tote lids and cut out a section of the lid to hold a plastic basket that sits down in the water. This basket provides a way for the water to get to the roots while keeping the dirt separated from the water underneath the divider. He placed a tall piece of pipe in the corner of the tote; this is what you use to refill the reservoir. There is a hole drilled in the side of each box that serves as a drain.
Now it was time to plant! Frank decided to put two tomato plants per containers. He filled each box about halfway with potting soil and added fertilizer into the soil. He then filled the reservoir before planting the plants and then added the rest of the dirt until it was level with the top of the container. Once the plants were planted, he covered the entire container with black plastic trash bags and added a tomato cage to each. A platform on wheels is under each container and this allows us to easily push these in and out of the garage as needed.
We transplanted these plants in early January, and I predict that by early March, we’ll be eating tomatoes! Frankie is quite a handyman…I think I’ll keep him!