Category Archives: Garden – 2016

Dried Bay Leaf & Crushed Red Pepper

Bay leaves and red peppers are both plentiful in the garden now. A quick way to preserve both is to dry them using the dehydrator.

Wash the bay leaves and let them air dry on a towel. Place in a single layer in the food dehydrator and dry according to the manufacturer’s recommended time.  Mine took a couple of hours in my Sunbeam dehydrator.  Store in a glass jar and use within a year or place in the freezer to keep them fresh even longer.

washed-bay-leaf bay-leaf-in-dehydrator

Follow the same process to dry the peppers, but first, while wearing gloves, cut each in half and scrape out the seeds and veins.  I used cayenne and jalapeno peppers in this batch and they took about five hours to dry.  After they were dry, I crushed them using my Pampered Chef chopper and then stored in a glass jar with a shaker top.  I’ll be sprinkling this on pizza soon!

assorted-red-hot-peppers red-hot-peppers-in-dehydrator

East Texas Figs

Last weekend, my 88 year-old grandpa and I picked seven pounds of figs from the tree in their backyard in East Texas.  I decided to turn this beautiful fruit into jam and chutney.

079 washed figs    101 sliced figs for chutney

I used 3 pounds of figs to make the Chunky Fig Jam recipe on pages 44-45 from the Food in Jars cookbook.  First,combine the sliced figs and sugar in a pot and bring it to a simmer.  After about 20 minutes, the figs will be broken down and the liquid will look syrupy.

089 figs cooked down

Then add the liquid pectin and the lemon juice and boil for 5 more minutes before filling the jars and processing in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

For the chutney, I used 2.5 pounds of figs to make Nigel Slater’s Dark and Sticky Fig Chutney from The Kitchn website. I didn’t warm the sugar first as the recipe suggests and I recommend crushing the coriander seeds before adding. First, coarsely chop the figs and place in a stainless steel saucepan. Add both of the vinegars, onions, raisins, salt, allspice, cracked peppercorns, and cracked coriander seeds, then bring to a boil. Simmer for thirty minutes until the onions and fruit are soft.  Stir in the sugar. Bring slowly to a boil, then turn the heat down so that the chutney bubbles gently. Cook for ten to fifteen minutes, with the occasional stir to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until the mixture is thick and jam-like. The recipe didn’t have canning instructions, so I followed the National Center for Home Food Preservation guidelines for processing other kinds of chutney and left 1/2 inch headspace and processed in a water bath canner for 15 minutes.  The recipe yields about 3.5 pints of chutney.

103 figs onion chutney 105 cooked fig chutney

Both recipes turned out beautifully and it will be a pleasure to have these preserved figs on hand during the coming year.

094 fig jam 108 fig chutney

Homemade Pickles

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.

cucumbers pickle making supplies

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!

pack pickles in jar dill pickles


Tomato Soup

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.

tomato soup ingredients

First, roughly chop about four pounds of tomatoes and dice the onions and carrots.

diced tomato diced onion carrot

Heat the olive oil, and sauté  the onions and carrots until tender.  Add the garlic.

sauteed carrots onions

Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, chicken broth, salt and pepper.

cooked tomatoes

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.

food mill food mill tomato soup

Discard the pulp and serve the soup with homemade croutons.

rosemary ciabatta croutons tomato soup is ready

Tomato Soup
  • 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
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat.
  2. Add the onions and carrots and saute for about 10 minutes, until very tender.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, chicken stock, salt, and pepper and stir well.
  5. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are very tender.
  6. Add the cream to the soup and process it through a food mill into a bowl, discarding only the dry pulp that's left.
  7. Serve with homemade croutons.

Pumpkin Patch

mystery plant 2 0416mystery plant pumpkin 0416

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!

Spinach Artichoke Dip

The last of the spinach has been picked and I’m sorry to see it go.  Spinach is something I don’t get tired of eating, especially when it’s turned into one of my favorite dips.fresh spinach

First, I assembled the ingredients to get started.ingredients spinach artichoke dip

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.

combine spinach artichoke

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!

spinach artichoke dip oven ready

Spinach Artichoke Dip
  • 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)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix all ingredients together in an oven safe dish.
  3. Top with grated cheese to your liking.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the dip is heated through and bubbly.


Creamy Fennel Soup

celery fennel harvest march 2016One 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.

First, I diced onion, celery and carrots and sautéed them until soft.onion celery carrot diced

Next, I sliced a couple of fennel bulbs and added these to the pot to sauté along with two cloves of minced garlic.

fennel added to saute

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.

add potatoes to soup

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.

immersion blender in soup

Creamy Fennel Soup
Serves: 8 servings
Adapted from John Besh, My Family Table, Creamy Any Vegetable Soup
  • 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
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, celery and carrots and sauté until almost softened.
  3. Add the fennel and sauté along with the other vegetables until softened.
  4. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more.
  5. Add the potatoes and chicken broth along with a teaspoon of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
  6. Bring to a boil, then reduce immediately to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes.
  7. Stir in the cream and remove from heat.
  8. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup.

Spring Garden

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.

cilantro march 2016 cabbage fennel cilantro celery - Copy

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.

tomatoes march 2016potatoes onions march 2016

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.

tomatoes marigolds march 2016

Homemade Pickles cucumber plants as well as 4 free zucchini plants from Green Gate that will be going in soon.