Monday, April 29, 2013

Kitchen Garden Progress - Week 5

Beets, beets & beets. These root veggies are delicious on the grill
Is the secret to our garden's success the legendary Willow Glen soil, or my ridiculously green thumb? 

Five weeks in and the vegetable garden is taking hold. Kristi's overabundant caution, and a penchant for humus and chicken manure, has so far proven successful.

Kristi and I set out at the end of March to create a sustainable garden that would serve as the primary source of vegetables this Summer, and provide the ingredients for canning experiments.  

See the complete photo gallery on tumblr

In our Week 1 post at the beginning of April, we shared our garden line up of veggies and herbs.  Since then we've added a small strawberry patch, green beans, cucumbers, half dozen habenero & ghost chili plants, and a compost pile that I constructed from salvaged bricks. Took us better part of an afternoon, but now we have a perpetual source of plant nutrients, and food waste (minus meat products) is diverted away from landfill.

Use twine to help sugar snap peas grow tall.
Our home is located in the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose. Supposedly, the soil in Willow Glen is very rich. We didn't take any risks. Kristi and I added an additional 20+ bags of humus and organic potting soil from South Bay Materials on Angela Street. This place is the best kept secret for landscaping.

Dogs love dirt.
Dogs love dirt!

Once we had the plants in the ground, the paver paths locked in, and the mini dog fence up, we opted to have the sprinkler system installed by a professional. 

Looking back at week 1, we've come a long way, and we still have the rest of the Summer to look forward to. We'll follow up on this with tips from lessons we've learned in our experiences in gardening.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Yams add yum factor to salad

 Quick, off the top of your head - name somebody you know that doesn't like yams?

Chances are, you can't. They're sweet, savory, filling - one of the ultimate comfort foods, and the perfect reason why yams belong in your salad.

Kristi stumbled upon this culinary stroke of genius one night, and I can't thank her enough.

If you're on a plan, such as a strictly Real Food diet, it's easy to get stuck in the salad rut, because salads are fairly quick & easy to make; they're healthy and low in carbs and fat. However, yams are, in fact, a good source of healthy carbohydrates. They're a good source of fiber and slow sugar - which your body processes at a better rate that high starch carbs (potatoes, white bread, pasta).

Learn more about the health benefits of yams

Adding yams to salad? Yes. here's our adapted recipe: season and portion to suit your needs.

Simple greens and grilled chicken salad

Mixed greens of your choice - add arugula :)
Sliced radish (3-4)
Sliced carrots (3-4)
Diced grilled chicken 1-2 breasts
1 yam - microwaved to cook, halved, rub w/olive oil and grill for approx. 2 minutes each side
Olive oil as dressing.

Season to taste with any of the following:
- salt
- fresh ground pepper
- thyme
- herbs d'provence
- fresh chopped basil
- cayenne pepper

Monday, April 8, 2013

2013 Kitchen Garden - Week 1

Last month we bought a house with a stellar kitchen, big backyard and lots of space to garden. After clearing out the weeds, we set out on planning, and planting our garden. We chose not to start from seed with this garden, as its our first year working with this soil, and I'm lazy like that.

Kristi used cloud-based garden planning software,  Given that Kristi and I both work at high tech companies, we applied our nerd-ish best practices to our home projects (we opted out of creating a PRD, however, we are developing a garden road map for 2013-2014).

Out key objectives were to create a garden:
  • Where food is easily attainable
  • Serve as our primary source of herbs for the Summer/Fall
  • Can be eaten off the plant and/or preserved
  • Provides a sustainable source of nutrient-rich soil
  •  Remains organic - no pesticides, no GMO seed, plants
Deciding to take this project on in phases, we prepared the area by clearing out the plot and turned over the soil by hand. Following that, we designated a corner of the garden to serve as the compost pile.

So, what did we plant in Phase 1?

Let's start with the herbs:

- Basil (Lemon Basil, Sweet Basil, and Herb Basil)
- Terragon (2 plants)
- Dill - (1 plant)
- Sage (1 plant)
- Cilantro (6 plants - turns into coriander)
- Rosemary (2  plants)
- Spearmint
- Peppermint
- Italian Parsley
- Oregano (2 plants)
- Thyme (1 plant)

Veggie Vegetables

A relative of mine runs Love Apple Farm, a kitchen garden for many high end restaurants in the  San Francisco Bay Area. So we have a lot to live up to here.

We have to have tomatoes. started with 5 tomato plants, and I can't wait to try the new one we've never planted in the past.

- Green Grape tomatoes (delish)            
- Yellow Pear (my favorite)
- Sweet 100 (first time with these)
- Cherry Tomato - 2, solid standby

- Jalapeno
- Serrano
- Thai Chili Peppers
- Caribbean Red Hot Pepper
- (plan to plant Fresno chilis and habaneros as well - and ghost chili if I can find it)

Leafy Greens
- Argula (5 sprouts)
- Assorted Kale
- Rainbow Chard (6 sprouts) 

Other Great Vegetables    

- Artichoke
- Carrots (GARDENING TIP: Tomatoes love carrots. Sow your carrot seeds between your tomato plants)
- Sunflowers
- Sugar Snap Peas (EXPERIMENT: I planted the peas and the sunflowers close together in hopes that the pea vines will climb the sunflower stalks. 
- Zucchini (I think I planted way to many seeds, but we'll see what comes of it)

Next steps: Layout a paver path with flagstones, construct a compost bin, plant beets, lemongrass, cucumber, a strawberry patch, beans, the above mentioned peppers, install a drip system and get some ladybugs!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Using basil in your Spring salad? Hell yes!

basil, organic basil, salad recipe, basil salad
In 2009, TheKithcn blogged about adding fresh basil to green salads. We couldn't agree more.

Traditionally thought of as an herb or spice element to accent dishes, we've found through experimentation that actually adding sliced basil (perhaps half a cup or so) to your salad adds a dimension of freshness and a zing that can replace lemon zest, and even the vinegar in your dressing.

As a big advocate of basil, I urge you to give it a shot. It perfectly compliments arugula and spinach salads. Plus, like I mentioned previously, you'll find that you may not need to use a vinegar based dressing. If fact, I (Don) have been able to convert my wife to become a "olive oil only" dressing user. The simpler, the better folks!

TIP: To avoid bruising the basil (yes it bruises), roll the leaves up before slicing. The result is clean, bruise-free strips of fresh basil. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Quick Tip - How to keep radish fresh

radishes, fresh, crisp
Here's a quick tip to help keep radish, beets, carrots - pretty much any root vegetable.

When you get home from the store/farmers market/garden, chop the stems off the radishes.   Wash them in cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.

It's best to store them in your crisper drawer in a zip lock bag instead of the plastic bag you brought it home in.

This will help keep your radish (and other root veggies) fresh and crunchy for at least a week.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Simple Napa-Montreal Poultry Rub

Montreal steak rub on chicken. Yes, and it's delicious. I also add some pink salt, black pepper and smoked salt. Add a little olive oil and you have a quick and tasty rub to use on poultry (or fish).

I call it my Napa chicken rub because we sourced the key components in Napa, California - primarily at Oxbow Public Market. The place is like a miniature boutique mall for foodies. Just about all of the olive oil in our house comes from the Olive Press, and Whole Spice is a great source for hard to find herbs and spices (including the Montreal seasoning blend used in my rub). Another local purveyor of somewhat snotty kitchen and home goods is Napa Style.  They carry a line of really good smoked salts as well as Calabria style sauces & pastes.

I'm finding that more often than not, the more simple the recipe, the better the dish. Tonight I grilled chicken breasts with the Napa rub and served it on a bed of baby kale and sliced radish.
That's about all you need to make a great rub.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pretentious Tuesday - Baked Cod & Roasted Cauliflower

I'm drawing a line in the sand.

It gets easy to find yourself in a rut, making the same dishes over and over because the dish is either easy to make, the ingredients are cheap, your comfortable with the your excuse.

Growing up in my parents' household those "go-to" meals were meatloaf and spaghetti.

We all live very busy lives and it gets hard when you have to come home from work to take care of your family, cook dinner only to look forward to logging back into your work computer again later that evening.

I recognize that this rhythm is tough, and you've gotta eat. But it doesn't always have to be the some old meal prepared the same way over and over (I'm guilty of it myself. Ask Kristi about my spicy rubbed grilled chicken).

So here's my solution: I declare Pretentious Tuesday to be a day that no matter what stand-by meal I make, I prepare it differently, and describe it with as many snotty, foodie snob buzzwords as humanly possible. It mixes things up, even if it's just a psychological boost and it gives my snarky alter-ego the opportunity to make fun of the foodie elite blogger/critic/home-cook/author/food porn hipster that exists in all of us.

On my inaugural Pretentious Tuesday dinner, I offer Spice rubbed baked cod and rustic roasted cauliflower over a bed of local greens.

Key ingredients
  • Wild cod
  • 4 cloves of garlic - whole, unpeeled
  • Half Mayan onion, thinly sliced
  • Mixed greens
  • Half lemon, sliced
  • 1 pad of organic butter
  • Rub for fish
    • Murray salt - no substitutes
    • Crushed habenero chili flakes
    • Ground black pepper
    • Fresh thyme - hand shredded
    • Herbs de Provence
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 4 cloves of garlic, whole, unpeeled
  • Ground pepper
  • Himalayan salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil
Cooking the Cauliflower
Throw the cauliflower ingredients on a roasting pan and cook in the oven at 425 degrees for 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cooking the Cod
 Spray coconut oil (or Pam) on a baking sheet. Apply the rub ingredients to your level of heat, taste. Scatter the sliced onion and garlic on the same sheet. Squeeze the lemon over everything and throw on the pan. Cook at 400 degrees for approximately 12 minutes, but check regularly. Remove when flaky.

Let us know about your Pretentious Tuesday meals.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Leftover Buffalo wing pasta is tastier than you think

So, I got a little over zealous with the chicken wings last weekend. The 49er's were playing a couple of friends were coming over. Yeah, so I ordered way too much food for 3 adults. How much, you ask??

30 buffalo wings
17 buffalo chicken strips
2 large baskets of fries (Wing Stop has the best fries - with the exception of In n' Out)

Kristi's out of town this week on business and I have a full order of chicken strips sitting in the fridge that have to go before she comes home on Wednesday. I opted for using the fried chicken in a pasta. It's simple, easy and fast.

leftovers, chicken, pasta
Here's what I used:

- Leftover fried chicken (breaded chicken breast, if you prefer)
- 6 or so cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 12oz bag of fresh broccoli (in a microwavable steam bag)
- Sun dried tomatoes - figure 2-3 spoonfuls per person) 
- Basil infused olive oil - or just plain old olive oil
- Thyme
- Salt & pepper
- Whole wheat pasta
- 1 pad of butter
- 1 squeezed lemon or so...

In a pan, saute the garlic with olive oil, thyme and pepper - add a little white wine to prevent the garlic from browning. Add the chicken and sun dried tomatoes. Let cook under low/medium heat for 3 minutes. Add the broccoli (already steamed in the microwave) and butter. Let that go until the pasta is cooked to your liking (You want to add the broccoli about 2-3 minutes before taking it off the heat to avoid burning). Squeeze the lemon on top - you're done.

The moral of this story: Almost any leftover protein can be chopped up (even fried buffalo chicken strips) can be combined with a nearby vegetable (spinach, peas, asparagus, zucchini, carrots) to create an easy and yummy pasta.  Ugh, now that I've eaten, time to get back on the VPN.