Garden Meditations, Part II

garden16.jpgHere at Crowded Earth Kitchen, our garden has undergone an amazing transformation in only 20 days. Take a look!

Our tiny eggplant transplants have flourished, quadrupling in size!

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The tomatillos proved vexing this spring, and were almost lost due to an infestation of pesky aphids. Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen we don’t use artificial pesticides, and instead tackled the problem using ladybugs.

Yes, ladybugs.
1500 Live Ladybugs – Good Bugs – Ladybugs – Guaranteed Live Delivery!

For just a few dollars, we were able to release 1,500 ladybugs into the garden. They lingered just long enough to devour the pesky aphids and lay a few eggs. Voila! Problem solved!

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Beans, Tomatoes, Kale, and Potatoes

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Peppers, Tomatoes, and Okra

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Zucchini and Yellow Squash

What is growing well in your garden? What could use a bit of extra love? Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’d love to hear all about it!

Go play in the soil. Breathe deeply, friends!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

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(Soothing voice of a hostage negotiator…) “It’s OK. Just set down that pot of boiling water and back away slowly.”

Seriously. Who thought it would be a good idea to boil Brussels sprouts? If you think you dislike Brussels sprouts but boiled Brussels sprouts are what you really mean, please give them another try. Let them live up to their delicious potential!

In this recipe Continue reading

Kale That Actually Tastes Good

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Kale has an undeserved reputation as a healthy vegetable to grudgingly eat even though (as the rumor goes) it tastes gross. That’s unfortunate, because this reigning king of nutritious, leafy greens can actually be delicious! Try these simple steps to create a bowl of lovely, mild tasting and deliciously seasoned kale. One serving of Continue reading

Creamy Asparagus Soup

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Asparagus is at it’s lowest price of the entire year right now, at least where I live. I bought a few bundles and used some to make a pot of this amazing soup. If you’d like to stock up (this soup really is that good), simply follow the directions below and stop at Step 3. You can freeze the partially prepared soup well into autumn, then thaw and continue with the last few steps. So easy!

Ingredients (Serves 4) Continue reading

Chard and Squash Blossom Sauté

WIN_20160708_110715Here in the US, there is a lot of madness right now. Working in my garden provides me with much needed respite. There is something calming about working slowly in the sunshine, blocking out media as I focus on pulling weeds, listening to bees, and tending to my vegetable plants.

Summer squash are prolific in my garden, with many zucchini and patty pan squash retaining blossoms on their ends. Those blossoms are so bright and cheerful! They’re also delicious, with a fresh, mild, almost fruity flavor. Hmm…

Swiss chard is also growing well, and I realize I haven’t had breakfast yet.  Hmm…

Here’s the super simple dish I prepared – a bit of sunshine on a plate. We could use a little more sunshine these days.

WIN_20160708_105912Ingredients (Serves 1)

6 large Swiss chard leaves, stems included

3 squash blossoms

1/2 tablespoon butter

Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

WIN_20160708_110145Directions

Step 1) Slice Swiss chard stems into 1/2 inch pieces and sauté in butter for 1 minute.

Step 2) Slice Swiss chard leaves into 1 inch strips and add to the pan. Sauté for an additional minute.

Step 3) Slice the top half of each squash blossom (the orange part) into thin strips and add to the pan. Sauté for one, final minute. Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.

Lazy Cheesy Eggplant

WIN_20160328_085536I love cooking with eggplant – it’s very low in calories and versatile – but I don’t always think of eggplant when I’m looking for something fast. Lazy Cheesy Eggplant requires only a few minutes to prepare, and a half hour in the oven… the results are addictively delicious! Each high fiber serving of Lazy Cheesy Eggplant contains approximately 125 calories.

Side note: We’re using frozen eggplant here, because the texture Continue reading

Three Food Resolutions to Consider

Happy New Year from Crowded Earth Kitchen! Let’s kick off 2016 with a few new and improved food habits, shall we? Not only can these three simple changes improve our health, they can help us save a LOT of money. What’s not to love about that?

picture650#1  Less soda pop, more tea. The negative health effects of soft drinks, even diet soft drinks, have been well researched. Also, commercial sodas are expensive! Think of all of those SuperBowl commercials… those advertising dollars have to come from somewhere, right? Let’s give this simple swap a try. Our bodies and our wallets will thank us.

#2  Less drive-thru food, more homemade freezer meals. My weakness is drive-thru burritos, even though I know they are a nutritional nightmare. The wake-up call for me was when I admitted stopping at a drive-thru after pledging a boycott and a friend said, “Of course you’re having trouble stopping – you’re addicted. You’re addicted to the salt, the MSG, and who-knows-what-all in the chemical soup that is Fast Food.” Gross. I know better, and my body deserves better. Time to stock up on home cooked, individually portioned and frozen soups, stromboli, and other meals which thaw and reheat easily.

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Chili freezes and thaws easily!

WIN_20150517_184936#3  Less brown food, more green food. This one is self-explanatory. Most Western diets are higher than they should be in breaded, fried “brown” food, and lacking in fresh, vegetable-based “green” food. Crowded Earth Ktichen is chock full of vegetable-based recipes for on-the-go snacks, simple lunches, family dinners, and a variety of ethnic dishes.

May 2016 bring you good health, and may your kitchen be a place that makes you happy!

Inside Out Bloody Marys

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This just might be the easiest item to prepare on your entire party buffet… and the most popular! Who doesn’t love a good Bloody Mary? Sure, the spicy, tomato based vodka beverage is tasty, but everyone knows the best part of a well made Bloody Mary is the garnish. Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we ran with that idea and created Inside Out Bloody Marys. The beverage itself is shot sized and potent, accompanied by an assortment of excellent pickled vegetables. Rock On!

Ingredients (Serves 12)

12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) spicy Bloody Mary mix, chilled (Preservation and Co. Bloody Mary Mix 32 Oz. Jar)

12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) good quality vodka, chilled

1 cup of pickled mushrooms

1 cup of pickled beans (Tabasco Beans, Spicy, 16 Ounce)

1 cup of pickled okra (TABASCO Spicy Pickled Okra 12 oz. jar)

Double (3 ounce) shot glasses

Toothpicks

Directions

OK, friends – this is easy enough to prepare even if you’ve already enjoyed a full size Bloody Mary or three.  😉  Begin by arranging your relishes in the center of a party platter. If you want more than three options, go for it. Try thick slices of dill pickles, ginger pickled carrots, garlic stuffed green olives, rosemary pickled cherry tomatoes, etc.

Next, arrange your shot glasses on the outer edge of the party platter. Fill your shot glasses half full with chilled vodka, and top with chilled Bloody Mary mix. Serve immediately!

 

Southern Style Chow Chow

WIN_20150828_185240Chow chow?

I have no idea where the name originated – catchy though, isn’t it? There are many, many variations on chow chow, which is basically a corn chutney made from the bits and scraps of whatever is left in a garden before the first freeze, preserved in a sweet brine. This batch of chow chow is made from corn, Poblano peppers, onion, and green beans because that’s what I had on hand. If you have green tomatoes, asparagus, or cauliflower to use, those vegetables also work well. As long as your vegetables “add up” to 18 cups, you can follow the brine recipe as shown below. Be creative with your combinations of corn and other veggies, and have fun!

If you’re looking for serving suggestions, chow chow (like many forms of chutney) is often served over beans and rice.

WIN_20150828_174447Ingredients (Makes 10 pints)

18 cups assorted garden vegetables, such as:

  • 6 cups diced Poblano pepper
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels
  • 6 cups green beans, cut in 1 inch pieces

Brine:

4 1/2 cups sugar

3 cups white vinegar

1 1/2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon ground mustard powder

1 teaspoon celery salt

1 tablespoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

WIN_20150828_175528Directions

Step 1) Combine all brine ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.

Step 2) Reduce brine to simmer, and add all 18 cups of vegetables. Stir and simmer for 5 minutes.

Step 3) Ladle chow chow mixture into sterilized, pint size canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Use a canning tool or butter knife to remove air bubbles. Top jars with lids and rims, and process in a boiling water canning bath for 10 minutes.

“But I don’t have a canning pot!”

Sigh. You still don’t have a canning pot? They’re only around $20, my friend, and will save you tons of money! Here’s a link to get you started: Granite Ware 0707-1 Steel/Porcelain Water-Bath Canner with Rack, 21.5-Quart, Black

Happy canning!

Salted Green Bean Crisps

WIN_20150831_101227Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’re big fans of vegetable snacks such as zucchini crisps, seasoned kale, and Brussels sprouts chips. But green beans? Well, why not?

Green beans are abundant this time of year, so I trimmed a few pounds and experimented. First, I just dehydrated a few beans without any other preparation.

Yuck.

Second, I blanched a few beans in boiling water and salted them before dehydrating.

Better, but not something I would make twice.

My third attempt was spot on. I roasted the beans before placing them in the dehydrator, and the results were delicious! I now keep a little container of Salted Green Bean Crisps in my car, for guilt-free snacking as I drive past three ice cream stores (no joke) on my way home from the gym!

WIN_20150830_164418Ingredients (Fills a quart size container)

1 pound fresh green beans

1 tablespoon oil (I like toasted sesame oil, but coconut oil also works well)

1 tablespoon sea salt

WIN_20150830_171728Directions

Step 1) Wash and trim ends from green beans.

Step 2) Coat green beans with 1 tablespoon of oil on a baking sheet with shallow sides. Roast beans in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Step 3) Allow green beans to cool, then transfer to food dehydrator trays. Dehydrate for 12 hours, or until beans snap in half easily. Store beans in an airtight container.

Ronco FD1005WHGEN 5-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator

 

“Up North” Okra

WIN_20150723_184859I try to grow okra in my Up North garden every summer. Once in a while I get lucky and pick a few sparse cups of this delicious, versatile veggie. Most summers, well… trying to grow okra Up North is a bit like trying to grow rhubarb Down South. Some plants just know when they’re a long way from home!

WIN_20150723_175741Lucky for me, I have a brother-in-law Down South with a garden the size of a small farm. He’s generous in sharing vegetables (and I think he’s more than a little amused by my tiny okra plants). Whenever I am gifted with okra from Down South, I try different cooking techniques. Southern cooking is a mystery to me.

So, what’s an Up North gal to do?

Improvise!

In this recipe, we’re treating okra the same way I would treat eggplant strips or calamari. The result is tender on the inside, lightly crunchy on the outside, pleasantly seasoned, and very low in fat. Topped with a bit of parmesan cheese and red sauce, these little okra bites are fabulous. Try something new today!

WIN_20150723_180620Ingredients (Makes 4 – 6 side dish servings)

4 cups fresh okra, sliced into bite size pieces

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

WIN_20150723_1810091 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1 cup of red sauce (such as Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce) for dipping

WIN_20150723_181104Directions

Step 1) Coat a baking pan with shallow sides using 2 tablespoons of melted coconut oil.

Step 2) Pour beaten egg over okra pieces and toss with a fork to coat evenly.

Step 3) Sprinkle cornmeal, salt, and paprika over okra. Toss with a fork to coat evenly.

Step 4) Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Turn okra over with a spatula after 15 minutes.

Step 5) Transfer okra to a serving plate. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese while still hot. Serve with red sauce.

Easy Garden Bruschetta

WIN_20150722_124558Today’s recipe isn’t rocket science, folks – bruschetta is peasant food. Like most peasant food, making bruschetta is a way of taking little bits and specks of leftovers and reimagining them into something delicious! You’ll need small quantities of fresh vegetables, a few slices of not-very-fresh bread, and a bit of cheese. Surely you have all of that lurking in your kitchen, right?

The key to delicious bruschetta is warm toasted bread combined with cold toppings, served immediately. Let’s get started!

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I wasn’t kidding – we’re using up leftovers today!

Ingredients (Makes 2 lunch servings)

2 large or 4 small slices of day old bread

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup diced tomato

1/4 cup diced peppers, garlic, and/or onion (any combination you like)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

WIN_20150722_1237422 ounces diced cheese (I used fresh mozzarella)

A few basil leaves, sliced into thin shreds

Directions

Step 1) Combine diced tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onion, and balsamic vinegar in a WIN_20150722_123947small bowl. Place in the refrigerator to chill.

Step 2) Cut bread slices into 2 inch strips and place on a baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, coat top sides of bread strips with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt if desired (optional). Broil on a low setting for about 3 minutes. Watch carefully – bread should be toasted but not burned!

Step 3) Arrange bread on serving plates. Top with diced vegetables, diced cheese, and shredded basil. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top, and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Summer Squash Spaceships

WIN_20150719_193616Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we grow spaceships in the garden. Known to many grown-ups as patty pan squash, “spaceships” are a fun vegetable for children of all ages. We’re combining this crisp, low calorie, nutritious summer squash with fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes, and basil for a classic flavor combination. Go ahead – play with your food!

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Patty Pan Squash

WIN_20150719_192528Ingredients (Makes 4 side dish servings)

1 patty pan squash, approximately 6 inches in diameter, sliced into thin rings

8 oz ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced into thin circles

1 ripe tomato, sliced into thin circles

6 – 8 basil leaves

1 long wooden skewer

balsamic vinegar and olive oil to garnish

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Place the first slice of patty pan squash on a plate, and push the flat end of a skewer into the squash. This will serve as your base. Slowly lower slices of tomato, basil, and mozzarella over the pointed end of the skewer and down to the base. Repeat layers until you have used the entire patty pan squash. Top with a triangle “flag” cut from a basil leaf. Serve immediately with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

In The Garden: First Harvests

Moving into late July, my Northern vegetable garden has been growing for almost eight weeks. This means – finally! – the first vegetables are being harvested here at Crowded Earth Kitchen! Weather permitting, we’ll enjoy increasingly bountiful harvesting for the next six to eight weeks. So exciting!

Here’s a peek at some of what’s happening In The Garden:

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Banana peppers, always the first peppers of summer, are bountiful this year.

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Ground cherries, a new garden addition, are coming along nicely.

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The first of the hot peppers are turning red!

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Broccoli heads are about six inches in diameter.

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Zucchini are surprisingly late this year, but are finally growing strong.

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We’ve picked about two quarts of beans so far.

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With a new net to protect raspberries from the birds, we’ve harvested a whole quart of berries so far. Happily, we’ll be able to pick again tomorrow!

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Poblano peppers, typically harvested near the end of summer, are already growing rapidly. So delicious…

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Cucumber vines are just beginning to produce. We hope to begin canning pickles in another week or two.

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The greens bed has exploded with chard and kale. Self-seeded tomato plants are peeking through the chard leaves, and will offer a cherry tomato bonus in September.