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Five herbs perfect for indoor growing

image2All good intention for the New Year aside, the recent weather really had me second-guessing some of my planting goals for the first of the year. Frankly, it’s pretty cold and wet outside. A friend suggested I create an indoor herb garden, something I’d wanted to do and, the timing was perfect. I researched best practices and sought input from neighbors I knew had created lovely herb gardens in the past.Here’s what I came up with, note: it’s pretty easy! Five herbs perfect for indoor growing:

  • Chives
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme

The best way to grow herbs is to place them on a windowsill or wherever gets the most daylight. A minimum of four hours of light per day is ideal, next:

  • Buy plants or separate from one already in your garden
  • Manage the size of cuttings – consider the space you intend to place them
  • I transplant herbs into 4” pots – perfect for windowsills
  • Plant each herb in its own pot – use fresh, quality soil
  • Fertilize – garden soil contains natural nutrients many indoor plants lack

Soil from the garden can also contain our little friends from outside (see: pests) as well as other potentially harmful components, so fresh is always best! Some Tips:

  • Leaves may drop in the beginning – the herbs are adjusting to a new environment
  • Keep the soil moist
  • Rosemary can have difficulty adjusting indoors so be patient
  • Indoor herbs can attract aphids or spider mites, so here’s how I handle it:
    • I inspect the herbs as I water
    • If found, I cover the soil surface and flush the plant upside down in a container of insecticidal soap and water.
    • If persistent, I flush once a week until the pests are gone

Right now, I’m working on Mint. Smells so good, my daughter loves it and, you’ve got to have mint for mojitos, right? Stories and pictures of your garden are always encouraged:   debbie@zukeeni.com

debbie@zukeeni.com

Musica beans_small

Grilled Green Beans

Green beans are one of the many vegetable I prefer to eat fresh rather than canned or otherwise preserved. Which isn’t to say there aren’t great ways to put up any extra beans you have coming from your garden. Just that given a choice, I’d rather eat them today than in December.

Keeping with our tendency to do as much outside cooking as possible while enjoying the cool evenings here in Sonoma County, CA, the latest batch of Spanish Musica beans to come from our CSA were grilled up alongside some very sweet corn on the cob and delicious locally-produced sausage.

Wrapped in foil, you can grill pretty much anything. Just add seasoning, a little butter or oil, and fold it up.

Grilled Green Beans with Bacon and Garlic
1/2 pound green beans
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped
2 tbsp oil

1. Rinse and trim the beans. Cook the bacon, drain and chop, reserving 2 tbsp on the grease.

2. In foil packet, mix beans with the garlic and chopped bacon. Drizzle with the oil. You can use olive oil or even butter, if you wish.

3. Seal foil packet, making sure all sides are double rolled so none of the oil drips out. Place on the grill over medium heat and cook for about 20 minutes, turning once.

4. Open packet and serve!

Blueberry Chevre salad 1

Blueberry Chèvre Salad

July is National Blueberry Month, and we’re celebrating with lots of information and recipes.

As I mentioned last week, I just can’t get enough blueberries this season. I’ve been eating them in nearly every meal. In fact, my go-to salad for lunch has been some variation of this salad.

I almost always have some kind of soft cheese in the fridge. Lately, I have been buying different kinds of chèvre to use in various salads. It’s especially delicious with sweet salad ingredients, like beets. Or blueberries. In this case, I’ve boosted the blueberry flavor by using a blueberry chèvre.
Plain chèvre also works quite well, as does honey chèvre, and surprisingly even the herbed chèvre.

Blueberry Chèvre Salad
1 cup fresh lettuce
10-12 fresh blueberries
2-3 tbsp chèvre
1 tbsp finely chopped red onion
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
4-6 walnuts
dash sea salt

When I’m making a salad for lunch on the go, I assemble the salad in two containers. One has the lettuce, berries, walnuts and cheese. In a smaller container, I mix the oil, balsamic vinegar, onions and salt. I dress it just before eating it to keep the lettuce (and cheese) from getting soggy.

Savory Blueberry Basil Salmon

Savory Blueberry Basil Sauce

July is National Blueberry Month, and we’re celebrating with lots of information and recipes.

I just can’t get enough blueberries this season. I’ve been eating them in muffins, pancakes, and scones. They’ve found their way onto my morning cereal, and even into a couple of salads for lunch. And, of course, lots of them are going over ice cream.

I’ve also been trying them in other recipes. Recently, I made a delicious savory sauce to go over grilled salmon. I came up with the idea based off my go-to salmon glaze recipe made with limes and soy sauce. I tweaked it a bit to emphasize the sweetness of the blueberries, and added some basil for a delicious surprise. It’s also quite good over chicken, and even pork.

Savory Blueberry Basil Sauce
1/2 pint (about 6 ounces) of fresh blueberries
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon oil

1. Heat the oil in a small saucepan. I used bacon grease, as that’s what I do most of my sautéing in, but you can easily use olive oil or butter. When the oil is hot, add onions and garlic and sauté over medium for a few minutes, until they have softened.

2. Add balsamic vinegar and chopped basil. If you berries are a bit tart, you can add brown sugar or honey. I taste the berries before I start cooking, to see how sweet they are, and decide how much, if any, sugar to use. I also taste the sauce again while it’s cooking, to be sure. Heat over medium until the liquid begins to thicken and bubble.

3. Add the blueberries and stir to mix well. Continue to heat mixture over medium. The berries will pop and release their juice. When it begins to thicken again, it’s ready to go over your salmon.

Blueberries and Lavender

Blueberry Lavender Scones

July is National Blueberry Month, and we’re celebrating with lots of information and recipes.

Blueberries and lavender are almost perfect partners. The sweet, juicy blueberries pair nicely with the pine-y, spicy flavor of lavender. And they both are in season at the same time, which makes it easy to come up with lots of delicious recipes.

Taking a look at our Pinterest wall, one of the most popular pins going around is a recipe for a refreshing blueberry lavender spritzer cocktail, which looks like a refreshing drink for a hot day. Another popular recipe making the rounds is for blueberry lavender ice cream, which looks sweet and rich.

While I have enjoyed the lavender cocktails and ice cream I’ve tried, I thought a blueberry lavender combination would be perfect for a cream scone. Mother Nature has cooperated, as the weather here in Northern California has been a bit cool and gray — perfect baking weather. I took my favorite scone recipe (loosely based on the Smitten Kitchen scone recipe) and added fresh blueberries and fresh lavender. You can substitute frozen berries and dried lavender quite easily. Just reduce the amount of lavender to about 2 teaspoons or so. Keep in mind that lavender, like rosemary, has quite a strong flavor, and less is often better. These scones are so light and flakey, with big, sweet berries, and just the right hint of lavender. They’re perfect with a cup of Ceylon tea.

Blueberry Lavender Cream Scones
2 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lavender buds
4 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup cream
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
sugar

1. Mix dry ingredients, including lavender. If you’re using a food processor, this should be a quick 8 or 10 pulses. I like to get the lavender buds a bit broken up, to keep from eating a whole bud while eating. If you are using unsalted butter, add the full 1/2 teaspoon. If you are using salted butter, reduce the amount to 1/4 teaspoon.

2. Add the chilled butter in small cubes so that they’re evenly distributed in the dry mixture. If you’re using a food processor, remove the lid and place them evenly around the blade. Pulse the mixture 10 or 15 times, until the mixture resembles course meal. Don’t over mix, or you run the risk of melting the butter. Transfer to a large bowl. If you’re mixing by hand, use two knives or a pastry knife to blend the butter in evenly.

3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the cream, gently stirring it in, making sure to scrape the sides often. Once the mixture starts to come together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and very gently knead it only until the liquid is evenly distributed. Don’t over-knead, or you risk melting the butter and activating the wheat gluten. Both are disastrous to flakey scones.

4. Flatten the dough and pour the blueberries into a small mound in the center. Turn the sides of the dough up around the blueberries, trying to cover as many blueberries as possible. Gently work the dough around the berries, picking it up and turning it as necessary. Three or four turns should be enough to have worked the berries in evenly.

5. Place the dough in a greased round cake pan and evenly spread it to fill the whole pan. Chill the pan in the freezer for up to 1 hour. This will help keep the butter cool.

6. Cut the dough into 6 or 8 portions, and remove each from the pan using a knife or cake server to keep it from sticking. Place scones on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Mix together the egg and milk and brush on the tops. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 425° F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the tops start to color.

7. Allow the scones to cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm for a delicious treat. Store remaining scones in an airtight container for up to three days, or freeze immediately.

Grilled Zucchini - grilled_small

Grilled Zucchini with garlic-infused olive oil

Zucchini is probably the most common, and most often maligned, of the summer squashes. In some parts of the country it’s said that in late summer, neighbor turns on neighbor when the zucchini ripens. Garrison Keillor once joked that in August, the normally trusting citizens of Lake Wobegone would lock their car doors when they went to church on Sunday, to prevent some dastardly gardener from loading up their car with bags of zucchini. And we all laugh, because we know there’s some truth to that. After all, there’s a reason there’s a National Sneak Some Zucchini on your Neighbor’s Porch day, right? (In case you’re wondering, it’s August 8.)

But zucchini isn’t really as bad as all that. Sure, they’ll grow to an almost ridiculous size if you leave them on the vine long enough. But harvested when they’re still quite small, they’re very easy to deal with. And they cook up very quickly at this size. Since we usually grill our way through the summer so we can enjoy as much outside time as possible, my favorite method for cooking these small zucchinis is to coat them with a little garlic-infused olive oil and grill them.

Grilled Zucchini with Garlic-Infused Olive Oil
2-4 small to medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced

1. Mix the olive oil and garlic in a small sauce pan and heat over medium for about 20 minutes.

2. Place zucchini slices in a shallow dish and brush each slice with the  oil mixture. Allow the coated slices to sit for about 20 minutes, while the grill heats.

3. Once the grill is hot, place the slices on the hot grill and brush with the remaining oil mixture, making sure they’re covered evenly. Cook for about 15 minutes on medium heat, or until they are the desired texture. We like ours a bit toothy, so we take them up just as soon as they have good grill marks.

Potato Salad

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad

Earlier this week, I visited my local farmstand and saw bins of cute little red and blue potatoes next to another bin of tiny little “regular” potatoes, and felt it was only appropriate to buy some to make red, white, and blue potato salad to take to the family BBQ. And, one of my favorite things about being friendly with the farmer is the ability to ask questions about the vegetables. Turns out, they grow the same potatoes we offer: All Blue, All Red, and Yukon Gold.

In this case, I not only got some info about the specific potatoes they grow, but got some good recipe advice! Like the advice to add some whole garlic cloves to the boiling potatoes, and to splash a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar on the potatoes while they’re cooling.

What I like about these potatoes are that the color goes all the way through. Not only do they have red or blue skins, but the flesh is red and blue as well. The color holds up during the cooking. And another great thing about using fresh potatoes is that the different flavors come through in the salad. This recipe, which is a variation on the suggestions made by my farmer-friend, really brings out the different flavors and colors!

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad
2 pounds potatoes – mixed
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 eggs, hard boiled, sliced
1/2 pound bacon, fried
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup minced celery
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
fresh thyme or dill

1. Clean and slice potatoes into small cubes, approximately 1/2″ in size. Place potatoes in large pot and cover with water. Add peeled garlic cloves. Bring water to boil and let bubble until potatoes are just fork-tender.

2. Remove potatoes from heat, drain and rinse with cold water until potatoes are only slightly warm. Move potatoes to large bowl and add apple cider vinegar, using a spoon to gently stir potatoes until they are all covered with vinegar. Cover and place in refrigerator to cool completely (at least 1 hour).

3. Hard boil eggs. Cool in ice water or refrigerator. Slice into small pieces. Set aside.

4. Fry bacon. Drain and cool. Chop into 1/4″ to 1/2″ pieces. Set aside.

5. In small bowl, mix mayonnaise, mustard, relish, celery, and onion.

6. When potatoes are cool, stir in mayonnaise mixture until all potatoes are completely coated. Gently stir in eggs and bacon. Garnish with fresh thyme or dill.

 

We here at Smart Gardener want to wish you and yours a very happy Independence Day celebration. We hope it’s filled with good food and good fun!

Grilled berries over ice cream!

Grilled blueberries

July is National Blueberry Month, and we’re celebrating with lots of information and recipes.

You read that right. Grilled blueberries. Yes, you really can grill almost anything, even blueberries. Not sure how you would go about grilling blueberries? You’re not alone. I mean, they’re pretty small and would fall through the grate, right?

Two words: foil packets.

Foil packets are a great way to grill all kinds of small items. We use them to grill sweet potato slices, tiny baby beets, even radishes. Just add some butter or olive oil, and wrap them up using several layers of foil, making sure to fold under the sides so none of the delicious juices leak out.

This recipe for grilled berries is perfect for your 4th of July BBQ gathering.

Grilled berries
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries*
1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries*
juice of 1 lemon
lemon zest
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon butter

*you can substitute any berries you have on hand

1. In a medium bowl, mix together berries, lemon juice, zest, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar.

2. Create foil packet and spoon berry mixture into center. Add butter on top. Seal foil carefully, making sure the sides are turned under well to prevent leaking.

3. Place on the grill in a medium-heat zone, and allow to cook for 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Pour over ice cream, garnish with a mint spring, and enjoy!

Corn chowder

Corn: Knee High by the 4th of July!

When asked to think of summertime veggies, most may think of plump, ripe, red tomatoes, but I, on the other hand, think of corn. I remember driving with my grandma as a child and stopping along a long, windy backroad in western Maryland to nibble on corn straight off the stalk.

As I got older and learned to cook, fresh corn from my mom’s garden became my favorite ingredient to use. I love it in the kitchen because you can serve it fresh or cooked, and it’s great for grilling. Anyway you slice it, corn is a great crop to grow in your backyard!

Corn (Z. mays), also known as Maize, is a unique crop originating from Mesoamerica where it was so prized it had its own deity among the Aztecs — Centeotl. In North America, the Native Americans used corn as one of the Three Sisters — a planting method that incorporates tall, hungry Corn; climbing, nutrient-providing, Beans; and short, sprawling Squash — which is still used by organic gardeners and permaculturalists today! Unlike other vegetables from the garden, corn can be used to make a variety of things from biofuels to animal fodder. Due to its ability to be transformed, corn has become a highly controversial crop regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and industrial agriculture. Don’t worry, SmartGardener.com offers numerous varieties of Heirloom and Organic corn varieties that are GMO-free.

Hopefully your corn has already been planted! A sure way to know you’ll have a great crop this year: Knee high by the Fourth of July!

Corn Chowder
Serves 4

2 ears of corn — kernals removed (2 cups), cobs cut in half and reserved
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
2 tbsp butter
4 cup milk
1 bay leaf, dried
1 cup red potatoes, diced
1/4 cup red pepper, diced
1/2 tsp thyme, dried
salt and pepper to taste

Melt 2 tbsp of butter over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Add onions and let cook about 5 minutes until translucent. Add carrots and celery and sauté for about 5 more minutes.

Stir milk into the mixture, and add cobs, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a bare simmer–on the lowest possible temperature while still simmering. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes, checking on it regularly.

Discard cobs and bay and slightly raise the heat. Add potatoes, red peppers, 1/2 tsp of salt, and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Raise heat a little more and add corn and dried thyme and cook for 5 more minutes. Serve immediately.

Carrot Slaw

Simple Carrot Slaw

Do your go-to recipes change for summer cooking?

In the summertime, meals become a bit less structured around here. There’s too many outdoor activities to enjoy that the idea of spending an hour in the kitchen cooking dinner just doesn’t make sense. With our busy schedules, we typically throw something on the grill and toss together some kind of side dish and a salad.

One of my favorite side is carrot slaw. It works well with all kinds of carrots, goes together quickly and stores well for leftovers (if there are any!). This is a recipe I’ve made countless times, and it never fails to please.

Simple Carrot Slaw
1 pound fresh carrots, shredded
1/4 cup mayo*
1 tsp horseradish*
1 tbsp honey

*You can alter how much mayo and horseradish you use, to suit your tastes.

Mix. Serve. Enjoy. It’s as easy as that.

What are some of your favorite summer recipes for carrots?