Category Archives: garden

Shredded zucchini salad

Zucchini noodles. Soooo two thousand…well, something. Back whenever zucchini noodles first burst onto the scene, I was pretty excited about the concept. However, there was a drawback: I didn’t own a spiralizer. Still don’t. Fortunately, I do own a food processor. Enter my take on the zoodle, shredded zucchini, which can be easily made using the grater blade, and is a perfect base for showing off a delicious homemade pesto sauce. Just toss the shredded zucchini in sauce, then add cherry tomatoes and a bit of fresh basil for garnish. Every bit is pure summer. Enjoy as a starter or side, or bulk it up into a meal for one with the addition of one of my favorite (perhaps to the point of near overuse?) add-ins, chickpeas.

Shredded zucchini salad
serves 1-2

Ingredients
2 small zucchini, ends trimmed and shredded using a box grater or the grater blade on a food processor
2 tbsp classic pesto sauce
3 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
1 c. chickpeas (optional)
3-4 fresh basil leaves, finely sliced, plus additional leaves for garnish
salt, to taste

Method

Mix together the shredded zucchini and pesto until thoroughly combined. Add cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and chickpeas (if using). Garnish with additional basil leaves.

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Two pestos

Do you remember how I was growing tomatoes on my patio last year? Probably not. No problem, just know that there were tomatoes, and that they were wonderful, but a little crowded in their pots. This year, M. and I decided that we wanted to do tomatoes again, but that a pot upgrade would be needed. Which left me with four formerly tomato-ed pots to put to good use. I decided it was high time to start an herb garden:

Just a small one. Some arugula (not an herb, I know), and two kinds of basil. One a standard sweet basil, the other a fragrant and purple tinged Thai variety. Both plants have been going crazy since I transplanted them into the pots (which I filled with my first batch of finished compost!). I’ve been plucking off a few leaves here and there for salads, omelets, or garnishes, but recently I realized that my plants were in need of a serious harvest. So I got picking:

Then I got down to the business of making pesto. Since I had two kinds of basil, two kinds of pesto! The first is a classic Italian style, made with sweet basil and walnuts (in lieu of pine nuts, which have gotten way too pricey in recent years. Sorry, pine nuts). The second is a bit of a sacrilege: I took the concept of pesto, but gave it an Asian twist, using Thai basil, peanuts, sesame oil, and a touch of tamari.

Right now my favorite way of using pesto is to dollop a spoonful onto one of the vegetable+legume+grain bowls I’ve been eating for dinner most nights. I’ve also been using the classic pesto as a dressing for sauteed green beans and tomatoes, and either recipe is an easy way to upgrade most grilled or sauteed vegetables to a stellar side dish. And if you need more ideas, I’ll be sharing a few recipes that make use of these pestos later this week.

Two pestos
Each recipe makes between 1/2 and 3/4 c.

Classic Pesto
1 oz sweet basil leaves (about 1.5 oz with stems)
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. walnut pieces
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Thai peanut pesto
1 oz thai basil leaves (about 1.5 oz with stems)
1/4 c. sesame oil
1/4 c. roasted salted peanuts
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce

Method

Place all ingredients in a food processor fitted with the metal S-blade. Process for 30 seconds, scrape down the sides, and process for another 10 seconds or so. If a thinner pesto is desired, add more oil, 1-2 tbsp at a time.

Pesto can be frozen, or will keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Our patio garden: the compost

In my last post about our patio garden, you may have noticed the three plastic tubs adorning our outdoor space:
 
the compost tubs
 
Well, they aren’t just around for looks, those tubs are our compost system, and hold fruit and vegetable scraps in varying stages of decomposition. There are lots of reasons we love the compost, but mainly we like it because it will provide us with new soil to use in our plant containers, and because by largely removing the food scrap component from our garbage can, we have to take out the trash much less often (the bag fills up more slowly and it rarely develops a smell). I hate taking our the trash so this latter perk is especially nice for me.
 
When we first decided to start our compost system, we looked around for actual composting containers and were disappointed with the results. Composters were either expensive, or much too big for our available space. Fortunately, Mr. C&V came up with a solution that cost us less than $25. I went to our local hardware store and found three 20 gallon storage tubs, which were fortuitously on sale for $7 each. Once I brought them home, Mr. C&V broke out the drill and we drilled holes in the top, sides, and bottom of each container. The top holes were placed approximately every 2 inches, while the side and bottom holes were placed in 4 inch intervals, with 2 rows per side.
 
We then began filling one of the tubs with a mixture of newspapers (to provide carbon balance and soak up moisture) and kitchen scraps. By “kitchen scraps”, I mean fruit and vegetable matter, plus eggshells. No meat or bones, as I’ve heard entirely too many warnings about their potential to attract “vermin” (read: rats. No thanks). The scraps go into this little pot on our counter, and then move out to the bin whenever the pot is full:
 
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After several bad experiences with using plastic to hold kitchen scraps in the kitchen, I’ve decided I’m no longer interested in using anything other than metal or glass. Plastic containers invariably start to look dirty and develop nicks, tears, residual odors, and so on. Glass and metal do not. Whatever you use, keep it covered to hold in the fruit flies that will probably (sorry) start breeding.
 
Out in the tubs, figuring out the right mix of newspaper and scraps can be a bit tricky. We initially overshot on newspaper and it took a while to bring our first box back into balance. I have been told in the past that if your compost smells you probably need more carbon (wood or paper), but to that I would add the caveat that your compost should also be well mixed to keep odors down. Newspaper, it seems, is especially prone to clumping. I’m finding I have better luck balancing the newspaper:scraps ratio by mixing regularly and keeping an eye on moisture: ideally the compost will be a little damp. If it’s dripping, more paper, if it’s drying out, more scraps. The ratio I’m currently working with is to tear 2-4 pieces of newspaper into strips and make a layer in the tub, then leave it and spread scraps over the top until the newspaper is no longer visible:
 
compost, phase one
 
I’d say we’ve got one or two more loads of scraps to go before this later is done. When the newspaper layer is covered, I use a trowel to mix up the contents of the entire bin, then tear up a few more sheets of newspaper and start a new layer.
 
Our first bin filled up about six weeks ago, since then we’ve been leaving it to decompose and rotating once a week:
 
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To rotate the compost, I use a combination of a small garden trowel and my hands (with gardening gloves on, of course). I find that the newspaper tends to clump up and the best way to keep it evenly distributed throughout the mix is to get in there and break things up by hand. Don’t worry, if you wear gloves it doesn’t feel gross at all.
 
The compost tends to shrink in volume as it decomposes, our first bin was about three-quarters full when we stopped adding to it, and the volume has now shrunk by nearly half. Despite the large number of vegetables we consume, we’re clearly not going to be producing massive volumes of soil anytime soon. I guess you do need a yard (and the associate leaves, grass clippings, etc.) for some things.
 
Our third bin is currently holding our paper supply, trowel, and gloves, we were initially thinking we might have three bins of compost going but given the rate at which the first bin has been breaking down that might not be necessary!
 
garden storage
I’m hoping to have our first bin ready for use within the next month or two, just in time for use in our planned fall container garden!

Question: Do you compost or have you tried to?

cast iron + summer squash = amazing!

summer vegetables
 
Lately our produce market has been pushing summer squash like it’s going out of style. Pattypans were twenty-five cents a pound last week, and white zucchini squash wasn’t far behind. Plus the usual varietes of green zucchini and yellow crookneck. When Squashalypse 2013 first dawned, I was a little stymied as to how I could really capitalize on it. Cheap, seasonal vegetables should be snapped up, so obviously we had to start eating more squash. But, I’m still scarred by the memories of dining hall squash from university: soggy, overboiled, and bland. I ate it anyway, but I don’t particularly want to go back. My favorite way to eat squash by itself is to grill or roast it, but we don’t have a grill, and I’m trying to avoid using the oven too often.
 
Then one night while we were working our way through a curried zucchini soup. Mr. C&V turned to me and said “You know what would make this really amazing? Searing the zucchini.” And I thought “Duh! Cast iron to the rescue!”. And we haven’t looked back.
 
Turns out, the cast iron skillet is the perfect vehicle for cooking squash: We can get it slightly seared and blackened on the outside, bringing out the flavor, but avoid turning it into a soggy mess. I’ve been making it the base vegetable for a catch-all medley of tastiness.
 
summer's bounty
 
I feel a little silly calling this a “recipe”, so instead, here’s a general collection of tips for making a great summer medley of your own.
 
no crowding
 
1. Have a few different kinds of vegetables. Because of the bargain pricing, our medley is usually one half to three-quarters squash, but by adding a little bit of bell pepper, tomato, or eggplant, the tastiness factor goes up tremendously. Just keep the ratio of cheap veggies high and treat the expensive ones as more of a condiment or garnish. Oh, and be generous with the garlic.
 
2. Let your skillet heat up properly and then do not overcrowd the vegetables. It will just lead to a big steamy mess. Cook the vegetables in small batches: if cooking chunks, each piece of vegetable should have full contact with the bottom of the pan on one side (as shown above). If you’ve run the vegetables through the food processor, spread them out in a layer that is thin enough to allow the bottom of the pan to go through. To counteract the slowness of cooking in batches, I usually use both our twelve and eight inch skillets.
 
3. Cook different types of vegetables separately, then mix. Eggplant will take 15 minutes or so to really cook properly (I like it soft and almost falling apart). Chunks of zucchini take 10-15 minutes to cook (cook for 5 minutes, then stir, repeat every 3-4 minutes), while peppers take only about five minutes. Really ripe tomatoes should only take 2-3 minutes, just long enough to get the juices running. Cook each vegetable in its individual small batch, then put them all back in the pan together and stir quickly to meld the juices together.
 
Vegetables!
 
If we’re having these vegetables “plain”, I will often toss in a pinch of oregano or a handful of fresh basil. Alternatively, we will treat these vegetables as more of a bastardized stir-fry and add a little soy sauce and ginger, or a few large dollops of our homemade peanut sauce (recipe scheduled for a near future post…).
 
This medley also keeps really well in the fridge. We’ll make a big container of them and then eat it over the next few days. They’re great as a side at dinner, or with eggs at breakfast, or just mixed in to add a pop of color and taste with some kale or other greens. In short, we won’t be getting sick of this mix for a while.

What summer foods are you eating over and over right now?

Introducing: Our patio garden

What do you do when you love the idea of growing your own food, but you have no backyard and are a bit crunched for free time as well? You start a patio garden in containers, obviously. Or at least, that’s what we’re doing. Patio gardening is relatively low commitment: there is none of the weeding, double digging, travelling out to a community garden spot, etc. that might be involved in a more traditional garden. While I dream of having a little plot of land and growing all of our vegetables from scratch, the patio garden is what works for us right now.
 
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Continue reading Introducing: Our patio garden