Friday, November 30, 2012

Over and over

Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) seeds scattered on soil
It's been wet and grey outside lately. Better weather for making stews and braises than for clearing dead plants from the garden and sowing cover crops. But a few days ago we finally picked and ate the last of the cucumbers, and so during a break in the rain I pulled up the dying vines, tossed them in the compost heap, and planted crimson clover in their place. 

Crimson clover is another cover crop I grow to a) enrich the soil, and b) keep the garden from looking totally unkempt during the winter and early spring. You get the most benefit by digging the plants into the soil before they flower, but the flowers are just so pretty. And as long as you've let them flower, you may as well let the flowers dry, and collect them for their seeds.  

Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) in flower

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pseudo-shepherd's pie

The November issue of Cook's Illustrated describes a traditional shepherd's pie that took the author 5 hours to make. I can't imagine where people who herd sheep for a living found that kind of free time, not to mention the pastry bag and star tips needed to pipe the layer of whipped potatoes over the top of the filling. (The article includes an updated, simpler recipe as well.)

As you may have gathered, I am the type of person who will spend 5 hours making peasant food, but not the day after making Thanksgiving dinner. Especially not when the fridge contains all the ingredients necessary to make a perfectly good pseudo-shepherd's pie: mashed potatoes, some sort of meat, gravy, and miscellaneous tasty stuff. (I'm fairly certain that is the actual wording of the traditional recipe.)

1. pastry crust
2. stuffing
3. turkey
4. gravy
5. balsamic-glazed onions
6. mashed potatoes and mashed kabocha squash

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving snapshots

How was your thanksgiving? Ours was small and mellow. Some traditional dishes, some new experiments, and the discovery that a spatchcocked turkey will not cook in a mere 45 minutes if the oven is tiny and you've wedged a large pan of stuffing directly under the turkey. I'll give it another try next year, but either use a larger oven or just quick-toast the stuffing on a baking sheet while the turkey's resting. 

Photography was somewhat limited by the fact that my hands were covered in butter, flour, or similarly camera-unfriendly substances for most of the day, but here are a few snapshots:

You may think you hate brussels sprouts, but you probably just hate overcooked brussels sprouts. Try this: shred the sprouts, toss them in a pan with hot butter or bacon fat for a few minutes, stir in some crumbled bacon, toasted walnuts, and a tablespoon of maple syrup, and eat them immediately. See? They're good. (They're even good cooked this way without the bacon, maple, and nuts. But they're better with.)

Also, who owns a silpat but not a rolling pin?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to roast a kabocha squash

Kabocha squash (Cucurbita maxima)

By now it should be clear that I am inordinately fond of kabocha squash. Last time I got one for a recipe, I ended up eating most of the roasted squash on its own, just scooped out of the skin and sprinkled with a little salt. Except for the bowl I ate topped with leftover pulled pork, which turned out to be one of the finest food pairings ever.  

Continue reading "How to roast a kabocha squash" at its new location:

Monday, November 19, 2012

What to do with that leftover pumpkin puree

Pumpkin pie with Kabocha squash (Cucurbita maxima)

I am a big fan of pumpkin pie. Especially when it's made with kabocha squash instead of pumpkin. But whether you make your Thanksgiving pie with a home-roasted heirloom squash or the classic can of mashed pumpkin, there's a good chance you're going to find yourself with some extra pumpkin puree. My suggestions (with directions and recipe links after the jump):

1. Make my quick pumpkin soup. It's tasty and you can throw it together in a few minutes. I like to make this as an easy light lunch to tide people over until the turkey's ready.

2. Make pumpkin black bean empanadas. They take a bit more time but are so very worth it. If you've got enough to do before Thursday, you can always refrigerate the pumpkin and make the empanadas later in the weekend.

3. Make another pumpkin pie. For me.

Easy pumpkin soup and pumpkin black bean empanada

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Poison Garden

Alnwick Garden Poison Garden Gates: These Plants Can Kill
photo courtesy The Alnwick Garden
A while back, a group of preschoolers visited my garden during their afternoon walk. While most of them pointed out butterflies, identified plants they grew in their school garden, or told me what vegetables they liked and hated, one young fellow came over and asked, "Do you have any poisonous plants?"

Kid: if you're a reader of this blog and haven't showed up on any no-fly lists yet, ask your parents to take you to the Alnwick Castle and its gardens the next time you're in northeast England. You might recognize the castle already; it showed up as Hogwarts in the first Harry Potter movies. The Alnwick Garden is even better — quite possibly the coolest castle garden around. It boasts one of the world's largest treehouses, night time light shows, and The Poison Garden, where skull-and-crossbones gates guard over 100 plants of varying deadliness. (And also marijuana.)

The Duchess of Northumberland says on the garden's website, "I wondered why so many gardens around the world focused on the healing power of plants rather than their ability to kill... I felt that most children I knew would be more interested in hearing how a plant killed, how long it would take you to die if you ate it and how gruesome and painful the death might be." My kind of lady.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Warm kale salad with roasted butternut squash, parsnips, and caramelized red onions

Recently, someone told me she'd cancelled her CSA box after one too many deliveries of kale and butternut squash. Those of you in similar situations might want to bookmark this warm winter salad. Kale's assertive, slightly bitter flavor can be too much on its own, but provides the perfect balance for the sweetness of roasted winter squash and parsnips, caramelized red onions, and maple-balsamic dressing.

Full recipe at our new site: Plant and!

Continue reading Warm kale salad with roasted butternut squash, parsnips, and caramelized red onions on

Monday, November 12, 2012

Growing my own garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum) plants

As I was editing the photos for this post, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about the 25 lbs of garlic he was getting ready to plant. That's about a thousand plants. My garlic patch has maybe three dozen plants. This is the difference between gardening and farming; the difference between growing something for variety and growing it to supply your next year's needs. That, and a few orders of magnitude of labor. 

Still, I'm pleased with my garlic. I've got three different kinds going, and they should be ready for harvest next summer, assuming the squirrels don't dig them all up first. 

Garlic (Allium sativum): Silver Rose, Inchelium Red, Italian Late

Friday, November 9, 2012

November stew


I am generally not a fan of cold, gloomy days. On the other hand, they do provide a good incentive to make stew. Just browning the onions makes the house smell warm and inviting. Plus, if you deglaze the pan with red wine right after you brown the meat and onions, you can pour yourself a glass at the same time and enjoy it while the stew simmers. Just don't forget to stir the pot once in a while.

Cast iron pot, from above

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Now planting: ginger

Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) root with sprout

Every time I visit my dad, I return home with a few choice new vocabulary words and a renewed appreciation for ginger. Mind you, he doesn't put it on everything. It's just that he might put it on anything. In multiple forms, and generous amounts. With excellent results, more often than not. (When they're not excellent, they're at least interesting.) And let me tell you, breakfast porridge wakes you up a lot more quickly when it's been dosed with fresh grated ginger, dried powdered ginger, and candied ginger.

At home, I mostly use fresh ginger. With a ginger grater (or even a fine cheese grater) it's as easy to use as the dried or preserved kind, and I prefer the flavor. I tend to be pretty generous with it — occasionally more than my guests would like, but at least I come by it honestly. Still, I occasionally find myself with unused stumps that sit around long enough to sprout.

This time I decided to plant them. Sure, ginger is readily available at all grocery stores and has a pretty good shelf life. On the other hand, now that I know how much better homegrown potatoes are than store-bought, I'm curious to see how fresh-picked ginger root compares to the store-bought version.

Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) root with sprout

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Yes on CA Prop. 37, and Food Policy Action

Yes on CA Prop 37

If you're in California, remember to vote yes on CA Prop 37, which requires that GMO foods be labeled as such. Because no matter where you stand on GMOs in general, consumers should have the right to know what they're buying.

Opponents (lead by Monsanto and DuPont) are putting out a staggering amount of misinformation around this one, so please take a few minutes to review the facts at:

Got similar issues on the ballot in your area? Post them in the comments. 

Food Policy Action

For anyone concerned with food policy in the makes it easy to see where your senators and representatives stand on food policy issues. The site also covers pending bills, rules, and guidance.

Full disclosure: A friend of mine is a scientist working for EWG, whose president sits on the board of directors of Food Policy Action.

Friday, November 2, 2012

How to avoid eating all the halloween candy

Option 1: Put all the candy in a large zip-lock bag and seal it carefully. Put that one in another zip-lock bag, along with several cups of mayonnaise. Ask yourself if that miniature bar of cheap chocolate is worth getting mayonnaise all over your hands and the furniture and everything. If this doesn't work, use live spiders instead of mayo.

Option 2: Put the candy away where you can't see it and make yourself an apple crisp. It's infinitely more delicious than most halloween candy and substantially less unhealthy, even if you eat the entire crisp yourself.