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Insalata Caprese

18 Aug

The name means “salad in the style of Capri”.   It’s a simple but delicious dish from the Italian region of Campania, made of sliced fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, seasoned with salt, and olive oil.  In Italy, unlike most salads, it is usually served as an antipasto (starter or appetizer) not a contorno (side dish).

While it’s unknown whether the salad actually originated on Capri, it became popular after being served there to Egypt’s King Farouk in the 1950s.

Some variations include adding chopped garlic, parsley, and various sauces, like Balsamic vinegar, Italian dressing, etc.  King Farouk reportedly enjoyed it as a sandwich filling.  Some people serve it atop pieces of baguette or other bread.  There’s a little Italian deli by my house that serves a Caprese sandwich and it’s nothing short of scrumptious.  There are countless ways to enjoy this simple little salad.

Last night I went out to my vegetable gardens to see if anything was ready for picking.  Little did I know my four cherry tomato plants were bursting with ripe little treats.

 

 

With the unusually hot weather we’ve been having the past month or so (upper 90s and low 100s) I’m not surprised I haven’t had this many to pick every day.  My plants are full of ripe and unripe little round balls and frankly I can’t keep up.  Tonight I thought I better get a head start and start eating.

I have a few basil plants in my herb garden.  I love basil.  The taste, the smell, everything about it.  Even if I never put a delicious leaf in my mouth, it would make me happy just to put the leaves up to my nose and inhale.  Easily one of my top favorite smells.  I put basil in everything.  In fact, this morning I made little muffin pan omelettes and used the tomatoes and fresh basil. Thank you Bonnie, from recipeshappen for the recipe inspiration.  If you’re not familiar with her blog, check it out, it’s fun.

 

 

Since my garden has been producing such a wealth of tomatoes, and I always have the fresh basil, Caprese salad is my go-to for a light, refreshing, homegrown treat.   One of the best things about Caprese is that there aren’t really specific ratios you have to follow.  Just cut up or slice any type of tomatoes, cut up or tear the leaves of the basil (some are small enough to just throw in as is), add the cheese and dress as you like.  For me personally, I like to add balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

If you’re like me, you don’t always have a block of fresh mozzarella in the fridge and I guess you could even use the shredded stuff for pizzas.  But what I do always have on hand is string cheese (it’s the perfect low-calorie snack for after a work-out).  Some of you may not be familiar with string cheese.   What is it you ask? Why mozzarella of course.  So named because you can peel it from one end or the other and it comes away in a “string”.  Anyway… I take out my handy dandy kitchen shears and cut little discs.  It’s perfect.

 

 

This is a great little salad and one that’s so simple to make (especially when most of the ingredients come from your garden).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s growing in your garden?

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Eggplant Bhurtha

18 Aug

A friend of mine at work has an impressive vegetable garden.  I don’t know this because I’ve seen it; I’m convinced because of the variety and abundance of veggies she brings in several times each week.  I’m lucky enough to bring home things that I don’t personally grow and at times things I do, but hers are ripe and mine aren’t.  This week was no exception.

Two small purple eggplants found their way home with me and tonight I decided I would find a new recipe to use them.  I searched the internet and as is usually the case came up with a combination of several recipes I could manipulate to suit my family’s taste buds and also utilize ingredients I had on hand.

It’s no secret everyone in my household loves Indian food, so I searched for recipes using the basic ingredients found in that part of the world… cumin, cayenne pepper, tomatoes, onions.  Here’s what I came up with:

 

Ingredients

2 small purple eggplants

2 Tbl vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

2 cloves garlic, grated

4-5 small campari tomatoes (or 1 medium tomato), diced up

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper to taste

¼ cup chopped cilantro

 

White rice

 

Directions

You’ll be doing 3 things at once here:  Broiling eggplant, cooking rice and preparing the remaining ingredients to be mixed with the eggplant.

Pre-heat broiler.  Rub a small amount of oil on outside of eggplant (or coat with cooking spray).  Cook until the flesh is soft and the skin is blistering off; about 30 minutes.

At the 15 minute mark, turn eggplant over for even cooking and begin cooking rice ~ I always use a rice cooker.  It’s a great way to multi-task.  The rice is perfect every time and it doesn’t take up any valuable stove top space.

Once rice is cooking, add remainder of oil, onions, ginger and garlic to large skillet or wok; cook and stir until onions are tender.  Stir in the tomato and season with spices.  Cook and stir a few minutes.

Once eggplant is done, remove from oven. Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh.  Discard skin. Chop up flesh and add to skillet ingredients.  Let the mixture cook on low for about 5 minutes just so all the flavors mix with the eggplant.

Serve mixture over rice and garnish with fresh cilantro.

 

 

We all really enjoyed this new recipe.  Some dishes are just meant to be and this one didn’t disappoint.  It was bursting with flavors that were familiar and pleasing to our palette and it was filling.  It was prepared using only homegrown vegetables and is a great option for the vegetarians in your life.  I happen to have two in mine.  Oh, and it was super easy.  Does it get any better than that?

Thank you Diana for the beautiful eggplant that inspired me tonight!

 

 

Easy Pickled Banana Peppers

14 Aug

So as most of you know, I expanded my vegetable garden this year from one planter to two.  In the past the only kind of peppers I have grown were bell peppers (of which I don’t even like).  I love them when they’re red, yellow or orange, but once they turn green, I’m out. 

This year I planted 4 other varieties, one of which was yellow banana peppers.  My taste buds tend to gravitate toward the spicy, pickled, vinegar, garlic… must be the Italian in me.  Anyway, I put yellow banana peppers on every sandwich I eat.  So it just made sense to try and grow them myself. 

 

 

 

 

They start out oblong and yellow on the plant, and eventually become funny looking fellows.  I had no idea they’d get all curly.  Once I picked them and brought them in the house, I found after several days they started to turn orange and then red.  Pretty cool.

 

 

Now what to do with them?  They didn’t really taste very good in this raw state.  At least it wasn’t the flavor I was looking for.  I went online and found several recipes to help me pickle them.  Quite a few called for celery seed and mustard seed, but of course I don’t have those in my spice cabinet, so I searched until I found a recipe that included only the ingredients I had.  I know I could have just gone and bought the other ingredients, but why not just try this one? 

The recipe called for 2 pounds of peppers.  My goodness, how many plants do they have?  My plant typically yields about 2 peppers at a time.  Because I didn’t have as many peppers, I adjusted all the other ingredients to suit my crop.  Like I always tell you, it’s your kitchen, your rules.

 

Ingredients

 7-8 peppers, varying in color (because they were varying in how long they’d been sitting in my kitchen)

4 cloves of garlic (sliced in half lengthwise)

¾ cup water

¾ cup white vinegar

2 tsp salt

 

Directions

  1. Wash the peppers, cut off the tops and remove the top section of seeds (it’s like a ball)
  2. Slice the peppers into rings of whatever thickness you prefer
  3. Put the rings and garlic pieces into a glass jar that has an airtight seal when closed (Mason jar, etc.) 
  4. In a small saucepan add the water, vinegar and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat
  5. Remove from heat and pour over the top of the rings and garlic
  6. Use a butter knife to move the peppers around to remove air bubbles and get the peppers and garlic submerged in the liquid
  7. Seal the jar and set aside on the counter overnight – the peppers will fade in color a bit
  8. After 24 hours, refrigerate for up to 2 weeks

 

 

After they had been in the refrigerator for a full day I thought I’d give them a try.  And I really loved the way they looked; red, yellow and orange all swimming in the delicious pickling juices.  Everyone getting along.  I wasn’t sure what to expect taste-wise though.  Would the flavor be just like the ones I buy at the store?  Would it be better?  Worse?  They were pretty darn good, I must say.  My daughter’s first thought was they could use more “bite”.  I already know what you’re thinking…  Maybe if I’d used the mustard or celery seeds it would have provided that extra spice.  Don’t misunderstand, my batch is good, they have a nice tangy flavor, they’re just not hot.  Do I need this batch to be hot?  Absolutely not.  Now bring on the sandwiches, I’ve got peppers to eat!

 

Flowers…

28 Jul

I love this time of year.  So many beautiful flowers are in bloom and there’s a feeling of life and hope in the air.  As I mentioned before, maintaining my yard is a full-time job but I get so much satisfaction being outside planting, watering, pruning…  It was in the ’80s today so I waited until early evening to go outside and do some weeding and watering.  I could have stayed out there for several more hours but the sun was going down and, well frankly my Angel game was already in the 3rd inning.  A girl’s got to have her priorities in check, right?

Black Eyed Susan

Paper Whites

Flowers seem to come in every possible shape, color and scent.  There are beautiful ones for every season and depending on where you live you can enjoy lush gardens all year long.

Geranium

Geranium

 

Right now I have several things I’d like to plant.  I tried agapanthus once and it didn’t make it.  I’d like to think it was the location, not my brown thumb.  I’m really anxious to try it again.  I have the perfect spot for it.  I’m a big fan of the purple variety but I’d like to plant the white as well.   I have a big area in the front yard that’s mostly shade and it needs quite a bit of filling in.  It’s just screaming for the lovely purple and white flowers.  When I plant them, I’ll post pictures.

Lily

California Poppy

Ice Plant

My yard is also filled with fun statues, birdhouses and other goofy decorative stuff.  I’ll do a post soon with more of them another time, but here’s a couple for now… stay tuned for more.

As I leave you tonight, I’ll give you the same advice I give all the living things in my yard, “Bloom where you are planted”.

Roses are red…

21 Jul

People say roses are about the easiest flower you can grow.  I used to think those people were delusional.  I never had the kind of success others did and always figured it must be my soil, my brown thumb, my roses themselves, etc.  Today I would agree that roses are pretty darn easy but it’s taken me many, many years to come to that side of thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other day I talked about the importance of watering your garden.  Another thing I’ve learned over the years is that you must cut back your roses.  I know, I know everyone knows that, right?  It’s not that I didn’t know it; I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  You see, I’d look at the beautiful roses and wonder why on earth would I cut it back?  They were so pretty.  If I cut them for vases, the bush would be bare.  Who wants that?  What if it doesn’t grow back?  What if I don’t get any more blooms?  What if I kill it altogether?  I was haunted by the what ifs… so I did what I always did.  Nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was told repeatedly the only way for them for flourish was to cut them back.  But did I listen?  No.  For years and years I did it my way and you know what I got?  Rose bushes that didn’t thrive.  Want more proof of my insane stubbornness?  Right outside my office is the most incredible rose garden.  We have approximately 1,000 rose bushes and 50 or so rose trees in as many different varieties as you can imagine.  We even cultivate our own varieties.  Suffice it to say, we’re no novices.

 

 

Every week I watch the groundskeepers cut the roses, and I usually walk over to take a few stems to put in a vase to brighten up my office.

 

 

Every February I watch them cut them back to about a foot tall.  Because we all know the first rule of rose care is pruning.  But was I practicing it at home?  Still no.

 

 

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally bit the bullet and thought I’d see what all the fuss was about. I was willing to sacrifice every rose bush in my yard in case this newfangled idea fell flat when I practiced it.  And then, just like magic my roses bloomed!  And not only did they bloom, they were plentiful.  Huh, must’ve been some kind of miracle.  Amazing what kind of magic happens in my yard when I take the advice of experts.  Maybe they’re on to something…

 

 

Today, I have about a dozen different varieties of roses in my yard.  I cut them back heavily each new year and continue to cut them throughout the year.  It still pains me to cut back something that’s growing and seems to be doing beautifully.  I have to remind myself that the rose wants me to cut it.  It needs me to cut it.  Sometimes it’s begging me to cut it.

 

 

 

I’m cheating it (and me) if I don’t.  Feeding it, watering it and giving it sunshine are just not enough.  Every once in a while it needs a good haircut just like I do.  Now when I go outside if I look close enough sometimes I think I see them smiling at me.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe it’s just a little of that garden magic.  Either way, I’m smiling too.

My Two Professors

18 Jul

I love to garden.  It’s more than a hobby, it’s a passion.  It’s something I enjoy not simply because it’s relaxing and gives me a sense of accomplishment, but I’m always learning something new.  I like that.  With a yard the size of mine it’s a full-time job.  Unfortunately I already have a full-time job, so until someone’s going to pay me to tend to my own yard, it is what it is.  I guess it’s a good thing I love being Out There.

I’m fortunate enough to have two people that help teach and guide me.  First, my friend Monique (who I’ve mentioned a few times here before).  She’s my go-to when I don’t remember the name of a plant, or how to care for it.  She tells me how to feed it and when.  She’s taught me a lot; most recently that plants need water.  I know, I know we all know that, right?  It’s not that I don’t water my plants, but with a yard my size and so many different varieties of plants, shrubs, flowers, trees, vegetables… it’s hard to know what needs what.  And how often.  She came over recently and said one of my vegetable gardens needed more water.  So, I increased the water and just like Samantha twitching her nose, everything starting growing taller and fuller.  Huh.  Interesting, I thought.  She might be on to something.  And if you haven’t checked out her blog before… please do so.  Visit her Little Yellow House.

The second person is my aunt Nancy.  And while she may not have the formal training Monique does, what she knows comes from a lifetime of experience and let me say she’s a natural.  I usually leave her house with some sort of cutting even though I remind her that my house is where her plants go to die.  She just laughs and says she has faith.  The bad news is I’d be scared to count how many have actually died.  And when I tell her about the corpse, she just gives me something else and says, “Okay, there’s no way you can kill this one”.  Yikes, no pressure!  The good news is my yard is also full of beautiful plants that were originally hers.  What a lovely tradition and what a blessing she is in so many ways.  Another nice thing is that I don’t have to share her, she doesn’t have a blog.  Yet.

I started writing tonight because I wanted to post some pictures of my flowers and yet somehow I got on the topic of the learning side of what I love.  When we learn, we grow and we always want to keep our minds stimulated.  Whether it’s through music, literature, nature or formal education, it’s what we need.  I hope I’ve inspired you to learn something new today.  You decide what it is. And then I’d love to hear about it.  Now Get Out There.

First Harvest

5 Jul

So I’m finally seeing the fruits (or vegetables in this case) of my labor.  I still have quite a few other veggies that I’m waiting for, but in the meantime, here’s a little snapshot of what I picked yesterday afternoon.

 

 

We have straight neck squash, an Ace tomato, jalapeno peppers and sweet banana peppers.

Any suggestions on how I should use them?  Maybe you have an old family recipe or a newly discovered one you’d like to share.  I’m always looking for new ways to cook things and tantalize our taste buds. 

Stay tuned… we still have peas, beans, eggplant, cauliflower, corn, more tomato varieties, zucchini, lemon cucumber and a few other peppers that need to do their thing. 

 

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