Happy 2019; I hope your year is off to a great start! I said I would do a couple of post on gardening in the New Year and thought it best to start off with one. Growing your own food doesn’t have to be scary and is certainly rewarding. I actually began growing by attending a fundraiser and participating in a ticket pull. While my goal was to win a bottle of wine, I instead won a few herb plants and my first tomato plant. After my first tomato came in, I was hooked and have been growing since then.
I’d like to start with lettuce since this is perfect weather to grow them in Louisiana and similar climates with temperatures at a low of 40 and high of 75 degrees. It’s important to note, soil PH is different in different areas and can even be different in your backyard. So finding the right spot to grow your crops is part of the discovery. You can always add compost and plant food with dirt when planting to create more PH balance. I learned through trial and error that I do best growing in planters for crops like lettuce rather than in ground. Lettuce needs good drainage, sun with shade for part of the day and regular water. Once I found the right spot, the greens mostly took care of themselves.
I brought a rectangular planter and drilled holes in the bottom to support drainage. With a mix of potting mix, organic compost and organic chicken manure, I had a great growing environment. The fun came in adding rows of different seeds for a pretty interesting salad mix. I included red and green lettuce, arugula and mesclun seeds in the bed for my salad. With rain every few days, I have not had to water the planters. It’s important to make sure the box remains moist. Once they start to sprout, it takes three to four weeks to grow into tasty salad greens. *Note: Growing herbs like parsley and cilantro is not only easy, but make great salad additions.
Considering squirrels are frequent backyard visitors, I covered my greens with mesh netting to prevent nibbles. I have not had any problems with nibbles nor other pest impacting the greens; however if you do, there are organic sprays that can be used such as Garden Safe, which I did need for tomatoes this past summer.
I’d recommend only cutting what you need for a meal to get the most fresh and best tasting greens. Rinse them well! I clipped them down to the base stem and added them to a sink of water to get off any extra dirt. Check out images of the stages of growth below.
Just starting to sprout (they do not all come out at the same time):
Gaining traction (about 2 weeks later):
Be patient. It’s worth it! (2-3 weeks later)
While I enjoy a nice tuna or salmon fillet, I’ve been itching to try the canned and pouched varieties with an inspired twist. Both varieties of fish are great sources of omega 3s and vitamins such as the B complex, selenium and magnesium which means they are great sources of antioxidants which fight oxidative stress in the body and helps defend the body from chronic disease. Fish is recommended to be consumed at least twice a week to get the best benefits from these powerful sources of nutrients and lean proteins. I started with salmon cakes, as an alternative to the traditional crab cakes and served it on a bed of arugula and mixed kale greens and cucumber from my local farmers market. Of course I was proud to add a few tomatoes from my own back yard. J To top things off I used a little lemon juice and black currant balsamic vinegar, though any preferred variety will work with this dish. Check out the recipe below. Please l note that no salt was used because of the wonderful addition of capers and Kalamata olives in the salmon cakes; however if you are not as fond of them as I am and prefer salt, a small pinch will do. Share your thoughts and enjoy!
1 5oz can of boneless skinless pink salmon
2 tsp capers
5 kalamata olives chopped
2 tbsp. green onion chopped
½ tbsp. flour of choice
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp olive oil
2 cups of salad greens (mixed or preferred choice)
1 cup of sliced cucumber
½ cup tomato
1 tbsp. dressing of choice
1 lemon juiced
- Open and strain liquid from the can. Add to a small bowl.
- Rinse and chop green onion. Chop pitted Kalamata olives. Add both to bowl
- Add capers and pepper to the bowl and the juice of half a lemon. Mix well. Add flour and mix well.
- Add oil to a medium skillet over medium heat.
- While it heats, form two patties and once hot add to oil. Cook for 2 minutes or until it starts to brown then flip and repeat on the other side. Turn off heat. (It may break and if so, the other browned side will help bind the patty back together.)
- Rinse salad greens, cucumber and tomato. Slice cucumber and tomato and add to plates. Add cakes then a drizzle of lemon juice and dressing.
I’ve been exploring gluten free dishes and pastas to better support friends and family with gluten sensitivities. Simple is best and adding great flavor is what makes it great. Pasta is a simple dish that can be dressed up many different ways and for this dish I went Greek with a dash of North African flavor. I was also excited to use some produce from my own backyard. I have been growing sweet peppers, tomatoes and of course fresh herbs such as rosemary and green onion. This was easy to pair with baked chicken that I seasoned two ways (lemon rosemary and garlic and herb) for some variation this week. Check out the recipe below and be sure to share your thoughts.
Gluten Free Pasta Salad
1 cup of dry gluten free elbow pasta
1 cup sliced tomato
1/2 cup sliced sweet peppers
1/4 cup green onion
2 tbsp. harissa
2 tbsp. chopped kalamata olives
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. garlic infused olive oil
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil.
- Rinse vegetables and herbs. Slice tomato; cut peppers in half and remove seeds before slicing thinly. Chop rosemary.
- Boil pasta for 8-9 minutes. Chop whole olives or used canned, by straining liquid.
- Once boiled, add to a bowl, then add remaining ingredients.
- Mix well and enjoy.
I’m glad that I can still surprise myself with making something definitely put in the category of “I don’t Like”, and find that all it need was some inspired concocting. While I’ve been told “you loved beets as a kid!”, I’m convinced it’s because I didn’t know any better. As an adult, I have only eaten them hidden in a salad or other dish. Since beets lower blood pressure, promote liver detoxification, improve heart health and boost endurance among a host of other things, I decided to take my own advice of trying them again in a new way. I decided to make a roasted beet and garlic soup with rosemary and was surprised by how great it came out. Paired with some prime salad fixings from the farmers market, I was certainly a happy camper! The best surprise at the market were the mulberries from the Chenier Farm which were sweet and tasty amid the other great toppings. Check out the recipe below and certainly share your thoughts.
Soup ingredients (serves 2-3):
1 lb fresh beets
1-2 small purple potatoes (optional)
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sea salt and pepper
2 cups water
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
Salad ingredients (serves 1):
1 cup of arugula
1 cup baby kale
1/2 lemon juiced
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 tbsp. fig balsamic vinegar (or flavor of choice)
1 tbsp. goat cheese
1 tbsp. chopped walnuts
1/4 cup fresh mulberries or chopped strawberries
1/8 cup shaved radishes (a couple)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
2. Rinse and peel beets. Cut off ends, cut in half and then quarters. If using potatoes, rinse and cut into same size. Peel garlic and add to baking sheet.
3. Add olive oil and vinegar and mix well by hand or with tongs. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top. Bake for 40 minutes.
4. Once baked, add mixture with a splash of water and rosemary to a food processor or blender and blend well. Add to a pot with remaining liquid and bring to a simmer.
5. While heating soup, rinse greens and chop into bite-sized pieces. Squeeze on lemon juice, seeded side up and add olive oil. Mix gently by hand for a minute which will help break down greens.
6. Using a mandolin or potato peeler, shave in radishes thinly.
7. Rinse and add mulberries. Chop and add walnuts. Drizzle on vinegar.
8. Bowl soup and garnish with dried rosemary. Plate salad.
After going to the strawberry festival this weekend in Pontchatula Louisiana, I am all about incorporating the berries this week in as many ways as possible. Salads are easy when coming off of a weekend of indulgence as I am. In addition to this salad, I will also do a strawberry and spinach salad with chicken salad and pecans (also super easy). Also in my world, strawberry season would not be complete without a pitcher of fresh strawberry lemonade. The lemonade is great as a side to the salads, transformed into frozen pipe or an adult cocktail with the addition of vodka and basil or rum and mint!
Quick tips when picking strawberries:
-Look for berries that are still attached to a little stem. They last longer in the fridge!
-Don’t cut them up until you are going to eat them. They will start to break down immediately.
-To get the most of your berry, remove the green top by inserting a straw in the narrow end and pushing it through to remove the top without cutting off good berry!
Check out the salad recipe below.
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/3 lb. shrimp
1 cup baby kale greens
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/2 small avocado
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp. oil (avocado or olive oil)
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. coarse black pepper
1. Peel and devein (or use frozen)
2. Heat oil per medium heat. Lightly season one side of shrimp and add to hot skillet seasoned-side down.
3. Season other side of shrimp and flip after 2 minutes and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat. (Shrimp will continue to cook in residual heat.
4. Rinse spinach and kale and rip or chop if large leaves. Add to a bowl and mix well with vinegar. Add to a plate.
5. Slice strawberries and avocado and add on top of greens. Top with shrimp and enjoy.
I thoroughly enjoyed cooking this Saturday at the Red Stick Farmer’s Market this weekend. I decided to expand a pickled onion and strawberry salad I created last strawberry season and and a sweet potato and sausage hash done in an “Inspired” way. 🙂 I decided to make a sweet and sour pork sausage with a savory sweet potato hash to go with the salad for a seasonal and flavorful weekend brunch.
Check out the recipes below. You can also catch me in action with the short video by Lena Farms on Facebook with some quick tips on uses for apple cider vinegar. As always, share your thoughts!
Pickled Onion and Strawberry Salad
1 cup of chopped strawberries
1 cup of sliced onion (1 small)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. strawberry ghost pepper jam
1 cup shredded arugula
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. coarse black pepper
Sweet and sour pork sausage with Sweet Potato Hash
1/2 lb. cubed smoked sausage
1 1/2 medium sweet potato cubed (2 cups)
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. coarse black pepper
1 cup water
1 tbsp. olive or canola oil
1/2 cup chopped green onion bottoms
1 pinch of salt
Sweet and sour sauce ingredients:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. pineapple ghost pepper jelly
1. Add apple cider vinegar and jam to a medium-sized bowl and mix well with a fork until well blended.
2. Cut an onion in half then peel each half. Slice each half thinly and add to the vinegar mixture. Let sit for 15 minutes.
3. Peel and rinse sweet potato. Using aggression and a sharp knife (haha), cut sweet potato in half, then into thirds before dicing into small cubes.
4. Clean green onion stems and bulb bottoms well under running water and then cut off rooted ends (can be replanted). Thinly cut ends up to where the stem turns green.
5. Add oil and onion to a large skillet over medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes then add sweet potato. Add 1/2 cup of water . Add paprika, pepper and rosemary and mix well. Let cook for 6 minutes, shaking the skillet or stirring occasionally.
6. Cut sausage in half longwise, then in half again to make cubing the sausage easier.
7. Add potatoes and onion to a small bowl and place sausage in same skillet with 1/4 cup of water and let sausage cook for 3-5 minutes until water evaporates. Add potatoes back in and if potatoes are undercooked (still hard) add a splash of water.
8. In the bowl from the potatoes, add balsamic vinegar and jelly and mix well with a fork until blended. Add to sausage and potato mix and stir well. Cook for 3 minutes until liquid evaporates and remove from heat. Add a pinch of salt it desired.
9. Rinse and slice strawberries and add to the bowl of pickled onion.
10. Rinse and chop parsley and arugula and add it and seasoning to the bowl. Mix well.
11. Plate both and enjoy.
Seafood is an easy go-to in my book and with so many flavors that can be added to it, what’s not to love? In observance of the Lent season, I wanted to offer up this quick 10 minute dish that is both flavorful and filling. It refrigerates well and is wonderful with mixed greens.
Quick tip: if you are not a fan of leftovers, it helps to be prepared with individual bags of frozen shrimp. I typically buy 5 lbs and break it down into single (5-6 shrimp) double (10-12 shrimp) or full pound bags for a larger dish. It it easy to then cook shrimp for 5 minutes and cut up the fruit and veggies of choice for a quick meal. Trader Joe’s has the adorable and perfectly portioned teeny tiny avocados that come six to a bag, so you can always make this dish as you go in single or double servings.
Also, if you are unfamiliar with mangoes and how to cut them, check out this quick YouTube video to learn how to pick and cut them: https://youtu.be/oTsMZ38vxYc
Check out the recipe below.
Seafood salad with spicy sesame dressing
2 cup pieces, Mangos, raw
1 medium, Avocado
0.50 tablespoon, Oil – Sesame
0.50 tbsp, Honey
2 Tbsp (15ml), Low Sodium
1 tbsp, Rice Wine Vinegar
6 oz, Shrimps (about 10-12)
9 oz, Crab Delights, Imitation Crabmeat (1 1/4 cup)
1 tsp avocado oil
1/2 tbsp. onion powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Peel and devine shrimp ( or defrost frozen shrimp.
2. Add avocado oil to medium skillet over medium heat. While it heats season shrimp with salt and pepper and onion powder. Add to heated skillet and cook for 2 minutes per side then remove pan from heat.
3. While shrimp cools, add vinegar, oil, sriracha an honey to a medium bowl and mix well with a fork. Rough chop the imitation crab and add to dressing.
4. Cut avocado in half long wise and score the avocado longwise and the across making small cubes. Gently with a spoon, scoop into the bowl.
5. Rinse mango. The center of the entire fruit is a pit so similar to cutting the avocado, cut a strip longwise from either side around the center and score and cube the fruit like the avocado. Push the skin inside out so fruit stands like buildings. Cut in small cubes off into the bowl.
6. Add in shrimp and lightly season with salt and pepper. Mix well with a spoon.