Growing Greens

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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):

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Gaining traction (about 2 weeks later):

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Be patient. It’s worth it! (2-3 weeks later)

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Back to Normalacy

 

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After thanksgiving and being in two weddings in the past 3 weeks, I’m getting back to my healthy. That means more soups/gumbos and salads to combat the wonderful indulgences that the holidays and weddings provide. 

Since I knew what was coming, I had already planted my winter crops and am excited to cook my first mustard green harvest. I’ve also already stocked my freezer with different soups and stews over the past several months, so the work is already done.

My salad crops of arugula, mixed greens and mustards are also nearing harvest. Growing is pretty easy and you can pretty much harvest any young greens for quick salads. 

I’ve been trying my hand at growing everything from tomatoes and peppers this spring and summer to now garlic and turmeric. If you are interested in growing some of your own food, I’d encourage you to start with herbs or indoor micro greens. Both were great starts for me and after conversations with my local farmers, I’ve since expanded to other things and built simple boxes for my crops. Growing can be work depending on how much you are doing, but it’s been so rewarding to eat things I’ve grown myself.

To prepare these greens, I just rinsed, chopped and sautéed them in olive oil with garlic for 5 minutes; simple and tasty.

I’m considering a short spring growing series. What do you think? 🙂

Thanksgiving Sides

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Thanksgiving brings together family with food and fun and also brings the opportunity to share gratitude. In addition to time with family we all look forward to our favorite dishes for the Thanksgiving holiday. While I am certainly looking forward to mirliton dressing, I will also prepare a healthy side to share my gratitude for health in this season. 

I fell in love with the oyster mushrooms from the Red Stick Farmers Market and wanted to share this tasty idea a side option. With multiple varieties of kale in season, I selected the tender Dino kale  and sautéed them with garlic and the mushrooms for a quick and easy side dish. You can always substitute any other mushroom of choice. Check out the recipe below.

In addition to this recipe, the savory sweet potato dishes in my last post would also make great seasonal sides. I challenge you to make a healthy dish and add it to the mix this Thanksgiving. Be sure to share your creations!

Sautéed Kale and Mushrooms

Ingredients:

4 cups of Kale

2 cups of oyster mushrooms diced

6-8 cloves of garlic minced

1 tbsp. Olive oil

1/2 cup of water

1 tsp. Red pepper flakes or cayenne

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Rinse kale and slice leaves in half longwise before chopping. 
  2. Heat oil over medium heat. Peel and mince garlic  and add to oil. Add red pepper flakes.
  3. Chop mushrooms and add to garlic. Add in kale and stir well for one minute.
  4. Add water, top and reduce heat to low for 3-5 minutes or until tender.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste. 

Easy Meal Prep

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Prepping ahead goes a long way toward helping you stay on budget and curbing the need for take out under the notion of “I don’t have any thing easy to cook at home.” It’s helpful to always keep a couple of quick cook options stocked in the freezer whether leftovers from a large batch of beans or meat sauce, or pre chopped veggies and seasoning that can be added to your protein of choice. Seasonal vegetables like squash, zucchini and potato can last for several months in the freezer and make an easy breakfast, lunch or dinner meal in a pinch. I’ve added sausage and have also smothered it with onion and garlic to go with chicken. It can also be seasoned a variety of ways to keep things interesting.

A quart size bag makes 2 to 3 servings and a gallon would make roughly 6-8 servings. It’s best to chop and freeze it in your preferred quantity. You can always add bell pepper and/or onion (green, white or yellow) to your mix for added flavor. Personally I prefer a higher ratio of the squash and zucchini to the potato for a higher fiber, lower card ratio.

After thoroughly rinsing the veggies, I chopped roughly a cup to 1 1/4 of squash and zucchini and a 1/2 cup of potato. when adding the onion and bell pepper, add only a cup of the first two veggies to make sure the quart size bag has space.

As some of you may have seen last week, I am attempting to add a videos to support these post. That will be a work in progress :). Please share your thoughts and happy prepping!

Not Your Average Pasta Salad

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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

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. 
  2. Rinse vegetables and herbs. Slice tomato; cut peppers in half and remove seeds before slicing thinly. Chop rosemary.
  3. Boil pasta for 8-9 minutes. Chop whole olives or used canned, by straining liquid.
  4. Once boiled, add to a bowl, then add remaining ingredients.
  5. Mix well and enjoy.

Post Labor Day Cleanse

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After Labor Day indulgences, I decided to make a couple of juice blends to detox and cleanse my system. While beets are not at the top of most people’s favorite list, beet juice has some incredible cleansing properties. Beet juice is known to help lower blood pressure, increase blood flow, boost stamina and improve digestion among other benefits. Beets are loaded with potassium, fiber, vitamin C and nitrates which specifically aid with blood flow and pressure. Adding in a power partner like carrots which increase metabolism, boost the immune system, strengthens vision and improves skin and it’s a no brainer. While carrots are naturally sweet, I boosted the flavor of the mix with a couple of small apples, lemon and ginger.

I also made another juice blend of cucumber, celery and lemon juice. Celery is good for more than just soup and a ranch dressing companion. Juiced, it has antioxidant properties, minimizes oxidative stress, has anti- inflammatory properties and also helps lower blood pressure. Cucumber of course help promote weight loss with a boost to the metabolism, it hydrates the body as it’s mostly water, acts as a natural laxative and boost immunity.

These are two easy juice blends to get you back on track with a healthful diet and weight management routine. The best part is you don’t have to kill your budget to make it work. I made 32 ounces of the beet blend for about $4.25 and the same amount of the cucumber juice for about $2.75. Organic beets can be found at Trader Joe’s for about $1.69, organic gala apples $2.99/bag, organic celery about the same and organic carrots for $.89 a bag. Cucumbers are in season and I brought four for $1 at the farmer’s market. Ginger is also available at most stores or produce stands and since you only need a 1 inch to 2 inch piece, it shouldn’t cost more than $.50. Lemons can be found almost anywhere inexpensively. So if you have a mind to give it a try, check out the recipes below. Enjoy!

 

Beet and Carrot Juice

Ingredients:

1 lb. organic beets washed and peeled

2 lb. organic carrots washed and peeled

3 small organic apples

2 inch piece of peeled ginger

1 medium lemon peeled

 

Directions:

  1. Wash and peel carrots and beets.
  2. Rinse apples and peel ginger and lemon.
  3. Add to juicer alternating between beets and carrots to push all of the pulp through. Add ginger then lemon and juice.
  4. Store in airtight containers in refrigerator for up to three days.

 

Celery Cucumber Juice

Ingredients:

½ lb. organic celery

3 medium cucumbers

2 lemon peeled

1 inch piece of ginger (optional)

 

Directions:

  1. Wash celery and cucumber well.
  2. Peel lemon and ginger.
  3. Juice celery and cucumbers first and then lemon and ginger.
  4. Store in airtight containers in refrigerator for up to three days.

Watermelon Cooler

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Seasonal fruit like watermelon are wonderful however I often struggle on how to use the whole fruit. There is no such thing as  a small watermelon when your a household of 2 or less. I got a sweet melon from @FrankFeketeFarm, a great local farmer and wanted to try using the melon in different ways. So to get the most out of my melon I cut up what would fit into a large container and decided to transform the rest into a refreshing beverage. This is something refreshing for kids and doesn’t have any added sugar. You can always add lemon or lime for lemonade or limeade for a more kid friendly drink. You can also add other fruits like pineapple or other melons and call it fruit punch. For adult beverages, a splash of tequila or vodka with a twist or lime is all your need.

Watermelon Basil Cooler

Ingredients:

6 cups of watermelon chunks (or as much as you have)

1/2 cup of basil

4 cups of water

Directions:

  1. Peel and chop watermelon into chunks. Add to a bowl to blend with a hand mixer or add to a blender. 
  2. Strain with a large mesh strainer into a pitcher by filling the strainer and pushing the liquid through with the back of a spoon to get as much liquid as possible. If it is a seedless watermelon, you can save the watermelon sauce and eat just like applesauce.
  3. Add basil and water and stir well. Let steep for 30-45 minutes and remove basil.
  4. Serve over ice and enjoy. Refrigerate and drink within 1 week.