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)
With life getting in the way, sometimes a light dinner is called for. This dish took 10 minutes to make and was both light and satisfying. I has also made a pitcher of cucumber infused water with basil and lemon earlier in the week which was quite refreshing. The shrimp in this dish can easily be substituted with a piece of seared fish or canned tuna that can be spruced up with fresh herbs, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Check out the recipe below.
1/2 lb. shrimp
1 tbsp. chopped green onion
1 small cucumber diced
1 cup diced tomato
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. coarse black pepper
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1. Peel and devein shrimp if whole. Set aside in ice water until ready to use.
2. Rinse and peel cucumber and cut in half. Cut in half horizontally, then make three long strips to make a small dice. Repeat with remaining half.
3. Rinse and score tomato before dicing it. Add tomato and cucumber to a medium-sized bowl.
4. Rinse and chop green onion and add to the bowl. Rinse lemon and cut in half before squeezing one half over bowl.
5. Place a pan over medium heat and add oil. Place shrimp on a paper towel and pat dry. Season with half of the seasonings and add to hot pan.
6. Season other half and let cook for 2 minutes before flipping he shrimp. Let cook for 2 minutes then squeeze in fresh lemon juice (seeded side up). Let cook for another 2 minutes and remove from heat.
7. Plate in bowls and serve.
From my recent travels, I have certainly been inspired with different flavors and dishes that will inspire the next few posts. My current focus is the beloved strawberry. Strawberries are great as a snack, addition to breakfast and in desserts. When they are in season, I use them in as many ways as I can she I love the challenge of finding new ways to use them. I decided on a cocktail and a different take on a salad with strawberries and the beautiful onions that are now in season at the farmer’s market. In case you are worried about onion breath, onions are transformed through the picking process and becomes a completely different flavor. Below are the recipes of two new additions that are sure to be memorable and delicious. Share your thoughts and as always enjoy!
Strawberry Jalapeño Cocktail
1/2 cup of fresh strawberries
1 medium jalapeño
Juice of two limes
1 1/2 -2 oz of vodka
6 oz of club soda
1. Cut the tops off a handful of strawberries and cut them into fourths.
2. Reserve two cut up strawberries for your glass. Add them to a martini shaker.
3. Rinse two limes and cut them in half. Juice them into the martini shaker and add the limes.
4. Cut one medium jalapeño in half and remove the seeds. Put half into the martini shaker.
5. Muddle the ingredients until broken down.
6. Add vodka, top and shake.
7. Muddle the remaining strawberries in your glass, add strained contents of the shaker, club soda and the remaining half of the jalapeño.
Picked Onion and Strawberry Salad
1 cup of chopped strawberries
1 cup of sliced onion (1 small)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. chopped lovage or parsley
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. coarse black pepper
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. cayenne
1. Combine sugar and vinegar in a medium-sized bowl until sugar is dissolved.
2. Cut an onion in half then peel each half. Slice each half thinly and add to the vinegar mixture. Let sit for 10 minutes.
3. Cut strawberries and add to the bowl.
4. Rinse and chop fresh herbs and add it and seasoning to the bowl and mix well.
I was happy to take part in the first mobile market of the season with BREADA to host a food demo. Though still warm out, there was a great variety of fall produce. I decided to make a fall salad with a fresh satsuma balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve eaten many salads that have included kale, but I decided to make it the base. The trick is to tear it small and add it to the vinaigrette first to help it break down quicker and be less bitter. Turnips, often boiled or roasted, are great raw and made a great addition to the salad. They were peeled and thinly sliced or shaved using a mandolin. If a mandolin is not part of your kitchen tools, a potato peeler or box grater on the smallest setting would also work. While I love veggies, I prefer to add meat to the dish. You can really add any protein of choice, a piece of fish, baked or grilled chicken, grilled steak or even a pork chop if desired. It was great to see so many people try the dish and not only like it, but buy kale to try something new at home. The ingredients and directions for the salad and vinaigrette are listed below. Enjoy!
2 satsumas juiced by hand or juicer (about 1/4 cup of liquid)
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. coarse black pepper
Pinch of salt
3 cups chopped or ripped kale
1/4 cup shaved turnips
1/3 cup sliced cucumber
1/3 cup sliced zucchini
1/8 cup diced bell pepper
1/8 cup diced green onion
1. Peel 2 small to medium-satsuma (small orange). Over a medium-sized bowl, juice sections of the fruit at a time. Remove seeds, if any.
2. Add balsamic vinegar and oil and whisk until well blended. Add seasonings and mix well.
3. Rinse kale and set on a paper towel. Remove the leaf from the stem and rip into small bite-sized pieces into the bowl with the vinaigrette. Mix with tongs or a fork until kale is well coated.
4. Peel two small turnip roots with a potato peeler and slice with a mandolin over the bowl or if using the peeler or box grater, on a plate before adding to the bowl. Stir to coat turnips in dressing.
5. Wash zucchini and cucumber and cut off both ends. Slice the zucchini in half longwise before cutting the half in half and then into thin slices. Repeat with cucumber and add both to the bowl.
6. Wash green onion and bell pepper. Cut off the tips of a few green onion stems before chopping roughly until you have roughly 1/8 of a cup and adding to bowl. Cut of a fourth of the bell pepper and remove any seeds before slicing thinly and chopping it small.
7. Toss salad, plate and enjoy.