Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Polenta with Winter’s End Vegetables

I missed posting a simple recipe last week so here we go with a two-parter that includes polenta and a vegetable mixture that I made up on Sunday. The polenta recipe is basically the same preparation for instant polenta that you’ll find in many places. Jim and I ate this on Sunday with salad, meat and baked potatoes. Today for lunch I served the leftovers with salad. It made a nice size meal for lunch.

Prepare polenta by combining 1 ½ cups simmering milk with 1 cup instant polenta. Cook, whisking continually, minutes. Add another ¼ cup milk if it’s too thick to spread. Add 3 TBS butter and 3 TBS freshly grated parmesan cheese. Finish with salt and pepper to taste.

Grease cookie sheet with substantial sides. Spread polenta to ½ inch or so. It will not cover the entire sheet. Put into refrigerator to set.

When vegetables below are almost ready, remove polenta from refrigerator. Cut into squares or rectangles, whatever shape you like! Melt 2 TSP butter on griddle. Heat griddle then cook polenta until golden on each side.

Winter’s End Vegetables
Chop ½ large red onion, 1 medium carrot and 1 celery stalk. Sautee in olive oil. Peel and cut small cubes of a small butternut squash. Chop 2 garlic cloves. Add squash and garlic to softened vegetables and continue to cook. Add a little more oil if needed. Chop 8 canned San Marzano tomatoes. When squash has begun to soften, add tomatoes and some of their juice. Continue to add juice as needed. Chop a few capers and add. Add salt to taste. Add a generous teaspoon of dried basil and the same of dried parsley. Taste for seasoning. Cook until squash is soft.

Top polenta with vegetable mixture and a little parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Preparing for bugs and productivity

Bugs and soil. The productive garden needs to have beneficial insects but not those that are destructive. It also requires fertile soil with the proper pH for what you are growing. With the sun shining beautifully on the garden this past weekend, I began exploring how to optimize both of these this year.

It was the blueberries I planted that prompted me to first search out help with the acidity of my soil. The bushes we first planted produced berries but never thrived. I want to be sure the soil is at the correct pH level this time. I was happy to find a pH meter in the gardening section of one of the stories I frequent. I promptly purchased it, read the instructions and tested our soil. As I suspected, it’s not acidic enough.
I had already added organic matter, which my organic gardening book had recommended. I wasn’t sure what else to add to keep the garden organic so I began my search, finding the same recommendations repeatedly: pine bark mulch, pine needles, cottonseed meal and sulfur. This article has more insight.

It sounds like this will be a longer-term process than adding a simple amendment immediately, but I believe patience will pay off.

The other research I picked up over the weekend was a start to which herbs and companion plants might diminish garden pests. I experimented with this last year on a small level and the only bugs I had trouble with were squash beetles. I’m more serious about it this year. Our winter wasn’t as cold as usual and spring has come early, ideal conditions in which some bugs will thrive. For now, I’ve planted some herb seeds in pots for later transplanting. As the sun shines I’m sketching out my planting plan for this year, experimenting with different arrangement to maximize the benefits of companion planting.
Before I sign off today also want to revisit the question of safe seeds to use. So far I’ve identified two sources that I feel safe recommending because of their company philosophies and statements: Johnny’s Select Seeds and Seeds of Change.

If you have recommended sources for seeds, or any other gardening advice to share, please post it in our comments so we can all continue to learn.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Make a little taste of Ireland

When Jim and I spent a week in Ireland, we both fell in love with the country and its food. Breakfast was always substantial with eggs, an accompanying meat and bread and some strong Irish tea or coffee. It’s the kind of breakfast that energizes the visitor who wants to explore all day. Later in the day, after an afternoon tea break, we would search for a pub or more elegant restaurant to enjoy a feast of an evening meal. There were always mashed potatoes, usually served over or under the meat or another vegetable.

For all the wonderful places we dined, Jim’s favorite was the Irish version of a highway rest stop. We looked around the few historic buildings in the area then headed into the cafeteria for lunch. Jim still talks about his smoked salmon sandwich, which couldn’t be easier to make.

Irish Smoked Salmon Sandwich

Choose a bread that you like to eat toasted. Toast two slices.
Spread cream cheese on your toasted bread. Chop chives (or dill) from your garden and sprinkle over the cream cheese.
Add smoked salmon.
Top sandwich with second piece of bread and enjoy.

Of course you can experiment with adding your favorite condiment, caramelized onions, roasted peppers, sprouts, lettuce or any other favorite sandwich topping. However, first try the simple version. Sometimes the pure flavor of simple ingredients is impossible to best. If the smoked salmon is good, it truly needs very little to go with it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Comfort yourself with pinto beans and corn cakes

The hail came suddenly on Friday evening, along with a wind that pummeled everything from a dangerous angle—not quite sidewise but on its way. We were in a restaurant surrounded by glass windows. Not a good place to be if a tornado hits. So when the hail subsided, we got into the truck for the 2-mile drive home. As we looked ahead, however, we saw a dark sky and we plowed into golf ball-sized hail.

We finally arrived home safely and spent the next two hours watching storm coverage on television and running into the cellar the three times that the tornado siren blared. The high winds caused damage but nothing like what they turned into as they traveled into eastern Kentucky. The tornados there ravaged the town of West Liberty, destroyed buildings in Salyersville, including the Catholic church, and wrought so much destruction that people didn’t know how to begin cleaning up.

Sometimes Mother Nature is not kind. My soggy garden and ripped greenhouse is a mere inconvenience compared to my neighbors in the mountains. As I pray for those who lost their homes, businesses and loved ones in the storm, I bring you a more comforting bit of Kentucky to warm you.

One of the first meals I remember after moving here was pinto beans and corn bread. I was lucky to marry a man who knows how to make a marvelous pinto bean soup. This week’s simple meal includes the soup and my friend Joyce’s honey corn cakes. On her blog, you’ll find the recipe along with her reflections, as someone who lives in the affected region, about the storm.

Jim’s Pinto Beans

Put 2 lb. dry pinto beans into a 2 gallon pot. Fill it 2/3 full with water and add 1 TBSP baking soda. Stir. Bring to boil. When the beans float, strain.

Add fresh water, 1 large chopped onion and 1 TBSP salt. Although this isn’t essential, it tastes better if you add either a ham hock, bacon or bacon grease. Bring to boil. When they reach a hard boil, turn to medium for a soft, rolling boil. Check beans once in awhile to see if you need to add more water. Beans should remain covered with water. Cook one hour or longer until beans are soft. How long that takes will depend on how fresh the beans are.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Haitian Rice and Beans

Just about daily I chat online with my friend Juana Rodriguez who is working in Haiti to improve living conditions. Her dream is to establish a cocoa farm that would give people dignified work while also protecting the land. Those sorts of dreams can be very difficult to bring to reality in a country of so much poverty. But like the people of Haiti, Juana is resilient. She moves forward, even if conditions dictate moving at a slow pace.

Yolantha Harrison-Pace is another woman I think of when Haiti comes to mind. An artist who lives in Kentucky, Yolantha visited Haiti prior to the 2010 earthquake and returned to write a chapbook called, Nobody Knows the Haiti I’ve Seen. Besides relating stories of the land and people she came to know, Yolantha also included recipes from Haiti. She agreed to share one of these recipes with us for our simple Lenten meal of the week.

Haitian Rice and Beans

¼ cup fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of thyme
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 TBSP salt
2 TBSP oil
1 cup rice
2 cups cooked beans
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water

With a mortar and pestle, mash parsley, garlic, thyme, onion and salt into thick paste. Heat the paste and oil in a pot, add rice. Coat rice with oil, add vegetable broth, water and beans. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and cover, simmering until the rice is tender and water has been absorbed. Stir and serve hot.

As I eat my rice and beans, I also pray for Juana, Yolantha and people of Haiti.