Saturday, August 25, 2012

Brunch features local foods

I love it when guests come to my house and I can say our meal comes from local sources. That was the case this morning when my prayer group came for brunch. After choosing items from the garden early this morning and combining them with other locally-sourced food, here's the menu I came up with:

Garden Veggie and Herb Fritatta (made with Swiss chard, purple potatoes, onions, red pepper and yellow squash, basil, parsley and my friend Maria's eggs)
Fresh tomatoes
Fruit Salad (made with an apple, pear, peach, raspberries and strawberry yogurt)
Honey Wheat Bread topped with a choice of peach jam or honey-walnut-cream cheese spread
Chocolate Chip Zuchinni Breat (to satisfy the sweet tooth)

Healthy food, nutritious and, according to my friends, delicious. It's so much fun to have choices that make all of those things possible. As the garden season continues, continue to be grateful when the rain falls and the plants produce. I'll savor my opportunities to create from  the goodness from the garden until the last vine completes its work for the summer.

What did you cook from the garden this week?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rain barrel serves two purposes

After too many months of putting it off, I finally bought the fixtures for my rain barrel so we could put it to use. In the process, I meet an enthusiastic company founder who believes in supporting the local economy and I beautified my backyard.

A friend started me on this journey more than a year ago when she gave me a rain barrel without the fixtures. For a year, we kept the barrel as it was, putting it under an overflowing gutter during the warm weather months. It did collect water but not in the way intended.
A couple of months ago I finally examined the barrel to find it came from I was so intent on finding out if they could sell me the parts I needed that I didn’t bother to look at the “about us” page. When Mitzi Bender called me to respond to my inquiry, I discovered she was in nearby Lexington.
When I met Mitzi, she told me more of her story. She wanted a rain barrel for her yard but discovered it had to meet specific neighborhood regulations. So she found a friend to work with her on a design that would satisfy the regulations. That’s why their barrel includes a planter on the top.

The team wanted to be able to supply local businesses so they found a company in Mt. Sterling that could manufacture the barrels. They’ve now sold their product not only in Kentucky but also to cities elsewhere in the countries.

Mitzi assured me I could easily put it together myself. I had to screw on on the spigots to get the barrel close to working order, which wasn’t too much of a challenge even though the holes are quite deep into the barrel. The part I didn’t want to attempt was sawing off the downsppout to attach a flex hose to guide the rain into barrel. I turned that part over to my husband.

Meanwhile, I filled the planter with late-season closeout bargains from the greenhouse. Since the barrel sits in the shade next to the house and near the garden, I bought a Boston fern and impatiens to fill it. The combination makes me smile every time I walk around the corner.

We don’t have a lot of watering time remaining this year but I am using my rain barrel and have discovered what seems to be the best place for it. Next year I’ll attach a soaker hose that I can place in the garden where my plants will surely be happy for their rain-refreshment.

Friday, August 10, 2012

When the tomatoes need to be cooked now

We all have busy lives so we don’t always get into our gardens the minute something is ready to harvest. This week when I filled my basket with tomatoes, some of them needed to be cooked immediately. If a tomato is split or has a soft spot and it sits in the kitchen window too long (that’s where I keep them until there’s enough to can) they will attract fruit flies. The same is true of any other fruit or vegetables left on a counter. To avoid that problem, I decided to make a batch of pasta sauce.

By the time I had picked the tomatoes there wasn’t time to complete the sauce. What follows is a very rough two-day recipe for making a simple sauce from fresh produce and herbs. You could, of course, make it in one day but sometimes sauces deepen their flavor if left in the refrigerator overnight.  I apologize in advance for not being more exact with the recipe; it leaves lots of room for creativity! You’ll want to use the proportions of ingredients that are right for the amount of tomatoes you have.

Easy pasta sauce

Day 1 (takes 1 hour or so)

Chop ½ onion and 2 carrots. Sautee in olive oil in a large skillet or pot (that has a lid) that will hold all of the tomatoes you have. Smash two cloves of garlic then chop and add to the pan.

While the onion and carrots are slowly sautéing, chop 12 or so ripe tomatoes. Add them to the pan. Lightly salt and cook. Add ½ cup of red wine. Bring to a nice boil then turn down to simmer. Taste to see if you need to add sugar. I sprinkled just a little (no more than ¼ cup) over the top then stir it in.

Chop a big handful of fresh basil and add along with other herbs you like. I added dried marjoram, rosemary, thyme, black pepper, salt and a sprinkle of red pepper to give heat.  Turn off, cool then put on lid and store in refrigerator.

Day 2 (takes 30 minutes)

Warm the sauce base.

In another pan, brown ½ - 1 pound sweet Italian sausage. Chop green pepper and add to sausage. Chop 2/3 cup zucchini and add. Salt lightly. 

While that is cooking, boil salted pasta water and add pasta.

Drain fat from sausage pan, add to sauce and stir. Add ½ cup fresh parsley. Taste and adjust seasonings. If you have a leftover rind of Parmesan, chop it and add it. That will give you wonderful little bites of Parmesan in your dish.

When the pasta is done, spoon it onto the top of the sauce. Grate Romano cheese onto the pasta then stir. Grate more cheese onto the top of the dish and serve.

By the way, I know this might be some sort of sacrilege to the Italians, but I had a little bit of two different types of pasta leftover from earlier meals (bowtie and penne) so I mixed them for this dish. You can see that in the photo.