Saturday, 31 May 2014

Baby Kale Salad with Grilled Portobello Mushrooms, Boursin and Raspberries

I'm having a very difficult time with my greens this year ... there is no sign of the spinach or arugula planted weeks ago and I keep accidentally pulling the kale out thinking it's a weed.  Arrrgghh!

So I just keep buying mixed greens at the store with pretty much those same greens: mostly baby kale with some spinach and arugula. I really love salads with grilled mushrooms or onions and roasted peppers on top.  They can easily become a full meal.  In this case, I had peppers in the fridge but I have other plans for those.

When I decided to grill the portobellos, I had considered making a raspberry vinaigrette but I decided to just use the berries right in the salad.  So use any favourite neutral salad dressing or use this vinaigrette recipe.

I don't normally clean mushrooms too much but in this case they seemed awfully dirty.  Just wipe them with a damp paper towel to clean.

I also removed the gills - this isn't absolutely necessary and I often don't bother.  Definitely remove the gills if you are using them for a mushroom risotto - otherwise you'll end up with muddy looking rice!

Either toss with some olive oil so the mushrooms are lightly coated or just use some olive oil in the pan and pour a bit extra into the cavity (and sprinkle with salt).  Grill until well browned and the texture has softened fully.

Allow the mushrooms to cool then slice.  Toss with mixed greens, fresh raspberries, pieces of boursin cheese (I used pepper boursin) and your favourite vinaigrette.  Add pepper if you like it!


Thursday, 29 May 2014

2014 Garden Plans: Part 3

Here is the third (and last) posting showing more of what I have planted for the 2014 vegetable growing season. The first post went through the main gardens and raised frames.  The second post was all about the straw bale setups.  And this is the rest ... including the blueberry bush pictured above (did nothing it's first year; I have my fingers crossed that I'll get at least a nibble this year).

In What's Left of the Greenhouse

The back third of the greenhouse is still in place (with the rest having been torn down after winter damage).  But there is plenty of space left which I'm not taking full advantage of yet.  So far, I have some hot and sweet peppers in pots, a Salad Bush Cucumber plus the following plants (tomato pots are filled with weeds, need to do some work this weekend):

Tomatillos plus Black Krim and Brandywine Tomatoes in Pots
Tarbais Beans in Plastic Grow Bags

Here and There

Sweet and Hot Peppers ... these will probably be moved into the greenhouse when I get a chance.

Rhubarb ... eight of them!

Another asparagus patch ...

Nanking Cherry ... I bought this at Yuko's place last year, but it stayed in the pot until I finally planted it somewhere in September!  I really overbought last year and could not keep up with everything.  But it seems to be coming back fine.  Not sure if this is a bush or a tree??  Either way, it will have some space where I planted it.

The Potato Patch

Last year, this was the pumpkin and melon patch.  Now it's potatoes.

And just behind the potato patch is a line of Kong sunflowers.  They are supposed to get up to 12 feet tall but not sure if that involves a lot of fertilizer?  We'll see what I get naturally from them.

And the Newest Garden: Three Sisters Garden

I still have a bit of work to be done here but the corn has been planted.  This is my first time growing a Three Sisters Garden (corn, beans, squash) and I'm not sure how well it will do in straw.  But more on that in a future post ...

A Three Sisters Garden Still in Progress

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

2014 Garden Plans: Part 2

This second post outlining my overall garden plans for 2014 is focused on the section of straw bale gardens.  I was pretty happy with the plants that grew in the few hay bales I had last year, so I've significantly expanded (mostly planted but a bit of work still to do).  That blue bin in the middle has some early potatoes.  And here is more of what I have planted this year:

Soon To Be ... Mouse Melon

Lumina and Sugar Pumpkin in Straw, Nasturtiums in the Middle

Summer Squash

More Summer Squash

Watermelon and Soon To Be More Pumpkins

Monday, 26 May 2014

2014 Garden Plans: Part 1

This past weekend has definitely been my busiest to date for the 2014 gardening season.  Whew, I think most of the hard work is done and now it's down to maintenance (ugh, weeding) ... and plenty of watering.

Here's a rundown of what I'm growing this year ... there are a lot of gardens, so this is a two-parter (hmm, make that a three-parter - I've been awfully busy).

Last year was my first in this location.  What I refer to as the main "dug" garden was the only vegetable garden on the property in addition to the greenhouse.  I refer to it as a "dug" garden as most of my other projects are "raised" above ground.

In the Main "Dug" Garden

Tarbais Beans, San Marzano Tomatoes

Mess of a Strawberry Patch (and Raspberries)

Garlic, Cucumbers, Okra and Onions

In the Raised Garden Frames

Most of these were added last year, but I added two more this spring.

Cukes to the Left Side, Carrots in that Blue Bin and Wildflowers in Frame

Left Frame is Borlotti Beans and Swiss Chard; Right is Onions and Carrots

Left Frame is Onions and Beets; Right is Peas and Radish

Garlic Planted in the Fall

In the "Flat" Raised Gardens

I created the herb garden last spring and started the "greens" garden just before winter so it would be ready for use this year.

Sage, Thyme, Rosemary, Parsley, Tarragon
Lettuce, Arugula, Spinach, Kale, Basil, Cilantro

In the Hugel Garden

Like the greens garden, I started this last year to be ready for 2014 ... although this one was considerably more work! All the veggies here have been planted by seed.  It will take a few years for the "inside"of this garden to be fully broken down.  I just hope there is enough material this year for the roots to get a proper hold.

Butternut, Acorn, Spaghetti Squash and Cantaloupe
More asparagus beside the Hugel

I'll continue the summary of my 2014 garden plans tomorrow ...

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Mushroom Fried Rice

It's always nice to go old school and make some fried rice to use up leftovers.  This is easy to make if you don't do a lot of cooking.  I've been really into brown rice lately and it works perfectly well in this dish (as well as this cheesy zucchini rice I made a little while ago).

Throw in some shrimp or chicken and you've got a quick and healthy meal.

A good tip is to chop all of the ingredients around the same size - pea size.  So the peppers, onions and mushrooms need to get diced pretty small.

2 eggs, lightly beaten
Sesame oil
2-3 pieces bacon, chopped
4 small garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp minced ginger
1 leek (or 1 medium onion), diced
2 peppers (orange/red), diced
1 1/2 cups diced mushrooms
2 cups brown rice, cooked, chilled
3/4 cup frozen green peas
Sauce (recipe follows)

1/2 cup bean sprouts (optional)
1/4 cup cilantro (optional)

Mix together 2 Tbsp light soy sauce, 1 tsp black vinegar and 1 Tbsp shaoxing cooking wine (or beer works perfectly well if you don't have the wine).  Set aside until ready to use.


In a heated non-stick saute pan, add two dashes of sesame oil then pour in the eggs.  Rotate the pan a bit to allow the eggs to cover the entire pan bottom in a thin sheet.  Cook until most of the raw is done (but don't overcook).  Roll out onto a plate and set aside.  Roughly chop (just use your wooden spoon to break it up a bit).

In same pan, add bacon.  Cook until done, but not too crispy.  Remove from pan with a slotted spoon to keep the fat.

Add garlic, ginger and onions/leeks and cook just 2 minutes.  Add peppers and mushrooms.  Saute while stirring fairly often until vegetables have softened.

Add cooked rice and the sauce.  Cook until rice is fully heated through.

Add green peas, sprouts and cilantro (if using), reserved bacon and egg.  Turn over with wooden spoon to mix all ingredients together.  Remove from heat and cover with lid until ready to serve.  Should sit just a few minutes until peas have heated through.

Garnish with more cilantro, maybe sliced spring onions.  Serve with additional sesame oil or soy.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Composting Seminar: Lessons Learned

I attended a workshop a month or so ago on composting.  I’ve composted for years but I knew I did not really know what I was doing because after months or even a full year I had nothing but rotting vegetables still.  Well, I’m exaggerating a bit because sometimes there was semi-useable compost, but it was pretty chunky. 

I can’t believe how much I learned at this event.  If you are interested, this workshop occurs a few times a year at the Giving Garden in Kemptville (“Backyard Composting Seminar”).  Please don't consider anything here as a quote from the seminar - it is just my take on what I heard, and if I have something wrong, don't blame the good volunteers who offer the workshop!

An important point for newbies is how little useable material results from composting.   It takes a LOT of corn husks, avocado skins and leftover pasta to make enough compost for even a small garden.  I started composting not just to reduce my own waste going into landfills, but to reduce my costs each year for soil additives to improve the growing conditions in my garden.  But waste from even a large family will not result in much organic material.  To be honest, it can be a bit of work to compost and not a lot of personal benefit (unless you pay for garbage bag tags as I do - $1.75 per bag – so I’ll achieve some small financial gain by putting out less garbage).  But it’s the right thing to do for your community: less waste going to landfills which also reduces the production of methane gases and if enough people get involved it may also reduce costs of garbage pickup in the long-term.

But if you want to make a bit of effort to improve your local environment, I thought I’d share a few of the most basic tips that I learned for efficient and effective composting:

1) Good compost requires an aerobic environment.  The good microbes for breaking down the material are those that need oxygen to live.  Microbes that like anaerobic environments are more likely to create methane gas.  So turn over your compost pile about once a week to foster the right aerobic conditions (I think this was my biggest failing – I pretty much was throwing stuff on top and just leaving it);  

Here is what the compost looked like in the spring following the winter I moved in (and admittedly what mine often looks like).  The previous residents had thrown a pile of large items in which were not able to break down very quickly (including a knife ... I know, weird right?). 


2) Maintain a 50/50 ratio of browns (carbon) to greens (nitrogen) with each layer that you add.  If you can’t add exactly 50/50 in each layer, that is where the turning over bit helps – if you didn’t get enough browns in one layer, add more in the next and it will all get jumbled together during the weekly turning.  Here are some examples of each to use in your composter:

Browns (Carbon)
Greens (Nitrogen)
Leaves, Dead Plants
Fruit Peels / Cores
Hay, Straw
Veggie Scraps
Peat Moss
Weeds (yes!)
Tissue / Paper Towels
Dryer Lint
Coffee Grounds
Wood Chips
Coffee Filters

*That’s right – urine is basically nitrogen so you can pee in your compost and it helps with the green balance (or pee straight into your garden, just not directly on a plant)! 

And some other materials are useful but are kind of neutral as far as this ratio goes.

Other Minerals
Wood Ash (note: ill create a more alkaline Ph)

3)  Consider keeping a layer of brown (newspaper, e.g.) on top as a cover; this will keep the fruit flies away if your lid is not sufficient (or if you don’t have a lid like me);

4) If you smell ammonia, you have too much nitrogen so add some browns to avoid the stink; 
5) Proper composting also requires moisture; if the greens are not naturally moist enough, you may need to add water, but not too much – it should be damp like a wrung-out sponge;   

6) Keep your compost in a sunny location and, preferably, on top of soil for better drainage (versus on cement); but most important for location is to keep it somewhere handy so it is not an effort to bring out your scraps!

There were other tips like the size of the bin; that is, I was told minimum size should be the black bin that most people have (same as mine in the picture above) but I don’t remember why that was important.

I’ve never produced a lot of compost mainly because I was limiting my “greens” to veggie scraps.  But knowing I can use discarded plants or weeds make a huge difference - that creates much more material for me to add.  And these are just the basics (basics which I needed a solid reminder of).

I’ll let you know how it’s all working out for me.  If you have good tips to share, please pass them along.  I’ll practice some of these tips over the summer and will report on whether or not I am finally successful with composting.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Primavera Eastern-Ontario Style: Farfalle with Ramps, Fiddleheads, Asparagus and Goat Cheese

When I see primavera pastas (pasta with spring vegetables), I always wonder where in the world the cook lives ... certainly not Eastern Ontario considering the types of veggies I often see included (zucchini, peppers, beetroot, etc.).

 Now I might have a zucchini fresh in the garden during spring but only in the very last days before summer ... this recipe link is about last year's first zucchini from my own garden being used right on June 21st in Jamie Oliver's Zucchini Carbonera.

So I set out to make a real Eastern-Ontario style primavera using the vegetables more commonly found in this area from early May and into June: ramps, fiddleheads and asparagus (I'm not a big fan of stinging nettles but they are abundant around this time as well).

Ramps are wild leeks.  A friend brought me a bag a few weeks ago.  We weren't in the mood for a big cook-off at the time, so the ramps were braised in chicken stock, the liquid wrung out as much as possible, then put into plastic bags in the freezer.  Here they are used to replace any onion and garlic in the recipe.

I never pick my own fiddleheads although friends do ... I just don't know which ferns are edible and which aren't so I leave this up to the pros. I bought a pack at one of the few local stores selling them.

And the asparagus I used unfortunately is not my own.  My asparagus was only planted last year and I need to leave it alone for a year or two to feed itself and ensure a better and longer-lasting harvest down the road.  Just as well ... out of the 8 crowns in this particular patch, there were only 12-15 spears (which have now grown into ferns).

1 lb farfalle pasta
1/4 cup ramps, chopped
1 cup fiddleheads, cleaned, trimmed
1 cup asparagus, chopped
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, chopped
Lemon juice
Goat Cheese

Cook pasta in salted, boiling water.

Saute ramps in a heated pan with some olive oil.  Add fiddleheads and asparagus.  Saute on high heat a few minutes until veggies begin to soften.  Squeeze in the juice of one lemon, season with salt and pepper then set aside.

In a separate pan, heat olive oil then add the mushrooms.  Cook on high heat until browned.  Add to the greens then toss with cooked pasta.

Serve with goat cheese and lemon slices.  Yummy!!