Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Summer, where art thou?

I cannot believe how quickly this summer has flown by. Mid-August already! It flew by for us due to welcoming a newborn in our house for the first time, having lots of visitors and having amazing weather  in July and August. Our little one arrived in June and I have been trying to savour every moment.  It also means that until I get in the swing of things, this blog has taken a bit of a backseat temporarily. 

Having said that, here is a brief snapshot of some of the food and garden-related activities from this summer. 
Roasting tomatoes to make pizza sauce. 250 degree oven, six hours. Then purée them to make a sauce. Yum! 

Our garlic harvested about 50 juicy, plump bulbs. Very successful! Looking forward to planting again this fall.

Fermented pickles, in progress. This is day four- brine is cloudy, there is a bit of bubbling and the cucumbers are turning into pickles. This recipe called for less salt then others I have tried and the results are much better. I will post more info once it finishes.


I found these awesome jars at Home Outfitters for 25% off. I am going to do larger batches of fermented pickles with this new recipe once the smaller test batch is completed (assuming it worked well). 


My first tomatillo husk appeared on the plant this week! So excited. This is my first time growing tomatillos.


Lots of beautiful zucchini flowers in the garden. Not sure if you can see in this one- a bee is in the middle, working away.


Another beautiful zucchini flower.


I planted peas for a fall harvest, they have started to grow and cling to their supports.

I found beautiful strawberries and red currants at our farmers market. I combined them both to make a fantastic jam. We have been enjoying it on croissants, biscuits and in strawberry shortcake desserts. 

Found these beauties at the market, too. Love sunflowers. Might try to grow my own next year.

I hope your summer is going well! 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Garden Tour/Update

Things are moving along quite nicely in the garden beds. I have tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, Swiss chard, beets, herbs, tomatillos, peas, beans, berries, rhubarb and garlic growing. Most are doing well, with the exception of cucumbers and zucchini- I think the soil should have been analyzed more as I suspect some nutrients are missing. The leaves are yellow and growth is very, very slow.

If you have a garden, I hope you are having a great season! 













Saturday, June 7, 2014

Rhubarb Ginger Scones

My love of rhubarb continues. I made scones today that include the flavours of ginger and rhubarb- they work really well together. In total, these took about 35 mins to make inclusive of baking time.


Recipe
2.5 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp of baking powder
0.5 tsp of salt (I use a fine sea salt)
8 tbsp of cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup of sugar, mixed together with 1 tsp of high quality vanilla extract  
3 tbsp sugar to mix with rhubarb
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups chopped rhubarb, chopped into 1/4" pieces or smaller if you'd like. If you are shy about the tartness of rhubarb, scale this back to 1.25 cups instead of 2.
2 tbsp chopped crystallized ginger (chewy pieces of ginger with a sugary exterior.) Chop them into small pieces- smaller the better.

Start by preheating oven to 425 degrees F. Then begin mixing 3 tbsp sugar with rhubarb pieces. Toss to evenly coat, then set aside.

Then mix together flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Once thoroughly mixed, cut butter into small pieces and dump into bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut butter into flour mixture until it gets coarse. 

Add vanilla sugar mixture, stir in well. Then add rhubarb and ginger pieces. It may seem a little a$$ backwards to do this now but it works best. Ensure it is mixed up well then make a well in the centre of bowl and add cream. Fold in dry mixture to cream, gradually forming a ball. I like using a fork to do this but if you prefer, this could all be done in a food processor using pulse mode until dough loosely forms.

Pour dough mixture onto floured surface and with your hands, make a round disc shape. Don't knead the dough or over work it. Once you have a disc shape, dough will be about 1/2" thick or so. Cut into wedges, you should be able to get 8 pieces. Dust pieces on top with sugar if you would like.

Put pieces on ungreased baking sheet and bake 18-20 mins until tops are browned. 

Enjoy! I can't wait to have one with a cup of hot coffee. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Super Easy Homemade Granola

We are gearing up to start a new chapter in our lives- parenthood, and starting to think about snacks and meals that will be easy to grab in the first few weeks. Today I decided to make a hearty granola. It is based on a recipe from Ina Garten. I love having granola with a bit of my homemade jam, plain Greek yogurt and cut up fruit. It is packed with protein and delicious!


This recipe takes about 30 minutes to make and only has a few steps. Ingredients:
2 cups roughly chopped hazelnuts
2 cups roughly chopped cashews
2 cups old fashioned steel cut oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup shredded coconut
6 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp honey




Steps: 
Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix the ingredients in a large bowl, ensuring the honey and oil get evenly distributed. Tip: pour oil first then honey- the honey will slide out of the spoon easily. Spread out evenly on a large sheet pan. Bake in oven for 20 minutes. Turn over granola every 5 mins to ensure it gets golden brown throughout. If you skip this part, it might get overdone in some spots.  Remove from oven and let cool completely. Then, you can add anything else you like: dried fruit like cranberries or pieces of mango, or you could add raisins or throw in some chocolate chips. Store the granola mixture in a sealed container; it should last a couple of months if airtight. 



Enjoy!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Upside Down Rhubarb Crumble Cake

I love watching Martha Bakes on PBS and fell in love when I saw this cake recipe. I love a crumble cake and rhubarb is one of my favorite things about spring. Combine the two and I am in heaven!

Ready, Set, Go!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crumble, mix 1/2 cup flour, 4 tbsp melted unsalted butter, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 tsp sea salt. Set aside. 

For the cake, cut up one pound of rhubarb into one inch pieces. Mix with 3/4 cup sugar. Let sit for two minutes, then stir.



Grease a 9" cake pan with butter and drop pieces of unsalted butter on bottom of pan, equalling 4 tbsp. 

Whisk together 1 and 1/4 cups of flour with 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1 and 1/2 tsp salt. In a separate bowl, mix 1.5 sticks of softened unsalted butter and 1 and 3/4 cups of sugar until it looks fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in zest of one lemon and 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice. Then beat in two eggs, one at a time. Mixture should look silky at this point. 

Beat in flour mixture divided into three parts, alternating with sour cream. In total, one cup of sour cream is used. By the end of mixing, the batter should look like this:

Dump the rhubarb mixture into your cake pan and spread evenly. Then pour batter evenly over rhubarb. Finish by sprinkling the crumble on top.

Bake for one hour. Crumble mixture should lightly brown. Remove from oven, let stand for ten minutes.

At the end of ten minutes, run a knife around edge to loosen it then flip it over onto a plate. Voila! The smell is ridiculous- you have been warned.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

I Heart Rhubarb

Rhubarb is one of my favourite things about spring.  I love it in many forms- stewed, baked, or even raw with a bit of sugar.  It's tart and reminds me of when my grandmother would make desserts with it. I love seeing the bulbs peek out of the garden in April and then grow to have large leaves and bright red stalks.  I found a rhubarb plant at one of our neighborhood garden centres and decided to add it to another garden bed.

Next weekend is Mother's day and I'm going to attempt to bake a rhubarb coffee cake from Martha Stewart for my mother-in-law.  I have a bag of frozen rhubarb from last year in the freezer that I'll use. I'll post pics and will let you know how it turns out!

In the meantime, Martha's website has 25 (!) different recipes for working with rhubarb. Check it out here.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Staking Tomato Plants

We reached another milestone with our tomato seedlings- time to stake them to offer support.  Why? As they grow taller, they start to lean and can fall sideways, breaking the stem or leaves.  We used bamboo skewers and a bit of twine to support them. Be sure to not tie the twine too tightly- the stems will grow larger as the plant grows. 

I have to give a shout-out to Annapolis Seeds. The plants grown from their heirloom seeds are outgrowing the other heirloom seeds I have from other seed companies. They are going to be beauties in the garden beds!


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tomato Seedling Update: Week Five

My tomato seedlings have been growing like crazy! The combination of sunlight, warmth from our patio window and overhead lighting seemed to work well. I also kept them moderately moist, letting them dry out before adding more water.  Today was time to get them moved to larger pots to help them grow more.
Plants before being moved to bigger pots. Seeing these beautiful plants helps to distract me from the cover of snow our yard received overnight last night. I thought it was spring?!

I was so pleased when I removed them from their cups to see lots of roots!

I bought medium-sized pots a couple of years ago at Canadian Tire and have been reusing them since. I give them a good wash in warm water with a splash of bleach and scrub them clean. I then make sure they get a good rinse and then they're ready to be used.  I used a combination of potting soil with added vermiculite to accompany the seedlings. When moving tomato seedlings to bigger pots, make sure to bury the stem of the plant into the soil mixture- roots will form off of the stem. Also, give them a bit of water once they're in their new homes.  It will help them settle in and help encourage the roots to grow.


Happy plant in its bigger pot
Stay tuned for more updates as things progress! I also started seeds for chocolate peppers and mini sweet peppers today.

By the way, if you're not sure which gardening zone you're in, Agriculture Canada has a great guide for Canadians. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Quick Update re: Seedlings

Today marked a milestone for the tomato seedlings I've started- they were ready to be moved from their trays to individual containers.  Seeds had sprouted into seedlings with tiny little leaves. 


The dark spot on the right leaf is just soil, I'll brush it off once it dries.
They're quite delicate at this stage so you have to be very patient and careful when transplanting them. I used the same seed starting mix and made sure their stems and roots were covered.  Stems will form roots on them if they are buried into the soil mixture- it's a great feature of growing tomatoes.  Roots get stronger and you can grow them more & more each time you transplant them.  I also applied a seaweed/water mixture (about 1/2 tsp of seaweed solution to a quart jar of lukewarm water) to water them lightly once I had them in their individual containers. Seaweed is a great natural fertilizer and will help the stems and roots to grow.

We also set up the grow lights above them to help give them the hours of direct light they need to grow tall.  Right now the lights are about 2" above the seedling- I'll move them up as the plants grow. 

In terms of success growing from seed, I had about 60% of the seeds germinate.  The toilet paper rolls didn't do as well as I had hoped- it seems like they hung onto the moisture too much so the area stayed too damp. Just layering seed in trays of soil worked the best.  I also love using my heat mats (like these)- they make seed starting very easy by providing the warmth seeds need. 

Even with one of the bulbs burned out (I need to replace it), the fluorescent light reaches all of the cups.


I love seeing the little leaves sprout after the seeds have germinated. So satisfying!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins

The Canadian Olympic men's hockey team is in the final gold-medal game in Sochi (go Team Canada!)  Given that the game is an early morning one to watch, I decided to make homemade blueberry muffins to enjoy with our coffee.  The recipe is super easy and they taste great!





Ingredients:


  • 3 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup apple butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 & ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup of frozen wild blueberries
  • ½ cup of honey lavender blueberry jam
 
Frozen wild blueberries- perfect for smoothies, desserts or baking!
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix the dry ingredients together, ensuring everything is well incorporated into a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre of the bowl.  In a separate medium-sized bowl, mix together eggs, apple butter, vanilla, coconut oil and water.  Pour liquid mixture into the middle of the well in the dry ingredients.  Lightly mix everything together with a spatula. 

Then, gently fold in the jam- make sure it is folded and not stirred or mixed, otherwise your batter will turn blue. The last step is to pour in the blueberries, and again fold it gently into the mixture. 
Scoop the batter into a greased muffin tin, filling each one about 3/4 full. Sprinkle with a light dusting of brown sugar.  Bake in the oven for 15 minutes- test each one by sticking a toothpick in it to make sure they're done.  If the toothpick comes out clean, they're finished.


Enjoy!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

It's Finally Here: Seed Starting Time!

As soon as November rolls around, I get a little sad that the gardening season is nearing the end. It gets worse once my garlic has been planted- then I really feel like it's over until the following year.  The holiday craziness ramps up, takes my mind off of gardening, and next thing you know- it's January and I'm looking forward to seeing seed catalogues.  My favourite catalogues include Veseys, Halifax Seed, and Annapolis Seeds

It's now mid-February and time to take the plunge and start my seeds for the tomatoes that I want to grow. I'm excited because I found quite a few unique varieties this year like Black Krim, Paul Robeson, Tasmanian Chocolate, German Stripe, San Marzano, Pruden Purple and Brandywine (I love these!).

To get started, a few supplies are needed: seeds, seed starting mix (not soil, it's usually a mixture of peat, compost and vermiculite), plastic containers to use, a plastic cover (plastic wrap can work), a marker and painters tape or masking tape, a shelf in a warm spot, and preferably a heat mat used for starting seed (or you can make your own heat mat like this one).  You don't have to run out and spend a lot of money on containers.  Lots of people have success using old margarine or yogurt containers. Just make sure to sterilize them well and drill some drainage holes.  

Before I start plopping seeds into the seed starting mix, I soak them in water for a bit to help them "wake up".  To germinate, seeds will need warmth, water, and to be cozy in the seed starting mix. They don't need light at this point.  Some people soak them for a while, I find just an hour or so is sufficient. I then prepare my trays- I make sure to scrub them clean if I'm reusing them and soak them with a water/bleach combo to sterilize them.  I then give them a good rinse and let them air dry.

This year, I decided to use old toilet paper rolls cut in half to hold the mixture and seeds.  I laid them out in the plastic trays, filled them 3/4 of the way to the top then dropped a seed or two on top.


I then watered the tray from the bottom, gave the tops a sprinkle of water and then topped each roll with a dusting of more soil-like mixture (about 1/4").  I labelled them so I knew which seeds were growing wear then covered them up and put it on the shelf on top of the heating mat.

In previous years, I have seen growth after a week or so.  Little tiny seedlings pop up and it's one of the most rewarding sights ever! Once they've all sprouted, I remove the plastic lid to let air get at them and then re-position the shelf so it's near a sunny, south-facing window. I secure a fluorescent light about 3" above and keep it moderately moist.  As it grows, I make sure to haul out any multiples that are growing so there is one seedling per plant.  I also fertilize with compost tea or a seaweed emulsion mixed with water every couple of weeks.  Once they've grown a bit, I set up a little fan to blow air on them to help strengthen the seedlings and make them stronger.

Stay tuned for more updates as I track their progress! Happy 2014 gardening season!

Disclaimer: I am not a gardening expert, just outlining what has worked best for me when seed starting. There are lots of great resources online if you're looking for expert advice.  I suggest:
yougrowgirl.com
canadiangardening.com
vegetablegardener.com
finegardening.com

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