Chilly Days, Chili Nights

According to the calendar, it’s already been Spring for two weeks. It hardly feels that way, though! The air has been cool, the sky gray, and the ground is a gravelly, muddy mess. We even had a snow-like hail substance screaming from the sky only this week. So, maybe we’re not quite ready for pea-shoot soup, or light, fresh salads.

Thanks to the good folks at Field-Goods (see our profile here) we’ve still been eating well. Especially when we try their recommended recipes. The recipe for easy chili was a big hit with our family. And, as the name suggests, it couldn’t have been simpler. Here goes:

  • Fry onions & garlic in a pan
  • Cook ground beef in a separate pan, drain, and then add to the onion and garlic
  • Add a can of diced tomatoes
  • Add a diced mix of yellow, red and green peppers, and corn kernels
  • Add a can of kidney beans
  • Add chili powder, spices, and hot sauces to taste (and finish with chopped cilantro if you like)

The longer you simmer this chili, the better it will taste. For the best flavor, make this chili the night before, then transfer to a slow cooker in the morning. By dinner time, the flavors should sing. Of course, if you’re home during the day, you should sneak a bowl for lunch!

We know it’s scarcely fair to call that a recipe, but the truth is, the best food is often the simplest, and sometimes we all need a reminder, in this hectic life we seem to insist on leading, that excellent ingredients, simply prepared and simply combined, can make the most satisfying meals.

(A little sour cream and shredded cheddar help, too!)

chili

Get In The Zone

Whether you’re a veteran gardener, or a first-timer, one of the most important and helpful tools is a planting table — a chart to tell you when it’s ideal, in your geographic zone, to put seeds in soil.

It should go without saying, though folks often forget, that April in New York is different from April in Georgia, or April in Maine.  The farther north you go, the later you will still find frozen ground and late frosts.  A map of the planting zones gives you essential guidance about average temperatures and the pace of warmer, garden-friendly weather, where you live.

We recommend finding a planting table you like the looks of, and printing it out.  Studying the different dates, and the full list of produce, in a relaxed pace can lead to all kinds of inspiration.  You might never have thought to grow muskmelons, but seeing it on the chart might awaken the sleeping muskmelon lover within!

When it comes to planting tables, we especially like these two: TheGardenHelper.com is a visually appealing, easily navigated site, with a downloadable table, and even a garden layout planner; also, Cornell’s Cooperative extension, based in Westchester, has a planting calendar just for locals.  It isn’t much to look at, but it gives guidance on when to plant, along with specification about when it’s best to sow seeds directly in soil, and when to favor the transplant of plantings.

Oh, and by the way: we’re in Zone 6!  Happy planting!

(Check out the fancy Zone map below.)

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 5.37.13 PM

It’s Winter: Time to Start Planning for Spring!

Today’s Garden Tip comes from Annie Farrell, the VEGLADY, who runs Millstone Farm.

Square Foot Large_opt (1)

Hi fellow gardeners,

 I am writing from Millstone Farm in Wilton, CT where we grow produce and raise livestock; we have educational programs and events that bring good, nutritious food to many people.  We sell to many local restaurants, three family-owned supermarkets nearby, and have a small CSA. We also donate a portion of what we grow to food pantries.

Now that the days are getting LONGER, I am itching to start planting. Catalogs are arriving, seed orders are getting done, (even before catalogs come as so much is online), and the vegetable garden plan is almost laid out. Make sure your garden has lots of southern light, watch out for tall, potentially shady trees that don’t have leaves yet, and test your soil.

There are many online vegetable garden planning programs, including Territorial Seed Company’s. These planning sites will help you figure out companion plantings, timing and spacing. Using your garden plan from the past season, try to rotate your veggies if possible. There are many online companion plant charts and guides:

The Vegetable Garden

Mother Earth News

If you took some notes, (mental or otherwise), you will have an idea of what worked in your space, and what didn’t. I tend to grow too many different varieties, but as I see how they perform, I try to narrow the selection down.

We buy most of our seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seed (http://www.johnnyseeds.com)and Fedco, but always look for new listings from tiny companies too, such as the Hudson Valley Seed Library.

Make sure you do soil testing every year, even after the last season, and get whatever amendments you might need.  Soil testing can be done through Lancaster Ag, Logan Labs, Cornell Cooperative Extension and others. Soil testing and feeding will help create a healthy garden, and healthier food.

Those of you who are growing Nutrient Rich veggies will want to be sure all the micronutrients are present, so your future plants will produce nutrient rich fruit and vegetables. If your soil lacks certain micronutrients, it will not thrive. Dan Kittridge’s company offers most of what you might need when buying fertilizers for Nutrient Dense planting. Visit HERE for more information.  Nutrient rich soil also helps the plants resist disease and prevents insect damage.

We like to prepare the vegetable garden beds during the previous Fall: cleanup old plants, mulch, and fertilize them, and we may add some nutrients before planting in the Spring too. If you had disease or insect issues, remove this debris and destroy it. Do not compost this infected material.

Some beds have various cover crops depending on what they need; winter rye is often planted or legumes like clovers, peas, etc. work to feed the depleted soil. When more organic matter is needed, cover crops are great. Some get turned in, some are left to decompose, some will remain permanently to create paths between beds. We use leaves to mulch, and do virtually NO weeding in the Spring.

In order to get a head-start on the Spring, there are other jobs you can do over the winter. If you haven’t already, oil and sharpen your tools. Make sure you have the supplies that you will need to start your seedlings, such as potting soil, flats, seeds, inoculants, etc. Your greenhouse can be cleaned and sanitized over the winter too, and check all its systems (heat, vents, irrigation system, etc) to be sure they all are operational.

Here’s an interesting idea to try. We grow year round in hoops, plastic greenhouses without heat, and it’s really amazing what will grow with less sun! Try covering a few beds with hoops in late winter, and then in Fall before frost, to get an early start, and grow right thru the winter.

Happy Gardening from the VEGLADY!

Caramelized Leek Tart

Today’s recipe was shared with us by Ellen Ecker Ogden, author of The Complete Kitchen Garden.

leek tart

Take a stroll through a bustling farmers market this time of year and you’ll find displays of bronze and purple onions, red-skinned garlic, alongside shallots and flat topped cippolini onions and plump white leeks. 

 

Food and Garden writer, Ellen Ecker Ogden recommends making savory tarts, this time of year. More of her recipes can be found at ellenogden.com. Here is one of her favorite seasonal recipes that makes a nice side dish or main course.

 

Caramelized Leek Tart 

Makes one 8- inch tart

 

Leeks can be used in soups, or braise with a little cream  for a side dish. My favorite way to enjoy leeks is with this caramelized tart. 

Slow cooking brings out every drop of sweetness in leeks, which is balanced here by the balsamic vinegar. Serve this as a side dish or light dinner with a salad.

 

2 large leeks

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2-teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup Marsala sherry wine or balsamic vinegar

1 large egg

2 cups ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 prepared pie crust* see below for my recipe

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 

 

Trim the root end of the leeks, and the leaves just above the white stalk. Slice lengthwise and rinse under running water to remove any soil trapped in between the layers.  Shake and pat dry.

In a large skillet, melt the oil and butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook to soften, about 10 minutes. Stir in the salt, and pepper; reduce the heat to low and sauté, stirring frequently, until the leeks are deeply browned and have a sticky texture, about 30 minutes. Stir in the Marsala sherry wine or vinegar, and gently cook for another 2 minutes to reduce liquid. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Preheat to 400°F. 

In a medium bowl, beat together the egg with the ricotta and rosemary. Sprinkle the base of the pie shell with cheddar cheese, then pour in the ricotta, spreading the mixture evenly in the pastry shell.  Distribute the caramelized leeks on top and dust  the top with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting. Serve warm. 

 

Pie Crust: 

1 cup unbleached white flour

½ cup whole-wheat flour 

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes

½ cup low fat plain yogurt or sour cream

 

In a food processor fitted with a steel cutting blade, blend the all-purpose and the whole-wheat flour, and salt. With the food processor running, add one piece of butter at a time to the flour until it resembles coarse cornmeal with a few pea-sized pieces. Turn off the machine and add the yogurt. Pulse just until the dough comes together into a ball. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface into a 12-inch round about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer to a lightly buttered 9-inch pie tart pan.

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

by Judith Hausman, The Hungry Locavore at Urban Farm Online

Make a creamy, mild and bright orange version of this kids’ number one favorite and increase its nutritional value too! You may use a classic Halloween-style pumpkin for this but really, butternut squash may be tastier and smoother-textured for this dish. There’s nothing wrong with canned organic pumpkin either and – true confession – the recipe works well and quickly with a “real cheese” boxed macaroni dinner too.

Pumpkin Mac ‘n’ Cheese

  • A 1-lb. pumpkin or winter squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut in large chunks
  • OR About 1 c. canned pumpkin or squash puree (not pie filling)
  • ½ lb. whole wheat pasta, any shape
  • about ¾ c. good-quality Parmesan or sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 2 Tbs. fresh sage, chopped (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste

If you are using a fresh pumpkin or squash, you will need to bake it at 350 for 20-40 min. depending on the variety, or simmer it in water until very soft, and puree it well to yield about one cup of puree. You can reserve any extra for muffins or pie.

Then, cook the macaroni until tender, about 8 min., drain it and add the puree and the remaining ingredients. Serve immediately or if you prefer, pour the mix into a greased casserole, top it with bread crumbs and a bit more butter and bake at 350 for 20-30 min.Serves 2-4.

pumpkinmnc

Spring Risotto

A risotto is a celebration of the new garden. With a little thought, you can easily span the seasons, combining wintered-over carrots or leeks and emerging treats, such as asparagus, peas, herbs and greens.

You can also thriftily make use of leftover holiday meals in a risotto by adding bits of roast chicken, ribbons of ham or diced shrimp near the end of cooking. Save chopped herbs for the last ten minutes of cooking too. Tender vegetables can cook right in the softening rice while firmer ingredients may need to be cooked beforehand. Classic Arborio or carnaroli rice is authentic but you might find a short-grain brown rice.

While warm stock (chicken or vegetable) is important in order to keep the rice cooking at a constant temperature, eagle-eyed supervision is an exaggeration. Don’t overdo the Parmesan either and try a sprinkle of grated lemon at the very end…and a pat of butter.

Photo credit: Creative Commons

Photo credit: Creative Commons

Spring Vegetable Risotto

1 small onion, 1 leek or 1 large shallot. chopped
1 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 c. rice (See above)
½ c. white wine
5-6 c. stock
2 c. peas, broccoli rabe or chard leaves, chopped OR 7-12 asparagus, cut in 1” pieces
1 c. or less cooked ham, shrimp or chicken, chopped (optional)
2 c. cooked carrots, diced (optional)
¾ c. freshly grated Parmesan or other cheese
2-3 Tbs. minced fresh parsley, thyme or chive
rind of one lemon, grated (optional)
pat of butter (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

Gently sauté the onion, leek or shallot in the butter and oil a wide pan. Stir in the rice, toasting it for about a minute. Add the wine, continuing to stir until it evaporates. Now add the warmed stock, a cupful at a time. Rice absorbs at different rates so you may not need all of the liquid. Stir and cook gently for about 25-35 min., adding stock as needed, until the rice is almost tender to the bite. Stir in the broccoli rabe or chard until it wilts or stir in the peas or asparagus pieces, cooking until they become tender. Add cooked carrots and/or meat or shrimp, if using. Taste, add more stock if necessary and stir. When the rice is tender and somewhat creamy, add cheese and chopped herbs. Season to taste.

Serves 4-6.

Quinoa Salad with Arugula and Lemon Vinaigrette

Serves 6

For a refreshing splash of summer, use this lemony vinaigrette dressing on a variety of spring greens; it is especially good for bringing out the tart notes in arugula.

arugulasalad

Photo credit: Ellen Ecker Ogden

1 cup vegetable stock or water
1 cup quinoa
1 cup dry green lentils
½ cup Lemon Vinaigrette ( see below)
4 cups fresh arugula or mesclun greens, washed and dried
6 scallions or 1 shallot, coarsely chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (Optional)

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the stock or water to a boil. Add the quinoa, cover, and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.

2. In a separate saucepan, cover the lentils with enough water to cover them by 1 inch, and simmer over medium heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain any excess water and cool.

3. In a large salad bowl, combine the lentils and quinoa and toss with half the lemon vinaigrette. Cool at room temperature or refrigerate until ready to serve.

4. Just before serving, coarsely chop the arugula and combine it with the lentils and couscous, along with the scallions, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. Crumble on the feta cheese, and add more dressing, to taste.

Lemon Vinaigrette

Makes 1/2 cup

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, mashed
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a Mason jar with a lid. Shake to blend until emulsified. Set aside until the salad is prepared.

Worms Are Your Friends

It is traditionally thought that worms are only appealing to fishermen, kids who like to play in the dirt, and (maybe) other worms.

worms3_lg

But worms are also a vegetable gardener’s best friend. Below is an except from a recent post at VegetableGardener.com, all about the virtues of our slimy legless garden companions:

Worm castings do amazing things for the soil (and plants) and are the top of the line as far as soil amendments go. They have five times the nitrogen potency of good topsoil; seven times the amount of potash; and one and a half times the calcium.

Traditional composting and vermicomposting both break down organic materials and provide a perfect plant product for the garden. But worms bring a little something extra to the table — significantly more beneficial micro-organisms, enzymes, humus, and plant stimulants than regular compost.

Castings offer these nutrients in a slow-release form and they’re available for a longer period of time. “Available” meaning that the casting nutrients are easily absorbed by plants because they’re water-soluble. Worm castings offer superior soil-binding, and water-retaining, abilities. As well as excellent aeration, porosity, and structural properties. All of these things greatly improve the texture of your soil, as well.

Of course, worms are present in traditional compost piles and help with the breakdown of organic matter — so you’re getting castings there, too. But actual worm farming (vermicomposting) is done in a container suited that’s specifically for this purpose. Raising worms in their own closed system intensifies the end product, so you have a super-charged soil amendment in bulk.

Worm farming is the perfect solution for people who live in apartments or condominiums who would love to have a compost pile but don’t have the room. It’s a portable composting system that’s doable for anyone in any living situation. You keep the worms in a box-sized container or bin, which makes a large yard or garden area unnecessary. In fact, you can even keep a worm farm indoors.

If you’re interested in becoming a worm-wrangler, check out these posts for more information:
Let Worms Compost Your Kitchen Scraps and How to Start a Worm Farm

Outstanding In His Field

“I can’t talk long, I’ve got about 4000 sweet potato plants I’ve got to put in this week. Every minute I’m not doing that, I’m behind.”

So says Doug Decandia, who is trying to stay on schedule in his mission to grow food for the Food Bank for Westchester, which fights hunger and food insecurity in our county by maintaining a storehouse of food it distributes to over 200 local relief programs.

Doug helped form the Food Bank’s Food Growing Program, and he is personally cultivating about 3 acres of land on five separate plots in Westchester. The produce from those 3 acres will go right to the Food Bank’s storehouses.

Doug Candia

Doug has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and online journals, and they have been able to spotlight how broad the impact of Doug’s work really is. Here’s an excerpt from Chris Hunt’s 2012 profile on the website Ecocentric:

“The job involves farming, of course, but it also entails serving as a teacher and mentor because in addition to producing vegetables, the initiative is designed as a vocational program to train at-risk youths to grow food. Doug works the land alongside children who face a range of emotional and behavioral challenges, some of whom are currently incarcerated in the county’s juvenile correctional facility. Together, they grow fresh, healthful food for those who need it the most.”

2013 marks the third year of Doug’s ambitious project, and he has no intention of stopping. In fact, his ambitions for farming Westchester go far beyond the Food Bank, He’d like to see the whole county farming, for private and public resources.

As he told KatonahGreen’s Heather Flournoy when she profiled Doug last year: “”You know, there’s no reason we can’t produce a lot more of our food right around here. Those big lawns could all be turned into productive farms.”

Don’t be surprised if this local food hero shows up at your door someday, offering to farm your lawn. Bravo, Doug!

Mimi Edelman: Farmer

mimi_edelman

Photo credit: Tanya Savayan

If you’ve enjoyed African blue basil or stinging nettles in your dishes in past seasons at farm-to-table inspired restaurants such as Bedford Post or Restaurant North, there’s a good chance they started out in the fields of I & Me Farms in Bedford. Which means they got to your plate through the loving work of Mimi Edelman.

Mimi farms four acres off of Wood Road (on land secured through the Westchester Land Trust’s land match program), specializing in heirloom vegetables and unusual herbs, along with a more traditional mix of lettuces and vegetables.

Fingers are crossed that all those items will be back this year, but nothing is guaranteed. I & Me farm took a direct hit from Sandy last year, and the damage was extensive, not just to the crops and the soil that supports them, but to the infrastructure of the place. Fences, posts, wires… almost all of it was rendered useless by the impact of the storm.

The farm is rebuilt now — with help from grants, other farmers, and lots of good folks in the community — and planting in the fields is underway. Of course, rebuilding isn’t a new experience for Edelman; she took a big hit from Irene, too. But, as she told the Journal News last spring:

“Whatever challenges there might be, they’re kind of offset by what you get in return. There are not many jobs you can go to where the job actually revitalizes you.”

In addition to full-time farming, Edelman is one of the leaders of Slow Food Metro North, the local chapter of Slow Food USA, which is itself part of the global movement Slow Food International, based in Italy. Through Slow Food, she is responsible for creating fun and educational food-based events in Westchester, Fairfield, and beyond: restaurant dinners, farm tours, networking events for farmers and chefs, and the awarding of Slow Food’s cherished “Snail of Approval” awards for those who make our food system better.

Want to learn more about I & Me or Slow Food? Send the farmer an email!