Start ‘em early!

… I’m talking about both your crops as well as your kids!

It’s mid-April, and that means the whole family has been pitching in to get the yard cleaned up and the garden beds planted with early season veggies. These include peas, spinach, kale, swiss chard, radishes, beets and lettuce. The garlic, planted last fall, is just starting to sprout, with new, lovely green shoots popping up overnight.

At age two and a half, Sophia already loves helping out in the garden, especially when water is involved. Here she is tending to the garlic patch. Love this kid!

 

In-Season Recipe (late August): Tofu-Stuffed Baked Zucchini

Tofu-stuffed zucchini, served with curried sweet potato. Yuuuum!

Tofu-stuffed zucchini, served with curried sweet potato. Yuuuum!

Zucchini are one of my favourite veggies.  Think about it… it’s delicious grilled on the BBQ, in sauces, in curries, in antipasto, sliced cold with hummus, even baked in loaf form alongside chocolate and walnuts! It’s also packed with all sorts of good vitamins and minerals and high in fibre. You really can’t go wrong.

Here is a delicious and fun way to combine your zucchini with tofu for a protein packed dish:

You will need…

From the garden:

These zucchinis complements of Grandpa Frank's garden!

These zucchinis complements of Grandpa Frank’s garden!

  • A couple nice big zucchinis
  • Few cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
  • Fresh basil, oregano and thyme, chopped
  • Two or three tomatoes

From the grocer:

  • 1/2 block of tofu, crumbled
  • Handful of olives (Kalamata or Greek colossal work well), coarsely chopped
  • About 1/2 cup bread crumbs (Gluten free? Try almond flour instead!)
  • About 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Dairy-free? Try nutritional yeast instead!)
  • Dash salt
  • Tablespoon cracked peppers
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. To make filling: Warm olive oil in a cast iron skillet on low-med heat. Add garlic and saute til soft. Add tofu, olives, tomatoes and herbs and allow to cook down til it’s nice and saucy. Dash of salt if needed.
  3. While filling is simmering, cut zucchinis in halve, lengthwise. Scoop out the seedy part of in the middle like you’re hollowing out a canoe. (Tip: Freeze the scooped-out zucchini to make zucchini bread later!) Lay out zucchinis on a casserole dish or baking sheet.
  4. Scoop out the filling into each zucchini.

    Stuffed!

    Stuffed!

  5. In a dish, combine bread crumbs, parmesan cheese and cracked pepper.
  6. Spoon a generous layer of the bread crumb mixture on top of each zucchini. Drizzle with olive oil.
  7. Bake 20-30 minutes, until the bread crumbs are golden brown and the zucchinis are soft but not mushy.
  8. Give each zucchini a squirt of fresh lemon juice right before serving.

    Right out da oven.

    Right out da oven.

Bon appetit!

 

In-Season Recipe (early August): Barbequed Kale Chips

I can’t believe I haven’t posted this recipe earlier, because I literally make kale chips at least 3 times a week. We can’t get enough of it here. Even our 10-month old daughter loves crispy kale chips!

Sophia loves kale chips!

Sophia loves kale chips!

We have three varieties of kale in the garden this year:

The Vates Blue Curled has proven to be a wonderful, robust variety for cooking with. The curly leaves hold their integrity much better than the other two when cooking. The Red Russian has produced very well; with its flat broad-leaves, this one is nice to harvest young to add to salads.

Early August kale harvest

Early August kale harvest

Kale is so wonderfully good for you – high in B vitamins, antioxidants, iron, calcium, fibre, omega 3s. just to name a few of the many benefits of eating this “queen of greens.” It is delicious sauteed with a little garlic to go with your morning eggs, blended into smoothies, cooked into omelettes, chopped into salads and baked with other veggies. But in my opinion, there is no better way to eat it than to turn it onto crispy kale chips… on the BBQ!

Yep, you read correctly, I make these on the que. In the hot summer months, who wants to turn their oven on?

Here’s what you need to make the basic version of BBQed kale chips:

  • A few nice mitt-fulls of fresh kale (curled variety preferred)
  • A couple table spoons Olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • A few tablespoons of Nutritional yeast.(Nutritional yeast is high in B vitamins, protein and iron! It is low sodium and gives things a nutty delicious flavour… amazing addition to salad dressings! I buy it at Herb and Spice.)
  • Handful of pine nuts, if desired.

    Nutritional yeast adds a yummy nutty flavour and is high in B vitamins.

    Nutritional yeast adds a yummy nutty flavour and is high in B vitamins.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Wash your kale if necessary (and dry thoroughly!) and tear into large pieces (I usually just tear leaves in 2 or 3)
  • Toss kale in olive oil, coating well.
  • Toss in the nutritional yeast and sea salt (and pine nuts, if using.) I never measure this stuff… it’s all about experimenting with quantities o see what you like.
  • Spread out the kale on a baking sheet.
  • Place on a BBQ on low heat.
  • “Bake” 5-10 minutes, turning frequently! Kale will burn VERY quickly if you don’t keep a close eye on it.
  • Chips are done when kale is crispy but not dried out or overly browned.
  • Serve immediately, as an appetizer or snack. I find these are perfect to serve as a nibbly when you’re barbequing other things.

    kale on BBQ

    Kale on the barbie.

Try experimenting with all sorts of seasonings. Another blend we really like uses sesame oil, sesame seeds and a dash of tamari… go nuts! There really is no wrong way to do kale chips. Drooool.

Barbequed kale chips with pine nuts.

Barbequed kale chips with pine nuts.

 

 

In-Season Recipe (early August): Simple “Sushi Style” Edamame

Edamame 2

Edamame beans with sea salt and sesame oil. Simply delicious.

According to Occam’s Razor, the simplest solution is often the right one. That is certainly true in the case of cooking edamame (aka soy) beans! They are, in my humble opinion, best eaten on their own, prepared in the simple style that is typically served as an appetizer in Japanese restaurants.

Edamame on bush

That’s a lotta beans for one little bush!

This is our first year growing edamame, but it won’t be our last. We planted 6, spaced amongst the peppers. Each sturdy plant has produced a hefty harvest, and no sign of disease or insect damage whatsoever. Edamame freeze really well, so our plan is to freeze whatever we don’t eat this season… although based on how quickly these beans were gobbled up tonight, I’m not sure there will be any left to freeze!

Here’s how I prepared them:

  • Place beans, in pods, in a pot of boiling, salted water.
  • Cook about 5 minutes.
  • Drain water and toss beans in dollop of sesame oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.
  • Serve immediately. (Don’t forget the side bowl to discard the pods.)

So good, we’ll probably eat them again tomorrow night. Enjoy!

 

Benny’s Freaky Deaky Sweet Potato Sprouting Project

Take a good look at this photo and tell me what you see…

Up close and personal with Ben's sprouted sweet potato.

Up close and personal with Ben’s sprouted sweet potato.

An alien being? A mutated sea creature? Something freakish to be sure. But in actual fact, this is a newly sprouting sweet potato, and Ben’s current pride and joy (well, second to baby Sophia that is.)

We eat a lot of sweet potato, but have never seen it for sale locally, nor have we heard of anyone growing it in their garden here in Ottawa. Apparently that’s because it grows well in more tropical climates than ours, being indigenous to Central and South America (or so says Wikipedia.) But wouldn’t it be cool if we could grow some in our own backyard?!

So Ben set off on a Google quest to figure out the best way to sprout a sweet potato indoors… turns out there are a lot of other sweet potato lovers out there offering some very useful step-by-step advice on this topic. (Such as the DIY Network.) It works like this: suspend a sweet potato half in a container of water using some toothpicks, putting the “pointy” side down. Keep it in a sunny spot and if you are lucky the yummy little tuber will start sprouting roots and eventually some shoots and leaves! I think it took about 6 weeks for ours to get to the stage shown in the photo.

Sweet, sweet sprouted sweet potato.

Sweet, sweet sprouted sweet potato.

An important consideration – many sweet potatoes are treated with a sprouting inhibitor. We weren’t sure if the one we planted would actually sprout for this reason, but apparently it was not treated. We bought it at Herb and Spice.

The next step will be to put this strange little creature into some soil to see how it grows outside in the Ottawa summer… we’ll keep you posted!

Why yes, I do have garlic breath. Thanks for noticing!

The first thing to come poking through the soil as soon as it thawed this spring was… garlic! This is our first time growing garlic, which is strange because it is one of our kitchen staples. Perhaps it’s because garlic is one of those crops that has to be planted a full two seasons ahead of its harvest; planting is done in mid-autumn (October) for a late-spring harvest (June).

Garlic shoots

Garlic shoots peeking through the soil, early spring.

Ben’s dad, an avid gardener with a kick-ass property south of Ottawa, generously gifted us 12 bulbs of his home-grown garlic for planting – a 4-clove hardneck variety. At four cloves per bulb, we planted a total of 48 garlic cloves, spaced about 4 inches apart, taking up about 14 square feet of garden. After planting we covered the soil with a layer of leaf debris to provide some insulation to the cloves for their long winter sleep.

We chose one of the sunniest garden plots for the garlic since it is the first to thaw in the spring, encouraging the garlic to sprout as early as possible. Since garlic is an early-season crop, this primo sun real estate can be taken over by later-season crops, such as tomatoes, as the garlic is harvested and thinned. In fact, “companion planting” tomatoes with garlic can help to deter pests that may be attracted to your tomato plants.

Chicken wire cage boxes over garlic, early spring.

Chicken wire cage boxes over garlic, early spring.

We have a seriously obnoxious squirrel population in our backyard, and not yet knowing their tastes for garlic, we opted to protect our dear little bulbs with a couple of simple chicken wire cage boxes. These are very easy to make and consist of a rudimentary square wooden frame (using scrap/rescued wood) with a “tent” of chicken wire stapled to it, weighed down with a few rocks, juuuust in case.

Can’t wait for sweet sweet garlic… breath!