Garden, Plant, Cook!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Farmers Market/Garden Beef Stew

Dear folks,

I made my version of Beef  Burgundy yesterday for our Valentine's Day dinner (Deane is your basic meat and potatoes guy who will try a lot of things, but I try to give him a 'guy' dinner when I can :-)

This stew came together so nicely with a selection of herbs from my garden (I am The Herb Lady :-) and meat, potatoes and carrots from the Mesa Farmers Market - also some additional carrots from my garden.

About the herbs.  From left to right, sort of, are red celery (see my post yesterday about this variety),  red scallion, green garlic, lavender, conehead thyme, golden rain rosemary, and flat-leaf parsley..

Since yesterday turned out to be a dismal day, stew was the perfect dinner for the day.

Some of the vendors I got ingredients from were:
Funny Farms
Crooked Sky
Red Mountain Cattle (grass fed beef)
One Windmill

And we finished off dinner with Nicki (Cup Cake Cafe) chocolate cake pops - oh my!!

One of the wonderful things about stews is the ability to just wing-it with proportions.  Deane loves carrots so more carrots than potatoes.  I did this in a crock pot, so we could do some errands in the morning (one of those domestic realities - it is Valentine's Day, so we went shopping for things like paper towels, and some staple food items :-)

Stewing beef 1-4 pounds
1 cup of beef broth
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
5 red potatoes
7 medium size carrots
bottle of red wine (I used a Malbec - in the past I have used burgundy, Shiraz, and I would use an Italian Chianti or Valpolicella too)
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 each scallion and green garlic
small bunch each of parsley and celery leaves
1 sprig each rosemary, lavender and thyme

Chop carrots and potatoes into good size chunks.

Rinse meat, place in a bowl and sprinkle with enough flour to coat each piece.  Don't rinse bowl.

Melt butter and oil together in a good size skillet and brown meat on all sides.  Set meat aside.  Deglaze pan with broth or wine, scraping up all and pour into the crock pot.  Add wine or some of the broth to the flour used to dredge the meat, stir and set aside for thickening later.

Tie herbs in a bundle or push all down one side of the pot, place meat in bottom and add potatoes and carrots.  Add remainder of broth, all the vinegar and enough red wine to just cover.  Add peppercorns.

Turn crock pot on high for 1 hour, the reduce to low temperature and cook for about 6-7 hours more.  Beef should be fork tender.

Stir up reserved flour/wine mixture, add more flour and wine or broth as needed to make a slurry for thickening.  Ladle some of the stew liquid into a pot, bring to a boil and add slurry.  Stir until thick and add back into the crock pot.  Stir and serve with rolls, a salad if you like and enjoy!

Then have the cake pops!!

Have a great day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Newest Garden Bed

Dear Folks,

After allowing the wonderful Kentucky Colonel spearmint to completely overrun a bed (don't every do that!!), I decided we needed to take it back and use if for more food producing plants.

A note about the spearmint:  It is a glorious herb, I use it to flavor water, drinks, in egg, chicken or tuna salad mixes, sometimes in salads, always in tabouli and other dishes I can't think of right now.

It is just that I did not need an 8 x 10 foot bed of it :-)

Deane did all the really hard work - and I do mean HARD - as the roots had amassed to the combined size of tree trunks.  It required moving all the pavers you see to get every single root.  I then sifted the soil (you see it on the tarp at thee back of the top portion of the picture) to get all the rest of the roots out.  We then mixed back in about 50/50 good compost/soil mix and I planted - a lot.  You will notice the flowers.  If you saw my video post yesterday on setting up an container garden, I use flowers for multiple purposes.  And always edible flower options in food producing beds.

The flowers are pretty to look at while the garden gets going; they act as a soil condition and moisture level barometer; they attract pollinators to the garden and finally, you can eat them too!

You can see the chicken wire hats placed over seeded in areas.  This keeps the birds and critters out while the plants get going. After there is good growth I remove the hats.  The critters seem to forget the plants are there (although I am going to have to keep a watch for the squirrel).

The foreground part of the photo shows the crook-neck squash and just to the right you can see the lettuce seeds sprouting.  Since my tomatoes wintered over and are producing I want more lettuce for salads.

Here is what I planted in this garden.  I will try to post another update in about 45 days when much of the growth should be rolling along well.

Corn and sugar peas on the north side - running east to west.  (So the rest of the garden gets good morning to afternoon sun.

So far I have seeded in lettuce, carrots, radishes (up already and it is only at day 13), celery, two types of turnips, beets, and kale.  I transplanted a sorrel and catnip from the old bed.  I transplanted Green Zebra and a San Marzano tomato (trying the San Marzano for the first time here), a dark opal basil and Za'atar herb, purple tomatillo and orange bell pepper.  The flowers are a mix of johnny jump-up type and other violas.

A note about the celery.  I am experimenting this year with a red-stemed celery variety.  So far what happened in another bed was the realization that the bed did not get enough direct winter sun.  The plants came up, they are healthy, but not nearly as tall as I expected.  Good flavor, just not a lot of the plant.  BTW this variety called "Red-venture" is grown in part because of the lycopene in the stems, but also because you can harvest a few stems at a time working from the outside, instead of having to take out the whole bunch.

I am Very Late in trying more of the seed but this new bed has great sun exposure so I can see the kind of growth which I can expect next fall when I plant again, at least from a 'how-does-it-grow' with enough sun standpoint.  Celery is a real challenge in the desert garden because of the long growing season requirement.  I don't expect this late season experiment to produce the reputed 2 foot plants (because we will be moving into the heat), but any growth will be useable.

A note about the Za'atar herb.  I got the seeds from Bakers Nursery and it is reported to be 'the' za'atar herb native to the Middle East for which the spice mix is named.  Until the leaves are a good size, I won't know if this is a new-to-me plant or Syrian Oregano, and plant often described as za'atar (a great plant, but botanically I am not sure it is THE herb in question).

That's all for now folks,

Have a great day in the garden.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, February 13, 2012

My first video post on youtube!

Dear Folks,

I just posted my first video - actually a narrated slideshow - on youtube.  I have been wanting to do instructional videos for a long time. The challenge has been what to start with, when and all the 'first time' things with using a new tool.

Since I recently decided to do a container project to demonstrate "how" to grow successfully in a pot in the desert, this turned out to be a good launch to what I hope will be a serious of helpful posts on youtube.

I hope to keep all future ones relatively short in the 3-8 minute or so range to make quick, but detailed discussions of the subject matter.

I welcome your thoughts and questions.

Have a great time in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Pasta Sauce

Dear Folks,

I made up a batch of my sauce yesterday, and thought I would share it with you.  Near the bottom of this post I have a link to a Lasagna recipe I posted last year using the sauce.  I add and subtract herbs as I have the urge or what is fresh in the garden.

I froze some of our tomatoes last fall, a couple of pieces of Parmesan  cheese rind (the part that is too hard to grate makes a great flavor enhancer for sauces), and then added some fresh tomatoes from the garden, a sprig of oregano, some basil (both left whole), a whole white onion diced, and a whole stick of unsalted butter.  Yes, I know not low-fat, but this luscious recipe is a treat every once in a while.  It is my interpretation of Marcella Hazan's famous "Crazy Sauce" where she used butter, an onion cut in half and canned tomatoes, cooked down to an incredible amalgam of flavor and texture.  Marcella removed the onion and tossed it at the end of the cooking, but I thought that was a bit wasteful, so I went with dice and keeping it in for additional flavor.  I initially added herbs at the end, but now I like to leave sprigs in during the cooking, remove the hard stems at the end and sometimes sliver some fresh basil in right before serving.

I make up for the fat in sauces like this by going with a very high protein/fiber pasta component.  I like Barilla Plus for their very high protein and fiber Angel Hair pasta, and in yesterday's dish I added chopped sugar peas from our garden to the pasta while cooking, strained and added to the sauce with some cooked Italian sweet sausage.  (The pasta takes only 6-7 minutes to cook so adding the peas at the same time resulted in a nice crisp cook texture of the peas and their wonderful sweet flavor.)


Several pounds of tomatoes (the volume is flexible) I do not peel my tomatoes - I want the fiber of the skin, but if I have very large tomatoes I will core them.-- you can cut them into small sections if you like.
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 onion diced
a piece or two of Parmesan cheese rind (these freeze great for the next time you make sauce)
A spring of Greek Oregano
some basil if you have it

Place everything in a pot bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer, uncovered, until as thick as you like it (mine took about 3 hours yesterday).  I mashed a bit at the end because I wanted some chunks, but mostly a thick sauce consistency.  Use the largest pot you can to avoid splatters, the sauce will bubble.

I am looking forward to a big harvest of tomatoes this summer and planning on canning my sauce for the winter.

I use whatever tomatoes I have growing or find interesting at the farmers market.  I have done a golden sauce with just yellow tomatoes and it was heavenly, with a far lighter tomato almost sweet flavor.

I am trying a roma style tomato in the garden and we will see what I get :-)


Here is my vegetable lasagna recipe posted last year.  Think "out side the noodle" for delicious variations.

. . .

Our asparagus are coming up - oh boy!

What's growing in your garden that you are bringing to your table?

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady