Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Good Gardens Gone Wild

Growing a garden can be likened to raising children. The garden starts out as a raised bed full of sweet little seedlings planted four to a row (which at the time seems like way too large of a spacing), and then four months later they turn into teenagers: wild, messy, unwilling to listen to what you want them to do, and bursting with hormones (or vegetables in our case).

My Crazy Garden

Patty Pan Squash, Anyone?
My patty pan squash plants have taken over the lower part of my garden, and have totally put the zucchini plants in their place. I guess the zucchini's are finally getting a taste of their own medicine, since they are usually the ones to overtake the garden. My entire raised bed is now filled with volunteer tomato plants from last years crop of one very prolific tomato plant. I began to get the same overwhelming feeling I get every year at this time. Too many veggies to eat, so what to do with them all? If you are in the same situation, have no fear. I have come up with a few strategies so that no veggie goes to waste.

1. Start asking neighbors, co-workers and friends if they would like some of your excess produce. Not everyone has a garden and they would surely appreciate the delicious and free food.

2. Start a garden co-op with other like-minded local gardeners. "Have too many zucchini? My zucchini didn't do well this year, but I have been eating green beans for a month straight and am sick of them now. Let's trade!"

3. Buy a dehydrator or use your oven to dehydrate veggies. I have dehydrated zucchini in the past, and this year I plan to dehydrate a bunch of my roma tomatoes for soups and stews this fall and winter. Here is a link I found for dehydrating tomatoes. Also, don't forget about your herbs that are now at the height of their prime. Start clipping off leaves to dry somewhere. You don't even need a dehydrator for this. Just wash the leaves and place them in a container to dry somewhere out of the way. They should dry in a day or two. This way you have a stockpile before that first cold snap kills everything.  I am currently drying oregano leaves, since I ran out of my jar of oregano and don't want to pay $5 for a new jar at the grocery store. Last year I froze basil leaves and they were simply delicious on pizza or in spaghetti sauce throughout the winter.

4. My new favorite option. Turn your garden into a Giving Garden. This means you donate your excess produce to the local food bank. I came across this term as I was browsing Seattle Seedling's blog the other day. It occurred to me that I could donate some of my crazy garden produce to the Yakima Food Bank. I called them on friday and they came over an hour later and gratefully (for both of us) took away probably 10 pounds of patty pan squash, two bags stuffed with kale, and a little herb bouquet I threw in for good measure.

Giving Garden Bounty
Earl from the Yakima Food Bank sent me a message after he brought the produce back to their store saying the walk-in cooler was bare, so he was quite thankful for the food. Please consider this in your area if you have a garden-gone-wild as well.

My new thing this year is to include a recipe with each bag of produce I give away. I know that I am more apt to cook up veggies if I already have a recipe that came recommended. A few of my favorite recipes this year include Yellow Squash Casserole, Chocolate Zucchini Bread, and Kale Pesto Pasta.

What are your methods for giving away your summer garden abundance?

~ NM

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Deep in the Heart of Texas

On our great southwest adventure we visited Mom and Dad in San Angelo, TX (where both Natalie and I are from).  I wish you could meet them.  They are great.  They are both teachers, like me.  They are the reason I am a teacher and are my heroes.

When we flew down, Dad drove two hours to Midland to pick us up, but here's the kicker, it was at midnight.  In our attempt to save some money we took the late flight.  Dad, like a champ, drove up, chit chatted (like it wasn't the middle of the night) and drove a full car back to San Angelo - a grand total of 4 hours of driving.  When we got home (to Mom and Dad's home) beds were ready and as soon as we hit the pillow all four of us were out, cold.  Then it was time for us to say goodbye - we were off to New Mexico, just like that.  We borrowed their car put 500 miles on it and came back with 90 pounds of chile and a smelly car.  These guys didn't blink.  I think they are use to our antics.
Mom and Erika, ready for the dinner theater

Mom and Kaya, at the Planetarium

Dad, at the Planetarium

Mom and Kaya

Dad, using the huge touch screen Google Earth at the Planetarium

We slept, ate, slept, ate while Kaya and Kale were running circles around Mom and Dad.  The whole time we were there delicious food was presented to us, including homemade ice cream (!) and cookies (both chocolate chip and with M&M's!)   We had our own private viewing at the Planetarium (Dad is also the Planetarium director).  Mom and I (mostly Mom) made pudding - banana pudding - from scratch.  We even celebrated birthdays - Mom, Kaya, and Mine.

We had such a great time.  I wish we lived closer.  We blinked and it was time to go back to Washington.  When we left, we realized that we had overloaded our luggage (besides 90 pounds of chile, we also had gone shopping - courtesy of Mom).  Mom and Dad had to ship some of our overindulgence back home, at a hefty price...  And I forgot to leave them some chile.  How could I have been so careless?  Dad loves chile.  I had meant to leave some. So, in an attempt to redeem myself, I will send some chile to San Angelo, TX for Dad and Mom to enjoy.  I wish I could do more.  You guys are the very best!
Dad, with Kaya and Kale
When I was thinking about my parents and chile (I have green chile on the brain) one recipe popped into my mind: Gypsy Stew.  This is a recipe that Dad made for our family (my Mom, brother, and I) and also when I would come home from college (because I loved it so). 

Dr. Sonntag's Gypsy Stew
(Note: Dad gave me the recipe once, but I lost it.  I have made it so much that today, I am making it from memory.)

1 large pot
1 small onion
1  tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 rotisserie chicken, shredded (pre cooked from grocery store - I only used 3 cups of shredded chicken)
1 box chicken stock
1/2 cup cooking sherry
1/2 - 1 lb green chile ( or 2 cans green chile)
1 can diced tomatoes (or
1 can of diced tomatoes with green chile)
1.  Warm olive oil in pot on medium heat.  Cook onion until tender.

2.  Pour in chicken stock, tomatoes, and green chile.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer, add cooking sherry and chicken. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Green Chile

3.  Enjoy with cheese in the bottom of your bowl (and on top, if you prefer).
A Spoonful of Gypsy Stew

Thanks, Mom and Dad.  I owe it all to you.
(This post is linked to It's a Keeper Thursday.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Red or Green?

For the last couple of weeks we have been on vacation.  We began at the very tip top of Washington for a Crab Fest then flew to Texas, where I grew up, to visit Mom and Dad.  Then we drove to New Mexico, Las Cruces, to be exact - to visit my in-law's Sharon and Ron, our house (that we still own), and the most wonderful friends you can imagine.  We lived in Las Cruces for almost ten years.  We moved away, moved back, and moved away again.  We lovingly refer to this as the "Land of Entrapment".  It draws me back, I really do love it.  It just feels like home. The heat, let me tell you about the heat - like an oven.  Even still, I love it.  Up here I keep waiting for it to be summer, to get hot. When we arrived home it felt like fall, cool, chilly-even.  And let me tell you about the New Mexican cuisine... amazing.  No place can compare.  When you eat out the waiter asks: red or green?  Referring to the chile, of course.  Red chile sauce or green chile sauce?  This is as good of a question as any, a question you come to expect.  People in New Mexico buy chile by the pound, roast, and freeze it in order to sustain them throughout the whole year.  In the grocery store you can by it in bulk and have it roasted for you in the parking lot.  This is something that we have missed.  Something that I crave: chile.  We had a singular mission when we arrived: Green Chile. I have to say, mission accomplished: 90 pounds.  (We brought some back to Washington for our fellow New Mexican's currently residing in Yakima, too.) 
45 pound bags of green chile

Yes, you heard me right.  I said 90 pounds.  45 pounds medium, 45 pounds hot.  We drove to Hatch, NM for the good stuff.

We bought them and they roasted the green goblins for us on the spot.  It was like heaven.
Roasting the Chile

Then we brought them to Sharon's beautiful new house, to her perfect kitchen and we lovingly peeled (with gloves), de-seeded, and packaged them all to freeze and travel a great way to our humble kitchen.
Sharon: Preparing to help

Ready to Go
Slimy little suckers

If you are anything like my Mom and Dad, you are probably asking yourself: "What on Earth will you do with such a load of chiles?"

Well, we will eat them, of course.  It is a little known fact up in Washington (or anywhere I have been other than New Mexico) that green chiles make almost everything better (some things are excluded such as dessert).  You can put the on any and everything and they are good for you to boot.  Stick them in eggs, on a burger, any type of Mexican food, salsa, in bread, on pizza.  You name it.  The first thing we did when we got home was make Chile Con Carne.  Yes, and it is as easy as pie.  This might not be the traditional way, but it is our way - and it is pretty darn good.  Give it a try.

Chile Con Carne
1 crock pot

1 pound beef, cubed (we used stir fry meat this time, but stew meat works great)
4 potatoes
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
4 cans of green chile (to taste)from Hatch, NM or 1 pound of roasted chile, peeled and diced 
1/2 cup of water
salt and pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and cube them.  Dice the onion, garlic, and chile (if using whole chile).  Dump all ingredients into the crock pot along with water and salt and pepper.  Cook overnight on low. When the potatoes are falling apart and the meat is melting, it is done.  Usually about 8 hours.  Serve with warm tortillas and cheese, or in a burrito, or over rice, try an egg on top of it.
Chile Con Carne

New Mexican Cookbooks to check out:
Best of the Best from New Mexico Cookbook: Selected Recipes from New Mexico's Favorite Cookbooks (Best of the Best Cookbook) Red or Green: New Mexico CuisineGreen Chile Bible: Award-Winning New Mexico Recipes

(This post is linked to Monday Mania, Traditional Tuesdays, Simple Lives Thursday and Fight Back Friday.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Yellow Squash, a Cinderella Story

Every spring, on that exciting day of buying vegetable plants for my garden, I grab the standard tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and some sort of pepper. I assess the shopping cart for how much room I have left, then I buy some random veggies that just sound interesting. This year I bought pattypan squash thinking it would be fun to grow some of the squat little squash.  Oh my did it grow.
Bounty of Squash in Front of the Garden
Zucchini has always been my squash of choice during the summer months. It tastes so good sauteed in olive oil, breaded and fried, in chocolate zucchini bread, and the list goes on. Summer squash is like the ugly stepchild to the beautiful zucchini. Maybe I just had too many bad experiences with it as a kid, since it was prolific in my childhood family garden as well. Regardless, now that my pattypan squash plants exploded with produce, I needed to find a recipe that would use a lot of the squash and would taste good enough for my family to eat.
Dane Tasting the Squash
I found a recipe on Allrecipes.com for Yellow Squash Casserole, and it became the became the Royal Ball and my lowly, humble squash transformed into Cinderella. The dish was eggy, savory, and absolutely delicious. I ate it the next day as a light lunch with a salad, and my 1 year old son has had it for a few meals since the first night. My husband even enjoyed it immensely. I did make some changes based on the reviews I read, and the following recipe is my rendition.

Yellow Squash Casserole
4 cups sliced yellow squash
1/2 cup chopped onion
5 slices sandwich bread
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons and 1 tsp salt, divided
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped fine
5 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
ground black pepper to taste

1. At least 1 hour before cooking time, slice squash using a mandoline or knife. Place squash in large bowl and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of salt and toss to coat. 

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

3. Using paper towels, press down on squash to remove as much liquid as possible. Drain liquid. Rinse squash to remove all salt and pat dry.

4. Process bread in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs, and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper; set aside. 

5. Place squash and onion in a large skillet over medium heat. Pour in a small amount of water. Cover, and cook until squash is tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well, and place in a large bowl. Add parsley and thyme. Stir to incorporate.

6. In a medium bowl, mix together breadcrumbs and cheese. Stir half of the mixture into the cooked squash and onions. In a small bowl, mix together eggs and milk, then add to squash mixture. Stir in 1/4 cup melted butter, and season with salt and pepper. Spread into a 9x13 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining breadcrumb mixture.

7. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned and bubbling.

I am happy to say that I have found a few uses for yellow squash to tackle my massive supply. Last week I cooked it with ground beef and made enchiladas.  Today I sliced up a small pattypan and put it on my salad. It really has a nice mild flavor when eaten raw. I plan on making spaghetti later in the week and will sneak some squash into the sauce. 

A few kitchen hints:
~ If you dont eat the ends of your sandwich loaves, stick them in a plastic ziploc bag in the freezer. When a recipe calls for sandwich bread to make breadcrumbs, pull out the ends, thaw in a microwave, and use as needed.

~ Sweating eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash (coating with salt and letting it sit a while) dramatically improves the texture of the veggies and makes dishes less soggy. This is especially true if you are battering and frying up the veggies. The coating stays on much better if the excess liquid has been removed ahead of time.

(This post is linked to Full Plate Thursday Simple Lives Thursday and Tempt my Tummy Tuesday)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Crab Fest

They are here: crabs.  Plenty for the picking.  Who would of thought that we could go out catch some of these little guys and feast, on the spot?  Up here you can. Well not in Yakima, but on the coast - we went to Eliza Island in the San Juan Islands.
First, you have to catch the crabs.  Now this can be tricky, you need bait and crab pots, and a boat.  We caught a few.

Once you catch these little guys, the rest is easy. (I have to admit, I had no part in the preparation of this meal.  Owen and Adam - they had it covered.)  So, thanks to their skilled approach to this delicious meal, we ate like kings and queens.  Next, you cut them in half and clean out their guts and gills.

After that you just drop them in a pot of boiling water.  Let them cook for 15 minutes or so.

Eliza Island Crab
crab(s) (as many as you can catch)
butter, melted
veggies to grill

While they are cooking chop up as many veggies as you can get your hands on to grill.  Douse them with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Throw them on the grill.  Melt some butter for crab dipping.

When you are done, eat. 

Revised: There have been a couple of revisions because of slow internet connections on vacation.  Also it was hard to decide on a title.  Other titles we thought of were: I Caught Crabs in Bellingham, WA, My Husband Gave me Crabs, The Crabs are Coming, My Husband is Crabby, Crabapalooza, the list just keeps going...