Reading: Grow Great Grub

20130323-143945.jpg This time of year I start pouring through spring garden catalogs, magazines & books. One of my favs is Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail. Over the past few years I've started to exceed my gardening space & I needed inspiration for alternative gardening.

Grow Great Grub focuses on organic gardening in smaller spaces. Considering my postage stamp front garden, deck & backyard planters aren't exactly large, I decided to buy a copy. The book is divided into 3 sections, 1. Prepping, 2. Types of Plants & 3. Harvesting. In each section, Gayla ranks different gardens & plants by difficulty and offers expert instructions on a variety of growing options. One of my favorite subsections is on growing sprouts and greens seed in toilet paper rolls. She realizes that not everyone has access to grow lamps or heat mats and focuses on what is affordable for all; free toilet paper rolls, cheap organic seed packets, and soil. There are options for every space (windowsill to outdoors) and every level of gardener.


Throughout the book, she recommends her favorite varieties of veg, herbs & flowers in addition to small space composting and the importance of plant rotation so that you can grow for years to come. Gayla wraps up by offering numerous cooking & preserving ideas, and come September I'm reading this section on a weekly basis. She offers up fantastic recipes for immediate cooking as well as pickling, drying, & canning. This year I'm hoping to make my first ristra. Ristras are bundles of hot peppers that are carefully chosen and tenderly assembled into a bouquet and allowed to dry for several weeks.


So what are you itching to do in the garden this year?

Halloween Here We Come

20120930-131934.jpg Now that October is here, my jack-o-lantern candles and pumpkins are out on display. I love seeing bits of orange throughout the house, and the evening candlelight glow is quite magical.


Now that I've stocked up on candy, I'm also thinking about a Halloween menu. Last year we made homemade pizzas and dips. This year I might class things up with pumpkin soup, pumpkin truffles and.....tbd. I also have hopes of making pumpkin shaped sugar cookies for my son's class!

Before I can really dig into Halloween I need to finish cleaning up the back garden and plant my garlic bulbs. Ah - responsibility.


Though I have a few things left on my to do list, I'm ready for autumn & winter. Nothing gets my household ready for crunchy leaves and cool nights like watching It's The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown! It really is the best way to get ready for all of the fun & treats of autumn, even if all you get is a bag of rocks!


How do you get festive this time of year?

What I'm Reading & Eating: La Cucina

I'm having one of those overwhelmed moments - inlaws moving, garden growing, full house, big trip in August, and a little travel for work. Moments like this call for a good book. A good cookbook.

Right now I'm pouring through La Cucina by The Italian Academy of Cuisine published by Rizzoli Publications, Inc. It's a 927 page treasure trove of cooking inspiration. The book is divided up by type of food and region. Right now my focus is on Chapter 6, Vegetables.

Good rains and warm temperatures made for a large bounty this spring. We've got lettuce, green beans, early tomatoes, herbs, eggplant, greens, and zucchini. This bounty adds to the overwhelmed feeling, and I need some direction. Here's what's on the menu:

    1. Oregano Tomatoes 2. Spring Stew w/ kale, bacon, potatoes, pecorino & canelini beans 3. Baked Polenta w/ Fontina & Asiago 4. Stuffed Zucchini 5. Caponata

1. Oregano Tomatoes Ingredients: - however many tomatoes you have, 4 for me, sliced in half, seeds removed & reserved - 2 cups of dried bread crumbs - 1/4 or so cup olive oil - 1/4 cup grated parm - 1-2 tsp dried oregano - salt & pepper

Method: - place the seeded & sliced tomatoes on a paper towel lined baking sheet. Allow them to sit for about 30 minutes. - combine the bread crumbs with: olive oil, reserved tomato seeds, salt, parm, pepper and oregano. - preheat the oven to 350, remove the paper towel - loosely fill the tomato with the bread crumb mixture (reserved breadcrumbs will be used in the stuffed zucchini), drizzle with olive oil and bake for 20/25 mins until the breadcrumbs are golden brown - if you're in the mood, steal a bit of the fontina or asiago and drizzle on top, broil for a few mins then serve.

2. Spring Stew Ingredients: - 1 bunch of kale - washed & stem removed & composted - 5 slices of bacon - 2 red potatoes, washed & sliced into 1/2" thick half moons - 1/2 cup of fresh pecorino romano - olive oil - 1 cup of frozen or canned cannelini beans - 2 cloves of garlic, smashed - 1 onion, sliced into half moons - 6 cups of homemade chicken stock - salt & pepper to taste

Method: - In a large pan, cook the bacon over low heat. Once the fat has been rendered and the bacon is crisp, remove the bacon from the pan and let drain over paper towels. - in a soup pot, bring the stock up to a simmer - Over medium-high heat cook the potatoes In the bacon fat, add olive oil if needed. Cook for 5-8 mins per side until the skin is crisp and the inside is cooked through. Remove the potatoes from the pan, add olive oil to the pan. - add greens, onions, and garlic to the pan. Sauté over medium heat until just cooked through - carefully add everything to the pot of stock, as well as beans. Simmer on low for 5-10 mins and taste for seasonings. Finish with cheese, chopped bacon & drizzle of olive oil.

3. Baked Polenta w/ Fontina & Asiago Ingredients: - 3 cups of polenta (corn meal, not quick cooking) - 1/2 pound grated fontina cheese - 1/2 pound grated asiago - 9 cups of lightly salted water

Method: - preheat oven to 400 - grease an 8x8 baking pan - bring the pot of water to a boil, reduce heat and slowly whisk in the polenta. Cook for 30-40 mins, stirring constantly. The polenta is cooked through When it is no longer crunchy. Stir in the cheese. Taste for seasoning and pour into baking pan and cook until a golden crust forms, 20-30 mins.

4. Stuffed Zucchini Ingredients: - 2 zucchini, washed & halved, seeds removed and reserved - left over bread crumbs from the oregano tomato dish - 1/2 cup dried mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water & puréed in a food processor - 1 garlic clove - 1 tsp dried thyme - 1 egg, beaten - olive oil - salt & pepper

Method: - preheat oven to 350 - in a food processor, chop the mushrooms, zucchini seeds, garlic & thyme - combine bread crumbs, reserved & chopped zucchini seeds, mushrooms, garlic, thyme, olive oil, salt & pepper, and egg - gently stuff inside the zucchini halves, drizzle with olive oil & bake for 20-25 minutes - if you're in the mood, steal a bit of the fontina or asiago and drizzle on top, broil for a few mins then serve.

5. Caponata Ingredients: - 2-3 eggplants, peeled, sliced and sprinkled with salt. Let them sit and weep to drain the bitterness. - 1 cup of cherry tomatoes - 1 yellow pepper, cubed - 1 shallot, chopped - 2 cloves of garlic, smashed - 10 olives, pitted - 1/2 tsp sugar - olive oil - red wine vinegar - salt to taste

Method: - combine all of the veg into a large pan and sauté over low heat for 15 mins. Add a few dashes of red wine vinegar and cook over medium heat until the vinegar evaporates. Either serve as is, or put ingredients into a food processor and pulse until just combined. Serve warm with bread or pita chips.

Well that was a marathon in the kitchen. Sometimes I just need a day of cooking and reading to set me straight. This meal will feed the gang for a few days, as well as empty the fridge before the next CSA pick up!

Leftover Special Roast Chicken w/ Rice & Lentils

We had a lot of chicken leftover from Special Roast Chicken night. Inspired by one of my new books, India Cookbook, I decided to take the chicken & change up the flavor profile. Ingredients:

    - leftover chicken, skin on - 1 cup of lentils, soaked for 30 mins, then drain - 1 cup of basmati rice, soaked for 30 mins, then drain - 3 shallots, diced - 3 garlic cloves, diced - 1 tbsp turmeric - 1 tsp garam masala - 1 cinnamon stick - 2 cardamom pods, crushed & seeds removed - 2 tbsp butter - 2 tbsp olive oil - 4 cups of chicken stock - salt & pepper


    - preheat the oven to 200 - on a baking sheet with a rack inserted, place the chicken on the rack and put water in the baking sheet, (the water should not touch the chicken. this will help keep the chiken moist while it warms through) - add 1 tbsp butter, 1 tbsp olive oil, cardamom, cinnamon stick, shallots, & garlic into a deep pan/dutch oven. sauté on medium-high for 5-10 mins until the garlic & shallots are soft. add salt & pepper, garam masal, tumeric, drained lentils & chicken stock. cover, bring to a boil then simmer for 20-30 mins - drain & rinse the rice. in a sauce pot, add 2 cups of water, the rice & the other tbsp of butter. cover, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10-15 mins until the rice is cooked through - when the lentils & rice are done, add the lentils & veg to the rice, along with some of the sauce - drain the water from the chiken pan & turn the oven to broil. cook until the skin in crispy, 4-5 mins - plate, garnish with cilantro, sriracha & dig in!

Winter Composting

My 2011 resolution was to start composting food scraps & yard waste, and I'm happy to report that in 2012 I'm still going strong! It took a bit of research to figure out the best composting method for me. Since I live in an area with quite a bit of wild-life as well as a lot of homes, I needed a composter that would keep the pests completely out, and keep me in good with neighbors. After reading Let it Rot: The Gardener's Guide to Composting,(Stu Campbell) I decided on an enclosed compost tumbler.

Once a week, more often in the summer, my darling husband, (often joined by our ferocious Scottish Terrier Jay,) takes the food scraps out to the composter, gives it a turn & voila he's done! To keep this easy, and as mess free as possible, we keep a small food scrap bin (with a charcoal filter) under the kitchen sink. We put fruit, vegetables, crushed egg shells, crushed shrimp shells, tea leaves, coffee grounds, & hops from beer brewing into the composter. We also have a large group of worms that live inside the bin. Every once in a while I'll see one burrow down into the scraps after I've turned the bin.

Other than food & garden scraps, many people add manure to their compost. Since I don't have a steady supply, I rely upon worm castings. Worm castings are the by product of the worms eating all of the compost, aka: worm poop. Ultimately, the composted scraps, yard waste & worm poop will be mixed in with the soil for all of the plants in my 2012 garden.

We haven't had a deep freeze or heavy snow yet, but I am a little nervous that either the compost bin wheels or lid may freeze. In case the wheels freeze, I bought a compost turner (see the first image) that will allow us to keep the oxygen flowing inside the bin. If the lid freezes, I'm not sure what we'll do. I guess we could build a worm composter and keep it in the basement, oh my three year old would love it!

One of the first plants to receive a gluttons-helping of compost will be my garlic. In October, I planted the bulbs and I have high hopes that my generous supply of compost then, and again in a couple months will result in an abundance of bulbs by June. As you can see below, I've got sprouts!

No matter where you live, apartment, townhouse, or sprawling mansion, there's a way for you to compost your food scraps too. Just recently, a county in Maryland expanded their curbside food scrap recycling program. Talk about service! This is program has a lot of local gardeners excited because it also means the county will increase their production of local compost for purchase! Often, compost purchased at a garden center is priced 2x (or more) higher because the compost is shipped in from another state or across the country.

Even if a curbside pick-up program makes it's way to my neighborhood, I'll continue to compost so that my garden can benefit organically (on the super cheap!) from my kitchen scraps & garden waste.

Polenta - it's for breakfast

Last week I poured over my new cookbooks for a little 2012 inspiration. A recipe from the Food52 Cookbook showcased a fabulous breakfast polenta w/ almond meal & blueberries. Since I had all of the ingredients in my cupboard, along with a few extras, I gave it a whirl.

Polenta w/ Blueberries adapted from the Food52 Cookbook, recipe by OneHungryMama


  • 5 cups of milk (2% or whole)
  • 3/4 cup polenta (not quick-cooking, I didn't have any on hand)
  • 1/2 cup of almond meal (trader joes has it in stock regularly)
  • 3-4 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup of blueberries, rised & gently patted dry
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp vanilla sugar
  • honey to taste
  • 1/2 cup of sour cream
  • 1/4 cup pasted slivered almonds


  1. in a large saucepan, bring the milk up to a simmer
  2. reduce heat to low and whisk in polenta and almond meal, because I used slow-cook polenta it will take about 10 or so minutes, instant will take about 5 mins to thicken & smooth-out
  3. when the polenta is smooth, stir in the butter & vanilla sugar
  4. turn off the heat and stir in the sour cream, vanilla & honey (to taste)
  5. top with blueberries & slivered toasted almonds

Because my son is in love with whipped cream, I topped his with a little extra sweetness. This will keep well in the fridge, just add an extra tablespoon of milk when you re-heat it. It also transforms into a nice polenta cake with a little more sour cream & an egg!

Sorting Through the Gifts

The holidays & 2011 are coming to a close. This season was full of thoughtful & generous gifts (books, prints & kitchen tools galore!) as well as our first family holiday trip to New York.

I'm really excited to dig into my books, mortar & pestle, and new knives. My husband surprised me with some fablous garden related prints as well. Earlier this year, I found an artist on Etsy that seemed to capture how I feel about gardening & food and bring it to life, in print-form. Below are links to where you can pick up some of the books and learn more about some of my new gadgets.

Prints: Victory Garden of Tommorrow

Books: Food52 Cookbook The Silver Spoon India La Cucina The Cheesemonger's Kitchen The Heirloom Life Gardener

Kitchen Tools: Mortar & Pestle Shun 10" Chef's Knife Magnetic Knife Bar

Most of my time off has been filled with playdates and Lego construction, but I've snuck a few moments to look through the new books and get some culinary ideas for 2012. One gift we're really looking forward to using, is a gift card to a local french bistro. Dinners out are few and far between these days. Better make that Valentine's Day reservation!

Thanksgiving Inspiration

Thanksgiving is less than a week away! Though I won't be hosting, I'm still ordering a bird and will blog about all the fun ways to utilize turkey and other side dishes after the big dance.

To find inspiration I poured through some of my favorite cook books and magazines. And just today, I dove into Mark Bittman's NYTimes article on post-Thanksgiving meals. It reminded me that the possibilities are limitless. Here's my preliminary plan (which I think is sooooooo important because it's easy to forget what you have tucked in the back of the fridge!):

    1. Turkey Stock - similar to my chicken stock recipe 2. Turkey Tortilla Soup - recipe coming soon! 3. Latkes - made from leftover mashed potatoes 4. Cranberry Crumble - which reminds my family of Gruffalo Crumble 5. Stuffing Balls - for when we have a hankering for a taste of Thanksgiving in February

The goal this weekend it to keep cool and organized, easier said than done!

Ready for Halloween!

20111028-144315.jpg Ten tons of candy - ✓ Orange lights - ✓ Pumpkins - ✓ Lots of spooky festive books - ✓

Candy.jpg 20111028-144349.jpg 20111028-144418.jpg

The kids will be flooding the streets of my neighborhood on Monday, and I am prepared! The last thing to finalize is our mini-party menu. Last year we made lots of Trader Joes ours devours, this year Im thinking homemade pizza, crudités with hummus and mulled cider.

the pizzas:

  • First up is a butternut squash and goat cheese pizza, inspired by We, The Pizza
  • Second is a classic pizza margarita (sauce, mozzerella, and basil)
  • The third is a wild card. Ill pick up a bunch of meats, veg cheese and let my hub decide,(especially since hes cooking!)

For the crust, you can pick up a pre-made, get a pre-made ball of dough, or make your own crust. Over the summer we fell in love with Mario Batalis pizza dough recipe. Its a great basic dough and method that we always use. Its the bees knees. Easy, yummy and nothing smells better than dough baking in the oven.

Etc... I'm still undecided on hummus flavors. The crowd fav is roasted red pepper. But theres a good chance that Ill chump out and buy some from Trader Joes. Come to think of it, their spiced cider is pretty yum. All I need to add is a touch of spirits (tuaca, or maybe amaretto depending on my sweet tooth) for the adults!

This Halloween is shaping up to be lots of fun. Hope you have a blast however you decide to celebrate!


Rainy Day, Canning Day

20110815-072216.jpg I love rainy days. Growing up in Southern California, I had few gray, rainy summer days. In the days of my youth, those sunny summer days were spent poolside or on the volleyball court. These days, rain or shine, I'm thinking about gardening and preserving the harvest that doesn't make it to the table. Rainy days make for the best canning days. The house doesn't seem quite so hot and you can feel just a touch of autumn in the air.


The garden has been very productive this year, especially the hot and sweet peppers, and I'm always looking for new inspiration in the kitchen. Three canning books have been especially helpful this year, Canning For a New Generation, Canning and Preserving, and Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It. Each book inspired me to expand beyond tomato sauce, and try new techniques. If you're looking for some canning guidance, check them out from your local library or hit up Amazon or a copy for your bookcase!

20110815-072134.jpg Peppers from the garden and the CSA

20110815-072159.jpg Peppers roasting under the broiler

20110815-072229.jpg Jalapeño slices ready for some pickling liquid

Now if only I could score another rainy weekend this month, I'd love to try this ketchup recipe!

Summer Reading

20110802-074949.jpg Reading outdoors is my new favorite pastime. Often, I'm joined by my three year old and more often than not we read his books! Recently we found artist/author Nikki McClure, and we are really digging her books, specifically "Mama Is It Summer Yet?" The picture book the shifts from cold barren Winter, through Spring's warm up and before you know it, you find yourself basking in the Summer sun. Nikki's art is nothing short of amazing. Each image starts from just a piece paper, an x-acto knife and her inspiration.

My garden's progression is not unlike "Mama Is It Summer Yet?" The garden started from seed in February to fruits, veg & herbs in August. Before I know it I'll be canning and getting out the autumn clothes. I've put so much blood, sweat & tears into the garden this year - and reading outside provides another means to enjoy it, other than feasting on it!



To find out more about Nikki McClure check out her website, and you can find her books on Amazon.

Getting Organized

20110717-122122.jpg While I'm waiting for the tomatoes and peppers to ripen, I am also thinking about how to preserve them come harvest time. But before I can preserve, I need to get organized. Where are my canning jars? How many lids do I need to purchase? Do I have pickling spices?

Here's a before picture of my canning cabinet:


And here's the after picture: 20110717-011925.jpg

The Urban Pantry, by Amy Pennington, has been an invaluable reference guide in my quest to know what lurks in my cupboards. The book outlined pantry staples, canning techniques, organization tips, great recipes, and details on her own pantry garden. The Urban Pantry is a great motivator and got me thinking about how to make the most of what I'm growing. And that goes beyond pickles and marinara sauce. I'm thinking lavender and verbena salt scrubs, vanilla sugar, and my own chili powder.

As the summer progresses, I've gone back to review her harvesting techniques for herbs, (cut mint as close to the soil as possible,) and I'm excited to try her Indian Pickled Carrots recipe!

I picked up my copy through iBooks, but you can also find it at book stores and on Amazon.

Good Bug, Bad Bug

This year I put a new focus on learning about the bugs that live in and around my garden. As many Maryland gardeners know, the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug is rough on the garden. Last year it devoured sweet peppers, tomatoes and can be devastating to corn, eggplant and cucumbers. I've been diligently scanning each plant and each leaf and found a few other critters worth evicting and some guardians worth leaving in the garden. Good Bug Bad Bug, by Jessica Walliser, has been integral in identifying and removing the "bad bugs." Good Bug, Bad Bug Book

As you can see from my book, I've used it quite a bit. In a perfect world the birds would be feasting on all of these critters!


Flea Beatles: Out, caught feasting on the eggplant leaves Stinkbugs: Out, feasting on cucumbers, hot and sweet peppers, tomatoes and eggplant Slugs: Out, eww Japanese Beetles: Out, well the spiders are taking care of them


Ants: Staying, only because they aren't headed inside the house Lady Bugs: love, eggs just hatched Tuesday! Garden Spiders: Staying, they've been catching Japanese Beetles in their webs Flying/Stinging pollinators:bees, yellow jackets, etc...Staying, they've been busy pollinating

We don't plan on resorting to any pesticides, even the "safe" ones harm the good bugs. We're focused on an organic garden and if that means buying ladybugs and hand-picking bugs off of plants, then so bee it!

I picked up my copy from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.