Thursday, April 19, 2012

How to Grow Your Own Tomatoes When You Have No Space, a Tutorial

Beginning Urban Farmers, this post is for you!  Or anyone who doesn't want to plant a giant garden without ever having done it and worries they might screw it up. 

I am not an expert.  In fact, I have no idea what I'm doing...and yet, I am not afraid.  Well, I'm learning.  I *have* grown plants before and helped in gardens, but never really grown veggies entirely on my own.  If you've been reading my blog, *have* been reading, haven't you?  People are.  Someone is.  I know because if I go to my "Stats" page, I have visitors.  Lots of them.  But I don't know who most of you are, so feel free to shoot me an email, comment, 'become a follower.'  Also feel free to use the buttons below posts to share on facebook or twitter.  And you pinsters ~ pin away!  I'm also on pinterest if you'd like to follow me:

So, if you've been reading my blog, then you know how much I love tomatoes.  I am even planning a vacation to visit my folks in Idaho this Summer to help can tomatoes (and eat tomatoes) fresh from their garden.  That's how much I love tomatoes.  I've long been wanting to grow my own, but I live in a small apartment with no balcony, and tomato plants grow to be about 5 feet tall.  Thus, I decided to grow tomatoes on my walk-up to my apartment.  Probably to the wonderment and irritation of my neighbors, but I decided not to care since any plant life is an improvement to this nondescript apartment building.  The idea of having fresh tomatoes this Summer along with jars of canned tomatoes at my disposal throughout Fall and Winter is far too exciting for me to not at least try to grow my own.  Of knowing where your food came from, of the idea of picking fresh and chopping it up and eating it right away...yummmm.  So, How to Grow Your Own Tomatoes (WISH I had thought to take pictures during the process, but if you go to Home Depot, they will help you every step of the way--they helped me with nearly everything).
  1. 2 large pots, 18-24 in diameter at the rim (make sure they have holes for fluid to drain)
  2. 2 large 54" tall cages (this is so that when the vines grow they can creep up the cage)
  3. 2 tomato plants. I bought 1 cherry and 1 Roma.
  4. 2 large bags of potting mix. You will need all of it, most likely.
  5. 1 bottle of plant food.  
 *I chose two tomato plants because I didn't want to go too crazy.  I figured starting small was best.
  1. When you get home, pick a sunny area; tomatoes love sun.
  2. Fill pots about half-way with soil.  Gently remove the tomato plants from their containers.
  3. Place the plants in the center of the large pots. 
  4. Place the cages around the plants, the plant should be in the middle of the cage.
  5. Fill in around the plant with the remaining soil.
  6. "Feed" the plant using the directions on the plant food you bought.
  7. Watch your tomatoes grow, watering as needed. 
I have read and am told by seasoned gardeners that you don't want to over-water, so you watch for any wilting of the leaves and water accordingly.  In 65 days (65 days!?  That means I have to wait until mid- to late-June for my tomatoes!) I hope to have wonderful tomatoes to cook with, and possibly enough to preserve and share the extras.  More on this post as my plants grow!  I am so excited!  Oh, P.S.  I got some peppers, too.  Here's a photo...I'll be updating their progress every few weeks as well.  xo, AB

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Quinoa Salad with Pickled Brussels Sprouts

Quinoa Veggie Melange, so good!  Sprouts are pinkish due to being pickled with hot red peppers.
I discovered quinoa just a few years ago, and so far I am limited to salads, mainly because that's been enough to satisfy my curiosity; and also because it tastes so good with just a bit of vinegar, salt, and fresh veggies that doing much else seems like it would ruin it.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a delicious, nutty-flavored seed, commonly thought to be a grain, but is actually in the same family as leafy green veggies, similar to chard and spinach.  Quinoa is a great source of protein; in fact, it is a complete protein.  It supplies a well-balanced protein file of all 9 essential amino acids (essential amino acids are ones that the human body doesn't create or process on its own, so they need to be consumed through food).  I read a BUNCH of websites which claimed this to be the case, but I wouldn't repeat it unless I found it on the USDA website, which I did.  I was skeptical, because I had always learned that soy was the one exception to the rule that plants are not complete protein sources.  Turns out, there are a few, and quinoa is one of them.

Here is the recipe for the amazing blend of flavors that is the above-pictured Quinoa Salad with Pickled Brussels Sprouts.  For the Pickled Brussels Sprouts recipe, click HERE. 

Quinoa Salad with Pickled Brussels Sprouts
  1. 1 cup quinoa, cooked (follow instructions on the package, cooking is easy and fast!)
  2. 1 box cherry tomatoes; cut them in half
  3. 1 8 oz. jar of Pickled Brussels Sprouts with Peppers, finely chop peppers and chop sprouts in bite-sized pieces.  Reserve the brine.
  4. 1 avocado, cubed
  5. 1/4 red or white onion (I prefer red) diced
  6. Red wine vinegar (to taste)
  7. Brine from sprouts pickle jar (to taste, and also for moisture)
  8. Table salt -- warning...add salt AFTER you add vinegar and brine, it may be salty enough without it.
Toss all ingredients in a large's that easy!!  Other yummy ingredients you can add are black beans or kidney beans, yellow or red bell peppers, creative! xo, AB

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rosemary-Infused Strawberry Mimosa Jelly

Mmmmm-yum - strawberries from the Farmer's Market + sparkling wine + fresh herbs = delicate confiture to be loved and shared with prosperity.  I need a couple more spoonfuls of this jelly to decide exactly how best to enjoy it, but I will contemplate and let you know in a future post.  For now, the jelly recipe:

Rosemary-Infused Strawberry Mimosa Jelly

1 mounding cup of strawberries
3 cups sparkling white wine
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 cups sugar
1 pouch LIQUID pectin (don't use powdered, it won't set, trust me... ;-) )
5-6 8-oz. canning jars
  • In large, nonreactive pot or pan, combine sparkling wine, strawberries, and fresh rosemary.  Crush the berries, bring mixture to a simmer, 10 minutes. 
  • Pour the mixture over a sieve covered with cheesecloth.  Lightly push on the crushed berries with the back of a mixing spoon.  Refrigerate for one hour to strain juice.  You will need 3 cups of the juice. (You can leave rosemary in the juice for greater flavor, and remove at the time you put in jars, or you can take it out for less flavor)
  • While the juice is straining, prepare your water canner.  Sterilize lids and jars.
  • Pour the champagne mixture back into the large pan, slowly stir in sugar, and bring to a rapid boil.  Stir constantly, and when stirring no longer stops the boil, add the pectin.  Boil for 2-3 more minutes.
  • Quickly ladle jelly into jars, best to use a funnel for this step.  Leave 1/2" headspace.  Wipe rims with paper towel doused in hot water.  Place on lids and bands.
  • Boil in water canner for 10 minutes.
My Best Donna Reed ;-)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Asparagus Nom-Noms

CSA Asparagus
'Tis the season for asparagus! Coming off the heels of the Best Sandwich, Ever (to date, my most popular) post, asparagus might seem like a bit of a downer to some of you. Shame on you! Asparagus is awesome, especially pickled with peppers and garlic. In fact, I had about a 1/4 cup of spears left over that wouldn't fit in the jars I set aside for canning, so I ate them as-is, straight out of the pan, after cooking in vinegar. Yum.  If you like pickled cucumbers, aka "pickles," you'll love asparagus pickles.

This recipe is from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (definitely click on the link for all of your canning questions/needs).  Because I got a small bundle and used a bit in a potato-leek soup, I only had enough to fill 2 jars.  And since I couldn't find the tall, 12-oz jars at the store, I used a couple 8-oz jars and chopped the asparagus spears down to fit in the jars.  You do what you gotta do, better than the asparagus going to waste.  And since the Ball recipe calls for 7 POUNDS of asparagus, I had to fraction everything to one-seventh...not fun, but eating them sure is fun!

Here is the recipe:
Pickled Asparagus (Makes 6 pint jars)
7 lbs. Asparagus
Ice Water
4 Tbsp. finely chopped seeded red bell pepper
2 Tbsp. finely chopped seeded green bell pepper
2 Tbsp. finely chopped seeded hot chili pepper (I used jalapeno)
3 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic
5 c. white vinegar
1-2/3 c. water
1-2/3 c. sugar
4 tsp. pickling salt
2 Tbsp. dill seeds
2 Tbsp. mustard seeds (I didn't have these, so didn't use them)

1.  Trim ends from asparagus and cut spears into uniform lengths about 3/4 in. shorter than inside height of the jars.  In a large shallow dish, cover asparagus with ice water and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Drain.
2.  Meanwhile, prepare canner, jars and lids.
3.  In a small bowl, combine red and green bell pepper, jalapeno, and garlic.  Mix.
4.  In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar and salt.  Stir well and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat and boil gently for 5 minutes.  Add asparagus and return to a boil.  Boil for 2 minutes or until asparagus is heated through.
5.  Place 2 Tbsp. chopped pepper mixture, 1 tsp. dill seeds, and 1 tsp. mustard seeds into each hot jar.  Pack asparagus, tips down [as you can see, I didn't do this.  Oops!  Way to follow directions] into hot jars to within a generous 1/2" of top of jar.  Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar to cover asparagus, leaving 1/2" headspace.  Remove air bubbles and add pickling liquid if needed.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar.  Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
6.  Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes.  Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.
Keep scrolling to bottom of page....

I love eating these on their own as a side-dish.  They are so crunchy that they can be used in almost any recipe that fresh asparagus is used and provide an extra bit of tangy flavor.  However, don't forget to adjust cooking time of the asparagus itself.  Delicious!  xo, AB
Ever wonder what asparagus stalks look like when they are growing?  This isn't my photo, can't take credit for it...but I also couldn't find where it originally belonged.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Grilled Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich

The Leaning Tower of Awesomeness awaits you.  Behold: the Grilled-Whole- Wheat-Peanut-Butter-Black-Plum-Jam-Apple Sandwich. 

In this blog, I try to bring you not just different recipes for jam, jelly, and other canning sensations, but also fun ways to use them.

And is there a more simple, tasty, wholesome, take-you-back-to-your-childhood way of eating jam or jelly than in a peanut butter sandwich?  Not really.

But I did change it up for us grown-ups, and kids will love it, too.  I promise.

This recipe is for one sandwich.  I trust you can do the math to double, triple, quadruple. 

You will need:  Small frying pan; 2 slices whole wheat bread; 1/2 apple, thinly sliced (not in wedges, but keeping the apple shape from top to bottom); 1 Tbsp. peanut butter;  1 pat real butter, unsalted and softened; and 1-2 Tbsp. jam (I used Pacific Coast Black Plum Jam that I made back in September).

Smear peanut butter and jam on one slice of the bread.  On the other piece of bread, very thinly smooth 1/2 pat of butter on one side.  Place the slice with butter in your pan, butter side touching the pan.  Arrange apple slices on the slice of bread in the pan.  Now, flip the slice of bread that has the peanut butter and jam on top of the slice in the pan.  Lightly spread the remaining butter on top of this slice of bread.  If you follow the above directions exactly, you won't have to ever place a slice of bread with butter or peanut butter on a plate or counter.  Less mess!  Okay.  Now, turn on your stove burner to low heat.  Be patient, wait for butter to begin melting in pan.  Flip sandwich over, melt butter on that side.  Flip again, wait *about* 2 minutes, check to see that the bread is golden brown, flip again and toast the other side to a golden brown.  Enjoy with a smile and a glass of milk.  I am giddy with my culinary prowess. xo, AB