Start Your Own Herb Garden

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

If you love to cook, your own herb garden is endlessly useful and money saving. Over the years and various places that I have lived, I’ve always tried to make space to grow some herbs, no matter how small. Even a tiny garden takes a tiny slice out of the industrialized food system, and gives us more independence – but stickin it to the man is just a perk. I digress. A creative home cook can easily go through several bunches of herbs a week, and at $2-3.00 a pop at the grocery store, just putting fresh flavor in your dishes can really add up fast. A tidy little herb garden will pay for itself in a couple of months, give you years worth of food, inspire you to try new things and before you know it, you’ll cringe at the idea of paying for those hydroponic basil bags ever again. Plus, it literally tastes better when you’ve grown it yourself. 

Even if you think you don’t have a green thumb, you may be surprised at how easy it is to keep herbs. If you already know what you’re doing, forgive me if I sound patronizing, this is really meant for people who are just getting started. I hear a lot of people say they kill every plant that comes into their possession. I have the same anxiety about math. The whole thing plants do is grow – they want to grow, even if you try to stop them. Many times even if you give them only a pittance of what is ideal, they find a way to survive. So don’t sweat it, don’t worry about it if something does die, it’s no big deal, just try again. If something looks like it’s wilting away, just google it or leave a message here and find out what it needs. If anything I’ve written isn’t specific enough, do comment and I’ll expand. 

I am beginning a new herb garden next to my kitchen – there are no garden beds at all at our new house, so everything is from scratch around here. Nothing is flat either, so I’m choosing to put some simple terraces in to keep my herbs from sliding down the hill when it rains. I just used materials laying around the farm, I don’t want to spend much money. We have old bricks, tons of rocks and some barn beams that are a little too rotted to salvage but work great for holding back the earth. This bed is also way larger than most people will want. So point #1 – Do start small if you’re just getting started. I grow a lot of things that are superfluous to my kitchen just because I like gardening, and I also allow a substantial amount of room for lettuces. You do not need this much space for your garden to be an effective money saver.  

Plant things that you already use frequently rather than things that sound good – for example, plant mint if you already drink mojitos, don’t plant mint with the idea that you should start drinking mojitos. Even if it’s true that you should. Once you get going and growing, then add new things a little at a time and see if you actually use them. There are so many subtopics within the herb garden topic that it really can’t all go in one post, so let’s talk in general terms and tips to get started for now. 

Plant all summer! One of the things that make an herb garden a great way to get into gardening is that there are no spring deadlines for getting things into the ground. This can be done any time over the summer. I have changed my mind about where to put plants 2 or 3 times in a season,   and add new things all summer long and even sometimes into the early fall. If May comes and goes and you haven’t begun, no worries, you have plenty of time. 

Plant in a very sunny location. Most herbs need full sun, so watch where the morning and afternoon shadows fall before you pick a spot. You want a good 8 hours of direct sun each day. 

Herbs have preferences, but will grow in almost any soil with varying degrees of success. In general, avoid soil that’s too fluffy (100% potting mix is hard for tiny roots to grab on to) and soil that’s too sticky (clay or 100% top soil can suffocate roots). Create a soil bed that’s somewhere in between. It does not have to be perfect to grow stalks with leaves on them. It does have to drain – plant in places or pots that allow water to pass through them rather than pool into dirt soup. This will cause your plants to rot.

Plan and prioritize a little. Again, this is supposed to save you money, not be stressful so I do mean “a little.” Look at the size of your garden bed and consider annuals, perennials and what you use the most of. Annuals, as implied by the name, are plants that must be re-planted every year and perennials are plants that will grow larger, survive the winter and come back year after year. These types will get larger, some of them will get MUCH larger. Read the tags before you buy. Annuals generally take up only the area that you cover with seed. 

I like to plant my perennials together and then leave the rest of my space open for seeds. This just seems to make weeding and keeping track of what I’ve planted easier. Do weed, even if only a couple times a season. Even though herbs will grow in spite of weeds, they rob your plants of water, nutrients and sun.

A few things I recommend starting with here in the northeast: 

The baby plants below are all perennials and are relatively hardy. Once they’re established they don’t need anything but a trim now and then. Most of them are available at any nursery or even Wegmans during the spring, and can all be grown in pots on a patio. You can also satiate your spring fever with these choices since you don’t have to wait for the last frost to plant them, just some weather in the 50s. 

Parsley (curly or flat) is a relative of the carrot, and if you pull up a large parsley plant you’ll find a carrot root structure. Conversely, carrot greens taste similar to parsley (I juice them with the rest of the carrot). So don’t plant a parsley in anything you can’t imagine a carrot fitting in. A parsley planted in the ground can live for years and easily grow to the size of a basketball, so account for this when deciding how much room to leave it. This Italian parsley has been in the ground for 3 weeks. It has established itself, begun to sprout new growth and needs me to cut its older floppy leaves off.

Rosemary is an evergreen but isn’t quite as hardy as its tree relatives. Cover it with a bucket or plastic pot over the hard winter. I put a rock on top to keep them from blowing away. Keep the main center trunk trimmed to make it grow more bush-like than Charlie Brown Christmas tree-like. You will be able to go out in the dead of winter, lift the cover pot and clip off a fresh sprig for your Christmas stuffing. 

Thyme comes in several varieties and grows like a ground cover and will sprout new roots from branches that touch the ground (there are thymes that are specifically for ground cover, that’s not what you want here, they are not the same). This is an English thyme. Cut off the oldest shoots in the fall. Even if you only do this every other year your thyme will keep growing and you’ll be able to clip fresh from this plant half-way into the winter.  

Sage also comes in several varieties and makes a cute little bush that can grow to a couple of feet in diameter if it has room to spread out. It also is happy with the occasional pruning of older branches.

Basil is everyone’s favorite and is easy peasy lemon squeezy. But it’s not time to plant it yet, so buy some seeds and hang on to them for another few weeks. We’ll talk basil when it’s time to plant.

Dill is another one that’s easy to grow from seed, but again, pick up some seeds and sit tight for a few more weeks.

A few things I do not recommend if you’re just getting started:

Tarragon grows at a shockingly rapid pace, and must be well contained or it will literally take over your garden and then proceed to overtake your lawn. If you do grow it, it must be cut before it goes to seed at which point resistance is futile, you will be assimilated. Nobody uses this much tarragon. 

Oregano – I know, I know, it seems like a basic essential but this is also very invasive and difficult to uproot once established. I actually treat it as more of a ground cover. It does make pretty purple flowers if you allow it to go to seed, but again, this will pop up everywhere if you don’t cut it before it seeds. 

Cilantro is a favorite of mine but it is quite persnickety. It can discourage you if you start with it. It’s very particular about its growing conditions and bolts easily leaving you with a bunch of little flowers and no usable leaves. I’ll get into this another time.

We could go on about this for a long time but that’s probably enough to get going with. I’ll update you as I add more things, and as things start to sprout, it will be time for pestos!!! enough by themselves to make it all worthwhile. Can’t wait. 

Mrs. Padmore the Red Viking

Tags

, , , , , , , ,


Introducing the newest addition to our family, this super cool Viking stove that I love. Having recently moved away from a kitchen that I dearly loved, and a thermidor that sort of became my side kick, we knew it’d be hard to settle back in to a regular stove. Obviously the kitchen is a huge part of our lives, so we decided that the stove was important enough to go all-out for. After a lot of research, we settled on a 48″ Viking 7 series (converted for propane). I named her Mrs. Padmore. 

It is a pleasure to cook on this stove, there’s no other way to describe it. I am still kinda geeking out over it. I’m all like – omg, look, look, this caramel is bubbling exactly perfectly evenly over the entire surface of the pan! My husband is all – okaaaaay I’m just glad you’re happy. Oh, I am. 

This particular model has two ovens, 6 burners and a griddle. Most importantly, the oven’s heat distribution is wonderful. Lots of cakes and cookies and muffins with no discernible hot spot. The cakes come out perfectly evenly cooked and the muffins were all equally browned, including the ones in the back corners. It does have a broiler and convection option (which I don’t often use but it cuts down on the bacon baking time by a third). The raised burners are amazing – precise heat that doesn’t directly torch your pan and provides perfect distribution of heat (especially with high quality cookware). Mrs. Padmore has 3 front 23,000 BTU burners, 2 rear 15,000 burners and 1 little 8,000 burner. The griddle can be used to fry a burger, or simmer sauce like a French top. The griddle surface slants slightly to allow liquids to run off into a removable well. This stove does not have pilot lights, all of the ignition is electronic and the top grates and griddle are all quite heavy, but once removed the range is very easy to clean. I also really appreciate that you can clean beneath it, and the legs are adjustable (my floor is not level). 

Down sides: this is a serious investment. You certainly get what you pay for in the world of appliances but Vikings are not cheap, even compared to other commercial ranges. The range top is quite thick and takes up a good portion of the oven’s height and thus the oven is very low to the ground. If you have a hard time squatting this configuration may not be the best. I also wish the small oven was just a little bit wider. I’d like to fit a cookie sheet in it sideways. I’ll have to find some smaller cookie sheets to be able to do that. 

Over all? ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Completely worth it, and we are back in business. 

Favorite Twice-Baked Potatoes

Tags

, , , , ,

These are easily a favorite around here. They are not good for you, but yum. I always make way more than we need and they’re always gone, so if you’re looking for a new way to do potatoes this St. Patrick’s day, you won’t be disappointed with these. 

  • 5 lb bag of russet potatoes
  • 4 tbs butter
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • Small red onion, minced
  • 8 oz block of sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 1 lb bacon, cooked & chopped into bits
  • 3 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt & pepper

Turn your oven up to 400. Wash the potatoes and use a fork to poke holes in each one several times. Place them directly on your oven rack and bake them until they’re soft – about an hour. Remove the hot potatoes from the oven with an oven mit and allow them to cool on a rack or cutting board until they are cool enough to hold with your bare hands.

Cut each potato in half lengthwise, and scoop the flesh being careful not to rip the skins. Put the potato flesh into a large standing mixer bowl. Set aside half of the cheese and half of the bacon bits, then mix everything else with the potatoes, taste it and add salt & pepper. Don’t let the idea of mashed potatoes get into your head – the mixture should be very thick or it will all melt out of the potato skins when you bake again. 

Scoop the potato mixture back into the empty skins and arrange them in a baking dish or cookie tray. Return the potatoes to the oven just until the filling starts to brown, about 15 minutes. Take them out again and put the rest of the bacon bits and then the cheese on top. Return them to the oven and bake them until the cheese is melty and slightly browning. 

A couple of notes: I hate pre-shredded cheese. It’s covered in starch to keep it from sticking together in the package and it changes the texture of everything. If you’re rather buy shredded cheese, whatever, no big deal. Also, these can be made a day or two ahead of time and refrigerated, you just have to bake a little longer to bring them up to temp. Also, also, I like to wrap them individually and freeze them for an easy side on another day. 

Enjoy!

Keto-Friendly/Gluten Free Blueberry Muffins

Tags

, , , , , ,


If you’ve read anything else on this blog you know that I am not a gluten free sort of person. I do however, live on a sort of low-burn keto diet. I originally took this recipie from Nancy Jenkins’ book Virgin Territory, which is a lovely story about the journey a few rogue olive trees took her on. I’ve swapped out the sugar to fit into a ketogenic diet but it also happens to be gluten free and yummy (also very easy).

pre-heat over to 425

2 c almond flour
1/4 c xylitol – I measure it out and then grind it finer to make it dissolve more easily. You can use a coffee grinder if you clean it out well or a mortar & pestle. Be sure to measure before you grind or you will change the volume.
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 extra large eggs
2 tbs good fat oil such as olive or avocado
2 tbs plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
1 c fresh blueberries

Mix the dry ingredients, mix wet ingredients, add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and fold in blueberries.

This will not fill a standard 12 cup muffin tin, so don’t think you’ve missed something when you parse it out. it makes about 10. You can oil the tin or use cupcake foils.

Bake for 5 minutes and then turn the oven down to 350 and bake for another 20 minutes (until they turn a nice golden brown).

If you’re very hard-core, it breaks down per serving at:
192 calories
15 g fat
12.6 total carbs
2.8 fiber
7.9 sugar

Restaurant Review: The Three Legged Pig

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

The lucky first culinary blog of the Western Finger Lakes region goes to The Three Legged Pig in Lakeville – for BBQ and beer. Why a pig with only 3 legs you ask? This place is super chill. Kind of a cross between a juke joint and a gas station pit stop, you can walk in and pick your own table, bring kids and get a quick delicious meal without any fuss. Unfortunately it was also chilly, I was cold and I noticed that several people kept their coats on. That wouldn’t stop me from going back though; it’s a great value.

 The servers were quick and accommodating – they shared all of the work so we met them both. The food was really well done. We tried the redneck egg rolls which were slightly larger than a typical egg roll and stuffed with veggies and smoky pork. They served this with a sweet/spicy dip. I really liked these. They kinda trick you because you can’t help but expect the taste of a Chinese egg roll but then you get the smoke. A combo meal in addition was more than enough food for 2.5 people. The #4 that we ordered included ribs, pulled pork, jalapeño corn bread, sweet potato fries and an extra side of coleslaw – all delicious. Ribs were nice & charred, the pulled pork was tender and vinegary. The corn bread was slightly undercooked and not particularly spicy but was still good. 

The fries were hot and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and the slaw was fresh and crunchy and not soggy at all. King was a big fan, he pounded his dinner. 

The Three Legged Pig leaves a few different kinds of house BBQ sauces on the table – all of which are good if you like it sweet. A regular house BBQ, a mustard sauce and a spicy sauce. The only down side to this place is that they were all too sweet for me, even with the vinegar on the pork. However, don’t let that keep you from making a stop here. We had a great dinner plus a whole leftover meal to bring home for around $30.00. Next time you’re trucking down the 390 past Conesus lake, make a quick stop here or order their catering for your lake picnic. 

Next Step: Sell House, Start Farm

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Ok, maybe that’s an oversimplification. It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything and a lot has happened, but you won’t be interested in most of it. The point is that we took some steps difficult steps towards the goal, beginning with the sale of 644 W. Main St. This was not easy. I’ve lived here for 10 years and don’t have time in this context to describe the personal cost that went into this little slice of my American dream. Sufficed to say, I cried a bunch and made my peace. Good-bye Gilmore house. 

Hayes House, aka Gilmore House


But! Having found nothing to replace it, we spent the summer in a trailer on the family land experimenting with the available resources and beginning a garden. I tried a multitude of seeds, learned about each variety, bought a freezer and filled it with vegetables, picked wild berries, tried canning a few things, dried herbs and tomatoes, gathered walnuts, failed miserably at cauliflower but succeeded wildly with apple cider. I had an amazing summer with my boys and without the Internet. 

watermelon radish

the boys

blush tendril peas

making hot sauce

Towards the end of the summer we purchased a new house with several acres in Bloomfield NY and named it Morriston (every old house needs a bad-ass British sounding name).
Love, love, love! While the 1803 brick house needs little work, the land needs some healing. Previously a busy dairy farm, the property is covered in old cement foundations from toppled sheds and barns, and littered with old fence and parts. It also seems to have its own mini dump, complete with large remnant pile of things that should never have been burned. That’s the down side. It’s also sits in a rather stately way at the top of a hill, has a spring, two awesome old barns, a level field, a great hill to sled on and an amazing sunset. 

I’ve just ordered my seeds and the summer chore list is stacking up. In the mean time, there are a few major things to deal with that don’t require nice weather – like the fact that we don’t yet have a stove haaaaaaa! This kitchen is an entirely different story. It does mean that business is not currently happening. This will change shortly.

Now that we are located in the Finger Lakes region, we have to re-orient a little. We are halfway between the land and the city of Rochester. Our new closest city is Canandaigua, there are a myriad of small towns to explore, and I look forward to having constant access to kayaking and fishing. Exploring will be fun and I’ll keep you posted as I try new restaurants and places to see.

Restaurant Review: ButaPub

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Wow, I’m just really disappointed.  All of the other reviews that I read said such nice things about this place, and I was really excited to visit, but my experience was really not that interesting.  If you’ve been in the basement of the German House before, you may agree that it’s really not a great venue for a restaurant.  Some good photojournalism made me believe they had really spruced the place up, but there really weren’t very many changes to this space.

Beginning with my first contact, calling for a reservation, the gentleman who answered the phone just about laughed at me when I asked to reserve a table.  Not knowing exactly how casual the place was, I thought I was being totally reasonable by reserving a table at 7:15 for a Friday night.  Apparently, he had no expectations of packing the place out, and informed me that they only took reservations in half hour increments, but if I wanted to show up at 7:15 it would be totally fine.

Next, parking, difficult.  There really isn’t that much room here.  This is to be expected in the city, and I have no problem with it, I’m just letting you know.

IMG_1339The lighting is horrid.  We sat in a booth along the wall.  The can lights from the previous establishments are still in place and they are just so bad (actually, there are very few notable changes). They are all in the center of the room; so there is no lighting whatsoever over the booths that line the walls, which casts a huge shadow if you’re at a booth, and causes the place to look like exactly what it is – a poorly lit basement.  At the same time, if you’re sitting in the middle of the room at a table, it’s very bright.  I also have a very serious aversion to drop ceiling tiles.  I don’t understand why we should stop considering aesthetics once we reach the tops of walls.  In addition, while there was no music, there was a concert going on upstairs in the German House; so it was still quite loud in an indistinguishable base sort of way.  This might be at the core of the problem with each attempt at this basement business over the years.  It’s really just not a good place for a restaurant when that large of a distraction is taking place during the times when you are supposed to be doing the most business.  I realize that many people will not be bothered by this, but if you are a stickler for atmosphere, this is not the place for you.

IMG_1330I ordered a cocktail which was called “the thistle.”  I cannot complain at all about the size of this drink or the amount of alcohol it contained.  It wasn’t as complex as the ingredient list led me to believe it would be, but I suspect this might have been due to the small and quick melting type of ice cubes used.

IMG_1334On to the dishes.  We ordered a few things, starting with the pork belly steam buns which sounded so nice, but in reality were almost completely devoid of flavor.  The combination of the soft steamed bun, lightly cooked fatty pork and mayo made for a mushy texture throughout.  The “togarashi mayo” was the most interesting element of these mini sandwiches.  IMG_1333You can see that the presentation leaves something to be desired as well (the lighting makes it worse).  Next came the fried rice balls with similar results.  The equally exciting list of ingredients including kim chi, cheese, spicy pork and garlic mayo left me feeling cheated.  I will give them that they were fried perfectly.  The texture was lovely, the appearance, the crunch was wonderful.  The complete lack of flavor once you bit into them caused us to almost not believe our taste buds. We kinda look at each other and ask “really, that’s it?”  We then ordered some chicken wings on the IMG_1338recommendation of our server.  They were good.  They were crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside and the sauce was decent (we tried a couple kinds and both were pretty good – very sweet but not really spicy), unfortunately they didn’t wow me, and by this time we were asking ourselves why we should spend any more money there, which is when we left to go have another drink elsewhere.

The service was very good.  Our waitress was polite, prompt and attentive.  The bartender was quick as well, but sadly, we dropped over $60 on a pretty unfortunate atmosphere and food that did little more than fill us up.  Sooooo, I’m sad to say that we probably won’t be back here.

I rate my food experience:
Buda Pub rating

 

 

Love America’s Test Kitchen

Tags

, , , , ,

♥♥♥ I love, love, love America’s Test Kitchen.  Its not glamorous. There aren’t any sparkling kitchen sets, intense competitions or celebrity judges, and no one will curse at you if you’re refrigerator isn’t clean.  I doubt as many people have heard of Christopher Kimball as have Bobby Flay.  Christopher Kimball and company are absolutely my favorite culinary resource.  America’s Test Kitchen produces cooking shows, cookbooks and magazines; and whats so wonderful about these sources is the trial and error included in the recipes.

IMG_1467Especially if you’re even remotely like me (having enormous difficulty actually adhering to a recipe), these great folks can save you a lot of trouble.  Part of their model is to choose items that are common and either commonly messed up, not as good as they could be or way to complicated for a normal person to have time for.  Then, they experiment with different methods, ingredients and equipment. You get the results of each, what tasters liked best and what flopped.  Take 5 minutes to read their kitchen diary entry before each recipe and save yourself a lot of trouble while learning methods and chemistry at the same time.

My latest adventure with America’s Test Kitchen comes from the back of their Best of 2016 magazine – the Bee Sting Cake.  The only things I changed was to use a spring form pan, and I added an extra couple of tablespoons of honey which created a delicious caramel affect around the edges of the cake that reminded me of the delicious burnt edges of a baklava.

IMG_1459   IMG_1466

Usually I’m a purist about not using clever rearrangements of corn (this is another topic altogether).  This time taking the time to read about the several attempts at variations of this cake stopped me from attempting the exclusion of corn starch.  Consequently, the recipe contributed by Rebeccah Marsters (Cook’s Country) came out exactly as promised.

If you’re a home cook / foodie, and you haven’t explored America’s Test Kitchen yet, I highly recommend it.