Friday, June 29, 2012

Home Grown Part 3: The First Harvest

The only thing that tastes better than food you've made yourself, is food you've grown yourself. I love being able to go to the backyard to get a snack, or to pick fresh herbs to throw into a dish. Here are some garden highlights..
Cilantro is really taking off in the pallet garden
Beets and carrots. The carrots are nearly there!
The beans are coming along, too.
Tomatoes! I had no idea how big tomato plants could get.
This will make a delicious salad!
Peas make a delicious snack.
These cropped up overnight.

Squash bugs.. eek!! I don't have the heart to kill them,
so I toss them in the chicken coop.
Hopefully they'll take care of the pests for me!
The zucchini are making their appearance!
I need recipes for squash flowers.

Dairy Free Nutella

Eating it right off the spoon.
Have you ever met anyone who doesn't like nutella? Me neither. But I have met someone who can't eat it. I rarely think Logan is missing out on anything because of his dairy allergy, but not being able to have nutella is cruel. Luckily, I came up with a way to make a creamy, hazelnut chocolate spread so that he doesn't miss out. He loves the stuff so much, that while I'm making it he brings me his spoon saying "more"!


  • 2 cups hazelnuts
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 + 1/8 cups cocoa powder
  • < 1/8 cup safflower oil

  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Spread the hazelnuts over a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, or until the skins begin to blister.
  3. Remove the skins by wrapping the hot hazelnuts in a dish towel and rubbing the towel until the skins rub off. Not all of the skins will come off. No biggie. I usually only manage to get about 70% of the skins off.
  4. Blend the hazelnuts in a blender or food processor until a paste forms.
  5. Add the cocoa and sugar and blend again until well mixed.
  6. Drizzle in the oil, adding no more than an 1/8 of a cup, until the desired consistency is reached.

Roasted nuts.
Removing the skins.
Hazelnuts blended to a paste.

The final product!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Strawberry Nachos and Other Strawberry Delights

Strawberry season is in full swing on Long Island! I had been looking forward to strawberry picking for weeks as the weather warmed up. Logan joined me this year and had a blast. I think he ate more than he actually picked!

He's been enjoying the strawberries we have growing in containers at home, too. 

Father's Day always coincides with strawberry season, so I usually make strawberry themed desserts. This year featured chocolate covered strawberries (a given), and strawberry nachos. Yes, strawberry nachos. I roughly followed a recipe from pinterest to come up with this delicious dish. The baked tortillas tasted just like cinnamon toast crunch and were tasty in their own, even before I topped them with strawberries and homemade chocolate!

Strawberry Nachos

  • 4 tortilla wraps
  • 4 Tbsp. butter substitute, melted
  • Cinnamon
  • Sugar
  • 1 cup diced strawberries
  • 1 Tbsp. liquid sweetener
  • Chocolate

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º.
  2. Brush the tortillas with the butter substitute (I used Best Life), and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
  3. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown.
  4. When cooled to room temperature, cut the tortillas into bite size chips.
  5. Combine the strawberries with the liquid sweetener, and pour over the chips.
  6. Drizzle chocolate over the top, and serve immediately.

Andrew and I made chocolate covered strawberry mojitos with the leftover strawberries from strawberry picking and chocolate mint growing right outside the backdoor. I couldn't stay up late enough to finish mine (I know, lame), but the few sips I had were wonderful!

I dehydrated the last handful of strawberries and mixed them into loose green tea. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Quest to Find the Perfect Vegan Brownie- Part 3

Ok I've almost got this down. I've been searching for the perfect vegan brownie recipe. I've had a couple near successes so far, with one recipe producing cake like brownies, and another one that was more moist, but not as fudgy as I'm looking for. After a failed attempt or two, I finally came up with these. They're moist, fudgy and rich. A little too rich though, since they're incredibly sweet. It's not too often that I say something is too sweet, but I could only have a few small bites of these before my sweet tooth objected. They really hit the spot when you have a craving for sweets, that's for sure. I have a couple ideas on how to perfect this one, so stay tuned for part 4!

Example of a failed attempt. Not sure what happened here..
Logan is having a great time on this "quest",
especially since he's my official taste tester. The
Christmas decorations in the background are an
indicator of how long I've been at this.

Sweet Brownies!

  • 1/2 cup apple purée or applesauce
  • 2 bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the banana with the apple purée.
  3. Stir in the coconut oil.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until combined.
  5. Pour the batter in a greased 8 x 8 pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cantaloupe Bread

I adapted this bread from a recipe sent to me by my creative culinary coworker, Terra. She saw cantaloupes ripening past their prime one day and made bread with them. Genius! The second she told me about them I knew I had to make a vegan version. Logan loves cantaloupe!

Cantaloupe Bread
Makes 2 loaves
  • 2 cups cantaloupe, mashed
  • 1 cup organic sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup safflower oil
  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • Egg replacer (replaces 3 eggs):
    • 9 Tbsp. water
    • 6 Tbsp. unbleached flour
    • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
    • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º.   40 minutes
  2. Combine all ingredients except the egg replacer in a large bowl and mix until combined.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg replacer until thick and foamy.
  4. Add the egg replacer to the rest of the ingredients and stir until incorporated.
  5. Pour into two greased 9 x 5 bread pans, and bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Home Grown Part 2: Get growing

Picking up from where I left off in Part 1, I needed somewhere to plant the seeds once they sprouted. The soil in our backyard is terrible, so raised planting beds was our best option. To optimize space, I did research on square foot gardening, and drew up plans for the beds.

The hardest part of the gardening process was assembling the beds. My brother Matt helped me pick up the lumber from Lowes, and my dad came over one gorgeous Sunday to help me put them together. Roughly following these instructions, we built three 6 x 8 x 1 beds. It took an extra 2 days for me to shovel the six yards of compost I had delivered into the beds. Good thing I had help from Logan!

Logan helping to build planters
My handsome little helper!
With some research into companion planting, I planted seeds and transplanted seedlings into each of the beds. This first bed contains peas, eggplants, peppers, beets, carrots, leeks and celery. The eggplant and peppers are a little slow to get going, but everything else is thriving! The first of the peas are coming in and will be ready for harvest soon.

Bed #1, not sure why all these look blurry here

The second bed has beans, tomatoes, asparagus, lettuce and celery. I have the beans in this bed and the peas in the first bed growing up pieces of wood I've found on the beach. So far so good!

Bed #2

One sweetie tomato has already made an appearance!
Garden markers I've made using wine corks and chopsticks or driftwood twigs.
The third bed I built is a melon patch. There are two mounds of watermelon and one mound of cantaloupe. They're a little slow to get going, but I'm hoping they'll take off as the summer starts.

Zucchini, summer squash, and an assortment of winter squash went into an existing planting bed constructed with cement blocks. They're thriving, and I'm anticipating lots of squash this summer and fall!

Squash bed. I hope my family and friends like squash.
A flowering summer squash
My favorite planter is my pallet garden. I wrapped a pallet in hardware cloth from Lowes, stapled it in place, and filled it with compost. I placed it on the ground and planted herbs in the rows. They're all growing well, but my cilantro is really taking off!

A pallet wrapped in hardware cloth
It got a little beat up from the weed whacker, but it's still doing well!
Besides the beds and pallet, I've planted in containers, too. The carrots I've started in a container indoors are almost ready for harvest. Logan has been feasting on the strawberries I have growing in pretty pots on the patio table. The mint I bought a couple months ago are also doing very well in pots I found at my moms house.

Watching my garden flourish has been such a fun experience so far. It's so satisfying literally watching my hard work pay off. I'll keep these posts coming as the garden grows!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Home Grown Part 1: from compost to seedlings

For months now I've been meaning to start writing posts following the progress of my garden. It was on my list of things to do before I went back to work, and like most things on that list, it didn't get done. So instead of a bunch of short, detailed posts, I'm writing a couple long, summed up versions.

We started from scratch over the winter with a compost. There are plenty of composting options out there, but we chose to build one that had direct contact to the ground to optimize decomposition. It was built with leftover material from the quick fence we had to put up to keep Logan from running into the woods, something he did often! A flexible plastic fence wrapped around four metal posts. Simple as that.

The most anxious step for me was starting the seeds. I've never started from seed before, and had no clue how to do it. With some Internet research I came up with three different methods. For all three I used an organic seed starting mix, with a top dressing of sphagnum moss to hold in moisture. I bought organic Burpee seeds from Lowes. They had a great selection and I found everything that I needed.

The first method was to plant seeds in egg cartons. With cartons donated from friends and family, I poked drainage holes in the bottom of each one, and planted one seed per cup. The carton was covered in plastic wrap to hold in moisture, and placed near a heat lamp, since seeds prefer warm soil to sprout. This method, while simple, was the most ineffective. The seedlings grew too big before they were able to be transplanted, and once they sprouted they didn't get enough light to properly grow.

The egg carton method

The second method involved planting the seeds in toilet paper tubes. I cut the tubes in half, put them in a tray, filled them with seed starting mix, and one seed per tube. I had the same problem as the cartons with them not getting enough light, but some of them made it, and they were extremely easy to transplant. I just unwrapped the cardboard tube and put the seedling straight into the ground. Not one of these plants were damaged while being transplanted.

The tp tube method.
The tubes made transplanting the seedlings very easy.
This last method was the most creative. I found the instructions online and was pretty skeptical, but I gave it a try anyways. Using a hot poker, I poked holes in the bottom of a water jug. I then cut a slit all the way around the jug, leaving a small piece just under the handle intact. I filled the base of the jug with seed starting mix, and planted 9 seeds in each, covered with a sprinkling of sphagnum moss. My eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers were started this way. The slit was taped shut, and these greenhouse jugs went outside.. in March. Put in direct sunlight, they didn't need to be watered or otherwise cared for. I left them alone until the warm weather we had in April, when I flipped open the tops to give them sun on nice days.

Holes poked in the bottom of the jugs.
The cut
9 seeds in each
Greenhouse jugs ready to go outdoors.
Tomatoes starting to outgrow their container.
The greenhouse jugs worked the best. The seedlings grew sturdy and strong, and they thrived even through the freezing nights. Plus, they didn't take up any counter space in my home! They grew a little too well, actually outgrowing the containers before I could get them in the garden, and becoming tangled in each others roots.

All in all I had a successful start to my first year gardening from seed. Next year, I'll combine the second and third method to perfect the seed starting process, by putting the toilet paper tubes in the jugs so the roots don't tangle. I'll also start them a little later so they don't grow too large. Starting them in mid March will ensure that they're perfect for planting in mid May.

My garden assistant, Logan.
Another great gardening tool I used is Plug in your zip code, and they'll tell you what USDA zone you're in, when to plant, which seeds to start indoors, and which to plant directly in the ground.

I didn't start everything from seeds. Some plants can be propagated, like leeks and celery. Just cut the plant an inch or so from the bottom and replant. So easy!
Leeks grow on the left, celery on the right.