Archive for March, 2011

Sweet Potato Lasagna

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Sweet Potato Lasagna

Yes, we are still eating last year’s harvest of sweet potatoes.  They are a wonder crop, and if properly stored, will last until the next year’s crop comes in if you haven’t eaten them all.

I have previously put shredded carrots in my home simmered spaghetti sauce but this time there was an abundance of shredded sweet potatoes in the fridge to use up.  It seems that a certain visiting member of the family got carried away when making Sweet Potato Quesadillas and thought we had a dozen people coming over…….  Therefore I added about 3 cups of the orange slivers to my simmering spaghetti sauce and a new creation was born – at least to us.  I’m sure someone has done this before but then that’s what cooking is all about – experimenting!

Here’s the basic recipe that we use but I have to say that it turns out different each time because we have different veggies on hand.

1        12 oz or 16 oz package of your favorite lasagna, cooked if necessary or no boil if you have it

2        1 quart home canned tomatoes or your favorite spaghetti sauce

3        1 chopped onion

4        2-3 cloves garlic or more, minced

5        1 cup sliced mushrooms, if you like

6        3 cups shredded sweet potatoes

7        Seasonings, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, whatever you like

8        1 24 oz or 12 oz. container cottage cheese mixed half & half with tofu or ricotta cheese

9        ½ cup. Fresh shredded parmesan cheese

10    8 oz shredded mozzarella, Monterey Jack or Farmer’s Cheese

11    2-3 T. Olive Oil

12    3 cups cooked green beans, broccoli, kale, spinach or other green

Sauté onions and garlic in the olive oil for a 2-3 minutes, add mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes or sauce, shredded sweet potatoes, spices and simmer for 10-15 minutes until thickened a bit and the sweet potatoes are softened.  Remove from heat.

Mix the cottage cheese or mix of cheese and tofu with shredded parmesan, add 3 cups of green veggies of your choice & a few grinds of fresh pepper.

Now you’re ready to roll, I mean layer.  There is no mystery to lasagna making.  Just layer the basic components and the dish is ready for the oven.  The composition of each part may change but the standard layering remains the same.

Grease a lasagna or 9” x 13” pan.  You will be layering the four parts which are:  sauce, noodles, cottage cheese mix, shredded cheese.

Divide noodles into 3 sections.  Smear ½ cup sauce in the bottom of pan.  Add 1/3 of the noodles, spoon ½ of the cottage cheese mixture onto the noodles, add some sauce & sprinkle with ½ of the shredded mozzarella cheese.  Add another layer of noodles, cottage cheese mix, and sauce, then top with the last layer of noodles, remaining sauce and last ½ of shredded mozzarella.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes.  Let cool for 10-15 minutes before cutting to serve.

Belgian Fence

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

This year CobraHead again exhibited at the Philadelphia Flower Show.  While Anneliese, Noel and I spent most of our time in our booth in the vendor section extolling the virtues of our wares to the passing public, in the evenings I would get a chance to take in the splendid display gardens.  Several truly impressed me, but I tend to spend the most time going back to the ones that inspire me to do something in my own garden.

This year The Chef’s Rooftop Garden display by Stoney Bank Nurseries did just that with its multiple espaliered fruit trees.  Here is the one that I want to copy.

Belgian Fence of Pears

Belgian Fence Espalier at Philadelphia Flower Show by Stoney Bank Nurseries

When I got back to Austin I immediately opened up Pruning by Robert Kourik.  I learned that this particular style of espalier is known as a Belgian Fence.  Kourik notes that even though some espalier styles are not optimal for encouraging fruiting, the Belgian Fence, having all branches at 45 degree angles, promotes fruiting.

I have a 12 foot section of cinder block wall that separates my porch from the front yard.  I determined that I would need 7 pear trees planted on 2 foot centers to grow a living screen in front of this wall.  I ordered one year old bare roots of Keiffer Pear trees from Bob Wells Nursery in Lindale, TX.  I met the folks at Bob Wells Nursery while doing a show in Tyler back in February.  Now, I’m going to be over a month late planting bare roots in Austin, but my travel schedule sometimes keeps me from doing everything in my garden when I should.

Belgian Fence Two

Note the distinct pruning pattern of the middle trees and the outer tree

In the above picture, note how the outer tree has a vertical central leader and then one side branch at a 45 degree angle coming off the right side approximately every two feet.  The central trees have only two central leaders each at a 45 degree angle and no side branches.  The tree on opposite end has one central leader and then one side branch on the left side every two feet.

To fill in my 12 foot space, I determined that my middle tree should also have a vertical central leader and a symmetrical pattern of branches coming out both the left and right sides every two feet.  I know it sounds confusing, but when I drew this out on graph paper it fills in the pattern perfectly.  This trick now is to get these living trees to follow my idealized pattern.

Belgian Fence Three

The crisscross pattern repeats all the way to the top

Have any of you trained your fruit trees in espalier patterns?  Please post a comment if you have.

Cold Frame

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I built this cold frame in January with a lot of help from my friend David Peterson who built a duplicate model for himself at the same time.  David is retired, lucky guy, and he has put together a really well equipped workshop with lots of woodworking equipment to keep occupied.

We were discussing cold frames over dinner quite a while back and I let David know that I had a whole lot of 1/4″ clear glass sheets about 2 feet by 6 feet that I thought might be good for making a cold frame.  David let me know he was interested and kind of pushed me along until we got the project done.

We essentially built the frame to accommodate the glass.  The wood frame for the glass is simple 2 x 2 framing lumber that has been routed along the center to receive the glass. It is held together with simple screw straps at the four corners.  We put narrow slits at the lower front edge of the frame to allow water to weep so it would not collect on the glass when it rains.   The glass frame is secured to the base with three 2 1/2″ wide hinges.

The base is 1/2″ plywood with 1″ insulating foam glued to the inside.  The frame slopes from 14″ in the back to 8″ in the front.  Its all held together with wood screws and L-brackets.  I put a coat of paint on it, but I’m not entirely sure that was a good idea.  (Leaching?). David has rigged up a venting device that uses dowels to hold the glass open at various positions, but I haven’t finished my venting prop, yet.  In the short run, I’ll just use different height pieces of wood.

Right off the bat I can say the 1/4″ glass is way too heavy.  The price was right (free), but the 24″ width of the frame is too narrow and the glass, at three pounds per square foot, makes moving the frame and opening it up a bit of a chore.  If I work with glass again, it will be 1/8″ or thinner, but I’ll probably look at using polycarbonate sheet that will be lots lighter and have better insulating capabilities.  The lighter plastic will possibly allow me to consider using a thermostatically controlled venting device.  I’d need a huge electric motor to lift up the glass on this model.

Nevertheless, I have a cold frame to play with and I’ll be putting it to work next week.  I plan to direct seed salad greens, and maybe use it to start some veggies for transplanting.  I’ve been monitoring the temperature. It got up to over 120 degrees F with the lid closed so that means I have to be checking it frequently, or I’ll either cook or freeze my plants.

I should have put together some cold frames, years ago, but I expect to knock out several more of these this spring so I can extend my growing season in spring and fall.  I’m hoping to get about two weeks to a month more outdoor production of salad greens on either side of the normal unassisted growing season.