Archive for November, 2011

Pumpkin from the Garden to the Table

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Pumpkin Pie

Why pumpkin pie – and not a Hubbard or an acorn squash pie?  Just about any hard squash will make an excellent pie, but because pumpkins are pretty bland and flavorless as a stand-alone squash, they get relegated to fillings for pies and breads.  Most winter squashes are pretty tasty on their own so why waste them in a pie!  Someone long ago figured out that if you mix enough sugar and spices with the pumpkin you get a darn good dessert.  And besides it’s good for you.

To make the pie shown, I cut a couple of garden pie pumpkins in half & cleaned out the seeds.  They were then baked in a covered roasting pan at 400 degrees for about an hour until soft.  I got out my trusty old Foley Food Mill and enlisted Noel’s expertise at turning the crank to puree the pumpkin pulp.

Fresh cooked pumpkin is a lot moister than what comes out of a can so I just cut back on the amount of liquid normally called for in recipes.  In fact this year I replaced the usual milk with coconut milk.  I had 2/3 of a can leftover from a coconut curry that I had made earlier in the week and thought why not give it a try.  It worked very well.  With all the strong spices in the pie you don’t really notice the difference unless you’re looking for it.

Basically I started with the standard pumpkin pie recipe from an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and branched out from there.  E-mail me if you want an exact recipe but cooking is an experiment waiting to happen – so what are you waiting for??


Garden Vegetable Coconut Curry

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Garden Veggie Coconut Curry and Salad


Here’s a quick little lunch or dinner with veggies from the garden.  Add a side salad and you’re all set.

Garden Vegetable Coconut Curry

1 T. olive oil

1 medium leek, chopped

½ cup chopped onion

1 tsp. brown mustard seeds

1 ½ tsp. curry powder

1 cup veggie broth

1 cup sliced carrots

1 cup cubed potato, unpeeled

2 cups cauliflower chunks or florets

½ cup organic coconut milk

½ tsp. seasoned salt to taste

Heat olive oil on medium low.  Add leeks, onion and mustard seeds and sauté 5 minutes.  Add carrots, cauliflower, potato and vegetable broth and simmer for 15 minutes.  Top it off with the coconut milk and warm until heated through.  Sprinkle with the seasoned salt & pepper to taste.

This version is stew-like in consistency.  If you want to serve it with rice you might want to add a little more broth to make it soupier.

You can get creative with this recipe and use whatever vegetables you have on hand.  I usually like to have a potato in the dish to give it some substance but this concept should work in a lot of various ways including spinach or kale in the mix.

Sweet Potato Leaf Quinoa Soup

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Since it’s getting close to the end of the growing season for my sweet potatoes, I decided that harvesting some of the leaves that have sprawled into my other garden beds would probably not affect tuber production significantly.  I’ve sautéed sweet potato leaves before and will post another recipe soon, but today I wanted soup.  The quinoa in this soup gives it some body to make it more filling.

Sweet Potato Leaf Quinoa Soup

Sweet Potato Leaf Quinoa Soup

  • 1/2 Onion chopped
  • 1 Stick Celery chopped
  • 1-2 Hot Peppers seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup uncooked Quinoa triple washed
  • 5 cups Veggie Broth
  • 3 TBS Rice Cooking Wine
  • 2 cups Sweet Potato leaves coarsely chopped
  • Avocado

In a medium sized pot sauté the onion, hot pepper and celery until the onion starts to turn golden.  Add the veggie broth and quinoa and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the sweet potato leaves  and rice wine and simmer for five more minutes.  Garnish with sliced avocado and enjoy.

Too Late for Dinner in the Garden This Year

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Deer in the Yard

Anneliese took this picture of a young deer in the yard this afternoon.  It was relatively fearless and Anneliese was able to get fairly close before it bolted.  Fortunately for us, the deer have not been much of a nuisance this year and did no garden damage.  I attribute a lot of that to Anneliese’s dog Zuri, who gets free day care with us while Anneliese is here working.  We also see Zuri a lot on weekends, when Anneliese is out and about and we become dog sitters.

Having a dog on patrol really keeps deer problems to a minimum.  The years I have not had a dog with the run of the yard, I’ve had significant deer damage, and I’ve had to resort to tall fencing and cloth covers to protect my precious vegetables.


The deer did not leave the yard after Anneliese came inside.  Zuri was in the house barking wildly while Anneliese was taking these pictures.  We let Zuri out, and the deer quickly exited.

When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

In the village that borders us a few blocks to the west and south, leaf burning is prohibited, but it is allowed and practiced as a seasonal rite in our township.  I’m not advocating a ban on burning, but I really wish the neighbors understood what they are wasting.  While I was working hard today to get as many leaves as I could into my garden, I could see at least four smoke trails in the neighborhood.  Too bad for the leaf burners, they could be making some beautiful compost for free.

I spent a lot more time weeding my garden this year than I should have because I did not do a good job last fall of getting my beds totally covered with leaves.  I’m determined not to make that mistake again.  Since I took the picture above I’ve drug in several more tarps full of leaves.  The south beds are now almost all completely and deeply covered.  I’ll keep dragging in more until I either run out of leaves or the weather puts an end to my efforts.

I began covering my garden beds with leaves about seven or eight years ago.  It pays off in many ways.  Weed growth is slowed down through the winter and the beds are noticeably softer in the spring.  In many instances all I have to do is rake back the leaf cover and start planting.  The beds that do not get planted right away have a thick leaf mulch to keep weeds from sprouting, and as I rake the leaves off the beds they break down in the paths and continue to suppress weed growth.  Of course, the most important benefits are the free fertilizer and compost the leaves provide as they decompose.  The tilth of my extremely clayey soil is noticeably improved.  Every year my beds get softer.

Raking leaves and dragging them into the garden is not the easiest  of chores.  This year I’ve employed mechanical assistance.  In years past I was dragging tarps full of leaves from the yard to the garden using only my brute strength.  I may still be a brute but my strength is fading, so this year I used the lawnmower and its 18 horses to do the heavy hauling.  It worked wonderfully.

And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song, but I know the autumn leaves are in the garden, where they belong.

Wild Rice and Bread Stuffed Winter Squash

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

It’s that time of year when the weather turns chilly and winter squash is on the menu.  Obviously it’s right after the plentiful harvest but the body seems to need that filling substance to warm itself and feel satisfied after a hard day’s work.

Since we don’t cook a turkey, and would miss the stuffing dearly, we especially like to stuff some winter squash and have a little gravy to top it off.  Here’s a recipe we use that reminds me of what my mother used to put in the turkey.  The herbs used always remind me of Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair song with the line “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme”….

Wild Rice and Bread Stuffed Winter Squash

2 sweet dumpling or acorn squash, halved & seeded

2 T. olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small leek, finely chopped (or ½ cup minced onion)

¼ c. finely chopped mushrooms (I used fresh shiitakes)

1 ½ c. cooked wild rice (1/2 c. dry)

2-3 c. whole grain bread, cubed

½ c. veggie broth or water flavored with Tamari

2 T. parsley, minced

1 t. sage

½ t. rosemary

½ t. thyme

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, then reduce heat to 350 degrees when you put the squash in to bake.

Sauté garlic, leeks and mushrooms in the olive oil on medium low for about 5-10 minutes until softened.  Turn off the heat and stir in the cooked wild rice and bread cubes.  Sprinkle on the broth & spices and toss lightly so as not to mush up the bread.  If the bread is really dry you may need to add more liquid.  Divide the filling among the 4 squash halves.  Bake for 1 hour in a covered roasting pan at 350 degrees or until squash is done.  Serve with gravy.  See my previous gravy post here.    We have even made a huge bowl of dressing and stuffed a hubbard squash.  You’ll just have to bake it longer.  Enjoy!

Seed Stratification

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Last spring I started some Agastache mexicana seeds indoors but got very spotty germination.  I decided to investigate whether or not stratification would improve germination.  I think that it will.  Here’s the why and how:

Many seeds have built in germination inhibitors.  This prevents them from germinating until more ideal growing conditions are present.  Stratification is one method of mimicking natural conditions that seeds are exposed to prior to germination to “trick” them into germinating.  Since Agastache mexicana, also known as Mexican Hyssop or Lemon Hyssop, comes from the cooler highlands of Mexico I’m using a cool, moist stratification process similar to that used for prairie plants like Echinacea.

Some seeds can be put into a moist medium like peat or sand, put into a sealed plastic bag and put into the refrigerator for anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months. The idea is to match the conditions of a cold, wet spring that the seeds would go through prior to germination.  Since the Agastache seeds are tiny and would easily get lost in the medium, I decided to broadcast them directly into a couple of small pots.  I then pressed the seeds gently into the moist sowing mix.  The pots themselves are sealed in a plastic bag, labeled and dated and put into the fridge.

Agastache seeds ready for stratification

Can you see the Agastache seeds? Me neither.

I will take these pots out in early January and put them under my grow lights.  Assuming that I have good germination success I’ll prick the seedlings out and transplant them into larger containers once the plants show their first set of true leaves.  The timing should work out for a mid-Spring outdoor planting in Austin.

Agastache seeds in sealed plastic bag with name and date.

Have Noel give a vegetable gardening talk!

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Over the past couple of years Noel has been developing and refining his presentations on organic raised-bed gardening.  It’s about time.  After thirty years of growing lots of good food, he has learned a thing or two.  Below is the press release that we have put out touting his abilities.  Please feel free to share this with any groups that would want to hear Noel speak.

Noel Valdes

Noel Valdes

CobraHead’s Noel Valdes Speaks on Open Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening

Cambridge, WI – November 2011  —  For Noel Valdes, founder of CobraHead Garden Tools, it’s about helping people grow their own food.  A lifelong vegetable grower, Noel now speaks to gardening groups across the Midwest promoting organic raised bed vegetable gardens.  Noel’s methods have been influenced by the intensive techniques introduced to the United States by Alan Chadwick and popularized by John Jeavons, but over the past thirty years he has developed his own raised bed gardening style.

Noel’s method requires no power tools, uses few external inputs and provides high yields of delicious produce for him and his family.  Noel grows in over twenty raised beds producing everything from lettuces and other salad greens, to potatoes, sweet potatoes and other storage crops, to small fruits like raspberries and strawberries.  While his garden is relatively large, his methods can be applied by the home gardener who just wants to start with one bed.

Says Noel, “After years of implementing and practicing open raised bed gardening techniques and intensive home grown food production, I’m convinced that one person can easily grow up to a third or more of all the food requirements for a family of four or more in a very small area.  They can do this with relatively minimal inputs in both terms of time and money, without the need of power tools, and with organic and extremely sustainable gardening practices.”

“People are starting to realize that growing food using good food growing practices is necessary for both healthy people and a healthy planet.  If small scale growing techniques similar to the ones I explain were utilized by a large percentage of the world’s population, I’m sure issues of hunger would be reduced and the health of the earth and its human population would be greatly improved.”

Noel has presented at the Madison Garden Expo, The Chicago Flower Show, the Wisconsin State Master Gardeners Conference and the EcoFair 360 among other places.  In the coming months he will again present at the Madison Garden Expo as well as the Porter County Garden Fair in Valparaiso, Indiana.

For more information or to book Noel for a garden presentation contact CobraHead LLC. 866-962-6272.

Noel's Garden

Noel's Garden


Black Bean Quinoa Salad

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

I’ve made a couple of versions of this dish over the past few weeks and gotten a lot of compliments, so I figured that it was time to share.  Quick and easy to make.

Please keep in mind that the quantities listed are approximations as I don’t measure everything exactly when I cook.

Black Bean Quinoa Salad

Black Bean Quinoa Salad

One-half cup uncooked black beans (One cup cooked)
Two cups uncooked quinoa
Three celery stalks
One-half onion
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Cook the black beans the way that you like them.  I tend to use garlic, onions, Mexican oregano and cumin with a hot pepper or two thrown in for good measure.

If the quinoa is not pre-washed then rinse it three times, then add four cups water and a little vegetable bouillon and bring it to a boil.  Once it’s boiling reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for exactly fifteen minutes.  If the quinoa is still liquidy after fifteen minutes, drain off any excess water, but don’t cook it past the 15 minute mark or it will get mushy.

Drain the black beans and add them to the quinoa.  Chop the onion and celery and add these as well.  Splash on some olive oil and balsamic vinegar, give it a good mix, and you are done.

Options:  Throw in some chopped parsley or chopped cilantro.  Or, chop some fresh or steamed garden greens like chard and add these as well.

Garlic Growing Redux

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

I took advantage of a dry day between the rains to get my garlic planted.  I’ve been using a method Geoff taught me years ago that works particularity well with raised beds.  I’ve posted the method several times before, but it’s worth repeating as it works so well.

I form a loose worked-up bed into three ridges (or two troughs) using a steel rake.  This year, before I planted the garlic cloves, I liberally dusted the entire bed with cilantro and anise hyssop seeds that I had saved.  I’m hoping to have an early harvest of cilantro and if the hyssop takes off, I’ll move some of it to other areas of the garden to use as an herb and as a pollinating insect attractor.  I really like anise hyssop, but I never seem to have enough of it, so I’m hoping this will work.

I’ll also seed and transplant spinach, lettuce and other greens into the bed in the spring, after I pull away the straw from the sprouted garlic.  Interplanting the garlic with greens pays off.  I get more production out of the bed and the greens seem to do well in the shade of the garlic flags.

I kneel on a plywood board to keep my knees from damaging the soft edges of the bed.  The garlic is planted  into the top of the ridges.  I push the cloves into the soil until they are just covered.  To plant the garlic neatly, I set down one row of plant markers on six inch centers.  I eyeball the planting for the two rows across from the markers, and the last row is planted alongside each marker.  A yardstick would work just as well, but this is an easy approach to getting the spacing just right.

I covered the bed with two small square bales of straw, using the small CobraHead tool to rip apart the sheaves and to fluff up the straw, thus making it as insulating as possible.  I then raked up and tamped down the straw with a small adjustable aluminum rake so the straw wouldn’t blow away in the gusty winds.  We’re looking forward to another good garlic harvest next July.

If you haven’t planted garlic yet, it’s not too late. You can also plant early in the spring, but your yield will not be as good in terms of bulb size.