Spreads

Starting to plan the garden (finally!) also means using up what’s in the freezer. And that contains several bags of frozen grated zucchini from last year’s bumper crop, more than I could possibly turn into zucchini pancakes without getting really tired of them.

Spreads, slowly roasted in the oven, are usually a great way to use up lots of tomatoes or bell peppers. As I was mixing up the ingredients for my Cherry Tomato Spread and the oven was preheating, I thought I could try to make a spread with those grated zucchini, and also use up half a pound of crimini that I had forgotten in the fridge, as zucchini and mushrooms are a good combination.

I was surprised the mushrooms held up so well. They came from a local mushroom farm I wrote about in my new blog column at Fig Bethlehem.

The spread is a keeper, which translates into: We will be eating less zucchini pancakes in the next few weeks.

Zucchini Mushroom Spread

Zucchini Mushroom Spread

Zucchini, especially when garden-fresh, contain a lot of liquid that needs to be removed, otherwise you’ll end up with a cooked rather than a roasted spread. To defrost the frozen zucchini, I placed them in the uncovered Dutch oven while the oven preheated, then squeezed out the liquid over a fine sieve.

1¾ pounds grated zucchini (about 6 cups), fresh or frozen

½ pound crimini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped

3 tablespoons pesto

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon thick Balsamic vinegar (I used pomegranate Balsamic vinegar)

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

You also need:

A small cast-iron Dutch oven

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Squeeze the zucchini to remove most of the liquid. You should have about 2 cups zucchini. In a bowl mix zucchini, mushrooms, pesto and olive oil.

3. Put mixture in a Dutch oven or other cast-iron pot and cook covered in the preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring regularly and scraping down the sides to prevent it from sticking.

4. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Add Balsamico, salt and pepper to taste. Fill in an airtight container, pour a little bit of olive oil on top to seal, and refrigerate.

Makes 1 cup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting it out

March 7, 2014

Frog in the snow

Today is the first day in I don’t know how many weeks that I dared to carefully walk anywhere else than to the compost bin without the risk of breaking an ankle, or having icicles on my eyelashes after a few minutes out in the cold.

By this time of the year I usually have the blueprint of the garden ready and the seeds ordered, and even started some seedlings. This year, the garden planner and the seed catalogs sit untouched. It feels like my gardening drive is buried under the thick layers of ice and snow around us.

Finally today, I spotted a tiny sign of progress – and a bit of color in all that white and grey. One of the witch hazels is budding. I also saw that its bark has been badly chewed. Normally I would fetch some wire screen right away to protect it from more damage. But I just let it be, thinking those poor rabbits need food too, and hoping the shrub will make it; it has survived voracious rabbits before.

Our marble frog sticking out of the snow made me laugh. Doesn’t he look like he is saying, “Enough already?”

Witch hazel

Going local

January 27, 2014

Fig

Since I moved to rural northeast Pennsylvania almost 13 years ago, the landscape and foodscape around me has changed, for the worse and for the better. The loss of farmland is dramatic and ongoing. Since 1930, the recent Assessment Report of the Lehigh Valley Local Food Economy states that the Valley has lost 80 percent of its farms and 53 percent of its farmland. All the while new farmers’ markets, organic farms, and CSAs have sprung up, offering vegetables such as kale and rutabagas that were exotic specialty produce a decade ago.

Most of these places are still a good drive away but within a 35-mile loop I can now pick up cheese from happy cows and organic raw milk to make ricotta, fabulous orchard fruit from June through October, locally grown mushrooms, meat, chicken, and free-range eggs.

In my immediate surroundings people who garden for food are unfortunately still far and few. Inspiring homeowners to put their money and efforts into a vegetable garden rather than into chemicals for a manicured lawn often feels like an uphill battle. Yet it all comes down to whether you want to look at the glass half-empty or half-full. When my Master Gardener group first held Field to Fork, an event that is all about learning how to grow your own vegetables, in August 2011, there were less than 40 attendees. In August 2013, we held the event for a second time at Hope Hill Lavender Farm, (also a new addition to the area), and 180 people came. So the glass is slowly filling after all!

An important part of boosting the locavore movement is telling people what’s happening. I was excited when I heard last fall that Fig, an innovative online and print magazine for local communities, was launching in Bethlehem. Now I am even more excited that I am contributing to Fig Bethlehem as one of their food bloggers. About gardening, of course, and everything that goes with it.

I will certainly continue My Gardener’s Table. How could I not? There will always be gardening failures and successes, and recipes to share.

Chicken surprise

January 5, 2014

Freezer board

As we are hunkering down for record-breaking cold, it is wonderfully comforting and reassuring to look at the shelves stocked with jams and preserves and a freezer loaded with vegetables and fruit, most of it from the garden, the rest from local growers.

A few people have asked me lately, “What will you grow in your garden this year?” I have not given it any thought, and frankly, I don’t want to quite yet. I am still recovering from a long gardening and canning season.

The freezer was filled almost to the top, and the board I am using to keep track of the freezer content was full, too when, the day before Christmas Eve, I suddenly had to make room for more.

Our farmer neighbor showed up with four fresh gutted roosters. We had asked to get some the next time he would slaughter chickens yet we had no clue they were coming that day.

When I first looked at the roosters, I thought they were turkeys. They were huge, too large to freeze whole, or even to store in the fridge overnight. They required immediate attention so my husband sharpened the knives and I quickly turned the kitchen into a meat-processing facility, pulling every bowl from the cabinets.

I cut up the chickens, a task that I am usually a bit squeamish about but somehow managed fine while my husband packed the pieces in freezer bags and labeled them. And, in the midst of this our Vizsla, going nuts over the smell.

On the fourth and last chicken, I cut myself. It was a small cut on my left pinky that did not look bad at first but it was rather deep and did not stop bleeding. Neither ice nor pressure helped; after two hours I caved and went to the emergency room to get two tiny stitches and, as a precaution, a prescription for antibiotics against salmonella while my husband finished the job.

Initially I did not want to make any chicken dishes for a while but last night I did make chicken soup. As we were starting to eat, my husband told our son, “Eat this with appreciation, it cost us $20 a spoonful.”

I feel like in one of those MasterCard Priceless commercials. Mine would go like this: Four fresh free-range chickens: $$. ER visit: $$$. Antibiotics: $. A soup that tastes like real chicken, and a good laugh about the whole thing for years: Priceless.

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