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Sunday, 13 March 2016
Try a Pallet Garden
Topic: Garden

It's Time to Start Thinking “Garden”

I recently visited my mother who lives in sunny Florida, where they are blessed with the kind of weather that lets you grow flowers, plants and vegetables year around. It's always green Just being there in February makes you smile—to see palm trees and grass as soon as you de-plane. And check out the Spanish moss in the trees in the picture below.

One thing I always like to do when visiting is to make a trip to Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando. It is a beautiful property with many formal gardens and wallking paths and the restored original homestead house in all its glory.


 Part of the gardens around the house includes a kitchen garden where I always get fresh ideas. This year I found myself enamoured with the Leu Kitchen Garden “Pallet” garden plantings. What a great idea to plant vegetables with fairly straight stems and shallow-ish root systems in between the wooden slats of a pallet. Lettuce greens are thought to be very successful, and I can see spinach, Swiss chard, kale—all happy using this method. I am also considering beets and carrots, planting then with appropriately loosened soil and then using the “seed tapes” that would seem pretty simple to lay out and cover.




You do have to prep the area in which you want the pallet garden to grow. The soil should be tilled and broken up and compost added. One of my biggest problems in my usual garden is the invasion of weed seeds and invasive grasses during the growing season. Those weed seeds are in the soil now, just waiting...It's impossible for me to keep up weed control by pulling or hoeing and I don't want to apply herbicides ever. So, this year, I am going to put down heavy black tarps in the areas I am designating for the pallets. I have at least 2and ½ months before I can plant in my zone. So, the black tarps will heat up during the day and destroy the weed seeds and developing plants. When I plant my intended seeds, the wood between the rows should prevent weeds between the rows. And if I plant the garden correctly, the plants will fill up the open rows, choking out weeds.

Well, that's my goal anyway for this part of the kitchen garden, otherwise to be known as my “pallet of vegetables” garden. 

Posted by Karen at 20:08 CST
Updated: Saturday, 26 March 2016 15:24 CDT
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Wednesday, 12 August 2015
A Trio of Fresh Vegetable Dishes
Topic: Garden


We are awash in vegetables now! Why not make three amazing vegetable dishes, refrigerate and pull them out for a salad buffet lunch or readily available sides to serve with a poached, chilled salmon or some grilled meats? All of these dishes contain vegetables that can be  freshly picked, whether from your garden or your local Farmers Market!

Green Bean Salad with Walnuts and Feta

Steam 1 lb of French green beans, cut in half—until crisp-tender

Roast 6 oz walnut pieces (either bake for about 10 minutes in the oven or toss in a shallow pan on the stove top)

Cut up 6 oz. Feta cheese

Combine in a large bowl and toss with Dressing made from equal parts white wine (or Balsalmic?) vinegar and olive oil.I usually use about 1/8-1/4 cup of each—depending upon how much green beans you actually prepared. Vegetables should be coated, but not visible liquid sitting in the bowl. Whisk ingredients before tossing into salad.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Wild Rice, Tomato and Kale Salad

Cook 1 package of wild rice (making 2 cups of wild rice, when cooked)

Chop fresh kale leaves, 2 cups

Cut 2 cups of cherry tomatoes into halves

Dice 1 stalk of celery

Dice 2 small carrots

Combine above in a large bowl and toss with Dressing made from equal parts olive oil and lemon juice—see note above--add 1 Tbsp fruit puree (I used Mango) and 1Tbsp honey. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and whisk dressing thoroughly before pouring over salad, “Fatigue le Salad” with at least 40 tosses.

Ratatouille--"a Classic French vegetarian dish"

Combine the following in a large roasting pan:

2 medium Zucchini, chopped bite size chunks

2 large green peppers, larger sized diced

1 large onion, larger sized diced

1 medium, peeled eggplant, chopped into bite sized chunks (I prep eggplant ahead of time by salting directly or soak pieces in salted water about 30 minutes, then rinse and drain)

1 Tbsp capers

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 Tsp (or more) Herbs de Provence blend

Additional Fresh Rosemary sprigs

Salt and Pepper

About 1/3 cup of olive oil to toss into and coat the vegetables.

Roast vegetables with olive oil in 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Remove roasting pan to counter and add 1-28oz can crushed, peeled and seeded tomatoes and 1-28oz can of stewed tomatoes. Stir into vegetables. Return roasting pan to the oven and bake an additional 30 minutes until vegetables are throughly cooked.

You may serve Ratatoiulle as a hot dish, or refrigerate and serve cold, which is how I have it on my luncheon plate below!



Posted by Karen at 14:09 CDT
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Friday, 5 September 2014
Topic: Garden

It's Time to get Pickled!

We are now post-Labor Day--meaning the hours are ticking away until there's no more fresh garden produce. And the days are already percceptively shorter with the clock now starting the countdown to final harvests.

Sure, there's more time for the final hay cuttings ...and apples ...and winter squash and potatoes and pumpkins. And woody herbs will be around for a bit longer.

But soon, there won't be any more cucumbers and peppers.

SO-- it's a great time to make the perfect homemade, straight-from-your-garden, crunchy condiment, a quick recipe that you can pull out of your refrigerator and put on that holiday buffet table …


Over the past couple weekends, my sister Chris, and I have been making Refrigerator Pickles, using variations of the many recipes found on the internet from other bloggers and even some famous chefs, who all have their take on these classic country condiments.



Chris prefers the sweet Bread and Butter pickles, with her own special twist of ZESTY and hot (jalapenos!) to put her own signature on it.


I made the classic and crunchy Garlic Dill Pickle (above) 

What both of these recipes share are the following qualities:

Basic Rules for all Refrigerator Pickles:


Chris' Zesty and Sweet Bread and Butter Pickles

9 pint jars

Cook the following together in a large pot:

6 cups white vinegar

2 cups cider vinegar

6 cups sugar

1 tsp tumeric

1 Tbsp. Yellow mustard seeds

½ tsp ground clove

½ tsp red pepper flakes

¼ cup chopped garlic

Simmer above together about 30 minutes. 

In a separate large bowl, combine the following:

9 cucumbers, sliced into disks about 1/4” thick

1 large onion, thinly sliced and separated

2 large jalapeno peppers, finely chopped

½ cup of salt

Let this sit together about 30 minutes, then rinse and drain.  

Next, fill 9 wide-mouthed pint jars with the cucumber mixture. Press down to compact as needed.

Ladle the hot vinegar solution into each jar, covering the mixture with liquid to within ¼ inch of the top rim.

Apply the lids and rims. (Chris likes to invert her jars while cooling, even though we're not doing traditional canning.)

Allow to cool on the counter, then refrigerate.

Wait one week before sampling! 


My Garlic Dill Pickles

9 pint jars

Cook together in a large pot until a low boil:

7 cups of water

1 cup of white vinegar

½ cup salt

Prep 9 cucumbers by slicing each of 9 cucumbers in half, into roughly the height of your pint jars.

Then slice each half into about 6 wedge slices, to have the typical pickle wedges.

Put 6 whole black peppercorns and ¼ tsp. Yellow mustard seeds on the bottom of each of 9 jars.

Put 1 fresh dill head on the bottom of each jar ---OR--1 rounded tsp of dried dillweed in each jar.

Put 1 large, peeled clove of fresh garlic in each jar.

Next, hold your jar horizontally, and pack each jar with the cucumber slices. You should be able to get about 12 slices in each jar.

Finally, ladle the hot water, salt and vinegar solution over the pickles until it is ¼ inch from the top.

Apply the lids, allow to cool on the counter, then refrigerate.

Wait one week before sampling!


Posted by Karen at 15:44 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 6 September 2014 07:34 CDT
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Sunday, 31 August 2014
The BEST Falafel Dinner Salad
Topic: Garden

The Best Falafel Dinner Salad

I know that's quite a claim, but I've been working at it--trying recipes for awhile now and I think I've cracked the code.

First, you have to start with a great base of bitter greens dressed simply in a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette. In the photo above, I've used 2 types of kale greens, the Italian and curly blue varieties. Rinse and then de-vein the kale leaves. Tear or chop into small pieces. Place in a glass bowl and toss with lemon juice and olive oil, equal parts, lightly but thoroughly. Then plate the greens, dividing into 3 servings on large dinner plates.

The next layer is simple chopped fresh tomatoes and cubed or sliced cucumber.

Salt and fresh ground pepper each salad.

Next--Make the Tahini sauce for the falafel as follows:

3 Tbsp. Tahini

3 Tbsp. Lemon juice (or equal parts lemon juice and white wine vinegar)

1 tsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp mint leaves, chopped

This thin, but potent, sauce will be drizzled liberally over the falafel patties.

Now make the falafel patties which will require a food processor and then frying the patties in a heavy skillet in olive oil.

Combine the following in a food processor, processing each addition with pulses until the consistency is a coarse grind.

1 can of rinsed and drained chickpeas (16 oz)

4 cloves of garlic

½ medium onion, chopped

Small handful each fresh cilantro, parsley leaves

Put the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the following:

1 tsp. Cumin

½ tsp. Cayenne pepper

1 tsp. Ground Coriander

1 egg

4 rounded Tbsp. Flour

Heat 2-3 Tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Form the patties by dividing the mixture into quarters in the bowl. Then, divide each quarter with a large spoon, creating 3 patties from each quarter for a total of 12 patties.

When the oil is heated, drop a pattie off a large spoon, then pat it lightly to form roughly 2 inch patties, about 1/2-3/4 inch thick. See the picture. Fry about 5 minutes. Turn with a spatula and fry the opposite side also about 5 minutes. Add scant more olive oil if needed.

Plate the falafel patties between the 3 salads already plated. Then drizzle the tahini sauce over the falafel patties and serve. Such a great way to celebrate the multitude of fresh herbs and vegetables we have this Summer!



Posted by Karen at 19:28 CDT
Updated: Sunday, 31 August 2014 20:25 CDT
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Sunday, 8 June 2014
Herb based Marinades--the joys of the growing season!
Topic: Garden

Fresh herbs--the joys of the entire growing season!

I hope you have lots of these peeking up at you--whether the marvelous, woody perennials or the newly planted annuals--they are all up and growing wherever you are in any zone now. (And, if not, it's not too late to plant them!)


It's also time to use these fresh herbs daily and what better way to include them but in Herbal Marinades.

Marinading and grilling are made for each other--



And, if you have a mini-food processor and a basic recipe plan, there is no end to your personal creativity with this culinary "art" medium. Every culture has its own marinades and you can "fuse" concepts and make an original  multicultural style. 



My basic plan for Marinades using Fresh Herbs is to select:

Approximately 2 parts olive oil, to 1-2 parts acid-based liquid, a bit of salt, and several handfuls of fresh herbs, adding extra spices to your personal plan.  Put the whole batch into a mini-food processor, pulse several times and then you have your herbal based marinade. Always marinade food in the refrigerator and don't add any tenderizers beyond simple fresh ingredients, also don't over-salt.  ALWAYS marinade food in a non-reactive pan such as glass, Pyrex, stainless steel.

Oil--I usually choose olive oil, though you can use canola oil, or even combine canola and sesame if doing Asian inspired marinade.

Acid based list: Wine, any citrus juice (orange, lemon, lime), vinegars, Yogurt and kefir (yes, these are acidic!) , mustard or other spices that are processed into acids, usually vinegar. You can mix within the list, too.

Herbs: Almost every fresh herb will work alone or in combinations to create a great marinade. Don't forget everyone's favorites: garlic, onions, shallots.

Spices and Zests: likewise, this list is endless from dried pepper blends to exotic spice blends. Added or not to your herbs. 








 In  the final picture below, I've made a marinade for a 3.5 lb boneless leg of lamb which I plan to indirect grill. Marinade is a great idea for this lean cut of meat.

I have used 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard,  about 1/2 tsp.salt, a couple large cloves of garlic,  and a couple handfuls of fresh herbs: sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano and even a little mint (I rinsed and stripped the leaves only from the stems.) Pulse several times in the mini food processor, pour over the entire lamb and refrigerate.

I let this marinade overnight--and then will indrect grill for Sunday dinner.

With a fresh tomato, greens and feta salad, some quinoa and lentils--sounds good to me! 





Posted by Karen at 15:41 CDT
Updated: Sunday, 8 June 2014 16:03 CDT
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Saturday, 24 May 2014
Asparagus and Feta Cheese Quiche
Topic: Garden

More Asparagus!

How lucky was I to walk out to the garden to water some transplants and find plenty more asparagus ready for picking. Enough so, that I plan to grill asparagus to serve with a little lemon butter --alongside steaks on the grill tomorrow.

But today...I made a great Asparagus Feta Cheese Quiche! Enough for brunch and extra in case some one stops by randomly for a glass of wine!

 Asparagus- Feta Cheese Quiche

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make or defrost a 9 inch, deep dish piecrust.


Steam 1 cup volume of ¾ inch pieces of fresh asparagus. (Easiest way is microwave for about 2 minutes with about 1 tsp of water in a covered microwave-safe bowl.)

Combine in a 2 cup measuring cup: 4 fresh eggs and add sufficient milk to equal total volume of 1 ½ cups. Place in a bowl and whisk together.

Add 5 oz. crumbled feta cheese (the cheese is packaged in this size.)

Now add the asaparagus to the egg mixture and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Pour the filling into the piecrust and place in the oven.

Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees until the quiche is fully set.

Serve warm for brunch, lunch or a meatless dinner. I have a quick chopped vegetable salad with a simple lemon juice and olive oil dressing alongside.

Refrigerate leftovers immediately.

Another option is the serve chilled slices of this quiche as a fancy appetizer or interesting first course for a dinner party, topped with a yogurt dressing.

Yogurt dressing:

3 Tbsp Greek plain yogurt , 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 Tsp. finely minced onion, salt and pepper.

Posted by Karen at 10:59 CDT
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Saturday, 17 May 2014
It's Asparagus Time!
Topic: Garden
It's Asparagus time-- what a healthy, high fiber and low calorie, nutrient dense vegetable.


Finally, your garden asparagus are shooting up and ready for picking almost daily, right?
In Germany, it's time for Spargelfest (asparagus=Spargel), where restaurants try to out-do each other with their creative takes on asparagus dishes. Their prize asparagus is often the "white" asparagus, which it the  same asparagus but picked from under mulch while it's still white, before its exposed to sunlight.They are milder, but require more prep time because they need to be peeled before cooking. 
I'm fine with using the green asparagus and cooking them as easily as possible, saving my time for creative dishes.
For me, cooking asparagus means steaming, either in a steamer on top of boiling water on the stove --or--easier yet--in a glass dish with a little bit of water in the microwave for a few minutes.
Here's a great little breakfast-brunch dish:
Asparagus with Scrambled Eggs on Toast
 (for 2) 
Steam 8-10 asaparagus spears and keep hot.
Toast 2 slices of rye or pumperknickel bread
(I found a bread that swirled both)
Scramble 4 eggs in scant olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Make yogurt sauce as follows:
3 Tbsp. Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tsp finely minced onion
Salt, freshly ground pepper
Butter the toast. Divde between 2 plates.
Arrange 4-5 asparagus spears on each toast slice.
Spoon half of the eggs next on each. 
Top with half of the yogurt sauce on each

Doesn't that look delicious?
And that same yogurt sauce would go very nicely on a vegetable dish, maybe drizzled generously over a platter of boiled potatoes and asparagus ???


Posted by Karen at 10:16 CDT
Updated: Saturday, 17 May 2014 18:51 CDT
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Saturday, 19 October 2013
Winter Squash--Turban Squash Soup
Topic: Garden

Winter Squash

Did you grow some of these this year?


I am talking about Winter Squash...such as Spaghetti squash, butternut, acorn, pumpkin or this new find of mine...the TURBAN squash. (that blue corn will show up in a winter post!)

We know that Spaghetti squash is cooked either baked (whole or in halves, cut and face down on a baking sheet) or boiled or microwaved. Afterwards, the squash is cut open, seeds scooped out and then the flesh is scooped out in these “spaghetti-like” strands. These squash strands can be used wherever you might think about pasta. (See earlier post for Meatball Stew over Spaghetti Squash.) Spaghetti squash has been a Mom-secret way to get kids to eat vegetables for awhile.

But it's not often that we look at the other Winter squashes and utilize them to their fullest. The firm flesh Winter squashes can basically be substituted for each other in casserole and soup recipes. Because this year is the first in which I grew these Turban squash, I was anxious to try one as soon as I could.

The Turban squash has a dark orange (pumpkin colored), dense flesh. The seeds are compactly located in the center and can be cleaned and roasted like you would roast pumpkin seeds. The flesh can be baked or peeled and cut up, and boiled or microwaved.

One of the easiest ways to cook and use Turban squash (or any of the dense winter squashes) is in a soup. Try this simple recipe for a rich, creamy soup packed with nutrients and right out of your edible garden!

Turban Squash Soup

1 large Turban Squash, slice in half, scoop out seeds

(reserve and make roasted squash seeds or reserve for your chickens)

4 cloves of garlic

Cut the squash into quarters, coat cut sides with olive oil. Place on a lined baking pan and roast the garlic and squash until soft, about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.


In a soup pot, cook 1 stalk of finely chopped celery and ½ small onion in 2 tbsp olive oil until softened. Add 1 quart of organic chicken broth and set aside until the squash is cooked.

Remove the squash and garlic from oven when cooked. When cool enough to work with, scoop out flesh, adding it to the soup pot along with the garlic cloves. Discard the skins.

Reheat the entire soup pot and season with fresh or dried parsley, Italian herb blend, salt and pepper to taste. (optional—use a few shakes of nutmeg instead of pepper)


Using an immersion blender, pulse several times until the squash and other vegetables are completely pureed and the soup is creamy. Serve warm. 




Posted by Karen at 10:43 CDT
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Saturday, 28 September 2013
Tomato Juice Cocktail
Topic: Garden

One more idea for the last loads of tomatoes...

 A couple of weeks ago, while I was busy making marinara sauce, my piano teacher and friend, Sonja Bauer, gave me a jar of tomato-vegetable juice made from her mother's recipe. It was so wonderfully fresh and healthful! I had to have the recipe. In addition to drinking it, Sonja tells me that she uses it in making chili and as a base for Cream of Tomato soup.

My husband picked a huge basket of ripe plum tomatoes with some yellow pear tomatoes,too-- and I spent the morning making and canning 5 quarts of this drink --with some leftover to refrigerate for use in the next couple of days. I am delighted to share this recipe and hope you have the opportunity to try it.

Sonja's Recipe for Tomato Cocktail

1. Assemble the following in a large stock pot:

½ bushel of cleaned, cored, and quartered tomatoes

1 large onion, rough chopped

1 cup of chopped celery

1 cup of chopped green pepper

handful of fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

2. Bring to a full boil and then simmer with the lid on for an additional 30 minutes.

3. Working with a food mill, extract the pulpy juice and discard the waste seeds, skins, etc.



4. Measure the juice. For every 7 cups of juice, add:

2 Tbsp. Cane sugar

2Tbsp. Lemon juice

1Tbsp. Salt

Pepper, if desired


5. Using a ladle and funnel, fill prepared quart canning jars with the hot liquid, to within ¼ inch of the top, apply lids and rings, avoiding overtightening.


6. Process in a prepared, boiling water bath for 30 minutes. Make sure jars are covered with 1-2 inches of water and judge the processing time from when the water boils again.  Remove jars from water using the tool intended. Allow to cool and dry—and "Ping"-- before labeling and then storage in the pantry.


Because it's a solution of liquid and pulp solids, the tomato juice cocktail will separate with standing. Be sure to thoroughly chill and give the jar a good shake before serving.

I used mainly plum tomatoes at peak ripeness so they were pretty sweet and appropriately acidic. I adjusted down the sugar. However, one thing you can never adjust down is the lemon juice. Lemon juice will make the tomato preparation more acid which is what we want for food safety, in order to be able to process in the boiling water bath. Bottled lemon juice will not cause any adverse flavor change to the tomato juice so do NOT forget to add it. A little extra doesn't hurt, either. If you're unsure of the acidity of your tomatoes, then the current recommendation is to add 2 Tbsp of bottled lemon juice for every 1 quart of tomato juice.

I also substituted red bell peppers for the green pepper, simply because I happened to have one, not the other. I also added freshly ground black pepper, though I've seen recipes with a dash or two of hot pepper sauce and it could even be omitted--again your option.

I am also reminding you about the over-sized,measureable Rubbermaid containers, that make it so easy to process large volumes of liquid. See the above picture with the food mill. You can really cut down on the clean-up when you have the proper sized equipment.

The old-fashioned food mill really works easily with cooked tomatoes and vegetables. I actually bought my food mill at a hardware store.

Remember that tomtoes are high in antioxidants (more bioavailable when cooked!) and the Vitamins A and C. The acidity in tomatoes is mainly from ascorbic acid (aka-Vitamin C) but also from citric acid which is one reason why the bottled lemon juice (mainly citric acid) doesn't change the flavor profile.

If you love the taste of fresh tomatoes off the vine, then you will appreciate this tomato cocktail when the snow's flying in a couple of months! 

Posted by Karen at 13:36 CDT
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Sunday, 22 September 2013
Lacinato Kale Salad
Topic: Garden

Lacinato Kale  (also known as "Tuscan Kale") is the third type of kale I grow in my garden. Last week I gave you some ideas for the curly blue kale and Russian Red varieties. If you'll recall I use those mostly in cooked kale dishes, casseroles and soups. Lacinato kale is more likely to be used in a salad.

This kale grows flat (like the Russian Red), but its leaves are extremely dark green and look more like a leathery strap. Pick it in the cool part of the day (like all greens) and wash in a cold water bath (in a sanitized sink!)  to immediately cool it down. The leaves are thick enough and flat enough to pat dry with paper towels. I still like to slice out the center vein and then rough chop the remainder of the leaves. However, some people choose to chop the entire leaf structure up, albeit in smaller pieces. Then it's ready to go into your salad! If you plan to it use later, then store in the humidified drawer in your refrigerator or put in a bowl covered with a moistened paper towel. 

Because we're eating this raw, I prefer an acid-based dressing and, if not used promptly, then refrigerate the prepared salad immediately and served it chilled later. 

Here's the recipe I used for the salad I made last night, making 8-10 generous servings. 

 Lacinato ("Tuscan") Kale Salad


6-8 cups loosely packed chopped lacinato kale leaves

2 cans of Cannelini Beans, rinsed and drained

6 oz. dried cranberries

4 oz. chopped walnuts

Put these ingredients in a large salad mixing bowl. 


Juice of 2 large lemons (about 1/4 cup) AND 1 tsp fresh lemon zest

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil (equal amount olive oil to lemon juice) 

Whisk together until emulsified, then  pour over the salad ingredients and toss 40 times (you know the drill by now!). 


I found it interesting  in reading that we consider this "Tuscan" kale but its American heritage goes back at least to Thomas Jefferson who grew it at Monticello.  






Posted by Karen at 11:58 CDT
Updated: Monday, 23 September 2013 16:03 CDT
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