Monday, September 29, 2014

Cranberry Pecan Green Beans

Fresh green beans sautéed with Cranberry Honey Butter and tossed with toasted pecans.

Green beans are one of my standard Thanksgiving Side Dishes, and I'm reminded again how silly it seems to wait another 2 months in order to celebrate the harvest. By the time American Thanksgiving rolls around the only 'fresh' local vegetables are hardy greens like kale and long-storing winter squash and potatoes.  Everything else has been put up. The Canadians have a better plan--have Thanksgiving in October, and do it on a Monday so you have an entire weekend to prepare the feast. None of this 'last minute rush around after work on Wednesday' craziness. No matter which day you're giving thanks for the harvest, here's a recipe for you.

The green beans have been plentiful this year in Ohio. From our farmers here in the SW corner of the state on up to Meghan's farmers in NE Ohio--lots and lots of green beans in the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm shares.

On a whim I decided to combine some of my Cranberry Honey Butter with some of my copious volume of green beans. [I'll be honest, inspiration struck me when I opened the freezer door and a roll of cranberry honey butter fell out.] I thought it would look pretty with the bright green beans, so I whipped up a quick side dish.

To save time and dishes, I briefly cooked the green beans in the microwave and toasted the pecans in a dry skillet. Then it was a simple matter to assemble the finished dish.  Try this one at home.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Beef Tongue Nachos

Wait wait! Don't run away so quickly after reading the title. The picture caught your eye, right? Have an open mind! Try something new! Hear me out. You might like it.

One cook's trash is another cook's treasure. It fascinates me that, across the world, certain foods are perceived as desirable in some ages or areas and seen as unwanted in other times or places.
  • Wheat bread was seen as a peasant food in earlier times, and white bread was the bread of well-to-do folks.
  • Yellow cheese (from pastured cows) is more desirable on pizzas in Asia, whereas white cheese is the desired pizza cheese in the US. The source of this fact is a fascinating article I recently read. You can find it here. My spouse also backs up the idea that pizza cheese in Korea was just different than what he'd been used to [before my pizzas, that is]. Now anything goes.

Beef tongue evokes strong reactions. Depending on experience folks either love it because they've tried it or cringe because it looks like, well, a tongue. In keeping with my philosophy that if you choose to eat beef, you might as well use all of the cuts offered, I am firmly in the "love it" camp. My kids are still cringing because beef tongue looks different than all the ground beef in tidy packages in the freezer (link to my Ground Beef Recipe Round Up).

Does beef tongue skeeve you out?  How 'bout Mashed Potato Casserole, that can be made the day before, and cooked in a slow cooker or baked in the oven? My recipe for Make Ahead Irish Mashed Potato Casserole is in a Featured Bloggers Favorites contest over at SavingStar. Voting enters you in a chance to win a $50 American Express Gift Card, and the winning blogger also receives a gift card. You can find the contest here.
The whole family pitching in to make beef tongue enchiladas. The recipe is coming.
Each time I prepare tongue, the flavor overcomes more of the cringe factor. By our next cow it should be quite commonplace. With this tongue we had enchiladas, sliders, and nachos because there was plenty of meat and I felt like experimenting. This recipe gets shared first because I love the colorful photos and I could go for a plate of nachos right about now.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

{A Recipe for Compost}

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): Use a mulching mower or reversible leaf blower to shred Fall leaves, save them in bags or bins, add them to your kitchen scraps to create nutritious soil.

I've added a gardening tip here and there over the past two years, but I've always included a recipe for a food that uses whatever vegetable or herb I've been discussing.
Today's post is a little different. I feel strongly that an appreciation of fresh food leads invariably, inevitably, inexorably back to the source: where your food comes from. More folks getting interested in fresh local food means more folks trying their hands at growing some portion of it. Maybe it's a windowsill with some herb pots in an apartment, or maybe it's rotation planting of your annual garlic and basil crops in raised beds.

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to make your gardening efforts succeed is to make compost. Adding compost to your garden accomplishes the following:
  • compost reduces weed growth
  • compost decreases the amount of water your plants need
  • compost nourishes your soil by replacing nutrients lost in production
Compost does not:
  • smell bad--if everything is working correctly it smells like earth
  • attract animals or bugs--composting the proper items (see below) and covering the scraps with leaves discourages annoying bugs (flies) while allowing the decomposers to work
Just like breast milk has a whole host of goodies that cannot be replicated in a factory, homemade compost--with its microscopic and visible critters--provides so much more to your garden than a bag of topsoil from the store. It's alive.   [I just compared compost to breast milk. Whoa.]    It's nearly as easy to make, in my opinion as both a woman-who-has-lactated and a gardener who makes compost. To make breast milk you need boobs, hormones, protein and water. To make compost you need some shredded leaves and some kitchen scraps.
Where do you get kitchen scraps? We've enjoyed a variety of CSA farm shares, from the no frills (the vegetable is plucked from the field and placed in a crate where it sits untouched until I reach into the crate on pick up day) to the tidy waxed box (with my name on it) filled with cleaned, bagged items.  Regardless how cleaned/washed your produce is, unless you're buying it off the the salad bar you will have unwanted bits.  You'll need to do something about those bits.  Sure, you can toss them in the trash, or grind them in the disposal. I've got suggestions for reusing them, and of course there are composting pigs and turtles, but a great way to process them is to compost them. Just like with sautéing, smaller pieces finish faster. Chop up large scraps into smaller pieces.
sorry for the freaky eyes, she loves her celery
Setting up a compost bin can be very low-cost.  You'll need a place in the kitchen to collect scraps and a place outside to let the scraps decompose.  [If you don't have space outside, you can even compost on the floor of your closet, using worms, but that's another post.]  I currently have 2 outdoor compost bins--one covered and one open.  I got the covered one free after taking a series of composting classes through my local parks and recreation department.

What if you don't have space for a pile? You can make compost lasagna in a raised garden bed.
After your garden has had its seasonal run, shovel off a layer of soil and set it aside.  Fill the garden bed with layers of kitchen scraps, shredded leaves, coffee grounds until the bed is nearly full. Top with the reserved soil. Over the winter the materials will decompose in place. You can tell in the Spring because the soil level will be lower--but it's not compacted, it's easier to dig when you're planting your new crops.

Once you have a place to compost, get layering. I layer kitchen waste with shredded leaves that we save each Fall.  I was a bit exuberant with the leaves and still have some left over, but I'd rather have too much than too little.  Story of my pantry (but not my house!).  A good ratio to aim for is equal amounts, by weight, of kitchen scraps and leaves. Since the leaves are far lighter than my tea bags, cantaloupe rinds, coffee grounds and corn husks, the volume of leaves is much larger than the volume of kitchen scraps.  I use about 3 parts leaves to one part kitchen scraps. I have my minions children dump several bucketsful of kitchen scraps, enough to cover the surface about an inch deep.  Then I dump a bag of leaves, enough to cover the surface about 3 inches deep. Then more scraps, then leaves. Need more scraps? Ask at local coffee shops if they give away Grounds for Gardeners.
Not a stir fry.  My compost bin in July.
Do include crushed eggshells in your kitchen scraps.  The calcium helps your tomato plants, and the worms who will migrate to your pile will take bites of the shell to help them grind up their meal.

Don't include meat, dairy, or most animal wastes.  I say most, because the manure from vegetable-eating animals, such as horses or cows, is widely considered to be great for compost.  Aged manure, that is--fresh manure is too hot (it requires nitrogen to break down, instead of providing nitrogen to your garden).  In my opinion, my composting pig falls in this category as well.  I use the bedding (hay, pig poop, and whatever scraps they don't eat) in my compost bin.

Once you've layered your unwanted bits and your leaves, and watered it or let the rain fall directly on it, and stirred it occasionally to bring the decomposed stuff--and the decomposers themselves--up from the bottom to work on the newest stuff, your compost will begin to look uniform and soil-like.  Time to spread it on your garden and start a new batch.
Just 3 visible ingredients--kitchen scraps, water, and shredded leaves. The air and time are implied.

Compost--The Recipe

1 part kitchen scraps
3 parts shredded leaves

In a vented bin, a raised bed, or just a pile in a corner, layer kitchen scraps and shredded leaves. If it hasn't rained in forever, add water and stir--a pitchfork works real well. You want your compost to be "sponge damp". That means if you were to squeeze a handful like a sponge, no water would drip out of it, yet it feels damp to the touch. If it's been rainy--no worries. A wet pile will dry out eventually--unless it's in a rotating tumbler without air vents. In that case, you may not have adequate air circulation and have additional issues.
Speaking of air--give your compost a stir every now and then (weekly or monthly) to allow materials from the bottom of the pile to mix with air and the stuff on the top of the pile. Or don't stir it--left on its own, a pile of kitchen scraps and shredded leaves will turn into compost over time.
Stirring it just makes you feel like you're accomplishing something and does speed the natural process along a bit.
When the contents of your compost bin looks like dirt--with the occasional eggshell, tea bag tag, or avocado peel--you're done. Time to work it into your soil!

I've learned about composting from my parents, fellow gardeners, and by listening to You Bet Your Garden with Mike McGrath on the radio. I enjoy the program so much I donated to WYSO to get a copy of Mike McGrath's Book of Compost (Amazon affiliate link), a terrific resource.
My Daddy--working hard.
This post is shared on What's Cookin' Wednesday and Fresh Foods WednesdayClever Chicks Blog Hop

After publishing this post, I had my visiting parents review and suggest edits--it's been Gardener Approved.