Kitchen Cheat Sheet: Fresh Herbs

I remember way back in the olden days… around the turn of this century… when a farmer lived by the seasons.  We had planting season, summer, harvest time, and winter.  The winter seemed to last forever, probably because we weren’t used to not being pulled in a million different directions at once.  It was a foreign concept, but certainly welcomed after the long year behind us.

Winters were a time of lounging with a cup of coffee and the paper or snuggling with the cat in front of the wood stove.  Winter was when we caught up on bookkeeping or tractor repairs or interior (and sometimes exterior, if the weather wasn’t too bad) clean-up. It was a time to make plans for the spring and summer ahead.

tomatoes

We don’t have that luxury anymore.  Unfortunately, we have to put in more and longer hours in the off season than ever before.  I shouldn’t even use the term ‘off season’ because it’s hardly that.  We have to plan for as many on-farm events and CSA / Farm Share pick-ups as we can because outdoor farm markets only stay open for so long in most areas, and even if they are open, they are rarely well-attended.

Funny how that works.  The bills still need to be paid even if we aren’t bringing in any money!  Darn that phone bill <electric bill, car insurance, TAXES of all kinds>!  It’s a royal pain in the patootie having to budget for 12 months when you only have income 8 months out of the year, but I have to admit, and please no one tell my parents this, it was a very valuable lesson to learn.

So, in light of this information, it probably makes a lot more sense to you when I talk about our preseason plant sale.  We had to figure out a way to get some money coming in to pay for things like seeds and soil amendments and the labor needed to plant things to be ready for summer harvest.

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We started growing herbs in small pots several years ago to start off our season with something to sell. If we had to wait until crops had grown outdoors, well, we’d still be waiting. We’re coming off a deep-freeze winter and there was no way we were going to get out to plant in the fields.  We’d have to rely on our limited amount of greenhouse acreage and the lack of adequate growing warmth and sunshine wouldn’t allow us to grow much in there anyway.

One of my favorite things to do is discuss food and cooking with our customers.  It’s my life, really, from seed to supper and everything in between.  As much as people like growing their own herbs, they don’t always know how to use them… so I help them!  In addition to instructing customers in choosing plants and growing an herb garden, I aid them in the kitchen as well.  Hence, this Kitchen Cheat Sheet!

Print it out, post it on the fridge, and get cooking!  I hope it encourages you to try some unfamiliar herbs and helps you create some amazing dishes.  Of course, if you have any herb garden questions, feel free to comment and ask away!

herb use chart

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Special Event! Painting Night Out at the Farm

What could be better than two crazy chicks, some paintbrushes and a buffet full of mocktails and munchies?

Not much….

Won’t you join Jennifer and me for an evening of creative expression?  Let’s kick those Friday the 13th fears to the curb and paint some angels!  Click here for more info and to register.  Space is limited!

angel collage

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Snapshots of the Farm April 2014

Today is April 25th.

It’s a bright, sunny day with temperatures in the mid-50s and wind gusts up to around 10 mph.  Not bad, today.  The wind has been gusting to 40 mph the last three days, so this is a nice change of pace.  I still wore flip flops when I walked my kid to the bus, but at least my toes weren’t blue when I came home.

For your enjoyment, a few photos to show you just what we’re up to at this time of year, before the period of summer production at breakneck speed hits.

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This garlic was planted inside one of our 3 greenhouses back in November 2013.  It wintered over in the frigid temps (that greenhouse isn’t heated, it just keeps things like spinach and garlic protected from wind and precipitation) and sprouted in mid-January. This garlic is more like a large scallion in that you can use the entire plant.

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This spinach also wintered over in the mid-sized greenhouse we call Mama Bear (Baby Bear would be the small greenhouse, Papa Bear, the large one). It was planted last fall and the cold temperatures kept it’s growth at a virtual stand-still until February.  A little bit of sunshine and the spinach just took off and grew like mad!  Customers at Adam’s Fairacre Farms were treated to some local spinach and garlic in March and April.

photo 1

We sell strawberry planters at our annual Mother’s Day plant sale and at our farm markets.  These plants winter over and grow back beautiful and lush, and if the sun stays out more than it goes in, we’ll have some red berries on them for Mother’s Day!

photo 2

Yep – it’s been a cold spring.  You’d think we’d have some decent weather once tax time rolls around, but my father had to prove just how cold it got one night last week.  He left a bucket of water outside the greenhouse with a stake resting inside.  His recording thermometer said we hit a low of 22°F

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I know many of you pore over seed catalogs in January and shop at garden centers to get packs of seeds that you’ll plant in your yard come spring and summer.  We do things a little differently.  Our farm is considered ‘mid-sized’ at 60-acres, and packets of seeds won’t do the trick.

We get seeds by the thousands, some by the millions, and still others by the bucket. It’s a big job figuring out what we need, but thankfully our seed saleswoman is extremely knowledgeable and helpful and is always willing to share a cup of coffee (or a kirby cucumber in the summer).  We get our seeds from various sources depending upon which company sells the varieties we like best for our conditions and tastes.

tomatoes wakey wakey
These are cherry tomatoes – or at least they will be in June.  We plant one seed in each of 50 cells per tray, then set the trays in a warm room to germinate.  Once the seeds have sprouted, we get them out into the warm, (hopefully) sunshine-filled greenhouse where they will continue to grow until we transplant them into the greenhouse beds or the fields.

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Assorted sweet and hot chile peppers awaiting transplanting.  We start the seeds in flats and when they are a few inches tall, we transplant them to the 50s I talked about above. When there’s no more threat of frost, we’ll get them out into the fields, probably mid-May.
We’ll also be selling off any extra plants.  Farmers always plant extra seeds because you just cannot guarantee what will grow.  Hence, the plants that we sell at our Mother’s Day Plant Sale are the exact same plants that we’ve grown for ourselves – meaning we take care of them so they will grow strong and healthy and produce an abundance of peppers or tomatoes, etc.

tomato seedlings april_MG_3543
We’re growing 23 varieties of tomatoes this year.  Farmer Sonny starts them in the smallest greenhouse (Baby Bear) around mid-March and each row is labeled with a number.  The numbers correspond to the name, which would be really difficult to write on little popsicle sticks.  We keep track of all the varieties and when they are planted from seed, when they are transplanted, when they go out in the fields, and any growth patterns that we like or don’t like are noted so we can decide next year what to buy or not.

photo 5
Three varieties of basil are planted in March as well, all in flats like this one.  When the sprouts are about 1 1/2 – 2 inches high or so, Doris will transplant them into 50s (cells) for transplanting into the fields or 4″ pots for sale.  Yep, it’s a lot of work.  But at least your hands smell like basil when you’re finished!

Once they are put into cells, it doesn’t take long for the plant growth to skyrocket!

basil seedlings

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed seeing a little of what we do here in spring.  It’s not the long vacation period you thought it was, huh?

For more information about our upcoming Plant Sale and Farmers Market, check out our website www.BialasFarms.com.  You’ll also find a printable CSA application if you are interested in farm shares.  Like Bialas Farms on Facebook for all kinds of fun recipes, garden tips and farm photos!

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For the Love of Quinoa!

quinoa chx salad_MG_3602My son has a multitude of phrases that he will use rather than curse.

I appreciate this, really, because at times I have the mouth of a truck driver and our relationship is such that I can say, “I know using words like this is not the best way to express myself, but you are still a child and ‘do as I say, not as I do’ is a rule that holds until further notice.”

Does he curse when he’s with his friends?  Probably.  I’m guessing he’d be laughed out of fourth grade if he came out with things like “oh, fiddlefark!” when he dropped a football.

Quinoa (keen-wa) is one of those words that could totally work in situations where an expletive would ordinarily spring from your mouth but then you suddenly realize there are little ears nearby.  For those not in the know, you’ve coined a new G-rated interjection.  Everyone else has been hit with a craving for this high-protein, wheat-free grain salad.

quinoa chx salad_MG_3609

Quinoa Chicken Salad with Grapes and Almonds
3/4 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1 t salt
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 T extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 cooked chicken breast, diced, about 1 cup
handful sliced almonds, toasted, about 1/4 cup
red grapes, halved, about a cup [more or less depending upon how many you eat while making this salad]
Buttercrunch or other lettuce leaf ‘cups’ for serving

Cook quinoa: put water in small saucepan and bring to boil.  Stir in quinoa and salt, return to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover with a tight-fitting lid.  Let simmer for about 15 minutes or until nearly all the water has been absorbed.  Turn off the heat, keep covered, and let sit for another 5 minutes.

In medium sized bowl, combine vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Whisk well.  Stir in quinoa and toss to coat thoroughly.  The grain absorbs the dressing (and flavor) best when it is warm.

Stir in diced chicken, almonds and grape halves and taste for seasoning.  I find it needs quite a bit of salt.  Pile spoonfuls of salad inside lettuce cups and eat like a taco!

quinoa chicken salad_MG_3599

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Creole Sugar ‘N’ Spice Pecans

creole pecans_MG_3007

Also known as… those damn pecans!

Why?  Because you won’t. Be able. To stop. Eating them.

I made a test batch to check on seasoning, then promptly ate nearly all of them before my event.  I had to get more raw nuts to make batch #2.

I first made these nuts as a mocktail munchie for a Painting Night Out at the Farm workshop that my dear friend Jen and I hosted this past Friday night.  We’re having another one on Friday April 11th if you’re interested in joining us.  Friends gather for a few hours of intuitive mixed-media creation, drinks and finger foods and lots and lots of laughs.  Sounds like the recipe for a perfect Friday night!

I experimented with a standard sugared nuts recipe and played with the spices until I stumbled upon this combination.  Thanks to my fellow foodie and Field to Feast compadre, Amy Roth, I’m head over heels in love with cajun and creole seasoning.  If this New Orleans native tells me that Emeril’s ‘essence’ recipe is good, then who am I to argue?  You can find Mr. Lagasse’s creole seasoning recipe here, and I urge you to adjust the salt to your liking. I will admit to wishing these were a little spicier, so next time I will probably add more cayenne.  Your mileage may vary; know your heat tolerance!

creole pecans_MG_3036

Creole Sugar ‘n’ Spice Pecans
1 egg white
1/3 cup sugar
2 T Creole seasoning purchased or make your own
10 oz pecan halves

Preheat oven to 300° and place a piece of parchment on a cookie sheet.  Alternatively, use a silicone baking pan liner.*

In a medium bowl, whisk egg white until frothy.  Whisk in sugar and creole seasoning.  Using a spatula, stir in pecan halves, making sure to coat them evenly and completely.

Pour the nuts onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, ensuring they are in a single layer.  There shouldn’t be much gooey eggy spicy liquid, but if there is, don’t scrape it all out of the bowl and onto the pan.  It will just stick to the parchment and will make for more difficult nut removal.

Bake the nuts at 300° for 15 minutes.  Give the nuts a stir – I used a large off-set spatula to do the dirty work – then reduce the oven to 250° and bake the nuts for another 10 minutes.  Immediately give the nuts another stir to release them from the parchment.  Allow them to cool and store in an airtight container (something with a padlock would have been helpful here) for as long as you can stand not eating them.

* While they began as a Martha Stewart trendy baking accessory way back in the 90s, silicone pan liners are readily available now both online and in stores (use that Bed, Bath and Beyond coupon).  They are a huge help when baking sticky things like florentines and fortune cookies.

creole pecans_MG_3048

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Pi Day 2014: Raspberry Ricotta Pie

rasp ricotta pie IMG_2925I tend to get an idea in my head and dive in – only later realizing that what I thought was a great thing is, in actuality, a shit-ton of work.

Yesterday I woke up and went about my usual routine and set my happy child on the school bus at 8:30am.  My daily scan of the school lunch menu revealed tomorrow (today) is 3/14.  I HAD to make a pie.

How can any self-respecting blogger pass up this golden opportunity?  The pie itself wasn’t really a shit-ton of work.  The list goes on after that: little jam turnovers made with leftover pie dough, almond biscotti (just because…) and homemade egg noodles to go with chicken and broth I’d made the night before.

I need an abacus to figure out how many dishes I washed yesterday. The pile in the dish drainer was HUGE!

So, yeah… Today is Pi Day!

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Big deal, you say?  Or maybe you know you SHOULD know it but really you have no recollection of ever learning this pi thing?

I’m a math geek.  I love it, can’t help myself.  I just really like numbers and formulas and postulates and theorems and graphs and differentiation and integrals and yes, even teaching my youngster what he’s missing (in my opinion) by suffering through the Common Core curriculum.  It’s so sad to see a 9-year-old banging his forehead with his palms because he cannot DO IT the way the teacher says they have to for the [cue evil music] dreaded state tests.

I hope that my guidance and enthusiasm for the subject matter will help him get through this school year with nary a tear, but if not, there’s always pie.

Pie makes everything better.

I set out to make a pie yesterday with things I had lying around since there was no time for a trip to the store.  Plus, like I said, I tend to dive into an endeavor at a moment’s notice. It’s good for me to have recipes in my arsenal that are terrific and rely on pantry and fridge staples.

I found a “sweet ricotta pie” recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking with Julia that looked as simple as can be.  Sure enough, recipe contributor Nick Malgieri hit the nail on the head.  The filling could indeed be “made-in-a-minute” and was quite good, but I thought it needed some oomph.  My additions are in the recipe below and, let me tell you, this pie sliced like a dream once it was chilled – like a cheesecake in a crust but not as dense – and firm enough to eat out-of-hand.

Walk-away desserts are one of life’s little treasures.

rasp ricotta pie IMG_2933

Raspberry Ricotta Pie
1 pound whole milk ricotta (use a kitchen scale or buy a 1-lb container)
1/4 cup sugar (vanilla sugar rocks here*)
3 eggs, beaten
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 t lemon zest
3 T raspberry jam (choose your flavor, just make sure it’s the best quality you can get)
prepared pie crust to fit a 9″ pie pan*

Preheat oven to 350° and put rack in lower third of the oven.

Make the filling: stir together ricotta, sugar, eggs, lemon juice, zest, and vanilla until smooth.  Set aside.

rasp ricotta pie IMG_2903

Make the shell: Roll out 2/3 of the pie dough to a 12-inch round and fit into a 9-inch pie tin.  Trim the excess with a sharp knife to the edge of the tin. Pour the filling into the shell and smooth the top.  Spoon the jam evenly atop the pie in little blobs.  Using a paring knife or skewer, swirl through the jam – but not too much!  Swirl it just enough, then set it aside.

Roll out remaining 1/3 of the dough into a rectangle about 10-inches long by 8-inches wide.  Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut this rectangle lengthwise into 12 even strips about 1/2-inch wide.  Arrange 6 of the strips across the pie at 1 1/4-inch intervals.  Crisscross the remaining strips across the pie, placing them diagonal to the first.  Trim the ends of the lattice (the crisscross pie dough) even with the edge of the pan and press down gently but firmly.

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Bake the pie for 35 – 40 minutes or until the crust is golden and the filling is firm and slightly puffed.  If the crust browns too quickly, crimp some strips of foil over the edges (careful not to touch the filling with the foil) and continue baking.  Cool completely on a rack.  Store covered in the refrigerator and serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

FarmGirl Notes: * Vanilla sugar is simply made by burying a split vanilla bean in a jar of sugar for a week or more.  I have had the same beans in my canister of sugar for years – I just keep adding more sugar and spent pods to it when I have them.  Using vanilla sugar is not required, but it does add additional depth that plain white sugar does not.

* If you are making your own pie crust, be safe and use a recipe with 2 cups of flour or one designed for a double-crust or lattice pie.  If you are buying crust, get enough for a double crust pie.  You need extra to do the lattice on top.

Recipe adapted from Baking with Julia.

Print the recipe without pictures by clicking the Print/PDF button below.

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Wheat Berry Apple Salad: Hearty, fresh, and you always end up wanting more

wheat berry apple salad_MG_2592I DVR’d Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern the other day.  Thomas and I sat down to watch it and I couldn’t remember for the life of me WHY I wanted him to see it.  He wasn’t too impressed with the Texas State Fair food or the javelina hunt ‘n’ roast, but as soon as the NASA food developers came on the screen, boy did he light up!

My progeny decided long ago that he will be an astronaut when  he grows up.  I have to keep him focused on that goal at times by reminding of things like “they won’t let you pilot a space shuttle if you don’t know your times tables.”
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Cabernet Chocolate Bundt Cake

choc cab 2-IMG_2416Did you ever want to give someone a gift because they did something nice for you?

Maybe 1) they helped you shovel ridiculous amounts of snow or 2) they watched your kid so you could have a girls night out when your regular sitter came down with a (legit) 104° temp or 3) they did something outrageously thoughtful and a simple card just won’t do?

Or, maybe you missed a birthday or Mother’s Day or National Drink Wine Day (Feb 18th. No joke)? Perhaps you missed Valentine’s Day.  I almost did…
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Pineapple Upside Down Cake, or The Way to a(n Old Fashioned) Man’s Heart

pineapple cake_MG_1288

There are some weeks when I go shopping and all I throw in my cart is junk.  I grab lots of cheeses (soft, creamy brie is a favorite) and crackers (wheat crackers are good for me!), ice cream (It’s for The Boy! Riiight.), some Fritos (Scoops are nice, and so salty that your lips hurt after you eat them), Nathan’s hot dogs and a tube of Crescent Rolls (who doesn’t like impromptu pigs in a blanket?).

There are other weeks when I spend more time in the produce section than in the rest of the store.  Those are the weeks when the inside of my fridge looks like a rainbow and good health abounds.

That’s IF I actually prepare everything that my overly ambitious mind thought I could.

I rarely do.

I tend to overbuy fruit, and this particular week I had a beautiful pineapple sitting on the counter, its sweet, tropical aroma wafting over me every time I buzzed by on yet another mission to fish a Match Box car out of the toilet.

The pendulum of motherhood never stops swinging…
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Roasted Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Quesadilla

swt pot caul quesadilla 05

Thomas said he does NOT want to participate in the Geography Bee at school tomorrow.  They took a preliminary test and he got 30 out of 35 correct, however… he only knew ONE of those answers for sure.  The rest were guesses.

One that he guessed correctly?  Where is the Klondike?

He guessed Alaska.  Why?  Because Klondike bars are ice cold and so is Alaska.

That’s using the old noggin, I’d say!
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