Old Fashioned Pound Cake

This luscious pound cake is made with wholesome, simple ingredients. It is made with fresh home raised eggs and a few other ingredients. The taste is unbeatable, but, one shouldn't eat too much of the good thing. There is a reason it is called a "pound cake", it makes one put on pounds...lol!

3 C. sugar,
3 C. flour,
10 medium eggs,
1-1/2 lb. butter, room temperature,
1-1/2 tsb. vanilla extract,
Optional: zest of 1 lemon and 2 TBSB lemon juice.

Directions: Sift together the sugar and flour. Mix together butter, eggs and vanilla. Gradually add the flour and sugar mixture to the butter and egg mixture. Using the mixing paddle mix the batter at medium speed for about 10 minutes. Pour batter in an Angle Food Pan. Bake at 300F for 1 hr. 30 minutes to 1 hr. 40 minutes, until a knife inserted all the way comes out clean.

Cranbery Candy Sticks

Growing up in China, I always enjoyed this type of candy on a stick, made of a type of large hawthorn fruit. However since that type of hawthorn is hard to find around here, I improvised by substituting it with cranberries. The result? Perfection!!! I think it is even better than the real thing... For this recipe you will need: 1-1/2 C. sugar, 1 Tbsb. water, 1 lb. fresh cranberries (the largest you can find), 1 pk. of bamboo skewers, silicon baking mats make the job a lot easier.
(1) Skewer cranberries on the bamboo sticks, discard soft ones.
(2) Combine the sugar and water, place in a frying pan. Heat the frying pan on medium high heat. Wait until sugar start to melt. 5 minutes or so. The sugar will begin browning at the bottom, let it melt, do not stir too much at this stage. Stir only to incorporate the remaining solid sugar into the molten syrup. Reduce heat so the sugar won’t burn. If you are using a heavy skillet, it might carry enough heat so you can turn the heat off.
(3) Using a large spoon, spoon the syrup over the skewered cranberries, you might need to make multiple passes to cover all the cranberries. Be very careful not to let the syrup come in contact with your hand, it is VERY HOT!
(4) Set the sugar covered cranberry sticks on a silicone mat. Allow them to cool.
That’s it... They are every bit as good as I remembered!

Ossobucco, Oh Sogood

While shopping in the grocery store, I spotted some beef shanks at $1.97/lb. Ossobuco came to mind. This may not be the tender veal shanks the "real" ossobucco calls for, but I think with some LTC, it will do... And sure enough, it did not disappoint. Here's how it was done:
3-1/2 lb. beef shanks,
1 Spanish onion,
2 ribs of celery,
1 carrot,
4 cloves of garlic,
2 C. tomato sauce,
1/4 C. tomato paste,
1-1/2 C. red wine,
1 can chicken broth,
Flour mixed with seasoned salt for dusting,
Olive oil for browning.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Herbs: thyme, rosemary and bay leaves

Mix some flour with seasoned salt, dust the beef shank pieces with flour and seasoned salt. Brown the beef shanks olive oil. Remove the meat and set aside. Add chopped up garlic, onion, celery and carrots to the pan, cook until the vegetables turn translucent. Add the red wine, chicken broth, tomato sauce, tomato paste and herbs. Bring to a boil, add beef shanks back to the pot. Cook on low heat covered for 2 hours or until meat become tender and falling off of the bones... Serve with noodles or rice, garnish with chopped fresh parsley. Enjoy!

Bagels Finally!

I have attempted at bagel making many times, none of which turned out to my satisfaction. After taking some tips from my Jewish friend, I tried my hands again. This time, it is a total success! I think I finally mastered the art of bagel making. This method uses a two-stage process: 1. Making a sponge 2. Making the dough. Use this method to make a stiff dough. And stiff dough, according to my friend, is what it takes to make a good bagel. Here's how:

For the sponge: 2 tsp active dry yeast, 1 tsp sugar, 1-1/2 C. warm water, 4C. bread flour (high gluten flour). Mix the water, sugar and yeast together, stir well. Let set until you see yeast bubbles. Add the flour to make a soft spongy dough. Cover the dough and Place it in a warm place until it doubles in size.

For the dough: 1 tsb active dry yeast, 1 tsb sugar, 1/2 C. warm water, 1 TBSB kosher salt, 5 eggs, 1 TBSB honey, 3C. + 1C. bread flour. Mix sugar, yeast and water together, stir and allow yeast to bubble. Pour the liquid in the spongy dough above. Add remaining ingredients except the last cup of flour. Make a dough. Incorporate the last cup of flour, knead until dough develop elasticity, about 10 minutes.

Divided the dough into 12 pieces. Place them on a cookie sheet. Cover with a plastic bag. Allow them to rest in a warm place. Meanwhile boil a big pot of water with 2 tsb of baking soda in it. Make a ring with each piece of the dough and drop it in the boiling water. Cook for 30 seconds per side.

Remove the bagel rings from the water and dip them in some cornmeal. Decorate your bagels as you wish at this stage (onion flakes, sesame seeds, egg wash and what have you...). Place the bagels on a baking sheet. Repeat until all bagels are boiled. Bake the bagels in a pre-heated 500F oven for 8 minutes, reduce heat to 450 bake until golden brown, 5-8 minutes.

Cookie Loafs

Eager to try out my newly acquired cookie press, I set out to make spritz cookies. I found a Youtube video, watched it and said to myself: "That's easy enough". It turned out, as most things do, not as easy as I thought....  I made the dough according to the recipe (below), loaded it to the cookie press and started pressing cookies to the cookie sheet. And then there came the reality: the cookies came out like a globy mess, not the neat little kissables like it is in the video. Hmmm... what to do? what to do? I did the best thing I could under the circumstance, I made long cookies instead of the mini puffs I intended to make. Nonetheless, the cookies turned out delicious, light and fluffy and buttery! This morning, I had some friends stop by for coffee, after hearing my story, my friend Jen said: "We love your cookie loafs!". Therefore, the term "cookie loafs" was born.... I think I will be making some for Santa :)
For the cookie loafs I used:
1 C. Powdered sugar
2 C. flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsb salt
Sift above ingredients together, then add:
2 sticks of butter (1/2 lb.)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract.
Mix everything together until forming a smooth dough. Load in cookie press (Although it is just as easy to use small ice cream spoon to make cookie drops). Bake at a preheated 350F oven for 10-12 minutes until the edges turn brown. Let cool completely.

Easy Thanksgiving Turkey:

Remove the inside contents from the turkey, wash and pat dry. Spread salt and pepper inside and outside the turkey. Make with fresh herb butter (I used sage, thyme, marjoram and garlic and butter), spread on the turkey, under the skin when you can. Bake the turkey in a turkey roaster in a pre-heated oven at 500F for 20 minutes without lid. Then Reduce heat to 350F, cover and bake until the temperature indicator pops up. If you are making dressing, bake it separately. I butter the turkey neck and bury it inside the stuffing. Bake for 40 minutes at 350F. Enjoy!

2010 Garden Inventory_October

Looking back, this is a particular "bad" year for vegetable gardening. The cold and chilly weather lingered around until the end of June, and the cool rain started right on time, on Halloween. So that left us about 2 and 1/2 month of "normal" growing time. The thing is to counter natural unpredictability, we need to have our own strategies. We can do this by planting early maturing crops. Radishes, baby bok choys and letuce did great early part of the season. The peas came along fine, petered out around July. And, if you never planted a fall garden before, this should be the year that convinces you do.

Normally I transplant my tomatoes and peppers in Mid May, and eggplants in late May to early June. Because of the cool weather, they struggled a bit at the beginning. I got ripe tomatoes at the end of August and I count myself among the lucky ones. My "luck" came from planting the early tomato varieties. The ones I like particularly well is "Fire Ball", a medium sized tomato with low acid, and nice forms. It also fared well after the rain arrived. Another variety called "Wild Strip" also did well, it is a small variety with yellow strips on, produce massively and early. Roma did well also. I have two late season tomatoes that did well in later October, when all other tomatoes are gone. One is Yellow Cuban Grape, a tiny yellow grape tomato loaded with flavor and holds up surprisingly well in the rain (you only need one plant, it is a massive yielder). The second one that always do well in late fall is "Marrie's Wild", it is a tenacious variety that survives under negligence.

Cucumbers got a late start. The cold weather early on had a sever impact on the may planting, it did not produce like normal years. I planted another crop at the end of June, they did well and produced until October. As the cold weather moving in, and the night temperature gets down to the low 40th, I covered the cucumbers with a shower curtain. It provided just enough warmth for the cucumbers and I had cucumbers until end of October.

Speedy Silver Zucchini planted in May took off once the weather warmed up. I planted another crop early July and am still enjoying them now. Although that about to come to an end. I cover the plants at night so they will produce longer. The nice thing about fall gardening is the zucchinis don't go crazy on you if you leave them there for a few days.

Corns, beans did well for the season, besides being a little late. Della Fave broad beans are gaining more popularity, they are big and ugly, but ooooh soooo good! They produce extremely early as well, and is a heavy producer. Now it is late October, I am letting the beans mature on the vine, and use the fresh beans inside. I boil the beans in a pot of salted water with some fennel seeds for about 15 minutes, delicious!

Broccoli, namely "Green Comet" did extremely well. I bought the plants from Portland Nursery and transplanted them in the garden in May, and they produced all year around until early October. The bad news is, I couldn't find seed source for this variety. I am saving some seeds from the plant, and will try to grow from the seeds I saved this year.

The gardening season is officially ended. I cleaned out the tomato vines, removed all eggplants and peppers from the plants. I canned tomato sauce, salsa, made salsa verde with all the green tomatoes, pickled beets, made zucchini relish. Froze the beans and corns. Made two batches of caponata (see my caponata post), and froze them in the food saver's hand held ziploc bags...

I am glad I put my winter garden in, it is going strong. Got a nice bed of carrots, beets and Swiss chard, they were planted on July 19th.

Flowers in the garden: This year I planted nasturtiums and sunflowers, they provided nice attractions to the garden, bringing bees and other pollinators to the garden. And the chickens loved the sunflowers heads...

Now is the time to go plant garlic, well I better get to it, I hope you do too!

Huevos rancheros-Spanish Style Poached Eggs

When I eat something I like, I like to deconstruct recipes and replicate them later at home. One way that helps me to do this is to put food that I am not familiar with in terms of food that I am, so that I can get a grasp on the fundamental level of things....
Today, I made huevos rancheros, I think it as "Spanish Style Poached Eggs". It is easy to make and delicious. Here's how:
Saute cut up tomatoes, peppers and onion and garlic in a pan with oil. Cook until vegetables become soft, add Sue's Homemade Salsa, bring to a boil. Crack eggs (any number of them, depending how many people you are serving) in the pan, making a cradle for each egg you put in the sauce. Cover and simmer until eggs are cooked to the desired doneness. You can serve it with the standard Mexican fair, rice and beans, or just some fried corn tortilla and chips. Either way it is good and sooo simple !


Carnitas is cooking in the pot, it smells really good...
Here's the recipe:
4 lb. of pork butt, cut into 2" cubes, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 large onions, chopped, juice from 1 fresh orange, 2 t. kosher salt, 1 large dried Mexican pepper, 1 t. chili powder, 1 t. cumin powder, 1 bay leave, fresh cilantro, a pinch of Mexican oregano and 1 C. cola (any kind). Heat a heavy duty stainless steel pot until bottom gets hot. Add the pork pieces, let it sizzle, turn frequently. Add the orange juice, and the rest of the ingredients. Let it cook for 2 hr. The meat will be good for a varieties of thing, like burritos, tacos etc. The same methods can be used for beef or lingua. For chicken, you need much less cooking time.

Pickled jalapeno peppers Spanish Style:

Pickled jalapeno peppers Spanish Style:
Veggies: Jalapeno peppers, carrots (I grew them too :) and onions.
Brine: 2 C. white vinegar, 2 C. water, 1/2 C. kosher salt, 2 T. sugar and 2 T. vegetable oil, add a pinch of dried Mexican oregano ( not the same a...s regular oregano, you can buy them at the Mexican spice rack). Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Pack veggies in cleaned canning jars, and pour hot liquid in jars. Seal and let cool. Place in refrigerator. Keep for up to a month. You can also seal it with water bath like you would with regular pickled.

Talking Harest

This time of the year, preserving the flavors of the garden has to be on every gardener's mind. I thought about it a lot before I actually did it. It was intimidating at first, there are so much to learn and so much I didn't know... You know what? the best way of learning is by doing. Try different ways of preserving a particular veggie until you find you favorite, and stick with those. You will find your efforts will be well rewarded!

Late August is time when I begin to put extras from the garden away, pickling, preserving or freezing. There are a lot of dos and don't, a few things that have always worked well for me, and I am here to share them with you.

1. Freezing:
Many veggies can be frozen. However, the flavor and texture of frozen veggies can be quite different from fresh ones. The question you want to ask yourself is: "Am I going to eat what I freeze?" I find come up with specific ways to use what you freeze will help you use up the frozen produce. Instead of just blanch and freeze the veggies by themselves, cook then into a meal and freeze them in individual serving portions. I find this particular helpful to send them off with college kids.
Here's a couple of my favorite recipes for freezing, both are a little involved in their preparation, nonetheless easy enough to make once you get the routine down.

Tag: Zucchini, eggplant, potato
(1) Moussaka: This is my adaption of a Greek dish that uses eggplant, zucchini and potatoes. At the end of August, my eggplants and potatoes are coming on strong and I still have a lot of zucchinis, so this is a perfect time to enjoy moussaka and put some away for later.
Ingredients, for one 9x13 pan use:
2 medium sized potato, 1 large Opus Eggplant, 2 medium sized Speedy Silver Zucchini;
1 pint jar of home canned tomato Sauce (see link)+2 T. dried onion flakes+3 cloves of
crushed garlic;
2 C. pizza cheese+1/2 C Parmesan cheese;
Olive oil for cooking
3 C. Béchamel sauce (white sauce-see link): butter, flour, milk or half&half, fresh grated nutmeg,
1 whole egg, fresh or dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste)
1. Slice potatoes, eggplant and zucchini into 1/4 slices, and cook in a frying pan with with olive on the bottom until veggies are soft, add some salt to facilitate the process.
2. Pour some tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan, line the pan with a layer of potatoes, and
then zucchinis and eggplant slices, pour more tomato sauce on top, top with another layer of potatoes. Pour the reminding tomato sauce on top. Cover with cheese, cover with the Béchamel sauce. Bake at a preheated oven at 350F for 35-40 minutes. Take it out of the oven, let cool before serving. For freezing: Wait until the dish is completely cooled, cut it up in serving size. Pack them in freezer bags, then in cardboard boxes.

Methods for making Béchamel sauce: stir equal amount of butter and flour in a frying pan over medium heat, cook until well incorporated and flour start to turn yellow. Add liquid (milk and/or half&half, add salt and pepper to taste, add grated nutmeg, add fresh or dried oregano). Cook until sauce is thickened. Let it cool a bit, stir in one whole egg.

(2) Caponata:
I discovered this dish quite by accident, now it is one of my favorites that I have to make every year. It is like a Italian sweet and sour dish to me. And of course, this is my adaptation of it. Check out the link below for recipe.


2010 Garden Inventory_July

It is the end of July, the garden is in full output mode. So far I've harvested radishes, zucchini, broccoli, cucumber, peas, lettuce, stem lettuce, kohlrabi, cabbage, baby bok choy, beets, artichoke, garlic and garlic chive. And green beans and corns are just begin to come on. Got a few red tomatoes. Watermelons and Mini Dew are finally taking off.

Broccoli: Bought the starts from Portland Nursery in early May and transplanted to the garden. it is now at the end of its season, however still producing smaller florets that is no less tasteful. I have make broccoli soup and blanched and frozen some.

Red and White Tux radish: Sowed in March, been producing great tasting radishes through May/June. The cool weather this spring was beneficial to the radishes

Lettuce/Stem Lettuce/peas: planted in April, produced a lot of nice lettuce
Stem lettuce is ready to harvest in Mid July. A late planting of shelling peas (May 17) are just start to produce.

Spring Java Cabbage started in April, transplanted in May, start harvesting at the end of June. Still have some in the garden, but quality is deteriorating. Split occurs when watered. Made two batch of Kimchi and two batches of sauerkraut, and many great tasting coleslaw.

Zucchini: Started some in April, transplanted in late May, started producing July 4th, it is in full production. Made Zucchini chips with Bread and Butter recipe, great tasting. Also added some oil and hot pepper and made Bread and Butter on Fire, tastes even better!

Cucumbers: Started some in March, transplanted on May 15 (after the May hail storm), planted second batch in April, and more in May. July 15 got the first Stallion White Cucumber, was from the ones started in March. Two weeks later, ones planted in April and May are also producing. The conclusion is starting cucumbers too early is not worth the efforts. Cucumbers are not going to grow until the weather warms up.

Green Beans: Zupa No-String Green Beans sowed in late May started to produce at the end of July. Broad Beans (Della Fave and Ruby Crest) sowed in May 3, started to produce at the end of July. The growth was slow this year due to the cool spring. Pole beans are only 4 feet tall in June. The hot weather in July pulled it up in a hurry.

Asparagus Beans: Sowed in June, about 5" tall now, expecting to produce in August.

This year I ha d to sow melons three times (May, mid June and late June). Melons are particularly sensitive to the cool weather, in the first two attempts, tender seedlings didn't survive the cool rainy spring. Guess the third time is a charm, with the hot July they are finally taking off. Great hopes for watermelon and mini Dews.

Eggplants: Sowed in Feb 14, transplanted to the garden in early June. Although early June is when I normally transplant eggplants, but this year was cooler than normal. The eggplants suffered as the results. They were stunned. They are now growing fine.

Peppers: Peppers were started in Feb 14, transplanted in early June, they survived better than the eggplants. They are taking off now, seeing small peppers setting on the plants.

Soybeans: At the time I transplanted the eggplants and peppers, I sowed soybeans in the empty spaces. They are growing up at about the some height of the peppers/eggplants. They are great for providing shades and suppressing weeds. They have flowers on them now.

Beets (Cylindrical) sowed in April are about 4-5" long and can be harvested.

Carrots: At the time I transplanted the cucumbers started in March, I sowed carrots and radishes in between the cucumber rows. The radishes did great, not so great are the carrots, some survived. Sowed another batch in July, for fall harvesting, they are just emerging now.

Corns: Sowed some in May 5, have small corns on it. Sowed second sowing in June, they are 4 feet tall.

Conclusions: Peppers and eggplants can be started about a month later, March 15 instead of Feb. Because you can not transplant them out to the garden until weather is about 70F

Corns can be sown a little later as well.

Chinese Cabbage Salad: It is June, where is the sun?!

The first part of June has been wet and cold. We had record breaking rain fall of over 4", record low day time temperature... and the sun is no where to be found. All this is not good news for vegetable gardeners. While the cool crops are loving it, my beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and eggplant are just sitting there and getting attacked by insects :( Taking it in stride, I've had plenty good tasting radishes, lettuce and Chinese cabbage... I enjoyed my oriental salad made with Spring Queen Chinese Cabbage, here's the recipe:

4 C. fresh Chinese cabbage, cut into 1/2" strips
1 package of Top Ramen noodles, broken into small pieces
1/2 C. pineapple pieces
1/4 C. red bell pepper pieces
2 fresh scallions (small Flagpole Giant Green Onion)
1/2 C. light soysauce
1 T. balsamic vinegar
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. olive oil
1 t. sesame seed oil
1/4 C. brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour dressing on the cabbage and Top Ramen mixture, toss to coat, sprinkle pineapple, red pepper and scallion pieces on top. Serve immediately.

An Eventful May 2010

May turned out to be an eventful month. I got the garden ready in late April while we were having a few nice warm days. Early May, I was all pumped up and ready to plant. I planted my usual cold crops, radishes, peas, onions, spinach, cabbage and beets in the ground. The few nice days that followed gave me the false sense of security, thinking the cold weather is gone, I transplanted my tomatoes and peppers and eggplants in the garden and hoping they'll get an early start and I will have an early harvest.... And then it happened, a hail storm hit us right after I transplanted all my seedlings, I rushed to cover my tomato seedlings but some have suffered pretty good damages. I felt lucky I didn't the cucumbers I started out in the garden, they would've been pulverized.

Just as I was trying to nurture my plants back to their health, I detected flee beetles in my garden and they had already done quite a bit of damage to my radish and cabbage, and they are working on my pole beans. I sprayed the garden with Neem, an organic pesticide (1.5 table spoon of Neem Oil in a gallon of water) and got the flee beetles under control.
The truth is here where I am, even though the official "last frost date" in spring is April 15, the ground temperature in May still fluctuate quite a bit. What I've learned is if you count on luck along, it will come back bite you. On the other hand, if you want to plant early, using protection, raise the ground temperature is the only way to ensure success. Last year I planted my tomatoes in May and I used MiniHooper, a mini hoophouse I designed to cover early crops, to protect my seedlings. The cold rains really didn't bother my seedlings since the temperature inside the hoophouse is 10 degree above the soil temperature outside. And I started my bush beans inside a Mimihooper. I've harvested beans by the 4th of July and had early harvest on my tomatoes, peppers and eggplants as well.

Now it's June, looking forward, most of my plants survived May. I am hoping they will start to take off once the warm weather sets in. So here the lesson I learned: don't count on your luck alone (everyone can use some) when it comes to planting in early spring. A few nice days in April fooled me, I did not cover my seedlings, turned out my "luck" was not there. This is a mistake I don't care to repeat.

Happy Gardening!

To Till or not To Till?

There are two schools of thoughts when it comes to tilling, one is till before you sow, I think it is practiced by most home gardeners; the other is no-till at all.... the no-till method sounds good in theory, but I haven't seen it practiced much in home gardening. What's your thoughts? I should add that tilling here is a loosely defined term, it also include digging the garden up (or not) before planting.

To me, tilling signifies the gardening season is in full gear. Usually I'd have my veggie starts in the nurseries anxiously awaiting to go in the ground. The sight of freshly tilled garden sets my brain into high gear, planing, layout, irrigation etc. etc... I can't help but picturing what the garden will look like in just a short few month, and the dishes that will come out of all the veggies I will be harvesting! Granted I will have to deal with the weeds as the season progresses, there's no getting around of that... This is just the way things have been done in my garden year after year. I have a system worked out, and I am comfortable with it...

The no-till proponents suggest by not disturbing the soil, you are not activating the weed seeds in the ground, therefore, they do not germinate. A garden with no weeds? Who wouldn't want that?! And, by not tilling, you preserve the soil structure and keep the moisture and protect the soil from erosion, and you save water and fuel (by not running your rototiller) . I've read about the no-till methods from different sources, took a seminar on the subject, but I have not seen many in reality. The no-till method intrigues me, but right now I have more questions than answers, what about the nutrients? the disease control? etc. etc... It would help if I someone else can share their experience and PICTURES particularly...With all the great benefits of no-till, I would like to try it some day. I think I need a plan, but right now, I have no plan...

Either way you choose to do it, have a system and perfect it. And please share your experience on FB, we'd all want to know... (I hope I am speaking for the majority of us)

A Lesson Learned

A few years ago, I learned that clover could be used as a cover crop to enrich the soil in your garden. It was October, my garden was bare, so I decided to give it a try. I ordered some clove seeds and spread them in my garden. Well nothing happened that year and I promptly forgot about it. The next season I started noticing little clovers plants popping up everywhere. And as years go by, they were getting bigger and bigger. Now I've got a problem, the clovers are growing into thick mats, and are choking out my vegetables.
Years later, I am still fighting the battle of eradicating clovers from my garden. Now I have some friends on my side. I discovered my chickens love the tender leaves of the clovers, so feed the dug up clovers to them.
I still see advises on the internet telling people to plant clover as a cover crop for vegetable gardens. What I wonder is have these people actually grown it in their own garden?
The moral of the story is not all information you learn could or should be putting into practice. If you find some information you are not sure of, check with your friends first, or better yet, post it on FB and see if you can get some answers.
Friends won't let friends harming themselves with dangerous information!

Seed Starting in Stages

Even for seasoned gardeners seed starting can be tricky at times. If you don't have a professional setup with lighted benches and misters that keep your seeds in the ideal conditions, and the time to baby sit your seedlings, growing seedlings in stages can simplify your life as a gardener. It offers an easy and efficient way to grow your own seedlings.
1. Incubator Stage: Sow seeds generously in a 4" pot or a 12 oz paper cup with holes punched on the bottom. Keep the container in a sunny spot like a south facing window. Keep it moist until germination occurs. If you have any warming device such as a seed starting mat feel free to use it.
2. Small Seedling Stage: When the seedlings grow a little taller and when the 3rd set of leaves are just begin to emerge, transplant them to larger containers. I use 2" pots. At this point, eliminate all the weak seedlings, keep only the healthy and strong ones. Dump the entire container with all the seedlings on a flat surface. Pick out each seedling carefully as not to damage their roots, pot them up in 2" pots. Avoid trying to transplant them too early. If the seedlings are too young, they may not survive the transplanting. Allow the seedlings to grow and fill up the 2" containers. In some cases, this will be adequate for the seedlings to move out to the garden (temperature permitting), for others they will need to be moved to larger pots.
3. Large Seedling Stage: Move the seedlings from the 2" pots to 4" pots will give them more growing space. Usually this is all you need to do before transplanting them to the garden. You can regulate the growth by exposing the seedlings to the right temperature condition. If they are growing too fast, leave them outside. Just be sure to bring them in when the temperature gets too low. This will also harden them off so they will be ready to be transplanted into the garden. Now just wait for the nice weather to arrive so you can plant them... Meanwhile, dream up some delicious recipes and wait for the veggies to get ready.

Two Easy, Good Bread, Practice Until You Own It!

Bread making is easy, just follow a few rules any one can make a delicious loaf of bread from scratch. It may take you a while to become a master bread maker, but I think you should at least learn a couple to give you the satisfaction of eating fresh baked bread. That's right, practice until you own it! I will share with you two types of bread I make most often, they are also the easiest to make. Find yourself a heavy crock for bread making. I use an oval insert of a slow cooker. Nice thing is, it comes with a lid.
1. Sue's Pillow Bread: For dough: Dissolve 1 T. dry yeast, 1 T. sugar in 3/4 C. warm water, add 1-2 T. oil, one egg, and 1 t. salt and enough flour to make a soft dough. Let the dough rises until doubled in size. Place the dough in a well floured surface. Roll out the dough to about 1-2" thick, brush the top with egg wash and sprinkle with salt, pepper or sesame seeds or any other topping you like. Cut into ~3" squares with a pizza cutter, arrange the pieces on cooking sheet lined with parchment paper. Let it raise until puffy (be patient!). Bake in a per-heated 375 F oven for 15-18minutes. (you may need to check it at 15 minutes first time you bake it in your oven, it goes from perfect to burnt pretty quickly). Enjoy! This is a great bread for sandwich making.

2. Overnight Bread: This one is even easier. Mix together: 1 t. dry yeast, 1 t. kosher salt, 3 C. flour, 1-1/2 C. water. Stir just combined. Cover, leave it in the bowl for 12 hours. 12 hours later, place a cast iron skillet in the oven, heat the oven to 500F. Dump the dough on a floured surface (the dough is quite soft at this stage), fold it up so it will fit in the cast iron skillet. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on, then another 10-15 with the lid off. Viola! Enjoy!
In case you need a visual reference, here's a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13Ah9ES2yTU)

Get ready, set, sow!

It is that time of the year again, gardeners everywhere are itching to start their vegetable garden. Before you start your seeds, let's look at some of the basics of seed starting.
First make a good soil mixture, I like to use a large Rubbermaid tote (18 gallon). My formula consists of  50% of potting soil (1 large bag of potting soil, 2 cubic ft size), 25% coconut fiber (available in pressed bricks or bags) and 25% vermiculite. This will give the soil enough lightness and water retention for seeds to grow. Next I add  2 C. of slow release fertilizer (polymer coated 14-14-14 or 16-16-16) to the soil mixture. This will give the seedlings some baby food once they germinate, and allow them to grow in the soil until you are ready to transplant them to bigger pots. All kinds of containers can be re-purposed for seed starting. Make sure you cut holes on the bottom for drainage. Fill the containers with the soil mixture and sow your selection of seeds, cover the seeds with a thin layer of the soil mixture, water then tap it down to make sure the seeds have good contact with the soil. Keep your containers in a warm spot, keep them moist, with a little TLC they should germinate soon. Keep in mind, fresh seeds will germinate sooner than old ones, so buy high quality seeds whenever you can.
Long maturing vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants must be started indoors, while short maturing types can be direct sowed. When sowing out doors and transplanting always keep a close watch on the temperature, especially pay attention to soil temperature.
The following is the dates I sow my seeds:
Jan.: Onions, green onions;
Feb-March: Indoors: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants; Outdoors: peas, spinach, beets, fava beans.
April-May: indoor/outdoor: radishes, lettuce, cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi), zucchinis and watermelons.
June: Beans, soy beans, cucumbers, melons, carrots, just about anything can be sowed or transplanted to the garden by now.
Here's a little something special about cucumbers: I really like cucumbers and would do everything I could to get an early harvest. You can start cucumbers indoors, but I generally do not recommend that. Cucumber roots are extremely tender, they don't fare well when transplanting. It take them a long time to recover from the shock. From my experience, it is better just to sow them direct. If you do wish to get an early harvest, use other methods such as covering the sowing sites or use a cold frame over the cucumber seeds you sow.
And for a fall crop sow seeds at the end of July and early August. Many vegetables do well in the fall. By then a lot of your crop are cleared out of the garden. Planting a fall crop is a great way to extend the fresh veggies all the way into the winter. That will be the subject of another blog.

Do you know Caponata can be frozen?

Back in September I had a surplus of eggplants. Since I love caponata so much, I made a huge batch. Ever heard of the phrase "too much of a good thing can be bad"? Yep, it was a problem, there was no way I could eat all that caponata in a couple of weeks. In a desperate attempt to keep it from spoiling, I bagged them up and froze them. And promptly forgot about them. Now it's January I am starting to yearning the fresh taste of the summer. Looking into my freezer I spotted my frozen capanata. I retrieved a bag, let it thaw in the refrigerator and the next day heated some up in the microwave... WOW! I was hit with the full flavor of the summer! I bought a loaf of baguette, sliced it up and lightly toasted the slices, and topped with capanata. It is truly a great treat in a gloomy winter day :~)

Herbs I woundn't want to live without

Herbs are essential for good eating. The ones that win my favors are: garlic, parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, cilantro and green onion. Among these some you need to plant every year, some are perennials that make good garden features in your flower garden or boarders. The good new is they are easy to grow. Let's take a look at each of them and how to grow and use them.
Basil:The king of herbs. It is an annual herb in most of the regions with four seasons. Basil the the bed rock of Mediterranean cooking. It is great with fresh made pasta, in salads and for pesto making. One of my favorite is Basil Butter which is a must have in every summer table.
Garlic: There are so substitutes to a clove of fresh garlic! It has a sweet after taste when eating raw to me. To grow garlic here in the Pacific Northwest, select large cloves and sow them in November before the ground is frozen. They will grow a little shoots and these shoots are hardy to the winter cold and snow. When spring arrives they will grow and produce a large bulb underneath. By July the bulbs will be large enough to eat. Steal a few fresh garlic to eat, bend over the tops of the rest so the nutrients will go to the garlic instead of the stems. Harvest the rest of the garlic by fall. A nice side benefit of growing garlic is the garlic shoots. These are tender and sweet when harvested early stage, and are very good stir-fried with chicken, pork or beef. Fresh garlic can be pickled. When dried properly, garlic will last a long time. I also use a large amount of garlic when making pesto with my basil.To grow good quality garlic, you need to sow them every year. Sometimes if you don't harvest all your bulbs below ground, they will come back year after year. These "volunteers" tend to be smaller in size, although they taste the same, it's a lot of work to peel them.
Thyme: Thyme comes in many varieties, there is regular thyme, lemon thyme and pineapple thyme. Thyme is a perennial. It is made of many skinny branches and spreads out in a circular pattern. Once in a while, I give the whole plant a "haircut", that is cutting across the whole plant to shorten the branches. This will spring many new shoots from the base of the plant and make the plant fuller. Thyme lends itself well in many dishes, chicken, soups, pot roasts and seafood. Although thyme is almost like a evergreen, it grows much slower in the winter, so dry the excess thyme is a good idea.
Oregano: Oregano is a must in tomato sauce, pizza and Greek salad with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. It is a low growing perennial with lots of thin branches, much like the thyme. Oregano has larger leaves than thyme. It tends to be on a weedy side and spread quick easily. So try to keep it contained is the key. Give it a "haircut" when the thin branches get too long same way as thyme, the plant will be fuller. Excess leaves can also be dried. Oregano is great in home made tomato sauce.
Parsley: Parsley is a bi-annual, meaning the second year plant produce seed stalk. Parsley is easy to grow, it grow into a luscious plant given the right condition. Parsley is VERY hardy. They survive the frost quite well.You can keep enjoying them until the hard frost hits. Plant parsley in the spring, o start them each year, or buy starts from nurseries. I use fresh parsley extensively, add chopped parsley to scrambled eggs, make herb butter with garlic, chopped parsley and butter. The herb butter can be used to make garlic bread, or put in boiled vegetables such as green beans, broccoli or brush on sliced eggplant before grilling. Another application I grew quite found of is a green sauce I make for my grilled meats or fish. The recipe is on my seed packet for parsley. It's of south American origin, I believe is called Chimichurri Sauce. My version is consist of parsley, cilantro, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. It is DELICIOUS and somewhat addictive. Another way to use parsley is to make the middle eastern food called tabouli salad. There are many versions of this. My favorite is a salad made with parsley, mint, bulgur wheat (or coos coos), tomatoes, lemon juice... Ahhhhh, fresh parsley! One reason I look forward to summer. As with the other herbs, excess parsley can be dried and they are great for winter soup, cioppino (a tomato based seafood stew) with some crusty garlic bread, yummmmm!
Rosemary:Rosemary is a beautiful bush with blue hue. It is easy to maintain once established. However they will not stand sever cold. Both of my established plants died in the big snow storm we had a couple of years ago. I now planted a couple varieties. One of them, a tougher, woodier variety is suppose to be more cold hardy than the more tender leaf variety. Rosemary taste great in pork, beef and lamb. One thing I like to make in the summer is rosemary garlic fries, which is french fried potatoes topped with chopped rosemary and garlic infused bread crumbs (add your salt and pepper to taste). Try it! It's surprisingly good.
Sage: Sage is a beautiful woody plant that makes a good corner anchoring plant. And it is a great culinary herb. Sage taste good with poultry, pork and veal. It also taste good in soups. Sage is like an evergreen, it maintains its leaves in the winter so it's a great herb to have around, particularly for the winter.
Cilantro: Cilantro is an annual herb. It needs to be planted every year, better yet, several times a year. It's a nice herb to keep around especially when the tomatoes, peppers come to maturity. Yea, nothing like fresh salsa! Cilantro tends to bolt in when the days gets longer, try to plant them in shady area. It can be quite cold hardy, so I always start a batch or two at the end to summer to ensure I have fresh cilantro well into fall.
Green Onions: