Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Garden is In!

Of course, when moving into a new home the first thing that NEEDS to be done is to put in the garden... well...maybe not need per say, but it definitely is more fun than packing and cleaning houses!  Today was my day to put in my spring garden in the nice pre-made beds.

Two of the beds were put to sleep for the winter with compost and covered, the other three needed some love in the form of weeding and tilling.  While I am far from finished planting (since I still have three beds that I can fill), today was very productive and I am no longer behind schedule.

"Behind schedule? In March? How can that happen"

Here in the high desert, spring is the very short time between February freezes (mid teens at night, 40's in day) and May sweltering (60's at night, 90's in day). It is windy, moody, and in general a wonderful time of year for being outside without a long sleeved shirt, but not quite ready for shorts--except for that whole wind and moodiness I mentioned. For example: In the past two days it drizzled, then snowed, then just went to 40mph winds--all over the lunch hour. Today it was in the low 70's, sunshine, just enough breeze to be comfortable--in short it was beautiful.  Welcome to spring in Central New Mexico.

Now that you know what spring really means here, you can probably guess that most "spring" plants don't have long to live before being blown away and dried out by the wind, or getting too hot and melting in the sunshine... unless they freeze to death...  I tend to stick with organically grown seeds when I can get them, and I attempt (though am rarely successful) at finding heirloom or non-hybrid varieties of plants. This is the middle of nowhere, and shipping can be painful for a small packet of seeds.

The garden so far has my transplanted perennials: rhubarb and artichoke, along with a chard plant that refuses to die. To the right of the photo are a bunch of snow peas (the trellis is just visible), some radishes, and the artichoke.  This little bed is only about 2 feet by six feet, but is great for these babies.
The next bed is much bigger, about 10 feet by 4 feet.
This bed was all ready to go and only needed a little tilling to get it ready for planting. It now has garlic (planted at the other house last November), spinach, lettuce, onions, scallions, beets, and radishes. I was given the onions, and leafy greens by a friend who bought too many. I babied them along till I could plant them outside. Here is a closer look at the greener side of the beds (before putting in a soaker hose)

Those babies look pretty sad now, but I think most of them will perk up

I planted most of the seeds pretty close to each other since I am not too worried about pests or having to walk between rows.  I also installed a soaker hose in the large bed so that I do not have to water from above...and can be lazy.  

I do have two more large beds to plant... something in. Carrots, peas maybe, who knows what else. I may leave them alone and just have them ready to plant the summer vines later on in the season.  In addition to those two, there is a 4 foot diameter stock pond (now filled with soil) that will be the potato and marigold place. Why marigolds? I hear that they keep away some of the pests that like to eat my taters!  I even have a bag of organic potatoes that are desperately trying to sprout under my countertop, so I figured that I could put them to good use. That will have to wait for another day, as it was plenty of work to get the garden mostly up and running.
 The two beds that still needs some loving

The best part of this garden is it is an excuse to play in the dirt outside. I remember helping (or hindering) my Great Grandfather in his huge garden long ago, now I am putting some of his knowledge to work for my own garden. (Memories of him in his garden always hit me whenever I am in a shady garden with trellises--all good memories. Tasty too!)  Maybe if he and green thumb is watching he can keep an eye on me and my garden--probably shaking his head and saying "no no, you're doin' it wrong"... but a funny thought anyway.

Are you planning on gardening this year? What are you planning on planting--or are you somewhere that you have already planted?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pi Day! (Belated)

Here in the small college town I live in, we take Pi day seriously. Now I am late, I know, but I have to share the photos of the pies that my housemate and I made for the celebration of all things round and preferably with pi (e) in the name.  All told we made 4 dessert pies, 1 spinach pie, and pizza pies for everyone at the house (including my own gluten free one since I only had enough flours to make mine).  Everything was gluten free--including the cherry pie with lattice.

So without further ado here are some photos:

The Chocolate Pie with Pecan/Chocolate Crust

The Lemon Buttermilk Pie with Homemade Butter Crust
Cheesecake (...pre-nibbled) with Nut Crust
And the Cherry Pie with Lattice Top

I am sad to say I had not tried making a lattice top pie out of gluten-free flours until this attempt and it seemed to turn out pretty darn well. The only things that made me cringe were the unfinished edges because I partially baked the bottom crust. It is really hard to treat it like glutened pie crust when half the crust is baked already!   The crust did end up nice and flaky on top, and fairly flaky on the bottom with the fresh cherry pie filling (yup--real cherries, half of which I pitted myself) sandwiched inside.

So how did I make that lattice on top? Fantastic use of the freezer and plastic wrap.

  • To roll out dough I use two sheets of plastic wrap and reposition it frequently since gluten free crusts are notoriously sticky/crumbly. 
  • While I was waiting for the bottom pie crust to partially bake I formed another circle of pie dough (thicker than you would for a gluten lattice top--about 1/8" total) about the size of the pie top.  
  • Slice into strips, once again thicker than for regular gluten dough since I was not interested in having those strips break. 
  • Here is the biggie: Freeze the long strips for at least 3 minutes before making your lattice. 
  • Form the lattice on the plastic wrap and place flat in the freezer for at least another 3 minutes or till fairly firm.  
  • After you dump your filling into the pan, take the lattice out of the freezer and invert onto the pie and filling.  
  • Trim the edges and squish the edges to form some sort of edge... this is where my pie failed
  • Brush with cream or beaten egg if the filling does not need much cook time so that it browns
  • Cook till flaky and golden or till filling is done (Cherry pie doesn't need much time, but I forgot to brush on the cream so it is rather pale, but flaky and tasty)

The next time I make a lattice top I will post individual photos, but this time all you get is finished (and slightly nibbled) works of tastiness. If anyone has any questions just give a yelp and I will try to answer them. If you have never made a lattice top pie before, they really are lovely, but the verdict is still out if it is worth it to deal with gluten-free lattices.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fishy Notes for New Fish Munchers

I just typed this up for another blogger I follow, over at Learning How to Cook...Gluten Free! and thought that it might be a good idea to post this up here. It is a work in progress and I will have to update this again as I really should be in bed and not typing right now, but here it goes anyway:

Fish can be tricky, but there are a lot of ways to cook it--pan fried (once again till "flaky"), baked, battered and fried, raw in sushi/sashimi (only from a restaurant or sushi grade please...)

If you are just starting out on the world of fish, stick to the frozen pre-filleted packets, like your tillapia. If you are really short on time you can often just cook those babies in boiling water in the plastic packaging (look at the box for ideas) and season after it is out.

I tend to be pretty plain on fish, and just have some starch like rice or potatoes and some beans, peas, or other veggie, but it really doesn't stop there... I am just lazy. You can crumble it up and put it in chowder after you cook the fish, saute with some butter and capers and serve over pasta (look online for recipes).

I have a recipe for gluten free battered halibut on my blog that works well for any thick fish, but beware--it can be a mess to make. Messy but oh so tasty.

Now onto braver fare:
If you happen to be near a coastline you might want to hop down to a fish market some day to see what is there and talk to the people. Many places have someone who is willing to show you how to cut up fish, or they will do it for you for no charge.

If you are looking for fresh whole fish, look to see that the eyes are not sunken in and the skin/meat is not discolored. If you can see cuts of the fish, look to see that the flesh is firm and not mushy or pulling apart (that means that it is old).

I live in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, so I have to stick with fresh frozen food unless I want a case of food poisoning. I have learned to ask my meat market guy if they still have some fish frozen in the back instead of what they thaw and place out as "fresh" and normally he is willing to grab me some from the back so I know it is as fresh as possible (often times frozen at the docks, before it ever sees land). This works best with whole fish, but I often find Halibut (tasty and not fishy, but meaty) and Salmon (um... firm, fishier than Halibut, and available everywhere--Pacific is much better than Atlantic for taste and texture).

Oh boy... now that I have overwhelmed you I have one more thing. Eat fish from people who cook with it, or from restaurants that cook it in ways you like. Then either ask how they did it (if a friend) or look at the menu and jot down the main words to look up later online for recipes. The internet is a great place to learn about cooking and the restaurants will give you an idea of a few places to start.

Other notes:
Cheap and tasty fish:
--Catfish (depending on where you are, can be mushy sometimes, great deep fried)
--Sole (much like tillapia, a bit fishier)
--Tilapia/Cod (cheap and hard to mess up, but not impossible)

Medium cost:
--Salmon (Pacific is all around better than Atlantic, but more expensive, flexible but good with teriyaki dishes or other sweet preparations)
--Halibut (tastes a lot like Tilapia, but firmer and a little more fishiness, good with savory flavors like dill)
--Trout (best cooked whole in a pan, or baked)

More expensive:
--Swordfish (very firm, steaklike)
--Tuna (called Ahi or yellowfin tuna, fishy taste but often used in sushi)

If you like shrimp, they are done when they turn completely pink (they start out greyish) and I highly suggest buying the pre-shelled frozen variety for new cooks... deveining shrimp is a pain in the rear.

Enough fishiness for now, please feel free to add in ideas in comments as I am sure that other people more near actual water can have more suggestions than land-locked me. I miss living near cold water oceans... the fish were so darn tasty (and crab, which the rest of my family loves and I am allergic to, is highly abundant)

On a completely different note: Sorry for the lack of updates, but I have been managing to buy a house and starting the garden while working and going to classes... and now will be moving during those activities. Posts will continue to be random... but I will have all new gardens to take a stab at, and a new kitchen to try out! Wish me luck! ... and any suggestions for a new home owner would also be appreciated!