Thursday, January 29, 2015

Winter Sowing

About 15 years ago, I came across a completely alien concept of gardening to me. It basically described a process of sowing flower, herb, and vegetable seeds in covered containers in the middle of winter, and then placing those containers outside to deal with the elements...snow, ice, and all. The sowing rate for this method was extremely high and it seemed so effortless. How could that be?

At the time, I was living in Florida and was jealous of how northern gardeners were able to catch such a break. Growing anything in Florida was hard work, despite its image of being a lush paradise, so just putting some seeds in some dirt and leaving them alone for months was incomprehensible. I printed out that information I found 15 years ago and saved it. I knew, even then, that someday I would move from Florida and get to experience a whole other gardening world.

We moved up here to Virginia 4 1/2 years ago. The first two years were spent renting a home and getting grounded to where we were. We bought our house 2 1/2 years ago and I was finally able to pull out those pages I printed and get to work.

Turns out, winter sowing (what it is called) has become very trendy. Take a few minutes and go on Pintrest to find out for yourself. I gave it a stab last year and was truly amazed that every single thing I winter sowed sprouted. Every. Single. Thing.

Last year I planted in styrofoam cups that were placed inside Rubbermaid tubs, but found they dried out very easily and needed a lot of pampering. I also used sterilized potting mix, which although the seeds sprouted, they were missing the extra nutrients. This year, I used regular ole', pre-fertilized potting mix and just placed it in my tubs. Here's hoping...

The concept of winter sowing is based on that most seeds require some form of stratification (cold hibernation) in order to sprout. Most sowing failures occur because there wasn't enough or any stratification in place. In fact, some seeds won't sprout without it. By planting the seeds in protected, mini-greenhouses in the winter time, the seeds get their stratification and are protected from the elements.

Most people simply use empty milk jugs, just as long as some filtered light can come in. I wanted to plant on a bigger scale and not have a "milk jug ghetto" in my yard. Winter sowing containers have to have holes drilled in the bottoms and tops for drainage and ventilation, and there needs to be at least 4" of soil depth.

When you plant the seeds, you water the soil with warm water ONE TIME, put the lid on and forget about it until spring. Any snow or rain will filter in from the holes in the top of the tubs and provide additional moisture and the lids prevent over evaporation. You can see in the image above that there is ice on the inside of the lid.

The seeds I plant in January require very long stratification periods and are mostly flowers. Right now, I have planted Hollyhocks, Oriental Poppies, Columbines, Borage, Nasturtium, and Bunny Tail Grass. In March, I will winter sow tubs with vegetables, herbs, and more sensitive flowers. When the seeds sprout, I have to keep an eye on temperatures and slowly start to acclimate them to the outside by propping up the lids. When the seedlings are big enough, I will transplant them to individual pots or even directly in the ground. I won't have 8" tall tomato seedlings to plant in May, but they will catch up!

Last year, it was interesting to see that it didn't take long for my winter sowed tomato seedlings to catch up to the store-bought seedlings I planted in May. Not to mention cheaper and better tasting!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How To Use a Pressure Cooker: Beef Stew

Imagine having fork-tender-from-cooking-all-day beef stew in less than an hour total! 

If you live in the Northeast today, I hope you are safe and warm from last night's blizzard. I am thankful that many didn't get it as bad as they predicted and I am thoughtful of those who are in the mess of it.

In the Washington, DC area, we had a dusting, some ice, and basically cold, cold weather. Perfect for beef stew, amiright?

This recipe is a little involved in the preparation, but it's worth it and it makes a lot of stew. So, with that in mind, let's make some stew!

Pressure Cooker Beef Stew

1-3 lbs stew meat, cut into chunks
Flour, salt, and pepper for dredging beef
Vegetable oil
1 onion chopped
1 sweet potato, cut into chunks
2-3 cups beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 packet brown gravy mix
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Cornstarch for thickening if needed

Preheat sautee pan over medium heat with 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. While heating, dredge beef chunks in seasoned flour (amount depends on how much beef you use for the stew) and set aside. When the oil is hot enough, brown the beef chunks on each side until light brown, about 1-2 minutes per side. Remove beef from pan, set aside, and continue browning the rest of the beef. Add more vegetable oil for each batch if needed.

When all the beef is browned, add the beef and all the remaining ingredients to your pressure cooker, lock the lid, and heat over medium high heat until the cooker comes to pressure. Once at pressure, start timing to cook for 25 minutes. At 25 minutes, move he pressure cooker to a cool burner on your stove and let depressurize naturally for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, release the pressure manually via the manual pressure release valve on your cooker. 

Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the stew needs a little thickening, place the opened cooker over medium heat and heat to a simmer. Make a slurry with a little cornstarch and stew gravy, then add to the beef stew. Stir till thickened to desired consistency. Serve over cooked rice or mashed potatoes!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

I've seen this cauliflower pizza crust recipe all over Pintrest for the past year and thought, "How in the world is that even possible?" until I stumbled across this Pin originally from Detoxinista. After reading all the comments from her post, I thought, "Alright, I have to give this a try."

Now, neither my husband or I are gluten intolerant, but we do notice a huge improvement with weight loss and less joint inflammation when we stay away from grains. However, it's hard to do that when you love pizza, amiright? That alone was enough motivation, plus sheer culinary curiosity to give this a go.

Let me caveat to say that this crust is NOT like what you are used to in a pizza crust. It is not crunchy (except in a few of the more browned areas) and it is not really rigid enough to eat by hand, although I did manage to pick up a slice or two without it falling apart. The crust is more of a biscuit-y type consistency and overall NOT THAT BAD!

I did change the recipe a little based on some of the comments from Detoxinista's post and added a little almond flour for binding. This seemed to help a lot. I was able to find Bob's Red Mill Almond Flour in the organic section of my local grocery store.

Perfect Califlower Crust Pizza
Recipe Source: Detoxinsta 

4 cups of cauliflower "rice" (see below)
1/3 cup goat cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 400°.

To make cauliflower rice, cut up cauliflower florets and place in a food processor. Process in pulses until cauliflower is fine ground to the size between rice grains and cornmeal.

Place processed cauliflower in a saucepan with an inch of water and bring to a boil. Simmer to cook for approximately 4-5 minutes. When finished, pour cauliflower into a thin mesh strainer to drain and cool. When cool enough to handle, place cooked cauliflower inside a piece of cheesecloth or cotton dish towel. Ball the cauliflower up and twist the towel to squeeze as much liquid out of the cauliflower as possible...the drier the better. You will be left with a baseball size amount of cauliflower.

Mix the cauliflower with the remaining ingredients, ensuring the goat cheese is well distributed. This mixture will resemble a gummy dough, but don't worry, it will firm up in the oven. Press the dough (about 1/4 inch deep) onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, making sure to build up the edges a little. Bake the crust approximately 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and add your toppings (not too heavy!) and place back in the oven for 10-15 minutes more until the cheese is bubbly, Remove pizza from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before cutting to allow the crust to firm up a little. Enjoy!

NOTE: I would also recommend prepping more than one head of cauliflower at a time and possibly freezing the unused drained and squeezed cooked cauliflower rice. Detoxinista mentions that you could bake an empty crust and freeze, but I think it would pick up too much moisture. Resqueeze the defrosted, cooked cauliflower rice before continuing.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

God, I Hope So!

Happy New Year everyone! Damn, I'm glad the holidays are over. I have a new-ish gig that allows me to work entirely from home and I thought I would be all, "I GOT YOU CHRISTMAS" this year, but I actually had less enthusiasm and energy to do any of the madness. It all just irritated me, frankly.

I'm starting to order my seeds for this year's garden, but I need to deal with last year's ground cherries, sour cherries, and other frozen fruit-odds-and-ends in the freezer. My larder is looking kinda bare, but I'm still well stocked with tomato goodness.

I have been trying to come up with an exotic flavor profile for the ground cherry jam and took to consulting with my copy of The Flavor Bible to see what would go well with things that taste kinda pineapple-y and mango-y. From what I gleaned from there and the internets, oranges and anise, coconut, banana, vanilla, rum, ginger, lime...great, now I want a Pina Colada! I was thinking a ground cherry, orange, star anise combo....dunno. Oooh, how about ground cherry rosemary? That sort of rolls off the tongue.

I have MAJ home improvement plans for this year, which include upgrading the kitchen with new backsplash tile, a vented stove hood, painted cabinets, and new lights. I've gone over how I'm going to do this a hundred times in my head. I'm ready!

I have a gorgeous vintage Italian brass chandelier that I found on Craigslist that I want to hang in my laundry room, but its 50-year old, low-voltage transformer technology is kicking my butt. I found that it needs a Magnetic Toroidal Transformer....say that five times fast!

All this to include getting quotes for a ground-level deck for the back yard. We need something off the back porch where we can put the grill and not have to trek through wet or muddy grass when we want to BBQ.

I know this all sounds like a lot, so here's to a new year with new goals and new experiences ahead!

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