A Plant I Like

Most people who have seen my garden this season have asked me what the giant thistle is.  Believe it or not, the plant is a giant thistle better known as a globe artichoke.  Each year, I try to plant one or two things that I have never grown before.  In the past, this has included kholrabi, fennel and broccoli raab.  After the Notorious B. I. G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) made fried artichokes for us, I decided that the artichoke was going to be in my garden for the first time this season.

The globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a perennial thistle of the genus Cynara originating in Southern Europe around the Mediterranean. It grows tall, with arching, deeply lobed, silvery-green leaves 10–20 inches long.  The flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud about 3–5 inches in diameter with numerous triangular scales.  The individual florets are purple.  The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions and the base, known as the “heart”; the mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the “choke” or beard.  These are inedible in older larger flowers.

I grew my plants from seeds under the grow light in the basement.  The seeds are a variety known as Imperial Star.  Specifically bred for annual production, Imperial Star produces artichokes the first season from seed.  Typically 6-8 mature buds, averaging 3-4 inches in diameter, are grown per plant.  Imperial Star plants grow 3-4 feet tall.

My artichoke plants in the garden have really flourished.  They seem to grow every hot and humid day that we have.  So far, they have required little, if any, special attention.  The next phase should be the flowering of the plants and then the formation of the artichoke that we know and can eat.  I’ll keep you posted on our fun new find as the plants continue to mature during this gardening season.

P. S. –  for those of you who read the cabbage murder mystery post, notice my sad cabbage plants in the back of this picture.  As well, notice the bowl of beer or as we call it in my garden, the slug’s swimming pool.  Not looking good for some home-grown cabbage this year!!

First Casualty In The Garden…A Murder Mystery

It happens every year.  You plant your garden and know deep down inside of you that there will be some sort of problem that happens before you even harvest your first vegetable.  You get yourself ready for the disappointment.  You think about what will be the type of bug that wipes something out.  If it is not a bug, maybe some sort of critter.  You look at all of your plantings and try to figure out which one will be affected.  You vow to do your best to combat whatever it is that is hurting your garden.  Then it happens.  This year, I’m calling the problem “The Case Of The Murdered Cabbages”.  I swear to you that three hours after planting my cabbage plants, I returned to the garden to find the little plants munched down to almost nothing by some sort of villain.  The problem is that I just couldn’t figure out who the culprit was.

What would do this so quickly and thoroughly?  While I was digging some cabbages up and replacing them with new plants and trimming the little arms of others, it dawned on me.  It was a woodchuck.  Why you ask?  Well, the Notorious B. I. G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) had mentioned that she saw a furry animal running around the back yard a couple of times during the week.  Since raccoons only come out at night, I just knew it was a woodchuck she had seen and the same critter ate my baby cabbages.  Remember, the fence around the back yard keeps the deer out, so my only logical solution had to be that a woodchuck had squeezed under the fence and ate my cabbages.  Always having a flair for the dramatic, I quickly put a two-step plan of action in motion.  First, I would put a small fence around my new raised beds.  Yes, it is a fence within a fence.  I quickly worked to build a small green plastic fence around my two new raised beds and then the new secured garden would have the deer fence around it as well for added protection.  Second, I would call a local hunter that I knew from the area and have him lay a couple of humane traps.  The traps would catch the critter and then we could transport it to a far away wooded area where it could eat dead leaves and weeds.  That’s what a woodchuck eats for dinner…not baby cabbage plants.  The fence was installed….the traps were laid……all was good in cabbage land.

Then it happened again!  Nearly a week later.  When I saw the little nibbled purple cabbage plants, I got weak in my knees.  How could this happen again?  After spending $200 on my make-shift fence and trapping a raccoon, a squirrel and some other type of critter that my friend told me I didn’t want to know about, the cabbage murderer was still stalking the premises.  I felt violated.  I felt angry.  I wanted revenge.

It was off to the nursery for some more cabbage plants.  I had run out of the ones that I grew from seeds under my grow light.  At the nursery, I told my murder mystery story to anyone who would listen.  One of the nursery employees told me that it sounded like a slug infestation.  Slugs?  Those little snail-like creatures without a shell?  Could they do this much damage?  Can they eat this much?  I left with some new cabbage plants and some Sluggo, an organic pellet that kills slugs dead.  I also put out two bowls filled with beer.  Slugs like their booze.  When they reach for the beer, they fall into the suds and then that’s it for them.  They drown, but drown drunk, which is probably the best way to go in my opinion.  So far the Sluggo and beer seem to be working.  My cabbages seem to be growing.

I’ll keep you posted.  Also, if you see the displaced raccoon, squirrel and the unnamed creature that I had transported to another wooded area, let them know I am sorry and I will pick them up and bring them back to Glen Road on Saturday afternoon.  As well, let me know if you have any ideas (other than a slug) on what is eating my cabbage.  Help me solve “The Case Of The Murdered Cabbages”.

You Reap What You Sow, So Here’s What I Sowed

First planted seed of 2012 in my garden – it’s a green bean seed.

Deciding what to plant in my two new raised garden beds should have been a lot easier than it actually was.  Given my space restrictions, it is important for me to answer a few questions on what I am going to grow and not grow each planting season.  First, I always ask:

What types of vegetables do I like to eat?

Now comes the second question:

Of these vegetables, which ones can I plant knowing they will give me a fair return?  I do not want to plant something that only produces two or three items in a season.  I want volume from the plants I grow in my garden.

Finally, I ask myself:

Is there anything exotic out there to grow that I would like to tackle this season?  This year the answer was artichokes.

A lone beet seed.

So here is what made it into my two new raised beds this year.  As was the case last year, the majority of these seeds were purchased from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and are organic and not genetically modified.  I also tried a new seed supplier this year, Fedco Seeds, and the seeds are also organic and not genetically modified.  Interestingly enough, both companies are in Waterville, Maine.  Here’s what made it:

  • Purple Top White Globe Turnips
  • Blue Lake Green Beans – Bush
  • Specialty Spring Broccoli Raab**
  • Mayfair Shell Peas – this is my first year planting shell peas.  I am going to have them grow up a piece of livestock paneling that I bought at a local farm implement store.
  • Three Root Grex Beet – multi-colored beets all in one seed packet.
  • Early Green Tendersweet Cabbage**
  • Imperial Star Globe Artichokes** – my experiment this year.  Already, the two artichoke plants seem to be the most hearty in the garden.
  • Italian Traviata Eggplant**
  • Olympus Green Peppers**
  • Celebrity Red Short Vine Tomato**
  • Green Zebra Tall Vine Tomato**
  • Mariana Tomato** – supposed to provide a superior tomato for sauce and salsa.

** = seeds were planted early Spring and grown into plants under my grow light.

I am glad to say that all of the seeds and plants are in the ground and just need to grow.  As well, I appreciated the fact that my two new beds are built so I can go on all sides of the two rectangles with ease.  My old garden didn’t allow for easy access to all sides of the beds.  Here’s hoping for a strong growing season this year!  How is your garden growing so far this season?

All lined up and ready to grow. Two more green bean seeds placed in my garden.

A Garden With Sun…Such A Novel Idea

I’m very proud of my new piles of dirt.  Actually, this is one of two new raised bed garden plots that I’m using this season to grow vegetables.  I think it is hard to garden here in Connecticut.  Much harder than what I remember when I used to garden with my family in Iowa.  I have fought hard against all the various critter attacks on my garden, the soil filled with rocks of all sizes and shapes and the long periods of rain followed by long periods of heat.  What I wasn’t prepared for was when I discovered the raised beds I had constructed last year didn’t seem to get enough sun.  When everything just stopped growing when the trees took on all of their leaves, I knew I was in trouble.  I thought I should give up gardening.  However, I realized that even without much produce from my own garden, the whole process was a valued hobby and I enjoyed my time in the yard and in the garden.  It was time to build some more raised beds, but this time I needed to find a spot with sun.  A novel idea if I say so myself!  A garden?  With sun?  Who would have figured!

The two new raised beds are right in the back yard protected inside the 6 foot deer fence that surrounds the property.  The spot is not as optimal as the old garden site, but there is no doubt that it receives very long periods of direct sunlight.  The sun shines for hours and hours on the spots.  So it is time for the planting to begin.  Every year I’m surprised what happens along the gardening journey.  I’m sure there will be plenty of surprises this year as well…..realizing that the garden doesn’t get enough sun should not be one of them.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

My Brooklyn-Born Italians Demand Ricotta Cheesecake

As you know from many earlier posts, I am out numbered here on Glen Road by Brooklyn-born Italians.  There’s nothing wrong with that especially given my love of Italian food.  Most of the Italian cravings are taken care of by cooking from the Notorious B. I. G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother).  However, every so often, I am asked to cook something that the troops used to get in Brooklyn.  A good example came when I was asked if I could make “franks on club” meaning you take a hot dog and grill it, then you slice it length wise and serve it on a club roll.  This was served up in a favorite Brooklyn diner and, just so you know, I have yet to attempt this culinary delight.  Another recent request that I did sign up for was to make a cheesecake.  Not regular cheesecake made with cream cheese, but Italian style, using fresh ricotta cheese.  To be honest, I have made the ricotta cheesecake twice before the most recent request and, although it tasted good, it was not a pretty cheesecake because it had cracks on the top.  So this time I signed up to make another one and decided to try to find a way to prevent the severe cracked top that I had experienced with cheesecakes from my past.

There are a lot of ways via the internet to prevent cracking.  From one post that said to spackle up the cracks with some softened ricotta to another post that said to take the cheesecake out of the oven every five minutes and vigorously shake it back and forth.  Honestly, I’m not buying these two solutions.  The one I eventually decided to try (with success!) was one that explained that cheesecake is made with lots of eggs.  In the cooking process, these eggs actually expand which is why the cake rises.  However, when taken out of the oven to a much cooler temperature, the eggs constrict so rapidly that the cheesecake cracks.  The trick to a smooth-topped cheesecake is to cool the cake off in a much slower fashion so that the eggs don’t constrict too quickly and cause cracking.  This solution starts by reducing the cooking time written in the recipe by fifteen minutes.  When the revised cooking time is complete, you simply turn off the oven and do not open the oven door.  Leave the cake in the oven for one more hour so that it continues to cook, but also slowly cools as the oven loses heat.  Let me tell you…it worked!  So here’s my recipe, modified to use my new non-cracking trick with the oven.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pan
  • 1/4 cup sugar, plus more for pan
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese, pureed in a food processor until smooth
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Generously butter and sugar a 9-inch springform pan.  In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg yolks, flour, half the sugar (6 tablespoons) and salt until combined; set aside.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on low-speed until foamy.  With the mixer on high-speed, gradually add the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar, beating until whites are stiff and glossy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Using a rubber spatula, fold a third of the egg-white mixture into the ricotta mixture until combined.  Gently fold in the remaining egg-white mixture until just combined.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake until the center is firm and the top is a deep golden brown.  To avoid cracking, bake 45 minutes and then turn oven off with cheesecake still inside the oven (do not open oven door).  Leave cheesecake in the oven another 1 hour to continue cooking and to slowly cool down.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.  Take a paring knife and run it around edge of cake and the cake pan to avoid sticking.  Place another wire rack on top of the pan and invert cake onto the rack to remove from pan.  Reinvert cake and cool completely, top side up.  Cake should be eaten the same day it is baked, however, it can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Short Ribs With Tagliatelle

I really haven’t gotten out the pots and pans and did some real cooking since the New Year began, so I thought the long President’s Day weekend was the perfect opportunity for me to get back into the swing of things.  With my annual beginning of a new year diet and a busy work schedule over, the long weekend seemed perfect for me to get back into the kitchen.  Even though we’ve had a very mild Winter, the temperatures are still dropping below freezing, so I thought some comfort food was in order.  With that in mind, I settled on short ribs with tagliatelle.  Short ribs that simmer on the stove for an entire afternoon with a condensed sauce containing minced vegetables, beef broth and red wine sounded perfect.  This thick and rich sauce is then spooned over tagliatelle, which are long, thin, flat strips of pasta about 1/4 inch wide.  It is very similar to fettuccine.  This recipe is an old Giada recipe given to me by a friend and has been slightly modified from the original.  The final result can be a little dry at times, so follow the recipe and save some pasta water to moisten the dish up if it does turn out to be on the dry side.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 ounces chopped pancetta (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 1/2 pounds short ribs
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 (14-ounce) can tomatoes (whole or diced)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1 pound fresh or dried tagliatelle

Directions:

Place the olive oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium heat.  Cook the pancetta until golden and crisp, about 4 minutes.  Meanwhile, season the short ribs with salt and pepper, and dredge in the flour.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta from the pan and set aside.  Add the short ribs to the pan and brown on all sides, about 7 minutes total.

Meanwhile, combine the onion, carrot, parsley and garlic in a food processor and blend until finely minced.  Then add the tomatoes and tomato paste and pulse.

Once the short ribs are browned, carefully add the mixture from the food processor to the pot.  Return the pancetta to the pot and stir.  Add the rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, beef broth and wine.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Remove the lid and simmer for another hour and a half, stirring occasionally.  Remove the meat and bones from the pot.  Discard the bones.  Shred the meat and return it to the pot.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes for dried pasta and 2 to 3 minutes for fresh.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.  Add the pasta to the pot and stir to combine.  Add the reserved pasta liquid 1/4 cup at a time, if needed, to moisten the pasta.  Transfer to serving bowls and serve immediately.

Good Food From Fellow Bloggers

It’s funny how my recipe hunting habits have changed since we started Acorns On Glen.  I used to spend hours reading cookbooks to find that one recipe that was  perfect for that night’s dinner or just the right dessert to end a certain meal on a high note.  I love to cook, but have always cooked using recipes from cookbooks.  I envy people like the Notorious B.I.G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) that can cook a variety of dishes from memory, using just the right amount of this or that by feel versus measuring cups and spoons to get exactly the amount the recipe states.  I think it is the accountant in me that is the reason why I always cook from cookbook recipes.  I like to be able to read the step-by-step narrative and picture in my head what each step will look like and exactly when I will need to chop something or measure something out.

Cookbook reading can also turn into an expensive habit.  I have at least two bookcases full of them ranging from the newest selection from one of the chef’s on the Food Network to cookbooks from chefs that cook at one of the many restaurants we go to when staying in New York City or when we go on vacation.  So while I still spend a lot of time reading and looking for a recipe that will make that night’s perfect dish, I now do it through all the great cooks that blog here on WordPress.  Almost every day, I go into the list of WordPress topics and click on “Recipes” or “Food”.  That takes me into the best cookbook I have read in years.  I’ve been calling it “The WordPress Cookbook”.  There are so many cooks posting recipes for great dishes from all around the world and honestly, I’ve cooked a lot of them.

Which brings me to the sticky buns I made over the weekend from joshuafagans.  His writing about how they are his family’s Christmas tradition was great, but it was the picture of the buns themselves that made my mouth water.  I have to say that I don’t have great luck in making dough.  For whatever reason, my dough never seems to rise very high or seems like a big strip of rubber.  However, after seeing the picture from joshuafagans, I was ready for a little dough adventure.  Please read the original post over at joshuafagans and see how to make it the sane way as well as the quick way, which is pretty funny.  My version is below.  I followed the recipe exactly as written using the “sane” way….read his post and you’ll understand.  Thanks joshuafagans for such a great post and a delicious recipe!

  • 1 cup scalded milk (scalded milk is just heated milk.  You know you are there when bubbles come up on the sides of the pan, but the milk is not yet boiling)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 package yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 1/2 cups flour

Melt the butter in the scalded milk and allow to cool.  Soften the yeast in the water.  Mix milk mixture with the yeast, eggs, sugar, salt and flour.  I did this in a standing mixer until a ball formed and then took the dough out and kneaded it until smooth and elastic.  I let the dough rise for 3 hours inside of my oven with the “Proof” setting turned on.

Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a 10″ x 18″ rectangle.  Spread the butter onto each half.  Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over each rectangle.  Drizzle the syrup over both as well.

Roll the rectangles up in a jelly roll fashion and then slice each roll into 12 slices.  Place into two 9 inch cake pans and let rise for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 and bake until nice and brown, at least 30 minutes.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before taking out of the pan.

So give “The WordPress Cookbook” a try if you haven’t already.  If you make these sticky buns, be sure to stop by joshuafagans and thank him.  Enjoy!