A Fantastic Feast

Saag Paneer with Masaledar Sem

I’ve made this meal a couple of times now and have finally tweaked it sufficiently to our individual tastes. So much so that the original recipes no longer quite suits us. Although if you’d prefer the source materials, by all means, go for it! They’re sublime and probably better-written recipes. And by “probably,” I mean most certainly.

Homemade Paneer: Anna Jones A Modern Way to Eat
Palak Paneer: Food52
Masaledar Sem (Spicy Green Beans): Food52

If feel like you can trust me (and like me, you have a garden full of beans and chard that you need to use) then read on. And yes, I know that barren plates don’t make for the most appealing photos, but it was so good, we scraped ’em clean. All of us.

Saag Panner

Let’s start with the paneer. I know that the Food52 Palak Paneer recipe gives store-bought paneer the thumbs-up, but I have absolutely no idea why. Homemade paneer is pretty darn easy. (Assuming you don’t boil the milk over and flood your stovetop and coat the bottom of your Dutch oven with nasty scalded milk scum that will take you about an hour of steel wool scrubbing, leaving you with bloodied fingertips and ruined cheese.) Plus, it’s totally more delicious, if not more convenient, than that rubbery stuff you can purchase. And if you cook with kids, the Hurricane can attest that watching the curds form is cool kitchen science. So…

The Secret to Perfect Homemade Paneer

Watch it carefully. Then watch it some more. Do not, under any circumstances, leave the stove unattended to do some laundry, put your child in the shower, or pick the chard and green beans for the saag paneer and the masaledar sem. And when the recipe says “Pour the milk into a high-sided saucepan and place over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, stirring every now and again so the milk doesn’t form a skin,” do so. Only if you’re going for a gallon, go for the Dutch oven.

We like a lot of paneer in our in our saag so we doubled Ms. Jones’ recipe.

1 gallon whole milk (the better the milk the better the paneer, I’m sure, but Kroger milk is still more delicious that premade paneer.)
1/4 cup lemon juice (I far prefer real measurements to “the juice of 2 lemons” because that really doesn’t mean anything. Some lemon make more lemonade than others. True fact.)

Feel free to make this the day before. It’ll make your life easier. Then again, if you make it day of, all you’ll need to do is rinse out the pan and use it for the saag. Your call.

POD’s Saag Paneer, with thanks to Food52’s Palak Panner

If “palak” is spinach and “saag” is greens, “saag” it is because we’re using up an s-ton of Swiss chard here. I’m not on board with the creamy saag thing, as the paneer is creamy enough for me, but folks seem to love a creamy saag. Add 1/4 c. to 1/2 c. cream at the end if you’re feeling really decadent.

Serves 6-8

  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 lb Swiss card (wash it good, wash it real good. Remove the greens from the stems. Slice the greens into 1″ ribbons and then chop a little more. Slice up a cup of the stems as you would celery for a mirepoix and set them aside.)
  • Paneer (see above), cut into 1″ slabs/slices
  • 12-24 (your call) black peppercorns
  • 4-6 cardamom pods
  • 4-8 cloves
  • c. diced red onions, about 1/2-inch pieces
  • tablespoon ginger, peeled and grated
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • Thai chile diced (optional)
  • 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes (or whole tomatoes, squished. Reserve the liquid)
  • 1 small drizzle of honey or a pinch of sugar if you’re worried about acidity
  • 3/4 to 1 teaspoons salt
  • 2-3 teaspoon garam masala
  1. Pour 2 tablespoons oil in your not-scalded Dutch oven and turn the heat to medium. Once the oil is hot, dump the Swiss chard into the pan and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. After 5-10 minutes or so, the greens will wilt down (chard takes longer than spinach, so be patient). Once the chard is cool enough to handle, transfer it to a blender or food processor and purée.
  2. Boil 4 cups of water and once the water comes to a rolling boil, add paneer slabs. Turn the heat off after paneer has been in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cover with a lid for 12-20 minutes or so. Use a slotted spoon to remove the paneer from the water and then cut it into 1- by 1/2-inch pieces and set aside.
  3. Roughly crush peppercorns, cardamom, and cloves in a mortar and pestle and throw out the cardamom pods.
  4. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat (you can use the same Dutch oven). Add onions and chard stems and stir till they get a brownish tinge, then add ginger, garlic, and, if using, Thai chile pepper. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour chopped tomatoes followed by a touch of honey or a pinch of sugar. Once the tomatoes break down, add a splash of the reserved tomato juice and spice mix of peppercorns, cardamom, and cloves. Stir till the liquid evaporates and the onion/tomato mixture starts turning dark, about 9 to 10 minutes.
  5. Pour in blended spinach purée. Add salt and 1/2 cup tomato juice or water to adjust consistency. You can add a little bit more if you find the sauce is getting pasty.
  6. Once the spinach mixture boils, gently drop in paneer pieces. Let the paneer soak in the flavors and spices of the spinach purée for about 10 minutes.
  7. Add garam masala.

I find that this holds well, so I’d make this and keep it warm while you deal with the beans.

Masaledar Sem (Spicy Green Beans)

Well, folks, Food52 hit this one on the head. There’s nothing I can do to make it better. Except to warn you that a pound a half of green beans feeds three, not six.

Now, get cooking. And don’t forget the rice.

Despair and Redemption

Late Spring Harvest.jpgAfter descending into a pit of election-related despair for a few long months, we have emerged winners! Thanks to a new job, fresh vegetables, a happier Hurricane, and a brand-new Beta fish named Squiggles, we’re looking on the brighter side of life.

In celebration of my folks’ 49th anniversary and my own 19th, we triumphantly harvested $12-worth of fennel, a priceless romanesco, baby carrots, French beans, and a few watermelon radishes for good measure. All of which went beautifully with a feast of filet, shrimp, and fish.

Fennel with Romanesco, Baby Carrots, Haricort Verts, and Radishes

6-8 baby carrots (peeled and halved or quartered into similar sizes as necessary)
3-4 fennel bulbs (thick stalks discarded and  bulbs cut into halves or quarters and then thinly sliced)
4 watermelon radishes (treat them as you would carrots. Totally optional, btw.)
1 head of Romanesco (washed thoroughly to remove loopers and cut into florets)
1-2 cups haricort verts (stem ends removed, snap them half if you absolutely must)
4 cloves of garlic (or 2 shallots) peeled and minced
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoons white wine
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
¾ teaspoon salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper

PREPARATION

  1. Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 400 °F.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the minced garlic or shallots with the olive oil, white wine vinegar, white wine, Dijon mustard, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine carrots, fennel, romanesco and haricort verts. (Or whatever vegetables your garden has decided to provide)
  4. Toss the vegetables with the prepared vinaigrette. Arrange vegetables on 2 cookie sheets.
  5. Cover pan with foil and roast vegetables for 15 minutes, swapping racks halfway through the cooking time.
  6. Uncover and roast, turning occasionally for 10 minutes.
  7. Switch pans and roast until vegetables are tender and browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thanks, Trump.

Because everything that goes wrong from now on, from OMG-that-hurt medical tests to the Hurricane’s tempers, to snow falling on my pea shoots and greens (following a week of 70-degree days and the balmiest February this Northerner has ever experienced), it’s the President’s fault.

Logical? With the exception of taking “science” out of the EPA’s mission statement no, it’s not entirely logical, but I need a scapegoat. And what’s a better target for my ire than a carrot-colored narcissist with a lot of power who actually hates science, wants make healthcare even crappier (and probably more painful) than it already is, and who will likely make it even harder for those who suffer from mental illnesses to obtain care.

Anyhoo, if you’re still reading after that little tirade, well, cheers.

February Seeding, Nashville Raised Bed Gardening
Alien fingers and February sowing.

Back in February, I needed some optimism. I needed to feel dirt under my alien nails (thanks, iPhone). I needed to forget myself. But I think I jumped the gun. Here’s hoping my darling greens and pea shoots aren’t disqualified for the season. After waking to snow flurries (and, briefly, a very happy Hurricane) I’ve tucked them in, under a layer of sheets and straw. But the forecast calls for a few nights in the mid-20s.

I’m not entirely optimistic about anything anymore.

 

Basil in a Ball Jar: Why Didn’t I Think of This Sooner?

It’s no secret that POD’s best ROI comes in the form of its abundant herb garden and that sticker shock at the grocery store is an actual thing come February. Our garden may be tiny, but it’s mighty.

So basil. We miss it so. It’s nowhere to be found at the Kroger and a wee wilty stem of the stuff sets a cook back at least $3 at the local organic place. Add that to a recent trip to the Home Depot for a light fixture we couldn’t find, rope that no one was available to cut, hooks that don’t exist, and air filters that were out of stock resulted in this near-genius idea:

Basil in a Ball jar
Basil in a Ball jar

 

Basil in a Ball Jar. Oh, yeah. Not an earth-shattering or a particularly new idea, but duh! Instead of shelling out $8-12 for a kit, the Hurricane and I shook off our frustrations, grabbed a bag of dirt (which, miraculously, they had in stock) hurried home, dusted off a few canning jars, sniffed the Sharpies, and broke open the seeds.

Dirt+1/2c water+seeds+sunny sill = 10 days later and we have basil and cilantro seedlings! Huzzah!

Making Plans: Bed 3

4×8 Raised Bed Garden Map

Surely, this is a huge mistake. 2016’s tomatoes were incredible, amazing, prolific, and enduring. And honestly, I didn’t do a thing. Stakes collapsed, proving entirely insufficient for the task, the previous year’s wildflower offspring snuck up between the vines and I didn’t have the heart to stop them, and I watered when I remembered. Fruits were smushed by the alley’s traffic but it was totally fine because there were plenty more on the vine. Tomato-devouring squirrels lived in fear (or died by the dozen). I’m pretty sure the garden cat did more for the tomatoes this year than I did.

Happily, tomato-devouring squirrels lived in fear (or died by the dozen). I’m pretty sure the garden cat did more for the tomatoes this year than I did.

garden cat gets the squirrel

This year, however, we’ve got big things in store for our tomatoes.

Bed 3 will feature a purpose-built tomato support system, a first for POD. In addition to Jelly Bean, Easy Sauce, Orange Whopper, and a volunteer (which we’re sure to have), we’ll plant a few basil plants and marigolds.

raised bed garden plan

Making Plans: Bed 2

The Usual Suspects: Corn, Beans, & Muskmelon

Nothing to see here, folks. This bed spells summer.

First sowing of beans: May 1
Corn: May 1
Pepper Seedlings: May 1

  • Note to self about peppers. So, in a marathon session of online seed ordering, I ordered Gurney’s California Wonder peppers. Not really thinking about the fact that they’re SEEDS, not plants. And while I love the idea of growing peppers from seed –and the magic of seeds, in general — our tiny house isn’t the best place to cultivate seedlings. Our little home is a dangerous vortex of clumsy cats, a demanding Hurricane, poorly positioned windows, and too-much-to-do-to-little-time-disorder. It’s enough that I manage to keep a kid and three cats alive, let alone seedlings. Anyhoo, I digress. So that May 1 thing is a loose guideline. The Hurricane and I are going to make seed germination a cool science thing this spring and she’s in charge of keeping them alive. Not that she knows that yet. Plan on an early to mid-February seeding session.

Beans: May 1 (or earlier, weather depending. It’s been, like, 70 degrees, for 3 days. In January. But hey, Global Warming is just a thing scientists cooked up to get funding. No biggie. Nothing to cry about here.

Cucumbers: This year we hit Gurney’s for our seeds and sets. Just not super happy with Burpee’s last year — plant sets arrived late and battered and the cucumbers succumbed pretty immediately to blight.

Melon: Here’s hoping the Li’l Sweet Hybrid is amazing, because we need melons to work it this year. We need a money maker.

garden-map-2-2017

Making Plans: Bed 1

Making Plans (POD Style): Bed 1

I’m pretty sure the Russians are going to be taking over the Kroger by the time spring rolls around, so January feels like a great time to get my head straight and garden plan on.4x8 Raised Bed Garden Map

It’s a brand new world, good garden people. As I type, a grand garden shed is being erected in the back 40 (more on that later) with plenty of room for tools and just enough room for out-of-towners.

We’re expanding to four, count ’em FOUR, 4×8 beds this spring which means all sorts of fun. Undoubtedly, I’m being over-ambitious here, but hey, a gardener’s gotta’ dream. The first bed features early spring goodies. Nothing terribly earth-shattering in this particular bed, other than one last (I swear) attempt at growing something in the brassica family.

brassica-lace

After suffering a series of catastrophic cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts failures over the years (thanks for being so dependable, cabbage loopers and stink bugs, you’re the best!), I swore I was done. Then the Endurer hit me with puppy eyes and we’re giving romanesco a shot. We haven’t seen one of these fractal beauties since fleeing the East Coast.

I thought Nashville was the next “It” city. Come on y’all, get with the program.

 

Plants on Deck: Garden Planning 2017, Making a List

Last year’s garden was a largely a success, despite a shocking amount of neglect. Despite totally insufficient staking, four varieties of tomatoes flourished through early November, with the last of the green tomatoes ripening and becoming a delicious late December sauce. And happily, for the first time in POD’s history, an almost sufficient (the Hurrican and I really, really like beans) amount of green beans hit the table. The only complete failure were the cucumbers, which quite immediately contracted a blight and died after one round of prolific fruiting.

This year, one of POD’s many ambitious resolutions (ranging from chestnuts like exercise more and snack less to unicorns like slow down and smile more) includes paying a bit more attention to both the tiny plot of Lockeland Springs land and then actually writing about it right here in this here blog.

Plants on Deck: Garden Planning 2017, Making a List.
Plants on Deck: Garden Planning 2017, Making a List.

Garden of Neglect

IMG_2793So much has happened in gardenland this summer that it’s been tough to keep up. Despite so-so attention, the summer garden was a one family CSA. Alas, it’s on the wane, and we’re digging in for the fall.

Here’s a quick summary:

  • Zucchinis have been uprooted after six solid weeks of zucchini meals four nights out of seven.
  • The four cucumbers caught a wilt and produced a meager dozen of fruits. Note to self: lemon cucumbers may be Nana’s favorites, but they’re not ours.
  • Tomatoes are going great guns, despite totally inadequate staking and a nasty, nasty worm proble
  • BEANS! Finally, after years of failure, the yields have been spectacular this year

And in the fall garden, seeds planted today by the Hurricane and yours truly:

  • parsnips
  • rutabagas
  • leeks
  • beans (more beans!)
  • zucchini & cucumber (round two, planted earlier this month)

Rocket Fuel

Wow. Behind on posts these days. But here’s the thing: we had a great spring for greens. The two beds produced well, but we’re still figuring out how much to plant and when. So, file this away in the “Note to Self” department: go greens crazy in March. We planted a two squares of arugula and spinach and four squares of lettuce. Not enough. Cover the beds with arugula and spinach, scatter in a few square of lettuce, but go for the greens. They’ll be ready to yank by the time May planting season rolls around in earnest and the freezer will be well-stocked with arugula pesto and my craving for saag paneer will be sated.

We love arugula around here, but never had the space to grow enough to do much beyond topping a few sandwiches. This year two square feet of garden space produced plenty of sandwich toppings, salad spice and three cups of arugula pesto. That’s a lot of rocket.

Planted in early March, the Selvatica arugula had just started to bolt when the craving for pesto hit hard. The entire patch was plucked and pesto was pounded. As this is apparently a smaller, wilder form of the tangy green, it’s a bit more heat tolerant, so we’re reseeding today, hoping for one more crop.

Note to Self: Although we did a much better job planting both beds with spring crops this year, I’m going all in next year and plan to plant an abundance of greens in early March, using each available square foot. It’ll take some fortitude, but when it’s time for summer planting, I’ll get all ruthless and yank them to make way for beans, zucchini, melons and corn in late April.