Archive | August, 2010

As it Turns Out… Size Really Does Matter

27 Aug

I told you all about my excitement over my vegetable garden’s growth, and how proud I was that (even though it had only produced tomatoes), it was on the verge of producing quite a few veggies for me to cook and write about.

A mere two or three days after that post, I noticed a little baby okra growing on my okra plant. SUCCESS! I had achieved the ultimate goal of actually producing a variety of vegetables from my garden! I had now produced tomatoes and okra – that counts as a variety.

Having never grown okra before, I decided to let my beautiful, magic, little okra bud grow as much as it wanted to – certainly it had a right to get big and beautiful. In a matter of days, it was the biggest okra that I had ever seen. I was shocked and considered calling the Guiness Book of World Records, but decided instead to give it a few more days to mature.

In the following days, several more pieces of okra sprouted, and grew faster than I could believe. All of them were, to me, abnormally large for okra. This was very exciting. I thought “perhaps I have a prize okra plant on my hands.” Really, I had never seen anyone with okra to rival my own in size and beauty, so I wasn’t about to cut down the okra.

After about another week or week and a half, I decided that it was a special night: I was going to cook and eat my beautiful okra. I cut down the four large pieces from the plant and made my boyfriend admire them for at least thirty seconds. We considered taking photos, but couldn’t find a camera.

It was only after I got the okra on the cutting board that I began to realize my mistake…

I said “honey, can you google ‘when to harvest okra’?”.

“It says that you should harvest it when it’s young…”

“why?”

“It says it will get ‘woody’… what does that mean”?

Looking down at the okra, which I could barely cut even with my “nice” cooking knives, I knew exactly what it meant. I had let my okra grow to the point of being bamboo-like in texture. The boyfriend had to cut up a large portion of it- I thought that perhaps it was just a little tough and the “toughness” could be cooked out.

30 minutes of cooking later, I found out that this was the single worst idea I’ve ever had in terms of cooking. The okra had fibers in it that were similar to splinters and was so difficult to eat, that we actually picked around the okra and instead ate the tomatoes and onions that were mixed in with it.

Lesson learned: okra is SUPPOSED to be small – don’t let it get too big on the plant, there are no prizes for “woody” okra.

Afterthought: I guess I’ve learned quite a bit about okra this year – goodness!

Grilling isn’t (all) About Meat

12 Aug

Summertime is in full swing here in Texas which means that just about everyone with access to a grill is firing it up on at least a weekly basis. Grilling gives you an excuse to do so many things – hang out outside, play with fire, invite people over, buy way too much food, drink beer, poke at items on the grill to see if they’re “done” – more things than I can list.

Grilled blue potatoes, eggplant and okra.

Something that I always find funny, though, is how many people think that grilling is all about meat. Whenever my vegetarian boyfriend and I are grilling (or attending an event where others are grilling), people always ask “oh, are you making something special for him?” Naturally, when we go to other people’s houses, I do bring something “special” for him, but when people are at our place, most of what we’re grilling is vegetables. I appreciate a good steak as much as the next person, but vegetables are fantastic (not to mention healthier) on the grill too.

Grilling is a fast, easy way to cook most vegetables and makes for a very satisfying meal.

This weekend, one of my friends and I got together to grill and decided to use up a large portion of my CSA veggies for the week while we did. It was beautiful. We made roasted blue potatoes, grilled eggplants topped with peppers, grilled okra, and grilled peaches (topped with vanilla ice cream).

Most of this is pretty basic, but here are a few notes on making each item:

I'm writing about grilling the veggies, but I couldn't help but love this picture of the blue potatoes raw - they're so pretty!

Roasted Blue Potatoes

  • Cut potatoes into small pieces (mine were small anyway, so I cut them into fourths)
  • In a bowl, toss potatoes with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and spices (I used fresh sage – that was great)
  • Put potatoes into a foil pack and leave the pack partially open on top
  • Grill over high heat for about 20 – 30 minutes or until tender, tossing them around occasionally

Grilled Eggplant Topped with Peppers

  • Slice eggplant into rounds that are about half of an inch thick
  • Lay on a cookie sheet and sprinkle the eggplant with a little sea salt
  • Let the eggplant sit and “sweat” for about 20 minutes. This gets out a little of the water
  • Soak up water beads on top with a paper towel
  • Brush eggplants with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper
  • Slice up peppers long ways and put on top of the eggplants (I used toothpicks to hold mine
    together)
  • I didn’t but you could add cheese at this point, it would be delicious
  • Grill eggplants for about 10 minutes or until there are light char marks on the side that faces the grill

Grilled Okra (Adapted from Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers, by Janet Fletcher)

  • Cut off okra caps
  • Pour some olive oil onto a plate, and roll okra in the oil
  • Sprinkle okra with paprika
  • Set okra on the top shelf of the grill (perpendicular to the bars so that they don’t fall through)
  • You want the okra to get really cooked, I like mine slightly charred
  • Cook for about 10 – 15 minutes, turning over half way through

Grilled Peaches

These are our peaches before grilling. Ideally, they'll have nice black grill marks on the flesh after you grill them.

  • Slice peaches in half or in thirds, removing pits
  • Toss peaches with a little bit of oil (we used canola oil)
  • Grill for about 5 – 10 minutes, just until they start to get char marks
  • Once finished grilling, toss in a bowl with a few tablespoons of brown sugar
  • Top with vanilla ice cream

As you can see from the photo, this made for a beautiful dinner that was also tasty and easy to prepare. Other veggies that I love to grill – corn on the cob, portabella mushrooms, squash of any kind, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts. I’m sure that there are more, but I haven’t tried them all yet.
Happy grilling!

The Survivors

2 Aug

As you are all aware, I planted my first veggie garden and started this blog on the same day in mid-June. Now, about a month and a half later, it’s about time for an update on how the garden has survived.

Here's the blossom on the eggplant. I'm hoping that this means we'll have some eggplant soon.

First off, planting in June is not really something that you should do. I think that for most of the plants that I selected, March would have been the ideal time. I’ll admit that a few items immediately committed suicide – including the strawberries and most of the herbs. They were dead within a week of planting. The two squash plants survived quite a while (one even produced blossoms) but they too succumbed to the overwhelming heat.

Fortunately for me, we’ve had quite a bit of rain, and temperatures that have been a little cooler than last summer, so some of the veggies have actually done quite well.

The tomato plant has been producing lots of tomatoes even though the leaves look quite unhealthy.

The survivors include the tomatoes. Though they looked rather peeked when planted, have lived and produced lots of small tomatoes for us to eat. They’ve actually been delicious. Oddly, the leaves have continued to look half dead, but the plant has given tomatoes very consistently (maybe 5 – 6 per week at the most – 3 this week).

The okra (yes, I planted okra) and eggplant have certainly been the most successful of the bunch. Both of the plants are now giant – the okra leaves are broad and flat and the largest ones are now about 16 inches across. They haven’t produced any actual okra yet, but I think that we may be getting some soon.

I'm not sure how big okra plants usually get, but the widest of the leaves on this one are about 16 inches across.

The eggplant has shown some promise this week by growing two pretty blossoms. It’s also gotten fairly large with its largest leaves being about 10 inches long. Do the blossoms mean that eggplants are soon to follow? I suppose that it remains to be seen.

Exciting news is that it’s almost time to plant the fall garden. I’ll probably start in about two weeks, but I’ve already selected a few new veggies that I want to try:

Brussels Sprouts

Cucumbers

Kale

Peas

Spinach

I’ll also add one or two other items depending on what’s available when I go to the store to buy my veggies.

Currently, my biggest debate is whether or not to start from seeds or from small plants. I’ll probably go with small plants, but that also depends on availability.