Archive for June, 2009

Chives

Chives

Three chive plants came into my life last year thanks to the Calgary Horticultural Society‘s plant exchange and my ever-generous parents who are always digging up and donating plants from their yard. Two are planted in a dry, partial sun area in our front yard, and the other is in a moist shady spot in the back garden. All three of them came back and they are thriving. Each purple flower produces a seed head with dozens of hard, black seeds. I collected these last year and put them in our planter boxes alongside the lettuce and lots of tiny green shoots emerged after only a few weeks. Chives seem to thrive in our zone 3 garden.

Chives are perfect for people looking for edible, drought-tolerant, ornamental and hardy herbs. They grow well in sun, shade, containers and everywhere else. And for cold climate gardeners in places like Calgary, they’re a welcome sight in early spring as one of the first green shoots to come out of the ground after a long, long winter without fresh herbs from the garden.

As you can see in the photo above, our chives are just starting to flower. Chive flowers are beautiful to look at in the garden. Snipped chive flowers are also really tasty as a garnish, adding a simple elegance to anything coming out of the kitchen – soups, salads, omelets, pasta and other dishes. We use fresh chives in place of store-bought green onions, which is an easy way to eat locally.

June 29, 2009 at 10:36 pm 1 comment

Orange, brie and almond salad

orange salad

One benefit of growing your own food is the constant challenge to find creative ways to sneak excess vegetables into everything you make. Between selecting and planting the seeds, nurturing them through their early days and constantly hauling jugs of rainwater and compost around the yard to feed the plants, it’s a lot of work to grow vegetables. After all that effort, there’s no way I’m letting any of it go to waste!

A couple of months ago I scattered some lettuce, spinach and beet seeds in a planter on our sunny back deck and now we’re blessed with a bounty of home-grown salad greens. And they keep growing faster and faster! This means every day is a salad day. Here’s a salad that I made for lunch today with our fresh salad greens and other ingredients that were handy. It’s a keeper.

Pile salad greens on as many plates as there are people to feed. Top each plate of greens with a handful of almonds, a few slices of brie cheese, some crumbled crunchy crackers (I recommend Raincoast Crisps or the Calgary-produced version called Flats or your favourite gluten free cracker) and one small orange, peeled and divided into sections. I usually leave the inner membranes on oranges – the extra fiber is good for you. Always, always buy organic oranges – citrus fruits are among the worst for being sprayed heavily with pesticides. I like to keep grated citrus peel in the freezer for adding to baked goods like scones and cookies, and you can imagine how hard it is to remove all traces of pesticides and chemicals from the peel even if you do wash the fruit well.

For the dressing, grate some citrus peel from an orange or lemon into a small bowl. Cut the fruit in half, squeeze out the juice and add this to the grated rind. Mix in a teaspoon of honey (local!), a teaspoon of poppy seeds and a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil (we’ve recently switched from the ubiquitous extra virgin olive oil to cold-pressed organic canola oil from Highwood Crossing, which is based just outside of Calgary). This is enough dressing for two people.

June 28, 2009 at 3:23 pm 1 comment

Spaghetti squash casserole

spaghetti squash

I first had spaghetti squash a few years ago, and I’ve been a big fan ever since. Here’s a recipe for a simple supper that’s really quick and easy.

1 spaghetti squash
1 small onion, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups of crushed tomatoes
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

Cut spaghetti squash in half. Place in a casserole dish along with about 1″ of water. Microwave for 10 minutes (or longer, depending on your micro) until soft. You should be able to easily scrape out the squash and it will look just like spaghetti, as the name suggests. Drain the water from the casserole dish and scoop the squash into it. Mix in cilantro and some fresh ground pepper.

When the squash is cooking, saute the onion and garlic in oil for 2-3 minutes until onion is tender. Stir in tomato sauce and spinach. Pour tomato sauce over spaghetti squash and top with goat cheese. Bake in 375F oven for 20 minutes and serve.

June 24, 2009 at 10:06 pm Leave a comment

Mountain wildflowers

calypso orchid

We spent the weekend up in Banff enjoying some rest and relaxation away from the city.  One of the highlights of the trip was wandering through the trails and discovering mountain wildflowers everywhere we went. Wild strawberries were in flower everywhere we looked. And calypso orchids (pictured above) were in abundance. I was so surprised to see the first one. I had no idea that Alberta had native orchids! They’re truly a beautiful sight. We photographed about a dozen different wildflowers during our trip, including Blue clematis, Indian paintbrush and fleabane.  I’m looking forward to doing some research to identify the rest of the flowers we saw now that we’re back at home. And I’m eager to start planning our next excursion, especially knowing that the height of the summer wildflower season is still ahead.

One note. We came across one fellow hiker taking a handful of wildflowers from the forest. I can appreciate being inspired by their beauty and wanting to hang onto that, but picking wildflowers is totally inappropriate, especially in a delicate area like the Rocky Mountains where the species are so interdependent! Far better to take a camera and capture pretty flowers that way, rather than to disturb the natural ecosystem (many wildflowers, including the calypso orchid, are fragile and even endangered in some areas) and spoil the enjoyment of these flowers by others walking along the same trail.

June 21, 2009 at 4:23 pm Leave a comment

Asparagus recipes

asparagus pasta

Asparagus is a delightful vegetable. It’s in season now and we’ve been buying Alberta-grown asparagus from Edgar Farms for the past few weeks from the Calgary Farmers’ Market. I’ve been trying to eat as much of it as possible now – the season is short and the tender, tasty spears we’re enjoying now are incomparably better than the imported variety. My preference is to feast now, freeze some and then wait until next year to enjoy it again. In honour of feast time, here are a few recipe ideas. If you have a great recipe that belongs on this list, please list it in the comments below.

Straight up and simple. Drizzle oil over a bundle of freshly washed asparagus and then saute or grill it for a few minutes until tender. Pile in a long, shallow bowl or serving dish and garnish with fresh cracked black pepper and a generous helping of shaved parmesan. We had local asparagus prepared this way at the River Cafe recently and it was wonderful!

With pasta. Cook enough pasta for 4 people. Linguini or penne are both good (the pasta pictured above is made with gluten free penne). Saute 1 pound of asparagus in 3 tablespoons of oil along with 2 cups of peas, 1 small zucchini, coarsely chopped. 1 cup of fresh spinach and 3 cloves of garlic for about 3 minutes. Add in fresh chives and any other herbs like basil, oregano or thyme that you have on hand. Finely chop 1 cup of almonds and mix in with vegetables. Toss the asparagus mixture with pasta and top with a squeeze of lemon juice, fresh cracked pepper, crushed red pepper flakes and plenty of crumbled goat cheese or grated parmesan cheese.

Omelets. Making omelets is an every weekend brunch or lunch ritual in our house. The omelets I made recently with some leftover steamed asparagus, finely diced mushrooms, red pepper, garden chives and cheddar cheese were excellent and a great way to use up a bit of asparagus from the previous evening’s dinner. Portobello burgers are a favourite dinner and I often have portobello stems leftover – these are perfect chopped up in omelets. Here’s a basic recipe:

Saute vegetables in a generous amount of oil. Whisk together 2 eggs with 1-2 tablespoons of water. We have been buying organic, local eggs from Sunworks Farm, which are available at the Calgary Farmers’ Market.  Pour egg mixture into pan over top of vegetables. Cook until egg is no longer runny. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flax seeds over top of omelet along with snipped chives, fresh cracked pepper and grated or thinly sliced cheddar cheese. Fold over the omelet and serve with fresh fruit.

Risotto. Asparagus risotto is one of my favorite things to make for a simple but special supper at home with family and friends. I usually freeze summer asparagus so we can enjoy this a couple of times in the winter months as well. To freeze, just wrap a bundle of fresh, uncooked asparagus in a plastic bag (a bread bag works well) – no need to worry about washing or cooking it until you’re ready to use it.


June 18, 2009 at 9:09 pm 2 comments

Summer vegetable pizza

homemade pizza and salad

Homemade pizza is a wonderful thing to eat. We usually keep some pre-made pizza crusts or some homemade dough in the freezer and end up making pizzas once or twice a month. The toppings are always different and this is part of the fun. The recipe below uses summer vegetables that I love including zucchini, red peppers, mushrooms and shallots, which are all available now from Alberta and BC through our local farmers’ market.

Summer vegetable pizza
2 12″ pizza crusts, either storebought or homemade. For gluten-free, we order Lakeview Bakery‘s rice flour pizza shells through Spud.ca
Crushed tomatoes (open a tin can of crushed tomatoes and save whatever you don’t use for the pizza for a recipe like polenta)
Fresh or dried oregano, thyme, basil and parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Hot pepper flakes

Place pizza shells on baking sheet. Spread crushed tomatoes over top and sprinkle with a generous topping of fresh or dried herbs. Meanwhile, saute zucchini, mushrooms, shallots and red pepper until they’re soft and smelling great. Season with salt and pepper and spoon onto the pizza shells. Top with mozzarella, parmesan and a small dusting of hot pepper flakes. Bake in a 400F oven for about 15 minutes until the top of the pizza is nicely browned. Serve with salad on the side. Rose wine is a great match for pizza.

June 13, 2009 at 3:46 pm 1 comment

Violets

violets

The violets in our garden are blooming like crazy right now. We had a few hardy violets growing in the open dirt that was our yard when we first bought our house two years ago. Transplanting them was my first act of gardening at our new home. Since then, I’ve been collecting the seeds each fall and scattering them. Violets have seeds that are very easy to harvest and grow. At the end of last summer I laid seeds on the soil, covered them very lightly with dirt and after a long winter we now have healthy patches of violets growing in several places throughout our front and backyard.

Violets are by far one of my favorite flowers. I have nostalgic memories of them growing in our yard when I was a child, and I remember being allowed to pick them and put them in little vases or glasses. Violets are one of the better known edible flowers. There’s not really any taste to them, but they are lovely to look at and add a nice element to the presentation of a dish. I’ve had them on salad and have also seen them pressed into goat cheese (Salt Spring Island Cheese Company’s pretty flower chevre is a favorite of mine). Another fun idea is candied violets as a garnish for cakes or other desserts.

Hardy, easy to grow, edible, beautiful and full of fond memories. What’s not to like?

June 11, 2009 at 9:58 pm 1 comment

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