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Monday, 21 May 2012

Vegetable and Flower Gardening In a Small Area

Vegetable & Flower Gardening In a Small Area - By Jimmy Boswell – Gluten Free Chef

You don’t need a large area to grow fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits. In many respects you don’t even need a garden. Over the years plant breeders have been developing varieties of plants designed to be grown in a small area or in containers. They have also focused on taste and high yields from small plantings.

Positives for container gardening

  • Don’t have to worry about weeds
  • Less garden pest problems
  • Self-watering planters means you can water less
  • Great for porches, decks, patios, and balconies
  • Easy to control soil health
The Small Vegetable Plot – Kids Can Grow
I am a keen advocate of small container gardens. When there is little or no space for a conventional garden planting a few pots and containers with some vegetables and herbs can be very rewarding both in the produce that you grow as well as the fun and happiness that it offers.
It is also something that you can get the kids involved with. Being in containers there is very little weeding required and kids can have their own pots growing things that they like to eat. They can care for their plants, watch them grow and when they harvest, the smiles on their faces is priceless.
I had my own little plot in the main vegetable garden and I remember digging, planting and harvesting, with a little help from Dad. I loved picking my produce and was always proud of what I grew.
Kids Gardens

Always, set space aside in your garden for the kids. Choose plants that are fun and easy to grow. Good plants for kids’ gardens are cherry tomatoes, herbs, sunflowers, and edible plants. Diversify kids gardening plants to include various smells, textures, and tastes (like Mint) to keep them interested.

Container gardening is also great for kids. If worried about the kids getting messy, container gardening is great choice.
Getting Started
As I have mentioned container gardening does not take a lot of space but there are a few considerations when starting.

Vegetables need about 6 or more hours of sun each day. Without sun, the fruits will not ripen and the plants will be stressed. In Winter with lower sunshine hours there are a few crops that can survive in light shade, lettuce and other greens, broccoli, but if you can’t provide sun, you might want to reconsider having a vegetable container garden. More so if you are getting kids involved. The last thing you want is to have a poor result for the children.
Vegetables also require regular watering. Without regular water vegetables will not fill out and some, like tomatoes, will crack open if suddenly plumped up with water after struggling without for awhile.
On my deck I have lots of containers with a wide variety of plants. I do not have a tap close so when I need to give them a good watering I have plastic containers that are larger than the pots with the plants in them. I fill these large pots with water and place the plants in them and let them soak. I usually mix some liquid fertilizer in the water and give them a food at the same time.
Soil/Potting Mix
Vegetables need a soil that is rich in organic matter. The potting mix/soil is important to the growth of all plants, but more so with vegetables, because even taste is affected by the quality of the mix you are growing them in.
With a potting mix rich in organic matter it will not only help plants to grow but will also retains moisture.
Specialised Varieties

When you are looking for plants to grow in containers look for plants labeled with terms or words such as patio, pixie, tiny, baby or dwarf. These will be varieties that have been bread for containers. Just because a plant is bred to be small doesn’t mean the fruits will be small or the yield will be less.

Herb Gardens

Herbs are generally pretty easy to grow and hearty. They need loose, well drained soil. But do not require a lot of attention. You can interplant with vegetables to use herbs for organic pest control. Or plant a separate herb container. It is a good idea to plant perennial herbs like chives, lavender, mints, oregano, rosemary, thyme, tarragon.

Planting herbs is a great way to supplement a small vegetable garden, too. Say you just decide on a few tomato plants. Growing herbs expands what you can cook with those tomatoes. Or just slice them fresh with a few sprigs of basil. Fresh foods are good on their own, too!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Love of Thyme

Thyme is a herb I use in a lot of my cooking. It features in a lot of Sicilian, Italian and Greek dishes. It holds up very well when used in slow cooker or casserole dishes.

Garden thyme is a bush with gray-green leaves on a thin, woody stem and is a member of the mint family.

It is a herb that can be used both fresh and dried, whole or ground. It has a strong, sometimes pungent but has a pleasant flavor, resembling a blend of cloves and sage with mint notes.

Most common variety for cooking is English thyme. Other varieties include lemon thyme and caraway thyme. It has a subtle pine and lemon and spice flavor. It is versatile and widely complementary, but can overwhelm delicate foods. Use liberally but carefully. Thyme also combines well with rosemary, basil, and garlic.

Thyme is native to the Mediterranean, which makes it a popular ingredient in Italian and Greek cooking.  In the Mediterranean basin, it grows wild on the "hot, arid hillsides where it has infinitely more flavor than it ever achieves in cooler regions. 
I always have some dried thyme in my spice rack but at the end of the day, fresh is best.

Cooking with Thyme is a little different that many others herbs. The leaves should be taken off their stalks. They can add a woody or stringy element to a dish that’s un-needed. It should be chopped finely and added early in the cooking to get rid of the strong bitter flavour of the fresh leaf that it can develop.

It's wonderful in poultry, fish, and vegetable dishes and in slow cooked stews and soups. Its flavor blends well with many other herbs. Chopped fresh leaves are much more pungent than dried.

Thyme can be used with nearly all the meats, including seafood and shellfish. It can also be used to flavour egg dishes, casseroles and soups.

If you are lucky enough to be able to grow your own, Keep in mind that thyme leaves are sweetest if picked just as the flowers appear.

When cooking with thyme, be aware that one fresh sprig equals the flavoring power of one-half teaspoon of dried thyme.

It is preferable to strip the leaves from the stems for your recipes when using either dry or fresh thyme because sometimes the stems can be woody. This is easily accomplished by placing the stem between the tines of a fork and pulling the stem in the opposite direction of the leaf growth. Of course, you can also use your fingers instead of a fork.

Some Uses

Add whole sprigs or chopped leaves at any stage of cooking. Thyme is a uniquely adaptable herb for meats, seafood, and summer and winter vegetables. Use springs in bouquet garni to fully flavor stocks, sauces and soups.

Add sprigs to slow-roasted tomatoes, braises, and pasta sauces to add depth. Infuse sprigs in poaching liquids for fruit desserts and in cream for caramel sauce.
Rub chopped leaves (fresh or dried) into beef, lamb, veal, or pork before roasting. Sprinkle over eggs, cheese dishes, vegetables, fish, or poultry. Add to soups, stews, stuffings, and rice. Brew into tea with a little rosemary and mint.

Lemon thyme can be used in cooking in much the same way as common thyme. The flavor is less pungent and distinctly lemony. It is particularly tasty in stuffing for veal and poultry. Mix chopped leaves into custards, puddings, and whipped-cream toppings. Sprinkle lightly over fresh strawberries and other acidic fruits.

Whether you grow them yourself or purchase them, herbs are the best, most healthy way to season your food. Farmers markets are a great place to get fresh and dried herbs.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Sausage, Bacon and Caramelized Onion Frittata

Sausage, Bacon and Caramelized Onion Frittata

This is a quick and easy dish to put together. I quite often make this when I have leftover sausages from the night before. Great Sunday brunch.

If you have some onion marmalade replace the caramelized onions with two tablespoons of the onion marmalade.

Serves 2-4

6 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup of milk
¾ cup of grated cheese, I use Edam
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 half onion (large), sliced and caramelized
1-1/2 cups of sausage
2 tbsp chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
¾  cup diced button mushrooms or peas
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 165C.

Combine eggs and milk, beat well, add parsley, season with salt and pepper then fold in grated cheese. Pour into a 20cm by 20cmm (8x8 inch) baking dish or cast-iron skillet.

Add in sausage, mushrooms or peas and caramelized onions. Top with the parmesan cheese. Bake in a 165C oven for about 30 minutes, or until the center is set but not hard.

Serve hot or chilled.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Roasted Pumpkin Garlic Soup

Its chilly, raining and I am in the kitchen cooking. Have some chicken stock on the simmer. Just about to roast 1/2 pumpkin, about 1kg, 1 whole head of garlic and will make Roasted Pumpkin with Garlic soup.

The mix of spices in this recipe gives it a mellow Indian taste

1kg pumpkin I use crown
1 head garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion
2 stalks celery
2 medium carrots
1/2 tsp each ground cumin and cardamom
1 tsp turmeric
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon fresh chilli, crushed (optional) or ¼ ground chilli powder.

First thing to do is cut the pumpkin into medium wedges, skin on. I don’t cut them to small as I am roasting them without pealing to get a bit of extra flavour in to the pumpkin while it roasts. Toss in olive oil, season with salt and pepper in a roasting tin.
Cut the top off a head of garlic and drizzle a little oil over the cloves and wrap the garlic in tin foil and add to the pumpkin. Roast at 200C for 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft.
About 5-10 minutes before the pumpkin is cooked coarsely chop the onion, celery and carrot and fry over a medium heat until the onion is translucent. Add the ground cumin, cardamom and turmeric and fry briefly. Add the stock, salt and pepper to season and chili (if you like a bit of heat in your soup). Bring to the boil and then reduce to simmer for 15 minutes.

Once this is simmering remove the pumpkin and garlic from the oven and let cool till its cooled enough to handle. Remove the skin from the cooked pumpkin and then squeeze out the roasted garlic and add to the soup along with the pumpkin. You may need to add some water at this stage to just cover the vegetables. Simmer for another 5 minutes.

Once cooked blend in batches and adjust the seasoning to taste if needed.
I serve with some sour cream and chopped chives or parsley.