Baby & Toddler · DIY · Grow Your Own Way

My baby isn’t a baby anymore…

…She’s a gardener!! And a pretty tall one at that. Daddy and G spent their day off together yesterday planting “Georgia’s patch,” the raised-bed garden Mark has been cultivating along the sunny side of our house for the past five years. This year, for the first time, Georgia picked out all the plants, including strawberries, hula berries, tomatoes, basil, peppers, lettuce and zucchini, and helped daddy replace the soil, dig holes, label the chalkboard stakes and mulch it all over. I can’t wait to taste everything they grow together!!

One thing we don’t usually grow but which I love to buy and bake with this time of year is Rhubarb. It should be hitting the farmer’s markets soon!! Every year, I make a tangy/sweet Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble, and this year I am dying to try Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Breakfast Bars, which sound delectable.

And speaking of breakfast and yummy baked goods: there’s a new bakery at the Boston Public Market that I can’t wait to check out. Started by a 22-year-old (!) entrepreneur whose commercial kitchen is based in my ‘hood, Malden, Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery started as a short-term pop-up vendor whose bites were so popular she became the first vendor to convert to a permanent, full-time stall. She sells gluten-free, nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free breads, cookies, cupcakes, muffins, and donuts, and locally sources ingredients such as jam, maple syrup, apple cider syrup, fruit, and veggies from farms like Carr’s Ciderhouse in Hadley, Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth, Brooksby Farm in Peabody, and Russell’s Orchards in Ipswich. Check her out!

photo credit: courtesy // #BostonPublicMarket

 Have a great week everyone 🙂

Grow Your Own Way · Recipes

Garden-Fresh Tomato Sauce

Georgia’s party was this past weekend! The weather was gorgeous, the party was a success, and mama is tired. This is a recipe I made last week, while trying to use up even more of our garden tomatoes, which are ripening at the rate of dozens per day (!!) I like a chunky sauce but in this heat I don’t want to simmer it for hours, so I use a base to get me started, then just add tomatoes, fresh basil and seasonings. This time, I decided to see how shallots in butter would taste as a foundation for a quick summer tomato sauce, and I really liked the way it turned out. Here’s the recipe!

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I chose to make it with frozen turkey meatballs from Trader Joe’s mixed into the sauce, with a side salad featuring additional tomatoes from our garden. Greens were just one head of romaine that I picked up at a sidewalk stand on my way home. The pasta pictured is penne, but you can use anything.

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Garden-Fresh Tomato Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 12-oz. (1 lb) can of crushed tomatoes as a base
  • 1 package frozen meatballs (or fresh) if using, such as Trader Joe’s
  • Handful of fresh basil, quantity to your taste, torn into smaller pieces (with stems removed)
  • 1 shallot, peeled and diced, then soaked in water for at least 5 minutes
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • ~ half a dozen fresh tomatoes, sliced and seeds removed (scrape out with a spoon)
  • salt, pepper and any other seasonings to taste

DIRECTIONS

Place the frozen meatballs in a medium sauce pan if you are making this sauce with them included, then pour in the entire can of crushed tomatoes and heat over medium-low, covered, while you chop the tomatoes from your garden, farmer’s market or CSA. I used between 5 and 6 smaller tomatoes, but eyeball it. You always want to have more sauce than not enough.

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Roughly dice your shallot and let it rest in a cup of water that just covers it (yes, I used a baby food bowl!) which helps them to get a little less sharp. In a small skillet, heat a tablespoon (approximately) of butter (or your choice of a substitute spread, such as Smart Balance) over medium-low until melted. Add the shallot to the butter and cook for a few minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper, until translucent. Turn off the heat.

While the can of crushed tomatoes and meatballs simmer, add any seasonings to the  sauce pan and keep covered over low while you boil water to cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse under cold water so it stops cooking.

Add the shallots (including the butter) and freshly-torn basil to the sauce. Season with salt, pepper, and your choice of other spices such as garlic powder, oregano, sugar, etc. I used a hearty Italian-style blend. Cover again and let simmer a little while longer. If the sauce looks too thick, add a splash of water or olive oil; if it looks too watery/thin or there isn’t enough, you can do what I did — throw in some leftover pizza sauce, which I always keep on hand — or add more garden tomatoes to bulk it up. Really, this is a very flexible recipe and you can sort of play it by ear!

I like to add in some more freshly shredded basil right at the end, and then more on top of the plate when I serve it. But I REALLY like basil, and there is a LOT in Mark’s garden right now. Pretty much, once the meatballs are cooked through (aka fork tender), this is ready to eat! I don’t mix the pasta and sauce together in one pan, but rather plate the penne and pour some sauce and meatballs over it, and finish with my side of salad. As Georgia says, “deeee-licious!”

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Basil: It goes with everything.

You can serve this however you like, with or without a side, and I’d bet you could also add meat to the sauce as well if you wanted to brown some sausage or ground beef up with the shallot. I almost threw in some roasted eggplant, too, but it was so hot I didn’t really want to put on the oven to bake it. Penne was great but any pasta you prefer will do just fine! This came out tasting like I’d simmered it for hours, when in reality it is done as soon as the fresh tomatoes have broken down to your liking. The longer you cook it the more they will fall apart and liquify, but they taste good no matter how chunky you leave them. I myself prefer them to hold a little bit of form. I also added my favorite spaghetti sauce seasoning, the organic blend from Wildtree, which added so much flavor.

I hope you like this! Party photos and recap coming soon! 

I can’t believe we have a two year old…this feels like just yesterday (although this doesn’t). Here she is on her birthday, at two minutes, one year, and two:

 

Grow Your Own Way · Recipes

Ladies and gentlemen, we have tomatoes! (+ caprese salad)

After all that midnight watering, Mark’s garden is peaking right now, with basil, eggplant, and — most excitingly — tomatoes simply bursting all of a sudden!

and they are irresistible, just like someone else we know…

 

“mommy, a-mate-o’s!”Must be the new gardener we brought on board.

 Abundant tomatoes = caprese every night!

and, because I’m being so good by having salad, buttered bread alongside.

 

My mind was blown when I realized that supermarkets now sell pre-sliced fresh mozzarella balls (!!) which cuts the prep time for this salad down to almost nothing.

To assemble: layer sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil (whole leafs or shredded; it’s just a matter of how you like it) in a plate and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then season lightly with pepper and salt. Want to get a tad fancier? Make a balsamic reduction by simmering the vinegar in a pan with some honey for about ten minutes until it turns syrupy. A good rule of thumb is 4:1 balsamic and honey to make a tasty reduction, so for example you could use 1 cup vinegar with 1/4 cup honey and have some left over. Or, you can just buy balsamic reduction 🙂 This salad is served as a main dish for lunch in Italy or as a starter at dinner, not as a side as we usually serve salads in America. Some recipes omit the balsamic altogether, keeping only the olive oil, and some add only pepper, not salt. Its colors are meant to evoke the Italian flag and you can find this on the menu almost everywhere in Italy, because it’s so filling and healthy. As with most fresh recipes, the better ingredients you can find (freshly cracked pepper, good olive oil, heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella), the tastier this will be.

Fantastico! Happy eating!

Grow Your Own Way · kid-friendly · Recipes

Strawberry Mini Muffins

It is peak strawberry picking season in New England right now, so I thought it would be a great time to test some new dessert recipes. I could never get bored of my two favorites — strawberry shortcakestrawberry-rhubarb crumble — but it’s always good to experiment with new baking ideas! Inspired by how much Georgia loved some tiny cupcakes a friend made last weekend, I whipped up a simple recipe for Miniature Strawberry Muffins during nap time last Sunday. It was a huge hit with both of us, and we do consider ourselves strawberry (and muffin) experts 🙂IMG_0405

I bought a one-pound container of strawberries and probably used about half, give or take. Georgia and I just sliced up the rest for a refreshing snack!

Strawberry Mini Muffins

Makes 24 muffins in about 45 minutes of hands-on time.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 stick of butter (unsalted), softened to room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 C (plus 1 TBSP) TigerNut Flour*
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, acidified^^
  • 1/2 cup of strawberries, diced very small
  • a pinch of salt

^^ Acidified milk is produced by adding lemon juice to pasteurized milk at room temperature, then letting it sit for a few minutes so that it appears to curdle. The milk isn’t actually souring, you’re just altering its taste and texture to mimic that of buttermilk. The ratio to use is 1 cup of milk to one halved lemon, juiced. In this recipe you can use 1/2 the cup to start and then add in a bit more if the batter seems too thick as you’re mixing.

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DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 375 and spray a miniature muffin tin with baking spray. Set the butter out to warm to room temperature.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer (or hand mixer) until combined, then add the egg.

Sift together one cup of flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk to the mixer on low.

In a small bowl, toss the chopped strawberries with the TBSP of flour.* Fold the strawberries into the batter.

Drop tablespoons of the batter into each muffin tin, filling them about 2/3 high.

Bake for 14-16 minutes or until they are turning golden at the edges and are springy to the touch. Remove from the oven and let them cool in the muffin tin for another 15 minutes.

If you used a non-stick pan in particular, your muffins should release very easily when you’re ready to eat them! Ours kept in the fridge for exactly one week.

*RECIPE NOTES

Why add lemon to milk in this recipe? Because I didn’t have buttermilk handy, and acidifying milk with lemon is the best way to achieve the same result. Buttermilk’s role in baking is to lighten your batter, as the acids in buttermilk “get fizzy” when they make contact with baking soda or powder. This reaction makes baked goods airy and tender, and cancels out the sour taste of buttermilk (or ‘soured’ whole milk). You can also add vinegar to milk to achieve the same effect if you have a recipe that calls for buttermilk and you have none handy. Or, you can thin sour cream or plain yogurt with water. All these options will play the same role in your batter, and are only slightly less creamy in texture than buttermilk would be.

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You can use any type of flour, but I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to try TigerNut flour along with a host of other organic & paleo-friendly products from OrganicGemini in Brooklyn recently. They are best known for their TigerNut Horchata, which comes in more than half a dozen flavors such as strawberry, chai and banana. TigerNuts are actually tubers, or small root vegetables. Nut-free and gluten-free, they make an appealing baking substitute for kids and classrooms with allergies! Next time I have to bake for Georgia’s school, this will be my go-to flour.

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Last note: adding flour to the strawberries before putting them into your batter helps keep the chopped fruit from sinking to the bottom as your muffins bake. This is a good tip to follow for any similar recipe.

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I really hope you enjoy this one! It made for a great daycare snack for G, and a “pre-breakfast breakfast” for me. (I wake up hungry but don’t have time to eat an actual meal and get G to school and us to work, so I eat my ‘real’ breakfast at my desk every morning). We finished the last two after dinner yesterday, and I seriously wish there were more right about now!

Baby & Toddler · Grow Your Own Way · Recipes

Sneaking veggies into food (with toddler-friendly risotto recipe)

Well, I suppose it was inevitable: the day where my toddler figured out junk food exists in the world, and that she’d prefer to eat cookies, fruit juice and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese than mom’s home cooking. Hoping it’s just a short-lived phase, I’ve adapted by sneaking in greens where I can and holding a firm line on her requests to snack the day away. “More?” “Cookie!” and “Mine” are her new favorite words, especially when pointing to mom’s coffee, a bag of fruit snacks or (cringe) the drive-through menu.

There are a couple key things I’ve done to get through this temporary eating issue.

One is to make smoothies with greens like celery and lettuce blended in, since they add nutrients without turning the flavor detectably non-fruity.

Secondly, we’ve gone back to sending fruit & veggie pouches to daycare for snack time. She sucks them down as readily as her applesauce pouches without realizing there are greens mixed in with those pears and apples.

Since she loves mac n’ cheese so much, I’ve tried to make my own more often, and to buy better boxed versions from Trader Joe’s and Annie’s — as well as to mix in peas, diced green beans or broccoli, since covering them with cheese seems to get her to accept more veggies. 

I also shredded carrots into my homemade marinara, and she was none the wiser.

Finally, last week I realized I had a very adaptable recipe in my arsenal: risotto. By finely dicing carrots, onions, celery and celery greens with cut up sweet chicken-apple sausage, and swirling in a spoon full of low-fat cream cheese right at the end, I made a toddler-friendly version of one of our favorite dishes.

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She not only finished some off of our plates, she ate it by herself for lunch the next day, and even scooped a handful out of my bag while I was packing up leftovers to take to work! So we know it’s a keeper.

Here are my other two favorite risotto recipes:

An important note: I do choose to leave in the step with white wine, even while cooking for Georgia, because it’s a critical component to the final texture of the arborio rice. However, omitting it won’t ruin the dish completely, if that’s what you’d prefer to do.

In other news, Mark and Georgia planted our garden this weekend! This year, we are having strawberries, peas, tomatoes and basil:

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This is a kid who loves getting her hands dirty! I went online pretty much right away and ordered her this gardening play set from Green Toys, and already it’s a huge hit. She loves to help daddy with the soil, seeds and plants!

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Have a great week everyone and get out there to enjoy some nice weather now that it’s here to stay 🙂

Grow Your Own Way · Tips and Tricks

What if your garden is so tight on space…

….that you can only fit a couple of plants? What would you pick? For me, that’s easy: tomato, basil, and peppers. If you can fit one more, make it a green; if you can fit two more, make one of them fruit, ideally strawberries. What does Houzz have to say about it?

How about you — is your must-have crop eggplant, or zucchini? onions? How about cilantro? Here’s what we’ve done in the past, with our limited space. This year, we are definitely scaling back, because we have less time to tend our garden. Once I have pictures, I’ll share them! This week is the first time it’s been above 50 degrees all winter, so we are way behind on planting as compared to other years.

If you liked the Houzz story above, then you should check them out! I’ve been a member (it’s free) since we bought our house two years ago and needed decorating/storage ideas. They have a weekly newsletter that’s always brimming with creative solutions to common household dilemmas, beautiful decor tips and plenty of pinnable inspiration. You can also get recommendations for contractors in your area. Here’s another great article from them that I just read to help me shape up my house for spring:

Poor Mark, I’ve been after him to wash the siding for weeks. (I’m willing to do the next few items on the list — bag up items to give away, and clean the windows — in exchange for a freshly-scrubbed exterior). Unfortunately, we also have to repair the cement on our front walk, replace our storm door, fix the front steps AND buy new porch furniture this year, so it’s not going to be a light upkeep year at the ol’ Linehan abode :/

Grow Your Own Way

Early Spring Gardening

What’s more fitting for the first day of spring than to get an early start on this year’s garden? After being a little disorganized and haphazard in laying out our garden last year, we have decided to take a more proactive approach for 2013, starting with this handy seed starter kit available through Amazon or Home Depot:

So far, it’s working great! Here’s what you do (cat assistance optional):

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The kit comes with these soil pods in each compartment. They’re designed to expand when you add water. 

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See? They more than triple in size.

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Even them out a little by hand.

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Add your seeds (we did about four per pod). The kit comes with a chart so you can write down which seeds you put in which compartment. Photo Mar 16, 5 51 16 PM

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Water again, then place the lid on the entire kit and in about a week you should see some sprouting!

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Give it a warm location outside direct sunlight, and await germination.

We are also working on some strawberries! They were chillin’ on the porch, but we had a couple freezing nights and had to bring them indoors to the kitchen window:

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The garden is Mark’s baby, and I feel very loved by the way he plans it out, cultivates it, and provides us with fresh produce all summer and fall. I really don’t have to do a thing except enjoy the bounty, and I’m not sure how I got so lucky! 🙂

Looking for more gardening resources? Check out homegrown.org, which is handy for all types of gardening advice, from planning your plot to making the most of what you reap through cooking, canning and preserving. Or, if you’re in the Boston area, visit Allandale Farm in Brookline for seeds, compost, mulch and more along with expert advice for starting your garden. TreeHugger also posted a cool article this week about high-tech indoor gardening tools.

PS — if you haven’t already, check out MiFilter.com! It’s a great new site where you can filter blog content by your interests, and they’re starting with food & drink. Check it out here or follow the button on my homepage (to the right).