Monthly Archives

July 2015

In the Garden

What’s That Black Spot on My Tomato? (And How to Fix It)

July 29, 2015
A ripe tomato with Blossom End Rot.

Tomatoes are a finicky bunch. They’re susceptible to an astonishing number of diseases, many of which are nearly impossible to diagnose without an advanced degree in plant pathology– and even then, you’d be surprised how hard it can be to determine what’s causing, say, a wilting leaf. It could quite literally be a hundred different things.

Thankfully, one of the most common tomato ailments is also one of easiest to spot. (Get it? Because it forms a spot? I crack myself up.)

The Dreaded Dark Spot

If you’ve grown tomatoes in pots before, chances are you’ve come across a tomato or two in your time that formed a grayish brown or black splotch on the underside of the fruit, right where the dead flower blossom once connected to the fruit’s skin. You may not have noticed it right away because these spots only form on the underside of the fruit, and the tops can looks surprisingly healthy.

Blossom End Rot- Tops

 

Blossom End Rot- Bottoms

These dark spots can be small or large, and will often grow in size as your tomato matures. They can be just a little spot just on the underside, or, in extreme cases, they can spread up the sides of the fruit until half of the tomato is affected.

Blossom End Rot- Green

If your tomatoes are experiencing these symptoms, it’s safe to say that you’ve got Blossom End Rot (or BER). It sounds nasty, but before you panic and rip up your plant in frustration, take heart in the knowledge that Blossom End Rot is relatively easy to correct, and even easier to prevent.

BER is a symptom of a calcium deficiency in your plant. While not one of the big three macronutrients that most new gardeners are familiar with– those would be nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, abbreviated as NPK– calcium is still a critical nutrient that plants need in order to function at optimal levels of health and productivity. Calcium is particularly critical to plants in the nightshade family, which include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes. If you’re noticing the telltale signs of Blossom End Rot on your tomatoes, then you can bet your plant is having trouble accessing this critical nutrient.

Thankfully, calcium deficiency is easy to correct with a liquid or powdered calcium supplement. While not available at all nurseries, most stores catering to hydroponic growing carry calcium amendments for gardening purposes. Call ahead if you’re not sure if your supply center carries it. Once you’ve got your hands on some calcium, dilute it with water according to the package instructions. Now, many of these supplements will instruct you to spray the calcium-fortified water on your plant’s leaves, but I prefer to use it to drench the affected plant’s roots instead. I might sprinkle some on the leaves as well, but I definitely suggest you pour at least a gallon of the diluted concentrate on the soil around the roots. Repeat the process once more a week later.

Calcium Supplement

It’s important, once you’ve supplemented your plant’s deficient soil with the missing calcium, that you then keep up a regular watering schedule. Under-watering and irregular watering can seriously exacerbate the condition of plants affected by Blossom End Rot. This is why it is so much more common to find BER in tomatoes which have been grown in containers, because they have a harder time holding onto water and generally tend to be under-watered as compared to their in-ground compatriots. A full-sized tomato grown in a properly sized pot (at least 15 gallons) will probably need to be watered once per day in the middle of the summer, depending on climate conditions. Hot sunny weather obviously requires more water than overcast or rainy weather. Windy weather can be deceiving, for while it can help keep temperatures down, wind also has a strong drying effect on the soil.

While it’s relatively simple to diagnose and correct for Blossom End Rot, it’s still always preferable to take steps to prevent the issue so that you never deal with it in the first place. So what can we do to keep BER at bay next time we plant out our tomatoes?

First of all, make sure that you’re fertilizing your tomato adequately when you transplant it to its final destination– be it a pot, a raised bed, or just a plain old hole in the ground. In addition to an all-purpose fertilizer (which typically contained some calcium– check the package to be sure), and any other amendments that you like to use to feed your tomato, I like to add a big handful of a high-phosphorous and calcium supplement, such as bone meal or bone ash. The phosphorous is critical for blossom production, and the calcium will help keep Blossom End Rot at bay. It’s also a great idea to throw some saved, crushed eggshells from your morning omelet in the bottom of your planting hole to build in a little slow-release calcium source for your plants to draw on throughout the season. Continue to fertilize with an all-purpose fertilizer throughout the season for best results, particularly if you’re growing in a pot. Making sure your soil is rich in calcium from the get-go, together with a good watering routine should keep your tomato plants BER-free and growing strong all season long (…just as long as one of the other 100 tomato diseases doesn’t get them!)

 

In the Kitchen

CSA Saturday

July 25, 2015
All of the beautiful produce that came in my CSA box

It’s been an excellent seven days in the kitchen, and I’m so excited to share my CSA-inspired meal ideas of the week with you today on this lovely CSA Saturday. Last Saturday’s box came packed to the gills with plums, tomatoes, green beans, red onions, jalapeños, a cantaloupe, and an Armenian cucumber. Many of these are repeat visitors as you may recall from previous CSA Saturdays, but I like to keep things fresh and exciting so read on to see what new things I made with them this week!

Let’s break it down.

Cucumber

I had big plans for this cucumber. He was going to get cooked (cooked!) with honey and rice vinegar and other exciting flavors. And then I ate him raw instead, without doing a single fancy cooking thing. I’m a barbarian like that.

Plums, Melon

Melon and Plum Salad

Juicy ripe cantaloupe and crimson plums played nicely with fig wedges and slices of the tiny tart apples I picked during an excursion to the Taylor Street Farm in San Jose this past Sunday. This tiny, tucked away urban farm is located practically beneath the 87 freeway exit for Taylor Street in San Jose. It’s a joy to wander around in– a tiny oasis in the city– and even has a U-Pick option for families who want to stop by and snag some local veggies and show the kids how food is grown. I couldn’t have made this tasty little fruit salad breakfast bowl without ’em! Of course, the melon and plums helped too.

Green Beans

Glazing the Beans

I recently picked up a copy of one of my favorite food & garden blogger’s cookbooks, and found myself cooking my way through several of her recipes this week, with a few tweaks and edits of my own (I can’t help myself! I’m a tinkerer.) These lovely balsamic-glazed green beans came from The CSA Cookbook by Linda Ly. I have to say, I’m a huge fan! Both of the beans, and the book. If you’ve enjoyed my CSA Saturday series, you will definitely enjoy her cookbook, which focuses on how to use all of a garden’s bounty, including some of the underutilized and under-appreciated parts of plants, like tomato leaves and watermelon rind, both of which are totally edible! Who knew?

Balsamic Roasted Green Beans

Slicing Tomatoes

My tomatoes were so ripe when they arrived this week that some of them were already starting to split and run by Sunday, which meant I needed to use them ASAP! I sliced up the ripest of the lot and cooked them in a galette with the last of my homemade (frozen) pesto from my very first CSA box, three weeks ago. This recipe was also inspired by the CSA Cookbook. My main innovation was to swap out the ricotta the original recipe called for with goat cheese, and to drizzle a little local honey over the pie before serving, which kicked it up a notch and lent a subtle sweetness to the otherwise super savory dish.

Tomato Tart

The remaining tomatoes went into the freezer to keep them from spoiling, but reappeared later in the week in the form of a soup.

Cherry Tomatoes, Frozen Slicing Tomatoes

Cream of tomato soup. It’s a classic. You can’t really go wrong. You don’t even need a recipe. I just threw all my remaining tomatoes– both cherry and large– into a pot with some garlic and Italian herbs and simmered until I was ready to eat. Then I just added a dash of heavy cream and whizzed it all up with my immersion blender. I didn’t measure a thing and it was delicious.

Tomato Soup

Jalapeños 

I’ve got one word for you: chilaquiles. I vaguely followed this recipe, but I used all three of the jalapeños that came in my CSA box, and I roasted them and the tomatillos in the oven before blending them into the salsa verde. Once again, I didn’t measure a thing, so don’t worry about sticking too close to the recipe. Measuring is overrated. (Says the person who finds carpentry particularly challenging).

Chilaquiles

Red Onion

Making the Quinoa Cakes

I could think of no higher calling for red onion than cheesy quinoa cakes. Mince half of an onion and chuck it into a bowl with 3 cups of cooked quinoa, some chopped green onions, 2 beaten eggs, somewhere in the ballpark of 1/4 cup of flour (enough to hold the batter together), and a hefty handful each of goat cheese and cheddar. Form the resulting batter into rounds about 1/4 cup in volume and fry over high heat with olive oil, and you’ve got yourself a light and lovely vegetarian lunch.

Grilling the Quinoa Cakes

Quinoa Cakes

Bon appetit!

Bon Appetit

 

In the Garden

Keep Your Container Plants Alive on Vacation

July 17, 2015

If you have container plants that you water by hand, then you may be familiar with the vaguely terrifying feeling that accompanies going out of town for a few days. Will your precious plants survive the neglect? How long can they go without being watered before they give up the ghost? In drought-stricken California, where I live, it may only be a matter of days before the most tender of potted plants passes the point of no return.

Container Plants

I’ve just arrived back from a week-long sojourn to the east coast, and I’ll tell ya, I was definitely nervous as I disembarked from my airport shuttle and walked back to my apartment. The first thing I would see when I turned the corner to my building would be my handful of container plants, which had been thriving when I left, but hadn’t been watered or checked on in nearly a week. Would they still be going strong? Or would the Palo Alto sun have burnt them to a crisp while I was gone?

I came around the bend and breathed a huge sigh of relief– they were alive! My tomato plant was a bit bedraggled and was clearly ready for a sip of water, but my pepper plants were looking fabulous and were dripping with new peppers.

Poblanos

Scotch Bonnets

I’m not sure they would have made it though if it hadn’t been for a little trick I used to keep them watered for a couple of extra days. Most of my pots were inherited from a friend and didn’t come with the water-retaining saucers that go underneath the containers to keep dirt and water from staining the ground below. Since I didn’t have any friends in the building to water for me while I was gone, and no time to pick up any handy self-watering gadgets, I had to get a little creative. I grabbed a couple of large mixing bowls, filled them halfway with water, and then placed one under each of my containers, which I also watered deeply.

Mixing Bowls Under Containers

My tomato plant was too big to fit a mixing bowl under, so I used the only thing I had handy that was big enough to hold the plant and some extra water– my laundry hamper! While I’m not sure I would recommend that (too much fuss to clean out later), a big ice bucket or washtub would work well here.

Keeping Your Container Plants Alive on Vacation

If you happen to have a kiddy pool, or other large water-tight container available, you could group all of your potted plants together in it instead.

The extra reserve of water allows your plants to suck up the moisture as they need it, giving you a couple of extra days before their supply runs out. Employing this technique before going out of town for a couple of days could be the difference between coming home to find healthy plants or dying, water-stressed plants. Despite the extra water, my tomato plant was still starting to wilt after a week away, so I wouldn’t recommend this as a long-term solution for vacations more than a week in length. But for just a handful of days, it’s a simple solution that will allow you to rest easy, knowing your plants are cared for while you’re gone.

In the Kitchen

CSA Saturday

July 11, 2015

Whew! Is it Saturday again? Time does fly when you’re cooking up a storm. Welcome to the 3rd edition of CSA Saturday. Let’s jump in, shall we?


CSA Produce

This week I came home with corn, more peppers, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, an onion, and a melon. Not pictured here– potatoes. Those naughty potatoes jumped right into a pot before I could photograph them with their vegetable brethren, but fear not! I have provided photographic evidence of their existence below!

Zucchini & Cherry Tomatoes

It happened to be the 4th of July when I picked up my box, so a good portion of our produce ended up either on the grill or on top of something that got grilled.

Can you spot the zucchini amongst the madness?

Zucchini

Check out those grill marks! Yum!

After being grilled, the leftover zucchini got chopped up and added to a simple pasta dish with egg noodles, olive oil, the cherry tomatoes, grilled chicken, and a hearty grating of parmesan cheese.

Zucchini Tomato Pasta

Onion

Like much of our produce this week, the onion succumbed to Fourth of July preparations. Here it is, caramelized to perfection and ready to be piled high atop many a burger or brat.

Onion

Potatoes

Aha! There are the sneaky potatoes, running off before the group picture.

Sneaky Potatoes

As punishment for their sneakery, they got cut into cubes, steamed, and smothered in potato salad fixin’s. A just punishment, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Potato Salad

Melon

Sliced and devoured. Sometimes it’s the simple things.

Peppers, Tomatoes, Corn

The peppers, several of the tomatoes, and the corn made their way into my Corn & Black Bean Stuffed Peppers, which I posted a recipe for earlier this week.

Roasted Peppers

Tomatoes

The remaining tomatoes that weren’t sliced onto burgers or cooked into stuffed peppers ended up making it into one of my very favorite summertime dishes– an open-faced tomato sandwich. It’s as easy to make as it is to eat, and boy is it easy to eat. You may not be able to tell in this photo but there is bread under that stack of tomatoes!

Tomato Sandwich

The essentials: a  slab of good crusty bread, mayo, salt, tomatoes. As much as I can be a purist about my tomato sandwiches, I also have been known to mix it up form time to time, and this is an easy sandwich to customize. Swap out plain french bread for sourdough, whole wheat, or, as I did in this case, kalamata olive-studded. Add cheese. Add avocado. Drizzle with balsamic. Top with basil. With so many options, tomato sandwiches are an easy, tasty option for lunch or dinner that I never tire of.

That’s it for this week folks. Happy eating!

There will be no CSA Saturday next week as I will be away traveling and unable to cook for a week. CSA Saturday will return the following week with new recipe ideas and suggestions for making the best of your vegetable bounty!

In the Kitchen

How to Roast Garlic

July 9, 2015

Roasted garlic was the star of many a meal in my apartment last week, after I received three heads in my CSA box, and today I’m going to give you my top secret (not actually secret at all) recipe. If you’ve never roasted garlic before then you, my friend, are in for a treat!

Start by hacking off the pointy tip of each head like so. The idea is expose the top of each of the cloves.

Cut Garlic

Swipe a bit of oil on the bottom of your roasting pan, then arrange your cloves, root side down in the pan. No need to peel the head or cut off the roots. It’s all groovy.

Next, drizzle some olive oil over the top, making sure to get some in and around all the cloves. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on there. I prefer to use sea salt or kosher salt, but feel free to use whatever your heart tells you. I’m a firm advocate of following your heart, especially in culinary matters.

Ready to Roast

Almost ready! All that’s left now is to cover your roasting pan with aluminum foil and pop it into a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Voila! Roasted garlic. Easy as pie. Easier, actually. None of those pesky pie crusts to mess with.

Roasty Toasty Garlic

To get to the ooey gooey melted deliciousness that was once a humble garlic clove, grab the head at the base and give it a good squeeze. The cloves should pop right out. What you do with them next is only limited by your imagination. May I suggest a hearty roasted garlic and potato soup? Perhaps a pasta sauce with a secret garlicky surprise? Whatever you choose, I bet you won’t be disappointed.

Happy roasting!

 

In the Kitchen

Corn & Black Bean Stuffed Peppers

July 6, 2015

Remember how I told you I had a special recipe in the works that I was saving my chives for? Well, this is it. Full Belly Farm, the farm that I get my CSA from, asked me to contribute a recipe to their weekly newsletter for next week!

I was so excited by the opportunity to put together a special recipe that showcases a number of the seasonal products that will be in all the Full Belly CSA boxes this coming week. I wanted to make something that would be accessible regardless of dietary restrictions, so whether you’re vegetarian or gluten-free, this recipe should work for you! I think you’ll like it. I know I do. So, without further ado, here’s my take on a spicy vegetarian stuffed pepper dish using Full Belly Farm‘s Flamingo peppers, heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, and chives.

Corn & Black Bean Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 4 Flamingo peppers*
  • 2 large tomatoes or 3-4 small tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • 2 ears of corn, kernels removed
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • ½ cup red onion, chopped finely
  • ½ – 1 jalapeno, seeds removed and chopped finely
  • ½ bunch of chives, minced (approx. 1/3 cup)**
  • ½ cup instant grits
  • ½ cup cheddar cheese
  • ¾ tbsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • fresh ground pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut off the top half inch of the peppers and remove the cores and seeds from inside. Slice a tiny sliver off the bottom of each pepper, if necessary, to get it to stand upright. Stand peppers in a rimmed, greased baking pan or ovenproof pot.
  3. Roughly chop the tomatoes into cubes, and cook on the stove over medium heat with a glug of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper until the juices release and the flesh starts to fall apart (5-10 minutes). Remove from heat and let sit.
  4. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix to combine. Add cooked tomatoes and mix until evenly moistened. Spoon mixture into hollowed out peppers until full. Replace pepper tops and cover the entire pan with tin foil.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Serve warm. Don’t worry if the peppers get a little bit charred and wrinkly looking—they’ll still taste great!

* This recipe makes more than enough stuffing for four average-sized peppers. I personally like to cook the extra stuffing in a separate pan. It gets nice and crispy and you can serve it with the peppers for those that enjoy a higher filling-to-pepper ratio, but you could also buy two extra peppers and stuff those instead.

** You can substitute scallions for the chives in this recipe.

Roasted Peppers

I hope you enjoy my recipe for vegetarian stuffed peppers! Let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

In the Kitchen

Happy 4th & a CSA Saturday

July 4, 2015

Happy Independence Day! I hope your day is filled with good friends, good times, and most importantly, good food. Which brings us right to the point of today’s post because it’s that time again– time for another CSA Saturday!

As far as I’m concerned, it’s not summer until I’ve bitten into the first vine-ripened tomato of the season, which makes June 27th my personal first day of summer, since that’s when I got the first tomato in my CSA box. It was beautiful– not quite round, not quite red, completely delicious. It transformed, almost like magic, into a decadent pizza with almost no input on my behalf. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s a take a look at what else arrived in my box this week.

CSA Produce

Bell peppers, tomatoes, and corn, oh my! The trifecta of summer. Not to mention that juicy honeydew melon. I’m not talking about those bland watery green balls you buy at the supermarket. We’re talking sweet, delicious honey-flavored flesh. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Excuse me while I go cut off a slice…

…and we’re back. What else? Let’s see. We’ve got some kirby cucumbers, a mess of green beans, three heads of garlic, and a bunch of chives.

So what did I cook up in my kitchen this week with all that deliciousness? Stick with me, and we’ll find out.

Garlic

I’m putting garlic first on this list because those three heads of garlic became the base of most of my meals for the week. First, I roasted the heck out of them.

Roasty Toasty Garlic

Then I spent the rest of the week squeezing out the melty roasted cloves and smearing them on everything in sight. They got spread across thick-cut slices of toast, covered with smashed avocado, and topped with a fried egg. They got whizzed into a mouth-tingling roasted jalapeño-garlic aioli and smeared on grilled corn.

Roasted Garlic Aioli

Most importantly, they formed the basis for my next recipe…

Tomatoes & Peppers

Mamma mia, it’s a pizza! Whole wheat pizza with roasted garlic smashed right onto the crust, smothered in tomato sauce, and topped with more roasted tomatoes, peppers, and onions. It was good. It was real good. It hit the spot.

Tomato & Pepper Pizza

Sweet Corn

That first pizza was so good, in fact, that I made a second pizza, just so the first one wouldn’t feel lonely in my belly. This one got the leftover pesto treatment (from last week’s CSA!) before being sprinkled with sweet corn kernels fresh off the cob, chopped zucchini and a judicious amount of cheese. Heck yeah.

Pizza

A couple more ears of corn got tossed on the grill and smeared with the aforementioned jalapeño-garlic aioli. It was a revelation. I’m never eating plain corn again, and you shouldn’t either.

Melon

Melon is a beautiful invention. I like to think of it as nature’s bowl. Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and you’ve got yourself the perfect little cup to hold a helping of yogurt. The combo of sweet melon and sour yogurt is a big winner in my book.

Melon

Cucumbers

Speaking of sour, this week we got all kinds of pickle-happy in my kitchen. I mean that in a strictly culinary sense, I promise you. Check out these dill cucumber spears, made with the randomly sized cukes we inherited in our box this week. I can barely wait the week it takes for them to fully soak in the brine! They look so good now.

Cucumber Pickles

Green Beans

This was our second week of green beans and we went in a radically different direction this week. Last week we made a Green Bean and Potato Curry. This week we made… more pickles! This is a special little recipe I’m developing for hot ‘n garlicky fermented green beans and okra. I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out! I’m no psychic, but I’m seeing lots of Bloody Marys in these pickles’ future.

Green Bean Pickles 2

Green Bean Pickles 1

And that’s all for this week folks! You may have noticed I didn’t use the chives in any of my meals this week, and that’s because they got saved for a special recipe that I’ll be releasing sometime in the next week and a half, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Now go grill things! Happy 4th.

In the Garden

How to Grow Basil: A Beginner’s Guide

July 1, 2015

Basil is the quintessential beginning gardener’s herb. It seems so accessible, sitting pretty in its pot outside your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. But who among us isn’t guilty of snagging a bushy pot of happy-looking basil from the supermarket on a whim, only to find it limping along, close to death, only a week or two later? If that sounds like you, don’t be discouraged! I’m going to walk you through it.

The Basics

If at all possible, try to grow your plant outside. A sunny, south-facing window will do in a pinch, but basil really prefers the outdoor air and unfettered access to sunlight. It needs a lot of light to thrive, so make sure you choose a spot that gets all day sun.

If your basil plant came in a decently sized container you may be okay leaving it in that pot, but it’s certainly not going to complain if you give it a little more room to spread its legs. A 10 to 14-inch diameter pot will be more than enough room for a single basil plant. Alternatively, if you have a garden patch, you can plop it straight into the ground.

Don’t go crazy on the water. Basil likes to dry out in between waterings. It’s a fairly drought-tolerant plant, and many a wilted, dying basil plant has actually been the victim of overwatering.

Feed it! You’re not very productive at work if you haven’t eaten in a while are you? So why expect your basil to go all season long without being fed? Find yourself an organic fertilizer– whether compost, worm castings, or one of the pre-mixed dried or liquid versions at your local nursery (look for one that says “all-purpose”), and give your plant a little spruce once a month according to the package instructions.

Follow those simple steps and your basil should be one happy camper.

Just don’t expect it to live forever. After all, basil is an annual. Eventually it’s gonna croak on you, but that’s okay because by the time your basil is on its way out, arugula, and mustards, and all the other wonderful fall and winter greens are on their way in. That’s the beauty of seasonality, y’all.