What’s Up Doc? Waskilly Seeds and a Recipe for Velvety Baked Carrots…

January 23rd, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Baked Velvet Carrots

Beautiful Bolero …

Flat leaf Italian parsley from the windowsill herb garden…

Sliced Bolero Carrots…

We all know that old Elmer Fudd thinks Bugs Bunny is a terribly, waskilly wabbit. But frankly I think Elmer has it wrong. I think it’s Bugs Bunny’s carrot that’s a bit waskilly – at least as a seed. Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny carrot seeds are notoriously difficult to sow. Tiny, fine and lighter than a feather, it’s easy to lose track of those little devils. They stick to the packet; slip through your fingers; blow down your shirt; and before you know it they are spilling all over the ground. Waskilly Kawits. Unfortunately, if you want beautifully shaped, full size carrots, then seed spacing is pretty darn important. But you know, I’m also fairly sure that I’m not the only gardener to lose track of how many carrot seeds have fallen into the soil, and how close they ended up being planted together. To solve the spacing problem, some gardeners broadcast seed with sand or coffee grounds. Other gardeners have showed me how they create elaborately folded paper contraptions. And a few frugal New England gardeners I know have ended up breaking down and buying pre-seeded carrot tape. Me? Oh I am stubborn. I usually struggle through the planting and then, weeks later, I test my patience by thinning seedlings with a pair of scissors on a buggy day. But there is another, fully-organic, OMRI approved solution: pelleted seeds. This year I am going to give them a go…

Pelleted carrot seeds with radishes, (photo courtesy of The Old School House Plantery)

Never heard of pelleted, (or pelletized), seeds? Well, they are just regular old seeds, coated with an organic substance, (usually an inert material like starch), that makes them easier to see and handle. The coating is sort of like the dusty, crusty stuff on the outside of a chocolate truffle, (sorry chocoholics, I didn’t mean to do that to you). If you are planning on planting a vegetable garden with kids, or if you have less-than-steady hands, or less-than perfect eyesight, (or, err,  less-than saintly patience, like me), pelletized seeds can come in very handy. I just ordered up pelleted Bolero, Mokum and Sugarsnax carrot seed from Johnny’s Seeds yesterday. I also chose a few packs of pelleted lettuce seed, since I find them a bit waskilly as well. Johnny’s Seeds is a wonderful employee-owned company in the great state of Maine, and they carry a wide variety of organic, heirloom and gourmet vegetables. I order many of my unusual vegetable seeds from Johnny’s Seeds and the other great online companies, including Renee’s Garden Seeds and Botanical Interests, listed in the sidebar at right under “seeds”. I have found that each company usually has some special variety I want, (such as the pelleted seeds from Johnny’s), so I always end up spreading my orders around the country a bit. And this year, I notice seeds are selling out faster than usual, so it’s always helpful to have a few reliable sources.

Carrots are a cook’s kitchen staple. The foundation of many stocks, carrots also add color, sweetness and vitamins to everything from salads, appetizers and soups to savory baked dishes, casseroles and breads. And can you imagine life without carrot cake and cream cheese frosting? For such a rewarding crop, carrots are remarkably easy to grow in the garden. These bright colored veggies aren’t fussy, but they do like very deep, loose, compost-rich soil. So if you have rocky loam, you might have better luck with carrots if you raise your beds with mounds or planters. Many gardeners use radishes as companions for carrots to mark the row, and to help break the crusty soil. Of course it also helps to keep the soil evenly moist during germination, (but be sure not to overwater carrots during the growing season). During the hot summer, carrots will benefit from a layer of mulch; keeping their roots cool and their tops warm enhances flavor. I also like to shade carrot roots by planting them between rows of leafy lettuce, spinach and/or chard. If you sow a fast maturing variety in the early part of the season, (when soil temps reach a consistent 60° F), and then plant a second crop when the soil is warm enough to plant tomatoes, (70-75°), you can harvest carrots all year long, (and for those of us with frozen tundra, carrots will also store well in root cellars, layered in damp sand).

Hungry yet? There’s nothing like a serving of bright orange, velvety carrots to remind me of summer’s sweetness, and I truly love this rich, savory old recipe. Brilliantly colored baked carrots are the perfect side dish for a potato-vegetable gratin or a roasted or baked pretty-much-anything. Mmmmm. Sweet Bolero, my lovely carrot, you don’t seem quite so rascally now….

Greene on Greens

Velvety Baked Carrots

(an oldie but a goodie, from Bert Greene’s Greene on Greens cookbook)

Ingredients (serves 4-6 as a side dish):

3 1/2 c       homemade vegetable stock or chicken broth

1 pound     peeled carrots cut in half lengthwise

3 Tbs         unsalted butter

3 Tbs         all-purpose flour

1/2 c          heavy cream

1/8 tsp       ground allspice

1/8 tsp       fresh grated nutmeg

dash          Sriracha hot chili sauce, (or other pepper sauce)

to taste      salt

to taste      fresh ground pepper

1/4 c          fresh bread crumbs

2 Tbs         fresh chopped parsley

1 Tbs         grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Wash and peel carrots, and slice them in half lengthwise, (more if they are particularly large). In a medium saucepan, bring 3 1/2 cups of vegetable, (or chicken), broth to a boil.  Slowly add the carrots and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the carrots, uncovered, until they are soft. Test with a fork after 25 minutes. Drain the carrots over a bowl, reserving the broth. Place the carrots in a separate bowl and mash, (lightly with a potato masher), until smooth but still attractively textured. Set aside.

Return the saucepan to the stove and melt 2 Tbs. of butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, continuously stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add 1 cup of the reserved cooking stock and whisk together while brining the mix to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add the nutmeg, allspice, pepper sauce. Whisk in 1/2 cup of cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the mixture from the heat and combine with the mashed carrots. Pour into a buttered, shallow baking dish and set aside.

In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and stir into the butter, cooking and turning until golden brown. Remove from the heat and add in the chopped parsley. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the carrots and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the topping is bubbling.

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Baby it’s Cold Outside! Warm Up a Bit – Sweet Butternut Squash Soup, with a Kiss of Apple Confit and Creme Fraiche…

December 5th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Confit and and a dollop of Crème Fraîche…

So what am I doing outside these days? Oh all sorts of last minute, before-the-snow-flies chores and holiday decorating. Up until today, it has been unseasonably warm in New England, and I have been delighting in the temperatures while gathering greenery and stringing lights. But this morning, the air is a bit nippy, and I still need to wrap and protect some ornamental trees, (more on that later), in my garden.

After only an hour outside today, my fingers were already getting cold. I know I will get cranky this afternoon if I don’t make something warm to fill me up later. The wintry clouds are moving in now, promising at least a few inches of snow. I can hardly contain my excitement ! Just imagine how beautiful everything will look in the morning. I sure hope the forecast is accurate, don’t you? Things are looking a bit drab outside these days. A blanket of white will really bring out the red twigs and colorful berries in my garden, and I think the conifers look particularly magical all cloaked in fluffy snow.

Speaking of color, I am a push-over for bright orange soup on a grey day. This recipe for fragrant, creamy-textured butternut squash soup delivers exactly the warm temperature and hue I am craving. I love Annie Somerville’s Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes From The Celebrated Greens Restaurantcookbook for many reasons, but this soup recipe is really at the top of the list. I messed with the ingredients just a bit, since I do not have Calvados on hand. But I have found that Zeke’s heirloom apple cider, (from local Scott Farm), is a delightful flavor substitute when combined with a bit of French brandy.

So if you are working outside this weekend, or just feeling a bit blah, give this sunny soup a try. The bright orange-gold color in my charcoal colored bowl feels just like a ray of sunlight streaming through dark clouds…

butternut squash close up

Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Confit and a Kiss of Creme Fraiche

Adapted from Annie Somerville’s, Fields of Greens New Vegetarian Recipes

3 cups of Light Vegetable Stock (homemade is best)

1 Tbs light olive oil

1 medium onion, sliced thin

3 Tbs Calvados , ( I substituted French Brandy and 1 Tbs apple cider, listed below )

4 lbs Butternut Squash, (1 good sized squash or 6 cups), peeled and cut into cubes

1 Tbs. unsalted butter

2 average sized, flavorful, sweet-tart apples, ( 2 1/2 cups peeled, cored and sliced)

1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs apple cider (or apple juice)

1/2 cup Creme Fraiche

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

Warm the vegetable stock in a pot over low heat. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbs of olive oil in a medium sized soup pot. Add the sliced onion, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bit of pepper. With the burner on medium, saute the onions, stirring regularly, for about 15 minutes, or until slightly caramelized. Add a bit of stock and scrape the onions from the bottom of the pan. Add 2 Tbs. of brandy and 1 Tbs apple cider, and cook over medium high heat until the pan is nearly dry.

Add the squash and 1 tsp of salt to the pan. Pour about 2 cups of vegetable stock, perhaps slightly more, into the pot until the squash is just covered.  Cover and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is soft. Pour the soup into a blender or food processor, add a bit more stock to liquify, and puree to a thick but soupy consistency.  Add more stock as needed.  Pour the soup back into the pot and simmer for a half an hour over low heat.

To make the apple confit: Melt 1 Tbs. butter in a saute pan, (with a lid). When the butter is melted, add apples and saute, medium-high, stirring to coat the apples in butter. Add 1 Tbs. Calvados or Brandy and cook down for about 2 minutes, or until the pan is nearly dry. Add the apple cider and cover, cooking the apples over medium heat for 15 minutes, or until soft. Uncover and cook another 5-10 minutes, reducing the liquid. Mash the apples lightly.

Divide the confit in half. Stir one half into the soup and set the rest aside to spoon atop each serving bowl. Add a dollop of creme fraiche and float a bit of apple confit atop each warmed bowl of soup before serving. Swirl for a pretty effect.

butternut squashThe color of butternut squash is the most beautiful golden orange…

fieldsofgreensFields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes From The Celebrated Greens Restaurant

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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