Kitchen Garden

Butternut Squash and Pasta

Butternut squash.

It is easy to grow butternut squash. By the end of the gardening season, our kitchen counter accumulates half dozen or more. They keep for a long time at room temperature, so no need to be in a hurry to eat them all.

Mostly we halve them, remove the seeds, and roast them to use the flesh as a side dish. We’ve been exploring new recipes that reduce the amount of dairy products and oils in our meals. Roasted squash fits right into the menu.

We found a way to make a main dish out of butternut squash and tried a new recipe last night. It is called “butternut squash mac and cheese with broccoli.” It tastes nothing like macaroni and cheese and there is no cheese in it. The name is pretty lame. However, we normally stock the ingredients in our kitchen, and I commonly use the required cooking techniques already. I believe we will try this again. Below is how I would prepare it next time.

Butternut Squash with Pasta and Broccoli

  • medium butternut squash (~1 to 1-1/4 pounds)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • sea salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces dried penne pasta
  • 3 cups small broccoli florets

Peel, seed, cube and steam the butternut squash until the flesh yields easily with a knife.

Cook the onion, garlic and seasonings in a saucepan with a quarter cup of broth or water. Keep adding broth to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the pan.

Start eight ounces of pasta in a large pan with plenty of water. Set the timer for five minutes before reaching al dente stage. May have to SWAG this.

Put the almond milk, vinegar, onion-garlic mixture, nutritional yeast, in a blender and stir briefly to incorporate. Add the squash and run at the puree setting until the big pieces are smoothed out. Because there was so much liquid and squash, I did this in two batches. Place the mixture in a large wok or saucepan.

When the timer goes off, add the broccoli to the pasta and cook together for the remaining five minutes. Drain the pasta-broccoli mixture and add it to the sauce pan with the squash mixture. Stir everything together over medium heat until it comes to temperature.

Makes four generous servings.

Tips: I cut the almond milk in half from the original recipe. The amount will require some tweaking. Use pasta made with chick peas or lentils to increase the amount of protein in the dish. I used frozen broccoli which had been parboiled before freezing. I’d try fresh if we had it. I’d also try Brussels sprouts instead of broccoli but cook them completely before adding to the final dish.

Kitchen Garden

Thanksgiving Pancakes

Pumpkin pancake.

What to do with leftover roasted pumpkin?

A plastic tub of roasted pumpkin rested on the top shelf of the ice box. A few days ago I made pumpkin bread with the rest of it and did not want another loaf. I made pumpkin pancakes instead.

With only my personal cooking knowledge, I knew I would puree the flesh along with milk and go from there. I researched ingredients and came up with this list:

  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon each ground allspice and cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Measure the leftover pumpkin and place it in a mixing bowl. Add an equal amount of milk. Using a stick blender smooth everything to a consistent texture.

Incorporate the remaining ingredients and judge if the batter is moist enough. If not, add milk until it is. Incorporate but don’t beat the batter to death.

Spoon the batter on a heated, buttered skillet on high heat. Flip when the first side is done and let the other side finish.

Serve with a pat of butter and a favorite topping. I topped mine with apple aronia berry butter.

Kitchen Garden

A Veggie Burger

Veggie burger entree with two sides.

A burger along with a couple of sides and a beverage makes a meal. We’re vegetarian, considering vegan options, yet we don’t want to give up this traditional American fare.

Until now, it’s been a steady road to disappointment. This post deconstructs a home made burger. After eight years of trying, yesterday’s experiment reflects progress.

When Morningstar Farms began making soybean-based burgers and crumbles we were on board. They satisfied a desire for something to replace meat in recipes our mothers and grandmothers used to make. Things like hamburger patties, chili, meatloaf, taco filling and more. To gain control over what went into our food I began experimenting with home made veggie burgers beginning in 2012.

One of the first experiments was a recipe called “Morgan’s Veggie Patties” developed by celebrity chef Guy Fieri. It was a tasty burger.

The recipe seemed challenged. There were too many ingredients: 21 of them. Next, ours is not a pantry where one can find artichokes. We’d have to make a special purchase to include them. Using an egg as a binder is common, but if we want a vegan recipe, we need something else. Finally, the mixing process resulted in a burger that fell apart on the skillet. The directions to saute all raw vegetables in olive oil missed what I consider to be a basic cooking process of seasoning as one proceeds. The recipe called for mixing dry seasonings with the egg, and then adding the mixture to the beans and vegetables mixture then stirring everything together. I tried different ingredients but gave up on this burger very quickly.

Yesterday I reviewed some new recipes and came up with a new burger that held up well on the frying pan and tasted good.

  • Make a crock pot of lentils. I cooked mine in tomato juice.
  • Make a batch of basmati rice.
  • Drain and wash a 15-ounce can of organic black beans.
  • Line up the remaining ingredients on the counter: cumin and paprika to taste, salt and pepper, one medium onion, one medium bell pepper, one stalk of celery, and two cloves of minced garlic. Vegetables should be uniformly small dice.

Separate 1-1/2 cups of the lentils from the cooking liquid, reserving the liquid. Use the liquid as a cooking medium for the vegetables in lieu of cooking oil, a half cup or so. Use enough so all of the liquid does not evaporate.

Season the vegetables with the cumin and paprika plus salt and pepper to taste. My goal on the seasonings was to keep it simple. Cook on high heat until they are translucent and set aside.

Place the black beans in a large bowl. Using a potato masher smash them all until they become a uniform paste. It’s okay to leave some of them whole yet I’d be concerned it would negatively impact the burger’s ability to hold together when cooking.

Add the cooked vegetables, 1-1/2 cup each of cooked rice and drained lentils, and mix thoroughly. You’ll notice there is no binder. Depending on future iterations of this recipe I might use bread crumbs if the burger doesn’t hold together. In this case, the sticky rice and vegetable mixture held things together adequately.

One could cover the bowl and put it in the ice box to firm things up. I didn’t this time.

With an ice cream scoop, spoon the burgers onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. It made nine burgers. Once the servings are scooped out, pat them down on top and finish forming them with a fork. The cookie sheet went into the freezer until the burgers were firm. After that I moved them into a zip top bag and stuck them back in the freezer.

To cook the burger, put a small pool of oil or a squirt of cooking spray on a frying pan and bring to medium high heat. Add the frozen burger. Do not touch the burger until the underside caramelizes. Gently flip it over with a spatula and cook until the second side is done. Serve immediately.

Taste and texture-wise, this simple recipe met expectations. If you have comments about how you make home made burgers, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. I’m not finished tweaking this preparation.

Kitchen Garden

Fall Gardening

Fennel, red onion and bell pepper pizza

The correct way to add ingredients to a pizza is to waterproof the dough with oil, cover with tomato sauce, and add a layer of cheese. Toppings, by their name, go on top, followed by an optional light dusting of grated Parmesan cheese.

I don’t follow this procedure, putting the cheese layer on top. That’s how I make a pizza and have for as long as I can remember, going back until high school.

Toppings on top worked well when I tried it, including recently. The habit never stuck.

Friday I disconnected the garden hose, drained it, rolled it up, and placed it indoors. The garden has Russian kale and collards. There are also a few stragglers in the rutabaga patch. Everything else has gone brown and is ready to prepare for winter. This year I’ll take the fences down, although I don’t always. It helps if I do as I’m that much further ahead in the spring.

There’s no news on the presidential election. Counting continues and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ race was called by Associated Press in states totaling 253 electoral votes. They are leading in four more, of which Arizona has also been called by AP. Any one of the others would put them over the top. As noted Random House copy editor Benjamin Dreyer said yesterday, “My God, the Great Vowel Shift happened faster than this.”

There was news in our congressional race. Due to a “human error” the election results that showed Mariannette Miller-Meeks ahead by 282 votes on election night were corrected and now show Rita Hart with a 162 vote lead. 393,751 votes were cast in this race so the margin has been small. It might change as additional mailed ballots could arrive by the Monday noon deadline. There is certain to be a recount, although in Iowa those typically move the results only incrementally. The big error was found during the normal auditing process, and I believe that was likely the only one. Elections officials are working diligently to follow the law. They know what is at stake.

Today is a me day so I’d better get after it. Once the results of the Nov. 3 election are certified in Iowa on Nov. 10 I’ll have more to say. Nov. 10 is also the day the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Republican lawsuit to overturn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Stay safe.

Kitchen Garden

Harvest After A Hard Frost

Broccoli, celery, bell peppers, butternut squash, and kale gleaned from the garden.

Pepper and tomato plants were bitten by a hard overnight frost so I gleaned the garden Wednesday morning. A lot was available, a lot remains. I hadn’t been in one of the plots since the Aug. 10 derecho.

When frost comes, kale and broccoli turn dark green and represent some of the best garden eating all year. I froze the kale I picked as there is plenty more. We’ll serve broccoli multiple times during the coming week.

I had forgotten squash vines volunteered in the celery patch and didn’t know what kind they were when they emerged. The four butternut squash I picked look healthy and should provide variety to our dinner plates. We have a new recipe to make pasta sauce with butternut squash so we’ll try that with one of them.

Now is an abundant time for gardeners. The refrigerator has been full, the counter has plenty of squash, onions and garlic on it. The dehydrator is full of red hot peppers. Bins are full of potatoes, onions and shallots downstairs. Two fall shares remain from my barter arrangement at the community supported agriculture project. While we’ll be isolated this Thanksgiving because of the pandemic there will be plenty of food available for our special dinner.

And then winter…

How winter goes will depend on the weather, which is expected to be warm again; on the results of the election, which we hope will favor sanity and competence; and on an ability to be productive on home-based projects new and old.

I’ve been active this election year with multiple political projects. As Nov. 3 approaches many activities enter their endgame. I’m looking toward what’s next and hope my work as a poll watcher on Election Day provides diversion as we all wait for the results of the Electoral College.

A pall fell across the land, a dark shadow from Republican governance. Disoriented, we don’t know if it’s caused by a setting sun or one that’s rising on a new day. Because of the large number of vote by mail ballots, the counting may not be finished election night, and could drag out for a couple of days as states with less financial resources deal with the unusual workload. The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on everyone, including election officials. There is no clear indication when the pandemic will end, or if it will. The election won’t resolve that near term.

For now, with a temperate climate we raise our own food to reduce the amount purchased at retail stores. Produce remains in the garden for gleaning and harvest will continue until the plots are stripped bare during the next warm spell. We’re counting on a warm spell.

Kitchen Garden


Light and clouds. Oct. 13, 2020

2020 has been a good growing season in Iowa.

Temperatures seemed normal, rain adequate. When there were exceptions, dealing with them was easy and intuitive. Gardeners produced a great crop.

Meanwhile, the arctic is melting, the antarctic too. NOAA reported the third warmest September in the history of record-keeping. Drought and desertification plague many parts of the globe. Hurricanes and typhoons wreck havoc on lives. If the derecho effectively ended our garden production, damaged hundreds of thousands of acres of corn and bean fields, and destroyed half the tree canopy in nearby Cedar Rapids, well that’s a once in a lifetime kind of event… we hope.

A reckoning is coming for how we get our food. California’s Central Valley, which produced one fourth of the nation’s food suffers from drought with limited alternatives for securing water to grow crops. The Central Valley supplies 20 percent of the nation’s groundwater demand and is the second most pumped aquifer system in the U.S. These conditions for farming and food supply are not sustainable.

In March, soon after the governor signed the proclamation of disaster emergency, grocery stores began running out of food. Many people reacted by planting a garden or expanding the one they had. They joined community supported agriculture projects. Since then food supply chains worked to fill most of the shelves. Whether grocery retail sales will return to what they were is an open question. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, it is getting worse in Iowa, causing many to stay home when they can and develop alternatives to how and what they eat.

In Iowa we are blessed with a temperate climate. Converting from row crops to diversified agriculture should be done yet is not as easy as it sounds. Smaller farms require cheap labor to produce vegetables and livestock for niche markets. Mid-sized farms are constantly on the razor’s edge working to maintain profitable and diverse operations while avoiding the burden of large capital investments. Big farmers are stuck in a web of government subsidies, commodity markets, long term capital investments, and changing demand for food.

On March 13 I had lunch at a restaurant and a beer at a bar with my best friend. That was the last time I ate restaurant food or went to a bar. Cooking at home has become the norm, not just for me, but for many. That has an impact on food service companies that supply restaurants, and food processing companies that prepare food for distribution. We lost one of the anchor restaurants on our Main Street in town. There will be more business casualties unless people return to restaurant dining soon. With winter coming and the pandemic getting worse in Iowa, diners seem unlikely to return to restaurants until next spring or summer.

It comes back to Iowa’s temperate climate. It seems clear climate change is changing the way we live. As long as we have a temperate climate here we’ll survive.

In graduate school I interviewed people who survived the great depression. What they did then is what we have to do now: create a home industry that meets more of our needs and relies less on global supply chains that developed since World War II. Self-reliance should come easy for Americans as it was defined early in the history of the republic. What’s needed today is broad adaptation of a self-reliance approach to living.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended everyone celebrate Thanksgiving virtually this year to prevent spread of the coronavirus. I suspect many Iowans will meet in person and contribute to spread of a disease that is out of control here. A temperate climate can’t help with that. What we can do is plant a garden, something our environment currently supports.

Kitchen Garden

Time to Plant Garlic

Burn pile, Sept. 19, 2020.

The sound of Spanish-speaking roofers found me tending a burn pile of limbs pruned from apple trees. It seems like the neighbors just built their house: it’s too soon for a replacement roof. The quality of craftsmanship isn’t what it used to be, I suppose. Maybe it was damaged during the Aug. 10 derecho. Roofers made a one-day job of the expansive surface overlooking the neighborhood and the lake beyond.

Embers remained by the time I went to bed. I raked them over large pieces of wood so they would have a chance for overnight consumption. It isn’t the last burn pile of the year although a necessary step toward disassembling the tomato patch. That’s where garlic seeds will go.

It is time to plant garlic.

This year’s crop was excellent. Healthy plants produced large cloves that are storing well. I’d like to repeat that. Part of me wants to be done with the garden yet until the first hard frost it will keep producing on the margins without much effort. This year’s kale may grow into November.

I picked the tomato patch for garlic because most of it has been covered with landscaping fabric and mulch all season. It will be easy to dig up and rototill. The lawn needs mowing and I’m saving that to use the clippings to mulch the garlic. If needed I will purchase straw bales to finish. Planting garlic is a two-day process here. Preparing the plot one day followed by planting and mulching the next. Once it’s done it doesn’t seem like much work for the reward next July.

Yesterday I delivered my completed ballot to the county auditor. With early voting comes a rush to election day. I scheduled a number of volunteer activities to help get out the vote, beginning with a rally in the metropolis with our congressional candidate tomorrow afternoon. The outcome of the election in Iowa is uncertain. Much work remains even if our federal candidates are holding their own in polling in this red turning purple state. It’s not over and we can’t relax now just because we cast our ballot.

I don’t know the future of our country yet I hope for the best. We’re doing the best we can to right the ship of state and set course for a better horizon. As society is increasingly and globally connected, new horizons resemble the previous one. Our work remains the same.

For now our climate in Iowa can still produce a decent crop of garlic and that’s where my attention is the next few days. In the background is the dull grind of the election. We’ll know the results soon.

Kitchen Garden

Guajillo Chili Sauce

Guajillo Chili Sauce

Evolution of a kitchen garden includes figuring out what to do with the harvest.

After a couple of years growing Guajillo chilies, the results of waiting for the fruit to turn red, then drying them in a way that resembles what’s commercially available from Mexico hasn’t worked out.

Instead, I’ve gone green.

After the first garden gleaning I washed and cut all of the Guajillo chilies into four or five segments. Next, into the Dutch oven with about three quarters of a cup of tap water. I brought the mixture to a boil then turned the heat down to simmer for about 15 minutes.

The lot went into the food processor in three batches. I added seven cloves of fresh garlic, a teaspoon of salt, and roughly half a cup of home made cider vinegar. After a rough chop to break down the chilies, I returned the mixture to the Dutch oven, brought it to a boil and then turned the heat down to simmer for 20 minutes or so. That is it.

The intent is to refrigerate the product in bottles and jars to use right away. My favorite uses for the sauce is in tacos and quesadillas, and as a universal condiment. The one liter bottle in the photo won’t last long.

If the harvest were bigger, the sauce could be processed in a water bath in pint jars for longer storage. I’m getting more comfortable with reducing the amount of canned goods in the pantry, though, and I like the fresher taste.

There was a time I would can, dry, freeze and preserve every bit of food the garden produced. The result was to throw the preserved items into the compost a few years later because we didn’t use them. Now I’m working on a process to give excess produce away either to the food rescue non-profit or to neighbors and friends who don’t garden. Part of a kitchen garden is living in the moment of what’s currently available.

I can’t imagine going to the store, buying the ingredients for this sauce and making it. The engaging part is the interaction between the kitchen and how the garden produces. The goal of a kitchen garden is to get away from consumerism and make things from what we have.

There are similar chili sauces available on the market. The one I made will serve and it’s a great way to use Guajillo chilies.

Kitchen Garden

At the Orchard

Wilson’s Orchard and Farm, Sept. 30, 2020

I began work at the orchard in August 2013. It feels weird not returning this season. I was asked. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and Iowa’s lack of governmental leadership in containing it, combined with my personal risk factors, I declined the customer-facing position as mapper. Maybe next year.

A May frost during bloom took out some of the crop. Then the derecho knocked down trees and shook fruit loose. For the first time in my memory there was no u-pick operation last weekend to allow remaining apples to ripen. It won’t be the best crop. The apples I bought yesterday were grown by the chief apple officer’s brother in Michigan.

There is a crop. I hope to buy a bushel of Gold Rush at the end of the season. When I last inspected those rows they were abundant. What happens is customers start picking them before they are ripe. I’ll wait to see what’s left at the end of October when they ripen. Fingers crossed.

Our back yard apple trees are reaching the end of their lives so I planted two new ones last spring. The Earliblaze trees are slowly dying. The Red Delicious tree had a branch knocked down and the scar from where it was can’t be fixed. Since my trees alternate years of bloom we’ll see what they do next year but it’s clear they need to be replaced.

On Instagram I follow a few Europeans who post about food. Yesterday Maria Bessières posted about apples:

“Got a bit carried away this morning at the market and came home with 4 kg of apples. Now, there is a difference between an apple you get from the grocery store and the apple that grows in your garden. In Estonia apples are one of those things that you never run out of during autumn. Everyone has a grandma with an apple garden or a summer house with apple trees and once the season starts, there is no end in sight. So you make apple jams, compotes, juice, anything and everything you can imagine that uses apples. And when there are still too many of them lying around, you put bags or buckets of them outside of your garden for whoever happens to walk by to help themselves. Apples for days and days to come.”

In the United States that world of apples doesn’t exist with consistency. Supermarkets sell many apples yet we rarely buy them there. When our own trees don’t produce we visit one of the several area orchards and eat them fresh and in season. Instead of dealing with apple abundance during off years we buy them as commodities for out of hand eating or specific recipes. When we do have a crop I put them up as apple sauce, apple butter, dried apples, apple cider vinegar, apple juice, frozen apple slices, and more. During off years we work the pantry down until there is another crop. There is a predictable pattern of our personal apple kingdom. It’s reflective of a type of American individualism.

It’s already October and the orchard is into Ida Red and the Jonathan family of apples. Because of coronavirus restrictions the experience isn’t quite the same. I see them advertising for help in social media yet I’m not tempted to return until the risk of contracting COVID-19 from customers is in the rear view mirror.

The orchard is a pretty place, a fit place for walking and breathing fresh air. A change of scenery from the isolating confines of home during the pandemic. The cloudy sky doesn’t look different, then it does as we spend a couple of autumn hours at the orchard.

Kitchen Garden

Onions 2020

Onions Drying

2020 was the first big experiment in onion growing. Onions are basic to cooking and until this year I relied on others to produce onions for the kitchen. It was time to take a step forward and grow my own.

I learned a lot.

Planting from seed at home on Feb. 7, Talon and Red Burgundy onions, and Matador shallots, failed to germinate. Luckily I had split the shallot seeds between home and farm. The farm seeds germinated well. To resolve the home issue I bought some channel trays from the farm and have a heating pad in my shopping cart at the seed store. Before the snow flies I’ll buy a bag of the special soil mix used for starting seeds in channel trays.

On March 21, I planted white, yellow and red onion bulbs bought at the home, farm and auto supply store. I started half in soil mix in trays, and the rest were to be planted directly into the ground. Planting them in trays helped establish roots more quickly. They went into the ground on April 8 and grew well. They produced a number of decently sized onions, yet they had little storage value. At the time they matured I had onions left from last season so these were going bad before I was ready to use them. I might try them again next year, although since I retired from the retail job I don’t get over to that store very often.

On March 23, I planted both pelleted and non-pelleted White Lisbon bunching onions in my newly assembled home greenhouse. They germinated but the wind knocked them off the shelf and ruined them. I have a lot to learn about this style of portable greenhouse. The greenhouse was destroyed in the Aug. 10 derecho so there is an opportunity to do something different next year.

I ordered onion starts from Johnny’s Selected Seeds this year. In the past I used leftovers from the farm. This year I wanted to control which varieties were planted. Ailsa Craig, Red Wing and Patterson starts arrived just in time for planting in our area. On April 14 the whole onion patch was in.

Onion page from the garden journal.

When planting the onions I measured the width of my stirrup hoe and allowed space on either side to fit it between rows while weeding. In theory this was a good idea because it maximized space usage. Next year I’ll follow recommendations and plant rows further apart. It was difficult to fit the hoe in between rows once the plants matured. I planted starts closer together in the rows so I could harvest spring onions as they grew. This part of the process worked well.

Once the rows were planted I used the rest of the onion starts in four or five places, planting them close together to use as spring or green onions. This ensured every spot in the garden plots was used. We had a steady supply of green onions in the kitchen well into summer.

The three varieties purchased as starts produced reasonably well both as green onions and as mature bulbs. The amount harvested will last well into winter if they store as expected. That remains an open question as of this writing, although so far, so good.

The results of this experiment were a step along the way to better onion production. I bought some channel trays from the farm and next year will use a more controlled process to start from seed. I will likely combine home starts with starts from Johnny’s again. The home process for starting from seed needs proofing. Planting rows further apart should help the size of the final product.

The shallots grew well and plenty for kitchen use are in storage. Next year I’ll get shallot seeds and try again to start them from home. I assume the channel tray will foster proper germination and I can use my own starts next year.

With a year’s experimentation behind me, key challenges to address in the 2021 gardening year are:

  • Achieving proper, uniform germination.
  • Variety selection to enhance storage properties.
  • Allow some varieties to grow longer into the season and hopefully get larger.
  • Should onions started from bulbs play a role in the kitchen garden?
  • Replicate the relative success of the shallot crop.

Onions are a basic part of American cuisine and growing them well should be high on a gardener’s to-do list. Good progress was made in 2020, as evidenced by the crates of stored onions by the furnace. I’m already thinking about next year.