gardening, fish or cut bait edition

Fish or Cut Bait Gardening 1

So remember what I said earlier? How I have no experience with ANYTHING having to do with gardening? Keep that in mind. Because of my insane nerdspaz tendencies, I own FOUR gardening books. FOUR. I had yet to plant anything (beyond the seed of doubt in my mind that any of this will be remotely successful, of course) until this past Sunday. I’ve probably spent more time on Google in the past few months than the people who WORK at Google. If there was a show for information hoarders, I would star in the first episode.

As I mentioned, last weekend I dug up all four of the garden beds, and also spent a few hours looking like an uneducated stalker at the local Southern States and nurseries. Seriously, I went to TWO local nurseries, and TWO different Southern States. And I asked for people’s opinions at every single place I went. At one of the nurseries, a woman implied that I might be biting off more than I can chew for my first year of gardening. (Actually, there was no implication. She straight just said, “you’re biting off more than you can chew.” I left after that.)

I stopped asking people for help after that.

Thus, my “fish or cut bait” title — which is really the Politically-Correct-Food-Blogger Version of another less-than-popular colloquialism that I decided not to use because I’m too classy because I was afraid people would be offended. Basically, I figured it’s time to stop asking questions and just DO SOMETHING.

Fish or Cut Bait Gardening 2

I think, out of sheer terror of not having a plan of attack, I’m going with the Square Foot Gardening technique this year. It’s good for newbies like myself, and it keeps you organized and such. I figure later on, once I get my bearings, I can change it up if I see fit. So at 4 beds each measuring 8 feet by 4 feet, I have… 132 squares to fill with plants.

My first thought was something along the lines of, WOW THAT’S A LOT OF SQUARES. Which was also my husband’s first thought, although our interpretations were somewhat different in a very men-are-from-mars-women-are-from-venus way.

Me: “Wow that’s a lot of square feet. Shit, I hope I can grow at least ONE tomato or else I’m going to look like a total ass.”

Brad: “Wow that’s a lot of square feet. I bet we’ll grow so much, we can sell the extra tomatoes to the neighbors for $6 a pound.”

Um, no, husband. You can go inside now. Go sit inside with your high expectations. Go sit inside where I can’t see you.

Anyways, here’s what has gone in so far:

1 square of lacinato kale (planted from seed on Sunday 3/4/12)
1 square of spinach (planted from seed on Sunday 3/4/12)
1 square of red cabbage transplants (planted Thursday 3/8/12)
1 square of mustard greens transplants (planted Thursday 3/8/12)
1 square of cauliflower transplants (planted Thursday 3/8/12)
1 square of broccoli transplants (planted Thursday 3/8/12)
1 square of arugula transplants (planted Thursday 3/8/12)

Have you ever heard the phrase “fake it till you make it”? I’m thinking I’m going to officially name my garden the “Fake It Till You Make It Garden” since I basically have no idea what I am doing. Case in point – transplants, how do you plant them? I heard somewhere you were supposed to tease the roots away from the ball of soil, so that’s what I did.

It’s been a week, and theoretically my spinach should have sprouted, but we did have a two nights with below-freezing temperatures this week, so I’m just going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll show up soon. It makes you wonder about using wooden greenhouses sometimes. The transplants look much the same as the day they left the nursery, except now they’re in the ground.

Tomorrow I’ll plant beets, radishes, leeks, peas, turnips, and rutabega. And then after that will come carrots, lettuce, onions, and even some seed potatoes… whenever I figure out when to plant them.

Linguine Alfredo with Fresh Greens and Vinaigrette

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Yesterday afternoon I arrived home from Austin City Limits. It seems like a year ago (most certainly not last Thursday) that I flew to Texas and skipped right into LiLi‘s open arms. It was like a scene out of a movie, you guys. There was squee-ing and hugging and jumping, and probably a few people watching us who thought we might make out any second (sorry to disappoint, Dallas). After three days of constant sunshine, intermittent assaults on our eardrums, and the rare consumption of flavorless festival food, I arrived home in Denver feeling tired, with the lingering fear that I might still be covered in residual sunscreen, and harboring a varsity craving for fresh fruit, and funnily enough, pasta.

The craving for fresh fruit was easy enough to understand – the week before I left, I had been working my way through 10 pounds of apples I bought at the farmer’s market, sometimes consuming 2 or 3 apples a day. I barely consumed any fruit in Texas, simply because there wasn’t a good grocery store near our hotel. So I think I was simply going through withdrawal in that respect. So I remedied that problem immediately when I got home… I went to the store and bought 5 pounds of pears. Normal, right?

The pasta craving I can’t really explain. But I still took care of it. (I belong to the “If the Craving Lasts for More Than Two Days Then It’s Probably a Vitamin or Mineral That You’re Low On” school of thought when it comes to cravings. As long as you’re not hoovering a 3-pound bag of cookies, of course.)

Fettucini alfredo has always been a favorite pasta dish of mine.

It might have something to do with the cream and butter involved… but that’s just a guess.

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I discovered the Pioneer Woman’s recipe a little over a year ago, and it’s my favorite way to make alfredo now. But, as many of the Pioneer Woman’s dishes (I’m also looking at you, Giada and Paula and Ina), I find that the butter and cream in this recipe are a little… overwhelming. Like, I don’t need a FULL stick of butter in the sauce. That just seems like overkill. And I like to throw in a few vegetables, too, so that I can rationalize the fact that I’m essentially consuming a plate of carbs covered in 2 different kinds of animal fat for my dinner. Generally I like to throw in a handful of spinach into the hot pasta, because spinach is one of my favorite veggies.

But when I was making this last night, I tossed the pasta with the alfredo sauce, and I couldn’t get out of my head how much better the dish would taste with a bit of vinegar sprinkled over the top. I thought of this, of course, just as I realized that I had had a major brain fart and had forgotten to toss in the spinach. Then it struck me – have you ever seen those pizzas topped with fresh greens? – why not put a salad on top of pasta?

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This might be the only way I eat alfredo pasta for the foreseeable future. The texture of the fresh greens is the perfect contrast to al dente pasta. And the vinaigrette cuts through the heaviness of the alfredo sauce exactly as I had hoped; it almost makes the sauce seem light, which is pretty hard to do when it’s basically cream and butter. It’s also quite a pretty presentation, in my mind… I think this would be great as a big dish to serve to your guests at a party or holiday; double or triple this recipe, and serve the pasta in a large shallow serving bowl, topped with all the greens. Pretty, pretty, pretty.

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Linguine Alfredo with Fresh Greens and Vinaigrette

original recipe from The Kitchenette
Serves 2

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Gather:
1/2 pound linguine or other dried pasta
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup cream (heavy, table, or half and half)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon champagne mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
4 cups packed fresh baby spinach or mixed baby greens
salt and fresh cracked pepper

Prepare:
Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.  Add a generous tablespoon of salt to the water. Add the pasta, and cook according to package directions.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the cream and whisk to combine. Heat over medium for a few minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Season with a pinch of salt.

Whisk the mustard, olive oil, and white balsamic vinegar in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Toss greens with vinaigrette, and set aside.

Place grated parm in the bottom of your serving bowl. Pour thickened cream/butter mix over cheese. Season with plenty of cracked pepper. Let sit until the pasta finishes cooking. Reserve a cup of pasta cooking water (which can be added to the sauce later if it is too thick to coat the pasta evenly). Drain pasta and add cooked pasta to serving bowl. Toss to coat pasta with sauce. Add reserved cooking water, a tablespoon at a time, if necessary until sauce coats pasta evenly.

Top pasta with dressed greens. Serve immediately.

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Dawes / Love Is All I Am

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Simple Dinners: Baked Spinach Manicotti

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The other week, my dear friend Lili expressed to me that she wanted to learn how to cook. She had many of the same concerns that people who don’t cook regularly express: she was intimidated by recipes and she thought it would take too much time, and she already has two kids to take care of plus a full time job.  She asked me where I learned to cook, and how she should learn. My response was what I tell everyone who asks me this question: You just have to try, accept your mistakes, and then try again.

I didn’t learn to cook through cookbooks or through blog posts or through Food Network shows or anything. All of these sources have proven to be useful nowadays, but in the beginning, it was all about following the recipe and hoping that you liked the end result. The first dish I distinctly remember making in my college apartment, sophomore year, was meatballs. It was a pretty simple meatball recipe: mix the 3 meats up with eggs and herbs and breadcrumbs, form into balls, and bake. I don’t even remember what the meatballs tasted like (maybe I lost too many braincells that week drinking beer memorizing Kafka) but I don’t think they were anything special.

So in the interest of anyone who says that they don’t know how to cook, who don’t have the time, who think that they will screw it up… I give you this recipe. It’s one of my favorites, one of the first things I learned to cook at home. There are lots of short cuts you can take with this recipe: use jarred marinara sauce, use pre-frozen chopped spinach from a bag, and you can adjust the herbs to whatever you have at your house.

The recipe does takes a little bit of prep time, probably about 30-45 minutes, and when combined with the hour of baking time, this might be too ambitious of a dinner if you’re getting home from work at 6:30 or 7 pm. However, this is something you could make, bake, and freeze ahead of time, and just toss it in the fridge the morning before you plan to have it for dinner, and then reheat in the oven.

Oh, and another thing – this was originally from Cooking Light, and they used fat-free cottage cheese. Um, fat-free cottage cheese is epic levels of disgusting. It doesn’t even taste like cheese. I use regular cottage cheese, yep, the FULL FAT kind. *gasp* If you like the taste of wet cardboard, please feel free to use fat-free cottage cheese. I won’t tell anyone. But I also put more spinach in that the original recipe calls for, because that’s how I roll.

Unrelated but completely important note: It’s almost Friday, kids! Get excited!

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Baked Spinach Manicotti

Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2005

Serves 8

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Gather:
16 oz frozen chopped spinach
16 oz cottage cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
1 teaspoon crushed rosemary
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
8 oz package manicotti
26 oz marinara sauce, homemade or store-bought

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Prepare:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line a large bowl with either paper towels, cheesecloth, or a dish towel (I’m trying to give up paper towels in our kitchen, so I usually go for the kitchen towel). Put all of the frozen spinach into the dish towel, and microwave the bowl, towel, and spinach until the the spinach has thawed. (Be careful taking the bowl out of the microwave as it will probably be hot.) Gather the towel around the thawed spinach, and squeeze out the excess water into the bowl. Pour the spinach water into a liquid measuring cup. Add drained spinach back to the mixing bowl, and reserve spinach water.

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Add all cottage cheese, half (1 cup) of the mozzarella, the parmesan, oregano, sage, rosemary, salt, and pepper to the mixing bowl already containing the drained spinach. Mix the ingredients until well combined. Stuff each manicotti shell with the spinach mixture using a teaspoon, your fingers, or whatever means necessary. Assemble the shells in a lasagna/baking dish. If you have extra spinach mixture that won’t fit into the shells, then just stick the extra between shells.

Pour the entire 26 oz of marinara sauce over the shells. Measure the spinach water you have from the drained spinach. If you have more than 1 cup of spinach water, then pour 1 cup of it over the marinara. (If you don’t have 1 cup, then top off the spinach water with regular water until you have 1 cup before pouring over the marinara.)

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Top the shells and marinara with the remaining 4 oz of shredded mozzarella, and cover with foil. Bake for one hour, or until the shells are tender. Let stand 10 minutes before serving, if you can wait that long.

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Now Playing: Two Door Cinema Club / I Can Talk - this makes me want to get up and dance, even when I’m stuck in a conference room

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Acini di Pepe with Spinach, Garlic, and Scallions

AciniDiPepe1So this weekend, I inadvertantly wasted 30 minutes of my life watching Sandra Lee’s new show on the Food Network. It’s called “Money-Saving Meals.” It really should be called “Sandra Lee’s Trying-to-Make-Cheap-Meals-But-Really-If-You-Made-These-You’d-Be-Even-More-Poor-and-Probably-More-Fat Meals.”

Whew! Sorry. The people who know me, know that I am not particularly fond of Sandra Lee. I mean, seriously, the word “tablescape” never made its way into the English language until its unfortunate introduction on her show. And Sandra, I don’t care what you say, I’m not going to serve guacamole out of a miniature lawn chair. I. Just. Can’t. Do. It.

However, my beef with this show has less to do with her and more to do with the message of the show. Seriously, she didn’t make one single vegetable - unless you count potato chips as a vegetable. Also, her “cost” of each recipe is clearly calculated assuming that the average at-home cook is able to purchase 2 tablespoons of sweet pickle relish at the store for $0.32… this entire time I’ve been buying the whole jar! HOW COME NO ONE EVER TOLD ME ABOUT THESE OPPORTUNITIES?

So, in the spirit of Recession-Friendly Recipes, I am sharing this pasta dish with you. It’s cheap, it’s good for you, and it’s quick. It’s made of win!

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Spinach Salad

SpinachSalad1

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So, I have kind of an addiction. And no one really knows about it. Well, I mean, other than my addiction to cooking magazines. Everyone knows about that one; it’s well documented. I’m talking about my recent obsession with spinach – which comes at a very convenient time, since spinach and other salad greens are in season RIGHT THIS MOMENT (depending on where you are, of course).

This addiction comes at the hand of my friend Kristen J – hey girl! – who brought over a really delightful spinach salad for our Twilight DVD release party waaaaaaaaay back on March 21st. (Yes, we had a DVD release party. Yes, I am 25 years old. Yes, it was totes awesome, and admit it, you’re jealous.)

Anyways! She brought over this really, really good salad with spinach, red onion, cherry tomatoes, and slivered almonds. I was originally disappointed because, as far as I knew at that particular point in time, I didn’t like spinach salads. The spinach can be a bit bitter on it’s own, and is it just me, or is every single spinach salad served with a raspberry vinaigrette? And I don’t know about you, but I have yet to taste a good raspberry vinaigrette. Raspberry vinaigrette is the bane of my existence. Along with lemon zest. But that’s another post.

But then the next morning, I ate the same salad… for breakfast. And dinner that night, too, if I remember correctly. And I think I ate spinach salad for like, 3 days straight. And then I subtracted ingredients, because I had no food in my house, and then I added things when I had random things around the kitchen… and now I have this masterpiece. I may or may not have eaten large portions of this salad out of a mixing bowl. Trust. It’s that good.

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SpinachSalad2

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The Players:

  • Spinach
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Mandarin orange segments, drained (I prefer the kind that come “in a light syrup”)
  • Feta cheese
  • Red onion
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette

The Game:

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SpinachSalad3

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1. Slice and ice the red onions. (Note: I like to soak red onions in ice water if I’m going to eat them raw. The ice water helps to take the “bite” out of the onions. I have no idea how this works. Perhaps if we get a Chem major reading the blog we can figure it out. Anyways, it works, so try it if you don’t like raw red onions because it really does help. Five minutes usually does the trick.)

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SpinachSalad4

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2. Add spinach to bowl.

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SpinachSalad5

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3. Add mandarin oranges to bowl. 

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SpinachSalad6

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3. Add dried cranberries to bowl. Yes, I know these instructions are quite difficult. Please try to keep up.

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SpinachSalad7

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4. Drain the red onion slices and add to the bowl.

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SpinachSalad8

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5. Add the feta cheese.

6. Dress with balsamic vinaigrette. Serve immediately.

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Print-Friendly Recipe

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