Gardening : Veggie Patch Update #3

September 23, 2011 05:32 by ehouston

In between rounds of hole digging for the new trees I also somehow managed to put together the veggie patch and get some food started this past spring.   At this point, I have already pulled the dead and bolting stuff out of the veggie patch twice and just planted another round of lettuces and spinach.


I tried to give the tomatoes another week, but they just hung there looking more and more unattractive as their leaves curled up and started to die.  Plus, the fruit was staying green and not really getting any larger, so earlier this week I yanked them out of their cozy little beds and sent them packing.  We had an abundance of tomatoes this summer that we enjoyed immensely.  My only regret is not planting more so I could make sauce for the winter.  This is something I plan to remedy next spring with a garden expansion- hopefully! 


A couple of Best Boys ripening on the vine earlier this summer.

By the way, I planted three Supersonics and a Best Boy this year.  They grew in a very upright pattern and produced a LOT of fruit.  So much so, that one plant got really heavy and slid down the stake, breaking under the weight.  I employed my usual method of staking and pinching off the suckers as they came up, taking only one additional step of actually pruning away branches around the bottom of the plants, to allow for more airflow, and cutting back those that were really blocking the progress of their neighboring plant.  The process seemed to work very well and I believe if we commit an entire raised bed just to tomato plants we will have plenty of sauce for a fully stocked pantry by next September.  I had never grown these varieties before and was pleasantly surprised with the results.  Hopefully Lowe’s will run another 2 for a $1.00 deal on tomatoes next year as well.  Wow, I just realized that we enjoyed cream of the crop slicing tomatoes all summer for $2.00!  cool.

Right now, I am hoping our jalapenos and couple of bell pepper plants hold on long enough to finish what they have started, which is just a little too small to pick yet.




This shot makes me giggle because the pepper plants look so funny being the only large, upright things in this garden bed right now.  The lettuce is coming in nicely to the left, though!

The herbs I left in the ground are still going crazy and while the strawberries are continuing to grow, they are not doing anything more than staying green. In the cleared areas of the beds I sowed some more lettuces and spinach, which have already started to sprout. 


If all goes well we should have more leafy green stuff than we can stand to eat in just a couple more weeks.  With this last attempt at outdoor gardening completed I am now shifting my focus to an indoor herb garden and some herb decorating for the fall.

Last week I dug up a couple of basil plants, some clusters of chives and the lone parsley plant to bring indoors. 


I used a cool oval galvanized tub that I found on sale at Joann’s the week before. Now I am counting on the sunny kitchen windows to help keep these plants going, because I can’t wait to use fresh herbs during the dreary winter months. Also, for some fall decor I transplanted my extremely neglected mum plants from last fall into bigger pots, along with a couple of our overgrown sage plants from the garden.


Since all I had to use for transplanting were ugly black plastic nursery planters, I squished them into our large galvanized tub to make one big display for our front landing. 


The soft gray-green of the sage plants contrasts nicely with the darker green of the mum leaves.  I like the color of the sage plants so much that I am considering pulling the last couple from the garden to add to the pumpkin display we will place on the steps next month.  Plus, pulling them out of the garden will free up more room for spinach- yum!  Now, if only the mums out front would give us some blooms we will really be in the fall décor business!

Have any of you started decorating for this time of year?  Do you bring anything in from your garden to keep going during the winter?  Any tips to keeping things alive indoors?

Kitsch Krafts

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Eating–Penne “Lasagna”

February 24, 2011 01:13 by ehouston

Okay, so this is not going to be a new recipe that changes your life or anything.  In fact, it’s been done before.  But, I thought I would share one of our latest eating experiments with all of you.  All, three of you. 

After a recent visit to Sam’s Club yielded three enormous bags of pasta I have been racking my brain to come up with different, easy recipes so we don’t eat the same penne bake, mac & cheese and mushroom gravy over egg noodles meal over and over again.  Well, truthfully we have so much pasta that I fear we WILL be eating those and any other recipes I can come up with for a long, long time.  Why I ever thought we needed 50 pounds of uncooked noodles is beyond me.  But, I digress…

This is what I came up with in order to use penne pasta in place of the large flat noodles used in traditional lasagna.  It’s a recipe with pictures, or as I like to call them, my personal CSI documentation (since my shots always resemble those from a crime scene).

First, you have to gather the evidence some ingredients.


The basics include a jar of sauce, 4 cups of uncooked penne and a tub of cheese.  In this instance I used part skim ricotta cheese, but I have used low fat cottage cheese before too.  These three items are the basis for this one dish meal and would be fine on their own.  However, I like to add spices, meats, veggies…you name it…to make things different and exciting!  Yeah, as exciting as a one dish pasta dinner can get.

So, once I poured the uncooked noodles into the big pot of boiling water, I got started on making the other ingredients a bit more interesting and tasty. 


To the ricotta cheese I added the following:

1 1/2 tsps of dried basil

1 tsp of dried oregano

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp black pepper

Really, you can add whatever you prefer and change the amounts accordingly.

After thoroughly mixing these ingredients I then added a leftover 1/2 back of frozen chopped spinach.


I did allow it to thaw and I poured off most of the liquid, but not all.  It was roughly 6 ounces of leftover chopped spinach that I stirred into the cheese.


Next I poured the cheapo, no frills, store brand sauce into a bowl, using my handy-dandy jar squeegee to get every last drop out.  I was also sure to make a mess down the side of the bowl and onto my unforgiving white laminate countertops.  Did I ever tell you all how much I dislike having white laminate countertops?  They never, and I mean NEVER look clean.  And, for all of those people out there that tell me to “just use bleach”, I would like to not-so-politely let you know what you can do with your “bleach”.  That doesn’t work either!  Okay, back to what I was talking about.  Oh yeah, pasta, right?  I have enough of it around here, so I need to be talking about it, if I’m not.

Now is the time to get crazy wid it!  This is the opportunity to sneak in all those things that you want your family to eat, but you don’t dare mention for fear they will run screaming, hands waving in the air, from your kitchen straight to Mickey D’s.  You can also add things like cooked meat to your sauce at this point, but I was going for a cheese and veggie only meal for something different around here. 


Also, I just happened to come across some pureed home made baby food hiding in the back of the freezer.  Yep, right after making a TON of this stuff the Little Guy promptly stopped eating anything mushy and soggy.  In the following months I managed to empty most of what was leftover into other dishes, but these had escaped my sight for some time.  (Don’t try to do any math here, it will probably just gross you out.)  I found two green beans and a carrot.  The latter is something I normally add to my sauce when I make it from scratch, so this was not totally off base for our palates.  I mixed it all up, gave it a taste and decided once this was cooked, no one would be the wiser.


After spraying my lovely disposable tin pan with cooking spray I swirled a healthy spoonful of sauce across the bottom.  BTW- Although this is a disposable pan, my frugal nature will have me carefully cleaning and reusing this thing until it literally falls apart.

Next, I put down a layer of the now fully cooked penne pasta.


See, there it is up there.  In the colander and in the pan.  hee!


So, then I start to alternate the layers of sauce, pasta and then the cheese mixture.  This is where things get tricky for me.  It’s always an extreme one way or the other, with there being either too much leftover ingredients or too little, with it rarely working out in the end.


It’s a fine line, really.  In your head you are saying, “is there gonna be enough?  Oh God, what if there’s too much cheese on one layer?  What if I don’t have enough sauce?”, but you just have to take a deep breath and keep working through each layer, eyeballing it as you go.  Okay, so now that I have pep-talked you through this step…ah-hem…just know it’s pretty common to have about three layers.  So, if you have four it’s totally wrong and you should probably throw it out.  Joking!  The main thing I want to stress during the layering process is to push the sauce to the edges and over the noodles.  Otherwise, they may dry out during baking and you could end up deciding you have to throw the whole thing out anyway.  Joking again!  Eat the middle, dummy!

Okay, so after all the layers are in place this is what it should look like.


If I am going to eat this right away, I would sprinkle the top with parmesan or mozzarella cheese and bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes.  But, I am going to freeze this for a night when I am wiped out and don’t want food prep involving anything more than unwrapping and turning on an oven.


I always lay down a piece of wax paper before covering the pan with aluminum foil.  It just seems to help keep it fresh and prevent sticking.


And, don’t forget your label.  I use a Sharpie on an old post-it pad and a little tape for extra measure.


Not only do you want to list the contents of an otherwise mysterious package, you should also add the baking info; taking into consideration that this will be a frozen brick, so adjust the time accordingly.  (All you FISI Madison Alumni can insert your giggle here.  Yes, those are post-its from beyond!)

So, there you have it.  A fast, but semi-homemade meal in about 20 minutes prep time to eat right away, or to freeze.  I hope you all enjoy your faux lasagna.

Kitsch Krafts

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