Monthly Archives: November 2012

Friday PhotoEssay: Radicchio & Lettuce Edition

Because I’m saving the pictures of the garlic and shallots for a separate post, I took a few pictures of the radicchio and lettuce in the garden for today. The red color is getting darker as we have some colder days and nights. The red color is also variable between the different plants, which I find interesting. There is obviously not complete genetic uniformity in this seed batch. off, a picture of the red lettuce again. This one actually has a fully formed head. It is not a tight head like with iceberg, but there is definitely a head there. radicchio is much more speckled rather than developing solid red color. Almost like the chioggia types tend to do. one has the speckled character, but also some nice dark red color on the upper/inner surface of the leaves. last picture is the plant right on the corner, so that could be the reason for the darker color – it gets colder than the others. It has darkened to this nice burgundy color in the last 10 days.

Have a great weekend!

Harvesting & Preserving Basil

This is a little bit of a review post. I did a post about preserving basil a couple years ago, and we tried several methods. This year I stuck with the one method that I liked the best from before: freezing in oil. We decided that most of the applications we use the frozen basil for would not be hurt by a tablespoon of oil.

The same day I picked a bunch of lemongrass, I also cut what I wanted from our Thai basil plant and a few stalks from the sweet basil plant. The sweet basil we used fresh for pizza and to make the kitchen smell nice, because we still have some sweet basil ice/oil cubes in the freezer. The Thai basil was what we wanted to preserve, because we like making Thai dishes in the winter.

The Thai basil had gotten a little bit stemmy and gone more to flowers in the last month before I picked it, so I had to go through and pick off the clumps of leaves.

I also picked off much of the flowers separately, thinking I might freeze them apart from the leaves. In the end, I just decided to throw them in with everything else.

I chopped it all up in our food processor, and then put it in the ice cube trays, covered with grapeseed oil. Then, after 24 hours, I discovered that grapeseed oil doesn’t solidify in the freezer like olive oil. ARGH! It was kind of funny though, because there were these frozen bits of basil leaves floating in not frozen oil. At that point, I transferred the whole mess into a couple of 1 cup plastic storage containers and threw them back in the freezer. After all, it isn’t so important that the oil solidifies as it is that it protects the basil from oxidation and otherwise getting brown and slimy.

New Cold Frame

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile now, you know that in the past we have used “low tunnel” type row covers/cold frames. (These terms tend to get used interchangeably, although they aren’t necessarily exactly the same.)

This is what we’ve done in the past – putting either plastic or fabric over low plastic hoops to protect cool season vegetables. With the new garden, we wanted to try something new, especially something that wouldn’t be as susceptible to the wind!

We wanted to try a more traditional cold frame, which is a wooden box with a glass/plastic top. We used plexiglass. One of our Master Gardeners built this for us. (Thank you, Don!) It is designed to fit onto the red cedar raised beds, around the corner posts.

As you can see, the lid is hinged and runs on a track. It is also only about 4′ x 4′ rather than the length of the whole bed. We wanted something that would be usable but that we could still hope to lift and store somewhere during the rest of the year!

The Master Gardeners planted some spinach seeds in this raised bed the week before the cold frame was installed. They are growing pretty well, since the weather has still been warm. The day length tends to slow the growth down at this time of year as well. You can see we still have the lid open, since it hasn’t been getting consistently cold. I might see about closing it for today and tomorrow, then opening it again later in the week.



Preserving Lemongrass & Making Turkey-Lemongrass Stock

Awhile back, one of you asked how the lemongrass that I started from grocery store stalks turned out. Since it was growing in my community garden plot, I didn’t take as many pictures throughout the summer as I typically do for plants here in the Demo Garden. I took several pictures of the lemongrass, which you can view here if you want to see them all.

However, in most of the pictures it just looks like a green blob of grass. This picture actually shows you the size of the stuff in context! It is really a beautiful fountain-shaped grass, and it gets BIG! By viewing it through the cattle panel, you can see that it is probably 4 to 5 feet tall in September. It looks like a fun grass to play in, but just a warning – those grass blades have sharp edges. I recommend long sleeves and gloves when you get ready to harvest.

To harvest, I took pruners and cut off the grass about 18″ above the ground, then I got right into the base and twisted each of the large stalks off. It’s a little bit hard to describe the harvesting process, and I don’t have a really good picture. The key is bending each stalk right at ground level and twisting to pull it out, because the base is where the best usable part is.

I ended up with a grocery sack of lemongrass stalks from just one plant, and that was only taking the large stalks! (Lemongrass really likes heat!) You can see I also harvested some basil and Thai basil at the same time. We’ll deal with that in another post.

This is what the stalks looked like before cleaning.

I took 1-2 layers of the outer leaves off and trimmed off the woody base. You can see the nice white ends on the stalks.

I cut off about 2-3″ of each stalk. My understanding has always been that you want the more succulent white ends and not the rest. You can see the white core at the end that is still a little tough and also the greener bits on the outer layers farther up the stalk that are also a little fibrous. I suppose that technically you might want to remove those parts. (I have to share that I was surprised by the purple stripes on the inside of the stalks! Pretty cool!)

Anyway, I didn’t remove those tougher parts because I was lazy and also because I was planning to pulverize it all anyway.

Here you can see the ends in the bowl, along with all the remaining stalks. The ends were about 4 cups worth of lemongrass…plenty to last us a couple of years, probably! I hated to just pitch the stems though, and I don’t love lemongrass tea enough to go to the effort of drying them. More on that later.

The ends all went into the food processor and came out this lovely fine minced lemongrass. Yum! So, now what? I chose 2 methods of preserving, and we’ll see which I prefer.

Method 1: Put a heaping tablespoon of lemongrass in each ice cube slot and then cover with water. (You can also use olive oil.) Freeze, then store in a bag in the freezer. I’ve used the ice cube method before for basil, and it is my preferred method for storing basil. We’ll see how the lemongrass fares.

The remainder went into two 1 cup containers and I covered them with grapeseed oil. I had grapeseed oil on hand, so I used that instead of lemongrass. FYI, grapeseed oil doesn’t solidify in the freezer. Olive oil does. Yes, I learned that the hard way. So the pro of using the grapeseed oil is that it will be really easy to scoop out lemongrass when I want it. The con is that I have a potential mess on my hands if something goes wrong in the freezer… Not that anything would ever topple over in my immaculately organized freezer. Right.

Now the question was, what to do with those remaining lemongrass stalks? Since I didn’t want to make tea, I decided on another use that would involve infusing a liquid with the nice lemony flavor – making chicken stock. Or rather, as it turned out, making turkey stock. I happened to find 3 packages of turkey legs on the “use them now before they go bad” special.

I browned off the turkey legs a little bit first, then covered them with water and dumped in a few lemongrass stalks, peppercorsn, and bay leaves. I simmered this for about an hour, until the turkey legs were cooked. Then I took the meat off the turkey bones and saved it for use later and threw everything else back in the pot. I put a couple tablespoons of vinegar in the pot with the bones, because supposedly that is supposed to help release more minerals from the bones and help the stock to gel after cooking. I then simmered it for about 6+ more hours. The last hour, I added some carrots, celery, onion, and garlic to add more nutrition and flavor. (Supposedly, if you don’t add the veggies until the end, you get more value from them because you don’t overcook all the nutritive parts. You can also still stand to eat them later.)

I ended up with about 3+ quarts of turkey stock when I strained it. I saved 6 cups to make a Turkey-Wild Rice Soup, and the rest I boiled down until it was about 4x concentrated and froze it in ice cubes. I’m all about the ice cube trays for everything except plain old ice cubes, apparently.

I don’t know if it was the vinegar or if I just was lucky, but this was the first time that I’ve had stock turn into stock jelly when I refrigerate it. It was pretty cool! If I’d been really motivated, I could have saved the turkey bones and made another batch of stock with them. This was enough of a project for me though, and I didn’t exactly have space for more stock, since we don’t have a pressure canner (and they kind of scare me anyway).

The stock was really good! I was afraid that we wouldn’t actually be able to taste the lemongrass, but it was there. Not overpowering, but not lost in the other flavors. One other note…I didn’t actually put any salt in at any point other than very lightly salting the legs before browning. You don’t want to salt the stock and end up with a salty mess when it gets cooked down. Much better to add salt when you are actually using the stock to cook.

So…if you have some extra lemongrass kicking around, you now have something to do with that turkey carcass!

Friday PhotoEssay

This week has gone fast! I thought I might get at least 1 more of my catch-up posts finished, but apparently not. I do want to get my lemongrass/turkey stock with lemongrass post done next week, because rumor has it that a lot of people will have leftover turkey or turkey carcasses!

The lettuce and radicchio that we planted from transplants in late August/early September is still looking great! Some of the varieties aren’t quite as good, probably because we’ve had so much heat.

The red butterhead lettuces are consistently my favorites in the fall. The leaves are buttery and tender and the color gradients are beautiful. They are also quite cold tolerant, since the reds get darker with the cold weather. This picture is from AFTER the cold snap last weekend. This one is ‘Skyphos.’ The red color isn’t quite as brilliant as the ‘Red Cross’ variety we grew a couple years ago, but still really nice.

This ‘Galactic’ lettuce isn’t nearly as nice. I think it had actually started bolting a little bit in the heat (see the stalks – that’s not normal lettuce behavior!), and obviously the older leaves were not tolerant of the cold. The new leaves at the top look like the cold didn’t bother them much. Of course, the color is gorgeous!

The ‘Winter Density’ lettuce is quite cold tolerant. I don’t see any cold damage whatsoever. However, If you look close, you can see that this variety has also started bolting a little bit. Crazy warm fall and fluctuating temperatures!

From a distance, the radicchio looks like it sustained a lot of injury. I think these are mostly the big, older leaves that grew during the warm weather. On closer inspection, things look a lot better.

This is the red radicchio, and you can see that the center leaves look perfectly healthy and are starting to show more red color in the cold.

The green radicchio has a little more damage, but still looks really good!

Okay, that’s all for today. I hope you are enjoying the fall weather with some beautiful lettuces and salad greens as well!

Have a great weekend!