Monday, July 29, 2013

Stuffed Eggplant – A New Summertime Favorite

 Let me start off this post by saying that this is Jennifer’s recipe.  I can take no credit for it.  As a matter of fact, the eggplant as well as all of the other vegetables used in this recipe came from Jennifer’s garden.    She brought it all over to the house one day to try to teach me something new.  That being said, here’s what I learned:  Stuffed eggplant tastes great!

Here is the recipe we used:

2 small eggplants
1 cup rough cut bread crumbs or plain croutons
1 small onion
1 small zucchini or yellow squash
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small bell pepper
1/2 cup mushrooms of your choosing
1/2 cup browned sausage
1 cup of grated cheese (you can pick your favorite kind, we used mozzarella).
Optional:  4 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or whole
black pepper
crushed red pepper (optional; to taste)
basil (to taste)
oregano (to taste)
extra virgin olive oil or butter (your choice)
Vegetarian option:  Skip the meat and up the mushroom portion to a cup.  You can also substitute the meat with a 1/2 cup of any vegetable that you wish.  Peas come to mind as a nice addition.

Cut the eggplants in half from stem to bottom (lengthwise) and scoop out the insides.  Leave about ¼” of eggplant left inside the skin all the way around.  Dice up the eggplant innards, spread in a colander bowl, and sprinkle lightly but evenly with sea salt.  Leave them to sit for a half hour.  Preheat the oven to 350°.  Dice up the onion, zucchini, pepper, and mushrooms. Mince the garlic or use a garlic press.  Combine them and sauté them with the diced eggplant in extra virgin olive oil or butter.  Season as you wish.  We used salt, pepper, a dash of basil, oregano, and some red pepper seeds.  When everything is tender, add the tomatoes and sausage if you choose to do so.  We added both for a little extra flavor and staying power.  The sausage we had on hand was a medium spiced variety, so it added just a little extra zip to the final meal.  When everything is mixed, stuff those hollowed out eggplants as high as you can get them with the meat and veggie combo.  (Try as we might, we just couldn’t get all of the good stuff back into there.  I saved it for a quick dish some other night).  Arrange filled eggplant halves in a baking dish and roast at 350° for about 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven, top with cheese, and return to the oven until cheese is melted and a bit browned, about 10 minutes.  Serve up and enjoy!

I know that I identified the tomatoes and the sausage as optional, but really anything in that list of vegetables (other than the eggplant, of course) is optional.  You can also add in your favorite veggie if it’s not in this list.   I do believe Jennifer said she uses whatever she has on hand.

So there you have it – if you have a plethora of eggplant and you just don’t know what to do with them, stuff them for a quick, delicious, and nutritious meal. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Scientific Gardener: Royal Burgundy Bush Beans

The Scientific Gardener: Royal Burgundy Bush Beans: For years I have been growing beans that do well in Tucson’s hot, often dry, climate. As often happens in Tucson, it is easy to grow veget...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Simple Blackberry Jam and Syrup

The Texoma Gardening blog has discussed making jams and jellies of various kinds in the past, but I’m going to visit the topic once again today.  We headed out to a pick-your-own blackberry farm this week (Jenkins Farm in Bonham) and came home with a load of beautiful, sweet berries.  We have put a sizable dent in our take just from eating them a handful at a time, but I decided to try my hand at blackberry jam and syrup last night.

With my old tried and true jam recipe at the ready, we went to work.  Unlike many fruits, we used the whole berry here.  The seeds got added to the mix along with everything else.  If you’re going for a smoother jelly, you may want to strain your pulp.  With the whole fruit method used here, we found that three cups of whole berries roughly equaled two cups of mashed up pulp.  Therefore, it took six cups of whole berries and four cups of sugar to get things going.  Because the berry mix was so thick, I lowered the cook time to try to prevent over thickening of the end product.  Here’s what we did:

Take 2 cups of blackberry pulp and add to a large pot.  Stir in two cups of sugar.  Bring to a strong boil and stir often for 8 minutes.  Add another two cups of pulp and another two cups of sugar.  Bring back to a boil and continue stirring. 

At the three minute mark, we filled two half pint jars to be used as syrup.

Continued cooking the remaining mixture for an addition five minutes (8 minutes total after the second two cups of berries and sugar were added).  Pour this into prepared jars for the jam.  Seal the lids and process the jars.  Many people give the filled jars a hot water bath at this point.  I’m not one of those, but that doesn’t mean you have to be like me!  (I find that all that sugar keeps things in fine shape regardless, but the hot water is probably a good idea).

The end result was very lovely syrup, which we tested this morning on our pancakes.  The syrup, along with some fresh blackberries, made for a delicious breakfast.  The jam ended up at a very nice consistency also, and I’m going to call our first foray into blackberry preserves a big success.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Help Your Garden Beat the Heat

It seems that the hot, hot summer has finally arrived.  This presents a whole new range of gardening challenges, the foremost of which is how to keep your garden alive and thriving in these hot summer months.  There are a few plants, such as okra and jicama that love these long, sunny days.  Most of the garden is just crying out for mulch, water and shade though.

I was scouring the internet looking for tips on the best way to keep the garden happy and thought I’d share some of the creative things that I found.  As far as watering goes, the quick watering that is fine during the spring just won’t cut it in Texas in July and August.   The plants need a good, long, slow watering that will allow the water to soak into the ground near the roots.  A drip hose will accomplish this, as will a soaker host.  Another creative idea is to save your two liter soda bottles or gallon milk jugs, poke a very small hole in each one and bury it several inches deep in the soil right next to your plants.  If you have a row of plants, space them every few feet.  Two or three times a week, just go out and fill up all the bottles.  The water will slowly leak into the soil near the roots, giving the plant a thorough drink.   Remember to mulch heavily to help prevent evaporation and help hold the water around the plants’ roots longer.  No less than three inches is recommended.

If you have young trees, shrubs or bushes, a great idea is to put a very small hole (I used a drill and made a 3/32” hole) in a five gallon bucket.  Place the bucket near the base of the tree or shrub and fill it up.  It may take up to an hour for the water to slowly leak out – which will almost assure that the roots will be getting the water they need to keep the plant healthy.

Don’t forget one of the most important things when working out in the heat – take care of yourself too!  Make sure that you stay hydrated and shaded from the hot sun.  Try to get out before it gets too hot.  If you find yourself outside working during the hottest part of the day, just take it easy and take lots of breaks.  

As always, stay cool and happy gardening!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Horse Nettle - A Thorn FIlled Weed in the Texas Tradition

I’ve heard it said that everything in Texas bites, stings, or sticks.  Now we all know that Texas is full of lovely flowers and can be home to many varieties of our favorite vegetables.  That being said however, Horse Nettle lives up to the old Texas folklore.  

Here is a picture of one of the plants in our garden:


I wanted to show the flowers and fruit, but the flowers are a week or two off and they won’t have ripe fruit for a month or two.  Here is a link to some good photos to help you recognize it easier:

Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense) is found in the eastern part of the U.S. and as far west as West Texas.   Our garden is full of them and they are full of thorns!  The stems and leaves both play host to some nasty, rather large ones (thorns that is).  I won’t go near them without gloves.  The root system boasts a long tap root, making it hard to pull out and, also puts out rhizomes to help spread the plant far and wide.  It is a member of the nightshade family and like a lot of nightshades, it is poisonous.  The root, leaves, flowers and fruit all contain an alkaline that can cause it to be potentially fatal.  Don’t be fooled by the lovely tomato like fruit it bears – it can be dangerous stuff.

That being said, the flowers do attract bees and some moths and a few birds and small rodents are known to eat the fruit.  In the past, it was used by some American Indians as as a sedative and antispasmodic, and although it isn’t considered by most people today to have any value medicinally, there are some herbalists that still use it.  Here is an informative page that claims horse nettle can be used in the treatment of epilepsy, asthma, bronchitis and other convulsive disorders.

I also read an article that claims the leaf can be applied directly to the skin to treat poison ivy.  I would think you’d have to de-thorn it first! 

Medicinal uses or not, for now I do my best to keep the horse nettle out of our garden.   Whether you choose to cultivate it or kill it, be careful!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Many Uses Of Borage

Lovely borage.  Not only is it a great companion plant for most things in the garden, the blossoms are both delicious and nutritious and it is very pretty when in bloom.  All that being said, it seems that there should be something to do with the plant more than just eating the blossoms and admiring it.  Although the leaves are edible, my family finds the prickly, fuzzy texture of them to be a bit of a put off.  My daughter put the leaves on her sandwich one day and declared it ‘ok but not great’.  A quick trip to the computer led me to a sight that claims borage jelly is pretty good.  It uses both the leaves and the blossoms -  both of which we have plenty.  Here is a link to the recipe:

After making sure we had all the ingredients on hand, I sent the kids to pick the borage.  They came back with plenty and we went to work.  Guess what, I actually followed the directions!  Well, all except for the one that says to use dry pectin.  I had unknowingly picked up the liquid variety.  Never having used it before (and rarely using pectin at all for our jelly), I had no idea if I needed to alter the recipe to adjust for it.  I ended up just using it in replace of the dry and following the rest of the directions as written.

It didn’t gel.  I ended up with seven half pint jars of very runny jelly.   Always looking for the bright side of things, I declared it syrup and we had pancakes for dinner.  I added a bit of fruit and we enjoyed our creation very much!

I found another recipe for borage jelly that I plan on trying next.  If you look at this recipe, you’ll notice that it doesn’t call for any sugar and uses honey instead.  I like the sound of that.  I wanted to try it before blogging here so that I could report the results, but the local stores were out of dry pectin and I didn’t want to repeat my mistake (if indeed that had anything to do with it).  Either way, they say that practice makes perfect and I have plenty of plants to practice on.   

If you’re not a jelly or syrup fan, here is a whole page of recipes using borage.  They range from salads to soups to cocktails, and there’s even a recipe for borage fritters!

All in all, it seems that there are many uses for borage if you’re just willing to explore a little bit.  Here in Texoma land, we need to take advantage of the plants that grow well, and borage seems very happy here.

Happy Gardening!