Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tomato Battle: Topsy Turvy ahead

The original - and only - tomato on the potted plant

Remember when I introduced my experiment pitting tomato plants grown in a traditional pot versus those grown in a topsy turvy?

My backyard, where the plants face off, apparently mediated by my Weber grill

Well it's high time we checked in with our fighters isn't it?

The potted plant has had quite an exhausting time battling gravity and how quickly the dirt dries up. But, when I water him daily (and I do have to water him daily), he's in pretty good fighting shape:

He has plenty of blossoms, but just the one tomato still. I think his drying out so quickly has burned off some of the original blossoms, which means no tomatoes from them. Some of the lower branches are a little limp and dry, but most of them are surviving well, and they are managing to protect the tomato pretty well.

Hopefully, as time goes on, the new blossoms will produce more tomatoes.

The topsy turvy, on the other hand, has flourished. It hasn't had much need to worry about gravity, though the half of the plant on the other side seems to be crawling up the pole. I think it has less trouble holding on to moisture, mostly because of there being a lot more soil in the topsy turvy and a lot more surface area for the soil to soak up the moist air (it's been pretty humid around here).

The topsy turvy has also sprouted tomatoes all over the place. There's these two, plus the original one that was on the plant when it went into the topsy turvy and a bunch of tiny ones that have sprouted up in the last few days.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

CSA Week 3: Mystery delivery

 This week's haul, which I received early do to the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, includes another pound of sugar snap peas, 8 baby red potatoes, 2 cucumbers, 4 huge zucchini, 3 yellow or summer squash, 2 huge bunches of bok choy, 2 "round" zucchini and a "patty pan" squash. If you don't recognize some of those names, don't worry. I actually had to do some Googling to identify the odd squashes.

 Here's a close up of the round zucchini. I really was thrown by these little guys. I thought it was a melon up until the moment I cut it and half and discovered a squash interior:

Apparently it's related to zucchini. It grows into a round ball, with the seeds centered in the middle, like acorn squash. It's a summer squash, which is just a name for squashes that (surprise, surprise) mature in the summer and have a tender, edible skin. Other squashes - butternut, pumpkin, spaghetti, etc. - mature during the fall and have a tough, inedible skin.

 This beautiful guy is a patty pan. He's not quite as obvious of a patty pan, by he's definitely flatter and if you look at the yellow edge, you'll notice the scalloped edges that is fairly unique to the squash. You have likely seen his bigger, more popular brethren in stores or farmers markets in a seafoam green or tan color. I personally think these colors are much prettier.

I feel as though I've completely ignored the crown jewel of this batch, the huge bok choy bunches. Seriously, I've never seen bok choy in this size. Most grocery store versions are smaller and are often "baby" bock choy. Janice, the Clayhill Farms owner who delivers the bags, handed out two recipes that I'm eager to try. One is for a classic chicken stir fry (which I'm sure the peas will make an appearance in, as well) and the other is for a cole slaw. I'm foreseeing Asian-inspired pulled pork and bok choy coleslaw sandwiches in my future.

Price comparison
This week was really difficult due to the uniqueness of the items. Plus, potatoes, peas and bok choy were not available in organic. I may have to check out Trader Joes or Fresh Market in person just so I can start collecting prices on some of the basics that I can't find organic versions of at Harris Teeter. I had to price the patty pan and round zucchini on normal zucchini and summer squash. So this week isn't quite accurate yet. I hope to edit it and get you a better comparison.
  • 8 baby red potatoes: $3.87
  • 1 pound sugar snap peas: $3.99
  • 2 cucumbers: $3.18
  • 4 zucchini + 2 round zucchini: $9.16
  • 3 yellow squash + 1 patty pan: $8.41
  • 2 bok choy (I priced for 4 since each is about double the size of a grocery bok choy): $5.07 
          • Total: $33.68
I saved at least $12.68 this week, though I bet it's really more. If I ever make it out to the local organic groceries, I'll update all the posts.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

CSA Week 2: Sweet surprises

This week's haul includes another pound of strawberries, about a pound of baby red potatoes, 3 cucumbers, five peaches, a green pepper and more sugar snap peas than I know what to do with. Luckily, the husband is crazy about just snacking on these guys raw. That, and I'm sure there will be many stir-fries in our future. I wonder if they hold up in the freezer. Fresh sugar snaps in the middle of winter? Yes, please.

And no, these guys aren't snow peas. There's a subtle difference, I agree, but sugar snaps tend to be rounder - like this plump guy above - while true snow peas are flat. The difference is also slight, but sugar snaps are juicier and often sweeter. And yes, they are absolutely delicious raw.

Price breakdown
There are no organic red potatoes, peaches or snaps at Harris Teeter, so this week's price difference isn't quite as astounding as the the first week. But I'm still saving money and enjoying some crazy awesome fruits and veggies along the way.

  • 1 pound of organic strawberries: $4.99
  • 3 organic cucumbers: $4.77
  • 1 organic green bell pepper: $1.99
  • 5 peaches: $6.54
  • 1 pound of red potatoes: $2.97
  • 2 pounds of sugar snap peas: $7.98
        • TOTAL: $29.24
The savings this week is only $8.24, but I bet that total price would go up if I could find organic versions of the potatoes, peas and peaches. No organic produce brings the total down to a little less than $26, so I'm still saving, as usual. Anyway, can't wait to get my cook on!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

CSA week 1: A week of experimenting with food

Remember when I posted about my first week of my CSA? You may also recall I promised to post what meals that delivery produced, so here goes:
  • Thai chicken curry with red peppers and zucchini (Saturday night dinner)
  • 10-minute pasta sauce with green peppers and zucchini (I had this three or four times during the week because I needed something quick.)
  • Italian sausage and veggies with green peppers and zucchini (Thursday's dinner)
  • Teriyaki veggies with whole wheat noodles with green peppers and zucchini (Friday's dinner - it's in my fridge at work, waiting for me to eat it)
  • Turkey bacon, cucumber and tomato sandwich (Monday and Tuesday lunches)
  • Greek yogurt, blueberries and honey (several breakfasts)
  • Southern-style Cucumber, onion and tomatoes in vinegar salad (several lunches, plus my coworker had a few bowls)
  • Zucchini and bell pepper omelets with havarti cheese (several breakfasts)
  • Smoothie with strawberries, greek yogurt, frozen mangoes and a touch of honey (the husband made it for me Wednesday night to help me cope with work stress)
And I won't even mention all the random snack moments I had without bothering to do more than wash this or that item. Nothing beats plain old fresh strawberries and blueberries. And, have I mentioned how delicious raw zucchini is? Trust me, it's better than cucumber.
I have to say the food I receive from the CSA is so inspiring. It makes me want to spend all my time in the kitchen and experiment with recipes. And let's not even get started on the taste. Amazing!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Battle of the tomato plants

A while back I purchased a Topsy Turvy after everyone I know said it was amazing. Alright, I only had my mom's testimony. But, when it comes to tomatoes, that tends to be good enough for me. The things are $10, but unbeknowest to me, don't come with tomatoes! Crazy, right? So I trekked to Anderson's to look over their extensive tomato collection (including some amazing - and amazingly expensive - heirloom varieties). I settled on a more affordable "Early girl" varietal that came in a four pack. Then I realized the topsy turvy only held up to two plants. So I pulled out the old pot that Bob the tomato plant (read about his short journey here, here, here and a little bit here) lived in and died in. While that's a little bit morbid, it's also a chance to have a battle of the tomato plants.

In this corner we have the old-timer, Green Death Pot:

And in this corner, young upstart Topsy Turvy aims to steal his thunder.
If the read those sentences in a crazy 90's wrestling announcer's voice, it's twice as amusing.

Both plants have a healthy array of blooms and both already have a single tomato about the size of a marble. Let the battle begin! 

Monday, May 16, 2011

CSA Week 1: Reds, greens and a little bit of blue

I've always wanted to join a Community Sponsored Agriculture farm, call it one of my goals in my Culinary Bucket List. So I finally signed up for a CSA share through Clayhill Farms in Suffolk, Va. This past Saturday I received my very first delivery:

The delivery included four large cucumbers, 5 zucchini, half a pound of strawberries, half a pint of blueberries, two green peppers and two humongous red peppers. The idea with CSA's is that you invest in the farm and they return that investment with fruit and vegetables. This size share costs me $21 a week, which I paid upfront. I then receive 20 weeks of shares. Considering I'm supporting a local farm and I get access to some of the freshest and most delicious produce I've had in a while, this is pretty much a win-win.

Every week I'll share with you the price breakdown so we can really see if these shares are worth it. I'll price it all at Harris Teeter, since that is where I would normally buy my produce. Also, I'll price for organic (when I can), since Clayhill Farms uses an organic method called integrated pest management. They define IPM as "we work with nature ( Praying Mantii, ladybugs, bees, and butterflies) and use natural techniques (like crop rotation, companion planting, crop and pest scouting, and drip irrigation) to eliminate pesticide and chemical use on our fruits and veggies."

Price breakdown
  • A pound of organic strawberries: $4.99
  • 1 pint of non-organic blueberries: $4.99
  • 4 organic cucumbers: $11.96
  • 2 organic green bell peppers: $4.98
  • 2 organic red bell peppers: $7.98
  • 5 organic zucchini: $6.54
      • TOTAL COST: $41.44
That's a bit steep. But I have to admit that I wouldn't normally go for the organic, since my wallet is currently more important to me (shame, I know). But here's the thing, even going for the cheapest versions (at Harris Teeter, that is), I'm still saving money. A similar price check, this time focusing on the cheapest choices, resulted in a total of $27. That includes a pretty awesome sale on strawberries, so next week it would be even more expensive. So, this week at least, I'm saving money and my health. 

I'll update later with a list of the delicious meals I've made out of my yummy veggies. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Styling and profiling my berry cobbler

This is my berry cobbler, featured in a photoshoot for Suffolk Living Magazine:
 Photo by R.E. Spears III, Suffolk News-Herald

Isn't it the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?

Fruit Cobbler
Adapted from Sally Smith, Suffolk gardener

For the batter:
1 cup self rising flour (I used White Lily)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 stick margarine or butter, melted
For the filling:
4 cups of berries (I used blueberries and blackberries)
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease 8 X 8 inch pan and set aside.
  • To make prepared fruit:  Mix 3/4 cup sugar with 3 tablespoons cornstarch.  Place 4 cups berries in a pan and add sugar/cornstarch mixture.  Add cinnamon and nutmeg to the mix.  Cook together, stirring constantly, until it starts to thicken.  Set aside to cool slightly.  Add vanilla before placing over flour mixture.
    In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar and milk, stir until all the lumps are gone.  Pour batter into greased baking dish.
  • Spoon fruit or berry mixture over flour/sugar/milk and then drizzle with melted margarine.
  • Place casserole dish on a baking sheet with aluminum foil to collect any spills.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.
One of the best things about this whole thing was flexing my food-styling skills. How do you think I did?