grow and measure

Chef Daniel in the kitchen with Asturian kale grown in his home garden
Last August, my garden produced a good crop of Asturian kale. This year, I’m going to measure everything my garden produces.

I’ve been gardening for many years, and often wonder how much food my garden actually produces. Years ago, my summer garden covered a whole field. Now that I have kids, I only have time for a small plot — 112¬†square feet. Pretty small and manageable for a busy guy like me, right?

I garden for the love of it, and of course it provides organic food for my family. But how much food comes from this small garden?

This year I decided to find out.

At harvest time, I’m going to try to count and maybe even weigh every vegetable and fruit (yes, we even have fruit: young blueberry bushes, a fig tree, a sour cherry tree and two plum trees) that we harvest from our yard. Besides the main garden, I also have two secondary plots that measure 9’x3′ and 24’x3′. That’s a total of 211 square feet under cultivation.

I’ll probably wish I had never started this project by the time the zucchini comes in, but maybe this way I’ll be able to see if gardening is more than a hobby that is good for my soul ūüôā

Happy gardening!

rhubarb shoots in my backyard on April 18
The garden is already showing a few signs of life, like these little rhubarb shoots.

garlic mustard

garlic mustard
garlic mustard
I love to find edible “weeds” like this one: garlic mustard! I served it in a salad this weekend, and it was a big hit.

If you are like me, you notice different plants–trees, weeds, flowers–during the day and you wonder what they are. Have you every seen a plant like this? Clumps of it have been appearing my yard this spring. It kind of reminds me of wasabi. The roots smell like garlic. Could it be edible?

Here’s the verdict from Tom Patterson at Wild Purveyors:

Garlic mustard, eat it! They are best eaten at this stage of growth before flowering. It can be eaten fresh, but I prefer it cooked and treated like spinach. Makes a good pesto.

Enough said! I served it fresh with tender greens like red vein sorrel, green oak, and green mustard frill, with a simple dressing of balsamic, olive oil, and mustard.

A little more research reveals that garlic mustard–Alliaria petiolata–is an invasive species. Uh oh. Not another one! (The Plant Conservation Alliance calls it an “Ecological Threat” to native plants like spring beauty, wild ginger, bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, and trillium, saying “garlic mustard outcompetes native plants by aggressively monopolizing light, moisture, nutrients, soil and space.”) Everyone in North America must do their part to eat it all up!

If you don’t have any garlic mustard in your yard, check with Wild Purveyors.¬†Buen provecho!

Garlic mustard with friseé and other mixed greens, served as a salad with simple balsamic dressing
Garlic mustard with fresh mixed greens, served as a salad with simple balsamic dressing

baker’s problem, chef’s solution

Sundays are my bread baking day. Well–the bread making begins the night before, on¬†Saturday¬†evening, but Sunday is when I put the bread in the oven. This is my one day off, and you might think baking bread is too much like work, but I have it down to a system. Let the dough rise during a leisurely breakfast. The oven is already hot from crisping the breakfast bacon, so crank up the heat and it’s ready for bread.

The bread has gotten better with each week. With the advice of some friends who are expert bakers, I developed my sourdough starter and learned how to “read” it and make good dough from it. Lately I have been working¬†with a very wet dough that gives me a great finished loaf: even distribution of bubbles, elastic but tender texture, and a crisp, chewy crust. But then I ran into an unexpected problem.

I have been making baguettes in my nice USA Pans baguette pan. Like all USA Pans, it’s coated in silicone to be nonstick, but it’s perforated to help you get a good crust. When I lay the raw dough on the pan, it is so wet that it seeps through the perforated surface and keeps on expanding out the bottom of these holes as it bakes. Imagine the bottom of this pan with a¬†5 o‚Äôclock¬†shadow made of bread whiskers. The only way to remove the bread from the pan was to scrape off the bread beard, leaving a hundred little bread dots everywhere.¬†It had become a sort of little tradition for my girls to ask me about all the little bumps on the bottom of the bread, which is cute. But cute or not, I was sick of the “whiskers.” I tried a number of approaches, including over-spraying the pan with cooking spray, but didn’t find a good solution.

Finally, I thought of my training behind the line. What would I do to prevent food from sticking to a saut√© pan? I would heat up the pan for a fast sear. So last weekend I tried it: I heated up the pan in the oven before putting the dough on it. And it worked like a charm. No little bread dots, no sticking, no problem. And the girls didn’t seem to miss the whiskers when they were eating a hundred pieces of bread… I wish I had thought of this sooner.

I wonder if commercial bakeries handle this problem the same way, or whether they encounter this problem at all.¬†I’ll probably find out one day, but in the meantime I’ll try to use my experiences behind the line to help me become a better baker.

Happy baking, and buen provecho!

bread dough for baguette loaf doesn't stick to pre-heated pan
This is one of the baguettes that I made in the pre-heated pan. The bread was not stuck to the pan at all–you can see the surface is perfectly clean. It’s too bad I don’ t have a photo that shows the bread “whiskers”–especially now that they are HISTORY!