Safely Transplanting Indoor-Raised Plant Babies to the Great Outdoors

They grow up so fast, don’t they? Just a month ago, my little windowsill basil babies looked like this:

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Within one week…

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In three more weeks…

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They were getting too big for the pot. They all couldn’t stay in the same place or none of them would thrive. I had to eat them or transplant a few. I opted for the latter. I’m sure a lot of you avid gardeners have faced the pricking out and transplant dance…especially for things like lettuces and herbs that have tiny seeds. I’ve tangoed with this myself a time or two, and this was my first flawless performance. It’s been two days and they’re all in fantastic shape. (Feel free to applaud.)

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If you’ve never done this before or have done this with poor results, here are a few tips that might help:

  1. “Harden off” the plants before the 24-7 outdoor exposure. Start off with an hour or so, and then gradually increase the time outside. By the time you get to a full day’s worth of outside time, they’re ready to make the move.
  2. Choose an appropriate location that gets the right amount of sunlight, and prepare the soil by loosening it and removing any weeds.
  3. If they’re not in their own containers and in a clump like mine, carefully prick out the plants. Do this at the new site because you’ll want to get them in the ground ASAP.
  4. Dig a hole for each plant, and bury at least half the stem. Gently back fill the soil around the plant. Lightly tamp it down.
  5. Label each seedling if you’d like, and give it a good watering.

Of course Mother Nature can throw curve balls our way, but following these easy steps should help your plants to thrive in the great outdoors.

Let me know if you have any questions, and happy gardening!

Waste Not, Want Not: Making Organic Chicken Stock

One of the best reasons for roasting a whole chicken is the carcass. Why, you ask? Well, homemade, honest-to-goodness, gluten-free, organic chicken stock is the correct answer. So many recipes benefit from stock: from rice pilaf to gravy to soup, it’s a necessary and versatile flavor booster for your culinary repertoire. And there’s nearly no reason to purchase stock or broth when it’s a cinch to make at home. First, high-quality, organic products are expensive! Second, if you’re a foodie control freak like me, you can adjust it to your liking. Parsley here, garlic there, whatever you want; it’s all up to you. Third, see reasons one and two.

To make easy, breezy, organic chicken stock at home, you’ll need:

  • Carcass from 5-pound roasted organic chicken
  • 1-2 organic carrots
  • 1 organic onion
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-2 stalks of organic celery (optional)
  • Handful of fresh organic parsley (optional)

Put all ingredients in a large stock pot or dutch oven.

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Add enough water to cover.

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Bring the contents to a boil, give it a good stir, and then bring down to a simmer for 3-4 hours. The color will go from this:

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…to this:

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Once it’s done, strain it. I use a large colander over a huge glass bowl because I honestly don’t care that much if it’s got tiny bits of chicken or veg. Use a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth if you’e really concerned. Once it’s strained, this’ll be what you’re left with:

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Isn’t it beautiful? Portion it out in whatever size freezer-safe containers work best for you. I like to use a mixture of pint and quart sizes. Don’t forget to label them with the contents and the date!

This recipe makes about 4 quarts of organic chicken stock. By the way, if you were to purchase quantity in a grocery store, you’d pay about $15-$20! And all you did was use what remained from your delicious, wholesome, organic roasted chicken. (See the recipe here for my gluten-free Heavenly Roasted Chicken.) Doesn’t that make you happy?

So, everyone, I bid you happiness and good-for-you, frugal, wonderful, sensible cooking endeavors. Have a fantastic Friday night…and don’t throw away that carcass!

Starting Pepper Plants Indoors for Florida Fall Gardening

Florida gardening is unique. We don’t winter over, so pests run rampant for most of the year. Starting seeds outdoors for things like peppers and tomatoes have proved unsuccessful (for me, at least). So I’ve really taken to starting plants indoors to make sure I’m planting healthy, hardened off, and well-adjusted plants in my garden. I like to give them a lot of TLC as I give them a head start. Also, I don’t have a lot of space, so I’ve got little room for error.

About three weeks ago, I began the indoor seed-starting project. Using a clean and sterilized a clean egg carton, I put some Miracle Gro seed starting mix in each compartment. I sewed four heirloom non-GMO Jupiter pepper seeds from Southern a Exposure Seed Co., four heirloom non-GMO Doe Hill pepper seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Co., and four California Wonder pepper seeds from Ferry-Morse. I marked the varieties with used wine corks on a bamboo skewer, so I’d know what I had growing. Yay, upcycling!

Humidity is very beneficial for seed germination, so I used a tray with a humidity dome that I got from my local gardening supply store. I placed the egg carton inside, sprayed each compartment with water from a clean spray bottle, put on the humidity dome, and placed the whole shebang in a sunny indoor location. I checked them and watered them lightly each day. This was the first adorable sprout that came up after about a week:

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I removed the dome after mostly all of the seeds germinated and popped up their little green heads. Sunlight would be their ally at this point. This is them two weeks later on my windowsill:

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As you can see, not all of the seeds germinated. All of the California Wonder seeds came up, though. I really wonder why they’re so dependable (maybe I should be afraid to ask?). Here are photos of each seedling variety:

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I’ll be potting up each of the babies this weekend, and when they’re about 6-8 inches above the soil line, I’ll start hardening them off little by little to get them acclimated to the outdoors. I’ll be sure to post on their progress, and, please, wish me luck in the meantime!

Happy gardening, everyone!

Organic Creamy Garlic & Dijon Salad Dressing

The thing I crave the most is a big, fat salad. Maybe it’s because Florida is always painfully hot and heating up a kitchen is no fun, or maybe it’s because a salad can be uber satisfying. Whatever the case, I had a hankering for an uncomfortably large kitchen sink salad with only-this-will-do Creamy Garlic and Dijon Dressing.

I first had this dressing while working as an intern for a copywriter. Because I worked out of her home, I’d catch glimpses of her super hero-esque mom activities: on the phone with clients while whipping up baked chicken nuggets, doing conference calls with students while making “big salad” with this dressing, making lunches for her husband and/or kids, all while standing on her head and mopping. I was supposed to be learning about copywriting (which I did…maybe) for my collegiate studies, but the big take-home point was this dressing!

While I’ve adjusted it over the years to suit my tastes, the basic idea remains unchanged: lots and lots of garlic.

Ingredients:

  • 10 cloves fresh organic garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup organic white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon organic dijon mustard (Tree of Life brand is my favorite)
  • 2 teaspoons organic honey (go local to help with seasonal allergies)
  • 5 grinds of fresh black pepper
  • Large pinch of sea salt

Method:

1. Place garlic in food processor. I use my small four cup one for this; it’s just the right size.

2. Add the olive oil.

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3. Pulse until it’s completely blended and paste-like.

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4. Add the vinegar, honey, black pepper, and salt. Pulse for about 30 seconds until it’s all blended. If your food processor has the option for chop and grind like mine does, alternate between both. The clockwise and counterclockwise chopping helps to break everything down. If not, it’s not a big deal.

5. Once it’s all blended, add the dijon. I do this last because I like to see how much it thickens the dressing. Dijon is a fantastic emulsifier. Pulse again for another 30 seconds. It should be super thick and creamy besides smelling like heaven.

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6. Finally, choose a pretty, transparent container. I really like to use my vintage cruet that I got for a quarter at at thrift store.

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This dressing keeps very well in the fridge, but I’d use it within a couple of weeks. Trust me, though, it won’t last that long. Oh, and by the way, if your’e feeling gutsy, add some tarragon! The anise flavor really gives this dressing an unexpected and pleasant twist. Happy eating!

Successful Indoor Herb Gardening Experiment #1: Sweet Basil

The summer is very challenging for Florida gardening. Too much rain, too much humidity, and too much heat makes for very unhappy plants (and even less happy gardeners). About three weeks ago, I decided to try growing sweet Italian basil indoors because I just need to have fresh, organic herbs. I use basil a lot, so I decided to start with that.

I have a great south-facing window that lets lots of light in for at least six hours a day, several great planters with built-in drainage, potting mix, and plenty of viable seeds. There was absolutely no reason not to try.

I filled a small 8″ planter with a mixture of potting soil and a bit of homemade compost. I put about 20 seeds scattered along the top, and covered the seeds with about 1/4″ of soil. I watered lightly with a spray bottle because I didn’t want the seeds to rot and then I covered the pot over with a plastic bag. I’ve always found the humidity is very helpful for seed germination. I put the pot on a windowsill in a warm, sunlit room and every day, I checked to see if it needed water. I watered it once. In about five days, I had babies:

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I kept the bag off because I had plenty of germinated seeds. I then placed the pot in a south-facing, sunny window. In less than a week, they looked like this:

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I had to thin some of the seedlings to avoid crowding (and, quite honestly, I can’t believe they did as well with such a great germination rate), and after about two more weeks, here’s what they looked like (I took this photo this morning):

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I’ll have to thin them out again because there are way too many plants for this size pot. I may just use them in a recipe or salad and even try transplanting a few. I’ll be sure to post about the transplant. It seems like this indoor herb gardening experiment has gone well thus far. I think I’ll give parsley a go, too. I’ve even considered lettuce! Dare I?

If you try this at home, here are some tips to make your herby endeavor successful:

  • Pots with drainage holes are your friends
  • Make sure to use viable seeds that haven’t expired
  • Humidity is helpful for germination
  • Choose a bright, sunny location for your pots
  • Water regularly and keep evenly moist, not soaked, soil
  • Rotate the pot every day to make sure it gets even sunlight exposure
  • Don’t harvest until the plants get at least 6″ tall

I’d love to hear about your indoor gardening projects! Please feel free to share. I learn the most from those around me. 🙂

Happy gardening, everyone!

Crinkle-Cut Organic Carrot and Feta Salad

I just got back into town from being a bridesmaid in my father’s wedding. And, because my dad is a food fanatic, I gorged myself at the joyous event. I ate sushi, clams casino, tenderloin on crostini, flounder, scallops, lamp lollipops, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And that doesn’t even include the four course dinner or dessert extravaganza. Last night, I was at a massive, overwhelming, international Vegas buffet where two people happened to get married.

Now that I’m home, I want a simple, no fuss, healthy snack. I desperately need to go grocery shopping, so my fridge is pretty bare bones right now. But a girl’s gotta eat. And this girl’s resourceful. I have a bag of organic carrots and lots of cheese. We always have a ton of cheese.

I grabbed my new favorite crinkle cutter, my veggie peeler, two carrots, feta, and my shall-remain-nameless-always-perfect-for-emergencies Italian Dressing (geeeeeeeeeezfine, it’s Ken’s) , and made the perfect snack. I normally don’t write about quick snacks, but this one warrants a post.

To make this, peel and crinkle cut (or regular knife cut) two organic carrots. Fun colored ones would be great, too. Combine with two tablespoons of feta cheese, one tablespoon of dressing, a small pinch of sugar, and a couple grinds of black pepper. Toss and eat. How simple is that?!?!

The sweetness from the carrots, combined with the salty, tangy bite of the feta make the ideal scarfable snack. Plus, and I can’t ignore this, but the wavy crinkle cut shape is really fun!

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I’ll be enjoying this time and time again. I hope you give it try!

Decadent “Oh My Goodness” Banana and Dark Chocolate Bread

I use the word “bread” loosely when talking about this rich, chocolatey bread filled with banana goodness. It hardly needs no backstory other than chocolate makes everything better.

To make one loaf, you’ll need:

2 medium-sized very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Method:

In a large mixing bowl, combine the wet ingredients (bananas, sour cream, vanilla, and oil) and mix with whisk or hand mixer until smooth. (As you can see from this photo, we were quadrupling this recipe. My dad loves this stuff!)

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Then, except for the chocolate chips, add the dry ingredients. Mix again until fully incorporated. Finally, add the chocolate chips. Mix these in with a spatula as they seem to get stuck in the whisk or beaters and it drives me bananas. (Ooooh, that was bad.)

Put the batter in a greased 9″x5″ loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Check the center with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

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I love to grill a nice, fat slice of this bread in a skillet with a bit of salted butter. The caramelization and bit of salt really rock the party!

Heavenly Roasted Chicken with Crimini Mushroom Gravy

I go gaga for perfectly roasted poultry. Making a chicken is my Thanksgiving practice because it’s just too early in the year to cook a massive bird. Also, it’s way too hot out to heat up the whole house in the process. Roasting a smallish chicken is my Florida compromise. Besides, I still get gravy out of the deal. And, let’s be honest, that’s why we’re all here.

Last night, I smelled up the whole neighborhood with the aromas wafting from my kitchen. It was glorious. If only I could have eaten the air…

Now don’t click off this page when I tell you that after I rub down the chicken with kosher salt, rinse it, and pat it dry, I rub it with full-fat, glorious, mayonnaise. A lot of people use butter or olive oil, but year after year of every happy eater asking me how I keep the bird so moist with such a crisp skin, I’m willing to give credit to mayo. Not that I’m ashamed, because I’m not. I absolutely love the stuff. What’s more is that giving the bird a mayo rub removes the need for basting! What more do you need? Try it. I’m not pulling your leg. (No turkey pun intended.)

So, to make this chicken (or whatever poultry you like), regardless of size, you’ll need:

  • Bird of some sort
  • Full-fat mayonnaise
  • Sea salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Thyme
  • Granulated garlic
  • Onion powder
  • Two carrots, broken or cut into chunks
  • 1/2 onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf

Method:

First things, first, clean the bird. Discard any of the stuff that may be inside. If the neck is present, I roast it alongside the bird. You don’t have to do this. Rub it down, inside and out, with kosher salt and then rinse it. Then pat it dry.
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Rub the entire outside with mayo. I used three tablespoons for my 4.5 lb chicken. It doesn’t have to be goopy, but you should have enough to make the spices stick.
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Stuff the inside with the onion, carrot, garlic, and bay leaf.
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Now get out your favorite lidded roasting pan with rack. Place the bird on the rack and put the lid on. Put the entire shebang in a 350 degree oven, and follow appropriate cooking times for the size of your bird. For my 4.5 pound untrussed chicken, I roasted it for one and a half hours. As you can see, it’s already starting to brown.
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Once it’s nearly done, remove the lid, and crank up the heat to 450 degrees. Cook for an additional ten to fifteen minutes. The skin should crisp up and perfectly brown. Stay close by for this part as you don’t want it to burn. Yum. Yum. Yum.
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While the roasting is happening, you can sauté the crimini mushrooms. Feel free to use button mushrooms if you can’t find the baby bellas (a.k.a crimini). I just quarter them and saute them with a bit of salt and pepper. Set them aside for gravy making.
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Once it’s done and you’ve checked the internal temperature with a meat thermometer, let it rest for a couple of minutes. Then transfer it to a large cutting board (that you use for poultry) or platter.
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Whatever you do, don’t discard the natural juice in the bottom of the pan! That’s pure gold and will become the best gravy you’ve ever had. I got about 1.5 cups of drippings from my size chicken. Once the pan is cool enough to touch, transfer the drippings to a sauce pan or large skillet. I poured mine through a mesh strainer to get the big chunks out.
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Bring the liquid to a simmer. I added a cup of water to mine because I wanted to stretch it, but adding chicken stock or broth would work perfectly.
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Prepare a cornstarch and water slurry. I used three tablespoons of cornstarch to 1/4 cup water. Mix it up and incorporate it into the simmering liquid. Give it a good stir and let it simmer for a couple of minutes on low.
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The best thing about a cornstarch slurry is that it doesn’t clump when added to hot liquids. It also thickens without adding gluten. Now add the sautéed mushrooms, a few cracks of black pepper and a bit of salt if desired. I like to finish mine with a splash of milk or cream and a tablespoon of butter. You could skip the dairy if you want, but I really like the sheen and body that comes with the addition.
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The one skill I’m really working on is cutting up poultry for serving. I cut mine into the eight standard pieces, but it wasn’t that pretty, so I forgot to photo it. 🙂 Prepare some wide egg noodles or gluten-free alternative, and serve this bird up with the gravy. You’ll have some happy people on your hands. Enjoy, everybody!

Organic Fried Quinoa with Veggies and Egg (Like Fried Rice, but Better!)

Like a lot of people, I’m trying to incorporate healthier options into my diet. I was really craving fried rice last week, so, instead, I decided to give fried quinoa a whirl. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s now one of my new favorite not-so-guilty pleasures. It was a cinch to make, and it tastes way naughtier than it actually is!

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups organic quinoa (you choose the color), cooked (about one cup uncooked prepared with a 1:1 ratio of water should give you this quantity)
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, quartered
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 egg (skip this if you choose)
  • 2 tablespoons tamari
  • Black Pepper
  • Sea Salt
  • Canola Oil

Method:

In a large, nonstick skillet, heat one tablespoon canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, and sauté for one to two minutes until they start browning and give off some of their liquid.

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Add the onions and a pinch of sea salt, stir, and cook for two minutes.

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Now add the garlic.

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Scootch the sautéed veggies over to one side of your skillet to allow room for the cooked quinoa. Also add the thawed peas.

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Now is a good time to add a bit more canola (or peanut, if you prefer) oil to the pan to really get a good fry. You could go without it, though, if you’d like. Also add the tamari (you can sub soy sauce if you’re not keeping this wheat-free). Turn the heat up to high, and cook the quinoa and veggies for two to three minutes. Keep it moving to prevent burning. Now make a well in the middle for the egg. You’ll want to have a bare spot in the bottom of the skillet for this.

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Scramble with something that won’t ruin your nice, non-stick pan. Don’t be lazy and grab the first utensil you see!

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Once the egg is good and scrambled, incorporate it into the rest of the quinoa.

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See how easy that was? And you’ve only dirtied one pan! I served this quinoa with ginger tamari shrimp. It was delectable and cured my craving. Happy eating, everyone!

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Heirloom Kentucky Wonder Beans Love the Florida Heat

I think I’ve found a bean that doesn’t hate the Florida summer! The Kentucky Wonder heirloom bean is a magical variety that appears to grow in extreme heat coupled with onslaughts of rain and icky humidity. What’s more is that I’m even growing them in a container. I’ve tried many other varieties in the past like Buff Contender Valentine, Golden Wax, and Selma Zesta, but they start strong and then putter out after a couple of weeks. Summer is tough around here. These babies, however, are climbing like crazy, and should start flowering before long. I built a simple structure from bamboo stakes and twine.

A week after sewing the seeds:

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Three weeks later:

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I’ll be sure to post updates about the growth and production of the plants. Wish me good green thumb luck!