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!

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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!

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!

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!

It’s raining out, and all I want to do is dig in the dirt.

I feel a good, solid pouty face coming on. All week long, I’ve wanted to plant my seven heirloom tomato seedlings (three Thai Pink Egg, two Healani, and two Chadwick Cherry) that I purchased from TomatoFest.

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I watched them grow from itty bitty seeds, potted them up twice, and now they’re a foot tall.

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They’re ready to spread out and grow. And after a painfully hot, rainy, and humid summer of (*gasp*) no tomatoes in the garden, all I wanted was to plant them today. I was patient (OK, maybe not patient, but, nonetheless, I waited). Doesn’t that count for something?

The worst part is that I got glimpses of the sunshine all week long on my walks to meetings, the restroom, or my car, and I kept thinking, “On Friday, after work, I’ll get to go outside and play.” Stupid Murphy and his laws.

Here’s to hoping tomorrow will be the day.

Spicy Chipotle Mexican Meatballs with Adobo Sauce

Sometimes I just can’t make up my mind. Sometimes I want Italian. Sometimes I want Mexican. Sometimes I want it all, and, as I’ve said before, necessity is the mother. Well, this wasn’t so much as a necessity thing so much as an I’m-being-indecisive-and-difficult thing. Anyhow, I now present to you (drumroll, please) Spicy Chipotle Meatballs in Adobo Sauce! I swear I can already hear the applause.

OK, so while this is super easy, there are a lot of steps. But thank goodness for photo-heavy food blogs, right?

For this recipe, you’ll need:

Meatballs:
1 cup onion, diced (I used Vidalia because I cry less)
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1/2 cup cubanelle pepper, diced
1 1/2 pounds ground 80/20 beef (you could go leaner if you choose)
1 egg
1 cup plain bread crumbs, fresh or store bought
1 teaspoon garlic power
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon Adobo seasoning
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons sea salt

Sauce:
4 cups beef or pork stock (I made pork carnitas, so I used the stock from that)
1 tablespoon chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (I blend the entire can in a blender and use it for a multitude of things. I always have it in the fridge.)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Cornstarch and water slurry
Salt and pepper to taste

Now that that’s settled, here’s how do put this all together. It’s much easier than all the ingredients make it look.

To begin, take the diced pepper, onion, and sliced garlic and sautée it in a nice, heavy, large skillet over medium-high heat. Use about tablespoon of olive oil for this.

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Add pinch of salt and keep the veggies moving constantly for about 3-4 minutes until they’re completely translucent. Once they’re done, put them in a large mixing bowl to cool.

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Next, make your meatball mixture by putting all of the ingredients from the above list into the mixing bowl with your cooled, sautéed veggies.

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Gently work it through with your hands (your hands are the best tools for this job) until you’ve got a homogenous mixture. It should come together quickly. Now form evenly sized meatballs that are about 1.5″ in diameter. To do this, I gently roll them between both palms.

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Now, in the skillet you’ve already used to sautée the veggies, add another tablespoon of olive oil and turn the heat to medium-high again. Once the surface of the oil starts shimmering, carefully add the meatballs one by one. I use tongs for this because hot, splattering oil is painful. Once all of the meatballs are added to the pan in a single layer, give it another minute.

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With your tongs, carefully start turning them over starting with the ones you first put in the pan because they’ll be the brownest. (NOTE: If you can’t brown the meatballs in a single layer, do two batches. They won’t get all caramelized and yummy if they’re too crowded.)
Feel free to turn them to every side to get each spot, brown, but one turn should do it.

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Once they’re done, transfer them to a plate. Feel free to leave whatever goodies are left in the pan as it’ll just add flavor to the sauce you’re about to make. Add the stock to the pan and bring the heat to medium.

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Next add the blended chipolte in adobo and the tomato paste.

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Whisk it together to break down all the lumps. (NOTE: Use a silicone whisk if you’re using a non-stick pan.) Bring this to a simmer.

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Now, make a cornstarch and water slurry. This just means that you’ll take a few tablespoons of cornstarch and whisk it together with water. The measurements don’t have to be exact at all. And this is precisely why cornstarch is my favorite thickener. It’s very forgiving and you can add the slurry to hot liquids with little or no danger of clumping or having a funky-tasting final product. For my slurry, I did three tablespoons of water with a half cup of water.

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Whisk it in, little by little, into the simmering sauce. It won’t thicken instantly, so go slowly until you get the thickness you like. I added my whole mixture because I like it thicker. Again, let it simmer for a couple of minutes, and give it a taste. Add salt, pepper, or any other spices (even hot sauce) you like. If you do opt for adding hot sauce, I’d recommend something like the Chipotle Tabasco. The smokiness will work perfectly with this. Once you’re happy with it, add the meatballs back to the pan.

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Let simmer for about ten minutes to let all of the flavors incorporate. Your house will smell incredible.

I served this over yellow rice with some sweet corn. I know that color combo isn’t the best for photographs, but my tummy loves it.

Happy eating, everyone!

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Today’s Little Harvest: Cubanelle Peppers and Buff Contender Valentine Beans

Well, a little isn’t as good as a lot, but it’s much better than nothing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but having a productive veggie garden in the Florida summer heat/humidity/rain isn’t the easiest. So, I’ll take what Mother Nature blesses me with and be happy. For today’s harvest, I have 8 ounces of perfectly ripe Cubanelle peppers (from my volunteer plants that have been going since February!) and 3 ounces of Buff Condender Valentine beans.

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I’d like to say that I’ll whip up some fantastic creation for these little guys, but I can’t stop munching the beans, and the peppers are already calling my name. Raw food is in, right? 🙂

Black Bean and Chick Pea Salad: Protein-Packed and Delicious!


20130820-173456.jpgI’ve recently been eating a ton of legumes. I love how versatile they are and how easy they are to have on hand. I keep them dried in my pantry and even a few cans of organic, low-sodium options for when I’m in a rush. And, when it’s this stinking hot outside, a cold bean salad is a fantastic option for a light lunch or BBQ side dish. When I initially began throwing this together, I wasn’t sure I should blog it right away without getting feedback from my brutally honest friends. Well, it passed the test over the weekend, and I’ve even enjoyed toying around with the leftovers. Moral of the story? I’m now confident enough to share it with you today.

For this recipe you’ll need:

  • 4 cups garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 green cubanelle or small green bell peppers, diced or julienned
  • 1 brightly colored bell pepper, diced or julienned (I chose purple)
  • 1/2 sweet onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño or other hot pepper, finely diced (remove ribs and seeds to keep heat down)
  • zest of one organic lemon
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • few grinds black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of garlic infused EVOO (use plain if you don’t have this)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon local honey
  • 1 minced garlic clove (if you haven’t used garlic-infused EVOO)

Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl, fold gently, and let marinate for at least an hour before eating. This recipe should serve about 10 small portions.

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Tweaks for cheese and meat lovers:

I added a bit of feta cheese and though it was a perfect addition. My boyfriend had it with feta and grilled chicken and thought it made a perfect lunch on a hot day.

Happy eating!

 

Growing Organic Heirloom Buff Contender Valentine Beans in a Container

Great success! I harvested the first mini-batch of Buff Contender Valentine beans this morning.

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They’re perfectly firm, evenly colored, and super sweet. They’re the perfect bean for vegans and vegetarian dishes because they have a robust flavor and hearty texture that can really take center stage. And, what’s even better is that they grow amazingly well in a container. For those of us who have smaller-than-ideal yards, this is a major bonus. And for those of us who have absurdly hot and wet summers, these bean plants don’t seem to flinch.

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They don’t need to be supported with stakes, although I used a cage because of how windy it gets beachside. Oh, did I mention that they seem fairly pest and disease resistant?

The excellent flavor and ease of growing makes these a winner. You can get the seeds from Southern Exposure.
Happy gardening!

Organic Bell and Cubanelle Volunteer Peppers

Volunteer plants are Mother Nature’s way of thanking eco-conscious gardeners for composting. And she thanked us big time this year. We had twenty-two volunteer pepper plants spring up in a tiny bed on the side of our house…in a bed that we were preparing for Zinnias! Some plants are bell peppers, some are Cubanelle peppers, and some look like a bizarre hybrid.

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Regardless, we’re getting free veggies! We also had two volunteer cucumber plants that produced a ton, but now they’re done for.

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The peppers, however, are in full swing. What’s interesting is that this raised bed is only 8″ deep and gets five hours of morning sun per day. No matter who I talk to or what I read, this shouldn’t really happen. But it doesn’t look like these pepper plants are complaining.

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