Thursday, April 19, 2012

Eating REALLY close to the ground.

I'm not sure if you're familiar with the expression "Eat close to the ground," but it means eating very sustainably--local, fresh, with a low carbon footprint, and most importantly to me, cheap.

It's what I was thinking about when I ate dinner last night, a good bit of which came from my backyard. I live in "town" on a little over a half acre. It's not like we live at Green Acres or anything. But it still blows my mind how much food I can produce relative to the size of our lot.

Last night, I made angel hair pasta with peas and mint pesto and meatballs. It was a variation of a recipe from Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home. On the side, I made a dandelion green salad with hot bacon dressing.

The mint pesto was made from mint I grow in my herb garden. The recipe used about three cups, which is great, because if you've ever grown mint, you know how enthusiastically it will spread. I am always looking for ways to use it in cooking since I just have so much of it. And, I was skeptical about mint pesto. Would it taste too minty? To desserty? Not at all, actually. It was great with the garlic, saltiness of the parmesean, and the olive oil. I think peas and mint are perfect companions. Mint cuts some of peas sweetness and peas mellow out some of the strong flavor of mint.

Mint Pesto

3 cups losely packed mint leaves
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more if needed
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup shredded parmesean cheese
6 cloves garlic, minced

Put the nuts, garlic and cheese in a food processor and pulse until ground. Add the mint leaves and some of the oil. Pulse again until the mixture comes together. Add more oil until pesto reaches desired consistency. Makes about 2/3 to 1 cup.

I think the pesto would be great in ravioli or on a sandwich. It's definitely something I'm going to keep in mind as my mint plants become more unruly thtroughout the summer.

The meatballs are my standby meatball recipe, made with ground venison. Now, there are deer who come to my backyard, so these meatballs count as coming from the backyard, even though they aren't made from deer in my backyard. I wouldn't mind if these meatballs were from those deer. I'm not excited to see them since it means I'll most likely lose something I've put a lot of work into growing.

The dandelion greens are from the backyard, picked Saturday before the Hubs mowed. I've never eaten them before, and was curious to try them, especially since they seem to be an overabundance in my yard. They were bitter, but the bacon dressing help smooth out the bitterness a little bit. I loosely followed a recipe in The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook. I haven't used this cookbook much, but it's arranged by season (major points from me) and is centered around things you would find at the farmers' market. I did a quick internet search after dinner, and found out that dandelion greens are better when they are from plants that haven't flowered yet. Yikes. That's probably why they were so bitter, which makes sense.

Now, I realize it's not much from the backyard in the mint and dandelion greens, but it did strike me as I was eating--hey, this is pretty local, considering I wasn't even trying. The mint plants are spear mint and were given to me a few years ago. People who grow mint will gladly give you some starts if you ask (and maybe even unsolicited) because it spreads so aggressively. So, the mint cost me zero dollars, and well, the dandelion greens did, too. The Hubs shot the deer, and it was basically free, save for his hunting stamps and ammo. It was all local except for the pasta, peas, oil, parmesean cheese and almonds (in the pesto). The hot bacon dressing had some red wine vinegar in it, too, that wasn't local.

I am harvesting arugula, lettuces, radishes and beet greens from my cold frames now. I'm not getting a huge amount, but I've been mixing what I pick in with the lettuce mixes I've ordered from the Monroe Farm Market. The arugula is a nice touch to mix in for salads. And I am a huge fan of the beet greens. I hate to pick any more, because that means fewer beets. I think I might grow more just for the tops. Lettuces, radishes and greens are some of the easiest vegetables I've ever grown. I find them to be very low maintenance. I basically planted the seeds and in a couple weeks begin harvesting. We did just have a dry spell, so I did water them a couple times, but generally, they don't need any extra water because spring is usually wetter and cooler. The radishes I grow are cherry bell variety, and I ordered the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The beets are "cylindra," also from Baker Creek. It's an elongated variety that is good for small plots since you can plant them closer to each other than regular beets. I have thinned them out to be about 2 inches apart, but don't waste those thinnings. Put them in a salad!

My feelings toward beet greens.

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