December 3, 2011

Bacon, Potato, Leek, Gruyere Cheese Gratin

Bacon, Potato, Leek, Gruyere Cheese Gratin.

This potato leek gratin is over the top. The Gruyere cheese lends a creamy smokey flavor and when coupled with thick cut bacon. Oh my.

Bacon, Potato, Leek, Gruyere Cheese Gratin

Makes: 4-6 servings

Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 65 minutes

2 large stalks of leeks, cleaned and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 cup heavy cream, split into 1/2 cups
4 slices thick cut bacon, cooked till crispy & torn into pieces
3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced

  1. Clean leeks by cutting the white stalk into 2 inch lengths, and then slicing open the rounds to open up the leaves so you can wash soil that may have worked between the leaves. Then slice leeks lengthwise into 1/2 inch strips.
  2. Saute sliced leeks in olive oil till tender.
  3. Mix cooked leeks, shredded Gruyere cheese, and 1/2 cup heavy cream.
  4. Layer cooked leek mixture, sliced potatoes, and cooked bacon pieces in casserole dish.
  5. Pour last half cup of heavy cream over the top.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The heavy cream should bubble up and cook the upper layers of the potatoes. Be careful to not let the gratin bubble over the casserole dish.
This gratin was baked in a casserole dish made by me. If you are interested I have a ceramic pottery blog that tends to include poetry and the occasional book review:

December 2, 2011

Hard Freeze Coming to the Garden

Box of lettuce of Cimmaron, Grand Rapids and mixed parentage.
Icicle radish.
More gorgeous Icicle radishes.
Looks like Cherry Belle and Icicle have created a mutant radish, there's just a hint of blush on its shoulders.
There is a hard freeze predicted in the next few days so I went ahead and picked a giant box of the self-sowed lettuces and pulled up the rest of the radishes from the garden. The Icicle radishes had gotten huge with the longest at 12 inches and being that they were volunteer plants I was deeply pleased with their success. The green shoulders of the radishes were the parts growing above the soil. I remember reading a wonderful little gardening book of a man who had gardened in many regions of the United States. He had a photograph of radishes 3 foot long hanging off his fence in Alaska where daylight never ends in their long cool summers. He said the radishes would just grow and grow always sweetly tender and mild. I got the impression that the gardener turned writer was a straightforward military fellow who had a deep love for the earth and enjoyed experimenting with growing methods. I imagined that it was a nomadic military life that kept him moving while he continually tried to put down roots by planting things. A bit of fanciful thinking I am sure since he gave no reason in his book for the different places he gardened in.

I spent a couple of hours washing each lettuce leaf and drying them in the salad spinner before putting them up in a couple of lidded plastic tubs destined for the refrigerator. I keep the lid of the lettuce container cracked open. All this lettuce in the fridge begs to be paired with banh xeo a crispy Vietnamese crepe filled with meat and shrimp. Hot crispy fried food wrapped in lettuce with herbs and dipped in spicy sweet salty lime sauce also known as nuoc mam cham is a little bit of hot heaven. When I mentioned cooking banh xeo to my husband, his eyes got big and he said in a quiet voice how I should cook a large batch so we could freeze some for later. Heh heh. Good thinking.

December 1, 2011

Radish on Buttered Oat Bread

Cherry Belle, French Breakfast, and Icicle radishes.
Cherry Belle radish with a dash of salt on buttered oat bread.
Remember those beautiful giant radishes picked from the garden in early November. Well I've been eating the delectable beasts with the kind of enthusiasm that borders on avarice. Never before had I enjoyed such a radish.

Prior to this I might have glanced at them in the grocer with mild interest those little red balls offered up in the springtime when the weather too quickly turns warm. Perhaps I even purchased a small bunch, quickly regretting the impulse purchase with the first bite from this weird little vegetable whose flavor was an odd mixture of heat and bitterness harking to consuming raw horseradish. Uck, who would eat such a thing. But now. Now. I am a convert, it is as though a moment of clarity has come over me. Grown in the fall with long cool nights and the mildest of days the radish is soft and tender with a crispness reminiscent of the delicate nature of young cucumber which has a drier more fleeting quality then their over-watered and overgrown compatriots. Served on buttered oat bread with the lightest sprinkling of salt, makes this vegetable. A revelation.

I am a bit sad and remorseful that all I have are a few self-sown radishes still in the garden. I will be mourning their absence when they are gone. Wishing I had taken the initiative to plant a giant bed of these lovely plants.

November 22, 2011

Hard Freezes and Over Wintering Lettuce and Fava Broad Beans

Grand Rapids and Cimmaron volunteer lettuces.
We have had two hard freezes in our area last week with the temperature getting down to the low 20's Fahrenheit. The volunteer melons, beans, and tomatoes have bit the dust but the volunteer lettuces of the Grand Rapids and Cimmaron varieties are still going strong and are filling their bed out nicely. It has been raining a lot lately and the weather has warmed to the 50's and 60's during the day. Which means the plants that love the cool weather are growing quickly in the grey wet wintry days.

Broad Windsor fava bean plant.
The Broad Windsor fava beans are growing beautifully. They are already 6-8 inches tall with most of them branching out and forming multiple stems. The fava bean plants should end up 3 feet tall at their tallest. I enjoy seeing the garden covered in fall leaves. It reminds me that despite the cold dreariness of winter that things can still grow and flourish in the cold earth.

Freshly tilled ground with mulch spread over top.
New ground has been tilled. We have extended the garden by more than twice its length and spread mulch over the surface which should break down over the winter months and then will be rototilled in for spring planting. I plan on storing and saving a lot more food by either canning or freezing the surplus. Most of my neighbors in Idaho tried to preserve at least 4 years worth of food by canning, freezing, and drying. My main food crops will be tomatoes for sauce and salsa, green beans, corn, dried beans, summer and winter squash, and peppers.

I have not been able to grow large amounts of cucumbers, eggplants, zucchini, or summer squash in western Kentucky. The heat and humid may play a part, but truth be told I have never seen so many insects in my life as they have in this area. The stem borers, Japanese beetles, and squash bugs can be just awful. This year I am going to try interplanting marigold flowers, nasturtium, dill, basil, and cilantro in hopes of deterring the insect pests from the vegetables.

Tomatoes, okra, peppers, green beans, and sweet potatoes do simply wonderfully in this climate. Japanese beetles do seem to love the okra and green beans and end up consuming a great deal of the plants foliage, but the plants always seem to pull through and produce in large quantities. I have heard of people pickling, canning and drying okra. Now, the idea of drying okra is somewhat alluring but the high humidity in this area curtails some of my enthusiasm. Hmmm.

November 8, 2011

Over Wintering Broad Windsor Fava Beans

Something is amiss. Some creature is nibbling on the fava bean plants.
More Broad Windsor fava bean damage by an unknown assailant.
Oh how lovely. The delicately veined thick succulent leaves.
Already branching out reaching for the sun.
The Broad Windsor fava beans are growing fairly quickly in the cool mild weather. In just two and a half weeks the plants are already branching out and forming multiple stems. They are such pretty plants with their thick leaves and delicate colors. Fava beans are supposed to get four to five feet tall and they say 10-20 plants per person should be enough to supply you with tender tips that can be eaten like spinach, young pods eaten like green beans, young beans can be quickly boiled for 3-5 minutes and eaten like spring peas, and the old beans can be dried and saved for winter soups and stews.

I'm hoping the broad beans were planted late enough to ensure flowering in early spring when insect pollinators are around. Otherwise I might have to resort to hand pollinating with a q-tip.

November 7, 2011

Self-Sowed Lettuces in the Fall Garden

The chartreuse Grand Rapids lettuce.

Left: Cimmaron red romaine lettuce. Right: Grand Rapids lettuce.
The self-sowed lettuces sprouted just four weeks ago, after the garden was rototilled in preparation for the fall garden. The plants are starting to fill out nicely and gain some size. The soil has been too wet from the fall rains to do any hoeing, which is the excuse I'm using for only half heartedly pulling weeds.

I'm looking forward to a winter with lettuces, Swiss chard, beets, and fava beans from the garden. The only vegetables I've ever tried to over winter have been leeks which are wonderfully care free even in the harshest of winters.

November 6, 2011

Detroit Beets and Swiss Chard

Left: the lovely beets trimmed in crimson. Right: the courageous Swiss Chard.
A carpet of Swiss chard seedlings.
The Detroit beets and Swiss chard were broadcast seeded about four weeks ago and they are just starting to get their true leaves. It seems like it took forever for the seeds to sprout, about 2 weeks for both the beets and the Swiss chard, and it seems to be taking forever for the plants to grow.

Broadcast seeding is an easy way to plant seeds that are small and can taking a little crowding. I just sprinkle the seeds over a patch of loose soil and then rake the soil lightly with the tines going less than an inch deep and making short strokes in a crossing X pattern that goes in opposite directions. Just try to get a somewhat even coverage over the whole bed. This technique seems to work well and usually there's just a few seeds that are left uncovered which I push into the soil.

Beets have a larger seed that is actually made up of a group of 3-5 seeds. I plant the beet seeds further apart then the recommended 2-3 inches by just putting down less seed when broadcasting so I don't have to thin the seedlings. Beets have an earthy warm flavor that is lovely in soups and wonderful as a pickle.

Swiss chard is a leafy green vegetable whose growing pattern is similar to bok choy with thick succulent stems and nice large green leaves, although Swiss chard has thinner stems and can withstand hot weather. Hopefully the plants will over winter without any protection.

November 5, 2011

Fall Radishes Self-Sowed

White Icicle, French Breakfast, and Cherry Belle radishes in a tender bed of grass.

The garden was tilled in October and in just four weeks the self-sowed radishes have sized up to gargantuan size with the cooling weather. The white radish is of the White Icicle type which has grown amazingly huge to nine inches in just a few weeks, the light green shoulders were growing above soil level. The French Breakfast radish is five inches long and the larger Cherry Belle radish is two inches in diameter. With the colder weather the normally red radishes have turned to a deep rich dark red that is close to the color of a Red Delicious apple. We haven't had a frost yet in western Kentucky, although the killing frost is forecasted for November 20th. Radishes must love the cool 60 degree Fahrenheit temperatures with nightly temps in the upper 30's.

October 25, 2011

Fall Lettuces Self Seeded and Wild Onions

The last row of the garden is taken up by free range lettuces that have self seeded this fall and some wild onions. The lettuces look to be Grand Rapids with its chartreuse leaves and Cimmaron a red romaine. I am going to leave the lettuces and onions where they lie and fill in the bed with a handful of Bloomsdale spinach seeds that I'm pre-sprouting. Let's see how they handle hard freezes and whether they will overwinter.

My soil is predominately good old western Kentucky clay which tends to form a hard crust when dry so it is best to plant the seeds shallow then what is recommended. Amending the soil has helped the clay structure with the addition of organic matter such as leaf mold, grass clippings, rotted manure, and wood ash. This is only my third year gardening in this soil and climate so there is still some experimenting with vegetable varieties and the timing of planting out seeds and plants.

October 24, 2011

Broadcast Seeded Beets and Swiss Chard

The gentle Detroit Red beets.
The stout and tender Swiss chard.
Left: Two rows of sugar snap peas. Right: Double row of broad Windsor fava bean bed.
Left: Broadcast seeded Swiss chard and Beets. Right: Volunteer lettuce and radish.
Detroit Red beets and Swiss chard were broadcast seeded and then lightly raked over 2 weeks ago and are now sprouting beautifully. They still have 4 weeks to fill out and become established before the killing frost is forecasted for the end of November. The area the beets have sprouted is a bit thin so I'll probably fill it in with pre-sprouted Bloomsdale spinach seeds.

I'm currently pre-sprouting Bloomsdale spinach and Sugar Snap peas which seem to have problems germinating and breaking through heavy soil, it's a good way to check germination rates since these seeds are from 2009. Pre-sprouting is simple just wrap the seeds in moist papertowels and rinse with fresh water a couple of times a day until little rootlets appear and then gently plant them out singly in little holes. The seeds come up much quicker this way compared to just planting out seeds and watering the soil, germination rates seem to be higher with this method. This works especially well with eggplants and peppers which are notoriously finicky about sprouting at warm temperatures, just put the moist seeds in a warm place like on top of the refrigerator or near a heater.

Before this I have only gardened in the high desert of Idaho. A beautiful and wild landscape of high mountain pines, and desert valleys with sagebrush and dust storms blowing through. Rough country. Stark and uncompromising. Breeding rough private people who want of wide open vistas and to live the independent life. I miss the mountains. I miss the desert. But really, I miss the mountains the most.

October 23, 2011

Broad Windsor Fava beans and Free Range Radishes

Broad Windsor fava bean sprout.
Two rows of fava beans.
Free range radishes of the Icicle and maybe Cherry Belle types.
Sprouting Sugar Snap peas.
The Windsor fava beans were planted out just a week ago and it looks like we had 100% germination of the two rows. Hopefully the 30 plants will over winter well and produce enough beans for two people in early spring. The leaves and tips of the plants are edible and are said to a spinach slight peppery flavor. The fava bean bed has free range radishes and lettuces that have reseeded themselves and are quickly sizing up in the cool weather of fall.

I am excited since this will be my first time growing fava beans and planting out crops for the fall.

The peas that were planted out 2 weeks ago have sparsely sprouted so I'm pre-sprouting the next batch of Sugar Snap peas before planting them.

October 22, 2011

Planting Fall Vegetables

Delicate pea sprout with its diminutive leaves.
Sugar Snap pea unfurling.
The silent Sugar Snap pea.
Optimistic cantaloup sprout.
Red Noodle yard long bean quickly filling out.
The struggling Cowhorn okra.
Vivacious Celebrity tomato.
The two rows of Sugar Snap Peas have been planted out for 2 weeks now but only a dozen have sprouted. I'm worried that either the birds have gotten to them or the seeds are old and not viable. The garden patch had gone a bit wild with weeds so I went ahead and did a little weeding around the pea netting, maybe the pea sprouts were accidently pulled with the weeds.

A number of free range vegetables have sprouted after rototilling including lettuces, radishes, yard long pole beans, melons, okra, and tomatoes. The soft tender plants such as the beans, melons, okra, and tomatoes should meet their demise soon since the killing frost is forecasted four weeks from now on November 20th.