Fruit Trees – A Family Tradition

Spring is absolutely one of my favorite times of year.  I look forward to planting my Spring vegetable garden and I thoroughly enjoy the beauty of seeing everything in full bloom this time of year.

When I was growing up it was very common to see fruit trees all over our neighborhood.   Some of my fondest memories were plum, pear, and peach trees growing in our yard and also in my great-grandmotherdear’s yard, just one block up the street from our home. I will always remember the muscadine grape vines growing in her backyard. Talk about the best grape jelly!

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Carrying on this family tradition, I planted three fruit trees a few years ago, (plum, peach and nectarine) and to my surprise, in the first year my plum tree produced a couple of plums--yes two plums--and my peach tree also produced two peaches, as you can see in the pics.  They were all delicious and gave me hope for this year. I am hoping for a huge yield. My sister Agnes also planted fruit trees and her little peach tree was loaded with peaches last summer.

Fast forward to this Spring.  All of my fruit trees are currently in full bloom.  The pink blooms are from the nectarine and peach trees and the white blooms are from the plum tree. 

plumsI can’t wait to infuse some of my homemade jams and jellies into some amazing spring and summer dishes.

Will keep you posted! 

Roasting Fresh Vegetables

Oven roasting vegetables is by far my favorite way to prepare and eat fresh vegetables. I absolutely love the sweet natural flavor that comes from roasting vegetables. During the winter months there are so many good root vegetables available for roasting, and during this time of year I roast a ton of fresh veggies. Some of my favorite vegetables to roast are multi-colored fingerling potatoes, fennel, carrots, red onions, snap peas, peppers, turnips, and small pieces of corn on the cob.  Amazingly, even the normally bitter tasting turnip become sweet when roasted. That’s because something sort of magic happens during the roasting process. The high heat transforms the vegetables by causing them to caramelize, leaving a natural sweet flavor.

Keep in mind that different vegetables require different roasting times. That’s because softer vegetables and those that hold moisture like peppers, leeks, zucchini, asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms and green beans take less time than hard root vegetables like potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips. Try to combine vegetables with similar roasting times together to ensure even cooking.

When using a conventional oven, I usually roast my vegetables at about 425 degrees, but you can roast vegetables between 375 and 475 degrees. At 425 degrees my vegetables are usually ready in about 20 minutes. The higher the temperature, the shorter the cooking time. The vegetables are done when the centers are soft and creamy and the outer edges are golden and crispy. Be sure and watch them carefully if roasting at higher temperatures.

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What you’ll need

  • A cookie sheet (a flat pan works best. A roasting pan with the higher sides can cause your vegetables to steam rather than roast)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Parchment Paper (or spray your cookie sheet to prevent sticking)
  • Salt and Pepper

Step 1

Preheat oven to 425

At this high temperature, most vegetables will roast in about 15- to 20 minutes.

Step 2

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Helps to keep the vegetables from sticking and makes for easier cleanup. If you don’t have parchment paper, spray your cookie sheet with cooking spray.

Step 3

Cut vegetables evenly. Cut your vegetables in similar sizes, to help them roast and brown close to the same time. Throw vegetables in a large bowl and sprinkle with extra virgin oil and toss. Use your hands if needed to make sure covered on all sides. A couple of tablespoons per pan should be sufficient. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Step 4

Spread vegetables evenly on a baking sheet with low sides. Metal is best for roasting.

If your pan is too crowded, your vegetables will steam rather than roast. If you have too many vegetables to fit onto one pan, use two. Also position them near the edges of the pan which makes them brown better.

Step 5

Be sure to stir vegetables a few times while cooking so they will brown evenly on all sides.

Step 6 – ENJOY!

Once you’ve gotten comfortable with roasting, try experimenting. Here are some ideas:

  • Try different oils like coconut oil, peanut oil or safflower oil. Just make sure your oil is very fresh.
  • Add some aromatics like onions, garlic, ginger, shallots, leeks
  • Add herbs like thyme, sage, rosemary, bay leaf
  • Spice it up with chili power or curry
  • Finish with something spicy or crunchy like nuts
  • Roast vegetables and fruit together like butternut squash with apples.

Roasting Guides

http://www.healwithfood.org/chart/vegetable-oven-roasting-times.php

http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/how-to/article/simple-roasted-vegetables

Source: http://www.healwithfood.org/chart/vegetable-oven-roasting-times.php#ixzz3yB8rV3vc

 

 

 

 

The Amazement of Swiss Chard

Did you know that Swiss chard is known for being one of the most nutritious vegetables in the world? Now that’s definitely a good reason to think about adding Swiss chard to your diet.

Growing up, we had a lot of different types of leafy green vegetables in our family garden including mustard, collard and turnip greens, and a variety of different types of lettuces. I can remember eating salads that included everything that came from our garden (the soft butter lettuce, the tomatoes, the onions, the cucumbers, the radishes, a couple of different kinds of parsley, fresh dill, rosemary, garlic, different types of mints).

However, I have to admit that I don’t remember seeing Swiss chard growing in our garden. Since becoming a chef, my culinary palate has really expanded and Swiss chard is now something that I grow in my own garden. It’s super easy to grow.

I picked a nice bunch of Swiss chard from my Fall garden and mixed it with a small bunch of rainbow chard.

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The best Swiss chard I have ever seen growing was in my friend Cory Russell’s garden. Fresh From the Gardens featured Cory’s Fall Garden in one of our gardening videos. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out. It includes some really good gardening tips.

Tip: You can also substitute azomite for the micro nutrient mix mentioned in the video. Axomite includes natural trace minerals for your soil. It’s not something you’ll probably easily find but if you google where to purchase azomite in your location, you should get a list of locations.

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Here’s a link for Texas locations to purchase axomite and to Garden Variety Organics which is where I purchased a bag of azomite. I am experimenting with the gardening method mentioned in my video and having great success. My dad also uses something similar in his garden.

http://www.azomiteminerals.com/states/Texas.html

http://www.gardenvarietyorganics.com

If you head out to Garden Variety Organics in Waxahachie, TX, make sure you use your GPS!

You’re probably wondering how to prepare Swiss chard so I’ve included a few recipe links below. I’ve tried Swiss chard a lot of different ways, and one my favorite ways to eat Swiss chard is to caramelize onions, toss the Swiss chard with the onions and finish it with a dash of sherry vinegar or red wine is also good. It really does make a great side dish and pairs well with baked fish.

What to Look For:

You'll typically find three types of chard in your grocer or farmer’s market. Look for crisp, vibrant green leaves with no yellow or brown marks.

  • Rainbow chard has colorful red, pink, yellow, or white stalks
  • Fordhook Giant is identifiable by crinkly leaves and thick, white, tender stalks
  • Ruby Red (or Rhubarb) chard has thin, red stalks and slightly stronger flavors

How to Store:

Rinse Swiss chard mildly and store in moistened paper towels in a plastic bag (with a few pinholes to allow air to circulate) in the refrigerator for two or three days.

Swiss Chard Recipes:

http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/swiss_chard/#ixzz3qkJIB5Y8n

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/caramelized-onions-swiss-chard

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/swiss-chard-with-garlic-oregano

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/swiss-chard-creme-fraiche

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/sauteed-swiss-chard

http://www.food.com/recipe/sauteed-swiss-chard-dont-be-afraid-232055

http://www.chowhound.com/recipes/swiss-chard-with-lentils-and-feta-cheese-30566

http://blog.williams-sonoma.com/todays-recipe-swiss-chard-onion-cheese-frittata/

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Health Benefits of Swiss Chard

Just one cup of Swiss chard provides over 700% of our daily needs for vitamin K and over 200% of daily vitamin A. Swiss chard contains high levels nitrates, which have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce the amount of oxygen needed during exercise and enhance athletic performance.

http://www.webmd.com/diet/swiss-chard-9-healthy-facts

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284103.php

 

 

Thai Basil

Thai food is by far one of my favorite cuisines, and Thai Basil is one of my favorite types of basil. Thai Basil looks a lot different than Sweet Basil. It has small narrow leaves, purple stems, and pink-purple flowers. I still have a very nice Thai Basil plant that I planted in a medium-sized pot this Spring that is still growing strong right now – that is, until our first frost hits here in Texas shortly. That means I have to make full use of my Thai Basil now!

As a personal chef I really like the way Thai Basil holds up in cooking. It’s great in recipes because its sturdy leaves stand up well under high or extended cooking temperatures, unlike Sweet Basil, which wilts under the same type of heat.

Here are a few links to some of my favorite type of recipes using Thai Basil. Of course, I always change a thing or two to suit my own tastes, but these recipes all have the Thai flavors that I love.

Recipes Using Thai Basil:

http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/spicy-thai-basil-chicken

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/213947/panang-curry-with-chicken/

http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016835-pad-kee-mao

Thai Basil 4Of course, all types of basil are best when use fresh, but there is a way to prolong using basil a couple more months into the winter. I plan to run some of it through a food processor and freeze it in ice trays. It will be good for a couple of months in the freezer. Once it freezes, I’ll just pop it out of the ice trays and place in freezer ziplock bags to use in some Thai soup recipes.

I’ve also included a couple of links where you can purchase Thai Basil, Holy Basil and all types of gardening seeds. Amazingly, there are at least 100 different varieties of basil. Pine Tree Garden Seeds and Rare Seeds are excellent sites. I am also going to order some Holy Basil for planting next Spring. Basil is so easy to grow in a pot and I encourage you to give it a try. Holy Basil is not as easy to find here in the U.S. as Sweet Basil is, so it’s a lot easier to just order it.

For you serious Thai food lovers, there are three types of basil that are commonly used in Thai cuisine.

Thai Basil – used throughout Southeast Asia and also a lot in Vietnamese cuisine and used a lot in Western kitchens. It can best be described as anise, licorice-like, and a little spicy.

Holy Basil – has a spicy, peppery, clove-like taste and Thai people love this basil probably the most. It’s used in India for culinary, medicinal and also for religious purposes.

Lemon Basil – has undertones of lemon in both scent and taste

Sources for Seeds

http://www.superseeds.com/collections/herbs/basil

http://www.rareseeds.com/store/herbs/herbs-a-e/

Health Benefits of Basil

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/basil-herb.html