Sunday, November 27, 2011

Butternut Sage Risotto Recipe

What is a garden blog without occasional recipes? I am vegetarian. My fiance is a cardiac patient, so he eats a low-fat, low-sodium, low-cholesterol diet. The result is he eats about what I eat, along with some fish. I've adjusted my cooking to take his needs into account, and I'll share some of my more successful recipes for others who are interested.

This Thanksgiving, I made a risotto Don liked a lot. Here is the recipe. If I were to make this again, I'd cut back on the nutritional yeast, which might be too strong for some tastes. I used the yeast instead of the traditional cheese to cut back on sodium, fat, and cholesterol. The sage was from my garden, of course!

Risotto with Mushrooms, Butternut Squash, and Sage


  • 6 Cups Vegetable Stock (I make my own, to keep the sodium as low as possible)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons Smart Balance margarine, divided
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 4 oz. fresh button or other mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 6 large fresh sage leaves, minced
  • 1 lb. butternut squash, stringy pulp and seeds discarded, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine 
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (Arborio is a MUST for risotto!)
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast (= brewers yeast)
  • white pepper to taste

1. Warm the stock up in a medium saucepan and keep it warm over low heat.
2. Heat the oil and 2 tablespoons of the margarine in a heavy-bottomed medium pot. Add the onion and saute over medium heat about 3 minutes, until it begins to soften. Add the mushrooms and cook 8 minutes more. Stir in the minced sage and cook for about 30 seconds to release the flavor. Stir in the squash and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often to coat the pieces.
3. Add the wine and 1 cup of the warm stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the squash is very tender, about 25 minutes. Uncover the pot near the end of the cooking time to cook off most of the extra liquid.
4. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the rice and cook for 1 minute. Add 1/2 of the warm stock and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring, until the rice is creamy and soft but still a bit al dente, about 25 minutes. Add water if you run out of stock early.
5. Remove the pot from the heat and vigorously stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of margarine and the nutritional yeast. Add pepper to taste. Divide the risotto into soup bowls and serve warm, immediately.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend Chores, Recent Purchases, and Plans

I decided I want some fresh sage for our upcoming Thanksgiving feast, so Don dug up a sage plant at my old house to move to our new one. He dug up a little hazelnut shrub we'd like to try to save while we are at it. It was one of three we planted as part of a research project for the National Arbor Day Foundation. Two of these special hybrid shrubs died, but this one lived, although it hardly thrived in its old location. We hope it will fare better when we move it up here where the soil is a little better than at the old house. I'll attach a link that shows us originally planting the three shrubs. Personally, I think the compost may have been overdone/too fresh/part of the problem for the shrubs, but the hard-packed clay at my old location was NOT the place to plant them, according to materials I received with the shrubs. Visit Hazelnut Shrub Project for those who want to see how we planted them at the old location.

So far the tomato plant and pepper plant are still alive despite the first hard frost the night before last. The cloche is protecting the tomato. Don also put a water jar in the cloche to absorb the sun's rays and provide some thermal mass to keep the plant warm at night. The sunny location against the warm bricks at the side of the house seems to help, too.

I planted some peas a few weeks ago in an empty planter to provide some green manure and protect against erosion this winter. The peas are coming up vigorously. They are a cold-hardy pea and should make it all through the winter, by my guess. I didn't inoculate them, so I hope they will actually fix nitrogen in the planter. A type of bacteria has to be present in the soil for the pea plants to do their job of transferring nitrogen from the air to the soil.

I promised myself I would start gardening here at Don's slowly and methodically as we have time to build beds. But I caught a sale of 2011 seeds at 50% off at Seed Savers Exchange, and already I can see that we are going to have to start thinking about putting in several beds to keep up with all the gardening I want to do. I bought tomatillos, three kinds of tomatoes, two kinds of pepper plants, cucumbers, nasturtiums (which are edible), and I can't remember what else. I also saved seeds from last year's garden, and I want to plant onion sets, different kinds of garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pole beans, zucchini, and possibly Hubbard squash as a trap crop. Whew! I may have to invest in one of those online garden planners to keep up with planning out what goes where, crop rotations, etc. Even if I grow just a select few of each kind of plant I want to grow, this is going to take up some space. And we want LOTS of tomatoes...

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Little Tomato-Plant That Could?

I should have mentioned where I live in my earlier post. Climate and gardening go together so location is important. I live in Southeastern Virginia. The property I am moving to has better soil than the hard-packed clay of my last home, but the trees block a lot of sunlight, so that will be a challenge. I also have NO vegetable beds here at all, just one small flower-bed planted with peonies and day-lillies.

The tomatoes I planted this past summer were hybrids. This gave them superior disease resistance but means they are not supposed to be able to reproduce, or at least not very well. One little tomato seed didn't get the message, because it is growing fairly vigorously along the South wall of our house in a container. I have no idea where this little volunteer came from, or why it decided to give life a try in November.

I don't have much hope for it, but my fiance refuses to give up on the little guy. We have put a cloche over the plant. A cloche is just a jar placed over the plant to protect it from the cold. We should be covering the tomato at night but pulling the cloche off during warm, sunny days to let it get some air, but both my fiance and I work, so the plant has been getting random attention at best. Don (my fiance) plans to cut the bottom off of a bigger jar to give the little plant room to grow if it so desires. We'll see what happens.

Getting Started

When gas prices spiked to $4.00 per gallon a couple of summers ago, I started to ramp up my garden. I didn't even feel like I could afford to drive to the local Walmart, no less pay the rising prices for food. I've been reading  both online and in print about the local-foods movement, and I've been increasingly concerned about the effects of GMOs, pesticide use, and factory-farming on human health and the environment. So, like many others, I have tried my hand at gardening, and I like it. As a vegetarian, it makes sense, too, since I can grow most of what I need close to home. I subscribe to Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News. I've read Fast Food Nation, the Omnivore's Dilemma, and watched Food, Inc. I've really started focusing on improving soil with organic inputs.

This past summer was pretty successful. Most of my tomatoes thrived, I had as many garlic bulbs and shallot bulbs as I cared to eat, the herbs like mint and oregano did great, as did my basil. In early spring I grew peas; I even grew carrots successfully for the first time. I grew some "Corno del Toro" peppers in planters, and they were prolific producers. In fact, as I write this on November 14, one of the plants is flowering and producing more little peppers. I don't know if it will survive the coming frosts. I put it up next to the house against a wall. Butternut squash started as a "volunteer" in one of my flower beds, and I had enough squash to eat for weeks after harvest, although I disliked squishing all the squash-bugs that arrived along with the plants. My bush beans didn't fare as well, but they were an experiment.  Radishes, another experiment, did MUCH better, especially the heritage variety I bought at Monticello. The special connection with Thomas Jefferson's mountaintop garden was exciting to me, too.

I started some new flower beds using the "lasagna layering" technique and was happy with the results. It was a learning process, too. I learned, for example, that seeds don't compost well and tend to sprout... this is where my volunteer squash started, to my pleasant surprise. I had intended those beds to be fallow until fall.

I am starting this blog because I want to be better about recording exactly what I am doing in my gardens and when. I am in the process of moving, and so I am starting over with building garden beds, etc., in a new location. Yesterday my fiance and I visited a friend's farm and cleaned out their chicken coops. That farmer is always happy to see us, lol! I have a ComposTumbler, but it's getting too cool in the evenings to hot compost, so we are storing the manure mixed with wood shavings and shredded leaves in a couple of plastic garbage containers and in a flower bed underneath a large oak tree in front of the house, waiting for spring. That, some garlic bulbs I tucked into a flower bed in front of my house, and my potted containers with mint, etc., are all that I have of my old gardens, which I miss already.