My vegetable garden is made up of 12 raised beds. Most are 10 feet by 3 feet except for four that are L-shaped. Those are 10 by 3 with another 4 by 3 "bump-out". My garden is a pretty big one and I dig variety, which takes a bit of a blueprint. My annual plan has become a fun way to start the season, well in advance of warm weather. Seed catalogues in hand, I begin sketching my springtime vision.
So, I should also share that I REALLY like things that are pretty. ALL of my purses have loads of pockets as I am at ease when everything is in it's place. For years, I organized my garden accordingly. Tomatoes in one bed, peppers in another. One bed strictly for herbs. As I began to become a serious gardener and started preserving the foods I grew, efficiency and production became a bigger deal.
Companion planting is gardening smarter, not harder. It is planting different plants in fairly close proximity to one another, to encourage symbiotic or beneficial relationships that increase yields. These relationships can include: pest control, efficiency of space, pollination, providing habitats for beneficial creatures and even replenishing the nutrients one plant depletes from the soil. An awesome concept, but NOT the aesthetically pleasing garden I enjoy. I had to mull it over.
I always gardened organically, but began to read books on the subject and attended some seminars. I kept hearing about "companion" plants. I mainly dabbled at first, taking a look at charts and trying things like setting a few basil plants among the bases of my tomatoes. Finally, I got around to reading Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte. What a great resource! It inspired me to take the plunge and last year, I went all in.
It took a bunch of patience to map out that first year. I made a diagram of my beds and noted which things come up on their own (asparagus and herbs, mainly) then I began to build around that. In the slides above you can see both my 2017 and 2018 maps. There are some changes, mainly due to bed rotations, but overall I was thrilled with the results in 2017 so I'm back at it this year.
Once I finally got everything in the ground that first spring, I was kind of deflated. My garden looked like a hot mess. Not really. It was organized chaos, to be sure, but by the books and charts, it made sense. Everything was planted next to a "friend". What I discovered is that I grew much more food than ever by using this method. I spent less time weeding, less time and money on pest management (a big pain for organic gardeners) and our bee hives were enormously productive, too.
This year, I've got plans to weigh every basket I pull out and get a sense of the weight of food produced. Going forward I will compare annually. What I can say with certainty is this: companion planting filled both my freezers to the brim. My double cabinets that I use to store canned goods were also full (not normally to capacity) and I had to add a third cabinet. If you estimate that each jar of preserved food would cost between $3 & $6 at a grocery store, the 40ish extra jars sure paid off.
If you are planning on planting, why not give #companionplanting a shot? If you go for it, please share your results!
Below is an easy-to use chart to help you get started: one of my favorites.
My first stop in Europe a few weeks ago was London. Let's face it, England isn't exactly known for it's fare. We did have amazing fish & chips with mushy peas on our first evening. It was a funky little dive suggested by our cab driver and was very good. Honestly, this is where my expectations for good eats started and stopped. I wasn't too worried. Paris was squarely on my radar.
What happened next was a little gift from God. I did know that London is known to have a bangin’ Indian scene, but I wasn't convinced that it really was good. I thought maybe it was just better than the other options. Boy, was I mistaken.
We were staying in Islington, but made our way to Restaurant Dishoom in nearby King's Cross. It was a Wednesday evening around 8 and we waited about 45 minutes. I thought that was a good sign. The bar was lovely and the cocktails creative. To make a long story short, Dishoom served the BEST Indian food that has ever crossed my lips. My mom and the kids loved it. The samosas were amazing. Malcolm had lamb. Franky, a potato curry. Mom some sort of cunning tagine. But what we LOVED best were the Indian-style greens.
I asked our waiter how the greens were dressed. He gave me a partial description and I've played with them a bit. Below is my interpretation. Served with a generous bowl of steamed Basmati rice, this makes a lovely vegetarian meal. A little spicy and a lot tangy. Perfect for a brisk spring evening.
कृपया भोजन का आनंद लीजिये! (Please enjoy your meal!)
Nod to Dishoom's Indian Greens
6 cups steamed Basmati rice
2 crowns fresh organic broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup water
8 ounce package organic baby spinach
1/2 pound fresh organic snow peas, trimmed
1/2 teaspoon lal mirch (Indian chili powder or substitute cayenne pepper)
2 Tablespoons Garam Masala
1/3 cup Ghee or clarified butter
juice of two limes
In a large skillet, steam the broccoli over medium heat with a 1/2 cup of water. After 4-5 minutes, add the snow peas and drizzle with half of the butter. Cook for another minute or two, reducing the heat to low.
Transfer veggies to large bowl and immediately add spinach. Toss spinach with hot veggies to wilt.
Sprinkle the Garam Masala, chili powder, remaining butter and lime juice and toss well coat.
Divide the steamed rice among four plates and top with generous spoonfuls of greens.
Ok, so I’m still stuck on France. No biggie. The weather here in Indiana hasn't proven warm enough to start planting anything so I’ve been playing in my kitchen. I'm having great fun trying to perfect tons of tasty dishes for you. This one is up next:
Nothing beats the taste and aroma of a perfectly roasted chicken. It is elegant, inexpensive, impressive and delicious. This is one of those dishes you should master. Give it a shot and let me know what you think.
French-Style Roast Chicken
One organic, 4-pound chicken
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter
2 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 potatoes, cut into quarters
1 large onion, peeled and cut into four equally thick slices
8 ounces of fresh button mushrooms
3-4 generous sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Pat your bird dry with paper towels and sprinkle the inside of the chicken with half of the kosher salt and butter. Slice the lemon and squeeze both into the cavity of the chicken and stuff them inside. Place 2 of the sprigs of rosemary inside as well.
2. Place the onion “discs” in the middle of your roasting pan and place the chicken on top, breast up. Rub the remaining butter onto the bird. Add carrot, potato and mushroom pieces around the base of the chicken. Add the other two sprigs of rosemary and drizzle the veggies with olive oil. Salt and pepper the entire roasting pan, generously.
3. Place your roasting pan in the oven and brown your bird for 15ish minutes. Flip the bird over and brown the other side for another 15ish minutes. Then flip again and lower your oven to 350°.
Pro Tip: Every time you flip the bird spoon some of the pan juices back over the top of the chicken. This technique is called basting and will help you develop that gorgeous brown, flavorful, crisp skin.
4. Keep the chicken breast side up and continue roasting for 45 minutes. Baste when you think of it, at least 2 or three times. Trust me, the extra trouble is worth it.
5. Check the temperature of the roast at this point. You want an internal temperature of 165° when inserted into the thigh with an instant-read thermometer. If you’re not quite there, add ten minutes more to the cook-time and check the temp again.
6. When you have achieved the desired temperature, pull the chicken from the oven and transfer to a serving platter. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before you slice it, and serve hot with roast vegetables.
Pro Tip: Drizzle a little more of the pan juices over each plate before serving.
Mother's Day is just around the corner. If you are looking for a unique gift, consider booking a private Schlepicurean cooking class for your Mom. Message me for details. (Gift cards are available, too.) GREAT fun for Mom and siblings or Mom and her besties!
A few weeks ago I cooked for a group of amazing gals. They had scheduled a private class in celebration of one of their birthdays. The menu requested was French with the stipulation that it would also be vegetarian. It was great fun and all the ladies helped, but really rocked when learning to make crêpes. They turned out to be pros. I was particularly excited about this menu because not only do I love French grub, but was super stoked about spending Easter in Europe (Paris, specifically).
I’ve been dropping little teasers about what I’d share upon my return and it was my intention to go in the chronological order of my trip. But I’ve changed my mind. I’m still working through some re-creations of Indian dishes I loved in London. They need a bit more tweaking, so in honor of my fun group of gal pals AND the tantalizing assortment I enjoyed in France, today is all about crêpes.
Crêpes are a light, thin and eggy pancake that the French are famous for. The basic recipe I will share is a delicious yet neutral canvas for your creations, both savory and sweet.
Directions: Combine milk, eggs, oil and flour. Add salt. Makes about 7.
While you can make crêpes in any skillet, if you find that you dig making them, invest in a crêpe pan. They are available on Amazon at great prices and at Williams Sonoma as well. I prefer the de Buyer brand. It is blue steel and available in several sizes. The benefits to these pans are the uplifted handle and the cooking surface. Using them is basically fool-proof and you’ll turn out light and tender pancakes with little effort. I use my pan only for this purpose and at about $25, I don’t feel bad about that.
After you prepare your batter, here’s how you make them:
I prefer to use crêpes immediately, but you can prepare them in advance or even freeze them between sheets of waxed paper.
Now the fun begins! Customize them as you like.
I spent Easter Sunday on Montmartre, a hill-top neighborhood in the 18 arrondissement of Paris. After checking out the beautiful basilica, Sacré-Coeur, my family and I popped into a little crêperie. We were informed (at 4 p.m.) that they’d be closing in an hour, so only sweet offerings would be served. Ummm, ok.
Let this be a jumping-off point for your filling fantasies: Mom ordered Crêpes Suzette (Filled with beurre Suzette, a sauce of caramelized sugar and butter, orange juice, zest, and orange liqueur on top, flambé, tableside. Fancy.) My sons each chose simpler options: lemon and sugar for one and toasted almond slivers and honey for the other. Mine was filled with a bit of chocolate and served with a small scoop of praline ice cream. Some other popular choices are ham and cheese or Nutella with fresh slices of banana or strawberry. Easy peasy.
Remember the birthday crew I mentioned earlier? For their event, I presented a savory filled crêpe which seemed to be a hit. Warm crepes were served with the following mixture. This made a delicious hors d'oeuvres, but could easily be an entrée if you served it with a light salad.
Mushroom, Spinach & Chevre Crêpes
Directions: Heat the oil in a large skillet for one minute. Add mushrooms and cook over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Be sure to stir constantly.
Stir in the parsley, thyme, garlic, salt & pepper. Cook for one minute more.
Reduce the heat to medium and add spinach. Cover and cook for two minutes. (you want the spinach to wilt).
Uncover & add crumbled chèvre, stirring to melt.
On a plate, place one crêpe and spoon the mixture down the middle. Roll up the crepes.
Serve as is, or place crêpes in a baking dish, top with shredded mozzarella cheese and heat in a 350 degree oven until the cheese melts.
Don't forget to post your results if you try any of my recipes!
Elizabeth Morse cooks professionally, is an Advanced Master Gardener and lover of all things local.