Stacking Functions Garden

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Recipe: eggplant bhaji

As much as I live for Indian food, I kinda can’t believe I’ve never posted any of our favorites.  This is a nice, easy one that even I can handle.

Eggplant Bhaji

1 med size eggplant, sliced into finger-size strips
2 T. ghee or butter
1 onion, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped or minced
1 in. ginger root, grated
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 T. chili pepper flakes (or to taste)
2 c. canned tomatoes
1/2-3/4 c. chicken stock
1 tsp. garam masala

1. First, start a pot of brown rice on the stove.  It takes about 30 minutes, so it should be done in time.

2. Melt the butter or ghee in a wok or frying pan over med. heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft (5-6 min.)

3. Add the garlic and the eggplant, and cook briefly, stirring constantly.

4. Add all the spices except the garam masala, and the tomatoes with their juice.  Simmer uncovered for 15-20 min. or until the eggplant is very soft.  Check it about halfway and add stock if it seems like it’s drying out.  You want to have some sauce for the rice to soak up, so thin it to desired consistency with the stock.

5. Stir in the garam masala and shut off the heat.  Spoon it over rice, and garnish with a nice generous dollop of plain yogurt.  Cilantro’s a nice garnish on here, too.

Here’s a really nice tutorial on how to peel fresh ginger root, if you never have.  This recipe is slightly adapted from 1000 Vegetarian Recipes.

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Adam’s making stuffing for the Rensenbrink Family Thanksgiving tomorrow, so tonight he took out some thyme he’s had drying for several weeks and removed the leaves from the branches:

Here’s a major limitation of the blog: you’ll have to just imagine how amazing it smelled in our kitchen while he was doing this.

This is the first year we grew lots of different types of herbs.  Next year I hope we can get organized enough that we can dry enough thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc. to give some out as Christmas presents.  This stuff is amazingly cheap and easy to grow, and look how much nicer it is than store bought organic thyme:

In case you can’t tell, the one on the right is the homegrown.  The aroma is significantly stronger as well.

Adam was so inspired that he went out with a flashlight and dug more fresh thyme out from under the leaf mulch, so he can make sure he has enough dried to last all winter.  He uses thyme in many different recipes: all kinds of vegetable or meat dishes, and also anything Italian.  I especially like it on potatoes.  I also remember reading somewhere (probably Nourishing Traditions) that thyme has anti-inflammatory properties.

To dry herbs, simply pick a bunch, and tie them up with a twist tie, and turn them upside down inside a paper bag for a few weeks. The paper bag keeps them from getting dusty and catches any leaves that might fall off during the drying process.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  This might sound cheesy, but really, the thing I am most thankful for this year is having a yard that I can grow all this amazing food in, so that my family can eat well even if we are on a tight budget.


Stock/broth basics

I mention broth on here all the time, but I’ve never really posted the how-to.  The good news:  it’s really easy.  The great news:  it adds immeasurable flavor and nutrition to everything you make.  I’ve adapted this very basic recipe from Nourishing Traditions:

Basic Stock
1 chicken or turkey carcass, or 1-2 lbs of beef soup bones
Water enough to cover the bones
2 T. vinegar or acidic wine
1 onion, roughly chopped (optional)
2-3 of carrots, roughly chopped (optional)
Parsley, bay leaves, other herbs that you like (also optional)

Take a chicken or turkey carcass from a bird you’ve roasted (hey, I just realized how timely this post is), or some raw beef bones.  You can also use raw poultry, but you will have to pull the meat off the bones later after it’s done boiling.

Place your bones and vegetables in a crock pot and cover with water.  Add the vinegar.  Cook on low for 12-24 hours.  Add dried herbs like bay leaves when you have a 2-4 hours left.  Add fresh herbs like parsley with 30-40 minutes left.

Turn off the crock pot and let it cool for an hour or two, so it will be easier to handle.  Strain it through cheesecloth or a fine strainer (this is very important with poultry because of all the tiny little bones).  The vegetables will be pretty much mush by now, but that’s OK since you were mostly after their flavor anyway.   Place the strained broth in a bowl in the fridge until cold (several hours, or overnight).  Skim off fat and impurities from the top, then freeze in ice cube trays.  5-6 cubes = about 1 cup.

Here’s how we usually do it: we roast a chicken for supper.  We remove the drummies and wings completely, then cut off as much meat as we can from the carcass.  We get the broth going in the crock pot and leave it all night and let it go all the next day, too.  When Adam gets home at 4 p.m. or so the next day, he shuts off the crockpot.  Then that evening we strain it and put it in the fridge.  The next morning we skim it and put it in the ice cube trays.  That night we transfer the cubes to freezer bags.  So yeah, it’s a long process, but each step only takes a few minutes.

Stocks are SO good for you.  Nourishing Traditions has several different stock recipes, and even calls for adding chicken feet if you can find them.  They add extra gelatin to the broth, apparently.  Did you know that gelatin is a huge boon to digestion?  Also, cooking bones like this draws out minerals from the cartilage and marrow, turning them into easily-assimilated electrolytes.  See the “Stocks” chapter in Nourishing Traditions for much, much more information.  This recipe is a very simplified version of the ones found there.

So many recipes that we make call for stock, and it used to be frustrating to have to buy a whole can or carton of it when I only needed 1 cup.  Now we just grab a few cubes out of the freezer when we need it.  Adam has started adding stock to recipes that don’t even necessarily call for it, because it adds so much depth of flavor.

Update, Nov. 30, 2010: I finally got up the nerve to add chicken feet to my stock!  Result: after refrigeration the stock looked like jello. I take that as a sign of the presence of gelatin.  🙂

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Another sauerkraut method

Oooh, the folks over at Simple Green Frugal Co-op have a really great sauerkraut recipe, and an idea that hadn’t occurred to me before:  purposely fermenting your kraut at a lower temperature, for a longer period, apparently gives you better flavor.  Check it out right here.  This is going into the hopper for that magical time when my mini root cellar is complete (hopefully next fall).

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Putting the garden to bed

Yesterday, I harvested the 2nd and last row of parsnips.  These were slightly better than the first:

Some of them were even almost perfect.  They were all tasty.  This was my final harvest for 2009 so the whole family got involved with putting a leaf blanket on the soil for the winter:

Rowan and Anneke used buckets; Dad used a wheelbarrow.

I spread the leaves out on the garden.  I’ve read that if you mix the leaves into the soil right away, they actually cause a deficiency in the soil as the microorganisms work to break them down.  However, leaving them on top means the decomposing happens on top of the soil.  I will look at them in the spring, and if there are still quite a few that haven’t decomposed I’ll actually pull those off before getting my soil ready for spring planting.  I might be creating more work than necessary here, but I hate to leave the ground bare and exposed all winter long.

(That orange power cord is for our Christmas lights, so we’ll have to pull that out later.)


Recipe: venison pot pie

Adam’s brother Nigel got a deer last weekend, and gave us a really nice piece of venison.  Here’s what we made (this is adapted from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook):

Venison Pot Pie
1 pound lean boneless venison
2 T. oil
2 1/2 cups beef stock
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup carrots, cubed
1 cup turnips, cubed
1/3 + 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sugar
3 Tbsp shortening or butter
1/3 cup milk

1. Cut meat into small cubes (about 1/2 in.) and brown in hot oil.

2. Add 2 c. stock, thyme, and a bit of pepper.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Add vegetables and simmer, another 15-30 minutes.

3. Stir together 1/2 c. stock and 1/3 c. flour and stir into meat/vegetable mixture.  Cook and stir until thick and bubbly.  Pour into a casserole dish.

4. While your stuff is simmering, make the biscuits.  Stir together 3/4 c. flour, baking powder, sugar, and a good pinch of salt.  Cut in shortening or butter until it looks crumbly.  Add milk and stir just a bit.  Drop a couple handfuls on top of the meat/vegetable mixture in the casserole.  Bake at 450 degrees F for about 12 minutes or until the biscuits get all golden.

Serves 5-6 people

Here’s a picture of it in the pot.  Adam used our enameled cast iron dutch oven for the entire process.  That thing is awesome!

Variations:  you could substitute any root vegetable for the carrots and potatoes, and/or green beans instead of peas.

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Dog bone broth

So, Adam was chattin’ it up with one of the meat department employees at the co-op tonight, and he asked whether they sold soup bones. The guy said, “Yeah, we do… it’s just that we don’t label them as soup bones.” It’s a sign of the times:

Adam got 1 1/2 lbs of soup bones for an insanely cheap price.  The guy assured him that this is from the very same high-quality animals the co-op cuts up for meat.  It’s just that there’s a market for dog bones, not so much for soup bones.  So we’re going to cook these all night long in the crock pot and then make an ultra-nutritious bone broth-based soup tomorrow.  I’m not going to tell my dog or my mom about this one.

Also: check out my new recipes section!  I’m compiling all my recipes on one handy reference page, right here.

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Garden update: November edition

Who’d have thought I would have a garden update for the month of November?  Despite numerous freezes and a couple of snowfalls, we still have a couple of things going on outside.  First, some kale that I planted in July or so.  It never got above micro-size but it was enough to make a little salad with:


Also, most of our herbs are still going strong.  Especially this patch of parsley near the house.  I think the dogwood bush and parsley might be good companions, because all summer long the dogwood shaded it from the hot summer sun, and now that the bush is bare, the parsley is soaking up all the cool winter sun it can get.  The fact that it is right next to the house also helps shelter it from the wild temperature swings:


I am home alone today so I made myself a little massaged kale salad.  First, I washed up the freshly picked kale, parsley and a little rosemary:


Next I salted the kale and massaged it vigorously for 1-2 minutes.  It reduced down:


Then I drained off the bitter juices, tossed it with the parsley, some lemon juice, olive oil, chunks of cheddar cheese, and a handful of sunflower seeds (decided to leave the rosemary out, in the end).  Delicious.


I like making salads out of kale this time of year.  It’s a little more substantial than lettuce, which feels right when it’s cold outside.  Massaging the kale makes it release its bitter juices, improving the flavor considerably and making it easier to digest.  This salad that I made today is a much simplified version of the massaged kale salad recipe from Cookus Interruptus, which I have made several times and highly recommend.  But really, anytime you combine greens, nuts and cheese you can’t go wrong.


Recipe: pumpkin pie with gingersnap crust

We made a pumpkin pie yesterday.  We got the recipe from the box of Mi-Del gingersnap cookies that we bought recently in a moment of weakness at the co-op.  It has almost no sugar, and all natural ingredients.  The kids helped us make it, and it turned out great.

Download a printable PDF of this recipe

Gingersnap crust
1 1/2 c. crushed gingersnap cookies (the Mi-Dels are tiny and you need about 30)
5 T. butter, melted

First things first.  Crush your cookies:


Stir in the melted butter and press into a pie pan (preferably glass or ceramic):


Now bake for about 7 minutes at 350 degrees.  While it’s baking, mix up the pie filling:

Pumpkin Pie Filling
1/2 c. cream
1/2 c. maple syrup
2 eggs, beaten
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree (or 2 c. frozen pumpkin, pureed)
2 T. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ginger, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt

First, mix together the eggs, cream, and maple syrup:


In a separate bowl combine the pumpkin, flour, and spices:


Then mix the two together and pour into your prepared crust:


Bake at 350 degrees F, 45-55 minutes or until center is firm.


Beautiful, especially with real whipped cream.