Garden Fridays: Citrus Pre-Season

by Shawnda on October 26, 2012

in Garden

Rio Star Grapefruit

Citrus season, it’s just around the corner! Here in Texas, you can already see the first influx of grapefruits from the Rio Grande Valley… and the fruit on our back patio have the first signs of blush.

This is the first year our young Rio Star has put out grapefruit. Margaritas are imminent.

The Key Lime tree is bursting at the seams. Key Lime Pie and margaritas are imminent.

And the dwarf Meyer Lemon tree is even more top heavy than the grapefruit. Margaritas. They are imminent.

Meyer Lemons and Key Limes

We’re on round two of fruit from the potted fig tree and the serrano plant…

I’ve ignored it. Neglected it. Ignored it some more. I’ve candied jars full of serranos, I’ve made jars of the world’s hottest and nearly inedible pepper jelly. And the peppers you see there will make batch #3 of crushed red pepper. And when that’s done, I’m pruning the pepper plant as far back as possible.

Figs and Serrano Peppers

The rest of the garden is pretty quiet. The heat pretty much destroyed my entire box of strawberry plants. The red bell pepper plant continues to churn out peppers, and fingers crossed, we’ll get another round of tomatoes from the San Marzano plant for pizza & marinara sauce before the weather turns cold.



DIY: Crushed Red Pepper

by Shawnda on September 3, 2012

in Condiments,DIY,Garden

Homemade Crushed Red Pepper

One of the biggest pains in the garden this year, besides fire ants and weeds, has been the Serrano plant. It’s a hold over from last year’s garden and the only reason it got a reprieve was because I got it mixed up with the jalapeno plant.

Serrano peppers are hot. Really hot. Too hot to eat as casually as we eat jalapenos and they’re not really meaty enough to candy. So what do you do when you’ve got over 100 peppers, screaming to be picked?

You ignore them.

Homemade Crushed Red Pepper

More than once this summer, we decided that we were just going to rip out the serrano plant but I’m really glad that I was too lazy to pull the trigger. Because we found the perfect use for the 71 red serrano peppers that I picked last week: homemade red pepper flakes. (The other 40-ish will meet the same fate as soon as they turn red.)

Crushed red pepper is one of those things that, once you make at home, you’ll never want to buy again. And it takes no real special equipment although some modern conveniences will make the crushing go faster. And with less eyeball-stinging and therefore probably much less cursing.

Your jar of homemade red pepper flakes will be a vibrant shade of red, hinting at the life in each bite. But even more than the heat, which of course I loved, was the texture – crisp and crunchy.

A coarser grind (done by hand, blender, or food processor) will give you a crispy, crunchy bite when sprinkled on top of a bowl of honey sesame chicken and couscous. A finer grind (done with a spice grinder) will give you a powerful powder for seasoning a mean pot of chile.

Homemade Crushed Red Pepper

There’s no real recipe here – after all, there’s only 1 ingredient: Fresh red peppers (I used serrano). I don’t have a food dehydrator so I simply used the “Keep Warm” setting on the oven – it’s 170 degrees. One day, I’m going to try Alton Brown’s DIY dehydrator method (2 AC filters, a bungie cord, and a box fan) but for now, the oven is about as unmessy as it gets.

We cut the stems off the peppers and cut them in half down the length of the pepper. I put them on on an ungreased baking sheet in the oven at 170F (the “keep warm” setting) for 6 hours and then I shut the oven off and let them sit overnight. By morning, they were perfectly crispy and will crumble when squeezed. And shatter into a million pieces when dropped on the floor and stepped on.

Homemade Crushed Red Pepper

Peppers can be crumbled by hand – but only if you have gloves; crushed in a plastic bag, run through a food processor, or coarsely ground and then transferred to a spice grinder.

71 peppers yielded over 1 cup of coarse red pepper flakes. And I’m a little disturbed at how fast we’re tearing through it.



Cherry tomatoes coming out of your ears? Me, too. Isn’t it awesome :) I’ve pulled together a few of our cherry tomato greatest hits and would love to hear about yours in the comments section!

Lemony Orzo with Chicken and Roasted Tomatoes

1. Quickly roast them. And then toss them with pasta, leftover chicken, and artichokes…

Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Or penne and mozzarella.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

2. Slow-roast them. Low heat, a couple of hours, and then try to stop yourself from eating the entire pan before tossing into pasta or on sandwiches and pizza.

Pico de Gallo

3. Quarter cherry tomatoes, toss with chopped red onion, the hottest jalapenos you can find, cilantro, salt, and a little lime juice. And then scoop that with chips, over tacos…

The Texican Burger

…Or on a fancy hamburger

4. Grilled. Toss with olive oil and throw them over open flame. And then throw them over a steak.

Cherry Tomatoes

5. Give them a quick rinse, a pat try, and then sit on the couch with a bowl in your lap. It’s more respectable than a bag of Funyons.



Garden Fridays: Carrots & Tomatoes

by Shawnda on July 6, 2012

in Garden

Rainbow Carrots

It’s the end of June, and in southeast Texas, that means the temperature climbs into the 100s and things start to get crispy. Really crispy.

Our yard, my hair, the garden… okra.

It’s also time to start on Garden Part II for late summer/fall. The strawberries have slowed drastically, even though I’ve been pretty diligent about pulling runners, and we’re done with Backyard Blueberry season.

What hasn’t slowed drastically? Tomatoes. We have 2 potted heirlooms – a black and a sweet gold – that the squirrels have claimed as their own. I did get one small victory this week when I got 3 (3!) gold tomatoes. I’m picking 2+ dozen cherry tomatoes a day (except for that day when I picked 6 dozen) and anywhere from 6-12 San Marzano tomatoes a day.

Cherry Tomatoes

The San Marzanos… now those really are something special. They’re know for being great “sauce” tomatoes. I don’t usually buy them canned because of how much it hurts for me to spend that much on a can of tomatoes. But from here out, I will be growing them in the garden each year. We took the 6 lbs of San Marzanos I picked last week and made a batch of pizza sauce – killer pizza sauce – to keep in the freezer for a few rainy days when the tomatoes aren’t so plentiful. And I’ve got 5 lbs on the counter right now destined for pasta sauce greatness.

The rainbow mix of carrot seeds I planted in early spring have been pulled to make room for another potted tomato plant. Those were my victory plants this year. Last year, I got one single carrot after planting 3 batches of seeds.

My herb box is full of sage, basil, lavender, thyme, oregano, and weeds. The green and purple beans are still alive & kicking, to the tune of 1-1 1/2 lbs a week, but it’s next month that looks really promising: I’ll have a big fat watermelon, plenty of red bell peppers and jalapenos, figs, a new crop of Meyer Lemons, a dozen Key Limes, and our first real pickable grapefruit next month!

And then there was the bonus plant: a wild tepin chile. It’s the official native pepper of Texas. And it’s &@(#%! hot… it was unfortunate that my 2-yr old had to be the one to find it growing in the neglected non-garden corner of our backyard, but that’s a story for another day. However, it did make one heck of a sriracha knock-off but that’s a recipe for another day.

What’s not doing so hot? Peaches were a bust this year, so were the plums. And three of our citrus trees (the pink lemon, a meyer, and a key lime) were hit so hard by leaf miners that I’m not sure they’re going to survive. Can’t all be winners but I’ll settle for the victories we’ve been able to achieve

What went bust for you this year? Or what do you have coming out of your ears?