Quick Potluck Meals From Your Garden

by Sandy Swegel

Last night I went to our annual culinary gardener’s potluck holiday party.  When you have good organic produce you’ve grown yourself, the flavors are so much better than standard grocery store fare, it doesn’t take much work to make potluck dishes everybody loves.  The vegetable provides most of the flavor!

Some of last night’s easy dishes:

Roasted vegetables.

Sweet potatoes cut in 1-inch chunks, marinated in olive oil and lots of rosemary and garlic. With the oven at 425°, bake on a cookie sheet (not a deep dish) 45 minutes. Turn halfway through.  The cookie sheet lets the heat slightly crust the pieces of sweet potato. This works for butternut squash too.

Beets, small quarters, marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, roasted to soft perfection. Oven at 350, about 30 minutes depending on your beets.

Kale, sliced in quarter inch strips, sauteed in coconut oil with sesame seeds, cranberries, cashews and lemon juice. Saute nuts first then lightly saute kale till tender.  Turns out a beautiful bright green color with red highlights.

Apples, small quarters or eighths, soaked in mulled wine and apple cider, then simmered to tenderness. Dust with cinnamon. Serve as a main course side, not as dessert.

Very thinly julienned beets and carrots, in a vinaigrette sauce with pomegranate seeds and tiny mandarin orange pieces.

Quinoa, cooked and mixed with well-sauteed thin slices of red chard, buffalo mozzarella cheese and blue cheese and bits of chopped pistachios.

All these great dishes were healthy and intensely flavorful. It’s really not difficult to cook good vegetable-based dishes for potlucks or for our nightly meals.  It’s the reward for a long season of gardening in a hot drought year.

Best Ways to Learn to be a Better Gardener

I was browsing through the Amazon best-selling gardening books, thinking of possible gifts for gardeners. So many of the books are truly beautiful and full of information, but information isn’t as hard to find as it used to be.  A quick Google search can teach you all you really need to know about growing, say, brussels sprouts.  So I asked myself the question, what’s the best way to learn how to be a better gardener.

The common denominator of the gardening resources I continue to learn from is that they are based on observation and lots of practice.  The writers or researchers have spent a lifetime observing plants or soil or the gardener and have used careful observation backed with science or practice to come to good recommendations.

Here are my favorite sources that I refer to year after year:

For tending flowers and perennials, the best book is Tracy Di-Sabato-Aust’s Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques. Her advice on pruning and grouping plants and deadheading creates long seasons of spectacular color.

For winter gardening, Eliot Coleman is the man. If he can grow fresh vegetables year round in Maine without supplemental power, you can too. His Winter Harvest Handbook explains it in great detail.

For dealing with pests and bugs, an online source is my go-to place. UC-Davis maintains an extraordinary database of “integrated pest management” that has cultural and organic and traditional chemical ways of treating almost every problem you could have. http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/

For planning your vegetable garden, John Jeavons, How to Grow More Vegetables, Eighth Edition: (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) continues to be the best way to design your vegetable garden and decide what and how much to plant to become self-sufficient.

And finally, to prepare your food, I have old favorites and an online favorite.  Rosalind Creasy’s 1982 Cooking From the Garden is a constant source of inspiration.  Her latest book “Rosalind Creasy’s Recipes from the Garden” has excellent recipes for turning your garden produce into culinary delights.

My second favorite inspiration is the New York Times’ many food columnists. Recipes are all conveniently online.

If you prefer to use these sources, you can have the things people most often want from their gardens:  More Color. More Beauty. Healthy Food, and Easy Recipes to turn their produce and fruit into sublimely Delicious Food.

Grilled Stuffed Sweet Cherry Peppers

From the Gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms

2 dozen sweet cherry peppers
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese grated
3/4 cup provolone cheese grated
4 slices prosciutto diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons cappers diced
1 tablespoon fresh basil

Cut out stems and core of the peppers with a vegetable peeler or small spoon.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl except the peppers of course, and mix well. Stuff the peppers with the filling and thread onto wood skewers filling side up. Make sure to soak the wood skewers in water for a few minutes so as not to burn.

Grill over medium heat for about 5 to 7 minutes keeping the filling side up.

You can serve these as an appetizer, side dish, or what I like to do, on top of pasta. Enjoy!

From Mike’s summer garden, sweet cherry peppers and basil

Grilled Eggplant Parmesan ~ Fresh Garden Style ~

From the gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms

2 eggplants (1 1b. each)
1 & 1/2 cups heirloom tomatoes cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese grated
1/3 cup parmesan cheese grated
3 large cloves garlic chopped or crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons of fresh basil chopped (extra leaves for garnish)
1 lb. cooked spaghetti
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut tomatoes into small 1-inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, basil, oregano, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with hands. Put aside. Do not refrigerate. You want it room temperature.

Cut eggplant into half inch round pieces. Brush with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on hot grill. Cook until tender. Add a mixture of mozzarella and Parmesan cheese to the top of eggplants and cook until cheese is melted.

Drain tomatoes in a colander to get rid of the extra juices before adding the tomatoes to the dish. You can stack the eggplant, tomatoes, and extra cheeses to your desire. Enjoy!

From Mike’s summer garden: eggplant, heirloom tomatoes and sweet basil.

Slow Braised Beef Ribs with Heirloom Tomatoes Served on Garlic Mashed Potatoes

From the gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms

1/4 cup olive oil
6 pounds beef short ribs
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves finely chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes sliced in half
1 lb. cooked tender green beans
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup red wine
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
2 cups diced plum tomatoes finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary finely chopped
3 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 orange, zested
1-tablespoon fresh basil chopped, for garnish
2 tablespoons butter (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350. Heat about 2-tablespoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat.
Season the ribs well with salt and pepper. Over medium heat, brown ribs for 5 to 6 minutes on each side. You may need to brown them in batches. Remove the browned short ribs to a plate and repeat with remaining ribs and more oil if necessary.

Add onion, red pepper, garlic, and salt and pepper to the Dutch oven and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add plum tomatoes and sauté for an additional 4 minutes. Add the wine, chicken stock, and tomato paste to the vegetables and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Add the thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf. Return the browned short ribs and any juices that have accumulated back into the Dutch oven. Add the orange zest and butter (optional). Cover with a heavy lid and place in the oven and braise for 3 hours or until the meat is very tender and falling off the bone.

Once the ribs are tender, remove the ribs to a platter. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Serve the short ribs over garlic mashed potatoes, if desired. Add cooked tender green beans, sliced cheery tomatoes, and drizzle some juice on top. Garnish with fresh chopped basil. Enjoy!

From my Mike’s garden: heirloom cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, green beans, red bell pepper, onion, basil, rosemary, and thyme.

Grilled Summer Garden Sandwich

From the gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms

Grilled eggplant, squash, red bell peppers, and onions, topped with provolone and mozzarella cheese, fresh sweet basil, and sriracha mayo, served on a toasted garlic roll.

Coat veggies with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste and place on a hot grill. Cook until veggies are tender. Spread a mixture of crushed garlic and butter on the insides of the bread and place on grill until bread is slightly toasted. Cooking the veggies and garlic bread on the grill will give this sandwich a really wonderful smokey flavor. Place veggies on buns and top with provolone and mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and sriracha mayo. The sriracha mayo is what sets it over the edge. Enjoy!

Sriracha Mayo

3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sriracha hot sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce

Mix, the above ingredients in bowl or cup. You can cover and place in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Depending on how many sandwiches you are grilling, you can double and triple the recipe. I made more to dip our crispy fries in. So good!

**Sriracha usually can be found at most large food chains in the Asian section

From Mike’s summer garden: eggplant, yellow squash, red bell peppers, onions, and sweet basil

Huevos Rancheros Salsa Verde with Slow Roasted Pork

 From the gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms       

 Roasted Salsa Verde

1 1/2 lb. tomatillos
2 Jalapeño peppers OR 2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cumin
Salt to taste

Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well.

Cut in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin.

Place tomatillos, lime juice, onions, cilantro, chili peppers, sugar, and cumin in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped and mixed. Season with salt to taste.

Makes 3 cups. You will use 1 cup for this recipe and have 2 cups to refrigerate and use on other dishes or with chips.

Huevos Rancheros & Slow Roasted Pork

1 (4 lb.) pork shoulder butt, roast
4 garlic cloves
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons (or more) butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 corn tortillas
8 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (packed) grated Monterey Jack cheese (about 6 ounces)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Rub pork with olive oil, crushed garlic, salt & pepper. Place in a roasting pan and brown all side on the stovetop.

Turn roast fat side up and add ½ cup of chicken broth to roasting pan and place in oven. Bake at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Bake at 250 degrees for an additional 3 ½ to 4 hours.

Transfer roast to cutting board and let stand 15 minutes. Pull    shreds apart with tongs into chunks.
In a small saucepan, use 1 cup of salsa verde and ½ cup of chicken broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 5 minutes.

In a nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Add 2 tortillas; cook about 1 minute per side. Transfer to baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tortillas, adding more butter to skillet as necessary. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in same skillet over medium heat. Crack 4 eggs into skillet. Cook eggs to desired doneness.

Add ¼ cup of salsa verde to plate, place tortilla on top, add shredded pork and top with eggs. You can add a little more salsa verde to the top of your eggs. Sprinkle with Monterey jack cheese and fresh cilantro. You can place plates in the oven to melt the cheese. Enjoy!

From Mike’s yard: Tomatillos, jalapenos, onion, cilantro, and today’s fresh eggs.

Grilled Fish Taco with Heirloom Tomatoes and Roasted Jalapeno & Lime Mayo

From the Gardens of Mike Scott of Eagle Rock Backyard Farms

Grilled Fish

•      6 (4 ounce) fillets tilapia
•      ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
•      ¼ tsp. cumin
•      1 tsp. olive oil
•      sea salt and black pepper to taste
•      2 cups sliced heirloom tomatoes
•      2 cups chopped cabbage

1. In a small bowl, combine cayenne pepper, cumin, ground black pepper, and salt. Brush each fillet with olive oil, and sprinkle with spices.

2. Arrange fillets on grill grate, and cook for 3 minutes per side. Place fillets on a warm corn tortilla, add chopped cabbage, tomatoes, and drizzle with roasted jalapeño and lime mayo.

Roasted Jalapeño and Lime Mayo

**This mayo goes with just about anything. Try putting in on a grilled chicken club sandwich, turkey burger, or as a dip for crispy french fries.

•      2 jalapeno peppers or any mild to hot peppers
•      ½ cup of mayonnaise
•      2 cloves garlic
•      1 green onion
•      1 lime, juice and zest
•      1 tbs. cilantro
•      1 large basil leaf
•      sea salt and black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place jalapeño peppers on a backing sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Roast for about 20 minutes, until the skin is slightly blistered. Remove from the oven, and place in a ziplock bag. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them, and discard the skin, seeds and core.

2. Place all ingredients except salt & pepper in a food processor, or blender, and puree until smooth. Season with sea salt and pepper. You can refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Enjoy!

From Mike’s summer garden: jalapeno peppers, heirloom tomatoes, green onion, cilantro, and sweet basil.