Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Cold" and Cloudy

It's been somewhat cold (by California standards) and really cloudy (by any standard) the past few days in LA. I am worried about my baby seeds that are fighting to establish their turf in the big bad world. I brought my window box herbs inside. I doubt that was needed, but I wanted to give them some extra love just in case. My other little seeds are in pots way too big to come inside, so they will just have to fight it out. I will let you know how they fair!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Acorn Squash Bean Soup

Growing herbs? You should! If you are, here is an easy fall recipe that highlights the power of these little plants. This soup is perfect for curling up with a book or entertaining friends. Last weekend, I used this recipe (inspired by the Butternut Bean Soup recipe in "Animal Vegetable Miracle") as my first course for a delightfully casual dinner party.

Acorn Squash Bean Soup
(Serves 4)

1 1/2 to 2 cups white beans, soaked overnight and drained*
4 cups chicken broth (if serving vegetarians, substitute vegetable broth)
3 medium portobello mushroom caps, sliced (optional, but adds a lot)
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon thyme, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon sage, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons rosemary, coarsely chopped
2 large acorn squash (or substitute any desired winter squash), halved and seeded
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper (sea salt and freshly ground pepper taste infinitely better)

Combine beans and spices in a large saucepan, add broth to cover amply (add additional water if needed), and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until beans are tender and most broth/water has cooked off. Add mushrooms and simmer an additional 5 minutes.

While beans are cooking, drizzle flesh side of acorn squash with olive oil and then generously season with salt and pepper. Arrange flesh side down on a large cookie sheet (jelly roll pan) or roasting pan. Cook at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, until fully tender when prodded with a fork. Remove from oven and serve each half acorn squash filled with a generous scoop of bean soup.

For extra flair, I arrange a few small sprigs of thyme on top of soup.

Questions about cooking with herbs? The most often question, asked by my less experienced friends, is HOW to prepare herbs for use in recipes. The easy answer? However you want! I prefer to include the entire herb for heartier recipes such as this one. For instance, I use kitchen shears to snip up the stem and leaves of the thyme and rosemary. When I use the much softer sage, I harvest only the leaves and snip them up to create fine strips of fragrant sage. When I am preparing a more "delicate" recipe, I may hold the rosemary or thyme by the twig and rack off the leaves before chopping. Please remember to wash your herbs (and anything else from your urban garden!) before ingesting. I recommend a biodegradable veggie wash in addition to water.

Bon Appetit!

*If you forgot to soak the beans overnight, or if you just decided to make this recipe and friends are coming over tonight, you can substitute canned white beans. I promise it tastes WAY better with soaked beans, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Sugar Snap Peas

My sugar snap peas, started from seed on November 8.

It looks like all the seeds have sent mercenary shoots to the surface, searching for sunlight. All have successfully completely the first test of survival. Soon, they will be shooting out arms, looking for a place to climb.

The beauty of "climbers" is that they can grow well even based out of a very small foot print. With a good trellis and some sunshine, you can easily grow climbers almost year-round in the southwest USA. Climbers, like sugar snap peas, are great candidates for urban gardening!