Le Potager, les progrès

We have been very fortunate to have had great weather for the potager. The rainy days of early June boosted growth and reduced our need to water, most weeks. Most of the plants, especially the radishes, have thrived.  We enjoyed multiple salads out of the 2 squares we planted, last year we had only one crop. Some plants have done worse in the, comparatively, larger space of the square foot garden than in the pots on the deck last year. Yes, carrots, I am talking to you!

Square Foot Garden Before Radish Harvest

Square Foot Garden Before Radish Harvest

Soil has been a key factor for this garden. We used a soil which was close in composition to the formula, advocated by Mel Bartholomew, the original proponent of square foot gardening, of one part compost, one part vermiculite, and one part peat moss. We bought a premixed soil as Mr. Lane is not a fan of mixing soils and Mrs. Lane is no longer up to the task of arguing that mixing soil is not hard, we can do this, and the results will be better!

How does one know how many plants or seeds to plant in one square? I searched the web like mad for this answer, looking for a table of how many of each type of plant fit in one square. When I found the answer, I was kicking myself for not figuring it out earlier. It is so simple! Flip over the seed packet. On the back, there should be a designation as to how far apart to thin the plants. Divide this number into 12. For example, 12 / 3 = 4 plants per 12 inch “row”. But you are not planting a row, you are planting a square, therefore you need to square the number, 4 squared is 16 plants per square. And you said you’d never use Math!

Seed Packets

Seed Packets

Note that there are no dividers in the garden. I just measured and dragged my finger in the soil. Then I poked the planting holes as Mel says to do. If you are planting 4 plants in the square, with one finger, draw a cross in the square, then use one finger to poke one hole in each square. If you are planting sixteen plants, after dividing the area by four, use two fingers to four holes in each quarter. For spacings that are a multiple of three, divide the square into thirds, using two fingers on one hand to subdivide the squares into thirds pretty easily into 9 squares.

Yes, we planted last year’s seed for the radishes. In fact, we planted some radishes from 2009, beans from 2009 and cucumber from 2009. They are all doing well. If you feel you must, you can perform a seed germination test. I have done these in the past. This is a simple test with 10 seeds sandwiched between two layers of dampened paper towels, until the seed sprouts. The percent which sprout in the towels gives an indication of the percentage which will sprout when planted. This rather reminds Mrs. Lane of her first grade science experiment which demonstrated that seed could germinate in a jar with moistened Mosinee paper towels as the soil. Frankly, I no longer do a pre-planting seed germination test. Now I perform a seed germination test in situ. If the seeds don’t come up within 10 days, I buy some more and plant again. This year, the only seeds that seemed to “fail” were the lettuce seeds. Only two lettuce plants came up. The beets are struggling, too. Realize that much of the seed is from five year old seed packets, yet they still grew.

Soon, we will be filling the squares vacated by the radishes with something, not quite sure yet what that will be.

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Le Potager

To grow a great garden, you need great soil. Mrs. Sloan has problem soil. With each house move, we have moved to ever worsening soil. The latest move took us to a plot of land with demanding cool season grass, basically, a food and water junkie, on a former cattle pasture. There was K31 Fescue lurking just below the surface. K31 Fescue is a grass specifically designed for cattle pastures. It is very difficult to eradicate, requiring hand digging to remove it. Once it emerges, it creates a flat open “head” which is not only an unattractive turf but also not conducive to playing any kind of game. After much hand digging and pouring food and water onto the desired grass, we believe we have the fescue problem under control.

At our previous property, we grew tomatoes, herbs, okra, green beans, raspberries, blackberries, Old Time Tennessee muskmelons, grapes and Cherries. But here, nothing much seemed to thrive. Except for mint, mint always thrives.

After adding the deck to the back of the house, Mr. Sloan rototilled around it, adding soil amendments, peat moss and compost. This was very needed as the ground was hard and nutrient poor. We planted Carissa Hollies to soften and hide the base of the deck. After amendment with pecan hulls, Azaleas were planted in the shady area under the fireplace. Antique garden roses, Kronprincessin Victoria and Madame Ernest Calvat were installed on the sunnier side of the deck.

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Azaleas

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Kronprincessin Victoria

Madame Ernest Calvat

Madame Ernest Calvat

But the kitchen garden was neglected. We attempted tomatoes in the spot where the roses now thrive but they didn’t fare well. We provided a feast for tomato hornworms and other bugs with low or no yield for us. We gave up for many years. Last year, we tried again on a very limited basis. This time we grew in pots, with magnificent soil. At last, success! Albeit we only had one small harvest of carrots and one of radishes, but they made a lovely side dish and a wonderful salad.

Radishes and Dragon Carrots

Radishes, Purple Dragon Carrots and a sickly cilantro

French Breakfast Radishes

French Breakfast Radishes

White Bean Salad

White Bean Salad with French Breakfast Radishes

Emboldened by our previous container garden success, we took the plunge to consider expanding the garden experiment. Mrs. Sloan is very picky about the looks of the garden! Her Pinterest board is filled with beautiful French and English potagers, most of which are too large to fit on the property. Willow bordered beds are a favorite, but until recently, assumed to be strictly the province of those with a gardener who meticulously weaves these by hand. Mrs. Sloan certainly doesn’t have a gardener, nor an abundance of willow or weaving skills. Thankfully, raised willow garden beds can be purchased. Master Garden Products carries raised willow garden beds in a variety of sizes and depths.

Willow Raised Garden Bed, Master Garden Products

Willow Raised Garden Bed, Master Garden Products

Mr. Sloan is a reluctant gardener, partially due to spring being a busy season for him and less than ideal for having time to plant, and partially because he grew up without gardens. Given that, a 4′ by 4′ wide by 18″ depth garden is all that he agreed to try. The depth is chosen for the aforementioned Carrots, which need depth.

Mrs. Sloan realizes that all her previous gardens were 4 feet by 29 feet. Now we all know that at least one more of these raised beds is likely to be necessary. But, until then, a plan for one garden encompassing all the varieties of tomatoes on order and all the peppers, not to mention the lettuce and beans and corn and carrots and radishes and, well, you get the picture. A plan needs to be in place. Square foot gardening seems to be the way to go.

 

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Garden Grid

Using excel, I developed a square foot garden plan, then filled it. Square foot gardening says that one square can be dedicated to marigolds, but giving up a square seems a waste of space. Though it may not work, I plan to try planting the marigolds under the tomatoes. Corn, Southern peas or beans, and squash are known as the three sisters. The corn provides support for the beans or peas to grow up the stalk and the squash shades the soil. Unfortunately, a stink bug infestation means that squash is not likely to be wildly successful.  This is the plan as is stands now.

The willow bed arrives soon, requiring 24 cubic feet of dirt to fill it. The tomatoes and peppers are on order and the seeds have been gathered. Planting time is getting close!

Square_foot_plan

Plan for garden

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Le succès

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Mastering the Art of French Cooking, II, p 497
I am not at all certain why Julia Child thought this cake easier than a regular sponge type of cake. It isn’t. Simply put, there are a lot of steps. It is, however, a delight to behold and to eat. The cake, essentially meringue layers stacked with almond praline butter cream and topped with chocolate butter cream. Essentially, there are three steps, making the meringue cakes, making the praline, and making the butter cream. And there are almonds, two six ounce bags of blanched almonds. Slivered works, you just want the kind without any peel.

ImageMaking simple syrup, which becomes caramel, is a chemical reaction which is always a frightening, yet exciting experience. The water and sugar starts cloudy, turns clear, bubbles rapidly and then sluggishly, which Julia calls ‘thick and heavy’ then turns to a beautiful shade of amber. In a flash, the sugar can burn and a pan hits the sink. In short, to make the praline for the cake, you must have your mise en place ready. Really ready. If not, the sugar will burn while you are scrambling to find the silicone brush to spread the oil for the almond praline. I know, I didn’t have this ready and, well, my house smelled like a famous Pecan Pie plant at noon after they burned the sugar.
What do you do when you burn the sugar? You start over. Just put that pan in the sink, fill with water, turn off the smoke detector and start over. Don’t let this frighten you, all you have to do is be ready and watch the color changes
As my jelly roll pans are not adequately sized to fit two cakes on the pan at once, I had to use all three pans and rotate them throughout the cooking time. If you have only three jelly roll pans, you will need to make the cakes, then wash all the pans and make the praline, or vice versa. Don’t make this cake the morning of the meet the future in-laws dinner party. Unless you want to greet them for dinner wearing the pajamas you didn’t have time to change. Give yourself a day or two to cook, wash, recover. The cake keeps in the refrigerator very well. Oh yeah, plan your refrigerator space as part of your mise en place, too.
Basic preparations are to make the praline, make the meringue cakes, make the butter cream then assemble the cake. The praline goes into the butter cream, so, you could make it second.

For the praline
pralin aux amandes:
Mise en place:
• Preheat Oven to 350˚
• One jelly roll pan, well oiled
• One jelly roll pan, or pizza pan, clean and ready for toasting almonds, no oiling needed
• Food processor or blender to chop praline
• Small to medium heavy saucepan with lid

• 6 oz bag of almonds (Julia uses 4 oz, but I had a 6 oz bag and toasted the entire bag)

• ½ cup sugar
• 3 T water

Spread almonds on pan on center rack in 350˚ oven.
Roast for 10 to 15 minutes until they are brown.
(Julia asks for walnut brown, I got mine to a slightly lighter pecan brown at 15 minutes)
Remove from oven and set aside.

Combine sugar and water in saucepan over moderately high heat.
Swirl pan by the handle, do not stir with a spoon, until water changes to clear.
Cover pan and raise heat to high, boil until bubbles are thick and heavy.
(Julia says several minutes, but my bubbles got thick and heavy in about a minute or two)
Uncover and continue boiling on high until sugar turns a caramel color.
To prevent burning, as the sugar is approaching that desired caramel color, pull the pan off the heat and swirl slightly to check color.
Remove from heat, stir in almonds and immediately turn out onto oiled pan.
Trust me, this stuff sets up quickly!
Allow to cool completely, about twenty minutes.
Break up praline into food processor, which was my preferred method, or ½ cup at a time in a blender, this needs to be pulverized enough for the butter cream to be spreadable.
The best part is that this may be made ahead of time and frozen!

The Cakes
fonds à succès
Mise en place:
Preheat Oven to 250˚

• Butter and flour 2 or 3 jelly roll pans,
Lay an 8 inch cake pan on the surface and trace around it with a rubber or silicone spatula, Julia used a heart shaped pan, you may use an 8 inch round cake pan.

• Double thickness of waxed paper, large enough to hold the pulverize almonds, about 12 to 15 inch piece.
I messed up my mise en place and only used a single thickness. The world didn’t end, I just had to handle it carefully. A flexible cutting mat could work, too.

• Fine mesh sieve, a small one will work.
• Silicone spatula.
• Offset spatula, silicone spatula or canvas pastry bag and wide metal tube opening, ⅜ in diameter.

• 6 oz almonds, ground fine
• 1 cup sugar ( I didn’t have extra fine, so I used regular sugar)
• 1 T plus 1½ tsps cornstarch, both level

Mix the sugar and almonds on the wax paper with your hands or a silicone spatula.
Sieve the cornstarch over the top and incorporate using a silicone spatula

• 6 eggs separated, you will use the whites for the cakes, put the yolks in a covered container in the fridge for the buttercream.
• ⅛ tsp salt
• ¼ tsp cream of tartar
• 3 T sugar
• 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
• ⅛ tsp almond extract

Beat the egg whites, starting on low to moderately low speed until they are foamy.
Beat in the salt and cream of tartar.
Increase speed gradually to high.
When egg whites are at soft peak stage, gradually beat in the sugar.
Beat until stiff peaks form.
Beat in vanilla and almond extract.

Fold the almond mixture into the meringue, by sprinkling about ¼ cup at a time over the meringue then folding in, when almost incorporated, sprinkle over the next ¼ cup until all is incorporated. Work quickly so that the meringue does not deflate.

Using the pastry bag pipe meringue into the area drawn on the greased and floured pans or divide the batter into thirds and spread meringue evenly to the edges of the area drawn on the pans.
One of the draw backs of meringue is that it is sticky, very sticky. Therefore, I dislike trying to stuff it into a pastry bag and pipe. It oozes and I wind up with it in my hair, on my face, in my elbows. So I divided the meringue onto the three previously prepared circles on the jelly roll pans and spread and smoothed them with an offset spatula to the edges of the circle.
After the cakes are cool, place each layer on a cutting surface, then using the pattern, cut around it to even the edges so that they will stack nicely.
These cakes may be made ahead and left at room temperature overnight until ready for use;, cover with a clean linen towel.

The Butter Cream
Mise en place:
• 1 cup sugar
• A wire wisk or electric beater or hand held beater
• 6 egg yolks
• large heavy bottomed saucepan or saucier 2- 2 ½ quarts
• large stainless bowl
• ¼ c hot milk
• wooden spoon
• 12 to 14 oz or 3 to 3 ½ sticks of butter cut into tablespoons
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 3 T kirsch or dark rum
• ½ c almond praline This shouldn’t be all that was made, reserve some for sides of cake.

For the frosting
• 2 oz unsweetened baking chocolate

Make a crème anglaise by gradually beating the sugar into egg yolks until thick and pale lemon yellow.
I used a large stainless bowl for this then transferred to the saucepan. If you have a curved sided saucepan, or 2 quart saucier, start in that.
In a thin stream of droplets, slowly add the hot milk set mixture.
transfer to sauce pan if using stainless bowl
Set over moderate heat and cook stirring with wooden spoon until sauce thickens until film can be formed on spoon. Remove from heat immediately and beat for one minute to cool slightly.
If using stand mixture, scrape into bowl for mixer, otherwise continue with handheld mixer or wire whisk.
Beat in three sticks of butter one or two pieces at a time until mixture is smooth.
Don’t worry if it separates a few quick beats with a wisk will smooth it. Add remaining butter if it is grainy.
Set aside ¼ of the mixture; Add melted chocolate to this mixture.
Stir praline into the remaining mixture.

The Assembly
Place a trimmed meringue layer on a cake stand or use a cake rack
Spread ⅓ of the praline butter cream over the meringue on the cake rack/stand.
Place second meringue on top of first and spread with ½ the remaining praline buttercream.
Place final meringue atop this layer.
Spread remaining butter cream around the edges.
Spread Chocolate butter cream on top of the cake.
Sprinkle remaining praline on cake.

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Julia Child, Andrew Carnegie, my mother, and me


I am certain that I have said this before, but, as it is a special occasion, Julia Child’s 100th birthday, it bears repeating. That is, I learned the fine art of cooking from watching Julia Child on PBS. Back then, the only thing on PBS was and endless stream of bad lessons which were not only filmed in black and white, but seemed to be all one shade of gray. Julia’s show had interest and personality and was one of the few with some degree of contrast!

I began cooking under the influence and guidance of my mother. She let each one of us stand by her in the kitchen to watch and occasionally help, when other mothers were pushing their little darlings out the door to play, just to get them out from under foot in the kitchen. Although my mother was a fine southern family cook, no one can come close to her fried chicken, and she certainly inspired in me and my brother and sister the desire to cook, there was a level of cooking which sometimes escaped her. Sometimes, she took the shortcuts that many cooks of the sixties were encouraged to do. Can you blame her if the cherries in her Cherries Jubilee sometimes came from a can at a winter dinner party? She was busy, very busy. She made most of my sister’s and my wardrobes well into our college days. She certainly didn’t shy away from a cooking challenge. She set that Cherries Jubilee aflame with the brandy she carefully warmed, doing this for one of the dinner parties she held in our tiny ranch home with no real dining room.

I ordered the recipe from the PBS station on which I watched Julia for the very first time. I believe it was Vichyssoise. This soup instantly turned me into a potato soup lover, when I had turned up my nose at it before. Watching her show inspired me to scour the library in my hometown library, for more cookbooks. In this quest I found a surprising cook book acquired in the days when the library was a Carnegie Library. I can’t remember if it was by Escoffier or Carême, though I am leaning toward the former.  I can’t remember the recipe I tried, though I know I tried at least one, an ambitious task for a child not yet out of grade school. I do remember that the cover was unadorned and the recipes  were completely lacking in pictures and, frankly, lacking in clear instructions.  A lot of guessing was required just to make the simplest item. Inspired by Julia’s confidence, I dove in and tried.

Back in that time, in the naissance of a movement encouraging women to learn more and imagine their lives beyond the restrictions of an earlier age, we could point to her with pride. Then, when so many of the boys sneered that none of the great chefs were women, we had Julia. Julia’s words spoke to so many women, prompting many of us to cook using fresh ingredients and others to train to become chefs.

Yes, she was our icon and our mentor, but she was so much more. Julia taught us all as a mother would, letting us stand by her as she cooked, encouraging us to be try new techniques and foods, admonishing us not to despair when the omelet flopped. Happy Birthday, Julia, you inspired a generation.

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Hard Boiled Eggs the Right Way

This recipe is Julia Child’s boiling method from “The Way to Cook”.
 Eggs in pan to be boiled
Preparation Time: 7 minutes minutes
Cooking Time: 19 minutes minutes

Place eggs in a stockpot or dutch oven Stainless Steel or Anodized Aluminum (Calphalon) with enough water to cover by one inch.
 
1-4 Eggs
6    Eggs 2.5 quarts water

Eggs at Full Boil
Bring eggs to boil.
Cover and turn off heat, on an electric stove, remove from burner completely. Let them sit for exactly 17 minutes.
Place ice in a large bowl while eggs are sitting, 2 minutes before timer counts down, add enough water to completely submerse eggs.
Place eggs in ice water bath for 2 minutes.
Return water to boil and place eggs in boiling water for 10 seconds.
Return to ice water bath for 15-20 minutes.
Tap egg shell around center, on the edge of the counter or, if egg hasn’t cracked, roll on counter. Peel shell from egg then swish in ice water bath to remove shell chips from egg.

 

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Lemon Curd and Raspberry and Strawberry Trifle

Lemon Curd Strawberry and Raspberry Trifle

Completed Trifle

Growing up, back in the mid-sixties, every Easter we had fresh strawberries over the store bought sponge cake topped with whipped cream, which was dubbed Strawberry Shortcake. I wasn’t a huge fan of this concoction. Though the strawberries were delightful, the sponge cake was left on the plate. True Strawberry Shortcake is made with a shortbread cake or biscuit. The term ‘short’ means the leavening derives from baking powder or soda, not yeast. The biscuit is sweet, rather than the more savory breakfast biscuit and that version has graced our table on Easters past. I believe the sponge cake variety must have come about in the heyday of the “I Hate to Cook” cookbook.

The sponge cake variety is a favorite of my husband, but I still can’t bring myself to ever put that on the table. As Easter will be here soon, I wanted to put together a similar type of dessert, with an improved flavor while still preserving the rapid assembly of the sponge cake recipe.

For this I brought out the trifle bowl. Though once used frequently, it has been stored in a cabinet for too long. Trifles were very popular in cooking magazines twenty years or so ago, so, naturally, when first married I wanted a trifle bowl. Being before the advent of the interwebs, finding one I could afford was not easy. Of course there were crystal options such as the Waterford one below. This was way out of my budget then, and really, it still is.

Another issue is space. Trifle bowls are stemmed, thus taking up the bowl height plus the stem height in the cabinet. Anchor Hocking has an inexpensive glass bowl, but the stem is always attached. A few years ago at a Pampered Chef party, the consultant showcased a bowl with a removable stem, which can be stored in the bowl when not being used. I bought one. I love it. Though the Waterford bowl is still calling to me.

Waterford Giftware Pattern

Waterford Giftware Pattern from Replacements

Onto the recipe! Again, this recipe was facilitated by the interwebs! I searched for trifle recipes in a general search, I found one which used lemon curd then proceeded to over process the fruit. There is generally no need to do anything but serve fresh fruit in this dessert, so that wasn’t an option. Then I found Bobby Flay’s version on Foodtv. It used fresh fruit, but I had no desire to make a lemon curd. So I concocted the version below. The lemon curd is jarred, the pound cake and the whipped topping are frozen, but the fruit is fresh, not frozen and macerated in raspberry liqueur, no sugar. Cool whip now has a whipped cream version of their frozen whipped topping which I like very much.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a time when Mrs. Lane would have made every bit of this from scratch, but this time, I was attempting to improve on the Eater sponge cake and still make it speedy. Trifles are actually intended to use up leftover cake, the process thus would have been simplified into cut up stale cake, layer with fruit and cream. Thus making a cake made little sense to me.

Two caveats. One, this makes enough for a crowd. Two, check the date on the lemon curd, one that is close to expiration won’t be as uniformly smooth as a fresher product.

Lemon Curd Trifle with Raspberries and Strawberries
Ingredients
Berries:
• 2 pints raspberries
• 2 pints strawberries, sliced
• 1/4 cup Chambord or other raspberry liqueur
Lemon Cream:
• 16 oz whipped cream or whipped topping
• 1 (11-ounce) jar lemon curd
Cake:
• 2 store bought pound cakes, sliced 1/2-inch thick
• 1/4 cup Grand Marnier
Directions
Place the berries into a large bowl and pour raspberry liqueur over. Set aside to allow berries to macerate.
Put the lemon curd into a mixing bowl and stir in a little of the whipped cream or topping to loosen it. Fold in the rest of the cream.
To assemble the trifle, line a trifle bowl with a layer of pound cake slices, overlapping slightly, drizzle with Grand Marnier, then lemon cream and then berries. Continue to alternate layers of cake, lemon cream, and fruit, ending with a layer of berries. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Layer of Sponge Cake

Layering the trifle

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Forest of Brownies

For the Super Bowl, Mrs. Lane whipped up a batch of fudge brownies which were featured at a Pampered Chef party at a friends house. Might have been an error, since we weren’t having a party with lots of people to help us enjoy these!Forest of Brownies

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