Thursday, July 12, 2012

Under My (green) Thumb

I'm one of those people who has proclaimed out loud to anyone who will listen over the years all the good, Mother-Earthy, crunchy granola-like things I want to do to enhance our home and family life. One of those things has been to have our own garden.

When we did have a house and a yard, I admit I didn't take full advantage of the space. We attempted a raised garden bed up in the back corner of the yard, where we also kept a compost pit. The peppers got eaten by little critters and the compost got eaten by some very determined dogs before it even had a chance to decompose. Even out in the front yard, where we attempted to add some curb appeal, everything soon withered and died not just because I couldn't remember to water and weed, but when we moved and rented our house, the tenants didn't remember, either.

pretty, but not functional... or long-lasting :(
Two moves later, we're finally in a town home that offers a little bit of freedom when it comes to the treatment of our front and back porches. We can't really plant anything in the ground, but we got ourselves some huge planters and pots and just started going nuts with plants and seeds. So far, everything is fairing well under my [clueless] green thumb.

Our first bell pepper - almost ready to be picked!

I think our basil might need a trim. On the side, the first sprouts of some bib lettuce.

A crazy nest of oregano and lemon thyme (which smells amazing).

Garden peas and wax beans, hopefully ready in a few more weeks.

And of course, because my husband is a total dude and has to have his own big, manly plant...

What we'll do with all of these, I have no clue. Maybe I'll extract their juices for nasal spray. Painful, but effective!

What's great about having the greenery right outside our back door is that for the summer, at least, I will no longer have to pay $3-$4 for a small clump of fresh herbs every time I want to use them in cooking. Each plant will pay for itself and then some, compared to the cost of driving and paying for the same produce in the grocery store. Why, here's a use for some of those aromatic herbs right here:

Parmesan & Herb-crusted Cod w/ Roasted Asparagus and Pearl Cous Cous
You can't do much with cod except fry it, really, so I do the usual steps of prepping an ingredient to be fried (flour, eggwash, breadcrumbs) but then do more of a pan sear using less - and healthier - oil.

For the breading:
  • breadcrumbs - generic brand, no seasoning, or cubes of your own plain, dry bread
  • grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • big handfuls of the oregano and lemon thyme pictured above
Rinse the herbs and pat dry. Add them to a food processor with breadcrumbs, parmesan (about a 3:1 crumb to cheese ratio is my favorite... I like my cheese), and salt & pepper to taste. I don't give exact measurements here because it really depends on the amount of food you want to bread. For about six 4oz fish filets, I used about a cup of bread crumbs and about 1/3 cup of cheese.

Pulse until the herbs are chopped up and well integrated into the mix.

First, preheat your oven to 375. Rinse and pat dry your asparagus, then chop off the bottom inch. On a nonstick baking sheet (lined with foil or a silpad for easier cleanup), line of your chutes and then drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of course salt and black pepper. I like to mince a couple cloves of garlic and add them, too. Toss to coat then realign your asparagus so that they're all in contact with the sheet (not piled up in clumps). Stick in the oven for about 35 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Next, start your cous cous, according to package directions. I used Near East Pearled Couscous, which has about a half-hour cook time. If you prefer the smaller couscous, it will cook much quicker and can be done near the end. This brand also comes in whole wheat.

Halfway through the asparagus' cook time, heat a nonstick fry pan over medium heat with about 1/4c. canola or grape seed oil. Why grape seed oil? Well, if you happen to have it on hand for a previous recipe you made, you'll just want to use it up.
Due to its clean, light taste, and high polyunsaturated fat content, it is also used as an ingredient in salad dressings and mayonnaise and as a base for oil infusions of garlic, rosemary, or other herbs or spices. It also is sprayed on raisins to help them retain their flavor. -- Wikipedia
Take out your fish (I used cod, but you can use any light, white flaky fish you prefer)- if frozen, follow thawing directions, then pat dry. Break your fish down into 4-5oz filets if it comes in larger cuts - this will ensure more space in the pan and make them easier to flip when cooking. If it takes you a minute to dredge, eggwash, and bread your filets, do this first, THEN preheat your pan so that you don't end up with a smoky kitchen (take it from me!).

Sear your filets about 4 minutes on each side, or longer if a thicker cut. Check for doneness by sticking a fork in the center of the filet and seeing if will flake easily. If you need to pan-fry in batches, set the first batch of filets aside on a tray and cover with foil to keep warm.

When everything is done, plate nicely enough for a pretty picture. I should have chopped and sprinkled on some more herbs for aesthetic appeal, but a certain little girl stole them off the counter to feed to her doggy puppet. 

I wish I had more pictures of the steps of this meal, but I had a hungry toddler (and her stuffed animals) to feed :)

Do you grow anything for yourself? What is your best horticultural achievement?


Melissa said...

Your plants look delicious! We aren't in a complex where we can plant anything but hopefully in the near future when we settle down for good. I love Near East...their cous cous and rice pilaf are staples in my pantry. Glad you're able to have your garden again...and you are right, it definitely pays for itself and them some to have your own! :)

Allison @ Running Through Red Lights said...

Your herbs look wonderful--I'm jealous that you have so much basil and lemon thyme! My husband and I tried to grow herbs on our back patio last summer, and did well for about a month, but then everything went to heck as a result of my lack of ability to keep plants alive.

Your meal looks wonderful! I'm going to have to add it to our menu rotation very soon!

Teamarcia said...

Your garden looks great! This is our first year in the community garden. Its been so dry, my plants are so slow growing despite daily watering. I love the smell of lemon thyme!