Monday, March 30, 2009


Well, I've gone and started a new blog.
I decided that having a travel website and a food blog with almost the same name might be confusing to some. Go figure.

So, it is with great excitement that I introduce my new food blog,
There are only a few posts so far, but my plan is to write about all things food; cooking, gardening, and maybe featuring some restaurants, markets, shops, etc.

For the few of you following me here, please come over there and check it out. New posts include my "Tomato Obsession" and a recipes for "Strawberry Shortcake with Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Biscuits" and "Red Curry Noodles with Tofu."

Hope to see you there!

Monday, March 16, 2009

How to Fill a Raised Garden Bed with the "No Dig" Method

The "No Dig" method for gardening is supposed to use less water, take less effort (no digging, no rotatilling) and raise superior vegetables.

Ok, sign me up.
I had two references. One, a story I'd read in the LA times last summer (,0,55177.story) and the other, the website,

I started saving newspapers about a month ago.

On Saturday David went to Stephen's Hay and Grain in Glendale and bought 2 bales of Alfalfa and 2 bales of Hay. It's times like this I'm very happy we have a pick-up truck.

On Sunday morning my mother and I went to Armstrong. We weren't certain how much compost or fertilizer we'd need so we bought 6 bags of Organic Compost and 6 bags of Chicken Manure/Fertilizer and we figured we'd see how far we got.

We began by leveling out the two rectangular beds, both the walls and the dirt, as best we could. Then, we laid down a thick layer of wet newspapers.

After the newspapers, came a 4" thick layer of Alfalfa topped with a 1" think layer of chicken manure. We wet this down.

Next came 8" of hay, which got topped with another 1" of manure.

On top of the hay went 4" of Compost. We wet down every layer.

For the two 4'x5' beds, we used 1/2 bale of alfalfa, a full bale of hay, and all the bags of compost and fertilizer. We estimate we will need to buy 1 more bale of hay and 9 bags each of the compost and fertilizer to complete the larger raised bed.

I bought a few starter plants just because I could not resist and the instructions said you could plant right away. Below, 4 tomato plants, 1 basil, 2 arugula, and 2 different eggplants.
Those monsters! The next day I discovered that some of our local little creatures (raccoons, skunks and possums) had been digging in and under the new beds. Fortunately, they didn't mess with the plants.

On top of the compost we put the remaining hay for mulch. Next weekend we will fill the other, larger bed and then I get to fill it with as many plants as will fit!

Monday, March 9, 2009

How Pork Chops Lead to a Garden or, How to Build Raised Garden Beds

A couple of nights ago I had the worst tomato of my life. It looked pretty, but it was completely devoid of any flavor. Sorta like blondes. Ok, I take that back. Some of my closest friends are blondes. But you know what I mean...this is LA after all.

Anyway, we've had bad luck in the last couple of years growing tomatoes. They grow big and strong, set some fruit, and then start to die from the bottom up, quickly, before the tomatoes can grow and ripen. It looks likes some sort of “blight” and it’s very frustrating. We can’t pinpoint the cause. At first we thought it was the soil, but it happened even when I planted the tomatoes in big pots of fresh soil on my patio. My theory is that it’s the damp, foggy, “June gloom” we get on summer mornings. But I am a glutton for punishment and keep trying.

The last two years our vegetable garden has laid fallow and in that time has become a giant cat box and buffet for termites. Thus, it was time to replace the old raised beds and I decided I wanted something taller and easier to use. In addition, last year I'd read an LA Times article about "No Dig Planting" and had saved it. I thought it was a good opportunity to try a new growing method.

Cut to the crappy tomato (see the last post about Pork Chops) . It was just the incentive we needed to get up on a Saturday and build our new garden. We used the old garden as a template, but changed some of the dimensions. The purpose of this was twofold; widen the pathways and cut down on lumber waste and the amount of cuts we'd need to make. For example, by making the smaller beds 4' x 5' we could just buy 8' and 10' boards and cut them in half.

A couple of notes about the lumber. I investigated using a composite product like Trex which is used for decking. This is good because it does not rot and our previous beds had rotted and been eaten by termites. However, it's expensive and it would take a lot because it only comes in 5" widths. So we settled on untreated pine in a 10" width, allowing us to have 20" tall beds. My understanding is that you don't necessarily want to use pressure treated wood either because the chemicals can leach into the soil. You could use untreated cedar, but it was about 3x as expensive as the pine and only available at a speciality lumber store.

Here's the process:
First, carry all the wood down the stairs. Yes, that's me, and yes, I carried it all down by myself.
Yeah, up and down those stairs (below).

Stack up the wood only to have your wonderful husband tell you that you've done it all wrong.

The old garden beds.

The wood for our project:
1"x10"x12'-2 each
1"X10"x10'-4 each
1"x10"x8'-12 each
4"x4"x8'-3 each
2.5" red deck screws-2# (why do they sell screws by the lb? And why doesn't the box say how many screws are in it?)

You will also need a saw, a saw horse, an electric drill, an electric screwdriver, a level, a carpenter's square, a pencil and a tape measure.

David, cutting the 4x4s

Once the wood was cut, we pre-drilled the holes (above) and then screwed together the 5' sides to the 4x4s (cut at 20") with red deck screws (below).

After we got two of the long sides together, we screwed the 4' boards to them.

Above, the first two boxes are built and are 4'x5'.

The final result; 110 square feet of vegetable garden space.
The larger bed was a little more complicated, but not by much. We just did it one section at a time. The short sides are also 4', as are the middle, interior sides. The pathways are 32' wide, long sides are 80" and the back wall is 128".

Come soon, Filling the Beds and then Planting!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pork Chops and Applesauce

My plan was a meatless meal. Really. But then I saw those extra thick pork chops on sale in my local market and was smitten.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite meals was Pork Chops and Applesauce, though it probably came in second to my mother's Fried Chicken and Mashed Potatoes, at least on my 6th birthday. I forgive my Mother for forcing me to eat Liver and Onions (can't stomach it to this day) and the two years of nothing but vegetarian stir-fries for that Fried Chicken. Alas, she never makes the Fried Chicken any more. But this post is not about chicken, it's about the Pork Chops and how my mom used to make them.

This meal really doesn't have a "recipe", but I think it's a good example of one which can be tossed together in about 20 minutes and still be fresh and healthy (especially if you remember that old saying about the other white meat).

Pork Chops, Sauteed Spinach and Sliced Tomatoes with Goat Cheese.
2 each Pork Chops, about 1" thick
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
20 oz cleaned spinach
1/2 lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 large vine ripe tomato
1 oz soft goat cheese
1 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar

Pre-heat the oven to 350-400 degrees.

Put 1/4 cup of flour on a plate with some salt and pepper. Dredge the Pork Chops in the flour and shake off the excess.

Heat a heavy bottomed pan and put in a tablespoon of oil. Cook the Pork Chops until brown on one side and then turn over. Put the pan in the oven so that the Chops keep cooking.
Note; I put the pan in the oven because they will cook more evenly in there, without burning, than they will on the stove top.

In a large saute pan or wok, heat about a teaspoon of olive oil. Toss in 2 cloves of minced garlic. Add the bag of cleaned spinach and a squeeze of lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon. Toss the spinach rapidly so it wilts and turn off the heat.

Slice the tomatoes and garnish with crumbled soft goat cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
The pork chops should be done by now. They took about 10 min in the oven because they were about 1" thick. If thinner, obviously they will cook much faster. Very thin pork chops can be cooked entirely on the stove top.

I didn't have any home made applesauce, but the chunky organic stuff from Trader Joe's is pretty good.

Serves 2.
Total cooking time 20 minutes

Note to self: Those tomatoes are the worst I've ever had. Completely tasteless. Must get summer garden started...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Salty, Peppery, Porky Goodness

Sometimes I plan dinner, sometimes it's a clean-out-the-fridge meal. Tonight is the latter. It makes me think of when I was a chef and I'd go into the kitchen's walk-in refrigerator, look around at what was there, and plan the day's special. Sometimes you just have to work with what's on hand.

This pasta is one of those I've never made before (but made many similar), and may never make again, unless I have this exact mix of ingredients. Of course, you can substitute, leave out, or add anything you like. If you leave out the Pancetta, you may need a little extra salt. You can replace with another protein, like chicken breast, or make it vegetarian and leave it out all together. But honestly, I love the salty, peppery, porkiness of Pancetta.

I added the mozzarella because I had a little left in the container and wanted to use it up. You can replace it with another cheese, or leave it out. I added the tomatoes because they were starting to look a little wrinkled in the 'fridge (don't say "ewwww" you know it happens to you too). If you don't have pesto, you could use olive oil and fresh basil, or even a tomato sauce. I added the eggplant because I love eggplant and buy one almost every time I go to the store. Mushrooms and onions are staples and I almost always have them.

Penne Pasta with Pancetta, Eggplant, Peppers & Pesto
5 oz package of diced Pancetta
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1/2 half eggplant, 1" diced
1/2 onion, sliced thin
1 cup sliced mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 Tbsp Olive oil
1/2 cup whole small cherry tomatoes
3 oz fresh mini mozzarella balls
2 oz home made pesto (recipe at a later date)
1 lb penne pasta

Start a pot of water for the pasta and when it boils, cook the pasta while cooking the sauce in another pan. When the pasta is done, drain and set aside.

The obligatory glass of wine while cooking pasta.

In a large saute pan or wok, cook the pancetta until crisp and remove from the pan. Reserve the rendered fat in the pan and add in the peppers, onions, and mushrooms (you can discard the fat and cook in olive oil, but the pancetta fat is so much tastier). Cook the vegetables until they are soft and remove onto a plate.

Add 1 Tbsp to the pan and add the eggplant. Cook until browned and add the garlic, cook 1 min.

Add the other cooked vegetables back to the pan and mix. Add the whole cherry tomatoes and toss to combine. Add in the pesto and fresh mozzarella. Mix in the pasta.

This isn't a beautiful dish, but damm, it tastes great!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Not a Crock...

Note to self; I am not a crock pot purist. I don't believe in tossing in everything raw and turning it on. Some foods improve with a little cooking in oil first, a little browning, a little deglazing. And that's no crock... I also have no hesitation in lifting the lid, stirring the pot and rearranging things. Heresy, I know.

In this new age of austerity, I'm going to focus on some frugal recipes, getting more "bang for the buck" and cooking with what's on hand in the 'fridge or pantry. I think the recipe below cost approx. $8 and would easily feed a family of 4. It will certainly give us a few meals of leftovers for 2.

Today I'm making a Pot Roast in the crock pot. A note; I rarely measure and this recipe is certainly not an exact science. If you want to use a little more a little less or leave something out all together, that's all fine.

2.5 lb Chuck Roast
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz baby carrots
1 cup chopped celery (4 small stalks)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
8 each baby gold potatoes, halved or quartered
red wine (about 1 cup)
home made chicken stock (about 1 cup)
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 tsp each Dried Oregano and Thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste

Start by putting the potatoes, carrots and celery into the crock pot. Cook the onions in 1 Tbsp of olive oil until they are almost caramelized. Add the garlic and deglaze with 1/2 cup red wine. Add to crock pot after about 1 minute.

I cut the meat into large chunks so it would fit easily into the crock pot. If you make this recipe in a Dutch Oven or Casserole, you can leave the roast whole.
Add 1 more Tbsp to pan and sear off meat until brown on both sides. Deglaze the pan with more red wine and scrape up all the meat bits. Add to crock pot.

Add final Tbsp of oil to pan and saute the mushrooms. Deglaze with the rest of the wine and 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Allow to reduce for a minute. Add to crock pot, add the remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock and the dried herbs and cook all day on low.

About an hour into the cooking I wasn't happy with how it was going with the meat on top. So, I turned it up to high, took the lid off and rearranged things, moving the meat down so it was covered by the liquid.

After another hour, I turned it back down to low and cooked it for about 6 hours. At this point was done enough to eat, and I tasted it for seasoning, adding salt and pepper. I also decided to let it continue cooking for a couple more hours because it was really "soupy" and I wanted it to reduce and thicken a bit. Another option would be to add a bit of flour to thicken the sauce.

While there are already potatoes in this dish for starch, it would be excellent served with a soft polenta or mashed potatoes and a green salad.