Give Winter Squash Some Love

Winter Squash and How to Cook It

by Engrid WinslowPhoto of two golden butternut squash. Winter Squash

Now that the nip of fall is finally in the air it is time to celebrate the coming harvest of winter squash.  Winter squash varieties include the beloved Butternut as well as Sweet Dumpling, Delicata, Spaghetti, Hubbard, Long Island Cheese, Pumpkins and so many more varieties. The squash should be harvested before the first hard freeze but a light frost will actually sweeten the sugars in the squash fruit. The stems should be fairly dry and the fruit unblemished. If there are any squishy spots, just eat those right away but the others can be stored for up to six months.  The fruit should feel heavy and dense and your fingernail should not pierce the flesh when pressed against it. Cut the winter squash from the vine so that there is at least a 2” stem and then let them cure at room temperature for a week or two.  After they have cured they should be stored in a cool dry place such as a basement or garage where they will not freeze.

 

Winter Squashes are rich in fiber and vitamins and low in calories but they are also so hearty that they are great for meatless meals.  To my mind, the best way to eat most of them is roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper but let’s not forget pies and casseroles with warm winter spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.  The seeds can also be roasted for a delicious and nutritious snack.

 

Many years ago this recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto in Cooks Illustrated  Italian Favorites that I have tweaked and played with to come up with one of my most beloved recipes.  It gets the center starring role at least once a month during the winter season for its comforting warmth. It seems like a lot of work but this is one that is worth every minute.

 

 

BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO

                Serves 4-6

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated Italian Favorites 2009

 2 TBL olive oil

6 TBL butter

2 LB butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into ½” cubes which should yield 3-4 cups

  NOTE: Reserve seeds, fibers, peels and any extra bits of squash for use later

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup water

1-2 small onions, minced

2 cups Arborio (Carnaroli can be substituted)

1 ½ cups white wine such as Pinot Grigio that you will also drink with your dinner

1 cup grated Parmesano-Reggiano

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 TBL minced fresh sage leaves

¼ tsp grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

 

In a large non-stick skillet, sauté the squash over medium-high heat with olive oil until cubes are nicely browned.  Season with salt and pepper, remove from pan and set aside.  Add reserved squash peels, seeds, etc. to pan and cook, stirring to break up the fibers as much as possible until brown.  Place chicken stock and water in a saucepan with reserved, cooked bits of squash, bring to a low boil and reduce heat to a bare simmer.

Place 4 tablespoons of butter in the empty skillet over medium heat and let melt before adding onion, garlic and additional salt and pepper. Cook and stir often until onions are softened.  Add rice and stir until grains are a bit translucent around the edges (about 3-4 minutes).  Add white wine and cook, stirring until it is fully absorbed.  Add 3 cups of liquid (avoiding stems and other bits – Strain if desired but press the solids to get as much flavor from them as possible) and a half of the cubed squash to the pan. After the liquid is completely absorbed and the pan is nearly dry, continue adding liquid about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed before adding another ½ cup. Taste the rice for al dente and then stir in the rest of the squash, sage, nutmeg, parmesan and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add additional liquid if you prefer a looser risotto and sprinkle additional parmesan on the top.  Serve with the same white wine you used to cook your risotto.

 

You can add other things such as spinach, sweet peas and cooked chicken to this recipe if desired.

Winter Smoothies

Winter Recipes

from the kitchen of Engrid Winslow

We know you can’t wait for spring and fresh veggies from your own garden – we can’t either! Here are a couple of smoothies and a juice drink made with readily available winter produce to tide you over. In addition, they are paleo-friendly, gluten-free, vegetarian and low in calories.

Tangy Apple Kale Smoothie (serves 1)

1 cup water
2 Granny Smith apples, seeded and cut into chunks
2 cups baby kale
1 frozen banana

Combine everything and blend until smooth.

Cinnamon Squash Pear Smoothie (serves 1)

1 pear, seeded and cut into chunks
1/4 cup frozen, cooked winter squash
1 tsp. Honey (or 1/2 tsp Maple Syrup)
1/4 tsp. Cinnamon

Combine everything and blend until smooth.

Early Riser Breakfast (serves 2)

1 beet
1/4 red cabbage
2 carrots
1/2 red bell pepper
1 orange, peeled
1 apple
1/2 lemon, peeled

Juice each item, combine and stir.

Roasted Winter Vegetables

January Recipe

from the kitchen of Engrid Winslow

Roasted Winter Vegetables

 

Even though your garden is sleeping, you can still enjoy this seasonal recipe.

  1. Preheat oven to 425
  2. Dice or chop equal amounts of the following:

Potatoes

Beets (chop a bit smaller because they take longer to reach doneness)

Butternut Squash

Parsnips

Onions

  1. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet large enough that they roast instead of steaming. Toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30-45 minutes, stirring at least once.

 

Variations:

  • Substitute or add other vegetables such as carrots, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, turnips, sweet potatoes, kabocha, acorn, delicata or other winter squash.
  1. Drizzle with balsamic before serving.
  1. Add pumpkin seeds during last 20 minutes of roasting.
  1. Add dabs of goat cheese while still warm but not too hot.
  1. Add fresh sprigs of thyme or rosemary

Squash Bee

Peponapis: A Squash Lovin’ BeeSquash Bee

Jul 19, 2016 04:54 pm | thebeeswaggle

by Jessica Goldstrohm

Did you know some bees are very dependent on particular species of flowers?

This lovely bee is the squash bee, and I was fortunate enough to discover her, along with may others nestled inside squash flowers of a good friend’s garden! This was a very healthy and thriving collection of squash bees, and they are very specific to squash plant reproduction.

Squash bees are quite predictable in the flower preference they have; squash flowers, any type of squash flower, but it must be a squash flower.  They fly very early in the morning, sometimes before dawn seeking the opening squash flowers.  The females will spend much of the morning nestled inside squash flowers, circling the stamen of the flower, collecting nectar and pollen for their nests.  In fact, you will often find groups of squash bees within each squash bloom, absent of any conflict among them.

07.29.16 SquashBee2

Squash Bee

My photos too!

Squash bees are solitary nesters, meaning they work independently to build her nest, lay eggs, and collect all resources for the eggs they lay.  However, they may nest in aggregations of hundreds, kind of like apartment buildings are to humans. We live next to each other, but we all lead separate lives.

Squash bees prefer to nest VERY close to their favorite flowering plants, so you will most often find their nesting holes in the ground under squash plants.  Females will retreat to he nest come rundown, while males find a nice squash flower to sleep in until morning.

This activity continues throughout the summer, and partway into fall, then all the existing bees die, leaving behind the next season’s generation nestled all in a row of egg cells containing adult bees.  This new generation of bees will hibernate until the following spring or early summer when the squash plants are flowering.  Squash bees are so particular about the flowers they feed on, that their lifecycle revolves around squash plants!

I’m sure you may have already arrived at the question of what does that mean for them when we go to clear the dead squash plants at the end of the season?  Well, too much deep tilling can lead to complete destruction of a mother bee’s hard work.  Squash bees nest approximately 1.5 feet straight down into the ground, so only rigorous tilling harms nests. Leaving some of the plant behind can serve as insulation to the hibernating bees through the winter.

Next time you see a squash plant, take a peek inside to see a group of squash bees, and look under the squash plant for any holes in the ground that might be a squash bee’s nest.

There you have it! Another native bee we depend on to get resources we all enjoy in the fall!  I can’t wait to have some zucchini from my plants, and pumpkin too!  So many things occurring right beneath our noses, and we miss them when we don’t stop and observe.

Cheers to joining the movement to save our bees!

Today is the Day we Worked all Year for…

Garden is at it’s Peak

by Sandy Swegel

Most of the time in the garden I’m analyzing and thinking about what to do. What has to be done before it’s too late (weed thistles before seed heads mature), What should be done today (harvest zucchini before it’s a full-sized bat), What to do this evening (do some small batch preserving or dehydrating),

What to do before tonight (have row cover ready for tomatoes if there’s a danger of frost), What to do before the end of the season (cover crops in), etc. etc.

But today here in zone 5 Boulder Colorado, everything in the garden is at its peak.  The nights are getting cooler so frost will kill things soon.  Leaves are just starting to turn and pumpkin stands are popping up on rural roads.  I realize how many great things are ripe in the garden.  This is the time when everything tastes best. Wow. Then I realized. This is it. This is the day I worked in the garden all year for. So I decided that just for today, I’m just going to appreciate the perfect bounty nature has given me and not try to improve it, process it, or save it for the future.

Just for today

I’m not going to do anything useful in the garden. Today is more a day for celebration. Like when you watch your kids graduate from school or get married,  today’s the day to feel proud and look at the accomplishment and bask in the success. Turmoil and trials, tears and laughter. In the end, it’s all worked out.

So here’s the plan just for today. (Or maybe just for all weekend.)

– Get the camera out and take some snapshots of the garden.  Get somebody else to take a picture of the gardener holding a basket of harvest.

– Pick some grapes one by one and just suck on them and spit the seeds out.  The flavor is perfect sweetness and tartness.

– Eat the most perfect tomato while it’s hot from the afternoon sun.

– Nibble on flowers of broccoli and arugula going to seed.

-Fix dinner by doing as little as possible to the food.  Heat up the grill to roast some vegetables:  small zucchini and patty pan squash, cloves of garlic, small red onions, tomatoes, a late-maturing ear of corn, an apple or pear. All on the grill with just some olive oil and salt.

– Chill the cucumbers and radish so they will be the perfect palate cleanser for the roasted vegetables.

– Spend the late afternoon looking at the garden as a work of art.  Just for today, golden leaves and even browning foliage are just color and texture. Not something to be cleaned up or composted.

Just for today, it’s all perfect.

The food is all good. The air is fresh. The sun is still warm. Wild asters are in full bloom. The sky is really really blue.  Today is the day we worked all year for. Today is the day the garden is just perfect. Nothing to add. Nothing to change. Nothing to do except enjoy and appreciate. And the gardener? Just for today, she’s perfect too.  She and Nature have had a great year spending time together.

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Stay the Course: End of Season Gardening Tips.

Gardening Tips

by Sandy Swegel

It may still be blistering hot, but gardeners, especially in Zone 5, are on the home stretch. Days are getting noticeably shorter. Much of the work of the year culminates in the next month as it’s time to bring the harvest home so here are some end of season gardening tips. You have to pay extra attention in the next few weeks so you get the best harvest possible.

Keep the water steady.
This is not the time to skip watering for several days. Here’s the bad cycle. You forget to water for a day or two. Then you go out and put the water on for hours to compensate. This is a sure recipe for split fruit, especially tomatoes, and reduced fruit production.

 

Stay after the powdery mildew.
The mildew can be crazy on the squash and melons this time of year. Don’t let the whole vine turn to mildew. At the least, pull off the badly diseased leaves to keep the disease from spreading to the whole plant. Those squash, pumpkins and melons can still put out a lot of good fruit if they have some healthy leaves to photosynthesize.

Keep harvesting.
The more you harvest, the more your plants keep putting out new fruit. Don’t lose courage now just because your kitchen is overflowing with food to be processed or given away. Keep things in a cool area if needed till you get to it.

Consider a light fertilizing.
Some plants have really been putting out and spending themselves for you. I sometimes do a light foliar feed of kelp or other liquid organic fertilizers to keep the plants’ spirits up on these stressful long work days. I think the kelp helps with resisting disease too.

The season may have a long way to go…don’t get distracted by school startups and thoughts of Fall. Your garden’s glory days are here.

 

 

Photo credit:
www.rosalindcreasy.com/edible-garden-how-to/
smallimperfectgarden.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/picking-tomatoes-shouldnt-be-this-challenging/

 

Food as Art. Art as Food.

Decorate for Fall with Delicious Foods

by Sandy Swegel

Thanksgiving week is almost upon us with endless opportunities for creative and artistic expression. Besides the creative recipes you’re cooking, you also get to decorate your table and your home with the many gifts from nature and use your food as art. A walk down the grocery store aisle and through the woods will give you all the raw materials you need to make Thanksgiving centerpieces and artful home decorations.

You know the raw materials:

All the beautiful gourds and squashes and pumpkins

Pine cones and berries and nuts

Colorful maple leaves and cool branches. 

Purple and orange vegetables

And finally, if it’s not enough to arrange your food into art…you can also take inspiration from that clever company Edible Arrangements, to cut your fruit appetizer trays into edible art! Slice fruit like cantaloupe and pineapple and apples into thin slices and use thanksgiving-themed cookie cutters to turn the fruit into decorative shapes.

Celebrate the harvest with joy and art!

Photo credits:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/how-to/vegetable-centerpiece/index.html

http://www.parisiennefarmgirl.com/2010/11/diy-thanksgiving-centerpiece.html

http://thestir.cafemom.com/food_party/1237/DIY_Thanksgiving_Centerpieces_Made_From

http://pinterest.com/noteforge/food-healthy-for-the-most-part/

http://www.ediblearrangements.com/fruit-baskets.aspx?CategoryID=283&Section=1

4 Fun Pumpkin Décor Ideas for Halloween

Our Favorite Ways to Use Pumpkins

Who doesn’t love the bounty of fall? Particularly pumpkins! Pumpkins are versatile, fun, stylish, elegant and creative. There are so many fun Pumpkin décor ideas because they can conform to the look and feel of just about every home personality.

Looking for a few ideas this Halloween? We’ve got you covered.

Mini Pumpkin Tablescape 

Elegant, festive and great use of those mini pumpkins, this fall tablescape can elevate any table! Just take your favorite mini-pumpkins and gourds, add some candles and fall foliage remnants. Check out the tutorial here.

Halloween to Thanksgiving Centerpiece

 

This amazing Halloween centerpiece is so elegant it would work straight through Thanksgiving. Carve out the center, choose your favorite flowers and voila! Find the entire DIY tutorial here.

 Jack-o’-Lantern Flower Vase

 

This pumpkin turned flower vase is spookily awesome! Perfect for celebrating the Day of the Dead on November 1st and every day until then. Brighten up your jack-o’-lantern with a helping of Asters, Goldenrod, Sunflowers or anything you want to use to add fun fall color.  Grab this tutorial here.

 

Let them Sweeten

All About Cold-Sweetening

by Sandy Swegel

I spent the week with my sister Anne.  It’s enough to make me doubt the entire idea or theory of DNA and genetics that suggest we are related in some cellular way.  Except for the fact that we look like sisters, we are so different, the family joke ran this way.  “You’re so weird.  You must have been switched at the hospital.” “No, you’re so weird. You were the one switched.”  After some bickering my mother would chime in, “I don’t know where either of you odd ducks came from.  I must have been the one switched at the hospital.

It was evident as we were sitting around the kitchen table that she is a finisher, somebody who gets projects finished.  I have to hold on to my coffee cup if I don’t want it cleared off the table half full.  She wants breakfast finished and the table cleared.

It can be hard to share a garden with a finisher.  Her idea of dealing with the garden as the leaves start to fall is to pull everything out right now and rake the soil nice and tidy and be done with it till next April.  So naturally, I was howling as she’s shoveled up the beets and yanked the kale.  “No, leave it alone. It’s finally getting really good. Don’t you know this is when the root vegetables get really good and sweet?!”  Fortunately, we are adults and I skipped the “how can you not know that” remark and she threw up her hands and walked away muttering “Whaaateverr.”

Let them sweeten, cold-sweetening in vegetables is a real thing. Plants produce sugars through photosynthesis and store the sugars as starches.  But in cold temperatures, plant break down the starches into “free” sugars and store them in cells to protect against frost damage.  Scientists describe the process as “Sugar dissolved in a cell makes it less susceptible to freezing in the same way that salting roads reduces ice.”

 

And it makes the vegetables taste so good too!  As long as you can pry the soil open before it freezes solid, you should leave the root vegetables like beets and carrots in the ground.  Kale, chard and spinach full of sugar can be frozen solid first thing in the morning and be delicious and undamaged to eat at dinnertime.  Cold-sweetened Brussels sprouts are worth fighting for.

 

The only vegetable you don’t want to cold-sweeten are potatoes, because you want them full of starch.  That’s why you don’t store potatoes in the refrigerator.  All the extra sugars make cold-sweetened potatoes turn brown during cooking. You reverse the process in potatoes by keeping them in a warmer room and the sugars convert back to starch.

Cold-sweetening is also why you store your winter squashes and root vegetables out in the unheated garage…someplace that doesn’t freeze but also isn’t as warm as the house.

Vegetables to cold sweeten:

Carrots, Beets, squash, kale and chard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts (Yes!), leeks, spinach, parsnips and radicchio, and best of all, Apples.  Leave those apples on the tree as long as you can…they get better every day in the fall.

 

Photo credit: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/storing-vegetables-for-the-winter

Sweeter After A Frost

 

Inviting Orioles for Summer Dining

Summer Harvest

by Sandy Swegel

This is the best time of the year.  Summer Harvest is coming in strong.  Cherry tomatoes and grilled marinated zucchini make wonderful summer suppers followed by fresh cherries and peaches.  A bottle of cold Prosecco and French brie and a couple of friends make for lovely summer evenings.  The only thing needed is the entertainment.  Hummingbirds are a favorite to watch buzzing in as dusk falls.  Mind you there is a garden full of flowers planted just for hummingbirds, but the little darlings are just like humans…who wants good healthy food when you can have dessert: some fresh sugar water in the colorful plastic feeder.  We put the feeder quite close to the picnic table so we could see the hummers coming to feed.  But last week there was a big surprise.  Something had pecked out the cute little openings on the feeder and drained it dry.  At first, I had unkind thoughts about the neighborhood squirrels, but then, the evening’s star performers appeared, a pair of bright orange Orioles.  What a perfect accompaniment to dinner with friends.

Now everyone wanted their own Orioles.  Turns out they’ve always lived here in the big cottonwood trees along creeks. But we learned what every midwesterner apparently knows.  If you want Orioles, you put out orange pieces and grape jelly.  The grape jelly is the guaranteed winner.  We heard stories from Wisconsin cousins that they can’t even buy grape jelly in the store right now because everyone is buying it for the Orioles.  Ahhh, our songbird overlords.  But they are lovely dinner companions.

Enjoy the summer harvest and invite friends over.  You’ve worked hard all season for this.  Lean back and watch both human and avian friends dine on your deck! Life is good.

photo credit:

http://www.duncraft.com/Oriole-Fest-and-Orange-Swirl-Guard

 

 

 

 

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