• Tomato Paste Replaced

    September 18, 2015
    The concentrated rich flavor of tomato paste imparts an intense, hearty flavor to many dishes. But how often have you opened a can and only needed a tablespoon of paste from it?

    Homemade Tomato Paste

    Rich, thick, delicious tomato paste is easy to whip up into small, as-needed batches.

    Quit buying those cans. Skip cooking and canning a big batch of paste. Instead, whip up only as much as you need, one recipe at a time, from versatile dried tomatoes in your pantry – it’s fast, simple and really tasty!

    Dried tomatoes instead of paste

    Fill your pantry with dried tomatoes from your garden at the height of freshness!

    Once your pantry is stocked with dried tomatoes, whip up our tastier-than-tomato-paste puree to add to dishes like stroganoff, soups, marinara, gravy, curries, stews or any other dish that needs an injection of rich tomato flavor.
    Dried Tomato Paste PureePrint Print

    4-6 dried tomato halves*
    1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth (or water + 1/4 t sea salt)

    *If you are using unseasoned dried tomatoes, add 1/8 t dried thyme and 1/2 T olive oil

    Pour broth or water plus salt into a microwave safe measuring cup. Heat about 1-2 minutes or until the liquid boils.

    Dried tomatoes soaking in broth for tomato paste recipe

    Soak just a few dried tomatoes in broth or salted water to make up the perfect amount of tomato paste for your recipe every time. A little of this goes a long way!

    Add dried tomatoes to the hot broth, pressing down with a spoon and stirring until the tomatoes sink into the liquid. Set aside for at least 20 minutes to allow the tomatoes to rehydrate; they won’t absorb all of the liquid.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Once the tomatoes are soft, pour the tomatoes and liquid into a blender. (At this point the liquid should be cool, but if it isn’t take care when you turn on the blender, starting at the lowest setting to avoid any steamy, hot explosions of red goop everywhere.) Cap the blender pitcher tightly and begin pureeing the mixture, starting at a low setting and eventually working to a high setting. Within a few minutes you should have a nicely whipped, rich tomato blend. It may be a little runnier than the stuff you’re used to buying in the can, but it will be intensely flavored (and full of your own garden goodness!)

    Using a spoon or spatula, scoop the mixture from the blender and add to your recipe as you would tomato paste, adjusting the amount based on how much tomato-y flavor you want.

    (This makes about a 1/4 cup of paste. If you want less or more paste for your recipe, adjust the number of tomatoes and amount of broth relative to your needs.)

    If you accidentally make more than you need, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and drop your DIY paste in 1 T. globs onto the lined sheet. Place in freezer until solid. Then, drop your chunks into a freezer-safe container to store for next time.
  • Shade Vegetable Garden Secrets

    September 11, 2015

    Growing a shade vegetable garden really is possible if you choose the right food crops. Trying to cultivate tomatoes or zucchini in deep shade isn’t likely to work, so don’t waste your time failing with those. Instead, try some of these great performers for your dark corners!

    Peppermint sticks chard in September garden

    Chard like this ‘Peppermint Sticks’ variety from Renee’s Garden seeds* performs equally well in deep shade or bright sunlight. Here it is glowing in bright September sunshine.

    Choose leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, kale or chard for your beds that get the least sun. Then, be sure to time things just right, and you’ll enjoy a long harvest of nutritious green goodness.

    Peppermint Sticks Chard Seedlings

    Sowing chard seeds early in the season will give your crop kickstart. Or, direct sow your seeds if your bed is getting some spring sunlight & the soil is warm. Early spring or late summer!

    Many leafy green food crops will grow quite well in dappled to even deep shade, but it is important that they are exposed to sunlight and warmth during their early stages of growth.

    Chard covered in horticultural fleece in April

    Covering your leafy green starts or seeds with a sheet of horticultural fleece helps protect your food garden from pests like leaf miners & warms the soil to help your crop grow.

    In early spring, this planting bed gets at least three or four hours of sunlight. But once the surrounding trees and shrubs leaf out and the asparagus and other nearby perennials grow tall, this will truly be a shade vegetable garden bed. And, in early autumn nearby trees begin to shed their leaves, again letting in sunlight so cool season greens below can grow.

    Vegetable shade garden in July

    While this bed looks bright & sunny on a hot July day, the chard is growing below the tall, ferny, shade-casting towers of asparagus. This light hardly touches chard in the under-story!

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Of course, when it is hot and dry, chard and other greens will need supplemental water. Leafy greens will not thrive in dry shade.

    Chard in shade vegetable garden in September

    Seeded in March, planted in April & offering edibles well into September, this brightly stemmed chard is productive in an area that receives only a dappling of sunlight each summer & fall day. Bonus: it adds a pop of bright color to an otherwise dark corner.

    You might notice a few other edibles in this shade food garden bed — chives, strawberry, asparagus, rhubarb and blueberries. While chard does quite well in the shade, perennial food crops offer quite a few easy rewards in the darker corners of the garden. (And that asparagus grows tall enough to reach the sun!)

    *Disclosure: Garden Mentors has received test growing ‘Peppermint Sticks’ chard & other seed from Renee’s Garden Seed. However, no compensation has been paid for this post or for growing this crop.
  • A Berry Hip Garden

    September 04, 2015

    One of the common woes we hear from new clients isn’t that they need a super cool, cutting-edge or hip garden. Rather, they simply want something interesting going on outside their windows even in the dead of winter. While we can almost always suggest a variety of plants with evergreen foliage and flowers in our PacNW winters, we also ask our clients to consider many other gorgeous and striking plant features that are non-blooming stand-outs from late summer through winter.

    The end result when they look beyond the blossom? A berry hip garden.

    berry hip Red rose hips

    There’s nothing quite as hip as a rose hip! Many native & non-hybridized roses offer particularly gorgeous hip (or seed pod) color that often holds well into winter. Wildcrafters will love harvesting them for their tasty nutrients!

    Hypericum berries in fall

    Hypericum may lose its leaves for winter, but rigid stems stand tall, topped with iridescent rosy-red berries. Plus, they’re coveted for flower arrangements!

    Seed pods in garden

    Seed pods like these unique forms will eventually, dry & burst forth with seeds, adding unique forms to the garden, dried material for floral arrangements & interesting receptacles for winter frost.

    Viburnum opulus berries in fall

    Abundant “cranberries” follow the snowball like blooms on Viburnum opulus – also known as the cranberry viburnum. You won’t want to eat these berries, but their eye-candy will fill your soul and perhaps a bird’s belly well into winter.

    Chinese Lantern Plant

    Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) are a striking sight by late summer. They make great floral arrangement features & they are the perfect living decoration for your Halloween garden. Just watch out – this plant can be terribly invasive.

    Pine cones

    The evergreen needles on a pine tree are no-brainer winter interest, but don’t forget that bare as well as snow-laden cones are particularly eye-catching in mid-winter.

    Red Cotoneaster berries

    Red Cotoneaster berries add color well into winter. Birds will eat them, but usually they wait until the berries have fermented. Then, robins & other birds gobble them down, chattering drunkenly until they literally fall off the branches in a stupor. Now that’s interesting!

    Need help figuring out how to add just the right berries, hips, cones, twigs, pods and other bits of “off season” interest to your garden? Contact us for personalized on-site help today! This list just scratches the surface of all the possibilities!

  • Buzzworthy Bee Podcast

    August 28, 2015

    Recently, Theresa Loe of Growing a Greener World on PBS invited Robin of Garden Mentors to join her for a bee podcast. Together, they spent over an hour discussing gardening with for and with bees for Theresa’s hugely popular Living Homegrown podcast.

    honeybee on squash flower

    As the sun rises, a honeybee flies from blossom to blossom on a butternut squash plant.

    Theresa’s popular homesteading podcast introduces listeners to all things growing, cooking and preserving for self-sustenance and good taste. If you don’t already know Theresa from her award-winning work on PBS’s Growing a Greener World, it’s time you get to know her and her fantastic Living Homegrown offerings!

    In this episode of Theresa’s Living Homegrown podcast, she and Robin chat about pollination, adopting unwanted bees, hosting honeybees, creating a bee-friendly garden, garden art for bees, swarms, bee populations and so much more. And, nope, they won’t just talk about honeybees, and yes, there will be lots of links and additional information to help you in your bee-focused garden endeavors.

    Listen to their conversation now.

    Theresa Loe with Bee Preserver

    Theresa unwrapping her Glass Gardens NW Bee Preserver Robin hand-delivered on a hometown trip. (Listen to the podcast to find out more about their friendship & this bee art.)

    I won’t give it all away here. Instead, tune in and join the fun. Odds are, you’ll fall in love with more than one new bee idea and find yourself listening in to many more of the weekly, educational podcasts Theresa has linked from her site. Psst! Subscribe to her newsletter, and you’ll get her Top Sources for Canning Tools & Supplies to download for free. It’s great!

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Looking for our Pollinator Favorite Things free info sheet?  Get it here with your subscription to our mailing list. Psst! – our monthly reminders go out tomorrow, so don’t delay or you’ll miss out!

    (Robin, via Garden Mentors, has served as a contributing researcher and writer for Growing a Greener World. However, no compensation has been paid for our participation in this podcast or for this post.)
  • Zucchini Chip Recipes

    August 21, 2015
    When the garden gives you zucchini overload, make our zucchini chip recipes!

    Don’t ignore your productive plants and hope those squash that magically appeared overnight will just go away when you turn your back on them. If you aren’t picking your zukes a day or so after each fruit flowers, that tender, little veggie morsel will rapidly turn into a tough, pithy, seedy giant nobody want to eat.

    Zucchini harvest in Stumpdust wood bowl

    Pick your zucchini squash when they’re just a day or two old for tender, sweet eats!
    Beautiful wooden bowl created by our friend Andy at Stumpdust!

    In our garden, from a total of six plants, we harvest about a pound to three pounds each day. We eat many fresh, shred and freeze others for latkes, cube/blanch/freeze several for soups and stews come winter, and dehydrate them as noodles to store as well. But, we still seem to have a fridge drawer full of them all summer long.

    salt 'n pepper zucchini chip recipe image

    Simple salt ‘n pepper zucchini chips from our recipe are delicious, healthy & easy to make!

    So, I worked up a few tasty no-fry recipes for dehydrating several more of those tiny torpedoes into long-storage, tasty pantry snacks that replace greasy bags of store-bought chips. Check out just how easy it is to make garden-fresh Salt ‘n Pepper, Seaweed and Hot ‘n Smoky BBQ chips on your own with our recipes. And, if you need tools or ingredients, check our shopping links at the end!

    Zucchini Recipes: Chips in 3 FlavorsPrint Print

    Hot ‘n Smoky BBQ Flavor

    smoky bbq zucchini chip recipe visual

    Slice thin. Sprinkle with flavor. Insert into dehydrator. Eat or store in your pantry!

    1t chili powder
    1/2t fine sea salt
    1t smoked paprika
    1/4 t cayenne powder
    1t tomato seasoning salt

    2, 3/4-1 lb fresh, young zucchini

    Step 1: Mix chili powder, sea salt, smoked paprika, cayenne and tomato seasoning salt together in a small bowl. Set aside.

    Step 2: Using a sharp knife or mandoline, trim ends of zucchini and discard. Then, slice zucchini into thin rounds about 1/4″ thick.

    Step 3: Place sliced zucchini rounds in single layer onto as many dehydrator trays as needed to accommodate your slices.

    Step 4: Sprinkle about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of spice rub onto one side of each zucchini slice.

    Step 5: Insert trays into dehydrator. If your dehydrator has a heat setting, set it to 125F. Allow dehydrator to run until the slices are dry and crisp, like a chip! (These slices can dry quickly, within a couple of hours. But, times vary by location, humidity and temperature, so watch yours carefully.)

    Step 6: If you don’t eat all of your zucchini chips right away, place them into a dry vacuum seal container so they don’t go limp.

    Jars filled with our chip zucchini recipes

    Store your zucchini chips in vacuum sealed mason or other jars to keep them fresh & crisp like these Seaweed & Smoky BBQ flavor chips.

    Salt ‘n Pepper Flavor

    1 t fine sea salt
    1 T freshly ground black pepper, fine-to-medium grind if possible
    2, 3/4-1 lb fresh, young zucchini

    Beginning with step 2 in the BBQ flavor recipe, trim and slice zucchini. Line dehydrator trays as in step 3 in the BBQ recipe. Then, sprinkle each slice with a bit of salt and ground pepper. Next, refer to steps 5 & 6 in the BBQ recipe above to dry and store your chips.

    Seaweed Flavor

    1 t Celtic Sea Salt Gourmet Seaweed Seasoning
    2, 3/4-1 lb fresh, young zucchini

    Beginning with step 2 in the BBQ flavor recipe, trim and slice zucchini. Line dehydrator trays as in step 3 in the BBQ recipe. Then, sprinkle each slice with a bit of seaweed seasoning salt. Next, refer to steps 5 & 6 in the BBQ recipe above to dry and store your chips.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

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