Monday, February 23, 2009

Composting 101

Composting is something that most people have heard about but don’t necessarily practice. In the U.S., either due to misconceptions about the practice, a lack of a garden or lawn that might use compost or just a plain lack of knowledge, composting is not a common enough practice to reduce the impact households have on our environment.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has done research that shows just how much organic waste goes into landfills. Here are a few statistics:

Although industrial composting is on the rise, as the statistics above indicate, individuals aren’t doing as much as they could do make sure more food waste is composted. Yard Farmer insists that its customers compost, and we make it easy for them to do so by setting up an easy-to-use composting system at each of our customers’ homes. That said, we believe that the more you know about composting, the more comfortable you’ll be with the process. Once you get used to it, composting is even less difficult than sorting out glass, plastic and aluminum trash for recycling.

What is compost?
Compost is organic material that we use to amend soil. Composting has been occurring in nature since the dawn of plant life on this planet. As vegetation from trees and other plants falls to the ground, it slowly decays, which provides minerals and nutrients for plants, animals and microorganisms.
The composting process that most gardeners use, however, produces higher temperatures that kills pathogens and weed seeds. It also encourages the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi that break down the organic material in the compost pile into humus. When added to soil, this black, earthy material increases the level of nutrients available to plants and helps the soil retain moisture.
Studies have also demonstrated that compost can reduce incidences of plant diseases and pests, help eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers and produce higher crop yields.

What can I put in my compost bin?
The EPA has a great set of basic guidelines for composting. Following are guidelines on what’s safe to add to your compost pile and what isn’t (and why).

What to Compost

Cardboard rolls
Clean paper
Coffee grounds and filters
Cotton rags (non-oily only)
Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
Fireplace ashes
Fruits and vegetables
Grass clippings
Hair and fur
Hay and straw
Nut shells
Shredded newspaper
Tea bags
Wood chips
Wool rags (non-oily only)
Yard trimmings

What Not to Compost and Why

Black walnut tree leaves or twigs: releases substances that might be harmful to plants

Coal or charcoal ash: might contain substances harmful to plants

Dairy products (e.g., butter, egg yolks, milk, sour cream, yogurt): creates odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies

Diseased or insect-ridden plants: diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants

Fats, grease, lard, or oils: create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies

Meat or fish bones and scraps: create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies

Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter): might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans

Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides: might kill beneficial composting organisms

NOTE: Compost should not be used as potting soil for houseplants because of the presence of weed and grass seeds.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Rosemary Skewers

The piney aromas of rosemary pair particularly well with grilled meats
and Mediterranean flavors. The herb is a wonderful addition to
focaccia bread, lamb roasts and chicken dishes. However, rosemary is
also one of the few herbs that can do double duty as both a flavoring
and as a skewer. Using rosemary as skewers imparts a great deal of
flavor to roasted or grilled meats and vegetables. Try skewering
chicken with cherry tomatoes and Greek olives, or lamb with eggplant
and bell peppers or even chunks of feta cheese. In this preparation, I
used large cubes of beef in a simple marinade.

1 1/2 pounds grassfeed bison/beef tenderloin or sirloin, at least 1-inch think
10 to 12 rosemary sprigs
5 to 6 garlic cloves
olive oil

Select rosemary sprigs that are 6 to 8 inches long with a woody stem.
Examine each sprig and look for the place where the stem goes from
being soft, green and pliable to more rigid and woody. With one hand,
grasp the sprig at this spot while stripping the leaves downward from
the woody portion with the other hand. (Reserve the stripped leaves
for that focaccia bread or for stuffing a roasted chicken.)

Cut your meat into 1- to 2-inch cubes. Marinate at least 15 minutes
with about five cloves of minced garlic, about a 1/4-cup of olive oil
and a teaspoon each of salt and pepper (adjust these seasonings to
taste). Stir to coat the beef evenly with all the seasonings.

Carefully skewer two or three chunks of meat on each rosemary sprig,
leaving at least a 1/4 inch between. To make this job easier, you can
whittle the end of the rosemary sprig to a slight point or pierce the
meat through with the tip of a paring knife. To prevent the rosemary
sprigs from burning, they can be wrapped in foil before cooking. I,
however, am not so finicky.

Once your skewers are all prepared, they can be grilled outdoors
(charcoal or mesquite briquets lend a wonderful smoky flavor) or on
the stove top using a grill pan. They can also be roasted in a
400-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. This time, I pan fried the
skewers in a piping hot cast iron skillet with a little olive oil.
Three to five minutes per side allowed the meat to sear and just cook
through for medium doneness.

Serve with pita bread and a green salad for an easy spring or summer dinner.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kale and Other Winter Greens

First in our recipe series is the common winter green known as kale. Most people in the U.S. have heard of it before, but if asked if they’ve ever eaten it, many would say no. High in nutrients and also a traditional ingredient in dishes from many European countries, kale is most often found in the U.S. as a garnish. That firm, leafy green vegetable under your turkey sandwich? During the winter months it’s often kale. One of the reasons we’re starting with kale is because many people don’t have any idea what to do with it in the kitchen, and we want to show you that even a vegetable as often maligned as kale can be turned into a tasty winter dish.
We’re going to start with a quick profile of the plant and from there offer some recipes that use kale, and could also use other, related winter greens as well.
Kale is a form of cabbage (it’s scientific name being “brassica oleracea,” from the “acephala” group) that’s green in color but has central leaves that don’t form a “head” as with other types of cabbage. Some of kale’s properties include high levels of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory characteristics, high levels of beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein and also some calcium.
Kale, along with cabbage and other vegetables in the family, for example broccoli, has sulforaphane, a chemical that is believed to have cancer-fighting properties. Also, in a recent study, kale was found to reduce the chance of getting glaucoma by a whopping 59 percent if eaten only once per month. Here’s a link to the study:

Kale Study

From a “health food” standpoint, kale is pretty awesome stuff but eaten raw, it’s fairly bitter in taste, and you’d get sick of it pretty fast. When cooked the right way and in the right types of dishes, though, it actually makes for some pretty good eating. So what can you make with kale?
One of the most well-known dishes made with kale is Irish in origin, and is made for the holiday of Halloween night, which is traditionally the eve of the Celtic new year. Known as colcannon, this combination of greens, scallions (a.k.a. green onions) and potatoes is a hearty, comforting dish made for cold winter nights.
I got the idea from issue 91 of Saveur magazine but adapted it to what I had around the house.
I made a variation on this recipe that used yellow onions and garlic instead of green onions. Otherwise the recipe was pretty similar, and ended up tasting good by the time I was done. I used the potatoes that I had on hand (a mix of small red, yellow and purple potatoes), and it turned out well, but I’d suggest using Yukon Gold or another good mashing potato for a more “traditional” style of colcannon.



12 small potatoes or 5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces)
4 cups lightly packed kale and other winter greens (collard greens, cabbage works too, etc.)
5 tbsp. butter
1 small yellow onion, diced or half a medium onion (also diced)
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Basic Ingredients

1. Boil the peeled potatoes in a large pot of salted water for about 35 minutes or until they are soft enough to mash.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, wash all the greens, remove the leaves from the tough stems and chop the leaves into smaller, salad-greens-sized pieces.

2. Meanwhile, bring 1/2 cup water and 3 tbsp. of the butter to a boil in a small pot over medium-high heat. Add the washed greens, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until just tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain well, discarding the liquid, and set aside.

Greens, onion and garlic cooking.

3. Melt 2 tbsp. of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the diced onion to the pan. Lower the heat to medium and saute the onions for about 2-3 minutes then add the minced garlic. Saute the garlic and onion mixture for another minute or two (take care not to let the garlic burn) and then add the greens. Add salt and pepper to the greens at this stage. Cook the greens, onion and garlic mixture for another 5-10 minutes over medium to medium-low heat until the greens are the texture you want (some people like them very wilted, others with a crunchier texture). Once you’re done cooking the greens, drain off any excess liquid.

Mixing it all together.

4. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain the water off by pouring the potatoes into a colander. Then add the cooked potatoes back to the large pot. Add the cup of milk and begin mashing the potatoes. Once the potatoes are sufficiently mashed, add the mixture of greens, onion and garlic to the potatoes. Mix well. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Toss a pat of butter on top and serve hot.

The other recipe from that issue of Saveur that I decided to try was a way of making use of leftover colcannon by turning them into cakes. It’s pretty basic. It just involves adding flour and butter to leftover colcannon, making little cakes from the mixture and then frying them in butter. Not exactly the most nutritious way of making use of leftover colcannon, but these potato cakes taste really good. The recipe from Saveur follows.

Colcannon Cakes

Saveur credited this recipe to Irish grocer Peter Ward. From issue 91 of Saveur.

1 cup Colcannon
1⁄3 cup flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. butter

1. Put colcannon, flour, and salt and pepper to taste into a medium bowl and stir to combine. Shape mixture into 3 equal patties, each about 3/4" thick.

2. Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium heat, add butter, and melt until foaming. Fry cakes in butter, pressing cakes lightly with a spatula, until golden brown, 3–4 minutes per side.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Lettuce is delicious--so it's no surprise that it has been cultivated for thousands of years. Even the word "salad" can trace its roots the to Latin word "sal," meaning salt (the Romans liked salty salads). Tender baby leaves are usually the earliest produce we can harvest, and at nearly $5 for a serving for two at your local organic food retailer, you will quickly see the value of having Yard Farmer tending to your lettuce rows.

Because we farm on a more intimate level, we are able to employ "cut and come again" harvesting, whereby we harvest the outer leaves but allow the inner leaves to grow larger for later harvest. This way, we can harvest three to four times more produce than we would by removing the entire lettuce head. We also maintain a high level of diversity in our seed catalog so you can enjoy lush Red Velvet lettuce one evening and then a crunchy heirloom Freckled Loose Leaf the next.