So many uses for home-grown zucchini

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Are you still picking those zucchini and wondering what to do with so many? One plant can sure produce a lot.

I have found a few different ways to prepare the zucchini.

One is to simply grill the zucchini. I have a shallow pan I like to cook it in. To prepare it, slice the zucchini in thin strips and toss with olive oil before grilling until soft. If you want to add a little more flavor, I like to slice an onion to add in, as well as some garlic. There are also any number of seasonings you can sprinkle on to give an added boost. One of my favorites is Mesquite seasoning. Toss all of that together and put it on the grill.

This makes a great side dish to any meal. Another good side dish is parmesan crusted zucchini fries. You can either cut in strips again or slice the zucchini. Then coat the zucchini with egg and a combination of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, turning once, at 425 degrees.

Want to make zucchini your main course? I have a great recipe for that as well. You can use the zucchini to make Zucchini Boats. To do this, slice the zucchini in half, scoop out the seeds and microwave for about 7 minutes. Then fill the zucchini with spaghetti sauce and top with cheese. Bake this for 30 minutes at 350 degrees and enjoy.

If you are looking for a healthy snack, zucchini chips are a great option. Thinly slice the zucchini, then place on dehydrator trays. You can season with sea salt or grind up other herbs and sprinkle across the slices. Dehydrate for about 12 hours depending on the thickness of your slices.

One other favorite for zucchini is of course zucchini bread. This is what got me hooked on zucchini several years ago. Before that, I always thought I didn’t like it. I tried the zucchini bread though and loved it, then started growing some just for bread. I have since discovered so many great uses for zucchini, I can’t imagine why I ever thought I didn’t like it.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

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Enjoying garden-fresh green beans year round

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Garden fresh produce is abundant this time of year. One thing I’m getting a lot of is green beans. I pick them by the bag full every few days.

I love green beans – simply toss them in the steamer for about 25 minutes and you have a fresh and delicious side dish for dinner. But just from one of my raised beds of beans, I’m getting more than I can eat.

One easy way to preserve some beans for later is by freezing them. After picking, wash the beans, snap off the ends, then break into approximately one-inch pieces. I like to have them frozen in bite sizes so I don’t have to do anything with them when using them except toss them in the dish. Once this is done, blanch the beans by dipping them in boiling water for three minutes, then put them in ice water to cool. After a couple of minutes, remove the beans from the water and pat them dry. Fill your bags with amounts you would use in various recipes, seal the bags and freeze. I like to use them in casseroles, vegetable soup and more. For soups, I just throw the block of frozen beans into the pan with everything else to thaw, but for casseroles you can place the bag of beans in a bowl of water to thaw then you can spread them over your dish.

While freezing is easy to do and easy to use, I decided to try something new this year. After following the first steps of washing, snapping and blanching, I then dehydrated a batch.

To do this, place beans on the trays so they are not touching. I dehydrated them at 135 degrees for about 16-18 hours or until brittle. Once dried, store them in jars or baggies. I’ll be looking for some delicious ways to use these dried beans this winter once the fresh ones run out and will share some of those recipes in a future column.

(Note: Canning green beans also is an option but it requires a pressure canner.)
Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener. Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Making homemade pickles and relish

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My cucumber vines are loving this weather we have been having. I seem to be picking at least 3-4 cucumbers a day off of just two vines. As the cucumbers began to stack up in my vegetable bowl, I decided it was time to do something with them.

Pickles and relish are two easy ways to preserve cucumbers for use throughout the year.
I have made pickles out of pickling cucumbers, as well as slicing cucumbers, which I tried this year.

It is recommended to use a pickling variety of cucumber, but I didn’t really know why until trying them both. The pickling cucumbers are firmer after they have been pickled, while the slicing ones are softer and a bit mushy. But the taste of both is the same, so you could use whatever you have on hand. When using slicing cucumbers I did pick them small though.

For both of these projects, I have found it easiest to buy mixes, although there are recipes out there if you want to do it from scratch. I’d rather have more time to spend on tomatoes though.

IMG_3179There are several varieties of mix out there for pickles. I went with the standard dill pickle mix. The relish mix is for sweet relish.

To make pickles, simply slice them about a 1/4 of an inch thick, then pack as many slices as you can into the jars. Then cook the mix as directed on the package and pour the brine into the jars until they are full. I have never had enough brine to do as many jars as the package says it will make. It’s usually about half as many so plan accordingly.

Then for the relish, chop up the cucumbers and put them in a food processor.IMG_3171 Blend until they are course pieces, but don’t go so far as to liquify it. Then cook the mixture as directed and pour into the jars and process according to the directions.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener. Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Finding new ways to preserve onions

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I’m going to return to onions one more time this week. After staring at my pile of onions in the kitchen for a few weeks, I decided to jump in and get something done with them. They were in the way all of the time.

In researching chopping onions on the Internet (I was looking for tips to protect my eyes while chopping), I watched a video on dehydrating onions. Well, I’d never tried that before. I always just chopped and froze them, but this didn’t look too bad.

With my dehydrator empty of herbs at the moment, it was a good time to get them going.
Chopping onions has never been one of my favorite chores, but in the video, a Prep Solutions Onion Chopper was used, which made it look a lot easier. I was willing to give it to try. After finding the same onion chopper at a local store, I was ready to go. All I had to do was peel the onions, cut the ends off, wash them and cut them in half. Then place them on the grate and chop them. I have to admit, I was a little hesitant. Usually these “cool” devices don’t quite live up to what they promise, but this one did. I had my dehydrator full in no time, not to mention my fingers weren’t cramping up like usual after chopping that many onions. I highly recommend this device if you don’t have one.

Back to dehydrating. Once the onions are all chopped, spread them out on the dehydrator trays, but make sure there is a liner on them so they don’t fall through as they dry.
A tip I saw in a couple of places was to start the onions outside. Could it really be that bad? But it was a nice day, so I sat my dehydrator out on the picnic table and ran an extension cord to it. Boy was I glad I did. The only advice I have to anyone trying this with close neighbors is to prepare a gift basket to take them with an apology note. You could smell the onions all the way around the house they were so strong as they started drying.
After about six hours of drying, I did bring them back inside due to a threat of rain over night, but with the ceiling fan on, the smell was mostly gone.

It took about 24 hours to get them completely dehydrated. They will be brittle. IMG_3150
I read this will leave the dehydrator smelling like onions, although I did not think it was that strong and it would probably disappear the next time you dehydrate something. But if you can’t stand even the fainted onion smell in your dehydrator, another tip I read was to dehydrate potatoes right after the onions and it gets rid of the smell, but doesn’t affect the potatoes. I figured it was worth a try, so I prepared some potatoes. After boiling 5-8 minutes, let the potatoes cool overnight in the refrigerator, then shred or slice them, and fill the dehydrator once again.

After 12 hours, the potatoes were dry and the smell was completely gone.

Now I have two new ways to preserve onions from my garden, and the dried onions are said to have a better taste than when frozen. I can’t wait to try them in a recipe.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

The wonder, deliciousness of homegrown carrots

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Carrots are a fun and easy vegetable to grow. Give them the proper growing area and you would be amazed at what they will do.

I have found carrots in a raised bed will get much bigger and straighter than in the ground. The loose soil in the raised bed provides a perfect place for them to grow. And if you’re like me, it’s exciting seeing how big each carrot is as you pull it.

When planting, I like to just throw some seeds out there and cover them with dirt. Carrot seeds are so tiny, I find that method easier than trying to plant one at a time. The benefit of this is lots of little carrots while you wait for your bigger ones. As they start to grow, you will have to thin them to give others enough room. While this may sound like a chore, it can be very rewarding. Those little carrots, once washed and trimmed, make a delicious snack. As the carrots grow, continue to thin as needed – and don’t forget to keep the ones you pull.

Carrots store for a very long time in the refrigerator. Once you have pulled them, cut the tops off, then wash them so there is no dirt left on them. Then trim off the top and bottom of each carrot. You can keep them in your vegetable drawer, but I have found they keep a lot longer in a vegetable bowl – one of the bowls with a lid, vented bottom and separate water reservoir. Carrots I’ve pulled late in the summer have kept until the following spring this way.

Another option for preserving is to slice the carrots, blanch them for a couple of minutes, dip them in ice water, then vacuum seal them and freeze them. One note of warning, the frozen carrots will be one big clump so measure out amounts you might use in a casserole or stew and freeze them separately.

The fresh ones I like to grate and toss in my salad or simply eat plain or with some dip. The frozen ones can be used in recipes or steamed, along with some green beans, for a side to go with supper. However you prefer them, it will be easy to keep garden-fresh carrots around for most of the year.

For one way to use the carrots, check out the recipe here, a favorite from my childhood.

Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.

Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Carrot and Pineapple Jello

1 large box orange Jello mix
Water
Several carrots (to taste)
1 can crushed pineapple

Prepare the Jello according to the directions on the box, then pour into a dish. Refrigerate just until it starts to get firm, then mix in shredded carrots and pineapple. Mix completely, cover and refrigerate another couple of hours or until the Jello is set up.

Tips on preserving all of those onions

IMG_2942.JPGBy now, you have probably all harvested the onions  in your garden. But what to do with them?
Onions need to be dried out before they are stored so they will last longer. Like I said in the column on potatoes, a root cellar would be excellent but many of us do not have that available.
Instead, we need to do all we can to make them last as long as possible.
Once you have pulled the onions, lay them out flat on a large tray (I constructed several large screens stretched over frames made of 2x4s) where they can be placed in the sun for a couple of weeks. They will need to be moveable because they have to be put under a shelter at night so the dew does not collect on them. Also, if it rains, they will need to be moved to a dry location.
You will know they are ready to store away when the tops have dried out and turned brown. Then you can cut off the tops about an inch or two above the onion and trim the roots if you want to make them look neater. They are ready to be stored – a cool, dark location is again best for them. If the tops were dried completely, they will last like this for quite a while, but if you have more than you know you will eat over a few months, there are other ways to preserve.
You can always freeze them, which is easy to do. It just take a little time. You can chop the onions or slice them and put them in vacuum-sealed bags. I usually portion them in one cup amounts because that equals about one onion. Freeze them, and they are ready to use whenever you need them.
You also can dry them to make onion powder but it takes a lot of onions to make a little powder. Once they are completely dried, they should be brittle. Crush them up in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle, then enjoy the seasoning in your favorite meals.
Until next time, happy garden-fresh eating!

Julie Clements is a Butler County Master Gardener.
Share your ideas for garden-fresh recipes or ways to preserve at julieclements75@gmail.com and some will be featured in upcoming columns.

Waiting for spring

It’s always sad to see the garden go in the fall, but that also brings new adventures and excitement, as it is time to start planning for the next year.
This year, I had a soil test done to see what was or was not missing from my soil. With a high pH, I added sulfur this year, along with more compost and tilled that into my garden in preparation for planting time.
When I went to the greenhouse to get the sulfur, the owner commented “you’ll see a difference with this.” That was the same comment I got back with my soil test results. Well, they’ve definitely gotten my expectations raised. I can’t wait to see what this does for my garden.
For those who garden and have not done so, I recommend a soil test. It is a great way to see exactly what you can do to improve your growing situation. Our local county extension office provides this service.
After adding the sulfur and compost, which my husband generously offered to till in for me – tilling has never been one of my favorite parts of gardening – we then covered the raised beds with straw and the rest of the garden with mulch. Now it is time to wait. Each time it rains or snows, I can just imagine that sulfur mixing with the soil and working its magic. Magic is what I am hoping for with my garden come spring. I had a great harvest last year, so I can only imagine what this year might bring. More vegetables than I know what to do with? I can only hope….and wait.

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