Sunday, July 27, 2008

Day 107 / Day 15 - Aerogarden Cherry Tomatoes all present and accounted for

It's Day 15 of the tomatoes, and happily, all three have finally showed up for the party.

In first red heirlooms pod, another new little seedling has joined the one that popped up a few days ago...a good thing, because the first one still doesn't look great. There's a single seedling in the golden harvest pod, and the third red heirloom has two very healthy-looking plants.

Right on cue, the "add nutrient" light lit up, and I put two new tablets in and refilled the water.

In other news, I harvested some more basil and made a very refreshing basil-banana smoothie!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Day 104 / Day 12 - Welcome to the world, little tomato

Well, guess who decided to show up today?

It's Day 12 for the tomatoes...5 days later than the seed pod said it'd show up, but this little guy seemed determined to make it into the world. Interestingly, Aerogrow puts a couple seeds in each pod, but in this case (as well as the golden harvest one), it looks like only one sprouted. Not necessarily a bad thing, because when they grow large, the instruction manual says to thin them to one plant a pod anyway, because they get so big.
This one still seems a bit frail, and time will tell if it will survive, but here's hoping the grow light will inspire some more growth.

In other news, I finished the tomato soup today. As with most soups, sitting in the fridge for a day or two really brought out the best in it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Day 102 / Day 10 - What I Did With the Lime and Milk

Okay, so for all of you on the edge of your seats (you know who you are), here's what I did with the lime and milk.

After my experiment with lime-basil sorbet, I started to crave real good old-fashioned lime sherbet. So instead of going to the supermarket and buying a half gallon like most normal people, I brought out the ol' KitchenAid again.

I found this recipe:

Notice how the recipe calls for three cups of half-and-half. Well, remember that I bought a big ol' container of heavy cream for my very healthy tomato soup. So, being the enterprising chef, I combined 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream and 1 1/2 cups of milk, and made 3 cups of half-and-half. The only other challenging part of the recipe was trying to get the lime zest with a cheese grater. I put all the other ingredients in my blender.

Now, I have a confession to make. I did this all yesterday, but made the foolish decision once again to start my ice cream freezing without first chilling the mixture, a no-no with the KitchenAid, especially on a 90 degree night. I ended up with lime sludge.

So, 24 hours later, with the mixture well chilled and the ice cream freezer attachment once again frozen solid, I started the mixing.


Well, happily, I saw the liquid start to clump together, and before long, I had some amazingly refreshing lime sherbet.

I scooped it into mugs, covered them, and put them in the freezer.

Now, you might be wondering, why am I writing about this on my Indoor Gardening blog? Well, if you take a good look at that picture, you might notice a mint sprig I used as garnish. Yes, that is freshly snipped mint from my potted mint plant, which happens to have been transplanted from my old Aerogarden (the one that's now housing the cherry tomatoes)!

Speaking of the Aerogardens, the lights went off on my basil Aerogarden, so I used two more nutrient tablets and filled up the reservoir. That left me with only two precious nutrient tablets. So in two weeks, I'll have to decide whether to retire the basil to start a new crop, to try to transplant the remaining basil plants into soil, or to order more nutrient tablet and keep 'em going. Decisions, decisions...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Day 101 / Day 9 - Basil and Tomato Soup

Back on June 25, one of the regular readers of this blog (okay, the one reader...thanks P) suggested this recipe:

Of course, I'd been stuck because I didn't have a blender. That's changed, of course.

So, I went to the local King Kullen and bought four ripe tomatoes on the vine, a container of heavy cream, some milk, two limes, and some orange juice (don't worry, only the first two are for this recipe).

I proceeded to pick some fresh basil. The recipe calls for 14 leaves, but I picked about 20. In retrospect, I should have used a bit more.

Following the recipe's instructions, I chopped the tomatoes. I didn't bother to peel them (how the heck do you peel a tomato?). I simmered the chopped tomato in tomato juice for half an hour. Then, I put the mixture into my blender, along with the basil leaves:


Before you know it, I had a wonderfully pureed concoction, which I poured back into the pot. Then, I added a cup of cream and half a cup of butter (yes, you heard me right).

This is what I ended up with:

Being somewhat of a smart-aleck, I dug up a soup bowl I had that looked just like the one on the Web site, and added a little sprig of basil.

I took a few sips, and I was in heaven. It was the kind of soup that you know is soup. It's the kind of soup that you can feel going down smoothly and settles in your stomach with that warm, wonderful feeling you get on a cold winter's night. Okay, we're in the middle of a 95 degree heat wave right now, but you get the point.

The taste was phenomenal. Although one could argue that if you add a cup of heavy cream and half a cup of butter to anything, it'd taste good.

In case you're wondering why I bought milk and two limes...stay tuned to this same station tomorrow!

In other tomato news, some hope--the Golden Harvest tomato finally had one tiny little stem start to peek up through the foam in the pod...let's see if it has the steam to make it to pull-fledged plant. The other Red Heirloom is still not showing a thing :(

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 100 / Day 8 - Cooked fantastic Recipe in the Aerogarden Manual for Roasted Garlic, Tomato, Basil Pasta, but starting to worry about the Tomatoes.

So, bad news first. According to the Aerogarden Seed Pods for the cherry tomatoes, all three were supposed to start sprouting in 4-7 days. It's Day 8 of the cherry tomato Aerogarden, and I'm starting to worry a little. You could see the picture I took of one of the Red Heirloom pods sprouting a little tomato plant yesterday, but the other Red Heirloom and Golden Harvest pods still have nothing in them, and I don't even see any hint of them sprouting.

I'll give it a couple more days, but this might be my first little hiccup in what has otherwise been a fantastic experience.

In more promising news, it's Day 100 of the Basil Aerogarden, and I am thrilled with the results. I decided to make the second recipe in the Aerogarden manual, which was for Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Toasted Garlic, and Basil.

I harvested and chopped my basil:
And then followed the recipe to cook my pasta (I decided to use fettucine instead of spaghetti, because that's what I had lying around), thinly slice my garlic, fry it up in olive oil, and then warm the tomatoes in it.

Then, after that, I threw in half a cup of shredded parmigiano-reggiano cheese (grated using my brand new Kitchenaid Grater Attachment that I also got at Linens N Things clearance), and then my coursely chopped basil.

Here's how it ended up:

My apartment was (and still is) filled with the smell of toasted garlic, but that is totally what made this recipe sooo good. I served it up a bowl, deliberately keeping the serving size small.

But yes, the recipe made 4 servings, but after a couple rounds of "seconds", I went ahead and ate 2 1/2 - 3 servings.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Day 99 / Day 7 - Success...sort of...

So, I took the ice cream bowl out of the freezer, and I put my chilled mix of lime juice, basil puree, and sugar into it. Whirr-whirr-whirr-whirr-whirr.

It still didn't look like it was working. And then I took a close look at the recipe book, and saw a line I didn't see yesterday:

- 2 cups water

That's right. I tried making sorbet and forgot to add water. So just as I felt like my head turn into a cartoon lollipop yesterday, today I felt it turn into a donkey (let the reader understand).

So, I quickly dumped two cups of water into the ice cream maker, and lo and behold, the "whirr-whirr-whirr" turned into "crunch-scrape-grrrr". Before long, I had this.

Now I know what you're looks just like the basil mashed potatoes he made a couple weeks ago...and probably tastes like them too.

Well, I'm happy to say that it did come out fine and tasted like...well...lime and basil. It was really odd at first, bordering on just plain bizarre. I felt like one of those chefs on "Iron Chef" who cooks things like lobster ice cream or chocolate-covered squid sundaes.

But to be honest, after eating a glass of it, I'm kind of craving it now. Maybe it was the consistency of the stuff, which was a lot of like a very smooth gelato or italian ice. And the flavor of the basil did sort of balance out the sweetness of the tartness of the lime and the sweetness of the sugar. Or maybe my brain is just telling me that because it knows how much effort went into all of this!

I'm not sure who came up with the recipe for lime-basil sorbet, but one thing's for sure. That person probably had to get rid of a lot of basil!

I think the next thing I cook will be something much more traditional, like the other recipe in the book (basil, garlic, and tomato spaghetti).

If you're as sick of me talking about basil as I am, here's some hope for you:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Day 98 / Day 6 - Oh, Basil-Lime Sorbet, Why Do You Mock Me?

So, our local Linens N Things is closing, so everything is 30% off. I got an amazing deal on a KitchenAid 10-piece cookware set, saving about $100 off the original price.

Before you get too impressed with me, I'm embarrased to say I got caught up in the moment and used most of my "winnings" to buy myself...a very expensive pillow. I figured, a pillow is one of those things you use every day, so why not get the very best? But as I stood on the checkout line and they rang up my non-returnable order, I felt like one of those cartoon characters who turns into a big lollipop with the word "sucker" written on the wrapper.

Anyway, back to indoor gardening stuff. I also picked myself up a nice Cuisinart blender. And you know that that means. All of a sudden, I can make a ton of recipes I haven't been able to make before.

So first on my list was "basil-lime sorbet", one of two recipes they give you in the Aerogarden manual. The recipe was pretty straightforward...take a cup of basil leaves...

...and after you take a picture of it with your Canon camcorder camera with the freakishly bright flash, blanch it in boiling water for 10 seconds. Then, throw it into your blender along with 3/4 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice. Puree for 30 seconds:

And then throw into your ice cream maker.

Here's where things started to go wrong. I use a KitchenAid mixer with an ice cream attachment, and after 30 minutes of whirr-whirr-whirr-whirr-whirring, I ended up with...exactly what I started with.

There are a couple possibilities here. My theory is that because my kitchen was about 85 degrees at the time (we're going through a heat wave here in New York), plus the fact that I didn't chill the basil-lime mixture, it never got a chance to freeze.

So, I poured the mixture into a measuring up and put it in the fridge. I cleaned the KitchenAid bowl and put it back into the freezer. Check back again tomorrow and catch the rest of the exciting saga!

(Oh, and P, Linens N Things had SoundSpas, but not the one you were looking for)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 93 of the Basil Aerogarden...Day 1 of the Cherry Tomato Aerogarden!

Today is a momentous day for me. Granted, I have no life, but that's another thing altogether.

For the first time since the mid-1980's, I have planted tomato seeds. When I was a kid, I used to live in central New Jersey. Our neighborhood was literally built on the site of an old potato farm, so the soil lived up to the state's moniker as "The Garden State". My banner year came when I was in high school. Once summer, I had so many tomato plants growing that by the end of August, I literally couldn't pick them anymore...I had eaten or given away tomatoes to everyone I knew, so I just had to leave them on the vine. (Sadly, back then, I didn't know what I know now about making tomato sauce and canning tomatoes).

Then, college came and then I went out on my own. I lived in a co-op in Montclair, New Jersey for a couple years, and now I live in a co-op in Great Neck, New York. You guessed it. I don't even have a square foot of land to call my own.

So, the Aerogarden has let me exercise my green thumb again. And now that it appears that I've conquered basil, the next challenge is...cherry tomatoes.

My goal? Before the end of this year, I want to make an insalata caprese and a margherita pizza using only fresh-grown ingredients from my Aerogarden!

The first step was to open the box of cherry tomato seeds.

Next, I took my old Aerogarden (the one which was growing the mixed gourmet herbs), and cleaned it out. This was my first Aerogarden, which I haven't written about in this blog, but it's served it's purpose well for many, many months.
While the instruction booklet says to throw out the old seed pods, I decided to try to transplant the surviving herbs: the thyme, chives, mint, and basils into traditional soil pots (I had stopped harvesting the dill, parsley, and cilantro a long time ago).
I removed the bowl from the main unit and cleaned it inside and out with warm water and soap. The only slightly tricky part was cleaning the roots and a little gunk that had accumulated around the pump, but that cleaned up real good. I also followed the instructions in the manual to clean the innards by filling the unit with water and a cup of bleach for 1-2 minutes. Before you know it, my little Aerogarden was good as new.
The rest took a grand total of 11 minutes.

I filled the base with water.

Then, I replaced the top and put in the seed pods.

One interesting thing the cherry tomato set has that other Aerogardens don't is a "plant spacer". While some may be tempted to feel a bit short-changed by this, as an old tomato farmer, I know exactly why they do this. A tomato plant needs a lot of space to spread out, and counterintuitively, one plant with plenty of room to grow will produce many more tomatoes than two plants which are competing for room and light.

Here's what the unit looked like with all the seed pods.

Next step was to drop the two nutrient tablets in the green bag. I really like how Aerogarden makes these steps consistent across all the seed kits.

The next step was to select "Tomatoes/Peppers" from the control panel. Each setting regulates how much light and how often the pump runs in order to promote the best growth. I also made a point to start the cycle during the daytime, to give the tomatoes some totally "dark time", which is needed for the plants to thrive.

And so, here's the unit with the seed pods and the hoods over them.

And so, stay tuned. And for those still interested in the basil, they are drinking up water at an incredible pace now, and they started to hit the lights again, so I pruned some more. I plan tomorrow to go out and buy a blender/food processor so I can start making those additional recipes!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Day 89: Changing out the water of the Aerogarden

Well, as I mentioned in an earlier blog posting, I was supposed to dump the water and rinse out the unit every four weeks. I didn't exactly follow the schedule that the user manual told me to, but it didn't seem to affect the growth of the plants.

This is actually pretty cool--check out what the root growth of the basil plants looks like now:

I dumped out the water, washed the unit out so it was like new, and then carefully replaced the plants, roots and all, into the unit. I filled it with water, and put two new nutrient tablets in.
As you might guess, the plants were hitting the lights again. I pruned the basil and don't really care anymore that I'm throwing it out anymore :)
I still have a long list of new recipes to try. The Aerogarden manual had recipes for spaghetti with basil and garlic and, get this, basil-lime sorbet. My friend Penelope sent me a recipe for tomato-basil soup which I'll make as soon as I buy myself a food processor. Maybe when I get that, I'll also try out the banana-basil smoothie recipe my friend Kim sent me :)
Also, stay tuned. Within the next week or two, we'll go on to my other Aerogarden and will attempt to grow...cherry tomatoes!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Day 86: Aeroponic and hydroponic technology at EPCOT in Disney World

I just returned from my first trip to Disney World in 10 years, and once again I took the "Living With the Land" boat ride. This is the ride that first got me excited about aeroponic technology back when I was young. Here's their basil garden:

It's funny, but in 10 years, the ride seems much the same as I remembered it. Of course, now they're growing a lot more varieties now than before, and they're using these in cooking all around restaurants all over the Disney World parks.

But in my wildest dreams, ten years ago I wouldn't have been able to imagine I'd be able to have my own aeroponic garden growing in my own living room. It just seemed the stuff of science fiction. Even today, people are still going on that ride and coming off it talking about how the technology is so far away. Little do they know you can have the same technology inside your house today.

If someone from Aerogrow is reading this, here's a potentially great marketing tip for you: talk with the Disney folks about selling Aerogardens (with Disney-licensed characters on the box, of course) in the gift shops in "The Land" exhibition at EPCOT. Chances are you'll sell a ton of them--you'll have thousands upon thousands of people who have just learned about the technology and would jump at the chance to bring one home. You can even put mouse ears on top of them ;)