Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Recipe that uses a lot of basil: Thai Chicken and Basil Stir Fry

Even after my insalata caprese, I had a TON of basil to use. As you can see, the basil was already growing into the grow lights to the point where they started to burn!

So, I chopped and chopped until I had a beautiful bridal bouquet of basil. 

I went onto and clicked and clicked and clicked until I found a recipe that used a lot of basil. After going through tons of recipes that either called for dry basil or wimpy amounts of basil, I came across this one: Thai Chicken and Basil Stir Fry. 
 The ingredients are: 
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - cut into 1/2 inch strips
  • 3 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 5 green onions, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh basil leaves
Ah yes, 1 1/2 cups of chopped fresh basil leaves should do it.

The instructions were simple. The first step was to mix the liquid. 

In a bowl, mix the coconut milk, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, and red pepper flakes.

I had a hard time finding coconut milk, but ended up buying a juice box of O.N.E. Coconut Water which worked rather nicely.

The next step just involved chopping up a bunch of stuff and throwing it into a wok. Here's the stuff I chopped: 

    Stir in the onion, ginger, and garlic, and cook until lightly browned.

    Mix in chicken strips, and cook about 3 minutes, until browned.

    Mix in mushrooms, green onions, and basil, and cook until heated through.

    Serve over the cooked rice. 

    I gotta say, it turned out nicely. The dish was subtly sweet as Thai food is, with incredible savoriness from the fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, coconut, and of course the basil.

    Do you have a recipe that uses a tonnage of basil? Post it in our barely used Forum! :) 

    Sunday, December 26, 2010

    So...what happened between August and today?

    sWell, it's been four months since I last posted. I'm sure you're dying to know--what has become of my indoor gardens? Here's the skinny:

    The Herb Garden 

    The herb garden looked like what you see to the right as of September 19, 2010. Obviously, the basil was outclassing the other herbs already (sage, mint, parsley, cilantro, and two seed pods of thyme).

    Sadly, the cilantro and thyme never grew to more than about an inch before withering and dying. I think this was due to the age of the seed pods--some of them have been sitting around for at least a few years. I've found that older seed kits are hit-or-miss. That's why nowadays, I only buy new seed kits from the Aerogarden storeBuying anywhere else (especially clearance sales) are not a great idea, as you don't know how long they've been sitting around.

    Here's what it looks like today. As you can see, the basil ended up growing so fast and so big (I pruned it at least four times since the last picture) that it ended up choking out the right to the other herbs. That caused the demise of the sage. The parsley is barely hanging on. What is holding its own is the mint. Lesson learned: basil and mint grow like weeds if you let them.

    There are few recipes that use basil and mint, although I have two recipes I found at AllRecipes.Com which I'll be attempting in the next few posts.

    The Tomato Garden

    The tomato garden started out auspiciously. As of September 19, here's what they looked like.

    The tomatoes that grew were the "red heirloom" tomatoes. The yellow tomatoes never grew. Still, from my previous tomato experience, I knew the two plants would yield plenty.

    The key to growing tomato plants correctly is to prune, prune, prune. At times you're going to feel like you're chopping too much. But as long as the root system is strong, the leaves will grow back. If you don't prune, the plant will grow much too tall too fast.

    The last week of November and the first week of December was the week of a bountiful harvest. There seemed to be clusters of tomatoes growing everywhere.


    I harvested a whole bunch. I think in total I must have harvested about 15 of them that week. Since then, the harvest has been less bountiful--maybe 1 or 2 tomatoes a week after that.

    As I've done in the past, I decided to buy myself some fresh mozzarella cheese, harvest some of my Aerogarden basil...

    ...toss it with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and enjoy myself a nice Insalata Caprese.

    So, as you can see, I'm enjoying much more success with my Aerogarden tomatoes than I did the last go-around--I think I harvested more in one week this time than I did my last entire planting.

    I chalk this up to a couple things. First, the seed packets I bought were relatively new, unlike the last batch which was on "clearance". Second, I was fastidious about "pollenating" the tomatoes this go-around (every time I would pass the garden I'd grab the plants by the stalks and shake them a bit). Third, I was much better about pruning this time--even if I had to cut a few flowers, I knew that in the long run pruning the plants would keep them strong and under the lights.

    All in all, though, I'd say that Aerogardens are not great for growing vegetables indoors. After four months of work, having under 25 tomatoes is the most success I've had, but still, you can buy a good package of cherry tomatoes from the store for only a few bucks. I'd say where the Aerogarden shines is still in herb gardening. I have so much basil I'm still looking for things to do with it!

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    And the winner for the first herbs to show up--basil and thyme

    Well, that didn't take long. After only two days, we have two little seedlings popping their little heads out. 

    To commemorate their entry into the world, I will be cooking the following dishes upon my first harvest, each of which use copious amounts of basil and thyme!

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Indoor Gardener: The 2010 Reboot (Part 2)

    The first step to getting ready to start the herb garden again was to get replacement parts for my old Aerogarden Classic.

    The thing I needed the most was a new set of Aerogarden arms. Here's what the contacts on the old arms looked like:

    The metal contacts were corroded to the point where they weren't conducting electricity anymore. In retrospect, they say that such corrosion can be cleaned by using a Q-Tip with vinegar, but I figured the corrosion was so widespread I may as well order a replacement arm. Here's what that looked like.

    The other replacement part I'd ordered were more filter pads for the old style Aerogarden pump.

    I'd gone onto the Aerogarden Store a few months ago and created a custom herb seed kit consisting of all the herbs I find most useful in cooking. They were: Basil, Sage, Parsley, Thyme, Cilantro. I also had Mint and Chives left over from my herb seed kit, so I figured I'd throw those in too.

    I brought out all the parts from where I was storing them and laid them out.

    The pump was the replacement Aerogarden pump I ordered last year, so it was still in great working order. I just installed a new filter pad.

    Installing the new arm was a snap (literally). Just remove the old arm, insert the new, and plug the power cord in. Extremely simple.

    By now, I'm getting real good at planting the Aerogarden seed pods. I arranged all seven of them into the unit.

    Then, I poured water into the basin to the fill line, added the starting nutrient tablets, put the dome covers on top of the pods.

    And then the big moment came where I plugged the unit in again for the first time in months.

    Have you ever seen one of those movies where they come across a long-abandoned shipwrecked boat and then they start up the engines again for the first time? This is the feeling I had when this old Aerogarden started up again. The water started trickling just like old times.

    And so, in under 4 minutes, I had my herb garden planted. Then it was on to the tomatoes.

    The seed kit from Bed Bath and Beyond looked like the seeds were prepared almost two years ago (which explains why they were on clearance). It'll be interesting to see if they grow.

    It came with nutrient tablets, three seed pods (two red tomatoes and one yellow), and pods for spacing.

    I plopped in all the pods, and put the dome covers on top. I left the old trellises in place, hoping that some day I will be able to support the three cherry tomato plants.

    And there you have it. We're starting anew with cherry tomatoes and a bunch of new herbs. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we watch the seeds grow and yield a harvest.

    If you have any suggestions for what I can cook using the herbs I listed above, please leave them in the comments section!

    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Indoor Gardener: The 2010 Reboot (Part 1)

    Seems that "reboots" are all the rage these days. Hollywood's brought back everyone from Batman to Captain Kirk. This fall, you'll be able to see Danno book 'em again on Hawaii Five-O, and Jim Rockford open up his files again. There's even chatter about a "CHiPs" reboot. What I wouldn't give to see a tubby Ponch and a gumpy old Jon climbing upon their Kawasakis again. Of course, Erik Estrada seems busy hocking real estate on informercials, and Larry Wilcox is the CEO of a mining company. but one can dream, can't one?

    Anyway, for those of you who've grown tired of seeing that ladybug on the blog since March 21, get ready for a whole new indoor garden blog. I'll be starting over with a brand new herb garden and a brand new tomato garden.

    By the way, if you're wondering what happened to the tomatoes, here's what the VeggiePro looked like on June 6.

    At its peak I'd been getting a few small tomatoes every week, but the yield was getting smaller and smaller, and I was out of nutrient tablets. The plant was getting a bit unwieldy, and the water in the basin was getting a little nasty. So I figured it'd be a good time to retire this crop.

    Step one was detaching the trellisses that were keeping the plants up. Here's what it looked like.

    Needless to say, trellises are a must-have when growing any kind of veggies in your Aerogarden.

    Step two was removing the one remaining seed pod.

    The stalks were thick and the roots were impressive as always. I suppose if I had an outside garden, I could have transplanted it outside and have seen the plant grow to its full potential--even though Aerogrow said these would be "full size tomatoes", they never quite got bigger than very large cherry tomatoes, probably due to never having quite the amount of space and nutrients that outdoor plants have. So my dream of reliving my glory teenage years of harvesting gigantic "Burpee Big Boy Tomatoes" will have to wait until I buy a house with a yard, I guess.

    And so how would I summarize my tomato experience? I'd say good and bad. I ended up being able to harvest some fresh tomatoes indoors, but certainly not full-size nor extreme amounts. Still, it was convenient being able to reach for the VeggiePro when I needed a fresh tomato for a salad or sandwich and didn't want to have to go to the supermarket to get one.

    The next step was using warm water and dish soap to clean the unit inside and out. There was a lot of white residue from the nutrient tablets to scrub off, but after a few minutes of washing, the unit looked just like new again. And so the VeggiePro was ready again to take on a new crop. But I ended up going on various business trips in July, so I figured I'd plant the new crop when I return.

    I figured I'd plant herbs in the VeggiePro this time and just let them grow really, really tall. But yesterday at my local Bed Bath and Beyond, I noticed they were selling some aging cherry tomato kits on clearance. And so, I decided to give tomatoes a second go, but this time going with the cherry tomatoes instead of the Ruby Heirloom tomatoes.

    And so, strap on your seatbelts. We're going to start indoor gardening again, planting cherry tomatoes in the VeggiePro (which I notice Aerogarden's marketing department, which can't ever seem to settle on a name for their extra-tall Aerogardens, has renamed the "Aerogarden Extra"), and setting up one of my old 7-pod Aerogarden Classics to once again grow herbs.

    Sunday, March 21, 2010

    Aerogarden Ladybug

    AeroGarden 3 Antics LadyBug w/Splash of Color Seed KitIf you want to introduce a child to the world of gardening, this AeroGarden 3 in the shape of a ladybug is a nice way to start. It comes with either an herb kit or (as pictured), a beautiful flower garden.

    It makes a great birthday present, and a great way to teach kids about how gardening works if you don't happen to have a yard, and the importance of responsibly maintaining the nutrient tablets and water on a schedule. Plus, if you buy the herb kit, it's a great way to get them to grow you fresh herbs for free :)

    I got an email today from Aerogarden saying that this is by far their best selling Aerogarden, and they have a hard time keeping it in stock, so hurry and get yours while you can!    

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    Happy Days are Here Again

    Well, what a difference a few weeks make. Last week and this week I enjoyed several harvests of tomatoes. Here's what they looked like on the vine:

    I nervously cut into the tomato, hoping not to see any dark spots. Happily, they looked great!

    Three weeks ago I harvested a bunch, which I ended up putting in a salad:

    Two weeks ago...

    ...I sliced them up and put on a Nutrisystem pizza:

    Just a few minutes ago, I picked three, which I tossed in Italian dressing and ate as a snack:

    So, it looks like the tomatoes are back. The single remaining vine is huge and stronger than ever, with at least 5-10 flowers on it.

    Unfortunately, this is the week I'm running out of the tomato nutrients. I have some leftover nutrients which I saved from the failed Aerogarden snowpeas from last year. I suppose I'll keep the plant alive with those (hoping they have enough of the nutrients the tomatoes need), and then start to think about retiring them.

    Friday, February 26, 2010

    Blech--a rough patch (literally) in the tomatoes

    I've been harvesting tomatoes pretty regularly. It's not a huge harvest, maybe one or two every two weeks. But still, there's something to be said about growing fresh vegetables in one's living room.

    I had a rude awakening this week. Two of my tomatoes looked like this.

    When I cut the tomato open, it looked like this (blech!)

    Naturally, the first thing I thought of was that bugs had gotten into the Aerogarden. But to my relief, after a few searches on Google I realized that this is something called blossom end rot.

    It's a natural disorder caused by a calcium deficiency. According to Colorado State University, it can be caused by a "combination of cold temperatures or excessive heat during blossom set, and fluctuations in water supply". This makes sense--the heating in my living room is not the greatest, so the Aerogarden has probably been subject to extreme cold with all the snow we've had this winter. Also, there are times I do let the water supply get too low. Finally, I have been using Aerogarden liquid nutrients for herbs--perhaps they don't have the same calcium content needed for tomatoes.

    Anyway, I'm fixing all three elements, and we'll see how it goes.

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Aerogarden Replacement Parts

    For those of you who've owned Aerogardens for a while, you may have hit a situation where your  Aerogarden is sitting unused because it's missing a part. The good news is, the Aerogarden Store stocks replacement parts for any Aerogarden, new or old. Whether you need new bulbs or a new pump or even a replacement for any part of your garden, you can get it there.

    Here are the replacement parts I find most useful. Most of these are available on the AeroGarden Store under "Accessories", but a lot of them can be purchased on Amazon as well.

    1) Liquid Nutrients - Aerogarden's liquid nutrients are patented and really very good from a scientific basis, and their partnership with Miracle Gro is only going to help. Look to Amazon to purchase their official nutrients, or consider experimenting with one of the many alternatives that may save you money.

    2) Replacement Bulbs - Again, you'll find the full-priced bulbs on Aerogarden's site, but check out this post for possible alternatives.

    3) Seed Pods - has the full set of Seed Kits, but you can find some on Amazon as well.

    4) Replacement Pumps - If you have an older Aerogarden, chances are you've had a pump that ended up breaking, either because the pump itself gave out from gunk getting into it, or by corrosion of the metal contacts. With the new Aerogarden ULTRA, Aerogarden has finally re-engineered it so that water doesn't come in contact with the metal parts (duh), but if you have an old pump, chances are you'll need to get a new one. The Aerogarden Store is your best bet for one of those.

    5) Replacement Arms - Sadly, while Aerogarden catalog once had replacement arms, hoods, and bowls for every unit, they don't seem to sell those anymore. Your best bet is going to be to write to customer service to ask, or to check eBay for people selling parts or units you can get parts from.