Cranberry Orange Labneh Cheese Ball

What’s creamy, delicious and fancy all at the same time?  A tasty treat with no fat?  How about making a labneh cheese ball?  I’ve made them with savory flavors before but what if the cheese was mixed with sweet and sour flavors for a delectable party cheese ball or breakfast spread?

This may sound like the craziest idea ever but believe me, this is fabulous!  This time of year in New England, fresh cranberries are in local stores.  In our area, we have a cranberry farm that supplies beautiful bags of these tart, crimson jewels to our local health food stores.  Usually we think of making cranberry sauce, bread or relish.  I even have a cranberry pie recipe that everyone loves. But, how else can you enjoy these seasonal fruits?  I had been thinking of making labneh or laban recently.  If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a simple Middle Eastern yogurt cheese.  Possibly the easiest cheese you can craft at home.

The Process

For making your own labneh at home you will need non-fat or low fat yogurt, cheesecloth, a colander and a saucepan.  I follow the recipe in the 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking cookbook.  For this recipe, I used vanilla non-fat yogurt.  Regular yogurt will do, no need to buy Greek yogurt.  For a savory cheese spread, plain yogurt is best.

Place cheesecloth in the colander.

Place a small colander in a quart saucepan, then layer three pieces of cheesecloth in the colander.  Leave excess for wrapping.  Scoop 2 cups of yogurt onto the cheesecloth.  Add 2 tsp. salt if making a savory version.  Wrap in a loose ball shape.  Place the saucepan cover over yogurt and put in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  That’s it!  That’s all you have to do!  All excess liquid will be in the saucepan.  For a savory labneh, mix in your choice of herbs…rosemary, mint, basil, oregano, you decide.  Form into a ball, sprinkle with paprika and drizzle with good olive oil.  Serve with pita, crackers or vegetables.  No one will guess that it is a healthy snack!

Cranberry Orange Labneh Cheese Ball

Local Maine cranberries!

For this sweet and tart version, a sort of chutney is needed.  Do not add salt in the cheese making process.  You will need cranberries, a large orange, sugar and pecans.  In a quart size saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries, the juice and zest of 1 large orange.

Juicing the orange to add to the cranberries.

Cook over medium heat until cranberries burst and mixture thickens.

Cooking down the chutney.

Add water as needed but the chutney should have a thick consistency, not watery.  Near the end, add 1/8 cup of sugar.  Add more or less sugar according to taste.  Allow chutney to cool.  This makes enough for two recipes.

Stir in the chutney.

Gently mix half of the chutney into your cheese.  Save the rest for another ball or use for something else.  Just swirl it in, don’t over mix.  Return mixture to cheesecloth to form a ball.

Wrap cheese ball up again.

Put back in the fridge to firm it up.  When you are ready to serve, turn cheese ball out onto serving plate.

Look at that cheese ball!

Toast chopped pecans and coat cheese ball with cooled nuts.  Serve with crackers, bread, bagels…what ever you can think of!  Use in stuffed french toast or on pancakes! Yum!

Just try to stay out of that sweet cheese spread!

This is just one way to serve labneh cheese. If you have fresh cranberries locally, why not try this alternative way of serving them? I hope you try making some, it really is an amazingly easy process.  You will be carrying on an ancient cheese making tradition.  I also hope you love it as much a we do!  This is perfect for a party or even just to keep in the fridge for an anytime of day snack.  Enjoy!

Hilary|Everlongardener

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Indoor Gardening: Forcing Bulbs

Does anyone else remember seeing Polaroid snaps of a potted amaryllis bulb in their grandmothers photo albums?  The picture of that glorious annual event of the opening of the amaryllis!  Why not carry on the indoor gardening tradition of forcing bulbs!

Flowering bulbs seem to be everywhere in fall and early winter.  Every grocery store and green house has a display this time of year.  Of course, we could never live up to the Victorians passion for forcing bulbs or any of the gardening that they did, for that matter.  Still, plant lovers everywhere bring these dormant orbs into their homes every year just to see their vibrant flowers.  The dramatic, the colorful and the scented!

Does anyone have a photo like this?

Special Care

A few of the bulbs that can be forced need to be put through a short winter cycle before being potted up.  This requires extra time and an extra step.  One neat thing about this is that you can schedule bloom time by planting so many weeks ahead.  Need potted flowers blooming for a special occasion?  With some advanced planning, you could have quite a display.

Tulip bulb.

Bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocus need this kind of conditioning.  A cool place such as a refrigerator or a garage that is above freezing would be ideal.  Then, when the prescribed ‘winter’ is up, plant your bulbs in any pots that you like.  This way you could have some blooms coming and going through the winter.  A whole bulb garden could be assembled with a variety of species coming all at once.  The article How To Force Bulbs has some elegant suggestions and a wealth of advice.

Easy Options

I’ve chosen to grow just a few types for my table this year and yes, these require very little input!  Some bulbs do not need any special attention before planting.  They can be purchased and planted with very little care.  Amaryllis bulbs come in endless shades of red, pink and white.  They are quick to grow and make a huge impact.  You can usually pick up a kit for around $5.  Paper whites, a member of the narcissus family, can be grown in an decorative bowl filled with stones.  Hyacinths can be grown in pots, vases or even a special hyacinth vase that comes with some kits.  Upon opening the package, add water just up to the roots of the bulb.  Place in a cool (around 50 degrees F) location for 10 weeks.  Check on the water level occasionally.  Hyacinths are very heavily scented and may not be for everyone but they are fantastic bloomers!

Paper White bulbs.

To get started, assemble some unoccupied plant pots.  You will need some clean rocks and potting soil.  Choose a few pots that will accommodate the bulbs sizes.

Assemble some pots…

The bulbs do not like to be buried.  Amaryllis like to be about 2/3 to half way out.  The paper whites can be simply nestled into the stones.

Adding some moss to the amaryllis bulb.

A little stroll in the woods and you can pick up all of the embellishments that you need to dress up your bulbs.  Moss, twigs, dried flowers, pine cones, whatever you can find!

Paper Whites like a rocky place to grow!

Now, I have heard of adding alcohol to your bulbs to stunt the growth and give stronger stems.  I haven’t tried this yet but it sounds intriguing!  Go to http://blogs.cornell.edu/hort/2009/11/10/pickling-your-paperwhites/ for more information.  Water bulbs regularly and stake them as needed.  If you feel like fertilizing, go ahead.  If not, they will probably be fine.  In summer, an amaryllis bulb can be relocated to a vacant spot in your perennial garden, then potted up again before frost.  Paper whites and other bulbs can be moved to the garden for future blooming but they may take a few years to really be impressive again.  Hyacinth will probably not amount to anything if replanted because flowering takes so much life out of it.

A Simple Table Scape

Ever need to dress up your dining room table for a special occasion?  Maybe you just want to bring a bit of the outdoors inside this winter.  Making a nature inspired table scape featuring your freshly potted bulbs is a exceptional way to do just that!

Paper whites all potted up.

I picked out this simple table runner made of cotton.  After placing the pots on the table, I decided to use the hydrangeas that I dried earlier in the fall.

Found  items look so natural!

Moss and lichen from the forest floor covers up the dirt around the amaryllis bulb.  Graceful beech branches and fern seed pods add just enough interest.  We scavenged acorns and pine cones too!

Hyacinth bulb.

Notice the delicate mauve-pink of the papery covering of the hyacinth bulb.  It’s so good for your brain to see green, living things this time of year.

By adding dried flowers and candles, you have a gorgeous table scape!

It really is a blank canvas!  Add any colors or plants that you like.  Have a theme.  Candles are a nice addition, just make sure to keep them away from dry plant matter when lit.

Nature inspired table scape!

As your bulbs grow, your table scape will really take shape!  Your table is your canvas, just get out and see what you can find for complementary natural items.  If you are the crafty type, you will have no trouble coming up with something outstanding.  I hope that you can make the most of your forced bulbs, whether purchased or received as a hostess gift.  If you have more than two pots, why not create a multi-seasonal table scape?  Your dining room will look stately and stunning!

Things are getting pretty cold around here but I find that indoor growing, such as forcing bulbs, can be good winter therapy.  What do you like to grow indoors this time of year?  Drop me a line below in comments, I would love to hear from you!  Thank you for your interest in Everlongardener this week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

Easily Grow Windowsill Microgreens

With the snow starting to fly outside, many of us are suddenly spending less time in the garden and way more time indoors.  For those of you who can’t get enough of gardening, why not try growing some nutritious windowsill micro greens this winter season?  No grow lights, no greenhouse, just your windowsill!

Many vegetables are hard to grow inside, but not micro greens!  By using minimal equipment, you can grow a wide array of micro greens on your windowsill.  Very little space or skill is required.  With a harvest time of around ten days for some plants, you can easily be eating your greens again in no time!

Microgreens used on top of a salad.

Micro greens are actually the shoots of certain salad vegetables.  Unlike sprouts, they are grown in soil.  Seeds of kale, lettuce, chard, beets, arugula, spinach and radishes can be used.  This winter, I’m trying sunflower shoots for the first time.  Basil, orach and sorrel are on my list too.  Micro green seed mixtures can be purchased from garden centers, seed companies or from Amazon.  I got some from the Sprout House.  They range from mild to spicy and can compliment Asian, French or Mediterranean cuisines.  If you have left over garden seed, try making up your own mixture.  There are slow and fast growing types.  The Johnny’s seed catalog has a great chart about growth rates.  Just make sure your mixtures accommodate the growth rate.  I did a slow tray and a fast tray.

Add soil to container.

To start growing your own windowsill micro greens, you will need 5 basic things: soil, containers, seeds, water and sun.  Choose a growing mix that you would want to grow food in.  Seeds can be planted in trays or any containers that you may already have.  Lettuce or mushroom containers work very well.  You may want to add drainage holes and a tray under the containers.

Soil is all ready!

After adding soil, sprinkle the seeds over the surface.

Closeup of the seeds!

Cover lightly with more soil.  We used the hand seed sower to mix and distribute the seeds.  This way there were no spills or waste.  Gently water the containers.  Position in a south-facing window.

Tiny seedling pushing through the dirt!

In a few days, you will notice the tiny seedlings emerging from the soil.  Keep moderately moist and turn containers as the plants tend to reach for the sun.

Microgreens ready for cutting!

Micro greens are ready for use when they are between 1/2 to 2″ tall and leaves are formed.  Cut with scissors and wash before use.  They can be used for 5 to 10 days depending on conditions.  Micro greens will usually grow again, so keep them watered for a subsequent harvest!

Striking red chard Microgreens!

Many growers are selling micro greens at local markets and to restaurants.  Use micro greens in addition or in place of salad greens.  Add to green drinks and smoothies or use as a garnish.  They are totally versatile so it’s only limited to your imagination!  Micro greens are packed with high levels of healthy nutrients and contain Vitamin C, E, Beta carotene and more.  Some of them even have protein.  For more growing info, go to my post How to Grow Microgreens in 4 Easy Steps or the book Microgreens by Eric Franks.

Salad with microgreens!

It may be one of the latest trends in home gardening but I think you will find growing windowsill micro greens brings a little of the summer indoors during these colder months.  Let me know if you have any experience growing micro greens.  Leave a comment below if you have any questions or ideas!  I would love to hear from you!  Don’t forget to subscribe for free in the sidebar for weekly gardening inspiration!  Thank you for coming along this week and get growing!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

How To Harvest Salad All Winter

“What is more delicious than a crisp salad on a summer day, especially if you have raised all the ingredients yourself, and pick them fresh and dewy at dusk or in the early morning!” -Jean Hersey from her book Carefree Gardening.  Although this statement is absolutely true, imagine this salad, harvested in midwinter, on a cold, frosty morning.  With a little planning and proper protection, you too can harvest salad all winter long!

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In summer, we can start to take our garden harvest for granted.  Bowls of lettuce, endless tomatoes, gobs of green beans!  But in winter, how we long for something fresh from the earth.  When I started this blog, I set out to help others learn the basics of winter salad production.  I don’t consider myself to be a scientific person, so I try to relay information in simple terms.  No matter how big or small your garden is, it is possible to harvest salad all winter long!

'Winter Lettuce Mix' woks really well!
‘Winter Lettuce Mix’ works really well!

When To Plant

If you want to grow lettuce and other salad greens through the winter, some advanced planning needs to happen.  As you clear your garden in September, look for a space that you could plant some greens.  This spot would need to be easily covered and accessible during the winter months. As soon as you have picked your salad greens plot, add some compost to refresh the soil for the new lettuce crop.  Planting can happen immediately.

Under the protective cover inside the greenhouse.
Under the protective cover inside the greenhouse.

What To Plant

One important thing about winter gardening are the varieties that you choose.  The obvious plant choices here are lettuce, kale, arugula, mustard greens, spinach and beet greens.  The key is to pick cold hardy varieties that actually improve with the freeze/thaw effect of a typical winter day.  I order most of my garden seeds from a Fedco Seeds in Waterville, Maine.  It seems like almost all of the seed companies are offering varieties suited for winter culture these days.  As you go down the lists, there should be notations for these types of seeds.  Fedco uses a little snowflake at the bottom of their descriptions.  I recommend their ‘Winter Lettuce Mix’, ‘Cardinale’ a Batavian variety, ‘Rouge d’Hiver’, ‘Lollo Rossa’ and a Bibb/romaine called ‘Winter Density’.  Of course, any given winter I may grow all kinds of combinations.  As you gain some experience, you will discover what works for you in your area.

Hula hoop that holds the row cover over the greens.
Hula hoop that holds the row cover over the greens.

Most spinach, kale and arugula varieties are perfect for winter growing. When you make your seeds order this coming season, be sure to plan for a later planting of winter greens.

Baby kale.
Baby kale.

Protecting Your Salad Crop

As cooler weather approaches, it is time to start protecting your baby plants.  Enter floating row cover, a spun polyester fabric found at most garden centers or you can order some online.  This self-venting fabric allows sunlight and moisture in while giving the plants a protective layer against the elements.  Here in Maine, by late October, a second layer is needed.  I have beds planted in our unheated greenhouse and a single raised bed outside.  If you need to cover an outside bed with a second layer, consider bending some re-bar and pushing them into the ground for a quick greenhouse.  Add a layer of 6 mil. plastic or greenhouse plastic anchored to the ground with some rocks and you have your very own winter growing environment!

Our permanent greenhouse is easy.  All I have to do is set up my floating row cover.  This is most effective suspended above the greens. The two layers add an extra amount of cold protection.  Anything with an arch to it will work to keep the fabric up.  Small hoops can be purchased from gardening supply companies.  I’ve tried using small tree branches but they will rip your fabric.  I recently picked up a few hula hoops at the dollar store and cut them in half as you can see pictured above.  I think this is working well!

Floating row cover suspended over greens.
Floating row cover suspended over greens.

If you look closely you can see all of the greens growing happily under the row cover.

Row covers over greens in the greenhouse.
Row covers over greens in the greenhouse.

These are a few of the beds inside what Eliot Coleman calls the “cold house”.  At night the temps are the same as outside.  During the day though, especially after mid February, temperatures soar to around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  This promotes growth of the greens.  It seems like before this time, the plants just merely exist, just waiting for that sun to get higher.  I learned most everything about season extension from the book The Winter Harvest Handbook.

Life inside.
Life inside.

The greenhouse is also a great place to winter over parsley, scallions or any other cold hardy plants.  Just move them from the garden before things get too cold out there.

Parsley is wintering in the greenhouse.
Parsley is wintering in the greenhouse.

On our outside raised bed, we built a temporary greenhouse with a wooden frame.  It stands up to a heavy snow load and you don’t have to worry about it.  If there is a lot of snow cover, it can be very hard to get into. With the greenhouse, as long as you can shovel to it, it can be accessed. One of the main reasons we do an additional bed outside of the greenhouse is that we can harvest the outside bed until sometime in July.  The greenhouse heats up in late spring and the greens tend to bolt.  The outside bed is uncovered in May which prolongs the greens.

Homemade greenhouse over a raised bed.
Homemade greenhouse over a raised bed.

Both setups are perfect for successive planting of radishes.  These were planted in October.

Radish harvest from under the row cover.
Radish harvest from under the row cover.

Salad Harvest

The salad harvest can be small during our darker months, like December and January.  As that February sun gets higher and the days get a bit longer, the tiny leaves start to grow.  The conditions make them even sweeter.  Harvest after 10:oo a.m. for best results.  Cut individual leaves with scissors or a knife.  Wash greens in very cold water, spin dry and place in a bag with a paper towel.  They will keep for a week or two depending on the conditions.

Cutting the greens.
Cutting the greens.

To learn more about my season extension journey, you can go to my earlier posts Self-Proclaimed Salad Green Queen, Winter In The Hoophouse and Project Greenhouse.  It is amazing to see first hand what can be done with these unheated structures.  Thanks for stopping by Everlongardener!  I think that you may have some ideas for next year by now!  If you are anything like me, you will be wanting to try something new!

Hilary|Everlongardener