News From Akin Farm Organic Vegetables: Artichokes And Asparagus, Oh My

One e-mail I enjoy receiving every week comes from Wendy Akin of Akin Farm Organic Vegetables near Terrell. Besides being a busy farm gal, Wendy takes the time to write a nice newsletter. This week she talks about rain, artichokes (ready!), asparagus (peak!), and a couple of local “farmers market” scams. She also included a recipe for fettuccine “Alfredo” with asparagus and chicken and directions on how to make your own bug repellent. I’ve pasted the full contents below the jump, but I suggest you continue to support your local farmers by signing up for Wendy’s announcements. E-mail her at [email protected].

Akin Farm
Organic Vegetables
This week in the garden
April 23, 2009


AND THE RAINS CAME.  Thursday, the soil was finally just right after a great deal of tractor work by Michie.  In the late morning, we started loading flats of plants on to the golf cart.  These were drenched with fish emulsion, an organic fertilizer.  Then, using our “work trailer” we hand planted out about 350 plants of tomatoes of all kinds, eggplants in 8 varieties, and peppers both sweet and hot, large and tiny.  Michie went back over the rows watering with more fish emulsion fertilizer and then went on to plant seeds for 3 kinds of snap beans and 2 kinds of shell beans.  It was a very long, hard day!  And then the rains came!  Friday, we watched anxiously when the rain came hard and again when the wind howled.  Just before sunset, we went to look.  Over an inch of rain and the sturdy, healthy plants were standing tall, only a couple knocked over.

When the fields dry again, Michie will continue with preparing ground with days of tractor work and then plant corn, melons, squash and zucchini, okra and lots of purple hull peas.  The plastic is off the greenhouse, so it will stay cooler.  There is still some lettuce in the greenhouse and more is planted, along with lots of basil and other herbs.  Leeks will grow all summer in the greenhouse.

A NEW “MAKE YOUR OWN” recipe follows at the bottom

HARVESTING THIS WEEK
ARTICHOKES!  Just a few small ones so far.  Be among the first to experience these!
ASPARAGUS is at peak now.  Do not miss out on this fresh and organic luxury vegetable.
GREEN ONIONS are at the end.  Just a few left for fresh cooking and grilling.

The good rainfall and warm sun along with a lot of Michie’s special mix of organic fertilizers is bringing the new red potatoes and all those onions along nicely.  It sure will be nice to have some potatoes that taste like potatoes.

Our customers have told us tales of being bilked at farmstands and “Farmers Markets”.  An excellent bit from Barking Cat Farm on Local (or not) Produce.  Go here to learn the truth: http://www.barkingcatfarm.com/news/farmersmarket.html

THE PEOPLES GARDEN.  An email from our friends at SEEDS OF CHANGE reports that they are proud to have contributed seeds to plant the organic garden in front of the USDA building.  See their online catalog and info at http://www.seedsofchange.com/ I cannot copy the email into this newsletter with all the pictures, but I will hold it in my “inbox” through the weekend.  If you would like me to forward the email to you, email to: [email protected] with the subject line: “seeds of change”.  I will forward it to you.

RECIPES

The famous restaurant, Alfredo’s of Rome has a branch in, of all places, Greensboro, North Carolina.  Many years ago, I was so fortunate as to enjoy a dinner there and have been playing with Alfredo’s recipes ever since.  His original recipe for Fettucine Alfredo has been called “a heart attack on a plate”!  This is a much healthier version, but just as good.

FETTUCINE “ALFREDO” WITH ASPARAGUS AND CHICKEN
4 meal-size servings
1 pound fettucine pasta
3/4 pound fresh asparagus
1 pound boneless chicken breast*
½ cup diced onion
butter
olive oil
Italian seasoning herbs
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 cups bechamel sauce – recipe below
1 cup shredded fresh parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons dry sherry

Trim the chicken of any fat and gristle.  Pound it out to even thickness.  Season the chicken with sea salt, grindings of pepper and a sprinkle of Italian seasoning.  In a large saute pan, pour a small spill of olive oil, add a tablespoon of butter and melt.  Saute the chicken uncovered over medium heat until it is cooked through and lightly golden.  Remove the chicken to a cutting board.  Put the diced onion in the pan and saute gently until the onion is transparent.   Set the saute pan aside off the heat leaving the onion in the pan.  Make the bechamel sauce as below.  Cut the chicken into small bite-size pieces and return it to the pan.  Add the bechamel sauce and stir to pick up the golden flavor from the pan.  Set Aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the fettucini and stir occasionally until the water returns to a boil.  Prep the asparagus: peel the butt ends of large stalks, break the stalks into 2 inch pieces, setting the tips aside.  When the pasta has cooked for 8 minutes, add the asparagus stalk pieces.  After 4 more minutes, add the tips.  The pasta should be nearly cooked by now.  Check it after 1 minute.  When the pasta is to your taste, remove from heat and drain well.  Add the pasta with asparagus to the chicken in the saute pan and toss and stir until well distributed.
At this point, you can either put it all into a baking dish and top with the rest of the parmesan and bake about 30 minutes until bubbling and golden OR you can gently heat it through in the saute pan and then add the remaining cheese.

BECHAMEL SAUCE
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp Wondra flour
2 cups milk
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, divided
tiny pinch sea salt
cayenne pepper to taste, a dash or two
2 tablespoons dry sherry

Make sauce: melt the butter in a sauce pan, add the flour and stir then quickly stir in the milk.  Stir well until all the lumps are gone then heat until the sauce begins to bubble.  Season with the salt and pepper, add half the parmesan and sherry.  Simmer a minute or two.

* Ham is more authentic and you can use it if you prefer.  Use about 2 cups of julienned cooked ham.
This dish will do well in a chafing dish on a buffet.  Heat it on the stove first, then put into the chafing dish over medium flame and top with cheese.

To complete the meal: This dish is rich and satisfying, so you won’t want anything sweet or creamy.  Perhaps just a green salad with a fresh vinaigrette dressing.  Plain fruit for dessert.
WINE CHOICE: a dry-ish chardonnay or a pinot grigio.

HOW TO COOK AN ARTICHOKE
WASH the artichokes by holding right side up under running cold water, gently spreading the outer leaves a bit so the water can run down in.  You can leave them to soak in the cooking pot for 15 minutes or so if you wish.
TRIM the artichokes: cut off the stem even with the bottom.  I like to toss this in the pot, sometimes peeled, sometimes not.  Pull off any small bottom leaves that look withered.  Then you can trim as you like.  Most often, I lay the artichoke on its side on a cutting board and simply slice off the tip to remove the sharp points.  You’ll want a sharp knife for this.  If you like, you can then use scissors to clip the points one by one from the lower leaves.  Don’t cut away the delicious, tender parts!  Put the artichokes upright in a pot.  Try for a pot that will hold all that you are cooking firmly enough that they won’t float or tip over and deep enough so you can use a tight fitting cover.
COOK: fill the pot about halfway with cold water and sprinkle on a teaspoon of sea salt.  If the artichokes must wait awhile before cooking, squeeze a lemon into the water.  Cover the pot and bring to a full boil.  Turn down the heat to a low boil and cook for about 30 to 40 minutes depending on the size of the ‘chokes.  They are done when a large leaf pulls loose easily.
EAT an artichoke leaf by leaf.  You pull a leaf, starting at the bottom and working around, turn the leaf upside down and scrape off the succulent flesh with your teeth.  When you get to the small white leaves, these are usually pulled loose all together.  Thus the choke is revealed.  With a tableknife, pull the choke loose, scraping just a little.  Don’t waste!  But don’t leave any choke.  The solid bottom is called the HEART and this is the piece de resistance.  Most connoisseurs cut this morsel into even wedges to savor.
BUTTER LOVING HEDONISTS will have a small ramekin of melted butter, this anointed with a judicious grinding of pepper.  Each leaf is lightly touched to the butter and then the heart is put into the ramekin of butter to be cut and eaten.
CAUTIOUS AND FRUGAL diners might eat the leaves tonight and save the hearts for another meal tomorrow.

MAKE YOUR OWN

BUG REPELLENT
If you object to spraying poison on your skin, worse on your children, try making up a simple repellent with essential oils.

One of the quickest tricks is to take a patch of orange peel, about 1 inch square and just rub it, color side to the skin, on any exposed areas.  This really should be used only at night, though, since citrus oils on the skin may cause spots when exposed to the sun.

SUN-SAFE SPRAY
Use a clean water spray bottle.  It could be from a cleaning spray if you wash and rinse totally.  In the bottle, put in this order:
1 teaspoon dish soap
1 teaspoon of this essential oil synergy (mix)
4 parts thyme oil
8 parts lemongrass oil
4 parts lavender oil
4 parts peppermint oil
1 tablespoon rubbing alcohol
1 cup plain water
Shake well before each use.  Since the only solvent used is the tiny bit of alcohol, the spray will not stay in suspension.

Alternatively, you can mix just the oils in a skin friendly oil such as olive, coconut, almond, but NOT common soybean or canola which are GMO and absolutely never in mineral oil.  You can keep this in a little squeeze top bottle and rub onto your skin.

For your convenience, we have a small quantity of this synergy made up for you.


THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL ORGANIC FARMER!

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