Category Archives: Cooking


One of my favorite flavors to cook with is leeks. They have a unique and interesting mild onion taste and are part of the allium family that also includes onions, garlic, shallots, scallions and chives. Last year, I found I had wild leeks (ramps) on our WI property and have really enjoyed finding, harvesting and cooking with them (see Spring Leeks (aka Ramps)).

But they are only around for a short period in the spring, and I have to be careful not to harvest too many or run the risk of wiping out the wild colonies. I’d rather err on the side of harvesting too few than too many and be sorry in a few years.

So what to do? How about grow some cultivars in my own garden? I’ve already started growing my own garlic, onions, shallots and chives. So how about adding leeks!

It seems like as with most alliums in a home garden, it’s best to start with some type of starter plant or bulb rather than seeds. In that regard, a numbers of sources sell lots of different varieties of leek seeds, but only a couple of varieties come as starter plants. I decided to make it easy on myself and ordered King Richard (Allium porrum) starter plants from Johnny’s Seeds.

It was a toss up between the King Richard and Lancelot (Allium ampeloprasum) leek plants. King Richard is an early season leek, maturing in just 75 days, is frost-hardy but will not overwinter, while Lancelot is a mid season leek, maturing in 105 days, and is winter hardy.

My packet of starter leek plants came in early spring, a few weeks before the last frost date. Leeks are cold season plants, so they should be planted before the last frost date. They’ll tolerate a light frost just fine and need the extra growing time. Like garlic, shallots, and potatoes, they have their own unique way to be cultivated. In order to keep the nice white part of the leeks white, the growing plants need to be blanched, which means that part of the plant needs to be grown out of sunlight. You can grow them in trenches that you fill in as the plant grows, or plant in holes using a dibbler. I used the dribbler method, although I had to improvise with a thick garden stake last year. I now have a dibbler and it’ll be much easier to do this year.

In early spring, in light, soil poke holes with a dibbler or thick stake, 6 inches deep, 6 inches apart, in rows 24 inches apart. 

Drop one plant in each hole leaving only 1–2 inches of the leaves above the soil surface.

Do not fill in the soil around plants, but let rain or irrigation or rain slowly fill in the holes. This allows for self-blanching of the edible white part. If need be, later in summer soil can be pushed up against the growing plant to increase the white blanched part.

I staggered my leek and garlic plants since they are opposite in growing seasons (which is why my garden above in the planting photos looks “messy”). The garlic is planted in the fall and harvested mid-summer, the leeks planted in spring, harvested in late summer/fall. Leeks can be grown in between many early vegetables, but keep away from legumes like beans since the leeks will inhibit their growth.

Leeks can be harvested anytime late summer (after they get about 1 inch in diameter) through early winter. Best way is to dig around the plant to loosen the soil, and then give a good pull.

Most leeks are winter hardy and can withstand light to hard freezes depending on variety. Harvest as you need them, they stay fresher in the ground than in your refrigerator.

Unfortunately for me, I got a little cavalier with the plants in my Wi garden and the ground froze solid before I got all of the leeks out.  I’m hoping they survive the winter and I’ll have fresh spring leeks 😔

In early winter, before the ground freezes solid, harvest whatever you have left, peel off the dead outer leaves and trim the roots and leaves. Store in the refrigerator crisper drawer until needed.

To use in cooking, trim off the roots and cut off the tops where the white is turning light green. Generally, only the white and lightest green parts are used for cooking. Then cut in half and rinse well. Because of how they are grown, dirt and sand often finds its way between the leaves and needs to be rinsed out.

They can now be blanched for freezing, or used fresh in your favorite leek recipe. A few of mine are my Thanksgiving Leek, Apricot and Chestnut Stuffing (recipe here)

Shrimp, Leek and Spinach Pasta from Real Simple is wonderful for a quick, tasty dinner.

Spinach, Goat Cheese and Leek Quiche. The original recipe calls for chives, but I like to substitute sautéed leeks for the chives, and to simplify things I often use a refrigerated Pillsbury pie crust. This is a staple in our house for holiday brunches.

I’m getting ready to order my plants for this year. I think I’m going to try the Lancelot variety from Dixondale Farms. Lots of good advice on growing onions, leeks and shallots on their website.  Johnny’s has tons of great advice too!

So many ways to use these versatile, mild onions. What’s your favorite?


Healthy and Tasty Infused Water

I know you’re supposed to drink a lot of water throughout the day, but I’m just not a big fan. I’d much rather have iced tea.

But, I know I need to drink more water. So what to do?? I finally found that creating a seemingly endless combination of fruit, herbs and vegetable infused water did the trick.

Using a pitcher specially designed to hold the fruit in an infusion rod, it’s easy to make, keep fresh, refill and clean. I really like the Prodyne Fruit Infusion Flavor Pitcher.

It’s a BPA free, clear acrylic pitcher that has a slotted, removable rod that can be filled with your favorite flavors. Since the pitcher is not dishwasher safe, I found the OXO Good Grips Bottle Brush perfect for cleaning the pitcher and tube. Also, since you’re trying to be your healthiest it’s a good idea to use filtered water. A Brita filter pitcher is useful to have around to keep fresh, filtered water handy.

Along with the taste benefits, infused water can provided lots of health benefits! Here’s just a few of the reasons to drink infused water.

  • Fruits like lemon, oranges, limes, strawberries, watermelon, pineapple and raspberries are all high in Vitamin C.

  • Lemons are alkaline to the body, contain citric acid and can help prevent kidney stones.
  • Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, limes, ginger, basil, pineapple and cantaloupe have anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Strawberries, honeydew melon, papaya and cucumber are high in B-complex vitamins.
  • Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, watermelon, limes, basil, pineapple, cantaloupe are good anti-oxidants.
  • Raspberries, strawberries and blackberries are anti-aging
  • Oranges and limes contain calcium for good bone health.  Strawberries and blueberries contain vitamins that are also good for bone health.

  • Lemons, limes, cucumbers, ginger and basil aid in digestion.

  • Strawberries, cucumbers, papaya and cantaloupe are high in B-vitamins
  • Watermelon is high in lycopene to aid in heart health and betacarotene for eye health
  • All fruits and vegetables will have varying amounts of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to provide additional health benefits.

Infused water is simple to make. To a clean infuser rod add your fruit, vegetables, and herbs.

I like to use organic varieties and farm fresh whenever possible. Be sure to wash the fruit thoroughly, remove seeds, peel and slice or cube if necessary.  Attach the infuser rod to the pitcher top and fill pitcher with filtered water.  Depending on the ingredients added, you may want to add less (think lemon or ginger) or more (think berries) to get the right taste.  Similarly, milder flavored berries take longer to infuse than the stronger citrus fruits.

Generally, I can keep the refrigerated infused water a few days IF the ingredients are always covered with water.  Clean and remake after a few days, or whenever it begins to taste too weak or strong, the water gets cloudy, or ingredients don’t look fresh any longer.

Looking for recipes?  You can use your imagination and use 1 or more ingredients to make your water.  Some of my favorite combos are strawberry basil, strawberry mint, lemon blueberry, lemon blueberry basil, lemon lime, orange ginger basil and cucumber mint.

There’s lots of recipe books out there that can give you even more ideas.  Two of my favorites are Fruit Infused Water: 50 Quick & Easy Recipes for Delicious & Healthy Hydration by Elle Garner and Fruit Infused Water: 98 Delicious Recipes for Your Fruit Infuser Water Pitcher by Susan Marque.

If you don’t want to always have a pitcher around, or don’t have any more space in your fridge, I have friends who carry their infused water made right in their 24 oz tervis tumbler or specially designed infuser water bottles.

What’s your favorite infused water flavor?  I’m always looking for new combos!


Grill Roasted Potatoes

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Now that I’ve planted and grown all those potatoes last year, what was my favorite way to eat them?  Roasting on the grill! This is a great simple recipe that can be adapted for the grill or the oven.  Pick … Continue reading

A Fun Garden to Table Kitchen Gadget-A Countertop Spiralizer

zucchini spiralizer

I’m almost embarrassed to admit I bought a Paderno World Cuisine Spiralizer Pro last winter and then promptly let it sit in its box until this week.  As much as I thought it looked so cool to use, it just sat there taunting me because it also looked so complicated.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!!

I was finally prompted to get it out of the box when I began to be overwhelmed by a very large zucchini harvest and was getting tired of zucchini au gratin.  (Can’t spiralize the “baseball bats“, so those will be shredded for zucchini bread).


I was truly surprised as to how easy this was to use.

Paderno World Cuisine Spiralizer Pro

Just take out the very neatly and conveniently stored parts, pick your blade (I used the “fine shredder” blade) and prepare the zucchini.

Preparation is pretty simple.  Peel if you’d like, but it’s not necessary, and cut off the ends to make 2 flat surfaces.


Push onto the pronged wheel and line up on the circular coring blade.  Then start turning with the hand crank.


Out comes beautifully spiraled zucchini “noodles”!

spiralized zucchini

Start to finish was less than 5 minutes.  What have I been waiting for?

zucchini spiralizer

This was so fun I decided to add spiralized beets to the sauté.  With beets, you want to use gloves to keep from staining your hands.  Just cut off the ends, peel and it’s ready. Be sure to clean your spiralizer immediately to keep from staining it.


beet spiralizer

Because the beets are so hard, I think I need a little more practice to get perfect spirals.  But even these less than perfect, spiralized beets were just fine.

There’s lots of spiralizer recipes on the web and I also recommend Inspiralized, The Spiralizer Cookbook, and The Spiralizer Cookbook 2.0 if you like “real” cookbooks like I do.

Tonight’s sauté was simple, yet tasty and low-sodium for those looking to lower your sodium intake. I heated olive oil over medium high heat, added the beets to just barely soften them.  About 3-5 minutes stirring frequently.  Add the zucchini for about 3-5 minutes more.  Finish with balsamic vinegar.  I used Lucero’s Winter Spice Balsamic Vinegar, but there’s lot of flavored EVOO and balsamic vinegar combos to try.

spiralized zucchini beet saute

I also have a bounty of cucumbers this year so we also had a yummy cucumber salad.

cucumber spiralizer

Have you ever spiralized your vegetables?  What’s your favorite?


Harvesting Garlic Scapes

Last year I ventured into the world of growing garlic for the first time (Planting Garlic and Warding Off the Vampires).  It was great having homegrown garlic all winter, and even into early spring.

terra cotta garlic keeper

I am totally sold on how much better homegrown is than the store bought variety, and it couldn’t be easier to grow.  This past fall, I planted another crop of garlic, this time planting Music and Purple Glazer hardneck garlic varieties and Susanville softneck garlic (Another Fall Crop In the Ground).  I doubled the amount I grew last year since I had space both here at home and in my Door County, WI garden.

Last fall brought the early green shoots that sprout before winter sets in.


This spring, it became obvious that none of the Susanville survived in either location and I’m not sure why.  Maybe it was too cold late in the late winter/spring.

But that serves as a good reminder to plant more than one variety when testing something new in your vegetable garden.  Spring also came a little later to Door County, so those plants have been a couple of weeks behind the ones at home.


And that turned out be a good thing for harvesting scapes this year.

garlic scapes

Scapes are the garlic flower stalks that twist and turn when young, and end with a terminal pod containing garlic bulbils.  It’s these young, tender, twisting and turning scapes that are a delicacy to eat.  Removing them also tells the garlic to put its energy into making the garlic bulb and not producing new seeds.

Last year, I totally missed the season and the scapes grew straight and woody.  I also didn’t really know what to do with them, so ended up cutting them off and throwing them in the compost pile.

This year I was ready, but went on vacation and came back to straight, tall, woody scapes! Ugh!!

garlic scapes

I had missed it again!  But I did have another opportunity.  I was hoping that since the WI garden was a couple of weeks behind, I might have better timing.

garlic scapes


garlic scapes

I harvested them by snapping the scapes off at the base near the first set of leaves.  Then removed the swollen tip, and the rest is ready to use.  I used the first small batch to season some sauteed spinach with pine nuts.

garlic scapes

I usually find that garlic overpowers the spinach, but the scapes were perfect.  Just a delicate hint of garlic to jazz up the spinach.  For more recipe ideas, check out my Pinterest page.

The rest I’m going to coarsely chop, blanch for 20 seconds in boiling water and freeze to use later.

garlic scapes

The production of scapes also means that garlic is almost ready to harvest.


Ideally, garlic should be harvested when there are 5-6 green leaves remaining and the rest brown.  Fewer green leaves mean fewer wrappers keeping the bulbs tight and ultimately healthier for storage.  I’m anxious to again have garlic hanging on the porch to cure (Warding Off The Vampires).  But in the meantime, I’m enjoying the little tease of garlic that the scapes are giving me.



Spring Leeks (aka Ramps)

This past spring while wandering my Door County, Wisconsin woods, the ground was covered with beautiful, light green leaves.

Wild Leeks

I knew it wasn’t trout lilies, since the leaves weren’t mottled, but I also knew it looked familiar.  Without a flower, I wasn’t sure what this plentiful plant was.  I sent a photo to my expert and she instantly answered “Leeks”!   My mom went on to remind me when I was a kid, we had people who would pull off the road near our cabin in Western NY and scramble around in the woods harvesting them.  I knew I had seen them before.

Wild Leeks

I did a little more research and realized I had a little foodie gold mine back there in the woods.  Wild Leeks, or Ramps,  (Allium tricoccum) have a sharp flavor, similar to an onion or garlic and come into season in the early spring.  You can recognize them by their smooth green leaves that emerge from the ground, with a hint of purple on the lower stem.

Wild Leeks

You know for sure you have ramps, when you break a leaf and you can distinctively smell onion/garlic.  No smell, no eating!!

I had never used them before, so I harvested just a little to try out in a couple of recipes.  Wild leeks are actually endangered or rare in many areas because of over-harvesting and they are hard to cultivate.  Rule of thumb to maintain a healthy patch is to only pick 5-10% of a patch, or harvest only the leaves.  To harvest, it’s easiest to use a trowel and loosen the dirt to make it easier to pop out the bulb and greens as a one.  Or, just have a clean shears to trim off the leaves and leave the bulbs behind.

Wild Leeks

Once I picked what I thought was enough to try in a couple of recipes, I left the rest alone to grow and be healthy for many years to come.  I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat them right away so I chose to freeze them for later use.

To freeze, first clean off the dirt, peel off any slimy outer skins and cut off the root end.

Wild Leeks

Oh, they look so delicious and the house smells so tasty. I then cut off the white bulbs and and put them directly into a freezer bag.  The greens I blanched for 1 minute in boiling water, plunged into ice water and then placed in a separate freezer bag.

blanching wild leeks

Wild Leeks

Once things had settled down a bit, I finally was able to get them out of the freezer to try.  I decided a Wild Leek Risotto was a good place to start.

Wild Leek Risotto

Using a tasty recipe for Wild Ramp Lemon Risotto from DOC  from The Kitchn, I made my first recipe.  Yum, is all I can say.  What a perfect low sodium side dish for some grilled Copper River Salmon.

Wild Leek Risotto

I still have enough for another meal and I have a bunch more risotto options to try. Check out my Pinterest site for some wild leek/ramp ideas.

Have you tried any foraging foods this spring?

BTW, the two things that are easily confused wild leeks are Trout Lily and Lily of the Valley.  Trout Lily have mottled leaves and white or yellow flowers that will appear at the same time and do not smell like onions.  Lily of the Valley are toxic and have two or three leaves on one stem, come up later in the season, and DO NOT SMELL LIKE ONION. As one who is not keen on foraging, I can attest to the fact that wild leeks smell like onions/garlic and lily of the valley do not.  Use that as your guide and all with be fine and delicious.

Now I’m ready to try out my garlic scapes.

Another Fall Garlic Crop In The Ground

Last year, I successfully planted my first crop of garlic.


You can read about it in “Planting Garlic” and “Warding Off The Vampires“.  I love reaching in the cupboard and pulling out some home-grown, delicious tasting garlic.  I even have a little terra cotta garlic keeper handy right next to the stove.

terra cotta garlic keeper

This past fall I planted another, bigger, crop.  I was a little late in ordering, but was able to get Music, Purple Glazer and Susanville garlic from Territorial Seed Company, as well as French Shallots.

Territorial seed garlic

Next to garlic, I love cooking with shallots!  I’m still using some of last year’s harvest and looking forward to more.

growing shallots

Music and Purple Glazer are hard-necked varieties and Susanville a soft-necked variety.

Planting season is 6-8 weeks before the likely hard frost date for your area, so I planted mine in mid-October, although this winter that was too early.  Can’t plan for crazy weather though.

Last year, I planted in two different locations in the yard, and one was definitely more successful than the other.  Not sure why the difference, but this year I stuck to the raised beds in the backyard where I had success last year.


I also planted a bunch more in our new property in Door County, WI.  Lucky me–it came with a great raised bed all ready for planting!  I’ll talk more about that another time, but I’m excited to have another place to garden and explore.

stephi gardens

Before the cold and snow came, I was not surprised that I had green shoots coming up from the softneck Susanville garlic.

fall sprouting garlic

Not too worried, the same thing happened last year after planting.   I just covered them with a nice layer of mulch and they should be fine.

Can’t wait for the early spring garlic scapes to appear from the hard-necked varieties.


I wasn’t sure what to do with them last year, so they went to waste.  Not this year, I’m going have fun experimenting 🙂  In the meantime, I’ll just keep enjoying my harvest from last year.  So far, all the stored garlic is just fine!

Are you still using any of your stored garlic?  Or trying to grow it for the first time?



Harvesting Fall Beets

As I’m getting ready to plan out this year’s vegetables, I know I want to include beets.  Again.

Botanical Interests

I thought I had planted beets last spring for the first time ever, but somewhere along the growing season I forgot, or thought they never came up.  All summer I thought I had grown 2 plots of swiss chard, which actually amounted to a lot of swiss chard.  We just ate them all, never noticing any difference.  When I decided the gardens were done for the season and it was time to harvest whatever was left, out came what I had thought was the swiss chard.  But, lo and behold, there were beets attached to a whole bunch of them.


Hmm, swiss chard or beets (These are beets, I think)

Ok, time to think about that.  It was then I realized these were the beets I had planted.  The same ones that that hadn’t ever grown, and mysteriously turned into swiss chard.

Now this was exciting.  I had quite a few beets from this harvest.


But, beets are not something I ever remember eating.  Maybe we had them from a can when I was a kid, but even then I’m sure I didn’t eat any.

So I headed to the web to figure out how best to cook these little garden treasures…

Since this was the first time cooking them, I kept it simple and just quartered and boiled them for about 20 minutes until they were soft.  I loved the variety of colors and patterns of the beets!  My fingers turned a bit pink too, but that’s ok.



We ate them just as they were, but I’m sure you could season them to your own taste.

I am definitely growing lots of them again this year, and marking them clearly!  And apparently beet greens taste a lot like swiss chard, so we’ll just continue to eat them as well.

Kitchen Lettuce

I saw on Pinterest lots of pins about how you can grow some vegetables from the remains of store-bought or farm-raised vegetables. I thought I’d give it a try with some green leafy lettuce I bought at the grocery store.

Stephi Gardens

First, I cut off the end off the head of lettuce.

Stephi Gardens

I wrapped the washed lettuce leaves, wrapped in damp paper towels and placed them in the fridge drawer for use this week.  The cut of root end, I placed in a glass of water and put it near the kitchen window.

Within a week or so, the first leaf started to grow.  I changed the water every few days to keep it fresh.

Stephi Gardens

Almost 3 weeks later, I was getting enough leaves to start to think about harvesting the lettuce for some sandwiches.  Along the way, I added another lettuce root and watched them both grow.


A few days later, it was time.  I just snipped off what I wanted and let the rest continue to grow.

Stephi Gardens

Yummy fresh sandwich for lunch!

Stephi Gardens

It was fresh and tasty, but does take patience to get enough lettuce to use.  I didn’t end up with enough for a salad, but it was great for sandwiches.  A larger container with more lettuce cuttings would easily produce enough for salad.

Have you grown anything on your countertop?

Summer Stir Fry: Swiss Chard and Radish

We’ve tried so many delicious stir fry recipes this summer using vegetables fresh from my garden and the farmers market. One of my favorites is swiss chard and radishes. I’m not really much of a radish fan, but my daughter convinced me to try them sautéed, or in a stir fry. I’m hooked! What a mild, delicious taste the radishes have when sautéed.

Clean and trim the radishes and swiss chard.  
radish and swiss chard stir-fry

Cut the swiss chard stems into 1-1.5 inch pieces.  Quarter the radishes.  

radish and swiss chard stir-fry

Preheat sauté pan with 1-2 T exra-virgin olive oil.  Add radishes and swiss chard stems.

radish and swiss chard stir-fry

Sauté  over medium heat until soft.  About 5-7 minutes.  While cooking, coarsely chop the swiss chard leaves.

radish and swiss chard stir-fry


radish and swiss chard stir-fry

When soft, add the leaves and sauté a minute more or so until leaves are wilted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  

radish and swiss chard stir-fry

Finished!  Yummy and healthy!

radish and swiss chard stir-fry