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Sunday, December 9, 2012

December Gardening in the Texas Hill Country: Beta Carotene & Vitamin C Power heading into Winter

This has been an amazingly warm fall and winter.  Typically we receive our first frost (just enough to kill everything back) by late October.  This year, we are heading into the second week of December without one damaging freeze yet! Incredible.  Well, the clock is ticking.....we are gearing up for our first deep freeze this week.  That means I've been very busy in the garden trying to capture and harvest every last drop of the late summer and fall garden. I've carried armfuls of fruits and veggies inside the house and there's so many foods I'm excited to share with you today!

First, I want to share one of my most favorites: The Romeo Carrot.  This carrot grows to be three inches or shorter and is just the same in diameter.   They are popping up from the earth on their own letting me know they are ready to be enjoyed!

I planted them in late summer/early fall and they mature pretty quickly. I must say, these are the sweetest and tastiest carrots I've ever had.  I peeled them and sliced them and gently sauteed them with a little butter, salt, pepper, and freshly ground nutmeg.  Oh they are so tasty! I was eating them with my fingers hardly able to wait to plate them up!

I also chopped fresh parsley from the garden and added them to the sauté at the end.  So sweet and savory.  I will certainly be enjoying these again and again. 

As I gobbled them down, I started wondering if there was a relationship between the primarily orange and reddish foods coming out of the garden as we head into winter.  Exploring my curiosity, I noticed a lot of the food coming out of the garden is packed full of beta carotene and vitamin C. 

Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant and full of age fighting properties.  It also boosts the immune system and helps improve night vision.  With the days growing shorter, we sure have a lot more night in our lives and eating fresh organic carrots is not a bad thing if you ask me.  I need all the help I can get when walking in the dark checking on plants and the greenhouse not to mention driving in the dark at only 6pm!

Peeled organic carrots from the garden: I love all the different shapes and sizes!
Before it freezes this week, I went ahead and harvested every single bell pepper, fig, pumpkin, tomato and herb I knew would be damaged by the cold temperatures. Did you know all bell peppers are a good source of Vitamin C? Yellow and red are higher, but even the green bell pepper is a great source of Vitamin C!  So all these wonderful fresh foods sitting on my kitchen counter are great sources of beta carotene and vitamin C! What a blessing from mother earth. 

Heading into winter, it's important to feed and nourish our bodies properly with fresh sources of vitamins and minerals.  Our immune systems will certainly get a work out in the months ahead.  Last night, I made a fresh salad with sliced tomatoes and bell peppers with a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice and a dash of sea salt.  A tart and savory treat.  The combined juices could have been a specialty juice blend all its own!

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) thriving in the December garden
Parsley has been used as an after dinner herb, both pallet cleansing and bad breath reducer.  Parsley is also a great source of potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and niacin. 

Parsley is also a good blood cleansing herb and can help rid the body of toxins. It's so easy to eat and versatile. I like to make cuttings from the fresh sprigs and keep in a slender vase in the kitchen. It keeps very well and stays fresh in water....and best thing is you can use the sprigs throughout the weeks in your nightly cooking.  Chop finely and dress up any weeknight meal for a gourmet treat :)

Tonight, after I came home from a long day at work - I saw the abundance of tomatoes, peppers, parsley, sage and Swiss chard on my kitchen counter.  I also had grass fed ground beef waiting to be introduced into a meal tonight, too.  I had no idea what I was going to do when it just was so obvious I had no other choice but to make it.  Stuffed bell peppers with sauteed tomato, beef, garlic, parsley and sage. 
I started by browning the grass fed beef along with one seeded habanero pepper (I have so many I always try and use them here and there).  I took the seeds out to keep the flavor but not the heat.  Fresh habanero is so sweet and adds complexity to the dish.  It's a wonderful stimulating herb for your nose, taste buds, and circulatory system. 
Next, I drained any excess fat and added about two cups chopped tomato.  After the tomatoes started to reduce, I added one minced garlic clove, two sage leaves, 1-2 leaves chopped Swiss chard leaves,  and freshly chopped parsley (about two tablespoons).  While cooking I halved and seeded 4 bell peppers.  Once everything was simmering and reducing in the skillet, I gently added the halved peppers facing up just to gently steam them.  After a couple minutes of steaming the peppers, I removed them and plated them.  I then stuffed them with the ground beef sauté.

I love this since it was made all in one skillet.  No need to get overly fancy for a Monday night - but it really hit the spot....home cooked vitamin packed goodness but not all the fuss. 

Next time, I want to share with you how I made a wonderful figgy treat! It's a sticky, delicious, gourmet, must-have dessert you can make right at home :)

Until nextime, HCH

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