What to Plant Now: Spring Gardening for Newbies

Did anyone else notice that Ann Arbor turned entirely GREEN seemingly overnight?  At last, springtime is truly upon us.

While perusing and admiring rack after rack of the spectacularly colorful and fragrant herbs and vegetable plants in the Garden Center, one thought persisted: what should we be planting right now? After doing a little research and speaking with our expert Green Thumbers in the Garden Center, we've compiled a list of cold-weather tolerant plants! You officially have our permission to plant these now:

Broccoli is one of the most frost-tolerant vegetable plants, thus it's also a great late summer plant.
Cabbage is will not only pepper your garden with color and texture, it'll thrive throughout the late spring and summer. Try your early leaves in this recipe for Sauteed Cabbage and Bacon from Food & Wine! 
Carrots, especially smaller varieties, will do fine in your garden now. To be safe, pile mulch and/or top soil over your carrot plants so their roots will go deep and produce larger carrots.
You've probably seen your Chives popping through the chilly ground the last few days. This perennial herb plant will usually be one of the first to come up in early spring. Harvest the first leaves you see to make way for more flavorful chives to quickly take their place. 
Lettuces will add versatility in shape, color and size to your early vegetable garden! While most of your veggie plants should remain in mostly sunny areas, we recommend planting a few of your lettuce plants in shadier spots. This way you'll get the benefit of the crop even in late summer when the hottest sunshine is beating down and frying some of your more exposed lettuces. We've got over 10 varieties of lettuces right now!
Peas, Brussels SproutsRadishes, Spinach, and Snow Peas will also do well in springtime. Kohlrabi and Kale plants will event benefit from a little frost! It'll help to develop their flavor.
Flowerwise, Pansies are an obvious choice for your early spring garden. Likewise, pansies will also do well in late summer/early fall. These vibrant annuals are one of the most frost-tolerant flowers out there.
Alstromeria and Lavender plants will accent your garden with bright color and gorgeous fragrance!

So the take-away is that it's time to get gardening! While all of these flowers and vegetables will do fairly well in your garden now, be prepared to cover your plants if nighttime temps dip close to or below freezing! Additionally, try to position your spring plants so that they'll receive close to 7-8 hours of sunlight daily!

Have specific gardening needs or questions? Stop by or call us at (734) 663-7848 to speak with one of our Garden Center Team Members!

Peruvian Pepper Pastes: Have Got Us Hot and Bothered!

Aren't we lucky that our resident Wine Director, Jorge Lopez-Chavez, just so happens to hail from the flavorful country of Peru? We left it to him to tell you a little bit about why these aji pepper pastes are a mandatory addition to your pantry:

Back in stock: Goya Aji Panca and Aji Amarillo Pepper Pastes, staples in Peruvian cooking! 

I shall stray from the wine and beer topics briefly for I am writing today about food.  Those of you who know me well are aware of my predilection for great chow.  After all, I do come from a country with one of the best cuisines in the whole world--the magnificent land of Peru.  Two of the newest items on our shelves are two different kinds of Peruvian hot pepper paste: aji amarillo and aji panca.  The word aji (pronounced ah-hee) is the Taino word for hot pepper and the most frequently used name for these fruits in South America and the Caribbean.  The origin of the hot pepper has been traced to the highland jungles of Bolivia, and from there it was transported by birds all over the Americas (birds do not sense the heat, so hot peppers evolved to be eaten by our feathered friends), and after that by people who could not get away from the addictive pleasure of the heat and flavor.  We are the only mammals who eat hot peppers.  The Spaniards and Portuguese are responsible for the dissemination of these fruits all over the world.  Can you imagine what Thai or Indian cuisine would be without aji?

Hot peppers are tremendous contributors of vitamin C and A, plus numerous other proven health benefits.  Aji amarillo has a very fruity aroma and flavor, and it is one of the keys to various Peruvian dishes.  Our holy trinity (or aderezo, as we call it) for countless Peruvian recipes is the combination of onion, garlic, and aji amarillo.  Aji panca also serves a purpose; being redder in color, with more of a smoky flavor, sometimes this pepper is also known as aji colorado.  Here are a few simple recipes for you to start experimenting.

 Causa Rellena de Atun (Peruvian Layered Potato Tuna Salad) Image via www.peru.com

Causa Rellena de Atun (Peruvian Layered Potato Tuna Salad)
Image via www.peru.com

Causa Rellena de Atun 
(Layered Potato Tuna Salad)
8 portions

10 Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and quartered 
Juice of 5 limes
4 tbs Aji Amarillo paste (less if you want less heat)
1 tbs canola oil
1 can of Ortiz tuna
1/2 cup chopped red onion salted for 10 minutes and rinsed
1 tbs good mayonnaise (never that horrible Miracle Whip)
1 peeled avocado cut into thin long strips
Salt and pepper
2 hard-boiled eggs
1 chopped Thai chili
Chopped parsley
8 black olives of your choice

Boil the potatoes until soft and pliable as you would for mashed potatoes.  Pass these through a potato ricer and let them cool in the fridge for a faster chill.  While this happens mix the tuna, onions, mayo, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Once the mashed potatoes have cooled add to these the lime juice, aji, and oil, season with salt and pepper, and mix well with your hands until uniform in color and texture.  Find a bottomless circular mold (I use an old flat can) and place a thin layer of the potatoes inside it, then the tuna mix, the avocado, and top with another layer of the potatoes.  Remove the mold and garnish with 1/4 of an egg, an olive, sprinkled Thai chili, and parsley.  Impress your friends and watch their mouths salivate.  If you do not like tuna, you can also use crab or shredded chicken.  Pair with a CavaPicpoul de Pinet, or Muscadet.

Nelly's Guiso de Cerdo 
(My mother's pork stew)

2 tbs olive oil
1 pork tenderloin cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1 finely chopped red onion
1 carrot, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbs Aji Panca paste
1 tsp tomato paste
2 tsp powdered cumin
1/2 cup red wine (preferably without oak)
Fresh English peas, shelled (if frozen add closer to the end)
1 can black-eye peas, rinsed
2 cups chicken broth or water
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley and cilantro

In a large cast iron skillet heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering, add the pork pieces and brown without crowding (might wanna do it in two batches) and turning only once or twice (about 5 minutes tops).  Remove the pork.  Add the onions and carrots, adding more oil if need be, and stir until the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic and stir for thirty seconds, add the aji panca and mix well.  Making sure the garlic does not burn, keep on stirring until the oil begins to separate from the veggies and pepper paste, about 4 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and cumin and mix well.  Add the wine and stir all the goodness together.  Return the pork and juices to the pot, the peas, and the black-eye peas also.  Cover the mix with the broth and wait until it boils, reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 10-13 minutes.  If you are losing too much liquid, cover the skillet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve over white rice with the parsley and cilantro as garnish.  This and a green salad is all you need for dinner.  Pair with a Cotes du Rhone or a Cabernet Franc.

Jorge's Salad

Your favorite lettuce
Tomatoes if in season
Thinly sliced red onions salted for 10 minutes and washed
Diced avocado
Thinly sliced radishes
Simple Lime Vinaigrette:  juice of one or two limes, depending on how juicy they are, salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon of Aji Amarillo paste, plenty olive or avocado oil (do not be miserly). 

Mix it all and drizzle  vinaigrette over the salad.
You can always add a little vinegar if you so desire.

Come and ask me for more ideas whenever you are around and learn the Peruvian ways.

Jorge Lopez-Chavez
Wine Director