Saturday, November 28, 2015

Indoor Seedlings

Gardening does not stop in Southern California.  I had to start my seeds inside because it was still too hot and dry for direct sow of winter vegetables.

This was my first successful indoor seeding.  I put the tray in the back room, where it wasn't too hot and they would get mostly afternoon sun.

They are going to town.  Still not getting many beets, but the lettuces started coming up in three days.  Two cilantros look like they're going to make it.  Once El Niño hits, I'll be able to do more beets as direct sow.  For now, I'm waiting to see which seedlings end up the strongest for transplant.  It was hard to thin them!  I took out the ones at the edges and kept the ones in the middle, figuring they would have a better chance of developing root systems.  I still tossed the thinned ones into the pond, in case any decided to take root.  Only one so far, and it's not very happy.

There is still a faint chance that the Christmas salad will be garden greens.  A very faint chance, but not impossible.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


After posting the last one (finally), I realized I didn't do a crouton recipe.  It feels like a basic thing, but a lot of this blog is about making things from scratch.

Crouton is French for "little toast".  That's all it is, toasted bread.  But what kind of bread you choose and what you add to it makes all the difference.  Caesar salad?  Garlic.  Italian dressing?  Oregano.  Soup topping?  Depends on the soup.

So here's a basic how-to.

1.  Slice bread of choice into cubes or tear into small pieces.  These should be bite-sized, so no larger than 1" on any given side.  Place in a bowl or on a sheet pan and let them get a little stale.  This can be an hour on a dry day or overnight when it's humid.  I found Princess eating out of the bowl an hour later and was very glad this batch was not for company.

2.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Melt a little butter, only 1 or 2 Tb, and pour over bread.  Use your fingers to make sure all sides of the bread are covered and there isn't one piece soaking wet.  Sprinkle with any spice that is appropriate to your intended use.  For these, I used salt, white pepper, and thyme.  That would go with my turkey and pumpkin soup.

3.  Spread pieces evenly on a sheet and bake until toasted and crisp.  Check and stir every 10 minutes, less when they get close to what you want.  Allow to cool slightly before serving, so you can check to make sure they really are dry.  Store unused croutons in a sealed container for up to a week.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving Dinner Soup

I caught a cold from a coworker who swore it was just allergies.  Liar.  I'm hoping it's less severe because I had a flu shot a few weeks ago.

I was going to roast up the Halloween pumpkin this week anyway and decided to make the purée into soup.  While I was at it, putting in ground turkey meatballs sounded like a good idea, and at some point this turned into a Thanksgiving menu in a soup bowl.  Food Network had a similar recipe with shredded leftover turkey and making dumplings out of stuffing, but didn't have the pumpkin.  I decided that the stuffing would get too gooey for subsequent days and opted for croutons, aka stale bread.  Dropping them onto the hot soup would soften them into a stuffing-like consistency.  Since I'm not hosting this year, I don't have any of the crispy onions in the pantry, but those would also make an excellent garnish.

I still can't get iPhoto to work, but I remembered that I do have an old laptop in a drawer with a working version.  So I can do the blog on the one with the dead battery (plug only, totally defeating the purpose of a laptop) and everything else on the faster machine.  I'm going to print my camera tomorrow.  It has nine months of photos on it.  At least I will have hard copies.  Technology can fail or become obsolete, but a physical copy endures.

*2 cans pumpkin purée or one 3-lb pumpkin roasted, peeled, seeded, and puréed
1 lb ground turkey
2 C cut green beans ( I did frozen)
*1/2 C diced onion
1 Tb olive oil
1 qt low-sodium chicken broth
1 egg
1/2 C breadcrumbs
1 tsp sage
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
dash cloves
salt and white pepper

1.  In a small bowl, combine turkey, egg, breadcrumbs, sage, and salt & pepper to taste.  Refrigerate for about half an hour to let the flavors meld.

2.  In a soup pot, heat oil over medium.  Add onion and sauté until soft.

3.  Shape turkey into golf ball-sized pieces and place in saucepan.  I got about 20.  By the time you've placed the last one, the first should be well browned.  Wash your hands, then turn all of them to brown the other side.  Add broth and bring everything to a simmer for 10 minutes, to finish cooking the meatballs.

4.  Add green beans, pumpkin, and remaining spices.  Bring back up to a simmer and taste for seasoning.  Add salt, white pepper, or anything else you need to balance the flavors.  It should have the savory edge of the sage and an undertone of cinnamon sweetness.

5.  Serve hot, topped with a generous serving of croutons.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  π

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

9 to 5

No photos today.  I'm having trouble with iPhoto.  Probably because I haven't upgraded in some time.

I've been doing this traditional-schedule thing for over a month, and it sucks.  I appreciate the old-school way that the spouse at home would have dinner waiting for the one who worked until 5 or 6.  Since I don't have a spouse at home to cook for me, I've been making easy stuff that isn't creative and is not all that healthy.

But I did make fresh pasta last week.  I whipped up a batch of Pasta #2 in the morning, wrapped it tightly, and put it in the fridge.  (I also cooked up some chicken drumsticks and almost forgot to put them in the fridge.  Princess was disappointed when I remembered them.)  When I got home, I diced up a bunch of fresh veggies and threw them in a skillet while the pot of water was coming to a boil with some frozen peas and carrots in it.  The pasta rolled out almost as well as if it had only rested for an hour.  It took about half an hour to make fresh pasta primavera with chicken on the side.

Now that the new closing manager is fully trained, I'm going to have an easier schedule.  I won't be able to make fancy breakfasts as often, but I will get to have a proper dinner.

Aside from a few carrots, the pond is only sprouting grass.  I planted some seed strips this morning and will transplant the seedlings when they're strong enough.  So much for my Christmas salad.  I could still have beets in January.  Meanwhile, it has been warm enough that I still have a couple of eggplants growing and the peppers are going to town.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Guilt Bowl

I finally went for a basic physical.  It has been years since I had my cholesterol checked.  The doctor asked how I've been eating lately, and I answered honestly that I've been in the mood for fattening foods and salt.  I've also put on a couple of pounds.  It happened suddenly, so I think it's salt related, but I need to go back to my better habits before the lure of holiday temptations kicks in.  Been having steel-cut oats for breakfast, so lunch is the only meal I have to watch.

I am not vegan nor gluten-free, not by a long shot.  However, this recipe is.  I used up the last of two legume jars and tossed a stir-fry on top of it.  Anticipating the need for a dressing, I looked over what little I had in the fridge and decided on a champagne-cilantro combination.  And bought a lime in case it needed help.

So after four days of this, which I'll admit tasted much better on Day 1 than Day 4, I got my tests back.  Not only am I generally healthy, my cholesterol index is in the "excellent" range.  I'm having home-made pasta next week.

*1 C fresh cilantro leaves
2 Tb olive oil
*2 Tb champagne
*2 Tb lemon juice (I never used the lime)
pinch each of salt and white pepper

1.  Place all ingredients in blender.  Pulse until the cilantro breaks down, then run until smooth.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

*1/2 C dry navy beans
*1/2 C dry red lentils

1.  Soak the navy beans for 8 hours.  Drain.

2.  Add a pinch of salt to 3 C water and add navy beans.  Bring to a boil, then simmer beans for 2 hours.  Add lentils and continue to simmer until lentils are done, 15 to 20 minutes.  Drain.

1 lb asparagus
*1/2 C sliced onion
1/2 lb carrots
1 bunch kale
2 Tb olive oil

1.  Trim the tough bottoms off the asparagus and cut into 2" lengths.  Peel the carrots, cut into 2" lengths, and quarter (so they're about the same dimensions as the asparagus).  Slice and quarter about 3 strips off an onion.  Cut the kale off the ribs and chop the leaves into a manageable bite size.

2.  When you put the lentils in the bean pot, add olive oil to a large saucepan.  Heat over medium high and add onion, asparagus, and carrots.  Cook, stirring often, until veggies are bright and onion has begun to soften.  Add kale and a light sprinkle of salt and cook until wilted.  If you have a lid for the pot, that will help to keep the moisture in.

3.  When the veggies are cooked, toss in the dressing until evenly distributed.  There's only half a cup.  The veggies won't be swimming in sauce.  The point of it is a light flavoring, not to drown out the natural flavors.

4.  Serve the beans next to, under, or mixed in with the stir-fry.

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ugly Carrots

This now counts as my Halloween post.  More than a month after my first carrot harvest, I pulled a few more to use in a crab salad.  The one that had the bushiest tops went first.  It was at least an inch in diameter, but quickly devolved into a misshapen gnarl of carrot that usually happens only in compact or rocky soil.  The next one wasn't much better.  The third one was carrot-shaped, but very thin.  And the last was a lumpy mess of carroty tumors.

I cleaned them up and ran the veggie peeler over them to get rid of stray roots.  In the grocery store, they don't tell you that they've scrubbed off all kinds of stuff from the carrots.  There was also a lot of dirt in the ridges and between the stringy roots.  When you pick a fruit or leafy veggie, you don't have to deal with all that dirt.

This did not discourage me from planting a winter garden of mostly root vegetables in the pond.  The 20 or 30 gallons it took to rehydrate the soil almost made me wait for El Niño, but by then it will not be warm enough to give the sprouts a good start.  I'm also gambling that it will not climb above 85º again in two weeks, when everything starts to take root.  I planted a mesculun assortment, beets, and yet more carrots.  Eventually, I will figure out how to grow them properly.

The neighborhood skunk rooted through the pond a few days later.  All the dirt was tossed into random piles, meaning my neat rows are useless.  Adding to that, all sorts of things started sprouting way too early to be what I planted.  I pulled many of the weeds, but a few may be the lettuce assortment.  I'll wait for a few more leaves before pulling those.  The problem is the only thing I will recognize when it first comes up is the carrots.  Wish me luck.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Crepes Foster

I had a couple of galettes left over from the Greques and a banana a couple of days past its prime.  Thus comes the inspiration for the fastest fancy dessert I ever made.

If you're making the crepes as well, this is not fast.  But there are pre-packaged ones in the market, usually near the little spongecake cups or the berries.  If you do want to make them on your own, I have a basic sweet crepe recipe here.

8 crepes
2 slightly over-ripe bananas
2 Tb butter
2 Tb brown sugar
1 Tb light rum
vanilla ice cream to garnish (I didn't have any)

1.  Slice bananas thinly.  Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add brown sugar and let it melt into the butter.  Add banana slices and continue to cook until they are glazed and the butter makes a sauce, 3 or 4 minutes.  Add rum and either let the alcohol boil off or just stir it into the sauce.

2.  Divide the bananas among the 8 crepes and fold them into quarters.  Use two per serving with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.  Or you could do a single one in a small dish with a scoop to make it serve 8 if you had a big meal.

Difficulty rating  π (store-bought crepes)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Galettes a la Greque

So the thing about writing posts is remembering to finish and publish them.  I was going through the photos in the camera and went oops.

Once again, I'm spending a lot of grocery money to use one ingredient I've grown.  I did use the rest of the package of spinach I'd bought for the pizzas, the lettuce I had gotten last week for salad, and all of the crepe ingredients were pantry.  So I bought a lamb chop, a container of yogurt, a cucumber, and hit the olive bar to pick out only pitted kalamatas and marinated feta cubes.

So far, I have roasted or fried all of my eggplants.  It was nearly 100º on Sunday last week (look at the date of this post) and I couldn't bear to turn on the oven.  So I decided to find out how they tasted stewed, then pan-fried the lamb chop after.  I think I prefer roasted, but they weren't bad.

Oh, and for the lamb chop, I decided to get cute.  You know on cooking shows how they rain down spices from about a foot above the pan, pinching them from a cute little portion cup?  I did that.  Aside from making me feel stupid, I don't think it made any difference.   The meat was seasoned just the same  as if I had rubbed it on.

Once again, this produced way too many dishes.  I made the time to do a round before things got out of hand, and only had the soaking lamb skillet to finish in the morning.

1 batch galettes
1 C tzatziki sauce
8 large leaves red or green leaf lettuce
1 medium eggplant
4 oz spinach leaves
4 oz pitted kalamata olives
4 oz cubed or crumbled feta
1/2 lb lamb chop
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp black pepper
olive oil

1.  Prepare galettes and sauce and set aside until ready to use.

2.  Dice eggplant into 1" cubes.  Drizzle about 1 Tb olive oil into a medium skillet and heat on medium.  Add eggplant and cook, covered, until eggplant is completely softened, at least half an hour.  Stir periodically.  Drop in spinach leaves and allow to wilt, 3 to 5 minutes.  Remove veggies to a holding container.

3.  Add a little more oil to the pan and turn up the heat to medium-high.  Combine the four spices and rub all over the lamb chop.  Pan-fry until medium done, about 4 minutes per side.  Remove meat from pan and chop into bite-sized pieces, getting as much meat off the bone as possible if you bought a bone-in.
4.  Start layering the ingredients in the crepes.  First the lettuce, then the cooked veggies, then the meat, olives, and feta.  Close the crepes and drizzle generously with tzatziki sauce.  Serve two galettes per person.

Difficulty rating :)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Crazy-Pizza Night

Lately, it has been all about what I can make with eggplant.  At one point, there were 10 eggplants on the bush of various sizes.  This is why I rarely plant the same thing twice.  By the time the plant runs its course, I am thoroughly over whatever it was for the next several months.
So I decided to make pizzas that incorporated roasted eggplant.  I was originally going to do a Greek theme with ground lamb, like a moussaka pizza, but wasn't impressed by the quality or price of the ground lamb at the market.  So I went with Italian sausage and your basic red sauce/mozzarella kind of pizza with a bit of spinach to round things out.  The dough is the same one I used for the prosciutto & brie pizza.

I usually clean as I go, especially when rise time for dough is involved.  This time, I just got busy and didn't have time to do dishes until the pizzas were in the oven.  That's when I found out just how many pots, pans, bowls, etc I had been using.  And it doesn't count the two baking sheets in the oven.
Yeah, that took a while.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hearty Pumpkin Soup

It's going to be cool-ish for a couple of days, so I'm making soup.  Hot Santa Ana winds won't be here until the weekend and I'm pretending it's Fall.

There are two ways to make this, the way I did it and the easy way.  I made my own stock and soaked and pre-cooked the beans.  The chicken was from a leftover carcass in the freezer.  Something close to 24 hours for a pot of soup.  On the other hand, you could buy broth, canned beans, and canned chicken and be done with this in about half an hour, so I'm going to post that.  The biggest difference with my version is the salt content.  I've been eating way too much salt.  I did an experiment recently where I only ate food I had prepared and drank plenty of water for a day.  Woke up the next day a pound lighter, and that's including snacks and ice cream.  All salt.

1 qt low-salt chicken broth
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped bite-sized
4 stalks celery, chopped bite-sized
1/2 onion, diced
1 (15 oz) can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 small can chunk chicken
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin purée
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp dried sage
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1.  Bring broth and bay leaf to a simmer in a large pot.  Add carrots, celery, and onion and simmer until carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.

2.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Bring back up to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.  Discard bay leaf and serve hot.

Serves 4 to 6

Difficulty rating  π