Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Eating off the Land

One thing that always bothered me about the Little House books was how a garden of less than an acre could supply all the vegetables for a family of five.  I'm starting to understand how much output you actually get from the plants when you're a halfway successful gardener.

The fountain garden currently has two Red Tango lettuces, Tommy (who is blooming), Brad, and Gus in it.  The tangoes are the only thing currently producing.  I have to eat a salad every few days to keep up with them.  They're starting to grow vertically like the redleaf did, so I'll have to find replacements for them when they go to seed.  That's a 4x6 area.

Artie and Kale each have their own areas, with about ten square feet total.  Kale has two servings of leaves ready about once a week.  I had to harvest Artie's second round of buds before they opened, and each of the three was a serving.  There is a set of grandbabies, Heidi, and a few great-grandbaby buds that will be ready for picking before I go on vacation next week.  They will be too small for full servings, but big enough to marinate or freeze for later.
The grafted citrus tree, being a mature tree, takes up a lot of space and you can't plant anything under it.  It is something like seven or eight feet on a side.  It does earn its pay in lemons almost year-round and the occasional orange.
The big space hogs are going to be the pumpkins.  Right now, each hill takes up a mere square foot.  I'm going to thin the hills to two or three vines today, and give any with intact roots to a neighbor who's interested in giving them a shot.  If I'm lucky, they will balloon to over 15 square feet per hill, most of it in found space around the edges of planters and walls.

This doesn't count herb pots and the unused space in the fountain that I decided doesn't get enough sun.  Altogether, we're looking at about 200 square feet (10' x20').  An acre is 43,560 square feet.  Now I can see how you could plant a quarter-acre of potatoes, carrots, and onions and it wouldn't make a dent in your ability to grow leafy greens, squashes, peas, tomatoes, and all those other veggies that we all need in a healthy diet.  What I never took into account while reading the books is that the Ingalls family were way better gardeners than I am.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ginger Lemonade

Near the end of Passover, I broke down and bought a 12-pack of Pepsi Throwback, the one made with sugar instead of corn syrup.  I was really craving junk food.  If you can find it, kosher-for-Passover Coke is also sugar-based.  I don't drink that much soda, so this felt like a huge investment, but that's the only size it comes in.  Writer Smurf drinks the stuff; I'll have it on hand whenever they visit.

This made it obvious to me that I needed to find an alternative drink that felt like junk but wasn't.  This drink is inspired by one of Jamba Juice's new fresh-squeezed creations, an apple-lemon-ginger-ade.    They need to update their website; I was going to give a link.  I don't have a power juicer, so we're skipping the apples.  You don't really taste them in the Jamba drink anyway; they are just in there for natural sugar.  What you get is a bright lemonade with a strong ginger bite.  It just tastes good for you, especially on a hot day over ice.

This is almost identical to my regular lemonade recipe, with just a few alterations.  At the last second, I decided to sweeten with honey instead of sugar.  That's the golden color.  If you use sugar, it will look like regular lemonade.

Marisa over at Food in Jars gave me the idea of using quart jars to store and serve drinks.  They aren't doing anything else yet, and I finally got the fish stock smell out of them.  Canning jars are meant to be used and reused, or there's no point in investing in them.

4 lemons
2 Tb freshly grated ginger
4 C boiling water
*1/3 to 1/2 C honey, depending how sweet you like it

1.  Grate a palm-sized piece of ginger root on a microplaner or the smallest holes of a box grater to get the fresh grated ginger.  Peel off outer yellow rind of lemons with a vegetable peeler and place in a heatproof bowl with the ginger and honey.  Pour the boiling water into the bowl and stir to dissolve sugar.  Allow to cool to room temperature or cooler.  You can speed it up in the fridge.

2.  Squeeze the juice from the lemons.  You should get about 1 C.  Refrigerate until the mix cools.

3.  When everything has cooled, stir lemon juice into bowl.  Pour through a fine-meshed sieve into serving container and keep chilled until ready to serve.  Discard solids.  If it sits, you'll have to shake or stir it to redistribute the pulp and ginger bits.

Makes 5 cups, about 4 to 6 servings

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Balsamic Vinaigrette

For all the times I've mentioned balsamic vinegar and vinaigrette in this blog, I have never put down a definitive recipe.  I'm not sure I have one, but here's my latest version.

Classic vinaigrette recipes have a higher percentage of oil to vinegar than mine.  I like the flavor part of a salad dressing, and don't care how shiny it makes the lettuce.  That's really all the oil is there for.  Most vinaigrettes don't use olive oil because it hardens up in the fridge.  Passover limits your choice of oils, so I went with olive and pulled it from the fridge early enough for everything to blend properly.

1/2 C balsamic vinegar
2 Tb minced shallots
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked pepper
1/4 C olive oil

1.  Stir together vinegar, shallot, salt, and pepper.  Allow to sit at room temperature and marinate for 1 hour.

2.  Pour into a container with a good lid.  Add oil and seal.  Shake very well to distribute oil.  Refrigerate until 1 hour before serving.  Remove from fridge, allow oil to melt back into a liquid, and shake again before serving.

Makes about 1 C, enough for 6-8 salads

Difficulty rating  π

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hard-Baked Eggs

I probably should have posted this before Easter, but I really wanted to post the Piña Colada Pie.  Think of it as getting a head start on your first picnic or barbecue of the year, when the egg salads and deviled eggs begin to emerge.

Hard-boiling eggs for Passover and Easter is really a labor of love.  That's a lot of eggs to put in a pot.  Then it takes forever to come to a boil, and 15 minutes more to sit and cook.  By then, you've forgotten you were making eggs and they're really hard.

Alton Brown has a solution.  You can bake them in a mini-muffin tin when you have a boatload to do.  I just got a new one for my birthday, so I figured I could take the risk with my old one, in case an egg exploded in it and ruined the pan.  One did crack open considerably, but didn't ooze out.

Any number of eggs
bowl of ice water

1.  Preheat oven to 325º.  Place eggs, wide side down, in mini-muffin tin.

2.  Place tin in middle rack setting of oven and cook for 30 minutes.

3.  As soon as timer goes off, place eggs in ice water.  If you can handle them a moment, tap the bottoms to crack them at the air pocket, so water can seep in and they will be easier to peel.

4.  When eggs are cool enough to handle, peel and return to ice water to finish cooling.  Mine came out a slightly yellow color, and all of the eggs had what looked like a burn mark where the shell touched the side of the muffin pan.  I don't know if that means I cooked them too long, or if it always happens.  If not peeling eggs, just leave them in the ice water until they are cool enough to decorate or store in the fridge.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, April 18, 2014

Piña Colada Pie

Manischewitz makes a coconut macaroon pie crust for Passover.  I saw it on the shelf, and it took only five seconds to think of piña colada pie.

Pulling it off was another matter.  Passover severely shortens your list of potential thickening agents.  No flour, cornstarch, or gelatin.  Kosher gelatin is hard to find, and I was not about to brave the Pico/Robertson traffic to get it.  The kosher markets there are a total zoo the week before Passover.  Potato starch is definitely an option, but it imparts a slight pasty flavor.  This is fine for soups, stews, and similar savory dishes, but not a fruit pie.  This left me with eggs and arrowroot.  Arrowroot doesn't mix well with dairy, so I had to figure out how to make a non-dairy version.

Duh, coconut milk.  That, plus a couple of eggs for added stability, and we would be in business.  Out of curiosity, I investigated if rum was KLP, just for flavoring.  This is a Seder, when you've already had two glasses of wine before dinner.  Turns out, Bacardi Superior (the clear stuff with the white label) is KLP, even though it isn't marked as such.  And it happens to be what I have in the liquor cabinet.  Perfect.  It's also nice to know that I could use it to make my own KLP extracts in the future.  Most are made with brandy, which is not KLP.

My first batch, I tried to use light coconut milk.  I ended up with soup.  Switching to the really fatty stuff that looks like shortening when you plop it out of the can, I got very thick soup.  The best consistency I found was when the pie had been frozen and halfway defrosted.  Churning the mixture in an ice cream maker to soft-serve consistency would do just as well.  After all, if you look at the ingredients, you've basically made an ice cream base.

1 13 oz can coconut milk
1 20 oz can crushed pineapple
1/3 C granulated sugar
2 Tb arrowroot
2 egg yolks
*1 C coconut flakes
*2 Tb light rum (optional)
1 macaroon pie crust (store-bought or crush a bunch of cookies to make one)
whipped cream for garnish

1.  Drain off the juice from the can of pineapple (about 1/4 C) and combine with arrowroot into a slurry.  Reserve some of the crushed pineapple to use later as a garnish (as I totally forgot to do).  Set aside.

2.  In a medium saucepan, heat coconut milk, pineapple and remaining juice, and sugar over medium heat.  When almost boiling, add arrowroot and stir until it begins to thicken.  Stir in rum and let it boil a minute to cook off some of the alcohol.

3.  In a small bowl, beat egg yolks thoroughly.  Turn off the heat under the saucepan, but leave it on the burner.  Add about 1/2 C of the hot coconut mixture and beat quickly to temper the eggs, then return to the saucepan and continue to cook in the residual heat until filling thickens some more.  You turned off the heat so it couldn't boil again.  The eggs would become grainy, and you can't strain this filling because of the pineapple.  You can't stir in the pineapple after the eggs because the arrowroot needs to thicken in the pineapple's juice.  It's a vicious (or viscous) circle.

4.  Stir in 3/4 C coconut flakes, reserving the other 1/4 C for garnish.  Allow mixture to cool to room temperature so it can thicken a little more before it goes into the crust (you may use the refrigerator for this).  Unlike most custards, you don't have to cover the surface with plastic wrap, because there is no dairy to form a skin.  Pour into crust and freeze until firm but sliceable, about 1 hour.  Garnish with pineapple, coconut, and whipped cream.

Serves 8

Difficulty rating :)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Garden 2014

Everyone remember to mail their tax returns?

This felt like really late to plant, but I guess most climates aren't even warm enough yet.  I was waiting for a very warm day to try the pumpkin seeds again.  85º should be warm enough.  Plus, Home Depot was having a sale on planting supplies and I had a $30 credit.  I can do a lot of damage with that.

The drainage holes I cut in the fountain liner aren't perfect, but they're keeping a new lake from forming every time the sprinklers go off.  Putting more plants in the soil to use that water will help to keep it from flooding.  Plus, I really don't think it's going to rain more than a quarter of an inch until fall.  I bailed out the remaining puddle and bought more dirt.

So many plants, so little space.  It's tempting to buy a bunch of seedlings, but they do grow.  You have to plan ahead, especially when at least one is a tomato plant.  They will take over if you let them.  I got a pink tomato hybrid called Bradley that said it was good for canning and freezing, something I wished I could do last year with the cherry tomatoes.  I also picked up a tomatillo plant.  I don't buy them often at the market because I don't think of it; they're on the top shelf at Pavilions, above my eye level.  Those two plants quickly took on the nicknames Tommy and Brad.  They have both taken root nicely.  I had a lavender plant by the front door that died over the winter (also from poor drainage), so I got a rosemary bush to take its place, opposite my basil.  I like the idea of having fragrant herbs near the front door.

Artie must be auditioning for the part of Audrey II, because he got huge.  The plant is about as tall as I am, which isn't that impressive in itself, except it isn't a tree!  Artie put out one central bud the size of my fist.  Not huge, but enough to top the salad at Seder.  As that was happening, he also developed three baby buds, each with its own grandbaby bud attached.  That will definitely be worth preserving as marinated artichoke hearts.

The redleaf lettuce lost interest in becoming a head and grew vertically so it could flower.  The leaves became the bitter herbs at Seder and I ripped it out.  The two little red lettuces got considerably bigger and I mixed some into the Seder salad.  They get to live a while longer.  Gus, after the post-flood bonanza, has been looking kind of sickly.

Kale is no longer organic.  Some mama butterfly or moth decided to lay her eggs on it.  Time to get out the spray.  It was a good thing I was going to pick a few leaves for dinner that day, or the caterpillars would have eaten half the plant.  I ate something else.  Brad and Tommy lasted five days before bugs discovered their leaves were yummy, so they're not organic either.

No pumpkin shoots yet, and this is the last time I'm going to plant seeds.  If I buy another packet, I will have spent more than a small pumpkin costs, which totally defeats the purpose.  Five more days until I give up on my totally awesome Halloween idea.  Bummer.

UPDATE (11:12 am):  This is what I get for posting before the sun comes up.  Three of four pumpkin hills have at least two seedlings!  I'm not a total failure at gardening from seed.  I also found another baby artichoke tucked in a lower stalk.  It's name is now Heidi.  Now I have to figure out how to keep the pumpkins healthy.  I have heard good things about diluted milk sprays preventing leaf mold.  Once they have more than a few leaves, I'll start treatments.

UPDATE AGAIN (2:18 pm):  Make that 4 out of 4 hills!  Only one sprout on the last so far, but we do have successful germination.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Baked Pumpkin Pie

Found another can of pumpkin in the pantry.  I'm doing very well getting rid of the chometz, but there's a box of graham crackers.  Pie crust!

I'm calling this post "baked" as opposed to the Pumpkin Chiffon that I usually make.  This recipe started as the one on the Libby's can.  I don't normally keep evaporated milk on hand, decided I prefer brown sugar in my pumpkin pies, and subbed in a graham crust.  Not that big of a tweak, for me.  You can actually see where the recipe came from.

Some people shy away from making pies because they think they're either too difficult to make or too messy.  Including pulverizing the crackers, this took ten minutes to prep.  I did it all in one bowl, plus a microwaveable cup for the butter.  About halfway through adding ingredients, I realized it isn't much different than my quiche recipes, which I just throw together when I can't think of anything else to make with items on hand.  It takes longer to read the recipe as you go along than to make it.

*7 full graham crackers (or 14 squares)
2 Tb granulated sugar
1/4 C butter, melted
2 eggs
*1-1/2 C milk
2/3 C light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cloves
1 (15 oz) can packed pumpkin - not pie mix

1.  Place graham crackers in a quart ziplock and seal.  Run over with the unopened can of pumpkin until it breaks into fine crumbs.  Pour into a small mixing bowl and stir in granulated sugar.  Add melted butter and stir into a thick paste.  Press paste into a pie pan and place in the oven while it's preheating to 425º and you're mixing the filling.  That will give it enough time to set and dry out a bit, without making it too dark.

2.  Rinse out bowl and wipe dry.  Beat eggs until well blended.  Beat in milk, spices, and brown sugar.  Add pumpkin and stir until fully combined.  Go get the pie crust out of the oven, which should be nearly to 425º by now, and pour the filling into it.

3.  Bake pie at 425º for 15 minutes.  Lower oven temp to 350º and continue to bake 30 minutes.  Test with a toothpick, which will probably come up wet, but the hole will vent the middle and allow more even cooking.  Test again in 10 minutes, and 5 minutes after that if necessary.
That cool starburst pattern is because I didn't mix in the spices well enough.
4.  Once toothpick finally comes up clean, remove pie from oven and allow to cool at room temperature for about 2 hours.  This slow cooling is to reduce the number of surface cracks, like you would with a cheesecake.  Once pie is room temperature, either serve immediately or refrigerate for later.

Makes about 8 servings

Difficulty rating  π

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Garlic-Roasted Baby Eggplant

Sprouts keeps stocking these adorable baby eggplant.  They run between 8 and 12 to the dollar, and the cuteness factor goes a long way to make something appetizing.  About the size of an egg, they're probably the reason someone named them eggplant in the first place.

Then you get your dollar's worth home and realize you have to make something edible out of them.  They are perfect for an hors d'oeuvre-sized portion of something, so I just thought of what I would do to a regular eggplant and made it a whole lot cuter.

8 baby eggplant
*2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tb olive oil

1.  Preheat oven to 375º.

2.  Peel garlic and slice crosswise thinly.  Cut a lengthwise slit in each eggplant, not cutting all the way through and leaving both ends intact.  Carefully cram garlic slices into the slits.

3.  Place eggplants in 8"x8" baking dish.  Drizzle with olive oil and rub all over.  Sprinkle with salt and bake until soft to the touch and somewhat prune-like, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

4.  Serve hot, either as is or with a dipping sauce such as tahini or marinara.

makes 8

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sushi Rice

I have a little bit of Calrose rice left to use up before Passover.  I happen to like sticky rice, so I keep it on hand as a base for stir-fry and rice-based salads.  I accidentally bought more rice wine vinegar because I thought I was out, making this a Pantry Project recipe.

"Sushi" refers to the rice you use to serve the fish, just as "sashimi" is the fish without rice.  The vinegar, salt, and sugar used to season the rice acts as a short-term preservative for the raw fish.  "Nigiri sushi" on a menu means fish with just a specific amount of rice and probably wasabi, as opposed to "tekka" or a hand roll, which include seaweed.  The dish called "Onigiri" is a plainly cooked, unseasoned rice with some kind of garnish.  I tend to use sushi rice for onigiri, which is completely not authentic, but I like the taste.

You'll notice that the dressing ingredients are almost identical to those of sunomono.  Same basic flavor profile, but it's more subtle in the rice.

*1 C medium- or short-grain white rice, such as Calrose
2 Tb rice wine vinegar
1 Tb sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1.  Soak rice briefly in cold water to rinse off the dust that always accumulates on rice.  The water doesn't have to run clear, but you should drain it off and refill the pot two or three times.

2.  In a small saucepan, cover rice with 1 C cold water.  Slowly bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to its lowest, and cook until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to sit 10 more minutes.  If rice appears too dry, add 1/4 C water.  Stir only briefly to disperse it.

3.  In a small bowl, combine vinegar, sugar, and salt.  Microwave for 15 seconds to help dissolve the solids.  Turn out rice into a bowl and fold dressing into it with a wooden paddle.  You don't want to overwork the rice, but you need to keep it moving until it reaches room temperature or it will stick together oddly.  This can take 15 minutes or more.

4.  Once cooled to room temperature, rice is ready to be used in sushi or other dishes.

Difficulty rating  :)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Seafood Risotto #2

Because I still have a gallon of fish stock in the freezer.  I was more than happy to defrost a quart for this.

My last endeavor in this field was less than impressive because I thought the tomatoes overpowered everything.  Using the fish stock, that was not going to be an issue, but I still chose fennel as my veggie.  It does have a strong taste of its own, which tends to dull as it is cooked until it tastes more like an herb than a veggie.  You will notice the absence of much seasoning in this dish.  That's because the essential ingredients bring most of it with them.

For the seafood, I used half scallops and half fake lobster, which I've never used before.  I use the surimi-based crab often because it is easier to deal with than getting real crab meat out of the shell.  This was a cheaper alternative to chopping up a lobster tail.

I forgot to buy white wine and popped open a bottle of champagne instead.  My alternate go-to would have been an ounce of anisette.  While alcohol isn't 100% necessary in risotto, it does help to bring out the flavors.  You put it in at the beginning, so the alcoholic content is mostly cooked off during the 45 minutes or so it simmers.

1 Tb olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 bulb fennel
1 C arborio rice (risotto)
*1 C champagne or dry white wine
*1 quart fish stock
1 lb assorted white fish or shellfish, bite-sized
1 Tb lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a 2-qt saucepan, heat fish stock to a low boil.  Lower heat to simmer and keep it near the pot you're going to use for the risotto.

2.  Add oil to a large pot (4-qt minimum).  Over medium heat, cook onions in oil until softened.  Slice bulb of fennel thinly, saving feathery tops for garnish (a step I forgot, then had to go scrounging around for something else to use and ended up with parsley).  Add fennel and cook several more minutes.  Add rice and cook until lightly glazed, about 3 minutes.

3.  Add champagne to the risotto pot and stir.  Continue stirring lightly until absorbed.  Begin adding fish stock one ladle at a time, stirring frequently to avoid scorching and to develop texture.  Wait until each ladle-ful is absorbed before adding more.  This is going to take at least half an hour.  You may want to pour yourself a glass of the champagne to pass the time.  If mixture starts to boil, lower heat.

4.  At last addition, stir in fish and lemon juice.  Continue to stir until remaining liquid is absorbed and fish is cooked, about 5 minutes.  Taste and add salt or pepper as necessary.  Serve in bowls, maybe with a salad or something light on the side.

Difficulty rating :)