Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Summer Sowing

I haven't posted in a week because I haven't made anything new.  It has been all reruns.  I don't do summer well and really haven't felt like cooking.  Last night, my side dish was celery sticks.  I didn't even dip them in anything.  And yet, the process of cutting them felt like I had made a proper side for my broiled vegetable panini, using my first eggplant.

And this is where this turns into a Gardening post.  After a very bitter salad, I decided to rip up the rest of the greens in the front yard.  I have two plants in the pond that haven't turned bitter yet, but the front 2'x2' were old and not tasty.  Out they came.  I turned the soil and added some moisture control mulch. And then I dug a few more holes and mulched them.  And all of this was so I could - drum roll - put in pumpkin seeds.

There are four hills in the front yard and one in the shallow corner of the pond.  I plan to train that one across the back of the yard.  I managed to put one in an odd area at the edge of the driveway that gets watered by the neighbor's sprinklers.  The rest are going to need a lot of watering.

Meanwhile, my cucumbers from seed are very healthy in their pot and climbing the chicken wire I set up for them.  They're blooming, so I may get cucumbers soon…if the bugs I keep picking off it don't eat them first.  The cantaloupe is finally taking off as a plant and blooming, but no fruit yet.  I do feel like the leaves are too small for a species that produces a 2-pound fruit.

It will be about a week before the pumpkins sprout.  The weather is perfect for them, warm and a bit humid.  Next year, I'm definitely going back to tomatoes.  They require less water and the nightshade bugs have pretty much left my area, to be replaced by squash-loving bugs.

Oh, and the neighbor a few blocks down is growing vines onto their roof again!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Vegan "Creamy" Tomato Soup

I got the bill from the card I use for grocery shopping.  Between the tea party and houseguests, I spent way too much in May.  I'm going to do a modified pantry endurance test - I'll still need to buy produce and dairy.  There's loads of protein in the house, including the turkey I bought in November.  That sucker is going to take a week to defrost, it's been at the bottom of the chest freezer so long.

First up is things that need to be used before they go bad.  Top of that list was an opened can of tomato paste.  I wonder if the stuff would last longer if it was sold in those pouches like fruit purées.  It's just a shame to toss a can after you've used only one or two tablespoons.  The last bit of white beans in the pantry and a quickie veggie broth out of the full broth bag makes this a nice starter or light meal.

There was a minor snafu the day I made this.  The power went out due to the heat wave, and it wasn't even a very hot day.  Somewhere in the back of my memory was the fact that you used to have to light gas stoves with a match before electric starters were invented.  Half of the problem solved, I had to figure out how to purée the beans.  I got out the food mill, which is a manual food processor.  Unfortunately, food mills catch all the skins and fibers in food and pass through only the soft matter.  Beans are all fiber and skin.  Still, it mashed them fairly well.  I scraped all the mash that didn't pass through the holes into the pot.  My soup was not nearly as smooth as if I had been able to use the blender, and the bean solids kept sinking to the bottom, which meant my basil garnish wouldn't float.  The flavor was still what I expected, just not the texture.

I added too much salt.  The vegan way to fix this is to add more bean purée or a dollop of unseasoned mashed potato.  Lacking either, I used some un-vegan heavy cream.  For the leftovers, I simply had it chilled.  The saltiness was perfect for a chilled soup and I didn't have to add anything for balance.

1 quart vegetable broth (low-salt if you can find it)
*1 6oz can tomato paste
1/2 C dry Navy beans (or 1 15oz can)
salt and white pepper to taste
fresh basil for garnish

1.  If using dry beans, soak for 8 hours and simmer for 2.  For canned, drain and rinse.

2.  Purée beans in blender with 1 C of broth.  Bring purée, tomato paste, and all of broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  Taste and add salt and white pepper as necessary.  Serve hot, garnished with fresh basil or another herb that works with the rest of the meal.

Difficulty rating  π

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Counting Eggplants Before They've Hatched

As soon as Eggy's first blossom opened, I started wanting eggplant.  The day that you could start to see the first fruit emerge from the cap, I picked up a bunch of baby eggplants at Sprouts.
I'm going to be buried in eggplant very soon, so it's time to review all my old recipes and plot some new ones.

Those seem to be the ones good enough that I've made them more than once.  That should pretty much cover all I'm going to get off the plant, but maybe I'll come up with something new.  After reading this list, I'm definitely in the mood for homemade pasta.  Any new recipes are probably going to involve some.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Lemon Loaf

I've had a post-it on the page of the Bible reminding me to make this for my tea for two years.  I don't remember why it didn't make it onto last year's menu.  Probably, I had not flipped past that page in a while and forgot.

Because this was on one of the mass-baking days, the mixer was in use and I actually made this by hand the way it was in the cookbook.  I don't own a pastry cutter because it's a waste of drawer space.  I just break up the butter with clean hands.  It's very therapeutic and kind of hard to stop even when you're done.  Yes, it takes a couple more minutes than throwing everything in a stand mixer, but the texture of the final cake was exactly as it should have been.  If the end result is the same, do whatever works for you.

I baked two mini-loaves and only ended up using one.  The full recipe fills one regular loaf pan, so I did all that 2/3 math for nothing.  The other one is in the freezer until I finish every other leftover from the tea.  I did go a bit overboard.

It was generally agreed that this cake was lemony and refreshing without hitting you over the head with the lemon.  The problem with some lemon cakes is that you know they exist from across the room.  There's some zest in the batter and a soaked-in glaze on top, but this is otherwise a plain poundcake.  Sometimes, a hint of flavor is more effective than a lot of it.  Chocolate doesn't count.

1 lemon
2-1/4 C flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 C butter or margarine
3 eggs
*3/4 C milk

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  From lemon, grate 1 tablespoon of zest and squeeze 1/4 C juice.  Put juice in the fridge for later.  Grease 9" x 5" loaf pan.

2.  In large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, and 1-1/2 C sugar.  With pastry blender, 2 knives, or your fingers, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in grated peel.

3.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs slightly with a fork and stir in milk.  Stir wet into dry mixture until just moistened.  Do not over mix.

4.  Pour batter into pan.   Bake 1-1/4 hours (40 minutes for minis).  Test with a toothpick at the 1 hour mark until it comes up dry.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack.

5.  While the cake is still warm, heat reserved lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of sugar over medium-high heat to boiling.  Boil until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.  Brush evenly on top of loaf to glaze it.  Whatever soaks in will help to keep the cake moist.  You can serve it warm, but quick breads tend to develop a better flavor the next day.  They're also easier to slice.  For long-term storage, freezing is better than refrigerating.  Slice it first, then wrap in plastic wrap and again in foil.

Makes 1 full-sized loaf or 3 minis

Difficulty rating π

Sunday, June 12, 2016


While spooning apricot butter onto a couple of dozen hamantaschen rounds for the party, I mused on how I'm able to forget all the effort that went into making it.  It's like it just magically appeared in the fridge.  No memory of cutting all the apricots, cooking them, running them through the food mill, cooking them again, and going through the whole boiling bath canner routine - only to have the seal fail and have to put the butter in the fridge anyway.

This isn't the same as tea party amnesia.  I don't forget how much work it is, but I've learned how to spread it out so it doesn't all fall on the party day.  There were two baking days, neither more than four hours, and under an hour of running three batches of flavored cheese through the food processor.  Tuna salad only takes about five minutes, and the V-slicer made quick work of the cucumber.  I had help for assembly from Techie, Writer, and Melody Smurf.  I didn't make them do any hard work on their vacation, but piping stuff is fun when someone else sets it up for you.  At least until Techie broke my pastry bag.  I wasn't heartbroken; it was one of the middle-priced Wilton ones that you expect to last a year.

Well, off I go to make and can a batch of blueberry jam.  I swear, that's the last batch of jam I'm making this year.  Really.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Tea Party 2016

For the first time since I moved back to L.A., word of my tea party has spread.  I invited more groups of acquaintances, who responded in droves.  Well, at least too many to use real plates.  I had to break out the "Costco China", which is plastic plates so sturdy that I wash them and reuse until they crack, usually about four parties.

I had tried to time it so I could use one of my own cantaloupes as the fresh fruit.  I don't have any growing yet.  The only garden items in this year's tea were the lemons for lemonade, herbs in the iced tea, and all the bolted lettuce flowers for arrangements.

As usual, I pre-baked whatever I could get away with.  Unlike usual, I ended up with considerable leftovers.  I wasn't able to get an accurate estimate of the attendance and erred on the not running out side.  The deviled eggs and dates were the only things I got right.
My brother and his family were visiting and we were out longer that morning than I had planned, so I put them to work.  It was weird having three sous-chefs, but it definitely made it possible to put together everything in an hour.

It wasn't intentional, but this is a kosher-dairy menu.  That came in handy when my choir wanted to come.  I have no idea how many observe kosher or how strict.  My kitchen isn't, and the plates and utensils aren't, but most Reform will eat off a non-kosher plate that's clean.  There's clean, and there's kashered with boiling water and/or a blowtorch.  As long as I'm not subbing lard for butter, it's close enough.

I also made more options than usual, but most recipes are repeats.  That isn't a big deal when most of the guests have never had it.  The gathering is more about socializing anyway.

First Course
Cucumber Sandwiches
Tuna salad on buckwheat toasts
Deviled Eggs
Bleu Cheese Mousse on Celery
Date and Walnut Bites

Second Course
Drunken Scones
Assorted Jams
Devon Cream

Third Course
Lavender Iced Sugar Cookies
Apricot Hamantaschen
Lemon Loaf
Chocolate Cream Puffs
Fresh Fruit Salad

Fresh Lemonade
Basil-Mint Iced Tea
Assorted Hot Teas

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Close Call

I almost had to bake all the bread for the upcoming tea.  Passover was so late, I only just finished the matzoh.  And that's with giving away 3 of the 5 boxes.  I'm serious about not buying a loaf of sliced bread until the matzoh is gone.  If there's an option, I'll never eat it.

But I did start prep-and-freeze.  I made two mini-loaves of buckwheat bread and two batches of cookie dough.  I do the latter sometimes even when there isn't a party.  Just write what it is and basic baking directions.  Defrost and bake as needed.  Way cheaper than store-bought frozen dough, and you probably have all the ingredients on hand.  Five minutes to measure and mix for a couple of dozen later.

Somewhere in all the stuff I had to do last month, I forgot to maintain the lettuces.  They bolted again, even worse than last time.  One of them started blooming purple flowers, something I hadn't foreseen.  So I don't have to buy flowers for the party.  I'll trim them down before the guests arrive.

As long as this is turning into a gardening post, I'm getting my first eggplant!  The cantaloupe is flowering, but the plant is small and weak.  I'm not sure I'm going to get anything out of it.  The cucumbers are very happy and growing very strong leaves.  I have some beets to pull and nothing lined up to do with them.  One can go on tonight's salad.  The best surprise was that Artie is growing back!  I get at least one more year of him.

And then a notice went out of a recall of the flour I often buy.  We threw out the flour at work, even though we don't buy that brand.  I found that silly, but the whole company was instructed to toss all the flour in the store if it was out of the wrapper and unable to provide proof of the source.  Bakeries do not keep flour in the bags.  It gets poured into an NSF-certified container to keep it from getting damp or infested.  My stash at home, which I've been using for weeks, is the same brand but one day different than the recall.  Plus, the recall was on unbleached flour and I use bleached.  Yes, it's a chemical, but I sometimes make something that will look odd in natural wheat color.  The aforementioned sugar cookies come to mind.  I'm not really concerned, since the recall was for potential E. coli contamination, which is killed at 165º.  Wheat starch doesn't gelatinize (cook) until considerably higher than that, and I'm not in the habit of eating raw flour.  The greater danger is if traces of flour contaminate surfaces that are then used to prepare food that will not receive further cooking.  I generally wash the countertops and bread board after every baking session to eliminate yeast or egg traces.  That will take care of E. coli as well.  I'm going to finish off that bag tomorrow, and the next one I got from the same place I bought the flour for work.