Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Other Side of the Peeler

Everyone at work was saying that the veggie peeler was dull and it was time to get a new one.  I wasn't having that problem, and thought it was another one of their issues that I always seem to have to fix.  I'm Mama Smurf at work.  They were mixing orange juice concentrate by hand for two days because the machine was "broken".  It wasn't turned on.

At home, I was using the peeler a lot one day.  My hand started to get tired, so I switched hands and kept going.  The peeler was a lot sharper on that side, because I hardly ever use it right-handed.  That was when I realized that my co-workers were probably right about the peeler.  I'm the only lefty at work.  My guide knife is sharper and my side of the peeler is more effective.  Maybe I should buy them a new peeler.

Now, if you're not really ambidextrous, I don't recommend switching hands with anything sharp.  Peelers aren't expensive and they do last several years under normal household conditions.  It's just something to consider.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Passover Vegetable Chili

I really did have enough toppings for the potato bar at Seder, but I wanted to make sure there was enough variety so guests could make completely different dishes even if they had two or more potatoes.  Harkening back to the butternut squash chili, I saw that I could easily replace the bulgur with quinoa and just veggie it up enough so you didn't notice the missing beans.  The crimini mushrooms took on the bean texture.  I discovered a few weeks ago by accident that they don't soften much during a short stewing and keep a chewy texture.

I did get it to thicken enough to count as chili, but it can also be thinned out with stock into a soup.  I dropped spoonfuls into the leftover turkey soup as a filling lunch.  In a non-Passover week, you could use it as a vegan protein pasta sauce.

It's always odd to me when the experiments are the memorable dishes.  Honestly, this is what I consider a barely edible leftovers concoction I would make only for me and not for company on a normal day, but it got raves as a new way to use quinoa. It's like the gingered bok choy I made once for seder, assuming most of it would be left over, and instead was completely gone.

And yes, I know many consider cumin kitniyot.  I'm relaxing my personal kitniyot rules to no soy, rice, corn, mustard, or legumes (and their derivatives), but otherwise naturally KLP items processed in a facility with them are ok.  I did experiment with using grapeseed oil instead of olive.  It was terribly expensive for an 8oz bottle, and I only used half the bottle in the entire seder, including salad dressing.  It's light and neutral, but too pricey to become a regular thing.

1/2 C dry quinoa
1/2 C diced red onion
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, diced
6 oz crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced (optional)
1 Tb chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 C water (or more)

1.  Pre-soak quinoa for two hours to remove residue.  This isn't necessary for health or safety reasons, but it will reduce the starchiness of the chili.  Drain and rinse.
2.  Into a larger saucepan than I used, place quinoa, onion, diced pepper, diced mushrooms, canned tomatoes with their juice, and seasonings.  Add 1 C water and heat to a simmer on medium.  Don't stir yet, because you want the quinoa on the bottom to absorb the liquid.  Cover.

3.  After fifteen minutes of simmering, stir chili and add the jalapeños if you want a spicier chili.  If the quinoa is cooked, you can estimate how thick you want your chili to be.  If it isn't completely done, you may need to add a bit more water.  Simmer for 5 more minutes, then taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve hot as a chili or cold as a salsa.

Makes about 1-1/2 quarts

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Turkey Matzoh Ball Soup

In culinary school, Chef invited some Jewish friends to our restaurant for lunch and assigned me the matzoh ball soup.  I think he had been waiting for a Jewish student for years for this.

I looked at the recipe he handed me.  It had broccoli and mushrooms in it, and no chicken.  I could not in good conscience make the recipe as written.  I got permission to strike out on my own and made what most Jews consider to be matzoh ball soup; mirepoix with a lot of salt and pepper, leftover chicken, and matzoh balls that hopefully don't break any teeth.

I did make my own stock for this one out of the last of the frozen turkey.  There was one wing in the bag, giving me just enough meat for two quarts worth of soup.  The matzoh balls were from a mix, so sorry if you clicked on the link in the hopes of getting a matzoh ball recipe.  Reform Jews reach for the box.
*2 lbs turkey bones with meat on them, like wings or a carcass
2 qts water
*1 bay leaf
*1/2 tsp dried sage
*1/4 tsp peppercorns
*2 C out of the broth bag or:

  • 1 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 stalks celery
1 package matzoh ball mix and whatever you mix into it
salt and pepper to taste (the mix is going to be salty, so go easy)
1.  Brown bones in a large saucepan over medium heat, about 5 minutes.  Add water and simmer, covered, for two hours.

2.  Add 2 cups assorted veggie trimmings or half of the items listed above.  Also add bay leaf, sage, and peppercorns and simmer an additional hour.

3.  Strain out everything until you have just the clear broth.  I used a double layer of cheesecloth over a mesh strainer to keep it as clear as possible.  Place the bones on a cutting board and get as much meat off them as you can.  Everything that isn't chopped turkey gets thrown out.

4.  Return stock and turkey to the pot.  Cut remaining onion, carrot, and celery into attractive pieces and add to the pot.  Simmer for half an hour while the matzoh balls are cooking.  Taste the broth and add salt and cracked pepper as needed.  Serve hot, with one to three matzoh balls per bowl.

Serves about 6-8

Difficulty rating :)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Seder 2017

I started to make my menu, keeping in mind what I have on hand and what was ready to pull in the garden.  Starters are always the same, boiled eggs and gefilte fish.  Then I decided to make matzoh ball soup, making my own stock with the last of the turkey bones in the freezer and using my home grown carrots and celery.

Then I got to the main course, and realized that I'd already planned a whole lot of protein.  Roast anything would get heavy fast.  Did I really dare to make a vegetarian (or even vegan) main course for a dinner party?  I have been to a kosher dairy seder before, and remember being unimpressed because it was all roasted vegetables and potato gratin.  I started thinking of quinoa and roasted veggies, plated in the kitchen, but couldn't come up with an appropriate side.  What would I serve, a baked potato?

And then the light bulb over my head clicked on.  A baked potato bar as the main course!  Like taco night, but on potatoes.  Totally crazy idea, but also really easy to make kosher for Passover.  Omit either meat or dairy and don't serve anything obviously out like beans.  I could easily create a chili around quinoa and veggies.  Since you wouldn't serve chili without sour cream and cheese, that settled it to dairy.  (In my house, separating meat and dairy by courses is the closest we ever get to kosher.)  That made a Greek salad an easy side dish.  Poached pears and ice cream made with my two mature beets finished off the menu.
The potato toppings got a little out of hand.  There were tiny spoons and tongs everywhere.  However, I didn't cut up the avocado because there wasn't enough interest in it.

The potatoes were more filling than I expected.  I had baked up a 5 lb bag so everyone could have two.  With everything else in four courses, no one had the second one.  On the other hand, I don't have to cook for the rest of Passover.

Since I wasn't investing in a meat dish, I sprang for making my own gefilte.  Well, half of my own, and half ground gefilte from Whole Foods.  I bought a whole rainbow trout so I could make fish stock and chopped up the meat to add to the gefilte mix.  I didn't like them as much as the ones I had made entirely on my own, but I was over-extended that week and needed the one shortcut.

Starters:  Boiled Egg, Gefilte Fish

Turkey Matzoh Ball Soup

Main:  Baked Potatoes and Greek Salad

Dessert:  Poached Pears and Beet Ice Cream

Since I didn't want flowers in the house as I recover from bronchitis, my hostess gifts were boxes of matzoh.  So glad I had only bought one box, because now I have the 5-pound case I had tried to avoid buying.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Orange Marmalade

That nasty cold ended up being bronchitis, so I've been kind of out of commission for a while.  The most elaborate thing I've made lately is a pot of wor wonton soup minus the won tons.  Not much to blog about there.

Then I opened my last jar of last year's jam, which happened to be a blueberry, and realized that it's almost Passover and I need more corn syrup-free jams.  It was time to have a major jamming session.  Strawberries and blackberries were on sale at Sprouts, but I needed a third something to make the day worthwhile, preferably of a lighter color and flavor.  I almost asked if I could pick a bag of apricots off the tree at an estate sale, but figured that would be too tacky.

I checked my tree to make sure I had enough lemons not to buy lemon juice, and realized how many Valencia oranges I have been not eating this winter.  I haven't posted an orange marmalade here because I haven't made one.
How to use up a 4 lb bag of sugar in one day
I read a bunch of recipes in the Ball book on how to make marmalade.  It's very labor intensive.  Then I found their recipe that involved tossing the oranges in the food processor.  I was about to use that when I found the Food in Jars recipe for blood orange marmalade and decided that I could apply it to my Valencias without too much more effort than the Ball since I wouldn't have to clean the food processor after.  The reason I read Marisa McClellan's blog is because she makes everything in small batches.  I don't need eight half-pint jars of any one flavor.  That's about how much jam I go through in an entire year.  Yes, this one involves an overnight soak.  So does my strawberry-lavender jam, so I was already doing one two-day jam and might as well add another.

*1 lb oranges (about 3 or 4)
2 1/2 C sugar
3 C water

1.  The night before, wash oranges well.  Cut off top and bottom, slice in half, and remove the seeds and core membranes.  Set those aside in a cheesecloth tied tight.
2.  With a very sharp knife, cut the thinnest slices possible of orange.  Then cut those semi-circles in half to have tons of little quarter slices.  Place those in a bowl with 3 cups of water.  Nestle the cheesecloth bag in the water and refrigerate the whole thing overnight.

3.  If canning, prepare for a 3 C yield.  Discard the cheesecloth bag.  Place the orange slices and water in a medium saucepan with the sugar.  Over medium heat, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
4.  Once boiling, reduce the mess by at least 1/3.  It's going to take at least half an hour.  It will get thick and sticky and start to sheet off the spoon.  Check for set with a chilled plate or the wrinkle test.

5.  If not canning, cool and refrigerate.  For canning, spoon into half-pint jars, center lids, screw on rims finger-tight, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Makes about 3 cups

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Decorating with Food

I'm going to start this post by admitting that food art is wasteful.  The whole point of this blog is to avoid wasting food.  Yet, part of food presentation includes the table, and that doesn't have to mean just flowers or candles.

This isn't about garnishing.  If a decorative element is a part of the dish and meant to be eaten, I heartily endorse it.  I'm talking about tomato roses, radish sunbursts, and bell pepper tulips.  Of course, with my so-so relationship with peppers, I would rather see them as decoration most of the time.  Somewhat less offensive is watermelon whales or baskets, since you scoop out the insides.  It isn't like a carved melon that isn't eaten, unless the back of that is carved out to put a light in it.

For some real fun with food that will never be eaten, check out this game I played recently.  Almost all of the scenes are dioramas made entirely of edibles.  You don't actually have to play the game to access the scenes, just look for arrows and hotspots.

I've also used bolted lettuce flowers as decoration, which is a much better use of the concept.  The bunches smell like freshly picked salad (in this case, arugula), and are an economical way to make use of the plant before giving up and ripping it out.  If you're growing broccoli, you can let some sprigs bloom for the same effect.  If the plant is successful, you won't mind in the least if some of it goes to seed.

A food decoration should also make sense with what you're serving.  For my senior culinary competition, I made tulips of bell peppers supported by asparagus stems reinforced by skewers.  Both vegetables were in the dishes I made.
If you're interested in the decorative garnishing aspect of garde manger, there are plenty of YouTube video demonstrations.  Just enter "vegetable carving" or "fruit carving" or something along those lines.  Something to do with all that zucchini you can't unload this summer.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Preserves in Action: Reuben Sandwich

I was on vacation during the time I would have marinated my own corned beef, so I bought one for considerably less.  Not the same as bragging rights.

Then of course came deciding what to do with the resulting meat.  I'm not a massive fan of the Reuben, but I kind of like it.  My problem is the Thousand Island dressing, because I don't really like the stuff.  It's the sweet pickle relish.  I don't like sweet pickle anything, and routinely pick them out of my hamburgers.  (I learned long ago never to make more than one adjustment when ordering off a menu, so I always choose that one thing to be the mayo or 1,000 Island, which you can't pick off.)  Looking at how I planned to alter the recipe, it was pretty close to Papa Smurf's Special Sauce, so I just made that.

I decided to do the variation of the sandwich that includes mustard, to finish off an open jar of Beer Mustard.  Instead of buying sauerkraut, I opened a jar of kohlrabi relish.  Same taste, and it's still veggies.

8 slices rye bread
1/4 C 1000 Island dressing
1/4 C mustard
8 thin slices Swiss cheese
1 lb thinly sliced corned beef
1 C sauerkraut

1.  Lay out bread slices in pairs, insides facing up.  Spread 1 Tb thousand island on each top, and 1 Tb mustard on each bottom.  Lay a slice of swiss on every bread slice.  Top with 1/4 lb corned beef per sandwich, a little on each face.

2.  Warm up sandwiches in the microwave for 30 seconds.
3.  If you have a sandwich or Foreman grill, close them up and go for it.  If not, toast open-faced either in the toaster oven or under the broiler, to melt the cheese and crisp up the bread.

4.  Spoon 1/4 C of drained sauerkraut on each sandwich.  Close, cut in half, and serve warm.

Difficulty rating  π

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tahini Lettuce Wraps

This was inspired by a couple of different dishes on The Chew, with an assist from some very healthy romaine in my front yard.  Really, a lettuce wrap is just putting the salad inside the leaf.
You could use pretty much any protein in these.  Tahini goes with everything.  I happened to choose tofu because I haven't had it in a while and I ate a lot of red meat and shellfish on the cruise.  The veggies were mostly what was on sale and some leftover tomatillo salsa.  And a one-pound carrot out of the garden that I kind of forgot about because it was behind a massive beet that I also should pull soon.

I also decided to try amaranth, a cousin of quinoa, as the grain.  It isn't KLP, but those rules are so arbitrary that if you use kitnyot, there's no problem with it.  It's a gluten-free seed that is loaded with nutrients and has been a staple of mesoamerica for millennia.  Personally, I found it gummy and dense, but the flavor was nice and once it merged with the tahini dressing, it wasn't so clumpy.

Tahini Vinaigrette
*1 Tb tahini paste
*2 Tb lemon juice (half a lemon)
*1 Tb rice wine vinegar
1 Tb olive oil
*1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper
*pinch of fresh grated ginger (optional)

1.  Whisk together all ingredients except the salt and pepper.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

2.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let flavors marry.  Re-whisk before using.  Makes about 1/3 cup.

Top quinoa, bottom amaranth
Amaranth Salad
1/2 C dry amaranth
*1 lb carrots
1/2 lb asparagus
1 Tb olive oil
*1 C tomatillo salsa or chopped Roma tomatoes
1 container extra-firm tofu
1/4 C chopped green onions for garnish
1/2 C raw cashews for garnish
1/4 C Greek yogurt for garnish
*1 head Romaine

1.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Peel carrots.  If you get stuck with thick asparagus like I did, peel asparagus.  You can't be picky for 88¢ per pound.  Cut both veggies into 2" sticks, like you were doing a stir-fry.  Carrots may have to be cut in halves or quarters.  In a bowl, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Wrap in foil and bake until just getting soft, about 30 minutes.

2.  While the veggies are roasting, make your salad dressing and amaranth.  In a small saucepan, combine amaranth and 1/2 C water.  Bring to a low boil, lower heat to simmer, and cover.  Cook until all water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

3.  Prep your garnishes and chop the tomatoes (or drain extra liquid out of salsa).  Slice the tofu into manageable pieces.  For cashews, toast in a dry pan over medium heat.  Season with salt, chili powder, or whatever you want.
4.  In a bowl, toss together roasted veggies, tomatoes/salsa, amaranth, tofu, and tahini dressing.  Salad can be served at room temperature, or pre-made and held in the refrigerator.  Spoon a generous amount of salad onto each leaf of Romaine.  Garnish with yogurt, cashews, and onions and serve 2 to 3 per person, depending on size of leaves.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Less is More

Sorry this took a while.  I got a nasty cold on the boat and only just got around to uploading photos.  At least my worst days were after the cruise was over.

I did get photos of some wonderfully arranged food.  Holland America, for the most part, has reduced the likelihood of illness (the petri dish of shaking hands and pressing elevator buttons not included) by setting out pre-portioned dishes, even at the buffet.  It upset many of my traveling companions that they could not serve themselves, but I appreciated the effort from a food safety point of view.

My lunchtime favorite quickly became the small-plates array.  Any appetizer I had skipped the night before was likely to be there in a slightly altered fashion, as well as creative vegetable dishes.  There was always a charcuterie plate and a cheese arrangement.  Small bowls of grain salads that I later learned were the vegan options were less popular, but still available.
What really struck me was the portion size.  It was appropriate.  You could have two or three small plates and a roll and call it lunch.  Sure, there was a taco bar and a hamburger window.  Someone else was making carvery sandwiches that would put Subway to shame.  And fancy desserts were set out at all times.  Let's not even go into the extensive breakfast options.  (I tried every version of Eggs Benedict they served.)  But what really struck me was the adherence to the three-ounce rule.  Only dinner entrees were large, and even then it was a manageable amount of food.  I ate more in port.  And managed to gain less than two pounds in the week.  Yes, even with two or three desserts a day over the course of four meals (we were late seating, so we had some kind of teatime every day).
There's also a beauty in presenting a few slices of something.  It's almost about the negative space on the plate.  You can decorate with a few leaves or nuts and a light drizzle of sauce.  While this technique is impractical for a large buffet party at home, you can still do some presentation with tasting cups or small plates and just leave the big stuff for self-serve.  I did that with some individual 6-layer dip cups once.
Parisian Benedict: baguette, arugula, prosciutto, poached egg, hollandaise
It may be a few more days before I feel like cooking anything interesting.  Right now, it's mostly canned soup.  I did buy a blueberry pie.  Happy π Day!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Part X : Presentation

It has been a very long time since I've changed topics.  Since I'm always learning, I'm always finding new things to share.

Part of culinary arts - a big part - is an exciting presentation.  Anyone can throw food on a plate.  Think of what your meal looks like when you sit down after loading up at a buffet, or even serving yourself from the items on the table at home.  Then think about a meal presented by a server.  Even a cheap diner will make some kind of effort.  Granted, an expensive restaurant will have a more elevated level of presentation.

Right now, I'm driving down to San Diego to board a weeklong cruise.  (Don't worry; I wrote this ahead of time.)  Assuming cruise ships aren't declared enemy combatants in the next week - odder things have happened recently - I'll have plenty of photos when I get back of elegantly arranged food and decorative elements.

I'm not taking photos of every meal.  I really hate when people Instagram everything they eat.  Plus, I'm not taking my computer and the memory card would fill up.  I'm going to photograph things that anyone can do without much added time and expense that will make a meal look professional.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Almost Home-Made

I found some Rana ravioli in the freezer that I think I bought because it was on sale.  I'm going on vacation at the end of the week and am trying to use up perishables.  I think I bought too much milk.  Anyway, I had half of a 2-pound bag of rainbow carrots and most of a meal was born.  I picked up some fresh green beans and made an alfredo with some of that extra milk and cheap parmesan from a canister.
There were still a couple of carrots left.  I put them in a stoo over couscous and should run out of most of my perishable food by Saturday.  We'll see if the open container of orange juice and the remaining milk are passable when I get back.

Quickie Alfredo

1 batch white sauce base + extra milk to taste
*1/2 C diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp nutmeg
*1/2 tsp dried oregano
*1/4 C grated parmesan

1.  For making the white sauce base, sauté the onion in the butter first.  Add garlic and cook about one minute, then add the flour and work in the milk.  Stir in salt and pepper to taste, as well as nutmeg and dried oregano.

2.  Stir in parmesan.  If too thick for your use, slowly add extra milk to desired consistency.

Makes between 1 and 2 cups

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Cranberry-Yogurt Dressing

Hey, I found something Google doesn't have yet!  I really thought that was impossible.

After a bit of menu evolution, I decided to make a harvest salad of shredded chicken, roasted rainbow carrots, candied walnuts, chopped dates, and greens from the garden.  The purpose of this salad was to use a 4 oz jar of cranberry sauce.  I also happened to have nearly a quart of (not Greek) plain yogurt that I had bought for breakfasts before I decided to make something else.

So, all the cranberry salad dressing recipes online are either vinaigrettes or use cream cheese as the thickener.  I'm sure they taste great, but that wasn't what I wanted to make.  I used their flavor profiles as a guideline and struck out on my own.  What I ended up with reminded me of a creamy raspberry dressing and was pretty much what I had in mind.  You could even thin it out with more yogurt into a smoothie, but there might be too much of a vinegar tang to drink it straight.

This recipe also works great when you have just a little bit of cranberry sauce left over after Thanksgiving and are so stuffed that all you want is a light salad.

*1/2 C cranberry sauce (can be whole or jellied)
1 Tb white wine vinegar
*1/2 C plain yogurt
1/8 tsp dried rosemary
dash salt

1.  Put everything in the blender.

2.  Run until smooth.

3.  Chill until ready to use.

Makes about 1 cup

Difficulty rating  π

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Passover Cheesecake

Ok, first of all, the cake fell badly.  But it tastes amazing, so I'm posting it.  Now, the picture...
I have a lot of canned blueberry jam from last spring and a brick of cream cheese that expires in a month.  I'm also trying to buy as little chometz as possible so the Purim-to-Passover purge doesn't consist of all bizarre menus.  I'm actually doing very well.  Also, I wanted a baked dessert, despite pre-dieting before vacation next week.  I can finally chew without pain most of the time and I want to enjoy food.

A quick search of "Passover Cheesecake" found this one from Chabad.  I'm adding an almond crust, but it's still gluten-free and kitnyot-free.  I liked the idea of whipping the egg whites separately, like a soufflé.  It's still going to fall if you cool it too quickly, but the chiffon nature will keep it from turning into a brick when it does.

I made a 6" cake with a half recipe, and it really filled the springform.  I don't know how the original fit in a 9x13.  Plus, the photo was clearly from a round cake pan, probably a springform.  I'm going to assume that your standard 9" or 10" springform will be the best choice.

2 C ground almond meal
1/4 C butter, melted
1/8 tsp nutmeg
6 eggs, separated
1-1/4 C granulated sugar
*2 bricks cream cheese
1 C nonfat sour cream or nonfat Greek yogurt
*2 tsp lemon juice (because extracts are not KLP)
1 Tb potato starch

1.  Grease the pan with a little bit of butter.  The original recipe skips this step, and I think it's why my cake imploded.  If you have parchment paper, it wouldn't hurt to make a collar for the pan, like you were making a soufflé.  Separate the eggs now, so the whites can come up to room temperature by the time you need them.  Room temperature egg whites make better meringues.
2.  In a bowl, stir together almond meal, 1/4 C sugar, and the nutmeg.  Add melted butter and stir until everything is dampened into a paste.  Press onto springform to cover the bottom and as far up the sides as it can go.  Start preheating the oven to 350º, with the cake rack on the middle setting.  I recommend putting an empty cookie sheet on the rack below it in case the pan leaks butter.

3.  Beat together egg yolks and 1/2 C sugar until pale and fluffy.  Beat in yogurt, lemon juice, cream cheese, and potato starch until smooth.

4.  In a separate bowl with clean beaters, beat egg whites to soft peaks.  Slowly add the remaining 1/2 C sugar and continue beating into a stiff and shiny meringue.  Fold whites into batter, then pour into pan.  Bake for 50 minutes, until center is set.  If not ready, check every 5 minutes.

5.  Turn off oven and keep the door shut.  Cool cake in oven like that for one hour.  Then crack the door open and cool for another hour.

6.  Once cake is close to room temperature, loosen the sides from the pan with a thin knife and pop the spring.  If you're lucky, most of the cake will stay intact.  It's pretty awesome-tasting just like that, or you can beat together a cup of yogurt with a tablespoon of sugar for topping, and/or top with fresh or cooked fruit.
I snacked on all the crumbly bits that fell off

Difficulty rating  :)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Extreme Measures

We had a storm over the weekend.  I haven't used the sprinklers since December, so I figured it would be more of the same.  Then they started rattling off expected rain totals, and my area was listed in the 4+ inches zone.

Two inches of rain is enough to flood the Pond for a couple of days.  I had no idea what four inches would do, because that doesn't happen around here.  Ever.  As in my parents bought this house in 1979 and I don't think it has rained that much in two days, much less one.  My choices were to pull all the beets and carrots or try to protect them.

Really, I only had to make sure no more than two inches fell in the Pond in a 24-hour period.  Going through the garage, I found a large picnic awning that I've never used, but have seen assembled.  It said "assembles in minutes".

Technically, all time is "minutes".  I gave up after about fifteen of them and used the poles to create a lattice on which to lay the tarp, like when I put up the chicken-wire cage against critters.
I felt really dumb, stretching a 12'x12' piece of tarp over the Pond on a beautiful day with hardly a cloud in the sky and weighing it down with rocks against non-existent winds.  Meteorology has come a long way in the past couple of decades.  It isn't Back to the Future II accurate, but it's good enough that I was doing this after a long baking shift.
The rain and wind did indeed come the next day.  If I had set up the awning the way I wanted originally, the whole thing would have blown away.  The water pooled, and I had to go out and put a couple more rocks on the edges where they were catching the wind.  The empty trash cans blew around a lot and my side gate almost broke.  I'm planning to redo that side's gate and fence this year, and this made me think that sooner would be better.  The patio furniture is washed, though.  Many areas of L.A. and Ventura got worse, and several freeways were flooded.
The next afternoon, the skies cleared and it was time to remove the tarp.  I hadn't planned on how heavy it would be.  A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds, and there were probably 20 gallons in various areas of the tarp.  I pulled them up to get as much water as possible in a single section and bailed it out with a bucket.  Some did get through on the sides, but a few gallons is much better than all of it.
When the tarp was light enough, it was time to find out if this whole drama had been worth it.  I dumped the last five gallons or so on the lawn and looked underneath.
The largest beet's greens had mostly snapped at the stem, and the smaller one next to it wasn't very happy.  All of the carrot greens had been pushed down by the water, but only a few had snapped.  The celery may actually be happier than before, and the few carrot sprouts I have were intact.  It will be a couple of days before I can see how everything recovers but I should really pull that huge beet anyway.

What this experience has taught me is that the next time the storm of the decade is announced, I need to invest in one of those arched garden covers that are used in areas that get cold.  It would have been way easier, even if it had blown to the other side of the yard.

As for the actual rain total…slightly over two inches in 24 hours.  I probably didn't even need to go through all this.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Tamale Pie (Vegetarian Version)

I ran out of ideas for finishing off the package of tortillas from the tortilla soup.  The package has been in the freezer off and on since October.  Last time I buy 30 corn tortillas without a plan.  I can snack on flour tortillas without even putting anything on them, but am not so fond of the corn ones.

Revisiting an older recipe, I didn't really feel like ground beef and bought some black beans instead.  I've been trending vegetarian lately.  Maybe I just don't feel like cooking meat right now.  Maybe I still don't feel like chewing meat.  Anyway, I decided to substitute the five remaining corn tortillas for the bottom crust of the tamale pie and top it with the polenta mix.

I know, you're going to look at this recipe and say "really, eggplant again?", but I ended up liking the result.  You hardly taste it, and it gives the casserole a buttery texture, as though the cheese ran all the way through it.  If you really can't stand eggplant, substitute zucchini or yellow squash to get the same texture and similar nutritional value.

I do confess, I've been watching My 600-lb Life, and I was thinking of how this would work in a diet.  It really isn't that bad.  The cornmeal and tortillas run you around 200 calories per serving, but everything else combined is only about another 250-300.  For what looks like a decadent Tex-Mex meal, this is a well-rounded dish that won't break your diet.  It's low fat, high fiber, high iron, and has a reasonable amount of salt.

1 C dry black beans
1 medium eggplant
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
*1/2 C diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
*1 C Mexican-style shredded cheese
*3/4 C cornmeal
1 C milk
1-1/2 C water
1/4 tsp salt
1 C enchilada sauce
*5 small corn tortillas
*plain nonfat yogurt and avocado for garnish

1.  Early in the day, soak beans in water for at least 4 hours.  Drain, then return to the saucepan.  Refill with water and add a dash of salt.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 2 hours, until tender.  Drain.

2.  While the beans are simmering, cook the eggplant.  Pierce several times and bake at 400º until it collapses, about 1 hour.  When cool enough to handle, split down the middle and scoop out the pulp.

3.  In a bowl, toss together beans, eggplant pulp, tomatoes, garlic, and diced onion.  Set aside while you make the cornmeal.

4.  While the oven is preheating to 375º, stir together cornmeal, milk, water, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Stir constantly to avoid scorching the bottom.  It will thicken and start to spit at you within 10 minutes.  When mixture mounds as it's dropped from the spoon, you're ready to assemble the casserole.  Turn off the heat first, so the cornmeal doesn't explode all over the stove.
5.  I got creative with the tortillas and cut them into interesting shapes to make them fill the bottom of the 8x8 pan.  Spoon about 1/4 C of enchilada sauce on the bottom of the pan first, and another 1/4 C to soak the tops of the tortillas.
6.  Pour vegetable mixture on top of tortillas and spread out evenly.  Spoon on another 1/2 C of enchilada sauce and encourage it to soak in-between the spaces.  Top with cornmeal mush and sprinkle with cheese.
7.  Cook casserole until cheese is melted and crust is toasty, about 20-30 minutes.  The insides will be boiling, so let it rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting.  Serve warm, topped with yogurt (or fat-free sour cream) and avocado.

Difficulty rating  :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Seed Tray

Some of my greens are starting to bolt, so I decided to start new ones inside in the hopes they will be ready to transplant around the time I pull the old ones.  There's also the annoying problem of the mailman stepping on the spinach line of my front yard lettuces.  I need a short fence; the little ID sticks are apparently not hint enough.

I'm not worried about the arugula.  That stuff grows as well as a weed.  It's the more delicate items like parsley, cress, and my ever-failing spinach that need help.  I'm also doing the catnip indoors because it's a relative of mint, so I won't put it in the ground.  I'll find it a pot eventually.

I'm disappointed in the cilantro seeds.  After two plantings, both the original batch and the ones I harvested from last year's plants have failed to sprout.  I'll give it one more chance before dumping the harvested ones in the coriander seed spice container for use in broths and brines.  I'm already thinking of buying a brisket for corned beef.  I still have some canned Oktoberfest mustard and kohlrabi relish to have with it.  Actually, I have a lot of preserves, period.  I was thinking of making some new jams, but I really need to finish off last year's first.

It does seem silly to start anything inside in such a warm climate zone, but it's about having enough space.  This helps me to rotate, like buying seedlings at the nursery, but you save a little money by doing the seed packs.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Chicken and Dumplings

My jaw is slowly recovering from the dental work, emphasis on the slowly part.  I made the mistake of eating medium-rare steak, which was just painful.  I'm also losing weight that I can't afford to lose.  The first pound was fun, but the couple after that made me realize that I needed to eat more.  The problem is that I look at anything with texture and get a nutrition shake instead.

Then I remembered that, when I was recovering from jaw surgery years ago, I ate a whole Baker's Square pot pie without chewing.  Moment of pride that I hadn't choked on it; I was really hungry.  I've already posted a pot pie here, but chicken and dumplings is similar and I've never made that.

A quick search found that you don't normally put veggies in the stew.  If you do, it's more like a pot pie filling.  Since I can't really chew crisp veggies right now, I decided to skip tradition and simmer them in the pot and serve the whole thing kind of like a stew/soup.

I'm starting with this recipe as one being on the Southern side.  I'm changing up a couple of things.  By cooking the chicken in the final water, you can cut the amount of broth in half, which cuts the added salt in half.  It's just the difference between using roasted versus braised chicken.  If you simmer with the bones and skin, it won't have that dry and pasty texture.  Or, you could go the quickie route and use canned chicken.  I can guarantee you that's what places like Cracker Barrel use.

1 quart unsalted chicken stock
2 lbs skin-on, bone-in chicken pieces
*1/2 C diced onion
*1/2 C diced celery
1 Tb margarine, plus 2 more Tb later
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
*1 C frozen peas
2 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 C milk
salt and pepper to taste

1.  In a large saucepan or stock pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Sauté onions and celery until softened.  Place chicken pieces skin-side down and cook until slightly browned, about 3 minutes.

2.  Add stock to the pot.  If it doesn't almost cover the chicken pieces, the pot's too big.  Add water until pieces are barely submerged.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cover.  Cook until pieces are done, turning over after half an hour to make sure they are thoroughly cooked.  It should take about 40-50 minutes.
3.  While the chicken is simmering, make the dumplings.  Combine flour and baking powder in a bowl.  Cut in butter like you were making biscuits.  Slowly add milk.  You may not need it all.  One tablespoon is the difference between too dry and mushy.  Turn out dough on a well-floured board and roll 1/8" thick.  Cut small pieces, about 1" square, with a knife or pizza cutter.  I suggest using the rest of the 45 minutes to wash some dishes.  I waited until the end, and they accumulated much more than I was expecting.
4.  Remove chicken to a cutting board, leaving the pot on the stove.  Once cool enough to handle, take off skin and bones and discard.  Chop or shred the meat and return to the pot with the peas and carrots.  Taste the broth and add salt and pepper as needed.

5.  Bring pot back up to a low boil and start adding the dumplings.  Stir after every layer goes in to distribute them.  Once all of them are in, lower the heat, cover, and simmer another 15 minutes, until everything is thickened.  You can wash the cutting board and bowl, so the dishes will be almost done before dinner.

6.  Ladle into bowls while hot and serve immediately.  If you have leftovers, they're going to look like condensed soup the next day.  A little water and a couple of minutes in the microwave will turn it back into a stew state.

Difficulty rating  :)