Friday, May 24, 2013
Hey, look! I'm back from my time in Indiana. Actually I left last Thursday and have been back since Sunday night, but in between recovery from the amazing, sleep-deprived trip we took and all the end-of-school festivities, I haven't been up for much beyond getting my daily tasks finished. I'll share some photos from the trip later on, but for now I'll just say that it was the most fun I've had in ages, and that was in no way due to what we got to see or how we did in our robotics competition (we won absolutely nothing, and that was A-okay). It was all the people--some of my very best friends whom I feel so privileged to be able to do things like that with. To show you a little about them, here's one of my favorite shots from the trip. Climbing on a fountain (we were totally three levels up by the time we were ordered down). So mature.
Over the three nights and four days we spent together I got about 15 hours of sleep, so all that just added to the craziness. After the second day we had about two modes of operation: insanely sleepy, and insanely hyper. The crash after we got back was pretty bad, but honestly--I'd do it all over again. It was so, so worth it.
What was nice about getting back home was being in the kitchen and garden again. Not necessarily taking on any big projects, just the day-to-day maintenance of cleaning and weeding, picking and making simple breakfasts and lunches. I haven't had the energy to really put myself into anything at home this week, but I've been surprised by just how much the everyday tasks kept me afloat in a sea of overwhelming events and to-do lists. Getting away from the computer and connecting with my surroundings for more of the day is definitely a big lesson that I'm still in the process of learning. It surely does help that the garden is still so pretty, now that aggressive green of spring-becoming-summer. The berries are starting to form, squash and peppers are blooming their promise of future produce, and of course there are always the flowers. Buds and blooms, wild and cultivated or somewhere in between, and all delightfully fun to photograph (or haven't you noticed?).
And in light of getting back to basics, today's cookie couldn't be any closer to them: a classic chocolate chip with no oatmeal, nuts, cranberries, citrus, herbs, or any of the other additions I love to use. Sure, it's fun to improve, but without the classics, what would we have to return to and play with?
I guess this isn't quite the all-American classic, being made with all butter, free-range eggs, natural sugar, and whole wheat flour, but it's as close as I can bring myself to get for an everyday treat. I used white whole-wheat flour to mellow out the wheat-ey taste without sacrificing nutrition, but you can use regular whole wheat if you want. Maybe I'm so used to whole grain baking that I didn't notice the difference, but to me these really did just taste like your regular chocolate chip cookie with just a little more depth of flavor. I highly doubt that children or picky guests would be able to tell much of a difference!
Adapted from Orangette.
2 sticks/ 1 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural cane sugar or white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
12 oz. baking chocolate or chocolate chips
1. Beat the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat again until combined. Add the flour, baking powder, and baking soda (sift if lumpy) and stir until all the flour is incorporated.
2. Mix in the chocolate chips, then let the whole mix chill in the fridge (still in the bowl) for 30 minutes to an hour. Then, prepare 2 baking sheets and dollop out the cookie dough in large-ish balls. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 15-20 minutes or until just barely firm. Makes close to 30.
Monday, May 13, 2013
I almost didn't end up posting this recipe. Not because it turned out badly--in fact, it was great--but because today I just didn't exactly feel like making the effort to get something up. I tried to tell myself that it was okay, that if I wasn't "feeling" it, then maybe I shouldn't post at all, but then I realized that I was just being a bit lazy and overwhelmed, and that accessing my creative outlet would actually make me feel better and more motivated.
So you could call this post my attempt to make a tired Monday morning into a productive and energized Monday afternoon and evening. I do sort of need that, considering I have a voice recital tonight that I'm both very excited and beginning to hit the nerves about. After this, I think a little yoga and quiet garden work will be put on the agenda.
These muffins are a recipe that you can spin in a couple of different directions: with the rich almond sauce as a special dessert, or with a simple flaked almond topping as a nice morning or midafternoon snack. (Or, of course, you could make a double batch and have both.) I adapted the recipe to make a slightly unconventional number of muffins--nine--because that was what I wanted at the time and because they don't keep particularly well. They're from one of my favorite cooking resources right now, The Sprouted Kitchen's cookbook. I stayed pretty true to the idea of the recipe but made it a little less fussy. It's nice to fuss sometimes, but I don't think Sara's and my fridge staples always coincide, so I didn't want to fill up ours with things we weren't too keen on using.
The couple of things I'd call really special about this recipe is the unusual almond butter sauce (meant to be a frosting, but something went a little wacky and I decided it was better that way anyway) and the fact that they manage to be very low-gluten but still rise very nicely. I think a lot of work went into the flour/leavener balance, and I definitely appreciated that.
To make a less decadent snacking sort of muffin, sprinkle some flaked almonds on top of the batter in the muffin cups and serve as is. To make a more dessert-worthy confection, leave the tops bare but serve split in half in bowls with the almond sauce and some chocolate and flaked almonds.
3/4 cup almond flour
1/2 cup natural sugar
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk (if you don't keep any in the fridge, add a little lemon juice to 1/2 a cup of milk and let sit overnight to make a substitute)
1/2 cup chocolate chips, chopped into smaller pieces if desired
flaked almonds and chocolate to serve, optional
2/3 cup cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar, more as needed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond butter
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a muffin tin with nine wrappers. In a large bowl, stir together the almond meal, sugar, whole wheat flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and baking soda.
2. Whisk the eggs, butter, vanilla, and buttermilk together in a smaller bowl, then pour them into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined--don't over-mix. Stir in the chocolate chips, then spoon the batter into the wrappers, pressing some flaked almonds on the top if desired.
3. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and prepare the sauce, if using, by whisking the powdered sugar and vanilla into the cream and then gently adding the almond butter. Makes 9 muffins.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
I’ve actually been so busy cooking during this second half of the week that I have not one, not two, but three recipes in the queue waiting to be blogged about. There’s a soup, a stew, and some muffins all in line to get their turn in the spotlight in the next few days, and I can barely choose between them. I think today I will give you the soup, since it had been in my “to cook” list for the longest time before I finally got around to it. But you already knew that from the title of the post, did you not?
You also know what kind of soup it is, but I’m going to tell you again. I’d call it a less traditional take on onion soup, with sweet onions (they don’t have to be Vidalia) caramelized down with butter for ages and ages then further cooked with some stock and herbs. Then, you get to make a batch of nice nutty wild rice and pop it into the bottom of the bowl before you ladle the soup on top and tuck in. There’s a lot of the “slow food” mentality to it—a focus on a few simple, quality ingredients cooked without cutting any corners. It’s one of those recipes where you can just taste the time and effort put into it.
It was my first time really letting a big bunch of onions sauté super slowly and really cook in their own juices to bring out the sweetness, and I was very pleased with the depth of flavor I got from it. Be forewarned that it does take a while—I took at least half an hour before mine were sufficiently done, and I could have even given them a little more time than I did.
The original recipe I worked from called for a bundle of ¾ cup of your favorite herbs, chopped, which you went on to wrap in cheesecloth and tie with string and float in the soup to infuse it with flavor, but I thought it would be simpler to just throw a smaller amount in. The herbs you use are mostly up to you—I used a lot of parsley and thyme with a little sage and purple basil thrown in, and the recipe also suggests some tarragon and chives. Either way, just work from flavors you like and don’t let any one herb dominate, since their purpose is just to add background flavor.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
2/3 cup uncooked wild rice (I think a little more than this would also work)
3 tbsp butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 ½ pounds Vidalia or other sweet onions, very finely chopped (two ginormous ones did it for me)
5-6 cups (it will seem like a lot, but trust me) vegetable stock
¼ cup chopped herbs (from ¾ to 1 cup unchopped)
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
parsley for garnish
1. Rinse and sort the wild rice, then combine with 2 cups water in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then down to a simmer and cover, stirring occasionally, until all the water is absorbed. When cooked, fluff with a fork or spoon and stir in a little pat of butter if you want.
2. After you've put the rice on, melt the 3 tbsp butter in the bottom of a large saucepan over your lowest heat setting. Add the onions and garlic and cook for 15 minutes, stirring very very occasionally. After that, turn the heat up a little and add a pinch of salt if you wish. Cook for 15-20 more minutes, stirring more frequently, until the onions are slightly browned and have gone limp and sweet.
3. Add the stock, herbs, and cumin, then bring to the boil and then down to a simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then dish up some wild rice in the bottom of your soup bowls and cover with soup. Garnish with a little parsley and serve (we also enjoyed it with some grated cheese). Serves 4-5.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Out of all the savory dishes I've posted on here so far, this is without a doubt one of the very best. It's so light and fresh and flavorful with all the lovely springy ingredients gardens have to offer right now--parsley, asparagus, and sugarsnap peas--as well as some fridge and pantry staples, and all that as well as the technique and spot-on flavor combination come together to make it just so much more than the sum of its parts. I wish I could make it again right here and now and let you all come taste just how amazing it is, but alas, we're rather separated... and I have to wait for the next batch of peas and asparagus before it gets on the menu again.
Making a risotto with farro is, I think, a real improvement on the classic--not just something I did out of guilt. I usually find risottos made with white rice as well as lots of soft cheese and cream to be just sort of sickly, but with farro and a nice amount of parmesan and lemon juice, the flavor and texture were just right, savory and chewy. The fresh sweetness of the peas and asparagus also helped it out quite a bit.
I'm always on the lookout for asparagus recipes that don't require a bunch of spears and work for ones of different length and thickness, since we have our own asparagus patch and probably average around 3-5 spears per day, and I can't even hoard them or leave them in the ground longer because they'll lose their flavor and go woody. Not that I'm really complaining--having an asparagus bed is a great thing, just a little finicky some days.
Cooking the risotto itself is pretty brainless; all you do is saute the onions and garlic, then add the farro and some wine, then hot stock at intervals until it's all absorbed. The only thing you really need to do is have all your ingredients prepped before you begin, since you have to give the stove fairly constant attention once you start cooking. It's nothing so needy that you can't clean the kitchen a little and set the table while you're working, but don't expect a bunch of uninterrupted time while you wait.
Another thing I loved about this recipe was that it didn't produce gargantuan portions. I've been really intrigued with the French example of savoring small portions of food instead of devouring enormous ones, so this light yet satisfying and flavorful meal really fit the bill for me. It reminded me that moderation doesn't necessarily mean deprivation, something that we Americans could do well to remember.
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
2 tbsp olive oil, separated
1 small onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups vegetable stock plus 1 cup water
1/2 cup farro, rinsed
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh peas
9 spears asparagus, chopped
about a cup of very finely grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
2-3 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
extra lemon juice and parmesan for garnish
1. Put the stock and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat, adding a little more water as necessary when some has evaporated. In another saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic, sauteing until translucent. Then, add the farro and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring frequently.
2. Add the wine and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, then add about half a cup of stock, cooking until absorbed; then add another half cup, and continue in this way until all the stock is absorbed, adding the asparagus with the last addition of stock and the peas a minute or two before the risotto is done.
3. When all the liquid is absorbed, remove from the heat and stir in the extra tablespoon of olive oil, lemon juice and zest, parmesan, and parsley. Dish up and garnish with extra lemon zest and parmesan and add salt and pepper to taste; serves two.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Gentle rains have been falling on and off almost nonstop since this Friday, and as a result everything has become vibrantly green. Parts of the garden have taken on an almost mysterious quality, and walking through the undergrowth and under the viney canopies makes me feel as if I'm in an Arthurian myth. Everything is quiet and enchanting.
I was walking through the vegetable garden the other day when I noticed the most heavenly sweet, floral scent in the air by the tomato plants. Looking up from my ministrations, I saw with delight that the honeysuckle had begun to bloom. That very minute, I decided I had to figure out something to make with them--they were practically begging me, after all!
After some research concerning their edibility--which, as I suspected, was a yes to your normal backyard honeysuckle flowers--I decided that the best way to enjoy them was to combine them with another project I've been wanting to try: making my own chai tea. I've been subsisting off some chai tea bags I bought in England ever since my conscience prompted me to stop drinking coffee every day, but they won't last forever and I'm eager to have some that are tailored specifically to my tastes.
Consulting the percentages on the package, I discovered that normal chai is about 2/3 black tea leaves and 1/3 spices. I made mine about half tea, half spices but didn't measure too terribly precisely, so the amounts I give below are subject to taste. If you don't like an ingredient I've used or want to add others, feel completely free to do so! Some things you might add that I didn't fancy include chopped pieces of vanilla bean, fennel seeds, star anise, and a little bit of dried chile for a spicy kick. I didn't have whole dried ginger pieces, but since I did want to include it I used a few teaspoons of the powdered kind.
I found that the dried honeysuckle blossoms I included in the loose tea mix really did add a substantial floral flavor to the tea--it was almost just as prominent to the normal chai flavor, and I really enjoyed that. It was very comforting, refreshing, and deep, brewed in the cup with some milk and raw honey. I felt like a "real" hippie drinking my home-blended tea with foraged flowers and looking out into our beautiful, wild garden.
3/4 to 1 cup fresh honeysuckle blossoms
1/2 cup black tea leaves
1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon bark, broken into small pieces
1 1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp green cardamom pods
2 tsp ground dried ginger
milk and sweetener to taste
1. Dry the honeysuckle blossoms either by putting them in the dehydrator for a little under an hour or until papery or placing them in newspaper in a cool, dry area for a few days.
2. Combine the dried honeysuckle, tea, and spices and store in an airtight container.
3. To brew tea for one, add 1-2 teaspoons of the mix to the bottom of a mug or a teapot. For Indian-style chai, add milk, boiling water, and sweetener (I like a tad bit of honey) all at the same time and steep for 4-5 minutes; for British-style, steep the tea only with boiling water and add milk and sweetener later on. If made in the cup, skim off whatever's on the top and leave the bottom for reading tea leaves; if in a teapot, pour through a tea strainer into the cup.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
|My sadly attacked okra plant|
I am sick of roly polies in my garden. They have killed so many plants: 2 okra, 3 cucumber, and 3 crookneck squash, with others looking bitten up as well. No more will this continue; I'm declaring war. Sustainable, eco-friendly war, but war all the same. And how am I doing this? With a handy little substance called diatomaceous earth.
Diatomaceous earth is a fine white powder made from ground fossilized insects, plankton, and algae. Because its crystals are very sharp and abrasive, it kills small creatures with exoskeletons by boring inside them, taking away their protective oils, etc. As it's really no more than purified earth, it has no harmful effects on humans, animals, or plants. It contains no artificial chemicals, herbicides, or insecticides; only its convenient molecular and crystal structure make it lethal for insects. Because of these fortunate facts, we feel free to use it with abandon to control pests in our vegetable garden, porch, etc. Also, it's cheap.
How to shop for it: look for 100% diatomaceous earth; some mixes can contain artificial pesticides. Also, make sure that you are buying food-grade diatomaceous earth for use in gardens, not the pool kind, as the pool-grade diatomaceous earth contains unsafe levels of silica (up to 70%) whereas food grade is 1% or less--in other words, totally harmless.
How to use it: diatomaceous earth is NOT an insect bait or poison in the traditional sense; instead, it works as a lethal barrier between bugs and your house/plants/whatever. To use it for plants, take a small handful (no gloves necessary since it's nontoxic) and use it to coat the ground around the stem. Repeat every time it gets wet--sometimes even a heavy dewfall can necessitate replenishing. I use it in the vegetable garden for all the mulched plants (since roly polies like to live in leaf litter) except cauliflower, which seems to hold its own, and root veggies, because they seem to get plagued sometimes as well. I haven't been using it for too terribly long, but it has worked wonderfully so far. I have definitely seen dead roly polies around the protected plants on a regular basis.
A couple more interesting facts before I hit publish: diatomaceous earth is used in most grain storing facilities to control insect problems without toxic chemicals, and some people like to consume it dissolved in beverages as a dietary supplement. Weird, but apparently effective.
And if you think it's odd for a vegetarian to be heartlessly killing insects... well, I AM protecting my vegetables, after all!
I got a lot of this information from an article on Rich Soil.
Today I'm wearing a vintage (early 90s) dress that I scored at a garage sale a few weeks ago. Although I've got quite a few vintage hats, jewelry, etc., I haven't had a lot of experience with vintage clothes before, and I thought I'd share a few tips I've learned after I give you the deets on my outfit.
Necklace: St. Christopher heart
Dress: vintage, from a garage sale
Okay, now to the things I've learned.
1) Vintage clothes are often differently cut. There's not such a focus on ease of movement in women's clothes, so be prepared for tight shoulders and hips as well as a much more structured fit in general.
2) Zippers, labels, and buttons can often become unreadable/lose functionality quicker than the rest of the garment. My dress has a zipper in the back and I've noticed that this can come down on its own when the dress is on a hanger, so I think I'll sew a hook and eye onto it soon.
3) Going back to #1, vintage tunics and dresses aren't always the best for certain activities that their modern counterparts would be just fine for. For example, the first time I wore my dress was over jeans to a casual dance party. When we did a dance that involved kicking high, I ended up falling over because the hips were too tight to kick in! Be prepared to use discretion where you usually might not need to.
4) Be creative and don't be afraid to repurpose! A vintage piece may not look right as it was originally meant to be worn. Add modern belts and jewelry, turn a dress into a tunic or vice versa, and whatever else you might think of. I find my dress looks best with a belt to accentuate the waist as well as some red lipstick and a linecklace to take the focus off the wide neckline.
5) Treat vintage clothes with special care. Most need to be hand-washed and dried. To wash, fill an old washing up bowl with some tap water and a little liquid soap. Froth it up a little, then add the garment, scrubbing with your hands and focusing extra on underarms and food stains. Rinse once or twice and then hang up to dry.
Thanks to Messy Wife for guest hosting this week!