Friday, July 6, 2012

What's been going on in our kitchen lately...

I haven't been posting as often recently, but I've still been cooking quite a bit! I thought a link round-up might be a fun way to give you an idea of what's been happening in our kitchen. 
 Some things we've enjoyed:

This blueberry skillet cake - it's quite healthy, vegan, and tastes like a blueberry muffin. I used whole wheat pastry flour and fresh blueberries (I skipped the cornstarch). We'll definitely make this again.

Grilled corn.  No link for this one - we just brush the shucked ears in some butter and throw them on the grill. We've also been grilling just about every other vegetable that comes through our kitchen.

This soy and maple glazed tempeh - I cook it in a skillet, but it can also be prepared on the grill. I used a pinch of smoked paprika instead of cayenne.

Honey curry hummus - the recipe I mentioned in this post. I hadn't made it in a while, but I'm glad I did!

This maple cinnamon almond butter, a perennial favorite. 

I finally made my own sourdough starter, and I've been working on some sourdough breads and buns. I'm not a huge sourdough fan, but Nick loves it and assures me it is delicious. 
 Homemade Challah - this is one of my favorite breads.  I just use the Joy of Cooking recipe, and it turns out great.
I've also been making some broiled tofu, stir-fries, and other simple dishes. Summer isn't the season to spend piles of time in the kitchen, so we're enjoying simple, fresh things for the most part. 

What have you been enjoying lately? 

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

We're gearing up for a Fourth of July cookout here, and I'm pretty excited.  I always see crazy patriotic dishes showcased in various cooking and homemaking magazines this time of year - and I must admit, I don't have the patience required for the intense, intricate assembly some of those things require.  Baking my own bread? No problem. But carefully placing rows of berries to form a flag? Please, no!

So I decided to take a more historical twist on patriotism. (I was a history major in undergrad, so I love stuff like this.) Coffee, of course, is deeply ingrained in America's history and has close ties to patriotism.  Aside from that, it's just plain tasty, and can really liven up baked goods.  These cookie bars use a small amount of coffee to really highlight the flavor of the chocolate chips - and because it's just the American thing to do.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
I call for whole wheat pastry flour here to try to make these a bit healthier.  You can use all purpose if you prefer. 
Yield: about 16 bars (depending how you cut them)

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softenend
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant coffee or espresso powder
1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8x8 or so baking pan - whatever your standard brownie pan is.
2. Cream together butter and sugar, then beat in egg and vanilla.
3. Combine remaining ingredients except chocolate chips in a bowl and stir to combine. Slowly add to the wet ingredients, mixing just to combine. Gently fold in chocolate chips.
4. Spread the dough into the prepared baking pan, pressing into corners and making sure it's an even thickness.
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden.  Let cool, then slice.  Enjoy!

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread

The idea of no-knead bread was introduced by Jim Lahey, in this New York Times article a few years ago. All credit for the idea goes to him, of course. I've made variations on this recipe over the course of those years, but I've found I like the simplest version the best. This loaf uses 2/3 whole grain flours and produces a wonderfully crusty, bubbly loaf with extremely minimal effort.

 The idea of no-knead bread is that an extended rising time lets the gluten develop without kneading. You only use a small amount of yeast (otherwise you would have a dough explosion!).  I love this recipe for its hands-off nature. I've discussed bread-making before, and how it really only takes a few minutes of effort, spaced out over time, but this recipe takes that a step further. You mix the ingredients, cover and let rest for 18-24 hours (longer is better).  Punch it down, let it rise another hour or two, then bake. You're hands-on for all of 10 minutes to produce a bakery-quality loaf.

This requires some pre-planning of course - because the rise time is so long, you need to be prepared to wait for your bread. Probably no big deal - but if you want something to make for dinner tonight, this recipe isn't it.  But if you can plan ahead, this recipe is so easy that it's well-worth the extra wait time.
 The other special requirement here is a cast-iron dutch oven. I use this one from Lodge (who makes great cast-iron cookware), but you could use another brand, including an enameled version. If your dutch oven has a plastic handle, remove it before placing it in the oven (it can melt!) - there are metal replacement knobs available for Le Creuset dutch ovens.  If your dutch oven is small, you can bake two smaller loaves; I bake one large loaf in the Lodge oven. If you don't have, and don't want to purchase, a cast iron dutch oven, you can try baking this loaf on a regular old baking sheet - it's likely that it will turn out fine, but the crust will not be the same.

I've written the directions below the way I make this bread, which differ a bit from the original method, but feel free to follow the NYT instructions if you prefer.

Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread
You can use different flours or proportions of flours here if you like - but stick with gluten-containing flours (like wheat) to ensure good texture. And yes, the tiny amount of yeast is really all you need.
Yield: 1 loaf

1 cup whole wheat bread flour
1 cup bread flour
1 cup whole grain spelt flour
1/4 tsp yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
Additional flour or cornmeal, for dusting

1. Stir together flours, yeast, and salt. Make a well in the center with your fist, then pour in the water. Stir to combine, until a dough forms. If it is too dry, add additional water 1 tbsp at a time. If it is too wet, add additional flour 1 tbsp at a time. This should be a sticky dough.
2. Place in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise 18-24 hours. (I place it on top of the fridge.)
3. After the rise, punch down the dough and shape into a round loaf. Place on a baking sheet dusted with flour or cornmeal, cover with a clean dish towel, and let rise 1-2 more hours, until at least doubled in size.
4. Place a covered cast iron dutch oven in your oven (adjust the racks as necessary first).  Heat the oven to 450 degrees, allowing at least 30 minutes to pre-heat. 
5. Carefully uncover the dutch oven, place the dough in the bottom, and re-cover. Bake 30 minutes, until golden brown. (The original recipe says to bake an additional 15-30 minutes uncovered, but I found the loaf was done at 30 minutes. If you like a darker crust, let it go uncovered a bit longer.)  

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Simple Popsicles

I've been toying around with new popsicle flavors since I posted these Strawberry Balsalmic ones a while ago. There have been some hits, and some definite misses. I have  a few more ideas I'd like to try out, and if those work well I will certainly report back! Pictured above, we have honeydew green tea (blergh), pineapple (my favorite!), and watermelon (tasty, but it has texture issues). 

The best thing about the Strawberry Balsamic Popsicles is that they're almost entirely fruit. A touch of honey for sweetness, sure, and some extra flavors, but I had a feeling that fruit purees are where it's at when it comes to homemade popsicles. In some cases, I was right; in others, not entirely. But as a base for further experimentation, the purees gave me the texture that I was looking for - more creamy, less icy. 
The pineapple popsicles were my absolute favorite. They were flavorful, sweet, and had a great texture. And they couldn't be simpler.

Simple Pineapple Popsicles
This hardly qualifies as a recipe - it's so simple! Other types of fruit can be substituted - see below for what I've tried.
Yield: four 3 oz popsicles

about 3 cups chopped fresh pineapple

1. Blend pineapple in food processor or blender until smooth.
2. Pour into molds, add sticks, and freeze. Enjoy!

We also liked a honeydew version - sweetened with a bit of honey, to taste.  I tried making a honeydew-green tea popsicle, but it did NOT turn out well. I could try a few different tactics for adding the tea flavor, but the first batch were so bad that I was quite discouraged.

I enjoyed a watermelon puree version too - but as you can see, there was some separation in the freezing process.  It was quite delicious, but I'm thinking adding some strawberries to the mix would improve the texture.

These are pretty simple starting points, but they seem to prove my basic theory correct: I should use fruit purees, not juices, as the base for my popsicle recipes. And if it tastes good in the blender, it should taste good frozen!

Has it heated up where you live yet? We've been alternating thunderstorms and sweltering heat - summer weather is arriving! 

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Meatless Mondays: Light Soba Noodles

Soba noodles have been a real favorite around here recently.  When I’m not in the mood for a dish as substantial as soba noodles with peanut sauce and shrimp, I like something lighter.  This fresh-flavored dish uses veggies to bulk up the whole-grain soba noodles, so you get a satisfying serving size while keeping your caloric intake reasonable.

This dish takes less than 20 minutes to put together (maybe 15, depending on how fast your water boils!).  It's vegan.  If you would like, you can pan-fry or broil some tofu for extra protein. Or, if it's not a meatless Monday in your house, shrimp might be really nice too.

Light Soba Noodles with Veggies
You can customize the veggies in this dish however you like – snow peas would be delicious here.  
Yield: 2 servings

3 oz soba noodles
1 bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, thinly sliced
1 cup shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 green onion, sliced
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp light soy sauce
Sesame seeds

1. Cook soba noodles according to package directions. (If your directions are in Japanese, and you don't read Japanese, it probably says to boil them for 6 minutes.)
2. While noodles cook, heat a skillet over medium heat. Spray with cooking spray, and add peppers and mushrooms.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are cooked and peppers are tender-crisp.
3. Combine lemon zest, juice, sesame oil, and soy sauce in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
4. When the soba noodles are finished cooking, drain and place in a medium mixing bowl. Add the cooked vegetables, green onion and cilantro, and dressing. Toss to combine. Portion into two bowls, and serve sprinkled with sesame seeds. 

I didn't have any leftovers to test my theory on, but I think this would be delicious as cold leftovers too.  If you try it, let me know!  

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Oven Roasted Potatoes

Since initially posting this recipe for roasted tri color potatoes, I've found myself making them on an almost weekly basis. They're simple, inexpensive, and satisfying. To make things more interesting, I've tried a few variations - some were successful, others not. I'll start with the misses, then give you the hits.

MISS: soaking the potatoes in beer.

 This ended up being a waste of good beer, as neither Nick nor I thought it added any extra flavor. I also didn't notice any difference in texture.

MISS: infusing the oil with garlic

I tried this after seeing the idea in a cook book.  While the potatoes soaked in cold water, I put the oil in a skillet over low-medium heat and added two cloves of garlic, thinly sliced.  I let it heat until the garlic sizzled and turned golden, then strained out the garlic and just added the oil to the potatoes before cooking.  I didn't think it made much difference in the final taste - the garlic was weak at best.  I was hoping for something much stronger.

A note about this technique: it's necessary to infuse the oil with garlic, rather than adding garlic to the potatoes and then roasting, because garlic burns so easily.  If I minced garlic cloves and cooked them with the potatoes, the potatoes would just taste like burnt garlic, in all probability (full disclosure: I haven't tried this, mostly because I'm so sure the result would be inedible).

HIT: Spice rub
I used this moroccan mint spice rub on the potatoes, and it was delicious. I just stirred the spice rub in with the oil before tossing the potatoes with the oil.  I think a lot of other spice rubs would work too - just keep an eye out for things that burn easily, like garlic.

HIT: different shapes
You can cut the potatoes into more traditional "french fry" shapes if you like - it works just as well.  Just keep an eye out for the thickness; you need uniform thickness for even cooking.  We ate these with elk burgers topped with Roquefort cheese - amazing.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Garden Snapshots: Hello, June!

A lot has changed in our garden since I last showed you some pictures. Squash and beans are taking off, the tomato and pepper plants seem healthy (if small), and something ate the kale, spinach, and mint. No, it wasn't me! I wish. In any case, we've had a few ups and downs, but overall I think we're progressing nicely.

I think I need to thin this basil! But it is coming along nicely.

The Tom Thumb lettuce is growing beautifully - we'll be eating a lot of this soon, and then I'll let the rest fully grow. 

Tomorrow, I'm talking potatoes! And I'm planning to try some new popsicle flavors this weekend, so stay tuned for those too. 

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Six Sisters Honey Sesame Chicken

 Although I love coming up with my own recipes, I also cook thing from other blogs and cookbooks on a regular basis.  Now, I'm very guilty of rarely following those recipes to a tee - I make changes and substitutions based on preference and experience. Usually that works in my favor (although it backfires occasionally too!).

This recipe from Six Sisters Stuff looked too good to pass up on - and so simple to make! After perusing the comments and considering our own tastes, I made a few changes that are noted below. Overall, this recipe gets two forks up, and I know we'll be making it again.

I made the following changes to the ingredients:
- The recipe called for 4 chicken breasts (no weight given) - I used 1.5 lbs chicken tenders. Tenders worked really well, but in the future I would use 2 lbs or slightly more chicken.
- used light soy sauce instead of regular
- substituted tomato paste for ketchup
- reduced oil from 2 tbsp to 1 tbsp, and used toasted sesame oil instead of vegetable oil
- added 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger root
- omitted red pepper flakes
- topped with green onions and sesame seeds, served over brown rice

The directions worked well, with one exception.  I cooked the chicken on low for about 3 hours, which was perfect. After adding the corn starch, my crockpot would not get hot enough to thicken the mixture. This might be the fault of my machine - perhaps more powerful models could do this - but I had to transfer everything to a pot on the stove, over medium heat, until it thickened.  Not a big deal, but an issue to be aware of, so you don't stand around all day waiting for it to thicken. It needs to simmer to thicken, which was more than my machine could manage without a lot of time to catch up.
 This recipe makes plenty of sauce with the chicken, which we like a lot. There was enough sauce to stir in some steamed broccoli along with the rice, which is just how I like my sesame chicken!

I'm sorry I haven't been around in a while - I got a new job and have been quite busy with that. My goal now is to post a few new things a week - I've got some great things that I want to share with you! 

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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Container Garden: Fully Planted!

Cooper loves being out on the deck!  We're worried that he'll try to eat some of the plants as they get larger (he considered munching on some of our seedlings!)...we'll be keeping an eye on him.  Although he doesn't like Swiss chard. So I guess that plant is safe at least.

This past weekend, Nick and I finished planting everything in the garden. There aren't a lot of sprouts to show you yet, but we ended up changing the layout from what I had planned. We're trying to maximize the amount of sunlight that the plants get, and it works with the space, so I'm happy.

The shelves really gave us more space for lettuces and herbs. The lettuces have started to take off this week - I thinned them once last week, but I'm going to have to thin them again very soon! In the photo above, you can see the lemongrass that I regrew and planted - it seems to be doing well.  Just like with the green onions, I saved the root ends and placed them in water until they regrew roots. Then I transplanted them into dirt outdoors. 

Our tiny tomato and pepper plant transplants are doing well so far - they're SO small, but seem to be thriving. The oregano and thyme that I though had totally bitten it show signs of some new growth - I need to trim away the dead stuff, but I think they'll come back for me, especially with a little compost added.

The herbs in the railing planters are still doing fine, and a lot of the mint sprouted.

Hopefully we'll have some new sprouts by next week - I'm excited for things to really get started!

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Strawberry Balsamic Basil Popsicles

 Summer is certainly arriving here in Lincoln. We've had humidity, thunderstorms, and pool weather all week! And warm weather means it's time to bring out the popsicle molds again.

Strawberries finally went on sale at the grocery store this week, so I decided to make my favorite grown-up popsicle recipe. No, it's not a "poptail" - these are totally alcohol free. The grown-up part is the flavor - straight strawberry popsicles are delicious, but introducing a few other flavors makes things much more interesting.
I used this set of popsicle molds - and I think they work really well. The stick doesn't slide out of the mold (a problem I've hand when un-molding other molds), the individual molds are much more convenient than connected-type molds, and the tray to stand them up in the freezer is effective. The pops un-mold pretty easily when you run a little warm water over them. They're also BPA free and hold about 3.5 oz per mold. Of course, you can use whatever molds you have, or go the classic dixie-cup-and-a-wooden-stick route.

Strawberry Balsamic Basil Popsicles
These are based on a recipe from Women's Health Magazine, which I altered after making it a few times. Taste your puree before pouring it into the molds - if your strawberries were very sour, you might need a bit more honey.
Yield: Four 3 oz popsicles

3 cups hulled and halved strawberries, divided (approximate yield of 1 lb strawberries)
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped basil, divided

1. Combine 2 cups strawberries, honey, vinegar, and half of basil in a non-metal bowl (you need to use glass or plastic because of the vinegar).  Set aside for 1 hour.
2. Slice remaining strawberries.
3. When hour has passed, place contents of bowl in a blender and blend until smooth. Stir in remaining basil, and fill molds about 2/3 full. 
4. Place 1/4 of strawberry slices in each mold, pressing them in so they are covered by the puree.  Add sticks, and place in freezer for 8 hours or overnight.
5. To un-mold popsicles, run under warm water for a few seconds until pop releases from mold. Enjoy!

We've already finished off these pops, and we're scheming about what the next flavor we make should be. Any ideas? 

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Garden Snapshots: New Sprouts!

I just wanted to share a few quick pictures with you today! Since planting about half of our outdoor container garden, we've got a few things starting to grow. 

Some carrot sprouts: (both Danver's Half Long and Nutri-red varieties)
Some dill sprouts:

The lettuces continue to do well, and the mint is starting to sprout! Some of the transplanted mint seems to have died, but there are tiny sprouts popping up all over the pot. 

The name of the game will be thinning - and soon. I probably planted too many seeds, but I've had such hit-or-miss luck with germination that I just wanted to get some in the ground (well, pot) and figured I could always thin them later.  Looks like we'll be having some sprouts salads this week!

Unfortunately, my thyme and oregano plants (which I purchased at the store on a whim) seem to have bitten the dust. I'm not sure why, but all of the other plants are doing well.  I still don't have any eggplant sprouting, but I'll be transplanting and planting the remaining plants and seeds outdoors this weekend. I'm excited to have the garden fully planted!

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Smoked Salmon and Eggs Toast

I wasn't sure what to call this beautiful creation. It's a cross between two breakfast/brunch classics: a lox and cream cheese bagel, and eggs benedict.  So, lox benedict? Lox and eggs toast? I don't know. I decided to call it smoked salmon and eggs toast simply because I felt that was one of the most descriptive options, without getting too long winded.  In any case, it's a truly delicious combination.

Here's the basic idea: start with some form of tasty bread. I used whole wheat toast, but you could definitely use a bagel or english muffin half if you want to lean more towards one influence or another. But to make this really special, I would serve it over croissants sliced in half. That's probably too rich for an everyday meal, but perfect for a special brunch. 

Then, you spread the bread with a delicious creamy cheese, replete with onion (a nod to the lox bagel) and fresh basil. Fresh dill would probably also work, if you prefer. Then, top with a fried egg and smoked salmon. I left the egg yolk runny because that's one of my favorite parts of eggs benedict. A squeeze of lemon juice over the top is a nod to lemony hollandaise sauce.  And a perfect breakfast fusion is born!
I call for creamy goats cheese in this recipe; it has a texture and flavor like cream cheese, with the slight tang of goats cheese. I found mine at Trader Joe's.  If you can't find it at your grocery store, soft goats cheese or regular cream cheese will also work nicely. 

Smoked Salmon and Eggs Toast
 If you prefer, use bagels, english muffins, or croissants in place of the bread. 
Yield: 2 servings

4 slices of bread, lightly toasted
4 eggs
2 oz smoked salmon
1/2 cup creamy goats cheese or cream cheese
1/4 cup chopped basil, plus extra to garnish
4 tsp finely minced onion
Salt and pepper
1 lemon, quartered

1. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Spray with cooking spray, break eggs over skillet, and cover with lid (I do 2 eggs at a time). Fry eggs to desired doneness (I like mine sunny side up). If necessary, repeat until all eggs are cooked (this depends on the size of your skillet). Alternatively, you can poach the eggs.
2. While eggs cook, combine goat cheese, basil, and onion in a small bowl.  Stir to combine, and add salt and pepper to taste. Spread each slice of toast with 1/4 of the mixture.
3. Place one egg on each slice of toast. Top with 1/2 oz smoked salmon. Garnish with additional basil and cracked black pepper. Serve with lemon wedges.

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Monday, April 30, 2012

Butter and Honey Kamut Muffins

First, BIG NEWS EVERYONE! (Ok, not so much big, but still exciting.) What Grace Cooked is now on Facebook - head over there and "like" the page to keep up with new posts, see photos, and more! 

Although I typically share an entree recipe on Mondays, today I couldn't wait to share these muffins. They're vegetarian (but not vegan), so I suppose they still fit the bill!
Kamut is the brand name for khorasan wheat, an ancient grain that has been revived in modern times. The story of this wheat is pretty remarkable - it dates to ancient Egypt. Beyond it's interesting history though, kamut boasts a different flavor from standard wheat. It is buttery tasting, rather than the nutty, wheat-y flavor we're used to. And it's supposed to be easier on the digestive system. It also lends a beautiful golden color to baked goods.

That buttery flavor where these muffins get their name. They're not made with a ton of butter, and have just enough honey to make them perfectly sweet, but the buttery taste of kamut takes both of those flavors to a new level. The kamut makes the muffins dense and moist, with none of the dryness sometimes associated with whole grain baked goods. These muffins taste like a total indulgence, but are really a reasonable choice.

I used Bob's Red Mill whole grain kamut flour and kamut hot cereal. I imagine variations on these muffins could be made with a variety of other flours and cereals - I'm thinking whole wheat and oatmeal or spelt and spelt flakes as an option. But the kamut really makes the flavor of these muffins special.

Although you could certainly top these muffins with butter and honey, I think that would be over-kill in this case. They taste wonderfully rich just as they are.

Butter and Honey Kamut Muffins
I use a combination of milk and vinegar here, but you could substitute an equal amount of buttermilk or soured milk if you like. This recipe was inspired by Pharaoh's Muffins, from the kamut cereal package.  
Yield: 12 muffins

1 cup kamut hot cereal
1 1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup whole grain kamut flour

1. Combine kamut cereal, milk, and vinegar in a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-cup muffin tray with papers, or grease.
3. Stir together butter, honey, and egg until combined. Stir in all remaining ingredients and kamut-milk mixture. Spoon into prepared muffin tin.
4. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Container Gardening: April Update

 We've started the first of our outdoor gardening containers this week! I had hoped to start early this year, because we had such a warm spring, but the last few weeks have been much more typical weather which included a few drops below freezing. So it turned out to be a good thing that I was too busy to start earlier.

We prepared our buckets by drilling some holes in the bottom for drainage.  Nick was in charge of the power tools here:

And I planted our herbs, lettuces, and carrots. I haven't planted the basil yet. The other plants will wait a few more weeks until it gets a bit warmer. The butter lettuce and tom thumb lettuce have started to sprout (I'll have to thin them very soon!), and the kale and spinach are still doing well. 

That means the following things have been planted:
  • Carrots
  • Tom Thumb Lettuce (sprouting)
  • Buttercrunch Lettuce (sprouting)
  • Spinach (early April, sprouted)
  • Swiss Chard (transplanted)
  • Kale (early April, sprouted)
  • Mint (some transplanted)
  • Dill
  • Chives (some transplanted)
  • Parsley (a few more seeds added)

And the follwing have yet to be planted outdoors:
  • Tomato (seedling started)
  • Peppers (seedling started)
  • Eggplant (seed planted, but no seedlings yet...)
  • Basils (some seedlings started)
  • Cilantro (I swear this stuff hates me)
  • Squashes
  • Beans

I transplanted the swiss chard that we had growing in our windowsill garden rather than starting it over from seed. Unfortunately, it had started to look a bit rough because it seriously outgrew the 6 inch pot it was planted in, but I'm hoping it will recover in its new, much larger pot. I also transplanted the mint and chives; they haven't died on me yet, but we'll see how well they withstood the move after another week or so I think. I love all of the colors of the rainbow chard!
None of the plants are in their final position yet; we'll have to move them all around (and set out the shelving unit) when I plant the remaining ones. In any case, so far, so good!

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Meatless Mondays: Moroccan Mint Tofu

I know some of you are thinking "great, tofu." It's one of those foods that a lot of folks love to hate - even some who haven't ever tasted it.  If you haven't tried tofu, I'd encourage you to give it a go. I've discussed tofu before, but the basic argument is that it makes a great platform for whatever flavors you like. Here, it gets a moroccan inspired spice rub, and then is simply broiled. Because it's pressed, the texture is crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. This is a fast, easy, tasty way to get plenty of vegetarian protein.

If tofu isn't your thing, I'll be writing more about gardening later this week - we're starting to move more things outdoors, and I'm really excited! I've got one tomato seedling and one pepper seedling doing pretty well indoors, and they'll stay inside for another week or two until it gets a bit warmer. I still haven't got any of my eggplant seeds to start - I might try planting a few more seeds (in our seed starters) to get one going.

Those pesky robins continue to plague our deck. I haven't managed to completely dissuade them from building a nest on our lamp...they're apparently not very bright. I'm trying to keep an eye on things and make sure none of the neighborhood birds are after our seeds or seedlings - there are a lot of birds around right now!

 This recipe is vegan, and high in protein! If you're in a rush, you could press the tofu for as little as 15 minutes, and have this dish fully prepared in about 30 minutes. If you have time, pressing for the 30 minutes I suggest will give you a slightly better texture. We enjoyed this with some baked mushrooms (just spray them with a bit of cooking spray, and bake or broil until they look delicious).

Moroccan Mint Tofu
The rub I use in this recipe was inspired by 101 Cookbooks. Feel free to add some cayenne to the mix if you want your tofu spicy.
Yield: 2 servings

1 block firm or extra firm tofu, sliced into 8 pieces and pressed*
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp dried mint
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt

*To press tofu, lay the slices in a single layer on a folded clean kitchen towel and cover with another folded towel. Place a baking sheet on top of the towels, and place some heavy objects (cookbooks work well) on top of the baking sheet. Press for 30 minutes or so.
1. Preheat the broiler (high). Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat.
2. Optionally, combine all spices and salt in a mortar and pestle. Grind until you have a fine, uniform powder.
3. Stir together oil and spices in a medium mixing bowl.
4. Cut pressed tofu slices in half and gently toss with oil and spice mixture. Arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.
5. Broil for 4-5 minutes, flip, then broil the other side 4-5 minutes, until tofu begins to turn golden. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rainbow Carrot Salad

It's been a few days since I posted anything new. I was out of town this past weekend for a family member's funeral, so I didn't have time to cook anything, and frankly didn't feel like cooking anything for a few days. I'm getting back into the swing of things now, and I plan to resume my regular posting. I hope you didn't miss me too much!

This isn't a new recipe - it's my simple carrot salad, that I posted back in January. Then, it was a great way to bring freshness and sunshine to the dark winter. Now, it's a celebration of springtime. I used parsley instead of basil this time and rainbow carrots in place of regular orange ones. The flavor isn't remarkably different, but it is certainly visually interesting! The beautiful purple carrots have yellow or orange centers, providing a great mix of colors in the salad.

When I found these beautiful rainbow carrots at the store, I knew I had to make something with them that was simple- something that would really showcase the carrots. I considered roasting them (like these carrots and parsnips), but decided that this unfussy, raw salad was more in the spirit of the season.

So, although this isn't a new recipe, it's one worth repeating. And rainbow carrots are a great way to dress it up! 

Rainbow Carrot Salad
This is the same recipe as Simple Carrot Salad, and you can of course make this with regular orange carrots. As before, use any combination of basil, parsley, and mint that you like - whatever you can get fresh.
Yield: about 4 cups, enough to serve 8 as a side dish

4 cups grated rainbow carrots
 Zest and juice of one whole lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground coriander
pinch of salt
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (or more, to taste)
2 tsp honey
1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Stir, cover, and refrigerate for an hour or more.
2. Serve and enjoy! Refrigerate leftovers.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lavender Lemonade

 As the weather warms, a cool drink becomes more and more of a necessity. Although it hasn't been so balmy the past few days, the weather is certainly warming up. And as much as I like iced tea - unsweetened, because I'm a northerner like that - sometimes you need something a little fancier. A little more special. That's where this lemonade comes in. Perfect to serve to company on a warm afternoon, or just as a treat for yourself any old time, it's a subtle twist on an old favorite.

At first glance, it looks like pink lemonade. But this is better - more exciting, and more delicious. Infused with lavender, the lemonade takes on a pale pink-purple color.

The recipe is only a bit more complicated than making regular lemonade. To infuse the lavender flavor, you make a lavender simple syrup, and let the lavender steep before straining it out. What you're left with is a lemonade worthy of an Occasion. Or any occasion.

Lavender Lemonade
Yield: about 2 1/2 quarts

2 cups sugar
2 tbsp plus 2 tsp dried lavender flowers
10 cups water, divided
8 lemons, plus slices to serve

1. Combine sugar, lavender, and 2 cups water in a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved, and mixture just reaches a simmer. Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, juice the lemons and strain the juice into a large pitcher (or have multiple pitchers).  Add the remaining water and stir to combine.
3. When the lavender syrup is done steeping, strain the syrup through a mesh strainer into the pitcher and stir.
4. Serve chilled, in glasses with a slice of lemon on the bottom (it will float when the glass is filled with liquid).

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