Thursday, August 26, 2010

Resurrected Brown Rice

Considering that I haven't been feeling well today, I thought I would post an old note from my Facebook archives with a recipe for brown rice pudding.  I've become better at making rice, but I still rely much too heavily on my rice cooker if I want a nice batch of fluffy rice with separate grains.

September 16, 2009
So...I've never been able to make a decent pot of rice, and last weekend was no exception. I followed the directions on the bag, and still, at 45 minutes I had hard nuggets in water, and 20 minutes after that I had glue. Well, if you can make lemonade with lemons, you can do something with a horrid pot of inedible brown rice, right? RIGHT! Not much goes to waste in this house.

Resurrected Brown Rice Pudding:
Cooked brown rice (or overcooked...whatever!)
1 can of light coconut milk (or evaporated milk if you wish)
2 over-ripe bananas, mashed
Splash of vanilla

I just heated everything up until it was thick, bubbly, and the raisins were nice and plump. There was no need to add any additional sugar. The bananas and raisins gave it the perfect amount of sweetness.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Grasshopper and the Ant

Remember the story of the grasshopper and the ant?  I have been feeling very "ant-like" lately, scurrying around with the summer crops and storing my food for the winter.  Today after work I came home and took care of 9 of my little red beauties (tomatoes).  They go bad so fast when they have been ripened on the vine, and the smell of a rotten tomato is one of the worst smells that can come from the veggie world.  Here is a tutorial on preparing tomatoes for the freezer:

Pick your red beauties and wash them well.  I use a little scrubber and gently scrub around the stem.  My tomatoes have all grown with large cracks around the stem this year, so I make sure to scrub thoroughly to get any dirt out of the blemished areas.  We are going to blanch the tomatoes, which sounds fancy but is the easiest cooking skill to master, as long as you know how to boil water.  Put a large pot of water on the stove and get the water boiling (don't fill it too full or you will overflow when you put the fruit in).  Make an ice bath in a large bowl, and set it next to the stove (or as close as possible). 

When the water has come to a rockin' boil, gently drop the tomatoes in one by one.  I like to put each tomato on a slotted spoon and lower the spoon in so I don't have any cannonballs splashing boiling water on me.

Boil the tomatoes for about a minute or so.  Their skin will crack, and that's when you know they've had enough of the boiling inferno.

Remove them with a slotted spoon and drop them into an ice bath.

You've done it!  You are now a master of blanching, which can be done to almost any fruit or veggie (and makes a delicious, tender asparagus, I might add).

At this point, you need to remove the terrorized tomatoes from the ice bath (I watered my flowers with the cool water so I could use the bowl for the skinned tomatoes).  Their skins will slip right off.  Core out the stem and any blemishes or bad spots.  I like to do this over a bowl to catch the juice.

Don't they look just like what you get in a can from the store?
Now you have the option of what kind of tomato product you would like to freeze: whole, diced, crushed, or juice.  I did diced tomatoes this time, since I did a batch of crushed a few days ago. 

I filled two quart-sized freezer bags until there was about 1 1/2 inches of room left at the top (this is called head space).  This leaves enough room for the tomatoes to expand when they freeze and they won't burst through the bag (which is just fine in the freezer, since they are already solid, but makes a terrible mess when you want to thaw do I know this?!).  Label and date the bag, and lay them flat in your freezer.  You can put them on a cookie sheet if you don't have a level surface in the freezer.  Freezing the bags flat allows you to tip them on end and cram in a lot more ice cream!

Voila!  Diced tomatoes, from vine to freezer in less than 60 minutes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bountiful Harvest

This is the first summer for me in the new house, and all winter I was dreaming about the garden I would create in the back yard.  I tried a new concept (for me) called square foot gardening, and had tremendous success!  With only six 4'x4' raised beds and a load of Leafgro compost, we managed to raise a garden that has produced probably over 100 pounds of vegetables.  Last weekend I tore out all of the non-producing crops and diseased squash vines so that I can start over with a second season planting of fall vegetables.  It may be a little late in August, since we have a 50% chance of a 28 degree kill frost by November 1, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

I really wanted to preserve our harvest through canning, but we purchased a freezer this spring for keeping meat (sadly, our free freezer from a rummage sale was a dud that ran great but never got cold).  This left little money in the budget for start-up supplies for canning, and religiously searching Craigslist and rummage sales has not yielded any significant gains.  I'm guessing this economy has forced those with stockpiles of canning jars and a pressure canner to dust them off and put them to good use. 

Here is a list of our crops:

Swiss Chard: I let it go during the hot months and cut it all down to the ground this weekend.  It is already making a comeback

Gurney's Sweeter Yet Hybrid Cucumbers: approximately 75 cukes, so sweet and crisp, no matter how big they got.

Green Beans: This crop was something of a failure.  I diligently picked them as they came on one by one, and got tired of going through every plant daily to search for the one or two beans that had matured.  I gave up for about a week and a half, and the beans had exploded and gone to seed.  I picked everything at once, but most of the beans were too tough to eat, and the plants started to die back.  Better luck next year!

Salad Mix: More than we could possibly eat, and more than the in-laws wanted to take with them every time they came over!  The last harvest was so huge it filled a giant shopping bag completely full.  Two huge sink loads of washed lettuce later, we took a bite and threw it all away.  It had gotten too bitter with the hot weather.

A baby Baby Hubbard
Spaghetti squash (note that it is as long as the trowel)
Our most plentiful crop was the squash.  We planted baby hubbard and spaghetti squash, and two varieties of mini pumpkins (which are edible): Baby Boo (white) and Jack Be Little (orange).  I painstakingly wrapped the base of each plant with aluminum foil to prevent squash vine borers and squash bugs from decimating the crops.  I picked eggs off of the vines religiously, and killed every moth I could get my hands on, but eventually the bugs won.  I won't complain too much.  They may have taken down the vines, but only after giving us a bountiful harvest.

Cantaloupe the size of softballs proved to be the sweetest with firm flesh.  They were the perfect single serving fruit size.  We also grew little Sugar Baby watermelons with the same sweet success.  We cracked open the first watermelon when my Mom was visiting.  She and I took a picnic to Mount Vernon and ate watermelon along the banks of the Potomac one afternoon.  It was a memory I'll never forget.

Bad dog!  She does this to get attention
Here are some more pictures.  This is our Bad Dog who loves to provoke us by standing in the garden.  She looks at us and waits for us to stomp our feet, then she takes off and runs circles around the yard!  She is too cute to be mad at for long.

 Mr. JP and the squash
Mr. JP named the squash plants Audrey, after the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors.  The squash took over about half of the yard, and several of the neighboring raised beds.

Loads of sweet everbearing strawberries
We also planted strawberries along the patio early in the spring.  It was hard to cut off the blossoms for the entire spring, but since these are the everbearing variety, they had a second crop in mid-summer that we were able to harvest.  Cutting the blossoms off of new plants stimulates strong root development and leads to greater yields in the next season and hopefully, for next spring, as well.

Calendula is an edible flower

These beautiful flowers are called Calendula, and the petals are edible.  They are a hardy variety of flower and can also be used in herbal medicine.  A tincture or salve made with calendula is supposed to be good for the skin, and provides cooling properties.  I made an oil infusion from the petals and it has the most beautiful golden hue.  I will be making some lip balm with the oil this winter.

Eight Ball zucchini from a friend's garden, and cucumber salad (from my garden) in the background
This variety of zucchini, grown by a friend, are small and round.  They made a wonderful meal!  I came up with my own recipe, and it was to die for!

Stuffed Zucchini
Slice the squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Gently place the squash in a pot of boiling water and cook until the flesh is tender.  Remove the squash from the water with a slotted spoon, and submerge in a bath of ice water (this stops the cooking process and allows you to handle the squash without burning the flesh off your hands, like I did.)

While the squash is cooking, saute some sweet onions until they are translucent, or go all the way and caramelize them for a sweet treat.  I added a bit of crushed garlic at the end.  Always add your garlic at the end of the recipe, as it burns quite easily and imparts a bitter, burned taste that will permeate the whole dish.  Dice up some tomatoes (it was early summer and cherry tomatoes were plentiful) and fresh basil, and mix with the cooked onions and garlic. 

Scoop the flesh out of the shell, taking care not to break the shell in the process.  Place scooped squash in a colander and press out the excess moisture.  Chop the flesh and mix with the onion and tomato mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Fill the empty squash cups with the mixture, top with crumbled feta cheese, and add a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top.

Broil until the mixture is heated through and the feta has a lovely golden brown roasted look.

Bon apetite!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Kooky Kuchen: A divinely delicious imposter

My Momma came to visit last weekend, and I've missed her so much since she left.  She gives me a cookbook almost every year for one occasion or another, and there is one that is my absolute favorite, if not for the recipes, then for the note she wrote in the front cover.  I pulled it out and started flipping through it to get some kitchen inspiration, and found a recipe for peach kuchen.  Kuchen is a German cake, kind of like coffee cake, with fruit and custard on top.  My Grandma Lillian makes the best kuchen, but since she lives several thousand miles away, I can't get any of the really good stuff!  I also realized after making this recipe that I am in desperate need of Grandma's secrets if I am to make the real deal.

This recipe is absolutely divine, don't get me wrong, but it is NOT kuchen as I know it!  It is a heavenly combination of upside down peach crisp/cobbler with cream.

Peach Kuchen 
from Recipes to Warm the Heart (recipe submitted by Twyla Zaske, Renville, MN)

2 c. sifted flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter (don't even think about the M word here, folks)
6 fresh peaches (I used frozen and it was quite yummy!)
1 tsp. cinnamon (who are we kidding?  I am a frugal woman, but not with cinnamon.  Load it!)
2 egg yolks
1 c. cream

After addition of cream
Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and 2 tablespoons sugar together.  Work in the butter until mixture looks like corn meal.  Place in a 9-inch square cake pan and pat an even layer over bottom.  Place peach halves on pastry.  Sprinkle mixture of cinnamon and sugar over peaches.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  Now, mix egg yolks and cream together; pour over kuchen.  Bake for 30 minutes longer at 350 degrees or until custard is set.  Serve warm.

Non, je ne regrette rien

"No!  I will have no regrets."  These words, sung by Edith Piaf, ring in my ears like both a ballad and a battle cry.  You see, since the days when I was but a child myself, I have known it to be true that I have no desire to have children.  What I have not always known is why, and consequently, I have not always embraced the thought.  

When I was young, my wild imagination let my dollies act as friends, and when playing house, the coveted position of mother was never sought.  I wanted to be an astronaut, a doctor, a pharmacist, a scientist, or perhaps, Annie Oakley.  I was a happy child, full of giggles and mischief, independent and strong-willed, but sensitive, nonetheless.  There has always been within me a love for animals, nature, and humankind.  I read wondrous tales of heroism and adventure, and longed to resemble my great-grandmother, Clara, in any way.  She passed before I had a chance to meet her, but the stories of her are grand, and the letters she left behind tell of a woman with spirit, ambition, intellect, sensitivity, style and class.  

For so many years it was hard to recognize what kind of woman I had become, for my focus was on defending my position to not have children.  I struggled with the concept and found myself trying desperately to want to raise a family.  The comments and criticism that came with my attestations left me angry, hurt, and confused.  Even more harmful than that, especially when I was seeking acceptance and trying to fit in with the adult world, was the stinging realization that I was not, and could not be, normal.  I was asked by strangers when I would get married and how many children I would have, to which I could not tell a lie.  It would have been easier to smile and answer with a socially acceptable response, but lying to others for the purpose of being accepted made me a traitor to myself.  So many times I was asked, and so many times I asked myself, "What kind of woman does not want to have children?"  It was as if I were a serpent-haired monster, a baby-eating devil.  For more than a decade, without knowing the answer to the question,  I was discontent, defensive, and robbed of certitude. 

Today, I am a woman who closely resembles her great-grandmother, albeit with a bit of a learning curve in the disciplines of style and class.  What I have found within myself is contentment in knowing the answer to the question: that one can possess the qualities that would make them a good parent, but that does not, by any means, require them to become one.  Without children, I am able to give my time, love, and attention freely to those in need.  My life is simple, serene, fulfilling, and genuinely beautiful.  Non, je ne regrette rien!