15 December 2010
A few months ago, I (stupidly) purchased really expensive cedar so I could make a garden bed. The guy at the lumberyard cut the wood to the measurements I needed and gave me the remainder. In order to practice my recent "waste not, want not" mentality (and to justify slightly the purchase of the wood), I decided to find a use for these leftovers.
My husband and I purchased (there goes the buying again) shelf brackets and used the remainders--four pieces of wood, each about 2 feet--to create shelves for the various spice jars cluttering our kitchen counter. It was a really easy and fast project and provided us with more valuable counter space. Here are the happy results:
12 December 2010
Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter
(From Bon Appetit, with some adaptations)
- 1 1-lb butternut squash
- 1 TBS olive oil
- 1 12- to 14-ounce russet potato, peeled, quartered
- 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg, beaten to blend
- 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup butter [decrease if working in batches]
- 2 TBS chopped fresh sage [decrease if working in batches]
- Additional grated Parmesan cheese
While the squash is in the oven, cook the 12 to 14 oz. potato (peeled and quartered) in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water until the potato is very tender (about 20 minutes). Drain the potato and, while still warm, press it through a potato ricer into a medium bowl. Allow the riced potato to cool completely, after which you should measure it into 2 loosely-packed cups (eat any leftover riced potatoes while you're at it).
Mix the squash puree, riced potato, 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, 1 beaten and blended egg, 1 1/2 tsp of grated nutmeg, and 1 tsp of salt in a large bowl. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups flour, kneading it gently into the mixture until the dough holds together and is almost smooth. If the dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls. Place the dough onto a floured surface, and knead it gently but briefly just until it's smooth. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle them lightly with flour. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll out the dough on a floured surface to about a 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut the rope crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces (or just tear pieces off, like I did). Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along the back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets. When you're finished doing this with all the gnocchi, cover the whole thing loosely with plastic wrap and freeze. [The dough makes a lot of gnocchi, so you can take out of the freezer only those you will eat].
After the gnocchi have completely frozen, you can cook them in batches. Add the frozen gnocchi to a pot of boiling salted water. When they float to the top, check that they have the tenderness you desire. When they do, take them out using a slotted spoon, and transfer the gnocchi to a parchment-lined plate or baking sheet.
As soon as you transfer them, start cooking butter in a skillet over medium heat, stirring often, just until it's golden. [The amount of butter you use depends on the size of your batch. I cooked the gnocchi in four total batches over four days, so used about 1 TBS of butter each time]. When the butter has reached a golden color, add the chopped sage and stir for about 1 minute (again, the amount you use depends on batch size and your personal taste. I used 1-2 tsp of chopped sage for each of my 4 batches). Add the gnocchi to the butter and sage mixture, and cook until the gnocchi are heated through and coated with butter. Season with salt and pepper, if desired, and transfer the gnocchi into a bowl, sprinkling additional freshly-grated Parmesan cheese to your finished product.
Eat your heart out.
(Two of my four batches of gnocchi dough. All went into the freezer so I could cook them later.)
(Since this recipe is so time-consuming, I didn't bother making perfect gnocchi indentations or shapes.)
(Sizzling gnocchi. Again, I wasn't going for aesthetics, just taste. They were really, really delicious.)
*To make roasted seeds:
Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Rinse the seeds, remove any squash flesh, and pat the seeds dry. In a small bowl, toss the seeds with about 1 tsp olive oil, and then add seasonings of your choice (I like a bit of salt and cayenne pepper). Place the seeds in a single layer on a baking pan lined with aluminum foil. Heat the seeds in the oven anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. You may hear them pop, in which case, check for doneness and flavor.
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday
04 December 2010
Part of my share this week was a leek and 8 small blue potatoes. Creamy leek soup immediately came to mind. I adapted an online recipe and made a soup so rich and delicious that I could hardly believe I made it myself. Try it out -- and let me know what you think!
Creamy potato and leek soup
(adapted from All Recipes)
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 1 leek - chopped
- 2 cups of veggie broth
- 1 1/2 tsp. corn starch
- 2 cups of potatoes - diced (I used blue potatoes, but use what you have on hand)
- 2 cloves of garlic - leave the peel on
- 1 1/4 cup of raw milk (if you don't have access to raw milk, use half & half)
While you're waiting for the boil to begin, heat a small cast-iron skillet, add oil if necessary, and pan-roast 2 cloves of garlic (peel on) until they are brown on some parts and softened (you can also roast these in the oven, if you don't have a cast-iron skillet). Set aside to cool for a few minutes before removing the peel.
Once your soup mixture is boiling, add 1 1/4 cup of raw milk and the garlic, and simmer until the potatoes are tender (about 30 minutes). Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture into a creamy soup (though I leave in some chunky bits). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Eat your heart out.
11 November 2010
This chili is a bit on the spicy side, so feel free to adjust the spices accordingly.
Vegan chili (I make mine vegetarian by adding cheese and sour cream to the finished chili)
- 1 cup dry kidney beans
- 1 cup dry black beans (note: use any beans you like -- we've also used chickpeas)
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 1 red pepper, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 Tbs chili powder
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tsp paprika
- 12 oz. vegetable broth
- 2-3 dried jalapenos, reconstituted in veggie broth
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes (use whole canned tomatoes, then chop)
- 1 cup strained tomatoes
- 2 Tbs tomato paste
- 2 tsp hot sauce
- salt & pepper (to taste)
If cooking beans in boiling water: I tend to follow Mark Bittman's guidelines. I won't recount them here (they're listed in his excellent How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and The Food Matters Cookbook). You can also use whatever method works best for you.
2. Heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onion and red pepper.
3. Sweat onion and pepper until somewhat tender, then add a couple pinches of salt. Add garlic. Cook until onions are translucent.
4. Add the chili powder, crushed red pepper, and paprika. Stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.
5. Stir in jalapenos and veggie broth.
6. Stir in chopped and strained tomatoes and tomato paste.
7. Stir in cooked beans (drained).
8. Add hot sauce (if desired), and salt and pepper to taste.
9. Let the whole thing simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
(I keep dried beans in quart-size canning jars -- the colors are so beautiful!)
(Chili is a great way to utilize your preserving projects. On the left is veggie broth, which I freeze in 12 oz. canning jars. On the right: whole tomatoes in a pint jar, canned in July.)
This post is part of Meatless Mondays at Midnight Maniac.
01 November 2010
After digging out about a foot of soil, I filled the bed with fresh compost and my recently-harvested worm castings. Although it's already quite chilly, I planted some cold hardy veggies, including cabbage (from transplants), lettuce, cauliflower, snap peas, cilantro, chives, spinach, and kale. I then covered the entire bed with an old window, which I scored at a recent cold frame workshop. The window was an extra one that the workshop leader had lying around, but we also made a cold frame using a smaller window and plastic lumber.
(Before. The garden bed area--the interior measures approximately 2' x 7'--and the patio area that will become Bam Bam's bathroom space.)
(After. Doggie bathroom complete.)
(Bam Bam checks out his new digs. I take his immediate peeing as approval.)
(The garden bed turned into a mini-greenhouse with the addition of two windows--1 large and 1 small, side by side. I'm a little worried that nothing will grow since the fall/winter sun only briefly touches this spot.)
(DIY cold frame, constructed from plastic lumber and a window pane, all provided at a cold frame workshop. The window leans against the lumber and can be moved easily to vent.)
24 October 2010
Woot! The baked pudding came out delicious. I'm posting the recipe below almost verbatim, though with some amendments (a lot less sugar and double quantities of mostly everything else).
Baked Ricotta Pudding (slightly adapted from Judith Barrett's recipe in the Boston Globe, 2007)
Butter (for smearing baking dish)
16 oz. ricotta cheese
4 eggs, separated
1/3 cup of sugar + 2 tbs
2 tbs flour
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Grated rind of 1 orange
1 tbs each of the juice from the lemon & orange
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 1-quart glass or ceramic baking dishes. Set aside.
- In a bowl, combine the ricotta and egg yolks. Mix well until smooth. Stir in flour and 1/3 cup of sugar. Mix until the ricotta is free of almost all lumps. Stir in the lemon and orange rinds and the juices.
- In an electric mixer or with a wire whisk, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Continue beating the whites until they form stiff peaks.
- Gently fold the whites into the ricotta mixture. Pour the batter into the two baking dishes.
- Bake the pudding on the middle shelf of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until the middle is firm when the baking dish is lightly shaken.
- Cover, refrigerate, and serve chilled.
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.
(Two of my worm buddies. Don't worry... they're back safe and sound in their bin.)
I currently have two compost systems at work. The first consists of a couple of 5 gallon buckets into which I throw fruit/veggie scraps that I cover with old potting soil or dry materials (such as dry leaves or newspapers). The second is a vermicomposting bin that sits in my kitchen and which also receives its share of veggie/fruit scraps. I started the worm bin about 6 months ago, so it was time to harvest some castings (aka, worm poo). The castings were gorgeous and smelled earthy and rich. The worms weren't delighted to be disturbed while I rifled through the bin's contents, but they seem to be doing well otherwise. I saw quite a few eggs and tons of fat, wiggly worms. My vermicomposting experiment is a great success so far!
(Contents of worm bin before harvesting. It's not pretty, but the worms love it.)
(Worm castings -- the color is deceiving because of the camera's flash. The castings are actually very dark brown, almost black. Mixed in with the castings are bits of egg shells and coconut fiber that I didn't feel like picking through anymore. They'll break down and enrich the castings even further, so I don't mind having them in there.)
(I replenished the worm bin with fresh newspaper and food scraps.)
23 October 2010
(7 beds done! The cardboard against the wall will eventually line the walkways and will be covered with mulch.)
(We used bricks to mark the spots of future raised beds.)
(We made 2 piles of all the bricks and stones that littered and/or were buried in the lot. We'll use these to create mini-beds, as shown in the second photo, in which we'll plant flowers.)
(Shown here: caterpillars keeping fennel company. We'll use broken cinder blocks for raised beds as well, since we can plant inside the holes.)
I made a link to the community garden posts in the sidebar (See: Stuff I Write About --> The Moore St. Family Garden).
20 October 2010
How to dry basil in the microwave
(caveat: since microwaves vary, you may need to adjust the time/heat level. This method probably works best in a microwave with a rotating plate.)
- Wash and thoroughly dry all basil leaves.
- Lay an individual layer of basil leaves on a dry paper towel on your microwave's plate. Cover the leaves with another paper towel.
- Let the microwave run for 30 seconds. Turn leaves over, and let it run for another 30 seconds.
- Repeat as necessary (it only took me 1 1/2 minutes!)
- Before storing (whole or crushed), ensure that all moisture has been depleted (see caption below).
(Basil leaves after drying. I placed the dried basil on a paper towel and covered with saran wrap overnight in order to check that all moisture had been depleted.)
(I decided to keep the dried basil whole rather than crushing it. I'll subsequently crush the pieces that I need for each recipe.)
This post is a part of Real Food Wednesday & Simple Lives Thursday.
06 October 2010
I want to scream, but instead I will solicit advice. Is this fixable? How about if I take it to an upholstery shop?
05 October 2010
- Don't overcrowd your container. -- I got overly ambitious with some containers. For example, I tried to plant 6 bush bean plants in a single 18" container, and, as a result, all I got were a few limp, tiny beans. Next time, I'll stick with one plant.
(The dill and chives started thriving once I removed the cucumbers and carrots that previously shared their containers.)
- Less is more when it comes to herbs. -- With the exception of parsley and cilantro, I don't use a large quantity of herbs. Hence, a lot of my basil, thyme, and oregano ended up in the compost bin. I'll grow less herbs next time.
- Composting is easy and can be done in the smallest of spaces. -- I use 5 gallon buckets, into which I drilled a bunch of holes. In each bucket, I include an equal volume of green (veggie/fruit scraps) and brown (shredded newspaper, old organic potting mix, dried leaves) materials.
(A close-up of one of my compost bins. Strange little sprouts have started appearing. I have no idea what kind of plant they are.)
- Onions are not worth growing in small spaces. -- They take forever to mature, and you only get one per set. For a container garden, they just take up too much space.
- On the other hand, onion sets can be used to grow scallions, which grow quickly.
- Bell peppers take forever to grow. -- But once they do, it's really cool to watch them turn from green to scarlet.
(The first photo is from early September -- look how pretty! The second is from early October. I'm hoping that it will stay just warm enough for the rest of the peppers to turn red.)
- Strawberries are easy to grow and need little room. -- I'll grow more plants next year, so I can have more than 2 or 3 fruits at a time.
(I'm still getting strawberries!)
- Tomatoes can be finicky. -- You have to be careful about under-watering but also over-watering. I had limited success with tomatoes this year, but I love the fruit too much to give up.
- Get used to bugs. -- I'm pretty much a sissy when it comes to insects, but I'm slowly getting over it. I was quite surprised about how many new bugs I encountered in my concrete "yard."
- Speaking of bugs, cucumbers attract flies. At least, mine did. -- Gross.
- Fertilize regularly. -- I didn't do it enough, and I think some of my plants suffered for it. Of course, you should use organic fertilizer or compost!
18 September 2010
Yep, I built a raised bed. Well, ok, technically my husband did, but I cleaned out the garbage from the lot, which was once again littered with junk food wrappers, cigarette butts, and empty bottles. (Sometimes I hate Philadelphia.) But the garden is slowly beginning to take shape, and it could be a really amazing addition to the neighborhood.
Our costs (so far):
- 8 cedar planks, 6' and 4' long, and supports to create one 4' x 6' raised bed - $105
- 2 40lb bags of top soil - $2.50
- 1 package of galvanized nails - $4
- 30 gallons of compost - Free (from Fairmount recycling center)
The project is progressing--slowly, but surely.
(The raised bed is 6' x 4' and 11" deep. Since the cedar planks were only about 5 1/2" wide, we doubled them up. We added 2" square cedar posts to the corners to serve as supports.)
16 September 2010
I also just received the analysis report for soil samples that I sent to the UMass Soil Testing Lab. By some stroke of luck, our lead levels are low. I was sure that the soil would be highly contaminated -- this is Philly, after all. If you're super interested in this type of thing, the soil test results are a pretty fascinating read.
15 September 2010
Since I had scant cucumbers to harvest - not nearly enough to pickle - I decided to make my own version of mizerja.
I bastardized it a bit by adding in a few additional veggies I had on hand. This makes a great summer salad, even if summer is finally drawing to a close.
My version of mizerja
- Thinly sliced cucumbers (I used a combo of fresh pickling and slicing cukes, but I sliced them too thick)
- Chopped green onions
- Chopped garlic scapes (the shoots that grow out of recently-planted garlic cloves)
- Sliced tomatoes
- sour cream (or buttermilk)
- Minced garlic to taste
- salt and pepper
This blog post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.
05 September 2010
The lot is a nice size -- I'd estimate 30' x 60' or so -- but, as most abandoned properties in Philadelphia, it was neglected and overrun with garbage. This weekend, she and I, along with several neighbors who also want to contribute to the garden, began clearing out the trash that littered the entire area. I also collected samples to send for heavy metal testing. I'd be surprised if there wasn't significant lead contamination, especially since the site once functioned as a parking lot and since we found 2 of these lovely canisters, labeled "test specimen."
(This does not bode well for the quality of the soil)
We'll construct raised beds, and the soil tests will give us a guideline about how deep they should be. I'm shooting for 18-24" if lead is a significant factor. We've also agreed to grow organically and to draft bylaws.
I'll post more as we get this garden started -- I really hope it all works out, as I'd love to have more room to grow vegetables. If you've been reading this blog, you know I have a container garden on my tiny cemented backyard (see here, here, or here). It does well, but I don't get the output that I'd like. Hopefully, by this time next year, I'll be posting pictures of bountiful tomato plants and runner beans. Until then, here are some photos of the lot in progress.
(The lot, after the city cleared out overgrowth. It's still full of wrappers, plastic detritus, broken glass, and other sundry items)
(Close-up of some of the garbage.)
(A pile comprising the cinder blocks, rocks, and stones that littered the lot. We're trying to determine whether these might be safe to line the raised beds. You can also see at least 5 garbage bags - although we had more - full of the trash that we spent 3 hours collecting.)
(It took 3 people to pull out a giant cast-iron beam embedded in the soil. We hope to sell it and put the profits into the garden.)
(Although you can't see them in this photo, scores of roaches and other insects quickly scattered once the beam was turned over. It was a pretty horrifying sight.)
(The roots of a long-dead tree.)