24 October 2010

Baked ricotta pudding

I love finding blog recipes that are adaptations of existing recipes that I can further adapt. While searching online for ricotta recipes, I stumbled across Baby Rambutan's post on baked ricotta pudding, a recipe that initially appeared in the Boston Globe. In my opinion, one can seldom go wrong with ricotta, and so I started drooling the minute I read the recipe.

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).

  • 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.

The first batch of worm poo is here


(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

Community Garden update: we're getting there!

Since starting the community garden in South Philadelphia, a lot of people have expressed interest in participating. Although a number of them have flaked out, we now have a small group of committed gardeners. Initially, it was just me and one other person. Since we both work full time, we had to do all the major work on weekends, and it was a huge job to clean up the lot, weed, rake, etc. What a difference a few extra bodies make! We now have 7 beds constructed and have marked out 7 additional ones. We've cleaned out the lot significantly and are even beginning to plant (although it's getting cold, so we're focusing on hardy plants).

(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

Drying basil in the microwave

This weekend, it was time to harvest what was left of my basil, and there was quite a bit of it. Tips for preserving basil often suggest making pesto, but I'm not a huge fan of the stuff. I decided instead to experiment with drying, since I use dried basil quite a bit in soups and stews. Since I don't yet own a dehydrator, I took a shot at drying the leaves in the microwave. Luckily, the microwave method was not only successful but incredibly quick! The result was completely dried basil that still kept its rich color and glorious scent. I plan to experiment with other herbs in the future.

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

Bam Bam's latest project

Our beloved dog, Bam Bam, can sometimes be a little monster. Like when her rips things. Like our newly purchased vintage sofa.

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

What I learned about container gardening thus far

The growing season for most fruits and veggies is almost over, and I learned quite a bit from my first venture into container gardening. Here's the rundown:
  • 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!
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursdays