Archive for March, 2011

Hot Artichoke Dip

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

I know, I know!! There are a kazillion billion versions of this stuff floating around on the net.  I don’t care, I’m going to add to the melee anyway. This is one of my comfort foods (of which I have way too many, as my waistline will attest).

Most recipes call for mayonnaise, but I prefer mine without.  I suppose you could throw in a dollop or two of mayonnaise if you wanted. I like to use the small sized artichokes packed in water, not marinated artichokes.  Also, I’ve discovered that measuring the Parmesan depends on how you shred your cheese.  If you purchase pre-shredded cheese you can use 1/2 cup.  I use this Microplane Grater/Zester which Santa left in my stocking a couple of years ago, and is one of my top 10 most used kitchen tools.  It produces a fine fluffy shred, so I “measure” out about 1 cup for this recipe . In other words, I throw in about 4 big hands full.

My favorite way to eat artichoke dip is with homemade bread, the crustier the better.  I didn’t have any crusty bread this time around, so I just ate it with some regular whole wheat bread I had made the day before.  None of the picky eaters in my house will eat it.  I think they’re nuts.  They think I’m nuts. I’m happy I don’t have to share.

Hot Artichoke Dip
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

Blend ingredients and season to taste.  Place in a baking dish and bake at 375 for 25 minutes, or until slightly browned.

I’ve been thinking that I’d like to experiment with adding different herbs to this,  but haven’t got round to it.  If anyone makes something like this with herbs, I’m open to suggestions.

Seed Starting (AKA Anticipation!)

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I started collecting my seed starting paraphernalia in anticipation of the up coming gardening season. I’ve been starting my vegetable plants from seed for over 15 years thanks to this wonderful set of indoor plant lights my husband gifted me.  In the picture the stand is configured to 3 tiers, but in reality it’s a 4 tier stand.  Part of my preparations a couple of weeks ago  was cleaning up the houseplants, reconfiguring the stand to 4 tiers, and replacing the spent set of bulbs in the middle.

When my children were young and I wasn’t working a traditional job, I planted a HUGE garden.  Considering the size of my garden, starting my own vegetable plants from seed was very cost effective.  Additionally, seed starting has always provided me with a little encouragement as I’m trying to kick the end of winter doldrums, and find myself almost crazy for wanting spring and warmer temperatures. I suppose I look a little silly running my fingers through the dirt and petting my little green friends.

This past fall I saved some of my own tomato and pepper seeds for the first time, and I’m very interested in learning to save some of the more difficult seeds.  This first attempt at seed saving left me with a lot of questions, so recently I purchased a copy of  Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone serious about saving seeds (insert Monsanto/GMO rant here).

In the foreground are San Marzano Redorta tomato seeds, an indeterminate heirloom variety.  In the background are my heirloom Chervena Chushka pepper seeds,  an absolutely sublime roasting pepper I wrote about last summer.

These days my vegetable garden is limited to three 6′ x 12′ raised beds (plus another raised bed herb garden), which allows for a three year crop rotation. I’m a busy person, and I’ve found that raised beds are much less labor intensive than what I used to do.  Also, the local soil is very heavy clay which comes with a host of challenges I’d rather not deal with. OK, back to seed starting. I use some inexpensive seed flats, some seed starting soil mix, and a few jiffy pots I get from a local farm supply store. I’ve also been known to make pots from newspaper, but the jiffy pots hold up better, and the nice neat grid of square pots appeases my OCD sense of organization. I place the seed starting mix in the pots, place 3 or 4 seeds in each pot, cover with a layer of soil, and wet the soil by pouring water into the bottom of the seed flats to wick upwards through the pots.

At this point I find myself wandering to the plant stand to look for the first tiny shoots of green at every opportunity. It’s crazy to look only a day after I’ve planted the seeds, but I just can’t help myself! The tomatoes were up within about a week, but the peppers drove me nuts.  They can take up to 2 weeks to germinate, and this time around they took 10 or 11 days.


I also started Listada de Gandia eggplant (seedlings pictured at the beginning of this post), an Italian heirloom variety I’m hoping to be able to save seed from. Lastly, I started some Fino Fennel, a bulb type of fennel. I started experimenting with fennel last year, and I’m still trying to learn how to grow it here in Indiana. I direct sowed it in the garden last spring, but it didn’t do well thanks to unseasonably hot dry weather. This year I’m experimenting with planting times as well as giving the plants a head start indoors.

Vegetable Pork Shumai

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

This is a recipe that I don’t make often, and when I do I choose a day when I know I have plenty of time.   I also make a gargantuan batch so I have plenty for the freezer.  This is one of my youngest son’s favorites, and I’ve been known to get up early to steam some of these  yummy little bits so he can take them to school in his thermos for lunch.

There are two menus I prepare for my family so I have the necessary leftovers for making shumai.  First, I get a 4 pound pork tenderloin roast and roast it in the oven, as well as an assortment of veggies. One of our favorites is squash and apples.  The next meal I fix is an Asian chicken salad using a portion of a large head of napa cabbage.  I’ll try to blog that recipe at a later date.  Measurements given below are approximate for an average batch, but I never follow them and I always make way more. Any type of mushroom will work.  I prefer shiitake, but they can be expensive and are not always available in the markets in my area. This time I found some very reasonably priced, beautiful organic baby bella mushrooms.

Vegetable Pork Shumai
Cooked pork, ground in food processor
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped
2 cups shredded napa cabbage
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2-3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
Wonton wrappers

Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
2 or 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Maple syrup or honey to taste

I make the dipping sauce the day before so it will have plenty of time for the flavors to blend.  Simply mix the ingredients together and store in a jar in the refrigerator.

Here’s a picture of the consistency I like the pork to be ground. I want it fine enough that the finished filling will hold together, but still coarse enough that the pork can be identified in the mixture.

I chop the veggies at this consistency.

Once all of the grinding, chopping, dicing, and shredding is completed it’s time to prepare the filling for the shumai. Heat sesame oil over medium heat.  Add mushrooms, onion, and ginger.  Cook until onions and mushrooms are softened.  Add cabbage and continue cooking until cabbage has softened and reduced significantly. Add ground pork and hoisin sauce and mix thoroughly. I don’t measure my hoisin sauce. I add it a dollop at a time until the ingredients are coated and the mixture tastes appropriately seasoned.  Take the mixture off the heat and allow it to cool until it can be handled comfortably.

This is one of the ways I assemble my shumai.  I find it the fastest way to put them together if I’m going to steam them immediately.  If I’m going to freeze them, then I fold them up using a samosa (with a twist) wonton fold. The link shows a number of different wonton folds, and one of these days I’m going to get around to trying more of them.  I’ve also used this filling to make egg rolls. For egg rolls I tend to use a larger proportion of cabbage in the mixture.

Once the shumai are assembled, I place them in my  Bamboo Steamer and steam for about 6 minutes.  I use a double decker steamer basket so I steam them for 3 minutes,  reverse the top and bottom baskets, and steam for an additional 3 minutes.  Serve with dipping sauce. My family enjoys steamed rice and some homemade eggdrop soup with our shumai.

Spiced Maple Banana Bread

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

Today has been one of those cold rainy winter days, perfect for spending time in the kitchen.  About an hour ago the rain switched over to snow, and it feels good to be snug and warm inside with the scent of cinnamon, vanilla, and mace lingering in the air.  I made a family favorite, my spiced banana bread.  As we were demolishing the warm treat, it was decided that it’s more like a coffee cake than bread, and that I should start baking it in a cake pan instead of a loaf pan.  We also speculated that it might be even better if I topped it with some of the oatmeal crumble that I normally use as a fruit crisp topping.

I thought today would be a good day to give another maple syrup recipe.  Bart informed me he’s getting close to finished with the sugaring season, and enough syrup has been bottled that we can start selling it.  Ordering has been enabled on his website, so come and get it!

As usual, I tried to use as many fresh, local, organic, or homemade ingredients as possible. I had a couple of overly ripe organic bananas, my fresh homemade sour cream, maple syrup Bart made, eggs from the neighbors, organic vanilla beans, organic flour, wheat germ and bran.  A little side note on the eggs:  I’ve decided to start keeping my own laying hens again this summer. I’ve decided to keep Delawares, a heritage breed on the critical endangered list. I’ve also located a source for organic non-GMO feed. More to come on that subject in a couple of months or so.

Spiced Maple Banana Bread
2 bananas
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup maple syrup
2 eggs
Vanilla specks scraped from 1/2 bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 cups flour
1/4 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mace

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour a 9×13 cake pan or a couple of 7×3 loaf pans.

Mash banana into total submission in the bottom of a mixing bowl.  Add sour cream, butter, maple syrup, eggs, and vanilla specks.  Beat until thoroughly blended.  In a separate bowl blend together remaining dry ingredients.  Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just moistened.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

A Junkie’s Confession

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Back in September I wrote I was in danger of becoming a fiber junkie. Well, it’s confession time.  I am a fiber addict.  And Maggie is my dealer/enabler.  It’s all her fault for creating such irresistible yarns.  Hopefully, my family won’t be forced to put me in rehab.

I know I’ve told you about my friend Maggie before, but I’m going to tell you about her again.  She currently owns 4 different spinning wheels, and is turning out some of the most amazing art yarns I’ve ever seen.  On a daily basis I’m forced to restrain myself from spending the family’s weekly budget on the items she lists in her Etsy store.  Pictured above is a ball of deep dark chocolate llama and alpaca wool that I got from her a couple of weeks ago. It’s so soft, bouncy and lush.  The skein was really big, so I’m in the process of knocking out a quick pair of ballet flat slippers for myself.  I may use the rest of it for a pair of socks for one of the boys… or maybe a hat. I had a very difficult time getting a shot that would do justice to the rich brown color of the yarn. This was the best I could do.

I did not buy the yarn pictured below, but I really, really, REALLY would like to.  I’m trying hard to be a good addict and told myself no.  I wanted to show you a good example of why Maggie’s yarns are so hard for me to resist. I didn’t take this picture.  It was shot by Maggie’s significant other, John, who is a photographer. You can see more shots he took of this gorgeous yarn on his blog.

This is a pair of felted slippers I finished recently using the 50% Jacob wool and 50% alpaca I got from Maggie back in September. It was my first felting project, and I will admit to being a little scared when I threw those wool slippers into hot water in the washing machine.  I was so amazed when I pulled them out and they weren’t ruined.

I’m so pleased with these little ballerina slippers I made as a gift for my young niece (Rachel, make sure you don’t spill the beans, please). I knitted them with a wool/silk blend that Maggie solar dyed this past summer using madder root.  I found the pattern in a new book  I picked up,  Knit a Dozen Plus Slippers.  The pattern gave instructions for knitted i-cord ties, but I decided I wanted to use ribbon instead.  I thought my niece might appreciate a slightly more authentic looking ballet shoe.  After all, hasn’t every little girl imagined herself as a ballerina at least once?