Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Time to Plant: Broccoli, Onions, Peas

We are so excited to get our 2010 garden going. We went last week to our local hardware store to buy some broccoli plants, onion sets and peas, which are all frost hardy garden plants. We haven't had time to get them put in until today. Despite a cold rain and the threat of snow, we were out there planting. I would not call us expert gardeners, we are very much still learning as we go. Each year we get better. I will post our progress,planting schedule, successes/failures as we go this year.

We prepared our 2nd raised bed similar to what we did when we planted garlic last fall, this time I will spare you from a picture of our manure pile. You can read about it here. We planted an entire lengthwise row of peas and one row of onions. The peas are called Alaskan Early Peas and the onions are Texas Supersweets.

We planted 6 peas per square (though can plant 9-12 per square). 3 on either side of a trellis that they can climb. It helps to get the peas going, if they are soaked first to soften them up before they are planted.
They should be ready in 50 to 60 days, end of April, beginning of May.

The onions were actually onion plants which are different than the onions I planted last year because they still have the green part and the roots. Last year my onions weren't too successful because I think I didn't plant them deep enough (they were popping out of the ground before they were ready) but the instructions on these onions said plant no deeper than 1". So we will see. Also I'm not too good with underground plants because I am not patient enough and pull them before they are ready. So this year I am planting about 50% more than I would think I need. I planted 9 per square. They should be ready in 100 to 120 days, or 3-4 months, or sometime in May or June. I need to remember this.

I learned my lesson last year and decided not to plant any broccoli in the raised beds. They just take up too much room and they are not done producing when I'm ready to plant my summer veggies. Last year I had moments of standing over the broccoli plants saying "Come on! Be done already!!" I felt kind of bad rushing them along, only to yank them out when I just couldn't wait any longer.

We have a conventional garden next to the raised beds. This is where the broccoli is going this year, so it will have plenty of room and plenty of time to live life to the fullest. Which should be 50-70 days, Mid April - May.

The raised beds are planted with the square foot gardening method for high yield. The pros to this are the lack of weeds, high yield and ease of planting (can till easily by hand since no one ever walks in the garden) The cons are that I felt last year everything got so crowded it was hard to tell what was what and if you don't plan correctly smaller plants can get pushed out by the larger ones.

I have a better game plan this year. I planted small underground plants in the first row of each bed (onions, garlic) and I will plant medium size plants in the middle row and then climbing plants on the 3rd row with the trellis. I have one trellis row open. I will plant cucumbers in that row early, then by the time the peas are done in the other box, I will plant more cucumbers so I can extend my cucumber growing season for maximum pickle production. That's the plan anyway. Last year the cucumbers were coming faster than I could make pickles. It was a lot of pressure!

The conventional garden pros are there is more room (but it does take up more space) and we used garden fabric to keep the weeds and grass out last year that seemed to work well. The cons are that you need a tractor or tiller to get the dirt ready in the spring and dogs and other critters have free access to the garden. Nickel wandered into the garden as we were planting the broccoli lookin' a good "spot" if you know what I'm talkin' about.

I'll keep you posted on our progress, now I'm going to get back to browsing my seed catalog.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bagels and Bagel Dogs

A few years ago I found a good recipe for homemade bagels in Light & Tasty magazine. They are really not hard to make, a little time consuming (waiting for them to rise) but each step is easy. And the waiting for them to rise part, just means the recipe comes with built in rest breaks. So that's nice, isn't it? Kids can help too, they can put their play dough snake making skills to good use.

When I was growing up, we used to get "Bagel Dogs" at a local bagel shop. I used to love them so I decided to make them myself. This recipe makes the Bagel Dogs plus some extra bagels for breakfast the next day. Even my husband likes these bagels and he usually thinks eating bagels are like chewing on a spare tire.

Before I begin, I must warn you that this recipe requires parchment paper. Parchment paper has always been the Achilles heal of my cooking. I have a bad habit of not reading through a recipe completely before I dive into making something. I check the ingredients, if they seem reasonable, I get them and off I go. That's how the parchment paper gets me every time. It's never listed in the ingredients. They sneak it in, usually toward the end of the recipe, when I'm in too deep to turn back and I usually do not have it on hand. I think there should be some sort of recipe rule to list parchment paper in the ingredients. Because parchment paper has gotten me so many times, I'm obviously too set in my ways to change MY behavior.

Anyway, I've got some unresolved issues to work out, but here's how to make them.

First dissolve 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast in 1 1/4 cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees)

Add 3 tablespoons canola oil, 3 tablespoons sugar, 3 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 egg. Stir to combine.

I modify the original recipe by using 1 cup whole wheat and 3-4 cups bread flour.

Add enough flour to make a dough.

Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth. This is a great way to de-stress.

Cover with a dish towel and let it and yourself rest for 10 minutes.
After you've rested, divide the dough in half. Divide one half of the dough into 5-6 sections.
Roll each section into a 10" long rope and form into a circle. Pinch to seal the ends together.

Divide the other half of the dough into 4 sections.
Flatten each section and wrap around a hot dog.

Cover and let them and yourself rest for 20 minutes.
(Sorry to disturb you but after about 10 minutes put a large pot of water on to boil and turn the oven on to 425 degrees)

Place the bagels and bagel dogs into the boiling water 2-3 at a time. Boil for 45 seconds, and then turn them over and boil for 45 more seconds. Use a spoon to make sure they don't stick to the bottom. Note: it's really hard to get a picture of boiling water!

Remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, 2" apart. Sprinkle with toppings such as sesame seeds, minced onion, kosher salt, poppy seeds, etc. I'm not a fan of poppy seeds, but I used all of the others.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 12 minutes.
Then turn over and bake for 5 minutes more.

Some pictures of the final products. Yum!

These pigs are really toasty in their blankets.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

30 Minute Mozzarella

Did you know that in 30 minutes you can make homemade fresh mozzarella in your own kitchen? It is great fun for kids and they finally get to see what these "curds and whey" are that they keep reading about.

I ordered my supplies from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company They have a homemade mozzarella kit that has everything you need to make mozzarella (and other cheeses as well)

Here are the steps that are provided with the kit.

Dissolve 1/4 rennet tablet in 1/4 cup cool, chlorine free water.

Dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid into 1 cup cool chlorine free water.

Make sure your milk is not ultra pasteurized.
It can be skim or whole or a mixture.
I also like to use hormone free milk because only very rarely can I find mozzarella in the stores that states that it is hormone free.

Pour 1 gallon of milk into a large pot.

Stir constantly as you add the citric acid solution.

Stir constantly and heat to 90 degrees F.

Pretend like this says 90 degrees. Oops. This is where I start saying things like my thermometer must be at least 4 degrees off.

Remove the pot from the burner and slowly stir in the rennet solution with an up and down motion for approximately 30 seconds.

Cover the pot and leave it undisturbed for 5 minutes.

The curd should look like custard and clearly separate from the whey.
If the curd is soft or the whey is milky let sit for a few more minutes.

Cut the curd with a knife (I don't have a picture of this).
Place the pot back on the stove and heat to 105 degrees F while slowly moving the curds with a spoon.

Take off the burner and continue to slowly stir for 2-5 minutes.

Ladle the curds into a large microwaveable bowl, draining off as much of the whey as you can without pressing the curds too much.

Microwave for 1 minute.
Put on rubber gloves. The first time I tried this I didn't have rubber gloves, and used latex instead. This is not recommended. It is very hot!! Gently fold the curds into one piece.
Add cheese salt to taste. So far I've tried 1 Tablespoon which was too much and 1 teaspoon was too little.

Microwave for another 30 seconds. Drain again and stretch the curd. It must be 135 degrees to stretch properly. If not hot enough, microwave for another 30 seconds.

Stretch the cheese by pulling like taffy until it is smooth and shiny.
The more you work the firmer it will be.
Shape into your desired shape (ball, log, braid, string cheese, etc)

Submerge in ice water.
This step protects the silky texture and keeps it from becoming grainy.

The final product. Slice or shred and Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sweet Potato Black Bean Empanadas

Whenever I make Chicken Pot Pie with a Sweet Potato Crust, I always steam an extra sweet potato or two so I can make a few extra pie crusts to make empanadas. I made them tonight and you know your family likes something when they start talking about selling them and how much they should be and by the end of the meal they have an entire business plan worked out.

The kids are minimalists, so I fill theirs with cheese only, but for the grown ups I fill them with a black bean and corn mixture that is delicious.

I need to add the disclaimer that these are not the easiest things to make. But once you taste one, it will motivate you to make them again. Of course I think any recipe that requires a rolling pin is not easy.

The key is to keep the pie crust dough cold. I usually make the pot pie and put the extra pie crusts in the fridge for a few days until we are ready for the empanadas.

Make the filling first so it has time to cool.

In 2 T of oil in a large skillet over medium heat, cook onion until translucent.

Add 1 can black beans, drained and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne or chipotle pepper.
Stir and heat for 1 minute.

Slightly mash beans with a fork.
This is where it starts to not look so good, but stick with me.

Add about 1 cup corn. Stir to combine.
If it was up to me I would add some cilantro at this point.
But Jason is not a fan of cilantro, so I left it out.
Allow the mixture to cool.

On a floured surface, roll the pie crust into a 12"x12" square, about 1/8 to 1/4" thick.

Note I actually had 2 pie crusts for the amount of filling above and still had some leftover. I saved it for quesadillas or burritos. One meal keeps leading into the next.

Divide the square into 9 equal squares.

Transfer each square to a baking sheet.
Work quickly before the dough gets warm.

Add 1 teaspoon of the cooled bean mixture to each square.
Cover with about 1 tablespoon of shredded cheese.

Fold over diagonally and crimp to seal.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Empanadas

1 recipe Sweet Potato Pie Crust
2 T oil
1/2 medium onion diced
1 cup canned black beans, drained
1/8 teaspoon cayenne or chipotle pepper
1/2 cup corn
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

In a skillet, cook onion over medium heat until translucent. Add black beans and pepper. Stir and heat for 1 minute. Mash beans slightly with a fork. Stir in corn. Allow mixture to cool.

Roll out pie crust dough to a 12" x 12" square. Equally divide into 9 squares. Transfer to a baking sheet. Add 1 teaspoon of cooled bean mixture to a corner of each square and top with 1 T shredded cheese. Diagonally fold opposite corner over to form a triangle and crimp the edges.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Serve warm.