I am obsessed with pumpkins. So, to convert an entire patch of my front field into prime pumpkin growing territory sounds like a good idea to me…

Last night, my friend (and partner in pumpkin crime) Jay and I went out to stake out the dimensions of the patch. We staked out a very very large patch, and aren’t exactly sure if we will use the whole thing or not…it is huge. Somewhere around 100 feet by 35 feet. I have to say that my eyes tend to be bigger than my stomach, so to speak.

We haven’t exactly figured out how we are going to prepare the bed. I guess it depends on how big we actually make it. We are going to research how to plant pumpkins, and prepare beds, and see what we come up with. We have a little bit of straw, and an endless supply of cardboard for mulch, which will probably come in handy. And lots of pumpkin seeds, rotten pumpkins, and ideas for seeds to get. And we are thinking of adding gourds, maybe some butternut squash, and why not some watermelons…? Oh dear.

We have a beautiful plant dyed assorted package of wool at the store for needle felting. We order it by mail from Germany, sending a wire transfer, and receiving our box sometime down the line…it is always exciting to receive. The wool comes tightly stuffed, 13 beautiful colors, into a clear bag. Organic wool. Plant dyes. Rainbow of color. You can’t go wrong.

My friends Reni and Joy have been making some really cute Easter eggs with wool, decorating them with colors, patterns, animals and leaving some just brown. I kept wanting to make some, and finally, today, I grabbed a bag of wool, some white wool batting, and a package of needles, and took it home after lunch to experiment.

Step one is to make a white egg like shape. I got out an egg from the fridge to make sure that I was coming up with the right shapes. I used little felting needles, which are sharp pieces of metal with little barbs sticking out the sides that catch the wool and pull it together.

After the initial egg was shaped, I added strips of color, tacking the strips down as I went with the needle.

I started in the middle of the eggs, and worked towards both ends, covering the whole thing.

monkey bread

March 29, 2010

My fingers smell like butter, cinnamon, and sugar. I kind of like it.

I just (with the help of a friend) rolled 64 balls of dough in butter, sugar, and cinnamon to bake some home-made monkey bread.

I have one memory source of monkey bread. My best friend’s grandmother used to serve it to us when we would go over for a visit. My guess is that she bought it at the supermarket, but I can’t remember 100%. We would sit in the rounded booth table in the kitchen, eat monkey bread, and discuss grandmother like topics (of which nothing comes to mind…).

When my friend Danielle posted about monkey bread on her blog, I decided that I had to make some. I got the recipe from smittenkitchen.com (suggested by Danielle) and it was clear, and very easy to follow. I have a ledge in my kitchen and I set my computer right up there and follow away. The only problem is if I have to scroll down a page with my sticky fingers…

Monkey bread is made with a yeasted dough that is cut into little sections (64 according to my recipe), rolled into balls, and dipped into butter…

and then brown sugar and cinnamon.

Then the balls are placed into a bundt cake pan,

set aside to rise again,

and then baked.

This is a morning bread, but if you were to make it for breakfast, you would have to wake up at around 4am? Too early if you ask me!

So it was an evening bread, eaten by the fire with fingers and napkins. With plenty left over for the morning!

Cleaning out the fridge this morning I found some eggs, two bananas, and 1/4 tub of sour cream. I put them all together, along with flour, sugar, butter, etc., and made crepes with banana sour cream filling, flavored with Haitian vanilla!

I made a basic crepe recipe. I wasn’t sure if I would have any guests over to help eat, so I made the full 2 egg batch, and ended up with quite a bit left over.

The filling was 1/4 cup sour cream, some sugar, and a dash of vanilla. I thinly sliced two bananas, and stirred them up into the mixture.

Into each crepe I put a little filling, and then folded it into quarters.

And ate crepe after crepe standing up in the kitchen next to the stove…while attending to the pan and the next crepe in line…

Sometimes when there is no one else there to talk to or sit down with, I end up eating while standing…especially when the food is buttery crepes filled with tangy, creamy, vanilla scented bananas!

I was on my way home today, thinking of what I could make that would be cozy, hearty, and filling. And could make a dent in my refrigerator full of broth. Mushroom barley soup came to mind. I hadn’t ever made it, but since I still had some left over mushroom broth in the fridge, I thought I would give it a try.

I stopped at the grocery store on the way home and picked up some mushrooms, barley, and a few other ingredients.

To make the soup.

First add a little olive oil and butter to a pan on medium low heat, about 1-2 tablespoons each. Add about 1/2 an onion, finely chopped, and saute. Meanwhile, finely chop one stalk of celery, and add, as the onions are cooking.

Then add several handfuls of mushrooms (I used a combination of shiitake and crimini, roughly chopped). My mom once told me that sauteing mushrooms in butter brings out their flavor, so I usually try to do this for soups, etc.

Next, add a carrot, diced. And a thyme sprig or two, the leaves pulled of and rubbed before tossing into the soup. I like to space out my vegetables. Take care to make sure nothing burns!

After the vegetables have cooked for a few minutes, add one cup uncooked barley, and about 1 quart broth. I used a mixture of Hearty Mushroom Broth, and Winter Broth (from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Soups, and Greens and cookbooks respectively). Broth is very important here! It is what gives the soup its flavor. Home made broth is a lot of work, but worth it.

You can toss in a Parmigiano cheese rind, for flavor. One of my favorite things in soup.

Bring soup to a low boil, turn heat down, and simmer, about 35-40 minutes, or until barley is tender.

Serve garnished with grated Parmigiano, chopped parsley, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Great soup to eat while curled up under the covers in bed.

pot au feu (minus theo)

March 25, 2010

I have been talking with my friend Theo about making pot au feu since we made pho a few months ago. A sort of pot au feu anyway. Something vegetable and warm, and roasted, with mushrooms, etc. We even looked at the recipe the other day. And I got inspired to do it, unfortunately while he was away at a whiskey tasting convention…

It all started out with the broth. A hearty mushroom based broth that is so thick you can’t see through it. With that already made, I didn’t have much to do. Cut up and roast the vegetables, with aromatics and red wine. Turnips, carrots, portobello mushrooms, potatoes, and several sprigs of thyme.

The vegetables were easy to roast. I stuck them into my large le creuset pot, tossed them with olive oil, poured in a little red wine, put the lid on, and stirred them occasionally. After about 20 minutes I took the lid off, and cooked them until they were tender and caramelized.

Meanwhile I mixed up the batter for, and cooked the dumplings. They were rosemary dumplings, with an egg, some flour and a lot of fresh rosemary chopped very finely. For some reason the dumplings ended up too mushy, and full of water. I am going to have to look at the recipe and maybe compare it to some other ones to see what to do differently next time. Also, I salted the water as I do pasta water, and this turned out to make them a little too salty. That said, I still liked them in the soup..

The finished bowl, before adding broth. I heated the bowls in the warm oven before putting the food in. I arranged the roasted vegetables, dumplings, and a wedge of steamed cabbage.

The broth, poured on top. It was so thick and rich, that one big bowl of soup left me stuffed!

Yesterday I got on a broth kick. I went to the grocery store while hungry (always either great or a mistake, depending on how you look at it). My friend Ayni was telling me about how she loves chicken broth, and how simple it is to make. I somehow forgot how labor intensive vegetable broth is to make, and told her that it was super easy. Then, I came home with two very heavy bags of vegetables. I spent the entire afternoon washing, peeling, chopping, stirring, and straining vegetables for broth. Making broth takes a lot of work. But it is definitely worth it.

I made two batches of broth. Both were recipes from Deborah Madison, the first from the Greens Cookbook, and the second from Vegetable Soups. I love Deborah Madison’s recipes, they are simple, easy to follow, and consistently delicious. The first recipe was for Winter Broth. My favorite basic broth recipe.

The vegetables start off bright and beautiful. I am always inspired by their cheerful colors and shapes.

As they cook, the color disappears, and I think that it sinks into the broth…which ends up with a beautiful mellow color, and bright flavor.

The lentils add a nice bit of body, and depth to the flavor. The colors of the vegetables are already fading as they cook down..

Above are the left over cooked vegetables, after the broth has been strained out. They are tossed into the compost pile, with a little regret…

Meanwhile, I started the hearty mushroom broth. I realized that I wouldn’t have enough time to cook the broth (about 45 minutes), so I prepared the ingredients to be able to make the broth more quickly (cooking show style) when I came home.

This mushroom broth recipe has tomato paste, flour, and red wine to add body and flavor. The mushroom broth is currently brewing in my kitchen, and the entire house smells delicious! Strong, hearty mushroom flavor. I can’t wait to try this one!

Here are the dried shiitake mushrooms soaking in warm water. The soaking water becomes the water for the broth.

After the vegetables and herbs were lightly browned, I added tomato paste, flour, wine. The alcohol is burned off by boiling, then I added the dried, soaked mushrooms and their water, and simmered the whole pot for about 45 minutes.

The result was a single jar of mushroom broth. One quart.

Ever have an extra bunch of chard in the fridge? I did yesterday, and so I made some Sunday lunch crepes to use it up. I love having everything that I need right in my fridge. Milk, check. Eggs, check. Extra bunch of chard, celery, onions, lettuce, olives, check, check, check…

I even had some yummy local cheese, and enough butter and flour to make a white sauce. Crepe time!

I made the batter first thing, as it needs to sit in the fridge for a while. I am not exactly sure why this is, but I do what they tell me.

Meanwhile, I made a bit of coffee, and started on the filling.

To cook the chard, use a little olive oil, (mine was flavored with Tunisian olives and harissa). To the oil, add chopped onion, chopped celery, and saute until the veggies are translucent. Then add roughly chopped chard and cook it until tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Covered the chard, and placed in the oven on warm.

For the sauce, I followed the recipe for “white sauce” in the updated Joy of Cooking. The recipe calls for flour, butter, and milk.

Mix the flour and butter, and when the butter is melted, slowly add the milk, and whisk away!

It certainly takes some whisking to make a white sauce smooth. I always have a bit of concern that it will turn out lumpy, but it is usually okay in the end.

That’s it. Oh, and salt and pepper. To make it cheese sauce, I added a bunch of prairie breeze cheese, chopped up into little bits. And some smoked Spanish paprika for flavor.

Back to the crepe batter. I warmed the pan, and Skye was over and he pretty much took over the job of crepe making. I actually don’t think that I flipped a single crepe.

As Skye finished the crepes, he transferred them to a plate in the warm oven, and right before all the crepes were finished, we warmed the cheese sauce, set the table, and were ready to eat.

Making crepes, and filling, and sauce is easy, but putting everything together is a little tricky. Making sure all the elements are warm and cooked at the right time…

salad fingers pizza

March 21, 2010

I woke up from a nap this afternoon craving crunchy romaine lettuce ribs and finely chopped kale. To turn this into dinner, I put my third (and final) frozen pizza in the oven, chopped my romaine and kale, both from my awesome CSA, and set out to make a dressing. I wanted to make something that would taste pizza-ish, so I used olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, and oregano. I added salted mountain capers, chopped olives, and pepper. For protein, I thinly sliced some Parmigiano Reggiano for the top of the pizza, and added tiny cubes of cheddar to the salad.

My best friend Swati always takes me to a restaurant in California when I visit her that serves salad pizza. It is yummy! This is my version…frozen home made pizza and kale salad.

My mom brought a little hen over for dinner to peck at the edge of the pizza. I actually lit it on fire (it is a candle..) later on, and am still not sure if I am okay with burning chickens…

On a side note: if anyone has any tips on making non-chewy frozen pizza dough, please, please let me know. The frozen pizzas are great, but the dough turns out a little chewy. I put the pizza right in the oven, frozen. Maybe I need to let them thaw and rise a little first?


March 20, 2010

Maybe you could say that I am on a cake kick. Opportunities just keep popping up. It was my friend’s birthday last night. She had a roller skating birthday with a cake contest. I finished work around 5, and really wanted to bake a cake. I didn’t have a recipe with me in town, and my mom suggested that I just grab a mix…so I did.

I started with a Barefoot Contessa mix for coconut cupcakes, and added to it.

Instead of making cupcakes, I made two 8″ cakes, and then sliced them both in half to make 4 layers.

For some reason my kitchen becomes a disaster when I bake a cake. I was talking with my mom about it last night, and she was saying that it had to do with all the sugar all over the place. Maybe cakes are a collection of too much sugar.

I made a filling of Greek style yogurt, coconut passion fruit jam from France, and whipped cream (also my mom’s idea). I softly whipped the cream (1/2 cup) and gently folded in the yogurt (about 2/3 of a container), which is strained and quite firm. The mixture was quite tart, and so I added a lot of the jam to sweeten and flavor it. The cake itself was sweet, so I didn’t make the filling overly sweet.

Meanwhile, the cakes were on the porch cooling. The weather went from beautiful and sunny in the early afternoon, to cold, raining, and then snowing.

I put the coconut passion fruit filling in between the layers of the cake. I had a good amount of filling, which made the cake kind of tall. I was worried that it would drip over the sides, but it behaved itself. As the cake sat, a lot of the filling was absorbed by the layers.

I frosted the outside of the cake with cream cheese butter frosting (cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar from the baking mix “packet number 3”). I dusted the sides with coconut flakes (from “packet number 2”). For the top I put a layer of passion fruit coconut jam for brightness and color (also my mom’s idea).

This is my conclusion about cakes and mixes. My kitchen is still a mess, and I spent a lot of time. BUT, I didn’t have to think too much about things. It was fun. I had a cake where I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.