Garden Update

April 20, 2012

The sun is shining and it’s already been over 80 degrees here in lovely, sunny Denver. While that is bad for our water supply, it’s been great for the garden so far. We’ve been spending a lot of time outside, trying to get the garden spruced up and ready for spring. We cleaned out the weeds from the veggie garden and we have lots of sprouts going in the garage, waiting to make sure there’s not going to be one more freak snowstorm.

Our decorative gardens don’t want to wait, and they’re already having a heyday. We had almost everything come back from last year, and we went in and did a little early-season intervention for the things that didn’t. One of those things in particular were the yews that are supposed to grow along the front of the house. Now, we had put these in once before, and they hung on for maybe a month or two before they all turned brown and died. Come to find out that our sprinklers don’t reach that part of the garden. Couple that with the extra heat that part of the garden gets reflecting off of the house, and it’s a recipe for disaster. The old bushes have now been ripped up and replaced, and we have been watering religiously, and looking into getting a soaker hose in that part of the garden.

We also filled in at least a few of the more barren spaces with a few coleus, and we got some ornamental thyme and a couple other kinds of ground cover to give us more overall green, and hopefully keep down some of the weeds.

 

 

So, definitely a few bare spots still, but it’s coming along!

Oh Figs!

April 6, 2012

Tee-hee. Polite swearing is so cute.

*ahem*

Today we’re going to talk about the awesomeness known as figs. I LOVE figs. Fresh figs are floral and juicy, dried figs are sticky and sweet. As a kid I loved Fig Newtons, something we didn’t have much. So flipping through a cookbook, I wondered if we could make our own. Turns out…you can!

Start by cutting up two packages of figs. I diced ours, but after making a batch I’d be inclined to mince them. I’d also be inclined to increase the amount of figs for a thicker layer. Ours wound up kind of cakey.

So, take your figs, put them in a small saucepan with 1/3 cup honey and a teaspoon or so of lemon juice. Cook it gently over low heat for approximately ten minutes, or until the figs soften up. Stir occasionally.

While the figs are rehydrating, go ahead and make your “cookie” dough. We made it with 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup honey, 1 egg, 1/2t lemon zest, 1T lemon juice, 3 cups whole wheat flour, 1t baking powder, 1/2t baking soda, 1/4t salt.

Ours was a crumbly texture; however, similar to a graham cracker crust texture, when squeezed it held its shape.

We took the crumbs and pressed them in to the bottom of a sprayed 9×13 glass pan. In hindsight, I think our layer was a little thick.

By this time, the filling should be about set, so dump that in to the pan and spread it out. I left an edge of about a half inch so that we’d get a good cookie seal instead of being leaky.

Then place the remaining cookie crumb on top and press it down.

Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, or until starting to look toasty.

You can see that ours are slightly crumbly, but they tasted delicious. I’d add a touch more liquid, a little less crumb, and a little more filling. Best served warm!

Chip On Your Shoulder

April 5, 2012

While we had the fry oil out for our corn dogs, we also decided to try making some sweet chips out of some leftover dumpling wrappers from our pot sticker adventure.

We basically fried them at about 360 degrees, threw some cinnamon sugar on them and called it good! They cook for about 90 seconds, and be sure to flip them halfway. \

Ours had a tendency to fold over, and they also spit quite a bit so wear an apron or similar to protect yourself from spatter.

Dog Days

April 4, 2012

I don’t think I’ve had a corn dog since I was like, ten. They’re super fair food on a stick attitude, and for some reason I decided they’d be a good idea. Turns out they were.

The first step is to put your oil on. It will take a while to get that much oil hot, and you’re looking for between 345 and 360 degrees.

Next you’ll make your batter, which includes 1/2 cup of corn flour and the same of regular flour, salt, pepper, and 3/4 of a cup of milk. You’ll want to give this some time to rest and thicken.

Then take your dogs and put them on a skewer. Ours were kinda frozen so that part wasn’t fun. Be careful not to poke your hand, or clip the skewers. Conversely, wooden chopsticks from a fast-food place would also work.

Once they are stuck (ha), you’ll want to rub them liberally with flour.  This basically acts as your first coat and allows the batter to better stick. To prep the dogs for the flour, pat them as dry as possible with a paper towel.

When your oil is ready (use a thermometer…we use our candy thermometer because it goes to fry), you will see it shimmering and your thermometer will read your temperature at 345 or so.

You can then batter your dogs – cover liberally, and fry for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes.

(Our batter is grey because we used blue corn flour)

You can see that they are somewhat browned. Let them drip off while you crank the heat. Bring the oil up to about 390 and dip your dogs in for another 30 seconds or until perfectly chicken brown. Salt lightly and enjoy with your choice of toppings. We went for plain ketchup and mustard and it was divine.

Yardening

April 3, 2012

This weekend Katie and I put a lot of backbreaking work in to our gardens, to get them up to speed for the new seasons. Of particular pleasure is the fact that we planted two trees end of season and they both survived and are starting to leaf out. That’s a big deal.

So we weeded, we raked, we picked up sticks, we trimmed and primped and planted. We started our seedlings the other week for our veggies. All in all it was a good weekend.

Katie and I are currently discussing our goals for this season. We definitely have a garden we’d like to finish, as well as the veggies, and we’ve even started talking about a chicken coop. At 18 eggs a week, we could use the help.

So my question to you is, what are you doing to get ready for the new season? Cleaning? Gardening? Mowing? Cooking? Tell us in the comments!

Cracker Redux

April 2, 2012

Okay so we all saw what happened with the last cracker challenge and ultimately we were not super satisfied with the end result. They were too puffy and doughy. Katie and I both like super crispy crackers, so we tried something new.

Our basic recipe was flour, salt, and enough warm water to bring it together in to a dough. Like other doughs (think biscuits), you need a soft hand with it – work it too hard and it will get gluten-y and tough. Instead work it gently until it just pulls together. It should be springy to the touch and look about like this:

As you can see, I have some flour left over, but it came together with the right consistency without being too sticky. I let it be at this point. If it is still sticky and you’re out of flour, sprinkle in a tablespoon at a time and work it until it feels good. If it’s dry, do the same but with water instead of flour. Also for fun, we added sesame seeds to the dough, which added a nice toasty flavor.

Once your dough is ready, roll it out to whatever thickness you want. Because this has no leavening in it, they will be about as thick as you roll them with a very very slight increase in size maybe.  So roll roll roll.

You can see in the top corner I have a small bowl of flour for sprinkling, and a square-shaped cookie cutter. We did our crackers two ways: One was to cut out individual squares. The other was to roll a large slab and throw it on the pizza stone. Both ways worked equally well, although the pizza stone was faster.

Each cracker or cracker-slab was docked (poked with a fork – this lets the steam out), brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with crushed rosemary and a little salt.

Also because we had more space on the big slab cracker, we added cheese to see how that would work. Turns out it’s flippin DELICIOUS. Once the slab cracker is done, break it up in to shards. A pizza cutter worked okay too if you want more uniform pieces, but I’m impatient so ripping them up worked as well for me.

These crackers turned out to be delicious, crisp, salty, and amazing. I’m NEVER paying $4 a box of crackers again.

Fruit of Our Labor

March 27, 2012

To continue with our theme of making our own food, Katie and I decided to tackle something I adore – fruit rollups. It never occurred to me how they were made, but it turns out they are surprisingly simple. We have made apple fruit rolls as well as today’s recipe – pear strawberry rolls.

You start with fruit. A lot of fruit. Like, eight pounds of fruit. We divided this amount between pears and strawberries. Start by chunking everything up in to smaller pieces so that you can cook it down somewhat.

We cooked these down in a large pot, along with a half a cup of pineapple juice and a bit of honey. We tossed the pears in first because they took longer to cook, then added the strawberries. We let it all boil until the pears began to soften – maybe a half hour or so.

While the fruit is cooking down, we set up our food mill. In this case, we have an attachment for our Kitchen-aid.

The main attachment sets in to the front of the kitchen-aid. This is where the food will be pushed in to the mill.

The corkscrew is placed in to the center, and when on, will turn and move the food down the chamber and through the screen.

The screen is the strainer that is placed over the screw. The screw will push food down to the end, and push food out through the strainer.

Finally there is a basket placed around the entire strainer. This allows the strained food to be pushed out and fall to the right, while the solids (fruit skin, stems, etc) are pushed out the front. Make sure you have a container to catch both!

As you can see, the fruit was placed in to the top of the miller. We have a tool to push down the fruit to make sure it makes it gets all the way to the screw.

As you can see, the fruit that is strained is falling down the chamber to the right, in to the white bowl. The glass bowl is catching the fruit skin and solids that we don’t want in our strained fruit.

Once you have your strained mixture, spread it out in layers. We used a dehydrator and it made about four trays worth of puree. We set it up to go overnight, and about nine hours later we had fruit leather. You can also do this in the oven on parchment, baked on a lower temperature until dry. You want the fruit to maintain a little springiness, but not be sticky or wet feeling. Once you have your fruit rolls dried, you can tear them up in to pieces and enjoy!

A Sticky Situation

March 25, 2012

One of the new recipes we made recently as part of my New Year’s resolution was potstickers. This recipe isn’t quite as pain-free as many of the recipes we feature here (it’s not complicated, it just has a lot of steps), however, fresh homemade potstickers are vastly superior to the frozen or fast-food varieties that most people have had.

To start out, you make a filling. Your filling can contain whatever you’d like, but it this instance we made a fairly traditional filling. We used a sweet italian sausage (turkey instead of  pork). You can use any kind of ground meat, but you don’t want anything too flavorful that will take over your other filling ingredients. I also added half a diced onion, somewhere between 1 cup and 1 1/2 cups of diced bok choy (about 3 good sized stems), 2 tablespoons soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Once you have your filling, you have to fill your potstickers. This is the most time consuming part of the process. You start with a wonton wrapper, and about a scant tablespoon of filling. You don’t want to overfill the wrappers, because they won’t seal well.

Then, you have to seal the wonton wrapper. Raw wonton wrappers are similar to pasta, and you seal them with just a bit of water. I just have a small bowl of water and I dip my finger in, and run it along the edges I’ll be sealing.

To do a traditional wonton shape, I’ll be bringing all the corners to the middle and sealing the edges to each other.

 

From this last picture, I would pinch the bottom and get out as much air as possible, and then squeeze down each of the folds to make sure it’s really sealed. If it’s not sealed well it will explode when you boil it, and you’ll have a bunch of waterlogged filling. If you don’t get at least most of the air out they will be inclined to float when you boil them, and it’s harder to get them to cook evenly.

Once you’ve got all of your potstickers filled, it’s time to cook them. The first step in cooking is to boil them a few at a time. Once they’re boiled they’ll stick together, so be sure you have somewhere to set them that has room.

After you boil them, the final step is to pan fry them. If you’re making wontons for soup, you would just add them to the soup instead of boiling them.

The frying makes them a little crispy, and much more delicious. We served them with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, worcestershire, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and some thinly chopped scallions. You don’t need to salt with the sauce because it’s already very salty from the soy sauce.

 

 

Lately the BurbEx team has done a lot to change diet, including eliminating unnecessary carbs. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some carbs. But we didn’t need quite as many as we were consuming. One way of compromising about this was to start making our own cereal, granola bars and today..crackers.

I eat crackers with everything. Tuna. Cheese. Egg salad. You name it, I cracker it. But I thought to myself, why not try and make our own. Brilliant!

So the basic recipe is 2 cups flour, a little salt, a tsp of baking powder, herbs, 1/3 c oil, 2/3 cup warm water.

All the ingredients went in together, so don’t worry about form or figure. I did crush my herbs up with my mortar so that they would be more fragrant.

Once everything was in, I mixed by hand into a soft dough. DON’T overmix. If it starts to feel tough, let it rest for a few minutes and gently begin working it again.

Now there are two ways you can go about making crackers. You can roll it out in to a thin sheet all in one go and either slice with a pizza slicer, knife, or bash-n-chop. You can also do it as a big sheet and break it after cooking.

I chose to roll it out as thin as possible and cut out square shapes.

We oiled and salted our crackers, as well as docked them (forked). We then baked them for 8 minutes until starting to brown. Delish.

Seedlings Approacheth

March 20, 2012

So last year our garden did alright- it kept us stocked in produce for a large portion of the year. But it would have been totally KICK BUTT if I had started seedlings. Which I didn’t. However, this year I got on top of it and started all of them. I’m hoping to get some good starts in pots so that I can plunk them in and get a ways ahead this year.

Our starting lineup includes:

Cherry tomatoes

Um..red tomatoes

Yellow tomatoes

Banana peppers

Bell pepers

Cantaloupe

Broccoli

Cauliflower

Arugula

Rosemary

Basil

Dill

Zucchini

Radishes

Carrots

Beans

Other beans

We used a combination of peat pots and egg cartons. The plan is to get shoots and replant them in to pots once big enough. They’re living out in our garage until I’m a little more certain it will stay nice out. Colorado “winter” is weird that way.

Oh, and update on last year’s garden — despite snow, sleet, COLD…we STILL have parsley. Send me your address if you want some. Seriously.