MuddyFingersMeg

Eat, drink, (garden, knit, quilt, think, fix, read) & be merry

Berries and Bombs

Remember when the strawberry patch looked like this?

I finally did a little rejuvenation and it looks much tidier, don’t you think?

Strawberries spread aggressively by stolons and they will take over if they’re not regularly thinned.  They also don’t produce as well when they’re over crowded.  Don’t be shy when thinning, be ruthless.  They’ll fill back in… and then some.  Believe it or not, I started this patch with just four crowns two years ago.  Last year I pulled out nearly 100 extra plants and I didn’t even bother to count this year.  But it was a lot!

Now that strawberry season is over, the raspberries are coming in.  I like strawberries but I love raspberries.  My dad used to take me out to pick wild raspberries and sitting on the soft earth with the sun at my back, smelling ripe raspberries is one of the purest pleasures in life.  Most of these don’t even make it into the house.

And I made lavender bath fizzies using this recipe.  Swoon.  What’s that?  It’s summer, you say?  Well, our (only) bathroom is under construction and we can only take baths.  So these will probably be used up in no time flat.  They’re ridiculously simple, however, and I will be making more.  I suggest you do, too!

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For the love of lavender

This past winter marks the second winter lavender has successfully wintered in my zone four garden.  I had an abundance of blooms this year and here is the recipe for one project.  Unphotgraphed uses included lavender sachets, bottles, sugar, baths, and general enjoyment.

First the stems had to be picked just before the blooms opened.  The buds are deep purple but they’re still buds.  I have another variety that flowered so quickly I wasn’t able the harvest in time and I had to just enjoy it in the garden.  The buds retain their color and fragrance better than opened flowers.

Once the harvested stems had dried I stripped off the buds.  It’s tedious work, but I just picked up a stem here and there for several days and managed it with very little direct effort.  Now you can use the lovely lavender for whatever you want!

I made ice cream!  I brought 2T lavender buds, a 1/3C honey, and 3 C cream to a boil and then let it cool, stirring occasionally, to room temperature.  I put it in the refrigerator overnight and strained out the buds.  I wisked 1 C milk, 1/2 C sugar, and a splash of vanilla into the cream and put it into the ice cream maker for 25 minutes.  The soft mixture is then frozen for 12 hours and voila!  Honeyed lavender ice cream.  Delightful.

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Squash soup with chilies, coconut, and lemongrass

As if the dearth of food pictures and recipes hasn’t made it obvious, I have lost all kitchen mojo in the past few months.  Last night, for example, I had a cinnamon milkshake and popcorn for dinner.  Unfortunately, that has been pretty normal around here.  Tonight, though, I put on a pot of soup and P loved it so much he told me I had to write it down, so here it is. Squash soup is generally very flexible.  In this case, I simply purged the fridge of perishables that were on the verge of going bad, and picked some stuff out of the pantry to match.  If you don’t have the exact ingredient I used, try something else.  Soup is also a great way to use the remnants of last summer’s garden.  The squash, (dried) chilies, (dried) lemongrass, and garlic are all from last summer’s bounty.

I usually puree squash soup, but I didn’t feel like fishing out all the chilies and lemongrass, so there’s some texture in this batch.  Feel free to play around with the recipe.  And don’t be intimidated!  The soup came together in about 45 minutes (not including simmering time)

Without further ado, here’s the recipe:

In advance, cut 2 whole winter squash in half and remove (and compost) the seeds (I used Buttercup, I’d recommend any sweet winter squash with a fine texture like Buttercup or Red Kuri.  I’d avoid stringy varieties like spaghetti).  Place the four halves cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a 350F oven for an hour, or until easily pierced with a fork.  Remove, let cool, and scrape the flesh from the skin.  Compost the skins.  Set squash aside.

Heat ~1/4 C (it’s winter,  we need the insulation) olive oil (or another fat) in a pot.  Add 1.5 onions, finely diced (the “half” was going bad in the fridge…) and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until soft and starting to brown (8-10 minutes).  Add 2 stalks celery, finely diced and cook for a few minutes.  Add some heat – I used whole dried Thai chilies, but you can use red pepper flakes, cayenne, dried chilies, etc.  Add 2-3 T minced fresh ginger and 5-6 cloves garlic finely chopped or pressed through a garlic press.  Cook just until you can smell the garlic and ginger (1-2 minutes).  Add the squash and stir in (it’s easier to prevent lumps this way).  When throughly mixed, add one can coconut milk, and combine throughly.  Finally add 4-6 C broth (depending on how soupy or stewy you want it) and a few stalks lemongrass.  Simmer for a half hour to an hour.

If desired, toast some bread crumbs in a pan over medium heat until dry and crispy.  Sprinkle over individual bowls of soup when ready to eat.

Enjoy!

Hopefully I don’t actually need to say this but – DON’T eat the chilies or lemongrass stalks!

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The Big 2-9

Yesterday I turned 29.  We went out for a nice dinner and came home to celebrate with a few friends and a Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake.

Yes, friends, this cake is amazing.  It’s even better than it sounds.  I am a shameless, self-proclaimed lover of all edibles that combine the wonders of chocolate and peanut butter.  But this confectionary delight takes the cake, pun intended.  It’s a double-layer chocolate sour cream cake with peanut butter cream cheese frosting topped with bittersweet chocolate ganache.  You must make one for your next celebration.  You won’t regret it.

Please forgive the blurry photo

 

We also found some time to don our santa hats and decorate the balsam fir adorning our living room.  We don’t put up many Christmas decorations, but I do love love love the excuse to bring a tree into the house.

 

Just as the day was coming to a close, a blizzard blew in.  We awoke this morning to enormous drifts of snow.  We had four holiday parties and get-togethers this weekend.  They’re all canceled.  Instead we had a quiet day at home.  We ventured out for a few hours to help dig out neighbors, deliver a few cookies, and document the storm.  I love having this much snow.  Here I’m standing in a snowbank – it’s nearly up to my waist!  (although, considering my height, that isn’t saying much).

Snow Angels!  Believe it or not, the banks were nearly vertical.


It’s been a great weekend to ring in end of my 20s.  I’m not even all that sad.  I’m ready for 30.  Bring it on!

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Oh, Summer.

I don’t know about you, but I seem to have a hard time blogging when summer is around.  It’s just so distracting – and short.  It’s really too bad because summer is when there are so many interesting things to blog about…

Recently we had a glut of small onions from thinning the onion patch.  And so I made caramelized onions.

I used the paella pan as I needed maximum surface area to facilitate evaporation.  I used a mix of fats (butter and olive oil) totaling 1 Tablespoon for every two cups of onions.

At first, they barely fit in the pan, but soon they started cooking down…

and down….

and down…  Although I was so excited about eating them, I didn’t get a final picture.

After 2 hours, the giant pile of onions had cooked down to two cups.  They were a rich brown and very sweet.  I say “were” because they are no more.  We ate them in crepes with goat cheese, spread on sandwiches and in hot dogs.  I froze a bit of them to use on some pizzas.  Delicious!  What’s your favorite thing to do with caramelized onions?

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Cupcakes!

It’s the baker in me.  Most of the time I stick to breads, but every once in a while I let my inner confection-creator loose.  I can’t do it very often because I enjoy eating the goodies almost as much as I love making them.

I’ve been perusing the fun, whimsical cupcake books by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson as of late.  I eventually decided to make a knock-off version of the sunflower cupcakes.  They didn’t come out like sunflowers, but they were still pretty.

And delicious.  Oh boy, were they good.  Here is the recipe for their homemade chocolate cupcakes.

Chocolate Cupcakes, makes 16

1 3/4 C all purpose flour

1/4 C unsweetened baking powder

3/4 t baking soda

3/4 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

12 T unsalted butter, softened

3/4 C lightly packed brown sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

1 C buttermilk

1 t vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line the muffin cups with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the melted chocolate.  Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with the flour.  Stir until just blended.  Stir in vanilla.

Spoon the mixture into a quart ziplock bag.  Snip a 1/4″ off one of the bottom corners.  Fill the paper liners 2/3rds full.  (this is one of the most helpful cupcake tips ever.  No mess.  I use old ziplocks that have small holes so I don’t feel so guilty about the waste!).  Bake 15-20 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

Frost as you see fit.  Enjoy!

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Waste not, want not

Nothing says, “baking time” like the smell of over-ripe milk!

Ask P, (much to his disappointment) I almost never make a recipe twice – even if it’s amazing.  Every trip to the kitchen is an experiment.  I have different ingredients on hand and different inspiration.  But this recipe is special.  I usually improvise a little bit, but I basically follow it everytime.  It is, by far and away, the recipe I’ve made the most.  It’s our bread recipe and it supplies nearly all of the bread we consume.

People like different things from their bread, squishy, crunchy, full of spices, fancy, boring.  We like a workhorse.  It makes great sandwiches, amazing toast, it freezes like a dream, it stays soft for up to a week, the recipe makes three loaves, has a nice baking schedule, and it’s mostly whole grains.  The ingredients are simple, we always have them on hand, and it uses the milk that would otherwise go down the drain.  Did I mention it’s delicious?  Perfecto!

This recipe is loosely adapted from “Robin’s Bread” in “HomeBaking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition From Around the World.”  If you’re a baker, or a want-to be baker you MUST own this book.  It is, hands down, my favorite cookbook ever.  Every recipe I’ve made from this book has come out well.  It also has wonderful travelogue and beautiful pictures.

6 Cups liquid*

1 t dry, active yeast

8 C whole wheat flour**

5 (or so) C all purpose white flour

2 T molasses (or a few glugs from the molasses bottle)

2 scant T salt

2-3 T canola oil (or a veggie oil.  Don’t skimp, it helps the bread stay fresh)

1 egg, beaten

Sesame seeds (for sprinkling)

Mix your water and milk in a large bowl (about 8 quarts).  I use a metal bowl and then heat the liquid (in the bowl) on the stove until slightly warm to the touch.

Whisk in 3 C whole wheat flour.  Whisk in yeast.  Whisk in molasses.  Whisk in 3 more C whole wheat flour.  Whisk in salt.  Whisk in oil.  Whisk in the rest of the whole wheat flour.

At this point, you’ll probably have to start stirring.  Get a strong wooden spoon and start mixing in the all purpose flour 1-2 C at a time.  When it gets too thick to stir, start kneading.  I usually knead it directly in the bowl, adding flour as needed.  You can knead on the counter (bigger mess) but you’ll need a bench scraper since the dough is soft.

Keep kneading and adding flour until the dough is smooth, cohesive, and forms a ball, but is still soft.  You don’t want it to get super stiff.  Don’t be neurotic, just knead until you get tired or run out of time.  It will be fine.  (you may not use all the all purpose flour)

Some people wash their bowls or coat them with oil or do other picky things.  I do not.  I just let it sit in the same bowl and cover with a cutting board, plate , or plastic wrap.  Let ferment for 8-12 hours.

Don’t punch down the dough.  It’s fun and satisfying, but it doesn’t make a great loaf of bread.  Instead flour your hands and gently scrape down the sides of the bowl, reflouring your hands as needed, to create a nice ball.  Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Pat into a rectangle and cut into three equal pieces.  Gently roll each piece into a ball and let rest.  Butter three bread pans (generously.  You don’t want to ruin your beautiful loaves when you pry them from the pans.)

Pat a piece into a rectangle about 10 inches long and, maybe 7 inches wide.  This is not an exact science.  Roll the dough up from a narrow end and close the seam.  Place into the bread pan.  Repeat for remaining balls.

Cover with a tea towel for 40 minutes.  Preheat your oven to 400F.  Put a cast iron pan (we use a aluminum brownie pan that we were going to throw out) in the bottom of the oven as it preheats.

Slash the loaves if you’re into that sort of thing.  Brush the tops with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Don’t skip the brushing and sprinkling!  I skipped it for a long time until I realized the nice crust and extra crunch made the difference between good bread and amazing bread.

Place your loaves in the oven, pour two or so cups of warm water into the pan on the floor of the oven and close the door quickly.  Bake 10 minutes.  Turn down the heat to 375F and bake 20 more minutes.  Then rotate the pans 180 degrees and bake another 20 minutes.  If crusts look done and the loaf sounds hollow when you thump the bottom, you’re in business.  Let cool 10 minutes, turn out of pans and let cool completely on a wire rack.  If desired, put a loaf or two in a ziplock bag in the freezer for up to six months.

*a mix of water and milk.  Use at least two cups milk, and balance out the rest with water.  Milk that is ripe is fine, rotten milk is not.  Whole milk will give you a softer bread.

**We use fresh ground (yay for a flour grinder) hard winter wheat.  I’ve found fresh ground makes a softer, less dense whole grain loaf.  You may have to experiment with proportions depending on your wheat source.

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Coooooookies!

I may be known to buy one-way plane tickets to far ends of the earth, but I’ll confess, I’m not a real adventurous cookie eater.  I love good chocolate chip cookies, decorated sugar cookies around the holidays (frosting, not icing, please).  Spritz sometimes.  And peanut butter chocolate blossoms.  But I picked up a cookie making book from the library.  Holy New World of Cookies!  Whoa.  I ventured out on a limb.  And I’d like to introduce you to my new favorite cookie – the Chocolate Crackle.

They’re lovely, impressive, and delicious. They’re sweet and crispy on the outside but creamy, rich, chewy and chocolatey on the inside.  And the best part – the batch made more than 70 cookies – enough to keep some, enough to share some, and then some!

8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 1/4 C all purpose flour

1/2 unsweetened cocoa powder

2 t baking powder

1/4 t coarse salt

1 stick softened butter

1 1/2 C packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 t vanilla extract

1/3 C whole milk

1 C each powdered sugar and granulated sugar for coating

Melt chocolate in a double boiler, stirring the entire time.  Don’t let it sit on the heat any longer than necessary.  Set aside to cool.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt

In another bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy – 2-3 minutes with an electric mixer.  Mix in eggs and vanilla, and then the melted chocolate.  Beat well.  Reduce speed to low; mix in flour in two batches alternating with the milk.

Divide dough into four equal pieces, wrap each in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Pinch off pieces of dough and roll them into 1″ balls.  Roll the balls in granulated sugar to coat (I used vanilla sugar, but any granulated sugar will work just fine) and finally roll in powdered sugar to coat.  Place on lined cookie sheet (with parchment paper or silpat) 2″ apart.

Bake 14 minutes, rotating halfway through (at 7 minutes).  Remove from oven and let cool a minute or two before removing to a rack to cool.

Yes, they’re a little picky to make – all that rolling and dipping.  But they’re so worth it.  Don’t make the balls much bigger than an inch – it sounds small, but they spread slightly when baking and make the cutest cookies.  Besides, then you can have two and not feel the slightest bit of guilt.  Enjoy!

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An persuasive argument for gardening

Garden Harvest

Today we did a little garden cleanup.  We had squash that had long ago succumbed to powdery mildew, carrots that needed pulling, tomato plants that needed pruning, and weeding.  Oh, the weeding.  We also brought the harvest basket and two small reusable grocery bags, you know, just in case.  I’m glad I did.  Whoa, boy, we came home with with arms laden.  I had to put the beans and dill seeds in my pocket because there was no room anywhere else.

We simmered the edamame, sprinkled them with fancy salt, and ate them right up.  yummy!  I chopped up the dino kale and collards (some nearly two feet long), blanched ’em, and tossed ’em into the freezer.  P picked through the armload of parsley and made a big batch of pesto.  And I still had a basket full.  Since it’s been so cold, I though soup would be fitting.  Only I had one hangup.  I couldn’t imagine it being very good.  I mean garden veggie soup?  That , bland, uninspired, visually unappealing slop that’s served up in restaurants all over the heartland.  I’ve never had a garden veggie soup I’ve liked and I couldn’t imagine a different soup that would combine all I had to offer.

Garden Veggies

Oh, well, the produce wasn’t going to cook itself.  The surprisingly clean leeks went into a pan of bacon grease (easiest way to clean it up!), as did the stunning multi-hued dragon carrots and the jimmy nardello peppers.  Next I chopped up a purple cherokee tomato that was suffering from blossom-end rot and needed to be used immediately.  I sauteed it until the moisture from the tomato was soaked up, then I poured in the boiling water from the collards and kale along with some left over chicken stock.  As it simmered I chopped three varieties of potatoes that went in the pot along with three tiny seeded thai hot peppers.  By then P has finished the pesto and the Parmesan rind went into the pot, too.  The beautiful, vigorous sunburst squash has been inundating us, and those we see often, with boatloads of squash all summer long was taunting me.  I’m sick of it and couldn’t imagine eating the last three sitting on the counter.  But I chopped those up (very fine, so I would hardly know they’re there) and dumped those in the pot, too.  While it was all bubbling away, I attacked the last pile of greens – chard, dino kale, and the deep red beet greens – and put those in at the last minute along with a small handful of leftover parsley.  I ground a load of black pepper – more out of habit than anything – and a few shakes of kosher salt and let the heat do it’s magical thing.

I poked around for a can of white beans, thought about throwing in some pasta, contemplated the spice cabinet for anything to perk up what was bound to be a boring lunch.  I didn’t have anything I wanted to add, so I went back to the kitchen and stared at the pot.  It was a murky red with floating lumps of veggies.  It looked just as boring as any I’d ever seen.  And then I raised a full spoon to my lips.

OMG.  It was amazing.  Delicious.  So good I had a second dinner.  And then I had seconds of my second dinner.  Maybe it’s the Parmesan.  Maybe it’s the freshness of the veggies.  Maybe it’s the varieties that you can’t get in the store.  But it was, it is, so. damn. good.  I raved so loud and long P had a second dinner, too.  It has just enough heat, just enough body, just enough salt, tender but toothsome potatoes, a tangy hint of tomato, greens that have texture but give when pressed, and, just as I’d hoped, squash I barely know is there.  

Garden Veggie Soup

It doesn’t look like much, but it’s exactly what I need – hearty, versitile and delicious – another “everything but the kitchen sink” recipe that will go into heavy rotation.

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