New Gadget: Silicone Lid (Bowl or Pan Cover)

My new silicone lid in action with the spoon rest

My new silicone lid in action with the spoon rest

Sometimes finding a new kitchen tool I love feels like stumbling over a Renior painting at a rummage sale: surely no one else knows how fantastic this is!? Thankfully the internet is there to remind me that the planet has been clued in for quite a while and I just don’t get out enough.

Since purchasing this lily pad shaped silicone bowl and pan lid at a kitchen store in the hills of Virginia, I have spotted varieties of them everywhere. And why not? It’s a washable, reusable cover for bowls or pans that seals to the rim of the container. Covering a pan makes for easy steaming, (like with the spinach from dinner in the above photo) even on pans that did not come with lids, such as every saute pan I’ve ever owned. You can cover bowls in the fridge or on the table without using foil or plastic wrap. One way I’ve already used this was to marinate food in the mixing bowl, rather than transferring to a second covered dish for the fridge.

One of my favorite features I discovered after unwrapping and using: one edge has a cleverly built-in tiny handle for gripping the edge for removal from the container or hanging on a hook for easy storage.

This is hanging on a cabinet door near the stove from a removable hook.

This is hanging on a cabinet door near the stove from a removable hook.

 

The lids come in several varieties: sunflower, hibiscus, pink lily, pumpkin, poppy, snowflake and there are plain versions from other makers too, but not every variety has the full range of sizes from 13 inches to a tiny 4 inches  (to cover drinks). There is also a rectangular banana leaf shaped version for baking dishes and even a wine stopper. From what I have seen they are available at numerous home and kitchen stores nationwide and internet wide.

Posted in Gadgets, Miscellaneous | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Where the Wild Things Are

Why yes, that is a giant pile of weeds and garden clippings in my gutter.

Why yes, that is a giant pile of weeds and garden clippings in my gutter.

Well, I missed a blog post Sunday in my post a day challenge. Granted, it’s a self imposed challenge, but still…So, I’ll send up a few more prayers to the goddess of gardening and add thirty minutes to my weeding as penance. Weeding is in fact what I had been doing instead of writing or cooking over the weekend. The back beds that we added last year need to be prepped for spring planting. The rain, timed perfectly with the last few weekends (ha!) and the warm weather of the past few weeks has been a blessing to the entire garden, but especially the weeds sneaking into the beds.  In hindsight, a cover crop or mulching in the fall would have been a good idea, but normally keeping weeds under control is not a huge issue. I blame it on that chicken poop compost we got from the neighbors last year (good stuff). Plants just love that poo. :-)

after on the left, before on the right

after on the left, before on the right

Last year many of the decisions about what to plant in the garden were made for me. I “inherited” a number of tomato, pepper, eggplant, tomatillo and squash plants from my neighbors when they relocated all the dirt and compost from the vegetable garden beds as part of selling their house (we ended up with the dirt too). This year, I have a better idea of what did well and what did not do as well, as well as what we were more likely to eat, can, or freeze and what ended up in the compost.

This is the bed with the weeds, July of last year

This is the bed with the weeds, June of last year

The harsh winter, and possibly extremely rainy season last year, decimated a number of perennial herbs I planted or transplanted to the back garden like my thyme and lemongrass. The celery plant didn’t survive the transplanting process, but now that I know I can grow it, I’ll be picking up some seeds. This year marks my third try at growing rhubarb in the South. There are some varieties of rhubarb that can be grown in warm climates, but after some reading it seems that the perennial plant dies easily when temps are over 90 for extended periods of time. Some gardeners recommend planting seeds each fall, overwintering, and harvesting in the early part of spring and summer – not attempting to grow them as a perennial.

Look at that clary sage at the top - I can't resist a fuzzy plant.

Look at that clary sage at the top – I can’t resist a fuzzy plant.

I picked up a few new flowers and an herb at the local farmer’s market including clary sage and a “chocolate” daisy. This is also close to the time that I pick up a few annual herb starter plants like dill, parsley, and basil so I have some for early use in recipes as well as planting herb seeds for later harvest. Some year I might actually get my own plants started from seed indoors. Since the weather is expected to drop close to freezing overnight for a few days this week, I will hold off on putting anything in the ground until next weekend.

The other bed, ready for planting

The other bed, ready for planting

Since this is only year two for the back garden, we are still in experiment mode. Last year was very buggy, so this year will be more focused on preventative and aggressive organic treatments for insects on and around the vegetable plants. Several varieties of vegetables did not do well last year which means trying out new varieties and moving placement of plants while continuing research on strategies for our Mid-Atlantic climate. For example, I love heirloom varieties, but with limits on time and space, disease resistant varieties may be a better choice for producing food we can actually eat.

Posted in Garden, Miscellaneous | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Meatless Monday: A Weekly Wrap-up and Blogs to Explore

The future home of food crops - if I ever get it weeded...

The future home of food crops – if I ever get it weeded…

Its been a long weekend of gardening and for the first time in the last two weeks I missed posting yesterday and hardly cooked a thing the past few days, so I’m scrambling a bit for posts this week. For those of you keeping an eye on my Meatless Monday posts, here is a wrap-up of some previous meatless dishes from the past week you may have missed and links to some other great bloggers you should check out. 

Now is a good time to stop at your local farmer’s market, farm stand or grocery that carries local and regional vegetable to find inspiration for your weekly meal planning (and possible garden planting). Lettuces, strawberries, early herbs, asparagus, cool weather crops like broccoli and kale, or over-wintered vegetables (roots!) are generally available now.

We are still enjoying roasting vegetables in the oven, (and looking forward to getting a new grill in the next few weeks). You can roast asparagus, winter vegetables like cauliflower, carrots, sweet potatoes and hard skinned squash which are often still available this time of year. New carrots, beets, turnips and radishes will be available in the next few weeks – all appropriate for roasting in the oven. Roast extra vegetables or use leftovers as a topping for the fresh spring greens and baby lettuces that are often the first spring veggies available from the farm.

Pick up some carrots to use in this past week’s French Friday recipe Quiche Maraichere as well as some greens or asparagus as a side. Use the quiche base (a baked custard) and add locally available vegetables like young onions and asparagus to create your own version. Make it crustless like mine if you are pressed for time or just want to skip the crust.

The other French Friday bloggers each had their own take on the dish Yummy Chunklet uses a whole wheat crust,  Mary Hirsch at Lights On No Brakes  makes it easier with a purchased tart shell (plus some great descriptions of her winter home in a Colorado small town), Betsy at A Plateful of Happiness renames it “Confetti Quiche” and has some tips on whole grain crust,  Trevor at Sis Boom Blog  has the epiphany that what seems ordinary is elegant, and Geraldine Saucier at Taste the Food admits she had some doubts (as I did) but the end result is great.

If you are looking for a new idea for dessert or breakfast, check out my post on chocolate chia seed pudding. Chia seeds are high in fiber, create a gelatin-like thickening property to liquids they are added to (chocolate milk substitutes, almond milk, fruit juices, for example), and have a number of nutritional benefits. Chia seeds as an ingredient are very flexible – they can be mixed into individual servings or larger batches to serve a family. In the fridge right now is an experiment in breakfast chia. More on that later in the week.

Posted in French Fridays with Dorie, Low/er Carb, Meatless Monday, Non-dairy, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Farmer’s Market Roasted Asparagus

 

Asparagus is great no matter what you do with it - but roasting is easy.

Asparagus is great no matter what you do with it – but roasting is easy.

D and I stopped in at our town farmer’s market this AM to check out the wares since they reformed as a non-profit venture and are working to focus the market on fresh produce and local foods. After a disappointing year last year with a lack of traffic, which led to vendors leaving, which led to even fewer customers, and so on, the market is re-branding and getting back on track. While the customers weren’t yet flocking there at the 9 AM start when we arrived, the selection has improved since my last visit.

This is week two after their grand season opening last week. There were at least four vendors with produce, a local seafood vendor, several selling local honey, a local bbq sauce company, a kettle corn seller, several bakeries, and a nursery with perennial flowers and herbs. [I didn't visit every booth - so this is not an exact count.] Booths with crafts are scattered through the market, most located back toward the steps of the train station (pottery, jewelry, soaps, etc). There is a guy sharpening knives by hand for a reasonable fee (yeah!). New signs directing you to parking nearby are easily visible, which is a big issue in our busy not-so-small-anymore-downtown. This week there was even a local food truck, Sol Tacos Gourmet Food Truck, selling chorizo and eggs, as well as a variety of tacos. Produce vendors looked to be doing a good business – a hopeful sign for me. 

I’m hoping that this effort by the new board and the support of the townspeople shopping there will keep a market nearby. To be fair, there is a lot of competition from other Farmer’s markets in the region as well as some local pick your own/farmer’s stands with established customer bases. If the selection keeps up, I think Apex can compete well. The next closest market for us here in the far southwestern corner of the county is either Cary, Holly Springs or Western Wake (year round), but all are 20 minutes or more away. Another option is shopping at the Wednesday market in downtown Raleigh on my lunch break – fun, but still challenging to drive, park, shop and drive back in a short time.

Today's picks

Today’s picks

Having already done my grocery shopping for the week (poor planning!) we stuck with buying asparagus for dinner and rhubarb, which I sometimes have a difficult time finding in local stores in the spring. [To my annoyance, I also have a hard time growing it having lost two plants two years in a row. Our local nursery says don't give up 'til you've planted it three times - but I wonder how much of that is learned gardening advice and how much of that is getting the stupid customer to keep buying the same damn plants. Grrrr.]

On the nursery note, we also bought four perennial flowers, all new to me and my garden, from a local grower. They had a great selection and detailed descriptions with photos of the full sized plants in bloom next to the pots to help you make choices. Brilliant. Buying plants locally grown, even if they are smaller than those from large commercial nurseries, can increase the chance of the plants doing well in our climate. The best plants in my garden have come from the neighbors and the local garden club. Photos tomorrow.

Farmer’s Market Tips:

  • If you are not a weekend shopper (I shop during the week when the stores are quiet), do a little research on what is in season so you can plan ahead for meals.
  • In addition to staples, try buying something new that you have never tried and plan a weekend meal around it – you won’t have more time all week than a Saturday or Sunday to make a new recipe!
  • Ask the vendor what they typically do with a product, if you have a chance. You will often get some great ideas for new recipes.
  • Bring your own reusable bag. Sellers have typically have plastic ones but this is a great place to use your own.
  • Bring cash. Some markets have ATMs or take credit, but many do not. Small bills are helpful to folks who need to make change all day.
  • If local and/or pesticide free food is your focus, you may need to check with sellers on where food is sourced from and how it is grown. Some will have signs, some will not. (Those tomatoes might be local greenhouse, or they might be from Central America.) If it’s enough that your seller is local, but not the food, then typically you are in the clear.

Local Produce in the Markets Now (Mid-Atlantic region – not a complete list)

  • Strawberries
  • Lettuces and greens
  • Asparagus
  • Herbs – such as the first of the basil (grown in green houses or cold frames)
  • Radishes
  • Cool weather crops like broccoli
  • Sweet Potatoes (from fall harvest)

Our local market also had Jerusalem artichokes, a potato like tuber with a more earthy, nutty flavor, which I assume were from the fall/winter harvest (They are in season Oct-March). They can be roasted in the oven or sauteed. I like them served with with mushrooms or in soup.  Green snap beans and tomatoes were seen at one booth; a bit suspect as to being local since its early for both, but they could be from regions to our south.

Asparagus is spring to me: available locally for only a short time the edible stalks rise out of the earth as the new shoots of the plant. You are literally eating the first green to emerge from the ground. You can’t get a better sign that winter is over. Roasting adds a sweet nutty flavor that I love with meats like the pan fried steaks we served for dinner, but they are also great topping a salad, or folded into an omelette.

Roasted Asparagus (this is not really a recipe – it’s too simple)

1 pound of fresh asparagus spears

salt

pepper

a drizzle of olive oil (a teaspoon or so)

Prepping the Asparagus for Cooking: Wash the asparagus carefully to remove any sandy soil. Bend the asparagus a few inches from the bottom to break off the woody stem base from the tender edible top part. You will lose about 1/4 to 1/3 of the stalk on most (You can save the stalks for asparagus stock for asparagus soup or asparagus risotto). Thin stems may be more tender. If the asparagus seems particularly sandy, you can use a sharp knife or fingernail to gently remove the triangular “leaves” from the sides of the stems. Sometimes sand gets trapped there. The larger ones near the wide end will contain the most sand. often this is not necessary. Check one or two. If they are ok, you likely don’t need to worry about the rest.

Roasting: Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, place the asparagus spears in a pile close together. Drizzle with olive oil and toss around with your fingers til evenly coated. Salt and pepper the spears. Spread them over the pan and roast in the oven until your desired doneness is reached. For me about 10 minutes with average sized stalks.

Posted in Grocery Stores, Low/er Carb, Miscellaneous, Non-dairy, Side Dish, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

French Fridays with Dorie: Quiche Maraichere

I just love this little baking dish - perfect for a crustless quiche

I just love this little baking dish – perfect for a crustless quiche

Confession time again: I ate the first piece of this vegetable filled quiche standing over the stove. My regular diet does not contain a lot of dairy, so the smell of creamy custard and melting Gruyere cheese was almost intoxicating. I’m not drinking much either, so that might be clouding my judgement about what could be classified as an intoxicant.

This week’s recipe is of course typically served as a savory tart with a buttery crust. Since I’ve given up gluten and avoid grains, I oped not to splurge on a gluten-free crust, but instead went with the naked, crust-less quiche. (I’m starting to think those marathons of Game of Thrones watching are affecting my writing.) Anyhoo, back to the quiche.

It was great. I love anything with leeks, and every time I cook with them I think – why don’t I use these in more food? (Someone send me some ideas.) The peppers and carrots added some sweetness and the celery an herbal undertone, though there are no herbs in the dish. I used a cave aged Gruyere hanging out in the fridge asking to be used up. My co-worker has been giving me the pullet eggs from the young hens that are too small to sell or use in recipes. The best thing, besides the amazing fresh eggs, is that the yolks are close to full size, but each egg has less egg white. Making them perfect for this recipe where I used two of them combined to make up the 1 egg plus one yolk.

It's a good thing at least one slice survived to take a photo...

It’s a good thing at least one slice survived to take a photo…

Egg dishes and salad go great together, so I served this with a baby greens and strawberry salad dressed with a mix of Dorie’s basic vinaigrette and a splash of raspberry balsamic vinegar.  Then I ate a second piece, and part of a third.

Since 2011, a group of cooks and bloggers have been making their way though all the recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table.” We don’t typically publish the recipes, but in this case the recipe has been published elsewhere. You can of course pick up your own copy of the book and cook along, or just enjoy all the great food.

Posted in Appetizers, Breakfast, French Fridays with Dorie, Low/er Carb, Main Dish, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Chia Seed Dessert Pudding

Non-dairy, low carb chocolate pudding? Yes.

Non-dairy, low carb chocolate pudding? Yes.

If you stop in a natural foods store these days, you can’t help but stumble over items containing chia seeds. Breakfast cereals, energy bars, drinks… These tiny seeds grown and used since ancient times in South American countries are more remembered as the sprouting ingredient in chia pets (remember those – “the pottery that grows!”?). They are apparently high in fiber, protein, antioxidants, omega3s, and calcium (the seeds, not the pottery). The seeds are found in whole and ground forms. The milled seeds are better for absorption of omega-3s, and many places now sell or use a ground seed in their products that are meant to confer a health benefit.

Admittedly, I went for testing out the seeds as a food product for their gelatinous properties and not for their nutritional value. When added to a liquid – juice, non-dairy milks, water, etc. – the seed coating absorbs the liquid and swells, and the slight breakdown of the gelatinous cover will thicken the dish to a pudding like consistency. The property makes it a likely substitute for other carb-heavy thickening agents like tapioca or cornstarch, for eggs as an ingredient, and for use in gluten free baking to add a more airy texture to the finished product.

After checking out a recipe by Sunny Side Up Soph (check out her site – lots of healthy options for indulgences), I opted to try out something safe, a dessert chocolate pudding, rather than a breakfast type overnight oatmeal substitute too see if I liked the texture and taste of the seeds once soaked. I’m still up for testing out versions of this that are more breakfast than dessert oriented. I like the idea of grabbing a jar of chia seed cereal in the morning when I’m rushed for time (uh, every morning).

Chocolate chia pudding ingredients

Chocolate chia pudding ingredients

In this recipe I use whole seeds, but future posts will look at uses for the milled version. Demand is up and chia is grown in limted regions so I’ve noticed prices creeping up. Whole seeds are going for $19 dollars a pound at my local Whole Foods (the only source I could find nearby to buy a small amount for testing). If I decide to use these in more foods, I’ll definitely be researching sites with the best prices.

My verdict: I really enjoyed this as a dessert after dinner. It reminded me a bit of a tapioca or rice pudding, but with a crunchy center in the jelly-like bead of the soaked seed. Its much less chewy than tapioca or rice, but has very small amounts of carbohydrates. The chocolate flavor predominated, with a hint of nutty coconut that lends a richness. There was a slight hint of earthiness in the flavor, very slight, but for the most part chia doesn’t really taste like anything. Texture is its thing. Other than the little crunch in the center, the consistency was that of a nice rich pudding.

Chia Seed Dark Chocolate Dessert Pudding – single serving

2 Tablespoons of chia seed

2 teaspoons of cocoa powder

2-3 tablespoons of whole fat coconut milk – the unsweetened kind in the can

1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk or other dairy-free milk MINUS 2-3 tablespoons. (The total liquid should come to 1/2 cup between the almond and coconut. Keep them separate. You’ll see why below.)

1 Tablespoon of sweeter of choice

Berries for a garnish (optional)

Measure the chia seeds into a wide mouth jar with a lid that will fit at least 1 cup of liquid. Add the sweetener, cocoa, and coconut milk. Mix this together with a spoon until the cocoa has dissolved and blended with the other ingredients (no lumps). Add the remaining milk substitute and stir until well mixed.  Put on the lid and refrigerate overnight (or for at least 6-7 hours). Garnish with berries, if desired.

yes, that is a re-purposed jam jar...

yes, that is a re-purposed jam jar…

Notes:

  • I use Valrhona cocoa for its rich flavor and personally prefer a Dutch process cocoa powder over natural.
  • Be sure to use at room temp and shake or whisk the coconut milk to blend the coconut cream (fats) into the coconut liquid. If its too cold to mix, you can gently warm the milk (out of the can) in a heatproof bowl in the microwave or in a pan on the stove. You don’t want it hot, just warm enough to blend the fats.
  • If you don’t want to open a whole can for a few tablespoons (I totally get it – I just always have some extra in the fridge), try substituting thinner coconut milk that is meant to be poured over cereal, like that pictured above in the box, for 1/2 of the total milk. So 1/4 cup coconut and 1/4 cup almond. Or just go for it and use whatever milk you prefer. :-)
  • Adjust sweeteners to your taste, you may need a bit more or less depending on the sweetness profile of your dairy free milk and your own sweet/bitter preferences with chocolate. The less sweetener, the more “dark chocolate” flavored this will be, but also more bitter.
  • Sugar free sweeteners and chocolate have a contentious relationship. Some low cal sweeteners may make the chocolate taste a bit metallic, or slightly odd. I don’t, for example, like Splenda and chocolate together. But stevia and erythritol products like Truvia taste bit different too because of the “cooling effect” on the tongue. I stuck with Truvia here but this may be a case where you splurge on the sugars in honey, maple syrup, or palm sugar.
  • After 8 hours the crunch of the seeds was still distinct inside the jelly like bead. After 24 hours, the seed had softened somewhat to be less crunch, but so had the jelly beads to be less cohesive. You might prefer one or the other and plan accordingly.
  • It is high in fiber – so if you have problems digesting other whole seeds, you may want to test out a chia product in small amounts to see how you tolerate it.
Posted in Dessert, Low/er Carb, Non-dairy, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Easy Dinner: Spiced Mahi-Mahi with Sauteed Spinach

 

Fish seasoned with a spice blend and topped with salsa makes an easy meal

Fish seasoned with a spice blend and topped with salsa makes an easy meal

Quick dinners are the norm in our house. Over time I’ve evolved to working more of a 930-6 schedule (ok, really 10-630) schedule at work. By Wednesday night we have eaten up the leftovers from the weekend for lunch and dinner so whatever gets cooked at the end of the workday better be quick and easy.

Baked fish is one of the easiest options. Here pieces of mahi mahi are sprinkled with a seasoning blend and some fresh ground pepper, topped with a little butter or oil and baked. I like the fish served with some sort of salsa, quick pickle, vegetable relish, pesto or tapenade. To make things easier, almost all these toppings can be purchased in the store if you don’t have time to make them from scratch. Below the recipe I’ve included some ideas for alternate toppings and spice blends to use.

Spiced Mahi-Mahi

2 pieces of mahi-mahi, fresh or frozen and thawed completely

1/2 teaspoon of southwestern spice blend*

fresh ground black pepper

2 teaspoons of butter or oil

1/2 cup of pineapple mango** salsa, divide between the portions of fish

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350. (For two pieces you can also use a toaster oven.) Line the bottom of a baking pan with foil, parchment or a silicone liner. Lay the fish on the liner, sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. Divide the spice blend between the two pieces, sprinkling to cover the fish evenly. Drizel the oil or top the fish with the pieces of butter. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Serve topped with salsa.

* Southwestern spice blends are usually jazzed up chili powder, with added garlic, onion powder, citric acid, salt and pepper. There are several commercial blends and many spice rubs that will work well here. Whole Foods sells a “Tequila Lime Seasoning” near the seafood products that I find very tasty despite containing neither tequila or lime.

** Any salsa with a sweet edge will do well here. There are several brands of tomato-based peach and peach mango salsa. Whole Foods sells a prepared pineapple mango salsa in the produce/prepared foods section that I used for the photo.

Sauteed Spinach

1  five oz package of baby spinach leaves, washed

1 clove of garlic, minced (or more if you like)

1-2 teaspoons of olive oil – enough to saute the garlic in

salt

Heat a saute pan (one with a lid) and add the oil. Saute the garlic until it starts to brown. Quickly add the washed spinach and stir to coat with oil and garlic. Sprinkle salt. Stir again. Spinach should be just barely cooked, still bright green.

Other Seasoning and Topping Ideas:

  • Italian Herb blend with bruschetta topping (chopped tomatoes, garlic, and basil or parsley, salt with a splash of balsamic vinegar)
  • Herbs de Provence  with olive tapenade
  • Southwestern spice/Chili powder with spicy tomato salsa, fresh or jarred
  • BBQ rub or a brushing of BBQ sauce and pimento cheese melted on top
  • Basil Pesto, chopped tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon
  • Thai chili sauce or Trader Joe’s dry Thai chili paste with chopped asian cucumber pickle (chopped cucumber, rice vinegar, sweetener, water, salt – marinated for several hours)
Posted in Low/er Carb, Main Dish, Non-dairy, Seafood, Side Dish | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment