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Neato Joes

19 Mar

Still sloppy, despite the name. Nom nom!

Is it egotistical to think about leaving a food legacy?  I want my daughter to grow up with a deep respect for food as well as the ability to grow and prepare it.  She doesn’t have to be a four star chef and she doesn’t have to be a farmer, but she does need to be aware, or I think I’ll feel like I haven’t done my job.  She should also have a few solid recipes from Dear Old Mom in her repertoire.  I think about this often as I develop new dishes and tweak favorites.  And as she grows, of course there will be things she hates and things she would happily eat everyday for weeks on end.

One of those easy, staple dishes I turn to on busy days is Sloppy Joes.  Not Manwich, although I’ve eaten many a Manwich sandwich in my day.  This is something we can all probably eat happily meal after meal.  Whenever possible, I time this dish to coincide with my having recently made bolillos, which are the perfect carrier and sopper for this super messy delight.  You don’t have to have homemade buns, and even plain old loaf bread will do if it’s what you’ve got.  I’ve even been known to stuff an omelet with Sloppy Joe and cheddar cheese.  A great thing about these Sloppy Joes is that they are super healthy and vegan, yet so super tasty that you never even miss the meat.  Tonight’s sloppy joes are the perfect ending to a long day working out in the yard, tilling, mowing and weed eating (a whole day spent on weed control, on only 1.15 acres — yikes).  Top with bread and butter pickles, add some sweet potato fries and a glass of iced tea or a cold beer and it’s just about perfect.

Neato Joes

1 block tofu, frozen then thawed, diced very small or crumbled

1 medium onion, diced

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

Box of Pomi chopped tomatoes or 28oz can of tomatoes

1/2 cup bulgar

3/4 cup hot water

good handful of dried tomatoes, coarse chopped

chipotle powder

salt & pepper

cumin

marjoram

a little brown sugar or honey if necessary to soften the acid

Thaw the frozen block of tofu, squeeze out moisture and crumble. Pre-soak ½ cup of bulgar in ¾ cup hot water, about 10 minutes. Saute onions and garlic with salt and pepper. Add tofu and chopped dried tomatoes. Add bulgar and any remaining water, stir all together. Add tomato puree and season to taste.  Simmer about 15 minutes to finish cooking the bulgar.  Easy peasy.

This can of course also be made with any ground meat — I have made it with turkey and chicken with great results.  Just saute your meat with the onions and garlic and leave out the bulgar.

Fresh tofu can be used, but freezing does something to the texture that is really nice.  I generally buy tofu in large quantities when I have coupons or it goes on sale and just stick it in the freezer until I need it.

You don't have to take my word for it. This super indulgent 5 minute video of my kid eating Neato Joes will convince you of their powerful tastiness.

Eating alone

16 Mar

Salad Over Medium for one, please.

A few years ago Deborah Madison wrote a book called What We Eat When We Eat Alone, all about the things people consume when no one is watching.  I haven’t read this book, but thumbed through it at length and read some great reviews — and the concept really stuck with me.  I have always loved to eat out alone, but eating alone at home is something of a chore.  Doing dishes for one just doesn’t always seem worth it.  I guess I should have been more self conscious of my solo eating habits when Dan moved in, but I was used to doing things my way, and I had to go to bed at 8pm most nights to accommodate my crazy schedule anyway.  Cold cereal and High Life dominated the pantry.  Not exactly what most people think of when they think “Chef.”

When I met my future husband I was working as a baker and chef, and catering on the side. I lived alone, downtown, in a great old apartment in a sketchy neighborhood, and I was very set in my ways. I hear this happens when you make it into your 30s solo — somewhere along the line the obstinate old coot gene kicks in. I was cooking my heart out all day long, riding my bike to work for a 3am baking shift, and eating most of my meals at the restaurant. My house contained raisin bran (Post only, always Post) and microwave popcorn. Sometimes I bought bananas to put in the cereal. I lived off that for a couple of years. If I just had to have something else, I was more likely to go out for it than to make it myself.

Eating well alone is a luxury. Dan is not someone who can eat out by himself. He will order something to go and then sit in his car in the parking lot. I will happily pick a great spot for reading or watching and proceed to order a couple of courses of comfort food, hopefully pleased enough to clean my plates and order dessert. I am married to a guy who likes to eat out, but prefers sub shops to restaurants, and doesn’t like to draw attention to himself (which invariably happens with a toddler as loud and adorable as ours). We don’t get to go out that much, so that means lots of cooking at home, and that means making food that satisfies all three of us. Fortunately HoneyBea will try to eat just about anything you set in front of her – she’s just limited by a lack of molars.

So now I’m cooking for other people again, but something has changed.  I also cook for myself. If Dan is working nights, I might make boxed mac and cheese for Bea, but something special just for me. A favorite of mine for a long time has been “Salad Over Medium,” and that’s what I had tonight.

This really comes together nicely when you have super fresh ingredients (like most salads), but tonight was kind of ridiculously fresh. I harvested the asparagus about 15 minutes before it went into the pan and the hens are laying 6 or 7 eggs a day. These were gathered yesterday. The key ingredients are the lettuce, the eggs and the dressing, but this being spring, asparagus that only traveled 100 feet from field to plate is a perfect addition.  A great perk is that if you use your plate for a cutting board, you only dirty one knife, one pan, one plate, one fork, one jar and a spatula.  This cleans up super fast!

A word: I love undercooked eggs. Love em.  Not everyone does, and that’s okay, but this dish really isn’t for them. It’s also not for pregnant women.  And I can’t stress enough that it’s really nice to know your chickens.

Salad Over Medium

Salad greens

Two eggs

Brie

Walnuts

Asparagus

Crack Dressing (recipe below)

Pile the greens on the plate, buttercrunch or baby greens are especially tasty.  Prepare your dressing and set aside.  Decorate salad with cheese and walnuts (any mild cheese and tree nut will do, but if you can get Goat Lady Dairy products, I highly recommend the Sandy Creek).  Wash and prep your asparagus.  Fry up your eggs in butter, being careful not to overdo them,because that runny yolk is integral to the flavor of the salad.  Transfer your eggs to the top of the salad, and while the pan is still hot, quickly saute the asparagus.  Toss those on top of everything else and drizzle with dressing.  Eat eat eat and sop up the last of the yolk and dressing with some good crusty bread.  This is better with a good lager or ale than wine.

Crack Dressing

In my 20s I worked in museums, earning next to nothing, just like all my friends.  Fortunately we were resourceful,  social, and pretty good cooks.  The nightly Pauper Supper Club was born.  We each brought what we had, and instead of each person sitting alone eating one sad thing, we were a happy (and often intoxicated) group eating a buffet.  Necessity breeds creativity and we learned to make do with what we had, but one thing we almost always had was a green salad with this dressing.  It was given this name by one of the Paupers who had just finished her third bowl of salad and was slurping the last of the dressing straight from the bowl.  I never bothered to make an actual recipe for it, but it goes something like this:

1 part olive oil

1 part balsamic vinegar

1/4 part molasses

finely minced garlic to taste (powder will do if you’re lazy like me lately)

pinch of salt

a few grinds of pepper

Put it all in a jar and shake well.  Get ready to sop!

As promised, part the second

15 Mar

I know it hasn’t really been that long since I last posted, but it seems like so much has happened.  For one thing, it’s unnaturally warm and sunny out, which makes me dread summer for the first time in my life.  If MARCH is like this, what does the normally oppressive July-August season hold for us?  Summer is my favorite time of year, hands down, despite our Carolina weather, but this summer in late winter thing is really not my cup of tea.  I need it to still be cool for a couple of weeks (and not just because I’m not ready to mow the lawn).

I’m still getting in my cool season crops, and would like to give them a chance to produce without simply bolting in the heat and checking out for the season.  In the past week I  have scraped together a few afternoons to work in the garden and have managed to accomplish quite a bit.  I worked more on the raised beds, and fully planted one.  I weeded the much neglected asparagus.  I started seeds for lettuce, bok choy, carrots, turnips, bunching onions, spinach, mustard greens, beets, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.  I also transplanted a boatload of onions and some cabbages.  I dug up everything I wanted to keep from the kitchen herb garden and weeded that area to prep for an herb pyramid I’m putting in.  And I harvested a 10 gallon bin of mixed veggies and made roasted turkey soup.

The raised beds are 10 feet long, 2.5 feet wide and 16 inches deep, which is a whole lot more dirt than I thought.  Especially considering I didn’t actually have any dirt.   I lined the bottom of the bed with heavy cardboard and some old pizza boxes that the recyclers won’t take, then laid in a layer of leaves that were mulching themselves nicely in the side yard, topped that with a layer of chicken litter from the compost, topped that again with some very composted horse manure, and finished with a thick layer of well composted leaf mulch.  No dirt, just very rich growing medium.  I planted 4 varieties of onions into this — from Dixondale – Red Candy Apple, Candy, White Bermuda and Red Creole.  I broadcast radish seeds across the bed and stuck a couple of rows of turnips in one end, just because I had the room.  I figure the radishes will grow so quickly that I can pull them well before the onions need all that room, and pulling the radishes can help keep the soil good and loose for the bulbs to develop.  That’s my theory anyway.  I also planted the onions a little on the tight side, with the idea that I would be pulling some as spring onions, thinning things out enough for the rest to develop into good heavy storage bulbs.  Except for the Red Candy Apple.  The only reason those are in the garden is for pickles.  These pickles.  We blew through all the jars of these I put back last summer in a shamefully short time, and have been missing them ever since.

I tilled up some more beds and worked more compost in, then planted two varieties of carrots, three kinds of turnips, three kinds of beets, spinach, bok choy and mustard greens.  I needed a new hose nozzle, and a trip to the local hardware store also produced two packages of bare root cabbages for transplant.  Those went into the ground this afternoon, in two rows with more onions in between.

Yesterday I harvested onions, carrots, chard, cabbage, and turnips with greens.  Enough to fill a 10 gallon tub.  It’s mostly carrots, and I want to do something exciting and new with them.  I’ve had good luck with pickled baby squash and bread and butter squash, so I was thinking maybe bread and butter carrots.  If I try it I’ll be sure to post about it.

It’s exactly one month until our last frost date here, but already everything is in full bloom.  The flowers at the top of the page are the peach trees in our backyard.  The plums are exploding with flowers, and the apples are budding like crazy.  No time like now for a good old fashioned ice storm so  I’m keeping my eye on the weather, just in case.

And an observation — I’m fascinated by the idea of companion planting and I noticed this afternoon that the favas I planted alongside arugula are doing WAY better than the favas with carrots and radishes.  So the next beans I plant, I will interplant some arugula and see what happens.

Soup Smorgasbord

1 Mar

I was cruising the internet a few weeks ago when I came across a great idea — Soup Swap.  You get a group of friends, colleagues, strangers, etc. together and everyone brings 4 quart-sized containers of a great soup.  Then there is swapping!  Everyone goes home with new and exciting soups to stick in the freezer for later, or if you’re like me, pig out on meal after meal.  I immediately emailed a good friend known for her party-hosting prowess and the event was on!

Just to give you an idea of the diversity possible here, we set some parameters based on food sensitivities and preferences, and some of the soups I enjoyed were a delicious vegetarian chunky potato, a tasty chicken black bean tortilla with crispy tortilla chips for topping, and a warming carrot coconut curry.  Is your mouth watering yet?  Are you jealous of the soup bounty?  I can’t wait to do this again once the garden is producing something besides carrots and turnips.  One of our absolute favorite soups is Summer Vegetable Borscht, made with fresh beets and any summer veggies you have lying around.  In season I try to stuff as much of that into the freezer as I can, but we always seem to run out by October.  Another summer soup we can’t live without is Hot Cucumber and Potato, which sounds weird, but is soooo lovely and simple.  It was also the last thing I ate before producing the HoneyBea, so it can fuel some serious exertion, too.  I will be sure to share recipes as the season progresses.

For the Soup Swap I brought another favorite — Good Old Fashioned Tomato.  It’s hard to go wrong with a good bowl of homemade tomato soup.  Dip a grilled cheese or a peanut butter sandwich in it, or as shown here, serve it to a toddler along with a black bean burrito.  Instant meal and instant success.  You can see, HoneyBea is a BIG fan.

Really, it could have been worse. And she's so happy!

I’ve gotten great feedback from the tomato soup recipients as well, all of whom are accomplished soupers in their own right.  So here’s the recipe.  Be warned, this makes enough for a Soup Swap, right at a gallon.  Another way to look at that is Rejoice, it makes a GALLON!  This soup freezes beautifully, is easy to make in LARGE quantities, and can be turned into a lovely bisque with the addition of heavy cream before serving.

This is a batch I made late last summer. Fresh basil is a great addition if you've got a surplus.

Good Old Fashioned Tomato Soup

1 3/4 sticks butter

1/2 cup flour

2 medium onions, coarse chop

1/4 tsp ground allspice

3 cubes veggie bouillon* (or equivalent strong broth, see water amounts below)

1 small can tomato paste

3 28 oz cans tomato (I have since revised this to 3 boxes of Pomi, for a no BPA option, just add an extra cup water)

4 cups water (5 if using pomi, to maintain the gallon volume)

1/2 cup brown sugar

Start by making a nice thick roux with the butter and flour.  Add the chopped onions and stir frequently until those go a little glassy.  The longer you can cook the onions, the richer the flavor, but don’t be a hero.  Add tomato paste, brown sugar and allspice.  This is your soup base.  If you are short on time and need to do this in two stages, here’s a great stopping point.  This base can keep in the fridge for up to a week.  To finish the soup, add veggie bouillon and water, stir until dissolved and add tomatoes. Bring to a simmer then process with a stick blender or in the food processor until all the soup is the desired consistency.  Voila.  Nothing hard about it.  Fire up the griddle, make a stack of grilled cheese, and eat yourself stupid.

*I absolutely love and depend on Rapunzel Vegan Sea Salt and Herb bouillon for so many recipes.  Whole Foods carries it, but they are often out, so I just have a 6 pack shipped to me every 3 months from Amazon.  Although, in looking just now, they appear to be out of stock.  Sigh.

So, who’s up for another Soup Swap?

 

See below

28 Feb

I reblogged the post before this one from the blog yearof healthierliving as a way to share my newest endeavor.  In addition to working for a hunger relief organization, working as a farmhand and jammer,  and getting my own urban farm up and running all while being a full time mom, I now also work for The Produce Box .  This is a CSA delivery program that brings the goodness of fresh, North Carolina produce right to your doorstep (or office).  It’s a great way for busy families to work more local fruits and veggies into their everyday diet.  And it’s a fantastic way to participate in the 10% campaign.  If you aren’t familiar with that, you can learn here.   I’m also hiring part time neighborhood coordinators, so if you’re in Winston-Salem and could use a little pocket money, let me know!

Spring was here

19 Feb

Roasted veggies tonight!

I spent a good bit of the last two days out in the backyard, prepping for planting. In short sleeves. It was gorgeous. The kind of weather that people who work outdoors know is the harbinger of bad weather to come. And as I sit here typing, the rain pours down, and we wait for the sleet and snow to settle in for the duration. This is North Carolina, so we won’t have to wait long for warm weather again (probably day after tomorrow), but things are budding and blooming and life is beginning to flourish already after this incredibly mild winter. In doing my rounds I discovered that the peas are finally germinating, there is some fantastically healthy looking spring garlic growing in the compost, all of the fruit trees are budding, and the wild asparagus has already starting sending up spears. Already started sending up spears. I feel like I need to say that one more time, but I won’t. Asparagus is one of my favorite foods, hands down, and to me those first shoots mean that fresh food and green things are here again. I got really excited when I saw that asparagus. And much less so as the forecast turned from rain to sleet to snow.

But we’re not here so that I can complain about the complexities of Southern winters. We’re here so that I can discuss, nay, bragabout what I’m getting done. I of course spent some more time with Hoss, retilling those same beds, trying to grind up as many chunks of clay as possible, and trying to chase the now dormant bermuda grass out by the roots.

Here you can see Hoss, the tiller, and Not-so-Little Joe, the wagon, terrific helpmates in the garden. And yes, the green you see is mostly weeds... The cattle panel trellis is just barely visible in the background.

I starting hoeing up the beds, added some most excellent earthworm-laden composted leaf mulch and horse poop, and laid down landscaping fabric between the rows, (again the fight against bermuda grass). I pulled up plastic from last year that I had left down to solarize a couple of beds, and cleared a bunch of aster and morning glories. I moved the soil bags I used for potatoes last year and started prepping that area for the deep raised beds. And then I pulled some onions, turnips and carrots, and came inside for dinner.

Here is an example of the deep raised bed, looking at an inside corner. The corners are simply held together with framing braces, secured with wood screws. I would recommend not being as chintzy with the brackets. Spend the extra $1.50 and get something bigger. These beds are 10'x2.5'x16".

After dark I continued working on the garden, on the internet. I want to make sure there are lots of enticing flowers for bees, birds, butterflies and beneficial insects, so I am putting in a boatload of seeds for wildflowers, sweet alyssum, roman chamomile, lavender and nasturtiums. I envision a dense border of fragrant and eye-catching flowers along the edges of the garden, drawing in all sorts of creatures that dine exclusively on squash bugs, bean beetles, Colorado potato beetles, cabbage worms, blister beetles, aphids, mosquitoes, and hornworms. I want it to be a beautiful bloodbath. And now I am picturing Snidely Whiplash, tying a hornworm to some railroad tracks, twirling his waxed mustache and giggling gleefully. But I will not come rescue the vine chomping menace — NO! I am only here to tighten the ropes. Now who’s giggling gleefully? And who can disagree that when it comes to pest control, flowers beat the hell out of gloves and a bucket of soapy water.

As Requested, Spinach Soup

9 Feb

I feel I should preface this by saying that my first few years of actual culinary training took place in the 18th century.  So my recipe creation skills lean more towards lists of ingredients and more away from exactness.  The good news is that I’m getting better at paying attention to how I make things, since Dan actually would like repeats of the same meals occasionally.  And I didn’t set my petticoat on fire making this (hopefully you won’t, either).

Since I happen to know a group of fantastic ladies who are hosting a Soup Swap at the end of this month, I’ll give the recipe in the large quantity I made.

Creamy Spinach and Mushroom Soup (because Costco’s having a sale!).

2 pounds fresh spinach
1 pound yellow onions
1 pound mushrooms
Veggie or chicken stock (about a quart, or enough)
Whole milk or cream (about a pint, or enough)
4 Tbsp butter
Salt, Pepper, Garlic, Allspice to taste
Dash of cream sherry if desired

Brown butter in stock pot. Add chopped onions and cook until they go glassy. Add chopped mushrooms and saute all together until the mushrooms have that great deep brown color and everything is starting to caramelize. Add the spinach (you may have to do this in several batches — it is a surprisingly huge pile) and stir around to let wilt. Now add enough stock to just reach the top of the veggies. You can add any seasoning at this point as well, since you are almost done. Let simmer until spinach is good and cooked, then begin adding milk. If you have a stick or immersion blender, this is a great opportunity to show it off. Whip that bad boy out and begin blending, adding milk as necessary to keep the soup fluid enough to actually blend. This can be an impressive feat of dual-action soupery, if someone happens to be watching. Or, as the alien blood splatter on the side of our otherwise shiny new fridge might testify, it is not the best task for the easily distracted or those with toddlers who like to pull cords. Taste. Adjust. Voila. Soup.

Dan thought this had a slightly bitter taste, but enjoyed it.  Spinach will taste a little like the often loathed veggie it is, so if you want to sweeten the pot (that was so intended), you can add a tablespoon of honey or a little brown sugar.

Note: If using fresh garlic, add in with the mushrooms.