Saturday, March 29, 2014

Trader Joe's Frozen Pizza

Yes, I bought a frozen pizza. Two actually. I bought a 4 cheese and a Margherita from Trader Joe's. I can't speak about all their frozen pizzas but we had the 4 cheese for lunch today and it wasn't half bad. It is made in Italy and the ingredient list is honest pizza dough (flour, water, yeast, salt, oil) and the toppings are tomato, tomato juice, oregano, pepper, Edam, Asiago, Gran Padano, and Pecorino. Nothing else. Making your own pie is always going to produce a superior product but for a quick meal this is not a bad deal....about a 12" pie and it was 4 bucks. I'd say it was a win.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Rouladen Time

Updated: After I made this last night I decided that a beurre manie is a better option for thickening this. The butter adds a nice gloss to the sauce and brings in some flavor as well. I've updated this below to reflect using flour and butter for the thickening. I also corrected the spelling of spaetzle.

I mentioned my brain fart at the grocery this morning confusing the ingredients for rouladen and braciole, Whatever, I got home without the Parma ham for the braciole so I am making rouladen instead. Indecision is the key to flexibility and besides Madam much prefers rouladen to braciole anyway.

Anyhow, here is my version of rouladen.
This recipe uses potato but it is also done with sour or dill pickle...just use a piece of
pickle instead of the spud. And yes, a slice of parsnip, rutabaga or turnip will do as well. We're talking peasant food here make do.

8 slices top round steak, (1/8 or so inch thick and about a pound or so) a good butcher
will know what to give you if you tell him/her what you are making. If they don't know
from rouladen then maybe they know from braciole which is a similar Italian dish.
4 strips thick bacon cut in half
1 onion, cut into thin wedges
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1  medium baking potato (russet or Yukon Gold)  cut into "dinner fry" pieces
salt and pepper
2 dry bay leaves
5 or 6 whole allspice
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 cups beef broth preferably low sodium

to thicken the sauce

2 TBSP  all-purpose flour
2 TBSP softened butter

adjust salt and pepper

Chopped fresh Italian parsley, optional

Make the meat rolls.
Lightly spread mustard on each slice of steak; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place 1
bacon strip piece, a potato wedge and a few onion wedges on each slice then roll up tightly and secure with toothpicks.

In a large skillet, brown beef in oil until no longer pink; drain.  Add broth,allspice and
bay; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer or braise for 1-1/2  hours or until
meat is tender.  Remove meat and keep warm.Using a slotted spoon, skim out the bay leaves and allspice and discard.
Knead together the butter and flour to form a smooth paste (beurre manie) and whisk into broth. Bring back to a boil, stirring  until thickened. Remove toothpicks from the meat rolls and return to
gravy.  Heat through and and serve. Sprinkle with parsley if desired.

Serve with noodles or spaetzle

6-8 servings.

Odds and Ends

It's a rainy day so gardening is out but there is other stuff to do. Did manage to get to the grocery and Trader Joe's so that's out of the way for week or so.

Discovered that Kroger is now carrying Homestead Creamery products. Milk in old fashioned glass bottles (deposit required). I bought a quart of buttermilk and it is actually real buttermilk (whole milk and live cultures). I had pretty much given up on buttermilk from the grocery as it is now all low fat and actually dead with additional things added...doesn't even taste like buttermilk. The first thing I did when I got home was pour a big glass and gulp it down. Rich, creamy and almost too thick to pour. Brilliant.

I also bought some beef bologna at Kroger. After I finished putting away the groceries I satisfied my craving for a fried bologna sandwich. I just have to indulge in such things every once in a while.

Kroger had some thin sliced top round on sale and it's the perfect thing for braciole but somehow (old timers disease?) I was thinking of rouladen which is made from the same slice of meat so in my confusion I came away without the required ham. I could sill make rouladen which doesn't require the ham but I was leaning Italian not German.

Trader Joes's had a big special on frozen pizzas. Imported from Italy no less. They were pretty cheap, $3.99, so I bought a Margherita and a 4 cheese. It's something I never do as I prefer my homemade pies and sauce  but I thought WTH, worth a shot. Sometimes TJ's really surprises with the quality of their stuff. I'll report.

Oh! I've decided on German so rouladen it will be. I'll post my recipe in a separate post next for those of you feeling like German food.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Slow But Sure

I am slowly making progress in getting the beds built in the garden. I had to quit today because it got too windy and uncomfortable. I did get the support for the peas installed and the beginning of bed # 10 started. When I have finished # 10 I will have moved 220 8x8x16" block and carefully placed and leveled each one. I estimate I have another 10 or so to go. It sure seems like it is taking forever though. It actually only takes a couple of hours once I have gone to Home Despot and hauled the block home and then the 300 feet to garden. It then takes 3-4 hours to fill them and work in the amendments. It is usually a full day per bed.

Maybe the Last Of Winter

Forecasting a low of 26 tonight but I should be able to keep the greenhouse warm enough or at least above freezing. Here is hoping that this is the last freeze of the winter and we can start to get some serious gardening done. As you can see I have a multitude of little plants all ready to get out and get going and bunch of seed waiting or the soil temp to rise above 70F.

Monday, March 24, 2014

It's Still Spring

You wouldn't know it from the night time temperatures for the next few days but we are officially in Spring. Working hard trying to get caught up in the garden. I only have half the beds built that I think I need and I am not sure I can get the other 10 done in time. I might just have to do some traditional gardening for some of the stuff this year. Frost tonight and an actual freeze tomorrow night but I think I will be ok . The little heater in the greenhouse seems to be able to keep the temperature acceptable even when the outside falls to the freezing point.
I should be further ahead in the gardening but I'm afraid age is beginning to tell. I can spend most of the day out there working hard but come three or so in the afternoon I flat run out of steam. One of these days I'm going to have to admit I'm pushing 65.
Jacket potatoes and salad for dinner tonight and they should be ready. Full day in the garden so I'll be ready for bed in pretty short order.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Yeah! It's Spring

It is Spring and it actually feels like it today. Should be a brilliant 70F today with lots of sunshine. The tomato seedlings get their pots today and transition to the greenhouse. I'll finally be able to clean up the basement a little now that all the plant starting indoors is over. Got all the grocery shopping done this morning and am off to get all the gardening work done. Probably won't get a chance to get any more beds built today but the weekend is going to be nice and if I am diligent I could get three more done. Just have to see.
If you are enjoying spring weather that's great but if winter is still hanging round then be patient.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Proper Irish Food

I mentioned in the last post about Corned beef and cabbage not being proper Irish fare  and it isn't. More appropriate for celebrating the day would be the national dish of Ireland Colcannon (cabbage and mashed potatoes) and maybe a little proper Irish soda bread. Here is a repost from way back in 07 or 08 with a recipe for Irish Soda Bread and a link to a recipe for colcannon.

I'm going down now to make a batch of soda bread right now and I should also let you know that it is extra special with Irish butter ie. Kerrygold. Yes, I am having corned beef and cabbage just because I like it and I never fix it and St. Patty's Day is a good excuse and beside it's raining.

In honor of the holiday honoring the patron saint of Ireland I thought it would be nice to share a traditional Irish recipe. It is a very basic bread that every Irish household would always have on hand. It only has four ingredients.

4 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt
2 cups of buttermilk

Grease an 8 inch glass pie plate and set aside. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and put the rack in the middle of the oven.

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl and add the buttermilk. Stir until everything comes together and then turn the dough out on a floured surface. Knead the dough for only a minute resisting the urge to do more. The dough should not be overworked. Form the dough into a disk about 6 inches across. Place in your greased pie dish. The dough won't touch the sides. Cut a cross in the dough about a half in deep all the way across and then bake for about 50 minutes until the slash widens and the bread is a nice golden brown.
Cool the bread on a wire rack until it is completely cool before slicing. Wrap the bread in a moist towel until ready to serve. You can keep this bread for a day wrapped and at room temperature but by the end of the day even the little amount of fat in the buttermilk will cause the bread to become pretty hard.

Enjoy with some good Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage or the national dish of Ireland Colcannon.

This recipe for Irish Soda Bread comes from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan from a recipe by Marion Cunningham.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Corned Beef and Cabbage

It's not really Irish (most probably Eastern European) but corned beef and cabbage has become a tradition here in the U.S. for St. Patrick's Day. And like a bunch of others I almost always fix a batch.

I actually braise my corned beef in a large Dutch oven with aromatic vegetables and cook wedges of cabbage in the same pot after the beef is about 2/3's of the way done. I fix some nice root vegetable separately then marry it all together in one big bowl. It takes a few hours but it isn't very difficult.

For the corned beef:
Ideally you should corn your own brisket but I usually just buy a small (4-5#) chuck in one of the plastic bags. In a Dutch oven layer the bottom with 4 or so roughly chopped carrots, 4 or 5 roughly chopped ribs of celery, one medium onion coarsely chopped a few peeled cloves of garlic, a few bay leaves and a dozwn or so whole black peppercorns. On top of this bed of veges place your rinsed brisket, fat side up, and just barely cover with water. Bring to a simmer, cover and then place in a 300F oven for two hours. Cut a small head of green cabbage into 6 or 8 wedges and place these on top of the brisket and cover and cook in the oven for another hour or so. There is some argument over how long to cook the cabbage and beef together. Some say the cabbage and beef cook together for the whole 3 hours but I like a little texture to the greens so I only cook it for the last hour. Your choice.

Separately I cook some root veges to serve with the corned beef and cabbage as the ones in the Dutch oven are dead after 3 hours.

A pound of new potatoes, a pound of carrots, a pound of turnips and a pound of parsnips is a nice combination. Just prep them (peel and chunk) and put them in a big pot and either steam them for a half hour or so or roast them in a 400F oven for about 40 minutes to an hour. Drizzle a little olive oil and salt and pepper over them before roasting.

A nice addition is to make an herbed butter to serve over the whole enchilada. Fresh parsley and thyme or whatever finely chopped and well blended with some softened butter.

When the brisket and cabbage are done. Carefully remove the cabbage wedges to a bowl and cover with foil. Put them in a warm oven. Remove the brisket to a platter and cover it with foil as well as it is going to need to roast for about a half hour. Don't throw the cooking away as you'll need some of it. When rested slice it thinly against the grain.

Serve the beef and cabbage along with some of the veges in large bowls with some of the cooking liquid from the brisket.

You should be able to serve 6 with this and maybe 8.


Garden Chat and Monarch Butterflies

What's going on in your garden this week. It's only 5 days until spring so things better be hopping. Unfortunately, I've got two days of rain to deal with but I made good progress last week with an additional two raised beds built. Most everything but the tomatoes are in the greenhouse and the tomatoes have just germinated so it won't be long for them. Getting some of my last seeds ordered today for some of the things I forgot. One of the things, believe it or not, are some "weed" seeds. Actually three different varieties of milkweed (asclepias) so I can attract and encourage Monarch butterflies which are hugely endangered. I ordered my seeds through Georgiavines but there are a bunch of places that offer such things.

I also ordered some pomegranate seed. I went to a garden chat yesterday at a local nursery to hear Walter Reeves a local "agri-personality" and one of the people mentioned that he was having success with growing his own pomegranates so I am going to try as well. I love pomegranates so we'll see.

Gotta finish with the seed orders and some other stuff. Have a great Sunday and get that garden in order.

Free/low cost asclepias seeds:
Monarchs need your help NOW! This year AGAIN marks the lowest number of over wintering Monarchs in the Mexican mountains in the last 20 years…and we have only known about their over wintering sites for a little more than 20 years!. There are 97% fewer than at their recorded height and 50% less than there were last year. This is a back to back 50% decline in their overwintering numbers. Researchers are worried we may lose a large part of their migration this year if immediate action is not taken and severly threaten all Monarchs if the pattern continues.
This is a crisis situation! In 1991, over 75% of the wintering Monarchs from North America froze to death in Mexico as a result of three days of rain and sub-freezing conditions. Their numbers showed some recovery but now there is a nationwide shortage of milkweed. Freak weather patterns destroy habitat and kill millions of helpless Monarchs. But these natural events are not the only challenges that face the Monarch. Pesticide application and genetically modified crops cover important parts of the Monarch’s migratory path and serve as killing fields for any Monarch that pass through these millions of acres of toxins and biological agents that kill them and their young. They are unintended casualties in a war to protect crops. Are our Monarchs worth our efforts to protect? Do we even know the total effects on our environment from the use of these agents? The Monarch habitat must be protected now to ensure their survival, before we see the day when this miracle of nature is only a memory. The Monarchs need your help NOW. Please plant seeds and ensure their survival. A Milkweed in every yard!…
More seed & plant sources here.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Brilliant Weekend

Super weather this weekend and as a result a pretty productive weekend for the gardening. Got two beds of potatoes planted (Yukon Gold, Kennebec) and that includes turning the beds and all the prep. I also got two beds of peas planted(Green Arrow-regular green peas and Super Sugar Snap which is a mange tout) and again that meant getting the beds turned and amended as well.

A lot of stuff now sprouted and moved to the greenhouse...all the herbs, zinnas and marigolds, all the peppers and eggplant. It supposed to be nice until the end of the week when the nighttime temps are going to be pushing the freezing point again. I think I will be OK.

Moving all the trays to the greenhouse left me room under the lights in the basement to get all the myriad tomatoes started. Going to go with Celebrity again this year as the main season tomato with Better Boy as the secondary. Trying the new Super Saucer from Burpee for sauce but I am backing myself up with the heirloom Amish Paste. Two new heirlooms this year...Stupice which originated in Eastern Europe and I am hoping it will be like the small tomatoes you get in Europe with breakfast...about two inches across and just right for broiling. The other is Jasper and it is a black tomato. Of course there are going to be Cherokee Purple and Beam's Yellow pear as well.

I've got a lot of beds to build and the weather seems to be working in my favor for a change. I'll see how many I can get built this week. Each bed requires 22 cinder block and the requisite trip to Home Depot for said block. I can haul 22 in the Explorer but I couldn't haul enough for 2 beds in one trip. If I wasn't so cheap I would have the blocks I need delivered but I'll just do it the hard way.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Still Weather Out There

Rain and cold again today so it is inside work. All the peppers have been moved to six packs and into potting soil from the germination trays. As always way too many. Pretty much the same varieties as last year with some dropped and some added. Trying the long cayenne(an heirloom called Joe's) and a large jalapeno called Big Guy. Still have all the heirloom Italian long sweet peppers and the good old California Wonder. Of course there are plenty of Early and Hot Jalapenos as well as a few habanero.

All the varieties of basil are up... Italian, French and Thai as is the Italian parsley. All the leeks, shallots and onions have germinated and are in the greenhouse so I am real close to getting the tomatoes soon as I can make room and move some more stuff from the basement to the greenhouse.

Got a green light from the surgeon to go back to regular activity which is none too soon. Lots to be done if I can get a little cooperation from the weather.

Now that I can dig and carry bags of stuff I need to get my small plot of potatoes started. I just plant a few so that I can have the fun of digging them up. Until I can afford the luxury of plenty of garden space I will just buy my potatoes. I also have to get the peas in the ground when I get a break in the weather. Right now it is still pretty cool and still the occasional freeze so I'll be patient.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Weather Woes

More weather woes but at least not snow and ice...just cold. It was 70 and sunny  yesterday but rainy and 45 today and we are supposed to tickle freezing again tonight and tomorrow night. I've got the hardy stuff in the greenhouse that has already germinated but everything else is just peeked out and is way too tender for the cool greenhouse. I am, however, maxed out on space in the basement. Not room for one more tray and way overloaded when it comes to lights. Just going to have to wait until stuff germinates and can be moved before I start any more.

Reading Julia Child's biography "Dearie" and enjoying it immensely. It actually got me to cook a roast chicken the other night and I am resisting a souffle. Sorry to say I used Thomas Keller's method on the chicken (450F and just salt and pepper/no butter just olive oil) instead of Julia's slower wetter and buttery method. I think the high heat short roast makes a better chicken.

Wednesday I see the surgeon again and try and get off the binnacle list. Fingers crossed.