Thursday, March 15, 2012

Growing Food

Some of it, anyway.

A few weekends ago I decided that, February or no February, this weird warm winter meant it was time to plant some things.

I've gone about things all backwards. Though I planted a bunch of cool-weather seeds outside, I have yet to start my indoor transplants--which should have been done in the middle of February, except that it was so nice out in the middle of February that I did all the outdoor stuff instead.

C'est la vie.

So! Without further ado, here's what's going on in the garden:

False advertising.
Let me start with this picture of the garden from last spring. Lovely, no? Let's pretend it still looks that way and that weeds didn't grow straight through the weedcloth under the rocks and that the dogs didn't chew through my irrigation hoses. Mmkay?

Layers of expansion.
A space about as big as the garden itself in front of the garden has been covered in cardboard, soil, compost, leaves, rabbit litter, and a big ol' black tarp. In the next month or so we'll fence it in, hopefully do the gravel path deal, and presto! doubled our "acreage."

Lots of crops do well in cooler weather and can tolerate cold temperatures and even a light frost. These include cabbage, kale, broccoli, lettuces, chard, peas, and carrots. Some, such as kale, even get a flavor-benefit if you let them get a bit frosty. Some of these do better when directly seeded (as opposed to being started as transplants) than others.

Chard seeds.
So far, I've planted three kinds of lettuce, five-color Swiss chard, one row of kale (it's recommended that you start this as transplants, but I figured it was worth a shot), carrots, and peas.

After about three weeks, here's how they're doing:

A row of Forellenschluss lettuce.

Baby chard.

Nascent kale.

Carrots (bottom center).

A pea plant.
I am thrilled that my pea plants are looking so lovely, as I've never tried growing them before.

All three kinds of lettuce are sprouting; the Forellenschluss seems to be doing the best so far.

The chard and the kale are growing encouragingly well.

Really the only disappointment is the carrots. Last year I planted ollllld carrot seed as an afterthought in a corner of the garden when I was getting impatient but it was too cold and wet to really plant anything out. They grew like gangbusters and Meg enjoyed the bounty for the next almost nine months:

Some were as big as she was.
This year, those two tiny tiny sprouts pictured above are it. After three weeks! And this was brand new seed. I'm disappointed, but I'm not sure what the problem is. My guesses are either not enough water or being planted in rabbit litter (last year I planted them directly in our very clay soil). The litter compacted when water more tightly than expected, and I wonder if the carrots are too small and weak to break free, or if maybe enough light isn't reaching them.

But since I used my entire packet of carrot seed (grumble), I'll have to buy more if I want to try again. So I'm hoping I just need to be patient.

And then there's these beauties:

Bad angle on those pictures; they look smaller than they are. But those are my two plots of garlic that I planted back in November. They've been growing all winter. At this point I can snip off some of the greens to use in cooking, and by the time the tops die down in, oh, July, I'll be re-stocked on delicious homegrown garlic. I used the last of it a few weeks ago and store garlic is just not the same.

I also have these little volunteer garlics growing:

They've sprung up from heads I must have missed harvesting last year. It's unlikely they will develop good quality bulbs, but the greens are good eating and I'll probably harvest them for the young garlic bulbs later this spring.

Do you keep a garden, vegetable, flower, or mineral (rock gardens totally count)? Do you have an outdoor space or do you do containers? What foods do you like to grow?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dak Bokkeum Tang (Spicy Chicken Stew)

Chicken soup is for the soul in Korea, too.

I should probably issue a disclaimer here that this isn't actual dak bokkeum tang. A key ingredient in the Korean stew is gochujang, a sauce made of fermented soybeans and chiles.

I stock a lot of Asian ingredients in my kitchen (I find that using an Asian, Mexican, or Italian flavor profile is a good way to turn the exact same dish (pasta, chicken, vegetables, etc.) into a completely different meal), but I did not and never have had any gochujang on hand.

So I improvised. But if you happen to have it or are feeling like a trip to Asia Mart (yes, this is the name of one of the grocery stores in Tulsa. This magical place stocks every imaginable Asian and almost every imaginable Mexican cooking ingredient, plus things like fans and woks and one million pound bags of rice and geisha robes and also the most delicious fresh bubble tea), substitute the soy sauce, fish sauce, and chile paste below with 1/6 cup gochujang + about 1 1/4 Tbs. soy sauce.

The soup as made below is also pretty darn spicy. The DDH's reaction, and I quote, was, "This is spicy! But really good. But spicy!" So caveat ederator.

Dak Bokkeum Tang
Halved and liberally adapted from Cooking Light March 2012

We marinate the chicken for at least a half hour, so bear that in mind when planning. I'm sure the stew would still be tasty if you don't have time to marinate the chicken, but marinating will make the chicken more juicy, tender, and flavorful.

(Why is the noun marinade, with a d, but the verb is marinate, with a t? Has anyone else ever noticed this? I love the English language.)

Measure 2 Tbs. soy sauce. Add 1 Tbs. chile paste (sambal oelek, for example), and then add fish sauce (and/or oyster sauce, and/or any other fun Asiany sauces you have lying around) to make 1/6 cup. Roughly.

Pour into a large bowl (with a lid if you have one).

  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs. ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 Tbs. sesame oil
  • 1/2 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 3/8 tsp. crushed red pepper

Grating ginger.
A note on ginger: freezing ginger makes it easier to grate with a microplane dealy like in the picture above. If, however, you think this means you can just freeze the whole dang root and chop off pieces as you want it...well, all I have to say is you'd better have a sharp knife, a strong arm, and a lot of patience.

It does, however, stop the damn expensive stuff from rotting before you can use it all. Just saying you might want to chop it into one-inch-ish pieces before freezing, is all.

Mix your marinade well with a fork or other favorite mixing implement. Mostly you want to break that brown sugar down and dissolve it into the liquids.

Add ~1 pound chicken tenders (or boneless skinless chicken breasts/thighs/etc. cut into strips or chunks). When the DDH and I went to eat the soup, we realized I should have at chopped the chicken into bite size pieces, as we ended up trying to eat chicken strips with spoons. That did actually work, though, as the chicken turns out tender enough that you don't really need a fork-and-knife.

I've cleverly left the part of the lid the dog chewed on
out of the picture.
Cover and leave to marinate at room temperature for about thirty minutes. If you'll be leaving it longer, you may wish to refrigerate it.

Here's another note: This procedure and time uses white rice. If you're using brown rice, it's going to take longer.

Place 3/4 cup white rice in a medium saucepan. Cover with warm water two inches above rice. Stir the rice; drain. Repeat twice more.

Add 3/4 cup water to drained rice in pan. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer for twenty minutes. Remove from heat and let stand ten minutes.

Meanwhile, chop up some vegetables for your stew. I had and thus used potatoes and carrots. If this were summer, there would inevitably be summer squash and zucchini. Sweet potatoes would work, and winter squashes of various sorts; I can picture broccoli and cauliflower in the mix here. Onions, mushrooms--whatever. Chop 'em up.

Two carrots; four medium-small potatoes.
Bring 1/6 cup water to a boil in a large Dutch oven.

Add chicken mixture and bring to a simmer.
Add root vegetables and any other long-cooking vegetables:

Cover, reduce heat, and simmer twenty minutes.

Uncover and simmer ten minutes more or until mixture thickens, stirring occasionally.

At this point I added some frozen spinach:

And left it on the heat until the spinach thawed, then removed from heat and I meant to add green onion tops, sliced, but of course I forgot.

Portion rice into bowls
and top with chicken mixture.

As I said, it is spicy, but warm and delicious. It's somehow a comforting familiar food--chicken and rice soup--yet still a novel and interesting flavor combination.

The bonus to most soups and stews is that they make great leftovers, and this is no exception. I made it Friday night and it was still delicious at lunch the following Thursday.

Growing Green Onions

Spring is springing here in Oklahoma, and lettuces, chard, kale, and peas are sprouting in the garden.

The Roommate, however, has discovered something you can grow all year long no matter where you live.

Do you ever buy a bunch of green onions for however much and then use a few tablespoons and leave the rest to rot in the bottom of the vegetable drawer?

No longer, my friends.

Stick the next bunch you buy in a glass of water in the windowsill and enjoy green onions forever (or at least two months so far).

These are just normal green onions from the grocery store, obviously with the little bulbs still on the bottom.

The Roommate stuck them in that window back in January sometime. We've taken snips here and there and then last week he gave them a real haircut, leaving only an inch or two of green.

As you can see, they've recovered.

This isn't even a sunny window. It's on the north side of the house and doesn't even get one second of direct sunlight all day long.

And you don't even have to walk outside to harvest them. ^_^

Reality Dinners Catch-up

I'm so far behind. Apologies! I've actually been cooking a lot, so I'll have a number of recipes up soon. But in the meantime, true to my promise, here's the latest list of reality dinners:

Day 11: Dak bokkeum tang.

Day 12: Homemade carnitas.

Day 13: Artichokes, aioli, and cheesemaking.

Day 14: Chick-Fil-A. But I promise it was for a fundraiser.

Cookies'n'cream shake.
Day 15: Leftover artichokes and aioli.

Still delicious.
Day 16: Tuna fish sandwiches.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Winter Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

I've posted a summery version of spaghetti with meat sauce here before.

But despite the ridiculous weather we've been having (it hit eighty yesterday. On the first day of March), we're still stuck with winter produce. So though last night's spaghetti was the same concept as the summer version, the ingredients, and thus the meal, differed.

Summer meat sauce is a hearty dish that still explodes with summer taste and uses up a variety of your garden's bounty.

Winter meat sauce is just meaty and warm and cheap.

Either way, it just can't be beat for a simple, fast, cheap, DDH-pleasing dinner.

It's a dish you don't really need a recipe for. But here's what I did:

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Cook spaghetti according to pasta directions. Drain and set aside. I used about a half package of spaghetti for about one pound of beef, which equates to two big dinner portions and two smaller lunch portions, since the DDH likes really saucy pasta. Feel free to stretch as needed or desired.
Leaning plastic bags against pots on gas burners
is not an action I recommend.
Brown 1-ish pounds ground beef in a large skillet or dutch oven (ground sausage also works really well). This takes about five minutes.

Ground beast.
Add 1 medium onion, chopped and saute for about five minutes or until onion is soft.

Add several cloves garlic and stir for thirty seconds.

Five seemed a good number.
Toss in any wintry vegetables you have around: carrot would be good. I happened to have celery.

Add 1 can diced tomatoes
 and 1 can tomato sauce.

You could do both of either, but I like a mixture.

Add approximately 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, and 1/8 tsp. sugar.

Add herbs and spices to taste. Some suggestions:

Basil, oregano, savory, thyme, fennel, marjoram, parsley.
I did actually use about a teaspoon of all of these (more for oregano and basil, a little less for most of the others). You sort of reach a point of diminishing returns on the different herbs, so feel free to stick with two or three favorites. My absolute "necessity" herbs for tomato sauce are oregano, basil, and fennel.

Stir well and allow to cook, uncovered on low heat, for ten to fifteen minutes. Cover and cook a little longer. It sort of depends on how much time you have and how the taste and texture seems to be developing. Leaving it uncovered too long will cook a lot of the liquid out and leave you with a pasty, meaty sauce, while covering it the whole time will leave it more liquid. The flavors meld better the longer you leave it cooking up to about a half hour, I think.

Stir in the spaghetti and serve.

It was a real shame we had no delicious crusty bread to sop up the sauce with.

So I just licked the plate instead.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reality Dinner: Days 9 and 10

Tuesday I was supposed to make spaghetti and meat sauce.

I don't even know why I didn't now, but for some reason I ended up stopping at Taco Bueno on the way home from Zumba instead.

Add caption
Yeah. I had half a Mucho Nachos and a Muchaco.

So much for home-cooked meals.

Wednesdays, as you know, I tend not to eat dinner. I ate the sample Healthy Food at C-Fit before the workout--a spinach and strawberry salad that would have been delicious if she hadn't made it with artificial sweetener. Fake sugar gives the DDH migraines and I've found that I've become more sensitive to it as well. It had a weird aftertaste. Oh well.

So then after working out and church and practice, I came home and had a nightcap of this weird-but-delicious powdered horchata mix the DDH bought in Houston, mixed with a glass of whole milk and several fingers of rum.

That's what I've been eating, kids. I told you life was real around here.


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