Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Garden Tuesday 06/30/09 - Tomato Suckers and More!

Gouda Garden Greetings! While taking time out to sip some “nettles” tea (supposed to help allergies ... I’ll let you know if it works), I realized it’s time to share what’s going on in the Gouda Garden. I know, I know ... you need a container for your joy! Still (ahem), I’ve got to admit that I’m simply enamored with my tiny garden plots. Especially now that the sun is gracing us with daily appearances, the garden is really starting to take off. In fact, summer is supposed to hit tomorrow with temperatures in the 90’s (it was in the 40’s last night!).

So, let take step outside the patio door and see what’s happenin’!

Tomato Tutorial: See Ya Round, Suckers!

There are two types of tomato growers: those who remove suckers and those who do not. I belong in the former category. What’s a sucker, you ask? They are branches that grow out of the joints on the tomato plants. Suckers don’t hurt your plants, but there is some evidence that they do “rob” your plant of fruit production energy. Since my garden is so small, I pinch off the suckers to keep the plant focused on growing fruit, not leaves. Suckers do NOT bear any fruit themselves, they just produce leaves.Look for suckers growing at the plant joints. In the photo above, my pointer finger is touching the new sucker on this plant.Grab hold of the sucker (sounds like a move scrip ... “Hey, you, grab hold of that sucker!”) at the base.Simply snap it off! See ya, sucker! (That's probably the only time I'll say that. It's just so out of character for me. If you knew me, you'd understand. Even if I did mouth the words, you'd shake your head and tell me that it just doesn't work coming from me. *sigh* My friends would bust out laughing, and then they, too, would tell me to give it up and stick with "blast and darn it".)Suckers grow fast!

The Case of the Fascinating and the Curious: Things that make me go “hmmm”!

Here are a couple tidbits in the garden that fascinate me.

This is the first time I’ve grown cherry tomatoes. This plant doesn’t have a center stalk!It is growing in a V formation. Do all cherry tomato plants grow this way?

Someone’s been eating my porridge ... uh, make that beans. Some little creature decided to chow down on this leaf. No others, just this one. Don’t you just love the vein structure on the underside shown here in this leaf? I feel a homeschool lesson coming on! Hey kids, come look at this!
Isn’t this a hoot? It’s called “salad mix” which is basically a bunch of different types of lettuce! Ha!


I just love the delightfully delicate yet Samson strong qualities of pea tendrils! Plus, aren't the two-toned pea leaves darling? (I like the word darling. I use it often.)

I just love the fuzzy quality of these Potato Flowers! Do you like fuzzy things? You know, like small critters, and, uh, potato flowers!

What’s new in your garden this week? Anything fuzzy?

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Tastiest Tamales –EVER! (And they're gluten free, too!)

Have you ever been asked pondering questions such as, “If you were stranded on an island, what food would you want with you?” For me, I’ve always answered “eggs” without hesitation. Until now. Oh, I’m still knee deep in a love affair with eggs, but I think I may need to sneak some tamales along for my exile as well.

I’ve made tamales in the distant past, but have really had a hankering for them lately. I’m talking the real McCoy here ... masa dough, corn husks, steamer, lard, etc. Yep, lard. Oooh, now stop gagging. You see, my friendly blogsphere buds, I’ve been reading about nutrition again. As some of you may remember, my son has epilepsy, and in my desperation to help him, over the years I’ve gotten intimately familiar with nutrition and the pitfalls that so many of us have fallen into. For example, after listening to the doctors rant for years that I needed to give my youngest daughter more whole grains to alleviate her tummy aches , I finally listened to my mothers intuition and discovered she doesn’t tolerate gluten. DUH. Of course, now the doctors are all, “Oh yeah, she needs to stay away from that”. Ya think?

(MINI RANT - FEEL FREE TO SKIP!) The food pyramid that has been preached to us is actually not that good for us. The whole low-fat/high grain thing hasn’t proved to work out so well. Of course, we all know that eating fresh fruits and vegetables are good for us. I’m talking beyond that. Now, I don’t want to start a fuss here, and I’m certainly not endorsing eating a high fat diet. I am, though, finding myself more and more reverting to cooking methods from the past as well as from my Mediterranean ancestors. In an attempt to keep from monologue-ing about the benefits of eating “real, unadjusted” food such as olive oil, whole or 2% milk, and lard .... yes, I said lard, let’s just say that the past year has brought a BIG change to my families eating habits. And you know what? My son’s seizures are under control ... for a year now. His blood counts are textbook perfect, he’s lost weight, and looks terrific. My husband’s health is outstanding and has zip heartburn. My own bloodwork is wonderful. My gluten-free gal is growing and thriving. Both of my girls haven’t had blood tests, but their skin is glowing, are tummy ache free, and they are slim and trim. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m, um, shall we say “curvy”, but that’s mostly because I don’t exercise like I should. That will change this summer. Other than that, we have improved our health by going off the pyramid and eating what I call a “regular” fat diet that includes meat, fish, legumes, veggies, fruit, milk, eggs, cheese, nuts and carbs. I think perhaps we've confused the term "greasy" with fat. Babies and kids need some fat in their diet for brain development. Now, I'm not saying to go gnaw on a pork slab, but I am saying that used wisely, fat should be part of a healthy diet.(Whipped Lard)

This is the first time I’ve used lard, and I’ve got to say that I’m immensely pleased with the results. Many folks, I’ve found, use lard regularly, but don’t want to admit it. The author, Nina Planck, in her book REAL FOOD talks about how lard has been unjustly bad mouthed. I gave the white stuff a try in the masa dough for the tamales, and I couldn’t believe how light and fluffy they turned out. Plus, my hands were not greasy at all mixing up the dough, and the bowls and utensils I used washed up easily.Making these tamales took two days for me because I made the carnitas one day, and the tamales the next day. They are super easy to make, but involves some steps that do take a long time. The corn husks have to soak for at least an hour (2 is better) before you use them. There are some short cuts you can use to save lots of time. For instance, you can use a store bought rotisserie chicken and canned chicken broth in place of the carnitas. You could also use aluminum foil as your wrapper instead of the corn husks. Even a veggie filling or maybe a chili pepper/cheese filling would be awesome. Whatever filling you use, you’ll be sure to love the results. I'd love to put a little "heat" in my filling, but I've got picky kids. 'Nuff said.

Carnitas

3-4 pork butt, cut in ½ or thirds to fit in pan.
1 onion, quartered
2 garlic cloves, cut in half
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Water to cover
Garlic Salt (I like Lawrey’s)In a large stock pot, place all of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350.(Talk about butt ugly!)

Remove meat from pan. SAVE broth, strained, for use in tamale dough. Place meat, fat side up, in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with garlic salt. Roast uncovered for 1 hour.(Yummm, that’s more like it!)
Remove from oven, and shred with 2 forks while still warm. Try to resist eating all of it right then and there.

Tamale Dough

2 cups Masa mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups pork broth
2/3rds cup lard, whipped

In a large bowl, combine the Masa, baking powder, and salt.This is Masa mix.It’s soft, like a powder.And it’s gluten free, too! In a small bowl, whip the lard until fluffy (I used a fork and it whipped up fairly quickly).Pour the pork broth into the masa mixture, first stirring with a spoon and then switching and mixing with your hands. Spoon in the lard, and mix thoroughly with your hands. The fluffy texture will be like a stiff mashed potato or soft cookie dough. Makes 16 tamales

Assemble your Tamales:

20 corn husks (soaked for 1-2 hours in a huge bowl of hot water)
Tamale Dough
About 2 cups worth of shredded carnitas (or chicken)

Pat your husks dry. I used paper towels and then just assembled everything on top of the towels. Turn the husk so that the wide end is closest to you.Place about 2 tablespoons of the masa on the wide end, and using your fingers and heel of your palm, spread the dough out over the bottom 1/3 of the husk keeping the edges clear.Place a spoonful of meat vertically down the center of the dough.Carefully fold the left end over the meat, and then the right end. Patting through the husk, seal up the folded edge.I’ve peeled back the right side so you can see what I mean by sealing it up.Once the left and right sides are folded, simply fold the skinny top end down.The “wide” end remains open, although you can pinch it to seal up that end of the tamale filling. Repeat with the remaining husks. You should have a couple husks left over.Place all the bundles open side up in a steamer basket. I used the vegetable steamer that is part of my pan set.Use any left over husks to cover the bundles. Fill the bottom half of your pot with water taking care that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the basket. Place the basket in the pan.Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and steam for 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until the masa dough is cooked. Serve with cilantro cream or your favorite salsa.

Cilantro Cream

1 cup sour cream
1 green onion
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
4 teaspoons lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Combine until smooth.These are the best tamales you will ever eat. EVER! They are soooo light and the flavor just explodes on your tongue. They are not even a tiny bit greasy, and the only flavors that come through are the corn of the masa accented with the pork broth as well as the carnitas itself.My word, these are so good. The fillings can be altered to accommodate your tastes. In addition to the cilantro cream, I topped mine with a spicy green salsa (not pictured). Honestly, these are one of my most favorite things to eat. EVER. Yep, they’d have to come with me on the deserted island.So, what would you want to eat if you were on a deserted island?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Get Grillin' - Grilled Bratwurst, Onions and Potatoes!

Howdy folks! How’s your summer going? It is officially summer, right? The sun actually came out for a long while yesterday. Today’s sky is rather gray, but at least it’s not raining! Yippee!

Today’s post is about cooking entire meals on the grill. Now when I say grill, you should know that to me grilling means stepping onto my patio, flipping on the gas, and pressing the igniter button.(I give credit to Pam at Sidewalk Shoes for a similar grill description!) Grilling to my neighbor involves heavy bags of charcoal and lighter fluid. Nothing wrong with charcoal, I’m not knocking it. Just sayin’ that I’m sticking with my igniter button method.

Anywhooo (I’m saying that a lot lately), I can prepare an entire meal on my grill, and I don’t have the mammoth sized grills that grace the pages of home d├ęcor magazines. Cooking on the grill enables you to keep your kitchen cool, and for those of us without central air-conditioning, keeping cool in the summer is a big plus. To accomplish this task, all I need is some heavy duty aluminum foil and some high-sided aluminum foil pans. I should note that I have used my regular bake ware (heavy duty glass, ceramic, and metal) and heavy duty pots/pans on the grill with great success. I have found, however, that the aluminum pans are the perfect size for my grill dimensions, and I don’t have to deal with pot handles. I snag the aluminum foil baking pans at the dollar store, and can typically get 3 uses out of each one before recycling them.

To turn your grill into a stove/oven, all you have to do is a) determine how to layout your pans, b) line the top of your grill grate with aluminum foil, c) fire up the grill, and d) get cooking!

For the meal represented in this photo, I needed to divide my grill into 4 cooking areas. I needed one open space for grilling the bratwurst, one covered space for the onions, one covered space for the potatoes, and one covered space for grilling delicate veggies or even rolls (for you gluten eaters). I lined ¾ of the grill with foil, leaving an open space for grilling the wursts. Then I fired up the grill on the high setting.

The grill only takes about 6 minutes to be fully heated, so I immediately started prepping the rest of the meal. For the potatoes, I washed up a colander full of pretty little golds,sliced them less than ½ inch thick, tossed with some olive oil, lemon juice, and seasoned salt, and threw in a couple sprigs of oregano.I then dumped them into one of the high sided aluminum pans and covered them with foil. Next came the onions. Two large onions were sliced, tossed with olive oil, seasoned with salt, and dumped into a second pan.I didn’t cover these as I didn’t want them to steam. The brats were slashed at 1 inch intervals.All these items were then placed on the grill as shown. My grill heats up to a full 500 degrees, so I turned the heat down to medium, which is about 375-400 on my grill. Proceed cooking just as you would if you were preparing them inside.The brats finished grilling before the veggies, so I put them right on the onions to keep them warm as well as help flavor the onions. The potatoes took about 30 minutes, and I uncovered them the last 5 minutes or so. You can warm buns up on the space left open, or as in our gluten free house, spear your lovely brats with a stick, you know, like used for lollypops, and eat them ala stick.That’s all it takes! So if you find that you can’t take the heat of the kitchen, go on outdoors and fire up your grill. You can prepare meals “family style” such as this one, or you could make individual packets for each eater. That’s loads of fun, too, since each person can individualize their packet. Just be sure to remember whose is whose! I make different shaped packets to keep it all straight!

Anywhooo (there’s that word again!) be creative, experiment! You’ll be thrilled with the results. What’s your favorite meal to grill?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Garden Tuesday - Coffee in the Garden ... As fertilizer that is!

(Parlsey going to seed on purpose, I want the seeds of this particular variety.)
I had shared in a prior post that I was quite concerned about one of my tomato plants. The leaves were turning yellow, and despite my great soil, I feared that I would lose the struggling little plant. Now, I know that some folks won’t sweat the loss of a plant here or there, but I, uh, get attached to my little photosynthesis beings, and really wanted to do all I could to save it. Besides, it’s my only “Early Girl” variety in the garden, and I had already envisioned lots of sammies graced with red, sweet slices of its fruit. To borrow a phrase from my friend, I had not only counted my chickens before they hatched, but I also put them in suits and named them!

Anywhoooo ... a friend wanted to see my garbage can potatoes so she could do it as a garden project with her kids, and while she was here, I shared with her my woe about the tomato plant.(Garbage can potatoes are doing awesome!)
She told me that years ago when she and her husband used to have a huge garden, every morning her husband would dilute his leftover coffee and coffee grounds and then water the plants in the garden. She enlightened me that the nitrogen in the coffee cured the “anemic” looking plants. As soon as she said that, I remembered my grandma always watering her plants with leftover coffee.

My grandma was a gardener extraordinaire. Her 100% organic garden(and this was before the “natural” movement”) was absolutely bountiful. My mom’s garden was always gorgeous as well and, again, completely organic. Since both women are now enjoying their Heavenly reward, I turned to the internet for guidance.

It turns out that coffee grounds are a great addition to both compost piles as well as directly into the garden! Only one problem. I don’t drink coffee. I don’t even have a coffee pot, or maker, or French presss, or whatever. I could always go to one of the bazillion Starbucks within 10 minutes of my house, but the thought of hauling heavy, wet, used grounds didn’t thrill me. (Although the seed thought of composting has been planted in my brain, and if I follow up on it, I’d haul said bags in a heartbeat.)

To solve my dilemma, I thought why not just go buy a can of ground coffee and use it? Soooo, on my next trip to the store, I stood in amazement in the coffee isle. Who knew there were so many coffee choices available? Okay, okay you coffee drinkers, be gentle with me. I mean there are a zillion different brands, blends, strengths, “flavors”, grinds, etc. You can buy it buy the bag, carton, can, or even concoct your own blend from bulk bins. Prices raged from under $5 to over $20. I opted for the cheapy store brand of ground French Roast, Medium Dark.

Since all the info on the net refer to USED grounds and I read that un-used grounds could burn the roots, I thought I’d better boil it up first. Using a large 3 quart pot, I dumped about ¾ cup of grounds into the pot and added about a quart of water. Next, the mixture was brought it to a boil. I then filled the pot the rest of the way with cold water and let it sit until the entire pot was room temperature. I gave it a good stir make sure the grounds were swirling in the water, and set out to water the tomato plants.(Coffee grounds on top of soil!) The coffee grounds end up on top of the soil, and I just leave them there.

Oh. My. Gosh. The tomatoes LOVE their coffee. My little anemic plant is fully recovered.(First Early Girl tomato!)
I decided to branch out and try this with the spinach, who were really struggling. Well, they struggle no more.Their growth has exploded! I was so pleased that I “served” coffee to the peppers, cilantro, new parsley, and squash. They are absolutely thriving. I mix up this concoction once per week.
(Italia Sweet Pepper, long variety.)
So, what have I learned? Besides the fact that little cuppa Joe goes a long way in helping the garden, I’ve surmised that despite having terrific organic, rich soil, you sometimes need to provide a little extra to help keep your plants healthy and thriving. The yellowing leaves of my tomato (and then spinach) plants told me that they needed more nitrogen. My other plants were doing great, but now they sport a glorious, deep green color. The marigolds are blooming like crazy. I also notice less critters crawling in the garden. I don’t know if coffee grounds are a bug deterrent, but it’s workin’ for me. Plus, it keeps my garden “chemical” free.

So, do you think your garden would like a cup of coffee?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Move over cereal, it's time for: Potato Frittata Muffins! (Pssst ... they're gluten free, too!)

Cereal has too long worn the crown as the breakfast of champions. It's time for a new ruler in the land, and I've got just the ticket. Do I have the breakfast recipe for you! Individual sized Potato Frittata Muffins! I’m so thrilled about this one, and get bonus points because it’s gluten free, too! Um, do you ever have to give yourself bonus points? Yeah, I feel your pain.

Well, this recipe is pain free, tastes so good, and is way easier to make than traditional frittatas. Now, I love traditional frittatas of all kinds. They are glorious! Sometimes, though, it’s nice to cook once and eat for a couple of days.I made up this recipe after watching a late-night infomercial. Every now and then I get bouts of insomnia. Despite my state of exhaustion, I was up late again a couple nights ago. Usually sitting down zonks me out, so I thought I’d turn on the tube and wait for my vegetative state to commence. Boy, there are zippo late night TV viewing choices available. I could have watched Barney (although I have no idea why a little kids show is on in the wee hours of the morning), my next option included a million ways to buy and resell homes (yeah, right), switching channels only brought me to all sorts of shows on how to cleanse my system (hold me back, people), and then there was this infomercial on cooking. Guess what I picked.

The cooking lady was talking at warp speed and moving from machine to machine informing her overly-enthusiastic co-host on all the different meals that could be prepared in one of her handy dandy cooking apparatuses. It bakes, it broils, it steams, it cooks, well, by gosh, it all but wakes you up and drives you to church on Sunday. (Imagine my utterly comatose expression.) Anyway, one of the things she did was pour egg into the wells of this gadget and popped a tatertot in with them, then closed the lid and “baked” them. I thought, "Ugh, who wants to bite into a wad of potato like that. Wouldn't it be better to have layers of potato then egg like a frittata?" *DING* The proverbial bell went off in my sleep deprived brain causing the recipe making portion of said sleepy brain to kick in gear.

I just so happened to have a bag of tatertots in my freezer. It’s another story on how I came to have a bag of tots. I prefer to make my own potatoes, but the bottom line is I have a bag of them taking up space in the freezer. It was time for them to go! I thought to myself, “Self, why not thaw out said tots and use them as a base crust for a baked breakfast.” Here’s what I came up with. They are so good, and I love having individual portions that can be heated and eated (I know eated isn’t a word, but it rhymes here) in no time flat. Plus, my oldest gal, who is a picky eater extraordinaire, ate one and declared it good.

For future muffins, I will use my own leftover potatoes. In the meantime, these worked wonderfully. Join me now as I make the easiest baked frittata muffins ever!

Ingredients:

2 tatertots, thawed, for each muffin tin, or use left over COOKED potatoes, about 1 heaping tablespoon per tin. (NOTE TO GLUTEN FREE EATERS: If using tatertots, make sure the ones you’ve chosen don’t contain wheat ingredients. Many frozen potato products are coated in wheat.)
8 -10 eggs (for 12 muffin tins) Note: I use extra large eggs, use more eggs if yours are smaller.
2 tablespoons cream (makes the baked eggs fluffier)
Seasoned salt or salt and pepper
1 generous cup shredded cheese (shred it yourself folks, it tastes and melts so much better)
6 slices bacon, crumbled (you can use whatever you’ve got ... sausage, ham, pepperoni, whatever)
OPTIONAL: Some form of onion ... dried, chives, green, etc. I prefer this, but only put it in a few ‘cuz the kidlin’s don’t like “stuff” in their food. Foolish children!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Generously grease your muffin tin including the top of the pan.Side Note: I date everything, every container that is, that I open. Ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc., all get dated. That way I can tell at a glance if a product is getting near being past its prime.In a large measuring cup or a bowl, whip your eggs until uniformly colored. Add the cream and seasoned salt. Beat again until incorporated.
Place two tots into each muffin tin, and “smoosh” them down to make a sort of crust all along the bottom and part way up the sides.Sprinkle with seasoned salt, and onions if using. That’s season salt you see on the tins, not rusty specks. Place the meat of your choice on top of the tots,and cover the meat with a spoonful of cheese.Now carefully pour your egg mixture on top of this, filling each cup about 2/3rds full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until nicely golden on top.I placed my tins on top of a foil lined tray for ease in getting in and out of the oven.The muffins will puff up beautifully in the oven, and then will immediately shrink down. Remove the muffins immediately from the pan. Serve. Make yummy noises.You’ll note that I didn’t add any veggies to these. Of course you can! My goal was to recreate a potato frittata, but I’m certain any combo of fillings would work here. I loved these. They are great as is, or with some salsa spooned on top. YUM!What combo of ingredients do you think you’d enjoy?