Monday, November 14, 2011

Looks like fun...

If you are attending the Brandywine Wallace Boutique sale this weekend, here's a raffle ticket for you!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Last CSA Day

Yesterday was the last CSA pickup of the season, and it was quite a box. This is the end of the summer growing season, the weekly boxes of awesomeness, and an end to reverse meal planning. It's fun to pick up a box of vegetables and figure out what to do with them, instead of planning recipes and going out to find the ingredients.

Cauliflower, onions, mizuna, tiny bok choy, leek, cabbage, red lettuce, tatsoi, scallions, romaine, cilantro, bell peppers, collards, radicchio, and broccoli.

The box reflects a seasonal return to lettuces, and has enough for a week of gorgeous salads. I have a pile of squash, white potatoes, and yams from recent weeks as well but they'll be gone in a few weeks. I froze a bag or two of blanched greens when I couldn't use all of them, but everything else was used in our weekly meals. 

This was the first year we were members of the Lancaster Farm Fresh Coop and I'm quite happy we made the change from our old CSA. While I do miss the experience of going to the farm and wandering through the barn and gardens, the variety available from a coop is attractive. This list, while long, isn't complete (edamame, for one) and doesn't indicate the variety of items included. For example, "herbs" makes one think of basil and not sorrel (delicious).  We liked knowing which farms our food came from, and which items were certified organic or grown with sustainable/IPM methods. 

For those of you thinking about joining, this is a wholehearted recommendation. There is much more to the organization, including a buying club, fruit shares, flower shares, and a CSM (Community Sponsored Medicine) share. (We had a CSM share this summer and loved it. More on that another day.) Next year I plan to include both fruit and flower shares, since I peeked at them all summer and liked what I saw. If you are interested but don't see a location near you, contact them about becoming a site yourself. Our pickup location was arranged a few years ago by a woman who wanted to be able to participate, so she worked to get enough people committed to the coop and offered her garage as the site. 

This week's menu, from that last box? So far it's looking like this:

Broccoli soup with added greens
Pepper, onion, and bok choy, and mizuna saute
Millet mash (cauliflower and millet "mashed potatoes")
White beans and collards
A poached leek, somewhere
Dinner salads

I look forward to sharing next year's first pickup!

Other posts about cooking with this year's harvest from LFFC can be found here,  here, and here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Nice Try

Monday. Wake up and think, Hey...I think I have a nice long day of sewing and listening to an audiobook. Make coffee, turn on laptop, start remembering things to do...

Maybe not.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Drying Herbs in the Microwave

A few days ago the weather service was warning us of a freeze here in southeastern Pennsylvania, so I cut the last of the marjoram and thyme and brought the big pot of rosemary indoors. (That was optimistic, since the rosemary will simply die a slow death in the house instead of a fast one on the deck, but one of these days I may succeed in overwintering one.) It's a very good thing I cut then, since this is what my herb pots look like this morning:
I didn't cut the parsley because dried parsley is, well, dried parsley. It's easy enough to buy a bunch at the market and leave it in a glass on the sink, like a vase of flowers. The basil, chives, sage, mint, and cilantro are long gone but I had a huge amount of marjoram, and while the thyme will hang on, it was time. Sorry.

Sometimes I hang lovely bunches of herbs in the window of the laundry room, where they dry in days and look good while doing so. These jars are full of herbs that I dried that way, that we'll use for teas over the winter.

This time, however, I didn't have carefully cut and arranged bunches of herbs tied with twine. I had three large tangles of herbs, sopping wet from the rain.

I read about flash-drying herbs in the microwave in the September issue of Cook's Illustrated. A few weeks ago I tested the method on a few sprigs of marjoram, rosemary, sage, basil, and thyme. The kitchen smelled amazing but the only herbs that retained their scent and flavor were marjoram, thyme, and rosemary. Using their method, then, I wrapped a "single layer" (messy tangle) of herbs in a layer of paper towels and microwaved on high for 90 seconds (thyme) and 120 seconds (marjoram).
Marjoram, looking cozy.
Marjoram, looking crumbly.

The herbs cool quickly and are then easily removed from the stems, although I am careful not to crush them. This is easier with the larger leaves of marjoram than with thyme, of course. I had to remove a few stems that were still a little damp after microwaving simply because of how wet they were going in, and gave them another 30 seconds. That step was unnecessary when I first tested this method.

In the end it's a few minutes, a great smelling kitchen, and a few more herb jars for the cupboard. Quite nice.

Even though I welcome all the seasonal changes, even this unusual early snow, I always miss having a huge variety of culinary herbs just a few steps away from the kitchen. There is rarely a day of cooking that doesn't include something from the herb pots, and my cooking changes without them during the winter. I have, however, just planted herb pods in my Aerogarden, which was a new process for me last winter. Progress reports to come!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Valentine Wrap

Valentine because that's the color name of the Cascade Eco+ Wool I'm using.
Wrap because it's the awesome Snug Hooded Wrap from Knitting and Tea that I have been wanting to make. Four things to know:

  1. It has pockets.
  2. It has a hood.
  3. The hood has a tassel.
  4. That's right, a tassel.

My phone is tucked into the beginning of a pocket. Stitches, which will be picked up later and ribbed, are being held in front of the phone. A separate lining was knit into the space behind the phone, which neatly accounts for the stitches held, creates the pocket, and prevents any missteps in the cable pattern. I've blogged this picture to help anyone who might be confused about the lining insertion.

More as it grows!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


A little late by a few weeks but it's time for the pumpkins!
The table is overflowing. Going to have to get a new table. 

I add one each fall and a dear friend gave me a new one a few months ago, so I shouldn't look at them whenever I go out. But that seems like a technicality.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Iron Maven

Iron Maven, J420. Best name for an iron ever.
Well, for a steam generator, technically.I've been debating a steam generator for over a year, and after finally deciding to buy one I agonized (hey, it's hundreds of dollars, I agonized!) over whether to go with the Reliable Iron Maven J420 or the Rowenta DG8030. With a difference of only $50 between them I couldn't use price as a factor, and since they both have their supporters on the sewing boards and are established manufacturers, I went with the one that looks way cooler.
I have a shelf under the ironing board that can hold it, but DH and I decided it would be best to reinforce the shelf first since this unit is heavy. For now I have set it on this (recycled newspaper) hamper that I use for storage in the sewing room, placing it right in front of the ironing board, opposite me. This works well because....
...I have this heatproof ledge on the wide side of my board. Handiest thing. If I didn't have a ledge I could remove the plate from the unit and leave it on the ironing board:
That's a nice feature, allowing the iron to rest where you need it when doing close work.

I have used it a few times and am happy so far. I was pressing some bias strips and found myself reflexively pulling my non-ironing hand away from the iron until I realized that unless I press the steam button, this really is a dry iron. By that I mean that with my Rowenta Professional regular iron, I could not use a steam setting and keep my other hand near the tip of the iron without burning my fingers. This is amazingly good. The steam is a burst if the button is pushed, or continual if locked down. Let me tell you, there is steam.

Sauna steam, there-goes-your-hair steam. Now that, of course, is if you are keeping the steam on continually and doing a lot of work, as I did when testing it recently by pressing a large pile of pillowcases.*

It really pushes steam through the fabric, even thick fabrics. I tested it out on a pair of jeans and was surprised at how the other side looked without pressing. The pillowcases were so fast - everything is faster - that I stacked two at a time and it was fine. 

It does take about 7 - 10 minutes to heat, and can be refilled while it's still hot. In the first few days I worried about my decision and wondered if I should have ordered the Rowenta as well and given them side-by-side tests, then I got a grip on myself and let it go. 

It's early, but I think this is a good addition to the sewing room. The steam, weight of the iron, ability to hold more water than a portable iron, and genuine difference between dry and steam are all good qualities. I am concerned about leaving it running for hours at a time while sewing, and the instructions do indicate that it should be turned off to cool down after an hour of use. 

 *Yes, sometimes I press the pillowcases and my more expensive sheets. This helps prevent fraying and wear from the creases along the edge that will eventually "crack" the fibers. Since I'm not a pressed-to-perfection person I have to remind myself that this falls under the category of properly taking care of things and just do it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tutorial: A Better Dust Ruffle

Dust ruffles are practical (they hide the stuff under the bed) and pretty (they finish a bedroom nicely) and annoying (they never stay where they are supposed to and are often a little too short or a little too long) and sometimes hard to come by (in the right color, mattress size, and length).

I fixed every one of those problems. You're welcome. 

One of the bedrooms needed a black dust ruffle, full, ruffled-not-tailored, and with a 20" drop. Impossible to find in town, easy to order online, although as a 21" drop. After thinking through the steps of making a perfect dust ruffle for my master bedroom redecorating project, I came up with this method of altering a purchased dust ruffle to make it easier to install and live with. No velcro, no hot glue guns.

Keep in mind that a dust ruffle, or dust skirt, has two parts: the "deck" which is the flat piece of fabric that covers the box spring, and the ruffle, or skirt, which might be pleated or gathered. Either style of skirt will work with this method. You need your dust ruffle, shears, and a package of twisty pins, otherwise known as upholstery pins. You'll find them at fabric shops, dollar stores, and sometimes department stores. 

1. Cut the center of the deck out of the ruffle by leaving a 4 inch border on top of the seam where the dust ruffle is attached. In my picture the ruffle is black, the deck is white (they usually are), and I have left a 4 inch border all the way around the dust ruffle.
Keep cutting around the entire dust ruffle, maintaining the same 4 inches, being careful to only cut the deck fabric. You will end up with this,
a rectangle of fabric from the center of your dust ruffle. Rip it up, it will be a great addition to the rag pile. The dust ruffle is now a long strip, like this:
2. You need to finish the long edge you just cut, or it will continually unravel and be a nightmare after you wash it. You can serge the edge or zigzag it if you have machines. If you don't you could press a small hem and use fusible tape, or put in a movie and settle in for a handsewing session. I serged.
3. Press the dust ruffle before attaching it to the box spring. The mattress does not need to be completely removed but can instead just be pushed off to the side a bit to give you room to attach the skirt border with pins. Start with a corner since the skirt has more gathers there, or possibly a split, to allow for a smooth turn.

4. Work your way around the bed, paying attention to the hem and how even it is along the floor. Use as many pins as needed to keep the ruffle from shifting.
Easy to remove for washing, it will stay in place when the sheets are changed, and it can be adjusted all the way around. Not a bad 30 minutes!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sewing Machine Hypnosis

While thinking aloud to a sewing friend about the process of making this dust ruffle, I realized that I would be running 20 yard lengths of fabric through the machines several times as I hemmed, serged, gathered, and attached the pieces. I confessed that I like mindlessly sewing long seams. There is something hypnotic about the combination of the sound of the motor, sitting still, and basically staring into one focused spot.  My friend instantly understood, replying, "Listen - there are days when all I should do is take the needle out of the sewing machine and just sit there with it running."

I am still laughing. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bedroom Redecorating: Materials

New floors, freshly painted walls, "cloud white" woodwork and doors and finally - it's textile time.

I've gathered floor coverings, quilts, shams, lengths of fabric, window panels and hardware and have spent the weekend sewing. It's coming together. There's a bit of a progression from light to dark: a fairly reflective shade on the walls, cool and light bedding, the windows are a little more saturated, and the rugs are vibrant against the dark floors, with pops of accent colors. 

Finished pictures just as soon as I'm finished, although it's pretty scary to publicize your project. What if it doesn't actually turn out all that well?? More soon!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to Eat Supper

Do you know NPR's The Splendid Table? If yes, then you must know about the How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories, and Opinions from Public Radio's Award-Winning Food Show cookbook. If no, then go find a copy. It has all the qualities a cookbook, or any book, should have: nice binding, great pictures, solid writing and strong opinions, and a pretty cover. Then there are the recipes, which haven't let me down yet.

I took their recipe for Sweet Roasted Butternut Squash and Greens over Bow Tie Pasta and turned it into Here's What I had in the Fridge Instead Pasta, and it was delicious. Instead of greens I used brocolinii, a delicious cross between broccoli and Asian broccoli, and substituted a different pasta and cheese.

Following their recipe I tossed butternut squash, broccolini, onion, basil, sage, and garlic with olive oil and a bit of brown sugar. 

Everything was roasted for about 25 minutes and then the whole sheet had a quick broil to caramelize the squash a bit.
Meanwhile, since my husband really thinks every meal and snack should include bread and I have him convinced that polenta is the very same thing, I started some spears crisping on the stovetop.
I had some really nice pappardelle left from a whole package. My ratio of pasta to vegetables is usually quite heavy on the vegetable side, much to my husband's dismay, but gives me less of a twinge nutritionally and financially when I buy a fabulous imported pasta. 

Finally, the drained pappardelle went back into the pot where it was tossed with the vegetables, a little half and half, and Parmigiano-Reggiano (another substitution). 

It's going into the recipe journal, by unanimous decision. The crisped polenta was a nice accompaniment, as would be some white beans with sage. Next time. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Breakfast Failure

Minnie pretty much sums it all up this morning.

After cooking a dinner that was heavy on prep (white bean cassoulet) and then cooking and packaging a week's worth of dog food (!) my final act was to set up breakfast. I don't do this all the time, since everyone here is quite capable of making their own damn breakfast, but it's lovely when I do. I put a mix of barley, wheat berries, and cracked whole grain cereal into the rice cooker and set the timer for 6:00 a.m. I set everything out...

Pumpkin seeds, honey, agave nectar, Vietnamese cinnamon, cinnamon & white sugar, dried cherries, brown sugar, and slivered almonds. A perfect topping bar.

Picture it: Wake up early (blame the moon?) and feed the dog his freshly made and balanced meal, complete with a powdered vitamin/mineral supplement. Make a latte with skim milk and a bit of powdered cocoa (flavanoids, anyone?), turn on the laptop and go check on the ... uncooked grains. Open the lid. Peer inside. Check timer and discover that the time is now 19:05.

Apparently while I was away this summer I lost the ability to correctly program the timer on the super-smart fancypants rice cooker. It was 9:00 p.m when I set it, I asked it to be ready at 6:00 a.m., and I absolutely pushed the start button and hummed along to the little tune that plays. (Those crazy guys at Zojirushi and their tunes.)

Push start again, and make a small pot of steel cut oats for the next person awake, who is expecting a healthy bowl of grains this morning. 

Make another latte.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Butternut & Pecans; Potatoes & Onions

Last night's dinner was a combination of a favorite potato and onion tart and a box of organic frozen butternut squash ravioli. Not sure of the squash ravioli's reception, I planned to plate a piece of the sure-to-be-devoured tart with a few of the ravioli topped with a pecan sauce and a side of fresh green bean gremolata. I killed the green beans - the pan is still soaking - but our vegetable-less meal was still delicious. After facebooking the menu and lamenting the loss of the green beans, the recipes are now in order for a few friends. 

No pictures, but trust me. That picnic tart has been served for friends at home, carried to potlucks, and eaten as leftovers for breakfast. 

French Picnic Tart with New Potatoes, Red Peppers, Sage, and Gruyere
Mollie Katzen’s Vegetable Heaven

1 10-inch unbaked tart crust (easy recipe below or buy one!)
1 lb small red potatoes
1-2 T olive oil
1 large onion thinly sliced (2 cups)
1/2 tsp salt
1.5 C grated gruyere or emmenthaler cheese (1/4 lb) shredded
2 T minced fresh sage (or 2 tsp dried)
1/2 medium red bell pepper, finely sliced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place potatoes in saucepan, cover with water, and boil for 10 to 15 minutes until tender but still intact. Drain. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel if desired, and slice thinly. 

Heat oil in a skillet for the onions, add onion and salt, cook on low heat until tender (10-15 minutes)
or continue and caramelize.  Remove from heat, sprinkle with pepper, and set aside.
Assemble the tart:
  • Spread one cup of cheese into bottom of unbaked crust. 
  • Spoon onion over the cheese, and sprinkle with sage.
  • Arrange slices in overlapping concentric circles over cheese.
  • Arrange bell pepper slices over potatoes in ring. 
  • Sprinkle with remaining cheese and black pepper to taste.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, on a tray unless you really trust your springform pan, or until crust is golden around edges. Move to lowest rack for last 5 minutes to ensure the bottom is cooked and crisp. Remove tart from oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve sliced into large wedges either hot, warm, or at room temperature. 

My additions/changes: 
I don't use the red pepper, but I have inserted a layer of cooked spinach under the potatoes.
I sometimes splash a bit of balsamic vinegar into the onions.
I use more potatoes and more onions, since this is often the main dish and I want everyone to have one hearty piece on their plate, surrounded by vegetables.
Last night while preparing this I thought about a layer of pureed white beans, which I think I will try next time.

PERFECT 10 TART CRUST: A great 10-inch crust in 10 minutes
Also from Vegetable Heaven
(Can be used for a savory or a sweet tart. Super easy.)

1.5 C unbleached flour
pinch of salt 
1 stick of cold butter
1-3 T cold water

Place flour and salt in food processor, buzz once or twice, slice the butter into the bowl and pulse to crumbs. Continue to pulse as water is added one tablespoon at a time. As soon as the dough adheres when pinched stop adding water, turn it out, and push into a ball.

Roll into an 11 inch circle and lift into a 10 inch pan. Form an even edge all around. Wrap tightly and store in the fridge or freezer until ready to use.

Note: I always double this recipe. I use one in the tart pan for the recipe and flatten the other into a small disc and hold it in the fridge. When the pan is free I roll out the extra disc and place it in the pan, then freeze the whole pan. The frozen dough can be removed and frozen separately. No need to defrost when using. 

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Pecans and Sage

Pecans and sage are a classic combination with butternut squash, for good reason. Look for a quality brand of frozen ravioli, or be my hero and make some from scratch, and top the cooked ravioli with this:

Brown Butter, Pecans, and Sage

3-4 T butter (yes, you can use a lot more butter and get a more "saucey" product, but let's not!)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2-3 T chopped fresh sage
2-3 T chopped fresh parsley
2 -3 tsp chopped fresh thyme, or less, dried
1/2 C pecans, toasted, chopped coarsely
sea salt

Melt the butter in a small nonstick skillet and add the garlic and herbs. Cook over low heat until the butter begins to brown; remove from heat and stir in pecans. The lower amount of butter will disappear leaving you with a lovely topping to spoon over the ravioli, and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt. Delicious, and not just on ravioli!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Got Tomatoes?

What do you do when you return from a long midsummer in Colorado to find a lot of tomatoes from your CSA? Marinate them, and eat them as many times a day as possible!

Beyond tomatoes drizzled with oil and vinegar and spiked with salt and pepper, which is also delicious, marinating produces a dish with a little more complexity and possibilities, as well as something that will hold for a few days in the fridge. A search will provide several good jumping-off recipes; I prefer one that doesn't use olive oil or garlic and includes fresh basil, red wine vinegar, a bland oil, and parsley. 

A variety of cherry, heirloom, and red tomatoes with diced onions, basil, and parsley.

My dressing based on red zinfandel wine vinegar and canola oil.

  • Have it as a salad with fresh bread on the first day, or as a topping on grilled slices of bread. 
  • Spoon it on your baked tofu, or broiled chicken.
  • Remove some of the liquid (there will be a lot of it by the next morning) and marinate cooked beans (white? fava?) in it. Top penne pasta with tomatoes and beans for dinner. 
  • Sticking with the penne idea, top a healthy serving (which means not a lot of pasta!) with a saute of fresh green beans, garlic, and matchstick zucchini, adding tomatoes at the end just to heat through. Parmesan and olive oil required.
  • Add a spoonful of tomatoes off to the side of the pan in which you are cooking breakfast eggs. Really.

I store mine in a glass container in the refrigerator, and they last two days. They might be able to store longer, but we'll never know.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yogurt Straining Awesomeness

Yogurt is yummy. 

For me it's plain or, less frequently, vanilla, and it might be the base of a granola bowl, a fruit topping, a soup dollop, or a dip. I've strained yogurt in various messy ways and was happy when Greek yogurt became readily available, but I do prefer organic yogurt. (Or even better, yogurt from Seven Stars, which is organic and locally produced.) Enter the Cuisipro yogurt strainer. It's actually called a "yogurt cheese maker" but that sounds wrong. It's yogurt, not cheese.

Here is a two pound container of lowfat plain yogurt, in the strainer. It overflows a bit but that's not a problem, I just snap the lid on and it's fine. The yogurt is sitting in a mesh filter, which fits into the square container. 

It all goes into the fridge for a couple of hours...or until dinner...or until the next day...depending on how thick you want it be. An astonishing amount of liquid strains out of the yogurt. Here's my container after more than a day, considerably reduced.
Here's the liquid...kind of surprising.
The yogurt is as thick as cream cheese.
A few times a week breakfast is a scoop of thick yogurt with granola and a drizzle of honey. Good morning!