March 26, 2013 § Leave a comment
Ah, an over-stuffed pita sandwich…yum.
Who am I kidding!? When have I ever stuffed a pita and have it NOT break apart on me? Never. Ever. And once it breaks, it’s just all downhill from there. Your fingers get full of hummus. Whatever dressing you’ve put on the sandwich runs down your wrist into your sleeve. It’s no good, stuffing a pita.
Better to use pita like a sandwich bread.
That’s exactly what I did for lunch yesterday. Toasted pita cut into two half moons, each spread with Red Pepper Hummus, some roasted eggplant, and some greens lightly dressed with Lemony Vinaigrette. After chowing down, I realized the Fiery Onion Relish may have been a fun thing to have as a topping, too.
Maybe I’ll try that for today’s lunch.
March 21, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’m a crafty individual. I am able to craft words for a living, and I’m thankful for that. But I really do like to work with my hands. Typing on a keyboard just isn’t hands-on enough for me. Gardening and cooking are hands on, and I love those activities. But I really do enjoy working with furniture.
I have refinished a number of old family pieces myself, and have killed off many a brain cell from working with wood strippers and stains in an enclosed, non-ventilated space. My dream would be to have Norm Abrams workshop with all the woodshop gadgets—and an exhaust system. Not that I know how to use everything in Norm’s arsenal, or that I’ve ever made a dresser in my life. But I’d love to have those tools, turn some chair legs, stain some cabinets and make things that are beautiful and useful.
We don’t have room for a workshop, but in our new house we at least have room for me to work on one furniture-related project. I have one chair missing its cane seat, and I know how to weave it. I picked up the skill more than 20 years ago in an adult-ed class one summer. And it’s a good skill to have.
There are two types of woven cane seats:
1) The type with a groove around the seat’s opening into which you secure a pre-woven mat (see above). Easy peasy.
2) The type with holes drilled around the seat’s opening, through which you weave individual lengths of cane (see above).
Luckily, I know how to do both.
We are having a dinner party for six people next Friday, and have six chairs—but only five seats. Time for me to start working on that sixth seat.
Funny thing about this set of chairs—antiques from way before my grandmother’s time—is that five of them have the groove, and just this one has holes drilled through the seat. If you look closely at the above photo you can still see bits of that groove. Who knows why they didn’t just replace the pre-woven mat, but it is what it is.
First step: I work with the vertical strips first. Place one cane strip in each hole, secure with a pin, and thread it through to the opposite side. You can use a really long strip and weave it under and through to the adjacent holes.
Second step: Repeat, same step so you now have two cane strips in each hole, side by side (see above). What can go wrong? Well, if someone drilled their own darn holes into the seat, sometimes you end up with holes that aren’t quite even. You can see that in the seat above. Don’t worry – it’ll work itself out. You’ll see.
Third step: Now work horizontally. In each hole you’ll insert the end of one strip. Now is where the weaving begins, over and under each of the vertical strips, ending up in the corresponding hole on the other side. To keep things simple, weave each strip the same. That way you’ll easily see if you’ve made an error, if you notice one row looks different from another.
Fourth step: You guessed it—you’re now going to put a second horizontal strip in each hole, adjacent to the existing strip, and weave in the OPPOSITE manner of the first weave. This is where it starts getting difficult, mainly when it comes to squeezing the cane under another cane that is flush with the wood of the seat.
Fifth step: Haven’t gotten that far yet—but I will very soon. This is where the diagonal strips come in, weaving from upper left to lower right AND THEN upper right to lower left. This is where, fingers crossed, that extra hole on the bottom will kinda sorta disappear.
So, what can go wrong?
- The cane needs to remain moist while you weave or it will break. It’s already happened to me a dozen times. Either the cane you weave breaks, or a cane that is already in the seat breaks as you pull the working cane. Sucks.
- You can have a batch of caning that is just ready to split no matter how wet it is. Again, dealing with this RIGHT now.
- Unless you’ve got yourself a nifty work station where you can suspend the chair at chest level, there’s a lot of bending involved. Watch your lower back.
- Your cats can feel like they must be involved, chewing on the ends of the cane strips from below, stealing your pins, and hoping up onto the unfinished seat.
Once you get going, it’s not so bad. Nothing that frequent breaks and a good playlist can’t get you through. Stay tuned for Part II and pics of the finished product. If I don’t finish, someone will have to sit on a folding chair. And that just CANNOT happen at a good dinner party.
If you have a chair that needs caning and have NO idea where to begin (and don’t quite get what they are telling you in those YouTube videos), I’d be happy to explain or help. Just let me know.
March 19, 2013 § 1 Comment
The best things in life aren’t necessarily free. They are unexpected. The sudden burst of sunset as the day’s snowstorm pulls away. The street fair you happen upon while heading on an errand. The new friend you meet just randomly. You didn’t mean it, plan it, expect it—and then there it is and you’re incredibly happy with an unexpected smile. Really, it’s the best.
This recipe is like that. Unexpected and happy and the best. Well, maybe not the best best, but the unexpectedness of it pushes it right up there. It’s one of those recipes you find while you are on your way to something else. In this case I was in search of something new to do with sweet potatoes (I don’t want to burn myself out on Sweet Potato Wontons with Cashew Sauce ala Garum Factory). And while flipping through the pages that Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant’s index told me to search, I just randomly and unexpectedly happened upon this relishy goodness.
I’m a fan of Moosewood’s sauces and relishes. Their Spicy Eggplant Relish (The New Moosewood Cookbook) is a definite go-to for me, as it their savory onion marmalade (Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites). This particular recipe was in the cookbook’s chapter on India—not a chapter I’d normally hang out in. Nor is something with the word “fiery” in the title a recipe I’d eagerly seek out. But I saw it, and I made it, using it as a condiment for today’s Roasted Eggplant on Whole Wheat Baguette. And it was unexpectedly delicious.
Fiery Onion Relish (from Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant)
1 cup minced onion (use sweet onion if you want a mellow onion flavor)
4 tsp. lime or lemon juice (I used lime)
1/2 tsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne
salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir with a fork to mix well. Set aside for 30 minutes before using to blend flavors. The relish is meant to be spicy hot. The more cayenne, the spicier it is. Yields 1 cup and can be refrigerated for several days.
March 15, 2013 § 3 Comments
March 14. Or, 3.14. Known throughout the world as Pi Day in honor of that irrational number beginning with 3.14. But wait – wouldn’t they write it 14.3 in Europe?
I would rather consider it Pie Day. It’s the middle of March—we need a good pie this time of year. I’m all for it, quite honestly. Think about it—have you eaten pie since Thanksgiving? I didn’t think so.
I decided to make pie yesterday for Pie Day. But what kind? My go-to pies are those traditional fruity treats—peach, rhubarb, peach rhubarb (see a theme here?), apple, pumpkin. Nah. What about a cream pie? They get runny after a few days. The problem with any of these pies (if there can be a problem with pie) is that they are so darn big for two people (I know, I could invite you over but…). And as much as I’d like to eat an entire pie, I just can’t do it. At the last piece, all old and soggy, I begin to detest it. We must not go there. Can’t ruin pie like that.
So I decided on hand pies: Pies that fit into your hand. Individual servings of pie, all wrapped up in their individual casings. Perfect! Thing is, I’d never made hand pies before. What to do? What to make?
A little Googling got me to the Smitten Kitchen blog and her recipe for Bourbon Peach Hand Pies. Hmmm…peaches. Peaches and bourbon. And, according to the recipe, this dough holds up to the inevitable leaks that result in boiling hot fruit juicy spilling away, while also being light and flaky. Print it up—I’m in.
Alas, Trader Joe had other dessert intentions for me. Not a fresh peach to be found. So apples it was.
Before I get to the recipe, a few notes about it and the resulting pies:
- I used a food processor. When you have one, use it.
- The dough did exactly what she said it would—it held up well, didn’t leak (much) and is tasty and flaky. I’m definitely keeping it in my repertoire. BUT—it’s not really a pie dough. It’s more of a flaky morning pastry. Which is fine, just not very pie-ey.
- I used the same amount of apples as peaches the recipe called for. WAY TOO MUCH. Below is my estimation of half the recipe.
- The filling I made was tasty but 1) wasn’t juicy enough – maybe more sugar or let it sit longer? and 2) not enough of it in the pie. But that’s all I could fit in the dough rounds while still being able to close them securely. I’ll just need to experiment more, won’t I? One thought is to slice the apples (or peaches) lengthwise and layer the slices in the center of the dough rounds.
Apple Hand Pies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Bourbon-Peach Hand Pies)
For the pastry dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour placed in bowl of food processor and chilled one hour in freezer
1/2 tsp. salt
2 8 oz. sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces, placed into small bowl and chilled for 1 hour in freezer
1/2 cup sour cream
4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 cups ice water
For the filling:1 lb. apples, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbs. flour
2-4 tbs. sugar (the more sugar, the juicier it should be if you let it sit awhile)
pinch of salt
1 tsp. lemon zest
Egg wash (One egg yolk beaten with 2 tbs. water)
1. Remove bowls from freezer. Add salt to the flour and stir. Place flour bowl onto food processor and add in chilled butter. Using 2- to 3-second pulses, whir up the flour and butter until the mixture looks like course corn meal.
2. Combine sour cream, lemon juice and ice water to a small bowl and whisk until combined. Add to flour-butter mixture one half at a time, whirring in between. You’re looking for large clumps to form. Turn clumps out onto a work surface and bring mixture together with your hands to form a big ball. WARNING: Dough will be sticky. Lightly flour your hands before touching dough. Wrap dough ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour. (At this point dough can be frozen up to one month. If doing so, wrap in something a bit more freezer proof.)
3. Divide dough ball into quarters. Work with one quarter at a time, leaving the others in the fridge while you work. Lightly flour the work surface (keep that flour handy). Roll the dough into a 1/8-in. thickness. Using something round with a 4.5-inch diameter, cut rounds out of the dough. NOTE: Only thing I had available was a 1-quart plastic container similar to the kind you’d get filled with potato salad at a deli. It’s about 4 inches, but it works. Use what you have on hand. Transfer these dough rounds onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and pop into the fridge. Repeat with other dough balls, filling up the parchment, and layering additional parchment on top of the previous. Keep these rounds chilled for 30 min. or more.
4. Filling: While the dough rounds chill, add the finely chopped apple to a large bowl. Add in the flour, sugar, pinch of salt and lemon zest. Let sit until the dough rounds are ready – this will let the sugars produce some juicy apple goodness—something I didn’t do this time around.
5. Assembly: Remove chilled dough from fridge and let them sit for 2-3 minutes to get a bit more workable. Spoon in about 1-2 tbs. of the apple mixture into the center of the round (more for larger circles, less for smaller). Brush the dough edges with water and fold one half over to meet the other to form a half circle. Seal it lightly with your thumb, then press closed with the back of a fork. Place each little pie back onto the parchment and return to the fridge for another 30 minutes.
ANOTHER OPTION: Place a slightly larger amount of apple mixture onto the center of one round and place another round on top, stretching the top dough a bit so it meets the bottom’s edges. Seal as before. This makes a fun UFO-shaped pie.
6. Heat oven to 375. Removing the pies from the fridge, give each one a small slice of poke with a fork (to let steam out). Lightly brush each pie with the egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar (optional of course but yummy). Bake until the pies are golden brown – 20 to 23 minutes. Remove and let cool.
If you serve them still slightly warm, you’ll want to serve with vanilla ice cream. Otherwise, these are excellent pastries to have on hand for breakfast.
Seriously bummed that Trader Joe’s didn’t have peaches. What would you fill these with? Any suggestions for other dough that might be more like a traditional pie?
March 12, 2013 § 1 Comment
Sometimes you have to shop for dinner. Sometimes it’s in your fridge or freezer, in bits and pieces, just waiting for you to assemble.
That’s what happened with last night’s dinner—Eggplant Rollatini. Open the fridge and there’s an eggplant needing to be used ASAP. Open the freezer and there’s a cup or so of frozen ricotta and chard lasagna filling left over from last fall’s Roasted Vegetable Lasagna making festivities. And there’s a large can of whole peeled tomatoes in the cabinet.
Get out the mandolin, folks—it’s rollatini-making time. And having never made rollatini before, this was all off the cuff.
- olive oil (to be used throughout recipe)
- kosher salt and pepper to taste (to be used throughout recipe)
- 3-4 cloves garlic, depending on size, smashed and minced
- 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1-2 tsp. Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 medium-large eggplant, sliced lengthwise to about 1/4-in. thickness with a mandolin (be careful!)
- Chard-ricotta mix from Roasted Vegetable Lasagna, or about 1-1.25 cups plain ricotta for this recipe
- About 1/ cup Parmesan cheese to sprinkle
1. Turn oven to 400F.
2. Add 1 tbs. olive oil to pan on medium heat. Add garlic and let it go until it becomes fragrant. Slowly pour in the liquid from the canned tomatoes. Take out each tomato from the can and gently mush and tear it into pieces with one hand and add to the pan. Messy, but it’s the best and easiest way to do it. Add in Italian seasoning, sugar (really, it helps brighten the sauce, trust me) and a large pinch of kosher salt.
3. The sauce will really be bubbling at this point. Turn it WAY down and let it simmer gently. Add in a turn or two from the pepper mill. Continue to simmer until it thickens a bit, about 20-30 minutes, just about until you’re ready to assemble the rollatini.
4. Meanwhile, slice eggplant. Place each slice on a sheet pan, and pour a bit of olive oil (not a lot, not a little) over each slice, using a brush to spread the oil over each slice. Sprinkle kosher salt and pepper on each slice. No need to do both sides, one side will do. Pop the sheet pan in the oven and bake for 15-16 minutes, or until the firmness of the eggplant is gone but the eggplant has not become wicked soft. When done, take out and let cool enough to handle, about 5-8 minutes. Keep oven on!
5. Working with one slice of eggplant at a time, spread about a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture over the surface of the eggplant slice. You don’t want it too thick or you won’t be able to roll it very well. Starting at the narrow end of the eggplant slice, roll it into a “cigarello,” or, as I would rather imagine it, roll it up like you’d roll your yoga mat. Set aside. Continue with the next slice until you either run out of ricotta or eggplant.
6. Lay down about 1/4 cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of an 8×8 baking dish. Place eggplant rolls in dish on their sides (not standing up). Fit as many as you can in there. When done, generously spoon sauce over the surface—but you don’t want it soaking wet, either. Find the happy medium. When done, sprinkle a coating of grated Parmesan on top and cover with foil.
7. Pop back into the 400F oven for about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 5 minutes or so. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes before digging in.
Have something like this in your repertoire? Let me know your version in the comments section.
March 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
I made a spontaneous weekend trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show last weekend. What you usually see at early spring flower shows are flowers and shrubs and even trees that have been heated and pampered to produce blooms long before they’d do so with Mother Nature’s guidance alone. That’s what people come for—to be inspired by what the warmer weather promises.
Flower Show visitors don’t have to wait for long to see a few of the plants that were in full bloom indoors. The hellebore (Helleborus) is a good example of that.
Hellebores bloom in late winter and early spring—some varieties as early as January. There’s been a resurgence in interest in this perennial plant over the last decade or so, and plant breeders have introduced all sorts of cool flower colors and foliage colors. The hellebore’s leaves, by the way, are evergreen – they won’t die back in winter, which is another cool thing about this plant.
Take Helleborus ‘HGC Mahongany Snow’, for instance. This variety can begin blooming as early as January in some areas. And the blooms are beautiful—dusty rose buds open into creamy white flowers. The leaves are chocolatey in color and the flower stems reddish. The whole package—leaves, stems and blooms—gives the garden some low-key color at a low-key time of the year. And they’re astounding planted en masse like this.
There’s been a push in recent years to sell hellebores as potted plants in the late fall through winter. Give them as Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts, that sort of thing. Think of them as temporary blooming houseplants biding their time until you can plant them outdoors in spring. It’s a good idea. In fact, I have had a potted hellebore ‘Jacob’ in my office window since late December. It’s looking a little weak right now, but that’s ok—it’ll be heading outside in a few short weeks.
Why you might enjoy hellebores:
- Blooms way early in the year, just when your garden needs it!
- Come in some great colors—both flower and leaf color
- Perennials, so you’ll have them year after year, and they’ll get bigger each year
- Evergreen foliage for year-round color
- A good choice for your partial shade garden, under bushes, and so forth
- Deer resistant—bonus!
- Nice as winter houseplants—another bonus!
Have you tried hellebores? How have they held up in your garden? Leave a comment and let me know.