Tuesday, June 3, 2014

savory wheat crackers; a tuesdays with dorie post

after a truly action packed month, i am glad to be back!  the master gardeners chapter i belong to hosts a festival each may and last month, i was the co-chair of the event.  not sure what i was thinking when i agreed to do that-it ruled my life that last few weeks before the big day!  

for the first challenge in june, the tuesdays with dorie bakers chose a simple, savory wheat cracker.  the dough has 3 ingredients; whole wheat flour, water and salt.  a variety of seeds and a spritz of water tops them off.  

 the dough is mixed up quickly in the food processor and then allowed to rest for 30 minutes.

to make thin, crispy crackers, it is necessary to roll the dough out as thin as possible and to roll it out so that it is all the same thickness.  to do this, i used a pair of 1/16" thick dowels.  the dowels prevent the rolling pin from going any further and the result is a consistent thickness throughout the sheet of dough.

so thin!  it was actually pretty easy to roll out the dough.  resting it was the key and lots of flour on the table and the dough helped too.

 i made half of the recipe and cut it into 4 pieces.  each one was cut into a different shape.  for this first sheet, i gave it a sprinkle of nanami togarashi, a japanese pepper blend.

to keep it interesting, i also changed the topping on each sheet of dough.  these were simply sesame seeds.

 because i love everything bagels, these are a combination of poppy, sesame, salt and onion flakes.

 can't go wrong with a sprinkle of salt!  this is pink himalayan salt and i love the way it sparkles.

 they took longer to bake in my oven than the recipe states.  instead of 2-3 minutes, i baked the crackers for 8-10 minutes.  in my opinion, the ones that were dark were the crispiest and the most flavorful.

 the lighter crackers just do not have the crispy crunch a cracker needs.

 the salted sticks are my favorite-especially so since they are also the darkest.

 the spicy japanese pepper blend is a nice addition to the crackers.

 all together in a tin-hopefully, they will stay crispy; a true challenge in the hot and humid south!

to see what the other bakers came up with, be sure to check out the tuesdays with dorie website.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

chocolate chip bundt cake in caroll's garden

sunday mornings are perfect for gardening.  there is a certain sense of peace that the demonstration garden has early in the day which i find comforting.  today i went out to the garden with a chocolate chip bundt cake and spent a few hours weeding the beds and chatting with my fellow master gardeners.
as master gardeners, we spend time preparing gardens for tours and on occasion,  those gardens are our own.  it is a chance to share our most prized possession with fellow gardeners.  this afternoon, i had the pleasure of visiting the garden of one of my fellow demonstration garden volunteers.

caroll has a backyard that consists of a large wooded slope.  the run off that was produced by the paved driveway, the house and the nature of gravity itself was eroding the slope.  over the last 3 years, she has spent countless hours correcting drainage and preventing erosion by building an intricate system consisting of perforated pipes to harvest the water.  the hillside now features beautiful rock walls that help sculpt and terrace the yard which is now home to many mature, shade loving perennial plants.  in a word, the view from the bottom of the slope up to the house, is jaw dropping.  thinking about how many hours she spent just observing the landscape at all times of the day and during each season as well as during heavy rain, leaves me awestruck.

there is nothing she has not considered.  there are features to attract and nurture wildlife and the yard is a certified wildlife habitat.  and because caroll is who she is, there is also a touch of whimsy and that blue bottle tree is just a small taste of all the accent pieces that are scattered throughout the yard.

her selection of plants was carefully considered.  these firepinks "pink coral" (silene virginica) combine beautifully with the native geraniums, cranesbill "tiny monster"

here is caroll leading a tour of the area beyond her yard.  the area is actually woodland that contains a spring which is one of the area's well known "seven springs" which also gives the area it's name and helps form a wetland.  the nearby apple creek feeds into mill creek which is a major part of the watershed in this area and home to an endangered crayfish species.

visitors to the demonstration garden will recognize this guy.  he is a miniature version of jimi tindrix, the tin man who lives in the herb garden.  caroll saved many cans for fellow master gardener shirley, and in return, shirley made a tin man to hang in her garden.

just one of the many views from below looking up at the house.

the bear's breeches were putting on quite the show for us.

the lady herself, in the garden with cake, as it should be.  we all snacked on cake as we walked around the various parts of the garden and listened to caroll tell the story of the garden.

for this part of the garden, caroll had 10 yards of topsoil delivered and she sculpted it to form a level area suitable for sitting and enjoying the landscape.  her plan is to add a fire pit to this area and if you ask me, that would be perfect for cold weather use of the garden.  nothing like a roaring fire to cozy up to and enjoy the evening in the fall.

love the blossoms on the bear's breeches.

chocolate chip bundt cake

1 small bundt cake serving about 12
(or 40 if they are gardeners limiting themselves to tiny slivers of cake...)

2 ounces almond paste, buy the kind in an 8 ounce can and remove it from the can by opening both ends and pushing it through.  cut it into four equal pieces and save the remaining pieces by wrapping them in plastic and storing them in the freezer; thaw it as needed.
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup chocolate chips
2/3 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons cinnamon sugar

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour an 8 cup bundt pan and set it aside.  place the almond paste and the sugar into the bowl of a food processor and pulse it to cut up the almond paste.  allow the machine to run so that the almond paste is finely chopped.

add the butter, vanilla, almond extract and the salt and process until a smooth paste is formed.  with the machine running, add the eggs, one at a time and process to combine.  scrape the bowl and run again until the mixture is smooth.  scrape the batter into a mixing bowl.

place the flour and the baking powder into a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift it over the batter.  sprinkle the chocolate chips over the flour and fold the mixture a few times.  drizzle the buttermilk over the batter and fold the mixture together until no streaks of flour remain.

using a large spoon, dollop 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan.  resist the temptation to smooth this out and dust the top of the batter with 2 tablespoons of the cinnamon sugar.  repeat this process once more and then top it all off with the remaining amount of batter.  this time, smooth the batter out so that it is level across the pan-it will bake more evenly this way.

bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 55 minutes.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes and then turn it out onto a rack to cool.

Friday, May 30, 2014

roasted radishes with wilted greens

spring gardening means lots of radishes.  the familiar red spheres are so pretty and colorful; a perfect accent or garnish.  radishes are enjoying a moment now and there is no shortage of shapes or colors available to dress up your salad or hors d'oeurves .  the entire plant is edible though so think twice about discarding the leaves and flower stalks as you pick them from the garden.

if only i was a fan of the flavor, sadly, raw radishes just are not something i enjoy.  every now and then, i will cut some into thin slices or julienne a few and add them to a salad.  in this manner, they are acceptable.  but will you ever see me munch away on whole radishes?  probably not.
the blossoms of radishes that have bolted, otherwise referred to as having gone to seed, have a flavor that is a cross of raw broccoli and the radish root.  the different varieties can be different colors but most are white.  we grew red sparklers and white icicle radishes and the funny thing is, the white icicle radishes produced the pink blooms!

this was truly the end of the line for the radish season in our garden.  the suddenly hot, dry days caused the plants to bolt and produce flowers pretty quickly.  it was time to clear the bed to make way for summer vegetables.

lately, i have been roasting everything.  i love the slightly caramelized flavor it gives the vegetables and since i'm not a big fan of radishes in the raw state, i thought maybe roasting would help.  a light coat of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and into the 425 degree oven they went.  it took about 20 minutes to get the right state of roasted/softened for my palate.

while the greens can be a little fuzzy and unpleasant raw, they are wonderful when cooked.  a quick saute of onions and garlic in olive oil got the dish started.

the greens, remove the stems if you like, were added with a bit of broth and then covered to get the wilting started.  once they gave up their juices and cooked down a bit, i took off the cover and let them cook for a while to tenderize the stems.  i started with more than a gallon of greens and it cooked down to about a quart; a side dish that would serve about 6 people.

the flavor can be a little strong (but with no hint of radish flavor) so to mellow it, a couple teaspoons of dark brown sugar and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar as well as a little salt and pepper will do the job.

 just out of the oven-they were so tasty and hard to resist!

toss the radishes with the greens and pour them out onto a platter with all of the pot likker and let the radish feast commence.  looks like i will be gathering seeds for radishes of all colors for the fall!

Monday, May 26, 2014

let the broccoli harvest begin!

we plant broccoli in the garden for the spring and fall seasons.  it is one of the few plants that we purchase without considering the variety.  whether it is a hybrid or an heirloom, we aren't concerned; we just want healthy plants to give us a head start since both spring and fall are pretty short seasons here in nashville.  this is especially true for the spring season.  while this past winter seemed like it would never end and as cool as the spring was, the cold weather crops began bolting quickly.  we were late getting plants into the ground because of the unusually colder weather and by the time we got things going, the days began getting longer and some plants began bolting.

 but as cold as it was, the plants survived.  we weren't sure that they would produce heads-they seemed to be taking longer.  however, the heads finally began to emerge and we are now enjoying the harvest.  luckily, the plants are all on a different schedule and we can count on a staggered harvest to extend the season.  the funny thing about broccoli, it doesn't produce just one head.  if you cut off the large head at the top of the plant, it will produce smaller heads along the stalk below the cut.  not many people realize how much produce a broccoli plant can yield.  if you let the side stalks(heads) develop, they will be about a quarter of the size of the top head.  but wait, it doesn't stop there!  the leaves are also edible; you can cut them off when you pull out the plants at the end of the second harvest.  blanch the leaves in boiling water, drain them and then saute them with some onions and garlic in olive oil and give them a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

 this guy, right here, he is the captain-he runs the ship.  he also catches squirrels and chases birds.  if i am outside working in the garden he is likely to be right there with me.

 we discovered that he has been sleeping in the broccoli bed during the hottest part of the day.  it is so much cooler under all of those leaves and he lays under the plants while we are at work and he has to stay outside.  i am not sure what he will do when we pull the plants to make way for the hot season veggies.

the dreaded armyworm.  we found just one in the heads we picked and that is pretty good.  we do not treat our plants with anything that isn't considered safe for use in organic gardens.  quite often, we resort to hand picking the insects and dropping them into soapy water.  for a few treatment suggestions, follow this link.

 one of my favorite ways to eat broccoli is raw in salads or even just plain with a little dip of homemade ranch dressing.  for the heads we picked, we decided to mix up a batch of broccoli nut salad, a popular southern potluck staple.  my husband mixed it up with some red and yellow carrots, red onions and candied walnuts.  the dressing is similar to a sweet coleslaw dressing and is made from mayonnaise, honey and cider vinegar.  if allowed to sit for several hours before serving, the vegetables become a little tender.

broccoli nut salad
 makes about 6 cups

4 cups broccoli florets, cut to bite size -chop the smaller stems and use them too
2 carrots, peeled and grated-we used a red and a yellow carrot for color
1/3 cup red onion, finely diced
3/4 cup candied walnuts, chopped-we used trader joe's
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons wild flower honey
1-2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

combine the broccoli, carrots, red onion and walnuts in a mixing bowl and toss to combine.  in a smaller bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, honey 1 tablespoon of the vinegar and sea salt until it is smooth.  if it is tangy enough for you, great and if not, add the other tablespoon of vinegar and mix it in.  pour the dressing over the broccoli mixture and stir to combine.  chill the salad a few hours or even overnight before serving.  make this often!

a little bit of broccoli heaven; the perfect picnic or potluck salad!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

strawberry cake

strawberry season sneaks up on us and does not linger; it is sensitive to the cold and it is fleeting.   the berries can be quickly saturated, left waterlogged and tasteless by a day of rain.  gardeners with strawberries generally keep close watch on the berries as they ripen with daily trips to the bed to gather the ripest, reddest, plumpest fruits.  those that make it back to the kitchen may become any number of treats.  sorbet, ice cream, jam or cake-too many choices and honestly, most are consumed as they are picked; who can resist just picked berries?  not me, that is a fact.

like little red hearts on a vine, they ripen quickly and if you are not vigilant, you will find yourself battling squirrels, chipmunks, slugs and snails for the opportunity to taste the fruits of your labor.  we tried netting to keep the squirrels out this year.  the net works well-it traps the squirrels in the bed with the strawberries so that they get their fill while they search for the way back out...

pretty little flowers.  do you notice the similarity to the bloom of a wild rose?  they are both members of the rosaceae family.  but the connections do not stop there.  also part of the family is the genus Prunus and it includes nearly 430 species including plums, cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds.  amazing and true!  this is such a diverse family of plants that includes herbs, shrubs and trees which the majority are deciduous or, they lose their leaves each year but some are evergreens.  while many of the members are ornamental, quite a few produce edible fruits.  apples, pears, quince, apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, loquats, strawberries and almonds are just a few of the members of the genus Prunus.  and there you have it, the reason i tend to add a little rosewater to dishes that feature red berries!

our little bed is in it's third year and the plants are well established.  we have picked several pints and have enjoyed snacking on them.  since i never head over to the demonstration garden (the one i help maintain as a member of the master gardeners of davidson county) without a cake, i decided to use some of the abundance to bake a cake to share with my fellow volunteers.  after all, this is the south and it doesn't get much more southern than a strawberry cake in the month of may!

fresh strawberry cake
makes one 10 cup bundt cake
serving 12-16

6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
2 cups strawberries-cleaned, hulled and cut in half to loosely fill the cup
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup buttermilk

  1. preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the pan and set it aside.  
  2. place the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a large food processor and pulse to combine.  
  3. add the eggs, one at a time with the machine running to form a smooth mixture.  
  4. stop the machine and dump the berries in.  pulse the machine to mix in the berries.  it will puree a small amount, chop up most and leave a few large chunks-refer to the photo above and do not puree until it is all one texture.  
  5. scrape the mixture out into a large mixing bowl.  
  6. place the flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift it over the batter in the bowl.  
  7. fold the mixture a few times, sprinkle the buttermilk over the top and fold together until no streaks remain.  scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly in the pan.
  8. bake until a pick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about one hour.  cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes and then invert it onto a rack to cool completely before cutting-if you can wait that long!
for those of you interested in more about the rosaceae family, here is the source i used for this post:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

coming soon!

welcome to my new space!  keep an eye on this page, i will be posting soon-i promise!