Saturday, April 12, 2008

Building Beds

A few pieces of lumber and some nails and we had beds built! A great family project as you can see...

This is a big deal here on the homefront because we missed this window last year, and planted way to late to get the most out of any harvets.

After the beds were built and positioned, we turned the earth inside of each bed, removed roots and tubers, then filled them with leaves & cow manuer that have been composting together since last fall and over the winter.

Then we watered the dirt/compost mixture heavily and covered them with plastic to expedite further decomposition.

All of this too make the earth rich and ready for receiving what we hope to plant any day now...

Tomatoes from Seed

Finally after what was a long four weeks riddled with unseasonably cold spontaneously frosty nights, devastating tornados and unreliable sun, the multiple varieties of tomatoes we planted from seed are starting to sprout. Whew! Might be a decent spring after all!

Baby Broccoli

I'm so excited to see these baby veggie plants poking their heads through the starter soil. Even on a bad day, I know I did something right when I see them reaching for the sun. I can't wait to plant them!

Pork Potstickers & Steamed Dumplings

We eat potstickers, dim sum and dumplings as often as we can. But recently, M was under the weather and I'm a big believer in "soul food" to heal an illness: "soulfood" being that food which your soul is craving. In his case it was Chinese dumplings, so I set out to recreate a recipe which I'd only done in a restaurant at home. And I did so with great success I might add. Granted the wrappers and textures weren't all that sophisticated, but that lent authenticity and homemade "love" to the meal. Needless to say, M is feeling much better now.

Feel free to make this a family affair. We shopped together, I prepared the filling, we distracted our son with his own wonton skins to play with, and M oversaw the steaming and pan-frying. It was a very successful meal on a rainy Friday night.

Substitution: Use ground chicken or turkey for a leaner alternative!

Filling Ingredients:
1 pound ground pork
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
2” piece of garlic, peeled and grated,
1 ½ cup pak choi, green only, thinly sliced (or use bok choy or nappa cabbage)
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1 Tbs tamari or soy sauce
2 scallions, green and white, sliced

In a large mixing bowl, mash the pork with a fork (or your hands) until it becomes rather creamy or silky in texture. Alternately, run it in a food processor for a few minutes, then transfer to a mixing bowl. If you skip this step, it’s no big deal. Your dumplings will have a heavier, meatier consistency, like a meat ball, but they’ll still taste good. Combing all of the other ingredients well and proceed to the assembly part.


Dipping Sauce: (measurements are approximate)
1 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce
2 Tbsp sweet rice wine (mirin)
1 Tbsp seasoned rice wine
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 sliced scallion

Note about dip:
If the flavor is too “strong” for you liking, dilute with water, pineapple juice or orange juice. You can spice up the sauce with a little crushed red pepper or a dash of Sriacha or other pepper sauce. If you don’t have mirin, Add some sugar to your soy sauce, and dilute with water and juice. The goal is to make an easy dipping sauce that is lightly salty and sweet.


Note about wrappers:
Wonton or dumpling skins, or eggroll wrap cut into square quarters. Potstickers are easier to form using circle shaped dumpling wrappers. You can make purses or triangles out of the square shapes. Dumpling skins are better for steaming and are slightly thicker for a toothier bite. Eggroll and wonton skins are good crispy results from lightly pan frying in just a tiny bit of oil, or doing a combo pan-fry/steam cook (my favorite), or just for deep frying where they puff up and get crispy like the crab ragoons you get at fast food


Assemblage and Cooking Methods

To assemble:
Place a tsp of filling in the center of a wrapper. Dip your finger in water (or a slurry made of cornstarch and water) and run the damp finger along the edge of the wrapper. Fold over and seal the wrapper by pressing the damp edges together. You may crimp the edges my pinching to ensure a seal and make for “pretty” dumplings. This prevents leakage. These wrappers dry out quickly so work with just a few at a time and keep the rest under a damp kitchen towel. You can refrigerate them or even freeze them at this point for future use.

To pan fry:
Heat a clean pan with a tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium high heat. Cook the dumplings, without crowding the pan, until golden brown on one side (or test to see if they’re ready to flip by trying to move them. When they “un-stick” they’re ready to flip). Turn on the other side, reduce the heat to medium and allow to cook through.

To pan fry/steam:
Follow pan fry directions. Once you flip the dumplings over, add 1 Tbsp of water and QUICKLY put a lid on the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to cook through.

To steam (basket style):
Add water to the bottom of a fry kettle or steamer and bring up to a boil. Place some pak choi leaves or some other vegetable in the bottom of the steam basket and arrange the dumplings on top so that they are not touching. This prevents the dumplings from sticking ot the steamer basket. Situate the steam basket in the steamer and cover. Steam for about 10 minutes. Be mindful of the hot steam when removing the lid!

Chinese-style Vegetable Soup

Chinese-style Vegetable Soup (with steamed dumplings):
With many clear or brothy Chinese-style soups, the ingredients actually cook in the hot-broth. In a soup such as this, the quality of your ingredients will directly impact the flavor and look of your soup. I used some low-sodium Swanson’s chicken broth as the base of the soup but feel free to use any good-quality stock, either home made or store bought, that you like. I also used the whites from the pak choi greens that I used in the Pork Dumpling Filling.

4 cups chicken stock
2” piece of ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, small dice
1 bunch pak choi, whites only, thickly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups, or any other Asian cabbage)
1 ½ cups shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and sliced into ¼-1/2” inch pieces
3 Tbsp tamari soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 scallion (reserved for garnish)

1. Pour chicken stock into a large pot, add ginger, garlic, and carrots and bring up to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add shiitakes and soy sauce. Allow the soup to simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the pak choi, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil. Cook until pak choi becomes tender, maybe 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings, including rice wine vinegar and sesame oil to taste. (Be careful, both pack a wallop of flavor!)

2. Arrange 3 steamed dumplings in a soup bowl. Remove the soup from heat, stir in scallions and pour over steamed dumplings.

3. For a nice touch of heat and flavor, add a touch of Siracha hot sauce to your bowl. Enjoy.

Orange Ginger Grilled Chicken

Easy and delicious... 'nuff said!
Orange Ginger Grilled Chicken

6-8 chicken pieces (thighs, split breasts, drumsticks)
Juice from 2 oranges
Zest from 1 orange
1/2 medium onion, sliced
2" piece of ginger, peeled and grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 generous handful fresh cilantro leaves
3 Tbsp tamari soy sauce (it's wheat free!) or low sodium soy sauce

1. Combine in a glass or plastic container and let marinate 2-24 hours.
2. Grill over med-hot coals for 10-15 minutes on one side (watch for flare ups!) and flip and cook until done.
3. Chicken is done when the juices run clear from the joints, or close to the bone. When in doubt, cut deep and take a peek. Enjoy!

Greek Yogurt Salad Dressing

Greek Yogurt Dressing
This uses delectable, thick and rich Greek style yogurt, but feel free to substitute lowfat or non-fat yogurt if that is your preference.

½ cup Greek yogurt
1 handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbsp red onion, finely diced
Juice from 1 lime
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp cumin
black pepper and salt
2 Roma tomatoes, small dice
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded and grated

Stir ingredients together, combine well, and let sit refrigerated for 1 hour. Will keep tightly covered for at least 7 days.

Leftovers Can Be Sexy... and Healthy

Leftover Night Salad
With all the fantastic dinners we’ve had this week, tonight is leftover night. We get to choose from the lovely array of previously sampled meals from earlier in the week, and if nothing sounds good, well… there’s always this salad. It’s made from some of the “overages” from the week. As you can see, the substitutions are endless and the salad is pretty well balanced with veggies, seeds/nuts, fruit, and even some cheese. So have fun making Leftover Night Salad.

Red oak leaves and Spinach leaves (any mix of salad greens)
Sliced tomato (or citrus fruit)
Sliced red onion (or scallion, leek, shallot)
Sliced cucumber, peeled and seeded (or carrots, radishes, raw zucchini or squash)
Freshly chopped parsley (or mint, chives, tarragon, basil, or chervil)
Chopped walnuts (slivered almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower or pumpkin seeds)
Grated ricotta salada cheese (parmesan, feta, pecorino, cheddar, mozzarella)
Warm sliced chicken (roasted pork, barbeque beef, whatever’s leftover)

Variation: I’m going to put my leftover salad on top of a warm pita, spread with hummus. I’ll top the salad with some leftover grilled chicken and a healthy dollop of the Greek Yogurt dressing. Yum! (see photo)

Snack Attack: Mott's Healthy Harvest Apple Sauce

Most of us ate apple sauce as babies, and then some of us outgrew it leaving it behind as "baby food." After an apple sauce drought, I thought my son made the transition, then suddenly he started requesting "pink" applesauce. I had no idea there was such a thing, and I was pretty sure if it existed, it couldn't possibly be good for you. That's how I discovered Mott's Healthy Harvest line of apple sauces.

My mother, who is diabetic, picked up an eight-pack after reading the "No Added Sugar" on the label and had given the Summer Strawberry naturally flavored snack to my son. Hence, the requests for "pink" applesauce.

Applesauce by itself is kinda blah to me, but with Mott's Healthy Harvest varieties they've managed to add sweetness and more fruity punch -- apple sauce with a pop.

What I like about the Healthy Harvest line is that it's simple and straight forward. The ingredient list on the Blueberry, delight in this example, is short: Apples, Water, Apple Puree Concentrate, Vegetable Juice for Color, Blueberry Puree, Natural Flavors, and Vitamin C. I actually think in some part of my mind that the addition of "vegetable juice for color" is a plus. Do you? I'm thinking beet juice.

Mott's didn't target their Healthy Harvest line for kids, per se with flavors like Blueberry Delight, Summer Strawberry and Peach Medley, Mott's Healthy Harvest offers a grab-n-go treat with no added sugar, no artificial sweeteners and less sugar than regular apple sauce along with vitamin C. I assume along with the berry blends come the antioxidant properties associated with the berries. Another grown-up variety of apple sauce is the Mott's Plus Sauce, which has added calcium and fiber, and comes in sophisticated flavors (for apple sauce anyway) like pomegranate and cranberry-raspberry. Did I mention each cup carries only about 50 calories?

Mott's site lists TONS of information on the health benefits of apples to support that old adage, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." You will find clinical studies, expert advice, recipes and much more on all things apples.
As a grab-and-go option, Mott's Healthy Harvest has become a staple in my house. Summer Strawberry has made appearances in the Eating Breakfast in the Car Show along side cinnamon flavored multi-grain toaster waffles.

In their Scooby Doo Apple Sauce there's added nutrition for kids as well as 25% less sugar than regular apple sauce. However, I haven't investigated whether or not the kid's brand contains any artificial colors, sweeteners or other stuff (though I'm pretty confident in Mott's commitment to healthful snacks as a brand). If you have some in your cupboard, let me know! Mott's has an entire line of reduced sugar, apple-based sauces, juices and more just for kids, too.

Apple options for every age group -- good marketing, Mott's!