Thursday, May 31, 2012

Soy and Ginger Hakurei Turnips

These little babies are delicious.  They are, indeed, turnips, but a Japanese variety that is small and round and a little sweet with an ever-so-slight spicy finish to them.  You can eat them raw, as is, no peeling if you like.  Like the turnips we are used to, the greens are edible and delicious.

I often slice hakurei turnips and put them in my salads, but last week I celebrated the first pickup of the year from my CSA with a vegetarian dish I threw together.

Here's the recipe:

Five or six hakurei turnips, washed, trimmed and cut into quarters
The greens from the turnips, washed, stems cut off, leaves roughly chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp ginger paste or freshly grated ginger
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce or tamari (use a little less if you are using ginger paste, as ginger paste often has salt in it)
2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped

Saute the garlic and ginger in the olive oil for 1-2 minutes over medium heat in a skillet, until garlic is translucent and fragrant.  Add turnips and soy sauce and saute for another two to three minutes, or until the turnips are tender and warm. Transfer to a bowl.

Next, transfer the greens to the skillet (with a little more olive oil).  Allow to heat through and wilt.  If necessary, add a tablespoon or two of water to steam.  Place on a plate.  Place turnips on top of greens.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Food win: crusty bread

For Christmas I asked for--and received--My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method.  I have made a lot of delicious, bakery-worthy bread since then.  It's crusty and chewy and delicious and really, really bad for your waistline.

One thing you'll need is a large (about 5 quart) cast iron casserole.  Do not buy an expensive La Creuset; you do not need to spend $300 on something that will require you to remove the lid handle (as you bake the bread in oven temperatures too hot for the plastic).  If you have an enamel cast-iron casserole, use it (and sometimes you can find one in yard sales); take out the lid handle and stuff the hole full of aluminum foil.  If you are determined to make this bread, have $30 burning a hole in your pocket and think buying a new pot is worth it (and don't want to hit the yard sales), The Lodge has a great seasoned cast iron casserole.

The other thing you will need is time.  You don't knead the bread but you let it rise for 12-18 hours the first time, and then 1-2 hours the second time.  Time this for when you will be able to bake it (I'm busy enough that the proofing time wasn't a problem per se, but figuring out when I could start it so the second rise would be done and I'd have time to bake the bread before going off to my next thing to do was a challenge.)

The book also has recipes for whole wheat bread, rye bread, focaccia, pizza dough, and a bunch of other breads.  But master this one first.  It's not difficult at all.

It's worth it, though.  The ingredients for the bread are typical--flour, yeast (a relatively small amount, thanks to the long proofing time), salt and water.  The results are divine.  The bread tastes like it should be much harder to make than it is.

Monday, May 28, 2012

My life is hard! HARD I TELL YOU.

I work pretty close to this beach.  This makes my lunch hours a blast.  It also makes my long commute worth it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Garden Progress

I have two garden plots, one in a community garden in my town and one at work (my workplace offers plots to employees, which is fantastic and makes me never, ever want to leave).  We have had a couple of meetings in my town for the container garden--the first one was to get everything up to speed and to make any repairs, add in some new soil, stuff like that.  Then we started planing a few things last week.  I'll get this finished up by Memorial Day weekend.

 My plot at work is huge--I am working the plot with a colleague, and hopefully this year it will go better than last year, when they had to close it down for two weeks to test the soil (long story--everything is fine, though).  There were so many weeds after that, I simply couldn't keep up.  Some dude in a loin cloth was swinging around in a vine and kept calling me Jane.  It was odd. Thanks to the mild winter, I was able to gather a lot of mulch for the workplace plot and I think (I hope!) we'll be okay weed-wise.

But, I've got some snazzy pics of my town container plot.  Container gardens--especially those based on Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening technique--are very low maintenance.  It's difficult to over-water them, the soil mix means the plants do well, they don't get choked with weeds, and while you do have a problem with some creatures trying to make off with your produce, you can easily put some chicken wire around it to keep them away.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Advice for the wealthy

Psssst! Pssst! Hey, wealthy people who want to live green!  I have a solution for you that might not be as sleek as Graham Hill's tricked-out, "sustainable" apartment in New York City, but will save you a lot more money.  I had blogged about his Life Edited project before.

I do not begrudge this man his flash, tricked out apartment.  I do sincerely wish him well.  I am glad he can live in 420 square feet of space with the help of convertible, fold-away things and moveable walls.  That's great.  It's a cute place.  But I am going to snicker at wealthy people who confuse consumption with sustainability, who go on about how much money they're saving when they're spending more than the average person who doesn't live in a compact apartment that manages to have dinner party seating for 10 and other things thanks to a sponsored design competition.  The rest of us have to make choices and live with their consequences.

So, wealthy people, if you want to be green and save a lot of money, here are my tips.  Shorter me: live like the rest of us.  We're not all Hummer-driving, McMansion-dwelling hogs.

Don't buy a tiny place and trick it out this way. Accept the fact that you will have to make some choices and that you can't have it all.  Live like the rest of us.  If you want to live in New York City, accept the fact that you will live in a much smaller place with fewer things if minimalism is how you roll.  If you decide you do need a little more space for your things, then accept the fact that you'll need a car since you'll probably need to live outside of the city to find an affordable bigger place.  It doesn't have to be a new car.  You can get a fuel-efficient, used car.  You can carpool if there are people in your town who work where you work.  And if you work in the city and live in a suburb, you can probably take some form of public transportation.

Buy used or take stuff off of your friends' hands.  You need a coffee table? Check out Goodwill, if you live near one (obviously, this doesn't apply to people who don't have access to places like thrift stores--there are regions where big box stores are the only game in town).  Does the coffee table look ratty?  Sand it and paint it.  Or, just, you know, learn to like what you already have.  Unless it's falling apart, you don't need new furniture, do you?  Keep it clean, paint it if it needs it, but otherwise keep it.

If you are tired of the way something looks, keep it anyway.  I know, that's mean.  It's also what a lot of us do.  It saves things from a landfill and it saves money.  Revolutionary, I know.  You can ask someone for advice on ways to change it or make it more attractive (depending on the item, paint it, dye it, change the accessories, cover it with a cloth, etc.)

If you have the money to use the cloud for your information, music and downloads, that's great.  Please keep in mind that many people would rather not pay--or cannot afford to pay--a monthly fee for that sort of thing.  If you really want to save money and space, you can use the library.  You can borrow books, CD's, and movies. All gratis.  Shocking I know!

Creatively reuse things you already have.  No, you don't have to hoard (I certainly don't) but I will keep pasta or dried beans in unused canning jars or a large empty plastic container that used to hold a lot of dried parsley for example.  It's not as pretty as the perfectly designed green home, but it's more affordable and I'm keeping these things out of the landfill.

Accept the fact that you won't have dinner seating for 10.  You can rent a folding table and chairs and move the furniture in your living room to make room for the seating for such an occasion, or better yet, think of other ways to entertain.  (People have been known to balance plates on their laps and sit on couches and chairs at my place when I've had a lot of folks over.)  You may need to accept the fact that you won't have a lot of dinner parties for ten in general.  Remember: live like the rest of us.

You have a T-shirt that's ripped?  Well, cut it up and use it for rags for when you clean.  I know, you're keeping clutter, rags are useful cleaning tools, and these are free, so they will save you money (and keep this cloth out of the landfill).  After the first or second T-shirt, you can donate the rest to those clothing dumpsters you may see along the road--they will take those rags and make them into rags that painters will buy.

You have jeans that are torn and that you won't wear anymore?  You can either re-purpose them into gardening aprons, a tote bag, or potholders (if you can sew), or you can cut them into strips and braid a rug out of them (if you are crafty).  If you don't have these skills, be neighborly and scout out someone who does these things and ask them if they'd like your old jeans for this purpose.

I dunno, readers?  Your suggestions?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Squid is a chewy delicious treat.

Oh, stop.  It is delicious.

I didn't make this, one of my friends made this.  He made this somewhat impromptu and it was heavenly.  My friends pretty much know that the way to my heart is through my stomach, and that I love it when they cook for me.  When we first met he didn't cook at all and now he's really into it, and he's pretty adventurous. He's been cooking for people a lot and they're all enjoying his passion for food.

He makes his food quite spicy; however it doesn't overwhelm the food.  He will cook frozen vegetables, meat, fish, or beans and cumin, cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic and ginger (lots of garlic and ginger), a dash of lemon juice and some chopped tomatoes.  And plain yogurt on the side in case you're wimpy like me and need a little something to cut down on the spice.  And he makes basmati rice--plain or cooked with stock, sometimes with shredded carrot and a cup of chickpeas thrown in.

This was fantastic.  I love squid anyway--fried with hot peppers, pan seared with soy sauce, as sashimi (oh, it's actually lovely that way) in noodle soups, you name it.  It's a treat.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rhubarb--a treat in savory dishes

Rhubarb isn't just for sweets.  The tart vegetable, normally mixed with a lot of sugar, is used in pies, tarts, cakes, and jams.  Certainly, it's delicious that way.  But thanks to a desire to make jam, I got a lot from my mother.  Strawberry rhubarb jam calls for more strawberries than rhubarb.

Rhubarb adds a lovely tartness to dishes—it’s perfect if you want a tart flavor but not the acidity of citrus (or you simply don’t have citrus on hand).  Work with the tartness and don’t cover it up with sugar—the first recipe calls for sugar, granted, but the next time I make it, I will try less sugar (probably just 1 tablespoon) than the 3 tablespoons I originally used, as I liked the tart rhubarb next to the earthy and sweet beets.  Too much sugar will cover it up.

Rhubarb and Beet Salad
3 or 4 beets
1 small red onion, sliced
3-4 stalks of rhubarb, sliced in ¼ inch pieces
1-3 tablespoons of sugar (to taste)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast three beets in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes or until tender.   Allow to cool, then peel them and chop them.  Spread rhubarb on a roasting pan, and sprinkle 1 to 3 tablespoons sugar on it; roast for 10-20 minutes, until the juices are out and syrupy.  Meanwhile, whisk together ¼ cup of red wine vinegar, a tablespoon of honey, salt and pepper and a tablespoon of oil in a bowl.  Add beets, onion, rhubarb, and rhubarb juices, stirring well to coat.  Chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.  Serve chilled.

Rhubarb Chicken
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
One medium yellow onion, chopped
3-4 stalks of rhubarb, sliced in ¼ inch pieces
5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup dry white wine (or chicken stock)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Sautee the garlic, onion, and rhubarb in the olive oil over medium heat until the onion and garlic are translucent and the rhubarb is soft.  Add chicken thighs, brown on each side (about five minutes).  Add wine and salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and steam the chicken until cooked (about 10-15 minutes).  Remove cover, check chicken by making sure the juices run clear.  Add more wine or stock if the chicken needs to be cooked more.  Reduce wine or stock to a thick sauce—it will be creamy (without cream added—bonus).  Serve sauce with garlic, rhubarb and onion over chicken thighs.

To add some spice or different flavors to this dish, you can add to the stock or wine:

½ to 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of roasted fennel seed (heat fennel seed in a dry skillet over medium high heat until fragrant, then add them to the dish)
½ to 1 teaspoon dried thyme


(Oh, yes, I made jam.  Turned out well.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Consuming "correctly" makes people more likely to act like jerks

I am actually not that surprised by this.  I've run into it before and it does way more harm than good.  Unfortunately, these attitudes help solidify the idea that organic foods, sustainable ways of living, and local foods/resources are for a small, wealthier group of people.

Thank heavens the workers at the CSA I belong to (and my fellow members) aren't jerks.  They cheerfully hand you over a paper bag* or two if you forgot your reusable bags (or need more than you brought--it gets plentiful in the height of the summer).  There's no snotty attitude, just a shared joy of food and an eagerness to talk with you about how you might prepare the recipes.  If they were like the jerks in the article, I'd drop out.  I'd rather hang with people who know that not everyone can afford these "correct" lifestyle choices.**

*Paper bags are awesome.  When I was in the first grade, I played a squirrel in a school play.  We didn't have to have costumes but I made one anyway, thanks to a paper shopping bag and a box of crayons.  And yes, all the other kids made them too when I showed them mine.  If we had reusable shopping bags, I couldn't have been all METHOD and really, my creative impulses would have been stifled, which is CHILD ABUSE I TELL  YOU CHILD ABUSE and I would have written a book about my very tough life and gone on Oprah about the difficulties of living in a world without paper bags.

**Also, purists would be horrified if they saw my pantry.  My love for boxed mac 'n' cheese is epic.  At the end of a week where I diligently stick to fresh kale and beets and fish and beans and whole grains (as locally sourced as I can get them), I get hit with a MAD INSANE UNSTOPPABLE CRAVING FOR BOXED MAC 'N' CHEESE, CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP AND TUNA MADE IN ONE POT.  And I'm like, no that's disgusting don't do it EAT THE MORAL FOOD and then my ID is all DON'T YOU EVEN IT'S DELICIOUS HAVE THE BOXED STUFF YOU NEED FATS IN YOUR DIET HYDROGENATED OILS FOR THE WIN BABY and then I think Oh, no I really shouldn't hey! What am I doing stop making this dish it's disgusting and my ID is all NO YOU MEAN IT'S DELICIOUS and I eat the whole thing and basically pass out.

Purity, it backfires.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday Blogaround

Wish Dan a happy birthday.  I remember 39.  Heh.

The Grumpies have a post on uber-frugal dishwashing by hand.

Living on Foodstamps is starting a container garden.

Locavore? Some folks have to go the frugalvore route. 

Keep your fingers crossed for Cash Only Living, who's getting a home inspected and will hopefully close on it soon.

The Non-Consumer Advocate managed to not buy out the omiyage shops in Japan during her trip there.  I'm going to have a post about things Japanese soon, as my friend Noriko sent me a care package of goodies for my birthday, but just FYI: Japanese kitsch is the best. kitsch. EVER.

Speaking of things that are Japanese, this Japanese-inspired salad at World of Okonomy looks delicious.

Swiss Chard and Cheese omelet.  Yum.

The Frugal Graduate makes the point that you don't just need an emergency fund, you also need a fund to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I had a pretty busy weekend--I was with the family to celebrate a couple of birthdays on Saturday and hung out with a friend on Sunday.  We ended up going to a street fair in the city.  There were stalls all over the place, and one of them was selling this book and framed art from the book.  My friend got the book for me because I dig the ravenous undead.  I have joked that when I die, I want to be reanimated as a zombie.

Probably because they marry two freaky things that should scare the waste out of me (flesh-eating zombies and the end of the world) I dig the zombie apocalypse. It cracks me up.  Zombie movies are gross and rather funny even when they're supposed to be scary.  If you're trying to be all earnest and serious and make a larger point in a zombie apocalypse story, you're doing wrong (hey, Walking Dead, I'm looking at you).  It's the zombie apocalypse.  It's all campy gross fun.

So.  It's my new coffee table book.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Food Fail--Stuffed Cabbage

Yes, I know.  Stuffed cabbage should be easy! The thing is, I thought I'd try something different, and it didn't quite work out.

The way I know to make stuffed cabbage is with ground beef and rice, topped with stewed tomatoes and baked.  Well, I thought maybe lentils and and a lot of herbs for something different.  I was out of rice at the time and didn't want to fight my way through the grocery store.  Then I thought, hey! Breadcrumbs!

Yeah, no.  Here's a tip: Breadcrumbs don't work very well in stuffed cabbage.

It was a gloppy, horrid mess.  It was not delicious.  I tried to be sporting and eat it, and reminded myself of all the starving people in the world, and you know what? They probably wouldn't have wanted this either.  I had pictures of the entire process but honestly, they're gross.  You don't want to see it.  I kept telling myself that I should just give it a chance.  Well I did.  Be glad I ate this so you didn't have to.

I will try this another time, but with actual rice.

So. . .anyone want to chime in with food fails of their own?  (No, Pamela, it's just you.  Juuuuuussst yoooouuuu. . .)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Hunger Games Lamb Stew (I didn't make this) and a squeally fan-girl review of the Hunger Games

Yes, I will be talking about the book, and yes, it will be below the cut--fair warning, there be spoilers after the cut.  But I thought this was cool--a website called Fictional Food.  Cool!  She did Katniss Everdeen's favorite dish--the lamb stew with dried plums.  It looks delectable.  I have one more lamb roast in my freezer, and I am so tempted to try this (and adapt it for the slow cooker) but I do love the Moroccan Style Lamb. . .ah, decisions.

Now, I am going to veer faaaaar away from homemaking and crafts and whatnot and talk about the series, so if you haven't read it and don't want spoilers, if you really hate the idea of the series and think It is Totally Ruining Our Youth Today, No Seriously It Is, and Besides a Girl Is In It Doing Ungirly Things and That Is Just Icky, then you'll probably want to skip this post.  Also, fair warning: I'm soapboxing like nobody's business here.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cooking from scratch

Made from scratch
One of the things that keeps my grocery shopping--and my pantry filling--efforts simple is that I do a lot of scratch cooking.  I make my own tomato sauce.  I (usually) make my own soups (there are exceptions to this, which I'll get to).  I make my own muffins and cornbread and tea breads and cake when the occasion calls for it.  Heck, if I wanted pizza I have homemade pizza dough/Italian bread dough in the freezer that I can defrost.

Pesto made from scratch and frozen
First, let's cover why  I cook from scratch--and the reasons I side-eye.  I do it because it's actually quite easy, because it uses basic ingredients in my pantry, because it's inexpensive, and because it allows for some flexibility in cooking.  I do not do it because I am a special snowflake who hates all processed food, because I think it is the morally superior thing to do, and all of that garbage. Actually, I can see situations where it would be more beneficial for people to buy the prepared foods--if you're a champion couponer, you can get those things very inexpensively (it's rare to get coupons and great deals on flour as opposed to cake mix).  If you don't have freezer space or pantry space, I can absolutely see the benefits of buying prepared soups or other things, no question.  If you're marginally housed, the scratch cooking this is likely going to be the last thing on your priority list (it would be my last priority). If you've ever had to use a food pantry, chances are you've gotten processed foods (like canned soups or cans of chili, etc.--especially in my town, where a lot of the people who use the food pantry were, up until recently, the same people who only had access to a hotplate and a small dorm-sized fridge).  And if you're working a double-shift and you have kids and you are exhausted at the end of the day, anyone who get snippy about your food choices when you're trying to get dinner on the table before you pass out can pucker up and kiss your. . .feet.  In my situation, though, it works.   Really, once I compared the ingredients and steps of a scratch cake to a box cake, and saw that it didn't take any more time, I was hooked.

Muffin courtesy of Amy Dacyczyn
Scratch cooking sounds so difficult.  It sounds like you'd have to be in the kitchen all day long, dicing tomatoes and cooking them down, or making stock right then for soup, etc.  But you really don't. You do not have to spend hours over the stove. All that scratch cooking means is that you're making the dish yourself, with basic unprocessed ingredients.  Most of us do it quite a lot.

If I want soup very quickly, I take whatever frozen vegetables I want to have in it, some beans that I've canned (or beans that are ready to cook), some stock and whatever herbs and spices I want to include in the soup, and cook them in a soup pot.  Or I take yellow split peas, add stock, a bit of garlic, and a teaspoon of celery seed.  Or I creatively use leftovers--the 40 clove of garlic chicken I made translated to a fantastic yellow-split pea soup, albeit very garlicky.  I'll use the leftovers from a roast chicken, some frozen spinach, a couple of sliced fresh carrots (or frozen sliced carrots), celery, and rice to make chicken soup.

Tomato sauce is one of the easiest things to make from scratch.  You do not need home canned tomatoes (though they make a lovely sauce).  You do not need fresh tomatoes.  Those are nice, but they add a lot of work.  All I do is take a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes and add them to a bunch of garlic and some onion I've sauteed in olive oil.  I cook that over medium heat for about 20 minutes.  I'll add whatever herbs are appropriate--oregano if I'm making a pizza sauce, basil (either dried or fresh or fresh/frozen, or a pesto cube) if I am making a pasta sauce.  That's really it.  You can add whatever you want, but the basic ingredients are crushed tomatoes and olive oil.  I like it better than the jarred sauces out there.

Biscotti. YUM.
Cake or muffins?  Mixes cut out a few ingredients, but they aren't that onerous.  If I cook from scratch, I'm adding baking powder and whatever flavorings are needed (which I have on hand), in addition to the flour and baking powder.  Once I realized how easy muffins are to make from scratch, I never went back.  (OK, my Nana's fudge cake is a little more involved, but I make that for my Dad and it's so worth it.  I don't make that very much at all.)  Also, in the case of teacakes or muffins, cooking from scratch allows me new ways to use up produce (with say, zucchini bread). 

There are exceptions that I make, or there are things I have on hand just in case:

Boxed mac and cheese.  Oh, my love affair with boxed mac and cheese.  (Especially shells and cheese, which the companies are phasing out.  WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT??)

Scratch cooking. 20 minutes.
Soup.  I make a lot of my own soup, but there is something about canned chicken noodle soup or the boxed stuff with the freeze dried chicken that hits the spot when I'm sick.  Yes, my mother's homemade chicken soup is best when I'm sick.  Yes, I can make that soup.  However, I'd have to take it out of the freezer.  When I'm sick I am not even inclined to toss my socks in my laundry basket--it would be foolish for me to think that I'd defrost that soup when I got sick.  Also, I might not have any in the freezer when I get sick.  So I keep a few of those things in my pantry just in case.

Stock. I have used up my homemade chicken stock and I don't see myself roasting a chicken anytime soon, so I bought some boxes of chicken stock (and vegetable stock).  Over the summer with all of the vegetables I get from my CSA, I'll be using those ends to make my own vegetable stock, but the store bought stuff is quite good and serves its purpose for now.  

Chances are, you do a lot of scratch cooking and don't even realize it.  If you can, give some basic recipes a whirl if there are things you buy that you could make from scratch, and see if they're easier/tastier/less expensive.  It's nice to know that if you don't have jarred sauce you can still have pasta, or that if you don't have a box mix you can still make cornbread.