Sunday, March 18, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow: Day 8

We're one week into the gardening project, and I'm so excited about progress so far, that I think it will be a series!

So far, the lettuce is definitely in the lead.  Seedlings popped up around day 3, and while new ones are still growing in, the plants are about 2-3" tall.
Growing towards the sunlight.  We're going to be eating a LOT of salad.

 The basil is also coming in pretty good.  There are several little plants in the pot.  I'm thinking I may need a second pot sometime down the road.

We have one lone bean stalk who made an appearance yesterday.  On Friday, there was nothing.  On Saturday, it had broken through the soil, but was kind of coiled.  Now, on Sunday, it's about 2" high and standing tall.  But,......where are the rest?  I planted about 12 seeds.  Will they grow, or are they duds?  Time will tell, I guess.

Lastly, here are the peppers.  You could almost miss them, but there are two tiny plants breaking free of the soil. I'm glad, but hope more come in.  The seed package is labeled as "Carnival Mix", and I'd really like to harvest the variety of colors pictured -- green, red, purple, orange, and even ivory!

This project of mine is really bringing out the nerd in me.  I seriously stare at these plants a couple of times a day, willing them to grow!  And it's fascinating how much food from the store is taken for granted.  For example, I know lettuce is a plant, and it grows in the ground (duh!), but I never thought about lettuce SEEDS.  And I didn't really think about my packet of green bean seeds being the same white nubbins that are inside the green beans on my plate.  I know it sounds kind of stupid, but these are some of those things you know in the back of your mind, but it doesn't really click.  Some day down the road when we have children of our own, they will definitely be growing their own little green bean in a paper cup and digging in the dirt with me!

Stay tuned for the next episode!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I guess you can call me Farmer Cake Lady.  The warmer temperatures and ridiculoud prices at the grocery store led me to try my hand at a small vegetable garden.  Nothing too fancy, since we live in an apartment, but things we eat a lot of: lettuce, peppers, basil, tomatoes, and green beans.  See, we don't eat just cake around here!

Because I've never done it before, and it's cheaper, I started most of my veggies from seed.  When I've planted before, I just bought the half grown plants.  So here's what I've got going:

Day 1

Looseleaf lettuce mixture:  Lettuce is well suited to container gardening, and loose leaf lettuce is ready to harvest a little sooner than head lettuce, plus you can pick what you need when you need it.  Hopefully, this will mean no more wilted lettuce in the fridge.

Tenderbush garden beans:  Two advantages here, the beans grow on a bush rather than a vine.  I'm hoping I don't need to stake them.  Second, the sead packet says they are stringless, meaning less prep time when they're ready to eat!  I figure beans can't be too hard to grow, as they're the classic elementary school science project!

Carnival mix sweet peppers:  We eat a lot of peppers, usually green bell peppers.  The brightly colored peppers on the seed packet looked so much tastier than the others.  Though, I'm pretty sure I'll be going back for some hot peppers.  Muy caliente!  Short of ghost chili and scorpion peppers (the world's hottest varieties), we like them all.

Mammoth basil:  There's nothing better than fresh basil.  I grew a small basil plant last year, and thoroughly enjoyed having Billy Basil sit on the windowsill, and grace many a pasta sauce and Thai curry with his presence.  Will this be Billy #2 or something else?

I also transplanted Oscar the Onion into a pot with soil.  Did you know you can grow green onions on your windowsill in just water?  I started Oscar off by putting the root ends that I'd been throwing away for years into a glass of water.  Within a few days, we could see new shoots growing.  Within a few weeks, he was pretty tall.  Now, two months later, he is still alive, and growing faster than we can eat him.  As a result, he's pretty droopy and long.

And yes, we name our plants.  They're our babies until we have some real ones.  Billy Basil, Oscar Onion, and a philodendron named Phil. 

Happy Pi Day!

What better way to celebrate Pi Day, March 14 than pie?  Well, not really a pie, but a tart.  A nice, simple tart to usher in spring.

This recipe really came about in a yin-yang devil-angel kind of way.  I tried out a recipe for healthy chocolate muffins that were described as Vita Top knockoffs.  I'm all about replicating treats that cost the megabucks.  Anyway, the recipe called for egg whites, leaving me with three egg yolks.  I really didn't want to throw them away, so started looking for egg yolk only recipes, and remembered my favorite lemon filling recipe uses egg yolks.  Problem solved!  Egg yolks put to good use, and a rich cheese cake like tart to balance out those healthy, deep chocolate chocolate chip muffins.

Lime curd tart
Lime filling
Recipe adapted from
3/4 cup sugar
2 TBS cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup cold water
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 TBS lime zest
Juice of 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons
1 TBS butter
1-2 drops green food coloring (optional)

For the record, I used squeeze bottle lime juice.  This was an impromptu recipe, so I used what I had.

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Gradually whisk in the water until dissolved. Whisk in egg yolks, and juice. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly.  The mixture will get foamy, but keep whisking.  Cook while whisking, until thick and bubbly. Boil one minute (keep whisking); remove from heat. Stir in butter. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Cool to room temperature, without stirring.

If you use the food coloring, add it while whisking.  If you choose not to use it, your filling will be yellow.  This recipe gets its color from the egg yolk, and lime juice is clearish.  That creamy dreamy green color we know and love is a charade!

Graham cracker crust
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs  (this is right at one unopened sleeve of graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

Combine the crust ingredients in a medium bowl.  Stir to combine.  Press crumb mixture into a pie plate or tart pan.  Using the bottom of a drinking glass helps get it packed down smoothly.  Depending on the dish you use, you may have leftover crumbs.  Hold on to those for later. Bake your crust at 375 for 8-10 minutes.  Set aside and let cool.

Cheesecake filling
8 oz cream cheese softened
1/4 sugar
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat the cream cheese until smooth and fluffy.  Beat in the sugar, then the eggs and vanilla.  Pour into your cooled graham cracker crust.  Bake at 350 for 13 minutes.  Let cool.

To finish your tart, stir your lime filling to break up any lumps and loosen and skin that formed on the top.  Gently pour/spread the lime filling onto the cooled cheesecake layer.  If you had any leftover graham cracker crumbs, you can sprinkle them decoratively over the top.

Cover and put in the fridge. Enjoy while seeing who can recite the most digits of pi.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Amish Friendship Bread

Have you ever heard of Amish Friendship Bread?  It's the chain letter of the culinary world.  But in this case, if you pass it forward, you friends (those that cook or bake, anyway) will truly love you; if you don't pass it on, no biggie.
In case you don't know, Amish Friendship Bread is a sweet quick bread type bread/cake made from a fermented mixture of milk, sugar, and flour, known as a starter.  After minimal tending of the starter for 10 days, you're ready to make the bread.  The "tending" can be done in a gallon sized freezer bag, and it only has to be fed once.  The other days, you just mush around the bag and leave it on the counter.  On day 10, you refresh the starter, divvy it up for sharing, and bake your own batch of bread. The starter recipe can be found here.
The starter, around day 6 or so...

The result was am uber delicious, super moist cinnamony cake.  I can only describe it as boozy french toast.  It has that extra tang that you get with desserts containing alcohol, which I usually don't like.  AT ALL!  But this, my friends was fantastic. 

Cinnamon sugar topping

Better yet, the starter is very versatile!  Recipes abound on what to do with the starter.  I visited the Friendship Bread Kitchen, where they maintain an archive of at least 190 variations and alternatives, including cookie, waffles, brownies, and Amish Friendship Bread flavor combinations.  They also have starter recipes for those on alternative diets (gluten-free, sugar-free, etc.).
I had an extra bag of starter left over and decided to try the brownies.  I was worried it would have that tangy flavor, which I didn't think would mesh well with chocolate, but it tasted like a chocolate cake or quick loaf.  The texture was definitely more cakey than brownie-ish, but tasty all the same.

Brownie/Cake using the last of the starter

For the record, I'm pretty sure the Amish didn't come up with this; at least not as this recipe is written.  I wouldn't imagine they'd be using instant pudding mix!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I Scream, You Scream

Who doesn't scream for ice cream, right?  With the early spring we've been having around here lately, ice cream sounded like a nice treat.  The Artist and I were at the mall, strolling along, debating whether we wanted cookies or ice cream.  My vote for ice cream won, but I decided I didn't want to drop big bucks for only a scoop or two.  Besides, homemade sundaes are always better, and you're not limited to what's in those stale looking containers.

And...I had this recipe for chocolate syrup that I wanted to try.  I found this recipe (from Small Notebook) via a pin on Pinterest.  [Sidenote: I love Pinterest!  I find so many things to try that I wouldn't have found on my own, let alone thought of!]

The chocolate syrup was fabulously simple and absolutely delicious.  My little pictures don't do it justice.  I made one substitution by using Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder instead of regular cocoa powder.
Four simple ingredients, plus water!

Brownie sundae supreme

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