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Garden Update March 2016

Garden overview.

Garden overview.

There are some positive signs in the garden and I’ve added a couple of things. There are also some things that are also giving me concern. I’ve tried starting several things from seed in starters, but the results are fairly weak. I’m getting a few sprouts, but not consistent success.

Some sprouts...not too impressive yet, though.

Some sprouts…not too impressive yet, though.

I have also planted some multicolored Swiss chard from seed, directly into the garden and noticed that they are popping up, so I’m optimistic about that one.

Hard to see, but sprouts are popping through for the Swiss chard.

Hard to see, but sprouts are popping through for the Swiss chard.

I have a single yellow bell pepper plant that was purchased already growing. It seems to be okay, but not showing any vertical growth yet. I’m also experimenting a bit this year with some sweet potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes. They were sprouting in the house, so I cut some pieces and planted them. We’ll see what happens.

Previously planted and now in year 3, are Cascade hops  and muscadine grape vines. I have put some strings in for the hops to climb…they seem to be doing okay.

Hops ready to climb.

Hops ready to climb.

The muscadine vines…

Muscadine grape vines.

Muscadine grape vines. On the bottom, left, I think is ginger…bulbs look more like onion. Waiting and watching.

…I don’t know if any grapes will happen this year. I’m just letting them go where they are and see what happens. If any grapes appear this year, I’ll plan to put up a small arbor, just for them, by next Spring.

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Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

About a week ago, my wife was looking for a box of Crunch ‘n’ Munch Caramel Popcorn that I had bought. I had bought two boxes and she had eaten one over the course of a couple of days. She assumed that the second box was hers, too, since I know she likes it. A reasonable assumption, but one that was proven wrong, because I had a craving the night before. Poor thing was so disappointed!

Never wanting to leave a woman disappointed(*wink, wink*), I decided to pop onto the computer and do a little secret research. Most of the recipes called for corn syrup, which I didn’t have on hand, or exact temperatures and extra steps that I just didn’t want to deal with for a quick recipe to surprise my wife with on short notice. To the rescue came a recipeI found through Pinterest at http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2013/04/23/peanut-butter-caramel-corn/ . Take a look, if you have a chance, you may find something else you like there as well! I like to give credit, where credit is due, and support those people who have helped me with a great recipe.

This recipe is simple, easy, and can be done in a matter of about 20 minutes with pretty common ingredients and equipment. There’s no need for a thermometer or precision. What you will need is some measuring cups, a small sauce pot for the caramel, a medium sauce pot with a lid for popping the corn (or you can use microwaved or air popped), a large mixing bowl for combing the popcorn and caramel a spoon or wire whip and a rubber spatula.

Here’s the recipe:

Peanut Butter and Honey Caramel Popcorn

Ingredients:

  • 10 cups unflavored popped popcorn (homemade or 1 standard size bag)*
  • 2/3 cup dry-roasted peanuts, optional
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
 *I think I use a little more popcorn and stretch the caramel out a little thinner.
Directions:

Pop the popcorn, remove any unpopped kernels, and set aside.

Popped a good sized bowl of popcorn and leave room for mixing!

Popped a good sized bowl of popcorn and leave room for mixing!

Line a sheet pan with parchment and a little non-stick spray. Put the sugar and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir to combine. You can cover it initially to help it come to a boil, but it isn’t required. Once the mixture comes to a boil, let it go for about three minutes.
Boiling sugar and honey...HOT!!! Be careful.

Boiling sugar and honey…HOT!!! Be careful.

 

Carefully remove the mixture from heat and add the salt, peanut butter and, if using, the optional peanuts.* Stir until well-combined.
Peanuts, salt, and peanut butter added and stirred well.

Peanuts, salt, and peanut butter added and stirred well.

Pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn and, using a rubber spatula, turn the popcorn until the caramel is evenly distributed.
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Pour the popcorn onto the prepared sheet pan and carefully spread the hot mass out evenly to cool completely. (See header photo) When cool, break up the caramel corn into bite-sized clusters and try not to consume it all in one sitting!
*The recipe actually calls for the peanuts to be added after the caramel is poured on the popcorn, I think…but I wanted mine coated with the caramel as well.
So, I dove into the recipe and knocked it out. I have to admit, It wasn’t *quite* completely cool when I broke mine up into clusters and presented it to my wife…so it was just a tiny bit chewy. But that didn’t really matter…my wife was suitably amazed and impressed with my thoughtfulness and effort. Then she tasted the popcorn…amazing! She could not put it down. It was a MAJOR success! Eventually, she made me take it away from her, so she wouldn’t eat it all. Again, being the loving husband, I finished the rest of it. This one really is a winner. I hope you’ll try it and enjoy!
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Starting Garden 2016

Watering the garden to start blending the soil additions and the few existing plants.

Watering the garden to start blending the soil additions and the few existing plants.

As a branch to my food endeavors, I’m including some coverage here on my gardening efforts. Since the end results are ultimately to be used in my home cooking and/or canning projects, it’s appropriate. I’m continuing to use the raised bed set-up that I started a couple of years ago. (Disregard the bulky wooden thing next to the garden. I’m rethinking trying to use it somehow and will break it down soon.) Unfortunately, some boards are bowing and some wood is rotting. I’m trying to shore them up with some stakes, but I may be looking at a rebuild next year.

Shoring up some problems.

Shoring up some problems.

Also, my rotary tiller is kaput, so I bought a small electric model for $150. Less maintenance and no fuel to mix.

Small electric rotary tiller...works just fine.

Finally, the garden was pretty much a failure last year. I figure that the fertilizer and lime that I tried to add to the soil did not do the trick in revitalizing the soil. This year, I have decided to add four big bags of MiracleGro 6 month feeding potting soil and some Jobe’s Tomato and Vegetable Fertilizer.

The first thing I did was break up the ground with a shovel. Next step was to till the existing dirt with some of the fertilizer. Then I added the potting soil and tilled it again. I used a thatching rake to level everything out and remove fibrous roots, acorns, sweetgum balls, and leaves.

I still have left, surviving in the garden from last year (amazingly), some parsley, a couple of grape vines (that I hope to transfer to a separate set-up someday), some Cascade hops rhizomes, and some ginger root with green plants above. I’ve never done ginger before, so I’m not sure where that project will go. The hops bines (why they aren’t called “vines”? I don’t know….) should be spouting up any time now.

For new plantings, I’ve checked what gardening zone I am in and picked some things accordingly. I have added some oregano and a yellow bell pepper plant, from seedlings.

My son, helping to add the oregano and bell pepper plants.

My son, helping to add the oregano and bell pepper plants.

The rest of my choices, to start with, are seed packets. Most, I plan to plant directly in the garden, but I did buy some little biodegradable seed starters. The seeds I bought for a mid-March start are: beets, mixed color carrots, radishes, mixed color Swiss chard, and basil. Pretty sure I’m going to plant everything directly, except the basil.

Seeds.

Seeds.

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Two pots in front have some strawberry plants from two years ago. Lets see how they like the new soil and fertilizer mix.

So, since I have invested in the tiller and another $150 in tools, soil, and fertilizer, I’m really hoping to have a better harvest this year, to reap some benefits from the investment!

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Chinese Sausage Baked Buns

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I  bought a package of uncooked Chinese style sausage recently at my local supermarket and decided that this would be the way to go with it.

Raw Chinese style sausage

Raw Chinese style sausage

I thought about doing steamed buns, however; I couldn’t locate the steamer baskets for my wok. Baked buns, it is. The recipe I used for the dough was taken from Pinterest. I generally credit things like this, but I completely forgot to make note of the source. But for full disclosure, I did NOT create this dough recipe. If you search Pinterest for Chinese Baked Buns, you may stumble across it. The filling IS my creation. I just boiled the sausage to cook it through before making the filling. So, here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

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Filling:

3 Chinese Sausages, cooked and diced small

1 T. Fermented Black Bean Paste

2 T. Ketchup

2 T. Soy Sauce

1 T. Honey

2 T. Vegetable Oil

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Combine all the ingredients, except the sausage, and make a sauce/marinade.  Add the cooked, diced sausage and stir to evenly coat. Place in refrigerator until ready to assemble buns.

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Dough:

10 TBSP whole milk

4 TBSP butter

2 tsp rapid-rise (instant) dry yeast

2 1/2 TBSP lukewarm water

1 large egg

2 1/2 TBSP sugar

12 1/2 oz All-purpose flour (About 2-3/4 cups)

1 large egg, lightly beaten (To brush buns before baking)

Glaze:

2 TBSP honey mixed with 1 TBSP warm water

For the dough, melt the butter with the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Set aside to cool for about 5 minutes, or until warm (about 110°F). (I melted butter in the microwave, added milk and microwaved another 15 seconds and then cooled briefly.)

Put the yeast in small bowl, add the water, and set aside for 1 minute to soften. Whisk in the milk mixture and the egg to blend.

Combine the sugar and flour in a food processor. Pulse two or three times to blend. With the machine running, pour the yeast mixture through the feed tube in a steady stream. After a sticky mass of very soft dough forms, about 5 seconds, (I added about 2 extra tablespoons of milk for mine to form the ball) continue processing for 45 to 60 seconds to form a smooth, slightly sticky dough that mostly cleans the bowl.IMG_20160210_121839764 The finished dough should stick a bit to your finger when pressed. Lightly oil a clean bowl and add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm, draft-free place (for example, the oven with the light on) to rise for about 45 minutes, or until nearly doubled.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper before beginning to assemble the buns.

Remove the dough from the bowl and put on a lightly floured surface. Knead it a few times, then cut it in half. Cover one-half with plastic wrap or an inverted bowl to prevent drying. Roll out the dough into a 12-inch log, and then cut it into 8 or 16 pieces for medium or small buns, respectively. I find the bigger ones easier to handle and fill.IMG_20160210_132400953 (Halve or quarter the log first to make it easier to cut even-size pieces. The tapered end pieces should be cut a little longer than the rest.) Lightly roll each piece between your hands into a ball and then flatten each one into a 1/4-inch-thick disk. Use a wooden dowel-style rolling pin to roll the pieces into circles, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter for small or 3-1/4 inches in diameter for medium buns. The rim should be thinner than the center; keep a 1-inch-wide belly. The finished circle will rise as it sits. Lay the finished circles out on your work surface, lightly dusting their bottoms with flour if you fear they will stick.IMG_20160210_132704653

To form a bun, hold a dough circle in a slightly cupped hand. Use a spoon or fork to center about 2 teaspoons of filling for small buns, or about 4 teaspoons of filling for medium ones, on the dough circle, pressing down very gently and keeping about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of the dough clear on all sides; your hand will automatically close slightly.IMG_20160210_133007204 Use the thumb of the hand cradling the bun to push down the filling while the other hand pulls up the dough edge and pleats and pinches the rim together to form a closed satchel. (I don’t know about the crimping meticulously thing, but I got mine sealed and ball shaped.)

Pinch and twist the dough closed at the end. Place the bun pleat side down on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough circles, spacing them 1-1/2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Loosely cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Set in a warm, draft- free place (for example, the oven with the light on) for 30 minutes to rise. Meanwhile, work on the other dough half to form more buns.IMG_20160210_133242039

To bake the buns, about 10 minutes before the rising time is over, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F. (Let the buns finish rising at room temperature if you’ve had them in the oven.)

Bake one baking sheet at a time, brushing the top and side of each bun with the egg right before baking.IMG_20160210_153039114 Bake small buns for about 14 minutes and medium buns for about 18 minutes, or until a rich golden brown; the cooked buns sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove them from the oven, set on a rack, and let cool for 5 minutes.

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Brushed with honey glaze

Brush the honey mixture on the buns for a sweet-glaze finish that will also soften the crust. Enjoy warm and out of hand. Refrigerate left- over buns for up to a week and reheat at 350°F for 8 to 10 minutes, until hot. When making the buns in advance, wait to brush on the glaze until after you’ve reheated the buns. These buns may also be frozen for up to a month. Thaw them completely before reheating.

 

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Making Bagels

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So, I’ve made bagels once before, but it’s been awhile. For some reason, I just felt like making a batch. Who knew that today (February 9th) is National Bagel Day?! Was there something subliminal going on there? These won’t be baked until the following day, though…but I made the dough and shaped them on National Bagel Day. That still counts, right? Right.

To give credit, where credit is due, I am using a recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by way of a website: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/. The recipe makes 12 bagels. It begins with a “sponge”, which is similar to a sourdough starter, except all the ingredients are fresh. About half of the flour is used with all of the water and half of the yeast. After a couple of hours, the sponge is combined with the rest of the ingredients to make the dough. After the dough is made, kneaded, and portioned, it is allowed to rise. Once formed, the bagels relax briefly and then are refrigerated overnight. The process is finished in the morning.

BAGELS

Sponge:

1 t. Instant yeast

4 c. Bread flour

2-1/2 c. Water

Dough:

1 t. Instant yeast (original recipe calls for 1/2 t., but mine has been in the fridge for awhile, so….)

3-3/4 c. Bread flour

2-3/4 t. salt (why not 3? I don’t know, but I followed directions here.)

2 t. malt powder (not malted milk powder) You could substitute a tablespoon of malt syrup, honey, or brown sugar, according to the recipe. (I used a tablespoon of molasses.)

1 T. baking soda (to add to boiling water for cooking)

Corn meal for dusting the baking sheet

Toppings, if desired. Poppy seeds, dehydrated chopped onion or garlic, salt, sesame seeds, etc. (I don’t do sesame, due to an allergy in the family.) I made my own mixture for Everything Bagels.*

Day or Evening Before

Make the sponge. Combine the ingredients and mix to combine. It will be wet and sticky. Cover and allow to rise for about 2 hours.

Sponge for making bagels

Sponge for making bagels

The sponge has risen!

The sponge has risen!

Make the dough. After rising, add 3 cups flour, yeast, salt, and malt powder (or substitute) to the dough and mix as well as you can.

Turn out on a clean, floured surface and begin kneading, using the last 3/4 c. flour to keep from sticking, incorporating it as you go. Knead for 10 minutes.

Kneading the dough.

Kneading the dough.

Immediately after kneading, divide the dough into 12 equal portions (about 4-1/2 oz). My scale is broken, so I had to eyeball it. Line a sheet pan with parchment and lightly spray with non-stick spray. Shape the portions into balls and put them on the cooking sheet. Cover the dough balls with a damp towel or damp paper towels and let rest for twenty minutes.

Divide the dough and shape into balls.

Divide the dough and shape into balls.

After resting, use your thumb to punch a hole in the center of each dough ball, and rotate the dough around to widen the hole. Try to maintain even thickness all the way around the bagel.

Shaping the dough.

Shaping the dough.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. You are done until tomorrow morning!

Ready for the refrigerator, overnight.

Ready for the refrigerator, overnight.

The Next Morning

Preheat the oven to 500F. Prepare a baking sheet with a sprinkle of corn meal. Bring a large, preferably wide, pot of water to a boil. Add the baking soda and stir to dissolve. This helps the dough brown properly, when baked. The original recipes from many, many years ago, called for lye. For some reason, that is frowned upon these days. (Seriously, don’t do it.) While the water is boiling, drop bagels in, one at a time, until the surface is covered. Boil for one minute, flip over carefully, boil for another minute.

Boiling the bagels.

Boiling the bagels.

Place the boiled bagels on the baking sheet and, if using toppings, apply them at this point, while bagels are still moist. Continue until all bagels have been boiled and topped.

I did half "Everything" and half plain.

I did half “Everything” and half plain.

Place the bagels in the center of the preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 450F, rotate the pan, and cook for another 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove from the oven and cool…until you can’t stand it any more! Note: my bagels took about 18 minutes, actually.

Done! How long can I wait? Not long!

Done! How long can I wait? Not long!

My “Everything Bagel Topping” without sesame seeds: I used about two tablespoons each of Roasted, salted sunflower seeds, minced dehydrated garlic, chopped dehydrated onions, and then about a tablespoon of poppy seeds. I used a mortar and pestle to break up the big stuff a little before adding the poppy seeds.

My "Everything Bagel Topping", no sesame seeds.

My “Everything Bagel Topping”, no sesame seeds.

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Phrases That Should Be Banned From TV Food Shows

Well, I’m snowed in…actually, mostly ice, so it’s even more dangerous to go out…so, I’m watching some food shows on TV. Honestly, I think I’m going to have to find something to binge watch on Netflix, instead. As much as I love to cook and travel…as much as I enjoy seeing places around the country, and around the world, where I would love to go and eat…I am about worn out on the tired cliches, the sexual innuendos, and the mixed up references.  In my opinion, today’s editors are not up to the job, writers believe that sex and cliches sell, so they use the excuse be lazy, and the on-air talent is woefully lacking on the ability to believably deliver lines. (There are a few exceptions, for instance Alie Ward: believable, beautiful, and knows how to deliver the lines. And Samantha Brown, on the Travel Channel, could deliver the hokiest line and make anybody believe it.  And I am worn OUT on competition shows…especially those that involve kids and/or cupcakes. Ugh!

Over the last couple of years, I have found a few phrases that irritate me the most. First, the sexual innuendos. Anything that uses a variation of  “a flavor explosion in my mouth”. I don’t want to hear about what happens in your mouth, unless it involves a strictly descriptive remark like “It melts in your mouth.”.

Second, the cliches. “It’s the best thing I ever ate.” Overuse and incorrect use of the word “literally”, as in “My mouth is literally on fire.” No, it isn’t, or we would be throwing water on you and calling 911. “You can NOT go to [fill in the city] without going to [fill in the eatery] and trying [fill in the dish].” Yes, I can.

Next, the mixed up references, like “Even a blind squirrel can get the right time twice a day.” Say what?! Okay, it’s “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, once in awhile.” and ” Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”. If you don’t know the correct phrase or its proper usage, then skip it!

Finally, here’s one that Andrew Zimmern really owns, and it’s really irritating. If you KNOW that you are eating something that most people would find particularly nasty, even if you have developed an affinity for the flavor, please don’t try to convince us that it’s okay and make up words to describe it. For instance, if it’s an organ meat and you describe it as “livery, tinny, metallic, irony”, or  you eat a bug and describe it as a “custardy puss-bag”. Or how about the intestines, and you remark that you can tell that it’s the lower intestine, because it tastes like “that end” and, in fact, you think it tastes like there might still be “a bullet in the chamber”…and then you add: “BUT IN A GOOD WAY.”!!! Andrew, you can’t convince someone that something tastes like farm animal feces, but that that is a GOOD thing. I’m sorry, there is no good way for something to taste like excrement.

Please, food and travel oriented channels, find some new inspiration. Get some competent editors and writers. Hire people because they can deliver the lines well, not because they win some silly competitions (and by the way, we don’t need to watch the hiring process.). Kids are cute, but not when they are precocious kitchen prodigies. You can only do so many baking competition shows and keep our interest. Are you getting the point that competition shows, in general, are being WAY overdone? Well, they are.

As for the phrases, this goes back to the writers, editors, and perhaps the on-air personalities, depending on if they are allowed to ad-lib lines: cutesy alliteration, cliches, and especially all the sexual innuendo, need to be curtailed. If I have to hear that chubby woman with the messy hair refer to what’s happening in her mouth, or to her body, because of a bite of food, and then giggle about it, one more time, I’ll throw up.

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Soup for One from Home Canned Pumpkin

Home canned pumpkin

Home canned pumpkin

I have several pint jars of pumpkin sitting in my pantry that I canned after Halloween this year. I decided to pop open a jar and make some soup!

First, I drained the liquid from the pumpkin and transferred it to a small saucepan.

Drained pumpkin in a sauce pan.

Drained pumpkin in a sauce pan.

(If you substitute store-bought canned pumpkin, you might need to ADD a little water, as it is “solid pack”, meaning that it has had a bunch of water removed.) Then I added about 1/3 cup of buttermilk and a pinch each of powdered ginger, garlic powder, salt, fresh black pepper, and ground coriander.

Spices and buttermilk added.

Spices and buttermilk added.

I combined those ingredients until smooth, using a hand blender, while I brought the soup up to temperature over medium-high heat. I decided to add about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of half’n’half and blend that in as well.

Blended, with half'n'half added.

Blended, with half’n’half added.

To have a little more fun, I added croutons to the glass canning jar that the pumpkin had been in, and topped them with about a 1/4 cup of shredded Gruyere cheese.

Croutons and Gruyere cheese.

Croutons and Gruyere cheese.

I poured the soup over the cheese and croutons and stirred. It was stringy with hot cheese and tasted like a soup and grilled cheese sandwich, all blended together!

Soup!

Soup!

Obviously, you could just eat the soup, without the croutons and cheese. You could vary the flavor by changing the flavor of croutons and/or the type of cheese. Also, you could vary the spices added to the soup. Cumin, instead of coriander; mustard powder, rather than garlic; add some chicken stock for a non-vegetarian option. It’s a versatile little soup that you can spice to suit your tastes, plus it’s quick and easy! Enjoy!

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