Gardening in My Basement

January 8, 2010

If you’ve been following along, you might remember The Great Garden Debacle of 2009. Martha convinced me I needed to garden. I started seeds inside and planted them and had them all wiped out by frost. Then I bought some plants and had an invasion of creatures and ended up not getting much out of my garden at all. It was a sad Martha attempt. We do not have green thumbs – or maybe we just don’t have the time and patience needed to grow a garden. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to have fresh produce at my fingertips. My dad plants a huge garden and I am always thrilled to bring home what it produces. I’ve also had success in the past with container gardening.

One of things I am determined to grow is my own herbs. Martha has sold me on the value, flavor and necessity of fresh herbs. I do have a small herb garden near our deck, but seem to successfully grow only chives and oregano in it. And that is only useful during about half the year here in Buffalo.

Mr. MarthaAndMe bought me one of those aquaponic growers for Christmas. You fill it with water and nutrients and it will grown a variety of herbs and vegetables under UV lights. To get started, he got me an herb assortment. We set the equipment up right after Christmas and now there are a few things sprouting (although I am getting worried – only some of the 8 things seem to be poking their heads up!). I’m hopeful I’ll get some fresh herbs at least and I’ll be very grateful to have them too, considering how expensive they are to buy in tiny little packets in the produce section. Will our black thumbs extend to basement gardening too? I hope not, but please tune in to find out!

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Leftover Extravaganza

January 7, 2010

Last night, I found myself with a fridge full of leftovers. Paging through Everyday Food, I hit upon the Black Bean and Brown Rice Cakes. Ah-ha, I thought! A solution for some of the brown rice that’s been staring me down from the second shelf in the fridge. This recipe appealed to me because over the weekend I caught a few minutes of Aaron McCargo on Food Network making black bean burgers that looked soooo good.

Now that I had an idea for the leftover rice, I felt inspired to tackle some of the other leftovers. I pulled out the few veggie spring rolls we had left from New Year’s Eve and decided to heat those up. Then I happened upon a container of roasted root vegetables from a holiday dinner over the weekend and decided to heat those up. But what to do with the container of broccoli and cauliflower? I had already heated it up once to eat just plain (this was leftover from New Year’s Eve fondue and it was very al dente, which lent itself to being reheated several times without getting mushy). I didn’t want to waste it, but I knew no one was going to be happy seeing it come back to the table again.  I sought out my inner Martha and decided to play with it a little. First I heated it up (I had about 1 1/2 cups mixed broccoli and cauliflower)  so it was soft, then I dumped it in the Cuisinart and pulverized it. I added a tablespoon of butter, 3 tbsp cream, salt and pepper, 1/4 cup grated Gruyere (also leftover from New Year’s Eve) and whizzed that. Then I added one egg and dumped it in a small baking pan and baked it at 400 for about 20 minutes. It was similar to a broccoli souffle I make, but not nearly as time intensive and fussy. I liked this a lot – kind of a crust-less very light quiche. I cut it into small squares for serving.

Now for the burgers. Martha says her recipe feeds 4, but I cut this in half and got 4 good-sized burgers so I don’t what race of giants she is feeding. I used one can of black beans, rinsed and drained, 1/2 cup leftover brown rice, 1 large scallion (leftover from the turkey lettuce wraps the night before), 1 tbsp canned chili (also from the night before), salt, pepper, and 1/8 tsp cumin. I mixed this up and made 4 patties. I baked them at 400 for about 12 minutes. Martha says to top this with a mix of yogurt, cilantro and lime juice.

The burgers were good, especially with the yogurt sauce. The lime and cilantro really woke it up. No one else cared for this though. The kids picked at it and Mr. MarthaAndMe ate it because he was hungry, but it’s not his type of food at all. It was a little dry and had that crunchy-granola-hemp feel about it. I enjoyed it because it was something different and I get tired of always running through chicken, turkey and fish menu options.

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Turkey Lettuce Wraps

January 6, 2010

the turkey

I am fooded out after the holidays. I think I could exist solely on salads and fruit for a couple of weeks, however that won’t feed the family. Jan/Feb Everyday Food has lots of light meal ideas, and I am SO appreciating them right now.

Last night I made Stir-Fried Turkey in Lettuce Wraps. This reminded me of the lettuce wraps dish you can get at PF Changs. It was pretty simple to throw together. Chop up garlic, shallot and grate some ginger. I used some canned chilis (the recipe says to use a fresh one). Cook it all quickly

the wrap

then add ground turkey. Once it’s almost cooked, add in a mix of soy sauce, fish sauce (which smells so bad I almost hate to use it, but it does work) and sugar. Serve with lettuce leaves (I used Boston) and some sliced scallions and carrots and some lime to squeeze.

Hold on to your hats here, but everyone in the family ate this. I almost fell off my chair. I knew Teen Martha would at least try it, but she really liked it. Dude Martha ate huge quantities of the turkey plain and said he liked it. I thought it was delicious. I loved wrapping it in lettuce (I felt so noble using lettuce instead of tortillas!). It drips a little when you eat it but not too bad. Mr. MarthaAndMe needs some lessons in how to roll up the lettuce, but other than that, he enjoyed it too.

This will be something I make again and again I think – very quick and very healthy and no one will whine.

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January 5, 2010

One of the only Martha goals I had for this holiday season was to make the croquembouche in December Living. To me, the croquembouche is somehow quintessential Martha. I think I must have seen her make it years ago on her tv show and it stuck in my brain as the most Martha thing, ever. It is pretty over the top.

I had planned to make it for Christmas Eve, but was waylayed by a terrible abdominal muscle pull that made it impossible to do anything. Any movement was torture. I’m actually still working through the tail end of it, but am pushing through it to do the things I want to get done.

We had two remaining holiday parties this past weekend and I decided the croquembouche was definitely going to go to one of them. I decided to make it for my in-laws, since she asked me to bring dessert.

I read and re-read the instructions several times, gearing up for what felt like my Martha Olympic event. There were three components – the round cream puffs, the caramel cream to fill them with, and the caramel sugar to glue them together with and to use as spun sugar (not part of the recipe, but I’ve seen Martha do it before). I made the caramel cream the day before and kept it refrigerated. That went quite smoothly.

The cream puffs were pretty basic to make – the same as other cream puffs I’ve made in the past. I didn’t find Martha’s instructions too helpful. She said to make them the size of quarters, but didn’t indicate how tall. It took some experimenting to get that right. Whenever I’ve made cream puffs before, I’ve just used a spoon, but this required a pastry bag. Eek. I hate pastry bags. Not only do I have a mental block about where to put the plastic cuff and the tip, but they always squirt out the back or explode out the side. Mr. MarthaAndMe has no pastry bag fear though, so he stepped in and manned this one quite well.

Once those were made and baked, I finished the caramel cream by folding in the whipped cream. Mr. MarthaAndMe filled the puffs using the pastry bag. He got the job done, but it was a huge mess. Cream was spurting out the end of the bag and all over the place. It was dripping off his hands and he ended up standing over the sink to fill the cream puffs since it was like a creature from the black lagoon.

Next, I made the caramel used to stick them together. Mr. MarthaAndMe almost immediately burned himself dipping the puffs in the caramel. From that point on we used tongs. The caramel was a little hard to work with. I had to keep heating it back up. There might have been a little cursing throughout this process.

Putting the actual tree together was a challenge. Again, I found Martha’s instructions lacking. I didn’t know how many puffs to use to form the base and was worried about running out or having too many leftover. Some more detail about this part would have been helpful. At one point it looked like a bush (croquem-bush as I called it) but Mr. MarthaAndMe kept adding more and showing me where to put more and we got it to come out resembling a tree, albeit a kind of lopsided tree.

I didn’t make the sugar cookies to attach, and instead spun some sugar around it (I just used the caramel and used a fork to sort of whip it around the tree). I have to say that spinning sugar like this made me feel like a total Martha.

I think it turned out pretty nicely. We put it directly on a plate, even though Martha says to put it on parchment. We cut this recipe in half and it sounded like it should be enough – it says the full recipe feeds 30 people.

I held this on my lap for a treacherous half hour drive through snow to my in-laws’ house. It made it safely. Whew. I did keep this refrigerated at home and once we arrived, even though Martha says to keep at room temp. The caramel cream was a bit thin and I was worried about it running.

Everyone enjoyed this – it tasted great. The cream puffs were light and the caramel cream was deep and rich. The caramel used to stick it together and which I spun the sugar out of was a deep brown and really good.  It was a bit challenging to remove cream puffs to eat. They stuck together and broke when you tried to remove them. I’m not sure what Martha thinks you’re supposed to do. I think the cream puffs should have been a bit larger – they were kind of small and didn’t hold a lot of cream. We served this with a tray of cookies and some ice cream, but by itself it would not have been enough for the 6 people we had for dinner.

Now that I know how to make this, I wouldn’t be afraid to try it again.  The most challenging part was controlling the pastry bag and using the caramel sauce without serious injury. I wish I had the skills to make the tree form correctly, but I’m just not talented when it comes to spatial things! My little lopsided tree doesn’t really compare to what Martha produces. Yes, she has food designers, but I’ve seen her construct this with her own hands on tv and she can make it turn out perfectly shaped. Sigh. I know I’ll never be Martha, but sometimes it is frustrating! I am, however, proud that I accomplished this, something I’ve always wanted to try!

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Martha Mondays: 1/11

January 4, 2010

Thanks to Teresa at Homemade Iowa Life, the project for 1/11 is Instant Antique Glass, page 48 of January Martha Stewart Living. If you don’t have the magazine, you need some kind of glass vase, or votive holder, etc, a spray bottle with water and mirror paint in a spray bottle.

You need to work in a ventilated area. Clean the glass and cover the outside with paper. Spray the inside with water then the mirror paint. Turn it upside down on a drying rack so air can circulate and let it dry completely overnight. You can repeat if necessary. The result should look like mercury glass.

I love mercury glass, so I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

Martha Mondays: Silver Dollar Pear Pancakes

January 4, 2010

I hope everyone survived the holidays! After a short break, we’re back to Martha Mondays. Today’s recipe was Silver Dollar Pear Pancakes, chosen by Pru at Perfecting Pru. We had these for breakfast on Sunday. It’s Martha’s basic buttermilk pancake recipe (which is almost the same as my recipe, except she uses more buttermilk), but you start by placing thin slices of pear that have been dipped in maple syrup and cinnamon on the griddle and letting them cook for a minute. Then you put the batter over them.

I liked these. The pear is an interesting flavor. It was kind of a sticky mess on the griddle, but they did taste good. It was nice to try something different for breakfast.

If you made this, please post a link to your results or a comment saying what you thought. Visit the other members’ blogs.

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Cheesy Garlic Smashed Potatoes

January 3, 2010

For one of the holiday events we went to, I was assigned a potato dish. I made this one up and it was really, really good. I took a photo of this, but we’ve had yet another camera malfunction. The camera somehow got set on panorama and it doesn’t save the photo unless you take 3 all in a row to make the panorama. Sigh. I am going to find the time to sit down with the instruction book for this camera if it kills me.

Cheesy Garlic Smashed Potatoes
Boil 5 lbs red potatoes until tender. Pull the skin off 2/3 of the potatoes. Smash with 1 stick of unsalted butter, 4 garlic cloves (finely chopped), the tops of 4 scallions (thinly sliced), 1/2 cup cream, 1/2 container sour cream, salt and pepper, 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, and 1 cup grated herb and garlic jack cheese (you can substitute any other cheese you want for this). Smash, but don’t mash the potatoes. You can keep this hot in a baking dish in the oven until ready to serve. If you do so, sprinkle the top with paprika. Serves 10.

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Pork Paillards

January 2, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I tried the Chicken Paillards from January Martha Stewart Living, but it wasn’t a success. I decided to give Martha another chance and made Pork Paillards from the same article. This one was a winner, gang!

You start with a pork tenderloin and trim it (something I admit I’ve never done before). You then slice it into 1/2 inch pieces and then pound them to about 1/4 inch. This went very smoothly.

You cook the pork in grapeseed oil (which I specifically bought for this). Once that’s done, you take it out and add white wine. I had none but found a dusty old bottle of champagne in the basement (we don’t drink, but someone must have given it to me a long time ago). I used 1/4 cup of that. Scrape up the bits and reduce the wine, then add 1/2 cup chicken stock. Reduce that, then add 3/4 cup sour cream and 1/4 tsp smoked paprika. I got some smoked paprika for Christmas so I was excited to try it.

I served this over whole wheat egg noodles. I loved it. I am a big fan of beef stroganoff and this was like the pork version. The smoked paprika gave it a really interesting, deep flavor. The pork was thin and tender. I would definitely make this again!

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Happy New Year!

January 1, 2010

Happy New Year! 2010 is here and to help ring it in, we had our traditional fondue party last night. We’ve been doing this for years. It started as something fun to do while we were home with small kids and has now become a tradition among our daughter’s friends, who come every year. I like it because it gives a purpose to the holiday for me and we have fun food, and then I can go to bed at 10!

In addition to the cheese and chocolate fondue, this year I made some appetizers. I made cocktail wieners – so not Martha but a kitschy thing I like to make. It’s very simple – mix a bag of mini wieners with half a jar of grape jelly and half a bottle of chili sauce and heat it up.

I also made stuffed mushrooms. I used baby bella mushrooms and filled them with a mix of crabmeat, cream cheese, mustard, dill, lemon juice, bread crumbs and salt and pepper. I put the mushrooms in a baking dish and just covered the bottom with chicken broth. I covered it and baked for 15 min at 400.

I bought a bag of mini vegetable egg rolls and served those with sweet and sour sauce. Then I made up a puff pastry item (channeling my inner Martha). I started with two sheets of puff pastry, which I rolled out to make a bit thinner. Then I mixed 3/4 jar of pesto with 8 oz. of goat cheese in the Cuisinart with some pepper. I spread this mix on the puff pastry and then placed prosciutto on top (I used about 12 pieces of paper thin prosciutto). I rolled them into logs, sealed the edges with water, and refrigerated (a trick I learned from Martha). Then I sliced them and baked at 350 for about 10-15 minutes until they were brown and cooked through. I liked them, but thought they were a little salty.

The fondue went well, but as always it is hours of cutting up food! With the cheese, I served: ham, chicken sausage, marinated chicken breasts, French bread, pumpernickel/rye, pear, apple, grapes, cherry tomato, broccoli, and cauliflower. With the chocolate: pretzel logs, graham crackers, marshmallows, pineapple, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, banana, tangerine, rice krispies, pound cake, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and chocolate chip biscotti. We had rainbow sprinkles, chopped nuts, and chopped white chocolate to roll things in as well. Beverages were sparking apple juice, sparkling white grape juice, sparkling red grape juice and cola. We had a bottle of sparkling apple pomegranate juice, but the screw top lid was stuck and when Mr. MarthaAndMe finally got it off, it ended up breaking the top of the bottle off, so we had to toss that one.

I loved the way my table looked, even if it was not up to Martha’s standards. I used my gold tablecloth. I went to the party store and bought plates, cups, and napkins that say Happy New Year. I bought a string of New Year garland which went down the center of the table. Each person got a hat, a noisemaker and two little champagne poppers. Also in the center of the table I placed a few different metal noisemakers, a big horn, a little gold hat and a feathered New Year’s tiara. It looked festive and cute.

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