Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Grow Your Own: Sprouts and Microgreens

Pea shoots ready for my salad....
So, readers, you may have noticed I haven't written in a few weeks. I'm fortunate enough to have lots of work to do: live streaming cooking sessions with some of my classes, scaling up food production in the garden for local families and to contribute to the aggregated PopUp Food Hub, and working with a team to develop distance learning activities. And I've been cooking. A LOT.

One of my favorite virtual lessons I helped to put together was for growing sprouts and microgreens with what you have around. It all started about a month ago, when I took an online class offered by local microgreen farmers, Little Wild Things, and since then I have been growing and using sprouts on just about everything...

Celery sprouts on lentil soup
Kale microgreens on tacos

In case you'd like to try your hand at growing these inexpensive, easy, and nutrient-dense foods -- they are 4-6 times more nutritious than the full grown plant! -- here's a link to the instructions

It only takes about a week from when you plant the seeds to when you are devouring the fruits (sprouts?) of your labors. I found that I had reasonably good luck even with older seeds, like dried peas from 2016 that never got planted in the garden. Even with... popping corn from my pantry! (Who knew you could sprout that? Not me, until a couple of weeks ago!)

Let me know if you try growing some yourself... and of course what delicious dish you used your homegrown microgreens in!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Down in the dumplings

I adore dumplings. I haven't been able to get them out of my head since Matt and I ate some, what, two weeks ago from Copycat. My landlady, Jacky, has a soft spot for them, too. So when an opportunity arose this week to participate in a free Slow Food Live streaming session on how to make proper Chinese dumplings led by a Boston-area chef who recently authored Double Awesome Chinese Food, you can bet we signed up.

As a food educator myself, I really enjoyed learning from a good instructor. Mei Li was a lovely teacher -- a funny and patient mom who smiled as a pack of novice dumpling makers from around the country hung on her every word for how to make simple, perfect dough and tried our hands -- literally -- at making our own little morsels of pillowy deliciousness. Really, it's just flour and hot water? Amazing. I especially loved that the chef herself demonstrated how she made beautiful but imperfectly sized dumplings, and Jacky and I were both encouraged by the fact that she successfully made these dumplings with her four-year-old from time to time, using whatever filling ingredients she had on hand. Corn, beans, and pre-roasted squash, say, or ground lamb and curry spices. Our dumplings were filled with a finely chopped mix of the contents of my vegetable drawer: red cabbage, carrots, shiitakes, ginger, and green garlic. Delish! Round two was filled with the veg mix plus some minced chicken and hot sauce. Also delish! (Don't shake your head at me, of course there was a round two!)

Tasty and so quick to make! I think the longest part of the process was letting the dough rest for 30 minutes before rolling it out and filling it. (I was convinced a handful of times during that thirty-minute eternity that enough time had passed, but luckily Jacky was actually watching the clock and wouldn't let me start handling our dough until a full half hour had passed. It was worth the wait.) Here's how to make your own, based on our slightly floured, handwritten notes:

Basic Dumplings
Makes about 24 dumplings
  • 2 cups flour (we did 1 cup each of white and whole wheat), plus a few TBSP for rolling out dough
  • 1 cup just-boiled water
  • 2 cups or so of whatever filling you have around, mashed or finely chopped, such as...
    traditional potstickers: cooked shrimp or shredded pork with mushrooms and scallion
    vegetarian: mixed veggies with ginger and garlic
    southern: leftover fried chicken with hot sauce
    polish: mashed potatoes with cooked onions and shredded cheese
  • dipping sauce: we used a few tsp soy sauce + 1/2 tsp freshly minced ginger


Use a wooden spoon to combine flour with 3/4 cup hot water in a medium bowl. Stir until most of the flour comes together into a crumbly dough, adding more hot water as needed, 1 TBSP at a time. Once it is cool enough to handle, gently knead it with your hands until it forms a soft ball that feels "like a baby's butt." Don't roll your eyes at me, I can't help that it's an accurate description! Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let dough rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, gather/chop/cook your filling. Seriously, the world is your oyster here, people, clean out your fridge!

After your dough has rested for the requisite 30 minutes, divide it into 4 sections.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one section at a time into a fat worm, keeping the remaining sections of dough in the towel-covered bowl to keep them moist.

Cut each dough worm into 6-8 little marshmallow-sized blobs.

Roll out each marshmallow until it is a thin, roughly circular pancake -- say 3-5" in diameter. These are your dumpling wrappers. I would only roll out one or two at a time, so they don't start sticking to your counter or cutting board. Or you can commiserate with a co-chef, as I did, with one of us rolling out dough and the other filling/sealing dumplings.

Holding one dumpling wrapper in one hand, use a spoon in your other hand to scoop a teaspoon or two of filling into the center of your dumpling wrapper, Fold the two sides together, as if making a taco, and pinch the edges together. You may need to wet the inner edges of the dumpling to get them to stick. (Our dough was still nice and moist so we didn't need to do this, but I've had to use water in the past when sealing dumplings.) Now you have your dumplings ready to cook or freeze!

Mei Li showed us how to steam fry our dumplings, which is my favorite way to have them: heat just a splash of oil in a heavy pan (we used cast iron) until it shimmers, over medium heat, and add a half dozen dumplings. Once the bottoms have browned, carefully pour in 1/2 cup of water and quickly cover. Check after a couple of minutes -- if the water has all evaporated, let the dumplings cook for another minute or two to crisp up the bottoms and then put them on your plate drizzled with your ginger soy sauce. You can start steam frying the next batch while you enjoy the first one.

Easy, right? Okay, fine, if you want tips on fancy dumpling folding, you can order a copy of the Double Awesome Chinese Food cookbook. I think Jacky already did....

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Brown bagging it

Our fair capital city has a lot of problems, it's true. Overzealous parking enforcement. Corrupt politicians. Outrageous rush hour traffic. But every so often our DC city council does something truly great. Thank you to our local officials for allowing to-go cocktails during these crazy times. It supports our local bars and restaurants AND our sanity.

I very much enjoyed the some-assembly-required negroni Matt ordered for me last night as part of our delicious takeout dinner from Copycat. Props to my friend Jenny for telling me about their tasty food (and also forewarning me that they would not sell me a cocktail unless I also ordered food). I would bike over to H Street for more of those dumplings and hand pulled noodles any day. And they do make a mean cocktail. Or, rather, they gave me the tools to make my own, including a piece of fresh orange zest and a rather sizeable ice cube.

Classy, delicious, and earth friendly with its reusable packaging, this was my kind of drink:


Happy Earth Month, indeed!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Gardening has NOT been cancelled

A dear friend sent this to me a few weeks ago and I have kept it on my desktop ever since:

During relative seclusion and 10-hour days in front of a computer in recent weeks, I've made it a point to get outdoors -- safely -- and be around green things as much as possible. Though I did go into a bit of a weeding frenzy in the backyard garden after a couple brunch cocktails on Easter Sunday, most of my outdoor time lately has been spent at my school's garden. I think some days it's the best part of my week to spend a couple of hours shoveling wheelbarrowfuls of wood chips or digging up tenacious wire grass invading the garden paths. (It's a great workout, too -- thanks for allowing us to garden, Mayor Bowser.) I didn't even mind getting my shoes and pants completely soaked last week while repairing the drip irrigation system. Nor was I phased by getting sprayed in the face a few times on a warm, sunny afternoon as I fumbled to turn off the water source.

Many folks have walked past -- at a safe distance -- while I've been in the garden in recent weeks. Some of them have been kids and parents that I know, and who were excited to see that I was still nurturing the spaces they'd helped with earlier this school year. But many of the casual, garden-side conversations were with total strangers strolling past. A few stopped to ask how they might help, and a handful of them commented on how they pass by the garden regularly and are elated to see healthy, colorful living things thriving amid these times where it seems like all there is is bad news. (While I still support my local NPR station, I can't handle more than 30 minutes of news a day these days.) Gardens are a sign of hope, proof that life continues, and plants can nourish our bodies and souls.

Since I technically can't invite any of you to join me in the garden in person, let me offer you some virtual good news for your soul by way of the garden video I made for my students a few weeks ago. It is my first official stint on YouTube, but luckily I am behind the camera for most of it:

Yes, I love being in the garden. But when it comes down to it, nothing is as fun or rewarding as gardening with kiddos. I hope we can get back to this soon:

Friday, April 10, 2020

I dream of chocolate

I might have just made the best chocolate ice cream I have ever eaten. I might have to go vegan after today. Nothing will ever be as good as the ice cream I licked off my fingers as I scraped the last of the milk chocolate custard from the edges of my churn.

Sure, I'll get to the recipe -- that's why most of you are here, I imagine, especially during these days of social isolation that naturally result in more of us spending more time in the kitchen than usual -- but first, I feel you need a bit of context. You see, it's my boyfriend's birthday and he LOVES ice cream cake. And I don't mean fancy, high end ice cream cake. I mean grocery store ice cream cake. (Don't shake your head at me. He's awfully cute and charming, and in my defense I didn't know about his occasional habit of eating a half of an chocolate ice cream pie in a single sitting until after I was properly smitten. Luckily he bikes a lot to burn it off.)

So anyway, I was talking with my cousin a little while ago and mentioned that I wanted to try making an ice cream cake for Matt's birthday. Sonia is one of the best baker/confectioners on the planet, so when she suggested I check out some of the recipes on the Smitten Kitchen blog, I did. I believe I managed to find the most elaborate ice cream cake out there. It involves baking cookies and then crumbling them to make the base. And that was just the crust! Two different flavors of homemade frozen custard, from-scratch fudge sauce, freshly whipped cream... that woman is my kind of crazy.

I will spare you the gory details of me trying to secure things like 6 cups of heavy whipping cream in the midst of what seems like a run on all things baking at my local supermarket. Suffice to say, I got most of what i needed for the hot fudge sundae cake. It turned out pretty well, no?

Those are mini peanut butter cups on top. It is the only ingredient I didn't make from scratch. (I know, it seems like a cop out at the end, but did I tell you about the decimated baking aisle at Whole Foods? There was no chocolate to be found. As it was, I had to dip into my emergency chocolate stash at home to have enough for the fudge sauce.) Anyway, while I did have cherries at home to top the ice cream sundae cake, peanut butter cups seemed more Matt-like, and it's his birthday after all.

Thanks for sitting through that backstory. Or at least discreetly skimming through it to get to the recipe. Here it is. I suggest you take up a robust workout regimen before embarking on making this -- let's just say it's a bit rich. I've adapted it here so that it's just the chocolate ice cream part of the Smitten Kitchen recipe. 

Milk Chocolate Frozen Custard
(Makes 1 quart + an extra cup or two*)

  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 6-ish ounces milk chocolate pieces
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put 1 cup of cream and the cocoa powder in a medium pot, whisking to thoroughly blend the cocoa. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer at a very low boil for 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth. Then stir in the remaining 1 1/2 cups cream. Try to resist the urge to just start eating this chocolate cream base. The final product is worth the wait, I promise.

Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in another medium pot, then transfer to a spouted liquid measuring cup. Whisk together egg yolks in the cooled pot. Slowly pour in warm milk/sugar/salt mixture, whisking constantly. Cook mixture over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon.

Pour the custard through the strainer and whisk it into chocolate cream until smooth, then stir in the vanilla.

Chill in the fridge for a full day or overnight. You want it fully chilled before churning in your ice cream maker.

Churn your chilled chocolate custard according to the ice cream machine manufacturer's directions. In most cases, ice cream is churned for 30 minutes then transferred to a container to finish in freezer, but if you like soft serve grab your spoon and get in there after the ice cream thickens a bit.

Enjoy your homemade scoop of chocolate heaven!

(*If you are comparing my recipe to the original, you may notice I used more that half of the original custard base for the ice cream cake in the chocolate ice cream. What can I say, Matt and I prefer chocolate to vanilla ice cream. And I may have set aside about a cup and a half of chocolate ice cream for another surprise later.)

Friday, April 3, 2020

Instant Love

I'm not going to lie, readers: I normally prefer slow food to fast food. Take beans, for instance. Dry beans soaked overnight and then simmered are SO much better than their canned brethren in terms of nutrition, texture, cost, weight (hey, I'm biking these things from the store), and flavor. Sure, sometimes I do grab a can of garbanzos for convenience, but my preference is to invest in the long game. Anything claiming to be "instant" or "quick and easy" is likely to elicit an eye roll from me at best, and sometimes outright scorn.

Well. This December, my favorite cousin, Sonia, gave me an InstantPot for my birthday. (Sorry to all of you other cousins out there reading this, I love you, too.) I'd been hearing about these contraptions of convenience for many months, not only from Sonia but also from interns and parents at my school. Rave reviews all around. I was, of course, very suspicious. Also, I harbor a lifelong fear of kitchen gadgets that might explode and destroy part of my person or house. Pressure cookers fall into this category. (If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you may recall me cowering behind my friend Mike the first time we used his pressure canner back in 2010.)

Well, yesterday morning I woke up hours before my alarm (again). Annoyed to be up before sunrise, I did what any normal foodie would do. I made granola. Also, I was looking for a way to use up 4 cups of oats and not make many dozens of oatmeal cookies since I don't eat a lot of cookies and I am not getting nearly as much exercise as I am used to. Plus, I still have half of a pineapple cake my landlady made me taking up the valuable fridge real estate, so it couldn't be anything requiring refrigeration. But I digress.

Last night, I got to thinking: what goes well with granola? Yogurt! And I am pretty much stuck in my house all day and night, so why not make the yogurt, too? [Cue the sidelong glance across the room at the InstantPot.]

The booklet it came with had a yogurt recipe, but it was a little vague. I don't want to screw up and waste a half gallon of milk nor do I want to blow myself up by accident. (See above,) I looked online for reassurance and wouldn't you know that everyone makes their yogurt differently, and has very emphatic instructions about how to make it the best way. Also, everyone had different opinions on how and when to remove the lid, in some cases while the InstantPot was on(!), so I ended up using my best judgement after all and just going for it. Here is how I made my batch, that came out to almost 4 full pint jars:

Instant Pot Yogurt

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 large spoonful of plain yogurt of your choice
  • Sprinkle of sugar

Pour milk into a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the stove off immediately and let milk cool to 110-120F.

Whisk in your scoop of yogurt and sugar. This is your yogurt "starter." (Honestly, some recipes called for 1/2 cup yogurt to 1 quart of milk; other recipes called for 2 Tablespoons of yogurt to 1/2 gallon of milk. People!!) I added just a bit of sugar because I am a homebrewer and when you have a yeast starter for making beer you always sprinkle in a little sugar. Not a cupful, you sugar fiends, just a sprinkle to keep the healthy bacteria in your yogurt happy. It;s still meant to be a tart yogurt.

Divide your milk/yogurt mixture among 4 pint jars, but do not put on the lids. Put filled jars into Instant Pot's inner, metal bowl, then add a cup or two of water to create your water bath for the jars. Just so we are clear here, though the jars are uncovered, the water does not go into the jars, it goes into the metal inner pot of the Instant Pot. Try not to spill water into the jars.

Secure the lid on the Instant Pot, then choose the Yogurt function. It should flash 8:00 (meaning 8 hours). Press Start. The timer will start counting up. Your yogurt will be done in 8+ hours. I made mine overnight, removed my freshly made jars of yogurt, put a lid on each, and popped them in the fridge. After tasting it, of course.

I ate a couple of mounded spoonfuls right out of the first jar, and then stirred a bit of it into my breakfast borscht -- what, I've been cooking a lot. Delish!!

I think I will stir it into some of that cinnamonny, cardamommy granola from yesterday for my snack later. Yeah, I know, it'll take up some of that precious fridge real estate, but you know what: it's worth it. And it basically takes up the same amount of space as the milk bottle did.

(Don't have an InstaPot? Don't fret. You can also make yogurt with a space heater, blanket, and cutting board like this.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Herbal Medicine

Well, here we are, readers. Home. All of us. With no more excuses for being behind on our blog writing. "I was just... um... sitting on my couch?... not near my computer?... searching for my power cord...?"

While many of us are working hard to distance ourselves physically from others, it is also important to maintain some semblance of social and emotional closeness with those we care about. And just as important to keep our bodies healthy and our minds active. That's a lot to manage. Lately, while I've had plenty of work to do helping to develop distance learning materials for my job, I've been feeling pretty stressed out: worrying about people, not sleeping well, feeling isolated, and all of this amid a dwindling selection of opportunities to get outside of my house and out into nature, where things are still fairly normal (or what passes for normal in this era of CLIMATE CHANGE). Thank goodness gardening is still one of the out-of-the-house exercise activities allowed by our mayor, though I wish I was able to garden with kids. Lord, I miss my students.

[Break to make a calming cup of chamomile tea.]

Today, I attended my first Slow Food Live session, led by herbalist Christine Buckley. Over the course of an hour of the remote (and yet hands-on) "DIY Spa Day" session, we learned about the benefits and uses for two common plants: thyme and chamomile.

Thyme, which grows really well, even in not-so-great garden soil, around these parts is pretty easy to get your hands on. I had some that I'd dried from my garden, which I used to do a calming "facial steam" as part of today's session.

Apparently thyme is the wonder plant, with benefits ranging from antimicrobial (germ-killing) properties to digestion improvement. For me, the two best things about the steam treatment were 1) its calming properties and 2) its respiratory system clearing capabilities. (Though I don't get outside nearly as much as I'd like these past few weeks, I still seem to be suffering from seasonal allergies. Figures.)

To make your own thyme facial steam, just boil some hot water, pour a couple of cups of it into a big bowl, throw in a handful (1/4 cup or more) of fresh or dried leafy thyme branches, and lean over it. Christine recommended putting a towel over your head to keep the relaxing steam a bit more concentrated so it can do its magic -- opening up your pores and your respiratory system -- but for kids or those more sensitive to heat, you can forget the towel part. It was recommended for anyone with a sore throat, seasonal allergies, or a wet cough. Just be careful not to scald yourself or your sinuses! It won't prevent or cure COVID-19, but it will help clear out gunk in your respiratory system and stimulate your nervous system, all while calming you down. Pretty sweet. I might have to do this daily.

Chamomile is the other plant that our herbalism guru focused on today. We made a medicinal-strength cup of tea (i.e., two teabags steeped in just boiled water for 7+ minutes). Then we sipped on the tea while we learned more about the fantastic things that this common, aromatic flower brings to the table. It helps with fever, rashes, and mild sunburns. It's anti-inflammatory, calming, and anti-spasmodic (helps with digestion issues).

Once the teabags cooled in my nearby saucer, it was time to try the chamomile compresses. Which is just to say: I stretched out on the couch and plopped a somewhat squishy chamomile teabag over each eye. Five minutes later, I was a new woman. Or at least a more relaxed one.

I'm very much looking forward to reading through Christine's book, Plant Magic, which I ordered online about 5 minutes later. More to come on herbal remedies and other related tidbits when it arrives in the mail. (Probably a healthier choice than my other recent plant-related fun reading, Amy Stewart's The Drunken Botanist, but the recipes in that one have helped to keep my landlady and I from going completely stir crazy in recent weeks. And it was actually a pretty good read for someone who loves botany, cocktails, and origin stories.)