Monday, March 30, 2015

Plain 'n Fancy, Food that is

In the interests of scientific advance, I tested the tamarind sauce, as a marinade for plain old flounder.  Just spread a couple of teaspoons over, about an hour before baking, then, before putting it into a 380F oven for 15 minutes, shook homemade breadcrumbs over, at last a use for them, and a nice shake of lemon zest.

The result is well worth the doing.  Flounder is very amenable to any sort of flavoring, and this one worked so well.  With frozen peas, from Canada, too early for our locals, Canadian Doll did a little dance about this, and instant mashed potato.  That's the plain part.  The fancy part is the marinade etc.

This made two dinners, and there's plenty of the sauce left for other adventures.

Now I have to go in search of spackle to get started on painting the studio.  One wall at a time, usual procedure.  But it's getting harder and harder to start the first wall..I blame the Congress. Gridlock around the can of paint.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Enough Tamarind, for now, that is, and out to the Preserve

Since I did promise to report back on my tamarind cooking exploits, and before you all scroll on past, eyes rolling, isn't she ever going to move on from ***** tamarind, I just thought you'd like to see some results.

I made the Tamarind/Ginger/Jaggery sauce from my Indian cookbook, and had all the ingredients in the house, always a good start.  Except I didn't have fresh ginger, but I did have an excellent ginger powder which worked, too.  Jaggery? I didn't know either, but it turns out it's a mix of honey and molasses, both of which I always have.  

Clockwise from bottom left, box of remaining pods, Indian cookbook, seed debris, tiny cup of pulp and shell debris.

So I had to get half a cup of tamarind pulp, which amounted to about seven pods of it, and go from there. It's the stickiest substance in creation, but washes off the cook surprisingly easily.

And I saved the seeds, of course, and will dry and plant them months hence. I already planted the ones I was soaking, so we'll see what happens with them.

Anyway, the sauce, quite meditative, longish prep time, you have to be in the mood for this,  you make turmeric juice by soaking the t. pulp in a cup of hot water for half an hour, then straining it to remove the seeds and debris.  

Then you add in the other ingredients, then cook it down to about three quarters of a cup of the most pungent and wonderful stuff you can imagine. 

 Here it is cooking down, and on the left are the saved and cleaned seeds from this batch.

The sauce involves the three items mentioned in its name, plus cumin, and she adds raisins, but I didn't because I don't like them.  She had a touch of asafoetida too, which I didn't but I don't think I missed much.

Only a touch is needed to go with fish, or chicken, or maybe to add to a marinade.  And I cracked up when I discovered it's very much like Worcestershire sauce!  who knew.  But much better, because all freshly made.  So I'd say it's worth the effort because it will last ages, and was quite fun to work with.  I think some people might just prefer to trot out and buy Worcestershire, but that's them.

All in all, I think tamarind is a food, a hobby, a gardening sideline, and well worth the price of admission.

Then I decided that it was high time I got out and about, in field and fen, you know, and went off to the Preserve, warmly togged up in warm hat, coat, etc, with binoculars ready and camera, too. Very muddy underfoot, but my sturdy shoes don't care.

I spotted fox scat, so the red foxes are still around despite the winter, and trees where the beavers have bitten through, felled a few big ones, and one of my pix has one that's about to go, so I didn't stay long there.  And out on the lake there was a big flock of American mergansers, they're a long and beautiful duck/goose sort of bird, wonderful in flight, but too far away for my camera.  

I was hoping to see them, right time of year for them to stop by a few days on the lake. They took off several times, all flying in formation low over the water, amazing to watch.  One flight went right over my head, too fast for me to do more than admire. The males are brilliant white and black, the females browner, but with fancy fluffy hats.

Note the evidence of beaver work above, that tree in the middle ready to come down

 Ice seen from two sides of the lake.

Big ice floes on the lake, and the sound of the water lapping under the edges was musical.  Probably it will be gone by the next time I get out there, so you are treated to more than enough pix of the general scene.  First trip out there in months, and wonderful to be back. 

This is one of my favorite little places in the preserve, an elegant way of crossing a small chasm, and very Zen as you descend slowly and carefully, stop in the middle, then ascend.  Never fails to change your sense of where you are.  I think this evokes the poet in most of us.

So that was today. Oh, and I blew the Easter eggs, ready to decorate in a day or two when they are dry.  No pix yet, you know what eggs look like! and these are just empty ones which look exactly like full ones.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

When in Doubt, Go All Out 6WS

More adventures with tamarinds before I leave this subject.  I found that when you remove one from the shell, it has a kind of netting of fibers that pull off quite easily, leaving behind edible pulp, which you can pull apart into segments, each with a seed in the middle.  Eat off the pulp, very nice, and here are a few segments in the fridge, drying a little to see if that affects them

and I then wondered hm, what about the seeds.

I figured that since they are rock hard, they need help to germinate, just as big seeds like morning glory need a nick or abrasion and soaking.  So I put a couple directly into a little container of potting soil inside a baggie to act like a greenhouse

and I'm soaking another couple which I nicked, for a day or so before planting them.   

And since there are tons of seeds in the package, I have quite a few to experiment with.  Not hoping for a tree, exactly, just interested to see if I can get an interesting houseplant out of the experiment.

I did find a good recipe in my Indian cookbook for a sauce made with tamarind and ginger, which I'll try, since it looks good for a number of uses. I bet I end up with yet another little nameless container of red sauce in the freezer.

And I found a lot of total duds by googling, honestly, there ought to be a law.  Such as the dope who writes a recipe she names Tamarind Chicken Curry, no sign of any curry spices, then I notice that curry leaves are one of the ingredients.  She doesn't know it's not spicy? that curry leaves have nada to do with the spices involved in making a curry? evidently not.  You use them anywhere you'd use a bay leaf, add wonderful depth of flavor to vegetables.

Clearly not a knowledgeable cook, or perhaps her editor is at fault, but there's her recipe out there...probably a good chicken recipe, but not what you'd expect if you were all set to eat a nice chicken curry.  I blame the English language for calling these harmless little leaves by a wrong name, really.

This is why I was asking if any blogistas use tamarind in cooking, so that I'll get something that's worth trying.  If I find something good, if the sauce I found in my Indian cookbook is good, I'll let you know about it.  

There are as many dud recipes on the internet as there are quack medicines, and that's saying something.  And there are a lot of multi ingredient multi stage recipes that, as dogonart observed, aren't worth the trouble.  I like simple, and I think flavor likes simple, too. Not that I have any strong feelings on the matter, of course.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Adventures with Tamarinds

In which the intrepid shopper realizes that the Asian store is probably a likely place to find them, tamarind not being so exotic and strange to other nations, and indeed went there and did so.

These are fresh tamarinds, not processed or anything, and taste different from the little chunk our instructor gave me yesterday. I wonder if hers was dried in some way. Hers was more pungent, very delicious, but the fresh ones are gentler, still good, though.  Anyway, they're known as the date of India, and if you pinch off a bit of the flesh and taste, you'll see why.  But not as sweet as dates, and more interesting.

But that's getting ahead.  Here's the box as found in the store. The labels says to eat as snack, okay, I can manage that.  

Once open, I was a bit puzzled about what to do next. 

So I figured, oh just plunge in, famous last words, and broke one open. And this is how it looked.

The outer casing is brittle and has a fine network of lines inside. The flesh inside, in which I suppose are seeds, haven't got in there yet, is soft and easy to pinch off a bit to sample.  It all looks a bit x-rated, NSFW, but keep calm and carry on sampling.

My friend and handyman happened to stop in at that point to do some measuring, and he's also a great cook, so I made him taste, too.  Like me he'd heard of, but never eaten, tamarind.  Not sure he wants to proceed, but he did try it and said, hm, interesting.  His taste in food not quite as exotic as mine, but he's still game to taste anyway.

So I have to continue with this and see what happens.  They instruct you firmly to refrigerate them, so I will.  And I need to find out more activities than just eating as a snack, not that there's anything wrong with that..what do you do about seeds, etc.  

A couple of yesterday's group asked about tamarind paste, and the lecturer said no, not never, no, nasty, don't.  So I figured better to find the actual fruit.  If any innocent passers by among our blogistas knows any great recipes for tamarind, please say. 

I'm currently thinking of spreading with homemade soft cheese on bread.  But after that point, what next.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Day in the Herb Garden, virtually that is

Today I attended the annual program of the Delaware Valley Unit of the Herb Society of America,  "Growing and Tasting: Herbs from Around the World."   Helen Hamilton, multi talented lady, organized and ran the day, and as a resident of the venue where we met, as well as a member in long standing of the DV Unit of the Herb Society, enabled us to use the location and the technical skills as well as the talent of their resident chefs.

The first speaker, Shyamala Sharma, native of India, but longtime resident of the US, is a key member of the Master Gardeners of Middlesex county, and of the E.A.R.T.H Center of Rutgers, our State University.  

The second speaker,Lorraine Kiefer, is owner and director of Triple Oaks, a landscaping, nursery and teaching enterprise in south Jersey.  Both are accomplished gardeners, historians of herbs and spices, and fine cooks, and recognized authorities in the fields of gardening and the culinary uses of herbs and spices.

Both speakers brought samples of herbs to sniff and enjoy, spices to pinch, taste and smell, and take home samples. First time I had the chance to sniff asafoetida and discover just how pungent it is, and to taste tamarind, a sample of which came home with me. And Lorraine brought in as well as a wide range of planted herbs, violet plants in bloom, which were scented, first time I'd smelled the sweetness of violets.  They're quite different from the wild violets which don't smell at all.

And the luncheon at the end of the morning comprised dishes from recipes supplied by the speakers to the chefs of the venue where we met. 

Anyway, it was all great fun and well designed, very good humored, dozens of participants, who all left happy.  And I resolved to make sure I get to visit some of the gardens around here where classes are given and people like Shyamala and Lorraine share their expertise!

Now I have to study tamarind.  Watch this space..also I have to figure out how to introduce 187 new herbs into my little patio space.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Marcella, Chowder and Me

This morning unleashed a storm of cooking since the chicken thighs I'd put in the fridge to thaw couldn't wait any longer, so I cut them into small pieces, and sauteed two thighs then added in the Marcella Hazan simple tomato sauce I cooked and froze the other day

and the other two thighs I sauteed ready to use with the plum sauce I made and froze.   

Six meals out of four chicken thighs.  I did add a chunk of thyme pesto to the simple chicken, and oregano pesto to the tomato sauce one, and a sprinkling of lemon zest on top to finish.  I never buy chicken breast, since I find it dry and not so interesting.

The other seasonings were equally simple:  fresh ground black pepper, shake of kosher salt, garlic, onions.

And lunch was a bowl of the seafood chowder I made the other day and never mentioned in here, very good, using part of the seafood mix I'd included in a seafood pasta dish I was living on last week, I added in some pieces of flounder to the chowder, too.  And a piece of homebaked bread to go with.

There was also some pasta left over from the seafood p. dish, so I added it into the chowder instead of the usual potato.   This is a Manhattan style chowder, more or less, a forgettaboudit one, not the elite New England style chowder.  And there are several more meals of it in the freezer.  In fact I've used up all my freezer containers at this point.

Fortunately I've trained myself to remember to label the containers, since the plum sauce, the tomato sauce, and the chowders all look very much alike when frozen.  I like having plenty of choice in the freezer since, though I do like to cook, I don't always like to cook, and do like a day off here and there.

And while all this was going on, I was rising a batch of bread dough, flours were ap, wholewheat white and oat.  The last batch was heavy in pulse food flours, lentils, split peas, and though very good, was a bit crumbly to cut.  It toasted nicely though. 

The original recipe is from the Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day book, which I swear by, for great artisanal bread with minimal effort. You'll note all the little scribbled reminders on the favorite page.  And since I got the tip from Pepin about putting the dough into a nonstick big casserole, and found what a wonderful crust it gave, far better than the nonstick loaf pans I'd used, that's been my go-to pot.  You mix the dough up in it, rise in it, bake in it, and pop it out at the end, dust off the pan and it's ready for the next time.

In case you wonder how a lady living alone manages to get through all this food, I do have friends who also benefit from it, and Handsome Son can always count on a decent meal here.  So there's that.  But I'm happy to dine alone.  It's good company!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Plum and apple sauce ready for future dishes

I used the rest of the dino plums and one remaining Granny Smith apple, best in the world for cooking, left skin on plums, peeled the apple, cooked them gently with honey and made a cornstarch thickening and added it in.  

You see the pieces, then the resulting sauce.  I reduced the size with the stick blender, but left enough texture so that it didn't turn into babyfood.

And now it's in two containers in the freezer, ready to use probably at Easter with ham, and before then with chicken.  Very tart and interesting sauce to cut the sweetness of the meat.

All this, and the plum tart, was happening yesterday between drop in visits from various people who all had urgent needs to discuss!  so, far from being a relaxing activity, the cooking turned into a shoehorned-into-available-time activity.  But the food didn't seem to care.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Marian Burros' Plum Tart, a little out of season

Some years I make this with the small purple plums you get in August, but last year they were missing in action, and I didn't. And this morning, in the Asian store, there was a terrific price on what they call Dinosaur Plums.  So I thought, hm, let's try them. I know they're from Chile, which I usually don't buy, too much lost in transit, but for once I figured it wouldn't hurt.

So in the middle of setting out ingredients this afternoon, using the ancient NYT clipping I saved years ago and put in my recipe binder, found that since I don't often buy sugar, I was out of it. Except for some rather lumpy brown sugar.  But oh well, I already had the wrong plums, why not try the wrong sugar too and see what happened.  I needed unsalted butter and only had salted. And I used for the first time an eight inch round pan a friend gave me since he was never going to use it again.  Nice and dark with use, and now I know it needs a shorter baking time than the glass I often use.  Thinner walls, I suppose.

Sooooo, long story short, and remembering yet again I have to buy a deeper bowl for use with electric mixer, to avoid the hurled bits of ingredients flying all over me, the kitchen walls, the cat and the general environment, I set to work.  And it came out okay considering I was also paused in the middle by a visit from  a neighbor wanting to see me before she left for India on a deathbed, very sad, mission, so she got priority.

It was baked in time for afternoon tea.  I do like a little something in the middle of the afternoon if I'm home then. It was in fact pretty nice.  You sprinkle with lemon juice, sugar if, unlike me, you have some, and cinnamon after you've put the batter in the pan and studded it with plums.

The plums, though ripe, were actually quite tart, and I might make a plum sauce with what I have left, to go with chicken.  For 88 cents a pound, not a bad buy. The plums, not the chicken.

And this blogpost was paused to see another neighbor, saying goodbye before also leaving for India with Neighbor One, except they're on vacation, so finally I get back to finish..and to recommend this great recipe, which you can probably find online.  You could use other fruit, too, as long as it's tangy and interesting, not too sweet.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Despite the snowy equinox, cooking goes bravely on

So, this being the state of affairs outside, on the first day of spring, it demanded action in the kitchen.  

Wednesday was the Bite Club meeting, that's my cookbook book club,  and a reunion with the members I hadn't seen for ages, owing to my dodgy winter.  This is the group where everyone brings samples from the current cookbook to share all around. And one of them had made Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce, three kinds. The simple one was so wonderful I decided it had to enter my repertoire.  Just up my alley: simple and marvelous.

So I made a batch today, and you see the results. 

So good I'm thinking of making my own pasta tomorrow to go with, along with some seafood mix that will be very good.

 One thing I sharply departed from:  when you make the sauce, a really simple thing with can of whole tomatoes, (fresh ones in season), butter, salt, an onion cut in two and cooked along, you do all that, slow simmering, wonderful smell, all good so far..   

Then Marcella commits a food crime: she says to discard the onion.  See that perfectly good onion sitting in that dish?  My outrage was as loud as the Ds on seeing the snowstorm when they planned gardening.  Not in my kitchen, dear M.  It's Food!  you're talking to the woman who made next door's Halloween pumpkin into soup.  Discard an onion? Nevah.

So I cut it up, and roasted it with a spritz of olive oil, in a 375 F oven for about 45 minutes, and made it the bed for an egg over easy. Fresh ground black pepper on the egg. Perfect little supper, with a nice glass of Merlot. Just sayin.

Spring Equinox, Gardeners Ready..

Today being the Spring Equinox, at least as of this evening, the Dollivers and Greensleeves and a couple of dogs figured that the first day of Spring was planting time.  And after all, Boud had already prepared planters for seeding.

So, all togged up in spring dresses and with tools ready, the dogs eager to dig up whatever they planted, they were all dismayed to find we are in the midst of a snowstorm. 

After establishing that it wouldn't be possible to plant their Flower Carpet Bringing Butterflies and Hummingbirds, they turned their backs on the whole idea.  

Elton had already decided on his program, though, and refused to postpone it.  

So he played out their high dudgeon with Spring is In the Air, The Farmer in the Dell (bad idea, it caused ructions among the Dollivers as they fought over who was the Big Cheese in the song), and Oh What  a Beautiful Morning. Ever the optimist, despite experience.   You'll notice he had not abandoned his winter sweater and hat, though, spring or no spring.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Welcome to new readers, and thank you for coming back, regular readers and commenters.  See the button to your right, which takes you to the blog of the fearless leader of this annual event, Vicki, of Two Bags Full, whose idea is to introduce blogs to new readers and readers to blogs they might never have found before.

Meanwhile, back here, this blog is what you might call wide ranging, from stories of my houseplants and the adventures of being the neighborhood Plant Clinic Lady, not a job I applied for

To book reviews and why I liked or didn't what I'm currently involved in reading

To food and the adventures I have in the kitchen, creating and improvising all kinds of dishes, particularly with vegetables from my farmshare, and the occasional recipe review from other people's books

To the resident pets, Marigold the Burmese and Duncan, the Big Black Cat, and, watch this space, there may be a new resident chez Boud before too long, a singing one..

 Marigold here suspiciously checking on a mouse I knitted from yarn I'd spun

 And Duncan assisting with stick weaving

To all kinds of crafty and home decorish ideas usually low or no-budget ones

 No cost rearrangement to free up counter space

 No cost arrangement to provide myself with lower counter space to accommodate my lack of inches.

To my local walks in a beautiful region

Local events get in here, too, here the Italian American festival of 2014, best food evah

and last but they would say far from least, to the life and times of the Dollivers, my five character dolls, Blondie Firstborn, Dreads, Call Me Michelle, Bette Davis and NameMe, who have adventures in Field and Fen, get about all over the place, pose everywhere, and have their traveling accompanist, pianist Elton, who creates popup concerts on request.

They have an extensive wardrobe, thanks to their endless demands on Boud to create outfits, knitted, crocheted, stitched and draped, for every new venture

Serious weight training, left to right NameMe, Dreads, Call Me Michelle, Bette Davis, Blondie Firstborn

 Birdwatching at Cape May

 Doctor's office visit

2014 Westminster Dog Show at home, with Dog Wrangler Name Me dolled up to show her kennel, see the Westminster winner at her feet, from the Dolliver Kennels

NameMe is active in the kitchen, too, here making pasta from scratch

 She left the resident agility mixed breed in charge of the Easter eggs

 Pianist Elton leads a singalong

Friend in both art and music, Stefi accompanies the singers dressed in their best black

 And here the assembled company welcomes back the Chilean miners to safety, wearing sympathy hard hats

They love a wedding, note the fascinator worn by Bette Davis

This blog also comes with a little gift to be drawn at random from your comments on this blogpost.  To see it, scroll back a post or cunning I am, forcing you to read more..but be aware that you don't need to sign up as a follower, though I'd love you if you did, and that you don't need a blog in order to be in the drawing for the little giftie.  

All you need do is put a comment in here.  Drawing will be on February 15th, when I'll announce the lucky winner and request an address to ship to.

And thank you so much for stopping by today, please browse here and enjoy the fun.