Sunday, April 29, 2012

Eggs Benedict

When I think of Eggs Benedict, I think of a delicious, indulgent and relaxing breakfast.  However, if you are making it for more than two people, getting it together in a timely fashion is anything but relaxing.  I learned a very useful trick last month from our Bed & Breakfast Chef  when we were in Taos, New Mexico.  Steam your eggs a day ahead of time.
You can buy egg poaching pans for four, six or eight eggs.  The most important thing to remember, is that your pan must have a glass lid, so you can tell when your eggs are nearly done.  I happen to have these two silicone egg poaching pockets, so I thought I'd give them a try. To insure my eggs would come out easily I sprayed the pockets with a non-stick  coating.
When the water was boiling I slid the pockets into the water, and then covered the pan. You cook them until the whites barely jiggle and the yolks are only half cooked, between five to seven minutes.
Immediately place the eggs in a small cold water bath, and cover with ice cubes.  Put saran wrap tightly over the bowl, as eggs absorb other flavors easily, and set in the refrigerator.  I have even let them set for two days before using them.
When you're ready to serve, while the English muffins are toasting, use a slotted spoon to gently place the eggs in a pan of water that is just less than boiling.  You want them to cook slightly but at the same time, you don't want to overcook the yolks.  Another tip from our Chef Lou, is to slip the rounds of Canadian ham into the water.  According to him, that heats and moistens the ham just enough so that it isn't dry. 
I used turkey bacon and leftover asparagus along with shaved white cheddar on top.  A couple of shakes of smoked Spanish paprika and garlic pepper and oh my gosh, it was good.  
Have you ever really thought about the delicious Hollandaise sauce that is traditionally served with Eggs Benedict?  It's rich, creamy, buttery and has anywhere from three to five egg yolks in it.  That's eggs poured over your eggs...Makes me wonder how someone came up with that.  I'm going to work on a non-traditional sauce.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Steamed Pork Dumplings

My husband and I decided to try our hand at making steamed pork dumplings.  I think they should be called pork/shrimp dumplings, but whatever name you attach to them, you will call them delicious.  This recipe is from Chris Kimball, host of America's Test Kitchen.
You will need a bamboo steamer basket. 
Shu Mai-Steamed Dumplings
Makes 40

2 tablespoons Shoyu or other soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
1 pound boneless country-style pork ribs
1/2 pound shrimp
1/4 cup water chestnuts , chopped
4 dried shiitake mushroom caps (3/4 ounce),
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine or substitute dry sherry
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 package 5-1/2 inch egg roll wrappers (1 pound)
2 carrots
Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes. Defrost shrimp, peel and remove vein. Cut each shrimp in half lengthwise. Cut the pork ribs into 1-inch pieces. Finely grate carrots on the small holes of a box grater. Chop the water chestnuts and mince 2 tablespoons of cilantro. Finely grate 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger. After the mushrooms have soaked for 30 minutes, squeeze them dry, then cut into 1/4″ pieces.
Add the soy sauce to a small bowl, sprinkle in the gelatin and let it bloom for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, place half of pork cubes into a food processor and pulse ten 1-second pulses (should be ground into 1/8-inch pieces). Put ground pork in a large bowl.
Add 1/2-lb shrimp and remaining pork to food processor and pulse five 1-second pulses (should be ground into 1/4-inch pieces). Add to the same bowl with other ground pork.
Add soy sauce mixture, chopped water chestnuts, mushrooms, cornstarch, cilantro, sesame oil, wine, vinegar, sugar, ginger, salt, and pepper to the bowl and mix until well combined.
Use a 3" or 3-1/2″ biscuit cutter to cut two rounds from each egg roll wrapper. You can cut in stacks of 6 to 7 wrappers at a time. Cover rounds with moist paper towels to prevent them from drying out.
Lay out 6 rounds at a time, brush the edges lightly with water. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling mixture in the center of each round. With each hand, lift opposite sides of wrapper and pinch to form two pleats. Rotate 90 degrees and pinch again to form two more pleats. Continue two more times until you have eight folds.
Pick up the dumpling. Using your thumb and index finger (as if to form the OK sign, but with the Shu Mai in the middle) gently squeeze near the top of the dumpling to form a “waist.”
Use your middle finger to support the bottom of the dumpling and pack down the filling using your other hand.  Place on a piece of parchment paper sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Immediately cover with damp paper towel to prevent them from drying out. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
Place a small pinch of grated carrot on the center of each dumpling; mostly for appearance. You can also use a single pea.
Cut a round piece of parchment slightly smaller than your steamer basket and poke 20 holes. Spray the parchment with non-stick cooking spray. Even using both baskets, I had to cook the dumplings in two batches to make sure that they don’t touch. Be careful because they will plump slightly during steaming. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes per batch. Serve immediately with chili oil.

The Chili Oil:

2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 small garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt

Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat until it measure 300 degrees on and instant-read thermometer.
Remove pan from heat and stir in pepper flakes, garlic, soy sauce, soy sauce, sugar and table salt.
Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Discard garlic before serving.
These turned out great and opened my mind to all sorts of possibilities as far as the stuffing mixture.  Another good thing about them, they held up well in a sealed container in the refrigerator for two days, so you could make them well in advance of needing them.  I didn't make the chili oil dipping sauce, I simply mixed wasabi with Shoyu and drizzled it down the center of each bundle.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Roasted Banana Muffins

We had some out of town guests recently, and with all the entertaining, comings and goings, I somehow overlooked five nearly ripe bananas in my fruit bowl.  You've probably already guessed where this is going.  By the time I discovered the now, very ripe bananas they were good for only one thing.  That's's time to bake.
After roasting the bananas on the grill, I made a double batch of these delicious muffins.  I use jumbo muffin tins.  I mean really, the only reason to use the standard twelve cup muffin tin, is if you're making them to share with others, and I wasn't.  These light textured muffins are a breakfast hit with wine country guests at The Carneros Inn, in California. 
For the most part, this recipe comes from the Plumpjack Cookbook.
I doubled the recipe ingredients and added an extra banana for good measure.  I used coconut milk instead of regular milk, and they tasted just as good as they have in the past.

Roasted Banana Muffins

2 roasted bananas
1 1/2 Cups of all purpose flour 
1/2  Cup quinoa flour
1 1/4 Cup of sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 Cup of milk
1 large egg, beaten
4 Tb melted unsalted butter
1/2 Cup toasted walnuts, chopped
Heat oven to 400.

Make a 3" slice down the side of the bananas. Lay them on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or til the skins turn brown and the juice from the banana starts to ooze out. Let cool, then scoop out into a bowl and mash with a fork.
In a large bowl combine flours (you can use 1 3/4C of all purpose if you want), sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and whisk to combine evenly.
In another large bowl whisk milk, egg, and melted butter.  Stir in the mashed bananas. 
Thoroughly combine the dry ingredients with the banana mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to blend well.  Lastly, stir in the walnuts.
Either place a paper liner or spray with nonstick cooking spray in each of a twelve cup standard size or one jumbo muffin tray of six.  Spoon the batter into each muffin cup, filling about 3/4 full.
Bake until golden or until toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes.
I wanted to show you this handy-dandy chopper/pickup gadget, called the Bench Scraper. It separates bread dough, chops fine herbs and is great for scooping chopped vegetables into a prep bowl or soup pot.  I  use it all the time, it's such a neat tool.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Swarming Honey Bees

This is so amazing.  I just happened to be in the back yard when it all started.  These bees moved from my neighbor on the South side to the neighbor on my North side.
I've been writing about my neighbors bees for the past year, and how happy I am to have them pollinate all my vegetables, trees and flowers.  Just after noon today they started swarming my back yard, I can tell you that it looked like a bee tornado.  Initially I thought I was hearing a caravan of semi trucks driving down the highway, but I'm not close to the highway.  When I looked up the sky was filled with swarming bees.
According to Wikipedia, swarming is mainly a spring thing, and while it sometimes frightens people, the bees are usually not aggressive at this stage of their life cycle. 
The worker bees create queen cups throughout the year. When the hive gets ready to swarm the queen lays eggs into the queen cups. New queens are raised and the hive may swarm as soon as the queen cells are capped and before the new virgin queens emerge from their queen cells.  A laying queen is too heavy to fly long distances. Therefore, the workers will stop feeding her before the anticipated swarm date and the queen will stop laying eggs. Swarming creates an interruption in the brood cycle of the original colony.
During the swarm preparation, scout bees will simply find a nearby location for the swarm to cluster. This intermediate stop is not for permanent habitation and will normally leave within three days to a suitable location. It is from this temporary location that the cluster will determine the final nest site based on the level of excitement of the dances of the scout bees.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Quinoa Spring Sushi

I know I have talked about quinoa before, and how I can't get enough of it.  Recently, I discovered the Quinoa Queen....she's all about quinoa, so you can imagine how happy I was. You can find her at  Last week she wrote about making sushi with quinoa instead of rice, so I tried it and loved it. 
As she suggested, I used the vegetables I had on hand.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a ripe avocado, but I will when I do this again.
After spreading the quinoa, I layered broccoli sprouts, slivered pickled radish, leftover chunks of salmon from the night before, chopped cilantro and a sprinkling of toasted black sesame seeds.  Lastly, fresh grated horseradish on top.  
I thought they were awesome, and totally worth the effort, which really wasn't that much.  I made some fresh wasabi with Penzey's powder, mixed it with Shoyu, an organically brewed soy sauce and thoroughly enjoyed that meal.

Here is the Quinoa Queens recipe:

DIY Quick-Pickled Ginger
First you’ll have to make the tezu – the vinegar-water pickling liquid. Conveniently, this is the same dressing you’ll use to season your quinoa, so the amounts below are in fact enough for both the pickled ginger and rolls. Use half measures if you are only making the pickled ginger.
4 Tbsp. (60 ml) brown rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. water
2 tsp. liquid honey (or light agave)
2 tsp. sea salt
*1 tiny piece of beet root added to the tezu will colour the ginger a lovely pink hue, but this is optional, as it is only cosmetic.

Whisk together. Set half aside to dress the quinoa.
60 grams/2 oz fresh ginger root, organic if possible

1. Peel the ginger and slice it thinly on a mandolin, grater or exploit your awesome knife skills.
2. Sprinkle the ginger with salt, toss to coat, and let it sit for 30 minutes.
3. Using your hands, squeeze the whole lot of ginger out over a sink, rinse well with cold running water and squeeze out again until it is as dry as possible.
4. Soak the ginger in a glass jar with half of the tezu (it should be submerged; if not add a little more). Let marinate for 15 minutes. Serve.
Cover and store leftovers in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Quinoa Spring Sushi
Makes enough for 6-8 rolls
Sushi Quinoa:
1 ½ cups quinoa (white, black, red, or a combo)
3 cups water
Spring Vegetables – use anything you like and that is in season.
Sesame seeds – roast them in a dry pan until they smell fragrant.
1. If time allows, soak your quinoa for up to 8 hours. Drain and rinse well.
2. Put quinoa in a pot with water. Bring to the boil, reduce to simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 15-20 minutes until the water has been absorbed (do NOT stir!).

3. When the quinoa has cooked, transfer it to a large bowl to halt the cooking process and cool it down. When it is no longer piping hot, you may add just under half (only half!) of your tezu, the vinegar preparation. Fold to incorporate and taste for seasoning. Add more salt if necessary. The quinoa should have a distinct sweet acidity, but not be overpowering. Now cover loosely with a towel and let the quinoa cool completely.
4. While the quinoa is cooking, prepare all the filling ingredients. Blanch the vegetables you want cooked and cut everything into long strips for ease of rolling.
I need to work on making the rolls tighter, but not bad for a first try.
To roll the Sushi:
1. Place a sushi mat (or piece of plastic film) down on a clean cutting board with the slats running horizontally. Place a nori sheet, shiny-side down on the mat, 2cm from the edge closest to you. Use wet hands to spread a thin layer of quinoa evenly over the nori sheet, leaving a 3cm-wide border along the edge furthest from you. Arrange the fillings across the center of the quinoa. Grate fresh horseradish root over top, then sprinkle with sesame seeds.
2. Use your thumbs and forefingers to pick up the edge of the mat closest to you. Use your other fingers to hold the filling while rolling the mat over to enclose. Gently pull the mat as you go to create a firm roll.
3. Continue rolling until all the quinoa is covered with the nori and you have a neat roll. Shape your hands around the mat to gently tighten the roll. Use a wet sharp knife to cut into pieces, dipping your knife in water between each slice.  Arrange sushi on a serving platter and serve with pickled ginger and shoyu.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Over Wintering Hostas in Pots

Hostas, a member of the Lily family, are a shade loving perennial.  Ideally, they like morning sun and mid-day shade.  There are many varieties with a large assortment of leaf color.  I've got them planted in several locations throughout the yard.
Two years ago, in the summer of 2010, I started an experiment.  I planted two 15" deck pots each with a one gallon hosta, some white petunias, and trailing blue lobelia.  These pots looked great all summer on a deck that received morning sun.  In the fall, knowing that most plants left in pots to overwinter above ground usually freeze, I decided to leave the hostas where they were to see if they would make it.  In the spring of 2011, as I expected, they did not come up.
I filled the pots with new hostas in May 2011 and started again.  Last fall, after removing the summer annuals from the pots, I stored the planters in the garage for the winter, one on top of the other. I didn't water them, just left them in the cold and dark to hibernate.  The pot on the right was the bottom one.  I don't know if it was a little more protected having a pot sitting on the soil, but the plant is more than twice the size of the other.   Quite honestly, I'm happy they both survived.  This winter, they'll go back into the garage, and we'll try it again.  This time I'll put a cover on the top pot and see if that makes a difference in it's initial growth rate.  Happily, in a few more weeks after our last chance of frost,  I'll be able to add the colorful annuals to these lonely hostas.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spring Blossoms

Every spring we amend the garden and renew the soil in the annual pots. Today we picked up our second yard of soil.  While my yard man, aka: my husband, moved the soil to the vegetable garden one wheelbarrow at a time, I transplanted several things I had been wanting to move to better locations.
Spring blossoms rejuvenate my spirit.  Hyacinths are long bloomers with a wonderful aroma.
This Pink Flowering Almond reminds me of cotton candy, and the bees seem to love it.
The Lenten Rose blooms between January and April.  I have two new varieties to add to this bed.
No need to feel bad for my yard man, the wheelbarrow path from front to back is filled with the intoxicating scent of blooming lilacs. 
Okay, let us all put on our big girl panties, grab a shovel and get busy.