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Showing posts with label victory garden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label victory garden. Show all posts

Friday, September 25, 2020

Best Ever Sourdough Focaccia



Favorite Sourdough Focaccia


  • 400 g all-purpose flour
  • 150 g sourdough starter
    • I'm sure all of us started this thing when the quarantine began but if you don't have one, you can just omit this and up the yeast to 5 g
  • 260 g water, a little warmer than body temperature
  • 3 g yeast
  • 125 ml olive oil plus more for the pan
  • 3 g kosher salt
  • Herbs and such as needed
  • Salt and water for the brine
Combine the flour, sourdough starter, yeast, and water in the bowl of a standing mixer using the hook attachment and mix until just combined. Let it sit for about 10 minutes in the bowl to let the flour hydrate and the yeasts to get to know each other. When that timer is up, turn the mixer on to low speed and add in your salt and oil, and mix for five minutes. Then, mix for another 5 minutes on medium-high. Oil a clean bowl or a plastic container with a lid generously with more olive oil, using your hand. Use that same hand to scrape out your dough (so you won't stick) into the container and stick it in a warm place for about two hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

While we're waiting, let's get to the fun part...

Oil a new sheet pan quite generously and turn your dough out, as gently as possible, and pull it out to spread evenly. Oil more, and add your pretty ingredients. I cannot stress this enough if you are going to make lovely focaccia art, but it is absolutely imperative that you set in your picture now so that it can rise and stick when baked.

Focaccia art began circa April/May 2020, when the pandemic was really kicking into high gear. The trend has gone from Instagram to being all over Good Morning America, and even Buzzfeed's Tasty got in on the fun! Basically, you take a gorgeous focaccia loaf and create a lovely landscape using herbs, flowers, vegetables, and more. Now I was skeptical of this idea before because I subscribe to the belief that "every bite should taste the same" when it comes to bread. Once the boredom and existential dread set in, however, and I had more and more sourdough starter piling up, I frankly cracked and made one for myself. It was a big hit!




The reason I'm telling you this now is so you can look ahead for some inspiration! The flowers here on mine are made of sliced leeks and I used sliced green bird chilies here and there...and added leaves of spinach, parsley, cilantro, dill, and more. Many people use lovely fresh peppers and other vegetables to be atop their focaccia art, and I've joined in the fun on a couple of occasions. I do admit that I still believe that above all else bread should be tasty and while putting slices of raw peppers on a focaccia dough to let rise looks pretty cool I don't know how well it's going to taste. The taste of your item should absolutely reign as the supreme factor when it comes to food, leaving looks to be a close second. 

I'm sure that plenty of folks out there will tell you that you really need to think about what you want your garden landscape on the focaccia to look like far beforehand, and that's definitely true when it comes to just about any art project. Mise en place is a lifestyle/mentality that many chefs and cooks subscribe to! When it comes to this particular application, however, I personally prefer to let it develop organically, leaving it all dependant on what herbs I have in the garden that are ready to go. 

It's currently late September and I live in the North-Midwestern Americas, so I still have quite a few herbs, but the cooler weather of the midwest means that I have pansies. This means I get to put edible flowers on my focaccia! I invite you to look around in your own garden and see what edible flowers are available to you immediately. You likely will have pansies, marigolds, and roses...all of which are absolutely edible. 



As I mentioned before, the trick with focaccia art is that you must put on your flowers, herbs, etc., during the second proof so that when it rises, the herbs and flowers and such will really stick. Although I don't necessarily plan out everything meticulously, I certainly don't just slap stuff down willy-nilly either. To let it develop organically, I first decide on the visual orientation of the piece, be it portrait or landscape. Then, I take my biggest pieces or my most-colorful pieces of edible loveliness and pop that on first. In this one's case, the pansies were the biggest eye-catcher, so everything sort of developed around that. I also had these incredible nasturtiums that looked like tiny parasols, in a way, so that came on next. Then came the sage leaves, thyme, etc. 

Once you're happy with your focaccia garden landscape, spread olive oil lightly on the dough and cover with clingfilm and let rise again. You can let this hang out in the fridge for up to three hours if you did this early in the day and want to bake it freshly for dinner! If you just want to bake it soon, simply set it in a warm place for about an hour and a half, or until it looks very puffy. Everything will have risen together and your herbs, flowers, vegetables, etc., will not fall off! Don't forget to preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

When risen after the rest, dissolve two tablespoons of kosher salt in three tablespoons of hot water in a cup. Oil your fingers her her her and press dimples between the spaces of the pictures you have created. Spoon in the brine to the dimples. Let sit for another 5 minutes and oil well with even more olive oil. Add a few grinds of fresh pepper and bake at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes, rotating your sheet pan halfway between. 

I like to let my bread hang out and cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting, but make sure you get this off the sheet pan and onto a cooling rack sooner rather than later, lest you get a soggy bottom. 



Thanks so much for joining me here today! I hope this has inspired you. Please don't forget to share this around if you try it, and tag me on Instagram or Facebook to let me see your incredible creation. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Friday, August 7, 2020

Pear Streusel Pie

 


The fruits of summer are bountiful and sweet! There's nothing quite like the summer in the city, except when you are in your 30s and you live in the American Midwest or South. Then, it's just awful, especially if you are an *ahem* ample person of the feminine persuasion, such as myself. (Sweat happens to humans with bosoms and thick thighs in a way that I wish not on others.) Summer sucks. It's hot. It's humid. I'm going to tell you that I hate humidity, so I count the days until fall occurs. I relish the changing leaves, and I mark days off my calendar until I can go apple picking. There is, however, the wonderful fruit that ripens just before the apple does, and I can get my crisp fruit pie fix...the pear. 

Pears are wonderful fruits that don't get nearly enough love. They're crisp and cool, they have delicious varieties that are vastly varied, and they grow on trees so you can pick them while imagining your perfect life in the south of France as you do it! They are not always as sweet as the apple, so therefore you can use them in savory and sweet applications. A grated pear in a marinade for a Korean-style beef marinade will add a note of freshness and sweetness without being overwhelming. How wonderful! 

I'm sure you've seen pears with cheese plates and your parents will remember poached pears with ice cream in fancy restaurants in the late 80s to early 90s. Heck, I myself am guilty of putting the retro-classic poached pear on a modern dessert because I love it so much! There's just something about the pear that heralds in the changing of the seasons for me. It bakes in a wonderful end-of-summer pie.  Here's how to make it!



End-of-Summer Pear Pie

Pie Dough

  • 4 oz vegan butter
  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 oz raw sugar
  • 1 oz dark rum, more as needed
Pear Filling
  • Four medium-sized local pears, peeled and sliced thin
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 3.5 oz raw or brown sugar
  • 1 tsp good Mexican vanilla
    • Don't have any? Check out our Partners page!
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp Chinese long pepper, ground
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
Honey Streusel
  • 5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz sugar
  • 1 oz local honey
  • 3 oz vegan butter, cold

This is my standard pie dough, and I absolutely love making it because it's suitable for decorating as well as tasty eating. Combine the flour and sugar in a bowl along with a fat pinch of salt. Roughly chop the butter into cubes and rub into the flour-sugar mixture with your fingertips, almost as if you were snapping your fingers. You only want to combine the flour until it looks like cornmeal, and then add in the rum. Turn all of this out onto a cool, marble surface and smear together, folding all the dough back on itself over and over again until everything is smooth and combined. Scrape together, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 1 hour, ideally overnight. 

Take your pears in a large bowl and toss it with the lemon juice and zest first before adding the sugar and spices. Cover this beautiful stuff and let it sit for 20 minutes at room temperature. The sugar and spices will draw pear juice out, and this beautiful liquid is going to make your pie taste delicious! Why don't you go ahead and turn on your oven to 350 F while you wait?


Meanwhile, lay more plastic wrap on your counter turn your dough out onto the surface. Rolling out your dough on plastic wrap or greased parchment paper will save you a lot of cleaning time! The idea is that you want to sandwich your pie dough between the parchment or plastic wrap and roll it out this way, so you don't have to add excess flour. Roll this out nice and thin and line a glass or ceramic pie dish and press into the corners so it's well-set. Let it hang out on the counter for about five minutes so the pie dough can relax a little before you trim the edges. This will prevent excessive shrinking! Once the dough has relaxed, trim the edges with a sharp paring knife and pinch around the edges to make a pretty scalloped finish. Take this opportunity to think about what kind of decorations you'd like to have on your pie! I chose feathers. 



I have this wonderful set of teardrop-shaped cutters that I discovered at a garage sale some years ago. All you have to do to make feathers is to take the excess dough that you've cut off, roll and cut out the shapes, and then use the back of the knife to make your cuts and indents. You can get really creative with what you put on your pie, so feel free to let your imagination run wild! Remember, any sort of decorative pie crust touch you make will need some egg wash to stick.

To make the streusel simply mix all ingredients together in a bowl with a spoon. You'll be chopping and stirring the fat until everything sort of comes together in a kind of loose and lumpy sand, which shouldn't take long at all. Streusel is ready once it comes together when you ball it in your fist and it keeps its shape but quickly crumbles apart when tapped with a spoon.  

When you're ready to bake, brush your pie shell, edges included, quite well with egg wash. Add the flour to your pear pie filling and stir well to coat. You can use cornstarch if you like, but flour works just fine. Scrape your pie filling into the dough shell and arrange so that the slices are generally flat. Sprinkle your streusel all over the top to cover it, and decorate your pie as you so desire to. I really love the random look of these feathers strewn here and there! You can do whatever shapes you like; this is your pie, so you choose!

Bake at 350 for 50 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and everything's golden-brown and delicious-looking. Your house is going to smell amazing! Turn off the oven and crack the oven door, and let it cool in the oven for about half an hour. Remove from the oven and let sit on the counter for at least 3 hours. Why? Pectin!

Pectin is this wonderful stuff that's found in high amounts in apples, citrus fruits, and - you guessed it - pears! It's a natural thickener and is essential for making homemade jams and jellies. The only thing about pectin is that it needs to set on its own, so that means you shouldn't cut this pie until it's cool to room temperature and the pectin is set. This way, you'll get much cleaner slices and you'll be able to enjoy that picturesque view of a non-soggy-bottom when you go back for a second, third, or fourth slice of pie. If you cut this pie before the pectin sets, the liquid will burst out and soak up your crust from the bottom, and it'll never set again. 

But what if I want warm pie??? 

Easy! Once it's all cooled, you can reheat it by the slice in the oven or - if you must - the microwave, and serve with some ice cream or sweetened ricotta cream. My general rule is that fruit pies should be served plain with coffee, but if you absolutely must indulge in some sort of ice cream, then I simply cannot stop you. Let go and let G-d, I say!

I love this pie because it's not too sweet but satisfies my sweet tooth in a much lighter way than an apple pie does. Pears are quite fragrant in a sexy, sophisticated way. I like to think of apple pie as your cute neighbor that just loves to wear bright patterns, whereas pear pie is that sexy stranger at the end of the bar wearing just enough of that expensive cologne or perfume...but when you get to the bar you see it's your neighbor, all along, in a new light. 

Thanks so much for reading along and spending some time of your day with me. It means so much to me to be able to pass on these awesome skills I've acquired over the last decade to you. I hope I inspire you to make this delicious pear pie. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Friday, July 24, 2020

Peppery Skirt Steak with Asparagus

What's better than a photobombing cat? 


This is an incredibly easy way to prepare skirt steak. It takes a hair of planning, but so long as you get this meat in the marinade in the morning, you can grill by the evening.

Skirt Steak with Asparagus and Green Beans

  • 2 lb skirt steak
  • 3 Tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp ground chili flakes
  • 1 tsp dried mint, crushed - or about 8 fresh mint leaves, chiffonade
  • Kosher salt
  • Peppercorn mix: white, green, and black peppercorns, ground in the pepper mill
  • 1 lemon
  • Plenty of green beans
  • Asparagus
  • A few cippolini onions or some elephant garlic
  • Coconut Rice, for serving (my recommendation)
Start in the morning or the night before with your skirt steak. If you get your meat from a local provider, it will likely be in a long strip. Cut this in large pieces that can easily fit in a bowl, about five or six inches long, but don't slice into strips. You'll do this after it's cooked!

This recipe is about balancing flavors. This is not a new principle, as learning to balance flavors is part of becoming a great cook. Zest the lemon(fruity and fragrant) and add this to the olive oil(also fruity and mildly astringent), chili flakes(hot), and mint(cool-hot). You may notice that we're missing sweet. You can add a pinch of sugar or honey if you like, but I don't think it's necessary, as I served this with coconut rice which is a little sweet from the fattiness of the coconut milk. You'll also notice that we've left out bitter - this is because the vegetables we add are just a touch bitter.

Add your steaks to this olive oil mixture and season heavily with kosher salt and PLENTY of grinds of your peppercorn mix. A quick lesson on peppercorns:

You can head here for some more information
Peppercorns are berries from a flowering vine that are harvested and dried. They come in pink, green, black, and red, naturally. You get white peppercorns by soaking ripe pepper berries in water for about 10 days so they ferment, and then you dry them out. This is a similar process to processing cocoa beans to make them into proper nibs - this is quite exciting if you ask me! 

Your steak should marinate for at least 4 hours, to let the salt and fat do their work. Skirt steak comes from the 'plate' primal of the cow, which means that it's lean and full of rough muscle! It's nice to do low-and-slow, so if you have a sous vide machine at home, I highly recommend giving this a try! The trouble with it is that it's quite lean so therefore the low-and-slow cook method doesn't exactly do well since there's not a lot of fat there. This is why you must add some fat. 

You can grill this outside on an open flame, but the day I made this was incredibly stormy, so I opted to use my cast-iron griddle, that's happily parked on the two left burners of my gas stove. I love cast iron because it's virtually indestructible once you get it seasoned properly and care for it. I believe in buying things mindfully and investing in them, and I hope you'll give this train of thought a bit of consideration, too. 

Green beans are so prolific when grown en masse. It's an easy thing to grow - so please think about donating some if you grow too much!
Now it's time to think about our Victory Garden spoils! I've got quite a bit of them at this point, and I hope you do as well. This recipe includes green beans and asparagus because:

A.) I have a lot of both.
B.) They work with beef quite nicely.
C.) They are best when cooked quickly.

When you are ready to eat, remove your marinated steak from the fridge and let it come up to room temperature for about 20 minutes. Take your green beans and asparagus and prepare them. For the asparagus, cut off the hard woody root and chop into 2.5" pieces. Do the same for the green beans. If you have either cippolini onions or elephant garlic to add, slice them just as thin as you can manage to do so. Juice the lemon you had from earlier, and toss your vegetable mix with it, along with some more olive oil, salt, and pepper. Set this aside. 

Heat your griddle to high and brush with oil. Get this quite hot and turn on your vent, or open a window. It's going to get smoky! Sear your steaks on medium-high for 3 minutes on each side, and set them on a plate to rest. Don't you dare scrape off that delicious goodness that the steak left on the griddle! Instead, dump your chopped vegetables onto it and scrape it around as it cooks. Your veggies should be cooked fully within five minutes, and you'll have a delicious sear on them, along with all the flavor of the steak. When it's done cooking, you can remove from the griddle and set aside in a bowl. 

Turn off your griddle and pour some salt on it. Push the salt around with a little oil and a paper towel to clean it. Doing this immediately after cooking shows good habits and respect for your tools, so you may as well just go ahead and do it now. 

To serve, slice your now-rested steaks against the grain and toss with your sauteed vegetables. Serve on a nice big communal plate with coconut rice on the side and enjoy taking great photos before consuming! 

I love this recipe because it's easy to do, and utilizes what you (or, at least, I) have. It's a quick and simple recipe that takes minimal prep and doesn't skimp on the flavor profile. When it comes to good beef, you should show it respect and keep it relatively simple. There are many farmers that are willing to ship directly to you nowadays, and I highly recommend that you do some research and see who will ship to you and your area. The farmer is hurting just as much as the restaurant worker in this troubled time, so let's put our heads together and make sure we're putting our dollars in the right place. 

About half of the corn grown in the US is for animal feed; this is combined with a LOT of other goodies to make proper food for these cows that are both nutritious and delicious.
I've visited my fair share of beef farms in my day, and I can tell you this: they're actually quite a bit like you would hope to imagine them to be. What's better, out in Western Kansas, I've seen a good portion of beef farms double as wind farms; it's quite a sight to behold! Remember, the farmers in America don't often clear land through deforestation practices. Most of the farmers will buy and use land that's already rolling and hilly and difficult to cultivate, so they can just stick some animals on it and call it good. Quite ingenious, don't you think?

Through most of a beef steer's life, it's roaming around on a family farm, until it goes to a finishing yard where it basically gets to hang out in a smaller yard while it eats as much corn and grass and whatnot as it wants, until finally coming to a beef processing plant. Most of these animals, as far as I've seen, are treated well. Peace of mind is one of the many reasons that it's important to know where your beef comes from. An overwhelming 97% of all farms in America are family-owned, so you can at least feel decently good about consuming beef every so often. 

Remember, it's progress, not perfection! Switch to a locally-sourced protein versus the kind you get in the grocery store, which may come from out-of-state. Get a sampler box from a local farmer. Plant a garden. We don't need you to be pulling out your hair from the stressful attempt at doing everything perfectly. We just need everyone doing a few small good things collectively that'll push us in the right direction. Lead by example, and Godspeed! I assure you, it's going to be a load of fun. 

Enjoy that steak!

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Strawberry Rose Tartlets

Do you like my tartlet pans? I got them at Sur la Table!
I think I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: "Strawberry and roses. Is that going to be okay?" Yes, and here's why:

Strawberries are sour, sweet, and can be incredibly fragrant. Roses are astringent in flavor but incredibly fragrant as well. Both are perennials. Both are edible. Both are growing in my garden. When you balance astringency with sweet and sour flavors the right way, it creates something magical and whole in your mouth. The idea of a tartlet is to have full and complete flavors all in a small package. If you've already gotten a good crop of goodies happening in your own garden, or perhaps have a neighbor with a good garden that is willing to share their harvest of berries with you, I think you should do these berries the proper respect by treating them with love and elevating them to be the best things they can be. Be forewarned, this recipe takes time, but it is absolutely worth it.


Strawberry Rose Tartlets
yields 6

Strawberry Filling

  • Garden fresh strawberries, about a pint and a half
  • 3 large leaves of lemon balm, chiffonade
    • Why grow this stuff? Not only is it delicious, but it keeps mosquitos away!
    • Don't have lemon balm growing? Use basil, oregano, or tarragon instead. Any soft and fragrant herb will do nicely!
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp dried lemon zest or 1 Tbsp fresh lemon zest
  • Petals of 2 roses
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/4 c tapioca flour

Olive Oil Tart Dough

  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2.3 oz good olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • Enough vodka to make it all come together, about 4 Tbsp


Start by gathering strawberries and washing them in a large bowl with a solution of water and a little apple cider vinegar. Then hull and cut the strawberries in half before tossing them with the sugar, salt, roses, lemon balm, and lemon peel. Stir very well and cover with either a clean tea towel or plastic clingfilm. Let sit overnight. Yes, overnight. This is crucial because you're going to want to draw out all of that delicious pectin. While you're waiting, you can make the dough, as well.

Not all of the strawberries absolutely have to be perfectly red when a baked product is involved. Pick white ones, too!

Simply combine all of the dough ingredients in a small bowl with a fork or a pair of chopsticks until it becomes one ball of dough. Wrap all that with clingfilm and let it sit overnight as well. The dough will be incredibly crumbly, and that's okay. While we wait, let's talk about the history of strawberries!

Strawberries are native to the Americas. Yes, that's right, these babies are All-American Beauties. They used to be called 'strewn berries' by ye olde English because they grow low to the ground and seem to be 'strewn about'. They're incredible perennial evergreen plants, but I even hesitate to call them evergreen as I've seen their leaves turn a brilliant purplish-red in the winter with my own eyes. So long as you keep them mulched heavily, they'll grow and stay verdant in the depths of winter, but don't think that they're indestructible. They do need some care and fertilizing to make deliciously plump berries each year. Colonists were so fond of them that there are records of them shipping the plants and berries back to Europe as early as the 1600s.

I spoke about strawberries recently in my "Real Girl Guide to Victory Gardens" blog, so I'm sure you all must know that I love the plants a great deal. When growing strawberries, please plan for a sunny patch of garden, and plan for plenty of space over the coming years. Strawberries make their own babies in the summer and fall, so be sure to have lots of room for them unless you plan on putting them in planters and giving them away to friends. Like asparagus, they get bigger each year with the deeper the root system, so do be patient with them. The strawberries you likely get in the grocery store are likely going to be strawberries coming from plants that are not only juiced up with fertilizer but at least a few years old.

Have I lulled you to sleep yet? Are you awake? Is it the next morning? Have you had your coffee? Oh, good.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and use a rolling pin to roll out your tart dough between two sheets of parchment or plastic wrap. Line six small tart pans with your dough and make sure to press into the grooves as much as you can to get that signature tart shape. Pop these puppies back in the fridge until you're ready to fill and bake.

Drain the juice from the strawberries into a small saucepot and bring to a simmer. Let cook for about 3 minutes until slightly syrupy in texture. In the meantime, toss the macerated strawberries with the tapioca flour, and then pour the simmering syrup onto the strawberries, stirring gently. Drain that new mixture into the saucepot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer until thick and delicious, a little less than five minutes. Stir and let cool to room temperature before adding the strawberries back in.

It might get messy, so do yourself a favor and make the cleanup easy for Future You. 

Once the strawberries are folded into your thick and jelly-like syrup, you can line a sheet tray with foil or a Silpat mat to catch any spillage that may occur. Spoon your fruit filling into your chilled tartlet pans and bake at 350 on the bottom rack of the oven for 25 minutes, or until the filling has swollen up from the heat and the tart dough is lightly colored. The filling will recess into its tart shells with time as it cools.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for at least 20 minutes. You may pop them out of the pans afterward, but do not eat them for at least 2 hours so the pectin may set. If you cut into a berry pie or tartlet like this before the pectin sets, it'll never go back to being gel-like and forever be runny.

It's worth the wait. 
This recipe is something I threw together from what was growing in my garden. The best part about that sort of thing is that it was basically free to make, which I'm sure that we can all use. It is my true and sincere hope that after the pandemic is buried in the ground then we'll be able to come out of this traumatic experience with a good garden and a good amount of knowledge on what to do with all the things growing in there. Chefs like me are all struggling to find our purpose nowadays with restaurants being closed and operating at limited capacities. Some chefs are closing their restaurants permanently. Some are switching gears and turning their restaurants into community kitchens because they, too, got bit by the non-profit bug like I did once upon a time. One thing we can all say with certainty is that the world will never be the same, and I for one am not mad about that.

I think that this pandemic has exposed a lot about the curious animal we call American citizens. A lot of us are viewing common courtesies as 'infringements on rights' and today we saw a large amount of police brutality in Minnesota on those protesting the death of George Floyd. Police are tear-gassing the protestors, and just a couple of weeks ago they let a slew of white protestors with AR-15s holding up signs demanding that their restaurants and salons open back up. Can you guess why the former was treated differently than the latter?

I hope I can look back on this moment in history in 10 years' time and know that I live in a better 'today' than I did 'yesterday.' I hope that we can all look back on 2020 and feel a little wiser and a little more self-sufficient. I also hope that you all write things down. Yes, you! You should write down what's going on today in the world and how you feel about it. Someday, a child may read about it in a textbook and have a real person's account of what's gone on in the days during the great COVID 19 pandemic.

I hope you're all doing well and staying safe. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Hickory Nut Cake


Memorial Day is upon us, so I thought it would be fun to dive right in to some American culinary history, featuring one of our many indigenous trees that just happen to produce some delicious nuts. The Americas are home to many different kinds of trees, and the nuts of said trees can be foraged at no cost to you, other than a simple "please" to the owner of the land that you're on. I've got a neighbor that has a hickory tree and an oak tree, so they let me gather nuts and acorns as I please. In return, I like to bake them some cookies every so often, or - if you like - a delicious cake, such as this one. Remember, a neighborhood full of victory gardens is made even better when you share your bounty; so be good and share and share alike!


Hickory Nut Cake
Recipe adapted to be dairy-free from American Cake by Anne Byrd
  • 11 oz all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz tapioca starch
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • A fat pinch of kosher salt
  • 8 oz vegan butter
    • I like Earth Balance, but you can - of course - use dairy butter if that's what you have
  • 14 oz granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 c almond milk
  • 1 tsp good vanilla extract
    • I like this Mexican vanilla from Global Goods Inc. Use code "LFVanilla" to get 30% off!
  • 1 c hickory nuts, chopped
    • If you can't find any, you can use walnuts instead!
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Take a 10" tube pan and butter and flour it liberally. Don't skip this step, and don't be skimpy on the flouring of this tin. The cake batter will rise and will need something to cling to!

Sift together all of your dry ingredients and set aside in a bowl. Separate your eggs, and set those aside. Combine your milk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract into a container and set aside. Grab yourself a large bowl and a long spatula, and set that aside as well. 

Cream the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer on medium for 2 minutes and then on high for another 2 minutes. Lower the speed to medium-high and add your sugar, a few spoonfuls at a time, until all but 2 oz of it are left in your container. Let that mix until sugar is completely incorporated, and add in your egg yolks, one at a time. Scrape all of that goodness into your large bowl and give your mixing bowl a quick wash with soap and water. 

Using your spatula, stir in your flour mixture, alternating with your milk mixture, until everything is just incorporated. Go slow, as you're stirring by hand, and you don't want to overwork it. Take the remaining sugar and your 4 egg whites into your now clean mixing bowl and whip it with a whisk attachment on high until stiff and glossy peaks form and the mixture has tripled in volume. Fold in your egg whites gently in thirds. Fold in your chopped nuts as gently as you can, as you don't want to knock out all that lovely air.

Pour your batter into your prepared mold and smooth the surface. Bake at 350 for 55 - 60 minutes, never opening the oven until the 45-minute mark hits. Then, you may open your oven and rotate your pan once, and let finish cooking. Err on going towards the 60-minute mark, as this cake can be a little doughy if not cooked well enough. You want your cake to be a nice golden-brown, and to have a lovely crack going down the middle of the cake. While we're waiting for the cake to bake, let's learn a little bit about the hickory nut and the history of this cake! 

Hickory nuts come from - you guessed it - hickory trees. We here in the midwest are more than familiar with hickory wood, as it's incredibly popular to use for BBQ smoking. Hickory also makes beautiful furniture. Their nuts are a little bit of a pain to harvest, and the nutmeats are small, but they're quite buttery and delicious. They grow quite fervently here in America, so you'll likely not have a problem finding a neighbor that'll be happy to get them off their lawn. If you don't have a hickory tree, nor a neighbor with a hickory tree, I highly recommend heading over to Burnt Ridge Nursery, an awesome small business, that has hickory nuts in stock!

The hickory nut cake was specifically a favorite of President James Polk. Although the civil war began years after his presidency, this cake was still popular during that time, where not every township had a proper general store that was able to get regular shipments of walnuts or pecans during the war, and most folks wouldn't mind sending their youngins out to the field to gather nuts and acorns for supper. Through necessity comes ingenuity, and the classic tube cake shape was a great way to ensure a cake was going to rise instead of falling flat in a simple circular cake pan. The civil war is timely now not just because we're in a pandemic and every day feels like an episode of Little House on the Prairie, but because Memorial Day is coming up next weekend and that holiday was established to honor the fallen of the Civil War. You can find all sorts of fun tidbits of information on Memorial Day here. Is it a bit of a reach, just to justify making a cake? Sure; but who cares? You learn something and you get to eat some delicious cake. It's a win-win.

If you are curious, or if you still have a few minutes before your cake is done, check out this fellow here, teaching you all about hickory nuts and what to do with them.



Is your cake done yet?

Remove from the oven and let cool on the rack, right-side-up, for 20 minutes. After that timer's gone off, turn your cake tin upside-down and let cool entirely. Most tube pans have feet that will help give air between the surface of the cake and your counter, but if yours doesn't, you may balance it on a bottle to let it be suspended instead. To serve, run a knife or spatula around the edge of the cake tin. Dust with powdered sugar, and serve!

So light.
This cake is just fine on its own and has absolutely no need for extra glazing or frosting. Have it with a cup of coffee or some green tea. It's light as a cloud, thanks to the tapioca starch, and I know you'll have a great time baking this cake. It makes quite a bit, so feel free to take a slice with you to the grave of a fallen soldier, light a candle, and offer it to them. Remember, Veteran's Day is for those that are here with us that have served, and Memorial Day is for those that have fallen.

I hope you're all keeping your spirits up! If you make this cake, leave a comment below, and feel free to share this recipe around with your friends and family. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Real Girl Guide to Victory Gardens

It's me,  your girl, coming to you LIVE from Kansas City!
In the spirit of keeping my promise to all of you out there on how to survive this awful Plague - and thus the quarantine - this piece is going to not contain any recipes. This is going to be a review and honest testimonial of what it is to grow a Victory Garden in modern-day life.

What the heck is a Victory Garden? In short, it's a gardening plot grown for the sake of supplementing your food supplies in times of shortage. A non-insignificant amount of them are coming back right now because they were immensely popular in nearly any wartime era in modern western civilization. Ranging from 1917 Canada to 1940s Great Britain, the government propagandized growing your own food. It was really all translation for: "grow your own food because we're not gonna bloody pay higher prices to Brazil for meat and we're a tiny-ass island that relies on imports so bugger off." The only difference is that they didn't say that they said "WAGE WAR BY GARDENING! GLORY TO THE EMPIRE!"

Audrey Hepburn famously said: "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."  That's a nice quote, but what on earth are you meant to do when you need food today and are worried about tomorrow? A Victory Garden is an amazing idea in theory, but not the best idea in practice, considering that it's not something that gives you food immediately but will give you food later. 

I think that the idea is that you were meant to have a deep freezer, a good supply of edible things, but in the spirit of someone who's been experimenting on permaculture for the last 7 or 8 years, I'd like to share my POV from a person that doesn't have all her own land, that lived in a rental, that now owns her home and has had experience with container gardening as well as in-ground stuff. I want to tell you what works, what's fast, what's realistic for you - the part-time gardener - to expect. This is a real testimonial from a real working person that's grown her own food to supplement and saved a lot of money. Here we go!




Chilies
I personally have never had very good luck with bell peppers, but small, hot chilies in containers have done wonders for me, especially when grown in hanging baskets on the south-facing side of my house. I have no earthly idea why they seem to have done better for me that way, but they sure have. Maybe because they're mostly a tropical/warm climate berry that does better indoors away from the cold at night? Either way, one summer I got so many chilies I had to resort to drying them as I went because there was no amount of salsa I could make that would possibly catch up with what I was producing. I dried them and pounded them, and hung them in bunches near my door. Small, hot chilies like bird chilies are great to grow in small containers, and you'll love having them dried and ready to go in the pantry.



Nasturtium
What is my favorite thing about the nasturtium? Perhaps it is because watching these guys in the rain is oddly satisfying, considering they're hydrophobic. Perhaps it's because their peppery taste makes them incredible for pesto, and that the entire plant is edible so you don't only have to pick the leaves. Perhaps it is because the flowers and leaves make beautiful garnishes. Perhaps it is because you can dry them and use them in everything from tea blends to hair toner. Perhaps it is even because of this plant's aroma, planted between other plants, help to keep pests at bay. The world may never know. 

Please note: these are Parisienne carrots, which grow in little globe-shapes like this!

Carrots
Here's what's annoying about them: they're so finicky about their soil type. And, no, they're not the kind you can really do well in a container. The seeds are paper-thin so you would be hard-pressed to have success should you plant them on a windy day. They're small so you need to sew them in clumps, but if you don't thin them you'll never get anything out of them. The good thing about them is that even if the root never takes hold and makes a big fat carrot, you'll still get the greens, which are tasty in an of themselves. You can braise them or add them to curries and soups, or saute them with bacon and spices. They're not the easiest thing to grow and I wouldn't really recommend for a victory garden unless you have the absolute right kind of soil. I've had some very mixed results with carrots so I wouldn't start here.

Beets do come in all shapes, sizes, and colors!
Beets
Falling in the same category but with large enough seeds to actually plant would be beets. You do have to thin them to get decent roots, but they're easy enough to grow and aren't as finicky about soil as carrots are. They come in a variety of colors, and if you get sugar beets you can even make your own sugar from them! They're a great crop for a beginning gardener because they grow relatively fast and can stay in the ground for just about as long as you want them to, so long as it's not too hot. I'd also like to tell you to not be alarmed when you pee and it's red. In case you don't know, beets color your pee and poo.

Cat not included.

Roses
They look dead most of the year, but I don't think I need to tell you how glorious a rose garden can be in the summer. The best part about cut roses is how they look, of course, but did you know that you can make jam from rose petals? You can also make rose water, of course, and your own essential oils. The real reason you should grow roses, however, is that you most likely need a visual pick-me-up. I wouldn't recommend these for a Victory Garden, but it does help to have glorious perennial flowers to attract pollinators.




Marigolds
Edible and hardy, they keep pests away! Plant this intermittently between other veggies, especially tomatoes, to help keep pests away and attract pollinators. And did I mention the blossoms were edible? You can eat the flowers or put them in salads, or chop the blooms up and mix with eggs, then steam or fry them. I know it sounds weird to the western palette, but it won't kill you to give it a try.






Who wants to hear a story? πŸ‘‡ So I am a lot of things. In addition to being first generation American, a chef, a married person to someone I totally dig above all others, I am a huge fan of PEACHES πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘ so much so that I finally convinced my husband that our house would only be a home if we had a peach tree out back. 🌳 It took me something like 4 years, but last spring I was able to get to @family_tree_nursery and sneak home a peach tree πŸ€«πŸ˜‰. It took a lot of fertilizing, a lot of care, but it yielded an incredible crop of the most delicious little peaches. I made peach blossom tea, peach pit jelly, and of course a ton of #peachpie. It was so quickly producing that I even had to can a fair chunk of my peaches. . I'm sure I'm not the only one that has faced financial difficulties since the quarantine began in March. I'm very fortunate in that I have a partner that has been able to work from home, but I don't have that luxury as a chef. But you know what really gave me hope? 🌸 When I saw my peach tree blossoming in the backyard πŸ˜©πŸ™ reminding me of last summer. . I looked in the cabinet today and only had two small jars of #peaches left, which was JUST enough to dot the tops of my favorite coconut chess pie, along with some peach leaf pie crust decorations! . A chess pie is an American southern #classic in which a custard is baked directly in an unbaked pie shell. I always par bake my crusts because nobody likes a soggy bottom along with an overcooked custard. I make mine with coconut milk and farm fresh eggs I was able to trade a neighbor for a few masks. πŸ˜‹ I especially like them because you can make them big or small, and you can even #bruleΓ© the tops! . So today I submit my Peach and Coconut Chess Pie for the #saferathome KCRW's Good Food Instagram Pie Pageant, with nothing else but the hope that it will inspire YOU to bake! . . #kcrwpie #kansascity #pastrychef #piesofinstagram #pie #baking #quarantinelife #kosherbaking #dairyfree #foodphotography #homecooking @kcrwevan
A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on

Peaches
A fruit tree is expensive and needs a lot of care. Stone fruits like peaches, cherries, and plums are self-pollinating, which means they're a-okay to be planted solo. If you want apples, you need more than one tree and don't even think of slacking off with them because the second they fall to the ground they'll ferment. Why is this bad? It's bad because you'll get not only drunken squirrels but drunken hornets. Another reason to not get these unless you have bags of time or more than one child to do the grunt work, apple harvesting ruins a lot of free time. Where the heck are you going to store all those apples? Do you know how to store apples? Get peaches instead, which - with proper care - will repay you with glorious fruits that can be preserved with ease. And did you know you can make tea from blossom, peel, and pit? It's a big investment to get a tree that's large and mature enough to give you fruit the same year you plant it in your yard (about $150) but I yielded a decent harvest my first year, enough to justify the first initial cost. Plus, nothing beats a blossoming tree in the spring for your soul.



Asparagus
I've been growing this thing for about 7 years now and just last year was I able to get four or five spears worth eating. When you grow asparagus, you quickly realize why the heck it's so expensive. Or maybe you don't? See, asparagus needs a dedicated patch to work. Nothing else can grow in that patch. This plant is bought in what's known as a crown, that will be planted six inches below ground and thusly spread out as it grows. You do need to add and compost and do all that fun permaculture stuff to it every year but you can't use that patch or transplant it anywhere else once established without difficulty. Asparagus yields only a few spears per season depending on how big the patch is. Think about that if you were a farmer, paying rent on your land, uncertain that you'd even get a crop in the 5 years it takes to grow from crown to be big enough to sell? You'll quickly learn why it takes so much time and effort to grow asparagus, and so for that reason, I don't recommend it for a quarantine garden.




Spinach
I absolutely love this green and couldn't say more to its virtues. Fast-growing and fabulous, you can grow spinach in an egg carton on your windowsill. Yes, it grows in shade! It's one of those incredible plants that you can only cut what you need and it will come back again and again. You know how a salad is nice and all, but you end up only eating a salad once or twice and then you stick that big plastic container of salad greens in your crisper drawer, and the grossness of the green sludge monster grows instead of your good intentions? Well, don't you dare worry! You can't do that when you only eat what you want from the spinach plant! Oh, and it's a plant that you can cook and freeze, so you'll get savory savings out of it. And don't even get me started on the smoothies you can make!



Blackberries
It's difficult when you have a large number of birds around, but there are few things as satisfying as going out to your blackberry bramble and eating off the berries. They're decently low maintenance and need a lot of unfiltered sunshine, but the best part is is that they seem to be bulletproof. Your harvest will depend on how well you fertilize and how you prune and care for it, and you mustn't forget to trim back the dead canes each year. I would definitely not buy a young plant, but opt for an older plant that has been hanging out at the garden center for a while. It'll be more expensive, but you will get much more out of your first harvest from a mature plant this way!



Peas
The masses may riot over what I have to say,  but I think they're a little more trouble than they're worth. I absolutely love peas but the trouble is that I never seem to get enough to harvest all at once to make into a meal. Maybe I'm not planting enough of them? They grow some very large tendrils which are very fun to draw and take pictures of. They do freeze perfectly but I must say that I'm almost certainly disappointed by my pea operation. That being said, they grow better in containers than they seem to do in planted beds. Who knew?



Potatoes
We've all seen those things on Pinterest claiming: "you can grow potatoes in a sack!" Well, no you can't. I've tried it a couple years in a row and the results are disappointing in proportion to the effort put in. I have heard from members of various permaculture groups I'm a part of that you can try it with different kinds of potatoes. It is my opinion, though, that if you do grow potatoes, it ought to be done outside in a raised bed. What's great about potatoes is that they're impossibly easy to grow. If you care for these plants, they'll repay you tenfold. I especially love them because you can store them forever and they seldom go bad in the root cellar (or basement, to you and me). If you don't have a root cellar and get a big potato crop, just cook them and freeze them - they freeze just fine and you'll do okay by them! But they are beautiful plants when they do grow and they'll give you a lot back. The trouble is they take time to grow, so I don't know how well they'd do in your victory garden for now. They're not fast growers, but they're worth it in the fall.

The dog is definitely not included when you grow beans. You can't have this dog. He's my baby.
Beans
I love bush and pole beans, and I think they should rank high on your things to grow! They're so easy, they grow very quickly and virulently, and you have many options with them. You can pick the tender pods soon and cook them then, or let them all go to seed and then have dry beans for later eating or later planting. I really like Kentucky Butter Beans for my zone, as they've got a mild flavor and will grow in a heartbeat. Perfect for a Victory Garden!



Strawberries
Perrenial and beautiful, these are wonderfully satisfying. I think they do well in containers but they do just fine outdoors in my temperate climate. What's better the leaves turn a gorgeous bright red when cold or frozen! You must mulch them to make sure they're fine over winter, but gosh they are worth it. Even better, they make their own transplants, so you can sell or give away plants to friends lest you get a giant strawberry patch in your backyard. As far as berries go, I'd say that you'll only get a few here and there unless you have a large number of plants and a healthy dose of good luck for getting to them before the birds do. All that being said, there's just something beautiful about a strawberry plant. The flowers are fragrant and wonderful so they'll attract more pollinators to your garden for the other things! I've never really gotten enough to make a whole large pie, but definitely enough to make some turnovers.



Tomatoes
Okay so let's be real - how much do you ACTUALLY eat tomatoes? Answer this honestly, because otherwise, you'll just be growing something for nothing. Canning tomatoes can be a lot of fun, but it'll take a long time if you don't have a pressure cooker!  Also, remember what you'll be planning for. If you're like me and you love all tomatoes that are super colorful and interesting and eating them raw or grilled on a salad, then go nuts. But if you ever want a tomato sauce it's going to be gross-looking if you use anything other than bright red tomatoes. With all of that being said, one of my favorite smells are tomato plants! Heirloom tomatoes especially grow very well once you get them established, and will often produce quite a lot, especially if you get the cherry variety. You can also dry them and preserve them in cans or oils. Green tomatoes in a pickle brine are awesome, too. Be sure to get heirloom seeds, and be sure to plant many different kinds in your garden if you do go the tomato route!

My cat's name is Pumpkin Spice

Pumpkins
These babies take a lot of room and you're not always guaranteed to get a good pumpkin out there unless you can protect it with your life against squash beetles, rabbits, and more. These take quite a bit of land and effort, but the payout on a pumpkin patch is pretty darn worth it for the Instagram posts alone. Storage can be tricky, especially since they need coolness and space, so it's likely easier to just roast them, puree them, and freeze them so you have your own canned pumpkin puree for later! What's also good about pumpkins is that you can eat the leaves! They're super high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and more. The one thing about these is that you have to be incredibly vigilant about pest control, otherwise it's all gone to waste really quickly.

This was my "per diem" harvest for a few weeks.
Cucumbers
If I were to pick a bumper crop for any kind of Victory Garden, I'd definitely choose a cucumber. First off, they're fast growers. Second, they produce like no tomorrow. Third, they take up considerably less space than pumpkins or other winter squash do, and - as far as I personally have seen - are generally resistant to disease or pest. I have picked a few slugs and bugs off my cucumber plants, but it never stopped them from producing. Versatile in culinary and prepping ways, you can eat raw, juice, pickle, and braise cucumbers. One summer I got so many I didn't know what to do, and that was only from one or two plants. Make sure you get a small variety, though, as the ones that produce larger fruits will take up more room and - if you have them hanging on a trellis - might make it too heavy for the poor dears.



Watermelon
I've tried for years to get watermelons to grow, all with devastating results. If you live in a warm climate and can tend to these, please go for it and tell me how it goes. It just seems too dang cold up here in middle America for me to get it right. I'm trying again this year so wish me luck. But for a victory garden with no experience? I would not recommend.

This wasn't even my tallest sunflower.

Sunflowers
You want these in your Victory Garden not just because they're nice to look at but because they're incredible for attracting pollinators. Birds, bees, butterflies, and more will come flocking to these amazing towers of floral achievement like you won't believe. Good luck getting seeds out of them, but you'll love the leaves. Yes, the leaves can be eaten! You can dry them and steep them for tea, or boil them like spinach, or bake them to make crunchy chips. I also love these because they show you exactly where the sunniest parts of your garden are. If you plant a few of them at different intervals, you'll see which place in the garden gets the sunniest, the hottest, all by which ones grow the tallest. It's not exactly perfect for the short-term, but the long game playing will be good

I actually forgot to get photos of the plant. Sorry.
Chamomile
Grow this in your quarantine garden because it's a fast grower, you're going to get a high and continuous yield, and you're going to want chamomile tea for your nerves. Seriously, there's not a lot of stuff that's more satisfying than making your herbal tea blends.

This is apple mint, dried in the microwave, next to its fresh friends!
Mint
Mint is a controversial flavor, often described as "cool spicy". I tell you this, though, that I planted mint once five years ago and it has literally never stopped growing. It'll get out of control if you let it grow. It will also help prevent mosquitos and other annoying stingy insects near you, so bless. And mint tea is fantastic. And mint in other spice blends is fantastic. If you sneeze while you have mint-flavored gum in your mouth, it grows where you sneezed. That's how easily and quickly it grows. And prolifically.



Sage
Frost tolerant and attracts pollinators, as it's part of the salvia family. It's got a very unique sort of pungent flavor, but is incredibly fragrant and will add an autumnal touch to your dishes. This ever-bearing herb takes up very little space and will give you a lot of good stuff once dried



Lemon Thyme
This is one of those herbs that can over-winter in the right conditions and give you some ever-bearing stuff and helps keep mosquitos away. It's easy to grow, helps you add flavor to whatever you're doing, and is versatile. Win-win?

Please forgive me the truly abhorrent lighting in this photo
Garlic
This is great for a long term thing, but I wouldn't plant it in a victory garden if the idea is quick stuff. You can harvest it when it's just sprouting and starting to leaf out for what's known as green garlic but if you plant in the fall you won't get anything until June or July. You can plant garlic now in the spring for a very late harvest, but for whatever reason, garlic just seems to do better after there's been a hard frost like they've been in the refrigerator underground. One year I had so much garlic that I had to hang it in a braid by the door and ate off of it for about four months. They're great growers, but it might be a little late to plant them right now for a victory garden.