Category Archives: Spring

Crispy and colorful salad with sesame dressing

We pulled out the charcoal and fired up the grill for the first time of the year last week, and I wanted something fresh and salad-y to go with my veggie burgers.  I kept affectionately calling this “rainbow salad” as I was pulling it together because it was so colorful!  It is based on those classic potluck dishes with the ramen noodles tossed in for fun.

Crispy sesame salad
Adapted from the Asian Vegan Kitchen by Hema Parekh

Note:  I am publishing measurements in this recipe here, but will tell you, I didn’t really measure out the veggies while I was preparing it myself.  A salad is really not that serious :).  I thought I ended up with a little more than what was listed in the original recipe, so I increased the dressing amounts by 50% from what you see here.

Ingredients
2 cups shredded lettuce
1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 baby bok choy, chopped
1 handful sliced cherry tomatoes, or 1 medium tomato, diced
1/2 medium cucumber, julienned
1 carrot, grated or julienned
1 jalapeno pepper, finely minced
1 handful cilantro leaves
1 package crushed ramen noodles, flavor packet discarded

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons canola, peanut or safflower oil
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, grated
1/2 inch piece of ginger, grated.

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet.  Reserve 1 tablespoon whole toasted seeds and grind the rest in a mortar and pestle.

Toss all the veggies and noodles together for the salad.

Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing and toss everything to combine.

Voilà.  Yum!  Summer is on its way.

Earth Day 2012

Every day is earth day here in the Bounteous household…but for the rest of the world, Sunday is your opportunity to give back to the planet!  Here are a few ideas to get you started…
Beautify your community.  Take a look at your newspaper, or google around for some ideas and inspiration — many organizations will sponsor tree plantings, beach cleanups, and other volunteer opportunities to get your hands dirty, feet wet and the feeling of having contributed to make your world a better place.  Here in the DC area, the Anacostia Watershed Society will be sponsoring cleanups throughout DC, Montgomery and PG counties.  The Casey Trees Foundation sponsors tree plantings all the time throughout the region.

Commit to learning.  Ever wanted to take a workshop on butterfly gardening?  Composting?  Urban chicken raising?  Earth Day is a great day for your environmental resolutions.

New habits.  Continuing along the new Green Resolution theme…choose one thing for the earth you will start to incorporate into your routine.  Maybe you can commit to meatless Mondays, start recycling, bike to work at least once a week, switch your coffee to shade-grown, fair trade…Rome wasn’t built in a day; choose just one habit to begin with and let it slowly build into a more sustainable lifestyle.

I will be joining some friends this weekend at the Baltimore Eco-fest and hope to check out some of their vendors and activities, such as tree plantings, nature walks and workshops!

How will you be celebrating Earth Day 2012?

-R

Brick spiral garden

In this age of Pinterest there seems to be no end of DIY advice for re-purposing all the old junk you have lying around.  But uh, I don’t know about you, but it’s rare that I actually have all these things — old picture frames, vintage wine crates, pallets, etc, who HAS all that stuff?

But then, on occasion, I come across a project with materials I actually do happen to have.  It is like a lightbulb goes off and I think, HEY, I can MAKE that!!!  And it gets filed away on one of my pinboards, only to be forgotten until I stumble across the object and think, “oh yeah, I should make that project some day…”

Well here is a project that finally came into fruition, thanks to the beautiful spring weather and my eagerness to get into the garden.  I got the idea from this website when I came across it on Pinterest:  tutorial:  spiral herb garden. 

My house came with an enormous stack of ancient bricks in the backyard.  With summer approaching, I’ve been wanting to plant some edibles in my yard, but not until I test the soil and make sure there are no heavy metals lurking underground.  So I had been planning to stick to container gardening for this year, and here was a perfect way to get started.

I chose a sunny spot that was filled with weeds and daylilies like this:

Though the existence of the daylilies seem to indicate full sun, it is hard to tell now before the trees fully leaf out.  So I decided to stick with veggies that (supposedly, I’ve never tried…) can thrive in lower light — swiss chard, arugula, and cilantro.  As the spring and summer progress, I’ll reassess and adapt as necessary.

I cleared and leveled out the ground:

And as the tutorial explained, lay down some cardboard as a foundation and got started laying out my spiral!

It took a couple days to set it all up, with the help of Mr. R.  Finally I filled it with some straw and then a large bag of potting soil.

I started with some seed, but with the extremely hot, dry weather we’ve been having, and considering I am not home 24/7 to keep the soil moist, I didn’t have much luck.  So I picked up some seedlings nearby; hopefully this way I’ll be able to really drench the soil enough to last all day.

 

Gardening is always a little touch and go, especially as strange as the weather has been this spring.  And I’m new to this whole container gardening thing.  So we’ll see how this works out — hopefully I’ll have some fresh greens soon!

The next object I want to re-purpose into a container garden is what I think is an old wash basin, cemented into the ground next to my brick spiral.  I already had Mr. R drill some drainage holes, but, even in this warm weather, I think I’ll wait till beyond the average last frost date in May just to be safe.

-R

Garden magic

This yard looks like it has been neglected for a long time, but there are so many amazing surprises that pop up now that spring has sprung early here in the midatlantic.  I’m discovering new things every day!

The dogwood in my front yard has PINK blossoms!  So cool!  Nevermind that it’s March 31 and the dogwoods are blooming…

Here is a flower still unfurling…

 

Good news:  the lily of the valley is starting to bloom!  Can’t wait to take in its intoxicating fragrance…

Bad news:  there is a LOT of this poisonous plant — more than I want in my front yard — and it’s going to be a pain to remove!

It looks like these azaleas might have white blossoms?

Beautiful iris!

I have no idea what this is.  Any clue?

I’m not sure what this one is either…though there’s my last blooming daffodil in the background!

A line of hostas has popped up along the shed!

Wisteria.  So lovely.

And finally, the last of my forsythia still in bloom.

I HEART spring!

-R

Baking backlog

So for my birthday a few months ago Mr. R gave me this AWESOME new stand mixer.  Man.  How did we ever bake anything without it?  Truly a life changer.

So with the various holidays, weddings and babies I’ve celebrated over the spring (did I mention how busy the spring was?), this thing was put to good use!

On Easter (yes, yes I’ve been that slow with updating), I made a cake inspired by the Washington Post’s peep diorama contest.

If you look real closely and use your imagination, you can kind of see it bears a resemblance to peeps engaged in an Easter egg hunt!  Ha.

I honestly don’t remember what cake recipe I used, but obviously any kind will do.

I will, however, say that with my stand mixer I was able to try a REAL buttercream icing — one that is meringue-based, not just butter and sugar — and let me tell you, I will never go back.  This stuff is like heaven.  And I’m not even a huge cake person.

Here is an overview of the various buttercream icings with a tutorial on Italian buttercream.  I made a Swiss buttercream using this recipe.  Pretty simple with fantastic results.

I also had to give this thing a try on royal icing — which was always a huge pain with just a handheld mixer.  AMAZING difference.  The most beautiful royal icing I have ever seen, with hardly any of the effort of before.  Again, life-changing!

It made these Easter-themed sugar cookies a breeze!  Well…..sorta 😉

I also could not resist making a batch of cookies for the baby shower of a dear family member of mine.  I mean…how cute are they?

Here is my post on baking and decorating sugar cookies with royal icing.  The Wilton website is also a great resource, which is where I got the idea for the teddy bears.  Of course, theirs looks much better than mine!

Tonight I’m going to put the mixer to use again in making pizza dough for my favorite pizza with radicchio and onion-balsamic marmalade.  But this time we’ll cook it on the grill!  Yum, can’t wait!

-R

 

Strawberry jam

Just turn a blind eye to the inordinate amount of sugar in this recipe…preserving your strawberries allows you to enjoy their goodness year-round.  Really, this jam tastes like heaven.

I’ve also found that having a stash of fruit preserves in your closet comes in handy when you need a last-minute gift for someone!  Truthfully though, you have to be an awfully special person in my life to receive a jar of my beloved jam, with all the time and energy and love that goes into each batch.

Jam, jelly, preserves…the terms seem to be used interchangeably but they each describe a continuum of “pulpiness” if you will, with jelly being made from pure, strained fruit juice, free of seeds and pulp, preserves being relatively intact fruit, and jam somewhere in between.

It is pretty difficult to screw up strawberry jam, and if you don’t plan to can it I encourage you to break free from the constraints of a recipe and just boil some mashed strawberries, sugar and pectin together in a saucepan to your heart’s content.  You can even experiment with mixing different fruits and seasonings.  It should keep in the fridge for two-ish weeks, and in the freezer for months.

If preserving in a boiling water canner, however, the acidity does matter in keeping bacteria at bay, so it is more important to follow a recipe and keep a specific ratio of ingredients that follows USDA guidelines for safety.

This recipe for basic strawberry jam comes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Strawberry Jam
makes approximately eight 8-oz jars

7 cups granulated sugar
5 cups strawberries, hulled, sliced once and crushed with a potato masher or fork (do not strain liquid)
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 package (1.75 oz) regular pectin

Place clean mason jars on a rack in a boiling-water canner, or a stock pot large enough to submerse jars in water (top of jars should be at least three inches below water).  Bring water to a simmer.

Clean lids and screw bands and bring lids to a gentle simmer in a saucepan to sterilize.

Measure sugar in a bowl and set aside.

Put crushed strawberries/juice into a large pot.   Add lemon juice.  Dissolve pectin into the mixture.  Bring pot to a full rolling boil.

Add the sugar all at once stirring constantly.  Bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.  Boil hard for one minute.

Remove from heat and skim off as much foam as possible.  Your first few jars will probably have a bit of foam; that is okay.

Remove a jar from the canner with tongs.  Ladle strawberry jam into each jar, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.

Wipe rim of jar and place lid on top.  Carefully screw on a band until it is tight.  Return jar to canner and repeat with the next jar.

When all jars are filled, lower rack into the canner and make sure there is at least 1 inch of water above all jars.  Bring to a full rolling boil and then process (continue boiling) for ten minutes.  Water must be boiling hard for the entire duration of the 10 minute processing time.

When ten minutes are up, remove from heat and wait at least 5 minutes.  Remove jars from canner and leave undisturbed for 24 hours.  The next day, check for a proper seal — the lids should no longer be “popped.”

These cans will keep for about a year for your strawberry enjoyment 🙂

 

-R

 

Classic strawberry shortcake

According to the cookbook “Dishing Up Maryland” by Lucie Snodgrass, from where I have adapted this recipe, “In the South, strawberry shortcake is always made with biscuits rather than sponge cake; in this and many other culinary leanings, Maryland seems to side with the South over the North.”  Truthfully, I can’t imagine it any other way.  I could eat this strawberry shortcake for every meal of the day (but I won’t admit here how much I’ve already indulged in so far this weekend!)

 

Strawberry shorcake
serves six

1/2 cup sugar
2 quarts strawberries, hulled and cut in half
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
1/2 cup half and half
1 pint whipping cream

Optional:  2 stalks rhubarb, diced, 1 tablespoon pectin

While you make the biscuits, macerate the strawberries by sprinkling with 3 T sugar and placing in the fridge for about an hour.

Yesterday, I happened to have some rhubarb on hand so instead of plain strawberries, I made a quick compote by combining the rhubarb and strawberries in a saucepan with the sugar and a dusting of pectin, bringing to a boil and simmering until a nice, saucy consistency.  This was pretty awesome but pure, unadulterated strawberries are good too.

To make the biscuits:  preheat oven to 425.  Whisk together the flour, 3T sugar, baking powder, lemon and salt.  Combine butter in with your hands until mixture is crumbly.

Beat the egg together with the half and half.  Mix into the dry ingredients.  Dough should be very soft and pliable, but should not be so sticky you can not work it.  Add a bit more flour as necessary.

Turn out onto a well-floured surface and roll or press down with your hands to about a 1/2 inch thickness.  Cut into rustic squares and bake them on an ungreased sheet for about 10 minutes, until lightly golden brown.

Whip the cream, about 2T sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla until it forms soft peaks.

Split the biscuits in half and generously spoon strawberries and whipped cream.

Pause and take in this delicious moment.  Summer has begun!

-R