Monthly Archives: December 2010

Easy Peasy Rice Pilaf

Cooking rice has been hard for me.  Generally speaking, it turns out a bit crunchy still and for the longest time I just made orzo instead.  It’s taken me a while to get the hang of cooking rice in the first place, but I just wanted to make a pilaf that I could serve as a side dish instead of the ubiquitous potato.  A pilaf is simply rice that is cooked in broth.  Often people add vegetables or seasoning, but the broth will suffice.  And I think that the broth makes the rice more tender in it’s own right.  Since I make my own broth, minuscule bits of meat and the flavorings are also added into the rice.  I made this to go with some Indian butter chicken the other night and Liam couldn’t eat it fast enough!  In fact, Matt and I were long done with our suppers, just waiting for him to finish up so we could play!  Recently, he’s been a little picky about textures, so I was super excited that he ate the peas as well.  I made this dish with Indian flavors so it went well with our chicken, but you could leave those out, and put in some Cajun spices and have a totally different side!  I love how versatile this dish is and have plenty of ideas for the future.
Simple Pilaf
  • 2 Tbsp. Ghee
  • 1 1/2 c. Jasmine Rice
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 c. peas
  • 3 c. Chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. Turmeric
  • 1 tsp. Garam Masala
  • Cilantro, salt and pepper to taste
Melt the Ghee in the bottom of a 2 qt pan on medium heat.  When the pan is coated, add in the onions and saute until tender.  Then, add in the rice, turmeric, and Garam Masala and saute until the rice is coated with the spices and ghee.  Carefully pour in the stock and bring to a boil.  Once the rice boils, turn the heat down to a simmer, add the peas and cover.  Cook, stirring from time to time for about another 20 minutes or until the stock is absorbed into the rice and is soft.  When the rice is done cooking, fluff with a fork and season to your taste.

For your cheflet: This is a great introduction to spices for your little one!  Depending on your tastes, you can use the rice and peas as a canvas to bring some variety into your little one’s palette.  Since peas and rice are such simple foods, I would actually start this with a child as young as 6-8 months.  Once they are at least 9 months, I would mince bits of tender chicken and add that to the mix as well.  Warning:  If you make this dish like I did, don’t be surprised if your little one’s clothes are stained yellow from the Turmeric.  I always make sure Liam is wearing something dark and a large bib when we eat Indian food!

Homemade Baklava

As I sit here typing this, my husband is struggling outside in the weather trying to keep up with the snow.  We had thought it wouldn’t start until late this afternoon, but were surprised to wake up to serious ground cover and snow that was reminiscent of cotton balls falling from the sky. So this afternoon, we staying in, cuddling up and watching Christmas movies.  I’m so glad that the baklava baking was done yesterday while the weather was perfectly clear.  Although, had I gotten stranded coming home from the house we were at, I would have had something wonderful to munch on!
Baklava
1 (16 oz) package phyllo dough
1 lb chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans or pistachios)
1 c. butter, melted
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 c. water
1 c. white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 c. honey

 

 

 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9×13 inch pan or a baking sheet with deep sides.  Chop nuts finely (I used a food processor) and toss with cinnamon. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cover phyllo with a dampened cloth to keep from drying out as you work. Place 7-8 sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Sprinkle nut mixture on top. Top with another stack of 7-8 sheets of dough, butter, nuts, layering as you go. The top layer should be about 6 – 8 sheets deep and buttered generously.  Using a sharp knife cut into diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan. Bake for about 50 minutes until baklava is golden and crisp.
 
While the baklava is baking, make the sauce. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove baklava from oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cupcake papers. This freezes well. Leave it uncovered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.

The Evolution of a Lawn

This is part of the Healthy Child Blog Carnival  – an effort by Healthy Child Healthy World to help inspire a movement to protect children from harmful chemicals. 

This year marks 5 years since Matt and I began the search for our house.  It also marks 5 years of changing ideals and plans for our lawn.  We bought our home in October and were married in the early spring, so I had plenty of time to dream about what I was going to do with the expansive flower gardens plotted out by the previous owners.  When the weather warmed up, I went nuts at the garden shops planting everything I could get my hands on.  Our home was beautiful, but it was a ton of work.  So, for the first time in my life, I purchased liquid weed killer and sprayed.  I felt guilty to be sure and only wound up using it once, but it was still there.  Our home was built on a parcel of land that was formerly farmland.  There is evidence in that the soil is still fairly workable and supports our garden well.  Looking at our home from the street or even from a standing position, one would think that we have wonderful grass.  This is not the case.  We have clover, with a little grass.  In 2007, I radically changed our lifestyle and swore off chemicals.  Now, our weed killers are my hands and an occasional tea kettle of boiling water.  What has made the difference has been my attitude toward my lawn.

I no longer spend hours each spring transplanting delicate flowers into my flower beds.  I have hardy plants that bloom in succession and require only minimal effort.  In March, we have daffodils and the weeping cherry.  May brings the peonies and the beginnings of my hydrangeas.  The hydrangeas grace our home through until late August and sometimes early September.  In the back yard, the spaces where the grass needed the most loving care were torn up and turned into garden beds that provide us with food (and more weeds).  But you see, those weeds hold in the moisture in the soil (and the dandelions provide me with a tasty salad green).  We’ve had a nasty summer with heat and rare rain showers, but the indigenous weeds have kept my plants cool and moist.  Now when I am desperate to get the walkway weeded and just don’t have the time, my tea kettle and I have a date early in the morning.  I pour boiling water on the stubborn weeds and then let the hot morning sun do the rest.  Sometimes, it requires an additional dousing if it isn’t withered by the next morning.  Apple cider vinegar has also been handy for keeping the cracks in my driveway from sprouting it’s own forest.   We don’t mow our lawn as frequently as our neighbors, only about every 10 days.  Since our grass is longer, the sun isn’t burning the roots and we aren’t wasting water trying to keep it green.

Part of our efforts to keep any all chemicals out of our yard has also been to talk with our neighbors about their lawn care.  Every spring, they get their lawn treated by a local lawn service.  It took some doing, but I did finally work up the nerve to research out what the lawn service offered as an alternative to the chemicals.  I offered to pay the difference, and now my neighbors are going on 3 years of organic lawn care.  Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

These days, we spend our time in the grass playing.  Liam loves to run his fingers through the grass and play with each blade.  He loves to dig down into the dirt and feel the textures of the worms and soil.  He plays, I pull the weeds that insist on taking up residence where the daffoils bloom all spring.  Growing up, my parents never used anything but labor on their gardens and lawns.  We never worried about what was in the grass when we rolled around playing in the summer sun.  So for the sake of my baby (and quite honestly, the dogs too), we don’t use anything either.  We no longer worry and fuss about the lawn and are able to spend time outside watching the birds who come to snack on the green pears and my berry bushes.  I am hopeful that coupled with our garden, we will be able to use our yard as a place to teach, learn and appreciate the world around us without worry.

Bethlehem Star Cookies

This post is part of my contributions for The Virtual Cookie Swap at Farmer’s Daughter!
These are cookies that my family has made every single Christmas that I can remember.  In fact, I just don’t think it would be Christmas without them.  The recipe comes from a worn index card written out in my Mother’s father’s handwriting and is simply titled “star cookies”.  Love the cookie, hate the name.  So I renamed them, with the help of my youngest brother “Bethlehem Star Cookies”.  These cookies happen to be my father’s favorite of all the cookies we baked, so I always make a batch just for him… if I don’t eat them first!
Cookie Dough:
  • 1 1/3 c. Flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 egg

 

Cream the butter and sugar.  (Then taste and make sure it’s amazing.)  Mix the remainder of the ingredients together.  Roll the dough out onto a floured surface and cut into star shapes.  Fill with nut filling.
Nut Filling:
  • 1 1/4 crushed walnuts
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup

Stir together and use to fill the above cookies.  Pinch the sides of the cookie up so that they look like little crowns and bake for 7-10 minutes in a 400 degree oven.  Cool and store (or eat).

Golden Mashed Potatoes

I think everyone has that one comfort food that soothes their soul no matter what.  For me, this food is mashed potatoes.  I love them so much and if you can make creamy, fluffy mashed potatoes you are my best friend if only by default.  I would have to think that when people read down through my list of foods to master, it may have been considered odd that I included mashed potatoes.  How hard are they, really?  Unless you’re all fancy and stuff, they’re simply some cooked tubers, butter, milk, salt and pepper.  But for me the sign of a really good mashed potato is that they reheat nicely.  You see, I don’t like to just make a few potatoes to be eaten for one meal and then forgotten.  I like to be able to sneak into the fridge and have a bowlful at 2 in the morning.  I want to be able to reheat them and not have a starchy mass settling on my plate.  Finally, after literally years of experimenting with potatoes, add-ins, and utensils, I have found myself a winner.
The difference lies in the fact that there are 3 kinds of potatoes in this dish: regular baking potatoes, Yukon gold potatoes and sweet potato.  The addition of the sweet potato gave me the consistency that I’ve been searching for, but it did change the color dramatically.  I’ve decided that this makes my dish special and with the added Vitamin A, I’m willing to let go of the ideal white potato cloud.
Mashed Potatoes
  • 1 lb regular baking potatoes
  • 1 lb Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 large Sweet potato
  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. sour cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
Peel all the potatoes and then roughly chop them.  Place them carefully in a stockpot of boiling, salted water and cook until they are easily pierced with a fork.  Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, reserving the water in case you want thinner potatoes.  Put the potatoes in a bowl and beat on medium with an electric mixer.  Once they have mashed part way, add in the butter and sour cream.  Continue to beat them until they are fluffy and smooth.  Season to your taste.  To reheat, simply warm and if desired add some butter!

For your cheflet:  This is the easiest baby food ever and you have the bonus of 2 foods in one.  Feel free to plop a spoonful on your little one’s plate (as long as you are certain they have no reactions to any of the potatoes) and watch them enjoy the sensations of squishing the potatoes through their fingers before they taste!

Anisette Cookies

Growing up we had these cookies at every family dinner, every holiday, every single time there was an excuse to bake.  My Nonnie and her sister used to make these all the time, only instead of calling them Anisette cookies, they called them Biscotti.  I’ve asked around and no one seems to know why.  Another un-known is why both women pronounced the “c” as a “g”.  So these are my Nonnie’s “Bis-Gotti” cookies.  I made 1 batch and split the dough in half.  One half I flavored as listed below, but the other half I made for those people who aren’t really into anise flavoring.  Those cookies are lemon flavored: 1tsp lemon extract and 1 1 /2 Tbsp lemon zest to replace the anise seed.  Wonderful.  I’m sharing my Nonnie’s recipe because she isn’t here to do it herself.  And I’m sharing it with you as part of Farmer’s Daughter’s Cookie Swap!  Enjoy!

 

Nonnie’s Anisette Cookies
  • 1 c. Crisco
  • 1 1/2 c. Sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. Sour Cream
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp. Anise Seed
  • 4 c. Flour

Cream together the first 3 ingredients.  Add in the sour cream, the baking powder, soda, salt, vanilla and anise seed.  Finally, mix in the flour half a cup at a time.  You are wanting a relatively stiff batter, so if you need to, feel free to add more flour.  Drop by the Tablespoon full onto a lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.  When the cookies are cooled, ice with a simple icing of powdered sugar and water (beat until the consistency you’d like).  These cookies store well for a week as long as they are sealed.