Monday, June 7, 2010

Snap Peas in a Pod

In the grand scheme of attempting to eat healthier, and increase the amount of vegetables in my diet, I’m embarking on a summer full of picking and freezing my own. Due to the fact that I live in an apartment, my eventual plan of growing my own will have to wait until I own a house. So for now, I’ll just head to some great local farms and see what they’ve got to offer.

I loved going berry and apple picking as a kid, but once my mom had four of us to wrangle, we stopped going as often. Consequently, I now have no idea when picking seasons actually are. After missing out on everything but apples last summer, I proactively searched out all the local farms and got on their mailing lists. About a week ago I got my first email from Rowe’s Produce in Belleville, Mi. They are a good sized operation that has pick-your-own Strawberries, Peas, Sweet Corn and Raspberries. They also have a pretty fantastic looking produce market that’s set to open in July selling everything else I could want!

The email stated that Strawberries and Sugar Snap Peas were ripe and ready to be picked. My husband, his younger sister and I headed out and met up with one of my best friends and her two kids for a morning of picking. It was warm, but not hot and overcast, which made being out in the fields rather pleasant. In about an hour – an hour and a half, we’d managed to collect two pecks of peas and several flats of strawberries.
Miles - helping pick peas!
Rachael and Josh get to work.
Rachael, Me, Ruth and Maren in the field
Fresh Sugar Snap Peas

And here entered a slight problem, I had no idea how to freeze peas. I knew with berries I just had to spread them out on a tray, freeze them and pop them into freezer bags. I was pretty sure peas would require a little extra work. My mom confirmed my suspicions, I first had to blanch them and then I could freeze them.

I hadn’t really had to blanch anything before, but I knew the concept, it’s pretty simple. I started out snapping the tops off the peas (with Sugar Snap Peas, you can eat the pod), and rinsing them. Once rinsed, I dumped them into a large pot of boiling water and set my timer for two minutes. I don’t know all the chemistry behind it, but you want them just slightly cooked before freezing, but not too cooked or they’ll be mush when you want to use them later. When my timer went off, I strained out the hot water and placed them in a large bowl of water that had been waiting in my fridge.
Rinsing all the sand and anything else off.
Blanching the Peas

I now had a bunch of room temp, slightly cooked peas! I spread them out on a paper towel and patted them to remove some of the water. Next I filled three quart sized Ziploc vacuum bags. I used to have a vacuum sealer, but it no longer seals, so when I saw the new Ziploc version, I was sold. All you have to do is seal the bag, place the plastic plunger over the circle delineated on the bag, and pump out the air.

Drying them out a bit...
Ziploc's Vacuum Seal bags - Labeled and ready to go.
My husband demos the ease of sealing them.
Sealed and ready to eat when I want them!
My freezer is looking healthier already!! I can’t wait for the rest of the peas to get ripe.

A decent start on a self-stocked Freezer: Snap Peas and Strawberries.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Who need's fine dining for a romantic dinner?!

The Table - all set and ready for the first course

I've never been a huge Valentine's Day fan, usually Josh and I just go out and grab something inexpensive (read: Red Lobster or the like) and fast if we do anything at all for the Hallmark holiday. This year however, I decided to try my hand at cooking an elaborate meal. No stranger to homecooking (although usually not as ethnic as previous posts may lead you to believe), I don't usually make appetizers and desserts when I cook a normal dinner. I will admit to the meal being inspired by Gordon Ramsey's cookalong live that aired back in December. I DVR'd it and thought the Steak Diane looked pretty fabulous. So did the appetizer. Not a fan of shrimp though, I decided to alter the angel hair pasta recipe to include spicy Italian sausage and portobello mushrooms. Let me tell you, it worked.

Knowing that I wanted to be able to eat with my husband, I took some time and planned through how/when I would prep things and when to cook them all. Making the dessert ahead of time was obviously a time saver. I decided to make Chocolate Lava Cakes, so I could make them in advance and refrigerate them until baking. I started by melting the chocolate and butter over a pot of simmering water.

Ingredients for Dessert!
Melting the chocolate and butter, yum!
Once the chocolate had melted, I mixed into the egg yolks, vanilla and sugar I had mixed. Then I went to work on the egg whites (this is where a stand mixer would come in handy - someday!). Once stiffened, I folded them into the Chocolate mixture and poured into ramekins that I'd buttered and dusted with sugar. Then I covered them with saran wrap and stuck them in the fridge until I was ready to bake them.

The Chocolate Mixture
Folding in the Egg Whites
Filled and ready to be baked
Once dessert was taken care of, I set the table and relaxed until it was time to start dinner. I began by prepping everything before-hand (this included the dinner ingredients as well). Talk about a time saver. Cooking goes so much faster when you can just throw things in instead of having to chop stuff up as you're going. Since I had decided to alter the recipe to include a spicy sausage, I wanted to white wine that would pair well with it. Kim Crawford's Sauvignon Blanc was a good match.

The raw Ingredients

All prepped and ready for the skillet
I use my Wok for just about everything!
The finished product
It turned out great! Josh even ate the scallions and tomato (for those of you that know him, you know that's a big deal!). The spicy sausage and red chili were balanced by the minerality of the wine, earthiness of the mushrooms and sweetness of the fresh basil. I'll definitely be adding this to the rotation. It was quick and easy to cook, and tasted great!
Everything for Dinner...
The main course consisted of Steak Diane, Herb Roasted Potatoes, Sauteed Asparagus and Sourdough Bread with Cabernet Sauvignon to drink. Once we'd finished eating our pasta, I got started on dinner. The potatoes were the easiest. I just tossed them with Herbs, Salt, Pepper and Olive Oil and placed them in the oven to bake while I was cooking the rest.
Herbs and Potatoes, soon to be roasted
The next thing I did was prep my steaks. I chose four small fillet mignon hoping for some left-overs! I sprinkled them with salt and pepper and rolled them out with a rolling pin to tenderize them. Then I browned them on either side, removed them from the skillet and started on the sauce.
The steak!
Shallots, garlic and mushrooms
The sauce consists of sauteed shallots, garlic and mushrooms in butter. Next you add worcestershire sauce and some Dijon mustard. Then you pour in Brandy and Flambe to burn off the alcohol. I made Josh stand by in case I burned the apartment down, but it was way less dramatic than I thought it would be. After that, a full cup of heavy cream, how can it not taste wonderful? I was also sauteing the asparagus while all this was going on, and heating up a loaf of bread I picked up from the grocery store (someday I'll tackle bread baking).
Steaks, simmering in the Diane sauce.
Finally we could sit down to our meal. Although in all honesty it didn't take that long, and since we'd had the pasta, waiting for the main course wasn't an issue at all. For wine we opened up a bottle of Columbia Crest's Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. We are HUGE fans of their 2007 Merlot and decided to give the Cab a shot. While we enjoyed it with dinner, it isn't as fabulous as the Merlot. Still, we were pleased with the meal and the wine.
And Wine!!
All that was left, was the dessert. I popped the already prepped cakes into the oven for about 8-10 minutes and they were done! I sprinkled them with powdered sugar and served them with fresh strawberries. Now, who needs to go out to dinner?!? Not us!!!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Dim Sum Saturday

Sui Mai and some regular Dumplings
For my brother John’s 24th Birthday, he picked Dim Sum for the standard family meal. For everyone’s birthday, my mom makes dinner and we do the whole family gathering thing, as I’ve added Josh and John has added Wendy, they’ve gotten larger. My brother wanted everyone to try something new, so he chose Dim Sum. We’d thought about just going out to a restaurant, but decided that it would be a lot more fun to try it ourselves at my parent’s house.

Wendy picked out several recipes of John’s favorites. They included Sui Mai – which are little dumplings that are open on top (like mini baskets). Har Gow – steamed dumplings with delicate almost transparent wrappers. Cheong Fun – Shrimp wrapped in rice noodles, and Wu Gok – Crispy Taro rolls. We also made regular pork dumplings, and of course Spring Rolls.
Just two of the fillings Wendy made
I have no idea how long it took her, but Wendy threw together all the fillings at home. There were so many bowls of raw fillings that it seemed impossible to make all of them! I started in on wrapping the Spring Rolls. I was pretty proud of my first attempt at making these. Next time I want to learn how to make the filling as well.

Peeling Wrappers for Spring Rolls
Spring Roll Filling - Chicken, carrots, mushrooms, etc.
Finished and Ready for Cooking!
While I was doing that, Wendy got the Taro Rolls started. First she cooked up the filling and got the Taro boiling. For those who have never heard of Taro (I never had until the last year or so), it’s sort of like a potato. It’s the root of a large leafed plant. It tastes kind of like a cross between a potato and a sweet potato. It also turns slightly purple when mashed. I will probably start experimenting with these where I’d usually use potatoes for something new and fun. But I digress.

Raw Taro Root (Thanks Wikipedia)

Diced Taro
Once we had the spring rolls made, and John started frying them, we moved on to other things.

Doesn't he look thrilled to be helping?

 I began stuffing the Sui Mai with a combination pork and shrimp filling while my grandma watched. These were incredibly simple as I didn’t have to seal the wrappers. I topped each with a bit of edamame.

Making Sui Mai

Wendy made the wrappers for the Har Gow, filled them and threw together the Cheong Fun (which were super easy, but REALLY good). My mom joined in the fun and started making some standard pork dumplings.

Wendy making Cheong Fun

Cheong Fun after steaming

Making Har Gow wrappers - very sticky

Har Gow - uncooked

Mom making Dumplings
While all this was going on, Wendy was systematically steaming the finished dumplings in the bamboo steaming racks (one of my favorite Christmas gifts!).

Steaming Dumplings
I finished by pinching off bits of mashed Taro (with flour and other things) dough, flattening it, filling it with pre-cooked pork and rolling it into a ball. These were then fried golden. Next time we’ll be adding more salt, as they were a little lacking.

Wu Gok filling

Taro Dough

Wu Gok
I have to say, while it was a LOT of work, it sure beat going to a restaurant. Us girls had a great time together and my mom and I got to learn a few new tricks. It was much more fun spending the time together to make a fabulous birthday lunch for my brother!