Saturday, August 27, 2016

Homemade fruit leather


When my daughter goes to her ballet classes, I generally go for a long run/walk if it’s nice out, or I’ll read in my car if it’s not. However, before I developed these healthy habits, I used to while away the time at the shopping strip just through the trees from the side of the studio.  This is when I discovered the treasure trove of stuff at Bed Bath and Beyond.  Piled high from floor to ceiling is glorious household stuff – and it’s all stuff YOU REALLY NEED.  There was a point when I bought a new appliance every week – waffle iron, ice cream maker, portable heater, juicer…

Of all the appliances stored in my closet, the food dehydrator has come upon the most use.  As a gardener and frequent farmer’s market purveyor of ripe summer fruits, July/August/September means a lot of delicious drying food is working its way through those dehydrator trays.  A favorite?  Homemade fruit leather. 

You can get complicated with this, and many recipes do. You can add lemon juice to prevent the fruit leather from darkening, there are instructions for straining your mixture, you can add sugar (no!). But the recipe below is all you need to know if you’ve never made fruit leather and want to try:

Fruit Leather Recipe

1) Puree a few soft fruits like the peaches we used here.

2) Pour into the fruit leather tray – right up to the top of the fruit leather tray is fine.

3) Dry until totally leathery. You’ll know when that is (about 6-8 hours?  Food dehydrators are very forgiving and you can’t mess it up!). It won't be wet and you'll be able to lift and peel it off of the tray in one piece. 

4) Peel off the tray.  One side will be stickier than the other.  Stick that side to wax or parchment paper.  That’s it!





This flexible fruit leather tray sits on top of the slatted dehydrator below.
To make life even easier, place fruit leather tray on the rigid dehydrator tray before filling.



Thursday, August 18, 2016

How to save garlic that's been in the ground too long


I should cross title this post “How to make garlic powder” because that’s the solution.

As you see in the photo above, I had a great garlic harvest.  It just happened to be harvested a few weeks too late!  A combination of heavy rain, intense heat, mosquitoes, and a summer vacation was what did this garlic in.  By the time I was able to dig up the bulbs, the leaves had completely dried up and you can see that most of the papers surrounding the cloves and the whole bulbs, had nearly disintegrated.  I did not think this garlic would store like garlic harvested at the right time would. 

In my freezer is a container of peeled cloves ready to go, and I did not need any more to be added to the already large amount. Fortunately, a Facebook friend happened to complete a project at the exact time I needed a solution for saving this garlic. 


To make Linda’s garlic powder, I sliced the garlic*, dehydrated the slices in the oven on the lowest setting with the door cracked (my food dehydrator was being used at the time), and when fully dry, flaked some and powdered some in the food processor.  Using my oven gave the garlic a more toasted color and flavor than Linda got in a dehydrator, but with garlic, a toasted flavor is ok with me.  As you can see from the jar of Linda’s garlic chips below, her garlic retained a lighter color.  Because she wanted to avoid clumping, she will store the fully dried chips in a jar and flake or powder them in smaller batches as she needs more.


I’m so excited that all this garlic could be saved and am looking forward to using my homemade garlic powder and garlic flakes in dishes throughout the year!

*I have cut garlic many thousands times of times without an issue.  When I did this project, I learned something important – garlic burns! If you look at the amount of garlic I cut, and realize that raw garlic juice was on my hand for a very long time, it makes sense that a mild irritant could really affect the skin.  Shortly after I finished and washed my hands, my left hand started burning pretty intensely.  Intense enough to do some research on garlic burns and get to the aloe plant to use.  The whole-hand burning lasted a good 20 minutes or so, but my left pointer finger and thumb continued to feel swollen and hurt for about 2 days as if I burned them on a hot pan.  Crazy.  Next time I will definitely wear gloves!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Here's why I've been quiet - I'VE WRITTEN A BOOK!


Poor, poor neglected blog... Here's the thing, when gardening and writing are 2 of your favorite pastimes (my blog friends know what I'm talking about), the urge to blog doesn't easily disappear, but often it takes the place of something else - usually a life change - in my case, the writing of a book!  If you've been following this blog, you know that I love writing about the less mainstream vegetables my family and I grow, including all the Chinese vegetables I grew up picking from the garden.  You also know I love cooking and food.

I have been so lucky and thrilled to be able to put together these things to create a beautiful book I am so incredibly proud of! Though I got to include about 20 of my own photos, most of the photography is done by Sarah Culver, a magnificent artist whose eye is close to my own. Where I had the aesthetic but not the creativity or technical skill to produce the photos I wanted, Sarah was able to translate what was in my head to real life.  If you love beautiful photos of the garden, you will not be disappointed when you flip through this gorgeous book!

I've also created a website and a blog there that will focus strictly on growing and cooking Asian vegetables.  If you're interested, please check it out and "like" The Chinese Kitchen Garden's page on Facebook to get notifications when there are new posts (or add to your blogroll if that's easier!).

The Chinese Kitchen Garden will be published by Timber Press in February 2017, but is available for pre-order now at your favorite bookseller like Amazon.  I'm so pleased to say that it's not even out but is already doing well!  Of course for me, the main goal is not to sell books (you probably know I have a day job that pays the bills), but to share some of my family and cultural experiences with the world, to highlight some amazing vegetables you may not have tried yet, and to show off some of my mom's best authentic Chinese recipes I grew up with. I've worked really hard to make this a really rich book. Please visit my website here and learn more about this book.  I know you'll love it!

Friday, July 15, 2016

How to keep animals from digging up newly sown seeds (bloodmeal!)

This squirrel sure seems to be enjoying the few raspberries I'm growing!


I'm pretty sure this gorgeous, sleek, fat squirrel is partially responsible for my garden failures early this season.  While my friends are posting photos of baskets full of green beans, tonight, I sauteed up a pan containing exactly 12 beans.  My family gathered around the dinner table where a plate of the 12 long beans lay straight as the tines on a fine-toothed comb.  Or maybe more like a wide-toothed hairpick. Each member of my family ate his/her 3 beans - not too fast! - lest he/she be accused of taking more than his/her fair share.  

What's the problem? Birds, squirrels, maybe a chipmunk...I'm not sure.  When I sow a row of beans, inevitably 70% of the seeds don't come up.  Sometimes it's because I'm a seed hoarder and put my faith in seeds that should have been tossed years ago.  But most of the time, I go into the garden and find a frustrating little hole where I planted a seed the day before.  Just a few plants make it and thus we end up with 12 beans for dinner.  

However, recently, my husband went to the hardware store and came back with a bag of bloodmeal as a "surprise" for me.  Whyever would you buy that, I asked??? For no other reason than, "Because it sounded like something you'd like".  

I have never used bloodmeal but turns out it supplies a good deal of nitrogen and has a side benefit of repelling small animal pests.  When half of my cucumbers did not come up (with the typical holes the next day where the seeds were just carefully placed), I started again with more seed and sprinkled some of the bloodmeal over the area.  No digging and seeds promptly germinated! 

So while we guardedly eyed each other tonight over the plate of 12 green beans, there is a bumper crop of cucumbers coming up. There will be peace once again in the Spray household and it's due to bloodmeal, a fertilizer with a name that people think gardeners would like.  Well, peace again until my addictive sweet/hot pickles are made - then they'll be eye-balling each other again!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens


Tucked behind the big red barn in Derwood, Maryland is the Montgomery County Master Gardener Demonstration Garden.  I like to choose a quiet afternoon to visit this favorite spot of mine and I leave with lots of great ideas.  The Master Gardeners who maintain all the well-loved bits and pieces of this demo garden are always trying new things and planting different kinds of vegetables. It's an excellent place for gardeners of all levels of experience to visit.  My last visit was on the day of their bustling open house when I gave a talk on growing and cooking Asian vegetables.  Good thing the speaker before me was running late because I got to take a quick tour led by my friend Erica who blogs at Rogue Eggplant and also on the Grow It Eat It blog.  Check out all there is to learn:


In this African Keyhole Garden, made with the free compost bins our county provides, a central tower is continuously fed with kitchen scraps.  The compost that is created provides nutrients for the plants growing around it.  


Below: a lush headstart on spring vegetables using hoops and row covers.


The cute Children's Garden below is filled with plants with animal names.  


Straw bales, pallets, and plants growing inside!



Above: a lovely little pond.  Below: a theme I somehow missed, but it sure is well-marked, isn't it?!


A beautiful, colorful salad table!


Below: one of several beds maintained by special groups.


The annual spring open house is a wonderful event with plant sales, casual tours of the demo garden, experts on call to help with plant issues, workshops, crafts and activities for kids and tons of giveaways like seeds and this adorable popsicle stick pre-labeled and stuck with seeds below - ready to just push into the ground and grow!


Friday, January 8, 2016

How to make Chinese scallion pancakes




My sister and I grew up on these scallion pancakes - dense enough to carry us through those hungry hours between after school and dinnertime, yet intricate enough to be devoured crisp outer portion first with the tender and chewy layers slowly savored.

The key to making these pancakes is not the recipe, but the method used for rolling them out. Search the web for a standard dough recipe (keep in mind this is not the Korean pajeon, which often contains different and more fillings and is not made with this type of dough). My father's savory scallion filling includes: chopped scallions, chopped cilantro, sesame oil, and vegetable oil. Keep the salt handy and don't be afraid to be generous with it. The photos below show how my father rolls these delicious pancakes. Follow these instructions to make Chinese scallion pancakes how they are traditionally done - with thin layer upon thin layer of dough and the flavorful oniony mixture throughout.



Roll out a softball-sized hunk of dough.


This fragrant mixture contains: scallions, cilantro, sesame oil and vegetable oil.


Sprinkle the pancake with salt and cover it with a small amount of filling. Roll it up.




Break into four pieces.


Flatten each piece.


Roll out one of the small balls of dough into a round pancake.


Sprinkle pancake with a generous amount of salt. Add a portion of the scallion mixture.


Roll it up.


Begin to make a coil.


Coil the pancake onto itself. It will look a bit like soft serve ice cream.


Flatten this coiled ball into a round pancake, pressing with your hand and rolling it out with a rolling pin as needed.


Roll the other three the same way.


The first four pancakes are done! Now the next hunk of dough can be made into the next four pancakes.




To cook these pancakes, add a tablespoon of oil to a pan over medium-low heat. When hot, add a pancake and fry on both sides until golden. Enjoy!







Saturday, October 17, 2015

Hainanese chicken - exclusive secret!




As you may know, I have a book coming out by Timber Press around December 2016. I can't wait for this book about growing and cooking Chinese vegetables to come out! Inside are all kinds of family stories, secrets, and even some of my favorite recipes - including a recipe for Hainanese chicken and rice.  If you've had it, you know how incredible this delicious chicken is over rice, especially with a spoonful of the savory and fragrant ginger and onion oil on top. You'll have to wait for the official recipe to come out, but I will share a secret with you in advance that won't be printed in the book...



My mom's Hainanese chicken is rubbed with salt and sits in the fridge for a couple of days. Since we have to do all that waiting, she tends to prepare 2 or even 3 of these chickens at a time.

This chicken is cooked low and slow by simmering and then steeping in a pot of water. The result is a whole chicken with the most ridiculously tender texture you've ever had.

Here's a secret: after steeping the chicken, my mom actually saves the broth for cooking another chicken. And then sometimes, she saves the broth for cooking yet another chicken! As you can imagine, this broth gets better and better over time and each chicken ends up being more and more flavorful.

Today, I was doing a final test on this recipe before it's submitted to my editor and I cooked 4 chickens in this pot!  Now I'm just trying to figure out how I might savor this super concentrated broth. I may use some to cook the rice that will be served alongside my chicken. I may treat it as a base for my favorite chicken and dumplings recipe. I may freeze in small amounts to use as recipe starters. Or I may just keep the whole pot safe in the freezer for those unavoidable winter colds. No doubt it will make a really powerful chicken soup cure.

While this secret will not be included in my book, the book will be chock full of many other interesting tips and tricks, and I can't wait to share it with you!
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