Snow snow snow – snow go away – ….
Actually despite the mounds of snow we have received every Friday for five weeks now in a row for New York and surrounding states, I just love how it looks. Shoveling it is of course another matter. But as I go outside and fill the bird feeders every couple of days, I glance out at my little and humble plot of land that belongs now to me since buying my home in upstate New York. And while I have only been here a month, and roughly unpacked 35 of the 90+ boxes that moved me to my new place that I now can call home, I still am quite excited to see what Spring shows up and brings me in my gardens. It’s one of the few things that can keep my mind off the snow!
The gardens that are already in place are perennial flower gardens which showed evidence this past fall to include foxgloves, lupine, hollyhocks, roses, peonies, irises galore, cone flowers, daisies, you name it! But not one area was set aside for vegetables not even herbs. That’s okay, when you start your relationship with your little plot of land, some of the work should be work you actually do with your own hands. I have already ordered many seeds and will surely buy plants which brings me to today’s link to http://www.cooksgarden.com/ – aka The Cook’s Garden website. They are based in Pennsylvania and are offering real authentic organic seedlings and plants come Spring for you to order for your organic garden. Here’s yet another good source for tips on organic gardening – even for beginners! http://organicgardening.com/
Though I had a long ‘winter’ of no gardening since I lived in an apartment building for roughly 7 years and could only do a little roof top gardening, but when I have gardened in the past, I always practiced organic gardening. I grew up being taught by my mother that marigolds next to tomatoes help keep away the aphids among many other neat tricks. I would buy a tub of ladies bugs and ask the young neighborhood kids to come over for a ladybug release, allowing the kids to release the little creatures all over my gardens. There are many other tips of course I will share here in coming months. And growing your own organic herbs and vegetables will surely be healthier for your and your family along with saving you monies in your pocket book or wallet.
But now since I have moved but a month ago, I am so stoked to get back into the garden. There is something that is so special about the smell of the dirt, the finding of a few earthworms to help till your land, the excitement of witnessing your seeds coming up from the ground and of course picking your first tomato, your first cucumber, your first pepper or snip of herbs and bringing them into your kitchen to immediately cook with that makes all that hard work worthwhile. The smell alone of the freshly picked vegetables are enough to awake your senses to ask yourself why you hadn’t tried a little gardening before!
Even if you have but a 10×10 foot area of land or are limited to a few containers (like I was when I lived in the apartment building), you still can grow lots of vegetables to assist your grocery bill throughout the summer and into autumn. Just start small, and that is exactly what I am doing this first year. I will surely be concentrating on creating a serious herb garden using both containers and ground while attending the large flower gardens which have seen better days being that this house was on the market and the gardens were neglected for at least 7 months. I will also set out an area for the vegetable garden (since here I’m thinking less grass to mow – whoo hoo!) and use bean towers and fencing to help support the few vegetables I will be planting come this Spring.
Oooh I just looked up from my mac and witness blue skies! A sky color I haven’t seen in some days for sure – but with all this talk of snow, I have been drooling over ideas for my new vegetable garden that will go in this next Spring – which is just some 90 days away. Though I live in zone 5, there are still loads of resources and ideas out there. Feel free to visit the sites I found quite useful and get your mind out of the snow and into the dirt!
Chow Ciao for now,
The Chef Maven
I have been busy with activity since April but most importantly, I have not forgotten my readers – you, my faithful readers who enjoy catching the latest news and recipes in my kitchen. I am gearing up once again to write as often as I had in the recent past including adding new recipes – so hang in there! All new stuff is a coming!
So what have I been doing these past few 6 months? I have been house searching for a new place to live, a house to call my very own. I had been renting for over 7 years and felt it was time to really put down roots, quite literally. I so have been missing having a garden full of fresh herbs, just plucked tomatoes and peppers to use in making chili, and being able to bring freshly cut flowers inside to decorate my table, etc., but I had a few more requirements for this home.
I wanted a place that had a sunny yard where I could have that garden once again and a place for where my dog Theo could go out to play safely. I wanted to be in a neighborhood that was community driven versus being stuck deep out in the woods (though a weekend getaway in a place like this is always awesome), but close enough to a decent grocery store that served up fresh organic goods and was still close enough for me to commute to the city (New York) when I have to travel downtown for my clients and to my publisher. Of course there were other factors, like the price of the home, amount of taxes, and the general feeling of the house.
I knew it had to have that, “I’m home at last” factor.
Of course searching for a house can be a fun experience, I learned so much during this time and am now but a couple of weeks from closing on my very first home but it can also be daunting. Though it may be a buyers market, that doesn’t mean that each house is a great deal. Some houses had phenomenal kitchens and living space, but had other issues like no bathroom on the first floor which is common in old victorian homes (I just love those type of houses!) or neighbors who didn’t seem like the neighbors you’d want to live next to due to their piled up garbage by the side of their house you would
lovingly see out your kitchen window. Nope – I saw so many houses, I was getting annoyed and felt like simply giving up.
The first thing I learned was to ‘hang in there’ when you are searching and trying to find that right house. I seemed to ‘lose’ several houses I thought were to become my new home due to various reasons like being out-bid, a previous accepted offer upon seeing the house or upon really seeing the house inside something told me no (like smells you couldn’t even identify or obvious mold) … I would not mind a little work, and even a little construction, but with my humble price range, many houses were in need of a total gutting – which was something I just wasn’t up to. Talk about being frustrated – I was about to really pull out my hair with all the other things that were happening in my life simultaneously that I will simply not bore you with here.
Check out the neighborhood at different times. I ended up with a house that I thought I would not go for – and that surprised me. I was looking at homes that were in the victorian style or at the very least around 80-130 years old since these homes tend to have high ceilings and larger rooms. But I ended up with a cute 2 bedroom cape in a well developed neighborhood where the residents looked like they were stable and actually lived in their homes.
You can see neighbors working on their lawns and homes, kids walking home from school and still others walking their dogs or taking their children out for a stroll in and around the tree lined streets. I feel confident about my choice, I know I made the right one. And though there are things to be done to the home, most are easily done via DIY projects that I will undoubtedly share in this blog. Revisiting the city and town during different days and at different times will surely give you a better sense of how people live in the area you are looking for.
I would even take the dog with me, and walk him on the sidewalks by the house I was interested in to see his reaction – it was a sort of psychic and academic last check to see if the dog also liked the neighborhood and house that I was hoping to purchase. Oddly, quite funny and totally true, he and I were in the car in front of one house one time recently. Theo the dog looked out one window towards the prospective house, he then turned his head to me, looked me in the eyes, then made a sound that was so funny – it was a sort of “naaaaaaaaaeeeh” ” as if to say, I don’t like this house, I’m not impressed, keep on driving please. I laughed so hard, but knew I had to listen to him as well. Animals can have their own impressions of their new homes – so be sensitive to that as well when you are looking for your new home. And of course, he lays upon the couch at the moment, on his back, legs sprawled doing his best Al Bundy impression that only he can do – all he is missing is a half empty beer can of miller on the coffee table.
The house inspection went well and I am so grateful for that!
Tips on finding that perfect house for you.
When my realtor and I first saw this place, it was not listed on her website – an important point I make, since if you are feeling a bit disgruntled (like I was) in terms of the actual stock of houses out there in your budget range, I felt that I had seen every single one of them that was in my price range. But when I went to other websites, I found additional homes that were on the MLS yet that were not on her website. Was I ever glad for finding some new ‘stock’ of homes to peruse. So definitely look on various websites, do drive by’s at different times by the homes you are interested in seeing before you grab your Realtor to show them to you. It will save both you and your Realtor time so that you weed out places that are just not right for you.
So Back to the Kitchen I Go…
And so I have started to use up the canned goods (one less can to pack for each can I use) for the move and to think and be most organized about my new living space. I have also started to find tips on how to move your home and how to set up my art and office studios best with my new and now smaller space effectively.Last night I even thought about splurging on all new spices, since some of mine could be over the three years of age… I may not use them very often, and will surely visit the McCormick Spice Age Test – http://cftest.mccormick.com/mc3stage/content.cfm?ID=12098.
Also just last night I realized I should hold a tag sale of sorts for those items I am not taking to the new home. And I should have an art sale of my art work so I don’t have to take those over either. And talk about decluttering – yikes – I got lots to unload. So first of all I have been making more lists that I can even keep up with, and have been wanting to make sense of it all – I know being organized will surely help the entire process be a smooth as it can be in terms of moving in one month of time and having the few things done to the house prior to me moving in.
Back in another lifetime of careers, I was an interior designer both for commercial buildings and for residential properties. It’s been a long time since I worked on residential space (almost 20 years), but I have started to organize my projects, scoping out the best prices for a gas stove (the current stove at my new home is electric –eew!) and a dishwasher (there isn’t any – omg!). I will be sure to share via this blog my experiences with updating the kitchen for my readers who are also thinking about how to update the kitchen on a limited budget.
If you have any creative ideas of where to create an alternative pantry – do share with me! It’s going to be an interesting next six months getting used to this smaller kitchen, but most certainly know that the wonderful kitchen window that there already with it’s southern exposure can easily keep my winter basil going will be super fantastic! Heck, it might even get my violets to bloom once again.
So as always…stay tuned… You will see the changes I make to this home of mine while trying out new recipes I have created these past few months that I can’t wait to share with you like my creamy roasted squash and red bell pepper soup and my new whole grain bread recipes just to name a few.
Chow Ciao for Now,
The Chef Maven
Making homemade bread – $2.00, making homemade hummus $3.00, finding out that the flying burrito (think full pot of forgotten chili) can actually fly throughout your kitchen? PRICELESS!
This afternoon I found myself making homemade sun-dried tomato hummus, homemade bread which is in its second rising and finding out that the flying burrito (think full pot of forgotten chili) can actually fly, quite literally, into every nook and cranny your kitchen has to offer. After cleaning up (again) my kitchen floor, I am still laughing at myself as I tried to cleverly stupidly think I could simply cover up the open pot of chili with plastic bags and flip the pot over to catch the forgotten chili in need of being thrown out into said plastic bags easily. Nope. Never. Wow. The chili went everywhere… and I mean everywhere!
I never knew chili could fly at that velocity into places even I haven’t visited in my well-used kitchen. Even my slippers that were on my feet had to be thrown out, including the kitchen mat. So what – at least there’s amazing sun-dried tomato hummus and homemade bread about to be baked in the oven.
So here’s how to make great tasting sun-dried tomato hummus easily that goes great with everything including freshly grilled whole wheat pita bread, tortilla chips and fresh sliced homemade bread toasted on the grill.
1 can of garbanzo (chick peas) beans (12 ounces) rinsed. (I believe it’s a number 2 can)
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
juice of 2 fresh lemons
1/2 cup tahini paste
1 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper or less
1/4 cayenne pepper (optional)
6 pieces of sun-dried tomatoes – marinated or dried
1/2 cup water (as needed)
1 working food processor
Instructions on How to Make Homemade Sun-dried Tomato Hummus from Scratch Recipe:
Generally you will be adding most of the ingredients, and adding the sun-dried tomatoes lastly. The liquids are relative and aid in thinning out the homemade hummus that can’t even compare to that tubbed stuff you can buy at the grocery store. This yields roughly just over two cups and lasts two weeks in your refrigerator, should it even last that long at all, since it’s that great….u huh!
1) Rinse can of chick peas/garbanzo beans under cold water in colander in kitchen sink.
2) While beans are draining, set up food processor and place garlic cloves into processor – pulse or use on low setting till garlic cloves are nicely chopped.
3) Add rinsed beans into processor, add salt, tahini paste, pepper, half of the olive oil, cumin, crushed red pepper and other dry seasonings. Pulse at first, then on medium setting run food processor till mixture is relatively smooth. If you find it still rather lumpy or thick – go to step four.
4) I tend to add more liquid after my initial pulsing and processing (a 1/4 cup at a time) to help smooth out the hummus to this smoothness that I like it to be.I also taste-test at this point to see if any more seasonings will be needed.
5) Once it’s the smoothness that you like, add the sun dried tomatoes, and with a little more whirling of your food processor, they will have chopped them little selves into bits, creating a fantastic tasting sun-dried tomato hummus. It should not be runny, but thick enough to hold its shape on a spoon.
6) To serve up your hummus, place about a cup in a shallow bowl or plate, drizzle either olive oil or even sesame oil on top, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve it up with crackers, freshly grilled pita bread slices or even toast. Simply dip or spread onto your crackers and serve it up!
7) In storing your freshly made hummus, the usual thing to do is to place it in a container that has a good lid – but drizzle some olive oil over the top of the hummus, and even sprinkle a bit of paprika on the top, then seal with lid and place into your refrigerator. Let it sit out for 10 minutes before scooping it out into your serving bowls, and voila – enjoy!
8) Do note, that the garlic and other seasonings will come out a bit once the mixture has had some time (about an hour) to meld.
Where can I find tahini paste? I usually find tahini paste either by the peanut butter, the international isle or in the organic section of my grocery store. It can be around $5.00 here in NY and when you open the can, you may find that it has separated – not a problem. Carefully with a spoon, stir it up slowly at first, since the thick tahini will be at the bottom while the sesame oil will be on top. Once stirred, it rarely separates again. Keep the can once opened, in your refrigerator to keep it fresh. One can of tahini paste usually make three – four recipes of hummus as mentioned above.
When ever I made this, my friends and family can never get enough. They keep coming back for more… I am just saying. I often will have this for lunch, since chick peas/garbanzo beans are full of protein and fiber and when served up with crackers or grilled pita bread (my favorite way) which I then slice into little triangles – I am satisfied way more beyond then a burger would do me for lunch. And it’s a very affordable little appetizer to bring to a potluck or to have ready for your next dinner party!
Chow Ciao for Now,
The Chef Maven
Last Saturday I hosted a Dinner-n-Jam party, and frankly actually had homemade jam as part of the dishes and menu I served up. Musicians came to play, while others came to listen but all came to eat…
Here’s the menu I served up:
Baked Brie with Filo and homemade Blackberry and Jalapeno Jam (recipe to come)
Baby Arugula Salad with cranberries, almond slivers and crumbled goat cheese served up with homemade tarragon salad dressing.
Leah’s Pulled Pork ( I will have to share this one)
and for dessert, Brownies and Homemade Cheesecake with a lovely fresh glaze of blackberries and strawberries drizzled over on top of the cheesecake. (recipe to come)
A great time was had by all, for sure and plan on having on come this next June.
Chow Ciao for Now,
The Chef Maven
As I walked my dog this morning, I was reminded how ever grateful I am, while I sucked the fumes from passing trucks and cars into my lungs, that I do not travel ‘to go to work’ as I have done in my earlier years which was by train, by car, by highway, etc.
You see, I work from home. I may go visit my clients during the week by automobile, but I actually use my car less than 2 hours a week, yes that’s less than 2 hours a week.
In fact just yesterday, I thought I should check on my car insurance rates to see if I could lower my annual fees since I drive so little. I even laughed at myself a few weeks ago when I was traveling north on the New York Sprain Parkway heading home.
I had realized I am no longer one of those ‘rat race highway drivers’ and was quite frankly a little taken aback at how, during those rush hours, people drove was seemed like maniacs all around me. Where were they all going to and why did they drive so fast and so dangerously?
You see, I was in the middle lane, going the speed limit, while cars whooshed by me like I was simply standing still. I laughed at myself since I felt I had changed. I no longer was the one who was rushing to get home. Nor was I one of those people who was rushing to get to work either.
I wondered why everyone was in such a rush? Why was everyone in a ‘racing’ mode to get to and from their destinations, did not their own safety and the safety of others count as any importance to their commute?
I ask on this Earth Day and every day thereafter, to remember your fellow travelers, that they too have family they wish to arrive home safely to, and along with you, be reminded that speeding only has you spending more of your valuable money on gas.
I do know some of you have already caught this movie, and even others of you may have been forewarned due to its real look at how our food is made. This movie surprised me and I was fortunate enough to record it to my DVR, so that I can revisit this movie since there was so much information I felt that I had missed in its first viewing.
This movie discusses real issues, our government’s tactics, organizations and companies who manipulate and control so much of our food supply – I was rather dumbfounded and although I would love to rant about what was mentioned in this movie, I really suggest you catching it for you to make your own conclusions and for you to take actions by what foods you purchase on a daily basis for you and your family. Really!
I had become a vegetarian within the first few minutes….
I was enlightened by what I saw in this movie and wanted to relocate to a place immediately where I could grow my own food. Then I thought of all the work, back breaking work, for running a small farm. It’s one thing to have a garden and even a large garden but running a small farm is not easy by any means.
Weeding and I have never been the best of partners and I have always grown organically – it was how I was raised. We didn’t use pesticides – and in recent years, I invited neighborhood children and their parents in joining me in releasing a purchased jar of lady bugs as natural deterrents to aphids on my roses and other plants.
Do I miss those days before the deer started moving in (or is it us moving into their territory?) where the deer would feed on our azaleas and hostas? ‘Hostas to deer is the equivalent of fresh endive to us humans’, a line I would mention and repeat more than a few times to friends when complaining about the deer problem here in Westchester, New York.
It got so bad at times, I would give the deer, as one tactic, whole wheat bread and apples cut up. When I called the cats in for the night during dusk, the deer had learned to come on ‘in’ too. Friends were amazed at how I had trained these deer to come into our large back yard. The feeding of the deer was to hopefully get them full enough to leave my flowers alone. And the cats and deer soon became good friends, really!
I was not attempting to train the deer in anyway, they had already learned to take their own path to my home for years, eat on the apples from the apple trees in the front yard during the late summer and autumn months – And as I fed the birds in their feeders, frequently, the deer would sleep underneath the bird feeders to catch any seeds by morning.
I would often joke that the light beacon that showed that the electric fence was on was actually a deer beacon to say, sure, come down the driveway, and eat at Quinn’s Fresh Apple Farm – There’s Enough for the Whole Herd! What a waste of electricity is was.
My Next Green Move on this Earth Day:
Today I am going to visit a small empty lot next to my building, remove the debris from this yard that I can and scatter wild flower seeds among a few other types of flowers. I will also take the few plant containers I have and clean them up to plant a few fresh herbs I often use for my cooking. I currently have very little space where I live now and can only have a few containers filled with herbs, but it’s enough to cover the fresh herbs and few tomatoes I use during the season.
I will rethink how I can limit my own carbon foot imprint on our one planet earth even more. I am a believer and user of freecycle.org, slow food practices (eating and making homemade food and purchasing food that is as local as possible) and take the vow now to go homemade and homegrown food more than ever in any way I can, from shopping at my local farmers market, to being more aware of how my processed food maybe affecting my own health.
On this Earth Day, review what is in your food cabinets, pantry and refrigerator. Take even one item out and read its ingredients – can you pronounce easily every ingredient on that list? Can your child? Make your own vow today to change how you eat and what you select to bring into your home.
I know I will certainly make a few meat dishes here and there for my parties, but my demand for real organics has just gone way up as a result of watching Food, Inc.!
See how much energy you are using in your home. Are there any electronics you can unplug, lights that can be turned off? Are there any energy-efficient light bulbs in your lamps?
Be creative not only on Earth Day, but on every day to remove your carbon foot print. And yes, even one person times many individuals can make a whole big difference! Join the Green Team.
It was suggested to me to make extra brown rice due to its long cooking time, and thereby having extra brown rice available and at the ready for other recipes like salads and in this case, my brown rice stir fry with tofu. The meal I made tonight was delicious, healthy, filling and the fresh vegetables were still crisp. I will certainly make this again. Let’s get cooking…
Chef Maven’s Brown Rice Stir Fry with Tofu Recipe:
Tofu tips: in preparing your tofu for cooking, choose extra firm or firm tofu. Taking it out of its package, grab two clean dishtowels (or paper towels) and several plates. Place the dishtowel on top of one plate, place tofu block on top of the dishtowel, then add another dishtowel to top the tofu and then finally add a couple of plates to weigh down the tofu. This helps to drain the tofu. You are squeezing the tofu gently by weight of the dinner plates – I did this for 30 minutes with excellent results.
You will be marinating the tofu before sauteing it in a skillet while your other ingredients are being cooked in a second skillet.
Equipment: two skillets, bowl for marinade, bowl for stirring up eggs, spatula or other utensil to help stir your ingredients.
Ingredients: This makes four large servings as a main meal and takes just under 20 minutes to make.
- 1 block tofu (firm or extra firm)
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- salt & pepper
- sesame oil
- olive oil
- 3-5 green onions/scallions (depending upon their size)
- 2 cups mushrooms – sliced
- 2-3 eggs
- 2-3 cups cooked brown rice (I had left over brown rice with fresh vegetables that I used)
- Tofu marinade: 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes, fresh cracked pepper, 2 tablespoons soy sauce (I used the sauce I had from a restaurant that comes with the pot stickers), 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 clove garlic – minced.
- Make up tofu marinade and once tofu has drained, cut up tofu into 1-1/2 ” cubes and place into marinade and set aside for 30 minutes or even over night.
- In one heavy skillet, light burner and allow skillet to get hot over medium heat (approx. five minutes), then add 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to skillet. Carefully place cut up tofu into pan. Do not move tofu – simply allow it to cook for five minutes before turning over to brown the other sides. Reserve marinade.
- While tofu cooks, add a little oil to the second skillet and add sliced mushrooms and allow to cook. Remove cooked mushrooms and add to reserved marinade.
- Break eggs into a bowl, whisk well, then add to skillet, to cook eggs scrambled for the stir fry – when still soft, remove cooked eggs from pan and add to the mushrooms.
- If you have fresh vegetables you would like to add to your stir fry, now is the time. I had precooked brown rice that contained fresh veggies such as red bell pepper and zucchini, so I used that….Next grab your cooked brown rice, and add a little sesame oil, if needed and add to skillet – let get heated through for just a few minutes.
- At this point, your tofu is finished cooking, so take your cooked eggs and mushrooms with the reserved marinade and pour over your cooking rice. Stir till well combined, then add tofu to your dish and voila – ready for serving up.
- With your sliced green onions/scallions, sprinkle them on top of your cooked dish and call the people to the table.
This stir fry is also great cold. The amount of mushrooms gives it a meaty flavor for those that craving meat while your kids won’t even know they are eating brown rice.