Spring Rising

For the first time in weeks, I’ve gotten to leave work at my usual time this week. Wednesday, I took advantage of the non-rain sunshine (I can’t say it was warm…) and the daylight savings time, to get out in my backyard and assess the work that has accumulated over another winter.

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There are tons of sticks from the many trees in our backyard that need picked up. And the moss has seemingly taken over. Does moss throw anyone into a rage like it does me? I know its prevalent this time of year because the grass it dormant, but it seems worse than usual. Our backyard is a constant fight because it has a lot of shade and the ground tends to stay moist. It’s the worst. Our gutters leach out into the back yard about 30 feet from the house, and that ground always seems to stay wet and mushy–perfect for growing tons and tons of moss. I’ve tried moss killer the past two falls, but it doesn’t seem to slow it down much. Please, if anyone has any pointers, I’d gladly welcome them.

At any rate, it was nice to see the signs of spring around the rest of my yard. The daffodils are pushing up and have tiny buds on them. In my flower bed, the irises have fresh spikey green shoots, along with tulips and more daffodils.

spring daffodil shoots

I had a low tunnel over two raised beds, and I took that off Wednesday evening. I hoed up a few weeds that had made there home in the beds and applied some fertilizer. We should be getting some rain before the weekend, so it will be nice and soaked in. I hope to plant some cool-weather crops this weekend like peas, kale, spinach and radishes.

I checked on my asparagus crowns that I planted two summers ago. Last summer, a few skinny stalks came up, but you aren’t supposed to harvest them the first year. There’s no sign of life there yet–I hope our super cold weather for a couple weeks in February didn’t kill them. I did notice the garlic chives coming up in my herb garden already, though. They are a welcome sight!

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I am so ready for fresh green food. By the end of next month, I hope that I’ll be eating dandelion greens, morels and wild turkey. I hate to wish away any time of year, but I’m seriously over the brown hillsides and cruddy weather. I hope the saying is true this year–March certainly came in like a lion, let’s hope it goes out like a lamb.

PROJECT RECIPE: Lemon Ricotta Scallops

Who’s tired of winter? I’m tired of brown hillsides and dirty, salty vehicles. I’m tired of coats and gloves and flannel pjs. I’m so tired of hearty casseroles and heavy cold-weather food. Don’t get me wrong–I love casseroles and stews, but I’ve just had my fill for a few months.

I didn’t even realize how ready I am for something fresh and green until I was eating this and realizing what I am lacking. This is perfect early spring fare. The lemon makes it nice and bright and the ricotta is just right–not too heavy.

I found this recipe for Lemon Ricotta Scallops on pinterest. I love scallops, and it sounded like a quick and easy dinner, so it wasn’t hard to sell me on this one.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Keeper. This was almost too easy. As a matter of fact, I was making meatballs for dinner the next night while I made this. It comes together pretty quick, and there’s not a lot of active cooking time. Cook pasta. Sear scallops. Stir it all together with some peas, ricotta and lemon zest. Boom. Done.

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How I changed the recipe: I halved it… mostly. I used the full amount of scallops and more peas than were called for. But everything else, I halved. I actually should have used less peas, probably. I did use frozen peas rather than fresh, but I dumped them in when I was mixing things up, then put it back on the still-hot burner and put a lid on for about 10 minutes. I also didn’t have fresh thyme, and I didn’t even have dried. All I had was ground. So, I just added a pinch.

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You’d think since I halved it, it would have made two servings, but it actually made three generous servings. Enough for leftovers for lunch. And, now I’m craving fresh peas and herbs and everything that comes with spring. I hope it’s just around the corner.

PROJECT RECIPE: Dragon Noodles

This time of year, I have long hours at my “real” job. Often, when I do get home, I don’t feel like doing anything except hitting the sack. Or maybe zoning out in front of the tv with a glass of wine, then hitting the sack. Sometimes it’s nice to have a nice hot plate of something that I actually made, which is when you need an arsenal of easy recipes that you can be eating in a matter of minutes.

I found this recipe for dragon noodles on pinterest, and they definitely hit the mark.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Keeper! This was so easy. And it calls for ingredients that you probably have right now. It’s perfect for whipping up on short notice. And, the most important part–it’s so delicious! We were surprised it was so tasty since it really only calls for a few simple ingredients.

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How I changed the recipe: I didn’t have lo mein. I used whole wheat spaghetti. Also, I added a drizzle of sesame oil at the end. It was perfect with the spicy and fresh flavors from the sriracha and cilantro. Also, instead of only one egg, I used two.

I’ll definitely make this again since it was so darn easy, and you can pretty much whip it up with what you have on hand. Seriously, everyone pretty much as an egg, spaghetti, cilantro and green onions all the time, right? You could probably even substitute something like ginger and garlic for the green onions.

This was perfect for Meatless Monday. It was hearty and satisfying, even without the meat. The theme of the blog is meals on the cheap, and cutting the meat–even for one day a week, is a great way to save money. If you used soba noodles instead, it would have more protein, too.

How great is this blog? There are all kinds of simple recipes with simple ingredients that don’t break the bank. If the dragon noodles recipe is any indication how tasty any of the others are, this is definitely going to be a bookmarked site. It’s nice to mix up the usual recipe rotation every once in a while, and there are tons of easy and cheap recipes to mix in on this site. It’s worth clicking through the links above to check it out.

Guest Post! Yummy Mexican fare, including world’s deadliest dessert.

Hi gang. This is my busiest time of the year at my job, so I’ve farmed out my blog to my good friend, Tiff, for a day. We cook the same in a lot of ways, healthy, local, seasonable and sustainable. She’s got a great Mexican meal on tap for you, in case you want to take a trip south of the border to escape this seemingly endless winter.

The idea for this Mexican Lasagna came many years ago from Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals. (Check out her recipe here:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rachael-ray/mexican-lasagna-recipe.html ) Since I first started making it, I’ve tweaked it quite a bit, and it’s always different depending on what I have in the fridge.  I have added zucchini in the summer or frozen corn when there were no fresh veggies to be found.  It’s a very forgiving recipe that is a hit with my family.  I am always looking for ways to make our favorites better for us, and this dish is great for hiding lots of veggies.  I used locally raised lean burger browned with shredded carrots, onions, and red peppers for the taco filling.  A half of a pound of beef goes a long way because I add so many veggies.   I added some Pomi chopped tomatoes.  I order them from amazon when I am out of canned tomatoes from my garden.  They come in a box, so you avoid the acidic tomatoes reacting with the BPA lining of a can.   After the meat is browned and the veggies are soft I add taco seasoning. The ingredients recommended at http://allrecipes.com/recipe/taco-seasoning-i/ are a nice guideline.  I never measure them and it tastes pretty good just by eyeballing it.

I don’t eat meat, so on the side I had a skillet with all of the same ingredients except substituting black beans for the burger.  I have also added lentils and quinoa before; both were delicious.  I use a glass baking dish.  Pour some taco sauce on the bottom and add a layer tortillas.  I love the Ezekiel sprouted grain tortillas.  They don’t hold up well for wraps, but they are perfect for this dish.  They are hearty and super healthy.   I top the tortillas with filling (just beans for me and a little bit of both for the rest of the crew) and some shredded taco cheese.   Repeating the layers until it’s near the top of the pan.  Place tortillas on top and cover with salsa, cheese, diced green onions, and jalapeños.   Bake at 350° until hot and bubbly.

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We eat it with Greek yogurt, salsa, and more jalapeños.   My five year old likes to pile his into a hard taco shell.  We had this for lunch with a couple friends on Sunday, and the entire dish was nearly devoured.

Now for my recent fixation and the world’s deadliest dessert: Flan.

My husband orders flan regularly at the Mexican restaurant and oohs and aahs about how awesome it is.  The last time he ordered it I googled a recipe, and I decided to make it for him.   I used a simple recipe that calls for sugar, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and vanilla.  This dish is nothing like I usually make.  With the exception of the farm eggs, it’s horrible for you. (Here’s the recipe:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/spanish-flan/ )  The first flan was almost perfect.  It looked beautiful, but was lacking a little in consistency.

I did a little bit of research and found recommendations for baking in a hot water bath.   Just a couple days later and it was time for round two.  The worst part of making a flan is melting the sugar.  The dry method of just sticking a cup of sugar in the pan and stirring until it melted was time consuming, so I mixed it with water this time.  The wet method wasn’t much better.  The sugar started to crystallize around the edges of the pan.  As I tried to pry those crystals off, I splashed melted sugar over my thumb.   I ended up with a horrible burn, but my husband took over and this flan turned out even better.  The consistency was definitely getting there, so the hot water bath was a step in the right direction.

Yow!!!

Yow!!!

Bound and determined to make it perfect, we decided to make another one. My husband had figured out a trick for caramelizing the sugar.  Place the sugar in the pan you’re going to bake it in and instead of heating on low, you heat on high for just a minute.  We’ve been baking in glass, and he placed it on the stovetop.  Holy hell!  We should have known better.  This resulted in an explosion of glass and melted sugar all over the kitchen.  Thankfully, we no one was injured, but it was a massive mess.

I actually cannot even remember if we made another flan that day or not.  But we did try again; the flan wouldn’t get the best of us.  I was making the Mexican lasagna for lunch with our friends, and we figured it was a perfect time for flan.  My husband used a metal baking dish on the stove top and followed the same recipe.  Heating on high is definitely the way to caramelize the sugar.   It resulted in a very similar taste in about 3 minutes instead of 30.  The taste was awesome, but once again the consistency of the custard was just a little off.  I had to google some more tips on flan and custard consistency and found recommendations for running through a sieve.  I also think I beat the eggs a bit too much.   I guess I am still on my quest for making the perfect flan, so if any of you delicious potager readers have tips, then send them my way.

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Now, I’m intrigued. I’ve never made flan before, but I’m gonna have to try that method for making it. Thanks so much, Tiff, for taking over for a day.