Beside myself

March 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Posted in art, country life, country living, faith, family, food, free knitting patterns, gifts, Knit Alongs, knit-a-long, knitting, Life, love, Mother's Day, recipes, relationships, shopping, sweet potatoes, yarn | 3 Comments
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You can take that statement, “Beside Myself” in a couple of different ways … perhaps.  But I am actually using it as a play on words.  My focus is on the “side” syllable.  I have shared a couple of main course recipes the past two weeks from those my son and I have worked on together, and today I thought I would share two recent side dishes we have deployed into the family menus.

Unfortunately, these two side dishes are so good that each time we make them up, they are devoured before a camera can be fetched–so I have no photos for you.  They are, however, so delicious that I will describe them to you in detail and you will be able to fill in with your own imagination what I have been unable to capture with my camera.

Before I do that, for my knitting readers I need to give an update regarding the summer blanket knit-along I mentioned last week.  There were plenty of people interested in joining in, so I have posted the first set of instructions here (and if you look at the top of my blog, under the header photo there is a navigation tab “KAL”, that is the one you can click on to go directly to the knit along). Be sure to check in there, and sign up in the Comments for the RSS feed for the KAL to stay connected with the group and receive updates via email.

And just one more thing for my knitter readers and other fiber artists. I have been telling you the last few weeks about the Knitter’s Eye Chart art prints my son and I collaborated on. This past weekend we released our newest art print for fiber lovers … I am calling it Stash Pride. As you can see, it states very clearly, “If You Can Read This You Are Standing Too Close to My Stash.” The inspiration for this one should be obvious to any fiber hoarder lover fanatic addict … well, all of those things that we are.

The Fiber Stash is sort of like a sour dough starter that has gone completed out of control. It begins with a tiny little bubbly internal growth that you hardly notice at first but over time (a short amount of time usually) each bubble (represented by one more ball of yarn or poof of wool) multiplies exponentially until before you know it the Stash has taken on a life of its own and is bursting forth, spilling out of the closet, into the hall, throughout every room in your house, into your purse, your car, your garage, your attic, the lawn, the street … well, you know how it is.

The Stash Pride art print is a way of proclaiming the completely obvious, but also making it clear you are proud of your fiber addiction. We created them in five different color schemes and they are available in my Etsy store or on my website in two sizes:

11″ x 17″ for $19, any three for $49
8″ x 10″ for $10, any three for $26

You can also now get the Knitter’s Eye Charts in the 8″ x 10″ size for $10, three in that size for $26 — in addition to the original 11″ x 17″ size ($19, set of three $49).

Okay, back to being Beside Myself with a couple of scrumptious side dishes.

These are both super simple, nutritious side dishes that will tickle your palette and your appetite in a big way: Sweet Potato Almond Jumble, and Roasted Carrots with Asparagus. We came up with both of these sides in an effort to put more alkaline-based food choices on the table in a life-long quest to provide delicious yet healthy food to family.

The Sweet Potato Almond Jumble is delicious for breakfast, or as a side dish any other time of day. This is a beautiful, jewel toned side because sweet potatoes bake to such a glowing orange color. Little almond chunks and almond dust with maple syrup dripping over them on top of the potatoes provide texture visually and in the mouth.

The Roasted Carrots with Asparagus is a surprising punch of flavor, as roasting brings out the rich flavor potential of the carrots and the roasted asparagus gets a bit crunchy–the two vegetable flavors pair perfectly with each other.

Sweet Potato Almond Jumble

1 to 2 large sweet potatoes or yams
1/4 to 1/3 cup finely chopped roasted or raw, unsalted almonds
a touch of butter or an olive oil based butter alternative
touch of sea salt
maple syrup or raw sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Wash potatoes thoroughly in cold water. Puncture several times with a fork. Place on the oven rack and bake until tender throughout, about 40 minutes to one hour depending on how large the potatoes are.

Remove potatoes from oven, cut in half and peel immediately. Slice potato halves into a casserole dish, or directly onto serving plates; cut slices into bite-size pieces and arrange in a little pile. Put a dab of butter or alternative on each pile of potatoes. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt (optional). Sprinkle finely chopped almonds evenly on each potato pile. Drizzle about 1 Tbsp maple syrup over each pile, or 1 or 2 tsps raw sugar (to taste).

Each potato makes a good sized serving for two people.

Roasted Carrots with Asparagus

One bunch of carrots
One bunch of asparagus (preferably younger, thin stalked asparagus)
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F). Wash carrots and asparagus thoroughly. Peel carrots and remove tops and tips. Cut carrots into one-inch long pieces, then slice each piece down the center. Cut asparagus into 2 inch long pieces.

Place carrots and asparagus in a bowl, then pour 1 to 2 Tbsp of olive oil on top. Stir the vegetables together, tossing so that the olive oil evenly coats them. Use enough olive oil so that all of the veggies are coated. Spread them in a glass cassrole dish or on a cookie sheet lined with foil, large enough so that the veggies are in a single layer.

Place in oven and roast for 40 minutes, or until carrots are tender and begin to get a lightly roasted color to them.

Remove from oven and serve as-is, or lightly sprinkled with sea salt.

My family completely loves these new sides we created. As always, I appreciate my son’s collaboration with me on menu plans and recipe development … thank you dear son of mine.

I have to run now, but hope you enjoy the recipes and, if you join the knit-along, that as well!

Have a great day,
~firefly

Beautiful food

March 8, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Posted in country life, country living, faith, family, food, gifts, Knit Alongs, knit-a-long, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, recipes, shopping, travel, yarn | 22 Comments
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(NOTE:  If you arrived here via my email about side dishes and the knit along, that post is here.  Sorry, I inserted the wrong link in the email.)

This weekend was my grand-daughter’s second birthday … what a treat! My daughter did a wonderful job of putting on a special birthday party for her, filled with all kinds of magic and surprises. A few family friends joined us all for an afternoon of good food, pleasant chatter, and plenty of laughter.

By the way, I have made slow progress, but progress just the same, on the blanket I am knitting for myself from some of my now extinct Country Cotton Yarn. I am still on the bottom border in a seed stitch … a little bit boring to look at just now. I am knitting on size U.S. 10 circular needles, the yarn is worsted weight and is my lovely Misty Morning color. I will be sharing this pattern for free whenever it is complete — but don’t hold your breath because it is going to be a bit of a slow knit. If you would like to do it as a blind knit-along, check this page where I have started the KAL going. If you are itching to knit something new, remember to check out my knitting pattern store here.

My son (Etsy seller “FlyingJunction) and I love to collaborate on meal planning and recipe choices; for Sweet Pea’s birthday party we had the idea of keeping everything simple by having a pizza and sub sandwich party. That was the plan until Saturday morning when the idea surfaced that perhaps it would be nice to make some Stromboli sandwiches instead. Stromboli’s would be easy for guests to serve themselves and eat while standing around chatting or sitting around in the living room where the festivities centered.

Several years ago, when my kids and a I were still living together in California, they gave me a bread machine for Christmas, and we got into making Calzones using homemade pizza dough. We each had different likes and dislikes and special treats we would want in a cooked turnover sandwich and we enjoyed coming up with ideas of what to put inside.

A couple of years after moving to the farm in New York, my sister-in-law made Stromboli sandwiches for a picnic they just seemed like such a great idea … similar to a calzone, but presented differently. The next time my son came out to the farm, I made sure to introduce him to the Stromboli sandwich and he became an instant fan as well.

If you are familiar with both, you don’t need me to tell you the difference but if not, the Calzone sandwich is a true turnover style, baked sandwich while a Stromboli is a roll-up style baked sandwich. You would put similar sauces and fillings in either, they are just constructed and served differently.

What we prefer about the Stromboli is that you make it as a long sub-sandwich looking roll-up and after it is baked a cooled a bit you slice it up. Guests then grab a slice and chow down. They bake up beautifully and are so tasty and easy to serve that people inevitably love them. The only problem is, they don’t stay around for long.

The Stromboli is also a great sandwich to refrigerate and serve cold, and it was a perfect picnic sandwich. Once we had the idea of Stromboli’s for the birthday party, pizza and subs quickly disappeared into the archives and a shopping trip for Stromboli fillings was planned.

We were planning on a mix of people with three different food preferences: 1) meat, cheese, and sauteed onions and garlic for some of the men, 2) one with goat cheese and veggies, and 3) veggies and Italian cheeses.

So we put together three Stromboli’s to accommodate the different tastes and dietary needs. I will share our list of filling items but keep in mind that you can choose pretty much anything you wish to put in your Stromboli so long as you can roll it up to bake it. Here is how we did Stromboli’s for Sweet Pea’s big bash:

Down-Home Urban Gourmet Stromboli Sandwiches

Shopping List

  • 1 or 2 store bought Pizza dough balls or ingredients to make it fresh at home (see recipe below)
  • pesto sauce)
  • marinara sauce
  • fresh spinach
  • fresh sliced mushrooms (a couple of packages)
  • onion
  • garlic
  • asparagus tips (canned, fresh, or frozen)
  • canned artichoke hearts
  • canned black olives
  • grated Italian mix cheeses (your favorite choices)
  • 4 oz. log of goat cheese
  • sesame seeds (optional)
  • grated or powdered Parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Italian sausage (we used three sausages for one Stromboli)

Preparation

The night before you are going to serve the Stromboli, do any of the sauteing that needs to be done. We sauteed the mushrooms, onions and garlic, and Italian sausage. What we did was saute each item separately (except the onion and garlic were done together) and then we stored them separately overnight in the refrigerator in glass bowls.

If you are making the pizza dough yourself, get that started the day you are serving the Stromboli, sometime about mid-morning.

Pizza Dough Crust

The easiest thing is to purchase a couple of balls of pizza dough at the grocery store, the kind that comes as a dough ball ready to be shaped. If you can’t find that or don’t want to go that route, here are the ingredients I used in my bread machine to make the dough for our sandwiches:

  • 1 1/4 cups hot water plus 1 Tbsp. (between 105 and 115 degrees, but honestly I just get it good and hot and don’t measure the temperature exactly)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 Tbsp. raw sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. yeast

Put all of these ingredients in your bread machine in the order they are listed and mix on the pizza dough setting. When the dough cycle has finished, punch the dough down and divide it into two or three equal pieces — depending on how many different style sandwiches you want to make. If you purchased pizza dough at the store, divide it at this point into however many sandwiches you want to make (one ball will make two sandwich rolls).

Roll the dough pieces out into rectangles (preferably on parchment paper or wax paper lightly dusted with flour) that are at least 12 inches long by 10 inches wide. Beat one egg thoroughly, and then brush a strip of beaten egg about 1″ wide down one long edge of the dough.

Assemble Your Ingredients

While the dough is mixing and rising in your bread machine, assemble your ingredients in your work area. Chop any of the ingredients that need chopping. (I used this great little hand-operated chopper my son gave me for Christmas three years ago. He bought one for me and one for himself at William-Sonoma, and it is one of my most-used kitchen gadgets ever. I just love it because I can chop nuts, vegetables, spinach, etc. with such ease. It is also easy to clean up and doesn’t seem to ever hold on to a stain, smell, or taste.) For our Stromboli I chopped the spinach in the little chopper, and drained and chopped the olives in it as well. I sliced the artichoke hearts by hand.

Putting it All Together

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Generously oil two large cookies sheets and then sprinkle with flour or cornmeal to prevent sandwiches from sticking. Better yet, use parchment paper between the sandwiches and the cookie sheets when they bake — the sandwiches won’t stick and they will be completely easy to remove to a serving tray without damage. (I always keep a supply of parchment paper on hand in my kitchen for this type of thing.)

Here is how I assembled my three different sandwiches:

Italian Sausage and Mushroom with Pesto Stromboli

  • Spread a generous amount of pesto sauce on dough, avoiding edges by about 1/2″
  • Sprinkle a layer of chopped fresh spinach over pesto, enough to cover it completely
  • Arrange crumbled, sauteed Italian sausage evenly
  • Spoon marinara sauce lightly over the Italian sausage
  • Arrange sauteed mushroom slices over sausage
  • Arrange sauteed onions and garlic over the mushrooms
  • Sprinkle generously with grated Italian cheese mix

Spinach Goat Cheese and Mushroom Stromboli

  • Spread a generous layer of marinara sauce over the dough, avoiding the edges by about 1/2 inch.
  • Sprinkle a thick layer of chopped fresh spinach
  • Arrange a layer of sauteed mushrooms and sliced artichoke hearts
  • Sprinkle chopped black olives and canned or cooked asparagus tips over the mushrooms and artichoke hearts
  • Arrange slices of goat cheese over the top of everything else

Pesto Spinach and Cheese Stromboli

  • Spread a generous layer of pesto over the dough, avoiding the edges by about 1/2 inch
  • Sprinkle a thick layer of chopped fresh spinach over the pest
  • Spoon some marinara sauce lightly over the spinach
  • Arrange mushrooms and sliced artichoke hearts over spinach
  • Sprinkle chopped black olives and canned or cooked asparagus tips over the mushroom layer
  • Sprinkle a generous amount of grated Italian cheese mix over the black olive layer

Gently roll the sandwich, starting with the one long edge that does not have egg wash on it. Do this slowly and gently until you get to the other edge. Pull up the other edge that has the egg wash on it and stretch it up and pinch the dough edge into the rolled dough to make a seam. Pinch the ends and pull them to the bottom of the sandwich (seam side). Roll the sandwich over and place it on a cookie sheet (onto parchment paper if you are using it), leaving enough room for another sandwich if you need to. Make sure the seam side is down and that the ends are tucked in and secured underneath the sandwich.

Take a sharp knife and make slices about a half an inch deep, diagonally about every two inches or so. Brush the dough (avoid the sliced parts) with more of the beaten egg. If desired, dust the top of the sandwich with sesame seeds and/or powdered or grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Use left over marinara sauce as dipping sauce for the Stromboli sandwiches, or for people to spoon over the top of their sandwiches if desired.

It might all sound complicated and time consuming but making these sandwiches actually goes pretty quickly and smoothly if you do your prep work ahead of time as I outlined above. Get your kids and your husband, boy/girlfriend, etc. involved in picking out the items to layer in your sandwiches and they will probably also help you with prepping and assembling the sandwiches. I think it is so much more fun to cook with a friend or loved one, and hope you will give that a try along with this tasty for some beautiful food.

Have a great day!

~firefly

My son is a designer, graphic artist and photographer (Etsy seller: FlyingJunction at http://flyingjunction.etsy.com, specializing in vintage look subway signs and bus scrolls). He has worked as a professional artist and graphic designer for more than ten years. His t-shirt designs, sold both online and in exclusive boutiques, have been worn by celebrities around the globe and are frequently spotted at major sporting events, in celebrity photos, television productions, and music videos. He commutes between Los Angeles and the family farm in upstate New York, calling both places home. We collaborate on many things, including recipe development and the Knitter’s Eye Charts art prints I am selling in my Etsy store.

Split Pea Soup Tuesday

March 1, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Posted in country life, country living, family, food, knitting, Life, love, photography, recipes, relationships, snow, soup recipes | 9 Comments
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Today is a perfect day to have Split Pea Soup for dinner — it is cold and crisp outside with a beautiful blue sky and we still have snow on the ground. Even if you live someplace where it is balmy, Split Pea Soup would be a delicious choice for an evening meal.

When I lived in California I tried making soup and was not very good at it. I did create a recipe for butternut squash soup that was a success with my son (designer and Etsy seller FlyingJunction) in particular, but other than that my soups tended to came out a bit watery; I did not understand what I could to do make it otherwise. But that was then.

After moving to the farm in NY I started experimenting with soup more and at some point I realized what I needed to do in order make soup thicker and then I started learning about all of the different kinds of soups I could make and what the “thickening” trick was with each.

When I started playing around with split pea soup I was wanting to make a pea soup for my daughter that would work with her somewhat restricted diet and provide her with a good healthy and nutritious soup. I also wanted to make a split pea soup that I could enjoy as an vegetarian.

Not having cooked split peas before, I thought I needed to do some tricky things with flour and olive oil to create a thickening gravy for the soup. The first recipe I developed, while quite tasty was also very time consuming and messy to make. Messy equals too much time spent cleaning up afterwards, and with all of my creativity and responsibilities I wanted something tasty, quick, and easy to clean up afterwards.

I had been telling my son, who was still in California, about my adventures with split pea soup — we have always enjoyed sharing our cooking joys, tricks and techniques, and recipes we have developed with each other. About the time I was experimenting with my split pea soup, he took a micration (my new word for a weekend away from home “micro” + “vacation” = micration) up to Solvang in California and visited Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn up that way, home of the famous “Anderson’s Split Pea Soup”. When he and his sister were little kids and I was raising them as a single mom we would take micrations up to the Solvang area and sometimes stopped in at Anderson’s for a cuppa soup.

While he was there, he bought two bags of Anderson’s split peas in their gift shop which included their famous split pea soup recipe printed on the back; he sent one bag to me in a care package.

For anyone who is already familiar with making split pea soup it probably sounds silly that I was taking a complicated approach to it. Following Anderson’s recipe my son and I both found that it is a phenomenally easy soup to make and quite tasty without a lot of effort.

In the end, we married together some of the more successful points of my split pea soup experimentation, helpful tips from my son, and the simplicity of Anderson’s method and came up with our own version, which we call Split Pea Soup for the Soul. It is hearty, healthy, and good for what ails you if you happen to be a bit under the weather (I recently ate some while suffering from a sore throat and it rejuvenated me almost instantly).

We pair our Split Pea Soup with a nice golden foccacia bread or a whole wheat pone*, cut into wedges. This soup holds over well so make plenty and you’ll have a great left over dinner and possibly a lunch, depending on the size of your family.

*pone [pohn] –noun South Midland and Southern U.S.
2. a loaf or oval-shaped cake of any type of bread, especially corn bread

Ref: Dictionary.com

This week I plan to serve roasted red new potatoes along with our soup, as well as seared and sauteed portabella mushrooms. The order I will make my meal in is, 1) bread, 2) soup, 3) roasted potatoes. I am making a fresh, yeast bread using my bread machine for the mixing part so I get that started at least three hours before mealtime.

About an hour to an hour and a half before mealtime, I start the soup. Here is our recipe:

Firefly’s Split Pea Soup for the Soul

1 lb dried green split peas
8 cups water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth (no msg)
(or any combination of those three to come up to 8 cups liquid)
1 to 2 cups of chopped celery, using as much of the leafy top structure of the stalks as you can
2 medium to large carrots
1 medium onion (optional)
2 cloves garlic (optional)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 rounded tsp ground/powdered thyme
1/4 rounded tsp ground cumin
dash or two of cayenne pepper
dash black pepper

Sort through the peas to make sure there are no tiny pebbles in them, then give them a good rinsing under cold water. Place them in a large soup pot and cover with 8 cups of liquid of your choice (as described in the ingredients). Using chicken stock will give you a very healthy version of the soup with plenty of electrolytes. I use either organic chicken broth with no msg or Swanson’s version with no msg.

Get the pot of peas and liquid boiling (covered) while you chop and prepare your vegetables. After the soup comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and keep it at a rolling simmer.

Meanwhile, chop up your celery starting with the leafy part at the top. Get that all chopped up and measured and then add chopped up stalks to bring your total chopped celery to either 1 or 2 cups (I prefer 2 cups for a heartier soup). Throw the celery into the soup pot, stir and cover.

Peel and chop the carrots, then add them to the pot as well.  Note: The more carrots you use, the less green your soup will be.

Next chop up your onion and mince the garlic, if you choose to use these. If you will be serving someone who suffers from headaches do not saute the onions or garlic, because serving them sauteed could trigger a headache. You can just throw them into the soup pot without sauteing and the soup will come out quite lovely. Skip the onion and garlic if you would rather not include them, and your soup will still come out very tasty.

Let the soup cook at a rolling simmer for a good hour or so, stirring occasionally. At some point you will notice, when you stir it, that the peas have completely come apart and you will have a soup with a nice gravy like consistency. When it gets to this point, if the carrots are tender, the soup is done.

At this point you need to blend the soup so that it all turns to a gravy. I use a hand-held immersion blender for this purpose. If you don’t have one you can strain and mash the soup through a sieve (my least favorite and the messiest approach), or carefully put it through a blender or food processor — do this very carefully so you don’t burn yourself. If using a stand-blender, blend only two or three cups at a time, making sure the cover is securely in place each time and being very careful when you pour into or out of the blender.

Now, heat up the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a little skillet at a medium heat. Once it is hot, throw in your powdered spices and herbs. Sometimes I also add about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary as a support to the thyme, but this is optional. Let the spices and herbs cook in the oil for 3 to 4 minutes; this will open up and bring out the flavor in a most scrumptious way–but be careful not to have the oil so hot that it smokes at all, because that would scorch the spices.

After the herbs and spices are opened up, add them to the soup. Use a little hot water to rinse every last bit of the spicey mixture out of the little skillet so that it all ends up in the soup. Stir, and your soup is ready.

If you want to make less soup or more than above, just be sure to use 4 cups of liquid for every 1/2 lb of split peas and divide or increase the other ingredients accordingly.

What I like to do also is sear, then saute some mushrooms; add the mushrooms as a garnish on top of the soup at the table.   Today I used portobellos, and they looked beautiful in the soup.

Another variation is to cook up some bacon, crumble it up and serve that at the table as a condiment to be added on top of the soup. Adding the bacon crumbles on top of the soup just as it is served is very attractive and also keeps the bacon crisp and tasty, which my family prefers.

My son and I join together in sharing this family recipe with you, and hope you and your family have a delicious and comforting dinner tonight … as we will too!

Bon appétit!

~firefly

My son is Etsy seller: FlyingJunction (http://flyingjunction.etsy.com), specializing in vintage look subway signs and bus scrolls.  He has worked as a professional artist and graphic designer for more than ten years. His t-shirt designs, sold both online and in exclusive boutiques, have been worn by celebrities around the globe and are frequently spotted at major sporting events, in celebrity photos, television productions, and music videos.  He commutes between Los Angeles and the family farm in upstate New York, calling both places home.

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