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Archive for June, 2010

Friends…

Friends…

Friends?

Oh, there you are.  I think it’s time I shared a few things with you.  This is important.

See, I told you a while back that I was growing a fruit and veggie garden on my city steps.  In containers.  And grow I have.

Now, some of you may have been discouraged by things you’ve read online.  Perhaps some naysayers in an online chatroom told you it was nearly impossible to grow vegetables in containers.  Perhaps someone with the screen name @negativenancy told you if you didn’t have ten acres and a dairy cow, growing food for your family was impossible.  Maybe some square told you that you weren’t wholesome enough or ankle-length-skirty enough or straight enough or come-to-Jesus enough to homestead.  Well.  You know how I feel about all that. 

Perhaps the doubt came from inside you.  Maybe that little voice in the back of your head said, “Grow vegetables?  When I don’t even have a yard?  Chya!  Like that’ll happen!”

But friends.

Friends…

Friends?

It’s time to silence those voices once and for all.  Because here…

right here…

right now…

we are going to have a spiritual experience…

Look, this is as close as Bad Mama Genny gets to religion, so soak it up, misfits.

To all those who said I couldn’t grow bell peppers in a measly pot…

I did!

To those who say you can’t grow squash in a box on some city steps?

You can!

To those who say eggplant should be left to those with a garden plot…

Hellz bellz, no!

To those who say there’s no way you can grow HEIRLOOM FUCKING BRANDYWINE TOMATOES, the undisputed flavor king of tomatoes, in a garbage can on a stoop?

Oh, yeah…I went there…

Oh, yes.  Yes, yes, yes, YOU CAN!

To those who think the only kind of tomato to grow in a container is a cherry tomato, to those who say you can’t grow a  super-productive, full-size tomato variety in a pot…

Think again!

Starting to feel better about your gardening future?  Baby, I’m just getting started!

To those who think that a planter on a stairway is no place for lemon cucumbers…

Or prolific white cucumbers, or pickling cucumbers…

Wrong again!

Can I get an AMEN?!

AMEN!!!

I said, can I get an AMEN?!

AMEN!!

Because Bad Mama Genny has SEEN the mountaintop!  Er, I mean, the top of the stairwell!  And it looks pretty nice!

To those who say you cannot grow good carrots, beets, chard, and kale in ordinary flowerpots…

I beg to differ!

And they’re just so gosh darn cute right now!

Hey, those of you who think you can’t grow an ORANGE TREE in a pot in a city known for 3 foot snowfalls and 20 below windchills…

What what!

And hey, while we’re busy defying the logic of the naysayers, how about a BANANA tree?

To those who say I’m crazy and have a problem that most likely requires medication…

Well, they’re probably right about that one.

And guys?  This isn’t even everything I’m growing.

Don’t let the naysayers tell you what you can and can’t do.  Don’t let anyone convince you that vegetable gardening belongs in a proper yard or in the ground.  And geez-friggin–louise, don’t believe people who say you can’t have a garden.  Most of you probably can.

If you have a stairwell…

a rooftop…

a fire escape…

a balcony…

a measly window…

a railing…

a generous landlord…

a local community garden…

a countertop to make sprouts…

a dark cabinet for a mushroom log…

You can garden!  Plants want to grow.  They want to live.  They want to make fruit.  They’re not working against you.  (The squirrels are.)

And if you can find a way to give them the basic things they need, they’ll thrive.  And so will you.

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Folks, I’m going to be brutally honest with you.  Your Bad Mama Genny just hasn’t had the time or the inclination to impress anyone lately.

Firstly because I’ve been really busy, what with deadlines and watering the jungle and attending the National Homebrewer’s Conference with The Boy.  But also because impressing people can be problematic.  It can raise expectations.  It can set the bar too high.

It can result in people expecting you to be decent.

And who wants that?  Then when you decide to be indecent, people are all shocked and all offended and all put your pants back on and oh think of the children and whatnot.

See what I mean?  Totally not cool.

That’s why you need a good Antipasti Platter like this one in your arsenal.  Because if you’re anything like me, which for your sake I hope you’re not but let’s pretend, you’ve already been invited to at least fifty barbecues this summer and half of them fall on the same weekend.

That’s not good.  That’s not good for anyone.

Least of all people of the pale persuasion, like myself.  But the point is, you’re usually expected to bring something to said barbecue, and not having enough time to make something from scratch can render one sad, depressed, listless, and prone to alternating crying jags and fits of mania.

This just in: The Boy has informed me that neither fits of mania nor crying jags are verifiable symptoms of being invited to barbecues.  Thanks, The Boy.  I so appreciate your contribution to this blog post.  I hope that knowledge gives you peace as you sleep on the couch tonight.

Anyway, Antipasti platters, in case you haven’t noticed, are gorgeous.  They can also theoretically be constructed from all store-bought ingredients.  Granted, I threw a loaf of from-scratch baked artisan bread in with mine, but bread-baking is like breathing to me now, and WHAT NOW YOU DON’T WANT ME TO BREATHE I DO SO MUCH FOR YOU AND SLAVE AWAY AT THIS KEYBOARD AND NOW YOU CRITICIZE MY BREAD-BAKING ADDICTION HOW ABOUT I CRITICIZE YOUR ADDICTIONS HUH HOW ABOUT I MENTION THE LITTLE DEBBIES HIDDEN IN YOUR JUNK DRAWER OH WHAT’S THAT YOU DON’T WANT TO CRITICIZE ME ANYMORE THAT’S NICE I THOUGHT SO.

What in the hell was I saying?

Oh, yeah.  So you could throw in a loaf of fancy schmancy bread and some dipping oil with this here Antipasti Platter, but some nice skinny breadsticks from the grocery store would do just as well.  I also included some homemade arugula pesto butter, fresh apricot preserves, and some homemade ricotta, which is always inexplicably appearing at the back of my refrigerator (I said, INEXPLICABLY, and I meant, INEXPLICABLY).

But let’s get down to business, shall we?  Here are my suggestions for an appetizer that will have everyone stuffing their faces while simultaneously not raising their expectations of you.  Wanna send them over the moon?  Bring a nice, juicy, full-bodied red wine to serve with this.

But they might start expecting things.  I’m just warning you.

Antipasti Platter

Go Get:
Pepperoncini
Fresh Mozzarella Balls (either marinated or not, up to you)
Thinly sliced prosciutto
Marinated and quartered artichoke hearts
Roasted red peppers, marinated or not
Mixed marinated olives (I like to use kalamatas and stuffed green Spanish olives, but you feel free to go nuts)
Thinly sliced salami
Cubed provolone
Other options not pictured here:
Additional hams and sausages such as serrano, chorizo, etc.
Pickled cornichons
Sundried tomatoes
Infused olive oils
Roasted and mashed garlic cloves
Some nice pesto
Those apricot preserves I talked about
That fresh, homemade ricotta cheese I mentioned
Those delicious breadsticks, or that crusty home-baked artisan bread I noted
Some thin shavings of aged parmesan
Small cubes of a sweet melon, such as cantaloupe
Your firstborn child (Just kidding.  Mostly.)

Go Do:
Arrange this bad boy however you like.  As you can see, I used a decorative 13 x 9 dish with the ingredients arranged in rows, but a large, round serving platter with ingredients lined up in concentric circles or pie wedges would be striking as well.  Butters, oils, and soft cheeses can take up residence in ramekins that you smush onto the plate.  Breadsticks look striking in a tall glass, and a fresh loaf of bread would be just dandy in a kitchen towel set in a basket.

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Oh, yeah, baby, you can crumble my topping anytime!

Ooh, I just wanna cut you up into little pieces and eat you!...wait, that wasn't sexy.

Confession time: I’m a sucker for any recipe described as “Midwestern.”  For me, the term conjures images of pies cooling on windowsills, sounds of cows musing to themselves in a field just over yonder, and scents of clean breezes wafting over fields of fresh hay.

HA!  JUST KIDDING!  The clean and pure and wholesome country wants nothing to do with your Bad Mama Genny.

But really, I do stop for a second look at recipes like these because they remind me of the home-y and decadent desserts I was raised on, desserts rich with the sweetness of fruit and often topped with a crumbly, crispy, textured THING happening, thanks to the addition of oats and whole grains.  And, uh, oh yeah–the unmistakable taste of butter was in there, too.

So when I saw this recipe, attributed to commenter greenandlean on thekitchn.com, I knew I had to try it.

With a few leeeeeetle revisions.

You see, friends, through extensive experimentation, it’s come to my attention that most dessert recipes call for a little more sugar than I really need.  I often cut the sugar in a recipe by as much as a third.  And it’s still good.  To compensate, I’ll sometimes up the fruit content and include more whole grains, which add a nuttiness and depth of flavor that white flour just can’t touch.  The sugar that I do use is raw, which adds a certain je ne sais quoi that you can’t find in ordinary, heavily-processed granulated sugar.

So I edited the recipe to my liking to include more whole grains, more raisins, less sugar (and less refined sugar), and highly probiotic plain kefir or plain whole milk yogurt instead of sour cream (a swap which cuts out a bit of fat and calories and ups the tang factor, not that I have anything against sour cream OH HO NO I MOST CERTAINLY DO NOT but sour cream has something against me READ: I AM A LACTARD).  I also cut the recipe in half since The Boy is notoriously bad at helping me eat dessert.  He prefers to drink it.  In the form of beer.

Thanks a lot for not helping your darlin’ eat dessert, The Boy.  I hope you like FUCKING LOVE HANDLES!

Oh, you do?  Why, thank you, The Boy, you’ve made my day, my, oh, my, how you DO look nice in those worn denim overalls of yours!  What’s say you and I disappear with a pan of raisin bars behind one of these here hay bales and not reappear until this here pan is empty and I’m a’blushin’ real hard?

But The Boy doesn’t wear overalls.  That’s okay.  I don’t blush, either.

Sour Cream/Kefir/Yogurt Raisin Bars
Makes and 8 x 8 pan of bars

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups raisins
3/4 Cup old-fashioned oats, plus 2 Tablespoons
3/4 cup whole wheat flour, plus 2 Tablespoons
1/2 cup raw sugar or evaporated cane juice (plus an additional half cup for the filling)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick organic/grass-fed butter, softened
2 beaten egg yolks
1 Tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup plain kefir or plain whole milk yogurt or sour cream

Directions:
Soak the raisins in a bowl of hot water to fatten them up.  Meanwhile, heat your oven to 350 and generously butter a square baking dish (approx. 8 x 8 inches).  Mix the oats, flour, 1/2 cup of the raw sugar, and baking soda.  Now use your fingers to squeeze the butter into the mixture.  Don’t take things so far that the butter is melted–just make sure little bits of butter are distributed throughout and that the mixture is crumbly.  Measure 3/4 cup of the mixture and set it aside.  Press the remaining mixture into the bottom of your baking pan and set it into the oven to bake for about 10 minutes.

Now mix the yolks, the other 1/2 cup of raw sugar, the cornstarch, and the kefir/sour cream/yogurt.  Heat the pan over a medium-low flame, stirring occasionally, until it’s thickened.  The original recipe mentions 15 minutes–mine took less than half of that time to get where it needed to be, so check frequently.  Dump in the raisins and mix it all together.  Smile.

Once your crust is done baking, pull it out and pour the kefir/raisin mixture over it.  Spread it evenly over the crust and bake this for about 10 minutes (the middle will still look pretty loose).  Take the bars out and crumble the remaining oat mixture evenly over the bars.  Put them back into the oven and bake until the creamy filling is set and the crumble topping is starting to turn golden, 10 to 15 minutes.  Pull your bars out and allow the pan to cool on a wire rack.

Wait until these are cool to cut them, or you’ll end up with a bit of a mess.  Alternatively, follow my bad example and take a spoon to them when they’re just the teensiest bit cooler than lava.

What can I say?  I know what I like.

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Pardon my dark edges, I got a little excited.

You know that funny “middle” time when spring is starting to turn into summer, but it’s not quite sure, and it’s still raining an awful lot and you’ve just put your tomatoes out, but then again, you’ve got loads of berries and you’re not wearing a jacket anymore and you think it might be summer because OH MY HOLY GOD IT’S ONLY THE BEGINNING OF MAY AND IT’S NINETY FREAKING DEGREES OUT WHY ON EARTH DO I ALREADY HAVE A SUNBURN IS SOMEONE TRYING TO KILL ME?!

Well, do you?  Good.

You know what tastes like that time of year?  This pie.

Friends, as I said on Twitter, it is a sign of the universe’s generosity that strawberries and rhubarb are in season at the same time.  This flavor combination ranks right up there with the greats: tomatoes and basil, peanut butter and chocolate, pickles and ice cream, pain and suffering…what better way to celebrate nature’s bounty?  And since my CSA box was taking the term “bountiful” seriously, I ended up with a whole lotta strawberries and rhubarb on my hands.  Hey, I wasn’t about to complain.  It was a good deal better than when the farmshare people were trying to kill me or drive me slowly insane by including stinging nettles in my box AND NOT TELLING ME WHAT THEY WERE OR HOW TO HANDLE OR SHOULD I SAY NOT HANDLE THEM.

I’m using my outdoor voice a lot today.  I’ve also managed to develop multiple conspiracy theories in a very short span of time.  I’m not paranoid, guys.  I just think there may be multiple plots against my health and sanity.  That’s all.

When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who told us, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t all out to get you.”  Wise woman, she was.  But I digress.

I’m always digressing.

The Boy says he enjoys it.  But I digress.

Try this pie–you won’t be sorry.  It’s best served warm, alongside a generous helping of your own self-importance and a sinking feeling that you’re being watched.  I’d have it after you pull stinging nettle spines out of your hands, but before you rub aloe goo on your burned shoulders.

This season is going to kill me.

Stellar Pie Crust, and Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

First, make the Stellar Pie Crust/Pate Brisee (recipe makes 2 crusts, which is perfect for this recipe):

Go Get:
2 1/2 cups flour (I like a mix of 1 cup whole wheat and 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose white flour, but that’s up to you–my pics reflect the wheat crust)
2 sticks (1 cup) very cold butter cut into bitty pieces
1 teaspoon salt
4 to 6 Tablespoons ice water (I fill a measuring cup up to the halfway point with cold water and then stick it in the freezer for a few minutes)

Go Do:
Okay, so here’s the part where I work in yet another opportunity to use my fancy-pants food processor, but you can just use a plain old bowl and a pastry cutter.  Dump the flour and salt into the food processor bowl and pulse it a few times to combine.  Then toss in all the butter pieces and pulse it again until the mixture resembles various pea-sized clumps.  DON’T OVERDO IT!  The key to wonderful, tender, flaky pie crust is UNEVENLY distributing butter to make little fat pockets, and keeping those fat pockets chilly so they don’t melt down and, well, stop being fat pockets.  At this point, start the machine running and quickly feed in ice water until the dough is just starting to hold itself together.  Don’t add so much water that it’s sticky or damp.  Grab a small handful of dough and squeeze it together–if it holds, it’s ready.  Then divide the dough in half, wrap each lump in waxed paper, and stick it in the fridge.  Give it a good hour or two before you use it.

And now, for the pie:

Go Get:
1 recipe of the Stellar Pie Crust
3 heaping cups sliced strawberries
4 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
1 1/4 cups sugar (I use raw sugar), plus a bit for sprinkling on top, if you like that sort of thing (I like that sort of thing, and used between 1 and 2 Tablespoons)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon cream

Go Do:
Take your pie dough out of the fridge and let it come up to temperature just until it’s loose enough to roll out.  Keep it as chilly as possible.  While you do this, toss the fruit, rhubarb, flour, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl and let it sit and marry on the counter.  At this point, preheat the oven to 425F degrees.  Flour the surface and roll out one disk so it’s large enough to lay into your pie dish.  Lay it in the pan, use a paring knife to cut the excess dough from around the dish’s edges, and turn back to your filling.  At this point, toss the fruit mixture around a bit more.  The berries will have released some juices, allowing you to distribute the sugar and flour more evenly.  Dump the filling ingredients into the pie dish, and stick the whole thing in the fridge for a moment.

Now roll out the other layer of pie crust.  Make it a bit bigger than the bottom one, as when you weave the lattice strips in and out, you’ll use up some dough length.  Using a sharp paring knife or pizza cutter, cut skinny strips of dough.  Pull the pie out of the fridge and gently lay strips going in one direction across the pie (the closer the lattice, the more impressive the final look).  Then begin to lay strips in the other direction (I like to lay the second set of strips at a diagonal to the first ones because I think it makes pleasant diamond-shaped holes, but you do whatever turns you on).  As you lay this second set of dough strips, gently weave the top strips in an over-under pattern.  When you’ve basketweaved all the strips, roll the strip ends over the bottom crust and tuck them under.  Use a fork or your fingers to crimp the edges and make it all look finished.  Stick the whole thing in the fridge for a few minutes.   (Note–I am not trying to make you crazy with all this fancy fridge-work.  I’m merely trying to ensure a tender, flaky crust for you.  Yeah, that’s right.  Bet you feel pretty bad about complaining now.)

In a small bowl, beat and egg white and some milk with a fork until it’s well-combined.  Pull the pie out after it’s chilled for a few minutes and brush (honestly?  I gave up on the pastry brush and used my fingers) the mixture over the lattice top and the crust edges.  This will turn your pie crust a beautiful, shiny, golden color.  You’re welcome!  Now, if you like, sprinkle additional sugar over the top of the pie for sparkle and just the right hint of sweet crunch.  Stick your pie onto a cookie sheet for easy removal, and pop the whole thing into the oven.  Bake it at this temp for about 20 minutes, and then lower the oven to 400 and bake for another hour or so.  Check it occasionally to make sure the crust isn’t browning too fast–if it is, just cut a large piece of foil and gently lay it on top of the pie.  The filling will continue to cook but the crust will stop browning so quickly.  Don’t judge your pie’s doneness by the crust color–you may end up with raw fruit.  You’ll know the filling is done when you poke a knife into the fruit mix and it slides right through the fruit and rhubarb with zero resistance.  After you take it out, let it cool for at least an hour, hour and a half before you eat it–not only will you avoid burning your mouth on molten hot berry lava, but you’ll also notice that the filling will gel and hold together better.

You can serve this warm, a la mode (yum!), but we just drizzled it with a few tablespoons of fresh cream.  Oh, yes, yes, yes.

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