Friday, October 31, 2008

Dumplings - Now and Later

Ever since I found out just how simple it is to make my own Asian-style pork dumplings, I have been putting these little gems together quite often. These dumplings can then be steamed, fried or cooked like pot-stickers.

Just about anything can be added to the meat mixture for the dumplings. I find the wonton wrappers in the produce department of my regular grocery store. This time I used ground pork, finely grated carrot, garlic and ginger, minced celery, low-sodium soy sauce and sesame oil.

After mixing well, scoop out on the wonton squares. I used a small cookie dough scoop to portion out the filling. Wet the edges of the wonton and seal.

The pork dumplings are ready to go into the freezer.

Once the dumplings have frozen solid, remove from the tray and seal in freezer bags before returning them to the freezer.
These dumplings can then be pulled out as needed and cooked. There is no need to thaw before cooking, either.

The next day I decide that some pot-stickers would make for a good lunch. The frozen dumplings are placed in a pan that has had some oil added to it. Heat over medium-high heat until the bottoms brown. I have found that a non-stick pan does work for this dish, even though they won't be true pot-stickers.

Meanwhile, I get to work on my sauce. Honey, red pepper flakes, low-sodium soy sauce, rice vinegar and mirin make up this dipping sauce.

See, I told you that the bottoms would brown.
I also like that I can use my chopsticks to cook the dumplings, mix the dipping sauce and eat the pot-stickers. That's versatility, folks.

Now, add 1/2 to 1 cup hot water to the pan and turn the heat down to medium.

Cover and cook until the water has boiled off. When the water is gone, the pot-stickers are done.

Once the lid is removed, the dumplings deflate, giving the pot-stickers that characteristic wrinkled appearance. These are looking good.

It's lunch time! This is so quick and easy to make. This is also much better than any pre-packaged frozen food product because I control the volume, I control the vertical... er, I can control what ingredients do and don't go into this dish.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cold Weather Preparedness

The temperatures are expected to dip below freezing tonight, so I harvested the remaining tomatoes and chile peppers. I also cut the rest of the basil as it would not survive the freeze. The tomatoes and chile peppers will stay in the garage as they continue to ripen off the vine. The basil is destined to become pesto, which ironically enough, will end up in the freezer.

The last of the season's warm weather crops. Good bye, summer.

The basil leaves are ready to be processed with Parmesan cheese, pecans, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and olive oil.

Beautiful, nutty basil pesto.

I think it's time to cook dinner now.

The cold weather is just begging for a nice, hot beef stew.
Here we have cornstarch, salt, pepper, paprika, beef, bacon, Worcestershire sauce, red potatoes, tomato, homemade beef stock, allspice, carrots, onion, bay leaves, celery, sugar, thyme and garlic.

I always find that the beef stew meat from the grocery store is cut into too large of pieces.

There, much better. Each piece should be bite-size.

First I cut and cooked two slices of bacon and set that aside. One pound of beef is cooked in batches in the bacon drippings. Add more oil if needed.

I peeled and sliced two carrots, some onion and two celery stems. I also chopped up a tomato and three small red potatoes. The garlic is minced and two mushrooms that managed to avoid the photo shoot were cut into chunks.

After the meat has been browned and set aside, the veggies go into the pot with just a bit more olive oil so that they can saute a bit before the liquid is added to the mix.

Now the meat is added back to the pot. Two bay leaves, two stems of fresh thyme, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, a pinch of allspice and 1/4 teaspoon paprika and 2 cups of still-frozen beef stock are also added. More water can be added if needed.

The beef stew simmers for a couple of hours. Half an hour before serving, mix two tablespoons cornstarch with 1/4 cup cold water. Stir together and add a bit of the hot liquid to the slurry before adding that to the stew. Stir and allow the mixture to come to a brief boil before turning the heat back down to a bare simmer. Pull the bay leaves and the thyme sprigs out and discard.

I bought a nice loaf of Pane Bello (Italian for beautiful bread) that was made by a local bakehouse. Butter and jelly and some red seedless grapes round out this simple, but filling dinner.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Autumn Interlude

One of the perks of being the Thrice Potent Master's wife is that I get to attend all sorts of events at the Scottish Rite in Indianapolis. Last evening we attended a play entitled "Love, Sex and the IRS". This was a very enjoyable comedy and the cast was quite engaging. I found out afterwards that I actually knew a few of the cast members. All in all, this was an enjoyable evening and my husband and I had a very nice time.

At the end of the evening we found out that our daughter's old high school football team had won their sectional game and so they get to play for at least one more week. Oh goody; another week of having Gatorade(tm) in my refrigerator before the game. I love that my daughter loves being manager of her old high school's team, but I do lament the loss of my refrigerator space.

The Indianapolis Scottish Rite Cathedral recently replaced the old spot lights highlighting the bell tower with new, energy efficient LED lights with color filters. Every few seconds the color of the bell tower changed colors. I watched as the colors ranged from yellow to orange to red to green to blue to purple. Awesome.

Scene break: the next morning:

I am once again attempting to get a good picture of my black orchid. My cat Midnight feels the need to investigate the situation.

I feel the need to remind you that this is a very difficult flower to photograph. But then again, I do love a challenge. Maybe some day I will actually get it right.

And this is my 'Blushing Ladies' moth orchid (phalaeonopsis). One of the interesting things about this orchid family is that the blooms are so long-lived that once they do begin to fade and drop, people wrongly think that they have somehow killed these hardy orchids. The truth is that orchids are very tolerant of their environment and can even accept our sometimes less than prompt attentions.

Tonight I will leave with the thought that each day is ours and ours alone. Enjoy and leave a positive mark on each place you have visited.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Autumn Flowers

My moon flowers (many, many thanks to Rosie Hawthorne for the seeds) are still blooming.

Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana) blooms alongside the moon flower.

I recently moved my Christmas cactus inside after being outside on the front porch all summer. A coordinating impatien seeded itself in the pot last summer. As the impatien has behaved itself, I have let it be.

Fast forward a week and the Christmas cactus is now officially confused. It is in full bloom and Christmas is no where in sight.

Oh, the depths to which I will sink (well okay, it was the floor) in order to get a good picture.

Well, this is a pretty flower, even if you do have to lie on the floor underneath it to truly appreciate the beauty of the blooms.
Picnic at the Lake

After I had gotten my allergy shots and run my errands today, I decided to take my camera down to the lake. And since it was after 1 pm, I decided that food sounded like a good idea. Except that by now I was out in the middle of the country, so what to do? It was at this point that I fortunately remembered that a friend had told me about a gas station in nearby Harrodsburg, Indiana that made a mean breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. Oh yeah, now I have a plan. I got to my exit from the highway and drove to this little town that you just might miss if you drive too fast. I found the gas station and went in to order my pork tenderloin sandwich with lettuce, onion, tomato, catsup and mustard. In a few minutes I was happily on my way with a warm take-out box filled with Hoosier goodness.

Five minutes later, I arrive at my destination. This is the overlook at the dam of Lake Monroe.

And this is my lunch. Isn't it pretty? Very good; it just needed some salt to make it perfection.

Could you ask for a better view while you eat lunch?

Such a pretty day for a picnic.

I am one happy picnicker.

After lunch I headed over to Fairfax State Recreation Area. How very odd: the beach is deserted on this beautiful day.

I decided I needed to walk off my lunch, so I set off along the concrete walkway.

It was a quiet day on the lake as I only saw two boats today.

A small peninsula juts out into the lake past the beach. The concrete walkway used to circle the entire area, but over the years, much of the walkway has been lost to the annual spring floods.

This was a bit of a challenge to navigate. At times I could hear water lapping underneath the concrete all along the walkway.

This area used to be filled with bushes and small saplings. The past few years of flooding, along with the mowers, have cleared the area out.

I love fall-blooming flowers.

Click on this picture to see the damage the floods have done to this tree's root system. This area had turned into an island (see first picture in that post) four and a half months ago and the tree is now showing signs of distress.

Wow, this afternoon's excursion and impromptu picnic have done wonders for my mood. It is important at this time of the year to take advantage of every nice day.

Now, what can you do to help your uptight college student to unwind? Scroll down for my daughter's request...

Bubble Wrap! Have at it, dear.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Non-Baker Bakes

That would be your cue to head for the hills, or the flatlands, or anywhere really. I do not bake. That is a well established fact in my house. After all, baking doesn't lend itself to my style of cooking: the recipe calls for oregano? Let's add parsley instead. Now, in baking, substitutions generally are ill-advised and rarely work for the baking novice. But still, my dear daughter has been wanting some nice blueberry muffins, and given her intolerance of food additives and preservatives, baking a batch at home seemed to be the sensible solution.

I searched Food Network's web site and found this recipe. Despite my problems with some of the programming on Food Network and their inane new web site design, this is often the first place I look online for recipes.

Here we have (from back left) milk, baking powder, table salt, flour, sugar (I followed one of the reviewer's advice and changed the amount to 3/4 cup), unsalted butter, eggs, blueberries and a lemon for zesting (I ended up adding 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest and that seemed to be the right amount for our tastes).

This is a good reason why a non-baker should not attempt to bake at 11 o' clock in the evening: instead of creaming the sugar with the butter as per recipe directions, I added the sugar to the dry ingredients. I really do know that sugar is considered a wet ingredient in baking, but apparently I didn't at 11 pm on a Saturday night.

Amazingly enough, the world did not end and the recipe seemed to not suffer - much.

One thing that the recipe did not specify was that you should set aside a bit of the flour so that you can coat the blueberries. This prevents the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of the batter.

Gently fold the blueberries into the batter at the end. Remember to not over-mix a muffin batter. Mixing the batter any further than 'just combined' will result in a heavy, dense texture as the gluten in the flour will start to be developed. This is not what you want for a muffin.

I used the wrapper from the stick of butter to grease the muffin cups.

Part way through the baking process, I turned the pans 180 degrees so that they would bake evenly.

Let's find out if I have succeeded.

Oh yeah, these are moist and tender and have a nice bite from the lemon and blueberries. Two great tastes that taste great together, by the way. This recipe, as amended is a keeper.

And why, exactly, did I make these blueberry muffins? As I noted earlier, my daughter had requested them and as Friday was her 20th birthday, I decided to indulge her. The poor girl was barely home for her actual birthday, so we have been celebrating this weekend.

Happy 20th, dear!