Curried Lentil Stew

We’ve had a return of chilly weather, which means I can make soup for dinner a few more times before this year’s heat sets in and we only want to eat cold, green things for the next seven months.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the heat!  Soup is just so easy and satisfying, that it’s a shame to waste the last cool nights eating salad already.

I happened upon this recipe online and, after making a few adjustments, whipped it up for dinner in 30 minutes.  It’s delightfully flavorful, unapologetically nutritious, exceptionally filling and just ethnic enough to feel like a refreshing change from the norm.

We paired ours with some queso garlic toast made from sourdough bread brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with granular garlic, chopped cilantro and crumbled queso fresco. Toast it under a hot broiler for a couple of minutes. Yum!

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Curried Lentil Stew

Adapted from: https://www.100daysofrealfood.com/why-i-dont-like-instant-pot-curried-lentil-sweet-potato-stew/

Serves: 5-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
½ – 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 pound yams or sweet potatoes, finely diced

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup plain yogurt or queso fresco

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, heat oil over medium heat and add onions. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until golden.

Add garlic and stir for 1 minute.

Add curry powder, salt and pepper and stir constantly for about 30 seconds to allow spices to toast.

Add tomatoes, stock and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

Add cubed yams and simmer another 10-15 minutes, just until lentils and yams are soft.

Stir in chopped cilantro just before serving and garnish with either yogurt or queso fresco.

Transplanting Your Seedlings


Young seedlings are the adolescents of the plant world. While they look like smaller versions of their full-grown predecessors, they lack the hardiness and strength to survive on their own. Use the following tips to take your seedlings from tender to thriving.

Soil Temperature

Soil temperature is the single most important factor to consider when deciding on a date for transplanting. If overall temperatures have been low, the soil will not be warm enough for your plants to thrive. Lettuce, spinach and other greens can be safely transplanted or sown directly when the soil is a mere 50°, while zucchini and other summer squash prefer dirt that has warmed to around 70°. Tomatoes, peppers and other heat-loving crops can tolerate cool soils, but will not grow much until underground temperatures reach about 80°. To speed soil warming, mulch with black plastic or use small wall-of-water greenhouses to warm each individual plant. You can order an inexpensive soil thermometer or just use a finger to estimate soil warmth.

Hardening Off

About 10 days prior to transplanting, begin setting your plants outdoors in a shady spot for increasing amounts of time each day. Start with just one hour and add an hour each day until the plants are spending most the day outside, but still being brought in each night. This process, known as hardening off, helps seedlings gradually adjust to the harsher outdoor elements and can help them avoid going into shock when they are planted in the garden.

Planting

Be sure to plant in the later afternoon or during a cloudy time to help avoid plant dehydration and shock. Use your hand to support the stem of each seedling as you gently tip the container on its side and squeeze the root area to loosen the plant. Next, gently rough up the root ball to loosen roots that have begun to grow in a circular shape.

Care

Take care to water each new plant daily for the first few days. After that, you can use a finger to test the soil moisture and only apply additional water when the soil begins to feel dry 3-4 inches below the surface. Roughening up roots and spacing out water applications encourages the roots to reach deep into the soil, lending stronger more resilient plants.

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Book Recommendation: The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible

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I am often asked questions regarding when to plant, how to control pests and which crops grow well in certain conditions.  While most of this knowledge can be gained from trial and error, it’s definitely helpful to have a few points of reference when you are deciding what to plant and how to care for your garden.

One of my favorite resources is The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith.

When it comes to vegetable garden books, this volume is an invaluable resource of planting information, pest control ideas and methods for increasing the quality and quantity of your garden produce. My copy is always at my side during spring planting time (so I can reference seed depth and spacing), amid the heat of summer when I am on bug control duty, come fall time when the harvest is bountiful, and during winter when I’m busy planning the next year’s crops.

I have used Smith’s wide row format to design several gardens over the last 10 years.  His use of deep soil and low tillage methods are perfect for the raised-bed planting style of many desert gardeners.  If you have questions regarding how, when and what to plant or just want a great all-in-one reference for your garden, pick up a copy of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible.

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How to Make Greek Yogurt

We eat a substantial amount of plain yogurt.  I, like my mother before me, have trained my kids to eat it with just a little honey or jam stirred in.  This cuts the sugar way down, especially if you make your own low-sugar freezer jam.

By making our own yogurt, we save a great deal on the grocery budget and can have delicious, probiotic breakfasts all week long. Topped with granola and some dried cherries, its the perfect start to any day.

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Yogurt
Makes 2 quarts or 1 ½ quarts Greek-style

2 quarts whole milk (can substitute low-fat, but texture will be thinner)
2 Tbsp plain yogurt (must have live/active cultures)

Method:

 Heat the milk in a saucepan or pressure cooker on yogurt setting, stirring often, until it reaches 180° F.  Hold at that temperature for at least 2 minutes.

Allow milk to cool until it reaches 108-113°F.

Stir in 2 Tbsp yogurt and whisk until fully combined.

Place milk in tub of yogurt maker or pressure cooker and follow manufacturer’s instructions for incubation.  This process should take 4-8 hours. Finished yogurt will have thickened substantially.

Strain, if desired.*

Remove from maker, cool and refrigerate.

*For Greek yogurt, strain using a bullion strainer or a colander/sieve lined with cheesecloth.  Whisk to smooth out the texture after straining.  You can save the whey for use in breads or as a probiotic beverage.

Options for a thicker yogurt:

  • Strain (see above) the final product
  • Whisk 1-2 tsp unflavored gelatin into the cold milk before heating
  • Whisk ½ to 1 cup powdered milk to cold milk before heating (will change taste of final product)

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Tropical Shave Ice


Two friends of mine posted photos of themselves in Hawaii on social media today. I immediately felt jealousy and a craving for shave ice. Not the kind with sticky syrup in every color of the rainbow, but the kind made of tropical fruit with a big scoop of ice cream at the bottom. 
This sauce is the perfect topper for shave ice or plain ice cream and comes together in a jiffy. 

Tropical Sauce

1/2 cup fresh or frozen pineapple chunks

1/2 cup Fresh or frozen mango chunks

1 fresh peach, peeled or 1 cup canned peaches 

Blend all together in a high-powered blender. 

Serve over shave ice or ice cream and pretend you are in Hawaii!

Authentic Bagels

 

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Repeat after me, “Bagels are not hard to make.”

Good.  Now, keep that in mind as you read on.  There are several steps, but they are NOT hard.  You can do this!

Authentic bagels are always boiled before they are baked, which lends their distinctive chewy texture.  Legitimate bagels also make use of a long fermentation process to increase the depth and quality of the final flavor.

There are three steps:

  1. Make the dough
  2. Poach each bagel for 1-2 minutes (you can do several at a time in a large stock pot)
  3. Bake the par-boiled breads until chewy

 

1-DOUGH
makes 12-16 bagels
Recipe adapted from a Peter Reinhart version found here.

2 Tbsp honey (substitute barley malt syrup if you have it)
2 tsp instant yeast
1 Tbsp salt
18 oz lukewarm water
7 cups bread flour

In a BOSCH mixer, or by hand, mix 6 1/2 cups flour, yeast, and salt.  Dissolve honey (or malt syrup) in water and add to the bowl of the mixer.  Mix on low speed 2-3 minutes.

Check dough.  It should be tacky, but not sticky.  Add remaining flour if necessary.

Mix another 3 minutes on low speed.

Let rise 1 hour at room temperature.

Shape into bagels and place onto a sheet pan that has been either greased or lined with a silicone baking mat. I actually love these that have a permanent silicone coating. To shape, form 4 oz balls and use one of two methods:

  • form rolls and poke a hole in the center, widening the hole to desired size
  • roll dough into a snake and using your palm, roll the ends together to form a circle

Spray surface of bagels with oil, cover pans loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.

Alternatively, you can proof entire batch of dough and shape 1 – 1 1/2 hours prior to baking time.

2-POACHING

Remove bagels from fridge 1 hour before you want to bake them. Prepare the poaching liquid:

  • Fill a stock pot with at least 5 inches of water (around 3 quarts).
  • Add 1 Tbsp baking soda, 1 1/2 Tbsp honey (or barley malt syrup) and 1 tsp salt.
  • Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low if bagels are not ready quite yet.
  • Preheat oven to 450° F

To check for readiness:

  • Fill a small bowl with cold water.
  • Drop a bagel into the cold water.
  • If it floats, they are ready.  If not, recheck in 15 minutes.

To poach:

  • Gently add a few bagels to the boiling liquid (don’t overcrowd-they should fit in a single layer).
  • Poach for one minute and then flip with a slotted spoon.
  • Poach second side for an additional 30-60 seconds.
  • Remove to a greased or silicone-lined baking sheet

Now is the time to add toppings such as garlic, cheese, salt, cinnamon & sugar, etc.

3-BAKING

Put trays of bagels into oven and check after 8 minutes.  If they are browning too quickly on the bottom, lower heat to 425° F or add another baking sheet under the pan for insulation.

Rotate pan and bake another 8-10 minutes, or until bagels are golden brown.

Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

Strawberry Freezer Jam

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Have you read the children’s book, The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear

The sneaky fox goes to great lengths to get just half of a juicy strawberry and I certainly don’t blame him.  A fresh-picked berry is nature’s perfect treat. They are unique in taste and structure, being the only fruit to bear its seeds on the outside rather than in, and can be successfully used in sweet and savory dishes alike.

Strawberries grow reasonably well in Zone 8, especially if you plant varieties that are heat-tolerant.  Two of my personal favorites are Earliglow and Eversweet, but the local nurseries almost always carry a selection of appropriate types.  Plant them in a raised bed with plenty of loose soil and consider a location that will give them a little afternoon shade for a longer season.

Nothing beats heading out to pick a few for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert.  When our plants are bearing fruit, my kids can always be found outdoors during snack time.  When you find yourself with an abundance of fruit from your backyard patch, or the local sale, try this freezer jam.  Unlike cooked jams, it brings back that fresh taste of spring berries all year round.  Try it over vanilla ice cream or toss a little over fresh berries for the perfect strawberry shortcake topping.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

6 cups finely chopped strawberries, pulsed in food processor
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 cups sugar
½ cup instant pectin
¼ – ½ cup Ultra Sperse/Instant Clear Jel (a starch thickener that does not need to be heated)

Pulse strawberries in food processor until finely chopped.  In large bowl, mix strawberries, pectin and sugar.  Add Ultra Sperse until desired texture is reached.  Freeze in zip-top bags or plastic containers labeled with the date.

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I Heart Shrimp Tacos

Shrimp tacos, how I love thee.  Garlicky, with plenty of shredded cheese, cabbage and salsa, these beach-side tacos are love at first sight.  They make the perfect meal any night of the year, but especially May the 5th. So, if you need a quick, delicious Cinco de Mayo dinner, look no further.

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Shrimp Tacos

1 lb raw shrimp
4-6 large cloves garlic
salt
pepper
1/2 a lime (extra wedges for serving)
corn tortillas
pepper jack cheese, shredded (can substitute cheddar)
1/4 head green cabbage, shredded
1 avocado, diced
blender salsa

Peel and de-vein shrimp.  (Incidentally, this is my favorite tool for doing so. Paired with a willing husband it’s really the best method.) Pat shrimp dry with paper towels so it doesn’t splatter as much when you fry it.  Or, don’t.  It’s your stovetop, you decide.

Shred the cheese and melt a little between two tortillas (like a quesadilla).  Keep warm in a tortilla warmer or under a dishtowel until you are ready to eat.  Each of these mini quesadillas will make one taco, so plan accordingly.

Finely chop your garlic and heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet.  You want enough room for the shrimp to fit in a single layer.

Toss in shrimp and garlic, season heavily with salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat, 2 minutes per side.  When curled and pink, they are done.  Avoid overcooking them, it’s really a quick process.

Remove shirmp and garlic to a cutting board and coarsely chop. Place in a bowl and drizzle any pan juices over the mix.  Squeeze half a lime over all and toss to combine.

Top each “double tortilla quesadilla” with a small handful of cabbage, a large scoop of shrimp, some avocado and a little salsa.  Serve with lime wedges and napkins. Divine.

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Need a good cutting board that can go in the dishwasher and won’t transfer that garlic and onion taste to your strawberries?  Check out Epicurean.

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Garlic makes everything better.

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Party on, taco lovers.

Blender Salsa

  
This recipe was born in a moment of desperation when I realized that someone had eaten the very last of the store-bought salsa and that someone else (it may have been the same person) forgot to add salsa to the grocery list when they took the last jar from the pantry. The result was disastrous: not a drop of salsa in the house. 

I am unable to live without salsa. It is my condiment of choice and I slather it liberally on dishes throught the day. A breakfast of eggs gets a nice dollop, while a lunch of nachos or beans and rice is never complete without either a scoop of pico de gallo or bottled tomato goodness. Dinner at our house often involves a tortilla, some fixins’ and, of course, salsa. 

This recipe turned out to be the solution I didn’t know I had been looking for. Our favorite commercial brands were a touch too spicy for my youngest and we were going through it quickly. 

Inexpensive, completely customizable and fast, this blender salsa pleases the whole crowd. In the event that I find myself with only an empty jar, a refill is only five minutes away. 

Blender Salsa

Yields 1 quart

1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic

2 scallions or a handful of chives

A small handful cilantro, with the bottom of the stems trimmed off

1/2-1 Jalapeno, seeded (leave seeds in for more spice)

1 small bell pepper (omit if you don’t have one)

Juice of a lime

1 tsp smoked paprika

Tiny dash ground cayenne 

2 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly-ground pepper

2 cans diced tomatoes, 15 oz each

With the blender motor running, drop the garlic through the small hole in the lid and let it chop. Using the same technique, add the chives, cilantro (stems and all!) pepper and Jalapeno. Turn off the motor. Add lime juice, spices and tomatoes. Pulse until desired thickness is reached. Taste for salt and add more, if needed. Enjoy any time of the day!

  

Smoky Southwestern Salad Dressing

Smoked paprika, how I love thee, let me count the ways…

  1. On beans
  2. On meat
  3. In soup
  4. On salad
  5. In sauces

The list could go on and on.  Suffice it to say, this gem makes it into my top-three favorite spices list.  Anytime I am cooking Southwestern fare, I add a little dash for that deep, smoky flavor.  It has nearly replaced traditional paprika in my kitchen, as there is rarely an occasion when I don’t want to add a little char.

This simple salad dressing is perfect for weekday lunches, company-over dinners and a killer pasta salad. I like to drizzle it over a bed of romaine or spinach topped with black beans, warm quinoa and queso fresco. If I have fresh tomatoes or cucumbers, I add plenty of each.  Toss some up today.  Yum!

Smoky Southwestern Salad Dressing

1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup cup red wine vinegar
3/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp freshly-ground pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
dash cayenne, optional

Combine all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake to combine.  Store in refrigerator for up to several weeks.

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