March 30, 2019

Irish Soda Bread

A very delicious and yet wholesome bread. Dense, yet soft, with just the right amount of moisture. I used to make this all the time when we lived in Oregon, but I lost the recipe in the move. It's taken a while to adapt something that is closer to what we enjoy.

I usually include seeds or nuts like sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chopped walnuts, chia seeds, etc. I would definitely substitute ground flax seeds for rolled oats, if our kiddo wasn't allergic to flax.

*Notes on substitutions are included at the end.

This has been published on both my diet/exercise and gardening blogs.

Irish Soda Bread
Makes: 1 large round loaf
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 40 minutes

Dry ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 cup wheat flour
3 tbsp. butter, sliced into small pieces
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup seeds or chopped nuts

Wet Ingredients:
1 large egg
1 cup milk
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
The wet ingredients just have to equal 2 cups, if you're going to do substitutions.

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

2. Mix the two flours in a large bowl. Add the butter to the flours, rub the butter into the flours with your fingers until incorporated. Mix in the rest of the dry ingredients.

3. In a 2 cup measuring cup, add the egg, yogurt, and milk until you reach 2 cups. Mix the wet ingredients well, and then incorporate into the dry ingredients. The dough will be fairly wet.

4. Dust the counter generously with flour, and scrape the dough out of the bowl with a spatula. Sprinkle wheat flour on top of the dough and with floured hands, quickly work the dough on the counter into a round. I just roll the edges of the dough under with both my hands to clean it up a bit. I don't spend too much time shaping the dough.

5. Place the dough on the parchment lined baking sheet. Press on x onto the top of your round loaf with a knife. It's not necessary to cut into the loaf. Bake for 40 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. The loaf will be a dark golden brown and should sound hollow when you thump it. I would give it an hour before cutting into it. Great toasted and served with butter and jam, hummus and cucumbers, or with mustard and thinly sliced extra sharp cheddar.

*Notes: Baking powder can be substituted for baking soda, but you'll need to use at least twice as much. It is important to use fresh baking powder in humid environments as the humidity in the air can already have activated it somewhat, making it less potent.

Baking soda needs an acid to activate, which is why buttermilk can be substituted for the yogurt and milk. For vegans 2 tbsp lemon juice and 1 3/4 cups nut milk can be substituted for the yogurt and milk.

Instead of an egg, vegans can use 1 tbsp. ground flax seeds in 1/4 cup water or 1 tbsp. chia seeds in 1/4 cup water. Although the chia seeds will need to be soaked for at least 15 minutes, including a minute of swirling now and again.

If you use sunflower seeds, they will turn a lovely dark forest green when they come into contact with different acidic and basic elements of the dough. It's a very interesting aspect of food chemistry.

March 28, 2019

Vegetable Coconut Curry

Vegetable Coconut Curry
Makes: 8-10 servings
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons, peeled and minced ginger
4-5 carrots, chopped into circles or half moons
2 large sweet potatoes, chopped into large chunks*
2 tablespoons Madras curry powder
1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
2 cans chickpeas, drained
enough water to cover the vegetables
2 tablespoons nuoc mam
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups of milk
1 can of full fat coconut milk

Directions:
1. Heat large pot on medium heat. Add olive oil and sauté onions and ginger while stirring, till onions are translucent.

2. Add carrots, sweet potatoes, and Madras curry powder to the pot. Sauté and stir for 5-10 minutes on medium heat.

3. Add cauliflower, chickpeas, enough water to cover the vegetables, nuoc mam, and sugar. Give a good stir. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat to simmer the vegetables for 15 minutes.

4. Stir in milk and coconut milk. Let the pot return to a simmer for 5 minutes. Check to see if the potatoes and carrots are tender. Adjust the seasonings. I usually add some nuoc mam, curry powder, or sugar.

5. Serve on top of rice or with toasted French bread.

Note: Madras curry powder has more heat than other yellow curries. But if you like it even spicier, add chopped garlic or a chopped hot pepper with the cauliflower and chickpeas.

*Half a butternut squash may be substituted for the sweet potatoes.

March 4, 2019

Seed Starting Using an Aerogarden

Aerogarden planted Friday, March 1st, with peppers and eggplants.

Sounds like madness? Maybe a little.

Peppers take forever to germinate for me. Our house doesn't have any of the things peppers need, like consistent warmth and bright light. So I wondered about using the Aerogarden to start seedlings. And what do you know? They make a seed starting system.

I actually got an Aerogarden Harvest model last year from my mother in-law. It's a little hydroponic system that grows plants in soilless pods. The LCD light on this thing is powerful. Like staring into the noonday sun. I had to purchase the little seed starting tray which fits on top of the little water bowl, and can start 31 plants at a time. Soilless pods and a tiny bottle of nutrient broth came with the seed starting system.

To start out I put it on a 24 hour vegetative light cycle to keep the seeds warm enough to, hopefully, germinate. With the strong constant light cycle the seedlings should grow fast. It's probably a good idea, to pot them up after just a week or two of growth because you don't want the roots to get too tangled together.

This thing is actually tiny. Less than a foot long, so it hardly takes up any counter space. The system circulates water and tells you when to add water or nutrients.

The first thing I did was wet the soilless pods with water and then microwaved them for four minutes, to kill any mold spores that might be lingering in the sphagnum peat. Then one or two seeds are placed in the premade divots in each pod. Then I covered the top of the tray with plastic wrap to help trap heat and moisture. I then set the instrument, so it knew the system was newly planted and it informed me that it'll be two weeks before the seedlings will need to be fed.

It's probably a little late to be starting peppers and eggplants. I usually start them in February to give them a few extra weeks to germinate and get a little bigger before I start tomatoes. Once the peppers are potted up, lettuces will have a go in the system. I'm hoping it'll be a good way to start lettuces regularly since we are way into salads lately.