Cheesecake: A year in the making

Last December (2011), I tried to make a cheesecake for my boyfriend’s birthday. After I started mixing together all the sugar and cream cheese, I felt unsure about the mixture and consistency. I left the bowl on the counter to take a look online for photos of what it was supposed to look like! As I scrolled through the recipe online, I heard a loud THUMP/CRASH. The entire bowl – with the mixer-  fell off the counter and into my dog’s water bowl. My roommate ran in when she heard my “Ooohhhh MAN!” and found me on the floor next to the water-cream cheese-sugar puddle trying to keep the dog from licking it all up. In the end, we settled for an instant cheesecake with a homemade crust.

Flash forward one year to December 2012, despite all my nervousness, I tried again. And the result was amazing! Cheers to Smitten Kitchen and to second-tries.

Cheesecake1 Cheesecake2 Cheesecake3 cheesecake4

New York Cheesecake (from Smitten Kitchen)

What You Need

Crust

  • 16 graham crackers/8 ounces – finely ground 
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling

  • 5 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Fruit topping

  • 10 ounces frozen fruit – I used blueberries but the recipe calls for cherries 
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup water

What You Do

  1. Stir together crust ingredients.
  2. Press crust onto bottom and up the sides, stopping one inch shy of the top rim, of a buttered 9 1/2-inch springform pan.
  3. Put pan into the freezer so it quickly sets.
  4. Preheat oven to 550 degrees (or as high as your oven will go).
  5. Beat together cream cheese, sugar, flour and zest with an electric mixer until smooth.
  6. Add vanilla, then eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated.
  7. Scrape bowl down between additions.
  8. Put springform pan with crust in a shallow baking pan (to catch drips).
  9. Pour filling into crust (springform pan will be completely full) and baking in baking pan in the middle of the oven for 12 minutes or until puffed. (NOTE: Watch your cake because some ovens will top-brown very quickly and if yours does too fast, turn the oven down as soon as you catch it.)
  10. Reduce the temperature to 200 degrees and continue baking until cake is mostly firm (center will still be slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken), about one hour more.
  11. Run a knife around the top edge of the cake to loosen it and cool the cake completely in springform on a rack, then chill it, loosely covered, at least 6 hours.
  12. Place all ingredients for the fruit topping together in a medium saucepan.
  13. Bring to a boil.
  14. Once it is boiling, cook it for an additional one to two minutes then remove from heat.
  15. Cool completely.
  16. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate.
  17. Spread topping over chilled cheesecake. 
  18. Enjoy the fruits of your labor 🙂  It is hard work, but worth it!

Sprouting sprouts @ home

Since I became interested in growing my own food, I have been curious about sprouts. I love them! I buy them all the time. But, until recently I was never able to grow them myself. I worried about e. coli, all the rinsing, getting the right container, etc. Maybe it was laziness, I just don’t know what kept me from just giving it a shot. I’ve been hoarding different types of sprouting seeds and have read plenty of instructions and blog posts about it.

Finally, I’ve sprouted my own sprouts – and I love it.

A new year and it is time to fulfill a resolution from 4 years ago! I purchased a very cool jar from Mom’s Organic Market that has mesh on the top to make it really easy to rinse the sprouts. Equipped with the right container, I overcame another obstacle: disinfecting the seeds. All you need to do is soak the seeds in a 2% bleach solution (ie 1 tsp bleach to 1 cup hot water) for 15 minutes.

First I tried a “sandwich mix” – but I didn’t like that the different seeds had different sprouting times. My second attempt was with alfalfa sprouts and it was wonderful. I’m also planning on trying broccoli sprouts, radish sprouts, and more! It is so much fun to do and these sprouts are tastier and much cheaper than the ones you can buy in the store.

Here is the step by step process:

Sprouts!

What You Need

  • Jar
  • Seeds (I suggest finding sprouting seeds – I used organic seeds from Botanical Interests)
  • Water
  • Towel (I used this to keep the sprouts from direct sunlight until they sprouted – but not necessary)
What You Do
  1. Measure 1.5 tablespoons of sprouting seeds.
  2. Disinfect your seeds by soaking them in a 2% bleach solution (1 tsp bleach to 1 cup hot water) for 15 minutes.
  3. Rinse well!
  4. Fill jar with enough water to cover seeds three times their depth with cool or room temperature water.
  5. Let soak overnight (8-12 hours).
  6. Pour off water and rinse with cool/room temperature water.
  7. Shake the jar gently to spread out the seeds.
  8. Away from direct sunlight (this is where I used by towel), let your jar sit.
  9. Rinse the sprouts 2-3 times a day by filling the jar and draining well.
  10. Harvest your sprouts when they are 1-2 inches long – it usually takes about 4-6 days.
  11. If you let your sprouts drain thoroughly, you can store them in the refrigerator in your produce drawer!

Sprouts

Enjoying the Fruits of Fall’s Labor: Jellies!

I’ve been thrilled with the canning I did in the fall throughout the holiday season – using the jellies as homemade gifts for friends. But, with the cold weather today, I was feeling particularly thankful the preserved bounty.

Here is a recipe I’ve been meaning to share. This tomato-basil jelly was the biggest hit of the canned jelly gifts this season.

Tomato-Basil Jelly (from Better Homes and Gardens)

*Makes 5 half pints

What You Need

  • 2 1/2 pounds fully ripe tomatoes (about 5 large)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons snipped fresh basil
  • 3 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 1.75-ounce package powdered fruit pectin for lower-sugar recipes

What You Do

  1. Wash tomatoes. Remove peel, stem ends, cores and seeds. Finely chop. You should have 31/2 cups.
  2. Place tomatoes in 6-quart kettle and heat to boiling.
  3. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Measure again to 31/2 cups and return to pan.
  4. Add lemon juice and basil.
  5. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar with pectin.
  6. Stir pectin mixture into tomatoes and heat to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.
  7. Stir in remaining sugar and return to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim foam with a metal spoon.
  8. Ladle into hot, sterile jars, leaving about 1/4-inch head space. Wipe rims. Place on lids and loosely tighten rings.
  9. Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes and cool on wire rack. You should hear the distinctive ping as lids seal. If any lids don’t seal (check by trying to depress lid with a finger. If it resists, jar is sealed), reprocess or simply store jam in fridge to be eaten right away.

 

Winter Wonderland in the Garden!

The weather has been crazy. Warm, cold, warm. Through it all. My cool-weather vegetables have been thriving. Of course, I’m not sure how they will rebound from the freezing cold weather this week. But here are some pictures of the broccoli and broccoli-rabe growing in my backyard. Still growing are also kale, collards, radishes, and some of the more hearty herbs.

I was thrilled to harvest the broccoli-rabe and use it in a pasta dish last week. It was amazing!

Wintergarden5

Making Sauerkraut

“You are really going back to nature”, my mother told me in response to my excited announcement that I was going to try to make sauerkraut. I thought I went off the deep end with my vegetable garden, at-home composting, and sprouts. But, for my mom, sauerkraut-at-home was the sign.

When Deb provided me with two beautiful heads of red cabbage from Willowsford Farm and a challenge to make sauerkraut, I was intrigued and a bit perplexed. I read Alton Brown’s recipe and many other blog posts about fermentation. I wondered aloud about botulism and whether or not it would smell up my kitchen, forcing my roommate out of the house. Then, I found Wild Fermentation! and Sandor Ellix Katz’s recipe for sauerkraut. Amazed, I got started the same day as my first attempt at growing sprouts at home. It was a great day!

All you need to make sauerkraut is cabbage (and other vegetables if you want), a little salt, and a container to put it in. I couldn’t believe that was all it takes. I went on a mission to find a food-grade container to make the kraut- I went to the market and asked for an old plastic container which was used for tofu. I brought the container home, washed it, and disinfected the it with bleach. I’ve since learned that this container is WAY TOO BIG for the amount of cabbage I had on hand. You can use canning jars or other types of containers as well.

Here is what I did:

  1. Clean and disinfect container.
  2. Chop cabbage in small pieces and add salt.
  3. Put cabbage in the container.
  4. Cover with a plate and some weights (I used water in jars).
  5. Cover the container and store out of the way.
  6. Wait, look, taste, and wait…

I realized that my pantry was very cool and that the fermentation process was taking longer than I expected. So, I moved the container to my dining room in the corner. When the container was closed, there was no odor from the developing sauerkraut. But, I was still feeling unsure about the process.

Coincidentally, I was already signed up for the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) conference last weekend – including a pre-conference workshop with Sandor Ellix Katz himself! WILD FERMENTATION! The class was wonderful and I was able to pick up a signed copy of The Art of Fermentation. Some important take-aways from the class:

  • You really cannot get botulism from sauerkraut
  • It is okay if your sauerkraut has some mold on the top – just remove what you can and don’t worry about the rest
  • Fermentation is the oldest and most important method of food preservation
  • Making sauerkraut really is that simple! and it is fun
  • You can ferment any vegetable – and way more food items
  • The sauerkraut you buy at the store has been pasteurized, so the best way to get the health benefits from fermented foods is to do it yourself – ensuring that the good-bacteria in the food are still alive when you eat them!

Emboldened from the workshop and the conference, I went home and tasted my kraut. Of course, I found some of the white-mold on the top.

Ick. I removed as much as I could and realized how important it is to use an appropriately sized container – to avoid contact with the air as much as possible. The result of the fermentation was not too bad. It definitely tastes like kraut. I packed the sauerkraut into two smaller jars, moved one to the refrigerator and I’m going to keep letting the second one ferment on the kitchen counter to see how it tastes over the next week.

I am eager to try again. I will make sure to really smash my cabbage before putting it into the container to make sure all the water comes out. I will also use smaller containers to reduce contact with air (or WAY MORE CABBAGE). Plus, next time I’ll try adding in some other vegetables like carrots, onions, and garlic.

Here is the recipe from the master, Mr. Katz!

Sauerkraut (from Wild Fermentation)

What You Need

  • Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket, one-gallon capacity or greater
  • Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
  • One-gallon jug filled with water (or a scrubbed and boiled rock)
  • Cloth cover (like a pillowcase or towel)
  • 5 pounds cabbage
  • 3 tablespoons sea salt

What You Do

  1. Chop or grate cabbage, finely or coarsely, with or without hearts, however you like it.
  2. Place cabbage in a large bowl as you chop it.
  3. Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you go. The salt pulls water out of the cabbage, and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting.
  4. Add other vegetables. Experiment.
  5. Mix ingredients together and pack into crock. Pack just a bit into the crock at a time and tamp it down hard using your fists or any (other) sturdy kitchen implement. The tamping packs the kraut tight in the crock and helps force water out of the cabbage.
  6. Cover kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the crock.
  7. Place a clean weight (a glass jug filled with water) on the cover. This weight is to force water out of the cabbage and then keep the cabbage submerged under the brine.
  8. Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep dust and flies out.
  9. Press down on the weight to add pressure to the cabbage and help force water out of it. Continue doing this periodically (as often as you think of it, every few hours), until the brine rises above the cover. This can take up to about 24 hours, as the salt draws water out of the cabbage slowly. NOTE: Some cabbage, particularly if it is old, simply contains less water. If the brine does not rise above the plate level by the next day, add enough salt water to bring the brine level above the plate. Add about a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
  10. Leave the crock to ferment.
  11. Check the kraut every day or two. NOTE: Sometimes mold appears on the surface. Skim what you can off of the surface; it will break up and you will probably not be able to remove all of it. Don’t worry about this. It’s just a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air.
  12. Rinse off the plate and the weight. Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. Eventually it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.
  13. Enjoy. NOTE: Make sure the kraut is packed tight in the crock, the surface is level, and the cover and weight are clean. Sometimes brine evaporates, so if the kraut is not submerged below brine just add salted water as necessary.

Good luck and have fun.

August Home Garden Update

Although the garden at my house was off to a late start this season due to the move, many of the plants are doing well. There are plenty of hot and sweet peppers, squash, and herbs. I’ve even spotted a couple cukes and melons growing.

 

Although these plants are only starting to fruit, my mind is moving on to the next season. I’ve started cabbage, pumpkin, and winter squash seedlings. While I know that it is really too late to start the squash, I thought it might be interesting to give it a try.

The Home Garden Information Center says it’s time to plant cool season vegetable crops like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, kale, mustard, spinach, lettuce, carrots, and beets. I’m looking forward to it!

I found an interesting series that has already started on the subject from the Prior Unity Garden. Anyone else have ideas and resources for fall and winter crops?

Grilled okra

Easy! Delicious! Not fried.

If you are wondering what else you can do with okra: try grilling it. You can use left-overs mixed with tomatoes, onions, and corn or on its own.

Grilled Okra (from About.com Local Foods)

What You Need

– Okra (trim stems)

– 1 tablespoon olive oil

– Salt and pepper to taste

– Lemon juice to taste

What You Do

  1. Fire up your grill.
  2. Toss okra with oil.
  3. Place okra on the grill, cover, and cook until okra’s green (or, in the case of purple okra, purple) color heightens and grill marks or charred edges appear, 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Turn okra, cover, and cook until tender, about 5 more minutes.
  5. Remove okra from grill and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Lesson learned: squirrels eat tomatoes

After successfully planting the seedlings in my new garden a couple weeks ago, I was very happy with the tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, okra, and melon plants. Within the first week, however, I lost two of my twelve tomato plants. Mysteriously, they were dug out at the roots and left– half of the plant chewed off — laying in the row.

I sighed, and reminded myself that my new animal friends in my yard were always going to take some of the harvest. But, then the next day ten of my twelve tomato plants were gone! Hacked in pieces and dug up at the roots.

With only two tomato plants left, I was very worried. Luckily, I was able to head to Behnke’s for their 4th of July sale and picked up a variety of pepper plants to  use the space. I was thankful for the remaining tomato plants. I wondered, who was ruining my tomatoes?

Day three of the battle of the tomatoes, the remaining two plants were destroyed. The squirrels won. It turns out they enjoy eating tomato plants, particularly during times without much rain. Our heat wave here in the DC area must have encouraged the squirrels to take advantage of my tomato plants.

I’m left without any tomatoes in my home garden – but with an addition of many different varieties of hot and sweet peppers and a newfound determination to deter the squirrels from eating my plants. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with:

  • Hot pepper spray to apply to my vegetable plants
  • Squirrel feeder on the other side of the house to detract from the garden
  • Netting around the vulnerable (ie squirrel-attractive) plants
  • Shiny-items that move in the wind including hanging disposable pie pan (shown in photo below)

At my last house, my roommate purchased a sling-shot to try to teach squirrels to stay away from the garden.

Pepper plants that replaced the lost tomatoes

Despite the loss of the tomatoes, I’ve been eager to install drip irrigation for the vegetables, continue to improve my herb garden and start to plan for my fall planting. I picked up seeds for pumpkins, winter squash, greens, radishes, and other root vegetables. I also purchased some new garden tools including a mini-shovel. Although the battle of the tomatoes was lost, I will not be defeated.

New mini-shovel ready for work in the garden

Let us know if you’ve been experiencing any issues with squirrels. What has worked (or not worked) for you? Email me at allison@compost2themooon.com!

 

Specialty Veggies

This past weekend, while the storm knocked out the DC area, I was happily at the beach in Delaware enjoying the last few days of my summer vacation. I had the luck of catching the Historic Lewes Farmers Market. There, I was able to buy some specialty vegetables — no surprise from such a special farmers’ market. Once I get through the heirloom tomatoes and perfectly ripe peaches, I might be ready to get the stove or grill going to prepare these beauties. I’m currently searching the web and my cookbooks for adventurous uses of the many different types of potatoes, burgundy okra, and Armenian cucumber I purchased.

Even though it’s hot, I’m really loving the summer! Stay tuned for ideas with okra – grilled, fried, and stewed — and much more.

An Afternoon at Lavender Fields

Greenhouse at Lavender Fields

Last weekend, I spent the afternoon at Lavender Fields in Milton, Delaware. What an inspiration! The farmhouse, cottage store, vegetable garden, bee hives, wild flowers, and of-course lavender fields were all beautiful.

Vegetable garden at Lavender Fields



Below you can see some of the culinary products sold in the farm store including items such as Lavender Honey, Lavender and Sugar Glazed Pecans, Lavender and Rose Blended Tea, and Lavender Vinegar. I picked up some Lavender Sea Salt to experiment with in the kitchen.

Next time you are visiting the Delaware beaches, I recommend packing a picnic and spending the afternoon at this magical place. I also was inspired by the number of varieties of lavender and so, of course, I had to pick up a few plants to put in my garden as well.