Hot and Sour Bac Ha Soup

WIN_20150527_134738Today’s soup is light and refreshing, low calorie, and chock full of fresh vegetables. In other words, it’s a perfect summertime soup! We’re cooking with Bac Ha today… a new ingredient in Crowded Earth Kitchen. I found this at my local Asian grocery store, and was intrigued by it’s appearance. It looks like fat celery on the outside, but looks like a sponge on the inside – how fun!WIN_20150527_130507

Bac Ha contains calcium oxalate, and MUST be boiled before eating. Don’t worry, once you boil it, Bac Ha is perfectly safe. Without boiling, Bac Ha is said to cause “intestinal irritation.” I’m, er, not real curious about what that exactly means, and boiled my Bac Ha as instructed! It’s really a delightful vegetable, light tasting and airy, and will surely find it’s way into future soup recipes. The spongy center of this veggie is perfect for soaking up delicious soup broths. Yum!

WIN_20150527_132401Ingredients (Serves 6)

6 cups chicken stock

1 lime leaf

4 inch piece of lemongrass

1 teaspoon chili paste, such as Nam Prik Pao

WIN_20150527_1313042 stalks Bac Ha, peeled and sliced like celery (about 2 cups)

2 baby Bok Choi, sliced like celery (stalks AND leaves)

1 cup snow pea pods, sliced lengthwise

1 cup mushrooms, any variety, sliced

WIN_20150527_1324561 lime

Directions

Step 1) Add Bac Ha to a pot of boiling (not salted) water. Boil gently for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Step 2) In a separate pot combine chicken stock, lime leaf, lemongrass, and chili paste. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.

Step 3) Add bok choi and mushrooms; simmer for 5 minutes.

Step 4) Add previously boiled Bac Ha and snow pea pods; simmer for 2 more minutes.

Step 5) Ladle soup into serving bowls. Squeeze juice from 1/2 lime into each bowl. Slice up the squeezed lime half and add to bowl as a garnish. Serve immediately.

Watermelon Lime Cooler

WIN_20150529_105252What’s with the food industry’s obsession with fake watermelon? You know what I’m talking about… lipstick-colored watermelon sherbets and sorbets, cloyingly sweet and perfumed watermelon bubblegum, and powdered drink mixes containing a dozen different ingredients not found in nature. These products seem to grow in popularity during the summer months, when REAL watermelon is available! It just doesn’t make any sense.

Try this instead: buy an actual, real watermelon. Cut it in half, scoop out the delicious fruit, and puree it in a blender (this should be done in small batches). Then, freeze the puree in ice cube trays. Once frozen, you can pop out the cubes, freeze them in a bag, and use them all summer in delicious beverages! I’ll even confess to freezing extra watermelon for “emergency” summer drinks in the dead of winter. True story.

To make today’s Watermelon Lime Cooler, simply puree 1/2 of a lime (with or without the peel, it’s up to you), 6 cubes of frozen watermelon puree, and 1/4 cup of cold water. That’s IT – for about 10 seconds of effort, you get a refreshing glass of real summer flavor, complete with fiber, vitamin C, and beneficial lycopene. Need something a little sweeter? Add a teaspoon of marmalade before you blend the ingredients together. Enjoy!

Vintage Post: Dandelion “Honey”

dandelionThis is a vintage post, but seasonally appropriate and lots of fun. Don’t spray toxins on your lawn… let those dandelions grow au naturel! The beautiful golden color and early summer fragrance of dandelions attracts bees, providing life sustaining nectar this time of year. Bees are HUNGRY in May and June, and if we want them around to pollinate our fruit orchards and vegetable gardens later in the season, we had better provide them with something to eat right now.

You can benefit from dandelions even more directly by making dandelion honey. Give this recipe a try – it’s delicious, and a great conversation starter!

In The Garden, Week 1!

WIN_20150524_141108

Pineapple Mint, Orange Mint, and Sage

Gardening season has finally arrived! Growing my own food is really my favorite part of cooking. Few things are as satisfying as creating a meal from fresh, healthy ingredients grown by my family. This summer, Crowded Earth Kitchen will feature a weekly post with garden updates. A few summers ago, our $200 gardening investment led to a harvest worth over $2,000. Can we do better this year?

WIN_20150524_141120

German Chamomile (I can hardly wait for tea!)

Gardening is part art, part science, and part dumb luck. Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen we rely pretty heavily on dumb luck! We are lucky to have enough growing space that we can garden badly and still end up with a bountiful harvest. It’s not that we try to garden badly (sometimes, our garden is beautiful), but it’s nice to have room for mistakes.

Important: Crowded Earth Kitchen grows organic food, entirely free from herbicides and pesticides. We believe strongly that these toxins have no place in a backyard garden. Stay tuned for tips on poison-free weed and pest control!

Below are a few photos from the garden we began planting just this week. Watch for growing updates! As we begin to harvest food, we’ll feature seasonal recipes from the garden. When we begin picking by the wagonload in autumn, you can count on lots of canning and preserving recipes here at Crowded Earth Kitchen!

WIN_20150524_141136

Lavender in the front garden

WIN_20150524_141146

Russian Sage in the front garden

WIN_20150524_141306

Beet sprouts tucked among the petunias in the side garden

WIN_20150524_141452

Compost buckets with drainage holes. Each bucket is surrounded by four plants (32 tomato plants, 12 pepper plants, and a few odds-n-ends). When the buckets are filled with water, they pull nutrients from the compost deep into the soil, encouraging the plant roots to grow deep and strong.

WIN_20150524_141553

30 foot rows of red and yellow seed potatoes, purple and white onions, okra, multicolored carrots, and green beans. The space between the rows needs to be weeded already!

WIN_20150524_141815

The side bed of chard and peas took an unexpected heavy rain, which crowded the seeds into one small area! No worries, we’ll just thin them out and plant the bald areas with a few lovely kale transplants.

Baked “TroutSalmon” (Baked Steelhead)

WIN_20150523_215706“What kind of fish is a steelhead?”

Well, that depends upon whom you ask. Some markets label this fish as “steelhead trout,” while others use “steelhead salmon.” The skin of this fish features a faint pink stripe, which by itself would land the fish squarely in the trout camp. Steelhead’s reasonable price is also more reminiscent of trout. The flesh of this fish, however, is pink and tastes exactly like salmon. Further, the fish actually contains MORE of those heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids than salmon.

Call it a trout, or call it a salmon. Either way, it’s delicious. We’re going to use a light hand in preparing this tasty fish – no batter or tartar sauce today. All these wonderful filets need is a light dusting of chili powder and a bit of finishing salt to make the flavor pop!

WIN_20150523_212006Ingredients (Serves 2)

2 steelhead filets

1 lemon

1/4 teaspoon ground chili powder

finishing salt (I like Jacobsen lemon sea salt shown, left. Any coarse sea salt will do.)

Directions

WIN_20150523_211508Step 1) Slice the lemon and use it to line your baking pan as shown.

Step 2) Lay your steelhead filets skin side down on top of lemon. Dust with chili powder.

Step 3) Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 12 – 15 minutes, until fish flakes WIN_20150523_211937easily. Sprinkle with finishing salt and serve immediately with a fresh green salad.

Truffle Popcorn

WIN_20150520_121235When I think of indulgent foods, I think of chocolate… champagne… popcorn…

Popcorn?

This, my friends, is not just any popcorn.

While some folks will grudgingly admit to a secret chocolate stash, or a secret bottle of a top shelf liqueur, my confession is a small bottle of truffle oil and an even smaller tin of truffle salt. It’s not that I won’t share… I will, and I do. It’s just that, if I leave these glorious items in plain sight, one of the budding cooks in my house will surely do something unintentionally heinous, like use truffle oil to grease a pan for pancakes, or dump truffle salt on a frozen pizza.  [Shuddering] Hence, the secret location.

WIN_20150520_121431Truffle oil is akin to vanilla flavoring, in that each of these items contains the same primary flavor compound as the real thing, without the hefty price tag. Are the flavors exactly the same? The consensus is “no.” In fact, some celebrity chefs are downright disdainful of truffle oil, and will only cook with true truffles. With the elusive fungus fetching up to $3,600 per pound… and I am NOT joking… I’ll take my chances on the rumored difference in flavor!

Truffle salt, made by infusing salt with bits and specks of black truffle, is less controversial and just as delicious. My little tin of truffle salt was a gift from my husband, purchased at a Seattle-based shop called Sugarpill. It made me smile… my husband knows me well!

WIN_20150520_121310

So… pop up about 8 cups of air popped popcorn. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of truffle oil. Drizzle this fragrant mixture over your popcorn, and sprinkle lightly with truffle salt. You’ll never think of popcorn quite the same way again!

Caramel Blondies

WIN_20150504_192450

“Can we make brownies, but not the brown kind?” Half-Pint eagerly asked.

“I like the brown kind. Let’s make the brown kind!” Pickle-in-the-Middle countered.

And so I ended up with two sets of eyes looking up at me, waiting for me to pick a favorite (dessert or child… I’m not entirely sure which!).  Think fast, Mom, think fast…

Enter Caramel Blondies. Blonde “brownies,” lacking cocoa, would surely meet one child’s request for “not the brown kind” of brownies. Rich caramel swirls would be delicious, I imagined – and brown. We gave it a go, and the results were spot-on wonderful the very first try. Here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

WIN_20150504_181015Ingredients (Makes a 9 inch round pan)

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/3 cup butter

1 egg

1 teaspoon milk

WIN_20150504_1824581 1/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup melted caramel or Dulce de Leche

Directions

WIN_20150504_182608Step 1) Melt butter and brown sugar together in a medium (not small) saucepan, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Step 2) Add egg and milk to the cooled saucepan; blend well.

Step 3) Add flour, baking powder, and WIN_20150504_182749baking soda to the saucepan and stir to combine all ingredients. Batter will be stiff.

Step 4) Use a rubber spatula to transfer the batter to a greased, 9 inch round tart pan or pie dish.

Step 5) Use a teaspoon to drop dots of melted caramel or Dulce de Leche onto the WIN_20150504_185517batter. Use a butter knife to “draw lines” through the caramel in several directions.

Step 6) Bake in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the blonde batter (NOT the caramel) comes out clean. Small wedges of this dessert are wonderful served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.