Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We are in the Mulch


I’m in love with my mulch. Fr and I harvested our compost recently, and I was astonished at how well it turned out. From the outside of the bin, it seemed to be stratified and not decomposing into a happy wormy compost-dreamland.  But, as the Lord does amaze, my mulch astonished me.

North Carolina has been enjoying a very temperate fall. These past few December days have seen highs into the 70s. We benefited by the nice temperatures and pulled out all the contents of the compost bin on to large tarp, tossed it around, and covered it up with the sides of the tarp and let it cure for two weeks. Finally, we brought the finished product out to mulch our front garden bed.

So dark. So moist. So dreamy. It’s amazing that 6 months of coffee grounds, paper towels, chicken shavings and miscellaneous vegetables peels would result in a finely aerated topsoil. I am already looking forward to Spring.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Go Green with your Chicken Stock


Buying chicken stock at the grocery store can be expensive. Sold in many forms, as a concentrated paste or in cubes or cans. It’s an oft called for ingredient that both takes a chunk out of your dollar and causes a lot of waste in the environment if you prefer liquid broth which comes with wasteful cans or cartons. My method is an environmentally friendly way of creating your own chicken stock from items you obtain naturally in your kitchen.

If you cook, you may frequently have left over bones from roasting meats. I suggest that you look upon these bones with purpose. They can help form the basis for many future meals! They will provide great flavor and save you money, too.  If you roast a chicken every month and use the carcass for making stock, you will always have free stock (unless you make soup everyday).  It also makes the house smell lovely.

Just add your bones in your biggest pot and add some halved onions (even leave the peels on them!) maybe throw in a carrot or some celery and toss it all in the pot, and fill the pot up with water. Add 1 tsp per quart of salt, a couple bay leaves, and about 8 peppercorns. Let the pot simmer for a few hours. Drain, and allow to cool for a couple hours before transferring into Tupperware and into the freezer.

You’ll be set with free chicken broth in your freezer ready to defrost in the microwave and add to your dish. You can even freeze the broth in muffin tins or ice cube trays for miniature portions when you just need so much.  Do you make your chicken stock at home, yet?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

North Carolina Asian Peanut Noodles

NC Asian Peanut Noodles

I grew up in North Carolina and feel blessed to call it my home now. The land is forested and beautiful. Our year is marked by four distinct seasons. And our summers are hot and humid with a great growing season. Tobacco, soy beans, squash, tomatoes, and peanuts all thrive. And the humble peanut is one of my favorite fresh ingredients.

In North Carolina, and other places through the south raw green peanuts are harvested and oiled by the bushel in salted water for hours. Their skins get soft and brown, and your fingers slip easy into them to uncase the soft nuts. I have always been given my boiled peanuts, by my grandmother who would  always freeze them in Ziploc bags after their initial boiling. To reheat, you just boil the frozen peanuts for 1o minutes.

The recipe I was following for Chicken Peanut Chow Mein called for dry roasted peanuts. I didn’t have any  in my pantry. Nor did I have (a preference to use) the oyster sauce and sesame oils listed. In both cases I substituted what I had in my pantry and prefered, and I rather liked my version very much. I daresay it’s even better with it’s North Carolina peanuts. They were like soft salty gems among the hardy chicken, slick noodles and crunchy vegetables. Best of all, it’s thrown together in 30 minutes if you have everything on hand.

North Carolina Asian Peanut Noodles

  • 1 frozen bag of boiled North Carolina peanuts
  • 1 cup carrots, matchsticks
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas
  • 6 oz chow mein noodles
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp anchovies paste
  • 1/2 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 can mushrooms sliced
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 cup green onion chopped
  1. Boil frozen boiled peanuts in water for 10 minutes.Then, shell the peanuts and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, slice the chicken thighs thinly. Then, sauté them with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce until the meat is nicely colored and completely cooked.
  3. Remove the chicken, and to the drippings add the ginger and mushrooms and sauté them. In a cup, add the vinegar, anchovy paste, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sugar and broth. Add the sauce to the pan and bring to a boil. Add the peanuts and cooked chicken and keep on low while the noodles boil.
  4. In boiling water, add the noodles, carrots and snow peas. Bring back to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Drain.
  5. Put the noodles back in the pot and add the sauce. Toss to coat. Add the scallions on top and serve.

Monday, January 17, 2011

DC Challenge: Cassoulet

Cassoulet 223

This most recent Daring Cooks challenge was truly a feat. Over three days, finally we feasted on the end product, a homey comforting French meat and beans dish called Cassoulet. In France, a traditional cassoulet contains preserved goose, sausages, pork and beans. More contemporarily, duck confit will be used in lieu of the goose. This challenge was comprised into three parts: preparing the duck confit, pre-cooking the beans, and finally creating and baking the cassoulet over the period of two days.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Daring Bakers Challenge: Christmas Stollen


The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

Christmas Stollen is a delicious variety of fruit cake. Similar to fruit cake, Stollen keeps for a very long time; up to a month in the refrigerator!

The Stollen has many components which makes it fun as you can customize each part to your liking. In the recipe we used, the components are candied citrus peel, dried fruits, and nuts. I choose to make candied Clementine peel. For the dried fruits, I used cranberries, figs, and dates. For nuts, I went with my favorite, walnuts.


Making your own candied citrus peel was a fun additional mini-challenge. I used clementines, as I already had a crate of them. First, wash the clementines and peel them, trying to keep the peels in as large pieces as possible. Slice the peels, and then cover them in water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Strain the peels, and re-boil them in fresh water two more times. Once you’ve boiled the peels (to remove any lingering pithy taste), you need to boil them in syrup. Combine 4 cups of water with 4 cups of sugar, bring to a boil and then add the peels. Boil them for one hour and  then allow the peels to cool in the syrup. Once cooled, remove the peels and place them on drying racks to let the excess syrup drip off. If needed, pat them on a paper towel before tossing them in sugar. After coating each peel in sugar, allow them to air dry either on drying racks (cleaned from the syrup, please!) or on a plate until they are hardened, at least 2 hours.

Pork Belly Carbonara


Rich creamy noodles with delicious succulent pork belly accented by snappy snow peas. Tonight, we enjoyed this delicious pork belly carbonara. This pasta recipe is an indulgent take on an easy favorite.