...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Spring Recipes

Though we still haven't had an extended period of official spring weather I've been feeling a bit more momentum with spring foods, both wild and cultivated.  Last night's dinner was an attempt to get as many of the season's available flavors into one delicious dish.  I came up with some "spring" rolls.  I'm sure that I've made spring rolls before--at least in culinary school.  If so, I needed a refresher course on exactly how to handle the rice paper.  I found a helpful hint via another blogger and had no trouble with the rice paper being too sticky.  In fact, it was so easy to work with that I think I'll be making a variety of spring rolls this summer with the garden's offerings.  I won't say my first--or at least first in a long while--attempt was great, but it could have been much worse.  Had they not been so steaming hot at the table, I think Vera would have been more into them, but the upside of that was that I got to eat her leftovers!

Crispy "Spring" Rolls with Lime-Mustard Dipping Sauce
Makes about 12 spring rolls

I adapted this recipe from Louisa Shafia's Lucid Food to include as many fresh spring ingredients as I had on hand.  The original recipe called for sheets of yuba, a product for whose processing method I have much respect from when I used to make soymilk and saw the yuba "skin" form on the surface.  It's  a mystery to me how they make these delicate sheets on a large scale.  

Circular rice paper
Spritzing bottle
Paper toweling or multiple layers of thin towels (like floursack towels)

4 T. coconut oil, divided
8 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced*
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
1 large sunchoke, scrubbed and shredded (about 1/2 c.)
2-3 ramps, cleaned and chopped
1 T. minced fresh ginger or 1/4 t. ground ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. pure maple syrup
1 T. fish sauce (nam pla)
2 T. sesame oil, divided
2 c. firmly packed shredded green cabbage
1/4 c. freshly foraged catnip, chiffonade

2 T. lime juice
1/2 t. sesame oil
2 T. honey
1/2 t. fish sauce
1 T. Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease baking sheet and line with parchment (or just line with silicone mat.)  Heat 2 T. coconut oil in large saute pan and add shiitakes.  Cook, stirring, for 2 min., then add carrot, sunchokes, ramps, ginger, garlic, maple syrup, fish sauce, and 1 T. sesame oil.  Cook for 5 min.  Add cabbage and cook for 1 min. more.  Remove from heat and stir in catnip until it wilts.  Season to taste and let cool on a baking sheet or other shallow container (will cool fastest when most surface area is exposed.)  In a small saucepan, melt the remaining 2 T. coconut oil then add remaining 1 T. sesame oil--reserve for brushing.  Prepare rice paper by placing paper towel on plate, spritz to dampen, top with rice paper, spritz, top with paper towel, spritz, top with rice paper, and so forth until you've dampened as many rice papers as needed.  Let rest until fully moistened then begin with first rice paper.  Add about 1/4 c. of vegetables in a line 1-inch wide along sheet.  Fold in short ends then fold bottom of rice paper over.  Gently pull flapped-over bottom/filling towards you to tighten, then roll up.  Stickiness of the rice paper will make its own seal--no need for extra water or egg wash.  Place seam side down on prepared baking sheet and repeat rolling remaining rice papers with filling.  Before baking, brush all spring rolls with sesame/coconut oil.  Bake 15-20 min. or until golden.  Meanwhile, prepare sauce.  Whisk together all ingredients.  Season with salt, to taste.  Serve rolls hot, sliced in half on diagonal if desired, with dipping sauce.

*(if using dried, boil until soft--reserve cooking liquid for another use in soup stock or a sauce--then slice.)

Cooling on a Sheet Tray
Ready to Roll
Glistening--Just Out of the Oven
Beautiful Beef Fat
Another interesting culinary project that came my way this past week was rendering beef fat.  I recently got my hands on 25 or more pounds of antibiotic/hormone-free, grass-fed beef fat when I organized a half steer order with some friends.  No one else wanted the fat and we were paying for it anyway so I volunteered to give it a try.  To be honest, I thought I would just use it for grinding into my sausage in the fall, but this amount of fat would take forever to use that way.  After that realization, I was feeling a bit--actually VERY--overwhelmed by the amount of beef fat with which I had to deal.  Not only did I have to figure out how to wedge it into my basement freezer along with the other meat and the 2010 season's remaining vegetables, but I had to explain to Ben what it was doing there and THEN proceed to figure out how to use it.  Cue the internet, such a great resource for culinary explorations in instances like this.  When I have a lot of ingredient x on hand and am looking for creative ways to use it, I just plug it into my search engine.  Et voila!  My attitude about the fat quickly turned around when I learned more about its health benefits (my Gramma Cille would be proud) and realized I had a very special ingredient here.  Actually, I was feeling a bit sorry for the others who shared the steer because they'd simply be grilling their ribeyes and filets while I was practically bathing in beef tallow (that is, if I chose to make soap with it...but I'm not going that route.)  I can use it for pie crusts (the farmer suggested using half lard, half tallow), frying (remember McD's fries of olde?  Were they really bad because of the fat in which they were fried...I'm starting to think it was a conspiracy), baking (think mincemeat pie!), and even making birdfeeders (tallow is the rendered fat from beef suet.)  I put the first bag of beef fat into a large roasting pan last Saturday night--realizing that if the predicted rapture materialized that I'd be spending my last hours on Earth engaged in this activity of melting steer blubber (wouldn't have it any other way!)  I started the process at 200 degrees F, but realized that 250 was better for speeding it up without "cooking" the fat.  A few days later I had at least eight glass pints of gorgeous beef tallow.  I froze most of it, but will keep a jar in the back corner of my fridge next to the bacon fat and pig intestines (for stuffing sausages).  (Yes, we've already established that the contents of my fridge are a bit out of the ordinary.)  I will keep you posted on how I use the fat.  But basically I'm thinking that I won't buy ghee for a while and just substitute tallow as needed.

Suet Melting in the Pan
Just-filled Jars

Cooled and Ready for the Freezer

Had some garden-fresh spinach tonight on our Friday pizza.  A quick saute and it was ready.  Yum!

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