Category Archives: cooking

A Feast of Dumplings

I woke up yesterday intending to make cheese. Then, somewhere between the shower and breakfast, I changed my mind. From some obscure corner of my brain, the idea of making home-made dumplings all of a sudden broke through. Mmmmm dumplings – I challenge you to find me a person who doesn’t like a good dumpling. Or, find me a culture that doesn’t have its own version: dumplings, gyoza, pot-stickers, kreplach, wontons, etc. etc. etc.

As usual, when I decide to make something I haven’t tried before, I resolve to make the whole thing from scratch. So, I had two tasks: the wrappers or “skins” and the filling.

Part I: Wonton Wrappers

I’ve seen the wonton wrappers or “skins” in the Asian grocery near my house but I wanted to make the wrappers by myself. Like most things, it turns out it’s a lot easier than you would think. All you need:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • Water
  • Salt
Dumpling dough

Dumpling Dough

A found a good recipe at Petitchef.com

Basically, just add hot water to flour and mix it with chop-sticks and then knead it until it’s a silky ball. Then, let it sit and rest for an hour or so in a covered bowl. On the right is my dumpling dough just after basic kneading.

wonton wrappers

Finished Wonton Wrappers

Next, fashion a few logs or cylinders out of your dough and then roll out each “log” using a rolling pin or, if you don’t have one, you can use a long glass. Once the dough is rolled out as thin as possible, use a a glass to make circles of dough. Then peel out the circles and there you have your wonton wrappers.

On the left is my stack if finished wonton wrappers. (Don’t forget to sprinkle flour between them so they don’t stick!)

Part II: The Filling

Making Dumplings

Filling Dumplings

I decided to fill some of my dumplings with vegetables and some with shrimp and vegetables. I took my time finely mincing a small pot full of vegetables that included scallions, carrots, asparagus, sprouts and red peppers. I also added some finely minced fresh ginger. For the shrimp, I peeled and de-veeined about a half pound of medium shrimp and minced them as much as possible.

Then, the fun part – taking a small scoop of filling, I filled all of my dumplings and found interesting ways of closing them up – I made some round and some oval-shaped. The dough closes nicely just by pinching it together or you can slightly wet your fingers to ensure the dough is really closed.

Finished dumplings

Finished Dumplings

I ended up with about 25 delicious dumplings. To cook them, I went for a mix. I steamed some of them, boiled some of them and pan fried the rest. They were all good, but the boiled dumplings were too dough-ey. So, I pan-fried ’em for guests at the last minute.

To make the meal complete, I made an easy Miso soup with Shitake mushrooms- just boil some vegetable broth together with Shitake mushrooms. Remove from heat and then add fresh Miso to taste. Last, as a “salad,” I steamed Kale with tofu, red peppers ,and soy sauce.

All in all, a success! Now that I have dumplings “out of my system” I can get back to cheese….

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The Glorious Red Pepper

Have you ever taken a bite into a red pepper and felt like you’ve gone to heaven? Unlike it’s earlier plucked green cousin, the red pepper packs a delicous punch of sweet and savory. Our Brooklyn rooftop garden has about 5 pepper plans that are all doing well in the after the hot summer. The peppers are all on the small side and I’ve eaten a few delicious green ones. I’m leaving the rest on the plants to mature into reds. I just picked a glorious red pepper off of my Brooklyn rooftop garden. Here she is:

A Brooklyn Rooftop Red Pepper

So – what does it take to grow a red pepper? Although many people eroneously believe that red peppers are a different species or type of pepper than the green pepper, they are actually the exact same plant – the capsicum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsicum). Red peppers just stay on the plant longer and turn red as they mature or age. That’s why they are more expensive at the supermarket. They take more work and water to grow.

The pepper or capsicum is indigenous to the Americas and was cultivated first in South and Central America. Columbus noticed peppers being eaten by Native Americans and named it a “pepper” on account of the sharp taste which reminded him of black pepper. Columbus and other explorers brought peppers back to the “Old World.” Colonists then spread peppers throughout  North America. An interesting history of the pepper can be found at the Texas A &M Agricultures Site.

One of the Brooklyn Red Peppers

Interestingly, a red pepper has 10 times the amount of Vitamin A and double the amount of vitamin c as a green pepper. And, both green and red peppers have more vitamin c than a whole orange.

If you want to grow your own peppers, wait until next Spring and then go for it – it’s easy. Here’s an easy guide for pepper growing: http://www.gardenersnet.com/vegetable/pepper.htm

Last but not least, a quick video guide for roasting red peppers. So many good recipes have roasted red peppers. This video shows you 3 easy ways to roast ’em:

The Brooklyn Rooftop Garden

This year’s rooftop garden in Park Slope, Brooklyn is a major success.I can’t write the name of the street or the address because, strictly speaking, we’ve never been on the roof since it’s not allowed and the owners of the building probably don’t want us traipsing around up there.

But traipse we do, and we’ve managed to build quite the garden up there. We have tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, green beans, snap peas, snow peas, Serrano chiles, bell peppers, mint, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, dill and basil. For a look at other Brooklyn gardens, check out http://brooklynroofgarden.com

Just the other night, we ate two salads with all of the ingredients coming from our Brooklyn rooftop garden. The  first is a cucumber salad with dill and the second is cucumbers, tomatoes and basil with olive oil. Delish.

cucumber salad

tomato and cucumber salad

The best part of the garden is watching the plants grow and seeing the vegetables ripen.There’s nothing like eating your own, home grown vegetables. We water our garden by running a hose from the kitchen sink out into the hallway and up the ladder to the roof. I’d love to to a massive, roof -wide garden like the huge garden in Greenpoint brooklyn. Check out this Daily News Article for more on that.

I’d love to hear from others who have good “urban farming” experience.

Let The Great World Spin

The rooftop garden in Brooklyn is flourishing: spinach, zuchinis, cucumbers, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, snap peas, green beans and a whole bunch of herbs. To get to the roof there’s a ladder and then you open a hatch and out into the blinding light. It feels like leaving a spaceship and walking on a whitewashed moon.
We have a view of the statue of liberty and all of lower Manhattan.
We got sick of lugging bottles of water up for the plants and bought a hose. Now, we run the hose from the kitchen sink, out the door, down the hall, up the ladder and out the hatch. For a secret rooftop garden, we have a lot going on. Hopefully the landlords won’t catch on. We’ll probably end up like that children’s book and have tomatoes growing in our closets.
The plants love getting drenched. There aren’t enough bees in Brooklyn so Anya had to pollenate a lot of the plants using Q-Tips. Too bad city pigeons can’t be taught bee tricks so they can have a use. We’ve harvested the first tomatoes and snap peas- delicious. I’d like to grow sunflowers too. It would give the people on Flatbush Avenue something nice to look at.
On a side-note, I just read a beautiful book by Colum McCann, Let The Great World Spin. If you live in NYC, ever lived in NYC, or hell, live anywhere, it’s a good one. It captures a lot.

More cheesemaking soon….

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Avi Bars

Granola Mix

After being inspired by #3 from my office, I decided to try my hand at whipping up a batch of Chewy Peanut Butter Granola Bars. I love anything with peanut butter and I’ve never tried my own granola bars before, so what the hell.

It turns out, they’re SO easy to make. I reviewed a bunch of recipes on the internet until I settled for Emeril Lagasse’s recipe on The Food Network:

Recipe at:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/peanut-butter-granola-bars-recipe/index.html

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8 by 8-inch baking dish and set aside.

In a small saucepan melt butter with honey over low heat, stirring.

In a large bowl stir together oats, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cinnamon and salt. Pour butter mixture over oat mixture and stir until combined well.

On a large baking sheet, spread the granola evenly in a thin layer. Bake, stirring every 5 minutes to keep from sticking or burning, until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes. (Do not overcook; the granola will crisp more when cooled.)

Cool the granola in the pan on top of the stove and stir in the raisins. When the granola is completely cooled, place in a large bowl.

Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, and peanut butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is at a boil. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture over the granola, stirring to coat well. Cool slightly and press into the prepared baking dish and let cool completely and harden. Cut the mixture into ten 1 1/4 by 4-inch bars and serve at room temperature. (The bars may be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.)

Peanut Butter Granola Bars

The whole thing, from “soup to nuts” takes about 40 minutes total and you can do three other things while you are making these bars.

If you’ve ever found yourself getting by on Clif Bars or Lara bars or any other high-tech protein or energy bars, do yourself a favor and make some kind of bars on your own to see how easy it is. You can pack lots of nuts, fruits and energy together with any binding agent (peanut butter, corn syrup, agave nectar honey, etc. etc) and get a nutritious results.

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The Bees and The Bees

Honey Bee

Honey Bee

Although we see them all the time, it’s easy to take the honey bee for granted. We avoid them or shoo them away, but rarely do we take a moment to appreciate what the honey bee does for us.

The honey bee, apis melifera, is one of our most important partners in growing fruits, veegtables and nuts. According to the National Resources Defence Council, “the list of crops that simply won’t grow without honey bees is a long one: Apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds … and it goes on.”

The San Diego Zoo website has a good explanation of bee pollination:

“Bees were very similar to carnivorous wasps millions of years ago. But when flowering plants appeared on Earth, bees became vegetarians, eating only nectar and pollen taken from flowers. Pollen is a well-balanced food with many of the essential nutrients bees need to survive. Female bees have a structure on their legs that no other insects, including wasps, have: a pollen basket. The basket is made of rows of stiff hairs that arch to form a hollow space on the outside of the bees’ legs, usually her back legs. When a bee visits a flower, she combs grains of pollen into her baskets. Pollen from the flower also sticks to the bee’s hair. Males do not collect pollen, so they don’t have this special body part. Leafcutting bees carry pollen in a brush of hair on the underside of the abdomen. And a few species, such as parasitic bees, have no pollen basket.

What about the flower’s nectar? Bees have a special tongue that sucks up the sweet nectar and a crop in their throat for storing it until they get back to the hive. Here the nectar is turned into honey. They can store large amounts of the honey in their hives to use as food.

All bees fly from flower to flower, sipping nectar and collecting grains of pollen. Many plants depend on bees to spread pollen, helping them to reproduce. Fruits and vegetables we like to eat, such as oranges, tomatoes, and squash, need bees to distribute the important pollen. When these crops are ready to produce their flowers, farmers often hire commerical beekeepers to deliver bees to their fields. The beekeeper places bee hives near the field for a few weeks. The bees harvest pollen and nectar for their hive, and the plants get pollinated in the process.”

Even in this age of big agribusiness, we still need and use bees to pollinate most of our vegetables. In the United States, there are large commercial bee-keepers. The National Honey Board reports that there are “approximately 1,600 commercial beekeeping operations in the United States which produce about 60 percent of the nation’s honey.  Many commercial beekeepers migrate their colonies during the year to provide pollination services to farmers and to reach the most abundant sources of nectar. ”

Commercial beekeepers truck their hives all over the United States and are paid top dollar for their bees’ pollination services. The almond harvest in California is perhaps the most impressive “bee operation.” The San Francisco Gate has a great story about how in February more than 40 billion bees are broughton semi trucks to the California Almond country.

In 2006, beekeepers began to report an alarming trend: the bees were disapearing. Unexplainably, masss of bee hives were empty and the bees were nowhere to be found.The phenomenon was termed Colony Collapse Disorder and it’s estimated that up to 1/3 of all honey bees in the United States have disapeared. What’s going on?

Watch these two 60 Minutes clips to get the latest thinking on what is happening. It’s so disturbing…

As of yet, there is no officially diagnosed cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. A lot of the papers and scientific research suggest that CCD could be caused by a confluence of different factors — articificial hives and breeding, chemicals that are used in beekeeping, chemicals and fertilizers that are used in agribusiness, and more.

For a full list of resources on Colony Collapse Disorder, see The MidAtlantic Apiculture website.

For a good explanation of the life of bees and of the functioning and social order of the hive, have a look at the National Honey Board website.

After learning about bees and their travails, I doubt I will ever look at them the same again.

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The Hazon Food Conference

I plan on devoting the next few posts to my take-aways from the Hazon Food Conference where I was last week in in Monterey, California.

Monterey California

Monterey is gorgeous and the conference was fantastic. Hazon (Hebrew for vision) is a prominent Jewish environmental organization and the food conference brought together an eclectic mix of more than 600 farmers, wanna-be farmers, passionate eaters, activists, environmentalists.Hazon is famous for its Jewish environmental bike rides which it sponsors on the east coast, west coast and in Israel. Their slogan is: the people of the hike, the people of the bike and the people of the bite.”

“I finally found my people,” my friend Dara Frimmer said. I couldn’t agree more.
The conference reinforced my belief that the way we think about what we eat and the way we relate to our food is critical to the future of the planet and to each individuals’ health and sense of connectedness. As an activist in the Jewish community, it was great to explore these issues in a Jewish context.

At the beginning of the conference, the double decker, upside down Hazon Climate-Change bus pulled into Monterey after driving all across the United States fueled entirely on vegetable oil! Check out this video to see what this was all about:

I went to sessions on amd will write blog posts over the coming days on the following topics:

Honey Bees and “colony collapse disorder.” (did you know that we rely on honey bees for 2/3 of our fruits and vegetables?) Definitely check out the film: The Vanishing of the Bees.

Rice and how a cool companu called Lotus Foods is helping to introduce new, more efficient rice farming techniques around the world and is inyroducibg new rice varieties into the US market. (did you know that more than half of the world relies on rice for a significant part of their diet?)

Slow Money. Author Woody Tasch expounded on the Slow Money movement and how spending and investing locally can re-orient us toward building a sustainable, healthy economy.

Composting. Farmer D, an entre-manure from Atlanta, Georgia gave a presentation on the ins and outs of composting. Stop laughing- He’s litetally made a real busIness of shovelling shit.

Urban Agriculture. There are so many intrresting people doing cool things in this area. From school garden to roof-top gardens to reclaiming unused city land, this “field” is booming.

The role of “place” or “land” in Judaism. Rabbi Steve Greenberg discussed the centrality of being attached to the land in Jewish thought and history.

A do-it-yourself mozarella class. Having made a bunch of my own mozz, i skipped this one.

A do-it-yourself sourdough making class taught by Sarah Klein. She has a lot to say about bread and is a really good teacher.We made bagels. I got some pointers for my next sourdough starter.

Stay tuned for more posts about all of this and more….