Pizza- you can grow that!

Well, not the whole pizza, there’s no such thing as a sausage tree or a mozzarella bush, after all, but we do veggie pizzas around here, mostly, and it is certainly possible to grow your herbs and veggies for pizza.
I have an oregano plant that has come up reliably for five years. I always swoop down and brush it with my fingers when I walk past, just to smell that evocative scent of …well…pizza.
You can plant onion sets simply by pushing them into the soil, pointy end up. Pull them throughout the summer for green onions.
Wait until after danger of last frost to plant tomatoes, peppers and basil. In my area, that is traditionally mother’s day. This has been a weird year, though, with hardly any snow all winter, then a couple big dumps- one that closed school on May first- this spring. The snow has melted, but the soil is still very cold. I’m going to set up Walls of Water, to warm up the soil in advance of planting.

Yes, this is our meat thermometer. Yes, I washed it! 43 Fahrenheit is around 4 degrees Celsius. Tomatoes are happier with warmer toes.

Yes, this is our meat thermometer. Yes, I washed it! 43 Fahrenheit is around 4 degrees Celsius. Tomatoes are happier with warmer toes.

I have designed my garden on purpose to mix in edibles with the flowers. Rather than having a big “vegetable garden” out back, each big border has an area without perennials or bulbs that I can turn over and plant annual vegetables. I think it is prettier, and easier to take care of, to have a couple of square feet of tomatoes right next to the asters and iris.

Chris Kimball comes through again!

Because of a need to go lower fat, I was looking to substitute the foods we love with lower fat versions.

Spaghetti and meatballs is a meal we have in the rotation regularly-for years I have just been buying a bag of frozen meatballs, and microwaving a dozen or so while the pasta water boiled.  Then I read the label, and was astonished by the amount of fat.  This was low-hanging fruit- surely I could make meatballs with less than 12 grams per serving!

I borrowed a low fat cookbook from a colleague, and made calculations and adaptations for a meatloaf recipe. I was so proud- it was only 1.5 grams of fat for an entire serving of 6 meatballs. I used texturized vegetable protein, and 95% lean ground beef, and…Ummm…yeah. They were….really…I should have taken pictures of people eating them- glum. We did eat the whole batch, but not happily.
The thing is, the good people at Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchens have done the math, and done the experimentation, and come up with a recipe for meatballs that aren’t as crazy lean as my experimental meatballs, but they are really tasty.
Because that is the thing- at only 1.5 grams of fat per serving, no one wanted to eat them. So, what’s the point?
The two secrets of CI’s recipe are buttermilk and gelatin. The buttermilk totally makes sense to me- tang and richness and mouthfeel. The gelatin was a surprise- they explained that sometimes meatballs are made with veal, which I guess naturally has more gelatin, so you get a creamy texture. It gives a velvety feeling without being greasy.
I tried them, and they are so good. The original recipe called for 2 pounds of beef, and 1 of ground pork. I didn’t want that many meatballs floating around the first time I made the recipe, so I used just 1 pound of 93% lean beef. Another modification was to use leftover Christmas ham rather than the finely chopped prosciutto called for in the original. This was pure laziness- we had the ham, didn’t want to go out for specialty deli meats.  I think the ham also adds saltiness and umami, without adding fat.  The original recipe would make around 120 meatballs, which seems like really a lot- more than my oven could handle, but I suppose if I were having a big spaghetti party, I might make that many.

(Weird note about Cook’s Illustrated/ America’s Test Kitchen- I had a dream that Chris Kimball lived in our town, and all his quirky small town New England stories were really about here, and he was giving cooking classes and we went and he wore his little bow tie and everything.)

Meatballs- based on Cook’s Illustrated, with adaptations

3/4 cups bread crumbs

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup egg beaters

1 pound 93% lean ground meat

2 oz chopped ham

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons italian seasoning

1 clove pressed garlic

1 packet unflavored gelatin dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

Dissolve the gelatin in water according to directions. In a large bowl, mix the buttermilk, egg and the breadcrumbs. Add the other ingredients, and mix together by hand, thoroughly incorporating the gelatin.  Form into balls- you could weigh them…I guestimated and came up with about 40 of them that seemed about the right size. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  At this point, you can bag them and put them in the freezer, or simmer some in sauce until the pasta is ready, and freeze the rest, or maybe you are having a big enough party, or you have a big enough family, to serve all of them at once.  Go for it.

Sorry, no photos…every time I cook something, I find myself admiring the photographers who take pictures of food. My photo shot of this recipe just turned up pink pasty stuff, then, you know, brown balls…of meat…

Beet Greens- you can grow that!

When C.L. Fornari, the genius garden blogger behind “You Can Grow That” suggested that for the month of February, we pick a plant related to the theme of love, I had to think about it.  I considered the plants I love, or the plants that symbolize romance, and I was kind of stumped.  February is a tough month for planting, around here anyway.  So, I decided to be contrarian, and write about beets.

We heart beet greens! Well, I do. Well, maybe I don't heart them, but I like them.

We heart beet greens! Well, I do. Well, maybe I don’t heart them, but I like them.

I have to confess that we don’t love beets at our house.  When we had a CSA membership, I tried to like them. I roasted them, which is my favorite with most veggies, and I threw them in stir-fry (which made everything weirdly pink) and I marinated them…not popular. I did learn that I liked beet greens, though. A friend insists that beet greens taste just like beets, but I disagree. Or maybe it’s the texture. Anyway, when I saw directions for forcing root crops in a pot, I thought to myself, that’s a good way to get greens without having to actually eat beets.

The directions come from Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest, which is a funky combination of a book- part how-to garden tome, part we-went-to-the-south-of-France-and-drove-around-looking-at-gardens-in-winter travelogue. My kind of book, in other words.

Coleman describes  taking beets, or turnips, or celeriac, putting the roots in damp sand in a sunny window, and eating the greens that sprout.

I decided to start the experiment with beets. I bought a cute bunch, and cut off the leaves that they came with to sautee, then eat in garlic soup (really tasty- follow this link!)

I then filled a 6 inch pot 1/3 of the way with potting soil, then put in the roots, then covered with soil and watered.

BIrd's eye view of 3 beets in a pot, before another layer of soil is added.

Bird’s eye view of 3 beets in a pot, before another layer of soil is added.

The roots won’t get any bigger- storage crops are biennial. During the first summer, they put energy into the root. When they send up leaves again, they use the energy store in the root to prepare for blooming. This means you don’t have to worry about leaving room in the pot for root growth.IMG_0056

We haven’t gotten enough for a big salad, but there should be leaves to add to stir-fry or soup or whatever.  I’m adding some to Quinoa salad tonight.  I hope it doesn’t turn weirdly pink.


Seriously. Good. Guacamole.

So, for each avocado, about this much sauce- I know it says 1/2 teaspoon, but this is the kind of spoon we use, and it's just on the edge...

So, for each avocado, about this much sauce- I know it says 1/2 teaspoon, but this is the kind of spoon we use, and it’s just on the edge…

Just in time for some sort of big game that may or may not be happening this weekend, the Associated Press put out a food feature on guacamole. They suggest adding bacon and brown sugar. Seriously? A 12 ounce jar of roasted red peppers? Bleah.
DH has developed the sine qua non (wait, is that what I mean? something Latin, anyway) of Guacamole. He invested many years of experimentation into it, and every batch has been worth it. I say that as his primary taste tester. When he dared to show up at a New Year’s Eve party without a bowl of his signature guac, he was sent home. I was like- “look, I made homemade marshmallows?” No, not enough. DH went home and returned later with a bowl that was gobbled up immediately.
We can eat guac guilt-free around here, because even though it is high fat, Kate doesn’t like it, so we don’t have to worry much about her pancreas. Or her puppy eyes- whenever she catches me having something she wishes she could have, she looks unutterably sad….
So, I will share with the world (well, the world of my little corner of the interwebs) the recipe so that you won’t have to use any weirdo AP recipes. Seriously, they want you to add mango?

The secret ingredient is rooster sauce. Also known as Sriracha, which is chile puree found in the Asian section of your grocery. Get the kind with chilies and garlic. DH has been know to play Johnny Appleseed with rooster sauce, bringing guacamole ingredients to the homes of friends and relatives, making a batch of guac and leaving the jar of sriracha there.
This is a proportional recipe- you can expand as much as you like, but you can’t contract it much beyond 1 avocado- I guess you could make it with half an avocado, but then you have a half of an avocado left that you know would be better as guacamole.
1 ripe avocado
1/2 teaspoon chili garlic paste
1 teaspoon lime juice (bottled is fine, unless you have limes lying around)
1 tablespoon of chopped purple onion
Mash avocado in a bowl,add remaining ingredients. Taste test. Remember, you can add more lime,chili and onion, but you can’t really take it away. It should taste balanced. You should feel blissful.

I realize that there may be people who are unfamiliar with guacamole- it is a puree of avocado, used as a topping on tacos or other Mexican dishes, or as a dip eaten with corn chips.

Pancreas don’t care

We have had a rough fall with health problems for Kate, my baby girl, who resents it highly when I call her my baby girl.
She had a severe stomach ache back in October, with vomiting that wound her up in the hospital. She was diagnosed with pancreatitis, which is unheard of in 12 year olds. They sent her home, and she trick-or-treated on Halloween, but didn’t feel 100%.
A virus bounced her back into the hospital- not the pancreas this time, but dehydration. They chalked it up to her immune system being worn out from the pancreatitis, and an overreaction. When her brother got the same virus, but milder, we felt oddly reassured.
She was better, still not 100%, but we went into Thanksgiving break feeling good- she could catch up on missed schoolwork, sleep in and get better. Then the Saturday after thanksgiving, she got another stomach ache, started puking, and was generally miserable. When we took her to her pediatrician, he told us to get in the car and drive to the Children’s Hospital in Aurora, about an hour away. Our pediatrician didn’t have the authority to admit her, but he had been talking to a GI specialist, and they would be expecting her.
A week of driving back and forth, rating pain on a scale of 1-10 and watching cable TV. She was better, but still not well. x-rays, ultrasounds and an MRI followed, then a procedure scheduled. ERCP (huh?) a tube to look down and remove a stone from her pancreatic duct, turns out it wasn’t a stone, just a stricture, a narrowing, that was preventing the digestive enzyme from draining into her small intestine. Essentially, her pancreas was digesting itself. No wonder she had tummy aches.
The pancreas does 2 main things, I have recently learned. It makes insulin, so the body can use glucose, and it makes lipase, so the body can use fat. All that stuff you know about saturated fat versus unsaturated? Pancreas don’t care- fat is fat, and when fat goes through the stomach, pancreas releases lipase.

Before thanksgiving she had chicken fried steak and onion rings. Thanksgiving day, rolls and butter and
pie with whipped cream. Black Friday, a McDonald’s hashbrown and hot cocoa with whipped cream. Saturday, chicken Parmesan and shiny breadsticks.  So delicious. But agony for her almost-maybe-healed pancreas.

So, they placed a stent, and for the first time in months, she is pain-free.

And, on doctor’s recommendation, on a low fat diet- less than 15 grams of fat per day.

All these years I have been keeping sugar out of the house, we hardly ever drink pop, we eat plain, unsweetened cereal. It turns out I have been fighting the wrong demon. It was the fat that was hurting her.

So, how do we change our diets, lifestyles, to have much less fat than we were previously, much less than most people in the US eat? I am not cutting fat out of my diet entirely- my hair would fall out, for one thing. But to show solidarity, we are switching to skim milk, and nonfat cheese, and I don’t know what else, yet. The puzzle is, how to keep a girl going through her growth spurts healthy and happy on 15 grams of  fat a day.  Most advice on low-fat cooking is also low-calorie cooking. She needs to learn to love fruits and veggies, I know that much.

So, I will have to experiment with low fat stuff- some I can just substitute out, but some I will need to work on.

I was going to post a lowfat meatball recipe…but it needs work. A lot of work. Like…I’m not even going to put the pictures in.  Any tips? America’s Test Kitchen has a “healthy” cookbook, so I’ll try that. What else?

Potato Leek Soup

It is soup weather here at Chez Katsmama, and after doing a pot of homemade stock for grandma noodles yesterday, I am making a big batch of potato leek to take to school for a birthday potluck.
I didn’t grow up with leeks, and in case you didn’t either, they are in the onion family, but milder, with a different texture. I dislike big slimy pieces of onion in soup or chili, but leek has a toothsomeness to it, so it doesn’t feel nasty.

As leeks grow, soil gets in between the layers and builds up between their leaves.

Think about ratios for this recipe- about twice as much potato by volume as leek, then about an equal volume of liquid. For a pot luck, 4 cups chopped potatoes, 2 cups leeks, 6 cups liquid. For lunch, 1 cup potato, 1/2 cup leek, 1 1/2 cup liquid.
Slit leeks in half, chop into 1/2 inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Spray with water and stir around with your hands, popping the layers apart as much as possible to get rid of any soil stuck between the layers.
Lift the cut pieces out of the water and place in a colander, then rinse again. There will be some silt in the mixing bowl. Lifting out the cut pieces prevents that silt from getting in your soup. You’re welcome.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a heavy pan, then add leeks.( you could use bacon grease here, which is delicious, and all you have to do is fry the bacon, pull it out of the pan, then crumble bacon into the finished soup as a very last step. Or eat all the bacon. Whatever.)

This was two large leeks, without the dark green leaves.

Stir a bit, toss in a pinch of salt, then cover. Allow leeks to sweat while you peel and chop potatoes.
I have been known to just scrub my potatoes really well, and leave the peel on, since that is where the fiber is, but this is for people at school, and…I don’t know. Maybe the people in the teachers’ lounge do need more fiber, but I am not going to be the one to tell them.
After the leeks have sweated for about 10 minutes at medium, add the chunks of potato, put the lid on again and let them sweat for a bit.
Add water (if you are using bacon) or stock (if you have it) or bouillon and simmer until the potatoes and leeks are soft.
Blend either with a stick blender, or in a regular blender, in batches, until soupy. I like to leave some chunks for texture. If it is too thick, add more liquid.
Crumble in bacon, if using, add a dollop of sour cream, and enjoy.

Lemon Ginger Honey

Ginger, Lemon and Honey for a soothing drink.

This summer on Pinterest I saw a recipe for mixing sliced lemon with honey, and letting it age in the fridge. When your throat is sore, you add a spoonful to hot water and sip. I made a batch with chunks of ginger, and it is wonderful. I have researched it a bit, and the original post on Pinterest seems to have come from the blog “A Little Life.” The trouble with Pinterest is that it is hard to find sources for things. Also, the other problem is that it is a time suck. An incredible time suck.

The original instructions said that it kind of becomes “like marmelade” in the jar. It does, kind of. I used it at all stages of” marmeladification” and now that my jar is almost empty, I can’t say I can tell a difference between the first week and now. I do know that after my first cold of the year, my jar is empty, and I am making another batch.

My 6 step method:

  • Scrub a lemon- organic is probably better, since you are ingesting the peel
  • Slice thinly and place in jar- 1 small lemon is good for a pint canning jar
  • Peel and chop a thumb sized knob of fresh ginger root, add to jar
  • Cover in honey
  • Use a chopstick to get rid of air pockets, if necessary
  • Seriously, you don’t have a chopstick floating around?
  • I got a really nice set from my secret santa last year. Secret santas are the best.

See- another one of my “not-really-a-recipe recipes”

As the lemon juice mixes with the honey, it becomes very liquid, then becomes more viscous. My first jar has maybe one more scoop left, which might be a bad thing, considering this cold.

Organic Apples- you can grow that

I have a list of the “dirty dozen” on a post-it note over my desk- the fruits and vegetables that you should eat organically grown versions of, if you can get them, because of pesticide residues. Number 1 on the list, and in our hearts, is apples.
Celery, spinach, and bell peppers are on the list, but nobody around here eats enough of those to make a difference. Apples, though…we eat a lot of.
We have a giant old tree that produces sour apples, not our favorites, and about 7 years ago I planted a Golden Delicious tree. After falling down, but not being entirely uprooted, in an early fall storm last fall, it has produced prolifically this year. Prolifically enough that I thinned once in June, then again in July, taking off unripe fruit that I was worried would break off the branches.
Backyard Orchard (link) has helped figure out what to take off and what to leave, how to prune, and when.
Now the organic part… I didn’t do anything. Last year I stapled paper lunch bags to fruit I could reach, and that was effective, but this year, I was talking to a colleague, who said that since she had put up bird feeders, her apples were much cleaner. A few got wormy, but the birds came for appetizers, and stayed for dinner.
I didn’t put up feeders- the squirrels tend to get to those anyway, but I have a lot of plants that feed birds, like coneflowers, We have been building up the garden for about 12 years, making habitat for pollinators, and birds and snakes and us. Several years of building soil and habitat has made it so this summer, we didn’t have to do much- the apples kind of took care of themselves. After a summer of doing nothing, my apples look great. They are small, which tells me I need to thin more aggressively next year, and probably water more. However, they are bug-free, and pesticide free.
I am a few days late in posting this for the “You can grow that” meme, created by C.L. Fornari, a garden writer who wanted to get other writers involved in writing encouraging posts, letting people know that it isn’t that hard. It strikes me funny that Miracle Gro has a marketing plan called “you can gro that” that kind of tramples over the top of C.L. Fornari’s meme, which I have been participating in since March. I am not sure what the future holds for the meme But you should know, you can grow (yes, with a w) apples.

Chipotle Buttermilk Grilled Chicken

I’ve been sold on marinating chicken in buttermilk for a while- for fried chicken, it makes the meat tender, and the crust, which for me is the whole point, crispy. For a long time I used smoky paprika as the spice, with garlic powder and whatever other random spices. Then I saw a jar of leftover chipotle chilies in the fridge, and wondered what would happen if I used them. Miracles, that’s what.
Well, maybe not miracles.
I had opened the can for soup or something- pulling out one of the chilies to puree with tomatoes from my garden. You don’t have to use the entire can at once- the rest can go into a jar in the fridge. Not forever, obviously, but it can be stored.

Chipotles are jalapeno peppers that have been ripened, then smoked. They can be purchased dried, in bags, or canned with adobo sauce. They are hot and smoky and rich tasting. For me, jalapenos are just heat, with no depth. Chipotles have depth. Also, the tang of the buttermilk calms down the heat- you can adjust the proportion of chilies to buttermilk until you get a level you like. That is what I’ve been doing since March.

As this recipe has evolved, I take “a few” chilies, with sauce, and mix them with “some” buttermilk and “some” salt.  It depends on how much chicken you are doing. In these pictures, it was 3 chilies, 1 cup of buttermilk and a pinch of kosher salt. This was more than enough for a whole young chicken that I cut up to grill. In these photos, I put the mixture underneath the skin, which made the skin extra crispy, and the meat very moist- even the breast meat.I have also used this with “convenience” frozen skinless chicken breasts, and it is good with that, too.


Chipotle Buttermilk Chicken

Chicken parts and pieces- I used a whole chicken that I cut up

2 or 3 chilies in adobo

1 cup buttermilk

generous pinch salt


Puree the chilies and salt, add buttermilk and blend well


I used my stick blender to puree everything.

Thanks to the Boy for taking this picture.


Pull the skin away from the meat, and pour the marinade between the skin and meat. Yes, this is gross, but it tenderized the meat and crisps up the skin. It is easiest on breasts and leg quarters. With the wings, I just tossed them in the buttermilk mixture.

Marinade for an hour or so.

Set up a gas grill or charcoal grill for indirect heat- that is, outer burners on, inner burners off, put the chicken in the center, lid down. Or, on a charcoal grill, pile your charcoal on one side, put the meat on the other side.

Place chicken skin side down and cook for around 15 minutes, then flip and cook until a thermometer reads 165.

Yummy. Smoky and crispy, and hot, without being painfully hot.


Toad in the grass

Eggs and bacon, on top of spinach and greens. Squeeze of lemon, pop the yolks, mmmmmm

My college roommate introduced me to a dish called Toad in the Hole- a fried egg in a hole torn in a slice of bread. I don’t know how I grew to adulthood without knowing about this concept- combining eggs and toast in a happy little unit.

It has taken me another 20 years to find out about cooking an egg on a bed of sauteed greens- the same homeliness of the egg, with the virtuous feeling of eating a pile of spinach. I have been calling it Toad in the Grass, which I realize is a horrible name, but I have seen it elsewhere as “baked eggs” which seems like an even more horrible name.

This batch is made with spinach and beet greens from my garden (the beets were supposed to be micro greens, but I kind of forgot, and now they’re macro).

Saute the greens in olive oil and the water left on the leaves from washing them.

This is about two cups of mixed spinach and beet.

When the greens have reduced by about half, crack an egg or two on top. Cover and let cook until the eggs are mostly done. Then turn on the broiler and cook the gooey stuff on top. I added parmesan cheese this time, but I don’t always.


The eggs look kind of like eyes, maybe call it green monster? Another horrible name.

I also had 2 slices of pre-cooked bacon (you should cook bacon in the oven- it works really well) that I threw on top. Sooooo yummy.

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