Smoothie Adventure

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Blender

There sat the word on my “Things to Get” list for well over a year. As a smoothie-lover, my $40, 14-speed Osterizer just wasn’t cutting it anymore. Barely crumbled ice cubes, lumpy date residue… I needed to face facts: my smoothies were sad.

During a trip to warmer climes this past winter, our living quarters were graced with some positively kick-ass blenders. They whirred like a boss. Frozen drinks abounded. I quickly became spoiled.

With the return of hot and humid weather in Montreal, I’ve been motivated to find out just what those magical blenders were, and where I could get one.

Several emails and one Amazon order later, the Oster Versa Performance Blender is mine. It’s got 1,100 watts of mighty melding power. And I’m in smoothie heaven.

Chocolate Banana Smoothie

  • Servings: 1
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1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 pitted date (for sweetness, you can use another type of sweetener if you prefer, like honey)
1 frozen banana chunks
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tsp. nut butter, any kind (I like trying various nut-butter combos from Nuts to You)
1-2 ice cubes (optional, if you have a high-performance blender they’ll give your drink a more slushie-like texture)

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

I have this smoothie for a quick breakfast at least a few times a week.

This recipe is a variation of the original Vegan Chocolate Milkshake from Food52.

Pineapple Mango Smoothie

  • Servings: 1
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1/3 cup fresh pineapple, cubed (I’m sure canned would be fine too)
1/2 cup frozen or fresh mango, cubed
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (you could use water, regular milk, or orange juice if you prefer)
3 tbsp. orange juice (optional)
1 tsp. honey (or your preferred sweetener, like agave or cane sugar)
3 ice cubes

Put all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

This smoothie has a delicious Creamsicle-like flavour. I may try a few drops of vanilla next time to boost that impression.

This recipe is a variation of the original Tropical Smoothie from the Oster Versa Fresh & Fit Recipe Guide.

Got a favourite smoothie recipe? I’d love to know about it.

Growing Garlic Redux

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While we’re contending with frigid temperatures here in Montreal (“feels like” -27C / -17F tonight!), next year’s crop of 101 garlic bulbs happily hibernates beneath the ground in my backyard.

Some of you may remember that my flash talk at last fall’s Automattic all-company Grand Meetup revolved around garlic gardening, and back in September I posted a garlic-growing guide based on the talk. The video of my talk is now available – if you’re intrigued about growing garlic and have four minutes to spare, check it out:

The original slides are here in case you’d like to watch them alongside the video:

Friendly Printing

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I love cooking, and I enjoy trying out recipes I find across the Web. When I see a recipe I want to make, I print it out and file it in one of my binders. Tragically, many recipe sites – including one of my favourites, Chocolate-Covered Katie (healthy vegan desserts; check it out!) – don’t have a function that lets you print out a recipe without the unneeded images, comments, navigation, header, and other extraneous bits that use up ink and paper.

Until recently, I’d always copy-paste each recipe into a Word document before printing, formatting it in my beloved Gill Sans font, and adjusting margins and font size to get it onto one page. This took up a fair amount of time.

My online Print Friendly bookmarkletrecipe life changed forever when someone pointed out that Print Friendly – makers of a WordPress plugin – also offer a browser bookmarklet that can be used to easily print anything on the web. It lets you do things like automatically remove graphics, shrink the font size, and hide any text you don’t need. Mind = blown.

Print Friendly also makes a WordPress plugin and offers an option for WordPress.com – though if you’re adding recipes to WordPress.com, I’d recommend using the recipe shortcode instead, which comes with a built-in print feature.

Printing out recipes may sound old school, and perhaps someday I’ll go digital. But for now, the Print Friendly bookmarklet is just the ticket, and has made my online recipe adventures even more pleasurable.

Print Friendly Modal Window

Let’s Talk About How to Grow Garlic

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Do you love garlic?

Fortuitously spotted at the Park Silly Sunday Market in Park City, Utah

At this year’s annual Automattic all-company Grand Meetup, the four-minute flash talk I gave my colleagues was a crash course in growing garlic.

Many folks later told me they were inspired to try growing garlic in their own backyards, so I thought I’d expand on the presentation, which was just an overview. (Four minutes is very short!)

The tips on garlic-growing were gleaned from a workshop by farmer Dan Brisebois, one of the organizers of the Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue Garlic Festival. Some of the specifics are geared to climates like mine – plant hardiness zone 5a – where the ground freezes during the winter.

Preamble

I readily admit that I’m far from a gardening expert. I’m also a lazy gardener who can never remember to water what needs to be watered, trim back what needs trimming back, or otherwise pay close attention to my poor little garden.

I’ve also discovered that local squirrels very much enjoy consuming the fruits of our garden labours, without even so much as a thank-you, or note of appreciation.

The good news? Garlic. It’s easy to plant, requires almost no maintenance, and the squirrels could care less about it.

Allow me to share my yearly ritual:

Planting

garlic stock

  • Plant your garlic in the late fall, as you would with flower bulbs like tulips. I usually plant mine in late October.
  • Garlic needs to grow in well-drained, sandy or clay soil. It doesn’t like to sit in wet soil. You can add some compost or composted manure to your soil before planting.
  • Get some good garlic with large – but not gigantic – cloves and split them up. Make sure each clove still has a little of the “basal plate” attached, which is where the roots will grow. Dig small holes about 2-4 inches deep and place one clove in each hole. Plant smaller cloves shallower, larger cloves deeper. Space your plantings in rows 4-6 inches apart, root-side down. Leave 12-15 inches between rows. Plant in full sun.
  • Cover the soil with a thick layer of dead leaves, hay, or even cardboard. Do not use cedar mulch, as it’s too acidic. Mulching helps keep the ground fully frozen throughout the winter so the bulbs survive and don’t rot.
  • Rotate your garlic – don’t grow it in the same spot every year. Dan recommended ideally reusing the same plot only after 4-5 years.

Spring

spring garlic shoots

  • By mid-spring, you should see green shoots starting to poke up out of the ground, through your mulch. If you don’t see anything coming up, move the mulch away to warm up the ground a bit more. Once the shoots start coming up, push the mulch back around the plants.
  • Mulch also helps with weed control and keeping moisture in the ground. You can water your garlic once a week if it’s a particularly dry year, but if your soil is well-mulched, you may not need to water your garlic at all – I’ve never done it.
  • After June, do not water so the bulbs start to dry out gradually, once the leaves have stopped growing.

Scapes

garlic scape

  • Certain types of garlic form gorgeous, delicious, scapes. Snap them off once they’ve curled up to direct growing energy back into the plant’s bulb underground.
  • Garlic scapes are tasty in everything from omelettes to pesto. Store them loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in your fridge’s crisper drawer.

Harvest!

garlic just out of the ground

  • Your garlic is ready to harvest when there are about 5-6 green leaves left on the plant. Each leaf corresponds to one layer of skin around the bulb. Don’t let all the leaves die down or you’ll be harvesting individual cloves and not bulbs.
  • My garlic harvest usually takes place in late July or early August.
  • Very carefully loosen the soil around each bulb with a small trowel or shovel. The garlic is extremely delicate at this stage and it’s super easy to damage a bulb when you’re pulling it out, so be careful with your fragile crop!
  • Pull out each bulb, leaving on most of the dirt. Removing heavy chunks of clay is fine.

Curing

garlic curinggarlic in bowl
  • Bring all your cloves inside, to a cool, dry, dark place where they will cure for a few weeks. The 2-3 week curing process ensures that each stem dries and closes completely, so you can store your garlic for many months afterwards.
  • Lay out or hang up each plant in a way that air can circulate around it, so it dries evenly. I usually lay out my garlic in the basement, on a dryer rack sitting in a laundry basket, or some other type of makeshift structure. Don’t place it in direct sunlight.
  • After a few weeks, take one plant and completely cut the stem about a few inches above the bulb. If the stem is completely white, with no green still showing, it means the garlic is cured and ready to store.
  • Trim up the roots on each bulb (not too close of a shave!) and wipe off the dirt. You can also remove one or two layers of outer skin if you like.
  • Once it’s cured, don’t ever wash the garlic or place it near water.
  • Your cured garlic should last 6-8 months in a cool, dark, dry place, depending on the type of garlic you’ve grown.
  • If you find the willpower – I  never have – save some of the bigger cloves to plant next year.

I hope you enjoy growing garlic as much as I do!

All photos by me except slides 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 34 via iStockphoto

Cindy’s Caribbean Chicken Curry

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As some of you know, I work on the Theme Team at Automattic, helping WordPress users with all things theme-related.

We recently rolled out a new recipe shortcode which lets you easily add nicely formatted recipes to a WordPress.com blog, complete with a handy print button. (Food sites without a clean print feature drive me nuts!)

All you need to do is put your recipe between a special set of shortcode tags and you’re good to go. There are optional settings for the recipe title, time, difficulty, and servings.

Hearty kudos to my colleague Michael Cain for whipping up this treat for foodies everywhere to enjoy.

Cindy's Caribbean Chicken Curry

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
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This is an original recipe from my friend Cindy. She’d never written it down before, but kindly put it together after serving me this yummy dish one night. I knew I’d be getting cravings for it – it was that good.

The stew is delicious with plain white rice but I like to serve it with coconut-scented Jamaican rice and red beans – Skinnytaste has a tasty version.

Hearty comfort food for a chilly night!

Step 1: Wash Chicken

3 lbs. chicken
Juice from one lemon

  • Make sure the chicken is skinless. Breast, leg, thigh, bone in, boneless, doesn’t matter. Personally I prefer leg and thigh, as the meat will not dry up as easily as with breast meat.
  • Wash the chicken in a colander until the water runs clear.
  • Squeeze the juice from one lemon over the chicken, and rub everywhere. Rinse chicken again in water, and then pat try with paper towels. (Don’t know why this step is done. Could just be a remnant of what people before refrigeration did. I did it once without the lemon step and it tasted different. So I continue to do it.)

Step 2: Make Marinade

1 medium onion
6-8 cloves garlic
1 tomato
Handful of cilantro
1 tbsp. black pepper

  • Process everything in a food processor until it’s a thick paste.

Step 3: Prep Chicken

1 tsp. yellow or dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

  • Put chicken a large bowl.
  • Salt chicken (don’t skimp) and pepper everywhere.
  • Add mustard and mix.
  • Add the marinade to chicken and toss to coat.
  • Take a knife and kinda stab the chicken in several spots to get the marinade in there.
  • Either cover bowl with plastic wrap or put chicken in zipper-lock bag.
  • Put chicken in fridge and let it marinate for at least 2 hours, or overnight if possible.

Step 4: Curry Slurry

2 heaping tbsp. curry – gunpowder, madras, or Jamaican curry powder if you can find it
1-2 tsp. turmeric – use more if your curry powder has less
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp. mustard seeds

  • Heat large pan to medium heat.
  • Mix curry and turmeric in a small bowl and add enough water to make a thin paste. Mix well to create your curry slurry.
  • Add oil to hot pan.
  • Add fenugreek and mustard seeds.
  • When mustard seeds start popping, add the slurry.
  • Cook and stir the slurry until most of the water evaporates and the curry is darker in color. This may take a while.

Step 5: Preppin Mo’ Spices

1 tbsp. ginger paste – pound ginger in mortar and pestle or finely grate
1 tbsp. ground coriander
1 chopped onion
Salt
1 hot pepper, finely chopped – traditionally it’s a scotch bonnet pepper, but jalapenos or another type of chili would work (optional)

  • Add ginger, coriander powder, and onion to slurry.
  • Add salt to taste.
  • Add a few drops of water if spice mix becomes too dry.
  • Add finely chopped hot pepper. Be verrrrrrrry careful when chopping them and use gloves if you have them, and be prepared to wash your hands a lot. If you are making this for people who don’t like spice, you can add the whole pepper (unchopped) to the stew while it’s cooking.

Step 6: Putting It All Together

Potatoes & carrots, chopped into chunks (optional)
Whole scotch bonnet or other hot pepper (optional)

  • When onions are soft, add chicken and toss all ingredients together. Cook for a few minutes with the lid on. The chicken will start to create its own juice within about 10 minutes.
  • Boil 2 cups of water.
  • Add potatoes and carrots if desired.
  • Add whole pepper if using.
  • Add enough boiling water to barely cover the chicken. You may not need all the water.
  • Once water comes to a simmer, put on the lid, and lower hear to medium low. Cook for 25-30 minutes, until vegetables are done.
  • When the chicken is tender, you can increase the heat to boil off some of the water, or if you’re good at mixing cornstarch to sauces, you can thicken up the gravy. I’ve never done it, cause I’m too scared.*

And you’re done!!

*Note from kp: if you try this, first mix 1-2 tsp. cornstarch well with cold water, then add the mixture to the pot.

If you blog on WordPress.com, feel free to give the recipe shortcode a whirl and let me know what you think. And if you try Cindy’s chicken, I hope you enjoy it!