Thursday, June 30, 2011

Veggie Ventures: Radish

Welcome to the Veggie Ventures series, where we'll take a glimpse
at veggies my husband and I want to grow but have never really eaten!

22 days from seed to table.  That's how quickly radishes grow.  Radishes are often suggested for first time gardeners and children because of their quick growth habits.  Nearly instant gratifcation, and all in a cute and tidy package too.  (There's no denying that that little bunch of radishes you see at the grocer is pretty darned cute!)  I very badly wanted to grow them, but with only a few radish-eating experiences under my belt, I was afraid of ending up with a bumper crop of a veggie I didn't actually like eating.  So I bought some.  Not the cute little bunch of radishes previously mentioned (they looked limp and unhappy), but a bag.  Yes, a bag.

How did we eat them?
1) Thinly sliced in a salad.  Covered in ranch dressing.
2) Thinly sliced with baby carrots for snacking.  Again, covered in ranch dressing.

Catching my drift?  On their own, raw radishes can be spicy and rather pungent.  I've read that a lot of this has to do with growing conditions and the age of the radishes, which can easily be controlled once we grow our own.  We liked the radishes well enough, but as my husband so kindly pointed much salad could we possibly eat to use up those radishes?  We were only eating one radish a piece in our salad--not nearly enough to justify setting aside valuable garden space for them. 

Not wanting to give up on the idea of growing radishes (with variety names like "Sparkler" and "Cherry Belle", how could I resist?), I did a little internet research for recipes.  And found something rather interesting.  Did you know that you can cook radishes?!  I didn't.

Cooked, the radishes take on a lovely pink hue throughout.  We were shocked when we tasted them.  Much to our surprise, the cooking process mellows the strong radish flavor, leaving behind a hint of sweetness.  Mr. K likened the cooked radishes to baby potatoes, which is a definite plus!  This alone makes radishes a winner in our book.

Veggie Verdict:
Yes.  Radishes take up so little room (they only need 1" spacing) and grow so quickly, it would be a shame not to grow them!  If you think you don't like radishes, try cooking them.  You'll be surprised at what a difference it makes! 

Glazed Radishes (adapted from THIS recipe)
Serves 4

1 lb. radishes
2 Tbl. butter
1/3 cup water
large pinch of sugar
salt and pepper  
chopped chives

Trim ends and tops off of the radishes.  Cut any large ones in half if needed; you'll want all your radishes to be roughly the same size so they cook evenly.  Place radishes in a small pan.  Add butter, water, and sugar.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover pan and cook over medium-low heat until radishes are tender, 20-25 minutes depending on size.

Uncover pan and continue to cook while stirring to evaporate the liquid down to a glaze consistency, about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with chopped chives.


After I used up all the radishes, I did a bit more internet sleuthing.  It seems like a lot of folks really enjoy eating them like the French do: with plenty of butter and salt, on bread.  Mmm...butter, salt, and bread.  My three favorite things.  I will definitely have to try eating radishes this way!

How do you enjoy radishes?

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Veggie Ventures: Spaghetti Squash

Welcome to the Veggie Ventures series, where we'll take a glimpse
at veggies my husband and I would like to grow but have never really eaten!

My husband s carbs.  Pasta, rice, potatoes, bread--you name it, he'll eat it (but only if the bread is white!)  If he could get away with eating a spaghetti sandwich with a side of garlic bread, he probably would.  Don't get me wrong--I love carbs too, but I know that we could both use a little (or a lot!) less refined starchiness in our diets.  Enter the spaghetti squash.  We knew about the cool little transformation this squash makes once cooked, but the question remained: would it be an acceptable stand-in for pasta in our little carb-loving family?
I prepped the squash as outlined HERE then threw together a quick skillet meal to see if we'd like it enough to warrant growing it.
Veggie Verdict:
This is one neat vegetable.  We both had lots of fun scraping the squash strands out of the cooked squash.  While we couldn't be fooled into thinking a spaghetti squash dish was actually made of "real" spaghetti, we enjoyed the taste and texture thoroughly.  This one is definitely going in the garden this fall.  Along with the acorn, butternut, buttercup, and golden health squash. Winter squash (or any squash, for that matter) is a space hogger in the garden, but we'll make it work somehow.
Have you ever grown winter squash?  How did it go?
Spaghetti Squash with Peas and Bacon
Yield: 2 very generous servings
1 spaghetti squash, cooked and strands removed
1 Tbl. butter
1 Tbl. flour
1 cup milk
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup peas (fresh or thawed if frozen)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley
Melt butter in a skillet.  Add flour and whisk to combine.  Cook over medium heat for a few minutes, whisking constantly.  Slowly whisk in milk.  Cook over medium heat until sauce has thickened.  Stir in bacon, peas, and spaghetti squash.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper (make sure to taste it, it will depend on how salty the bacon was).  Stir in chopped parsley before serving.
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Friday, June 24, 2011

Veggie Ventures: Butternut Squash

Welcome to the Veggie Ventures series, where we'll take a glimpse
at veggies my husband and I would like to grow but have never really eaten!

Butternut Squash. This was one I knew we'd both like, even though my only experience with it has been in this form:

I know.  Shameful, isn't it?  When I was trying out vegetarianism, this Lean Cuisine meal was a lunchtime mainstay.  So I knew that I at least have tried butternut squash; I just didn't know how it would taste on its own, sans "creamy sauce with walnuts, snap peas, and carrots."  (sidenote: I wasn't very good at being a vegetarian, so it didn't stick unfortunately.)  Butternut squash is pretty common and wildly popular, so it must be good, right?  Well I'm happy to report that once I tried freshly baked butternut squash without any adornment, I was in love.  Mr. K stands in agreement.  Sweet, smooth, and rich--this is one tasty vegetable!

Speaking of rich, I recently came across a wonderful recipe for Butternut Squash Ziti on Macheesmo.  I had to try it out because it gave me the perfect excuse to seek out one of my "I gotta try that sometime" cheeses:

(My other "must try one day" cheese is Fontina)

I've always read that you can swap out some Swiss cheese if Gruyere isn't available, so of course I've always done that when I came across a recipe calling for Gruyere.  Why?

$13.98 a pound, that's why.

While it's not the most budget-friendly cheese, I think it defintely has a place in the kitchen once in a while.  We both really enjoyed the flavor of the cheese by itself, despite my initial reservations.  Out of the package, I could detect a bit of aroma funkiness that I am especially sensitive to.  Once cooked, I could still smell le funk, but for some (lucky) reason I could not taste what I smelled.  Anyway, we both REALLY enjoyed the dish (see evidence below.  I made half the recipe, but we could have easily eaten a whole one).  It had a little kick to it from the cayenne, and even though the butternut squash was really sweet on its own, it worked out perfectly here.

Click HERE to visit Macheesmo and get the recipe!

Have you ever used a recipe as an excuse for buying fancy/pricey ingredients?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Veggie Ventures: Acorn Squash

Welcome to the Veggie Ventures series, where we'll take a glimpse
at veggies my husband and I would like to grow but have never really eaten!

If anybody could be accused of growing things in their garden simply because they look "fun", we'd be guilty, guilty, guilty.  Acorn squash is one of those fun looking vegetables that made it onto our fall gardening list by looks alone. But how would it taste?  Would we like it?  Many of the acorn squash recipes I've seen involve maple syrup, brown sugar, or the like to bring out the natural sweetness of the squash.  The particular acorn squash that we brought home, however, was anything but sweet.  It tasted very much like yellow summer squash with a bit of bitterness, so I decided to go the savory route with this one.

This is a simple soup that really highlights the flavor of acorn squash.  The hardest part is prepping the squash for the recipe.  Look HERE to see how I baked mine. I've also read that you can microwave the squash, but I haven't tried it yet.  Maybe next time though!

Acorn Squash Soup (adapted from this recipe)
Yield: About 3 cups

1 acorn squash, cooked
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
garlic powder, to taste
1 Tbl. chopped chives
garlic croutons, for serving

Combine acorn squash, chicken stock, and heavy cream in a food processor or blender.  Puree until smooth.  Pour mixture into a small pan and season to taste with garlic powder and salt.  Heat over medium low heat until soup is hot.  Stir in chives and garnish soup with croutons.

Veggie Verdict:
Yay!  We like this one and will be planting some Fordhook Acorn Squash (surprise!  It's white instead of green. How fun!) at the end of summer. 

(Image source)

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Veggie Ventures: Winter Squash

With our summer garden in full swing, our thoughts are turning to what vegetables we'll be planting in our fall garden.  We haven't planned out how we're going to arrange furniture when we move into our first house, but we sure have the backyard mapped out!  It was a difficult decision, but we're going to start 'small' and only build three 4x4 Square Foot Garden boxes.  Only three.  Sigh.

When it came time to select seeds, we did exactly what we were warned against in The Book.  Author Mel Bartholomew offers some sound advice: Don't go seed shopping by flipping through a seed catalog--you'll want to plant everything you see.  Instead, base your seed selections on what your family currently eats and purchases on a weekly basis.  Sounds simple enough, right?


We're big dreamers over here, my husband and I.  We DO want to plant everything.  Only problem is, we haven't actually eaten everything we want to plant in our garden.  Solution?  Buy it and eat it, of course!  Over the next several weeks Kitchen Koala will be bringing you the Veggie Ventures series, which will take a look at the various veggies we were never exposed to but desperately want to grow. 

First up: Winter Squash.

I know, I know.  You're in disbelief that neither one of us is familiar with these beauties, but it's true.  I've had some exposure to butternut squash, but I've never bought any to cook at home.  Hubby on the other hand, can't recall if he's ever had any type of winter squash (pumpkin aside), so we thought it would be a good idea to pick up a variety of squash to try out.  To prep them for baking, you'll need a heavy, sharp knife to cut them in half.  It helps to hold your knife vertically rather than horizontally to start.  Stab straight down the middle and all the way down to the cutting board, then make your cut.  Repeat for the other side.

Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and pulp.  If this were homegrown squash, I'd save the seeds for planting the next season.  Since these came from who knows where and could possibly be hybrid varieties, saving seeds to plant might not be the best idea.

Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking pan with foil.  Place squash on the pan cut side down and pierce the skin with a fork to allow steam to escape.  Give the squash plenty of room on the baking pan.  Don't do what I did below.  I was determined to make them fit on one pan.  Mistake.  The 3 pieces in the middle weren't done at the same time as the others.

Bake at 350°F for 50-60 minutes, or until squash is tender.  (The middle pieces on my pan took an additional 20 minutes to finish baking)  Let cool at least 15 minutes, or until you can easily handle the squash halves.  Scoop out the flesh for use in recipes (more on that next week!)  Yields will vary depending on the size of your squash. 

Winter squash lovers:  What are your favorite recipes?


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Baked Jalapeno Poppers

It's been hit or miss with our pepper plants.  The bell peppers were producing fruit and looking great, but it seems they've caught something that's causing them to rot instead of ripen :(  We are still investigating what's going on with them.  The jalapeños on the other hand, are a whole other story.  Each of the four plants is steadily churning out peppers for us!  What to do with all those peppers?  How about some jalapeño poppers!

First, you will need to gather some special equipment:

Yep, you'll need some protective hand gear.  When dealing with this many peppers gloves are not optional.

Baked Jalapeño Poppers (adapted from Emeril Lagasse)
Yield: 48 pieces

24 fresh jalapeño peppers
1/2 cup all-purpose flour 
10 tsp. Essence, divided use (recipe follows)
2 large eggs
2 Tbl. milk
4 cups panko bread crumbs
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
16 oz. grated cheddar cheese
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. cayenne, or less, to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with foil; grease foil.

Set up 3-stage breading station:
Dry - In a small bowl or dish, combine flour and 2 teaspoons Essence.
Wet - In another small bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, and 2 teaspoons of Essence. 
Crunchy - In a pie pan or shallow dish combine panko and 6 teaspoons Essence.

Wearing gloves, remove stems from peppers and cut in half lengthwise.  Remove pepper seeds and membranes.

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, grated cheese, cumin, and cayenne until evenly mixed.  To keep things nice and even when stuffing the peppers, it helps to divide the cheese mixture up beforehand.  Scrape mixture onto a piece of waxed paper and form into a flat square or rectangle.  Use a butter knife or bench scraper to cut the cheese slab into 48 pieces.  Stuff jalapeño halves with cheese.

One at a time, dredge in flour, dip into egg mixture, then dredge in panko crumbs, pressing to coat.  Place the coated peppers, cut side up, on the prepared baking sheets.  Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and crust is golden.  Let cool slightly before serving.

Essence (Emeril's Creole Seasoning)
Yield: about 2/3 cup

2 1/2 Tbl. paprika
2 Tbl. salt
2 Tbl. garlic powder
1 Tbl. black pepper
1 Tbl. onion powder
1 Tbl. cayenne pepper
1 Tbl. dried oregano
1 Tbl. dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar or container.

Recipe notes:
  •  I've adjusted this recipe from Emeril's to more accurately reflect the amount of coating ingredients you'll need.  When made according to the original, I found that I needed less than half the amount of flour and egg wash but at least double the amount of panko.
  • The coating wouldn't stick very well to the jalapeño skin, no matter how hard we tried.  If these were store-bought peppers I would've blamed the wax coating that some suppliers like to put on them, but these were home grown.  Don't know what the problem was.
  • The jalapeño portion stayed somewhat crisp, even after 30 minutes of baking.  They could have stayed in the oven for a bit longer, but cheese leakage was becoming an issue.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chunky Garden Salsa

Once we collected enough tomatoes from the garden to make the project worthwhile, we set out on our salsa project.  Who knew making your own salsa would be so labor intensive?  We sure didn't.  To be fair, it probably had to do with the dozens upon dozens of tiny tomatoes we had to blanch and peel.  Most of the tomatoes in our salsa are from our 'Juliet' tomato plant, which produces grape tomatoes that are bigger than a grocery store grape tomato but smaller than a roma tomato.  They don't have much flavor on their own, but they're meaty and are arriving in our harvest bowl we decided to use them.  Next time we'll use larger tomatoes to streamline the process.

Note that this salsa is quite chunky.  As pictured, it's the perfect consistency for me--a dig 'n scoop-er.  My husband on the other hand, is a dip 'n shake-er.  He would probably enjoy a smoother consistency salsa.  If that is your preference as well, just chop your veggies finer or use a food processor to get them to your liking.  Enjoy!

What's your salsa style? Are you a scooper, a dipper, or something else?

Chunky Garden Salsa (adapted from THIS recipe)
Yield: about 3 pints

5 cups peeled, diced tomatoes**
1 cup diced onion
1 1/2 cups diced bell peppers (mix of red & green)
1/2 cup finely diced jalapeño (remove veins & seeds)
2 Tbl. lime juice
3/4 tsp. EACH of: garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne, cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
2 Tbl. chopped cilantro (optional)
1 Tbl. salt

**take out the seeds and liquidy/pulpy part too

Place all ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Boil gently for 20 minutes.  Serve when cool or...
Ladle into 3 pint-sized canning jars and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes for longer storage.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hobbies: Part II

My (our, really) other new hobby is gardening!  Right now all of our plants are in pots so they'll be easy to pick up and transport when we move.  The only exception is the cantaloupe, which started out as a teeny tiny 3-inch transplant that quickly outgrew the pot we planted it in.  Take a look:

There are three cantaloupe currently growing on that sprawling monster of a vine, and we can't wait to taste them!  Hopefully it will produce more, but even if two of those are viable fruit the plant will have paid for itself.  06/15/11 Update: We ate one of the melons and it was amazing!  Well worth the wait!  The other one that was close to being ripe has exploded.  Burst.  Covered in ants.  After a long period of drought, we had several days of heavy afternoon showers...leading to melon explosion! All in all, the plants are doing remarkably well--even the ones my gardener-extraordinaire grandmother pooh-poohed (namely the peppers and cucumbers).

Confession time:  I am notoriously ambitious when it comes to starting new things. Unfortunately so is my new husband.  What started out as a few plants here and there quickly ballooned into the list below.

Spring/Summer 2011 Container Garden:
Apple mint
Bell pepper - 2 green
Bell pepper - 2 yellow
Bell pepper - 2 orange
Bell pepper - 2 red
Blueberry - 4 varieties (my favorite fruit!)
Chives - 2 pots
Cucumber - 4
Green onions
Jalapeño - 4
Kiwi (didn't even know we could grow these at home!)
Marigolds - 2 full pots
Pomegranate (really excited for this one!)
Purple basil
Satsuma - 2 kinds
Stevia - 3 plants in 1 pot
Strawberry - 2 kinds
Sunflowers (dwarf)- 2 kinds
Thai basil
Tomato - regular, grape, and cherry
Yellow squash - 3**
Zucchini - 2**

As you can see, we're quite the ambitious pair. 

**these fell prey to the dreaded squash vine borer, a hungry little grub that burrows into the stem and chomp, chomp, chomps away at the insides of your plant.  One day the plants look fine, and the next day (literally) they are limp and lifeless.  So sad.  By the time we did the research on what was affecting our plants, it was too late.  We did, however, manage to get a tidy little harvest from them, about 10 zukes and 5 squash.  These plants have since been replaced by 5 new zucchini plants--only this time, we took some precautions:

The clear plastic lid will hopefully deter the squash vine borer from laying its eggs in the soil near the plant.  The white part on the stem is a strip of pantyhose wrapped along most of the stem, including the portion under the soil.  This is supposed to prevent the squash vine borer from burrowing its way into the stem once it has hatched.  Whether or not these measures will protect our plants or not is yet to be seen.  Until then, we will be keeping a watchful eye out for any signs of those little buggers. 

Zucchini bumper crop, here we come! 

Do you have any gardening tips to share?  Or favorite ways to use up all that zucchini?

Why pay top-dollar for red/orange/yellow bell peppers when you can grow your own?
Blueberries need a pollinator, so you need to plant at least 2 varieties to get fruit!
Our first jalapeño was insanely spicy!  It was unreal.  (we picked it too soon)
The desert rose, my dad's favorite!  It's really loving the 90+°F daytime temps.
Puffy puffy pom poms.  I ♥ marigolds!
Strawberries!  Two plants aren't really enough, but it's a start.
The 'Patio' Tomato variety.  It's producing a lot of tomatoes for its height (20" tall!)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hobbies: Part I

With very little baking getting accomplished during my post-work hours, one might wonder just what in the world I've been up to.  Well for starters, Mr. Koala and I have been burning through our Netflix list to catch up on television series that recently piqued our interest: Fringe, The Mentalist, Heroes, and Lost.  (Honorable Mention goes to Criminal Minds, which we've been catching on A&E and Ion)  Yep, there's nothing better than cuddling up on the couch with my husband, a good show, and some freshly made popcorn topped with real butter and salt.  (I can't stomach most varieties of microwave popcorn, so my loving husband kindly prepares fresh popcorn for me )

But lest you think we've been doing nothing but couch surfin', here's what else I've been working on:

Crochet Cheeseburger Coaster Set (get the pattern)

 Also in the background is a granny square blanket I made a few years back. It's surprisingly warm, considering how many holes there are in it.

Fibonacci Stripe Blanket - This is usually what I work on while watching all those tv shows.  It requires very little concentration and is very easy to methodically work on with my eyes glued to the screen :D  It's going to take me a while to finish, especially since I designed it to be 7+ feet long--enough to keep my 6' 3" husband bundled up.

Why Fibonacci Stripes?  Well I read somewhere some time ago that a stripe sequence with stripe widths corresponding to numbers in the Fibonacci Sequence are most pleasing to the eye.  Armed with this information, I plugged in the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4*, 5, and 8 into Biscuit & Jam's Random Stripe Generator to produce a pattern to work from. 

* Hold the train!!!  4 is NOT a Fiboacci number, you crazy woman!  Yes, I know.  But the Random Stripe Generator does not allow duplicate numbers.  I entered the number "4" in as a stand-in for the other "1" in the sequence, then made the correction typed out my pattern.

Here's a shot of something I started 3 years ago but never finished:

It's supposed to be a cable knit handbag.  As you can see, it is painstakingly complex and requires too much concentration to complete successfully while watching my favorite tv shows.  When it is done, it will easily be the most difficult looking knitting project I have worked on (the process itself isn't difficult, just meticulous).  I am determined to finish it by the end of the year though...

So that's a brief glimpse into some of my other hobbies when I'm away from the kitchen.  Not to start any debates here, but what's your preference: KNIT or CROCHET?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Five Months

Q: "'s married life?" (asked by pretty much EVERYONE I've crossed paths with since the wedding)
A: "Fantastic!  Things are going along swimmingly!"

The past five months have been filled with nothing but wonderful, busy, joy-filled days.  Our Disney World honeymoon was better than I could have ever imagined.  It was quite a sight to see how quickly the two of us reverted back to giddy, squealing children once we set foot on Disney property! Luckily no one noticed because everyone else there was acting the same way.  Truly a magical place!  Here a few photo highlights:

The Castle is gorgeous at night!

Funnel cake topped with soft serve, strawberries, and chocolate syrup.
At Mickey's Dance Party in Hollywood Studios
Best water tower ever!

Swan Boatin' at the Dolphin Hotel
I ♥ Dumbo
Acting dorky in Epcot's Germany Pavilion.  Man, those chocolate apples look good!

Will the dorkiness ever end?!?!
At the Orlando Airport, waiting for our flight home