Saturday, July 21, 2007

10 Green Thumbs Worth of Harvest


My posts have become somewhat of photo-marathons lately. The last couple, the chocolate ones, was mostly comprised of old, old, photos - you all know how they tend to bulk up, and there's not a much better feeling than when they actually get put to good use. But this post? These photos are pretty much all of them fresh of the press - I promise! Not much in the way of recipes, though - hey, you can't have everything at once!:)

You see, I've started a small balcony garden. Uhuh. Me. And lemme tell you: I am the kind of person that can kill cactus and succulents. Yes, that is the kind of plants you give to students so that they can have some greenery around they don't have to give much thought. I am not widely known for my green thumb, let that be said.

See that? That's chicken salad. Made with mayo, creme fraiche, chicken (obviously!) and tarragon - the one from the photo above.

So why on earth I thought it a great idea to start planting and growing herbs! flowers! even tomatoes and peas! on our balcony is beyond me. Considering my aforementioned talents. The fact that all that "thrives in direct sunlight" etc. is just wasted on me - if it's pretty and I want it on my table and that's in full sunlight? You can guess how that story ends.


What might have spurred it though, was the fact that, without me doing nothing at all, the chives that I planted last year - one of those little pots from the supermarket - showed up AGAIN this spring. One day when I looked out there, fine little grass-like straws where sprouting up. So I ventured forth, happily entertaining the idea of the great big bunches of basil and thyme and majoram and mint and (fill in the blanks with any and all herbs you've ever heard of) I'd be able to pick from my little patches of dirt. Oh yes, and Tea hasn't made it sound any less intriguing to be self-sufficient, even if only with herbs, in my case.

Whitefish with spring cabbage, peas and dill

I ordered little seedlings from a place called Urtegartneriet that sell organic, some of them even biodynamic, herbs and flowers. I dragged Martin from one plant nursery to the next to get the exact amount pots and seeds I needed and thought looked interesting. We dragged big bags of soil all the way up the stairs to our 4th. floor apartment (actually all the way to the fifth floor, seeing that's where the balcony is) Oh yes, and all that made for a great distraction in between preparing for that exam, which, btw. I managed to pass - WO-HOOO!!:) The green gods must have had a serious chat with the exam gods somewhere...

And so, I planted, I grew, I hardened, I planted out, I watered. I talked, I nursed, I checked, I looked, I moved around. I tried to pay attention to all the "likes water/doesn't like water" "needs shade" and, of course, somehow completely forgot to check how tall borage flowers and sunflowers grow, happily planting them in my little plastic boxes. They can go up to three feet/1 meter, in case you didn't know either.

But in between, the thumbs got greener and greener. If I may say so myself.


What am I growing? I think I kinda went in any and all directions and got a little bit of this and a little bit of that - which, I've learned now, is a bit silly, because it's really hard getting enough leaves for a portion of pesto with just eight little sprigs of basil.

but before we went on vacation, I did make up a great big batch of pesto - one hand-made, the other one pestle-and-mortar'ed - fun experiment, and yes, Heidi's right!

But I didn't title this post 10 thumbs for nothing - because while some of my plants are thriving, there are also the less, ahem, unfortunate ones...

The mint that I bought two different kinds of, thinking 'I need succes-stories here in my first attempt at gardening, so mint must be good'. I always heard that mint grows like a weed - it's impossible to kill! (Nevermind we don't eat it very often, but who says no to a mojito?)

Well. The mint DIED. Both of them - or wait, one of them is still there, but not in too great a shape. The first one, regular green mint, got attacked by rust, a fungus of some sort. It even evaded my attempt to rescue it (replanting and cutting it back), getting itself thrown of the roof-top while I was away on vacation. Maybe it just was suicicdal from the point go? (Sorta like Rags?)

The second one - well, suffice it to say that I think it may be attacked by rust, too. Or aphids. It somehow doesn't look all happy, yet keeps growing and growing. So I'm leaving it for now.

And then there's the oregano, that went from this:

to this: a matter of two weeks. The rain pouring down like crazy for the last couple weeks may have something to do with that last picture (root-rot?) but ARGH!

The ones that do like me, and are growing, apart from what's already pictured here, is: pineapple sage, thai basil, majoram, thyme, rosemary, lemon balm (now THAT thing is growing like crazy!!) borage, baby salad leaves, dill, lemon verbena, tomatoes, peas... and um, I'm sure I forgot something. We're not the only ones enjoying the harvest - the Piggie loves his daily dose of l'herbe mixte. Oh yes, and the bumblebees are pretty enamoured with everything, too.

I guess it is natural, that the next step from wanting to make all your own food is wishing to grow your own food.

I've especially liked growing stuff from seed - the thrill of there not being anything, and then all of a sudden, two little leaves peek up, then it grows, and grows, and grows, and all of a sudden, there are flowers, and a real, actual vegetable after that. I like getting to know each herb, how they grow, what they like and what kind of treatment they respond well to. Believe me, I'm learning, and I'm loving it!

We may not be able to make a pea purée for two, or even a tomato salad - but that's not the point. The point is watching it happen. It's about the great feeling of snipping of a couple sprigs of dill for the fish tonight, or thyme for a baking sheet full of tomatoes, destined for a couple hours in the oven. It's the scent of your hands, after you've run them across the majoram or you've groomed the tomatoes. Growing it myself is probably the only way I could ever get close to stuff like pea shots, or lemon verbena. And I feel smugly proud that I'm growing stuff that I can't just go down the street and buy. Heh.

And I'm so not giving up on that mint. Just you wait until next year...

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Queen of Procrastination (and Chocolate Cake)

Banana Layer Cake with fresh Bananas and Chocolate Ganache Frosting

It's amazing what two weeks of summer vacation can do to you. Like me? I think I've become the Queen of Procrastination (yes, that word again)

Allow me to explain myself. The last two days, I've spend playing this. I even shelled out the 20 bucks for the full version. Seriously. And I know. It's a kid's game. But I'm not only the Queen of Procrastination, I am also: "Zarah. An arcade game called "Cake Mania" addict."

Chocolate Meringue Truffle Cake

Yes, most people would describe me as a mature and sensible 28-year old woman. Most. Probably not Martin, as he has been the one coming home to a non-showered, still in her pajamas, bed-head haired monster with an adrenalin-level shot through the roof, eyes as big as teacups and visible palpitations. And I'm taking a wild guess that at least one of my girlfriends shook her head at me when I got a little CAPITAL-LETTERED because I couldn't seem to get to the next level in the game and she kept "disturbing" me on GoggleChat. Sorry J!:)

But all good things come to an end, as they say. I have now tried for HOURS to get the the third last level, and I can't seem to do it. And even though I don't consider myself a quitter,
I realized that there are things in the home that needs doing, like the dishes, and cutting down the herbs, 'cause tomorrow, we're going on vacation, in Nordjylland. And um, my siblings will bring their Nintendo DS's that also has the game (on which I got hooked in the first place)

Nigella's Dense Chocolate Loaf

(Also, I think the reason I can't seem to get any further is an equipment thing - I only have a touchpad type mouse and it doesn't seem to react exactly in the way I want it to, when I want it to - yeah, I know, pathetic, blaming it on technicalities. But. My boyfriend always say that you shouldn't go down because of the equipment. Just in case you were wondering. See, I told you! "Hello my name is Zarah, I'm an addict." Don't even get me started on my Tetris episode...)

I really wanted to leave you with something special for you to keep entertained for the next week, while I'm gone. But because I have been procrastinating like I have, I haven't cooked. Like, at all. I just went through my photos and there is a big blank nothing were all the new photos were supposed to be.

My next thought? Hey, I have a couple of those pretty eggs left I need to use - I can make brownies for the trip and then post about it! Everyone and their Mom's have a brownie-recipe, surely - but I need a post, and besides, my brownies are the best - don't we all think so?

Chocolate & Sweet Cheese Marble Cake

So I ventured forth, chopping chocolate, melting it with butter, beating in one egg, cracking open the next one and - WHOA! You know? Pretty eggs don't stink any less when they're rotten - even though they're pretty. Yuck. So out it all went, down the drain. Just happy I didn't use all Valrhona for the batch.

Back to the archives. And? I did do that post with pictures of chocolate cakes from ChocolateChocolate not so long ago - but there are still loadsa photos of chocolate cake of which I have not spoken.

So there you have it - once again, I leave you (but this time, only for a little longer than a week) with chocolate cake - AND recipes. Not very summery, no, but with the weather we have around here, it's actually quite fitting. And I think adding "And of Chocolate Cake" to the title of Queen of Procrastination is befitting - hopefully, by the time I come back, you will also be able to add Queen of Cake Mania - I'll show that game!;-)

Mars Bar Cake

Banana Layer Cake with fresh Banana and Chocolate Ganache Frosting
One of Martin's birthday cakes a week ago. The recipe is from Baking by Flavor, and here you go:

2 1/3 c plus 3 tablespoons unsifted bleached cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 pound + 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons or one + a quarter stick) unsalted butter, softened (the original recipe calls for 2 tabelspoons shortening, but I never have that around)
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups mashed ripe banana (I food processed mine for a smooth consistency)
½ cup buttermilk

2 bananas for between the layers

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Grease and line, then grease the paper again and flour it, two 9-inch round cake pans.

Sift flour, nutmeg, salt, baking powder and baking soda together.

Cream butter and half the sugar in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, for about 2 minutes. Add the rest of the sugar, beat for another 2 minutes. Blend in the eggs, one at the time, beating well after each addition. Blend in vanilla and mashed bananas.

Alternately add the sifted flour mixture and buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour. Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

For the frosting, I used Cheryl's Chocolate ganache recipe (using regular salt and whatever chocolate's lying around) - it's fast becoming the golden standard around our home.

Make up a batch of frosting, and assemble - I used a little of the frosting between the layers, together with the banana. It was a treat, this - but let me warn you, even though the cake layers themselves are described as soft-textured and somewhat light, this is one heavy cake - small slices are plenty!

Chocolate Meringue Truffle Cake
From Nigella's Feast. I've made this a couple times now, last time was for my Mom's birthday. I've tried both doubling the meringue part because I wanted to feel more of the crunch, and I've also halved the recipe with no problems. The only complaint I have about the recipe is that it tells you to stir vanilla and your chosen spirit (the original calls for rum, I've used both Bailey's and Amaretto instead) into the melted chocolate - DON'T DO IT!! It will seize - at least that's what it did the first time I did it like instructed. Grrrr. Just stir it in with the cream. Other than that, it's a fabulous, dense chocolate mousse-like cake, more of a dessert than cake, but you'll love it. what's there not to love about cream and chocolate?

Remember this is one of those you have to start a day in advance!

I'll be lazy and point you to the recipe here - just double or maybe even triple the merengue layer - you won't be sorry!

Nigella's Dense Chocolate Loaf
You haven't made this yet? Boy, you're missing out - get to it! A perfect, dense, soothing, caramelly loaf that whips up fast and last long - if you haven't eaten it already. Recipe to be had here, in case you don't have Domestic Goddess already (in which case you really are behind, aren't you?;))

Marbled Chocolate & Sweet Cheese Cake
It's been a while since I made this, but I remember it oh so well. And yes, it's Baking by Flavor, once more. Ever made a brownie with cream cheese and enjoyed that slightly salty, savory kick? Well, this works on the same principle, only the chocolate part is more cake-y and really, really good. Give it a go - I know I'll have to mae it soon again.

The original calls for coconut to be added to the chocolate part, and walnuts in the cheese part, but as I'm not a fan of either, I left it out. If you'd like, add 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut to the chocolate batter after you've added the flour. For the walnuts, add 1/4 cup chopped walnuts to the cheese mixture in the end.

For the chocolate part:
1 cup unsifted bleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) unsalted butter + 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted together and cooled a bit
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the sweet cheese part:
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cups plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cake flour
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Butter a 9 inch springform pan.

The chocolate part:
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk the eggs into the cooled chocolate/butter mixture. Add vanilla extract. Add sugar, mixing until just combined. Add sifted ingredients and whisk.

Set aside.

The sweet cheese part:
Beat together cream cheese, butter and sugar, using a handheld mixer, until smooth. Beat in vanilla extract, cake flour and eggs.

Scrape the chocolate batter into the prepared pan. Dot the chocolate batter with big spoonfuls of the sweet cheese mixture. Swirl the two together, taking care not to mix - it's an art, you know?

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes. Leave in the pan to cool, then unmold. The recipe then says to chill in the fridge for three hours before slicing and serving, but I never got that far...

Mars Bar Cake - or the more sophisticated Chocolate Nougat Squares
Last, but definitely not least - from ChocolateChocolate. What, you thought I'd bake anything not from either Lisa Yockelson or Nigella Lawson??? Nooooooo :)

So basically, this is a brownie with the added benefit of Mars Bars (or Milky Way Midnight Bars, as the recipe calls for, but I figured Mars Bars was about the same here in DK). Let me run that by you again: Brownies. With Mars Bars. That's just crazy! Bordering on Daim-cake frenzy crazy!

And let me tell you, it's good. Caramel sticks to your teeth as you plow your way through brownie and chocolate and... Here - make!

About 7 oz. worth of Midnight Milky Way Bars or Mars Bars, chopped into ½ inch chunks and chilled in the fridge for 20 minutes
1 1/4 cups unsifted bleached cake flour
1/4 cups unsweetend cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter + 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled together
4 large eggs, beaten together
2 cups granulated sugar
2½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Butter a 9 by 9 inch brownie pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt.

Mix the eggs with the sugar. Blend in the vanilla and butter/chocolate mixture. Sift the flour-mixture over and stir to form a batter. Carefully stir in 2/3 of of the candy chunks.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and dot with the rest of the candy, pressing it down in the batter somewhat.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 2 hours, then unmould and refrigerate for one hour. Cut up and gobble up!