Shoots and Later

When pea plants are about as tall as a butter knife, you can harvest their shoots. Not only do you get to eat more of the plant, you may encourage them to produce more peas. Pinch off the tendrils just above the second or third set of leaves. If the stem there feels tough, pinch above a higher leaf. From the junction where you just snapped the stem, new leaves will emerge and the plant will grow bushier. You can pick the tendrils again when the plants reach your shin. Once flower buds appear, leave them to grow into pods.

pick pea shoots just above a set of leaves

Stir fried or wilted pea greens are now as ubiquitous in American fine dining as in homestyle Asian cooking, where they’ve long been commonplace. Treat them like young spinach (with the flavor of fresh peas). Here is an easy recipe.

How To Start Seeds Indoors

No matter how many times I’ve seen it before, when tiny green seedlings emerge overnight, I’m struck with wonder. They poke their heads through the soil, sometimes still wearing a cap of seed shell, and start uncurling towards the sun, and I want to jump up and down like a little kid and call everyone I know. Do people who farm for their whole lives still feel this way?

Among the reasons to start seeds indoors, the most compelling one is fun. Watching my little plants grow makes me feel that spring has arrived, even while the weather outside is erratic and chilly. You can get them going several weeks before it’s warm enough to plant outside, and it’s more economical than buying potted plants. Also, growing or buying seedlings locally helps prevent the spread of pests and diseases.

Don’t be afraid to fail. The stakes are low: you’re not risking a pet’s life or a large financial investment, so try different things and see what works. A three-dollar packet of tomato seeds yields about twenty plants. One tomato plant from a nursery costs about four dollars. Even if you have a 90% failure rate, you’ll still save money. Your errors will teach you to be a good gardener, and death is part of growth.

A few years ago blight wiped out crops throughout the Northeast. Gardeners unknowingly purchased infected plants from big-box retailers, and the spores blew to farms and gardens throughout the region. The same way food from a centralized supply can spread disease, mass-produced plants can endanger ecosystems. So it’s an ethical imperative to buy plants as locally as possible, or start your own.

If you have a few hours free this weekend, you could have lettuce sprouting by Wednesday! Fancy grocery stores sell pretty packages of organic seeds and top quality soil, but even a 99-cent store I stopped by in the projects carries seeds and dirt. The best choice is a nursery or garden center–they can provide you with good advice along with your supplies.

What you’ll need:

  • seed starter trays, store-bought or homemade
  • spray bottle
  • starter mix or soil
  • seeds

Choose your seeds. I grow things I want to eat a lot of (like tomatoes), or that are ornamental as well as edible (like nasturtiums and purple basil). Some plants prefer not to have their roots disturbed and are better started outdoors. Others need more light than an apartment window can offer. Find out what grows well in your climate. But try whatever appeals to you. It might work, or you might learn something if it fails. The plants I’ve had most success with starting in my windowsill are tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans and lettuce.

Make space. I push a typewriter table up to my living room window, and bridge the radiator with a board balanced across stacks of milk crates. Then I cover every inch of this setup with pots, and every windowsill too. It looks silly, but it’s only for a few weeks.

Assemble some containers. Seed starting trays are awfully convenient, but I use a hodge-podge of recycled containers instead. If you have storage space to save your seed trays you can use them year after year; otherwise, you are throwing money and plastic straight into the landfill. Egg cartons, yogurt containers, plastic party cups, shoeboxes, and soup cans are a few of the containers I’ve repurposed along with plastic pots from the previous year. If your containers aren’t porous, poke some holes in the bottom using a hammer and nail or a box cutter. Line them up on some sort of tray to catch runoff—this time I used aluminum catering pans leftover from baking granola.

Fill them with dirt. Seed starter mix yields the most success: it’s sterile and lightweight. Potting soil is less expensive, and works pretty well. I use starter mix for finicky heirloom tomatoes, and potting soil for everything else––if every seed germinates I’ll have no space to plant them all anyway! Moisten the soil before you plant, so you don’t disturb the seeds.

Plant the seeds according to the directions on the package, or google “[plant type] seed depth”. Use your finger to poke a hole in the soil for each seed you will plant (I like to squeeze as many as I can into each container, spacing them about 2 inches apart). Drop a seed or two into each hole. Then smooth soil over the top. Touching dirt this way is good for you.

Now water and wait. Use a spray bottle for watering. Mist the trays a few times a day, or as often as you remember. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Your seed packet (or the internet) can tell you how long each kind of plant takes to germinate, and when it will be safe to move them outside.

Happy gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

Hard Boiled Heaven

egg cookery part 2

 

My mom used to pack a hard boiled egg in a wax-paper bag with salt & pepper at the bottom for my school lunch. I'd peel the egg and dip it in the seasoning. It was a way of doing things she'd picked up from European train stations while backpacking after college. I still love to eat eggs this way. These are my criteria for a great hard boiled egg:

1. easy to peel

2. yolk doesn't turn grey-green

3. white not rubbery

My Perfect Fried Egg

I love sopping up a gooey yolk with a thick piece of toast. In this video, see how I make my perfect fried egg. Yes, that's tons of butter, but I don't eat this every day!

Why butter instead of olive oil? Olive oil has a higher burn point than butter; the butter tells you when it's getting too hot because it starts to brown. Cooking the egg at that lower temperature yields a tender texture. Also, butter just tastes good! You can replace some of the butter with water, but then it splatters a lot. Another less-butter method is to put a lid over the pan to hold the heat and steam in: this works, but changes the texture.

How do you make your perfect fried egg? Please comment.

Easy as…?

 

There are two contradictory myths about pie. On the one hand many people are intimidated to make it because they’ve heard it’s so hard. On the other hand there’s the saying “easy as pie.” The truth lies somewhere in the middle. With a few clever tricks and a basic understanding of crust chemistry, anyone can make a good pie. The crust is the trickiest part, the rest is easy as… pie.

My recipe makes a great crust, and is simple enough to memorize after making it a few times. You’re likely to make pie more often with a really great recipe that is easy to use than with a perfect recipe that is a pain in the ass.

Knowing how to handle your dough becomes easier when you understand what’s going on inside of it. The essential components of pie crust are flour, butter, and water. Proteins in wheat flour link together and line up into chains that hold dough together: this is what makes bread chewy. Two things activate this process, water and mixing or kneading. In a crust, you want barely enough connections to hold it together; otherwise, it will become tough.

Little pieces of butter between layers of the dough create steam during baking that makes air pockets. That’s what makes a crust flaky. If the butter is too soft or you work it too much, it will coat all the flour, preventing protein connections.  Then you end up with crust that’s crumbly instead of flaky. The key to success is keeping your ingredients cold.



Hannah’s Recipe for Pie Crust

(makes one double crust or two open pies)


2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
2 cups flour, dipped and swept*
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
ice water
more flour for rolling out the dough


*usually, baking recipes assume that you have spooned the flour into a dry measuring cup and leveled it off, to avoid packing it and getting too much. In this case I want you to dip your cup right into the flour and then sweep off the excess, so you’re actually getting a little extra flour.

1. Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl or freezer bag. Put this in the freezer for about 20 minutes. You could even do this the day before.

2. Cut the butter into thin slices, toss them quickly with the chilled flour. Put this back in the freezer for about 5 minutes (go make yourself a cup of tea or watch a YouTube video)

3. Ice about ½ cup water in a measuring cup. You’ll probably only use half of it.


4. Now you’re going to work the butter into the flour. Run some cold water over your hands and dry them thoroughly. Use your thumbs and forefingers to quickly press the butter into thin flour-coated sheets. Keep this up until the whole mixture looks like various sized bread crumbs, leaving some butter flakes as big as coins.
If at any point you feel the butter melting, put the bowl back in the freezer for a few minutes before continuing.

5. Sprinkle the iced water into the flour mixture, a little at a time. Toss it into the flour mixture, handling the dough as little as possible. Once you’ve added about ¼ cup, try pressing the dough into a ball. It should be crumbly and dry, but just moist enough to clump together. Add a little more water if you need to, but don’t make it too wet! Remember, water helps connect proteins and makes the dough chewy.

6. Divide the crumbly-but-moistened dough roughly in half, and dump each onto a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap. Using the sheet, press one lump of dough into a disk, then the other. Wrap them each, and refrigerate. The longer they rest, the easier they will be to handle. Overnight is ideal, two hours is good enough, and one hour is barely doable. The dough keeps well in an airtight bag in the fridge for a few days, and in the freezer for a few months.

7. If you’ve looked at other pie recipes, you may have noticed that mine uses less flour. That’s because I like to use a lot of flour to roll it out. Liberally sprinkle flour on the surface where you’ll roll out your crust. Dust your rolling pin too, and both sides of one disk of dough. Roll it to a little less than ¼ inch, pushing from the middle to the edges as you roll. Sprinkle more flour as needed to prevent sticking.

8. Fold the dough in quarters so it’s easier to transfer to the pie plate. Drop it into the pie plate and unfold it. If you are making an open pie, fold and crimp the edges as you like, but make sure the dough doesn’t drape over the edge of the pan. Put it in the freezer until you are ready to fill and bake it.

9. If you are making a double crust pie, roll out the other disk and lay it on a baking sheet (lined with parchment or dusted with flour. Refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to fill and bake your pie.

10) From here, follow the directions of your recipe based on whatever filling you are using.


A few more tips:

a) For fuit pies, preheat to 500, with a cookie sheet directly on the bottom of your oven. Put the pie on it, then turn the oven down to the recommended baking temperature. This helps prevent a soggy bottom. You may want to move it to the middle of the oven half way through baking.

b) Freeze your crust (or your whole pie if it’s fruit-filled) before baking to keep it crisp.

c) Keep a cookie sheet under the pie while baking to prevent butter from dripping, burning, and setting off your smoke alarm.

d) Cut a circle of foil a little bigger than the rim of your pie plate. Cut a 4-5 inch diameter hole in the middle of the circle. Now you have a 2 inch thick ring. Use it to cover the edges of your pie towards the end of baking to prevent burning.



Questions? Leave a comment!

How to Store Basil

Don’t you hate it when you pull basil out of the fridge and find black splotches all over the leaves? Well, don’t refrigerate it! Instead, treat a bunch of basil like a bouquet: trim the ends and place the stems in a glass of water. Leave it on the counter. Cold temperatures burn basil.