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March 25, 2013

Tomatoes and Ladybugs

I planted my tomato seedlings from Tomatomania at the end of March this year.  I did seven starts, with a couple of duplicates, that included all my favorites:  Sungold, Isis Candy, Striped Cavern, Green Zebra, and maybe a Pineapple.  

Problems in my watering system have meant they haven't gotten a great start this year, but I did try to give them a push by releasing some ladybugs into my garden.  I dropped most of them onto the Hibiscus plants that I am training into a hedge. It was so fun watching them disperse over the course of the next several days!  They're released at sunset, when the cooler temperatures encourage them to stay in the area.  The wood shavings are from the container in which the ladybugs were packaged.  

Have you ever experimented with beneficial insects in your garden?  Please leave a comment with your experience in releasing them, and whether or not it had an effect on your plants.

March 21, 2013

Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Aioli

To practice the standard breading procedure in my culinary class, we made chicken tenders, pork tonkatsu, and deep fried squid, all using the same fryer/oil.  Since I don't eat or cook any meat (including fish), I made the aioli dipping sauce within my group.  It was yummy even with fresh vegetables, but would be great with a veggie tempura. 

Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Aioli

Yield:  1 qt.

4 Garlic Cloves, mashed to a paste
4 Egg Yolks
2 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1 1/2 pt. Olive Oil
4 oz. Sun-dried Tomatoes
4 Tbsp. Basil, fresh, chopped
1 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. White Pepper

1.  Combine the garlic, egg yolks, and a few drops of lemon juice in a bowl and whip until frothy.
2.  While whipping the egg yolk mixture, slowly add theoil until an emulsion begins to form.  Continue adding the oil while whipping until all the oil is incorporated.  A few drops of lemon juice may be added from time to time to thin the sauce.
3.  Finely chop the sun-dried tomatoes.  Add them along with the basil to the aioli.  
4.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

March 18, 2013

Homemade Mayo

One culinary lab, each person had to make mayo from scratch.  It takes a lot of arm strength to whisk 7 oz. of oil into one egg yolk.  Several people had to make multiple attempts after their mayo broke, or separated, but I was able to reach the right consistency on the first try.  We learned something about alchemy too--turns out making it in a steel bowl will result in a change of color, and the mayo won't be white but a yellowish hue.  Next time I'll use glass!


Yield:  1 Cup

1 Egg Yolk
Salt & White Pepper to taste
1/4 tsp Dry Mustard
1 tsp Wine Vinegar
7 fl. oz. Salad Oil
Lemon Juice to taste

1.  Place the egg yolk in a bowl and whip until thick and lemon-colored.
2.  Add the dry ingredients and half the vinegar to the yolks; whisk to combine.
3.  Begin to drizzle the oil very slowly while whisking until the mixture begins to thicken and an emulsion starts to form.
4.  Add the remaining oil in a slow steady stream, thinning the mayonnaise occasionally by adding a little vinegar.  Continue until all the oil and vinegar have been incorporated. 
5.  Adjust the seasonings and add lemon juice to taste.
6.  Refrigerate unitl needed.

The mayonnaise will become very thick as more oil is added.  A small amount of liquid can be added if it becomes too thick.  Alternate between oil and liquid two or three time until all the oil is added and the correct consistency is reached.

A large egg yolk can emulsify up to 7 fl. oz. of oil; adding more oil may cause the mayonnaise to break and separate.

Vegetable Side Salads

Gemischter Salat (German Mixed Salad")
We've made a couple of sixties-era side salads in my culinary class that remind me of my mother's cooking.  Not my favorites, but again, we're practicing knife skills, and learning to make a few dressings on the way.  I'm just glad that there are some vegetarian dishes I can cook, though it seems that vegeterian entrees have been forgotten, and veggies have been relegated to the world of salad only. 

This German Mixed Salad has a nice Mustard Vinaigrette Dressing that I will use on other dishes.  I do like the pretty julienned veggies on a bed of lettuce.  The Macedoine of Vegetables looks like a bag of mixed frozen veggies slathered with mayonnaise, but they were hand cut for our class.

What type of side salads do you serve, other than the typical greens, and where did you learn to make them?  I'd love to hear your comments on my blog.

Macedoine of Vegetables Mayonnaise
Gemischter Salat (German Mixed Salad)

Yield:  4 Servings

3 oz. Carrot, julienne
3 oz. Celery, julienne
5 oz. Celery Root, julienne or Parsnips, blanched
4 oz. Red Onion, julienne
4 oz. Cucumber, peeled, seeded, & julienne
4 oz. Tomato concassee
6 fl. oz. Mustard Dressing
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 head Boston Lettuce

1.  Combine all ingredients except the lettuce in a stainless bowl.  Toss gently to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2.  Separate, wash, and dry the Boston lettuce leaves.  Arrange the salad on the leaves and add a generous grating of black pepper.  

Mustard Vinaigrette Dressing

2 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
2 fl. oz. Red Wine Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste
6 fl. oz. Canola Oil
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Tbsp. Water, hot

Combine the mustard and vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper.  Whip in the oils to emulsify.  Add the hot water and whip until smooth.

Macedoine of Vegetables Mayonnaise

Yield:  12 2-oz. servings

8 oz. Carrots, cooked, small dice
8 oz. Turnips, white, cooked, small dice
4 oz. Green Beans, cooked, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
4 oz. Green Peas, cooked
1/2 C. Mayonnaise, or as needed
Salt & White Pepper to taste
12 ea. Lettuce Cups for under liner, or baby salad mix
12 ea. Tomato Wedges, garnish

1.  Chill all ingredients before combining.
2.  Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix until evenly combined.  Use only enough mayonnaise to bind.  Season to taste.  The completed salad mixture must be kept chilled at all times.
3.  Place the lettuce bases on plates.  Using a No. 16 scoop (2 oz.), place a mound of salad on each base.  Garnish with a tomato wedge.

March 9, 2013

Custom Adult Hula Hoops

I made some adult hula hoops from pvc tubing a year or so ago, but hadn't taken the time to decorate them so I could use them in public.  I found some great plaid duct tape and finally hand wrapped them.  Now I have my own personalized, coordinated set of hand and waist hoops!  Can't wait to use them in class.

These sell for about $40-60 each on sites like etsy.  Now I understand why.  They take about two hours to do one hoop, and that was with a simple one-tape design.  If you use several colors, it can take even longer.  

What's your favorite piece of custom exercise gear?  Please leave a comment on the blog.

High English Tea with Chocolate Banana Quickbread

With the theme of "Roots," the assignment for March's Food Bloggers Los Angeles meeting was to bring a dish that's related to your ethnic heritage.  Given our diversity, this was sure to result in a fabulous spread.  True to form, there were those that went generations back to a foreign country, and a few who showed their heritage in the form of frozen mixed vegetables.  

I am a true mutt, with English, Irish, German and other indeterminate genetic roots.  I had to pick one, so I chose English, conceiving of a figgy bread pudding with my homemade chocolate banana bread as a base.  I got as far as the bread, but ran out of time for the pudding.  So, I rethought, and pulled out one of my favorite Longaberger baskets to make my own high tea.  To satisfy the appetite, I included dried figs, dried dates, lemon curd and marscapone for the quickbread.  To wash it down, I threw in bags of cucumber, chocolate hazelnut decaf, and passionfruit teas.

Our discussion topic centered around monetizing our blogs, a very important but daunting subject.  Listening to the group's varied experiences and suggestions again spurred me to return to blogging on a regular basis.

Banana Chocolate Quickbread

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 4)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan. Combine the sugar and butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed, scraping the bowl several times, until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the bananas, egg, and vanilla and continue beating and scraping the bowl until well mixed, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk to blend. Add to the banana mixture and beat on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the bowl several times, until the batter is well mixed.  Add the cocoa to the and beat on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until well mixed.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes or longer. Let cool for ten minutes, then invert to remove from pan.

March 7, 2013


The sum of my knowledge of Ratatouille before my culinary class consisted of the Pixar/Disney animated film.  In my class, we got to make the dish from scratch.  It involves a lot of dicing and mincing, which was the point as we were learning knife skills.  But we ended up with a hearty comfort dish, and one I know I'll make at home.


Yield:  4 8-oz. servings

6 oz. Onions, medium dice
2 tsp. Garlic, minced
2 fl. oz. Vegetable Oil
6 oz. Green Bell Pepper, medium dice
6 oz. Red Bell Pepper, medium dice
6 oz. Eggplant, medium dice
4 oz. Zucchini, medium dice
12 oz. Tomato concassee
1 Tbsp. Basil Leaves, fresh, chiffonade
Salt & Black Pepper to taste

1.  Sweat the onion and garlic in the oil.
2.  Add the bell peppers, eggplant and zucchini and saute until tender.
3.  Add the tomato concassee, basil and seasonings, saute for 5 minutes.
4.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

Caesar Salad with Homemade Dressing and Croutons

I expected my culinary class to focus on classic sauces, but I was surprised with how many dressings we made from scratch.  We started off with a simple Caesar Salad, with homemade croutons and dressing.  To make this vegetarian, I omitted the anchovies called for in the dressing.  We served this the night we made Ratatouille, as a nice balance to the warm stew.

Caesar Salad

Yield: 4 Servings

2 lbs. Romaine Lettuce Leaves, cut into a large Chiffonade, washed, dried and chilled
8 fl. oz. Caesar Dressing (recipe below)
Grated Parmesan Cheese, as needed
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste

1.  Gently toss the Romaine lettuce in a large bowl with the dressing. 
2.  Place each portion on a plate and garnish with Parmesan cheese, croutons, and black pepper.

Caesar Dressing

Yield:  1 Pint (16 oz.)

3/4 tsp. Garlic, minced
1 oz. Parmesan, grated
1/2 fl. oz. Red Wine Vinegar
3/4 tsp. Whole-Grain Mustard
3/4 tsp. Dijon-style Mustard
1/4 oz. Anchovy Fillets, finely minced and mashed
3/4 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Black Pepper
12 oz. Mayonnaise

1.  Combine all of the ingredients by hand until uniformly mixed.
2.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

Garlic Croutons

Yield:  10 oz. 

2 oz. Butter, unsalted
1 tsp. Garlic, minced
8 oz. French Bread, cut medium dice
1 tsp. Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 tsp. Basil, dried
1 tsp. Oregano, dried
Salt and Pepper to taste

1.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the garlic.  Sweat the garlic in the butter over low heat until fragrant and translucent.
2.  Place the bread cubes in a bowl; add the Parmesan cheese and herbs.
3.  Pour the garlic butter over the bread cubes and immediately toss to combine.
4.  Spread the bread cubes on a parchment paper lined sheet pan in a single layer and bake at 400 degrees Farenheit.  Stir the croutons occasionally and cook until dry and lightly browned, approximately 15 minutes.

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