Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How to Cook Bulgur Wheat

Want to give a nutty kick to your next pilaf, soup or salad? You may want to try using bulgur wheat.

Also known as bulghur or burghul, bulgur wheat is a cereal food made from several different wheat species, mostly durum. It is wheat kernels that have been par-boiled, dried, and crushed. It is a whole grain and should not be confused with cracked wheat, which doesn't get par-boiled.

Bulgur is the main ingredient in tabbouleh salad, and can be a great substitute for rice or couscous and can be better, nutritionally. It contains more fiber, vitamins, minerals and has a lower glycemic index than white rice or couscous.

Thankfully, bulgur is simple and quick to prepare. You only have to soak it to make it ready to eat, or add to a favorite recipe.

Put the desired amount of bulgur into a large bowl. About 3 /4 of a cup of dry bulgur, once cooked, will make 4 servings. Add enough cold water to generously cover it. Let it soak for about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain in a tight meshed sieve, or wrap in a few layers of cheese cloth or a thin cotton dish towel, and squeeze as much of the excess liquid out as you can with your hands.

Yes, my friends. It's that simple.

Add it to your next cold salad, or sprinkle into a soup or stew and enjoy. You can also heat it in the microwave with a little milk, butter, salt and honey to make a tasty breakfast cereal.

Photo by Joyous!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ribbon Jell-O (Finally)

I realized the other day that it's been a long time since I talked about Jell-O. Many of you are, no doubt, wondering why. I mean, I'm a Utah Mormon. How can I not be sucking down tons of Jello? Or is it Jell-O? I think only Kraft Foods cares.

I found this Ribbon Jell-O recipe in a great old recipe book, “The Mormon Family Cookbook.” I borrowed it from a friend of mine and I've held onto it for some time. About two years, I think. I should probably give it back to him.

It's a recipe that promises to make a stunning Jell-O dessert, and it certainly does. It's also a pain in the butt and takes a long time to make. It's fun to see how people react to it, though, so you should try it at least once. It's pretty tasty, too, with all the different fruity flavors in there. Honestly, though? As tasty as it is, I'm too lazy to make this again any time soon.

Equipment Needed
Measuring cups and spoons
Whisk or hand mixer
Tea Kettle or some other way to boil water
Mixing bowls
Bundt pan, or other large decorative pan as a gelatin mold.

6 (3 ounce) packages flavored gelatin in 6 or 7 different flavors and colors
7 cups boiling water (Don't try and prep this before hand, okay?)
1 pint sour cream
whipped topping
cooking spray

Thoroughly spray the bundt pan or whatever other mold you're using, with non-stick cooking spray. That's mold as in gelatin mold, not the green fuzzy stuff that makes penicillin. Try not to get them confused.

Boil some water in the tea kettle. Take one cup of the boiling water, add it to one package of gelatine in a small bowl and stir to dissolve. Pour half into the bundt pan. Place in the refrigerator on a level shelf to chill.

Fill a large mixing bowl with ice and a bit of water. Pour the other half of the gelatine mixture into a small mixing bowl, preferably a stainless steel one. Put the small bowl into a larger bowl of ice. Wait for the gelatin in the refrigerator to set up, the gelatin in the pan will be syrupy. It actually doesn't take too many minutes, as the quantities are pretty small, but the time will vary from batch to batch so keep an eye on it. Add a heaping tablespoon of sour cream to the gelatin in the small mixing bowl and beat with a whisk or hand blender until well blended and smooth. Pour this mixture into the bunt pan (a.k.a. Jell-O mold), Smoothing it all out. Return the mold to the the refrigerator and let it set. Repeat the process with a contrasting color.

After the last layer sets up (overnight is preferable), un-mold the gelatin onto a serving plate. If it won't easily come out, dip the pan into a bit of very arm water for a few seconds. This will melt a bit of the gelatin and allow it to slide out of the mold.

Mix the remaining sour cream with the whipped topping and spoon into the hole in the center of the bundt pan, or spread over the top like frosting. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to cut into slices and serve.

Makes lots.

NOTE: Don't let each layer set up until it is completely hard. Is just needs to be solid enough to hold the next layer. If the bottom layer is completely hard, it won't stick to the next layer. Try and let the hot gelatin cool a bit before you pour it onto the previous layer in the bundt pan. The hot gelatin can easily melt the previous layer.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Square Foot Garden Update – Dirt Cake

This weekend saw another round in the saga of square foot gardening at the Mormon Foodie home. With the boxes built, it was time to fill them with soil. Not just any soil, mind you, but a special blend of equal parts peat moss, vermiculite (a soil conditioner), and compost. Called “Mel's Mix” after Mel Bartholemew, the founder of the square foot garden movement and author of All New Square Foot Gardening, this is his special blend to create an airy soil that combats weeds, allows for easy planting, and drains well to avoid over watering.

I had thought about just picking up some extra organic garden soil, but for the amounts we needed it wouldn't be much more expensive, and I'd heard amazing things about Mel's Mix so I decided we'd go for it.

Mel's Mix is available commercially, but I think we saved quite a bit of cash buying it separately. We made 18 cubit feet of the stuff for $78.00, a far cry from the $165.00 it would have cost me if we had bought it already mixed up.

After getting back from the South Fork Hardware Pet & Feed store, we hauled our bags of ingredients into the backyard where the garden is. None of it was dirt, yet. In order to make it dirt, we had to mix it up. My wife and I laid out a large tarp near the garden and dumped the contents of the bags onto it. Then we proceeded to uses shovels, hoes, and a rakes to churn the stuff together into a more or less consistent mix.

“Whatcha doin'?” my 6 year old asked.

“Making a dirt cake.” my wife replied.

“Dirt cake?” the youngest asked, in disbelief.

“Yeah, we want to grow food in the garden but we can't do that until we mix up the stuff to make dirt cake.” my wife continued.

“Whaaat?” the 6 year old said.

This is why my kids never believe anything grownups say.

After shoveling the “dirt cake” into the boxes, we laid out the plots. My wife and I had already planned out what we wanted, and where it could be planted, so we just had to lay out the square foot guides. Of course, they're not all built on square feet, but the basic principle is that a square foot of garden space can contain a certain number of plants, depending on their size. We chose to use heavy string, although more permanent materials are usually suggested. My wife, Writer Girl and I used hammers and nails and small stakes to lay out the grid we wanted. While Writer Girl and I finished laying out the pattern for the last box, my wife and the two younger girls started planting.

This is where the whole square gardening thing got fun for me. Everything up to this point had taken quite a bit work, but planing was almost a game. The dirt cake ... erm ... Mel's Mix ... was so light and easy to work with that we planted everything with our bare hands. No shovels required. Even the six year old was able to plant entire sections on her own, after being showed how to lay out the seed patterns. Nine plants per square foot? No problem. Make a tic-tac-toe board, poke holes in each square with your finger, drop in a couple of seeds, and smooth the whole thing over. Even the youngest was able to get involved with the garden in real, and productive ways.

Now we have a garden started. We used a few more seedlings than we initially planned on, but that's okay. I'm happy, the kids are happy, and they are beginning to understand more about where our food comes from. I have no doubt they will be even more thrilled later in the year when harvest time comes. They'll be learning the law of the harvest, and it won't be just a metaphor. They'll experience, first hand, the rewards of their labors.

Thanks, Mel.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Peanut Butter Chews – No Cook Candy

My nine year old has been getting into making candy these days. I guess watching, and eating, the things her older sister makes have inspired her.

One day, while looking through the mess that passes for my cookbook repository, she discovered a collection of recipe cards my wife got from a Relief Society meeting of some kind, and promptly forgot about. They're simple enough recipes that even a nine year old can do them. This no-cook candy recipe for peanut butter chews was her first attempt. A successful attempt, I might add, that doubles quite nicely.

Equipment Needed
Large mixing bowl
wax paper
large wooden or plastic spoon

1/2 cup peanut butter, any kind
1/2 cup corn syrup
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 cup (or more) dry milk


Mix the peanut butter and corn syrup together in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the powdered sugar, and stir until smooth. Add the dry milk, a little at a time, until it makes dough that's stiff enough to handle. Roll the dough into small balls, cut into fun shapes, or whatever else you want to do with them.

For an extra kick of flavor, try rolling the balls in powdered sugar, cocoa powder, or a combination of both. I suspect that crushed nuts or sesame seeds would be good, too.

Play with your food!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Garden Update – The Boxes are Built

This weekend, my kids and I put our shoulders to the shovel (and pick, and hoe, and portable power drill) and got the boxes built for the 'Square Foot Garden'. Friday, my wife tilled the existing garden to get up the grass and weeds growing in it and soften the soil a bit. Today, we built the boxes and got them installed.

Because we wanted to use the existing space and soil (much of it, anyway), we couldn't just build the boxes and lay them down, which is the smart thing to do. No, because I have to subconsciously make everything harder than it needs to be, we ended up digging a few trenches and burying parts of the boxes. As always, it took longer and was harder work than I thought it would be, but that's pretty normal for my life, too. Thankfully, my kids are hard workers and take up the slack.

When I planned it, I figured out how much it would cost to build the boxes with brand new wood, and it wasn't an insane amount, but my wife and I decided that free was a better price. We decided to freecycle as much of it as we could.

We already had quite a few 1” x 4” s of varying length from a previous project, so we just cobbled the boxes together out of that. Hey, the wood was free. We got it from one of my Mom's neighbors last year, it just turned out to be unusable for the original project. It looks like it's working just fine for this one. We fastened them together with an assortment of small screws left over from who knows where or what. Every wanna-be home repair guy seems to attract things like that.

What's next? I still need to build the trellises, but I think we've got enough material for that, as well. We'll be putting the soil in the boxes and laying out the grid before the weekend (I hope). I'm not sure we're going to plant peas this year, as we had planned. It's starting to get late enough in the season, and I'm not sure I want to try and put in the box we had planned for them. We'll just have to see how it goes this week.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Planning the Square Foot Garden

Growing season comes a little later here in Utah than it does in many places in America, so although it may surprise you, I'm just barely getting started on my garden this year. Late snows and strange weather has delayed things this year more than most, so I guess I have an excuse this year. It's got to happen this week, though, or we're going to lose much of the growing season this year.

I'm hoping that this weekend was the last cold snap and snow for the year. It turned out not to be too much of a snow, thankfully. It snowed overnight and melted by mid-morning. Weather around here is just too weird.

We didn't plant a garden last year. We were talking about moving and there just seemed to be a lot of other things in the way. It's easy to put things like gardens aside when you hate general yard work.

This year, we're trying our hand at Square Foot Gardening. It's a way of packing quite a bit of growing into a small space. From what I can tell it's an ideal system for home gardens. It seems to be somewhere between large area traditional gardening and container gardening so, it's easily adapted to city living and apartments.

We basically live in the country; there area few large farms nearby. Even with that, we're adapting the square foot gardening ideas to our own growing space. I don't think Mel Bartholomew, the guy behind square foot gardening, would mind. I have to agree with him when he says, and I'm paraphrasing here, “Rows are for tractors, not home gardens.”

This year we're going to try our hand at growing sugar snap peas, and I've got to get them in quickly. They actually do well with a cold start. Here in Utah, the best time to plant peas is “as soon as you can work the ground.”

As for other vegetables, we wanted to focus on those that we most enjoy, but are either normally expensive or hard to find in the local grocery stores. We also wanted to put a large emphasis on vegetables that could be easily stored, either through freezing or canning. Another criteria was to avoid vegetables that require starting from seeds in a green house or indoors and then transplanting. We're too lazy for that sort of thing. Tomatoes are the only exception. We love tomatoes and they are easily purchased as seedlings.

With that in mind, I consulted a guide from Utah State University on vegetable recommendations and planting times for this state. They have the best agricultural program in the state, so I knew I could trust them. Besides snap peas and four different varieties of tomatoes (Roma, cherry, pear tomatoes and whatever large salad tomato variety we can get our grubby hands on), our garden this year is going to include:

  • green bush beans
  • spaghetti squash
  • butternut squash
  • acorn squash
  • cantaloupes
  • honeydew melons
  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • lemon cucumbers
  • zucchini
  • radishes
  • green onions
  • yellow Spanish onions
  • Walla Walla onions (if we can get them)
  • bibb (Boston) lettuce

If you're planning a garden, leave a comment and let me know what you're growing. I'll write more, later. Right now, I've got to see a man about tiller.

Photo by Lena Povrzenic