Archive for March, 2011

DIY Cooking

I was delighted to see the New York Times Dining section this week devoted to one of my favorite topics:   The DIY Kitchen! 16 completely accessible projects for ingredients you most likely would by psyched to have on hand in your kitchen.  As chronicled here, we are big fans of transforming milk into butter, yogurt and cheese, but there are a lot of recipes on their list that I have never made (Hello, Tesa?).  I’m starting with Kimchi, and I will let you know how it turns out.  I can’t get through all 16 in short order, so I implore you to choose one, make it, and let me know if it’s delicious.

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Dumplings and Noodles

Although it is almost spring, one of the things that helps me get through the dark days of winter are the various mid-winter festivals.  Besides Valentine’s Day, there is the  the Lunar New Year, Mardi Gras and Purim, to name a few.  A few weeks ago, on the last day of the Chinese New Year, we were invited to a dumpling party hosted by our friends, one of whom is Taiwanese-American and knows from dumplings and noodles.  It’s taken me awhile to put this post together, but I didn’t want to wait until the Year of the Dragon to share these recipes with you, as they can be enjoyed all year around.

When we arrived at our friends’ apartment, their three children were busy making paper lanterns and our girls disappeared into arts and crafts land (only to re-emerge later not only having made beautiful paper lanterns, but also having covered the younger one entirely with marker, requiring a mid-party bath).

There were all sorts of lovely things bubbling on the stove and the air smelled like star anise.  The menu was:

  • pork dumplings
  • tea eggs
  • bok choy
  • long life noodles with ba shi ya.

The first task of the evening was to put together the dumplings.  The filling had already been made, and everyone participated in the assembly. Placing a bit of filling onto each wonton wrapper we dipped our fingers in cold water,  traced around the edges, and folded the wrappers in half. (note: this is a great kid activity – they made some amazing avant-garde dumpling shapes).

The next step was to pleat the edges like little dough fans:

Or get creative:

The dumplings can either be steamed or pan fried.  We opted for the former and soon we had a delicious plate of dumplings!  They can also be frozen at this stage for a quick meal later.

Along with the dumplings, we had tea eggs, Bok choy, and long life noodles with “ba shi ya” , which is a phonetic spelling for a meat sauce that is something like the Chinese Bolognese.  Long Life Noodles are traditionally eaten for good luck and a long life and the kids thoroughly enjoyed dropping the whole long noodles into their mouths to avoid cutting them – which can bring bad luck.

Oranges (for wealth) and the Chinese pastries I picked up earlier that day in Chinatown were our desserts.

Albert Einstein, Leon Trotsky, and Frank Sinatra were all born in the Year of the Rabbit.  And so were you if you were born in 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, or 2011.  Characteristics of the Rabbit are gentleness and persistence. I was actually born in the year of the Pig and I can only imagine what that means!



1 lb. of ground meat (equal parts ground pork, beef, and/or veal

1 can of sliced water chestnut (8 oz)

(Optional: 1 cup of Chinese chives or yellow chives, chopped)

2 oz. of chopped scallions

1 T. minced ginger (more or less according to taste)

Pinch salt

1 t. sesame oil


2 packages of round pot-sticker wrappers.  If you want to try making your own rappers, take a look at this blog post.


Traditional: 3 parts regular or light soy sauce mixed with 1 part white vinegar

Tom’s favorite (I actually have no idea who Tom is, but…): 1/2 c. soy sauce, 3/4 t. sesame oil, 4-6 cloves of garlic finely chopped, some minced ginger and/or chopped scallions.  Add chili garlic sauce for added spice.


  1. If you have a food processor the preparation is fairly easy.  Use the food processor to chop all the vegetables (including the ginger, which should be done first).  After chopping the green onions, save some for the dipping sauce mixture.  Put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
  2. You can add shrimp, crab meat, or lobster meat into the filling mix.  Vegetarian substitutions can be dried tofu, Bok choy, or chopped carrots – sautéed first.
  3. Use your hands to mix ingredients well.  Then add the seasonings (salt and sesame oil), and blend.  You don’t need much salt if you use the dipping sauces which are, admittedly, a bit salty. Adjust the amount of sesame oil according to personal preference.
  4. Place a wrapper in the palm of one hand and  put about 2 teaspoons of the filling in the middle. Wet the edges of the wrapper.  Pinch tightly to seal the edges and pleat.  Make sure the edges are well sealed.
  5. To cook the dumplings, heat a non-stick frying pan to medium.  Coat the cooking surface with olive oil.  Put in 8-12 dumplings, with the dumplings touching each other.  Put in some water, cover, and cook for 4 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated.  Allow the dumplings to brown, then turn them over, add slightly more water.  Cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes.  Allow the other side of the dumplings to brown and crisp.
  6. OR You can boil them in a pot of water until they rise to the surface (about 8-10 minutes).
  7. Keep the cooked pot stickers warm in the oven, at about 200-250F.
  8. When ready to serve, garnish with cilantro.


Step one:  cook noodles according to package directions.

The recipe for ba shi ya  is one of the following:
1 lb of ground pork
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon handashi
3 tablespoons fried shallot
4 hard boiled eggs (shell removed)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine
Carrots (1 inch sections)
Potatoes (1 x 1/2  inch sections)

Brown the ground pork in 2 tablespoons oil
Add the handashi and fried shallots and cook for 3 minutes
Add the remainder of the ingredients (aside from the rice) measuring the
water to come up over the pork with the eggs pushed down into the
Simmer (adding water to make sure it does not dry out and there is some
gravy as necessary) forever until eaten.

For the nouveau version:

Substitute mirin and a bit of crushed and
minced garlic for the handashi and the fried shallot.  I also like to
add a bit of scallion when serving.   Mine has random detritus that is
left over from the dumplings that finds its way into my mixture.  I
believe it contains ginger, cabbage and minced finger of small child.

Happy Belated Year of the Rabbit!  Remember, dumplings and noodles can be enjoyed all year around!

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CSA Conference March 5th

I’m sorry to be missing the upcoming Just Food CSA Conference this weekend, but a certain 5-year old’s birthday party is taking precedence.  The keynote speaker is Jean-Paul Courtens of Roxbury Farm, our local CSA!  Jean-Paul started Roxbury Farm in 1990 after studying bio-dynamic farming in the Netherlands and was the first community supported agriculture program to operate in New York City.  He has done a great deal to promote equitable land use for farmers. Roxbury Farm, in Kinderhook, NY, is on a portion of what was originally the Martin Van Buren estate and he has worked with Equity Trust and the Open Space Institute to ensure that his farmland will remain as such, protecting it from developers.

If you are interested in finding out more about Community Supported Agriculture, Local Harvest has a map that will help you find one in your area.  This is the season to enroll as the farmers are starting to plant and the produce deliveries begin in June.  While I have had people tell me they are afraid to commit to an unknown abundance of produce each week (what if it’s all turnips, or rutabagas?), we have been really happy with the variety over the years.  I will say that it can take some creativity to get through it all sometimes, but the overall experience has been really positive.  This year, our girls are old enough to visit the farm, participate in the work and see where their food is coming from.  For city kids, this is an experience of immeasurable value.

I will be taking up the CSA challenge again in June and hope to attend next year.  There is still time to register, so if you go please drop me a line.

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Indoor mushrooms: the gateway drug.

We’re growing mushrooms!  Shiitakes.  Indoors.

When all of the uproar about the term “Urban Homesteading” began last week, I was dutifully spraying an odd-looking block of sawdust twice a day that had been inoculated with shiitake spores. Inspired by this Huffington Post article,  I ordered it through Amazon as a project to do with my kids  – something more akin to a Butterfly Garden (a family favorite) than actual indoor agriculture.  As promised, within two weeks our sawdust block went gangbusters with mushrooms – enough for one main course for two adults (which is fine because, as it turns out, my children love to grow mushrooms, but not eat them).

In the meantime, the “Take Back Urban Homesteading(s)” page on Facebook had grown to over 5,000 followers, and I spent some time acquainting myself with the dozens (no, hundreds!) of blogs and websites published by people living in various degrees of the urban who are experimenting with sustainable living, growing their own food and reviving lost domestic arts.  Regardless of how the trademark issue ends up, the galvanization of this community has been exciting for this armchair urban farmer.  I discovered Grown in the City and FarmCurious,  sites devoted to practical resources for urban gardening and composting, as well as a number of other interesting folks doing really creative things in small spaces that I will soon be adding to my blogroll.

So, are we urban homesteaders too?  We have the urban pretty well covered.  You can’t get more city than a 9th floor apartment in a midtown Manhattan high-rise – a place I never thought I would find myself, but strangely can’t imagine leaving. As far as sustainability goes, we’ve got it going on: no car, small footprint, features common to living in Gotham.  According to David Owen, New York is the greenest city in America. While I have dreams of keeping bees and chickens on our rooftop, I must content myself with our shared garden that is lovely for playing in a sandbox or having coffee, but doesn’t get enough light to grow food.  So it’s all indoor gardening for us.  Except for one thing:  we don’t actually have any plants.  Mostly because our cat eats them, but also because I recently found out I don’t actually have much of a green thumb.  Last year, we started 5 large window boxes in our sunny stairwell windows, planting everything from strawberries to tomatoes to quinoa.  And it was a dismal failure.  The strawberries developed bugs, the tomato plants produced one puny tomato and the quinoa only grew 4 inches (although it was fun to grow something straight from the kitchen).

So you can imagine my delight when after two weeks of spraying my indoor mushroom farm, I actually got a whole bunch of mushrooms! Enough to sauté over rice or add to miso soup.

I’m hooked and I’ve already ordered another mushroom kit – an actual log this time.  But this project hardly qualifies as urban homesteading – or even urban gardening.  However, it has encouraged me to build a window farm, which you are sure to be hearing more about.

Are you gardening indoors?  I would love to hear what you are growing!

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