Friday, February 28, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Injera Bread

Today's recipe is an easy-to-make bread based on a national dish of Ethiopia called injera.  Traditionally, injera is a yeast-risen bread made with the flour of a tiny grain called teff (although other types of flour can be substituted since teff can be expensive and hard to find).  The teff flour is mixed with water and allowed to ferment before use, similar to sourdough starter, giving the bread a slightly sour taste.  The recipe I found in my only African cookbook (which I mentioned last week) calls for wheat flour which is not fermented, and uses club soda as the leavening agent instead of yeast.  Injera bread is actually more like a slightly thicker crepe with a unique spongy texture, and the cooking technique is similar to that of crepes.

I have had this bread in Ethiopian restaurants, where it is torn into smaller pieces at the table and used like a utensil for scooping up sauces and stews.  It is quite versatile and can be employed for the same purpose with non-African dishes as well.  I made it to use as a scoop for a failed Mexican casserole attempt that ended up more like a watery stew, and it worked quite nicely.  Making injera does take a little time as the rounds must be cooked individually, but you could double the recipe (I actually halved the original recipe) and freeze any bread you do not eat for future meals.  I think injera bread could well become a staple in our house!

Injera Bread

2 1/4 C. flour
1/4 C. whole wheat flour
1 T. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 C. club soda
2 C. water

Combine the first four ingredients thoroughly.  Pour in the club soda and the water, and whisk until the batter is smooth and rather watery.  Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles in the pan.  Pour a scant 1/2 C. of the batter into the skillet and quickly swirl the batter around to completely coat the bottom.  Let the batter cook until the top is just dry (do not flip and do not overcook -- you do not want to brown the bottom).  Remove from the pan and stack on a plate.  Repeat with the remaining batter, stacking the cooked rounds on top of each other.  Serve as an accompaniment to any savory sauce or stew.  Makes about 9 8-inch rounds.

Note:  This bread should have a light, spongy texture and a pale color (no browning).  The surface will be covered with tiny bubble holes that extend all the way to the bottom.  Be sure not to use too much batter -- if the round is too thick the middle will be underdone and doughy rather than spongy.  This bread is supposed to be bland as its purpose is to serve as a vehicle for very spicy foods, so it is not especially interesting plain (although I happen to love its spongy blandness!).  My husband even suggested eating it like a pancake, with butter and syrup, and it would probably be quite tasty that way!

A traditional Ethiopian meal served with injera on a communal
 platter or tray called a gebeta, which is placed on a colorful
basket table known as a mesob.
(from Wikipedia)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Grandin Road Color Crush Pinterest Contest

From Facebook

UPDATE: View the winners here!

If you enjoy Pinterest and interior design, then you will love Grandin Road's Color Crush Pinterest Contest!  Select one of six colorful Grandin Road home décor items, submit your choice, and then create a Pinterest design board around your chosen object.  The top ten Pinterest boards will be selected by Grandin Road editors after the contest closes on March 7th, and then voting will begin for the winners.  One lucky Grand Prize winner will receive a $2,500 gift card, second and third place winners will get $1,500 and $1,000 gift cards, respectively, and the remaining seven contestantss will each win $100 gift cards!

I have come up with a few style boards lately based on some Grandin Road favorites (see herehere, and here), so I decided to do one more to add to my Pinterest board.  I chose the Citrine Rebecca Leather Swivel Chair (again, I know, but I love these swivel chairs!), and my inspiration was an image of the spring cherry blossoms in Washington, DC:

My husband and I were in DC last spring and we got there just in time to see the last of the cherry blossoms.  It was the first time I ever had this opportunity -- what a delight!  Anyway, here is my resulting style board:

Clockwise from top left: Kyoto Throw Pillow in Poppy from Grandin Road; Paul Chong Cherry Blossoms photo; Kyoto Throw Pillow in Palm from Grandin Road; Rue Apartment Sofa in Petal from CB2; Round Acrylic Coffee Table from Vanjin; marble fireplace in Stockholm apartmentGus Modern Timber End Table from AllModern; Rebecca Leather Swivel Chair in Textured Citrine from Grandin Road; Background top: Medea by Weitzner Wall Covering in Cool Blue from Architonic; Background bottom: Cherry Blossom Colorado Rug from Grandin Road.

There is a tiny bit of citrine green in the inspiration photo (the new leaf growth), and the chair and green pillow reflect that.  The reason for choosing the rug, art, sofa, and pink pillow is obvious.  The pale grey-blue of the water and sky influenced the selection of the lucite/acrylic tables and the wall covering.  And the Jefferson Memorial, which was built with four different types of marble, made the marble fireplace surround a logical choice.  Since spring can still be a bit chilly in DC, the fireplace serves a useful as well as a decorative purpose in this living room.

The space was designed with a busy young single woman in mind, someone who would appreciate soothing pastel colors and the soft but modern lines of the furnishings.  While I have never been a city girl or a pastel person, I truly enjoyed creating this very feminine urban room.  Who knows, I could even come to appreciate city living in a lovely living room like this one!

If you too decide to enter the Grandin Road Color Crush Pinterest Contest, have fun and good luck!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: The Shelter Pups

Have you been looking for a way to commemorate a beloved dog?  Well, I may have found the perfect solution!  Inspired by a young girl who wanted to do more to help shelter dogs, the folks at The Shelter Pups create high-quality, one-of-a-kind plush versions of your favorite canine companion and donate a portion of the price to the animal shelter of your choice!  They also make stuffed pets based on actual shelter dogs and offer those for sale at a lower price ($50).  The custom-made pups are even discounted right now at $130 ($45 off the regular price), so if you want a plush pup in the image of your dog, this would be the time to order one.  A Shelter Pup would also make an excellent gift for anyone who loves dogs but is unable to own one.  And if you are a cat lover, according to the web site 2014 is the year that Shelter Cats will become available!

Who could resist a face like Bailey's?

I also wanted to take the opportunity here to mention and thank the wonderful US Olympic athletes who took it upon themselves to rescue a few of the many stray dogs in Sochi, and also the Russians who are making an effort to provide shelter for even more.  They turned a tale of horror into one of hope for these poor pups, and they are a good reminder to us all that even the smallest effort can have a big impact on the lives of less fortunate beings, both animal and human.

Gus Kenworthy and friends
(from US Weekly)

"I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights.  That is the way of a whole human being."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Palaver Chicken

Photo by *sweetomato* on

When we lived in Colorado, we occasionally ate at a favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Denver.  This got me interested in African cooking, and I bought a book called Flavors of Africa Cookbook: Spicy African Cooking to learn more.  I should have known from the subtitle that most of the recipes would be a bit too hot for my poor taste buds (I am truly a wimp when it comes to spicy food!), but a few are a little less intense, including this recipe for Palaver Chicken.  According to the cookbook, it is based on a dish called Palaver Sauce from Ghana, which was originally made with fish.  Apparently the word "palaver" means "quarrel", and there are various explanations as to the origin of this name, my favorite being that no one could agree on the exact ingredients to use!  I don't think anyone will argue when it comes to eating this chicken stew, however, as it is quite delicious and a worthy addition to any recipe collection.

Palaver Chicken

1 1/2 lbs. chicken tenders
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2 T. butter
2 T. vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes with juice (or 4 tomatoes, diced)
2 T. peanut butter
2 C. chicken stock
1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 bag (6 oz.) baby spinach
1 can (4 oz.) diced green chilies (or 2 jalapeños, seeded and diced)

Cut the chicken tenders into thirds diagonally.  In a large bowl, combine the chicken with the garlic and season to taste.  Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and brown the chicken pieces, turning once or twice for even browning.  Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.

Heat the oil in the skillet and sauté the onion over medium-high heat for about five minutes until soft.  Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes, peanut butter and half of the stock.  Stir until well blended.  Heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the remaining stock and the spinach.  Cook and stir a few minutes longer until the spinach wilts.  Season to taste.  Stir in the chilies and chicken and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  Remove the thyme sprig.  Serve with rice.  Serves 4-6.

Note: Since I used canned chilies, which are very mild, I stirred in 1/4 tsp. cayenne for a little heat that was not too overwhelming for me.  And like most stews, this dish is even better when cooled and reheated.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: 2014 Garden Plants of the Year

From Garden Design Galleries

Every year several gardening associations announce their choices for the year's best garden plant selections.  For 2014, the Perennial Plant Association has chosen a grass, Panicum virgatum 'Northwind', as their Perennial Plant of the Year.

This tall switchgrass is hardy from USDA Zones 4 to 10.  It prefers full sun, is not picky about soil, and is practically maintenance free.  The blue-green foliage changes to a lovely golden color in the fall.

From the International Herb Association, the genus Artemisia is the 2014 Herb of the Year.

Artemisias are hardy and aromatic, and the genus includes both ornamental and culinary varieties.  Artemisia ludoviciana 'Silver King' is a very popular garden perennial, while Artemisia dracunculus 'Sativa', or French tarragon, is a familiar kitchen herb (I really like its sweet licorice flavor with glazed carrots).

The Society of Municipal Arborists has chosen the 'Vanessa' Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica 'Vanessa') as its 2014 Urban Tree of the Year.

From Bold Spring Nursery

A slow-growing tree with an upright growth habit, it has become a popular choice for planting along city streets.  Persian Ironwood tolerates pruning well and has gorgeous leaf color in the spring, summer, and fall.

The independent nonprofit organization All-America Selections tests new garden plant varieties and then chooses the best performers for their Plants of the Year.  They announce both national and regional winners.  Among the national winners for 2014 are the following:

Angelonia angustifolia 'Serenita Pink F1'

This variety of Angelonia, or summer snapdragon, is a tough but elegant annual with pink flowers that prefers full to partial sun and well-drained soil, and is tolerant of dry conditions.

Gaura lindheimeri 'Sparkle White'

A mounded medium-height perennial with solid white flowers, this variety of Gaura lindheimeri (commonly known as beeblossom) is perfect for garden beds.  It likes full to partial sun and can withstand drought, heat, and wind.

Three national award-winning annual bedding plants were also selected:

Impatiens hawkeri 'New Guinea Florific Sweet Orange F1'

Osteospermum ecklonis 'Akila Daisy White F1'

Petunia x hybrida 'African Sunset F1'

I am especially excited about the petunia, as I have never seen one with such vibrant orange flower color before -- I hope this one shows up in our local nurseries this spring!

There are a number of vegetable varieties selected as national winners for 2014:

Bush bean 'Mascotte'

Sweet Italian Pepper 'Mama Mia Giallo F1'

Tomato 'Chef's Choice Orange F1'

Grape Tomato 'Fantastico F1'

Even an ornamental pepper was selected for a national award:

Ornamental Pepper 'Numex Easter'

My favorite choice for the year, however, has to be the 2014 Shrub of the Year chosen by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum:

Purple Beautyberry (listed as Callicarpa dichomata on the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum website but probably actually Callicarpa dichotoma) is a close cousin to the American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana).  The latter grows wild where we live and is a personal favorite.  The cultivated Purple Beautyberry is originally from Asia, and it is as attractive as the native species.

Just looking at the images of these garden plants, both old and new varieties, has me eager to start gardening again and looking forward to the imminent arrival of spring!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Chicken Gardener's Wellies

Winter has been unusually brutal here (and just about everywhere else!) this year and I am ready for it to be over, so my motto right now is "Think Spring"!  Spring brings thoughts of gardening, and one of the items on my wish list is a pair of these cheerful yellow Chicken Gardener's Wellies from Gardener's Supply Company.  We have been getting a lot of rain lately (our recent snow was actually a welcome relief from the relentless liquid stuff), so a good pair of waterproof boots will be a blessing while doing yard work.  The price (on sale for $29.88) is reasonable while the chicken print and yellow color make me smile.  I think I would even look forward to gardening in the mud if I could wear a pair of these sturdy boots!


Friday, February 14, 2014

On the Homefront: For the Birds Valentine's Day Table

Cutie Pie the Dalmatian has a special Valentine's Day wish!

My frequent flyer husband will be out of town for Valentine's Day, so as far as I am concerned, this year the holiday is for the birds!  (For those who, like my husband, are not familiar with this idiom, "for the birds" means "pointless".)  However, in an effort to put a positive spin on a less than ideal situation, I decided that if life gives me the bird, I would take that bird and turn it into a tablescape!  February is also National Bird Feeding Month, so it makes sense to do something in honor of our fine feathered friends in addition to feeding them.  I gathered up all of my bird-themed table décor in a Valentine's Day color scheme, and here is the result:

Round red woven placemat from KMart; white dinner plate (Tivoli by Studio Nova); Red Bird Plate from Pier 1; vintage red flatware by Anacapa Corp.; bird and berries Holiday Linen Napkin from The Company Store; Red Beaded Rock Napkin Ring from Pier 1 (no longer available); Birdy Napkin Ring from Crate and Barrel; Oldham Harper Bird Glasses from Signals; red-stemmed wine glass from Target (I think!) years ago.

The complete set of Oldham Harper Bird Glasses.

Sweetie Pie the Dalmatian has a very special
Valentine's Day wish of her own!
(White Bird Salt and Pepper Shakers from Pier 1;
 Red Bird Filled Candle from Pier 1 -- no longer available in Red).

A simple centerpiece (left over from my Chinese New Year Table)
flanked by a scattering of Dove Dark Chocolate Hearts.

Close-up view of the napkin and two napkin rings.

Our Valentine's Day dinner will be postponed until my husband's return from his trip a week after February 14th, but I am including the recipes for the menu I intend to serve.  All of the recipes are new to me and as yet untested (although I have made a version of the dip without crab meat and a similar mousse with white chocolate).

Valentine's Day Dinner Menu:

White Wine
Warm Crab and Artichoke Dip*/Butter Crackers
French Bread
Green Salad with Tomatoes/Balsamic Vinaigrette
Chocolate Mousse**

*Warm Crab and Artichoke Dip

1 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts
1 C. mayonnaise
1/2 C. grated Parmesan
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1 can (6 oz.) crab meat

Drain and quarter the artichoke hearts.  Combine the mayonnaise, cheese, and garlic.  Fold in the artichoke hearts and crab meat.  Spread the mixture in a pie plate.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes until hot and bubbly (or microwave on HIGH for about five minutes).

**Simple Chocolate Mousse

3/4 C. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 C. heavy whipping cream, very cold
1 T. confectioner's sugar

Microwave the chocolate on HIGH, stirring every 30 seconds, until completely melted.  Set aside.  Whip the cold cream until stiff peaks form.  Quickly add the sugar and cooled chocolate and fold in until well blended.  Spoon into individual serving dishes and chill until ready to serve.  Top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, if desired.  Serves 2-4, depending on how decadent you wish to be!

My husband and I love mussels, and dunking the French bread in the leftover wine sauce is the best part!  The dip is my favorite appetizer, and the dessert is my husband's favorite, so both of us should be very happy when we finally get the chance to share this meal.  Chocolate candies will of course be on the table -- Dove Dark Chocolate Hearts are strewn about, and a bowl of milk chocolate Lindt Lindor Truffles sits at one end:

And even though this table is for the birds, Dalmatians naturally make an appearance as well:

A red heart-shaped basket full of pink-nosed Dalmatian puppies
cheers up even the most frustrating of Valentine's Days!

Happy Valentine's Day to one and all!

Holiday Hits: Valentine's Day Coldwater Creek Lady in Red

For Valentine's Day, my husband and I almost always go to our favorite Indian restaurant for dinner.  Never much of a fashionista, I rarely dress up -- a red sweater with black slacks is about as fancy as I get.  However, if I ever did decide to go glamorous, the red Draped Front Dress from Coldwater Creek shown above would be my apparel choice.  And I am even less likely to wear shoes with heels (I only own one pair and almost never wear them!), but if I did I would go all out with these silver Yeelied Heels:

I like to keep things simple but bold when it comes to jewelry, so the Geo Chain Necklace from Coldwater Creek would be perfect:

In February the weather is bound to be cold, but this Oversize Plush Coat would be more than adequate to keep me warm for the short walk between car and restaurant:

As long as there is no snow or rain in the forecast, attired in this outfit I might actually enjoy being the Lady in Red for one evening on Valentine's Day!

Foodie Fridays: Tomato Basil Soup with Ricotta Dumplings

I've really been on a roll with soups lately, and I can't stop now!  This week I made Tomato Basil Soup with Ricotta Dumplings.  I changed very little about the recipe, although I did stir in about 1/2 cup of whole milk.  The vegetable broth I used was very dark and intensely flavored, and the milk helped to lighten and mellow the soup a bit.  This beautiful red soup is just the right color to serve on Valentine's Day, and if you really want to get fussy, try shaping the ricotta dumplings into little hearts!  Of course, this dish would be good any time, so enjoy it whenever you crave a good tomato soup.

Tomato Basil Soup with Ricotta Dumplings

4 garlic cloves, minced
red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
1 T. olive oil
1 large can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
3 C. chicken or vegetable stock or broth
1/2 C. basil leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 C. whole milk (optional)
1 C. ricotta cheese
1 C. grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 1/3 C. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the garlic and the pepper flakes and cook about one minute, until just starting to brown.  Add the tomatoes, stock or broth, basil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and black pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 7-8 minutes.  Taste the soup and stir in the milk if needed.

While the soup heats, combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl.  Stir until a dough forms.  Roll the dough into small balls (I got 32, but the number can vary depending on their size).  After the soup has simmered, add the dumplings to the soup and cook for about two minutes until the flour in the dumplings is cooked.  Serve garnished with more grated Parmesan and some shredded basil, if desired.  Serves 4.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Almond Blossoms in Mallorca

A Mallorca almond orchard in bloom
(from National Geographic)

Lately my travel options are limited.  I have an elderly horse and an elderly dog, both with health issues, and it is difficult to find a pet sitter who can deal with them if my husband and I want to take a trip.  So while I would love to go somewhere new and fascinating for Valentine's Day and our birthdays (both of which are in early February), that will not be happening this year (my husband will be out of town on business anyway).  One of these years, though, I am hoping we can take a trip to Spain to experience almond blossom season on the island of Mallorca (or Majorca).  Not long ago I read an article on the National Geographic website about this travel destination, and I am now obsessed with the idea.  Almond blossoms, which have a lovely fragrance, are usually in bloom from about the end of January to around mid-February in Mallorca -- perfect timing for a birthday/Valentine's Day visit!

Harbor of Palma, Mallorca's capital
(from Wikipedia)

Mallorca coast (from Charter Expert)

More flowering almond trees in Mallorca
(from España)

A close-up view of beautiful almond blossoms
(from Living in Rural Mallorca)

Agroturismo hotel in Felanitx, Mallorca
(from See Mallorca)

I have come to the realization lately that I love the idea of visiting places with fragrant blossom seasons.  I would be ecstatic if I could be in Mallorca for the almonds, on the Italian island of Capri for lemon blossom season in May, and of course in the French town of Provence when the lavender blooms in July.  I have never been to any of these European countries, so what better way to visit them for the first time than by doing a grand tour of fragrant blossom seasons in each?  It may be just a dream right now, but some day, who knows -- it could happen!