Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pork Cevapcici (Ćevapčići)

Cevapcici is a national dish of Balkan states that formed former Yugoslavia. It consists of grilled minced or ground meat (lamb, beef or pork alone or any combination) formed into an oval sausage and is served with chopped onions, mustard and potatoes or rice. Besides Balkans all countries of Central and Eastern Europe have their own version. Wikipedia has an excellent entry on this summer meal favorite.
I prefer pork and lamb combination.

1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground lamb
1 egg white
1 Tbs. hot Dijon mustard
1 tsp. salt
4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 small onion, minced
1 tsp. hot Hungarian paprika
1 tsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tsp. baking powder

Preheat a grill to medium-low heat.
In a large bowl, combine the ground pork, lamb, mustard and egg white.
Add the garlic, salt, baking powder, sweet and hot Hungarian paprika.
Mix well using your hands, and form into thick sausages about index finger long.
Oil the grill grate and grill sausages for about 15 minutes or until cooked through, turning till all sides are light gold.
Serve with boiled potatoes, chopped onions and mustard.
I served my Cevapcici on bed of chopped Napa cabbage and arugula.
Note: If grill is not available it is just as good to shallow fry with lard in heavy skillet. It takes about same time to cook on medium high heat.

Japanese Garden Renovation

Overall view of Japanese Garden after renovation.

About five years ago we have build a Japanese Garden that we could see from our living room. Right from the beginning we have enjoyed the view and serenity of this little island. As all our gardens it was changed or redesigned on yearly bases, usually in the spring. Originally, it had a stylized stream represented by large pebbles. Four years ago I have decided to put in a real water feature with small rock waterfall close to middle and a bamboo water spring spout at very beginning of the stream. It attracted a lot of birds of all sizes, from tiny Chipping Sparrow to large Grackle. The water level is from few millimeters (fraction of an inch) to about 15 centimeters (6 inches).
This spring I had noticed that the stream was very muddy and there was a lot of algae on rocks. That meant only one thing: Complete renovation. It was a slow going in the beginning and very hard on my wonky back. I was on my knees all the time removing and then washing about 150 pounds of rocks and pebbles. Then I had to install new pump, the original one was leaking oil after about 25 years of intermittent use, first as a pump for our hydroponic veggie garden and then in our Japanese garden. After that it was the stream edging turn, I put down bigger flagstone slabs. It was hard and at times frustrating work but it had to be done and it will have to be done again, I’m sure.

Waterfall before renovation.

Same area after all the rocks and pebbles were removed.

Waterfall after the much needed cleanup.

Waterfall close-up. Few years ago I made ceramic tile with Kanji symbols for Tranquility.

This is where stream starts.

Close-up of bamboo spout. Limestone slab has carving of Kanji symbol for Water.

When the ground part was done it was time to prune Japanese Maple that grew a bit too big. It wasn’t hard work but the job was so tedious! Only way to prune was to cut couple branches starting at bottom, stand back and see which branch or twig is next. It took 4 days and I think that I will cut some more. One thing I have learned very quickly that you can’t prune if there is even slight breeze, it completely distorts the shape of a tree. This is why it took so long, but now it is time to sit back and enjoy our garden.

Maple before pruning...

and after.

View at night. Actually, I used 3 camera flashes with my Canon Rebel T1i, all 3 were off camera J.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lobelia Mix and Snapdragon Lampion

It has been almost 5 months since I have planted my first seeds and finally I start to see fruits of my labor. Or should it be flowers? Despite one of the wettest and coldest spring that I have seen the blooms are opening more and more every day. If the sun comes out I expect that in few weeks the baskets will be covered in blooms.
All other plants I grew from seeds are doing quite well, especially Zinnias, Thunbergia, Red Millet, Petunias, Nasturtium, Salpiglossis, Nicotiana, actually all of them. It is just that I didn’t realize how long Lobelia and Snapdragon need to grow to the trailing stage. Next year I won’t be so impatient, I hope.
Her are some photos.

Lobelia Mix started to bloom.

Snapdragon Lampion started to bloom as well.

Zinnias are in flower for whole month.
Petunia and Nasturtium,

Snapdragon Rocket.

Sunflower Sunny Smile

Nicotiana and Zinnias.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Jumping Robin is Raising New Family

So, here goes another Robin post J. Yup, our JR has built new nest, a nest that is much more friendly to my camera and eyes! He build new nest at about 6-1/2 feet high but close to edge and down-wind, the trunk of tree shades nest from wind. I still don’t know how many eggs are in nest, he barely leaves, but I will know soon. I don’t think that first fledglings survived on the ground, too many cats are prowling at night.

May 24, 2011 Update
This morning all eggs have disappeared from the nest. There is no trace at all in the nest or around the spruce tree, no shells, no egg yolk, nothing. The nest is clearly visible from neighboring house’s roof tops and crows like to hang around there. Also, few squirrels and chipmunks pass by daily...who knows. So, it looks like this season is over for our JR. Better luck next year. L

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Potato Salad and Braised Pork Chop

This is not a meal that you can whip in half an hour, more like 2 hours of almost non-stop peeling, cutting, chopping and cooking. However, the salad can be made days in advance and kept refrigerated. Sometimes I even break the salad preparation into two days, after all Czech version Potato Salad has quite a few ingredients that have to be peeled, chopped and cooked separately. What I found out by trial and error is that all vegetables can be steamed in microwave oven to save time. All you need is shallow microwave proof dish. It is almost impossible to give detailed recipe since every micro has different power output and every dish absorbs energy at different level. You just have to experiment. What I did was cut all veggies into uniform cubes and when I steamed them I under-cooked them since they will keep cooking after they are removed from the oven. Just spread them on a cooking sheet, one batch after another, and season them when still warm.
As for the pork chop, we went to Springwater Packers, our local butcher, and I was lucky to get whole butt from traditionally raised Amish farm pork. It was walking day before, now that’s fresh and local! I had butcher to cut me chops about 1-1/2” thick, something that you will never see in supermarket. It took about hour and half to braise and was it ever good! I let the chops to cool a bit and then sliced across the grain about 1/8” thin.
This salad is definitely worth the time and effort.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Goodbye to Comfort Food

At least we hope that this was the last comfort food of this wet and cold spring season. Fittingly enough, to reflect the wet weather, I have prepared our favorite: Roasted Duck Leg and Red Cabbage. It was so delicious: crispy skin, moist and fall-apart meat, red cabbage that still had a good bite and a bit of crispness and served with soft and moist bread dumplings.
The Goodbye was very, very delicious.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Final Flower Seedlings Update

All the flower and vegetable seedlings have been planted and now we finally have our house back! In late winter I have lost my basement workshop bench because that was the only place that had fluorescent fixtures above table/bench. Then in spring when plants were moved to sunroom we have lost use of our favorite dining spot and finally, when plants were being hardened off they took over our deck. It was quite an experience! In retrospect, I think that I have over done it a bit this season. I started way too many plants under lights, way too many. Lesson learned and I hope that I will remember next winter. All we have to do now is to keep the weeds out and feed the plants. Watering is not a problem since I have fully automatic irrigation system on all flower and veggie beds as well as all hanging baskets and most containers as well.
Now is the time to enjoy our gardens.
Next update will be Flower and Vegetable Garden Update in about two weeks.

Note: Big Thank You has to go to Marjo for transplanting most the seedlings into pots, baskets and ground. I did the tomatoes and some peppers, that’s all.

Most containers and hanging baskets are on or close to south side of our walkway. Front containers have a mix of Black Eyed Susan Vine, Nasturtium and Lobelia.

On porch stairs are planters with Zinnia, Snapdragon Rocket, Lobelia, Petunias, Nasturtium and BESV. Large green container in front has a Jasmine Scented Nicotiana.

Island in front of porch has containers with Red Millet, Snapdragon Rocket, Petunias, dwarf sunflower Sunny Smile and later today we will plant Dahlias.

Hanging basket on left has Snapdragon Lampion mix only and right basket has Lobelia, Nasturtium and BESV.

Final Vegetable Seedlings Update

The vegetable garden is planted and doing fine. Some tomato plants already have a fruits size of a pea and peppers are fruiting as well, just a bit smaller. Last 2 days was quite cold, high of 7 °C, and raining non-stop for over 48 hours. Not too good for hot weather loving peppers, tomatoes and eggplants. Peas are growing nicely and so does garlic and all the herbs. Last week I have planted seeds for yard long Chinese beans and yellow bush beans but no sign of sprouts, too early I think. I already have second harvest ready patch of Arugula and Mizuno greens as well as bunching onions that grew in my cold frame through whole winter. They were planted last November.
Note: Big Thank You has to go to Marjo for transplanting most the seedlings into pots, baskets and ground. I did the tomatoes and some peppers, that’s all.

Tomatoes Montain Magic, Sweet Baby Girl and Margharita.

(L-R) Lemon Grass, Pimento and Red to Green Peppers (clay pots and boxes), tomato Mountain Magic and Eggplants Gretel.

Red Banana Peppers and trellises for Yard Long Beans (top) and Yellow Bush Beans.

Snow Peas.

Mizuno & Arugula Greens, bunching onions.

Garlic and French Chives, Parsley, Red-Green Scallions in bed.
Thai Basil, Rosemary, French Tarragon, Marjoram and Bay Laurel in pots.

Cosmos at bottom, French Tarragon and in the back my garlic strip.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Italian Style Stir Fried Chicken Breast

This is my version of typically Italian pasta dish eaten with chopsticks. Yes, very weird but tasty and practical.
We just love wide egg noodles, especially the short twisted ones, but they are so difficult to eat with knife and fork so now we always use chopsticks and since there is no knife with table setting all ingredients have to be cut into bite sized pieces. It is that simple, just like any Chinese stir fry. I used chunky and thick tomato sauce with chopped zucchini, onions, garlic and roasted peppers.
First, cook noodles of your choice, drain and toss with little butter and olive oil. Set aside and keep warm.
While the noodles are boiling heat up non-stick skillet, add little olive oil and stir fry chicken breast that was cut into small, bite sized strips, together with julienned zucchini, sliced onion and sliced cremini mushrooms. At same time add the sauce, mix and cook till chicken is done, about 2 minutes.
Serve noodles on preheated plate, top with chicken, sauce and veggies.
That’s it. If you have a sauce ready it takes well under half an hour total.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Japchea with Baby Cuttlefish

This is my take on one of the best known Korean dishes. Actually, just like with so many Oriental dishes, there are as many versions as there are people that cook it. Very simple and fast to prepare and yet so tasty.

1 Lb. bag frozen baby cuttlefish, cleaned
1 small carrot, julienned
6” piece of seedless cucumber
3 green onions
1/2 small cooking onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped and divided into 2 equal parts
1” piece of ginger, chopped and divided into 2 equal parts
Soy sauce
Peanut oil
Sesame oil
1/2 package of dangmyeon noodles (sweet potato starch noodles)
You can substitute cellophane noodles (mung bean or glass noodles) for dangmyeon but Korean noodles have nicer texture.
Defrost cuttlefish in refrigerator overnight. Wash, pat dry and marinade in a bowl with 1 tsp. of peanut oil mixed with 1/2 tsp. of sesame oil and 1 part each of chopped garlic and ginger. Mix well and marinade in refrigerator for 2 hours.

Cook noodles till al dente, about 3 minutes, drain and drop in bowl with cold water. Drain again, cut into 6” long pieces and toss with 1 Tbs. of soy sauce, 1 tsp. of sesame oil and 1 tsp. of peanut oil and reserve.
In a skillet heat 1 Tbs. of peanut oil till haze forms over the pan. Stir-fry rest of garlic and ginger for few seconds and then drop in cooking onions, carrots and cuttlefish. Stir-fry for 2 minutes, add green onions, mix well and then transfer into bowl with noodles. Mix well and season with hot sauce and/or soy sauce to your taste. Serve on individual plates and garnish with cucumber slices.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Salmon with Pan Roasted Vegetables

I must have posted about half a dozen salmon recipes since I started writing this blog. It is such a versatile fish. Originally I was planning to cook the salmon with julienned vegetables in a paper envelope (Saumon en Papillote) but after working in the garden whole day I have decided on a simpler but still delicious pan roasted version. Since the salmon and vegetables cook very fast, less then 5 minutes, it is better to have the mashed potatoes cooked before and kept warm in toaster oven (my preference) or regular oven.
For vegetables I used julienned red pepper and zucchini and thinly sliced onions and cremini mushrooms. The fish and vegetables were cooked in same frying pan and at the same time, in olive oil and butter and on high heat. Cook the salmon good side down first for 3 minutes, turn salmon over, stir vegetables and cook for 2 more minutes or till fish just starts to flake. Do not over cook. During my prep I made a sauce that had a mayonnaise base with wasabi and maple syrup mixed in.  

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pork Tenderloin Shishkebab

I love anything that is on skewers and grilled on barbecue. Pork tenderloin is one of the best cuts for quick grilling but it does need help from bacon to keep it moist. I always use smoked and cooked bacon because of the short cooking time. In this version I used pork, bacon, onion wedge, red pepper piece and zucchini slice. For sauce I used hickory smoked BBQ sauce. Together with steamed rice and lettuce and cucumber salad on side it makes a wonderful warm weather meal.
When I use skewers, especially wood or bamboo, I always put triple layer of aluminum foil under to prevent skewers from burning.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Last Jumping Robin Post

The fledglings have left the nest and living a dangerous lives on the ground. I don’t know what the chances are for all four of them to survive are, but I feel that they are quite slim. If Jumping Robin follows same pattern as last two years he will start building another nest in 3 weeks. For now, this chapter is closed.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Jumping Robin’s Family

Finally, I had a chance to have a peak inside our Robin’s nest. Both parents were searching for food so I had to be really quick. They never leave the nest unattended for more then short minute. Also, since the nest is so deep inside the spruce I had to use tool maker’s telescopic mirror in order to see the babies. I am happy to report that all four eggs have hatched and all babies are same size and growing fast. Now that I know, I will leave them alone. Next report will be their first flight.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Grilled Sardines - Sardinhas Assadas

Yesterday, for very first time, I prepared grilled sardines.
They were absolutely irresistable and what a revelation it was! I have worked with many Portuguese guys back In Toronto and they were talking about grilling sardines on barbecue every summer weekend. For some reason I was never tempted to give it a try. Too bad that I didn’t try it back in Toronto because during summer months one fish market where we used to shop had fresh sardines flown in from Portugal every Friday and they were sold out within hours. Now I know why.  Is this meal ever simple and good and when I say that it is simple, I mean that it is simple to prepare as well as cook. All you need is about 4 large sardines per person (scaled and cleaned), coarse sea salt, black pepper, caramelized onions (optional), lemon, olive oil and nice crusty Portuguese or Italian buns. As for cleaning the sardines, watch the video from YouTube, it is very detailed.
Needless to say, I bought another bag of frozen Portuguese sardines and when the weather is decent enough I will be grilling again.

If you have trouble loading video, just click here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Seedlings and Garden Update, May 4th, 2011

Hanging Baskets
All the plants inside sunroom are growing so fast! I am hoping for warmer weather so I can plant them in their final container or in the ground but it has been so wet and cold last few weeks that I couldn’t even take some of them out for few hours to acclimatize them to wind and sun. It has been the worst spring that I have seen in last 45 years. At least we don’t have floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, bush fires or tornadoes even though last week we had winds gusting to 100km/h. It was so strong that house shook in its foundation. Not a nice feeling.
In the garden the birds are raising their families at incredible pace. I have never observed so many birds building nests in our 3 spruce trees. It is amazing that Grackles are nesting in same tree as House Sparrows, Chipping Sparrow and Mourning Dove. It is also interesting to see Grackles defend the tree from American Crows when they come close to the tree.
Yes, it is a very busy time for birds and before we know it, we will be busy outside as well. Let us hope.

Zinnias and Snapdragons

French Tarragon

Herb Patch
Snow Peas
Looks like Spring, but...