Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Time for Tabbouleh

In Recipies on March 31, 2011 at 8:57 am

“Tabouleh”, “Tebouleh”, “Tabbouleh”…

Almost as many ways  to spell it as there are for “Ghadafi”, “Khadafi”, “Khadhaffi”, or just “Daffy”.

I was introduced to tabbouleh (the way my spell-checker accepts it) about twenty years ago by Hanna, a fellow graduate student.  Hanna grew up in Israel and, in addition to his recipes, I enjoyed hearing his thoughts from an Arab-Christian perspective.  Over the years, I lost contact with Hanna.  I last heard he had decided to return to Israel where I hope he made himself happy and prosperous.

Tabbouleh is a bulgur wheat salad we especially enjoy with…tortilla chips.  It is traditionally served with crisp pita, but we love the salty corn taste of the tortilla chips alongside the tartness of the tabbouleh.  I have recently begun making a quinoa-based version.  Since quinoa is technically not a grain, some quinoa tabbouleh always finds its way to my table during Pesach (Passover).

(NOTE:  Observant Jews should consult with rabbis from their respective traditions for advice on whether or not quinoa is kosher for Passover.  “What is kosher” varies between traditions and among individual rabbis within some Jewish traditions.)

Let’s make tabbouleh!  (This makes a LOT.  I usually make half of this so it all gets eaten while it is at its freshest.)  I have broken the general recipe into two versions: 1) the traditional wheat-based recipe and 2) my quinoa-based recipe.

2 C bulgur wheat (medium grind)

2 C hot water (chicken broth for meat dish or vegetable stock for a pareve dish)

Place the bulgur in a medium-sized bowl and pour the water or stock/broth over it and mix well.  Allow to stand at least 2 hours in the refrigerator (overnight if possible).

!!!   OR   !!!

1 C quinoa, rinsed

2 C water or chicken stock, or vegetable broth

Heat 1 TBS olive oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat.  Stir in the rinsed quinoa and toast until golden.  Add water, stock, or broth.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover.  Cook until liquid is absorbed.  When done, remove from heat and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator.

Using one of the above as a base, now make the tabbouleh:

3-4 baby cucumbers (or 1/4 to 1/2 of an “English” or hothouse cuke), small dice

2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and cut into small dice

6 green onions, finely chopped (green parts too)

1 C Italian parsley, finely minced (or fresh cilantro, or 1/2 C dried parsley)

1/2 C fresh mint leaves, finely minced (or 2 TBS dried mint)

1/4 to 1/2 C lemon juice

8 TBS olive oil

1/2 to 1 tsp ground cumin

pinch of cayenne pepper

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine all of the above with the bulgur or quinoa base prepared above.  Season with salt and pepper.  Allow to chill thoroughly and so the flavors will blend.  Serve on a bed of Romaine lettuce with pita crisps or tortilla chips.  I sometimes add the cumin during the stove top phase to the quinoa or bulgur for a more uniform flavor.  Add the cumin to the quinoa while it is toasting, so the cumin is toasted as well…releasing some wonderful aromas and tastes!  If you used dry herbs, it is a good idea to allow them to moisten a bit before eating.


Reader recipe for Spinach-Quinoa

In Recipies on March 31, 2011 at 8:11 am

Phyne Dyner, “CS”, shares this recipe for Spinach and Quinoa with readers:

1 TBS olive oil

1 large onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 C uncooked quinoa, rinsed

2 C chicken broth

4 C spinach leaves (packed), lightly chopped

1/8 tsp black pepper, ground

1/8 tsp red pepper flakes

salt to taste

Heat oil over medium-high heat and saute onion until soft (3-5min).  Add quinoa and cook, stirring frequently, until quinoa begins to turn golden brown.  Add broth, black pepper, and red pepper flakes; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 13 min.  Stir in spinach, cover and cook 3-5min until quinoa is tender and liquid is absorbed.


I have yet to try this. When I do, I may “jazz” it up a bit with some herbs or spices (a bit of cumin and/or turmeric comes to mind).  Quinoa is a great substitute for rice or other grains.  I make quinoa-based tebouleh, using quinoa instead of bulgar wheat.

Thanks again, “CS”, for sharing with us.


In Recipies on March 30, 2011 at 9:08 am

I love pita and it is the staple bread on the Phyne Dyner’s everyday table.  I often wonder if more Americans would eat pita instead of store-bought pseudo bread if store-bought pita was less expensive to buy.


In defense of the store price, pita is a very dense bread and about 7-8 flats that are around eight inches in diameter use the same amount of flour as two loaves of French or Italian bread.   So it is small wonder that a bag of five flats runs close to four dollars.


On the other hand, one flat of pita is usually enough bread for one person.


We use pita to scoop up homemade hummus and dip it in herbed oils for breakfast or for late suppers.  A table set with light cheeses, olives, pickles, torshi lift, and pita with oil or hummus makes for a great way to end the day.  (Note:  Torshi lift is turnips and beets pickled in a brine…fantastic!)


Pita can be easily frozen and it keeps well in the freezer.  Just partially thaw them in the microwave and either pop them in the toaster for a few minutes, or use a terra cotta tortilla warmer to heat them up.


Most recipes for pita are very similar to that for French baguettes.  The ingredients are: unbleached flour, whole-wheat flour, yeast, salt, water, and a pinch of sugar to start the yeast.  My recipe uses 20% whole-wheat flour which gives the pita a nice consistency.  Too much whole-wheat flour gives them a “filled with sawdust” consistency I do not like.


There are a couple of important points to remember when making pita:


First, be sure your oven gets hot enough to properly bake pita.  The absolute minimum temperature is 450F and 500-525F is desirable.  I am not sure why so few ovens sold for household use cannot be set above 450F.  If your oven does not, or cannot, reach close to 500F you can cheat by baking the pita on a pizza stone and occasionally flipping the broiler on.  Just be careful to watch the pita so it does not burn.  You will have to experiment a bit with the technique, but it works well for “cool” ovens.


Second, a heavy-duty stand mixer makes dough preparation much easier.  Pita dough is supposed to be somewhat stiff and if you kneed it by hand it can be exhausting by the time you get the dough to the proper consistency.


I also put a pan of water in my oven during baking.  It helps keep the pita from cracking and they come out a bit softer.


Let’s bake some pita…


4 C unbleached white flour

1 C whole-wheat flour

2 ½ tsp active, dry yeast

½ tsp salt

1-2 C water

pinch sugar

splash of olive oil


Dissolve the sugar and yeast in one cup of warm (110F) water and allow it to stand for ten minutes or until it becomes very frothy.  Mix the flours and salt together thoroughly and place them in a mixing bowl.  Using a bread hook, kneed the flour as you pour the water and yeast mixture into the flour.  You will need to add more water, up to a cup more, to get the dough to a stiff, yet elastic, consistency.  Do not fret if you get it too wet.  Just add a bit more flour.


Lightly oil a large bowl and dump the pita dough into it, thoroughly covering the outside of the dough ball with a light coating of oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a moist towel and place in a warm oven for 1-2 hours or until the dough doubles in size.


Some people like to separate the dough into small balls after the first rise and then allow the balls to rise.  I do not use a second rise for my pita because I find it does not contribute much to the bread…in my opinion.


Punch down the dough.  Pre-heat the oven to 450-525F with a large pan of water on the lowest rack.  If you have a pizza stone, place it on the middle rack.  If not, just put an upside-down cookie sheet on the middle rack.


Form dough balls, 2-3 inches in diameter and roll them out thinly on a lightly floured surface to a 6-8 inch diameter.  I do this while one loaf is baking.  If you roll them out too early, the dough dries out.  Keep the plastic wrap on the bowl to cover the rest of the dough while you work up each loaf.


CAREFULLY toss the rolled out dough onto the pizza stone, close the door, and watch the fun.  The flats will puff up like those big fungi balls in your yard and then deflate.  The loaf is done when its top has several light-golden spots on it.  Remove the loaf with a VERY long-handled spatula.  Remove the loaves to a cooling rack and cover with a damp towel until cool.  Toss another one in!


Baking time varies a lot depending on your oven.  So just watch the first few loaves carefully.  Usually, baking time is 2-6 minutes per loaf.


Try to resist eating all of your pita fresh out of the oven!




This is quite possibly the finest late evening supper when the weather is warm.  We always take trays of this out to the patio table with glasses of red wine and enjoy it by candlelight.  If you close your eyes, you can hear the waves of the Mediterranean lapping up on the beach.


Pita “Bruschetta”


1-2 loaves of pita per person

1 red onion, thinly sliced

2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced

1 C good feta cheese

1-2 cloves of garlic

1 bunch fresh basil, chiffonade

¾ C olive oil

kosher salt for sprinkling (optional)

freshly ground pepper


Place the red onion slices in a bowl of cold water and soak them for 15-30 minutes to make them less bitter.  Crumble the feta into a small container and reserve.  Press the garlic into the olive oil and allow to stand for 30 minutes.


(NOTE:  To chiffonade the basil, stack about ten leaves on top of each other and roll them up like a cigar.  Then, with a very sharp knife, cut the “cigar” perpendicularly in slices.  This gives long strips of herb.)


Arrange 2-4 loaves of pita on a baking sheet and pre-heat your broiler.  Brush the garlic-flavored olive oil generously on each loaf.  Sprinkle the onion slices, tomato slices, and feta thinly on each loaf.  Sprinkle generously with basil strips.


Place under broiler until the vegetables begin to wilt and the feta just starts to melt.  Do not overcook.  Serve hot and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Oh, dry up

In Tips and Hints on March 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm


The Phyne Dyner told you to buy WHAT?



In my last post, encouraging you to take up herbal gardening, I recommended using a dehydrator to dry your crop for storage.  Your dehydrator has other uses too.

Got too many onions, carrots, or peppers to eat before they lose freshness?

Prepare and dehydrate them.

Make your own onion powder or flakes by grinding the dried product in a blender or coffee mill.  I had an extra five pounds of garlic that a neighbor gave me in trade for some of my dried herbs.  I just peeled, sliced and dried it and then ground it to powder.  Last fall, I took advantage of a “mushroom sale” by buying fifteen pounds of button mushrooms.  I sliced them up and dried them.  Stored in a big jug, they will keep almost indefinitely.

Dried carrots and peppers are great in soups.  We make our own hiking foods by packaging dried veggies with powdered soup mix and sealing it in pouches.

If you buy a dehydrator, the instructions will provide you with ideas how you can pay for the purchase by drying food for later use.  I put my old collection of Foxfire Magazines to use by researching some dehydrating ideas there.

The current price of food suddenly made my semi-hippie life experiences and collections valuable!

Adventure a bit with “raw” foods by drying veggie chips, fruit, and your own fruit roll-ups.

Feeling adventurous?  Make your own jerky.  Before doing so, be SURE your dehydrator reaches an adequate temperature needed to inhibit bacterial growth AND use the correct amount of “preservative” recommended by the dehydrator manufacturer…food poisoning will cost more to treat than a few bags of store-bought jerky.

You can find a lot of ways to use a dehydrator between herb crops.

Micro-gardening with herbs for your kitchen

In Lifestyle on March 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm


You can grow numerous herbs together if you are inventive.



Okay, so you do not have a farm, acreage, a big yard, or even a patio or deck.  You can still grow something fresh and enjoy it in your own, wonderful kitchen creations.


You can grow herbs!


Herbs are the quintessential “everyman’s garden crop”.  You can start your sprouts in an egg crate and transplant the seedlings to small pots, window boxes, or those “hen and chicks” strawberry pots.   With a grow light, you can have fresh herbs all year round.


And, if you really want to get into herbing, you can make quite a production of it with a few pots, washing and drying equipment, jars, and a coffee grinder.  The cost of a few one-ounce store bought herbs will pay for most of the startup expenses.


I am not going to go into great detail on growing herbs.  There is a plethora of herb-growing information online and (I love this) many herbs are practically weeds and seem to grow with a minimum of care.  The REALLY neat thing about herbs; they are almost never bothered by garden pests.


What to grow?


One plant, each, of basil, oregano, thyme, mint, rosemary, chives, sage, and cilantro is a great place to start.  Most herbs do better if they are periodically pruned, so do not be afraid to use some before you start putting them into storage. Remember too, drying concentrates the oils.  So, you will use 1/3 to ½ as much dry herb as you will fresh herb in a recipe.


Put those herbs to immediate use.


There is nothing like a Greek salad with the greens, red onion, peppers, feta, tomatoes, and fresh oregano, mint, and olive oil dressing.  A baked potato always tastes better with a tablespoon of chives and a roast perks up when you toss in a sprig or two of fresh rosemary.


Cilantro gets a lot of use in my kitchen, so I grow at least two twenty-four inch (shallow) pots of it.  Just sew the seeds on top of the scratched up soil, sprinkle a quarter-inch of soil on top, and “water” using a spray bottle so you do not wash the thin layer of soil off of the seeds.  In the right weather, you can harvest a crop every 21-40 days.  Just cut down one crop, rake up the soil, and plant more.  Cilantro sells for around two dollars a bunch.  So a few pots are a great investment if you like Mexican, Spanish, or Middle Eastern food.


Basil is a big producer too.  One twelve-inch pot will keep you supplied all summer.  A window box of it will give you enough to dry and give away (or trade) with friends or family.


Preparing your crop for storage is a snap.



Putting herbs in storage is as easy as snipping the stems and tying them together.  If you have REGULAR daytime temperatures of 90-95 in late summer, you can just hang bunches in the warmest, yet shady, part of your patio.  If the temperature is much hotter, the volatile oils that give herbs their flavors will evaporate and you will lose potency.  Much cooler, your herbs may mold or just turn icky black and unappealing.


I really get into herb production, so I put some of my other kitchen gear to use during the herb harvest.


After snipping the stems I place the cuttings in a cold-water bath so I can look for insects and other dirt.  Then I put them into a salad spinner and give them about a minute of fast twirling to remove the excess water or other debris.  If the stems are large, like basil, I cut the leaves from the stem before drying and if the leaves are big, like basil or sage, I cut the leaves in half.  This will aid drying.


I dry my herbs in a Nesco American Harvest dehydrator.  This is an inexpensive dehydrator (about $50-60) but it works well.  I checked the heat settings on mine with a laboratory thermometer and found the actual temperature to be within one or two degrees of the indicated setting!  Not bad.


It takes anywhere from 6-36 hours to dry herbs in a dehydrator, longer if your relative humidity is above 80%.  Our summers are quite humid, so I have had to leave mine in my dehydrator for up to three days.


If the leaves snap easily, the herbs are dry.  Remember, the size of the leaf and the location in the dehydrator will also determine how rapidly they dry.


I package my bulk herbs in double-seal “zip” plastic bags and store them in an old file cabinet in the basement.  Again, keep them cool and the remaining volatile oils will not evaporate and your herbs will stay flavorful.


You can either use your dry herbs in leaf form or you can grind them to whatever consistency you like by using an inexpensive coffee grinder.  I find grinding herbs, especially rosemary, makes them more palatable for children.  For some reason, a visible herb in a food really bothers a lot of kids…even the ones who eat sand from the sandbox.


Growing herbs can be a year-round hobby too.


I move my hen and chicks pot, with its oregano, mint, and chives indoors under a grow lamp.  You have to cut your watering by about half to two-thirds or you can kill the herbs with too much water.  Rosemary is particularly sensitive to over-watering and you will not know you accidentally killed a rosemary plant for several weeks when it turns brown.


The above is not the end-all of herbal cultivation.  I hope the basic information I provided will inspire you to take up herbing.  In a few years you may find yourself experimenting with larger herb gardens and looking into growing medicinal herbs.  However, medicinal herb growing and use is not a venture for novices.

Eye-talian beef sandwiches

In Recipies on March 18, 2011 at 11:40 am

"Whatever shall I do with all of this Italian bread?

Here is a fun to eat break from hamburgers or Sloppy Joes.

Italian beef sandwiches are an excellent way to use the economical cuts of beef, such as flank or skirt steak.  Both of the preceding cuts lend themselves well to crock cooking because they are lean.  Making the meat for these sandwiches using a fattier cut will result in a thick layer of grease floating on top that must be either ladled off or (worse) eaten.  Since it is not frugal to ladle off part of what you paid for, just buy the leanest and cheapest cuts available.  The Phyne Dyner has gotten some great deals on these cuts as the “sell buy” date approaches.

Once cooked, the meat can be put into freezer containers to eat on short notice.  Just microwave and serve.

And since Phyne Dyner’s readers have been dutifully baking baguettes and Italian bread, (You have haven’t you?) they will have the very best bread on which to serve these wonderful sandwiches.

A few words about crock cooking.

Use a bit less in the way of garlic, herbs, and spices when crock cooking.  Flavors tend to intensify a good deal in this method.  Go easy on the salt for the same reason.  But, if you got overzealous with the salt, toss in a roughly cubed potato for 30 minutes.  The saltiness will diminish quite a bit and be sure to remove them.  Be sure to fill the crock to the manufacturers recommended level.  Too little liquid can result in an overheated crock causing it to crack or the glaze to peel.  I never leave an electric crock plugged in overnight or while I am away.  Many people do, I do not.  If you must add liquid during cooking, carefully pour small amounts into the center of the food in the crock.  Adding cold liquid to a crock along its edge can cause it to crack or cause the glaze to come off.  Always use “high” setting for cooking.  The “low” setting is often not hot enough to prevent food spoilage.

One last word of caution:  One reason I do not do crock cookery overnight or while I am away is because of potential power failures.  If you have just started the meal cooking, go to bed or leave, and the power goes out you will not know it.  If the power is out for more than an hour and then comes back on in time to partially cook the spoiled food, you might get sick.  (NOTE:  This can happen with a deep freeze as well.  Always put several ice cubes in a baggie and put them in the warmest part of the freezer.  If the power goes out, the cubes will melt.  Then, when the power comes back on, they will refreeze…but cannot refreeze into cubes.)

Because these sandwiches are served au jus, it gives you a great opportunity to use loaves of bread that are getting a bit grey in the beard (old).

Here we go!

2lb flank or skirt steak, trimmed and cut into thick sliced portions

½ Italian pepper (or green bell), minced

1 medium onion minced

2-4 cloves garlic minced

1 tsp dry oregano

1 tsp dry basil

½ tsp dry thyme

¼-½ tsp red pepper flakes

2 TBS balsamic vinegar (see below)

salt (see below)

freshly ground pepper (several generous twists or ¼ tsp)

Put everything (EXCEPT salt) into the crock.  Add water to the recommended level.  Plug in and set on high.  Allow to cook 4-6 hours or until meat is extremely tender.  THEN check for seasoning and add a bit of salt, if needed.  Serve on crusty bread halves, ladle a bit of juice over each, and serve with pickled Greek peppers.

If you add salt at the beginning, the meat can stay quite tough, and there is a possibility of over-salting the dish.

Substitute liquid from the pickled peppers for the balsamic vinegar, if desired.

Some people prefer to slice the onion and Italian (green) pepper.  However, this can give the dish a “slimy” bit of vegetable here and there that bothers some people.  Also, the skins from the pepper slough off and one can find bits of resulting “string” in the meal.

Try this Greek version:

Same recipe.  Omit the basil and pepper flakes.  Add ½ to 1 teaspoon each of (dried) rosemary, thyme, mint, and lemon peel.  Serve on fresh pita!  For authenticity, spoon over a bit of tahina or skordalia and garnish with minced kalamata olives.  Hoo-PAH!

BTW…Do NOT be tempted to make this “more authentic” with lamb unless you want to see how a fat rendering plant works on a small scale.  Even with “lean” lamb, there is too much fat in the grain of the meat.

Salmon, cod, and roasted corn soup

In Recipies on March 18, 2011 at 11:31 am


What more could you ask for?



Americans are not much on a menu item when it comes to “fish soup”.  My favorites are pho hai san, a Vietnamese noodle soup, and the “mixed fish soup” offered at Forel, a fish restaurant within walking distance of the beach in Tel Aviv…


…and chowder.


Chowders and bisques are closely related items.  Both are cream-based fish soups.  The difference is that bisques are pureed or processed into a smooth, creamy texture and chowder is more stew-like, with chunks of fish and such.


Every port community has chowder of its own and there are (not surprisingly) as many “right” ways to make chowder, as there are port communities.  Some will argue that ”real” chowder always begins with smashed crackers and bacon grease, others with biscuits and olive oil and others, such as gulf coast gumbos, begin with a roux (flour fried in oil or grease to give it a nutty flavor).


Today, the Phyne Dyner offers up Salmon-Cod and Potato Chowder.


When my local grocer offered decent-sized salmon portions for a buck a piece, I was ecstatic.  I saw the pieces and they were too small to roast, grill, or poach into a meaningful meal.  But they were just the right size to cube for chowder.


Add a cubed cod loin and the Phyne Dyner was in business.  My only regret is that the sale came during the cold-muddy season in Iowa, rather than the hot-muddy season.  If it had been the latter, I would have roasted corn on the grill for my chowder.


(NOTE TO SELF:  This summer, roast a couple of dozen ears of sweet corn and freeze the kernels in small portions after cutting them off with a sharp knife.)


For those who are health-concerned, I know there is a whole cup of whipping cream in this.


Let’s get started…


1 large (softball-size) onion, chopped finely

4 TBS margarine or butter (I used “Heart-Smart”)

1 TBS flour

8 C fish stock (or 8 C hot water into which 1 ½ TBS anchovy paste is dissolved)

2 5oz salmon portions, large cubes

1 7 to 9-oz cod loin, large cubes

2 russet potatoes, peeled and in small dice

1 C roasted corn kernels (optional)

1 C heavy (whipping) cream

1 C whole milk

1 TBS dried parsley

2 TBS dried dill

freshly ground pepper and salt (IF you used real fish stock).


In a large pot, melt the butter or margarine over low-medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and sauté it for 6-7 minutes or until they begin to soften and before they change color to golden.  Reduce the heat to low and scatter the flour over the onions and continue to cook for another 4-5 minutes while stirring continuously.  Do not allow the flour or onions to brown.  Add the potatoes, corn, and fish stock.  Bring to a boil; then reduce to a simmer.  Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.  Add the fish cubes, dill, and parsley.  Cook, uncovered over medium heat for about 5-minutes until fish just begins to separate along its grain.  Stir in the milk and whipping cream.  Continue to heat over a low burner until the soup is hot throughout.  DO NOT allow the soup to boil or it will curdle and separate.  Ladle into deep bowls and serve with baguettes or Italian bread and lots of freshly ground pepper.

Dispelling ten common myths

In Editorial on March 18, 2011 at 11:25 am

The Phyne Dyner "hedge fund".


“The index for finished consumer foods surged 3.9 percent in February, the largest increase since a 4.2-percent climb in November 1974,” the Labor Department said. “About seventy percent of the February rise can be traced to higher prices for fresh and dry vegetables, which jumped 48.7 percent.”  (The Des Moines Register Mar. 16, 2011)

Food costs are at their highest level since the Ford administration.  The Phyne Dyner recommends that readers put on a pair of bibbed overalls and take up gardening.  The savings will have you grinning like “Jimmah Cahtah” holding a pair of sevens in a game of stud poker.

I am serious, and it is time to dispel ten common myths of home gardening:

Myth 1:  “Store-bought” produce is cheaper and of better quality than the veggies grown by backyard gardeners.

In today’s economy (and the emerging one of tomorrow), backyard gardening became cost-effective and will be more so tomorrow.  And, if you have paid any attention to the new, lower quality standards in many supermarkets, where rotting veggies are put out in hopes “someone” will buy them…you know nothing of your own emerges from a stem, stalk, or vine in a rotted condition.

Myth 2:  Home gardening labor intensive and at odds with modern working lifestyles.

The Phyne Dyner has had long-standing friendships with a cardiothoracic surgeon; a newspaper publisher, a family practice physician, and an attorney…all are avid gardeners.  My physician friends are all avid consumers of vegetables…go figure.

Myth 3:  Any “savings” I see will be eaten up by increased water usage, chemicals, and fertilizer expenses.

Three answers:  Harvest rainwater from your gutters.  Go all-organic with pest control.  And, compost.

Myth 4:  “Gardening takes know-how.  I don’t have a green thumb and the planter boxes along my patio are not so jokingly referred to as, “Death Row”.

Free advice is as close as your keyboard.  It is also a fair certainty that at least two neighbors within walking distance are avid gardeners who are eager to share (free!) gardening advice.  Start small with an herb garden and work your way into rows of vegetables.  Consider an elevated lettuce patch on two sawhorses.  Take up “gardening” not “farming” as a first try.  I have gotten TONS of advice from master gardeners (and regular folks) at my local farmer’s market.  Got a bug eating your “‘maters” and have no clue about what it is and how to get rid of it?  Go on safari, catch one, and take it to a reputable garden center and ask the nice folks there…same if your leaves curl up and fall off, in June.

Myth 5:  Gardening is backbreaking work.

Build elevated patches or do some container gardening if arthritis or other mobility issues plague you.  Gardening only becomes backbreaking if the garden gets neglected for a period of time.  Most garden work can be done in less than a half hour per day…less time than the recommended gym workout.

Myth 6:  I cannot garden because I live in an apartment or my condo association bylaws forbid me from having “things” on my patio or deck “visible from the street”.

Container gardens are for you.  Some of my best tomatoes and peppers were grown in flowerboxes lining the railing of a third-floor apartment I once rented.  Sure, growing sweet corn in such a setting is not practical.  But those railings make wonderful trellises for creeping vine crops, like cucumbers and zucchini.  If you live in an anal-retentive setting having rules written by people who were potty-trained at gunpoint, consider applying for a plot at a public garden.  No public garden plots?  Lobby for one (or more!) and vow to get dirty next year.  City leaders usually embrace these kinds of uses for under- or unutilized public property.

Myth 7:  I cannot garden because I have a job where my hands must be clean and unstained.

Refer to Myth 2.  It is a fair bet that patients of family doctors and surgeons would be a bit distressed if their physician greeted them with dirt under their fingernails.  The answer is “gloves”…good ones.  Those latex jobbies like those worn by virtually everyone having a job involving actually touching another human being are just fab!  Or, invest in some “nytril” surgeon’s gloves.  They are a bit expensive, but durable.

Myth 8:  Start-up costs will not only eat up any savings, they will take a big bite out of my already tight budget.

About two-thirds of the world population plants sustenance gardens with little more than sticks to dig holes and gourds to haul water.  The start-up myth may have legs if the budding gardener must have garden clogs in exactly the same shade of teal as their imported, Swiss pruning shears.  And, yes, container gardening can get pricey if you just must have those neoclassical faux terra cotta urns for your tomatoes.  The truth is, we throw away tons of perfectly good planting containers every year.  With some added drainage, cut down gallon milk jugs make great starter containers.  And good weather means yard sales will abound where you can pick up flower boxes, planters, and pots for pennies on the dollar.  Sure, there might be a crack in the bottom.  So what?  Rather than buying a rain barrel, build your own.

Now, go get some tires…bury them alongside the driveway…and paint them white.

Just kidding!

Paint them red…easier to see when the snow flies.

Myth 9:  I like eggplant…once a month.  If I grow it, I’ll have bushels of the stuff that will just go to waste.

I suppose Myth 9 has its roots in the American psyche that equates possession with wealth. There is nothing written that one must personally consume every veggie grown.  When my tomato crop failed two years ago (wet summer = stem rot), I traded cucumbers for tomatoes with a friend whose crop faired better than mine.  A side benefit was a delightful friendship between us.  And do not expect a quid pro quo exchange on everything.  Take some of your surplus garden bounty to a local food pantry.  I did this when I grew more peppers than I could eat, freeze, or dry.  The pantry staff acted like I walked in with a fist full of hundred-dollar bills to give away.

Myth 10:  Gardening is…well…work.  I don’t want to spend my free time working.

This is a corollary to Myth 5.  Yes, gardening can be work if you obsess with it being work.  But one of the attractions of gardening is that it is not brainwork.  You can (literally) put your mind on “hold” while you spade over the ground or fill pots with soil.  Sure, there’s bending, lifting, pulling, and hauling involved…just like what comes with your gym membership…see Myth 5.  If the sight of an earthworm gives you the shivers or if real gardening will screw up your $75 mani-pedi, grow herbs in small pots.  You can still legitimately claim the title, “Urban Farmer”.

Perhaps the greatest benefit comes from the intangible aspects of gardening.

There are several federal statutes prohibiting the Phyne Dyner from singing.  In my garden, I can sing until my hounds howl in anguish.  Gardening lends itself to a light heart and a light heart leads to singing, introspection, and even moments of prayer.

When you garden, you pray…a lot!  Even atheist gardeners pray.

Gardening brings the benefit of anticipation into our lives.  “Will the seeds I planted sprout today?  How much bigger is that first cucumber than it was yesterday?”  I find myself standing on my patio watching the bare soil with the same eagerness I once had for my approaching birthday.

Have you ever fed a hummingbird from your hand?  Mrs. Phyne Dyner plants out flowers that tend to attract hummingbirds and butterflies (I do not believe she knows butterflies come from caterpillars that eat gardens!).  The first time I experienced the Zen-like peace requisite to standing absolutely motionless and being the garden while a hummingbird sipped nectar from my palm it was purely magical.

Gardening puts us in tune with our surroundings.  We are much more aware of a summer storm’s fury if we are fretting about its wind blowing down our tomato cages or the hail battering delicate buds and leaves.  We actually know when it last rained and how much fell.  Gardeners know the frost dates as well as their own birthdays.

Gardening gets us…outside!  There is a huge difference between seeing your neighbor through a pane of glass and seeing him/her across the yard.  When we grow to know our neighbors and see them as people, we tend not to hear their dog barking at 3am and do not get irritated if they start mowing their own yard at 6am on Sunday.  It is too sad that many people do not know the names of neighbors just a door or two down the street.

“Outside” means heat, bugs, and a bit of dust.  If we grow a bit accustomed to heat, bugs, and dust we tend not to hermetically seal our homes and run the air conditioner.  We sleep with (GASP!) the window open.  And, golly, turning off the A/C…saves money.

I like to think the stuff I grow tastes better than the stuff from the grocery store.  Maybe it does.  Maybe it is all in my head.  One of the biggest motivations for the Phyne Dyner to cook is my seeing the delight of people when they eat something from my kitchen.  Their delight turns into outright awe when I announce, “I actually grew what went into this.”

Then there is the tangible benefit from where I began this word-journey:  The immense joy that comes with walking past the produce section of the grocery store and looking disdainfully at over-priced produce that was gas-ripened in a boxcar or truck trailer, rather than in the sunshine.  “Nothing for me today, thank you.”

Now, get out there and grow something.

Egyptian-style lentil and spinach soup

In Recipies on March 9, 2011 at 8:32 am


Serve this soup with homemade pita and a citrus drink



I made this soup for several years without processing it into a creamy texture.  On a lark one day, I decided to “pulse my pulses” in my trusty food processor and add the remaining ingredients after getting the consistency I wanted for this soup.




Unprocessed, this soup is excellent and is representative of lentil-vegetable soups around the Mediterranean and in the Near East.  I formerly did not consider processing the soup because I take as little notice of the lentil “skins” as I do of tomato skins in a dish.  I just think of it as “evident dietary fiber” and enjoy the meal.  On the other hand, some people say “ick” when a tomato skin hits their tongue in a cooked dish and they prefer not to have anything of the sort in their soups.


Processing does two things.  It pulverizes all those skins and strings (from celery) and it blends the flavors of the ingredients.  This is a soup that definitely improves with the added step of processing it to a creamy consistency.


The spinach for the soup goes in last because the chopped leaves make a contrasting presentation to the otherwise brown or red background color of the soup.  I use frozen, chopped spinach instead of fresh.  I generally limit the spinach content in this soup to about eight to ten ounces and I hate having leftover fresh spinach that I may not use within a day or two of purchasing.  Using the frozen variety is convenient and not wasteful…just shove the remaining amount back into the freezer.  If you want to use fresh spinach, chiffonade the spinach rather than chopping it so that it has a festive confetti-like appearance in the soup.


There are many variations of this recipe and most use a bit of fresh cilantro.  Cilantro leaves have a lemony taste that compliment the lemon juice used in the soup.  Instead of fresh cilantro, of which I may only use a cup of leaves for this recipe, I use ground coriander and then sprinkle a bit of dehydrated cilantro into the soup when I add the spinach.  I grow my own cilantro in summer and dehydrate it for winter use.  Buying an entire bunch of fresh cilantro to use only a cup of leaves is extravagant in winter.  In summer, when I have pots of the stuff, I just pick what I need.  (NOTE:  Cilantro grows very fast.  You can have a fresh crop from seeds every month or so.  Consider planting some in your herb garden this summer.)


Notice that I use a whole (small) head of garlic.  Lentils and garlic go together well and I have enjoyed a Greek version of this soup that is a garlic-lover’s dream and a vampire’s nightmare.


The Egyptian people enjoy this soup hot or cold.  In summer, the lemon accents are extremely refreshing on a hot day.  Hot or cold, this is a satisfying soup that is hearty enough for winter, but not overly heavy in summer.


Let’s make some soup!


1 (softball-size) sweet onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, diced

2 large carrots, diced

1 large russet potato, peeled and diced

1 ½ C red lentils

8-12 oz chopped frozen spinach

¼ C olive oil

1 small head (HEAD, not clove) garlic, minced.

32 oz vegetable stock (may use chicken stock for ‘meat’ meal)

4 bay leaves

1 ½ tsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground coriander

2 TBS dry cilantro leaves

1 large lemon (2 if for summer cold-serve variety)

option: 1 tsp Aleppo pepper flakes, or ¼ tsp cayenne, or any pepper sauce at table)

lemon slices or quarters for garnish


NOTE:  I add no salt to this when cooking.  Often the broth has enough salt to carry the dish and only a bit of freshly ground pepper is needed to season it before serving.


Be sure to sort and rinse the lentils.  Sticks and stones break bones…and expensive dental work.  Do not forget to remove the bay leaves and lemon rinds before processing either!


Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Sauté the onion for about seven minutes, or until soft but not brown.  Stir in half of the minced garlic and cook for one minute. Do not burn the garlic or your soup will be bitter.  Now add the potato, carrots, and celery and reduce the heat slightly.  Cook, uncovered, until the celery just begins to soften, stirring frequently.  Add the cleaned lentils and all of the vegetable (or chicken) stock.  Bring to a gentle boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer.  Add the bay leaves.  Simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until the potato is very soft.  Cut the lemon in half and then cut one half into four quarters.  Drop the lemon pieces into the soup, cover, and cook for 10 more minutes.  Remove the soup from the heat.  Remove the bay leaves and lemon rind (squeeze out any remaining juice that may not have cooked out of the lemon pieces).  Stir in the cumin and coriander.  Set aside to cool for about 30 minutes.


Carefully, in batches appropriate to your food processor, process the soup into a creamy texture.  When all of the soup has been processed, squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon half, remove any seeds, and add the juice to the soup.  Stir in the frozen spinach and the dried cilantro leaves.  Add the Aleppo pepper or cayenne (if using – I like to heat it up with a pepper sauce at the table) and taste for heat.  Return the soup to low-medium heat until fully re-heated, constantly stirring to prevent scorching at the bottom.  Ladle into shallow bowls and garnish with lemon quarters or slices.  Serve with fresh pita and a decent pepper sauce (I like the brand,“Cholula”!).

Taking “Oven-Fry” out of the box

In Recipies on March 8, 2011 at 11:23 am


You've seen it. Here are three reasons to use it.



No, this is not the inspirational recipe of last Shabbat.  That will be coming soon and in another format.  Be patient!


This bit of Phyne Dyning came to life when I scoured my pantry looking for something “new” to try on a weeknight that would come from only the ingredients I had, without a requisite trip to the market.


I always keep a couple of boxes of “Oven-Fry” on the shelf.  After a busy day of hanging around, this is a shelf item that makes a pretty nice “fried” chicken dinner with a minimum of mess.


Okay, but how is something out of a box Phyne Dyning?


Sure, you can do virtually the same thing with panko (or even your own breadcrumbs).  But there is a bit of time factor involved.  The cost of a box of this, already seasoned, is a worthwhile trade sometimes when time is considered to have value.  And, unless you use panko on a regular basis, there is a fair risk that what you last used has gone stale.  This stays fresh until you open the small packages.


Phyne Dyning takes something like this ordinary chicken coating and works with it.  How?


How about marinating the chicken prior to coating it?  Marinated meats are real crowd-pleasers and even if the home chef is more accustomed to being a short-order cook they can expect great results with a minimum of effort.  This is also an easy item for singles and it is MUCH better than take-away food in a sack or from some cookie-cutter theme eatery…just cut down the ingredients, proportionally, and go.


Making the marinades takes just a few minutes  (one is as heavily involved as opening a bottle).  Asking someone to make a marinade from scratch on a workday morning is a bit much when the kids are wailing, the hair drier is DOA, or the car won’t start.  So, make up the marinade just before doing dishes on the previous night (put in fridge), start marinating the chicken breasts before you leave for work, slap on the coating when you get home, and bake it while you change clothes and feed the cat!  Ten minutes of prep-work for an accompaniment (whole wheat pasta, rice, or quinoa) and a vegetable and you have a healthy, economical, and easy meal your family will enjoy.


Be sure to remove as much marinade from the surface of the chicken before coating it as possible.  It is better to marinate overnight (or all day), since there will not be much marinade on the meat surface to add flavor during cooking.


Here are three versions.  Possible varieties extend to any marinade theme.


Version One:  Teriyaki


1 skinless chicken breast per person



½ C canola oil

1 C soy sauce

1 tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp white pepper

2 cloves garlic minced (or ½ tsp garlic powder)

¼ C brown sugar or molasses


Mix all marinade ingredients and pour into a large zip-lock bag.  Toss in the chicken breasts.  As a precaution, lay the bag in a shallow container and place in the refrigerator overnight.  If you can, turn the bag at least once to ensure even flavor distribution.


Pre-heat oven according to package directions.  Remove the chicken from the bag, pour the marinade down the drain, and pat the chicken dry with a clean paper towel.  Coat the chicken according to package directions and bake.  Serve with rice or quinoa.  Those frozen Asian stir-fry vegetables make a beautiful accompaniment.


Version Two:  Italian


1 skinless chicken breast per person



2 C any brand Italian salad dressing.


Preparation is exactly as for the teriyaki version.  Serve with whole-wheat pasta and a garden salad.  Or grill some zucchini and other veggies (see Greek version below) using FRESH salad dressing to baste!


Version Three:  Greek


1 skinless chicken breast per person



1 C olive oil

juice from two lemons

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried rosemary

1 tsp dried mint

½ tsp dried thyme

¼ tsp ground black pepper


Preparation is exactly as for the teriyaki version.


This serves well with couscous and (on the weekend) grilled zucchini halves:  Cut small zucchinis in half, lengthwise.  Mix ½ tsp garlic powder with ¼ C olive oil.  Brush the garlic oil onto cut side and place on grill skin-side up.  Brush oil mixture onto other side, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper.  Turn when edges begin to char and remove when the skin begins to blister.  You can grill green onions, plum tomato halves, and mushrooms similarly.  NOTE:  I increase the amounts needed to make the marinade and use the extra marinade to baste my grilled veggies.  For safety, do not reserve the marinade from the chicken for this purpose.


Marinating in a zip-lock freezer bag keeps cleanup to a minimum!