Welcome to Growbox Hill

Welcome to Growbox Hill
Welcome to Growbox HIll!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Getting ready for my trip

So the last few days have been rather nice, been getting stuff done.

Finally found a green fabric I like for for the drape on my wedding dress, yay! All 20 cans of herbs have now sprouted up nicely, yay! Most of the tulips and some of the hyacinths are poking up, woot!!

Got a lot of cleanup done in the garage. Burned off all the saved up burnables, and the turn in bottles now have an end in sight. All that should be cleared out after I get back. Hauled a bunch of gardening stuff down to the pole barn where it belongs. And two bikes the boys are too big for are packed into my car to go to my sister- her boys are the right size now.
The local Salvation Army is having a donation pickup while I'm gone, so I made sure to bag it all up and tag it so my love can set it out on the curb for pickup. Normally I drop stuff off at the local thrift shop, but this time with pickup I'm making an exception. One big garbage bag of household stuff, and four kitchen garbage bags of clothes.

And packing. Wow. Lots of clothes, all the wedding dress stuff.. a few projects to work on while I'm there. So tomorrow I leave my love at home and go back to my hometown for a few days to get stuff done. I'm excited cuz I will get to see people, but I sure will miss my man and foos while I'm gone!

Hehehe, I did a special round of food shopping for my love for while I'm gone, all his favorites. I even got inspired by a dear friend and made up a corned beef brisket so he can have homemade ruben sandwiches while I'm gone.

And you can tell spring is finally here! The dwarf irises down by the raspberry bed are in bloom, the wild chives are hairy dark green clumps sticking out of last years grass... And a bunch of the other leafy bits are popping up, perhaps they will be blooming the first weekend of May. The daffodils are doing so well, I think they might already be spent by them. But that's ok, just having the glorious sun has been a real treat!

But now I'm off again... Need to finish up some odds and ends tonight so I can pop off bright and early tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Gardening and food and mmmm...

Started this post March 25....

So, got some cleanup in the solarium done. Finally set up the last of the stupid green can border. And finally got some cinder blocks for under the workbench planks- we really had to free up the coolers that were the "legs". All the tulip pots are now sitting there. Pulled the first batch of booze bottles form their buckets, only a few didn't want to let go of their labels- and I plunked in another batch to soak. It's supposed to be pretty darn nice out midweek so maybe I'll get some border setup done. 

Picked up some seeds- mostly different kinds of nasturtiums. Because by golly I will grow enough nasturtiums to make CA capers darn it! Or at least enough seed pods to be able to grow from my own seed last year- I was pretty bummed to not get anything out of the Milkmaids :(
And a couple kinds of tomatoes- Great White and Nebraska Wedding, White Icicle radishes, Little Marvel pea.

And SQUEAL with JOY!!!! On the gardenweb, someone was getting rid of last years tomato seeds. A recycled bubble envelope, three forever stamps, and 92 cents postage to send those off and I will be getting 27 varieties of tomatoes- yeah, 27 kinds. Fill out all my blacks, a few kinds of whites, and of course, a whole heap of yellows and oranges. I'm just tickled!!!
This year I totally skipped starting tomatoes and peppers- just had too much other shit to do that I was too winter depressed to to, and knew I would be eating up a ton of bench space with tulips and marigolds anyway... But next year will see the first round of the rainbow tomato garden- I will try to grow as many different kinds as I can for seed saving, the proceed onto color years from there.

Went out to the nursery today and ordered the tree for our wedding. We went with a Greengage plum. It's an heirloom variety, excellent for fresh eating and for making prunes :) And like the name suggests, it has a dusty green skin with a lush orange/yellow flesh. And talked to the folks- I may perhaps be getting some homegrown horseradish rootstock! How frigging awesome is that? I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask if they carry it while I was there, and one of the older gents said perhaps he could dig out a bit from his garden for me :)

I so need to sort through all my seeds and figure out if/what I want to put up for trade on the gardenweb- perhaps it would be smart of me to bag it all up and take it with me to tinker with when I'm with the family- I'm hooking up with Bad Bear for my wedding dress and my Brewmaster for wedding yumminess.

Gack, made one of the biggest money expenditures for the wedding a few days ago- rentals. A big tent- geez, did you know they drill into the asphalt to put the thing up? I didn't. Bunch of chairs, couple big tables, several 4/6 top and 2/4 top tables. And my love is too kind to my whimseys- we rented a popcorn maker for the wedding too. I thought it would be nice fun snacky bits.
Holy crap, average wedding in the U.S. is almost 30 grand- price of a really decent car, or small home. WTF?!?!?! Right now, looks like we might be able to make ours in at under 5, with doing it here at Growbox Hill and making it potluck and all. It's really getting back to the "good ole days" like before I was born.. When folks just put on their best dress and brought a dish to pass at the happy couples home.

Checked the cans of herbs today- all 5 basil and dill cans are popping up right fine, the cilantro and parsley still haven't popped yet. The basil is still in it's first tiny leaf stage, but the dill is already leafy a bit :)

Anywho.. off wedding, hehehe.

March 27

Started 108 marigolds, big pot of parsley, three kinds of mustards, oregano, lemon balm, and toothache plant seeds. Potted up the irises I picked up on clearance last fall.
1 Going My Way
2 Firebreather
4 Devil's Riot
4 Rock Star
3 Fall Fiesta
Started a big bowl of mixed lettuce, some broccoli, brussels sprouts, red kale, ornamental kale, golden beets, mixed radishes, rainbow carrots, atomic red carrots, and cosmic purple carrots. 

Started a new food scrap growing experiment today- horseradish. We tons of the stuff, so it's past time to try growing some. When I was out at the nursery the other day, the gent said I could just get a horseradish root from the store and grow it. I'm still hoping that he will give me some roots, but I did go to the store and bought a root- plenty to grate up for good eats and potted up three chunks from the crown. We shall see if those pop up into plants or not. 

Finished cleaning up the Solarium, everything is put away proper now. Still need to sweep though.

And blech, took the Seabring in yesterday, for what I thought was rear brakes. It turned into emergency brakes and a pair of rear upper ball joints. Grrrr, way the fuck more expensive, and something we can't really afford at the moment... But imperative for safety, especially because I'm driving it to WI next week-heh, can't have me dying in an accident right before the wedding. And for the first time, there wasn't any trouble with the back end after work got done, so yeah, very happy with our shop.

And doing bits of cooking today... Decided since it's such a fine day, burgers on the grill with baked garlic dill potatoes and salad, yum.
Picked up a couple packages of flour tortillas the other day on sale, baking those up into garlic chips, super yummy crunchy.
Boiled up some eggs for egg salad sandwiches tomorrow. Gonna make up some Italian veggie salad to go along with it.

Burgers- dude, if you don't know how to throw a burger on the grill, dunno what to tell you. Though I do like to sprinkle some grill seasoning on them.
Garlic dill potatoes- I like to use reds for this. Chunk up taters, drizzle with olive oil, a bunch of fresh garlic, salt and pepper, and dill. Bake uncovered at 350 till tender and yummy. 

Tortilla chips. I like to use the smaller ones for this, but the bigger ones work great too. Simply spray them with a little oil- I own a misto, a pumping oil sprayer, and I would suggest everyone own one, PAM is gross. I like to put a bit of garlic powder on when I'm spraying, but you can do most seasonings, or skip it entirely. Cut into sixths in wedges, if you spray and pile em up, you can cut the whole stack at once. Lay them out in a single layer on cookie sheets, I find one package of smaller tortillas fills two sheets. Bake at 350 for 5 minutes, swap the sheets around, and bake another 5 minutes. If needed, bake another minute, but watch those suckers because they brown up FAST!

Egg Salad- Hard boil your eggs and toss them in the fridge overnight. This works best if they are completely chilled. My biggest secret for making great salad is using a pastry cutter. Seriously. Peel all your eggs, and mash them into the texture you like with a pastry cutter before adding anything else in. After that, I like to add in Miracle Whip- I prefer it over Mayo for this. Dry mustard- don't need to add any more liquid, the MW should do it all. Some finely chopped onion- I use regular onions mostly because it's what I have in the house most often, but when I use green onions, I use the whites and greens, adds some pretty color. Capers- I always skip the pickles and go for the capers, frigging waaayyyy better. I like my pickles on the side. A bit of celery salt and white pepper, some parsley. Your stirring in of all that stuff is what gives the eggs their final breakup. Makes a nice firm salad that's very eggy and nicely seasoned, perfect spread on toast. Then I chill the salad for at least an hour to let all those flavors blend.

Italian veggie salad- really, it's just a bunch of chopped veggies tossed with Italian dressing. I like to use tomatoes, cucumber, yellow summer squash, onion, celery, and bell pepper. I often use yellow or orange peppers to add some variety of color, but green works too. Chop all that up into bite sized chunks- don't dice it too small. Add in a drizzle of dressing, and stir it up. TASTE IT before you add salt and pepper, but you will probably need to add some. I like to toss in some extra garlic and Italian seasonings to it too. Let it sit on the counter for at least an hour before serving.
Made too darn much to eat up in a day or two? No problem- it makes for an excellent saute base to cook up a couple sausages or kielbasa- just dump it all in, liquid and all, and toss in your sausages, and burble that shit up. Extra good if you toss in some mushrooms, serves well with a side of rice.

Reset the bird goodies yesterday. Geez, found a dead red belly woodpecker on the squirrel feeder, that was distressing. But I think he fell there rather than something he ate. So I cleared off the feeder and filled it with the ornament nuts that were supposed to go onto the Christmas tree that didn't happen. Tossed all the now completely dried marshmallows down in the sanctuary- even tossed a couple into the water and giggled at the swans trying to figure out WTF to do about them. Refilled the finch feeder with nyjer seed- the finches, sparrows, and chickadees are happy about that. Filled the regular feeder, and the red wing blackbirds, grackles, and chickadees are happy about that. Put up a container each of the dried lemon, orange, and apple slices. The apple and orange are getting snapped up, but the lemon isn't, shocker. Also put out a pile of ground up chicken egg shells for grit and calcium supplement for everyone.
And I swear, the same pair of geese came back this year to plague Mr. McSwanums- it has been funny watching him chase them off.

So, that's been the week so far...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A lil spring gardening and wedding stuff

Well, got a little bit of stuff done..

Got the rest of the herb seed I wanted, so I finished up all the garden in a box wedding favors today. They turned out pretty cute :) I made origami boxes out of construction paper and filled them with little origami packets of all kinds of seeds.

Planted up 20 cans of herb seed for favors too- 5 each of dill, basil, cilantro, and parsley. I won't start catgrass tins till a week or two before the wedding. I still have a ton of scrap construction paper strips from when I cut origami squares for the boxes, so when the time comes I will put pretty labels around the cans.
Depending on how it goes, I might dig up some plugs of lilly of the valley for favors as well- It really will depend on how well they are growing at the time.

And I potted up all the tulips and muscari- there was almost 300 of them!
100 muscari
10 Shirley tulips
25 Negrita tulips
40 Berry Mix tulips
40 Darwin Mix tulips
14 Orange Queen tulips
14 Mistress tulips
14 White Emperor tulips
14 Leen van der Mark tulips
14 Banja Luka tulips
14 Washington tulips

I'm kind of overdue with the bulb potting- I noticed that the bulbs outside already got a couple healthy inches of green coming up. But the pots are going to stay on the bench in the solarium, so hopefully that will accelerate the bulbs a bit. They were all sending out shoots already, just like onions do. So I only potted them with their greens barely covered. I'm hoping for some blooms, but meh, if all I have are some nice pots of lovely foliage, I'm good with that too.

Made corned beef and cabbage yesterday, using a suggestion of spices from a dear friend of mine
Heap of pickling spice
teaspoon fennel seed and cloves
tablespoonish each of caraway seed, dill seed, and yellow mustard seed
goodly lil palmful each of peppercorns and salt
couple of onions quartered
clove of garlic- peeled and left whole
Simmered the shit out of it- added in the taters, cooked em, pulled em. Quartered a small head of cabbage, cooked em, added the taters back in to heat up again, and served. It was the shit. So darn good, we don't mind having the rest of it for dinner tonight. 

I've got two tubs of saved up booze bottles soaking in the solarium- between whats in the tubs and still in the garage, I'm not sure I will have enough for the full border around the herb garden wrap around the way I want it, but there are for sure enough for a good start. We have been saving them since we moved in, so I'm kind of excited to have enough saved up to start this.
And I finally got all the stupid green cans done for the pond border in the solarium. I still need to do the final set on them, but blech I put off the paint fumes for as long as I could.

We have decided repairing the garage enough to make it worth it for bad weather just is not in the budget at the moment. It needs way more help than a quick fix. We have decided to go with renting a bigger tent instead, or multiple tents, whatever. That way we can still run power from the garage and situate the food tables along that side.
All those lovely paper stars we picked up at the resale shop- I'm hoping whatever tent we get will have enough headroom so I can hang them up inside. I'm pretty darn sure that I will not want to put those outside anywhere since we are likely to have wet weather till right before the day.

Polterabend- I need to figure out what to do for that. Hoping we will have the tent set up by Friday evening- that way if the weather is bad we can tent it. But what to do about food? I'm thinking snack kind of bits rather than food food. A couple crockpots of soup or chili. I'm not too sure just how many people will be at the poltrabend, so if I over prepare, more stuff to toss onto the buffet the next day.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pics from the Sanctuary...

So I finally recharged and downloaded my camera today, hehehe. Realized I had a bunch of lovely pics from over the last couple months to share... Enjoy!

 Nova being content...
 The first bad snow we got- I got this pic about an hour after the neighbor plowed his driveway, and the fresh set of tire tracks in the drive- we got a lot of snow.
 Pic of the melt off..
 Had some deer wandering by one day...
 The coyote that came by one day...
And another shot...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Drying food... My journey so far...

Recently, I was asked about drying food...

I've posted up a lot about drying a lot of food over the last year or so... so I suppose a general what I've done so far is in order.

I had already tinkered a bit with oven dehydrating, which is a little bit trickier than it sounds. Too warm, and you cook instead of dry, too cool, and you wilt up instead of dry.. ya gotta keep the oven cracked just a bit to let the moisture out, but not so much you let all the heat out.
Super easy food preservation though.

Then my sister brought a heat riser dehydrator she had for ages and never really used. This was even nicer, because you can plug it in an just forget about it overnight or till the food is dry. Ya gotta be very careful about loading trays with this kind of dehydrator- if you overload, you end up with spoiled food the next morning. That was a lesson learned with a couple bags of frozen veggies, yuck.

Then last fall I picked up a bigger dehydrator with a heat blowing fan. I love that thing. I use it most commonly now, I usually reserve the heat riser for drying herbs and other gentle dries. I usually only use the oven for fresh corn and to pre-dry onions now.

So, what have I dried so far?

I started out with fresh mushrooms since the often go for clearance at the Hardings, and because canned mushrooms are stupidly expensive. I dunno why, but they are as bad as, if not worse than Chicago prices. So, I can pay a dollar or so for a 4 oz can of mushrooms that I get 2 oz of actual mushrooms- or I can pay a dollar for 6-8 oz tub of fresh mushrooms and dry them down to 3-4 oz of mushrooms. I just slice them up, not too thin, spread them out, no overlapping, and set to dry.

Frozen veggies- Hardings sometimes has the pound bag of frozen veggies for a buck a piece. I have dried up corn, mixed veggies, and peas. Just a thin layer and set to dry.

Herbs. I've done sage, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, pineapple mint, and winter savory so far, all grown in my little herb garden.

Fresh onions. I've used yellow onions for this so far. I slice them thin, spread evenly on a couple cookie sheets, and set in the oven on warm, with the door cracked, for a couple hours to really wilt up the onions, then put them in the dehydrator. I do this because I've found the things just dry better that way, I think perhaps they just start out too wet to dry nicely otherwise.
Leeks and garlic can just be done on the dehydrator. 

Green onion greens- I toss them in the heat riser, and poof, they turn out nice and crisp.

Fresh carrot- scrub well, slice thin, and lay them out evenly..

Fresh sweet potato- grate it first like cheese, then dry it.

Fresh cole slaw mix- just lay it out and dry it- you can get away with a little bit of depth on the try with this, the shreds dry up really fast.

Pumpkin and winter squash. Yeah, that was a thing, lol. Roast it, puree it, strain it overnight in cheese cloth to make a thick paste- then spread it on fruit leather sheets to dry. Then take your squash leather, roast it on low in the oven for a bit to make it extra dry and crisp, then pulverize it into a powder.

Fresh kale- I love it. Make sure you take all the stems off the leaves before drying, because they rehydrate at a way different rate than the leaves and never really quite come back right. You can dehydrate the stems separately and keep em on hand to toss in when boiling up a kettle of stock.

Fresh lettuce- yep, seriously. I take whatever we got when we got it and dry it up, same way as kale. 

Celery- this is the best!! Slice it up from leafy tips down to about 3 niches or so from the root end. Layer thin, and dehydrate up. This is extra awesome for cooking. Then you can take the celery nub, soak it overnight, pot it up, and with luck you can grow a whole new celery!

Broccoli stems- I don't toss em, nope. I shred them up, and dry them out. 

Tomato paste, from a can. Spread it as thin as you can on fruit leather sheets, and dry the crap out of it, it will still be leather. It's kind of nice for when you only need a teaspoon or tablespoon of paste cuz you can tear off as little or as much as you need. Ya gotta make sure you rehydrate it well. This was an experiment- it turned out pretty well, but I think I will try making powder from fresh next time.

Fresh sweet corn... Dear heavens this is the yum! Strip your cobs, then spread out thin and evenly on parchment paper on lipped cookie sheets. Set your oven at 200, put the corn in, crack the door, and turn the heat down to warm.. After an hour or two, give it a stir, and dry some more... Corn can take 6-10 hours depending on how much there is- you can always kill the heat overnight if you are a few hours in and it's not done, but it's bedtime, but make sure you close the oven if you do this. Then in the morning start over again if needed. Don't leave your oven on all night!
If you reserve the cobs, you can make fresh corn stock- all you do is bust the cobs up a bit to fit in the stockpot, totally cover with water, and simmer for a half hour or so. It's wonderful for a light fresh corn base, yum.

Fresh apple slices. I got a neat spiral slicer crank thing that clamps to the counter, it peels, spiral cuts, and cores in one process. And it was only a couple bucks at the resale shop. But anywho, peel, core, and thinly slice your apples, tossing them in a smidge of lemon juice while doing so to help prevent browning. In a single layer on the trays, and dry.

Fresh lemon and orange slices. I made these for ornaments for the wildlife tree that didn't happen, but they will be getting put out in the next week or two since the spring birdies are starting to show up. I always zest my citrus if it isn't necessary for it to stay there- and of course I dry that up. You can use a veggie peeler, a really sturdy fine hole grater, or a zester. I like to use a zester and a veggie peeler to have different peels for different things. Then slice about a quarter inch or so, single layer, and dry it up- they look like little stained glass when they are done.

Fresh cranberry garlands. Made this for the wildlife tree too. After the holiday, I tossed em onto the redbud, and a lot of it is still hanging there, even though I know darn well it's been wet enough that they aren't dry anymore. Thought they would be nice for the birds, but meh, they don't seem to like em much. But they sure did turn out pretty for garlands!
I strung them on about 4 foot strands- used a heavy needle and a heavy cotton beading thread. Then laid them out neatly and evenly on cookie sheets and baked them at 200 with the door cracked for a hour or so I think. Just till they started getting a little "not fresh anymore" looking, just a touch of juiciness from the holes. Then they got coiled onto the dehydrater and toasted between 125 during the day and 95 during the night for three days. I might make these again, then seal them for permanent garlands, but geez, I wouldn't do that much effort again for the wildlife considering they didn't care for them much.

Fresh blueberries and mullberries. Spread them out and dry them up. 

Up for this year I want to start trying drying tomatoes. Like good garden ones. And see what dried radishes turn out like, as well as some other root veggies. And hot peppers- I did a little air drying with the couple that did grow, but I want to make my own pepper flakes and powders.

So what in the heck do I do with all of this stuff? I have found it works it's way into lots of cooking. I've been trying to note some of the stuff I've been making in previous posts, but...

Veggie powder- we got a couple electric coffee grinders, and I will do up a bit of this and that, and add it into soups, casseroles, baked savories... It gives a bit of a flavor boost and a nice little extra veggie hit to dinner.

I love love LOVE having dried celery on hand for long term cooking. How often do you use up the whole thing before it starts getting a bit wilty, do you ever use the little heart bit? Well, dry it up, and always have on hand that bit of mire poix no matter what. Super nice for soups in winter when you don't want to or can't get out to the store for fresh. I super love having dried carrot on hand for the same reason.

Dried onion. Yeah, it oxidizes a bit during drying, so it isn't that perfect creamy white. But I use a lot of it, and when onions go on sale, I think it's worth it to dry up a few pounds at a time.

Kale and lettuce and sweet potato, and slaw mix, ect..  I use a lot of herbs and spices in my cooking, and got a goodly variety of tasty additions. I toss in all sorts of dried veggies for seasonings, from crumpled greens to go along with parsley flake, to some crushed sweet potato to give an earthy sweet taste without sweetener..

I've found I "hidden boost" the hell out of all sorts of dishes with dried produce.

Last year I started picking up some canning jars and got a water bath kettle. Made some rather decent berry preserves.
I'm really really keeping my fingers crossed to be able to can up some green beans and tomatoes. Perhaps if I find a ravishing sale on asparagus- well, I'll just buy as much as I can and can it up. And maybe pickles. I would need to pick up some smaller canning jars to to all sorts of other fun stuff, and we shall see how that goes a few months from now.
One fine day, I might own a pressure canner, and then I will for sure start canning up all sorts of crazy crap, ehehehe.

Freezing. Wow, I wish we had a little chest freezer, but we don't yet. So I try to make the most of our freezer space. Mostly for when meats go on sale, and homemade goodies. I make all sorts of soups, and there is always leftovers, and those get bagged up and frozen.
Stocks and broths- I use a lot of it, I make a lot of it. Chicken, pork, duck, corn.. I've learned over time to reduce down meat stocks by half before bagging and freezing up. Saves on a crapton of freezer space that way.
I'm usually a pretty good kid about busting up meats. Like when hamburger is on sale, I'll pick up 3-5 pounds, but that up into single pounds, and freeze. Done that with hams too- sliced em up into half pound chunks, and freeze. Sometimes when bacon is on sale I will bust a couple packages in half before freezing.
I try not to rely on the freezer for anything I can make shelf stable. Because the power could go out, and that sucks, lol.

So, this is what has gone on so far..

Friday, March 8, 2013

Taco dinner and taco dinner again.. mmmm

This entry was started on Wednesday, March Sixth...

Usually it's just the two of us, and we don't do tacos... By the time everything is made up, too much for two, kind of no matter what. We usually save it for boys weekends. Everyone always loves taco night :)
Now, over the last year or two, I've hit the point where I'm feeding two boys, my hubby and myself to feeding two growing young men. Just doing up the basic for 4 isn't quite enough- someone always wishes for another scoop of beans, a bit more meat... mmmm.
So, I've started bumping it up recently. Last time we did taco night, I made what I was pretty sure would have leftovers, and yep, all my menfolk left the table stuffed.
A couple days later, needed to use the bits of leftovers and didn't feel like tacos per se, so I made taco soup... MMMM, it was good. Feed us a happy dinner and leftovers for the freezer :)

So we did taco night this weekend past. And this time, I'm remembering to write it all down, lol.

For taco night...
3 lbs ground beef- I found 2 lbs wasn't quite enough leftover meat for the soup.
1 big can (28 oz?) refried beans
1 head lettuce- cut/shredded how you like
3-4 plum tomatoes- diced
1 can black olives, small size- slice in half, helps prevent rolling around too much
2 bundles green onions, sliced and use it all, white and green
2 bags shredded mexican cheese, not the seasoned stuff.
flour tortillas, crispy corn chips, sour cream, salsa...

How I make my meat.
I make my own mexican seasoning mix to cook up my meat, but I've used packaged stuff and I think it works well too.
When I go to brown up my meat, I give the pile a liberal coating of granulated garlic (not garlic powder or salt). How liberal? VERY. I like to coat it till you well can't see the pink anymore, but not quite a lot more than that. Over the whole surface of the meat.
Add in a palmful of dried oregano- mexican works best, but if all you got is italian, use it. Of course, if you are only doing a pound of meat, cut back on the oregano a bit, but still coat your meat well with the garlic.
Now bust up your meat, brown it all up, ect.
I tend to not drain my meat at all. Once it's browned up and the residual liquid from the meat has cooked off, leaving the fat.. Then I add in my mexican seasonings and water, simmer, ect. This does leave a sloppy sludge, so I tend to serve in a metal colander over a deep catch bowl. It drains over dinner, and by the time dinner is done, it's all drained out top to bottom :)
And oh, only do this with a perforated colander, never the wire mesh ones. That's a PITA to really know and make sure it's cleaned right.

The refried beans. I try to get vegetarian or fat free when I can, or get regular if I have to. Why? This way I can better control how much and just what fat goes into the beans. I choose to use about a tablespoon for a 15 oz can, two tablespoons for the big can. And I 100% use bacon grease for this. No other fat is the same IMO. Cept for rarely when someone is here that can't have that and wants in on the beans too, then I will just leave it out.

So, chow down on dinner, and package up the leftovers.

On soup day...
The first time I made this, I used chicken stock and black beans. It was really yummy, froze up and reheated very well.

This time...
I had a choice of concentrated pork, fresh corn, roasted duck, or ham jelly. I decided to go with the concentrated pork, refreshed with a mostly full bottle of Crispin cider I didn't really drink the other evening. And a couple more cups water since I used a concentrated stock, not a regular stock or broth.
It was a choice between kidney beans and garbanzos. I went with the garbanzos. Because I used the big can of refries, was actually a bit of leftovers there, so I wanted to go light white bean instead of dark mealy bean. Don't drain your beans.
Had three golf ball sized onions left over from the last buy and rough diced those up
Had 8 large cloves of garlic left in the teapot- those got nicely peeled and left whole

And oh, if you like your lettuce big or shredded for tacos, take a knife and bust that up a bit smaller. Spoon size it the optimal, no one wants a big hung of or long strand of cooked stuff in their soup.

In a 6 quart stockpot...
Melt up a tablespoon of bacon grease
sweat up your onions, garlic cloves, and a teaspoon of salt over medium heat. Your onions should become foggy and barely singing up around the edges, your garlic should have a bit of color and still be firm, giving off it's wonderful cooking garlic scent.
To this I added
2 cups concentrated pork stock
1 cup Crispin
2 cups water

I covered, brought up the heat to medium high, and let come up to a low boil for about a minute uncovered, till the whew, I put booze in there factor blew off. Added in a generous tablespoon of mexican seasoning. Covered again, turned it down to low, and let the broth "steep" for 10 minutes.
Then I turned the heat back up to medium, let come up to a low boil again. Stirred in the refried beans in a big blob- covered for 5 min, then gave it a goodly stir. And I do mean goodly, you want every bit of bean broken up into the liquid, no blobs.
Stir in your undrained canned beans, cover, and let come up to the low boil again.
Stir in your taco meat, cover, and let come up to the low boil again.
Stir in your lettuce, cover.. DROP YOUR HEAT to low, as in you see burpling, but no bubbles. Let cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring a couple times. You want the scent of the lettuce to have almost cooked off before proceeding. It's pretty potent at first. It should look all wilted and such. At this time, it should be a sort of hmmm, background structure.
Check your seasoning before adding anything. Right now it should taste fairly potent, and now you are adding in the cutting down materials to balance the soup.
Now, turn up the heat to medium, and as it heats up... Stir in all of your cheese, putting it in in handfulls and really stirring each one in before the next handful.
Stir in tomatoes
Stir in olives
Stir in onions

Cover, and turn it down as low as the temp goes, barely warm. Let that pot percolate for an hour, stirring a few times to make sure you aren't getting bottom gum up and to really redistribute everything.

It should be a soup, rather thickly populated in a broth with a very rich mouth feel.

Dairy addition. Last time and this time I made it I added in 1 cup of whole milk, stirred in and let sit a bit, then added in the sour cream. Don't mix the stuff, milk is to base enrich, the sour cream is preference from there.. Put in a 3-5 dollops, be they teaspoon or tablespoon sized. Again, preference.
Stir in gently, sort of like you would dumplings. Bring up the heat to med low, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes. Then stir a bit more, cover, stir... 2-3 times till all the sour cream is really well distributed, and nice faint steam is really lifting off the soup.

Kill heat, and let stand for at least 15 min uncovered, stirring once or twice, before serving. That crap is hot as hades and needs a bit of cool time before serving.

Out of all of that..
Taco night for three menfolk and I...
Leftovers enough to make a 6 quart pot of very hearty soup, which made dinner for two that evening and and 6 more servings for the freezer for later lunches or dinners :)

The leftover tortillas.. Hmmm, I got stuff on the shelf that I want to try out sort of a stacked baked something... But I can pop them into the freezer right now till I decide.

And last nights dinner.. I was a bad bad girl... The asparagus at the store was so beautiful, but expensive. The dried beef was not on sale and not cheap... But oh, I saw those glorious slim spears and knew I had to do up chipped beef for dinner for us. I just couldn't help it. I picked up a nice soft yet firm white bread for the toast so it wouldn't mess with the flavors..
And it was glorious. My love tore the beef into little bits and flaked it up perfect. I lightly blanched and shocked the asparagus, cut into one inch bits... Saving the tips for the last minute of the blanch to help preserve its yummy.
I made a light bechamel for this yummy, with some parsley, garlic, and a bit of dill for a bright herbal tone.. a bit of pepper... Then I folded in the beef, then the asparagus and let all heat well through and the asparagus was just the right eating consistency... Then I killed the heat, added in a few grinds of nutmeg, tasted.. needed a wee bit more pepper, but the salt was spot on from the beef... and yum. Spread over three pieces of white toast for each of us, it was a totally stuffing and decadent dinner.

I must say, I make a mean shit on a shingle as well... But last night's chipped beef was a far cry from that.

I'm trying to up my sauce skills because at christmas, my lovely new folks gave us a wonderful basket of culinary goodies, one of which was a one pound can of crab that promptly went into the deep preservation mode...

We finally got Nova into the vet for his whole meet and greet.. and if I had known it would have taken a month to schedule in neutering, I would have tried to figure out how to do it sooner....and neutering and hes back home again... and yay.

Our vet is really frigging awesome..
We dropped Nova off Monday afternoon. Mostly so they can make sure he does not eat or drink after a particular time before blood draws and surgery. And we picked him up this morning. He ate, adn drank, and slept a lot, lol. For sure not meeping as much and walking a little sore, but that's to be expected.

So, back again... Nova is recovering peacefully so far.  He was pretty meepy this morning and wanted his sink time and wanted to hang out in his usual spots. Sounds like he's been in the little box at least once, maybe more. And his bits look ok.

I have had some serious entertainment out my office window today. Our pond is mostly frozen, with a goodly patch open in the stretch on our side between us and the island. And the little pond by the road is thawed out.
So a couple of geese of been wanting to hang out on the pond, and Mr. McSwanums keeps chasing them off. There's some swimming, and flapping, and flying off... as well as creeping, stalking, running, and sliding all over the ice... Too damn funny!

And now it's the next day again..
HOORAY!!!!! I got my wedding dress fabric today. I'm so relieved to have that taken care of. Man. I was getting into kind of a panic mode about that.
And I picked up all of the artifical flowers for all the little doodas. Since I picked up the fabric and wasn't too thrilled about the flower selection at the fabric place, I went over to the craft place.. And I swear it took me an hour to figure out what to get. Geez. But on the bright side, I happened to walk in when they had half off all the flower stuff, so I picked up some good stuff. Now I get to make a bunch of doodas, hehe.

I so need to take pics of stuff... Got the camera battery on the charger now.

So I got kind of inspired and set up all the initial flower doodas. Trimmed up and clustered blossoms, figured out aglet tips. Now I get to figure out what to do about pinning, hehehe. They look pertty nice so far IMO.

So, what's for dinner tonight? Eggy bits, AKA one of my skillets... Every time it's different, but it always has eggs, cheese, and some sorts of good stuff like veggies and sometimes meat cooked into it. Almost like a skillet quiche with no crust, all baked right in the pan.

And so long as the weather plays nice this weekend, it's time to seriously clean the solarium and get it set up for spring planting. I feel like I'm running late on that, and I need to hop to!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

SOUP- it's what's for dinner :)

I started this post off a few days ago, so sorry if it seems time strange. I'm finding myself doing that lately, running a draft or two for a bit, then finally pulling it together for one posting.

The other night, I'm really cooking, Made a chowder, dunno what to call it.. But it uses a lot of stuff that I've dried for the pantry and stock I made. Maybe Porky dried veggie potato chowder?

Pound of bulk Italian sausage
1 quart of frozen pork stock concentrate- add to that 2 quarts water
1/3 cup of dried from fresh celery
1/3 cup dried from fresh carrot
3/4 cup dried from frozen corn
3/4 cup dried from fresh corn
1/3 cup dried from fresh shredded sweet potato
1/3 cup dried from fresh kale flake
1/4 cup parsley flake
1 tablespoon dried chopped garlic
1/2 tablespoon dried tarragon
1/2 tablespoon dill
3 golf ball sized yellow onions, diced
2 pounds russet potatoes, skin on, 1/4-1/2 inch thick slice
3 cups whole milk

To the frozen stock and water I added the dried celery, carrot, and dried from frozen corn and set it to defrost/heat up on medium heat till it came to a rolling simmer, then I turned down the heat to a low, barely disturbed burble, and let that go for a while. All this under cover.

While this is going on, in a separate pan brown up your sausage. Make sure you break it up and completely cook it now because it does not finish cooking in to the soup. Once your sausage is starting to brown up and has rendered fat, toss in your onions, and continue to cook till the onions are slightly translucent. Stir in the parsley, garlic, tarragon, and dill, cover, and set aside off heat.

So, back to the stock pot. Check to make sure that the dehydrated veggies are fully rehydrated. The celery should be stuctured but not hard, the carrots should be not tough... The corn should be cooked. If all this isn't going on, keep checking.. The kitchen should smell like you have been burbling up stock for a while. And if the dried are veggies are at that point? Kick the heat back up to medium high and once it's rolling, stir in the sliced potatoes. Let it come up to a boil, covered... then go down to a gentle medium heat. Then stir often and the potatoes will just start breaking up, at the first sign of this- turn it down to very low.  You are going to stir a few more times at intervals till they really start breaking up. You are kind of making your own creamy starch base during this, so low and slow.
After the potatoes really start bustin up.. 
Add in your dried from fresh corn, sweet potato, and kale, and stir in well. Add in your set aside sausage bits, and stir in. Add 3 cups milk and keep on low, but bring up to full steaming heat. Now stir every 3-5 min or so on low to warm heat till everything really becomes a whole soup.
Let sit at least 10 minutes covered stirring 2-3 times before serving.

Notice that I didn't mention salt or pepper through all of this? That was on purpose. After killing the heat on the soup, TASTE it before adding anything. Add in one Tablespoon each of salt and pepper if you feel it needs it. Let it rest then add in more if you think it's needed. I used one salt, two pepper making this, and the pepper is too much, but the salt is good. I would even say lower it all down to half T each of salt and pepper for people sensitive, and it still tasted pretty good.
In retrospect, I would have added another two cups of water at the beginning. I had enough liquid to cover the taters when added, but I think having enough water to cover it by an inch would have worked better.

But the chowder came out thick and creamy. Almost like a really runny mashed potatoes with all sorts of chunks of veggie and sausage goodness. 

We had it for dinner one night, and again a couple nights later. The last of it is now in a container awaiting freezing if I don't eat it up tomorrow :)

I've got enough scrap built up again that I need to make another batch of pork stock. Man, that bone in ham I got for super cheap sale really went a long way. Enough meat for 4-5 dinners from the fridge, and another couple of dinners worth frozen up- and a ton of yummy boned and fatty goodness to cook up, hooray! The stock from roasting the ham turned out so well and gelatinous, that got tossed into a quart bag and into the freezer :)

I gotta say, if I had to choose only one kind of meat to eat, pork would be it. I could give up beef and water critters, it would be hard to give up chicken but... Yeah, I would have to choose pork.

Nifty recycling... A while back the store had those little dry pasta one person meals on sale, so I picked up a couple to try. They were ok, not really work keeping on the shelf IMO. However, the packaging was pretty neat and I figured I could reuse them.
Today I cleaned out the fridge and wanted to put in some baking soda, but I never have the little boxes- I always use so much of it I always get the big box. So, looking around I spied these containers and thought rock on, perfect. It had a fill line, the lid snaps on tight and has lots of holes for venting. It's clear so I can see that it's just baking soda sitting at the back of the fridge.

I have currently called a halt on the tin can recycling. I am having a pileup that really needs to get sorted out and put into their places before I do anything else. A bunch of the big ones and such I will be starting up with seeds soon, and I think I might know what I might want to do with a bunch of the rest. But right now, I don't have a clear plan on what else to do with them. A lot of other stuff is piling up too and needs to be sorted out. I got piles of bottles that need to go down to the pole barn for gardenworking. And a couple piles that need to go to recycling- once the shittier weather hit, I stopped with the regular turn ins. My love is being great about keeping up with the current stuff, I just need some nicer days for me to chase bottles in.

And holy fuckatooie, we are getting married in two months. Super yippie, but pttht planning stuff, lol. Right now the Farmers Almanac is saying the end of April is going to be very unsettled, so now I'm starting to worry more about bad weather for the wedding.

Nova is going into the vet on Monday to get his balls snipped. I have to say, it's been a little odd seeing a cat running around with little furry jinglers. Last time was when Pooks was a kitten, and I took him in young and over a decade ago. Nova is now on 10 months old- so I am not too sure how much of his behavior is because of this or not. Haven't seen him spraying, caught him peeing twice, fairly recently, and parts of the house are starting to get male stinky. Since he just recently started doing this, we are rather hopeful snipping Monday will correct the behavior.
But the poor little bugger, this is gonna suck for him. He's been cozy here since October, and it's a late snipping. And hes my shadowmeeps- he is going to be bummed not to see me for a couple days.
We drop him off Monday, he gets fixed Tuesday, we bring him home Wednesday.

In the meantime, I'm starting to tackle the odor ick. Lots of natural advice says cats are less likely to do that when baking soda and white vinegar are used. So I mixed up a batch of natural deodorizing spray and started spraying all the non-washable fabrics. I will be going through the house next week while Nova is gone and doing a serious baking soda and vacuum on the house.
I stirred up this recipe today. I squirted it all over in the library, some in the great room, and all over the recliner in the living room and all the kitchen chairs. I also sprayed the living room couch with fabreeze.
So far, the library smells good, but not too much like I did anything to make it smell good, just kind of fresher. I have seen the cats on the recliner and kitchen chairs since I sprayed too.

So.. I used a 22 oz squirt bottle for this.... 
1 cup hot water
1 cup white vinegar
2 T baking soda
several drops to a teaspoon of whatever scent you like, though this can be omitted, I used a nice green tea and cucumber scent. You can use pure oils to soap and candle scents, just stuff that comes in small bottles with droppers, don't use stuff in big jugs that you pour it out of. Use drops if you are using potent oils, you can use up to a teaspoon if you are using thinner scents.

Mix the baking soda with the hot water and dissolve. Slowly and carefully pour in the vinegar- this will foam up fast. Drop in your scent if using. LOOSELY cap the bottle, enough so that shaking it won't really leak, but air can escape- and shake well. Set aside and let the bottle sit till no more bubbles perk up, then tightly cap and start spraying.

Through my own, heh... I didn't wait long enough before tightly capping, and started up the spray in my kitchen sink to get the bottle going. Glad I did, after several pumps, suddenly the liquid jetted out and wouldn't stop till I loosened the cap.

So, onto more soup..
I did a nice pot of herbed potatoes between chowder nights. Served up up with some smoked sausage and corn.
I diced up about a pound of taters- filled up my vintage pyrex dish
Added in a palmful of parsley
couple tablespoons dried minced garlic
a tablespoonish of rosemary- dried from my garden
one teaspoon of kosher salt
two teaspoons of black pepper.
a goodly drizzle of butter oil. That's from our local http://olivecart.com/ They take olive oil and infuse it with butter flavor.. and they are fucking awesome.
two golf ball sized onions, chopped up
Cover and bake at 400 for 45-1 hr- till you can start smelling it. Then turn down to 300 for 30 minutes. Then kill oven and let sit for at least 15 minutes and pulling out to serve.

Got upstairs and did some cleaning... Been so blech since we lost power before Christmas everything has just been.. blech. No creative nothin, didn't even want to face the short jaunt upstairs. 
So today I finally hauled the new fake christmas tree I got on super clearance after the holiday upstairs. It just kind of sat in a corner of the great room forever.
And shit, faced the workshop music. Put away a bunch of stuff, cleared off the workbench and..

Inspiration struck. Creativity started flowing.
First I tinkered around with my great Japanese beading books for a bit... Figured out the ingredient list and how to make a really frigging sweet armband. I really wish I knew how to read Japanese, or at least knew what font my craft books are written in. That would help a lot in my very slow figuring out basic stuff.
Anywho.... I think I might have a nice idea of whats going on in that project now that I figured out what the eff the symbols meant fishing line.
And then I pulled out a nice handful of lovely bits that could work into it.

Then it just went on... I was poking around bead boxes, and pulling out bits and pieces of stuff. I was thinking about wedding pulling of this and that...

Ended up making a bracelet of old gold filled in with aqua green glass. Cheered me up, had two beads left over and thought about earrings.
And rummaging around, thought about stringing up a neat pile of glass beads that are colored and striped, very much in reminding of bees, but not bees. It came out as a high choker, not sure if I like that or will end up restringing it a smidge.
Played around a crapton with notions of other oomms and hmms, mostly for other folks.
Came across three strand of these awesome glass beads I picked up for super cheap sale. The were kind of reminding me of bees and leaves, clear yellow with black pinstripe along the edges, in a swirly leaf shape. Those got strung up into a necklace and earrings with silver findings.
Got back to those two gold and green beads, those ended up becoming pendants suspended from delicate chains off barely there gold wires.

Ended up making ( will insert pics here soon!)
Bracelet and earrrings in gold and green
Choker necklace with gold findings.
Swirly yellow necklace with silver findings. 

Oh, and I lined a new cigar box for my new pile of sparkley. Used a scrap bit of thin microseude in chocolate brown. Clings great to the wood and the sparkley looks great on it.

So, time to post up and tune out :)