Monday, April 29, 2013

Mapping the urban harvest

Thanks to my beloved Jacki, the admin for our homeschool umbrella, for this link.  Falling Fruit is a collaborative, interactive map that identifies more than a half-million locations across the globe where fruits and veggies are free for the taking.  According to this map, within a few miles of my house there mulberry and pear trees to glean!  I'm sure there is much more, so I'll be keeping my eye out to add to the map.

BTW, this week's menu plan and garden schedule are up. :)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fried-Egg-and-Bacon Puff Pastry Squares - Martha Stewart Recipes

Woohoo!  Look at that--I figured out how to get the link to display a picture.  :)

Please forgive my absenteeism.  It's been a busy week already here and it's only half done.  My menu for this week isn't posted but that's because I've been flying by the seat of my kitchen.  Don't do that.  It doesn't help.

Tonight is going to be cold so I put some chicken thighs in the pressure cooker and later I'll add beans, corn, and seasoning when they are done.  We'll have this over rice, or tortillas if I manage to get them made.

However, the reason I've called you all here is to share the above recipe from my beloved Martha.  We will be having this tomorrow night which is Breakfast for Dinner night.

Friday, hopefully veggies on the grill.

Saturday and Sunday are this family's first uncommitted two days in a row so I'm taking advantage of it.  Which means something from the fridge and/or freezer one day, and French dinner (which is practically the same thing) the other day.

How's that for decisiveness?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Whole Chicken Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts -

Whenever you have a choice, buy a whole chicken then cut it up.  You'll save money, and you'll get all the parts--this means better, cheaper, more nutritious chicken stock free with purchase of every chicken.  The link above will take you to a video showing you exactly how to do it.  The video is less than 4 minutes long and once you know how to do it, it will only take you 2 minutes to get the job done.

HINT:  you need the good knife and cutting board I mentioned in my post about wedding gifts.  :)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Fold but do not mutilate

Breakfast soufflé

Sunday morning is our family breakfast.  This week we had some fresh eggs that a friend gave us, so I decided to make a soufflé, because Ella has never had one before and she likes to try new things.  I don't have a soufflé pan, so I used some individual casserole dishes that one of my sisters gave me, and when I ran out of those, I used some canning jars.  And we have so many delicious herbs in the garden that I just snipped a few and put them on the table so that each of us could garnish as we wished.

The keys to an airy soufflé that rises and doesn't fall are

  • whip the daylights out of the egg whites
  • butter AND crumb the sides of the dish so the batter has something to hold on to as it climbs
I used my stand mixer to whip the egg whites but you can use a handheld mixer too.  I have never been able to whip egg whites to the stiff peaks point with a hand whisk.  My arm gives out.  So if you don't have an electric mixer, borrow one or go to the thrift store and buy one.

For crumbs, you can use bread crumbs, panko crumbs, or as I did yesterday, Parmesan cheese.  Next time I'm thinking of using some pulverized french fried onions for a little more flavor.

There are all kinds of recipes online for soufflé and I don't use any of them.  :)  I just go by feel:
  1. Separate the egg yolks from the whites.  Whip the daylights out of the whites.
  2. Make a white sauce:  melt some butter in a pan, sprinkle an equal amount of flour on it, stir and cook until it is starting to turn color.  
  3. Take the pan off the heat, gentle stir in the yolks and some grated cheese.
  4. Let the yolk mixture cool a little while you butter and crumb your pans.
  5. Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture.  FOLD--not stir, not blend, not anything else.  FOLD.
  6. Spoon it all out into your prepared pans, put them in the oven at 400ºF, close the door and DON'T OPEN IT AGAIN UNTIL THEY ARE DONE!  This is why God put a light bulb in your oven.  If you don't have a working oven light, like "some" people who write a homemaking blog, use a flashlight to check on them.
  7. Small pans take about 8-10 minutes.  Large pans take twice that long.  They are done when they have doubled in height and are lightly brown on top.
Serve your soufflés as soon as they comes out of the oven.  That way, if they do happen to deflate, your diners will think it is because they punctured them with their forks.

PS--this week's menu plan is up, and because Ella liked my soufflé so much, that's what we're having for Thursday night, which is Breakfast for Dinner night.   The weekly garden plan is up too--it's time to get Spring things out!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

It's violet season!

Violets that grow in the garden where our dearly departed pets lay.

In Nashville there is a small window of opportunity opening right now and that is violet season.  The pretty little blossoms fill up our backyard and turn the whole place into a fairy den.  This window doesn't stay open long--it won't last long where you are, either--so now's the time to get out there and pick flowers if you intend to enjoy the first sweet delicacy of the season:  violet jelly.

There are many recipes for making violet or other blossom jelly.  This is the one I use.  It is pretty simple and follows the guidelines set forth by the USDA for food preservation safety.

Violet Jelly

2 heaping cups of violet blossoms
2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup clear lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
4 cups sugar
When picking the violets choose pretty flowers--the ones that are pretty enough for a bouquet are the ones that are good enough to eat.  :)   Do not include stems or leaves but the green part holding the blossom together is OK to leave on.

Pour the boiling water over the blossoms and let them steep at least a couple of hours, but overnight is better.  Strain the liquid and put the blossoms in your compost pile.  If you can't make the jelly right away, put the liquid in the fridge.  Make the jelly within a couple of days, before the liquid goes bad.

Making the jelly is pretty much like making any other kind of jelly.  Measure the violet liquid and add water if needed to reach 2 cups.   Put the violet liquid, lemon juice, and pectin in a pot.  NOTE--the acid from the lemon juice will turn the violet liquid from a deep blue/purple to bright pink!  (it's the same thing that happens when you acidify the soil around blue hydrangeas).  You can add food coloring at this point to return the purplish color if you wish.  Heat the mixture until boiling.

Add all the sugar at once, then stir constantly until the mixture is at a hard boil that cannot be stirred down.   Keep the jelly at a hard boil for one full minute.  Remove from heat.

Skim the jelly (I like to set aside the skimmings for tasting while I wait for the jelly to set).  Ladle the mixture into hot half-pint jars, clean rims and threads, place lids, and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.  Set upright on a towel or hot mat and allow to cool for 24 hours.

The jelly will store on the shelf for at least one year.  If you don't wish to process the jelly for canning, you can store it in the fridge for a few weeks, or in the freezer for a few months.

And a little tip for the beginners:  if your jelly doesn't set up, you call it syrup.  ;)  Add it to a little soda water and you have the most ladylike Spring drink ever invented.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Scrape the bowl clean

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane /
Everybody wants to save money on food and there are lots of ways to do that--coupons, shopping different stores, learning to use leftovers "creatively" which we all know is code for "disguising food so you can trick people into eating it again".

Those techniques call for some advance planning and at least a little know-how.  But there is one simple way to save money on food that every single person can do TODAY, using what you have in your kitchen right now:

Scrape the bowl clean.

By this I mean don't leave behind anything that can be used to feed someone--not a grain of rice, not a drop of batter, not a crumb or a drip of anything that has been prepared for eating.

It's just simple math:

1 teaspoon of food left behind in the pan is hardly anything--you'd need a rubber spatula to get it. Leave a single teaspoon behind at every meal, three times a day, and in one day you'll have left behind 1 tablespoon of food.
1 tablespoon of food left behind is hardly anything--you'd still need a rubber spatula to get it. Leave a single tablespoon of food behind every day and in four days you'll have left behind 1/4 cup of food.
1/4 cup of food left behind is hardly anything--you might still need a rubber spatula to get it.  But in eight days you'll have left behind a full adult serving that could have fed a member of your family for no additional cost to you.

Sure, the bit you leave behind isn't going to be the same from day to day, but waste is waste and in a year it comes to over 22 cups of food--that's more than five and a half quarts of food in the trash.

So--go get yourself a rubber spatula.

Friday, April 5, 2013

One from the road

Crock Pot Freezer Cooking Tutorial: 6 Meals in 1 Hour — Stacy Makes Cents

We're out of town visiting my parents on short notice and I'm posting from my phone so I can't link the picture ( must learn to do that from my Droid!), but I had to share this link with you as soon as I saw it. I'll be testing this meal plan when we get back home so I'll report on results in a few weeks. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Via Lifehacker: Schedule a Charitable Donation Pickup Before You Start Spring Cleaning


Photo by Fred Hsu

This is the kind of thing the internet was meant for--inspiring us with actual, useful information to make our lives better.  I have already called my local charitable pick-up organization of choice (if you must know, that is ARC), and they will be here at the end of next week.  That gives me just enough time to get things into boxes but not enough time to second guess myself.

How do you handle Spring cleaning?

Monday, April 1, 2013

I think I fixed my dishwasher

For months I've been mad at my dishwasher.  I thought it was a lemon, and I was preparing to go shop for a replacement.  But after a careful and exhaustive discussion on Facebook, where the smartest people all hang out, I determined that it was worth a try to first get some real, honest-to-diety dishwashing detergent with those horrible phosphates that we've been warned are killing off our natural aquatic wildlife.

It turns out that dishwashing detergent with said phosphates is still available for industrial and commercial use, which means that while we homemakers are whining about our sad, dirty dishes that are the result of our having been denied the ONE INGREDIENT THAT GETS THEM CLEAN because it is "environmentally damaging", every restaurant, school, and hospital in america is happily getting all the clean dishes they can handle because they have not been denied that ONE INGREDIENT THAT GETS DISHES CLEAN.

So I went online and did a careful and exhaustive search for recipes, and found that all I had to do is go to the local hardware store and buy a $3.50 box of trisodium phospate, which is sold straight up as a heavy duty cleaner and wallpaper remover--so while you and I are lamenting our sad, dirty dishes, every paper hanger in america is happily getting all the heavy duty cleaning they can handle because they have not been denied that one magical ingredient.  

Anywho, mix it at the ratio of 1:6, TSP : Blur ("blur" = your favorite cheap-o dishwashing powder).

GUESS WHAT HAPPENED???  I killed a bunch of wild aquatic life, I guess.  I also have the cleanest, shiniest dishes I've had since the Nixon era or there abouts.

So the lesson here is this:  one load of dishes washed at the regular cycle setting with 1/2 teaspoon of TSP per load is at least three times better for the environment than one load of dishes washed three times at the power setting and then having to be hand washed to get off the stuff that the dishwasher didn't take care of like it was 'possed to.

Seriously--go get some TSP.