Thursday, May 30, 2013

Strawberry Caprese Bites with Balsamic Reduction Drizzle

Please enjoy this stunningly inadequate photo of the recipe I'm about to give you.

Last week I was the guest "chef" at the wonderfully fabulous Hip Donelson Farmers Market.  If you are anywhere within driving distance of Donelson/Nashville on Friday afternoons, I strongly recommend you make a trip--so totally hip and wonderfully fabulous.

Anywho, my task was to present a simple seasonal recipe using ingredients available from the market vendors that day.  When I asked what the main produce vendor would have, the reply was, and I quote: 

"Kale, kale, kale.  And kale.
Strawberries, onions, and kale.
Oh, and lettuce.  And kale.
Nothing else is growing, but the kale sure is doing great!"

Ok, then.  You know how well that went over when I told Ella that the recipe would feature kale?  She was polite but firm:  "Mama, you know kids don't care much for kale, right?"

And that is how you dare me to make a recipe with kale that kids will love.

So without further ado, here is the recipe I presented at the cooking demos for the Hip Donelson Farmers Market last week--the recipe that I prepped 4 quarts of strawberries for and ran out of samples because the kids kept coming back for more.  This is a kid-friendly, healthy appetizer that they can even help assemble!

NOTE:  the cheese in this recipe is a local cheese produced by the also wonderfully fabulous Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese.  You can use any cheese that is slightly salty and firm enough to hold its shape when cubed.

Spring Caprese Bites with Balsamic Reduction Drizzle 

  • 1 cup Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 bunch fresh kale, washed, stems removed and leaves cut into 1" strips
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, washed and stemmed
  • 1 brick St. Jerome cheese, cubed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • toothpicks

To make the drizzle, pour balsamic vinegar into a small pan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until it reduces in volume and becomes the consistency of thin syrup (about 5 minutes).  Remove from heat (it will continue to thicken), and pour into a bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, massage the kale strips by rubbing them between your hands.  When the leaves have darkened and softened in texture, they are ready.  You can take a bite to test them--if they are still bitter, massage a little longer.

To assemble, slice a strawberry in half across and thread the bottom half onto a toothpick.  Wrap a strip of massaged kale around a cube of cheese and thread onto the toothpick so that it holds the kale in place.  Thread the top of the strawberry onto the toothpick, creating a "sandwich" with the kale-wrapped cheese cube in the middle.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then drizzle balsamic reduction over the bites and serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dinner, AKA: Where are the menu plans, Ro?

Carnitas – Pulled Pork: Mexican Pressure Cooker Recipes | hip pressure cooking

Well, the plain truth is I'm behind.  The fancy truth is I'm wildly behind.  But just for the record, Carnitas in the digital pressure cooker is what I'm cooking tonight, except that I don't have all the seasonings so I'm winging it.  I figure as long as there are cumin, garlic, and cocoa powder, it will be close enough.  Also, I didn't rub the meat and let it rest overnight, I just sprinkled the seasoning on the pork and put it in to brown.  Also also, where the recipe said "water", I naturally assumed that was a typo and should have been "beer".  And instead of lettuce cups, we'll be having it on flour tortillas.

So essentially I'm not making the above recipe at all.  I just used it to tell me how long to cook the pork.

But otherwise, it's identical.  YMMV.

And that is a depiction of why I'm behind.  SQUIRREL!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Emergency Preparedness: Water

Welcome new readers!  Tuesdays are currently Emergency Preparedness day here.  Jump in where you are, don't let yourself get overwhelmed or discouraged, and just do a bit at a time.  If you started your Emergency Preparedness with me last week, you have a bag of some sort for each member of your family.  If you don't have a bag, go find something right now.  :)

My family's emergency 3-day water supply

Water is the next item on our emergency preparedness agenda.

Pack at least one purchased, unopened 16 oz. water bottle in each emergency bag.  If you don't have bottles of water to pack, put them on a shopping list.  It doesn't matter what brand you choose, just find something that satisfies your budget and your aesthetics.

If you are feeling ambitious, you can start your long-term emergency water supply now too.  The standard advice is that you need a gallon of clean drinking water per household member, per day, and that you should have at least a 3-day supply of water available.

Number of household members x 3 days = Number of gallons of water needed

_________  x  3  = _________

Include any pets in your calculations--no, hamsters don't drink a gallon a day, but extra water is always a good thing.

You can purchase bottled water ready for storage.  You can also purchase 3- and 5-gallon bottles either already filled or empty to refill yourself.  We have a 5-gallon bottle with a pump on it so it doesn't have to be tipped over to use it.  Or you can save bottles that have held other drinks and refill those--that's kind of a two-for-one purchase.  Plastic bottles used for soda are ideal.  They are very sturdy and are made to withstand the pressure of carbonation.

To clean the bottles, run very hot water inside and out, including the cap.  You can use a little dish soap if you want but make sure to rinse completely.  The hot water will loosen the label enough to remove easily.

If you have chlorinated water, just fill the bottles to overflowing--rinse the cap with the same water--then replace the cap while the water is overflowing the bottle.  In this way you will make sure that every part of the inside of the bottle and the cap have been in contact with the chlorine, and that there is no air gap at the top of the bottle.

If you do not have chlorinated water, you can treat it yourself.  For every 2-liter bottle, use 4 drops of unscented chlorine bleach, fill to overflowing, cap, shake to distribute.

Store your water in a place where it won't freeze.

Here's a little more about water in emergencies from FEMA:
Essentials of managing water
Safe and unsafe water sources
Treating water for consumption

Friday, May 24, 2013

Emergency Preparedness: Let's get started

Just as I promised, I'm going to talk you through the process of preparing for emergencies.  I am by no means an expert, but I am experienced, and together we can help each other.

First and foremost:  do not get overwhelmed.  Just do something every day.  Every little bit counts.

Second and midmost:  do not get discouraged.  YOU CAN DO THIS.  Just do something every day.  Every little bit counts.

Third and whatevermost:  do not feel like you have to follow my exact instructions.  Use your head, and adjust the plan to your own needs.  Every little bit counts.

Your mini-mission for today:

Go around your house and find a bag for each member of your household.  It should be sturdy, and it should be manageable for the person who will be using it.  For little ones, a bag on wheels is ideal.  For anybody who has to handle a small child in a stroller or someone in wheelchair, or who might otherwise need both hands available to help someone else, a backpack is best.  If you have pets, find a bag for them too.

These bags will be used to hold emergency items specific to each individual's needs (diapers for a baby--prescriptions for someone on medication--leashes for dogs--etc.)

Don't worry about finding something perfect for each person, just find something.  Even a grocery bag will do, if that is all you have.  Put names on each bag so you won't have to sort through them each time you open them.

When you have something for everyone, you can make a note to upgrade when you find something better, either at a thrift store or a yard sale or even in your attic.

There--done.  Wasn't that simple?

*The day I do my family's emergency preparedness review is the second Tuesday of every month.  So for now, I'll designate Tuesdays as my Emergency Preparedness blog day.  I'll give you a mini-mission, and I'll give you a tip or link to help.  If there is something specific you want to learn about, just leave a comment!  I'll either have the info handy to share with you or I'll find someone who can help.

Here's my link for the day:  my very first post on Emergency Preparedness, which I wrote almost 2 years ago for National Preparedness Month.  NOTE:  to help keep my mind off the natural disasters that might actually come along here in Nashville, I prepare for zombies.   You will probably recognize the poster.  ;)  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Emergency Preparedness: You can do this

Having lived through two natural disasters myself (an EF2 tornado direct hit, and a 1,000-year flood), I can almost guarantee what most Americans have been thinking since the devastating EF5 tornado hit Moore, OK, this past Monday:

  1. How can I help?
  2. What can I do to protect my own family?

So, here is my totally unsolicited advice:

Item #1--The people of Moore cannot use your cast-off clothing, kitchen utensils, outgrown bicycles, or any other item in your giveaway pile.  They don't have anybody available right now to sort them and distribute them, and they don't have a place to put them (being that their homes and schools and gas stations and so forth are currently piles of rubble).

What they need right now is CASH.  I don't have an opinion on where you send your money (well, of course I DO have an opinion but that's not the important part).  The main thing is that right now they need survival essentials, and $10 given to any relief association will go further than it will if you take your $10 down to the local discount store to buy stuff to send to them.  Just decide what part of the recovery you want to fund (food, shelter, medical assistance, animal welfare, etc.), choose an organization you trust to handle your money, and give them as much as you want.  Pat yourself on the back--you just did the #1 helpful thing you can do at this point.

In case it matters to you:  on the recommendation of my awesomely wonderful friend Katie Waggoner, senior pastor of Heritage United Methodist Church in Monroe, Michigan, I've sent my donation to UMCOR--United Methodist Committee on Relief.  According to Katie, 100% of all donations go directly to actual relief on the ground (the administrative costs are covered by other means). No preaching or proselytizing, just direct assistance to those who have been affected.  You can make a secure online donation at US Disaster Response, Advance #901670 or by calling toll-free 1-800-554-8583.  To make an immediate $10 donation text RESPONSE to 80888.

Corollary to Item #1:  
At this time, the city of Moore does not need people showing up on their own to help.  They know their town better than we do, and unless you are a trained emergency responder, you don't have the skills they need right now.  Be patient, grasshoppers--your time will come.  Organized efforts will be made available for you to join in due time.

As for Item #2--I'll help you with this starting tomorrow.  Post your questions about emergency preparedness, either in the comments under this post or on the Vocational Homemaker Facebook page, so I know what you are most concerned about.  YOU CAN BE PREPARED.  But you have to start now, while you are clear headed and have time to sort out your needs.

In the meantime, head over to my old blog, romesticity, where I published a month-long series of posts on emergency preparedness from a few years back.  It might spark a few ideas that you could implement right way!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ok, what about all those eggs on sale at Kroger this week?

The follow up from my previous post about the sale at Kroger.  Besides all the good produce on sale, they are offering 10 dozen/$10 on eggs.  I know you're thinking that's a lot of eggs, and it is!  But it's really not too many especially at 10/$10.

First:  eggs last a long time.  If you store them in the fridge still in the egg carton, they will last at least a month, sometimes a little longer.  So if your family eats a lot of eggs, at least stock up for the next four weeks.

Also, contrary to popular belief, eggs CAN be frozen:

To freeze whole eggs:
Crack the eggs into a dish and pierce the yolk with a fork.  If you want to store them for use in savory dishes, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to each cup of eggs.  For use in baking or desserts, add 1 tablespoon of sugar per cup of eggs.  Put them in a freezer-safe bag or container--LABEL THEM!--and freeze.  Thaw them to room temperature before using.

To freeze just the whites:
Put them in a freezer-safe container and freeze.  That's it.  Once they are thawed and come to room temperature they will whip up just like fresh.

To freeze yolks:
Treat them just like whole eggs (salt or sugar according to desired use).  You can also freeze the yolks cooked, but don't try that with the whites because they turn rubbery.

In my opinion the best way to make use of a lot of eggs is to make breakfast sandwiches and freeze.  Just scramble a bunch of eggs (I do it in a double boiler), assemble your sandwiches and flash freeze.  Then wrap and place in a freezer bag for long-term storage.  Breakfast burritos and eggs with cheese on English muffins reheat beautifully in the microwave or oven.

There.  Go get 10 dozen eggs.  :)

Big produce sale at Kroger this week!

Yes, I know I talk about food a lot--it's not on purpose--it's just that everybody needs to eat and it helps to know how to handle that before everybody gets hungry.  :)

This week, Kroger in Nashville is advertising 10/$10 on fresh produce and if you have some extra grocery money, this is a good time to stock up on some things:  sweet peppers, grape tomatoes, English cucumbers, eggplants, microwave-ready potatoes, and eggs.*

So you're thinking to yourself, "Ro, what in the world would I do with TEN eggplants?"

Well, I don't like to boss people around, so here is what I'M doing with all that stuff:

Sweet peppers: 

  • 4 peppers cut open, deseeded and roasted, flash frozen, then bagged for the freezer
  • 3 peppers diced, flash frozen, then bagged for the freezer
  • 3 peppers sliced, flash frozen, then bagged for the freezer

NOTE:  "Flash freeze" means to just put the food on a tray and place it in the freezer until the outside is dry and hard.  Doing this keeps the food pieces from smooshing each other and sticking together when frozen.

Grape tomatoes:

  • 2 containers in the fridge for eating fresh
  • 8 containers flash frozen, then bagged for the freezer

English cucumbers:

  • 3 in the fridge for eating fresh
  • 7 sliced and pickled


  • 2 sliced and roasted, flash frozen, then bagged for the freezer
  • 6 rough chopped, blanched, flash frozen, then bagged for the freezer
  • 2 sliced, blanched, flash frozen, then bagged for the freezer
NOTE:  "Blanch" means to dump the food in boiling water for a few minutes, then dump it into ice water for the same number of minutes.  In the case of eggplant, 4 minutes will do.  This stops the action of the enzymes that make the food turn brown and go icky when frozen.

Microwave-ready potatoes:
DO NOT BUY THESE.  This is way too expensive.  If you must have microwave potatoes (and there is no good reason not to), you can handle that all by your lonesome. Just buy a bag of potatoes and wrap them in a clean kitchen towel to microwave.  BAM.  Done.

*Eggs are an entirely different category of storage needs.  I'll cover that in the next post so you can still take advantage of the sale.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Who will buy this lovely egg carton for me?

So I'm just minding my own beeswax, not doing anything to anybody, when suddenly an egg carton appears in my Facebook feed (OK, OK, I WAS ON FACEBOOK--ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?).  

This was not some ordinary egg carton, either.  It was an extra-ordinary egg carton.  It was an egg carton for the ages.  The egg carton to beat all other egg cartons.  The egg carton that I don't deserve but the one I need, if you define "need" as "must. have. this. awesome. egg. carton.".

It certainly doesn't hurt that they are American made.

What do you "need" this week?

PS--If you care at all about your needs/wants, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, click the Kitchen link at that website.  You're welcome.  No, I am not in any way affiliated, financially or even, sadly, as a customer--yet.  ;)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Lumpia, AKA using every pot and pan and utensil in the kitchen

Photo via Filipino Food Lovers
Some of you know that I am the child of a Filipino father and an American mother.  God bless her, my mother spent most of her early married life learning to cook Filipino foods, and I have many memories of her standing at the kitchen counter for hours, chopping and slicing and dicing veggies, hand grinding pork or chicken or beef (sometimes all three), using every pot and pan and utensil in the kitchen--and every bite was delicious.

One of my favorite memories is of watching her make lumpia wrappers.  She'd make a thin batter and use a pastry brush to paint a thin layer of it on a very hot skillet, then as soon as she put down the brush she'd peel away the batter layer which had already turned into the thinnest little crepe you've ever seen.  When she was done she'd have a stack of wrappers on a plate, ready for filling.

If you've never had lumpia, you would be forgiven for thinking they are just Filipino egg rolls.  However, you would also be wrong--very wrong.  They make Chinese egg rolls seem like a waste of time.  If lumpia are done right, they are so good you will knock down your own grandmother to get the last one.   But if they are done wrong, you will be reluctant to even feed them to your dogs.

In my opinion, the place they go wrong is not in the ingredients or the assembly, but in the cooking.  Pan frying is what messes them up.  They need to be fully deep fried in very hot oil, or they just end up gooey and greasy.  Gooey and greasy are not good eats.

Deep frying takes a lot of oil, and makes a mess, and then you have a mess and a lot of oil to deal with.  So I  just bake them.  They come out crispy and delicious, and I dare anybody to tell the difference.

Tonight is our weekly "UN meal", and tonight we're having lumpia.  If you don't feel like using every pot and pan and utensil in the kitchen and spending hours of chopping, slicing, dicing, and rolling, you can buy ready-to-cook lumpia in the frozen food section of most bigger international markets.  But do make them from scratch at least once in your life, so you can appreciate the wonder of having a packet full of them at your convenience.

My weekly menu plan and garden schedule are up--check the bar right under the blog banner.  To go with the lumpia we're having bilo-bilo, rolled in powdered sugar and eaten out of hand because coconut flavoring reminds me of suntan oil, which is also not good eats.  If I could find the rice noodles we'd have pansit bihon, but I suspect they disappeared in the Great Pantry Clean Out of 2012.