Archive for ‘Kitchen’

January 5, 2016

Updates – House Edition

Projects have been happening inside the house as well as outside, especially since cold weather set in. As I’ve mentioned, I’m a semi-stay-at-home mom now, and over the summer I was taking all online courses, which meant I had quite a bit of flexibility during the day to putter around. I didn’t do anything major, just a few little things here and there, like framing some of our photos and hanging them, shuffling furniture around, putting up a shelf…you know, typical housewife stuff, ha.

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I even finished slipcovering the large couch. Finally! Slipcovers are essential when you have pets. And babies. Actually, they’re essential when humans are inhabiting your house in general.

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Although I feel I have less large blocks of free time now, I do have more little bursts of it, and I’m actually in the house more often to tackle small projects. For example, I turned the entryway of our kitchen into a disco club:

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See, there’s no overhead light in the entry, and the lighting in the kitchen itself is garish. I finally decided I’d had enough oppression, so I fixed it. I quite like the result. Mr. Smith found it entertaining.

Speaking of the kitchen, our small dining table got a bum leg back in June, so we swapped it out with a folding table we’ve been using for hangouts in the backyard. The idea was that Jason would fix the little table, but we all decided we liked the big white table so much that I gave it a fresh coat of paint and called it even.

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I was hesitant to leave it at first; we don’t have a large kitchen, and I didn’t like the idea of taking up more floor space than necessary. However, six months later, I don’t regret making the swap in the least. It’s another surface to use when cooking, it looks awesome, and we can easily accommodate friends at a meal. The only downside of having a white table is that it begins to look “distressed” pretty quickly. Kid life, you know?

We’ve also been playing move the baby’s room for a few months. Finn started out sleeping in our bedroom. When she was about seven months old, we moved her into the nursery. It wasn’t a fun decision, but she was keeping us awake, and we were keeping her awake, and moving her into her own room actually helped everyone sleep better. Her nursery is the room that we were using as a sort of dining room/laundry room/game room/room to put random crap in. I never really liked it until it became hers. We got her a rug, and it was an incredibly cozy, fun space.

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And then we moved her out of it.

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Mr. Smith has been wanting to knock out the wall between the living room and her room for some time, and replace it with a two-sided bookcase. The rooms will still be separate, but the wall will become a built in. He started the whole process in December, beginning with moving Finn out while construction is underway. We did some shuffling with the office/art room, so now she’s tucked away under the eaves upstairs. My sewing supplies are still residing up there, as well as the guest bed (which comes in handy when your baby won’t go back to sleep at four in the morning and you just need to lie down). Mr.’s desk and all office-related furnishings are hanging out in the corner of what was her room downstairs, because the desk doesn’t need naps, and therefore isn’t affected by the wall being knocked out.

While I prefer her being downstairs, her little nook upstairs isn’t bad at all. It’s a pain trudging up and down the steps with a heavy baby, but she seems to enjoy where she’s at.

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Also, we’re getting a bookcase! Do you know that we have about twenty boxes of books in storage? He’s building it out of maple, and designing it from scratch without a pre-printed plan. And no, Mr. Smith is not a professional woodworker. He’s learning as he goes along. He’s probably the only person I know who possesses just the right balance of meticulousness and raw bravery to accomplish such a feat, ha. I’m excited. I know he’ll do well, and I really can’t wait to unpack our books at last! To me, that will be the final stage of moving in.

June 25, 2015

No E(scape)

I know, that was terribly cheesy.

It’s garlic scape season in our garden. If you’ve never heard of scapes before, they’re the flowering part of a hardneck garlic plant. It looks like a long, curly stalk. They taste like garlic (duh) but without the bite. You can use them in stir fries, omelettes, or, like me, in soups.

Scape potato soup with kale and thyme. I love eating out of the garden.

The great part about scapes is that the garlic bulbs actually grow bigger if you harvest the scape, because it redirects the energy that the plant is expending into reproduction back into the root system. See, I did learn something in Hort class.

Anyway, you probably won’t be able to find them in your local grocery store, but if you can get to a farmers market, pick up a pound or two! Below is the recipe I used for soup. It’s a combination of a few that I read online, and in typical Johanna fashion, is mostly improvised.

Garlic Scape Soup with Red Potatoes and Kale

Ingredients:
2-3 cups garlic scapes, chopped into 3″ lengths
6 cups chicken stock (more or less, depending on how thick you want your soup)
10 red potatoes, chopped into thick chunks
1 pound kale, chopped into large pieces

Saute your garlic scapes in olive oil until slightly browned and tender. Add chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Puree the stock/scapes in a full-size blender (immersions won’t do the job, sorry) and return to pot. Add potatoes and simmer until spuds can be pierced easily with a fork, then add the kale. Remove from heat and let the kale soften for about five minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme to taste. You could also add sausage or bacon – if I make this again, I’ll definitely be doing that!

June 4, 2015

It’s that time of year

On Sunday, I:

  • Harvested six pounds of rhubarb
  • Chopped said six pounds for half an hour
  • Canned nine half-pints of my famous rhubarb ginger jam
  • Admired my shiny jars of jammy goodness with bleary eyes, because, as much satisfaction as I get out of canning, it is always more work than I remember it to be!

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May 20, 2014

Fresh Spinach…finally!

Remember this?

Yeah. I do. I tried planting another round of greens in the fall but winter came so soon that they never got very big. So, aside from a bag of spinach from my dad’s garden, I never got a fresh salad last year.

This spring, I noticed that the spinach I planted in the fall had somehow lasted through the winter and was growing quite well. After a few weeks of sporadic warm weather, it looked like this:

I picked one of the two rows and we ate fresh salads all week! After last year’s disastrous attempts at growing greens, I was ecstatic.

As if that wasn’t enough, I had gone fishing with my dad the weekend before and had a couple pounds of walleye fillets that we ate with the salad. I also made fried potatoes – obviously, those were store bought.

It’s great that two things I really enjoy doing – fishing and gardening – produced such a delicious meal. Mmm. I would eat this every night, if I could.

June 4, 2013

Preservation Tips and Tricks – Drying

In this final installment of Preservation Tips and Tricks, we’ll talk about one of the oldest and most traditional forms of preservation: hanging stuff up to dry!

It’s as easy as suspending the produce somewhere dark and dry (don’t use your basement!) and letting the air do the work for you. I find this method works really well with herbs – I dry mint, lavender, and rosemary to use throughout the winter.

Dried herbs are great for making your own herbal teas. Some also work well at repelling mosquitoes – just throw them in the campfire and the smoke helps to keep the bugs away. I’ve used dried lavender in scones a few times and thought it was fantastic.

I’ve tried drying apples instead of dehydrating them and found that fruit flies got to be too much of an issue. This year, I’m growing corn in my garden and I know that requires some drying time as well before you grind it up into cornmeal. We’ll see how that goes.

Thanks for following along! Are there any other preservation methods that you’ve tried or would like to hear more about?

June 3, 2013

Preservation Tips and Tricks – Freezing

In an ideal world, I own both a vacuum sealer and a chest freezer that doesn’t freezer burn everything that I put in it. However, since we do not live in an ideal world, I’ll share a few of my botched attempts at freezing as a preservation method!

The only success I’ve ever had with freezing was when I made a huge batch of soup from these carrots:

I froze the soup into individual-sized portions and enjoyed it for lunch. I think it worked out so well because the house we were staying at happened to have a really good fridge and freezer. Every other time I’ve tried freezing produce (including with our current fridge/freezer) it’s gotten freezer burnt and gross!

I think in theory freezing is a great idea. If done right, you maintain the freshness of the produce more than any other method. Most instructions for freezing produce suggest blanching it ever so slightly and then submerging it in cold water to seal in the flavor. Dry off the excess moisture, and then seal the product in freezer bags, getting as much of the air out of the bag as possible. You can see where a good freezer and a vacuum sealer would really come in handy for this method!

In the future, I would really like to get a chest freezer – not just for vegetables, but for purchasing local meat/fish in large quantities and being able to store them. I also really enjoy frozen fruit in my green smoothies, and how awesome would it be to be able to use mostly fruit that I’ve grown myself?

Being that I don’t have much practical experience to share with freezing, I wanted to share an AWESOME article I came across recently that gives tons of advice and information on using freezing as a preservation method. Makes me want a chest freezer even more 🙂 Check it out!

June 2, 2013

Preservation Tips and Tricks – Dehydrating

Congratulations! You made it through Canning 101! As I said, I personally find canning to be the most laborious of all preservation methods – the other ones that I’ve tried are much simpler, albeit somewhat limited in their usage.

Today, we’re going to talk about dehydrating.

Dehydrating is a good example of how a preserved product can be just as good or even tastier than the original product. I use a regular old dehydrator that I got as a Christmas gift from my parents – nothing fancy. I’ve done both fruits and vegetables on it and I’ve tossed around the idea of trying to do jerky but haven’t taken the plunge yet.

My experience with dehydrating is that it tends to caramelize the natural sugars and leaves you with a shrunken but very flavorful version of whatever you started with. Fruit that I’ve dehydrated at home tastes even better than candy. Dehydrated cherry/grape tomatoes are out of this world – they never last very long in our house!

Obviously, dried fruits and vegetables lose some of their nutritional value when you reduce their liquid, so dried produce shouldn’t be substituted for fresh produce. However, it is a really good way to make something new and different out of your excess. For example, around Christmas one of Jason’s co-workers always gives a a big fruit basket with lots of apples. We could never eat that many apples in a given week, so I sliced them up, sprinkled them with cinnamon, and set them out in the dehydrator overnight. They were a delicious AND healthy treat during all the crazy sugar overload of Christmas.

One word of caution when it comes to dehydrating: avoid trying to dehydrate things with lots of liquid and soft flesh. It takes a long, long time, and you’re left with very little substance once the water is gone. I tried drying oranges one year and it was a pretty miserable fail. Stick to firmer fruits and vegetables – apples, mangoes, strawberries, cukes, zucchini, and firm tomatoes are all great choices.

Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Wash and dry your produce and slice it into very thin slices (if you have a Mandoline, which I don’t, use it for this!)
  2. Lay out your sliced produce on the dehydrator sheets. They shouldn’t be touching, but they can be very close together.
  3. Turn the thing on! Mine only has one setting, so that’s all that I use.
  4. I usually set the dehydrator in an unused room overnight and by the next day, the produce is good. You’ll want your produce to be free of any excess moisture, and have a texture that is slightly chewy or even crunchy.
  5. Store in ziploc bags or mason jars. For added freshness, you can freeze your products.
  6. Be sure to clean the dehydrator sheets really well in between uses to avoid contamination.

I know there are other ways of dehydrating – harnessing solar power, leaving the oven door open and cooking them at a low setting, or even leaving stuff out to dry. For me, using my dehydrator presents the least amount of hassle. When I’m not using it, I store it in the basement with my canning equipment.

This year, I would like to try experimenting with sheets of waxed paper over the shelves so that I can make fruit rolls. I’ll let you know how that goes down!

June 1, 2013

Preservation Tips and Tricks – Canning 101

Canning is, in my opinion, one of the most work intensive forms of preservation. It takes a few years to get the hang of it. I finally feel like I’m more than comfortable working with a big pot of boiling water, lifting heavy jars up and down, and timing everything so that my recipe is ready to go by the time the jars are sterilized. I find it to be the most fun when I do it with a few other people around – have a canning party! Typically, Jason is my canning partner and we enjoy doing it together.

The benefit of canning is that, once you’ve made the initial investment of time and work, you have jars of shelf-stable food that won’t take up room in your fridge or freezer. Plus, they make great gifts – who doesn’t love to receive a mason jar of homemade jam or pickles?

So, without further ado, here’s the rundown on canning.

Pressure Canners Vs. Water Bath
All my life, I’ve canned with a water bath canner  – a large pot with a rack that holds mason jars so you can submerge them in boiling water to seal the lids. Like I mentioned before, my siblings and I gave my dad a pressure canner for Christmas but we have yet to give it a try.

My understanding of the the main different between a pressure canner and a water bath canner is temperature – pressure canners can achieve a higher temperatures at which they jars are sealed and therefore is able to kill off more bacteria. Water bath canners can only get so high in temperature and therefore whatever you’re canning needs some preservation aids – acidity (in the form of vinegar, citrus juice, or natural acidity in the product) or sugar. Typically, you’re limited to pickles, jams, and salsas when you can with a water bath. I use the term “limited” loosely because there is quite a bit you can do in those categories!

Pressure canners, on the other hand, have almost no limitations to what you can can because they don’t need any acidity or sugar to aid in the preservation process. While I’ve never worked with one myself, I’ve enjoyed a few of the products of pressure canning here and there.  I’ve also heard some of the tantalizing recipes people have preserved with pressure canners – beef stew, fingerling potatoes, and any type of vegetable you can imagine.  I’m a bit intimidated by something that can blow up if not used properly…but I’m sure that, like anything, once you learn how to do it you become comfortable and even efficient at it.

Boo gave me my water bath canner as a birthday gift two years ago.

It came with the rack for the jars and some nifty tools – a funnel, a jar grip, a magnetic wand for the lids, and a nice pair of tongs. My husband sure knows how to give me good gifts! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a rototiller this year ;).

Jars
When you can with any type of canner, you will store your preserves in mason jars fitted with a two-part cover that consists of a metal band a flat metal lid with a rubber seal. You can’t reuse old jars you get from buying pasta sauce or pickles because you won’t be able to get a good seal with the lids. Some people buy their mason jars from thrift stores, but personally I’ve found that it’s just cheaper to buy them new in the summer – my Goodwill charges between .49 and .99 cents a jar, while I can get a 12-pack of new jars for $6. Once you buy the jars and bands, you can reuse them over and over provided they don’t get cracked or rusted. However, the seal on the flat lids is only good for one use. After that, you can reuse them to store things like beans or seeds, but not for preservation purposes.

Because it’s just Jason and I, I can almost everything in pint-size jars. I make a few quarts here and there to bring to parties or to give as gifts to larger families, but for the most part a pint jar is the perfect size for us to finish off.

Time and Effort
Canning requires heating up a large pot of water to boiling point, which means it requires water, time, and energy. Keep in mind that a lot of your canning will need to be done during harvest periods to get the freshest product – you will likely be sweating up a storm in a steamy kitchen while you do this. Depending on the complexity of the recipe I’m using, I find that canning a batch of something will take about an hour to two hours, so budget your time accordingly! Things like pickles and jams take less time than something that requires a lot of chopping, like salsa. Also, items with lots of sugar or acidity will spend less time in the boiling water – tomato based products are the lowest acidity item you can water bath can, and so they need a longer soak.

Recipes
There are LOTS of recipes out there that are suitable for water-bath canning. I’d avoid anything that contains dairy or seems to lack in preservation aids (acidity or sugar). Feel free to make substitutes with acidity – swap out regular vinegar for apple cider vinegar, add lime or lemon juice to tomato recipes, or add a little bit of citrus zest to jams. Personally, I prefer my pickled goods with ACV instead of regular vinegar.

Here’s how it’s done:

Here is a basic routine for water-bath canning:

  1. Wash all of your equipment – jars, lids, bands, canner, and tools – in warm, soapy water. You could also run them through the dishwasher.
  2. Fill your canner up with water so that you have a good inch to two inches  above the tops of the jars.
  3. Get that water boiling! You can work on your recipe while this is going on to save yourself some time.
  4. When the water comes to a rolling boil, set your empty jars in the rack and toss in your lids and bands. Submerge the whole thing – your jars may tip over as they fill up with water, and that’s totally OK.
  5. Let the jars and lids boil for ten minutes. This is the sanitizing step that will (ideally) kill of any bacteria on the jars.
  6. After the ten minutes has elapsed, turn the burner off but leave everything in the hot water to keep it sterile.
  7. When your recipe is ready (and this varies by recipe) pull the jars, lids and bands out with your tongs and set them on a clean towel. If you’re pickling something, this is when you would add the veggies into your jars and then pour the vinegar mixture over them. If you’re doing salsa or jam, just add the mixture to the jars leaving the recommended amount of headspace (usually 1/2 to 1/4 inch).
  8. Using a clean rag or paper towel, wipe any excess mixture off the rim of the jars and put the covers on. Tighten the band until it can’t turn anymore.
  9. Pop those jars of goodness right back into your pot of hot water and submerge them. Turn on the heat, and start timing the water bath from when the water begins boiling again (again, timing varies by recipe). Note: you may need to add more water due to evaporation.
  10. When the recommended amount of time has elapsed, pull the jar out and set them on clean towels.
  11. Now comes the fun part – the heat will create an air tight seal on the lids that you (should) be able to hear – a nice little “pop” as they snap smooth against the tops of the jars. Sometimes, stuff “pops” while in the water, so it’s always a good idea to gently tap the tops to make sure there’s no give.
  12. I usually give my stuff a couple of hours to seal, and then leave it sit on the counter for a day undisturbed. If you notice one of your jars hasn’t sealed up after a few hours, stick it in the fridge and eat it up right away.

That’s it! You did it!

Links
Here is the canner I use.
Here is an idea of what I use for canning tools
Here is the pressure canner we bough my dad
Pickled banana peppers
Rhubarb Ginger jam
My favorite pickle recipe

May 29, 2013

The first preserves of the season!

We were in Door County this past weekend, staying at the cabin that was my great-great-grandparents homestead many years ago. At some point in the past 100 years, someone planted a rhubarb plant behind one of the outbuildings, and it’s become quite a behemoth. Being that my tiny rhubarb plant needs to be left alone for a year to establish itself, I took advantage of the bumper crop and harvested 4 pounds of thick, beautiful stalks.

Rhubarb is typically paired with strawberries, but being that strawberries aren’t really in season, I decided to do something different. I found a great recipe for rhubarb ginger jam. Having used Christopher Kimball recipes in the past, I know they usually don’t fail me, and besides, the combination of flavors sounded amazing.

Last night, I chopped up two pounds of stalks and whipped up a batch of the jam to can.

It was sort of an exciting rite of passage to haul out my water bath canner and all my equipment for the first time this year. My siblings and I gifted my dad with a pressure canner for Christmas, which I would like to try my hand at. However, this recipe for jam had enough acidity and sugar in it that a water bath was fine for preserving it. Tomorrow, I’ll be posting about some tips and tricks I’ve learned over the past few years when it comes to water bath canning, so be sure to check back in!

Some notes on the recipe:

  • I also subbed vanilla extract for beans because I didn’t have vanilla beans on hand. I think the flavor is great, but I’m sure the vanilla beans would take it up another notch.
  • I never got the temperature up past 205 degrees. I think I simmered the mix for 20-25 minutes, and the consistency seemed right so I called it good.
  • I did add a little bit of pectin at the end – not even 1/4 of a box.
  • The blogger that I borrowed the recipe from ended up with 3 cups of jam instead of the six that the recipes is supposed to yield. I ended up with 4.5 cups, or four and a half small jam jars worth. I canned the four full jars and put the half jar in the fridge for us to eat this weekend.

This recipe is out of this world! The flavor is super complex – tart from the rhubarb, rich and sweet from the vanilla, and slightly spicy from the fresh ginger. We’re going to put it on our crepes this weekend and I’m fully anticipating a party in my mouth. Make it. You won’t be sorry!

May 17, 2013

Minty

I’ve mentioned before that I really enjoy green smoothies, and have one for breakfast pretty much every day of the week. For those of you who have never heard of the term “green smoothie” before, basically, it’s a healthy fruit smoothie with some sort of greens blended into it (hence, the green color). We’re not talking about a sugary dairy-loaded drink – my smoothies are usually just pure fruit/greens blended with water. On occasion I add orange juice or coconut milk, if we have it. I know some people use Greek yogurt in their smoothies, but I’m not a huge fan of how it changes the texture so I usually avoid it.

While we don’t have much that’s ready to eat out of the garden right now, we do have mint coming up in one of the planter boxes. I LOVE adding fresh mint to my smoothies, so I’ve been enjoying that all week.

This morning’s smoothie consisted of 1/4 of a pineapple, 2 ripe bananas, a huge handful of spinach, and two mint sprigs. We did have orange juice in the fridge, so I added that as my liquids base. I wanted to taste the mint more, so the next smoothie will contain 4 or 5 sprigs.